I stood abruptly, certain that one of Crew Cut’s biceps alone could kill all of us and not caring in the least.
“It’s ok, El. He’s on our side,” Cassiopeia said.
“How? He warned me about you. He told me not to trust you.” I quickly relayed what happened at the dog park.
“I told him to tell you all those things,” Cassiopeia said after I was finished.
I gaped at her. “What? Why?”
“After that day in the restaurant I had to protect you somehow. If you were told to stay away from me and you did, perhaps they would think you didn’t have feelings for me, after all. Maybe they would leave you alone.”
“For the record, he did everything I told him to do. He stayed away,” Crew Cut pointed out to Cassiopeia as he approached the dining area. “But you still came after him.”
“I panicked when I didn’t see him at the morning meeting. I thought they had taken him,” she said.
“Hate to interrupt, but who are you?” I asked Crew Cut. “How do you know that I ‘did everything’ you told me to do?”
Crew Cut offered his hand to me. Reluctantly, I shook it. “Timothy Spall. I was once an enforcer on Jupiter’s team. I went rogue, as it were. Harming people for dating each other just wasn’t my thing.” He then walked over to Laura and pecked her on the cheek. “Hi, Miss Laura.”
“Hi, sweetheart. Have you eaten?” she asked him.
“Yes, but I can always eat again.”
“There’s lasagna in the oven.”
I looked from one person to the other, jarred by the seemingly normal turn in conversation when far more pressing topics hung in the air. “You were saying, Spall?” I asked impatiently.
He turned from the oven and glanced at me. “Oh, right. I knew you did everything I told you to do because you’re not stupid. I could tell. But I also tapped into the security mainframe in the building the next day. I could see you in your office, not answering the door when she knocked. You were determined. You took days off. You listened to me. Simple as that.” He then resumed with making his plate.
Nothing about this entire situation was simple, but I sat back down, resigned.
“When he was on the team, Timothy could tell that the work I was doing for Jupiter was ruining me,” Cassiopeia said, sliding her hand into mine.
“Because it was ruining me too,” Spall added, sitting down at the table with a heaping plate of lasagna. “I could see her falling apart because I was falling apart. We struck up a friendship. Keep in mind that agents aren’t friends. But we were. Anyway, when she received this new assignment and then told me about you, I knew she couldn’t do it. She liked you immediately.”
“Were either of you concerned about trust when you became friends, that one person could rat the other out?” I asked, curious.
Spall shook his head. “She is the most genuine person I know. I knew I could trust her, especially when I went off the grid a year ago and the team was hunting me down.”
“That day at the dog park: was I being watched?”
“One operative was watching you. When you called your dog over, he left. He wouldn’t gain anything from watching you and your pet.”
I mulled over another question. “But weren’t you concerned that they would see you?”
“Taking care of myself has never been a problem,” Spall replied before digging into his food.
I left the matter alone.
Later, while Laura and Spall quietly conversed in the dining area, Cassiopeia and I stood outside on the balcony. A mild breeze wandered around us; the evening was luminous, courtesy of the stars above our heads and the bright lights within the complex.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked me.
“If they’ve been watching me outside the office, they’ve been following us all day. From Palm Springs to here at your mother’s house. I’m just—aren’t you worried that they’ll burst in here, guns blazing?” I asked.
Cassiopeia shook her head. “No. I called them off before I arrived at your house. I made up something about taking care of you myself. Don’t worry.”
“I can’t help it,” I said. I was riddled with worry. “And I have to ask: how can your mother live right in town when your father can just get to her?”
“Spall wasn’t wrong earlier. He would never harm her.”
But imminent disaster still loomed around us. What was the end game to all of this? Cassiopeia had chosen me over everything: her job, her father, the punishments that would surely come. Where were we going now? What would happen next?
“You’re still worried,” Cassiopeia said, reading me as she was prone to do. She looked up at me, the moonlight around us radiating in her eyes.
Rather than elaborate, I placed my arm around her and told her I was fine. We stood like this for a while, my thoughts mounting despite being the comfort of being right where I wanted to be.