What’s A Year Worth?

Grabbing her bag off the carousel, Sparrow set it on the floor and pulled up the handle. Rotating her head, she tried to ease some of the tightness in her shoulders and neck from the flight.

She was sure if she had told Vincent she was coming home for a couple days, he would have upgraded her flight to first class, but she didn’t see the point. She didn’t care where she was sitting on the plane as long as she got there at the same time.

The events from the past week had replayed over and over again in her head. The trip had started off so well. She had met with Vincent, they had slipped back into their old old roles and for the first time in ten years she felt like herself again. Since she left that condo downtown, the one she had shared with Vincent and Harrison, she felt like she had been wearing a mask, hiding who she was from everyone she met.

Dressing up and going to that event with Vincent had been fun too. She had been light headed, grabbing flute after flute of champagne from passing trays. Her belly had been full of finger sandwiches, and shrimps and other things she wasn’t even sure what they were, but she had taken handfuls of.

It was like when you were a child and you pretended to be an astronaut or a doctor. She was pretending to be a woman of mystery. It was thrilling.

After that night, everything seemed to slowly fall apart. Harrison had appeared and he had brought with him the woman in his life. Both of which she could have gone without the added stress of having in her life.

Pulling her phone out of her pocket, she switched the Airplane Mode off.

As soon as she did, her phone vibrated. Notification after notification popped up on her phone. She waited a moment, letting them all load before scrolling through them. There were a few missed calls from Vincent, some text messages from him as well. One of her apps let her know Jake had checked-in at her favourite bar down the street from her apartment.

She could use a drink. She would drop her bags off at home and head over to the bar to surprise him.

*

There was a live band tonight.

Standing outside the bar, she pushed her hair back behind her shoulder and pulled down the hem of her fitted black dress. She had taken the time to freshen up when she had gotten home. Hopped in the shower, put on some mascara, wiggled into the dress she knew Jake loved so she could surprise him.

The bouncer, a guy named Mike who she knew because she had frequented this place often looked her up and down and smiled. “Stop fussing, you look amazing.”

Sparrow smiled. “Thanks Mike. Did you see Jake tonight?”

He nodded, adjusting the toothpick in his mouth. “I saw him go in with a group about an hour ago. The work crowd, I think.”

She knew the crowd. There were a lot of nights where she was one in that crowd. They waved at one another as she walked past him inside.

The temperature difference from outside to in was drastic. She could feel the heat from all the bodies loaded in there, the way they moved around, bumping together at the bar. It felt like she was walking into a heat wave.

Despite the heeled booties she was wearing, she stood on her tip-toes to look around the room, trying to catch a glimpse of him. Pushing her way through the mass of people enjoying both their drinks and the band, she made her way to lean over the bar. Smiling at the woman behind the bar, she waited for her to walk over and pour her the usual tequila shot she started her nights with here. “Hey Jill, have you seen Jake tonight?”

Jill tilted her head back towards the hall leading towards the bathrooms. “I saw him heading back to the johns a few minutes ago.”

Tossing the shot back, she winked at her before walking back towards the bathrooms. Pausing for a moment, she scrunched the hair at the back of her head. With everything that happened in the past week, she felt like she hadn’t seen Jake in a really long time. She needed some normalcy in her life.

Turning the corner, she stood in the hall outside of the bathrooms. She was hoping he would come out and she would be the first thing he saw.

In the dimly lit hallway, there were a handful of couples pressed up against the wall. Their arms were wrapped around one another as the alcohol coursed through their veins and their hormones were ramped up. Something about the music and the dim lighting, scantily clad people all standing a little too close.

She definitely understood.

A few of the couples seemed to pull apart, deciding they wanted to step everything up and didn’t want an audience. The last couple left were in the far corner. When he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her up off the floor against him, Sparrow couldn’t help but raise a brow. It was like a car crash, you didn’t want to look, but you couldn’t quite look away. As the woman wrapped her legs more tightly around him, she dropped her head to devour his neck.

