Coleman St. John
Part of the setup for the Sentinel program was a professional survey of the property by a certified engineering firm. It was a simple enough task, but the nature of the student body at Ashford Institute required that Cole be present for the work and the nature of some of the students meant leaving the two men unattended would have unintended consequences. Aside from that, he was a little curious how the equipment worked and he hired a local firm that was willing to come out on a Sunday afternoon when things would be the least... exciting
. The two men arrived promptly in a very nice pickup and for about two hours, set about walking the campus grounds, picking up the tripod and the data-wand and plotting coordinates in what, Cole assumed, would be the baseline for the drones to operate around in their network. The Senturion
company had provided an exacting list of specific details that the survey needed to cover. It was interesting and the weather was perfect, they talked shop, sports and typical male chit-chat about women and other profundities.
Cole checked his watch as they loaded up the equipment back in the truck before glancing around at some of the area they had covered. The whole time he hadn’t seen another staff member which was exactly what he had planned. For the majority of the week he had made himself scarce, taking care of his business and generally flying below the radar. Ashford had a guest and in typical form hadn’t even bothered to tell anyone about the man. Pierce was still gone, Kaylee had got in some trouble and apparently Tabitha had dialed up the Danger Room too high for some of the students. That was all fine. Cole smirked a little to himself as one of the engineers handed him a tablet to sign off on the work and initiate the payment transfer. With a handshake and a wave, they were headed back out of the gate. He turned and walked towards his Explorer, the only car in the staff lot, and thumbed the button on the key fob for the rear door to open up. Alongside a few other bags, he retrieved his laptop case and in a few moments made two copies of the survey work.
Reaching down he removed the cover from the hitch receiver where he’d installed a hidden safe
in the housing. He rolled his thumb over the dials and took out the small drawer, retrieving a usb stick that he stuck in the side of the computer and after a few keystrokes, shut the laptop down and packed everything back up.
Aya had been wandering the campus since leaving her room, quietly hoping not to see anyone. Not Professor Everose, not the dean, and especially
not Mr. St. John. She didn’t know how she would even begin to face him.
What did one say after peaking into intimate, painful details of someone else’s past? How could she apologize? Should she even tell him? She was a stranger, and he seemed like a private man, from the little she’d seen of him. Maybe it was a mercy to keep him in the dark, let him keep the comfort of his secrets.
Aya’s thoughts spun as she placed one foot in front of the other, reluctantly searching. Rationalizations, arguments, frantic excuses turned, over and over again. All the while, the heat of an inferno burned in the back of her mind. It scorched her from the inside out, phantom rage looming like a threat.
Was telling him… safe
Aya froze mid-step. Coleman St. John stood not twenty yards away. He fiddled with something at the back of his car, did some work on his laptop, and then put it all away like he was ready to leave.
His face flashed in her mind - unsmiling, with combed hair and a finely pressed uniform. His mismatched eyes looked at her from the photo next to the empty casket.
She couldn’t move. He was going to leave and then she’d lose her chance - and her nerve. He was going to leave, and then she wouldn’t have to face him. She could just… stand there. It would be fine. He would rest easy, thinking his past was still behind him, and she wouldn’t be anyone on his radar. She wouldn’t be a quantity to consider and use like she was with the dean. She wouldn’t be a potential liability. Or enemy. She could just be… nothing.
But she’d be a coward.
Heart pounding in her throat, Aya forced herself to move forward. Her hands gripped at each other, knuckles white to keep from trembling. She stopped in front of him, a bit too far for polite conversation. She thought her voice might never come out.“...Mr. St. John?”
The rear door closed with an affirmative shunt and as Cole automatically dug into his pocket for his key and almost didn’t even notice Aya standing at a slightly awkward distance. She seemed to speak just as the door closed and carried an odd demeanor like she was afraid to come any closer. He knew she was one of Kaylee’s favorite pupils and rarely caused any problems, but he also knew she had something to do with Kaylee’s apparent falling out with Ashford- a drama that he could feel himself being pulled towards. Whatever the case, what he was about to do was going to turn the tables on all of them. “Oh, hello Aya, what can I do for you?” His glance narrowed a bit and he tilted his head a bit curiously . She looked like she was absolutely about to boil over, though not from anger, but some anxiety like her mind wanted to run while her body stubbornly planted itself in front of him. He hoped she wasn’t about to have some sort of mutant panic attack. “You alright?”
Aya tried not to flinch at the sound of her own name. She hadn’t expected him to already know her. She supposed she should’ve, though. He was security after all.
She looked up to meet his eyes before looking down again, eyes searching the manicured lawn as if she could find an answer there. Her eyes flicked up again. Then back down. She opened her mouth and no sound came out. Closed it. Swallowed.“I have something to apologize for.”
