Three Months Later

Letting out a long breath, he remembered all the training he had put himself through. Money could get you anything you want, it opened doors that were usually closed, or sometimes even non-existent.

After a few calls and using some of his brother’s old connections, he had found the man he was looking for and travelled all the way out to the Sonoran Desert to seek him out.

Hunter was a different man now. He could feel the change, looking back at the person he was only months ago as though he were a stranger.

If his brother could see him now, he thought. He would be proud, he told himself.

Every moment in his life had been moments wasted. Time he could have spent trying to find purpose. Instead, he had been perfectly content spending his life under the umbrella of the Hunter name, in the shadow of his brother’s accomplishments.

All of his life until a few months ago had been a waste. A waste of life.

So many more years could have passed with him living his life exactly the same way he had been. Missing all the kinds of moments that define people.

Undefined with no character and without the ambition to go looking for anything that could change him and shape him into the kind of person he was now.

All because he fell into the street.

That day could have gone completely different for him. He could have fallen, and she could have been somewhere else.

He used to think he welcomed death. There had been nothing for him to live for. No reason for him to care about living or dying.

Until he saw her.

She looked like someone who lived outside of the world everyone else created. No makeup on, making no effort to conform to societies idea of what she should look like with a self-confidence that radiated off her.

Pulling him out of the road just in time to save his life, he waited. Expecting her to recognize him, he had been in a few trashy magazines that wrote he was well on his way to destroying his family’s name. Most women looked at him and saw dollar signs, and the kind of face that made being a gold digger that much easier.

She looked right through him. He had never felt more worthless than when her eyes skimmed over him and she began to walk away without saying anything to him.

It was wonderful. It intrigued him to want to know absolutely everything about her. She made that extremely difficult.

Now that he knew more about who she was, the life she had come from and the life she had lived, he knew why she was so hesitant to invite anyone into her life.

The man who had owned the private plane had given him her bag when he carried her off the plane. She had purposely left it there, all she was inside one bag just in case she didn’t make it out of Refuge alive.

Later, he had gone through her bag.

The woman he had decided to call Athena had little belongings. A few changes of clothes, mostly weapons, and a wooden box. What was inside the box intrigued him just as much as she did.

Nothing but names.

One of the names interested him more than the others.

Malcolm Hunter.

From what he could make of who she was, he knew that box was full of the names of her victims. Athena had killed his father.

At first, that knowledge had torn through him. He was hit with a rush of emotions, unable to focus on just one. Then, after a long overdue visit to his mother, he learned more about his father’s character. His dear old dad wasn’t the man he always thought he was.

Athena wasn’t the kind of woman who knocked people off without good reason. She was someone who believed in justice, in levelling the playing field between the good and the bad.

His father, seemed to fall on the bad side of the scales.

It took him awhile to wrap his mind around that. His mother had told him that if she had known who he was going to become before she married him, she would have ignored the feelings she had for him and moved on. Her eyes got all glassy, and Hunter wondered just how much his mother had endured during their marriage.

We all endure pains inflicted by people we think love us. Those were the last words his mother said to him when he left her that day.

Steadying himself on the branch he perched on, he brought the scope up to his eye. The smell in the air caused his heart to pound anxiously against his chest. It was daunting, reminding him of the trauma he barely escaped.

A ghost, he marvelled in his newfound abilities.

The windows were all covered over, either by the dirt and grime of these woods or the boards pushed up against them from the inside.

The numbness in his legs was something he could easily ignore. He had already been ignoring it for over an hour.

Athena’s gun felt like it was at home in his hands. Letting out a breath, he resisted the urge to grin when the man he knew only as ‘Twee’ stepped out into the sim sunlight. Without pause, his finger pressed lightly against the trigger.

Twee crumpled to the ground before he could even prepare himself.

If there was one thing he had learned, it was that none of the orphans here at Refuge had been trained with guns, which was probably why Athena seemed so fond of them.

The silencer had hushed the sound of the bullet leaving the barrel. A pop had sounded through the air, it seemed loud to him in the silence, but the birds perched in his tree barely stirred.

All the torture he had endured at the hands of Twee, he was glad to see the world rid of him, but he wasn’t the one he was looking for.

