I’ve always noticed undeniable beauty. I’d walk around seeing every rose and sunset while watching others pass without a glance and feel awful lucky that my eyes were open. Yet I believe that the real special people are the ones that recognize beauty as it is in the places that are hardest on the eyes, and for all I know one of those people who passed me, earning my pity, might actually have been owed my envy. Being aware of the people and places where within beauty hides, only showing itself to a select few, who in turn are never the same again. Knowing grace and truth in all its forms, especially the most raw and untamed, is the most precious gift of all. Whoever has it needs to cherish it lest it is taken away from them. And even when it is gone, left to be presented to someone else who will either shun it or shine because of it, they will always have its memory. Though even if I am awarded this commodity, and from now until the day I lose it see beauty not so obvious, there’s always the fear within my heart that maybe it’ll be too hard. Perhaps seeing things that others try not to, searching for beauty that’s only sometimes found in the most horrible of places will be just the thing that, in my youthful ignorance, I’m not yet ready for. Or worst of all maybe I’ll find myself longing to feel the same awe that was once invoked in me when I witnessed the rising of the moon behind the clouds. To hope for the things that are easy on the eyes but hard on the spirit, the soul that has always seen truth and love in all things, has only to wait for its cage to catch up; its shell to wake.

chapter one


Grace Delacroix, named for her mother, heard the back door slam and shuddered; he was home too early. She quickly finished packing the rest of her few possessions into her well-used Jansport backpack and grabbed her guitar. Climbing out her window onto the roof of the small house, she ignored the calls to her that she couldn’t hear but knew were there. She didn’t hesitate to leave the only home she’d ever known as she ran to her brother’s truck and backed out of the driveway without turning on the engine.
She laughed without humor when she realized she still thought of the truck as belonging to William. After all, he’d left her alone with him three years ago, today. She was only thirteen at the time but she remembered it as if it were yesterday, you just don’t forget a thing like that. She wished she could, though, and she probably could’ve if she didn’t have to relive the horror of it every single night when she closed her eyes. She felt as if she hadn’t slept in years. Besides, it was her truck now. She had finished fixing it up after he left her and had practiced driving it whenever the risk of being caught didn’t exceed her set limitations.
When she had rolled away from the house as far as she could go, till the gentle slope of the asphalt was no more, she risked turning on the engine and floored it for a couple miles. When she got a hold on herself again she reluctantly lifted her foot off the pedal so she wouldn’t get pulled over by some overzealous pig who she just knew got off on busting some poor kid for going five miles over the limit.

After the first thirty miles or so it hit her; she was free. She’d been planning her escape since William died and left her to fend for herself. At first she had done it the stupid way like so many others in her situation and just left, no money, no car, no chance. She’d been caught within hours and was hauled back to Bradley’s false smile, which was meant for the pig that blew it for her (who, by the way, bought it and even listened to his praise with nauseating attention; willingly eating all the crap he was being fed). But the moment he got in his car and drove off, feeling mighty proud of himself, no doubt, she got the hell beat outta her for running away. Hell, he even had the audacity to tell her she would thank him for it later. But she now knew it was better that she had been caught for otherwise she would’ve ended up on the streets to succumb to some far worse fate then getting slapped around a bit.
Anyway, Grace got smart after that. She didn’t push him anymore since she finally got it into her thick head what he was capable of doing. She made him think she was scared shitless of him and wouldn’t dare do anything that would make him even a little upset and after a while he let his guard down, got too sure of himself. Fact is, she could think of little else but sticking a fucking knife in his gut whenever he so much as came within fifteen feet of her. Instead she usually just went scampering out of the room since that’s what he had come to expect of her: which is exactly what she wanted.
Although Bradley, of course, didn’t know this, she had stopped going to school after she finished seventh grade, that was the summer William was killed and she just didn’t see much point in going back. She had intercepted all the calls from her school when the year started up again. (This wasn’t very hard since Richard never answered the phone even when he was home. He saw himself as way too important for that and expected others to as well. As far as Grace could tell most people who called for Bradley assumed she was the maid or something.) She just pretended to be the new owners of the house and the school didn’t ask many questions since they really didn’t give a damn whether or not she was coming back. Not that she could blame them; it’s not like they would’ve known of her existence even if she had stayed in school.
Grace made sure that the all-knowing Richard Bradley didn’t know she had dropped the whole school thing. That way she could have six hours of the day to put her plan into motion. It was only a shadow of an idea back then, she only knew she was gonna need to get a part-time job, William’s truck (her truck) finished, and a fake ID. She knew it wasn’t gonna be so hard to do but it was going to take some time. So she was gonna have to be something she had never been before: patient.

