Mira lies flat on her grandmother’s bedspread, staring straight up at the off-white plaster of the ceiling above her head. Her finger grip reflexively into the patchwork bedspread underneath her as she idly listens to the sound of her grandmother hurrying around in the next room. She resists the urge to sigh, or groan, or check her phone again, or give any other solid indication that she is horribly, unspeakably bored with her first extended-family visit since the semester had started. Only a freshman, and coming back from the dorms already felt alien and strange. Part of her wishes she’s stayed on campus, not that she had much to do there either. She turned her head to look down at the quilt, her eyes unfocused so that the blocks of colored fabric became hazy and the patterns shifted and swayed.
“Think this is the right one!” came her grandmother’s voice as she entered the room again. Mira leaned up onto her elbows to greet her. In her grandmother’s hands she held a plain brown shoe box. Mira is sure she’d seen it before, maybe stacked up in a hallway closet somewhere. Or maybe she’d stacked it up when they’d helped her grandmother move into her new condo in the retirement community. Something like that.
“Pictures?” Mira guesses, rising to sit up fully on the bed.
Her grandmother nods, shaking the box’s contents a bit for emphasis, “Mmmhmm. Just old pictures. Have I ever shown you these before?” The older woman takes a seat right beside her and places the box in the space between them. Dust has settled so thick it covers the lid like a wedding veil.
“I don’t think so.” Mira’s seen plenty of old family photos in albums, but can’t ever recall anyone dragging out a box like this.
“Might as well, right?” Her grandmother says, “Got a few hours yet until your Mama gets back.” Her grandmother wipes the dust off the box with a long sweep of her shaking hand, and then lifts up the lid to reveal the photographs stacked below.
Her mother called a few days later, asking for help with cleaning out the house. Too big of a job to do with only one hand, she said. Andrea almost refused.
Andrea sat silently in the driveway for a long moment, before finally going inside. Her mother greeted her at the door, hugged her, and then immediately began giving her instructions on what needed to be done around the house.
“You’ve been so much help since I hurt my arm, Andy.” Her mother said as she pulled a box of junk of one of the shelves, “Don’t know how to thank you.”
“Could you give me an honest answer about something? If so, I’d call it even.”
“Why’d you tell me that Paul wasn’t my father? Better yet, why’d you tell him?” Katherine seemed caught off guard, like she’d expected Andrea to say something else. Anything else.
“I-I couldn’t live with that sin anymore, you have to understand. I had to tell the truth. They put Paul on that transplant list and I realized I wouldn’t have forever…”
Well, Now I’ve got to live with it too. Andrea wanted to say, but didn’t. She didn’t say anything at all. She had to live with a lot of things these days.
“I always told myself I was going to wait until you moved out, so he wouldn’t try to take it out on you too.” Somehow, that made it worse. “But then he got sick, and somebody had to take care of him… I never wanted to drag you back into the mess I made.” As far as Andrea could tell, that was what her mother had done since the moment she was born, and yet she couldn’t shake the urge to protect her.
“It’s…fine, mom. Don’t worry about it.”
After what felt like an eternity, they worked their way into the kitchen. Andrea was wiping down the counters, when she heard her mother make a tiny sound of confusion behind her, as she riffled through the cabinet below the sink. When Andrea turned around, her mother had a bottle of anti-freeze in her hands. The bottle of anti-freeze.
Andrea couldn’t breath. Her blood ran cold.
“What’s this doing here?” she asked, “Andrea, do you know why this is in here? The last time I checked it wasn’t- Are you alright?”
“I-I, uh, Paul asked me to bring it in from the garage. When I was taking care of him.”
“Why would he do that?”
“He, uh, said something about getting rid of a stray dog.”
Her mother stares at her for a moment, “Right. That… sounds like him. Well. Take it back out there when you get a chance, I don’t want it in here around the food.” she said, brushing past Andrea on her way out of the kitchen.
“Where are you going?”
“Sorry, honey. I think I just need to lie down.”
Now that she was alone, Andrea leaned heavy onto the counter she’d been cleaning, her shoulders shaking with silent sobs.
The burial was worse than the service, somehow. Paul’s sister, Helen, glared daggers at Andrea and her mother while Pastor Marlow made his (blessedly short) final statements. Even when Andrea glanced down at the fresh grave, she could still feel her looking. Helen had been very vocal in her dislike of Kathrine throughout the years, but her ire for Andrea was decidedly more recent. The truth about Andrea’s paternity had been floating around for less than a month, Helen still considered it a major mark on her family’s name. She and Paul were cut from the same cloth.
Watching the first shovel full of dirt be tossed onto the casket felt like ripping out stitches before the wound had completely healed, but Andrea did not cry.
Katherine wrapped her arm around her daughter’s shoulders, pulling her close.
“Are you alright?” Katherine asked, her voice was steady but she was shaking.
Andrea was the first to leave, as soon as she thought no one—excluding maybe Helen—was looking.
Andrea wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of returning to her new apartment. It was still too unfamiliar to be comforting, but her only other viable option was spending the night in the house she used to share with Paul and her mother.
She didn’t understand why her mother had told the truth, nobody wanted to know it.
She drove slowly without really meaning to, stopping at a gas station to wander the aisles for what felt like an hour. Every moment felt stretched out and heavy. Guilt ate at the back of her throat when she smiled genuinely at the cashier for complementing her dress.
