At first I didn't know what to think. My eyes had to be tricking me. I could see for miles. The air was so clear it felt as if I could reach out and touch the mountains, feel the soft snow that blanketed their peaks. It didn't seem real, that I could see every tree that climbed up their banks, that I could almost count the branches on them. I'd never seen such natural beauty. I almost forgot to breath.
I sucked in a lung-full of frigid air, and watched my breath twist and disappear in front of my eyes as I exhaled. I pulled my jackets tight around me and continued walking down the sidewalk, away from the hotel. Yes jackets, plural. I was wearing two. I'd spent my whole life in Florida, under the sun and neglected of snow. But here in the middle of Colorado, I needed two jackets, and they still weren't enough to keep me from shivering. I'd never known such cold. I'd never seen snow this fresh. Well, not that I can remember. I was only 2 years old the last time it ever snowed in Florida. The only reason I knew this was due to a picture my mother kept of the family, bundled in jackets, in front of our house. With snow covering the ground.
Yet here I was, marveling at the amazing beauty that I'd only seen in pictures and movies. I had to shake my head of my trailing thoughts and remind myself why I was here, so far away from the only home I'd ever known. I had to find him. He that had forced himself away from me, left me no choice but to fly my happy ass half-way across the continent to retrieve the answers he had promised me. No notice whatsoever on his part that he was leaving, except a few words scribbled onto the underside of a gum wrapper and stuck with a magnet to my refrigerator door.
Urgent matter, my love.
He could've at least let me know where he was going.
I kept walking until I could no longer feel my feet in my new snow boots. I glanced back to see how far I was from the hotel. I couldn't see it. I looked around the street where I was. A small strip mall, from what it looked like. But the roads were fairly empty, and most of the shops had a 'Sorry, We're Closed' sign in their door. I sped up my pace, trying to warm myself, chasing irritated and irrational thoughts around my head.
It was such a nice little part of Colorado. Northglenn, to be exact. It was the perfect location to see the half circle of mountains in the distance. You could see down the hills into the valley, where the big malls and buildings were. If you looked really hard you could see the airport in Denver. Not too small-town, not too big-city. It was just right, I concluded- maybe except for the constant of feeling like you were in a meat freezer, but the beauty of the place made up for it, I think.
My feet decided they were too numb to go on, so they walked me into a mom and pop diner. A small bell rang as I pushed the door open with a frozen hand. A short woman that looked to be in her fifties with a floral apron around her tiny waist greeted me with a friendly smile.
"Good morning! My name is Merrill. Just you today?" She said chipperly. Her bright hazel eyes were more blue with the blue from her old lady dress.
I took off my outer layer of jacket. It was suddenly warm. I feigned a smile. "Good morning, Yes, just me." I rasped, and tried to clear my throat, but to no avail. The icy air had frozen my voice box.
"Oh dear, you sound like you could use a nice hot bowl of chicken soup. Right this way." She seemed concerned enough.
Chicken soup? For breakfast? I thought. Why not? I've been known to down a bowl of cereal for lunch and have bacon and eggs for dinner. I was getting my nights and days mixed up anyways, what with the constant vampire activity in my life. What's one more twist?
Merrill led me to a small round table in the middle of the tiny diner. I lowered myself into the squeaky wooden chair, and my legs nearly gave out under me. I hadn't realized how much they ached until then. The plastic red and white checkered tablecloth was a little sticky. In the middle of it was a glass container of sugar, salt and pepper shakers, napkins in a metal contraption, a plastic one-paged menu beside it, and a tiny glass vase with a single plastic purple flower sticking out. How quaint.
I clenched and unclenched my hands in front of me, trying to get blood flowing back into my fingers. Merrill reached into her apron and took out a small black notepad and a flower-tipped pen. "So do you need a minute, or would you like some nice hot chicken soup?" She asked. I noticed she had a calming voice. If she had grandkids, I was betting they were spoiled rotten.
I looked up at her and gave her another fake smile. Until then I hadn't noticed my stomach holding a conversation with itself. I had been too furious to notice since I left Jacksonville 18 hours ago, and I hadn't eaten since the day before. "Actually that sounds wonderful. A cup of coffee would be nice, too."
Merrill gave a nod with a sweet "Mm-hmm" and scribbled on her note pad. "I'll be right back with that, hon." She turned on her heels and seemed to skip away. I admired her young-at-heart personality. I hoped I would be that cheerful when I reached her age.
If I ever make it out of Colorado alive, I thought to myself. Groaning at the thought of the upcoming day, I crossed my arms and laid my forehead on the sticky tablecloth, instantly regretting it, but not really giving much of a damn. My crossed arms put my hands near my hips, where I felt the handles of the knives on either side. My Pride and Joy; that's what I called them. Pride was buckled into his sheath at my right hip, Joy at my left. They were my personal Night Stalker series of knives. Did I mention I made knives as a hobby? Yes, well, it seemed more interesting to me than collecting stamps or bird watching. Besides, they were an asset to my job. Ready for this? I'm a Hunter. Vampires, werwolves, escaped demons from hell; whatever your nuisance, I'm your girl.
