Matthew was pacing back and forth, hands running wildly through dark brown hair. He ran out of hair dye a while ago.
"Number four? Your old man is number four!?" He sputtered out once he calmed down enough.
"Yes, papa is number four. One of the top twelve, one of the most influential men in the ghetto." I confirmed, annoyed as this was the third time saying such. We were settled on a bench in Samuel's lodge waiting to be called on.
Nia's arm was a familiar weight across my shoulders and Michael was sitting next to me, legs spread, but taking care to not have his long legs take up too much space. He stood up and wrapped Matthew up into his arms, planting a kiss on top of his head.
"Calm down, with Samuel's help we'll figure out what to do." He said, planting another kiss onto his husband's cheek. Matthew's face twisted into a grimace and he swatted at Michael.
Nia's arm tightened around my shoulders so suddenly I yelped.
"Sorry." She mumbled out. But she didn't seem to mean it, she was looking, staring, at Matthew and Michael with a grimace of her own. I bumped her with my shoulder.
"Hey, what's with that look? It's almost homophobic."
Nia jumped and glared at me at the word.
"Now, you know that's not it." She hissed out at me. I raised my hands in the surrender gesture, but was still curious. Nia must have seen it in my eyes as she just sighed before explaining.
"I don't know how they happened." She said, gesturing with a hand at Michael and Matthew who seemed to have gotten swept up into a little argument. "Honestly, I don't trust Matthew, never had."
I looked at the two men, trying to see what Nia was talking about. Michael now had an arm around his husband's waist, firm but soft, loose enough to give Matthew the choice to leave his embrace. Matthew was flicking at Michael's five o'clock shadow, most likely muttering complaints about it in his ear. Michael just laughed warmly and jostled Matthew a bit. Matthew grimaced again, but then smiled. A smile filled with nothing but love for the man holding him, graced his face.
I couldn't for the life of me see what Nia was trying to tell me. Matthew maybe a bit gloom and doom at times, but he wouldn't betray the colonies. I said so to her.
"No, no, I know that. I'm mean I don't trust him with Michael." Nia elaborated. I still didn't get it.
"When Matthew first came to the colonies, battered and beaten, he was on the verge of death. We, me and Michael, took him in and raised him back to health. The next thing we know, Matthew's up and at 'em, screaming derogatories at Michael who was looking over him when he finally woke up." Nia pulled a sour look. I didn't even want to think about what kind of derogatory.
"So, Matthew was racist?" I asked as quietly as I could. I didn't want the two men to hear me, lest the day turns worse than it already did.
"Yes, very racist and extremely homophobic." Nia said.
"No way! I'm sorry, last time I checked, he is married to another man, a man of color." I teased a little bit.
"Oh, trust me, he was." Nia sounded like she was going to continue on but one of the guys who stood guard walked towards us and told us Samuel was ready to talk with us.
The room where I first met Samuel was exactly the same as a month ago. Same small table, same map, same pins, but Samuel seemed different.
He looked older, not in the wise sort of way. It wasn't a change I was eager about.
"Robin," Samuel's voice turned gravely, I learned quickly that meant bad news, "you know that your former Ghetto is taking a risk asking for you back. They know we could very easily pretend to hand you back for the supplies, give you to them as a spy. That's why "
He didn't ask me any kind of question, but I still nodded along with what he said. He was right, on all accounts.
"There is no doubt in my mind that it was your father that sent those men to ask for you back, and not out of familial love." I nodded again. I was starting to get annoyed. "They will use every means available to them to make you tell them everything that they want to know about us."
"When?" I snapped. I couldn't stand Samuel talking anymore. He wouldn't be saying all that if he didn't mean to do what I knew he was doing.
"What?" He asked with a innocent look in his eyes.
"Cut the crap. When am I going back?" My voice was venomous.
"... Thursday morning. In four days." Samuel's answer was short and swift.
I couldn't stand being in that room any longer. So I nodded one final time, like a good little girl, and started walking out.
"Wait! What? No, no, no! This is not happening! You're not sending her back!" Nia was furious. She was shaking a finger at Samuel, her tone was dangerous. "I don't care what kind of plan you've got concocting in that bald head of yours, you're not giving her back on a silver platter! Over my dead body!"
I stopped in the middle of the doorway, looking back to see Nia is standing right up in Samuel's face. Michael tried pulling her away gently at first, before giving up and just threw her over his shoulder to carry her out.
Nia cussed and pounded his back with her fists. She twisted this way and that, trying her best to make him drop her. When we got back outside, Michael finally let her go. The second her feet hit the ground, Nia pounced right back into her tantrum.
