It was an early winter morning and everything was dark. Nicholas stumbled down stairs without even trying to turn on the lights, because he knew his house well enough to get around in it in complete darkness. He was also incredibly hung over so trying to hit the light switch in every room he crossed would be pointless and time consuming. Finally he got to the kitchen and as his hand went in circles over the same spot on the wall where the light switch should be, he thought to himself whether or not it was worth the effort. Suddenly the light came on and its brightness blinded him. At this point Nicholas wished a light bulb was never invented and the room would be filled in soothing candle light. For a middle aged man who lived alone, the house was rather nice and everything seemed to be in the right place.
Nicholas took a glass and filled it with cold water. He rarely ate in the morning and coffee seemed to be useless when it came to waking up. Instead he would go stand on his terrace looking over his yard and taking in some of that fresh morning breeze. Nicholas stood there in stripped cotton shorts holding his glass of water and letting his bare feet melt the plain layer of snow. Oh, yes. He was well adapted to cold and enjoyed to feel it on his skin, so he only wore clothes for the sake of others. Not that he was a nudist or his body was unbearable to look at, he just felt like everyone expected him to be dressed for the weather, so whenever he would leave the house he would put on just enough clothes to keep others quiet. For Nicholas, winter was the best season of all. Not just because he was happy to walk around not feeling hot all the time. You see, he was a handyman and a musician, a bluesman to be exact and since there was nothing to do on the fields, the combines were put away until the spring and people had to stay home just long enough to have the time to fix their own radios and leaking pipes, there was only one thing they could do to make the day seem worthwhile. It was dancing, but dancing requires music, so Nicholas was happy to play five nights a week at the local bar called "Frankie's Den" and spend the rest of the day at home. Somehow in the cold seasons people came to the bar more often. Maybe it was because there was nothing else to do, maybe they wanted to socialize, but more people meant more tips and Nicholas appreciated that. Last evening was one of those days he didn't play blues, but that doesn't mean he didn't feel the blues, so he drank until the blues left his consciousness or the consciousness left him.
During the day Nicholas would walk around a lot. He would go out and take a walk in the woods, but nothing would ever surprise him except a random animal in his way. Or he would pace around his house going upstairs and to the cellar below, around every room and again upstairs and around every room. He couldn't help it. Nicholas was somewhat depressed and the memories of the past seemed to kick him to the ground every morning and made sure he would never get up. There were only two things that could sooth his mind so half the time he was drunk and half the time his guitar was weeping the sounds of blues.
I think it's time to introduce Nicholas Crowley. His parents divorced when he was little and went their own ways leaving Nicholas and his younger brother and sister with his grandparents. In just a few years his brother and sister got very ill and died leaving their grandparents devastated. Soon enough they both passed away form old age and left Nicholas a beautiful two story house with a spacious cellar beneath and a greenhouse in the back yard. They also left him a couple acres of land nearby, but he sold half of it for a great bargain. There used to be beautiful flower beds in front of the house, but a few years after his grandparents passing every flower except some roses died off. Nicholas didn't care much for flowers, but the greenhouse was always full of vegetables, the fields were always taken care of and full of corn, wheat and cabbages. He also had a lot of different fruit trees in the yard and all of this meant good profit in the local market. When he was nineteen he got married to a beautiful girl named Susie, but six years in marriage some problems started and one day Susie had taken most of her belongings and left without saying goodbye. She was gone forever and no one ever heard from her again. Being a young and handsome musician who could take care of himself Nicholas didn't have a problem finding love again. Amber was three years younger than him and for a couple of years they lived together, went dancing and even thought about having children. One day at the "Frankie's Den" a heartbroken girl told Nicholas that her husband was having an affair with Amber. Of course he didn't believe it at first, many women wanted to get their hands on Nicholas and this wasn't the first time a weird thing like this had happened. So he asked Amber, but she didn't deny anything, she just said she was sorry and left. He was twenty eight at the time and needed a fresh start, but life is nothing like the movies so instead of a fresh start he got a bottle of rum took his guitar and made some noise.
Nicholas Crowley became very unsocial, most of the time he avoided any contact with other people. If he was selling goods he only spoke enough to get the attention of customers, if he was helping someone by repairing something he pretended to be all in the work and unable to speak, but really he just wanted to get the job done and leave. Only on stage Nicholas would open up and sing about his sorrows, anger and disappointment in people. Most of the songs were fun because if you want to sell something you have to sell what people want, but it didn't mean Nicholas sang about sunshine and butterflies, on the contrary he sang about his family tragedies and his miserable love life, but as long as the pain is told in a joke form people will be happy to hear it. This also meant all the locals knew him pretty well or at least had heard of him. Too often he wanted to pick a fight with the most dangerous men and say the rudest things to women, but in the end he would just walk away politely, because he knew he had enough drama in his life. Needless to say Nicholas didn't have any close friends or any friends for that matter. He became a loner who lived in a house too big for one man.
It was a cold winter, but it was over quickly and the spring came to wake the land from its slumber. The birds started singing as the snow melted and revealed little patches of grass. The sun was up earlier in the morning but the cold breeze was still in the air. Nicholas didn't care much for spring, but as he had nothing better to do he decided to go for a long walk in the woods. Just to be precautious he took a hunting rifle and a sharp knife with him as he left the house, because he knew there were wild boars and wolfs in the forest and they could be a serious threat this time of the year.
