A Cradle of Wolves

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V

Chapter Five: Humiliation.

October passed along without a problem and November was perfectly following that same peace. Hunter didn’t have to worry about serving the family for Thanksgiving. The only person he served was Madam Marie Edmunds. She had saved him from what could have been an awful experience for Hunter that day as she did any other day. Mr. Clearwater glanced here and there at Hunter, who paid no attention to either him or his wife and step-children. Meanwhile, Julian gazed at the young man with a calculating eye as he bit into his turkey leg on that festive day of November 24th.

“Aw, I see you’re wearing the necklace father gave you when you went on your first date with him,” noticed Constance with a warm yet factitious smile.

Marie Edmunds ran her fingers over the pearls. “Indeed I am. You know I always love wearing it during the holidays. It makes me feel like he’s with me all the time during the most important season of the year.”

Julian jugged his cup of wine and spoke quite loudly. “May he rest in peace, our dearly beloved father.” The sound of his drunken voice made Constance cringe as if it were the product of someone scratching their long nails on a chalkboard.

“If you have nothing to say then you might as well have stayed silent, Julian.” Marie Edmunds glowered at her son as she sliced through her piece of turkey. “We all know that your relationship with your father was strained but since he’s dead you should put your daddy issues to rest now.”

Hunter held his tongue, stifling a laugh. If someone was fit to put Julian in his place it would have be his own mother. Jennifer and Richard chuckled at their grandmother’s retort while Booker only smiled—It was obvious he wanted to laugh as well but knew better not to.

“Enough. Let us enjoy this Thanksgiving dinner in harmony,” Mr. Clearwater spoke, and the table was silent once again. “Orlando,” he called behind him. The butler quickly came through the door and awaited his orders from the man, “Do light some more candles and turn the music up just a bit.” Orlando did as he was told. He lighted a few more autumn scented candles that were spread around the room on various tables and on top of the chimney. The classical music became slightly more audible through the hidden speakers. With all of that done the Clearwater and Edmunds family continued their Thanksgiving feast.

After Thanksgiving, Orlando was given orders to start planning on how to decorate the foyer and the rest of the house for the Christmas festivities. The butler knew exactly how Constance wanted the estate decorated so he held her creative decisions quite highly. Amy and even Benjamin, who mostly worked with the gardeners and at the stables, were enlisted in helping Orlando in this week-long project of making the house presentable for the appropriate holiday.

The autumn scented candles that came in orange and brown were replaced with sweet scented white and red candles. The bouquets of Dahlias, Hibiscuses, and Tibouchinas were switched with bouquets of White Calla Lilies, bright red Poinsettias, and rosy pink Amaryllises. White Christmas lights were wrapped around the elegant intricate banisters of the twin staircases and a lighted pine wreath was set outside on each of the front double doors. All that needed to be set was the Christmas tree which was so tall that it reached the second floor. To reach the top only Orlando could climb the ladder since such an endeavor was risky—one missed step and the fall could be fatal (plus Constance trusted Orlando with the decorations). Ultimately not even Amy and Benjamin’s help were enough if they were to set up the Christmas tree properly.

In the meantime, Hunter sat in his usual chair in Marie Edmund’s room. The room was silent because the two of them were reading. Hunter set his book down and glanced outside. The green fields and pines were blanketed in snow while the sky was completely clear and blue; the snow shined under the weak light of the winter sun. For the first-time Hunter was warm even though it was cold outside. Usually he hated the winter because no matter how warm he wanted to get he was always cold. Now he was wrapped in a fine, warm blanket that kept him comfortable as he read. He got so lost in his musing that he hadn’t noticed that Marie Edmunds was occupied with someone until he heard his name mentioned.

“You need Hunter’s help?” she asked, wary over leaving Hunter alone and without her authoritative protection.

“Yes. But don’t worry I’ll look out after him,” assured Benjamin with a warm smile. His golden hair and fair rosy skin glowed under the soft light of the room.

The matriarch thought hard about releasing Hunter to do other duties. She bowed her head pensively before bringing it up to face the handsome boy. “Alright then, take him but if a mere mishap happens, I’ll hold you accountable.”

