In Which I Fall Through a Roof
Jason just nodded when I was finished. “Thank you for telling me that.” He rolled over onto his side and shut his eyes. “I’m tired,” he announced. “I want to sleep now. Tell me a story,” he demanded, impishly.
I smiled. “Sure,” I said. I searched my mind for stories I knew, the ones I loved as a kid, and settled on the story of his namesake, the Greco-Romani hero Jason, and his Argonaut crew. Not even five minutes had passed before I heard the slow, regular breathing that told me he was asleep, his body finally caught up with his heart and mind’s exhaustion. I leaned over and kissed his forehead again, unsure why I was getting so sentimental. Usually I wasn't sentimental, but...I kind of liked it. It felt nice. I got up and left the room, shutting the door quietly behind me.
Fred was standing, waiting for me, in the hallway. “Is he okay?” he asked.
“He’ll be fine, I think,” I answered, trying to convince myself even as I said it that it was true. I forced myself to smile. “I think we’re all going to be fine. I'll keep an eye on him.”
Then he embraced me, taking me by surprise. I, I thought ruefully, have been unexpectedly hugged far, far too many times lately. This really needs to end. But this time it was different. It felt familiar, something he had done since I was a little girl and he was a fresh-faced boy, scooping me up in his arms and messing up my hair. “Honestly,” I said, “I’m surprised it took you that long to get around to it.”
“I didn’t think I needed to,” he said. He was looking at me like that again, like he wanted to look into my soul. “I thought...that after all this time, you’d know.”
“I’d know what?”
“You’d know...what I think about you,” he said quietly -- very, very quietly.
“What do you mean?” I pressed.
He shook his head fervently. “No,” he said, more to himself than me. “No, no, never mind. It’s not the right time yet. Soon.” He turned away from me. “Soon, when you’re...when you’re, you know. We can talk about it another time.”
When I'm what? I wanted to shout. My friend’s ambiguity was frustrating me to no end. What was it he wanted to tell me, the confession constantly hiding behind his eyes when he looked at me? What are you hiding from me, Fredrick Roland? How long had he been hiding it? If it was truly what I thought it was, than it couldn’t have been long at all. When I had met him, he was thirteen, not much younger than I was now. I was ten, a child...too young to fall in love with. You’re still too young, I reminded myself firmly. He’s nearly twenty. You’re sixteen, or not even. That’s too much, no matter how close you are.
Was it, though? In seven years, finding us both in our mid-twenties, would four years (give or take a few months) make such a difference? Many lycans, particularly younger Alphas, found their mates at a young age. Who better, when all was said and done, than one’s best friend?
And...maybe, just maybe, I did have some feelings for him, deep down.
I shook my head. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. These thoughts weren’t like me, not at all. I wasn’t one of those girls. I had more things in my life to worry over than love and romance. I didn’t have time for it; spending time on shallow things like dating would distract me from my responsibilities, and I had quite a few of those.
I rolled my eyes at my own thoughts. Love is confusing, I thought.
I took a quick glance at the calendar on the wall when I was back in my own room. It was the 18th of October. A red X marked the date the twenty-first. That was the half-moon, the second Change of the cycle. My stomach began to twinge a bit. I needed to watch Jason especially closely, make sure he was prepared.
I took another look. The marker on the calendar had run, giving it an appearance like recently dried blood. I didn’t think of myself as superstitious, but sometimes I wondered if things I saw were omens. The sense of unease that I suddenly got made me wonder.
Blood will be spilt on that night.
I couldn’t sleep that night. On a random tangent of thought, I decided to check my cell phone. A little *Alert!* message popped onto the screen as soon as I turned it on. Phone memory full. Please delete some messages/calls. I groaned when I opened it up and found what it said. 82 missed calls, 132 unread messages. All of them bore the same caller ID -- Gram. Wait, no, not all of them. Only 84 of the calls were from her (all the messages though; strange, I didn’t even think she could text). Of the 4 calls I actually considered of consequence, two were from Holly. One was from the school administration. And one was from a number I did not recognize. I held the phone to my ear and began replaying the first voicemail.