The ground was covered with a thicker layer of snow here in the woods. Nicholas was walking for hours when suddenly his foot went right through the snow and got stuck in a hole. He tried to get it out but some roots were now making a trap like net over his foot making it impossible to pull free. Nicholas looked around to make sure he was safe, took out the knife and started cutting the smallest roots. It didn't take long before only three thick roots were left. The plan was simple - if he cuts at least one of them then he could pull the other two aside with his hands and free his foot. And so Nicholas started working the knife as a saw and the root snapped. It was still cold so his hands were a bit numb and the roots were frozen but after a bit of a struggle he managed to free himself. Nicholas stood up holding the knife in his hand and feeling proud of himself for taking it with him, but within a second this feeling left him when he understood that his proud behind was soaking wet from sitting in the melting snow.
Nicholas wasn't exactly a pessimist, he wasn't an optimist either but since life had the tendency of laughing him in the face like a sadistic bastard he thought that no other person in the whole world could be this miserable and still be surprised every time something would go wrong. But Nicholas was surprised and for that he felt like an idiot. The thought that he felt like a toddler wearing a wet diaper didn't help either.
An hour of angry swearing must have passed when Nicholas saw something weird in his way. It looked like a dead deer or a pile of old carpet or something, but it was far away so Nicholas gave himself the benefit of doubt. As he got closer he realized it in fact was something completely different. It was a girl wrapped in layers of dark green and gray clothes, her hair looked clean but her face had taken a beating. Her skin was so pale, it almost looked light blue but she wasn't dead. Her body was slightly moving which meant she was still breathing.
- Are you alright? - Nicholas tried to shake her awake, but received no response. - Girl, can you hear me? - He tried again.
The girl didn't move, she didn't open her eyes and the only sign of life was one slightly deeper breath and the fact her body wasn't completely frozen. Nicholas took his rifle and put it on the ground. He picked up the girl and realized her clothes were totally wet on one side.
- This won't work. - He growled and laid the girl down again.
Nicholas took off his jacket and sweater and threw them on a dry spot on the ground. He removed the wet clothes from the girl realizing she was beautiful and young. Nicholas wrapped her legs in his sweater and covered her with his jacket, then checked if the girl had anything in her pockets and found a knife so small it could have been mistaken for a toothpick, something that looked like a toy and some wet pieces of paper with bread crumbs stuck to them. He put it all in his pockets and hurried back to the girl leaving her clothes in the snow. Nicholas picked her up and made sure she was tucked in good and the cold air wouldn't get to her. Then he picked up his rifle and started walking. It was still a long way from home, but Nicholas made a decision he wouldn't rest until home. He walked a good hour and a half tripping over uneven ground and nearly falling a few times, his arms were killing him and his back was screaming in pain but he didn't let that stop him. With every step he got closer to home he felt stronger and stronger and more determined until finally he had his house in his sight.
He rushed inside, dropped the girl on the couch and covered her with a blanket. It was no problem for Nicholas to get the fireplace nice and warm in no time. He brought the girl in front of it to help her regain warmth. After a while when the girl was looking better and her body was warm, Nicholas took a bowl of warm water and a towel to clean her face and hair from blood and dirt.
Then came the next day and Nicholas went downstairs to see if the girl was awake. She seemed asleep, but when Nicholas turned on the lights she turned away her face and shortly after sat up in the couch with fear in her eyes. She was wearing Nicolas's sweater from yesterday and three blankets covered her from the waist down. She had long blond hair that went down to her waist and her big beautiful eyes were wide open and you could see from across the room they were sapphire blue. Her left eyebrow was swollen from a punch and she had nasty bruises on her forehead and left cheek. Her bottom lip was badly cut on the middle and slightly swollen but regardless of that she had ravishing full lips. She was a slender girl and not very tall, every detail about her appeared to be made to make everyone fall in love with her. She sat on the couch grasping the side of the blankets. Understanding that she didn't know where she was and who was that man standing across the room looking at her, she pulled her legs close to herself and covered shyly with one of the blankets while staring at Nicholas.
- Don't be afraid - He tried to calm her. - I'm not going to hurt you. -
She didn't respond so Nicholas continued. - I found you in the forest. You were unconscious and it was freezing outside, so I brought you here. Do you know what happened? Can you remember who did this to you? - He pointed to her face and then to his own.
- No. - She looked down and touched her bruised cheek.
- What is your name? - Nicholas asked in a calm voice.
- Alice. - She said and gently covered the cut lip with two fingers. - Who are you?
- My name is Nicholas Crowley and this is my home.
- Are you a good man Mr. Crowley? - Alice asked and stared at him.
- I think I am. - He said and then chuckled - But who's to say? Maybe if I truly was a good man life would have treated me better.
- So… You're not expecting anything from me then? - She asked
- Heavens no, I'm just glad you're alive. -He smiled, but felt a bit disturbed.
Alice looked under the blankets and only now noticed her legs were naked and she was wearing only her underwear and a sweater. This made her nervous.
- Where are my clothes? - She asked after covering herself again with the blankets.
- I had to leave them in the forest. - Nicholas felt guilty. - They were completely wet and too heavy to take them with me.
- You undressed me! - She screamed accusing him.
- It had to be done otherwise you would have frozen to… He tried to explain
- What else did you do to me? - She started crying.
- Nothing! - Nicholas defended his honor. - I swear to God I didn't touch you! I took off your wet clothes only for a second to give you my jacket. I'm not some freak, ok?
Alice calmed herself, but she wouldn't look Nicholas in the eye. She felt ashamed and vulnerable.
- Listen, I'll go get something for you to wear. It might not fit you too well, but maybe you'll feel better that way. - Nicholas got up and went upstairs.
He went into his room and opened the wardrobe. He stood on a chair and reached for a large brown briefcase in the top shelf. He threw the briefcase on the bed and opened it. It was a memory box which contained all the things Amber had left behind after leaving. Nicholas took out a long dark blue dress he had given to Amber a few days before she left. She had never worn it and Nicholas thought it wouldn't remind him of anything, so he had kept it. He left the briefcase on the bed and went downstairs with the dress in his hands. Alice was sitting embracing her knees under the blanket and looking at the floor. It was obvious she didn't feel at home, in fact she looked abandoned and confused. When Nicholas came in the room she turned to him.