Didn’t he know it was a funeral dress? (Didn’t she?)
When she pulled into her building’s parking lot, she noticed Helen standing a few spaces down. She leaned against her grey Buick with a cigarette in her hand. She stalked toward Andrea’s car as soon as she’d climbed out.
“What are you doing here?” Andrea asks, “How’d you get my address?”
“It’s all your mama’s fault, you know that?” Hellen was a few inches shorter than Andrea, but her presence still managed to loom, “My brother’s blood is on her hands.”
“Da- Paul wasn’t murdered.” Andrea told her, trying to back away. Helen followed. “He drank himself to death. We all know that. He was sick. He’d been sick for days…”
“That woman drove him to it!” Helen was close enough that Andrea could smell the whiskey on her breath.
“Why are you here, Helen? What do you want?” she asked, though she already knew the answer. She wanted a fight. If her mother didn’t have a cast on one arm, she likely would have taken this aimless aggression to her.
“Making my brother raise another man’s child! All these years!”
“Yeah. Sorry he spent all those years beating someone else’s kid.” Andrea spat, it hardly mattered what she said. Helen wasn’t really listening.
“I mean, of course he drank. What man wouldn’t drink if their wife was sleeping around!”
“He was a drunk way before he knew I wasn’t his.”
“He always knew! We all knew!” Helen jabbed a bony finger into Andrea’s collarbone, “The whole town knew your mother was a wh-“
Helen hit the ground before Andrea even realized she had shoved her. She looked like the impact had drained all of her spitting rage. Without it, she just looked like grieving old woman who needed something to blame.
“You know, I thought you might have a little more loyalty to the man who raised you. I heard you were taking care of him those last few days. Guess you ended up just like your mother.” Helen said, like a calm statement of a fact.
Andrea ran inside before she could say anything else. Her dog greeted her as soon as she was inside the apartment, blissfully unaware of what had just transpired. The huge mutt had been the first thing she’d gotten for her new apartment. She always wanted a dog, despite Paul’s deep distain for them. She’d picked up the dog—Trevor, she’d called him— from the local pound a few weeks before. The same day her mother had told her the truth about Paul. The same day her mother had told Paul that same truth. The same day she’d called Andrea from the emergency room with a broken arm and finger shaped bruises on her neck, claiming that she had fallen down the steps.
That had been a hell of a day.
She wandered aimlessly into her bed, just as she heard what was probably Helen’s Buick peel out of the lot. Trevor climbed into bed beside her, pressing his wet nose into the junction between her neck and shoulder.
“God, I never wanted any of this to happen…” she whispered, to no one in particular.
The particular curve of Iris’ smile began to work its way into her paintings, the melody of her song stayed behind long after she stopped singing, playing through her head on an endless loop. She hadn’t had it this bad in a while. It was a dangerous state to be in for someone like her, too much uncertainty in it.
Much to Drew’s surprise, it’s Iris that strikes up a conversation first after yet again stumbling into each other in the hall.
“So you’re an artist?” she asked, after nearly a month of getting tiny glimpses of stacked canvas behind a hastily shut door, the curiosity had gotten to her.
“Oh. Yes. I am.” Drew stammers for just a moment before regaining her composure.
“Can I see some of your paintings? Please?” Iris peers around past her shoulder to get a better look inside the room.
“…Sure.” Drew nervously wonders if Iris will somehow recognize the exact color of her eyes swirled into the paint of her latest piece (a part of her almost hoped so, it’d taken her ages to mix that color exactly. Such an odd shade of blue.) “My room hasn’t been cleaned in… a while.”
“I’m sure it’s not so… Oh.” She trailed off, distracted suddenly by the sight of scattered art supplies, chipped coffee mugs full of paint-water, old take-out boxes, and whatever else had managed to make its way to her bedroom floor.
“Warned you.” Drew nervously raked a shaking hand through her short-cropped hair, as Iris lost interest in the mess in favor of picking through a pile of mostly-finished pieces. Napoleon growls lowly but doesn’t get up from his spot in the corner.
“I wish I could paint.”
“Well. I wish I could sing.”
“…You’ve heard me sing?”
“Thin walls.” She says, and Iris gives her an odd sort of look that she can’t quite identify, then she went back to the looking through the canvases. Almost as if she may have been searching for something in particular.
“Don’t you ever paint people? Everything here is so… abstract.”
“Not since… probably art school. Models are expensive, and I don’t have the money.”
Iris’ eyes lit up like that’s best news she’s ever heard.
“Really? Would you paint me?”
Drew felt an odd mixture of excitement and worry bubble up in the pit of her stomach, “Are you sure you’d want me to do that?”
“Yes! God, yes. I’ve always wanted a real portrait of myself done. I might even come up with a way to buy it from you once you’re finished…” she said, sighing dreamily. Drew tried to swallow the newly formed knot in her throat, but to no avail.
“Well. Then. I’m sure we could work something out.”
Val had come back to the apartment with bloody knuckles and eyes like a rabid dog. Not the first time Benny had seen her like this, not by a longshot. He wondered idly where she’d been the last few hours. If Val was looking for a fight, he doubted she’d found it in the vicinity of their own upscale neighborhood.
“All that blood yours or…?”
“Piss off, Ramirez. I’m not in the mood.” She spat out his surname like it left a bad taste in her mouth.
