Aether - The Redemption
“Order UP!” Tony dinged the bell as he put a piece of paper on the spindle.
The kitchen always reminded him of death. The smell of cooking meat made memories roll through his mind as he pulled the paper from the spindle.
Matt Hemsworth stood a good 6 feet 2 inches, his body lean with defined muscle. After his change from man to wolf, his muscles thickened, became more defined. His black curly hair was cut short, the color of midnight shiny as he held the sweat off his brown with a red bandana. His deep brown eyes showed a prolonged sadness. An angular nose, chiseled face, his teeth white and straight. He looked older than his 28 years, memories aged him.
He threw the two burgers on the grill, added the onions and waited with cheddar cheese.
He ran from his tribe in Del Muerto, from what happened when he almost killed their Seed. He ran from memories until the small town of Red Mesa called to him. He stole clothes as he changed from wolf to man, looked around and wondered why he stopped running. He had nothing. For some reason he went through the doors of DayGlo Diner, the bell on the door drew the attention of the owner, Tony.
“Looks like you need a round of good luck,” Tony said from behind the counter as he took in the young man. Filthy and broken went through his mind. “Sit,” he ordered.
Matt didn’t say anything, just fell into the booth. He felt empty both in body and in spirit.
Tony went into the back and brought out his daily special and sat it in front of the young man. “Eat,” he demanded. As a Watcher he could sense the wolf in the boy, but something else was there, something was wrong.
Matt looked at the food, his stomach grumbled, “I can work off the meal.”
Tony looked to him, “Just eat right now. We will figure it out.”
Matt dug into the burger in front of him, “Yes, sir.” It was cooked rare, just how he liked it and was gone in three large bites.
Tony Bordsman watched the young man scarf up the food. He went back and brought another burger and that was gone in seconds as well. He could tell the wolf hadn’t eaten in a while. He added a tall Coke to the plates on the table. Matt didn’t say anything, his hunger palatable in the diner. He finally came up for air after burger number three and the plate of fries was gone.
Matt looked up to Tony, he hadn’t wanted to ask for anything but now that his belly was full he felt a small sense of relief. He sighed, “I said can work off this meal. I know how to cook or I can do dishes or clean.” His eyes went back to the empty plates of food.
Tony felt his heart move at the pained looked in the young man’s eyes. “Well, today’s your day. I’m looking for help.”
Matt finished what was left of the French fries, pushed the plate away. He looked up as the large man got into the booth across from him, “OK, what do you need now?”
Tony smiled at him, “You can start by cleaning that up and finishing up the lunch shift dishes.” Tony looked at his watch, “Our early bird diners will arrive in about an hour. I’ll walk you through the kitchen and specials for the dinner crowd.”
Matt followed Tony to the tiny kitchen, usual stuff for him. Grill, fryer and prep tables. He knew his way around kitchens when he worked in the diner in Del Muerto, he could do this. Routine would take his mind off his failures. “OK, I’ll look through the inventory, where’s the specials?”
Tony pushed a piece of paper over to him, “Can you do this son?”
Matt nodded, “Yep, I got it.”
“And do we fill out employment papers?” Tony asked.
Matt shook his head, he didn’t want anyone to know where he was, “Let’s just make it a cash deal, easier for you and me.”
“We’ll start that way son. Now go and prep for the dinner crowd,” Tony said and threw a white apron over to him.
That was six months ago and Matt proved himself in the first week to Tony of the DayGlo Diner. Food was hot and fast as it came out of the kitchen, the specials on point. Matt never talked, came in and did his job, then disappeared at the end of his shift. Tony wondered where he went, followed him after three days and found him sleeping in the park, cleaning up in the public bathroom before his shift.
“That’s not happening,” Tony said sternly to the young man.
“What?” Matt looked up from the grill, he hoped he wasn’t going to be fired. He kind of liked the gruff man and the diner.
“You’re renting a room in my home. I’m not having my help sleeping out in the park. Dammit son, you should have said something!” Tony’s fist came down on the metal counter.