“Hailee? It’s Holly. Are you ever coming back to school? Weird things are happening here. Lester and Daughter keep coming around, they’re getting more tense by the day. Something big’s coming, Hailee. You better brace yourself. PS, still waiting for a ride on that bike of yours.”
Then the second.
“Hi, Hailee, it’s me again. I really hope you listen to this, because I urgently need to talk to you. I can’t say much because I’m in the school bathrooms during lunch period and I don’t really have time to talk. Are you coming back to school? Please see me as soon as you can. Bye.”
I skipped the third entirely.
Something inside me hesitated, if only for a brief moment, before hitting the “replay” button on the fourth message.
Sounds of background clamor. Sounds of rustling and shutting doors. Then a voice. “This is Thalia Cleverly speaking. We exchanged numbers during our last correspondence? There’s something I think you should know. Someone within the Defenders is in the process of attempting to hack its classified files. If anything in those files was leaked into the great information consciousness, the aftermath, the effect on the lycan community and the public as a whole, would be...astronomical, one way or another. We might need to speed up Operation Bad Moon Rising.” More background clamor, followed by a soft curse. “I have to go. Talk again soon. Goodbye.”
Thalia Cleverly’s voice. It was bizarre, thinking of this anonymity-draped woman, a woman I didn’t know, whom I only spoke to because we needed each other, as real. Also, the codename was totally her idea -- being ex-military, “operations” were familiar to her. Operation Bad Moon Rising. I liked it. It was simple and to-the-point, even if it was a bit conspicuous. I found it a bit funny, too, like we were children playing at spies. It made us seem less outright crazy -- or more outright crazy, who knew.
I was feeling uneasy at this point. Two different people had sent me the same message -- brace yourself, something big is coming. Cleverly had used the word astronomical. I wondered if the two messages had anything to do with each other. One particularly crazy thought occurred to me. Does Holly have anything to do with these hackings? She does have a reputation as a teenage tech genius.... I laughed off the thought almost as it entered my mind. There was no way Holly was connected to any of this. Aside from being my eyes and ears at Mountain Home High School, she was not a part of my world in any way. That was exactly how I wanted it. Holly was never intended to be a part of it, and if she got too involved she would only end up hurt. Or dead.
No, there was no way she knew of any of the goings-on among the PDs. So, what was it she needed to speak to me about? I decided not to wait to find out. I went to visit her the next morning.
I knocked on the door to the farmhouse, and one of her older cousins answered. “Hi, Natalie,” I said pleasantly. “I’m Hailee. We’ve met before, I’m a friend of Holly’s. Can I stop in for a second? There’s something Holly and I need to discuss.”
She smiled. “Of course.”
“Holly!” Natalie called. “Your friend’s here. She says you two need to talk.”
Holly walked in. “Oh, yeah,” she said tensely. “We really need to talk.” She led me up the stairs to her room, navigating skillfully through the glorified chaos of her living room. Holly’s family was quite crowded: her aunt and uncle, their daughter (Natalie), Natalie’s husband Seth, Holly herself, and three of her cousins from the other side of the family -- Lily, Abe, and Lucy -- whose parents were killed in the same car wreck that claimed Holly’s parents.
I smiled as I witnessed the mad happenings. “You have quite the family,” I observed.
“Yeah,” she commented dryly, “it’s a mixed blessing.”
“So,” I said as she shut the door behind her, “what is it that you so urgently need to talk about? Sorry I didn’t reply quicker. Gram’s been blowing up my phone, trying to get me back, it’s a mess.”
She bit her lower lip. “It’s Mark,” she said.
“Mark, as in Prosper? What about him?”
“I overheard a conversation between him and Becky. I’m pretty sure he’s in on it.”
“You know what.” She lowered her voice. When she said, “Werewolf hunting,” her voice was only a decibel above a mere whisper.
“Why are we whispering?” I hissed. “We are in your bedroom. The door is locked.”
“I live in a house with six other people,” she hissed back. “A locked door isn’t always exactly a deterrent.”
“What are you worried about?”