- Here, you can put this on. - He handed the dress to her. - I'll come back in a minute.
- Thank you. - Alice reached out and took the dress.
Nicholas went to the back room to give her some privacy. Alice waited a while, then looked around and got out of the couch. As she stood up she felt strong pain in her chest. Her ribs felt like a car had run over her. She also noticed that the sweater she wore was much too large for her and when she was standing it covered her body like a loose short dress with extremely long sleeves. Now she felt bad about yelling at Nicholas because it was now clear that he had only the best intentions regarding her. The room was still warm but the wooden floor was cold so Alice stood on a corner of a blanket and tried to take off the sweater. Her aching ribs affected her movements denying lifting up arms and bending in any direction. This made the change of clothes a long and painful process. Once the sweater was off Alice saw nasty bruises on either side of her ribs and another one on her right hip. It made her sad and she wanted to cover them as soon as possible, but when Alice picked up the dress she couldn't believe how gorgeous it was. She got dressed and started to look herself over. A few moments later she heard two knocks.
- Are you decent? - Nicholas asked from the other room.
- Yes, you can come in. - Alice invited Nicholas.
Nicholas came in and saw Alice. The dress looked marvelous on her. It emphasized the curves of her body improving the perfection she truly was. The dress had a narrowing with a belt imitation under her breast but it was loose underneath and went all the way to her ankles. Alice had taken a lock of her long blond hair and twisted it playfully with her fingers making her look like an innocent little girl. Nicholas was astonished by her beauty.
- Wow, you look… - Nicholas started but couldn't think of an appropriate way to tell her she looked gorgeous.
Right away Alice realized she had made this big rugged man speechless and it made her laugh a little. Nicholas got even more confused and tried to hide it pretending nothing in the whole world could take him by surprise but it didn't seem to work. Alice thought he looked lost and didn't even know where to stand and how to do it properly and it made her feel safe. Not because nervous men are so ensuring. No, it was a matter of controlling him. And seeing he was weak for her charms Alice turned to Nicholas tilting her head and purposely playing with her hair.
- My feet are cold. - She said with a slight smile looking down to her bare feet.
- Yes, of course! - Nicholas said like he remembered something he had forgotten. - I'll be right back.
The man went upstairs and Alice smiled to herself. She looked around and sat on the couch pulling her legs underneath. As Nicholas climbed the stairwell he thought to himself - This girl is definitely weird. - And shook his head. He found a pair of warm woolen socks in his wardrobe. He gladly would have given her something more suitable for the dress, but there were no slippers or women shoes in the house. Nicholas went back to Alice and gave her the socks.
- Here, these should keep you warm.
- Thank you. - Alice took the socks from the couch.
- You look young. - Nicholas sat on a chair and leaned forward taking control over the conversation. - How old are you?
- Does it matter? - She answered casually.
- I think it does. I think you are too young to be wondering the world alone. - He stared at her as a detective. - Did you run away from home?
- I wouldn't call it home. - Alice looked away.
- But you ran didn't you? And somewhere they are looking for you, trying to find you.
- They didn't care for me. - She said in a cold voice. - I meant nothing to them.
- I'm sure that's not true.
- They treated me like garbage! - She looked ashamed.
- Listen, why don't you tell me what happened and we'll try to work it out. How long has it been since you left home?
- It was not my home! - Alice reminded furiously.
- Well I'm sorry, but you are not making any sense. Were you held captive? Did you escape prison or something? - Nicholas tried to joke around.
- I lived in an orphanage. - She sounded embarrassed. - Since I was a little girl I've lived in a school for girls.
- I'm sorry. - Nicholas looked at his hands and then continued. - How long have you been on the run?
- A few weeks.
- Do you have anywhere to go? I mean some relatives or friends, anyone who would take you in.
- I'm… Well not really. - Alice said silently.
- What were you thinking running away in this kind of weather? Couldn't you at least wait until it got warm?
- I guess I just needed to get away from there. - She took a big breath. - Can I stay here for a while?
- For a few nights I guess. But we'll have to figure something out. It would look rather bad if I didn't notify the police and someone came here looking for you.
- It's not like you kidnapped me! - Alice said in a playful voice to gain his trust.
- No, but I still think you're too young to be making these kinds of decisions. - He looked at her seriously.
- I'm not a child, I'm sixteen!
- You're sixteen? - He smiled. - In that case you are most certainly a child.
- Don't laugh at me! - She commanded. - If you don't want me in your house…
- Listen to me! - Nicholas interrupted. - If you want to stay here you will do as I say and you will tell me everything about yourself. Got it? - He looked at her and she nodded. - And don't yell at me! Who do you think you are? - He said with a tone of sarcasm in his voice. - I saved your life and you will command me in my own house? I don't think so. - He made sure the girl understood who was in charge in this house. - So let's hear it. What's your story?
- I don't know where to start. - Alice stalled looking for encouragement. - Should I tell you everything or just the part where I decided to run away?
- Why don't you summarize the story of your life leaving out the boring parts? - Nicholas said in a friendly tone.
