I would like to thank my beta, rappleyea. Without her, this story would not have been possible. She has spent countless hours pouring over chapters, revising, reading, offering insight into my characters and plots. Phantom hugs to you!
Savannah, Georgia – 1930
Warm light slanted through the vented gable end on the house, creating a specter of dancing dust particles in the stuffy, cramped attic space. Old relics of furniture and forgotten mementos of fifty years of marriage and heirlooms preserved from wars in two different countries lined the walls. For the family who had acquired this vast quantity of goods, they were memories and beloved items, now stored to make room for new and modern things.
For Cassandra and Gregory Jeunet, the attic was an easy escape from strict and slightly overbearing Grandfather Jeunet and Grandmother Jeunet. The cousins had found this place years ago when they were young children, looking to escape that same Grandfather who watched them like a hawk for signs of mischief and a Grandmother who interfered in his every attempt at discipline. At the respective ages of nineteen and twenty-one, Cassandra and Gregory were now mature enough to enjoy the weekends when their parents would go into the city, leaving them to spend time with their beloved Grandfather and Grandmother Jeunet.
"It's hot up here," Cassandra complained, fanning herself rapidly. "Why don't we go down to the river?"
"Because Grandfather has forbidden it," Gregory replied with a smirk. He idly plucked the string of a violin as if it were a guitar, frowning when he found it out of tune. "And heaven's to Betsy if we do something that Grandfather has forbidden. Although I think that particular rule might be left over from ten years ago before either of us could swim."
"Well we can't stay up here. Even in March this state gets hotter than a mattress at Kessler's Boarding House."
"Cassandra!" Gregory chuckled at her ribald humor even as he cringed from her brass manner. His Uncle Richard would be appalled at the way his young daughter was speaking, to say nothing of the way she had her dress shucked up over her knees, ever the tomboy. "What do you know about Kessler's?"
"I know I saw you going in there last Saturday evening when I walked home from Lucy's after dinner," Cassandra replied, tilting her nose at him. "What were you doing in there anyway?"
Gregory blushed and looked away, not about to admit what happened in places like that. "Nothing you should ever know about," he muttered, hoping to appease her.
Cassandra pulled her long hair up into a twist and held it onto her head, wishing for a breath of wind in the attic. Downstairs Grandfather Jeunet would be sitting outside on the porch with a glass of wine and an electric fan, while Grandmother Jeunet sat beside him sleeping. "Well, if we're going to stay up here we ought to at least look through some of these trunks. We always say we will and we never do."
"That's because you're always looking at the dresses."
"That's because I'm a girl!" Cassandra retorted, and climbed to her feet. She looked around at the dust sheets that covered the majority of the furniture and peeked beneath them until she found a large trunk that looked as if it had been crafted by a Parisian carpenter.
"Look, we can open this one first."
Gregory cast a disinterested gaze onto the trunk. "It's probably nothing more than Grandmother's dresses. I don't see how that old woman could have ever fit into anything up here."
Cassandra sniffed. "I hope I have her figure when I'm her age. Haven't you seen the wedding photograph of her? She was beautiful."
Gregory rolled his eyes, but moved to investigate the trunk. "It's locked."
"So open it," Cassandra ordered impatiently. She removed a hair pin and thrust it into his hands, tapping her toe until Gregory began to work on the lock.
Gregory became frustrated after a few tries, and ultimately quit when Cassandra's hairpin broke in half. "It's useless. Let's just go down to the river. We can sneak out the back door, and they'll never hear us."
Cassandra snatched another scarce hairpin from her head and pushed Gregory out of the way. She inserted the pin into the lock and jiggled it slightly with a frown. She worked the lock for several minutes before she finally felt the tumblers fall into place. She let out a gleeful squeal when the antique lock fell open.
"I did it!"
"Right," Gregory muttered, but left it at that. If he pressed the issue, Cassandra would tell all his friends that she'd done what he failed to accomplish, and characteristically over exaggerate. He watched with a scowl as she opened the trunk and began pulling out a bundle of papers, covered in dust.
"Eeew," Cassandra complained, "there's probably a million bugs in here."
"No, worse. It's more opera music," Gregory said, sinking to his knees beside her. "I don't see how anyone ever listens to this. If I have to sit through another I think I'll scream."
