Saturday, 26 May 2012

This Shatter World, Book 1: Glass part 16

The next morning I stood halfway down the stairs. Dante was leaving and it had turned into quite the procedure. One suitcase sat at his feet and another one had already been loaded in the car.

“Dante, are you sure you have enough stuff?” I asked. “I thought you were only going away for a week?”

“I am,” Dante said smiling gently.

It was the smile he seemed to reserve only for me. I hadn’t seen him look at Savannah or Dominique like that and it made me a little uncomfortable. I didn’t know if I could be who he wanted me to be. But for now I would pretend if it kept me free.

“You have enough stuff for a month.” I stepped carefully down the stairs and walked past Savannah.

She was clinging to Dominique’s arm, sniffling. She acted like Dante was leaving forever. Dante reached for my hand. I placed mine in his and he brought my fingers to his lips, pressing a kiss to them. I smiled and he smiled back.

“I’ll be back in a week. We’ll talk more than.” Dante looked at his sister and her fiancĂ©. “Dom, look after these two. They’re special to me.”

Dominique pulled himself free from Savannah’s grasp and stepped to Dante’s side. He grasped Dante’s hand. “I’ll look after them. Have a good trip. Say hi to your parents and my father if you see them.”

Dante nodded and then stepped outside. I moved to the front stoop and watched him climb into the black limo. I shivered a little in the chilly December air and wrapped my arms around myself. Dominique and Savannah stood beside me and we waved until the car had disappeared around the corner.

“Ladies, what shall we do?” Dominique asked offering us each an arm.

“I promised Sierra I’d come shopping with her,” Savannah said. “So I’ll be gone most of the day. I should be back in time for dinner. And Dominique, we really must begin working on our wedding. We need to get the invitations out this week.”

Dominique released my arm and followed Savannah into the dining room. I wandered aimlessly after them. They had sat down at the table to finish breakfast. I had already eaten before I left my room. As Dominique and Savannah ate and chatted about meaningless things I studied the room.

The painting on the ceiling was huge. Cherubs flew among the fluffy white clouds above a meadow filled with daisies. A chandelier hung from the centre of a large piece of plaster. The plaster had been molded to look like an opening lily. I shook my head at the opulence. A room like this was unheard of in the slums. Most houses I had been in had plaster missing from the ceiling and to waste paint on a picture was just not done.

I brought my eyes down from the ceiling and studied the walls. Pictures, some painted, some photographs, where placed at regular intervals around the room. Each picture depicted a famous place or monument. The Eifel Tower in London, a picture of the Lady Liberty before she lost her head. They even had a picture of some underwater flowerbed. I had seen the picture before in one of the books Grandpa had but I couldn’t remember what it was called.

Dominique and Savannah were still talking so I went to look out the windows. Red drapes that matched the cushions on the chairs, hung alongside the windows that stretched from the floor to the ceiling. My shoes tapped the wooden floor with each step I took. Outside the sun bravely shone from between the clouds. I hoped it would stay for awhile. I needed the sun. I was too cold and nothing seemed to warm me.

I looked at my two companions and realized they were too involved in each other to notice me. I slipped out of the room and upstairs.

In my room I opened the wardrobe and found the red cape Dante had draped over my shoulders that day three weeks ago. Had it really been three weeks before? It seemed a lifetime ago. That had been at the beginning of December. So it was getting close to Christmas. I wouldn’t be home. For the first time I wouldn’t be there to help decorate the little tree Peter always managed to find or sing carols around the fire as we roasted chestnuts. My hands froze on the cape. There would be a single present for each of us under the tree only this year there would be one less. Unless I went home.

I shook my head and wrapped the cape around my shoulders. Truscott bounded up from the rug in front of the fire and followed me down the stairs and outside. I stood on the back porch torn between two worlds. Was I meant to be here or home? Where was God calling me to be?

“I could really use an answer here, God. This isn’t what I want but what do you want?”

