Timeline: March 26th, 2008
Jesse arrived at the Blood and Brew right on time — and hungry for lunch. She stepped inside the bar and blinked as her eyes adjusted to the lighting, then looked around to see if Ramiel was really going to be here or not.
Ramiel was there wearing well fitted and worn jeans; the kind that had been well broken in to show off his body perfectly. Not something done intentionally, but like any good jeans happened over time. He wore a simple black tshirt, well fitted and plain. His hair was pulled back in a low ponytail. It gathered just below the base of his neckline. It left his face framed gracefully with his hair.
Today even his drink was plain, iced tea. He had several appetizers on the bar, and smiled to see Jesse made it. “I didn’t know what you liked, so buffet it is.” He gestured for her to sit next to him.
Jesse had on the same attractive dress she wore the previous day, even though where the dress had touched the ground it was a bit dirty. She seemed otherwise clean enough. She was also still carrying that same duffel, which she set next to the stool at the bar.
The slender young woman looked hungry. “Wow! I’m famished.” She sat down directly, grabbed several of the breaded mushrooms and shoved them in her mouth, chewing hungrily.
She stopped and looked at him, embarrassed at her grab. “Sorry I… I missed breakfast today.” She smiled, but then continued to chow down.
Jesse was a pretty young woman, perhaps barely older than Lyla. The famished way she was eating struck Ramiel as slightly familiar, too — he remembered seeing Lyla eat like that after a hard day of fighting and lots of regenerating wounds. It was the look of someone who didn’t often get to eat their fill.
“What can I get you to drink, Jesse?” Rey asked, turning to look at the woman from where she stood on a step stool. She too wore black, a tight cropped t-shirt baring her well-toned abs decorated with a bellybutton ring. Her jeans were relatively new, and skimmed low on her abdomen, revealing a good portion of an intricate tattoo that carried on below the fabric.
She turned her back to Ramiel and Jesse to reach a pitcher and a couple of bottles on the top shelf. A good foot of her back was exposed, and they could see the scars on Rey’s back.
“Water would be great,” she said, eyeing the scars curiously for a moment. Then the smell of food distracted her. She reached for the ‘blooming onion’ and began to dine upon that, too.
Ramiel smiled as eh watched her.”You can get anything you want Jesse.” He said as he took a drink of his tea. He closed the giant black notebook he had been writing in, and put the cap back on the pen. “Rey can I have a turkey sandwich?”
“Sure thing, Ramiel,” Rey said. “Jesse, the lunch special today is a burger, grilled to order. And because I like you – and Ramiel’s picking up the check – I’ll throw in some of my Magic Mushrooms to top your burger, if you’re interested.” She grinned. “And don’t worry. The only thing magical about them is their taste.”
“I’ll take it!” She said with a grin. Then she took a drink of water, turned to Ramiel, and said, “So what is all this special treatment gonna cost me?”
Rey chuckled as she slapped a burger onto the grill and grabbed the things she needed to make Ramiel’s sandwich. “You like asking dangerous questions, don’t you.”
“How about a thank you and polite conversation.” He said as he tucked the journal in his bag. Jesse could see a rather old book nestled in there too. But just briefly as he closed it. “Do you need any help Rey?”
“Nope, I got it.” Her eyes widened briefly, and an “oh shit” expression covered her face. She gave Ramiel an abjectly apologetic look.
“Thank you,” Jesse said. As she usually had all the subtlety of a sledge hammer, she bored right on through with, “Nothing in life is free Mister Ramiel Cambion, but I’ll do ya conversation.” She smiled before munching some more breaded mushrooms.
He laughed. “Don’t I know it. Well you made me laugh so I ‘ll take that as payment. I think you are the first one to ever call me Mister.” He thought about it for a moment. “Wait, do I look that old?” He looked at Jesse. “How old do you think I am. I am guessing you are about twenty-two, is that right? Close maybe? How old do you think I am?” He was playing it up a bit to see if he could get her to smile.
She stopped eating long enough to give him a scrutinizing gaze. “Hm. I’d guess you’re about same age as me; 23.” She smiled again, obviously pleased with herself, and polished off the breaded ‘shrooms with a long drink of water. She set the empty glass on the table with a satisfied sigh. “Good stuff, Rey!”
