Still facing forward, I say distantly, “That doesn’t matter.”
With quiet reluctance, Izabel accepts my refusal to tell her.
Her hand slides away from my shoulder at the same moment the small family from outside earlier, enters the spacious room. Izabel and I both make note of their presence, as they do ours, choosing to walk in the opposite direction of us.
“What’s wrong with her?” she asks, meeting my gaze. “She seems very…I don’t know, traumatized. Jesus, Fredrik, as much as I hate her for what she did to you, I can’t help but feel sorry for her, too.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with her,” I say with a pang of helplessness.” I lower my head, propping it in my uplifted hands. After a moment, I raise my head again and slap the palms of my hands down on my legs. “I could’ve dealt with anything. I was prepared to kill her, Izabel, even as much as I loved her. I was prepared. Shit, I’d been preparing for it since she left me in that field. I was ready to confront anything she threw at me. But not this.” I shake my head, my gaze fixated on a spot on the ground between my shoes. “I never imagined anything like this.”
“Why did you choose to tell me any of this?”
“Because I don’t know what to do. I had a plan and it changed when I finally found her. So then I devised another plan, and just like the one before it, I’ve had to toss it entirely and start from scratch.” I sigh deep and long and then straighten my back out of a slouch. “It’s a mind-fuck of a problem and I don’t think I’ll be finding the answers I need to deal with something like this on Google.”
The voices of the couple and their small child become more pronounced as they slowly draw nearer.
I stand from the bench, slipping my coat on. Izabel does the same.
“Fredrik,” she says in a quiet voice, “Did you want my advice because you don’t know what to do, or are you really just looking for validation of the choice you’ve already made?”
I frown faintly, but choose not answer. Because I’m not sure of the answer.
“I can’t be with someone like Cassia,” I say instead. “She and I are too different. Someone like her deserves someone better than me.”
“What does that mean?” Izabel says carefully, though I get the feeling she understands something in what I just said more than even I do.
I think about it for a moment, but she helps by saying, “You said ‘someone like her’. You didn’t say Cassia. Why didn’t you say Cassia?”
I understand now and it just makes my mood darker.
“Because when this is all over, there’s a chance she won’t be Cassia anymore.”
Izabel looks at me with benevolent eyes.
“Then I guess in the meantime you should love the one who’s there,” she says just as the family approaches from behind.
Love? Was that an accusation, or simply an observation?
Izabel looks at me with a soft, understanding face, but then the moment is disrupted—thankfully—by the family who are now too close for us to talk anymore.
We walk down the pathway side by side, heading for the exit. Izabel glances over at me and adds, “Just out of curiosity, what did you plan to do to Seraphina when you found her?”
“Everything,” I answer and leave it at that.
We make it back outside in the frigid air and head quickly to our cars parked side by side in the parking lot.
“I won’t say anything to Victor,” she says, standing at the door of her car, looking over the roof of my car at me. “Technically you’re on leave, so this is all personal. He’ll understand.”
I nod, shivering beneath my coat.
“But when Victor calls you back to the field, if you’re still considered out of commission because of this, I’ll have to tell him why.”
“I know,” I say softly.
“For now, I’ll look into Cassia Carrington,” she says. “If you couldn’t find anything on Seraphina Bragado, maybe I’ll have better luck with her other name.” I nod. “I’ll let you know what I find out.”
She pops open her door and starts to get inside, but stops and looks back at me once more. A sort of unnamed grief rests in her features.
“And if you need me for anything else…anything, Fredrik, you know I’ll do it.”
Neither of us blink for several moments as we stare at each other; the unspoken meaning of her offer playing between us like a tragic, inevitable event too painful to say out loud.
I stay away from my house for the rest of the day. I have a lot of thinking to do, though it’ll take more than several hours to sort through my thoughts.
By six o’clock, I’ve come up with absolutely nothing. By eight, after driving around aimlessly for as long as I can, I’ve only grown more intolerant of this entire situation. I can’t even think straight. I can’t function enough on my own to form a reasonable sentence, much less a solution.
Because there is no goddamn solution.
I know that no matter what happens, all I can do is let it because it’s going to, anyway.
“Would you like more coffee?” I hear a soft voice say.
Pulling my fingers from the top of my hair, I raise my head from staring down at my phone on the table. The pretty dark-haired waitress stands beside me with a smile, looking once toward my empty coffee mug.
How long have I been sitting here?
I shake my head. “No, but thank you.”
She leaves me alone in my grief again and a part of me wishes she wouldn’t. The old Fredrik would charm her for a little while, promise her things with my eyes that I know would excite her, and then wait for her after her shift was over. The old Fredrik would take her to the nearest hotel and tie her hands behind her back. He’d f**k her until there were tears in her eyes and she’d beg me not to stop.
But the old Fredrik is gone and the longer I subject myself to this ‘problem’, the more the even older Fredrik I feel I’m starting to become. The person I was before I met Seraphina, when I tortured and killed recklessly because I couldn’t help myself. I’ve clung to my more disciplined self, the man that Seraphina helped me to be, all these years because I had hope I’d find her and she’d be in my life again someday. But now that I know it’s not possible, I feel myself slipping back into the life of pure, unadulterated darkness that I led since I was a child and escaped my captors.