"Question for you, girl." The sailor leaned forward on his bar stool as Ara set the pints of ale down in front of them. "Could you tell me how loud the beds here squeak? Give me a squeal just for example." His two mates laughed with him and fifteen year old Ara glanced over to Mrs. McCarthy with an intense eye roll. The portly woman held her finger up which meant no sass. Ara sighed and looked back to the questioning man.
"The whores are outside. I'm sure they'd love to give a test run with you." She smiled sweetly and went to where her boss was wiping a dirty spot on the bar. "Looks like another game of 'get the tavern girl in bed for free'." She said and Mrs. McCarthy chuckled.
"You just do your job, keep your wits about you and no sass. Don't make me fire you, child." The older woman said. It was a mantra Ara had struggled to keep since she was twelve when she started working at the Ten Bells. The smell of liquor, smoke, and the faint drift of sex that lingered over the music and drunken laughter used to make her feel sick to her stomach. But you learn to get used to it. She carried trays of alcohol and questionable food, winding and twisting and turning around tables and patrons who didn't bother to push in their chairs. As she passed the bar from the outside this time, a hand caught her by the laces of her corset and Ara jumped a little when she felt herself being pulled in. She stumbled back until she could feel her back against his torso.
"I bet you purr." The same man from before whispered in her ear. She sighed irritably and nudged out of his grasp.
"So do the dollymops outside." She said to the rude pig as she circled and grabbed a full rubbish bin from behind the counter. She tied up the bag and made her way back across the tavern to the side door, stepping outside in the rain and dumping the bin bag there next to the step.
"Hey." A familiar voice said from the dark. Ara gasped at first, still a bit wired from when the sailor had grabbed onto her but she then peered around in the alley. A casual shadow shifted against the wash of black that made a gradient on the red brick with the sickly yellow coloring of the lamp.
"Leander, come inside. You'll get sick if you stay out here." She said to the shadow. It bothered her. It bothered her terribly that he and Aurelian slept in an alleyway next to the Ten Bells. But there's only so much you can do after the needy in question has been kicked out of every orphanage in the area and you're under a worried mother's authority. "Mrs.McCarthy won't have to know. Just get out of the rain." she pleaded as Leander shook the water drops from his brown hair with thirteen year old Aurelian tagging behind him. He came into the lamp light and smiled with a little shiver in his breath that drifted misty in the autumn air. "Come on, get your arse inside. I brought a tooth brush for you tonight as well. Had half a mind never to kiss you again after the other day." Usually Leander and Aurelian showered at the mission churches or even by climbing into the window of a tavern bathroom but the other day wasn't very lucky when he'd gotten arrested for stealing a woman's purse and Ara had to pay his bail at the yard.
"Thanks, Bells." He smiled and kissed her cheek with cold lips. She frowned before she peaked back in to the tavern to make sure Mrs. McCarthy was occupied enough. She was counting money while Ara grabbed Leander's soot covered, grey gloved hand and led him and his brother upstairs.
"Now get in the shower and bloody scrub. Have you eaten since the other day?" She asked like a mother, shoving towels into their hands and giving them a room key. When she left the room, Ara stood there for a moment. She sighed and let her forehead lean on the wooden door. There was a time when she didn't understand the concept of things like this. It was a constant battle of questions. Was it healthier to think about when she would stop caring or when they would find a solution? Would it always be like this? Ara crept back down the stairs hoping that Mrs. McCarthy wouldn't notice how long she had been away. She returned to the bar, smoothing out the skirt of her patchwork dress and sighing, about to walk past the woman when she grabbed her by her hand.
"What's this black shit on your fingers?" She asked suspiciously, "You took an awfully long trot for taking out the rubbish. You dawdling with that lad again?" the young barmaid shook her head quickly and the ginger woman let her go. The next hour, she spent looking to the stairs, just to see if he was coming down. She was filling a glass of rum when a drunken hand waved her down.
"Fill me up another one, you little blower!" It was the sailor from before and Ara looked to her employer who stared down the bar at the man.
"Cut him off." She told her barmaid.
