You’re haunting me;
You’re in my head again.
you pull my strings,
I’m just a puppet.
And you keep control,
Of my mind and my soul.
"Every High Has A Comedown" -Anarbor
It only took me five minutes to decide that second to court rooms, there was nothing in the world that I hated more than therapy offices.
Everything in the small room was some shade of light gray or white. There were accents of brown, which was probably supposed to make the place look warm, but it looked too perfect to me.
Nik had always said people who spent that much time on making sure their cushions matched their flowers did it to hide something.
I shook my head. I wouldn’t think about Nik. He was the reason I was here in the first place.
I shivered as the door opened and a brush of cold air swept in. A semi-familiar man with brown hair entered.
The name itself sounded uptight and snobby. The kind of stuck up asshole who would charge a hundred and eighty dollars an hour for him to listen to some dumb teenager to sit and whine about their meaningless life.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, Ms. Valentine,” he said. “Why don’t you come with me to my office?”
I stood up and followed him back, passing the all too perky secretary who had asked me way too many times if she could ‘get me something’ in ten minutes. We passed two rooms before he stopped at an open door, gesturing for me to walk in.
He came in after me, and pulled off his jacket before settling in the big chair behind the wide oak desk. He gestured for me to take a seat in the plush chair across from him, then pulled a thin file from one of his drawers.
No doubt it contained everything about me.
Casting one last longing glance at the door, I sunk into the cushioned seat.
“Let’s start with introductions,” he suggested. “I’m Devon Sanders.”
“You know who I am. There’s a whole folder on my sitting in front of you.” I was acting like a brat, but maybe if I was difficult he would give up and mom would stop funneling money into scams like this.
Unfortunately he didn’t seem perturbed by my snappy response. “Can I call you Lucia, Miss Valentine? Or would you prefer Cia or Luce?” he asked, glancing down at the file.
I winced at the last nickname, thankful his second of distraction had caused him to miss it. For a moment I considered staying silent, but I didn’t want him calling me Luce. “Just Lucia.”
“What would you like to talk about Lucia?” he asked.
I gave him an incredulous look. “You’re the one with the PhD. Aren’t you supposed to tell me how to fix my fuck up or prescribe some pills?”
“I’m not a fairy godmother, nor a drug dealer,” he replied drily. “I’m here to listen.”
I scoffed. “So my mom’s paying three bucks a minute for services a rock could give me.”
“Yes, your parents are paying me,” he said. “But you can make those minutes count and find a way to move on, or let it all go to waste.”
“I don’t need to move on, I’m fine,” I retorted.
“Why don’t you like the name Luce? Your mother used to call you it.” Both his tone and the look in his eyes told me that he knew exactly why I didn’t like the nickname Luce, but he was asking to prove a point.
I gritted my teeth. “It’s childish.”
He raised an eyebrow, but continued. “You disappeared for days over the summer. Where did you go?”
Nik’s apartment. Not that I can even go in. “None of your business.”
“You wake up screaming ‘fire’ some night, still. Why?”
I’m not going to let him win. “It gets hot in the house.
“You visited Hampton Hills’ psychiatric ward several times. What for?”
I glared at him. “Is this a therapy session or an interrogation?”
“I’m trying to get to know you better so I can help you, Lucia.”
“You can’t do shit,” I blurted out. “You’re a complete stranger.”
“Exactly,” he said, surprising me with his reply. “I’m a stranger, so I have no biases.”
Yeah, right, like I would believe that. “You’re biased towards my parents. They’re the ones paying you,” I pointed out.
“I’m being paid to help you move on. Not be an advocate for your parents. There’s a difference,” he replied, keeping an infuriatingly calm tone.
I raised an eyebrow. “Sounds the same to me.”
“It means that if I believe seeing Nikolas will help you move on, I can do that, even if it’s the last thing your parents want.” There it was. His trump card. The reason why he had been so calm and sure that he would win.
