The wolf lead Kelly into the clearing, where the woman was standing. She wore one of Frank’s shirts, Kelly recognized it. The woman saw the wolf, saw Kelly, and looked terrified. “Jessica sent me. It’s OK. It’s alright.” The wolf stretched out on the ground, his tail wagged.
Kelly looked around, her eyes searched the trees, the brush. Nothing. No sign of Frank. “Frank brought you here, didn’t he.”
The woman nodded.
“Is he still here?”
She shook her head.
The woman looked terrified, and Kelly could understand that. She’d been used the same way. By a group of six men. She’d thought it would never end. The things they’d done to her. She fought, she cried, she screamed, she tried. But one against six. She lost. They used her. They beat her.
She knelt on the ground, held out a bag of nuts and berries, and a container of water. “These are for you.”
Frank watched from the trees. He hadn’t expected Kelly to show up. One of the others, yes, but not Kelly. He wanted to step out of hiding. Hug her. Ask how things were at the village. Ask how Valerie was.
The wolf yipped, leaped to its feet, and raced into the trees. “Frack!” Frank silently cursed. It raced to Frank’s side, and yipped and ran in circles. “Frack!”
Kelly saw the wolf race into the trees, saw it yipping at a tree, running in circles. “Frank?”
The wolf bounced around, “Yip! Yip! Yip!”
Kelly raced into the trees.
There was nothing to do but step out of hiding. Frank gave up. “Hi.”
Kelly plowed into him, nearly knocked him over, “FRANK!” She wrapped her arms around his neck, and hugged him like she would never let him go. “Thank, God!”
She grabbed his hand, and hauled him back to the clearing, where the woman waited. The wolf parked beside the woman, then nuzzled her ankle. The woman smiled.
“I see you rescued someone.”
Frank said nothing.
“Was she alone?”
He shook his head.
Frank hated to see sadness in Kelly’s eyes. “Oh.”
“A trap. She was bait.”
Kelly placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder, “Oh, you poor dear.”
“He…” She tried to speak.
“How many were there?” Kelly knew, it was several. She knew, with Frank, it didn’t matter. None of them would have walked away.
He shook his head. “Not saying.”
“Valerie cries every night.” She didn’t let go of his hand, “Every night, Frank.”
There was no answer. No response.
“What happened? Tell me, Frank. What happened?”
“Take her to the village.” He started to walk away.
The wolf cut him off. It whined, and stayed in his way, no matter where he turned. Kelly grabbed his hand again, and the woman grabbed his other hand. Neither would let go. “Please.”
He wanted to run. To get the hell out of there, and never come back. But, Kelly’d said, “Please.”
“I can’t.” He squeezed both their hands. “I can’t.” He shook his head.
“Why, Frank? Why?”
For the first time since he’d saved her, the woman spoke, “Broken.”
Kelly stared at him. “Broken?” She looked in his eyes. Frank wanted to look away, but found he couldn’t. “Broken?” She held his hand tightly, as if he might run if she let go. “Frank?”
“You said it’s safe. With Jessica.” She wouldn’t let go of his hand. “I’m afraid.”
No one spoke for a while. The only sounds were the leaves in the breeze through the trees, a soft, quiet rustle.
“I don’t belong.” Frank finally spoke. “Not there. You build things. Have hope.” He tried to look at Kelly, but couldn’t. “All I do is kill things.”
The woman shook her head.
Kelly embraced him again. “Please. At least visit. One night.”
He needed to say something. Anything. “How is Valerie?”
“I’m not going to tell you.” Kelly wouldn’t let go. She held him like he’d vanish if she did. “You’ll have to come check on her.”
He didn’t move, just stood there. She swore he’d stopped breathing. “There’s a heart in you, Frank.” She pressed her head to his chest, “I can hear it beating.” She smiled at him. “And you saved her.” She nodded at the woman. “You could have walked away. Left her to die. But you didn’t.”
The woman whispered, “I’m afraid.” Frank saw the fear in her eyes. She knew him. Knew he wouldn’t hurt her.
“See, Frank? See? I felt your heart move when she spoke. I did. You’re not evil, Frank. You’re not. You save people. Like me. Like her.” She looked in his eyes again, “You still have a heart.”
The woman whispered, “Don’t leave me alone.”
Frank sank to his knees. He couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. Valerie held him, wouldn’t let him go. “You brought her this far. Won’t you take her the rest of the way. Just to make sure she’s safe?” She pressed her cheek against his, “Please? I know your heart. It’s still alive.”
Frank cried. He held Kelly, and wept.
And the woman whispered, “Broken.” She knelt beside them both, “Take me where it’s safe.”
Where it was safe. Where broken, wounded people, like Kelly, Gina, and the others went to heal. Safe, where the woman who’d lost everything a few days ago could start over. Maybe learn to smile again.
And maybe the ache in his chest would finally start to fade.
“Take me where it’s safe.”