A Cradle of Wolves

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Chapter Ten: Information.

Benjamin was awakened by the sudden wave of morning light that flooded his room at Theo’s house. He sat upright in his bed and rubbed his eyes groggily with a small smile dancing across his pink lips. He hadn’t slept so well in such a long time that the feeling of being well-rested was utterly foreign to him until now.

“Good morning!” Theo greeted ecstatically as he turned away from the window where he pulled the drapes aside. “How did you sleep?”

Benjamin stretched his brawny arms over his head and exhaled softly. “Literally I haven’t slept that good in a very, very long time.” For once Benjamin was at ease. He was far away from Amy’s constant nagging and all the other vexations he had to put up with at the estate.

“That’s good to know.” Theo took the liberty to sit at the edge of Benjamin’s bed. “Today I have planned to go to a few boutiques with you so I can buy you some clothes,” he quickly glanced at Benjamin’s disorderly blond hair, “and we can also make a stop at the salon to get you a new haircut. Then, we can dine at a restaurant of your choosing.”

Benjamin’s cheeks blushed. He wasn’t expecting all of that from Theo so quickly. Sure, he had heard of his philanthropy but to do all of this…

Theo caught onto the hesitation that flashed in Benjamin’s eyes. “Don’t worry about the cost. There are no limits.” One corner of Theo’s lips curved into a slightly coquettish smirk. “Can I ask you a question by the way?”

“Go ahead.” Benjamin pulled the bed cover close to his bare chest since he had felt a quick chill that came from suddenly being nervous. Not even the warmth of the morning light that streamed through the window was enough to keep Benjamin warm through the anxious chill that instantly overcame him. One question gripped his heart: what was Theo going to ask him?

“What does Amy have against you that had you under her control?” Theo’s question was a simple one but the answer to it was far from simple. Benjamin wished things in his life weren’t so difficult so he can tell Theo everything with ease. Alas, Benjamin, like everyone else, had his own problems in his life.

Benjamin’s cheeks flushed with color. He chuckled at first as he thought of the right thing to say which would be only the truth. Theo’s question had brought a fluttery, airy sensation into Benjamin’s heart—a sensation that is most commonly associated with the amorous desire for someone. Benjamin bit his lower lip before finally answering, “It’s a long story.”

Theo rolled his eyes. It was obvious that Benjamin was hiding something. “I don’t know if I should insist or drop the subject.” Theo spoke teasingly. He wanted to get at least some information out of Benjamin for curiosity’s sake. After all, it’s good to know the person whom you’re sharing a roof with. “You can spare me the intimate details.”

Benjamin folded his arms across his chest and shifted nervously. “It happened early in the same year that you came to work at the estate. Booker was always close to me ever since we were teenagers, but that year that intimacy between us escalated. Amy found out; she was about to run off and tell Constance about the relationship between Booker and I; Booker and I couldn’t let that happen. Booker was betrothed to Ana and Constance is a conservative fanatic with very antiquated ideals; she hates homosexuality, any religion that isn’t Catholicism, inter-racial relationships, marijuana usage, you name it.

“Amy saw the desperate situation she put us in and used it to her advantage. Amy told me to become her boyfriend so that way she’ll have something to show off and in return she’ll never speak a word of what she saw happen between Booker and me. In the end, I met her demands and became her boyfriend. I put up with her for so long just to protect Booker from his mom ever finding out about us.”

Theo shook his head. He wasn’t incredulous over the fact that Amy had black-mailed Benjamin over such a trivial matter. It was a matter of time before that girl would stoop that low, yet she had already been at her lowest way before Theo met her. It was as if she was born to be miserable. “Do you still hold any feelings towards Booker?”

Benjamin shook his head. “I don’t,” then he paused pensively, “well actually, I don’t know. I kind of do but then I kind of don’t.”

“There’s nothing to be confused about. You either like him or you don’t like him. My guess is that you still like him, but you don’t know what to do about that or you do like him but someone else has distracted you.” Theo’s eyes glinted cheekily when he uttered the last possibility. Theo had always felt like Benjamin had taken a liking towards him. Theo couldn’t do anything about it since his heart belonged to another, Helen.