Someone else stepped out, their eyes dropping to their fallen comrade on the floor.

Hunter pressed the trigger, the other body falling on top of Twee.

They would pile up, he would get rid of all of them if he had to.

It was a heartless thought. It was entirely possible there were orphans in there similar to Athena, just trying to escape a life they were merely trying to survive. He would never shoot a child. He just had to pray that no children stepped out into the clearing and made him decide what was more important.

Hours passed, the body count was already at seven before he saw the man he had been waiting for.

Aleksandr.

He walked out, staring at the pile of bodies for a moment.

“Gotcha.” Hunter whispered. He pulled the trigger.

The bullet flew through the air, sinking into the weak flesh of his knee. The same knee Athena had damaged when she had escaped this place as a child.

His groan echoed through the air as he grabbed onto his leg, all the veins and muscles in his neck exposed as he grit his teeth. Hunter watched him squirm for a moment before his finger caressed the trigger again. The bullet sunk into the opposite leg.

“The pain tolerance in this guy is crazy.” Hunter whispered to himself before letting out a long sigh. “Alright, enough playtime.”

The final shot flew through the air, sinking in the flesh between his eyes.

 

 

No Name For Her

Hunter drove the car into the small, private airport she had directed him to. The tires skid as he braked, shutting the car off and turning to look at her.

Her hand whipped out and held onto the dash to keep herself from flying through the window. “Jesus Hunter. I would hate to die by flying through the windshield of a car after all of that.” She inhaled sharply. “That’s it.” She pointed to the small plane. “That’s the one that is going to take us home.”

Nodding, he got out of the car and ran around, opening the door for her to get out.

Pursing her lips, she nodded to the nervous man standing in the small hangar. “Go on, tell him we are all set to go and we will be on our way.”

Hunter’s brows creased as her looked her over. “Why don’t we go together?”

She could feel the blood pooling in the seat beneath her. She didn’t think she would make it onto the plane, she knew for sure she wouldn’t make it home. She would be stuck here, in the country she had tried so hard to escape and worked so hard to never return to.

At least she was out of Refuge.

The look on his face made him want to tell her. She had never been the kind of person to sugar-coat things for people. She had always been upfront, not wanting to waste time. She should just tell him she wasn’t going back, she would sit here in this car until Aleksandr figured it out and showed up just in time to see her slip away, completely out of his grasp.

It would be her last triumph over him. Within reach but unable to ever be caught by him again. All these years plotting and searching, wasted.

“Hey, come on. Let’s go.” He looked at her. “You look a little banged up. Let me help you.”

She swatted his hand away. “I don’t need your help.” She told him.

“Then get up,” He countered. “Because I am not leaving here without you.” His jaw was set as his eyes bore into hers, challenging her to make him prove it.

Letting out a deep breath, she tried not to snarl at him as she forced herself out of the car. She leaned back on it for a second before slowly pushing herself to walk towards the anxious man who waited for them. This was her last fight, fighting to get onto that plane.

“As you requested,” He was practically shaking, her threats repeating themselves in his mind from the moment she met him.

Nodding, he gestured for him to go ahead of them. “We have to get going. They should be here soon. The last thing we want is to be shot out of the sky.”

He ran ahead of them, only turning back when they all got onto the plane. “They won’t really shoot us out of the sky, will they?”

She ignored him and pushed him back so she could get to the small bathroom.

“We will be leaving in five minutes.” He yelled after her, turning to awkwardly look at Hunter before joining the pilot in the cockpit.

Hunter walked back as he heard the engines starting, the door closing. “Hey… I still don’t know your name.”

Annoyance rocked through her as the bathroom door opened and he stared at her with her top off as she fumbled with a needle and thread and a blood covered bottle of whiskey.

His eyes went wide. “Where did you get that? What happened to you?”

“I got shot.” She said flatly as the small bathroom started to spin around her. Leaning back, she clutched the counter before biting her lip and sticking the needle through her skin again.

“Is that even sterilized? Where is the bullet?” He ran his hands through his hair as all the questions seemed to flood through him. “You… you… ugh, I don’t even know your name.”

