Chapter Fifteen

Sunday, December, 13th, 2015

Garrett shrugged a little. “They thought I was something I’m not. They wanted me to do things I just couldn’t.”

“He wanted you to protect him. You could not even figure that out? Why? Morals?”

“He didn’t want me to protect him, he wanted me to hurt other people and I couldn’t do it.”

Sasha rolled her eyes. “I’m sure. Mr. All-American has to be the good boy, right? I don’t know why I would expect anything else from you.”

“I can’t hurt people—”

“Except for a woman, right? At least you’re consistent.”

He gasped. “I would never.”

“My ribs beg to differ, Garrett. Is it just me, then? How special.”

Sasha recalled the night, trekking after him on that shadowy street with ill intentions, only to be thrown on her back.

“I didn’t know what was going on, I sw—”

Sasha shook her head, pacing. “Yes, Garrett, I don’t blame you for the reaction, but don’t lie. You are not any better than any of those other bugs on this planet. You are not above physical punishment. You are not—”

“It wasn’t a punishment!” he enthused. “I was defending myself.”

“You knew there was no way I would be able to fight you,” Sasha spat. “You knew you would not need to defend yourself.”

“People have tried to kill me before. Being a hero made it part of my daily itinerary. It was your face that scared me,” he sighed. “My mind had dangled that face before me. Every day. Every night. When I saw a waking nightmare of Poppy, my love, my entire life, trying to kill me, that’s all I thought it had to be. A nightmare.”

“But, it was not.”

He was quiet. Too quiet.

Sasha chuckled. “I thought so. Don’t be too put out, Garrett, humans are all the same deep down. It’s what you do with it that makes us different. Personally, I have trained in it. Made myself useful in doing something others are too afraid to do. And I have thrived because of it. Whereas you shame yourself. And hide.”

“Are you trying to say you’re brave?”

“Would you disagree?”

His jaw dropped. Indignant, he spat, “Brave? Brave is running into a burning building to save someone who would die otherwise. Brave is risking your own life for a greater purpose!”

“And what would you know about bravery, Garrett? Up until recently you were not capable of dying. What did you have to lose? Nothing. Me? I am trapped in this mortal body, for now. Any mistake could potentially kill me so long as I pursue the jobs I do. Still, I do it. It’s my greater purpose.”

“The things you do are bad.”

Sasha grinned. “I was not aware that brave was synonymous with good.”

“It’s not. It’s just assumed.”

She danced around him. “Just own up to it, Garrett. You are not above me simply because you say so. You do what you think is right and I do what I think is right. Which one of us is the one to decide which is good and which is evil?”

“It’s easy to tell.”

“It is all opinion. To say one is good and one is evil would be childish. There are so many shades of grey to consider, too.”

“Not for me.”

“Well, then you are a child.”

“Have you killed people before, Sasha?”

Sasha did not miss a beat. “Yes. I have.”

“And you don’t think there is anything wrong with that?”

She shrugged. “I can see why you would think killing is wrong. For an empathetic person, something I can assume you are, you like to think about how it would feel if someone came and ended your existence out of nowhere. I do not think such things. The only consciousness I am aware of is my own. Anyone else does not matter.”

Sasha wondered if they should stop to rest soon. The ground was killing her bare feet, but it had already slowed them exponentially. At this rate, it would take another few days. “I cannot even put myself in their place, or wonder what their lives were like.”

“And if someone killed you, you would regret that.”

“Regret is not something I recognize. As far as someone killing me, I would love to see them try.”

Garrett bit his lip regretfully. “I almost did. You may think you’re the God, but I could’ve killed you that night. Easily.”

Sasha froze at his taunt. “Well, you did not. And if I was not going to bring you to my father, I could have let you die.” She would have continued, she was not weak, but her stomach growled, demanding both of their attention.

“Are you hungry?”

“It is nothing that I cannot handle,” she murmured, rolling her eyes. Sasha threw herself to the ground with her legs crossed. As she pulled the grass through her fingers, she attempted to will away her stomach’s demands with only her mind.

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’ll get you something to eat,” he said.

“You will not move. Sit down.”

“Why not?”

“Because I am not feeling up to following you,” Sasha stretched, bored. “And I do not have any cash left for food. You will just have to wait until we get to my father’s home.”

“I’m not worried about me. I’m getting it for you.”

