"Mommy?" a girl walked through the rubble of what was her house, ash on her face and hands. "Daddy?" She leaned over, pulling rocks and rubble out of her way as she searched. The four-year-old was beginning to realize, as she dug through the wreckage, that she wasn't going to find them. With each black brick or burned piece of furniture she moved, the pressure behind her eyes pulsed.
"Mommy! Daddy!" she cried and screamed until her voice gave out, small clean trails making their way past the soot down her cheeks leaving pale streaks in their path. Her small legs finally buckled under her as she gave in to the loneliness. She screamed for them until she couldn't any longer, small body heaving with sobs.
A branch snapped behind her, pulling her from her sorrow. She turned sharply to face the intruder, a shard of glass cutting across her leg as she did. Her parents' names almost spilled from her lips before she saw him. That was not her father. This was not a man she'd ever seen before. However he held his hand out to her, kneeling to her from the grass. "Come here little one." His eyes were so kind, his smile so warm. "I'll take care of you."
She ran to him, tears falling silently. The cut on her leg was throbbing, but she didn't care. Someone was there for her then. So she ran to him. She ran into his arms, crying against him, dirtying up his fancy clothes with tears, ash, and blood. "I can't find my mommy." Her voice was hoarse and weak.
"I know. I'll take care of you. All you need is me now." He rubbed her back gently. "All you need is me." She finally looked up at him and was greeted with his warm smile once more.
"I'll take care of you forever, okay, Lexi?"
Lexi bolted upright in her bed and turned to her alarm clock. Late! She got out of bed and threw on a t-shirt and jeans. I'll dress nicer tomorrow. She thought. It was the first day of her senior year, she couldn't be late. She put on some bright mismatched socks from her "clean clothes" pile and slid into the bathroom.
Her black and violet streaked hair was a mess of bed head. Groaning, she grabbed the brush and tamed it down, grabbing some hair wax to spike the back. Briefly she looked over her face in the mirror, wide blue eyes scanning over her features. She was too pale, her lips too small, her eyes too blank, but she didn't have time to fix it. I'll wear makeup tomorrow.
She brushed her teeth quickly and ran to the kitchen. "Warren!" she called out, slinging a backpack over her shoulder and grabbing a couple slices of bread from the bag. "I'm leaving!"
"Eat breakfast!" She heard from the other room. "Not just bread!" She could hear him walking in slowly, giving her a race to the door.
"No time! I'm late!" She bolted to the exit and was met with her guardian's sturdy form. "I don't have tiiiimee…" she whined at him, a pout formed on her lips as she looked up at him.
"Breakfast. And take your medicine." The taller man pushed her to the kitchen table and sat her in a seat with a pill and water in front of her. "I'll drive you. That should save time, right?" He took her huff as a sign of resignation, chuckling as he grabbed his necessary ingredients from the fridge.
Thirteen years ago this man had saved her life by taking her in and treating her as his little sister. He didn't look a day over thirty, his eyes were almost a glowing shade of green, and his blonde hair was never a strand out of place. He was slim but he was strong, and he was caring. He was everything a girl could ask for in a parent. He was the only thing she'd ever needed and the only thing she'd ever need.
"You remembered all your stuff?" He asked, pulling up to the school in his hybrid car. "The earth is more important than a fancy car." he'd said when he'd bought it.
"Yeah. Oh wait I did forget something…I need a car." Lexi grinned brightly at him, trying to show her innocence in the request.
He rolled his eyes and laughed. "Not yet you don't. Now get out and go to school."
"I'm going job hunting with Cece and Allie today. Alright?" She climbed out of the car and slung her backpack over her shoulder.
"I don't see what you need a job for. I give you money when you need it." His brow furrowed, looking up at her from the driver's seat.
"Just something to do. And then you won't have to give me money." And I can save up for a car. For some reason he hated the idea of her driving. She had a license. She'd passed the test with flying colors in his car. However, she didn't need a car of her own, according to him. The license was just in case of emergencies. "Please Warren?"
He sighed. "Fine. Get to class. And the moment you let one grade slip you have to quit. Understood?"
She grinned brightly. "You got it sir." With that she gave a cheesy salute and ran into the school just as the bell began its first chime. She bolted towards her homeroom class, cursing under her breath. She made it in the door just as the bell stopped. "Hah. On time." She smiled at her teacher, a short gray-haired man who gave her a quick glance over his tiny glasses and a shy smile in return.
