98 Five Lies and a Truth 4
| Lie Five - 23 Years Old |
Three-thirty in the morning, the phone rings, and Carmen grasps at the distraction. Two weeks of nightmares and fitful sleep have left her on the barest edge of sanity.
This may be the reason she doesn't immediately notice that this phone is the private line she has only for Xiuying.
The line she keeps charged because she can't help but hope for a miracle.
"Hello?" Carmen answers, voice husky and thick with exhaustion.
"So it IS you."
The voice on the other end washes over Carmen like a bucket of ice water, effectively pulling her from the vestiges of sleep.
"Arachne." Carmen's too tired to sound wary or concerned, even though she has no idea how the woman found Xiuying's secret phone. She just sounds resigned.
"I didn't see you at the Expo Victims Memorial Service."
"That's because I didn't go."
"You haven't even visited her in the hospital!" Arachne explodes in a furious screech.
Carmen winces but doesn't move the phone away from her ear. She deserves all the abuse Arachne can dish out.
"I can't." Her murmur is a quiet contrast to Arachne's outburst.
She squeezes her eyes shut, trying to block out the memory that haunts her waking hours. She'd snuck into the hospital before dawn, assuming she'd have the chance to see Xiuying for herself without risking being seen.
But someone had beaten her to it.
Carmen ended up sliding down the wall outside Xiuying's open doorway and wrapping herself in a tight ball, frozen in horror and guilt and torment, as Eric screamed and and begged and cried himself hoarse at his sister's bedside.
Carmen knew Eric wasn't supposed to be out of his own bed yet, but he'd clearly finally been told about his sister, and no force in this universe was strong enough to keep him from her side. It was only after Carmen left the hospital that she caught the news report about the extent of Eric's injuries. Lunatic Lieu would never play professionally again.
"It's not like she'd know if I was there, anyway," Carmen says flippantly, even as her stomach roils in self-hatred.
Arachne's harsh inhale crackles on the line. Carmen steels herself for the inevitable angry eruption.
"Bullshit," Arachne spits instead. "Don't pretend to be a heartless bitch, just so I'll curse and scream and fulfill your fucked-up masochistic need to be hated. I won't let you use me like that. It's too easy for you."
'Damn Arachne. Too damn smart for her own good,' Carmen silently curses. "I don't deserve to see her. To see either of them."
Arachne scoffs, disgusted by Carmen's weakness. "You know who did this. Who was it? Who killed all those people? Who hurt Xiuying?"
Carmen forces her voice to remain neutral. "Terrorists. Separatists. You've seen the news."
"And I know that's bullshit! What the hell really happened? I know you know more than you're saying."
Carmen's grip on her phone is so tight, her knuckles turn white, but her voice is calm, uncaring. "I don't. I don't know anything."
Arachne groans angrily. "Then what were you and Xiu working on? You both thought you were being so sneaky, but I KNOW you were in contact the last few years!"
"You sound like a jealous wife."
"Stop trying to deflect," Arachne snaps, unimpressed. "I trust Xiu. I know you weren't seeing each other, not like that. But you were meeting in secret. Working on something that had Xiuying more excited than I've ever seen her.
But she didn't just keep it a secret from me. She kept it from Eric. So don't try to pretend whatever it was wasn't serious, or dangerous. Especially not now. Not after—"
"I can't do this," Carmen cuts her off, as bile rushes up her throat. "You're upset, irrational."
"Fuck you, and fuck those sexist bullshit insults!"
"Goodbye, Arachne. Forget we ever talked. Forget you ever knew me."
| Truth - 24 Years Old |
"I'm so sorry," Carmen says, and she's never been more honest in her life.
Unfortunately, she doesn't feel strong enough to say it to Xiuying's face, even today, on the anniversary of the World Expo Bombings.
So she doesn't open the door.
Instead, she speaks the words carved into her heart to the nameplate outside the hospital room. The apology, years overdue, echoes in the dark ward.
It's nearing midnight, not a soul to be seen. This particular hospital is designed for long-term patients, many in comas or dealing with other similar issues, so there's no need for constant, vigilant supervision. They don't allow walk-in visiting hours either. The staff requires visitors to schedule appointments to see patients.
That doesn't work for Carmen.
She can never let her name appear on the visitor logs. Even though she'd given up her identity as Carmen Rose on the night she'd fled her guardians, none of her aliases are strong enough to ensure her safety, and the continued safety of Xiuying.
So she'd dodged the ground-floor security by entering through the roof, and she'd made it all the way to the right door, but now that she's so close, she can't take the final steps.
"It's my fault. I never should have gotten you involved. I never should have come back." Her voice breaks, and she leans her forehead against the door. "No, I never should have left in the first place. I should have run away with you when you first asked me, back when we were thirteen."
Carmen takes a deep, shuddering breath, and when she speaks again, her voice is strong and firm. "I am so sorry, Xiuying. I can never apologize enough. I don't even know if you can even hear me, but I believe you can. That's why I've come tonight to apologize, and to make you a promise.
I'm going to make them pay. I'm never going to let you down again."
Her shaking, pale hand reaches for the door handle.
But she can't do it.
She kisses her fingers and touches the illuminated nameplate. "I love you, Xiu," she whispers. "And I'm sorry. Goodbye."
Later, Carmen would come to regret this moment of weakness.
If she had found the courage to open the door, she would have known for sure Xiuying couldn't hear her agonized apologies.
Not because she was in a coma and therefore deaf to the world.
No, Xiuying couldn't hear because she wasn't inside the room.
More than a year before Vir-Tech flies Eric Lieu to a secret hospital wing on Bainbridge Island, Xiuying is missing from her long-term hospital ward.
When Eric shows up for his scheduled appointment two weeks later, however, she's back in that uncomfortable hospital bed, surrounded by machines and wires, deep asleep and unresponsive.
Nothing to show she'd ever been anywhere else.