Before Seraphina snuck out of my shed that afternoon and went back into her yard, I had agreed to go with her. And to trust in her, no matter what she had to do to help me get away.
I’m lying down against the bed now with my head on Fredrik’s thigh. I don’t even recall when I shifted position, I’ve been so engrossed in the memory. It’s been a year since I’ve remembered any of this, or anything about my life at all, so it’s all quite a lot to take in.
Fredrik’s hand moves softly through the top of my hair, sending shivers from the back of my neck and throughout my body. It feels like he’s consoling me, but more than that, it feels like he’s hurting and I don’t want to go on. I know he had a terrible life and that he went through some horrific things when he was a boy, things that he will probably never tell me. But I know they were much worse than anything I ever went through.
“What did Seraphina do to your parents, Cassia?” he asks in a soft voice while spearing his fingers through my long locks.
I stare out at the television on the wall across the basement and let the scene from that night play out before me as if it were playing out on the dark screen.
And then I answer, “She stabbed my father in the throat while he was downstairs asleep in his favorite chair. And then she poured gasoline she took from the shed in my backyard all over the house and set the house on fire. My mother burned to death in her room.”
A part of me misses them, but another part of me feels nothing because it was so long ago.
“I didn’t go to New York with Seraphina,” I say distantly, picturing Seraphina’s face in my mind, the way I saw her when she was driven away in the police car. The way her face was pressed against the glass as she looked at me. “I told the police what she had done and they sent her away. She admitted everything. I never saw her again.” My fingers grip the sheet beneath me on the mattress. “I never saw her again until a year ago when she found me in my apartment in New York and tried to kill me. I know she thinks she was helping me by killing my parents—I think she killed hers, too, before mine. But I betrayed her by giving her up. And now…she wants to get back at me for the life she lost.”
Fredrik says nothing for a very long time and I grow concerned about what he must be thinking. Can he still love her now that he knows what she did? It was never my intention to make him stop loving her by telling him the truth, but I can’t help but hope that maybe he will now be able to see reason.
“Yes?” I answer her, though at this point, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to force anymore of an answer than those three letters.
My life is over. Everything I ever thought I knew about Seraphina, about our life together, the love that we shared, it’s all over. Because now I know that there’s no way I can help her, there’s no way I can bring her back to me. She’s a danger to me, to herself and everyone around her. Even Cassia. Most of all…Cassia. Seraphina was disturbed when I met her eight years ago and when I fell in love with her. But I never knew the extent of her illness until now. I never knew that she suffered traumatic experiences as a child just as I did.
I never knew.
But she and I are very different despite our somewhat similar pasts. I don’t kill innocent people. I, while although a sadistic bastard and torturer and killer, have limits and standards. I know when to stop. I feel guilt for my mistakes. But Seraphina, I know now, doesn’t understand guilt or remorse.
How could I ever have been so wrong about her?!
How could I ever have been so blind?!
Seraphina was right all along. To be in love is to be dead already because eventually it kills us all.
Cassia raises her head from my leg and pushes her naked body up propped on one arm. She looks into my eyes.
“Talk to me,” she says and kisses my cheek. “Are you OK?”
I force a very light smile around my eyes and I nod in answer.
Then she lowers her eyes and I feel sadness and worry consume her emotions. Reaching out my hand, I raise her chin with the tip of my finger.
“Now you talk to me,” I tell her gently. “What’s on your mind?”
She swallows nervously and looks up, her brown eyes soft with worry. “Will you still protect me from her when you finally find her?”
My heart is dead. Black. No more. But not for Cassia. It just barely beats for her, though for how long it can hold on, I’m unsure.
I lean over and press my lips against her forehead, cupping the back of her head in the palm of my hand, and I hold it there with my eyes shut tight.
I’m going to have to do the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life soon. But for now, I will give Cassia whatever she wants from me.
“I will always protect you from her,” I say, pulling away slowly. “Seraphina will never hurt you again. I will make sure of that.”
Cassia gives me a warm, thankful look and lays her head back down on my lap.
We sit in silence for the longest time, me combing my fingers through her hair, until eventually she falls asleep. I move out from underneath her carefully so as not to wake her, and I cover her with the blanket after locking the shackle back around her uninjured ankle. I noticed the key was on the nightstand beside her bed all along and realized that I never brought it back up with me the last time I stormed out and left her alone. That was how she was able to get the shackle unlocked.
She never tried to escape, and I doubt that she ever will, but I can’t take the chance.
I leave Cassia alone and go back upstairs where I sit on the sofa in my boxers, staring into the darkness thinking about all that transpired. And I remain this way until the light of a new day burns through the curtains and pools on the floor beside my bare feet.
“Fredrik, what is it?” Izabel says into the phone, detecting the urgency in my voice.
“I just need to talk to you,” I say after finally breaking down and admitting to myself that I should talk to anyone at all. But if it’s going to be anyone, it can only be Izabel. “Are you back from Seattle? When and where can you meet me?”
“Yes. I got back this morning. Niklas and Dorian stayed behind to finish up. The other order sent only two men—easy-peasy.”
“OK, where can we meet?”
“Why don’t I just come to your house?” she asks warily. “I can be there in two hours.”
“No,” I say walking to my front door to let Greta inside. “We need to talk somewhere else. Anywhere but here.”