Alice got herself comfortable on the couch and took a few big breaths. When she started to talk Nicholas took in every word with great interest. She spoke for hours and constantly switched between emotions. Occasionally she would start crying, then laughing at her own misfortunes sounding like a psychopath. Now and then she would talk in a deep depressed voice or spill words so fast you could hardly separate them. Her hands were nervous and her fingers twisted, folded and otherwise tortured the dress, the blankets or themselves. Her eyes were glued to the floor and only a few times looked out the window or glimpsed at Nicholas to make sure he is still listening. Otherwise you could say her body was frozen like a sculpture. You see the story she told was far from fairytales and it was definitely an unpleasant one to tell. Not to bore you with unimportant details the sad tale went something like this: When Alice was just a baby her parents went on a vacation together and left Alice with her only grandmother. One day her grandmother took Alice for a walk in the woods and a branch fell on them. Alice survived with no injuries but the branch hit her grandmother on the head and she died instantly. Alice was too little to remember this but she stayed in the forest until the next day when some couple found her crying. They took care of Alice until her parents returned and took her home. One late summer evening when she was six years old, an uninvited guest came to their house and terrorized the family with psychotic games torturing and killing her parents in front of her. He gave Alice a kiss on the forehead leaving bloody handprints on her shoulders and red smudge on her face. Then he gave her a sweet and left. Alice was hospitalized and tested by different doctors. They believed she was traumatized psychologically but there was nothing much they could do. After a few months in a hospital Alice was sent to an orphanage. To prevent unethical contact between boys and girls, the orphanage separated them in two buildings making a school for boys and a school for girls. The rules were harsh and the discipline was impeccable. No one dared to misbehave. Once the girls turned fourteen they could participate in dances twice a year with the boys who were also over fourteen. It was the most fun they were allowed and the only time children from both schools met in one room. There were a lot of girls in the orphanage and there were different groups. Most of the time girls didn't talk to the ones from other groups, but sometimes they had the time to share stories. Alice didn't have a lot of friends in the orphanage. Some girls felt jealous of her beauty, some thought she wasn't fun and some of them just didn't care about anything and spent their days feeling sad. These last girls were the ones Alice befriended when she was fifteen because it seemed they had something in common. And they did! Alice and six other girls from different groups were all abused by the headmaster of "Horizon" orphanage. All the girls were between fifteen and seventeen and were all taken under headmasters "wing" when they were fourteen. Usually anyone who turned eighteen was given some money and a simple job somewhere, but some were held longer if the headmaster Seth Browning said they weren't ready "for the world out there". It basically meant he wanted to keep the chosen girls for a little longer. She couldn't say anything to other teachers, because the headmaster Browning had made sure all his girls knew that would put them in serious trouble and bring severe punishment. Alice was one of the chosen girls a little longer than one year before she escaped.
Turns out she wasn't on the run for just a few weeks. She had broken free before winter came and was on her own for about five months. She stole food and small supplies like matches, candles, soap and clothes from the farmhouses she came by. Sometimes she was lucky enough to enjoy the hospitality of the elder women who lived alone and gave her a bed for the night, a hot meal in the evening and plenty of food to take on the road. Of course she had to think of a good reason why she needed shelter, but winter seemed to give all the reason she needed. Of course not every house had a welcoming host. Sometimes Alice was ordered to leave and threatened to be shot otherwise. About a week ago a man who said his name was Alex struck a conversation with her on the side of the road while she was walking by. He was up to no good and Alice tried to dodge him asking to leave her alone, but he didn't listen. He became more and more aggressive in his speech and asked her to follow him home. Alice tried to get rid of him but he grabbed her by the arm. She struggled and kicked so the man hit her back. He even kicked her when she fell down. Once Alex thought she was unable to move he tried to pick her up, but Alice smashed a rock in his head several times before he stumbled away and fell to the ground. Adrenaline rushed through Alice's veins and she got up thinking she had just killed a man. From the moment she first hit him until standing up Alice was screaming in panic. She looked at the man from a distance and calmed down. Then he moved and Alice screamed again. He stood up and started slowly walking her way muttering some nonsense. His face was covered with bloody cuts and a fast stream went down his lips. Alice turned around and ran into the forest. When she looked back she saw that Alex had fallen into a ditch. She ran until the adrenaline rush ceased and she crumbled down in great pain. She got sick but still tried to walk away, going deeper into the woods. Three days she went without food until finally fainted and Nicholas found her the next morning.
The tale he heard made Nicholas mad. How can so much bad happen to one person before her life has even started? It had to change. She deserved to live her life without a fear and enjoy it. So what if she had a horrible start? People always get a second chance in life right? Nicholas was actually a very compassionate man he just never had the chance to show it. Now he could help Alice turn her life around, forget the past and find whatever she desires in life - a job, a family, her own house with a white picket fence and swings in the back yard. Sure it all seems too good to be true, but if you don't find something you want to achieve you never go for it. Alice needed peace. Nicholas knew that, she needed time to forget and move on. A big house in the middle of nowhere is the best place to be alone and achieve inner peace. At least Nicholas thought so. He took Alice in and gave her the other bedroom on the second floor. She was happy to have a home and her own room. Nicholas made sure she had everything she needed and tried to be as much help as possible. Alice was scared to sleep in the dark and she didn't like it if the doors were open. She was also terrified of any physical contact and someone sneaking up on her. She feared to stay alone or to be in complete silence because she felt defenseless but it helped her to know someone was in the next room. Alice was also horrified of being incapacitated or trapped. She didn't like most insects and was afraid of dark water. Basically you could say she suffered from paranoia because so many things caused fear and disturbance to Alice she was rarely at ease. Nicholas picked up on that rather fast and did his best to do everything carefully.
A week passed and Alice was feeling more and more comfortable in her new home. She spent most of her time in the living room sitting on the couch and looking out the window or talking to Nicholas. Sometimes she would read his notebooks filled with poetry and song lyrics or go out on the terrace and look over the fields like Nicholas does in the mornings. All of her injuries had finally healed and the only sign of them was a little scar on her lip. Nicholas hadn't left Alice for more than a few hours when he drove to the store during her stay. But enough time had passed and he wanted to go hunting. One morning he got dressed and went to Alice's room to tell her he's going hunting and won't be back for a while. He knocked on the door and gently pushed them open.
