I can’t talk about this anymore. I shake it off and inhale deeply, raising my head from the seat. And then I pass the money over toward him, urging him to take it.
“Keep it,” Victor says, shifting the car into Drive. “You will need it later.”
I push it down between my seat and the console.
“You know, you’re in danger of becoming a trusted member of society,” I jest.
I see his eyes move toward me briefly without moving his head.
“Perhaps,” he says, pulling onto the freeway. “Just let it be known that if that’s the case, I’ll have to tie you up again.” He looks over at me and although his lips aren’t smiling, I see that his eyes are.
I turn toward the window beside me because unlike Victor, I have absolutely no control over the smile on my face and I can’t risk letting him see it.
We stop at a hotel just outside of Tucson and instead of running away this time I help him carry his usual bags up to our room on the third floor. Our room. Two words together that days ago I never would’ve imagined using so casually. I had asked about having my own, but he insisted that while with him I stay close. I didn’t have to ask why. Being on the run with someone like him, I imagine it’s better that way, but I do feel that there’s something more to it that he’s not telling me. I’m sidetracked by those thoughts when I see the blood on the tail of Victor’s dress shirt as he pulls the shirt from the top of his slacks.
“Are you bleeding?” I walk over to him, trying to get a better look at that side of his body.
“Yes, but I’ll be fine.”
“But why…were you shot?”
He unbuttons his shirt all the way down, exposing his well-defined chest muscles and abs underneath, but all I notice is more blood.
Now I understand why he was in such a hurry to get into the room, why he seemed uncharacteristically uneasy since before we parted ways with Niklas and Cordelia.
“Go down to the front desk and request a bottle of peroxide, gauze and alcohol. They should have a first-aid kit.”
I keep looking to and from his eyes and the blood, trying to see the actual wound. He takes his shirt off the rest of the way and drops it on the floor.
Finally, I take notice of his physique.
I look up at him. “OK, I’ll be right back.”
I hurry out the door, not running but walking briskly so as not to draw too much attention to myself. God, I feel like a fugitive.
It takes several long minutes for the front desk clerk to find everything that I asked for after having to leave the lobby and look in the housekeeping room. Because she only had a tiny first-aid kit with some Band-Aids and antibiotic ointment, close-by behind the desk.
“Sorry, I couldn’t find any peroxide, but here’s a full bottle of alcohol.” The girl hands the bottle and an unopened box of rolled gauze over the counter to me. “What happened? Is everything alright?”
I thank her and take the stuff from the counter.
“Yeah, everything’s fine. My uh, boyfriend, cut his hand open on his pocket knife.” I shake my head and roll my eyes dramatically. “He was trying to open one of those human-proof plastic packages. I told him I’d come down here and ask for some scissors, but he insisted he ‘had it’.” I roll my eyes again for a little added effect.
The girl laughs lightly. “Sounds like my boyfriend.”
I laugh with her, thank her again and head back to the elevator feeling like I can’t get away from her fast enough.
Victor has his slacks pulled down over one side of his hip by the time I get back. He’s standing in front of the mirror, twisting his waist awkwardly so that he can get a better look at the wound, which I see clearly now. There’s a small hole in the thicker flesh just behind the top of his hipbone. It doesn’t appear to be bleeding much anymore, though there’s plenty of blood on this shirt, proof it’s already bled its fair share.
I walk over and set the supplies down on the long TV stand in front of the mirror.
“Is the bullet still in there?” I ask, looking at the wound more intently.
“Yes,” he says reaching for the rubbing alcohol, “but it’s not deep.” Twisting the cap off, he pours some over the wound. He grimaces and shuts his eyes momentarily until the burning pain eases.
“You left it in there all this time?” I ask, finding no potential reason acceptable. “Why didn’t you do this sooner? Or go to a hospital?”
It dawns on me now that he didn’t even tend to that wound after he dropped me off, that he waited until after…
“Victor?” I ask upon realizing.
He walks over to his duffle bag on the table by the window and reaches inside.
“Yes?” He barely looks over at me, more occupied with the knife he just fished from the bag.
In the last second I decide not to speak my assumptions aloud. Because I’m probably far off the mark and I don’t want to look silly believing something so absurd.
“Never mind,” I say. “Do you need help?”
He contemplates the offer. “No, I can do it. I’ve done it before.”
Maybe that lie I told the front desk clerk had some truth to it, after all. I smile faintly thinking about it and then I move across the room toward him with the alcohol and gauze in my hands.
“You can’t even see it fully,” I point out. “I can help. Just tell me what to do. I’m not completely useless.”
