Authors: Lauren Stewart
Finally Alex and the guard returned from Camp Bad-Guy. It must have been a fun excursion, because Alex was still smiling.
“I don’t want to talk to
,” Eden said. “I want to talk to
“He’s coming.” Alex sat down across the table from Eden, and the guard went back to his post behind her.
Carter walked into the room slowly, holding his side like it still hurt.
. He deserved it. Every step should remind him of what he’d done.
“How are you feeling today, Carter?” Alex asked.
“Okay,” he muttered. “Not as good as yesterday, but okay.”
“That makes two of us,” Eden said. She had no idea what she’d felt like yesterday, but it
to have been better than this.
He stared at the ground, and then glanced from chair to chair as if he wasn’t sure how close he should sit to her. Her anger, her determination to hate him, fell flat as she gripped the edges of her seat. She would
let herself go to him. But, seeing his face, still slightly bruised, confused her. She’d believed in him for so long—even knowing it had all been fake—she still felt the tug of empathy. She fought herself to not reach out and try to make him feel better, to bring a smile to his face, to assure him everything would be okay. Because that would be a lie. It would
Finally he sat down in the chair at the end of the table, closest to the door. Maybe he understood her confusion and knew that once it stopped, he might need to run for his life.
“Look at me,” Eden said.
Without raising his head, he glanced at her through his lashes.
at me, Carter. Really
When he did, she saw his tears welling, his lower lip quivering. He was afraid, but held her gaze.
“I’m glad to see you’re being well-taken care of,” she said spitefully. “Did they take you out of the hospital early, so you could come say hi?”
“They’re helping me get better. I’ve been able to walk for over a week.”
“A week?” That couldn’t be. There was no
she’d been asleep for over a week. “How long have I been here?”
He glanced at Alex. “Almost two weeks.”
. That was…impossible. But then, she was being smothered by impossibilities—The Clinic on the outside, Chastity within. “I’ve been here for two weeks?”
“Just over.” Alex must have been feeling left out of their reunion, because she stood and started pacing while she spoke. “It wasn’t a coma—your brain was very responsive and had fairly normal REM cycles. You just never woke up all the way.”
“I was dreaming.” As she said it, she knew it was almost true.
, but not quite. Because what she remembered weren’t dreams, they were nightmares. As if a cat-fight was going on between her two halves—Eden and Chastity. And it made sense, she was different now. From the moment she woke up, she’d known she was different. First, the familiarity of the curse words and insults that passed through her lips, then the confidence of her body even in its overall weakened state.
Emotionally, she was stronger. Her old-self would be curled up in a fetal position in the corner right now. Or running into Carter’s arms and telling him that everything he’d done to her was all
fault. But her
-self would be strong. If she learned to adjust to having Chastity’s presence nearby. She needed Chastity’s strength to get through this. To get
of this. And physically, she would be even more powerful after her muscles got some use.
She looked at Carter and wondered if she should start her new exercise routine by kicking his ass. Suddenly wishing Chastity had finished him off after Jolie had botched the job. Accepting her hate for him was freeing. And terrifying.
She couldn’t let Chastity take over completely, or Jolie’s murder wouldn’t be the last.
“So,” she said, voice controlled. “Are you doing your henchman-training here or what?”
“The Clinic is helping me recover from what Jolie did to me.”
“Oh, that’s just…great,” she snapped. “They really know how to clean up after themselves, don’t they?”
hurt me. The Clinic is
Eden kept her mouth shut, her eyes darting from Carter to Alex. Jolie must have hit him even harder than she’d thought, leaving him functioning just well-enough to swallow their bullshit.
“It’s true,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here, if not for what they’ve done for me.”
“Same here,” she said slowly. But he was
to be here—
wasn’t. Regardless of what Alex said, Eden knew they’d never just let her walk away. Not after all the trouble they’d gone through to kidnap her and all. “So, aside from appreciating the
work they’re doing here, whatcha been up to?”
