Finally, the soft, morning light began to filter through the curtains, making the hardwood floor seem dull brown-gray. I had cried what seemed to be a river of tears, until I could not seem to find more liquid in my system to cry out. I was more exhausted now, than when I had gone to bed; it felt as if I hadn't slept at all.
Deciding I couldn't just lie in bed all day, I crawled out from under the warmth of the blanket into the comparatively cold air of the bedroom. My feet touched the cool floor and I woke up a little more, shedding some of the early morning grogginess.
I walked quietly into the adjoining bathroom and flicked on the light. Looking in the mirror, I nearly screamed when I saw my reflection. It looked like a different person than the one I had seen yesterday morning, when I looked into the hotel mirror. My hair was a complete disaster, but that was simply from tossing and turning in my sleep. It seemed to have more life in it today; more of it's old shine and luster. My skin didn't look so sickly either. I looked like a much healthier person, even if I did still have dark circles under my eyes (which also looked much brighter).
I was a little happier, as I undressed and stepped into the small shower stall. There was a large tub in the opposite corner; I might have to take advantage of that, later. I turned the water on as hot as it would go. Not very warm, as it turned out. The small stream of water that trickled over my body was only lukewarm and there was little pressure behind it. I sighed, realizing I wasn't about to enjoy the shower, like I had thought.
Once I finished showering (it had been a fairly quick shower), I stepped out and wrapped a towel around myself. I wrapped another around my dripping hair and stepped out of the bathroom, back into the bedroom. I walked over to the bed and picked up my bag. Rummaging through it, I pulled out one of my new tee shirts and a pair of clean jeans. As I let the towel drop to the floor, I heard the quiet sound of a throat clearing behind me. I screamed and quickly picked the towel back up to hide my nakedness.
I spun around to see Max, standing in the doorway. My face got hot and I knew I was blushing bright red, "I guess you've never heard of knocking?"
"Sorry. Most of us close our doors, if we want privacy. Yours was wide open, so I assumed you didn't mind people being in here."
I glared at him, "Okay, so I guess it's my fault. What, may I ask, do you need?"
"I'm supposed to introduce you to some people around town. Hurry up and get ready to go."
"Sure. Just give me a moment alone? I don't generally get dressed with random guys watching me."
He nodded and walked out, looking annoyed and embarrassed.
I quickly put on my clothes, letting my face and temper cool down. After toweling my hair as dry as I could get it, I pulled my brush through it, quickly. It probably wasn't going to be my best hair day. I also rushed through putting some cover up on my face, completely skipping any eyeliner, or anything else. When I walked into the living room, Max was sitting on the couch. He looked up and said,
"You ready to go, yet?"
"Yeah. Why'd you have to come by this early though? I wouldn't have been up except...." I stopped short of telling him why I was up early. It was none of his business. It wasn't like we were friends. I didn't even trust him.
"Except what?" he seemed only vaguely interested.
"Nothing. You wouldn't be interested."
He shrugged and started towards the door. As he reached for the doorknob, he turned back to me and said, "You might want to put on some shoes, before we go out."
"Huh?" I looked down at my feet and, sure enough, I was barefoot. How could I have not realized I hadn't put my shoes on?
I sighed at my own stupidity, and stomped back to the bedroom. My dirty shoes were askew next to the bed. I slipped into them and walked back out to meet Max. He looked very annoyed at having to wait so long for me, even though it had only been about twenty minutes. He should have warned me he was going to be here. In fact, I thought I should say something about that.
"You know, if you're in such a rush and not prepared to wait for me, you could have warned me you were going to be here this early."
"Let's just go," he said, opening the door and stepping out into the now bright morning. The sun had risen above the trees and was shining everywhere, making the early morning dew glitter. It was almost like snow, but without... well, snow. In short, it was beautiful.
I followed him out, shutting the door behind me. The damp grass made the bottom of my pants cold and wet. I inhaled the fresh, pure air. It was so different from what I was used to; almost as if the air here had been purified or something. It also had the smell one might notice, right after a major thunder storm. My aggravation with Max faded, as I began to enjoy the atmosphere of this place.
I followed him down a dirt road (it seemed like all the roads here were dirt), past many houses, much like the one I was staying in. I soon realized this was a dead-end road, because, looming directly up ahead, at the end of the road, was a rather large house. It was the most modern-looking place; it almost looked like an older mansion. It must have been very important.
