Arsenic for the Soul (Vivian Xu, Book 2) by Nathan Wilson by Nathan Wilson - Read Online

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Arsenic for the Soul (Vivian Xu, Book 2) - Nathan Wilson

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Over a period of weeks, the outbreak was quelled at the University Hospital. A cure was mass produced that proved effective against the drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis.

Xenophobia against foreigners declined in the wake of relief. Soon the plague receded to a memory and all the accompanying pain was replaced by contented citizens going about their daily lives. Nonetheless, no one knew the source of the tuberculosis, save for two lost souls.

One of those women slowly shuffled through Vysehrad Park. The snow hushed beneath her footsteps as she followed an invisible path that only her heart remembered. She didn’t know when she would stop, nor did she care. She could walk to the edge of the world without so much as glancing back.

Of course, that wasn’t truly what lured her.

Vivian paused in front of a lone park bench. This was where she sat when Milo put his arm around her and said they would always be together. She could still feel the snow falling like crystal explosions on her face when he appealed to her deepest desires.

She felt disgust in herself. Was she any different than those weak girls who pinned all of her hopes on a man to the point of dependency? Worse, she tried to rationalize a toxic relationship and deny that Milo could be responsible for his crimes—or perhaps she thought she could save him from his wickedness.

At least she recognized it now. She rarely ventured out of her shell for a man and this experience demonstrated precisely why. She was horrified of becoming too dependent and waking up to a crushing defeat.

Yes, that was the awful truth. She feared how her self-worth seemed attached to others around her.

Despite the damage, she vowed to rebuild herself.

After all, doesn’t strength come from enduring the worst that life throws at you and dusting off the scars?

She settled down on the bench. The healing process wouldn’t be without the occasional twinge, but she would survive. Yet, she never felt a connection this intense before. She had never felt so vulnerable and weak.

She still sought answers to the wild events that played out in the Magdalene Midnight Mission. How could a relationship so intimate have been an utter fabrication?

I thought I might find you here, a voice whispered behind her. Vivian looked over her shoulder at her dearest friend. Camilla was bundled in her familiar cashmere jacket and vermillion scarf. Truly, she was the image of the young journalist she first met in the Vesely Manor.

Time seemed to hold its breath and Vivian could almost taste the beauty between them. No other person made her feel that way before.

With a sigh, Vivian sprang up from the bench.

I think I’m ready for a career change.

Are you sure?

"I’ve been toying with the idea of going into forensic investigation. Even criminal profiling piques my interest. After all, I—or should I say we—seem to get caught up in these near fatal encounters more frequently than I intend to. I may as well make a living of sticking my neck out."

Aren’t you going to return to the nursing program? You can prove you don’t have HIV. They had no reason to let you go. You can always try to go back—

Screw that shit. I’m done. She laughed hoarsely, barely forcing the bravado through her teeth. I’ve had enough of hospitals, doctors, and anyone wearing a white lab coat. Think of it this way, with your skills as a crime reporter, we’re bound to uncover some horror stories together.

The silence fell upon them again.

Why did you come here? Camilla asked.

I think I’m still seeking closure. I don’t love Milo anymore but the pain doesn’t go away. I don’t know how to sift through it.

That part of your life is over, Vivian. Close this chapter once and for all. You’ll find someone who will cherish you in ways he never could. At the risk of sounding like your mom, you have so much to offer. We’ve been through a lot together and it’s given me the opportunity to know you as a person.

Vivian gritted her teeth and satisfied Camilla’s questions even as she blinked back tears, trying to defy her pain with anger.

Are you okay? Camilla gave Vivian a comforting squeeze. I know you loved him. You were close to him and all this time…

Well, I had to get my desperation out eventually. Her eyes burned at the thought. The only emotion Milo evoked in her heart was cold resentment.

I know things are going to get tough in the days ahead, Camilla said. You’ll feel like the world is crashing down on you. I’ve never told anyone before but I’ve felt the same way. I’m also going to tell you something I wish I knew back then. You will forget about this pain by the time your next relationship comes around. This will be a distant memory, but only if you let it go. Stop torturing yourself. Your wounds don’t have to become scars. You can heal if you want to.

The truth hit Vivian hard.

Thank you. The tension seemed to unwind in Vivian. Have you ever considered how odd humans are? We’re all looking for something to make us happy or make the pain go away. I’m not sure which one is driving me.

