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Fractured Souls: Chapter 19

Pavel

Slow, emotional notes drift in from the living room. I open my eyes and stare at the ceiling. A little while ago she played “Für Elise.” I don’t know the name of this particular melody, though, and I rarely ask because I prefer when Asya tells me on her own. Her music is very personal to her, so the fact she shares something she feels this intimate about, without me asking for it, strikes a deep chord in my soul. Early on, I got used to not asking for things in my life, and it became a habit. Why ask for things when the answer will almost always be no? Yes, there’s a possibility for a different outcome, but I guess I prefer not asking over dealing with disappointment.

My first few years in foster care, I kept asking the same three questions. Did my mother call? Did anyone call looking for me? Will my mother come back? The answer was always no. Then, the questions changed. Do I have any other family? Will another family pick me like some of the other kids? Like that troublemaker, the boy who kept fighting with the other boys at one of the homes I lived at. I don’t remember his name. Was it Kane? Or maybe Kai? Two of the other foster kids ended up in the emergency room when they teased him about his long hair. The crazy fucker bit off a chunk of one’s ear and stabbed a fork into the other’s neck. That boy disappeared after that, and we all thought he ended up in juvie or a mental institution. But a few months later I overheard the social workers saying he was adopted. So, I resumed pestering the foster parents and the social workers day after day, asking if someone would adopt me, too. I asked and asked until my foster dad got fed up with it and yelled into my face to stop asking idiotic questions. I followed his advice.

Is it my fear of rejection that makes it so hard for me to ask Asya to stay with me? Last night, I almost did. I wanted to ask her so much that I barely managed to stop the words from exploding out of my mouth. She might have said yes. I know she likes spending time with me. I think she even likes me, but remaining with me would mean not returning to her family. Does she like me enough to choose me over them?

The melody in the living room changes. I know this one. It’s the piano version of the Game of Thrones intro. Asya loves that one. I roll out of bed, intending on dragging her back to bed, just as my phone rings on the nightstand. Roman’s name lights up the screen.

“Pakhan?” I ask when I answer the call.

“I need to talk with you, Pavel.”

“All right.” I nod and sit on the bed.

“In person,” he adds in an ominous voice. “I’ll expect you at the mansion in an hour.”

The line disconnects.

 

* * *

 

I step inside the pakhan’s office and find him seated behind his desk. Mikhail and Sergei are there, too, lounging in the recliners by the bookshelf.

“Pakhan.” I close the door behind me and head toward his desk. “Is something wrong at the clubs?”

“Not exactly,” he says. “Tell me, Pavel, is there anything I need to know? Something you forgot to mention, maybe?”

“About what?”

He tilts his head to the side, regarding me. “Does the name DeVille sound familiar to you?”

A chill runs down my spine.

Roman smiles. It’s not a nice smile. “I see it does.” He leans forward and hits the desk with his palm. “What the fuck were you thinking, hiding Arturo DeVille’s sister at your place?”

It takes me a few moments to recover. How the fuck did he find out?

“She doesn’t want anyone to know. Her brother included,” I say through my teeth. “When she’s ready, she’ll call him.”

“I don’t give a fuck what she wants!” Roman snarls. “Her brother has been searching for her for months, thinking she’s dead! Can you at least imagine what it’s been like for him? His baby sister, gone, not knowing if she’s dead or alive?”

I fist my hands and grind my teeth. “Asya doesn’t want to call him, Roman.”

“Do you know she has a sister, Pavel?” Roman continues. “A sister who spent two weeks in the hospital after she swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills because she believed it was her fault that Asya went missing?”

“Shit.” I close my eyes. “Is she okay? Her sister?”

“She’s okay.”

“How do you know all this?” I ask and look at him.

“When Asya went missing, Ajello sent a message to all Cosa Nostra Families, demanding they report it if anyone sees her. He sent her photo.” The pakhan sighs. “Damian Rossi saw you two at Ural last night. Arturo was at my door at six this morning.”

I grab the back of the chair in front of me, gripping it hard enough to make my knuckles turn white. “Did you tell him where she is?”

Roman throws a look toward where Mikhail and Sergei are sitting. “He’s currently on his way to your place, Pavel.”

I stare at him while fear worse than any I’ve ever experienced spreads from the pit of my stomach. He is going to take her away. I turn on my heel, ready to rush out of the office and head home, only to find Sergei blocking my exit.

“Move!” I snarl and lunge at him, but two arms grab me from behind.

“Pasha. Calm down,” Mikhail says, restraining me.

I thrust my head back, headbutting his forehead. Mikhail’s hold falters and I use the opportunity and lunge at Sergei. He gets my head with his fist, but I throw my elbow into his stomach. I dodge, avoiding his next punch, and take a swing at his face just as Mikhail rushes me from behind, pinning me against the wall beside the door.

