I was mesmerized by her. I had never seen her with blonde hair and only a hint of makeup of natural rose-colored shades, or dressed in something so light and soft. Seraphina had always dressed in black. Wore her hair black. Colored her eyes and lips darkly. It was as if an angel had replaced the devil right before my eyes.
I had no idea just how true that thought was. Not then.
The music began to play and immediately the familiarity of it struck me numb. My hand tightened around my whiskey glass. My shoulders went rigid and I stopped breathing in the moment.
The lyrics to Wicked Game came through her lips, so sultry and soul-filled. Exactly the way I remembered her singing it to me years ago. Did she know I was there? Had she seen me enter the building, or walk through the room in search of the perfect table? Had she known I was in town all along and had found her? It was possible. Seraphina was a master assassin and spy. She was at the top of her game, difficult to hide from and impossible to escape once she’d found you. She had always been a step ahead of me.
But the more I watched her, the more I began to reject that idea.
A few times she made eye contact with the crowd, in between closing her eyes to emphasize particular lyrics. She moved her slim, curvy body in time with the slow beat, gestured her ring-covered hands out in front of her every now and then.
That anxious, hot ball that was my stomach had begun to set my chest on fire when the song went on and on and she never noticed me. I wanted to stand up and look her straight in the eye, but I didn’t. I sat there appearing as calm as everyone else who was just there to enjoy the entertainment.
By the time the last chorus came, I thought surely I was going to have to move to another table so that she’d see me.
But then finally she did.
Her soft brown eyes locked on me from across the short distance. And then she looked away.
Seraphina didn’t know me.
Even if she had been pretending, I would’ve detected it, the smallest hint of recognition. She had none. I was to her the same as any man who sat in the audience that night, making love to her with my thoughts, drinking from her soul as she poured it out across the audience in teasing amounts through her voice.
I was baffled.
I may have wanted to kill her—because I knew I had to—but I still loved her intensely, and when the only woman I have ever loved looked me in the eyes and didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know what to do anymore. With myself. With anything. It was hard enough to live the past six years of my life without her, but I at least had hope that she was still out there and that we would be together again someday. But after this, my plan—there was no plan any longer.
After that night, I began following her and watching her even more closely. I went as far as breaking into her apartment on the third floor of her building and bugging her home.
Seraphina, living as Cassia, was as normal as anyone. The conversations she had with her friend from across the hall were about work and bills and rent and men, to which only the friend had much input on men. Seraphina was single, and according to the friend, had been ‘manless for far too long’ and needed to ‘loosen up a little’. The two of them even had sexual relations which, I admit, excited me as I listened to them through the audio feed in Seraphina’s bedroom. But they were just friends, letting off sexual steam because it was readily available and neither of them expected anything more from one another. Having sex with women wasn’t out of the ordinary for Seraphina, anyway. She did it often when we were together, though only with me involved. Men—that’s another story. I had been the only man she’d ever been with. Until Marcus from Safe House Sixteen. Again, that’s another story…
But this Seraphina wasn’t my Seraphina. She was nothing like her, and without the black hair and heavy, dark makeup, she hardly even looked like her. I began to think that maybe she had a twin that I never knew about. But I quickly rejected that idea, too, once I thought of her up on that stage, singing that song with the same notes and emotion that she had sang it to me.
She was Seraphina, after all, but she wasn’t herself.
And I was determined to find out why.
Another two weeks passed and I was on my way to her apartment again one cold night in December when I heard police, ambulance and fire truck sirens blaring clamorously between the old buildings of the street she lived on. I smelled smoke. As I picked up my pace, my hands buried deep in my coat pockets, I hurried toward the building as a hot, orange glowing light burned against the surrounding structures. People were standing around on the sidewalks, watching and pointing, all huddled in night robes and big coats and scarves tossed messily around their necks. I stood among them, watching with a quiet horror as Seraphina’s apartment blazed with licking flames into the cold, dark, night sky. The fire had started from her apartment and was quickly spreading to the rest of the building as the fire department worked swiftly to put it out.
I felt dead inside, like something had crawled inside my soul and died there. I thought she was dead. That apartment was engulfed in flames. But then, from the corner of my eye, and past all of the shuffling emergency response workers clamoring to and from within the street, I saw her lying on her side on the frigid sidewalk surrounded by two EMT’s and a pile of old furniture and boxes probably left outside after a recent vacancy in the complex.
I sucked in a quick breath, relieved to see that she was alive. And for a moment, I could’ve sworn, just before she was hoisted onto a stretcher, that she saw me from across the street, even through the darkness and the gathered crowd. And I could’ve sworn that she knew who I was for a fleeting moment. I could sense it, like a predator can sense fear.
My heart skipped two beats and rattled boisterously behind my ribs.
She saw me and she knew me.
The game was back on. Or so I thought.
Nearly thirty minutes later, when I had resolved in my mind that I was going to end up following her to the hospital, Seraphina was helped out of the ambulance by the EMT’s. I faintly heard her rejecting their recommendation that she go with them to the hospital for further tests. Waving her hands about in front of her, she told them no, and then she left, walking in the opposite direction of the burning apartment complex and slipping into the dark shadows cast by the surrounding buildings.
Stepping off the sidewalk, I made my way through small pockets of gawkers and followed her.
The farther away she got, the quieter everything became. The sirens and the voices began to fade into the background. The emergency lights bouncing sporadically off the buildings were reduced to vague flashes in the distance. Where was she going? I began to wonder if she even knew herself.