“Really? ‘Cause you seemed so upbeat when you walked in.” He could see her snarl in response as she stalked past him on her way to the kitchen. The layout of their shared apartment made it so he barely had to crane his neck to watch as she turned on the faucet and placed her injured hands under the flow of the tap, “Seriously though, what happened?”
“Jesus, just leave me alone. Don’t wanna talk about it.”
“Fine then. I’ll leave you alone,” he said, trying to re-focus his attention on the news article he’d been trying to read before Val’s return had interrupted him.
Val left her hands under the water until the bleeding seemed to stop, then patted them dry with a paper towel. She stayed there at the sink, taking slow shaking breaths. There’d been a fight. There must have been. Val had punched walls before, but that was usually the end of her anger. Whatever (or whoever) she’d hit, there was definitely something left unresolved.
Benny lasted just over a minute before annoyance and curiosity won out, “Are the cops going to get involved? If so, I’d really like to know in advance.” The neighbors already gave him dirty looks in the hallway—the old lady in 422B still clutched her purse closer when he walked by—so if the police showed up at their door it was unlikely they’d assume the officers were after the pretty daughter of a southern socialite.
“No. I mean- I doubt it. Stop worrying about it. Leave it alone.”
Val uncorked a bottle of painfully expensive wine from the fridge and poured it into a chipped coffee mug. The wine had been a Christmas gift from the partners at his mother’s law firm, but that didn’t seem worth bringing up. Another argument. Pick your battles, Benny. (Red wine was something he only really pretended to like, anyways.)
“Stop worrying about it? The reckless shit you do affects me too, y’know,” he said, slamming his laptop shut much harder than he’d intended too, “You’re my friend, Val.”
Val takes a long chug of her wine and snorts back a laugh, “Jesus. Way to make this about you, Ben.” She still stood at the counter, focusing her attention on her now shaking hands. Nervous energy seems to pour off of her in waves.
“How can I make it about anything else if you won’t even tell me what happened?”
“Fine! You want to know what happened? Here’s what happened: I was drunk and stupid and some prick at the bar stared getting—I don’t know—handsy, I guess. Wouldn’t leave me alone.” She stood in the doorway to glare at her roommate proper, “I overreacted, alright? But I don’t think he called the cops. You happy now?”
Benny felt his heart sink, “No. Jesus, Val, why would that make me happy?” he leaned forward like he wanted to go to her aid now, and Val took a defiant step back.
“Forget it. Please just forget it.” She said, before stomping to her bedroom with the wine bottle in tow.
It’s a funny thing, realizing you might be an awful person. Seems like something that usually happens on your death bed. Maybe I should be thankful I’m getting it out of the way early. I can just revel in it now. Maybe I’ll steal candy from a baby on my way home. As soon as I get out of this goddamn hospital.
I woke up this morning with almost a hundred missed calls and unopened text messages. Liam crashed his car. Did you hear about the accident? Hey Cass, just making sure you’re okay. You’re Liam’s girlfriend, right? Liam’s in the hospital. Are you and Liam Brennan still together? I’m so sorry about Liam! He’s in the hospital on Pembroke Av.—St. August’s or whatever. Liam crashed his car. Liam crashed his car. Liam crashed his car.
So now I’m standing over a sleeping Liam Brennan, a good catholic boy in a good catholic hospital with five broken ribs, and an insidious little part of me is just wondering how long I should wait to break up with him now.
His mom is pacing the floor; she looks like she’s aged ten years in a day.
“Well, at least his face is okay.” I say, trying to lighten the mood. His mother does not laugh. Or acknowledge that I’ve said anything, really, “…I think I’m going to go sit in the waiting room.”
“I’ll let you know when he wakes up.” She says, what she probably means is ‘Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.’
An old woman gives me a pitying look in the hallway, probably because I look like I’m about to be sick. I’d been rehearsing that break-up conversation in my head for two weeks. I think we should see other people. It’s not you, it’s me. I’m not ready for something serious. Your parents hate my guts. You’re a great person, Liam, it’s not about that. It’s just not working out. I think we should see other people. I think we should see other people. I think we should see other people.
The totally empty waiting room would’ve been much better, if not for the 4-foot-tall painting of Jesus on one wall. Every chair is facing it. Every single one. Or maybe they are supposed to be facing the TV, which is also on that wall, but the Jesus painting is what commands my full attention. Maybe it’s because I’m just not used to that sort of thing. I come from a family of what I would call ‘cultural Christians,’ we celebrated all the holidays and ignored all the commitment. I try to focus on the wallpaper instead: old, floral, peeling in one corner but mostly intact. These chairs must’ve been carefully picked to match up to those flowers, because they’re the same color exactly.
A horrible wailing breaks the silence and my eyes instinctually dart over to the painting as if it might be the source of the cry. Realizing it’s probably coming from the emergency ward is almost enough to make my skin stop crawling. Not Liam. Sounded like a lady. I think the painting’s eyes are following me.
“It was an airbag, not a freight train. He’ll be fine.” Sometimes saying shit like that out loud helps. Not this time.
I want to leave. I want to get out of here right now. The smell of antiseptic is burning my nose and Jesus won’t stop looking at me and—
The door to the waiting room screeches open and Liam’s mother pokes her head inside.