“I don’t have one.” She snapped at him, unable to beat around the bush as she struggled to stay conscious and stop the bleeding.

His brow furrowed. “You don’t have a name?”

Closing her eyes, she let her head roll back as the pain washed over her. She felt as though she were slowing dipping below the surface of the water, waves washing over her, holding her under as she tried to break free, swim up. Her knuckles turned white as she gripped the counter with all her strength.

Her mind was reeling. At the front of her mind, she could hear Hunter, she could see the look on his face as he worried about her while still trying to figure her out. In the back of her mind, she could feel the plane speeding down the runway, lifting into the air as she momentarily felt weightless. All the while, her she counted. Counted the seconds until she was out of this country and anywhere else.

Nausea rocked her, light-headed, she struggled to keep her eyes from rolling back into her head.

Blindly running her hand along her abdomen, she could feel the bleeding had stopped, she had sewn herself up enough to keep whatever blood she had left inside her.

She was no doctor, but she knew there wasn’t enough left in her to survive her final escape from refuge.

Her knees buckled, and she felt herself falling forward.

Arms closed around her, holding onto her as she felt herself being lifted, carried.

Something soft surrounded her, covering her across her shoulders that were still bare, her shirt a bloody mess on the bathroom counter.

“Jesus Christ!” The cockpit door opened, and the owner of the plane stuck his head in to look at them. “What the fuck happened to her?”

“She’s been shot!” Hunter’s frantic hands moved over her abdomen. “She’s not bleeding anymore.”

“Look at her. Does she have anything left to bleed.”

She wondered what they must be looking at, a ghost of who she was. Her skin must have been pale, her lips dried and chapped, sweat slicking her brow. She was moments away from death, she could feel his cool arms reaching out to her.

“How long?”

“We just got in the air!” His voice was panicked. “We still have over 8 hours left until we return to Canada.”

“Is there anywhere we can stop.”

“No.” She intervened. “We don’t stop. Dead or alive…” She trailed off. Summoning the strength she needed, she opened her eyes and looked at the man she had threatened for use of his plan. “We don’t stop.” She repeated.

Nodding, he returned to the cockpit.

“Christ!” Rolling his eyes at her, he bared his teeth. “It’s really difficult to yell at you without using a name.”

Her brow furrowed, her breath becoming shallow. “That sounds ridiculous. I’ve yelled at a handful of people without knowing who they are, or their name.”

Running his hand along her forehead, he looked down at her. “You went through all this trouble to avoid me, you made me stalk you for weeks before you agreed to spend a night with me, where you barely said anything. Then you come across the Atlantic to rescue me. Someone it didn’t even seem you cared about. Why?”

“If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

“And that’s reason enough.” He thought for a moment. “I don’t know a lot about you, but while I was there… back wherever I was there was a man who told me a bit about you. He said you believed you were the hands of justice, a vigilante.” Covering her chest, he did his best to try to make her comfortable. “When I was a child, I had this obsession with Greek Mythology. I borrowed every book I could find from the library, had my parent buy me limited edition hard copies of all the legends and myths. The more I get to know you, the more you remind me of someone. The perfect name for someone who doesn’t have one. “Athena.” Looking down, he looked at her face to judge her reaction to the name he had chosen for her.

Her eyes were closed, her face lax as her head was slumped against the pillows on the fancy bench seats. Her arm hung lifelessly at her side, dangling an inch above the floor.

Reaching over, he tapped her cheek lightly. “Athena?”

30 Days- 4. Day One: Yosemite Valley

The smell of bacon, waffles and fresh coffee floated through the air. It drifted under my blankets and danced around under my nose. Rolling over with a moan, I reached out beside me. My hands grasped around on the empty bed.

Exhaling slowly, I rolled over and poked my head out from under the blankets. My eyes watched the digital numbers on my clock as they slowly changed. I turned it off when the numbers read 4:00am long before the  alarm was scheduled to sound. Throwing my feet to the floor, I got up and slowly walked down the hall. My fingers ran through the mess of my curly pixie cut as I trudged over to the kitchen.

