July 18, 2008
Kimberly ran her fingers through her hair as she walked towards the house. Once again, she was pretty damn uncertain of what she was doing. She hadn't called ahead this time. She'd considered it, had picked up the phone, but the fact of the matter was that she needed to know how Erik's family was doing. She cared. The others, she'd been okay with the idea that maybe they'd tell her to fuck off and die without looking her in the face. It's not like she'd lost any sleep wondering what the Hayes family thought of her. Mr. Hayes' statement of his wife's feelings, that had slid straight off her back.
With Erik's family, it wasn't that simple. Erik was one of the only people she'd met on the island and never held any anger or resentment towards. He was someone who'd been there for her, and who, in a very real way, she credited for her survival. He was someone who'd never done anything to deserve the fate he'd met. He was someone she wished had made it, didn't matter how. If anyone had deserved to get out of there, to go back to the real world and laugh along with their friends and just recover and get over all the horrible shit, it was Erik. Instead, he'd been gunned down.
She still didn't know quite what had happened.
Kimberly had not been shy about delving into the recordings of the game when she needed answers. She'd seen people die, had watched her classmates struggle and change and fight and murder, had learned a lot about who they were. She'd spent maybe an hour or two every day poking around on her computer, pretending she was playing Tetris or something so her family wouldn't freak out about her emotional health and stability and all that. She loved them, and she knew they wanted the best for her, but they still didn't know what that entailed. It was far too late for them to protect Kimberly from anything.
Even with a couple weeks' worth of spare time spent reviewing what all had happened, she'd barely scratched the surface of what was there. As it was, she wasn't sleeping well, still waking with half-remembered fears and dreams on the edge of her mind. She kept a nightlight on, like she was three again, and she kept a hammer she'd stolen from the garage between her bed and the wall, within easy reach. She got nervous sometimes, worried that it had all been a lie, that they would come for her again just like they had come for Dodd, that someone would murder her in her home like what had happened to Rizzolo.
Maybe that was why it was so imperative that she see people, that she figure things out quickly. Maybe she still hadn't kicked all of her old impatience. Maybe she was still fleeing possible regrets.
For all her research, however, she had respected her promise to Erik. She hadn't watched him die. In fact, she'd never gone looking for the tapes of their time together. She hadn't looked him up at all. It felt disrespectful, like she'd be overwriting his real self, the him that she'd known, like she'd be replacing his reality with false memories and conjecture. Fuck that. She was content to leave things between them where they'd ended, only she wanted to do right by him. More than anyone else, Erik deserved a happy ending, and if there was any way she could help make things less fucked up, she was going to do her best.
Maybe that was part of why she hadn't called.
It didn't really matter. She was at the door, and she was raising her hand and knocking, and she didn't have a clue what was going to come of it, but she was pretty sure she was ready.
It was a teenager who opened the door. Short and slender with medium-length reddish hair curled around her ears and a face reminiscent of Erik's, with high, sharp cheekbones and large blue eyes, She had an apple in one hand and looked vaguely put-out, as though coming to the door had interrupted something. There was a massive black mutt standing behind her and looking idly curious, his face heavily streaked with the grey hairs of old age.
The girl opened her mouth, probably to ask what Kimberly was doing there, but even as she did so, recognition began to sweep across her features. Her eyes narrowed as color drained from her face, leaving only two high rosettes of red in her cheeks. Her fingers tightened on the apple.
Her mouth worked for a moment without any sound. The dog moved forwards to press himself against her legs, nudging at her fingers. She didn't appear to notice.
Finally, voice shaking in what was unmistakably anger, she said, "What are you
It wasn't what Kimberly had expected. She hadn't even realized Erik had siblings. Had he mentioned it? Hard to say. And now, she was here, and she knew that this girl in front of her knew who she was, had maybe watched what had happened, and who knew what was running through her head? Kimberly knew that she'd tried to help Erik, that'd she'd done her best, but had that come through on the screen? Had she come off, perhaps, as a manipulator? Had it looked like she'd played Erik to her own ends, then discarded him?
