I sprint as fast as my legs can carry me to the alley where I sat only hours before, eating bread with a stranger. Only he wasn’t a stranger--he was Alex Sawyer, the love of Lewis’ life, and he was right in front of me. I am giddy just thinking of how excited she will be to see him again, and him her.
If only Jarrah had come back the way Alex did, I think sadly. But we can’t all have a happily ever after.
The clouds have since thickened in the sky, bringing with them an onslaught of falling snow. It is cold, and I do not take to the winter well, being raised in the hot Mississippi sunshine. I shudder strongly, trying to keep all my layers together as I scan the streets for Alex. The freshly fallen snow crunches under my feet, and I am careful not to slip under the pure white crystals. It blows harshly across the town of Preston, layering the streets in fresh blankets with every hour.
Finally reaching the street, I scan the scene eagerly searching for him. My body fills with worry when I see that he is not among the homeless people here. The cold people bundled up against the brick walls stare at me curiously. I remind myself to thank Jim another time for letting me stay in his safe house. I could just as easily have ended up among these people, reduced to cold beggers by a society that rejects them.
“Is Alex Sawyer among you?” I ask desperately. They all look away, obliviously avoiding eye contact with me. I frown deeply.
One old woman’s eyes flicker with recognition upon hearing the name, and I come over to her.
“You know where he is?” I say bluntly.
“That wou’ depen’ ‘oose askin’, ma’der. Have ya go’ any food for a starvin’ ol’ lady like mahself?”
“Al--Adelaide,” I correct myself quickly, “a friend of his. And no, I haven’t.”
I subconsciously place my hand over the slight bulge in my jacket where a small section of bread remains.
“No food? Well, I nev’r ’erd of ’im, then,” she says cheekily.
I roll my eyes and rip off a piece, giving it to her grudgingly.
“Dinch’ yer mammy teach yer not to lie to an old lady?” she says between a mouthful of bread, “she’s got eyes that see righ’ through yer lyin’ heart.”
“I haven’t got a mother anymore,” I say coldly, “now tell me where he is. I’ve given you your share, now I need mine.”
“Ya say yer a friend of Alex Sawyer?”
“I am,” I say.
She laughs boisterously. “Well, ah tell ya this, Sawyer don’t got no friends, dearie, so I’m afrai’ I cannae help ya.”
I stamp my feet impatiently, having no time for her games.
“I need to speak with him urgently. Will you give him a message?”
“Will ya gimme anodder loaf’a bread?” the old woman cackles.
I sigh impatiently. “Would you just--tell him that I solved his problem.”
“And how did you do that?” asks a male voice from behind me, tapping my shoulder.
“Jesus--Mary--don’t scare me!” I shout, turning around to see a grinning, bearded Alex Sawyer.
“When did you even get there?”
“I was always here. You’d oughta pay more attention to your surroundings. And hide your bread from these fine folks if you have the nerve to walk through this street carrying it.”
I roll my eyes. “I’m learning that very quickly.”
“Can I ask how you got my name, love? I don’t recall exchanging it with you. I don’t tell people addall, except the fine folks of Cobbleton Street ’ere.”
“That’s just it!” I say, excited again, “you have to come with me!”
“Come with you?” he laughs, “why on Earth would I--”
“I know who your girl is! The one you came back for! I saw her and immediately thought of you and came straight back!”
He smiles sadly. “I highly doubt it. She cannot be seen when she doesn’t want to be, and she quite frankly never wants to be seen. Is that all you wanted to tell me?”
I run my hands through my hair impatiently. “Lewis! That’s her, isn’t it!? The girl you came back for?”
His eyes grow dark and angry, and he grabs me by the jacket.
“How the hell did you get that name?” he growls.
“I know Lewis personally,” I whisper lowly, “and if you don’t let go of my jacket in the next three seconds I won’t tell you any more.”
“Good,” he says harshly, releasing me with a slight push, “that’s all I need to know.”
“What?” I ask, confused, “I thought you would be excited to see her again!”
“Excited? Darling, I see her almost every day! Why do you think I stay in this bloody town? It’s all I’m here for--to make sure she stays safe.”
“You knew where she was this entire time and you haven’t gone to talk to her?” I growl angrily.
He’s no better than Jarrah, I think to myself bitterly.
“Don’t you get it?” he sighs, ruffling his hair in frustration, “I can’t! I promised I would never go near her again. And I don’t break my promises to Lew, not for nuffin in the world. She has not, and never will, forgive me. I know it.”
“Oh my Lord, men are such--such--NINNIES” I shout, unable to think of a better word.
“Amen,” says the old woman, and I shoot a glare at her.
