Setting Free the Jar of Broken Dreams
Rain gently knocks against the pane of glass separating me from the bustling London street. My toes curl deeper into the soft blanket and my fingers tighten against crisp, paper edges. My traitorous heart tells me this is the story I want. But it can only be the story I read. Besides, true love, any love, leads to pain. Love shreds hearts. It destroys them. So why do I want it so badly? Hadn’t I learned from last time?
I snap the book shut, my heart aching. The scent of cinnamon and vanilla wafts through the air from the small candle on my nightstand. Why do I keep reading this book? It only makes me remember.
Darcy’s words tumble through my mind. I’m sorry, Cara… I thought I loved you…
Love is cruel. Love is a lie. Love shreds hearts and it destroys them.
The quiet fall morning brings peace to my tormented soul. The scent of coffee and freshly baked scones floats from the small shop across the street. People walk up and down the little sidewalk of my apartment. Children laugh, it’s bubbly, and light. They don’t know what pain is yet. Then there are the couples, giggling and holding hands. Why the pretense? Don’t they know love can never last?
The pain in my chest worsens and I tear my gaze from the strangers holding hands. I munch angrily on my croissant. People are so daft. So blatantly daft.
A door squeaks open and shut and I look over my shoulder. My head snaps back. Not him. Not again. My new neighbor had moved in nearly 6 months ago. He claimed he traveled the world and never stayed in one place for more than six months. He was daft, too. Always talking about life and its wonderous pathways to adventure.
“Cara!” he shouts with a grin in his voice. “Cara Davis!”
I hide my cringe as I turn. “Good morning, Andrew,” I say curtly.
The morning sun catches his blonde hair, briefly turning it gold. His grin broadens. “Indeed it is! I’m off to find adventure in London!”
That’s so very American of him. Andrew seems to think adventure is just around the next corner. He is perfectly adorable. But wondrously daft in the noggin.
“Do enjoy yourself.” I take a sip of tea, hoping he’d take it as his cue to vanish into thin air.
“Thanks.” Another grin. I wonder if his eyes are sparkling. I look up briefly, straight into the blue depths. I quickly turn away. Yup. Sparkly. “What’s on your agenda for today?”
I struggle to keep from grating my teeth. “Tea. A book. Cat time.” I steal a glance at him. Cats were always a big turn-off, maybe he’d leave me alone.
Something in his chiseled features soften and I realize I’d made a huge mistake. “That sounds like an adventure all in itself.” He nods his head to me. “I do hope you enjoy it.” He goes to turn away, but then stops himself. “Just remembered something.” Suddenly he looks nervous. “Since we’re neighbors and all, I wanted to give you this….” He sets a slip of paper on the bench next to me. Then he’s gone.
I stare at it a moment before I pick it up and read its contents. It’s his number. My stomach fills with acid. It burns and pushes up my throat. I remind myself of the things I’d learned. It’s the only way to keep myself protected.
Love is pain.
Time is ticking away. I’d been here almost 6 months already. Surely, 3 days would be enough time to get her to agree to at least get to know me as a friend. Though I seriously doubt it. Cara had kept her walls up long before I’d come into her life. It isn’t fair. There is so much life to live, so much to enjoy, and she’s missing out on it all. So why won’t she budge? What is she so afraid of?
It hadn’t taken long after meeting her that my “adventure” in London turned dull. The realization that some people simply couldn’t live tormented me daily. I remember once, her slipping and calling me Darcy. It was then that it had dawned on me, that she’d been hurt and simply couldn’t see anyone but the jerk who’d stabbed her heart. I want to show Cara what living is really about. But she's trapped. Too asleep. What would it take to awaken the sleeping beauty?
It’s nearing evening by the time my apartment comes into view. A smile tugs at my mouth.
Cara is draped across the bench, asleep. Her dark, messy braid is flopped out behind her, and whisps frame her delicate features. My eyes drop to her hand which is still tightly clasping her tea canister and I chuckle to myself. That woman was addicted to tea. Then again, so was everyone else in London.
As I walk past her, I come to a screeching halt. What am I doing? This opportunity is way too great to pass up. What’s one more withering glare and British insult?
With a little grin, I slowly step back and swipe a leaf off the ground. It’s time to wake up, Cara Davis.
Something tickles my nose and I brush it away. Such wonderful dreams shouldn’t be interrupted. There’s a low chuckle and my whole body stills.
I’m not in my bed.
My eyes flash open and I jerk upright. My empty canister falls to the ground and Andrew jumps back, thinking it’s full of hot liquid. But he’s grinning.
“Did you ever get around to that book? Or tea? Or cat time?” His eyes are sparkling. I look away.
“I didn’t,” I admit. My eyes drift to the skyline and my stomach drops. It was nearing evening. Or maybe the sky was only dark because of the clouds. Distant thunder rumbles.
