A Cradle of Wolves

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XXVII

Final Chapter: Unfinished Business.

Theo’s heroic endeavor of saving Booker and his siblings from unintentional utter disgrace was intended to be a quick one. However, the reality was that three weeks had passed since Constance’s banishment and Theo had achieved nothing since then. In those three weeks Benjamin finally bought the loft he always wanted, Cristina and Helen got to know each other more, and all the meanwhile Theo was stuck in limbo.

Three weeks are an eternity for one living in misery and surely Booker and his siblings were beyond saving of any kind by that point. Yet, Theo persisted in finding them. At each disappointment, he hoped for better results the following day. After three weeks, one would already be worn out by this hopeless task, but Theo was as invigorated with hope as ever.

The morning of the first day of that third week was quite a gloomy one. The clear blue sky had been covered with billowy gray clouds that obscured almost everything in dark shadow. Theo got dressed as usual after showering while Helen had gone out with Cristina to brunch. The house was eerily quiet, yet tranquil. After preparing his coffee, Theo checked his phone and saw that he had a missed call from Benjamin. Theo raised his brow when he noticed that the call was from early in the morning. If Benjamin had called, much less in such an hour, then surely it must have been an emergency. Theo quickly deduced such a fact and hastily called him back, concerned.

“Theo, thank god you called.” Began Benjamin with a somewhat joyful sigh. “I don’t know how to explain this, but I found Booker.”

Theo set his coffee back down on the kitchen countertop since it would have only fallen to the floor from the shocking development. He was utterly stunned. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“Well if I told you that I found him last night outside of a bar drunk as fuck would you believe me?” Benjamin threw all the joking aside before his tone grew composed. “Just get here quick. He wants to talk to you.”

“Alright I’ll be there right now.” Theo hung up and just as he was putting on a coat, the front door opened. Helen walked in with a smile on her face until she saw Theo with his imperative countenance. She construed that he finally had a lead on Booker and his siblings since she hadn’t seen him with so much vigor since Constance’s banishment. He welcomed her with a hug and a kiss. “How was brunch with Cristina?”

“She would like if you addressed her as your mother sometime,” she started as she looked at him, hoping that she would soon know what had resurrected him from the limbo that he dug himself in.

Such a suggestion made Theo uncomfortable because he didn’t know how he felt about the fact that Cristina and Mr. Richard Clearwater were his parents. All this time the thought of finding his parents was only the subject of his daydreams. Now that that daydream became reality, Theo didn’t know how to live with it. “You know I won’t address her as my mother anytime soon. It’s kind of hard getting used to the fact that I now have these people that apparently are my parents in my life after sixteen years of not having them present. I’ll come around but it’s too soon right now.”

Helen saw that her suggestion had struck a nerve and decided not to further vex Theo on the matter of his parents. Theo held her hands, smiling warmly at her. “Nonetheless, I’m glad that you and Cristina are getting along. But anyways, Benjamin called, and he said that he has Booker.”

Helen gasped in relief. She knew that Theo was a step closer to his final goal and was happy not only for him but also for Benjamin and Booker. “Since when?”

“Apparently since this morning. Benjamin told me that Booker was drunk outside of a bar.” As Theo spoke, he noticed that Helen was soon overcome by uncertainty. “You also think that this will be a failure. That my appearance would only make Booker resent me and make me his number one enemy. I assure you that I have all the hope in the world that that will not be the case. He’s going to hear me out and I’m going to give him what is rightfully his. If he forgives me, then I’ll be glad. If he doesn’t, then I can’t do anything about that. I’ll just have to live with the fact that at least I tried to make amends.”

Helen shook her head and separated her hands from his hold. “No, I also have hope that things will come together nicely, but I’m sure Booker really hates you by now. He’ll only use the money you give him to exact vengeance on you.”

Theo chuckled, rolling his eyes. “Did I mention that he was found really drunk? I’m sure he’ll be too busy sobering up before he does anything. It’s a chance I’m willing to take.”

“And he’s with Benjamin so he’s probably docile,” added Helen, but doubt still sat within her mind. “Let’s go?”