"That's because you have no taste. If Grandfather heard you saying that, he'd make you memorize some difficult violin concerto."
Gregory ignored her and laid aside the scores for what looked like the most popular operas from the late nineteenth century. He might not like to listen to the screeching that went on, but in this family, it was a requirement that he know every detail of opera and its beginnings. That was the main source of contention between him and his father, who believed that opera and classical symphonies were the only true forms of music.
"What is this?" Cassandra asked, showing Gregory a strange looking black case. It bore a wax emblem on the front with dust and debris embedded into the sticky surface, making it look like a rather hairy skull. "Here, I don't want to touch that thing. It looks evil."
Gregory gave her an unflattering stare, though he was used to Cassandra's drama. He'd grown up with her just as closely as he would have his own sibling, but their parents had each been blessed with only one child apiece. Their grandparent's only other offspring was their Aunt Millie, or Emmaline, who had never married, being far too busy gracing the stages in New York to bother with such a thing as a husband or children, though she occasionally brought gifts to her niece and nephew when she visited.
"Let me have it," Gregory demanded, snatching it out of her hands. He flipped the cover open, surprised to find a journal, written entirely in French. "Whoa...this is Grandfather's, I think."
"Really?" Cassandra asked, her curiosity outweighing the hesitation to touch it.
"I can't read this. It's in French."
Cassandra grinned. "Ha, then you should have paid more attention to your lessons. Now let me have it back. This is what I've been hoping to find all these years when you've been too lazy to help me explore."
Cassandra took the leather bound journal from Gregory's hands and skimmed over the pages, surprised to find it filled with words of anguish and despair, not memories of the very formal and reserved man who was extremely difficult to please.
"This is very...deep...," she whispered, distracted by the eloquent words, written in a bold, sweeping hand. "If this was Grandfather's...he was not a happy man when he was young. Not ever."
"Why?" Gregory asked suspiciously.
Cassandra glanced up at him, her eyes filled with sadness. She cleared her throat once, and began to read.
# - # - #
"How long does a spider spend, waiting in a shadowy corner for his prey? There must be a number, a fraction, an average for the amount of his life he spends, simply waiting. Do not count the hours that he weaves his intricate web of deceit, nor the lonely, precise way in which he seeks a mate – for that in itself is lethal to the lone spider.
This is not about love, or at least, it did not begin as such. My life, or much of it, was about prey.
How long does a spider spend in the exact same position, not moving, not breathing (if in fact a spider breathes)? How long does he imagine it will take for his first bite of the captive, stunned and submissive?
Waiting, waiting, waiting.
For far too long I lived the first story. Waiting for prey that never came.
Oh, I've killed. That was no longer the sort of prey I was seeking. My two stories are intertwined. There is the story of prey and there is the story of a search for a mate, the search that turned nearly lethal for me. The prey I speak of now is the one elusive woman that I wished to find who could ease my aching heart. In my dreams she would allow me to subdue her and claim her with gentle words and searching hands.
Rape, I would never consider, even in my frustrated youth. The thought turned my stomach even when I would think of the gift of release..."
"Oh, I don't think I can read anymore," Cassandra said, wrinkling her nose. Her cheeks were flush with embarrassment, but Gregory pointed emphatically back to the book with a mischievous grin.
"Keep reading. This is just getting interesting!" he insisted.
Reluctantly curious, Cassandra cleared her throat again, found her place, and began anew.
"That has never held appeal to me. I imagined when I found a woman who was willing to lie beneath me, willing, only willing, then I vowed to take from her all that she would allow, and give everything except my heart.
My heart, that useless organ that kept blood flowing through my veins when I held a constant wish that it would cease. My heart, which survived a cruel rejection and the loss of a love so deep and dark that I never thought to overcome it.
I sought the creature, the abnormal woman who would willingly give her body to me, and found her in a most unlikely place. I had thought, once, a very long time ago that I had first found that woman in Christine. I foolishly trusted her, loved her, and she smashed my love back into my wretched face. She could not have done it more cruelly, yet I know that she did it with great regret. I have long since forgiven her. I love her still; I always shall.
But the spider? He waited. He did not seek and expend energy searching for prey. It came to him in the willing form of a beautiful Southern miss on a hot August night.