“Whew.” He said with a smile.
“Relieved?” Jesse asked.
“Thanks, Jesse,” Rey said with a smile. “Grey, my boyfriend, has a really big appetite, so I get a lot of practice keeping it satisfied. And you!” She waggled her finger at him, not bothering to hide a grin. “Keep all those naughty comments to yourself.”
“It’s not the only thing that is big on that man.” His smile widened. “I owed you that one.” He said seemingly pleased with himself. Looking back to Jesse. “Yeah I guess I am. I don’t want to be a mister.”
Amused, Rey refilled Jesse’s glass. “You guys want salads with your orders, or are you going to go wild and have fries?” She asked Ramiel, then turned to flip Jesse’s burger on the grill and gave the mushroom mixture a stir to keep it from getting too brown.
“Salad sounds good to me,” Jesse said. “So tell me. What do people do for fun around here?”
“Depends on your definition of fun,” Rey said over her shoulder. “Most people who want to party of whatever usually go to Concord. If you’re into the outdoors, though, Eldon Well is a great place to be. I’ve taken up hiking and jogging. Grey and I go for runs in the forest sometimes.” She smiled as she remembered her favorite outings with him. “Being able to ski or snowshoe is a must if you don’t live right in town too. It’s not good to go too far from town by yourself, though. It can get kind of dangerous.”
“Dangerous?” Jesse echoed. “How do you mean?”
“A lot of the territory around Eldon Well is pretty wild. As in not under the hand of Man, so to speak,” Rey said. “Very few, if any, marked trails once you get more than four or five miles out of town. Beyond that, it’s really a no-man’s land.” She started to assemble Jesse’s burger. “Eldon Well is also, well, a magnet for all kinds of supernatural stuff. A fair bit of it tends to view humanity in less than kind terms. The wilderness outside of Eldon Well is an ideal place for them to lurk.”
Rey smiled as she finished putting together Ramiel’s and Jesse’s orders. “Ironclaw and Grey get rather annoyed with me if I go wandering off alone, and for good reason.”
“Well, I’m not the outdoors type anyway,” Jesse admitted. “But who is this Ironclaw again? I think I remember someone mentioning his name before.”
“Ann-Marie’s boyfriend,” Rey reminded her.
“There are a lot of traps set about by hunters.” Ramiel said. “Salad is good for me too.”
“It can be dangerous for anyone who doesn’t know what to look for or how to travel in the roughs. If you want I can take you around, or even to Concord some time and show you the clubs, you said Goth right?”
Jesse smiled charmingly at Ramiel. “Are you asking me out?”
He thought about it. “No I am not, but I am offering to be a friend. It is not something I do lightly, or very often. But I feel a sadness in you, somone who wants a place to belong and call home. A place where you can get away form things maybe. It is very much like someone I know, someone I care for.
“You seemed more scared of me last night than anything, or unsure. Usually I don’t get that from women. They are to busy thinking other things. But if you would prefer me to ask you out then just say the word.” He smiled.
Jesse looked at him and debated what to say to that. Finally, she said, “I don’t date guys anymore.” It was the most personal thing she’d revealed about herself yet. She hadn’t even given her last name to anyone in Eldon Well, but she had decided to reveal this much now.
Ramiel sensed something in the way she spoke. It was quick and edged with something hidden. “I understand.” His eyes were fixed on hers.”Then all I will ask is to be your friend. As far as thy go I am a good one to have. Sure I can be an ass and a tease. But when it comes down to it, I am usually there. Besides Rey likes you, and anyone she cares about, I will protect.”
He took a few bites of food and washed it down. “You work for Anne, are you staying with her, or at the Hub?”
Rey put the plates of food in front of Ramiel and Jesse. “We all have scars,” she said softly. “Some are just more visible than others.”
Jesse smiled at both Ramiel and Rey. She liked their openness and willingness to offer friendship. “I was staying at the Hub but I ran out of money, so I was just sleeping in my car.”
It had been cold at night and it was a good guess those weren’t easy nights.
