Pulling up at the Mountainview Hotel, fire trucks lined the front of the Hotel. Police and flashing lights. It was a total fiasco. I could see Everly’s truck and my father parked beside it and getting Valarian out of the car. While Macey stood by the car, my father was quick to get Valarian and waved to Zoe in question, who rushed over with Casey. She thanks him. Yet I couldn’t see Everly anywhere. The entire building was on fire, flames spewing out the windows that burst from the extreme heat that could be felt from where I parked behind my father on the main road. People were running everywhere, and police and ambulances were also on the scene.
I glance around, waving to Zoe, and jog over to her and Marcus. Marcus had a tablet in his hand and people lined the path, standing at the evacuation point as he finished checking names off.
“Everyone is accounted for, the fire started in the kitchen, thankfully the alarms tripped still from the backup batteries so no loss of life,” Marcus tells me and I noticed the tablet was a list of who was in the hotel and where everyone checked off and accounted for but one. Ava was handing out bottled water and checking those Marcus marked off.
“Where is Everly?” I ask. Seeing my father drive off with Casey and Valarian, he honks the horn and I nod to him. Zoe looks around before pointing between two firetrucks.
“The other buildings?” I ask Macey as she comes over.
“Fine, it was contained in the main building. The apartments out the back and events rooms and storage sheds are fine, only the main hotel,” she answers, and at least that was a relief. I nod glancing at Everly who stood in her pink and white cloud pajamas with her back to us. Moving across the large lawn, I head over to her.
When I spoke to her she was hyst*rical, but now I felt nothing but blistering fiery anger, so hot it would give the inferno in front of us a run for its money. Yet the underlying feeling below it was pure devastation. This place was as much her baby as Valarian was. This was hers. Coming up behind her, she stared at the flames eating away her village, a village she built.
I gripped her shoulders, coming up behind her, but she just stared ahead. I didn’t know what to say. There was no comfort I could offer to make this right.
“I’ll rebuild, this is why we have insurance, this is why I have a failsafe, the main thing is no one is hurt, this place can be restored, lives can’t be replaced,” she says as I rest my chin on her shoulder and wrap my arms around her.
“I’m sorry, Love,” I tell her and she nods once in acknowledgment of my words but says nothing else. Media and reporters started lining the streets behind us, murmurs could be heard, police taking statements. I wandered off, helping where I could and so did Everly, organizing buses to take everyone to my hotel that was staying here. Yet when the flames were gone, the place was nothing but a husk of what once was. Everly watched the last fire truck leave, but the media lingered, taking any last-minute scraps they could for their headlines. Bloody vultures.
“Come on,” I tell her, trying to lead her away, but she shakes her head and walks toward the building. I needed to get Valarian to school, so we would have to come back. Yet I had a feeling Everly wasn’t leaving anytime soon.
“They warned me,” Everly said, staring up at what’s left. The structure was sound, but the place was gutted. Yet despite it all, the building still stood, the brickwork tainted black, the render crumbling and the place hollow.
“This is because of the petition, because I fought for the rogues, for this city and this is how they repay me,” she growls.
“They won’t stop, will they?” she asks, glancing at me. I hang my head, knowing this would be the beginning.
“What’s next Valen? What would your next move be, if you were Nixon?” she asks.
“You think it was Nixon?”
“Who else,” she says.
“Everly? I…”‘ I glance around at the media still lingering, watching curiously when she walks off toward the wreck.
The place was destroyed as I stared at my heart and soul burned to charcoal. I stared at the front door of the office. I could picture it like it was yesterday. The night before it poured, and I had all but given up, until I met the woman that sat on a chair with a smoke hanging between her lips by that very door. On a plastic faded chair, the way her eyes looked me up and down with no judgment.
Valen comes over to me while I stare at the spot she sat that day, wet from walking, hopeless, and homeless. He rubs my arms from behind me.
“We should go,” Valen whispers. I point to the spot.
“That is where I met your mother,” I tell him. “I thought she was one of the people staying here. She had smoke hanging out of her mouth.” I chuckle.
“She offered me a place to stay, a hot meal, and then a job. But she gave me so much more than that,” I tell him.
“This place,” Valen says. I shake my head.
“Hope. She gave me hope. Then she gave me a family, and then a home,” I tell him looking up at what’s left.
I point to the room directly above us. “That is where I stayed. The next morning I came out to her calling out to me, her truck loaded with baby stuff for Valarian. There was so much stuff,” I sniffled.
“It takes a village to raise a child. We are going to build our own village. Your mother told me that, and we did.” I tell him before stepping through the front door of the office, the glass door all shattered and glass crunched under my feet, the walls black and some of the floors still smoldered. I walked out the back to my office, which used to be her apartment.
“Everly! It’s not safe,” Valen calls out to me while rushing in after me. Yet I didn’t care, I had to see if it survived. The safe was fireproof, and it held something more precious then gold. It had my letter.
Everything was covered in soot, the room crumbling around me as I fished my keys from my pocket and kneeled next to the safe. “Everly, we shouldn’t be in here! They haven’t cleared the entire place yet,” Valen says but through my tears, I place the key in and twist before pulling it out and using another key to twist the next lock and the next. The keypad for the digital screen melted, but the manual locks were fine. My heart beat faster when I heard the final lock click.
