A Cradle of Wolves

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Chapter Six: Metamorphosis.

The Christmas party at the Clearwater estate had begun to wind down. Overall, it was a successful night for the Edmunds siblings. Constance’s ultimate plan for Hunter came to fruition and Julian got the opportunity to give the final blow. Even after the minor scandal, the party continued as if nothing had ever happened. After midnight, the guests began to leave but a few stayed just in case Julian was going to begin his infamous rounds of poker. Constance departed from where she stood with her husband and walked to where her brother was standing at near the Christmas tree.

“On a scale of one to ten, I would say this night turned out to be a ten,” she remarked with a chuckle as the lights of the tree shone behind her.

“More than a ten,” Julian laughed wholeheartedly. “I was even surprised that he wanted to fight back.”

“Our mother isn’t taking the incident too well. But can you blame her? Hunter was someone she trusted so if I was her, I would definitely be hurt,” Constance vile excitement from her victory continued. She patted her brother’s back with a devious smile. “You should go and console her.”

Julian darted a look of annoyance at Constance. “Why me?” he asked but did as what was suggested. He walked up the stairs since Marie Edmunds had retreated to her room after the incident. He was about to knock but the door was open, so he stood under the threshold with his hands behind his back, waiting for the matriarch to invite him inside.

Marie Edmunds had her back facing her door as she looked out from the bedroom window. “You can come in,” she said sternly when she saw her son’s reflection on the window.

“I’m so sorry for what happened tonight,” Julian began with false remorse. “I know the pain that comes when someone you trust betrays you in such a way.”

“I’ve known the pain for much longer,” she turned to face her son. Her face was not wet from the tears she shed from Hunter’s departure, but dry as if there were never any tears in the first place. She gave Julian a loathsome look. “You planted my necklace in his things and purposely blamed him for theft.”

Julian shook his head after he let out a sharp chuckle. “No matter what we do for you it’s never enough! And I didn’t frame him if that’s what you’re thinking,” he replied quickly, “The boy is a thief and he’s lucky we didn’t press charges.”

“Get out of my room now!” Marie Edmunds snapped. She drove her son out, closing the door with a bang once he was gone. She grabbed her phone and quickly dialed a number. After three rings the person on the other line finally answered. “Am I speaking with Tobias?” there was a pause before she spoke again, “Merry Christmas once again. Thanks for coming to the party,” the man on the other line laughed appreciatively before she asked, “Did she return with the young man?”

Tobias was about to say that they hadn’t when the front door of the loft he was staying in opened. “Actually, they just came back, I think. I’ll call you back.”

Cristina and Hunter stepped into the loft with snow falling from their heads and shoulders. Cristina took off her wool coat while Hunter shivered in the thin uniform shirt he wore. The wound on Hunter’s cheek finally ceased bleeding but it looked just as grisly as when he had received the blow to his face. He looked at the loft in hazy wonder.

“Marie Edmunds was just on the phone,” said Tobias. He was as tall and elegant as Cristina. His deep eyes behind his glasses were fixed on Hunter. “She has told us a lot about you, and I was pleased to meet you while you served me a glass of champagne at the party.”

“While I had to sit out in a limousine outside with the heater on and smoking the cheap cigar you got me,” Cristina had muttered under her lips with playful annoyance.

Tobias rolled his eyes at Cristina. “They cost me one hundred dollars!” he changed the topic immediately. “Anyways, I can’t believe they did this to you. Marie told us the trouble they were putting you through until she took you under her wing as a personal assistant.”

Cristina shook her head in dejected incredulity. “Look what they did to his face for goodness sake!”

The wound was looking incurable by the second. Tobias hurried Hunter to an empty living room, sitting him on a chair by the fireplace before he left to go get a first aid kit. Cristina appeared under the soft orange light of the fireplace like a glowing goddess. She threw Hunter a quick contemplative glance as she remained silent.

“You can start giving me reasons as to why and how you know Marie Edmunds. Most importantly, who are you? The most I know about you is that you promised me answers about my past and my parents if I helped you find your sons.” Hunter raised an eyebrow, waiting for his answers to come quickly.