"I, uh, I thought," Kimberly started, stumbling for a second before sliding into, "I wanted to talk."
." The girl's voice snapped out like a whip. Her fingernails were digging into the soft skin of the apple. Her other hand was clenched just as tight into a fist, knuckles white. Her eyes blazed contempt. "I know who you are. You think this is some kind of fuckingyou think you can just come into our life, my
life, because you knew my brother? What the fuck do you even want to talk about?" Her eyes flicked up and down Kimberly just once. Sizing her up, maybe. Her mouth twisted. Her voice, when she spoke again, was a mocking parody of a whine. "'Oh, I'm soooo
sorry for your loss.' If that's what you wanna say then you can just get the fuck out of here because I don't give a shit."
Her voice half-cracked on the last word, shook for a moment. Not just her voice: her hands, locked as they were, still trembled by her sides. "You're here and he's not. Fine. That's how it happened. But I don't fucking have to like it."
There were tears now, running messily down her face. Her words were half-choked in her mouth.
"And I don't fucking have to listen to you try and make yourself feel better about the fact that you lived and he didn't because you know what? He never did anything wrong. He never killed anyone. He never even hurt anyone. And then he met you and I saw
what you did, I saw
what happened, and he died and it should have been you
The apple didn't hit Kimberly's shoulder. Instead it flew wide, bouncing off the driveway and rolling to a halt in the gutter. The girl stared at her for a long moment, face crumpled and red and wet with tears, choking on sobs in the back of her throat, then spat at Kimberly's feet.
"My brother should be alive. Erik should be alive. Not you."
When she turned and retreated down the hall, she left the door open. The dog still lay by the threshold, but now he whined and looked uneasily between Kimberly and the rest of the house. For a few seconds, there was nothing but the soft, everyday noises of the neighborhood, and then a male voice from inside the house rang out.
A pause. Kimberly wasn't sure what to do. She hadn't been prepared for that level of anger, not here, not from Erik's family. One of the others, perhaps, but not Erik's family. Even so, she didn't feel personally slighted. It helped that the girl was mostly wrong, that she was speaking from anger and grief instead of knowledge. It helped more that, on some level, the girl was right. Erik should have been alive. There was no denying it, no backing away. Kimberly had thought about it on her own, had mused over how things could have gone, had tried to figure some way she could have, perhaps, traded herself for him. There was nothing. Eventually, she'd given up. The past wasn't going to change.
But now, now she was faced with another complication. A voice had called her name, a man's voice, and she wondered just what the fuck was going on, whether she'd been expected, whether she should take the reception she'd already had as a warning and flee. Just what did they think she was here for? What did they have in store for her?
No. Erik was enough to vouch for these people. There was no way a family that could produce him could give her cause to worry.
"Hello?" she called. "It's me."
There were indistinct voices from inside the house, a muffled conversation not quite audible from outside, and a moment or two passed before a man came down the hall.
He was quite tallprobably at least six-foot-fourand had an angular look to him, his age showing in distinct crow's feet framing his blue eyes and smile lines engraved into his cheeks. His hair was gray and flopped over his forehead; as he approached Kimberly he swiped it absent-mindedly away and used the same hand to push a pair of black-rimmed spectacles a little further up his nose.
He might have seemed intimidating if it weren't for the faint, slightly awkward smile on his face and the fact that the first words out of his mouth were apologies. "AhI am so sorry for my daughter's behavior." He cast a quick glance over his shoulder and into the house, then looked back at Kimberly. "She is just not... Kim and Erik were very close. It has been a difficult time, I'm sure she didn't mean offense."
There was a faint accent to his words. Quebecois. He proffered a large hand speckled with burn marks and old knife-scars, still smiling rather anxiously.
"My name is Vincent, by the way. Vincent Laurin. You... knew my son."
"I did," Kimberly said. Apparently, the girl's name was Kim too. Fuck.
"I'm Kimberly Nguyen," she added, as if he didn't know that already. It just seemed polite, as did taking his hand and shaking. These were the things she was getting used to again now, shaking hands and introducing herself. They still felt rather artificial.