Closing his eyes, he let his head fall back.

Jake.

Sparrow was frozen in place for a split second before she turned around so her back was to them. Jake was lifting his co-worker Brittany off the ground. Her skirt was barely covering the bottom of her ass cheeks and if Sparrow didn’t know any better she would bet they were actually having sex right now.

A storm of emotions went through her. A part of her wanted to march over there, grab Brittany by the hair and punch Jake with all her strength.

But she wasn’t that kind of person…

Pulling her phone out of her purse, she took a picture of the two of them.

Turning around, she quickly left the bar and made her way back to her apartment. Sitting on the arm of her couch, she punched a number into her phone and made some arrangements.

Going into her room, she repacked a bag, printed out the photo and taped it to her apartment door before heading to the airport.

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The Nest She Built

Love is this weird thing. It was something most people thought they understood and knew, but very few people actually did either.
For most of your life you are trapped behind this window of what you think love is supposed to be, and you look over over the world through this glass of judgement, wondering why so many people are getting it wrong.
In your eyes, when you don’t know what it is, love is comparable. You feel love a certain way from one person and if every other person you know doesn’t love you exactly that way, then they’re doing it wrong. After that one person loves you, love is always supposed to be kisses in the rain, and waking up with a smile to the smell of coffee being waved under your nose. It’ll always be talking until you fall asleep, never sleeping alone, and never feeling alone. Love will always be what it was, or what you remember later…

Sparrow jumped as arms moved around her waist. She slammed the brown leather cover of her journal closed as the familiar smell washed over her. “Hey.” She smiled, but it felt forced. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
He laughed. “Really? I fought with the lock on your front door for ten minutes. You should really let me fix it.”
She laughed awkwardly as she turned around in her desk chair to face him.
Raising a brow, he looked past her. “What are you up to?”
Pursing her lips, Sparrow pushed her hair back behind her ears. “Nothing. Just winding down. I was out all day.”
He nodded. “I know. I texted you about a dozen times.”
Reaching into her purse that was thrown on the bench by the window, she pulled it out and waved it between them. “I keep forgetting to charge it.”
Jake sat down in the chair in the corner and looked at her. He swept his chestnut hair back from over his forehead and looked at her with his hazel eyes for a moment before dragging his hand over the stubble on his chin. “I don’t know what the point in having a cellphone is, if no one can ever reach you.”
Nodding, she smiled at him. “Alright.” Reaching for the cord plugged in beside her desk, she plugged it in. When it chimed to let her know it was charging, she raised her brows at him. “You’ll be able to reach me for a full 24 hours.”
Sighing, Jakes eyes went back to the book on her desk. “What are you writing?”
“Just journaling.” She answered nonchalantly, reaching under her journal to push the envelope under and out of view.
He looked at her. “Since when do you journal?”
Sparrow had been with Jake for over a year. She felt like they had a lot in common and at first she had just been happy for the companionship. He treated her well, he took her out, they had an open line of communication, yet she always felt like something was missing. In the back of her mind, she wondered if she was already spoiled, tainted for any man that was foolish enough to walk into her life.
Jake was a catch… every one she knew had told her so.
“I don’t really. Just thought I’d start.” It was a lie she wasn’t sure why she was telling. The truth was she journaled regularly. She found comfort in a place where she could sort through her thoughts. It had all started when she was younger. When she had been taken in by Vincent, her whole world seemed to be crumbling around her and coping seemed impossible. She didn’t know Vincent well enough to fall into him when the world slipped out from under her feet. Seeing she had so much pent up inside her, he had suggested a journal.
Jake raised a brow. “Anything worth reading in there?” His lips turned up into a soft smile.
Shaking her head, she walked past him. Grabbing onto his hand, she pulled him out of her study. “I am starving, let’s go eat.”
She wasn’t starving. The truth was she had eaten only a few hours ago and had eaten a whole chocolate bar only minutes before he got in.
Her stomach was wrapped up in knots. She could see the envelope so clearly in her mind, could see the familiar handwriting on the front, centred perfectly.
No return address, there was no need. She knew who it was from, knew any details would be inside.
It had been awhile since she had gotten a letter like this one.
Clearing her throat, she tried to push it out of her mind as she shoved her feet into shoes, picked up her bag and held the door open for a stumbling Jake to hurry through.
What could he want after all this time?

