“Bethany, Mr. Fulton is here. Come down now.”
Beth stood at the top of the stairs, heaving out her breaths. Cynder stood behind her, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest, a frown on his face. “Why would they even think it’s a good idea to send that man to talk to you?”
“I don’t want to do this,” Beth said, tears stinging at the corners of her eyes. “I don’t want to go near him.”
Cynder took a step toward Beth and wrapped his arms around her, murmuring in her ear, “It’s okay. I’ll be there with you, and if he tries anything…” He narrowed his eyes and hugged her a little closer. “Well, then I might just have to reveal myself to him.”
“Bethany!” her grandmother yelled, sounding entirely irritated.
Beth let out a shaky sigh and wiped the tears away from her eyes. She slowly pulled out of Cynder’s arms and went down the stairs, trying to keep her breathing under control. When she got to the bottom of the stairs and stepped into the living room, she found Bill Fulton standing there with her grandmother. His hands were clasped behind his back and there was an all too friendly smile on his face. He wore a nice suit, like he did when he went to church, making him look overly formal. It made Beth feel even more uneasy than before.
“Hello, Bethany,” he said. “How are you doing today?”
She frowned and looked away, unable to answer. Her grandmother gave her a stern look but Bill just chuckled.
“Well, it’s alright, that’s why I’m here after all, right? Why don’t we sit down?”
Beth and her grandma sat down on the couch together, and Bill sat in an armchair facing them. He put his hands together and gently tapped his fingertips against each other. Beth’s grandma gave Beth a mild glare, then her expression softened. “Bethany, come on now, we’re here to help you.”
“That’s right, Bethany. Please, why don’t you tell us what’s troubling you?”
Beth slowly tipped her head up, a frown on her face. “My mother killed herself and told me she did it because of me, because she couldn’t stand looking at me. What do you think is bothering me?”
Her grandma let out an audible sigh. Bill slowly leaned forward, his fingertips still pressed together as he peered over them at her. “Bethany, I think it’s important for you to realize that your mother was mentally unstable. Not only that, but her life was steeped in sin. There’s no reason you should listen to the words of such a woman.”
“She would have been fine if you had never come along,” Beth muttered.
“Bethany!” her grandma scolded, and she looked like she was ready to slap Beth across the face. Beth cringed back but the blow didn’t come, probably because there was someone else present.
Bill narrowed his eyes and a strained smile crept over his face. “Your mother was also a liar. I’m surprised you still believe what she said after living so long with your grandparents. Haven’t they set you straight yet?”
“I don’t need to be set straight,” Beth said before her grandma had time to respond to him. “My mother was telling the truth. Just because no one else believes it doesn’t make it a lie, and just because everyone believes you doesn’t make what you say the truth.”
The corners of his mouth twitched, and all of a sudden a terrible fear stabbed into her. She wanted to run and hide in her room but she couldn’t move. Bill looked to her grandma and said, “Would it be alright if I talked to Bethany alone for a moment?”
Her grandma hesitated, looking uncertain, then she stood. “I can make you some tea of coffee if you like.”
“Coffee sounds great,” he said with a smile. Her grandmother left and went into the kitchen, leaving Beth even more vulnerable than before. Bill turned to her and she swore she saw flames flickering in his eyes.
“Stay away from me,” she whispered, but she wasn’t sure words had actually come from her mouth. He seemed to be getting closer and closer to her even though he hadn’t moving at all.
“Bethany, I want to make something very clear to you,” he said, his voice gentle and quiet, though entirely threatening, sending chills down her spine. “I can make your life very difficult if you force me to. Don’t forget your place in this world, little girl. You are nothing but a bastard child, but you are still to obey my words, whether anyone acknowledges us as father and daughter or not. It doesn’t matter.”
Beth grew pale and she felt like she was going to throw up. She wanted nothing more than to run to her room, for Cynder to come and take her away from this awful man. When she didn’t say anything, Bill leaned a little closer to her and reached out, taking a lock of her hair in his hand.
“You know something? Your mother was quite beautiful. You look just like her.”
“Here we are.” Bill leaned back in his chair, letting go of Beth immediately as her grandmother came in with his coffee. She handed him the mug and sat down with Beth again. Bill smiled and nodded his head in thanks, taking a sip of the coffee.
“Ah, wonderful. Now then, I don’t think we’re going to be getting anywhere with her today, but I would like to set up some more sessions with her, if I could. Some one on one sessions.”
“Of course. You know, she’s always been somewhat of a problem child. I think it’s finally time we do something about it.”
“Believe me, I intend to.”
When Bill left and Beth was finally allowed to go back to her room, she collapsed on her bed and curled up into a tight ball. She felt sick, her stomach twisting into knots. She started to sob uncontrollably and it made her hurt all the more.
Cynder gently stroked her back, murmuring quiet things in Beth’s ear which she couldn’t quite understand but it made her settle down. When she had stopped crying, Cynder pulled her into his arms and hugged her close, draping his wings around her.
“Take me away from here,” she said, burying her face in his chest. “Get me far away from him. I don’t care if I die out there, I don’t want to be around him.”
“Shhh, it’s alright. I’m here, now. You’re safe with me, Beth.”
“He wants to see me again,” she sobbed. “I can’t, I can’t do it again. I don’t want to be near him.”
Cynder cradled her and stroked his fingers through her hair. “You must be patient. I believe things will work themselves out soon enough. And as I said, I shall not let him harm you if he tries. Just rest now. I’m here. I’ll make it all better.”
Beth wrapped her arms around his neck, her breaths deep and erratic. Cynder rested one hand on her back and pressed her closer to him. She felt his slow, steady breathing against her chest, and soon her own breathing slowed to match his. She relaxed against him, going limp in his arms. He kissed the top of her head and rubbed her back.
“Everything will be okay, Beth. I promise.”