“You can’t fucking keep a person from their family!” he roars next to my ear and bangs my head against the wall.

“He’ll take her away!”

“He can’t take her away if she doesn’t want to go,” Mikhail says. “But if she wants to, you don’t have the right to make her stay.”

“I know.” I close my eyes and slump against the wall, defeated.

“Let him go, Mikhail. You can leave,” Roman says from somewhere behind me. “You, too, Sergei.”

I hear the door opening and retreating steps, but I don’t move. My forehead rests on the cool surface. I’m slowly going numb.

“Pavel, look at me.”

I open my eyes and tilt my head to the side. Roman is standing next to me, leaning on his cane.

“You need to let her go. If you don’t, neither you nor her will know if she’s with you because she loves you. Or if it’s because she’s afraid to leave.”

“You don’t understand,” I say. “I’ve never had anyone, Roman. Until her. I can’t imagine my life without her anymore.”

“She needs to go see her sister. She needs her family. And her family needs her. But she will return.”

I look at the wall again. “She won’t. If she leaves, she won’t be back.”

“Why are you so certain?”

“Because she doesn’t need me now, Roman. She needed me before. Not anymore.”

“Do you want her to stay with you just because she needs you? You deserve better than that. Both of you do.”

“I know.” I bang my forehead on that goddamned wall as if it’ll help stifle the terror raging inside me.

“Go home. Talk to her. Talk to Arturo, he deserves an explanation.” Roman places his hand on my shoulder and squeezes. “Take a few days off if you need to. And please stop banging your thick head against my wall. You’ll break the fucking thing.”

“My head?” I ask.

“The wall, Pavel. If your skull didn’t crack during all those years of fighting, it certainly won’t now.”

I snort and shake my head.

 

Asya

 

There is a knock on the door.

My fingers still on the piano keys. Pasha never knocks. He always rings the bell. It must be a neighbor wanting to ask me not to play so loud. I cross the living room and open the door. When my eyes land on the man standing on the other side, I quickly take a step back.

“Dear God,” my brother chokes out and pulls me into a bear hug, squeezing me so hard that it’s impossible to move a muscle.

I try to gulp a deep breath, but no air seems to enter my lungs. Another try. Arturo eases his hold and looks down at me with a slightly crazed look in his eyes. And then, he’s squishing me to his body again. My arms are shaking as I embrace him and press my cheek to his chest.

“I thought you were dead,” he says into my hair. “I thought someone took you, and I’ve been waiting for someone to call and ask for a ransom. The call never came.”

“I’m sorry,” I mumble, tears gathering in the corners of my eyes. It’s hard to believe he’s here after all this time. And it feels good. “I’m so sorry, Arturo.”

“Why, Asya? Why not let us know that you’re okay?” He cups my face between his palms and tilts my head up. “Where have you been all this time?”

I watch my brother while worry ignites a foreboding feeling in the pit of my stomach, spreading the heated pulses of dread up my chest.

“We found your purse and glasses behind that bar. And blood. What happened?”

I open my mouth, but no words leave my lips.

“Jesus fuck, Asya, say something, damn it!”

“I was raped!” I yell into his face.

All color leaves Arturo’s face. He blinks. His hands on my cheeks start shaking. I wrap my arms around his back and bury my face into his chest.

And then I talk, but I don’t tell him everything.

When I’m done, Arturo lowers himself to his knees in front of me, still holding me in his embrace. I thread my fingers in his hair and lean my cheek on top of his head, listening to him as he mumbles how he’s going to crucify the son of a bitch who hurt me, then how much he loves me.

“I love you, too, Arturo,” I whisper.

And that’s why I haven’t told him the whole story. I skipped the worst part. It’s better like this.

“We need to call Sienna,” Arturo murmurs. “I didn’t want to tell her anything until I was sure. In case . . . in case it wasn’t you, I couldn’t risk her doing something stupid again.”

“What do you mean?”

He shakes his head and holds me harder.

“What did she do, Arturo?”

 

Pavel

 

The first thing I notice when I step inside the apartment is a dark-haired man sitting on the sofa in my living room. He’s looking at the floor between his feet, elbows leaning on his knees as his hands grip his hair.

“Where’s Asya?” I ask.

“Taking a shower. Preparing to leave,” he says, still looking at the floor.

“She told you everything?”

“Yes. I also know she’s been here this whole time.”

I cross the living room and take a seat on the recliner to his left. “I need to give you some pointers on Asya.”

His head snaps up, and two dark brown eyes, the same shade as Asya’s, pin me with a stare full of hatred. “I don’t need you to give me fucking pointers on my sister. I raised her since she was five.”

I ignore his hostility. “She still has problems making some decisions. We worked out almost everything, but she may need help from time to time. Try not to give her specific direction, but rather steer her toward it.”

He stares at me in silence.

