We're in the middle of an all-cast confrontation. Daniel has asked why Jane married Brandon. Everyone's on edge.
In the living room Steve paces. He explodes as soon as he sees me. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me your brothers are terrorists? Maybe we could have all had a party together and talked about why they can’t tell the difference between me and Dan?”
“Steve, please calm down. I think there’s a lot we don’t understand yet.”
“Come on, Mom, don’t you want to know the inside story? She was there. She watched those goons beat Dan within an inch of his life. I’d like to know.”
Riley sets me down on the couch beside Mrs. Helston, who is doing her best not to look at me like she’s just discovered I escaped from prison. “Jane saved my life, I believe we owe her a chance to defend herself.”
Great, now I have to do it again. Riley brings me a drink, straight liquor, a new experience. I take the whole thing at once and wait for the buzz to blur my panic into a more peaceful high. She works her way around the room lubricating everyone. I wait for Daniel. He leans against the back of the couch. There’s no way for us to make eye contact.
I begin by repeating that I’m the only one in danger because I’m the one that’s been hiding and now, because of the whole stupid phone throwing thing, my husband and brothers know where I am.
From there I walk through the hours after leaving Battery Park. I stall for time over my dinner with Jason, hoping the banality will give Steve time to chill out and perhaps not kill me, which he has every right to do. He is the one walking around with the collar of guilt around his neck for being the one who should have been taken.
At the safe site, I remember my surprise and disappointment when I find out Jason didn’t come to New York just to talk to me about Boston. I’m the one who suggests they check the wallet to confirm they’ve grabbed the wrong guy.
The tension in the room ratchets up as I describe the debate, hesitation, and anger that ensues among the Vanguard following the wallet check. I sense they want me out of the room so I take water down to Daniel. When I return I can tell something’s gone on but I don’t have enough experience to understand at least one of my brothers has allied against me in secret.
I pause, again stalling for time. Mrs. Helston and Riley look a little blank. They’re processing a lot right now, maybe they still think I’m talking about a very organized gang of thugs who randomly targeted Daniel for his money.
Jason is in a hurry to get me out of the house and doesn’t want to talk any more about the kidnapping. I’m worried that the obvious right thing isn’t going to happen so I fight to stay and drag a promise out of them to release Daniel that same night as soon as it’s dark. I don’t leave until I’m satisfied.
“What was the promise?” asks Daniel.
“It doesn’t matter. They lied to me.”
“Say it anyway.”
Gulp, gulp, gulp. “I promised to finish college at home and to marry my ex-boyfriend. I didn’t know their side hadn’t been kept until Steve told me at the hospital.”
Now it’s all out. I’m done. Everyone else looks to Daniel, waiting for him to accept my story or counter it. There isn’t anything new to read in his body language. But then, I’m not sure what I would look like after I just found out someone had given up their life dream to marry a guy they didn’t love so I could carry on with mine. My ulterior woman crosses the room to reach out and hug him, to feel whatever he’s feeling and share it. More than anything I desperately want to share it, whatever it is.
“I knew there was something off about her,” says Steve.
Without thinking I pitch my glass at him, not really aiming, more of a reflex really. The glass shatters against his shoulder with disappointingly minor damage.
“Hey, what the fuck?”
“That’s why you’ve gone around telling everyone I’ve slept with you, right?”
Steve turns Cornhusker red from his neck up to his hairline.
If you don’t know what a Cornhusker is, that’s okay. Normally I wouldn’t admit such a thing either. It’s a Midwestern thing.
Riley actually bursts out laughing she’s so surprised. “Would you look at that? I’ve never seen him blush before.” She claps me on the back. I’d bet anything Riley grew up with brothers.
“Whatever,” snaps Steve. “It’s not like Dan wanted her. He hasn’t touched a girl in a decade.”
