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The feel of water remained at Aliss’s neck.
Having sense memories from the sight of something and not the physical feel — was it seeing her own face above a reddened pool, eyes open, lifeless? She wondered if she hadn’t hidden this sight under forgotten layers, would she have moved through remembered water, with that smell of death and old metal in her nostrils, for all these days? Had it been the similarity of the two worlds that sparked a fevered belief that this one was hers and let her push away from the other? If so, the desire to know had seeped in anyway, looming over her at every step. Being rooted in truth now salved the part of her that needed to know. But it was hard to accept that she hadn’t shed what she’d known, only carried it without awareness, moving about the apartment and on with life as if those memories which hurt most and the memories they were founded on, hadn’t happened.
She clutched the smooth fabric of Hugh’s black coat tighter, curious that he, too, had worn his coat indoors longer than seemed to make sense, as Miller had. Then it occurred to her that this may be a strength — being able to distract herself from a fall, so she could right herself and feel less hurt — using what she wanted to see as a cat would use its instinct and inner ear. Was it a good strength? Searching for explanations made her weary, then angry that she’d hidden things from herself instead of facing them and having the real control she craved. She was swimming out into more truth when she noticed Hugh’s face. His expression changed her anger to guilt.
“Are you all right?” he said.
She gave a small nod, again wanting to ask how he was, but as seconds passed, her throat grew tight.
“I’ll get you some water,” he said, rising from the couch.
She tried to interject, “orange juice,” but could barely squeak with the thought of water making her retch.
He ran the tap for a few moments before filling a glass, and putting it into her hand, insisting she take a sip when she stared down into it without moving. As he stood over her, watching her drink, she was surprised she didn’t choke.
Hugh lowered himself to his knees on the floor before her and placed his palms on her lap. “We’ll be okay now. You’ve been safe all this time, so there’s no reason yet why we couldn’t live here. This place could use a business like mine. I can make money here and keep looking out for you.” With less apparent ease, he said, “I can forgive you for last night.”
Aliss’s eyes lifted from the glass, to him. She shivered. Her head shook a slow, uneasy no. When he drew fractured breath into his lungs, squeezing her flesh hard with his palms, she fell back to considering her safety.
“You’ve been headstrong and frivolous. But never cruel.”
She wanted him to be rooted in truth, too. “I’m not a mean person …”
“Maybe you forgot I wasn’t happy.”
“How could you be, betrayed by someone who was supposed to love you?”
“Not Mom — us. We didn’t make a good couple.”
His voice grew louder, gruff. “Do you know how much this hurts?”
“Yes … I’m sorry.”
“No, you’re not.”
She cringed. “If you think that … you don’t know me.”
“I know you better than you know yourself.”
She shook her head again. “Sometimes we all have to swallow what hurts, but I’ve done too much of that.”
He shouted, “I haven’t?”
Aliss struggled to hold on to the voice he wasn’t ready for.