Have you ever loved someone so much that they become the air you breathe?
I’m not talking about just being in love, I’m talking about real love, and then everything changes as the truth about who that person really is gets revealed.
You still love them, but now you are afraid because you don’t understand the things that are happening around you. You don’t understand his world and you wish that you had never discovered a thing about it. You wish you could just go back to all the secrets and the “trust me” answers rather than to know the truth.
You don’t understand why you never could see it: all the signs were there, hidden.
Well, I can tell you this, the saying “the truth shall set you free” it isn’t entirely correct in my situation. The truth was the opposite. It came with shackles and worries about if we were really going to have a future, because it was forbidden for him to love me, a human.
My name is Danielle Laurant. I’m twenty-four years old and about to become a mother. It doesn’t matter what decision I make since it isn’t mine to make. I’m not even sure if I am going to be able to hold my babies in my arms.
You see, they belong in his world, and it doesn’t matter that they are half-breeds. His people will never let me raise them, if that is their choice. But let me take you back to a year ago and maybe you will understand why all of this is so difficult. Why I would die for Marick Young.
A YEAR AGO
“Danny.” I heard Marick’s voice softly in my ear. “Sweetheart, you need to wake up.”
I opened my eyes and found his beautiful chiseled face, with his beach blond hair tinged with golden highlights reaching his shoulders, and green eyes staring lovingly at me. His beard tickled when he kissed my neck and I laughed.
He chuckled. “I would give anything to wake up to that laugh every day,” he said and touched my face softly.
He’d been saying things like that lately. It was like something bad was about to happen that would tear us apart. But what? He was Marick Young, a loner I met more than six months ago. He had told me that he had been disowned by his father.
He had been different when I first met him. Closed off, mean, and walls as big as the Empire State building around him, but somehow my kindness and his curiosity helped break those walls. Now the walls were protecting a kind and beautiful man. A man who I loved so much.
It took me a while to realize how much he loved me, but just as his curiosity about me in the beginning broke down his walls, my curiosity to figure out who Marick Young was made me fall in love with him. No, I crashed in love with him.
I touched his face softly and just stared at him. “What’s going on? Why do you keep saying things like that?” I asked.
His eyes shifted to the wall as a sad smile lingered on his lips.
Tears welled up in his eyes. A look I’d never seen before tugged down at the corners of his lips. A slight frown formed between the furrow of his brows.
He was afraid.
“Marick, talk to me. What is going on?” I asked and pushed myself up in bed.
He looked at me and wiped his face hard. “Danny, I have to make a decision and I’m scared,” he said.
“One about you,” he said simply.
My throat closed up. I couldn’t breathe.
“What about me?”
“Us, actually,” he said, got up and paced slowly to my window.
“Marick, what are you talking about?”
“My father wants me to come back, Danny.”
“Love, that is perfect, why are you so …”
“Because I can’t take you with me. It’s not perfect, it’s the opposite of perfect.”
I didn’t understand one bit. I shook my head.
“I wasn’t supposed to fall in love.” He touched his face. “The past few months I’ve tried to figure out what to do, but nothing I can think of is fair to you. I don’t know what to do.”
“I don’t understand. Why can’t you take me with you and why weren’t you supposed to fall in love?”
“He wants me to assume my position in the family. Kinda like taking over a family business. But I can’t.”
“So he phoned you?”
He shook his head. “Well actually I knew it from the beginning and I knew that this time would come. That’s why I tried so hard not to get sucked into your world.”
“You knew it from the beginning?”
“Danielle, I tried; it was hard. I know it was stupid of me, okay. But I never felt about anyone the way I feel about you. I love you, very much. There’s no easy way out of this.”
“Out of this?” I felt like crying. “So, you have already made up your mind? Fine, just leave, leave me. That’s it.”
“Danny, you think this is easy for me. It’s not. I will always love you, always want you, always ache for you.”
“Then fight his ridiculous demand, Marick. Don’t leave.”
“He can’t be fought. If there was a single ounce of hope, sweetheart, I would fight it, but there is none.”
