3 December 2022

21 – Purgatory

Someone knocks on the door. Our eyes meet. We’re not waiting for anyone. I get up to open the door, followed by Dana and my children. When I open the door, my muscles freeze. The landscape has changed. Everything is red, as if the trees had been struck by lightning. The ground looks burned. And he’s standing in front of me.

Instinctively, I stretch out my arms to protect my family. Joseph takes a step in my direction. I step back. We look at each other. Something around his arm catches my attention. It’s a belt, wrapped around his wrist, and the buckle hangs down his hand. Joseph is my father. He slowly moves his lips to whisper “The Lord giveth. And the Lord taketh”. I know what he wants. He wants to take my family away from me. I won’t let him. He has already taken everything from me. I will fight for my wife and children. To the death if I have to.

* * *

John had been lying in a coma for several days now, the deputy still at his bedside. She had made a point of personally giving him the basic care that was within her competence. Every day she would groom him, clean and bandage any wounds that needed it, and tell him the latest news from Hope County.

Joseph had not been heard from since the altercation with his younger brother. Dana’s heart sank at the thought. How could he claim to love his brother ? He hadn’t even checked in with him. She was sure the rumor had spread. If Faith and Jacob hadn’t told him anything, the men present at the rescue certainly had.

As she had done countless times every day since the accident, she brought the Baptist’s hand to her lips to kiss his wedding ring.

— I love you, John. Please come back to me. I’m so sorry. You’ve done horrible things in the past, and we can’t take them back. But despite what I said to you that day, you are not that man anymore and you deserve forgiveness. Please give yourself a chance. Accept and love yourself.

* * *

“You don’t deserve anything, John. You are a worthless, sinful, evil-possessed child. You must confess your faults if you hope to ever be forgiven, though we both know that God can never grant you redemption.”

She approaches me, slowly. I’m kneeling on the cold kitchen tile, silent tears streaming down my cheeks. I want to scream for Jacob to come and protect me, like he used to when Dad got mad. But Jacob is not there anymore. Neither is Joseph. No sound comes out of my mouth.

I am alone, and my new mom is going to punish me again. I don’t know what I did wrong, but she must be right, she’s a grown-up. I do everything my mom asks me to do, I must be nice. I want her to love me, I’m afraid she will send me back to the orphanage. In her hands, she holds a long object. I don’t know what it is, but I know it hurts a lot when it hits my back.

Sometimes I reflexively protect myself with my arms. When I grow up, I’d like to have pretty paintings on it, like in the movies. They will hide the ugly scars left by the object that hurts. I wonder if I have some on my back too, I can’t see it.

When she grabs my arm to turn me around, I close my eyes and hug tightly the little paper airplane Joseph made for me. My new mom and dad didn’t want him. Jacob went to a school for mean kids.

I let her pull my shirt up to my shoulders, and then it hurts so much. I hold my plane tighter, and it crumples between my fingers. My brother gave it to me before my new mom and dad separated us. This is the last memory I have of him. I’m afraid to forget his face.

Mom slaps my back hard. I cry silently. I am a naughty child. I liked it better when my real daddy hit me with his belt, because then I could go back to playing with my brothers. But they’re not there anymore. I’m all alone.

* * *

One more night spent with the Baptist. That morning, as Dana stroked his face, she noticed a few hairs escaping from the beard line he was carefully tracing. On closer inspection, she saw a few gray hairs. The thought made her smile. How I would love to grow old with him. If only he would wake up. She realized she had no idea how to lighten a beard and shave off the stray hairs. I should ask Jacob, he will certainly know how to help me.

While Faith came to check on her brother, the policewoman took the opportunity to ask her news about Burke. The siren gave her a sad smile.

— He’s not with me anymore, Dana.
— Not with you ? Where is he then ?

She shrugged as if the answer was obvious.

— Here. I decided to let him live his life as he wanted to, after John’s accident. Your friends are nursing him back to health and flushing bliss from his system.

Dana smiled sincerely for the first time in a while. Faith added.

— And I bet Jacob didn’t tell you that he released deputy Pratt too.

Dana’s heart warmed at her words. Thank you, John. Because of you, a miracle is happening.

