Her hands were shaking as she carded her fingers through his hair. The tears that had been steadily falling down her face had since run dry as if her whole body had been squeezed free of any other tears. Her throat felt sore from the screaming that had been ripped out of her mouth.
“Do we have a deal, Cassandra?”
The woman in question looked up and narrowed her eyes, a sniffle betraying her furious persona.
Cassandra gingerly placed her husband’s head onto the ground as she stood up, “What do you mean? You… you killed him. There is no deal.”
“Cassandra,” the Boss growled out, “You really don’t understand the predicament you’re in, do you?” Walking over to a nearby table, he picked up a binder and threw it down on the floor in front of her. “There in that folder is every picture of your entire living family. I know their addresses, I know what they look like, I know that your mother goes to the local garden store at 10 a.m. every Wednesday.” He takes two long strides before he is directly in front of the quivering woman. “Now that your husband has really screwed the pooch, his debt falls on you. But I’m willing to work out a sort of deal.”
“A deal?” She barked, “Are you trying to bribe me right now? You’re insane.”
The Boss shrugged, “It’s a business deal, Sweet Pea. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Cassandra put her hands in her hair in desperation, “I feel like I’m going to be sick. This can’t be happening.”
“I wish it didn’t come to this, but things happen when people make dangerous choices. This is especially difficult with your current situation.”
“What situation?” She spat.
“You’re pregnant.” He calmly stated, his gaze flicking to her stomach, “Shame that he had to backstab his family like this.”
“Shut the Hell up,” She screamed, her heart rate escalating to the point where she could feel the thumping against her chest, “He was doing what was best for his family! You always told him that the next mission would be his last but it never was.”
A smile formed on the Boss’ face, “Oh really? That’s interesting because I never did say that. He just didn’t tell you about the debt he racked up.”
Cassandra froze, glancing over at her husband’s limp form., “Erik said that was taken care of months ago, that we would be able to leave.”
“Nope,” The Boss said, enunciating the ‘p’, “It for sure wasn’t. “So, imagine my surprise when he stabs me in the back and tells the Feds about one of my warehouses. They got quite a few people arrested and millions of products taken away from me. If anything, he made the debt worse. But, instead of dealing with him going to the cops again, he had to be taken out.”
“Then why did you call me to come here?” Cassandra demanded, her devastation shifting into rage. “To see him die? Or to tell me that he lied to me for months?”
“Neither” he picks up the binder that he had previously thrown and placed it on the table, absentmindedly flicking through the pages like it’s a magazine in a waiting room. “The deal that I mentioned, involves your little pregnancy.”
Cold sweat immediately broke out through her body, “You aren’t taking my baby.”
He chuckled, “No, no I wouldn’t be that cruel! However, when she turns 16, that’s going to be a different story.”
Cassandra’s jaw set in place, “Like Hell I’m doing that. You’re disgusting.”
“My daughter died when she was 16,” He remarked, his expression never shifting, “I never got to show her the ropes of running the family business, I never was able to enjoy life with her as a teenager, I never had somebody to be the heir.” He let out a sigh before looking back at Cassandra. “You get 16 years with her and the debt that Erik had built up will be… dismissed.”
“How much?” She questioned, tears threatening to build up again, “How much does he owe?”
Cassandra knew, deep down, that she didn’t have a choice. She could tell the police and risk her family getting killed off one by one, or she could agree to this and use the next 16 years to defend her child so that when the day inevitably came, they would be ready. She had to accept his bribe.
“Fine,” Cassandra began, “But you still killed him and when you least expect it,” Her eyes became narrowed and full of rage, “I’m going to get you back for this.”
The Boss smirked, a gleam in his eye. “I look forward to it.”