Tobias came back to the room. He opened the first aid kit to reveal medical alcohol, surgical cotton-balls, and other medical equipment such as stiches. “I guess we better start explaining everything right now Cristina,” Tobias suggested quickly after seeing the boiling impatience that came from Hunter. He pressed an alcohol-soaked cotton-ball onto the wound. Hunter winced at the sting that came from the alcohol but remained still.

“Fifteen years ago, the Edmunds siblings and the Mondragons conspired against me. They took my children and framed me for the murder of my oldest child,” Cristina began to explain as she looked at the flames in the hearth. “For ten years I was imprisoned in a labor home.” She exhaled and turned to look at Hunter who was already getting stitched up. “You’re lucky they didn’t do anything similar to you, but the trauma of it all is something we both have felt. I felt that trauma fifteen whole years and now you’re experiencing it unfortunately.”

Hunter was still unconvinced by Cristina even though he was grateful for the medical treatment he was receiving.

“But I believe my children are alive. Of course, they are! I never killed my oldest child and my newborn was definitely put up for adoption,” she continued to explain this time with much more eagerness. “When I got out of my imprisonment, I sought out Marie Edmunds and convinced her of my innocence.”

“Hopefully you remember what Marie Edmunds told you about finding these children and handing them down the inheritance that is rightfully theirs,” Tobias said as he gave the final touches on curing Hunter’s wound.

“As you try to find my children in the meantime, I’ll be looking for your parents all while doing one simple task: making the Edmunds pay for what they have done to us,” Cristina spoke again with increased readiness at seeing her enemies suffer.

“How do you know that I’m an orphan?” Hunter rose from the seat and ran his hand over his stitches on his upper cheek.

Cristina laughed amusingly as if his question was a matter of hilarity. “Marie Edmunds told us all about you the second you became her personal assistant.”

“She told us very good things about you. She said you’re really intelligent and just a wonderful person all-around; that’s when we decided that you’re the perfect person to hold the Clearwater fortune until Cristina’s children appear,” Tobias cleaned his glasses as he spoke.

Cristina spoke with her hands as she excitingly paced in front of Hunter; the movement of her shadow on the wall made him dizzy at how quick she was pacing. Hunter realized that this plan she proposed to him was of vital importance to this woman. “And in order for you to make the Edmunds feel the same pain you and I felt you’ll have to reach to their level of the social ladder. For that I’ll be your benefactress. Just in case you think my money is dirty here are these papers,” she handed Hunter a thin stack of papers that were on top of the marble chimney.

Hunter shot the lady a look of enthralled astonishment after Hunter scanned through the paperwork. “These papers are wills and by the looks of it you’re a multibillionaire. Your grandmother in Spain passed away and you inherited the title and fortune that comes with being a countess. Finally, your second husband passed away and you inherited his couture business and all of his property which you sold or rented out to his children.”

“So, you see Hunter my money is not dirty! You have every reason to believe me and help me.” Cristina implored urgently, almost pleading.

Hunter was wary over what his final decision would be. He felt sorry for the woman and wished to help her. He was about to decline for a split second before he realized that this was his only way to finally prosper in life and achieve everything he ever wanted. He could begin anew! With all of this money he could finally search for Helen!

“I accept,” he exhaled through his nose stirringly at the result of it all. If Hunter was religious, he would have believed that Cristina and Tobias were a miracle brought down from Heaven. In matter of fact they were something far better—they were his benefactors that were going to propel him up the social ladder.

Cristina smiled in relief. “I will forever thank your decision in helping me Hunter.”

“But first I want to change my name. I don’t want to be called by a name that is stained by disgrace and grief.”
“Whatever you like,” beamed Tobias, “But please choose something audibly pleasing.”

Hunter remembered an adventure book that he used to love as a child. The main character’s name was Theo von Draken; Hunter always admired the hero’s bravery in the midst of adversity. “Theo von Draken—that’s the name I’m choosing.”

Cristina smiled at Hunter, completely happy and grateful for his help and cooperation. Tobias came into the room with a tray of cups filled with hot chocolate and plates of cookies. He set the tray on a single round table next to the two seats. “Next week we’ll have to enroll you in a cram program at the university. There you can finish all of your studies in one year and have a diploma.”

Cristina sighed in frustration. “What we’re trying to figure out is how we can integrate you back into upper society after the humiliation though.”

