Awakening as the first rays of sunlight shone through the window near the bed, I glanced over Gabriel’s sleeping form beside me. His breathing was soft as I studied his features, lifting my hand above his face, pressing my fingertips lightly to his cheekbone. I remembered what Penelope had said the night before. The potion simply enhanced feelings that were already present. That meant there was a possibility that a conversation needed to be had in the future about Callan.
It shocked me that someone so beautiful and strong was prone to the same insecurities that we all fell prey to. All I could wonder about was where I had gone wrong. What did I do to make him feel that way in our relationship? I knew we weren’t alone as often as we were before back at Brimstone, but I was under a lot of pressure at the moment. We all were.
I sighed deeply as my thoughts raced through my mind. Sitting up in bed, I threw on a light jacket and headed downstairs to the kitchen. Opening up the freezer, I saw a pint of ice cream and snatched it from its perch. I found a spoon inside a drawer and started shoveling the sweet cream into my mouth as I took a seat on one of the barstools by the kitchen island.
“Oh good, you’re awake,” I heard Ashlin say from the doorway as she took the other stool across from me.
“I’m not sure I’ll be good company this morning,” I muttered between bites of ice cream.
“Can I have some of that?” Ashlin asked as she reached for my pint.
I pulled it away, playfully before handing it over to her with a smile. “You need some too?”
She licked the spoon clean. “I want to ask you a huge favor. I’m not sure it can be done, but if anyone can help me, it’s you.”
“You kind of make it sound like you want me to kill someone for you,” I joked.
Ashlin dropped the spoon into the pint and left it on the counter. She leaned forward in her seat as if she didn’t want anyone else to hear us even though we were the only two present.
“Remember when I told you about my dad?” she whispered.
I thought back to that night at Penelope’s dorm when we ran away from Mara and her hive. Ashlin had revealed to me that her father had been driven insane by the constant feedings her mother participated in.
“He’s here,” she continued. “He’s in Boston in an asylum, and I really want to see him. I have to know if he blames my mother and me for what happened. I just…need to know.”
I reached out and placed my hand over hers on the table. “Then let’s go.”
“Really?” she asked, surprised.
“Of course,” I said. “When Maisie gets here, we’ll let the others ride with her, and we’ll take the Suburban to Boston. We’ll be back after noon, and then we can all leave from the port.”
“I don’t want them to know about my dad. Not yet,” she admitted. “Can we find a way to keep it between us?”
I nodded. “No one will know unless you wish it.”
“Good morning, girls,” Helen said as she entered the kitchen in a yellow robe. She glanced at the pint of ice cream between us. “Is that about boy problems?”
“How did you guess?” I said, giving Ashlin a small wink. She smiled in acknowledgment of our secret pact.
“I’m sorry about what happened to Gabriel,” Helen continued. “Is he doing any better?”
“He’s still sleeping,” I replied. “I’m starting to worry that I may have sent him into a coma with my powers.”
“I’m sure you didn’t do any real damage,” she insisted. “I assume you have a lot to talk about once he wakes.”
“That we do,” I mumbled in agreement. My cheeks became inflamed as I thought about how obvious it must have been to everyone. It was the first time I had felt embarrassed in front of my friends, and as it faded, shame filled its place.
“Aunt Helen? Can you tell the others Ashlin and I left to retrieve our own supplies, and we’ll meet them at Pickering Wharf with Maisie later?” I inquired.
Aunt Helen raised an eyebrow with suspicion but relented. She walked over to the kitchen table and picked up a backpack she had packed for me. “That’s for you. For when you’re hungry.”
She set it down on the table in front of me. I unzipped the backpack and saw about a dozen blood bags inside, undoubtedly filled with demonic blood for my journey to ease my hunger.
“Maisie delivers them to me,” she revealed. “I told her I would store them here for you before you arrived because they’re not the easiest to get. She can only get a few at a time, so we’ve been stocking up specifically for this occasion. Go ahead and take them with you.”
