"Hi!" Jon smiled, stifling a laugh, as he glanced between a sable-haired girl and the rumpled white compact car with the decidedly flat left rear tire. "Need help?"
"I'm fine... thanks," she snapped as she yanked two of those ubiquitous blue paper towels from the rack on the pole by the gas pump and pressed them down on her right hand.
"Okay," Jon shrugged and gazed a moment at the shattered window behind the driver's seat. "You're strong."
"It was already cracked." There was a hint of whimper in her voice.
"Oh," Jon snickered and shook his head. "Got a spare?"
"I... uh... I... don't know," she shrugged. "I'm fine." Her brow narrowed as she looked straight into his eyes. "Really."
"Okay," Jon sighed and headed back to his car.
"Shit." The girl sucked in a gulp of air as an old used-to-be-red pickup truck bounced over the curb and rattled past her car. The dingy driver in a grungy white "wife beater" undershirt slowed only to glare at her and spit a wad of tobacco on her car before continuing out the other exit and on to the side street. He turned right, went to the light, and paused, glaring back at where she stood.
"Friend of yours?" Jon took a couple steps back to her.
"No." The word was clipped as her nostrils flared and she gnawed on her lip. "I'm fine."
"Okay," Jon shrugged and took another look at the truck.
"Oh shit." The girl tensed as the truck turned the corner and began to re-enter the gas mart. As it did the driver reached behind him and took a short barreled shotgun off the rack. "Uh... I uh..."
"Lemme look at that hand." Jon was to her in three strides and was between her hand the pick-up as it passed. A tear rolled down her cheek as a police car rolled into a parking space and the old red truck sped away.
"This hand needs a little work," Jon smiled. "How about I take care of it."
"I... I'll... be fine," the girl tugged at her hand.
"You're not fine," Jon furrowed his brow. "And that truck means no good."
"Shit." She bit her lip as she looked away.
"Look... I'm... uh... staying in a hotel not far from here. You're bleeding pretty good."
The girl glanced at the highway just as the pick-up truck passed by.
"Fu..." her head jerked back as tears rolled from both eyes. "Fine." She sighed hard. "Why not."
"Good," Jon lightly touched her arm, "come on."
Jon helped her to his SUV, then took her keys and moved her car to a parking spot. He alerted the attendant and told him they'd deal with it tomorrow. He paid for both tanks of gas, then returned to his car and drove to the hotel.
"My name's Jon, by the way," he smiled as he opened the car door. "Do you have one?"
"Yeah." The girl scanned the road.
She stared straight ahead and fell silent.
Jon retrieved a black medic's bag from the back of his SUV as the girl continued to furtively glance around the parking lot and road. As they opened the door the sound of a less-than-perfect truck engine passing by made them both turn around. There was nothing there and they went inside.
"Go sit at the table." Jon unlocked the door and held it open for her, smiling as she passed through at her bare back and slim frame, displayed well through the very transparent mesh of her otherwise solid black velvet top... which didn't quite meet her black low-riding jeans. Without speaking, she sat down with her back to him, staring at the drape-covered windows.
"Okay... try to be still..." Jon sat down across from her and took her hand, "this is gonna hurt."
"Used to it." She sighed and stared at the floor.
It took about a half hour for Jon to clean the cuts and gouges on her hand and pick out some shards of glass. He closed the large wounds with super glue and wrapped her hand in a light gauze dressing for protection. Throughout the process the girl grimaced and sucked in several quick breaths, but continued to remain still... and silent.
"There..." Jon looked up and smiled, "finished!"
"Now what?" The girl gazed at the gauze wrap.
"Well..." Jon checked his watch, "it's past midnight. Ready for bed?"
"Knew THAT was coming." He mouth curled in as she shrugged. "Why not."
"Good... I'm exhausted." Jon got up and pulled back the covers. "I hate conferences." He got undressed and climbed into bed. "Turn off the lights when you come. Jon rolled over and closed his eyes.
"What... are you doing??" Her head twitched back and forth.
"Going to sleep... why?" Jon leaned up and looked around at her.
"I... just... shit!" Her arms flung out. "Never... had that happen... before! You married?"
"Fraid you'll get something, huh," she snorted out a sardonic chuckle. "Don't blame you. Uh... got something... I can put on?"
"Uh... yeah." Jon groaned himself up. "And no, not afraid of catching something. Just figured you hurt pretty bad."
"Yeah..." she glanced at the hand, "I really do. Got something?"
"Yep, sure do!"
