Sunday, July 24, 2016 | By: Drotuno

Six - Chapter 3 & Pics

Six – Chapter 3
New York City
Sounds from the room next door had me gripping my backpack a little tighter. I’d tidied the room as best I could. I’d been able to clean the shower with the last dredge of shampoo, but there would be no way to get around the fact that someone had slept in the bed – I couldn’t afford to do laundry, and I didn’t want to just remake the bed and let the next guest sleep on my dirty sheets. I snorted to myself. Not that most of the guests in this particular motel cared much about the room’s cleanliness. At least I hadn’t resorted to that…yet, I added to my thought with a sigh.
Another noise from the housekeeping cart next door had me readying myself to open a window to jump through. I’d been here for four nights, but I couldn’t stay a full fourth day. I knew they checked on the empty rooms every four days in this place, so the next room the housekeeper stopped at would be this one. I hadn’t had anything to eat in two nights. I’d been so hungry that first night and the next day that all the soup and peanut butter I’d taken were gone before I could stop myself. Now I was hungry again, and I wasn’t sure I had the stomach – so to speak – to steal from another shop. I hated every time I did that – it was a shame that stayed with me for a while – and tried to avoid it as much as I could.
It had been a while since I’d chanced going to the shelters, so with my mind made up, I opened a window to a dark alley a few blocks from one of the shelters/soup kitchens a couple of miles from my current position. The closer I jumped to the shelter, the better chance there was that there would be someone in the alley. Not seeing anyone in the immediate viewing area of the opening I’d made, I felt the familiar rush of energy as I made the jump. Thankfully I was alone when the window automatically disappeared behind me. I shook off the lingering feeling of static electricity as I looked around and got my bearings.
The sights and sounds of the city were all around me – car horns, exhaust as buses braked for lights and traffic, a Dumpster full of big black and green bags of trash…and the smells that came with all that. In New York, I felt like an ant in the middle of an ant colony, just one in a million, and although that sounded comforting, I was still leery everywhere I went. I still looked for the red Volterra Industries logo on every person I came into contact with. And I still avoided as many public places as I could as often as I could. Unfortunately, my growling stomach prevented me from scurrying back to another hideout, and I stepped out of the shadows.
For three blocks, I kept my head down to shield my face as much as possible while still keeping my eyes up so I could hopefully see any of Volterra’s men before they saw me. I tried to stay hidden in groups of people, to get lost in the crowd, and then dropped away as I reached the building from which the shelter was run.
As I stepped in through the doorway, I scanned the room, letting out a breath when I didn’t see anyone who looked threatening. I did see a few known faces, men and women who volunteered at the shelter and a few of the homeless and down-on-their-luck men, women, and children seated at tables and in line to get the meal for which they’d come. A smile curled up the corner of my mouth when a familiar voice came from my left.
“Why, if that isn’t a sight for these old eyes,” Mr. Jackson said in his deep but shaky voice.
When I turned to face him, my smile grew. “Hi, Mr. Jackson.”
Willie Jackson was eighty-five if he was a day. What hair he had left was nearly white – including the beard and mustache he somehow kept trimmed and fairly neat – and his dark skin was speckled with age spots and etched with deep wrinkles. But when he smiled, his dark-brown eyes lit up. He was missing a couple of teeth and the others weren’t the bright white I’d seen in the pictures he’d shown me of himself when he was younger, but his friendly face nearly brought me to tears. I’d met him within weeks of my arrival in New York, and we’d shared more than a few meals together at the shelter. He was a proud veteran of the US Army and had served in both Korea and Vietnam, and he loved to tell stories of his time both overseas and when he returned from the wars.
And he was one of the few people in New York who knew my real name.
“Bella Swan,” he said softly as he pulled me into a gentle hug. “It’s good to see ya, doll. Been a while.”
I nodded, feeling tears prick my eyes. It had been well over a month since I’d last stopped in at the shelter and nearly that long since I’d had any real, true interaction with another person beyond a word or two here or there. I blinked back the tears before they could fall. “How are you, Mr. Jackson? How’s that knee of yours?”
Mr. Jackson grinned and kicked out his leg, shaking his foot back and forth before wiggling his hips. “Still dancin’, so I guess it’s all right.” He looked me up and down with a furrowed brow. “You ain’t been eatin’ good, missy. You’se too skinny.”
Shrugging, I shifted my backpack more comfortably on my shoulder. “You know how it is,” I mumbled, embarrassed.
