Oak Creek Apartment Building
New Hebron, California
Sapphira grimaced and shivered as a gust of cold air greeted him. He climbed out of the agent’s Yamato Ante and glanced back at the vehicle with a shake of his head. Everything about the car exuded femininity, from the too-quiet whirr of the engine to the dark shade of violet. It was not a man’s car, at least not in Sapphira’s mind and for someone who’d had his masculinity assaulted it was like he’d climbed out of the personification of his transformed body.
“Damn hybrids,” he grumbled under his breath as he watched Amelia walk around the car toward him.
The agent shivered and tucked both hands into her coat pocket. “Damn it’s cold.”
Sapphira nodded, but didn’t reply, electing instead to crane his neck around to look up at his old apartment building. It had only been a few days since he’d last stepped inside, but it seemed like much longer. He glanced at the agent as she approached and without missing a beat stepped in sync beside her.
He felt his eyes widen as he approached, realizing the extent to which his eyesight had failed him in his twilight years as got a better look at the building. The place was far more run down than he’d ever remembered. He gritted his teeth and moved past the dirt stained windows and discolored walls. In its heyday the apartment complex had been for middle-income families, but the area had fallen on hard times, like most of the city and as a result had become host to a much lower income bracket. Like it or not that also meant a higher crime rate.
Sapphira had only come to live there within the last few years and not for, what one would expect to be, the most obvious reasons. Money was not an issue and hadn’t been for a long time.
The agent moved forward, but Sapphira stopped, remembering the time on the Ante’s dash and moved in the exact opposite direction with quick, furtive steps. If he hurried maybe he could…
He never finished the thought, but rather took off running, feeling his heart hammering inside his chest as he rounded the corner. Amelia called after him and dashed forward in pursuit, but with his enhanced capabilities, she stood little chance of keeping up.
He ran for two blocks and stopped when he caught sight of the University. He paused, long enough to marvel he wasn’t winded at all, and glanced across the busy intersection. The light changed, and he stepped forward choosing his steps as he made his way across the street.
Located just a few blocks south of one of the worst crime areas in all of California, New Hebron State University was also, one of the two rated schools in the state. It was his old apartment building vicinity to the college, not its rental cost or even its proximity to his daughter’s place of death, that had attracted him to the area.
He heard Van Den Broeke, coming but didn’t pause or wait for her. The time for explanations would come, but there was a chance he could catch site of his intended target before she made her way into the building. Sure enough, a familiar vehicle appeared rewarding his efforts. When he saw that familiar Yellow Secura pull into the school’s parking lot, he a smile stretch across his face.
“Hailey,” he whispered the girl’s name, fighting back tears as he watched her climb out of the car and make her way into the school, oblivious that he was watching.
Sapphira spun around to face the agent who was standing there blank expression on her face and breathing only a little heavier than usual. To have caught up and only seem the slightest bit winded, Amy must have been in amazing shape.
The exemplar swallowed hard and craned his neck around just in time to watch the girl step inside the school and let out a long sigh before returning all his attention to the agent. Amy folded her arms across her chest, arched an eyebrow and gritted her teeth. “Liv, an explanation would be nice.”
“Hailey’s my granddaughter,” he shook his head and walked back the way they’d come.
“Your granddaughter?” The agent asked, lurching forward so she could step in sync with the other exemplar. “You know it would be inappropriate for you to ma–”
“She doesn’t know me from a can of paint!” He snapped back at her before she complete her statement.
With a sigh, he gritted his teeth, closed his eyes and shook his head before they snapped back open and he fixed his gaze on the agent. “Hailey was raised by her father’s parents. Her dad was pretty much useless… He got himself killed, in some work place accident, after my Clara become pregnant, but his mother and father seemed to be decent enough folk and a whole hell of a lot younger. After that bastard killed my daughter and put a bullet in my hip, I couldn’t get around. So they–”
“Raised her,” Amelia finished this time, she was the one to cut Sapphira short.
Sapphira nodded his lips trembling as he fought back tears. What the hell was wrong with him? Damn female hormones were turning him into a blubbering fool. He cleared his throat and tried to steady his voice as he resumed speaking. Once or twice his voice wavered, and he knew he had failed to mask the pain. The agent, was a sharp one, and he doubted she’d missed it. She said nothing.
“I used to write to her, when she was little, but I got no response and one day, I received a package in the mail. Her other grandparents had sent back every single damn letter unopened. I gave up after that. When she got older, and I figured she was old enough to start college, I hired a private eye and sure enough, I found out she was going to school here,” he said throwing a thumb over his shoulder without looking back.
“I took it out into my head I would become a presence in her life. I thought maybe with my final few years, I could find some happiness again. So, I moved my ass out here, found an apartment, even went so far to buy her some flowers, but then I saw her…” He shook his head and felt his lips tremble. “She looks just like her mother, could damn well be her twin. I’ve tried damn near a dozen times and I always chicken out. So, I memorized her routine and I keep watch over her. At least, I can make sure she stays safe. It’s more than I ever did for her mother.”
In other circumstances, Amelia might have found the statement disquieting and his behavior stalker-esque, but she could sense nothing but good intentions from the other exemplar. A fear which she understood all too well motivated him. She had no one in this world, Alex the closest thing she’d ever found to a soul mate had left her, her parents and siblings had disavowed any relation to her and her aunt, the one relative who had cared for her, had passed away just a few years ago.
She put a hand on Sapphira’s shoulder and smiled. “It’s hard, I know.”
They both paused and looked into one another’s eyes. For the briefest of moments, the two understood each other at a level that would never have been possible without their bond. Both saw within one another, a very lonely soul. Each had lost so much and both had had their lives changed by factors neither could control.
Sapphira coughed and through his hand over his shoulder, this time back toward the apartment building. “We gonna do this thing or not?”
“Yeah,” Amelia nodded and cleared her throat. “Come on.”