Jon got her four ibuprofen and a glass of water, then tossed her a extra t-shirt. She disappeared into the bathroom to change, and immerged a couple minutes later wearing only the t-shirt and a tiny thong.
"See,,," Jon spread his arms and legs, displaying his t-shirt and boxers, "we match!"
"Yeah... whatever." She flashed him her first real smile, and climbed into the opposite side of the king-sized bed.
"Goodnight, oh nameless one." Jon reached up and turned out the light.
Jon woke the next morning to find his guest, his keys and his wallet gone.
"Figures," he grumbled as he turned on the coffee maker. "No good deed goes unpunished."
After making sure his car was really gone he opened his cell phone, paused, then closed it and returned to his room. He showered, shaved and had just finished getting dressed when the door lock cycled and the girl pushed through carrying two white Styrofoam boxed.
"Hungry?" She smiled self-consciously. "Pancakes and sausage." She placed a box on either side of the table. "Breakfast is their best meal."
"Yeah, really!" Jon chuckled. "Thanks!"
"You're welcome! Guess... you thought I... stole your car."
"Crossed my mind." He pored them both some coffee.
"Mine too... sorry."
"What changed it?"
"I... uh... not sure... yet."
"I'll explain later... maybe. Let's eat!"
They made small talk while they ate, then left to deal with her car.
When they pulled into the gas station her car was already on a flatbed wrecker, while a police officer busied himself scribbling on a clip board. "Gees, that was fast! It wasn't in their way!" Jon parked and started to get out. "I'll go talk to them."
""No!!" The girl grabbed his arm. "Please... don't?"
"I... uh... I'll..." her grip tightened, "show you a real good time tonight... okay? Anything goes... okay?? Just... just don't... please!"
"Okay, okay," he pried her hand off, then squeezed it. "Stay put... I'll be back." He got out and poked his finger back through the window. "Stay put!"
Jon nodded to the officer as he went inside. He snatched a couple drinks from the cooler and went to the counter. "What's up with the car?" He motioned outside with his head as he pulled a couple dollars from his wallet.
"Stolen car," the sweet-faced pudgy clerk handed him back two pennies. "Some girl left it here last night. Had a flat and got spooked, I guess."
"Guess so," Jon chuckled. "Have a great day!!
"Thanks!" She smiled. "You too!"
Jon picked up the drinks and returned to his car. "Hope you like root beer," he passed her a bottle.
"Thanks," she kept her eyes on the officer. "Can we leave now... please?"
"Yeah..." Jon glanced at the car and wrecker, "good idea."
"Okay... let's hear it." Jon plopped down in the recliner as the girl slowly lowered herself onto the edge of the bed. She stared out the window... then at the floor. "Hear... hear what?"
"Yeah... sort of."
"I... used it... to get away."
"Look... I... can't explain.... You... wouldn't believe me... or understand."
The girl looked up and began to stare at him. Her brow narrowed slightly and her eyes did not blink as they locked onto his. He squirmed under her gaze for more than a minute, then turned away. She sighed and looked back at the floor.
"I want so much... to trust someone."
"Hey..." Jon got up and sat beside her, "I'm not gonna turn you in. What happened?" He reached out and brushed her thick hair. She began to tremble and lean ever-so-slightly away. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Just... stress... I guess." Tears ran down her cheeks as she slowly turned to him. "I am no thief." Her eyes pleaded. "I had... to get away." She blinked and looked back to the floor.
"What's your name?"
"You can call me Ellen."
"What's your name??" He put an arm around her waist and pulled her close.
"That's very pretty. What's it mean?"
"Wandering Star." She snorted a chuckle. "Prophetic, I guess."
"I love your accent. Where are you from?"
"Thanks." Eleraen got up and went to the window. Several children were playing in the pool and she gazed longingly at them. "It's hard... you wouldn't... understand."
"Whatever," Jon sighed. "Wanna swim?"
"Maybe... tonight..." she looked herself over, "got a problem, though."
"So.. we buy you one," Jon shrugged. "Uh... can I choose?"
"That sounds dangerous!" Eleraen returned his grin. "Sure... why not?" She chuckled. "Guess you're paying anyway."
"Great!" He lightly kissed her lips. "Let's get going."
Later, Eleraen would admit... grudgingly... that the shoping trip had been fun. She talked him out of a thong... barely... but still ended up with the skimpiest two-piece the shop had... along with two pair of ultra-low riding jeans and a couple of tight tops. He talked her out of bras, proclaiming... with a delicious smirk... that she looked very good without them. She tried to look upset, but quickly burst out laughing and agreed. Lunch, a movie and supper rounded out the day. They headed back to the hotel after stopping for a bottle of wine.