Matt blanched, how did he know? “I, uh, well…..”
“You move in after the diner closes tonight. Can you work the full day?” Tony asked as Monica, the waitress came in and walked to the back. She had bright white hair, a small compact figure her face reminded Matt of pixie. For close to 60, Monica could still run rings around the other waitresses at the DayGlo. She snapped gum as she went between the men and grabbed the apron off the peg. “What’s wrong with you two?” She snapped.
“Nothing, we are just settling a few things,” Tony snapped, “Get out there and setup for breakfast.”
“Jeez Tony, let’s go ahead and check the attitude if you want me to stay through dinner,” she snapped back at him.
“Just go,” Tony said a little softer to her.
“Now that’s better,” she looked between Tony and Matt, snapped her gum, “He’s a good one Tony, don’t fire him just yet.”
“I’m not firing anyone!” Tony yelled.
“You don’t need to be screaming, you’ll scare away the breakfast crowd,” she snapped back and went through the swinging door.
Tony turned back to Matt, “You move into a room in my home when we close tonight. You got that.”
“I was just saving until,” Matt started.
“Shit son, you’ll live in a room at my house. I’ve got plenty. Now get to work!” Tony turned and moved his large bulky form through the swinging door as they heard the front door ding with the first customer.
Matt didn’t tell anyone where he came from, the memories still too painful. The smell of cooking burgers brought back memories that still brought him to his knees with a shudder. It was his fault that he almost killed Julie. It was his weakness that brought them to the basement where they almost lost their lives.
The look on Julie”s face as she turned to him, the sadness in her eyes as his grandfather started the slow process of killing her. He could still see the trickle of blood from the wire that moved out of her vein and into his grandfather’s. He could still hear Walter Hemsworth, “I don’t need you now. You brought me what I need.”
The helplessness he felt as Walter took her wolf from her. How she was strong enough to fight him, strong enough to break free. The Stranger standing over both of them, his eyes greedy as he watched computer monitors and played with the copper wire. He’d been weak, he should have saved her. But she saved him, she even let him live after he lured her into the trap. He trusted his grandfather. He believed him and as a result of his poor judgment, his grandfather almost killed Julie, Bennie, and even himself.
“I didn’t adopt you because I wanted you, I adopted you because you were going to be useful to me, and you were,” His grandfather, Walter Hemsworth played with Julie’s hair as Bennie groaned in the corner. “Who cares if you live or die. I got what I wanted.”
“Matt, don’t burn those burgers, they requested medium,” a voice came from the kitchen door, bringing Matt back to the present and the task at hand. He was lucky Tony Bordsman took him in. Coming into Red Mesa was the last time Matt let his wolf power flow through him.
The last time he ran as a wolf.
He couldn’t let that power flow through his veins, he was afraid of what he’d become after Walter scarred him, what if he was like his grandfather? What if he was evil? He let that thought roll through him mind then went back to routine, back to work as he pushed the thought away.
Tony was old enough to be his father, a tall man with a shaven head, greasy apron casually tied around his waist, pencil behind his ear. Tony didn’t ask questions, just took Matt in, made him a respectable citizen of Red Mesa. They watched football together when they could get a signal, hung out on the porch looking out into the dark night with a beer or two before hitting the hay early since breakfast at the DayGlo started at 6am.
Matt plated up the hamburgers, grabbing the fries and framing them around, set the plates on the silver table behind him and rang the dinner bell. He worked the full day while Monica was replaced by Darlene at shift change. Tony, of course helped fill in the gaps.
“I don”t think we are being followed,” Brooke looked out the back window of the school bus. Her long brown hair was straight, her bright blue eyes watched the road. Brooke was close to 5 feet, her petite body well formed. Her face was plastered to the back window of the bus, her expression grave. She was the youngest of them at 22 years old.
