Chapter 21 – Don’t touch me! (New York)
My hands are sweating as I walk down the steps. The path to the door of the residence seems eternal, but when I finally arrive and go outside, it is as if New York has ceased to be real for me. I no longer look at the tall skyscrapers around me or the apartment buildings, with the fire escapes that make them unique, with the same eyes. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was terrified.
When my father called, he said he wanted to see me. He didn’t explain why. He just said he needed to get in front of me―see what I’d become. I don’t know how he knew I was here studying, he didn’t even tell me when he got out of jail. My foster family hardly gave me any news about him, and his lawyer― I imagine he has one even by trade― I have never seen him.
We’re meeting in Central Park, just a few blocks away. My knees feel like jelly, but I force myself to keep walking and breathe deeply. Since a little voice in my head keeps screaming:
It’s your father! What if he’s changed?
After being in a maximum-security prison? I reproach myself for my innocence.
Well, who knows. Maybe a part of me is willing to believe that his past and mine can be buried under a tree together and start over. When I get to the agreed place, a man is already waiting there. His eyes are green and his hair is a little grayer than I remember, but it’s him. When he turns to look at me, I put my hands to my mouth to drown out a groan, but I don’t go any closer. He, on the other hand, does throw his foot forward cautiously and extends a seemingly friendly hand in my direction.
“Hello, little one” ―a hint of a smile curves his lips―. “How much you’ve grown.”
I sip when I realize I’m almost crying.
“It’s been ten years,” I remind him without pungency. “I guess that’s what had to happen.”
He sighs as kind of an apology.
“I’m sorry, Camille. I wish…”
“No”, I’m interrupting. “I know what you’re going to say. Even in my foster home there was someone who always started a similar sentence. Don’t say it,” I gulp before I add. “The past is the past. Let’s not dwell on it. What’s done is done…”
He seems to be smiling more broadly. Although he is missing half a left fang and that gives him a certain air of gloom, I try not to be more scared than I already am. I can’t get it out of my head that he was locked up for something very big. Something that I saw and that haunted me in my nightmares for a long, long time. The amazing thing is that they let him out.
“I was finally given probation for good behavior,” he explained as if reading my thoughts while slowly approaching me. “I changed, little one.”
I don’t know why, but I have no good memories of that nickname. Something is jumping in my brain, but I can’t identify what it is. For the umpteenth time, I wonder why I came here without coming to a valid conclusion.
“You killed a woman,” I whisper. The wind brings me a sweet smell from your direction. He’s drunk. “That cannot be changed.”
At my accusation his face changes slightly. His eyes open and his steps stop.
“Cam, you and I both know that’s not true,” he says. “I…” He looks at his hands as if he could find the necessary arguments there. “It was an accident, she didn’t have…”
Reminding him has stirred up something in his conscience that shouldn’t come out. But my more rebellious and scarred side refuses to believe that he’s really over it.
“What do you want… Dad?”
I find it difficult to vocalize that word, but his eyes seem to sparkle when he hears me say it and he is encouraged to approach me and try to take me gently by the hand. I am tense, but I cannot resist it. Something keeps melting inside me when I have him so close. It’s like going back to childhood, to those moments when it was him and me against the world―but it’s been a long time since that was the case.
“I want my daughter back”, he whispers over my head. Indeed, his breath smells of alcohol and that puts me on my guard again. Since, in general, he was never sober when… “I want my family back.”
I repress the desire to run away and I answer as naturally as possible.
“All right, I’ll go,” I add, before I let go of my hand from his―I want to get out of here. I need to reflect and think about it. But I am surprised and shuddered by the fact that he, instead of letting me go, is suddenly holding on to my fingers. I turn to look at him in question. “Dad, let me go…”
But he shakes his head in a way I don’t like.
“No. Now we have to be together, Cam. We’re… We’re family…”
I try to let go again without success and start to panic, but I try to hide it with a quick smile.
“Dad, I promise we’ll fix this, but I have to go now,” I grimace as I try to get out of it again and he squeezes my hand harder. “Dad, stop it, you’re hurting me…”
But he doesn’t seem to listen to me anymore. His face approaches mine with a blackness that makes me tremble.
“And where do you think you’re going to go? You don’t have anyone, Camille. Only me. Look at me! I’m your only way out, do you understand?”
“NO! “STOP!” I’m writhing in despair. “You don’t know what you’re talking about! Let go of me!”