.
Sparrow held the worn envelope she had hidden under her journal that day in her hand now. Leaning against the wall in the elevator, she thought about Jake, about the discussion she had with him right before she had left.
He had been hesitant about her going away, even a bit angry when she had told him she didn’t know how long she would be gone. She had softened the blow slightly by assuring him she was still in this relationship with him. That had caused him to bring up moving in together again…
Feeling backed into a wall, she had agreed and it had dissolved some of the doubt that was growing between them.
Letting out a long sigh, she walked out of the elevator on her floor and down the hall into her hotel room.
Tossing her purse across the room, she ignored it when she missed the bed and it fell to the floor on the other side. Leaning against the door, she jumped at the knock.
All she wanted to do was get completely undressed and sink into a bath. Vincent was busy all day, so she knew it wasn’t him, and she wasn’t really open to seeing anyone else now.
Pulling the door open, she couldn’t help but let out a long sigh as she looked at the pristinely prepped woman standing there in high waisted white trousers and a button down tank, also white. Pushing her lush blonde hair over her shoulder, she looked at Sparrow and forced a smile. “Can we talk?”
Leaning against the door, Sparrow closed the door slightly and looked at the woman standing there. “Rachel… I really don’t think this is a good idea. Look, you come in here and we talk, that opens this door to Harrison coming over here to ask me what I have been talking to you about and the last thing I want is to have to open this door to Harrison. I have worked really hard to close the doors in my life on Harrison King.” She couldn’t help the exhaustion from dripping into her voice.
Rachel held her hand out to Sparrow, hoping to stop her from saying anything else. “Please. I will talk fast, I swear.”
She shook her head. “How fast you talk really isn’t the problem. I just don’t want to get involved in whatever is going on between the two of you. I have my own stuff going on here. I am just here to spend time with Vincent, then I am going home, back to my life, my house, my job, and my boyfriend. I don’t want to take Harrison back with me, or Meredith… or you.”
Crossing her arms over her chest, she stuck her nose up at Sparrow. “Meredith was right about you, do you know that? You honestly can’t give me five minute? What kind of person can’t spare five minutes?”
Sparrow couldn’t help but feel like there was an enormous weight pushing down on her. Everything about this trip seemed to be blowing up in her face. She had run into Harrison more times than she ever would have wanted, now she was in the middle of his relationship. She was starting to feel like she needed a break from all of this. “Rachel, I don’t know you. Why do you feel I need to give you any of my time?”
“You know Harrison better than anyone.”
“I knew him. It’s been ten years… I don’t know Harrison any better than you do at this point.” She reached her hand up and pressed it to her forehead that was beginning to throb.
“I don’t know what your problem is. Vincent and Harrison gave you everything. Harrison gave up a lot of years with Meredith to be with you, and you just walked away from everything.” The look in her eyes was one she had seen before. “Then you just show up. Just when Harrison and I are beginning to get serious. Meredith thinks you are trying to get between us, and I think she is right.” She let her eyes roam all the way down to Sparrow’s feet before slowly returning her gaze to her eyes. “You don’t fit in with the Kings. You never did, and you never will. I belong there…”
Sparrow nodded. “I am sure you do, Rachel.”
She scoffed. “You really are something.”
Throwing her hands back, she pushed at her cheeks with her hands. She was beginning to feel like she was on some Japanese game show, this was all just so unbelievable to her. “Okay, I think I have had enough of this…” Sparrow slowly closed the door before locking it.
Walking slowly to the bed, she sat down. Staring at the door, she wondered if Rachel was still standing there on the other side. Sighing, she picked up the phone and waited for the lobby. “Hi, I’d like to check out. Yes. Right away please.”
She needed to get out of here.
She needed to go home, back where things made sense so she could catch her breath.

