Pretty Lauren laughs as the jets of water hit me, then stop, then hit me again. Through the blur I see Yvette grabbing her arm, and Lauren shaking herself from the woman’s grasp. But Yvette becomes more physical and aggressive as her hands claw Lauren’s fiery locks and start wiping the floor with the evil witch, so Lauren is left with no option but yelling at the men to drop the hoses and get Plump Morticia off her.
Just like Jeremy, Lauren too seems possessed with hatred and rage. As the male nurses take Yvette away, leaving me sprawled on the tiled floor in a pool of icy water, Lauren tries to get up, eyes red and boring into mine like two mad Eyes of Sauron. She skids, falls flat, then crawls on all fours to me and grabs my drenched hair.
I shriek as I realize she’ll disfigure me. She smashes my face into the floor, and now I’m darn thankful for the water that allows my hands to glide under my face quickly enough to protect me. Lauren tries to slam my head into the ground over and over again, screaming and throwing her entire weight on my back. I don’t know how much longer I can keep her from reaching her goal, I’m weak and giving up. At least I’m frozen and can’t feel the pain.
The last time Lauren lifts my head and prepares to crash it into the ground I give up completely. There’s no point in fighting it, I’m bound to lose.
“Why, Lauren?” My voice comes out bruised and weak.
I don’t actually expect her to answer, yet to my surprise she pauses. She bends down to my ear, and I go alert. I can’t believe she’s really about to crack.
“I might ask you the same thing, Saphira. Why?”
“I don’t understand.” Talking is difficult, but it’s imperative that I exploit the moment. It may be my last.
“I begged you to stay, why didn’t you?”
“What are you talking about, Lauren?”
“You were like a sister to me. I clung to you, but you left me there for that monster to fondle with me on the highest notes.”
The first flash hits me. The Opera House, fifteen years ago. Norman and Sylvie Dean had just adopted Billy – now the Notary – from Romania. The boy had the face of a grey mouse but the voice of an angel, so they put him in the choir – this was his premiere, and we were in a private loge. Lauren and I were ten. With her parents away on vacation, she was staying with us. I remember thick man fingers trickling up Lauren’s legs that tried to keep tight together in their white knitted stockings. Her green eyes widened, searching mine in a silent but desperate call for help. That was the last day she looked at me with the eyes of a friend. All the years afterwards she only pretended, and if I’m honest, I always knew it.
“Lauren, please,” I breathe.
“Please, yes, that’s what I said that night when he sent you to fetch opera glasses from downstairs. Please, don’t go.”
‘Please, don’t go, Saph,’ little Lauren’s voice rings in my memory. My eyes darted between her wide scared gaze and Gunnar’s commanding frown. Back then testosterone still filled his flesh, even though he wasn’t exactly young anymore. Brown hair and stern features, he had a way of driving awkwardness and wariness into my bones. ‘Go, Saphira.’ With a heavy heart, I did what he said. I repressed the memory and nothing stirred it since.
Lauren tries to push my head towards the floor again, but I hold up my face with newfound strength. She must understand. “I was afraid of him, Lauren! I was a only a child too.”
“Bullshit! You grew up under his roof, and you survived it. You must’ve known he was a devil and how to deal with him, but you didn’t want to help me.”
“I swear I had no idea what a monster he was! I found out only a few months ago, from the Marquis.”
“You’re lying!” She throws her entire weight on my head, and this time it goes down, thudding against my hands that I keep together under my forehead to damp down the blow. There’s red in the water under my face, so I must be bleeding from Lauren’s scratches, but I’m numb from the cold too, which keeps me capable to endure and speak.
“Forgive me, Lauren, forgive me,” I call out with all I got. She gets off me, turns me around, and slaps me hard across the face with every few words that leave her mouth.
“Let. Me. Tell. You. Bitch. He defiled me with his fingers at the Opera, and then every night while I stayed at your place he took me in his study.”
I want to say she should’ve told me, but blood gurgles in my mouth. She takes my face between her hands and brings her angry green eyes inches from mine.
“I was a little girl, looking more like a boy actually. I even had short hair, if you remember. For a while I thought that’s what turned him on as he bent me over his desk, and told me he’d cut me down there if I ever told anyone. I’m sure you already imagine how powerful such a threat can be on a young mind – you seem to still be under that threat yourself.”
She refuses to believe that Gunnar never touched me. She thinks I’m in denial or something, and maybe it’s better this way. But then why doesn’t she empathize?
She slaps me again. “You felt good as you imagined how he hurt me, isn’t it? You were happy that you weren’t the only one. That’s why I never told you for a fact, Saphira, I didn’t want to give you satisfaction. I swore to myself I’d hurt you badly in return, very badly. Oh, how very satisfying it was when you opened the door and found Jeremy’s naked buttocks bouncing between my legs in your own bed only months before your wedding.” She grins a large, sick grin. “I planned that one well, in the tiniest detail. Had I gotten the Marquis to do the same in his study the day you found us there my revenge would’ve been perfect. I know you well, Saphira, I know you’re madly in love with him, like never before, and you would’ve gone insane with jealousy. He’s absolutely crazy in love with you too, which is what sealed your fate. Had he fucked me before your eyes, you probably wouldn’t be finding your end here and now.”
She looks greedily into my face to assess and relish in my horror. I’m so finished that speaking is next to impossible, but I see great opportunity here – opportunity to stay alive – so I make a superhuman effort.
“Do it. Anything is better than rotting in this prison.”
Indeed, a glint of cruelty crosses her gaze. She can’t resist the temptation of hurting me yet more. My heart aches for her so bad it gives me chest pain. Gunnar sucked the soul out of my dearest childhood friend, mutilated her mind, and turned her into a monster. She’s a wild rose with deadly thorns. So many horrors happened in Northville, it must be truly an outpost of hell that should go down at the hands of leper monks and the muzzles of beasts.
“No,” Lauren says after moments of pause in which she must’ve pictured all the suffering she can put me through if she keeps me in this place longer. “I won’t kill you today. But know that Death is polishing its scythe for you every ticking second.”
To be honest, I don’t think I’ll survive another day, but we humans would do anything to draw just another breath. I know I’m just buying a little bit of time, but I’m clinging desperately to every moment of it.
Lauren gets off me, and a rock seems to lift off my chest, allowing me to pull in a noisy breath. She calls for the male nurses who return and drag me back the way we came, my feet leaving trails of water and blood behind. Yet despite all of it, with every inch they put between Pretty Lauren and me my spirits lift.
They take me to a cell very similar to the last one, but this one has a cot – I can’t believe my luck. When they bang the locks shut I manage to crawl onto the cot and close my eyes. It feels so very comfortable that I immediately drift into deep sleep. I dream of little Lauren and her innocent smile. She dares me to explore the catacombs under the manor with her, and she runs ahead of me with her white cape flapping in the wind, her skinny boyish legs clad in knitted white stockings, her short hair glowing like fire. I truly do deserve this. I should’ve stayed with her that night at the Opera House when she begged me not to leave.
To be continued on Friday.