In Which Yes, There Were Lies
With my people behind me, I felt better about Friday night. I also made up my mind that once the confrontation was over, I would finally get myself together and start adjusting to life in Nashville. I would try to both get a life of my own and to keep up with the pack, with Thalia especially -- although, I’d realized she didn’t need my help at all.
And Fred, too. When this was over, I was going to sit down with him and talk, really talk, about my feelings. Our feelings. There was a time for that, for relationships, but it could wait. It couldn’t get in the way of what was truly important.
Friday finally came around. I went to Levi first, practicing my spiel on him, and I could tell he was also concerned. I think he wished I was still underage, so he could still take my place in doing this. He knew I wouldn’t have let him, anyway.
“It’s good,” he said. “I think it’s a perfectly convincing speech.” Sure enough, he offered assistance. “Do you want me to go with you?”
“No,” I said firmly. “I should be the one to say it. If anything goes wrong, I’ll call you, but it’s my job as Alpha.”
“You should arrange to meet up,” he encouraged me, “and arrange it as soon as you can. Do you have his number?”
“I think so. I think he gave it to me after the...holding center incident.”
“I’d suggest you call him, then.”
Adam was working at his day job, dreading the coming night, when he got the call. “Hello?”
“Mr Dark? It’s Jac.”
He groaned internally. Oh, wonderful. I don’t need to think about this right now. “Yes, Jac? Something up?”
Her voice was tense. “I’d like to speak to you. Tonight, if possible. It’s urgent.”
“Urgent? Urgent how?”
“I can’t say. But believe me, it’s important, and I’d like you to come alone.”
“Where?” he inquired.
“I didn’t have a place in mind. You can choose a meeting place.”
He thought about it. He tried to think of a place where they weren’t likely to be seen except by his own people. People who would, he hoped, be on his side.
Secretly, though, he hoped no one would be there. He didn’t want them to see what he was going to do.
“Have you heard of the Red Crescent?”
“I’ve heard the name,” she answered.
He told her where the Red Crescent could be found. “I’d like to meet you there, outside the building. Whatever you want to discuss, we can discuss. Does that work?”
“It works,” she said. “Well, I’ll stop bothering you now, Mr Dark. Thank you.”
“I will see you tonight,” he replied, and hung up.
Adam got up and wandered to the bathrooms, running his fingers through his hair in agitation. Tyrone was still in his head, whispering, and it was making him crazy. He paced around the empty room, splashed cold water on his face, beads of sweat gathering on the back of his neck.
Jackson wanted to speak to him alone, and tonight. She called it “urgent.” And for the time she’d been there, a mere few weeks, she had stirred up so much trouble and showed so much reckless initiative....Not that initiative was a bad thing. Ambition was a great thing for anyone to have, but in her, coupled with everything she’d done, it was dangerous.
He reached into his back pocket, where Tyrone’s bullet still sat, feeling much heavier than lead and silver, always lurking at the edge of his mind.
As much as he hated it, Adam thought he believed Tyrone. Perhaps Jackson did want to challenge him. Perhaps she was a threat to him. She didn’t look like a threat, and yet....
He had hardly looked like a challenger himself.
The younger and more hotheaded Adam Dark, six years previous, had kept mostly to himself. He’d known since his initiation -- hell, it wasn’t hard to see, everyone knew it -- that their Alpha was a cruel man, controlling and harsh. Whispers of an overthrow had been spreading around, rebellious mutterings among a few young lycans, but everyone seemed too afraid to stand up and actually do it.
It was only when one of his friends was hurt, “punished,” by this cruel Alpha, that Adam had had enough. He stood up in the back of the room and declared his challenge, a shock to everybody. A shock to the Alpha, too, but he mostly brushed it off. After all, how could this quiet, unassuming young man beat him?
Adam had, indeed, left the battlefield with many new scars. But against all odds, he also left with hands covered in blood that wasn’t his own. He’d left the battlefield the new Alpha of Nashville’s wolfpack. He’d run as far as he could, away from all of it, screaming inside. Screaming aloud, too, when he was out of earshot. He couldn’t believe what he’d just done.
It was the first time he had killed. It was not the last.
We hadn’t specified a time to meet at the Red Crescent -- all I had said was tonight -- so I left around sunset, following the directions Adam had given me.
