“I have to tell you something,” his voice was quiet in the small space and soft, almost delicate. She should have been scared for what he was about to say, but she kept one hand down on her stomach to hold in the blood and the other rested on his arm. Her mom used to tell her that when things got serious, touch was the best form of comfort.
His shoulders relaxed and his hand moved to cover hers as the bottom of his chair scraped the ground to move closer. The pain in her abdomen was almost blinding and she could tell the blood was seeping into the dirty mattress underneath her. Her breaths were shallow and her eyes droopy, but she would fight it as long as she could to listen to his voice. To hear his secrets. His confessions.
He started to speak quickly as if he only had seconds left to live and these would be the last words to ever roll off his tongue. He began to tell her about his dad and what it was like to go to school with black eyes and burns on his chest. He told her how his brother was loved and nurtured and pushed to achieve everything he ever wanted. He told her how he grew up feeling worthless and unwanted.
He told her how one night when he was sixteen, his dad pushed him too far.
She tried not to clench her stomach when he talked about snatching a bottle of whiskey from his dad’s stash and drunkenly crawling into his car. Her fingers tightening around his arm as he described how little he remembered; only a pair of headlights blinding him and the air bag stealing the air from his chest.
The metallic stench of blood filled the room, yet she could only smell burnt tires on asphalt. His lips kept moving and her eyes closed; images of a weeping parent over her fallen baby boy, still locked in his car seat.
Soon he fell silent, but she could still hear the sounds of metal on metal. The blaring of sirens approaching faster and faster as the red lights coated their skin. She couldn’t imagine what he must have felt in that moment or that next morning. Yet, he described how it felt to be hauled off in hand cuffs and have the judge look him in the eyes and read him his sentence.
“Why did you tell me this?” she whispered, feeling the fatigue start to tug her down. She didn’t know how much longer she would be able to stay awake waiting for help to arrive.
“I needed you to know,” he answered and ducked his head down to hers. “I tried to keep it a secret-”
“No kidding,” she muttered. He smiled slightly knowing she never believed his ‘disorderly conduct’ excuse for eight years in prison. She shook her head at him still incredulous that he thought anyone would believe that.
“People look at me differently,” he told her. “You already are.”
He nodded, “But at least this way, I’ll know if it’s real.”
“If what’s real?”
“This,” he whispered.