Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 19

Stacy stared blankly out her bedroom window at the blue skies and sunshine, and it almost seemed to mock her. She hadn’t gotten out of her pajamas, she just didn’t have the strength, and life seemed to carry on without her. The weather didn’t seem to care about her somber mood, and she thought that, if it did, gray thunder clouds would wreak havoc on Makawee. She would have at least found a little satisfaction knowing she wasn’t the only one stuck at home. Unfortunately for her, she knew that lots of people were outside enjoying the warmth of the season, and it just tortured her to think she had no reason to go out and participate in anything like that. She knew she had a lot of work to do to find a job and pay for her divorce, but she couldn’t muster the willpower to do that lately, and she wondered if she ever word.

Barbara walked in unannounced and sat at the foot of the bed. Stacy knew she intended to make another attempt to draw out what she was feeling, and she didn’t want to indulge her. She knew she messed up and didn’t want to hear what she should or should not have done. She also didn’t want to receive any coddling or sappy attempts to buoy her spirits. She knew that at some point she would have to get up and try to fix her life again, but she felt almost ill right now and wanted to wait until she healed a little more. She didn’t say anything to her mother, and for a few moments, Barbara didn’t say anything either. To Stacy’s surprise, Barbara broke the silence by saying, “Look at that cloud! It looks like a cat stretching after it took a nap!”

Stacy curiously peered out the window and studied the cloud in question. She could sort of see what her mom meant, but she found it difficult to get the same joy from it as her mother did. “yeah, sure, I guess.”

“You know, your father and I went cloud watching in the beginning of our relationship,” Barbara brought up. Stacy didn’t respond, but she still carried on, “June fifth, Nineteen-fifty-nine, your father walked me home after church. We passed through the park, and I pretended that I needed to catch my breath under a shade tree, but really, I just wanted more time alone with him. Our conversation wasn’t too deep, we just had so much fun being with each other! We ended up laying down on the grass and just laughed about the shapes we thought the clouds were. It was a wonderful day that I’ll never forget, and to this day, when I feel stressed, I look at the clouds and it makes me feel better.”

“That’s not gonna make me feel better,” Stacy stated baldly. “And I’ve heard this story a million times! Sorry, Mom, I’m just not in the mood to hear how happy you and Dad were on dates.”

“Actually, it wasn’t an official date,” Barbara informed her. “I didn’t tell you the end of that story where our conversation came to a swift halt when Frank’s girlfriend came barging in!”

Stacy bolted up so fast that she almost fell out of bed. “What? Dad had a girlfriend when you met?”

Barbara smiled spritefully as she revealed, “We don’t like to talk about it ’cause it isn’t really proper, but yes, he was engaged actually when I met him.” Stacy’s mouth hung open, and Barbara clarified, “We didn’t sleep together, for goodness sake! We didn’t kiss or even hold hands until he broke up with Ingrid. Ingrid was another teacher at the school I worked at. She brought him in for career day, and as soon as I saw him, I fell in love! I know, love at first sight is so cliché, but something about his aura and the look in his eyes told me he was special! After that, I made a point of hanging out with Ingrid and her social circle just to get close to him. Eventually, Ingrid found out how close we had gotten, called him a cheater, threw her ring at him, and walked right out of his life.”

“You told me you met him at a malt shop!” Stacy found it astonishing that her parents had not me in the wholesome way that they had said before, and it felt eerie to think how much her story mirrored the way she met Nick!

Barbara explained, “I know, it’s the eighties and no one cares about that sort of scandal anymore, but back in the day, we decided to keep the way we met a secret. Sometimes good stories don’t start so cleanly in the beginning. They’re messy and complicated, but then everything works out in the end.”

“Not everything!” Stacy murmured sadly.

“If something hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end,” Barbara sagely doled out. “This man of yours was pretty special too, wasn’t he?”

“How did you know?” Stacy replied incredulously.

Barbara told her, “Sweetie, music may have changed since I was your age, but love hasn’t! You mentioned a married friend, and just based on your behavior, we knew what happened. I don’t think you would befriend a man you weren’t in love with after what you went through. The fact that you trust him means a lot! You got over Hadeon pretty quickly, and I heard that the best way to get over a man is to get under a new one!”

“Mom!” Stacy felt stunned to hear her mother talk about this topic so casually. “I’ve never heard you talk about sex without showing me charts and graphs!” Barbara shrugged. “And we didn’t sleep together! We didn’t hold hands or kiss either! We weren’t like a couple or anything. So, why do I feel like a terrible person?”

“You’re not a terrible person!” Barbara assured her. “I mean, if you constantly went after someone else’s man, then we would be having a different conversation. I never thought I would’ve gone after someone else’s man either. That wasn’t even part of my plan originally. I wanted to get to him more to get this crush out of my system, but the more I learned about him, the stronger I felt. It made me feel a little guilty, but it’s not like either of us could help it! You don’t get to choose who you fall in love with!”

Stacy got some comfort from knowing that she wasn’t alone in this sort of predicament, but it didn’t take away the glumness that still lurked at the pit of her stomach. “So, now what?”