Drew Gardner lived in a room on the top floor of a decrepit old house, situated on a street she didn’t feel entirely safe walking down after dark. She meant to move somewhere more upscale and ‘artsy’ when she had the money. If she ever had the money. Stacks of canvases took up most of the space in the apartment, leaving just enough room for her and the dog to exist alongside them.
The dog was a mean, snapping little thing, a strange looking mutt whose parentage was inconceivable just by looking. She’d named it Napoleon, despite a friend’s insistence that accounts of the historical figure’s short stature were exaggerated. He’d followed her home one day and never left, keeping her company while she painted. Drew had etched out an unsteady existence like that, selling almost enough paintings to pay her rent and then making up the rest with the help of a temp agency.
And then the girl moved in. It was inevitable, of course, that someone would eventually take the room next to hers over after the last tenant, Johan, had been evicted for unpaid rent. Drew ran into her in the hall that first day, a beautiful girl carrying a box marked “FRAGILE” and humming melodically to herself. She smiled radiantly at her as she passed, and Drew thought of nothing but that smile for the rest of the day. For weeks she heard a woman’s voice filtering in from the adjacent room. It wasn’t quite a pretty voice, a bit too high and wandering in and out of proper tune, but nevertheless it was an interesting voice. The sort of thing you’d hear on albums that were relegated to the ‘novelty’ section of a record store. She saw the girl occasionally but never mustered anything more forward than a polite greeting when the two of them met in the hall. She had to be careful with that sort of thing.
Drew finally found out her name, Iris Henderson, on a dropped piece of mail downstairs, then instantly felt ashamed for looking.
Less than twenty people showed up to Paul Bennett’s funeral. Andrea had counted, twice, before her attention shifted to watching her mother. Kathrine Bennett had been on-edge since the moment that the doctor declared her husband’s time of death, stuck in full throttle as she tried to make arrangements with what little savings she had and hoped the life insurance policy would cover it later. She hadn’t slept in days. During the viewing, she’d been fluttering all around the funeral home, adjusting flower arrangements with the one arm that wasn’t stuck in a sling at her side. She sat a few feet away from Andrea at the end of the pew, eyes trained on the man in the casket rather than the one on the stage. Andrea didn’t look at the body. She couldn’t.
Pastor Marlow, the spindly little man standing at the podium, had all the stage presence of a glass of lukewarm tap water, but he was the only minister in town that would agree to be there. If he could even be called a minister. Was a minister without a congregation still a minister? Andrea wondered.
It didn’t matter, really. He was Baptist, he was ordained, and he’d agreed to be there. That had been enough for her mother. Katherine had always been willing to overlook a lot of things, when it came to men (but not denominations.)
“The lord has plans for all of us,” he stuttered, “and we don’t, uh, we don’t always understand what those plans are…” Andrea didn’t consider herself to be particularly religious, but she could appreciate a good sermon on its own merits. This was not a good sermon.
There might have been a good sermon, if Paul hadn’t put a round of buckshot into Pastor Morrison’s cocker spaniel a few years back, or broken Pastor Jacobs’ nose. But there really wasn’t much that could done for his reputation post-mortem.
A woman in a dark blue dress leaned forward in the pew behind her, clasping her shoulder in a way that was probably meant to be comforting. Andrea belatedly recognized her as someone who’d worked with Paul nearly a decade ago.
“I was so sorry to hear about your daddy, hope you’re holding up alright.”
Haven’t you heard yet? Seems like gossip spreads like disease around here, Andrea thought, giving the woman the most sincere smile-and-nod that she could muster, Paul Bennett wasn’t really my father.
When I was younger, it terrified me
To look at the universe as some brutal, uncaring thing.
I expected it to be organized and meaningful
Like all the little quirks
Mom expected me to grow out of.
(Neither I nor the universe
Ever lived up to expectations.)
I don’t worry over fate quite so much, anymore.
Now I find a sort of comfort
In the idea of a chaotic, unknowable cosmos.
It’s like realizing
That the prison walls are cardboard,
That the steel bars can crumble in my grasp.
Maybe there is some unseen structure to it all,
But maybe there isn’t.
Maybe it doesn’t matter—
At least, not the way I thought it did.
I laid awake that night unable to sleep. My mind kept drifting to the kiss with Zach. How had I even allowed that to happen and why did I let it start in the first place? I looked at the clock that sat in my room and saw it was five in the morning. I sighed and got up, pulled on my bathrobe and walked out of my room. I walked quietly down the stairs and to the back door.
I stepped outside into the early morning, walked down the path that led to a small pond that was set in the garden among all the flowers and trees. In my time here, I had come to love this garden. I once got lost in it and had never felt so alive, but it wasn’t mine to love and live in. I sighed and sat on the bench near the pond and watched as the fish swam around. I rubbed my arms, not realizing it was so cold outside this early in the morning.
I suddenly felt a coat wrap around my shoulders and looked up to see Rogue with a sleepy look on his face. “I was getting ready for the day and I heard the door close. You okay, kid?”
I just shook my head and pulled my knees to my chest. “No, Rouge, I’m not okay. I don’t know how to feel about what’s going on right now.”
He sat down next to me and slid his hands into his pockets.
“You mean with the kiss?” I looked at him, sort of surprised that he knew. “Philip saw while going to clean the study, that, and Zach was mumbling to himself after you ran to your room.”
I looked down and messed with my necklace some.
“Zach’s a good guy, Cassie; your running away is worrying him.”
