“That was a beautiful service,” Luke said, breaking the silence on the way home from Mama’s funeral.
I wanted to just stay silent and remain in my own head for the entire drive. In fact, I wished I never had to speak to anyone ever again. There was no combination of words that could make any of this okay.
Even after spending that time alone in the early hours of the morning, I was still void of an ability to feel ‘okay’ by any standards. The whole time I was alone, I kept thinking about what Mama had told me the day I moved out of her house. “Satan must be afraid of you.” I didn’t understand what she meant then. Not completely anyway. I knew that she was referring to my past with Jim and everything he’d done to me and all the suffering I’d endured since then. But, in my head, those things weren’t that bad. When my abuse began, I was nine years old. Too young and naïve to understand what was happening on any real level. As things progressed and became more frequent and intense, I started to put the pieces together. I knew that Jim had to be lying on some level because he threatened me and if what he was doing was okay by anyone’s standards, he wouldn’t have felt that need.
By the time I entered high school, I knew what he was doing was abuse, especially after I told Luke and then Angela. Their reactions were enough to prove that what Jim was doing was utterly appalling. And yet, it still didn’t sink in all the way. I still imagined that after the trial I would be able to go back to being a normal girl who was just caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
That all went down the drain the night we filed the police report. As I gave that officer all the gruesome details of what had been to my body since I was nine years old, I realized that this was bigger than just some petty crime. This was life-changing and as much as I wished it could be different, it wasn’t. This was something that had already changed me forever.
That night, in the police station, it felt as though all the abuse was happening all over again. It was like the impact of it was hitting my mind all at once. I’d had blinders on all those years and now I was removing those blinders and allowing myself to see everything exactly for what it was. In a way, it felt as though I’d been abused once already, physically and sexually, and now, I was being abused emotionally and mentally. A full circle of abuse.
As I sat alone and processed all of that, I realized exactly what Mama meant when she said those words to me. It was as though she knew about the full circle without my telling her anything. It made me wonder what secrets she might have taken to the grave.
I wanted to do right by Mama. I wanted to honor the legacy of love and courage that she left behind. And I knew that I had extraordinary means to do that in Niteo. Mama never knew anything about the society, but she lived out their mission to a T. I wanted to do that. I wanted to see Luke and I be able to start our own chapter of Niteo. We could have our own safe house and help so many people like ourselves.
I didn’t know exactly how that would look or unfold, but I knew it was my goal in the society. As the prophecy unfolded and whatever threat we had coming our way reared its ugly head, I knew that I had a goal to push toward and see me through the coming struggles. And, I knew that I needed Luke’s support through all of this.
All my life, I’d taught myself to work solo. I couldn’t trust anyone else to help me and I surely couldn’t trust anyone else not to hurt me more; so, I retreated and chose isolation. But, that was all before Luke came into my life. He blew all my preconceived notions about trust out the window and gave me a fresh perspective.
And I had been doing nothing but repaying him with limited trust and hesitant acceptance of this amazing life he introduced to me. My natural inclination was to shut people out. But, shutting Luke out would only make him worry more than he already was; and it wasn’t fair to do that to him. I knew that I needed to talk to him and apologize.
“Yeah. It was beautiful. The lavender plants were perfect. She loved all things purple and lavender was her favorite,” I said almost unable to choke back more tears.
Luke reached across the seat and held my shaking hand.
“Cassie, I want you to know that I am here for you. No matter how you need to get through this, I support you. You don’t have to do this alone.”
“Thank you,” I said through more tears. “Luke, I’m so sorry that I ran like that last night. It wasn’t right or fair to you and I’m sorry.”
He squeezed my hand tighter. “Thank you for apologizing, Cassie. But, it’s okay. I understand why you did and I don’t blame you.”
“What do you mean?”
“You and I are more alike than you realize. When I first came back to the Millson’s, I was angry, and my natural reaction was to isolate and handle everything on my own. I didn’t want anyone else to hurt me or violate my trust. It was just easier to do it all alone.”
Luke was describing exactly what had been in my head. I couldn’t believe he was so accurate. It just made me love him even more.
“That is exactly it. But, that still doesn’t make it okay. I agreed to marry you when you asked and that means that I agreed to trust you with my life. So, I’m going to start doing that. No more running or hiding. I’m going to do better for you because you deserve more than I’ve been willing to give you.”
“Cassie, you have been everything I’ve ever needed from the beginning. I chose you and I knew what I was choosing when I asked you to marry me. I have never been more certain about anything in my life. But, I do agree that we need to fully trust each other. I should have told you about the situation with Emily. It wasn’t right that you heard it from her first. How about we agree to no more secrets and to completely trust one another?”
I squeezed Luke’s hand tight. “I can agree to that,” I said smiling for the first time since Mama’s passing.
“There it is,” Luke said and smiled too. “I’ve missed that smile.”
I leaned my head against his shoulder and sighed happily. I knew that the process of working through Mama’s death was nowhere near over, but now I was feeling as though I could handle it with Luke by my side. I wasn’t afraid to face it because I knew the worst was behind me.
The rest of the ride back to Castellum was full of talk about the vision I had for my future with Luke. He was equally excited about the idea of having our own chapter of Niteo and helping people with stories like ours. By the time we pulled back onto the property, I was filled with positive notions of things to come.
Luke and I hopped out of the truck and began walking toward his refuge. We both wanted to spend some time hashing out details of our future. But, as we started toward his refuge, we were stopped by an urgent Emily.
“Hi, Luke. Cassie. Sorry to bother you guys on a day like today, but John needs to speak with us. He said it’s important,” Emily said as she dropped her head.
“Did he say why?”
“Nope. He just needs to speak with everyone. He is in the study room,” Emily said and then disappeared into the house.
“Do you think everything is okay?” I asked as Luke and I walked into Castellum and made our way to the study room.
“I don’t see why it wouldn’t be. Let’s go see what all the fuss is about.”
By the time Luke and I made our way in to the study room, Emily was already there with Clara, Natalie, Grace, Angela and John who all had discouraged looks on their faces.
“What’s going on?” I asked suspicious of everyone’s obvious mood.
Everyone kept their heads down. But eventually, John approached Luke and me and put a hand on Luke’s shoulder.
He looked up at me, almost appearing to be in tears. “I’m afraid we have received dreadful news.”
“What’s going on?” I asked as my stomach churned into tight knots. My previous bright outlook was suddenly developing clouds.
“I’m afraid we have a situation on our hands.”
“What kind of situation?” Luke asked matching John’s fearful tone.
“There has been a riot at Mansfield and five prisoners were seen escaping over the main wall.”
I stood beside Luke paralyzed.
“Do they know who escaped?”
“They haven’t released names yet, but we have an idea,” John said giving a look at Luke and everyone else in the group.
“You can’t mean…”
“It was Jim. He broke out,” I blurted before Luke finished his statement.
“How do you know, Cassie?”
I hesitated. “Because I’ve seen it coming.”
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