by Kathleen Eagle
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She had fled the madness in early spring, the time of double-edged winds.
Getting away was all she was thinking about then, that and the fact that there was a double edge to every choice. But getting away was the only way to end the whole sickening cycle of craziness she'd been trapped in, and she had done that. She could congratulate herself for it now. In the coldest, darkest hour of early morning she had made a desperate move. Through the darkness she had followed the signs and the arrows, followed the long, black getaway road. She'd fled through sleet and bitter chill, flying within the posted limits, for she could not afford to attract the attention of any lawman. She'd driven with little rest until she'd found an unlikely refuge, a cold, gray, unfamiliar, end-of-the-world place, and there she'd taken a room.
Minneapolis, Minnesota. Who would ever guess?
The getaway was complete. For winter's rains and ruins are over, and all the season of snows and sins. Swinburne, if Angela remembered correctly, and she was sure she did, for she'd become intimately familiar with the few things she'd brought along with her. A few plants rooted in pots of soil from home, a few pieces of ordinary clothing, a few of her favorite books to help her turn off that dripping faucet of fear in her head. Her dog, Stevie, of course, sitting beside her now on the park bench they'd taken to occupying regularly on sunny mornings. She scratched the Yorkie's blond head, smiled when the dog seemed to smile, and reminded herself that springtime and sunny mornings had a way of putting dreary frost and fear on the run.
Blossom by blossom the spring begins.
She wanted to be done now with living in fear. She had to be. She had more pressing concerns, real concerns, like earning a living and finding a place to live. Angela Prescott was unemployed for the first time in her life since she graduated from college, and she was basically homeless. A room in a motel was not a home, and Angela was a homebody. A nester. Once she found work, she'd move into an apartment. Then things would be fine. She'd make them fine.
For now it seemed appropriate that she'd taken to spending at least part of her morning on a park bench, the traditional haven for the bummed-out. Sitting with her back to the nearest street corner, she'd learned to ignore the hurry-up-and-wait at the intersection, the revving of an engine, the blast of a horn. Beneath the spring-green canopy of oaks and sugar maples she sipped her morning coffee through a hole in the plastic lid of a paper cup and applied her once imperious red pencil to narrow columns of small print. Wanted, she reminded herself, also meant opportunity.
She knew the Classified section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune better than she knew the city or anyone who lived in it, with the exception of one albino squirrel. Pinky, she called it, because that was the best she'd been able to come up with since she'd imposed strict restraints on her imagination. No more shying from shadows, no more false alarms. Living in fear was no way to live. She'd called the night clerk at the Drop Inn Motel and reported strange noises for the last time. She was putting her mind to work on the important business of getting on with her life.
She knew it would help to make friends with at least one human being, but that was a tall order for Angela. Squirrels were easy. She had earned Pinky's trust with a few pounds of peanuts. Stevie still barked at other squirrels, but not the white one, and after two weeks of the same routine, Pinky knew all about the bounds of Stevie's leash.
Animals were easy. People were something else.
She'd chosen Minneapolis because she didn't know anyone here. No one in Minneapolis knew her. She had come to begin her life anew, which meant new identity, new home, new occupation. Knowing just one person might be an asset in finding the home and the job, but knowing meant being known, and she could not afford to be known by the wrong person.
She had considered Chicago. It was big, and it was a good distance from the upstate New York community she'd called home all her life, but her college roommate lived there. Chicago would be one of the first places he would check. She had absolutely no connections in Minneapolis, no connections to Minnesota whatsoever. She had taken a random shot on a dark, sleety morning, surely a move that would be hard to trace.
But the man she'd fled would surely try. He had turned her life into a nightmare, and there was no reason to hope that her mere disappearance would deter him from persisting in his game. He would glory in the search. He would use his boundless resources, and he would tell his endless lies. He would make her out to be the irrational one, and he would convince anyone who cared that he had only her best interests at heart. Even though their two year relationship was over-a decision he claimed to have made himself-he would profess to care about her, to worry about her still, and he would plant the notion that she was, in her present "paranoid" state, a danger to herself.
