By: Aria Cage

“Nathan, you can never know everything about that girl. I can see some ache and secrets in her eyes that she will take to the grave, and I prefer you never know them. I hope in time she heals, but this, her mother, this isn’t something you can fix.”

I thought I could. I mean, not fix death, but Charlie. I want to help her. I want her to stay and not give up on me or herself. Yeah, I selfishly need her. Not just for me physically, but my heart needs her, my soul needs her. I don’t know a world without her, and I don’t want to. I want her forever―me and her to the very end.

I have never told Nona any of our secrets. I never told her about Charlie or her dad, but this time it’s bigger than I can carry. We can’t really go and do what I really want to, so this is the next best thing.

“Nona, she needs to know she has something to look forward to. Can you call Mrs. Fisher and ask her if we can go out there today?”

I don’t know what’s tinkering around in her mind right now, if she can see my objective for this little adventure, but she smiles and nods. Then the mumbling to herself begins as she strips herself of her apron and grabs the phone from the wall.

I run back out to the front porch; Davey and Charlie are sitting on the front steps in silence, his arm wrapped around her shoulder. I don’t think I’ve seen such a beautiful sight. It sounds pussy, but it’s true. She loves Davey for who he is, nothing else, and that’s all I can ask. I see red… so much red when people say shit about him. Sure he’s different, but not where it matters.

“Nona is getting the okay, but I’m betting it’s a sure thing, so saddle up.”

They both turn and stand, Davey grinning from ear to ear and Charlie sceptical.

“Where are you taking us?” she asks.

“Yeah, where, Nathan?” Davey chimes in. The big guy is busting.

“It’s a secret. Just load up in the car will ya? Jesus.” I chuckle as Davey bolts down the stairs and heads for Nona’s Caddy. But true to form, Charlie is still standing there, pursing her lips and eyeballing me. “I’m not gonna tell, so suck it up, princess, and get in the damn car.”

She still stands there, challenging me. Okay then, challenge accepted. I leap toward her and laugh so hard when she screams and bounds from the porch, bolting for the car. Nonetheless, I’m faster; I always have been. When she looks over her shoulder, it’s already too late, and I have her off the ground. She’s screaming to the heavens, but it’s the good kind, the happy kind, and that I would gladly hear every minute of the day. Charlie’s thrashing her legs around like crazy. Although the girl is small, it makes it damn hard to hold her, that and all her hair is in my face. I can’t see a damn thing.

“All right you two, get in the car if you want to go to―”

“No!” I shout at Nona, who freezes as I put a now-silent Charlie to the ground. “Don’t tell them. I want it to be a secret.”

“They’re going to know as soon as we’re on the road,” Nona says, exasperatedly. She opens the driver’s side door and hands Davey her purse. “Well, get in then. We don’t have all day; I have lots of preparation ahead of me for tomorrow’s market. As for you, Nathan, next time, it would be respectful to give people a little more notice than five minutes.”

“Sorry, Nona,” I say sheepishly, but I know she really doesn’t mind, and I would do it again for Charlie in a heartbeat.

“Nate, I feel much better; we can just hang here. I don’t want to put Nona out.”

I take her shoulders in my hands and shake her just a tiny bit. “Charlie, we both need this.”

She chews her inner lip and nods. I know she would never deny me. It was an asshole move, I guess, but I’d do anything to bring her out of this funk. I just need her to stay above the surface until we are old enough to run away and survive, or at the very least, fight against her dad.

We arrive at Mrs, Fisher’s farm, and from the moment we hit the old dirt road there is a boom of voices in the confines of the car. Davey is jumping in his seat and talking about the Beavers and their kittens; Nona is doing the “I told you so,” and I’m chuckling as Charlie takes my hand in hers and squeezes it tight. She knows me, and I think she knows what this visit to the small sanctuary is about.

Davey heads straight for the nursery where Mrs Fisher stands with a kitten in her arms. Nona calls for him to slow down, while I take Charlie to the other side of the fences. That’s where Mrs Fisher keeps the injured wildlife that will one day be able to return to the wild. This is my favorite spot of all. It’s been almost a year since I’ve been here, and it was only for a few minutes while Nona and Mrs. Fisher gossiped and swapped jams. I took her round to the aviary, recalling when Mrs Fisher found me here that day. She told me about her work with the eagle and other birds, her work and hopes for them.

Here is where we would find the spirit of withstanding against the odds.

Once again the cage held an injured animal in need of help. Charlie let my hand go as she approached the mesh that keeps the large, majestic bird in. The bald eagle has a large bandage around its wing. It was segregated from the main aviary; it’s much smaller so it wouldn’t attempt to fly, I suspect.

“It looks so sad.” Charlie sighs against the cage and I close the distance, stroking her back as I watch her study the broken bird, which eyes us warily.

“Yeah, but it won’t be forever. That’s the whole point.”

She looks at me and then back at the bird again, trying to see what I see. She sees why I brought her to the rescue sanctuary for injured animals, but she doesn’t quite get the moral I’m trying to teach her.

“You see the sadness, the pain, and that someone like Mrs Fisher has rescued them and takes care of them, but that isn’t what I want you to see or get from this. What I want you to see is that there is room to heal, and soar, and live your life beyond the wounds you carry around inside of you. I want you to recover and be strong. I want you to be the ruler of the kingdom that is your life and roar like a tiger I know is in you. I want you to never, ever back down to anyone again.”

“Roar like a tiger?”

“I wanted to take you to the zoo, but your common sense burst that bubble.”

“I want to roar, Nate,” she whispers in a breath.

“You will!” If it’s the last thing in this life I will see happen, it is that.