“You killed Dean?” Michelangelo asks after a long silence.
“Having second thoughts about a murderess carrying your future niece or nephew?” I asked cynically, feeling both bitter and slightly relieved.
“It took so much strength for you to do that, Brynne. You are one of the strongest people I know, and this just makes me respect you even more. I can only imagine how hard it’s been for you trying to get over that. Why didn’t you ever tell me before now?”
I look up as tears threaten to spill down my face. “I was terrified. I kept thinking that maybe, if I had done something different, then Dean wouldn’t have been abusive. I loved him. Wholeheartedly. And then he beat me within an inch of my life, and I killed him. Filling my walls with contraband paintings is one thing. Taking a life is another. Paintings are harmless. Dean’s family is still waiting for answers about where he went. His mom used to meet me all the time, and tell me how much she looked forward to having me for her daughter. His father finally told me a year later that it was time for me to move on, and they wouldn’t stay in touch. They wanted me to be happy. They would’ve turned me in before I realized it if they’d ever found out the truth.”
“You deserve to be happy, Brynne. I could’ve helped you. You should’ve told me sooner.” Michelangelo looks at me with an expression of concern and something else that I can’t read.
“What could you have done, Michelangelo? Would you have taken the blows for me? You didn’t even know where we lived, he wouldn’t let me tell anyone! I was alone, and I did what I had to do to survive,” I say harshly, harsher than I intend to. Remorse hits me as hurt flashes across his face.
Michelangelo is silent for a few moments. “I knew where you were. When you weren’t at home, I used the government’s database to find out where Dean lived. I came by one night. I heard loud voices and all that, but I thought it was just some intense romance.”
I smile briefly at his inability to say “sex” in front of me.
“If I’d actually gone to the door, I could’ve saved you. I could’ve put a stop to it right then, and you wouldn’t be dealing with all of this guilt.”
I shake my head, my bangs falling into my face and covering my eyes. “He would’ve found me. He would’ve taken me again. Believe me when I say there is nothing you could’ve done to save me.”
Silence ensues, and only the fire crackles warmly against the grate to remind us that it’s still alive and well.
“Is that one of the reasons that you hide away up here?” Michelangelo finally asks.
I nod slowly. “I thought that if I hid, then I could hide from what happened. But that’s kind of hard to do when there’s physical scars.”
He stiffens. “He left scars on you? Where? Why haven’t I seen them before?” he asks quickly, his voice raising in volume. I cringe back in fear.
“I’m sorry, Brynne. I didn’t mean to yell at you.” He cups my chin and tilts my face up. “Why didn’t you ever show them to me before?” he asks again, more gently this time.
“I got really good at hiding them,” I finally reply, my voice soft. “And the doctor that stitched me up was really good at what he did.”
“Can I see them?”