Chelsea had never felt so nervous in her life.
I planned this. I had days at the Library, and then all of last night and this morning. I knew what I was getting into. So why am I freaking out so much?
The sun shone through scattered clouds overhead, and yet it was bitter cold. Chelsea wore a thick coat, gloves and boots, and a scarf (all made by Gwen last night), and yet she was freezing.
But at the same time, she was sweating.
He’ll be here any minute. I can’t be like this. I need to calm down.
I really should have taken Lorelei up on her offer to come with me. That would calm me down.
But no. This is something I have to do on my own.
She pulled out her phone, checked the time. 3:29. As she was watching it, it changed to 3:30.
“Hey!” came the voice she was expecting, accompanied by hurried footsteps that tapped along the street and then crunched along the grass. “Sorry I’m late.”
“You’re not,” Chelsea said, looking up at Caleb, stuffing her phone in her pocket. “Right on time.”
“Really? That’s good.” Caleb chuckled, his bright eyes twinkling behind his round, wide-framed glasses.
All these years of almost never seeing him in glasses. Now he has to wear them every day. And those frames are kind of… silly.
Silly suits him, though.
Caleb looked around, his breath misting in the air. “I don’t think… you’ve ever invited me here.”
Chelsea shook her head, turning away. “No. Sorry about that.”
Footsteps, followed by a hand slipping into hers. “You don’t need to be sorry. I can understand. Or rather… I can’t understand how hard this must be for you. But I…” Chelsea looked up at Caleb, who was looking ahead.
Across the grounds of Reiner Manor, there was a small garden. Within it were two gravestones, side-by-side.
“I only come three times a year,” Chelsea said, walking forward, willing herself to do things, say things, as planned. “On each of my parents’ birthdays, and on their anniversary.”
Caleb was silent. Chelsea had noticed, ever since Caleb had come back from his training with Mister Midnight, that he wasn’t as talkative as he used to be, and was even prone to long bouts of thoughtful silence. At a time like this, there was a part of her that wanted him to be his usual chatterbox self, to yammer away about anything or everything, but…
A bigger part of her was grateful. If there was ever a time for him to be silent, to listen while she said all the things she had to say, it was now.
“Remember way back when, when you asked me why I lived in the Libra apartments instead of here?” she asked. Caleb nodded. “Part of it is because of practicality, honestly. I don’t have the keys, and I don’t know the secrets behind the magical locks all over the mansion. I can walk the grounds, but to get inside the house… that’s beyond me. But… more than that, I…”
Now started to come the hardest parts. And it all started with one very difficult, very painful, very shameful line. Chelsea stopped, and Caleb with her. She felt his hand give hers a gentle, reassuring squeeze. She took a deep breath, let it out.
“I’ve been lying to you.”
She let the phrase hang in the air, seeming heavy in the stillness. Caleb said nothing, and she could feel without looking at him that he was waiting, patiently, unbelievably patiently, patience that she could scarcely understand. If their places were reversed, that single line would have sent Chelsea into a fit of anger. She would have had some choice words, probably a good hard slap, and then stormed off.
But Caleb stood steady, his hand holding hers.
Chelsea sighed, feeling words catch in her throat. She swallowed once, twice. Sighed again.
“I told you…” she started, words difficult as emotions swelled inside her. “I told you, for so long, that I was too young to be bothered much by mom’s death. I told you, for so long, that dad died in an accident. But they were both…”
Chelsea swallowed again, let out a long, slow breath.
Still Caleb held her hand, listening, silent, patient.
“I was only five when mom died, but… I remember so much. We were so close. Maybe it was because I was an only child. I don’t know. We played together, read together, sang together, danced together, did everything we possibly could together, every day. And when she died, I…”
Chelsea squeezed Caleb’s hand tight, probably so tight it hurt, but he didn’t protest.
“My whole world collapsed. Right beneath me, it was like I was adrift, with nothing to hold onto. I tried to hold onto dad, but he… he was the same. He was adrift, too, and less than a year later, he…”
Chelsea gritted her teeth, walked with Caleb in silence a bit farther, stopping just outside the garden where her parents were buried.
“Dad lost himself. Mom wasn’t just my whole world, she was his, too, and after she died, he fell into depression, and drinking, and wallowing around the house. His friends left, one by one. Everyone abandoned him, except me, but I… I wasn’t enough, and he… he killed himself.”
