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by Elliott - ElliottSilver@yahoo.com
I Love You, sounded like Inertia.
Please, sounded like Sacrifice.
~ Sherman Alexie
"You want to know who killed Tommy, your dear beloved Tommy?"
The callousness of his sarcasm corroded deeply, like acid, melting what was left of her heart.
"I want the truth!"
Fighting back with every last scrap she had and wondering whether it was enough and whether Tommy would forgive her if it wasn’t.
"You can’t handle the truth!" Amazed, at her fury, rough-cut like broken glass under bare feet, so unlike her usual gold-gilded rage.
"Who killed him?" Outrage and pain, livid like molten mercury and far more dangerous.
"You – "
"Who killed him!" Invading his skin without ever touching him.
"I killed him!"
Skidding into a standstill so unreal it seemed suspended.
Her bright dark eyes, saturated in black fire, abruptly quenched like a match left smoldering in winter chill, the windburn drenched across her cheeks dissolving like a glacier under the equator.
Life falling from her like smoke.
Until she was but blood and bone and skin – and no more.
"How?" she asked at last, intentionally not looking at him. Her voice lethal quiet. "Why?"
"Parker – "
Things she shouldn’t, should never have to know.
"Answer me, goddamnit!" Her silver gun leveled at his heart and wishing she’d pull the trigger.
The lies, or the truth?
The morning, glutted with promise. A surfeit of sunshine, foreshadowing an unusually warm day. Apprehension at coming, looming.
"I had come to see you," he admitted, knowing only now that that had been his undoing, that she had and probably always would be. That she was his beginning and his end, and that he was hers. He didn’t know if that damned her, or whether that set her free, declared her innocent.
"I had to see you. To see if I could see what Tommy saw in you."
The hand clutching the gun shivering.
"He said you were everything." He paused, his voice monotone, lifeless. Killing them both with each word. "And I – I needed to see that." It was no excuse, but it was the truth. At least as much as he could tell her, because he could never tell her he loved her. First, best, and to the end of his life, eternity, infinity, as far as forever.
"I needed to see something worth fighting for, worth living for," he amended, breath in his chest heavy and tainted.
She twisted, as if gutted.
Her hiss, teeth against teeth and tongue, as he reached out for her.
Collision of her fingers against his, cold like fusion.
Imbibed her pain and for a second, as if it were an electric current, almost let go.
But then refusing to let go, knowing nothing could hurt worse than this, worse than killing them both, them all.
He pulled her to a bench and she sat, as far away from him as possible.
Needing the strength of solidity.
What she had always deserved.
What he had failed to give her.
Her voice, lost.
"Parker – "
"Just tell me what happened."
The truth couldn’t hurt any more than this.
It had been too long, he thought, as he ascended the wood steps to the porch. She was his opium. The more he tried to fight, the more he tried to surrender, the worse the addiction.
"The third step was uneven," he began, lost in a darkness he had stopped trying to outrun. "I stumbled and hit the railing. And I saw it before it happened."
Splinters of wood like talons into the palms of his hands, a tight laugh at his own preoccupation. Mirth, that she was his literal downfall. Retrieving his equilibrium and turning straight into the tempest that would change him forever.
"There were two and they hit me from the side. The railing bent and cracked, but it didn’t break. I fell backwards, went down so hard that everything blurred."
Ricochet as wood acted like India rubber and pitched him to the deck, his own momentum as he plunged to the ground stealing the breath from his lungs. Static, behind his eyes. White noise against his flesh, delayed reaction as it crossed his mind that each pummel actually hurt and hurt bad.
"They hit me until Tommy came. Until he opened the door – and it – it all…" The words, like gunfire, ceased. "It all happened so fast."
He didn’t even look at her now, knew the devastation, felt it on the air between them.
The latch of a lock unclasping and the slow motion as a familiar face appeared. The first pangs of shock furrowing across Tommy’s forehead at the commotion.