The directions led me to the part of town away from the center, the part of town that really belonged to the wolfpack. I’m sure there were humans here who’d known the truth for years, at least deduced it based on the strangeness of their neighbors and patrons. Here, the lycanthropes didn’t live in isolation, like in Three Brothers. They had chosen to interact with humankind, to mingle with them; many were close friends or, like Dark himself, even lovers and spouses of humans. It was a good happy medium they’d found.
The Red Crescent, I knew from casual talk, was one place in particular that they liked to gather. According to Lana, many important meetings had been held there, with the owner’s assurance that nobody would listen in. I hoped that nobody will listen in applied to Dark and I tonight.
I walked straight past the Crescent at first, because the letters on the sign were so small and dim. I stopped on a corner, glanced around, and there it was behind me: “The Red Crescent -- Food & Bar,” in letters more magenta than true red, with a flickering “e” at the end of “The” and an off-white sliver of a moon for a “C.”
It was open but empty, soft light pouring through the glass door. I pushed it open, greeted by the sounds of low-volume alternative music, an AWOLNATION song coming to its end. The bartender, a glasses-wearing man in a dirty apron, met my eyes as I entered. “Uh, can I help you?” he said. Then, he squinted at me and exclaimed, “Hey, you’re her! Aren’t you? I think you’re her.”
“Was someone asking about me? Mr Dark, by any chance?”
“Yes, yes, exactly. Him. He’s, uh, he’s outside.”
I nodded. “Thank you.”
He pointed out the backdoor. “He’s out there.”
“He didn’t mention anything else? Just that it was me?”
“He mentioned nothing. He just said there would be a girl coming to meet him, someone about seventeen years old and, er...tough-looking.”
“That would be me.” I headed for the backdoor, my heart hammering in my chest. Instinctively, I was adopting a fighting posture: pulling back my hair, squaring my shoulders, Changing my eyes and teeth. I didn’t believe that Dark would want to fight, but if he did....I wanted to be ready.
A fighting posture. I stopped, right outside the door, and relaxed, tensing and untensing every muscle in my body. My instincts told me to be ready, yes, but my better judgement told me otherwise. If I looked like I wanted to fight, Dark would take that at face value. So, I had to be ready, without looking like I was ready. I kept my hair up, my head high, my eyes yellow, but kept my body as slack and relaxed as possible.
I pushed open the door, walking into the shallow and narrow alleyway between the Crescent and the next building over. The rancid smell from the dumpsters mixed with the smell of rain on the breeze. Bits of newspaper blew around on the shadowed pavement, a classically creepy scene. Adam wanted us very alone indeed for this meeting.
“Mr Dark?” I called.
A silhouette at the end of the alley stepped toward me. “There you are, Jac.”
“Mr Dark, I wanted to talk to you about something urgent. Something I really should have mentioned before, in fact I should have mentioned it at the very beginning, but I hope you’ll still trust me after this....” I was babbling, I realized, a word-vomit version of the speech I had prepared ahead of time.
Adam was now in view, his face half-bathed in streetlamp light. “Trust you, hmm? You think whatever you’re going to say might make me lose trust in you?”
“I certainly hope not,” I said, recovering my composure. “I hope you can understand, I had my reasons for lying to you about...certain matters.”
He paced a few steps, hands clasped behind his back. “Oh, Jac. Jac Ravenheart. I know there were lies -- I’d sure have been a fool not to see some things -- and I think I know what ‘certain matters’ means.”
My face went hot. Something wasn’t right here. I couldn’t say what, exactly, wasn’t right, but my gut was telling me that something wasn’t what it should be, and my gut had never lied to me. I bit down hard to keep my fangs from slipping out. “Well, in that case --”
He kept talking without so much as an acknowledgement. “I wonder, too. I wonder why you found it necessary to lie at all. And from the ground up, too, about everything, Jac.”
It was the name that was wrong, it was something in the way he said Jac, like the word itself was bitter on his tongue. It was the way he stood, a fighting posture if I’d ever seen one. It was the bartender’s nervousness, it was this isolated and narrow meeting place, like he was trying to trap me in....
“I wonder,” he said, “why you didn’t just tell me your real name, Hailee Jackson.”