After Christy’s melodramatic introduction, Ruiran leads me back through the door and into the room I’d woken up in.
She stands in front of me now, looking at me, but not quite meeting my eyes. Her arms are folded almost protectively across her chest, as if she’s hugging herself.
The door vanishes, leaving the two of us alone.
I’m the first to break the silence. “Where’s Debbie?”
At the mention of Debbie’s name, Ruiran’s lip curls. What’s up with her?
“I don’t know. Christy’s not happy with her.”
“Oh,” is all I can manage.
Ruiran notices the crestfallen look on my face. “Who is she to you? Your girlfriend?”
I stare. “No, she’s not my girlfriend. But I care about her.”
“I can tell how much you two like each other,” she says with a scowl, then turns away, signaling an end to our conversation.
I can sense a note of something other than annoyance in her tone. Sadness? Anger? Jealousy?
Maybe she had a boyfriend once. If she did, I wonder what happened to him. Must’ve been something horrible to make her so bitter at the simplest mention of love.
Thinking of Debbie leads my mind elsewhere, to thoughts of home, of family. Bringing me to yet another mystery. Are my parents and brother safe? I’ve had no way of knowing, being stuck here in my new prison.
Better to focus on the problems I can solve. Although I’m dying to find out how my family is doing, I have to ask Ruiran about Debbie.
She turns at the sound of my voice and looks me in the eye for the first time. A strange emotion flickers across her face, but disappears too quickly for me to make sense of it. “Yeah?”
“Can you help me find Debbie?” I ask.
Her eyes harden. “Now, Leo, why would I help you?”
I shrink away from her. “Uh, because...” I can’t find a good reason. My voice peters out.
Something changes in her eyes. With a sigh, she nods and says, “I can try my best.”
I trace my finger down the cracks in the stone walls. Every one of those cracks is another break in my life, a gap that won’t ever be fulfilled. One of them is Leo.
So far, almost everything he’s said has had something to do with Debbie. Debbie this, Debbie that, Debbie everything.
If I had made better choices in this horrid life of mine, if I had allied myself with Leo instead of with Christy, if I had chosen human compassion over mutant greed, if I’d met him before Christy, would he be thinking about me instead of Debbie?
His voice jolts me out of my thoughts. “Ruiran?”
I struggle to maintain my mask of calm as I lift my gaze to his face, but I’m aware of letting a bit of my feelings escape. After finally regaining control, I say, “Yeah?”
Leo’s face is full of anxiety. “Can you help me find Debbie?”
How slow is he? Hasn’t he realized that mentioning Debbie just makes everything worse for both of us? “Now, Leo, why would I help you?” I snap.
Ooh. That was harsh. Leo flinches and stutters, “Uh, because...” His voice trails off and he shuts his mouth, looking dejected.
I take a deep breath. Maybe this can be my chance to mend things, start making the right choices.
“I’ll try my best.”
I summon the doorway and it appears again, hovering in midair between me and Leo. I step forward, about to go in, when Leo stops me.
“Wait, Ruiran,” he calls out.
“What is it now?” I say with a scowl.
“How about my family? Do you know where they are?” he asks me.
I try to stall for time. “Oh, so now you finally care about your family?”
His winces. “Of course I care about them. They’re my family.”
_Oh, no._ If his family was among the list Christy gave me...
With increasing apprehension, I say, “Can you describe them?” I can’t remember all the people I’ve killed, I add on silently.
He describes his mother, father, and brother.
Dread threatens to overcome me as I recall the three of them. The tall, slim woman with graying hair who first saw me through the window, the burly man with bags under his eyes who shouted at his wife to run, and the small boy with spiky hair and pink cheeks who cried out in horror when I kicked down their door. His family.
“No, I’ve never seen them,” I lie without much conviction.
Leo senses my hesitation and narrows his eyes. “You’re lying. What happened to them?”
“Leo, I had to, I’m sorry. I didn’t know who they were. Christy ordered me to,” I beg him to understand.
“To do what?” he demands, the change in his eyes giving away the fact that he already knew what I’d done to them.
Guilt engulfs me.
“To kill them, Leo. I’m sorry.”
Dead silence ensues.
She killed my family?
My mother, who sang Chinese lullabies when I was little, and cared for me for as long as I can remember?
My father, who let me sit on his shoulders when I was small enough, and worked night and day to bring food to the table?
My brother, who danced around the house, his laughter filling the empty halls when nobody else was there?
And none of them are left in this world, because of her?
She killed my family, and she’s telling me that she’s sorry.
“Is that why you’re helping me?” I snap after a long silence.
Ruiran trembles like a deer caught in headlights, my gaze burning into hers.
“No,” she whispers, “I just... I just wanted to fix things. I made bad choices. I didn’t know.”
I can’t even look at her anymore.
“Please, Leo, give me this chance,” she pleads.
“You killed my family. Do you have any idea what that means?”
“I know,” she says quietly, “and I’m sorry. I can’t fix this mistake, but I can help you with Debbie before something happens to her, too.”
I just stay silent. Can I accept help from the murderer of my family?
“I’m sorry,” she repeats.
Despite everything, a part of me feels sorry for her. I don’t know anything about her past; she might not even know what a family is. And she’s trying to make things better, trying to fix her mistakes. She just wants to help. Some criminals can repent; I’ve heard the stories.
Even then, I can’t forgive her, not ever. She killed my family.
But if I let her help me, I can save Debbie’s life.
Conflicted, I settle for something in between. “I accept your apology,” I say flatly.
Her face floods with relief. I turn my back on her, disgusted.I accept your apology, but that doesn’t mean I forgive you.