A Cradle of Wolves

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Chapter Twenty-Three: Vile Secrets.

Theo dropped everything that he was doing and ran outside the second he heard the gunshot in front of his house. Sure, it wasn’t the safest thing to do but somehow, he felt inclined in doing so. He feared for Helen’s life because it was she who was outside in the garden. For all he knew she could have been the one shot. He sprinted down the steps and stopped in front of Helen who was on the ground on her knees with her head bent, weeping over Benjamin. She had one hand over a bloody wound near his chest—the blood oozing between her fingers.

“No, no, no!” Theo lamentably threw himself on the ground next to Benjamin, holding his hand tightly as if he was hanging onto the young man, beckoning him not to leave this world.

Benjamin groaned. He spoke weakly, “Ana…she…”

Helen hushed him immediately. “Reserve your strength. God! When are the ambulances getting here!” she exploded furiously. In the distance, however, sirens were heard—they got closer by the second.

Theo inquired further. He was relieved that Benjamin was still alive—so much so that his eyes brimmed with tears of contentment. Nevertheless, what he had stepped out into felt like a nightmare that had become reality. He couldn’t ignore the cause of the calamity. “What happened? All I heard was a shot, so I ran out here as soon as possible.”

Helen sighed and began to cry again as she looked at Benjamin, who looked closer to death by the second. “Ana tried to shoot me, but Benjamin got in her way. Everything happened so fast. I feel so fucking stupid for not paying attention…I was sitting down,” she frantically pointed to the stone bench as she went on sorrowfully, “and then all of a sudden I heard a loud bang and Benjamin was on the ground in front of me.”

Theo shook his head, cursing under his breath. The ambulance came to a stop outside of the gate with a police car following after it. The paramedics quickly passed through the gate and immediately got Benjamin on a stretcher. Theo answered all of the police’s inquiries but didn’t mention that it was Ana Mondragon who shot Benjamin.

Helen rolled her eyes and shot him a glance of annoyance at his hesitation to reveal who the culprit of the shooting was. She waited for the cops to leave after filing their report to approach Theo. “How dare you protect her? She could have killed me, and she nearly killed Benjamin! And who knows if he’ll make it.” Helen looked at the puddle of blood that Benjamin had left behind, fearing the worst.

“I know what I’m doing, Helen.” Theo grabbed her hands and kissed them reassuringly. “Trust me. Ana will have to face the law sooner than later.” He was intent on paying Ana a visit to tell her what she had done and what the consequences will be for her actions. Theo’s vengeance wasn’t directed at Ana until the second she decided to pull the trigger on Helen and Benjamin. Ana endangered the lives of the only two people that Theo had ever loved in the world. An act against them was an act against him.

Helen knew what he had in mind when she saw a certain implacable glint in his eyes. However, she knew that his good heart couldn’t match such cold thoughts. Helen pursed her lips and walked away from Theo without saying another word. She didn’t doubt Theo and what he could do. In matter of fact she feared for his life. Ana wasn’t stable and that was a fact. Helen climbed onto the back of the ambulance, holding Benjamin’s hand in hers in a tight grasp as they were taken to the hospital. “Please don’t leave us,” she said to Benjamin in an almost prayer-like tone. In response, Benjamin’s pale lips curved into a handsome smile.

Theo made it to the deplorable Mondragon estate quite hastily. After he exited his car, he ran up towards the door and began to knock incessantly. The door opened at the tenth knock; a smiling pale face appeared amidst the darkness of the estate within.

“Theo, I knew you’d come.” Ana spoke distantly while her wide eyes sparkled with joy. She grabbed Theo’s arm, pulling him in. “How I’ve dreamt for this day to come—for you to come to me willingly. What’s next? Shall we leave to another city or state or even better…another country? Wait here as I prepare my luggage!” She swiftly turned her back on him, heading towards the staircase.

Theo grasped her hand, pulling her back. “You shot Benjamin!”

Ana turned to face him, utterly dazed. “I would never do such a thing.”

“Yet you did. It wasn’t intentional of course. No. You wanted to shoot, or in better terms kill Helen and not Benjamin. But Benjamin, being the kind-hearted good man that he is risked his life and took the bullet to his chest. Why Ana? Why would you want to kill an innocent person?”

Ana covered her hears and shook her head wildly. All she wanted from him were caresses and kisses. Theo’s obvious love for Helen stabbed Ana’s heart like a million daggers all at once.

“Tell me why god damnit!”

“Because I love you!”

Theo was repulsed at her notion of love. He backed his step, shaking her embrace away when she tried to hold him. “How dare you say that you love me? If you’d really love me, you wouldn’t have tried to take away the only woman that I truly love. Nonetheless, you didn’t kill her and I’m thankful for that. But you did shoot Benjamin and right now he’s fighting to stay alive because of you! I love Benjamin as much as I love Helen. The thought of him dying breaks my heart so you can only imagine how I feel right now. If you say that you love me, you wouldn’t have inflicted this pain in my heart that I am feeling at this moment! If you loved me, you would have truly wished me the best just as I truly wished you the best. Yes, we did have sex once but that was a mistake on my part as well as yours. Yes, you did insult me once and I hated it, but never did I wish you an ill-fate. I never want to hear you say that you love me because one who loves another doesn’t inflict suffering on them under any condition!”

