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The Times Are Nightfall

Chapter Text

The summer I lost my father, the Spanish sun relentlessly thrashed my delicate skin. Its intensity made me feel like an outsider, always forcing me to hide my pale complexion from its reach. It didn’t help that I perpetually wore black to properly mourn my father’s passing. The dark clothing seemed to suck in the warmth like a greedy child, leaving me perpetually uncomfortable and suffocating. The one good thing about the mourning clothes is that it gave me an excuse to fully cover myself. My skin was my own and no one else’s. Not after what had happened right before my father’s death…

It was about a week after the funeral, and only two months after my 21st birthday, that Ottavio thought that I should go outdoors and do something normal. So we were shopping in the outdoor market when the strangest thing happened. We were calmly speaking with our friend and confidant, Don Giovanni, when everything changed.

She came out of nowhere. One minute, I was nearly drowning beneath the inexorable ocean of regret and loss and guilt brought on by a stranger’s criminal actions and the next, a woman, terrifyingly beautiful and reeking of desperation, flew onto the scene, insisting that we disbelieve our friend.

Ottavio stood close beside me on the city street, his gaze jumping back and forth between Giovanni and this woman who looked to be only four or five years older than me. I felt Ottavio’s indecision leaving him in waves, echoing my own feelings. His kinship with Giovanni made him hesitant to trust a stranger, but something about this woman compelled me to listen. Her movements were feline and frenzied, simultaneously keeping her distance from Giovanni and trying to get close to us without scaring us away. She kept looking straight at me, as though I were the only person who truly had to believe her. Her intense, dark eyes were lined with unshed tears and when our gazes locked, her earnest fervor pierced some deep and strange place in me. Suddenly, everything in me believed her, even though I had no idea why.

“Don’t listen to her!” Giovanni insisted, breaking my concentration. “She’s crazy.” His tone was smooth, but a subtle persistence shadowed his words. Ottavio leaned close to me, his breath hot in the summer air, and he voiced his ambivalence, saying,

“I’m not sure what to think.” Still watching the woman, who was exchanging words with Giovanni in tones too soft for me to hear, I whispered back to him,

“She is upset, not crazy. Look at how she holds herself. She’s a sophisticated woman, I know it. And look at her eyes. I think she’s telling the truth.”

Ottavio observed her carefully, taking in what I’d said. He nodded, continuing to watch the interaction between Giovanni and the mysterious woman.

Giovanni grasped the woman’s arm, his fingers digging into the sleeve of her dress, and he seemed to be trying to pull her away from us. I took a step toward them, upset by the sudden violence, but Ottavio put a hand on my arm. I pulled away from his touch, but I obediently stayed beside him.

“I’ll calm her down,” Giovanni told us politely, still clutching the woman. His hold on her was less polite than his words, threatening to spark unwelcome memories. I pushed them down, focusing on the shape of his hands on the woman’s arms.

“I can handle this,” he said with a forced smile.

But I didn’t want him to handle it. More than anything, I wanted to talk to this woman myself. Something resonated in me and I felt a sudden compulsion to understand it more fully. I wanted to pull her aside and speak with her alone.

But before I could reach her side and ask for a moment, she was gone; she had broken out of Giovanni’s grasp and stormed off. I followed her for a few steps, but I wasn’t quick enough. She was too easily swallowed up by the crowd.


XxxXxxXxx

I waited in the parlor of my father’s house— no, my house. The beautiful, white mansion that murder had granted me, despite my total lack of desire for it. Still, it had many rooms and its vastness was a refuge from the bad feelings that pervaded my old room. I knew that I could never return there, that it would become one of those abandoned, mysterious halls. This house would serve as good a fortress as any building.

The parlor was quiet in the midday, occupied by only Ottavio and myself. Ottavio sat beside me on the prim loveseat, his fingers impatiently tapping his knee. I straightened the black dress I wore, wondering how long I’d put off wearing colors.

“Where is she?” Ottavio asked, staring at the large grandfather clock that stood in the far corner of the room. His voice sounded strained, tired or stressed or both I couldn’t tell, and its high-pitched tone exacerbated the headache that had bloomed right behind my eyes. I pinched the bridge of my nose, trying to ease the pain away.

“She’ll be here,” I assured him. I’d sent servants to discover the identity of the mysterious woman who’d revealed Don Giovanni’s true nature to us. Then, I’d sent an invitation for her to meet us here to discuss how to deal with the murderer. I knew it was a long shot, but I was desperate for an ally of any kind.

My heart pounded in the silence, surprising me with its vigor. I realized that I was nervous to meet this woman again. Donna Elvira. That was the name my servant had uncovered. Donna Elvira of Burgos. The woman I owed everything. My entire future, my sanity, vengeance, peace-- it all seemed to hang in the balance and she held the strings. The debt I owed her seemed insurmountable.

A servant appeared at the door, startling me from my thoughts with his unexpected presence.

“Excuse me, m’lady,” he said with a small bow. “There is a Donna Elvira here to see you.”

“See her in,” Ottavio answered, moving slightly closer to me on the loveseat. I instinctively recoiled, my side pressed against the arm of the small couch. Ottavio noticed this and I winced at the sadness in his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, my words colorless. “It’s just that after the…” My voice broke, unable to continue. The shadowed look that passed over his face told me that he knew what I meant.

I heard footsteps and pushed away the detailed memories that had surfaced at Ottavio’s touch. The darkness swirled in my head, threatening to take over, when I heard a pleasant voice say,

“Donna Anna, I presume?”

I broke out of my thoughts completely, looking up to find the source of the saving voice. There she stood -- the impetuous woman from the street. She was here, hesitating on the threshold of my parlor. Her straight, red dress and pretty black heels accentuated her power and beauty simultaneously. Her long, dark hair was arranged expertly into a French twist, but a few hairs had escaped, giving her an air of urgency. She was standing completely still, but it seemed like every part of her trembled with barely contained rage. Or passion. I couldn’t be sure.

I must have been staring for too long, because Ottavio stood and extended his hand cordially as he said,

“Yes. Please, come in. Sit.”

She sat on the small couch opposite us, her legs crossed politely at the ankle. She was calmer, more sophisticated, in this situation, but her intensity persisted in her eyes and the subtle tightness of her fingers.

“I apologize for Anna,” Ottavio said after I’d been quiet too long again. “She’s a bit…distraught from the recent events. You see, Don Giovanni is responsible for her father’s recent passing.”

Elvira’s eyes widened at this, turning to look directly at me. She paused, gathering the right words in her mouth, before finally asking what she needed to know.

“Giovanni murdered him?” she whispered, her tone breathy.

I looked away from her, unable to carry the weight of the emotion in her gaze. I gave a weak nod to answer her question. My head felt too heavy, difficult to move.

A deep-seated silence permeated the room for a few moments, Elvira staring at the ground and Ottavio twisting his fingers in his lap. I wondered if I should say something, but before I could decide, Ottavio said,

“I think you should also know that Anna was…” He paused and I interjected, my voice hardly audible,

Ottavio…

He swallowed thickly and he didn’t look at me as he said, his voice thin and tenuous,

“Anna was violated by Giovanni.”

I kept my head down, unable to meet the woman’s expression. I assumed that she’d be giving me a look of pity or something equally devastating. But, when I finally gathered my courage and looked up slightly, Elvira was staring at my feet, her face blank. Amazed, I watched as her face slowly transformed, her long eyebrows coming together and her mouth tightening until her jaw looked as though it would break from the stress.

“Thank you,” I said quietly, my voice drifting gently across the void between us. The sincerity in my voice gave my words buoyancy and they seemed to pull her from her self-absorbed downward spiral. She looked up at me, our eyes meeting. I gave her a small smile, an expression that was probably a bit sad, and clarified, “Thank you for making sure we knew the truth.”

Elvira nodded severely, saying earnestly,

“Of course. I will not have him ruin any more lives.”

The way she spoke, the ring of genuineness in her voice, made me feel incredibly safe. For the first time since the incident with Giovanni, the spark of fear that had been living in my heart fled. The newly-claimed space filled me with a sense of wild freedom.

I felt Ottavio’s gaze on me as I smiled at Elvira again, the gesture a little wider this time, and said,

“We’re hoping that you will help us, so that we can make sure that he never does anything like this ever again.”

Elvira didn’t answer right away. I couldn’t read her reaction and I worried, for a moment, that I’d upset her. Maybe she wouldn’t want to help us after all. But then she clasped her hands together and straightened up on the couch, her hands lying properly in her lap, as she said evenly,

“I think this is a good idea. And I have a plan.”

Ottavio let out a long breath beside me and I assumed it was a gesture of relief. It felt good to have an ally, but I felt a hint of disappointment at Ottavio’s reaction. He should have been the one plotting, the one able to fulfill the vengeance I so needed. Instead, a complete stranger was doing the job for him.

A light, poignant and silvery, shone in Elvira’s dark eyes, making her even more beautiful than when she’d first walked in. Something about her captivated me, made me want to watch her for hours. I couldn’t understand the gentle fluttering in my stomach or the way my heart seemed to press against my ribs.

“What did you have in mind?” Ottavio asked eagerly. Elvira looked at him, that same gleam still in her eyes, and she answered,

“We’re going to need some disguises.”


XxxXxxXxx

After about an hour of planning, which was comprised of a good amount of careful arguing between Ottavio and Elvira while I just sat and listened, Elvira stood to leave. I stood, too, and Elvira took a step toward me. She walked purposefully, her movements confident and measured. She put out a hand, as though she wanted a handshake, but I took her hand in both of mine, squeezing gratefully. She looked down at our hands in surprise, her eyebrows hiked up.

“Thank you,” I said softly.

The edge of Elvira’s lips pulled up, as though she wanted to smile but something held her from it, and she said just as quietly,

“You’re welcome.”

A moment later I released Elvira’s hand, not wanting to make her uncomfortable. Ottavio stood then, stiffly extending his hand to shake Elvira’s. I turned away, suddenly lost in thought and wanting nothing more than to lie down and be alone for a while.

I listened to the click of Elvira’s heels as she left the room and progressed down the hall. I heard the familiar creak of the front door and then she was gone. The house felt dimmer without her assured optimism and the weight of my inescapable feelings returned full force. I kept my face turned away from Ottavio, who was probably wondering what I was doing, and I leaned slightly against the doorframe of the parlor door. I heard his careful steps as he came a little closer to me and I stopped breathing for a moment, waiting to see if he’d touch me.

When he didn’t, I gratefully let out the stale air from my lungs. Then, my voice embarrassingly fragile, I said,

“I’m going to lie down. I’ll see you soon.”

He didn’t answer me, only closed the distance between us and pressed a kiss to the side of my head. I stood completely still, unresponsive. I thought, incredulously, that I’d once felt comfortable with his affection. I’d liked it. Now, it just overwhelmed me.

He left, his head hanging somberly, and it hurt me to see him that way. I stood in the parlor another minute before going upstairs to the safety of my bed.

Chapter Text

Giovanni’s mansion was a kaleidoscope of lights and sound that night when we pulled up in Elvira’s Lincoln. Multi-colored strobes poured out of the windows and I could faintly make out the pounding bass of dance music. I sat in the back seat and fiddled with the hem of my short, black dress, wishing suddenly that it covered my knees. I pulled the fabric down, but the stretchy material sprang right back to its original position. I cursed the need for a disguise, for the need to blend in at the exact type of party that I had always avoided.

Elvira shut off the car and turned in her seat to look at me. Her hand reached back toward me and I took the thing she handed me. I couldn’t see it in the dark until I had it in my hands, holding it close to my face. It was a half mask, decorated to loosely represent a rabbit. I guess it was supposed to be cute or chic, but it only reminded me of the mask Giovanni had been wearing when he’d attacked me. I swallowed against a wave of nausea.

“Put that on,” Elvira said, handing another mask to Ottavio who sat in the passenger seat beside her.

I pulled at the cheap elastic band, reluctantly putting the mask on my face. The plastic felt hard and strange against my skin and the band pressed against my curled, strawberry blonde hair that I’d left hanging loose down my back.

Ottavio quickly put on his mask and opened the door, stepping out of the car. I followed suit, feeling a little unsteady in my stilettos on the uneven pavement of the street. My body felt shaky all over, probably from the nerves of the situation. I couldn’t get past the fact that I was about to face Giovanni again for the first time since realizing who he was and what he’d done. That alone sent shivers of fear down my back.

I stood in the street, unsure what to do, and Ottavio must have noticed my shakiness because he came up beside me, taking my hand in his. I wanted to squeeze the life out of it, to calm my nerves, but I knew that he wouldn’t appreciate that.

He wore a grey sports jacket over a purple t-shirt and chinos, a bird mask on his face accentuating the slimness of his body. I stared down at his penny loafers, my blood racing strangely fast and my stomach rolling with anxiety.

Elvira came to stand beside us, her attention occupied for a moment by something and her gaze lingering somewhere by my feet. I couldn’t tell if she was just thinking and staring at nothing or if she was admiring my shoes. She wore a fitted black suit and heeled boots, looking rather imposing and no-nonsense in the careful ensemble. Her mask, in the form of a growling tiger, only added to the effect. Apparently, she wasn’t one for subtlety.

“Are we ready?” Elvira asked abruptly, breaking from her reverie.

Ottavio nodded to answer her question, taking a moment to stand a little taller beside me. Elvira looked toward the house, saying,

“No matter what, we have to stick together. And don’t stray from the plan, even if things get weird.”

“Understood,” Ottavio said, his voice strangely solid and normal given the circumstances. I couldn’t imagine how uneven my voice would sound if I tried to speak.

Elvira looked over at me, her midnight-dark eyes scrutinizing me from behind her mask. A look of worry passed over her features, obvious even through the mask that covered the upper half of her face. After a beat, she looked away and said,

“Let’s go.”

She paced off, crossing the street toward the mansion. Ottavio followed after her, pulling me behind him. I focused on putting one foot in front of the other, trying not to contemplate where we were going. I moved as fast as I could in my heels, holding Ottavio’s hand firmly to keep myself balanced.

The intensity of the music and the lights only increased as we approached the house. Elvira walked right up to the double front doors, exuding confidence. I admired her for this, wondering who Giovanni was to her. Wondering what he’d done to her. I pushed this thought away, which was an easy task with the distraction of the nearby party.

A young man, thin and wearing a frog mask, stood at the front door as though he was in charge of deciding who to let in. Elvira marched right up to him while Ottavio and I waited behind her. She bore down on him with an intense stare, as though she knew him and was comfortable giving him orders. She didn’t say anything to him. He simply opened the doors for us and we entered the mansion.

The house was packed with people, each of them wearing some sort of animal mask. Every room was wall-to-wall with people dancing, drinking, and somehow talking to one another over the ambient clamor. Some were wealthy and well-dressed, like Ottavio and myself, and others seemed more lower or middle-class. It was strange to see this uncommon mix of people unified in one place.

Ottavio held my hand tightly as we navigated through the crowd. Elvira was ahead of Ottavio, leading the way. We seemed to be moving through the periphery rooms to a more central location. My theory was proven correct when we arrived at a huge, open room with a large stereo system, expensive strobe lights, and a dance floor. A bar took up one wall, people crowding the entire length as multiple bartenders gave out drinks. The multi-colored lights cut across everything, casting sharp shadows over the masked faces and dancing bodies.

Here, as in the rest of the house, people were pressed tightly together. I found myself almost constantly brushing against a stranger despite my best efforts to avoid it. The music blared incomprehensibly here, the thick beat of the bass vibrating heavily in my sternum like a second heart. I watched the bodies on the dance floor, grinding and bumping randomly to the intoxicating environment. I felt as though everything about this place attacked every one of my senses, smothering me into a state of fuzzy thoughts and overall confusion. My brain and body wanted nothing more than to escape, but I knew that I had to see this through. I pushed closer to Ottavio, clutching his hand tighter, but he was preoccupied looking for Giovanni.

Suddenly, there was a body close behind me and a light hand on my waist. I tensed, turning to see who had dared to touch me, and relaxed slightly when I caught a glimpse of Elvira’s tiger mask. I could feel each of her fingers on my side through the thin fabric of my dress. She moved closer, her mouth by my ear. The sharp, refreshing scent of her perfume reached me for the first time and it reminded me of summers spent picnicking in grassy fields. It was a welcome change from the hot, oppressive atmosphere around me. Her breath was warm on my skin as she said,

“I see the girl that he was trying to seduce when I saw him last. He shouldn’t be too far away. I thwarted him once, but he doesn’t give up easily. I think we should keep an eye on her.”

She pointed her arm over my shoulder, gesturing toward a tawny blonde in a long, sheer dress. She had a flower crown on her head and a butterfly mask on her face. She danced with a man, a bottle of beer sloshing precariously in her hand. I couldn’t understand how she was enjoying herself so much.

“She’s the blonde,” Elvira clarified, her voice velvet as it brushed against my ear. I nodded to let her know I understood, turning my head to meet her eyes. She instinctively backed up a tiny bit, but her face was still close to mine. The air felt heavier between us, time sliding slowly even amidst the surrounding insanity.

Ottavio’s voice in my other ear broke the spell and the full pressure of the room overwhelmed me once again.

“I see Giovanni,” he said loudly, pointing out into the crowd. I followed his gesture and, sure enough, Giovanni was moving toward the blonde Elvira had pointed out. Our time to act had come.

Worry flooded my chest, causing my heart to race painfully. I leaned against Ottavio’s side, my limbs suddenly feeling very limp. Elvira must have felt this, because now both of her hands clutched my waist, steadying me.

“Play your part,” Ottavio said into my ear.

“You’ll be alright,” Elvira said into the other, squeezing my waist to reassure me.

I nodded my head, trying to focus on the stability offered by Elvira and Ottavio beside me. Elvira moved closer to Ottavio, so he could hear her, and said,

“Stay close to Giovanni. Don’t lose sight of him. I’m going to get us our moment.”

Then, she moved off into the tightly-packed crowd, making her way toward the stereo system. Ottavio took my shoulders and began to direct me toward Giovanni. I hesitated at the sight of the sea of people before me, but Ottavio was insistent behind me and I moved forward despite my wishes.

Before any of us could get very far, there was a piercing scream. It was female and desperate and I shuddered at the sheer pain I heard in it. Memories of Giovanni’s attack filled my mind and a worry that someone was in the same position at this moment made my heart stop for a second.

The music cut out mid-lyric, the rest of the word hanging in the air as the lights continued their dance over the mass of confused people. Ottavio pressed me faster toward where Giovanni had been and I heard a voice yell over the commotion,

“Stay right where you are, you snake!”