I shook my head. “He knows why I ran.”
I heard Rouge scoff and get up and start pacing. “Cassie, he doesn’t understand why you don’t show emotion. He thinks you were abused and that’s why.”
I looked at him, confused. How could Zach not know about servants not showing emotions? I figured Zach knew with how I snapped at him and quickly walked away. But I also remember the look of complete shock on his face as well.
I got up. “Do you know if he’s awake yet?”
“He’ll be up in another hour to go out to work this morning, why?”
I nodded my head and started back for the house. He needed to understand and I had to tell him.
I walked back inside and walked upstairs to his room. I stood outside his door, and I could hear him moving around, probably getting ready for work. I bit my lip and went to knock on the door, but I quickly pulled my hand back. What would telling him change? I thought as I stood there. Nothing, it would change nothing. I would still be a servant and he would still be my owner and I would have no free will to do as I please. But just as I was about to walk away, Zach’s door swung open to reveal him standing with his button up wide open. “Cassie? What’s wrong?”
I couldn’t say anything but I noticed the light scar that ran from his stomach to his waist. I figured it came from either missing a hit from the end of his father’s belt or from a knife fight in his youth.
“Cassandra, is there something wrong?”
I looked up at his face to see worry and shook my head. “Uh, no, I just wanted to talk with you about last night.”
He looked down and cleared his throat before looking back up at me with his piercing green eyes. “I’m sorry about that, Cassie. I shouldn’t have kissed you. I hope you wish to stay here.”
I looked at him, a little shocked, “No, that’s not it, Zach.” I sighed and rubbed my forehead. “I should be sorry though; I should not have kissed you without your…”
I quickly kissed him, my hands settling against his cheeks. I could tell he was shocked at first, but he soon started kissing me back and pulling me closer by the waist. He deepened the kiss, asking for permission, and I granted him just that. I wasn’t exactly an expert at kissing so I gave him control and I quickly picked up the tricks he used.
I pulled away, needing air, but he just started lightly kissing my neck up and down. I closed my eyes and lightly tangled my fingers in his hair.
“Zach.” I lightly pushed him away, not wanting anything more to happen.
He looked at me slightly confused. “What’s wrong?”
I smiled lightly and ran my hand over his cheek. “Let’s just leave it at kissing for right now.”
He nodded his head and hugged me close to him. I had never felt this way with someone. I felt safe and loved and cared for here; I didn’t think I ever wanted to leave the Addison house. I stepped away from him. “You should finish getting ready for work.”
He nodded his head and kissed my forehead before returning to his room and closing the door. I smiled lightly when I got back to my room to get ready for the day.
I nodded my head and looked down at my feet. Zach was teaching me how to dance since I had forgotten how to in the last nine years. In the last hour I had stepped on his foot eight times, tripped over my own feet ten times, and caused Zach to trip three times. I knew I used to always be a klutz, especially while growing up, but I never thought it would come back to haunt me. I was counting in my head as Zach and I danced around the room, making sure not to trip or step on him. Phillip and Rogue had decided watching us was more fun than spending time outside on their day off.
I looked at him, finally getting the simplest of all dance steps down.
“Okay, I’m going to spin you out, then pull you back in, okay?”
I nodded my head just as he spun me out then pulled me back in so my back was to his chest. His arms were lying over mine, and our hands were at my waist. I could hear him hum as he swayed us from side to side, turning in circles. He twirled me till I was facing him again, setting us in the beginning position.
Zach looked into my eyes while he slowly leaned in. I closed my eyes and waited for whatever he would do. I felt him move away, causing me to open my eyes to see him looking conflicted.
“Um, that’s good for today Cassie. Why don’t you go enjoy the rest of your day off?”
I nodded my head and walked out, leaving him there confused by what had just happened.
I sat outside on the garden swing that sat among dozens of flowers. The place made me feel like I was in another world. I kept thinking about how Zach seemed to have almost kissed me. I had been kissed before but it was because another servant was going to be requested for a night’s activity and needed help learning to kiss. I messed with my heart locket while thinking of why in the world he would want to kiss me.
I sighed and simply swung while watching the clouds. I closed my eyes as a breeze picked up, blowing my hair away from my face. I heard the click of a camera going off and looked over to see Zach holding a camera.
“Sorry, you just reminded me of…” He shook his head, throwing the thought away. “Never mind.”
I nodded my head and looked back down at my feet. I had decided to change into shorts and a loose tank top after practicing with Zach for Wednesday’s event.
I noticed Zach had also changed into something more comfortable to be outside in. “So, how did you learn so much about photography, Miss Richards?” Zach asked as he sat down next to me, looking over the photos he had taken.
“Um, at my last house, I didn’t finish school even though I was so bright, so as a gift they sent me to finish off my senior year of high school. Then they paid for me to do some classes at the community college a few miles from the house they lived in.”
He nodded his head and set his camera down on the ground carefully. “I went all the way to Virginia for my classes. My father sent me away saying it was for my own good.”
I could see the emotion flash across his face; he hadn’t wanted to leave New York to take classes that he could easily take here. From the stories John and Philip had told me, I’d learned that Mr. Addison wasn’t a kind man, even to his wife and children. Philip had told me the Addisons had five children including Zach. I took Zach’s hand to show him he should keep going on.