“So what? This is it?”
He looked at the ground.
“Speak to me! Is this it, Marick?” Tears rolled down my cheeks.
“There is another way, but I can’t ask you to do that.”
“What? Just tell me.”
“We can try hiding from my father.”
“Danielle, it’s me leaving, or giving up everything we have to be together.”
I couldn’t imagine my life without Marick. I loved him too much. I had worked so hard to peel away his layers, but I knew—it was evident now—that I still didn’t know who he really was.
“I know it’s not fair to you, but it’s the only way I can think of.”
“Run away? Marick, everything we have is in New York.”
“Danielle, in the next few days my father is going to come and get me, that much I know. We can stay here and enjoy our last few days together. Then you will see me get dragged back while you are left behind. Or we can leave now and be together. He will have to find me, which will take time. More than he expects, because he can’t find me the way he used to.”
I guessed he was talking about his credit cards.
“He can’t trace me as easily as he used to.”
“Give everything up?” I asked as if that was the hardest thing for me to do. “Is that the only way?”
“I know it’s a lot to ask, but those are the only two options. I should’ve told you sooner, but the thought of losing you, to imagine not having you in my life…”
I grabbed his face and just kissed his lips. His kisses were still making me slightly dizzy; they were addictive. Everything about this man was addictive. Our kisses came to a halt. “I’ll go pack.”
He just looked at me. “Are you serious?”
“Marick, I trust you. I don’t understand this, but I trust you. And I don’t want to lose you. If giving everything up is the only way to be with you, then so be it.”
He kissed me hard again and then he helped me pack my bags.
I left a note for Diane, my roommate. I told her that I was leaving with Marick, and wouldn’t be back. I would call her when I could and try to explain everything then.
When we got downstairs, I discovered Marick had sold his bike. He’d saved so hard for it, worked at the docks and did some construction on the side, but now he’d sold it and got a truck.
I jumped into the passenger’s seat and we took off. For the first half-hour we were silent, but then I needed some answers. I was giving up everything for him, so I deserved some answers.
“Why is our love complicated?”
He sighed. “I don’t know how to explain it, Danielle.”
“I can’t. Just take my word for it. Where I am from, if I go back, I have to give you up.”
“So what, he disowns you? Marick, that doesn’t make any sense.”
“I know it doesn’t. You don’t know my father. He is set in his ways, and he won’t even listen to me. His order was simple: learn, that’s it. I should’ve stayed away from you. Then none of this would’ve happened. You would still be happy….”
“Don’t say that. My life would’ve been incomplete if I didn’t meet you.”
“Don’t.” He spoke softly.
I touched his face. “I know you will explain everything to me when you can. Just don’t say things like how I would have been happier if I had never met you. You’ve changed my entire life. I love you, Marick. Life without you would have been dull and boring.”
He grabbed my hand and kissed it.
“I wish I could offer you everything, anything other than just a crappy life, hiding from my father.”
“It won’t be a crappy life. I know it.”
He let go of my hand and I rested my head against the window.
A part of me didn’t want to leave. I wanted him to fight, even if he thought it was hopeless. When his father saw how much we loved each other, surely he would change his mind. But Marick didn’t believe our love would be enough. I had to make him see that it was.
If love wasn’t worth fighting for then nothing was.
I wanted him to fight for me the way I would fight for him. But I knew it was going to take time for him to change his mind. Marick was not the type of man to act on a whim.
He needed time before making decisions.
What kind of family business did his father run that was so hard for him to take over, and what kind of business wouldn’t allow him to love me?
None of it was making any sense.
My mind went back to when we first met.
He was a dishwasher at the hotel I worked at. I had gotten a transfer from the hotel in Paris, which was close to where I had lived and had grown up, to the one here in New York. I wanted to see the world. Marick was quiet, didn’t want anything to do with anyone, and I finally understood now. He was never supposed to fall in love; he’d just confessed it this morning. It was still a big shock to me.
