Authors: Charity Parkerson
“I don’t.” Bailey swallowed, doing her damnedest not to cry. A tear ran down her cheek, betraying her. It was another failure in a long list for her. Lucien cupped her face, his hand visibly shaking. As he wiped away her tears, his eyes followed the motion of his fingers. She couldn’t look away. “I don’t like the way I feel when we're apart—as if you’re not real.
don’t exist.” Her voice broke on the confession.
Lucien leaned away, tugging the chain of her necklace out of his shirt as he went. “This is an Obol,” he said, holding her stare. “It’s an ancient coin used to pay the Ferryman for safe passage.” He took her hand and pressed the piece of gold between their palms. “That’s one hell of a coincidence. Don’t you think?” Without waiting for her answer, he added, “Do you know why your mother said it only has one side?”
Bailey shook her head, incapable of speech.
“Because it belongs to one soul—our soul. Do you have any idea how unusual this piece is? It’s as rare as soul mates. Yet here we are.” Dropping the coin, he gripped her chin, forcing her to hold his gaze. Bailey thought her heart couldn’t break any more than it already was, but she was wrong. Lucien’s broken expression shattered what was left. “You’re right,” he said as his hand fell away from her face. “I should’ve done my job and gone my way.” Bailey’s chest hurt. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get his words to make sense. “I’m sorry for being too weak to stay away from you. It won’t happen again.”
Everything inside Bailey cried out in protest as Lucien tensed to move away. She snagged his shirt with both hands and held tight. A look of shock crossed Lucien’s features as she hauled him closer. “You still don’t get it.” Even to herself, she sounded furious. “It’s the leaving I can’t withstand.” She drew him even closer. Going up on her toes, Bailey went nose to nose with Lucien. “Stop fucking leaving me,” she growled, enunciating each word. As she said the words, Bailey realized how true they were. She was angry about his secrets, but it didn’t change how much she loved him. Even if he had a secret wife somewhere, keeping him away. At least then she’d know it wasn’t her. If he left her again with no answers, the gnawing fear at the back of her mind would eat her whole. The fear that he was all in her mind. The stricken look on his face made her heart sink.
“I don’t have a choice in the matter, Bailey. I’m not allowed to stay here.”
Bailey wanted to scream and stamp her feet. Anything. She needed the truth. “Why?”
For the first time, Lucien must have understood her desperation, because his entire demeanor changed. She knew then, they were truly over. As if she weighed nothing, he pulled out of her hold and took a step back. “Because you’re right, Bailey. When we’re apart, I don’t exist.”
. Her heart screamed a denial so loudly she wasn’t sure if she’d done so aloud. He took another step back. Bailey’s shock kept her glued in place. She couldn’t find the strength to stop him. Ten minutes after he left, she was still staring at the place where he’d been, attempting to make sense of it all. It couldn’t be happening again. Bailey couldn’t withstand losing her mind twice. There had to proof of him somewhere. Every second they’d spent together ran through her mind. Where had they been together? Had he spoken to anyone she knew? Derringer, maybe? No. Not a single instance came to mind. Other than tonight, they’d been alone.
Casting a nervous look around, Bailey searched the faces of the club’s patrons for any sign she’d been standing there arguing with herself. Everyone else was occupied with their own thing. A surveillance camera hanging in the corner caught her eye. There was no way she could finagle seeing their footage, but Masked Image had security cameras inside. Bailey’s feet were moving toward the door before any real plan of action took hold. Mortification tried creeping in. What if Joe scanned the feed occasionally? Bailey shrugged off the idea. If there was anything to see, she’d be so damn grateful she wouldn’t care if her boss got a show. Anything beat being crazy. Anything at all.
She didn’t experience one iota of guilt using her key to sneak into the shop on her day off. This was an emergency. Leaving the lights off, she threw the lock behind her and moved to Joe’s office. Everything was digital and stored on Joe’s computer. She’d been working there for long enough, she’d simply forgotten the cameras existed. They were there in case there was an issue with a customer, something that didn’t happen often.