- Are you awake? - He looked inside the room and saw her opening her eyes. - I'm going to the woods. Don't be afraid if you hear gunshots alright? I'm going hunting. I'll be back in the afternoon.
- Very well, just lock the door when you leave. - She made a serious eye contact which looked cute. - And thank you for telling me. - She smiled and went back to sleep.
- Of course. - Nicholas smiled back and closed the door.
He went downstairs and took his rifle. Locking the door behind hind him he headed towards the forest. Nicholas was wearing brown trousers, heavy boots and a green jacket. A big knife was strapped to his belt and in his hands he held the rifle. A few hours Nicholas had no luck of seeing a wild animal worth firing at, but then he heard a noise. Something over the hill was coming his way once in a while breaking a twig or stepping in a puddle of mud. Nicholas crouched and took aim at where he reckoned the sound was coming from. He waited as the steps got louder and louder. He held his breath as he saw the fur of the creature coming from over the hill.
- Jesus! - He loudly whispered and brought down his rifle. - I nearly shot you!
- Damn it Nicholas! - The man took off his fur hat and threw it to the ground. - You scared the crap out of me!
It was Dan - another hunter who enjoyed early mornings in the woods. They both knew each other for a long time and this wasn't the first time they met when one of them pointed a rifle at the other. Dan was an old man but he had a great spirit. He was always in a good mode and ready for some action. He was very slim and looked good even with white hair and wrinkled skin. But that's how it is with happy people.
- How's it going? - Nicholas asked.
- Well you know me, always looking for some trouble! - Dan laughed. - How are you doing? Anything new happened?
- Nothing special just the small things.
- Hey listen, you know what I heard? - Dan leaned closer as people do when they gossip. - I heard that Owen Brawler got into a bar fight last week or so. He fought off two guys and left, but some chick followed and attacked him with a wooden axe handle. He said she took him by surprise and he is now looking for this girl. And here's the fun part - he said she was so beautiful he doesn't care about the bloody mishap he just wants to find her to propose! - Dan started laughing. - Can you imagine that? A girl beats you up and you kneel to propose! - Dan laughed even harder.
- That's quite the story. - Nicholas nodded. - I bet it would sound even better from Owen himself. - He faked a laugh keeping in mind Owen was probably responsible for beating up Alice. - Do you know where can I find him?
- Don't you know where the old Brawler used to live?
- I don't think I remember him…
- It was his house. You know the yellow one with the orange car wreck in the front yard? Old Brawler used to live there. Now it's just his son Owen. If you really want to meet him… - Dan looked over his shoulder.
- Oh yes I do. That story is priceless. - Nicholas faked another laugh.
- Then you have to go through the woods that way. - He pointed a direction behind him. - You should come across a road and the Brawler house is the only one for miles. You'll find it. - Dan smiled.
- Thank you. I'll try to do so.
- Did you have any luck this morning? - Dan asked.
- No, you were the first stag I saw today. - Nicholas laughed for real this time and Dan joined him.
- Very well. Good luck on your next hunts. - Dan waved. - I'm going home. I've had enough scares for today.
- Okay see you later. - Nicholas waved back.
It's not definite but Owen Brawler might be Alex - the same freak who attacked Alice. He had to make an excuse when his friends and the other drunks would ask what happened to his face so he must have lied and told them it was a bar fight making him manly enough to later acknowledge that a girl had knocked him unconscious from behind. He said he fell in love with her thus giving people a reason to help him find her. According to him she was beautiful and so is Alice. It must be him and he will pay for what he did.
Nicholas boiled with fury on the way home. Once he got there Alice opened the door. It was afternoon and Alice was drinking tea in the living room wearing the stunning blue dress. Nicholas had given her other clothes and she wore blue jeans and a red flannel shirt most of the time but today Alice felt like dressing up. Once again Nicholas was mesmerized and Alice noticed. It's hard not to notice if a man turns to stone with his eyes looking up and down in amazement with his lips slightly opened. Alice elegantly turned around peeking over her shoulder and went inside. She obviously liked to play with her charms to confuse Nicholas. Once she was inside Nicholas sort of woke up realizing he probably looked like a fool. He shook his head in disappointment and followed inside where he saw Alice gracefully sitting on the couch with a tea cup in her hands. Why did she wear that dress today? Nicholas couldn't figure it out, but it momentarily brought back memories of the way she looked when he first found her, and Nicholas remembered why he was furious in the first place.
He took a chair in front of him and looked at Alice leaning forward against the chair making a barrier between them to feel more comfortable. - I think I've found the man who attacked you. - He said and stared at Alice for her reaction.
Her hands shook a little nearly dropping the cup. - How? - She sounded surprised.
- A friend of mine told me. He said he's is looking for you.
- Why? What does he want with me? - Alice was truly frightened.
- He's telling everyone he wants to marry you, but I don't think that's the case. I think he wants his revenge.
- I bet he does! - Alice started to panic. - I messed him up pretty good!
- And he's not far away. - Nicholas pointed out.
- Oh my god what if he comes here looking for me?
- Don't worry I'm here. He won't get to you.
- What if he brings a gun? - Alice pulled her knees to her chest. - Can you protect me from that?
- Don't worry I have a plan. - Nicholas pushed aside the chair and kneeled in front of Alice taking her hand to calm her down. - I'll go talk to him. I'm sure we can figure it out.
- You really think so?
- Yes. I'm sure of it. - Nicholas smiled. - I'll talk him down.
