Authors: Kiersten White
I follow a tall, broad-shouldered man with a gun’s bulk pushing out the edge of his sports jacket. We walk around the corner to where a car idles in an alley. “Disappointing,” I mutter. “I was hoping for a party bus.”
He opens the back door to the car and gestures for me to go in. As I slip past him my hand darts to his belt and I snatch the gun, then yank the door shut and hit the lock.
“So!” I turn and point the gun at the man sitting next to me. “Surprise!”
A smile slides over his face like oil pooling on water and I wasn’t ready for this, because I’m back—I’m back—oh no I don’t want to remember what he makes me remember. Lips and hands and a dance floor and—
“Hello, Sofia,” Rafael says.
I lean back against the plush leather seat and sigh, still training the gun on his head. “I didn’t miss you.” (His lips on mine, the first lips on mine, my first kiss, oh I want to be sick.)
He laughs, and his teeth are white and his throat is tan and I want to cut break cut smash it. I hate him. He is as slickly beautiful as ever, and I don’t know what he’s doing here but it’s twisting my stomach and making the space behind my eyes heavy with the insistent pressure of wrong.
“How do you like New York?” he asks.
“If you brought me here for small talk, you could have used fewer guns. Just a thought.”
“I was actually hoping you could help me with something. See, I had a bit of a disappointment today. Something I’ve been working on for a while fell through.”
The would-be assassin. “Whoops.” I flash him an off-kilter grin, but inside the spinning needle whirls faster. I cannot believe I stopped her. I cannot believe it was right. I hate Rafael, hate his smell and the feel of him near me.
But maybe Rafael is the only person doing the right thing.
My stomach drops as I realize … oh, no.
Lerner. Casey was working for Lerner.
She was working for
Rafael is with Lerner.
Maybe not. Maybe she was so good she could think about Lerner to frame them. It’s not right, I know it’s not right, but I cling to it. She didn’t think about Rafael, she didn’t!
He smiles and everything buzzes, feels off, more off than ever before. “You win some, you lose some. And when I heard you were finally in deep with Daddy Keane, well, that changed everything. Let’s talk about how you’re going to help me.”
“Why would I help you?” I whisper.
“Liar,” I snarl.
“I didn’t tell him about Casey. Shame, really. You would have liked her. She was my fail-safe, put into action because James broke his promises. We were supposed to build our own army together—him on the inside, me on the outside. Take down his father. Lately, however, I think he likes being daddy’s pet more than he wants revenge. Does that feel familiar to you, Fia? Promises strung out along months, tentative ideas for a future that never seems to get here, no matter how close you keep getting?” He leans forward intently.
No. No no no. James wouldn’t back out. Rafael is a liar. I can only trust James. If James is wrong, if James is lying to me, then I am wrong and if I am wrong, nothing is ever right again. If I cannot trust myself to love the right person, what can I trust?
Rafael can see that I’m wavering. He sits back, pulls out his phone as though he can’t be bothered to pay full attention to the conversation. “We have another friend in common. Sweetest girl. She’s like a sane version of you. Goes by Annie.”
The world drops out from underneath me.
There’s a rather insistent-bordering-on-panicked tapping; Rafael opens the window and I realize the tapping this time wasn’t in my head. I can’t always tell.
The man who escorted me here is red-faced. “You okay, sir?”
Rafael waves a hand dismissively. “Relax. Sofia and I are old friends. Isn’t that right?”
Rafael’s man has his arm through the window, trying to unlatch the door. I let him, then kick it open, slamming it into his stomach. I pull it back shut, then smash the gun against the side of Rafael’s head.
“Annie is dead,” I hiss. I hold the gun to his temple. There’s a trickle of blood running down and the barrel disrupts its path. I wonder how the blood would have fallen if I didn’t get in the way. I change things. All the time. I change them to be how I want them to be. “I killed her.”
