I’m going to comment on love, right now, before I let Vera’s story continue any further. We’re almost at the end, by the way. Am I annoying you yet, with my persistent interruptions and pointless reminders? I’m the niggling voice at the back of your skull- lapping at nerves as I fill your brain with my poison, nestle my thoughts under the blankets of your mind.
Or so I’d like to flatter myself, at least.
See, all this time, you’ve probably become quite prejudiced against Luke. He might seem like a nice enough guy right this moment, but you all know well enough by now that he’s going to die later.
I told you that he was going to deserve it- but really, Luke’s death wasn’t his own fault at all. You can't really hold a man accountable for something he doesn't know about, after all.
It’s my opinion that the only thing you can trace the twists and turns of blame to Luke for, is the fact he fell in love. He knew that he missed half his life every day, memories obliterated by God knows who, God knows what. He knew this. And yet, he still had to go and love Vera and trap her very soul in all the things that he’d forgotten. It was his way of revealing all his secrets- laying the slate clean, so to speak. As it happened, it would probably be more accurate to talk about the slate drenching itself in blood.
Aren’t we all such fools for romance?
So, the day after Vera and Luke had made the decision that Vera should follow Luke to work, that’s exactly what Vera did.
This was when everything started to go wrong.
Luke’s memories were funny, inconvenient things. Even during the time after, when Luke couldn’t remember what had happened during the day, he’d still been conscious. He’d said things he’d never thought to say, did things that usually he’d never have had the will to do.
It was incredibly hard, for the outside viewer, to distinguish between the two sides of Luke.
And Vera was. An outside viewer, I mean. She’d only known the guy four weeks- and so what if it was true love? That didn’t mean she could trace her finger across every line and crease in his soul without looking. Love is not some instantaneous force that reveals every aspect of a person. Love is not the stars, bleeding as they fall from the sky, picked up by a scientist and studied.
Love has a beginning. It’s a whole, great, wide universe. The more you let it drift apart, the longer it’ll take to discover.
That was why Vera sat beside Luke in the passenger seat of his taxi, Sunday morning. She didn’t expect the worst- because when your love is as vast as the night sky, why would you want to concentrate on every aspect of it instead of your perfect, familiar star? Vera focused on what she knew of Luke, and that single fragment blinded her to every other part of him.
As Vera sat beside him in the taxi, the guy sitting next to her wasn’t the Luke she loved. The way he acted, if it hadn’t been for the trademark windswept hair and soft brown eyes, he could have been mistaken for a different person.
In the backseat of the taxi, there were two girls. They were probably about seventeen or there abouts- younger than Vera, but not so young that they couldn’t have flirted their way into the sleazy kind of club, if they’d wanted to.
Luke was supposed to be taking them to the train station.
“Hey,” said Vera quietly, looking at the girls through the glass partition. She tapped Luke’s arm as he swung the steering wheel lazily, heading the opposite way that they were meant to be going. “Luke! We’re going the wrong way. This isn’t the route to the train station.”
Luke turned to look at her. He blinked – not a confused, sleepy sort of blink, but more a well-obviously-wasn’t-that-clear-to-you-a-while-ago kind of blink. “I know.”
“Did you take a wrong turn or something?” hissed Vera, trying to keep her voice down so the girls wouldn’t hear her. “You’re not going to charge them extra, right?”
“No,” said Luke, slowly, carefully. “No wrong turn.”
“But this isn’t the way to the station,” repeated Vera, stupidly. “And anyway, I was thinking- after you drop these girls off, could you just take me back to the flat? I’ve been sitting here with you for, like, an hour now.” She shook her head, sniffing a little. The November weather was getting to her. “I phoned in sick to work so I’ve got the whole day off, but this is so not an adventure Luke. I’m bored out of my mind. And if you can’t remember all this later, I’ll just tell you about what fun we had together driving all morning.”
Luke clicked his tongue against his teeth. “You’re right. This isn’t the way to the station.” He smiled, his mouth a black hole about to swallow up the sky. “I’m not taking you back to the flat, either. There's something I need to take you to see.”
Vera stopped short, staring at him. “Sorry, what? You will take me back to the flat or goddamn it, I’ll get out and walk.”