“I can do some philanthropic work. You two can hook me up with investors and I can have my own business running. Everyone will definitely know me then,” Hunter suggested with the utmost enthusiasm. He was a true natural at this.

Cristina clasped her hands. She shone as if the idea that Hunter brought up was the most brilliant thing ever. “Of course! Since Marie Edmunds mentioned to us that you’re a fan of classical theatre I thought you can be the main actor for the premiere show at the theatre I’m reopening as well. Everyone will know that the great philanthropist Theo von Draken is also a lover of the arts and they will come in droves to the show and support you in your philanthropic ventures!”

“Plus, I doubt anyone besides the Edmunds, Clearwaters, and Mondragons will recognize you,” Tobias had to retrace himself when he saw that Hunter ran a hand over his wound. “Your wound is okay. It’ll leave a scar but it’s not a disfigurement at all. I’m just saying that…”

“I know what you’re saying,” Hunter interrupted. What Tobias was trying to infer was that Hunter was going to look polished. With Hunter’s new posh appearance, save for a scar, he would be masked from his enemies and all of society—they won’t know that he was one a humiliated servant.

“Starting next week your life will become somewhat uniform but you won’t regret it at all. In order to achieve success, you’ll have to be dedicated,” Cristina gazed at Hunter as if his entire life depended on him becoming successful, which was true and not a dramatic exaggeration. “You’ll always begin with eating a nutritious breakfast before going to the gym for an hour or so four to five times a week. After the gym, you’ll have to attend your cram classes and participate in any clubs or fraternities on campus. On days you’re scheduled with an investor you will not attend school without a problem. Not only that but I’m also giving you your own home.”

By the time Cristina had finished talking, Hunter had eaten all of the cookies on the plate and drunk the two cups of hot chocolate. He was lost in her words; as she spoke, he was in awe. For once in his life he felt utterly safe and warm, even more so than when he was Marie Edmund’s assistant. He was away from discord completely. Tobias and Cristina were there to help him succeed and to help him punish his enemies.

That same weekend Cristina had reserved Sunday as her day with Hunter. Tobias joined as well since he was her confidante. The day was a beautiful day and in the distance the ringing of the cathedral’s bell echoed through the suburbs. Birds flew happily in the sky as the snow began to melt under the warm sun. The two benefactors took Hunter to see the home they mentioned they had for him.

They stopped outside a tall wrought iron gate with a forest of shrubs and other wild flowers behind the gate. Looking through the abundance of nature that was the front garden was like getting lost in a wonderland of foliage. Cristina opened the wrought iron gate with a golden key which she then handed to Hunter afterwards. The gate opened with a shriek, scaring the birds away from the shrubbery that lined the stone pathway which led to the front door of a white rectangular house. The tinted black windows that reflected the sun were a nice contrast with the pallid color of the exterior.

“It’s beautiful. Thanks,” Hunter said as he followed Cristina up the small hill. His senses registered an unlimited amount of botanical scents—all sweet and pleasing.

Cristina gave Hunter a tour of the two-story house. The walls of the home were all white but most of them were covered with frames of infamous works of classical art. The kitchen was made out of white marble, but the dining table and all the kitchenware was black marble. Vases of red roses were set in strategic places around the house such as on the coffee table in the living room and the small decorative round table near the staircase. The living room was set with two long dark blue couches facing one another across the squared stone coffee table. One room near the back door of the house was a home gym with all the essential equipment and a wall of mirrors at the back. The back door led to an empty greenhouse with a domed glass ceiling. Then the greenhouse led to an indoor pool that was of great size in length and depth. The sides of the pool were lined with white reclining chairs and the back wall of the pool room was made out of blue stone. Upstairs were four rooms: master bedroom, three spare rooms, and finally two restrooms at both ends of the hall.

Afterwards Cristina took Hunter to the mall to shop for clothes and shoes and to also meet with a hair stylist. He mostly chose blazers, long shirts, corduroy pants, and Oxfords. His hair was stylized into a faded undercut and when he was all tidied from the haircut his black hair shined like never before and his russet skin gleamed even more under the sun. Hunter had never felt so much self-satisfaction until he glanced at the mirror to take a look at himself. He almost couldn’t recognize who he gazed at in the mirror. He was no longer looking at Hunter. Who beheld before him in that mirror was Theo von Draken.

