This entry contains discussions, mentions, and descriptions of dark and triggering topics such as child abuse, sexual abuse, firearm usage, violence, and death.
Reader discretion advised.
Lizzie – 2:37
I remember everything.
… At least, I remember everything important. I think.
After Gavin stormed off, Lori, Kent, and I waited for Gabby to let us know that they had entered the arena. I tried to snuff out my emotions to the best of my ability–they were a distraction from the mission, a hindrance to the task at hand–but it proved difficult.
Over the past five years, Gavin was a constant force in my life. A shoulder to lean on, an ear to hear me out. A reminder that I was young and had the rest of my life to look forward to. Yes, Monty was my first love, first boyfriend, first kiss… But Gavin was the first person to seek me out of his own accord. Everyone else stumbled upon me; Monty found me in a park by happenstance. Mona took me in because her brother begged her to. The court accepted me as one of their own because of his influence.
But not Gavin Moore. Not my dearest, sweetest, faithful, courageous Gavin Moore.
I had convinced myself that I was delusional, that my feelings for him were unrequited. Never in a million years did I think I would be standing in a dark alley, watching Gavin struggle to admit what everyone else seemed to know.
He had feelings for me. Perhaps he always had… But why hadn’t he said anything before?
My mind was a mess of stray thoughts and golden memories as I gazed at him, mesmerized at how even silver moonbeams did little to soften his glow. He shined brilliantly, warming me in his presence. Scalding me with his touch.
And then he walked away, leaving me out in the cold without another word or glance.
But… He’s Gavin Moore. He’s supposed to care about me. He’s supposed to be my friend, to be honest with me, even when it leads to uncomfortable confrontations. He’s the guy who never shies away from a fight, who always runs into the fray and defends those in need. He barged into my life, not by accident, but with purpose. His very existence led to me finding my own purpose–my friends, the halfway house, Monty…
As our group scurried toward the hotel entrance in the shadows, I couldn’t help but recall all the times Gavin stood by as Monty showered me with affection. It struck me that he would always avert his eyes, though I had thought he was being considerate and giving us privacy.
When in reality, Gavin liked me.
What the hell does that mean? I asked myself as we flew up the steps with Leah in the lead. My gun was in hand, cocked and loaded, my trigger finger itching to squeeze. Even if it’s true, and Gavin likes me… What does that change?
Did it change how I saw him? Yes. Before, he was just a friend in spite of my true feelings. He was this untouchable entity wrapped in a platonic bubble, even before I reconnected with the court. Now, it was as if the bubble had turned into a glass barrier that shattered to pieces, and I was seeing him for the first time all over again. He had certainly changed more in the past year than in the first four of our friendship, but so had I–a feat I could only attribute to Monty.
Monty… Did this revelation change how I saw my boyfriend?
No, it didn’t.
My love for the man I had tied myself to didn’t waver in the slightest. Yes, we originally met by accident or fate, or whatever you want to call it–but ever since, he has sought me out. Made his stance and his feelings known. That was the pivotal difference in my mind: Monty only hid his feelings when we first met because I was young, fragile, traumatized. He hid them after he came of age because I was still an impressionable kid, and he wanted to give me a chance to grow on my own without the influence of his emotions and desires. When he finally pursued me, I had grown into my own person, and he not only made every effort to learn who I had become, but to make sure his intentions came across clearly.
When Monty decided he would pursue me, he did just that. He told me how he felt, what he wanted, and took the time to let me figure out if I wanted the same. It had honestly astounded me to learn that he believed I might actually reject him–me, reject Monty? I’d be insane to do something so ridiculous. He was mature, patient, attentive, considerate, driven…
He was beautiful. Montague Alagona II was beautiful.
Being around him was electrifying. Sparks danced between us with every look, every glancing touch of our skin. When we held hands, it felt as if lightning coursed through my body, eliciting a series of responses throughout my being.
And when we kissed… It felt like home. It felt like everything–all of history, the beginning and the end–came crashing into one moment, and time stood still. The world ceased to move when he pressed his lips to mine, and I knew in my heart that no adolescent crush could ever compare to the exhilaration that man made me feel.
Gavin was the sun–warm, bright, inviting yet out of reach–but Monty was the air in my lungs, the gravity that kept me down to Earth, the rain that fell from the heavens like brief kisses on my forehead, eyelids, cheeks…
Monty was my everything… And even after today, Gavin was just my friend.
I let that declaration ground me, prompting me to focus on this final mission. One more job, one more death, and I could go home to the love of my life.
Our party was nearing the top floor following the inexplicable sound of a bomb being detonated, when we all but collided with the man of the hour: Clyde Peters, the leader of the Jesup Gang.
He sneered and shot in our general direction, wielding two handguns and sparing little energy on aim as he disappeared behind a door. We managed to easily duck his hectic firing by dropping down until we were flat on the steps. It wasn’t until Leah snarled and raced after him that Lori and I joined her for the hunt. We sent the fox into the corridor first before we realized Clyde had ducked into one of the handful of suites on that floor, and Lori cursed under her breath.