Afterwards, Theo and Helen traveled to Old Willow in an upscale neighborhood known as The Village. It was a quarter of the city filled with lavish penthouses, lofts, shops, restaurants, and parks—all of it set against the green hills of the suburbs.

When they arrived at the loft, Benjamin invited them to a broad space. The walls were made of exposed red brick with ebony wood flooring. The loft was furnished with dark blue couches, crystal clear glass tables, and a rustic, yet charming wooden bookshelf in one corner. The pale light of the cloudy day shone through the three arched windows in the living room that looked out into the street.

“How’s he doing?” asked Theo, stepping in with Helen.

A shower came to a stop in the distance. “Well he was just showering.” Benjamin replied somewhat contentedly. He still wasn’t sure about his future with Booker, but he accepted the present with gratitude.

Theo noticed that Benjamin’s hair had been recently dried while his shirt was stuck to his damp body. “Hopefully you continued what you guys had?”

Benjamin lightly laughed at Theo’s question. It seemed like Benjamin’s love for Booker was too much for the world to comprehend. Not once had Benjamin stopped thinking about Booker and he wouldn’t do so until he had him at his side and even then, Benjamin would never stop thinking about him. Benjamin pulled Booker out from the degenerative hell that he would have thrown his life away in if he had further given into alcoholism. Surely that was where Booker would have ended if he hadn’t been rescued Benjamin from that downward spiral. Benjamin’s love for Booker was true and that much he had demonstrated not only to himself but also to Booker.

Theo wasn’t like the rest of the world. He wholly understood what Benjamin was feeling. Theo would have done the same if he was in that situation. Theo would have saved Helen as well if he had ever found her under the dire consequence of degenerative consumption of any kind.

Booker stepped into the living room with his hair still wet and his clothes hastily put on. He locked eyes with Theo and surprisingly enough, hatred was not exchanged between the two men. “I’m glad you’re here,” he began.

Theo gulped and stepped closer. He didn’t know where to start. All this time he was busy in finding Booker that he hadn’t calculated what he was going to say to him if he ever found him. “I’m sorry,” Theo started after he breathed a soft sigh. He was ready for whatever Booker had to say next. Behind him he felt Benjamin and Helen holding their breath in suspense. They too had no idea what words would be exchanged.

Booker sank on the couch, burying his face in his hands. After doing so curtly, he looked up at Theo. He had decided what he would do. Whatever the decision would be, it would come from his heart. “Do not apologize.”

Such words were like stakes being driven into Theo’s heart. He sat on the couch opposite of Booker, feeling defeated already.

Booker parted his lips to speak further. “Usually people apologize if they did something bad. You did nothing wrong. I should be the one apologizing since I’ve been so monstrous to you in the past.”

“I understand but so have I. To be honest with you I’ve only wanted to exact my vengeance on your mother and uncle, but my intention was never to exact the full force of that vengeance on you and your sister,” continued Theo.

“I’m glad you wanted to destroy my mother; she’s absolutely vile. You know what she told me? She told me…” Booker stopped short of his sentence to breathe deeply. His mother’s revelation had been enough to destroy him and submit him to the deplorable state Benjamin had found him in. “She confessed to me that Ana and Julian had been having an affair but all along…Julian was Ana’s true father. He knew nothing of it, but my mother did, and she kept it a secret all along,” he shook his head with a clenched his jaw. Constance’s revelation had been traumatic for him despite all her insults that she had thrown at him before.

Theo knew that Booker would have been struck by that awful truth sooner or later. It was only a matter of time. This was Theo’s opportunity to open a rightful path for Booker and the key to this future lay within Theo’s pocket. “Where have you guys been? I’ve looked everywhere for you because I have to give you something.”

“Constance took us to this tenement that was formerly occupied. She said it belonged to an old friend of hers. It was horrid, I tell you.” The thought of the mentioned tenement caused Booker to frown in disgust. Never had he expected to spend an hour in such a place, much less an entire three weeks.