Ruby looked over her shoulder at me with a glowing smile. She was wearing a pair of my jeans and a plaid button down, her red hair pulled back in a messy bun on top of her head, shoes already on. “Amazing, you’re up.” Walking over, she put a plate on the table and smiled at me before bringing over a mug of coffee.

Turning, I looked at the two backpacks by the front door of my apartment. “What’s all that?”

“We’ll talk while we eat to save time.” Sitting across from me, she poured syrup all over her waffles and bacon before sipping her coffee. Reaching into her back pocket, she pulled something out and put it on the table between us.

Picking up the envelope, I pulled out the tickets inside. “Fresno, California.” I looked at the tickets for a few moments. “Why are we going to Fresno?”

“We’re not. We’re just passing through. We are going to Yosemite Valley.”

“Yosemite Valley.” I remembered the scenic place from the screen saver I had for five months.

“We leave for the airport in less than an hour.” Shoveling a couple of pieces of bacon into her mouth, she looked at me. Her face was light, like yesterday hadn’t happened. “I am assuming you don’t mind missing work, since you were planning on being dead today.”

Pursing my lips, I shook my head. “Nope.”

“Amazing. So eat up, you can squeeze in a shower before we head out.”

We ate in silence, although every time I looked over at her, she had a comforting smile on her face. Getting up, I put my plate in the dishwasher and walked past her out of the kitchen. “Ruby, why are we going to Yosemite Valley?”

“Sometimes when you are surrounded by darkness, the only thing to do is search out some light.”

—–

Standing with my toes in the water, I looked up at the beautiful mountains that seemed to surround us. It was like a dream, or a painting the way the water reflected the trees and mountains. I breathed in the fresh air; letting it fill me up completely as I closed my eyes and let my head fall slowly back.

Ruby took my hand in her own, linking her fingers through mine as she stood beside me.

We didn’t say anything; we just stood there in silence.

I was no fool; I knew what Ruby was trying to do. She was trying to give me a reason to live. I was not defiant; I was not so set on ending my life that I wouldn’t let any happiness in. I would take all the happiness I could get.

I would follow Ruby around the world if that were what she wanted. As much as she wanted me to live, I still wanted a little bit of her to rub off on me. I wanted to find the light she kept going on about.

I lived my life drowning in a darkness that overwhelmed me, it sunk deep down into my skin, and filling me with a pain I couldn’t describe but felt with every breath I took. All these years, I wanted someone to reach down, to pull me out of the darkness and into the world. Maybe this was when it would happen.

As much as I needed to die, I also wanted to find a reason to live.

That was why I gave her 30 days. That was why I was here, in Yosemite Valley.


“You know, there are two types of people. There are the kind of people who are surrounded by darkness, walking through tar their whole life. And there are those who are flooded with light, rainbows paving their way. Sometimes both can seem overwhelming. What you need is to find your opposite, balance yourself out to make it all seem bearable.”

Looking out at the beautiful world around me, I felt the darkness ebb slightly away. Suddenly I felt light surround the darkness around me, trying to fight its way in. It was slight, but it was there. Strong and forceful.


There were years of darkness to get through, I wasn’t confident it would work. The company made it worth the journey of trying to figure it all out.

Smiling at her, I nodded. “So, Yosemite Valley.”

“Yosemite Valley. Can’t you feel the light here?”

Nodding, I tightened my grip on her hand. “Yes. I actually can.”

A Lioness

Sucking in a breath, she noted the way the air felt cooler across her left ribs where Aleksandr’s blade had sunk in. The copper taste of blood filled her mouth as she looked at him through her one good eye. She barely noticed the swollen throb of the other as she looked at him.

Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.

Sighing in relief, she braced herself. Blood trickled down the middle finger of her right hand. She could feel the heat of the crimson river as it flowed from the gaping gash on her upper arm.

Knowing she had to bide her time, she had allowed herself to be sloppy. Aleksandr craved the triumph, and if she put up too much of a fight early on she was afraid he would step back, allow the other orphans to step in and they would disperse, others going to search the rest of the grounds.

Running her tongue along her upper gums, she resisted the urge to wince as blood seeped into her tongue.

Aleksandr thought he was a cheetah, fast and efficient. His moved were quick and calculated, He had hunted her for a long time and his mouth was salivating now that she was within reach.

