He’s right, but cerebral palsy doesn’t mean my curiosity is broken. I peek out around the edge of the doorway.
The blonde has collapsed in the man’s arms like a marionette, her head flopped to the side. His arm is hooked under her knees, and he keeps glancing up and down the street.
Jake will lose his mind if I call the cops. It’s not like what he’s doing is legal. If the police come around, Jake is at risk. I’m at risk. Mom’s at risk.
I keep staring at that waving blond hair, at the limp arm dragging the ground. He could be a trafficker. She could be dead—or close. I can’t do nothing.
I slip out of my sneakers so my stupid left foot won’t make a dragging noise against the pavement. I can move quickly when I want to, but quiet is tough to master. I rush forward and raise the bar.
He turns at the last second, which probably saves his life. The bar comes down across his shoulders instead of his head. He grunts and stumbles forward. The girl goes sprawling onto the pavement.
I raise the bar to hit him again, but the man retaliates faster than I’m ready for. He blocks my swing and drives an elbow into my chest, hooking my ankle with his own. I’m falling before I realize it. My body slams into the concrete.
He’s suddenly right there, almost on top of me. I start swinging. I can’t reach his head, but I catch him across the hip. Then his ribs.
He seizes my wrist, then smacks my arm down to the pavement. I squeal and twist away from him, but it feels like he’s kneeling on my right thigh. His free arm pins my chest. It hurts. A lot.
“Release the weapon.” He’s got an accent, but I can’t place it. And now that his face is on top of mine, I realize he’s young, not much older than Jake.
I clench my fingers even tighter around the bar. My breath makes huge panicked clouds between us. I beat at him with my free hand, but I might as well be striking a statue. He tightens his hold on my wrist, until I genuinely think the bones are rubbing together.
A whimper escapes my throat, but I grit my teeth and hold on.
“Release it,” he says again, his tone thickening with anger.
“Jake!” I scream, hoping enough time has passed that he might be heading back. The pavement stabs daggers of ice into my back. Every muscle hurts, but I keep fighting. “Jake! Someone help me!”
I try to claw at his eyes, but the man’s grip tightens in response. His gaze meets mine and there’s no hesitation there. My wrist is going to break.
A siren kicks up somewhere nearby, but it’ll be too late. I try to claw at his face again, but I catch his neck instead. Blood blossoms under my nails, and his eyes turn murderous. The sky lightens fractionally behind him, turning pink with streaks of orange.
His free hand lifts and I don’t know if he’s going to hit me or strangle me or break my neck. It doesn’t matter. This is it. My last sight will be a glorious sunrise.
I’m wrong. His hand never strikes.
Instead, the sky disappears altogether.
Sunlight gilds the fixtures in my sitting room, throwing shadows along the hand-sewn tapestries and the velvet chairs my parents once occupied. Sometimes, if I sit here long enough, I can imagine their presence. I can hear my father’s brusque voice, full of admonishment and lectures. My mother’s quiet disapproval.
I can remember my own arrogance.
I want to walk out of the castle and fling myself off a cliff.
That doesn’t work. I’ve tried. More than once.
I always wake here, in this room, waiting in the sunlight. The fire always burns low, just as it is now, the flames crackling in a familiar pattern. The stone floor appears freshly swept, wine and goblets sitting ready on a side table. Grey’s weapons hang on the opposite chair, waiting for his return.
Everything is always the same.
Except for the dead. They never come back.
The fire pops, a bit of kindling sliding to the base of the fireplace. Right on schedule. Grey will reappear soon.
I sigh. Practiced words wait on my tongue, though sometimes it takes the girls a while to awaken from the sleeping ether Grey gives them. They’re always frightened at first, but I’ve learned how to ease their fears, to charm and coax them into trusting me.
Only to destroy that trust when autumn slides into winter. When they see me change.
The air flickers, and I straighten. As much as I hate the curse, the never-ending repetition of my life here, the girls are the one spot of change. Despite myself, I’m curious to see what motionless beauty will hang in Grey’s arms today.
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