Red found herself sitting in General Murray’s office a couple of hours after her briefing with Jade and Em. They had gone through great lengths to protect her. The look on the general’s face said he didn’t believe her, but he didn’t have evidence to back him up.
“Juliette.” She grimaced the general loved to use her government name because Red was not a proper name. She had spent way too much time with Em.
“I have been informed that your father filed a missing person’s report on you.”
“As you can see, I’m not missing. I have spent the last year at the compound as you ordered.”
“I did order that. Maybe I could change your assignment. That will allow you to spend more time with your family.”
“General, with all due respect, my family has never been a concern for you before. If you reassign me, the queen will not deal with whoever you send in my place. I know both the queen and king as well as other high-ranking males. I get along well with them. If they were going to take over our planet or enslave our people, I would know before anyone else.”
“You’ve done a great job, but the queen being human may have helped.”
She tried hard not to roll her eyes. Jade being human did help, but not like the general thought.
“Be my guess, assign someone new.”
He glared at her. It was all she could do to suppress her smile. He tried and it must have gone over like a lead balloon.
“There have been several inquiries regarding you. Your father seems to be affiliated with several churches that are shall we say noticed.”
Read high profile. She fought hard not to shiver. It made her wonder at times if those church leaders were clueless about what her father did in his church or were they with him.
“I’m aware of my father’s associates. Not that it matters, but I have no plans to ever show my face again in his presence. I won’t be calling him and Sunday dinners as well as holidays will not find me darkening his doorstep. He can continue to wonder if I’m alive.” She hated to do that to her mother, but she would never go back.
“I see. Do you have anything new to report?”
Did she? She’d been in her room for a year, but that didn’t stop Norquay from sitting outside her door talking to her. She never let him know she was there, but she had gotten into the habit of sitting on the other side of the door. At times, she fancied that she could feel his body heat through the door comforting her. A year seemed like a long time to go without wanting to talk or touch someone, but it wasn’t.
It wasn’t just about what happened that night. Her whole life had been highlighted in stark contrast to the life she wished she had been granted. There was so much she pushed aside saying she would deal with it when the time was right. The right time never came, but that didn’t stop her memories of abuse from descending on her. She still wasn’t through them. How did you deal with a lifetime in a year? But and it was such a big but… she was now processing. A step in the right direction, a step that let her walk out of a closed room earlier.
“Juliette.” General Murray’s loud voice cut through her thoughts.
“Sorry, I was going back through the year to see if there was anything I left out of my reports. I find myself concerned, more concerned than I was in the beginning, about the threat of the Hydal. They are coming for our world and not because the porcoyans are on it. There was a confrontation that I was on the sidelines for. I know they neutralized the threat, but I am aware that the threat was against earth and humanity.”
“In your opinion, if we either demanded they leave or held them hostage for their enemy, would our fate would be the same?”
“The Hydal have the ability to destroy a planet. When they come for us, they will not show mercy.”
“I will relay your opinion to those that matter. My aid will inform your parents that you are alive.”
“Thank you, general. Will my post remain the same?”
“I wonder if you were reassigned would you leave or resign. Your post will remain the same remember that your fealty belongs to the United States of America.”
When she was back in the car, she took a few minutes to drum her fingers against the steering wheel. Which held her loyalty the most America or the earth? She went to the small town not too far from the compound a drink was in order.
As much as she wanted something to numb her, she settled for going into The Lazy Bean for coffee. A grin pulled at her lips as she looked at the sign with a coffee cup in a death-defying drop with not a bit of coffee spilled.
“Someone call 911 stat,” a male voice called out. “I can’t take it carrot top has come back from the dead!” Pete called out drawing attention to her.
Pete and his wife Ginger owned The Lazy Bean. The first time she wandered in looking lonely and alone they sort of parented her and then unofficially adopted her.
“I’m sorry I’ve been gone so long,” She told Pete in a low voice when she got to the counter. “I was… sick.” What else could she call it?
“Your friend Em came in one day and told us that you were alive, but you couldn’t see anyone.” He said it like it was a simple fact of life, no big deal, but his eyes said differently.
“I let a lot of people down. I always prided myself on being strong.”
“I sometimes hate that word, strong.” Ginger had come to stand next to Pete. “We tell our men that there is no shame in crying while we tell women that to cry is to show weakness. We tell our women no matter what happens keep walking with your head up because to take time to adjust is a weakness that you will be criticized for. I don’t know what happened, but I do know #metoo is a strong movement that I hope only stops growing when there isn’t a woman, man, or child that has to ever live through it again.” She blinked her eyes before wiping them.
“What are you standing there for?” Ginger pushed at her husband’s arm. “Give our child a cup of coffee and a donut. Men!” She stood on tiptoe and kissed him before leaning over to take Red into her arms. “If ever you need us, we will be there for you.”
Pete handed her the coffee and donut before he gave her a big hug.
“I’m glad you’re here carrot top. I was about to storm that compound looking for you. Me and Ginger we don’t let the ones we love go unprotected.” He gave her a wink before going to the customer who was asking for another coffee.
Red plopped down in the chair before she fell. What should she examine first? The fact that they knew about the compound or that Ginger just gave her hope for the future. They were both scary thoughts. As far she knew, the compound wasn’t really a secret it was simply private property. It would make sense that someone from around here was hunting or hiking and saw it. They would come back and tell their friends about it. This was a small town they probably knew everyone.
Ginger was the sweetest. How could anyone hurt her? She let out a weary sigh. It was interesting that after having been abused she could still fall into those thought patterns. It scared her how much she had been conditioned to accept abuse as normal behavior.
Ginger came to sit with her on the wide couch she was reclining against.
“Do you want to talk?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. You guessed what happened?”
“I know the look I saw it in the mirror for years.”
“That’s the kind of stuff I expect to see on television. Imagine my surprise when I realized that there really was a look and others who have gone through it can spot it.”
“We’d spot a lot more sooner if the world wasn’t built on being busy.”
I agreed with her, but a year ago I would have shrugged it off.
“How did you meet Pete?”
“Pete met me. The first time I saw him I turned in the opposite direction and went as fast as my little feet could take me.”
Ginger really did have little feet. Red might be hating her now that she was thinking of all the nice shoes Ginger could wear.
“He didn’t give up. He was around but not in a creepy way. It was strange, he made me feel safe. Part of that was probably because he beat up a man who was following me. I guess when I say a non-creepy way. We might end up in the same movies. Turns out he loves Rom-com more than I do. I used to go to country night at this little bar not far from here. I never saw him there, but I heard country music coming from his car one day and his friends were teasing him about it. We have a fair every year, he asked me to ride the Ferris Wheel, I said yes. I mean what can happen on the Ferris Wheel?” She laughed. “I think when you meet someone who’s right for you, you will know. What happened, whatever it is, he’ll be able to deal with it.”
Red followed Ginger’s eyes back to Pete. He was looking at her with so much love that it made Red’s chest ache. Never had she allowed herself to believe that she could have someone that would love her. Now she would destroy the world herself if they stopped her from trying to find that love.
“Thanks, Ginger, I think I needed that.” She sipped her coffee and happily munched on her donut as she thought about the Hydal and her world.
She ignored the male with the cold hungry eyes as she promised herself, she would never be a victim again.