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3| Doctor death

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As soon as the judge slams down her gavel, Benson takes me by the arms and guides me out of my seat, pulling me back down the aisle. I jerk my head toward my family, desperate to see them one last time, to etch their faces into the folds of my memory, because soon, that's all they're going to be to me and me to them.

A memory.

"I love you," I say, my voice coming out in frantic gasps. I dig my feet into the marble floor, desperate to slow down the process of Benson dragging me out of the courtroom and away from my family forever. "I love you."

The last thing I hear before I'm pushed through the door is Tristan whispering I'm sorry in Spanish.

I close my eyes for the rest of the journey, refusing to think about what'll happen next. Instead, I focus on quietly humming to myself, allowing the rocking of the truck to calm my jumbled nerves. 

Humming has always been my favorite defense mechanism; when I hum, it's like the melody creates a barrier in my head, separating my mind from the thoughts trying to break their way in.

It started when I was young, when I used to hear the raised voices of my parents through the paper-thin walls of our two-bedroom house in New Mexico. The shrill screams of my mother, the bellowing voice of my father, the occasional sound of plates breaking or glass shattering, and then eventually silence–the worst sound of all.

My mother claims my father is the only man she's ever loved and the only man she's ever hated, though I've never understood why they loved each other at all. It wasn't just that they had nothing in common, which they didn't, it was that they seemed to bring out the absolute worst in each other.

My mother is argumentative by nature, but she was borderline intolerable around my father. My father was a drunk and a serial cheat, something my mother would conveniently turn a blind eye to, at least until the evidence became impossible to ignore.

But even though my mother insisted she loved him and he her, I never saw the evidence of it. Unless this is what love really is: a cycle of breaking up and making up and feeling as if the world is ending in between.

During the worst arguments, I'd lean against the wall with my brother bundled in my arms and hum. No particular melody, just a random concoction of sounds that kept us distracted from the war downstairs. It has the same effect now, untwisting the knots in my stomach and slowing my still-thumping heart. I manage to sit like that until the truck rolls to a slow and steady stop.

The doors slide open and a rush of warm, sticky air funnels into the truck. There is only a single guard waiting to get me out, which means Benson and Peterson must have sent me to the arena alone. For a moment, I'm angry at myself for not having tried to escape. It would have been impossible, anyway. The trucks are autonomous and can only be opened from the outside, requiring the fingerprint of a guard to do it.

I carefully study the man before me, trying to predict what kind of guard he's going to be. He is  two or three years older than me, and tall, with brown skin, black, curly hair and eyes so brown they're almost black. It is these eyes that capture my attention more than anything. He has the same eyes as my brother; the kind that are impossible to read.

It's a skill achieved only by mastering the art of repression, and seeing my brother's eyes in his, knowing Tristan was forced to suppress himself in order to avoid my father's wrath, makes me wonder whose wrath this guard was trying to avoid.

I push myself onto my knees, shielding my eyes to block out the glare of the sun. The guard moves slightly, the metal name badge attached to his uniform catching in the light. His last name is Reyes. 

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