Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 17

Quick, hide behind the door!” Nick whispered. Stacy didn’t understand why, but she knew he must have had a good reason for having her do it, so she complied. “Take this too!” He handed her his guitar as he picked up his notebook and pretended to study notes.

Seconds later, an old security guard came in and surveyed the scene. “What are you doing?”

“Who? Me?” Nick feigned confusion. “I’m just studying feedback that I got from my team.”

“Who else is here?” the security guard questioned.

“No one,” Nick fibbed. “Oh, you probably hard me on the phone with one of my colleagues. I don’t wanna give away too much about her personal issues, but she’s going through a lot right now.”

Thankfully, the security guard seemed to have bought that explanation. “Well, don’t work too hard now!”

“I won’t!” Nick waved as the security guard left the room. Nick acting like he had to go over his paperwork until the security guard roamed out of earshot. When it seemed as though the coast was clear, Nick got up and double checked down hallway both ways before he motioned for Stacy to follow him. “Come on!”

They quickly and quietly tiptoed down the hallway, and as soon as they exited the building, they exhaled in relief. Stacy’s heart had raced from worry of getting caught, but now that they were safe, her curiosity demanded to understand the situation that had just passed. “What just happened?”

Nick explained, “The boss has random security checks throughout the month to make sure no one misuses the facility. Don’t worry, he rarely comes around, so we’ll be fine.”

“Maybe we should figure out another place to practice, just in case,” Stacy suggested.

“Yeah, we should figure it out soon,” Nick agreed. “He usually only comes around once or twice a month, so we have some time. Maybe by the time he comes around again, I’ll be out booking some gigs!”

“I’ll start looking for a venue for you to perform at too,” Stacy assured him. As they walked to the truck, Stacy told him, “Sorry I didn’t get to tell you much about my story.”

“Actually, your reaction said a lot.” Nick smiled sympathetically, and Stacy returned one back.

On Wednesday, Stacy had the day off from work, so she went back to the library and borrowed the Nashville phone book. She sat down at a table and took her notebook and pen out of her purse just as she did last time, but this time, she opened up the phone book to the record label section. She felt pleased to have found a number of places that she could apply to. She came across one that she recognized as a client of Hadeon’s, and the memory it brought up repulsed her, so, at first, she skipped that one. After a moment, she remembered how nice the man who owned the recording studio had been to her and all of the exciting stories he had about working there, so she decided to include it on her list. She wasn’t sure if she would actually apply there or not, but she felt too guilty not to at least consider it.

When she came home, she saw that her parents were doing the dishes, so she offered, “Can I help?”

“Sure, I could use a break!” Frank handed her a towel and zipped out of the room.

Barbara rolled her eyes and shook her head but didn’t say anything to him. As she handed Stacy a dish to dry, Stacy conversed, “How was your day?”

“It was going fine until the principal put me in charge of the end of the school year show!” Barbara grumped. “It’s so hard coordinating the different grades! And they wanna find an entertainer for the older students. I don’t know what they like!”

“I know a singer who could use a gig…” Stacy brought up.

“Really?” Barbara chirped. “Let me know as soon as possible if he can do it!”

“I’ll let you know as soon as I know!” Stacy promised.

Before she left for her next shift, Stacy stuffed a dozen envelopes with her resume. She went through the list she made the other day and addressed each envelope except for the one. She hesitated on the recording studio that Hadeon had as a client. She figured with her ex-husband taking care of their marketing needs that they wouldn’t have any interest in hiring her in that capacity. She qualified for a secretary or administrative position, but then she worried that she might run into Hadeon on occasion, which would create such an awkward atmosphere! Not to mention potentially danger if he decided to pick a fight with her again! She wondered if there would even have been a favorable opinion of her anymore, especially if her ex-husband revealed his slant on the incident to them. She decided to skip it and only stamped sealed the envelopes of the other leads she found.

At work, Stacy passed by the cash register and saw Gloria talking to a woman with her preteen daughter. After a second glance, she realized she recognized the woman at the register. “Lola?”

“Stacy?” Lola acted incredulously. They shouted excitedly and gave each other a hug.

Gloria inquired, “You guys know each other?”

Lola told her, “Yeah, Mom, we went to high school together!”

“What a small world!” Gloria remarked.

Lola addressed Stacy, “What are you doing here? Last I heard you were married to a successful business man and living fabulously in Nashville!”

“Oh, I left him,” Stacy confessed. “He was a jerk and I’d rather be alone and broke than stay married to him!”

Stacy expected Lola to react sympathetically, but she actually had a look of longing in her eyes. She made sure her daughter didn’t hear her when she said, “You’re so lucky! I wish I could leave!” As she spoke, Stacy noticed a gnarly scratch on Lola’s arm. “It’s hard when a kid is involved. I gotta do what’s best for her. I couldn’t risk her living on the street.” As Lola spoke, Stacy discovered a number of other nicks and bruises throughout her body, and her heart sunk as she realized what that probably meant. “Even if I got a job at a store or something, I wouldn’t make enough to support her. And since my father’s gone now, we took Mom in too. Where would she go?”

Gloria exclaimed, “I told you, don’t worry about me! We’ll figure something out…”

The two of them suddenly grew silent and painted smiles on their faces. Stacy found that odd until she saw a man in a nice suit walk in their direction. She saw an Emporia badge and figured out that he must have been an executive of some sort. He stood in front of her and pompously introduced himself, “Drake Tanith, regional manager. You must be new.”

“Yes,” she responded while trying to hide her nervousness. “I’m Stacy, a recovery agent.”

“Welcome, Stacy!” He turned towards Lola, who greeted him with a kiss. “Darling, I don’t see any clothes. You said Elaine needed clothes!”

“Sorry!” Lola practically trembled as she apologized. “I got caught up talking and-!”

He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her close to him. “Go wait in the car!” He pushed her away rather forcibly. Lola scrambled to get her purse and dashed out of the store. Gloria returned to helping a customer as if none of this bothered her as Drake met up with Pat and began talking about numbers.

Stacy stood in shock of what she just witnessed. She and Lola had such similar lives in high school, but she felt Lola had always been a little ahead of her and she actually envied her. Lola outranked her on the student council and got better grades too. She always attracted the cuter boyfriends and even got into a better college. It was heartbreaking to see how much Lola had been defeated by this man! She wondered how her life had taken such a drastic turn, and she realized that domestic violence could happen to anybody! Suddenly, it occurred to her that this abusive man was now her boss! Once again, she found herself working in the same environment she had just escaped from, and it was simply unacceptable! She marched up to Pat and Drake, threw her badge on the ground, cried out, “I quit!” and stormed out without saying another word!

She had felt so much fury throughout her way home, but that soon turned into panic. She now had no way to pay for her divorce, which she feared could hand her an expensive bill at any moment. She became wrapt with worry, and she knew she knew she had to find another job immediately! When she got inside her house, she saw her list of music industry places to apply to in Nashville and remembered that she hadn’t applied to that last one. She still had a burning rage for violent men, and she felt so furious that she got an ardent motivation to attempt to steal Hadeon’s client and addressed her last envelope to that company!

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Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 16

Stacy came home from work and immediately took her shoes off. After she released a breath of relief, she called out, “Mom?”

“In here, Sweetie!” Barbara responded from her bedroom.

Stacy walked over to her parents’ bedroom and saw her mother working on the computer. She inquired, “Whatcha doing?”

“Making a quiz for my kids,” Barbara replied.”Sentence diagrams. You wanna try it?”

Stacy peered over her mother’s shoulders and tried to do the test, but she came up blank. “Wow, I don’t remember doing this at all! Did I learn this?”