"I was hoping to talk," she continued, "but if you want, I'll leave." She didn't want to leave, not at all, not now, not when all she'd done was hurt someone else, but she would if that was best. The time for selfishness was long past, now.
"No, please." Vincent backed up a couple of steps and nudged the dog gently with his toe, muttering a command in French under his breath. The dog obediently stood, stretched, and padded stiffly away down the hall, leaving Vincent to turn back and gesture at Kimberly. "Come in."
He led the way through the hallway and into a bright and spacious kitchen, voice floating back to Kimberly over his shoulder. "It is very kind of you to visit. I'm afraid Anniemy wifeshe is out right now, and the twins, but I would be happy to talk."
Sliding glass doors led from the kitchen to a small patio and an even smaller garden, just a little patch of grasses and what looked like someone's attempt at a vegetable garden. There were wooden seats and a small table, though, and Vincent gestured towards them. "Please, have a seat. Can I get you anything?"
Kimberly took a second before sitting down, just glancing around and wondering how she could have been nervous mere minutes ago. Then she sat, allowing her shoulders to relax and taking a deep breath.
"I'm fine," she said. "Thanks. I can leave if I'm bothering your dKim."
Meeting other people who shared her name had always been a strange experience, and Kimberly sometimes wished her mother hadn't been quite so thoroughly Americanized. A more traditional name would've been a pain in many ways, but it would have made this sort of situation rarer.
That was not the most pressing thing on her mind right now, of course. She had so much she wanted to say to Vincent, but she couldn't guess how much he wanted to hear, how much would be too much. She did not want to hurt him. In many ways, he reminded her of Erik. This house and patio felt right for them, felt like a home, and, while she had barely known Erik before everything, she could imagine him here easily. She did not want to presume to think she could feel his absence.
Vincent sat as well, folding his long body into the rough wooden seat. "It's fine. Kim... she is having a difficult time. She is so sad for Erik, and so angry, andit is hard, sometimes, to know what to do. She is not interested in talking about it. But I think talking is good. It... clears the air, yes?"
He smiled quietly, leaning forward until his chin rested on his hands, elbows resting in turn on his knees. He moved like someone beginning to feel the aches of age, rather like the dog in the hall, eyes deep in his face and darker than Erik's ever had been as he waited for her to speak.
"Yes." This time, it didn't take so long for Kimberly to decide to respond. It was nice, being understood like this without having to work so hard. Understanding was in short supply these days.
"And... I guess that's why I came. I just wanted to say I'm sorry."
She could've continued, could've explained at length, but she was getting a bit choked up just sitting here, across from a man who had to be hurting way more than she was. She wanted to cry or something, just let go and get it over with and regain her dignity, but nothing was happening. It was just a bit hard to speak. There was a pressure, a point of pain in her throat, but that was all.
For a long moment, no one said anything. Birds called softly in the garden. A car drove past. There was a burst of laughter from next door. The world went on, in its quiet way. Vincent steepled his fingers and watched Kimberly, expression unreadable.
Then he reached out. The large, calloused hand settled on top of her own, warm and rough, steady and unmoving. He opened his mouth once, as though to speak, and then hesitated, looked away. After another moment he met her eyes. "Why? Why are you sorry, Ms. Nguyen? What would you have to be sorry for, to me? I have seenI watched my son. In that place. I watched my son die."
Silence stretched, thin and empty. Vincent dropped his gaze and swallowed once, twice, blinking in the brightness of summer or on the tears he wouldn't show her. It was a long moment before he could look at her again but when he did, he was smilingfaint and unsteady, but smiling all the same. Voice slightly hoarse, he spoke again.
"My wife, when Erik was young, she had cancer. It was very hard, for everyone. For Erik. After she recovered, he was very... afraid. Of death. Of things happening. It was very bad for a while. We took him to therapy, so he could talk. And she told him to do more sports, so he joined the running team. He was very good. Very fast." Vincent was still looking at Kimberly, but for a moment his gaze was far away. "And I would watch him run and I would think... he runs away from everything. He runs like he will run away from the bad thoughts. Even when he was better, he would run like that."