"Jon... I meant what I said..." Eleraen took his arm as he brought the car to a stop.
"I've done... what I've needed... to do..."
"To stay alive."
"And I meant what I said." Jon leaned over and kissed her. "Let's go swimming."
She bit her lip and followed him in."
"Well, get in!" Jon smiled up at Eleraen from the hot tub.
"I... uh.." she looked around the pool area. It was unoccupied except for them. "Okay." She pulled the t-shirt over her head and tossed it aside and rushed down into the tub.
Jon grinned. Her early twenties body was barely covered at all.
"Happy??" Eleraen scowled.
"Uh... yeah! For the most part." His grin grew broader and she was forced to laugh. She relaxed a little and shifted closer to him.
"Nice night." Jon gazed up at the few stars the lights couldn't hide as he reached out and touched her leg.
"They are far more glorious..." her voice flowed with excitement, "uh... I mean... where it's dark."
"You mean... where you're from."
"Yeah..." she smiled a bit and nodded, "that."
"I'm getting hot. Let's get in the pool!" Jon hopped out, pulling Eleraen along with him. They walked to the pool as devilment filled his face.
"Uh... sure... where's the sta...hey!" Her syes bugged out as he scooped her up in his arms. "Don't you dahhhh!!"
Her arms and legs flailed as she sailed across the water, smacking down in the middle and sinking almost to the bottom. She came up sputtering and franticly fussing with her hair.
"Hey!" Jon jumped in, landing no more than a foot in front of her. "Sorry!" He tugged her to him and gave her a deep kiss. She resisted... for a moment.
"I... I'm sorry. You... startled me... that's all. Gee...." she smiled, "you're strong!"
"You were already cracked."
"Very funny!" She scooped up water with both hands and sent it smashing into his face. That caught him off guard, but it also started a water fight and wrestling match that lasted for a while until they collapsed on each other to rest.
After several more back and forth trips between hot tub and pool... Jon even got some exploring in... they got out around midnight and returned to their room.
"Back in a minute!" Eleraen gave him a quick kiss, then snatched up the t-shirt and rushed into the bathroom, locking the door behind her. The sound of the hair dryer drifted out for four or five minutes and when she came out her hair was back to its fluffy self and she was dressed for bed.
"Gee, I wanted to help!" Jon's lip rolled out in a mock pout.
"Yeah... bet you did," she smiled. "There's still the wine."
"I'll open it!"
Eleraen drank most of the bottle. They cuddled some and kissed, but it wasn't long before she had drifted off to sleep.
"Now... let's see..." Jon gently pushed her hair aside to expose an ear. He smiled and nodded as his fingers traced its outline to a graceful but decided point. Thought so... he replaced the hair. "I did see it. You have many secrets my little star... many secrets." He kissed her cheek and turned out the light. In a short while he had drifted off into dreams.
He woke up the next morning to the aroma of waffles and coffee. Eleraen had found the food in the lobby and had brought up breakfast, complete with fruit and strawberry yogurt... and two cups of apple juice for Jon.
"Hi!" She chuckled at his still not-quite-focused eyes.
"Uh... hi," he smiled. "Been busy, I see."
"Hope you like it."
"Looks great! Let's eat... uh... in a minute." His feet hit the floor and he staggered into the bathroom. He quickly returned, kissed her, then sat down to devour breakfast.
They ate mostly in silence while watching a home and garden "dream" show, the staple of Saturday morning cable TV. Occasionally Jon's eyes would drift Eleraen's way and he'd study her.
Without warning her eyes locked onto his and she launched from the chair. They became wilder and she began to shake as she backed to the door.
"Hey... what's wrong?" Hon pushed his chair back to get up.
Without answering she reached behind her for the doorknob. She paused, then flung the door wide and raced out.
"Eleraen!" Jon reached the door and looked out just in time to see her disappear into a stairwell. He threw his trousers on, grabbed a room key, and tried to follow her. But by the time he got outside she was out of sight.
He made a quick foot patrol, then went back and grabbed his car keys. After driving several times around the area he returned to the room for his usual morning ritual.
Jon paid for another night, then went out in search of Eleraen again. He drove four or five hours, getting lost several times in the process, but had no luck at all. What he did spot... from a distance... was a pickup truck much like the one at the gas mart. He gave up looking sometime after dark, bought a pizza, and returned to his room to wait.