She drove all night on the back-roads she had mapped out and had almost gotten five hundred glorious miles away from the hellhole she used to call home before the first rays of dawn shown through the clouds. It was the first sunrise she had ever witnessed and she was convinced that it was the most beautiful sight she had ever laid eyes on.
After a couple more hours of driving she pulled over at a motel that she thought looked very inconspicuous. It was a small one-storey off-white building with a wooden sign above the office that said only MOTEL in block letters. The doors to the rooms were unpainted with medium sized roman numerals on them which ranged from I - X. From where she was standing after getting out of the truck there were four of the ten wall to wall very temporary apartments, with not-so-welcoming mats, in her view.
Grace looked it up and down and thought that it was absolutely perfect. If it had had a neon sign someone might have been able to catch a glimpse of it from the highway but as it was it appeared almost invisible to anyone who wasn’t looking for it. She was thankful she had gotten directions from her friend Doug after calling in to get a room for today. Doug had worked here before moving to Santa Monica where she had met him. He had told her the reason the place was so tucked away was cuz the owner, Truman, hated people. Now there’s a great business to run if you hate people. Truman had said he bought the place when it was just an old shack and turned it into a motel which then got a reputation for existing especially for people like her, people running from someone or something and who hear about it from a one who used to be running. Because of his acquired tastes this was not a fact that Truman particularly enjoyed. The guy got loaded in black market drugs and intended to use his little place for a cover up as much as for a rendezvous point to meet clients he could trust, which meant they usually met somewhere else. You just don’t want someone to know where you dwell today if they're gonna turn around and put a .45 to your temple tomorrow.
Grace walked to the office and went inside. The second she stepped in she almost regretted it. She was hit with a wave of the worst smell she’d ever known, it was a mixture of sweat, urine, cheap cigars, and a hint of something she recognized from that dreadful night years ago when she had found William sprawled on the living room floor. She stopped calling it the living room after that though. She found the source of the last stench when she saw a dead rat in the corner of the small space. It had apparently been there a while since part of it was eaten and there were tons of flies buzzing around it. She had to repress a shudder as she wondered, briefly, what had killed it. She quickly looked away.
Then a realization, accompanied by disdain, hit her: she’d rather live a lifetime in this cramped space than in the house that was once her haven and now her own personal hell. This epiphany instantly changed her mood to black.
When her eyes rested on the man behind the desk she considered looking back at the rodent. He was tall and lanky and seemed not in the least bothered by the flies or odor and she supposed they must have been around long enough for him to now regard them in a companionable manner. He was middle aged and had a drastic receding hairline. His jet-black eyes looked at her with naked lust and she repressed another shudder. He looked like he hadn’t bathed in centuries and his clothes were worse. She saw three barren bottles of Jack Daniel’s on his desk and a half-empty one in his hand. She surmised he had been drunk for at least an hour, being as close as a young child can possibly get to accustomed to drunken men from past experiences, but she wasn’t completely sure until he spoke to her with a heavy slur. According to the description she had attained from Doug this, for lack of a better word, person, was not Truman.
“What can I do for you, Hon?” he spoke with obvious effort.
Grace was able to hold back the first hundred angry remarks that came to her mind with that ‘Hon’ as well as her natural inclination; leaning right over the desk and socking him in the head, from practice. She said instead, “I called in for a room a couple days ago under Doe.”
“Oh yea, Jane huh? Very cute.” He waited for a response and when she didn’t oblige he gave her a key that had VII printed on it. “There ya go, behind the building like ya wanted.”
“Can I park by my room?”
“Yea, sure, hey listen how ‘bout—”
She got outta there as fast as she could while pretending not to hear him ask her to ‘come back when his shift was over to have a little fun,’ as he so eloquently put it. She climbed into William’s truck and drove it around to the back by Room 7. She saw only two other cars in the lot and figured one belonged to the desk clerk. She parked in the most discreet spot she could find, grabbed her backpack and guitar then walked to the entrance and exit of her room.
Before she could even turn the key she heard a loud crash to her right and jumped back. The desk clerk had come around the building and knocked down a trashcan. He stopped to see what was behind door number 9 and commenced painfully slamming his fist into it inducing a dull thud, thud and yelling profanities at the door. She went inside her room and turned the deadbolt before she witnessed anything else. She crossed the room in only three steps and sat down on the bed, listening to the banging and yelling two rooms away. She was suddenly plagued with what ifs: What if someone called the cops? What if they were already searching for her and saw her car? What if this was all for nothing; three years of careful planning, wasted because some ass didn’t pay on the same night the clerk decided to get himself drunk as hell? Right before she became panicky and stood up to ditch, the incessant banging stopped as suddenly as it had begun. She realized she had been holding her breath and let it out slowly.
When the banging didn’t continue she chose to, uncharacteristically, look at it as a good omen and relaxed, even going as far as smiling, though just faintly. She looked around the room she was in for the first time and was surprised that it wasn’t as bad as she assumed it would be. The bed she was sitting on had an off-white comforter on it and was made very neatly. The mattress wasn’t any worse than the one she had had back home so she was content. The walls were the same color as the comforter (as well as the rest of the damn building) and didn’t have too many noticeable stains. The carpet, however, was a different matter. It was brown with plenty of throw rugs everywhere; no doubt covering the unsightly blots of various bodily fluids that even the dark color of the carpet could not conceal. But all and all she knew she couldn’t dare complain.
The clock said it was eight a.m. so she decided to try to sleep until sunset since she hadn’t slept at all the night before. She undressed and lay on the bed without bothering to press her luck by getting under the covers and idiotically said something she wished she could take back as soon as she uttered the words:
“At least it couldn’t get much worse.”

chapter two


“Jill you shouldn’t get so involved in these children’s lives. Half the time they don’t need or even want advice, they’ll chiefly and essentially benefit just from having somebody listen to them. Let them work their problems out on there own and just try to be available if ever they do need any aid. No matter what you do or how hard you try, you must realize that you can’t save everyone.”
Tara Austen finished what meant to be a lecture that would soothe the riled Jill Bennett but looked up at her only to see how little effect it had in accomplishing that farfetched goal. She knew that if she didn’t do something quick she’d be caught in another debate on the already exhausted subject of how, as Jill so delicately put it, “Teen Crisis Help-Line does precisely dick when it comes to actually helping anybody.” By the time Tara could dream up something that would save herself from the whirlwind of words that would inevitably come barreling towards her at any moment an argument was upon her.
“How about saving anyone for a change? When was the last time you got off the phone really feeling like you had affected someone’s life, even for the worst? Although we might not see it now, sometimes succeeding in helping someone in the tunneling procession down doesn't always result in a negative end. Eventually they’ll have to hit bottom and then there is only one way left to go. But instead of accomplishing even that small feat each one of us hangs up our phone knowing that nothing will change. I know all the reasons why we aren’t allowed to interfere with these kids’ lives without their consent but since when does a teenager necessarily know what’s best for them? We should be able to judge for ourselves if a case is important enough to step in and take action, with or without the go ahead of a child who’s no doubt scared shitless,” Jill finished vehemently.
Anyone at first glance at this, at the risk of sounding cliché, dangerous beauty would never for a second suspect her of such complicated and controversial views on anything. It’s not that she appeared to be slow or dim-witted, it was just that she took upon the farce of seeming so damn innocent. Even the people who knew her best never quite anticipated what next. Tara herself had been good friends with the woman for more than five years and yet it was apparent to anyone of how much of a mystery Jill still was to her. The girl doubtlessly continued to amaze her after all this time.
In a subtler, more subdued tone, Tara replied as was expected of her, “Jill you know what I have to say next because we’ve had this discussion hundreds of times before. Why do you insist on fighting me about this? You know I’m not the enemy here, don’t kill the messenger, I don’t make the rules I just enforce them, blah, blah, blah. Heaven knows I can’t disagree with you because I know you’re right, but sometimes being right just isn’t enough. Now I’d like you to go home for the day and cool off. Come back tomorrow when this evening isn’t so very fresh in your mind.”