No lightning bolt hit me on the head and no angel came down to give me the answer. But in my heart I knew it already. God had placed me here for a reason and I had to stop fighting. I may not be home but He was giving me a new home, a new mission. My family would be alright. I trusted God to take care of them. Though I would give anything to see them just one more time.

I stepped off the porch and wandered down the lawn. My skirt brushed along the ground leaving a trail behind me. If anyone was looking for me they would find me. Someone had cleared a path between two rows of trees. I followed it and found myself at the stables. I turned in a circle, taking the wonder around me. The yard was ‘U’ shaped. On the three sides where rows of stalls that all opened out onto the middle. An overhang covered a walk in front of the stalls. I counted five people pushing wheelbarrows and another three brushing horses. And the horses were the best of all.

Each one was sleek and fine. Muscled and shining they peered out from stalls. I walked closer to the stables and reached out to stroke a horse’s light brown nose. The horse snuffled my hand gently then blew its sweet smelling breath in my face. I smiled.

“Miss, can I help you?”

I turned and saw a young man about Dante’s age standing behind me. His brown hair was crammed under a blue toque and his blue eyes sparkled above red cheeks.

“I’m sorry. I just wanted to see the horses. I’ll leave if I’m in the way.” I moved away from the stalls.

“No, it’s okay. Amour here loves company,” the man said, reaching up to pat the horse. “Don’t you, girl? Yes, you love people.”

Amour nodded her sculptured head and then thrust it towards me. I laughed and stroked her nose again.

“I’m Greg.” He held out his hand and I took it.

“I’m Crystal. I live at the big house with Dante and Savannah.”

“Oh, of course. You’re Mr. Dante’s girl. It’s nice to meet you. Do you ride?”

It took me a few minutes before I realized what he had asked. Since when had I become Mr. Dante’s girl? Sure, we’d kissed twice but since when did that qualify us as a couple? I was going to have to have a long talk with Dante when he came back.

“Miss? Are you alright?”

I shook my head and focused on Greg. He was staring at me, one hand reaching out as if to catch me.

“I’m fine. What did you ask?”

“Do you ride? Amour loves to go out and Miss Savannah has taken to riding Jacque lately. Amour’s feeling a little neglected.”

“I’ve never rode, except once at a street fair but I didn’t even touch the reins.” I reached out and let Amour sniff my hand. “But I’d love to try.”

Greg smiled. “Great. I’ll have you riding in no time. Pete, can take over the turn outs for me?”

Another groom looked up from where he was looking at a horse’s hoof. “Sure, Greg. What’s up?”

“I’m going to take Miss Crystal and Amour out for awhile. Is that second side saddle still in good condition?” Greg offered me his arm and led me down the row of stalls.

“Just cleaned it yesterday. It’s hanging above Miss Savannah’s saddle.”

Greg thanked Pete and turned into a small room filled with the smell of leather and horse sweat. I took a deep breath and smiled. This was the smell that I liked, the aroma of hard work and fun.

Greg took down a saddle and handed me a bridle. I studied the pieces of leather and fingered the bit. I wondered what it would feel like to have a piece of steel sitting on your tongue. Horses had always fascinated me and Grandpa had bought a book about them for me. I had poured over the pages under I had memorized every word.

“Let’s go bring Amour to one of the grooming bays and get her ready.”

An hour later when Dominique came to find me I was trotting around the corral on Amour and I had never felt better. The wind brushed my face and Amour’s smooth strides had quelled any fears I may have felt.

“You’re looking good, Crystal,” Dominique called.

I laughed and guided Amour over to where he stood. “I love it. Amour is the best.”

“I’m glad you like her. Savannah thinks she has too much spirit.”

“I don’t. I’m glad she has some spunk. Makes her more exciting to ride.” As I spoke, Amour flung up her head and jingled the bit in her mouth. I laughed and patted her neck. “Calm down, girl. We’ll start again in a few minutes.”

