Saturday September 6th 2014

Sitting on the school steps, Cesare watched the kids leave for the day. His life was sliced into islands of watching others, seeing normal from the maimed eyes of a freak. Watchers and the doers, with only money separating them.

With a thin black hoodie pulled over his head, Cesare faded into the stones of the steps and the shadow of the banister. First Years rushed past, high pitched voices fighting for space in the morning quiet. Excitement snapped in the air as the kids laughed, joked and played with their friends. It was a day of wonders. Second and Third Years watched the puppies with thinly veiled condescension.

Miss Raven pushed the door to the school open, taking in the steps and him with a single look. Gone was the red eyeshadow and gothic creature of darkness. Faded jeans hugged her ample ass and thick thighs, knees worn thin by countless days of working in the dirt. A baggy green shirt gave her a shapeless body, hiding the curves of hips and breasts. The beautiful black hair that had spilled in sable waves down her back was tied back and out of the way. She looked more the middle-aged suburban mom rather than a teacher of nightmares.

”You ready? ” Her eyes noted his black eye, bruises and cut cheek. He wasn surprised he was the only one to show, but he wondered why the Thagirion hated her.

”Yes, Miss Raven, ” Cesare said.

Walking past him, she talked as he scrambled to fall into step. ”Its a lot of work. Most people think gardening and keeping the grounds is easy. Its not. The bags of soil are fifty pounds and they need to be carried around the property. Weeds stop for no one. After a few hours on your knees, youll find your back twisted into a pretzel. If you make it the day, youll quit tomorrow. ” Her voice was sure, without a shadow of doubt.

Tucked away in a forgotten corner of the campus, sheltering trees laid their shade across a fairytale cottage. Lavish flower beds of purple and violet washed up against the side of the building, delicate petals caressing polished wood. Radiating life, the walls transcended the dead wood of a mortals home. A roof of cedar shingles blended with the elders that watched over the cottage. Stones formed of slate led through a field of wildflowers, each child of the earth too perfectly placed to be planted by winds fickle fingers.

”Be careful carrying the bags of dirt. I don want my flowers trampled. No use in having you if you cause more damage than you fix. ” Inside two riding lawnmowers huddled next to each other along the far wall, cleaned and ready for use. Tools stood racked and ready without a speck of rust or dirt on them. A pot-bellied stove squatted in the middle of the room, small and round, it was a gnome of fire and steel waiting for a need.

”Five bags go to the Willow Tree … ” She gave a nod to the map on the wall as she named places. The exhibits were labeled along with dates of when they were planted. Another section listed off the plants on display, soil used, irrigation and any treatments used on them. Buildings were done in black without detail, their dark glory nothing next to the living creatures under her hand. ”Ill meet you at the Willow Tree, and we can spread the dirt. ” She left him eyeing the heavy bags in dread.

It was the best wheel barrow money could buy, a big metal son of a bitch that weighed next to nothing. The first bag of soil drew a grunt at its dead weight. Once it was in the wheelbarrow, he gave serious thought to quitting. When you had choices, you could weigh them and decide which was best. He didn have another choice. This was it.

She was trimming the willow trees branches as he wheeled up with the dirt. Swaying with greedy desire for her touch, thick wood bent down for the grace of her fingers. Like fruit birthed by deaths womb, black ravens dotted the tree. Sleek shapes of darkness against the sun, they glared down on Cesare with glittering doll eyes.

”I want them … ” Her hard eyes watched him carefully as she gave him instructions. Each step around her flowers was judged against an arcane measure unknown to him.

Miss Raven had a certain way she wanted everything. Watching him work, she corrected every missed clump of dirt or a rake that went too close to her flowers with the exacting sureness of a master of her craft. Her voice was like hands guiding his every move, no touch went unnoticed, no step overlooked.

”Lunch time. ” His shoulders slumped as relief almost sent him to the ground. Hed tossed his hoodie aside when the heat picked up, leaving his long-sleeved shirt clinging to his starved body.

Cesare set the cursed rake against the tree. ”You love them, don you? ”

”What do you mean? ” Miss Raven asked.

”The plants and trees. You watch me like they
e your virgin daughter and Im a felon with one-to-many tattoos. No one acts that way for a job, ” Cesare said.