Slinging the backpack over my shoulder, I rose from the stool, and Ashlin and I headed towards our bedrooms to change, reemerging with our duffel bags in tow. Grabbing the keys from the hallway table, we headed out into the bright sunshine down the walkway towards the parked car.
An old truck pulled up behind our vehicle as we finished throwing our bags into the backseat. A tall, muscular woman stepped out of the truck in her black leather boots and cargo pants. She was wearing a white tank top with a flannel shirt over it. As she approached, her olive skin was smooth and flawless, her black hair tied back in a ponytail. She had dark, slanted eyes and the brightest smile I had ever seen.
“You must be Kas,” she said as she stopped in front of me. “Going somewhere?”
“And you must be Maisie. This is my friend Ashlin. We have some business to attend to before we meet you at your boat, but we’ll be by soon,” I stated, shaking her outstretched hand.
“Your Aunt has told me a lot about you. I hope to get to know each other very well over the next couple of weeks. How’s Misty?” she asked.
“You call him Misty too?” I wondered.
She chuckled under her breath. “Madam Lilith told me long ago you used to call him that so I started calling him that too. He hates it, you know.”
I laughed. “I’m sure he’s gotten used to it by now. He’s back at Brimstone with Mom. I heard you two were an item. I’d love to hear that story later.”
“You’ve got yourself a deal,” she said with a smile. “I’ve got a bunch of them out on the high seas. I’ll get the rest of your crew where they need to be. Why don’t you go ahead and throw your bags in the back of my truck? I’ll unload them with the others, so it’ll be one less thing you two have to worry about during your little errand run. Take care.”
Maisie left us as Ashlin, and I took our bags out of the back seat and walked over to her four-door pickup truck. It looked like it had seen some things in its lifetime with all its dents and dings on its body. We threw our bags over into the truck bed before getting into the Suburban’s front seats, ready for our own adventure.
“She looks like one tough lady, kind of like a lumberjack,” Ashlin commented as we headed down the roads through town.
“Yeah, she does. The flannel didn’t help her case,” I agreed. “I thought Misty was a tough dude, but I think Maisie could take him in a fight. They’re both pretty intimidating.”
“She’s a rusalka? I don’t know too much about their kind except they’re water demons,” Ashlin murmured. “We didn’t have any of those at Brimstone, did we?”
I shook my head. “Not that I know of. I remember reading about them with Penelope when we were studying for my trials. Most of the stories come from the Slavic countries, but they live all over, obviously. Many people equated them to ghosts because usually when they appeared, it would happen when a mist would cross over the top of water. They would actually be creating the mist to disorient ships and seamen to make them easy prey.”
“What? You mean they eat people?” Ashlin asked in shock.
I sighed. “Not every demon feeds off of energy like you, Ebony, and Josh. Some of us have to do things a little more morbid to get our fix.”
“Oh, right. I didn’t mean anything by it. It’s that we didn’t have a lot of demons at Brimstone like that,” she mentioned.
“Actually, we did. We’re simply better at keeping it hidden, so we didn’t upset others,” I replied. “Just because you never saw it, doesn’t mean it didn’t exist.”
“I get it, Kas. I wasn’t trying to offend you,” she apologized.
“I didn’t mean it like that, Ash. I get a little defensive with the stigma attached to it, is all. It doesn’t help that my Aunt basically told me it’s a secret I’m going to have to live with for all eternity. It’s one thing to drink human blood and an entirely different matter to drink from your own kind,” I admitted.
“I didn’t know, Kas. I’m really sorry. I guess I never thought about how hard all that was for you,” Ashlin said quietly.
I glanced over to her as I turned the car onto a major road towards Boston. “It’s okay. I’ll just have to learn to live with myself.”
“Uh, we’re not supposed to be on major roads, remember?” Ashlin pointed out as she tossed her head from side to side, peering out the windows to ensure we weren’t being followed.
“Relax, Ash,” I remarked. “This is the fastest way to get to Boston and back. We’ll be fine. Just tell me where else to go from the map.”
Ashlin didn’t argue and instead directed me towards the psychiatric hospital her dad was located in. As I pulled through the visitor parking lot in front of the massive three-story building, I saw patients out on the lawns with their nurses. It was overcast, which made the place appear eerier than it actually was.
