Sounds tumbled up the stairs, dull and heavy and she couldn’t tell in which direction they were heading. But then she saw the brass knob at the far end of the room begin its slow orbit and she waited.
The man slid a plate in with the toe of his boot, the rest of him cleaved to the shadows. There was a glass of water, and two pieces of stale white bread. It was the same thing he’d brought her the day before, and the day before that, and every day since that first day they’d dragged her in by her hair. She remembered his grip, his fingers twisted behind her ear, his knuckles grating against her scalp. He’d flung her there on the hard concrete floor, and tore her out of her clothes, one hand flush against her throat.
But it had been twenty-seven days since he’d touched her, twenty-seven days since he’d glanced at her from between that crack in the door. That first moment she’d seen his face, red and strained and hanging over her, she’d thought he looked like all of the other white men filing through the airport in Miami, cell phones to their ears, finger pinched at their tie and wringing it loose. But now he was a shadow. Less than a shadow. He was the soft clank of a key, the tumble of a lock.
She tore the bread into pieces with trembling hands, letting it dissolve on her tongue before swallowing it down. Her throat was still raw, ripped open like the rest of her. The moment Tomas slumped to the floor she started screaming and for three days she didn’t stop. She still remembered his face—lips splayed against the rough carpet, her name still hanging on them, his dark eyes wide on her face.
He’d wanted to see the ocean almost as much as she did. He’d wanted to own a restaurant marked with palm trees, sand spilling in through the front door. He’d wanted to name it after his mother and send her pictures of him and Veronica barefoot on the beach or aprons tied around their waists, forearms covered in flour as they made her famous Torta Galesa.
But more than that, Veronica had wanted to kiss him for the first time waist deep in the Atlantic Ocean. She’d wanted to marry him on the end of some pier, her hand slipping from her father’s and into his. She’d wanted them to be together for the rest of their lives. She’d wanted forever.
And now he was gone. Now she was alone. Bare and beaten and waiting for someone to kill her too. Hoping they would.
Veronica left the empty plate by the door, the glass stacked neatly on top, and waited for the man’s hand to slide in and take it. But when the door fell open, a stranger stood in the hallway. She felt the wall cold against her back, winter stealing in from the boarded window and licking at her skin. And though she could see her hands, speckled grey and dull, and her legs pale and twisted in a frozen heap, she knew. She knew she wasn’t numb enough just yet.