In Which They Will Stand With Me
“Friday night, baby!” Nicholas whooped. “Our biggest show yet!”
“Who knows?” Brenton joined in. “Maybe we’ll catch the right people’s eye. We could finally get out of the city, man!”
“What’s all this excitement about, guys?” I asked. I’d just arrived at the practice room, having to sneak in the back since Brent and Nick’s parents had returned. “You’ve booked another set?”
“Huge one, too!” said Nick. “We’ve gotten the most popular joint this side of town. If it’s a hit, I think we might earn a slot at a winter festival. Maybe even one next summer, too.” He grinned, bouncing up and down on his drum seat. “After the Fall is going places!”
“That’s wonderful,” I said. “I wish I could be there.”
“You can’t?” said Francis. She was crouched over a box of equipment, fumbling with wires. “You’ve been at almost all our shows so far.”
“I have some things to sort out,” I said. That was the night I planned to speak to Dark. I wouldn’t put it off any longer.
Jason put his microphone up, and pulled me aside. “I know I haven’t been around much. I’ve been spending most of my time with ATF.”
“Jason, that’s okay,” I reassured him. “Why would I have a problem with that? I like your band. You have an amazing voice.”
He stopped me. “No, listen. Listen. Brent and Nick, and Francis, they’re serious about this. They want to go to festivals, talk to recording executives, go on local tours, and they want me to be part of it. They called me the missing ingredient.”
I nodded. “That’s a good thing, isn’t it?”
“No,” he said, lowering his voice. “I mean, it is, but come on, Hailee! I can’t be in a real, honest-to-God band. I can’t go on tour. I can’t go on the festival circuit. I don’t think the boys understand that. Imagine me in Atlanta or New Orleans or something, downtown, on a full moon night. Nowhere to run to, with my bandmates all around me. Can you imagine that?”
“That could end badly,” I allow.
“It can and it probably will. I’ll either be seen and shot at, or...or worse.”
I nodded, and waited to see what he’d say next. He didn’t say anything. I waved a hand, prompting him. “What are you going to do, then? Hm?”
He shrugged, watching Nick launch into an impromptu drum solo. “I’m waiting for your orders,” he said, raising his voice to be heard over the crashing of cymbals. “You’re my Alpha.”
“Jason. Jason.” I put a hand on his shoulder, the Levi always did to me. “I want you to know something. I might be your Alpha, but your life is your life. If the band is what makes you happy, then do it. Adam already knows, so it’s not like anyone thinks you’re lost. Just stay! We can make it work.”
The sides of his mouth quirked up into a smile. He pushed the ends of his sleeves up, rubbing his forearms -- a certain tic that revealed a few faded, crisscrossing scars on his wrists. He folded and unfolded his right hand, another tic that revealed another scar. I remembered the day I returned to Vicar’s Lot to find him nursing those fresh cuts, the day I chased him to the edge of a cliff and pulled him from the edge. I remembered worrying about him constantly, my heart breaking for him after his family’s rejection.
When Jason was up on stage, belting his heart out into a cheap microphone, he was happier than I’d ever seen him. It would be undoubtedly difficult to manage, having a lycan from my pack living a public life, but if it was the best life for him, we’d manage.
It might be good for us, too, I thought. If we’re really going to “come out,” out of the shadows, we might as well start now.
The drum solo ended. Jason stopped messing with his sleeves. “My parents know, too. Mom said she’d love to be at the show.”
“Does she still send you lessons?” Jason’s mother had been homeschooling him in between his times with the pack, keeping him at arms length as she tried to adjust to his new life. Gram insisted that I do some of his work, too, after the debacle that resulted in me getting pulled from Mountain Home High School.
He giggled. “Yeah, she’ll read them straight into the phone and make me take notes.”
“I have a feeling she’d do that if you went on tour, even if you hadn’t moved out beforehand.”
“Oh, she most definitely would. For sure. I’m just glad to know she still cares, y’know?”
“I get it. I feel the same way about Gram.” That reminded me, I hadn’t called Gram in several days. I should do that, I decided, and retreated to the basement bathroom. Music started up again outside, one of their original compositions, blocking out the sound of the dial tone.