“How gallant. It does not change what I said.”

“Well,” Garrett pondered as he scratched the back of his neck. “Could we find…another way of getting food?”

“What did you have in mind?”

“We could just take it.”

Sasha’s eyebrows shot up. Her jaw dropped a little bit. She was nothing if not a bit prone to theatrics. “My golden boy! I know I could not possibly have heard you suggest that we steal food for ourselves!”

“You’re hungry.”

“I have not stooped to grabbing apples off street carts like a common street urchin as of yet, Daniels. I would prefer to keep it that way.”

“I can do it.”

Sasha chuckled, shaking her head. “I always thought that stealing was bad. Do you not agree? It is bad?”

“In our case, I think it is necessary.”

“Wow. Are you meaning to tell me that there is grey between good and bad? I had no idea. Still, how do I know you will come back?”

“And leave you to fend for yourself with those people following us? I couldn’t. I wouldn’t!”

“I trust no one. Especially not you, Daniels.”

He made a face. “Then come with me. Watch me. I promise I’ll come back.”

“Promises, promises. I cannot go, I would be recognized. My mask is gone.”

“I really don’t need your permission, Sasha. You couldn’t stop me if you wanted to, and you couldn’t catch me if I ran right in front of you. I’m here because I want to be.”

“Do not be ridiculous. Why would you want to be here?”

“To be with you.”

She hissed and ground her teeth, shoving away the fullness forming in her chest. She hated when he said things like that. It made it so difficult to tell herself that he was a nutcase. “Why do you have to do that?”

“Do what?”

“Say stupid things like that.”

The wounded look on his face hit her somewhere in her chest. “Stupid? I was telling the truth. I’m here to be with you.”

“Why? Because I make such wonderful conversation?”

“Because I love you.”

She did not feel like laughing. In fact, she felt more like kicking at the grass and throwing a tantrum. What was wrong with him? What made him think that he could say things like that?

What made him think that there was something in this body to love? “Well, Garrett, I like fried eggs and bacon. Do you think you could make it happen?”

Get out of my sight, she thought, squinting at the large man through the slits in her eyes. She did not care where he went, anymore. Sasha just needed him to go away. He seemed oblivious to her hostility, because he smiled. “Shouldn’t be too hard. I’ll be back soon.”

She did not watch him go. Her old habits made hearing him walk away grate at her nerves. She never let people go. It went against everything her father had taught her. “Have fun.”

Garrett’s absence was…strange. Sasha loved to be alone. The quiet was calming and imperative to sensing oncoming threats, but it had somehow lost its charm in the last few hours. She did not miss it the way that she thought she would. Rather, she pined for the constant baritone of Garrett’s voice while he told her a story. Unlike before, she felt only unsettled by it.

But, she definitely still wanted those eggs.

Time passed slowly. Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes. Sasha did not allow herself to think that he would not come back, though. Despite her aversion to voiced proclamations of promises and “love,” Garrett did have a valid point. He could have run at any point during their trek but he had stayed close to her side because of some misplaced loyalty. She did not think him so dull anymore that he would get lost, either.

What a change he seemed to have undergone. At least, she figured that was what it had to be. She hardly knew him, but from what she had heard, she doubted his hobbies included thievery. There was no way she would have gotten so lucky. Sasha had not even needed to ask for his assistance. She found that strange as well.

Were his feelings really so strong for this Poppy girl that he associated her with that he would abandon his own moral code. Everything so far said that was not the case.

A stick broke in half a few hundred feet to her left. Sasha went rigid. Her body remained perfectly still, but her eyes roved the tree line for the sight of a strange face with amber eyes. Or worse, she dreaded the sight of the poisonous man. Her legs curled under her, bringing her back to her feet so she would stand the best chance against a threat. Her worries seemed to be unnecessary.

Garrett strode from the tree line. In his arms, he hugged a huge paper bag, stained on the bottom with ketchup and bacon grease. Excitement welled up in Sasha’s chest along with potent relief. Maybe, she had been worried he would not come back, after all. She stomped out that flame before he could see it on her face.

“I brought food,” he said, holding it out for her to see.

“Tell me you did not put ketchup on my eggs.”

