I start to turn around to face him, but he carefully holds me still. Then he reaches out a hand and swipes it through the thick layer of moisture covering the large mirror.
My hands begin to shake, though I don’t know why. My stomach ties into a nervous knot and I feel sick all of a sudden, my nerves frayed. I look down at the counter.
“I…I don’t know,” I stutter uneasily. “H-How would that keep her from finding me?”
I don’t know what’s happening to me…but I don’t like it.
Fredrik continues to wipe the steam away from the mirror. I continue to look down.
He stops and drops his arm, fitting both hands on my sides, just above my naked hips.
“Well, I think you let her get to you too much, love.” My heart leaps inside my chest every time he calls me that. “I want you to stop worrying about her. Just stop thinking about her and live your life. The way you are now. A prisoner to no one. Not to me, or to Seraphina. Can you do that?”
Reluctantly, I nod.
Then I turn to face him, putting my back to the mirror.
Pushing up on my toes, I kiss his warm and delicious lips.
“I think I can do that,” I say and smile back at him.
He makes me breakfast and we sit together at the kitchen table like a married couple, both of us with a mug of hot coffee, Fredrik peering down at the day’s newspaper. But I can’t help but make note of how much of that newspaper he doesn’t seem to be reading because he keeps raising his eyes from it to smile—to grin—across the table at me.
I feel like a teenager with my first crush all over again, my face flush with emotion.
We talk for the longest time about everything and nothing. And sometimes I find myself lost in his deep and precious voice. I could listen to him talk all day and I’d never get bored or want any interruptions.
By the time breakfast is over, I’ve changed my mind about going to New York. Not only because it’s ridiculous to go three hours away for a hot dog, but because despite Fredrik asking me to stop worrying about Seraphina, I can’t. And New York was where she tried to kill me. She plagues my thoughts and haunts my memories.
“Why don’t you want to go?” Fredrik asks.
I lower my gaze because I was never any good at lying and say, “I just want to stay in Maryland.” I laugh lightly for good measure. “I’ve been here for a long time and I’ve never seen anything outside of this house.”
I smile and say, “Oh no, love, I’m not blaming you,” to assure him.
Something flickered in his eyes when I called him ‘love’.
Why did I call him that? It doesn’t matter. I like it. And it feels right. Natural.
He flattens the newspaper on the table and looks at me inquiringly. “So then if not New York, where would you like to go?” His gorgeous smile broadens. “I’m yours all day long.”
My face flushes again.
“Why don’t you pick a place?”
He purses his lips.
I want to kiss them…
It’s all an illusion, the voice in the back of my mind constantly tells me as I sit across from Cassia in the finest restaurant in all of Baltimore. It’s all an illusion: The two of us. Sitting here together like this. Like any normal couple would. It’s an illusion, Fredrik. Over and over again. Because I have yet to let myself believe it. A part of me doesn’t want to believe it. The old Fredrik. And the even older one. The parts of me that I’ve only ever known. What is this strange light I feel when in Cassia’s presence?
It must be what a normal life feels like.
And while I feel a great sense of contentment, the light scares the hell out of me just the same.
An illusion, the darkness within me taunts. This kind of life was never meant for you, so don’t fall for it, or what’s left of your life will come crashing down around you into pieces so small that they can never be put back together again. Shut the f**k up!
Cassia’s smile is so vibrant, yet so fragile that I feel the smallest touch of darkness can easily wash it away. She’s wearing a pretty white sweater that fits loosely about her shoulders, revealing the softness of her collarbone and long, dainty neck. An elongated gray skirt clings to her hourglass form, down past her knees and drapes over a pair of tall black winter boots. I took her shopping when we left the house this morning. She was shy and at first didn’t want me to buy her things. So, I picked out outfits for her to wear and bought them anyway. And I dressed her. And while I dressed her, I kissed the scars on her back like I’ve always done. Scars left by cuts that I put there over time, one by one, as I made love to Seraphina.
We leave the restaurant and head back out into the cold, our shoes crunching in the mere two inches of snow that had fallen last night. I open the car door for her and help her into the passenger’s seat. The car is already warm. I made sure to use the remote start before we left the restaurant.
“Fredrik,” Cassia says softly from her seat, “I feel like I’ve known you forever.” I look over at her and her face is flush with heat. I smile gently—though inside I’m not smiling so much—and she continues: “I know that if I told anyone else how I feel about you, despite the circumstances of how we know each other, they’d probably think I was crazy. Greta must think I’m crazy.” Her eyes meet mine again. She’s looking for confirmation or rejection of her theory. I don’t have the heart to be honest with her.
I put the key in the ignition and unlock the wheel so that the car will remain running.
“Greta doesn’t think that way,” I say simply.
I don’t look back at her this time.
“But it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks,” she says with uncertainty. “Does it?”
I glance over briefly.
“No,” I say, though I don’t know what I’m saying, or even if I should be saying it at all. “The way anyone chooses to feel about someone else is their choice and their business.” I tried to be vague.
She smiles and folds her hands together on her lap.
“But I really do feel like I’ve known you forever,” she repeats. “I…can’t explain it. But it feels right.” She smiles.
Does she want me to agree?
What does she want from me?
I put the car in reverse and pull out of the parking space.
I spend all day with Cassia, just as I promised. She eventually began to loosen up and suggest places she’d like to go, things she’d like to do. It didn’t surprise me much that everything she chose was simple and not lavish or expensive. I would’ve gladly spent every dollar I own on her, bought her the most extravagant car. I would’ve done anything for her. But all she asked of me was to spend an hour and a half watching a movie in the local theatre. We ate popcorn and drank soda and sat close together with our shoes propped on the back of the empty seats in front of us. I hadn’t done anything like that in—I’ve never done anything like that. It was odd. But it was liberating and immature and unsophisticated, and I’d do it again. If she were with me. And Cassia, for such a small-framed woman, has a massive appetite—so did Seraphina. In addition to the lunch and then the popcorn, she had her fair share of fast food before the day was over.