The sympathetic look in his eyes nearly did me in and caused the tears to start up again. Mr. Jackson didn’t know why I was running or who I was running from, but he knew I was scared and couldn’t go to the authorities. Thankfully he’d never pushed for information.
“Well, come on, then,” he said, holding out his arm. “I think they’ve got meatloaf and mashed today.” He hummed a low sound for a moment. “And some’a that butterscotch puddin’ I like.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle as I slipped my arm through his and relished in the moment of acceptance and normalcy for the first time in a long time.
Mr. Jackson had been correct. My stomach growled loudly – embarrassingly so – as I sat down beside him, my tray full of a large piece of meatloaf with a light ketchup glaze, a big mound of chunky mashed potatoes, some fresh broccoli and carrots, and a pudding cup. I’d also grabbed paper cups of milk and coffee. Both drinks were luxuries that I couldn’t afford when I panhandled and couldn’t take when I got hungry enough to steal. I wanted to chug them both but was determined to savor them, unsure when I’d get to have either one again.
“Where ya been, doll?” Mr. Jackson asked as he tucked into his meatloaf.
My gaze roamed the room even as I shrugged and answered him before taking a bite of my own. “Here and there. I’ve had a place the last few nights.”
“Been safe?” His eyes were sharp, watching the way I looked up at any newcomer to the large room.
“Yes, sir.” I smiled, trying to project an outward confidence I didn’t feel, and then took a bite of the potatoes. “These are good. They put cheese in them this time…”
He nodded. “E’ry once in a while they give us the good stuff.” Then he grinned, showing his missing teeth. “’Course, even the plain stuff’s the good stuff when you’re hungry, yeah?”
I chuckled and held up the piece of broccoli I was about to eat. “Amen.”
As we continued to eat, Mr. Jackson struck up a conversation with a few of the other homeless men and women around us – all I’d seen before. He kept them all enchanted with a tale from Korea, gaining nods from the men who might’ve been in the war themselves. I tuned one ear into the conversation, giving the appropriate noises when needed, and kept the other ear and my eyes out for anything out of the ordinary.
By the time I finished my meal and drained the last of my milk and coffee, the place was once again full of people looking to get their own meals, and I was getting anxious being around so many new people. Pushing my pudding cup to Mr. Jackson, I smiled. “Have mine too.” He started to shake his head and push it back, but I stood up. “I gotta go. Besides,” I teased. “I’d have preferred chocolate.”
He laughed and finally accepted the dessert. “Thanks, doll. Next time there’s chocolate for dessert, I’ll save you one.”
I handed my tray off to a worker and thanked her before stepping around the table. Bending down, I kissed his weathered cheek and gripped his shoulder lightly. “Thanks, Mr. J. Be safe.”
“You too, doll,” he echoed, worry straining his features.
Nodding, I smiled once more as confidently as I could and then stepped away. With my head tucked and eyes up, I skirted the crowd and left the soup kitchen, heading the opposite direction from which I’d come. I needed to find a private place to jump from and figure out what I would do with the rest of my day.
I hadn’t been to the museum in about a week, so with that in mind, when I reached a dark, quiet alley, I opened a virtual window to the American Museum of Natural History. There were bathrooms on the fourth floor, and I knew the handicap stall was usually empty. I could stow my backpack in the ceiling by pushing up one of the ceiling tiles, and when I was ready to go, I simply had to grab it and jump back out from there. I stepped through, and as soon as I’d completed the jump, the window closed behind me. Holding my breath, I listened but thankfully heard nothing. Quickly, I hid my backpack and then stepped out of the bathroom.
By five o’clock, I’d seen all there was to see of the museum. I loved everything about the place – the dinosaurs, the ocean, the butterfly conservatory… Even the human-health exhibits were fun and interesting. And I truly loved seeing and hearing kids as they walked through the museum, taking in all the wonderful sights.
Unfortunately, I knew I should get out before they closed. I quietly made my way back up to the fourth floor, happy to see the bathroom as empty as before. I decided to head into Central Park and my bridge. That would give me somewhere to chill as I figured out where I would stay for the night.
I leaned against the window of a closed-up pizza place, my arms crossed over my chest. The thoughts around me were mayhem – angry, determined, hungry, worried, or simply worn out from the day-to-day struggles of just trying to keep their head above water in this busy world.
