It's late that night when we get back to the house. Later then I feel comfortable with. As a matter of fact my stomach growls and spits with the idea of just how late I am showing up for this.
We walk up to the staircase.
"Tomorrow Nick and I are going to pick you up for that thing," he states.
I knew what that thing was. The Blind wanted me to broadcast an announcement. An announcement describing my world. An announcing describing my journey from another dimension. This was a Public Service Announcement to Ronin's world letting them know that it was OK to be private. It was something that I thought was rather small, rather stupid. What difference would I make? Who cared what I had to say? For some reason the Blind figured this was needed though. For some reason they wouldn't help me get home without this broadcast.
"Sounds good," I respond.
"You're bleeding," he notices.
He reaches over, unafraid to touch my nose. He's unbothered by smearing the blood off of my face with his thumb. I watch how he looks at it. I watch how it lingers in his hands. He looks so concerned. He looks so goddam worried.
"I'll be OK," I assure him at the doorstep.
Ronin looks at the blood. I don't think my assurance means a damn thing to him.
"This is all my fault," he responds.
He looks so emotional. I look up at the camera right above the door. There were several other motion detection cameras the street signs. I couldn't afford for Ronin to lose his cool. We weren't in a blind zone anymore. We were back to this horrifying reality where everything you did was completely private.
"It's not your fault," I state putting my hand on his shoulder, "And it doesn't matter. We'll fix it."
Touching his shoulder sends a shiver down my spine. I watch as he looks up in my eyes. I am about to pull my hand away and I think he knows it because almost instinctively he reaches over and puts his hand on my hand.
His hand rests on my hand keeping it strapped onto his shoulder. He looks at my lips. That look that he gives me is clear. It is shockingly clear.
"Ronin..." I whisper in the darkness.
I look up at the camera. I signal to them. I want them to remind him of where we are. This was his reality. He may have been from Taured but he knew what this world was. He knew chances were that someone on the other end was watching.
He couldn't! Right? There was no way possible he would cross that line!
His lips reach over and smack against mine. It's not just a kiss. It's not just a peck. God no. This was a longing, engaging kiss. This was the kind of kiss where I literally faint a little bit but I don't get far out of his arms because he secures me wrapping his hands around my back and kissing me in a way that I feel like everything I've ever done in my life lead up to moments like these. When he stops kissing me I feel a draft of agony.
It's as though I never want to go without his lips pressed on mine.
It's as though I didn't know I was thirsty until I started to drink from him.
And I have not even come close to quenching my thirst.
"You just kissed me."
"I want to do it again."
"Come to my room. He's probably asleep."
"And what if he wakes up?"
"It doesn't matter. How much longer..." he starts before whispering, "How much longer do we have? I want to spend every second with you. I can't have you just sleeping with him."
"It will only be sleeping," I tell him.
He is ready to kiss me again. I can feel it. I can feel it when I feel his lips part and smell his breath up against my top lip. Just at that moment a car drives by on the quiet street. It disarms both of us. Neither of us expect it and it spooks us enought to take a step away from each other.
At this point it was fucking painful. All of it was fucking painful. Not just emotionally either. It felt like a physical pain when we walk into the house. He watches me as I begin to climb the top of the stairs. His eyes zoom in on me. They are so focused. So goddam focused.
I walk up the stairs leaving him, feeling the pain throughout my body as I do. I try to act like it doesn't bother me but truth is, I don't know how I'm going to sleep tonight.
I open the bedroom door.
Across the room is Adrian. He's sitting there with this real focused look in his eyes. It looks like I'm not the only one who would be having trouble sleeping tonight. He is sitting in the darkness but there is moonlight that is creeping through the blinds. That and a camera light watching us in the corner of the room.
"You're still awake," I state.
"Where have you been?" he asks me.
"The party was kind of stuffy," I state at that moment, "Nick wanted to take me and Ronin for a drive. Get away. You know? I hope you don't mind."
"You used to love parties," he states squinting at me.
"No I loved the party, of course," I respond, "I just wanted to really get some fresh air. That's all. No big deal."
I'm saying it as though trying to convince him. I find myself rushing to disrobe. I rush to get to the bed. He's still looking at me. He's still watching me. My heart is beating so hard that I'm hoping he isn't hearing it. I'm hoping that my heart isn't literally beating out of my chest like a goddam drum. I wonder if he notices the trickles of sweat on my forehead in the moonlight as I lay down next to him. I face away from him, but I can still feel his eyes. I can still feel them.
"You and my brother have been getting along lately?" Adrian asks.
Did he know something? Had he seen the kiss!
I swallow hard. I take my time wondering what my next words should be. I don't know how much he knows. I don't know why he's questioning me in the middle of the night. He suspected something. I just wasn't sure yet what that something would be.
"What makes you ask that?"
"I was kind of worried," Adrian responds, "You being so conservative, I feel like my brother may be a little while for you."
"I believe he might be trying to repair the relationship between you two by getting to know me."
"Perhaps. Or perhaps it's more."
Had he seen the kiss? Was he trying to get me to admit to it? Even worse, was he suspicious that Ronin and I had just met with the Blind?