Nicholas wanted to go alone, but Alice was too scared to stay home so she talked Nicholas into taking her with him. It was late afternoon when they left and it already started to go dark. While they were walking through the woods Nicholas explained it would be better if Alice waited for him in the woods over the road. That way Owen wouldn't see her and it would be easier to deal with him. Finally they got to the road and saw a house to their left. It was further away than they wanted it to be because both of them were tired. They saw lights in the first floor windows and on the porch. At least he's home and the walk wasn't for nothing! Once they got closer Nicholas sent Alice to sit on a fallen tree just off the road in the woods.
- Don't you dare to sneak up and spy on us okay? I don't want him to see you. - Nicholas made it sound so dramatic it was almost amusing.
- Don't you think I could use a break right now? I'll be here when you come back. - Alice smiled and sat back.
Nicholas went to the door and knocked a few times. When the door opened Alice looked closely but couldn't see if it was the man who called himself Alex. Both men shook hands and went inside. This made Alice a bit nervous and a lot more curious. She couldn't sit there and wait. She needed to see what was going on so she carefully sneaked closer to the house and looked into a window.
Nicholas was inside and talking to Owen - the same man who had introduced himself as Alex. The conversation went well but Owen walked around his living room a lot and Nicholas just stood there following him with his eyes. The living room was huge. There was a big fireplace made of stone with a couch in front of it, a lot of hunting trophies hung from the walls and all the wooden furniture seemed to be at least two hundred years old. It was a walk-through living room with a corridor on one side and dining room on the other. There was a hall behind dining room but it was completely dark as was the rest of the house. The flames were dancing in the fireplace making the shadows move around the room. Along with two candle lamps burning on each side of the room the fire made a delightful atmosphere. By now Nicholas had accused Owen of attacking a young girl and he became more and more nervous spilling different lies and racing around the living room saying it wasn't him, that the whole story was a lie and so on. When Owen was walking closer to the dining room a dark figure suddenly appeared from the hall and with great purpose and no introduction what so ever swiftly placed an iron spear in Owens skull. He died before he hit the ground but the stranger just stood there in the dark and whipped the blood from his face with a napkin. Nicholas pulled out his knife and got ready to fight off the intruder but he lowered his hands and stepped forward with no fear in his eyes. The light revealed a young man who leaned over Owen and raised his eyebrows for a second. He then nodded, put the napkin in his pocket and turned to Nicholas - Here you go. - He smiled. The man was about twenty years old with long dark hair and a small beard like D'artagnan from the three musketeers. He was tall, strongly built and well dressed. He had leather boots, dark trousers with a wide belt and a black dress shirt under a long leather coat. He wore a silver talisman around his neck and some exquisite silver rings on his fingers. Confidence radiated from him, he was fearless and unstoppable. Without a doubt he was a handsome devil and every girl would fall in love with him instantly if he would just give them a look.
- What have you done? - Nicholas gestured at the body with his knife.
- The thing you came here to do. - The man said casually and stepped forward. - You looked like you needed some help with that so I pitched in. - He smiled. - I hope you don't mind.
- You hope I don't mind? You just killed him! - Nicholas started to worry he might be in big trouble. - You killed him! He's dead!
- Don't we all have to die sometime? This was his time apparently, nothing to worry about. - He explained with an evil grin on his face. - Now, help me move him, we'll burry him in the yard. - The man crouched and grabbed Owens legs then looked at Nicholas full of surprise. - Aren't you going to help me? You know we need to hide him.
Nicholas stalled a little. - Good damn it! I'm doing this just because he deserved it. - He took Owens body by the shoulders and they carried him outside through the back door.
They dug a grave in a flower bed and covered it up. No one could tell there was a lying bastard with an iron spear in his head buried beneath. Nicholas was covered with dirt and worn out but the other man had managed to stay clean and full of energy. They came around the house and saw Alice sitting on a bench by the mailboxes next to the road. She was shaking.
- Let me talk to her, I think she saw what happened. - Nicholas pushed the man aside and hurried to Alice. - Are you alright?
- It was him. It was the man who attacked me. - She was disoriented and talked looking in the darkness around. - And now he's dead…
- Alice there's nothing we can do about what just happened. But we have to get moving. - Nicholas tried to think of something better to say, but he couldn't.
- Hey beautiful! He won't be bothering you anymore alright? He's gone for good. - The stranger had walked up to them and ensured Alice. - What's your name love? - He asked in his charming voice.
- Alice. - She said and looked at the man.
- How nice to meet you! - He took her hand and kissed it. - You can call me Frankie. - He smiled and gave her hand back putting it in her lap.
Alice came back to her senses and looked over Frankie. She smiled and stood up. Unfortunately she wasn't all that good with eye witnessing a murder and just letting it go. Not that she had a problem with it, she was just a bit lightheaded and so she fainted. Frankie volunteered to carry her home and Nicholas was fine with it because someone had to do it and he was too tired. It was the middle of the night when they got back and Nicholas offered Frankie the couch. He thanked for the hospitality and stayed for the night.
Alice often had bad dreams and screamed in her sleep, but tonight all the most disturbing images flashed in front of her eyes. She saw her parents being tortured and crying for mercy while she helplessly stood by. She saw headmaster Browning putting his hands on herself and other girls. Screaming and crying wouldn't stop even when Browning would leave because it was never over, Browning was in Alice's head and so were the screams. Alice saw the dark corridors of the basement and felt the wet, cold stench. She heard the cries of other girls and felt scared. Really, really scared and helpless because there was nothing she could do to save herself or to help others. She stopped at a wooden door and they suddenly opened. A bald head with angry eyes welcomed her and a meaty hand pulled her in shutting the door behind.
