I nudge Lewis. "Come on. Let's go have a smoke." I slide out of the bunk and he follows me. For a moment he and William are standing face to face, the pale physicist glaring up defensively at the towering Southerner.
I pull on Lewis' arm, but he doesn't budge until William lowers his eyes and scuttles off to the restrooms.
Outside, I hand him a cigarette, which he takes with shaking hands. He bends down so that I can light it for him and then leans up against the wall of the building, exhaling sharply, his brows lowered dangerously over his eyes. He has a smoldering look about him, an almost casual, brooding ease that belies the trembling of his fingers and the uncertainty glinting in his eyes.
I pull on my cigarette and puff out a hasty cloud of smoke.
"Lewis, I'm just going to ask outright," I say. "What are you thinking? What's going on in that head of yours?"
He flexes his jaw, his upper lip thrust out in a defiant pout. "I don't trust that feller as far as I can throw him."
I nod in agreement. "I know what you mean. Will is…..difficult. To say the least. But I've never known him to lie to me. Ever. He is blunt and he is crude, but he never says anything if he doesn't mean it."
Lewis arches his brows in disbelief. "And this research of his? From what I heard y'all discussing back there, he wasn't about to tell you about that, now was he? Not until I came along."
"Well, I didn't say he wasn't devious," I admit. "But he doesn't lie outright. He just says nothing."
He gives me a cagey look. "You trust him?"
"Let me just tell you something about Will," I draw deeply on my smoke. "Back then, when Mandy left me stranded in the middle of nowhere at that stupid party, guess who drove nearly 50 miles to come get me and bring me home? Even though he was at a convention?"
Lewis blinks slowly, smoke trailing from his lips.
"Will," I say. "Without hesitation. He'd once promised me that he would always help me if I was in some kind of trouble. He's arrogant, yes. Unbearable in many ways. But when it comes down to it, he delivers."
"And your research?" He is still skeptical.
"Will's a braggart. He was undoubtedly waiting for something of significance to happen, before he said anything."
Lewis takes a deep breath, his eyes wandering my face.
"He's not going to dump you into the Pacific Ocean," I insist. "I promise you. He wouldn't. I swear I'll check the coordinates myself if I have to, but I know that he wouldn't dare. In the end, he's a bit of a coward."
Is it my imagination, or is his lower lip trembling? His eyes are shining as though he is fighting tears.
"Lewis, what is it? Do you not believe me?"
He exhales, his breath shaky.
"Then, this is it?" he says, his voice wavering. "You want to send me back now?"
Two seagulls take flight overhead, parting ways as they glide over the trees to the ocean, one of them giving a lone cry that trails off behind them like a wail of sorrow until it fades away.
"It has nothing to do with what I want," I say softly. "It's your decision. You can stay here as long as you like – I just thought you wanted to go home. To your mother."
At the mention of his mother, Lewis turns away, his face tormented. His cigarette falls to the ground, forgotten and his arms hang limply at his sides. He is trying very hard not to cry, but I can see that he is losing this battle.
"Lewis, what is wrong?" I step closer, feeling helpless in the presence of such pain.
He shakes his head, tears spilling down his face. He wipes at them furiously with his hand, but more simply follow.
"Apologies," he mutters, his voice choking.
"No, no. It's all right," I place my hand on his shoulder and he reaches up, placing his hand over mine, his fingers digging into the sides of my palm. "Are you worried about going home? Seeing your family?"
He is breathing very quickly, his chest rising and falling rapidly.
"How can I face them?" He looks at me, his eyes flooded with sadness.
"Lewis, they won't know about what happened," I try to comfort him. "Sending you back to them opens another possibility in which you weren't involved in the assassination at all."
"But that won't change what I did," he says, sniffing. "And it sure won't change what I've become by doing it."
His shoulders are shaking and his head is hanging low on his chest. A couple entering the bar gives us curious looks, upon which I shoot them a glance that tells them to mind their own business.
"Lewis, sweetheart, you have nothing to be ashamed of. You made a mistake, yes, but you learned something from it. Now you've got to learn how to move on."
A sob wracks his body and he wipes his nose almost violently, leaving a red mark on the side of his face.
"I can't," he cries miserably, clutching at my hand. "I can't look them in the eye.. how will I? They'll know, I just know it. And I'll know. I can't go back there and taint everything with myself. I just can't."
"Lewis, you aren't tainting anything if you go back!" I gasp in horror. "Your mother will be overjoyed to see you!"
"Oh, no Miss Natty, you don't understand!" He is shaking his head wildly, his eyes desperate. "I'd rather you send me back to be hanged than let my mama stare into the eyes of a murderer!"
"Lewis…. I … I – what am I supposed to say to that?" I stammer, my words faltering under the surge of pity I felt for him.
He just stares at me hopelessly, his face streaked with tears, such depth of sorrow in his eyes. I'd never seen him look as lost as he did now, so utterly abandoned by the strength of his fortitude. I was forced to recall an article that Arleen had sent me, written about Lewis after his execution.
Misled and deceived he had become useless for the world, and his life being justly forfeited, he has passed on.