He paused, a shadow twisting his face for the barest moment. "On the island, he ran. For so long. And then he met you, and he did not run any more, andI think that is good. And at the end. You were with him." His eyes focused on Kimberly's once more, hand squeezing hers lightly. "My son did not die alone, Ms. Nguyen. He died peacefully, because you were with him. You have nothing to be sorry for. Nothing
There were tears on his cheeks now, silently overflowing, but still he smiled and squeezed her hand, and if his voice trembled a little more than before, well, that was just how it was.
"Thank you. Thank you. Je vous remercie de tout coeur
It had been enough to push Kimberly over the edge, and she was crying too now, not even bothering trying to wipe her eyes. She took deep breaths, letting the air fill her lungs and allowing the concentration of that act to bring back her focus, to clear her head just enough that she could manage words again. Her thoughts were not coherent, but she had a few things she had to say, now that she knew she could say them.
"I just, I, I wish it had been different," she said. "I just wanted to make sure that youall of youthat Erik's family was alright. He was a good person."
Here, she did pause, and wiped the tears from her eyes with her free hand, then wiped it on the leg of her jeans. The pain was gone from her throat, released along with the pressure and the tears.
"He was a great person," she continued. "He saved me. I don'teverything happened, and I don't what I would've done if we hadn't met. He let me remember who I was. I just wanted to... to help, somehow, or say thank you, or..." but she had started crying again, had trailed off, and couldn't find words to continue.
Vincent was silent as well. The words that had needed to be said had been offered, and now they sat together on the tiny patio overlooking a garden more weeds and stakes than actual plants, the shrieks and giggles from next door drifting over the fence, and they cried.
It was Vincent who broke the silence again. One hand still lay gently over Kimberly's, light enough that she could remove it if she wanted but still fundamentally there. He swiped his own hand roughly along his cheekbones and under the lenses of his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose for a moment as he took a long and shuddering breath.
"That you came," he said quietly, "it helps. That you came to see us. Erik had... a partner, a boyfriend. He was a good boy. They went to the prom together. Erik talked about him." He laughed, covered his face for a moment, brushed new moisture off his cheeks. "All the time, he would talk about him." He smiled fondly. "Kimberly would say she would tape his mouth shut."
The smile became something quiet, turned inward. "He was on the island too, the boyfriend. He escaped, was rescued, on the boats. I don't know if he came back to the city. But never... perhaps it is asking too much. That he would come and see us, I don't know. I'm not angry."
He shrugged one shoulder. "But Erik was looking for him, on the island, and found you instead, and you are here now. So that is good, I think. It helps."
That was something else, more news that Kimberly wasn't entirely sure what to make of. Her tears had mostly subsided, but another feeling was building now, one that scared her.
She'd known. Erik had told her in there, somewhere between the mountain and the sawmill. They hadn't said much, but he'd told her about Brendan, had told her that they had met, that Brendan had left. It hadn't made much sense then, and it sure as fuck didn't now, but nothing about the island made sense these days. It was a different reality, a dream world, a place in the back of her mind that only came out to haunt her when she thought too hard about people she'd never see again or when she sliced a grapefruit and had to run to her room to cry because stabbing and cutting with a knife had physical memories attached to it, ones she never wanted to confront again. Even her shoulder seemed like it could have another explanation now, something that wasn't so sinister, like there could be some silly, everyday reason she could only reach the top shelf in the pantry right-handed.
But what bothered her now was that she was being reminded that she wasn't the only one who'd made it. Brendan was out there, somewhere, living out his own life and his own issues, and Erik had died without him. Brendan, he was part of that special group that had lucked out. Kimberly knew about the rescue now, knew what all had happened. She'd looked Brendan up a bit, to see if Greynolds had been telling the truth.
He had. Brendan had shot Steven with Kimberly's old gun.
And now, she felt her old anger coming back, and the island, it was starting to make a little sense again. Hurting people was starting to make a little sense again, and it was terrifying, and this wasn't the place or time for it, not here with Erik's father, not when things were going so well. Later. She could work out her feelings towards Brendan later. She wasn't helping anyone now, not even herself.
