Bruges, Five years later.
Sometimes it was just the strangest things: a soft warm breeze carrying the scent of jasmine; a particular brand of floor cleaner; the rook taking the queen. And all of a sudden she was back there, creating chess simulations; standing; crying; the infirmary; then falling asleep and waking in a strange bed, in Lightwood, where her days became an endless cycle of medication, eating, sleeping, playing chess and little else.
And her heart would pound fast against the walls of her chest, her breathing would become so shallow that she had to gasp for it faster and faster again and again and sometimes a voice – her mum or dad, her counsellor, a friend – would tell her it was just a panic attack, she was safe, she was home, she was fine. She just needed to stand firm.
It happened less than it did at first. When she first came home, five years ago, she rarely left her bedroom. She’d wanted to cling to the things that she knew were hers and hold them tight lest someone once try to take it all from her again. In time she learned to trust her parents and friends, agreed to talk to a counsellor. She received the formal apology, in the form of a letter and a lump sum with the promise of compensatory money every month for the next ten years. She had legally changed her name so that now she was always Susie, she could never again be called Susette.
But she often found herself looking over her shoulder, expecting someone to snatch her back. She rarely touched a computer these days unless it was absolutely necessary. The therapists were trying to get her used to the machines again but every time she looked at one she could see the chess simulation programme and the fear would once more rise inside of her.
But its power was lessening with every passing day. She would complete her Master’s degree in a few months – European literature. Something safe. Achieving her bachelor’s was still the proudest moment of her life so far. So she hadn’t left home to study – what did that matter? Plenty of people stayed home these days and it wasn’t as if she’d never experienced that separation from family and friends that was considered a rite of passage, a means of adulthood.
One day she would find the strength and courage to make a break from home, on her own terms. Maybe that day would not be long coming. Maybe when she qualified she would find a job that would spur her on to something different, something new, something that was hers.
One day, Susie Somers knew, she would walk away, walk forwards, walk into her own future without fear of the shadows chasing her down.