Carlisle was inside the homeless shelter talking to a friend he knew from the hospital. Karla Davis was a kind mind, considering the work she did just trying to help people who were struggling or down on their luck. I could hear his thoughts clearly, even from the upstairs office where they were talking. I’d learned to focus on him from the moment he’d taken Alice and me into his home. Now – aside from my sister – he was the strongest mind I could hear, no matter where we were or how many people surrounded us.
A streak of fluffy blue-gray and white ran by my feet, and I smirked at Emmett, who was following Rosalie, only to give up and lean against the window next to me.
“She eavesdrops better when she’s something no one pays attention to,” he muttered, reading my face. She wants to help you, big brother, he thought to me.
Smiling, I glanced down at the sidewalk for a moment and nodded once, trying to zero in on Rose at the same time I tried to pay attention to Carlisle. The feline tail was high in the air as she wove in and around people. She wandered by clusters of people just leaving the shelter for the day, but most were talking about finding work or someplace else to sleep. Other conversations weren’t of any consequence, so she worked her way down the block, slipping into an alley to listen to the kitchen workers.
We’d been at this for a few days – shelters, food banks, churches. The first few times had been with Jasper, Carlisle, and myself. We’d come up empty, and we were starting to think the girl we were looking for had completely vanished.
Neither Emmett nor Rose knew what she looked like, but Jasper and I had tried our best to describe her to them. We’d started on this side of the city because that was where Alice told us to go. Her visions just that morning had been sketchy, but she had a “feeling” about this side of town. She’d call me if something changed.
Small, brunette, full red backpack, old blue Chucks… Emmett repeated these things in his mind in order to pay attention.
I shot a brief glance at him. Without meaning to, my brother scared people by simply being there. His large size and expressionless face unnerved people, but he wouldn’t harm a fly – unless pushed to do so in order to protect someone he cared about. And then he was an unstoppable force.
Some considered him slow, but he was far from it. His mind was an amazing, layered place to be – kind, calm, easy, loyal, sharp. He just didn’t feel the need to chatter all the time. His sympathy for the people around him was on the surface of his mind because he knew what it felt like to have nothing, to feel alone with only Rose to keep him sane.
It was that last thought that had me frowning his way, the sixxer girl on my mind. Not all the minds around me were down on their luck; some were there because they chose to be, because they preyed on the weak and alone. And a young girl, a young pretty girl alone in a big city was rare…and a hot commodity. Predators walked the streets right next to the nuns and students and hardworking people of New York. In the blink of an eye, a small woman could up and disappear, and any-fucking-thing could happen – drugs, prostitution, human trafficking, and even Volterra – and she’d never be heard from again.
Emmett said nothing, but he met my gaze. He was the only one who didn’t question why we were looking for a girl whose name we didn’t even know. He didn’t care. If she was one of us, then he was okay with it all. If his Rose was worried, then he’d do whatever it took to take care of it. And Rose didn’t like the thought of someone hunting a young girl, especially a sixxer. She felt it was hard enough being different in a world where strange or unusual was mocked or ostracized.
My gaze shot to the second-floor offices. “Carlisle’s coming,” I said softly.
Our father stepped out of the building and onto the sidewalk, smirking down at the fluffy cat running beside him. His love for all of us was in that smile. There was nothing more powerful than how he and Esme cared for every last one of us – human or temporary cat.
Carlisle leaned on the other side of me, and Rose plopped down on her haunches in front all three of us. Her green eyes were sharp on Carlisle as her fluffy tail wrapped clear around her.
I narrowed my eyes on him. “Okay, so…a small girl with brown hair didn’t ring any bells with Karla. Got it,” I sighed, raking a hand through my hair.
“She sees too many people on a daily basis, son,” he countered, gripping my shoulder. “She did offer up one of the bigger soup kitchens in the area. It’s a few blocks away. I say we try there before calling it a day.”
Rose was on the move before any of us, so we shrugged at each other and followed. That gray bottlebrush tail was a flag for us to see through the throngs of people on the street and while crossing busy intersections. It was funny to watch her. Some adults paid her no attention. Kids thought she was the best thing ever. And occasionally, the real alley cats of the area would dart away from her. They could sense she wasn’t exactly the same as them. It was one of her favorite forms to take, the cat. The size, the inconspicuousness, and the physical abilities of a feline were fun for her. She could squeeze into small spaces, jump and climb over just about anything, and no one paid her a bit of attention. Because Rose hated attention in certain situations, especially when in her normal human form.