My Pride and Joy were like my worry stones. My fingers gripped loosely at the handles as my thumbs rubbed circles over the smooth rounded leather ends. They were starting to feel rough and dry these days. Me? A worrier? Nah. I made a mental note that I needed to get my room mate Dillon to replace the leather once I got home. At least I left a decent fucking note, I thought bitterly. I sighed onto the checkered table cloth, my breath colder than I would have liked it to be. I had to find him. I needed him.
My stomach protested at the thought of leaving the diner. As if on cue, the dainty footsteps of Merrill approached the table. The table cloth came up with my face a few inches before it peeled away on its own. The aroma of the soup and coffee weren't too appetizing together, but I knew they were just what I needed to warm me up.
"Here you are, dear," Merrill said as she carefully set the steaming bowl and cup before me. "That bowl is hot, so be careful," she warned me. She started to turn, but hesitated and said, "Would you like some cream for your coffee?"
I leaned my face slightly over the bowl and drew in a long, relaxing breath through my nose, my eyes closed. "Yes, Merrill, thank you," I breathed. I heard her giggle lightly as she went to retrieve the cream. I opened my eyes and took the spoon setting on the napkin beside it. She must've put it there while I was trying to inhale the soup through my nose. I stirred the spoon around a couple of times and saw the large chunks of carrot, celery, potatoes, and bits of chicken. There was rice, green beans, peas, corn, and butter beans in it, too. Using the spoon, I lifted out a bit of the liquid. I had to blow on it a few times before I could put it into my mouth without scorching my tongue. I breathed out a long "mmmm" as I swallowed the broth, feeling it warming its way down my throat, melting the ice on its way down.
Merrill returned and placed two tiny sealed cups of cream onto the table. "Here's your cream, dear. How's the soup?" She inquired.
I looked up at her and gave a real smile. "Delicious. This is exactly what I needed," I admitted.
She seemed very pleased. "I'm glad you like it. It's my new recipe." Merrill is the hostess, the waitress, and the cook. I wondered where Pop was. "Well," she continued, "let me know if you need anything else. Enjoy." I watched her admirably as she walked away with rosy cheeks.
I took another spoon full, this time with a chunk of carrot and a piece of chicken. The carrot was so tender that it nearly dissolved in my mouth. I realized that it tasted very much like the chicken soup my aunt made me when I came down with any sort of illness. Memories of childhood seemed to ease more of the anxiety that I woke up with. I remember being tucked into my bed, in my room filled with so much pink you could swore you knew what the color smelled like, smiling as I watched my Aunt Audrey walk in and set a bed tray over my lap. On it was a steaming bowl of chicken soup, a small plate of saltine crackers, and a glass of orange juice. Soup and orange juice- I know, not the greatest combination. Neither is soup and coffee. But the OJ was for boosting my vitamin C. I thanked my Aunt Audrey every time for such a combination. She was an amazing cook, and I never stayed sick long.
Now, instead of the OJ, I dumped in both cups of cream and a long draw of sugar and stirred my coffee. I wasn't sick, so I didn't need the C. I did need the caffein, though. As I took a gulp of the almost too-strong coffee, I savored it as I willed the caffein to quickly absorb into my system. Coffee and chicken soup weren't as bad together as I would've thought, and they did their job.
I ate quickly, and in silence. I didn't notice how hungry I really had been until I was down to the last few bites of the soup. As I brought another bite to my now warmed mouth, I felt my phone vibrate in my pants pocket. I dropped the spoon with a clank. Reaching down, I moved Joy to the side so I could reach into my pocket to grab the phone. I looked at the caller ID and felt my heart skip a beat. He sent me a text. I flipped the phone open with now shaky hands.
Where r u? I called the house. Dillon said u were gone. Now he's worried about me. What a douche.
My fingers flew across the numbers and hit send. I put the phone up to my ear and waited half of a ring.
"Angelica, where the hell are you?" a worried angelic voice demanded. He used my full name. I'd pissed him off. I let out a shaky breath.
"You know, Allious, leaving a puny note on a gum wrapper," I wanted him to know how pathetic it really was, "isn't really enough to justify skipping town over night!"
He let out an aggravated breath on his end, but seemed to compose himself. "Angel, darling, I'm only trying to protect you-"
"Protect me? Since when does a Hunter need protecting?" Now he was pissing me off. I looked up to see Merrill writing something at the register. She glanced at me, giving me a quick smile, and went back to her writing.
"You are still human. And as long as you are, you remain fragile." He paused. "Perhaps for only six more months." There was something of a hint of despair in Allious's voice, almost regretful.
I sighed, and squeezed the bridge of my nose in frustration. "Allious, you're speaking as if you don't know me at all."