He was guarded. Couldn’t figure out the ropes in New York so I helped him out. As I did, he started to let down some of those walls a little. Then he started following me in secret and protecting me. First there was the bus that almost ran me over, then a creep at a food cart late one night. I knew someone was watching over me after that, but I didn’t know it was Marick. Then I finally found out one night. He told me, he admitted, he felt a connection that he shouldn’t feel toward me. He said he just wanted to keep me safe and meant no harm.
It was so weird then, and made no sense, but everything was finally falling into place now.
He’d tried to keep his distance because he didn’t want this to happen. He didn’t want it to lead to the situation we were in.
But once the door was open, it was inevitable that we’d fall for each other, and we’d been inseparable ever since.
I always thought that he was broken, that he came from a broken family that wasn’t filled with love, that wasn’t filled with care. That he just needed someone to show him the kind of love he needed, the kind of love all humans deserve. I’d never thought in a million years that he was fighting against it all.
“So how do you feel with your mother raising your daughter, Danielle?” Gaston, my new psychiatrist, number thirteen to be exact, asked me the same question all my psychiatrists has asked. I lounged on the opposite chair him in his modern-day office, located in Paris.
“You know how I feel.” I answered the same as I always do.
“No, I don’t really.”
I sighed. Fine, whatever. I didn’t care anymore. I looked at him. “What would you do if you were raped, over and over, by a monster and ended up having his child? Would you raise that child?” I asked.
“Why didn’t you abort?”
I looked at him and shrugged.
Silence lingered a few seconds between us.
“You don’t remember a thing, Danielle. All the victims who were with you in that basement remembered something, they faced them together with their psychiatrists, and they moved on. You simply refuse to remember. No one can help you if you do not want to open up.”
“I don’t remember! It’s got nothing to do with me not opening up.”
“It’s been almost ten years, Danielle. Not a flicker of a memory, not one second of your time with Brolin and his wife haunts you?”
Tears welled up in my eyes. The memories were haunting me, but they were not in the form of memories. They were in the form of what my mind conjured up from what the other victims say in their books and in the media of what Brolin did to them. Not one of us knew about the other. We were all secluded in our own piece of hell. Or so that’s what the others told me in group sessions. I was the only one who remembered just darkness. A pit of black ink that made me feel like I was drowning each day.
My mind refused to let me remember what that monster did to me. “You really think I don’t want to remember.” I shook my head. “I can’t. I’m trying. I read what happened to Stacy because she gave up, I read how she slit her wrists and bled out. I didn’t even know she was with me in that house, because there was nothing but the darkness in there.” I slammed the temple of my head as tears spilled over my cheeks. I hoped he was finally getting that this wasn’t me not wanting to remember. This was me that cannot remember.
Gaston sighed and rested his chin in the palm of his hand, leaning on the railing of his chair with his elbow. I hated it when my doctors went quiet—when they all decided that I was a lost cause.
“How is Eva doing?”
“Good.” I sighed. “She’s a beautiful girl. Her birthday is coming up—she’ll be nine. My mom is getting ready to celebrate it.”
“Are you going?”
“She still thinks you’re her sister.”
I nodded. But I didn’t know that anymore. Lately, she been giving me a lot of hugs, hugs I didn’t know how to handle. It was as if she knew. She knew my secret. My mother didn’t tell me that she knew—it was something I felt.
“How do you feel about that?”
“How would you feel about that. Knowing what her father was capable off. I’m dreading to think that she would become like him too.”
“Danielle, humans make monsters. They are not born monsters.”
“Unless she is a psychopath just like her father, Gaston.” He was the only shrink that refused to let me call him doctor.
“Then have her tested, see if she carries the gene.”
“You know my mother wouldn’t allow it. She said she will get her tested when signs show.”
“How is that thing with your mother?”
“She’s very secretive. She will only conduct seances when Eva is at school or late at night when Eva is in bed. I don’t like it, but after she discovered those books, she now truly believes that her great-great-great-grandmother was a witch and that her gift only came later in life. There is no way to change her mind about that.” Not long after my own grandmother died, Mom found boxes and boxes of books in the basements filled with spells and pictures of her ancestors. Why grandma Evangeline didn’t burn them, I would never know. She was a Christian who walked around with the Bible under her arm, condemning everything in front of her that was bad.
