Feeling utterly disgusted with myself, I left Aaron’s house. I wanted to say more, to apologize, but I figured the situation would only get worse if I stayed.
The sun had just come over the hill, lighting up the city. The rays of golden yellow, vermillion, and passionate red colored the streets rosy and started to warm up the sidewalks. Daylight made everyone feel better.
I walked down the street from Aaron’s house, stopping to look back once I reached the end. Sorry, Aaron.
My 6:30 alarm went off, ringing in the street. What should I do now? It was too early for Abby to be at The Friendly Bean yet, and I knew she would be able to tell I was upset. She always knew when something was wrong, at least if I hadn’t had ample time to prepare.
That meant I should head over to the warehouse, to give Klaus his money and then to get the hell out of there. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with him. But on the other hand, I could work off some frustration right now, and irritating Klaus could be just the thing I needed. It always brought me joy to cause him stress.
I started off in that direction. I hadn’t realized just how far away Aaron lived until I had to walk back. It was fortunate I knew the city so well.
I finally made it back, taking about two hours to walk back. It would have taken longer, but without having to wait for Aaron or make any stops of my own, it cut my travel time in half.
Unfortunately, Abby wouldn’t be in until 9:00, so I still had about a half hour to kill. This meant I had to follow the original plan.
I strolled to the warehouse, practicing my sneers. I would definitely be pushing Klaus’ buttons today.
But as I rounded the corner and the grey, tall building came into view, I spotted something that made me blood boil. Sitting on the pavement outside, shivering, was one of the kids, Courtney, from the warehouse.
She was a sweet girl, but she was also new. Had Klaus’ locked her out? She’d never been late before though, so he must have done it out of spite. The poor girl looked traumatized.
“Courtney?” I called out hesitantly.
She whipped around, standing up in a flash, her breathing hitched and erratic. She’d obviously been hiding the whole night, distressed and in fight or flight mode. Her nerves were frayed.
She looked at me wildly for a moment, and then something in her eyes calmed down. She recognized it was me.
“L-L-Lucy,” she stuttered, “Lucy!”
She sank back down onto the pavement, her shaking starting to subside.
I moved towards her, as if I could be of some comfort. I wondered why she wasn’t back inside with the others, but I remembered that I had also stayed out in the alley hours after sunrise in shock.
“Courtney,” I said slowly, “Did Klaus lock you out? Was he mad at you or something?”
She didn’t answer, only proceeding to make a small sobbing noise. The sobs increased rapidly, wracking her body painfully. There wasn’t much I could do, so I just held on to her, rocking her back and forth like a baby until her crying subsided. The sunlight and safety would be more of a cure than anything I could have done. She didn’t look physically injured, just shaken. Still, I didn’t want to leave her here, and I couldn’t do this all day.
“Courtney,” I called, suddenly having an idea, “You know that coffee place I always talk about, just a block or two away from here? Yeah, you do. It’s called The Friendly Bean. I want you to go there and look for Abby, okay? She should have just gotten in. Tell her you’re a friend of mine. She’ll take care of you. You got that?”
She nodded, and got up, her movements wobbly. But she managed to walk down the street, heading in the direction of the coffee house. I hated to burden Abby with crying kids, but I didn’t have a choice. A little Abby care would make her feel better in no time.
I headed to the door, more than a little pissed. I pulled it open, making it slam against the wall inside. Klaus hated when people did that, but that was exactly the reason I did.
The inside was dark, thick velvet curtains hung around the windows that nobody ever bothered to pull up. Rooms were sectioned off by whatever kids could think of. Fabric, folding screens, pieces of fences. My room was walled off with bookcases. There weren’t real separations, so we made our own.
Lamps were stationed on little tables every 15 feet, lighting up the room so that we didn’t have to worry about darkness. Art littered the walls, most of them painted by Johnny, the most artistic kid in the warehouse. He was actually quite good.
The warehouse was big enough to accommodate 11 kids and still have decent walking space. Klaus had bought beds and chairs and desks for all of us over the years. It sounded like a pretty sweet deal, I guess, but it sucked to give up all the money we got and have nothing to show for our efforts. But still, it was a place to live that wasn’t very dangerous.
I headed to my “room,” ready to change and rub my sore feet. I’d walked a long way in the past two days.
Unfortunately, that was exactly the time that Klaus decided to pop up in my field of vision.
At 5’ 11, he was taller than everyone at the warehouse, a fact no doubt enjoyed by him. Klaus had curly light-brown hair and light blue eyes that contrast with his pearl-white skin. He wasn’t big, but he did have a fair amount of muscle on his frame. Usually he dressed quite casual, wearing shirts, jeans and jackets, although he was also able to use a more classic and refined look if the situation required it. He was running an operation, after all. He had to be charismatic, even a chameleon.