“Who do you think she looks for in the street every day? Who do you think that she prays she’ll see again, someone who promised he would be with her forever, and isn’t? When she catches a man’s eyes in the street, and convinces herself for a glimpsing moment--maybe, maybe it really was him, but when she checks again he’s already gone! She loves you, you bloody idiot, and here you are letting the time pass and waiting for her to fall in love with someone else when all she wants is YOU?!” I shout.
“You speak from personal experience,” he observes, looking into my shaking eyes.
I look away, keeping the tears from flowing. Not now. Not ever again. I’m done with them.
“My love left me, and never came back. Don’t you dare make the same mistake, Sawyer.”
He shakes his head.
“You don’t get it-- Adelaide, is it? I hurt her so much--physically and mentally--that she would be better off not seeing me again.”
“You wanna know what she said to me--just last week? She thinks you’ve forgotten her. She says that if she looked into your eyes again, she’d forgive you right away.”
Alex smiles sadly. “But that’s just it. She hasn’t forgiven me yet. And until she does, of her own free will, I haven’t got the right to step back into that house.”
“I will never, ever pretend to understand men! Bloody cowards!” I screech, stomping away from the street.
If Alex won’t go to Lewis, then Lewis will just have to go to Alex.
I will not let him make the same mistake that I made with Jarrah.
I step back into the safe house, the snow nestled deeply into my boots and scarf, making everything moist and cold.
Jim glances up from the kitchen table, hastily folding over a parchment that he is reading and shoving it back into its drawer.
“Finally home, are we?” he says.
“I went for a walk,” I say, seating myself across from him as I dust off the snow on my boots, “what are you reading?”
“Oh, just bills for the house. Nothing to concern you. It’s cold outside. Quite an unusual time to go for a stroll, I think.”
“The air helps me think,” I say briefly.
“Look who decided to come back!” says Lewis bitterly as she enters the room, her lips pursed.
“Lewis! I have to tell you something!” I say eagerly, ignoring her quip.
“Save it. I need to go to the market, and you know, actually contribute to the well-being of this safe house.”
“It’s really windy outside. And the snow is getting thick. Why don’t I come with you--to make sure you don’t get lost.”
“Lost?” she laughs jestlessly, “I could get through Preston blindfolded and deaf.
“Just in case,” I say.
“You were just out,” observes Jim, “twice today, in fact. Any particular reason for that?”
“It’s always nice to get some fresh air,” I say quickly, lacing on my boots again.
Lewis glares at my feet. “If you want to come, you’d better hurry up before we get stranded in the snowfall, you know.”
I make my way out the door as fast as I came in.
“Keep an eye on that one,” I hear Jim say as we head into the darkening sky.
Lewis avoids eye contact with me as much as she can, but I know when she sees Alex she’ll forget all about our argument earlier. I’m giddy at the thought of reuniting the two.
“Hey Lew?” I say after a while.
She nods slightly, but keeps her eyes ahead.
“Can we take the smaller streets this time?”
“Why’s that? Won’t they be snowed in by now?”
“I found, uh, a really neat short cut today. Gets us to the market three times faster.”
“I know all the short cuts, Alice. Going through Richmond street is the fastest way.”
“Oh, it’s completely snowed off right now. I tried to use it this morning,” I lie, “Let’s go through...uh...Cobbleton Street,” I suggest desperately, pointing at the road up ahead.
She stops dead in her tracks and looks me right in the eye.
“Cobbleton? Where the beggers and homeless people are? Why on Earth would we go through there? Hell, why did you go through there in the first place today? That’s the least safe place for you to be! You told me you didn’t--”
“It’s not that bad. I swear. I met some really neat people there and I want you to meet them,” I say hesitantly.
“You said you didn’t talk to anybody either. Alice, what is up with you?”
“Trust me, you’ll like them,” I say calmly, grabbing her hand and leading her towards Alex’s street.
I walk through the street with set determination, my eyes looking into each of the people’s searching for the blue ones that would give Alex away even at a mile’s distance, but I recognize only the old woman’s face.
“Is he here?” I ask her quickly.
“He waz, but ye disobey’d ‘im, lass. He dinnae want to see you lot. He told me if ye came, to let ye know dat he was leavin’ Preston. Ye made ‘im realize that der was nothin’ tah be gained from stayin’ ’ere. He’s sorry.”
“Alice, enough of this, what in bloody hell is going on?” says Lewis angrily, but I ignore her.
“No,” I moan, “that can’t be. We were so close. Tell me you’re lying, woman! Please.”
“I’m afraid ye scared ‘im off. Issa righ’ shame, too. Da lad always brought me bread. I’ll miss ’im, ’ere. Just took off soon as you left. ’E was so mad at ‘imself fer bein a coward. I couldn’ stop ’em.”
“Come on, Lewis. We have to get to the market,” I say venomously.
She sighs. “What? Are you done your cryptic conversation?”
“Just about,” I spit.