“Hello? Hello, Hailee?”
I sat on the edge of the bathtub. “Hi, Gram.” She was silent for several seconds. “I just wanted to call you, tell you how we’re doing.”
I could hear a smile in her voice. “How are you doing?”
“We’re doing great,” I said, a vague general statement that was pretty much true.
“Is that music I hear?”
“Yes,” I said, raising my voice. “We’ve met up with some old friends of Jason’s, and they’ve got a rock band.”
“You haven’t done anything terribly dangerous, have you?”
Other than breaking into a heavily guarded Defender facility and stealing sensitive information from a private office? “Nothing terribly dangerous, no.”
“And the full moon? How was....Was everything alright there?”
“Everything was fine, Gram. There’s a nice public park here, and some old warehouses in the city. Places we can go.”
I nodded, then remembered we were on the phone. “Yeah, it’s good. How are you doing, Gram?”
“How do you think?” she said, a slight laugh in her voice. “It’s Three Brothers. It’s more of the same. I miss you.”
“I miss you too, Gram,” I said, and I meant it. “Has anyone been asking about me?”
“No, not really. My friends still think you’re away, at...you know. With Rory.”
“At reform school. Right.” I wondered distantly what Rory Lester was doing now. I hoped he wasn’t in any danger, not that I thought Tyrone would go after a human. Would he? I wondered. Would he, really? He had shot Thalia, after all, Thalia his (ostensibly) loyal bodyguard. Thalia whom he’d once called a real friend. There was no telling what Dante Tyrone might do.
“Hailee? Are you still there?”
I shook myself, forgetting Rory. “Yes, Gram, I’m still here. Got distracted, sorry.” Someone knocked on the wall. “Well, I need to go. I just wanted to tell you I’m okay.”
“I’m very glad to know that,” she said sweetly. “Thank you for calling me.”
“I’ll call again soon,” I promised. “Bye.”
I hung up, brushing past Brent -- it was him who’d been knocking. The rest of the band were lounging around the practice room. Nick was still making up random interludes on his drum set, suggesting songs he could fit them into; Jason was responding to those suggestions; Francis was staying out of the conversation. Slouched on the sofa (the only piece of furniture that hadn’t been shoved aside to make room for equipment) with Holly’s head on her shoulder, she shrugged casually at me when I walked in, like Yeah, it’s always like this.
“I’ve gotta go,” I told Jason. “Have fun with that. Are you coming back to the warehouse tonight?”
“Yeah, I’ll be there. I’ll be there every night except Friday,” he said.
I gave him a cheerful goodbye wave, and left, heading back to the warehouse.
When I got back, I sat inside under one of the big, half-covered windows, flipping through Logan’s pictures and thinking. There was a local newspaper -- yesterday’s -- that someone had abandoned sitting under the window. I picked it up, flipping through the pages until an article, tucked away on the tenth page under an ad for off-brand cologne, caught my eye.
Who Are These Defenders...And Are They Really Here to Help Us?
Following Dante Tyrone’s highly publicized television interview (and subsequent mysterious hospital stay), his shadow group, known as the Paranormal Defenders of America, has been appearing in various cities across the nation. No one can say for certain where these Defenders came from, or what exactly they do -- they only claim to be “humanity’s line of defense against supernatural threats.” Big talk from a man who continuously dances around questions about his group’s purpose, a man who was hospitalized after an incident he won’t address.
It’s an op-ed piece, I realized: the next paragraph read more like rambling than anything. It’s a strange world that we live in, where “supernatural threats” are a legitimate concern of the people, something we enlist special forces to assist with and yell opinions back and forth about. A very, very strange world. Some people believe it, some people don’t, but here’s my question...where’s the proof?
Who has seen these threats? Who can prove that the documents Tyrone addressed aren’t forged? I won’t believe it until I see it.
I closed the paper. Rambling opinion pieces had become fairly common since the information leak. The majority were like this one, demands for some type of proof that it was real. Apparently, the photos, the official-looking signatures and seals, the scientific communities confirmation, weren’t enough for some people. They were Matheson’s faceless doubters: “it was something, but it couldn’t be that.” Unless they saw it with their own eyes, it couldn’t be that.