But he won’t budge. He seems to be trying to put his other arm around me. At least until a basketball hits his shoulder and, surprised, he lets go of me to try to find the source of the shot. Some kids who are playing a little further away scream for the ball; and he, pretending not to know, gives it back to them with little skill―I take advantage of this moment to run away from there.
I know he’s haunting me, I know it. I hear his cries in the distance calling me, behind my back, as I draw people, food stalls, and trees alike. I leave the park through one of the gates at full speed, quickly orienting myself as to where I am, and I cross the street at a green light at a speed that seems to have grown wings on my feet. However, after cackling through the streets of downtown, when I turn a corner and go into a lonely brick street, someone catches me. Thinking that it’s my father, I scream and try to get loose by all means, but when my hunter covers my mouth and I manage to see who it is, I can’t help but cry on his shoulder inconsolably.
As Cam ventures out, I stroke her hair slowly, hoping that she’ll calm down soon, while I try to contain my desire to go out and smash his father’s miserable face. Because these eyes have seen absolutely everything.
When Camille told me that her father was coming to town and that they were meeting, I almost got angry with her for being so impulsive―an ex-convict who’s been in a maximum-security prison? And she’s going to meet him so quietly? No, I couldn’t allow that. So I decided to spy on the meeting, and when I saw that things weren’t going well, I followed Camille at a distance to intercept her on her way to ‘The Safe’. If her father knows where she usually lives, my girlfriend has a few other places to go. Except maybe Tyler’s apartment. But he’s more likely to look for her there if he’s inquired about her life as he seems to have.
“Come on, I’ll tell you when it looks like you’ve calmed down a bit. Let’s get out of here.”
“Moose,” she lifts her tearful little face to look at me and I try not to break my soul seeing her like that. “How…? What…?”
I snort―I think I’ll get a kick out of this, but right now it’s clear that the end justifies the means.
“I followed you,” I admit. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t sure it was going to work out and, well, just in case…”
But I fall silent when she grabs my chin with both hands and lures me in to kiss me with unusual sweetness, even despite the salt of her tears.
“Thank you,” she mutters, before her lower lip quivers again. “I… I thought that…”
I don’t let her finish―we’ve got to get out of here. Her father could show up at any time and we both know that wouldn’t be good―for either of us.
“Come on, let’s get out of here” I repeat, by putting a finger on her lips. “We’ll be safe in ‘The Safe’.
She nods and, after making sure the coast is clear, we run through the alleys until we arrive, safe and sound, at the door of Luke’s old joint. As we get on the elevator, as we enter the living room and even as the people present surround us to find out what has happened, Camille doesn’t leave my side. Both the Ticks and the Santiago twins obligingly break up with her; but my girlfriend, although she smiles fondly and accepts all displays of affection, seems to be far away from here. That’s why I take her right away to the tent where Natalie once slept when she was here.
“You’ll be all right here,” I tell her as I pull a rebellious lock of his forehead. “I feel so helpless. Cam, I’m sorry, really.”
She swallows and seems to want to cry again, but she holds it in.
“Don’t worry,” she holds my hands and comes over until my chin touches her hair. “ Thank you, my love. Without you I don’t know what I would have done out there…”
I smile with some ill-disguised pride and force her to raise her head towards me.
“I’ll always be there for you, Camille,” I promise, stroking her cheek. “Always.”
She smiles and lets my hand cradle her face.
The afternoon and night pass quietly, although Camille still has periods that seem to be absent. She doesn’t even want to have dinner and when she decides to go to bed, her eyes keep getting lost somewhere on the wall. It only seems to come back to reality when I lie down next to her and put my arm around her waist. Then she smiles and curls up against me.
“Try to get some sleep and don’t toss it around, okay?” I advise her in a low voice, next to her neck.
She nods and a little while later, I notice she starts to fall asleep with her back to me. But when it feels like we’ve barely slept five minutes, a phone beep wakes us up―hers.
“Yes?” she murmurs, sleepy, then mumbles strangely. “Tyler? What…?”
I don’t understand what they say to the other side, but her reaction afterward is very eloquent to me. Her phone falls to the ground, her face unravels, and then she buries it in her hands, drowning out a scream that I think will break me in two.
“Cam, Cam!” I jump up―I’m overwhelmed, and I take her by the shoulders. “What’s wrong? What happened? What’s it?”
To my relief, she answers right away. But her answer immediately leaves me cold in place.
“He’s dead, Moose,” she says before she hides his face again between her fingers. “My father’s dead.”