Carlisle’s senses started to twitch a little. He could barely make out a few sixxers here and there. There were so many people in the streets, buildings, and cars around us that there was no telling who was setting off his talent. I had a feeling that the little thief from Bart’s store would bury the proverbial needle on that sixxer radar of his. He’d said all of us had been strong talents who’d drawn him in, so I couldn’t imagine what this teleporter would do to him.
As we neared the next intersection, Rose stopped on the corner, but Carlisle’s ability flew out of his control for just a moment. Someone extremely talented was nearby, and it wasn’t us. He’d learned to focus outside the family members around him.
His steps faltered for just a moment, almost like a crack in the sidewalk tripped him, but his gaze locked with me when the feeling vanished just as quickly as he’d felt it.
“Wow,” he muttered, his eyebrows rising up a little. He let out a breath but pointed toward the entrance we needed, and we went in while Rose wandered around outside.
The soup kitchen was a cacophony of noise and chatter and thoughts. There were people in line for food, volunteers chattering behind the line, and rows and rows of picnic/school lunchroom-style tables with people sitting in groups, alone, or with what looked to be small families. The smells were overwhelming – food, grease, sweat, coffee, and something altogether sweet.
My eyes scanned the whole room, looking for my sixxer girl, but I came up empty. Then I pushed through the inane thoughts of money, jobs, and drugs, trying to see if she was on anyone’s mind. I couldn’t be the only one who couldn’t get this girl out of my damn head.
I tilted my head, only to snap it around in the direction of a table full of older men in just about every race. They were telling old war stories, but one old man wasn’t giving the conversation his complete attention. While words like Vietnam, Korea, and wounded floated around him, his mind was on the young white girl he’d just seen, who he thought was “too damn skinny.” When he focused on her face, I saw the brown hair and eyes I’d been looking for. It was all I could do not to grab him, force his mind to give me what I wanted, but just as I took a step his way, he looked to Carlisle, a wide, toothless grin breaking out on his wrinkled face.
“Doc Cullen, is that you?!” he called, getting up from the table.
A few stares shot our way, but my father smiled warmly at the old African-American man, reaching a hand out to shake it.
“Mr. Jackson, it’s good to see you. How’s the knee?” he asked, and his thoughts centered around a memory of the old man in front of me in a hospital bed when he’d taken a bad fall.
“Well, I ain’t runnin’ no races, but I could probably cut a rug or two. You fixed me right up, no problems, Doc. I can’t thank you enough for that. See?” He grinned again, this time shimmying a little. “What’choo doin’ in here?”
For a split second, I considered telling Carlisle he knew the girl, but I waited because my father smiled at the old man again, saying, “I’m actually looking for someone, Willie. Maybe you can help me.”
“I’ll do my best.” Mr. Jackson gestured to the closest empty table, and he smiled at Emmett and me. “Are these your boys?”
Carlisle chuckled a bit. “Two of them. William Jackson, this is my oldest, Edward, and my youngest son, Emmett. I have two girls and another son, as well.”
“Nice to meet you,” I greeted, shaking his hand.
“Sir,” Emmett said softly, doing the same.
“Now that we’re all acquainted, who you lookin’ for?”
Carlisle explained softly about the girl I’d seen, that she seemed to be in trouble and he just wanted to offer help. Mr. Jackson’s eyes narrowed, making them wrinkle up even more than they normally were, but he looked to me.
“What she look like?”
“Um, brown hair, brown eyes, red backpack, blue sneakers,” I rattled off carefully. I couldn’t say that her thoughts were pure fear and hunger. “She…seemed to be scared, maybe running from someone.”
He sighed, looking to my dad. “Sounds like my Bella, but…that girl can disappear like a fart in the wind, Doc. And I’m a bit protective of that sweet thing. She don’t let nobody in, but she’ll check on me every time I see her. You know what I’m sayin’? So what’choo want with her?”
“Just to help her. She…” I trailed off, trying to find the right words, but Carlisle came to my rescue.
“My wife and I take in kids with no place to go. I think I told you that when you were under my care. I have two girls at home,” he said deliberately, leaving out that Rose was currently outside sitting on the curb. “I’d be worried sick if one of them were out on the streets. My son saw her taking food, and he tried to help her, but she ran.”
Mr. Jackson eyed Carlisle for a moment, but then he looked to Emmett and me, assessing how we were dressed. He saw we were healthy, somewhat happy, not to mention “strapping young men.” He stared at me for a second, thinking I wasn’t a normal boy, if I wanted to help, and he wondered if hormones hadn’t played a part in my offer. I honestly didn’t have an answer for him, but I kept my expression neutral.