She looked him in the eyes again, and a stranger’s grief pulsed through her. “I was doing an ...exercise. I didn’t know it at the time, and I didn’t mean to but I -“ Fire and rage and unstoppable, monstrous vengeance “I’m sorry, but I looked into your past. Just glimpses.”
The words came out in a rush. “I didn’t share anything with anyone, but I - ...it was a breach of privacy. I’m sorry.”
Cole relaxed a bit. It wasn’t the worst thing he expected. When he was hired on, there was more than one conversation that certain measures of privacy wouldn’t always be guaranteed, simply because of the abilities of some of the students. He gave a small shrug and tried not to be dismissive, but rather accepting of whatever she wanted to tell him, if there was anything else. He tried to think of what she could have seen, though the vastness of such a recall on the spot was impossible. There were still many gaps in his own mind since he’d wrecked his last bike. It seemed most likely she must’ve witnessed one of his rides, whether it’d been the man in the desert he described to Kaylee or what he’d done at Nocturne, there were many, though she appeared sad
and even ashamed
, like it was something else she had seen. “Well... I’m not offended or anything, so don’t beat yourself up over it. I was told what I was getting into when I came to work here.” Ironically, he was getting a similar vibe from Aya that he had got from Cleo and it was continuing to confirm a gut feeling about Ashford Institute. He rested a hand on the side mirror and leaned against his car. “Is there anything else?”So much
. Aya didn’t know where to start. She didn’t know if she should
. Her apology had been… easier than anticipated. He just seemed to absorb it, like a raindrop disappearing into a lake, and Aya felt disoriented. She’d been bracing herself for more… well, more
But now that it was over with, that left the other issue weighing her down - of Sena, Pierce, Finvarra, Uná, the Sluagh, Avalon
. She looked at him, her black eyes going back and forth between his. This was a risk. Another mistake. She confided in the dean, and he manipulated her. She confided in Professor Everose, and nothing happened. And now… she wanted to tell another stranger? Was she simply running in circles, trying the same thing over and over, never learning a thing?
But she had to do something
- tell someone, if she didn’t have the power to solve the problem herself. Her mind spun, warring with itself about where to even begin when she didn’t even know if she could trust this man.“They miss you.”
The words hung in the air. Aya’s eyes widened when she realized what she’d said. “I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”
Cole’s face contorted confusingly at the words, he wasn’t even quite sure if he’d heard her correctly. They were still standing several feet apart. “What?” His expression turned to more of a direct concern, like she suddenly might not have been sure to whom she was speaking, particularly after she immediately apologized again. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
Aya shifted on her feet, mortified. She started rambling, like she could dig a way out of the hole she’d placed herself in. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to overstep, I - my mom walked out when I was young… a little older than them. And I… I lost my dad earlier this year. I just know how hard it is to lose a parent. But I’m sorry, it’s not my business, I promise I’ll never bring it up again.”
Watching her ramble and stutter, he knew he was going to have to make a decision and just as that thought registered, he knew he couldn’t just leave her standing and drive off. This was not part of the plan
. Taking her would be a risk. He rubbed a hand over his face and glanced around for a moment as he considered as many possibilities as his mind could register in the moment. “Look, it’s fine.” He said with a gentle wave of his hand to put the subject to rest. His mind was still playing out the scenarios from behind his vision, but the path was becoming more clear the more he talked. “I’ve been walking this property for the last two hours, I’m gonna take a ride and just unwind for a bit, you are welcome to come along if you feel like you got a lot on your mind, just talk and I’ll listen. No judgment, up to you.” It felt as sincere as anything he’d ever said. Counseling was most definitely not
his expertise, but he understood people
and sadly enough, it seemed like most of the students just wanted someone they could trust. The best he could do was just give her the choice.
Aya blinked up at him. He seemed… completely uninterested in his lost family who thought he was dead. She would’ve thought it a sore spot, something that elicited at least some
kind of emotion, but her words just rolled off his back. She wasn’t sure if she should’ve been thankful or just plain confused. Guess he wasn’t father of the year…
His offer though, was the last thing she expected. “I…”
Her eyebrows came together. She looked at his face, and it seemed open enough, but… There’s something else going on.
“Did the dean say something to you?”
Cole shook his head, He couldn’t really follow her train of thought. It just seemed completely random. “No, I haven’t spoken with him in several days.”
Aya didn’t move for a moment. She just studied him, still standing too far away, hands still gripping tight to each other. She pressed her lips together. Glanced at his car, then the high wall that lined the perimeter of the school behind it.
Finally she nodded. It was small and unsure, like Aya herself. “Maybe… a drive would be nice.”
She didn’t have a clue what she hoped to gain from it, or if it was smart, or if it was safe
, but still she found herself grasping at the excuse to leave campus, if only for an hour or two. @c3p-0h