“Hmmm,” he muses, eyeing me over. “You don’t get out much, do you?”
“You’ve been my neighbor for how long, again?” I toss him an incredulous look.
He laughs. “True that. I haven’t seen you leave once except to go to the coffee shop for croissants.” Something flickers over his face, and his eyes lighten as though he discovered an answer to something. “Would you be interested in joining me for coffee tomorrow morning? On me, of course.”
My muscles go tight. Painfully tight. I can’t look at him.
“Thank you for the offer, but no.” My lips tighten. If he only wanted a friendship, he wouldn’t have given me his number and then asked me out to coffee on the same day. No. He wanted more than that.
“You’re scared,” he blurts, face completely serious. It suddenly turns crimson when he sees me cringe. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say that out loud.”
I grab my fallen canister and stand abruptly. “No need for apologies, sir. Good day.” I turn briskly and start walking to my apartment. He jogs after me.
“Am I right, though?” he asks.
I grit my teeth. When would he get the message? I fumble for my key as I near my door and he jumps in front of me. For the oddest reason, I’m not the least bit frightened. He had never done anything to make me fear him. If anything, I felt safe when I was around him. I shake the feeling away. He would just be another Darcy. Too cute for his own good, yet in the end, leave me with a dagger in my beating heart.
“Hang on,” he says softly. “I need to know before I make more of a fool of myself. You’re scared anything that becomes of us will leave you hurting. You’re scared to risk falling in love. Like you’re scared to risk a lot of things.”
My heart is roaring in my ears. How dare he make such accusations. How dare he. But I don’t feel angry at him for voicing the truth. I’m left with an empty feeling.
I watch his hand lift and feel him gently tug my braid. “It’s okay, Cara. I understand. If you ever change your mind, you have my number.” He winks and backs away, leaving me speechless.
Dude! What is wrong with you? My mind is going crazy. Never tug a girl’s braid. Never. Especially when they’re high on caffeine! The dangers of that were taught to me well before I’d reached the ripe old age of twenty-five. And I’d gone and just yanked it and said something incredibly mushy. I’d been in London too long. It was the accents. It had to be the accents.
I lay in bed, my heart still pounding as I stare up at the ceiling. The truth is… I’d fallen for Cara Davis a long time ago. The moment I laid eyes on her I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my days seeking adventure with her. I just hadn’t realized how hard it would be to get through to her. Not with that shield constantly up. How can I show her the joy of living like there was no tomorrow? How can I show that to someone who only lives for tea, books, and her cat?
A wry smile tugs at my mouth as I envisioned the creature. Fluffy and overloved, it liked to watch me from Cara’s window seat while it bathed itself. Likely it thought I was an intruder who had to go.
The scent of rain drifts through the crack in my window and I bolt upright. Rain? A chuckle slips out of my mouth as I draw closer to my window. Yes! Rain! There is nothing freer than standing in the rain and letting it fall on you. If one looks directly into the sky as it rains, they can truly feel the insignificance of their life. We’re so small in this big world and I want to live my small life to the fullest extent.
A cool breeze slips through the open window, carrying the scent of rain. I sit on my bed, thinking of the day before. It’s okay, Cara. I understand.
My throat tightens. How can he understand? He lives life like it has no tomorrow. My whole body aches to do the same. I long for the taste of that freedom.
Lily purrs as my fingers trail through her fur. My orange and white feline friend seems to be the only logical one. She has no prospects; she doesn’t want any. And she is happy. Why can’t I be happy, too? Why am I the only one struggling to find my place? To find peace? To find love?
Love is a lie.
A clap of thunder shakes the apartment, and Lily yowls, jumping from the bed and out the window.
“Lily!” I shout, rushing forward. But in her mad scramble, she lunges into the yard, fearfully finding shelter under the bench. “Oh, the daft little beast!” I grunt out. Perhaps not very logical after all.
I slip on my house shoes and rush out my door just as rain dumps from the sky instantly soaking me to the core. More thunder follows the first and I shiver. Lily jumps up, darting back into the window. I let out an irritated sigh.
Before I can follow Lily’s outstanding wisdom, I hear a loud, joyous laugh and turn, not surprised to see Andrew standing outside his door.
“It’s raining!” He grins at me, and I’m filled with confusion.
“Your powers of observation are impressive, Andrew,” I call dryly. I try to make my way back to my door without slipping.
“Ah! Live a bit, Cara!” Andrew laughs again, and before I can stop him, he takes my hand and twirls me. For that brief second, the world is frozen.
My body turns hot and then everything speeds up and the rain is pouring harder than ever. I can only stare at him. At his gentle, yet somehow shy, smile. Oh, this confounded man. It is like his one goal in life is to tear away my rules.
Love leads to pain.
But did it have to?
His breath is slightly ragged, and he swallows. “We should go inside before we catch a chill,” he suggests, finally letting my hand go.
I nod numbly and flee. Daft cat.
