Tiz fled long ago, when Veronique found the sketch. It was folded, tucked away behind the first page. From the detailed picture, it’s clear who was kissing who. No one ever captured me in such a beautiful way, Veronique thinks, glued to the diary. Every page is a vivid tale, a pleasant drawing or poetry. She continues reading…
Sister Margot made dinner tonight. The chicken was unfortunate. When Veronique tasted it, she spit it out. It flew across the table into the gravy dish! Veronique looked furiously at it. I laughed…
If I had a genie, my first request would be to eliminate writer’s block…
Veronique took her vows. She looked lovely in her flowing cream dress…
I saw Veronique laugh. It was small. Then she tried to hide it and got serious. It was such an instant gratifying look of happy, an innocence…
Veronique wore the most delicate scent of fresh linen. I smelled it when I bumped into her on accident in the study. I tried not to look at Veronique, but I can’t help it. I can’t stop… I don’t want to.
Last night, I saw Veronique in a vision surrounded by cherry blossoms…
Veronique closes the book, her eyes narrow. This was too far. She reads more, tracing her finger over Tiziana’s handwriting… shut the book and fled her room, careful not to be seen.
Later, dinner went on as normal. Everyone ate in silence. Veronique barely touched her food, staring at Tiziana’s empty seat, wondering when she’d return. No one asks where Tiz went. Would they care if I were missing? Veronique looked around at the sisters’ faces, all diverted their eyes in fear when she makes eye contact. None of them were friends. Just blind obedience and fear.
“Has anyone seen Sister Tiziana?” Veronique asks.
The sisters respond with head shakes. No one has. They look down at their soup bowls when Veronique rises.
“Please continue in my absence. I’m not feeling well. Goodnight, sisters.” Mother Veronique had no intention of rest, and illness was always a convenient cover. The lie made her feel young again, although she wasn’t old to begin with.
Rushing to her room, she takes her plain shapeless brown dress off, flinging it into a corner. She drops to her knees, shifting through the heart of her bureau drawer where folded t-shirts and jeans sat. Old clothes from another way of life. Veronique sighs and picks from the pile, pleased her size two’s still fit. She checks herself out in the mirror, forgetting the head wrap. She rips it off, unleashing thick, waist length dark brown wavy hair.
Veronique looks at herself. How could she leave Immaculate Soul dressed normal without detection? How could she leave Immaculate Soul? Broken vows bring broken bones… King Barasa Crow said the day she took her vows. She couldn’t escape. She lay in bed instead, reflecting. A relationship with a sister was inconceivable. King Barasa Crow would never allow it.
Broken vows bring broken bones, and the blood payment shall consume you in a dark and tricky manner forever. Crow’s voice rings in her head, as if he were right there beside her, taunting. Veronique ignores it. She tiptoes down the hallway and slips out the door undetected.
Down the street, the words SURRENDER TO THE VOID glow in electric green light on the side of a brick building filled with dancing bodies and loud music. Veronique checks her casual attire: ripped at the knee jeans, fitted black t-shirt and gray low top sneakers. She felt like she could fit in when she opened the double doors. Hazy smoke clouds consume her. When she could see again, she’s sitting on a soft black couch, uncertain how she got there, and looks up, watching a sleeping Tiziana on a massive screen. She’s in that pink lacy bra, her lower half covered by violet silk. Her never seen hair is blue-black, curly, shoulder length. Veronique reaches for it, only to see herself lying beside Tiz in a large circular bed, nude.
“Turn that off!” Veronique screams, looking around. Everyone else is watching the sleeping women, too. They smile. People she didn’t know. Were they surveying her flesh to feast upon? Was this the grip of the demon?
Beside Veronique, a man arrives. His eyes are on the screen, watching. He’s young, maybe eighteen, nineteen, clean-shaven face. His styled thick hair is dark cyan and cherry brown colored. He’s in jeans and shirtless, spinning a drumstick in between his fingers.
“Tiziana’s a kind soul, isn’t she? Like you used to be before you committed yourself to words. You shouldn’t be so harsh on her. She loves fun, and music. It’s what drew her to me. Same as you,” he says.
Veronique shut her eyes, turning from the screen.
“You miss fun. You want a life worth living.”
The man scoots closer. Veronique frees her eyes.
“You’ve speculated about it. You’re ruminating about it now. You’re jealous of Tiz. She has it, fun, freedom to leave. Now you’re upset because she loves you and you can’t love her back… Because you gave yourself away to protect everyone’s soul with those nonsense vows.”
Veronique studies his black, gentle eyes. He put his finger beneath her chin, bringing her close. “You know what you want,” he whispers. “I can help you. I ask nothing in return.”
“You don’t get something, for nothing,” she boldly whispers.
“Are we… negotiating?”
Veronique read about the treachery and trickery of demons. This man was none of the sort. Unlike the doom she felt in King Barasa Crow’s presence, Veronique sensed a kindness and strange power in him. It fascinates her.
“Perhaps,” she says.
“September.” He extends his hand.
“Veronique.” She shakes certain he already knew that. His hand feels like silk. “I’ll admit, I am afraid to die.”
“Who says you will?” he smiles, brushing Veronique’s hair behind her ear. “Go.”
Veronique wakes in her bed still wearing the t-shirt and ripped jeans. She wasn’t sure how she returned. Did she leave at all?