“I’m worried that my family is going to find out that my friend is...is what you are.”
“Are you scared of me?” I asked bluntly. “It’s okay if you are. I actually expected you to be. I know it’s got to be a shock to you, learning the truth.”
“I’m not scared of you, Hailee,” she answered, and I could tell she was sincere. That worried me.
“Has it ever occurred to you that you should be afraid of me?”
“No! Why would it? You’re my best friend. Actually, you’re my only friend. Why would I ever be afraid of you?”
“Because I’m dangerous!” I said, my voice rising. “I can’t control my emotions. And when I can’t control my emotions, bad things happen to the people around me. To anyone else, I’m just a damaged teenager, and maybe I am, but other damaged teenagers aren’t genetically inhuman freaks! Other damaged teens don’t have superpowers, or curses they don’t know how to deal with....” I stopped, suddenly aware of how loud I was being. “See?” I said. “You see? That was me losing my self-control. Can you imagine what would happen if I was ever truly angry? It’d be like The Incredible Hulk, except I’m not turning green.”
“And the Hulk had Betty Ross, and the Avengers,” she said firmly. “You can’t make it through this alone, Hailee. You need people. You’ve got your pack, to stretch the metaphor your Avengers, but you still need someone on the outside. Someone you can trust. In this case, that’s me.”
I sighed. “You were never supposed to be involved in this,” I said. “Maybe Three Brothers is turning into a battleground between the lycans and the hunters. But those were the only two parties it was ever supposed to involve. Humans weren’t even supposed to know.”
“If I wasn’t supposed to know,” Holly replied, “why did you tell me your secret?”
I stopped, for once speechless. “I...don’t know. I just thought you needed to know. Honestly,” I continued, “I think I took it for granted that you wouldn’t believe me, or that you would be afraid of me. I think a subconscious part of me wanted to drive you away.”
"Do you want me to stay away from you?” she said quietly.
I considered that question. “No,” I said truthfully. “I just...I know that, eventually, whatever I do is going to come back not to bite me, but you, and Jason, and all the rest of my pack. I don’t want you to get hurt, Holly.”
“Go back a second,” she said. “Jason, as in, Jason Kingsley? As in, Mr New Kid On the Block?”
“Yes, how many other ‘Jason’s do you know?” I exclaimed.
“He’s a werewolf?”
She looked shocked. “I had no idea.”
“Until two weeks ago, you had no idea we existed.”
“You make an excellent point,” she admitted.
What I had no way of knowing then was that right below me, Natalie was making a phone call, to my grandmother. “Hi. This is Natalie Gabriel, from down the street? I heard about your granddaughter, about how you have the neighborhood on watch for her? Well, she’s at our house, right now, talking to Holly. No, I don’t think she knows I’ve called. Yes, yes, just send them over now.”
Holly and I first heard the sirens about five minutes later. She got up and peered out the window. “That’s weird,” she said.
“What, the police sirens?”
“No, the fact that the police cars seem to be coming...here.”
“What?” I jumped up from the bed and went to look out at the driveway. Two police officers were walking up the pathway to the door. The lights on their vehicle was lit up. “Oh, crap,” I muttered. “Crap, crap, crap.”
“I think they’re here for me.”
Holly gave me a look like she was about to tell me to stop being so paranoid. But, as they say, it’s not paranoia if someone’s really chasing you.
I pressed my head to the door. With my heightened senses, I could hear everything, softly, even through the oak panel and down the stairs. “Mrs Gabriel?”
“We got your call. Where is she?”
“Upstairs. Third room to the left.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
I turned to Holly. “Quick, you have to hide me.”
“Well, where? We don’t exactly have a lot of space.”
I panicked. “In the closet?”
“Hailee, that is the most cliche hiding spot ever.”
“Second most cliche.”
“Well you yourself pointed out we don’t exactly have five-star hiding spots in here!” I hissed.
“Um....” She paced the floor, running her hands through her ultrastiff hair, thinking desperately.
There was a loud knocking on the door. “Police, open up.”
Then, a crazy, terrible idea hit me. “The roof.”