Theo procured the will from his pocket, handing it to Booker. “Your grandmother left that for me to pass on to you. She wanted this to fall in your hands.”

Booker didn’t take the will in his hands. Instead he looked at it with neglect. “I don’t want anything to do with my family name. I’ll be fine with Benjamin only. I’ll find a decent job and that’s that. I don’t need the millions that belong to that family.”

Theo pursed his lips. He didn’t know what more to say to Booker. The young man was torn from Constance’s slashing truth. Theo didn’t know how to respond to Booker’s agony because only Benjamin could do so.

“Take the will. A name is a name. Sure, you might be an Edmunds but there are many Edmunds in the world. You are you and what you do determines who you are. Use the money and demonstrate that you’re not like your mother and uncle. Be better than them.” At Benjamin’s words, Booker hesitantly glanced at the will. Benjamin sat next to Booker and genuinely gazed into Booker’s eyes. He had to tell Booker somehow that his family wasn’t the only one keeping secrets from him. “I knew about the affair but I didn’t want to tell you. I didn’t know how you were going to react; I didn’t want to break your heart.”

Booker’s eyes brimmed with tears that soon came falling down his cheeks. “It doesn’t matter now. They’re both dead. I can only imagine that you thought I would end up hating you if you ever told me, huh?”

Benjamin abashedly averted his gaze. “Yes, I thought so. I confided in Helen and Theo because it was all too much for me to withhold. Theo could have easily used that information to further destroy your family, but he held his reservations out of mercy for you and out of respect for me. He now urges you to take this will because he believes that you are redeemable. He, like all of us here, believe that you can become the better person you’ve always sought to be without your mother’s influence no longer presiding over you.”

“Alright,” Booker took the will in his hands, immediately scanning the contents of the document. At least he now had the resources to save his sister and brother from poverty and keep his family’s economic situation modestly afloat. “Thank you, Theo. Thank you so much and please forgive me.”

Theo rolled his eyes and realized that Booker wouldn’t stop saying sorry. He had no choice but to accept the apology. “You’re forgiven.”

“I have to ask that you do me a favor,” Booker added with a firm tone. He had huge plans for a better future—a future without a certain someone.

Theo raised an eyebrow.

After all the things she had done and said to him, Booker’s heart broke at what he had in mind. Perhaps it was because Constance was his mother and he had loved her a long time ago before he came to know the person she really was. By making a better future, Booker had to start somewhere. “Bring Constance down once and for all. It’s true that she’s behind my grandmother’s death if she knew of Julian’s affair. She must be at the estate by now since that’s where she goes every day.”

Booker’s revelation of his mother hiding at the empty estate came to no surprise to Theo. Many times, Theo surveyed the mansion only to see a shadow at the windows. That silhouette belonged to Constance, a woman who was by now driven beyond the edge of humanity and sanity.

Theo nodded and said his farewells. “Booker, I promise you that she will be faced by justice soon enough. Mark my words.” The two young men shook hands before one of them headed towards the door. Booker had given Theo the green light to fulfill his vengeance without darkening his conscience.

Helen followed Theo out of the loft, stopping him midway down the steps to the curb. “Don’t tell me you’re planning on doing what you’ve been planning?”

Theo held her assuredly. A look of sincerity from him pierced her eyes. “Yes, and you know what to do. I have to end this today.” He got into his car and drove away, leaving Helen with a heavy heart. Her hair flowed in the wind while petals of flowers swirled around her with the spring breeze. She got her phone out and proceeded with his plan.

The Clearwater estate, now emptied and ready to be remodeled to become an orphanage (under Theo’s authority), looked horrifyingly bleak under the stormy clouds of the darkening day. The parkway in front was littered with fallen leaves that crunched under Theo’s steps while the windows gazed at the young man like a skull’s empty eye sockets. The silver doorknobs were so cold they almost burned under Theo’s grasp. Nonetheless, after he unlocked the door, he was greeted by a desolate foyer; the door echoed when it shut tight behind him after he had entered.