That picture of my great-great-great-great-grandfather and grandmother my mother found in one of the journals still send a shiver up my spine every time I see the old sepia photograph.
My ancestors’ eyes were cold, sad. For all I knew, they could’ve been witches. But I didn’t believe in that.
My mother, on the other hand, has been obsessed the past few years with finding more about her ancestors now that she had pictures and journals to work through.
“Our time is up, Danielle. How do you sleep?” He took out a subscription pad.
“Not good, but it’s not what you think. I’m trying to remember something, one simple thing. But I can’t. I couldn’t on the first day, and I’m just as blocked today as I was then.”
“Okay, let’s leave the homework then for the next month or so. I still think hypnosis is the best…”
I shook my head. I didn’t like that idea at all.
“Danielle, please, I can help you.”
“I don’t want hypnosis. Maybe this is my mind protecting me from what truly happened Gaston. What if the shit that I went through is far worse than you think and I end up in an asylum? Some things a better left alone. Please, no hypnosis.”
“Okay,” he gave that low deep sigh, a frustrated sigh. My psychiatrics usually gave it when they reached another dead end.
But I couldn’t. I couldn’t get myself to go through with it. I think it was more of a trust issue than anything else.
“Comes and goes. It’s been better lately.”
He scribbled on the prescription pad and handed me the paper after he tore it off from his notebook.
He gave me a soft, compassionate smile. Frustration danced in his eyes, making him look tired.
“I’m sorry, Gaston.”
“Don’t apologize, Danny, we’ll find a breakthrough when the right time comes.”
I took the prescription and left.
I was a regular. They sometimes had to see me twice a week as I also have paranoia issues.
I greeted the receptionist, Ida, with her round face and her short, newly colored auburn hair.
In the past year and a half that I’ve seen Gaston, she had more hair changes than all my shoes I’ve ever owned.
“See you next week, Danielle.”
“See you, Ida.” I grinned at her and headed out the door for my Clio parked in their parking lot.
I climbed in and sat with my head against the back of the seat.
Sometimes I feel that my past wasn’t my past. It was the reason why I couldn’t abort Eva when we discovered I was pregnant. The doctor told me I gave birth to another child before Eva, and I couldn’t remember a thing about the pregnancy or the child.
I got no nightmares of my time with Brolin, no memories or seconds of anything devastating that happened during the time I was missing. I had been in that basement so long, and real evil things were done to me, that—this had to be true—my mind refused to remember it. A coping mechanism.
And with Gaston wanting to dig, it scared me to death. It was better left alone than dealing with more shit.
I switched on the car and took it for its next service before my shift at the cafe where I’ve been working as a waitress the past eight years. I need to check in with my mother soon. Make sure that Eva had everything she needed.
My heart sometimes felt for her. Why didn’t I abort her? Why give her a life where she could possibly become a monster just like her father?
But I couldn’t at the time. I couldn’t explain it. It felt wrong, even with all the wrong that was piled on me. I just couldn’t. Maybe it was because of my grandmother and her constantly condemnation that played in my head when I was in that room the day I wanted to go through with it.
But something led me out of there. It saved her life, and I truly had no idea how I felt about it.
A part of me was grateful, but she was also a constant reminder of what had happened to me. It was the only reason I could think of as to why I was stuck—why I couldn’t move forward in life.
I dropped off my Clio, signed a few papers, and decided to take the bus instead. It was cheaper than the Uber anyway.
I took a walk down the Seine toward the bus stop and took in Paris’s beauty.
I remembered leaving for the US, and the first few months in, but I had no idea what happened after that. My mother put a lot of that time together for me. She said I met someone but never really spoke about him. I was so secretive, and I wondered if that wasn’t the beginning of my downfall.