It was past two AM when the door unlocked and slowly opened. Eleraen crept into the darkened room, paused, and studied the bed. Satisfied, she groped for her clothes, then pulled a plastic bag from a pocket and began stuffing them inside.
She jumped and jerked around as the room lights cam on. Jon was glaring at her... and blocking the door.
"I'm listening. Where ya been?"
"Making a living." Eleraen stared at the wall. "I told you..."
Her voice was cut short by a lip lock. When he released her he forced her to make eye contact.
"So... why'd ya leave?"
"You wouldn't understand." She pulled away and dumped herself on the bed.
"So... how much you make?"
"Bastard!" She fired him an ugly look... then burst into tears. "Nothing."
"Not as hard as we think we are, huh?" Jon sat down and pulled her close.
"Too many cops... that's all. It... was their... semi-annual... lock up all the prostitutes night."
"You're a bad liar."
She jerked around in shock, then smiled and dropped her head on his shoulder. "I... was gonna try. Doesn't that count?"
"No... guess not."
"Now..." Jon turned her to him, "what was with this morning? I spent all day looking for you!"
"You... did? Why?!"
"Because... one thing at a time. Answer the question. Why did you leave?"
"I'm a freak, okay?" Eleraen jumped up and paced the floor. "Deformed! That's... that's all."
"You're a very bad liar." Jon sighed. "And your 'friends' are still out there."
"Shit." She dumped down next to him. "I'm sorry... you're involved in this."
Jon's cell phone rang. He glanced at the number, sighed, and answered it.
"Yes, Jenny," he smiled at the thirty second non-stop girlie-scolding invading the room. "Yes, I know... sorry I didn't call... I'll be home tomorrow... early afternoon... promise. Love you too. Now go to bed! Okay... bye." Jon chuckled as he closed the phone. "Teenaged daughter playing mother hen."
"Oh." Eleraen smiled and nodded, then noticed Jon staring at her. "What? No... Jon, no... you don't want tommmmmmmmmmmmm..." He locked her in a deep kiss, which she readily returned.
"That wasn't fair." She fought to catch her breath when he finally released her.
"I do... feel save with you." Eleraen put her head on his chest. "I don't feel that much. Haven't for a long time... a very long time."
"You ARE safe. I promise."
"Jon... I... haven't worked the streets... but there's not much else... I haven't done. You don't want this."
"It's late..." Jon kissed her, "let's go to sleep. We need to head home tomorrow."
"Yeah... and I need to figure out what's next."
"No... you just need to pay attention." He squeezed her. "Let's go to bed."
"Guess I'll move the pillows." He smiled at the long lump on his side of the bed.
"Guess so..." she chuckled, "you're pretty good. I'll have to be more careful next time." She kissed his cheek and headed for the bathroom to change.
"You know, you still haven't answered my question." Jon turned off I-75, heading north on 575. They had gotten up and eaten late, but it was Sunday morning and the traffic was moving pretty well.
"Yeah... I know." She avoided looking his way.
"You may not like what you hear."
"Have you asked Jenny about this??"
"Don't need to." Hon smiled. "Talk."
"Do you always pick up strange women?"
"Nah... usually normal ones..." he glanced over and his mouth curled up, "but uh... they're boring. Gotta feeling you won't be."
"Thanks... I think."
The interstate became a four lane divided highway as it entered the foothills of the mountains. It curved around turning mostly eastward and began its journey across the top of the state After a quick stop at a local fast food joint they drove another hour, then Jon turned left onto a two lane road. They took this winding way for some twenty minutes, the hills growing up on both sides of them. He turned onto a gravel path and began his ascent, while an old reddish pickup about a hundred yards behind them continued on.
About five minutes later they pulled up in front of a two story log home only a few years old. As they got out of the car a rather shapely blond teen bounced down the steps, pulling at her hip hugger jeans.
"Hi Daddy! Who's this?" The girl headed straight for Eleraen. "Hi! I'm Jenny!" She paused a moment and her eyes narrowed, then her smile returned as she held out her hand.
"Uh... Ellen." Eleraen stumbled back as if nudged by an unseen hand, then went forward and took Jenny's hand.
"Thought I told you about that SMALL halter top, young lady," Jon scowled as he lifted the back of the SUV.
"Aw Daddy, it's comfortable!" Jenny's lip rolled out. "No one's around!"
"That's not the point," he sighed. "Modern girl." He winked at Eleraen.
"Yeah, with a Neanderthal daddy!"