He looked at my hand then back at me. “He really sent me away because I was attached to my youngest sister and he was worried I would care more about her than taking over the family business. See, she was sick. She had a heart defect, and the doctors couldn’t even figure out what was wrong. For the first three years of her life, I was the one that sat with her at night to make sure everything was alright. I was the big brother.” He sighed and shook his head. “My father sent me away and the first month I was gone and no one was watching her closely enough. Her heart failed.”
I looked down, almost worried about showing the pain and sadness I felt for him. I couldn’t do that, so all I said was, “I’m sorry.”
I looked up and noticed he just shrugged. “It was five years ago and you have no reason to say sorry. You didn’t even know her.”
I decided it was time I left and headed back in for the day. I got up and turned to him. “I think I’ll go back…” I could see the pain in his eyes, like no one had listened to how losing his baby sister had made him feel, as if he was forced to not feel, just like me. So I sat back down.
“Why don’t you tell me what she was like?” I smiled lightly, hoping it showed I really did want to know. In return, he smiled back and started telling me about how energetic she was, even with her condition.
I was curled up in Zach’s lap, by his request, while he read me Greek Myths, something I usually read to myself. But after talking with Zach about his little sister – who I found out was named Lizzie – I realized how much he missed reading to someone. It was our time in his study anyway, so I didn’t mind. In a way, it actually felt good to have him read to me.
“… So as the seasons changed, the Greeks knew Persephone was home safe away from Hades and his evil of the underworld, and so spring was given and the harvest could continue once again…”
I curled up to Zach more. Of all the myths, the ‘Rape of Persephone,’ as it was called, made me feel even more lost because I didn’t have a mother to help me out of trouble. Mine had left me on the front steps of an orphanage to fight for my life. I felt his free arm wrap around me more and hold me against his chest. I looked up at him and met his green eyes. The fire next to us lit his dark eyes only slightly but it was enough to make them seem almost as magical as the garden outside.
“Cassie…” He slowly leaned in more. I watched him before feeling his lips cover mine. I closed my eyes and slowly leaned into him more, pressing my lips against his.
I could hear the book fall as he tangled his fingers into my hair, holding me close against him. The feeling that came over me was one I’d never felt before, and it felt incredible. Till I realized something and pulled away. I looked at him as my heart began to speed up and his hands laid lightly over my cheeks. I quickly got up and went up to my room, ignoring the feeling in the pit of my stomach that what I just did was wrong. And I don’t mean the kiss, but running away from him after.
July 21st 12:40 am – I took Rocky for a walk late tonight to clear my head. He was whining at the door, so I had to take him out before it made me angry. Yesterday, all I could write about was how lonely and misanthropic I felt. What a dichotomy, huh? Hating people but feeling lonely…It’s a catch-22 if I’ve ever seen one. My luck may be turning around. I saw a girl tonight out with her friends. I couldn’t help but notice her. The way her dress sparkled, hips swaying with confidence as she walked…her poise and grace outshone every member of her group. She saw Rocky and asked to pet him. Of course I said yes. How could I deny a woman like her? I asked for her number, but I think she was playing hard to get. I followed her home, keeping my distance to make sure she got there safely. She only lives 10 minutes away from me. Maybe I’ll go check on her tomorrow night, and make sure she hasn’t changed her mind about us.
July 21st 3:00 p.m. — My psychologist told me this bullshit would help. What kind of grown man keeps a record of his every move? Whatever. Maybe if she reads what I write she can kill this monster inside my brain. I can’t stop thinking about that girl yesterday. She was so perfect. Small but not sickly, long straight blonde hair – my perfect type. I just can’t stop thinking about her. I think I’ll go visit her tonight.
July 22nd 1:00 a.m. – I tried to go to her house and knock on her door, but no one was home. I guess I’ll try tomorrow. Maybe I’ll see her around town since she is so close. I guess then it’ll be fate. I just can’t stop thinking about her. I think we’re in love.
July 23rd Midnight – I saw her again tonight while I was at my favorite bar. What is she doing out on a Sunday night drinking? I’m sitting in my car outside Admiral’s Arms on Spencer Street, the usual. I’ve never seen her here before. She must have come here to see me…. I’ll follow her home to make sure she gets there safe. You never know what could happen at night in a place like this.
July 23rd 10:00 a.m. – I don’t remember a lot from last night. I remember following the pretty woman home from the bar. I was only trying to make sure she got home safe since her friends ditched her. She started running, like she was afraid of something. I didn’t want her to get hurt so I just grabbed her and put her in my car. The rest is a blur. Fuck, why can’t I remember? What if she gave me her number? What if she agreed to go on a date with me? I keep fucking up. I have a psychologist appointment at 4 today; maybe she can help me make sense of this.
July 23rd 12 p.m. – She’s downstairs. I don’t know what happened tonight, but I CAN’T go back to the hospital again. They’ll take my dog away from me.
Pros: I have my dream girl. I have my dog. I have a sound proof basement. I have friends willing to help me when I need them. I am starting to have more feelings than a few months ago.
Cons: The girl I am in love with is in my basement. I have a lot of blood to clean up.
My psychologist told me, whenever I feel myself panicking, take my medication and make a list of pros and cons. If the pros outweigh the cons, I have nothing to worry about. I’ll wash up before my appointment and explain everything. Hopefully they’ll understand.
“You did what?” Rogue asks as I habitually bite my chapped lips. The question seems rough, but not as bad as being slapped. If Zach weren’t opposed to hitting his servants, I know that would have been the case.