“Of course you did!” Barbara laughed. “I made sure you aced this subject too! It wouldn’t give me a lot of credibility as a teacher if you failed anything!” Stacy also laughed, and then Barbara conversed, “So, how was work?”

Stacy sat at the foot of her parents’ bed and told her, “They moved me to women’s formal, and girls are already beginning to shop for prom. They try on hundreds of dresses on and don’t hang any of the rejects up, but if I spend too much time in the dressing room, I get yelled at. Then, when I put them back, I couldn’t find the exact spot where the go-backs went, and they got mad because I took too long. I just started finding racks with similar colors to the item I had and just put them there. Close enough! That was my first time in that section; they could get speed or accuracy, not both!”

Barbara remarked “That’s probably why the girls’ dresses were so messy on your first day there.”

“True,” Stacy agreed. “But if someone went back and fixed what I mixed up, I wouldn’t get mad. So, why did I get yelled at?”

“Don’t overthink it,” Barbara advised. “Some people’s actions just aren’t rational and you’ll hurt yourself trying to make them sound reasonable!”

Stacy tittered, and then she yawned. “I’m gonna go take a nap.” As soon as she got up, she saw the mail come through the slot on the door. “Correction, I’m gonna get the mail, and if nothing is for me, then I’m gonna take a nap!”

Stacy stooped down and collected the letters on the floor. She didn’t expect to get anything, but she saw something from the IRS with her name on it. “Oh, I guess my mail forwarding went through. I forgot about my tax return!” She handed her mother the rest of the mail as she opened hers up. When she saw the check, she reacted pleasantly, “Nice!”

“you should treat yourself,” Barbara suggested. “What is something you want but couldn’t get before?”

The next day, Frank escorted Stacy into a divorce lawyer’s office. The waiting room was fairly small, but it had a very nice set of furniture. Stacy and Frank sat on the opposite side of the room from a couple that didn’t talk or make eye contact with each other. The only sound came from the secretary, who had been typing up something on a computer. Stacy softly said to her father, “Thanks for coming with me!”

“No problem!” Frank told her genially. “Thanks for getting me away from my honey-do list!”

“No problem!” Stacy chuckled.

“Miss Alyson?” the secretary summoned. “Mister Dorsey will see you now.” Frank and Stacy got up and went through the door next to the secretary’s window.

Mister Dorsey had a cozy but posh office, and the man himself had a nice suit but a very relaxed demeanor. He looked about her father’s age, Stacy thought, as he read over her file. When he finished, he stated, “I don’t understand.”

“What do you mean?” Stacy inquired.

Mister Dorsey elaborated, “You signed a prenup and could collect a decent settlement from him. You could even argue for alimony, but you want nothing from him?”

Stacy explained, “I want my independence! I don’t want anything in my life that he could take credit for! Anything he gives me would give him a reason to claim ownership over me! I want a clean slate, totally free of any ties to him! I just wanna break free and move on with nothing to remind me of him except for a few bad memories!”

Mister Dorsey seemed a little surprised still, but he accepted her explanation. “Well, this should make the process pretty simple.”

“You would think so!” Stacy muttered. “But my husband doesn’t want me to go. There’s no love for him left in me, but despite that, he still doesn’t want to let go!”

“He’s still in love?” Mister Dorsey asked.

“I don’t think so,” Stacy answered. “Not for me anyways. He’s in love with himself and his ego. He doesn’t want the stigma of a divorce, especially one where he was in the wrong and his wife left him ’cause he messed up!”

Mister Dorsey probed, “If you don’t mind me asking, what did he do that was so horrible?”

Stacy admitted, “He hit me.”

“Wow!” Mister Dorsey reacted. “Then for sure it’s over!” Stacy smiled gratefully knowing that he understood. “Good for you for having the courage to leave after that! I can’t tell you how many women choose to stay and take the abuse!”

“Really?” Stacy replied. “It can’t be that many!”

“Oh, there’s hundreds!” Mister Dorsey informed her. “Across the country, there’s thousands! You’re lucky you got out when you did! So many women who go through it don’t recover.”

“That’s true!” Frank agreed.

Stacy found that incredibly sad. It felt so horrible to think that so many women put up with it to the point of no return! She mulled over different ways that she could help victims of domestic violence, but Mister Dorsey interrupted her train of thought, “Okay, I’m going to send someone to serve him your petition for divorce. He’ll have his lawyers go over it, and they may file objections to it. If that’s the case, we’ll have to go to court. The whole process should take a few months.”

“That’s fine.” Stacy had already figured it would take a while, and she kind of counted on it so she could have more time to save up to pay the funds.

Mister Dorsey slid his card across his desk. “Give me a call if you have any questions. Until then, we’ll keep you informed of any updates.”

“Thank you so much!” Stacy stood up and shook his hand. Frank did the same before they left.

The next day, Stacy met up with Nick at his work again. He brought his guitar and played her the song ‘Motor Run’ again. It had a classic stadium rock type of beat, so she could see it becoming a chart topping hit for sure after hearing it. She tried not to get too turned on by his singing and the possible motivation behind his music, but it became very hard to keep that thought hidden! When he finished playing, she complimented him, “Whew! That’s hot!”

“You really think so?” Nick seemed pleased that she thought highly of his work.

Stacy gave him a half-scolding look. “Have I lied to you yet?”

Nick smiled. “I hope not!”

Stacy smiled back, but then she said seriously, “I was thinking… Maybe your next song could help raise awareness of people in abusive relationships.”

Nick contemplated this notion. “Not a bad idea. Would you mind if I wrote about your experience?”

“That’s fine,” Stacy complied. “I was talking to a divorce lawyer, and he told me how there’s so many women out there who go through the same thing I did. I thought I had gotten myself in into a rare situation, but apparently not! It’s sickeningly common, but if I felt alone in my experience, lots of other women must feel like that too. I wanna do something to help!”

“No one should feel alone, especially on a thing like that! Hmm… something about not being alone…” Nick thought out loud. “It could help people who haven’t gone through it reach out to people who have.”

“Exactly!” Stacy relished how they got on the same wave length about her idea.

Nick pulled out his notepad and readied himself to start writing. “Okay, tell me the story of everything you went through with Hadeon.”

Stacy took a deep breath and thought back to the beginning. She suddenly became overwhelmed with emotion, and tears began to well up. She didn’t understand why, she thought she had gotten past that point and could talk about it. “Hey, it’s alright!” Nick assured her. He stood up and gave her a hug. She found him intensely comforting as she began sobbing onto his shoulders, and, for a moment, everything seemed right in the world…

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 14

No way!” Stacy exclaimed as they made their way towards Charlie’s memorial. They were heading towards the bench she sat on to listen to the live music that comforted her when she needed it, and it seemed like an incredible coincidence to find Charlie’s memorial plaque on it! She ran up to it, and saw that the golden letters read: “In memory of Private First Class Charles D. Morgan.” Stacy told Nick, “I’ve sat here so often, and I had no idea that…”

Stacy had trailed off, but Nick seemed to understand where she was going with that thought. This bench made it possible for Stacy to have heard Nick perform that day, and so, in a way, Charlie had brought the two of them together! Of course, Stacy had no idea where their relationship was heading, but she thought that this memorial bore a good sign of things yet to come. Nick smiled bashfully, and then he suggested, “We should get started.”

Nick took his guitar out of the case, and Stacy used it to prop up the sign she made. Nick stood on the bench as if it were a stage, and people began to take notice. As Nick began to play, people stopped in their tracks. The longer it went, the bigger that this crowd grew. Stacy felt pleased that they all seemed to enjoy as deeply as she did. A couple of people were even brought to tears! When he finished, his audience clapped and even whistled. Many people put money into his guitar case, and a few even came to voice their appreciation for his music. Nick looked elated, and Stacy beamed with pride.