He swallowed before beginning a ridiculous explanation of his day-to-day rehabilitation activities and how quickly he was getting better. Like this was some kind of retreat or a fat-farm, instead of a controlling hell-house. In between the nonsense were partial apologies, embarrassed admissions, and lame-ass excuses for what he’d done.
She stared at him, unable to think of a single thing to say besides,
‘Are you fucking kidding me
?’ But she didn’t say that.
Every once in a while, he’d stop speaking, perhaps waiting for her to respond. Maybe anxious for her to say she forgave him for all he’d done. That it had been the right thing for him to do given the misinformation Jolie had told him. Eventually, he shut up and leaned towards her, his eyebrows twitching, eyes darting around her face, studying it.
“Wow, Carter. That sounds just terrible. I understand. You did the right thing.”
His expression relaxed, and he sighed. “Really?”
“Hell no!” She threw the soda, smacking him dead in the chest. “You had a choice. You had a
choices. And you fucked up all of them”
He flinched at her words. Anger, maybe even spite, bloomed in his eyes. “Have you seen yourself, Eden…or Chastity…or whoever the hell you are? Have you really
yourself?” He looked at Alex and said, “Give her a mirror.”
“I don’t have to look in the mirror to know who I am, Carter.” In terms of good come-backs, it worked. Though in terms of fact, it couldn’t be more wrong. But a look in a mirror wouldn’t change anything.
His chuckle scared her. He took a cell phone out of his pocket, tapped the screen a few times, and then held it up.
After it clicked, she realized he’d just taken her picture. “Dang, Carter. You didn’t even give me a chance to smile.” As if
was going to happen with him in the room.
He didn’t say anything as he slowly set the phone down on the table and slid it towards her until he couldn’t reach any farther. She waited until he’d pulled his hand back to take it.
“What?” she snapped. “You’re not going to post it on Facebook right away?”
“Take a look.”
What was she going to see besides bags under her eyes that could hold her entire wardrobe? A pale, shell-shocked face? Nothing new. But she kept her arm resting against the table, knowing that if she lifted it, Carter would see her hand shake. He knew something she didn’t.
In her mind, an idea dangled just out of reach. Something she couldn’t quite remember. Or didn’t
to remember. If she looked at herself, would that idea fall into reach and turn into something she’d never be able to forget?
“Crap, I hope I didn’t get a tattoo while I was out or something,” she joked, not wanting them to see her weakness. “Although, if it says, ‘Kiss my ass,’ I might decide to keep it.”
The image was grainy, with too much light and not enough contrast. Her hair looked darker than she knew it was but, thankfully, it was still brown and not red. And then, in the middle of a face she recognized as hers, she saw eyes staring back at her.
She brought the phone closer, blinking, squinting, turning the phone slightly for another angle. She
how absurd she must look, but couldn’t stop herself. The eyes in the picture were hers.
they were Chastity’s. Silver-blue from pupil to white, like fish scales catching the light of the sun, almost iridescent like a soap bubble blown by a child.
Proof. The proof was literally staring her in the face. She wasn’t just a new-and-improved version of herself—she was a totally
self. There was no war to fight, no struggle to survive. Part of her was already gone, and she had no idea how big that part was. Replaced by someone whose eyes stared back at her. She’d seen them once at Mitch’s house and again…in Landon’s car. It all started to come back to her—how she’d felt right before she’d seen herself in the visor mirror. Cold, powerful, strong, unstoppable. Like Chastity.
This wasn’t something she could just sleep off.
The eyes are the windows to the soul.
Chastity had already won.
Unable to look away, she knew that if Carter took another picture, she’d see those eyes shine as they filled with tears. Then she felt them drip down her cheeks. But it wasn’t an ugly cry, a weeping sorrow. It was
ugly, from so deep inside, the sobbing wasn’t necessary. How much of her soul had she given up while she was asleep?