He sighed deeply, wrinkling his nose a little as he shook his head slowly. “I doubt she’ll let you help her.” He looked to Carlisle. “She’s a stubborn one. That’s if it’s Bella you’re looking for.”
When her face materialized in the front of his thoughts, I shot a quick nod to Carlisle, nudging his leg with my own.
“Look, she’d tear me up for this, but…I know you’re a good man, Doc. You took care of me when I had nowhere else to go. I can’t say for sure, but I think you’re right. That girl is runnin’ like hell itself is on her tail. She hasn’t told me, and it’s not my place to ask. And she’s so off the damn grid that you’d never find her. Honestly, I don’t know how she’s made it this far without turnin’ to somethin’ awful, but she’s too smart, too pretty for the streets. If I was in a better place, I’d…” He sighed, smiling sadly. “Anyway, the only thing I know is that she occasionally likes to hide out in libraries and museums. On sunny days, she’ll take to the park. Where she sleeps is anybody’s guess. She tells me the bare minimum. I just saw her today. She’s too thin, and she’s damned tired, no matter if she says she’s had someplace to stay for the last few nights. And she’s always on alert. Not one moment of peace, I don’t think. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the girl relax.”
Grimacing, I glared at the table. I couldn’t wrap my head around that way of living. And for a brief moment, I wondered what my life would’ve been like if Carlisle hadn’t have found Alice and me. Would my parents have brought me back into their home to use me again? Would they have forced me to con people, steal, break into places? Would they have been mad that I caused them to get caught? I wasn’t sure. And I wasn’t sure I cared. My last few moments with them had been pure, unadulterated chaos. My mind, my temper, and my talents had spiraled out of control when I’d decided that what I was doing was wrong.
Shaking my head to clear it of past memories, I looked back to Mr. Jackson, speaking softly. “I know it sounds crazy that we’re looking for…Bella, you say?” I verified, and he nodded. “All I know is I remember when Carlisle took me in, and…and…I can tell you for a fact that there’s nothing on this planet I’m more grateful for. Honestly.” I smiled a little when Carlisle squeezed my shoulder. “We don’t want to hurt her. We just want to offer some help.”
I wanted to tell him about the people who scared her, but it would open up a can of worms that couldn’t be explained. If she was truly running from Volterra Industries, then her luck would eventually run out. I’d seen her mind, her memories of the place, and I’d seen Alice’s visions of what would happen should we be taken in, and the picture wasn’t pretty. I saw blood and bruises, fights and attempts to escape, and death. I saw my siblings and Carlisle, not to mention this Bella. All over the genetic possibilities that sixxers’ blood carried. If I had to guess, they weren’t searching for a “cure.” They were looking to make a weapon. Volterra was widely known for their work in military bio-weapons. And that thought had me glancing at Emmett. To imagine a soldier with the strength of Emmett, the speed of Jasper, and the mental manipulation that I carried, never mind the ability that this Bella possessed… The thought of all of that in one human might have been the scariest idea I’d ever heard. And holy shit, Rose’s shape-shifting would be a fucking goldmine. But these thoughts weren’t my own; Carlisle had more than once considered it over the years.
“Give the park a shot,” Mr. Jackson whispered, leaning close. “The areas around the museums. A day like today, she can blend in, fade into the background.” He frowned a little, his mind circling around her distrust of most everyone. “You… You tell her to come ask me about telling you.” He turned to my dad. “You tell her that you’re the doc who fixed my leg. I told her about you before.” When he set his gaze back on me, he sighed deeply. “You can try, kid. Honestly, I’d like to see her off the streets.”
“Thank you,” I whispered back, shaking his hand again.
Carlisle did the same but then reached for his wallet. “If you see her before we do, give her this. It’s my card, my cell phone. Let her know that my son was trying to help her at the corner bodega in the Upper West Side. If she’d feel better talking on the phone, then we can do that. Let her know that I understand why she’s running. And that’s for you. Thank you for your help.”
Mr. Jackson’s brow wrinkled at the card in his hand, not to mention the large bill with it. “I can’t, Doc…”
“Then give it to Bella,” Carlisle countered, standing up from the table. “C’mon, kids. Looks like we’ll head home through the park.”


trbuie said...

I really like Mr Jackson's character. I Hope Bella will be still long enough to hear them out.

erika.sho said...

I so love this story! Cannot wait for the next update
Wow! Very intense! Wow!

Unknown said...

Love this chapter. Great concept for the story in general. Love the descriptions of characters and what the can do.

Kristi said...

The visuals created in words are even better than the images.

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