I don’t know how long I sat staring at the destruction, but when I finally came back to the world a cold wind had come up. Rubbing my arms I stood up. My foot kicked a stone. I bent down and picked it up. I turned it over in my hand. Was this all that I would have left of the home where I had lived, the people I loved?
My fingertips turned black and I began to brush the soot from the pebble. But the soot wasn’t from the fire. I raised the stone to my eyelevel and studied the lines closely. Someone had written two letters on the small rock. Two letters that I recognized. LA. My breath came in spurts now. I pressed a hand to my heart commanding it to be still. LA, the code to meet at Locke Alley. How many times had I scratched it onto the side of a building or into a tree? I had sent Truscott home with a note with those letters many times. Someone had left a message for me. But who? Friend or enemy? It had to be a friend. Who else would have written LA intertwined like that?
“Crystal, are you okay?”
I turned to Dominique and saw that his normally ruddy face had taken on an ashen hue. He made no move to touch me. For that I was thankful. If anyone had, I think I would have lost it.
“We need to go to Locke Alley,” I said. “The truth is there.”
To his credit Dominique didn’t try to stop me he just opened the door to the car and let me slip in. Truscott crawled in with me and laid his head on my lap. I stroked his ears and wondered if he understood what was wrong. His emotions where directly related to mine. If I was sad, so was Truscott, if I was happy then Truscott bounded around like a young pup. Did he know that with the family gone and the house burnt there was the possibility the Anne and Buddy were gone too?
“Crystal, how do I get to this alley?” Dominique studied the road. “I can’t remember this place. I have no idea where we are.”
I took a deep breath and then pointed the way out for him. I don’t remember much of the ride to Locke Alley. Before I knew it the peeling, red door was in sight.
“Stop here,” I said. “This is it.”
Dominique looked around in obvious discomfort. “Are you sure this is safe?”
I looked at him and shook my head. “There is no safe place down here. But no one would dare touch me here. Thirty people would jump to my rescue and the attacker wouldn’t make it out alive.”
I shuddered as I thought of that one time when my protectors where not around, when I was destroyed or very nearly. The result of that attack had made my life only slightly better and it was the hope that she was still alive that made me get out of the car and walk towards that door.
My hands trembled as I grasped the door handle and pulled the door opened. The comforting, familiar sounds blasted out at me and I felt normal for the first time in months. This was where I knew what was happening. The scent of Sally’s hot chocolate mixed with the aroma of Jess’s cakes. Sharp, tangy scents of spices mingled with the harsh smell of cleaners. I smiled and stepped inside. The dim lighting kept people from seeing me and I stood drinking in the sights and sounds.
Bone Jones was haggling over a glass creation with a customer. Jacker laughed with Patrol Justice and Kindle and his gang huddled in a corner. Here nothing had changed. The underground market was still going steady. I began to walk through the booths, Dominique right beside me. I could feel his muscles tense beneath my hand.
“Relax, Nicky, this is my place. No will hurt me here.” Not even Kindle dare lay a hand on me. To touch me, Crystal the Girl with Angel Hair, was a sin that was long in forgiving. Around here I was the celebrity, the girl who had survived so much and still managed to smile. And I was still smiling now, maybe not as wide and happily, but I was smiling.
And then over the din I heard it. The sweet, bell like sound of laughter. The laughter I would never forget. I spun around trying to place the sound. There it was again. It came from the direction of Sally’s booth. Truscott suddenly barked and race ahead. I dropped Dominique’s arm and gathered my skirts. Racing after my dog I skidded to a stop when I reached Sally’s spot. There on the floor playing with some glass animals where my girls. Robyn’s red curls were tied back with a ragged green ribbon. Her face was smudged with dirt but her green eyes shone all the more. Across from Robyn sat Macy, her pudgy fingers making a small horse jump over a stick. Her blond hair shone in the weak light of the lantern and her blue eyes gleamed with secrets only she knew. And beside both girls lay their ever faithful companions, Buddy and Anne. Truscott barked once and both dogs bounded to their feet and towards him. Robyn was the first to see me and her face went slack.
Heedless of the muck and dirt on the floor I sank to my knees and opened my arms. Robyn leapt to her feet and flew into my arms, crying my name. Tears flowed freely down my face and I didn’t care who saw them. Macy toddled across the floor reaching for me.
“Mama, Mama.” Her sweet voice tugged at my heart and I gathered her to me, crying and rocking them.
“Sh, sh, everything’s going to be alright,” I whispered to my girls.
Robyn hiccupped and looked into my face. “It can’t be alright. They’re all gone. They burned.”
She buried her face in my shoulders and cried, her thin body shaking until I was sure it would fly apart. Macy touched my face as if not quite believing I held her. I kissed both her cheeks and rested my own cheek on her soft curls. She hadn’t forgotten me.