Hunter had transformed into Theo, but the metamorphosis was not complete until he had achieved all his preparations successfully.

He took his gym routine seriously and since he had an indoor gym at home, he had no excuse to not get a sculpted body. He ate well and of course he enjoyed eating all the foods he had never tried. Cristina and Tobias didn’t bother in teaching him etiquettes and manners since Theo already knew most if not all the rules of high society.

Cram school was surprisingly easy and no one at the university knew who he was before, so they all knew him as Theo von Draken, the new student. The fraternities on campus took him in with open arms and he became a Dean favorite in only three months of attendance.

He grew physically and mentally as the months went by. All naivety died on December 25th. Theo observed everything and was always on his guard. By the fourth month, Theo was well on his way in becoming an exemplar young man of the Second Gilded Age in Old Willow.

In just a blink of an eye the year that followed was soon coming to an end. The leaves fell from the trees and the days grew shorter and darker. A dozen or so investors had joined Theo’s philanthropic venture and Cristina was pleased to see that everything she had planned for Theo was coming to fruition successfully. Theo had finished his classes earlier than expected during the summer and even though he was no longer attending the university, the Dean still wanted to give him the Exemplary Young Man of Society Award, which was a golden diploma and a check of twenty-five thousand dollars. Most of the young men that would receive this award would not have given the amount of money much thought since their families were rich and a thousand dollars to them was the equivalent of five dollars.

News of this award and the potentially awarded spread through the fraternities at the campus until it came to the ears of the current title holder of that award: Booker Edmunds.

Booker was at a coffee shop with Ana when he received the news from one of his fraternity brothers, who came to him and told him about the potential new title holder. “Who the hell is Theo von Draken?” was Booker’s reply.

Ana shrugged as if the question was meant for her, “He sounds like a real loser.”

Booker flashed a glare of bother at his fiancée. “Obviously, he’s not if he’s going to take my title.”

“Sorry for trying to make you feel better,” she muttered while rolling her eyes. She got up from the seat to leave the two men to converse alone.

“I’ve never even heard of him. Is he even in Beta Theta Pi?” Booker had probably seen Theo but didn’t know that he was an accomplished man.

Booker’s fraternity brother shook his head. “Nope he’s in Alpha Kappa Lambda.”

“Oh,” Booker scowled in disgust. His friend opened his mouth to further speak but Booker shut him up quickly, “I want to meet Theo von Draken soon. So, make it happen for me.” The fraternity brother nodded in compliance with Booker’s request and hurried out of the coffee-shop. “I love initiates,” chuckled Booker as he held his coffee close to his devious lips.

Theo tried getting up from the ground but was stationed by fatigue. He was damp in his own sweat. His workout had clearly been intense, and he could feel his body already burning up and aching from all the exercise. After a minute and a half of catching his breath Theo rose from the ground and finally showered. He dreaded the fact that he had to go to the university to pick up his award but at least he would get it out of the way. After a ten-minute shower he stepped out and began to dress himself.

With his phone laying on his bed, Theo felt like the best thing to do was to call Benjamin. The last time he saw Benjamin was last Christmas and afterwards he never knew anything else about him. He snatched his phone and dialed Benjamin’s number. All that was left for him to do was to touch the green button on the screen, but to no avail. It’s only seven in the morning and he’s busy right now, he assumed. Was it a rightful assumption? Possibly since Theo remembered the routine at the mansion. He shoved his phone in his pocket and exited the room to finally start his day.

He arrived at his fraternity’s house around nine in the morning. The campus was lively with students walking about idly with an odd few rushing to their classes as if their lives depended on them not being tardy. Theo’s fraternity brothers waited for him at the steps of the fraternity house in a single line to give him his award. Theo had known for some time that he was one of the candidates for the award, but he never thought that winning it would become a reality for him. Accomplished and proud, Theo walked up the steps to take his award that the Dean was holding in her hands but the loud approaching footsteps of someone desperate interrupted the procession.

“Where is Theo von Draken?” Booker had arrived in front of the Alpha Kappa Lambda house. He stifled an exhausted breath as he stood upright, facing the group of men above him on the stone steps.