She was a lioness. Her muscular build made her more capable of taking him down, her paws were massive, the size of his head and her heart was determined.

It was time she show Aleksandr just how capable she was.

In the back of her mind, she could hear the car starting, feel Hunter shifting in the driver’s seat and hesitating. No matter what she had told him, he would wait for her. He would wait until she was dead and in the ground and they came for him.

All the more reason she had to get to that car and fast.

Closing the space, she quickly swung her foot up and through the air. It connected hard with Aleksandr’s jaw, sending him back as he lost his footing and his consciousness for a moment. She used the moment to grab the knife from his sheath. Throwing it through the air, she heard it sink into Twee’s shoulder. He stumbled, dropping to his knees in shock.

Running out of the room, she hopped up on a desk and scurried through the window.

If she were competing here, Aleksandr would tell her retreating was a loss. She had never cared much for his opinion, or for winning. She had merely tried to survive, anything else was trivial.

Biting the inside of her cheek, she tried not to call out in pain when she fell to the floor she her chest hit the ground. Her ribs vibrated with pain, her body shaking as it threatened to give up on her. Pushing herself up, she forced her legs to steady as she zipped quickly through the trees.

She kept her pace even, trying to keep her visibility to a minimum as she weaved through the trees and around buildings.

They didn’t know where the car was, there was still a chance to get there and leave unnoticed.

A shot sounded. It seemed so loud it was deafening and then it quieted everything around it. Her breath fogged before her as she sucked in air, the animals panicking to get away before they stilled, hiding.

Quickly moving to hide behind a tree, she waited.

A bunch of orphans ran out to stand beside the main building, a twenty or so yards from the tree she hid behind.

Aleksandr came out of the building, shoving a few of them aside as he looked around. “A gun?” His voice was heavy with disbelief. “Which one of you pathetic excuses for a human being dare bring a gun into Refuge?”

Everyone stepped back, their eyes intent on the one who had been so foolish as to think Aleksandr would ever accept such a cowardly weapon be used here of all places.

Clearing her throat, a pale girl with dirty blonde hair stepped forward, the gun still in her hand. “Sir,” She practically whimpered, realizing her punishment would be harsh. “You said to stop her by any means.”

His hand whipped across her face. “Have I taught you nothing?”

“I just thought-”

“No, I don’t think you thought at all.” Pulling a knife from his belt, it was already sunk in the flesh between her eyes before she could gasp in shock. Her knees buckled, her mouth gaping open before she crumpled to the floor. “Are there any others with such ridiculous thoughts?”

Silence fell across the group.

“Wonderful. Bring her to me. Now!”

Waiting until they dispersed to look, she made her way to the car.

Pulling open the door, she was in the passenger’s seat before Hunter could react. “Jesus,” He looked at her. “Are you alright? I didn’t think you were coming.”

“Go!” She demanded.

She didn’t have to tell him twice. Turning the key, he quickly pulled away, following her directions as she barked them at her.

“No lights,” She told him as he tried to make his way through the early dawn. “Left here, quickly. They will have noticed us by now.”

Lifting her hands from her abdomen, she looked down at the thick redness that slicked her hand. Letting out a breath, she kept her eyes ahead and hoped they made it to the small airport before she completely bled out.

 

Too Important To Love

In three days, she was going to be seventeen.

Birthdays had never really meant much to her. When she was younger, it had seemed sad. Her mother and father were masquerade as perfect parents with these happy faces painted on as they took her out to dinner to celebrate what she knew now for sure was one of their biggest mistakes.

Her.

It wasn’t a depressing thought she used to keep herself down, she was fine with it. Her parents had been full of lust and too young to know that was all it was. He was oblivious to just how sick she was and how mentally unfit she was to belong to anyone. Her mother just wanted to belong to someone, regardless of the consequence.

Since she had moved in with Vincent and Harrison, she had learned they made a huge deal out of birthdays. There were surprises, and a ridiculous amount of gifts and money being spent and they would block whole weeks out of their calendar to celebrate one another.

It was sweet, in a way. She would enjoy it more if she got to participate in their celebrations without them doing the same for her.