The crowd rearranged itself, forming a circle around an open center where a spectacle was unfolding. Ottavio and I pushed into the center, finding a rather strange sight there. The blonde girl that Elvira had pointed out before sat, forlorn and confused, at the edge of the space, her cheeks red and tears running down her face. I wanted to help her somehow, but the situation made that impossible.

Elvira stood in the center of the clearing, her feet anchored solidly and an arm extended with a small gun in her hand. She’d taken off her mask, her teeming anger fully exposed. Every one of her muscles was taut, her body coiled for attack. Giovanni stood nonchalantly at the end of the gun, smiling wolfishly at her. I realized, then, that it had been Elvira who’d yelled a moment ago. This was not the situation I’d had in mind when I signed up for this escapade.

“Calm down, Elvira,” Giovanni said, his voice silk. “We’re just having a good time.”

“I know how you entertain yourself,” Elvira spat back. “I’m just glad I’m here to save this poor girl from your clutches.”

Giovanni just shook his head.

“Always so dramatic,” he commented. “And on your own.” He started to pace in front of her gun, his eyes always on her. “What can you do against me?”

Ottavio started toward Elvira and I followed him, stepping into the exposed center of the anxious crowd. I immediately felt the attention of dozens of strangers on me.

“You won’t get away with this,” Ottavio said to Giovanni, standing behind Elvira. I stood beside him, silent.

The sight of Giovanni drew out both fear and anger from a deep place in me. They bubbled up, clashing until anger finally won out. Rage compressed me into a tight, fiery creature and, in that moment, I completely understood the burning light I’d seen in Elvira’s eyes.

I moved to stand on Elvira’s other side and I pulled off my mask. This caught Giovanni’s attention. He looked right at me, surprise in his features. I thought he would say something, but instead he addressed Ottavio, who had also removed his mask.

“Don Ottavio,” Giovanni purred. “What a pleasure.”

“Enough,” Elvira growled. “Now, let’s take this outside.”

Giovanni put out his hands, exposing his chest to Elvira. He took a step toward her, saying,

“I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying here and enjoying myself.”

“Traitor!” I shouted at him, the words ripping through the room like thunder. My outburst shocked everyone, myself included, and both Ottavio and Elvira turned to look at me, their eyes wide.

With Elvira looking away, Giovanni took his opportunity to escape. He melted easily into the crowd and the music started up again. Elvira rushed after him, disappearing into the half-lit mass of people. I stood where I was, people moving around me, and I felt stuck. My heart pounded loudly in my head, mixing with the racing music and disorienting lights. I felt completely alone, an island amidst the chaos, and all thoughts of vengeance existed in a very far off place.

Ottavio led me out of the house and we waited on the front lawn for a few minutes. My heels sank into the grass as I tried to focus on anything but Giovanni. My ears strained, listening for a gunshot amidst the music and chatter. I knew it was futile, since even the sound of a gunshot would get sucked up by the massive sound of the party, but I listened anyway.

Elvira finally came out of the house, shaking her head in disappointment. She mindlessly hit the gun against her leg as she walked toward us, her mind obviously not focused on us. When she reached us, she said flatly,

“I couldn’t find him. He got away.”

She stood there a moment, her shoulders heavy, and then she reached toward us, squeezing my hand and putting a hand on Ottavio’s shoulder. She hesitated a moment more, then walked slowly toward her car. Ottavio and I followed behind, the realization of defeat evoking a pressure of desperate sadness in my chest. I leaned against Ottavio as we walked toward the car, Elvira’s Lincoln cold and hard in the moonlight.

Chapter Text

After I got home from the party and was undressed and safely ensconced in my room, I couldn’t seem to calm down enough to sleep. I laid in bed for a while, constantly changing positions until I could no longer tolerate the shape of the mattress beneath me. Then, I paced my floor in bare feet, the hours ticking by as my mind raced. The problems seemed to clutter on top of one another, forming a huge mountain of worry in my mind.

What had possessed me to shout at Giovanni in that way? Where had that come from? How could I have been so foolish to cause Elvira to lose focus, allowing Giovanni to get away? His escape was my fault. That much I knew.

And Elvira… Why was she able to make me feel more safe than I’d ever felt with Ottavio? And when she touched me—why had it been different from any time Ottavio had done the same? Even before Giovanni’s attack, it had never felt that way. I could now, even hours later, recall the tender yet strong feel of Elvira’s hands on my sides. The way her voice felt on my skin. The crisp scent of her perfume.

I stopped myself, shaking my head and sitting down on the end of my bed. I was engaged to Ottavio. It wasn’t fair to him to entertain these thoughts. I rubbed my temples as though I could physically expel the offending ideas that roamed free in my overtired, over-stimulated head.

I decided that it was definitely time to sleep. I ambled into my bathroom, popping a natural sleep aid from its foil and filling a cup with water from the tap. I swallowed the pill easily, taking a moment to examine my reflection in the mirror above the sink. My familiar blue eyes stared back at me. Besides being a bit pale and tired, I looked the same as I always did. But I felt profoundly different. The stark disconnect between what I saw and what I felt sparked a quiver in my chest, exacerbating the strange feeling that had been haunting me all night.

I forced myself to look away, instead returning to my bed. I laid down, pulling the covers up all the way to my chin and hugging one of my pillows. Memories from the party floated through my mind, flashes of red and blue strobes mixing with the sound of Giovanni’s taunting voice.

I’m not going anywhere.

The words circled me, threatening to box me in with eternal grief. They made me feel like I had no way to escape, no way to alter the melancholy that had docked firmly in my heart. But, then, another voice echoed in my head:

You’ll be alright.

I clung to the phrase, letting it buoy me up to safer territory. I settled deeper into the pillows, letting out a long rush of air. I continued to breathe deeply, concentrating on sleep and the lovely voice that had whispered encouraging words in my ear.

Finally, I began to doze lightly, existing in some half-awake state. My mind wandered to various places, some more pleasant than others. Once in a while, I imagined I’d discovered something very important. It teased me, a fluttering golden thing, and I chased it with all my might, but wakefulness took me away each time that I grew close to the elusive object. The revelation, wanted too badly, disappeared and I was left with only the promise of something important just beyond my grasp.

I drifted into full consciousness just as the sun was brightening the sky. Birds chattered incessantly outside my window and sleep suddenly felt impossible and futile with the morning-pale light filtering into my room. The day crept in menacingly, enhancing the ghost of an ache in my ribcage.

My head felt heavy as I sat up, gathering the covers around me to guard my body against the cold of the air-conditioning. I hesitated, debating what to do, and finally gave in to wakefulness. I climbed out of bed, heading for the shower and intending to start my day as normally as possible.


XxxXxxXxx


I found myself incessantly checking my phone as I went about my business that day. At first, I did it without thinking. But after the twelfth time or so, I noticed and wondered at it. What was I waiting for?

Ottavio texted a little after noon (just as I was mulling about my library), asking how I was doing and if I wanted to take a trip into town with him to visit the flea market. I texted him back, saying I would go, and as I dressed to go out, donning a long, black dress made from sinfully light fabric, I realized that I hadn’t been waiting to hear from him. But who else was there?

The realization collided with me suddenly, nearly knocking the breath from me. My hand rose to my chest unbidden, fingertips leaning against a rapidly pulsing heart. Elvira. I wanted Elvira to contact me.

How strange, I thought first. And then: but, why?

I took a seat on my plush reading chair, trying to calm myself. I berated myself for acting like a young, flustered girl, pining aimlessly for a lover. I was obviously overwhelmed and confused. There was no other explanation.

Except I couldn’t deny the way my heart jumped when I thought about the possibility of seeing her again. And I couldn’t push away the tingle in my fingers when I remembered her gaze, caught on mine.

I stood and picked up my phone from where I’d left it on the end table. I clutched it tightly, fighting the urge to use it. Was it foolish to want to speak with her? Was it wise to be silent? I couldn’t work out the answer.

After a few moments of fighting with myself and getting nowhere, I gave in and opened a new text message to Elvira. I stared at the blinking cursor, contemplating what to say. It suddenly seemed an immensely daunting task.

I started and erased a dozen texts before settling on, “Hi! It’s Anna. I don’t mean to disturb you, but I was wondering: do you have anything planned for today?” I wanted to say so much more, about how I felt lost and wanted the safety of her company and how I hoped that she had some ideas for catching Giovanni, but I left these things unsaid. I sent the text, watching the pending symbol until it turned into a confirmation that my text had been sent. Now, I could only wait.

I set the phone down on the end table once more, falling into my reading chair and picking white lint off my black skirt as I waited for something to happen.


XxxXxxXxx


The town bustled with activity as Ottavio and I emerged from his Escalade, parked at the very end of the municipal parking lot so as to avoid the other cars. I came around to his side of the car, watching him as he stuffed his car keys into the pocket of his designer jeans, his slim body leaning slightly as he checked his watch.

“Ok, we’ve got two hours until this thing closes,” he said. “That should be enough time.”

I just nodded, waiting for him to start walking so that I could walk with him. I didn’t want to face yet another crowd, but I thought that maybe shopping could help get my mind off things. The flea market always offered interesting and distracting merchandise.

Ottavio started to walk toward the center of town and I followed closely behind. The late afternoon sun hung lazily above us, casting a heavy heat and equally heavy shadows. I walked distractedly, my gaze down and watching the long fabric of my dress as it danced around my legs. My next thought, that Ottavio didn’t ask why I didn’t take his hand and didn’t try to change my decision, surprised me. I dwelled on this until we reached the market.

The square bustled with jovial energy, just as I’d expected it to. It pulsed with color and activity, voices arguing and laughing in the afternoon air. I moved closer to Ottavio, not wanting to lose him in the crowd.

As I stood on the edge of the market, a sudden and indefinable sense of dread sank through my body. It settled in my stomach, eliciting a turn of nausea. I stopped walking, holding my stomach and trying not to fall over.

“Ottavio,” I called weakly, the sounds hardly forming on my breath.

He didn’t hear me, but he noticed, a moment later, that I wasn’t behind him. He turned and saw me, walking back in my direction.

“What is it?” he asked, coming up beside me.

“I can’t do this,” I answered, swallowing against the horrible feeling in my stomach. My head felt light, detachable almost, and I prayed I wouldn’t faint. Tears, unbidden, came to my eyes and I tried to hold them back. Grief ate at me viciously, making me feel hollow and strange.

Ottavio noticed my tears and stepped closer, taking my shoulders in his hands.

“Don’t cry,” he said, wiping one of my tears with his thumb. He tried to pull me closer to him, to comfort me I suppose, but I pushed against him. He let me stay at arm’s length, one hand still on my arm.

“Love, please don’t cry,” he said again. “Do you think your father would want you to be like this, crying all the time? I don’t think so.”

This only increased my tears, the mention of my father piercing my heart.

“I can’t,” I said, my words mottled with soft hiccups. I wanted, desperately, to be with someone who could comfort me in my grief. Ottavio’s obvious failing in this made me all the more desperate. My phone, devoid of any texts or calls from Elvira, felt weighty in the pocket of my dress.

Darker thoughts invaded my mind and I had no energy to resist them. Memories of Giovanni’s attack on me, of his probing and intrusive hands on my skin, and the detailed memories of my father, dead and covered in blood, overwhelmed me. I could hardly imagine that the rest of the world existed at all in that moment.

I took a step away from Ottavio, wiping at the tears on my face and saying, my voice sturdier than before,

“If only I could die, right now, then I would be free of all this.”

Ottavio was silent, most likely from shock. He just stared at me, his eyes suggesting that his mind was lost elsewhere. I wanted to shake him, to take him from wherever he was and return him to me, but before I could do anything, his gaze focused on something over my shoulder. He squinted, saying uncertainly,

“Is that Elvira?”

Chapter Text

“Is that Elvira?” Ottavio said and I immediately turned to see what he was looking at.

Blood rushed in my ears when I caught sight of her. It was unmistakably Elvira. That confident stride and elegant posture couldn’t be anyone else. Her dark hair shone in the afternoon light, matching the black of the sleeveless, eyelet dress she wore. The skirt of the dress, longer in the back than in the front, trailed behind her as she marched across the street in her heels, calf muscles straight and tight.

I wanted to run toward her or call her name, but a twinge of betrayal hit me when I remembered my unanswered text. What had she been up to all day? And what was she doing now? She looked like a woman on a mission and it made my already-present nerves churn faster in my stomach.

Before I could decide what to do, Ottavio started off toward her. I followed him as he closed the distance between us and Elvira. When we reached her, she was standing at the mouth of an alley, a tall man in her grasp. He was turned away, Elvira’s hands tight on the back of his jacket. The man looked vaguely like Giovanni and my heart-rate rocketed at the thought.

“What is going on here?” Ottavio demanded, his voice tired.

Elvira turned and saw us, taking in the fact of our presence. Surprise made her dark eyes wide and something else, regret maybe, crossed her expression. She opened her mouth, as though to speak, but nothing came out.

“Is that Giovanni?” Ottavio asked, pointing at the silent man Elvira held. I realized that the man was being suspiciously quiet and keeping his face turned away from us. He wore a fedora, an expensive suit, and scuffed Oxfords.

Elvira’s entire demeanor changed at this question. She let the man go, guarding him with her body. A sadder, more desperate expression took over her face as she said,

“Please, have mercy on him.”

My brain stopped at this. A small, shivery, “What?” escaped on my exhale, but I doubt anyone could hear the half-formed word. I wanted to ask her what she was doing, but betrayal clouded my brain and my body refused to move.

“No,” Ottavio shot back. “He has to die for what he’s done.”

“Please,” Elvira said again, looking right at me. I couldn’t tell what she wanted me to do, but it was obvious that she wanted my help. I didn’t want to give it. She looked away from me, shame coloring her cheeks as she confessed,

“He’s my husband.”

This was somehow worse than her plea to save him. The feelings which had been building up since last night came crashing down on top of me, crushing the small flower of hope that had peeked through the crack in the cement of my pain.

Anger, hot and consuming, filled the vacuum left by Elvira’s confession and my hands curled into fists. I rushed toward Giovanni, who strangely still had his back to us, but Elvira stepped between us and stopped me before I could reach him, her hands firmly on my shoulders. Her perfume, the same as it had been at the party, filled my nostrils, making me soften toward her for a moment.

“Anna, please,” she said to me, her voice low.

“No!” I answered, my voice stronger than I expected. “He must die.”

Then, I pushed her off me, taking a step backward and letting her see the immensity of my hurt on my face. This seemed to affect her; I could see the genuine sadness in her eyes. Confusion mixed with my anger, making it even harder to think straight.

“Hand him over, Elvira,” Ottavio said, extending a hand in her direction, his face stony. I’d never seen Ottavio act this way. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.

Elvira took a step past me, taking on Ottavio directly.

“No,” she growled.

“I’ll kill him!” Ottavio spat back.

“Please, don’t kill me!” the man said, finally speaking. His voice was different than I’d expected. He turned around slowly, his hands lifted in surrender.

He wasn’t Giovanni.

Elvira, Ottavio, and I just stared at him. Elvira seemed the most dumbfounded, her mouth hanging open and all the vigor gone from her stance.

“Leporello?!?” she sputtered. “What the hell!”

“I’m sorry,” he said, his face downcast. Suddenly, I recognized him as the man standing at the door at Giovanni’s party. The man continued to explain, muttering quickly, “He forced me to switch places with him. You know how he is…”

This had some profound meaning to Elvira, because her face fell, its color ashen. I thought I saw tears in her eyes.

“That bastard,” she whispered to no one in particular. The bite in her words sent a shiver down my spine. My body felt like a raging battlefield, each part rebelling against the others. I had no idea what I felt anymore and all I wanted to do was go home and try to forget what had happened.

I was pulled from my thoughts when Ottavio stepped toward Leporello, taking the lapels of his jacket in his hands. The men, both tall, stood nose to nose and Ottavio looked more determined than I’d ever seen him. Yet, something about the way he held himself made me believe that he wouldn’t actually hurt the other man.

“Where is he?” Ottavio asked.

“I don’t know,” Leporello answered, cowering in Ottavio’s grasp. Ottavio shook Leporello, but it didn’t make Leporello say anything more.

“Ottavio,” I said softly, a hint of pleading in my voice. “Ottavio, please, let’s go.”

“We have to get to the bottom of this,” Ottavio said, his hands still on Leporello. “I promised you that I’d avenge your father’s death and I will.”

Vengeance suddenly seemed a cumbersome thing, weighing heavily on my thoughts with its fearsome anger and grief. I wanted to be rid of it, but I knew that I wasn’t ready to let go of it completely. It was something to focus on, a safety net in the maelstrom of emotions surrounding my loss. But this was not the time or the place to exact vengeance. Giovanni felt far away, untouchable, and I just wanted the solitude of my room.

“You do what you want,” I told him. “I’m going home.”

Without looking at any of them, I turned and started to walk away. I heard hurried footsteps behind me and a hand caught my arm.

“Anna,” Ottavio said, turning me toward him. “I’ll just be a minute more. Start toward the car and wait for me there. I’ll take you home.”

He pulled his car keys from his pocket and pressed them into my hand. They felt unyielding and sterile in my palm. I nodded weakly at him, turning to go.

He brought me toward him once more, pressing a light kiss to my cheek. Then, he walked back toward Elvira and Leporello and I tried not to wonder what he was going to do. I walked quickly back to the Escalade, letting myself in and waiting in the passenger seat for Ottavio’s arrival.

Chapter Text

My room emanated safety and warmth as I laid on my bed, my billowy, black dress splaying haphazardly around me. I hadn’t changed when I’d returned from the market. I’d simply collapsed on my bed, staring at my shut door and wondering what exactly had happened today.

I stayed that way, alternating between staring at the ceiling and my door, purple twilight casting languid shadows in my room. Then, there was a knock. I couldn’t think why someone was bothering me when I’d explicitly asked to be left alone.

“Yes?” I called noncommittally.

“There’s someone here to see you,” my personal maid said through the door. “I didn’t want to bother you, but she says it’s urgent.”

My entire body tightened, wondering who it could be. I sat up on my bed, reflexively fixing my hair and straightening my dress as I said,

“Let her in.”

I held my breath as the door hesitantly opened, revealing Elvira standing on the threshold. My jaw clenched at the sight of her, but my heart beat happily. She wore the same dress as before, the cut classy and flattering, and her face betrayed her uncertainty.

She stood in the doorway for a moment, simply watching me. Then, she said softly,

“May I come in?”

I nodded slowly, moving over on the bed so she could sit if she wished.

She stepped into the room, carefully shutting the door behind her. She stood not too far from the entrance, as though she was afraid to approach me.

