Say goodbye, as we dance with the devil tonight.
Don't you dare look at him in the eye, as we dance with the devil tonight?
Trembling, crawling across my skin.
Feeling your cold dead eyes, stealing the life of mine.
~Dance with the Devil by Breaking Benjamin
Nadine still remembered the first time she spoke to the Dark Man.
During her sixth year, she had gone to bed angry one night; angry that Brother had gotten the last of the ice cream to himself, because there was only enough for one bowl. He was the baby her parents had said, but what they really meant was that he was their baby, and she was not.
The couple had adopted her when she was four and a half months old, after trying to have a baby of their own for five years and being told by doctors that it wasn't going to happen. They cooed and fussed over her at first, grateful that they had a child to love, finally after all the years of disappointment and hurt. But when she turned three, her parents announced to the rest of the family at her birthday party that "God had finally blessed them with a child of their own". Because "a child of their own" was never, ever going to encompass Nadine.
When she was three and a half, Brother had been born, a squalling bundle of noise that took all of her parents' attention. Father began buying sports equipment—a baseball glove and bat, a basketball, a football. He bought tiny a Red Sox cap and a diminutive Celtics jersey. She was given a baby doll that drank from a bottle and peed in a washable diaper and cried whenever it was put down, so that she could practice being a good big sister.
She hated it.
Mother was just thrilled that she had a baby to nurse; when Nadine had come from the orphanage, there was no breast milk, and she quickly spurned her bottle in favor of sippy cups. Nadine had never been a cuddly child, and she received even less affection with Brother constantly being held and rocked and adored.
So that night when she was sent to bed with no dessert for saying harsh, disrespectful words about the ice cream—not that there was any more dessert to be had, anyway—she prayed to God or Whoever would listen to take away her family and give her a new one, to give her to someone who truly wanted her. Afterward, she slept as tears dried on her cheeks. And she dreamed.
Her dream was about her mother, her real mother, who had died of a cancer that consumed her womb within months of Nadine being born. She shouldn't, couldn't have any memories of her mother; there was no way she could have known what killed her mother when she was only a couple of months old. Her adopted parents never told her; she was still far to young to understand such things. But somehow, she just knew.
In the dream, her six-year-old self clutched the ribbon to a balloon in one chubby hand while her mother's long, elegant fingers wrapped around her other. They stood in front of a carousel and watched the horses gallop around and around.
"Nadine," her mother said, "your father is waiting for you." She looked up into her mother's face, which was pale and waxy, her lips tinged icy blue. Her mother pointed toward the carousel. "Go ride the pretty horses with him."
When she looked back at the carousel again, astride one of the larger horses on the outside—one of the ones that bobbed up and down as the ride turned—was a man. She tried to see his face, but his features were shrouded in shadows that swam and writhed as he flew past her in a blur.
She looked back at her mother, uncertainly and fear in her eyes. "Go on now," her mother urged again. "He'll take care of you. He'll always be there for you. You'll always be his special girl."
Her mother gave her a small pat on the back to push her forward. Nadine took one hesitant step and then another. When she approached the edge of the rotating platform, the shadowed man—her father, according to her mother—came around on the carousel again. As he neared her, he leaned over and she could finally see his face more clearly. His mouth stretch into an feral, obscene parody of a smile, revealing pointed white teeth. He reached toward her, his arm seeming to grow as it extended, and snatched at her. As her feet lifted from the ground, she screamed—
and woke sitting bolt upright in her own bed in her darkened room. Her chest heaved and ached as she swallowed the scream, her breath sucked from her lungs. She finally raised her eyes to look around her bedroom, and stifled another scream at the dark shape of a man standing at the foot of her bed.
"Keep yourself just for me, Nadine, and you'll always be my special girl."
And as suddenly as it came, the fear drained out of her and was replaced by a feeling of euphoric affection. This was what she wanted her adopted parents to be. This was someone who would never make her feel second-best, never make her feel less-than, never make her feel that she was anything but totally and completely loved.
She smiled at the shadow-man, a sly, coy twisting of her lips.
"Will you always love me? Will you be my husband?" she asked in a voice that should have held a child's innocence, but didn't.
"I will set you above all others, and make you my queen, my love, my sweet Nadine. When the time comes, we'll be wedded. Ask for anything you want, and it will be yours." His voice flowed over her like fine silk, soft and sensual. The promises it held were intoxicating.
She lowered her eyes coquettishly and looked at him from beneath her long lashes. "I don't want my parents to love my brother more than me anymore. Make them stop."
The impression of his smile flashed through her head, even though his shape was nothing more substantial than smoke. "Only the best for you, my sweet Nadine."
She nodded, then laid back down on her pillow and fell back asleep.
The next morning, she remembered nothing about the dream, just vague images of her mother and a feeling of love and contentment. She knew she had been angry when she went to bed, but that hurt also faded over the weeks that followed.
So when her parents announced that they were going to take Brother to her Aunt and Uncle's house, she thought nothing out of the ordinary when she suddenly asked if she could sleepover at Jeannie Preston's house instead. She didn't recognize the look of relief on her parents' faces.
When Mrs. Preston answered the door the next morning, letting the two police officers into the living room while sending the girls into the kitchen to finish their breakfasts, Nadine still suspected nothing.
Then she was called into the living room, and she stared with huge, curious eyes at the two men in their austere dark blue uniforms, their belts bulging with strange equipment that she didn't understand. One of the men got down on one knee in front of her as she sat on the sofa and took her small hand in his. His skin was rough and calloused, but his hands were warm. She remembered that warmth later.
When the police officer told her that her parents and brother had died, she felt nothing. A car accident, a hit and run, with no witnesses to identify the other vehicle or driver. Still, she felt nothing. The place where the love for her parents and brother should have been was a hollow, empty shell.
Something better was waiting for her, she suddenly remembered. A bridegroom who would make everything as perfect as she wanted it to be.
As long as she kept herself only for him, she would always be his special girl.