Countless times. Sometimes a lobotomy sounds downright appealing when you put it that way.

No, we just need to hit up a bar and trade life stories. Vivian sighed and kicked at the snow. How do I deal with reality now? The feelings were so intense it’s like…

She bit her lip hard.

I depended on him. As much as I hate to admit it, I depended on him so much that it makes me sick.

Camilla nodded at the unspoken truth. Her eyes brightened and she smiled.

Trust me, you’ll find someone special and you’ll be happy. Do I really have to remind you you’re beautiful, intelligent, smart, and warmhearted?

You forgot impulsive and stubborn. Vivian cracked a forced smile. Sometimes I feel like I’m just stumbling around in this strange world. Now I’m in the stage of processing everything. I’m trying to make sense of what was real and what I imagined.

Vivian almost broke down in that moment but she held on firmly to the façade. She felt Camilla’s arms around her and she couldn’t hold the tears back any longer.

That’s what I’m here for. You don’t have to stumble around in this world alone.

Thank you… so much. For everything.

I’ll always be here for you, Vivian. And in case you haven’t noticed, I need you right now as much as you need me.

Vivian held her close, afraid to let Camilla go. Finally, she watched her dear companion depart into the mist. Camilla looked once over her shoulder and smiled, confident that she helped a friend in dire need.

Vivian stared at the ebbing fog as the minutes turned to an hour.

She reached into her jacket and felt the gun she lifted off Camilla.

Vivian’s search for answers had ended but not without everlasting damage. Her involvement with Milo cost her coveted place in the nursing program. Adding salt to the wound, it wasn’t due to any fault of her own. She was humiliated and cast out of the University Hospital on account of an anonymous memo.

Even if she submitted to another blood test and proved she didn’t contract HIV, it would be a lengthy and dramatic process trying to reinstate her. In spite of it all, she wasn’t sure she wanted to rejoin a program that tossed her out like garbage. Her murky future in school was the least of her worries now.

Depression hit her in a wave and suddenly she was drowning. She clawed out of that spiritual rift once before but how many times could she escape before her strength failed her?

Worst of all, she couldn’t process her relationship with Milo. Her rage boiled over until her flesh was on fire. Was anything they shared actually real? Was it all a ploy to get closer to Camilla?

She opened up her heart to him and revealed all who she was. She shared things she never dared confide in any man. Vivian imagined spending the rest of her life with him, raising children together, and growing old by his side.

He was supposed to be the one.

She could feel the Red Widow persona coming back, the violent urges tugging at the seams of her sanity. She felt physically ill for falling in love with a man who tortured and murdered for sensual pleasure.

His psychological manipulation was on par with molestation. His gentle face seared into her mind, juxtaposed against the feral visage of Ezran Vesely. Perhaps Milo was just a mask concealing the raw hatred and insanity beneath.

She choked on her tears as she pictured the man she fell in love with.

She pressed the gun barrel under her chin. She wished she never met Milo. She wished her heart wasn’t so weak and longing. Maybe she was to blame for this irreversible fate. She would have walked a different path in life had she never stripped to finance her education.

She wished there was a way to undo all of the sins so deeply embedded in her. She would also give anything to have Camilla embrace her one last time before she put all of her faith in this bullet.

A scream of torment gushed from her lips.

Vivian didn’t want to attempt to understand it anymore. She wanted to squeeze the trigger over and over again until the world became a little quieter and blanker. Everything that caused her pain needed to disappear.

Every voice in her head telling her that she was worthless needed to shut up.

Each time she began to press down on the trigger, she sobbed and let go.

"Fuck it all!" She never wanted and yet feared something as badly as she did now. Sweat ran down her throat like a wild river under her skin. Wouldn’t someone liberate her from this hell? Why couldn’t she have the life she always wanted? Was that too goddamn much to ask for?

She vowed she would pull the trigger this time. She closed her eyes and her finger curled against the trigger. She gasped as she felt a hand touch hers.


The gun fell from her chin at the sound of the voice. Suddenly, she was touched by a presence she hadn’t felt in years. Was it possible her aunt’s soul found her in this quiet park?

Almost two years passed since Vivian hugged her in the hospital and whispered her good-byes. More than anyone else, she inspired Vivian to live by her dreams and never surrender.

Her aunt’s voice echoed through her mind again.