"He must have come down to investigate. And hero he was, he came for me. I told him to go back inside, I told him. I told him to get you and get away. But he wouldn’t. He couldn’t leave me. He would never leave a friend in trouble."
The last words so bitter.
Bile, rising in his chest, his voice, scorching.
Shouting, retching out warnings. Dragging in air, reinflating his lungs. A boot cuffing his jaw like a roweled spur as he vented unheeded warnings. As he watched valor and compassion stifle fear.
"He came. He just came."
Beside him, as far away as she was, he could feel Parker shake.
"It never occurred to him to stop, to not try to help. To save me. And I saw it in his eyes!"
His vision blurred, his eyes swelled, his cheeks wet with tears and sweat.
Salt, eroding the rents of his chapped lips.
Anger as they seized Tommy, a new toy, a new possession in this game of risk, as the slick metal of a gun rammed his friend’s temple and he staggered against his captor.
"They grabbed him from behind, pinned him. I told them to let him go, that I’d go with them, do anything, as long as they let him go." He felt her surprise. "They didn’t expect that, didn’t think I’d trade my freedom for anything."
Inertia. Standing slowly, like a white flag being hitched up a flagpost.
"I would have," he told her, his voice potent with urgency. Of all things, this was the only thing he needed her to believe. "I would have gone to the Centre if they had let him go."
"Why?" Her voice new, the need to understand raw. "Why would you even consider coming home to the Centre?"
Accusation and more hurtfully, disbelief.
"Because I knew he’d take you away."
"Because I knew he loved you."
An orbit is a fall that misses earth, time and time again. She fell, but fought gravity as she fought life and regained orbit, resealed wherever it was those dark, hurtful secrets, those awful truths resided.
She was a pretender.
And like all pretenders, knowledge came at a cost. A terrible cost.
Ransom, a human mortgage. The silence of mistrust disguising unalloyed brinksmanship, the game of go. Until Tommy cried out, protested his surrender, and the stillness crushed like eggshells, and he knew to cry wolf was to forfeit everything.
Wishing only that he had known then what he knew now: that downfall had no price. Reflection, the countless questioning of conscience, the minute picking of details, of what could have been done instead, of what might have happened, if only.
Plaguing action of less than a particle of a second.
"No, Jarod!" Truth like cobwebs crumbling. Clued now that Tommy knew him, was not, could never be simply an innocent bystander. And knowing in that split second that it had never been about Tommy.
"It was me they wanted. Not him. It was me. Alive if possible. But dead? Well, just as good."
The gun swinging away from Thomas, aimed at him. The game of survival, played out not in the Coliseum, not by gladiators, but here and now. Knowing only that he didn’t want to die. Knowing only he wanted to live more than they wanted him to die.
Motion quicker than the blink of an eye. The beat of a heart. Instinct, brutal and uncompromising. Throwing off his captor, the weaker and less determined of the two. And then rushing. Rushing, on air and willpower. Rushing, towards a gun now pointed at him. Rushing, to his death.
"I rushed toward them. I don’t know why. I just did. I grabbed the gun and pushed it away trying to stop them. And Tommy was still there trying to save me."
His body slamming into Tommy’s captor, his own murderer, his shoulder twisting in ways converse to nature with impact. Sinew ranting as he groped for the silver gun, as it slipped through his fingers.
"He was there and then they pulled the trigger and – he wasn’t."
Falling out from under himself. Desperation as he flailed and his hand captured the hilt of the gun, slipped to the trigger. As it bent in a burst of red sound.
"And I saw it in his eyes the moment he went down. I saw you."
Beside him, three tears dropping to her folded hands, white with the effort not to fall apart, all but impossible.
They both sagged, the weight of conscience and truth and the past bearing so harshly upon them, more than any one person should ever have to bear.
