Summary: What if Olivia is the one who had to go to the other side to get something she lost? What if this other side was worse than she ever could have imagined?
Feedback: I tried a different writing style with this piece, so if you care to drop a few words telling me if it worked or not, I’d really appreciate it.
Olivia is new to this city, but not to this room. It is dark. Desperate. The sun used to shine against the window, but not anymore. Not for a while now.
Shadows play outside. Tinted deep red.
Gashed, bruised, broken people cut themselves on hope. It is a brave new world, but the brave died a long time ago.
Olivia is new to this city, but not the weight of her gun. It presses hard, like a prayer she never made, into the small of her back. Against the metal of her chair. Cold. Comfort. Comforting.
Johann has been here for a while. Playing this game. These games.
The cards are light on the table.
A state from old America. Before the world ended and its pieces collapsed like so many jagged edges falling.
Astrid is not new to anything.
Doesn’t remember a time when she was.
She stands to the back of the room trying to hide, a shadow. Already bruised, but mostly just broken.
Johann snaps his fingers.
She rushes forward, sits on his lap.
And she does. His mouth tastes like ashes and whiskey and the wretched end of a long journey. Her skirt rises up to her waist. His hand pushes it there. Tongue in her mouth. Hand on her breast.
Olivia slides her chips forward.
The Dealer looks to Johann. Everyone else is long gone.
Johann licks Astrid’s chin, bites the skin.
Astrid doesn’t understand at first. She simply waits for Johann to move his chips forward. He grabs her by the chin, squeezes his fingerprints onto her skin.
This time she gets it. But getting it doesn’t mean she knows what to do. The only card she’s ever played is her body. Astrid pushes a few chips to the center of the table.
“Bet or get the fuck out.”
Johann’s eyes are alive with all the wrong things. Things that Astrid has learned to fear. She pushes half Johann’s stack to the center of the table. His smile is like an evil spirit; it slides over his face.
“Fifty-thousand dollar raise for the gentleman.”
The Dealer looks to Olivia. She doesn’t look at her cards, just pushes all of her chips forward.
The cards play out like tragedy. Like drama. Like a waiting mystery.
“The lady wins.”
The Dealer pushes the chips Olivia’s way.
Johann shoves Astrid to the floor. She hits hard. Not the hardest she’s ever felt, but enough to singe the breath from her lungs.
Johann’s kick catches Astrid in the chest. The pain is immediate, overwhelming. She closes her eyes, but doesn’t make a sound. Johann’s booted foot rears back for another strike.
“I’ll play you for her. Double or nothing.”
Olivia doesn’t raise her voice.
Johann turns to her.
Olivia never repeats herself.
“Double or nothing plus this whore?”
Johann looks down at Astrid. She’s been his for five years. Not his only, but definitely one of his favorites.
The cards are dealt face up.
The cement floor scratches Astrid’s skin. The silence at the table sinks down, engulfs her body. A blanket of fifteen cards.
“I guess it’s your lucky day.”
Astrid does not know what that means or whom Johann’s words are meant for. Her eyes remain closed, blocking out whatever lay ahead. Her breathe is shallow, painful. It cracks against her ribs.
Hands grab her. Haul her up. Throw her against the wall.
“How about one more time. A nice little goodbye.”
Johann lifts Astrid’s skirt. Rips her panties.
His hands press her shoulders back.
Cold, wet lips suck the skin at her neck.
Astrid closes her eyes. Turns her head to the right.
Waits for it to be over.
Some of it. All of it. Everything.
Johann hasn’t felt the barrel of a gun against his skin in a long time. This city belongs to his family, and they rule with an iron grip as a bloody manifesto.
Johann hasn’t felt the barrel of a gun against his skin in a long time, and its coldness spurs a tingle in his chest. A tingle he doesn’t recognize, but likes immediately.
It hints at more to life than what he has been given; the broken promises of a world shattered before he was even born.
“Let her go.”
Olivia never repeats herself.
Johann takes the silence for everything it is not. The metal hiss of his zipper is the last thing he hears before his dead body hits the ground.
It is a cold night. Bitter.
The last warm day is written in a history book somewhere.
Olivia sits in her car. Snow falls. Hits the glass in different shades of brown. Very few things are white and pure anymore. Maybe nothing.
She made a mistake. Not her first. Not her last.
But a mistake. A button pushed. A gun fired.
Blood on her hands.
Astrid sits in her car, pressed against the door. Far away from her.
“Astrid, we can’t stay here. I’m sorry.”
And she is sorry.
Because she should know better. She does know better. But the pain on the other side is unbearable. It is Olivia’s only companion.
“My name is Olivia.”
She stares at Astrid’s profile. It is gaunt, shivering, encased in fear.
“I’m not going to hurt you.”
Astrid still does not speak. The scars of previous words can be found all over her body.
Olivia wants Astrid to look at her, but she does not ask. She understands; this Astrid is not the same.