He almost fell into my arms as I embraced him, his gigantic, trembling body enveloping mine. I could feel him weeping into the back of my neck, burying his face in my hair.
"Oh Lewis, please don't feel like this," I beg him, holding him tight. "Your mother loves you – she'd never see you like that. And for what it's worth, neither do I."
I stroke his back, hugging him close to me, feeling the heat of his breath and the wetness of his tears on my neck.
"Take me away from here," he says between sobs, in a small pitiful voice. "Please. Just take me away."
"Shhh," I whisper. "I'll do anything you want. Take you anywhere you want. You know that."
"Anywhere, just take me away f- from this," he cries in a broken voice.
I put my hand on his head and cradle it, closing my eyes. "I will. If that's what you want, I will."
We hold each other for a while until his sobs subside and the crushing grip of his arms has waned, until his breath no longer wracks him in gasps and spasms and comes in steady, slow streams against the base of my neck. He refuses to let go of me, his hands spread along the length of my back. I can feel his heart beating against my chest and lean my chin on his shoulder.
"Let's run away," he says, his voice still laden with emotion. "Just you and me, Miss Natty. Let's just go away."
I see the sun span its rays across the clear blue horizon, leaking into the ocean like golden wings that dipped into the waves. I smile, in spite of myself, recalling the many times I'd dreamed of him saying that.
He lifts his head then and pulls back, taking me by the shoulders, his eyes penetrating mine.
"Say you will," he implores. "Say you'll go away with me."
I think of Arleen and Sybella, on their flights to Vancouver, possibly already at the airport, laden with baggage and hailing taxi cabs to take them to Surrey. I think of my parents, eagerly awaiting a call or sign of life from me. And then I look at Lewis, into the depths of his honest, frank blue eyes and I know what my answer is going to be.
"Yes, Lewis," I say solemnly. "I will go with you. We can get out of here together."
The grateful look of relief spreading on his beautiful face makes my heart melt and flutter all at once. His eyes are swollen and red and his cheeks are horribly flushed, but I see the trace of a bittersweet smile tugging at the corners of his lips.
"You would do that for me?" He asks, his voice still quivering.
"Yes, I would," I tell him. "In fact, I know just where to go. You'll like it, I promise."
I glance into the bar and see William sitting at the booth, his head propped on one hand as the other drums impatiently on the table. He looks bored and faintly annoyed; I know that he had been watching us.
"Just excuse me for a minute," I say to Lewis. "I just have to let Will know. But I'll be right back."
A look of worry flashes across his face, unveiling a fleeting glimpse of insecurity that belies his formidable stature.
"Don't worry," I reassure him. "Stay right here. I'll only be a moment."
I give his hand a quick squeeze and hurry inside to where William is waiting, his face sullen and bordering on petulant.
"Well," he scoffs as I approach. "For such a large ape, he certainly bawls like a baby."
"Oh, Will, please shut up," I hiss at him. "We're alone now, so there's no need for this crap."
"Fine," he pouts, looking almost hurt. "Did you say your goodbyes?"
I hesitate, suddenly feeling exposed.
Oh what do you care what Will thinks? Of course he's not going to approve. He'll probably make fun of you the way he always does when something doesn't go his way.
"Oh no," he groans. "He's not leaving, is he?"
I shake my head. "At least not now. I don't think he's ready yet. He's been through a lot."
William sighs loudly, his shoulders slumping.
"So let me guess," he says darkly. "You are going to keep him company while he decides."
"I figure that would be the smart thing to do."
He tosses back his black locks and looks at me intently.
"The SMART thing?" he says. "I think you mean the impulsive, hormonally driven thing, don't you?"
I want to lash out at him, but I can see that he does not say it unkindly, his face softer and almost mild with concern. There is a hint of disappointment in his eyes, but it is not directed at me.
"Perhaps," I admit reluctantly. "Who knows. But I have to find out."
William straightens his blazer and purses his lips. "Well then," he says, arching his neck. "Whenever you're, um, I mean HE is ready, you know where to find me."
I nod, still lingering at the table.
"Is that all?" He says, feigning annoyance in a manner I know all too well.
"Just one last thing," I say slowly.
He arches a brow, waiting.
"Why Lewis? And why MY living room? You know that I've been interested in him for a while."
He laughs, but it is without humor. "Well, now that is something I'm afraid I have no answers for," he chuckles. "The only lead I have here is the fact that it was your DNA we ran our preliminary tests on when we worked together, remember? If I recall correctly, your signatures were still recorded in the data we began tests with for NATO."
"Yes," he says ironically. "So, I imagine the solution lies there. Since you are not related to him….. perhaps you should be asking fate for answers." He winks at me, straightening his collar.
My lips part in surprise and I am silent.
"Or…. we can work on it together at some later date and get down to the bottom of the mystery," William says.
"Yes." It is all I can say. I turn to leave, my mind buzzing with questions.
"You won't be happy with someone like him." His voice is low, almost emotional. He looks at me with a sense of longing that almost makes me feel sorry for him.
"Perhaps. We'll see."
And I leave him to his wine.