The water from the shower had warmed me to my core, and now I breathe in the steam from my chamomile tea, letting it swirl through my body. My book sits abandoned beside me. Why must I be like this? Why can’t I let this fear go? It’s consuming me. Drowning me. Maybe Andrew won’t be another broken heart. Maybe he’d be different.
Let this fear go, my heart begs.
No, my mind screams out. It’s not worth it! The gaping hole in my heart from Darcy’s dagger is still there, open and oozing. Another dagger would kill me.
I breathe in more steam, watching the warm glow of my candle dance shadows across my room. The freeness of its flame reminds me of Andrew. I blow the candle out.
I pace my small apartment violently. Nothing can calm my nerves. Not even another random adventure in the streets of London. I had twirled Cara Dunn in the rain. In the rain! My heart is still pounding. I’m a madman, aren’t I? Wanting something that’ll never come. She isn’t going to budge. It’s like every time she looks at me all she can see is the pain that might come with a relationship. She’s frightened to take risks. How can I make her see that life is full of risks? How can I make her see that she can never truly live if she doesn’t take risks? Being alive, being safe in a bubble, that’s not living.
In those early months, I’d speak to her of all the places I’d traveled. It had been the most I’d seen her eyes dance. The idea of the freedom I had spoke to the very depths of her soul. I want to share it with her, the adventure of life.
But not today. Today, I’m the creep who dances in the rain.
I let out an agitated groan. I have to do something to get my mind off her. I grab my guitar off the wall and start strumming it. It needs tuning, so I do. After, a little song comes to mind and I start singing by my open window. Instantly, I’m sucked into my own world. But it doesn’t last. As I sing words of adventure, I can only picture Cara by my side and my heart aches to share that world with her. If that was ever going to happen I have to act fast. Time is running out. I look at the train ticket on my mantel. In one day, I’d board that train and likely never see Cara Davis again.
Hot water floods my small tea cup and my tea bag inks the water with its golden hue. It’s raining again. Soft, instrumental music floats from my Bluetooth speaker, and somewhere Lily is pretending to be a race car. I sink into my small window seat and surround myself with plush pillows. When the rain stops, I crack my window open to feel the fresh air on my skin.
Low singing slips in alongside of the fresh air, and my heart skips a beat. Andrew is singing. His words carry like an adventurous river. He sings of the unknown. Life. Loss. Love. It tugs at my soul, and at my heart, making me want to go on a grand adventure. Not just any adventure. An adventure with Andrew.
I can hear him now, all nonchalant, and adventure in his eyes like mist from faraway mountains. “Have you made up your mind yet, love?”
And I can see me, hear my cynical words as my face turns cold, as my heart turns cold. “Love is a jar of forgotten dreams, Andrew. That’s all it’ll ever be.”
I shut my window, getting the sound of his voice out of my small apartment. I squeeze a pillow tightly as hot tears stream down my cheeks. I’m a fool for wanting something so unrealistic. Love isn’t real. It’s not like the books.
Love is cruel. Love is a lie. Love shreds hearts. It destroys them.
It’s early morning when I hear the knock at my door. I quickly slip into my robe and answer the door. Andrew is standing there, hair messy and eyes tired.
“Good morning, Cara,” he says weakly. “I’ve been thinking a lot. I actually didn’t get much sleep last night.”
That made two of us. I hadn’t slept well since he waltzed into my life.
“Oh?” I say coyly. “What have you been thinking about?” My stomach is squeezing, and my heart is doing a strange flutter.
His eyes are pained almost, it’s a strange look I’ve never seen on him. He takes a deep breath like he’s preparing to go to battle. “I’m just going to say it,” he says tiredly, “and you can laugh at me afterward. But here goes.” He takes in another deep breath. “I hate seeing you alive but not living. There’s so much more to life. I want to show you it all. I want to show you how to live. I want to give you the world on a silver platter. You deserve more than what you have. You deserve more than this fear that keeps you bound. Come away with me, Cara. I can give you the world.” His eyes are pleading. Begging.
I don’t realize tears are running down my cheeks until a breeze brushes against them. “Andrew…” My throat is tight, too tight. The gaping hole in my heart widens as a reminder. “Andrew, that sounds… lovely. But the risk of pain isn’t worth it. For either of us.” More tears escape as I watch his heart crack right before my eyes. “I’m sorry,” I whisper, casting my eyes away.
His knuckles are white, but not from anger, not like Darcy. “Love will always be worth it, Cara. Sometimes we get hurt. Bad. But that’s a part of life. You can’t live and not get hurt. And I see it in your eyes, the longing for more. The longing for life.”
My body is completely still. I force myself to meet his endless blue eyes. “You’re right.” My voice cracks. “But the risk… It’s too high. I won’t put myself through that again. Goodbye, Andrew.” I shut the door before I can chicken out. I hear his footsteps fade away and I sink to the ground, covering my mouth to keep from sobbing loudly.
