The car’s going to be gone. She’s going to be gone. She’ll be gone. She won’t come back for me. She hates me. She doesn’t want me anymore.
Why would she want you now? Now that she’s seen. Now that she knows the horrors you’re capable of. Why would she want to stay with me? How could she still love me? She can’t. She won’t. She’s going to divorce me. She’ll never want to see me again.
I’ve lost her.
I’ve lost her for good.
Ambrose’s breath caught in his throat.
The car was still there. Barbara was still there. She was sitting on the ground, her hands covering her face.
“Barbara…” He set the prisoner on the ground and ran to her.
She’s going to jump up, get in her car, and leave. She’s going to leave me!
Tears fell as he ran.
She’s going to leave me!
Barbara didn’t raise her head as he approached. He slowed to a walk, slowed to a stop. He stood there before her — breathless, tearful, and trembling. “Barbara?”
She’s going to kick me, hit me, push me away.
Ambrose went down on his knees, accidently kneeling on her vomit. He started to reach for her, but pulled back and set his hands in his lap. He waited for her to make her move. Whatever that move may be. “Barbara. I’m here.”
Her body shook as she cried.
“Barbara, I know that saying I’m sorry is not enough. Not for something like that. It’s like a spot-shaped Band-Aid on a gaping stab wound. Nice try, but no. I just…Barbara, I don’t know. I don’t know how to make this right. I don’t know if I can…if we can. I don’t know. I just don’t know.” He bowed his head. “Where do we go from here?”
The sound of Ambrose’s voice made her tremble all the more. She wanted to fling herself into his arms and let him comfort her. But the reality of those images and everything they implied stopped her. “How many children did you do this to?”
“One? Twelve? Fifteen? Fifty?” She uncovered her face and raised her head. “How many, Ambrose?”
His face turned pale, but he didn’t move away from her. If she wanted to hit him, he made himself a remarkably easy target. “I honestly don’t know.”
“So, what? More than one? More than ten?”
“I don’t know!” Pain and grief warped his voice. “It was too many. Always too many. Even one was too many.”
Her heart ached for him, but she needed to know. “Then, guess. Rough guess.”
He ran his hands through his hair. “What was it? Ten…fourteen…eighteen…twenty-five? At least twenty-five.”
He lowered his hands, but his hair stayed rumpled.
Barbara wanted to smooth it all down.
Ambrose looked at her with fear plain on his face. “Seven. The youngest one was seven. Oldest, twelve.”
Her heart sank. “Why?”
He looked away from her and fixed his gaze on the car. “Blind, stupid obedience. Caten told me…I obeyed.” He shook his head. “But that isn’t really the answer, is it? Not the one you’re asking for. Why would I do such a thing? Why would I agree to it? Why wouldn’t I resist? I could say that Caten knew my weak spot. He knew how he could hurt me the most if I didn’t obey. But that isn’t the answer either. Not the full answer. It’s just a small fraction of it.”
“What is the whole answer?”