Adam doesn’t smile anymore.
He can’t, not after—
Not when smiling reminds him of—
He doesn’t smile anymore.
Adam doesn’t look in the mirror anymore. He used to like his face, in a distant sort of way. People told him it was handsome; he liked the attention. Maybe that’s why—
He covered all the mirrors in his house, stapled black cloth over them like shrouds. It’s safer that way. It looks like someone’s died, and it feels like that too, so maybe it’s better.
Adam’s face looks like his face, the charming man who’d looked like him and been so interested. Adam was trying new things. He never tried new things, but since he moved to California, he was trying, and—
It’s daytime again. The sun is shining in through the windows, and it’s musty and hot in the house. All the windows are closed and the air is still as the grave. He’s sweating through his clothes, a NASA t-shirt and powder blue boxers. Dust motes mingle with the floaters, make patterns in his eyes. The light stings, and his mouth tastes stale and sour.
Adam rolls over and goes back to bed.
* * *
Adam doesn’t go to work for two weeks. He hasn’t called in—had been too much a wreck, too afraid of the phone. The first days after—just, after—had been a noisy, colorful blur of faces and names, all of them poking and prodding. He didn’t talk, didn’t want to talk. Screamed at people to go away even though it was bad manners.
He flinched away from the men, anyone who tried to touch him. They took him to a hospital and there was so much touching.
He’s torn but not so badly that he needs stitches. Just dehydrated enough that they hook him to an IV. He can’t look at the IV line because it looks like a rope if he squints his eyes, and that makes him panic, and then they’ll come back and give him drugs again.
There’s a woman with a nice face who talks to him in quiet tones that remind him of Hannibal. He feels sick again.
He closes his eyes and thinks of a stream.
* * *
There are so many interviews. They all blend together.
Son, can you tell us—
We only want to help you—
These are dangerous men, so—
He doesn’t want help. He wants to be left alone.
Adam is tired.
He’d have probably been fired, but someone asks him if he’d like them to call his employer, and he must have nodded because he keeps his job. His boss puts a heavy hand on his shoulder when he finally goes back and says Let us know if you need anything. He flinches under the hand. He wishes everyone would stop touching him.
Everything feels numb and cold.
Adam goes back to bed.
* * *
Adam never paid much attention to the news before. He pays even less attention now, but where before it was disinterest, now it’s self-preservation. His name is kept out of the news. All they say is that a 28 year old man was abducted and sexually assaulted by notorious serial killer and cannibal Hannibal Lecter and his accomplice, former FBI special agent Will Graham.
The first time he sees their faces on tv, it’s an accident. The news is playing with the volume off in the laundromat. He rarely ventures outside his apartment anymore, unless it’s for work, but his clothes are dirty and his cupboards are bare.
Adam looks up, and it hits him like a slap to the face. Those faces, those two, in matching mugshots—Hannibal smiling and Will looking like the end of the world. He freezes like a scared rabbit and only stutters back to life when someone jostles him trying to get by in the narrow aisle.
His clothes are still wet, but he pulls them out of the dryer anyway. He shakes the entire way home and doesn’t leave the house for another week.
* * *
The woman with the nice face and the soft voice gives him a list of therapists. They’re all in his insurance network, and he has every reason to go. People who sustain trauma are supposed to see psychologists.
He takes the neatly printed list and throws it in the trash.
* * *
At least there won’t be a trial. If Hannibal and Will are caught, there are enough murder charges between them to put them away for life. They won’t need Adam to testify, that’s what people keep saying. It’s not comforting at all, not when he doesn’t feel safe anywhere.
He jumps at every shadow and every sudden noise. He doesn’t like when people approach him from behind, doesn’t like being touched. He’s always afraid it’s going to be him. Adam sees him in his dreams.
A letter shows up in the mail. All Adam gets in the mail are bills, but this is different. His name and address are handwritten in looping calligraphy instead of printed by machine, and the envelope itself is heavy, the color of cream and not the stark white of office supplies. There is no return address.
His heart starts hammering as soon as he sees it. He sets it on the kitchen table and means to open it. (He doesn’t open it.)
He has a breakdown and takes a bath, and the letter stays put on the table until he puts it in a drawer unopened, holding it pinched between thumb and forefinger like it might bite.
He should give it to the police, but he won’t. He just wants everyone to leave him alone.
* * *
Adam is walking home from the bus stop (broad daylight, safe—he doesn’t stay late at work anymore, doesn’t go out with colleagues, doesn’t talk to strangers)
He’s walking home from the bus stop in his quiet, safe neighborhood. His hood is pulled up because he doesn’t want to be seen, and it’s winter so no one is looking anyway. There’s a woman standing outside his building wearing bright colors and a beanie pulled down around her ears.
She catches his eye before he can look away, determined to make him notice her. She opens her mouth to talk because she wants something. He just wants to be left alone.