He looks at me in this weird way. He looks at me in this way as though he wants me to say something. I feel so awkward at that moment.
Instead of admitting what he wants to talk about he just smiles.
"You know what?" he says awkwardly, "Nevermind."
I turn around just in time for me to catch a look from Adrian. It's the strangest look I've ever seen before. I don't know how to describe it. For the first time I am fully aware that this is not the same Adrian that I knew from my own world. There was this stranger in my bed and for the first time I realize it. I knew he knew something.
I knew he was going to do something.
And I was terrified.
I wake up in the morning. I don't remember falling asleep. It feels like my body gave out on me. I wake up to the loud sound of someone dropping clothes on the bed at that moment.
I'm so confused by it.
"Get up. We're late."
"What's going on?" I ask.
He's standing over me. Adrian. He's already fully dressed. He's fully dressed in a suit. I'm so confused on what's happening at that moment. I'm so confused on why he has a goddam suit on. There is no friendly smile or anything like that. He's just looking at me with this blank look.
"You know what's going on. The monthly confessions. We're late. You overslept."
I have no idea what he's talking about. I want to ask him but the way he's looking at me just makes me more and more nervous at that moment.
It's not even this "confessions" that is getting me nervous. It's just how strange he's acting. I watch how he says, "I'll be in the car."
The way he says it just sounds negative. It sounds nasty. It sounds like someone who has a big issue. I just feel how awkward it is. I find myself getting dressed and by the time I'm downstairs Adrian is just in the car waiting. He hasn't even eaten breakfast or anything like that.
When I get downstairs however, I notice someone else is there. Ronin. He's there with Nick. I look at them for a second and it's almost as though they can read my mind. I watch Nick. He activates his device. The same device he activated before. The television in the living room goes off. The cameras go off.
"You guys have a few seconds at most."
Ronin wastes no time. He runs over to me. He begins kissing me...hard! His tongue goes down my throat. He has no problems showing his affection right in front of Nick. It's clear from Nick's reactions that he could care less what is going on between Ronin and me romantically. There is definitely nothing happening between the two even though they are playing this role.
"What's happening?" I ask.
Nick is the one who answers me, "Confessions. It's really nothing. The community gets together in public forums and confess their deepest darkest secrets to everyone else."
Ronin laughs at the thought, "Wish he was. Unfortunately, no. It's the most embarrassing two hours ever."
"So the cameras everywhere aren't enough? They want to get into your head too?" I ask.
"Not even your thoughts are your own."
"We're safe," Ronin assures me, "Everything will be resolved soon."
The way he was so sure of it didn't assure me of anything. I didn't feel right. Something with how Adrian was acting just threw me off. I didn't know what it was but I knew something was wrong. Something was off.
"He's onto us," I state.
The two of them look at me. Ronin stops kissing me long enough to say, "Shut up, stop being paranoid."
His tongue enters my mouth almost immediately shutting me up physically. Ronin can't keep his hands off of me and truthfully I don't want him to. I realize this isn't so passive to Nick though he damn near comes between us and pushes Ronin off of us.
"What did you just say?" he ask.
"Nick, he's onto us?"
"In what way?"
"I'm not sure."
Nick isn't taking that for an answer, "I need you to be sure. Is he onto you in the way that lets you think he knows you guys are dealing with the Blind or is he nervous about your affair..."
The words sink into me. Am I having an affair? I wasn't really this world's Ontario. At the same time, did it matter? I was married to Ezra in another world. Either way what I was doing with Ronin meant I was having an affair. I was breaking some vow somewhere.
I didn't know how to feel about it.
I hesitate to answer the question, "I think...I think it's more suspicion about the affair."
"We can't be too safe," Nick states, "Where's the parallel heart?"
"I have it stored away," Ronin says.
"Give it to me."
"Hell no," Ronin responds.
Nick gives him a look, "You are staying in the house of a top government official. The fact that the Parallel Heart is here in the first is completely unsafe. Go ride with them and I'll skip the confessions. Give me the Parallel Heart and I'll take it to the blind zone."
Ronin looks at me. I look at Ronin.
Did we trust Nick with the Parallel heart is the question?
"He has a point," I state, shaking my head, "With Adrian onto us he could be looking for some sort of different kind of evidence and just roll up on the Parallel Heart. We need to keep it safe no matter what?"
I look at Ronin. I can tell he doesn't want to give it up. It's written all over his face that he's having difficulty with all of this at that moment. He gets quiet. He just stands there for a while. I can see the expression on his face as he weighs the pros and cons of giving up the dimensional device to Nick.
Right before he nods, he looks at me. It's as though maybe I'm that final factor that is weighing his decision. With that he leaves and when he returns he has the Parallel Heart in hands.
"This is the most valuable thing I ever had," he tells Nick.
"I'll protect it with my life," Nick promises.
Just at that moment the sound of the tv comes back on.
"Weird," Ronin says looking at the camera, "Must have been a blackout."
We arrive in an auditorium. It's supposed to be our assigned auditorium. In this world once a month people got together to go to their auditorium for Confessions. The concept immediately reminds me of the Catholic confessions, except there was no private booth and a priest on the other end. This had nothing to really do with religion. This was something else. This was something much more strange. As we walk into the auditorium I look at the front of the room and see a microphone.