She sat down next to the sleeping Baptist, gently placed her hands on the tattoos on his forearms, and tenderly kissed his cold, still lips.

* * *

Today is my birthday. For my 15th birthday, Father gave me a pen stamped with my initials, J. D. He runs one of the biggest law firms in Atlanta. Someday I will succeed him. For now, I’m concentrating on my studies. I have to do well on all my exams or I won’t deserve my parents’ love. I don’t want to disappoint them anymore. I have always been an evil kid.

Lately, there’s this girl who’s been hanging around me. I don’t know what she wants from me. She keeps staring at me, despite the dark looks I give her. I don’t feel very well in her presence, I’m unfocused and I feel a lot of strange emotions and sensations, in my body and in my head. I’m a bad kid. Last week, I dropped my notebook, and she bent down to pick it up. When she handed it back to me, her hand slid down my sleeve and rolled it up. I saw the fear in her eyes, so I quickly hid my scars.

Yesterday she wanted to kiss to wish me a happy birthday before the weekend. This is very wrong, mother told me so and forbade me to hang out with girls. So when she came up to my lips and touched my bruised forearms, I slapped her with all my might to get her to move away. It felt weird to have blood other than mine on my fingers. I think she was afraid of me. I don’t understand why. She should accept the pain that sets her straight, she would feel relieved like I did when my parents told me.

* * *

— Like this, look.

Jacob held his brother’s chin with one hand while the other carefully scraped his pale cheek.

— Pay close attention to the angle of the blade, a cut can happen quickly. If you make a mark on his Apollo face, he’s going to kill you when he wakes up, believe me !
— Very funny, Jacob. Let me try it. Besides, his angel face belongs to me now. Mine alone.

She took the razor blade in her turn and, very slowly, reproduced the gesture that the soldier had just taught her.

— Well done. You’re a quick learner. As for the rest.

She turned to him and gave him an evil look. He smiled, pleased with his implication. She loudly sighed to make sure he heard her. She ran over John’s face a few more times, before putting the blade back down and placing the hot towel on his sensitive skin. Jacob continued.

— All that’s left is to finalize. I think he’s got a whole bunch of products at his ranch : aftershave, moisturizer and all the stuff. But honestly, it’s a waste of time. Just throw some alcohol on there, just for a quick disinfectant.

Putting his money where his mouth was, he grabbed the little metal flask he’d asked for, tipped it to soak the towel and dabbed his brother’s face.

* * *

After swallowing a big gulp of whiskey without batting an eyelid, I inhale deeply so that the powder rises in my sinuses, while one of the girls I paid wiggles in my lap, licking my neck.

These parties make me feel good, but soon they won’t be enough to calm me down. When my parents died, I felt lost. No one was there to set me straight. So I started saying yes to all sorts of things I hadn’t tried before, just to see and taste.

I started by doing girls, lots of girls. Only girls I pay. They do everything I ask them to do, they don’t touch my back or my arms and they don’t ask me any questions. I felt good every time I banged one of them. I even tied up and hit a few who liked it. But it wasn’t enough for me. The euphoria never lasted long enough.

So I turned to alcohol, especially hard liquor. It helps, I don’t think anymore when I drink enough. But it inhibits the feeling of euphoria. So I tried some pills at a party, but they don’t have enough effect. My business partner then told me about the benefits of cocaine and got me some to try. I finally felt free, free of evil. I’m still using more, and I feel better.

I like my lifestyle, I like the extravagance, I like pushing people to their limits, including myself. Especially myself.

I have a lot of money, mine and the Duncans’. I’m brilliant at my job. Women are attracted to my looks, my career and my wealth. But I’m not interested in any of them. Besides, I’ve tried men, too, and it still doesn’t help. I still feel so empty, I don’t know why. It makes me angry, I can’t control myself anymore. I’m on edge.

And my partner insists. I fuck her but it’s not enough for her, last week she told me that she loved me. It’s impossible, nobody can love me, I’m evil. She lies. I can’t give her what she wants.

I am incapable of loving anyone, including myself. Especially myself.

* * *

The tear rolled very slowly down John’s lips, to finally vanish into the neat, dense hair covering his chin. Dana wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeve, which was already soaked with her grief.