Bailey pushed past the effects of alcohol, searching her brain for the date she’d first met Lucien. When nothing came to mind, she found Joe’s calendar and counted back ten months until she found the date. She entered the numbers into the computer and waited. Her image appeared on the screen and Bailey leaned closer. Fast-forwarding, she watched the timer in the corner tick down the hours. Nothing. She’d worked on sketches the entire night. Panic set in. Moving to the next night, when Lucien had closed the shop for a quick tryst, Bailey watched the footage on high-speed. As she looked on, her banter with Derringer played out across the screen. Just as she remembered, he backed out the door, laughing. From there, nothing. Instead of Lucien appearing, she’d settled onto the barstool behind the counter, put her head down, and slept.
Bailey jumped to her feet. A cry tore from her throat. Attempting to hold it in, Bailey covered her mouth. It was happening all over again. She let the recording speed by, watching as night after night there was no sign of Lucien.
“It was terrible. Poor thing. They say her screams could be heard across the lawn in ward two.”
Bailey kept her eyes closed, pretending to sleep. She couldn’t deal with the pitying glances.
“How long has she been out?”
Janie, Bailey’s regular nurse, had been training a new girl for the past two days as Bailey feigned unconsciousness. Bailey had learned more about herself from listening to their gossip than she had from any doctor throughout her entire stay.
Janie sighed. “Four days. Dr. Richardson worried this might happen when she finally had her breakthrough. Can you imagine, believing with all your heart you’d met the love of your life and the two of you are having a child, only to wake up one day to find none of it was real?”
The sharp knife in Bailey’s heart twisted. She almost gave herself away by clasping her flat stomach. There was no stopping the tears streaming from her eyes. She hadn’t stopped crying since she’d awoken to just the reality Janie described four days earlier. Bailey wondered if her eyes would ever be dry again.
“Poor thing,” Janie said again. “Even in her sleep, she still cries.”
As Bailey stared at the shop’s surveillance video, every horrible minute of her time in Rockway Mental Institution played through her mind. No one could understand how real the pain was for her. In her mind and heart, her baby and his father were real. Every day, it was as if they’d died, leaving her behind. Now, it was happening again. She couldn’t take it. Not twice in the same lifetime. How long did she have before she snapped completely? Would it be the same as last time? She couldn’t do it. The imaginary loss she’d suffered already sat so heavily on Bailey’s heart, she’d been rendered useless for life.
An image of Lucien’s gorgeous face floated across her mind. Her stomach clenched. Coming to her feet, Bailey headed for the front on autopilot. There was no alternative. Rockway hadn’t protected her from her mind last time. They couldn’t help her now. She knew herself too well. Without thought, she snagged the sharpest pair of scissors she could find. In the back of her mind, Bailey had always known it would come to this. She didn’t need to think it over. Her mind was too evil for her body to withstand.
Bailey had been alone almost her entire life. No one would miss her. Clinging to the only true happiness she’d known, Bailey closed her eyes and brought an image of her mother to the forefront of her mind. She barely felt the blade tearing through her flesh. It was odd how little she remembered about her mother’s appearance, but she could recall exactly how her hugs felt. The floor rocked beneath Bailey’s feet. Instead of falling, Bailey eased to the ground. Her eyes fluttered open, catching sight of Lucien above her. He was covered in her blood.
“I never liked being crazy,” she admitted, hoping to explain her actions. Unfortunately, the words came out slurred and on a whisper. Lucien smiled. Bailey knew the truth. She was as alone in death as she’d been in life.
“Reality no longer slips away from me. Instead, I’m surrounded by it. It’s uglier than I imagined.”
—Bailey’s Journal, A.D.
“Can I ask you a question?”
His deep voice rumbled over her skin like dark chocolate. Bailey fought the urge to close her eyes and try breathing the sound into her lungs.
“I’ve already given you my soul. Why do you keep coming back?”
His expression never changed, robbing Bailey of attempting to read his reaction. “I told you I would.”
It wasn’t enough. “Yes, but why? You held up your end of the bargain by rescuing me. Why not leave me to my fate instead of taking pity on me?”
A flash of anger crossed his features before disappearing behind a mask of indifference. “Pity? I’m not plagued by such nonsense.”
“If this isn’t mercy, what is it?” Bailey asked, motioning between them. She held her breath, waiting for his answer. This was as close as she’d ever come to inquiring about his feelings. If he felt nothing, Bailey wasn’t sure she could take it.
