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.

 

 

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.”

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.”

Meredith’s Proposition

Sparrow held out a hanger and looked at the confusing thing hanging from it. As far as she could tell it was either some kind of dress or some large scarf. Glimpsing at the price tag, her brows shot up. Whatever it was, it was made from baby panthers or something, because that was the only way the price made any sense.

Carefully, she placed the hanger back in the rack as though she were diffusing a bomb.

“Can I help you find anything?” A slim and angular looking woman walked up to her. She had a pitch black bob haircut with bangs and every single strand of hair was in place. She looked like a piece of art in her black turtleneck dress and the nose like a raven’s beak.

Never had she felt more out-of-place. Clearing her throat, Sparrow shook her head. “Um, no thank you. I am just waiting for someone.” She gestured to the dressing room.

The woman’s eyes widened slightly. “Mrs. King?” She asked.

If someone had told her this morning while she was eating her cereal that she would be talked into going shopping, she would have laughed in disbelief. If that same person had told her they would end up splitting up and she would be stuck spending the day with Meredith while the boys shopped elsewhere, she would have died.

Forcing a smile, she nodded. “Yes.”

As the woman grinned at her, she slowly made her way closer to the dressing room feeling it was safer to pretend not to hear Meredith talking to her as she changed than to chat with the woman who was now looking at her as though she were a meal.

“How is everything going in there, Meredith?” She asked, hoping she would be told she was almost done.

“This place used to have so much more to offer.” She sighed, shoving another article of clothing out from behind the curtain. The saleswoman quickly scurried over to take it and disappeared. “Did you see anything you like?”

The question completely appalled Sparrow. “Oh no. I would never buy anything here.”

Poking her head out, she looked at Sparrow. “And why is that?”

“It’s very expensive here.” Sparrow figured to go with that, not wanting to offend Meredith’s tastes.

Throwing back her head, Meredith laughed and went back to trying things on. “Vincent can afford the prices.” She told her.

Sparrows brow creased. “I’m sure he could, but I am not Vincent.”

“Yes, but Vincent has legally adopted you… after your mother…” she paused. “Therefore you can afford it.”

Her heart beat hard in her chest for a moment at the mention of her mother. The time after her passing had been so confusing. Everything was changing and changing quickly. She could only vaguely recall the conversation she had with Vincent a week later. How he had explained her mother had written a letter when she had first gone into the hospital to let people know what she wanted to happen to Sparrow should anything happen during treatment. Her father had come forward and met with Vincent. She had been expected to make a decision.

Her father, or Vincent.

At the time, she had felt like a burden either way and told Vincent to do whatever he wanted. She had expected him to wipe his hands of her then, finally free of the obligation.

Instead he had fought her father for custody… and won. Later, he legally adopted her.

She knew her adoption meant her father hadn’t fought that hard. He had probably accepted some amount of money to leave her be, sign away his rights. She didn’t realize it was exactly what she had wanted until it was already done.

Her father had left her at a time when her life was hardest, to go back to him now would mean she forgave him. And she couldn’t. Not when she had struggled so hard to keep her mom from sinking, not when she had failed at that and lost her mother in the end.

Vincent had been her Saving Grace.

“I couldn’t shop with Vincent money. He has already done so much for me, I would never take advantage like that.”

Poking her head out again, Meredith raised her eyebrow. “You know, if you came to me with Paris, you wouldn’t want for anything. I have always wanted a daughter to spoil, and there are so many luxuries that go to waste having a son.” Sighing, she pulled her head back in the curtains. “You should come back with me, at least try it for a couple of weeks and see how you like it.”

Sparrow frowned. “You want me to come to Paris with you?” She was confused. Her relationship with Meredith had always been rocky. At first she had thought Sparrow was a toy, a plaything Vincent had gotten to trick Harrison into staying in Toronto. Then she had accepted her but resented her, making sure to put her in her place whenever she thought possible. Then she had silently wished her the worst, her eyes would burn into her but she never said anything, knowing full well Harrison wouldn’t speak to her if she didn’t behave herself.

Now she was offering to bring her to Paris so she could spoil her? Buy her things with equally ridiculous price tags hanging off them.

Something was going on.

“You don’t have to worry about being alone. I’m sure if you ever did decide to come along to Paris with me, Harrison would come along. He has made you that promise to take care of you, and it seems he refuses to sway.”

And there it was. Meredith’s new plan to get Harrison back. Suddenly the suggestion to break off, gals and guys, so we could find things we needed. Girls could get bras and guys could get… rid of the girls or something.