"Watch it! You're supposed to be on my side!"
"She looks cute!" Eleraen hugged Jenny as she glanced at Jon and smiled.
"Thanks a lot!" Jon flashed them both an ugly look, which they both ignored.
"Thanks!" Jenny returned Eleraen's hug. "Come on..." she took her hand, "I'll show you your room. Unless... that is..." Jenny grinned at her dad.
"Watch it!" Jon slammed down the hatch.
"Just checking." Jenny giggled as she led Eleraen up the steps. "Supper will be ready in about an hour."
"Sounds good." Jon shook his head as he watched them walk inside.
The house was of contemporary design. The first floor consisted of a master suite and a great room-kitchen-dining room rolled into one. This opened onto a deck which looked out onto a valley and the mountains beyond. Windows covered the walls so the view could be enjoyed inside as well as out. Jenny's bedroom and a guest room were upstairs. Each came with its own bathroom, complete with a garden tub that looked out over the countryside.
The supper of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans... along with salad and tea... showed up in two hours instead of one, but there was more than enough for three... almost as if company had been expected. Jenny had even baked a pie. She had turned into quite a good cook, and though she didn't always make what Jon wanted he rarely complained, because she had cheerfully taken up the task.
While they were waiting, Jon and Eleraen wandered onto the deck. The sun was already behind the mountains and the greens were shifting to varying hews of blue. Birds were roosting, and squirrels were engaged in their final romps of the evening. The scent of pine and damp undergrowth filled the air.
"Hey look!" Jon pulled Eleraen to the end of the deck. A huge black bear had lumbered into the clearing where Jon's SUV was parked. He looked at them, then lifted himself up to his full height and raised his right paw in what looked like a greeting.
"Welcome, Eleraen! You are known to us!"
"Thank you," Eleraen spoke softly and nodded while watching Jon out of the corner of her eye.
"Wha.." Jon's head shot around toward her.
"It... uh... just... looked like... he was waving..." she shrugged, "that's all."
"Okay," his eyebrow shot up.
"Sleep well tonight, Lady, you are safe." The bear attempted a bow, then turned and waddled back into the woods.
"Strange. He usually doesn't come around until late." Hon studied Eleraen closely.
"Perhaps he thought it was." Eleraen kissed his cheek and strolled to the middle of the deck.
"Hi! Wha'cha do'n?" Jenny pranced onto the deck smiling. She looked up at the sky then came and leaned on the rail next to Eleraen.
After supper, Jon had retreated to his study to catch up on his e-mail and some work. Jenny had shooed Eleraen out of the kitchen, so she went out on the deck to enjoy the night air. Work done, Jenny joined her. "Whacha doin?"
"Oh...just thinking... I guess. I... like being outside at night."
"Yeah, me too!" Jenny giggled. "Where y' from?"
"Uh... it's a long story. So... uh... what happened to your mom?"
"She... uh... died... in a car wreck." Jenny straightened and began to pace. "We... hadn't been here long. We were going somewhere. She... kinda... missed a curve... and we went down... the side of the mountain. I lived... she didn't."
"I'm sorry," Eleraen wiped a tear from Jenny's cheek. "You okay?"
"My head's not right," Jenny managed a chuckle. "I have trouble... in school. Oh... and I write... weird... stick stuff."
"Oh? What... stick stuff? Show me."
"Okay!" Jenny brightened. "Daddy thinks it's dumb."
Jenny rushed into the kitchen and grabbed a pencil and pad from by the phone and began to write. Eleraen sucked in a quick breath and her eyes widened as she watched the teen form letters on the paper.
"Where... did you learn that?"
"I didn't. I just..."
"You are very special, Jenny..." Eleraen's fingers traced a line under the runes. "You are very special."
"Hey..." Jenny jumped off the stool, "wanna try out the hot tub? I've got this really tiny two-piece that drives Daddy nuts! He HATES it!! I only wear it here..." she noticed Eleraen's raised eyebrow, "mostly."
"Sounds great!" She chuckled. "Let's go!" Eleraen kissed her cheek and they hurried off to change.
A few minutes later they were running down the back steps of the deck and pulling the cover off the hot tub. It was situated downhill a bit from the house, but was positioned so they could look through a gap in the trees to the mountains beyond. The evening had turned cool and they shivered some as they laid out the snacks they had brought.
"What happened there??" Eleraen ran her fingers over a scar about the size of a half dollar in the small of Jenny's back.