She lay silently against the Baptist, careful not to press on his broken thigh. She placed a kiss in his throat and stroked his chest affectionately with her fingertips, redrawing the letters of her name.

— Good night, John. I love you.

* * *

Joseph surprised me with Holly. I know it’s forbidden, but I still feel so empty, even with my brothers around. There is no alcohol here, Jacob and Joseph have made sure that it is not available, nor are there drugs, all to protect me. So sometimes I sleep with her, to forget my pain. My brother told me he would excommunicate her but I don’t care, I’m not interested in her more than that. And anyway, the emptiness doesn’t go away.

Joseph decided to punish me, to make me feel better. I know he’s right. I’m evil, I don’t deserve his love, no one can love me. He told me that lust is a serious sin and that I must atone for it.

The needles pierce my lower abdomen relentlessly. The pain is so strong that it is pleasant. I feel the evil flowing out of me as my blood mixes with the ink. I am evil, but the pain makes me better.

Suddenly I understand. I need to set others free, like the Duncans and Joseph did for me. I want to help others as they helped me. I want to cleanse their souls and allow them to reach the gates of Eden. That is my reason for being. By caring for others, I will forget what a bad person I am.

I order my men to find a tattoo artist. Someone professional. I want them to be able to cover the traces of my past, I want to be able to roll up my sleeves without receiving looks of disgust or pity. I want to display the least of my sins to better free myself from them.

* * *

Mary May stormed into the room, followed by Killian, who was desperately trying to stop her. Dana sat up suddenly. Oh, they know each other ?

— What are you doing ? Why is this asshole getting treatment ? And what the hell are his fucking siblings doing here ?
— Calm down, please ! They won’t hurt anyone.
— They won’t hurt anyone ? Are you kidding me ? What have they done so far ? Have you forgotten everything ? Did he fool you with his good looks ?

Is she jealous ?

— That’s enough now. You and Jerome asked me for help. There I am, and I’m handling the situation. The Seeds have released all their prisoners. Except for Hudson, who I had to release myself… It’s up to you to prove that you’re not like them, that you can be merciful and forgiving, or at least give them a fair trial. Believe me, they will have a score to settle with the authorities and with what you call God. But for now, the only thing that matters is that John gets through this.
— Deputy, do you fucking… do you love him ?
— Yes, I do.
— I knew you did. You’re as crazy as them, poor girl. I’d rather get the fuck out of here before I hit you.

She turned and left the room as quickly as she had entered it. Killian gave Dana a sympathetic look, shrugging his shoulders, and left.

* * *

I feel like Joseph trusts me now. He has given me a whole region to look after. To test my faith and will, he’s given me the task of tracking down and neutralizing the woman who supplies the valley with alcohol. I will shut down her bar and convert her and her family to Eden’s Gate.

She’s attractive, but I’m not the weak man I used to be. Besides, she doesn’t understand, she can’t say yes. I thought of screwing her. We met a few times, at my ranch or elsewhere, but nothing happened. She’s pretty but bland and uninteresting.

I could tell she likes me. She got offended when I pushed her away, but now I am dedicating my life to my brother and the Project, because they will save me from the flames of hell. I feel like I’m a little less evil when I’m working for the Father and God.

* * *

The dark and icy atmosphere outside contrasts with the comforting warmth of my home. It’s like hell and heaven met and I’m straddling the border. Joseph is still standing in front of me.

He holds out his hand to me. Dana holds me by the wrist. I take a step in my brother’s direction. My children cling to my legs. “Daddy, don’t leave us!”. I face Joseph’s fiery gaze. He addresses me again. “Come back where you belong, John.” No. I am not that man anymore. I don’t want to be bad anymore. But do I deserve that second chance, the love of a loving family ? Or should I go straight to hell ?

As if reading my mind, Joseph answers. “You’ve been a bad man, John. Redemption cannot be granted to you. You must accept your fate and join me. I am your family”. He abruptly grabs my arm and pulls me violently in his direction, while Dana tries to hold my other hand. I am torn between the two of them.

