I woke up in my bed unsure of how I had gotten there. I hadn’t planned to return to the apartment as the wounds of pappy’s death were still too fresh. My room was dark. Looking out my window, stars twinkled in the night sky. I couldn’t remember how I had gotten here.
How did I get home? What happened after I lost consciousness?
Pushing the covers away, I stood and found I was dressed in one of Pappy’s old t-shirts. It had pictures of four guys with weird haircuts on it and The Beatles splayed across the chest. I never understood why pappy loved this shirt so much. I had tried to trade it once, but he had taken from my hands and hidden it from me stating that everything else human can disappear except for the Beatles. They would live forever.
The memory made me smile. The sound of a door closing caught my attention. It came from the living room. Grabbing a baseball bat, the one I kept by my bedroom window, I readied to defend myself.
My bedroom door creaked open. If anyone was in the living and didn’t know I was here, they did now. I mentally noted that I needed to get some lube from the marketplace to put on the door’s hinges.
With bat held ready, I edged through the door into the living room.
The space was dark, but I could see well enough. Rounding the door, I looked from the kitchen space to pappy’s chair in the living room, but no one was there.
Did I imagine it? Maybe I am still under the effects of the heat stroke. I had heard people could turn insane from the heat. It was not unheard of to hallucinate during a heat stroke.
After checking the locks on the door and getting a drink from the kitchen, I returned to bed.
Tomorrow I would have to face Boss Gage. I know he is going to be livid about my episode in front of the consulate. This may very well be the last night I have to spend in this apartment. With any luck though, Boss Gage won’t plead with the consulate to have me cast from the city.
That night my dreams were torn between truth and fantasy.
A man with red eyes and long fangs held me captive. Pappy dressed as a knight wielding a broom-handle sword came to save me. He freed me from my captor, but then pushed me towards another more terrifying figure. Startled, I awoke with a thin sheen of sweat on my body. The smell of lavender and pine was still clear in my thoughts.
The sun had risen, and I was running behind. Boss Gage was already going to be mad at me for what happened yesterday. I didn’t want to add to his fury by showing up late today. After a quick splash of water on my face, I tied my hair in a knot and ran out the door.
I made it to the nursery in record time and slipped in just as the first whistle blew. Bending to catch my breath, a familiar voice called my name.
“Phoebe!” Val limped up to me and grabbed me around the waist pulling me close for a hug.
“Val, I thought you weren’t coming back until tomorrow.” We each grabbed a basket from the turn-in and started toward our lines.
“I wasn’t going to come back until tomorrow, but after what happened yesterday, I was worried about you,” Val replied. “They told me about your pappy. I’m sorry, Pheebs. If I had known sooner, I could’ve been there for you.”
A tear fell from the corner of my eye, and I brushed it away with the back of my palm. “What’s done is done and can’t be undone.” I dropped my basket at the beginning of the line and looked up to find Boss Gage, but he wasn’t on the catwalk. That was good because I desperately wanted to talk to Val. It felt like ages since I had seen her.
“What happened?” Val asked as she pulled a weed from her line. “I mean I know what happened, but what really happened?”
I knew what she was asking. She wanted to know how I escaped from the gang that killed pappy. “God sent me a guardian angel,” I replied.
“An angel. Pappy was already dead when I….” my voice trails off as I recalled the memory. “Anyway, I would have been taken by the gang or worse if my angel hadn’t shown up when he did.”
“Your angel? Phoebe, if I didn’t know any better, I would say that you have a crush on this angel of yours.”
“I don’t have a crush,” I replied. “But I am thankful. It’s strange though.”
“The night my angel saved me, he carried me home,” I replied. “I don’t remember what he looked like, but I distinctly remember the smell of lavender and pine.”
“And? He smelled like lavender and pine,” Val said. “What’s so strange about that?”
“His smell isn’t strange, but the fact that I smelled it again yesterday when I stroked out—that’s what strange.” Val dropped the tomato in her hand and it rolled close to my foot. I grabbed it quickly before anyone noticed and placed it in her basket.
Val and I focused on our work after that. By the time the whistle blew for lunch, Boss Gage still had not shown up. He was nowhere to be found which was not normal. I had never known Gage to skip work and he had already used his relief time for this month. I wondered where he could be.
Sitting on the nursery roof, I let the sun soak into my skin. My stomach grumbled. I was already late for work when I left the apartment this morning. I had not thought to pack myself a lunch. Rubbing at my empty stomach, I decided to try to take a short nap before the whistle blew again. I still had not recovered completely from yesterday’s events, and I was starting to feel drained.
Hurried footsteps caught my attention as Val rushed around the corner of the nursery nearly bumping into me in the process.
“Pheebs, you won’t believe this,” Val said as she took the seat next to me. “Gage got expelled from the city.”
“What?” I asked. “Why?”
Had yesterday’s events gotten Gage in trouble with the consulate? Did I get him expelled from the city?
That’s couldn’t be it. The consulate would have cast me from the walls instead of Gage. What happened yesterday wasn’t Gage’s fault. They wouldn’t have punished him in my place.
“After you collapsed yesterday, one of the consulate members started asking questions about what was going on. They interrogated Gage and most everyone thought it would end there, but it didn’t. Apparently, the consulate member that carried you home was livid and called in every worker here for questioning.” Val pulled her hair up in a ponytail as she finished recalling what she had heard.
Boss Gage has been cast from the city because of me—well, because of how he treated me and the other workers. The consulate stripped him of his title and personally took him to the wall. They hadn’t even allowed Gage to return to his home before he was expelled from the city.
I laughed at the irony of the situation. Val cocked her brow at me with a look of concern across her face.
“What’s so funny?” She asked. “I mean, we all hated Gage. Lord knows I did more than anyone, but I don’t get the joke. Why are you laughing?” She reached out and put her palm against my forehead. “Pheebs, have you finally cracked?”
“I haven’t cracked,” I replied swatting her hand away. “It’s funny. Gage has been a real tyrant while he has prepared for this inspection. He had all his hopes set on joining the ranks of the consulate. But look at him now.” I laughed again, and this time Val joined in.
The whistle blew signaling the end of lunch, and Val and I returned to our lines.
I had already filled several baskets full of green beans today. The harvest seemed to be better this year than it had been in past few years. Going to the turn-in, I reached to pick up another empty basket. A lady with long blond hair, shrouded in the blue robe of a consulate member, stood next to the door. She saw me and started walking in my direction.
Looking around, I noticed no one was near me, so she had to be walking towards me on purpose. My heart quickened as I contemplated what her purpose could have been.
“Ms. Persephone Black?” She asked in a mousy voice.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Please come with me. You have been summoned by the consulate.”
“The consulate? Me?” She nodded and held her hand out pointing towards the door of the nursery. I dropped the empty basket back into the pile and followed her out the door. I was able to glance at Val one last time before leaving the nursery. Her face was one of shock and fear combined and probably mirrored my own. This was probably going to be the last time I would ever see her.
Boss Gage was cast out of the city for what happened yesterday. I could only assume that the same was about to happen to me.
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