People believed him. She accepted that now. He was who he was. She had to be careful, for a while, at least. By now her sister had gotten the note that explained nothing, promised nothing, revealed nothing except her decision to leave. The surest way to blow a secret was to tell Roxanne. Now that Angela had gotten away, she had to stay away. This was a move that had to be successful the first time, the one and only time. She couldn't manage a clean getaway again. Not as long as Matt was obsessed with the idea that she could not leave him. Besides, as unbearable as his clandestine harassment had become, removing herself so completely had still been a difficult choice to make. For the time being she was giving up everything she'd worked for, everything she knew.
Except Stevie. The dog perked its moppet ears and watched Pinky scamper up the craggy trunk of an old oak, turn, and race down again. If the squirrel was showing off, the dog gave no sign of being impressed. Pinky expected a reward, and this time he took the peanut right from Angela's hand.
"Bit-chiiin," said a small voice, startling Angela from behind. Belatedly, Stevie gave a warning yap. Angela looked up just as a small boy dressed in huge clothes climbed over the back of the bench and perched on the backrest, planting tattered low-top Converses on the seat beside her. "You got a pet squirrel?"
"Not exactly a pet. More like a friend." Angela scooped her dog over a little closer, thinking the boy's clothes were baggy enough to conceal a gun or a knife. Stevie gave the boy a quick sniff test, then wagged her tail. He smelled like a dog's favorite kind of kid-sweaty, unwashed, ready to play.
The boy braced his elbows on the knobby knees peeking out beneath baggy Bermudas cut from a pair of what must have been his father's old jeans. "You done with the comic section?" With a jerk of his chin and quick pooch of his lips he indicated the pile of newspaper next to his foot.
"Oh, sure." Harmless enough request. Angela pulled out the full color pages and handed them to him. "Do you have a favorite strip?"
"Not any more, but I like to see what they got goin'." He unfolded the section and perused the first page. "All the good ones checked out. First 'Bloom County,' then 'Calvin and Hobbs.' There's nothin' left." He snapped the pages open, scanned the spread, then shook his head. "I'm canceling my subscription."
"So am I, just as soon as I find a job and . . ." She thought better of saying a place to live. "Well, a job."
"What kinda work you do?"
"I'm a . . ." Teacher, but she had to get used to saying something else. She couldn't apply for a teaching job. Not this year, anyway. Sending for her credentials would put Matt right on her trail. "I'm quite flexible, actually. A woman of many talents."
The boy's black eyes glittered with infectious vitality when he smiled. "Me, too. A man of many talents. For one thing, I find jobs for people."
"Really?" He looked like a ten-year-old, talked like an adult. As small and scruffy as he was, there was something about this boy that made his claim seem almost possible. "None of my talents seem to be very salable right now. I'm new in town, and I don't have any references. If you saw my resume, you'd say, 'Don't call us; we'll call you.' "
"Can you wait tables? I know where there's a job for a waitress."
She shook her head, chuckling. "I have no experience."
"You've been to restaurants, right?" She nodded, still smiling indulgently. "So you've got some experience. How hard can it be?"
Good question. Anyone who came looking for her would not be looking for a waitress. "I do need a job."
"If they hire you, I get a finder's fee."
She admired his pluck. "How much?"
"That's fair." Waiting tables was right at the bottom of her list of desirable jobs, but what the heck? This whole situation was only temporary. "Are you going to introduce me?"
"No way. You want the job, don't you?"
"I was hoping you had an in with the management."
"I get in, they show me the way out." Quick as her squirrel, the boy hopped off the bench. "For another buck I'll watch your dog for you while you apply for the job."
From a branch above her head Pinky chattered, protesting a premature end to the handouts.