Jill sighed deeply, cleansing herself as fully as would ever be possible again, and nodded her assent to the older woman. She knew Tara was only doing what she had to but still Jill wished the responsibility were on someone else’s shoulders so she didn’t have to be so damned civil all the time; she’d never been able to remain angry when it came to her mentor and friend Tara Austen.
With another sigh she left the small office and came into the Room of Ringing, as her and her colleagues had so affectionately dubbed it. Pinned helplessly to each wall for all to witness their humiliation were posters that falsely labeled themselves as inspirational when they were mainly just sad. Her all time favorite was the one that misquoted Ralph Waldo Emerson. It said on it in bold, black letters “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” and underneath there was a transparent head where its brain was visible as being eaten away at by a sneaky group of green blob looking monsters. On her worst days when she caught sight of it while on the phone she briefly considered telling the person on the other line that to solve all their problems all they had to do was forget their principles and step off whatever course they’d been traveling all their lives. “Oh, don’t worry child. All you have to do is simply let go of everything you’ve ever believed in and your pregnancy will magically take care of itself, or if it doesn’t at least you’ll then have acquired enough brain power to figure it out for yourself.” The depressing part she had aforementioned was that for most of the kids who called her up that advice would most likely save their lives, one way or another.
Jill sluggishly gathered up a few papers and some other stuff she suspected she’d have need of before tomorrow evening and tossed them into a scribbled on backpack so ancient that the brand name was no longer legible. She strapped herself into the comfortable shape her own shoulders had molded into the fabric and left the building that was comparatively miniscule to all others on the street. When she stepped outside into the late summer night, or early morning depending on who’s asked, she looked around her and fiercely hoped she wouldn’t ever have to leave this lovely life of hers behind. Living in the same place for as long as she had had failed to diminish her awe and adoration for all of its heart-wrenching beauty. As she stood in one of the few rarely toured areas of Vermont with her throat rapidly swelling to a point beyond language she thought cheerfully, “As if I need the inadequacy of words at the moment anyway.” What was making her do what almost no one alive had ever accomplished, rendering her speechless, was none other than the same moon shining through the same trees in which ran within the same maple that anyone else would have trod past refusing a glance. So unless you failed to see this sight from behind the lustrous lakes that were Jill Bennett’s eyes, words were lacking indeed.
After her initial hesitation concerning whether or not she wanted her heart to just stop so that the view would be the last she would witness on this planet, and therefore making the memory all the more strong she supposed, Jill continued her slight journey to the parking lot.

Jill was home and therefore laid out all pretenses on the back of a quaint oak chair. Usually when she got home she wouldn’t be able to sleep for the life of her but this morning she was emotionally exhausted and climbed into bed without even changing.
She awoke at early afternoon and showered and dressed sluggishly. When she was as refreshed as she planned on getting she stood in her living room for a moment before feeling a familiar feeling of restlessness so she grabbed some files and left again to walk down to the local Ben and Jerry's. They were as popular there as Starbucks was in just about the rest of the world. She went there often, no less than once a week, since this wasn't exactly the first time Tara had sent her home to 'unwind' and she often felt stifled in the same place for too long with nothing to do.
When the few miles receded she reached the little shop and ordered her regular: Coffee Heath Bar Crunch. In other words, according to her uncultured taste buds, the greatest coffee ice cream in all the world. She recognized the girl behind the counter and they exchanged some brief pleasantries before Jill went outside and took a table under a wilting willow tree. She recalled the overwhelming impatience she once experienced when witnessing two people carry on about nothing in particular but always firmly remaining politely impersonal. Oh what frustration bore into her as she watched this spectacle! Perhaps she had felt this way because she had never had a simple life and could not recognize daily pleasures. Ruminating over this particle of knowledge she suspected once again that this tidbit about herself even further nudged her in the direction of Ravyn. She knew very well that that wasn't his given name but who completely accepts the title they’re given at birth? A fortunate few she supposed.
By an early age Ravyn fit the description of what too many people dubbed a 'troublemaker'. You know, the kids that stood up for themselves and others at the expense of another's pride. Heaven forbid we get anymore of their kind. He supposedly grew up in some run-down neighborhood with several younger siblings. Either he didn't have a father or what he had could never be called a father without telling a lie because Ravyn was the 'guardian' of those around him and he fit into the role with a familiarity that could only be contributed to experience. He was strongest when protecting and having the option of being weak just never seemed to come up. Or it did come up from time to time but without being indulged. He didn't hesitate to break some rules when fulfilling the duties he'd appointed himself over his loved ones. As you can see, he was quite a fucking problem to society.
Of course this was all theory. The result of an expensive psychologist’s assumptions "after hours of careful speculation." Truthfully, Jill thought the whole thing smelled faintly of bullshit. She was the only person who received any calls from Ravyn and ever since the first moment she spoke to him she couldn't seem to get him out of her head.
The beginning of his series of phone calls had come two years earlier. Jill had answered with her typical opening line of "This is Teen Crisis Help-Line and my name's Jill. Talk to me, I'm listening," to a smooth male voice. She remembered the first thing he'd said to her very clearly, "Do right here and you'll be hearing from me again. If you really wanna help somebody than please don't say anything for a sec cuz here's your chance." He'd then proceeded to explain a disturbing situation to her that involved a vindictive junkie of a mother who beat her two young children periodically and then black-mailed her recovering alcoholic ex-husband for hundreds with the threat of blaming their bruised little bodies on his "newly returned, chemical-induced rages" just so she'd have enough money to feed her own addictions. After he'd finished his story Ravyn gave the exact name and address of this woman and promised that if they went to her at the time he'd given Jill they would witness her committing her unforgivable crime. Then he hung up.
Jill had only heard from him around a dozen times altogether since then but his calls always ended with the saving of one victim or another and Jill liked him for it. She sat at her table and pored over his files yet again until it became chilly and she got up to leave. It was always doing that to her.

chapter three

Grace woke suddenly at around noon from a restless sleep filled with screaming, crying, and enough cursing to be banned from any movie rated anything below NR-17. She couldn’t fall back asleep and didn’t particularly want to so she got up and showered in the tiny bathroom, trying her hardest to touch as little as possible. She’d didn’t bother looking in the mirror since she knew she looked alright. Ever since she could remember she had been confident of her appearance. She was only sixteen but was often mistaken for older. With her slender figure, clear ebony skin and silky hair as dark as midnight, it was no wonder she had been considered beautiful all her life. Once she had been described as having full lips that were especially created with the sole intention of pleasure. But her most startling attribute were her piercing eyes: light gray with a violet tint. They changed shade with her mood and almost looked stormy whenever she became angry. Them and her music were the only things that ever expressed her true feelings ever since she had perfected the stony expression that hid her emotions.
She got dressed, grabbed her things and left to sign out. As she stepped out she swung her backpack over her shoulder and saw the writing on the front. She took a moment to read her favorite poem for the thousandth time:

There was a rose that faded young;
I saw it’s shattered beauty hung
Upon a broken stem.
I heard them say, “What need to care
With roses budding everywhere?”
I did not answer them.
There was a bird, brought down to die;
They said, “A hundred fill the sky –
What reason to be sad?”
There was a girl, whose lover fled;
I did not wait, the while they said,
“There’s many another lad.”

