Children Need Care by Quill and Saber

Category:Maximum Ride
Published:2006-06-30 15:05:20
Updated:2006-06-30 15:05:20
Packaged:2021-04-22 03:24:10
Summary:The first of the When We Meet Again trilogy. A young man finds a woman who reminds himself of someone he lost long ago... ONESHOT.

Children Need Care

Children Need Care

Disclaimer: I own Maximum Ride…

In hardback. Along with the sequel, also in hardback.

But I don't own the rights to the characters involved. So don't try to sue me; I have no money so it wouldn't be in your best interest anyways.

The young man straightened his tie and checked his clipboard before walking up to the next address on his list. The house, though small, was a picture of an American dream. The small, recently mowed lawn was bordered by the proverbial white picket fence, complete with gate, squeak-less when he opened it, separating the lawn from the thin strip of grass technically not part of the lawn. The front walk was bordered with wildflowers the young man couldn't recognize, a little wilted from the lack of rain. The slightly nostalgic smell of baking wafted from an open window. It reminded him of—no, he wouldn't think about her.

The name written beside this address on his clipboard was Miss Marie Roberts. The young man liked to try to guess who the people were who lived in the houses he visited; judging by past experiences, this house probably belonged to an old maid—a former librarian or something. Not without trepidation did he ring the doorbell. From the open window, his well-trained ears picked up the musical chiming sound accompanied by the chirping of a bird. He nearly ran away then; something about families that kept pets, especially caged birds, made him uneasy. But he stood his ground. He did have to talk to this Miss Marie Roberts, after all.

"Sorry to keep you waiting," a muffled voice came from the other side of the door. Once it opened, it revealed a smiling young woman with mouse brown hair. "Can I help-" she stopped suddenly, furrowing her brows and looking the young man in the eyes.

Those deep grey eyes…so familiar… Could it be he'd known her before? No, that would be ridiculous; he'd never been to this part of town before in his life. He shook his head. It was just a coincidence, it had to be. "Um, yes, I need to speak with Miss Roberts? I'm from Children Need Care-"

"Oh! That's me." she snapped out of her reverie. "Come in then. The living room's to the left; I'll be there in a second," she called over her shoulder as she went farther into the house. He noticed that she was wearing a jacket even though it was late summer. Odd, certainly.

He came into the homey living room and sat in one of the two armchairs surrounding the glass coffee table. The other chair had a small songbird perched on the top of the chair, a Carolina wren. It examined the young man, then flew away to the open window and perched on the windowsill, examining him again. So it isn't a pet bird after all. No one would leave a window open with a pet bird inside that hadn't had its wings clipped. He grimaced involuntarily at the thought of clipping a bird's wings. It was evil, no question, to keep a bird to the ground when it should be in the sky, flying.

"I had to take the cookies off the cooling racks," Miss Roberts said as she came into the living room with a plate of delicious-smelling chocolate chip cookies. "Want some? They're made from scratch." She placed the plate on the table and sat in the other chair across from the young man, smiling expectantly. Cautiously, he reached out to grab a cookie. It felt soft, not like the awful, hard kind he got at most stores. Slowly he took a bite—for a moment, his mouth was in heaven.

"This. Is. The. Best. Chocolate. Chip. Cookie. I've. Ever. Tasted!" he said with feeling; though his expressions were always minimal, it might not have registered as such with Miss Roberts.

"Thank you," she said, definitely pleased to hear his comment, regardless of any lack of emotion she may have heard. "I got the recipe from an old friend. I can give it to you when you leave if you like."

He shook his head as he crammed the rest of the cookie into his mouth. "I can't bake to save my life. I never really had time for cooking when—when I was younger. I really haven't gotten the hang of it since."

"I didn't have much time either, but I love cookies, so I decided to learn. They're very easy to make," she offered.

"Why do you choose to support Children Need Care so fully?" he asked around a mouthful of cookie, remembering what he was there for.

Miss Roberts's eyes grew more distant as her smile faded. "I was an abused child for the first fifteen years of my life; my caretakers never let me leave the house. But once I was nearly fifteen I got the courage to run away one night to a shelter funded by Children Need Care that I'd heard about on the radio. I couldn't remember where I came from, or the names of my caretakers, but they took me in anyways. The foundation registered me with Social Security, so I finally officially existed, unlike before. I managed to graduate from high school and got to college on a scholarship. So now I'm an English teacher at a good high school, thanks to Children Need Care. Donating and volunteering at shelters are my ways of saying 'thank you.'"

