Chapter 2

Stranger to Trust

I didn't know where I was going; I just knew that I had to get as far away from that town as I could. It all had to be left behind and hopefully forgotten.

My heart ached and my body screamed, but I couldn't go back. There was nothing for me there. There wasn't really anything for me anywhere. I hated my pa for leaving me. Ma's death was hard for him, but it was hard for me too. How could he have been so selfish? I needed him.

You can't rely on anyone, I told myself, no one but you. With a heavy heart I continued on. Leo and Ma would want me to. Pa was a love struck fool that only thought about himself. Even though I just wanted to curl up in a ball and die, I had to go. Not for anyone else, but for me. Then again Leo was still on my mind. But he couldn't be if I was supposed to stay strong.

They were all dead to me.

...

"Hey, girl, you okay?" An old man called from a caravan. He was some kind of merchant who was heading towards the town I was. My vision was fuzzy and my throat parched, but I still answered.

"Yes, I'm fine." Then I collapsed. I had been walking for several days straight with no breaks, except to get a few hours of sleep.

"No you're not. Come on over here, and I'll give you a ride to town." He hopped down from his strange vehicle. As I studied him I noticed that it wasn't so much of a caravan but a car hooked up to a wagon.

"Why would I trust you?" I spat at him. No one was going to take advantage of me.

"Well, judging by the state you're in, you don't have much of a choice." He helped me up off the ground. After shooting him a dangerous look, I got in the car with him.

"Don't you dare try anything." As I sat down I realized for the first time that I had never actually been in a car. When he turned on the engine it startled me, and I gripped the sides of the seat hard.

"Never been in a car?" He asked and I nodded. He chuckled. "Don't worry, I'm a good driver." Luckily for me I didn't even have a chance to worry because I was immediately fast asleep.

I don't know how long I slept but when I woke up we were entering the town.

"Well, here we are." The man gestured to the town.

"Thank you." I started digging in my bag for money but the man shook his head.

"Don't worry about it. Now get out of here so I can do my job."

"Thanks again." Still in bad shape, I hopped out of the car into the street with a slight wince. People walked about everywhere. This was a bigger town than the one I had grown up in. Bigger meant more expensive, and I was glad that I had remembered to grab the money box before I set the house on fire. What I needed more than anything right then was a decent meal and some water.

Several people shot me weird looks. If I looked as bad as I felt, I was a dreadful mess. It didn't really matter, I just needed food. Desperately I made my way to a store stocked with food. Eagerly I thrust open the door and sped inside to begin the hunt. As I was picking out items someone approached me from behind.

"Hi there," a boy maybe a few years older than me greeted me. I ignored him and continued to gather food.

"For someone so desperate you sure aren't very polite." He picked up an apple and bit into it. I turned at the sound.

"Who are you to judge what kind of person I am?" I snapped at him and met his eyes. They were a warm, dark brown. Like Leo's, I thought but then I pushed it away.

"You seem like someone who's been through a lot. I should know because I have, too. I'm Jay." He stuck out his hand. Hesitantly I shook it. His hands were warm and rough, his skin tanner than mine. My hands were shaking but he pretended not to notice.

"Rosa. My name's Rosa, and I'd love to chat but I'm starving." I let go of his hand quickly and went to go pay for my food. After paying I ran outside and tried to force myself to eat slowly, but it was no use. I gobbled it down quickly.

"So what's your story?" Jay was back, sitting right next to me.

"I don't have one," I lied. He didn't fall for it.

"You obviously have a story. Everybody does." He waited patiently for me to answer.

"Ok, but why the hell would I tell you?" I wasn't feeling too good after eating all of that food so fast.

"Because if it's what I think it is, I might be able to help. And watch your language; you're supposed to be a young lady," he said smugly.

"And why would you help me?"

"Because I don't have anything better to do." He let me think that over for a minute.

"My ma died and my pa killed himself over grief. I burned the house down and ran. No one wanted me so I left town and came here," I told him with absolutely no emotion on my face.

"Wow. My parents died too, but a long time ago. You're taking this pretty well if it happened that recently."

"They left me alone. There was nothing to take. Pa betrayed me." My voice wavered.

"Still, you are one tough girl. See, the reason I thought that I could help you is because I know a place for kids like us. You can come if you want to." He stood up and waited for my answer.

A place for kids like us. There was somewhere I would apparently fit in. For all I knew he was lying and really planned on kidnapping me or killing me. I decided to take a risk. "Ok." I stood up and started to walk with him.

"You seem pretty willing to trust me." He winked and pointed in the direction we were going.

"I don't know what trust is anymore," I replied, though part of me said that I did trust him, but I buried that part and just continued to follow.

...

We waited until night to travel so that the roads would be clear. I still needed to rest anyway so I went along with his plan.

"So what exactly is this place, anyway?" I was still skeptical of the place that would supposedly help me.

"It's called Stone Cottage. It's a big house that's been there for as long as anyone can remember. People say that there's something off about the house but an elderly couple lives there and they a home for older orphans." Jay was packing the food he had bought earlier. Apparently this was not going to be a 20 minute walk.

"Ok. Do you trust it?"

"Like you, I don't really know what trust is anymore. But whatever trust I do have is going towards you." He was done packing. I looked up at him.

"You don't even know me."

"I know that I trust you."

"Why?" I asked, puzzled.

"I just do."

"Well, let's just hope that I'm worth it."

It was dark. My mind was much clearer and my stomach didn't hurt as much. Without a word we made our way out of the alleyway and started heading down the path.

"So what's your story?" I looked over at him and waited for an answer.