Benjamin threw himself back onto the many pillows on the bed. “Ugh, I don’t care right now. Can we just go out already?”

“Not before you eat breakfast.” Theo was already dressed up and ready to go. He was only waiting on Benjamin to eat breakfast, shower, and get ready for their excursion to the city.

Theo’s mind was at a faraway place during most of the duration of the day—quite the contrary state of mind from earlier. He would only nod whenever Benjamin would comment or simply say something. Theo had a feeling that something was not right, and the worst part was that he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was causing him to feel uneasy. He kept checking his phone to see if Tobias would call to inform him of some mishap that had occurred but that call, or text never came.

As Theo was lost in pensive thought, Benjamin picked out shoes and clothes and even came out a changed man with a slightly new haircut. His trimmed and coiffed blond pompadour shined brilliantly under the morning sky while the golden leaf shoulder clasps on his soft satin black tunic shirt sparkled above his velvet, burgundy Chino shorts and spiked white leather Louboutin’s. Benjamin noticed Theo’s odd comportment but didn’t feel like questioning him about it until they settled for lunch at a classic steakhouse with wooden walls and tables, leather padded chairs, and a glowing neon sports bar.

“I’ve noticed you’ve been kind of off lately,” remarked Benjamin after he took a sip of strawberry lemonade.

How could Theo explain something to Benjamin when he still didn’t know what was causing him to be lost in thought for the past hour or so as they shopped? “I don’t know. Do you ever just get that feeling where you feel anxious, but you don’t know why?”

Benjamin jutted his lower lip and shrugged slightly. “I get that feeling sometimes. Anyways thanks for everything today, I really appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome.” Theo flashed a smile at Benjamin but was interrupted by the waitress that came around with the food they ordered.

The waitress looked at the two young men as she set down their dishes in front of them, grinning with sparkling eyes while doing so. “Aw, you guys make such a cute couple.”

Theo and Benjamin both chuckled at the girl’s evident confusion. It wasn’t a malicious laugh but one of amusement. Benjamin blushed until his cheeks turned bright red while Theo was the calmest of the two.

“We’re just friends,” Theo corrected courteously.

The waitress pouted. “Oh, my bad! I just saw you guys and my co-worker and I have been talking about how cute the two of you look together. If you need anything I’ll be right back.” She left to go wait the other surrounding tables.

Finally, the two young men were left alone to resume their conversation. Theo didn’t think much about the waitress’s comical comment. His heart belonged to another and that’s that. Sure, Benjamin was an extremely attractive and fit young man who was incredibly educated and cultured. He dressed appropriately and he looked a million times better than he already did with his faded pompadour cut. Nonetheless, Theo would never consider dating or much less being with Benjamin sexually. Benjamin being happy with someone would be something that Theo would rejoice about since he cared for his fellow friend so much and wished him only the best.

Theo picked up a French fry from his plate and neared it to his lips before he parted his lips to speak. “I’m surprised you haven’t asked me what I was doing at the estate yesterday.”

Benjamin rolled his eyes. “It’s obvious what you were doing there.”

“If it’s so obvious why are you hesitating to say it?”

“Because it sounds cliché.”

Theo threw the fry in his mouth and chewed. Afterwards he took a sip of his drink and sat back on the chair, waiting for Benjamin to say something in return.

“You’re out for revenge—that much is clear. That’s why you changed your name and you became this new…person.” Benjamin had finally said it.

Theo nodded approvingly. “Well done. Yes, I’m out for revenge and I’m going to make that family feel the pain of being humiliated. I’m going to destroy them.” He gripped onto the knife which he cut his creamy chicken with a ferocious hold.

“Please tell me you’re going to spare at least Marie Edmunds, Mr. Clearwater, and Richard Jr.” Benjamin leaned forward and imploringly gazed at his vengeful friend.

“That’s the plan,” began Theo before he quickly realized a small detail, “I’m surprised you didn’t say that I have to spare Booker.”