There it is: the pin that pops the balloon that has been brooding with his back to us. I can almost hear the snap. Steve barely has time to congratulate himself on his quip before Daniel’s fist finds his face. This isn’t like a hard right uppercut, this is Daniel actually leaping up into the air and bringing his fist down on Steve’ face, serious ninja stuff, except a little clumsy because he only has one completely strong hip.
Mrs. Helston gasps, horrified, but of course she can’t do anything to stop him. I’m sure if she’d been able to get off the couch fast enough she would have tried.
It’s all over before the three of us women are done blinking off our astonishment. Daniel appears from behind the couch first, adjusting his clothes. There’s blood on his knuckles. Steve is slower to get up, whining in a sort of moaning howl, “You bastard! You fucking bastard, you broke my, my—did you forget about Hawaii?”
“We’re leaving tomorrow. If she doesn’t want to be found by her relatives she’s coming with us.” Daniel looks at me. Finally I see him and he sees me. I summon up what little energy I have left to beam into my expression every possible suggestion of trustworthiness, hoping he’ll believe I’m not going to betray him. I’m not really sure it’s possible to overcome that kind of bias in an expression, but I’m trying. I could sit under the gaze of those eyes the rest of my life and not care about anything else. I want him to believe me. It isn’t clear what message he receives but something appears to decide itself in his thoughts. He leaves the house, probably to go up and sit on his deck and watch the ocean.
Maybe I’m a bit drunk and this is why Steve’ nose just won’t settle correctly into place. Maybe being knocked off-kilter twice in a day is too much for a nose. He escapes me as soon as I’m done, making his exit as guilty as a dog with its tail between its legs.
Riley and I stand in the kitchen not quite sure what to say to each other. If there’s some kind of small talk follow-up commonly used after such revelations I could make use of it. It’s possible we’re both just too tired, tired beyond tired in my case.
“Cheers,” says Riley, tapping her glass to mine.
“I thought it was just a mugging,” mummers Mrs. Helston. “Someone did all that on purpose…I can’t tell if that makes me feel better or worse.” She hands me an armload of blankets. “There isn’t any insulation in the tower. You’ll need these.”
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Mrs. Helston can’t read my mind and doesn’t know that I’m just itching to spend time in that room full of pillows. It certainly isn’t a thought I’ve had in the past hour.
“Go up and find him,” she says, her smile vague, trying to absorb the shock.
The rain has fallen back into a light mist but the wind is blowing arctic air inland and it can’t be more than fifty-five or sixty degrees. My poor bare legs are half numb by the time I reach the top deck.
It’s too dark to tell if Daniel is surprised or expecting to see me. He leads the way inside and flips the light switch which turns on little lantern lights sitting in enclosures along the wall. There’s just enough light for us to see, but not enough for anyone in a neighboring house to see us.
Gauzy curtains cover the windows in translucent Indian sulfur and turmeric and curry and indigo and emerald. It feels like the place I’ve always wanted the best dream ever to be set. I sit on one of the window seats and crush a square of mustard colored pillow against my stomach. Daniel sits on the edge of the adjacent window seat watching me closely. That he waits for a reaction is my first clue that this isn’t just a room in the house. It isn’t just Poppy’s princess tower.
“You made this room for me. Why? There’s no way you could have expected to meet me again.”
“I feel emotion in color. It’s not like red is anger or blue is fear but impressions of color pallets usually overpower any image-based memories. After I got out of the hospital Mom wanted me to have a project. I wasn’t particularly motivated to relearn to walk knowing I wouldn’t ever be as strong as I had been. I had a lot of negative colors tearing around my head. This room became a way to remember something I wanted to remember. This is what you look like when I remember you at Battery Park.”
I could have sworn I don’t have any water left in my body, but my eyes are leaking again. “I’m so so sorry I ever left that day.”
He holds my face in his hands. The tears run over them, catching between his fingers. He kisses me.
In case you’re wondering this is not a night where clothes are wildly removed in the dead heat of passion. In the sunken center of our tower room, we huddle under blankets and enjoy the novelty of the room rising around us instead of falling away below. We feel each other in length and breadth and shape, and remember.