Again, his face appears faintly contemplative and then to my surprise, he takes off his slacks and stands in front of me practically nak*d, wearing only a pair of tight black boxer briefs that cling to every masculine curve and indentation from his lower waist to the tops of his thighs. It’s only natural that I check him out a little, especially since he’s so physically fit, but I don’t let that distract me. That bullet deserves all of my attention and I make sure to give it.
He burns the blade of his knife with a lighter for a time and hands it out to me. I’ve never done anything like this before and really feel a bit squeamish just thinking about it, but I try not to let that show on my face. I take the knife by the handle and wait for him to instruct me.
“Like I said, it’s not too deep. Just dig it out with the end of the blade.”
I wince at the picture his words create in my mind. “But what if I cut you?”
“It can’t be worse than what the bullet did. Now hurry,” he says, pulling the elastic around his underwear down farther over his hipbone to give me better access.
Covertly, I glimpse the rigid curve of his upper pelvic bone muscle and then get to work.
Hesitantly, I bring the knife up to his skin and glance up at him, hoping he’ll change his mind and do it himself, after all. Because I really don’t think I can do this.
“Go on,” he urges me. “You’re not going to hurt me anymore than it already does.”
I kneel down so my eyes are level with the wound and I feel my face flush red hot when I notice the outline of his manhood through the tight-fitting boxer briefs. But even still, I don’t let his obvious good genes distract me from the matter at hand.
Carefully, I insert the tip of the blade into the wound, my face tightening and twisting into something horrible. Nervous at first, it takes me way too long to push it in farther and I don’t until he gets tired of waiting.
“It’s like pulling a Band-Aid off a sore, Sarai,” he says irritably. “Just do it and get it over with. The longer you drag it out the worse it feels.”
I bite down on my bottom lip, press the fingers of my free hand around the back of this hard thigh to get a better grip around the area and then I sink the knife in deeper. I feel his muscles constrict beneath my hand, but I’m too nervous to look up and see the pain that I know is on his face.
“Why did you come back for me?” I ask, partly to take my mind off what I’m doing, the rest of me just really wanting to know.
“I never left,” he says and I glance up to see his eyes. He looks away and then adds, “I thought you were being followed. I planned to stay back and wait until Javier or whoever he sent for you, showed up where you were.”
Taken aback by his admission, I pull the knife out of his flesh and c*ck my head backward to glare up at him.
“You were using me as bait?” I don’t know if that pain I suddenly feel is because he risked my life to catch Javier, or if it’s because he doesn’t care about my well-being as much as I had started to believe he might.
Victor sighs faintly, though still irritably, but it seems more-so because of what I said than me taking my time about pulling the damn Band-Aid off.
“No,” he says. “Shortly after I pulled onto the main road, I saw another car drive past. A brand new Cadillac. Black with a nice price tag. I thought it didn’t quite fit with the neighborhood.”
I feel foolish before he even finishes explaining.
“So I turned around and parked on the road and watched it to make sure.”
I remember that car now, the only one that drove past me and made me immensely nervous.
I get back to work on finding the bullet, trying to be extra careful.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
Finally, I see the bullet amid the blood and work it out with the end of the blade.
“For accusing you.”
The bullet drops on the floor and a gush of blood pours from the wound.
“Get the gauze,” he says casually, pointing at it on the table.
I do as he says while he pours more alcohol on the bloody wound, gritting his teeth even more than before.
I grab the gauze from the table and break it apart from the wrapping, unrolling it all the way, which isn’t nearly enough to wrap around his waist twice much less as many times as it will take to help keep the blood from draining.
“Don’t I have to sew it up or something?” I ask.
“Not right now,” he says. “I don’t have anything to sew it up with. You’ll have to pack it with the gauze.”
“But won’t that—”
“It’ll be fine,” he assures me, nodding toward the gauze dangling from my hand.
“I guess Izel got you back for those flesh wounds you gave her,” I say as I kneel back down level with the wound.
“I suppose she did,” he says. “Just use your finger to pack it inside. Put a lot of pressure on it.”
Not even thinking about my hands getting bloody, I start to pack the hole with the gauze until I can’t fit anymore. But I see now that it really isn’t that deep, maybe an inch at most, and it really does look worse than it is.
After cutting the excess gauze away, he pulls his underwear back up where it rests just below his hip. “I’m going to shower,” he says walking to the bathroom. “Don’t open the door for anyone. And stay away from the window. Thank you for your help.”
“Sure. Anytime,” I say flatly.
I wish he was a little more conversational. I’m going to have to remedy that.
He slips inside the bathroom and seconds later I hear the water running.