Acceptance – Part Three
The answer he gave was short—as it always was when the question was asked. “Last I saw him, he was fine.”
Sheryl kept her outward reaction to a slight twitch of her right foot, managing not to tap the floor nervously. “I see.”
Inwardly, she held back her desire to allow her Tail to take over and do things that were simply unspeakable to the foolish human across from her. Only Joseph truly understood what she was; the rest of those that were her responsibility didn’t have any idea. Sheryl needed to keep things that way—not for herself, but for the promise she had made to them all.
“If you submit to my wishes, you can have him back.”
Sheryl’s eyes narrowed slightly, “You have what you came for. The rest is meaningless. You say the same things each time and each time I refuse you. Why don’t you accept that and give him back to me? You have your pound of flesh.”
He picked up the case as he stood, regarding her with an expression somewhere between contempt and desire, “The flesh I desire hasn’t submitted herself to me. You will, you know. At some point you will. Everyone does.”
Sheryl did not stand or escort him to the door, nor for that matter did any of those in the room with her. This, too, was what happened every time, and would happen again she well knew.
It was the game he played. He simply did not understand who he was trying to play. As Sheryl thought about this she began to tap a finger against the armrest of the chair. “Celeste?”
“Could you please be sure that he is being followed.”
“As always, he expects it.”
Sheryl nodded and then stood, “Thank you, Celeste.”
Celeste’s words echoed in Sheryl’s thoughts for some time as she walked through the place she called home: “As always, he expects it.”
The troubles began just after Sheryl had moved the agency and all of those that had pledged themselves to her to their new home. The police weren’t a problem: they did visit, of course; that was expected. Through the connections that Ashe had, the inquires faded away soon after they began. They did not go about flaunting their collective wealth either. The neighboring community was not threatened by them; more they were welcomed for the good they did for many in the surrounding area, not asking for anything in return.
No, the problem was that, as popular as they were, there were always those that became jealous of them. What followed was the occasional threat, confrontation, and sometimes—just sometimes—the more enlightened came to see something better in what they had and joined with them.
That was what brought . . . him . . . to confront Sheryl.
Sometimes those that wanted to see them be no more would send, for lack of a better description, a Trojan house into their midst, someone on the inside to tell of their secrets, their weaknesses, and, in doing so, make the work of others in their goal that much simpler. Their problem was that Sheryl always knew who those were and they didn’t get very far … save one.
Her name was Celeste.
She appeared on the doorstep one fall evening, afraid, unsure, worried, and more. The emotions spilling off of her were very clear and the force behind them very obvious. She had been told to do this, to plead for acceptance.
Sheryl could have rejected her out of hand—it wouldn’t have been the first time—but there was something under the surface that was Celeste’s own truth, and that called to Sheryl more strongly than the thin veneer that covered it.
At first, Celeste was apart from everyone: watching, leaving and telling of what she had seen, then returning once more. This went on for some time, but, in spite of it, Sheryl taught her many things. She learned about herself: what she liked, what she didn’t. Sheryl spent many a day just talking with her. In the back of Celeste’s mind there was always that voice that told her she was being used … again … that no one wanted her … again. The fears bubbled up over time until, finally, she stood in the front hall, her single bag packed with her meager possessions, one hand on the door to leave.
She didn’t turn, “I … I have to go.”
The rest came in a rush: there was nothing to hide; she’d be away in the next moment, leaving another person disappointed in her, “I lied to you. I have been spying on you and … I can’t do it anymore.”
She turned to see Sheryl standing there in a pink blouse, blue shorts, and sandals, a sad look upon her. “Doesn’t matter what you’ve done before.”
“Of course it does! I’m worthless!”
“You are never that to me. You never have been.”
Bending down to pick up her things, Celeste insisted, “I am. I am nothing. Always will be.”
“No, you aren’t; not here. Think about this, please? When, at any point, did anyone here not treat you well? Tell me one moment where I treated you poorly?”
The truth was that she couldn’t, but, by the same token, her own fears didn’t allow her to believe that she was wanted by anyone.
“I have to go.”
“Celeste … My door will always be open to you. If you decide you want to come back, just please do?”
Her hand shook on the door handle, wanting to turn it and yet not wanting to. Then she heard Sheryl come close. Not so close that she flinched, but close enough.
“I was going to ask you to do the same thing. Please don’t. We’ll protect you. I promise.”
Sheryl was shaken out of her memories by Celeste’s voice, “Mistress?”
“Might I have a moment to speak with you in private?”
They entered Sheryl’s office a few moments later, the door closing behind them. Sheryl didn’t take her chair, instead standing by the windows and looking out at the world that passed on by while she was trapped where she was.
“Mistress, you need to give him what he wants. This has gone on long enough. I know that you need Joseph back … we all do. I’ll go back to him and … it will be fine.”
Sheryl didn’t look at her, “No, I will not allow him to win. He is not going to have you under his thumb. Not again.”
Celeste fingered her bracelet worryingly, “It wasn’t that bad. He is petty but, in the end, he won’t hurt me.”
“I doubt that.”
Celeste was quiet for a long, uncomfortable moment. Then she said something that Sheryl never expected: “I know what you are, Mistress. I know what you can do.”
Sheryl looked at her, “What, exactly, do you mean?”
Celeste worried her hands, not looking at Sheryl, “When I came here, I know I wasn’t really trusted by everyone. When you gave me the place of second to Joseph … I knew you trusted me. He made me promise to look after you if … something happened. He explained that you are … different.”
Sheryl walked to Celeste and cupped her chin, making her look directly at her, “Celeste … be very clear what you mean.”
The words came in a rush, “You are Mistress. You are more than Mistress. You … you are powerful in ways I cannot say I understand fully … But you are.”
Sheryl nibbled her lip, “What am I, Celeste?”
“You are …” The pause was very long, “one of the Succubi.”
There: the words were in the open. Joseph had trusted to Celeste her deepest secret. Why would he? What possessed him to do so? Sheryl felt the ache in her chest, confusion in her thoughts. Her hand tightened, slightly, upon Celeste, “What does that mean to you?”
The look in her eyes, the emotions she gave were … many shades of acceptance. “It means that you are Mistress no matter what. I trust you. We all do. We all would do anything for you.”
Sheryl let go as if her hand had been shocked and turned away, “I don’t want you to do anything for me. It isn’t about me.”
“It isn’t. But it is. I accepted you as Mistress because you gave me the one thing I never had before. You accepted me as I was. You saw in me something that I didn’t see in myself. You gave me hope.”
Sheryl turned away, “I can’t say I have any of my own left.” In the next moment, she felt Celeste’s hands wrapping around her waist from behind, “Have you lost hope in seeing him again?”
“No … not yet. It’s the one thing … the one thing that …”
“Keeps you going? It’s like that for me. I could give up, disappoint you, walk away, but I won’t because you didn’t give up on me.”
Her hands twined with Celeste’s own, “I just haven’t worked out a way.” A sigh, a long one …
Then Celeste answered, “There is more than one door to open, Mistress.”
“What are you trying to get at, Celeste?”
A sigh, a moment as if the words would doom her, then, “I know how to get Joseph back … if you are willing, Mistress.”
The plan was bold and something that Sheryl had never considered. To do so was not in her nature; the risks to herself too high by far. She was about to reject it when another of Tera’s proverbs came to her …
We have to take risks. If we don’t, then things become boring. Life should never be boring.
Sheryl found that the risk was, in fact, worth taking … and it wouldn’t be boring.