“Actually, I was wondering if I could talk to you for a few minutes.” Dominique leaned over the fence and rubbed Amour’s neck. “Can Greg take her now?”

I bit my lip. I didn’t want to stop but something on Dominique’s face made me pause. I nodded and waited for Greg to help me down. The groom lifted me out of the saddle and I handed him the reins. With one last pat for Amour I took Dominique’s arm and allowed him to lead me away from the stables.

“Crystal, do you want to go visit your family?”

I stared at him. Had I heard him right? Was he offering to take me home?

“Just a quick visit to make sure they are alright. I know Dante doesn’t want you leaving here, but I think it will be good for you. Maybe it will help you settle down here knowing they are okay.”

“Are you serious? You want to take me out to the slums to see my family?” I smiled. “Of course I want to go.”

Dominique laughed. “I thought so. Savannah’s gone for the rest of the day. We’ll be back before she comes home and no one will know the difference.”

“Do we tell Dante?” I asked. For some reason the thought of hiding something from Dante didn’t sit right with me.

“If you want to we can. Maybe he’ll see reason when he gets back.” Dominique motioned to a small blue car I had never seen before. “This is mine. I like to drive so we won’t need a chauffeur.”

I giggled. This was going to be fun. It took a few minutes of coaxing to get Truscott to jump into the back seat but finally he was in. Dominique helped me into the car and then sat down in the driver’s seat. He turned the key in the ignition and the car roared to life.

“What kind of car is this?” I asked running a hand over the leather seats.

“It’s a 3095 Mazda 30. Four wheel drive, turbo booster. It cost me about a million but I love it.”

I looked at him. Was he kidding me? Who was crazy enough to spend that kind of money on a car?

“Don’t look at me like that, Crystal,” Dominique said turning onto the street. “A million is cheap for a car these days. Even the Elites can’t afford more than one vehicle per family. Maybe one day cars will be cheaper to have and to fix. Even getting gas is hard.”

“Where do you get gas?” I asked. I had seen other vehicles on the roads before but I never saw gas stations like they had in the pictures.

“Each family gets an allotted amount per month. And it’s expensive.”

So not even the Elites’ vast fortunes could get them everything. They may have been rich but it couldn’t buy them everything.

It didn’t take long before the opulence of Dante’s neighbourhood fell away and the abandoned buildings loomed around us. I shuddered as we passed the hotel where I had hidden twice now. Truscott panted in the back seat. He poked his head out of the half opened window and barked at a man on the street.

Soon the buildings became familiar and I directed Dominique down the streets. The excitement grew as I got closer to home. Wouldn’t they be surprised when they saw me come up to the house in these clothes? We turned onto my street and I could barely contain the excitement.

But as we pulled up to my house the excitement died, like a fire splashed with water. I sat in the seat just staring. Too stunned to say anything I just looked. The house was gone. The white walls and green shutters had disappeared. Blackened beams and supports reached for the sky.

I shoved opened the door and tumbled out. Once I had my feet under me I raced up the gravel drive. I squeezed my eyes shut and then opened them. Nothing had changed. The house was gone. I sank to the ground. What had happened? Where was everyone?  

Sunday, 20 May 2012

This Shattered World, Book 1: Glass part 15

For two days I saw no one except Elise. She brought me food three times a day and anything I asked for. The stack of books on the floor grew every day. I had only managed to get through about half of them but they kept coming. Elise said Dante sent them. I found that hard to believe. But I was grateful for them anyway. They kept my mind off of where I was.

By the fifth day I was bored out of my skull. I began to clamber around on the furniture like I was a monkey. When Elise brought me lunch I was hanging upside down on the bed frame.

For a minute I thought she was going to flip out on me. But instead she just shook her head and placed the tray on a table.

“Crystal, what are you doing?” She propped her hands on her hips and studied me.