Why didn’t I tell my mother about him? Did he ask me not to, or maybe he wasn’t that important to begin with?
I couldn’t even remember him, and it couldn’t have been so wonderful because when I came back, it was when it happened, or that is what was discovered during all the investigations.
Brolin had me for five years. My mother once told me that during that time, she felt as if she was going insane not knowing where I was.
I just had my twenty-second birthday, now going on thirty-seven. I felt so old, and sometimes it felt as if I couldn’t breathe.
“Danny.” I heard my name and looked up.
A man with a leather jacket, scruffy jeans, and a faded blue T-shirt looked at me as if he saw a ghost. His dark, roughed up hair was oily, and he sent a few shivers up my spine.
“I thought you were dead.”
I shook my head, squinted. “I’m sorry, I don’t know you,” I said and walked away.
I had no idea who that man was.
“It’s me, Sebastian,” he pulled me back by the arm. “How is this possible?”
I pulled out my arm hard. “You have the wrong person. I don’t know you.”
“No, you are Danielle.”
“I said leave me alone,” I yelled again and ran toward the bus stop. By the time I reached the bus stop, my heart was beating fast, and I was so glad to find that the man, Sebastian or whatever he said his name was, didn’t follow. I turned around and he was simply gone.
My paranoia jumped in again. I opened my bag and found the plastic container that carried my pills. I swallowed two, followed by bottled water.
The bus finally arrived, and I climbed on.
I chose a seat way in the back and rested my head on the window.
The bus headed in the direction of the cafe where I had to take the afternoon and evening shift.
The bus drove past the guy in his leather jacket. At that second, he looked straight at me.
Our eyes locked for a few seconds, and then I looked down at my lap.
How on earth does he know my name, and why did he say that he thought I died?
My shift ended around eight. I made a few euros for the day. Bianca took me home. I told her about my encounter with the dark hair stranger that still send shivers up my spine. She refused to let me take the bus. She kept babbling about her boyfriend, Theo, and whether she should dump his ass or not as we reached my small apartment.
I asked her if she wanted to come up for coffee, but Bianca said she needs to get going. Theo was waiting for her, which I was thankful for as I wasn’t really in the mood for company.
Safe in my apartment, the evening ritual started.
I fed Noir, my black cat. I emptied a can of tuna and poured a bit of cat cream, one of each into two separate bowls, and put it on the counter.
Noir dug in. The cat wasn’t a normal cat—he hardly meowed. But he was a distraction, a companion, and probably the only thing in this world I trusted.
I poured in a glass of red wine for myself and tried not to force my mind to think about anything that happened ten years ago. It was a change in my routine, and I wasn’t so great in that department either.
I stood on the small balcony and struggle to clear my mind. However, I did think of something, the incident with the stranger.
He clearly knew me, but how? Was he part of Brolin’s family? Part of that time in my life?
Still he didn’t ring a bell, not one bit of comfort that I remembered something.
I walked back to the kitchen and reached for my anxiety pills again as I could feel the paranoia start to build up.
Phoning my mom was out of the question. She was going to beg to go to the police and report it. But what would I tell them? The officer that worked on my case probably retired a long time ago.
I popped two pills and downed it with a few gulps of wine as my heart started to beat slower, toward its own pace.
After I made sure that the doors were locked, I picked up Noir in one hand and went to the bathroom with my glass of wine in the other hand.
I took a long bath and drifted away.
Darkness played behind my closed eyelids. A deep empty black pit. The kind that wants to drown me. I felt the evil in that pit of darkness and woke up with a start. Water splash around the edges of the bath.
The quietness of the apartment filled my ears before the nighttime buzz that was taking place outside.
A deep sigh left my lips as I closed my eyes and tried to calm my beating heart again.
I told Gaston about the darkness, and he tried to work with that. He tried to lure me deeper into it, but I couldn’t. A full-on panic attack always followed.
I couldn’t face what happened, just as I couldn’t face that dark pit.
But I did think about the stranger again, Sebastian as he introduced himself.
What did he mean he thought I was dead?