“Are you insane?”
“Maybe. If you can open the window, I can climb outside and pull myself up by the gutters onto the roof and lay low in one of those weird bird’s-nest gaps in the shingles.”
“You are crazy.” More door-banging. “But, it might be our only chance.” She snapped open the locks on the window and pushed the glass up. “Go, quick.”
I climbed out of the window, careful not to look at the drop below, and carefully, hesitantly, put my feet up on the top of the panel. The wind caught me and I nearly lost my balance in fear. I quickly grabbed onto the metal gutter and began to pull myself up. The metal creaked and groaned beneath my weight, but it didn’t give way, and I got up to the roof.
There was a hole in the shingled area about six feet long, just long enough for me to climb inside and lay flat on my stomach, balancing dangerously on a rafter. If I shifted even five pounds of my weight, I would fall through to the attic. I could hear the conversation below me.
“Officer, there’s no one here.”
“Miss Gabriel, are you sure....”
“Yes! I don’t know what....”
“Lee, could you please get out of my room?”
My muscles were beginning to cramp up, quivering with ingrained desire to move. I wanted so badly to shift, just a little bit, but I managed to resist the temptation. Cool, damp sweat beaded on my forehead like dew. I ground my teeth and could feel the tips of my fangs emerging out of stress. To quell the stress, I consciously focused on my own breathing. I felt every little motion of my inner anatomy. The way my lungs contracted and expanded. The air rushing in and out of my cracked-apart lips. The way my heart pumped, the beats increasing past their normal rate with the stress and the adrenaline, thud, thud, thud, and the flow of the blood it gave to my body, the little red rivers rushing just beneath the surface of my skin. My arms and legs were aching. I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed to be out of here, to move, to be free....
I suddenly realized I was about to stress-Change. I bit down on my tongue, my sharpened canines piercing the rubbery flesh. The harsh salt taste of my own blood filled my mouth. I poured all my focus and energy into breathing in and out. Nothing existed in the moment but the sound and feel of the rushing air. Whoosh-whoosh. Whoosh-whoosh. Whoosh-whoosh.
The tide of stress began to pull back, finally falling away from the shores of my mind. I sighed, and dared to relax, letting some of the flex out of my muscles.
That was a mistake. A great creak resounded in my ears, followed closely by the last sound I wanted to hear -- a loud crack! Fifteen milliseconds later, I heard the sound of rushing air in my ears, tasted the strands of hair being whipped in my face, and saw the sky getting rapidly farther away. I shot my hand out, scrambling for a handhold, leaving long, deep, jagged claw-marks in the...ceiling? Walls? I couldn’t tell. I was spinning, and reeling, and most importantly falling, away into oblivion.
Hitting the ground was like your entire body being punched, and hard. It wasn’t a sharp pain, pain that started and ended somewhere, like I’d expected. Instead, it was a dull, throbbing pain that came from everywhere at once and felt like it would never end. My brain went fuzzy. I blinked, trying to get the cobwebs out of my head, and I saw two police officers standing over me. I’m officially screwed, I thought.
They grabbed me by both my shoulders. “Get up,” Officer #1 said, then asked a little too late, "Can you get up?"
“That was quite the fall,” Officer #2 commented, impressed. “I’m surprised. You barely have a scratch on you.” I raised my hand to my cheek and felt more blood clinging to a small cut on my face. I tried moving my limbs, seeing what I had and hadn’t hurt. My arms worked; they were fine. The fact that I was even standing told me my back wasn’t injured. Then I tried to walk. A feeling like being stabbed with an ice shard shot up my left leg when I put my foot down. I looked down at my ankle. It was swelling, and I could see the veins standing out against the skin, throbbing.
“I...I think my ankle’s broken,” I muttered. I didn’t want to ask for their help, but what choice did I have?
“Get her downstairs,” instructed Officer #1. “We’ll check it out,” he told me.
Helplessly, I limped down the stairs and sank down into a kitchen chair. Officer #2 examined me. “I don’t think it’s broken,” she said. “Maybe sprained, or twisted, probably twisted. But not broken.” They tied it up, holding the injured area still so I could walk. Then they led me to the car. Holly could do nothing but watch.
