Aaron agonised more over his decision than he should have. He had made his choice, so what was the big deal?
He paced the house, watching the fake police packing up their things and get ready to leave. It was so strange that none of them said or did anything. If they really wanted to hurt him, why would they leave?
Eventually, he got tired of pacing and sat down in the garden.
He sat there for what felt like a small eternity, and then he heard shuffling footsteps come near. Milena Hartfield. Aaron looked down at the grass again.
“Ms. Hartfield,” he said, but in his mind he silently begged her to leave.
Or tell the him what was going on. This woman, this seemingly powerful being with unnatural powers, was the only clue he had, and she confused him more than anything.
“I thought I’d come and say goodbye,” she said while slowly nearing the bench.
He ignored her, but she still sat down next to him.
“I… hope you’ll be safe now,” she said.
Silence hung between them for a long time, before he said: “You sound doubtful.”
“It’s not because I want to leave.”
Aaron looked at her out of the corner of his eyes. She was looking away.
“Really? As I understand it, I’m left with a bodyguard.”
“I know.” She sighed. “But I would like to know why they came in the first place. As far as we know, you have no connection to… these people. Their circles.”
He turned to look at her. “And what circles are they?”
Silence. Once again. She looked away from him stubbornly, and it made him want to grab her and shake her.
Tell me what is going on! Tell me what to do and who to trust!
It made no sense, but he wanted to trust her. It bothered him that he remembered her face and that it reminded him of… He just didn’t know what or who or when, but the association wasn’t bad. She should have been someone he could trust.
“If I tell you, I’ll get in trouble.”
“In trouble how?”
She shuffled on the bench, her mouth opening and closing until finally she said: “Prison.”
He straightened on the bench and searched her body and face for clues as to whether she was lying. There was nothing in her face to sway him either way.
“Remind me not to play poker with you,” he muttered. “You really won’t tell me anything?”
“Prison,” she repeated. “For a very long time. It’s true.”
Aaron groaned and got up from the bench. “Never mind.”
He walked down the path, but she got up and stopped him. “I’m trying to get a permission to tell you everything, but it’s taking time. In the meantime, just… don’t do anything stupid. Don’t trust anyone. And if you need me, call me.” She handed him a receipt from some fast food place; her name and number was scrawled on the back in an inelegant hand. “Even if you just need me to open a pickle jar. I’ll be here as quickly as I can.”
All the emotions that were trying to break free from her poker face were almost overwhelming.
“I’ll call if anything happens.”
She nodded and walked away, taking one last look back at him before she left.
Milena resisted the feeling of panic and disaster. She smiled at her partners who were ready to get out.
They were out on the front porch, Dani chattering and rocking back and forth on her feet. When Milena joined them, she waved.
“Ready to go? Ed called with a new mission for us. It sounds like a pretty good one.”
“It’s in Montelleria, and we won’t be searching the whole town,” Janus said. “We’ll have space to enjoy ourselves.”
A beautiful, exotic town suddenly appealed a lot less to her than before. It felt like it was years ago that she had walked through the streets down there, complaining that they couldn’t enjoy the beaches and the cafés. That seemed so pointless now.
“Actually, I’m considering a vacation,” she said. “If that’s possible.”
The two of them looked surprised, but Dani’s smile returned. “Of course. I mean, that makes sense. You need to kick back – I think this case has been pretty rough for you.”
Their conversation was interrupted by Sally who stood in the doorway. “Can I have a word, Hartfield?
She then stalked back into the house without waiting for an answer, and Milena looked after her in confusion.
Janus scratched his hair. “Better hurry after her. When she’s in that mood…”
Milena half ran after Sally into Aaron’s living room. She closed the door after herself, and Sally looked at her with a cold gaze.
“We’ve received your application, and I’ve been asked to tell you that it has been denied.”
It took her a moment to understand what the other woman was referring to, but then it hit her. Sally mostly worked as a doctor but because she was also their leader’s secretary, she would be the one looking at applications like the one she just handed in. She had to really struggle not to shout.
“But… I handed it in yesterday. Have you even had time to look at it?”
Sally nodded. “Yes, we have. Unfortunately – or, perhaps I should say fortunately – we believe that Mr. Fineman is safe and that disclosing our secrets would only upset and confuse him.”
“That’s- What do you even…?” Milena exploded: “That’s bullshit, he’s already upset and confused. I just talked to him and he’s…” Her hands shook, but she reined herself in, steadied her voice. “He’s really upset and he wants answers. I’m afraid someone will come back to manipulate him or… or whatever it is they want.”
Sally’s arms flew up as if in defence. “Hartfield, calm yourself.”
“No, I won’t!” she shot back. “I’ve talked to him and he doesn’t trust us. He’s not buying our lies or our cover. They could send more people after him any moment, and I can’t just let you and the other council members sit and do nothing while he’s hurt. You don’t understand what’s-”
The other woman’s calm façade cracked. “No, you don’t understand.” She took a step forward, her face red. “You are only here because you behave. Because you stand back and let people like Ithaca and Vincentia do the work. As far as the council is concerned, you’re a criminal and you are on seriously thin ice.”
Milena tried to protest but she cut her off: “If I had had my way, you would be locked in a basement for the rest of your life so I don’t have to think of the disgusting things you’ve done. I’ll give you that you’ve done a decent job on your first mission, but nothing more. You will do nothing unless told to. Understood?”
“No.” Sally took another step forward. She was so close that Milena could smell her perfume; lilac and citrus had never smelt so hateful before. “No buts. Your application has been denied. Keep your head down, or I swear to the Sisters, you’ll regret it.”
“S-Sally, please,” Milena said, biting her lip to try and stop the panic that rose inside her. “He’s so scared. S-so-”
“Stop.” Sally ran a hand over her face, and she looked decades older than she was. “Just stop, Hartfield.”
After the fake police left, Aaron no longer had to sneak out through the hole in his fence; he still did it, though, on account of the bodyguard. Hee walked all the way to the jail house, sure that he must be followed every step of the way.
He snuck in, keeping all noises to a minimum. There was a light in one window, but nobody seemed to hear him. Except for the two people in the cells.
All his doubts and fears seemed to come to a head, until he stood in front of Siobhan’s cell. Calm fell over him almost immediately.
“Aaron,” she said, her voice like a song.
He took a deep breath and touched her hand through the bars.
“Let’s get you out of here.”
Author’s note: Hi guys! I’m back with another chapter, and I can say that fortunately, it won’t be long until the next one. I’ve actually written two more chapters other than this, and I have most of the photos for the tenth. Yeah, I’ve been on a bit of a writing spree. I’m hoping this means I can get to work on The Year of Mimosa, too, but I’m having problems with that one.
Anyway, I hope you’re all doing amazing. See you in the next one. Cheers!