It was entitled ‘Solace’ and was written by Dorothy Parker. She had copied it onto her backpack in the fifth grade when the world was still all right.
While she stood in front of the door to the bedroom and read the poem, on the verge of tears she knew she couldn’t shed; she felt someone’s presence and looked up. A young cop who looked like he was only a couple years older than herself was staring at her with heaven blue eyes from just a few feet away and she became rigid. Had they found her?
“Excuse me, miss,” he spoke with a faint southern accent and looked down when she met his eyes, “I didn’t mean to startle you, but could you please answer some questions I have about what went on here this morning? We got a call concerning a disturbance earlier but when we got here nothing was wrong. Then we got another call recently saying that the noise had started up again. It’ll only take a second.”
She wondered about the second disturbance and assumed it must have happened while she was in the shower. Trying to relax by attempting to convince herself that Bradley must not have moved the search this far yet she spoke and her voice was as calm as a spring lake at the brink of dawn, and just as flat. “I’m very sorry but I’m not sure I can help you much. I saw the man who was working at the office last night hitting the door of Room 9 and yelling out to whoever was inside but it didn’t last very long and I didn’t hear anything after that.” She completely surprised herself when she told him that much; she had no love for cops and figured she’d just lie about hearing anything at all and then out came everything she knew. She told herself she did it to get rid of him without looking suspicious.
“Alright, but can I just ask you a couple questions, sometimes it helps people remember little details that will help me figure out what happened.”
“How long will it take?” she asked, baffled that she was even considering it.
“Oh, minutes at the most, I wouldn’t want to take up too much of your time.” He told her with typical southern charm and smiled, showing dazzling white teeth.
She told him okay and he led her to his car and took out a pad of paper.
“Well, first things first,” he announced, “I’m Ben. And you’re the one who signed up as Jane Doe on the registry, is that correct?”
“That’s right,” she told him with an almost warning tone in her voice. She didn’t outwardly express the least bit of worry towards the question.
“What’s your real name?”
“What makes you think it’s not Jane Doe?”
“So my parents aren’t very creative,” she cut him off dryly.
“Okay, so you don’t want to tell me your name, that’s alright too," He seemed to be expecting an answer so she quietly stared at him. He chuckled uneasily and went on: “Approximately what time did you sign in this morning?”
Grace told him she thought he would’ve seen it on the sign-in sheet and so he moved on with another chuckle. She wondered why he was acting so nervous and supposed he hadn’t been a cop too long. Then he underwent a drastic change. As if suddenly pulling himself together he became all business, shooting out one question after another.
After twenty minutes of her life went by without any progress she got impatient (it would’ve been five but she’d been practicing patience over the last three years, after all) and interrupted him to inform him of how much easier his job would be if he just talked to the desk clerk.
He looked taken aback by her blatancy but recovered quickly and said with more than a little annoyance, “I would but he disappeared. No one’s seen him since around nine this morning.”
“Ah shoot, well, that’s too bad. Now, if that’s all I really need to get going now, sorry I couldn’t help much, see ya.”
“Alright then, I guess there’s nothing else. Thank you for your time.” She already had her back to him and began walking toward her truck when he stopped her cold, “Hey, you don’t know William Delacroix by any chance do you?”
Slowly she turned around; she looked him straight in the eye and demanded in a low, chill voice, “Why?”
She had surprised him with the animosity had managed in a single syllable and he stammered, “Sorry, it’s just that you kinda remind me of him and he has a truck like that. I was just wondering if you guys were related or something.”
He had her full attention now and she started back towards him. All her instincts were screaming for her to get outta there before she gave herself away but she just had to hear about her brother. She’d never forgive herself if she ever forgot him and she hadn’t spoken to anybody who had known him for too long. Everything she heard about him was as soothing to her as salve to a burn. She couldn’t help herself.
“How’d you know him?” she asked.
“Oh, so you do know him. We were pretty tight in high school but I haven’t seen him since I moved down here. He used to call now and then but he just stopped a couple years back. How’s he doing?”
She stared at him; shocked he didn’t know about William’s so-called “disappearance”. It was in the local paper for months. The media just eat up headlines like ‘Nephew of Local Hero Mysteriously Vanishes.’
When she didn’t answer him he asked what was wrong and she said, “Forget about it. Sorry, never heard of the guy,” saying it caused a sharp pain in her heart but she endured it and went on, “too bad you didn’t stay in touch. Goodbye.”
She all but ran to her truck, got in and drove away as fast as she could without tempting a ‘man of the law’, and left him standing by his car staring after her. She went seventy-five on the open road for a few miles before pulling over to the shoulder and killing the engine.
For the first time in more than five years she put her face in her hands and wept an ocean.

chapter four

Jill stood outside her house with the keys jangling softly, poised at attention before the lock: waiting. She had been about to unlock her back door when she could have sworn she’d heard a steady thump ensuing from within but when she stopped so did the noise. So here she stood, wondering if the sound would come again.
She wasn’t afraid, just curious. Of course the possibility of an intruder had crossed her mind but being the pragmatic person she was she understood the unlikeliness of a danger in this home of hers. The occasional neighborhood cat was known to crawl into her perpetually open kitchen window in hope of sympathy scraps and Jill knew this to be the most likely of events but still she stayed her hand, still she waited. Maybe it was left over and unnecessary instinct but she didn’t entirely trust the obvious in any situation. Instead she kept an—
There it was again. She knew she hadn’t imagined it! It was an odd sound, like most sounds seem to be when they come in spite of the absurdity of their existence, as if a bowling ball were rolling down a lane and vanishing right before impact. Why is it your mind comes up with the most unlikely of images to go with an unknown noise? She decided she had to know, risk or no, and stayed the jingling of her keys with her free hand and placed it into the deadbolt lock as quietly as she could manage, turning them ever so slowly. When she heard the silent ‘click’ she turned the handle and pushed open the door.
Her living room was as it always was: nothing appeared amiss. A scarlet love seat and armchair sat on perpendicular walls to just forward and to the left of the front door while a matching couch lined the opposite side. Almost the center of the room lay a rounded cherry wood coffee table laced with paper and hardbacks alike and ranging from poetry to erotica. A large antique secretary stayed put up against the wall and not five feet to the right of the doorway Jill now stood quite still in front of. Her dark grayish-purple carpet mirrored the ceiling and clashed pleasantly with her mint julep walls, hung with various Ansel Adams photographs.
She stood listening to the sound and when she discerned that it derived from the kitchen she went through the opening on the opposite wall and to her right, which led into the hallway. To both sides there were closed doors leading to a bedroom, den and bathroom, respectively. Straight ahead was the kitchen. All that stood between her and that particular domain was a white half-door on hinges that swung either way, the kind she’d only seen on sitcoms before finding this place. The sound was louder now and she could almost put her finger on what exactly it was. Not quite though so she continued, wondering why she wasn’t more alarmed.
When she got to the threshold she could see over the top of the door and into the kitchen right at the source of the heretofore-mysterious sound. His back was to her, facing the countertops and working hard at whatever was before him. She stood looking at him and realized why she wasn’t afraid: she’d been awaiting him. Although the form was as unfamiliar as she knew the face would be she knew this man only too well. Knew about his childhood, knew about his family, knew him so well she could practically guess his very thoughts. The only piece that didn’t fit was why here was here, for though she knew him he knew nothing of her. Except perhaps the sound of her voice…
If she weren’t watching him so very closely she wouldn’t have been able to tell she had startled him when she said his name, the giveaway a mere tensing of his back muscles. He turned around and she finally saw what he was doing, although apparently seeing isn’t always believing. There was a thin layer of dough on top of her counter speckled with various and non-threatening generic shapes. Settled nearby was a rolling pin.
He couldn’t possibly have seen it in her face, more likely he understood the ridiculousness of the situation and explained, “I bake when I’m nervous and since you had the ingredients I thought making cookies could be a good ice breaker.” There was a too-long moment of awkward silence. “Well then, I guess not.”
If it hadn’t had been so damn hilarious she might have laughed. The only thing that came out of her mouth, though, sounded harsher than she’d intended. Habit she supposed. “How do you know where I live? Hell, how do you even know who I am?”
He patted his hands together in a futile attempt to battle the tenacious flour and disregarded her questions, just like she knew he would. “We need to talk,” he said.