My brother is strong, and he manages to pull me away from my wife who is screaming my name in desperation. As Joseph and I pull away, drawn by an invisible force, I scream back. I don’t want to be separated from her. She has become my reason for living, she has taught me to love, to love myself. I call with all my strength. “Dana ! Dana !”.

* * *

Dana, drowsy, suddenly opened her eyes and glanced at John with a startled look. His lips were moving weakly. It seemed to her that an almost inaudible sound came from his half-opened mouth. She moved closer to his face to make sure she hadn’t been dreaming.

Seed moved his lips slowly again, whispering. “Dana…” Oh my God !

She straightened up energetically and began to scream across the room.

— Lindsey ! Faith ! Jacob ! John spoke !

She sat back down beside the Baptist, caressing his face.

— That’s good, honey. I’m here now. It’s all right. You can wake up now, gently.

He opened his eyelids with difficulty, looking at her, still asleep and lost.

— Dana. Don’t go. I don’t want you to. I’m sorry.
— I’m here, John. I’m not going anywhere.

She clasped his hand in hers. Faith and Jacob, followed by Charles Lindsey, ran across the threshold of the room. The veterinarian bent over his unusual patient, examining his eyes with a small lamp.

— Can you hear me, John ?
— Yeah, I can hear you. But stop blinding me with your spotlight.

His reply provoked several smiles. Faith hugged him briefly, while Jacob put a friendly hand on his shoulder. Lindsey quickly put an end to the effusions.

— Don’t push him too hard, he still needs to rest.

Obeying instructions, they all got up to leave the room, but John grabbed Dana’s hand.

— Don’t leave. Please don’t go.

She sadly glanced at Lindsey, who nodded silently before leaving the room. She sat back down beside Seed.

— How do you feel ?
— Stomachy. My legs and hips hurt. What happened ?
— You had an accident. Your car went down a slope and you went through the windshield. You were lucky in your misfortune. You have several fractures in your thigh and pelvis. Dr. Lindsey operated on you, but you’re going to have to take it easy for a few weeks.
— Several weeks ? What am I going to do to kill time ?
— You’ll rest. I’ll stay with you as long as it takes, but you have to promise to follow Lindsey’s instructions to get better.
— I have no problem staying in bed with you, you know that.

He smiled, and she smiled back. Still so comical, even after a coma.

— What possessed you to drive at such speed on an icy road ?
— I came to the hotel. To talk to FBI. I saw you. Both of you.
— Oh, my God. John, I’m so sorry. I don’t have feelings for Killian anymore. I felt lost, I ran to the only person I had left. I feel so bad !
— You can’t blame yourself. It’s all my fault. You deserve to be with someone you love. Not with a jerk who’s been torturing you and lying to you forever. I can understand, I don’t blame you. I’ve reaped what I’ve sown. I won’t bother you anymore, you’re free to go back with your husband.

She gently put her lips on his forehead, grasping his face between her fingers.

— I love you, silly. I’m not going anywhere. I want to be with you. You’re my one and only husband.

John’s heart leapt in his chest. Unable to formulate any response, he remained silent.

As he placed his hands on the deputy’s, touching the ring on her finger, a gleam of panic flashed in his eyes.

— My ring !
— I kept it for you, don’t worry. It was taken off you three days ago for the operation. I put mine back on. You were holding it in your hand when we found you.

He smiled in relief as his eyelids struggled to stay open.

— Give me mine back, please.
— Yes, here it is.

She complied, after searching her pockets for the silver ring. As she slipped the ring onto John’s finger, he weakly articulated.

— For the best, but especially for the worst until now…

She wanted to answer him with humor, but he had already fallen back asleep.

* * *

— How are you feeling ? The vet operated on you, but now you’ll have to stay quiet for several weeks. And then you’re going to have to do some rehab.
— Damn it.

Jacob nodded nonchalantly at his younger brother’s remark.

— I’d like to know why you were driving at such a speed despite the bad conditions.

The Baptist clenched his fists and jaw.

— John, you can tell me. I’m your brother, you can tell me anything. It’s just between us, I swear.
— Dana went back to FBI. I saw them both.
— They were married for many years. He came here for her. Makes sense she would go to him under the circumstances.
— You don’t understand. I caught them together.

