“Come here,” he says, pulling me over to the chair behind the desk—his chair, though he’s usually not sitting in it. He has before. It’s where he was sitting the day he gave me all the graphic novels, and I sat here in the floor and told him all about them. The day he let Adrian say shit in front of me and he set me up. Right before it all went to hell.
I’m so tired. I need a nap. Couldn’t we have just napped instead of doing this? I could’ve curled up in his arms, or better yet coaxed him to fuck me, to pull me under his current and distract me from the wreckage for a little while.
Mateo bends over me, opening a drawer on the right side of his desk, pulling out a manila envelope and dropping it on top of the desk. He pulls out a little black cell phone, too—not a normal cell phone, but a little flip-phone type that I didn’t think they made anymore.
I frown in confusion, looking up at him. “What is this?”
He sighs, looking at me like it might be the last time. It fills me with trepidation, because he just swore he wouldn’t make me leave, and if he was lying, I’m going to go batshit crazy on his ass. He can’t do all this to me and then send me away. I won’t let him.
Leaning forward, he flips open the folder.
I lean forward on the desk to look at it, and then pain squeezes my heart when I see a picture of Vince. Why would he do this? I just had a mental breakdown in the bathroom upstairs, and now he’s going to show me pictures of the trigger? Is he trying to break my brain?
Mateo squats down beside me, which is a weird feeling, because he usually uses his height to intimidate. He never gives up the advantage and brings himself down to the level of mere mortals—he especially never brings himself lower.
“Why are you showing me this?” I ask, displeased and confused.
Mateo takes my hand in his, looking up at me with something… vulnerable in the depths of his brown eyes. And then he says, “I didn’t kill Vince.”
My eyes feel swollen and crusty. I stare at Mateo, eyes burning from exhaustion and excessive crying. I am too fucking tired for this shit. What the fuck kind of fucked up bullshit is he spouting right now?
“I let him out.” Since I’m still not speaking, he watches warily, but continues. “I heard you. I heard you when you asked me not to… I just didn’t want you to know. I wanted him to be dead to you. I wanted you to mourn him and move on. He’s not coming back. But I didn’t realize… I didn’t know you would carry this much guilt. I didn’t think of that.”
“What are you talking about? I saw you…”
“You saw me beat him up. Then I kicked you out and shut the door.”
Shaking my head, falling back against the chair, I say, “What kind of game is this, Mateo? Don’t do this. Please don’t make it worse. Don’t lie to me.”
“I’m not lying,” he says, rising again. He turns toward the desk, spreading out the pictures in the folder. He grabs one at random, holding it up for me to see.
I grab it, frowning at it. It’s a picture of Vince inside a McDonald’s. He’s sitting at a table, presumably by himself, but it’s cropped up close, so I can’t tell. He’s wearing a ball cap backwards, which looks really cute on him. He’s sipping from a straw in a beverage cup, his attention on something on the table. A paper, maybe.
Mateo reaches behind him and grabs another one, showing it to me. This one shows Vince walking up the stairs of an apartment complex. Only his profile is visible, but I recognize that profile.
“You’re not the reason Vince lost his life, Mia. You’re the reason he got one.”
I look up at Mateo, terrified to believe what he’s saying. I want to believe it, but I’ve been manipulated by him too many times before. If he realized I couldn’t handle Vince’s death, I honestly wouldn’t put it past him to manufacture a trail like this to show me, to put my mind at ease.
“I don’t believe you,” I finally say.
His eyes widen and he indicates the folder. “I have proof. Look at all this proof. I didn’t think you’d believe my words, that’s why I’m showing you this.”
“This isn’t proof of anything. These are pictures of Vince I’ve never seen before—so what? They could’ve been taken anywhere. Like Vince has never been to McDonald’s?”
He scowls at me, grabbing a packet of papers with a staple in the corner, holding it up for me to see. “This is his lease. This is his address. This is…” He trails off. “This is all proof. Look at all of it.”