Eight months later should have been a day full of joy. Cassandra should have been ecstatic to bring a new bundle of joy into the world, yet there she was with a heavy heart and tears falling down her face. Of course, she was happy to have her daughter, but not having her husband next to her and having that constant thought in her head, made everything tense. Cassandra didn’t remarry, with herself and Ellie she was content. The rest of her family (and Erik’s) had been a substantial impact on their life, visiting almost all the time and checking in on her. Cassandra valued it more than they realized, but the closer she kept them, the more she knew they would be in danger.
By the time Ellie turned five years old, Cassandra had enrolled her in martial arts courses. Her child was a natural, quickly becoming top of her class. The two of them had a perfect relationship, with Cassandra always watching over Ellie. They were an immovable force and as Ellie grew older, she got stronger. The years seemed to pass in a blink of an eye, and as it got closer to Ellie’s teenage years, Cassandra got more intense.
“Why do I have to learn Jiu Jitsu?” Ellie had asked when she was ten, “I’m kind of tired of martial arts.”
Cassandra’s eyes had instantly gone cold and calculated. “You have to. I need you to do it, okay? It’s important.”
Ellie had never seen her mom look like that and the image had been burned into her brain. She never asked her mom to quit ever again.
Competition after competition, Ellie had gotten quite the reputation. Unfortunately, that attention attracted the wrong people. Cassandra would be at every meet and after a few times, she began to notice a few older men dressed in black suits watching her as well. She changed what program Ellie was in the next day. When Ellie turned fourteen, Cassandra had become more proactive with training her daughter. They would have fun and spend time together as a family, but every week she would throw a curveball. The first time it happened, Ellie had come home from school when a person in all black came around the corner of the kitchen with a bat. Without thinking, Ellie dove forward, swiping out the individual’s legs. In response, the person kicked outwards and connected with Ellie’s shoulder.
“Shit!’ Ellie cussed as she stood up at the same time as the mystery person. “Who are you?”
Instead of responding, the assassin raised the bat and Ellie moved forward and delivered a devastating punch to the chest causing them to fall to the ground. The person started coughing and rolling on the floor, gasping for breath. At long last, the mask was pulled off and Ellie’s chest tightened to see that it was her mom.
“Mom?! What- why did you do that?” She dropped to her knees and waddled closer to Cassandra, “I could’ve killed you are you insane?” Tears were in her eyes as her mom finally sat up.
“I-I had to,” Cassandra managed to gasp out, massaging her chest. “That was a fantastic delivery, though, if someone was to break in.”
“You can’t do that mom,” Ellie groaned out, standing up abruptly. “What if I had really hurt you? I could’ve killed you if I had changed my angle.”
“Or someone else,” her mother whispered as she looked at her daughter. “Honey everything will make sense, I promise. You just need to be patient.”
“No,” Ellie said firmly. “You’ve been acting weird since my twelfth birthday and you’ve been pushing me harder and harder every year. Something is going on and you’re too scared to tell me.”
Cassandra looked at her daughter owlishly, desperately trying to come up with some response. It was true. She thought she was being subtle but it was impossible to hide the inevitable.
“You’re right,” she finally said, her throat starting to get that closing feeling she gets when she is about to cry. “I’ll tell you everything.”
And so, there they sat on the floor in the corner of the kitchen as Cassandra told Ellie everything. Bringing up Erik hurt, really hurt, especially watching Ellie’s expression shift throughout the story. Telling her about the Boss brought up the memories from that night and she furiously wiped at the tears that had betrayed her.
“Your father had unfortunately gotten us into debt, to the point where we couldn’t possibly afford it,” she glanced at Ellie whose eyes were welling up with tears, “He was a great man and he always looked out for his family. We were his everything. But I’m telling you this, because everything I ‘forced’ you into, was for your protection.”
“What do you mean?” Ellie asked, her voice small.
“The Boss bribed me. He has a binder of our family, complete with pictures and everything he needs to know to get to them. He would come for us after everyone else was wiped out,” she took in a deep breath as she tried to calm down. The words were flowing out of her mouth before she could even process it, not really understanding who she was telling this to. “So, I had to make a deal. He would… he would take you when you turned 16 and in return, all the debt and all the threats would be forgiven.”