“You can sit, if you wish,” I said politely.

“I think I’ll stand for now,” she replied, clasping her hands in front of her.

She just stood there for a moment, as though working out what to say, and I sat on my bed, running my finger along the lines on my comforter. It felt strange to have her here, in my room, and I took the time to adjust to the feeling. Her presence felt huge and wild in the confined space and I worked hard to not be overwhelmed by it.

Finally, Elvira spoke, her voice cracked and transparent as she said,

“I’m not sure where to start, but I think you should know that Ottavio insisted I come here and see you. He thinks that I can console you.”

This revelation surprised me. Had Ottavio realized that he was unable to console me? Or did he want someone else to do his work for him? I couldn’t be sure.

I didn’t think further on this, because Elvira interrupted my thoughts by saying,

“But I also wanted to come here to apologize for what happened today. And to explain myself.”

This surprised me even more. At this, I looked up at her, searching her face for any clues as to her current state of mind. She appeared completely contrite, sorrow and hope mingling in an unusual way. My earlier anger toward her seemed irretrievable, far away.

“Thank you,” I said, looking right at her and letting the sincerity of my statement leak into my tone. I gestured toward my reading chair, a winged, plush thing that was opposite where I sat on my bed. “Sit,” I offered softly.

Elvira eyed the chair for a moment, as though she suspected that it might eat her, but then started toward it and perched on it, her legs crossed gracefully at the ankle. I smiled reassuringly at her, encouraging her to say what she needed to.

She clasped and unclasped her hands in her lap, then took a deep breath and said,

“When I said before that Giovanni was my…husband—“ She broke off after this word, as though it physically hurt her, and then continued, “It was because he pretended to marry me. Then, he left me and I chased him here. I didn’t know the wedding was a sham until I got here and Leporello told me. When Giovanni came back to me last night, I thought that he was going to stay with me for good. But he disappeared this morning and then I thought I’d tracked him down again this afternoon. That’s what you saw. But it had been Leporello the entire time. Giovanni has been nowhere near me. Who knows what he’s doing, who he’s with…”

I let her talk and, when she finished, I looked up at her compassionately. Her grief, so different and yet so similar to my own, echoed in her words and I couldn’t help but feel immensely connected to her in this moment.

“I understand,” I said blithely. “Giovanni has hurt us all. I think it’s honorable that you wanted to protect the one you loved.” I knew that I was giving her the benefit of the doubt here, perhaps being more generous than I should, but I desperately wanted her on my side and that desperation made me lenient.

Elvira stood from the chair, starting to pace the room. Her heels clicked viciously as she walked, echoing the severity of her words. She spoke, her voice hard and intense,

“But I want to kill him for what he’s done. All he does is ruin lives. The way he lives is abysmal. It is the most depraved, most destructive lifestyle imaginable. If he goes on like this, he’s sure to collide with some horrible death. I can just feel it.”

I nodded my agreement, watching her move across the length of my room. She reminded me of the tigers at the zoo, prowling in interminable circles.

“But I love him,” she admitted, stopping her movement and looking at me for my reaction. I don’t know what my face looked like, but this confession came as no surprise to me.

The fierceness leaked out of her then, her shoulders falling ever so slightly. She walked toward me, tears in her eyes, and she carefully sat beside me on my bed. I let her, our hips mere inches apart. Her hand, steadying herself on the soft surface, was close to mine and I imagined I could feel the heat of her fingers.

I wanted to say something to her, to tell her that her conflicted emotions made some sort of sense to me, but I couldn’t find the words. So I just sat there with my head down and my heart pounding.

“I am so unhappy,” Elvira whispered.

There was a silent moment between us. I spent it listening to the gentleness of her breathing and trying not to drown in the intensity of her nearness. But the spell was broken when I felt a soft drop of wetness on my finger. I looked up and saw tears running down Elvira’s face. The sight of her suffering made tears start in my own eyes, the pathway clear and well-known from its frequent use the past two weeks.

I moved without thinking. I scooted closer to her, our hips touching, and I pulled her into my arms. I suddenly realized that she was smaller than she appeared, making us roughly the same size. My hand on her hair kept her nose in the crook of my neck and my other hand on her waist kept the rest of her close to me. Her breaths gasped against me, her tears wetting my dress and the skin of my shoulder.

“You’ll be alright,” I whispered, repeating the words that she’d said to me the night before. They’d helped me and I could only hope that they had the power to help her as well. I rubbed her back as she cried, murmuring reassuring words in her ear. My heart pounded crazily at the feel of her body against mine, but I tried to ignore it.

When she’d finished crying and calmed down, she laughed softly into my neck and then sat up, pulling away from my grasp.

“I came here to console you,” she said, wiping remnants of tears from her eyes. “Now, look at me.”

“It’s ok,” I told her gently and she lifted her gaze to look at me. She noticed the tears on my face, using her fingers to wipe them away.

“What have I done?” she asked. “Are you alright?”

“You haven’t done anything,” I assured her. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that my own pain, mixed with hers, had been too much to hold at bay. Even now, with her crying finished, it was too much to carry it all.

Every part of my body felt immensely alive, aching to draw Elvira close again. I had no idea what was happening to me, but I really didn’t want to resist it. It was the single bright thing amidst the darkness that threatened to overtake me.

So I fought to keep the light, to protect it and make it brighter and bigger. I did the only thing that made sense in that moment. The thing that I could no longer keep from doing.

I looked into Elvira’s dark eyes, watching her reaction as I leaned toward her. I put a hand on her neck and hovered near her, our noses almost touching. When she didn’t protest, I kissed her.

The taste of her mouth, one part perfume and another part the smoky aftertaste of black coffee, filled my senses, pushing out everything else. In that instant, this kiss meant more to me than any other kiss I’d ever had. It felt more real somehow, more meaningful.

She pulled away from my kiss a second after it started, looking at me in shock. I thought that perhaps I’d upset her or offended her in some way, but before I could voice an apology, her lips were on mine again. Her kiss was so much more intense than mine had been. It took my breath away.

Elvira deepened the kiss, her hands sheltering my jaw. She was an insanely good kisser and I was almost dizzy from it. Her fingers wound into my hair, pulling me even closer. She kissed with a sensitive intuition, quickly finding the things that sent spikes of pleasure through me. More importantly, each of her gestures felt as though they held immense significance. I felt special, respected. Wanted.

I’d thought it would be impossible to kiss someone, to be physically close or vulnerable in any way, for a long time after Giovanni’s invasion of my body. But here, with Elvira, I wasn’t upset by her touches. This surprised and pleased me.

Elvira pulled away just as unexpectedly as she’d started.

“Anna,” she said softly, extracting her hands and moving away from me on the bed so that we weren’t touching. “Aren’t you engaged?”

She looked down at my hand, her gaze focusing on my ring.

“Yes,” I answered. “But not for long.”

My words shocked me. I’d known them for days now, in some obscure corner of my mind, but I hadn’t spoken them aloud before. Or done anything to make them true.

Elvira watched me carefully, her words fragile as she asked,

“Is this because of what Giovanni…“ She couldn’t finish the sentence. I shook my head. I knew now that I’d never spend my life with a man. I was never meant to.

“I promise,” I said. I reached out and took one of Elvira’s hands. I lifted it to my lips, kissing her fingers.

She smiled and a new light seemed to take over Elvira. She stood, purpose in her step once again, and she began to pace my room.

“Alright,” she started, tapping her hand against her thigh as she walked. “Once Giovanni is no longer a problem, we can work this out.” She stopped, looking at me as she asked, “Can you wait until then?”

I nodded, a small smile on my face. She came back to me, standing next to where I sat on the bed. She held my chin in her fingers, keeping my gaze with her own as she asked seriously,

“And you’ll release Ottavio from his promise? Because I don’t share.”

I nodded again and she leaned down to kiss me briefly. I breathed deeply into the kiss, capturing her scent.

“I don’t want to have you break any more vows,” she said, “so I’ll go for now. But call me whenever you need me. And let me know once you’ve spoken with Ottavio. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to deal with Giovanni. Please, don’t worry yourself about that.”

Elvira’s words made me feel completely safe. I truly believed that she would deal with Giovanni and soon, unlike Ottavio who floundered and promised things he wouldn’t give me. I wanted her to stay with me, but I knew that it was better for her to go. Still, I wanted to show her my gratitude. I wanted her to know how much she meant to me already. So, I did something rather bold, hoping the gesture would prove my true feelings to her.

I stood, pulling Elvira to me by her waist and kissing her fully. She reacted immediately, her hands on my hips and her tongue playing at my bottom lip. I released her a moment later, my head spinning from the contact.

She smiled at me before kissing my cheek and brusquely leaving the room. She closed the door behind her, leaving me alone with my confounding thoughts.

Chapter Text

I approached Ottavio’s tall, white mansion, my heels clicking on his cobblestone path. I stopped halfway to put my car keys into my clutch before continuing to the door. It was the night after my surprisingly passionate encounter with Elvira. Ottavio had invited me to his house for a dinner.

We’ll make it a special occasion. We need to do something nice,” he’d said earlier that day over the phone. I thought it best to oblige him. So, I’d dressed up in a pretty black dress, the hem past my knee and my shoulders covered.

When I reached the door, I pressed the doorbell before straightening up, brushing down the front of my dress. I waited only a moment. A prim, male butler opened the door, letting me in without a word. He led me to the parlor where Ottavio sat on a couch, sipping white wine and wearing a casual grey suit.

He stood to greet me, kissing me on the cheek and saying,

“Hello, love. It’s nice to see you.”

I nodded, taking a seat beside him on the couch when he’d sat down again. He offered me wine but I turned it down. My emotional stability felt fragile already; it seemed a bad idea to drink.

We chatted for a while, touching upon mundane topics, until Ottavio said,

“I asked you over tonight because I wanted to propose an idea.”

My mind raced. I had no idea what he’d ask and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. My own proposal, to break off our engagement, fluttered in my chest like a caged bird.

“I’ve been thinking,” he started, watching me as he said, “and I thought that we’ve waited long enough to get married. And before all this happened, we’d been planning on setting a date. So, why don’t we just set a date now. And soon. We could always just marry and have the big reception later. We could marry tomorrow if you wanted. There’s nothing holding us back.”

My thoughts stopped at his words. This was the last thing I’d expected and the last thing I wanted. My fingers clenched involuntarily at the fabric of my skirt. I couldn’t lift my gaze to his as I said quietly,

“But, my father…”

“Calm down,” he answered, moving closer to me on the couch. “Soon enough this horrible man will pay for his crimes. But why must we wait for that to join our lives in love?”

He put a hand on my thigh, leaning toward me and using his other hand to pull me into a kiss. The sharp musk of his cologne filled my senses and tears were already starting in my eyes, threatening to break into a full-on crying session. I knew he was just trying to convince me with the kiss, but all I wanted was for him to stop.

I pulled away from his touch, breaking our kiss and gently moving his hand off my leg. I squinted hard, trying to keep the tears from falling and giving me away. I looked away as I asked him seriously,

“How can you think of marrying in a time of such sadness?”

He stood at this, anger flashing in his eyes. His hands were tight at his sides as he looked down at me.

“You are always delaying,” he accused. “Why must we delay once more? You are killing me, you cruel woman!”

My mouth fell open at his words.

Cruel?” I shot back. “How can you say that?”

“How can I not?” he answered. “You’re stalling. Why won’t you let me help you feel better?”

I let out a long sigh at this, the tears that I’d been attempting to hold back breaking past my defenses. I balanced my elbows on my knees, hiding my face in my hands.

“Oh, Ottavio,” I began, but I couldn’t finish the sentence. I paused, collecting my myriad of thoughts before continuing. I watched through my fingers as he ambled over to the liquor cabinet, looking through it while I hesitated. Finally, he pulled out a bottle of vodka and poured some into a rocks glass. He sipped it once before I gathered the wherewithal to say,

“I have always loved you as best as I could. You know that. And before this all happened, I wanted nothing more than to start my life with you. But now…”

There were so many truths to confess at this moment. I chose only one— the one that ultimately mattered the most in this situation.

“Ottavio,” I said carefully, my voice on the verge of breaking, “I am barely holding on right now. This grief is so massive and it’s threatening to overtake me. If you press any harder, I just might lose myself.”

“What are you saying?” he said from his place beside the liquor cabinet, the glass of vodka in his grip.

I swallowed heavily, gathering my courage to say,

“Sometimes, death seems like the only escape.”

Ottavio shook his head, downing the rest of his drink. He hissed at the bite of alcohol, then looked at me. He didn’t say anything.

I had already admitted these thoughts to him, back in the market, and he hadn’t responded then, either. His lack of response now was the action that solidified my resolve.

I stood from the couch, wiping uselessly at the mess of tears on my face. He didn’t offer me anything to help. After I’d done my best, I took the few steps to reach him on the other side of the parlor. I pulled the engagement ring off my finger and I looked up at him as I held it out to him.

“I’m sorry,” I said softly. “I just can’t be with you.”

His eyebrows rose in shock, his mouth a tight, motionless line. He didn’t say anything, just stared at me. When he didn't take the ring, I set it down on the liquor cabinet.

I turned away, moving to leave, when he said desperately,

“I’ll avenge your father. I promised I would and I will. Then, we can share in this grief together.”

I looked over my shoulder at him, uncertain how to respond since everything I thought to say seemed redundant. The only thing I pondered momentarily was explaining my new revelation in regard to my sexuality, but, in the end, I didn’t feel that he deserved that information.

“I’m sorry,” I said once more, then left the room.

I sat in my car for a long time before I even contemplated driving, tears blurring my vision. I felt severely weak and supremely relieved all at once. I hadn’t intended on breaking off the engagement with Ottavio so soon, but I felt like I could breathe now that I had.

My hand shook as I started the car. I wondered, suddenly, if I shouldn’t drive in my condition. The thought that I might hurt myself, or someone else, seemed a very real possibility as I watched my fingers trembling over the steering wheel.

I pulled out my phone, dialing Elvira. She picked up on the second ring, her voice warm on the other end of the line when she said,

Anna?

“Hi,” I squeaked out, tears making my voice tight and uncontrolled.

Are you alright?” she asked and I could almost see her eyebrows knitting together in concern.

“Well, not really.”

Where are you?” Her tone left no room for discussion.

“I’m in my car, outside Ottavio’s place. I don’t think I can drive home.”

I’m coming to get you. Is that alright?

Hope, bright and unexpected, blossomed in my chest at her words. I nodded my response to her question, but then remembered that I was on the phone and Elvira couldn’t see my gesture.

“Yes,” I said meekly.

Ok,” she answered and I thought I heard relief in her voice. “What’s the address?


XxxXxxXxx


The inside of Elvira’s Lincoln smelled the same as it had the last time, but now the scent held significance for me. It reminded me intensely of her kisses, of her body close to mine. She didn’t ask any questions when I climbed into the passenger seat or even when we started driving toward my house. She had smiled softly at me when she first saw me, offering me a box of tissues after I’d been in her car for less than a minute.

She drove in silence, the polite voice of the GPS the only sound for the entire trip. It was only when we were parked in front of my house that I spoke up. “I broke off the engagement.”

Elvira reflexively looked down at my hand, which laid, pale and pasty, on the black fabric of my dress.

“Are you alright?” she asked, still looking at my naked fingers.

I nodded weakly, adding, a moment later,

“To be honest, I’m mostly relieved.”

Her hand moved slowly, carefully taking one of mine. When I didn’t pull away, she intertwined our fingers.

“But you’re upset,” she said gently. “Did he say something to hurt you?”

At this, she looked at me. I could tell from the light in her eyes that she was serious about this question. I had been about to answer “no,” but the expression on her face made me reconsider. I had a feeling that she’d know if I lied.

“He wanted us to marry soon. And I said that it was too sad of a time for a wedding. He called me cruel for it.”

Elvira’s fingers tightened on mine and I noticed her clenching her jaw at my words. Her anger was almost palpable in the small enclosure of the car. I looked away from her, focusing on the emblem on the glovebox. Her words, sincere and restrained, replaced the tense silence.

“You are not cruel, my dear. You are far from cruel.”

I squeezed her hand, grateful to hear someone voice what I already believed.

We sat in silence again, the night enveloping us. I pondered what to do next. My grief, stirred up by the conversation with Ottavio, still pressed like an anvil on my chest, nearly suffocating me. The very real thoughts of death hovered in my brain, leaking their icy tentacles into my intentions. It suddenly frightened me to be alone.

“Will you come in?” I asked.

Chapter Text

We sat in my parlor on opposing loveseats, tea set out on the coffee table between us. I sipped my tea carefully, using all my energy to keep my hand steady. I found myself breathing strangely, my chest tight from grief. I willed myself to not cry even though tears felt close. I focused on the warm sensation of the tea against my fingertips through the porcelain.

Elvira sat across from me, silently drinking her tea. I liked that she didn’t try to start a conversation with me. She seemed content in my presence, albeit concerned. I knew that I should say something to her, to assuage her obvious worry, but I wasn’t sure if I could let words out without tears coming with them.

It felt exceptionally late, even though it wasn’t, and a new sort of exhaustion claimed hold of my body. I wanted nothing more than to lie down and sleep. But the thought of being alone in my immense, empty room seemed unbearable.

I looked up from my teacup to Elvira. Her posture was immaculate and stately, the light from the end table lamp casting shadows across her face. She looked mysterious and beautiful in this light, like a Greek goddess resurrected into the modern age. Her strength seemed insurmountable, even though she sat there in a simple, purple silk blouse and black slacks. She caught me staring and met my gaze. I looked away, suddenly embarrassed, and she said,

“It’s ok, you know.”

“I know,” I answered softly. I took a deep breath, feeling a bit steadier, and confessed, “There are so many things I want to say, but I don’t know if I can do it.”

I wanted to tell her everything. What Don Giovanni had done to me, how I had found my father lying in his own blood, how I felt so unsafe almost all the time, how I fought off thoughts of ending my life… Because of all the people in the world, Elvira was the one person who could possibly understand this. And the universe had just dropped her in my lap. It seemed wrong to throw it away just because I was too afraid to talk.

“You don’t have to say anything,” she said, interrupting my thoughts. I didn’t look up, but I heard the click of a teacup being set down on the table and the brush of fabric. Then, she was sitting beside me, her hands carefully taking the teacup from mine. She leaned forward and set it down before taking my hands in hers and leaning her forehead against my temple. Her skin was warm and secure on mine and it was only then that I noticed my hands were shaking. I wondered how long they’d been that way.

“Please let me help you,” she said, her voice close to my ear.

