The Willow Society

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Chapter 29

Chapter 29

Taylor sat chagrined as Sue-Ann reached for the newspaper, crumpled it up. He felt an intense trepidation and leftover fear from the previous night's adventure. More, it was coupled with a lingering sense of despair at the thought of how close he had come to being put out of the Society. He hadn't really understood what the Society meant to him before now. There was no way he wanted to go back to be just plain old Taylor Zachary, unknown hacker kid, invisible nerd-boy. Anticipation layered over his feelings of being in the Society, as though something more, something greater was just around the corner. He belonged in the Society, he knew that now; the idea of losing it was almost more than he could bear.

His friendship with Winston, his hopes for Izzy, his place at Willow Prep, all these things were tied to the Society, and he could not fathom losing any of it. He shivered. For his part Winston didn't seem terribly bothered by the grilling they had just received, or by their situation. Taylor wondered if that was an effect of who his best friend was: a sort of spoiled, no-boundaries type of freewheeler; who, thanks to a happy combination of luck and pluck, succeeds in everything tries. Without needing to ask Taylor was certain if they had both been removed from the Society Winston would have found something else to fill up his time. Likely he would have planned larger and larger break-ins until someone smarter and more prepared finally snared him and his wealth had to buy him out of a trip to prison. Otherwise he would probably just escape from prison. Taylor pushed back a giggle at that thought.

Sue-Ann eyed him roughly. “You two are waiting for me to punish you.“

Taylor didn't want to say he hadn't been waiting for that at all, not anymore. If anything he had grown certain over the past few minutes he and Winston were not going to be punished at all, that they were instead going to be rewarded: they were going to be tasked with turning the tables and finding out who had been following them and why. Find whomever had the thumbdrive now. Taylor almost rubbed his hands with excitement.

“You two must grow up. Now. You cannot always expect someone older and wiser to pull your noses out of the fire, to point you in the right direction.“ Taylor almost tuned her out, she was lecturing and without the nascent anger of her earlier rant it was boring. Sue-Ann sighed, and for a moment she looked very, very tired. But she recovered and fixed both boys with her steely eyes. “I need not stress, I hope, that neither Isabel nor myself seeks to end up shot in our town car or in custody.“ She paused, took a slow breath, “But this was not entirely your fault, I cannot escape the fact had you not been about searching out something having to do with the Society in the first place, you would not have been in any real danger.“ Taylor had not thought of it that way. He had invested himself rather completely in the Society, its aims had become his own. For a few moments he continued to ride high, thinking Sue-Ann was about to concede reluctant thanks to him and Winston, now they had dutifully endured her tirade. “So after tonight the Society will cease. There will be no more need to cover up incidents. But understand this will not affect your schooling in any way. Your scholarships are to remain intact.“ Lou glared daggers at both boys. Sue-Ann's lips grew thin as she finished and she nodded to herself, her eyes looked past the boys and towards the wall-mounted television behind them, muted but turned on.

Something is missing. She can't be serious.

Judging by her face, by Isabel's, for a moment it seemed they weren't serious. Her tone wasn't hard, it was lighthearted, like she was relieving herself of a heavy burden.

Taylor looked at the faces of the three girls. Myth was thunderstruck, her mouth gaping open, but words didn't come. Izzy's eyes widened until the whites shone around her blue irises. Lou's steely faced demeanor shed, if for only a brief moment, and she was so encased in frightened despair Taylor felt like letting her punch him until she felt better. But there was nothing for him to say, really. He was chastened. Winston was stared concertedly at the floor, at his shoes.

Winston's head raised and with a defiant look on his face he peppered Sue-Ann and Isabel with questions.

“But what about Tate? And the CCOM panel? And the NSA? I mean, Sue-Ann - this is really important stuff? You can't mean to just let it lie! All those attacks on your resources, servers, your bank accounts. It's not unrelated, it can't be! And it won't stop just because the Society does. Whoever is behind it all is not going to stop! I mean, they killed a guy over this stuff! It has to be the same people! You NEED us!“ Winston was impassioned and for once not smiling. It made him seem a completely different person, a person who could move people if he chose; a person people would follow; the kind of person Taylor very much wanted to be. Winston turned and grinned goofily at Taylor and the moment was blown.

Sue-Ann sighed. “You might be right. In fact, I am more and more convince you are. But this is more than I am prepared to handle. More than we are prepared to handle.“ Sue-Ann's hesitation at saying we nudged something in Taylor.

Are she and Isabel not in full agreement? Is that why Isabel is keeping silent?

Taylor was about to ask when Winston spoke up again.

“What about Tate? He's former NSA, can't he help us?“ Winston said.

Sue-Ann shook her head in the negative. Taylor looked to Isabel, hoped maybe she was in disagreement, that if he wanted it bad enough, if she could see he wanted it bad enough she would countermand Sue-Ann. Isabel slowly shook her head negative . “There will be no more arguments.“ Isabel said her voice a chiming note of finality. “I want you all to understand, this is not some game. It is not what I and Sue-Ann intended when we formed the Society. Car accidents, guns, break-ins, kidnappings, hacking, killing, the NSA. I am not sure how deep the hole we are in is. But it must stop, now. I hope you children” Isabel had never called them children, not once the entire time Taylor had been a part of the Society. His face flustered with anger, and he saw the same reaction in the others. “can see this is for the best: the best for you, the best for us, and the best for the Society.“ This confused Taylor, after all they were the Society. How can destroying something be the best for it? “As such, I would have you all refrain from socializing with each other for the time being, outside of school.“

“Well I believe that covers it. You all may, hang out,“ Sue-Ann's face narrowed as she tried to sound cool, “here for the remainder of the early evening, but Mrs. Jones will be around to close the HQ for good around 9. Good evening.“

Taylor sat there, stunned and silent. Isabel gathered herself up and left with Sue-Ann. For a moment Taylor did nothing, he didn't even register the anguished looks on the faces of his friends. A roaring sound filled his ears along with the sudden sense everything was tilted and surreal. And it's all my fault. Somehow he knew that and he knew the moment he looked up he would see fault reflecting back at him in the glares of his friends.

Are we still friends without the Society? Without being able to hang?

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