Dryly Jill put in, “Oh, we’ve got lots to talk about, for instance, your trespassing or your breaking and entering.” Her sarcastic tongue was a result of her quickly fading curiosity of his identity, leaving only an extreme sense of her impeded privacy.
“We could always talk about Oralia,” he struck softly.
“What do you know about Oralia?”
“I think we should sit down to talk cuz this could take awhile. Unless of course you just wanna come with me without any questions but I don’t suppose that’s gonna happen, knowing you.”
“You don’t know me,” she said, admittedly a little sulkily. She considered her next move. “I don’t think we should sit down just yet. You just get to cleaning up that mess of yours while you answer some of my present questions before you start thinking of giving me any more, huh?” She waited till he turned around to finish his cookies, opting to roll them into balls rather than shape them now that he was no longer loaded down with free time. Walking around so that she was facing him with the linoleum counter between them she noted he appeared grateful to have his hands busy once more. “Alright then. Why didn’t you call me like you usually do, why burst in here? For that fact, why didn’t you wait till I was home and knock on my door like a normal person.”
“I wanted to talk to you as soon as possible and I had no idea when you’d be home. You should have come straight home after you were sent home early and then you’d’ve been here when I came but for some reason you were later than we expected. I couldn’t call you because potentially all phones could become tapped, especially ones in use thanks to government funds.” Funny but although he answered both her questions she suddenly had twice as many.
“Wait a goddamn minute. How the hell did you know I was sent home early? I know you haven’t been following me. What does any of this have to do with Oralia? Why are you acting like there’s some sort of time limit and what’s with all this ‘we’ shit?” she demanded.
He faintly smiled without looking up, annoying Jill to no end, and replied, “You haven’t been followed. I only knew you’d be sent home because we were responsible for your last call, in order to rile you up and get Tara to take her only option. "We" meaning my team and I. But please don’t ask anymore about them or why I know about you and your reactions or Oralia for now and allow me to explain that in a little while.”
“You certainly sound as though you’ve done this before. Have you?” Jill, temporarily placated, asked.
“I’ve done this countless times. You were always a last result. We don’t call you to help us unlacquired tastes this ion, as you’ll see if you look back on the few times I’ve contacted you. And it isn’t always me in this position either. In this case I have been the only one calling you, therefore setting up familiar ground, so here I am: not completely a stranger.”
He had just put the loaded cookie sheet in the oven and turned to look into Jill’s eyes. He just stayed like that for the slightest of moments and then said, “Are you satisfied? Will you listen to me now?”
She nodded and led him into the hall and then the living room, tentatively trusting him at her back. She could feel he kept a polite distance behind, apparently attuned to her wariness. She sat down in the armchair next to the love seat and waited for him to sit before nod her head in assent.
“I’d like to ask you not to interrupt with the questions I know will pop into your head the moment you here what I’m about to say. We’re already short on time and you need to hear it all.” He continued when she nodded once again. “Let me start at the beginning. My real name’s not Ravyn. It’s Arthur Maddoc. I’m not what you all think I am but you can tell some of that just by looking at me.”
He was right; he wasn’t exactly what Jill had thought. She’d tried her best not to set any sort of expectations on him but apparently they’d snuck up on her and hidden themselves deep within her conscious for as she studied him now, the shallow part of her was disappointed. He was young looking. Jill couldn’t be sure but he seemed to be somewhere between 16 and 19. It was really that ambiguous. But then when she asked him she found out he was actually two years older than herself and she stopped pretending she could discern anything about him that easily. He was a few inches taller than her, not too tall, and thin overall despite the hint of broad shoulders. His hair was dyed a dark red and he had missed his still dirt brown eyebrows. His nose stopped right before being too long and his mouth was wide and quick to smile. He had large eyes so dark they were almost indistinguishable from his pupils. If they had been any smaller Jill would have considered them wide-set but their size compensated for any noticeable distance. But then he also wore glasses and it was easily that Jill could imagine him taking them off and remedying both mentionable dimensions. He also had a black cast covering his left wrist that Jill hadn’t noticed in the kitchen due to his fluidity with the dough in spite of it. Given it was well disguised by the solid night t-shirt he had on that went all the way to the edge of the cast, giving Ravyn the appearance of simply having one sleeve rolled up.
Jill was back and Ravyn was saying, “—not even my family life is what you’d expect, but we can talk about me later. Right now I want to talk about just that: right now. Oralia is with us and has been since the day after you saw her last. When we found out what happened with your situation we took her in because of hers. You see her husband had a pretty powerful family or brother to be more exact. His death would’ve been very dangerous for Oralia if she weren’t hidden at once. I know you haven’t seen her in so long but she never stop thinking about you we simply couldn’t let her contact you when her brother-in-law was still searching for her. It’s been some years now though and his search has cooled off dramatically these last couple so Oralia has finally convinced us to invite you to stay with us.”
“You have her? She’s okay then? Well that’s wonderful but why would I come stay with you? Why can’t I just go and see her?”
“You might consider this paranoid but we don’t make many two-way trips from our safe house. It’d just put all of our minds more at ease if you stayed for a week or so, plus Oralia is so excited to see you again and a prolonged visit is more than welcome.”
The prospect of seeing Oralia again incited a ravenous familiarity that Jill had always had a love hate relationship with. It certainly was tempting… Also, having had solely “Ravyn” on the brain for the last few years she was curious to get to know the real him a little and see this organization of his. Also, as illogical as it was, she felt sort of like she knew him well enough to be abandoning him if she vanished now. At that moment she felt the vague stirring of déjà vu. “I guess if it’s that important to you I could go with you. I could always drive myself of course but if you don’t mind waiting I’ll go with you. I still think it’s a colossal waste of time on your part but since it is your time…do what you will.”
She stood up and walked into the hall heading for the belongings she had promised herself she’d never accumulate. Funny how time makes our little self-betrayal acceptable. Throughout this time she took a few trips around the house and when she crossed the living room one again she was unsurprised to see Ravyn still sitting on the couch, unmoved and unsettled.