She heard Alex and Carter fidget in their chairs, the squeak of metal on tile as they rearranged themselves, Carter’s whispered apology.
“Maybe she needs some fresh air,” the guard said.
“What?” Alex asked.
“Some fresh air,” he repeated. “Give her a chance to think while she takes a little walk around the garden.”
Eden didn’t turn towards him, didn’t say anything. But in that moment, with one non-extraordinary statement, a bond had formed. Simple words—spoken sincerely and honestly and with empathy—connected her to a stranger, someone working for the enemy.
In a place where she was so alone, so distrustful and afraid, she needed that. Despite the danger, she needed to believe in someone besides herself. Because she wasn’t even sure she
believe in herself.
He could’ve killed her in the hallway, but he didn’t. Not because Alex was yelling at him, but because he wanted her to trust him. Strangely, it was something she could understand. His actions meant more than Alex’s words. And now, his
were promising Eden action—freedom. At least for a chance to process, to think.
Eden broke her stare and slowly looked up at Alex. She wondered how pitiful she looked, how much her facial expression begged the woman for a small taste of freedom. Whether they’d let her go or not, at this moment, she needed proof. Proof they could treat her as a human being instead of what she was.
“Sure,” Alex said uncomfortably. “That’s a good idea. Do you want to go outside, Eden?”
Eden kept her lips clamped together, so she wouldn’t say anything sarcastic and have the little chance of freedom and their goodwill taken away. She nodded.
At this point, simple confusion would’ve been a relief. Sadly, it was so much more than that. Eden remembered all about Chastity and her every-four-day appearances. And, after seeing the picture of herself, she remembered the other times she’d seen those eyes. But now everything was different. Since she’d woken up, she hadn’t felt quite ‘right’, but this…
Her body was stronger, could protect itself more. Maybe heal faster. Her eyes seemed to be able to focus better on details, seek out the weaknesses of others. Really great things to have in a crisis. But what her mind
focus on was the bigger picture—the how’s, why’s, and what-the-hell’s of her cerebral collision with Chastity.
“When you said, ‘a small walk around the garden,’ you weren’t kidding,” she said to the guard. It was tiny. More like an atrium than an actual garden, a small oasis surrounded by nondescript white cinderblock buildings, with only one door in or out of the place. She stretched and shook out her legs while she wandered around. It looked so…
. Like Melrose Place without the pool, apartment doors, or happy people.
But even at dusk, the sunlight felt like a gift straight from heaven. Its remaining rays warmed her, cleansed her, made her forget the unpleasantries. She wanted to dance, throw her arms out to her sides and spin. The guard watched her,
at her actually. He was either the real-deal, an honest guy surrounded by
honesty or she was totally delusional. So she needed to figure him out—the power-play between him and Alex was just too strange to ignore. And it gave her a chance to worry about something other than herself.
At his suggestion, Eden was allowed to come outside, and Alex had reluctantly agreed to stay behind. The bitch probably had other important stuff to do anyway. Like, maybe, visit sick kids or orphans.
know, to break the news about Santa Claus to them. Carter had gone off with her, asking about his meds. When he’d said, “See you later, Eden,” she’d wanted to tell him to go to hell. But hell would’ve been too nice a comparison for where she wanted him to go.
The guard stood with his thick arms folded across his chest, watching her from the doorway as she walked along the cement path. She watched him back, but tried to be less conspicuous about it.
Finally, she turned to him and said, “I hate calling you ‘dog’. I
He lifted an eyebrow.
“So what’s your name?”
“Well, Fields. You are now officially the most trustworthy person here. Congratulations.”
He didn’t move, didn’t relax. “I’d say that was an honor, but I’d be lying.”
“Ah-ha, but at least I would
you were lying. The rest of these people”—she flung her arm towards the building they’d just left—“are harder to read.”
“You don’t understand. They’re just trying to help.”
She laughed. “Well, then they should’ve started a bit earlier. Like say…before Carter gave me my first doped-up drink.”