I wanted to scream in frustration. It wouldn’t be too much longer before the accelerated healing took hold. But by that time I would already be in a police car, and I was sure these people worked for the Defenders. If I went with them, I was going nowhere but my own demise. Once Officer #2 shut the door, I said, “Who are you working for?”
Officer #1 gave me a puzzled look. “We work for the state of Arkansas,” he said. “Oakland County, to be precise.”
“You work for the Defenders, don’t you?” I said. “They sent you to get me.”
“What are you even talking about? Sylvia, I think we might have a nutcase here,” he laughed.
“Oh, hush up, Floyd, you should know better. What do you mean, kid? We don’t take jobs. We’re police.”
“The name Rory Lester ring any bells?”
Officer #1 shrugged and said no, he didn’t know him, but the name was familiar.
“I dated him for a while in eighth grade,” Officer #2 muttered.
I tried a different name, one he couldn’t possibly play dumb with. “Rosemarie Swaim? Dante Tyrone?” Rosemarie Swaim, I knew, had been Director before Tyrone.
Officer #2 -- Sylvia -- shook her head. “Never heard of them.” If they don’t work for Tyrone, then who sent them?
“Friends of yours?” inquired Officer #1, whose name was apparently Floyd.
I made a low growling noise. “Far from it.”
“Whoa, alright, kid,” said Officer Floyd hastily. “I get it, not friends. Quit making that noise. You sound like some kind of animal.”
I grinned wickedly. “You don’t know the half of it.”
“If you want to know why we were after you,” said Officer Sylvia, “your grandmother put in a call to the station, saying her charge had run away from home, again.”
“I did not run away from home,” I said angrily. “That place is not my home.”
Officer Floyd laughed. “Hey, kid, it’s okay. I was an angst-ridden teenager once too. I know the feeling. But running away is against the law. It’s our duty to take you home.”
An angst-ridden teenager? I couldn’t stand it anymore. I was so frustrated that if it was physically possible for steam to pour out of one’s ears, I would have been a boiling teapot right then. “You listen to me,” I said. “You had better unlock those doors right now, or we’re going to have some trouble.”
“Kid, I tried to play the good cop,” said Officer Sylvia. “But I’m a police officer. You will treat me with the according respect, are we clear?”
“You don’t know what I am,” I snarled. “It’s clear to me now that you are not with the Division. You have no idea what I am, what I could do to you without even breaking a sweat.” I made sure as the sentence went on to enunciate every word, making myself intimidating.
Officer Floyd turned around in the driver’s seat to face me. “Kid, do I have to handcuff you?”
Bile rose in my throat with anger and fear at the thought of handcuffs. Sudden flashes of my recurring nightmare danced before my mind’s eye. “I have a name! It’s Jackson. Hailee Jackson.”
“Whatever, Miss Jackson.” He paused. “I guess that makes her your grandmother on your mother's side, correct?”
“Correct,” I said stonily. “Pretty much the only blood family I still have.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear. What happened?”
“Mother left when I was a month old, father killed in an accident when I was ten,” I said shortly, my tone emotionless. “And don’t tell me that’s why I’m messed up,” I added. “Because it’s not. It’s only a part of it. I am what you wouldn’t believe, officer, and you can call me an angst-ridden teen if you want, but you have no idea of what you are doing by taking me away. There are lives depending on me, officer. People trust me!” I don’t need to go into what I said next. What had started relatively stable devolved into ranting and cursing, until finally Sylvia reached into the back and locked a handcuff around one wrist. "Kid," she said gruffly, "enough."
I fell silent, biting my tongue. I wanted to curl up and hide, all of a sudden. I didn't want to be anywhere near humans, or anyone. It seemed that Jason’s story had shaken me to the bone. For the first time in my life, what I was frightened me.
It was this thought that sent me into silence, as Officer Sylvia rolled up the separator and said something in a hushed voice to Officer Floyd, who stepped on the gas.