That Sanity of Ours

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CHAPTER SEVEN

PARENTS WOULD OFTEN teach their children not to follow a stranger around. It was the first lesson most adults would teach the younger generation of their family. However, that was also a lesson that had never been taught to Violet Harper. Her mother and father were never heavily involved in her life and she was brought up by nannies before getting sent into Steinfield.

Of course, any capable grown-up would know that it wasn’t wise to trot around with a person they weren’t familiar with. That was especially true when that person was known as a murderer and wanted by the law for severe crimes. Nonetheless, Maddox Haster was Violet’s only way out. He hadn’t betrayed her, at least not yet. For now, that was all Violet could bet on.

Yet.

The two trudged through the forest, snow crunching beneath their shoes. Violet’s hands and feet had long gone sore and red from the blistering cold. Her coat wasn’t thick enough. After all, it wasn’t made with the intention of shielding the outside world’s wind. She had always been trapped behind walls, protected by the tall bricks and warmed up by the fireplaces within Steinfield Asylum. Heavy coats weren’t practical.

Due to the cold, Violet couldn’t stop her fingers from quaking and her teeth from chattering. She tried to keep it in, to not show that she was biting through the discomfort of it all.

Luckily, there wasn’t a need for Violet to say anything out loud. The next thing she knew, she was blanketed in a new layer of warmth, perfumed by a strong scent of cool mint. Looking up, she realized that Haster had laid his own coat over her shoulders, leaving himself dressed in nothing but a thin cotton shirt. His own lips were a little pale, the coat probably not doing much to warm his body up even when he had it.

“T-Thank you,” Violet gratefully murmured, still in a little disbelief that he would give up his own comfort for her, someone that was a mere liability.

“It’s nothing,” Haster replied dismissively. “You need it more than I do.”

Just like that, the duo was plunged back into silence.

Night had come and gone just like that. Hours were spent walking through the frozen woods and now, dawn had broken. Iridescent sunlight streaked across their path, illuminating the world before them. With the aid of the rising sun, Violet could see their surroundings much clearer than before. Gold light weaved through the canopy, seeping through the cracks between branches and shining through the frosted leaves.

The world was glittering, a huge museum of diamonds out of seemingly worthless objects.

“We’re almost there,” Haster provided, gesturing to a small opening in a distance. “We can rest here for the night. It will be safe if we stay only for a short period of time.”

“It’s not a long-term plan?” Violet questioned.

With a shake of his head, Haster grimaced.

“They’ll find us if we stay here for too long. It might be the first place they search, in fact. The only thing is that this safehouse is difficult to find, thus buying us a few days’ worth of time.”

There was no arguing with that. On their journey here, Violet had nearly tripped and fallen multiple times due to the slippery ice and the secret ditches. Furthermore, Haster had taken multiple turns which Violet had assumed was by random only to realize they were not.

He had truly planned everything perfectly, all the way down to where they could escape to. Perhaps, his escape plan was already in place before he had even set foot into Steinfield. That made the cogs in Violet’s head turn. What if all the trouble he had caused in the other prisons and asylums was just so that he could get transferred to Steinfield Asylum, the place closest and most convenient for him to reach his safehouse? If that was the case, how long had he been planning this great escape?

Maddox Haster reached out, combing the branches and leaves out of his way to reveal a small cottage nestled between two trees. The trunks and branches of the trees curved around the house as if the house came first and not the towering plants that surrounded it. Stones lined the path that led towards the cottage’s front door, snaking in between two patches that served as farmland before winter had set in. Smoke gently puffed from the chimney on the roof of the cottage but it wasn’t enough to locate the house. Before it could even break through the canopy of the trees, it dispersed, leaving nothing to trace back to it.

“Wow,” Violet gasped in awe, amazed by the humble and cozy little abode. “Such a charming little house.”

Pleased, Haster puffed up his chest proudly.

“Of course,” he boasted. “Come on. There’s someone waiting for us.”

The closer they got to the house, the less cold it seemed. It was almost as though the warmth of the fireplace inside those walls could be felt even from the outside. Haster raised his fist, knocking on the wooden door before patiently waiting for the person inside to answer. It took a few seconds of silence before Violet heard some stumbling and hurried footsteps.

“Who is it?” The voice inside asked just as the door sprang open.

A woman entered Violet’s field of vision, short, portly, and age well shown on her features. The years hadn’t been kind to her, leaving wrinkles on her skin and extra lines on her features. However, the second she noticed Haster standing before her, time seemed to vanish from her expression. Gone was the tired mask, replaced by bursting vibrant youth as her eyes gleamed in delight.

“Oh, my baby,” the older woman cooed, gathering Haster into her arms. “You’re finally here.” When she released him from her hug, she still tightly held onto his upper arms, examining his figure. “Look at you, you’ve gotten thinner. And where’s your coat? Your lips are already blue! Come in, quick, come in.”

“You worry too much, Mother,” Haster calmly answered. Yet, he made no protest when the older woman pushed him into the house. “I gave her the coat. She needed it more than I did.”

It was only after Haster had mentioned Violet had the older woman turned around to look at her. She showed no contempt or hostility. Instead, Haster’s mother showed Violet just as much kindliness as she did her son.

“Come in, dear,” she urged. “Let’s get you both warmed up.”

In seconds, the woman had them both shoved into the house and the door slammed shut. Immediately, Violet was enveloped by a welcomed wave of heat that banished the winter chill from her bones. The two coats still hung from her shoulders as she was reluctant to take them off. She wanted to stay wrapped up in this feeling for a little longer, to enjoy the snugness that was difficult to find in winter.

“Well, Maddox, aren’t you going to introduce us?” The older woman prompted, smiling excitedly at her son.

Haster reached up, rubbing the back of his neck while casting Violet and his mother a glance each. Then, sighing, he said, “This is my mother, Diana Haster. Mother, this is Violet Harper.”

That was the first time Haster had said her name. Violet’s eyebrows jumped, her eyes widening when she heard her own name vocalized from Maddox Haster’s lips. She hadn’t even known that he knew her name since she had never formally introduced herself to him. Turning to cast him a glance, Violet whirled around only to find Haster avoiding her gaze.

His mother, too, seemed to recognize her name. The older woman’s eyes widened just a fraction of an inch but it was still caught by Violet. She was quiet too, after all, and it seemed like the Harper name was more well-known than Violet had originally thought.

“A-Ah… Miss Harper.” The way Diana Haster said Violet’s name made the latter cringe. It was too formal, almost like a servant greeting her mistress. “Welcome.”

“Please, Madame.” Violet took a step forward. “Violet will do.”

Diana Haster took a quick glimpse at her son. When she caught a nod from him, her expression relaxed, turning friendlier than the forced politeness from before.

“In that case, please call me Diana.” Diana waved a hand, brushing off the formal title Violet had used. “This isn’t one of those stuffy noble households. There’s no need for titles and such.”

As the two women got acquainted with each other, Maddox Haster took the opportunity to slip away. He disappeared into one of the rooms in the cottage, shutting the door behind him. Violet watched from the corner of her eye as he slinked into the shadows, just as quietly as when he was scaling the hallways of Steinfield Asylum. Even in the comfort of his own home, it seemed like Haster was used to walking like a ghost with no footsteps to accompany.

She turned her attention back to Diana Haster and the two women continued with their conversation, quickly becoming fast friends.

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