"Yes ma'am," she said and slid the rum in front of a waiting patron before clearing her throat and walking down with a shot glass full of water. The sailor looked at her with a slow, stalking stare. She didn't say anything. She just left the shot in front of him and nodded. He took it, letting the water linger in his mouth a bit which was not something that one normally does with a shot. Arabella froze, the blond hairs on the back of her neck rising. She jumped when he slammed it down.
"You take me for a f***ing fool?" Her insides trembled when he growled the question.
"Then why'd you fill me up with cat piss just now?" He slurred,
"I didn't, sir." She lied.
"You trying to sell me a dog, now?" He asked leaning over the bar. Ara stepped back, looking to Mrs. McCarthy who was busy speaking with one of the regulars. "You look pretty light. I bet I could pick you up like a dead cat."
"No, really, please. It wasn't watered!" She pleaded, speaking louder in the hopes that her boss would hear her. There was a slight clicking sound and then a shriek from Arabella when the man's hand suddenly spun around on its wrist and shot out from his arm, remaining attached via brass piping. The tavern went silent except for more clicking and the hand grasped around Ara's throat, knocking her back into the shelves behind her, bottles of rum, vodka, and scotch crashing and shattering to the floor. "Sir, please," she gasped, "you're intoxicated!"
"Come on, mate, stop it. She didn't mean nothing by it." One his friends said in an attempt to coax him.
"I don't spend ten months at sea to get water in a shot glass and piss in a pint." He continued, holding her neck tighter. Mrs. McCarthy only stared, amazed at what she was seeing. Ara grabbed at his hand, trying to pry his fingers. "So you better give me the rest of what I must be paying for, girl, cause I'm paying much more than what you's giving me." she gasped, kicking against the wall, the wooden shelves digging into her back sharp to the point that she could feel her cells splitting against the unsanded wood. Her head felt an unbelievable pressure that pushed like thunder against the sky to be released from her temples as her blood flow dammed. She couldn't hear her pulse, but felt it against her ears as he dug his fingers into her.
Then, in an instant, air rushed into her throat all at once and she dropped to the ground with a stinging back and a throat that had been struck numb with the insistent imprint of fingers in her skin. She could hear the man cough and a gasp from Mrs. McCarthy before a thump to the ground. Blood pervaded the fabric of the sailor's shirt.
"I don't have a lot and certainly not enough to share." Leander stepped on the handle of his knife that stuck out of the man's back. "Don't touch my stuff." He then lifted his foot off and then casually stepped over the man and jumped over the bar, helping Ara up. "Your back's bleeding." He pointed out bluntly. She coughed a little.
"Thanks." She said.
"You alright?" He asked.
"Yeah." She replied.
"We have each other's back." He shot her a half smile.
"Like always." It was her turn to smile while The sailors' mates lifted the man's arms over their shoulder, dragging him out. Mrs. McCarthy marched over to Leander and Arabella.
"Get your bloomin' arse out of me tavern and your glim of a brother too if he's around here, Leander Glass. I gave you shelter till you was eleven years, I did, and this my reward? I don't think so." Her face ran red like a tomato and her fists clamped firmly to her hips with a rag sticking out of one.
"I got rid of your trouble for you." Leander argued.
"You should of bashed him around a bit. Didn't have to stab the poor bastard in the back." She pointed to the door. Leander looked to Ara and shot him a worried look but he just shrugged.
"Oh come now. Where will you sleep tonight?" She put her hand on his arm.
"Where I always sleep. Besides, this woman ever beat you with a broken bottle? It's not something I want to provoke again." He nodded his head toward the side door and she sighed. "I left Aury asleep upstairs, don't tell the old woman." He whispered in her ear and then kissed her. "Don't worry about me. Pretend we're nine years old again." He backed his way out of the bar with his hands in the pockets of his torn jacket.
"But we aren't nine years old anymore." She muttered as he left and then looked to Mrs. McCarthy.