Benjamin averted his gaze and picked at his food. “I can’t say much about that. I saw how Booker participated in your humiliation so it’s obvious that you’re going to go after him as well.”

“Cheer up,” Theo smirked, “Booker already endured the worst that could happen to him. I was the one they chose for the new title which he held at the university. That was enough for him.”

Benjamin wasn’t sure what had happened to Hunter because Hunter was no longer sitting in front of him. Truly this person, who was once so kind and merciful, had been transformed. Hunter had died that night and Theo von Draken rose from those ashes. It was quite unsettling for Benjamin to see what was once a cheerful young man turn into a steely man.

Everyone surrounded Marie Edmunds’ bed. Mr. Clearwater and Richard Jr. gazed at the elderly matriarch with somber looks as if she was dying, even though her physician that came to check up on her said that she was out of harm’s way. Meanwhile, Marie Edmunds sat upright in her bed, reveling in all the attention she was receiving. For once she wasn’t being overlooked. She thought it quite sad to know that she was only important when something bad happened to her.

What really happened was that she drank the tea that Amy served her last night and instantly she became sick. At first Marie Edmunds thought she was going to die there and then when she fell out of her wheelchair and collapsed onto the ground. Death came in vain because there she was alive and well the following morning, all propped up in bed in her best pajamas and being cared for. Her tea was poisoned, that much she was sure about. However, her physician concluded that what happened to her was due to her ailing heart. Marie Edmunds knew that was not case but didn’t bother in arguing her point. If she would have argued her point, then that would scare away the culprits that had made an attempt on her life. Those very culprits were her son and daughter who, like everyone else, surrounded her bed. Hypocrites, Marie Edmunds said in her head as she gazed at her two children.

Constance was in awe at how strong her mother had proven to be. All night the old woman had battled the poison within her, triumphing in the end. Marie Edmunds’ perseverance was not part of Constance’s plan. Her mother was supposed to die the second she drank the poisoned tea. Marie Edmunds cheating her death was a hindrance for Constance and Julian’s plans.

While everyone else lamented the matriarch’s near-death or lamented the fact that she was still alive, Booker Edmunds grieved over someone else entirely. The center of his chest felt hollow as if his once beating heart had left his body. He excused himself from his grandmother’s room before hurrying off towards his. He barged into his room and threw himself on the brown leather divan near the bedroom window. The window overlooked the back property with its stable and spacious territory in all its green and lush grandeur. Booker thought that if he looked at this window long enough, he would see Benjamin out there in the property supervising the groundskeepers or tending a horse. Benjamin most often labored shirtless, which was a sight that Booker loved seeing along with the young man’s striking smile and baby blue eyes that shined like sapphires in the light.

“Where’s Ana?”

Booker was raptured from his hopeless daydream by his sister’s voice. Jennifer had entered the room without even knocking. How rude of her!

“At her mother’s house,” he replied with a sigh. He didn’t sigh due to his wife’s absence but over the absence of his one true love Benjamin. “I could care less, really. She could be having a threesome somewhere and I wouldn’t give a single damn.”

“Right,” Jennifer sat herself next to her brother, following his gaze out the window, “Who you really care about is Benjamin but he’s not here with us anymore.”

“Why did you let him leave?” Booker flashed his sister a menacing glare. “You know how much I love him, and you let him go just like that! For fucks sake, I thought you were smarter than this.”

Jennifer was taken aback by her brother’s harsh words towards her. “Excuse me but your dearly beloved left on his own accord.”

Booker’s jaw clenched tightly. “So, you’re telling me that he voluntarily followed Theo out the front door?” He exhaled loudly, broken-hearted. “What else will that odious cunt take from me? I graduated without a title from the university and now Benjamin is no longer mine.”

Jennifer rolled her eyes. Her brother was being overly dramatic at this point and it was starting to annoy her to an extent. “When was the last time you and Benjamin actually spent the night together?”

“It’s been a while. You know with all the preparations for the wedding and then the honey-moon with Ana I hadn’t had the time to even lie in bed with Benjamin not once. I was looking forward in doing just that when Ana was going to accompany her mom to California later this month but alas.” Booker shook his head. He averted his gaze from the window and sank in the divan with a gloomy cloud over his head.