“No daisies. Not flowers, and nothing else, either, like curtains or whatnot with pictures of them,” I continue. “She’s not triggered by suits anymore, but men’s ties can still distress her. If you’re in public, and the place is crowded with unfamiliar men wearing suits, you need to hold her hand.”

He looks down at himself, focusing on his silk gray tie, then lifts his head and passes his eyes over my T-shirt and jeans. When he moves his gaze up and our eyes meet, I see the loathing there.

“Jesus fuck!” he barks. “You’re in love with her.”

I don’t look away as I reply, “Yes.”

“She’s eighteen, for God’s sake! You are too old for her. Asya needs someone her age. And definitely not an ex-convict.”

“You checked me out?”

“Of course I checked you out. I wanted to know the man who was keeping my sister from me. I even dug up videos of some of your fights.”

“Well, I hope they were entertaining.”

Arturo leans forward and pins me with his gaze. “You tried to steal my baby sister! An abused, hurt girl. You kept her from her family, even though you knew she needed us,” he spits out. “I don’t know what kind of sick fantasy you created, playing house with a teenager, and I don’t care. I won’t let you get near her again! Ever! My sister deserves better.”

“I know.” I rise and head to the stand by the front door where I keep some pens and paper. “I’ll give you my number. Call me if you need any help.”

I walk back and drop the paper on the coffee table in front of Arturo, then head toward the front door. “I’ll come back in two hours. Will you be gone by then?”

“No goodbye?” he raises his eyebrows.

“No,” I say.

“Good.”

I nod and leave the apartment.

 

* * *

 

I’m sitting in my car two streets down from my building when my phone rings. “Moonlight Sonata” surrounds me. I lean my head back and watch the cars passing down the street. The ringing stops but immediately starts again. I let it run its course, the sound reverberating through the small space. I could have silenced it. Every fucking tone feels like a knife to my chest, but I didn’t. The phone rings four more times, and I let it ring through every fucking time.

A message arrives. I take the phone off the dash and look at the screen. It’s a voice mail. I hit play.

“Pasha? What’s going on? Arturo said that you came home and left? Did something happen?” Rustling in the background. “We’re heading to the airport. I need to go see Sienna. She . . .” Sniffing. “My sister tried to kill herself. She thought what happened to me was her fault. I’ll stay with her for a few days and then I’m coming back. I’ll call you when I get there” Her voice sounded shaky. Was she crying?

The message ends. I hit play again. And again.

 

* * *

 

It’s almost midnight. I’m lying on the couch, gripping the phone as it continues to ring in my hand. I want to swipe that green button and take the call so much; it’s making me crazy. I don’t. My mind keeps replaying that one sentence Asya’s brother said.

You kept her from her family, even though you knew she needed us.

He was right. I should have contacted him to let him know she was safe. If I explained the situation, he might have agreed to wait until Asya was ready to face him. But I was too selfish and too fucking terrified that he would take her away from me. I could no longer imagine my life without her. The possibility of her leaving scared the fuck out of me and I was ready to do whatever was needed to make sure she stayed. So, I kept my promise to her and remained silent, a self-preserving son of a bitch. I became her fucking demon. No one deserves to be with such a person, especially not Asya.

I’ve always believed I would be able to measure love by how much I would want to be with a person. Deciding to be with someone for the rest of my life seemed like the pinnacle of love. Wrong. I understand things much better now. Knowing that Asya, the woman I love, will be better off without me, I had to let her go. Even though it hurts. Even when it’s shredding me on the inside. Maybe, if I loved Asya a little less, I would have found a way to keep her with me. I love her too much to do that to her, though, so I’ve let her go.

I should have answered the call. Said goodbye, at least. But I couldn’t. Hearing her say she’ll come back, but knowing that she won’t, I couldn’t risk speaking to her. I would have done something stupid, like make her promise she’ll return to me.

My eyes land on the piano near the living room window. Why didn’t she take the damn thing with her? I get up off the sofa and head into the kitchen to grab the toolbox from where I keep it under the sink. When I come back to the living room, I’m holding a hammer in my hand. Walking to the instrument, I intend to smash the thing until there is nothing left of it, but instead, I end up staring at the keys for an hour. Asya loves this piano. The hammer falls from my hand, hitting the polished floor with a loud thud. I can’t make myself destroy something that brought her joy.

My phone rings. I grab it and throw the fucking thing across the room.

It’s better like this for her. She won’t feel obliged to call me out of some misplaced sense of gratitude or whatever. It might be hard for her to adjust for the first few days at home, but she has her family now. Friends, too. Soon enough, she’ll forget all about me and continue with her life. Maybe I’ll do the same.

The phone rings again. It rings two more times that night.

It keeps ringing at least ten times every day for the following five days.

On the sixth day, it rings only once, and then the calls stop.


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