I stare at him. Darling? What gives him the right to call me that? A surge of anger seethes through me, and I glare at him. His eyes wearily observe me, waiting for that explosion. But then I know what right gives him that: three years’ worth of love, patience, and day-long conversations. Sure, it has been tainted by lust, lying and a string of betrayal, but it existed. And he’s still giving me the time of day, so I shall do the same for him.
“Hey,” I murmur, my fingers lightly tracing the scratches of the bars. “Hey…Neil.” The name leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
Neil smiles cautiously. His teeth are narrow, tinged yellow, but nothing you’d notice if you weren’t looking at his lips. “Darling. How are you doing?”
The nickname makes me feel unsteady. I close my eyes, and in an attempt to normalise my breathing, I count:
“Well, you’re in a jail cell, if that answers your question.” My voice is small but firm. “The love of my life is in a jail cell, and he’s not even the guy I thought he was. How about yourself?”
“Well, I’m in a jail cell,” he retorts sadly. “The love of my life is looking at me, and I can’t do anything to regain her trust.”
I swallow hard. I’m willing myself not to shout or cry, because otherwise my parents and the officers will be in, and my chance will be gone. “The love of your life? I wasn’t. Unless you count multiple people as that, of course.”
“But they weren’t you, darling, they didn’t mean anything, I just needed the money.” Running his fingers through his hair, he says huskily, “So we could actually get a nice apartment. Live together. Wake up and fall to sleep in each other’s arms.”
It feels like the dumbest question to ask, but I plough on with it. “You used my pictures. If I meant as much to you as you’re trying to say…” After pausing to collect myself together, I continue. “Why not have just used the other pictures and arranged the meet-ups for just the other girls?”
“But I didn’t use you.”
Neil places his hand on top of mine, to stop it from messing with the bars. I sharply take an intake of breath. He clears his throat. “I didn’t use your pictures on that site. The police can’t tell the difference between most of them because most of them don’t have their faces in it. That’s mainly why they brought you in today, to clarify pictures.”
“What about the apartment?” My heart is beating so fast, it doesn’t feel right. I move my chair against the cell wall, and rest my head against it. Whilst I’m doing this, I say, “There was a man in it that had black hair. Which clearly wasn't you?” Then I place my hand back on top of his. It's so unreal being able to feel him.
“That was me,” he replies wryly. “I had dyed my hair black. I didn’t want you to be too disappointed with me.” Roughly, he flicked an edge of his hair. It was a darkish colour. “It was so hard to get out, let me tell you.”
Despite the situation, I do laugh lightly. “I can imagine.” The look on his face, his rough clothes, and the hair make me think. “Neil, you’re going to get hammered in court regardless of what I do.” I shrug. “I don’t know whether I can trust you or not. But I’m not about to start trying to either. There are loads of girls out there that have been hurt because of you.” My voice catches for the first time this conversation. “But I loved you. So much and for so long. And so..."
At that moment, the officers and my parents troop in. I move my hand away from Neil's like it's scalding water. Only Officer Nile bats an eyelid, but even then he doesn't call me up on it. Mum and Dad come over and give me a hug, clinging me close, squeezing out any of the pain Neil possibly could have caused me. But I still look at Neil, and he still looks at me, and at that moment I know I have something to say.
"What am I here for?" I turn to Officer Nile. "As much as it's been...interesting to have talked to Neil, I don't think the media would have been around for something as small as that."
Neil winks at me subtly. I shake my head. Nile nods. "Yes. We need you to clarify the pictures of your body are yours. We need as much strong evidence as possible."
"But what difference will I make, me personally? There are loads of other girls, Neil is going to stay locked up for a while anyway."
After narrowing his eyes at me, Neil asks me roughly, "Miss Sullivan, what are you trying to get at exactly?"
I take a deep breath. Then I count:
"Can I withhold my evidence?"