At this, I moved even closer to her, burying my face in her shoulder. Her scent surrounded me, grounding me. I took my hands from hers and circled my arms around her waist. I felt her hands pull me closer, her mouth making comforting humming sounds against my hair. Tears, slow and surprisingly not painful, flowed silently down my face and into the fabric of Elvira’s shirt.

“It’s just so hard to get over what’s happened,” I said finally, my words wispy against her collarbone. The words came haltingly, but they came nevertheless. “I feel like any one of these events has the power to crush me. Combined, it’s nearly impossible. I don’t know how to fight against it.”

“But you have been for this whole time,” she said, her hand rubbing circles on my back. “And I’ve seen what you can do. You’re a lot stronger than you give yourself credit for.”

I buried my nose deeper in the collar of her shirt, finding the warmth of her skin. I inhaled deeply, steadying myself, before admitting,

“I’ve often thought of killing myself.”

Elvira’s grip on me intensified at this confession, as though she was afraid I would slip away from her if she didn’t hold me tight enough. She kissed the top of my head, her lips lingering there for a moment before she said, her tone hoarse,

“Please don’t.”

My heart stopped at her words, my dark grief paling for a moment. I tightened my arms around her and pressed my lips to her neck, the part of her that was closest at the moment. This seemed to surprise her, because her hold on me let up for a moment. I pulled away so I could look at her face.

She met my gaze and I could see the tears in her eyes. I didn’t say anything right away, so she said,

“I know it may not seem like it now, but things are going to get better. I promise.”

I smiled at her, reaching up to touch her hair, which was arranged elegantly once again, and I said,

“Thank you.”

I leaned forward and left the barest of kisses on her lips. It was too quick for her to respond to, so she was just left staring at me. I knew then that I didn’t want her to leave and I didn’t want to spend the night by myself. I imagined the strength of her arms around me, and the safety I’d feel there, and I couldn’t keep myself from asking,

“Will you stay the night?”

She seemed stricken with shock at my request, but pleasantly so. Her voice was low when she answered,

“If you wish it, of course I will. But is it a good idea?”

Her words confused me and I couldn’t be sure exactly what she was referring to, so I asked,

“How do you mean?”

She took one of my hands, looking at it instead of at me as she said,

“You were attacked by Giovanni. I’m afraid it will be upsetting for you to have someone in bed with you.” She stopped short, as though she’d just realized something, and she added quickly, “That’s assuming you wanted me in bed with you. I’m sorry if I’ve misinterpreted your words.”

Her face flushed red and it made me feel better, somehow, to see her so effected.

“You didn’t misinterpret anything,” I said. “And it won’t upset me to have you there. Quite the contrary, I may finally feel safe with you there.”

Elvira lifted her gaze to my face once again, a careful smile lighting her expression.

“Of course, we’ll only be sleeping,” I said, to further clarify what I wanted.

“Of course,” she said.

Finally feeling free to go to bed as I wished, I stood from the loveseat and extended my hand to her. She took it eagerly, standing and following me out of the parlor and toward my bedroom.


XxxXxxXxx


It was strange and wonderful to have her here, in my bedroom, about to lie down with me. I rummaged through my dresser as she stood by the door. I found a pair of light blue pajamas, turning to give them to her just as she was leaning against the wall with one hand, using the other to take off her heels, her movements fluid and practiced. I was stunned once again at her elegant grace.

She left her heels by the door before looking up at me. I held out the pajamas to her, gesturing toward my adjoining bathroom.

“You can use the bathroom first,” I said. “There’s a spare toothbrush in the top cabinet, to the right of the sink.”

“Thank you,” she said, taking the clothes from me and disappearing into the bathroom.

I went over to my bed, pulling a pair of carefully folded purple pajamas from under my pillow and changing quickly. I laid my dress out on my reading chair and returned my heels to the closet. I moved next to my vanity, picking up my brush and running it through my hair a few times.

Elvira emerged from the bathroom and it was funny to see her in my pajamas. The familiar pair took on a different shape with her in them. Our eyes met across the room and I smiled shyly at her.

“I’ll be right back,” I said, setting down my brush. I moved past her into the bathroom, closing the door between us.

As I brushed my teeth, nerves started to rattle in my stomach. I tried to push them aside before emerging once again into my bedroom. I found Elvira sitting on my bed, removing her jewelry and leaving it on my night table.

“Are you tired?” I asked, walking toward the bed. She looked up at me as she took off an earring, a smile on her face.

“I could be,” she answered.

I started to pull down the covers and Elvira helped immediately, taking up the fabric at her side. Once the bed was turned down, I sat on it. Elvira sat back down on the other side, her hands moving to take the pins from her hair.

“Here, let me,” I offered, gesturing for her to come closer to me. She obliged and I kneeled on the bed to get a better view of her hair.

She was silent and still as I pulled the pins from her hair, letting each section of her long, dark hair fall to her shoulders. Her hair was soft in my fingers and the action of unpinning it soothed me. I moved carefully, so not to pull her hair and hurt her, and she hummed in appreciation when I’d finished.

I laid all the pins down on my night table, then turned on the lamp that sat there. I hopped out of bed to turn off the main light and then returned to bed, the half-light of the lamp making the room feel more intimate.

“We should sleep,” Elvira said. “You’ve had a long day.”

I nodded, slowly getting under the covers. Elvira did the same, facing me as she laid her head on the pillow. She felt impossibly far away, but I let her stay there.

“You’re beautiful,” I whispered, unsure why I was saying it aloud. Elvira chuckled almost inaudibly at that, responding quickly,

“As are you, Anna.”

I blushed at this, turning away from her to turn out the night table lamp. Moonlight filtered in through my windows, casting a hazy light over Elvira’s face. There was just enough light to make out her gesture as she extended her arms in invitation to me. I eagerly moved closer to her, letting her hold me.

I stayed in her arms, listening to her calm breaths and the soft pattering of her heart. I felt my rigid guard releasing, my body relaxing.

“Thank you,” I said softly.

She kissed my forehead in response.

“Sleep, dear,” she said, her voice low in the darkness. I breathed out, closing my eyes and trying to do as she said. Slowly, with her arms around me and the feel of her steady breaths against my chest, I was able to sleep.

Chapter Text

I woke to the soft morning light, snuggling my face into my pillow to shield my eyes. As my mind cleared into full consciousness, I remembered that I had a bed fellow. I lifted my head and opened my eyes to see what state she was in and where she’d ended up after the sleep of the night.

But this wasn’t enough, because I didn’t immediately see her. I sat up and my heart started to race in panic as I looked around. The bed beside me was empty.

It felt like everything in my body sank simultaneously. Some new sort of dread attacked my vulnerable, newly-awakened brain, only increasing my panic. I clutched the bedsheets, anxiously balling up the fabric in my fists.

“Elvira?”

The name escaped my mouth without warning, the sound hollow and weak. When I received no response, I tried again, my attempt louder and more urgent this time.

Elvira?

This time, my effort was rewarded with the bathroom door swinging open. Elvira appeared in the doorway, all worried and valiant like a damn real-life superhero in blue pajamas, and her eyes found mine immediately. She hurried to the bed, saying,

“Anna! Are you alright? What’s wrong?”

She climbed onto the bed, sitting beside me with her bare feet tucked under her legs and cupping my face in her hands.

“Was it a dream?” she asked.

I shook my head, feeling foolish for worrying her. I felt the heat of a blush on my cheeks and I looked away from her. She released me then, lying her hands in her lap instead.

“What was it?” she pressed. “You’ve clearly been upset by something.”

I bit my lip, considering.

“It’s silly,” I answered. Elvira’s hand on my chin made me raise my gaze to hers.

“It isn’t silly if it upset you,” she said firmly. I saw that she wasn’t going to drop the subject. I was unused to this tenacity for information. I let out a long breath, my blush increasing as I started,

“Well, I woke and you weren’t here and I thought…”

“You thought I’d left you,” she completed for me. She shook her head and said, “No, I wouldn’t do that.”

She tucked some of my hair behind my ear and I wondered if my hair was a mess. Elvira’s was mostly tame; I guessed that she’d fixed it while in the bathroom.

“I promise I won’t do that,” she said to me. “Do you believe that?”

I nodded my answered, grateful that my heart had slowed somewhat and my panic was leaking away.

“Good,” Elvira said, leaning forward to kiss my forehead. I remembered her comment from the night before and I wondered if she was being careful with me, restraining herself while we were in bed together.

“Thank you,” I said. I felt like I was thanking her for a thousand different things. I knew that I should specify, but I left it vague for the moment.

Elvira simply looked at me, her gaze intensely holding mine. I wondered what she was thinking, what she saw in my eyes that I couldn’t see.

Tentatively, experimentally, I reached out my hand toward her. She stayed completely still, encouraging my venture with a small smile. I let my fingertips explore the soft skin of her cheek, tracing a line toward her jawline. Then, I found the patch of skin just under her ear and she giggled unexpectedly. The sound surprised me, causing me to pull my hand away.

She took my hand in hers, bringing it back to her. She laid it over her heart, covering my hand with her own. I smiled at the warmth of her hand on mine, at the safe pulsing of her heart against my palm.

“I’m just ticklish there,” she explained with a smile. “You’re fine.”

Her smile and the memory of her laughter made me feel, for the first time, that I was beginning to mend. I couldn’t help but return her smile with one of my own and it felt amazingly genuine.

“My goodness,” Elvira cooed, her smile widening. “You have a beautiful smile. It is lovely to see it.”

She reached out and wound her fingers into my hair, her palm resting against my ear. She leaned in slowly, as though she wanted to kiss me, and I didn’t pull away, so she closed the space between us.

She kissed me sweetly, tasting distinctly of my toothpaste. I cherished the feeling of her lips on mine, on the interesting connection I felt to her which only intensified with close physical contact. Her fingers journeyed the length of my neck as she kissed me, finally settling on my shoulder. My top had a modest neckline and she didn’t move past it.

She broke the kiss as gently as she’d started it and her capacity for tenderness surprised me. Judging from the way she acted with others, I had expected her to be brash and passionate. Yet, again and again, she had shown me only this softness. Then, I remembered the first kiss she’d given me and I imagined that in the future, when I was healed up, I would encounter her more intense side.

I stopped, realizing what I’d just thought. I was already projecting Elvira into my future and expecting that I’d make a full recovery. This seemed like a huge step.

I smiled at this, taking Elvira’s hand from where it rested on my shoulder and bringing it to my lips. I kissed her palm before releasing it. Elvira smiled back at me, something alight in her dark eyes.

The moment passed and she reached toward me, rubbing her hand impatiently along my calf.

“I really want coffee,” she said. “Breakfast?”


XxxXxxXxx


Later that afternoon, we sat around the little bistro table on my back patio. Elvira, sitting primly in her black slacks and one of my blue blouses, sipped at her second cup of coffee that day. The dark aroma of her hot beverage wafted over to me across the small table, reminding me of her kisses that first night. I sipped at my tea, light tan with its added milk and sugar, and relished in the pleasant silence between us.

Elvira’s gaze was far away, focused on some indistinct point in the distance, and I wondered what she was thinking about. Her face was blank, revealing nothing. The way her hand moved her cup up to her lips made me think that she used to be a smoker; the gesture was too fluid, too practiced. I realized that there were a lot of things that I didn’t know about this mysterious woman who had swooped into my life and changed everything.

She turned, noticing me staring again, and smiled at me. She reached across the table, covering my hand with her own. She never shied away from my attention in any way and this made me bolder with her than I would have been otherwise. I was still a bit shocked at myself for kissing her in the first place. I smiled back at her then, thinking that things had worked out pretty well so far.

“Do you often kiss women you hardly know?” Elvira asked suddenly, as if she’d been reading my mind, and my surprise must have shown on my face because Elvira’s eyes squinted in amusement.

“I’ve never kissed any women before you,” I answered truthfully.

“And that Ottavio fellow. How did you end up with him?” she asked. Her tone was even, neutral, but I could tell that this question mattered to her for some reason. I shrugged at her, looking away.

“His father was a business partner of my father’s,” I said. “We attended many of the same social functions. It just seemed to make sense that we’d be together.”

“I see,” was all she said.

She ran her finger along the rim of her cup, staring at the black liquid within. She seemed to be considering something. She hesitated a long while, her jaw set straight, before she asked,

“What did possess you to kiss me? Did you know that I was interested? I tried not to show it…”

I shook my head, trying to process this new information. So I hadn’t imagined that moment on the dance floor at Giovanni’s party when our eyes had met and I had felt that singular weight of importance pass between us. And before we went into the party – had she been checking out my legs, not my shoes?

“I didn’t know, not really,” I said, answering her second question instead of her first. “I couldn’t be sure if you were even interested in women at all. And I assumed that you were still wrapped up in the whole ordeal with Giovanni.”

“Well, yes, that.” Her words were clipped, heavy-laden with meaning. “We need to speak about that.”

A familiar, sinking feeling started in my stomach at the mention of dealing with Giovanni. We’d been ignoring the topic all day, but I knew that it would emerge eventually. I supposed now was as good a time as any.

“I’m ready,” I said softly.

Elvira’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. Her lips parted, their pretty shape emphasized by her bold lipstick, and they remained so for a moment before she finally said,

“Well, I was planning on going to his house tonight. To finish this.”

The red-hot anger that had taken control of my heart at my father’s death, and that had surged again when I’d learned it was Giovanni who had been responsible for that action, felt faded now. Instead of a hot spike driving through me, it was a dull ache pounding in some deep place of my consciousness. I wasn’t sure what I wanted anymore.

“What are you going to do?” I asked, my voice hardly more than a whisper. I knew that I sounded afraid.

Elvira watched me, her entire body still and her expression blank.

“Convince him to change his ways,” she said flatly. I couldn’t imagine what she meant by that. I hesitated, the question I wanted to ask lingering inside my mouth. I took a deep breath in, collected my thoughts together into a manageable idea, and then let out,

“So, you’re just going to talk?”

Elvira turned away from me, her voice emotionless as she answered,

“Something like that.”

I knew she was suppressing something, smoothing out her emotions for some reason, and it set off a warning bell in my head. I refused to let her get away with it.

“I want to go with you,” I said quickly, my voice hard.

“No,” she responded immediately.

“Yes,” I insisted.

She looked across the table at me, her eyes pitch black and burning with an intensity that frightened and emboldened me all at once. I pointedly stared back at her, my mouth set in a line and my gaze unwavering. I wanted to prove that I could stand up to her, that I could endure her intensity.

We stayed this way for another moment, the tension tight between us, until she finally looked away in defeat and a completely different emotion came over her. I couldn’t tell exactly what it was, but I could detect some fear and a little bit of sadness among the combination.

“You can’t come,” she said into her lap.

“Why?” I pressed.

Elvira paused, taking a breath and letting it out in a long sigh. She seemed almost weary of the topic, as though she’d spent too many nights being haunted by it and now all she wanted was to finally discard it for good.

“It isn’t safe,” she answered finally. “He’s not safe.”

“But aren’t we better off together?” I asked. “You know, two of us and one of him?”

This logic seemed to silence Elvira for the moment. She stared into her coffee, which was carefully alone on the table, and a myriad of emotions passed through her eyes, her lips pressed tight in contemplation. I waited, knowing that my patience would most likely outlast hers.

Finally, with a slow and tightly wound movement, she stood from her chair and walked over to mine. She crouched down in front of me, balancing herself with a hand on my knee, and looked up at me with her dark, searching eyes. She seemed penitent and pleading in this position. The amount of energy pulsing through her nearly overwhelmed me, but I kept my composure, taking slow breaths in through my nose and focusing on how beautiful she looked in this moment.

“Anna,” she said, her tone grave. “Do you know what you’re asking? Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?”

“I don’t know what will happen,” I answered honestly, “but I need to be there to see it happen. More than anything, I need some sort of closure. Can you understand that?”

“Yes,” Elvira breathed, the word escaping slowly. “Yes, I understand that too well.”

Then, she stood, putting out a hand to me. I lifted my hand to meet hers and she took it, running her thumb over my fingers gently as she asked,

“So, I can’t change your mind?”

“I’m afraid not,” I said. I watched her expression, wondering how she’d take it. It remained a bit hard for a moment, her forehead creased in thought, but then it relaxed and she leaned toward me, dropping a kiss on my lips. I tasted the strength of her coffee even in that quick exchange.

“We have to establish some ground rules before we leave,” she insisted, her tone leaving no room for debate.

“As you wish,” I replied with a small smile. She returned my smile, running her finger along my jaw affectionately.

“I have to go back to my place to get a few things and prepare,” she said. “Will you be alright by yourself for a little while? I promise I won’t be long.”

I just looked at her for a moment, reluctant to let her go. I knew that if I asked, she’d stay without another thought. But I also knew that I didn’t need her at the moment and I couldn’t hold her back all the time. I knew that I should let her go. She’d be back. She’d proven that much already.

“Yes, that’s fine,” I answered her. Then, with a bit more vulnerability leaking into my tone than I liked, I asked, “I’ll see you soon?”

“Yes, you will,” she assured me.

Anchoring her hands on the arms of my chair, she leaned over me and kissed me. It was more intense than this morning, a dimmed echo of our first kiss, and yet sweetly lingering, like a promise. I kissed her back, pushing up from my chair and matching her tenderness with my own. It felt liberating, somehow, to have someone that I could give back to without the worry of overwhelming them. All my caution always seemed to dissipate in her presence. It was a pleasant change.

She broke away, her breath hot on my cheek as she lingered nearby. I relished in her nearness, hoping that it would be more frequent in the coming days. Then, she pulled away completely, saying,

“I’ll be back soon.”

She walked away, her heels clicking on my patio. I stayed in my seat, forcing myself not to watch. Instead, I stared at her abandoned coffee and wondered how long I’d have to wait.

Chapter Text

We sat outside Giovanni’s mansion in Elvira’s Lincoln, the air conditioning tasting stale and adding to the nausea already rolling in my stomach. The summer night was mild and pretty, but I couldn’t appreciate it. Instead, I focused on Elvira as she watched the mansion with predatory eyes. She looked stunning in her wide-leg grey slacks and white button-down. I found my gaze inevitably drawn to the first closed button, which strained slightly in the sexiest way possible. I wished that I could actually appreciate this moment, this discovery, but my mind was quickly wrapped up in worry over what would happen in the confrontation with Giovanni.

“Ok, let’s go over the rules again,” Elvira said, finally looking away from the mansion in her brooding way and looking at me instead. I wore a simple, black dress, which covered nearly everything, and flats, so that it would be easier to run away.

“Alright,” I conceded, even though I thought that I remembered all of them.