Harrison hopped onto the couch, putting his head in her lap as they watched TV. “So, have you been thinking about what you want for your birthday?” He asked her, trying his best to seem nonchalant.

Vincent had been away on a business trip. Whenever he had to go away, he usually hired someone to watch over them, but since Vincent had turned sixteen, he had trusted them to be alone in the apartment and had the doorman and security check in periodically.

He was expected to return the evening of the day before her birthday.

“Nothing.” She said absent-mindedly, watching the romance movie that was on TV.

Groaning, he rolled over on his side to watch. “Why do you watch this nonsense?”

“They are pretty predictable.” She nodded. “But who doesn’t want to believe you can find love no matter the situation?”

Harrison looked up at her. “You don’t even go on dates. How are you supposed to find love?”

Sparrow lifted her shoulders. “What’s the point of dating? According to your mother we are already betrothed.” She joked.

“If our lives were a romance movie, we would already be in love with on another. We just haven’t realized it yet.” He smiled up at her. “Do you love me, Sparrow?”

Running her hand slowly down his cheek, she looked into his eyes. “I do. Forever and always I do, but I didn’t realize it until this very moment. Kiss me!” She pursed her lips and made smoothing noises at him.

He pushed her face away. “Stop!” He laughed, rolling off the couch.

Sparrow laughed hysterically when he rolled into the coffee table, shaking all the contents on top of it and spilling her soda.

“Ouch!” He moaned, pushing himself up to his knees. Looking up at her, he frowned, rubbing at the side of his head. “Do you see what you did?”

“Hey, I didn’t do anything but confess my love and affection for you. I didn’t think you were going to be such a baby about it.” She playfully rustled his hair.

Moving his head out of reach, he got to his feet and sat beside her. “I am not a baby.”

She snorted at him. “Whatever you say, Harry.”

“So there is no one you are crushing on right now?” He asked her once he settled back on the couch.

Sparrow shook her head. “No one that interests me. You know, you are one to make fun, but you don’t really date anyone either.”

Thinking about it, Harrison frowned. “Yeah, no one really interests me either.” He was quiet for a while, sitting with her as they watched the movie.

Reaching out, he took her hand and held onto it in his lap as they watched.

It was comfortable, and Sparrow slid down to enjoy the movie and the company.

“You should only have relationships with people you don’t really care about.” Harrison said finally. “People you aren’t afraid to lose.”

Her brow creased.

“When you fall in love with someone you are actually afraid to lose, when it all doesn’t work out, you end up losing the most important person in your life. That is why we would never work, I love you more than I’ve ever loved anything, and if anything ever happened between us and we broke up, I would want to shut you out so completely. I’d end up losing the only person I had ever truly let into my heart.”

He didn’t look at her then, and she was glad for it because her eyes started to fog over. Harrison was the most important person in her life besides Vincent. He was the person who showed her she could be loved.

There was so much truth to his words. She was the same way. She shut down when she was hurt, closing herself off from the rest of the world.

Falling in love with Harrison would be losing him.

Squeezing his hand, she cleared her throat. “So I guess it’s a good thing we don’t plan to fall in love.”

 

Judging Character

“Jesus, that was awkward.” Sparrow let out the breath she had been holding in. She felt as though she had dived into the depths without an oxygen tank, only to have to struggle to the surface, unsure of whether or not she would get there in time.

A waitress with wide hips walked up with a smile on her lips. She placed the stack of pancakes between them and filled their two mugs with coffee before winking at them and walking away.

Vincent sat back, cupping his black coffee between his hands. He watched as Sparrow shovelled four pancakes onto her plate and then smeared butter over the steaming pile. The aroma was intoxicating, but he was more interested in the company and conversation than the food.  “I was hoping to spare you. I hadn’t seen him in a number of months and was sure he would still be in Paris with Meredith. She is opening a new gallery and I couldn’t imagine her letting him out of her talons while she is so stressed.”

The thought of a stressed Meredith strutting around barking orders at people caused a chill to run down her spine. “Jesus.” She repeated.