“I never asked Harrison to take care of me. I never asked either of them to do anything for me.” She dropped her face in her hands and tried to rub the feeling of being annoyed from her forehead.

Meredith stepped out of the dressing room and pulled Sparrow to her feet. “I know the two of you are still young, but we could definitely begin getting the two of you ready. We all know you’ll be married one day.” She wrapped my arm around her own. “If you asked him, or if I hinted you were interested, it would definitely be something he would do.”

Marry Harrison?

Nudging me slightly as we left the store, she waved at Vincent and Harrison when we saw them on the other side of the street. “Think about it dear. Honestly, could you ask for a better husband than my Harrison?”

30 Days- 3. A Month

Hours passed with the two of us huddled together on the floor. Closing my eyes, I felt us mold together, her arms fit perfectly around me and mine around her. Inhaling her smell, I was glad I decided to tell her about my plans.

This would be the perfect last day.

The constant ticking from the old grandfather clock in my living room kept me grounded, it kept me from wandering away into the dark corners of my mind as I held onto Ruby and hoped she would be okay once I was gone.

I had met Ruby when I was twelve. I had planned on killing myself that year. Living at my group home had become unbearable, the things I had endured over the past years had broken my in a way that left me unable to ever really be restored. In the back of my mind, I had told myself to hold on, to push through.

Every time I did, I seemed to push through into an even worse situation.

Withdrawn, I had thought of a way that would have the least impact on those around me. I wouldn’t leap in front of a car, bus or train. That was inconsiderate to those inside. I could break someone just as I had been. Drowning took too long, but was the romantic kind of way I longed to go. Willing yourself to drown isn’t as simple as you’d think. Your body was crafted to survive, and it disobeyed your mind and your heart on instinct.

I had thought if maybe there was some way to paralyze myself temporarily. Then I could drown and my body would be completely defenseless.

The water would wash over me, I would feel the embracing pressure of the water all around me as I sunk deeper and deeper into the darkness I had lived in all my life.

It was beautiful to me.

Yet unrealistic.

Instead, I had decided an overdose was the best way to go. I had gone into the room of Ms. Tina who ran our group home and taken her sleeping pills and got a bottle of vodka and had decided it was time to call it quits.

I went out for a walk before bed. Not for any particular reason. The girl who shared a room with me had still been awake and lying there while she sang softly along to her Walkman didn’t seem at all enticing.

Then, I had met Ruby. She looked at the world through rose-colored glasses and I kept hoping she would somehow rub off on me. That night, she kind of did. She sat there, with her street meat trying to get me to talk to her, talking about the wonder of the stars and the endless possibilities.

She had a way of doing that to me, convincing me time would change the way my heart beat, the way my soul ached.

Pulling away from me, she looked up at me. Her eyes were bright red and slightly swollen. Her nose was red and her cheeks had streaks of mascara running down them. “Give me a month.” Her voice was light; it cracked as she pushed the words past the tightness in her throat. “Please, a month.”

Frowning, I looked at her. “Why?”

“30 days with you, and then you can do whatever you want to do.” She wrapped her fingers in the front of my shirt. “Please!”

My heart whispered ‘no’ but as I looked down at her, butterflies flapped anxiously in my belly. Sighing, I nodded. “30 days.”

A Gilded Cage

Racing out of the elevator, Harrison and Sparrow dropped their bags and froze.

Meredith King was sitting on the couch across the room, her eyes intent on them as an unnatural smile spread across her face. Slowly getting to her feet, she slowly opened her arms to them, the golden bangles on her wrists rattling around. “Harrison love, come on over.”

Harrison walked over, wrapping his arms around her. “Mom. What are you doing here? I didn’t know you were coming.”

Holding him away from her, Meredith admired his face, pushing his hair back from his face as she smiled at him. “I just missed you so much, I couldn’t stay away. I detest you living here, in Toronto. I really do wish you would come home with me.”

Smiling up at him, he said nothing. He was tired of the same conversation. It was one he had with his mother every night on the phone, every couple of weeks when she came to visit him and literally every moment she could add it to the conversation.

We were older now, and he had been living here in this apartment with Vincent and I for four years. We would both be going to high school in a couple years, and Harrison seemed more determined to stay now than ever.

Meredith’s anger towards Vincent for convincing Harrison to stay was painstakingly evident. Her visits usually had her on edge, unaware if she would be able to finally take Harrison back with her this time.