"This isn't a shelter. He needs to pay for my rooms." She scolded Ara. "Don't you take anymore liberties, child, or you can go stand on the street corner with the dolly mops and learn their trade. I don't have the money to give free hot water. Lord knows I have the rooms" The night continued on and at midnight, a different girl came in to help Mrs. McCarthy with the bar. It was twelve fifteen after Ara counted her tips and stuffed them in her corset. She walked out into the rain, away from the warm Ten Bells Tavern and as she passed the alleyway, she stopped and looked in. Leander's shadow jolted in the darkness as a harsh cough came out of him. She hesitated, afraid to walk into the shadows but then gathering her courage. He didn't have anything beneath him but an old wet blanket that he had cocooned himself in and the rain was coming down hard enough to soak his coat and hood. She could feel him shivering and hear it in his loud breath.
"Go home, Bells, I'm fine." He whispered.
"You sound stupid and it makes me sick when you try to act tough. Now get up and come with me upstairs. My boss is drunk enough to think you're the queen." She tugged on his hood and he peeled the soaked blanket off of his coat as he stood up. She opened the side door and made sure Mrs. McCarthy wasn't looking. The girl on shift, Ruth, stared blankly at the two and went to open her mouth but Ara pulled Leander's knife out of his pocket and held it up, causing Ruth to keep her mouth shut. The two then went upstairs and went to the room next to where Leander had left Aurelian. Ara plopped herself on the bed while he stripped out of his clothes and left them in a pile by the window.
"Bells, you ever think about running away from all this?" He asked, leaning against the window sill for a moment.
"Don't be silly. Where would I go?" She responded, sprawling herself on the bed and staring up at the chipped paint on the ceiling, trying to make out what its shape looked like as though she were staring at a cloud.
"I don't know, out of white chapel? out of London? out of England?" He sprawled out next to her and stared up with her.
"You know, sometimes I think about it, I s'pose. Sometimes I dream about striking it big and buying out the old flat in Boston from before my father was killed, you know what I mean?" He nodded slowly and cleared his throat. "I wish it could happen."
"when it does-"
"Well, Leander, it will never actually happen." She interrupted.
"But if it does-"
"But if it does, could I come too? Could I run with you?" Ara turned her head to look at him and then turned on her side, letting he hand fall in front of her face and resting her head on her arm.
"Of course. Why would I run off without you?" Leander smiled.
"I don't want pirates in my tavern. That's that. We've had enough trouble with the coppers as it is what with Leather Apron. Wasn't my fault that Mary Jane was eatin' and drinkin' here before she got ripped. You should've seen the photos they shown me." May McCarthy mopped furiously across the tavern's platform which used to be used as a small stage.
"The thing about pirates, May, is that when we ask for something, we're not really asking." Ara flipped her hair back over her shoulder and crossed her arms. "We also have guns and blades if that gives you a little hint as to what comes after we hear the word 'no'." Mrs. McCarthy stopped mopping the platform and looked with concern towards the sky pirate who nonchalantly leaned against a thick wooden pole.
"You grew the devil in you the moment they snatched you away, child." She said in a low tone. "They didn't just take you to the sky. They-"
"They fed me to Hell and Hell spat me right back out." She interrupted the short woman who frowned with a grave look in her eye.
"What happened to sweet Arabella?"
"Don't act like another few years of working in this shite hole wouldn't have had the same effect that a few years in the sky did." she answered, turning to walk out. A sad look came into her eyes when she turned away, "We'll be here for a night and a day." She said with a deep breath, "Shut the place down for us tomorrow or we'll burn the patrons out. You as well, May. I'd be glad to burn you after the way you treated me, Leander, and Aury. You should be on your knees for Aurelian after he bought this place from the land lord just to save your fat, sorry arse. You wouldn't have wanted to be out on the corner with the dollymops, would you?" She walked upstairs. They had needed a place to deal with Captain Cortez and in all honesty, this was the first place that had come to Arabella's mind. It was like reading an old piece of poetry when she stepped into the room where she used to hide Leander. The spot on the ceiling above the bed where the paint had been chipped had grown and was now too deformed and well rounded to be in the shape of anything.
Ara sprawled herself out on the bed like she used to.
"But if it does, could I come too? Could I run with you?"
"Of course. Why would I run off without you?"
This was where they had made plans to save enough money to get out of this horrible place. After all this was over, after everything, if the Widow survived this treasure hunt, Ara would resolve to stop running. She'd leave piracy, change her name, and finally buy a flat in Boston. This would be the second promise broken and in some strange way, it felt like a promise being fulfilled.