I hate sleeping alone. It’s too easy for me to blink and think the last few months were nothing but a dream. In that blink, I’m alone. Unable to be hugged by my family without a flashback hurling into the closest wastebasket, dry heaving. No wife, no daughter, no twin brother. My back is nothing but a mass of scars, my dreams a loop of the same never-ending nightmare. In that blink, I lose everything again.
So, sleeping alone for me is not a good idea. It may sound codependent as fuck, but I need Clio. She…soothes me. My demons still lurk, buried under nothing but flimsy scar tissue, one well-aimed hit, and they are unleashed. But I have time before I need to sleep, time enough to flirt with my wife via text and figure out how I’m going to sleep tonight.
Lykos: How are the baby Raptors?
Aren: They miss you.
Lykos: You know, we could use this opportunity for some naughty pics…
Aren: How did I know that texting you would lead to this?
Lykos: Because you know I’m addicted to your body.
Aren: Are you? I didn’t know that.
Lykos: Just a little addicted.
Aren: So, I don’t need to send you my naked body?
Lykos: I mean… I won’t say no…
Dropping back on our bed, I smirk at the texts between my wife and I. We are like teenagers, but can you blame me? Have you seen my wife? Would you not be trying to get her alone at every opportunity?
I’m addicted to her. Every inch. I have zero shame in admitting that. Zero.
After all the shit we’ve been through to be together, we deserve a little happiness, so fuck off with your judgy little eyes.
Grabbing her pillow, I bury my face into it. Inhaling more of her scent, I hope it will be enough to get me through the night.
The fuck? Moving her pillow to the side, three pieces of paper, precisely folded and refolded into different shapes, are hidden beneath her pillow.
Clio folds and unfolds things when she is trying to decide something. I doubt she even knows she does it. Most people would tear at the edges or crumble and uncrumble, not Clio. Ever the historian, she folds and unfolds precisely, always preserving the information.
Sitting up, I slowly open them and read:
Clio, Muse of History,
I have been watching you for some time now, and I am glad you finally decided to open a museum of your own. Teach the mortals about the true history of the world. They deserve to know it.
These must be the letters she received months ago, the ones that first resulted in me being assigned to walk her to and from work. Why are they under her pillow?
I see your museum is coming along well. I cannot wait to see the final project. If you ever need assistance, meet me just outside your museum at 7 a.m. I will be waiting for you.
My memory is hazy, but I don’t remember her telling me he wanted to meet her. The last one is clearly the newest. She never told me there were three letters. It was always two.
It’s time to dig up the past and remember what you’ve done.
Three scraps of paper. Three insignificant pieces of parchment.
And they shatter my world.
My breath is shaking in and out of my chest, and I try to control the way my hands are gripping the paper.
Give her a chance to explain. You of all people know not to jump without all the information.
Fucking rational part of my brain, making excellent points again.
I, more than anyone, know not to take things at first glance. I’m constantly accused of being cold, callous, and thoughtless by my family.
But it’s all part of a bigger plan.
I don’t play just one endgame. I play thousands. And every single time, the hearts of my family members are teetering in the balance.
Talk to her, give her the chance to confess.
I want to rage. I want to run to the museum and confront her. But I trust Clio. She would never lie to me. Right?
With slow, meticulous fingers, I type out the message to her.
Lykos: So what did you have to do at the museum that you couldn’t sleep here tonight?
My finger hits send, and I try to control my shaking as I wait for her to respond.
A few moments go by before my phone dings with a response, which is too long to be the truth. No one waits a couple of minutes to tell the truth. They take a couple minutes to think of a lie. My stomach clenches. Please Clio, take the chance, tell me the truth.
Aren: I have some artifacts I need to look over before the museum opens back up.
Understand, I am an expert at evading the truth, so I know that at the moment, she hasn’t lied. That could be one of the reasons she is staying at the museum, but not all. Therefore, you haven’t lied. It’s what I would have done.
Lykos: Oh? Nothing else?
Sending this, I know she knows. She has to. I’m giving her the chance to come clean. An olive branch of forgiveness. Without so many words, she will understand that I will forgive her for making up the excuse of going to the museum because she hasn’t lied to me. Yet.
Please take it, Aren. I don’t want to be wrong in trusting you.
After five minutes, my jaw clenches, and I type out another text. I know! I know, a double text? Nothing more desperate than a double text without a response. But in this case, it’s life or death.
Lykos: You wouldn’t be lying to me, would you?
Her response is immediate.
Notice how she responds to this question and not the other? A classic trickster tactic, one I employ all the time. One I recognize. She has to know I’m on to her, Clio is far too intelligent not to be suspicious.