The chilly London air bites my skin as I walk away from the apartments. My stomach is in knots. I feel as though I’m forgetting something.
You are, idiot. Cara Davis.
I had been right, of course. She is frightened to the core that I might destroy her heart. If only I’d had more time to show her not all risks lead to pain. But this ticket isn’t refundable. A new adventure is just around the corner. An adventure without my strange, little neighbor. Why doesn’t that sit well with me?
Because she’s a spark to a brighter flame, you giant idiot. You knew from the moment you laid eyes on her.
My heart sinks. I have to remind myself there’s only so much you can wait for someone. There’s only so much you can push. I left her my number. She knows how to call me if she changes her mind.
Don’t be daft, I thought with a strangely British accent. She isn’t going to call. Once I’m gone, she’s going to go to great lengths to forget I’d ever come into her life.
Once I step onto that train, an adventure with Cara Davis will never happen.
The following day I find a note taped to my door from Andrew. My heart sinks as I read it.
I never stay in one place long. I’m leaving. I’m leaving to find adventure. I had wanted to find it with you, Cara. But I can’t force you to change your mind. You have my number if you ever want to find me.
The note flutters to the ground. Like a punch to my gut, my head is filled with memories.
Rain falling in the yard, Andrew spinning me, the look in his eyes. Those sparkling, blue eyes. “Come away with me, Cara. I can give you the world.”
“I’m sorry, Cara… I thought I loved you…”
Andrew isn’t Darcy. He had done nothing but show me what life could be. Darcy was a liar. Andrew… he was true. He was real. And he had offered me the world itself.
But love is a lie… It’s not real…
What I had with Darcy wasn’t love. That wasn’t real. But Andrew… it could be very real. It could be life itself. I just had to make that jump. Without fear. The pain of the past doesn’t compare to the hope of tomorrow. Not even close.
I run as hard as I can through the rainy streets of London. The sounds of train horns fill the air as I near the train station. I push faster. Faster. Faster. I reach the train station doors and burst inside. It’s flooded with people, all bustling about as they head to their destinations. I didn’t know which train Andrew was going to take. I don’t have much time. My heart pounds loudly like a war drum in my chest.
Don’t let him go. Don’t let him go. Don’t let him go.
“Andrew!” I scream, pushing through the crowd. “Andrew!” I call for him over and over. I make it to the trains. People file on board like ants. I’d never be able to spot him.
My heart sinks and suddenly the train station is quiet as the last person boards. The train leaves. Andrew is gone.
“Andrew,” I say weakly. What had I done? What had I given up?
I spin, and my heart soars. It’s him. He’s still here. Sitting on a bench with his suitcase. Confusion flickers over his features and he slowly stands.
“What are you doing here?” he asks, and I see the slight puffiness under his eyes. He’d been crying.
I make my way to him. I’m wet and wind-blown, and my eyes are far more puffy than his. But I don’t care.
“You didn’t get on the train,” I whisper.
He gently wipes the tears and rain off my cheek with the pad of his thumb. “Some adventures are worth waiting for.” I see the question in his eyes.
“You were right,” I cry softly. “About everything. Because the fact is, it would hurt more not taking the risk. I want to know what it feels like to fall in love for real. To be loved. I want to know about adventure. And living. And I want you to show me. I want you to show me everything, Andrew. I’m tired of being afraid. I’m tired of holding back.” I move closer, taking his hand. “Take me away with you, Andrew,” I whisper. “Teach me to live.”
His eyes are shining with tears, and I feel a tremble in his hand. “Oh, Cara,” he says softly. “You’re awake.”
It is mine. All of it. Every path we take. Every adventure we choose. It’s mine. This life. This freedom. And it is all because of the man I fell in love with. I took a risk. And he showed me I didn’t have to fear anymore. He took the hole in my chest and filled it with his love.
The wind whips through our hair as we cling tightly to the railing at the end of the train car.
“Live a bit, Cara!” Andrew shouts, grinning at me as he whoops loudly.
With one arm, I cling to him, then throw the other into the air as I let out a whoop louder than his. Why had it taken me so long to realize the truth?
Love is caring. Love is true. Love mends hearts and it builds them up.
Author Name: Charity H.P.
The Pursuing Light
The darkness had been consuming me.
And I liked it.
But it was taking me further than I'd agreed to go.
Cut. Cut. Cut. Deeper this time. Cut. Cut. Cut. It'll take away the pain of being alive and not living.
But a light was chasing me, trying to pierce through my darkness. I ignored it.
Until I didn't.
Once I took hold of that light with both hands, my darkness scattered and I finally started to live.
If I were blind, I'd know it was fall because of the pumpkin spiced coffee. Its seasonal flavor bursts onto my tongue while hot, pumpkiny, and frothy.