"You can't be serious! We're not sending her back! You heard Samuel, there's no doubt that'll she'll be tortured, or worse. Just to figure out the colonies secrets." Nia voice sounded like it gradually lost the will to keep shouting the longer she kept on with her spat.
"I'm right here you know." I said, but it went unnoticed.
Nia and Michael started yelling at each other. For once, no one stopped and stared, they must have gotten use to it. Matthew didn't even said anything before he grabbed me by my arm and started dragging me away. Nia and Michael not even noticing.
"They're not just being paranoid, are they? I've only been with you guys for a month and the most I've learned was that you call yourself Colonies. Everything Nia told me while she was hiding out in the Ghetto was stuff papa complained about at the dinner table." I said as I was pulled along to the little hut I lived in for the past month.
"That's right. It has sort of happened before. One of the leader's right hand man was captured and tortured by a Ghetto nearby. The Manhattan one, I think it was. They weren't able to get anything out of him. He had a cyanide pill."
"So, what are you going to do? Did Samuel say that you're going to try to get me back?" I hoped that they planned to get me back.
"I was in the room with you, you know. That was the first time I was aware of anything going on."
"Were you really racist?" I couldn't believe that I just said that. Straight out of the blue. But I was tired of talking about the plans and the Ghetto, that it was the first thing I thought of to change the subject.
We were one foot inside the hut at this point when Matthew froze in place.
"Ah, sorry. I shouldn't have asked that. I don't even know why I said that. Sorry." Matthew ignored me. He pushed me inside and slammed the oak door shut behind him.
"Did Nia tell you all of it? Every little bit of my shitty past that I wish I could forget?" He hissed.
"N-no!" I said. Matthew's face was a deep red. His hands were clenched into fists at his sides and he was shaking. I thought of how I could dodge around him and run back to Nia and Michael. But Matthew just took a deep breath, calming himself down.
"Yes, I was. I was homophobic, transphobic, racist, every shitty thing a person could be, that was me. I know Nia still doesn't like the fact that I was, but she needs to get with the times and realize that I'm not like that anymore." That was all he said before he walked back out.
Nia and Michael took his place a few moments later.
I've never seen Matthew snap like that. He's always calm and cold, grumbling in complaint here and there, but he never just went off in a rage. I was a bit shaken. The anger I could take, the cussing easy, reprimanding sure, but the fact he was yelling was just too much.
"Robin, you're shaking! What happened?" Nia wrapped her arms tight around me. I dropped my face into the crook of her neck where it met her shoulder. "What did Matthew do? What did he say to you?"
I couldn't speak, I wanted to but I couldn't. The hug was more suffocating than reassuring and the heat that flooded through me was making me dizzy.
I tapped Nia's shoulder two times with my pinky, our own little signal in the language we made up when we first meet. She let go of me and stared straight into my eyes, as though looking to see if I actually just did that. She let her hands slide off my shoulders with a final pat.
"Did Matthew tell you something?" Michael spoke up for the first time. He wasn't even looking at me. He was looking at the door as though Matthew would stomp back in to explain himself.
"N-nothing important. I said something I-I shouldn't have anyways, so it's not his fault." My shakiness caused me to stutter a bit. I took a deep breath, held for ten seconds, then breathed out. I repeated the process maybe five times before the shaking stopped.
"So," I tried to change the topic for a second time, but this time I actually thought through what I was going to say, "what's the plan? There's no way Samuel would let me rot in that place, right?"
Nia and Michael looked at each other. I know those looks, they were talking with each other with their eyes. I remember Nia and I use to be able to do that. I wondered if we still could.
"Yeah, we have a plan. Obviously, we can't tell you what it is. But there's some things we will have to put you under to ensure that you'll last long enough." Nia spoke slowly, like she always does when delivering bad news.
"Oh, for fuck's sake, Nia, just says it!" I didn't mean to snap like that, but I did and didn't feel anything but aggravation.
"I must have been rubbing off on you." She muttered. I didn't want to hear any jokes.
"We... Robin, we..." Nia stumbled over her own words, speaking a bit faster. "We have to teach you how to survive through, whatever they may throw at you. Interrogation, bribery, and... Torture. We have to give you torture lessons."
Nia's breath came out in a whoosh. It smelled like mint.
Michael still wasn't looking at me.
Matthew was probably crouching in a corner mumbling to himself, cursing Nia's name.
The sky was blue.
And Samuel was a jackass.
Those thoughts passed through my mind in a row, one after another.
While all that came out of my mouth was a strangled, "H-huh?!"