"My mom died giving birth to me. I had an older sister but she disappeared after Mom died. Dad raised me. He was a farmer and he taught me everything he knew, but our combined efforts weren't enough. He told me that if he did some time in the army we would have enough money to last us a while. I was so hungry that I didn't even argue. He left and never came back. They sent me a letter but I already knew. I just had this feeling in my gut, you know? Some people came and took the farm. I had nothing, but I lived on. That was over a year ago." He stopped walking for a minute. "Sometimes I feel like he's there, and I see him. I even talk to him sometimes. That probably sounds crazy but it's comforting."

It was silent for a while. It annoyed me slightly that he had given up on his father even before the letter came. Why did everyone give up so easily on people? Didn't they know how much that hurts? I didn't say anything for fear that I would anger him. Nervously I fiddled with the hem of my dress. It was extremely dirty and the hem was torn. Earlier I had been mad at how long it was and ripped it much shorter. It was about mid-thigh, much too short for a proper lady, and I was suddenly self-conscious. I tried to distract myself.

"Ma would be mad at me for being such a mess. She hated dirt and messes." The memory of her scolding me made me smile.

"You're not a mess," Jay said quietly. "The world is a mess." He turned to study me for a minute. I pulled down the hem of my dress defensively.

"So how far is this Stone Cottage?" I asked, trying to come up with a way to distract us both.

"About a day and a half's journey." He was looking at the stars now. The sky was the color it had been the night Leo was taken away; grey with a reddish tinge.

"Oh. That's not so bad."

"No." For the rest of the night we didn't talk. I didn't mind the silence. It was valuable thinking time.

Once we were far from town we had a chance to sleep. For the first time in a while I fell asleep without tears in my eyes. I had cried enough the last few days. Tears were for the weak. And believe me, I was no longer weak.

That night my ma's face haunted my dreams. In the dream she was still alive when I lit the fire, and her screams echoed in the blood red night. From a safe distance I watched her burn to death, but I couldn't move to go help her.

"Rosa, Rosa!" A voice called. I ignored it. Ma needed me. "Wake up, Rosa!" Reluctantly I opened my eyes, abandoning my ma.

"What?" I snapped. Jay's face was hovering above mine. Hot tears were on my cheeks.

"You were screaming in your sleep and we need to start moving." He was already packed up and ready to go.

"Ok." I sighed and pulled myself together. After eating a small breakfast I was ready to go.

The sun was up and pretty soon I realized that it was going to be a hot day. Perspiration was already starting to coat my forehead.

"Well this is going to be a long day." My throat was already dry so my voice sounded hoarse.

"It will be if you keep up that attitude," Jay scoffed.

"What's that supposed to mean?" I scowled at him.

"Not everything has to be bad because of one thing. You're too sullen. Life is short, so why don't you at least pretend to enjoy it?" He shut me up for a while.

"What is your happiest memory?" Maybe if he did the talking I wouldn't have to pretend to be happy.

He raised his eyebrows. "We used to have this little dog named Oscar. He wasn't really good for anything, but he made us happy. My favorite memory is finding him lying hungry on our porch, not because he suffered, but because for the first time I would have something good and trustworthy. I used to spend every waking minute with that dog." He grinned but not for long because he was anticipating my next question.

"What happened to him?"

He didn't say anything for a while. "Nothing good can stay. What's your favorite memory?"

"It's not so much of a memory as a place. I had this really good friend Leo and whenever I went to the local market he would usually come with me. If I ever had a couple of spare pennies we would go to this candy store on the corner of the street. It looked like a pile of crumbled bricks on the outside, but on the inside there was just something warm about it. All along one of the walls were containers of candy. I didn't like that candy so much as the vibes in the store, and Leo always managed to annoy the store owner." I laughed. "Her face was so funny whenever we walked in, like she was going to grab our necks and throttle us."

"That sounds so...normal. Where is Leo now?" By the look in Jay's eyes I could tell he was imagining the place I had described.

"Like you said, nothing good can stay." The sun wasn't bothering me as much anymore. Jay was right about being optimistic.

"We'll be at Stone Cottage tomorrow morning. Do you need to rest a minute?" He stopped walking and waited for my answer.

"No, I feel pretty good. We can stop if you want to, though." He shook his head no. We kept going.

"Tell me about Leo. Sometimes the best way to forget or let go of something is to remember it all first." Jay kicked a rock on the path, and for a minute I forgot that he was Jay and not Leo.

"I've known him forever. We grew up together. He lived only a few houses down from mine. Sometimes his family would forget about him because he has seven other siblings. I would find him outside like an abandoned puppy. Pretty soon we were best friends." I paused for a minute before going on. "He was the only person I could really trust and rely on. He was really funny, and he just had this easygoing attitude. He was always there when I needed him."

"What did he look like?" Jay's mind was working again trying to put together an image for the boy I had cared so much about.

"He had long, shaggy dirty blonde hair, warm brown eyes and a huge smile."

"He sounds like a good guy." Jay gave me a small smile.

"He is. Or was. I don't know where he is." Tears were rising in my eyes again.

"You were in love with him, weren't you?"

"No, he was just a good friend."

"Oh." Jay looked up at the sky again. It was almost dark. "We better stop for today. Stone Cottage is still a few miles away."

"Ok." I made a small dinner and we ate. Pretty soon we were falling asleep.

"Jay?"

"Yes, Rosa?"

"Why are you helping me?"

"I told you already."

I shook my head. "Not really."

He paused for a moment. "Because I feel like it's the right thing to do."

"Well, thank you."

"You're welcome."

For the first time in more than a week I didn't have nightmares. Even Leo was forgotten momentarily. Jay was helping me heal the wounds they had all left.

But of course, nothing good can stay.