Chapter 9: York of the Past

The loud clang of the locker shutting echoed in Carolina's ears. She stared at the lock in her hand in slight boredom. The work day was rather uneventful. She yawned with her head held up high as if to announce to the world she didn't care. Hanging her bag from the right shoulder, she walked out and shut off the lights in the women's locker room. Outside, Madison waited with his drinking buddies by the exit of the work area. "Greenhorn, we are going for a drink at a nearby bar. Want to join us?"

She looked at the group behind him and much to her surprise there were some women in there. I guess they finally thought to diversify a bit. She walked towards her superior with a smile but abruptly stopped in her track. Church's low voice echoed in the back of her head. Are you planning on turning them down again? Is this really what you want?

She looked down at her hands as Madison tilted his head in confusion. I know what I am doing Church. It's for the b-, before she could finish Church finished her sentence for her. For the best? Give me a break! That's bullshit and you know it. Haaaa…Carolina, nothing will change if you remain at a standstill. His memories will continue to haunt you instead of help give you strength. She gritted her teeth in anger. The truth stung her heart like a killer wasp hunting its prey with precision. But just as quickly she felt the waves rise, she quickly came back down from her high and the emotions ceased to be. Madison walked closer and bent down to face her eyes. "You don't have to come with us if you don't want to."

She turned to look up with a very sluggish smile. "Ah, sorry, I was just remembering something. I will…go with you guys."

As if that was a declaration of great achievement, the guys behind Madison all jumped in a cheer. They roared loudly in a war cry. Carolina felt a chill travel up her spine. Why does it feel like this became an all out battleground for me? I suppose it won't be too late to back out now. She turned around only to be stopped by Madison. He had a most childishly evil look in his eyes. "Good girls follow through on their promises."

Ugh, God help me! Carolina soon found herself being dragged away. With a defeated sigh she began walking on her own two feet in the middle of the group. They have me surrounded, no chance for a tactical retreat. O fate how I curse thee! She lowered her head with a pout and then looked towards Madison. "So, where are we going sir?"

"Cut it out with the 'sir' stuff. We are off work now, no need for formalities. It's Madison, Greenhorn!"

"As long as I am called 'Greenhorn', you will be the 'sir' or 'boss'."

The others burst out into laughter with a voice rising from the gang. "She got you there Madison."

"So," Carolina again called out to the man in the lead. "Where are we going?"

"It's a small bar," Madison responded with the wave of his finger and a modest smile. "But the drinks they serve there are some of the best in town. You will love it there!"

It was not long before she was standing at the front doors of the bar. She looked up at the sign dumb founded and deep in thought. I wonder how many years it has been since I have been to one. She stepped inside behind the others and received the welcoming hospitality of the staff. They all seated down at a large table and were each served a menu. She looked at the many choices with anxiety. "It has been several years since I last saw a bar menu, and such high-fi drinks to boot."

Madison beside her tapped the table and gave her a reassuring smile. "You will be fine. Heck, you could probably hold more alcohol than some of the newbies here hahaha!"

"Even off duty you are ruthless sir," one of the said newbies commented with their head low in shame. Madison again laughed heartily. "But it's true!"

"Here are you drinks, please enjoy!" the server enthusiastically stated as they placed the glasses beside the correlating customer. Carolina glanced at the waiter walk away in high spirits. Reminds me of my youth. She looked around at the bar counter and saw two young people, male and female flirting with one another. York…, her mind began to wander into the past. Her body felt light as if being lifted up into the weaves of time itself and thrown back down the thread called past.

With the high heels hitting amidst the reflective floor tiles, the red headed woman walked proudly with confidence. She stared at the neon sign reflecting on the ground and looked up at the Club Errera. She walked up to the bodyguard who asked for her ID. Verifying her age, he let her through with one last look at the attractive slim build on her body. She could feel his lecherous eyes on her. Pig, she thought and approached the inner ring of the club past all the maniac dancers.

She rubbed the back of her hair in annoyance. Damn do people here know how to party like there is no tomorrow. Pretty crazy. She noticed the flickering sounds of a lighter nearby. Using her well developed senses she honed in on the cause. Nearby at the bar sat a handsome dark brown haired man. She walked to the seat beside him and snatched the lighter out of his hand. He looked up astonished at the speed at which she took it away from him. Studying the lighter, she let out a smirk. This has quite a wicked design on it now that I take a closer look. Carolina could tell that the man was taken in by her confidence, but perhaps more so from her beauty as well.

"Um, can I have that back?"

"Do you really treasure it that much?" she asked flicking open the lighter and closing it. The flame reflected like a beautiful shine of energy in her green eyes. It was so beautiful that he was yet again left speechless. But this lighter meant too much to him to be so dumb founded right now. "Yes, it does."