Beneath her is Tiziana’s diary. Did she return? Outside, the day is fresh; the bells were signaling breakfast. Veronique leaps out of bed and peeked into the dining room. Tiz is at the table, quietly dining with other sisters.
Veronique doesn’t join them. She packs a bag.
In the cellar, Veronique found Tiz alone, holding a pot and pan, looking through kitchen supplies. It was her day to cook dinner and was getting her prep work done early. Trying to be the obedient sister after she misbehaved. Veronique remembers the diary. No one described her as beautiful or interesting before, only a loyal servant of the king…
A king with only words, hollow ones devoid of strength. Nothing like what she found in September.
She approaches Tiziana from behind. She spins and shrieks, dropping the pot and pan. Veronique shoves the red ribbon diary in her arms and takes her hand, leading Tiz out of the cellar.
“Where are we going?” Tiz whispers.
Veronique doesn’t respond.
“Are you kicking me out? Is it because of yesterday? I came back… I was just scared. You had my diary, I—”
They walk through the kitchen, past the dining room, faster now, through the hallway. They stop at the door.
“You need to go.” Veronique says, handing Tiziana the bag. “I packed your things. Go. Do you understand?”
“Whose bag—my things? Is this about what I wrote? I’m sorry! Please, Mother Veronique. I’ll stop writing. I’ll do whatever you want!”
Veronique opens the door.
“Please don’t kick me out!” Tiziana sobs.
“You don’t belong here,” Veronique says. She leans forward, kissing Tiz’s cheek. The spot is red as a tomato on her brown skin when she pulls away. Tiz’s hazel eyes are wide and wild. Her hand hovers over her cheek.
“Your vows… No, you can’t—”
“Go! Now! And don’t come back! Please, for once listen to me!” Veronique says shoving Tiziana out the door. She tumbles down the steps of Immaculate Soul, softened with the duffel bag she holds. Tiz scrambles to her feet. The door bangs shut. Bells sound—the sinister kind signaling an execution.
“Veronique?” Tiz whispers.
Tiziana grabs the bag and runs, sobbing while she does. She’s so worked up she loses balance and trips on the pavement. The bells are louder now, closer. A shadow drifts across the sky toward Immaculate Soul. Scary enough to get her moving. Ahead, she sees Surrender to the Void and hears the drums. They compete against the bells, but the green man’s magic prevails, pulling her in. This is a safe place; Tiz feels it through the bricks and through her bones. She’s calmer, her heart slows in its race.
You are safe here. Tiz hears Veronique in her head, reassuring her. She nods and enters.
“Tiziana, I am September Velia,” he says, kissing her hand. She blushes and smiles. “May I?” he asks, motioning to her belongings. She nods, latching onto his cheerful energy. He takes the bag and diary from her grip, setting them aside.
Veronique comes out from behind him. Tiziana screams. Her hair is so long and brown and pretty. It’s up in a ponytail hanging over her right shoulder. Her long, flowing dress is black and a little more revealing than the brown one Tiz wears.
“You’re here! How did you…”
Playing on the screen, Tiziana watches Veronique shove her out of Immaculate Soul.
“How is that showing?” Tiz asks. Veronique says nothing. She holds Tiz’s hand and watches together:
Veronique runs to her room, locks the door and sits on the bed, waiting, her legs tremble. Then, a knock. The lock turns.
“The king was right,” Veronique says. She laughs a little. Amazed at how stupid she was to take those vows.
A crown executioner enters her room, accompanied by a man and a woman neither Veronique knows. She thinks they’ll serve as witnesses to the event on behalf of the king.
“Mother Veronique. You’ve kissed a sister. You’ve revealed your hair. Your sentence is death.” The woman reads. “Any words?”
Veronique is silent. There’s no need. Given the circumstances, a new calm blankets her fears.
The executioner stands before her. Uncaring, she stares at his vacant blue eyes. He looks at hers, placing his black gloved hand on her chest and looks away, as if he’s ashamed now and presses down, hard. Her skin caves in and splits apart, bones crack beneath the further he goes, crushing her.
Veronique never makes a sound.
Tiziana screams, burying her face in the couch cushions. Veronique’s hunched over dead body fades from the screen.
“What Barasa Crow said was true. Broken vows bring broken bones. But the soul is forever and free from vows or control. I broke my bones—those vows, to free myself,” Veronique says, stroking Tiziana’s hair. “So, I could be with you. Like your vision.”
“I merely showed her the way back.” September adds with a wink.
“You read that?” Tiz asks, surprised.
Veronique nods, smiling.
“This is when it comes true, isn’t it?” Tiz’s eyes water again—happy tears. “When we make our own paradise? The blossoms?”
“I think so!” Veronique laughs. She pulls off Tiziana’s hair wrap, revealing her blue-black curly hair. She twirls her fingers in loose curls, hugging Tiz tight. “I’m sorry I was so mean to you.”
“I forgive you.” Tiziana says. She falls back onto the couch that changes into a bed of silk cherry blossoms. Veronique joins her, kissing Tiz’s lips gently.
September observes the women sink into the blossoms, leaving behind an amethyst and a note. He holds the gem close, reading:
A piece of our paradise. For the kind one who saw us. Thank you, September Velia.
Love, Tiz and Ronnie