Hunter didn’t think much of it. What could possibly go wrong with Benjamin around? Amy had calmed down over the recent weeks and Orlando treated Hunter fairly. Hunter followed Benjamin downstairs and almost regretted it the second he got to the first floor. Boxes of ornaments were strewn around the foyer while Amy was irate, spitting hateful nonsense. The only thing that gave Hunter hope was the smell of snickerdoodle cookies and other delightful pastries that Berth was baking in the kitchen.

Orlando climbed down the ladder and sped towards the door to open it to whoever was ringing the bell.

Almost immediately, Constance appeared behind Orlando with a smile, greeting Lisa and Ana Mondragon inside. The two guests were clothed in coats and elegant hats that kept them from freezing but removed them the second they entered the warm and cozy Clearwater estate.

Hunter and Ana’s friendship was still in a bad spot ever since their first encounter in the estate. Ana’s eyes wandered towards Hunter, but he paid no attention to her. He didn’t care about her or was he to speak with her just yet.

“As you see the Christmas tree is being set!” Constance was in a state of jubilation. It was a rare moment, but each day her joy was becoming more evident. What more was she anticipating other than the upcoming party?

“And by the looks of it your Christmas party this year is going to be another success,” Lisa complimented as she looked about with her arms crossed and a smile dancing on her lips.

Booker had come down from his room to greet his fiancée. Hunter noticed that with each visit Booker’s interest towards Ana had increased, but the attraction was forced and not genuine—he was sure of it. From the second floor, Julian looked down at the scene of the help putting up the Christmas tree while his sister and nephew met with the Mondragons.

Hunter dared a glance at Ana, only to find her gazing at the wicked man upstairs. There was a glint of lust in her eyes as she held his gaze but stopped herself from sensually biting her lower lip. Julian smiled crookedly before disappearing back into the hall. What was that about? Hunter didn’t even want to know. It must have been my imagination, he inwardly concluded.

The day passed yet again without a problem. Constance and Julian kept their distance from Hunter. Amy didn’t berate her boyfriend or Hunter. December was turning out to be a good month after all.

One-night Hunter came to his room with a few sheets of paper and a pen. He began writing: “Dear Helen,

I finally left the tenement and I started a job at the Clearwater estate. I know I’m so stupid for writing to you four months into my employment, but I’ve finally found the time and the resources to write to you.”

He stopped writing his would-be letter and crumbled it up in his hands. His attempt was futile, he realized. He couldn’t send her an email because he didn’t know whether she had an email or not and he couldn’t send her a letter because he had no idea where in the world she was. All he wanted to do was to see her once again.

Benjamin began to knock at the door just as Hunter was starting to feel lonely without Helen at his side. Hunter invited him in as he would any other day.

Benjamin walked into the room with a plate of cookies. Helen became an afterthought whenever Benjamin entered into Hunter’s view. Hunter enjoyed the company of this friend who in such a short time had become a person Hunter admired. Benjamin cast a momentary huge shadow over Helen when the two young men were together but when he was gone, Helen was all that Hunter thought and dreamed about.

The admiration was mutual between the two young men. Benjamin was attracted to Hunter’s eloquent ways. He had never met another person who was such an idealist like Hunter. Hunter was the first of his kind and Benjamin enjoyed his company. Whenever they were together, they would always talk about fortunes and expectations of love they could only dream of.

“One day I’ll be rich, I promise,” Hunter had said that night to Benjamin, “And I also promise that when that day comes, I won’t forget you.”

Benjamin’s shining blue eyes met Hunter’s as he smiled handsomely. “I’m glad to know that.”

December 25th had arrived. The most anticipated party of the season was only a few minutes away from commencing. The tall Christmas tree stood in between the two staircases in front of the elevator, decorated in luminous lights and blue and white ornaments with a light statuette of an angel with glowing wings at the top. The position of the tree was an advantage because it was one of the first things the guests would see when they entered the estate. They would all marvel how spectacular it was. However, such a tree was also a disadvantage because Marie Edmunds had to use another elevator that was close to her room to get to the first floor when she was so accustomed to the one in the middle of the stairs.