Luke clicked his tongue again, more deliberately this time. “No. No, I really don’t think you will.”
Shuddering involuntarily, Vera licked her lower lip. It was dry- cracks all along it like a daisy-chain of secrets. “Luke, stop it. You’re starting to scare me.”
“Really?” asked Luke, with the delight of a child realising for the first time that this is our world and we are the most important creatures on it. “Good.”
From the back of the car, the elder of the two girls leant forwards. “Hey, excuse me?” she said, her voice slightly muffled through the glass. It was a nice voice- not so much soft as rounded, not so much harsh as intense. Vera couldn’t place her accent. “Are we near the station yet? See, we’ve got this train to catch, and-“
“Don’t worry, seriously,” said Luke, cutting her off just as effectively as if he’d had a chainsaw against her throat. “Everything’s going to be fine.”
The car screeched as it turned a corner and stopped at the end of the next street. The elder girl knocked on the glass partition, offering Luke a selection box of clichéd phrases such as ‘what do you think you’re doing?’ and ‘don’t you realise we have a train to catch?’
Vera had thought people only said that kind of stuff in movies. Of course, she allowed herself, she’d never been in a movie sort of situation before.
This was looking to be a movie situation.
“What are you doing?” she asked Luke, her voice quieter than she’d expected it to be. “Why have you stopped the car? You know, those girls payed money for you to drive them to their train on time!”
Luke smiled flatly as he unfastened his seatbelt. He motioned to Vera to do the same. “Those two girls are going to die. They won’t even need money where they’re going.”
From the back of the car, one of the girls screamed. That was when Vera realised that though she’d been considerate enough to keep her voice down, Luke had not, and the separating glass was about as useless a barrier as a cling film coat wrapped round the sun to keep it warm.
That is to say, the girls had heard every word that Luke had said.
The elder girl scrambled backwards in her seat, then turned to fiddle with the car door. Clicking a button to unlock it, she forced it open and clambered through, tugging the other behind her.
“Ah,” said Luke. “Good. I was supposed to get them out of the car, anyway.”
With the calm of someone who did this sort of thing as a day job, Luke smoothed down his shirt and pushed open his door. He looked over his shoulder, smirking slightly at Vera. “Coming?”
She shook her head in silence, her mouth fallen slightly open. Outside the car the girls had started to run, screaming something. Vera swayed in her seat, her mind hazy. She couldn’t think, as if meteor showers had burned holes through all the crucial parts of her mind.
“Hey, don’t worry,” said Luke, looking at her in a way that in another circumstance, at another time, might have been called kindly. “I took their phones when they got in the cab. They can’t call the police.”
Vera closed her eyes. “Don’t mess with me, Luke,” she warned, as if this was still at a stage where warnings could make any differences. “Don’t goddamn mess with me.”
Luke looked at her sadly, his eyes just as soft as they’d always been. “I’m not messing with you, Vera.”
He still loved her, Vera realised. This crazy, messed up, psychopath loved her, despite how different he was to the Luke she’d thought she knew.
The Luke she still did know, Vera reminded herself. The Luke she loved- he didn’t remember what happened to him during the day, he’d told her that. His memories just blanked out. Sometime soon, he’d be sure to come back to consciousness. They could run after those two girls together; maybe buy them some coffee and apologise for their train tickets and explain that all this was just a mistake, just a misunderstanding…
Vera truly believed that everything could still turn out alright.
I guess that’s true devotion for you.
“Vera,” said Luke, “Vera, don’t look at me like that. Don’t look at me like…” He sighed, turning his head to watch the two girls running towards the end of the street. Luke rummaged in his jeans pocket, pulling out the old phone Vera had seen him use so many times before.
“Hi? Jack?” he asked, speaking into it. “Yeah. They’re running down to the end of the street now. Pick them up, okay?” He shoved the phone back into his pocket, stepping forwards as if to start chasing the two girls. Then he changed his mind, shaking his head.
Luke slid into the driver’s seat and neither he nor Vera said a word. He started the car in silence.
The ignition flared without a sound. It was almost - almost - like the stars were crumbling to dust and no one could hear their agony. Even if people somehow heard, Vera wondered, would they even bother to care?
The questions with the painful answers are always those left unspoken.