I closed my eyes, gripping the handle sucking in a shuddering breath, before pulling the door open. Opening it, I found the safe intact, the heat burned the outside good, and it was warm inside. A few things on top were curled and ruined but as I dug to the bottom I burst into tears when I saw my envelopes. They were brown from the smoke but intact. I clutched them to my chest and let out a breath.
“Thank you,” I whispered to no one in particular. If there was a sign, that she was still with us. This was it. Because God only knows how many times I had pulled that damn letter from its envelope when I thought I would break. Valen rubs my back, letting me fall apart, yet I couldn’t move as I stared at my safe. I have no idea how long I sat there, but Valen had to go grab Valarian’s clothes from the apartment, yet I couldn’t bring myself to move.
This place was a time capsule, as I found every moment of this place flashing through my mind. Her voice was so clear, her memory still alive even though it was now burned rubble. I was leaning against the brown brickwork with my envelope, the one most precious to me. There were so many letters, letters of advice, letters of love. She wrote a new letter every day, each one a detailed report of what we accomplished that day. A reminder of how far we have come.
And every day she dropped it in the post box out the front and sent it to her lawyer to hold on to. But one letter meant the most to me and it was the one I clutched in my hand like it was my lifeline, a reminder in case I forgot. One thing about Valarie was that she was unforgettable. I close my eyes, leaning my head back against the wall when her voice rings in my ears.
“You don’t need them. They aren’t wasting tears on you, so don’t waste your tears on them. They don’t deserve them,”‘ Valarie had once told me. Her voice was on replay and I savored the sound of the memories she imprinted on me and it only made me angry that someone would try to take that memory from me, from the rogues. They burned my village and I will burn this city to the ground. I burn, they will burn with me.
“Hold on to that anger because sometimes it is the only thing that will keep you going,” Valarie had also told me. And I let it fester, needing something to keep going when I heard the crunch of somebody walking into the place. I wipe my tears but sigh when I realize it is only Valen. He crouches in front of me, tipping my chin up to meet his gaze.
“Where’s my girl gone?” he whispers, his eyes searching my face.
“Sitting in the wreck of her village,” I tell him.
“This is not my girl. My girl is a Luna, and chief to her village,”
“My village is gone,” I tell him.
“What happened to you will rebuild?” I sighed I wanted to punch something, scream and fight, yet at the same time I wanted to curl into a ball and die with this place. But he was right. I had a city to burn and I couldn’t do that here, feeling sorry for myself. I nod and he stands and I open the letter, reading the letter. The one thing that kept me going time and time again. Valen stands back but remains quiet as I skimmed the page. Valarie’s words were unmarred and untainted as I stared at them.
“What’s that?” Valen asks.
“A reminder,” I tell him. Leaning forward, I grab the others from where they sat and hand them to him. He looks at the hundreds of envelopes.
“These are all from my mother?” he asks, and I nod.
He holds his hand out for the one piece of paper written in her immaculate handwriting, the one letter that means the most to me. It was the shortest of all the letters she wrote. The others were a detailed day-by-day account of what we had achieved. What we built. But this one was something else.
Just in case no one has told you today!
YOU WILL NEVER DO IT!
I’m watching, always watching my girl. And I will be watching when you prove them all wrong!
With that, I tucked the letter back in its envelope and handed it to Valen to hold with the others before walking out of the office. “Everly? What are you doing?” Valen calls as he follows me through the charred remains.
“Building a village,” I tell him. Valen laughs and I look at him over my shoulder.
“What?” I ask and he shrugs and shakes his head, un-tucking the envelope I gave him, he opens it.
“Build your Village, Love,” he says.
“I am. I built this place from nothing. I will do it again,” I tell him, shoving through the doors and outside.
I stop in tracks as I step into the carpark. Valen walks up behind me and he wraps his arms around my chest pulling me back against him. The letter in his hand opened, yet my gaze was on the hundreds of rogues and pack members that covered every inch of the lawn. Shovels, and supplies in hand before a convoy of trucks and machinery pulled into the hotel. I suck in a breath and swallow. Every Rogue must be here, and all of Valen’s pack. I glance at him over my shoulder.
“Only this time, it isn’t just four rogue-whores and three babies. You built a village and these are your people. You never have to do anything alone again,” Valen whispers, and tears fill my eyes as I stare back at everyone who showed up. Macey and Zoe both stood at the front with shovels in hand. My lip quivers that they would all show up for this place.
Valen kisses my cheek and lets me go. My knees shook as I walked toward my village before they gave way from under me, they all suddenly dropped to their knees and bowed their heads. The sight of them became too much, and I broke. Tears fell as I placed my head in my hands and cried. Moments later I felt small hands touch my neck and I looked up to see Valarian standing beside me.
“Don’t cry Mumma,” he whispers, wiping my tears. He was wearing a hi-vis shirt, jeans and little steel cap boots.
“Hey, Everly!” Valen calls and I turn to look at him over my shoulder. Valarian stares at his father when Valen yells out to me.
“You’ll never do it!” he yells out, and I chuckle. I open my mouth to answer him when a chorus rings out through the crowd in unison.
“Watch her!” the crowd screamed back at him.