When Nick hopped off the bench, the two of them celebrated their victory. Nick cried out, “That was incredible!”

“You did great!” Stacy complimented. “I think they would’ve stuck around for another song if you had one!”

“Actually, I have been working on another song,” Nick revealed.

“Really?” Stacy reacted incredulously.

“Yeah,” Nick confirmed. “It’s been over a decade since I’ve felt compelled to write one, so when the old instincts kicked in, I had to do it!”

“What’s the song about?” Stacy inquired with immense curiosity.

Nick hesitated, and his face twisted as if he were debating how to phrase his answer. He came up with, “It’s totally different than Charlie’s song. This one is more fun. It talks about how a guy feels about this woman he met.”

Stacy tried not to blush upon hearing that. She supposed he could have wrote something about Janet, but she hadn’t inspired him to write anything in seven years. Stacy came along and encouraged him to purse his passion, so it seemed logical that she stirred up his creative side and became the focus of her song! He didn’t say it had any kind of romantic tone to it, but based on how he said it, she inferred that it had an amorous theme to it. If he wrote something negative about anyone, she felt certain he would have told her that more plainly. She knew though she could only speculate so far and would have to hear the song to know for sure. “When can I hear it?”

“How about Friday?” Nick inquired.

“Ugh, no,” Stacy replied dismally. “I have to work the next two days. Are you free at all this weekend?”

Nick regretfully informed her, “I gotta do all of the odds and ends around the house that his nurse won’t do doing the week, like taking care of the yard or doing repairs around the house, stuff that usually takes all day. I guess we’ll have to wait ’til Monday.”

Stacy piped up, “Do you want some help this weekend?”

Nick looked stunned that she would even consider that notion. “It’s a lot of hard work, and Dad is usually pretty grumpy. Janet won’t even come over to help anymore.”

“I gotta deal with grumpy customers at Emporia all day,” Stacy assured him. “I can handle one more. Maybe if you had some help, you can actually finish quicker and have some free time this weekend!”

“Wow, that would be great!” Nick looked touched at her offer. “Yeah, that’d be great! Thanks!”

“No problem! I’m happy to help!” She grinned at him, and he very gratefully gave her a hug. Stacy relished this moment as she had the last time he embraced her, but neither of them lingered for very long. When they broke apart, they headed back towards his truck. “It might not be such a chore. Sometimes these things are fun if you work with someone who makes it more entertaining.”

“That’s true!” Nick acknowledged. He and Stacy happily chatted as they got into his truck. At some point, Stacy noted that she had planned to search for jobs that had more of a future than Emporia that weekend, and now she may not have time. She remembered the last time she had doubts about her time with Nick and quickly vanquished that thought. Besides, she absolutely had to hear his new song!

The next day, right after Stacy clocked in, she ran into Gloria in the break room. Stacy greeted her, “Heading home?”

As she clocked out, Gloria responded, “Yeah, I gotta babysit my granddaughter. So, in other words, I’m leaving work to do more work.”

Stacy commented, “Wow, you’re a grandmother? No way!”

“I get that a lot!” Gloria chuckled. “I had my kids young and so did my daughter.”

At that moment, Ava popped her head in and growled, “What are you doing? If you clocked in, you can’t hang out in the break room!”

“She was going over the proper clock in procedure,” Stacy fibbed. “Apparently, I did it wrong the other day, and I thought it was important information to learn.”

Ava glared at her as if she knew Stacy had made that story up, but she couldn’t prove it, so she dashed out of the room without saying another word. Stacy and Gloria walked out too, and Gloria asked her, “You’re closing tonight?” Stacy nodded. “Good luck!” Gloria parted ways with her at that point, which left Stacy with so many questions. From her tone, she knew it couldn’t be an indication of anything good, so she sighed and headed towards the sales floor.

Later, at the end of the evening, Stacy folded a stack of tee shirts in a zombie-like trance. Ava came by and sharply probed, “Weren’t you working on that display two hours ago?”

“Nope,” Stacy replied sarcastically. “We were so busy today that I’ve only had time to work on this table once!” Ava eyed her suspiciously, but before she could say anything else, Stacy’s watch beeped. “Ah, saved by the bell. See you tomorrow!”

Stacy began to head to the break room, but Ava stopped her. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Uh, home…” Stacy didn’t understand Ava’s motive for asking her that, but she knew it couldn’t have been good.

Ava corrected her, “When you close, you don’t get to leave until you’re dismissed. Every department has to be clean before you can clock out.”

Stacy felt shocked at this new policy. They certainly didn’t implement this rule when she worked here before, but maybe it had something to do with her being a minor at the time. Her parents certainly wouldn’t have let her work too late when she was in high school! She became indignant that a workplace could keep their employees past their scheduled time, but she couldn’t argue because she needed this job to pay for her divorce. She did think of one issue though, which she voiced to Ava, “It won’t take too long, will it? I only ask because I take the bus, and the last bus of the day leaves at nine-thirty…”

“It’ll take as long as it’s gonna take!” Ava spat. “If you wanna catch your bus, you better clean up fast! Go to the shoe department, they need help.”

Stacy anguished from losing the feeling of getting to go home, and the pain got worse when she stepped off the escalator and saw the state of the shoe department- it was in total disarray! Shoes and boxes littered the floor, and many items looked like they were mismatched or missing. Stacy groaned. She had done a lot of standing around since there weren’t many customers that day, so her legs were very sore. Plus, once again, she didn’t have time to finish her lunch. Her stomach panged for food, and while she began putting shoes in boxes, she inwardly griped about how small of a lunch break she got. Suddenly, that gave her an idea…

Shortly before nine-thirty, Stacy made sure to pass Ava on her way out. Ava raged, “Hey, you can’t leave! I haven’t dismissed anyone yet!”

Stacy pointed out, “I didn’t have a lunch, so I have to leave before I hit the six and a half hour mark or else you guys will get penalized, right?”

Ava grew positively livid, but instead of yelling, she talked in a very menancing tone, “Okay, you can go, but next time you close, you better take a lunch!” Stacy swiftly turned away from her without promising her anything. She thought of the sheer audacity of her getting angry over Stacy breaking a rule she knew nothing about, but she didn’t stay on that thought too long because she was fighting the clock to catch her bus. All she could think about was getting out of there as fast as she could!

She raced outside, but before she could get close to the bus stop, she saw it take off without her! She felt very defeated, and she sadly dragged herself over to a pay phone so she could call her parents. She put in a dime, but when she tried to dial, nothing happened. She had the machine return her coin and tried again. When the same thing happened, she couldn’t understand why it was acting like that and after such a long day, the last thing she needed was a broken pay phone and no money to catch a cab. She took a deep breath to calm down, which made her finally notice the sticker that indicated that it costed a quarter to make a call now, and she cried out in frustration.

After she found a quarter and made the call, she got a hold of her mother. “Hey, Mom! They made me work late, so I missed my bus. Can you pick me up?…Thanks! See you soon!” Stacy sat down on a nearby bench to wait for her parents and tried to decompress. She heard some music blasting from a nearby restaurant, and its catchy tune made her cheer up a little. She then thought that maybe Nick was right, maybe it she should go for a career in music!

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 9

Nick’s good looks may have made her nervous, but when it came to marketing, she felt significantly more confident. Hadeon may have been a terrible husband, but he had a genius for his craft. The one good thing about him getting overly obsessed with his job was that he dragged her along for everything, so she learned a lot. She took out a notebook and pen from her purse and already wrote down some notes. ‘You said you had a band in high school. What kind of songs did you do?”