“Thank goodness for that, we really don’t have a whole lot of money left for gas, so we’re going to have to stop for a few days somewhere and get some work,” Caia said, her eyes moved from the gas gauge to the road. Caia, the logical one in the group stood at 5 feet 11, tall for her age of 23. With the absence of fat she saw herself as a boy, but others saw sinewy sexiness. Her muscles were defined in the Las Vegas t-shirt and the cut off jeans. Her long brown hair was pulled back in a pony tail, her green eyes focused on the road as she drove. Her face was small but proportional to her body, her eyes wide set, her lips full and pink, cheek bones high.
“How would we be followed?” Saffron asked as she played with her blonde hair, “We left Phoenix in the dead of night, they were way too drunk to follow us. It was time to move on anyway.”
Brooke walked the length of the bus, passed the cot Saffron lounged on, moved to the bean bag chair behind the driver’s seat, “If you hadn’t been flirting with the clientele of the restaurant we’d probably be there a little bit longer and made more money.”
Saffron looked shocked, “Little ole me? Flirt? He asked me for my phone number, I didn’t ask him.”
Brooke blew out a breath, “Saffron, getting caught behind the restaurant didn’t help with out jobs. We could have stayed a little longer and not be as broke.” She pulled out a cash box and started counting bills, “Now we’ll probably run out of gas out in the middle of nowhere.”
Saffron looked to her friend, “I wasn’t the only one flirting with them, I think I saw you whipping your brown hair and rolling your eyes.” She did a very poor impression of Brooke.
Brooke rolled her eyes, “I was there watching out for you. Sometimes you get into too much trouble when there is men and beer involved. And I was flirting OFF the clock!”
This time it was Saffron’s turn to roll her bright blue eyes as she flipped her bright blonde hair. The oldest in the group, she’d been the longest in the group home, she’d been through the worst, “I can’t be the virgin queen here like Caia, I had a lot more time with bad influences.” Her eyes went dark. She had all the curves that Caia did not, she usually attracted all the attention. She’d attracted it at the group home, the scars from it hidden in her mind.
Caia looked at them in the rear view mirror, “Let’s forget about it. We have a full tank, we can see where that takes us. Long live the homeless ones! More adventures!”
Brooke whooped with Caia, “Who needs group homes full of creepy people when you can see the road on your own! I am so glad we got out of that place! Time to see more of the open road. Who needed those damn jobs anyway, right Saffron.”
Caia smiled, “Yes, time to move on.” These two friends were the only thing she called family, the three musketeers. They took care of each other.
Saffron looked up from the cot and smiled at her friends, “Well we all know that not a one of us is made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Can you believe it’s been almost three years since we ditched that place? They never came looking for us! And really, who needed to work in that dingy restaurant anyway.”
Brooke looked at her long nails, “Probably because they were happy to see us go. The trouble makers, the girls that wouldn’t listen to authority. The three musketeers.” Brooke got quiet, she looked over to her friends, ”I think getting out of there saved our lives.”
Caia frowned, “Yes, it got unbearable for me. I didn’t feel safe in that place anymore, there were too many men I didn’t know, coming and going.”
Saffron’s face turned red, “Yes, but we had each other’s backs. Sister Mary was probably glad for the empty rooms, she needed more girls who did her bidding, not girls like us!” She pushed painful memories away.
Brooke laughed, “You and her were like oil and water, she immediately got mad the minute you walked into a room.”
Saffron laughed. She wore a tight light blue tank top, her bright yellow hair pooling down past her shoulders. Her long legs in the shorts showed smooth creamy skin. Her bright blue eyes sparkled as she ate a Tootsie Pop. She had a speckling of freckles across her nose and dimples that popped up when she smiled. She exuded sexual energy, something Brooke and Caia failed to do. “Sister Mary thought I would be docile like the other girls in the home, she thought I would follow orders. But hell no, I’m made of stronger stuff than that!” She never told them about the beatings, the different men. She was free now, free to be whatever she wanted to be. She endured the beatings to keep Brooke and Caia safe, to not let them go down the road she went down. How innocent she was when she first went into that home, how Sister Mary tried to break her, to put her to use. Saffron fought from the beginning. When Brooke came into the home she shielded her, then along came Caia. Saffron took another taste of the lollipop, she made it out of there and was stronger for it. “It’s where it belongs, in the past. Sister Mary can rot in hell.”