Barbara advised, “You’re not gonna get any answer pining away in your bedroom. You may not feel like it, but you gotta force yourself to get up and take one step at a time. Even baby steps will still move you forward! Now, come on! Get dressed! Today is Pop-Pop’s birthday and we’re visiting him at the home. And I won’t take no for answer!” Stacy knew she meant it, and even though it pained her to get out of bed, she got up and went to her closet.

In a small living room, an octogenarian man sat in a wheelchair while Frank and Barbara brought a cake up to him and joyfully called out, “Happy birthday, Dad!”

Stacy, who sat morosely on a chair next to the sofa, faked enthusiasm as she chimed in, “Happy birthday, Pop-Pop!”

“Thank you, guys!” Pop-Pop reacted pleasantly. Frank sat on the couch while Barbara went to the small kitchen behind them to cut the cake, and Pop-Pop conversed, “So, how are you all doing?”

Frank replied, “Good! Can’t complain!”

“Yes, I can imagine how carefree a cop’s life can be!” :Pop-Pop joked, and Frank laughed. He observed Stacy and asked her, “What about you, Dear? You’re not usually so quiet. Something wrong?”

Stacy didn’t want to explain her sordid love life, so she came up with something that she hoped would suffice, “”I’m having trouble finding work.”

Pop-Pop related to her, “I understand how that feels! When the Great Depression hit, the factory I worked for over a decade shut down, and I had a hard time finding work. Luckily, we kept food on the table when your grandmother got a job at a school.”

“Yes, I remember hearing about that,” Stacy responded. “She became a teacher because no matter how bad the economy got, they always needed teachers.”

“Actually, that was just a perk of going into that field,” Pop-Pop corrected her. Barbara and Frank began eating cake, but Pop-Pop and Stacy ignored theirs as they talked. “Your mother watched me struggle and vowed she would never go through it, so she became a teacher because of that benefit.”

Barbara added, “I started because of that benefit, but I stayed because I found that I love working with kids!”

“Of course, my dear!” Pop-Pop acknowledged.

Stacy inquired, “Why did Gam-Gam become a teacher?”

“She didn’t become a teacher,” Pop-Pop replied. “She taught music. She loved music, believed that it illustrated the heart and soul of humanity, and she thought it was important to spread people’s gifts far and wide.”

“Really?” Stacy had the same instincts as her grandmother, but she didn’t realize it until now!

“Take a look at that photo album.” Pop-Pop pointed to a bookshelf next to Stacy, and she grabbed it from the bottom. She flipped it open, and one of the first pages, she saw a young woman who looked a lot like her holding an expression of pure glee as she conducted a school band. Pop-Pop noted, “You remind me of her so much!” Stacy had previously thought her love of music was wrong because of its association with her fallout with Nick, but now she realized that it ran deeper than that, it was in her blood! Suddenly, everything became so much clearer to her. She did have a purpose, and just because one way she pursued it didn’t work didn’t mean she should stop trying! Her spirits lifted a little, and she knew that she couldn’t give up on something so important!

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Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 15

Stacy went up to the door and rang the bell. She felt a little nervous to meet his father, especially since Nick described him as grouchy. She also felt pretty sore from working the last two days, and she took note that under normal circumstances, two days of work would have been an easy week! The time at Emporia seemed to last longer, and she was grateful she had a couple of days to recover from it. Except, she had volunteered herself to do more hard work somewhere else! It certainly would have been easier to go to the library and jot down the name of every record company in Nashville, but she motivated herself to push through the pain because she was dying to see what Nick said about her in his new song!

Nick answered the door and gave her a dashing smile. Stacy tried not to swoon after seeing him in his jeans and a tight tee shirt! He looked good in his work uniform too, but this definitely suited him more. Evidently, he had been checking out her outfit too because he questioned, “Are you okay with getting these clothes dirty?”

“Oh, my ex gave me these,” Stacy told him. “I’m not sure why I brought them to Makawee at all! I’d love an excuse to throw them away and replace them!”

Nick chuckled and invited her inside. Stacy saw an older man whom she could only assume was Nick’s father watching television. She remembered that Nick had mentioned that he was legally blind, so she figured he listened to the television like a radio show instead of actually watching it, but his head still craned in that direction as if he were watching like normal. Nick introduced her, “Dad, this is Stacy.”

“How are you, sir?” She took his hand so he could shake it.

“Sir?” he echoed. “It’s been a long time since anyone called me sir!”

“I could call you Mister Rolland if you prefer,” Stacy offered.

Mister Rolland laughed heartily. “I like this one! What happened to Janet? Did she run off with some millionaire?”

Nick had a pronounced frown at that comment. “She’s at home. She’s fine.”

Even though Stacy secretly enjoyed the fact that his dad didn’t seem to like Janet, but she didn’t like the tension between Nick and his dad, so she cleared her throat and asked, “So, what are we working on today?”

“We’re going to work in the backyard first. Come on.” Nick motioned for her to follow him outside.