There was something in the way Vincent’s eyes watched. If he were looking at a client, his eyes were powerful. They exuded confidence and demanded respect. When he looked at his son, there was question. His eyes shone with the curiosity of someone seeing something for the first time. When he looked at Meredith they were practically seething. She often wondered what his eyes looked like when he first saw her, when he used to love her.

When Vincent looked at her, they seemed to glimmer with millions of unspoken words. His eyes became the clearest night sky lit with billions of stars reflecting off clear waters.

She often thought about his eyes when she missed him. On a low day, she would wonder if those eyes would make a difference to her day.

His eyes stole a glance at her from across the table as he added a little cream to his coffee. As he stirred it slowly, he began the conversation that was trying to claw it’s way out of his mouth. “Rachel,”

Rolling her eyes Sparrow moaned and threw her hands up dramatically. “Vincent… no.”

“Come now, humor me.” He stared at her, letting few moments pass before trying again. “When you first came to live with us, and I was going through old cases I would often ask your opinion. You were such a wonderful judge of character.” Placing his mug on the table, he rested his open palms on each side of it. “So?”

“Are you just going to keep asking me until I answer you?” She chewed on her pancakes before shifting her weight on the vinyl bench of her booth.

The corner of his lips curved up. “Time doesn’t always change things.”

Raising her brow, she couldn’t help but smile back at him. If there was one thing she was sure nothing would ever change, it was how stubborn Vincent was. “Maybe it’s changed my judge of character.” She teased him.

The corner of his eyes wrinkled as he sipped at his coffee. He was doing that thing where he only smiled with his eyes. That was one of her favourite things about him.

Sighing, Sparrow put down her fork and knife and leaned back. She rolled her head around on her neck to ease some of the tension before waving her hands out before her. “Jesus, alright, alright. I don’t know what you expect from me, I only met this woman for a few minutes and I have no idea about their history together.”

“But you have already formed an opinion of her, haven’t you?” He urged.

This whole situation was odd to her. Vincent and Harrison always had the perfect relationship. If Vincent didn’t like the relationship between Harrison and a girl he had chosen, he would tell him and usually Harrison would be swayed by his father’s opinion. It seemed like the world they had together was a house of cards, and it had all come tumbling down when she had walked away from it all.

The friendship she had thought would be everlasting between Harry and her had all but disappeared, like waking from a dream. Her father figure, Vincent, had been pushed away to make everything easier for her, and the dynamic between Harrison and Vincent seemed as broken as the one between her and Harrison.

She couldn’t help but crease her brow as she looked at Vincent. Folding her hands on the table in front of her as she looked at him, she decided to weigh in on the overall situation before zoning in on Rachel specifically. “Well, it would seem that she is someone more suited to what Meredith wants, then for what Harrison or even you would want. She had a very expensive purse on her arm, her nails were freshly done, as was her hair, all her clothes seemed to be bought from high end boutiques. I would guess she is someone Meredith hooked Harrison up with from some type of snooty club.”

Vincent nodded.

“Now you said you and Harrison don’t keep in touch anymore. That wouldn’t be your choice so I am guessing he never left Paris when he fled…” She stopped, not wanting to touch base on their relationship and how it all fell apart. Clearing her throat, she continued, “But you seemed to know her well enough when you saw her there. He called you.” Her eyes narrowed. “With doubts.”

“This is exactly why I asked you for your opinion of her.” He stated. “He called me about three months ago and told me about how serious their relationship seemed to be growing, with Meredith’s urgings of course. The two of you are no longer teenagers, and she wants Harrison married and with children sooner rather than later. He called me to discuss… reservations.”

“Because he feels she is interested more in the King status than in the relationship itself.” It wasn’t a question.

“Precisely.” His eyes searched her face. “If you were to guess why she would be so interested in marrying Harrison after merely six or so months, what would be your reason for it?”

Normally she would say money, but it was clear by looking at the woman that Rachel already had that. However there was something so desperate about her when she had marched in, something so broken about the way she had looked at Sparrow, assuming they were having an affair. The King name was something a lot of women sought, and there was only one.

Harrison.

She didn’t have very long to figure the woman out, but she would be lying to Vincent if she told him she didn’t have an opinion. Throwing her head back, she wished they weren’t talking about all of this, but she knew she owed him her opinion if that was what he wanted from her.