"Got another one in the front to match!" Jenny turned around and pointed to a spot just to the left of her navel. "Took a lot of plastic surgery to make it look this good." She chuckled and lowered herself into the tub. "Almost nobody sees them.
"So... what happened?" Eleraen got in and sat across from her, facing the house.
"Ambulance guys said I should have died." Jenny stared off toward the mountains. "Got thrown from the car right before it smashed into a big rock. My head smashed by another rock, then I got nailed by a tree branch. Don’t remember much except barfing up blood and..." she sighed and leaned her head back.
"Guess... I passed out or something. My head... started doing... crazy stuff."
"This lady... she looked like you... dressed in gray... cut the branch... with a sword. Silly, huh. Anyway, she held me... said stuff to me I didn't understand... but sorta did. Does that make any sense?"
"Some." Eleraen gazed up at the stars.
"Anyway, she was very sweet to me. She cleaned off my face... it was covered with blood... and gave me something to drink out of a bag on her belt. Medicine, I guess. Sure tasted like it!" She stuck out her tongue. "Hey..." Jenny looked at Eleraen. "You okay?" She moved next to her and wiped away a tear. "That wasn't you, was it? Sure looked like you!"
"No..." Eleraen wiped her other cheek, "it wasn't me."
"Nothing... I was... just thinking. How long ago... was the accident."
"Uh... about three years ago. Why?"
"Just... wondering." Eleraen returned to the stars.
"Hey, mind if I drive Daddy nuts?"
"Uh... guess not. Why?"
Jenny glanced up at the deck (it was empty) then stood up and quickly removed her top, hanging it on the lamp post by the tub. She giggled as she sat back down. "He hates it when I do that! Wanna join me??" Jenny winked and grinned.
Eleraen looked up at the house and thought a moment. "Sure, why not!" She removed her top and tossed it on the side of the tub.
"Feels great, doesn't it?"
"Yeah, not bad... not bad at all."
Jon finished his work and wandered onto the deck about twenty minutes later. "Hey! How's it going down the... JENNY!!"
"Told ya!" Jenny ruined across to Eleraen.
"Get dressed right now, young lady!
"Oh, calm down!" Eleraen chuckled. "Nobody's out here."
"That's not the point!"
"I... uh... can't get it with you standing there," Jenny turned around and grinned up at him.
"Uh... " Eleraen glanced up at Jon, "I'll get it!" She got up and... slowly... took Jenny's top off the lamp post and tossed it to her. Then she did a lazy pirouette as she lowered herself back down into the water. Jenny turned to her and stared. "Oh, don't worry." Eleraen smiled, "that's the best view he's had."
"Oh... no problem!" Jenny rubbed Eleraen's leg with hers. "I'm cool! No jealousy here!"
"You two having fun?" Jon finally found his voice and tried to sound irritated.
"Uh... yeah! Come join us!" Eleraen waved him towards them.
"Be down in a minute!" Jon disappeared back inside.
Eleraen waved again and reached for her top.
"Dare ya!" Jenny bumped Eleraen's leg again. "I don't care."
"I do, Jenny... for now," Eleraen smiled. "Thank you, though." She gazed at the trees surrounding them. "I do love this place."
"Yeah, Jenny. Him too."
"I really don't mind!"
Eleraen cocked her head and studied her. "You... want... me to... don't you?"
"I'm just say'n..." Jenny looked away, "that... I mean..."
"You're plotting something," Eleraen laid the top back down. "Okay, I'll work with you."
"Really??" Jenny sat up straight and grinned.
"For now." Eleraen slid down a little as Jon came out the door. "For a few minutes."
Jon added some cheese and wine to the mix when he came out and they stayed and played until late in the evening. When they went in, the bear came to clean up the scraps... including those "accidently" left by Jenny.
It was after two when a scream caused Eleraen to bolt upright in the bed. She groped on instinct, but there was nothing to use as a weapon. After waiting and listening for a minute or so, she slowly let her feet touch the floor. As she did, a knock came on her door. She paused... and the knock came again... followed by a soft voice.
"Can I... come in?"
The door opened and Jenny... paler than usual... slowly came in and sat down next to Eleraen, whimpering as she stared at the floor.
"What happened??" Eleraen pulled her close. "What's wrong?"
"It was you!" Jenny fought for words. "I... know it was!"
"Huh??" Eleraen tried to shake off sleep.
"You! You rescued me! I just saw you again... in my dreams!"
"Pretty scary, huh!" Eleraen smiled.
"That's not what I mean!" Jenny stomped and turned away.
"I'm sorry. Dream about the wreck much?"