"I'm glad he found me," she said. Her voice was a little bit flat now, but it beat letting her emotions leak into it. She tried to intone more properly as she continued. "He saved my life. If I... if there's ever any way I can help you, any of you, I mean... let me know."
Vincent nodded, made a small gesture with his free hand. "Of course. And you, Ms. Nguyen. If you should ever need anything, please. Ask. My wife would feel the same, and my daughtershe will learn. She needs to be sad, for a time, but it will pass. As with my other children."
His smile turned wry. "We try to raise them well. With five, maybe, it was not as easy. But they are good people. I am glad my son could be with you. That he could do what he did. He was always very... mm, he would go to those who needed him. He would get in trouble for it, sometimes. But he tried very hard to do the right thing. He would be happy, that you lived. That he helped with that. I think he would be happy."
He hesitated for a moment before leaning forwards slightly, fingers curling gently around her hand. "And you, Ms. Nguyen? It would be wrong, maybe, to ask if you are okay butwould you like to talk?"
The answer to that one was easy: she did. Kimberly wanted, needed maybe, to share, and this was one of the few relatively safe environments left to her. This was someone expressing concern for her because they cared, not because they were under any obligation to. This was someone she could speak to without repercussions for the other parts of her life. More than that, this was Erik's father. It was eerily reminiscent of how things had gone back on the mountain, back when she'd told Erik just how far from fine she was, back when she'd explained that she wanted to change, to learn from her mistakes, to break out of her cycle. Maybe she'd managed that. After all, she had, in her way, left the violence behind.
"I'm scared," she said. "I don't know what's going to happen. I don't... I don't want this. I just want to go back to my life. I wish thatfuck, I'm sorry, I don't mean to be self-indulgent. I just... I'm just trying to be a better person, to take care of things, to make up for things, and there's so much, and..." and here, she took a deep breath, tried to force her thoughts into order a little bit more.
"I just don't want this to be my life. I don't want it to define me, but there's still so much I need to do."
Vincent nodded. Heavy eyebrows were drawn down over his eyes as he thought, still absent-mindedly squeezing Kimberly's hand in his own. It took a short time before he spoke again, eyes far away as he thought over the words.
Finally, he sighed and shook his head. "I wish... I wish I have more answers for you. I can only give what I think. But I think... this is a part of you now, what has happened. It will not stop being a part of you. But we are all made up of parts. We are born and they are not so many, but every day we grow and there are more. And this thing, which is a big part of you now, the more you grow and the more time passes it will become smaller, and less important."
He frowned. "I am not explaining this very well. It is like... when you cook. You will add ingredients at the beginning which will not taste good on their own, or which will make everything taste bad, but the more you add and the longer you cook it the tastes change, and blend, and they become good again. This is so new still, it is overpowering everything else. But in time it will change. It will not become good, I think, ever, but it will blendand you will be stronger for it. Better."
He offered up a half smile, shrugged. "It is little comfort now. I know. I do understand. But it will not be this way forever. And I think... I do not think you need to make up for anything. It is good to want to be a better person. That is how we become better. Yes, you did bad things, on the island. I think maybe everyone did. But that is in the past, and you have learned from it."
He dropped his gaze, suddenly awkward. "This is just what I think. It may not mean anything. But I think... do what you need to do because you want
to, not because you think you must."
It wasn't what she'd been expecting to hear, insofar as she had expectations, but perhaps that was why Vincent's words actually provided comfort. She wasn't sure what to do with his adviceafter all, hadn't following her own desires landed her in this predicament in the first place? Could she trust herself with that sort of responsibility again, after all the pain she had caused?but the rest of it helped tremendously. She couldn't see what the future might hold, how long her road might be, but she had left the island and now she had a future again, had the ability to take the time necessary to heal. Maybe, given long enough, she would recover, just like her arm was recovering.
Of course, she'd always have the scars.
"Thanks," she said, and her smile was genuine. She wanted to say more, to share her gratitude for everything this man and his family had done for her, but she couldn't find the proper words, so she just smiled a little more widely.