“His family placed him here?” I asked her as we got out of the car to walk towards the entrance.
“Yeah,” she replied. “They told my mother a few years ago after they separated in case I ever wanted to visit him. His family thinks he’s schizophrenic, but…we know the real reason.”
As we neared the hospital’s main entrance, I felt a tug on the bottom of my shirt. As I glanced down, a little old lady grabbed my hand and held it to her face.
“I’m so sorry!” the nurse said as she freed my hand from the woman’s grasp. “Mrs. Larson, you can’t go around touching people. Sometimes they don’t want to be bothered.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “No harm done. It was nice to meet you, Mrs. Larson.”
The woman didn’t say a word as she stared at me with a peculiar smile upon her face. Ashlin cleared her throat, disrupting our staring contest as she ushered me towards the entrance. I followed her, but I glanced back at the woman as she touched her legs as if feeling them for the first time. The nurse quickly wheeled her down the pathway in an effort to complete their morning walk quickly.
The doors opened automatically for us as we entered the hospital. A reception counter was in front of us across the spacious lounge area. While the furniture was newer, the building was not. It still sported white walls and old, cracking tile work on the floors with that familiar medicinal smell that most hospitals possessed.
“How may I help you?” the nurse said behind the counter, eyeing us. Ashlin was the first to approach, resting her hands on the high countertop.
“I’m here to see my father, Bill Davis?” she asked. I could tell she was nervous as she spoke. I knew the feeling all too well when I saw my father for the first time.
“Really?” the nurse asked, surprised. “He hasn’t had any visitors for a long time. This will be good for him. Just sign there. He’s in room 327.”
The nurse smiled at us as she sat a sign-in sheet attached to a clipboard in front of us on the counter. Ashlin quickly signed as the nurse stepped away from her desk and returned with two visitor pass badges attached to lanyards.
“Oh, you’ll need to sign as well, honey,” the nurse directed towards me.
I borrowed the pen from Ashlin and quickly put my name down on the paper in an eloquent scrawl. Smirking at my signature, I thought back to the time I had to sign Mammon’s contract for my soul. It had been a big deal back then, and now I didn’t care.
“You’ll need these badges once I buzz you through the double doors to my right. Return them to me before you leave,” she said with a smile.
We took them and hung them around our necks as she buzzed us through. The doors opened and closed for us on an automatic timer, and we were thrust into the asylum’s bowels. Taking the elevator, we headed to the third floor and followed the signs to the correct room number. As we passed through the halls, patients were either inside their rooms or roaming the corridors with nurses guiding them along. The place didn’t appear to be that bad, but it still left much to be desired.
We heard rickety wheels squeaking down the hallway as two nurses rounded the corner with a patient strapped to a hospital bed. She was younger, probably not much older than myself. Her eyes were rolling back into their sockets as she struggled to keep them open. It looked to be that she was under the influence of a sedative.
Ashlin and I stopped short and moved to the side against the wall to allow them easier passage through the halls. As they did so, the girl’s eyes flew open, and she had enough slack in her leather cuffs attached to the metal railing of the bed to reach out, grabbing my wrist in her hand. I stared into her bright green eyes, mirroring my own, as she relaxed her head back down to the hospital bed mattress before releasing me.
“Are you okay?” one of the nurses asked as the other nurse shuffled away with the bed and patient to keep her away from anyone else.
“What’s wrong with her?” I asked, curious as to what the girl’s condition was.
The nurse gave me a perplexed look before answering. “I apologize for what happened, but I’m not at liberty to discuss patient diagnoses with you.”
“Ah, right,” I said, blushing slightly. “I’m sorry for asking. That was out of line. Thanks, though.”
The nurse left us in the hallway as Ashlin glanced over me. “You’re quite popular with the crazies around here.”
I laughed nervously at her comment as we continued our way to her father’s room, but I couldn’t get those eyes out of my head. Ever since I walked into the hospital, I felt different. Like the people there somehow knew who and what I was. I was conflicted about feeling a certain sense of pride and feeling disturbed about my newfound infamy.