His dark gaze slipped down her body, almost physical in its touch, before returning to hold her stare. “Sometimes cruelty and mercy look so similar, we can’t tell the difference any longer.”
Bailey’s eyes shot open. It wasn’t possible. Nothing from that time in her life at Rockway had been real… had it? She needed to know. So many years of her life were—at best—a blur. Everything in her mind jumbled eventually, leaving her confused.
Scrambling, Bailey threw on the first pair of shorts she found. They were the same ones she’d worn the last time she’d seen Sol. She hadn’t washed them, but who was to say if things were ever clean or dirty in this place? In under five minutes, Bailey was ready to leave. At the last second, she grabbed the book he’d given her. It seemed too dangerous to leave behind.
A sigh of relief left her lips when the door opened on the first try. She hated the days when it wouldn’t let her leave. Stepping into the hall, she pulled the front door closed behind her. The hallway transformed, becoming the inside of her apartment. With a growl, Bailey reversed course, stepping through the door once more. Her apartment sat waiting for her just as she’d left it. Panic set in after her third attempt to leave. No matter which direction she went, Bailey found herself back inside her apartment again. One side of the doorway was an illusion. She knew it, but couldn’t tell which side.
Flipping open the book, Bailey searched for answers as her mind raced. She needed to see Sol. If only this fucking place would let her go. Bailey spotted a ritual that looked promising. Unfortunately, the most important ingredient was her blood. She didn’t even know if she could still bleed.
With a heavy sigh, Bailey set the book aside. There was no time like the present to find out. In the kitchen, she found a knife and returned to inspect the spell once more. Once Bailey was certain she could recreate the pattern, she dragged the blade across her palm. A thin line appeared, seeping a small amount of blood before healing. It hurt. She’d hoped it wouldn’t, but wasn’t surprised it did. Nothing was ever easy for her.
Now she knew it could be done, Bailey swiped the knife across her palm once more and traced the first lines of the symbol on the wall before the wound healed. She needed to do each wall. It seemed each time she was forced to cut deeper to draw blood. By the time the second symbol was complete, tears swam in Bailey’s eyes from the pain, and the room shook with fury. The walls bulged, whispering their ownership and claiming her. Bailey fought on. When Lucien appeared, Bailey wasn’t surprised. She also didn’t let it slow her down.
“What are you doing?”
He sounded enraged. Good. She hated being alone in her fury.
“I need to leave,” she explained without glancing his way. “And whatever you’ve done to this apartment, it won’t let me.”
“Where do you need to go that’s important enough for this?” The fact that he didn’t deny being the reason she couldn’t leave wasn’t lost on Bailey. In her heart, she’d always known it was true. What she hadn’t expected was the pain slicing across her heart. She hadn’t believed there was any damage left for him to do. It seemed she’d been wrong. Unfortunately, it also appeared he wasn’t finished. “There’s nothing as important as what’s inside this room. You and me. We need to fix that shit because this is eternity. I want to spend it with you.”
Bailey’s gut twisted and her temper snapped. She spun. “I don’t even know you, Lucien. Not really. For all I know, that’s not even your name. All you’ve done is lie and drive me crazy with your disappearing act. Jesus, you don’t get it. I don’t know why I bother.”
Faced with her rage, Lucien remained damnably calm. “My name
Lucien, but I don’t have a last name. I’ve existed longer than the concept. Disappearing from your life was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Every fucking time, it was like having my guts ripped out. But I have my place, just like everyone does.”
Bailey threw her arms up in disgust. She was so damn tired of having more questions than answers. “Goddamn, Lucien. I don’t even know where to start pointing out the information missing from your explanation. Not to mention how way too late it is. You should’ve said a lot of things a long time ago.”
Lucien snorted and settled onto the couch as if Bailey smearing blood on her walls while they chatted was an everyday occurrence. “I am a psychopomp. It’s my job to escort the dead to the underworld. The night we met, you were meant to die in that drive-by. I can’t explain why I couldn’t let it happen. I really can’t. All I know is that I love you, and I’ve tried telling you this before, but you won’t listen. Anger has made you deaf.”