Nick recalled, “We wanted to be the next Rolling Stones, but our songs were a little more age appropriate. We wrote one called ‘Homework Rebellion,’ for example.” Nick laughed at his memories. “Teachers hated us, but the other students thought we were bad asses!” Nick grinned at the nostalgia that came to him right then.

Stacy grinned too, and then she observed, “So, you guys wrote your own music! How much of that did you personally contribute?”

Nick told her, “It was a group effort, but our best stuff came from me and Charlie. He was our drummer and my best friend. We worked on our music a lot more than our schoolwork!” He smiled fondly as he reminisced, but he soon started to frown. “I wish we paid more attention in school! Maybe if we had, we could’ve gotten accepted into college and Charlie would have avoided the draft…” He could tell Stacy wanted to follow up about that, so he elaborated, “After high school, Charlie and I both wanted to move to the city where we could get discovered, but we were both broke. We both took up jobs here at Gilmar’s, and we got through the awful work days by dreaming about what our lives would be like once we made it big. We kept the band going for a while, but eventually, with all of our different work schedules, the band drifted apart, so it was just me and him still working on our music. Charlie and I always thought we would form a band and get famous before we got considered for the draft, but, obviously, that didn’t happen. Charlie got drafted and sent to ‘Nam. I begged them to draft me too, I wanted out of this town so bad! In our letters, we still dreamt about making it big when he got back. But then, one day, Charlie’s mom called me and told me… Charlie wasn’t coming back!” He got choked up at this point, but after a moment, he lamented, “I wish we hadn’t focused on silly dreams so much! If we had a back up plan, maybe Charlie wouldn’t have…”

“It’s not your fault!” Stacy reached across and pat his shoulders comfortingly. “The draft went on ’til seventy-three, so Charlie could have gotten drafted after graduation.”

“That’s true,” Nick acknowledged.

“My mom always said everything happens for a reason,” Stacy narrated. “My ex-husband ran to Canada after high school. He claims he was a conscientious objector, but truthfully, he was just being a coward. But if he didn’t chicken out, he wouldn’t have blown away his trust fund, which forced him to move into his uncle’s garage in Nashville. He started his business there, and ten years later, it’s one of the most successful businesses around! Maybe Charlie had to go to Vietnam ’cause they needed a hero.”

“He was a hero!” Nick remarked. “I still wish he didn’t go! I miss him!” He paused and added, “Do you love him?”

“Charlie?” Stacy puzzled.

“NO,” Nick clarified, “I mean, do you still love your ex-husband?”

“Oh! No.” Stacy searched inwardly to verify her initial reaction. “After what he did, there’s no going back.” She could tell he wanted to ask what he did, so she revealed, “He hit me!”

“No!” It took a while for Nick to absorb this, and when he did, his fists tensed up. “That bastard!” His expression softened when he turned back to Stacy. “How often did he do that?”

“That was the first time. Honestly, in more than five years, he’s never done that!” she told him. “I left ’cause if he did it once, he’ll do it again and I’m not gonna walk on eggshells for the rest of my life just to make sure I don’t make him do it again!”

You don’t make him do it again?” Nick cried out. “You aren’t responsible for his actions! Even if you pissed him off, that’s not an excuse! Unless a woman holds a gun to his f’ing head, there’s no excuse to hit a woman! Ever!”

This visibly moved Stacy. She had her hand on her heart, and she was near tears. His logic flowed with her initial view on the matter, but that manager as well as her own doubts on the situation made her question this. She often wondered if it had been her fault or if she had been wrong in same way on the matter, but Nick was completely right, nothing she had done deserved his abuse! She felt heartened that she had an ally who backed her up on this. “I had an interview at Stereo Hut the other day, and the manager made it seem like it was all my fault!”

Nick immediately commented, “Well, we’re never shopping there again!” Stacy gave him an appreciative smile, and Nick emphasized, “I mean it! I’m not gonna go into a business that thinks that you had a perfectly happy marriage and, for no reason, you decided to destroy it and run away from paradise!”

“It’s true! That was exactly how he acted!” Stacy laughed in the ridiculousness of the topic. “Our marriage wasn’t paradise, thing were getting bad for a while. I thought eventually we’d work through our issues, but I don’t think he thought anything was wrong. I felt miserable for a long time, so eventually, if he hadn’t hit me, I would’ve had enough. At some point, you gotta consider your own needs ’cause your happiness matters!”

“Yeah…” Nick hesitantly agreed.

“Your happiness matters too,” Stacy reminded him.

Nick sighed, “This is different! This is a huge risk!”

“No, it’s not!” Stacy respectfully disagreed. “You’re playing music. If you make it big, you’ll be really happy. If you don’t, you’ll still enjoy the process. It’s not like you’re enrolling in the police academy like my dad did. He risks his life every time he goes on patrol, but he does it ’cause it’s what he loves. If he picked safety, he would be completely depressed his whole life! Imagine him going from graduation to retirement like that! His work is dangerous, but he’s lived his life without regret. The only thing you need to worry about is living your life with regret!”

“Okay, so I’m nos happy working in the factory,” Nick confessed. “But I do have a family to worry about. This isn’t fun for me, but they’re taken care of. What if this music thing ends up hurting them?”

Stacy almost pointed out that it seemed unlikely that this could hurt his family, but then she realized, “Wait a second, this is about Charlie, isn’t it? Last time you set out on this path, you lost someone important to you. You’re pursuing this ‘normal’ life ’cause you’re worried if you take a chance again, you’ll lose someone else!”

Nick mulled it over and came to the conclusion, “Yeah, I guess it’s true. I mean, that’s part of the reason anyways. I spent most of my adult life trying to squash the urge to sing and play to an audience, but I can’t help myself, it always resurfaces. Like earlier in the month, we went to visit her grandparents and I snuck away ’cause I saw a recording studio nearby. I had a great time, but it was selfish. Janet had to take time off work right near tax day ’cause her grandfather’s dying and it was his birthday. I should’ve been there for her more! I mean, her grandfather did throw me out, but still…”

“He threw you out?” Stacy responded. “What do you think you were supposed to do? Just wait outside for hours?”

“She ended up not staying that long,” he remarked. “She went looking for me and couldn’t find me. She talked her grandfather into letting me come back, but when I disappeared, that blew it. I shouldn’t have ran off, but I didn’t think he’d invite me back, the guy hates my guts! I went for a walk to blow off some steam, and I saw the recording studio there, and it was just calling me! I thought that after spending all my time helping other people, I deserved to see it! I work all day, spend all night with her, and help my dad on the weekends, I never get to do anything for myself! So I thought, here’s my chance! It felt great! Well, until she found me and we fought.”

“That’s the argument I had with my husband before we split!” Stacy related. “I was late for something I had to do for this big party, and I was wrong for doing so, but if I got to do what I wanted to do more often, that wouldn’t have happened. I didn’t regret what I did, and I guess he felt like I should live only to please him. I was tired of living like that.”

“You have a point,” Nick admitted. “I may have went about it the wrong way, but it wouldn’t have happened if I just made a little more time for what I love. Music isn’t gonna leave me no matter how hard I try! My family may not understand it, but if I don’t do it and keep spending my life trying to make everyone else happy except for me, I’m gonna lose it! I gotta do this! I keep worrying about something happening to them, but what if I don’t and something happens to me? I hope nothing happens to them, of course, but I’m committed to this!”

“Good!” Stacy nodded in approval.

Nick took a deep breath and released. “Wow, this conversation got real deep!”

“That’s ’cause we’re talking about music, and, for you, that’s your heart and soul!” Stacy affirmed. “I mean, I’m no shrink, but I hope you’re comfortable opening up to me. It’s gonna help me help you develop really meaningful lyrics and melodies. It’s not gonna make your pain go away, but it’ll help it become something beautiful. Like, losing your best friend, that’s a great topic for a song!”