“Exercising,” I replied dropping off the bed frame and somersaulting onto the floor.

Elise raised her eyebrows and took the lid off the tray. I leaned over the table and snatched a piece of bread. Flopping into a chair I took a bite. My mouth chewed slower. The bread just didn’t taste right. I dropped it back onto the tray and picked up a spoon.

Whatever was on the bowl smelled delicious but when I took a bite, the taste of tomato was like sand or something nasty.

“Take it away, Elise. I don’t want it.”

“Crystal, you have to eat.”

I shook my head and sank lower into my chair. I just wasn’t feeling up to it. “Just take it away.”

Elise shrugged and left the room. When she was gone I closed my eyes and let the heaviness take over my muscles. I couldn’t take anymore of this treatment. I wasn’t a prisoner yet I was. I had everything I needed except freedom.

    It was early afternoon when he came to see me. I was sitting in the window seat staring outside. A weak sun shone out of a bluish grey sky. Everything was dull and I felt an emptiness in my spirit. I just didn’t want to do anything.


I turned. When had the door opened? Had I been so lost in my thoughts that my senses had disappeared? I looked at him for a moment and then went back to staring at the lawn.

   Toenails clicked on the floorboards and I felt Truscott touch me with a cold nose. He whined a little and jumped up to sit beside me. I rubbed his ears for a minute and then dropped my hand listlessly to my side. Truscott whined again and laid his head in my lap.

“Crystal,” Dante said again coming across the room.

“Forgive me for not standing, but I am not feeling up to visitors today,” I said in a voice I didn’t recognize. For a minute I was startled. Since when I had I begun speaking like them? This was not me. But today I just couldn’t be me.

Dante laid a hand on my shoulder. There was no strength in me to shrug it off so I left it there.

“Crystal, are you alright? Is this room comfortable?”

I turned to him, unable to believe what I had just heard. “Comfortable? Oh, yes. But am I alright? No, Dante, I’m not.”

Dante’s grip tightened on my shoulder and his face contorted with something akin to pain. “What can I bring you?”

“You can give me my freedom.”

He bit his lip, thinking. “Do you promise not to run away again?”

I laughed. “Dante, you can’t be serious. You haven’t even given me a choice. You never will. Everything has to be your way. Well, let me tell you this, I don’t want to do what you say. And you can’t make me.”

Dante took a step back, his face revealing the hurt my words caused him. But I didn’t care. Someone had to tell this high and mighty Elite that he wasn’t always right.

“But the poor need our help,” Dante said, tugging on the black jacket of his three piece suit.

“What if they don’t want your help? What if they are just content to live as they are?”

“How can they be?” Dante began to pace my room, hands knotted together behind his back. “How can anyone like living in total poverty?”

“It’s not total poverty. We have food and most of us make money of some form.” I watched him pace, wondering what it was that drove him to do what he did.

“By scrounging up garbage? How is that even healthy? How many of you die from disease every year? Hundreds, thousands?”

“No, Dante. We die from starvation because everything costs so much. People die every day on the docks because safety is ignored and corners are cut. We don’t die from digging in the garbage.”

Dante turned on me and I saw the confusion and rage in his eyes. “If they just let us help them they wouldn’t have to work so hard. We could fund them for food and clothes.”

“Dante, they need education, not food and clothes. They need to learn to read, to write so they can get better jobs. They don’t need you dropping money into their laps. Most families would just spend it on things they don’t need.”

My head began to ache and I slid off the window seat. Truscott followed me and I rested my hand on his head. “Please, just leave. I need to sleep.”

“Crystal, please, tell me how to help your people,” Dante begged. “I want to help.”

I shook my head. “No, Dante, you just want to feel good about yourself. When you actually feel the need to help out of the goodness of your heart, come back and talk to me. Until then leave me alone.”