Stacy addressed Mister Rolland, “It was nice to meet you, sir!” before she followed him out.

The backyard mostly had overgrown grass in it, but she also saw dandelions sprinkled around the area as well as an old riding lawn mower parked under a shade tree. Nick explained, “Before we mow the lawn, we gotta fix the mower.”

“Okay,” Stacy complied. “What’s wrong with it?”

Nick replied, “It just needs a tune up.” He went to a cabinet by the door and pulled out a toolbox. He then went to the riding lawn mower and popped open the hood. He handed her a flashlight and requested, “Can you shine this where I work?”

“Sounds easy enough,” Stacy responded.

Nick grinned. “Don’t think your whole day will be a cake walk like this!” Stacy laughed, and then Nick began to work. As he began repairing the mower, he brought up, “You know, this reminds me of the song I wrote.”

Stacy felt thrilled that he decided to divulge this information, but she was confused as to what any of this had to do with a song about a girl. “Why is that?”

“It’s called Motor Run,” Nick reported. “Do you wanna hear it?”

“Of course!” Stacy eagerly anticipated this, though she didn’t totally understand how ‘Motor Run’ could describe anything romantic.

When Nick started singing, it all became very clear! The song described a car that thought it worked fine until a woman came along and juiced it up so it ran like a racing machine. She could easily see the symbolism of a man who thought he had a good life until someone came along to add excitement and ignited his passions. She had expected to hear something with that kind of a theme, but she got a jolt of surprise at the sexual innuendos interlaced throughout the lyrics! Combining that with his sheer talent for music created quite the spell on her!

When he finished, he turned to her and inquired, “So, what do you think?”

Stacy couldn’t speak because of how much the song had seduced her! Just looking into his eyes, she got the sense she hadn’t imagined an attraction between them after all! The temptation to wrap her arms around him overwhelmed her, and she was nearly shaking just trying to hold herself back. Just inches from him, she momentarily forgot why she hesitated at all, but suddenly, Janet’s face flashed in front of her and she couldn’t do it. She pulled herself away and sighed happily, “Wow!”

“You liked it?” Nick sought confirmation from her.

Stacy couldn’t possibly say how she actually felt about his song! She felt ninety percent sure he wanted her romantically as well as physically, but until he said it out loud, she didn’t want to voice her own feelings and embarrass herself. Plus, he still had a commitment to Janet, and she couldn’t live with herself if she became the other woman. She began to doubt her theory a little more since he always went home to her. If he had deep feelings for her, Stacy thought, she wondered why he didn’t break up with Janet. In her opinion, she was a much better match for him than her, but it didn’t seem like he had any intent on leaving Janet. That sobered her up enough to give him a more elaborate account on his song, “You have another hit on your hands! It’s catchy, another chart topper for sure! Though, I don’t think you could pair it with Charlie’s song!”

Nick joked, “So, it’s good I didn’t sing it the other day in front of his memorial?”

“Uh, yes!” Stacy agreed. “I love it though! When you play in front of an audience, people will really eat it up!”

“Where do you think I should play this time?” Nick pondered.

“I’ll have to think.” Stacy didn’t want to admit that his song made it hard for her to think in a wonderful way!

Nick closed the hood on the riding lawn mower. “Do you wanna take the reins?”

“I’ve never used one of these! Maybe you can teach me when there isn’t a bunch more chores to do. I can get started on something else while you mow the lawn,” Stacy suggested.

“Okay, could you get started in the bathroom then?” Nick requested.

“Sure! I bet I’ll get it done before you finish the lawn!” Stacy dared him.

“Challenge accepted!” Nick competitively hopped onto the riding lawn mower while she ran in the house.

Stacy found the bathroom, which already appeared fairly clean to her. She stared at it for a while as if it would somehow tell her how to begin, but she didn’t have any clue what to do until she noticed a puff of cat fur. She asked Mister Rolland, “Excuse me, where do you keep your broom?”

“It’s in the kitchen closet,” he answered. “Wait, are you gonna sweep the bathroom?”

“Well, yeah…” She had found the broom and felt pretty confident about her plan until he said that.

“You gotta clean the tub, toilet, and sink before you sweep and mop,” Mister Rolland advised her, “Unless you wanna end up doing it twice!”

“Oh, sorry!” Stacy apologized. “For the last five years, my ex-husband had a maid come in once a month to do all this. I didn’t realize just how long it’s been since I cleaned anything for myself! I guess I kind of forgot how!”

“Let me help.” He got off the couch, and she scampered over to the bathroom. He directed, “Reach into the cabinet under the sink and look for the powdered cleanser.” Mister Rolland continued to give her instructions throughout the process. Stacy didn’t mind because she needed the help. Mister Rolland seemed to enjoy himself too. While she was scrubbing the toilet, Nick came inside and peered at them curiously. Mister Rolland addressed him, “We got this under control. Why don’t you get lunch ready?”

“Sure!” Nick seemed a little surprised at his father’s demeanor but he didn’t question it.