Lexi's first class after homeroom was German III, the first of the intermediate class. She loved the language, and, probably more than that, she loved the teacher. "Hallo herr Supon!" She said upon entering.
"Hallo Lexi. Wie gehts?" Mr. Supon was a tall man with a shining bald head who, in all his years, never revealed his age. Many of the students in the area knew him because their parents had taken his classes when they were in high school. He had always been a student favorite, perhaps because his class was easy, but perhaps because the tall man with the booming voice was one of the most unique teachers in the school.
"Gut. Und du?"
"Sehr gut. It's good to see you again. We have a new student. His name is Sven. His English is a little rusty, but I talked to the principal and we got it arranged that he can sit with you today so you can show him around."
"Alrighty." It wasn't the first time she'd helped a German student out. The school was known for its foreign language courses so the amount of foreign exchange students in the district was high. Most of them only stayed one semester; a few others would stay an entire year. "Where's he at?"
As she asked a boy with a mess of blonde hair and deep violet eyes came in. "Hallo." He coughed, as if clearing his through. "H-hello. My name ist Sven." His accent was thick, but Lexi could tell he was trying very hard.
"I'm Lexi." She smiled. "Nice to meet you." As she reached out her hand. He smiled back at her for an instant but his hand hesitated. "Something wrong?"
The blonde just shook his head and smiled back at her, shaking her hand firmly. "Nothing. Sorry. Nice to meet you." Despite his response, however, there was a look on his face Lexi couldn't shake from her mind. "Uhm. Where is my seat, Herr Supon?"
Their teacher, waved towards the classroom of desks as he turned to his computer. "Choose somewhere. We aren't doing much on the first day so go ahead and get to know each other a little bit. Lexi will be your helper during your stay here in the states."
Lexi patted his back and started to lead. "Let's go sit towards the back." She dropped her book bag on the floor beside her, turning the desk to face Sven's. "So where are you from in Germany?"
"Saarbrucken." He said. "Close to France."
"Warren is from that area. The French side, but he said Germany was only a bike ride away. He doesn't have an accent though. Apparently he's been living here for a while." At his confused look she continued. "Sorry, Warren is like my adoptive dad or something. My parents died when I was little and he took me in."
"Oh... I'm sorry."
"No no. Don't sweat it I don't even remember them. And he's all I need anyways." She smiled. "Want to go hang out with my friends and me today? We're going job hunting. Maybe we can show you around town while we're at it."
The boy smiled warmly. "That sounds good." Then he stopped suddenly. "But won't Warren get upset? Hanging out with a boy?"
Lexi laughed. "Nah, that's old fashioned. He'll get over it I'm sure."
Cecelia's jet black hair reached down to her waist. She had pulled it back into a headband that matched her outfit, a black polka-dot skirt and black wrap top Lexi was sure was another one of Celia's own creations. Lexi still couldn't understand the stamina her friend held in order to wear the heels she did each day over her black stockings.
As Lexi approached, Celia grimaced at the sight. "Where are you trying to get a job?"
Lexi laughed. "Yeah yeah Cece. I get it. I didn't have time to pick out an outfit this morning so this had to work. Can you fix it?"
Celia sighed and reached into her trunk. "You're lucky you're my friend."
"I'm aware. I thank the heavens every day." Lexi smiled at her friend who threw a top at her.
"I can't fix the jeans. But change shirts." With that said, Celia unlocked the car. "Where's Allie?"
"Flirting with the new exchange kid, Sven. He's coming with us, by the way. They stopped so Allie could show him her car and she can innocently bend over and show him her ass." Lexi pulled the new shirt, a green v-neck blouse, over her and began the fight with the tee-shirt underneath it.
Celia rolled her eyes. "She's shameless. Don't stretch my shirt."
"I'm not." She threw the tee into her backpack and waved. "Allie! Sven! Over here!"
Allie practically dragged the blond behind her over to the car. "Celia, meet Sven. He's from Germany. Isn't he beautiful?"
Sven just laughed nervously. "Thanks I think…"
"She means it as a compliment. Don't worry." Celia smiled. "It's nice to meet you, Sven."