Wednesday, January 1st, 1986

I was tired. Not in a physical sense, the adrenaline coursing through my veins made that impossible, but, mentally, I was tired. The night had ended for me hours ago; Summit had dismissed me early for the holiday, since everyone he may have needed with broken legs had gone home to their families for the day. For anyone else this meant rest and relaxation. For me this meant a night of savage boredom.

The house was clean. Mr. Freeman had seen to that when he had last visited; the only time he had visited. The curtains were greyed from the smoke constantly circulating around the house, the carpets were stained with red wine, and what furniture we did have was splintered and old. Summit had turned his nose up at it. That same week had seen us relocated to a different part of town, a better part of town. Fully furnished with pieces chosen by Summit himself, no expense had been spared.

It was too big for the two of us. I liked it because it gave me more space to think, since my mother was constantly moving about the house, straightening things here and dusting unnecessarily. She had really taken to their new lifestyle. For the first time in I was not sure how long, she willingly left the house, more often than not to buy groceries we did not need. Summit had provided us with a credit card of near unlimited funds and she had taken full advantage.

Mary did not care to delve into specifics on what I was doing to make so much money, so long as it kept rolling in. Her main point of concern was in the sudden change of my body. I had grown in every way in these last few months, a fact that did not escape her attention. I was positively beastly at this point and she used every opportunity to question me on it. I could blame it only on the training Summit had put me through, but it would never completely assuage her suspicion.

Recently, I had gotten her to at least stop asking.

While she was so easily distracted and I was busy with work, it was easy to avoid her. Every day consisted of something else: salon appointments, clothes shopping, manicures, pedicures, makeup, anything to make her feel better than the other women in town. Her ventures to the grocery store were more than just for food. They were a chance to be seen by our neighbors—not friends, we did not have those—displaying the good her son had done for her.

I was not so flashy with the wealth. In whatever spare time I had away from Summit, I stayed home, out of sight so no one else would question the changes I had undergone. School had been out of the question for exactly that purpose. Seeing Poppy had been out of the question for exactly that purpose.

It was that girl that had me sitting in bed, staring at the landline while the evening hours turned late. She would finish up her homework within the next few minutes, then she would call. She always called. Every night, without fail, save for the occasion where I would be forced to work, she would greet me by ten to tell me of her day and how much she missed me, and I would fake another bout of the flu. I prepared myself with a raspy voice and a nearly convincing cough.

The phone rang. I tried to hesitate, but I reached for the phone anyway, scrambling to put it to my ear and hear the voice I longed for every day. “Hello?”

“Hey, Garrett!” her chipper voice squealed.

A smile broke across my face. “Hi, Pop, how was your day?”

“It was good. Had to catch up on some stuff while I had the time. How was your New Year’s?”

“Fine. Stayed in bed mostly.”

“Aw, I should’ve come to visit you. I didn’t know you’d be alone on a holiday.”

I shook my head, keeping that same, stupid smile on my face. “Don’t worry about me. I had my mom. Besides, I really don’t want to get you sick.”

“At this point I think I would prefer it. I miss you.”

“I miss you, too,” I replied. We sat in silence. “How’s school going, kid?”

“Mr. Jordan still asks about you sometimes. Even a couple kids. They wonder if you’re going to get better soon.”

I placed a masterful cough between my words, “I’m afraid not anytime soon, Pops, I’m still pretty beat up.”

“I’m sorry, hon’, how are you? What are the doctors saying?” she pleaded, choking on her own words.

I hated having to lie to her. She made it crystal clear how much she missed me every day, because Poppy never needed to hide anything. Still, I managed to hold her at arm’s length every day, keeping her mine because I could not stand to lose her, but keeping her away because I could not stand to include her. “Doctor said it spread to my other lung. I started a new cycle of antibiotics. We’ll have to see what happens.”

“That’s so awful. Does it hurt?”

I could not escape the shame. The guilt ate at me for having to lie but it ate worse for the terrible things Summit had me do. I could not possibly tell her that I was breaking people’s legs for hire, or holding people over rooftop edges to make my boss happy. She was such a good person. I could not say the same for myself. Not anymore.

“No. It doesn’t hurt. Missing you so much hurts.”

I could hear the smile in her voice. “Well, aren’t you cute?”

I wished it was as easy as it used to be, back when I thought it could not get any harder. Back when the thought of inhaling thick cigarette smoke was the only thing that made me sick. “Don’t worry about it, sweetheart. Shouldn’t be too much longer.”

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