My dear Vivian, I’m sorry that you’re having these thoughts about giving up. You assume that suicide is the answer to this pain. You think living is too much of a burden and no one would notice if you disappear.

You are wrong.

You were put on this earth for a reason. Maybe one day that purpose will become clear to you, but it’s clear to your mother and father. Your family and friends overflow with love for you. Don’t leave them behind. You’re never as alone as you think you are.

Please don’t make the biggest mistake of your life. You’re only here for a short time. That time is too precious to waste on tears. Let this experience mold you into a stronger and better person, not a victim… but a victor.

Love yourself and live passionately. You’re a spark in a world with too much darkness. Don’t let your light go out.

Vivian wiped away her tears. How could she be so cruel to herself?

She knew more obstacles lay ahead, but she would muscle through them. She would win this war over her soul. Her happiness didn’t stem from a person that filled the cracks in her life. She would find true joy in herself—without the crutch of lovers.

Milo was never the one for her. She only projected what she yearned for onto him.

Vivian stifled the tears and assured herself that beautiful beginnings were just around the corner. Most of all, she took comfort in the fact that she was loved. Camilla’s voice rang in her head before they parted ways.

Your wounds don’t have to become scars. You can heal if you want to.

Thank you, Camilla. My past is over and my pain doesn’t define me.

She relinquished the agony within. She never thought of Milo again. After all, she was only in love with the idea of him.

Vivian’s feet slapped against the trail as she ran through the park. Instead of running away from fear, she ran toward something greater. Clarity. Strength. Hope. She felt her spirit soaring like the snow caught on the breeze.

She smiled because she knew no one could stop her.

A new chapter in her life welcomed her.

She’d be damned if she missed out on it.

* * *

Relief poured over Camilla as she returned to her apartment and its familiar comforts. Since the day she found Milo’s sinister warning, it didn’t feel like she possessed a home anymore.

No such fear followed her as she studied her desk and her personalized wallpaper of newspaper clippings. The futon where she indulged in late night fantasy reading looked more comforting than it ever had before. Now she could reclaim her home and banish the lingering specter of terror.

She turned around to hang up her jacket. An envelope was peeking out from under the door.

Her heart went from a calm staccato to hammering against her ribs. She spun toward the bedroom, half-expecting to see her brother looming in the doorway with a polished dagger in his hand.

She was alone.

Still, that didn’t quell the storm of panic roaring in her heart. She latched the door behind her and ran through a quick check of the windows. She rushed to the kitchen and seized a cutting knife. Dashing back to the living room, she peeked behind any hiding spot that might conceal a man. She threw open the wardrobe and pushed the curtains aside.

No one was there.

She breathed a little easier but one unresolved matter remained.

Camilla timidly picked up the letter. She wasn’t surprised by the absence of a return address. She balled up the fear inside and crushed it. She refused to feel like a victim anymore. She learned firsthand that her strength was greater than any cowardly attack aimed at her. She smoothed the letter on the dining table.

Dear Camilla,

I’ve approached your apartment half a dozen times. But each time I try to knock on the door, my body freezes. I want so badly to see you, to hold you and hug you as my daughter.

What must you think of me? You grew up without a mother. That moment can never be replaced by hugs or apologies. I never wanted you to be without a mother. I grieve for every day that was lost to me that I could have spent with you.

Please know that I never abandoned you. As you must know, my absence was not my choice. Despite the ocean of time that separates us, I never forgot how soft you felt in my arms. Your eyes lifted me up in ways I still can’t describe to this day. I never could have imagined something so small and fragile would set me free.

Thanks to the light you shed on the laundries, I’ve known freedom for the first time in twenty years. It took months to find you and arrive in Prague.

I want to see you but I don’t know when the time is right. As much as it pains me, I don’t know when I’ll be ready to meet my own daughter.

I hope we can be together again one day.

Until then, whatever happens, know that you will always be dear to my heart.

I will love you always and forever.

Camilla’s tears ran freely as the emotions swept her away. A wondrous smile creased her lips. She used to smile like this and it felt beautiful to do so again.

One day she would come face-to-face with her mother and hold her. They would laugh, weep, and embrace until their tears burst forth again. They would ultimately be whole, like scattered fragments of souls flying on the wind to reunite. She could wait a little longer for that moment.

Soothing warmth kindled in her heart and she instantly understood what it meant. Somewhere out there, her mother