"Yeah... all the time."
"Jenny..." Eleraen took her hands and placed them on both of Jenny's, "it was not me. May I... do something?"
"Close your eyes." Eleraen took a deep breath, then closed her own eyes. They remained that way for several minutes, Jenny shaking and weeping, tears rolling down Eleraen's face. When she had finished she released Jenny and sighed. "Now I understand."
"What? How'd you do that??" Jenny fought to catch her breath.
"Now I understand." Eleraen got up and gazed out the window.
"What??" Jenny wiped her eyes.
"Jenny..." Eleraen sighed, "let's go to bed. We'll talk tomorrow.
"No! Please?? What's going on?? I can't sleep! I never can after those dreams!"
"Sure you can. You can sleep with me tonight."
"I'm sure." Eleraen looked away and rolled her eyes.
"Okay! Thanks!" Jenny scurried to the left side of the bed and crawled under the covers. Eleraen chuckled to herself as she watched the teen... in a pink nightshirt with a huge teddy bear appliqué on the front... nestle like a little girl. She slid in next to her and cuddled up to the still slightly whimpering girl.
"Now... go to sleep."
"What's an elf-friend?"
"Go to sleep. We'll talk tomorrow."
"Good night." Eleraen smiled and put her arm across her.
Jenny closed her eyes and soon drifted off to far more pleasant dreams. She did not see the dim blue glow that pushed away the darkness and enveloped them both.
Outside, the bear looked up at the window and perceived the glow. "Good night, Sweet Lady. Sleep well!" He closed his eyes and journeyed off to his own peaceful dreams.
They had gotten up late, and Jon had already gone off to run some errands, leaving a note that said he wouldn't be back until almost suppertime. Jenny had cooked Eleraen a big breakfast and agreed... reluctantly... to take her to the sight of the wreck. It was only about two miles away and they had made it just after noon.
The convertible had careened down the mountain, flipping several times, for about a hundred and fifty feet before coming to an abrupt stop against a huge outcropping of granite. By then Jenny had been flung from the car and impaled on the limb of a fallen oak. Her mother had remained inside, to be crushed by the steering column when the vehicle hit the rock. It was still there, a rusting reminder of the mountain's dangers for any who cared to look.
"You sure it's this way?" Eleraen pointed to her left while trying to keep her footing on the steep grade.
"Yeah... there's the tree!" Jenny pointed in front of her. "Come see!"
Jenny picked her way down the mountain to the old oak tree, dying, but still sturdy. The nub of the branch that had impaled her when her midriff slammed against it was still visible, outlined by a large brownish stain.
"Bet that hurt!" Eleraen ran her fingers over the clean slice, almost level with the trunk. She glanced at Jenny, who wore a pained expression and a quivering jaw. "Uh... sorry."
"She pulled me off a little so she could cut it." Jenny lightly touched the spot. "It hurt a lot... I remember her saying how sorry she was. Ellen... who was she?"
"Which way did she go?" Eleraen looked away to her left.
"That way," Jenny pointed in the direction Eleraen was looking.
"Let's look!" Eleraen started plowing through the brush.
"Hey wait up!" Jenny tried to follow, but was a lot slower.
Eleraen didn't seem to hear. She struggled on across the bountainside. After several minutes and thirty or so yards... and quite a few bumps and scrapes... Eleraen stopped and turned around.
"Uh... no," Jenny labored for breath as she scanned the area. "There.... the... white tree. I remember now. She... held on to it... then fell down."
"You sure?" Eleraen looked to her left a bit farther down the mountain.
"Yeah... let's look!" Jenny began to pick her way down to it.
Acouple minutes later they were standing at a white trunked tree, unlike anything in the area. On the side facing the wreck they could see a hole somewhat smaller than a dime. A brownish smear slid down from it to about a foot from the ground. Eleraen slid her little finger in it.
"Got a knife?"
"Yeah!" Jenny pulled a lock-back out of her pocket. "Daddy said I needed one if I was gonna wander around in the woods. Whacha find?"
Eleraen opened the knife and dug around in the hole. It only took a minute or so for her to produce a slightly deformed copper-jacketed .30 caliber-ish bullet. "I'm betting eight millimeter," Eleraen hissed through her teeth.
"I DID hear gun shots!" Jenny stared wide-eyed at the bullet.
"How many?" Eleraen stuffed it in her pocket.
"Three... I think."
Eleraen began to scan and pick through the brush. "Help me look!"