chapter five

Fifteen minutes later she was on the road again. She turned on the radio and listened to the carefree voice of Tom Petty singing ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream’. She glanced at her guitar on the seat next to her and wondered if she’d be able to get any gigs wherever she ended up. She had the money she’d saved up but knew it wouldn’t last forever without anything coming in.
She had gotten the acoustic from a friend four years ago. Since she couldn’t afford lessons she had taught herself to play and had a strangely beautiful style that was all her own. She was able to put all the emotions she was feeling into a piece and it always seemed to have an effect on the people she played for. She used to lift an occasional book to learn the basic chords, but stopped after a close call since she couldn’t afford to get arrested. Never had she performed in public before but she had played in front of a few friends and was, perhaps peculiarly, lacking any nervousness. She had also written enough songs to last a lifetime so there was no problem there either. It’s not that Grace was in much of a hurry to share her personal words with complete strangers, but she knew that it was necessary if it could bring in enough cash to keep her afloat. She couldn’t have any real publicity, of course, and didn’t exactly crave attention anyway, but she knew she couldn’t have survived the past without her music and she wasn’t about to try to live without it into the future either.
She finally forced herself to think about less safe subjects and turned her mind to the pig back at the motel. For the first time she wondered if him mentioning her brother was really a coincidence. It didn’t seem likely that he would have recognized her or that he’d have known William at all but even if he had, wouldn’t he have somehow heard about his ‘disappearance’ after this long if they were such ‘close friends’? The more she thought about it the angrier she became at herself for not realizing it earlier. What a sly bastard! Sure, it just so happened that a close friend of her brother’s, who hadn’t heard anything about him in years, had met and recognized his little sister while he checked out a disturbance, one which had occurred hours earlier, at a motel she had conveniently stayed at that morning. He was most definitely working for Bradley. But why had he risked giving himself away by mentioning William? He had temporarily clouded her judgment with the mention of him, but he wouldn’t have needed to if he hadn’t brought it up in the first place. Maybe he was just making sure she was the one he was looking for, which she had made easy for him to determine with her obvious desperation. But Grace doubted it; Richard was too thorough not to have given him a photo, or at least a good description of her. She finally assumed he had just underestimated her, presumed she wouldn’t be able to figure it out, and that he could mess with her a bit without any real danger to himself. She was sure her dear Uncle Richard would have been quite eager to disparage and vilify her to any and all willing to listen. After all, she had been the one to convince him of her recreancy. And now she had the advantage again.
For the next hour or so Grace checked for a tail every two seconds before she began to feel comfortable enough to pull over and study her map. She had driven approximately thirteen hours and had gotten six hundred and fifty miles away from Bradley’s house back in Santa Monica. She knew she would have gotten farther if she hadn’t taken the back-roads but it was a necessary evil if she didn’t want to risk being seen by one of his many puppets. She was in New Mexico at a small town about fifteen miles west of Albuquerque. She decided to go southeast instead of the originally planned east to throw off Richard, who would be expecting her to advance in the fairly straight line she had been driving in so far. She figured she’d kick back in Artesia for a few days, sorta ‘disappear’ for a while, and then go north or northeast from there.
Grace immediately changed course towards her new destination. The clock on the dashboard said it was 2:45 so she thought she’d be able to get there a little before 8:00. The radio was playing ‘Paradise City’ by Guns and Roses so she turned it up even as her mind wandered to the past.

“It’ll only be for the weekend. We’ll be back before you know it,” Grace’s father explained to William and her. Her parents needshoot, well, thrida to meet with a potential client of the small publishing company they owned together. “Your Uncle Richard will stay here with you two until we get back.”
“You mean the police officer! Cool! Maybe he’ll let us ride in his car to go catch criminals!” exclaimed William. He had gone from miserable to ecstatic in a matter of seconds. It was actually a quite remarkable transformation.
Grace’s mother chuckled and told him, “I don’t think that’s going to be happening anytime soon. It’s too dangerous. But maybe he’ll let you see it when he’s not on duty.”
“Ah Mom, you never let me do anything fun,” he complained, once again miserable.
“What about my birthday?” Grace asked. “Will you be back on time? I’ll never turn eleven again so you have to be here!”
Her mother assured her, “Don’t worry Gracie-baby, we’re taking the early morning flight just so we can be back before you even say good morning to the sun. We couldn’t possibly miss the birthday of God’s Grace, now isn’t that right?”
She giggled at her mother’s pet name for her. “Alright then, just checking. Daddy, how many seconds will you be gone, exactly,” Grace asked; her young mind forever curious.
“Lets see,” her father pondered, “We’ll be gone sixty hours, so that’s 3,600 minutes,” by this time Grace and William’s chins were on the floor, “Alright, so that’s 216,000 seconds, exactly.”
Grace ran to her mother and cried, “That must be forever! I’ll never see you again! Please don’t leave us.”
Her parents explained to her that that was not as much time as it seemed, that only one day is the same as 86,400 seconds, and the next morning they got on the 8:00 a.m. flight from Los Angeles to Miami. Grace was right about one thing, though, she never saw her parents again.

She smiled severely when she remembered the ridiculousness of what her mother used to call her. God’s Grace. Yeah right, she thought caustically. She gave up the whole notion of a god long ago and her life has been better for it. When she stopped waiting around for some Supreme Being to come rescue her from her life she was finally able to do it herself. However, she would have held her parents in only the brightest of lights even if they had worshipped mutilated cows or weather balloons. They were the reason she was able to pull herself free of Bradley and nothing else mattered.
Five hours after she left the motel near Albuquerque, Grace pulled into another one in Artesia. She walked to the office and got a room under the moniker Adel Craiger, which conveniently had all of the necessary credentials. The woman at the front desk told her that they had one room left but it had twin beds. She took it regardless since it was cheap and she didn’t really feel like searching for another motel. Back in the parking lot she noticed that the only other car there was a little Toyota.
Since it was only ten to eight she decided to see if she could get a job playing at a bar or something during the short time she would reside here. She climbed back into William’s truck and drove off, not aware of the cerulean eyes that were adhered to her.