Rage is written into the lines of his mouth, but he peels his lips back into a smile. “Here.” He holds out a card between two fingers. “My number. You’ll call.”
I take the card. His smile grows bigger. He knows he’s won. I lower the gun and shoot the seat directly between his legs. He jumps, slamming himself into the corner of the seat, cursing me in fluid Italian. The scent of gunpowder assails my nose and I breathe in deeply, letting it settle in my sinuses.
I climb out of the car, pointing the gun at the men outside. “It’s okay!” Rafael shouts, and they lower their guns. I turn and walk down the alley.
“You need me,” Rafael yells after me. “You’ll call. James betrayed us all. But you and I still want the same thing.”
I throw the gun in a trash can, my fist clenched around his card. “I don’t know what I want,” I whisper, and it’s true.
I THROW A PUNCH. I MIGHT AS WELL THROW IT AWAY,
because as usual it sails wildly through the air, connecting with nothing. “Do I look as stupid as I feel? Because I really can’t imagine how that’s possible.”
Cole doesn’t answer, but I hear a muffled laugh.
“Fia is the one who got trained to fight. For rather obvious reasons they didn’t bother with me.”
“I’m very familiar with how Fia fights.”
I smirk. “I’m so glad one of us kicked your butt.”
“I didn’t say that.” He sounds decidedly grumpy.
“Didn’t have to. Fia’s got perfect instincts. Never hesitates. Operates on pure impulse. Blah, blah, blah.” I throw my arms in the air and then sit, defeated, on the floor next to the wall. If Fia were here, I wouldn’t need to learn how to fight.
It was supposed to be the two of us, hiding, on the run. We would have made a good team. Wouldn’t we? Or would she have felt like she used to feel, like she had to take care of me all the time? Maybe if she were around, I wouldn’t mind. I let people take care of me as a default.
I’m sick of it.
My thoughts drift to the bottle of pills buried in the bottom of my bag upstairs. I still haven’t started taking them. I wanted to ask Sarah what it was like, if it helped, but she and Rafael left as soon as we got to this tiny house in Tennessee. They said it was to muddy the trail, and they’ll meet back up with us when they feel like it’s safer. So I’m stuck here with only Cole.
A foot nudges my shoulder, hard, and I twist and shove it away. Cole? Not such pleasant company.
“You have strengths, too. Good balance,” he says. “And you recognized the Keane employee’s voice after years.”
I stand, trying not to groan. “It’s not like I have superhearing or some sort of bat sense. No mystical blind-person powers.”
His voice is dry. “Other than the whole seeing-the-future thing.”
I flip him off.
“Put your hand on my shoulder. Notice anything?”
I frown. I do, actually. His shoulder is covered with muscle. My shoulders do
feel like that. “Umm, it’s very … shouldery?”
He shoves lightly against my hand. “Think of the angle.”
It takes me a few more seconds, then I laugh. “You’re short!”
“We’re about the same height, which puts you at five foot six. Average for a girl. Small for a guy.”
“So you use this to your advantage?”
“Nobody suspects the little ones. I also have a very charming smile.”
I snort. “Doubtful. Does anyone ever even see it?”
“Sometimes. Now. You’re going to be best in close quarters. Let’s work on judo techniques. Fast and dirty throws, maximum pain, and then you run.”
“Okay. I’m ready. What do I do?”
“Stand there and look defenseless.”
I kick at his shin, but miss. As usual. So I opt to stick my tongue out, and then I stand still and look defenseless. It’s easy.
He grabs me from behind, locking his hands around my waist and pinning my arms at my side. I’ve never noticed how he smells before. It’s soft, barely a trace, but he smells like … soap. It’s a clean, honest scent, not advertising anything but the truth.
“Help, help,” I say, raising my voice an octave. “I am so defenseless. Woe is me.”
“What do you have free?”
My feet, my head. Without stopping to think about the consequences, I slam my head back into his face.
He lets go, swearing and stomping.