Eleraen picked her way forward from just above the tree while Jenny checked the area below it. They searched for twenty minutes but found nothing. Eleraen returned to the tree and dumped herself on the ground.
"Guess it's been too long."
"Well... it's really thick here... let's look aga... OW!!" Jenny's knee hit something hard near the base of the tree. "What the heck was that..." she pawed through the undergrowth and something shiny caught her eye. She ripped the fives and brush away, then yanked out a long, slightly curved sword.
"Ellen, look! This is it!" Jenny beamed as she held up the sword. "This is what she used!"
"Let me see!" Eleraen's eye blazed as she took the sword in both hands and raised it above her head.
There was a sharp crack of gunfire and Jenny's head snapped toward it as Eleraen crumbled to the ground. Her arms locked tightly against her sides. Jenny glanced at her then looked back to where the shot had come from.
"BEN!!" Jenny screamed, then crawled to where Eleraen lay grimacing.
A deep-throated roar came up from the area of "Jenny's tree." She looked up and saw a figure bolt up-right and start to spin around. As he did something very big and brown rose up from behind him and swatted the rifle away with his left paw, sending it clattering down the mountain. His right paw came around and connected with the attacker's head, neatly severing it from his torso and sending it thirty feet the other way.
Jenny pulled Eleraen up and tightly to her. The bullet had struck her under right arm and had passed completely through. Eleraen's eyes began to roll upward as she struggled for breath.
"NO! Don't you die!! Please!" Jenny pulled Eleraen's head to her.
"Too... late... can't..."
"No! No it's not!" Jenny laid her down and stood. "Ben! Get over here!"
Eleraen coughed and a large glob of blood came up.
"Don't take another one from me!" Jenny seemed to be praying. "I want a mother... so bad!" She closed her eyes and wept.
Ben lumbered up and Jenny wrestled Eleraen up and onto his back. "Ben, take her home! Quick!" Jenny patted his head. "Oh... and be careful!"
Ben noised and nodded and started off.
"Wait!" Jenny grabbed up the sword and put it in Eleraen's hand. "Don't drop this." She kissed her cheek and patted her buttocks.
"I... won't." Eleraen's voice was weak, but clear.
Jenny watched them a moment, then dropped to her knees and began to crawl in the direction she thought her rescuer had gone... or at least had tried to go.
"Please... help me find it!" She had gone about thirty feet when she spotted an outcrop of rock ten feet ahead and slightly above her. When she reached it she saw that it sheltered the opening of a cave about three feet across and two and a half feet high. She squirmed herself in and found that once through she could stand.
As her eyes adjusted she saw, over against the back wall, a skeleton, wrapped in the shards of a once gray dress and drawn up in the fetal position.
"Well..." Jenny knelt down and stroked the skull, "at least you died in peace. Thank you!" She looked up. "You too!"
Jenny undid the now stiff leather belt and took it, along with the pouch attached to it. "Hope you don't mind, someone I think you know needs this." With another look Jenny wiped her tears and crawled from the café.
She scurried up the hill and ran the two miles home. She collapsed next to Eleraen, who was lying at the foot of the steps. "Here... drink... this..." Jenny forced air into her lungs as she pulled a blue vial from the pouch. She put Eleraen's head on her lap and the vial to her lips.
"No... use..." Eleraen struggled for short shallow gasps.
"Drink, dammit! "I'm not... losing... you!"
Eleraen nodded and managed to get down most of the vial's contents. In minutes she was visibly better. "Wow..." she managed a smile, "that stuff... DOES work."
"Duh!!" Jenny grinned. "Let's get you inside."
"What's... with ... the bear?" Eleraen tried to help Jenny get her up the steps.
"Oh... that's Ben." Jenny laughed at the look she got. "You know... Gentle Ben? Never mind, I'll explain later."
Jenny managed to get Eleraen inside and into the master bedroom, where she passed out about the time she hit the bed.
"You are... sure??" The gray-haired man scowled as he listened to the almost unintelligible drawl coming through the phone.
"Yeah... course'm sure! Lost 'y guy do'n it though."
"Regrettable." The man sighed. "Who was supporting him?"
"Never mind," the man's mouth curled in. "I will transfer the funds."
"Doesat mean money?"
"Yes," the man rolled his eyes, "it does."
He hung up the phone and pulled open the upper right hand drawer of his desk. He glanced inside a moment then slammed it shut.
"Hmmm..." he leaned back in his chair and picked up his glass of wine, twirling it slowly between his fingers, "I wonder.... I wonder...."
Tell me what you think!