Caia looked back at her best friends, she wasn’t sure what path her life would have gone without Saffron and Brooke. Her first day transferred into the Guardian Group Home after the second set of adoptive parents sent her back.
She shivered as Sister Mary licked her lips when she looked at her. She was a scrawny 16 year old, her thick brown hair curled down her back, big blue eyes wary as she looked at the nun. Sister Mary looked her up and down and whispered, “She’ll do.” She looked over to two priests sitting at a table in the dark office, both of them nodded. Then she looked down at Caia’s paperwork, “So looks like we are your last stop young lady, you can’t seem to keep an adoptive family. Obey and the next few years won’t be so bad. You have nowhere else to go.”
Something burned inside Caia about the system, each time she met a family she could already tell it was doomed. It was as if someone sabotaged her chances of being adopted. Sister Mary looked up again, “We will put you the back room, go down that hallway it is the last room on the right, give you your own private room. We use discipline in this home, don’t forget that young lady. Someone will explain the rules to you. Now pick up your suitcase and go to your room. I’ll be down shortly.”
She walked out of the office as an older man in a suit was walking up the hallway. He stopped, his eyes raked over her. Caia felt a shudder run through her.
“What do we have here? Are you new child?” His eyes were beady as they seemed to stare right through her.
The last home taught her manners the hard way, “Yes Sir.”
He stepped close, she could smell sweat. His fingers came up and ran down her cheek to go play with her hair, “So fresh.” He whispered. He left her and walked purposely into the nun’s office.
The home felt wrong the minute she exited the office and went down the hallway, every sense telling her to run out the front door and take her chances on the street. The people in the home were sad, some talked to themselves, others looked over to her with eyes devoid of emotion.
She walked down to her room, every part of her insides in turmoil. She stood at what looked like a cell, a single cot in a windowless room with no dresser or even a chair. Her Guardian Angel was looking out for her in the form of two other teenage girls coming out of their room and finding her in her indecision. Saffron was the first to speak “Well finally, a new roommate, we’ve been waiting for you.” She was a small girl with long blonde hair, lithe body. She had bright blue eyes, full lips and a body that many would admire. Brooke, was about the same size as Saffron, her straight brown hair pulled back, with ocean colored eyes. She was skinny, both just moving out of puberty.
Caia looked over at them, then back at the small cell she was supposed to occupy. The room didn’t feel right to her. Saffron moved and put her body between the door to Caia’s room and Caia, “You don’t want to go in there.”
Caia stepped back, “I was told this is my room.”
Saffron shook her head, “No it’s not, we’ve got an extra bed open over here.” She didn’t want to tell the frightened girl what happened in that room, her experiences when she first appeared in the home.
Caia looked over to the bedroom door. The room had a window that was sealed shut, but it was cheery. They’d put hand drawn pictures on the walls and there was a dresser, “But I think I’m supposed to….”
Saffron went and put her arm around Caia, “No, you’re not supposed to do anything. Come on, what’s your name?”
“Caia,” she let herself be led away from the dungeon into the other room. Saffron sat her on the open cot, took her suitcase from her and set it on the floor, “See, isn’t this much better?”
Saffron went over to her bed, looked her up and down then sighed, “It’s your first day, did you meet sister Mary?”
Caia nodded, “She gives me the creeps. And the two priests?”
Both girls laughed, “Then you will fit right in until we get out of here. Never ever go to Sister Mary’s office.” Saffron’s voice was hard, “Bad things happen there.”
Saffron went and closed the door to their dorm when she heard footsteps come down the hallway. Her and Brooke sat and held their breath as they heard curses come from behind the door. Saffron got up and held onto the door knob as it turned. Brooke moved and helped her as Caia looked on them helpless. There were muffled curses on the opposite side of the door that drifted away down the hallway.