“I didn’t mean to let it happen. It just kind of… did.”
I try explaining the situation while Rogue finishes washing the dishes. I express why I had declined Zach’s offer; I need to keep my distance for a while.
“Cassie, you can’t do that. You know exactly what will happen if any of the women coming to the house find out about this.”
I nod my head. The peculiar understanding of a 21-year-old career-servant. In my first home, the grandson caught me crying – I missed my Mother Ester and my friends. He began using it against me. One servant fell in love with her master, and female suitors throughout the home made her life hell, all because she was love-struck. The men are rough, but the women know how we tick. We are one and the same, most of us.
“Why are there so many women around here?” I ask Rogue, wanting to clear my mind of the situation.
“Old man Addison told his son to find a woman to start a life with–” Just then, Rogue is interrupted by John.
“Now Zach doesn’t think his father knows his son well enough to find him the perfect woman.” I nod my head while John continues. “And besides, most women here flirt with Zach but at the end of the night, come to Rogue to satisfy their needs.”
I only reply with a light smile and eye-roll. Rogue is a typical blonde haired, blue eyed man. His eyes are the only captivating part of his body; they can trap you, kill you on the spot.
“Too bad I like guys more than ladies,” is Rogue’s only quick-witted reply.
I have learned that Rogue got his nickname because of his tendency to sleep with any man when given the offer. Rogue is a known rebel among the servants. I feel empathy towards him – he had fallen in love but was given to another household before he could say anything.
“So, what is this I hear about Cassie being mad at Zach?” John asks.
“It was an accident, okay? I didn’t mean for it to happen.” I pick my nails with purpose, thinking more about my knowledge of Rogue.
Rogue is only 27, but far more serious than John who is in his late 30s. John is a trouble maker and takes the role of an annoying older brother. He has black hair, cut and spiked to imitate a younger look. We can all tell his age by his lavender eyes, the way they are dulled by years of experience.
“Don’t worry Cass. I’m just throwing shots ‘cause I’m bored,” he reassures me before he jumps onto the counter, lightly bumping my left shoulder. I smile kindly, returning the favor.
“Cassie, can I see you for a second?” I hear Zach calling me from the adjacent room. I follow his voice and find him, arms crossed, leaning against an antique mahogany table.
“Yes, sir?” He looks at me as he did when we met, pacing around me.
“I have a dinner to go to, and I need a date. The women my father handpicked know nothing of me or what I do, but you do.” He gives me a sincere chuckle and looks directly into my eyes. “You know far more than an average servant, let alone a 21-year-old servant.” I nod my head, understanding my knowledge comes from reading and experience.
Zach’s family owned a photography business that he ran away from to pursue the New York dream. He travels the world now. He never had a necessity to learn about the family business, but he took it on as a hobby. Zach knows everything to know about photography.
“What’s your favorite color, Cassie?”
Confused as to why this is important, I only answer with, “Midnight blue, sir.”
He nods his head, still pacing.
“Do you know now to dance?”
Mother Ester had taught all the girls, but it has been so long since I have even been asked to dance. “I haven’t for some time, sir.”
“Well, I guess I’ll be seeing you once a night for the next few days to improve your skills.”
Hiding my emotions from Zach is difficult, particularly with the beads of sweat streaming down my cheeks, leaving a trail of anxiety. The company at the dinner would much rather see me be beaten than join their high-class society.
“Do you understand, Cassie?” Zach still has his arms crossed.
“I understand, sir.” I continue to count the wooden floor tiles, biting my cheek.
“Good, I’ll see you tomorrow morning then. Good night.”
I watch as he walks up the grand staircase to his room. Concentrating on Zach’s posture as he strides, I am startled by a pair of arms hugging my shoulders.
“Don’t worry kid, everything will be fine. Most of the dinners Zach goes to are only five hours long. He usually only stays for two of them, just long enough to eat and talk and show he is alive,” John says, with his arms still around me.
I return the hug, an impulsive decision only because of my need for the affection, but pull away quickly.
“Good night, John.” I walk upstairs to my room.
Passing Zach’s room to get to my own, I can hear him arguing with someone. I just bite my lip and keep up the pace, fighting the urge to spy. I strip off my dress, put on my pajamas, and lay in bed. Laying down, looking at the stateliness of my room, I think about how this week will be different. I must fake every feeling to get through this dinner, being in his world for only a few hours. The thought of being in his world shakes me to my core. Being in a world where people only care for themselves seems so cold and empty.
Life at Mr. Addison’s is conventional. Having been here for almost a month now, I am learning the daily goings-on of the house. For the past week, I have looked through the kitchen and noted everything I will get today on my trip to the market. Zach only eats organic foods, and they have to be farmed within a 300-mile radius of our home. The intricacies of his diet do not bother me; I think of it as exciting. I always loved going to the marketplace with Mother Ester, whenever she decided to take children with her. My treks to buy groceries remind me of those times.
Zach had told me, “My servants always have the best,” as his tailor measured my chest a few weeks ago. I leave the house on my way to the marketplace in my new purple knee-high sundress, with a sweetheart neckline. I feel so out of place, almost like I do not own it. The more I ponder, the more I realize I don’t.