“I did make a song about it,” Nick disclosed. “I took a song we wrote in high school, ‘Pay Attention,’ and I slowed down the tempo, changed it into a ballad, and made it about Charlie. Instead of making fun of teachers, I talked about how we get so distracted in our own lives that we don’t savor the time we have with people who matter most to us. If you don’t pay attention, you could miss out and you may not ever get another chance! Back then, I didn’t know how else to react to his death other than music. I was still in the habit from when he was alive.”

“That song sounds amazing!” Stacy exclaimed, and then she requested, “Can I hear it?”

“That was so long ago!” Nick reacted. “What makes you think I even remember it?”

Stacy gave him a playfully reproachful look. “You heard the song ‘Run to You’ once, and not only did you remember every word but you taught the music to that band! You have an amazing memory! So, let’s hear it!”

Nick relented, “Okay, okay, I’ll do it!” Stacy waited with mounting anticipation as he mentally prepared himself to sing…

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 22

His presence alone set off alarm bells in her head, but as he got closer, Gwynivara could tell from his grim expression that Riley had devastating news for her. “What happened?” She almost didn’t want to know the answer. She almost turned away and covered her ears. She didn’t know how much more stress she could take right now!

Riley, clearly still harboring some adrenaline from what just happened, told her, “They were followed!”

Gwynivara understood what he said perfectly, but her mind blocked the information from getting totally comprehended. She didn’t know how to respond, but luckily, she didn’t have to since Bernadette spoke up first, “By the police?”

“Yes!” Riley confirmed. “The officers thought they were alone, but when they got into the catacombs, they heard footsteps behind them. The policeman almost paged for back up, so Max had to shoot him! I was door guard and heard the whole thing, but I didn’t know what to do except to find you immediately! Are we in trouble?”

Gwynivara rubbed her forehead and tried to think. So much information just got relayed to her, and her head was still reeling from everything else that just happened. To clarify the facts of the situation, she asked, “Is the cop dead?”

Riley answered, “He wasn’t moving when I saw him, but I didn’t check his pulse or anything, so I don’t know.”

Gwynivara darted off instantly upon hearing this. The others tried to stop her, but she ignored them as she made a beeline towards the catacombs. They knew this was a battle they were going to lose though, so they trailed behind her and kept watch. She found the policeman slumped on the floor, motionless. A number of Rebels had gathered with expressions that conveyed confusion, fear, and curiosity. Gwynivara put two fingers to his neck as she heard his radio page him, “Officer Macanta, are you still in pursuit in the graveyard?”

Gwynivara’s spirits sunk hearing that, but it ligthened a little to feel a pulse. “He’s still alive!”

Should I…?” Max timidly asked her. “I mean, should someone finish…?”

“No!” Gwynivara asserted firmly. “Absolutely not!”

But he knows about our headquarters!” John objected.

“We’re not killing him!” Gwynivara exclaimed. “The point of the Rebellion is to find a cure so we can make the world a safer place. The origin is trying to kill everyone on Earth; if we execute him, we’re no better than them! We won’t sink to their level! Get this man out of the catacombs and call for help!”

The Rebels realized she was completely right and hastily picked up the policeman. As they carried him out, the police radio dispatch paged him again, “Officer Macanta, we need you to copy!”

Most of the others seemed to think the issue was resolved until they saw Bernadette, Kierram, and Gwynivara’s faces. Bernadette stood frozen as if she had seen a ghost. Kierram began pacing and periodically cursing. Gwynivara’s head fell into her hands. It took a while to sink in, but once it did, it crushed her. Everything they worked so hard for…This was their home…was…She didn’t want to say it, saying it would make it real. She craned her head up to see the Rebels trying to figure out what was wrong, so she knew she had to steel herself up to help them. Very hollowly, she addressed the others, “We need to evacuate headquarters immediately!”

Everyone got completely shocked to hear this. Cody was the first to speak, “Why? They won’t find him here, so the problem is solved, isn’t it?”

It was hard enough to say it the first time, and Gwynivara had to muster up the strength to say it again. Before she did, Kierram stepped up and answered, “Whether or not the cop lives to tell, the police know something happened in the graveyard. They know fugitives are in the area, and it’s only a matter of time before they search the area. They’ll figure it out eventually. We can’t stay here.”

Everyone began to object, and Gwynivara totally understood why they were upset. She gave them a moment, and then she loudly told everyone, “Listen! Listen! No one wants to go. I certainly don’t. This was our home, and it hurts like hell to leave, to abandon a place that was so good to us, but we got to go. If we stay, they’ll catch us and it’ll be the end of the Rebellion. We’re still in it, the mission will still continue, just not here.”

“But,” Rebekah sobbed, “where will we go?”

“We’ll figure it out,” Gwynivara reassured her. Truthfully, she had no idea where she would hide this many people, but she was sure something would turn up.

At that moment, Bernadette made a noise of utter reluctance. “I’ll have to give her a call!”

Everyone stared at her questioningly. Gwynivara asked, “Her? Who is she?”

Kierram and Gwynivara walked up to the address Bernadette had given them and got a jolt of surprise when they saw it. They knew it would have ample enough space to house the entire Rebellion, but they weren’t prepared to see a small mansion! It was only two stories, but it spread pretty far like a giant brick. Its pastel pink color reminded them of a Barbie’s dream house, but the ivy covering the exterior, fall leaves spread across the lawn, and the short, mossy fence surrounding it gave the place an abandoned feel. A woman with dark skin, an elaborate pink sun hat, and designer clothes walked outside the house and received them, “Welcome to the Ashling Boarding House! Come on in!”

Once they were inside, the lady who greeted them took off her hat, and when Gwynivara got a better glimpse of her face, she could instantly tell that they had just met Bernadette’s mother! They looked exactly alike except for the eyes. Her mother’s eyes were shrewd-looking and gave off none of the warmth that Bernadette’s did. Gwynivara remembered that Bernadette had been so reluctant to contact her, and suddenly she got a very strange vibe from this woman as if she were putting on a show to hide something dark. She gave her a very toothy smile and extended her hand. “Agnes Ashling!”

“I’m Gwyn.” Gwynivara shook her hand and noticed how strong her grip grasped her hand.

“Kierram.” As he shook her hand, Gwynivara could tell he had the same impression of her that she got.

Since they needed her space to house the Rebels, Gwynivara wanted to maintain a friendly relationship with her, so she said graciously, “Thank you so much for letting us use your home!”

“Actually, it’s my second home,” Agnes remarked. “I bought it shortly after my husband’s death. I was so emotional that I just couldn’t be around people, too dangerous!” Kierram and Gwynviara exchanged confused glances, so Agnes clarified, “I have it too. Venenatus Sanguis, I mean.”

Whatever they had expected to hear, it wasn’t that. Kierram inquired, “No one has ever…?”

“Never!” Agnes replied. “The only ones who knew were my family. I’m usually too busy to get too emotional. Feelings have no place in the business world! But if I need a release, I come here.” She glanced at her watch and informed them, “Oh, I have another arrival. Bernadette is waiting for you upstairs. Excuse me!”

They found Bernadette rearranging a closet in a small bedroom that had two twin beds in it. Bernadette kept working, but she told Gwynivara, “I hope you don’t mind, but I started pairing people up as roommates. Figured I’d save you some time.”

“It doesn’t bother me, but I can’t speak for Riley. That’s really more of his thing!” Gwynivara kind of joked but not really.