Standing under the sky, I'd feel the painted leaves as they fell from their tree. I'd feel the autumn wind dancing on my skin, wild and free.
No, I wouldn't have to see to know the trees have shifted. Because clothes get snugglier, and all the limited coffees gets taste tested.
A woman wearing a long skirt and modest shirt walks into a store. After she gets to a certain aisle, another woman approaches her.
The approaching woman says, "Oh, honey, you don't have to dress like that to be a Christian."
The woman turns to her with a strange look on her face. "How did you know I was a Christian?"
The potent smell of unbathed bodies filled the rowdy tavern, covering the sweet scent of mead that lingered in Dennis's empty mug. Once more, the persistent nudge urged him to look over his shoulder, and once more he ignored it. They wouldn't come looking for him in a place like this.
Drunks at the surrounding tables whistled as barmaids refilled their drinks. The sound was mildly distracting, but more distracting was their constant laughter and crude jesting.
Rubbing the pad of his thumb in small, deliberate circles over one of his worn cards, Dennis eyed the five other players calmly. Maybe even slightly arrogantly. With a smooth smirk, he tossed in a couple denarii. A round of slight gasps came from their onlookers, and the other players eyed him with disdain.
"There's more where that came from, gents." Dennis's delicate accent contradicted his sly, and slightly, wicked smirk.
More denarii tinkled as a large man with a red beard tossed in more denarii. "We know," he growled. His dark eyes pierced Dennis, and his thick fingers seemed to tighten around his cards. Hands like those could squeeze the life out of someone. Someone like Dennis.
As the game wore on, Dennis had earned himself several more glowers, and the urge to flee rose within him. But he was no coward. If he was going to win the game, he would. If he was going to get pummeled for it afterward, he would do that too.
*Outside the Tavern after the Game was Won*
"Fair and square!" Dennis insisted for the tenth time. "I won, fair and square!"
Without warning, the red-haired brute from the game slammed Dennis against the grimy wall and punched him in the gut. Several other losers snickered in delight, taking pleasure in the wheeze the punch pulled from Dennis.
"Come on," Dennis moaned. "It was a fair game." Sweat caused from the blistering, afternoon sun burned his eyes and soaked his finely woven tunic. It would have to be washed. Or completely replaced depending on how the next few minutes went. "There is no need for this. I won fairly."
Another punch to the gut. It took all of Dennis's self-control not to vomit. The last thing he needed to do was humiliate himself further. If it hadn't been for the hand pinning him to the wall, he'd have collapsed.
The brute's lip twitched with despise and his eyes bore deeply into Dennis's with cold bitterness. "You don't belong here, boy."
Dennis's heart hardened. He'd never hated his surname more in that moment. "I'm not like them. I belong here."
The man didn't look believing. "If you fall into debt, you call on your petty father to come to your rescue. Likely, the money you used tonight wasn't even yours. When none of what I said is true, then tell me you aren't like your family, rich boy." With a harsh shove, he backed away.
Dennis gave the man a dull look. "I'm not like my family," he stated blandly. "Besides, it's not the money used in the game, it's the player, pal. And you're just a really bad player."
Getting pummeled wasn't fun unless one deserved it. Insulting this idiot seemed to be the only way to make things more enjoyable.
Before the predicted fist could come flying for his face, someone cleared their throat. "What goes on here?"
Not him. Dennis cringed. Anyone but him.
"Ah, another rich boy," the brute sneered. "Here to rescue your pathetic brother, are you?"
Pathetic? Not charming or very likeable? Crud. Arrogant would've also worked.
Dennis turned slightly, getting a glimpse of his exalted eldest brother. "What are you doing here, Sam?"
Samuel ignored Dennis and leaned his muscled shoulder against the crumbling wall. His serious face rarely smiled, but a faint smile pulled at his mouth. "Go ahead and finish here, I'll carry him home when you're done."
Dennis turned back to the brute with a nervous chuckle. "He's jesting."
Popping his knuckles, the red-haired nightmare grinned. "We'll be done momentarily."
Wonderful. This would be quick, and his dashing features would likely be marred.
An ugly fist came flying for his nose and Dennis braced for impact. Why did it always have to be the nose?
"You didn't have to do that," Dennis muttered. Wincing, he pinched a towel to his nose.
Samuel was lounging on the sofa in the common room, while Dennis limped before the furnace in an attempt at pacing. "I didn't lie to him, Dennis. You were in the city testifying what you believe." He was gazing into the flickering flames and their shadowless fingers danced light across his stern features.
"Testifying what I believe?" The words were muttered as he tossed them around in his head, but he wasn't focusing on them. What the bearded man had said sparked something inside Dennis. He didn't want to be lumped with his father everywhere he went. He wanted more than what was offered here. The pleasures of the world called to him. What would it be like to gamble without worrying he was doing wrong? He supposed it was freedom he wanted.
The thick, wooden doors opened silently, and five young men bombarded the room like a pack of hyenas.