"I was just by there, and I know the sign's still up. It might not be there tomorrow."
Angela gathered her papers, slipped Stevie's leash over her wrist, and dragged herself off the bench. She'd been turned down at two offices for lack of references. "Show me where this place is," she said with a sigh, thinking, waiting tables.
Waiting tables. Her ego was in big trouble if she couldn't get hired to balance a tray and do a little arithmetic. She'd been a cashier in a grocery store for a couple of summers. Maybe that would count for something. She tossed her cup in a trash barrel, hesitated a moment, then heaved the newspaper in after it. She had a feeling that today's best promise was dancing in her new friend's thoroughly engaging eyes.
"Is it . . . I mean, do they serve good food?"
The boy shrugged as though the question were completely irrelevant. "It's probably okay when it's hot."
From a bench not far away, Jesse Brown Wolf watched the charming, curly-haired ragamuffin lead his new friend down the garden path. The park path. Same thing, with fewer flowers. In another week the spindly petunias that had just been planted near the sidewalk at the far end of the path would be trampled. The kid was one hell of a good hustler. A Minnesota angler. But the woman was a pretty fish who clearly belonged in still, safe waters. Some big glass aquarium in a cool, dim-lit restaurant. He wondered why she'd be looking for a job in a downtown greasy spoon. Not that it was any of his business. He just wondered.
He knew the boy. Part black, part Sioux, all wild imagination. The boy's mother came from Jesse's reservation in South Dakota. Just plain wild, that one. The kid was on his own too much of the time, just like too many kids were these days. Somebody ought to be trying to look out for them a little bit. Somebody who had the heart to care.
But Jesse Brown Wolf had no heart left. He wasn't sure just what was keeping him alive. The devil, maybe, or his next of kin-a thought that brought to mind a play he'd seen long ago, when he was in school. He'd thought the best part was the ghost, wandering down the aisle of the auditorium and onto the stage like the lost, tormented soul he was supposed to be, doomed to walk the earth until he'd paid for his sins. Jesse remembered feeling sorry for the poor wretch, back when he'd had a heart to feel sorry with. If he had one now, he'd use it to feel sorry for himself.
Just as well he didn't.
He watched the two cross the street together. The woman was cautious, heeding the traffic signals, watching for cars. A breeze caught her pale green skirt and made it look like a parachute afloat on a warm updraft. Walking backward in front of her, the boy was talking a mile a minute. His gestures and his animated face made Jesse smile, just a little.
The kid had heart, and plenty of it. He deserved a break, and he deserved it now, while it could still make a difference in his life.
He deserved somebody who cared.
© Kathleen Eagle
Praise for THE NIGHT REMEMBERS:
"A compelling story...This rich tale shows how love can unite very different people in deeply satisfying relationships." —Chicago Tribune
"A powerful story of a new family coming together out of abandonment and despair." —Detroit Free Press
"The plot is complex and filled with the kind of magic I associate with mainstream authors like Anne Tyler, Amy Tan and Alice Hoffman." —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"A really entertaining novel...Meticulously crafted...Eagle pays attention to all components of her novel, especially its detailed narration...She effectively reveals character through believable dialogue." —Minneapolis Star Tribune
New York Times Bestselling author Tami Hoag says of THE NIGHT REMEMBERS: "A magical story of feeling and hope, the courage to reach for redemption, and the incredible, simple power of love. A tale to cherish and lessons to hold close to the heart."
Eileen Dreyer (aka Kathleen Korbel), award-winning author of BRAIN DEAD has this to say: "Kathleen Eagle has once again shattered the limits of romance. A powerful, emotional journey from darkness to light, THE NIGHT REMEMBERS redefines the Beauty and the Beast myth, by which not only love, but faith and imagination save the souls of three very different people. Woven in magic, grounded in love, and set to Sioux mythology, THE NIGHT REMEMBERS is a real treasure that will speak to the hope and wonder in all of us."
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