My fists clench, and I slowly roll my head from side to side, trying to alleviate the tension in my shoulders and back.
My vision is flickering from clear to red and back.
One more chance, Aren, take it. Please.
Lykos: You know how I feel about lying, CLIO.
I could not be more apparent that I’m offering her a chance to tell me the truth, a truth I already know.
Let’s be clear. I have great faith in my wife.
As damning as these letters look, I don’t think she’s cheating on me, or in love with someone else. You forget, I can feel her emotions. Yeah, they’re muddled a bit because of the twins, allowing her nerves to slip past me, but I know her. Whatever she’s doing is something she knows I won’t approve of, like putting herself in danger.
Aren: I have to look at some artifacts and sleep. Talk to you in the morning.
She doesn’t take the olive branch I offered. If she told me the truth, I wouldn’t be mad. I would have brought it up whenever she asked me to change the twin’s diapers, but I wouldn’t be mad.
But she didn’t.
She didn’t dart or evade the truth. I asked if she was lying to me, and she said no. She lied.
Lykos: Yes. You will.
I want to hurl my phone into the wall, but I can’t. I have work to do. My brother set up all the surveillance for the GC HQ, and I set up a backdoor to spy when he did.
I’m pretty sure he knows I’m in his system and allows it simply for another set of eyes. Dinlas knows that if it comes down to it, I’ll let him know of anything suspicious. I’ll protect the family from serious threat. In the meantime, I can use it to spy and interfere in all of their lives. Seems like a good tradeoff. Plus, I knew Din and Nyxie are off in Japan, I often send them dumb pictures and texts updating them about the twins. Yes, those obnoxious ones you always see on IG—the twins are now the size of cantaloupes.
The fact that Din hasn’t blocked my phone number is a minor miracle in itself.
Through my back door in the system, I watch Clio taking the elevator, and the way she’s biting her lip hard, tells me that she’s nervous.
Fuck, how did I miss that?
Usually, I notice everything about her, every minute facial expression and tick, but I’m spread thin. My own anxiety through the roof with the twins, and I can’t focus. Often I wake up in the middle of the night and put my hand on Clio’s stomach, unable to sleep until I feel them against my palm.
She’s down at the first floor of the GC HQ and shoots another look back over her shoulder.
Regretting lying to me, Clio?
I switch to the surveillance of the museum, seeing her face during our text exchange. I watch her pale and try to figure out how to respond.
For the rest of the night, I remain awake, researching the man she’s meeting. Picking up the surveillance I’d started, I stop when Dinlas first asked me to walk her to work. Hacking into the CCTV footage of the coffee shop, I rewind and watch the last several months.
Every morning at 7 a.m., a man walks in, sits down at a booth. He doesn’t order anything. He just sits, his hands folded in front of him on the table, watching the door.
After an hour, he leaves. Every. Single. Day. For months.
Rhea preserve me. Who the fuck is this?
In the morning, on zero sleep, I take a seat in the corner, my back to the wall, surveying the shop.
6:55 a.m. Hopefully, Clio won’t show, I half-expected to get a text message from her during the night telling me everything. Nothing.
Five minutes to change her mind.
I’d donned a disguise of a long-dead man so obscure even my wife would have trouble placing him at first sight.
I need to have faith in Clio. I need to trust that she knows what she’s doing. So for now, I’m here to back her up. Just in case she needs it.
Maybe it’s nothing, and maybe I’m overreacting. I palm one of my darts under the table, my leg bouncing, hoping Clio won’t walk through the door.
I can get anywhere in the coffee shop in less than a blink. The building was small, and I could clear a path if needed. I just don’t want to have to.
She wouldn’t put our children in such danger, would she? It’s not just her life, which is already invaluable, but it’s our kids too. How dare she put herself in danger like this? We’re supposed to be married. Share everything. I have no secrets from her. She’s seen me at my darkest. My lowest. She saw me give up. And she kept this from me?
The bell of the coffee shop door rings, and my head snaps up, and my wife stands there, haloed by the sun behind her.
She didn’t take it.
Four chances to confess.
She didn’t take them.
Taking slow breaths, my free hand grips the edge of the table in front of me, cracking it. I clench my jaw so tight that I’m grinding down my molars. I will wait. I’m here if she needs me. I want to storm over and yank her from here.
But for some reason, she needs to prove she can do this.
Doesn’t mean I can’t be fucking enraged that she does.
She approaches a strawberry-blonde man sitting at the same booth he’s sat at for every single day. After a moment, she sits across from him.