“There’s been another murder.”
He remembered the punch in his gut. His train of thought had indeed been derailed. And then it had burst into flame. And melted. And the passengers had screamed as they died horribly. And then one wheel had rolled out of the wreckage, still on fire, and had come to rest in his lower intestine.
And it was still there.
“We can go to my house for a bit and figure out what to do next. We have some time.”
At least he hoped they did.
While Lilith had been freaking out, he’d explained things to Cassandra. She’d accepted the truth fairly easy, but then it had been staring her in the face. No one had come to help her. In Sunset Valley, there was no help.
She had promised to say that they had headed for Riverview. Hopefully that would keep the guys busy long enough for him to figure something out.
Lilith made no response. She hadn’t spoken since they left. His question had hung in the air, unanswered.
But he was used to that.
His stomach clenched again as he remembered. He’d jumped up and slammed the chair back against the desk, his heart racing and his gut burning and his mind filled with pictures of a broken and silent Lilith.
“We’re almost there.”
Her silence continued.
The adrenalin rush was draining off a bit now, and it was taking the feeling of her as she had clung to him with it.
He pulled into the driveway and they got out. Silently. Of course.
“Can I take a shower and change?”
Jason froze as he opened the door.
Those were her first words? Not “Thank you for saving me.” or “So I’ve taken up a new hobby of killing people.” or “Waffles are quite tasty, aren’t they?” or “So here’s the story of how I pissed off someone who seems to be very powerful.”
Or, you know, “I love you.” That would have been nice too.
“Sure. You’ve still got some clothes here, I think.”
He’d always been a bit intimidated by Tolleson, who definitely had a bite worse than his bark. So when he’d heard the older man’s voice behind him that morning it hadn’t helped the roiling in his stomach.
“Hey, Milton. Where you running off to?”
Behind him, Lilith’s footsteps stopped.
He remembered how she had looked at him when she had said “All right.” And how she had held him so desperately.
Pity it took death to bring her walls down.
He heard a small sigh and waited, hoping she’d speak. Hoping he’d hear in her words what he had felt in her arms and seen in her eyes at the Goth house.
He thought he heard the barest whisper of a word, a word that might have been his name, and then the footsteps started again.
“I heard your girl’s in trouble.”
He sat down to wait for her. And to think.
Everything he’d ever believed in, everything he had built his life around, had been destroyed this morning. The gilding had been mercilessly scraped off, and the rotted wood underneath had been exposed.
The burning train wheel in his lower intestine had spun around a few times, blazing merrily, and then had fallen over into its current position.
He hadn’t even been able to speak. He had just looked, and waited.
“Look kid, I know you just got promoted and you don’t know how things work around here yet. But listen. Them reports, the ones you said were ‘fascist’? They ain’t the half of it.”
No, those reports certainly hadn’t been the half of it.
Tolleson had said that someone in power wanted Lilith charged with the murder of her boss and Mrs. Goth. That the guys in charge had known about Mrs. Goth’s death and Lilith’s presence at the house long before her daughter had called. And that he was expected to play ball, and if he didn’t the consequences would be very dire indeed.
The shower turned off upstairs. He heard Lilith walking around in his bedroom, opening and shutting drawers.
He had gone with his first immediate instinct. He’d somehow gotten Tolleson off his back and then sped to the Goth house like a bat out of hell. He still wasn’t sure exactly how he’d done it. Surely they would have been watching him?
And the Riverview story was the first thing he could think of so he went with it, but what they were going to do now? All the roads out of Sunset Valley would be watched. It wouldn’t be long before someone thought to come and check on his house. They’d have to dump his car. What were they going to do, live in a cave in the mountains forever?
Lilith came down the stairs. As he watched her he realized that it was all worth it.
He remembered. He remembered the burning look in her eyes when he had first seen her at the Goth house. He remembered how she had pressed against him, clinging to him as if he were the only thing left in the world.
If they had to live in a cave in the mountains forever, that’s what they’d do. As long as she was with him, it would be all right. Home was wherever she was. Heaven was wherever she was.
She came and stood by the sofa and spoke.
“So what do we do now?”
He stood up and answered her.