I feel emptier tonight. Last night I felt broken, emotional, but tonight I’m dead-empty.
It stirs bitter memories as he undresses wordlessly and climbs on the bed, the same side he takes in his room. His presence here makes my stomach ache, and I wish he’d leave.
Mostly I wish he’d leave. There’s some sick part of me that’s glad he stays—not because of any affection for him, but because he deserves to endure every second of my pain.
I wonder if this was how Vince felt when Joey died. When I was so goddamn heartless, because Joey had tried to kill Mateo. I didn’t really feel his death, but Vince did. Vince felt it hard. And I left him alone in his pain. Because of Mateo.
He ruins everything. He’s surrounded by all these beautiful things, gifted with irresistible beauty himself, and all it does is cover up all the darkness. It’s like a spell, an enchantment, to cloak the unbearable reality.
But last night, for a horrible stretch, I couldn’t feel the spell anymore. There was a break in the enchantment and I could only see what was really there. There was nothing to mask the horror all around me. I was living in a dream and it abruptly turned into a nightmare—but it was real. It is real. Not the beautiful veneer. Not the façade. The nightmare is the reality.
I don’t know how I can ever unknow that.
Mateo doesn’t keep to his side tonight, and that makes me angry. He reaches over to pull my hair back away from my face. My hair’s a tangled mess. I only moved from this bed today to use the bathroom. I’m a mess. I couldn’t care less. I don’t want to be another one of Mateo’s pretty things.
If only I would’ve realized that a week ago.
Finally finding the energy to speak, I grind out, “I don’t want you here.”
“I know,” he answers.
It doesn’t make a difference. It’s not like he’ll leave because I don’t want him. He’s Mateo; he does whatever he wants, no matter who it hurts.
“You should go back to Meg,” I tell him.
“You need my attention more than she does.”
I try to laugh at this, but it’s like I’ve forgotten how. A bitter, jagged sound comes out instead.
“I’m sorry you’re hurting,” he tells me. Even the way he says it is everything. He’s sorry I’m hurting, not sorry for what he did. Not even sorry for hurting me himself—just sorry I’m feeling it. Sorry I feel so goddamn much.
“I’m sorry you’re not,” I reply, honestly.
“You’re the only reason I didn’t kill Vince a long time ago, Mia,” he states. “He was unpredictable. Dangerous. He was a time bomb, and he would’ve detonated eventually. He had the worst parts of our fathers in him. My father’s crazy, his father’s short fuse. He was a deadly mix and every time I pissed him off, he inched a little closer to exploding. Would you have preferred he kill me?”
I’ve thought about that a time or two throughout the night. Maybe that would’ve been better. Vince was unpredictable, unstable, and definitely a threat—but he wasn’t pure evil. There was still so much good in him—a little less each day, but that was because of me. Because of Mateo. We were hardening him, chipping away at the good. What if it would’ve stopped? What if we would’ve stopped damaging him? There was still so much good in him.
There’s not in Mateo. I thought there was, but I was wrong. Again. Only there’s no one left to save me this time.
He fooled me once, when I didn’t know him, when I was more trusting, when I hadn’t really seen him yet. I could’ve maybe forgiven myself for that one, though I never really did. I let myself sink into it. I floated into his current and got dragged under.
But now he’s fooled me twice, and there’s no excuse this time. I saw what I wanted to see. I believed there was good in him because I wanted it to be true, not because it was.
Even as I think that, my mind dumps salt into my wounds, reminding me of his playfulness, his tenderness. I didn’t imagine it all. It was there; it happened.
Since he’s not going anywhere, I roll over to face him.
He doesn’t look surprised.
“I thought there was good in you.”
“I told you there wasn’t,” he replies.
“But you showed me there was.” I pause, but he doesn’t respond fast enough, and my mind is starting to work, the tired cogs finally moving. “Even if there was nothing in it for you. That’s the thing. Maybe you primarily do good things when there’s a reward in it for you, but not always. I never expected you to apologize to me. You got nothing out of doing that. I was already yours for the taking, you knew that. So why bother?”