In Which Nothing Happened That Night
Adam was remarkably impressed by our exploits in the game. “Very clever,” he said. “Reckless, too, I like that.”
“Yeah, she nearly got us all killed,” Jason grumbled.
“Jason, if I honestly thought you might have gotten run over, I wouldn’t have done it, and besides, you didn’t have to follow me,” I pointed out. “As you pointed out, it’s only a stupid game. If you stayed behind, nothing would’ve really happened.”
“Ah...well.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I guess I just got caught up in the moment.”
Thalia echoed the sentiment. “Happens to the best of us. You guys should’ve seen me in training, I smashed those games.”
Of course this set her into another spiel about her military days. She could (and often did) talk on and on about her experiences in the Marines. The conversation changed when Adam brought up her statement that she was “running from the Defenders.” My throat closed, and I shot her a nervous warning look. It crossed my mind that I should stop doing that; it may become suspicious if I did it too much.
“I worked as a personal bodyguard for a few years after leaving the Corps,” she explained. “One of my clients just so happened to work for the PDs, and as it happened, I lost my brother to them a long time ago. I...allowed myself revenge,” she finished, leaving the details to Dark’s imagination.
He whistled softly. “Before or after you turned?”
“That’s very impressive, Thalia.”
When we arrived back at the warehouse, again, Vic had returned, with a strange look on her face. I quietly asked if things were alright, and she said they were. I changed the subject then, telling her in loud, enthusiastic tones about the initiation game and the way we conquered it. “I assume Vic is welcomed along with us, isn’t she?” I said, turning to Adam.
“She is most welcome if she wants to be,” he said.
“I do, thank you,” Vic replies.
“Then welcome to the pack. What’s your name again?”
“Victoria Castle. My friends call me Vic.”
“Adam Dark, but I’m sure you knew that already.”
“I did. It’s nice to meet you in person.”
Later that night, Dark pulled me aside. “What are you here for, Jac?” he asked quietly.
“What am I...here for?”
“You must have a goal, a reason to leave your home.”
I could have told him then. Thinking of it now, I could’ve avoided a lot of hell if I’d just told him then. But I didn’t. I panicked. I faltered.
“I don’t,” I answered with a shrug. “That’s kind of the point. We had nowhere to go. Times have been difficult lately, and, well, we just needed something new. That’s all.”
“You aren’t running from anything, anyone? Hiding?”
“No, we aren’t,” I insisted, hoping I sounded convincing. “Do you ask everyone these questions?”
“Of course I do,” he assured me. “I want to ensure your safety. We’re your people now, Jac.” He put his hand on my shoulder, smiling reassuringly. “You can trust me.”
I wanted to believe that Dark was telling me the truth, but something still nagged at me. Maybe it was a look in his eye, maybe it was how forced that smile seemed, maybe it was something else entirely. Regardless of why, a tiny voice in my head told me to be cautious around him. I smiled anyway, and thanked him.
I felt his eyes following me as I disappeared into the crowd, and the discomfort I felt increased.
I slept remarkably well that night, for being in a new, unfamiliar place surrounded by new, unfamiliar people -- never the kind of situation I’d done well in. But I woke relaxed and ready, and hungry. I roused Jason, and we headed out to buy some food. The morning was cold and sunny, even colder (so I thought, at least) than Arkansas. “I have grass burns on my knees,” Jason announced, apropos of nothing.
“From last night?”
“Yep. It was fun, though.”
“Tons of fun,” I agreed.
“Do you think we’ll like it here?” he asked. “I mean, for now. I know we won’t be here forever.”
“I know we won’t, but I do think I’ll like it here. These are good people.”
“Doesn’t it concern you even a little, though?”
“Does what concern me?”
“Actually living here. We’ll have to get jobs, get lives. I’ll spend more of my time with the band, hopefully going all over the city. And you know you’ll have to tell Dark the truth eventually.”
“I know, I know,” I said, raking my hands through my hair.
He looked steadily at me for several seconds, finally bursting out, “You didn’t tell him. He asked, and you didn’t tell him.”
“I didn’t,” I admitted. “I don’t know what got into me. I was going to tell him, I wanted to tell him, but I...I dunno. Lapse in confidence, I guess.”
He let out a frustrated whoosh. “Hailee, you know you’re just digging us deeper into a hole. The sooner you tell Dark the truth, the more likely he’ll help us.”
I understood his frustration; the same feelings had been building up inside me for hours. “It won’t happen again,” I assured Jason. “Don’t worry. Everything is going to work out.” Yes, the words sound hollow, but they’re the best I can do for now.
We swung open the door of a dollar supermarket, collected a couple bags of cheap food, and we wandered around the streets of Nashville for several minutes. My eyes flitted to the road, watching cars rush by. More than once, I saw the type of dented, dark-colored, windowless vehicles the Defenders were partial to pass by, and I tensed. But all of them passed by us without so much as a glance out the window from the drivers, and I relaxed.
An insistent buzzing came from my jeans pocket. I fished out my phone and saw the battery was dying, so we stopped at a small public library so I could charge it up. There were important calls to be had, calls I would miss otherwise.
And a few hours later, that important call came. “Fred, hello!”
“Hailee.” His voice was tense.
“What’s up? What’s wrong?”
“It might be nothing,” he said, in a voice that told me it wasn’t nothing. “There’s been a lot of traffic by the cont center, is the thing.”
“The vans. Yeah, I saw them.”
“Reinforcements, you think? Fresh hunters coming in?”
“I definitely wouldn’t rule it out. Do you think they’ve caught onto us, somehow?”
“Us? Like, us us? No. I think that’s just paranoia. There’s no way they’ve caught on that we left yet, never mind where we are now.”
“I’m sure,” he said, but again, his voice said the very opposite.
“Whatever it is they’re up to, it can’t bode well for any of us,” I said, pacing up and down the sidewalk.
“I agree with that. And whatever it is they’re up to, we need to find out exactly what it is.”
I stopped pacing. “How will we do that?”
“Well, I had a thought. Might not be a good one, but it’s a thought.”
“Meet me outside the apartment. Bring the others with you.”
It took us a few frustrated moments of wandering this way and that up and down the sidewalk before I spotted Fred’s reddish curls, and we realized which of the brownstones was Logan’s home. He waved at me as I ran over, Levi and Holly standing just behind him. “So?” was the first thing I said.
“You’re not going to say hello?” he asked, amused.
I gave him a quick hug. “Hello. I missed you. Now, to business. What was this thought of yours?”
“Well.” He had a sly, almost evil grin on his face, one I hadn’t seen since mischievous days of childhood. “I think there’s only one real way to find out what they’re up to, isn’t there?”
The idea, which had dawned on me before, suddenly became clear. “You’re suggesting we break in, are you not? Please tell me you’re not suggesting we break in.”
“He’s suggesting we break in,” Jason said.
“How are we going to do that?”
“A-hem,” said Vic. “You’re forgetting something.”
“With her skills and experience, we’ll be in no problem,” Fred said confidently.
“Oh, in I buy. It’s getting out that worries me.”
“Do you trust us, Hailee?”
“Of course I trust you,” I grinned. “Let’s do this.”