Jennifer patted her brother’s back and pouted in slight remorse. She rested one side of her face on his shoulder. “Mother would never approve of you and Benjamin, so in a way its better off that he’s gone.”

“How dare you say that? You would rather see me be inconsolable!” Booker hastily rose from where he sat, letting Jennifer fall onto the empty seat with no one to rest her cheek on.

“No, I’m just saying that if mom ever saw you in bed cuddling with Benjamin or even worse…she would disown you. You know how ridiculously old-fashioned she is especially when it comes to us.”

Booker folded his arms across his chest and shook his head. “What is she saying about you wanting to marry Theo, huh? Amy told me who he really is. You’re willing to get in bed with a marginalized bastard just for the sake of what exactly?”

Jennifer became offended by Booker’s misperception over her intentions. “I’m not even going to sleep with him, much less get engaged with him. The engagement party that I have planned for next month is just a façade. He won’t even get the chance to ask for my hand because he’ll be in handcuffs by then. I’m going to reveal to everyone that’s he a fraud because that’s what he really is. Only a fraud would get that much money in such a short time whether he has a benefactor or not. I’m going to end Theo von Draken and then you can have Benjamin all to yourself. Happy now?”

Booker was quite surprised at how centered his sister had become. He had never thought that she would plan something so elaborately; although he worried about where she would find the proper evidence that could help in her plot to expose Theo. He smiled in return and was about to speak but was interrupted midway by his mom who had stepped into the room with an irate look on her face.

Jennifer shot up from the divan and Booker instantly whirled to face his mother. “Which of you walked into my room and got my carpet dirty with mud?” Constance shot her daughter a glare because only she was the one capable of getting muddy since she spent the most time outdoors. Booker would never dare get himself dirty outside.

Julian came from behind Constance and chuckled. “The person who most likely got your carpet muddy isn’t even under this roof, unfortunately.”

Constance raised a brow. She turned towards her brother, somewhat confused. “What do you mean?”

“Oh!” exclaimed Jennifer when she remembered something from the previous day. “I know what uncle is talking about.”

Constance was lost, becoming more infuriated by all the cryptic talk. Meanwhile Booker stood in the middle completely clueless on the matter that his family was so involved in. His thoughts were focused on Benjamin—nothing more.

“You know how Theo came over yesterday and I took him out to go ride the horses?” began Jennifer, “The horse he was riding on became spooked by a loud sound,” she flashed her uncle a devious glance because she knew that it was he who shot a rifle to scare the horse, “and Theo was thrown into a puddle of mud. We washed his clothes and shoes, but I guess not all the mud came off from those shoes after all.”

“Theo was in my room.” Constance widened her eyes. How could Theo have gotten in her room completely undetected? “If he was in my room, he must have taken something!” With that said Constance hurried towards her room with her brother and two children behind her.

“I had a feeling someone was in your room yesterday when I went in to see if you were there,” remarked Julian. If only he had checked underneath the bed…

Constance spun and paced all over her room. She looked for anything that seemed out of place, but everything was intact. She ran a hand through her burgundy hair as she bit her lower lip anxiously. The slightly muddy footprint on her carpet pointed towards her chest full of diaries, she realized. She got on her knees and opened the chest, hoping to see a mess that a burglar would make. She became thwarted when she saw the opposite of a mess. Everything was in order just as she had left it.

“Is everything alright?” asked Julian as he tried to look over his sister’s shoulder.

“Yes. Nothing is missing.” If nothing was missing, then what exactly was Theo doing in her room? It was a question that was going to vex her until she solved it.

“Ugh, maybe you’re not looking properly.” Jennifer became annoyed by her mother’s incompetence.

“No!” Constance put her arm out in between her and her daughter. She didn’t want Jennifer’s interest to be piqued by all the diaries. “Everything is fine. Whatever Theo was here for we’ll soon know.” She then ordered her children to leave her and Julian alone to further discuss the matter at hand.