“Why her?” Ana was referring to Helen. A malevolent shadow crossed her countenance as she looked on at Theo with intense scrutiny and resentment.

“Helen and I…” Theo chuckled despite the fact that he was livid at the moment. His love for Helen was eternal and omnipresent like existence itself. Their love was what anchored Theo’s heart to his good conscience.

Ana fell to the ground on her knees, wrapping her arms around Theo’s legs when she landed. She saw in his eyes how much he loved Helen and not her. “Don’t leave. That is all I ask of you.”

Theo pulled her up and put her at arm’s length. His eyes expressed a grave solemnity towards the broken girl.

“You’re not going to press charges against me?” She asked.

Theo clenched his jaw shut before he opened his mouth to exhale sharply. For once he didn’t know what to do with the situation in front of him. How could he condemn a girl, who was evidently troubled, to a life behind bars? It would only make her worse. Deep down inside he wanted to see her locked up forever for what she had done. Once upon a time his eyes would have been glowing with vengeful fury, but now that glow was as small as the last ember of a fire. Ever since Helen came back into his life, she replaced his flames of vengeance with those of passion and empathy. Before, Ana would have appeared to him as a grotesque cockroach that needed to be crushed. Now, Ana appeared to Theo as a sparrow whose broken wings needed fixing.

“That is up to Benjamin to decide. If Benjamin dies, then the decision will be mine to make and you should pray that it doesn’t come to that.” Theo gave her a quick gesture of farewell before he walked out the estate, leaving Ana alone in the dusky twilight. His message was clear, however. If Benjamin died Ana would surely be institutionalized for life at an asylum under his command.

Ana wasn’t as alone as she realized.

“I cannot believe what I just overheard.” It was Lisa Mondragon who broke the eerie silence inside the estate. She descended down the steps in all her haggard glory, coughing into her handkerchief.

“And what part is it that you cannot believe,” Ana retorted.

“All of it!” Lisa exclaimed angrily, throwing Ana her bottle of pills at her head. “To top it all off you’re careless as well!”

Ana widened her eyes at the bottle that her mother had thrown at her. “How did you come across this?”

“Because you decided to not conceal it any longer, so the Edmunds found it. I had Constance come over here earlier to tell me all about it! And guess what? She’s not too happy that her daughter-in-law is…is…” Lisa stopped short because she could never come to terms that her daughter was imperfect in her eyes—under all that beauty lay a hidden beast, she thought.

“I’m done with everything! I’m leaving everything behind whether you like it or not! I can’t take it anymore!” Ana erupted into a furious fit and ran upstairs. She no longer cared about the Edmunds, her mother’s arrangements, and her relationship with that odious family. She just wanted to be free from it all. Her independence from the world she lived in could heal her mind once and for all. She could find peace in a faraway land, which was her ultimate goal. If only Theo would come, she thought mournfully as she continued her ascent up the stairs.

“Don’t you dare turn your back on me.” Lisa hurried after her daughter, following her trail of tears. She grabbed both of Ana’s arms and shook her in hope that some sense would come to the deranged girl. “We’ve been ruined for far too long and as a family we’ve been dying slowly. Our reputation, our fortune—all of it has been withering away over time. What you’ve done today has been the final nail in our coffin! You crossed the line the second you made an attempt on someone’s life. All for what? All because you wanted that slum-dog for yourself? You disgust me! You have been the bane of my existence since the day you were born. If I would have known I would have dumped you in the slums with your sister!”

Ana furrowed her brow. Sister? “I…I have a sister?” All at once the frenzy in her mind came to a stop. In that instance, she saw the world around her with clarity and most of all, reason.

Lisa pursed her lips, gazing at her daughter disdainfully. She didn’t want to remember the child she had given away. In her mind that child wasn’t a child but a beast with a deformity, yet here she was facing another beast—one she thought had been tamed.

“I have a sister and you never bothered in telling me? How could you?” Ana began to cry as she tried to break free from her mother’s hold. She had stepped back a bit too far over the edge of the wooden banister when she finally freed herself.

Lisa gasped and instinctively, motherly or not, reached out to catch the girl from falling. The result of her first and final moment of ever caring for Ana was also the girl’s own first and final moment of that affection. Lisa’s hands gripped towards her daughter but wasn’t quick enough, for her daughter had already fallen towards her death. A halo of red formed around Ana’s cracked head on the marble floor below; her pale skin seemed like it was made out of the best porcelain in the world under the dusky evening light that flowed through the domed sky-light above.

Lisa hurried downstairs. She gazed at her deceased daughter, who was now as broken physically as she was mentally, with a stressed palm over her sweating forehead.