“But,” she continued, “Ann-Marie lets me crash at her place now. It’s just… you know. She doesn’t keep any food in her house.” Jesse smiled and yawned, then started to eat the burger.
“Maybe you should remind her that some people like to eat at home, and not always eat at restaurants and bars.” Rey smiled, and topped off their drinks.
“What do you mean she doesn’t keep food?” Ramiel asked. He looked from Jesse to Rey.
Rey remained quiet to let Jesse answer the question.
“Well, not for me anyway. She offered crash space,” Jesse clarified. “Anyway, I can’t cook to save my life. I tried to make macaroni and cheese once and all I got was mildly cheese-flavored macaroni soup!”
Ramiel raised an eyebrow. “I see.” He took another drink. “Crash space is not a home Jesse. Nor is it a long term residence. Is your job going to provide enough for you? I have known Anne Marie for a while now, and she has never seemed to flaunt money. You are selling her stuff on the internet. Do you get compensated for that?”
Jesse nodded. “I make a commission. We haven’t worked out exactly what percentage of the sale that is, though.”
“Your work with her will not be enough to support you right away if at all. Anne has always kept artists hours and I can see her becoming annoyed with someone being in and out at all hours. What are you planning on doing in the meantime?”
“Well getting her work out there is my first priority, but after the work I did on it last week, there isn’t much for me to do but wait and see a while. Once I can get a couple paintings sold then it’s on to trying to get her work in a gallery where people can really see her work up close. That’s going to be a lot harder.
“In the mean time,” Jesse continued, “I realized recently that just making commission isn’t going to pay for much at all. They definitely won’t pay for my student loans coming due next month. So I need to get a day job, too, but… I haven’t exactly seen help wanted signs in many windows around here. I might need to go back and see if I can still get that job with Mr. James.”
Rey looked at Ramiel. “The shop?” she asked.
“I would not work for Daniel, but that is just me.” He glanced to Rey. “I could use help at the shop. It is finally ready to be opened. But all I can offer in way of compensation is free room and board.” He then turned to face Jesse.
“Would you be willing to try it? You would have your own room, no rent, no utilities, no grocery bills. You would have internet access, so you could even work on stuff for Anne. Really what I need is a person who can man the shop. Someone who can take care of themsleves. Someone with an open mind. You seem to be that type of person, and I am willing to give you a chance if you are willing to take it.
“You mentioned student loans, have you looked into deferring your payments?”
“And I’ll throw in cooking lessons, if you’re interested,” Rey added with a grin.
Jesse giggled. “Yeah, I’ll probably have to. I don’t want to because it just means I’ll have pay longer,” Jesse sighed. “So, this shop thing sounds interesting, especially the internet access. I have to do my work down at the hub otherwise. What kind of shop is it? Would I live like upstairs from the shop? Would I have a roommate?”
“The parting Veil is, well truthfully it speaks better for itself. An occult shop, a magic shop, a souvenir place, home remedies, what have you. There are more things in heaven and earth,” he said, ” and I play with them all.” He could not help his grin. “Okay so enough cheese right.”
“As far as roomates. Well I do not live alone, but you would definitely have your own room, complete with a locking door. I own the old resort up on the hill. With help it has been restored to house myself and my friends. So you see you would get to know a lot more people, and they are good people, good friends. Or if you would rather play hermit for a while they will respect your wishes, just as I will.”
“Wow,” Jesse said. “That does sound really nice, and I really appreciate the offer and all,” she told him honestly. “But it sounds like I would be working for Ann-Marie and you and getting room and board. Right now I’m working for Ann-Marie and getting a place to stay, too. I don’t think it would be fair of me not to give her a chance to up her offer a little.”
She put down her burger and looked upset. “Geez I sound mercenary.” She took her napkin in her hands, seemingly unaware, and repeated, nervously wrung it until it began to tear. “I don’t mean to be wishy-washy or disrespectful, but Ann-Marie has been up-front with me and honest. I want to treat her the same.”
Jesse mentally backed up a bit. “And I really do need more than a place to lay down and food. There’s laundry, there’s doctor bills, clothes, travel expense, lots of stuff. I can’t represent either your business or Ann-Marie looking like a drifter. I’m not too proud to accept charity, but I need to earn a living, too.”