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry.” I turn around, hands over my mouth in horror. “I didn’t mean to! I should have warned you! Or said what I should do instead of actually doing it. Did I break your nose? Are you bleeding?”
His voice is strained and muffled, but I think it’s amused. I hope it’s amused. “No, that was good. Noses are always good. Groins, too. If you can find his legs, you can hit his groin.”
I feel myself blushing, but I nod. “Done?”
“No, not done. I’m going to grab you and you’re going to get away. However you need to.”
He doesn’t wait for me to agree.
Ten minutes later we’re both panting. He has me by the hair; I grab at his hand.
“Ignore it,” he says. “You can afford to lose hair. Focus on getting away.”
I slam my elbow back, hitting his ribs, then twist under his hand, my hair ripping at my scalp and making my eyes tear. I bring my knee up to hit him in the stomach, but I miss.
“Good! Really good!”
“What are you doing?” Adam sounds horrified. Cole and I freeze, his hand still wrapped up in my hair, my hands around his other wrist. I was about to bite him.
Oh kill me. Why would Adam show up
Cole disentangles his hand, and his voice comes out far calmer than mine would. “We’re practicing.”
? Annie, you’re crying, are you okay? What did he do?” Adam’s arm comes around my shoulders, and I hurriedly wipe under my eyes.
“No, I’m not crying, my eyes are watering. From the hair. It’s okay. I’m learning self-defense.”
“She’s not going to get in any fights!”
Cole’s voice is the verbal equivalent of a shrug. “Better to know.”
“She doesn’t need to know! What is wrong with you? She’s
His words whip across my face and my spine stiffens. I know I’m blind, obviously, but hearing him put it like that, the way someone would say
She’s a child!
wriggles under my skin.
“She’s not your responsibility,” Cole says.
“She is! Fia gave
the number to call. Fia trusted
with the most important person in her whole life. I’m not going to let anything happen to Annie! You
Fia. You don’t care about what she would want.”
“Why should I? Fia’s not here.”
“But she will be.”
I back away from their voices, then raise my hand. “Umm, hey. Can I have an opinion on this?” I turn toward Adam. Is this how he sees me? I want to pretend like he’s protecting me because I’m precious, not because he thinks I’m defective. “I’ve spent most of my life feeling helpless. Being
to feel helpless. I’m done feeling like that.”
“But you’ll never need to know this stuff,” Adam says, and he sounds so sad I forgive him.
I walk forward and hold my arms out, wait for him to meet me, and then put my arm around his waist. “None of us wants to be part of this, but we’re all here. Besides, it’s kind of fun. And now I can do this. Look! Over in the corner!” I point wildly, then put my foot behind Adam’s leg and throw my shoulder against his stomach, tripping him. I fall on top of him, then roll off, laughing. “See how good I’m getting?”
“Brilliant,” Cole says, his voice dark.
Adam lets out a winded
I sit up, still laughing, gasping for breath between giggles.
“Come on. We have another half hour to go.” Cole nudges me with his foot, and I grab his ankle, holding on for dear life as he tries to get loose. “Seriously, Annie, we’re not done.”
I lunge forward and wrap my arms around his knees, push against them until he loses his balance and crashes to the ground.
“I win!” I cackle, flopping onto my back.
It’d feel more like a victory if Adam’s voice saying “She’s blind!” wasn’t echoing in my head, making me feel small and helpless.
His words are still there that afternoon as I sit alone in my room while Cole and Adam talk business. I miss Fia so much it’s like I’ve lost another sense, one I didn’t know I had until it was gone. She would know what to do. She would tell me.
And that’s exactly my problem. I’ve had enough of waiting for other people. I tap out two pills and swallow them, then lie back on my bed and wait.
After a couple of hours someone knocks softly on my door. “Come in,” I call. I feel weird. But not super weird. And maybe I only feel weird because I’m waiting to feel weird. I don’t know.
“Hey,” Adam says. “It’s been a while. How are things?”