If I become him again, he will destroy me.
I won’t be suitable as part of Victor Faust’s new Order.
I will have to leave this place and the life I’ve built with those I've grown to care for, and continue on the lonely, self-destructive path of the Jackal.
Greta has been spying on me from different windows in the house since I pulled into the driveway a half hour ago. I couldn’t go inside. I still can’t. Right now I prefer the quiet solitude of the car with the metal walls so close on all sides of me that it feels like my thoughts are better contained by them. They’re all I can hear. Even though I don’t like anything they’re saying.
Aside from my conversation with Izabel and all the things I don’t want to think about anymore, I also think about the women. Gwen from the bar. The waitress from the diner earlier this evening. I think about the last woman I had sex with. And the one before her. It never dawned on me until the woman from the diner that I’m less like myself even more than I thought. And I have been since shortly after I took ‘Cassia’ from the street that night in New York.
I can’t enjoy other women anymore. Not without passionate guilt and regret that sits heavily in my chest for days after.
In the year that I’ve kept Cassia in the basement, Gwen was the first woman I ever brought home. I had intended to bring others before her, to do the things to them that I did to the women Seraphina and I shared, so that maybe it would draw out Seraphina’s memories while she watched on the television screen. It’s why I put a video feed in my bedroom to begin with. But until Gwen, I never could go through with it.
With Seraphina, it was normal.
With Cassia, I can’t f**king do it.
A small sliver of light from the kitchen window blinks out as Greta drops the curtain back into place.
“I have to face this,” I say quietly to myself.
After a long pause, I kill the engine and head into the house.
“She’s asleep,” Greta says when I walk into the kitchen.
I drop my keys on the counter.
“How is she?” I ask, removing my coat.
“She’s good,” Greta says with a warm smile around her eyes. “I think she’s better since she’s remembered who she is. More at peace maybe.”
“She told you then.”
Greta nods her graying head as her face falls.
“It’s awful what she went through, Mr. Gustavsson. And while although I still don’t like it that you keep her locked up like that—nor do I understand it—it may be for the best. Seraphina is dangerous. She needs help, yes, but she’s dangerous.”
I say nothing.
Greta walks around the counter and takes her long, wool coat up from the back of a kitchen chair, slipping her arms into the thick sleeves.
“Why don’t you take the day off tomorrow,” I say. “I have no plans and I’ll be with Cassia all day.”
“Are you sure?” she asks warily.
I raise a brow. “That I have no plans?” I say with offense, “Or that I’m capable of taking care of her for twenty-four hours by myself?”
“I-I didn’t mean that, sir.” She folds her hands together down in front of her.
Sighing, I say, “I apologize,” making note of my misplaced irritation towards her. “Just take the day off. I’ll call you when I need you to come back.”
I reach into my wallet and finger five one hundred dollar bills and place the money into her hand.
“This is just a little extra aside from what I pay you.” She looks down at it faintly surprised, but mostly thankful. “I do appreciate your help with Cassia.”
She says nothing, but words aren’t needed to express the thanks in her eyes.
After Greta leaves, I lock the front door behind her and stand at the entrance of the hallway for a long time before willing my legs to carry me toward the basement door. I don’t want to see her. I don’t want to because of what she’s doing to me.
I make my way down the concrete stairs lit only by a vague swath of light coming from her bathroom. I took my shoes off upstairs so they wouldn’t wake her and the concrete is cold underneath my feet. But the air is warm; heat blasts from the vents in the ceiling making the basement feel somewhat toasty. But Cassia appears comfortable lying there with the blanket only covering her lower back and her bottom and the top half of her thighs. She lies on her stomach facing me with her small, delicate arms crushed beneath her. Her long, flowing blonde hair lays disheveled against the pillow. The chain locked to her ankle dangles off the side of the bed and extends far out across the floor.
I want to touch her, but I’m afraid. Afraid to wake her. To face her. To look into her consuming brown eyes and risk falling deeper into them than I already have.
But I can’t help myself.
Sitting down carefully beside her on the bed, I reach out my hand and move her hair away from her face with my fingers. She stirs. And then her eyelids break apart and slowly she looks up at me.
“Fredrik”—my name on her lips always crushes me, makes me feel conflicted inside—“I missed you.” She smiles and I feel her hand touching mine.
I look down at her fingers, intrigued by how easily her touch makes me emotionally submissive to her without her ever trying. After a moment, her slender hand blurs out of focus the heavier my thoughts become.
What is happening to me?
“What’s wrong?” she asks so softly, so compassionately that I feel a weight in my chest.
Her fingers stroke the tops of mine.
I look at her eyes again.
“Nothing.” I move my hand from underneath hers and place it on top of hers instead.
“Are you going to stay with me tonight?” she asks in a soft voice.
A small smile warms her face.
She moves her hand away and grasps the blanket, pulling it aside to make room for me.
I just look at her for a moment and then finally let go of the conflict that’s been raging inside of me since I brought her here.
“No,” I say evenly and I move the blanket away. Then I reach into my jeans pocket to retrieve the key. “Give me your leg, love.” I take her leg into my hand and carefully unlock her ankle from the shackle.
Dropping the chain on the floor and the key carelessly beside it, I rise to my feet and then lean over, taking her into my arms.
“Where are we going?” she asks, draping her arms around my neck, her legs resting over my right arm.