Victory's Secret: Chapter Four

Rahael Tamayo,
Cynthia Austin


A sharp, shooting pain in my neck wakes me up. Blinking, once, twice, three times before full focus and memories return. The weight of her head on my lap brings the solace of a security blanket.
She shifts, rolling onto her back. I glance down, smiling at her beautiful face. That shock of red hair splayed out, those perfect rosy lips I yearned to kiss again in a relaxed pout.
Her brown eyes flutter open. “Morning.”  Her voice is sleepy, shy. She stretches her body before getting up from the couch and heading to the bathroom. I watch her go, happy to know we’ll have the rest of our lives to enjoy each other’s company.
I look around the living room and inhale deeply. Today is the day I leave this place behind. My home since I was a baby. I’ve packed all but a few things. I’m leaving a few things here for when I need to get away. When I want to have a secluded place to bring Victory.
 The Council could hardly refuse my simple request, considering I know so much. It’s just easier for them to give into my requests rather than fight me on something so easily granted. It’s in their best interests after all.
I’ve made breakfast by the time she returns. Her hair is damp from the shower, and she’s changed into jeans and a loose pink blouse.
“Do you always cook?” she asks, taking a seat behind a plate stacked with an omelet and toast.
“I’ve been cooking for myself for a long time now, so why wouldn’t I cook for my wife?”
I shoot her a smile. She flushes, her brown eyes dancing as she picks up her fork.
“Not many men would agree with you.” 
“I don’t really give a damn what other men think or do.”  I sit down with a cup of coffee.
“That could be a dangerous way to think.” 
“It could be, but I’ll be just fine.” I wink at her.
“Where is our new house? Have you seen it?” 
I nod. “Yeah, it’s not bad. It’s on about an acre of land, nice place.”
It’s because of me that we didn’t end up in an apartment in the city. When I chose Victory, I pulled the old housing director aside for a small chat. I can be very convincing when I want to be.
After breakfast, we clean up and get ready to leave. Apprehension colors her face. Wrinkles crease her forehead as I take our bags out to the truck, and check the house one last time.
“Victory, I have something for you before we leave.” Taking her hand, I lead her out to my wood shop. I sit her on a bench, where she watches me with sharp eyes as I retrieve her gift. It took me ages to make. I sit beside her and place it on her lap.
She smiles at me, and my heart gallops as she begins to remove the cloth protecting it. I don’t miss the soft intake of breath when she reveals the box. Hand-carved flowers decorate the lid stained a light maple. I watch her fingers trace the design.
“You made this?”
“For you.”
I don’t know if I should tell her how long it took me, so I don’t. I watch as she opens the lid to find soft white velvet lining. Inside is my mother’s ring; rose gold with small sapphires and alternating diamonds around the band. She picks it up, looking up at me with wide eyes.
“What’s this?”
“It was my mother’s. I want you to have it.”
She lets out a sound that resembles a soft squeak, slipping it onto her right hand.
“Are you sure? It’s so beautiful, Liam. If you want to wait a bit, I’ll understand.”
She admires the ring and it fits perfectly, as if it was made for her. I take her hand and turn her face toward me.
“Victory, let me tell you something. I have no doubts. None. I never doubt. If there is one thing you can trust in this world, it’s this; if it comes out of my mouth, I’m sure of it. You are my wife, and you will stay my wife. Why would I doubt you?”
Her gasp is audible. The silent question in her eyes begs me to reveal how I can be so sure. Her cheeks bloom a pretty pink and her brown eyes hide unasked questions. I bend and touch my lips to hers, soft and full. She’s immediately receptive and kisses me back. The shy woman that looks up at me, comes alive when I kiss her. And again, I have no doubt that she will be mine forever.
I swallow the emotion that flushes my cheeks and cast my gaze on the perfect country home one last time as we pull out of the driveway. Duke is tied in the back of the truck with our things.
My mind wanders to William as we make the drive to our new home. How will he react when he sees me? How will the men greet one another? Surely they’ve met before, when preparing the home, right?
We pull onto a road called White Dove Lane, and Liam tells me we’ve arrived. The houses are farther apart, not quite country and not quite suburban. I sit up in the seat as if it might help me see the neighborhood better. I’m both excited and nervous
He pulls onto a gravel driveway leading to a two-story, newer home painted a deep gray, with navy accents on the trim. My eyes take in a neatly trimmed yard in desperate need of some flowers. My heart aches. Already I’m missing Liam’s home.
William’s car is in the driveway. My palms grow damp as Liam shuts off the engine, keys in hand, but he doesn’t move to open the door. We both just sit in silence for what feels like several minutes.
“You ready for this?” he finally asks.
No, not at all. Two husbands? Whose crazy idea was this? What moron thought pairing one woman with two men in a race to conceive would be a good idea? 
My hands twist in my lap and my tongue dries. When the last Great War ended, when years went by and uproar started over a decimated country, the turmoil was quickly squashed. Replacement laws were created to sweep any transgressions under the rug. Complaining became a felony, and troublemakers were dealt with by the swift and unforgiving hands of justice. Education was highly monitored. History was simply deleted. Removed from schools. Gone.
Our grandparents, the last generation to remember the real truth, became afraid to talk because so many had disappeared after doing so. The government was responsible. In a tragic and miscalculated step, it had killed its own people and destroyed the economy. It had been easy for The Brotherhood to sweep in and rebuild in the image they saw fit. Too bad no one has the foresight to question their methods. Because now, here I sit, in the cab of a truck, wringing my hands and preparing to begin life with two husbands.
Until the inevitable, that is.
“You okay?”
I turn my head having forgotten I never answered his question. I force a tight smile. “Yeah, just thinking.”
“About what?”
People who talk too much don’t last long. One day they’re here, the next they’re gone. Vanished in the night… Which will likely be my fate in a couple of years anyway, when I can’t bear a child for either of these two men. One of them, if not both, will turn me in.
Then the Shadowman will come for me.
“Nothing. It’s just a bit overwhelming.” I sigh deeply from my chest. “Let’s go inside.” 