Mr. Clearwater had hired extra caterers to help Berth with all the cooking to keep up with the high volume of guests. He also hired extra servers because Amy and Hunter couldn’t tend to all the guests since such a task was impossible for only two servers. This was the second day that Hunter had to leave Marie Edmunds to help out around the house.

A minute before the party commenced, Constance came down the steps in a fitted red satin dress sprinkled with diamonds around her shoulders and cuffs. At her side was Mr. Clearwater in a navy and white tuxedo with his arm locked over his wife’s arm. The two of them were certainly the power couple in high society and they undoubtedly dressed and presented themselves with such pride. As they walked down the steps, Orlando ordered the musical guests of the night to start playing their violins and harps just before he opened the door to let the guests in. It didn’t take long after that for the party to hit full swing.

As he looked on behind the kitchen door Hunter felt overwhelmed by the number of people that filled the foyer. He walked out of the kitchen holding one platter of cups with champagne in one hand and in other hand he held a platter of appetizers. He quickly became adjusted to the fast pace and enjoyed the work for some odd reason as he weaved himself around the guests like the shining silver ribbon around the Christmas tree; perhaps he had gotten used to being the help. He couldn’t believe it himself, but Hunter was absolutely happy despite the grueling work that he had to put up with every once in a while.


Marie Edmunds had yet to experience the party because she was having a difficult time choosing which necklace she wanted to wear. Her two choices were the pearl necklace her deceased husband gave to her on their first date or the emerald necklace he had given her the Christmas before he had his fatal heart attack. Out of the two choices she really wanted to wear the pearl necklace. As of late she had grown attached to that specific necklace because it reminded her of her youth.

“Come on grandma!” Jennifer wailed desperately. Her grandmother was taking a long time being indecisive and by the time she chose a necklace the party would surely be over.

“Can you see if my pearl necklace is in the first drawer of my nightstand on the right side,” commanded the matriarch in a gentle tone as she worriedly traced her fingers over her aged neck.

Jennifer did as she was told. “It’s not here.” She looked elsewhere just as she was told but to no avail. “Are you sure you didn’t misplace it?”

Marie Edmunds wheeled towards the nightstand where Jennifer was searching. “No, I didn’t misplace it. I’m just going to wear the emerald necklace instead.” It’ll come up, she thought concerning the missing necklace.


The party continued downstairs as the hired quartet covered Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet No.15 in A moll, Op. 132: V. Allegro appassionato over the festive merriment of the guests. People laughed and wished one another a merry Christmas in their dashing tailored fine three-piece suits and designer dresses. They all ate, drank, and occasionally waltzed to their hearts content. Constance and Mr. Clearwater had spoken to most of their guests, greeting them and wishing them happy holidays. Meanwhile, Booker and Ana were inseparable throughout the night, but it was all an act since Booker didn’t really love Ana. His heart beat passionately for another, someone whom his mother would surely disagree with.

Hunter decided to repose in the kitchen after the first two hours of the party, sitting down at the corner table and wiping his sweaty brow with a handkerchief. Benjamin walked in with an empty platter and switched it for one that wasn’t empty with plates of appetizers atop.

“Tired already?” Benjamin asked from across the kitchen.

“This is my first big party that I’ve ever worked, so yes I am.” Hunter looked at the countertop in front of him, astonished by the amount of food. All he was used to seeing on Christmas was a slice of ham and maybe a full meal if he was lucky and if the owner of the bakery wanted to let him and Helen in during a holiday.

“Well, just to let you know these parties usually don’t end until after midnight so you’ve got six hours to go.” Benjamin picked up the platter with one hand and off he went into the crowded foyer.

Hunter sighed, accepting his fate. He was certain that after the party was over, he would sleep for an entire week. He grabbed two platters and hurried back to the party.

In the foyer, Constance kept a keen eye on her mom who had yet to make an appearance. The last person that was with Marie Edmunds was Jennifer. Instantly, Constance spotted her daughter by the entrance. She pulled her aside. “Where’s your grandmother?” Constance gazed blazingly into her daughter’s eyes.