A quick burst of dark orange light broke into the tragic foyer. Then all at once that burst was obscured by a silhouette that came in without a word, shutting the door behind him. Whoever this was must have heard the fall from outside. This silhouette remained silent as he walked into the small circle of light that encircled the two women. Lisa’s heart lurched in pain and fear when her eyes met the eyes of Julian.

“What happened to her?” Julian crouched near the body. He ran a worried hand over his brown hair as he breathed slowly but anxiously.

“We were arguing, and I don’t know…she just stepped back and…” As she spoke, she nervously looked at the second floor above.

A strange warm river of liquid ran down from his eyes when Julian followed her gaze. His cold skin, which was in part due to his cold heart, all lit up with emotion for the first time when those two tears came down his cheek. Tears. He had never known how they felt like coming down his face in a show of emotion or better put—a demonstration of humanity. He didn’t believe in them no matter how often he saw them in the eyes of the faces of those whom he inflicted anguish on. Julian was overcome by a deep wave of sorrow that was once and would have been foreign to him if he hadn’t fallen in love with Ana Mondragon. His Achilles heel, per se, was the eternal love he had for the girl.

Lisa clutched her chest, astounded, as she beheld a transformed Julian. He was crying for Ana. Lisa couldn’t distinguish whether that expression of emotion came from a fatherly instinct or the instinct of a man who had fallen in love only to see his lifeless lover strewn on the ground.

Lisa’s fear of his show of emotions manifested into one inquiry. “Did you know?”

Julian gently released Ana’s lifeless body from his hold, wiping his tears away. “Know what? I know that she is a married woman and a close friend to my family, as you were. I also know that she is the woman I love as well, and you have killed her.” Julian’s weakness became a revelation towards the fearful inquirer.

“Ana was your daughter!” Lisa shook with a shudder. A wave of emotions ranging from furious to petrification overwhelmed her. She felt weak under her crumbling life that was falling apart all around her.

“No. You’re lying.” Julian sprung forward, tightening his hands around Lisa’s neck. They crashed onto a small table where Julian pinned her to with the most violent of forces.

Lisa shook her head and spoke as best as she could under Julian’s murderous hold. “I never gave away our daughter. I gave away my husband’s.” Julian squeezed harder, beckoning her to speaker further, hoping to know why and to hopefully see if it all adds up in the end. “I didn’t give her away because I thought she was going to be less of a personal burden to have around. I knew my husband’s daughter would have been too much for me due to her deformity, so I kept ours, a product of true love.” Lisa spoke with the emphasis of being his supposed first love in hope that it would save her life.

Julian sorrowfully cast another glance at Ana when he was reminded of who his true love was. Lisa Mondragon was never his first love. Instead his first love was Ana, a girl who had more qualities than he had ever seen from her mother. He had fallen in love with both the girl she was and the girl she was capable of being if only she wasn’t a victim of her mother’s superficial mind.

Lisa became livid and incredulous. She was certain that he was mistaken and surely what he felt for her was only fatherly love and not anything else.

He had always known that Ana was forbidden in the way that she was married to his nephew, but it never occurred to him that the love he had for her was much more forbidden than anything in the world. His first instinct of not paying attention to Ana was his truest all along; Julian only chose to ignore it because he had fallen in love and feared nothing of the worst. However, the truth was only nothing but the hideous reality he would always be haunted with until his death. “I knew I shouldn’t have ever fallen in love with her due to the obvious circumstances, but I did, nonetheless. One cannot help when it comes to falling in love for the first time. Why did you do this to me? How could you have gone on suspecting this without telling me a word about it ahead of time. What kind of mother are you?”

He was asking the wrong question because Lisa was never an ethical mother in the first place. His hands tightened around her neck until it broke like a fragile bar around his strong grasp; Lisa’s body hit the foyer floor with an echoing thud. The scene around him broke him completely; instantly he searched for the gun that Ana stole from the Clearwater estate. How could I have done this? He questioned himself with the same question over a million times in a minute’s timespan. The girl he loved with all his heart and carnality was also his offspring—his daughter. The punishing reality that instantly clicked into place in his mind was too much for him to handle. With great success, he found the gun in the girl’s hoodie’s pocket and held it in front of him with desperate eyes. His once warm body, enlightened by love, became cold like the gun which he had placed in his mouth. From both his eyes came down a single, sparkling final tear that framed his cheek to his chin as it ran down his face.

Outside, Constance was barely arriving at the Mondragon estate. She slightly opened the front door when she was greeted by the echoing bang of a gun. She hastily stepped in and saw three bodies lying next to each other for the first time as a family. Alas, it was only their last. Constance should have shown some sympathy towards the scene, but she only looked on with wonder and relief. She turned her back with indifference, walking out of the estate. In the distance on the hill she heard a wave of police sirens coming towards the house. A neighbor from a mile away must have reported the gunshot in what was always a peaceful lane.

Constance hid under the shadows of the pines that lined the road as she headed back towards her home. Her hands were in her coat’s pocket as she gazed up at the sky, exhaling dreamily through her nose. The sky was a soft violent sea of glistening evening stars while dark red clouds spotted the sky like lotuses in a tranquil pond.

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