Getting to know my fellow servants over these few weeks has been interesting. Philip, the butler, has worked at the Addison residence the longest, a few years before Zach was born. Rouge oversees cleaning the dishes and washing clothes for the residents. John is the mastermind behind the upkeep of the home, and he organizes everything Zach plans. Philip mentioned once that there were only male servants, which is nothing particularly unusual. It seems the late Mr. Logan Addison slept with the female servants when his wife was attending business elsewhere. Mrs. Malinda Addison never minded his infidelity; rather she minded his choice location, in the room to the left of Zach’s.
Philip spoke of Mrs. Addison’s hospitality, how she extended it to anyone who strolled into her castle. His voice trailed off while an unmistakable gleam shined in his brown pupils. He articulated more with his eyes than I have ever heard from any mouth. He would marry her if he could.
John pulls out an old bike to take to the market. I enjoy bikes far more than any stuffy car. With the beautiful weather and three-mile journey, the fresh air will be lovely. List gripped between my fingers, I leave eagerly for the market. Shopping combines relaxation and work. I always see people I grew up with, peculiar only because of the distance.
The smell of fresh bread and strawberry tarts replace the unmistakable stench of the roadside when I arrive at the marketplace. Walking around, looking at the fish and fruits and deciding on their quality, I can’t shake my mind from those strawberry tarts. I think I’ll buy some before I leave. I find myself surrounded by the separated booths of small businesses and bored, single women with riches to spare. Regardless of the disproportion in wealth, I’ve never noticed a difference in taste.
I keep to myself, showing my status as a servant. Mama Ester told me that you should never show any human emotion – wealthy owners know each other, and it’s dangerous if you upset the wrong person.
I’m unenthusiastic about going back to the Addison home after my charming day at the market. The open space is a breathtaking contrast to the jail cell feel of a home.
After setting the bike in the storage unit, I carry the groceries into the door closest to the kitchen. The bags are heavy, but I don’t mind labor; I’m used to it. Usually, when my hair gets into my face or I slam my head into the door frame, I just keep walking.
Walking into the house, I hear laughing from the sitting room. I know quickly it is Zach’s, in harmony with the laughter of a woman. I fear that I will not be working for a bachelor much longer. At 25, he is probably enjoying his evening with a woman he will marry and have too many children with. Then he will bombard the home with more servants like me. I’ll continue to hide in this lonely castle, or perhaps he will sell me before that happens. Don’t feel, don’t react, and don’t get attached to the stories told to me as a young servant. I sigh lightly and put my groceries in cabinets, remembering this mantra.
I’ve never experienced an attachment to anyone, except Mother Ester. You will always be attached to the woman who raised you. I know Zach is trying to make this a home for me, but this is not my home. My life is not a fairy tale. So lost in my thoughts, I hadn’t noticed Zach standing next to me. He startles me when he says, “So, when did you get back?”
Looking over to him and placing a tomato on the counter, I reply, “A few minutes ago, sir. Not too long though.”
He nods his head and takes a seat on the counter, next to my groceries. He looks like a teenager waiting for advice from his mother.
In the unexpected silence, I continue to put away the food, his eyes following me as I travel along the spacious kitchen.
“You seem too comfortable doing this?” he says, breaking the silence with his curiosity.
I’m guessing by the sound of his voice he is confused why someone my age could be so comfortable shopping for a stranger, particularly after receiving nothing in return.
I retort with, “Well, I should. I’ve been doing this since I turned 15.” I don’t bother to look at his face; I already know it is one of absolute shock.
“But you were just a kid then, you couldn’t have possibly enjoyed your work?” Zach says.
I sigh and finish putting away the last of the groceries. One as affluent as Zach could never understand what I went through, just to end up someone’s servant. Taking this into consideration, I turn to Zach and say, “Look, I recognize you don’t understand. With no mom or dad to care for me, I was never a child. My life doesn’t seem perfect, because it’s not.” I place the grocery bags in a crate to be washed and used for the next market run.
“Please excuse me, Mr. Addison. I have much work to do,” I say to him and walk quickly to my room.
I collapse on my bed, realizing I had broken one of the rules.
She has a personal, destructive beauty, one not many can fall for. He is the only one to see it. With her red eyes and ebony wings, Aria holds Lucifer’s heart. Her love for the devil is only outweighed by the corruption inside her.
Lucifer ignores it, for a time. He understands she wants the same sensation he felt when he fell from grace. Only until she became his personal Pandora’s box did he take notice. Heartbreak, disease, famine, death. Aria has control of them, and much worse.
“My love, you must stop this,” Lucifer tenderly whispers, grasping her by the biceps with pleading eyes.
Aria growls and shoves him away. “You don’t tell me what to do!” Eyes like rubies in sunlight, her anger stems from his need to control her.
Lucifer knows he can fix her, but only by using the hope lying at the bottom of the box. He grabs her arm with a jerk and takes her to her fallen meadow. Lucifer holds Aria close until their skin seems like it will fuse together.
He speaks the only words that will free Aria. “I free you from my hold and the hold of God.”
Aria is left limp in his embrace, eyes fluttered shut. All that is left of her wings is a handful of feathers at his feet. A blush returns to her cheeks, and her slate-colored nails are replaced with clean, uncolored ones. Aria’s hair turns to a light chestnut as Lucifer holds her in his lap. She is mortal, human. He strokes her cheek as her eyes open, revealing two eyes of sea green. The only words to have broken the devil were her first mortal words of freedom.