Suddenly a telephone rang somewhere in the diner, making me jump. I looked to the register. Merrill looked in the direction of the kitchen. "Bill, could you get that?" She didn't have to yell. I was their only customer at this time of day.
"Yes, dear," came a deep, rough voice out of the kitchen. The voice of a man that sounded like he'd been smoking for too many years, but filled just those two words with the utmost love. The ringing stopped. Pop must have answered the phone in the kitchen.
"Where are you?" It was a sincere question this time. And this time, I decided to answer it.
"I'm having breakfast," I stated. It was then I realized I was finished. I grabbed the mug of coffee and downed it in three gulps. It wasn't hot anymore, but I still needed the caffein. I got up, grabbing my removed coat, and walked to the register. Merrill waited politely as I fished a ten out of my pocket and handed it to her. "Where are you?" I just had to ask, even though I already knew. I was half way across the damn continent because I already knew.
But he didn't know that.
Merrill quietly handed me my change. I dumped it into the plastic empty tip jar, gaining another rosy smile from my hostess-slash-waitress-slash-cook, and now slash-cashier.
"Allious?" I said, frowning. Did that asshole just hang up on me?
"Yes?" he chimed. I knew he heard me. He was ignoring the question. I mentally rolled my eyes.
"Thank you, dear. Come back and see us," Merrill said quietly, so as not to interrupt my phone call. What a sweet lady.
I smiled and gave a small wave before I headed for the door. "Allious, you're ignoring my question." I knew how pissed off my voice sounded. But it was his fault, damnit.
The bell dinged good-bye as I exited the diner. Outside, a brick wall of freezing air sucked the breath from my warmed lungs. Shit. Cold. I forgot.
"Angel?" The beautiful voice questioned in my ear. I realized it was the third time he'd spoken my name, trying to get my attention. The cold gave me a temporary amnesia.
"Hold on a sec, Allious. I have to put my jacket on." Without waiting for his response, I gently bit the top of the phone and held it between my teeth while I shrugged my jacket over my first jacket. I put the phone back up to my ear and shoved my other hand in my pocket. I really needed to get some gloves. "Sorry. It's fucking freezing here. Two jackets isn't even doing it." The words spilled out of my mouth before I realized it. Damnit, this cold was making me go stupid.
"Freezing? It's only 59 in Jacksonville." His voice held suspicion. "Angel, where are you?"
My eyes darted around me, and I sarcastically rattled off names of different streets, stores, restaurants, and a couple of street signs. I giggled at his silence. I could see his face in my mind. I could see his dark violet eyes get darker with anger, his luscious lips draw back in a snarl, bearing his teeth. At this time of day he'd be inside, probably reading a book in his robe with his dark auburn locks pulled back into a loose ponytail.
"Angelica Lillian Chains!" He shouted over the phone. I'd done it this time. "What the fuck are you doing in Colorado?!" Oh yes. He was livid. Cursing was almost never in his vocabulary.
"And why the flipping fuck did you just disappear without telling me where the hell you were going?! Do you know how worried I was? I didn't sleep for days! Only when I figured out where you-"
"Don't you dare try to justify this stupidity, Angelica." His tone dropped deep, dark. Fucking scary. I stopped walking, scared of his next words, whatever they might be. I wasn't scared of him. But that tone. That tone scared me shitless. "I care not how you found out where I was. I only tell you now, that you must leave. Return to Florida, and await my return."
Oh. It sounded so simple. I stood there trembling, and it had nothing to do with the cold. It took me two tries to get sound out of my mouth, even when I succeeded it was barely audible. "I... I can't." I told him.
"Yes you can, Angel. And you will. I will not argue with you over a simple matter." His voice was more gentle this time, and the tension in my body eased slightly.
"Where are you?" I asked softly, but truly meaning it this time.
He finally gave in. "Just tell me where you are. Exactly where you are, and I will send a car to bring you to me."
I released a breath I didn't know I was holding. "I hope it has heat"
He chuckled smoothly. "Of course it does, my love. Now, what is your present location?" I told him. "Good, then. I will see you soon." The line went silent.
I stood there with the phone up to my head, trying to regain control of my frozen limbs. He was trying to keep me safe, yet he was bringing me to him. Maybe he was getting away from whatever danger he was trying to keep me away from?
I put the cell in my pocket next to Joy and looked around for a place to wait. I saw a bus bench about 10 yards away, so I trudged over and sat, feeling like I was giving my ass frost bite. So I sat there and did the only thing I had to do. Wait.
Well, maybe not the only thing. I got to think a bit. And to be truthful, thinking was not such a good thing for me to do a lot of. I tended to analyze things to the point of destruction. Left alone with my thoughts I'd probably drive myself insane. Hence the very chaotic profession I put myself in. It kept my thoughts busy so I didn't go insane. But with moments like this, just handed to me, my insane meter goes up just a little higher. And again, it's his fault.