So this is the first chapter of Garden of Cradles. I'm trying to work out the kinks and I'd really appreciate some constructive criticism on this one. If anything, this story will be the one I work on most. Also, read with an open mind. This isn't my typical writing style. If it's difficult to read, or simply that obvious, just give me some suggestions as to how I can make it better.

Plain text is the most present of all texts. Italicized portions represent flashbacks. Anything in Bold is the omniscient point of view.

It began with a smell.

The scent of the raging, fresh night air -- her senses had always found it to be tantalizing -- was slithering around her heart like a thread of love. It tugged at her chest and made her submissive to its desires. The icy fingers lying within the confines of the invisible force caressed her mind like smooth velvet, coaxed it into decision, and guided her more than willing body along a well-worn path that her feet were all too familiar with.

Shrouded by the calls of the city at night -- blaring horns from whizzing cars, heart-felt compositions on dirtied guitars, whispers and giggles from midnight lovers -- she slipped away from the defenses that held her captive. Weaving through honking automobiles, dodging speeding delivery boys on company bicycles, and dashing past drug deals on public corners were routine in order to arrive to her well-known destination.

Fangs of ice sunk into the exposed flesh of her pale body. Her blood was frigid and as violent as the churning at the interface of the bottom of a waterfall and the river it fed into. Her bones were solid icicles, dangling from her frozen muscles. Every breath she took felt like an electric shock to her lungs. Tornadoes of freezing shivers wracked with her body. Numbness was creeping over her like a deadly cloud, pregnant with heavy drops of solidified water.

--How many times had she done this already? Her foster family, or at least the police, should've realized that she would do it again.--

The sidewalks with skyscrapers for company, littered with shards of broken glass and stomped-out cigarette butts, gradually transformed into smooth dirt paths enmeshed with oak trees that towered overhead and a canopy of thick, gnarled branches. An array of glistening jade, vibrant orange, and deep russet leaves sprouted from the callous bark.

Passing beneath the cover of the trees, she worked her way further along the path, avoiding sticks that would break should she happen to step on them. In the distance, she could see the soft rays of light from a lamp-post filtering through the leaves to the dirt track she was taking. The night air whispered around her traveling form, snaking through her hair and tugging on the strands like a needy child.

Her eyelids fell, enhancing her other senses as she sucked in a long, deep breath of the crisp air through her nose. Already she could feel her overly tense mind begin to calm down. Her fingers clutched the frayed strap of the messenger bag slung over her shoulder and across her chest. Each step made the bag collide with her hip, its contents rustling with the contact. Her hand slipped between the velcro-sealed folds of the bag, fingers touching one of the items that was contained within the layers of oddly patterned fabric.

Any tension that remained in her body became swiftly expelled by the single motion as her fingers skimmed over the hard, grainy binding of her notebook. A pair of hard as steel, slate-grey eyes flashed across her vision, with faltered steps in their wake. The sound of one exhalation, long and slow and heavy, was all she needed to hear to keep her mind in the present. She couldn't allow herself to fall behind into the fairy tale of what she once had.

She wouldn't.

A fragment of ice was stabbing the bottom of her foot every time she stepped down. The compact snow beneath her feet, coating the sidewalk with a blanket of shimmering crystals, groaned and growled with each step she took over its surface. Her little toes had lost all feeling by now. She wouldn't have even known the appendages were a part of her body if the hot pink nail polish didn't glare up at her, reprimanding her for being outside in thirty-six degree weather with nothing warmer than a pair of flip-flops on her feet.

--Habits were hard to break when they were all she had that was solid and stable.--

The path at her feet began to elevate and she could see the beginnings of the asphalt that paved the main walkway of Delaware Park. The dim flickering rays coming from the battered light-post barely cast a shadow on the rickety bench that was in her line of sight. The corner of her mouth quirked up in a sarcastic, bitter smirk at the irony of her current predicament.

She bet herself it would take half an hour this time.

The dirt beneath her feet morphed into prickly grass as she pressed on towards the bench. She cast a glance at the sign that said 'Keep Off the Grass!' and continued to climb the slight incline effortlessly. As she inspected the bench for a 'Wet Paint' poster, she idly wondered if there was an impression of her feet somewhere in the dirt, or her back on the wooden frame that had supported her through so many nightly escapades away from the apartment complex that she lived in.

Finding that there was no alert of wet paint anywhere on or around the bench, she swiped a finger across the part of the bench she planned to rest on. The wood was dry so she took a seat, but not without wincing at the groans and squeaks the bench elicited from her added weight. She momentarily considered sending a letter to City Hall with a request to put money to use in the parks the city had. They were beginning to slack off and she knew that one evening she would appear in the park and the bench would crumble beneath her.

