Before he even opened his eyes, Kayne knew he was in an unfamiliar place. The bed he was lying on was of a similar firmness to his, but the sheets were soft and smelled like flowers.
He sat up, flipped on the bedside lamp, and took in the room around him. It was small and sparse, which he was used to. But were those walls pink?
And what was on the floor? He curled his toes in the springy fibers. Carpet? In some of the fancy places he’d broken into – the ones who got things smuggled in from outside Oasis Springs – they’d had floors like this.
Where the hell am I? How did I get here?
He cast his mind back and slowly, like light through a grungy window, the memories trickled in.
He’d been on assignment in Zone Four, paid to eliminate some political big wig who’d gotten to nosey in the Mayor’s business. There had been a body guard, though, one that he hadn’t known about – a very recent change, as there hadn’t been one when he’d finished his reconnaissance two days ago. The guy had jumped Kayne as soon as he’d walked inside. Kayne had gotten a good knocking around, but he’d left with both the guard and the target taken care of.
What happened when I left?
He got up and walked around the room, stretching and testing his muscles. He had sore spots from the fight, but it was his head that was killing him; he reached up and probed at the goose egg on his noggin, eliciting a pained hiss.
A girl in a dress…
That was it. He’d been trying to get home – shit, how out of his head had he been from that head wound? – and he’d stumbled across a wisp of a girl.
She hadn’t even seemed that afraid of him.
“Are you okay? Here, let me help you.” Her words floated back to him, melodic and sweet. He remembered letting her take him back to her home.
“I must’ve been out of my fucking gourd, letting myself get taken God knows where.” He knew better than to just assume the girl was harmless; his mother wasn’t much physically, but that’s why she was so good at her job. She got underestimated, even with her fuck-off-and-die attitude.
Resisting the urge to shake his head – because that would only intensify the pounding headache he had going – he found his shoes at the end of the bed. He could just remember managing to kick them off before falling into bed. He pulled them on and headed to the door.
Trying to prepare himself for any eventuality, he left the bedroom and went up the stairs. As soon as he emerged into the main room, he was blasted with late-morning sunlight. The deluge of light coming in through the large floor to ceiling windows actually distracted him momentarily from the person at the grill.
“Oh, you’re up,” she said, her voice just as lovely as he remembered. “I grilled fruit for breakfast.”
For a moment, Kayne just stood there, attempting to make sense of where he was. It was all so…light. So completely unlike all the shabby, thrown-together bunkers he was familiar with.
He shook himself out of his reverie and strode across the room towards the door. “Thanks for the hospitality or whatever, but I’ve gotta go.” No doubt, his mother was in a lather already, equal parts pissed at him for not coming home and worried for the same reason.
“Won’t you at least stay and eat? The fruit is good; I just picked it last night.”
He hesitated at the door, but a growl from his stomach sent him over to the table. It wouldn’t hurt anything to take a few minutes to refuel. “What the hell were you doing out there at that hour anyway?”
“Oh, I always prefer to go out before dawn to harvest the wild plants. There’s fewer people out then.” She sat down, putting a plate in front of him.
“Uh huh.” He looked suspiciously at the plate of grilled fruit and didn’t take a bite until she’d begun to eat. “You know there’s bad people who come out at night.” Namely, me.
“I don’t think we have an issue with that around here. This is a very quiet neighborhood.” She frowned curiously at him. “I haven’t seen you here before. Did you get a moving clearance?” These days, anybody who wanted to move out of their zone had to petition the city government.
He snorted. “No.”
“You don’t talk much, do you?” She said with a gentle smile. “I’m Emmalina Lopez, by the way. Who are you?”
“Kayne,” he answered simply. “What kind of place is this?” He gestured to the windows. “Don’t you care about your safety? Anybody can look in and see what you’ve got, who lives here.”
“We’ve never had a problem. There’s nobody who lives behind us, so no one really goes back there.” She smiled. “And isn’t it nice? It makes the place feel so much bigger.”
He shook his head and then immediately regretted the action as his head throbbed. He rubbed his temples and asked, “How the hell do you even have a place like this?” A lot of the stuff looked cheap, much like the things at home, but there was something different about this house and it wasn’t just the windows.
Like the open book she evidently was, Emmalina said, “My Dad worked at a science lab before the change. He knew something was coming, but nobody would listen to him. So he built this place before it happened.”
“Why didn’t he just leave?”
“He wanted to try to stop it. He was trying to get through to people right up until the last moment. He was still trying to fix things until he…” she trailed off, sadness coming over her face.
Until he died, Kayne finished for her. He actually felt a little sorry for her. She seemed to be all alone, and was obviously ill-prepared to take care of herself. “I’m sorry,” he said awkwardly. If she starts crying, I’m out of here.
She smiled slightly at him. “Thank you.” She sighed quietly. “It’s just me and Mom now. She’s at work.”
Inwardly, he shook his head at her. This girl’s trust was going to get her killed one day. She didn’t know him from Adam; he could do anything to her and there was no way she’d be able to stop him, and she’d just told him there was no one else around who could either.
Emmalina cleared her throat and rose to her feet to clear the table. “Would you like more? There’s plenty.”
“No. I need to go.” He got up and turned towards the door.
“Wait!” She rushed around in front of him, worrying her lower lip between her teeth. “I was hoping that maybe you could help me?”
He arched a brow at her. “What?”
“I – well, you see, I paint.” She gestured to the easel by the windows. “But I can’t get any new canvases. Daddy always got them for me. I was hoping that you could find some for me or tell me how I can get more?”
He stared at her. She didn’t want food or protection; she just wanted supplies for her silly hobby? Part of him wanted to shake her and tell her to grow up but another part of him…was charmed. It was as if she had every drop of innocence he’d never had.
“Alright,” he said slowly. “I’ll get you your canvases.”