Julian was perplexed by Theo’s intention of entering the room and not taking anything. “Maybe the security footage from yesterday can give us any indication of what that dirty slum-dog was doing in this room,” suggest the wicked man.

It was an idea that Constance didn’t think about and it was a truly bright idea. Constance decided to not spend a second longer in her room where all she had were questions instead of answers. She followed her brother towards the office room where the computer there was linked to all the security cameras in the estate.

After Julian input the password on the prompt screen, all eighteen security screens came on screen. Out of those eighteen screens they only focused on two: the one for the middle of the hallway and the one that corresponded to the master bedroom. They rewind the footage to yesterday afternoon when Theo was visiting. They saw him leave the mansion with Jennifer to go to the backyard and then they saw him enter with the shabby clothes that were loaned to him while his clothes were being washed. They even saw how he went upstairs to one of the guest restrooms to change. Five minutes later the restroom door opened on screen and Theo came out.

Constance keenly stared at the screen. All she had to see was the footage of him crossing the hall to enter her room to prove her point that Theo had been in her room. Unfortunately for Constance and Julian the footage bugged, skipping twenty minutes ahead when Theo was already downstairs and leaving the estate with Benjamin at his side.

“What!” Constance tightened her hands into fists. “How convenient that the footage bugged out just as he left the restroom!” Constance’s attempt at incriminating Theo proved to be a failure. Life had gotten into a habit of ruining Constance’s plans. Her attempt at her mother’s life failed and now she had no proof that Theo had been in her room. She promised herself with all the malignant might in the world that the streak of letdowns that had plagued her life was going to be broken soon.

Theo finished his cup of tea as he pensively looked down at the baby blue leather diary that was set on the dining table. He went through quite a bit to retrieve it and still hadn’t read a single line. Cristina and Tobias hadn’t called for the diary, so Theo assumed those two were busy. He wasn’t missing them anyways; he was glad they were giving him his space finally. After taking the last sip of his tea, he set the teacup down and picked up the diary.

With the diary in his hands, Theo headed towards the pool-room where Benjamin was swimming. Theo sat himself on one of the white pool-side chairs and exhaled, utterly relaxed.

After noticing that he wasn’t alone, Benjamin made his way across the pool so calmly that the water slightly rippled around his glowing chiseled body. His blue eyes shined like the crystalline blue water he was in and his fitted golden swimming shorts gleamed like gold in shallow water. When he finally got out of the pool, the water cascaded onto the concrete ground as he ran a hand through his golden pompadour.

“Is that the diary you were telling me about earlier?” asked the young man who had just looked like the male incarnation of Venus in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. Instead of stepping out of the ocean with a seashell, Benjamin had stepped out of a luxurious pool with short golden shorts.

Theo nodded. “Yes, it is. In here is all the information I need that will prove that what Cristina told me is true. It might even drive my vengeance towards the Edmunds even further.”

“You’re telling me that you’ve doubted your benefactress all this time?” Benjamin was at awe at Theo’s stubborn mind. Surely Cristina wouldn’t want to get revenge on Constance just for the sake of doing it. There had to be more to it. “I don’t think she would lie about her being framed and all of that. From what you told me at the restaurant, Cristina sounds like a woman with a good reason behind what she’s doing.”

Cristina’s words resonated with Theo the day they had met, and they agreed in becoming partners in this scheme of theirs towards Constance and Julian. As the year went by, however, the value of her words diminished. Yes, Theo believed Cristina because he lived through Constance and Julian’s malice just as she did. All he needed was a little reassurance. After reading this diary, Theo wanted to become motivated once again; it was his only goal. He wanted to make sure that all of his efforts were going to pay off in the end.

“You know I believe her. That’s why I accepted to help her,” Theo began before pausing. He caressingly ran one hand over the cover the diary. Theo held the diary as if it were a piece of treasure. In a way, the diary was a piece of treasure—not a physical treasure but a psychological one. Reading this diary would help him piece the clues of the past together. “I just want to live through that day sixteen years ago where it all began.” Theo finally cracked the diary open, poring over the elegant handwriting that filled the lines of the aged, yellow pages.

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