"Enough chitchat let's go! I have to get a car and the first step to that is getting a job!" Lexi hopped into the front seat just as Allie got into the back with Sven. Celia took her time sliding into the driver's seat, sliding her skirt neatly under her as she did. Lexi buckled in as she glanced towards the driver. "Let's try the mall first. They have the most options." Celia nodded and started the car.
"Uhm. I thought we were job hunting..?" Sven looked at the girls, each holding at least two bags from various stores within the mall.
"We filled out applications in the stores we went into. How do we prove we like the product if we don't buy any of it?" Allie said simply.
"Exactly." Lexi laughed, eating her pretzel as she walked. "Hey the new theater is open. Can we check it out?"
Celia shrugged. "I guess they'll need some new help. I don't really know about wearing uniforms though."
"Or smelling like popcorn." Allie made a face as she thought about it.
"Too bad. We're going. I love popcorn." Lexi grinned as she jumped ahead of her friend and led the way.
No one was inside the lobby of the theater. No popcorn was cooking, no candy was on the shelves, and no posters were up. "Hm..." Lexi looked around the doors. "Maybe it's not open yet after all."
"I think I hear a movie." Sven noted, walking towards the theaters. Nearing a theater, his face was lit up with a light of the movie projector lighting up the screen. He couldn't tell what was going on in the film but judging upon the hearty laughter inside, it must have been a comedy.
Lexi squished her face into the window of the other door, noticing a man in the middle row, feet propped up on a bar, a grin outlined by the light. A cough behind her drew her to her senses…sort of. She jumped, fell forward against the swinging door then slid into the floor. She half way knew that the door was about to swing back and knock her in the head before a hand stopped the door.
"Can I help you?" The man standing over her was tall and lean, with deep brown hair shining with a hint of red in the light, cleanly combed out of his face. His glasses fell low on the bridge of his nose, revealing his light gray eyes as his eyes narrowed to an expression that, though intimidating, did nothing to hid how attractive the man really was.
"A-ah... I was looking for a job..?"
The man tilted his brow, bemused by the girl. "By watching a movie?" He looked past her into the theater. "Dillon! Get out here!"
The figure in the theater jumped suddenly before running out into the lobby to meet them. "Sir?"
Dillon had shaggy brown hair and deep emerald green eyes. His skin was pale white, causing him to look almost delicate. He looked between the three girls and Sven before looking up at the man who called on him. "Sup, Roger?"
Roger furrowed his brow. "Why are you in there watching a movie instead of out here getting ready for opening night on Friday?"
The brunette laughed and scratched his head nervously. "I am getting ready for Friday. I was making sure the projector works." His smile turned from childish to devilish as he turned to the group. "Who are these ladies?" He turned to Sven, though sounding less interested. "And gentleman?"
Lexi used the opening to her advantage. "I'm Alexis I noticed you guys were almost open and—"
"They came in while you were busy goofing off." Roger interrupted her. "Get them applications."
Dillon sighed. "Okay. Sorry boss." He smiled back at the guests and waved. "Follow me. I'll get you girls and guy all signed up. I'm Dillon by the way." His gaze stopped on Sven suddenly. "Where are you from?"
"Germany." Sven didn't at all seem surprised about the question, though it confused Lexi how the boy thought to ask before hearing him speak. "My English is okay. This is my friend Lexi. She's helping."
Lexi waved, smiling eagerly. "Nice to meet you. These are my friends Celia and Allie. We uhm...we want jobs."
Dillon laughed. "I can see. Let me get you girls some applications and you can leave them on the counter when you're done alright?" He smiled and set down four applications. "Take your time. I'm going to go get the movie cleaned up." He set down a cup of pens and walked out of the room.
He must have only gotten a few steps away when Allie turned. "That guy is delicious."
Celia blushed at the statement, nodding shyly. "I think they both are…"
Lexi laughed and worked on her application. She did agree. Both men were very handsome, and she could only hope to work alongside them. She rushed through the application as accurately as possible before standing. "I think I'm going to go hand this to them directly."
"No fair we aren't done yet!" Allie glared up at her friend. "Wait on us."
"Sorry. My chance this time." Lexi gave her friend a big grin and skipped off down the hall. After a few steps she could hear a muffled conversation between the two men.
"I don't think it's safe to hire her, Dil." It was Roger. Who didn't he want to hire? "We might step on boundaries having her here with us. I don't want to start a fight."