Kent joined us then, and we were about to come up with a plan of attack when Leah sprinted down the hallway and stopped before the third-to-last door. If anyone could sniff him out, it would be her, after all.
The three of us dashed to meet Leah before I gave her a single order: go for the throat.
The grinning fox let out a menacing snarl as she scurried into the dark suite. We shut the door and dipped to the side in time to dodge several stray bullets that were undoubtedly meant for the small canine, but I wasn’t concerned. I could still feel her presence in my mind, which meant she hadn’t been destroyed just yet.
We stayed put until I felt a sudden rush of excitement, followed by Clyde’s howl ripping through the night–then Kent opened the door and Lori ran inside with me right behind her.
I felt Leah’s fear just as we were about to enter the main portion of the suite, and I scrambled to grab my older sister and yank her backward to safety. “No, don’t–!”
More gunshots rang out, and the three of us huddled against the wall. Leah had Clyde laying on his back just to the left of the center of the room, desperate to maul his face with her fangs and claws. The best she could manage was to tear into his left arm while he fired shots off wildly with his right. His second handgun was knocked off to one side, out of his reach.
“He’s down! We have to end this–” Lori began, but I held her back.
“You can’t! You’ll get hit.”
“I’m already fuckin’ hit!” she argued back, trying to shove me away.
Kent placed a hand on both of our shoulders and, once we’d paused from our bickering to grant him our attention, gestured toward the center of the suite with a nod. We followed his gaze just in time to see golden orange embers erupt out of thin air and grow until two individuals were left in its wake.
Clyde noticed the porter’s entrance as well, and he was in the middle of adjusting his aim when all three demons sprung into action. The psychic’s eyes shone violet as magenta flames burst at each of the room’s exits; Tripp teleported behind the bandit, allowing his golden fire to burn his environment even after he stepped away from it; Kent went above and beyond, a blaze of cerulean shooting out from his hands and spreading until a circle had formed around them. His control over his power was masterful, especially as he stepped aside to allow Lori and I into the ring of fire.
Then he closed us off from the outside world, and all I knew as I gazed upon my uncle was immeasurable heat and rage. There was a reserve of hatred bottled up deep within me that threatened to boil and spill over at his proximity.
This was it. It was almost over.
Lori ambled over to our bloodied uncle, seemingly without a care in the world. A hint of a smirk played on her lips as she stared down at the man who had tormented her the most.
He blinked up at her through the sweat and sanguine–and the bastard let out a chuckle.
“There’s mah favrit’ girl Loretta! Fer a sec’nd, I thought I killed you.”
I could see Lori’s shoulders tense at first his pet name for her, and then his use of her birth name, but she didn’t let anything show on her face besides indignation. “Like I’d give your crusty ass the satisfaction.”
He snickered at her response. “Yeah, you always hadda mouth on ya. It’s what yer Uncle Clyde likes most ‘bout you, baby gi–”
Lori drove her thick boot into his side over and over, cutting off his sarcastic quip as well as kicking him repeatedly. Her teeth were gritted, her eyes wide as her face twisted in ire. She let out a grunt with each kick, her voice rising until she was screaming at the top of her lungs.
The rest of us watched on as her impassioned display continued for over a minute. I knew how she felt–if I could, I’d do the same to our father, possibly even worse… But would this really help her heal? These weren’t the actions of someone “removed” from our shared traumatic childhood, but rather of one who had let it consume their entire being, devouring their soul until there was nothing left but anger, pain, disgust, hate.
I was so absorbed in Lori’s actions and my own indecision that I hadn’t even noticed that Gavin wasn’t in the room with us.
“Lor, that’s enough!” I commanded, hoping she wouldn’t give me too hard a time with Clyde as an audience. “He might have information on other markets and bases. We need him alive for now.”
My sister’s eyes were nearly black despite the variety of colors shifting around us. Nevertheless, she dealt our uncle one final kick before she stepped around him and the Phebean porter, her back turned to the rest of us as she collected herself. Tripp lifted his eyes from our prisoner for a brief moment–flitted those brown pools between Clyde and Lori for the swiftest of seconds–when it happened.
An explosion erupted at the center of the room with no point of origin, knocking everyone off of their feet. My ears were ringing, and I squinted through the smoke with burning eyes. What–?
The floor had caved in, giving way to a wide pit at the center of the suite. Clyde threw Leah into the pit–her small body slammed into the opposite edge of the hole, dissolving into ink as she was pierced by jagged cement and steel bars–and sprung onto his feet, as agile as any brawler half his age. Trained to kill, the porter aimed for the bandit’s head and–
The gun’s slider jumped back and stuck in place.
It was then that everyone sprung into action; the demons and I jumped forward when Clyde pulled a third gun from a holster hidden inside his jacket and took aim.
POW! POW! Tripp clutched his abdomen as he staggered backward until he stumbled and fell down onto one knee.
“TRIPP–!” Gabby charged forward, her eyes glowing as she readied her ability.
Clyde already had his gun trained on her as Tripp’s wide eyes took on a red sheen. “Gab, don’t–”
He teleported just as the bandit pulled the trigger, and all the porter could do was catch the wounded psychic as he reappeared behind her.