Bernadette grinned. “There! There’s enough room for your stuff now.” She saw Gwynivara’s surprised reaction and explained, “Everyone has to share a room, and I figured it made sense to pair up the only two female officers. And this room is so small that it’ll just be us in here. Everyone else has at least four to a room thanks to all of the bunk beds already here. Apparently it really was a boarding house at one point, so we got lucky there!”

“Yeah, lucky me, a bunk bed!” Kierram commented sardonically.

“What do you care? You don’t sleep anyways!” Gwynivara teased him.

Kierram tried to hide his smile. “Touché!”

From downstairs, Agnes shouted, “Bernadette! Riley is here! He said he’s gonna take care of the rooms now!”

Bernadette completely cringed when she heard her voice, but she composed herself before she replied, “Okay, great!” She shook off her feelings as she started making her bed.

Gwynivara and Kierram were both thinking it, but Kierram was the first to ask her, “What happened between you two?”

Reluctantly, Bernadette answered, “You know how I said my dad got murdered? They questioned one of his workers that witnesses played on the scene. Daddy was a landlord, and he used to help the community by giving homeless men a place to live in exchange for handyman work. The guy who killed him was a drug addict trying to get clean, so police chalked it up to ‘That’s what crackheads do,” as if he relapsed and just went nuts. The case never went to trial ‘cause the judge claimed that they couldn’t establish a motive. Before Daddy died, he and my mom were arguing. He kept our secret, but it was getting harder to hide, especially since my mom is an emotional basket case and would sprout beasts left and right. He controlled our money to really limit how much my mom left the house. She hated that and threw a fit if he said no to her request. A week before he got shot, she had a huge blow out with him, and he threatened to send her to quarantine. She kept muttering ‘I’ve got to do something! I’ve got to do something!’ I had a real bad feeling before I went on that yacht party, her behavior was just so odd! That murderer roaming the streets right now had a motive alright, she paid him to do it! She had motive to have him killed! The police questioned her but couldn’t prove anything with her either!” She stopped to take a deep breath and collect herself. “She did it! I know she did! I hate the fact I need her help right now!”

Kierram and Gwynivara listened to the story in astonishment. Gwynivara couldn’t imagine what she went through to have her father, whom she seemed to love very much, get murdered, but to think that her mother was responsible for it must have been unbearable! Based on her first impression of Agnes, she believed Bernadette, but she didn’t express this. Unfortunately, they had nowhere else to go right now, so they would have to pretend it wasn’t true for a while. She didn’t express this though, she didn’t have to. She knew that Bernadette knew all of this. Instead, she stated, “Well, we won’t have to be here for too long. I think I know the origin’s location!”

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 20

Once again, we have gathered here to honor the fallen,” a clergyman, who stood at the head of the ceremony room, addressed the crowded room of Rebels. “Another officer has tragically lost their life in the line of duty. It is a hurt that never gets any easier, and today, we must take a moment to let our hearts bleed for him. Losing a member of our community aches as much as losing a string to our heart. Time may heal our wounds, but the scars will last forever. We will never fully heal, but we will make sure that those who sacrificed their life for this cause did not die in vain! We will not stop until we find the cure! Only then will the perished rest in peace! Today, Kennith joins the souls who also died for the mission, and his spirit will watch over us as long as we live. In a way, he never left us. Still, today we gather to say goodbye to his Earthly presence. Let us take a moment of silence for a final farewell.” Gwynivara and the others all bowed their heads, staring at the candles in their hands. After an appropriate amount of time had passed, the clergyman went on, “Thank you, Kennith, for all you’ve done for us as well as mankind. Your efforts will not get forgotten.” A tear rolled down Gwynivara’s cheeks from both the clergyman’s words and the people who gathered here for Kennith today. Kennith was no saint, but his life meant something. The clergyman concluded, “We each hold a candle symbolizing life, and we will each take turns placing them into the fireplace. Our flame may tarnish, but it then becomes part of something greater that does some good for the world. We will honor Kennith’s life in this way and pray that our own flames within stay burning brightly to carry on the wishes of the fallen.” One by one, everyone put their candles into large fireplace behind the clergyman. The combination of his words and a growing fire left everyone feeling warm.

After the service, Gwynivara sat glumly at stone table setup outside of the kitchen. She stared at the orb, wondering why it changed from glowing purple to green. Riley and Bernadette abruptly sat down at the table in front of her. She came out of her funk just as Bernadette inquired, “Any new movement?”

“The creature never seems to visit the same place twice,” Gwynivara replied. “It’s a smart strategy on their part; if it was kept in a place over and over again, eventually someone will notice. Eventually, they’ll take it to a remote location, I know they will! I highly doubt the origin will risk leaving their stronghold to go into our territory, so eventually the henchmen will go to her. I was hoping they would go there straight after the incident, but I guess I have no choice but to stay patient.”

Riley remarked, “Don’t you hate it when the enemy is smart? Though I suppose if they weren’t, we would have gotten them a long time ago!”

Gwynivara chuckled, “Yeah, that would’ve been nice!”

Cody came over carrying a map, which he plopped in front of Riley. “I looked up the addresses you gave me in the phone book. None of them popped as businesses except for one- the Addleson Apple Orchard.”

“The apple orchard?” Riley cried out.

His response peaked Cody’s interest. “Why? What does that mean?”

“Nothing. I just love that place.” Upon seeing Cody’s crestfallen expression, Riley told him, “By the way, good work!”

Overhearing the last part of the conversation, Rebekah commented, “Oh, Cody, I didn’t know you were an officer!”

Cody was about to deny it, but Riley stepped on his foot to stop him. “Oh yeah, he’s been a huge asset to our administrative efforts! Plus, he’s in charge of weapons distribution!”

“Yeah, I am,” Cody responded bashfully. “But they make my job sound way more important than it actually is!”

“But it is important!” Rebekah disagreed in a very admiring tone. “Without our weapons, we couldn’t fight back! So, how do you decide who gets what?”

Riley took the reins of the conversation and said, “Oh, I’m sure he’d love to explain it to you! Here, you two take a seat. We gotta go do the thing…!”

“Oh yes, the thing!” Bernadette played along.

“Yeah, we gotta do the thing!” Gwynivara chimed in.

The three of them got up as Cody, who now seemed pretty pleased with himself, described to Rebekah the process of renting out weapons. Riley, Bernadette, and Gwynivara got to a spot well out of their immediate eyesight, turned back, and watched the scene unfold for a moment. Both of them were smiling broadly while maintaining constant eye contact. “Aw, they’re flirting!” Riley noted delightfully. “Is it cool that I made Cody an officer so he could pick up a chick?”

Gwynivara grinned. “It’s fine. But don’t do that again!”

“Well, obviously!” Riley saw Gwynivara’s face, which portrayed some playfulness but did raise her eyebrows. “And by that I mean yes ma’am!”

Gwynivara and Bernadette giggled. Rebekah and Cody glanced in their direction, so they all scattered to pretend they weren’t staring. At the fork, Riley had gone left towards the training room while Gwynivara went right towards her room. Bernadette fell into her footfall and remarked, “They’re so cute!”

“Yeah,” Gwynivara agreed, “They both obviously like each other. It’s about time they admitted their feelings for each other and become a couple!” After she spoke, she realized that she was walking alone. When she looked back, she saw Bernadette staring hard at her, saying without words ‘Really?’ Gwynivara, now confused, asked, “What?”

Bernadette rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Seriously? That doesn’t ring a bell of truth for you?”

“Truth about what?” Gwynivara genuinely did not understand what she had been referring to.

Bernadette made a noise of slight annoyance, and then she whispered, “When are you gonna admit you have feelings for Kierram?”

