Exhaustion seeped into Patience Jenkins' bones and swam though her limbs, a toxic poison rendering her heavy-eyed and somnolent. She had blue moons under her eyes from a definitive absence of sleep and her feet felt heavy, like she was sporting concrete shoes instead of her usual pair of weather-beaten Doc Martens; still, she kept her chin up and her gaze straight ahead. Snow as pale as powdered milk blanketed the streets and fell unceremoniously from the sky. People walked carefully in slow, hesitant strides, tiptoeing around steep white mounds and frosted puddles. As she rounded a corner, the seven-year-old boy beside her quietly squeezed her hand, their breaths visible in the stagnant air.
"You don't look so good," he murmured.
Stunned, Patience gently tousled his wind-swept black hair. "I appreciate your concern, Hayden, but I'm fine, really I am."
"You're the only one who can walk me home from school," he pressed, skeptical of her response. "It's a long walk. I don't like going all by myself."
"Relax! A few sleepless nights aren't going to be enough to put me out of commission. You're way too young to be worrying so much."
"Mama says the streets are full of bad men."
"I hate to say it, but your mother's right."
"I feel a lot safer with you. High school kids never have to worry about that dangerous stuff. They can take care of themselves."
"You'd be surprised. Oftentimes high school kids wind up being the masterminds behind the crimes." She pulled the boy closer and added in a hushed whisper, "I've even seen police officers arrest a student or two at my school."
"Really?" His eyes widened, alight with fervor and curiosity. "Did they use handcuffs?"
"Every single time."
They paused outside of a crumbling brownstone where shabby curtains the color of fresh-cut honeydew hung at each window and an ancient tabby cat prowled underfoot, its whiskers flecked with snowflakes. Smiling, the boy scampered up the deteriorating stoop while she waved goodbye from the sidewalk. The two parted as they did every other day—a simple afternoon custom that Patience had grown inordinately fond of. Hayden's mother worked like a Trojan, waiting tables at seedy diners, categorizing books at the library, scrubbing the houses of well-to-do neighbors—anything to make ends meet. Patience had known her son since he was little more than a runny-nosed infant wailing in his hand-me-down crib and, longing to help the struggling single parent, kindly offered to walk Hayden home from elementary school, never suspecting that she would eventually procure an attachment with the child. He was like a little brother to her, though his fascination with the intricate realm of law enforcement was a touch unnerving.
Sighing, Patience stroked the tabby's head, its striped body arching under her mittened hand. She watched the kitchen light flash on before veering down the avenue that lead to her development, holding tightly to her satchel as she passed naked trees sick with the season. Once inside the lofty apartment, all traces of the atmospheric winter evaporated; warmth hugged every inch of her frozen body and the saccharine scent of the McAllister's bakery instantly soothed her nerves. She wandered upstairs, inserted her key into the lock, and opened the door, ears catching the distinct sound of muffled voices within the living room, nose picking up on freshly brewed coffee mingling with the jungle aroma of her father's prized hydrangeas.
"Mom, I'm home, what's going—" The rest of the words glued themselves to her windpipe as she noticed Castaway's well-dressed figure lurking in the hallway.
"Ah, Patience, always a pleasure to see you." He smiled and all she could think about was punching him in the mouth, hard enough that at least one dazzlingly white tooth fell out.
Clearing her throat, she willed those tempting thoughts away with a casual flip of her hair. "Oh, Mr. Castaway, I, uh, didn't expect to see you here."
"You two know each other?" Beatrice intervened, raising a quizzical brow as she entered the kitchen, Christmas mug in tow.
"Vaguely," Patience admitted. The blonde man placed a speculative hand on her shoulder—she shrugged it off, feigning civility.
To Patience's utmost surprise, her mother's face softened. "John here is a philanthropist. He's thinking of donating money to Manhattan General. Isn't that wonderful?"
Patience merely nodded, her tongue having turned to sandpaper. Since when were her mother and Castaway on a first-name basis?
"I only live to help others." He doled out a modest little shrug, smirking. "After all, what can one humble, unpretentious gentleman do with millions of dollars?"