“Crystal, you’re alive.”
Slowly the voices and sounds crept back into my senses. I stood up, resting Macy on my hip and holding Robyn close to my side. Sally, Jacker, Bone Jones and Patrol Justice stood around me and beyond them the rest of the familiar faces in Locke Alley.
“I’m alive, thanks to Dante Brooke and his sister. But what happened?”
The question brought shouts and anger to the room.
“BE QUIET!” Patrol Justice’s booming voice shut the crowd up in only seconds. “I’ll tell Crystal what happened. The rest of you just get on with things.”
The crowd broke up and Justice led me to a quiet corner. Sally whipped up some of her famous hot chocolate and slid a mug in front of me and Dominique, who still hadn’t said a word. He was staring at Macy and she buried her face in my chest. Robyn’s eyes hadn’t left my face and I wondered if she had even see Dominique.
“Dom, this is Patrol Justice, a family friend. Justice, this is Dominique St. Clair.” I wasn’t going get into what had happened to me until I knew what had happened with my family.
“Justice, what happened?”
Justice ran a hand through his blond hair. “I tried to stop it, Crystal. But I was too late.”
With growing horror I listened as he unfolded the demise of my family. Someone high up in the government had finally heard of a girl with angel hair living among the east slums. Even after all these years they still remembered that they hadn’t gotten both of us. Two days after I left government officials began the search for me. No one knew who had finally talked but a week later the men had showed up at my house. After searching the house they took the family one at a time into the living room and demanded them to reveal where I was. Of course no one but Grandpa knew where I was. And Grandpa had died the day I left. When the men had questioned everyone they arrested Pete and Lance. Quincy had pulled out her gun and demanded that her husband and son be released. The men laughed and one had reached out for her gun. Quincy, in a move that surprised everyone, shot the man. That was when all chaos ensued. And in the confusion, Robyn had snuck out with Macy. The dogs had been locked in the cellar and she released them. They had hidden in the woods and listened as shots rang out through the night. Then the noise stopped and five out seven men left the house. They had splashed some gasoline on the house and torched it.
“I’m sorry, Crystal. We did everything to get the men off your trail.” Patrol Justice reached out and squeezed my hand. “We still haven’t found the squealer, but when we do...”
“I bet I know who did it,” I said harshly. “There is only one person that would be angry enough to do this thing.”
“It wasn’t me, Crystal.” His voice came from beside me and I looked up in the troubled grey eyes of Kindle. “I would never do that to you?”
“Why not?” I challenged. “You’ve done other things to me.”
Kindle’s face twisted in pain. “I know and for that I’m sorry. But I’ve tried to help you out anyway I could since she was born.”
He looked down at Macy. His eyes softened and he reached down to touch her fine hair. I studied him and was shocked to see that he eyes held something akin to love in them. I looked down at Macy and saw she was staring up at her father, a shy smile on her face.
“You know that extra five dollars you got each week?” Kindle asked, pulling his hand away from my baby.
I nodded, remembering the envelope that was slid under the door every Friday night, Inside had been a single five dollar bill. It was always addressed to me. We never knew where it came from but I thanked the Lord every night that someone was looking out for me and my baby. Now I had found out who it was from and I couldn’t believe it. The man I had always hated suddenly didn’t seem all that awful now. Of course he had down some things that I could never forgive, but he had also given me the thing I treasured most on this earth. My daughter, my Macy... our baby.
I touched Kindle’s hand and when his shocked face turned to mine, I whispered the words I think he always wanted to hear from me. “I forgive you, Kindle. And thank you.” I pressed a kiss to my baby’s head as Kindle walked away.
Dominique looked between me and the man walking away. Then he looked at Macy. “What happened to you?”
“Dom, I’m sure you can put two and two together. He’s Macy’s father. And no, I didn’t choose that way.” I squeezed his hand. “I wasn’t raised like that. He was different before, angry, cold.”
“Oh, Crystal. Dante doesn’t know any of this, does he?” Dominique reached out and caressed Macy’s cheek.
I shook my head. “No, but I will tell him. One day. When he’s ready to hear. Now he’s not.”
Dominique nodded and raised his mug to his mouth. Silence fell among us and I closed my eyes, breathing in the scent of my baby. God, thank you for keeping her safe. Give me the courage to take the next step. Thank you for giving me the strength to forgive Kindle. Let him know that You love him. Thank you for keeping Robyn safe. Help me tell Dante the truth when we are both ready. I love you, Father of All.
Robyn leaned into me and I wrapped my cape around her thin shoulders.
“Dominique, let’s go home.”
He nodded and got to his feet.