After Ben Curtis had hung up with Richard Bradley, the chief of police down in Santa Monica, for the second time, he once again had a vile taste in his mouth. He didn’t know why the chief had told him to mention her brother, but he assumed it would, at most, make her feel guilty about leaving him behind or something. But when he had seen the look on Grace Delacroix’s face he had actually wanted to sob like a child. She looked so lost and desperate. All the time he had talked to her before then she had had almost no expression, or at most a bored one. So when he had seen her face so full of emotion, so naked at the mention of a single name, it was like a blow to the abs.
He knew he couldn’t just forget about her like her uncle had recommend. Not only because he saw her when she was most vulnerable, but also because of her sheer beauty. That’s why her response to her brother’s name had had such an effect on him, it was like seeing anguish on the face of an angel; it just didn’t belong there. He had had an intense, if absurd, urge to protect her, if only so he would never have to endure that haunted look in her eyes again.
He chuckled at himself for being so asinine. He didn’t even know the girl, which is exactly what she is too, just a girl. A mere sixteen years old, although seventeen in less than a month, even if she did look (and act) older. But even as he was belittling himself, he got into his car and headed in the direction she had gone.
When he saw her truck by the side of the road and her with her head in her hands, her whole body racking with her tears, he had to force himself to keep going. He could tell that she was the sort of person who never would have allowed herself to show weakness in front of others so for her sake he couldn’t let himself stop.
If he were going to follow her he would have to get himself into a less conspicuous car than his black and white. He drove the next couple miles on the narrow, two-lane road to the police station and switched to his small, silver Toyota Corolla. He didn’t pull out, though, but stayed in the parking lot waiting for her to pass. When she did he waited almost a full minute before going after her. He stayed far enough back to not be noticed but close enough to keep her in view whenever there was a chance she could get onto another road, knowing every turn-off by heart having lived near here all his life.
After almost an hour she pulled over for a moment and then suddenly changed her direction southward. Ben knew he should report to the chief, whom he suspected would be searching east, but for reasons consciously unbeknownst to him he held off. After what felt like forever Grace finally pulled over at a gas station, passing her he drove to the next rest stop. He paid the guy at the counter to tell him whether or not he sees a truck pass while he went to the restroom and then loaded up on snacks and drinks for the unknown distance ahead.

Grace found a coffee joint on a tiny corner at the edge of Artesia called Chaos Café and stopped, parked, and went inside. When she crossed the threshold she felt a surge of warmth spread throughout her body: the lovely little shop had been decorated to look homey and it reminded her of her own house before her parents had died. It had two beige-colored armchairs and a couch to match, with chocolate wallpaper, dim lighting and a faint scent of flavored coffees and biscotti mixed with a flowery fragrance of the various arrangements on the center of each table. There were several couples, friends and solos lounging among the tables and furniture listening to the current act, which was a young man that appeared to be an early college student and was reading a poem she didn’t recognize.
She walked to the counter and asked the man there who she should talk to about performing. When he pointed out the manager, a tall, tan woman in her early twenties, sitting in the back corner talking to a waitress Grace thanked him and walked over to her. She patiently waited, out of earshot, to be acknowledged. The two women finished their conversation quickly and Valerie, the manager according to her nametag, turned her attention to Grace and asked in a child-like voice:
“May I help you?”
“Hi. My name’s Adel Craiger,” she started, “I’m wondering if you have any room for me to play my guitar sometime tonight or tomorrow.”
Although no one would have been able to tell just by looking at her, Grace was rather taken back when the woman actually squealed in delight.
“You must be kidding,” She continued when she saw that Grace was serious, “How perfect, it must be fate or something. Do you believe in fate? Hey it sounds like I’m trying to pick you up! But don’t worry, I’m not attempting to get into your pants.” She laughed at her own joke as if it were the most brilliant words ever to be uttered. “You see our main band just split and I had no idea what I was going to do. Then all of the sudden you were there, WHAM,” Grace almost jumped, “and if you’re any good then I owe you big.”
She wasn’t exactly used to such chirpy people but she was definitely thrilled about getting to go on tonight so she dealt.
“I’ll do alright,” she told Valerie.
“Oh sorry, I’m so rude! My name’s Valerie. Thanks so much for doing this. Since it’s such short notice we can pay you twenty-five dollars an hour for two hours instead of just twenty, which is how much the other band was going to get before they flaked on us, but we can’t really go higher than that. I hope it’s enough,” she kept going before Grace could answer. “I’ll need to hear you before you go on, of course, but I’m sure you’re just perfect for the job. Not even fate could be that fucked up, huh?”
Grace laughed softly but only because Valerie couldn’t be more wrong.