Gee, I don't know, hunt innocent enchanted creatures? Patience swallowed back the bile that his nauseating presence seemed to stimulate.
Oblivious to the tension, Beatrice sipped her hazelnut coffee, gazing warmly at the self-proclaimed gentleman with the Armani suit and designer shoes. "You're a saint, John; that money will be put to good use at the hospital. We'll be able to purchase brand new equipment, get some remodeling done…I-I just can't thank you enough."
"Thank your daughter," he explained, glancing cordially at Patience. "Without her, I would've never possessed enough faculties to come up with such a beneficial idea. She's the flame that sparked my inspiration."
"That's my girl, always thinking of others." Beatrice draped an arm around Patience, acquiring a perfect view of her timeworn wristwatch in the process. Grimacing, she released her daughter and hastily scooped up a jacket from a kitchen chair, flashing a contrite smile at Castaway. "Might we discuss your generous proposition another time? My shift starts in ten."
"Of course, I understand entirely. Have a good night, Mrs. Jenkins." The man straightened his silk tie as she showed him out, tarrying just long enough to linger in the doorframe, cobalt eyes glossing over Patience. "Before I take my leave, however…Patience, if you don't mind me asking, what on earth happened to your face?"
Reflexively Patience's hand reached up to touch her right cheek, fingers brushing against the tender, discolored area of her epidermis that hadn't quite healed yet. She wasn't concerned about the superficial damage; a scar was a scar, it would eventually become less noticeable over time—she did hope, however, that said battle scar would lend her the benefit of a more rugged, tough-as-nails visage. Then again, Harry Potter had glasses and a scar and he didn't exactly come across as menacing.
"I, uh, fell," she explained lamely, lying through her teeth. "The sidewalks are terribly slippery this time of year."
"Patience is always falling over something," Beatrice cut in, chuckling. "It's part of her charm."
"I see," Castaway mused. "Well, do be careful, Patience—it pains me to see a pretty face all dinged up." Smiling gravely, he shuffled reticently out the door, the sound of his expensive shoes casting ghostly echoes down the hall. The two women stared after him, listening as the reverberations gradually faded into the distance.
"He's a handsome devil, isn't he?" Beatrice affirmed, the first to break the silence. "Well-mannered, well-dressed, the very embodiment of humanitarianism…plus, he seems to have taken quite a shine to you."
Though it took an exorbitant amount of effort, Patience refrained from gagging. "He's not my type."
"In any case, I'm surprised he hasn't been snatched up yet. He's so chiseled…and that accent—"
"Mom, aren't you late for work?"
Beatrice gasped and slipped on her jacket, disappearing so abruptly that she was unable to come up with a characteristic rebuttal.
Alone at last—Patience had never felt so relieved to have the apartment to herself, especially if it meant avoiding a potentially awkward mother-daughter conversation. She nearly screamed when, out of the blue, the phone rang, shattering the feeble illusion of momentary peace she so desperately craved. Answering out of habit more than anything else, she found herself stumped by the stranger on the other end.
"Meet me outside," a feminine voice commanded.
"Who the hell is this?"
"I'm not sure I understand—"
"Patience," the cryptic woman interrupted, "I'm outside your apartment as we speak, and from the looks of it, I'd say your mother just left. Perfect timing."
"You're stalking me?"
"No…look, you can trust me, all right? I'm a cop."
"Right, like I haven't heard that one before." She peered through the blinds of her kitchen window, caught a glimpse of a snow-covered streetlamp and a sleek red car parked in a sea of shadows.
"You're overly paranoid."
"Please, I'm not the one who won't cough up her name."
"…Elisa," she admitted, sighing in defeat, "Detective Elisa Maza—that clear-cut enough for you? If so, get your butt out here. We need to have a little chat."
Hey, long time no see! Or, in this case, long time no chapter. I can't even begin to stress how sorry I am—school seems to be chiseling away at all my precious hobbies, writing especially. In the meantime, however, revel in this long-overdue update! I'm sure you're all probably thinking to yourselves "wtf mate, no Brooklyn?" and believe me, I know how you feel. Nevertheless, mama's gotta lay the groundwork for boatloads of upcoming plottage, so suck it up, buttercup.