I couldn’t really blame them -- I’d been in the world of lycans for so long that it was hard to remember what ignorance was like, but I could certainly remember if I tried. I remembered my own skepticism when Levi first told me, but then, I had seen, and besides which I was. I’d have been a fool to deny it any longer than one night.
Jason told me how hard it was for him to believe, after he was bitten. Of course it was harder for him, having been born a human without even an inkling of what was really out there. What Holly and Thalia and I had done had turned the entire nation into Jasons: clueless, unwilling to believe, waiting on some sign that their crazy theory was right. His Change had been the sign, the wake-up call.
What was this city’s wake-up call going to be?
It was Thalia, whom I suddenly realized I hadn’t spoken to in days. She was wearing the same outfit she’d worn on the drive into Nashville (hopefully she’d washed it at some point), and had her hair down in a casually unbrushed fashion, a rare thing for her. “Oh, hey, Thalia,” I said. “Where’ve you been lately?”
She shrugged. “About.” That wasn’t unusual. Large gatherings at the pack house or around town were normal and expected after nightfall, but during the day, people milled in and out, coming from work or school or God knew what some of them had going on. “I’ve been looking for a part-time job, but there isn’t much of a market for hired muscle in this neighborhood. Well, not a market that I want to be on, anyway. Looks like I might have to get a new skill set.”
The idea of “getting lives,” as Jason called it, had spread to all of us. He was a permanent fixture of After the Fall’s lineup, and Holly was their unofficially appointed roadie; Fred was still in close cahoots with Logan, going on Hunter Watch; Riley was helping both him and Vic find jobs. It was getting hard for me to keep up with my own pack...which made me think it was time for me to stop trying to keep up, and get a life of my own.
“Anyway,” Thalia said, sitting beside me, “what’s up?”
“Reading the paper,” I replied. “Thinking.”
“You do a lot of that,” she said lightly.
I shrugged. “There are worse things I could do a lot of.”
“I’m speaking to Dark soon,” I said. “Friday night.”
“Are you worried?”
“A little,” I confessed. “Dark can be an intimidating man. If he gets the wrong idea, he might lash out, start a fight.”
“Just stay levelheaded,” Thalia said. “Don’t let him get the wrong idea. Be clear, be calm, don’t do anything stupid. Not that I think you’ll do anything stupid,” she added hastily. “I’m sure you won’t do anything stupid.”
I laughed harshly. “If you’re sure of that, you either don’t know me or you’re trying to spare my feelings. No need to spare my feelings, Thalia.”
“Well,” she said, “whatever happens, I’ll stand with you.”
I smiled my thanks to her, feeling the strength of our connection. Thalia saw in me something that Mark hadn’t seen: a true sire. A friend, and a protector too, despite her being over a decade my elder. She was loyal enough to stand with me even when I did something totally crazy. “Who else is around?” I asked.
She rattled of the names of a few people I didn’t know.
“Any of us?” I said, bringing my voice down a notch or two.
“Fred came around a while ago. I’m not sure if he’s still here.”
I climbed up to the loft-floor, walking down the hall to Fred’s little room. Yes, he was still there, having apparently fallen asleep in the middle of taking notes -- notes on what was unclear. He stirred, started awake, when I entered. “Oh, Hailee,” he mumbled. “I...I was sleeping.”
“I could tell.” I leaned against the wall. “I’ve been telling everyone, I finally have a plan. I’m finally getting off my ass and going to Adam. Friday night’s our do-our-die time. Nunc aut numquam.”
He nodded, rubbing his sleepy eyes. “That scares me, just a bit.”
“Yeah, it does. I feel like you’re going out to face Mark Prosper again.”
“No!” I reassured him. “It’s nothing like that. Nothing at all.”
“I’m sure it’s not. But it still worries me.”
“I said then that I needed to come back, for all of you. That’s even truer now, believe me. And you said before we left that you needed me. Is that still true?”
“It’s still true,” he said. “That is still very true.”
“Will you stand with me, too?”
Fred set aside his notes, and stood. “Yes, yes I will. Absolutely.”