Saffron turned to Caia, “See? We’re the Three Musketeers! We take care of each other!”
Saffron and Brooke pulled Caia under their wings, as they explained the room across the hall. They pulled together like a pack when Sister Mary came with some chores for just Caia. The girls went and did the chores together, several men peeked into the room before they moved on.
Saffron disappeared a few times, came back with red eyes, and bruises her mouth set in a hard line. They let her lie on her bed because they knew if they said anything, the anger that welled in her would be directed to them. “We have to get out of here,” she whispered in a ragged voice.
Over the six months that Caia spent at the home, she probably slept a total of two hours. She knew to go to the bathroom at odd times of the night to avoid contact. She snuck into the bathroom, was walking out when Sister Mary stood in the door with a long ruler in her hand. Caia backed up.
“It has come to my attention that you are not following the rules of the home,” Sister Mary’s voice was deadly.
“What rules? I’ve done my chores,” Caia countered as she took another step back.
“You know what I am talking about. You will obey or I will move you out of that room Caia. I’ve waited long enough,” Sister Mary tapped the ruler against her hand.
“I will not,” Caia said defiantly to her, her chin going up a notch. If she was going down she was going down swinging.
The nun stepped toward her and raised the ruler, it came down hard on her shoulder, Caia gasped. “That’s for disobeying me.” The second slap was to her side, Sister Mary knew she didn’t want to damage that pretty face, “That’s for listening to those two other dimwits and thinking they can protect you.” The third was to her bare legs peeking out from the nightdress, “You will go to the back room tomorrow. I won’t hear another word about it.”
Caia ran from her as the ruler came into the air again, this time hitting her in the back of the head which knocked her to the floor. Caia scrambled away from the nun.
“I’ve take too much money for you. You will start doing my bidding tomorrow,” Sister Mary’s voice was harsh. “Don’t make me lock you in your room. Come quietly and they will treat you well.”
Caia ran to heir room and shut the door looking for the lock but someone had taken it off. She started crying.
Saffron was the first one up at the sound, she’d learned to sleep light since she’d been at the home longer than the other two. “What’s wrong?”
Caia looked over to her best friend, fear ran through her, “Sister Mary was in the bathroom.”
“This late? That bitch needs her beauty sleep. What happened?” Saffron said as she went over and sat next to Caia on the bed. She spied the bruises on Caia’s arm, “Did she beat you?”
Caia nodded, her heart slammed in her chest. Saffron moved close to Caia’s face, her eyes narrowed as she took in the nightdress, “Did she?”
Caia shook her head, “No, but she said, tomorrow. She wants to lock me in the room across the hall.” The words fell like ice between them.
Saffron went and woke Brooke, “Fuck this shit.” She moved around the room and pulled what little things she had from the drawers. “Time to break out of this popsicle stand.”
Brooke and Caia stood with their jaws on the floor. “Where will we go?” Caia whispered.
“Anywhere but here,” Saffron replied. She stopped and looked at the two of them, “Unless you want to stay here and get raped.”
The other two scrambled around the room. They each took enough clothes to fill a backpack. Saffron walked over to the door, looked at the lighter wood where the lock used to be, “Yeah, it’s time enough.”
Saffron looked at them. “I was going to find out if this guy was for real but we really don’t have a choice now. So we’re going to put our hopes in dumb blind luck. He said someone’s calling the cops on the Guardian so we’d better get out of here otherwise they’ll split us up into different homes.” Caia and Brooke grasped and grabbed onto each other.
“Don’t just stand there. This is our only chance. Most likely Sister Mary is in her office selling you to the highest bidder,” her head inclined over to Caia who gasped.
“She said she wasn’t going to wait,” Caia said, “She said something about money.”
Saffron nodded, “Yeah, fuck this shit. Let’s go.”