Rain drops began to fall outside, crashing audibly onto the window panes. Inside the constant sweet aroma of flowers was no longer present and the brightness of the foyer was obscured by long, dark shadows. Here Theo had run about as a child new unto this world and here he came back to become victim of mankind’s cruelties.

Theo felt the press of something metallic on his back when he had proceeded halfway into the foyer. He was about to turn but the press turned into an urgent and threatening jab.

“Keep on walking, you bastard.” Constance stood behind him with what felt like a barrel of a shotgun aimed at him.

“Good afternoon to you too,” Theo spoke with light humor and did as he was told since he had no other choice but to comply.

Constance herded him outside to the back of the estate. The sky above them had turned black as coal as thunder boomed ominously in the distance. The drops of rain from before turned into a heavy shower. Theo saw in the distance that a light had been lit in the stables and assumed that that was where he was being led to.

“I’m surprised you haven’t tried escaping,” Constance noticed with devious intentions. She wanted to rile him up so he can try to escape. She wanted to shoot him so badly; she was even surprised at herself for not pulling the trigger any second sooner.

“I see no point in trying because I’m sure that that shotgun is going to go off on me whether I escape or not.”

Constance became curious towards his indifference. He was practically asking to get killed. Did he not want to live anymore? She furrowed her brow and scrutinized him, trying to decipher his peculiar behavior. Constance moved up front, opening the door before them when they reached the stables. She did this as she kept her aim on Theo while he boldly faced the barrel without a hint of petrification.

The door opened to a well-lit interior. All the lanterns had been lit; around the middle of the interior was a beam of wood with a cuff attached. Theo’s eyes instantly fell on the second unoccupied cuff and knew where that cuff would go around: one of his wrists. He balled his hands into fists at seeing such a thing and knowing the malicious intention behind it.

“Well, go on then.” Constance pushed him forward, beckoning him to handcuff one wrist to the wooden beam.

Theo further obeyed her commands. As he did so he noticed a pungent stench of gasoline that soon filled his nostrils. “If you’ve been wanting to kill me then you should have done so a long time ago before you came up with this over-the-top set up.”

“Say another word and I’m going to blow your head clean off.” Constance aimed the shotgun at the center of his head.

Theo stood still, handcuffed to the pillar. He shook his head and narrowed his eyes at Constance. “You’re not doing all of this out of envy or hatred. It’s obvious. All that you’ve done is because you’ve been suffering so much for god knows how long. You are suffering so much from the inside that you cannot hold any of that misery in, so you take it out on others. Unfortunately, the most recent victims of that suffering are your children, the very ones you love but due to your anguish you cannot love them; you can only inflict damage on them. You’re a damaged soul and all you do is drag everyone around you into a whirlpool of suffering, the very kind that you yourself fell into in your early lifetime.”

Constance threw the shotgun to the ground and swiftly turned her back on Theo as if his words had been a repellent against her. His words struck her because they were the truth. What he said to her clenched her heart in a way that she thought was impossible. For once someone understood what she was going through.

“I say shut up!” She glared at him and struck his cheek as hard as she could when she turned to face him. “Don’t you dare bring my children into this!” Angry tears fell from her eyes as she began to speak in a violent tone. “Yes, you are right. I should have ended your life the very day you crossed the threshold of the estate.” She reached into her dirty dress’s pocket, pulling a box of matches. She lit one match and held it in between her and Theo.

“To what end, Constance? Haven’t you done enough for goodness sake!”

A malignant smile crossed her lips. “What more can I want than to see Cristina and Richard Clearwater broken once again. They have recuperated their only living son and now they will see him perish in flames. How beautiful will such a sight be! Unfortunately, I’m impoverished because of you and my fate lies within these very flames that will consume you.”

“To be frank with you I’m glad you’ve suffered!” Theo shot venomously, completely snapping. “I wish you would have fallen dead from hunger but alas here you are.” He slightly rattled the chain of the handcuff but noticed that if he broke the beam the whole roof would come down on them both. He wasn’t expecting to get handcuffed and therefore didn’t know what he could do to save himself from the current predicament. Police sirens were heard approaching the estate behind the pattering of the rain and the blowing wind.