“One,” she said, holding my gaze as though it were the most crucial thing in the world, “you are not to engage Giovanni on your own. Stay behind me at all times. Two, do as I say, immediately and without question.”

I nodded, thinking that she sounded like an army general. I neglected to voice that particular opinion.

“Three,” she continued, “when I say we’re leaving, we’re leaving. Alright?”

“Yes,” I said, trying to sound confident even as anxiety pulsed in every one of my muscles.

“Good,” she said with a curt nod. She looked at me a minute more and I must have looked as scared as I felt, because her features softened and she leaned across the seat to gently kiss my lips.

“We’ll be fine, dear,” she said, her tone completely opposite from when she’d been repeating the rules. “Think: once we get this over with, we can leave this all behind us for good. If you want, we can go away for a while, get away from everything. We can even go live in Burgos if that suits you. I have a nice villa there. I think you’d like it very much.”

The offer seemed immense and far too soon and I knew that it should scare me, but it didn’t. Instead, I felt a surge of gratitude race through me as I thought about it. A chance to escape, and with Elvira – that seemed too good to be true.

I looked away from her, out the window, and I said softly,

“That would be wonderful.”

Elvira took my hand, leaning back in her seat and looking at me through half-lidded eyes. I was surprised at her serenity at such a time, but I guess my admission had something to do with it. I squeezed her hand, feeling the familiar sensation of tears starting in my eyes, but before I could start crying in earnest, I said,

“Let’s go.”

Elvira’s face hardened, the intensity returning, and she said, her tone sharp as diamond,

“Yes, it’s time.”

She released my hand and stepped out of the car, her steps loud and precise on the concrete. When she reached my side of the car, I got out, too. She stood taller than me in her shoes, since she’d opted for her heeled black boots, and as I looked up at her, I realized how strange it was to see her from this angle.

Elvira took one look at the house and then at me, her gaze running down the entire length of my body as though inventorying my parts for later comparison, in case something changed or got lost while we were in Giovanni’s mansion. It was definitely concern, and not lust, that lit up her eyes and when she’d finished, she ran her hands up and down my arms as though to soothe me.

“Ready?” she asked, looking me right in the eye. This reminded me of the first time I’d seen her, when she’d so desperately been trying to hold my gaze to convince me of Giovanni’s betrayal, and the memory sparked a renewed sense of affection toward her.

I must have been smiling or something, because a strange expression passed over Elvira’s face. She half smirked as she brushed a curl off my forehead, letting her finger run along my cheek. Without warning, she kissed me, our lips crashing together and her hands grasping my waist. I melted into her touch, finding myself leaning toward her and almost forgetting to breathe in the intensity of the moment.

After a moment, she let me go. Her hands regrettably withdrew from their place on my body and she pulled back, turning away from me.

“Thank you,” I said softly, and I knew that I wasn’t thanking her for the kiss. She didn’t turn at my words, but her shoulders relaxed slightly. “I’m ready if you are,” I added.

She nodded and half turned toward me, taking my hand in hers. She squeezed it reassuringly, and then said,

“Let’s go,” and started up the path to Giovanni’s mansion with a fierce stride. I followed after her, staying close. I was glad that I wasn’t the one who had to deal with her, because she was nearly glowing with barely-contained rage. I worried that she might break a heel, the way she was going.

When we came to the front door, Elvira pounded on it, yelling at the door,

“Giovanni! Come out here, you bastard!”

There was no answer, only a vague and far-off laugh that sounded like it belonged to a man. Elvira waited a moment, her hands in tight fists at her sides, and then she tried the doorknob. It was unlocked. She pushed the door open and barged right into the house, her heels clicking on the marble flooring of the foyer. I followed hesitantly, Giovanni’s house reigniting unpleasant memories of the party.

We followed the sound of talking and laughter to a huge dining room. Elvira stepped through the doorway without a thought, pinning Giovanni with her gaze the moment she entered. I took a moment to look around at the grandeur, noting that Leporello, lingering carefully in the far corner, was the only person besides Giovanni in the room. Soft classical music pumped in from somewhere, making my skin crawl with its unexplained and unexpected presence.

Elvira stood at the opposite end of the long table from where Giovanni sat. He had plates and plates of food in front of him, each decimated as though by a starving army. Elvira ignored all of this, her eyes focused solely on Giovanni.

Her voice icy, she said,

“Ok, Giovanni, this is it. This is the last proof of my love and your last chance.”

Her resonant voice bounced around in the high-ceilinged room, making it seem louder and bigger than it actually was. Her words, the last proof of my love, echoed endlessly in my head, causing a sharp, twisting pain in my heart. I knew that I shouldn’t be so surprised by it, but it nearly blindsided me and I realized that I would have to deal with it eventually. Now, unfortunately, was not the time.

Giovanni seemed unaffected by Elvira’s words, leaning back in his chair with a chicken leg in his hand.

“Last chance for what?” he asked, sneering.

She reached into the pocket of her slacks, pulling out the small gun she’d had at the party. She pointed it at Giovanni, answering,

“Last chance to change your ways.”

I stood stock still, pressed against the doorframe and shocked by the turn of events. This was not what I’d expected to happen. Leporello ran to Giovanni’s side, sniveling incoherently, and Giovanni pushed him away, turning his attention to Elvira.

“Or else what?” he asked, standing and dropping the chicken leg onto his plate. “You’ll shoot me? You don’t have the heart.”

I had no idea how this would end, but I didn’t think I wanted to know. Everything in me screamed to run, but that deep, persistent need for closure kept me rooted in place. I couldn’t decide if I wanted Elvira to shoot Giovanni or not. Did I really want to witness a murder? And at the hands of my newfound lover? Sure, I wanted vengeance on Giovanni, but was this the way to do it? I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to process what was happening around me.

“Why is she here?” I heard Giovanni ask and I opened my eyes to see that he’d moved closer to Elvira and was pointing in my direction.

“Pay her no mind,” Elvira said and I could hear the forced nonchalance in her tone. “This is between you and me.”

Giovanni must have heard it, too, because he ambled closer to Elvira, his eyes on me. He suddenly seemed very tall and strong, advancing like a wild cat with sinewy muscles on display. Fear struck at my heart, tightening my chest like a steel trap, and I wanted nothing more than to disappear into the wall.

Elvira stepped between Giovanni and me, putting out a hand to stop him.

“Giovanni, I’m serious,” she said, but the hand holding the gun had unconsciously fallen to her side. I stared at that hand, starting to doubt Elvira’s ability to go through with her threat. With Giovanni walking toward me, and only Elvira between us, I felt very small and rather weak against the tall man’s brawn.

“You can’t be,” he said, smiling patronizingly down at her. “You want me to give up my women? My wine? You might as well ask me to stop breathing!”

“You are hopeless,” Elvira spat back, but I heard the hurt hidden beneath her words. I noted the tell-tale sheen of tears in her eyes. If I wasn’t so frightened, I imagined I might be saddened by the entire situation.

“I’m just going to go back to my dinner,” he said, stepping closer to Elvira so that they were nose to nose. Even in her heels, Giovanni towered over her. To Elvira’s credit, she didn’t so much as flinch. She held her ground, her back against the dining table. His tone liquid, he said, “If you wish, you may join me. If not, you can leave.”

“Never,” Elvira growled back.

At this, Giovanni lost his temper. He grabbed Elvira and threw her backward against the table, her legs hitting the wood surface. In her disorientation, she had no time to fight Giovanni as he approached and hoisted her up on the table, pinning her on her back. She pushed at his chest and kicked her feet uselessly, but Giovanni managed to keep hold of her, his hands clawing at her and his mouth raking across her neck.

I panicked. Everything seemed to fade around me, a thunderous white noise blocking out all sound, and my thoughts jumbled into a massive, indecipherable heap. I could only see the hideous situation before me. After that split second of hesitation, I acted without thinking.

I ran at Giovanni, pulling on his shirt and pants and wherever I happened to find purchase. I noticed myself kicking at him and I think I was screaming, but I had no idea what I was saying. I was pleading, I think.

It must have worked, because he released Elvira and turned on me.

Suddenly, I was on the ground and he was straddling me, his hands forcing my skirt up my legs. I froze, memories bombarding my mind in painful detail. Yet, for this moment, I was literally reliving them. I knew that I should do something, but I had no idea what that thing was. I was completely incapacitated by Giovanni’s roughness and the rawness of everything that had happened and that was happening again.

Then, as quickly as it started, it was over.

One minute, Giovanni was pressing my shoulders into the ground and the next, there was a loud shot and he fell, lying limply on top of me as a warm substance soaked into my dress. I screamed and pushed him off me, but I already had blood all down my front. I refused to look at him, remembering how the images of my father’s dead body had been burned indelibly into my brain.

I looked up and saw Elvira standing over me, a gun in her hand and a completely stunned expression on her face. There were tears on her cheeks and her mouth was hanging open. She looked exactly like I felt: terrified and horrified and relieved and jarred beyond words. It was obvious what had happened, but I found my lips forming the words:

“What did you do?”

Elvira opened her mouth to answer, but nothing came out. We stayed there for a long moment, staring at each other, and then Elvira dropped the gun to the ground and raced toward me. She helped me stand, a difficult task on my shaky legs, and then she put an arm around my shoulder and led me out into the hall.

Once there, my legs gave out and I nearly collapsed. Elvira caught me, hugging me tight as I leaned against the solidity of the wall. Her arms were strong around me, the single force in the universe holding me together, and I sobbed uncontrollably into her shoulder. I clutched desperately at the fabric of her shirt, unwilling to let her go. She held me and smoothed my hair and cooed into my ear. I knew that logically she should be as unstable as I was, since she’d just killed a man, and a man that she’d loved, but somehow she was composed enough to keep me sane.

After what felt like an hour of crying, there was a commotion and sirens and suddenly there were police officers everywhere, flooding the hallway in their haste. I think one of them tried to ask me questions, but I couldn’t seem to focus long enough to understand her. I heard Elvira’s velvety voice near my ear as she continued to hold me and answered the questions.

The one phrase that broke through, in a stranger’s voice, was,

“She’s in shock. She needs medical attention.”

And then someone was trying to disentangle me from Elvira’s grasp. I let go, at Elvira’s gentle insistence, but when we parted, the only thing I could see was the huge red stain on the front of her white button-down shirt. My logical brain knew that it was only the blood from my dress that had transferred to her, but the sight of it overwhelmed me nevertheless.

Suddenly, someone was carrying me into another room and lying me down on a large couch, my legs propped up on pillows. They draped a blanket over me and I was immensely grateful, since I was suddenly very cold. I heard Elvira’s voice nearby, but I couldn’t see her. I tried to lift my head up, to look for her, but it felt too heavy.

A moment or an hour later, I couldn’t tell which, Elvira was beside me again, sitting on the couch and rubbing my side.

“Dear, we have to go to the hospital,” she said. “Do you understand?”

I understood all too well. It wasn’t too long ago that I’d done exactly this, reporting to the hospital after what Giovanni had done the first time. But this time, there were higher stakes and I was more emotionally fragile than ever. I just wanted to curl up in bed and sleep for a century.

I looked up at Elvira and somehow there was a fuzzy, white light behind her. I thought, crazily, that it was a halo and that she was an angel. I nodded my answer to her question, reaching a hand out from under the blanket to touch her knee. My voice still felt too tenuous, so I didn’t add anything.

“Alright,” she said. “We’re going to put you in the ambulance. I won’t leave your side, I promise.”

I believed her.

Chapter Text

Time was a confusing fixture as I was shuffled from one place to another, finally landing in a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV and dressed in a flimsy, blue hospital gown. They’d taken my dress for evidence, and Elvira’s shirt as well, and I felt more like an orphan than I ever had. I laid quietly in the bed and Elvira stood just outside the door, in the hallway, talking softly on her cellphone. I listened for a little while, looking out at the dark night through the window before finally succumbing to sleep.

I woke to find Elvira sitting in a chair nearby, wearing a cheesy t-shirt with the Eiffel Tower on it that she’d bought in the hospital gift shop and staring pensively off into the distance, her hair tied back in a low ponytail. Her casual hairstyle, combined with the shirt, made her look smaller and younger than I’d ever seen her and I could almost imagine away the fact that she’d just shot a man. I moved, readjusting myself, and the sound caught Elvira’s attention. She turned to me and stood, slowly approaching the side of the bed.

“Hey,” she said softly, gently taking my hand. She was careful to avoid the IV and the small monitor clipped on my pointer finger as she held my fingers in hers. “How are you feeling?”

I shrugged, the movement feeling cumbersome.

“Well, they’re going to let you out of here soon,” she said, sadness prevalent in her eyes. “I called Ottavio and he’s going to bring over some clothes for you. I hope that’s alright. I didn’t want to leave you and I don’t know anyone else to call…” I let her words hang in the air, unsure how to respond to them. When I didn’t say anything, she added softly, “You don’t have to see him if you don’t want to.”

I wasn’t sure if I was just too tired, or maybe too overwhelmed, to care, but the thought of seeing Ottavio didn’t make me feel anything. I reached out my free hand, letting my fingers linger on Elvira’s forearm, and I said quietly,

“That’s ok. Thank you.”

Elvira ran her fingers across my cheek, watching me with tears in her eyes. I had no idea what she was thinking, but I had a thousand questions I wanted to ask her. They rattled in my head like loose silverware, mismatched and loud.

“How are you here now?” I asked slowly. When confusion passed over Elvira’s features, knitting her long brows together, I clarified, “I mean, how are you not in custody? You…” I meant to say that she’d shot Giovanni, but I couldn’t seem to make my mouth form the words. Elvira waited for me to speak, watching me struggle and finally give up. When it was obvious that I could not continue, she said,

“There will be an investigation, but they already know that it was an act of self-defense. Leporello testified on the spot. In fact, he was the one who called the police in the first place. The evidence will just prove it to them.”

They had examined me when I’d arrived at the hospital and I’d given a testimony of what had happened. Elvira had two witnesses on her side. That, and I knew that Giovanni’s DNA would match the sample they’d taken from me after—

“Don’t worry about it, dear,” Elvira’s voice broke into my thoughts. I knew she was right; I had enough to think about without having to worry about the possibility of Elvira being convicted for something. Still, the thought of being separated from her was almost unbearable.

I looked up at her concerned expression, thinking that I should ask her how she was, when there was a knock at the door. We both turned to look and saw a male nurse in the doorway, his hand still raised to the doorframe. He caught Elvira’s gaze, addressing her directly,

“Excuse me, but there’s an Ottavio here to see the patient. Should I let him in?”

I bit back a smile, thoroughly amused by how well Elvira had already trained the staff. Something like pride swelled in my chest, momentarily displacing the darker emotions.

Elvira looked at me for an answer and I smoothed out my expression, nodding my answer to her unspoken question.

“Yes, thank you,” Elvira replied to the nurse, her tone controlled and imposing.

The nurse nodded and disappeared into the hall. A moment later, Ottavio stood in the doorway with a tote bag in his hands. He approached us slowly, watching Elvira’s face as he drew nearer to my bed. He stopped a few feet from the end of the bed, his gaze focusing on Elvira’s hand in mine. His entire posture was rather docile, defeated almost, and I just about felt bad for him.

“How are you?” he asked, looking at me fleetingly before looking down at the ground.

“I’ve been better,” I answered honestly.

He took a long breath, as though deciding what to say or gathering the courage to say what he’d already decided, and then he lifted up the bag in his hand.

“I brought you some things.” His voice sounded stretched, on the brink of breaking. I decided to cut him as much slack as possible.

“Thank you,” I replied, trying to infuse a smile into my tone.

Ottavio stood there awkwardly another moment, his eyes always drifting to where Elvira’s hand touched mine, and I wondered for a moment if he understood. Absolutely nothing in me had any inclination to comment on it, so I kept my mouth shut.

Elvira alleviated the tension by releasing my hand and extending hers to Ottavio to take the bag from him. He handed it over quickly, giving Elvira a halfhearted smile. She was unreadable.

He looked back at me and I felt rather exposed in that moment, lying in bed in only a hospital gown. I knew he was fighting himself internally, so I waited for him to work it out. Then, he said quietly,

“I’m sorry about what happened. But I’m glad that you’re safe.” He looked to Elvira then and something passed between them. It was as if he knew that he owed her a great debt that he could never hope to repay. Elvira’s face remained neutral, but I could see something in her eyes: a coursing, hot emotion that was still a mystery to me.

The moment passed and he looked back at me, his face crinkling slightly and I thought he might cry.

“I’ll see you around,” he said noncommittally. He moved, as though to take a step toward me, but Elvira took a step, too, and he stopped. He nodded at me once and then turned on his heel, walking out of the room.

Elvira watched him as he left, her gaze unwavering until he was out of sight. Then, she visibly relaxed, taking a step closer to my side and letting out a long breath. She looked at me, a gentler expression on her face and a smile playing at one corner of her mouth.

“Do you think he knows?” she asked me, her tone almost playful.

“I have no idea,” I answered candidly.

Elvira let the smile that was tugging at her mouth escape, turning its brilliance in my direction. I smiled back at her and she rewarded me by walking to my side and pressing a kiss to my forehead. Then, she took a step back and lifted up the bag in her hand.

“Here,” she said. “We’ll ask the nurse if you’re ready for release. Then, I’ll help you get to the bathroom and you can get changed.”

“You’ll come home with me?” I asked too quickly. I realized this too late, unable to take my words back or make them sound less desperate. I looked away, ashamed by my brokenness and by my dependency on Elvira. But I felt her hand on mine and heard her voice say,

“Of course I will.”

Relief filled my head, dulling the torturously horrible feelings that I feared would take up permanent residence in my heart. Knowing that she’d be there with me made things a bit more bearable.

I took hold of her fingers, looking up at her and whispering,

“Thank you.”

She gave me a sad smile, the reminder of our situation clouding her earlier happiness, and said,

“Always.”


XxxXxxXxx


It was past 3am when we fell into bed, both recently showered and in clean pajamas. My room felt warm and comforting after the sterile environment of the hospital and the familiarity of my bed, combined with Elvira’s nearness, helped me drift off easily.

I slept soundly until a sound jarred me from sleep. I sat straight up, my heart pounding in my chest so hard that I almost shook with the movement of my blood racing through me. I listened, waiting to hear a repeat of the sound that had woken me.

After a few seconds of hearing only my own heartbeat rushing in my ears, it happened again – a choked moan of some sort coming from nearby. I turned to see if Elvira was still asleep and found the place beside me empty.

I shot out of bed, carefully padding over to my bathroom door. The light leaked out from under the door, confirming my suspicions. I knocked gently on the door, asking,

“Elle? Can I come in?”

