The monster was coming, but I couldn’t move. I could hear it breathing harshly behind me, and I tried to run, but my legs wouldn’t work. I was frozen in place, and it was coming for me. I stared at the open door in front of me, and sweat poured down my face and back as I strained to move. I felt something tickling the inside of my legs, and I looked down. Blood was running down my thighs and collecting at my feet. The monster’s breath was on my neck, and when his claws raked down my back, shredding my dress…
I woke myself up screaming as I bolted up in bed. Erik was instantly by my side, holding me close.
“Shh, sweetheart, I’m right here,” he murmured. “It was just a dream. I’m here.”
I took a deep breath and groaned in pain, my eyes closing tightly.
“Sarah? What’s the matter? Are you okay? Tell me what I can do.”
“You could have protected her better in the first place.”
I opened my eyes in surprise. “Daddy?”
My father was standing at the foot of my bed, a dark scowl on his face.
“Daddy, what are you doing here?”
He glared at Erik for a moment. “Your husband called me yesterday and told me you’d been kidnapped. I chartered a plane and flew over here immediately.”
“I don’t want to hear anything from you!” my father snarled at Erik. “You let this happen to her!”
Erik flinched and let go of me. He turned away from me and hunched into himself, his eyes on the ground. I put my hand on his shoulder, but I turned my gaze to my father. “Don’t yell at him! Don’t you dare blame this on him! He didn’t do anything wrong!”
I was furious that he would hold Erik responsible for what had happened to me. Angry tears burned my eyes, and I tried to wrap my arms around Erik, but he roughly shoved my hands away and stood up.
“Erik, look at me.”
He slowly turned around and looked at my father instead. The muscles in his neck were taut, and his bottom lip was trembling.
“You’re right,” he said, his voice shaking. “This is all my fault.” He crossed his arms in front of his chest and clenched his fists as he bowed his head. A shudder ran through him, and then his head turned toward me, and the anguish on his face broke my heart. “I’m sorry,” he whispered and stumbled out of the room.
“Erik!” I tried to get out of bed to follow him, but my father was there, holding me down. “Let me go!”
“No, Sarah, you’ll hurt yourself! You’ll hurt the baby!”
I glared at him and spoke slowly and deliberately. “Let me go, or I will never speak to you again.”
His mouth fell open, and he took a step back. I carefully got out of bed and walked out in the hall. I looked to my left and saw nothing, but when I looked to my right, I saw Erik on his knees, his arms over his head, rocking back and forth as his body shook with the sobs and moans that were being wrenched from him. The people passing by him gave him sympathetic looks, but no one stopped. I hurried over to him and knelt down in front of him.
“Erik, my love, look at me, please.” I put my hands on his shoulders.
He shook his head, and I pulled him to me, holding him tightly and murmuring soft words of love, and it seemed to calm him. His arms came off of his head, but he just pulled them to his chest instead. I continued until my father came into the hall.
I snapped my head up, and he stopped.
“Go away,” I hissed. “You’ve done enough damage.”
He opened his mouth, but then he shut it and nodded once before walking away from us.
Erik was mumbling something.
“What? Erik, what are you saying?” I bent my head closer to him until I could make out words.
“Why does he hate me so, Sarah? Why doesn’t he love me?”
“Oh, Erik,” I whispered as tears streamed down my face. I took his face in my hands and forced him to look at me. “He doesn’t hate you, my love. He’s just upset at what happened.”
“No,” he sobbed. “He hates me. My father hated me, your father hates me. Why can’t I have a father who loves me? What’s so wrong with me?”
“Nothing is wrong with you,” I whispered, pulling his head to my breast. He took a long, shuddering breath and wrapped his arms around me. “He does love you, Erik, like the son he never had.”
He shook his head against me. “Fathers don’t love their sons. They hate them.” He put one hand on my belly. “We can’t have a boy, Sarah. I’ll just end up hating him.”
“No, you won’t. If we have a son, you’ll love him. You’ll give him everything he needs and teach him how to be a good, kind man like you.”
Again, he shook his head, but he didn’t say anything else. We stayed there until a nurse came and forced me back to bed, and then Erik took up a position at the window and just stared out, his hands clasped tightly behind his back. I watched him carefully, but he didn’t move, and eventually, I lay down with a sigh and fell asleep.
When I woke up, Erik was gone, but my father was there. He was sitting in the chair next to the bed, holding my hand and playing with my engagement ring. I yanked my hand from his grasp, and his head snapped up.
I glared at him. “Where’s Erik?”
He kept his head down and shifted his fingers to toy with his own wedding band instead. When he spoke, his voice was quiet. “He’s in the chapel, I think. He mumbled something about forgiveness.”
“Maybe you should take his place instead.” In contrast, my voice was as hard as steel.
He slowly brought his head up. “I already did, Sarah.” He rubbed his hand over his face.
“He already blames himself for what happened, and now you blame him, too. Do you have any idea what you’ve done to him? He may ask God for forgiveness, but he’s never going to be able to forgive himself now!”
“I don’t know what got into me, baby girl. I just got so scared when I saw you in this bed and so angry at the man who put you here, but he wasn’t here, so I took it out on Erik instead.”
A vision of Erik on his knees in the hallway brought tears to my eyes. “He thinks you hate him. You don’t, do you?”
“What?” My father jerked his head back. “No, Sarah, no! I was just angry, but not at him.”
“He said there’s something wrong with him because he can’t have a father who loves him.” The tears started falling. “Daddy, he said we can’t have a boy because all fathers hate their sons.”
My father put his head in his hands. “Oh, Holy Mother, what have I done?”
I put my hand on his arm. “Go talk to him. Please? He wouldn’t listen to me.”
He stood up. “Of course I will.” He leaned down and kissed my forehead. “You’ll be okay by yourself?”
I nodded, and he kissed me again. “I am so sorry, Sarah.”
“I know. I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you, too, baby girl.”
He walked out of the room with a determined step, and I sent a quick prayer heavenward that Erik would listen to him and believe him.