The man I am supposed to call my new brother steps off the porch and down the steps, making no move toward the truck to help with the rest of the bags. He grabs Victory by the hand and bends to kiss her upturned palm. She flushes, obviously forcing another tight-lipped smile. “Welcome home, wife.”
She glances at me walking past them with the bags. My boots fall heavy on the wood of the porch as I step into the house. William moved in yesterday and evidence of his presence is in the living room in the form of a television blaring and a half-eaten sandwich sitting on the coffee table without a plate or a napkin beneath it.
I pass the living area, eager to unload, but I don’t know where my room is, so I pause.
“First room on the right, brother,” William calls to me as he escorts our wife into the house, shutting the door and leaving my dog outside. I push the wave of annoyance down.
Nodding, I proceed to tackle the stairs. I don’t know how to feel as I walk into the plain room with plain pine furniture. Nothing fancy, nothing personal. The room easily compares to a Motel 6. Empty. I feel empty.
I drop the bags on the bed, only to pick hers up again. I find her dressing room across the hall. I open the door and find boxes and bags stacked up that had been delivered already. My eyes dart around the space. To the left is the closet. Beside that is a high dresser with a mirror. A private bathroom that is just hers is in the back. I nod, approving of the space The Brotherhood’s settlement team created for her with the things I chose. With the things I made or paid for. I wanted it this way, and I wonder if she will ever know. Will it ever matter?
I set her luggage down by the other things she has to unpack and leave. I run into her in the hall, so I smile and hold the door open for her.
“Is this mine?” she asks quietly.
“Yes, your dressing room.”
She enters the room and looks around. Touches the furniture and then looks up to see that I am still watching her.
“Can I get you anything?” I ask.
She shakes her head. “No, thank you. I told William I need time to organize my things.”
“Do you want a radio or something?”
Her eyes light up as if she hadn’t thought of it. “Radio?”
“Yes, something to listen to while you work.”
A hint of a smile is followed by a nod. “Yes, please. Thank you.”
After I get my stuff unpacked, I pass William lazing on the couch with his dirty feet up. I head through the house and out the back door where my shop is waiting for me. I had this place set up before William moved in. Only I have a key. I insisted on it when I talked to that old bastard and told him what I wanted for my homestead. Judging on my first impression of William, he wouldn’t have ever considered making an effort like this for her.
Inside, I find what I am looking for. Pocketing the key, I find my toolbox. I remove the tools, take out the false bottom, and pull out the tablet that sits there.
Computers were lost in the war, everyone knows.
What everyone doesn’t know, what The Brotherhood has kept from everyone, is that they were brought back. Quickly.