Dropping onto the bed I threw an arm over my eyes. I couldn’t take anymore. He just wasn’t going to get it. My people needed people to gently lead them, to give them an incentive. They need someone to come in and help them get their children into schools. The older generation was too set in their ways. It would have to be the younger generation who changed things.

The smell of Dante’s cologne, something sharp and tangy, wafted over me and the mattress shifted as he sat down beside me. A hand touched my side and I rolled farther away. Truscott growled low in his throat and I heard Dante sigh. He stood up and his shoes clicked against the floor. At the door he stopped.

“I’m leaving tomorrow for a week. I’ll talk to you when I return. Good-bye, Crystal.” There was a strange hitch in his voice as if he was going to say something else.

I opened my eyes and found him staring at me, a look in his eyes that I had never seen before. It made my stomach clench. I stared back and felt a slow ache build up in my gut. I tried to stop it, but there was no way. As Dante watched from the door I slid off the bed and walked over to him.

“Crystal,” he whispered.

I placed my fingers against his lips. Rising up on tiptoe I leaned in and pressed my lips to his. For a moment his shock kept him from doing anything. Then slowly his arms went around my waist and he pulled me against his chest. I wrapped my arms around his neck and held him tight. Something in my brain protested that I couldn’t do this, I shouldn’t feel this way. He was the enemy. But my feelings shoved the thought away and told me to follow them. So I did.

I don’t know how long we stood there but finally Dante pulled back. We stared at each other, both of us breathing heavily. He touched my cheek with a finger tip and I shivered. With a gentle smile he stepped away and left me standing in the doorway. On the way down the stairs he said something to the large guard. The man looked at me and then nodded. The man made his way downstairs after Dante.

For a moment I couldn’t think. Then I realized he hadn’t shut and locked the door. Freedom was mine. I stepped out of my room and leaned over the railing. Dante was handing something to the guard. As the man went out the front door, Dante looked up at me and a thrilling shock went through me. He wasn’t going to lock me in.

Suddenly freedom didn’t seem so dear anymore. Maybe my feeling where just mixed up. If I slept I would probably wake up eager to leave. Slowly I walked back to my room and stood in the doorway. From here it didn’t look so small. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.    

Saturday, 12 May 2012

This Shattered World Book 1: Glass, Part 14

When I awoke the world was dark. The air was still, everything held its breath as if it was waiting to see what would happen. I struggled to sit up. I reached up and held my pounding head. Where was I? It felt like I had a wad of cotton in my mouth. I tried to swallow but my mouth was so dry. I rubbed my throat and slipped to the edge of the bed. It wasn’t far to the floor and I stood up. My body wavered for a moment but I scolded myself and ignored the weakness. A faint glimmer of light shone from one end of the room and I slowly made my way over.

My fingers brushed heavy velvet. I paused. He didn’t, he wouldn’t. But then I remembered the prick in my arm. Everything had gone black. Who knew where they had brought me. My fingers trembled as I grasped the material in my hands. I took a deep breath and threw the drapes opened.

Outside a late afternoon sun shone down on a very familiar sight. Trees, flower beds and benches covered the lawn showing off their dresses of white. I shook my head and slowly turned around. With a sigh I sank to the window seat.

The blue walls seemed to have grown smaller and the large bed more menacing. Standing, I made my way to the door and twisted the handle. It didn’t budge. I tried again. It was locked. From the outside. How dare he?

I lost it then. My mind snapped. They couldn’t do this to me. It wasn’t right. They had no right. I screamed like a trapped animal. I poured all my anguish, hatred, sorrow, pain and anger into one long cry.

When I ran out of breath I sank to the floor and led the tears flow. They fell, silent and heavy. I couldn’t sob, I had no strength but still the tears came. A whimpering sound came from somewhere in the room and I looked around, trying to find the other prisoner in here. Then I realized it was coming from me. I pressed a fist to my mouth and tried to muffle the pitiful sounds. I couldn’t let them know that this was killing me. I had to remain strong.

