Cage
Thirteen years into the past…

THE FIRST TIME I SAW her was the day her parents were murdered. Serafina Manzini was a pretty little girl whose heart was breaking, and what’s worse than that is her spirit broke that day as well. I watched as she gave into the grips of grief and despair, letting herself fall, letting reality fall away, and I couldn’t blame her. No child should go through what she’s going through right now and no child should ever see the horror of what she’s seen.
The Russos are good to her, trying to engage her as I speak with Ernesto and Giovanni across the patio from where Anthony rested her on a chaise in the sun, hoping against hope that she’d snap out of it, but I know better. She isn’t ready to be found yet. No, that little girl needs to be lost a little while longer, just until she finds her anger and fight. Then, and only then, will she be ready for the battle ahead. I know what road she’ll take. I can see it in her eyes, bleak as they might be—I still see the fire of vengeance burning in them and I admire it. That’s why I vow right here and now to help her—whatever she needs.

***

TWO WEEKS LATER my pretty little girl still isn’t ready. I see who she’s going to become and I know one day she’ll be mine. With eight years between us, me at eighteen and her at ten, I know it’s going to be a long time before that day will come—but it will come. I see a kindred spirit in her and when she’s around, I don’t feel quite so alone.
I walk over to where she’s lying on the sofa and sit down on the coffee table to face her. I rest my elbows on my knees and will her to meet my gaze. She doesn’t. I tilt her chin gently with my fingertips then run them down her cheek.
“Little Serafina, it’ll all be okay. One day we’ll make things right. I promise you.” It’s probably just wishful thinking, but I swear I see her lips move just the slightest bit. I can only hope she hears me.
“Nickels,” Giovanni calls and I nod.
“Until next time, little one.”

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