In a whim of pride, Theo turned to face the man who came to look for him. He was careless and didn’t even think about recognizing his voice or anything of that matter. Not a thought went through his head besides wanting to face whoever wanted to see him so urgently that they were out of breath.

“You’re Theo?” Booker asked as he gazed at the enigmatic young man with narrow eyes filled with adverse intent.

Theo nodded with a curt smile. “You found your guy. And you are?” Theo folded his arms across his chest when he looked down at Booker. I obviously know you, he thought. The memory of Booker’s fist crashing into Theo’s face at the party flashed behind his eyes. Before he would wince at such a thought, but now he was able to stand still with a straight face as that painful memory played in his mind.

Booker was lost in the man’s dark green eyes. He noticed the scar at his cheek. You look so familiar, but I can’t seem to remember where I know you from, he thought with wonder. “My name is Booker Edmunds and I’m the current title-holder of that award.” He nodded towards the golden gilded award that Theo was holding in his right hand.

“Not anymore apparently,” Theo chuckled before adding quickly, “I hope I’m not being rude or anything.” Theo intended to be as spiteful as possible to Booker on those steps in front of the fraternity. The people that walked by looked at the scene as spectators. Meanwhile Theo’s fraternity brothers all wore wily smiles on their lips as they waited to see the result of the conversation that they were beholding. One of the first things Cristina had told Theo not to do was to make his hatred for the Edmunds evident and here he was doing exactly the contrary. Sure, it was a careless action, but Theo knew how to manage himself.

Booker took two quick steps forward and said pleadingly, “You don’t get it, Theo. I need to be the Exemplary Young Man of Society of this university throughout my four years if I want to find success in a career!”

Theo held the award in front of him, blocking Booker from his view. The sunlight filtered through the award, so all Theo saw of Booker was his despairing silhouette through the fine paper.

“I’ll pay you! Just name the price.” Booker was beginning to feel apprehensive since his claim for the title was waning by the second. In actuality he had no claim over it from the moment the Dean chose Theo for the award.

The fraternity brothers behind Theo all burst into laughter at Booker’s imploring. Booker was dazed as to why they would laugh at him. They knew he came from a prominent family and he had all the money in the world to make things happen the way he wanted them to happen.

“You really don’t know him, do you?” laughed one fraternity brother.

“Theo has more money than all of us combined,” said another.

“His benefactress is a countess from Spain,” someone included before Theo put the award down to see Booker’s wide eyes of astonishment. Booker’s eyes followed the award as Theo held onto it.

Theo shrugged the issue away and continued walking up the steps in a nonchalant manner. Booker had already taken too much of his time. He heard his fraternity brothers laugh at Booker and in response Booker hurriedly walked away from the house in utter defeat. Theo, who stood in between the two Roman columns of the fraternity house entrance, saw Booker leave and smiled at the sight. His eyes gleamed with delight.

Later that day Theo arrived back at his home after a long final day at the university. He wanted to tell Cristina and Tobias about his encounter with Booker but thought it would be best to tell them another time when they called. He headed straight for the kitchen to wash his hands before getting some pans out and the steak he was going to cook with creamy onion sauce with a side of baked potatoes. Dinner was ready in an hour and Theo happily sat down with his dinner.

It wasn’t until after he had finished his dinner and sat back to relax when a particular feeling struck him as hard as ever. He realized with utter clarity that he was the only one sitting in a table with five empty chairs. Theo was lonely beyond belief and no matter what he did, whether he gained ten pounds in muscle in the past month or making Booker look like a begging fool, he would be alone no matter what. He loathed the solitary feeling that overwhelmed him day in and day out.

Theo wanted to contact Helen but the private investigators that Cristina hired had found no leads concerning the girl, it was as if Helen had wholly vanished altogether. If Helen wasn’t around, then someone else could be his salvation in Theo’s moment of gloomy solitude. He dialed Benjamin’s number and waited for him to pick up. It’s nine-o-clock so I’m sure Benjamin is free to talk right now. The phone on the other line stopped ringing when someone finally answered. Theo’s heart lurched forward in joy.

“Hello?” It was Amy who picked up.

Theo’s nostrils flared in complete disappointment. His heart became still, and he immediately hung up.

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