Gwynivara nearly had a heart attack from the shock of her accusation. She couldn’t understand how Bernadette even came up with that theory, but the thought of it made her feel a very awkward pressure. “Ugh, I don’t feel anything for him except for a close friendship.”

Bernadette clearly didn’t believe her. “This is a little deeper than friendship. When you talk about him, you smile-.”

“I do?” Gwynivara reacted in surprise.

“Yes!” Bernadette insisted. “And you always find reasons to get close to each other.”

“Only as part of the mission! It’s important to partner up with someone you feel comfortable enough to get close to,” Gwynivara refuted.

“I think you wanna get a little closer than that!” Bernadette said slyly.

“Closer?” Gwynivara puzzled. “We were literally standing against each other! How can we get closer than…?” She caught on to what she meant mid-sentence and blushed furiously. “No! No! No! I’ve never thought about him like that!”

“Maybe you should!” Bernadette suggested. “He is pretty handsome.”

“Well, yeah…” Gwynivara felt a slight temptation to explore the idea of it, but she halted that thought immediately. “No! I’m his superior! That’s not very professional!”

Bernadette teased her, “Your knees are getting weak!”

To her horror, Bernadette was completely right, but Gwynivara would never admit it to her. Instead, she scanned the area to find an excuse to get out of this conversation. She saw the medic coming out of the first aid station with a look of disappointment and frustration. “I should go check on him.” She didn’t look back, but she knew Bernadette was smirking from satisfaction of their conversation. She dashed away before she could say anything more.

Gwynivara approached the medic and inquired, “Are you alright?”

When the medic realized who was speaking to him, he breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, I was about to send for you. You have a difficult decision to make.”

She knew that this could mean only one thing. “No!” She ran into the first aid station to Emorick’s bedside only to see that he had lost consciousness. “No! He can’t be…!” She couldn’t finish that sentence.

“He’s not dead,” a hollow voice from behind her sounded. She turned around to see Kierram slumped in his chair and wallowing in tears. She slowly made her way over to him as he sobbed, “Not yet anyways.”

Gwynivara put a sympathetic arm on his back and pat him gently. “He could still…there’s still a chance…”

“He’s dying, you know it!” Kierram snapped a little. Gwynviara knew what kind of pai nhe was in right then, so she didn’t flinch or get offended by his temper. She continued to hold him as he wept. After a moment, Kierram lamented, “I don’t deserve any sympathy! I’m a terrible son!”

“That’s not true!” Gwynivara emphatically denied.

“I wasn’t nice to him,” Kierram went on. “I pushed him away. He wouldn’t want me here right now!” Kierram cut Gwynivara off before she could object again. “This is just like when Mom died.” Gwynivara fell silent upon hearing this. Kierram so rarely spoke about his past, so she treated this moment with reverence. “She never forgave me for following in my father’s footsteps and joining the military. She kept saying her heart couldn’t take it. Every news story about ‘Nam made her think I was hurt. Every phone call she got, she claimed she had a mini episode thinking that it was the call. I thought she was exaggerating, and she wouldn’t speak to me for years…Then one day, she had a heart attack! The doctors wouldn’t let me see her after surgery. They claim her condition was too awful for visitors, but I’m not an idiot. She told them not to let me in! I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, but maybe I didn’t deserve one after all I put her through!” Gwynivara tried to refute this, but he stopped her, “You wouldn’t understand! Your parents are still alive, and you probably have a close relationship with them. If you didn’t, you would’ve mentioned it by now, I know you would!”

Kierram had just been honest with her, so it was her turn to divulge about her past. “Actually, I’ve been avoiding the subject ‘cause it’s too painful. When I first got Venenatus Sanguis, I became a fugitive. They kept sending police to my childhood home over and over and over again. They followed them everywhere- to work, to the grocery store, the post office…They were so sure I’d meet them in secret. I couldn’t let them live like that, so I wrote them a letter telling them to change their names and get out of town. I told them not to come back until they saw a headline about the cure. They listened, and I never saw them again. I have no idea what name they go by now or where they went. I’d like ot think they went to Florida ‘cause we have family there, but really, I have no clue. That’s the whole idea though, they can’t associate with a fugitive. If I had any idea where they were, I would at least check the paper everyday just to know they’re still alive. You’re lucky you got all this time with your parents! I’d give anything just to hold them one more time!”

Kierram sniffled. “I had all this time to spend with my parents and I blew it! I pushed my mom away and then I did it again to my dad. Maybe it’s just me! Maybe I’m just too messed up! Maybe I’m just too difficult to love!”

“That’s not true,” Gwynivara stated firmly. “I…” She didn’t finish her sentence because she realized what she was about to say what she just got through denying. For a second, she wondered if it was the grief talking or if she meant it. He looked at her incredulously, and her heart raced. He was in so much turmoil, and he didn’t deserve it! She admired his character- smart, incredibly brave, so thoughtful…Her instincts wanted to shower him with affection until he healed his emotional wounds, and with that, she knew that she felt more than mere friendship for him! She didn’t say a word though, she couldn’t tell if Kierram shared this sentiment or not. Tears welled up in his eyes again, and she couldn’t help herself- she pulled him in close and held him tight as he broke down.

This tender moment got interrupted when the medic walked in and gingerly brought up, “I hate to intrude, but this is important.” Both Gwynivara and Kierram turned to face him. “Emorick probably has a blood infection. His only shot would be at a hospital. So, my question is do you wanna take a chance with an emergency room or should he spend the last of his days here?” Kierram and the medic turned to Gwynivara, who was dumbstruck. She didn’t know what to do…

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 13

So, what’s it gonna be?” Kennith challenged Gwynivara. Everyone turned to her and stared in expectation of a decision. She turned away from them, feeling overwhelmed. She had visions of the origin that she couldn’t explain. Their strong, able Rebel leader got brutally attacked and may not survive. She had just fought a bunch of beasts, and she didn’t realize it until then, but it had emotionally drained her. And before she could fully process any of it, she is suddenly placed in charge of everything! She had all of these thoughts swirling in her head so fast that she couldn’t think. She felt kind of short of breath and hunched over a little. At that moment, she felt a rugged yet warm hand gently pat her back. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that it was Kierram. She felt comforted knowing that she had his support. When she looked straight ahead, she saw Cody standing there looking weary and sort of scared. That prompted Gwynivara to put her feelings aside and do what was best for Cody.

She didn’t know if she would do half as well as Emorick at running the Rebellion, but she felt confident that she could form a logical explanation on what to do with Cody. She turned around to face the other officers. She didn’t have particularly favorable opinions of Kennith, but he did make some good points. Cody didn’t have Venenatus Sanguis, and staying in a community with dozens of people who do have it could put him in jeopardy. She didn’t like the idea of someone his age living on the streets, but he was young enough where he could still overcome these obstacles and have a real life. She felt sure that one day he would forget about this place and in time, this would become a strange memory. Gwynivara wondered how long it would take for him to forget…

Before she could make her decision, she heard Emorick strain in his sleep. She briefly speculated about what was going through his head right now. She didn’t know if he had a sense of his current surroundings or if his mind would go back to where it left off- fighting with that policeman on the playground. Suddenly, that triggered a new train of thought for her…These men had tried to kill Cody, and they left him as a witness. Gwynivara started to think out loud, “Eventually, the cops who tried to kill him will go after him again.” Kennith started to argue, but before he could get a word out, Gwyivara went on, “No, really! Maybe they initially left him there not thinking of him as a threat, but eventually, they’ll realize that he knows their secret. What’s to stop him from going to Chief Forsythe and telling him what they did?”

The others agreed that she had a point. One of them suggested, “Well, shouldn’t we let him do that? Chief Forsythe would shut down that operation, and the origin couldn’t use that ruse to spread the disease anymore!”