We stopped in front of room 327 as Ashlin peered through the small window in the door. Her father was sitting in a metal chair, staring out the barred window at the lawns below. The sunlight filtered in illuminating the rest of the room. Beside him was a mattress on a metal bed frame, and on the opposite wall was a desk with a lamp.
“You can do this,” I whispered to her as she found the courage to open the door. Her father didn’t turn or make any indication to move as we entered the room. Ashlin walked ahead of me as I closed the door behind us.
“Dad?” she said softly as she approached him from behind. Placing a hand on his shoulder, she moved around the chair and bent down in front of him. “It’s me. Ashlin.”
I walked along the wall past his desk and moved into the far corner to see his face. He was in his mid-40s, with light brown hair and green eyes. He had broad shoulders, but his frame appeared thin and frail. His current proportions seemed unnatural, but I was sure, at one point, he had been a rather handsome and muscular man.
“I’m your daughter,” Ashlin whispered, tears filling her eyes.
His eyes flicked over to hers as he held a hand out to her cheek. She took it with a shaky breath as tears rolled down her face.
“Ruth?” he whispered in a raspy breath.
Ashlin stared at him as a sob racked her body. “No, Dad. Mom’s not here.”
“Beautiful Ruth,” he said a little more firmly as he stroked her cheek with his thumb. Ashlin lowered his hand from her face with sorrowful eyes. I couldn’t imagine the pain she was feeling, to not be recognized by your own father.
“It’s okay, Dad,” she said. “I wanted you to know that I think about you and I miss you. Every day.”
Her father went back to staring out the window as she clutched his hand in hers. Leaning over it, she placed a gentle kiss on the back of his hand before standing up and kissing his forehead.
“I love you, Dad,” she whispered before heading towards the door, wiping the tears from her face. She left the room and stood outside in the hallway.
I watched her father intensely before approaching him, standing beside his chair. Touching his shoulder, I said, “I know you don’t know me, but Ashlin took a big risk coming here for you. She loves you with all her heart, and I want her to know her father’s love. It’s something I never knew.”
A tear escaped my eye as I spoke to him, inspiring deep-rooted emotions of my own. While I had never been loved by my own father, a part of me had desperately loved him. I wondered if it was the same feeling Lucifer had towards God.
The tear rolled down my cheek, dripping onto his lap. He placed his hand over mine and looked up at me as if he recognized me for a moment. I stared back, unsure of what I had done to cause this sudden epiphany.
Standing from his chair, he let my hand fall back to my side as he looked around the room. Heading for the door, he entered the hallway as if frantically searching for someone. I followed, not knowing if he was having some sort of manic episode.
Ashlin was a little ways off leaning against the wall with her head in her hands sobbing. She stood up slowly as her father approached her, a look of concern in his eyes. He pulled her into a tight embrace as she cried in his arms. He kissed the crown of her head as if seeing her for the first time.
“Ashlin. I’m so sorry…” his voiced cracked. “It was like I was in a dream, and I couldn’t wake up.”
“Dad? You remember me?” she asked in shock.
He nodded as he held her tighter. “I’m never going to lose you again. I promise.”
Ashlin cried tears of joy as his memory seemed to return. I looked down at my hands and wondered what I had done. My powers were destructive, yet here I stood, healing a sick man and restoring his mind to its original state after being destroyed by a demon in the first place.
I glanced up to see them both looking at me as her father held her around the shoulders by one arm. He smiled at me and reached his hand out for me to take.
“I don’t know who you are, but you’ve given me a miracle. Thank you,” he said. I took his hand and shook it as Ashlin jumped into my arms.
“I don’t care what anyone says about you, Kas, but you really are an angel.”
She let me go as she and her dad walked back into his room to catch up and, eventually, get him out of the hospital after being miraculously cured. I leaned against the wall dumbfounded, as I slid down to take a seat on the floor. Staring at my hands once again, I looked towards the ceiling.
“God? Are you there?”