Chelsea stared at her father’s grave. David Reiner. Died at just thirty-one years old. All his grave said was his name, two dates, and a simple epitaph that didn’t say nearly enough: “Loving father and husband, gone too soon.”
Gone far too soon.
Despite all the years since her parents’ deaths, despite all the times she’d visited their graves, all the times she’d revisited the pain and the loss alone, or with Lorelei, or in the evil shadow world with Gwen…
Here, now, in the silence of the grounds, with only Caleb by her side, Chelsea felt more overcome with grief and pain than she had in a very long time. Tears rolled down her face, and her heart felt tight within her chest.
There’s so much more I have to say. So many more lies to cast away. So many more truths to bring to light. I can’t lose myself now.
She looked aside at Caleb, and saw that his eyes were swimming with tears. He was staring at the gravestones. Chelsea loosened her death-grip on his hand, squeezed it gently, and he returned the gesture.
“When mom died,” Chelsea continued, choking back a sob and composing herself, “there were a lot of rumors. No one knew what happened, and for a while, there were a few people who blamed… your parents.”
Still, Caleb was silent, not saying a word. Chelsea burned to know what he was thinking, but…
In a way, this is easier. I can get it all out, and when it’s done, he can tell me what he’s thinking. It might be too difficult with interruptions.
“Mom and your parents were a Hunter team,” she said. “And she died during patrol with your parents, and some said she’d been murdered, killed by humans rather than Hollows. Jacob Crowley… he was a higher ranking Hunter at the time, and he was a mentor to mom. He trained her, he looked out for her, and when she died, he was one of the loudest voices blaming the Greysons. I don’t know if you ever knew… I know you know he doesn’t like your parents, but it goes deeper than just a grudge or some kind of disagreement. He found them personally responsible for the death of his best student, and I think he was too loud, and I was too young, for me to see any different. Because the main reason I kept all this from you, the main reason I lied for so long…”
Chelsea closed her eyes, taking deep breaths to steady herself. When she opened her eyes, they rested on her mother’s gravestone. “Marion Reiner. Beloved mother and wife, gone too soon.”
Somehow seeing that simple phrase, seeing her mother’s name, steadied her.
“I lied to you because I believed the same lie,” she said. “I believed your parents were responsible – no. Not even that. Worse. I believed that your parents murdered my mother. My grandmother – she raised me for a few years after mom died, before she died, too – she never spoke much about it, until her deathbed. And her last words to me… I remember them perfectly, and today, as an adult, I can tell that they were broken, that there were words she meant to say but couldn’t. But as a child… she said, ‘The Greysons. They Greysons, they…’ She paused for a long time, then, but her mouth kept moving, forming words she never said. Then she went on, ‘My daughter. They took… my daughter. The Greysons…’ And that was it.” Chelsea sniffed, reached up with her free hand to wipe her eyes. “She’d been trying to say more. I think she knew who killed mom, or at least she had discovered something, some clue, and she wanted me to know, but she probably wanted to wait until I was older, but then she was out of time, and… well. I do know that the Greysons were mom’s best friends. They were her partners. And the more I’ve come to think about things, to know you, and to know even just a little bit about your parents…” She shook her head. “There’s no way they killed her. But…”
But one more terrible lie. One more terrible truth to reveal.
“All those years, I was convinced that your parents killed my mother. Even when I met you, even when we started dating, I…” Chelsea’s heart stuck in her throat. How could she say anymore? The next truth was awful, it was ugly, it showed the very worst of her in a way she knew was unforgivable.
And yet Caleb, still silent, gave her hand a gentle squeeze. She looked up at him, and he down at her. Their eyes met, and he nodded.
Chelsea couldn’t say the rest while looking at him, so she looked away, but those small gestures of encouragement gave her hope.
“I didn’t know your last name,” Chelsea said. “How often do people share their last names in high school? I was Chelsea, you were Caleb. We didn’t share any classes, so I never heard the teacher say your last name. We started dating, and it was only a few days later that you introduced me to your parents, and then…”
Chelsea remembered how much of a fool she’d made of herself. Walking through Grimoire, hand-in-hand with her crush-turned-boyfriend, a silly smile on her face, until…
Until he’d stopped. Until he’d gestured at Greyson Manor and said “Well, this is home.”
Her smile had faded, her jaw had dropped in disbelief, her heart had plummeted, her entire being had filled with dread.
And inside, face-to-face with Callum and Deirdre Greyson, Chelsea had been unable to speak. She’d stared at Caleb’s parents for a long time as they smiled and said pleasant things, commented on how pretty she was and how they were so happy to meet her, how they mistook her silence for shyness…
And then Chelsea had run. Out the door, down the street, far away.