Stacy commented, “Thanks for this cleaning tutorial!”

Mister Rolland responded, “No, thank you for the help! Besides, it’s nice to feel useful.”

“I know how that feels!” Stacy related. She understood why he may have been grumpy previously. It’s not easy to ask for help after living independently for so long! She struggled with that herself, actually. She didn’t want to get too personal with someone she hardly knew though, so she changed the subject, “So, did you grow up in Makawee?”

As Mister Rolland talked about where he grew up, she kept cleaning as she listened. She could tell his mood had totally gotten elevated by this, and when she glanced over to Nick, she saw him smiling appreciatively. She knew at that point that while she didn’t get a chance to look for a new job or earn money to pay for her divorce, she had found something meaningful that made her feel really good about herself, a feeling she hadn’t had in a very long time!

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…

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 8

Nick Rolland?” Stacy repeated. “I have no idea!”

“Well, he left a message on the machine for you. I saved it. I need to go to the bathroom!” Frank zipped out of the room.

Stacy wasn’t sure if he could hear her or not, but she thought out loud anyways, “None of the managers I spoke to gave me their name…Nick Roland… Sounds like a famous actor or maybe a rock star…” Suddenly, it clicked, and she knew who had called her!

With great anticipation, she rushed to the answering machine and pushed play. A familiar voice rang out, “Hi! This is Nick Rolland calling for Stacy Alyson. You can call me back at five-five-five-three-one-seven-two. Thanks, bye!”

His message had been brief enough that she didn’t get a chance to write down his number the first time. She replayed it and wrote it down on the notepad by the phone. She could hear her father go into his room, and since she knew he routinely would change out of his police uniform, she guessed that his curiosity about the phone call had ebbed. She sat on the chair next to the table where the phone stood and feverishly dialed Nick’s number. Her heart beat wildly as the phone rang. For a moment, she thought he wouldn’t pick up. She nearly jumped when he finally answered, “Hello?”

Stacy couldn’t believe she actually had the chance to talk to him alone! She almost felt too nervous to speak, but she remembered his warmth and friendliness from their conversation in the library and realized she had nothing to worry about. “Hi! This is Stacy.”

“Oh hi, Stacy!” For a moment, he didn’t say anything. Stacy got the impression that he was searching for the right words to say. “I just wanted to say thank you for the note you gave me a few days ago. No one’s ever done that before!”

“Most people probably tell you in person,” Stacy guessed.

“Well, they used to,” Nick told her. “I used to get a lot of it in high school after my band played, but once we graduated, we all got jobs and none of us had time to play anymore. I play the guitar on my days off if Janet is busy, but I haven’t performed in front of an audience in years.”

“What about your family?” Stacy inquired. “They must give you loads of encouragement.”

“Not really,” Nick replied sadly. “They think I’m good but they kinda think I’m wasting my time. They never viewed my interest in music as practical. They said the odds of making a living in that field are slim to none. They were right. I mean, lots of people wanna become rock stars and never do, so it just becomes a hobby.”

“But you have the talent to make it!” Stacy exclaimed. “My ex-husband’s marketing firm represented a few record companies, so I’ve seen the talent they signed and I know a future star when I see one! And I can tell from the tone of your voice that you still dream about it! You should go for it!”

Nick despondently argued, “You make it sound so easy! It’s not like record companies put ads in the paper to recruit people. I can’t just walk into a studio and audition. It’s not one of those things you can just wake up one day and decide to do!”

Stacy countered with, “If it was impossible, we wouldn’t have any rock stars! All you need is the right exposure. You gotta build up your image…” Stacy cringed realizing she had learned all this from Hadeon and that it actually helped her, so if he became famous, he would claim credit for her success. She pressed on anyways, “Make people believe that you’re already famous, create some buzz. Then put yourself out there! There’s lots of ways- concerts, commercial jingles, corporate events… Eventually the gigs would get bigger and bigger and record companies will come to you! It’s not impossible, you just gotta put the work in!”

Nick fell silent for a moment as he absorbed what she expressed. “That makes sense, but I don’t really have the time between work and family.”

“You don’t have an hour here and there?” Stacy challenged. “Any time spent on your craft is still progress forward. You can write songs, look for gigs, hand out your card… It all adds up!”

“I suppose…” Nick considered this notion.

“I can help you,” Stacy offered. “You have too much potential to just give up on your dreams!”

Nick pondered, “Don’t you think it’s too late? I mean, I’m thirty-four years old and-.”

“You never know unless you try!” Stacy stated firmly. “A small chance is better than no chance! Do you wanna spend your whole life with regret, wondering what could have been?”

Stacy stayed quiet while he mulled it over. Finally, he gave in, “I guess it couldn’t hurt to try!”

“Great!” Stacy rejoiced. “When can you meet?”

“How about Thursday after work?” Nick suggested.

“That’s totally fine! When do you get off work?” Stacy asked.

“At five,” Nick answered. “Meet me at the entrance of Gilmar’s Brake Factory.”

“I’ll be there!” Stacy confirmed.

