His response would have made sense to no one in his family, but she nodded. And there it was. The thread that either saved a life or condemned it.
Her lips quivered again, but her voice was clear and firm. No cracks. No breaks. Even as her eyes watered. “They are good men, Sanyet. Men who did a bad thing ten years ago. A horrible thing, even if it was for the best of reasons. You want to mock them for their stellar service. But you don’t know the ghosts that haunt them, pushing them to pay penance. But still, after all the good they’ve done; they don’t feel they’ve earned the right to a peaceful repose in a garden-filled paradise.
He balled his fists, wishing he had someone to fight. Not kill. A good sparring partner to work the conflict out of his system, but there was only her. He stood up and paced behind his desk.
Silence was a heavy, wet blanket spread between them. Until she lifted it off. Her voice, he’d been so proud of it. Finally broke. Shattering the glass brick wall surrounding his heart.
“Please, Sanyet. Please, I’ll do anything. I’ll sign a confession…”
“Anything you say. I’ll do anything you say. I’ll go away and you’ll never see me again.”
His nostrils flared. Did she not know her power over him? How even now when he had her at a disadvantage, her hand was wrapped around his heart and squeezing it bloodless.
“Is that what I want?”
“I don’t know what you want.”
“I want you to stay.”
She swallowed, and he watched the apple in her throat bob up and then back into place. “Then I’ll stay. If that’s what you want.”
Her nostrils flared, and she squinted her eyes at him. “You said that’s what you wanted.” She shook her head. Her massive curls danced on her shoulders with her agitation. She half huffed; half growled her words. “I don’t understand you.”
“I don’t either.” He returned her growl. “I don’t know why; I don’t pull out a gun and shoot you. Do you think it makes sense to me? That it ever made sense.”
Jessa’s forehead scrunched together until she lifted her hand and wiped the creases away. Taking a deep breath, she steadied her shoulders and stood. Her steps were shaky as she approached. A mouse taking a chance to examine a lion with a thorn stuck in his paw. She took another shaky step in his direction. “Do you want me to stay?”
“I don’t know how to answer that. I do and I don’t.“
Another deep breath in and out before she responded. “Tell me why you do.”
The hazel brown eyes held his, the flecks of gold and amber burned like stars streaking her eyes. And he didn’t mind getting trapped in the galaxy he saw there. She was her own world. She was his world. “I want you to stay. To want to trust me. To believe that even if you had a mountain of evidence and witnesses to take to the police, I would not raise my hand against you. The number of people who have that assurance from me are less than a dozen, and two of them are in the hall waiting for my decision.” He shook his head and his long exhale matched hers. “It’s the first time I’ve been indecisive. And it’s because of you. You’ve taken everything I believed about myself for the last sixteen years and made me see something else. Made me.”
Her nose scrunched, and he saw the adorable kid she’d been with long curls and a school uniform trying to work out her homework. No wonder her father had treasured her. How could he not?
“And what do you see?”
“I see maybe God doesn’t hate me as much as I thought. How could He; if He sent me you?”
Her eyes widened and welled. “But you don’t want me to stay?”
“Not if it’s just to gain their release. Not if it’s just delaying your leave. Because that would be a torture even I would not inflict. To have you for a short time and then to have you disappear, leave me…”
“So, if I say I’ll stay. It has to be for, forever?”
“Yes. And because I’m a greedy fool, it has to be because you want to. Not because I forced you.”
“Will you let my uncles go?”
“Will they come after me? My family?”
“Will you trust me to convince them? I can convince them I’m here and that I’m happy to be here.”
“Will they believe you?”