Alice woke up in cold sweat and crying hysterically. Frankie rushed in her room and comforted her with a hug. Nicholas came in and saw that Frankie is doing a good job calming Alice so he decided to go back to bed. Alice stopped crying after a while but she felt great comfort from Frankie and didn't want to be left alone so she got closer and asked him to stay. At first Frankie didn't think it was a good idea, but the girl needed someone to keep her company. They both sat for a while not saying a word until Alice fell asleep. Frankie held her in is arms with Alice's head on his shoulder and her golden hair covering them like a waterfall. He didn't want to wake her up but sitting there all night would be too exhausting. He tried to gently lay her down, but Alice squeezed his hand and whispered for him to stay. Frankie stalled for a while but then agreed to stay by her side. Eventually Frankie fell asleep next to Alice holding her hand with the golden waterfall flowing over his shoulder.
Nicholas opened his eyes and sat up in the bed. The air was a bit cold but it didn't bother him. He got up and went to Alice's room where he saw both of them in a close embrace. Frankie was sleeping on his back nearly falling over the side of the bed. Alice had her head on his chest and arms around him. They looked good together but Nicholas was worried whether or not Frankie would be the best man for Alice. He was older and no one knew where he came from. He could be anyone and the fact that he had just killed a man like it was nothing made Nicholas concerned.
He went downstairs and made some tea. Then he went outside to think about things. Different thoughts crossed his mind but the conclusion was simple - he had to talk to Frankie, find out what's his story and figure out if it's safe to keep him close. Nicholas went back inside and made some breakfast.
Soon enough the two lovebirds came down. They seemed awkward and shy. Well it actually looked like they had fallen in love and just didn't want Nicholas to know, but this time Alice was the obvious one and Nicholas could play with her emotions.
- I see you had a good night sleep. - Nicholas looked over his shoulder smiling then continued to serve breakfast. - You two want anything to eat?
- Sure. - Alice nodded.
- You are too kind Mr. Crowley, too kind, but a breakfast in a morning like this would be just the thing I need. - Frankie clapped his hands with a big smile on his face.
Since the moment Nicholas met Frankie he had watched him carefully and it seemed as Frankie was a smart guy. He was always polite, knew exactly what to say and nothing ever bothered him or made him confused. He was ready on the spot and never said or did anything he didn't want to. But when you kind of think of it, he might be a sociopathic lunatic as well. Anyway Nicholas had his eye on him, and during the breakfast he noticed that Alice also kept checking up on Frankie. But it wasn't suspicion it was pure excitement and interest.
Nicholas asked about Frankie but he didn't tell much. I mean he talked and talked but no good information came out of him. Alice also wanted to know some things and Frankie gladly talked her ears off flattering and praising her in every way possible. He did tell something eventually, he just liked to take his time. Apparently he was a runaway for a couple of years. He travels all around and works as a bartender or something more serious if he can get the job. He likes helping people out, that's why he eliminated Owen. Not all the good deeds include murder and violence, but when a pretty girl is in trouble he can't stand by. The idea of traveling and seeing new places, meeting new people and experiencing life intrigued Alice. She wanted to hear more and more so they kept talking for hours.
Nicholas felt the need of fresh air so he went for a walk. He wanted to clear his head and figure out what to do. He felt responsible for Alice, but she wasn't his daughter and it wasn't actually his problem if Alice wanted to drift through the world. After all she had been locked up for the most of her life. But it doesn't make it a good idea to trust a stranger who just shows up and kills people. No, it wasn't an option so Frankie had to go as soon as possible. And you might not believe this but he left sooner than Nicholas could have hoped for. When he came home he saw that Frankie was already gone and the only sign of Alice was a short, neat letter on the mirror that explained she wanted to experience life for all its beauty.
Frankie was an adventurist and was always looking for some trouble so to say. Alice looked upon him with great admire. He was the person Alice wanted to be. So strong, independent and careless, but still passionate and desirable, it all seemed perfect. She thought they could be together forever, buy a house, fulfill their dreams and live happily ever after.
If you think that Frankie is the bad guy and just wants to kidnap this young girl who is utterly in love with him then you're mistaken. He was also in love with Alice and wanted to make all her dreams come true. Frankie wanted to make her happy no matter what. He was even willing to kill if it made her life better.
Holding hands they walked along the road just smiling and looking at each other. They were happy. In her whole life Alice couldn't remember a moment when she was even slightly filled with joy, but this mysterious stranger made her blush like a rose, her heart was beating like the ocean on the rocks and when she held his hand it seemed it was the only thing keeping her from flying away. They walked until sunset made the skies red and the shadows grew long. In the woods nearby the road they found a resting spot and decided to stay there for the night. There was a large wooden table and a place to make fire. There was even a shelf full of logs and a small axe on top of it. The axe was a bit rusty but it wasn't a problem when Frankie wielded it. Alice sat on the table and watched as her man chopped wood with his shirt off. His skin turned red as he worked and Alice could see little sweat drops running down his muscular body. Frankie's hair was wildly swinging back and forth as the axe clashed into the wood. Alice was excited and many times she encouraged Frankie in a flirty voice and he loved it.
Before it got completely dark Frankie had made a fire and a bed of fir tree branches close to it. If not for the cold breeze it was like camping, but fire kept them warm all through the night.
When a faint morning light covered the earth, Alice opened her eyes and saw that Frankie was already up and about the fire. He was holding the axe on his knee and slowly grinding a rock along the blade.
- Hey. - She smiled at him. - What are you doing?
- Good morning sweetheart! - He looked at her and lit up in joy. - I'm clearing off the rust. I want to make it sharper. - He explained.
- Can you do that?
- Everything is possible when you put your mind to it. - He joked around. - You could even learn to fly if you truly wanted to! - He laughed.
- You're not normal. - She smiled.
