Dina’s the only person I allow to call me by my old name. I tried to get her to call me Izabel once, but she flat-out refused, said I grew up with her calling me Sarai and that she’d die calling me Sarai.
I hand her a bottle of soda and sit down next to her, pulling one leg up onto the cushion.
“It feels weird having conversations with you about my life,” I say. “It’s not like I can tell you about the last person I saw die, as casually as I can talk to you about getting the wrong order at a drive-thru.”
“I know,” she says and takes a drink, “but what’s going on with you and that handsome, mysterious man of yours?”
I take a drink and then look off at the wall behind her.
“Things are good,” I say, trying not to let onto the truth—I’m not even sure what the truth is; what’s going on between me and Victor isn’t exactly your typical trouble-in-paradise kind of situation.
Dina and I talk for a while about simple things. She tells me about what’s going on with the characters on her favorite television shows, but I just listen mostly because I never watch TV and really have nothing to add. We talk about the small garden she planted behind her newest house and how the only vegetable growing are the cucumbers. I don’t garden and wouldn’t know how to grow the easiest of vegetables, so again, I mostly just listen to her talk. And she goes on about sales at the department stores she likes to shop at and how she got a thirty-dollar blouse for nine dollars—I don’t know much about sales because with the money Victor gives me—and that I earn myself—I don’t have to pay attention to sales.
And while Dina talks about a variety of totally unrelated things over the course of the next thirty minutes, there’s one thing I notice she mentions in every topic—Arizona.
“I used to watch that show every night before bed in Arizona,” she had said. “I had my recliner by the window and I’d always open it and let the heat in while I watched my show.”
“I didn’t really do much gardening in Arizona.”
“I hit the thrift stores every weekend when I lived in Arizona. I got some really good deals.”
Finally, after the fifth mention of Arizona, I ask her the inevitable:
“Do you miss home, Dina?”
She smiles faintly and sets the soda bottle down on the end table.
“I do, Sarai, I really do.”
She sighs and looks over at me, reaching out her hand and placing it on my knee drawn up on the cushion, tucked underneath my other leg.
“I want to go back to Tucson,” she says. “Even back to the trailer park. I miss it. I miss the damn dogs barking at night and the kids running up and down the street causing a nuisance. I just want to go home.” She pats my knee and then pulls away, looking at me with sad but smiling eyes.
“But Dina, it’s not safe”—I raise up on the couch—“you can’t go back there. Look what happened here, the reason you’re sitting in this room talking to me right now. If you go back there you’ll be where anyone who wants to find you, will likely look first.”
Her smile warms her whole face.
“Oh, honey, I don’t care about that stuff,” she says as if to console me. “I did at first, but it was mostly just because of you. But I can’t do this anymore, moving from place to place, having strange men parked outside every house watching me all the time. I’m too old for this. I appreciate all of the elaborate things you and Victor provide me and the beautiful houses and…just everything. I’m very grateful. But I just want to go home and live the rest of my life the way I did before—simply.”
My heart sinks deeper and deeper.
“But it’s dangerous. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“Nothing’s gonna happen to me, baby girl.” Her smile lengthens. She lifts a hand and pats her chest over her thin pink blouse where her heart is. “If anything takes me out it’s gonna be my ticker. You know that.” She grins and pats my knee again playfully and adds, “Besides, I know how to use a shotgun, remember? And I ain’t afraid to blow somebody away if they break into my house.”
I can’t help but smile back at her, even though I want to fight her on this whole issue.
Dina turns around on the cushion to face me fully and she takes both of my hands into hers.
“I want you to promise me something,” she says, looking into my eyes. “And I mean it—it’s a real promise and it means everything to me and if you ever break it, even if I never find out, you should feel guilty for breaking it because it’s so important to me.”
This is scaring me, but I nod and agree.
“What is it, Dina?”
Her fingers grasp mine firmly as if to place emphasis on the words she’s about to say.
“When I go home, back to Tucson,” she says, “I want you to promise me that you won’t send anyone to watch me or protect me. No one. And I don’t want you doing it, either. Do you give me your word?”
At first all I want to do is say no—I even begin to shake my head—but she wrenches my hands and forces my gaze, the look in her eyes so intense, and I feel just how important this promise is to her. As much as I want to lie to her and say that, no, I won’t send anyone to watch over her…I can’t. These are her wishes and I owe her everything and know I have to give in to them no matter how hard.
And before she leaves, as I wave her goodbye as she gets into the cab on the street to head for the airport back to Tucson, I can’t help but feel like this is going to be the last time I ever see her.
“I love you, baby girl!” she calls out to me from the open car window, her long, bony fingers waving in the cool night Boston breeze.
I press the tips of my fingers against my lips and send her my kisses as she pulls away, and I wipe the tears from my eyes and try so hard to keep the smile on my face for Dina’s sake. Because she deserves to be happy and she doesn’t need any more reason to worry about me than she already has.
“Have you seen Niklas?” I ask Victor in the meeting room with James. They’re looking through photographs and files scattered about the elongated table.
I’m still emotional from having let Dina go an hour earlier.
Victor looks up.
“He is gone, Izabel,” he answers solemnly and looks back down. “But don’t worry about him right now—”