“I don’t think Ramiel was saying he’ll only ever pay you with room and board,” Rey said reassuringly. “I’m certain once the shop starts earning money, you’ll get a proper paycheck.” She looked Jesse over. “There’s a pretty good second hand store here in town. I can loan you some money and you can pay me back whenever, or we could work out some kind of trade. Whichever you feel better doing. In the meantime, I can ask my boss and see if she could use an extra hand here at the bar. If you want me to.”
“Thanks,” Jesse said. “I’ll think about that.” Looking at Rey, she noted that they were about the same height.
“In the meantime,” Rey added, “we’re about the same size. I’ve got some stuff that doesn’t fit me anymore that you can have right away. Or rather, I can get it to you tomorrow. I work until close tonight.”
“Well I am sure if she wants some shifts here we could work it in. I don’t expect to make much with the business, but I can see what can be done once it get’s going. Really what I am offering is the needed support until your commissions start coming in.
“My friend John is a doctor, I can work something out with him for that and I know a lot of people here in town. If working at the Blood and Brew is not what you would like, then I am sure I can help you out.
“If you choose to help out at the shop you would be working with myself and Rey. Really it will be very low maintenance and little effort. Laundry comes with the room and board. But it is your choice. I understand how you feel about Anne MArie.
“Truthfully this is as up front as I can be. I want to make sure you know what you are getting into with Anne, and that it is totally your choice. She can be demanding and particular. I am not her favorite person in the world, and I don’t care. What I do care about is seeing that you are taken care of and given the chance to heal. I am not asking, nor will I. But when I say I understand you can bank on it.
“Why do I care, well I have a soft spot for your situation. You are a lot like Rey when I first met her. She is dear to me and I will do anything for her. She is worried about you and wants to help, therefore so do I.
“I would of course be benefitting from the arrangement as I can not be in the shop at all times. I lead a rather unique life myself. Anne Marie has offered you crash space, from what you have said. I am offering you a home, and safety.
But the choice is yours, no one else’s.” Ramiel sighed and pushed his plate away.
Rey found herself slightly misty-eyed and her cheeks slightly warm. “You know, I’m standing right here.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Finish your lunch? I’m the one who doesn’t eat right when stressed out and worried, remember?” Rey pushed the plate back towards Ramiel.
“Jesse, let me tell you about how my brother by choice and I met. How he helped me, and what Eldon Well has done for me.” Rey leaned against the bar. “My parents used magic to control me, enslave me, for over a decade. It came to an end the night they were murdered, and I ended up with the scars on my back.
“With Hamilton’s help, I went on the run. I tracked Cambion down because he was the only person I could remember who ever said a kind word and didn’t ask for anything. He took me in, helped me. Protected me and showed me that I really wasn’t as weak and helpless as I thought I was, though it took me thinking he’d died and thinking I was alone in the world again for a year to figure it out.
“For all his teasing ways,” she said with affection, “he’s a good man. His offer is good. And it is up to you.” Rey paused. “I’m sorry if this seems pushy, but he’s right. I see a lot of myself in you. I want to reach out, hug you, and tell you that in time, everything will work itself out like it did for me.”
Jesse looked from one to the other. “I don’t know what to say. Thank you. You’re really worried about me aren’t you?” Her eyes were on Ramiel. How did he learn my secret? she wondered. She was almost certain now that he knew. Why else would he react this way? She blinked rapidly, trying to hide tears.
“I-It’s okay,” she managed. “I left all of… all of that in New York.”
Rey walked around the end of the bar and held her arms out to Jesse, offering her the comfort of a friend – if she wanted it.
Jesse took it, grabbing Rey and burying her face in Rey’s shoulder.
Ramiel watched her, acknowledgement in his eyes. He was certain now what happened in New York. Not the entire story, but at least one dark moment of it. He stood and quickly picked his bag up.
“Rey, take care of her. I am going back to the shop if you decide you would like that tour. Otherwise I think my being here might be a it uncomfortable for you.” He smiled, genuine compassion was in his eyes. “I will give you some space. Again nice talking to you Jesse. Hope to see you later.”