Her only response was some muffled sobbing, so I tried the door. It was unlocked. I pushed the door open slowly, saying,

“I’m coming in, ok?”

She didn’t object, so I entered the bathroom.

I walked in to find Elvira leaning over the sink, a hand covering her mouth and blood leaking through her fingers. I looked closer and saw that her other hand, resting heavily on the counter, was also bloody and red spotted the entire inside of the sink. I felt panic and confusion clouding my brain, making it hard to reason out what to do.

I raced to her side, sliding an arm around her waist to steady her despite my aversion to the blood. I was afraid and it manifested in my voice as I asked,

“Oh my God, are you hurt? What happened?”

She pulled away from me, slipping out of my grasp, and she didn’t answer my questions. Instead, she turned away from me and started to cry in full-force, crumpling to her knees on the bathmat. I gave her her space for a moment, grabbing a hand towel from out of the cabinet and soaking it with water before attempting to approach her again.

I moved to kneel in front of her, gently taking one of her hands and cleaning it with the towel. The sight of blood made my stomach curl and it took all my willpower to keep from throwing up or fainting from the memories it evoked. I tried to focus on the problem at hand instead, thinking through the possible reasons for Elvira’s current state.

Once I’d finished cleaning her one hand, I reached for the other, which had been hiding half of her face from me, and after she reluctantly relinquished it, I clearly saw that she’d recently had a simple nosebleed. That explained the blood, at least. I let out a breath of relief.

As I cleaned her second hand, I looked at her even though she wouldn’t look at me. I supposed that she’d held it together all day until this point and now she was breaking down. I was surprised it had taken her this long, considering everything that had happened.

It was then that I realized that she’d been staying strong for me. But once I was asleep, she was alone with her thoughts. Not exactly sure where to start, I spoke, my tone gentle and experimental,

“You don’t have to tell me what happened. Just let me help you, alright? We’re in this together, remember?”

At this, she turned to look at me, her eyes wide and rimmed with red. The sight, stark and desperate in the night, chilled me, but I held my ground, releasing her now-clean hand.

I moved closer, lifting the towel to clean the blood from her face, but she took hold of my wrist to stop me. Despite my surprise, I purposely relaxed my hand in her grasp to show her that I wasn’t going to fight her. She released my wrist, taking the towel from me and cleaning up her face herself. As she did, she explained, her voice brittle and hoarse,

“I woke with a nosebleed. I was fine…until I saw the blood. Then, it’s like everything that happened today happened again, all at once, and it just hit me and—“

Her voice broke completely then, her shoulders sagging and her chin falling to her chest as a sob heaved through her entire body. I moved closer to her, taking the towel from her and setting it aside before I pulled her into my arms on the bathroom floor. She cried violently and loudly into my shoulder and I held her as best I could, weathering through it with her.

“You’re going to be alright,” I said over and over again. “Everything is going to be alright.”

Eventually, she ran out of energy and I just rocked her gently, running my hand up and down her back. I kissed her hair and hummed as tears fell down my own cheeks.

Everything felt out of place and broken, but deep down, I knew somehow that the pieces would fit back together again someday.

After she’d been quiet for a while, I ventured to pull away and look at her face. She looked immensely drained, her skin pale and her eyes red. I caught one of her errant tears on my thumb, saying,

“Do you want to go back to bed?”

She nodded weakly, the least strong gesture I’d ever seen her make, and I kissed her cheek to cheer her up, tasting the salt of her tears on her skin.

“It’ll be alright,” I said again. She gave me another weak nod and I was satisfied.

I stood up before extending my hands to her. She took them, lifting herself unsteadily to her feet and standing there awkwardly for a moment. Then, without warning, she embraced me, crushing my torso with a ferocity that I didn’t expect from someone who should be exhausted beyond words.

“Thank you,” she whispered, the words barely formed.

“Always,” I responded, echoing her own words from earlier.

She squeezed my ribs once more and then let go, her fingers teasing at my hips. She looked up at me, sheer exhaustion written on her features but her eyes alight with something beautiful. She said,

“Let’s go to bed.”

I just gave her a small smile and willingly obliged.

Chapter Text

We slept in, the sun warming the bedsheets for a long time before we left them. I awoke to Elvira’s nose pressed into my shoulder and her one arm clutching my waist. Still asleep, her breath tickled my skin, my sleeveless pajama shirt supplying no protection. I giggled without meaning to and Elvira woke up, lifting her head.

She frowned at me, as though she was unsure what had woken her, and asked instinctively,

“Are you alright?” Her voice was low and sleepy, lacking its usual precision, and its darkness, that usually lurked under the surface, was markedly pronounced.

“I’m fine,” I answered quickly, smiling at her.

At my reassurance, she let her head drop again, burying her face in the space between my arm and the bed. She tightened her grip around my middle and let out a resigned moan.

“I don’t want to do anything today,” she said, her voice vibrating against my skin.

“Me neither,” I answered truthfully.

I was trying very hard to keep my mind off the previous day’s events. I wanted to start the day well, with as many good feelings as possible. And, more than anything, I wanted to be there for Elvira like she’d been there for me.

I let her lie beside me in silence for another minute, listening to her breathing and glad to hear that it was normal. Some birds chirped right outside the window, their songs intersecting unpleasantly. Wanting to focus on something else, I decided to speak again.

“We don’t have to do anything, you know,” I pointed out. “You’re stuck in town until the investigation is completed anyway. You might as well spend that time doing something enjoyable.”

Elvira lifted her head again at that, propping herself up on her elbow. She looked at me with a strange expression on her face – something like disbelief combined with self-restraint – and she opened her mouth to speak, but didn’t say anything.

It was moments like this that made Elvira such a mystery to me. She felt like some huge, uncontrollable force of nature bottled up in a small, and extremely attractive, body. I was surprised that she found me interesting enough to hang around and that I could handle her at all. Although, I suspected that I could handle her only because she allowed me to.

I thought back over my words, realizing that I’d been thinking about something innocent, but my words were rather suggestive, especially given the circumstances. At this realization, I decided to play along with Elvira’s misinterpretation, since we both needed the distraction and I was feeling rather good at the moment.

I looked up at her with an expression of obvious lust, my eyes half-closed and my lips pursed. Had the situation been different, I might have done more, but, for now, I wanted to give us each our personal space.

“Well?” I said. Her mouth hung open in shock.

“Anna…” she said uncertainly, my name sounding like a warning.

“Yes?” I answered, pouting out my lips and pretending to be oblivious to her reaction.

“Anna,” she started again, “I don’t know that you know what you’re doing.” She sounded really worried.

At this, I couldn’t keep up the act anymore. I started laughing at her, holding onto her wrist that was still draped over my stomach.

“Of course I know what I’m doing,” I told her. “I just like to tease you.”

I wanted to mention that, had yesterday not happened, I would have done much more to tease her, but I didn’t want to bring up the topic. Instead, I lifted my body off the bed to meet hers, leaving a kiss on her cheek.

“You’re funny when you don’t know what’s going on,” I added.

“And you are playing with fire, my dear,” she replied with a smile, her eyes dark.

I smiled apologetically up at her, taking the end of her hair, which hung close to me. I watched the darkness between my fingers, thinking of what I wanted to say next.

“No pressure,” I started, “but eventually I think we have to talk about some things. Not today, but soon maybe.”

“Yes,” she answered, her voice colored with a concoction of emotions. Generally, it just sounded tired, yet sincere.

She laid back down next to me, dropping a kiss on my exposed shoulder before burrowing back into my side. She let the hand that was resting on my stomach move across to my side, rubbing comfortingly along my ribs.

“I appreciate you giving me space,” she said. “You’re being careful with me because of what happened yesterday.”

I nodded, surprised that she’d picked up on all that without me telling her outright.

“But you don’t have to,” she continued. “I’m more worried about being careful with you. You have to let me know, alright?”

“Yes,” I answered. “But only if you’ll do the same.”

She tightened her hand on my side, as if in gratitude, and kissed my shoulder again. Her fingers were comforting against my side and I turned my head to smile at her.

“It’s a deal,” she said. I suddenly felt her toes on my calf, creeping under my pant leg and making their way up toward my knee. I thought this was a funny and rather domestic thing to do.

“Hey!” I said, squirming out of her grasp and pulling my leg away. She sat up, looking down at me with a smirk and the expression was irresistibly sexy. How she looked so attractive with her bed-wild hair and pajamas, I had no idea. I found that I couldn’t look away.

My staring only encouraged Elvira, who reached down to run her fingers along my neck before twisting them into my hair. I closed my eyes, enjoying the pleasant feeling of her affectionate touches. It was such a welcome sensation after the violence I’d been subjected to twice in as many weeks. I felt raw from it, hesitant, but Elvira had only made me feel safe, a balm on the wound.

I opened my eyes when her other hand rested on my jaw, her thumb rubbing over my lips. I could tell that she wanted to kiss me and, honestly, I wanted her to. I smiled under her thumb, encouraging her with a look.

Slowly, she leaned toward me until our lips met. Her kiss started feathery and gentle, but then it melted into something simultaneously sweeter and more intense. I reached for her waist as an unexpected warmth spread through me, drawing her closer to me. She reacted by burying her hand deeper into my hair and bringing the other to pull at my waist.

She broke away from our kiss, bringing her lips to my neck instead. Her bright scent filled my head as her kisses chased away my thoughts, leaving only a tingling feeling in my fingers. I grasped her tighter, wondering why I was perfectly fine with everything instead of panicking.

Elvira kissed the hollow of my neck, right between my collarbones, and then pulled away, moving to kiss my forehead before lying down against me, her legs entwining with mine. Her hand drifted down to my hip, wedging us closer together, before she nuzzled her face into my shoulder, letting out a content breath.

“Have you seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s?” she mumbled into my shoulder.

I felt my brow knit in confusion at the randomness of her question. My heart was only now starting to slow its rapid pace.

“Of course I have,” I answered, the bewilderment obvious in my tone.

Elvira let out an amused burst of air from her nose.

“Let’s have an Audrey movie marathon. Sitting on the couch and watching one of the classiest women of all time sounds like a good afternoon to me. What do you think?”

“Yes, I like that idea.”

Turning her head the slightest amount, she pressed her lips to my shoulder.

“Good,” she said and then, with her body pressed against mine, she dozed off.


XxxXxxXxx

“I forgot how much of an ass this Henry Higgins guy is,” Elvira commented, curling closer against me on the couch. “I don’t know what she sees in him.”

She sipped her coffee as punctuation to her statement, rolling her eyes as Eliza and Henry sang through the beginning of “The Rain in Spain.” I’d always enjoyed My Fair Lady, because it was funny and I liked the music, but this time around I was noticing how much of a misogynist Henry Higgins actually was.

Elvira let out a sigh, cradling the coffee mug in her hands and leaning her head on my shoulder. It was nice to sit with her, in her dark-washed jeans and royal purple blouse, and get lost in the movies for a while. We’d already finished Breakfast at Tiffany’s (“She just gets the best clothes in this movie,” Elvira had commented) and we planned on Roman Holiday next.

The movie continued, but I found my mind wandering. Elvira’s comment about Eliza’s questionable reasons for liking Henry spurred a thought that had been hiding just at the edge of my mind since the previous day. Elvira’s words to Giovanni, the whole last proof of my love deal, sent a shiver of discomfort through me. The thought that Elvira had loved, and maybe still loved, the man responsible for all the violence in my life, all the grief – it frightened me to my core, unsettled me. I supposed that the only thing that had been keeping the thought at bay this long was the undeniable safety I felt with her. That safety that I had felt even before I knew anything about her.

As Henry Higgins played on his stupid little xylophone, the urge to ask Elvira about all this, to get the truth about her feelings, ate at my insides. Then, when Henry and Eliza began to dance, the pressure building up was nearly impossible to keep back. I knew that I should just ask her and get it over with instead of torturing myself with the possibilities.

“Do you still love him?” I whispered without preamble.

Elvira didn’t move immediately, or even breathe I thought. She seemed taken aback by the question, stunned into a pervasive stillness. Then, finally, she took a breath and moved away from me a little. She hid the move by reaching forward to put her coffee on the coaster on the low table in front of us.

She didn’t meet my gaze at first, but after a moment she turned to me and studied my face. She seemed unsure how to answer my question and this only exacerbated my worry. Sadness and uncertainty painted her expression, but her voice was even when she answered, her words careful and slow to form,

“I did love him once. But when I learned who he was, what he’d done, what he’d done to you…Well, everything changed. I still loved him, but I know now that it was different somehow. I was holding onto something, trying to be righteous about it. I thought that I could save him, change him.”

She looked down at the ground then, the sounds of Eliza adjusting to life as a lady benevolently playing in the background, and I thought she might have tears in her eyes. Feeling bad for upsetting her, I put a hand on her shoulder, gently rubbing her back until she spoke again. Quietly, almost reluctantly, she confessed,

“I do feel something for him, but it is not love.”

This placated the nagging upset in my chest, calming it to something like respect instead. I moved my hand from Elvira’s back to her knee, running my fingers over it to show her that she was forgiven. She took hold of my hand, stopping its motion on her leg, and brought it to her lips, kissing my palm.

Turning back to me, she asked,

“Does that upset you?”

I could see now that there were, in fact, tears in her eyes. I wanted to reassure her, so I searched for the right words.

“No,” I replied. “Of course I can’t fault you for past feelings. It only matters how you feel now. Obviously you didn’t choose him, because…” I couldn’t bring myself to finish the thought. I shook my head at my apparent inability to finish a sentence, but Elvira broke into my self-deprecating thoughts with a soft touch to my cheek.

I looked at her, noticing how her eyes were painfully sincere. I watched her lips as she said,

“I did it to protect you. I didn’t know how else to save you. It was a reaction, but it was also a decision.” Her fingers were tight on my chin, lifting my gaze to hers, as she said, “You know this, right?”

In that moment, I realized that Elvira had done more for me with that one action than anyone had ever done for me in my entire life. She had saved me. I suddenly wondered how I could have even questioned her intentions.

I nodded in response to her question, my words gossamer as they left my mouth,

“Yes. Thank you.”

She leaned forward and kissed me, the contact brief but meaningful. I was quickly growing accustomed to the feel of her lips and the taste of coffee on them. It all thrilled me.

Then, she settled next to me again and the pressure of her body against mine stirred up the sense of safety that she often evoked. That, and it spurred a hint of desire in the pit of my stomach. I tried to ignore this, focusing instead on the movie. It was the horse racing scene, but it felt like enough time had passed that it should be the end already. I let out a sigh, saying,

“I always forget that this movie is eternally long.”

Elvira kissed my cheek, causing my stomach to flip, and said,

“Don’t you worry, we’ll make it.”

Chapter Text

That night, I woke sometime after midnight with a hollowness sitting in my chest. The feeling unnerved me and I laid there for a few long moments, staring up at the ceiling, until I gathered the courage to move. When I did, I turned to find Elvira close. She was sleeping on her side, her breathing calm and her full lips just slightly parted. I scooted over to her, situating myself as close as I could get and putting an arm around her waist.

She moved in her sleep, pulling me closer, and I quickly found my nose against her skin, wrapping me in her scent. The familiarity of her perfume and her warmth were a welcome addition to my current situation, reminding me that she was close and that I was safe.

The intensity of the hollowness dulled and I found myself drifting off to sleep again.

Some indiscernible amount of time later, I awoke again. But this time, my awakening was more violent, my body launching itself from a terrifying and vivid dream. Giovanni, large and beast-like, had been clawing at my clothes, at my skin, at my hair— tearing me to shreds.

I screamed and thrashed, my mind hovering in some place between full consciousness and dreaming, and the sheets, tangled around my legs, bound me to the bed. The restriction only made me panic more and I found it hard, in the darkness, to discern exactly what was happening to me.

“Anna! Anna!” a voice called and it didn’t sound like Giovanni at all. It was feminine and…concerned.

I held my eyes tightly shut, stilling my frenzied movements for a moment as I allowed my brain to come into focus. Breathing felt impossibly difficult, air coming and leaving too quickly to catch any useable oxygen. I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder and a voice said again,

“Anna, are you alright?”

I opened my eyes and Elvira was looking down at me, sadness in the curve of her mouth and fear in the crinkled edges of her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” I muttered automatically, moving to sit up. Elvira helped me, putting a steadying hand on my back.

She slowly rubbed her hand up and down my back as I sat there, appalled to feel my body shaking against my will. I hugged myself, trying to make it stop. Tears came quickly to my eyes, large drops starting their slow and torturous journey down my cheeks.

“Just breathe,” she said gently, “just breathe. Ok, look at me, Anna. We’ll do this together.”

I didn’t turn my head, so Elvira put a hand to my chin and turned my face toward her. She held my gaze with her intense one, leaving no room for argument, but her words were gentle when she said,

“Anna, listen, you have to breathe, dear. We’re going to breathe together, alright? Slowly take a breath in.” She demonstrated, taking an exaggerated and long breath. I tried to mimic her, my chest fighting against me as I attempted to take a deep breath.

On the exhale, I choked on the air, coughing and then sobbing. I felt like an absolute mess and I had no idea why Elvira wasn’t running out of the room at top speed.

Instead, she moved closer, pressing her front to my side and rubbing the length of my back. She rested her forehead against the side of my head, making soft shushing noises by my ear. I cried and held myself, my sobs sounding tortured and strained in the silence of the night. I scared myself with the desperation I heard in my own voice.

I leaned all the way over in my seated position and pressed my face into my mattress, letting the comforter muffle my cries. Elvira held me, lying her head on my back.

“You’re going to be alright,” she said more times than I could count, her voice infinitely calm.

After my crying had slowed, I sat back up again, pushing the hair from out of my eyes. I wiped at the tears on my face, trying to brush away the stickiness. I felt absolutely miserable and I wasn’t sure how to lift myself out of it.

We were silent for a few minutes, during which Elvira rubbed my back and held my hand. Once I was a bit better, only suffering the occasional catch in my breath, she asked me quietly,

“Do you want to talk about it?”

I shook my head, my voice sounding more like a croak when I said,

“It was just a dream.”

“But dreams can be powerful,” she replied. “Sometimes if you talk about it, it goes away faster. But only if you wish to.”

I looked down at my hands, which rested limply in my lap. One hid inside Elvira’s pretty, manicured hand. The sight of our connection gave me the strength to speak.

“It was him,” I said simply. “He was hurting me.”

I felt Elvira’s hand tense up. She only said,

“I’m sorry.” And I knew she meant it.