The young man was practiced at detecting lies. Most of it was true, granted, but he could tell that she didn't just run to the nearest shelter from her prison of a house; that part was a lie. Despite her cheerful demeanor, it was obvious she had a difficult childhood (he knew what to look for to identify that) but she probably didn't live inside a house for fourteen straight years. The old, haunted look that lingered in her eyes also told him that she spent considerable time on the run before finding the shelter. It was a look he knew all too well; he saw it on his own face every time he looked in a mirror.

The wren chirped and hopped onto the young man's shoulder to tug at his overly long dark hair. Miss Roberts laughed and extended her palm for the bird to jump onto. "She must really like you. Usually she hates strangers and flies outside whenever the doorbell rings." The wren chirped in agreement and hopped again onto her palm.

"What about you?" she suddenly asked. "Why do you work for Children Need Care?"

"You know the big Itex scandal, twelve years ago." It was a statement, not a question. "When the main processing plant was destroyed, I was in the vicinity." Well, he wasn't precisely in the vicinity, he was in the plant. "The explosion knocked me out. When I came to in the hospital, I had amnesia; I couldn't remember my own name, or my parents' names." Or I could remember and didn't want to. "My treatment was paid for by Children Need Care. Working for them is my way of saying 'thank you.'"

"Well, do you know your name now?" she asked jokingly.

"Nicolas Ride. No relation to the astronaut."

Her eyes snapped fully open once she heard his name. "I think I once knew someone by that name," she said slowly after a pause. "But I may be wrong. We had a nickname for him that we used instead of that name."

It must be her! After twelve years he had found her in the unlikeliest of places. But what if it was a trap, set by the ones who tried to kill him so many times in his youth? Could he take the chance? She had once told him that most risks were too dangerous. If it was her, would she think him stupid for taking such an awful, unnecessary risk? And if it was a trap, he knew his fate. He'd have, at most, a few seconds to live—at least, no time at all. If it was her, would she hate him for taking such a risk?

"I never met a Marie. I don't think you could have met me," he said smoothly, even though he was aching inside for losing his one chance to find out.

Her face fell at his statement. "Oh. I thought sure…" she trailed off. Miss Roberts muttered, staring at her folded hands, "But of course. It would have been too much of a coincidence."

Marie stared out the window, watching the young man leave. She was so sure it had been him. Those deep brown eyes, smooth walk, and dark hair all characterized the person she had lost twelve years ago. To say she had been shocked when seeing him would have been an understatement. She'd thought him dead for over a decade, and he simply showed up on her front doorstep. Well, the sensible part of her mind reminded her, it could have been a trap. He could have been from one of your old enemies. When she was fourteen she didn't listen to that sensible voice in her, but now it was her constant companion. Amazing what twelve years could do to change a person.

Nicolas had asked her why she supported Children Need Care. She mostly told the truth. A little part of her felt bad for lying a little bit, but that sensible part reminded her of the potential dangers. She had seen neither hide nor hair of her old enemies since she was fourteen, but they had avoided her for a long time and suddenly sprung on her before. That part that felt bad got further squished when Nicolas lied to her about the Itex plant. She'd been there, and no one was outside at the time of the explosion. Maybe he really was him after all; he would have had to make up a story. But amnesia…

Maybe that was real.

Maybe he didn't and couldn't remember who he really was. Maybe he just searched for the most logical explanation after the explosion, figuring he lived in the area and just happened to walk by at the wrong moment. Maybe he thought his parents worked in the factory or something. Maybe something had happened to make him different, normal. Maybe he didn't remember her at all.

That was a painful thought. She clenched her eyelids together and took deep breaths to try to quell the rising sense of alarm in her stomach. She would not let herself think of that possibility, she would not. The wren, noticing her tension, hopped onto her hand and chirped a couple of times. When she didn't react, the wren flew off into the tree in the front yard.

A single tear dropped onto the windowsill before Marie turned around to put her cookies in a container. Sometimes, risks are too great to take.

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