“Well, well well,” he said in a condescending voice, “Look who decided to drop by. We missed you last night. Did you happen to lose track of time?”
“You wish,” I replied back as snarky as possible, “I slept at Abby’s last night. She is my friend, I’m sure you understand. Actually, maybe you don’t. You don’t have any friends. Sorry, my mistake.”
He clenched his jaw for a moment, forcing himself not to respond. He was clearly irritated, and man did it feel good to be the cause of that feeling.
“We thought maybe you didn’t come back because you just couldn’t make the quota,” he started, “Maybe you were crying in a corner about your poor little life and just forgot that you had some errands to run. I’d cry if I was you too.”
Damn. I had forgotten he was just as good at irritating me as I was him.
“For your information, I didn’t come back because of you,” I replied irritably, “You’re the most annoying person ever when you’re jet lagged. As for me not having the money, fat chance. You’re just waiting for the chance to throw me out for a night, aren’t you? I’m not sure anything would make you happier. Here’s the money I got for you.”
I took out the money, slamming it down on the table next to me a bit too forcefully.
Klaus looked at it for a moment, and then smirked. A little laugh escaped his lips.
“I can never figure out how you do it. There’s just something about you people trust. Too bad they’re wrong,” he said, “But oh well. It makes you my best assistant.”
I hated when he called us that. We were, to him, his “assistants.” It was more like being a slave. We didn’t have anywhere else to go, and so we had to listen to what he said.
“You know what?” I asked angrily, “No. Being an assistant would imply that I helped you. I didn’t see you out there, distracting people for me. I think it makes me the hard worker, and you the annoying boss who takes credit for things he hasn’t done.”
Klaus looked at me for a moment, mildly stunned. He was used to me being irritated, but not usually like this. He paused, and then responded.
“Well,” he said, “You’re sure feisty today. Did something happen that I’m not aware of?”
I didn’t respond, only sneered at him and looked away. I didn’t want to cross the line with some of my words. I wanted to push his buttons, not to get kicked out.
He put a put a hand up to his face, his fingers folding across his lips, an annoying quirk that meant he was thinking. He paced about, before an idea seemed to pop into his head.
“Oh!” he exclaimed, “It makes sense now. Is this about Courtney? Is the girl still out there? She must have had a rough night, huh?”
Why did he always know? He knew about everything we had feelings about, what we did, what we thought. It was like he was always in our heads.
“So I’m right. There couldn’t have been any other reason,” he said with a fake sympathetic voice, “It must have been hard. All night, sitting in the dark, cold and scared. There are a lot of dangerous people out at night, right? Something could have happened to her.”
He was baiting me now, trying to get a rise out of me. He knew how much I despised when he did that to the kids. God, he was such a scumbag. I needed a place to live, but I hated Klaus’ guts.
“Do you remember your first night outside the house?” he asked, continuing to mock me, “It was terrible, wasn’t it? You came back in crying your eyes out. You had nightmares for at least a week, if I recall.”
“You bastard!” I furiously growled, “Why the hell did you send her out there on her own? Was it just because she didn’t pay you enough? It was a first time offense! You said you’d give everyone a warning the first time it happened! What the hell is wrong with you?”
His expression clouded over, his mood suddenly becoming darker.
“Nothing is wrong with me,” he said lowly, “I make the rules, and I can break them if I feel like it. Courtney was being unreasonable and argumentative when I went to talk to her, so I put her out. This is my house, if you hadn’t noticed. In case you didn’t know, I’m the leader here. I call all the shots.”
He took strode forward menacingly, coming to a stop mere inches away from me. He leaned over and put his hand on one of my bookshelves, trapping me. He loomed overhead.
“It seems I’ve been too lax in distinguishing myself from you,” he said slowly in a dark voice, “So here it is. I own this house, I let you live here, and I do what I want. You got that?”
He waited for me to respond. As much as I didn’t want to, this situation was a dangerous one. I had to give up my pride or give up my place to stay. I nodded begrudgingly.
He stepped back just a little, looking mildly satisfied with himself.
“Okay then,” he said, “You seem to have forgotten your place, Lucy. Remember, or I’ll have to reeducate you until you learn it again.”
He stepped back again, searching my face for a burst of rebellion. There was none. With that, he walked past me, brushing roughly against my shoulder. I didn’t move until he was no longer in my line of sight. I breathed a sigh of relief. I had to be a bit more careful from now on.
As I entered my room, I only had one thought.
I sure hated that guy.