Who was I kidding though? Shut up here like a bird in a cage would kill me and kill me fast. Dante would be sorry he ever did this to me. He would rue the day he decided to take charge of my future. Who gave him the right to tell me what to do? I didn’t remember getting a message from someone telling me that my life was now to be dictated by a man who had always gotten what he wanted. Did he even know what he was getting into?

Sure, he talked smart and reasonable. But how did he know the poor actually wanted help? And why had he waited until now to find me and ask for my help? Oh, wait, he never asked, he demanded. And why was I worried about him? I wasn’t going to help no matter how hard he begged. He was on his own. Him and his ‘Vision of the Future’ groupies. They would be ripped to shreds before they got five steps into the slums. And I would laugh as I watched.

My pain had long since been replaced by anger and I used that anger to rise up and march into the bathroom. I flicked on the light and looked at myself in mirror in disgust. My hair was everywhere and dirt and tears smudged my cheeks. Under the dirt my skin as pale and my eyes sported purple bags.

“Alright, Crystal, this isn’t the end. You need to keep your wits about you. You can get out of here.”

I nodded to my reflection and then turned to the bathtub. A relaxing soak in the tub would help. As I waited for the tub to fill I gulped down cup after cup of water. Whatever that man had pumped into my veins had dried me up. When my thirst was finally slacked I stripped and slipped beneath the soothing waves of warmth.

As I soaked I banged on the gates of heaven, begging, demanding to know why this was happening to me.

“Why, God, why? Are you punishing? Because I think I’ve been punished enough. Are You trying to make me stronger? I think this will just make me harder. Please, You have to get me out of here. I wasn’t made to live inside four walls. I was made to fly free like one of Your eagles, to feel the wind in my face, to smell the earth, the leaves. I’ll whither in here.”

Words long ago read began to filter back into my mind. Those who wait on the Lord shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall walk and not faint. They shall run and not grow weary.

I clung to that promise. I would wait on the Lord and stay strong. One day when the time was right I would mount up with wings as eagles and fly this gilded cage. But as I looked around the four walls I felt the despair creep back into my soul. It would be a constant struggle to remove it all, but I was determined not to let anything crush my spirit.

The sun was gone and the world outside had lost all colour when the door to my room finally swung opened. I stood by the window in a dark blue dress I had found in the wardrobe. I was the picture of calm, but inside I shook. Dante was going to get it when he came in.

But the person who walked in was not Dante, it was Elise. She carried a tray and Truscott trotted at her side.

“Truscott!” I knelt to the ground and my arms filled with a wriggling bundle of fur and warmth.

“I’m sorry, Crystal.”

I tore my eyes my dog and looked up into Elise’s face. She looked ready to cry. In her eyes I could see shame and dismay.

I stood up and took the tray from her shaking hands. She hid her hands behind her back and stared at me. I reached out and squeezed her arm.

“It’s alright, Elise. This isn’t your fault.”

Elise looked around the room and shook her head. “But this isn’t right. Keeping you locked up like a prisoner.”

“But that’s what I am, Elise. I’m a prisoner of people’s whims. First my grandfather and now Dante. Both of them seem to think they know what is best for me.” I pulled the cover of the tray and snatched up a piece of bread. “I won’t be here forever. I’ll get out.”

Elise shook her head and went to tend to the fire. “No, they have someone watching the door day and night. You can’t get out.”

“When God closes a door somewhere He opens a window.” I sat down in one of the chairs and began eating the bread.

Elise shrugged. “I have to go. I’m not allowed to stay more than ten minutes. They think I helped you leave.”

“That’s ridiculous. I left all on my own. If you have any more problems, tell Dante to come talk to me. I’ll tell him what happened.”

“Thank you, Crystal.”

There was a knock on the door and Elise hurried away. She gave me one last smile before slipping back into the hall. I ran across the room and arrived at the door just in time to hear the lock slide into place.