“Give… give me up?” Ellie questioned, not quite believing the words coming out of her mother’s mouth. “You gave me up?”
“No,” Cassandra pleaded, “I agreed to the deal but I also told him that I would get back at him for what he did to Erik. I trained you so that we can fight when he comes.”
Ellie went quiet, searching her mother’s face. “So, you… didn’t give me up?”
“Honey,” Cassandra said, her eyes blinking away the tears, “I would never give you up. We’re going to make him regret ever messing with our family.”
Ellie smiled and fell into her mother’s awaiting embrace, “I promise to protect us. He’s not going to take me away from you.”
On her fifteenth birthday, Ellie didn’t want to blow out her candles. It would be one year until he came. It would be one year until the Boss would try to rip her away from her mother. She had stared at the candles until the wax began to fall on her cake. Cassandra had made the decision to throw the candles into a cup of water after they had burned down halfway. As the months flew by, they had trained more than ever before. For any competition that would arrive for martial arts, Ellie would be enrolled the second the list went live. Cassandra at the same time would ensure that the second she saw one of the Boss’ henchmen, she would take Ellie and leave. That being said, there are only a few places you can go to compete in one town. But, before long, the day came. Cassandra had bought a cake and put in 16 candles, lighting every single one while Ellie paced in front of the table.
“When will he get here?” Ellie asked softly.
“I’m not sure,” Cassandra responded, staring at the candles as the flame danced on the white cake. “But we’ll be ready.”
As they waited, the two of them sat at the table with the cake in front of them. Neither of them dared to breathe, in fear of the candles going out. That moment was cut short by three raps at the door. Their heads turned in unison as they stared at it. Standing up, Cassandra motioned for Ellie to go to the living room and hide around the corner while she opened the door. As she approached it, her palms began to sweat as she opened the door to reveal the one man who had ruined her life.
“Cassandra,” he greeted with a smile, “A pleasure to see you again.”
Her jaw set as Cassandra forced a smile, “Boss. Today’s the day, let’s skip the formalities.”
“A woman of business,” he joked as he walked inside. “I like it.”
“Where are your goons?” Cassandra asked, crossing her arms as he looked at the birthday cake down the hall.
“Ah, I told them to wait in the car, figured this would be quick and easy. But, wherever that daughter of yours is, she better blow out her candles! She’s 16! It’s something to celebrate!”
“People usually don’t celebrate kidnapping,” Cassandra growled when suddenly he pulled a gun out of his coat pocket.
“You and I have a deal,” he spoke calmly, “And I don’t like it when people back out of a deal. But calling something mutual a kidnapping makes me a little bit irritated.”
Cassandra opened her mouth to speak when a shrill voice echoed around the house.
“DON’T TOUCH HER!”
Without thinking, Cassandra grabbed the barrel of the gun and shifted its direction to the side of her just as Ellie sprinted around the corner and jumped. As the trigger was pulled, Ellie’s leg extended out as she collided with the side of his neck, a sickening crunch echoing in the quiet room. The Boss’ body dropped to the floor in a heap and Ellie looked at Cassandra in horror as her body tensed up.
“Oh honey,” Cassandra spoke, her voice barely above a whisper, “What have you done?”
Ellie’s chest rose and fell drastically, her eyes wide. “I-I didn’t mean to, you said, you said to attack him. You said we would be ready.”
“I didn’t, I didn’t mean like this,” Cassandra could barely get the words out as the reality of the situation became clear.
While the Boss’ men sat out in the car, checking their watches as the time ticked away, the pair were busy attempting to form a solution to an impossible problem. A sob burst out of Ellie’s mouth as she looked between her mother and the man on the ground.
The Boss was dead.
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Something like Rumplestiltskin .