Her arms were another story, pale enough to reflect light should it find its way to her arms. Though, they were beginning to a look a little on the pink side now. Leave it to her joke of a foster mother to put her in a position such as this. If these fights continued at the intensity they already were, she would soon be walking out of the run-down tenement building with her messenger bag slung across her chest and her duffel bag tied firmly over her shoulder.

--Calming, soothing, expressing. Living to hold her own. It all came with a price.--

She allowed her mouth to curve into a wry smile as she sat and stared off into the distance. She could vaguely hear the whizzing cars on the streets behind her and imagined the people inside of them, trying to get to bars before they closed, trying to get home from an extended amount of overtime hours put in to help keep the family stable. She often wished she had a car for the sake of being able to hop in and just drive and drive, on and on, away from this city, from these memories, from those people. She would be gone and that real freedom would belong to her and only her.

She reached into her messenger bag and retrieved the notebook that was settled inside. She could see the crinkled edges of papers jutting out from the parchment pages between the hard covers of the book. Bits of fabric and lace grazed her skin from their snug position in the notebook. A bulge towards the back indicated the presence of a pen. A deft flip and the pen was resting on her thigh, the journal opened to a fresh page.

She could faintly smell the musty scent of the aged treasure. Laced along the pages was the history that ate at her mind like a virus. Soft, sweet hints of vanilla lined every page responsible for a paper cut, and an even less noticeable trace of smoky fumes from a fire stood out fresh in her mind.

'Memories,' she thought to herself. 'They're only memories.'

She was smart enough to recognize that these escapades of hers would get her into trouble not only with her foster family, but with her social worker, as well. They expected her to be perfect and studious and well-behaved all the time. But how was she supposed to behave when she had no safe haven to go to and no one she could trust?

--Expressing thoughts was an effect of being inspired by something. Inspired by pain, happiness, loss, love, or something else entirely.--

The idea of living in those memories was such a gripping proposition, though. She could spend hours filtering through the images she had maintained in perfect condition like records in an archive.

She recalled a quote by Albert Einstein that her Writer's Workshop teacher had once told her. "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." Pondering on the quote for a few moments, she hurriedly wrote it down in her notebook. She made sure to add a side note explaining that it would make a very convincing and powerful line in a song.

On the idea of powerful, she happened to wonder how her poor excuse for a foster parent would react to finding she had left the apartment without consent once again. The vision of being tossed into Juvie wasn't exactly a pleasant one. She had heard from a friend that girls mysteriously wound up pregnant there and then disappeared completely, records erased as if they had never even existed to begin with. She had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn't because they had found a way for females to impregnate other females, either.

She could always bring that point up in the courtroom, anyways. It wouldn't be the first time she had tossed in some corrupt information to keep her options open. It didn't hurt to get a little pity every once in a while, especially if it was keeping her out of Juvie. She was safe and baby-free and as far as she was concerned, the only person to put her into a opposing compromising position was long gone and far away from her person.

Except Caleb. Only Caleb.

Partner in crime.

Debate opponent.

Comrade in exploration.

Fellow Diogenes follower.

A foster boy.

--Memories are figments of the imagination. They can't be proven to be real or fake. Just like experiences. You never really know.--

A sigh pushed past her lips as another image confronted her vision, this one reckless and full of laughter and a shock of vibrant red hair. She was trying, with much difficulty, to remove the image from her mind, but to no avail. She couldn't help herself when it came to thinking about what she would do if he were still there with her, sitting beside her with that stupid grin and his alluring tales and dangerous adventures.

She couldn't help but wonder how her life could have been if they had just met under different circumstances. Maybe if they had met when she was older and going to college, things would have worked out between them. If she had run into him in her twenties, maybe he would have found her to be that perfect one for him. If they had both been born to regular families, then none of that would have happened. Perhaps if they had never even met at all. Things would have been so much easier without him in her life.

'But I wouldn't have grown without him there, either.'

A strong gust of wind unexpectedly thrashed right against her, knocking her from her reverie long enough to notice that her notebook was just about to fall from her lap. She snatched the cover, pressing a hand down to the pages blown in the opposite direction by the wind. Moments later, the air became still and tranquil once more, but the words that haunted her were glaring up from the very first page of the book.