“Where we are going is better than here.”
Olivia starts the car.
The dealer is still alive, a moment’s away from speaking her name to people who should not hear it. It would have been safer to kill him, but where Olivia comes from, innocence still matters.
“Do you want to stay here?”
Astrid shrinks further away.
“Astrid, do you want to stay here? In this place?”
Olivia will not comprehend such a desire, but she will do what Astrid wants. Even if that means leaving Astrid here and going back to the other side alone.
Astrid takes a chance. She looks at the woman who wants to take her away from this hell. Astrid looks into Olivia’s eyes, searching.
She does not find anger or rage.
She finds sorrow and heartbreak.
She finds compassion.
Relief floods Olivia. It settles the churning in her stomach.
She drives until they reach a lake. Stops the car on its shore.
She steps out of the car, walks around to Astrid’s side, and opens the door.
She kneels. The freezing ground bites through her jeans. The snow has turned to sleet. It falls in waves around her shoulders.
Olivia holds out her hand; she waits. She is determined to wait for as long it takes. Until her legs are numb from the cold. Until her fingers are stiff.
“I’m going to protect you. I’m not going to let anyone hurt you.”
Olivia’s words string together like a proposal. Like a vow she desperately yearns to keep this time.
Astrid slips her hand into Olivia’s, allows herself to be pulled from the car and walked to a nearby tree. When Olivia pulls a device from her pocket, Astrid does not question. When a white light opens large and vast in front of them, Astrid does not turn away. When Olivia begins walking toward the light, their hands still linked, Astrid does not hesitate.
Astrid has never believed in anything, but Olivia promised to protect her, and for some reason, Astrid believes in that.
This new world is the same, and yet everything is different.
Astrid stares out the car’s window. The buildings are are not crumbling in on themselves. The street is not littered with despair.
“I’m taking you to my office. I want Walter to make sure you’re ok.”
Olivia has learned not to expect a response, but she wants to hear Astrid’s voice.
“Are you afraid?”
It is the only thing this Astrid has ever said to her. For Olivia, for now, it is enough.
It is more than she ever thought she would hear again.
When they walk into the lab, Walter is ready.
“Agent Farnsworth, it is wonderful to see you.”
Peter does not feel the same way.
“Olivia, what have you done?”
“What I needed to do.”
It is the only answer Peter will ever get.
It is just after dawn when Olivia takes Astrid home.
The sun barely creases the sky.
Astrid is amazed. The sky does not have colors where she is from.
“You can sleep in here.”
Olivia opens the door to her bedroom.
Astrid walks in. She is afraid to touch everything, even the floor beneath her feet.
“Are you hungry?”
Olivia pulls some clothes from one of the dresser drawers, places them on the bed. A towel and a washcloth follow.
“The bathroom is in there if you want to shower.”
She points to a slightly open door at the back of the room.
There is a great deal Olivia wants to say.
Wants to explain.
But she can wait.
“If you need anything, just call me.”
Olivia closes the door softly on her way out. She slides down the wall until she is sitting on the floor. She sits there keeping vigil. She sits there until she convinces herself that Astrid is really here.
On the first day, Astrid does not come out of the room.
And Olivia does not go in.
That night, Olivia carries a bowl filled with soup in her hands. She knocks before pushing the door open.
“Are you hungry?”
Years later, Olivia will remember how much that one word meant in that moment.
Astrid has showered, and changed into the clothes Olivia left. The jeans and sweater that used to fit are too big on her small frame.
“If you need anything, I’ll be right outside.”
So Olivia stays. She sits on the floor, back against the door, while Astrid sits on the bed.
She watches Astrid take small spoonfuls of soup until there is nothing left.
“Why did you come to get me?”
The shock of the question brings Olivia’s breath up short.
“Because I love you.”
Astrid understands that there used to be another her in this place. The man named Walter tried to explain the science as he examined her.
Astrid still does not understand how.
But now she understands why.
On the second day, Olivia brings Astrid pancakes and eggs for breakfast.
Astrid has never tasted syrup before. She wonders what else she has never done.
“Why do you love me?”
Olivia looks at Astrid from her position on the floor.
“Because you make me feel safe.”
Astrid thinks about Olivia’s gun.
And Johann’s dead body.
Astrid stares at Olivia with new eyes.
On the third day, Olivia brings Astrid a sandwich for lunch.
For the first time, she brings a sandwich for herself too.
“Did I love you?”
On the fourth day, Astrid comes out of the bedroom.
She sits at the kitchen table.
Olivia stands near the counter.
“Do you think I can love you again?”
“I don’t know.”
“Will you send me back if I can’t?”
Astrid does not want to go back.
She has nothing in this world, but even less there. There, Astrid did not even have herself.
Astrid gazes at Olivia. Olivia does not waver.
Astrid thinks maybe in this world, she can have Olivia too.