Constance widened her eyes when she heard the distant sirens. She saw Theo’s lips curve into a slight smile. She urged him to answer her question, “What have you done?”

Had she fallen into a trap? One by Theo’s doing? She shook her head anxiously before she finally decided what to do. Another match was lit. The boots of the police crushed the muddy field, getting closer by the minute. Without another second’s hesitation, she threw the match to the ground, ready to end it all.

Instantly, the entirety of the stable went ablaze. The flames crackled around Constance and Theo. Everything burned but them—they were surrounded by an inferno. However, soon that was about to change for the flames were circling closer around them, ready to devour them. Constance knew she was going to die there but she accepted her fate with pleasure. After all, as she would be consumed by the flames, she would also see Theo burn as well. Her ardent hatred for the young man singed as intensely as the fire around them. She had waited for so long for him to die and here she was about to see the event of a lifetime unfold before her eyes. It was a blessing, she thought, to see Theo die even if it was going to be the last thing she would ever see in her life.

“Look at you. I thought you were going to be more valiant in the time of your death.” Constance began to laugh but was interrupted when the two double doors of the stables were kicked open. The flames subsided when the downpour outside was blown inside due to the strong winds.

It was Cristina who had arrived in the nick of time. Far in the distance, a handful of police were running towards the stables with their guns in their hands. “I beg of you to give this up now! Turn yourself in,” implored Cristina to Constance.

Constance became distracted by Cristina’s supplication. She turned her back on Theo and left him to be burned.

Unbeknownst to Constance, Helen had snuck in through the backdoor, avoiding the flames all the meanwhile. Her hair was up in a tight bun as she wore jeans and a shirt with boots— nothing that could easily catch on fire. She was prepared as if she knew that such an event would transpire. In matter of fact she did know what would eventually happen. Theo shared with her his plan in trapping Constance a couple of days ago. He had a backup plan for everything, including for the present scenario they found themselves in, save for the small detail of Theo being handcuffed to a beam.

Theo shook the handcuff but didn’t pull on it for fear of a falling burning roof on their heads. Helen looked around to see if there was anything of use to cut the chain. Theo spotted an axe across from where he was at. Luckily enough, the small area was free of flames for the moment. He nodded towards the axe and quickly Helen made her away across to retrieve the item that would free him from his shackles. Helen detached the axe from its place in the wall but as she turned, she was overtaken by a sudden burst of flames.

Theo looked at the smoke, devastated. She was surely dead and yet Theo wanted to jump into the flames to save what little there was of her. He didn’t care if was going to burn too. He shook the chain but to no avail. The roof above was blanketed by flame and any small push of the beam would bring the stable down. A reckless idea had come to him in a whim, but he was willing to act on it. His grief for Helen blinded him from the perils that surrounded him. He closed his eyes and jerked his handcuffed hand towards him. Surprised at his hard land he opened his eyes and looked about. What he expected was a shower of flames incinerating him to a crisp.

Helen stood in front of him. She threw the axe to the ground after she had used it to free Theo, but instantly fell with it, fatigued. Her face was smeared with black ash, but the cause of her faint was the fact that she had breathed in a lot of smoke.

The stable was falling apart around Theo while he was ever more surrounded by flames that stung him like an incessant scorpion. With Helen in his arms, Theo made a brave run to the backdoor. The stable came down behind him in a fiery crash just as he burst through the backdoor, back first.

The downpour had ceased and the black clouds above were beginning to break apart. The dew on the grass sparkled like tiny diamonds under the silver moonlight that shone from above. Ashes poured to the ground just as strongly as the rain that preceded the firestorm.

“Is she alright?” Cristina asked, concerned after she had gasped at the sight of Theo coming from behind the stables with Helen in his arms.

Theo nodded. “Yea, but she’s tough.” He couldn’t believe how he had almost lost her just now. He held her close to him, lovingly. His heart had painfully lurched forward when the flames overtook her and all he had seen was nothing but smoke in her place. His body still shook after such a shock. He lost her once and even though it was temporarily, he felt like it had been forever. This time, his loss would have been completely permanent. The curt dolorous wave of grief had been all too much for him; so much so that he had been willing to end his life there and then.