“I don’t know much about her to judge on her motives, but I know enough about Harrison to know he isn’t happy. He doesn’t love her.”

Frowning, Vincent nodded. “That was my thoughts too. As I’ve said, I’ve had little chance to discuss his relationship with him. Meredith keeps him too close.”

That too was disconcerting. She would have to touch base on that later.

Reaching over, Vincent covered Sparrow’s hand with his own. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“Being such a great judge of character.”

Neville 9. Consequences

The blades of grass came up along her legs, tickling her as she sat in the open field behind their house. Picking a dandelion, she twirled the stem between her fingers, watching the vibrant flower spin.

Lying back, she tucked her hands behind her head and looked up at the clear blue sky. Fluffy white clouds slowly made their way across like ships on the sea.

Viola had been out here since breakfast. Her mother had given her very direct orders. She was to stay outside and not bother her or her father today. The doctor would be around after lunch to see her dad and she had enough to deal with. Her mother thought whatever had been ailing Viola’s father was also what seemed to be making baby Edward seem ‘not himself’. She didn’t want Viola in the house where she could catch whatever it was.

So she was here, lying in the grass wishing she had been aboard one of those fluffy white ships in the sky. Anywhere would be better than here, she told herself.

Anywhere Neville wasn’t,

Her head was still sore from yesterday. After passing out, she had awoken this morning in her bed. Her clothes had been changed and she had been carefully tucked in. She wondered what her mother must have thought, finding her there on the floor.

Unconscious.

Sleeping to an unsuspecting mother.

Relief had poured over her when she had awoken this morning. She had missed the night. She hadn’t had to lay awake, wondering what Neville was doing in the shadows, or if he was even there at all. Instead, she had greeted the morning.

Letting out a sigh, she rolled onto her stomach and parted the grass. Peering into the dirt below, she watched as the ants scurried quickly past the strip of sunlight she was allowing them.

Boredom was beginning to set in, she realized. Pushing herself up, she decided to go for a walk. Stretch out her legs before she went in for lunch.

Walking into the woods behind her house, she instantly felt the cool breeze that lived in the shade. Kicking at small rocks, she bent down and scooped up a stick and swung it carelessly through the air.

Outside, her troubles seemed to ebb away. Away from her room and in the light of the day, Neville seemed like a bad thought and nothing more. She was free of him here.

Doubling over, she kept her face level with the ground as she walked. She wasn’t sure yet what she was looking for, only that she was looking. Skinny branches brushed against her as she walked, no one tended to the paths out here, not really. Her father had had attempted it years ago, but decided it wasn’t worth the hassle.

Viola was the only one who played out here, and she preferred it grown out. She felt like an explorer walking through the Amazon… or somewhere else she would decide that day.

Pushing a branch absentmindedly from her face, she continued with her nose practically to the ground.

Something heavy pressed against her forehead and she shoved it. It swung back and hit her with force in the same spot it had pressed before.

Groaning, she straightened to look at what was blocking her path.

Eyes wide, she stumbled, falling back to the ground. Scurrying away she screamed.

Her scream was like a siren.

The screen door could be heard swinging open on the porch, feet hurrying towards her as she sat there, screaming. She was unable  to stop.

Her mom was beside her, looking down at her. Her hands ran frantically over Viola, trying to feel any breaks or wounds. “Viola!” She shook her, trying to stop the screaming. “What? What is it?”

When she didn’t answer, her mother followed her terrified eyes.

Clasping her hand over Viola’s eyes, she scooped her up and hurried her back to the house.

Lifting the phone, her mom foaled a number before covered Viola’s ears with her hands and talking, frantically to whomever she had called. Despite her soft smile as she looked at Viola, her eyes were filling with tears.

They sat together waiting when her mother hung up. Huddled together on the couch, her mother spoke softly to her but she couldn’t hear anything.

All she could hear was a slow creaking.

The slow creaking of a taunt rope swinging slightly as it held the weight of her father, dangling lifelessly from the tree above. His eyes were wide and bloodshot as they stared down at her.

On his face, the most bloodcurdling smile.