Vincent dropped one shoulder in a half-shrug and let go of her hand, patting it gently before he withdrew.
"Old words, old advice from an old man." He didn't look like he was much past fifty, and the words had an edge of wry humor to them.
Checking his watch, he made a soft tsking noise deep in his throat. "My wife will be home soon. And my other children. Would you stay to dinner, Ms. Nguyen? You are always welcome in our family."
It was a tempting offer, and Kimberly nearly accepted. She was thankful for the acceptance, thankful for the advice and the ability to talk with someone who cared, but Erik's sister's reaction to her presence was still in the back of her mind. She didn't want to hurt the girl more, didn't want to surprise the rest of the family before they were warned.
Besides, what Vincent had said gave her a little more hope for her life to come. Just maybe, she would be back here again, from time to time. She had a future again. She could involve people she wanted to see more of in it. She could now put off meetings with less fear that she would never get the chance to make good. Yeah, there was always some uncertainty. It seemed so insignificant by comparison to what had come before.
Still, Kimberly had never liked leaving things unsaid.
"Thanks," she said, "but another night might be better for me, if, uh, if it's okay. I really appreciate it, though. Thank you so much. For everything."
Vincent smiled. It was a real smile, even if it didn't quite reach his eyes, even if there was still the exhaustion of grief behind it.
"Of course." He pushed himself out of his chair and stretched, twisting his back to the soft crackle of joint and vertebrae... and hesitated. His hands went to the back of his chair, squeezing the wood. He stared over Kimberly's shoulder at the door into the kitchen, and his voice when it came was distant.
"After the news... Kimberly, after it happened, she would wake up at night with the dreams. And my other son, Pierrehe is a good boy, but he would fight in school because of what people say, about what happened. Morgan, Charlotte, my girls, my twins, they were so sad. And it is easier now, as time passes. We are still a family. I have four children still, and I love them so much. I am so grateful for what I have."
His knuckles were white on the chair. His words were soft.
"But I miss him. I miss him so much, sometimes, that it hurts." A hand came up, pressed to his chest. "I miss him so much that I don't know what to do."
He let out a long, shuddering breath, and tears he didn't seem to notice were tracing down his cheeks. For a long moment, he just breathed.
Finally, he shook his head and raised his eyes to Kimberly. "But we go on, you and I. We miss them. We are so sad and angry and lost, with what has happened. But we still live and so we must go on, and in time, it will get better. It must." The expression on his face wasn't quite a smile, too bitter to be called something like that.
"I miss my son, Ms. Nguyen. But he is dead, and I am not, and you are not, and it is for us to live for those who are gone. It hurtsyou know that. But I will not allow what has happened to take my family away from me."
Vincent held out a hand to Kimberly, a silent offer of assistance in getting up. A usually meaningless gesture, common courtesy. But his eyes held her own.
"Please, Kimberly. Do not let them take your life from you. For Erik. For a silly old man who misses his son. Enough children died on that island."
His lips twitched momentarily. A real smile, this time.
"Do not be one of them."
Kimberly smiled too, and she took his hand and allowed herself to be helped up. As she left the house, she felt a little pang of sadness. She almost regretted turning down Vincent's invitation. After all, she couldn't be entirely sure she'd be able to make it at a later date. Leaving now felt like leaving something that mattered behind.
She took deep breaths to clear her head, and swallowed as silently as she could. Her throat was aching a bit again, and she knew that tears were threatening, but she was determined to be strong until she was out of sight. She parted ways with Vincent at the door, with a smile and a promise to return before too long, and then she was off down the block, sniffling and wiping her eyes and trying to feel angry at herself for breaking down or something but not really making much headway.
She wanted to take the advice to heart, to keep going and not let what had happened destroy her. Still, she almost wished she could just sink into it. There was something very appealing about the idea of being the last victim of Survival of the Fittest.
But of course, she wouldn't be the last. There would be more next year, and the year after, and so on until somebody finally got their shit together and tore the whole damn organization down, and no way was Kimberly going to let herself be just another casualty, not after everything that had happened.
Certainly not without a good reason.