Max led me to the large front door and stopped, turning toward me, "Okay, this is where our council meets. You need to be way more respectful in here than you have been towards me. I don't know if it's just me, or if you're like that to everyone you meet. You haven't had a chance to talk to anyone around here, yet. They want to get a sense of who you are and what you're all about. You need to be honest with them. Got it?"
I nodded slowly, "So... what type of council are they, exactly?"
"You'll find out, if they find you worthy of our society."
"Okay, let's get this over with, then."
He opened the door and led me inside. The inside of the building looked pretty business-like. The entryway was circular; doors were all around, all of them closed. The smell was mostly of old paper or something like that. The only sounds I heard were those of soft voices, as if people were in meetings. Maybe that was the council?
"Follow me, and try not to make too much noise," Max whispered, before walking straight ahead, toward one of the many closed doors.
As he walked toward it, I imagined a meeting room of some sort would be on the other side. I was wrong; behind the door he led me to, there was an old, wooden flight of stairs. The sounds of voices disappeared. Now all was silent; as we walked up the narrow flight of stairs, I only heard our breathing and footsteps. They seemed oddly magnified, in this confined space.
I didn't like the silence; it gave me too much time to think. I thought about my dream. I thought about Adam. I thought about Mom and Dad. Basically, I thought of all the things that made me depressed. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't keep the thoughts out of my head. Though we had only been on the stairs for about thirty seconds, but it felt like an hour, by the time Max opened another door into a second circular hallway.
It looked nearly identical to the one downstairs, but there were fewer doors. Max didn't pause as we walked into the new hall. He simply walked straight ahead to the door directly opposite us. I wondered briefly, if there would be another staircase or something, when he opened the door. I was slightly surprised, however, at what I saw. There was a long, fairly narrow room with a table that took up most of the space. Around the table were about twenty-four chairs; all of them were wooden and old-looking. For the time being, the room was empty, besides Max and me.
"Sit here," Max said, pulling out the chair at the end of the table.
I sat down, feeling uncomfortable. What was going to happen now? Would I be interrogated or something? Just as I started to tremble with nervousness, Max walked out the door, without a word, leaving me completely alone. I was nearly panicking; I was alone in a strange place where some kind of council was going to come in for some type of interrogation at any time and Max simply left me alone! Did he really hate me bad enough to throw me to the sharks, like that?
Suddenly, there was a hand on my shoulder. I shrieked and nearly jumped out of my seat. Quickly turning around, I saw an old woman; her face and hands looked withered and her hair was almost white. I knew she must be ancient, but I couldn't calm my heart rate, which had spiked, when she sneaked up behind me.
"Hello, Amelia." she said, giving me a very slight smile, "My name is Clara. I'm the head of the council here."
"H-hey..." I managed to squeak out, my heart was finally slowing down a bit.
"I'm sorry to have frightened you; are you alright?" she sat down in the seat to my left.
I took a deep breath and attempted a shaky smile, "Yeah... Just a mini heart attack."
She smiled then got a very serious look on her face, "You know why Max brought you here, right?"
"Um... He said I was needed in the society or something."
"Well... He sure doesn't waste time getting into details. Yes, we want you in our society. Your mother was a great member; many people depended on her here. Did you ever wonder why she was away from home so often?"
"Not really... She always told us she was going away for business meetings. Sometimes she and
Dad would go away on vacation and leave Adam and I with our nanny for a week or so, but I always figured it was normal. Since Max showed up, I have gotten much more curious about things, though."
"If you do join our society, you will find out the answers to your questions."
I nodded, wondering when she was going to get to the point and tell me what I would have to do in order to join the society. I looked at her and realized that, even though she looked ancient on first
appearance, her eyes looked very young and vibrant. They were a brilliant shade of blue and didn't
look as if they would belong to someone as old as she was.
"Are you willing to do what it takes? We need your full loyalty, if you are to join us."
I thought it over for a moment. I didn't have a clue what I was pledging myself to. Hadn't been given a scrap of information about what this society did. Somehow, I knew I was going to agree; it wasn't like I had anything else to live for. Maybe by doing this, I could find a place I might belong. I took a deep breath and nodded again.
"I'll join. But I want to know what this is all about. What my mother did. I want to know everything."
"And we'll teach you all you need to know. Though...I might warn you that you might not believe everything at first. You might think of us as a bunch of crazy people."