She leaned closer, kissing my hair and clutching my far shoulder. She pulled me against her for a brief moment and then let go, her hand falling to the bed. She spoke, her words fractured and fragile,

“You’re safe from him now. Just remember that you’re safe.”

I nodded, suddenly feeling very tired. I laid down again, the pillow feeling splendidly secure under my head, and Elvira laid beside me. We faced each other and the concern in her face was impossible to miss. I imagined that I must look terrible.

“I’m not usually like this,” I said apologetically.

“I know,” Elvira said, stroking my cheek with her fingers. “But you will not always be like this. Just remember that. This will pass.”

I nodded to show her that I agreed and then closed my eyes, focusing on the feeling of her fingers on my cheek instead of the unpleasant throttling of my heart.

“Anna,” Elvira began carefully and I knew she was going to say something that she thought I didn’t want to hear. “I will always be here for you, you know that. But I am not an expert. I think maybe, considering the circumstances, you should talk to someone about this. Someone more qualified than me.”

I didn’t answer and I didn’t open my eyes. Instead, I let the idea rattle around in my brain. It seemed logical and obvious, and part of me knew she was right, but I was hesitant.

“Can we talk about this tomorrow?” I said finally.

“Of course, dear,” she replied easily. I heard a rustle of movement and then felt her lips on my forehead. I opened my eyes then, catching worry in Elvira’s eyes before she could hide it.

“Thank you,” I said softly.

I didn’t want her to answer this. So when she opened her mouth to respond, I lunged forward and captured her lips with mine. She breathed into the kiss in surprise, her hand coming to rest on my jaw. I let my kiss relax into something gentler, more grateful than needy, and my hand rested of its own accord on her thigh.

We separated naturally and Elvira pulled back to look at my face. Whenever I kissed her, she got this look on her face like she really wanted more, but was dutifully restraining herself. The expression was there again, so I raised myself up a little on the bed, leaning close to her ear and whispering,

“Soon.”

I dropped a kiss on her ear and then collapsed back into bed, running my hand quickly up and down her thigh in an affectionate gesture. Elvira had this predatory look on her face for a moment, but she quickly schooled her features and I felt a little better about things. I pecked her once more on the lips and then burrowed into her arms, wrapping my arm around her middle and tangling my legs through hers. I rubbed my nose against her chest, taking a deep breath of her perfume.

I let out a sigh and settled in, hoping for sleep.


XxxXxxXxx


That day, right after lunch time, I witnessed a previously undiscovered side of Elvira.

We were in the parlor, seated on opposite couches. I was curled up in the corner of the loveseat reading Jane Eyre, which I’d started before this entire ordeal had begun and had abandoned until this moment, and Elvira was across from me, flipping through a fashion magazine she’d found among my mail. Everything seemed quietly content and rather normal.

Then, Elvira let out an angry-sounding rush of air and I looked up at her. She scowled down at the pages of the magazine, her expression unusually dark. I couldn’t guess what had caused this new mood, but I figured it was my job to find out and see if I could help.

“Elle?” I asked gently, trying to show my concern on my face. She looked up from the page, moving only her eyes, and her mouth set into a tight line.

“Hmm?” she replied.

“Are you alright?”

She let her gaze fall back to her magazine, the smallest of shrugs moving her shoulders.

“We can go outside if you’d like,” I suggested, “go for a walk. Maybe the fresh air will make you feel better.”

She bristled at this, saying quietly,

“I don’t take much stock in the power of fresh air.”

It seemed like such an irrational thing to say, and rather too hostile a response given the topic of discussion, but I let it go. I spoke as I had before, sure to keep any hurt or annoyance from my tone as I said,

“We’ve been cooped up inside for too long. I think it would do us both some good.”

Elvira’s lips tightened so much that they almost disappeared completely. Her jaw was tight, as I’d seen it be at other times of anger. I wasn’t entirely sure how to handle her at the moment, but I decided that I had to stand my ground no matter what.

I put my book down, turning down the corner of the page to save my place, and said,

“You can tell me if there’s something wrong.” There obviously was.

She let out another rush of air and it sounded just as angry as she looked. She was still staring at her magazine, but I could tell that she wasn’t looking at it. I could imagine the wheels in her head turning, the gears grinding and making her angrier all the time. The intensity of her emotions drew me to her, made her interesting, but this side of the coin was difficult to manage.

I stood up, thinking to go to her side, and her attention snapped to me, her gaze menacing. I put up my hands, as if to show her that I wasn’t going to do anything she didn’t want, and stood there, waiting. This exchange made me realize that I’d have to suggest to her the same thing she’d suggested to me: professional help. The thought that both of us had to go to counseling made me sigh.

Elvira took offense to my sigh, saying,

“Am I aggravating you?”

I looked at her, feeling a little sad, and said honestly,

“No.”

I took a step closer to her and she seemed to draw back, like a caged animal. A wild and majestic animal, but a wounded one nevertheless.

“I just want to help you,” I said. “I’ll leave you alone for a while if it’s what you’d like.”

“I don’t want your help,” she snarled and the strange light in her eyes told me that if I didn’t leave now, she could possibly get volatile.

“Alright,” I conceded. “I’ll be upstairs in my room if you want me.” I walked back to the couch to pick up my book and then left the parlor without another word.

I laid down on my bed, trying to read again. I found my mind wandering, considering Elvira, and I finally gave up on the book when I had to read the same paragraph three times over. I put the novel on my night table, curling up on the bed and closing my eyes. I let my mind roam freely now, going over the possibilities of how I could have handled Elvira better. I was still learning her signals, still figuring out the unpredictable turns of her boiling emotions, and I knew that it would take time to get it all worked out.

I sighed and huddled deeper into my pillows, releasing the problem into the universe. Instead, I remembered how she’d calmed me after my nightmare only hours before and how gentle she’d been with me. I held onto this, hoping that she’d return to this more agreeable state of mind sooner rather than later.

I don’t know exactly how long I was lying there, but it was definitely no more than a half hour before I heard my door open and soft footsteps approach the bed. I kept my eyes closed and my breathing even, feigning sleep, and I felt the bed move as someone climbed on. Then, there was a body pressed against my back and an arm around me and lips on my neck. Elvira’s voice, quiet and penitent, said,

“I’m sorry.”

I let out a long breath of air, my ribs pressing against her, and I waited a moment before I said,

“It’s alright.”

We laid there another moment, my mind spinning with possibilities of what to say next. I finally chose,

“Are you alright?”

Elvira kissed my neck, just once, and then said,

“I will be.”

I wanted to turn, to face her, but I thought that maybe not seeing her face would make it easier to talk. So I stayed where I was, her warmth at my back, and I asked,

“What made you so angry?”

She held me tighter, pressing her lips against my shoulder thoughtfully. Then, she admitted,

“Everything. I suppose I’m just tired of waiting to hear back about the investigation. I’m anxious for it to be done with. I just want to move on, but I feel like I can’t until this is over.”

“I know what you mean,” I said softly.

She moved the hand that had been holding me and rubbed my side instead. A bit more earnestly, she said,

“But I shouldn’t take it out on you. That isn’t fair. Can you forgive me for this?”

I nodded, pressing back against her. She wrapped her arm around me again and kissed my ear. A wave of relief calmed my tense muscles, allowing me to relax.

“I know this is really difficult,” I said. “All of it. It’s just…” I blew out air instead of a word, unsure how to finish what I was trying to say.

“I know,” she said, her voice warm. “It is difficult for the both of us. But I won’t let you slip away from me.”

She held me even tighter then, her gesture suggesting a new sort of urgency. My skin tingled at the raw emotion ebbing off of her. It was so different from anything I’d ever experienced before and positively electric. I felt drunk on it.

I turned in her arms, our faces suddenly very close. Elvira must have felt whatever was happening between us, because she kissed me without hesitation. She kissed the corner of my mouth first, experimentally, and then moved to kiss me fully on the lips. This time, her kisses were careful, reverent, as if she were apologizing all over again.

I curled my fingers into the fabric of her shirt and breathed in her perfume. Her closeness and the exhilaration of her kisses started a gentle thrumming somewhere near the base of my spine. I wanted to explore this feeling, to find out where it would go, but my recent experience with Giovanni made me cautious. My happiness felt so fragile, so easily scared off. I didn’t want to risk trying things too early and upsetting myself or Elvira. I wanted our time together to be untarnished by the effects of Giovanni’s actions.

Yet, I didn’t want fear to keep me from everything. And Elvira’s lips, combined with the tingling in my fingers, were very persuasive.

I pulled away from our kissing and moved my hands from her sides to the front of her shirt. I took hold of the first button on her blouse, pausing and asking for permission with my eyes. Elvira gave me this seductive half smile, as if she was impressed by my decision, and I began to unbutton her shirt.

Once I’d gotten two buttons undone, she kissed me fiercely, her fingers roaming the hem of my own shirt. Once or twice, I felt her fingers on the bare skin beneath my shirt and the feeling only made me want to kiss her more. I moved to finish unbuttoning her shirt, going slowly since I was doing it completely by feel. Finally, the last button gave and

Elvira sat up, pulling me up with her.

I gently pushed the shirt over her shoulders and off completely, exposing the skin of her torso for the first time. I sat back slightly to look at her. I couldn’t look away from the lines of her shoulders and the slight dip of her waist. She was beautiful.

As I’d half expected, she wore a lacy black bra, something that was so completely her that it endeared me to it immediately. That, and how it perfectly accentuated the attractive swells of her breasts. Elvira didn’t shy away in the least; instead, she seemed to preen under my gaze. The confidence made her all the more attractive.

I ran my finger along the line of her collarbone, the skin soft beneath my touch, as Elvira tugged questioningly at the bottom of my shirt. I smiled at her and then she had my shirt over my head and off my body faster than I’d expected.

She leaned back against the pillows, pulling me down with her. Her fingers were warm on my uncovered skin and I enjoyed the smoothness of her own skin as I slid my hand along the length of her side. I thought that Elvira seemed more like the type to want to be on top, in control, but I realized, as I slowly moved closer to kiss her, that she was relinquishing the position to me in order to make me more comfortable. She had seen what Giovanni had done, how he had dominated me. Not repeating that position for a while was probably a very good idea.

I showed my gratitude for her sensitivity with a kiss, my bare torso pressed against hers. The meeting of skin felt incredible, sending warmth down through me again. She seemed ignited by our touch, her fingers frantically entangling in my hair, pulling me closer, and her kisses growing more intense. Her body leaned into mine, as though drawn by some invisible force, and I smiled into our kiss.

The afternoon sun, combined with Elvira’s attention, made me feel buoyant and free in that moment. I could easily imagine that none of the horrible events of the past few weeks had ever happened and that I was just a normal person living a normal life. I felt that I could enjoy Elvira’s passionate nature and give back, like I wanted to, instead of always depending on others for recently much-needed emotional support.

Caught up, I swung my leg over Elvira’s hip and straddled her in my loose skirt. I ran my hands up and down her sides as I kissed her, pressing her into the pillows, and she held onto my thighs. Her fingers and lips assured me that she wasn’t upset by my actions, so I didn’t stop.

After a minute, she pushed at my shoulders playfully and I instinctively backed off of her. She followed me, though, quickly recapturing my waist and kissing a slow line down my neck. I thought my heart might flutter right out of my chest.

My already-racing heart only sped up as her lips dared to journey closer to my collarbones, finally grazing them before traveling beyond. I must have shivered or something, because she pulled away and returned to kissing my lips instead. I wanted to tell her that she didn’t have to stop, but I was afraid that her continued attention would overwhelm me completely and I wasn’t sure that I was ready for that.

I broke away from her kiss, my breath coming fast with my excitement. She smiled at me, the expression rather self-satisfied, and then she grabbed me and unexpectedly pulled me down into the pillows. And damn was she strong. Her strength, and the ease with which she was able to move me around, surprised me. The idea wasn’t contrary to how I already thought of her, but the physical evidence made me feel differently for some reason. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly how, but I figured that was something to ponder later.

Elvira folded me into her arms, kissing my hair before relaxing beside me.

Sabrina?” she asked.

Confused, I pulled out of her arms to look at her.

“Excuse me?” I must have looked hurt, because she quickly clarified,

“The Audrey movie, Sabrina. Do you want to watch it next?”

I shook my head and returned to her embrace, glad to have her skin against mine once again.

“Should I be jealous of Audrey?” I asked teasingly. “Since obviously you’re thinking about her when we’re together.”

“You should most definitely not be jealous” she answered. “Is Audrey the one in this bed right now?”

“Excuse you,” I said, a smile playing at my lips, “but have you forgotten that this is my bed? And you’re only here because I let you be.”

Elvira made a strange laugh, this short, dark sound that I’d never heard before, and then she replied,

“You’re right, dear, of course.”

I buried my head into her chest, smiling against her warm skin. The comforting beating of her heart tapped in my ears, chasing away the last of my distressing thoughts.

“It’s good you said that,” I added, my tone light. “Because otherwise I would have to kick you out of this bed right now, no questions asked.”

“Quite the tragedy that would be,” she answered and I could hear the amusement in her voice.

“Indeed,” I agreed and pulled her closer. Her perfume enveloped me and I suddenly felt rather drowsy. I took a moment to situate myself more comfortably, curling up against Elvira, and then I closed my eyes and let my brain float away on the good feelings that the woman had evoked.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Elvira’s phone rang while we were still in bed. It was the police station. They’d finished their investigation and they needed her to come down to hear the results. She quickly dressed and rushed out, leaving only the memory of a kiss on my lips and a promise that she’d return soon.

I stayed in bed, gathering the sheets around me and pushing against the overwhelming sense of loneliness that fought to take up residence in my chest. After a few minutes of this, I decided that it would be best for me to get up and get ready for the day. Dressing in regular clothes always made me feel more in control, more normal.

But I didn’t get up right away. Instead, I rolled over to Elvira’s side of the bed and pressed my face into her pillow. The scent of her hair, mixed with a hint of her perfume, soothed away the encroaching negative feelings. I laid there, enjoying it for a moment, before I found the energy to stand and head toward the bathroom.

A half hour later, clean and dressed, I ambled downstairs for breakfast. I ordered my own food and had the cook put coffee on for Elvira so that it would be ready the moment she got back.

I sat at the dining room table alone, staring down at my toast. My stomach growled with hunger, but the thought of eating anything, even plain toast, just seemed the most repugnant thing imaginable. My logical brain knew that I had to, and should, eat, but my emotional body had other ideas.

I picked up the strawberry jam they’d brought out, mindlessly spreading it on the toast in the hope of tempting myself into eating it. The crunching of the knife against the toast was white noise to my loud thoughts. I wondered what Elvira was doing, what they were telling her. I knew it was selfish of me, but I was immensely glad that she hadn’t asked me to come along. The thought of listening to details about the incident made my insides clamp up with nerves.

I felt strong, unwanted emotions coming back, so I pushed away my offending thoughts. Instead, I picked up my tea and focused on the taste of the hot drink. A thousand things that I had to work through battled to take possession of my thoughts, but I fought back, allowing myself to think only of my tea and the fact that Elvira would return soon.

I successfully kept vigil and I was just finishing my lukewarm tea when Elvira rushed in. She felt like a breath of fresh air, my saving grace from the encroaching darkness. Her eyes were alight with excitement and her entire body radiated something vibrant and overpowering. I found myself standing from my seat, the teacup abandoned.

Before I could even ask the question that was begging to be asked, Elvira marched right up to me and enveloped me in a firm embrace. Her arms pressed fiercely against my ribs, her strength making me feel small and breakable.

“It’s all over,” she said, her voice loud by my ear.

I pushed her away gently, air rushing back into my compressed lungs.

“What?” I asked softly, looking up into her face. She smiled brightly at me, her hands still holding onto my arms.

“I’m free. We’re free,” she said, her words coming fast. “They matched Giovanni’s DNA to the evidence from your case and they corroborated evidence from the scene with your and Leporello’s testimonies. They ruled my actions as purely self defense. I am free to go wherever I wish. We are free to go wherever we wish and we don’t have to worry about this ever again. Isn’t it wonderful?”

Elvira’s words built up around me like a wall of bricks and then came crashing down, bringing a feeling of intense relief. I let out my breath, bending at the waist and fighting a sudden wave of dizziness.

“Anna?” I heard Elvira say, her voice far away. I felt her hand around my waist, holding me steady. “Anna, are you alright?”

“Yeah,” I answered her. “Just a little overwhelmed.”

“Here, sit down,” she said, guiding me back to my chair.

I sat back at the table, looking at my untouched toast. It sat there like a symbol of my unrest, of my lack of normalcy. These radical events had changed me for now. I hoped it would not be for forever.

I looked up at Elvira, who was leaning over me with worry written all over her expression. The excitement was still there, brimming under the surface, but it was muted by her concern.

“I’m alright,” I assured her, reaching for her hand. She grasped at my fingers quickly.

“This is all good news,” she told me. “I know it’s a lot, but it’s all good.”

I nodded, looking down at our intertwined fingers.

“I know,” I said. My voice sounded fragile and I hated that. I squeezed Elvira’s hand, hoping that some of her strength would leak through and run through my own veins.

I leaned my head back against the chair, closing my eyes and taking in a long breath. I tried to steady my heart and my thoughts, focusing on the feeling of Elvira’s skin against mine. I took a few more steadying breaths, then opened my eyes and looked at Elvira.

“I’m so glad to hear that it’s over,” I said with a smile, my voice markedly sturdier. Elvira smiled back at me, the aura that had accompanied her entrance returning. She nearly glowed from it, making her exquisitely beautiful.

“So glad,” Elvira echoed. She lifted her free hand to my face, gently stroking my cheek with her thumb. I leaned into her hand, trying to let the gratitude show in my expression as I looked up at her in adoration. I felt that I owed her the world and I didn’t even care that I was in her debt. It was a new, and strange, feeling, but not an unpleasant one.

“Thank you,” I whispered and I knew she knew I was thanking her for her brash actions on that horrid night in Giovanni’s mansion. She watched me carefully, emotions crinkling the edges of her eyes. I could see tears there, but she smiled in response to my words.

“I would do it a thousand times more, if it meant saving you,” she said and I could hear the cracks in her voice as her control slipped. A tear escaped one eye, running quickly down her cheek.

I slowly stood from the chair, feeling a bit shaky but holding her gaze as I wiped the lone tear away.

“I know you would,” I said. “That’s one of the reasons I feel so safe with you.”

It felt monumental, admitting this. It was a release. I so often kept my thoughts locked up, especially since the incident, and it felt good to let them out for once. And I knew they mattered to Elvira.

She suddenly drew me to her, winding her arms around my waist. I felt her nose in the crook of my neck, her breath hot against my skin.