"Good, you're alive."
"Dennis! What happened?"
"What did you do to yourself?"
"Goodness me! You've got to know to use your words, kid!"
"Tell me you didn't start another fight."
Dennis waited patiently for his elder brothers to all get a word in. He tossed the towel down and faced them. Each one visibly winced as they got a look at the blackened eye and crooked nose.
"You started another fight," Remus, the second eldest, said dully. His weathered hands were placed on his hips, and he stood as though he thought himself in charge.
Anger spiked through Dennis at his brother's quick assumptions, and he glared, then winced as the motion shifted the bruised muscles. "I didn't start that blasted fight!" he roared. "I won that-" His clamped his lips and cringed. It wasn't the first time he'd slipped, but he knew he wouldn't be able to cover this one with a lie. Not one that was believable, that is.
Silence overtook the room as it dawned on each of the room's occupants.
"You were gambling," they said in sync. Their faces were crestfallen. Horror, sorrow and something else shone in their eyes.
As usual, Samuel said nothing to confirm even though he knew exactly what Dennis had been doing for the past few months. Letting Dennis sort out his own problems seemed to be a hobby of his. Even if it meant letting the baby of the family get his nose broken and his eye blackened.
Dennis could take it no more. His glare turned hateful, and he wanted to smack the looks of shame off their faces. "Like you all are so perfect! I just want a life! A normal life. This place does nothing but drag me down! You all do nothing but drag me down." His last words came out in a near snarl. His bitterness stunned him slightly. It stunned his brothers too, from the looks on their faces. They stood in shock, as if Dennis had slapped them in the face. Even Sam looked hurt.
Remus swallowed, opened his mouth. "Dennis," he said softly, as if approaching an injured fawn.
But he wasn't an injured fawn. He was a young man yearning for a freedom outside of his father's walls and rules.
Before Remus could say another word, Dennis stalked out of the room. It was time he started living his life. When he reached his chambers, he started packing his bags. He didn't take much. Just denarii, a bar of soap and a change of clothes.
He was out the window before anyone knew to look for him.
As he tore down the road to the city and away from his father's land, Dennis didn't look back.
*Two Days Later*
The high sun beat against the city like an angry overseer. But the heat didn't bother Dennis, because he no longer had to work in it.
A beautiful servant girl came to him and refilled his wine goblet. Most men in the quiet tavern let their eyes linger on her. The first day Dennis had done the very thing, had maybe even been looking forward to playing with the dame's hair. Now, the very thought made him so sick he thought he'd vomit up his wine. Though he was away from his father's home, everything he'd learned from a young age still clung to him like a briar.
The tavern door swung open, and Dennis squirmed in his seat. Oh dear. The brute who'd given him the lashing stepped in.
Brutish scanned the room and his hard eyes instantly landed on Dennis. His lip lifted in a sneer. Dennis contemplated on running for his life, but he refused. He wasn't a coward. If the man wanted to give him another lashing, he'd take it like a man. A man who was terrible at defending himself.
The brute moved toward Dennis in sturdy steps. No swagger, no intimidating saunter, just solid footfalls that managed to scare the living daylights out of Dennis.
"What are you doing here, boy?" the man asked gruffly. "You aren't looking for another fight, are you?" He took a seat without asking.
Dennis took a sip from his goblet. "Only if you're looking for another game to lose."
Faint amusement flashed through the man's eyes. "I've never seen you here before."
"That's because I've never been here before now." Dennis picked at the smooth table, trying terribly hard to find a splinter that would wake him from this nightmare.
"Do you think this is somewhere you belong?" His tone was demeaning, and implied he knew exactly the kind of standards Dennis grew up with.
"I figured this place is better than the streets." He winced as he found the splinter. Unfortunately, he didn't wake up.
In confusion, the man's eyes narrowed. "Streets?" In shocked Dennis to hear the slight concern lining the man's voice.
Dennis gulped the last of his wine down. "I left home, ruffian. I told you, I don't belong there." He nearly slammed the goblet down in his attempt at setting it down gently.
A short chuckle escaped the man. "It's actually Ren. But you were close, both start with R." He rubbed his jaw in thought. "Didn't think you had it in you, honestly, rich boy. Seeing as how you had the guts to do it, how 'bout I show you a bit of the city someone like yourself has never been."
A smile curled at Dennis's mouth. "You'd be willing to help someone like me?" He waved the barmaid away as she attempted to refill his goblet.
Ren smirked. "You mean someone homeless? Of course." His eyes twinkled. "Come on. We've a lot of places to see."
Dennis didn't move at first. His stomach tightened to think of the places he wasn't about to enter. But this is what he wanted. This is the freedom he'd been seeking. He pushed out of his seat, watching the ground sway beneath his feet. "Lead the way, Ren."
Ren let out a burly laugh. "How much wine did you drink?"