"Okay... but will you tell me what the heck this society of yours does? I think if I'm going to be a member, I need to know what this is all about."
"First and foremost, our society has very much respect for nature. We waste as little of Earth's precious resources as we possibly can."
Great, I thought, I'm joining a society of weird tree hugging people. I hope they don't expect me to become a vegetarian or anything.
She seemed to read my thoughts, "We aren't the type of people who think nature should be left entirely alone. We simply don't waste it. If we cut down a tree, we use that tree for something. If we kill an animal, we eat the meat and use as much of what's left, as we possibly can."
I thought that over. It didn't sound so bad; they didn't seem as if they wanted to control my every move. At least not yet, "So... Will I have any freedom, after joining?"
"Of course! In many ways, you'll be more free than when you came here. We don't try to control our members; they control themselves."
"What do you do, exactly, to be a member?"
"You need to be trained. Most of your answers will come to you through training. I won't lie to you- it is very hard work, but once you have been trained, the rewards will be endless."
"Okay... When do I start?"
"Imediately. You need to go find a place you find most comfortable. Then you must meditate. Become close to nature."
Not quite sure why she wanted me to do this, I looked at her without saying anything. I didn't know what I could say; I didn't know what would be considered rude.
"It doesn't make sense now, I know, but you will understand soon enough. Just do that; I will be in touch. Come see me at any time- I have appointed myself as your personal mentor."
"Okay, thank you." I wasn't sure why I was such a big deal that someone would want to be my mentor so much. Maybe she was the only one willing.
"What are you waiting for?" she said, standing up and pulling me up as well, "Get going, find your place to meditate."
She smiled at me as I walked out of the room. When I was back in the circular corridor, I looked around; Max was no longer there. He had left for who knew what. At this point, I was pleased that he had not waited around. I didn't want to deal with him right then. I needed to clear my mind and be able to explore on my own.
When I stepped outside once again, I breathed in the warm air. The dew had dried up in the warm morning sun and a soft breeze had picked up, just enough to move my hair a little, as I stood there.
People were also up and about. Some of them were bustling about, doing various jobs, but most of them were lounging around, soaking in the sun. Kids were playing, running around and laughing. It was such a happy scene, I couldn't help but smile at them, as I passed.
I kept walking, waving or saying "hello" to people, as I passed them. Even though these people were friendly and it was very tempting to go hang out with some of the teenagers who were hanging out by the lake(there seemed to be few teenagers here), I felt the sudden, fierce need to be alone. I didn't really want to go back to my place; someone like Max could just walk in at any time and disturb me. Now seemed as good a time as any to find my meditation place.
I wandered through town, walking farther into the forest and away from the voices and laughter. The trees grew closer together, as I walked deeper into the forest, away from the village. The sounds of people soon vanished; I was finally alone. I walked a few more yards and leaned against a huge, old tree. I inhaled the strong scent of fresh pine and slid down to the ground.
I sat there for a few moments, just breathing in the calming scent and thinking about my situation. This new society... I still didn't know what it was all about. I wanted to find out, but Clara would not tell me. It was only at that moment that I realized how frustrating this was going to be. They would not tell me what I was learning; I would only know, as I learned it. These thoughts whirled around my head, like a tornado smashes through a town. I'm pretty sure this couldn't be classified as meditating, but at least I was alone.
I felt myself dozing, the warm sun filtered through the trees and danced on my skin. I breathed deeply, letting the peace of my surroundings comfort me. My mind calmed a little and I relaxed onto the soft moss that sheathed the tree. The tornado of thoughts dissipated and left behind a strange feeling of calmness. The calm after the storm? Maybe.
The next thing I knew, I heard a rustle of leaves and somehow knew intuitively that it was not the breeze moving the leaves on the ground. Someone was nearby, walking toward me. I opened my eyes, squinting against the brightness of the sun. Then I didn't need to squint so much, because there was a dark silhouette in front of me, blocking a lot of the sunlight.
My eyes popped fully open, as I tried to focus on the face of the person standing in front of me. It took a minute, but then I realized it was none other than Max. Great way to get me out of my calm, peaceful little bubble. I grumbled and closed my eyes again, trying to get back to the state of mind I'd just been yanked out of.
"Amelia, what are you doing? You have that house for a reason; what's the point of sleeping under a tree? And it's so nice out anyway-why would you want to sleep the day away?"
