I couldn’t help but gasp.
A mottled mess of purple and black covered one of Aaron’s cheeks. He didn’t look up as I walked in, but the damage was visible enough. Combined with a split lip, it looked like he’d been roughed up on the downtown streets.
I fumbled with the key card, disgracefully managing to slide it into the security door. A second slid by before the lock finally clicked open.
“What… what happened?” I asked, stopping on the threshold of Aaron’s respective cell.
“I wasn’t willing to cooperate,” he said quietly, his voice dripping with a bitter sarcastic edge.
I physically flinched, revolted by the idea. It wasn’t right. But then again, none of it was. “But… who?”
“Greg? Like I care,” he grunted, unwrapping his limbs and gingerly climbing to his feet.
“Why? I mean… what did they want you to do?”
He just stared back at me. I’d found another question he wasn’t willing to answer.
“You’re related to the slim, distant one, right? The man in charge?”
“Yeah. That’s my father,” I said hesitantly. “How’d you-”
“He’s got some grief that he’s stuffing away.” It was a blank statement, not really a question, and not really addressed to me.
“My mother died. He’s been burying himself in work ever since,” I said with halfhearted bitterness. I expected the look of pity mixed with embarrassment I got from most people when they found out.
He just nodded, accepting the information.
“Aaron, what’s going on?”
“Aaron?” He said with a half-smirk.
I froze in my embarrassment. I could feel the heat swarm to my cheeks. “Yeah… well… You never told me your name, and I didn’t really know what to call you otherwise, so I just came up with something. Aaron was the first thing that came to mind, so…” I mumbled, looking sheepishly at the floor.
“At least you didn’t pick something like Pedro,” he replied coolly.
“Yeah, well, I’ve never been great at pronouncing Spanish names.”
That caused a chuckle, and I found myself looking back up into “Aaron’s” eyes. It was the first time I’d heard him laugh—or at least come close.
“Malachi. That’s my name.”
“Malachi. Well, nice to meet you, Malachi.” I flashed a plastic smile, extending my hand. He took it with another smirk.
“Excuse me if I’m not exactly glad to make your acquaintance.” His comment brought me back to the room.
It wasn’t right. None of it. Not the shackle on Malachi’s ankle, or the high security doors, or the equipment, or the substantial bruise spreading across his face. A spark settled in my gut, but the anger quickly dissipated into a distressed anguish.
“Why are you here?” Malachi asked critically.
“I don’t know… because maybe during the day I don’t believe my memory?”
“Glad I’m proving your sanity.”
“No, it’s not like that… I don’t know, okay?” I paced to the far side of the room, staring but not seeing the bleak white-washed walls and floor. “I have something for you.” I reached into my pocket, the bag of chips crunching as I wrenched from the folds of my hoodie. “I figured you might be hungry, so…”