Jacob raised his eyebrows and cleared his throat.

— Let’s talk about something else. Past is past. Are you still counting on Joseph celebrating  the wedding ?
— I don’t know. Recent events have tended to prove my point. He doesn’t care about our well-being or happiness. All he cares about is his new Eden, his flock, and himself.
— Unfortunately, I can only agree with you.

He put his hand on John’s shoulder.

— I don’t know how to tell you this. But Joseph didn’t come around after your accident. Nor did he ask about you from his men, or from Faith or me.

The Baptist clenched his fists.

— Well, we will have this wedding without him. I’m saddened that I can’t count on him, but after all, he’s solely responsible for his obnoxious behavior. Dana doesn’t need his unhealthy presence on what is supposed to be one of the best days of our lives. Where is she anyway ?
— I don’t know. She went to talk with her resistance buddies. She’s been hanging out with them a lot lately. I hope they’re not up to something to screw us.
— No, I don’t think so. I think we can trust her.
— Yeah. I think so too. I’ll leave you now, you need to rest.

* * *

When he opened his eyes again, there she was, sitting on the edge of the bed.

— How long was I asleep ?
— About three hours. Plus the previous five days.
— I’m as hungry as a wolf.
— I’ll get you something.

She quickly found Dr. Sarah Perkins, who had taken over from Lindsey.

— If he’s hungry, that’s a good sign. But we’ll have to take it easy. His stomach and intestines have not worked for several days, so they need to get used to eating something solid again. Go to the kitchen. Ask them for some soup. We’ll have to wait a little longer for the bread. In the meantime, I’ll take out the IV.

Dana complied and quickly returned to the room with a bowl of vegetable soup and a few pieces of cheese, despite Perkins’ instructions. John was sitting up ; she had certainly helped him to stand up.

— Ah, finally ! I almost waited !
— Don’t start playing the insufferable husband before we’re even married !
— Are you going to give me the peck ?
— And then what ? Your hands are perfectly valid !
— Be nice to me, wrath.

He quickly downed his bowl of soup, a little slower the pieces of cheese, which were struggling to get through. When he was full, Dana picked up the tray and placed it on the table.

— Come to me, honey.
— Honey ? To what do I owe this sudden sentimentality ?

He gave her a stern look.

— Do you still want to marry me ? I’m very serious, I’m not kidding.
— John ! Of course I do ! What makes you think I would change my mind ?
— The FBI jerk. My stupid behavior. And all the trouble I’ve caused you.
— I don’t feel anything for Killian anymore. I told you that. And we all make mistakes. I made a big one, and look where it got us.

He grabbed her hand and squeezed it.

— Dana, I want us to build a family as soon as possible. I don’t want to waste any more time and risk losing you.
— This discussion is getting a little too far out of hand for the current circumstances.
— I’m serious about this. I want you to give me children. At least three. A boy, a girl… and… whatever you want.

She laughed.

— Do you think we can choose this kind of thing ?
— To be honest, I don’t care. I want to marry you, as soon as possible. I want to walk around with you on my arm, or hand in hand. I want everyone to see your belly and know that you’re mine, that I made you pregnant.
— John ! It was cute, but now it’s embarrassing again !
— I don’t care about that. I want you, Dana. Just for me. You can’t imagine how much I want you.
— Well, you’ll have to wait a few weeks. I wonder how you’ve been holding out, all this time in Eden’s Gate.
— It’s very simple : I didn’t know you.
— You expect me to believe that you were chaste before this ? With all the stories about the monstrous parties you threw in Atlanta, which you yourself admitted to me ?
— No, I didn’t. I’ve always loved sex. It’s always been a way to get rid of all the resentment I was building up. But since I met you, that’s changed. Everything has changed. I’ve changed. When you touch me, it’s like everything vibrates inside me. I can’t control this emotion. With you, I feel soothed. You satisfy me in every way. It’s not just about sex. It’s not anymore.
— Oh John…
— Come here. Kiss me. Touch me, you devil.

She leaned in to kiss him tenderly as he wrapped his arms around her to hug her and hold her against him. He slipped his tongue into her mouth without giving her time to react, drawing her a little closer to him. Dana struggled to get out of his tight embrace.

