For two days I saw no one except Elise. She brought me food three times a day and anything I asked for. The stack of books on the floor grew every day. I had only managed to get through about half of them but they kept coming. Elise said Dante sent them. I found that hard to believe. But I was grateful for them anyway. They kept my mind off of where I was.
By the fifth day I was bored out of my skull. I began to clamber around on the furniture like I was a monkey. When Elise brought me lunch I was hanging upside down on the bed frame.
For a minute I thought she was going to flip out on me. But instead she just shook her head and placed the tray on a table.
“Crystal, what are you doing?” She propped her hands on her hips and studied me.
“Exercising,” I replied dropping off the bed frame and somersaulting onto the floor.
Elise raised her eyebrows and took the lid off the tray. I leaned over the table and snatched a piece of bread. Flopping into a chair I took a bite. My mouth chewed slower. The bread just didn’t taste right. I dropped it back onto the tray and picked up a spoon.
Whatever was on the bowl smelled delicious but when I took a bite, the taste of tomato was like sand or something nasty.
“Take it away, Elise. I don’t want it.”
“Crystal, you have to eat.”
I shook my head and sank lower into my chair. I just wasn’t feeling up to it. “Just take it away.”
Elise shrugged and left the room. When she was gone I closed my eyes and let the heaviness take over my muscles. I couldn’t take anymore of this treatment. I wasn’t a prisoner yet I was. I had everything I needed except freedom.
It was early afternoon when he came to see me. I was sitting in the window seat staring outside. A weak sun shone out of a bluish grey sky. Everything was dull and I felt an emptiness in my spirit. I just didn’t want to do anything.
I turned. When had the door opened? Had I been so lost in my thoughts that my senses had disappeared? I looked at him for a moment and then went back to staring at the lawn.
Toenails clicked on the floorboards and I felt Truscott touch me with a cold nose. He whined a little and jumped up to sit beside me. I rubbed his ears for a minute and then dropped my hand listlessly to my side. Truscott whined again and laid his head in my lap.
“Crystal,” Dante said again coming across the room.
“Forgive me for not standing, but I am not feeling up to visitors today,” I said in a voice I didn’t recognize. For a minute I was startled. Since when I had I begun speaking like them? This was not me. But today I just couldn’t be me.
Dante laid a hand on my shoulder. There was no strength in me to shrug it off so I left it there.
“Crystal, are you alright? Is this room comfortable?”
I turned to him, unable to believe what I had just heard. “Comfortable? Oh, yes. But am I alright? No, Dante, I’m not.”
Dante’s grip tightened on my shoulder and his face contorted with something akin to pain. “What can I bring you?”
“You can give me my freedom.”
He bit his lip, thinking. “Do you promise not to run away again?”
I laughed. “Dante, you can’t be serious. You haven’t even given me a choice. You never will. Everything has to be your way. Well, let me tell you this, I don’t want to do what you say. And you can’t make me.”
Dante took a step back, his face revealing the hurt my words caused him. But I didn’t care. Someone had to tell this high and mighty Elite that he wasn’t always right.
“But the poor need our help,” Dante said, tugging on the black jacket of his three piece suit.
“What if they don’t want your help? What if they are just content to live as they are?”
“How can they be?” Dante began to pace my room, hands knotted together behind his back. “How can anyone like living in total poverty?”
“It’s not total poverty. We have food and most of us make money of some form.” I watched him pace, wondering what it was that drove him to do what he did.
“By scrounging up garbage? How is that even healthy? How many of you die from disease every year? Hundreds, thousands?”
“No, Dante. We die from starvation because everything costs so much. People die every day on the docks because safety is ignored and corners are cut. We don’t die from digging in the garbage.”
Dante turned on me and I saw the confusion and rage in his eyes. “If they just let us help them they wouldn’t have to work so hard. We could fund them for food and clothes.”
“Dante, they need education, not food and clothes. They need to learn to read, to write so they can get better jobs. They don’t need you dropping money into their laps. Most families would just spend it on things they don’t need.”
My head began to ache and I slid off the window seat. Truscott followed me and I rested my hand on his head. “Please, just leave. I need to sleep.”
“Crystal, please, tell me how to help your people,” Dante begged. “I want to help.”
I shook my head. “No, Dante, you just want to feel good about yourself. When you actually feel the need to help out of the goodness of your heart, come back and talk to me. Until then leave me alone.”
Dropping onto the bed I threw an arm over my eyes. I couldn’t take anymore. He just wasn’t going to get it. My people needed people to gently lead them, to give them an incentive. They need someone to come in and help them get their children into schools. The older generation was too set in their ways. It would have to be the younger generation who changed things.
The smell of Dante’s cologne, something sharp and tangy, wafted over me and the mattress shifted as he sat down beside me. A hand touched my side and I rolled farther away. Truscott growled low in his throat and I heard Dante sigh. He stood up and his shoes clicked against the floor. At the door he stopped.
“I’m leaving tomorrow for a week. I’ll talk to you when I return. Good-bye, Crystal.” There was a strange hitch in his voice as if he was going to say something else.
I opened my eyes and found him staring at me, a look in his eyes that I had never seen before. It made my stomach clench. I stared back and felt a slow ache build up in my gut. I tried to stop it, but there was no way. As Dante watched from the door I slid off the bed and walked over to him.
“Crystal,” he whispered.
I placed my fingers against his lips. Rising up on tiptoe I leaned in and pressed my lips to his. For a moment his shock kept him from doing anything. Then slowly his arms went around my waist and he pulled me against his chest. I wrapped my arms around his neck and held him tight. Something in my brain protested that I couldn’t do this, I shouldn’t feel this way. He was the enemy. But my feelings shoved the thought away and told me to follow them. So I did.
I don’t know how long we stood there but finally Dante pulled back. We stared at each other, both of us breathing heavily. He touched my cheek with a finger tip and I shivered. With a gentle smile he stepped away and left me standing in the doorway. On the way down the stairs he said something to the large guard. The man looked at me and then nodded. The man made his way downstairs after Dante.
For a moment I couldn’t think. Then I realized he hadn’t shut and locked the door. Freedom was mine. I stepped out of my room and leaned over the railing. Dante was handing something to the guard. As the man went out the front door, Dante looked up at me and a thrilling shock went through me. He wasn’t going to lock me in.
Suddenly freedom didn’t seem so dear anymore. Maybe my feeling where just mixed up. If I slept I would probably wake up eager to leave. Slowly I walked back to my room and stood in the doorway. From here it didn’t look so small. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.