Since it had been fresh on her mind, Gwynivara kept thinking about Cody’s memory, which made her conclude, “Eventually, those men will catch up with Cody and ask what he did with Emorick’s body after they fled the scene ‘cause they’ll check hospital records and see that no one checked him in. At that point, they’ll figure out that Cody took him to a hideout. They could torture him and force the information out of him. As long as he’s alive, he has something they want. Once they get it, they’ll kill him. Or they’ll torture him to death for not telling them what they wanna know. Either way, both his life and ours are in danger if we have him go. Cody knows too much about the Rebellion, so he needs to stay.”

Most of the officers didn’t like the idea of Cody living in the Rebel headquarters, but they knew that Gwynivara was absolutely right, so they accepted this inevitability. One officer remarked, “I don’t even what rooms are available right now! Has anyone cleaned out Blake’s room?”

Gwynivara suggested, “He could sleep in Emorick’s room for now.”

Everyone looked at her quizzically. Another officer reacted, “But, I thought since you’re in charge that you…”

Gwynivara felt uneasy about taking Emorick’s room. She had come to terms with her leadership position, but she felt like she was merely babysitting the role. Once Emorick got better, she would happily relinquish control back to him. Moving into his room would feel like they officially gave up hope. Gwynivara felt like her sentiments would be viewed as impractical and dreaded the idea of getting argued into it. Fortunately, before she could speak, Kierram rang in, “It doesn’t make sense for her to move into my father’s room and then move back to her old room when he gets better!”

Kennith pointed out, “If we move Cody in there and Emorick gets better, we’ll have to move him out of there too.”

Bernadette conjectured, “In an emergency, Cody doesn’t have the ability to conjure anything like we do, but he is obviously decent with weapons. So, it would make sense to give him easy access to the armory.”

“You wanna put a kid in charge of the entire weapon supply?” Kennith responded skeptically.

Another officer sided with Bernadette, “He’s unbiased. He’d be fair and honest with who gives weapons to.”

“I agree,” Gwynviara piped in. “He can stay in there for now. I’m not about to move anywhere this late in the night!” She could tell she had made her point to them, but soon after she noticed the crowd still gathered in front of the first aid station, so she told the officers, “Everyone’s worried sick right now, but we can’t have the whole Rebellion get into a state of disfunction. Let’s get everyone to their rooms and then go to bed. Tomorrow is business as usual. No mater what happens, we must make sure the mission continues.”

All of the officers, even Kennith, concurred with Gwynivara. Everyone except for Gwynivara, Kierram, and Bernadette went to address the other members and began to persuade them to maintain a normal schedule during this crisis. The other three agreed to set the example for the group and headed to their rooms with Cody. As they walked down the still empty halls, Gwynivara glanced over at Kierram. His eyes still looked haunted by his dad’s unknown fate, but he seemed a little more subdued than before. She asked him, “How you doin’?”

Kierram wistfully answered, “I just can’t ‘til this is over! Then Dad and I can go back to bickering with each other.” Gwynivara snickered, and then Kierram continued, “Part of me thinks I need to be there and just watch him, like by never taking my eyes off him that he’ll stay exactly as he is. Like, if I take my eyes off him, he’ll…” He cleared his throat, unable to think of his father’s possible demise. “But I know when Dad wakes up and sees me there, he’ll be mad. He wouldn’t want me to waste my time worrying. So, I’m gonna do what I can to take care of the Rebellion for him.” He paused, and then he inquired, “How are you doing?”

They had gotten to their rooms, but Bernadette took the reins of showing Cody where he’d be staying in order for them to finish their conversation. Gwynivara knew that she could trust him, so she replied honestly, “I’m terrified; terrified that your dad is in the state he’s in, but taking over his responsibilities is equally terrifying! But there’s a consistent schedule we all follow, so really, I just have to make sure everyone follows it, right? Piece of cake! And it’s only a few hours ‘til he gets better, right?”

Neither of them said it aloud, but both of them had a feeling it wasn’t going to be that easy. Kierram simply told her, “You’re gonna be fine! I mean, you’re doing good so far!”

Gwynivara smiled. “Thanks!” For a moment, neither of them spoke, but they could both sense that each others’ emotions were running high. After a while, Gwynivara sighed, “I guess I better go inside. I definitely gotta set the right example.”

“Yeah,” Kierram responded sympathetically. “If you need anything though, you know I don’t sleep really anyway. So, feel free to bug me.”

Gwynivara laughed, “Oh, I have permission now?”

Her joke managed to crack a smile out of him. “See you in the morning, Captain!”

“Don’t call me that!” Gwynivara called after him as he opened bedroom door. He gave her a small grin before shutting the door gently. Gwynivara’s heart fluttered thinking that she had successfully helped someone feel better. It was a very satisfying feeling.

She shut her bedroom door behind her and sat down on her bed. After everything that happened and everything she was set to face, she knew there was no way she was going to get any sleep. She laid down on her bed and stared up at the ceiling, her eyes staying wide awake. She kept telling herself that everything would be fine, that everyone knew their duties and that she shouldn’t have any problems. Her nerves were still jangled and she tried to convince herself that any notion indicating that something would go wrong was simply from that. Nothing could quell her nervousness, so she kept her focus on planning out tomorrow. She had no choice but to ignore her ill feelings and hope for the best.

The next morning, Gwynivara ate her breakfast in the kitchen. She had instructed the medics to come find her immediately when Emorick’s condition had changed. She truly had hoped that as soon as she left that a medic would tap her shoulders and tell her that he woke up, so when she got a tap on her shoulder at that moment, excitement flooded through her veins. She turned around, and disappointment crushed her optimism. Although she adored Riley, she doubted that he had any news that she had been wishing for. “Oh…hey Riley! What’s going on?”

Riley seemed to have understood her emotional reaction and didn’t comment on it. “Hey Gwyn. I was just wondering if I could go patrolling for a recruitment mission. I can’t stop thinking about last night, and I think it would help to get out and do something productive to keep my mind of of…”

“Yeah, sure, go ahead,” she authorized him. Riley thanked her and left. After he was gone, Gwynivara knew it was time to face the fact that she would have to run the Rebellion today, at least for a little while. She really hoped that Emorick would interrupt and take over! Gwynivara quickly finished her coffee and headed to the training auditorium.

When she arrived, she expected to walk in on the officers sparring with their practice weapons, but instead, everyone sat on the floor with glum faces. One officer croaked, “Any news?”

Trying to maintain a cheery tone, Gwynivara replied, “Not yet.” Everyone’s hopes seemed to have been dashed, and Gwynivara knew that she couldn’t let it escalate further. She clapped her hands once, and it snapped everyone into attention. “We can’t let ourselves get to the point where we create a bunch of beasts again! We have to focus on the mission!” They all agreed with her and were ready to comply. After thinking about it all night, Gwynivara had come up with a simple plan for today. “None of us got much sleep last night, so there’s no use in trying to learn something new. Let’s just focus on fine tuning what we already know. We’ll start with swordplay. Everyone partner up!”

Everyone obeyed and put full effort into practice, but no one really chatted with each other like usual. The room was pretty quiet through the whole session. Gwynivara hoped some good news would come their way so that the officers would get their motivation back. After a few hours, Gwynivara started to get hungry, so she addressed everyone, “Good job guys! Let’s take a break and get some lunch!”

They all agreed and started to head for the door. Before they could though, Riley burst in. His presence in the training room was odd enough in itself, but at that moment, he gave off a very panicked vibe. Gwynivara noticed his clothes and hair were dissheveled, and he was short of breath. Before anyone could ask, he spouted, “We have to go help! They’re gonna kill them all!”