— John !
— What ?
— You need to rest !
— I’m way too excited for this. If you want me to rest, you’re going to have to relieve me first.
— Well, your hands are good, so you’re on your own !

Dana stood up abruptly, leaving the Baptist stunned.

— I have to see Whitehorse, we have business to attend to. Still, try to get some rest.

* * *

Earl stood on the fortified prison wall, watching the sunset. Dana silently posted herself beside him, joining in his meditation.

— It’s a pretty fine area we’ve got here. If that damn cult hadn’t taken it over, I might even say we live in paradise.
— That’s right. Sheriff, we need to talk about the future.

He turned to face her, taking off his felt hat.

— I’m listening, kid. What do you want to talk about ?
— What’s going to happen to the Seeds ?
— As soon as the marshal is fully recovered, he and I will leave here and bring back the National Guard. You, deputes Hudson and Pratt will stick around to make sure they don’t run off before we get back. We’ll make sure these freaks are locked up in a cell for the rest of their lives.

Here throat tightened.

— But… they’ve been cooperative. They released all the hostages they were holding.
— So what ? That doesn’t take away from the atrocity of the crimes they committed. Theft, property damage, kidnapping, torture, murder… justice must be done for all their victims.
— I know that. But isn’t there a solution that would allow them to redeem themselves and make up for their mistakes ?
— If by that you mean saving them from serving their time, then no. They must answer for their actions in court. However, if they cooperate and show good will in repairing the damage done to this county, the judge will certainly be a little more lenient and they may avoid the death penalty in favor of life imprisonment.
— I don’t understand. How can a court charge them with murder ?
— Isn’t there enough evidence for you ? Not enough mutilated bodies along the roads ? What about the video the marshal showed us when we arrived in September ?
— Of course I don’t deny the facts. The video of Joseph speaks for itself. But what evidence do we have that Faith, Jacob and John are personally behind these other crimes ? Who’s to say that it wasn’t their men who executed all these people in an overzealous manner, or to prove their loyalty to the Father ?
— Don’t worry about that. The facts will be proven in due course. For now, all that matters is the healing of the marshal and the rebuilding of the county. Just make sure those three weirdos don’t leave the area, since you seem to have made friends with the devil.

He put his hat back on and put a friendly hand on Dana’s shoulder before heading for the entrance to the building.

— You can be proud of yourself, kid. You did everything right. When this whole mess is sorted out, I want you to take over my job.

* * *

Reclining in her cell to think quietly, Dana tapped her foot nervously. No matter how many times she turned the tables, the result was always the same. The Seeds would end their days behind bars. Whitehorse was right. They had to answer for their crimes. Yet she refused to accept this finality.

To imagine John growing old in prison, with her visiting him every day, was simply unbearable. He had committed atrocities, but she was convinced that he was not that man anymore. He was no longer under the influence of any substance, nor was he under Joseph’s influence. Faith and Jacob had also shown good will by releasing Burke and Pratt.

Her attention focused on Burke. The National Guard had not arrived for one simple reason : under the influence of bliss and Faith, he had recorded a message to the federal authorities. In this video, he explained that everything was fine in Hope County, that it was a false alarm, and that he felt so comfortable there that he didn’t want to go back to headquarters.

Maybe if she could convince him, once he was detoxed, to repeat a similar allegation to his superiors, they would not get more involved ? No, that’s really stupid. He would never agree.

She had to find a solution at all costs so that the Seeds would redeem themselves and the justice system would be more lenient towards them. I must interview the locals to find out what would help them.

* * *

Smells of grilled chicken wafted from the Rye property. Dana timidly knocked on the door, suddenly realizing that she would certainly disturb them in the middle of their meal. Kim opened the door with a big smile.

— Deputy, what a pleasure ! Please come in.
— I don’t want to disturb you while you’re having dinner. I can come back later.
— No, no. Please join us. Nick will be happy to see you.

She entered the living room, looking for the crib. Noting her astonished expression, the housewife answered before a question could be asked.

— Carmina is sleeping upstairs. It was hard to leave her alone, but we don’t want her to be too dependent on our presence. Married life is important, and when she draws all the attention to herself, it can’t exist !