Jennifer was annoyed that her mother interrupted the conversation she was having with her friends. “She’s still getting ready.”

Constance found it odd that it was taking Marie Edmunds almost two hours to get ready. This was the first time the matriarch had done that. Constance had a strange feeling that things weren’t alright. Just as Constance started walking up the steps to look for her mother a handful of guests in the crowd behind her greeted Marie Edmunds with delightful pleasure. Constance turned on her heels to see where her mother was at and noticed that she wasn’t wearing the pearl necklace she was tremendously fond of. At this observation, she made her way across the foyer and excused her mother from the people that were greeting her.

“Merry Christmas, mother,” began Constance with a smile.

Marie Edmunds raised a brow. She knew her daughter very well just as any proper mother would. “You wanted to talk to me in private only to say Merry Christmas? If you didn’t wish me a Merry Christmas earlier then what made you do it now?”

Constance decided to throw all pretenses aside. “Why are you wearing that emerald necklace in place of your favorite one?”

“I couldn’t find it and I didn’t want my friends to wait on me for much longer, so I just put on whatever I found,” Marie Edmunds curtly replied, hoping to keep Constance’s incessant prying away.

Constance thought that a pearl necklace disappearing from her mother’s room was definitely an odd thing to happen. “And you looked everywhere?” She asked. Marie Edmunds rejoined with a nod and began to wheel away from her daughter. Constance caught onto her mother’s wheelchair and held her stationary, stopping her from leaving. “Maybe someone stole it.”

“No one stole it so quit your instigations and leave me be.” Marie Edmunds was beginning to get infuriated by her daughter’s pestering.

“It’s always better to be safe than sorry. This is your favorite necklace and it means just as much to us as well.” Constance finally left her mother’s side to find her brother, Julian, who was conversing with Lisa Mondragon near the Christmas tree. Lisa laughed at Julian’s flattery, relishing in the moment. “Sorry to interrupt but we have a problem,” Constance interjected. She and Julian exchanged knowing looks while Lisa gasped at Constance’s firm notice.

“What kind of problem,” Lisa inquired with a look of alarm.

“It seems like we have a thief in our midst. Our mother’s favorite pearl necklace vanished,” explained Constance.

“Marie does have Alzheimer’s so maybe she just misplaced them,” Lisa airily suggested. She believed the lie that Constance and Julian had told her about their mother. In reality, Marie Edmund’s memory was just as good as ever and perhaps saner than her whole family combined.

Julian shook his head, dismissing the woman’s presumption. “Our mother never loses her jewelry. Odd, don’t you think, that one of her most prized belongings disappears when she has a personal assistant.” Constance agreed and immediately Lisa agreed as well. Julian went to the security they hired for the party to tell him about the situation they were currently facing.

“What do you think will happen?” asked Lisa as she saw Julian from afar with the security. Julian and the guard hastily made their way through the kitchen door.

“First they’ll search the belongings of the help and then if nothing comes up an investigation will commence.” Constance spoke as if she had no clue of the outcome but in reality, she already had an idea of what was to come. She had planned this very moment after all.

Hunter was at the opposite side of the foyer when he saw the commotion between the Edmunds. He didn’t think much about it. Suddenly, Ana had appeared in front of him without Booker at her side. She parted her lips to talk but was cut short by Hunter. “There’s nothing left for you to say. Just get your champagne and let me do my job.”

In the crowd, there were a few people that uttered out “hey watch it!” or “oh!” as they were being moved aside, splitting the party in half. The musicians came to an instant halt as all eyes followed the path Julian and the officer had taken. The security officer and Julian walked towards Hunter with condemning looks. At the other end of the split party, Mr. Clearwater came into view next to Constance who grimaced at Hunter from afar. Booker came running towards his uncle, moving Ana aside on his way. Marie Edmunds had a hand over her agape mouth as she looked at the scene that unfolded with mortifying incredulity.

