Read the beginning of Lara’s story here. This was originally “A Birthday to Forget” but after my dear friend and sometimes-editor made some much-needed suggestions, this is the updated (and improved) version. Thank you to my favourite Dilettante.
I didn’t know if he was laughing at me, but in spite of myself, I laughed, too. It sounded like I was choking. I couldn’t get the hysterical bubbles of laughter under control. I noticed then the cuts on my knuckles and palms. They must have come from the gravel or the broken bottle. I shoved my hands between my knees and tried to stop the shaking. I stopped laughing. I gasped for air, there wasn’t enough in the RV and the walls seemed to shiver in front of my eyes. I felt hands on my shoulders and wrenched away. I tried to cry out, but the face of my rescuer swam into focus.
“Sorry, I’m sorry,” he was saying. “God, you’ve really been through something.”
I was having trouble focusing on his words. I had to watch his lips move, to make an effort not to see the light going out of beastly blue eyes, to not taste the tang of blood.
“I killed someone. I stabbed him with a beer bottle, there was blood—blood everywhere,” I realized I was rubbing my hands up and down my arms, trying to stop feeling the warm, thick flow of blood running down them. “Oh, god. Oh, god.”
I breathed hard through my nose, there wasn’t anything left in my stomach to bring up but it heaved all the same.
“Hey, hey,” he knelt down in front of me—not touching me—but holding out his hands as if he wanted to steady me. “It’s…well, I can see it’s not okay. But, you can trust me—talk to me.”
I nodded once, making the effort to calm my breathing. I held out my hand and he reached back to retrieve the bottle of whiskey and splashed some into my empty glass. I took it from him and the whiskey sloshed in my quaking hand. I drank a big gulp and didn’t care that I coughed. My eyes watered. I rubbed a hand across them, but there were tears now, too. He looked at me wordlessly, waiting for me to speak. He regarded me like some sort of puzzle, not someone evil—not a murderer. I faltered under that gaze.
“I should go,” I said, but I didn’t stand up. I was afraid I couldn’t.
“Go?” his pale brows pulled down over his nose. “You can’t go—look at you!
“I’m a murderer—I can’t stay here! They’ll find me. Oh god, they’ll find me,” the whiskey spilled over my fingers onto his floor.
He took the glass from me and I flinched as his fingers brushed mine. He grimaced, but not at me.
“You didn’t just stab some guy with a beer bottle because he was staring at you funny. He did something. Bastard,” he spat the word out. “Did you know him?”
I shook my head vehemently. I didn’t want to think about what he looked like, whether he had a name, a family. I didn’t want to think about anything. He stayed crouched in front of me, his brows furrowed, the bottle dangling from his hand. I saw his eyes drifting over the cuts on my hands and I knew there was probably still blood under my fingernails. There was dirt under the blue-eyed boy’s nails. They were long and ragged. I could see them again reaching for my throat.
“He was stocky with bad skin…greasy hair, I think it was dark, I don’t know. His eyes—his eyes were blue,” the words poured out of me so fast I could barely get my tongue around them. “He was young—twenties, I don’t know. The coffee shop,” I jerked my head up to meet his eyes. “He was at the coffee shop. He saw me—his friend works there. He followed me to the bus stop and—” my words sputtered out like a spent birthday candle.
His eyes widened briefly and then narrowed, “The filthy son of a bitch. Did he have any tattoos? Scars? Anything unusual?”
I forced myself to think back to his hands, his neck, his face. Nothing. I shook my head.
“I can think of a few guys around here that fit the bill,” he said. He must have seen the fear and disgust on my face. “Don’t think about it anymore just now.”
I buried my face in my hands then put my face on my knees. I couldn’t shut my eyes and black spots were dancing across my vision, like black drops of blood. There was a roaring in my ears; it drowned out my rescuer’s muttered curses. I heard the floor creak as he stood and again as he began to pace. He was talking to himself, but I couldn’t make sense of the words—the noise in my ears was too loud.
“Hey,” he was crouched in front of me again, his eyes hesitant.
My mouth felt dry and I wondered if years had passed while I sat with my head on my knees, trying not to be sick. He held out a mug of something that steamed and his lips twitched in a crooked smile. I didn’t hear him cooking, I didn’t even notice the tirade of swearing ceased along with the roaring.
“It’s just Ramen, but it might be good if you ate something…” He held it out to me, still carefully keeping his distance. “Are you hungry?”
I realized that I was. Now that the nausea subsided, I was starving, but I was afraid the smell of food might make me sick again. I took the mug with numb, shaking fingers. It had some sort of yellowish broth and a pile of white noodles. I took the fork he offered and tasted it. The saltiness soothed my stomach, and the warmth that leeched into my fingers was heavenly.
“I’m Jericho,” he said as I took another small bite. “Jericho Lang.”
“Lara,” I said. “Just Lara.”
He offered me both his names, trusting a confessed murder. I only had one to offer in return. My spine prickled as I remembered the letter in my knapsack. ,em>Nadia.
“Now you know why I have to go,” I said.
He shook his head emphatically, “Now I know more than ever why you should stay.”