“I’m glad,” she said into my neck, then dropped a kiss just below my ear.

I let her stay there for a moment, just enjoying the warmth of her closeness. It was such a change to have someone like her in my life. A lovely change, for sure. She suddenly pulled away from my shoulder, exuberance in her expression.

“Why don’t we go out to dinner tonight?” she asked, taking one of my hands in hers. “You know, a really nice dinner. On me. What do you think? I can finally take you on a real date. Are you ready for that?”

Elvira’s offer surprised me, even though it shouldn’t have. I hesitated, thinking about the implications of what she was asking. Of course I wanted to go out with her. I just wasn’t sure if I was ready to go out into the world just yet. It felt unpredictable and slightly hostile.

“We can go somewhere quiet,” Elvira added, most likely picking up on my reluctance. “Anywhere you like. But if you don’t want to, we don’t have to. I won’t be offended. I just thought it might be a good idea.”

I nodded slowly, taking in her words. I did want to go with her, and I knew that she’d keep me safe and that she’d let me go home when I wanted to, no questions asked. That made me feel that I could control the situation a bit more and I felt more willing to go out into an unknown environment.

Elvira waited patiently for my answer. I gave it to her a moment later.

“I think it’s a good idea,” I said carefully. “We should try it.”

“Fantastic,” she said, pressing the briefest of kisses to my lips. “And you can change your mind whenever, even the moment we’re leaving.”

“Sounds good.” I gave her a pale smile, which she returned ten-fold.

Once I felt that the moment had passed, I said lightly,

“I do have some good news for you.”

Elvira looked at me expectantly.

“Yes?”

“There’s coffee made and waiting for you,” I said, my tone brimming with self-satisfaction. Elvira smiled widely and I couldn’t help but smile back at her.

“Have I told you recently that you’re the perfect woman?” she asked. I felt my cheeks heat at her compliment and I turned my face away out of reflex. She squeezed my waist once and then kissed my cheek before letting me go and taking a seat in the chair closest to mine.

“Well, well,” she said as I took a seat, “where is this alleged coffee?”

Chapter Text

“I’m thinking of cutting my hair. A bob maybe.”

Elvira indicated her jawline and I blanched at the idea.

We were seated in an Italian restaurant in town, our table small and secluded in a quieter corner of the establishment. Elvira’s shiny dark hair, which I imagined had taken a good amount of the three hours she spent separated from me, was elaborately twisted up. She wore a stunning, knee-length red dress that was audaciously low-cut and a heavy silver necklace. I’d decided on a more modest, yet classy, black dress and delicate, white gold jewelry. I’d left my hair curled and loose and I’d paid close attention to my makeup. I’d realized, while applying my mascara, that recently I had only used makeup as a mask. Now, for the first time, it felt like something to enhance my beauty instead of something to hide the evidence of my broken life.

I tried to process Elvira’s comment about a haircut, watching as she sipped her red wine and deciding how to say what I thought. I knew that people tended to get haircuts after a huge event or a break-up, but it made me sad to think of losing Elvira’s beautiful, long hair.

“You should do what you want of course,” I began slowly, looking down at the barely-eaten gnocchi on my plate. “But I think that your hair is beautiful and it would be a shame to lose so much of it.”

I lifted my gaze to find Elvira arching an eyebrow, her fingers playing at the stem of her wineglass.

“Oh,” was all she said and I realized that I’d never spoken aloud the details of what I thought about Elvira physically. She’d caught me staring enough times to know that I found her attractive, but I’d only been vague with my praise of her attributes.

“Well,” she started, “in that case, I’ll keep it.”

“You don’t have to,” I added quickly. “Especially not just on my account.”

Elvira shook her head lightly, smiling.

“Your account,” she said, stressing my word choice playfully, “is the one I care about. So, I’ll keep it until you tire of it.”

“Alright,” I conceded, secretly pleased that she’d chosen to listen to me.

A comfortable silence fell between us and Elvira contentedly sipped her wine. I could tell that she was thinking about something, perhaps deciding how to broach a subject. I picked at my food, waiting for her to work out what she wanted to say. I caught her pursing her lips and I felt that that was the clue she was about to talk. And I was right.

“Speaking of your account,” she said, “I was wondering what your feelings are on our living situation. I don’t mean to pressure you, because it’s fine how things are now, but I want you to know your options.”

I nodded in encouragement, listening to her words but not watching her face. She reached her hand, the one that had been playing with her glass, across the table toward me. I looked down at it for a moment, cataloguing this event in my memory, before I slid my hand gratefully into hers. She ran her thumb over my fingers and continued,

“If you wish, I can return to the inn and give you your space. Or we can keep things as they are. Or I can move all my things in with you. Or we can take some time at my place in Burgos. I’m willing to go along with whatever you’d like to do.”

None of this came as a surprise to me, since she had already mentioned it, but her offer still sounded immensely generous. It felt strange, and slightly scary, to have the decision in my own hands, and in my hands alone, and despite the tingle of fear, I relished in that moment.

I knew I wanted Elvira to stay close, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in Seville or travel to Burgos for a while. My anxiety made me want to stay where I knew everything, where there were no surprises, but another part of me wanted to get away from everything that reminded me of the painful incidents of the past weeks. I’d never been to Burgos, but I’d heard it was nice. And Elvira would be there with me.

“I’m not sure,” I answered.

“Well,” Elvira started, “if you had to just blurt out the first answer that came into your head, what would you say?”

“I’d say that I want to go to Burgos with you.”

My answer surprised even me. It had been so easy to say it. And now that it was floating out in the world, it just felt right.

“I see,” Elvira said, a secret smile playing at her lips. She squeezed my hand and then released it, returning to her dinner.

“You don’t have to decide right now,” she said, “but I think that is a good plan regardless.”

“No,” I said, “that’s really my decision. Let’s go to your villa for a few weeks, or as long as you’ll have me.”

“You’re sure?” she asked, giving me her entire attention. There was something shining in her eyes, something just on the cusp of identification, and I watched it for a moment, trying to work it out. When I couldn’t, I simply answered,

“Yes, I’m sure.”

Elvira smiled at me and there was something different about her expression. It was freer somehow, less guarded.

“You’re going to love Burgos,” she said excitedly. “It’s beautiful and there are so many things that I want to show you. They have the best wine. And you’ll adore the cathedral. It just takes your breath away.”

I couldn’t keep a smile from my face. Her elation was contagious.

“I can’t wait,” I said. And I was surprised to find that I meant it.

Elvira took hold of her wine and raised it slightly in my direction.

“A toast,” she said. “To new beginnings.”

I picked up my fancy glass of sparkling water (I was still avoiding alcohol) and clinked glasses, holding Elvira’s gaze as was custom. I echoed,

“To new beginnings. May they be better than our endings.”

“Agreed,” Elvira said before taking a sip of her wine. I drank my water, feeling the meaning of the moment sinking into my heart. I believed it. I really could have a new beginning and it could be better than everything I’d left behind. I wanted to believe that all the violence and grief could be washed away eventually. Not suppressed or ignored, but resolved. I wanted to take these wounds and turn them into strengths to sustain me through the rough times ahead.

I smiled at Elvira, hoping that my intense gratitude showed on my face. Elvira took another sip of her wine, her seductively dark eyes watching me from over the glass.

Carefully, hopefully, I asked,

“When should we leave?”

Elvira just put down her glass and smiled like I’d just handed her the whole starlit universe.


XxxXxxXxx


Three days after our dinner date, we packed and embarked for Elvira’s hometown. About halfway through our 6-hour roadtrip to Burgos, my legs cramped despite the roominess of Elvira’s Lincoln. I leaned forward to massage my calves.

“You alright?” Elvira asked, turning her head for the briefest moment to look at me instead of the road. The sound of string instruments floated softly in the background, the classical music a continuous and nonintrusive presence during our trip.

“Just a cramp,” I answered lightly. “It always happens on long car trips.”

“Your feet do tend to get a bit cold in bed,” she commented. “Maybe your circulation isn’t the best.”

It was funny to hear her talk about me that way. It was new for someone to know something like that. I found it adorably domestic.

I shrugged noncommittally.

“Who knows,” I said, the pain in my legs easing up a bit as I continued massaging them. Elvira chanced one more concerned glance in my direction and then we fell into a comfortable silence as I tried to remedy the condition of my leg muscles.

As usual, Elvira broke the silence.

“It’s strange, making this trip,” she said. Her voice took on this light, wistful tone and the novelty of it made me focus intently on her words. She continued, “The only other time I drove this route was when I came to Seville to hunt down Giovanni. But that trip was very different from this one. I was so angry then. And rather desperate, honestly. But now, with you, it’s the complete opposite. I’m peaceful. I’m content. It’s nothing like what I expected, but I think it’s a good way to have things happen.”

I stopped massaging, moving to touch Elvira’s knee instead. She wore a grey pencil skirt, so my fingers met her bare skin. She’d abandoned her heels right at the beginning of our trip, dropping them in the footwell behind my chair. She also wore a black blouse, an ensemble that I thought a bit formal for a roadtrip. But from what I could tell so far, Elvira always dressed up and I supposed that she prided herself on it.

“I’m glad to hear that,” I said.

I watched the hypnotic movement of the highway beneath us and the trees beside us. Long car trips always put me in a pensive mood, the unchanging motions luring my thoughts out into the light. Usually, I’d keep these things to myself, but Elvira had just shared with me and I thought it would be a good idea to return the favor.

“If you’d told me a month ago that I’d be driving across the country,” I began, “with a woman I’d just met, I don’t know that I would have believed it. Nevermind all the other things that have happened…”

Elvira smiled to herself, replying,

“Yes, it is all rather unexpected. A few months ago, I definitely didn’t think I’d be chasing a man all the way to Seville.”

“Have you always lived in Burgos?” I asked.

“Yes,” she answered. “My whole life, actually. I had a very domineering father, so leaving wasn’t an option for a large portion of my life. Then, when I was finally old enough to leave, I didn’t. I guess I’d grown complacent. That is, until Giovanni stepped in and changed everything.”

The mention of Giovanni made my heart clench for a moment – an involuntary reaction – but I forced myself to focus on another detail of what Elvira had said.

“You said you ‘had’ a strict father. If you don’t mind me asking, is he no longer alive?”

Elvira paused, but I didn’t sense the sadness from her that I’d expected. Instead, there was only a quiet resignation.

“He passed away two years ago,” she said. “Heart attack.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

She shook her head, her gaze still on the road.

“It’s alright. It feels like ages ago. So much has happened since then.”

I just nodded, understanding that concept completely.

“And your mother?” I asked, realizing how little I knew about the woman I’d invited into my bed not just once, but on multiple occasions.

“She’s still alive,” she answered. “She’s a quiet, sweet woman. She always means well, but she has no will of her own. She’s been even quieter since Father passed. Maybe you’ll meet her while we’re in Burgos. That is, only if you wish to. I’m sure she’ll want to stop by, only because I’ve been away longer than I’ve ever been before.”

I remained silent a moment, thinking about what she’d said. Then, meekly, I said,

“It’s nice that you have your mother. I think I would like to meet her.”

“I think you’ll get on well.”

I pondered a moment, deciding whether or not to say the words that waited in my mouth. Wanting to be closer to Elvira, I decided to push through my shyness and say it.

“I didn’t really know my mother,” I confessed. “She died when I was very young.”

Elvira was quiet a moment, absorbing what I’d just revealed to her. Her expression was blank at first, as if unsure which emotion it should be expressing. Then, a look of understanding passed over her face, tugging the corners of her lips downward.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” she said finally, her words markedly soft. “I think she must have been a rather remarkable person, if you’re any indication of what she was like.”

I found myself blushing at the compliment.

“I’ve been told that she was a kind and gentle woman, full of compassion,” I said, repeating words that had been spoken to me by family and family friends who had known her.

“Then I was right to assume such a thing,” Elvira replied, the downward turn of her lips replaced with a small smile.

I didn’t say anything. Instead, I reached for Elvira’s hand, which rested on her leg as her other gripped the steering wheel. I gently intertwined our fingers.

“Anna,” she began, her lips lingering on my name. I made a little sound of affirmation and she continued, her phrases forming slowly as though she was thinking aloud, “The more I learn about you, the more I’m amazed. You have had heartache and loss in your life, and now trauma of the worst kind imaginable, but yet you have remained a beacon of hope, a brilliant light in the darkness. Your strength, your endurance…it’s truly incredible. I don’t know if anyone has ever told you that, but even if they have, it just needs to be said. You’re amazing, Anna. Truly amazing.”

The moment was overwhelming. It was as though Elvira’s words justified all my anguish and grief and sadness. It proved to me that she understood it all as well as I thought she did. And she didn’t run away. Instead, she embraced it. She wasn’t pushing me away. Instead, she was pulling me closer. I didn’t want to cry, but I felt tears starting. I tried to hold them back.

All meaningful words flew from my mind and I was left feeling content and accepted. In some way, Elvira and I belonged to one another and no matter what happened in the future, nothing had the power to change that.

I sighed with relief, holding Elvira’s hand tighter and squeaking out,

“Thank you.”

She squeezed my hand, sneaking a glance at my face. She seemed pleased when she turned back to the road, her hand warm against mine.

Chapter Text

I awoke to the chill of cold air on my face and the warm pressure of lips on my neck. It took a moment for my brain to fully comprehend these things, but when my thoughts cleared, I was happy to feel a body pressed against my back and an arm around my waist.

“Wake up,” a husky voice breathed in my ear.

I turned to face the source of the voice, shivering slightly as winter air slithered under the covers.

“Good morning,” I said, taking in the sight of a rather awake Elvira before touching my lips to hers. I shivered again and she pulled me closer, rubbing her hands along my back. Her body was warm as always, almost radiating heat.

“How can you be so cold?” she asked, her mouth pressed against my sleep-tangled hair.

“How can you not be?” I replied. “It is December and you’re in shorts.” I wore much more sensible flannel pajamas.

“You are correct,” she admitted. “December 25th, to be exact. Which is precisely why I woke you up.” I pulled away from her slightly so I could look at her face as I said,

“Please don’t tell me that it’s 5am and you’ve woken me up at an ungodly hour simply because it’s Christmas.”

“Nonsense,” Elvira replied. “I let you sleep until 8am because I am so patient and considerate.”

I moaned, thinking that Elvira’s early-morning tendencies were going to be the death of me.

“One more hour,” I begged, turning away from her.

“Come on, babe,” she said, rubbing my arm. “It’s Christmas. It’s the first Christmas I’ve ever had with a significant other and I don’t want to miss an hour of it.”

Her words stopped my thoughts, spinning them off in a new direction. I’d always assumed, for some reason, that Elvira had had a string of lovers. I’d unknowingly assumed that her bed was not often vacant. I was beginning to think that maybe I’d been wrong on that count.

“Really?” I heard myself asking.

“You sound surprised,” Elvira answered, the shadow of laughter in her tone. “Now I’m curious.”

Her hand tugged on my shoulder and I knew she wanted me to turn to look at her. I’d noticed pretty early on that she liked to have eye contact when we spoke. So I obliged, turning toward her in bed, Elvira’s comforter soft against my cheek.

“Well,” I began, unsure exactly how to express what I was thinking without ruining the good mood of the morning. “I suppose that I’d assumed you’d had significant others in the past to share the holidays with.” I used the same phrase she had to soften my meaning.

Elvira shook her head.

“It never worked out that way.”

A sadness had crept into her tone sometime between her last comment and this admission. The sound of it, blaring and unfortunately familiar to my ears, made me move closer to her, my arms finding their way around her.

“It has worked out now,” I reminded her, kissing her ear.

“All the more reason to get out of bed and enjoy the day,” she said and I didn’t have to see her face to know that her smile had returned. I smiled, too, realizing that I was still learning how not to get whiplash from her quickly changing and intense emotions. I decided to accept her good mood, teasing her as a way to adjust to her fluctuating feelings. I put my lips to her ear and said,

“Who says we have to get out of bed to enjoy the day?”

Elvira pulled away from me as though I’d hit her, a look of surprise on her face.

“Of all the things I never expected to come out of your mouth,” she said. I smiled at her.

“Consider it part of your Christmas present,” I said, leaning forward and touching my lips to hers.

“Gladly,” Elvira replied. Then, before I was entirely sure what was happening, she crashed our lips together in an intense kiss, her fingers automatically winding into my hair.

My hands held fast to her hips, trying to stay grounded as I felt the heat of her exposed skin against my fingers. Elvira had allowed her more vivacious side out more and more as time passed. I enjoyed the experience, grateful that she’d eased into it gradually as the hurts inflicted by Giovanni faded.

I thought about how easily she kissed me. How many times had we kissed these last six months? How quickly had the most unexpected thing become the most natural thing in the world?

When Elvira broke the kiss, her fingers lingering on my neck, I whispered,

“Thank you.”

Elvira smiled at me, inquiring,

“For what, dear?”

“For everything,” I answered automatically. I let my hand drift beneath her shirt, my fingers ghosting across the soft skin of her stomach. “For letting me stay here with you,” I clarified. “For accepting me, for helping me through all of this…for looking out for me.”

I let my hand drift up her back now, counting her vertebrae as my fingertips traveled along her spine. Then, unable to look her in the eye, I said softly,

“You’re the best present I could have ever asked for.”

Before I could look up to see her reaction, Elvira drew me close, burying my face in the crook of her shoulder. I felt her lips on my hair, kissing me repeatedly as her fingers tangled into my hair.

“You are an angel,” she said.

I thought I heard the beginning of tears in her voice. I rubbed my hand on her back, trying to both soothe her and show her my gratitude at once.

“I’m just glad we found each other,” I whispered. Elvira nodded, her chin brushing against my ear with the movement.

“Yes,” she added, squeezing me once for emphasis.

We laid there for a long moment. I listened to Elvira’s staggered breaths, the pounding of her heart a comforting and well-known sensation against my chest. In that moment, I felt immensely lucky. With Elvira’s love and my therapist’s help, I’d weathered through the worst of the storm of emotions left behind by Giovanni. Now, there were only occasional squalls and miles of quiet, still waters.

When the moment had passed, I pulled out of Elvira’s embrace and said,

“How about we get on with our Christmas celebrations?”

“I thought we’d already started,” she replied, a playful smile pulling at her mouth.

“Right,” I said. “How could I forget?”

Elvira captured my jaw in her hands and pulled me into yet another passionate kiss. It was a kiss that said “we’ve kissed a hundred times” and “we will kiss a hundred more.” It was a promise and a confirmation. It made me feel safe, wanted – loved.

I kissed back with equal fervor, hope for a bright future fluttering happily in my heart.