Nick told her, “I gotta go or Janet will start to worry. See you Thursday!”

“Bye, Nick!”

“Bye, Stacy!”

Stacy took a moment to relish in the joy of having a conversation with him before she really analyzed all that happened. He mentioned needing to leave so Janet wouldn’t worry, which, most likely, meant he had called from somewhere besides the place he shared with her. She vaguely wondered where he had called from and whose number she now possessed, but she figured she could ask him about it on Thursday. This led her to remember that she had the chance to spend time with him alone, and she inwardly celebrated. She felt so excited about it that it took a long time to realize that her father had been standing behind her in the kitchen! She quickly exclaimed, “He’s a friend!”

Frank didn’t look like he believed her, but he responded with, “Hey, as long as you’re not breaking any laws, it’s none of my business!” Stacy laughed while feeling grateful that he didn’t press for more information.

On Thursday, Stacy dressed up as pretty as she could while still maintaining a claim of casualness. This wasn’t a date, and she knew that she couldn’t have him, but she still wanted to impress him. She got to the factory a little early, but she kind of had to because the next bus would have made her late. She found a rock to sit on and waited in view of the entrance. The factory had light gray walls with patches of brown stains sprinkled on it sporadically. It didn’t have any personal touches or decorations to give it any kind of welcoming appearance, and if she didn’t plan to meet Nick, she would have turned around and never looked back! With its cold, sterile aura, she couldn’t imagine an artist like him enjoying working there!

She finally saw people begin to trickle out, and she leapt up to make sure he saw her when he came out. More and more people came streaming out, and she knew at any second Nick would come into view. Her fervor began to dial down though when the crowd size had started to ebb. She wondered if he changed his mind about collaborating with her. She hoped that if he had that he would have called her to cancel so she wouldn’t waste her time coming there, and she feared that he might have called while she rode the bus to get there. When the flow came down to a few people, she sort of felt foolish for standing there with high expectations and considered turning around to go home.

Just when she was about to give up, he suddenly popped out to see if she was there! He wore a blue work shirt and slacks, but in her mind, he still looked very attractive! She noticed that he didn’t have smudges on his arms or face like the others did, so she realized that he had cleaned up for her. Stacy thought that maybe it was just her imagination, but he seemed to find her appearance alluring! He non-chalantly greeted her, “Hello!”

“Hi!” she chirped.

She had expected for him to come out and lead her somewhere where they could converse, but instead, he invited, “Come on in!” Stacy felt a little taken aback by this move, but she couldn’t help but trust him and willingly followed him inside. She thought she would encounter rows of machinary, but instead, she found herself in a dimly lit hallway lined with offices. He told her, “We have to use an office ’cause I told Janet I’m working late, so if she calls to look for me, she won’t get suspicious.”

“That makes sense,” Stacy said congenially, but secretly, she felt it was a shame that he felt like he needed to hide something he’s so passionate about doing. She understood that his family had a pessimistic viewpoint about the music industry, and she probably wouldn’t want to get judged either. Actually, she hadn’t told her family about the project either for the same reason! It felt a little odd that they were hiding things while not doing anything wrong, but that wasn’t about to stop her!

He took her to a small room at the end of the hall. Most of the doors were marked with someone’s name on the glass, but this one did not have anything on it. When he opened the door and flicked on the light, she saw a bunch of boxes and file cabinets had taken over most of the room. It had a small desk with a ratty, old chair behind it as well. He pulled up a metal folding chair for her and remorsefully remarked, “I know it’s not very nice in here…”

“Inspiration can come from anywhere!” She attempted to buoy his spirits.

He smiled in appreciation as he pulled up another folding chair for himself. “I’m a team leader, so sometimes we have meetings in here. I like to think of it as my office, but I’m not that important.”

“Not yet anyways!” Stacy stated encouragingly.

Nick looked like he wanted to buy that argument but couldn’t get himself to do it. “I keep telling my family I’ll be manager someday, but, honestly, I can’t see myself ever getting there. Isn’t that horrible?”

“No,” Stacy replied. “Your heart isn’t in it. I think you’re meant for something more, which is why I’m here.”

This seemed to have touched him a bit. He grabbed a clipboard and a pen, and he asked her, “Alright, where do we begin?”

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 3

Stacy woke up in a haze, and for a moment, she forgot where she had left Nashville. It all came back to her like a tidal wave of dread, and she felt surprised she had fallen asleep at all! For a moment, she sat on the couch and stared blankly ahead. Normally, she had an agenda set for each day, but everything she had planned vanished when she did. Actually, her entire life had become a blank slate! She had no idea what to do with herself, so she turned on the television. The cartoon that came on didn’t interest her, so she began flipping through the rest of the channels. When she cycled back to the cartoon, she turned off the television and sighed. After a moment, she realized she was still wearing the cocktail dress from last night, and since that disgusted her with the fresh memories it brought, she got up to get dressed.