"Then you should take better care of it and not use it so carelessly in public," she lectured while ordering a martini from the bartender. "Especially don't use it to annoy others."

She could tell that her little lecture got to him. She gave a devilish grin and threw the lighter up in the air. He quickly jumped out of his seat to catch it but was beaten to the punch by her. "You know, I have taken quite a liking to this."

He slumped back into his chair with a heavy sigh and her expression turned quite sour. "You know, for a guy so handsome you sure do give up easily."

"Only against beauties such as yourself," he replied with an aloof smile. "You can never win an argument against a princess after all."

"Oh, you think I am a princess?" she leaned in closer with her drink and took a gentle sip. She licked her lips clean causing his heart to beat faster. "Maybe I can prove you wrong in a dance of fists."

"I- Is that an open invitation to a fight?"

"Maybe," she answered backing off and finishing her drink. She left some cash beside the glass and threw the lighter back to the man. "You are a soldier after all, aren't you?"

"Where did you get that impression from?"

"Something about the way you talk, and your attitude gives me that impression."

He let out a loud enough laughter to gather sharp stares his way. "You really are something miss. Next time we meet, drinks are on me."

"I'm not that easy to impress," she replied with the wave of her hair. "But, you are more interesting than most men I have come across in these types of places."

"What's your name?" he shouted as she neared the outer ring. Carolina wore a flirtatious smile on her face as she turned to stare him straight into his mysterious eyes. "Carolina, you?"

"Me, I'm- "

Carolina was suddenly broken out of her ride to the past. She found Madison to the right shaking her with moderate force. "Are you alright Carolina?"

She nodded her head with a palm resting on her forehead. "Sorry to worry you."

She looked around at the worried faces all pinned her way. She lifted up a hand as a gesture of appreciation. "Thank you all, sorry to worry you guys. But I am fine."

Carolina turned to face the family man with a smirk. "That's the first time you used my name, what gives Madison?"

"I was just worried about you is all, can't have my junior going senile at this age!" he stated chugging down a huge glass of tequila. His cheeks blushed in embarrassment wanting for Carolina to poke fun at him. But she refrained from doing so as her past still continued to haunt her. I knew something like this might happen. She lowered her head in a rather depressive state of mind. Come on sis, you can't go and get upset like this now. Not after coming so far with everyone. Epsilon tried to argue his way with logic, but such arguments held little weight in the face of swirling emotions.

Madison was not blind to this change in atmosphere around Carolina. He gently tapped her shoulder and pointed out to the exit. "Mind if we go out for a bit?"

We have been here for a while now, Carolina pondered as she noticed the dimmed skies upon stepping outside. The vermillion that once shaded the clouds was no longer present. Instead it was replaced by a dark grey shade not affected by the moonlight. Madison held out a box of cigarettes and took one out. "You don't mind if I smoke do you?"

"No, go ahead," she replied leaning back against the storefront in a hunch. He searched his pockets for a lighter, but was surprisingly met with the bright flame from her precious treasure. He took her up on her offer and lit his smoke from York's lighter. "I didn't know you smoked."

With the flame glimmering in her eyes and a low, but sad tone she shut the flame off. "I don't, this was a present."

"A practical present at that," Madison let out the smoke from his mouth with a relieved sigh. "I wonder how many days it has been since my last smoke. I guess quitting this addiction is easier said than done."

"You are trying to quit?"

"Yup," he took another smoke in and out. "For my family, can't be beaten down by smoking at my age now can I? Plus, I want to be there for them for as long as possible."

Carolina warmly smiled his way. "You really do care about your family don't you? They are lucky to have you."

"No, I'm lucky to have them in my life."

Family, if York was alive, would he and I have started a family of our own? She looked up at the moon with an evident longing in her eyes. Madison let out another cloud of smoke as he watched the ash slowly build up and fall to the ground. "What's been bothering you Carolina, what has you so down in the dumps all of a sudden?"

"I was that obvious huh?"

"You were easy to see through. I would say it was as clear as a clean glass window."

"Gee, that makes me feel so much better," she sarcastically replied putting Madison at some ease. At least she hasn't lost her sarcastic sense of humor. He took another smoke and looked up at the moon with her. "So, what's been eating at you?"

"I guess, it was just some memories that I remembered inside the bar. They are really sad memories now compared to the past."

"Memories eh?" Madison threw down the cigarette and crushed it under his foot. "They sure can be a tricky thing, especially the ones that insist on persisting at the forefront of your thoughts."


"Take it from an experienced veteran in this matter kid," Madison hardened his gaze towards Carolina with clear hints of sadness and longing in his voice. "If you remember sad memories, then try to think of happier times. It always helps me because god only knows of how miserable I have been in my life before. Remember the happy times, hold onto them while doing your best to survive and live on."