Dennis rubbed his temples. "I've been here two days, and wine is the only thing they serve. What do you think?"
Ren stood and came around, looping his arm under Dennis's arms. "Let's find you some food, then. The only places you know how to find are taverns."
*The Following Night*
After meeting several people Ren knew, Dennis felt he'd made the right decision coming to the city. Surprising enough, it hadn't been his money or his statis that had caused people to dislike him. It had been his cockiness and his unwillingness to take responsibility. Now that they knew he was trying to fend for himself without his father's money, they readily took him in.
Low snores filled the room Dennis was staying in. He wasn't accustomed to sleeping with so much noise surrounding him. But he didn't mind. It was... exhilarating. Living life on the edge was so much more than he could've imagined. There were no rules. Though, his bag of denarii was noticeably lighter than when he first began. He was sure it would all work out. He could find a job. Probably.
A low creak came from the door as it opened. A dark form slipped into the room and the door shut just as quickly. Nimbly, the form stepped over the sleeping lumps scattered across the floor. Dennis squinted his eyes to try to see better, but the room was too dark. Before he could move out of the way, the form stepped on him. With a surprised gasp, they jumped back.
"Hey!" she snapped. "You're in my spot." Her voice was husky and rough. Never before had Dennis encountered a woman who trampled over a man's authority. But from the tone she was using he guessed it was something this one did quite often. He couldn't bring himself to dislike it.
"My apologies," Dennis said smoothly, watching as her form went rigid, likely because she noticed his accent. "There is plenty of room, allow me to find someplace else to lie." He gathered his mat and slid it across the floor near a snoring man with a large belly.
The woman said nothing as she reclaimed her spot. Dennis could feel her eyes digging into him. With hate or curiosity, he couldn't tell.
*The Following Day*
"You sleep a lot."
Dennis slowly opened his eyes, wincing as light seared painfully across his vision. "I'm also awake a lot. I don't like having one without the other." His voice was groggy. He rolled over and sat up, surprised to see the room empty save for a woman standing at his feet. "Who are you?" he asked.
Her hazel eyes scanned him curiously, and he noticed the feint hint of amusement. "Ren's sister. He won't be back until the full moon. I'm to be your guide and protector."
Dennis's eyebrows slowly rose. "Protector?"
She smirked. "Ren said you have the tendency to run your mouth in the wrong areas. Your bruised skin is a testament to that." Again, that amusement filled her eyes. "Let's break our fast and get on with our day. Ren wants me to take you to the heart of our city."
Dennis was on his feet in an instant. "The heart of the city! That sounds exciting." He grinned. Her mouth turned up in a sly manner and suddenly, Dennis grew slightly concerned. "That sounds exciting, right?"
*In The Heart Of The City*
The heart of the city wasn't what Dennis was expecting. It was loud and full of exotic colors. Bright banners hung from every wall, piles of spices filled bins, dried herbs were bound in thick bundles, and laughter bubbled from everyone's lips. But the most exciting part was the two wrestling men in a small dust pit. Those cheering and taking bets surrounded them.
"What..." Dennis's eyes were wide. "What is that they're doing?"
The woman's arms hung loosely like the scarf around her neck. "It's a less bloody version of the Gladiator Games." Her grin was broad. "Ren thinks you'd be good at it."
Dennis's stomach dropped. "He what?"
She chuckled, gazing at the two sweaty men pounding each other's faces. "He says you don't run. And besides, you need a way to make a living if you aren't going to rely on your father."
Dennis suddenly didn't like the heart of the city. "I don't run because I'm a really bad runner," he hissed. "Fighting isn't my forte. Ask Ren."
She laughed. "He didn't say you should do it, Dennis! Goodness no. You'd be dead before the fight was over. He just thought you could eventually be good at it." She winked. "We're here for that." Dennis followed her gaze to a quieter area where several men sat under a canopy around a table.
His stomach churned with greed. That was something he was good at. "I do know how to play a good game," he mused.
The woman nodded. "Ren said as much. If you can watch your mouth, he thinks you could be good at it. I'm here to make sure you do. And if you don't, smooth things out with diplomacy."
Dennis made a face. "Diplomacy is overrated."
"Come on," she said. "We can get in in on the next game."
Dennis grinned. This would be too easy. It wouldn't even be working. No sweat, no muscle aches, but lots of money.
Once the game was over, the next one began, and Dennis was able to get in. He placed his money down and he was given his cards. His fingers tingled as he scanned his cards. He won, of course. And he won every other game after that. His name was spread through the city because of his skill. Dennis liked that.
The more known he became, the more he was invited to certain places that made his stomach churn. Each time he turned down the invitations. People thought it was because he was scared, and that he was still a boy, but it wasn't that. Gambling was one thing, but he couldn't defile himself. The more invitations he turned down, the less games he managed to get into. They didn't want a nonchalant player who didn't "play". Maybe his father had rubbed off on him too much. And for once, he wasn't entirely ashamed of that.