"We won't start a fight then. They all just want jobs. And she'd fit in here. As long as we keep our hands off it should be fine." She could practically hear the smile in his voice. "And I'll be on my best behavior."
Roger growled under his breath. "It's not a good idea. I'm not starting a fight just because you think she'd fit in. If she wants a job so bad she can dye her hair a normal color and work somewhere else."
They're talking about me? What'd I do? Lexi took another step forward, going from over hearing to flat out eavesdropping.
"If he has a problem with her working here he'll make her quit. There won't be a fight."
He? Who would have such a big problem? Warren? He didn't care where she worked. Why would he care about a movie theater?
"If we lay a hand on her, there will be a problem. Don't even give her a look that would make him think we're hitting on her, got it?"
"Uhm. Excuse me?" She had to interrupt, if for no more reason than her own pride. "I don't know why you have a problem with me getting a job here, but I won't cause any trouble. Believe it or not, not all girls jump into bed and start fights between guys."
Roger rubbed his temple. "That's not the issue here. Don't eavesdrop, it's rude." He reached out and took her application from her. Quickly his eyes scanned over the page as he spoke. "We were talking about your betrothed."
Lexi looked at the man confused. "Betrothed? I'm not engaged. I'm only 17." With that she held up her hand, wiggling her ring finger at him. "Warren would kill me if I was engaged at this age."
Dillon smiled. "See Roger? I told you she wasn't wearing a ring. There won't be any fights. See?"
Roger glared at him and studied Lexi. "I must have seen wrong. Is Warren your brother?"
"He's like my dad kind of. My parents passed away and he raised me. Why?"
Roger just nodded, ignoring the question at the end.
"He's just nosy. He thinks he knows everyone in the city." Dillon gave Lexi a calm smile. "We'll call you alright? Your friends are probably waiting on you though."
She was unconvinced that she'd ever be getting a call from the theater when she left with her friends. Celia dropped Allie off at the school to get her car before taking Sven and Lexi to their respective homes. As expected Warren wasn't home yet. Lexi walked in and dropped her bags, falling onto the couch. She hadn't even realized she'd fallen asleep when she woke up to Warren yelling at her.
"Who have you been with and where were you?" He was standing over her with his arms crossed. He'd never looked so furious before. "You told me you went out with Allie and Celia but who else have you been around?"
It had always seemed to her like he'd had a third eye watching her throughout the day. He could always tell if there was someone else she didn't tell him about, but he had never gotten this angry before. "A friend from school. A foreign exchange student named Sven. We went job hunting. Like I said." She rubbed her eyes and stretched, still unsure how to take this side of Warren.
"That's not all. Who else did you talk to today?" His eyes narrowed as he looked over her, almost as if he were inspecting her carefully.
"What's with the interrogation?" She fluffed up her hair as she responded smartly. "I talked to my teachers, I talked to a few people in class, I talked to sales associates, I talked to managers, and I talked to a girl at the pretzel stand I talked to these guys at the movie theater about a job. But don't worry most places want me to dye my hair and the guys at the theater probably hate me."
Warren was still glaring at her. "I don't think you need a job. I think you should just focus on school. If you're this exhausted just from searching for a job."
"Warren that isn't fair. I want a job. I want to make my own money and I want to get out of the house sometimes." She was standing at this point, glaring back at him. "What is up with you today, I haven't done anything!"
"No but you could have. You could have done something with any of them. You just want a job to get away from me don't you?" He wasn't yelling at her anymore but the tone in his voice stung her anyways. "What have I done to make you want to leave? I have been good to you, haven't I?"
"Yes! You've been great. I'm not trying to go anywhere. I just want to be a little more grown up that's all. I want to get a job like my friends. That's all. You've been perfect Warren." She was quickly backtracking from angry to guilty as his expression softened. "I promise it's not you."
"I'll take care of you. I'll always take care of you, Lexi. You know that." He gazed at her sadly. "You don't need a job do you? You can just come home and stay with me after school."
"I just want something to do while you're out every night. I'm not replacing you." Lexi hugged him tight. "Please Warren? I promise that's all. Don't be upset."
Warren wrapped his arms around her, rubbing her back like he always had. "I'm not upset. I'm sorry. I just want to be all you ever need. Alright?"
Lexi smiled against his chest. "You are. All I need is you. All I ever need is you. I promise."