And unfortunately, it worked. “You can help me see Nik?”
I should’ve been moving on, I knew that, but I wanted to know why. Why he had set the fire. It wasn’t because I was such a curious person, but because it was Nik. I had thought that I had known him like the back of my hand -until he set the fire.
I had gone to the mental institution where Nik was several times to see him, but they had always turned me away, saying he couldn’t have visitors. I wasn’t sure if that really was true, or if my parents or someone had some play in it.
Devon nodded. “If I believe it’ll help, yes.”
“I just need to know why. Then I can move on.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Why don’t you let me be the judge of that, Lucia?”
I hated this out of control feeling that crept in. I had loved feeling wild with Nik, but coming down to find everything in pieces hadn’t been worth it.
“And for me to judge that, you have to cooperate,” Devon told me.
“There’s nothing I can tell you that’s not in that folder,” I replied, nodding to the file on his desk.
“This is just so I can familiarize myself with what’s going on, because I am, like you said, a stranger.”
“I’m sure it has everything about me and my dirty secrets.” Nik. Beau.
“This folder isn’t your enemy, Lucia. You’re welcome to look at it, if you’d like.” He slid the file over so it skidded to a stop in front of me.
After glancing at Devon to make sure he wasn’t joking on that this was some kind of trick, I flipped it open. I shuffled past the first couple of pages that just held simple stuff like my age and school. I stopped at a transcript of an interview Nik did with the police.
I glanced up at Devon, silently asking if I could read it.
“Go ahead,” he said quietly.
INTERVIEW OF NIKOLAS WINTERS
DET. CLARK: For the record, today’s date is June 24, the year is 2014. The time is 3:35 p.m, the speaker Detective Robert Morrow of the Arson Investigation Unit, and also present is Officer Renee Wyatt. The young man being interviewed here is Mr. Nikolas Winters.
BY DET. CLARK:
Q: Would you spell your first name please?
Q: And spell your last name?
Q: And your address please?
A: 42 Gateway Boulevard, Apartment 831
Q: Is that in Akman?
A: Hampton Hills
Q: Today’s date is 06/24/14 and it is 3:36 p.m.
Alright, before we ask you any questions, you must understand your rights. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court of law and other proceedings. You have the right to talk to a lawyer for advice before we ask you any questions and to have him or her with you during questioning. Do you understand that?
A: Yes, I understand.
Q: If you cannot afford a lawyer, and you want one, a lawyer will be provided for you with no cost to you. If you decide to answer questions now without a lawyer present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to a lawyer. Do you understand?
Q: Please sign your initials beside each statement and print your name at the bottom of the page.
Q: Nikolas, do you know why you’re here?
A: I’m not sure.
Q: Three nights ago there was a fire at 359 Gloucester Road in Akman. Does the address sound familiar to you?
A: It’s Lucia’s house.
Q: That’s correct. Lucia Valentine claims that you were with her that night. Where were you on the 21st?
A: I was with her.
Q: Were you in the house when the fire started?
Q: Around what time would you say it started?
A: One? I’m not sure.
Q: What did you do when the fire started?
A: I ran.
Q: Did you know Lucia was in the house still?
Q: You left her behind?
A: Yeah, I guess I did.
Q: Were you aware of this as you ran?
Q: But you didn’t go back for her?
A: I was panicking.
Q: Did you call 9-1-1 after?
A: I didn’t have my phone.
Q: You didn’t go to a neighbor’s house to call?
A: I didn’t think of it.
Q: You didn’t think of it?
A: The firefighters still got there, didn’t they?
Q: Lucia Valentine could’ve died, Nikolas.
A: But she didn’t.
I stopped reading. I couldn’t go any farther with how much my stomach was twisting at the interview.
Nik had known I was in the house and he had just left- no worse than that, he had set the fire. And I had stupidly stayed in the house, searching for him.
You’re a fucking idiot, Cia.