Shrugging dismissively, she looked away. ”Its nothing. ”

The outcasts left at school looked up when Cesare held the cafeteria door open for Miss Raven. The kids abandoned their spots in line and headed to their tables, better to be hungry than be seen next to her. She got her tray and a juice pack under the eyes of the staring kids, their disgust a sea she was drowned in. When she left the room, the kids formed back up for their food, their point made beyond anyones doubt.

Taking a chance, Cesare loaded up two trays with finger foods and headed toward the stairs hed sat on this morning. He smiled when he saw Miss Raven sitting on the steps, eating by herself. The ravens danced attendance around her, looking for scraps, squabbling and flapping in a war to claim the prime real estate of her shoulders.

The black devils cawed and screamed, wings buffeting him as he sat down on the steps next to her. He was far enough away not to push her boundaries while still close enough to be with her. Black, soulless eyes measured him distrustfully until he threw the first chicken nugget. Then he had his own collection of dancing attendants. But they never looked at him with any of the love they showed Elizabeth. They tolerated him as an interloper with food, unworthy of their love or being one of them.

”Why? ” Her simple question stopped him in mid-throw.

”I know what its like to be alone, surrounded by people. Besides, you
e a beautiful woman. Who wouldn want to spend time with you? ” Cesare met her skeptical look with a grin.

”Im old enough to be your mom, ” she said wryly.

”Thats actually part of the draw, ” Cesare said with an exaggerated waggle of his eyebrows. Her laugh left a small smile that stripped the edge of loneliness from her eyes.

Sitting quietly in companionable silence, they finished feeding the ravens. They didn have anything in common, didn know each other or share a touchstone between them, but it didn matter. For a few moments they could enjoy a time when the lie came easy. When telling themselves they were worth knowing didn flash a cruel smile. It shattered when she pushed to her feet with a reluctant sigh. Standing up, body stiff, cold and clammy with drying sweat, Cesare limped after her.

”Time to weed, ” Miss Raven announced.

”Wonderful, ” Cesare said flatly.

Handing him a spade, she pointed out the common weeds. ”You can just pull the weed, that leaves the roots still in the ground. You have to dig down carefully and get the roots. Here, Ill show you. ” Getting down on her hands and knees, she dug around the weed to get to the root. Cesare wanted to see how she did it, but his eyes were stuck on her ass. Wide and spread, it was pushed high into the air, straining her jeans. Watching her crawl across the ground with her ass moving from side to side captured Cesares thoughts … she looked back at him with knowing eyes as he flushed red.

”You need to see what Im doing. Why don you come up here and Ill show you again? ”

Slowly they made their way through the flowers with Cesare calling out to Elizabeth when he came across a plant he didn know. His hand was the first to cramp. Switching hands helped until he had to switch on each weed to relieve the twisted fingers. Muscles bound into hard knots down his back, each a link in a chain of pain, slowly stalking cruelly down his spine with each minute.

”Thats it for today. ” His body shuddered with a tormented sigh at her words. Crawling back to the grass, he collapsed with a grunt.

Her face and body came into view, looming over him. ”I told you. Give me your spade, Ill clean up the tools and make sure they
e put away. Don worry, Ill understand when you don show tomorrow. ” She dropped an envelope on his chest. Cesare watched as yet another woman walked away, and what a walk it was. Moving from side to side, the exaggerated sway of her big ass enthralled him until she disappeared with the wheelbarrow. The job sucked, but it had a hell of a fringe benefit.

Lying there, the thought that the ground was awfully soft crossed his mind. An hour later, he mustered the courage to get up and limp back to the dorm. His pants and shirt were caked with dirt from crawling around in it, the pungent odor of old sweat corrupting the air around him.

Students shied away from him with pitying looks. If he were less tired, it might piss him off, but the only thing he cared about was that it made it easy to move through the halls. Vagabonds Exile was on everyones lips, wonders spilled into the air with each story, of lost things found and friendships made. Laughter filled the halls with its biting cruelty of joys hed never have. It wasn that he didn want to go, just that the job was more important. Going to town would be fun, but the job was life and death for him.

He stripped down with grunts and groans. The bruises from the beating had grown into the pretty shades of purple and green, turning his body into a technicolor painting of pain. Sore muscles tightened with spiteful malice as he slumped into the hot bath. Today had been hard. Knowing his life, tomorrow would be worse.

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