Warlands of Song

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Chapter Three: Saige

Saige stared at the plate of food she’d found on her porch the night before while she waited for her coffee to brew. It looked and smelled delicious. Much better than the tiny snacks she’d thrown into her bag as she ran. The question of who had left it for her and why, however, wasn’t a small issue. What if it was poisoned? But who would poison it? The man she’d seen the night before... Had he left it? How had he found her to begin with? Was it routine for her mountain neighbors to explore the woods beyond their home?

Her stomach growled, but she pushed the plate aside and rose to pour fresh coffee into one of the plastic cups she’d purchased on her long drive to the mountains. Her trip was tense and full of unknowns. She had no destination in mind, only that knowledge she needed to go far away. One road led to another, until she was leaving the state, and then she was crossing many more to reach this little cabin in the mountains. The whys were unknown, but now that she was here, she felt safe. She felt like she was home. It had been a while since she’d felt that way.

But now she needed food. Her credit cards, cell phone, checks, and bank account, were all gone. Necessary, each and every move. Now she’d have to tap into her master account again and create yet another identity. Her plastic cup thumped onto the table, nearly tipping over. She rescued her coffee and sat back. Another identity to add to the hundreds she’d already created over the years. Why couldn’t she just be herself?

If she’d been killed, she would’ve died a fake. A character, created out of fear and necessity. She could die in peace if she were allowed—just once—to be herself. Or maybe she could live in peace. Why should she continue to hide? She couldn’t be harmed. She had no one to fear.

She finished her coffee and poured more. Lies. Each and every time she attempted to convince herself of them, she found it impossible. She had so much to fear, and much more was at stake than her own life. So with a heavy heart, she banished the thoughts of freedom from her mind and dressed, preparing for a quick run to the grocery store.

She wished she’d brought a coat. All she had was a jacket. In her defense, she hadn’t been planning to move somewhere cold. It had just happened. But now she was left with few options to choose from when it came to clothing. Whatever was warm and didn’t mean death. As in... her jacket. Great options.

“Idiot. Why would you come to the mountains without a coat when you can die in the cold?”

She left her cabin, clutching her coffee like a lifeline. Before she could reach the vehicle, someone called over to her.

“Excuse me?”

So close, yet so far. Her eyes rolled to the sky and she took a fortifying sip before turning around. There was no mistaking the voice of the man from the night before. Her heart jumped a bit before she remembered that he wouldn’t remember seeing her the night before. Nude, alone, singing as though no one was around and her voice wasn’t a deadly weapon.

“Yes?”

The night before, he’d been obscured by the steam of the hot spring, but in the light she was surprised. His voice held a rough edge, but his appearance was the opposite.

“I noticed you moving in yesterday, and wanted to officially introduce myself. I would have gotten my roommate to come along, but he’s not very social.”

He neared, and held out a hand, grinning. “I’m Glen.”

She eyed his hand for a bit, wondering if she should even attempt to be polite. Finally, she extended her own hand. “Pleasure.”

He held onto her hand with a gentle grip when she tried to extract hers. His head tilted a touch to the side, and he waited. Right, for her name. What was her name this time around? Her lips opened to blow out a small puff of air which emerged in clouds.

“I’m S—I’m Noa.”

She frowned at her near slip up. Her tongue had moved of its own accord to say her real name instead of an alias. Even now, she wanted to take it back and tell him her name was Saige. And yet, hadn’t she still told the semi truth? Noa was her middle name. Why had she picked that one?

Her hand fell to her side when he released it, her grip long relaxed.

“It’s very nice to meet you, Noa.”

Still, her frown remained. She looked him up and down, silent, before turning away. “I have to go,” she said. Why was she acting civil? It was better if he never knew who she was.

“Wait—”

“Thank you for the food. I’ll bring your plate back to you. Give me a second.”

She walked back into her house, and scraped the plate’s contents into the trash. She rinsed it off and dried it with napkins, then carried it back to him. He didn’t move to take it.

“Are you going to take it, or what?”

After a while of staring, he took it from her. But he didn’t speak like she expected him to. She frowned. He only smiled.

“Don’t you have to go?”

He must’ve thought he was smooth, talking to her like she was on his level. Instead of answering, she pivoted on her heel and left, leaving a cloud of mountain dust in her wake.

*_*_*_*_*

He was waiting when she returned, seated on her porch with a small pile of Tupperware. After putting the car in park, she just sat there for a while, staring at him. What on earth was his problem? She’d have to move. Again. Fantastic. She hopped down from the truck and came at him without a smile.

“Look, I don’t know what you want, but I’m not interested—”

“Moving is tiring, okay? I know. I don’t know where you came from, but I know it’s stressful. I’m a chef down at Starbright, a club and restaurant downtown. I was trying some new recipes, and I thought you’d enjoy them. I can’t eat everything I make, and my roommate is picky. I’d like for it not to go to waste.”

His words made rendered her speechless for a fraction of a second. Then she cracked down on her feelings and tightened her emotional leash.

“I’m not going to eat this. Take it back.”

“You aren’t hungry? You didn’t even eat the food I left you last night.”

“I—” She stopped. “How did you know I didn’t eat it?”

His smile this time was sincere. She’d thought the rest of his smiles had been real, but this one almost glowed. He chuckled.

“I know things, kid. Look, just take it. It’s not poisoned, and it isn’t bad. I wouldn’t have a job if my cooking was bad. You don’t have to talk to me, and you don’t have to acknowledge my existence. But it’d make me feel good if you’d at least eat the food I bring you.”

“I don’t understand—”

“I know. Relax, it’s okay. I mean no harm.”

With that, he stood and went to leave. She stopped him, standing directly in his path. “I’m throwing it all away. You should take it to a shelter.”

“Okay. Throw it away. That’s fine.”

There was nothing she could say that would change his mind. It didn’t make any sense. While she was thinking of something she could say to convince him otherwise, he just walked away, back to his cabin a ways down the mountain, and disappeared inside, leaving her to stare at the pile of food he’d left on her doorstep. The clear plastic was fogged, the food was so fresh. She sighed, and her stomach growled.

She was hungry... But she didn’t trust him, no matter what he said. She would throw it away.

“I’m so soft,” she muttered later, finding herself in the kitchen, stuffing her face from the Tupperware.

It was good though. He wasn’t a bad cook. Maybe even a good one. She took another giant spoonful of the pie he’d given her, and closed her eyes. Okay, he was an amazing cook.

“Chef,” she corrected herself. He’d said he was a chef. At what club? Star something. Why had he told her that?

He’d been strangely sympathetic, almost like her knew what she was going through and why. She’d have to take care to avoid him. He mentioned he had a roommate, but she hadn’t seen him either. Why was he on the mountain? He didn’t look like the type who would enjoy being outside. His skin was so white it was impossible to believe he’d ever set foot outside for more than the time it took for him to get to his car. And didn’t gingers burn in the sun? Why would he choose such an outdoorsy place to live?

She continued to stuff her face, pondering the odd occurrence that was Glen. And why he’d inserted himself into her life without invitation. In fact, he’d done so against opposition. Extreme opposition. Either she’d get him to leave her alone, or she would move. It was that simple.

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