"People seem really excited today," I state as I walk in there.
Adrian and Ronin hear what I say, but only Ronin responds, "It's always exciting to confess. Let everything off your chest. Tell people how you really feel."
Just at that moment Ronin squeezes my butt. I struggle not to smile. He's getting more and more brave. I've noticed. Ever since our night together it just feels like Ronin is changing. It's in a good way. He's becoming more confident. He's more affectionate. It can also be a bad thing however. He's clearly taking more risks.
"Sometimes you can think someone is one way when they are something completely different," Adrian states, "Sometimes confession is needed."
The way Adrian says it is so awkward. Ronin and I exchange glances. If he didn't think Adrian knew something I know he's definitely suspicious of it now.
I watch Ronin grab Adrian and stop him as we walk into the auditorium.
"You got something to say Bro?"
"Why would I have something to say?" Adrian asks with a smile.
"You seem a little off."
"Somethings off," Adrian states, "But it's not me. We should take our seats. The real show is about to begin."
The real show? The real show?
Ronin turns at that moment. He looks at me. He is scared. I can see it on his face. All of a sudden that confidence seems to snake away as Adrian finds a seat through the crowded auditorium of our neighbors.
"Leave," Ronin states.
"Leave, get in the car and drive to the airport," he whispers in my ear, "Take the next flight to Taured. Non-stop..."
"You're scaring me Ronin."
"Because I'm scared," he states.
He definitely was picking up the weird vibes that Adrian was giving. I thought it was weird but he actually knew Adrian way better than I did. If he thought it was weird too then something was definitely off.
"Come with me..."
"If they are onto us the both of us won't get far together..."
"I'm not leaving you."
"Excuse me," I interrupt him, "I'm finding a seat."
At this point I'm hoping Adrian doesn't know anything about the Blind. At this point I'm hoping he just suspects us of cheating. I'd rather be divorced then executed. There was no way that this was going to end up well.
I take my seat next to Adrian. Ronin hesitates but comes and sits next to us.
It's so odd sitting there when people come in. I notice the officers
in white are all around. They are everywhere. They are just as odd
as I remember the first time I came to this place. When they walk in they
stand to the side of the room. They have their guns armed. If this
was just a confession then why were they so heavily armed? Why were there
so many there?
"This isn't normal," Ronin states.
He says it blankly. It spooks me even more when I see just how many men in white have entered the room. Something odd was happening. People don't seem to notice. Old people, young people, professionals, homeless looking people and everyone in between were piling into this grand auditorium from the neighborhood. Most of them didn't seem to notice how many men in white there are. They may not notice the guns. I notice though. I notice everything. I notice how the men in white are on their phones. They are communicating back and forth.
My heart is turning in my stomach.
An announcer gets on the stage. It's similar to a town hall. A few elected officials take the stage, getting announced and roll out their roles with this huge sense of pride. The self-grandeur seems to seep out of their skin as they say their roles. I sit there wanting to sink in myself among my fellow constituents when randomly someone is called to confess. It's so random.
"Zac Bryant, what is your confession of the month?"
Simple as that. I turn to my right. A bald white man stands up. He looks around the room. He looks completely unphased as he stands up. It's as though he's been trained in public speaking. I expect him not to say anything at all. I'm completely wrong though.
"I confess to having several thoughts about killing Ryan Bryant," he states, "Even started planning it. Was going to sneak into his room and blow his brains out. Still might. Not sure."
The room turns at that moment. Almost immediately we are all exposed to who Ryan Bryant is. Ryan Bryant looks twice as nervous as all hell. You would think Ryan Bryant would do something. I don't know. Call the cops, or try to have a conversation with the man who wanted to kill him. None of that happens.
"Thanks for your confession," the public official states.
And it goes from there. A woman who confesses to wanting to abandon her children at a local gas station, several husbands who have had thoughts of cheating and even a man who admits that he feels more like a woman inside. All of those things go on with not really any sort of reaction from anyone. No one is surprised. No one cares. It's as though they've all heard more shocking things than this before. I'm the only one who seems to be anxious in this entire auditorium.
At least I think I'm anxious, but that's when they call a name that scares the fuck out of me.
"Adrian Vaughn, what is your confession of the month?"
I turn to my husband as he stands up. I hadn't even been aware that he has taken my last name in this world. When he stands he seems so proud and sure of himself, just like everyone else that stood and confessed. It's clear he has something on his mind.
"I would like to confess..." he states, "I'd like to confess to knowing of a member of the Blind. A conspirator to our democracy."
"Bring him out!"
Just at that moment we watch as Nick is dragged out onto the floor! Ronin and I immediately look at one another. We are both thinking the same thing. If they had Nick that meant they had the Parallel Heart.
People in the room finally get excited. Finally this is something that makes them react. They begin chanting.
"KILL HIM! KILL HIM! KILL HIM!
"No," the official announces on the microphone, "We'll keep him alive. We may be able to torture him into talking about what his mission is."
To read the next chapter in advance go to www.crushedcrown.com