When she wandered into the kitchen, she saw that her mother had left her a plate of cinnamon rolls for her on the table. It felt awkward to eat alone in silence, so she turned on the radio. She half expected to hear a melancholy tune to match her mood, but instead, she heard a song with a catchy beat. That almost made her more depressed since the story line of the song conveyed a happy tone, which felt hard to relate to at the moment. As she ate, the music did manage to seep through her guard and elevated her attitude a bit.

After she finished breakfast, she became aware of the fact that, once again, she ran out of tasks to fill her time. She saw the Sunday paper by her father’s seat and decided to read it. For a minute, it somewhat interested her, but after a while, she realized she could care less about the going-ons of the people making headlines that day. She flipped through each section until she came across the classifieds. She knew eventually she would need to find work again, so she figured she may as well start searching now.

Frank and Barbara entered the house, and they saw Stacy sitting at the kitchen table. Barbara greeted her, “Oh, hello Stacy! I hope you didn’t mind that we went to church without you. We just thought you’d rather sleep in…”

“It’s okay,” Stacy assured her. “I wouldn’t wanna face the congregation praying for me, I don’t need the attention right now.”

“Oh, today would have been perfect for you to go then!” Frank half joked. “Today is Easter, so their attention laid elsewhere.” He sat down at the table with her while Barbara made coffee. He noticed what she had in front of her, and remarked, “Don’t tell me you’re looking for a job already!”

“What else am I supposed to do every day?” Stacy responded.

Barbara put a cup of coffee in front of Stacy and Frank before sitting down with a cup of her own. She asked Stacy, “Well, what did you do with your free time before?”

Stacy hollowly laughed, “Free time? We didn’t have free time! Our whole life was devoted to growing the business! We developed our team, acquired new clients, trained new people…coordinating it all took up my time! Our only fun was the mandatory happy hours we went to twice a week.” Frank and Barbara didn’t know what to say after that, so they drank their coffee while Stacy searched through the postings. When she came to the end of the job section, she frowned. “That’s it?”

“Makawee is a lot smaller than Nashville,” Barbara pointed out. “But it’s supposed to be growing!”

Stacy groaned, and Frank told her, “You’ll find something you like, I’m sure!”

“Yeah, right…” Stacy tried to hide her disappointment, but she knew that her parents could probably see right through her. She tried to think of a different subject but couldn’t. Luckily for her, the phone rang, so she volunteered, “I’ll get it!” She ran to the living room and picked up the receiver. “Hello, Alyson residence!”

“Stacy! We missed you at the picnic!” To her horror, the person on the other side was Hadeon! She immediately hung up and went back to the kitchen. The phone rang again, but this time, Stacy let it go to the answering machine. Hadeon’s voice rang out, “Stacy, you made your point, now it’s time to come home…Stacy, you can’t avoid me forever! We’re still married, you know!” Stacy inwardly acknowledged that he had a point about one thing, went back to the phone, and picked up the receiver. “There you are! Now, we’re way behind on planning for the week and-.”

“I want a divorce,” she stated firmly.

Hadeon paused for a moment before he responded, “Okay, you’re still mad. I’ll give you a few more days to cool down, but I expect you home by Wednesday!”

“I’m not going back!” Stacy said to him emphatically. “You don’t get it! I’ve been unhappy for a while now, but I put up with it to make you happy. Last night, you did something that I won’t put up with! You crossed the line, and now there’s no going back! I want a divorce!”

“Really?” Hadeon scoffed. “You’re going to give up everything to be all alone?”

“I’d rather be alone than miserable!” Stacy argued. “First thing tomorrow, I’m going to the courthouse and filing for the divorce myself!”

Hadeon laughed sardonically. “No, you’re not.”

“To hell I’m not!” Stacy fumed. “You don’t get to tell me what to do anymore! If I wanna do it, I’ll-!”

Hadeon smugly informed her, “You’ll march down to the courthouse and come home empty handed ’cause divorces aren’t free! Even self filing costs money! Your parents would probably loan you the money for that, except you can’t self file ’cause I’ll fight it in court. That’d cost you at least two grand! That’s minimum. How are you gonna pay for that when you’re broke?”

Stacy’s heart dropped at this revelation. She really thought that she could wipe her hands and be done with him, and now it seemed really impossible! She had no idea that what she wanted would end up costing so much money! She felt a huge weight on her shoulder, and it started to overwhelm her. However, when she noted how arrogant his voice sounded, she grew nettled. He was still trying to control her, and this was his attempt at getting his way and having her still married to him! She refused to buckle, and she expressed this to him, “I’m going to get a job and pay for it myself!”

“Oh really?” He clearly sounded like he didn’t believe her. “You think you can afford to save up while you pay for rent and bills?”

“My parents won’t charge me rent!” she spat.

Hadeon snickered, “You’re thirty two years old and you’re going to live with your parents? Yeah, that’ll show me!”

Stacy reminded him, “Yes, it’ll show you that I’m serious about getting those divorce papers signed!”

“Alright, you go ahead and try that! You’ll see how tedious and low paying jobs outside of BMC are and you’ll come running back to me! Take as long as you want, and when you’re ready to give up, come find me. I’ll be waiting!” He cackled, and Stacy hung up.