They moved to the younger girls rooms, the little girls’ eyes open and scared as they walked through. Saffron stopped and looked at the girls, “Don”t worry, it will all be over soon. Sister Mary is going down!” The little girls laid back in their beds and pulled the sheets up to their chin and closed their eyes. “This was the only window with a broken lock, I tested every single one of them.” Saffron opened the window of the room, and shimmied down the drain pipe into the dark night. Brooke followed. Caia took one last look out at the home and trusted her gut. She followed Brooke.
The three ran down the lonely street, Saffron took them into a dark alley to a bar at the end, the door sticky to the touch as they pushed it open. They moved through the pool tables to the back of the bar. Saffron came over to a large man sitting behind a table, looking unusual in a business suit when everyone else in the bar wore leather and chains.
“I didn’t think you were going to make it.” He asked as he looked at Brooke and Caia. His gaze lingered longer on Caia, long enough for her to shiver.
Saffron nodded, “Well, things changed at the home. So here we are, I’m not sure to trust you.”
The man nodded, “Saffron, I’m all you got, trust is not part of it. I’m here to help you.” His eyes floated over to Caia again. “Let’s go ahead and move this forward.”
He opened up his briefcase, pulled out three manila envelopes, looked at each girl. “Brooke?”
Brooke accepted the manila envelope from him, looked at it. “It’s your ID, driver’s license and birth records. Not traceable but legit anyway.”
He looked over to Caia, “Caia?” She stepped forward and accepted the envelope from him, their hands touched in the dimly lit bar. He looked at her hard, Caia felt her body flush, a warmth ran through her core. She didn’t feel afraid, she felt most curious about the feeling. He smiled at her, “We may meet again. Take care of yourself Caia, get out of this town, bad things are starting.”
He looked at the last envelope, “Saffron?”
Saffron shrugged, “Why not make my fake name my real name. Who wants to be a Shirley?”
The girls’ laugh broke the tension between them, then man at the table smiled at them. “The bus is full, there”s some cash in the glove compartment, you have to go now. I have a feeling Sister Mary is answering the door to Child Protective Services right now.”
Saffron turned to him, “I don’t know how you found us, but thank you. You probably saved our lives.” She leaned down and placed a sloppy kiss on his cheek.
He nodded, his eyes traveled over to Caia, he sniffed the air and smiled, “How I found you doesn’t matter. Yes, I want you to leave as if your life is in danger.” He looked them over, then nodded, “You have to have each other”s backs, you are young, you are on your own. Things are changing for you, stay together as a pack and you will be safe.”
The girls nodded. Everyone stopped when they heard a siren go by, “Now go,” he said to them.
The girls ran out the back of the bar where the yellow school bus waited for them. “Can we be more obvious?” Saffron asked then shrugged, “Beggars can’t be choosers.”
They jumped in the bus, each looked at the three cots, the bean bag chairs, the small cooler holding sandwiches and drinks, “Man, who was that man. He took care of everything.” Brooke asked.
Saffron looked back at the the bar, “He told me he was a friend and that he wanted to help us. Look at this!” She wasn’t going to tell them about the nun dragging her to the room, her fighting the entire way. How she curled into a ball after thrown in the room and the door locked. The man proved to be her Guardian Angel. He paid to have her but didn’t do anything to her, just talked to her. He hatched up the plan to get them out of the home. Saffron shrugged, “He didn’t ask for anything, just said he had to get us out of that place.”
Caia looked around the bus, “Well, this is better than The Guardian, I say let’s not question the golden goose and get going. I’ll drive first shift.”
Saffron laughed, “You don’t even know how to drive!”
Caia turned red, “Well I was thinking it can’t be that hard.”
Saffron pushed her out of the way, “I’ll take first shift then I’ll teach you two how to drive this monstrosity. Hold tight girls, the world awaits! Fuck you Sister Mary!”
The man in the bar heard the bus start, opened his cell phone and typed in a text.
They are safe. On the move. The tracker is on the bus. Now we just wait.