"That bullet was meant for me. I should have died. Not him. Not trying to save me. Not to leave you, alone." He dropped his head into his hands, a gesture she never would have associated with him. Something so ordinary, so commonplace, so drenched with emotion. "Never to hurt you."
Collapse. The other side of darkness, and not black but red.
"There was noise on the road, the garbage collector. And when I looked up, they were gone."
Scrambling, scuttling on knees and elbows to the fallen body.
"I couldn’t do anything. Even with all the pretends I’ve done, I couldn’t do anything to save him. Nothing. Not anything."
And he saw her. Saw her in the sightless blue eyes of a dead man.
The wind whipped around them, but the sun glowed, dazzling and burnishing the day with artificial brilliance.
Nothing, ever, was as it seemed.
"I’m sorry," his voice a whisper of red blood and blue eyes. "I’m so sorry."
And knowing she was his love, his downfall, his beginning and end. And that he had shattered her life.
"I killed him and I couldn’t save him. I couldn’t do anything."
The blood, drizzled over his knuckles. And thinking, blood should never be so red. And thinking, eyes should never be so blue.
And thinking, eyes should never be so blue.
"I couldn’t save him," he repeated, reiteration of those words his purgatory and penitence. "And now I can’t save you."
But in a moment that redeemed his entire life, her fingers found his again, pressed down and held him.
"He died instantly, Jarod. He didn’t suffer."
"But it’s my fault. My finger was on the trigger. I killed him. I should have died."
He looked at her, seeing and knowing exactly what Tommy had seen and known.
"But I can’t forgive you."
"I can’t forgive myself."
Voices lurching from the street, her footsteps on the stairs. Blood gouging his hands, incriminating him beyond any doubt. Settling the body against the wall and fleeing beneath sun that could only be fool’s gold.
Sun so bright it charred everything beneath it.
Turned white dark.
"I know that’s what he would want," she said. "But not now. Not yet."
"But not never?"
She breathed, long slow breaths.
"I don’t know."
It was all she could give him, he who had taken everything from her.
He who was her end, her beginning, and everything in between.
"What will you do?" he asked.
"I’m going to grieve." She looked at him, at his unspoken question of vengeance, whether directed toward him or the Centre. And in her eyes he saw something he’d never expected. He saw what love had meant to her and how it had changed her. It was her curse, it was her atonement, it was what she’d always remember about Thomas, what he had left her with: his body, crumpled and mangled and spattered red.
Her look cut him to the bone, flayed him open to where he’d been rotting inside out.
"I’ve seen enough blood, Jarod. I don’t want more. I didn’t want any."
Beyond the pale, beyond blackness.
"He loved you," he told her. "He said he knew he loved you before he ever met you."
"You knew he would."
So much sacrifice.
So much of her heart gone.
Protected by nothing, stripped and sucked of marrow and blood.
"How much do we remember of what hurts us the most?" she asked. Sun like cold fire on her face.
"Everything," Jarod answered without hesitation.
Her first thought was, everything.
Every last detail.
"But is the loss of everything worse than the ache of nothing?"
He didn’t answer and she hadn’t expected him to. This was her question, her answer, her past and if she let it be, her future.
No, she answered herself. It wasn’t.
It was a cold, cruel world without warning.
But life in simpler terms was not living.
It was pretending.
Because the truth, like love, was never simple.
But she thought she might have once, and maybe still, wished it was.
"Do you believe me?" he asked finally.
The truth was all she had left.
And the end was where one started from, when there was simply no place left to go.
She gazed at him, at a child picking buttercups, at the Kevlar sky clouding, and then back at him.
In her answer, the lies and truths, the cause and effects, the motive and malignity of everything that had brought them together and torn them apart.
"Because you love me," she answered simply as she walked away.
In her echo, he heard her whisper, because you love me the way I loved him.
The end is where we start from.
~ T.S. Eliot
Author’s Note: Controversial? Yes, quite! Please let me know what you thought!
And I don't think Tommy's eyes are blue, but that's how the story went…