*A Month Later*
Dirty and unfed, Dennis sat in the streets of the city tempted to eat the leather of his sandles. He hadn't eaten but what little scraps people tossed to him. When Ren had returned to find Dennis's reputation "dirtied", he was forced to keep away from him. As was Ren's sister. Which was quite a shame. Dennis happened to like her a lot.
A low growl from his stomach reminded Dennis just how hungry he was. Maybe he'd made a mistake leaving home. What was so bad about having high morals and hard work? Living on his father's land had never been a bad thing. Now surely his father never wanted to see him again. He could imagine how ashamed the man was of his youngest son. Dennis himself was ashamed of how he'd acted. He'd been so ungrateful. His father had given so much, and Dennis had done nothing but throw it all away. He'd practically spat in the man's face.
Such an idiot, Dennis. Stupid, arrogant idiot.
An ache dug into his heart, and it amused Dennis. After all those years thinking he despised them, he missed his brothers. Likely they'd forgotten about him long ago. Probably happy to be rid of him.
"Look mommy, a beggar." A little girl pointed in passing at Dennis. The mother didn't give Dennis a passing glance.
Humiliation burned in Dennis's chest, and he looked away. If his father could see him now. Nothing more than a beggar in a prosperous city.
A pair of leather boots stopped by Dennis. Fancy, well-tailored. The man's garment was expensive.
"It took me awhile to find you."
Dennis froze. That wasn't a snobby noble.
Slowly, as if fearing it was a dream, he looked up. A dream or a nightmare, he wasn't sure. "Father?" Dennis squinted to keep the sun out of his eyes. "What... What are you... What are you doing here?"
His father's kind eyes gazed down on him. "What do you mean by that, son?"
Dennis tried to swallow, but his mouth was too dry to swallow anything. "I've..." He cleared his throat and ended up coughing.
His father bent and offered a canteen of water. "Here, son. Have some water."
Dennis hesitated, feeling so guilty for what he'd done that he let the canteen hang in the air between them. The canteen pressed into his palm and his father uncorked it as well.
"Drink, son." Gentle, full of love and compassion, was his father's voice.
Dennis drank deeply, greedily, until he remembered whose water it was.
"Why did you come here?" Dennis asked, wiping his mouth with his dirty sleeve.
His father's eyes only twinkled, as if he thought it a silly question. "Why wouldn't I?"
Dennis shook his head. "I... I've been so ungrateful. I left home without a word. I've lost all of my savings. And I..." He let his head drop. "Father, I was so ashamed to be associated with you and what you stand for. I just wanted... freedom."
"Hmm. And did you find your freedom, son?"
Dennis looked up. "I could've. But I couldn't..." He clenched his jaw, unable to finish his sentence.
His father nodded in thought. "I understand. And what do you want now?"
Dennis's throat tightened. "Father, would you let me come on as a servant hand? Not even for denarii or a place to sleep, just for food and water."
His father smiled. "A servant hand?" He scoffed with a gentle shake of his head. "Why on earth would I do that?"
Dennis hung his head. He deserved worse. A slap in the face and scorn filled words. "I understand."
"I would never allow my son to work as a servant. You are my son, and though you have your tasks to complete, you won't ever be my servant. You are my heir same as your brothers."
Dennis was confused. "But aren't you ashamed of me? For what I've done?" He dared to look his father in the eye, to search them for truth.
There was no scorn there. Just gentle warmth that radiated his love. "Dennis, even though you ran, you're still my son. You'll always be my son. And though I can't support the life you've chosen for yourself, if you should choice to come home, I'll welcome you with open arms."
Tears pricked Dennis's eyes. "Oh, father. I've been so ungrateful. Can you ever forgive me?"
His father's eyes twinkled. "You were forgiven before you asked." He stood and lent Dennis his hand. "Come, let us go home and feast. Your brothers will be glad to see you again. They've all been worried."
Dennis arched his brow in surprise. "Them, worried?" He scoffed. "I doubt it. I'm sure they're all ready to clobber me."
"True that," his father said. "But they understand you more than you realize."
"How do you mean?" He took his father's hand and stood. Instantly, his father helped support him with his strong arms.
He looked down at Dennis with a strange smile. "They were like you once. Wanting a life outside of the one they were given." He chuckled and led Dennis to two waiting horses. "Why do you think Sam always knew to go to the taverns to find you?"
Dennis's jaw hung open. "You don't mean..."
His father nodded. "I do. I never loved him less because of it. I was just waiting for him to see where he truly belonged." He glanced at Dennis. "Like you, son."
Dennis clasped his father's arm and hugged him tightly. "I don't deserve a father like you. I don't." He sobbed.
Despite the filth that must've been on Dennis, his father hugged him back firmly. "Let's go home, Dennis."
(Author: Hope Robens)