A Name At Last

The air was cool.

Flipping up the collar of his leather jacket, he shoved his hands into the pockets and lifted his shoulders up around his ears. He had been pacing early, perhaps that was why he didn’t feel the sharpness of the air.

Standing back on the grounds of the Hunter estate filled him with both dread and euphoria. All his memories, both good and bad seemed to clash in the air around him, they mixed in the air like a storm.

Letting out a breath, he tried to push his bad memories away from him, keeping only the good ones around him. He hoped they would do something to add some warmth to the air around him.

Taking his hands out of his pockets, he cupped them to his mouth and exhaled hot breath into them.

“It’s weird that is was so simple.” He said finally. Her presence was overwhelming, it made him forget the cold for a moment. “Tedious if anything. A lot of waiting. It’s weird to think of you out there, perched up in branches. I guess you’ve spent a good deal of your life perched somewhere, always watching…”

Her silence was something he was beginning to get used to.

“The building is something of a landmark. If it weren’t I would have burnt the whole place to the ground.” He still regretted not setting it up in flames, but something had told him it wasn’t something she would condone, no matter how deep her hatred for Aleksandr was. Sighing, he ran his hand across his face. “But I am guessing there won’t be much of a Refuge left behind with him gone… all of the others will branch out, live their lives out from under the weight of his thumb.”

Reaching around his back, he pulled the 9mm pistols with stainless steel slides from his belt holster. Pulling back the slide, he inspected the pistol. “Those who feel like they have to live up to Aleksandr’s legacy will be found… and dealt with.”

She had lived her life alone, searching for a piece of herself she knew she hadn’t the right to take but rather, had to earn. She had hoped to earn it one at a time, one slip of paper put inside the old wooden box.

Sitting on the concrete bench, he opened the black bag he had with him. Pulling out the wooden box he had been given on the plane, he ran his thumbs along the rim.

Hesitating for a moment, he slowly opened the box.

Inside this box, he had found so many names, even the name of his own father. He wondered how much it must weigh on her, all these little papers, all these names.

She had been made into a weapon, her main skill being able to stifle life with the simplest of ease. She could have turned away from it as a whole, camped out somewhere along a beach and learned to try to enjoy life any way she could. Instead, she had leaned into all she had been taught, yet used it in a way that could change the world, one slip of paper at a time.

Pulling her computer out of his bag, he opened it and browsed through the page he had opened. “I am not as skilled as you at finding people. I guess I will learn in time. In the mean time, money does seem to find whoever you are looking for, and I have found quite a few people who are tipping the scales as you would say.”

He chuckled, more to himself than anything else.

“You changed my life.” He told her. “Before you, I was…” He tried to think of the right words to say. “Nothing.”

In a way, she should be happy. She had escaped Refuge more than once, escaped the hungry clutches of Alexandr and snubbed out his legacy.

Alexandr had believed himself to be like Death. His reach was black and everything he touched seemed to fall to his feet. He had taken in the innocent and corrupted them, making them all pieces in his chess game. The weight of Aleksandr on the scales of evil was heavy, and she had finally tipped the scale.

What was better, was she had influenced someone to want to make the same changes in the world.

It wasn’t ideal. She had always hoped to keep that burden on her shoulders alone, but now she could be sure the scales could be tipped in their favour.

Getting up from the bench, he shoved everything back in his bag.

It was time to go, he had a lot that had to be done.

Shoving his bag on his shoulder, he rested his hand on the large slab of stone. “I’ll be back soon. Sleep well, Athena Hunter.”

 

 

 

 

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.