chapter six

After she finished her last minute shuffle there were only two large packages and a backpack waiting by the door. She retraced her steps in search of any forgotten necessity but everything she could possibly need had been on stand-by for years so as to be easily accessible. This minute procedure had also been an unconscious one, instantly placing Jill in a cynical and bitter state of mind when acknowledged. However with effort she buried these sorry emotions admirably.
Jill shrugged her assent when asked of her readiness and took up the rear as Ravyn led the way outside, a clear Tupperware container tucked under his arm filled with cookies. He had no car so presumptuously he either walked or was dropped off. “I hope you don’t mind but I used your phone a while ago.” As he said it a blue-gray 1984 Honda Prelude rounded Jill’s corner at a ridiculously safe speed with which could only be explained when she saw the driver looking inquisitively out her window. When she spotted the couple on the doorstep she looked relieved and pulled solidly into the driveway to wait, car softly idling. The passenger seat became unoccupied as yet another woman climbed out, at length to help with the bags but presently to offer Jill a tooth achingly sweet smile and a hand soft to the point of intimidating. Jill had the stature of one who knew she was being accommodated and wasn’t exactly grateful. It was sneakily annoying; her awareness of the excess of women there mainly for her “comfort.” But like none else she digested it quietly.
The lady who ably took Jill’s cases went by the name Gretal Addams. She cheerfully told Jill of how her father was a poet and spelled her name likewise to “petal” as opposed to the traditional fashion. Gretal was a shorter woman with an equally small build. Her choppy fire hair was decorated with butterfly clips complete with flapping wings. Whenever she walked they bobbled on springs like undulating tongues never content with the last word. Her body was shaped like a pear and clothed a sunshiny summer dress that tickled her toes and gloated “sleeveless.” While having thin lips one could hardly tell for they moved so fast they lent the illusion of circumference. Her button nose perfectly accentuated her turquoise eyes and she was pretty.
The driver stepped effortlessly out of the car to greet Jill then. She was a good four inches taller than Jill and just as slim if not more so. Her obviously long hair was thoughtlessly tumbled into a ball at the nape of her neck and something like twenty strands had made the escape only to curl up around her face, unable to let go. Everything about her murmured graceful. A thin material wraparound skirt that was shaded forest and stretched to her calves fell around her in waves and complicated her every move. She wore no shoes and Jill could detect a fading tattoo or scar circling her left ankle that the woman, Talthea was her name, seemed to self- and sub-consciously keep veiled. Her fingers were long and unadorned, musical hands. She wore a white wife-beater over a green sports bra, which matched her skirt, that was visible slightly underneath and completely at the armpits. Her neck was long and elegant and privileged a sole necklace. The piece of jewelry was hung low falling atop her breast. It was made of tiny shells fluctuating between light and dark browns and golds and meeting each other at a pristine white gemstone centerpiece carved into a Celtic cross. Her eyes were large, wide, giving her a perpetually shocked appearance and yet their soft light brown candescence shown only wisdom and patience, and also age. Her perfectly matching blonde eyebrows arch with amusement. Her cheekbones were high and her lips were pouting but they instantly became joyous when she smiled her greeting and she was breathtaking.
What Jill liked most about this woman though was her handshake: firm yet yielding. It was unschooled with lack of experience but complete with a natural confidence that made it right. Gretal’s hand seemed limp and unsure but then the vibrant woman’s constant flow of information seemed to more than compensate.
Jill learned from Gretal that Talthea, “just plain Tal,” declared herself mute at the age of 9. She was now almost 39 and even if she wanted to talk could probably no longer be able to. The pair had met fifteen years hence and were as close of friends as Jill had only dreamed of having and being.
The four of them stood just to the right of the car after the bags had been loaded and politely acquainted themselves with each other. Then they clambered into the Honda and Talthea started it up. It was difficult to tell if the car was moving or not for Tal was an excellent driver. When she turned Jill and Ravyn, in the back seat, barely perceptibly leaned with the vehicle but besides that the ride was incredibly smooth. The one negative aspect of this talent was that throughout the beginnings of the ride Jill felt antsy and impatient to get out as she felt she wasn’t getting anywhere. Eventually though the speeding scenery remedied this and the journey fell into serenity.
Gretal told Jill of the organization they all made up. “All we really do is help people to help themselves. Once we take the initiative and get them relocated every one of our people are capable enough to thrive. It’s a lot like gardening in the sense that once they’re freed they flourish. Speaking of which I have some azaleas just to die for, you’ll love ‘em. Both Tal and me, we were once in that very same position so it’s easy for us to empathize but our Ravyn here, why, he’s special. He don’t need to have been in such an awful place to know just how to fix them. He didn’t need to be there to realize it needs to stop. And if we’re the flowers than he’s the soil. It’s a damn shame he’s so young and all ‘cuz if he were my age, woo-ee, he’d be in trououble.
The two women chuckled contentedly, Gretal’s throaty and loud, Talthea’s practically non-existent, but both of their faces showed unmistakable euphoria. They were having the time of their lives all the time. This teasing must have been an ongoing joke since Ravyn too laughed and rebuked good-naturedly. Jill found their banter to be both amusing and reassuring.
They drove close to an hour before the car halted and the engine stopped turning. The stop of the car was more disturbing than the whole ride had been. Jill found herself in front of an absurdly homey 2-storey cottage large and entirely out of place among its far-spread surrounding modern homes. There was a lovely garden making up the front lawn and Gretal promised an herb and vegetable one just around the back soon to come. Ravyn led the way up to the front door and into the home.
The first thing that processed in Jill’s mind was noise. Loud bustling busy emotional white noise. There were all sorts of people consorting all sorts of ways and it must have been exactly like a commune. Jill saw women hugging with tears rolling down each other’s cheeks and men playing with children or changing babies’ diapers. Some doors were closed and had yelling coming from within while some rooms were bright and open brimming with people not emitting a single sound. Sitting in a hungry armchair looking very small was a little boy amidst all this activity. He was quietly reading a Dean Koontz novel and looked positively at peace with his environment. Honestly he looked as though he wouldn’t be able to concentrate at all were these things removed. Some kids were like that Jill knew, stilled amongst chaotic energies. Jill saw Ravyn smile lightly when he saw the boy.
Gretal and Tal lost themselves within it all traveling between different groups and people, becoming more of an aid together than apart yet doing just fine on their own as well. Just then, as Jill stood there somewhat disoriented, Ravyn closed the gap between them and clasped her hand pulling her through it all. They walked into the kitchen where men and women alike were cheerfully preparing dinner with much laughter and conversation. Ravyn led her inside it and many people stopped to grin or offer an encouraging anecdote. She nodded or smiled when due all the while keeping up a fluent trek toward the stairs located at the edge of the kitchen and back door. Wafting through the open windows was the smell of fresh nutmeg and parsley. Ravyn set down his cookies on a random counter and once he paused to give some attention plus a dash of advice on something they were putting into the oven.
On and up the steps they climbed past the second floor and straight up till (morning?) the attic. When there Ravyn finally released Jill’s hand and closed the door behind them. The attic was big and lofty. The whole of the slanted ceiling that faced the back was paneled with windows and awarded a view of green. There were long dark curtains, hinting at a daytime slumberer, to block the sun but at the moment they were tied back. The windows had been thrown open allowing a heavenly breeze, after pushing her way through a hot, crowded room, and more herbal scents this time mingling with the wildflowers. Apart from these luxuries the room was sparsely furnished. It had a twin bed, a chest of drawers, and a tall mirror in one corner. The ground was carpeted dark blue and the walls were whitewashed.
“This was my room,” Ravyn said. “It’s the only area in the house that is completely quiet at any given moment if left to its own devices. The original owners of this place were musicians and made this room sound proofed for a recording studio. It comes in handy anyway.” He smiled and it was a sweet smile: hesitantly sincere. Jill smiled back at him a little wider.
Continuing he said, “Here’s where you’ll sleep for however long you stay with us. Jill there’s one thing I didn’t tell you about Oralia…she’s my wife. We were married four years ago. So you see, I owe you more than you’ll probably ever realize. More than my life… Please try to feel at home here.”
He started to walk out but before he vanished through the doorway Jill asked, “When can I see her?”
“She’ll want to come up the moment she returns. Until then I’ll bring up your bags. That’s the bathroom there,” he indicated to a door at the far end of the room. “Be right back.” She lay down on the bed to catch up.
Jill was beyond surprised at Ravyn’s revelation. Last she’d seen Oralia the girl had seemed all but lost to any human relationships save the one growing in her belly. She was frighteningly timid and couldn’t even look Jill in the eye. Oralia…married again? Yet beyond her disbelief she was extremely happy for her and not a little proud.