I found myself feeling happy it was my birthday for the first time ever. She was dressed in a pale pink and cream strapless dress that hugged her torso and flirted loosely around her legs.
The restaurant I took her to was one reluctantly recommended to me by Sheldon when I called her. It took a lot of convincing and bribing, but I managed to enlist her help setting up the night.
It might have been my birthday, but the night was for her. One way or another, I would win her over.
We arrived at the modern yet upscale restaurant, and then we were seated immediately. I could tell she had something on her mind and waited until after we placed our order to ask.
“If I said nothing, would you believe me?”
“There’s a slim to none chance.”
“I’m not sure I want to do this with you. We’ve attempted to be friends in the past and it only ended badly, particularly for me.”
“And that was our first mistake. We aren’t meant to be friends, Lake.”
“I don’t know if I can trust you enough to be more than enemies.”
“What do I have to do?”
“Talk?” I repeated and then it dawned on me what she meant. Lake—”
“It’s what I want. Take it or leave it.”
I didn’t think this was a conversation to have over dinner, but I knew she wouldn’t back down. “What do you want to know?”
“I want to know what happened to you. Everything. You can start from the beginning if that helps.”
“I don’t know the beginning. Not the one that counts. I only know what John told me, which wasn’t much.”
“What was your first memory?”
“Starving. Learning what it meant and what it felt like.”
“What was it like?”
“Painful. Never ending… Adaptable.”
“Adaptable?” How could starving be adaptable?
“After a while, the hunger pains become little more than a nuisance. You learn how to push it to the back of your mind, or so I thought. I did any and everything they asked just for a little more table scraps.”
“That is a horrible memory.”
“It’s just one of many and not all that bad compared to the rest.”
“Tell me more,” she urged.
“Why?” My voice sounded strained to my own ears.
“I want to know what could make an eight-year-old boy push a complete stranger off the monkey bars.”
My fingers stabbed through my hair before pulling tightly. “Like what?”
“I want to know about Quentin. How did he end up here?”
“I thought he was dead. One day he just disappeared, and because I wasn’t allowed to ask questions, I assumed the worse.”
“So where was he?”
“Mario somehow smuggled him out before my father had me taken from the compound. I didn’t know why at first.”
“But now you do?”
“Yes, but it’s not my story to tell.” The hard look I gave her let her know not to push.
“So when you were returned to your family, he came with you?”
“Mario was pretty insistent on it. It made me wonder but he never talked about it, and I never asked. It’s been years since I ever spoke about any of it with Q. I think he wanted to forget, and I was happy to oblige him.”
“But not you… why didn’t you want to forget?”
“Growing up as a slave isn’t something that’s easily forgettable. It was my life. The only one I knew and had. Would you be so quick to give it up?”
“You were afraid you wouldn’t belong. You didn’t want to get attached to a new life just to have it ripped away from you.”
“You’re starting to sound like a psychologist.”
“You can’t hide from me by being a dick Keiran. Not anymore.” We stared at each other for the longest time, silently communicating what neither of us was willing to say out loud.
“This window of opportunity is closing fast.” I was on edge. I didn’t like exposure and Lake was skillful at splaying me open.
“I want to know more about Lily.” She crossed her arms and sat back with a hard stare.
“I told you about Lily.”
“Was she your first kill?”
“No. I was damaged long before she came along. She gave me my name.”
I only nodded while I silently choked on her memory. “My mother named me Gabriel. Keiran was her brother’s name. I was sold when I was an infant, so naturally, I didn’t know my birth name. Not until I met my mother.”
“That’s heavy,” she breathed out. “So who was your first kill?”
“Imagine a nameless, faceless person bound and laid out in front of you. Then someone places a knife, or whatever the implement of torture is for the day, in your hand and tells you every place to strike and when to kill. Now imagine you’re only eight years old.”
I blinked against the memories and shook my head. I fell into a trance as I relived my past.
“At eight years old, instead of learning to read I was learning to be a sadistic psychopath. It was practice, mental preparation for the future. I didn’t know until I was older why they chose kids so young.”
“They are easily corrupted. You can mold them however you want. They believe whatever you want them too. When I became of age, I would have been stronger and mentally capable of carrying out the jobs they needed.” I rubbed his chin and said as an afterthought, “It’s clever really.”