Her legs had carried her all the way across Grimoire, to Reiner Manor, to the graves of her parents, and kneeling down before her mother’s grave, consumed by disbelief and dread and rage, she’d started thinking.
Dark thoughts. Evil thoughts.
Thoughts of vengeance.
“I…” Chelsea started, unsure how she could possibly tell Caleb the rest. But she had to. “I… I kept on dating you. Obviously, you know that. But I mean… I stayed with you because… I thought this was my best chance. I could get close to you, and through you get close to them, and then…”
Chelsea shook her head, biting her lip, knowing she couldn’t say anymore on that dark line of thought.
“But then I…” she started. “I couldn’t deny my feelings for you. Through the rage and the pain, all the days I spent with you, I… I couldn’t just use you. I fell in love, deeply, completely, hopelessly. And I realized I couldn’t hurt you, and I couldn’t hurt your parents because that would hurt you, so I turned all of my anger outwards. We became Hunters, so that made it easy, I could just blow up monsters whenever I got angry, whenever my grief tried to tear me apart. But… that didn’t get rid of the pain. It only nurtured it, in a way. It just made me unable to let go of it. And then…”
Chelsea’s words turned to the story of her and Gwen, of the Library of Solitude, of the evil world of shadows they’d wandered through. She told him of the visions she’d seen, of her doppelganger, of the ghostly version of her mother, and even of the evil doppelganger of Caleb who had taunted her, been so cruel and wicked with his words.
And she told him, finally of the light. Of walking through the gate, and being surrounded by light, and the three words that had saved her.
“Let it go,” she said softly, and finally she could smile, just a little. “So that’s what I’ve been working on doing. Little by little, I’ve been working to let go of my rage, and it’s working. It’s slow, but… it’s like I can finally see. Like for seventeen years, my eyes and mind and heart were totally clouded, and now, finally, finally, I can see things clearly. I can feel, feel honestly, not blinded by pain and loss.” She squeezed Caleb’s hand, and her smiled grew a little more. “I can finally, really love you. I don’t have to be torn by rage at people who did nothing to harm me. I can put it all aside and love you like I should, love you like I always meant to. And I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, that it took me so long to get my heart right, and I hope you’ll forgive –”
Chelsea was pulled into Caleb’s warm embrace. His arms wrapped around her, pulled her close, hugged her tight. And she gave completely into it, resting her head against his chest, hugging him back, crying openly and fully, tears of relief and joy and love.
“Of course I forgive you,” Caleb said softly, the breath of his words brushing against her ear. “Always, forever, whatever for. You don’t even have to ask.” He laughed softly, and Chelsea’s heart danced. “I love you.”
“I love you,” Chelsea said back to him, hugging him tighter. For a long time, she rested in his embrace, crying, smiling, laughing.
Seventeen years of pain and grief and rage. Four years of lies, of holding back my love for no good reason. And now…
I’m reborn. I’m alive again, after so long.
Chelsea pulled away, turning Caleb by the shoulders so that he faced her parents’ graves again, and then she faced them, too. “Mom, dad,” she said, “this is Caleb Greyson. He’s the best man I know, and I love him desperately. And I know introducing him after we’ve been together for four years is super late, but here he is. I hope you’ll watch over both of us, and I hope you approve of him.”
Then Caleb did something unexpected. He took one step towards the gravestones, dropped to one knee, and bowed his head. “I don’t have a good speech,” he said, “or even, probably, the right words, but… thank you, both of you, for bringing Chelsea into the world. I promise I’ll do right by her, and love her the very best I can.”
Chelsea stared at Caleb, shaking her head in disbelief.
He really has changed so much. We were apart for so long, and I thought I’d been through a lot, but it looks like he was, too. And for both of us, it turned out for the better.
As soon as Caleb stood back up, Chelsea was hugging him, smiling up at him.
“You’re really something, you know that?” she asked.
Caleb laughed. “You think so?” he asked. At a nod from Chelsea, he tilted his head down, placed his forehead against hers, and gazed into her eyes. “Thank you. For telling me the truth. For letting me come here. For loving me.”
Chelsea grinned. “You’re welcome,” she said, and then they were both laughing.
This is more than I ever deserved. But I’m grateful. And I won’t push this away, or let the evil side of me get in the way.
I’m letting all of the darkness go, and embracing light, and love.