Jesse nodded because she couldn’t speak. She wasn’t visibly crying, but she didn’t trust her voice.
Before leaving Ramiel layed a two hundred dollars on teh counter. He mouthed the words “For her” to Rey to Let her know that the money was for Jesse, even if she chose not to take him up on his offer. He couldn’t help himself, in the darkest corner of his mind he was already trying to figure out how to find the man who did it, and make them disappear.
Rey mouthed “see you later” to Ramiel and watched him leave.
Ramiel left the bar and headed home.
“He’s gone. You don’t need to hold it in anymore if you don’t want to.” Rey’s voice was soft, filled with understanding and compassion as she wrapped her arms around Jesse. “It’s just you and me. I’m here to listen if you want to talk, hold you if you want to cry, whatever you need.” Rey turned her head and gently kissed the side of Jesse’s head.
She really tried. Rey could feel Jesse’s hands clench at the material of her shirt and unclench spasmodically. Her pain was deep, too deep. Jesse couldn’t let it go.
“What do you need, Jesse? What can I do to help you?”
She just shook her head. She didn’t know.
“That’s okay.” Rey soothed Jesse’s hair with one hand, and reached out to pick up the money with the other. “Eventually we’ll figure something out. Now, do you like pie? I’ve got peach, cherry, and apple crumble, all calling out your name. Can’t you hear it?” she asked with a grin. “Eat me, Jesse!” Rey said in a silly little voice. “Come on, pick me! No, pick me!”
Jesse smiled. “No, that’s okay. I’m really full. The lunch was really good, Rey. Thank you.”
She paused in thought for a moment. “Rey? I really get the feeling you and Cambion don’t think its safe for me to stay with Ann-Marie. How come? Is it her boyfriend? Or did Ann-Marie do something? Or is it she’s… you know. Because she’s different?”
“Because of what she is, mainly,” Rey admitted. “I don’t know her, and I don’t trust her. I trust Ironclaw, though. A lot. Probably more than I do Cambion and I trust Cambion with my life. If someone hurt me, it’d be a race between those two and Grey to see who got to the bad guy first.” A little smile curved her lips. “And knowing Cambion as I do, I think you’d better be prepared for Cambion to start treating you like a little sister, just like he does me.
“Anyway, to be honest, I don’t think Ironclaw could care less if you hung around with Ann-Marie. Our concerns fall squarely on Ann-Marie. For me, it’s more than just the fact she’s a predator, and we’re her prey. I have no idea if she can even live off just animals. It’s just that people like you and me, we’re…. fragile. Living in close proximity to someone like her, well, we could end up dead. They’re so strong, and can be so violent. Lose their temper, or succumb to bloodlust. You and I can’t stand up to that kind of thing.
“But it’s more than just that. Most people like Ann-Marie have enemies. They go in armed for bear. Do you really think, if they discover you living with her, that they won’t try and kill you too?
“I’m really worried about your safety. I just want you to make sure you take steps to protect yourself, that’s all.”
“I didn’t think about that,” Jesse said. “About what would happen if people got crazy like vampire hunters or whatever. I hadn’t thought what might happen if I got in the way. I’ll talk to Ann-Marie and see what she has to say about this kind of thing. Maybe she’ll be glad someone offered me a place to stay. I wouldn’t be underfoot then,” Jesse smiled. “And she wouldn’t have to worry about my safety.”
Rey returned Jesse’s smile, and hoped that Ann-Marie really did care about Jesse as a person, and not as merely a tool. “Cambion’s place would be a good place to live until you get on your feet and can afford a place of your own. I lived there for a while, until I got this job and was able to buy my cabin. A whole bunch of people live there, all of them friends of mine. Most of them keep to themselves though, so you’ll have no problem with privacy if you want it.
“And before I forget, this is for you.” Rey handed Jesse the money. “A little something to get you started.”
Jesse made big eyes at the cash. “Are you sure about this Rey? There’s a couple hundred there, a lot of money.”
“Yes, I’m sure,” Rey said. “It’s part of the helping hand we offered you.”