Sparrow stood awkwardly on the top of the steps, looking at the two of them together. In a way, she couldn’t blame Meredith for her persistence. A mother should desperately want her son with her. Yet, Harrison at times was all she had to keep her from floating away, and imagining her life without him made her ache.

Looking past Harrison, Meredith eyed Sparrow. “And how is our little…” she paused looking for the right word, knowing full well if she came at her with her talons out it would only push Harrison away. “Girl.” She settled with the obvious and simple word.

Nodding and smiling at her politely, she took in a long breath before answering. “I’ve been well.”

“Of course you have been, dear. Look at this apartment, it is far better than any group home of foster family you would have been shipped off to after-”

“Mom.” Harrison intervened.

It was for these very jabs, that Sparrow had always seen Meredith as villainous. “Vincent takes very good care of me.” She said, unwilling to argue with her.

“I often wonder if he could take better care of you if Harrison was home with me. Then he could just give you all his attention, focus more on your schooling and grooming.”

“She’s already skipped ahead a grade. She is in the same class as me. We both do very well.” Harrison told her.

Meredith curled her nose slightly, then remembering herself, smiled down at Harrison. “Well, that’s wonderful to hear.”

No longer wanted to stand there and speak to Meredith, Sparrow picked up her bag. “I am just going to go and get started on my homework.” She said.

“I thought we were going to work on it together.”

She shook her head. “No, you should spend time with your mother. She did come all this way to see you.” She gave Meredith a faint smile before walking down the hall and into her room. As she closed the door behind her, she pressed her back to it, praying to whoever would listen that Meredith’s stay would be short this time.

A few hours later her bedroom door opened. She looked up from the desk by her bedroom window and saw Vincent close the door behind him, letting out a long breath. “Can I hide in here with you?” He whispered.

Sparrow laughed. “I could use the company.”

Holding up a brown paper bag, he smiled at her. “I brought food. We could wait out her whole trip if we wanted to.” He joked. Walking over, he sat in the large circle chair in the corner of her room. Opening the bag, he put some of the contents on her teal bedside table. “Was she mean to you?” He asked her.

Saying yes would mean he would get up, march out there and confront Meredith. He would tell her he wasn’t welcome in their home if she behaved that way. She loved and respected Vincent too much to have him do that for her… again. Instead, she pushed away and walked over to sit on the floor next to her bed across from him. “No. She was pleasant enough.”

He looked at her for a long while as he opened his Chinese food container trying to judge whether or not she was lying with him. After a few moments and a knowing look, he offered her the carton. “What should we watch?” He asked her, flipping the television across the room on.

After a few hours, full bellies and some reality television, the braved sneaking out of the room to spend some time with Meredith and Harrison.

Joining them on the couch, Vincent gave Meredith a harsh glare. “What have the two of you been up to?” He asked them.

“Harrison here has just been singing Sparrow’s praises. It seems like he is quite taken with her. Good grades, great manners, funny, ambitious.” She raised a brow at the little girl sitting next to Vincent. “It seems you are raising her right.”

Vincent shook his head. “She was like this when we met her,” He gave her shoulders a squeeze. “She really is amazing, isn’t she Harrison?”

Harrison smiled over at her. “She is the best! We both love her.”

Meredith looked at Harrison, surprised.

Sparrow could see the cogs in Meredith’s mind turning. Harrison’s affection for Sparrow made his mother ridiculously uncomfortable. She thought where Sparrow came from made her unworthy of her son’s time. She was trying to think of a way to sway him, to drive him back home and away from Vincent and Sparrow. “She does seem rather spectacular. She seems to be the only girl you’ve taken to.”

“Harrison and Sparrow are very close.” Vincent said to her, his words cautious.

“Who knows. Maybe in a few more years Sparrow will have grandmother’s ring on her finger.” She wiggled her eyebrows at Harrison before smiling at Sparrow. “Wouldn’t that just be something?”

Vincent crossed his arms over his chest, but said nothing.

Lifting his shoulders, Harrison looked at Sparrow.

Clapping his hands together, Vincent got to his feet. “Maybe we should all go out and do something. Meredith did come all this way, I’m sure she wants to see more than this apartment. Where should we take her, Harrison?”

“Our favourite place?”

Sparrow beamed. “Our favourite place!”

Meredith smiled. “Where to? The movies? A ball game? A museum maybe?”

Vincent undid his tie and smiled at her, a genuine smile that went from ear to ear. “Paint-balling.”