Fortunately, none of that came to pass. Helen was alive and safely in his arms. Cristina looked like she was doing fine herself, albeit her countenance was shadowed by distress.

Theo looked around and saw that the police were nowhere to be found. “Where’s Constance,” he asked, turning to look at the burning heap of wood and stone that was once the stable when he saw that Constance was also gone.

Cristina’s gaze was fixed on the burning stable before she turned to glance at the entrance of the forest nearby. Theo followed her gaze with pursed his lips. It seemed Constance had gotten away. Theo failed in his endeavor to trap her. At least I did something right though, he reminded himself; his encounter with Booker was successful just as he had wished.

“Do you think they’ll catch her?” he asked. Half of Theo’s body was lit by the burning ruin of the stable while the other half glowed dark blue under the moonlight. The tall pines were only silhouettes in the night; these lofty silhouettes became a dark wall that separated two fates. As Theo stood in front of the woods in the light, Constance had entered a wild, dark void.

Constance ran with all her might. She had the police tailing her when she started. They flashed their flashlights at her, yelling her to stop but she did not conform. Constance made random turns until she finally distanced herself from them. As she ran, she kept her gaze upward—staring at the night sky above. She knew there was no going back after what she had done. So many questions ran through her mind that she became dizzy. What was she going to do now? Where was she going to go? How can she live in a world where she’s a fugitive? Cristina’s offer to turn herself in suddenly sounded appealing. She paced backward but one step back turned into a fall.

It was an utter shame that her final step was the very first step she ever took with a good intention in mind.

Immediately after she shortly landed, Constance tried to stand but only fell back—weakened and sore from her descent. Above a cloud broke in half and a streak of moonlight shone through the pit. Constance stepped back when she realized where she had fallen into. A multitude of vipers slithered around her. They rattled and hissed before one after another dug their venomous fangs into her body without mercy.

She screamed in anguish, but her screams were met with silence. Her legs became numb as she fell to the ground once more. Her eyesight blurred immensely but, in that blur, she saw six silhouettes standing around the pit at the surface, silently looking down at her. Julian, Marie Edmunds, Lisa, Ana, Mr. Mondragon, and Ms. Rita. Their blood was ultimately on her hands. The silhouettes that peered at Constance belonged to those mentioned but one of the silhouettes carried a smaller one. Instantly Constance knew who this smaller silhouette was: Felix Clearwater. She was the mastermind behind all their deaths—Julian only did her work. All the meanwhile she thought that their deaths would never affect her, save for the one she killed with her own hands and even then, she didn’t feel anything. She didn’t care if Julian’s conscience was being destroyed. She was explicably fine with all the crimes she had committed with him even if it wasn’t her conscience that was being affected.

She had never been more wrong. All this time Constance felt invincible, but it only took her to become submerged into solitude for that sensation of indomitability to be ripped from her. Her final thoughts went to her children. She wished she had spent more time with Booker, her primogeniture whom she constantly misunderstood and had a hard time accepting him for who he was. She even realized then that she made a mistake in bringing up Jennifer to become a carbon copy of herself without realizing that she was damaging her precious daughter; she should have encouraged her daughter to be herself, to adopt her own identity. Finally, there was Richard Jr., her son whom she didn’t give birth to but raised him and whose love for him was so immense that she often shielded him from the world; as of late she realized that he only resented her due to her over-protection. Her lifelong suffering and eventual solitude that came as a result from her actions not only destroyed her conscience but also her chance at love from the only three people she ever cared about in her entire life.

Her vision blurred to the point that she saw nothing at all. The shadows that surrounded her unsophisticated deathbed merged together into a wave of darkness that overtook her, immersing her in the throes of death. A sparkling tear fell from her closing eyes and just as she gave her final breath, the sun rose in a new dawn. As the creatures in the forest woke from their slumber, Constance submitted to a slumber in which she’ll never awaken from.

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