Leaning forward, making sure he had my attention, he said, “As a community, we grew strong. Not all of us—many remained devout, some guards stuck to their posts. But there were enough of us to know that when the time came, we would return and try, somehow, to free those born and raised in this sham of a faith . . . those so immersed in our life here that they do not even know there is a world outside, a world where they can thrive and be free.” Brother Stephen sat back in his chair. “We managed to use some locals in Puerto Rico to discover the truth about Prophet David, and compiled our evidence. Our plan to return stemmed from there.”
“Everything was false,” one of the guards answered tightly. “All of it, everything that was done to us and our families was so that an old man could stick his dick in children and get away with it. The old bastard ran arms out of Israel for cash and plowed it into making kid porn for his own sick viewing, into allowing abuse to become the norm.” He paused, his eyes squeezing shut as if he was reliving something that had happened to him. I wanted to ask what, but then he opened his eyes and added, “Then he started distributing that porn to outside parties. The children . . . doing things to him . . . to other guards . . . ” He trailed off, his face reddening with anger.
I joined him in that instant rage. White-hot pain sliced through my heart. My uncle . . . he sold child porn to fund his commune. I knew without even asking the question that Judah would be too.
My own twin doing something so fucking sick . . .
My head was racing from all that I was being told. I could barely keep up. My blood was passing through my veins so fast that the sound whooshed in my ears, making me light-headed. I leaned forward and cradled my head in my hands.
They were all silent as I closed my eyes and tried to regain some composure. When I looked up, their eyes were boring into mine. “It was all bullshit . . . All of it . . . ” I whispered, and felt the stab of betrayal and outright fucking humiliation settle inside.
A gentle hand landed on my bare shoulder. It was Sister Ruth. Her eyes were shining with sympathy and her bottom lip was quivering. “You were kept away from the world? Your whole life?” she asked, her voice riddled with hurt.
I nodded my head. “Both me and Judah. Growing up, we only had a scholar with us. He was a harsh taskmaster. I only met Prophet David once, when I was fourteen. Other than that, there was no one.”
A tear fell from her eye. “So there was no one to be a mother or father to you? No one to give you love and affection? No one to just . . . love you?” A cavernous hole burrowed in my chest. I had never thought of it like that before. But there hadn’t been . . . no one had ever come to us when we cried, when we were hurt. It was only ever Judah and I who kept each other company, who helped the other when he was sick.
“No,” I replied, a lump catching in my throat.
I thought back to the times I’d been sick growing up, the times when Judah had. The lump grew thicker when I pictured myself caring for Judah, wiping his head with a cold rag when he had a burning fever, patching up his cuts when he had fallen. It was curious, because when I thought about the times that I had needed help, when I had run a fever or caught the flu, I couldn’t remember Judah ever being there with me. He was always deep in study.
The truth hit me hard, like a crowbar to the ribs. Judah had never cared for me when I’d been sick. Not like I had done for him.
He never helped me. I didn’t realize I had spoken that aloud until Sister Ruth’s hand took hold of mine. She squeezed it tightly. I swallowed down the pain.
“Why had I imagined that differently?” I said to no one in particular. “Why, in my head, did I believe that Judah had helped me when he hadn’t? Not even once?”
“Because he was all you had,” Sister Ruth said sadly. “The reality that you raised yourself, without love or care, was harder to take, so your head created an illusion. One that let you believe your brother loved you . . . cared for you as much as you did him.”
I listened to the woman’s words. She sounded like she spoke from a place of understanding . . . of knowledge. She was right. I wouldn’t have coped without Judah. At least, that’s what I had always told myself. But as I thought of all that he had done, all the ways he had let me down, time after time, I realized that . . . that . . .
“I have really been alone all along,” I finished out loud. The weight of it hit me, and I had to fight for breath.
“Not anymore,” Sister Ruth said and placed her hand on my cheek. I looked into her eyes and felt warmth in them that I had never experienced before. Like she somehow knew me. I almost felt like I knew her.
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