Hunter noticed that every pair of eyes were set on him as Julian, Booker, and the security stood in front of him. What’s happening, he asked a question that would soon be answered in the fragment of a mere second.

“You thief!” bellowed Julian as he pulled out a sparkling pearl necklace from his pocket, shoving it front of Hunter’s face.

Hunter was dazed by it all. What he saw was Marie Edmund’s pearl necklace, but he was slowly registering what it really meant due to the shock of it all. Everything had happened all too rapidly. The entire party came to a halt in a blink of eye. One second, he was serving champagne to about ten guests and then the next everyone scampered away, looking at him as if he was a rat.

“My mother trusted you and this is how you repay her!” Julian was putting on an obvious act because as he yelled, he gazed at Hunter with eyes filled with enjoyment.

Hunter shook his head. “I didn’t steal it if that’s what you’re accusing me of.”

The security guard grabbed Hunter by his collar and threw him outside on the steps of the estate. The air was bitterly cold as snow fell all around. It was a dark night and the only illumination came from the pale moon above and the dotted streetlights that lined the road in between the trees.

Julian came at Hunter with a punch to his stomach. Hunter gasped in pain and spat out a few drops of blood over the concrete. Booker rolled up his sleeves and punched Hunter in the face, bruising him immediately. Behind them the guests looked over the broad shoulders of these men that attacked Hunter with narrow eyes as if they were watching a criminal being rightfully condemned.

At first Hunter was taken by surprise by the two hits. Booker’s arm sped through the air and his clenched fists were about to strike Hunter once more. However, this time Hunter countered Booker’s hit and landed a punch to the young man’s lip, busting it. Booker stumbled back from the hit, eliciting worried cries from the crowd in the estate. The security office stepped forth quickly when Booker stumbled back. Hunter was struck by the guard’s baton; the blow landed at the side of his face, splitting the skin over his cheek bone. He became disorientated by the powerful hit and lost his balance, landing in a bed of snow below at the foot of the steps. “We are not pressing charges only because my grandmother trusted you so much but come near this estate again and we will end you!” exclaimed Booker with his bloodied lip. He shut the door behind him, and the party resumed inside.

After lying on the snow and looking up at the black sky in a minute of shock, Hunter got onto his feet and began walking away from the estate. His entire body was sore from the hits. He felt the blood profusely run down his cheek from the wound on his cheek, falling onto the snow in a trail as Hunter treaded into the night. It was so cold out that his breath was visible. He trotted through inches of snow as the stars in the dark night sky above twinkled as brightly as the moon; the dusky haze of the lamps that lined the road lighted the path ahead for the disgraced young man. In the far distance, he heard the wolves howl at the full moon in the sky. He had no money for his train ride back into Old Willow, so his only choice now was to get there on foot. It all happened in quick succession that as he treaded through the snowy road, he was still trying to process what had occurred. He was in utter disbelief. One second he was happy and things were going well…

How terribly life can change in a mere instant!

A black limo slowly pulled up next to Hunter. The back-seat window rolled down. “I saw what happened back there and I don’t agree with none of it,” the feminine elegance of the voice then scoffed, “But what can you expect with the Edmunds siblings around. I should know because just like you I’m also one of their victims.”

What the voice had told Hunter made him turn to the woman who spoke to him from the rolled window. He laid eyes upon a very beautiful woman who must have been in her forties but seemed ageless like a statue of antiquity. Her hair was pinned up in a sophisticated bun and her voice was graceful and filled with operatic tenor.

“And you are?” Hunter asked. He surely didn’t recognize her from the party.

“Countess Cristina,” she replied as she opened the door to her limo. She scooted to the side to leave the seat open for Hunter. “I have a proposal to make for you since we have common enemies.”

Hunter averting his gaze from the woman. He didn’t enter the limo. “I don’t have the means to make them pay for what they just did.”

“What if I tell you that I do have those means and I can help you? Not only can you make them pay but you can also find your lost parents. As I help you find your parents, I would want you to aid me in my search of my lost children,” explained the woman persuasively but at the same time empathically.