Teeth immediately closed around her bottom lip in her own nervousness and distress. She flipped the cover shut, attempting to memorize the scarlet picture accented by long, flowing golden petals and slick, black stems. It was a futile action, however, because the sight of that phrase, etched into the cover with a scrawl that wasn't her own, was burned deeply into her retinas. Her eyelids slid shut, giving her the closure of complete darkness.

'Forget about it, right this moment!' she chastised in her head.

His home was more than welcome to her. She could envision the expression he would wear when she arrived at his doorstep in flip-flops and two sleeveless shirts. More or less she could vividly see those eyes of his, intimidating as his frame, intense as his hair, complex as him.

A smile irkingly tugged at the corner of her mouth, whether it be from the knowledge of a safe place to crash for the night, or the anticipation of seeing him and his sigh-inducing eyes, she would never admit.

--They're like reels of film, each little square a photograph of a moment that plays over and over against better judgment.--

She paused to think about whether she should go back to Not Your Average Paperback and see if they had gotten any new books. She had been in a very Che-obsessive mood this week. Perhaps she could score another recording of his execution, or maybe she would find another pin to add to the strap of her bag?

She chanced a look at the heart-patterned watch snapped across her wrist and saw that it was well after midnight. She grimaced slightly at the thought of the reaction she would receive once she returned to the apartment. She could picture the speech about staying out for more than a couple of hours of the night without telling anyone where she was going.

She rolled her eyes, softly shaking her head at the ridiculous concept of actually asking for permission to get away from the people she couldn't wait to leave permanently.

The sound of police sirens wailing in the distance caught her attention, leaving her to contemplate their destination. Had they finally caught on to her disappearance this time? She glanced at her watch again.

'It's already been forty-three minutes. Maybe I'm losing it?'

The girl was either incredibly stupid or absolutely insane, quite possibly both. He had performed quite a few acts of complete idiocy in his time on the planet, but he couldn't have been paid enough to walk a mile in flip-flops and a sleeveless shirt in thirty-six degree weather.

He forced his thoughts into the recesses of his mind and focused on getting her into his apartment to warm up. He was no doctor but he knew that the combination of weather, attire, and distance factors did not produce colorful rainbows and cuddly kittens for Lillith. He also knew that the next few hours would be filled with irate ranting, shared body heat, and cheap take-out.

--Not quite cartoons or animation, because those are undeniably fake. They're images that are different from the rest.--

The sound moved closer to her, traveling at full speed into her left ear. Tersely, she dropped her head backwards, clutching her journal between her fingers. The sirens increased in pitch, moving away from her. She had heard them often enough to know they would be losing tones if they were headed towards her. She felt safe enough to tilt her head forward and observe the nightlife of the park.

She couldn't help but wonder if there were any star-crossed couples enjoying their love for one another in the bushes somewhere. She felt her thoughts drift to the idea of a serial killer lurking in the forested areas of the park, vigilant gaze on the people who dared to use Delaware Park as a means for a quicker way home that evening.

She scanned her surroundings, from the still-flickering light-post beside her to the inky shadows of the forest that hid possible predators from her. Details were what made up this safe haven of hers, and details were what left her drifting. A sudden crunching of boots on the pavement startled her. Staving off a gasp of surprise, she threw her gaze off to the right where she had heard the sound originate from.

"You just happened to be in the neighborhood at one in the morning, Lily?"

A barely imperceptible shrug. "If that's how you like your pancakes flipped, sure."

Crossed arms move to the back. "I could've lost you this time."

A scoot to the left. "You'd've moved on, Cay."

Stare is tangible. "What makes you so sure?"

A slide to the right. "Karma. The Fates. Destiny. They've got replacements."

--An image is something that can change. A photo is a worthless memory.--

There was a familiar glint of metal and, reprimanding herself for her foolishness, she recognized the approaching broad-shouldered figure as Detective Keel. She felt her lips curve into a smile without her prompting and she stood slowly, brushing invisible flecks of dust from her figure. A light flashed at her feet, tracing the outline of her left leg and rocketing straight up her torso and chest to rest on her grinning face.

After a glance at her watch, she cast her swamp green gaze up to the detective and innocently stated, "You took significantly longer to find me, this time. I sincerely hope you aren't getting rusty."

Feet touch at the heel. "Well what if I want to keep you?"

A blanket drapes. "Keep me?"

Heat penetrates the skin. "Yeah, Lil, keep you forever?"

Contours of sides align. "It wouldn't happen."

Tuck in blanket edges. "What if we made it?"

Gazes collide. "We'd be lost forever."

If you spotted any mistakes, please let me know. Other than that, I hope you enjoyed reading and I'd appreciate a review.