Nick was sitting at the table, his trademark family business hat beside the chicken dish. His piercing gaze struck Dana. Come to think of it, this was the first time she’d seen him without his hat and aviator glasses. As soon as he saw her, he stood up and offered her a friendly hand, which she shook.

— Deputy ! How you doing ? Did a great job, congrats ! I understand from Mary’s report that three of the Seeds are ready to be locked up, including that scumbag John.
— Uh… yeah. That’s pretty close.
— Sit down, have dinner with us.

Embarrassed, she took a seat opposite the pilot, while Kim served her a plate and then sat down next to him. Nick resumed.

— It’s good that you came by. Kim and me, we had something to ask you.

They glanced at each other, and Kimiko continued.

— We’d like you to be Carmina’s godmother.

Dana almost choked on a potato.

— Me ? But we hardly know each other !

Nick resumed.

— Maybe, but without your help, our baby wouldn’t have been born in decent conditions. Besides, you saved my plane from Johnny’s clutches, ain’t no small thing !
— Speaking of John…
— Let’s not talk about that asshole, makes my skin crawl just to hear his name. You don’t eat chicken ?
— No, I’m a vegetarian.
— Are you ? Is that recent?
— Ever since my stay at Jacob’s. I’d rather not talk about it.
— Okay.

The meal resumed quietly, but Dana couldn’t calm down. I really need to talk to him about this.

In a fit of courage or stupidity, she said.

— I’m going to marry John.

The couple instantly froze, staring at her in amazement.

— Are you kidding me ? Yeah, that was pretty funny. Aha.
— No, Nick. I’m very serious.

A stony silence fell on the room. She took the initiative to explain herself.

— I know he hurt you. A lot. And not just you, but all the citizens of Holland Valley. I can understand your astonishment.
— Astonishment ? To say the least ! Can you hear yourself talking ?
— I know it sounds crazy. But John is not the same anymore. All the horrors he committed were ordered by Joseph. He was under his complete influence.
— That’s the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard.
— Maybe, but it’s true. After he tattooed both of us, I happened to meet with him several times. Over time, I discovered a different man. Not a heartless executioner, but rather a soul tortured by his past and a non-existent childhood.
— That’s too easy. In this case, all criminals are excusable, since most of them had a traumatic youth.
— Yes, but do they all regret their crimes ? Do they all want to do everything in their power to repair their mistakes ?

Rye pounded his fists on the table, startling his wife.

— You really think he does ? Remember who we’re talking about !
— I don’t think so, I’m sure. I’ve gotten to know John. He deeply regrets what he has done. I believe in him. I love him.
— You… that’s the best part ! You’re as crazy as he is, I can’t believe it ! Did the Henbane freak drug you too ?

Vexed, Dana stood up abruptly.

— Thanks for the meal. I’m really sorry you won’t listen to me, despite all I’ve done for your family and for you.

She moved with a determined step toward the front door. The couple did not move. On her way out, she turned to address her former friend, her eyes blurry with tears.

— I’m not fit to be your daughter’s godmother. Whether you like it or not, I love John, and the feeling is mutual. I have no intention of giving up my feelings for strangers who never had the thoughtfulness to ask me what my name was. Good night.

She slammed the door harder than expected.

Amazed, Kimiko grabbed her husband’s hand.

— Nick, I don’t recognize you anymore.
— What do you mean ?
— Did you hear the way you talked to her ? You didn’t even let her tell her story.
— Kim, she’s fucking with Johnny asshole Seed !
— I know, and I’m as shocked by this news as you are. But remember when we first started dating ?

Rye seemed to calm down.

— This is different. The difference between our two families is just a matter of culture.
— It’s not so different. Our families hated each other, just as we hate the Seed family.
— But neither your family nor mine committed atrocities against innocent people. Seriously ? You support her in her whim ?
— I’m not saying I support this union. I’m just saying that she deserves the benefit of the doubt, after all she’s done for Hope County. And who knows, maybe Seed has really changed ? Maybe he regrets his actions and will apologize to us ?
— Dream on ! He can keep his apologies. If that jerk dares showing up at our door, I’ll fucking shoot him.

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