Frank and Barbara had expected her to come back to the kitchen and emote, but instead, she circled around as if she were on a hunt. “Where’s your computer?”

“We moved it to the gym, I mean, your old room,” Barbara let her know. When she she marched towards the computer, Barbara and Frank followed her. Barbara asked her, “What are you doing?”

“I’m typing up my resume,” Stacy answered while she got the computer started. “I highly doubt Hadeon would send me my resume even if I wanted to ask that slime ball for a favor! And I wouldn’t wanna wait for it to come in the mail anyways. This way, I can start job hunting right away. It shouldn’t take me long to find something, and then Hadeon will be out of my life forever!”

“You don’t have to do this, Stacy,” Frank remarked. “Your mother and I can take out a second mortgage if we need to.”

“No!” Stacy became aware of how harsh her tone had been, and she felt guilty. “I’m sorry. If I don’t find a job in like a month, then maybe we can look into it. I really wanna do this on my own though. If I have someone else taking care of me, he could use that against me. I just wanna prove that I can make it on my own!”

“Alright, sweetie!” Frank pat her shoulders reassuringly, and her parents left the room to let her work. As Stacy typed out her information, she realized that she had typed out “Stacy Bancroft.” She went back and changed it to “Stacy Alyson.”

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 2

Stacy stormed into their luxury apartment and made a beeline for their bedroom. She grabbed two suitcases and threw them on their queen sized bed. She knew that he would stay at that party for another hour or two, he had always made sure he left last, but she still felt pressured to hurry. If he happened to come home while she was doing it, he would try to talk her out of it. She had already made up her mind, so he would not have been able to sway her, but she didn’t want the delay. Plus, she wouldn’t put it past him to get violent again. It all felt so crazy, she never thought he had been capable of that! She hadn’t been happy for a while, but she had always thought that eventually they would work past their issues. Everything was different now! She needed to escape right away!

As she stuffed her suitcase, she remembered his claim that everything in their home belonged to him, but she didn’t care, she needed clothes! Besides, she thought, what would he do with them? She felt no attachment to anything else in their house. All of it was beautiful, but it had all been picked to convey that image he so desperately clung to, which suddenly seemed so unimportant to her. She took a hair dryer and a couple of things from the bathroom and stuffed them into her already full luggage. She closed it up and marveled at just how much she didn’t need!

Stacy put on a jacket and was about to call a cab when she passed by the master bathroom and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She expected to see blotches from crying, but she didn’t think that she would find a red mark where he slapped her. This sickened her to think she would get this reminder each time she saw her reflection, but she didn’t have time to mull it over much. She didn’t have time to cover it with make up either. She grabbed a silk scarf so she could rush out the door.

She arrived at the bus stop with the scarf wrapped around her head and tied under her chin. She also wore sunglasses even though the sun had already set. She realized how peculiar she looked, but she didn’t want to be recognized by anyone who might know Hadeon. It sounded very paranoid, but Stacy didn’t want anyone to stop her. As she payed the taxi driver, she discovered that she didn’t have much money left. The cab sped away, and as she studied the bus schedule, it dawned on her that in her haste to get away, she hadn’t actually made a plan on where to go! She didn’t have a lot of resources to work with, so for a moment, she wasn’t sure where to go. Suddenly, she saw a time table for Makawee, Tennessee, and it became so obvious on what she needed to do. She told the ticket agent, “One way to Makawee!” It took the rest of her money, even her change, but she didn’t care. She felt more confident now that she had some direction!

She felt grateful that she didn’t have a long wait, but it didn’t feel so short at that moment. Every sign of movement and every slight noise made her sure that he had found her. As she waited by the lane where the bus would pull in, she avidly watched for him, ready to run inside if he pulled up. There weren’t many people taking a charter bus on a Saturday night, but she could only imagine the embarrassment of the scene he would cause if he found her there. The bus pulled in, but she still looked behind her in case he tried to stop her at the last moment. To her immense relief, she was able to board the bus without a fuss! As everyone else got on, she still watched for him, and she felt grateful that her worries did not manifest themselves. It didn’t feel real to her until the bus driver turned his engine on and they started to pull out of the driveway. She continued to look out of the window, half expecting to see him tailing her, but once they got far enough, she didn’t think it was too likely anymore, and a huge weight lifted from her shoulders. She was finally free!

Later on in the evening, a handsome couple in their early sixties cuddled together on a comfortable couch while wrapped in a crocheted blanket as they watched a comedic show. All of a sudden, their phone rang, which roused both of their curiosity. The lady turned on a lamp next to her and requested, “Frank, can you mute the tv?” Frank did so as she walked to the other side of the room where the table with the phone on it stood. She picked up the receiver and hesitantly said, “Hello?”

An automated voice answered her, “Hello! You’ve received a Collect Call from…”

Stacy’s voice filled in, “Can you pick me up from the bus station?”

The automated voice finished with, “Do you accept the charges?” Frank and his wife turned to each other with very grave expressions.