My parents, wondered Hunter. He thought the woman’s offer over in his head a few times, believing that it sounded like a good idea without ever questioning how a stranger had come about in knowing that he was an orphan. “I need to make a quick stop at Cathedral’s Square before I come with you.”

Cristina nodded and gazed at Hunter sympathetically as he finally entered the limo. “Very well,” she assented to his demands. After a silent hour’s drive, the limo stopped outside the entrance of Cathedral’s Square. The Countess lit a cigarette and breathed out. “Take your time.” She didn’t know why he wanted to be at the plaza but accepted his request with an open mind. This place must mean something to him, she observed as she looked outside.

Cathedral’s Square was desolate during that cold and bitter Christmas evening. The sidewalks and roofs of the buildings and homes around the Cathedral and the cathedral itself were blanketed in snow. Snowflakes fell idly from the sky—some landed on the ground and others landed on Hunter, who was bloodied and defeated in every way possible. In the distance, he could hear families enjoying their Christmas celebrations—their cheers and laughs were so loud that they were carried along with the wintry gust. Hunter saw lights of every color hanging outside the buildings and he even saw them from afar through the windows. The aroma of freshly baked pastries filled the air with sugary splendor. Sadly, all of this was all a catastrophic haze for Hunter as he made his way across the squared street.

He wanted to revisit the only sanctuary he had ever known. All he wanted to do was to touch the wall where he wrote poems as a child. He wanted to make sure that not all was lost in the world. Dying and becoming a sprout of weed or moss by this wall would be Heaven for him compared to what he was undergoing. Most people would have chosen the Cathedral as a place of contemplation, but this underneath of the bridge was his sacred place.

The bridge was dark, and Hunter only discerned a high pile of snow gathered in front of the wall. Hunter laid one hand on the wall and closed his eyes. He smiled when he recollected his thoughts of happier times with Helen at his side. They were darkened by the grime on their faces and body but inside they were radiant and pure with joy. Hunter couldn’t be brought to tears no matter how much he hurt from not only the physical pain that was inflicted on him but also from the emotional pain that gripped his heart. He fell to his knees on the ground just as the moon shone through the underneath of the bridge from an angle.

He was surprised to find something buried in the snow when he rested his hands on the pile in front of the wall. A weak yelp came from under the snowy pile and immediately most of the snow fell to the side, revealing the bony body that belonged to a stray dog.

“Patsy!” Hunter cried in dismay at the condition of his dog. Patsy looked up at Hunter with a look of agony but managed to wag her tail from the delight of seeing her beloved friend once again even though it was her last. “I’m so sorry for ever leaving you,” he said, his heart choked in his throat.

Patsy had driven out from Ms. Rita’s completely. She was thrown out the second Hunter had left for the mansion. The kids would always give Patsy food and they would play with her in the street. After a while something had occurred in the tenement and the kids stopped coming. As Hunter worked at the mansion, Patsy wandered through the city looking for him. She starved and thirsted most days, but her goal was to find Hunter. She suffered through the hits and curses of others in the streets all in the hopes of reuniting with her friend Hunter. December came, and Hunter was nowhere to be found. Since she knew the bridge was Hunter’s sanctuary, she concluded that he would be there sooner or later, so she sat in front of the wall at the underneath of the bridge and waited for him no matter what. Snow had culminated around her like a shield, but death was still coming for her through her starvation and thirst. Finally, Hunter had arrived, and she was happy. With each wag of her tail she tired even more to the point of no return.

Patsy’s eyes began to brim with tears as Hunter rubbed her furry bony back. Her tail came to a halt when she finally rested her head back on his hand. Tears flowed endlessly from Hunter’s eyes when Patsy’s canine fangs gleamed in an innocent smile as she breathed her last. He rose from the cold ground and wiped his tears away. He knew what he had to do now.

Hunter opened the door to the limo and got in. “I’m going to accept your proposal,” he said as he looked forward with a clenched jaw and a resolute countenance. Constance smiled at his decision and patted his hand assuredly. She noticed with worry when she saw that his eyes no longer held any light of hope and bliss, only the contrary.

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