Madison…, Carolina was both shocked and surprised to hear such words out of his mouth. You always struck me as a happy family man. But I suppose we all have our sadness that we are always fighting against. He rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment as his cheeks flared up from the evening breeze. "Don't tell anyone else that I told you that. Got to maintain the hard ass boss image after all hahah! Say Carolina, this memory, is it about an event or someone special?"

She stared blankly down at the pavement for a few minutes. She found herself arguing inside. Should I tell him or be vague about it? She looked up at the dancing leaves as they rushed past the two of them. Her mind was made up. This was the first time in a long time she was talking to someone so openly, perhaps this choice is best. "The memories are about someone very special."

"Oh, a boyfriend?" Madison grinned in intrigue as he rubbed his chin mischievously. Carolina felt her cheeks burn a bright shade of pink. "T- That's all you are getting out of me on that topic!"

"Ha ha, relax kid," Madison stretched his back and arms. "I'm just pulling your leg. But since it's someone very special, try and remember the good times with that person. Maybe those memories will help ease the pain of the sad ones. Of course the opposite is just as true, but you are a strong person so I doubt that would happen so easily."

Carolina bowed her head in relief. "Thank you for your advice, and kindness towards me."

"Don't go around bowing your head like that," Madison complained as he patted her back. "Makes me seem like an old man, I want to be what you kids call it…cool or hip. Is that the right word? I want to be that, on the same level with you youngsters!"

Carolina chuckled gently at his attempts to seem young and cool. Madison was happy to see the brighter shade on her face return alongside her smile. Well, my work is done here. He opened the door to the bar. "Take all the time you need out here. We will be waiting for you inside, you are not alone."

She once again thanked him before remembering the time York spent beside her in the infirmary unit after when she failed to adapt to her two fragments in Project Freelancer. A wider smile plastered onto her face as the genuine feelings of love swelled up in her chest. Thank you for all that you did York. You really were an interesting man, and more so a kind partner. She slowly opened her eyes returning back to reality. I'm sorry for all that I put you through. I did so many horrible things to you but you still tried to stick it out with me. I really am a horrible woman, one who didn't deserve you. Still, I am happy to have been loved by such a great guy.

Just then Epsilon realized something vital. He recalled Carolina's experience within the Alien tower on Chorus used to prove her worth as the Chosen Warrior. The nightmare she experienced there as well as the one during her recovery after a failed rescue attempt against the New Order, it started to paint a clear picture for him. Sis, you have lost a lot of people. But you have truly yet to let them go, don't you?

"Probably, but something like that is easier said than done. Just how am I supposed to do this?"

I don't understand these types of feelings all that well, Epsilon admitted as he was still in the process of getting a better grasp on human emotions. But I know that with these feelings, you are wrecking yourself with guilt. Someday it may crush you till there is nothing left of your spirit. You need to let go.

"I know," she let out a heavy breath with the grit of her teeth. "I did it a little in the past. You taught me about this after all, or rather a past version of you. But there are some things in life we still can't let go of so easily. I guess that's our curse as humans."

If you really want to make some sense of this journey and grow as a person, then you need to be free of all restraints sis. Maybe letting go is a part of that process and might help you learn something. Carolina had no retort to that statement. His words rang a truer bell than any other. "I know…I know that all too well. But how am I supposed to do that without having the knowledge of the experience. 'How' is the problem, it somehow always is."

Carolina went back inside and picked up her bag. Everyone looked at her in surprise as one of the newbies asked. "Leaving already?"

"Yeah," she turned to face Madison with grateful eyes. "Thank you for inviting me, but I think it's best for me to go home now. After all, I do have quite a bit to think about."

"If you say so," Madison gave her a thumb up. "I won't try to stop you. If you need advice again, don't hesitate to hit me up."

"Thank you," she turned to pay for her share of the bill at the counter and quickly left. Before embarking on her walk home however, she looked back one last time at the bar with a heavy heart. She gripped her chest upon seeing York's face flash in her eyes. She walked home with her head down in deep thought the whole way. As she entered her apartment building she called upon Epsilon. "You are right, I do need to do something about my guilt. If I can't learn to be free from my past, then how can I ever hope to move freely towards the future?"

Perhaps the time has finally come to move on from you York. She opened the door to her apartment. She threw her bag on the couch and slumped deep into it. No matter how long it may take, I have to walk this path now. I must move on from and break from the chains that bind me to these saddening memories. I must become free.

A/N: Writing about the first meeting between York and Carolina was quite interesting. I hope that little bit of expansion in their meeting was to your liking as well. I also hope that you, the reader got a sense of certain character realizations and growth in this chapter.

Got any points for improvement? Please post them in the review section or PM directly about it.

Thank you for taking the time to read the chapter and your readership!

See you in the next chapter!

~ Monty