Frank spotted Stacy with two suitcases standing alone under a lamppost while it rained on her. He and his wife ran out to her, and his wife exclaimed, “Stacy! Oh my god, are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Mom,” Stacy tried to convey bravery since she knew they were probably already worried sick.

“Let’s get you out of the rain!” Her mother put her her arm around her shoulder and tried to lead her to the car.

“Wait a minute, Barbara!” Frank put an arm out to stop her. He studied Stacy’s scarf closely, and she cringed as he gingerly took it off. When her parents saw the red mark on her face, Barbara gasped and Frank growled, “That son of a bitch! I’ll kill him!”

Frank marched towards the driver’s side of the car, but Barbara grabbed both of his arms to stop him. “Frank! Don’t! Frank, you are a police officer!” Frank relented and braced himself against the car. Barbara pat his back gently and suggested, “Let’s take Stacy home!” Frank nodded and got into the car in a huff. He opened the trunk for Stacy, who quickly tossed her luggage in and got inside the vehicle.

For a while, they drove in silence. Stacy felt more awkward than she ever had in her life. Frank still seemed irate about the fact that Hadeon had hurt her, and Barbara looked as though she had billions of questions that she was repressing until Stacy gave her permission to release them. Barbara couldn’t hold back anymore, and she broke the tension by inquiring, “Are you hungry?”

“No,” Stacy replied truthfully. With everything that had happened that night, she couldn’t fathom desiring food.

Frank then probed, “Did you press charges?”

“No.” Stacy knew eventually she would have to explain herself, but she had trouble digesting it herself, so she felt that divulging a little at a time would make it easier for everyone. “I was too busy trying to get away to even think about calling the police.”

She expected him to get angry that she hadn’t reported Hadeon, but instead, he surmised, “Eh, that son of a bitch probably would’ve bailed himself out and wouldn’t have learned a damn thing anyways!” He paused a moment and added, “Has he done this before?”

“No, he’s never done this before!” Memories flooded through Stacy’s memories. She almost explained how wonderful he was in the beginning of their relationship, but that thought made her heart ache and she started crying. Barbara and Frank took that as a cue to end the questions, and they seemed close to crying themselves as they drove in silence again.

When they got into the living room, Frank set her bags down and Barbara informed her, “We turned your old room into a gym, so you’ll have to sleep on the couch tonight.”

“Okay.” Stacy shrugged. “I probably won’t be able be able to sleep much tonight anyways.”

“Oh, my poor baby!” Barbara tightly squeezed Stacy, and while Stacy appreciated her sentiment, she also felt a little foolish for garnering so much pity, so she stood limply as her mother hugged her. “Welcome home!”

Her mother let go, and Stacy stared at the living room incredulously. She had grown up here, so everything was very familiar, but she had been away long enough that it put her in an almost dream like trance to stand there at that moment. Her mother called it home, which twisted her stomach a bit. Just a few hours ago, home had meant their apartment in Nashville, and while she had no desire to return there, everything still felt too fresh for her to call this place home again. She had put all of her focus into escaping, and now that she got somewhere safe, butterflies ravaged her stomach as she started to think about where the next step would take her.

Almost as though he had read her thoughts, Frank reassured her, “You did the right thing, Kiddo! Just take it one day at a time!”
“You’re right,” Stacy agreed. She didn’t feel too confident yet, but focusing on getting through the night seemed more doable than trying to think of a new path for her whole life!

As Stacy turned to retire to the couch, Barbara asked her, “Did you try calling us again?”

“No.” Stacy turned back around and saw that the answering machine was blinking. Her nerves were rattled at this sight. No one called her parents in the middle of the night, so only one person would call at this time…

Barbara hesitantly pushed play, and Stacy’s fears were confirmed! Hadeon’s voice rang out, “Stacy? Are you there? Staaaaacy! Come on, answer the phone! Don’t be childish, we need to talk like grown ups…” As Hadeon went on, Stacy hypnotically walked over to the answering machine, and for a moment, she considered his claim. However, she soon grew incensed at his nerve. He wasn’t trying to win her back, he insulted her and demanded that return! After all he put her through, he expected her to crawl back to him and apologize to him!

She picked up the answering machine and smacked it against the table several times as if it had betrayed her by playing his evil voice. “Hey, hey, hey!” Barbara put her hands on her to get her to calm down.

Stacy realized how irrational she had been and stopped, but her emotions were still overwhelming her, so she began sobbing again. Frank comforted her, “It’s okay!” He and Barbara each embraced her.

After a while, Barbara asked her, “Are you going to be okay sleeping by yourself?”

“I’ll be fine,” Stacy replied somewhat hollowly. Frank and Barbara each said goodnight to her, and she was vaguely aware of saying goodnight back. She turned off the light, wrapped herself in the quilt, and laid down on the couch with her eyes wide open. The only light in the room came from the faint glow of the moon against the trees outside, which cast shadows throughout the space. Everything felt so strange, and she knew as hard as this day had been, this was only the beginning!

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!”