“That was the first time they interviewed him, Lucia,” Devon said, noticing that I had stopped reading.
“Why didn’t he have a lawyer?” I asked. It didn’t make sense. Nik wasn’t stupid; he would have to know they would come interview him since he had been the only one in the house with me at the time.
Devon shrugged. “I don’t know what was going through his mind at the time.” But something about the way he said it made my suspect that he had a guess, or some kind of theory that he was keeping from me.
“What do you think?” I asked.
He shrugged again. “I don’t have enough information to make an assessment.”
“Just give me a guess,” I insisted.
He sighed. “Based on what I’ve been told, I would assume that Nikolas believed you would fight against him being the instigator.”
That sounded like Nik being the cocky, manipulative asshole he was. I had thought it was amazing when I witnessed him doing it, but it left a bitter taste in my mouth and hollow pit in my stomach when I was the victim.
“I almost did.”
I had rejected the idea immediately when the firefighters found out it was arson, and my parents suggested that Nik might’ve started it. But a week with no contact from him had forced me to face the facts.
Nik wasn’t who I thought he was.
“Do you want to talk about, Lucia?” Devon asked softly.
A short, bitter laugh escaped. “There’s nothing to talk about.”
“How do you feel about it?”
“I loved him. I thought he felt the same.”
He gave me a look, telling me to go even though he already knew the story. “And?”
“And it turns out I gave up everything for a guy who can’t feel a goddamn thing.”
“How was it?” Mom called when I got home. I walked in to find her sitting at the kitchen counter, flipping through a stack of flyers.
“Fine,” I replied, noticing the flicker of surprise that crossed her face before she masked it. She had probably expected me to throw some kind of fit and demand her to stop the sessions.
And I probably would’ve, if Devon hadn’t told me he could help me see Nik. I’d stick around for that.
“Something came in the mail for you,” she told me, pulling a thick brown envelope from under the sheet she was currently reading. “From Sydcot High.”
I gave her a blank look. “About what?”
“The university tour.”
It took me a moment to figure out what she was talking about -another thing I had fought Mom and Dad on. It sounded stupid to me, but I guess they had signed me up anyway.
They organized some kind of road trip around to all the universities you had chosen to see out of a list they gave you. You traveled around in pairs, but at the universities there were other pairs from the program.
“Just look at it, okay?” Mom said before I could protest, correctly reading the expression on my face.
I sighed and took the envelope from her, then made my way upstairs, passing Ajax’s tightly closed door.
He was at university now, but no one knew where the hell he had been for months. My brother had taken off around late July without a word of where he was going. And Mom and Dad couldn’t do shit since he was eighteen and had even left a note saying he’d “be back soon”.
I understood why he had left I guess, with what had happened to Beau, and Nik, and everything. But I hated that he had left me here alone.
I pushed open the door to my room and shut it behind me before collapsing onto the bed and tearing open the envelope.
There was a thick pack of paper stapled together, the first page being a table of contents.
The first thing was a list of universities. Some were ones I had wanted to go to; no doubt Mom’s picking and others were Ivy Leagues or equally prestigious universities, which was Dad’s influence of course.
The next sheet was information about the trip- how to rent an RV if you wanted one, along with suggestions on what to bring. Then the trip plan and suggested driving routes.
I had no idea who I would be going on the trip with though- I barely knew anyone from Sydcot, much less its only high school. I flipped to the seventh page, which according to the table of contents, had information about my partner.
The first thing that surprised me was that it was a guy. Mom and Dad were letting me go on a road trip with a guy who was a complete stranger?
The second surprise was that the name sounded vaguely familiar. Winston was the name of some rich family that owned a big technology company. I wasn’t sure if it was Jacen, whoever he was, was related to them or if it was simply a coincidence.
I quickly scanned the sheet about him, not really retaining any information, then flipped the page over to see what he looked like.
I froze at the sight of Nik’s familiar face staring back at me.