It had all happened in a matter of fifteen seconds. Only enough time for Lori to spin around, and for Kent and I to lunge at my uncle. When Clyde turned his sights on me, Kent jumped between us and blasted him with blue fire. Lori and the bandit threw themselves off to the right, narrowly avoiding the flames. Clyde’s recovery was faster than my sister’s–he was on his feet and peppering her with bullets before she could completely straighten from her crouch.
“NO–!” I hadn’t even realized I let out a scream, nor that I was moving. The next second, I was on the ground with Clyde, trying to wrestle the gun from his grip. I nearly had it when another explosion shook the building; he punched me in the face and kicked me in the stomach, putting space between us. The blow forced me to suck in a sharp breath, resulting in a coughing fit as the dust coated my already dry throat. As I fought for air, Clyde trained his pistol on me again, and I couldn’t help but shut my eyes.
I’m sorry, Monty–
My thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of a struggle before I was lifted and tossed off to one side. I blinked through my stinging tears and saw Kent fighting with Clyde, exchanging blows and shooting off blue flames left and right. The demon was a match for the older man, holding his own against the ruthless bandit for what felt like eons.
Then Clyde pistol-whipped the young man and shot him in the back. Kent’s body thrust forward until he fell onto his face; his limbs all struggled to push himself up when the bandit stomped his steel-toed boot down onto his left calf. Kent’s yell almost covered up the sickening crack of his bone snapping–almost.
I finally managed to sit up when Clyde turned from my downed friend and approached me, gun in hand. A sinister grin pulled at his thin lips, revealing a mouthful of rotten teeth covered in blood. His left arm hung limp by his side, rendered useless after Leah’s assault.
So this is how it ends, I seethed, inching backward as I glared up at the man who had contributed to much of my pain. My hand slipped a little as I came to the edge of the pit, but I steadied myself and planted my hands on either side of me. My eyes never left his as he raised his firearm. After everything I had to look forward to… It all amounts to nothing.
Clyde let out a short laugh. “You ain’t changed, Elizabeth. Yer still the same fiery li’l girl yer Daddy loved. You made him soft–yer why he died like he did.”
“Good,” I sneered. My voice was so hoarse, I doubt he even heard me over the raging inferno that surrounded us. “Hope he suffered.”
Clyde’s amused expression shifted to one of resentment. “You dumb bi–!”
Suddenly, it was as if something caught his attention from the entrance of the suite. Clyde swung his arm in an attempt to aim at a new target, and it was then that I realized that Lori was still alive. She stabbed into his side with her hunting knife, causing his hold on his piece to falter just enough that she took hold of his wrist and began to struggle for it.
Then I was tackled away from the pit by a solid mass of muscle, and it took me a few breaths before I realized who it was. Gavin–!
His hazel eyes were glued to my relatives, watching the action unfold. I joined him, eager to cement my sister’s victory in my memories…
Instead, the image of my uncle stabbing her in the throat and shoving her into the gaping hole in the floor would be forever seared into my psyche.
Everything froze in place, ignoring all rules of time and space, and I watched my life begin to play out of order. Hunting with Clint, my first kill during a bandit raid, meeting Alexa and Chris’ cat children, playing videogames with my friends, babysitting Sal’s son Rafaello, game night at the halfway house, cooking with Mona and Zenobia, introducing Mama to Ainslie, running with the Savannah sounder on the border–
It took a moment for me to realize that some of the memories I was seeing weren’t mine… Or at least, were not of the life I had come to know. I saw myself in various iterations across over a hundred lifetimes, each memory bringing knowledge of times from long before the world came to an end. I battled against others, opposed those lacking in ethics, and died. I saw my own death–my usually bloody, violent death–happen again and again, in different manners to people who looked and sounded and felt like me.
Gavin’s face flashed into my mind, and a scorching heat emanated from the center of my chest and radiated outward, enveloping my entire body. All of my pain and discomfort was alleviated, if only for the moment, and I stood on steady legs as the final memories flew by.
Gavin was a crumpled mess of bullet wounds on the floor at my feet. My friends were scattered across the room, dying from their own injuries. My uncle stood at the center of it all, adjacent to a pit in the floor that opened up to the suite directly below. His pistol was trained on me, ready to fire at a moment’s notice.
My sister is dead.
That single thought was the driving force, the only motivation I needed. I focused all of my agony–ruined childhood, lost siblings, incurable trauma, dying friends–I put every ounce of despair and enmity into one word, and I stared daggers at the man I deemed responsible for it all.
His body jerked in place; his dark pools fell on his arms, studying them with wide-eye disbelief. His handgun was all but forgotten as it fell from his grip and clattered on the floor, and Clyde began to frantically smack and swipe at his arms, his movements those of a lunatic trying to put out a nonexistent fire.
But I could see it with my new eyes. I knew exactly what was happening: Clyde’s body was shrouded in translucent flames. They weren’t actually there, but he believed them to be–and it was as I stepped closer and thought another word that they became real.