“Hi!” She says before he can sidle his way around her and into the building. “Do you live here?”
“Yes,” he says, and he’s careful not to look. He studies the sidewalk, the cracked concrete where little spines of grass poke out, doomed and out of place.
“I’m looking for an Adam Raki. He’s supposed to live here. I don’t suppose you can tell me which apartment he’s in?”
His heart starts jackrabbiting, pounding out threatening rhythms in his chest the minute she says his name. The rest is lost to the roar of blood in his ears. He swallows once, twice. His mouth is dry and his throat is sticky.
“I have to go,” he blurts, shouldering past her and fumbling his key in the gate.
For a second he thinks she might try to push her way inside, but she stays on the other side of wrought iron when he closes it behind him thinking safe safe safe. She shoves one small, white hand through the bars, and he instinctively shrinks back.
It’s only a business card. He doesn’t want to touch it.
“Take it,” she says, thrusting it at him. “In case you ever want to talk.”
He trips over his feet getting away.
“I just want to talk, Adam!”
He runs up the stairs.
His dreams are still full of handcuffs and a deep, dark bed. They’re still full of someone who holds him down and someone who watches, but this time he sees flashes of bright red hair too.
* * *
She starts following him around. He learns eventually that her name is Freddie Lounds, although he didn’t want to learn anything about her at all. She shows up at his work, and security escorts her outside. She starts waiting for him outside, and that reminds him of Will, and he thinks about not going to work ever again.
He’s out of sick leave and the bills need to get paid, so he goes. Freddie is outside when he leaves to go home, hands tucked in her bright red coat, and Adam grits his teeth and doesn’t look and doesn’t yell even though he wants to.
“I just want to talk,” Freddie says.
“You’ve said that eleven times. I don’t want to talk to you. Please leave me alone.”
“But you have valuable insight. You’re the first victim to survive Hannibal the Cannibal and Will Graham. People want to know your story. I can help you tell it.”
Adam is pressed against the clear acrylic of the bus stop shelter without knowing how he got there. Freddie leans in, and he shrinks further back. She smells like cinnamon and flowers. “I don’t want people to know my story. I don’t have a story. I want you to leave me alone.”
He’s getting agitated now, fingers tapping out an uneven, jittery rhythm against his thighs. She puts a hand on his arm, and he flinches.
She turns sad, knowing eyes on him. “Boy, they really did a number on you, didn’t they? They’re monsters the FBI should have put down when they had the chance. Look, I really do want to help you.” He shakes his head, and she keeps talking, smooth and quick. “I bet they recommended a therapist, huh? The cops?”
“Yes,” Adam says.
“And I bet you didn’t go, did you?”
Adam shakes his head reluctantly.
“Of course you didn’t.” She cocks her head. “I don’t blame you, but you should talk to someone. If not me, then someone else. I’m a good listener, Adam.”
“I— I—” Adam’s brain isn’t working right. He wants to run, but his legs won’t listen. He’s trapped, and he wants her to go away, wants her to stop talking but his thoughts are speeding and his tongue feels thick and slow. There’s a buzzing in his ears, and she’s just pressed so close and—
“Hey!” They both turn to look. A tall man flicks a cigarette on the ground and frowns as he walks over. He jerks a thumb at Adam. “He owe you money or something?”
Freddie’s eyes narrow. Adam tries to disappear.
“Who are you?” Freddie asks.
The man grins. “The name’s Nigel.” He nods at Freddie. “What’s your deal, Red? He doesn’t owe you money, so why’re you bothering the kid?”
Freddie draws herself up and stands a little straighter. “I don’t think that’s any of your business. Adam and I were just having a chat.”
Nigel snorts, unimpressed. “Didn’t look like much of a conversation to me.” He turns to Adam. “Kid, you want to talk to her?”
“No,” Adam says, watching his feet.
“Well there you fucking have it. Why don’t you scoot along and run your con on someone else?”
Freddie looks like she might say something but decides against it. She presses a business card into Adam’s hand that’s bright just like her. “Call me,” she says. “I’m a good listener, I promise.”
She shoots one last glare at Nigel and stalks off down the brightly lit street, heels clicking.
“What was that about?” Nigel asks when she’s gone.
“I’m not a kid,” Adam says. He realizes he didn’t answer the question. “I don’t want to talk about it.” He takes a deep breath and several steps back from the man, enough to be noticeable.
The man blinks. “You know people usually say thank you, but alright.”
“Do you eavesdrop on people’s conversations a lot?”
“Look, I wasn’t— if you want me to fuck off, you just say so, okay?” He runs a hand through his hair. It flops back in his eyes immediately. “Christ, no good deed,” He mutters to himself.
Adam doesn’t mean to be rude. This man did just make Freddie leave.
“Thank you for telling her to go away,” Adam says. His manners are rusty.
“You’re welcome, gorgeous,” Nigel says.
He has a nice smile.