I sighed, "I'm not sleeping the day away. I was trying to meditate. Clara told me it's essential to learning what I'm here for. Too bad this place has so much traffic; it was kind of nice here."
"Sorry, geez... I was just going for a walk and you were sitting there. I was wondering what was up. Sorry for making sure you were okay."
"Why would you care? You don't even like me,"
He shook his head, an aggravated look crossing his face, "Whatever. Sorry for bothering you," he turned and went to walk away.
I got up and followed him. He stopped and turned back to me, "Now you're following me?"
"Look, I'm sorry for being snappy to you, but you haven't exactly been nice to me either, since you brought me here. What's that all about?"
"I didn't volunteer to get you and bring you here to become your friend. I don't like people; everyone I have ever trusted ends up dropping me like a hot potato."
My anger for him melted and I felt sympathy for him, "Max... I know how you feel."
"No, you don't. You don't have any idea what it's like to have a mother who never loved you. A father who never gave a damn whether you lived or died. You've got no idea what it's like to have the person you love more than anything in the world turn their back on you and leave you broken hearted. You have no idea what it's like," he said, anger and hurt flaring up in his voice and his eyes.
I reached out and took Max's hand, "Tell me about your life. I'd like to know what you've been through. Maybe it will help me understand you..."
He shook his head and said nothing, but he slid to the ground and sat there, staring at the leaves. I had a feeling he was really staring at some far off memory. I sat down beside him and remained silent, letting him think; if he was going to talk to me, he would do it in his time. There was no way to rush him.
He had taken his hand away from mine, when he sat down, so I was very hesitant, as I reached out to touch his shoulder. I just wanted to let him know I was here, when he was ready to talk. He looked up at me, with eyes that held deep sadness. He took a deep breath and said,
"My mother was a teenage prostitute in Las Vegas. She got pregnant by one of her customers," He spat the word out and his voice filled with rage and disgust, "She told me every chance she got that she never wanted me, wished I would have never been born. Then her life would be perfect because she could have carried on as she always had."
I took advantage of his brief pause to let out some of the rage I felt toward his mother and the sympathy toward him, "What kind of mother does that?! She should have been grateful you came
along and took her out of the world of prostitution! Not bitter because she could no longer be a
He laughed humorlessly, "You think having me stopped her from being a whore? Not even close.
She kept her 'business' going, until the night she had me-literally. Then, she only took long enough off to be able to pawn me off onto any willing babysitter. She didn't care that most of them didn't know how to take care of children, let alone newborn babies. As long as she could go out and have her fun and maybe make some cash, she was happy.
"Sure, I saw her on a regular basis. She came home at dawn most days, paid the night's sitter, and crashed on the couch. She'd wake up long enough to give me the bare minimum attention. One week per month, she'd come home and spend time with me. She didn't enjoy our time together. She didn't even do it because she felt obligated to be home with me. I'm sure you can figure out why she would spend so much time away from her work."
"This routine lasted until I was thirteen-years-old. Then she figured I could be left at home for more time by myself. At this point, I didn't even have the company of a babysitter. I was old enough to take care of myself, in her eyes. She barely ever came home those days. I had to scavenge for food, until she would come home with a grocery bag or two. That lasted me about two days. She only brought them maybe once a week."
Tears filled my eyes, as I saw the hurt that showed itself in his. It must have been there as a shadow in his past all along, but I could only really see it now. I wanted to reach out and hug him, to make him feel loved for a change. I wanted to be his best friend, the person he knew he could rely on. I knew that now was not the time to hug him.
"I was only fourteen, when I left home. I made my way east, because that was farthest away from her. I never wanted to see her face again. When I was brought here, by Clara, this place was like Heaven on Earth for me. It was the first time I had truly ever felt safe in my life."
As he finished, a single tear fell down his cheek. Then he put the mask of the strong, hardened man on again and laughed-another humorless, gravelly laugh. Finally, I felt it would be okay, and I reached out and wrapped my arms around him. I half expected him to push me away, to stand up and walk away, like he hadn't just told me a major part of his life. Instead, he hugged me back, burying his face in my hair. We stayed like that for a few minutes, then pulled apart. He looked at me and said quietly, "You know... you're the first person I've ever told about my mother... Maybe someday I'll tell you the rest of my story. Now, I have to go do some work, before it gets dark."
He stood up and walked slowly away. I watched him go, feeling very sorry for him. If I'd ever thought my life was bad, I was rethinking that now.