- That's right! Normal people are boring. The worst thing you could be is normal. So I'm happy to be insane! That way I can always surprise other people and even myself. - Again he laughed a little. - Who wants to be normal anyway? It's so dull, you don't notice your own life as it passes by. If you have some drama then you grow stronger as you try to fight it and when you look back you remember all that and you learn from it. If you are happy you cherish that moment for the rest of your life, but if you are just normal… Nothing good or bad ever happening to you? You could go mad! Who wants that? It would be and it is the worst way to live.
- So were you ever normal or have you always been insane? - Alice smirked.
- I have never been normal. I was always either up or down, never in the middle, never on the safe ground. But I'm happy with that. It makes my live interesting.
- Do you really think so? Don't you ever wish you had everything you needed and live safe?
- No. - Frankie looked her in the eye. - I don't want to live safe. I want my heart to beat faster for better or worse, because either way is better than sitting and doing nothing. - Alice looked down. - But you don't agree with me do you? You'd prefer boring and normal rather than occasional bad. And I think that's because you already had enough bad things in your life and you think normal would be good enough. But it's not. Normal is nothing and you deserve something, something good and we'll get you there. - He got up and sat with Alice.
- I want good. - She smiled.
- Well then, let's go get it!
For three days Alice and Frankie had been walking along the road, hitching rides and sleeping in the woods. So far everything was going well. Frankie had some money left, the drivers gladly took them to the nearest towns, where they could resupply on water and food and it was getting warmer and warmer every day. Alice and Frankie came out of a market next to a gas station and saw a man filling up his car.
- We should ask which way he's going, maybe he won't mind company. - Alice said and ran towards him to talk.
Frankie nodded and slowly followed. He saw Alice talking to the man from a distance and he looked very pleased to help. As he was finished filling up the car Alice turned around and waved Frankie to move faster.
The drivers name was Troy. He was about fifty years old, not very tall and in good shape. He asked Alice to get in the back seat, because it was supposed to be more comfortable. When they took off, Troy started talking and asking questions about his passengers - he was a very curious man. After a while he started asking personal questions and politely making fun of them. Something wasn't quite right with him, but people are different so Frankie and Alice forgave his arrogance. He turned off the main road and into a small dirt road leading into the woods.
- Are you sure we are going the right way? - Frankie asked with suspicion.
- There's a short cut. This will save us a long way. - The man simply answered and smiled.
- It doesn't look like it's been used too often. - Frankie looked around.
- Not many people know about this road. But it saves time and more importantly - gas! - Troy sounded amused.
- Do you drive here often?
- Every other week or so. I don't think that counts as often, but enough to know my way around. - He smiled again.
Frankie thought there was something off about this road and the driver who chose to come here. From the moment they went off road Frankie had kept an eye on Troy looking for any sign of him being nervous or doing something weird. He looked back to see if Alice shared his concerns, but she sat there quietly looking out of the window. He turned back and looked out of his window to get a better understanding of the surroundings. He saw a small cabin in the woods not too far from the road ahead and got curious if the road leads only to the cabin or does it continue. Then he saw a white flash as he turned his head back to the driver and Alice felt warm liquid splashing in her face. As she looked forward she saw Troy putting down a rusty wrench and blood dripping down Frankie's forehead as his head dangled from one side to another. He was knocked out and bleeding and Troy obviously wasn't the kind man he posed to be.
- No! - Alice screamed not knowing if Frankie was alive.
She leaped between the front seats and took Frankie's face in her hands. She felt his slow breath on her face and saw a deep cut on the left side of his forehead. Blood was flowing fast.
- Quiet you! - The man grabbed Alice by the hair and pulled down hitting her face on the panel between seats. He pressed his elbow against her back to pin her down and put his weight on her. Alice struggled as Troy continued to drive, but he was too strong. The car stopped. She could see the cabins roof not too far from the car.
- Here we are! Let me show you the guest house. - He opened his door and pulled Alice out of the car still grasping her blond hair.
- Here we have the garden! - He announced proudly as he dragged her around the car and towards the cabin. - A great place to have a picnic in the summer.
- Let me go! Let me go! - Alice could not stop screaming. Troy pushed her to the ground and Alice fell on her back. He leaned closer looking over her from above.
- If you don't behave we're going to have a problem. Do you understand me?
Alice tried to punch him in the face, but he dodged the hit. Frustrated about the failed attempt to defend herself Alice started to kick and scream like a wild animal. She grabbed Troy's arm looking to do some damage. Her nails went deep into his skin ripping the flesh and covering them both in Troy's blood. He pulled away his arm for a brief moment, made a fist and sent it back to land in Alice's face. All resistance stopped. Alice lied on the ground disoriented and barely conscious.
- Now isn't that better? - Troy stood up pressing his injured arm against his chest.
- You look tired! Let me show you where the bed is. - He smiled and grabbed her by the legs.
He started to drag Alice towards the cabin and she slowly regained her senses. She was dazed and could only see blurry shadows. Her head was spinning. She felt the rough terrain scratching her back. But she wasn't ready to give up just yet. A sudden kick dislocated Troy's jaw and he fell back screaming in pain. Alice turned around and started crawling away. Everything was spinning and she started to feel sick. She couldn't stand up and she couldn't think either. Someone pulled her leg and she fell on her stomach.
- You thought… you could... get away from me? - Troy screamed from his throat. - You're mine!
Alice turned around and tried to kick him again, but she couldn't quite see him. Her aim was completely off and Troy just laughed at her as he dragged her back to the cabin. Alice heard another voice screaming nearby and felt her leg drop. Frankie tackled Troy slamming him to the ground. She turned her head and saw a shadow swinging his arm up and down to the silent sound of a fist pummeling into flesh. Her eyes closed and she passed out.