Jackson is waiting for me on my front porch by the time my mother and I return home that afternoon. He rises as we pull up in my mother’s car and approaches the driver’s side window, only to say, “Hello, Missus Smith.”
“Hello, Jackson,” my mother replies, opening the door and acknowledging him with a tired nod and a sad smile. “Thank you again for what you did last night.”
“You don’t have to thank me,” he replies, then adds: “I’m sorry about the flower shop.”
“A shop is a shop. Things can be rebuilt. People…” She turns to look at me. “Can’t.”
I offer a sad nod in response as she starts to make her way around the car.
“I’ll help,” Jackson offers. “Besides—J’vonte came over earlier with Oaklynn’s phone.”
“She did?” I ask.
Jackson nods as he rounds the car. “Yeah. Sorry I forgot to give it to you last night. It’s just, given everything that happened and all—“
“I know. You don’t have to explain.”
After opening the door, Jackson offers a hand, and helps me out of the vehicle by tugging me up and then bracing a hand at my upper back. I’m still a bit woozy from everything they gave me at the hospital, but more than coherent enough to know that his attention is likely more for his own benefit than his own.
My mother looks up at the two of us, frowns, then says, “I’ll… leave the two of you be” before turning and making her way into the house.
“She’s really bummed,” Jackson offers.
“Yeah,” I reply, and watch her silhouette as she makes her way through the kitchen. “That shop was her life and blood. It’s been around since I was a kid.”
“I can only imagine how she must be feeling.”
“Yeah,” I say.
Several moments pass between us. Jackson stands there, looking somber and morose. I lean against my mother’s car, waiting for him to respond. He blinks, as if realizing something, then reaches into his left pocket before withdrawing my phone. “Oh. Sorry. Forgot about this.”
“It’s okay,” I say, and accept the phone with little more than a nod. “Jackson… can we… talk. About last night?”
He lifts his eyes to face me; and for the first time since he’s arrived, I see the fear there—the childish paranoia that runs rampant within all people, young or old, adult or not. His eyes are wide, his mouth slightly agape, his nostrils flared and a muscle in his jaw twitching. He says, “Uhh,” then follows it up with an, “I” before lowering his gaze to the ground at our feet.
I’m unsure—and, really, almost unable—to articulate a response. However, I know that I have to say something. So, with that in mind, I simply clear my throat and ask, “What happened?”
“I smelled smoke,” he says, “while I was coming up the road.”
“I’m not talking about—“
“So I ran as fast as I could… and saw that the shop was on fire.”
“I knew I had to do something, so… I…” He pauses. “I did what I knew was right.”
My breath catches in my throat, and I cough.
He leans forward to look me in the eyes, then says, in as calm a voice as possible: “You can’t tell anyone.”
I laugh. “Seriously?” I then ask. “You think anyone would even believe me?”
“There are some people in this town who remember the legends.”
“The wolf men.”
I shake my head. “This is ridiculous,” I say. “I’m gonna wake up and I’ll have dreamed this entire week.”
“I know you don’t want to believe in what’s happened, Oaklynn, but… it did. I’m… just sorry that it had to come out the way it did.”
“You were going to tell me?”
“No. I mean, yes. I mean—not…” He pauses, then exhales. “Not unless I had to.”
“Or was forced to,” I offer, and cross my arms over my chest.
“Yeah. That too.”
“So what happens now?”
“What… what do you mean?”
“I mean… is someone going to come whisk me away because of what I saw? What I know?”
“If you’re asking if there’s any kind of… uh… organization that helps keep these things under wraps, then… no. There isn’t.”
“So… what happens now?”
“You, hopefully, won’t say anything to anyone. Especially…”
“Especially… who?” I ask, and frown shortly thereafter. “Jackson?” I then say. “What’re you talking about?”
“It’s nothing,” he replies, then begins to take several steps back, away from the car and toward his home. “Just… keep this on the down-low. Okay? I don’t want anyone to know why my family is back in town.”
“What’re you—“ I start to say.
But he’s already turned and started off.
With a frown, and no way to question anything further, I turn and make my way up the porch, then into my house.
The moment I close the door, I realize that things have changed.
Whether they’re for better, or worse, I cannot be sure.
I lie awake that night with the knowledge that my worldview has grown ever larger. Knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jackson Meadows can now be called a wolf, I turn my head to look out the window and wonder just what—or, more aptly, who—I saw on the road last week.
It couldn’t have been Jackson, I think, because he was unloading the truck.
And it couldn’t have been his father, I add, because I’m not even sure if he is a wolf.
But if not Jackson, or even his father, then who?
I frown as I consider this possibility wholeheartedly.
Jackson did say that they came back because his grandmother had called them home, I think.
But for what? What this family business happens to be has not been made clear; and for that reason, I can’t discount the possibility that it was not Grandma Meadows watching me on the road, not Grandma Meadows looking through my window when she’d taken note of me looking at her.
But if had been her looking at me… then what exactly did she want?
Does she know something I don’t?
I know I shouldn’t assume things—especially since assumption tends to make an ass out of everyone—but now that I know the Meadows’ family secret, I can’t help but wonder:
Am I meant to play a role in their family business, especially now that I know what they are?
I don’t know.
I guess the only thing I can do is wait and find out.
I have so many questions, and need so many answers. However, I know that asking them via text message will only create a paper trail that someone else may eventually find. Because of that, I vow to face Jackson in person to unearth the truth of the matter.
The only problem?
I have to wait for my mother to leave the house.
Naturally, my need—and my utter, callous greed—for answers would have to come on a day when my mother is taking her time to run her errands.
“Don’t you have to go down to the police station?” I ask as I glance at the Meadows’ family house out the kitchen window once more.
“They’re taking their time arranging an appointment,” my mother replies. She waits a moment, then asks, “Do you want me gone?”
“No, no. It’s just… I know you’re going a bit stir crazy—“
“That’s putting it lightly.”
“—and I figured you might want to get out of the house.”
“It’s not like I want to go to the police station, Oaklynn.”
“Do you not want to find out who did this?”
My mother sighs, but nods and says, “Yes. Yes I do.”
I don’t blame her for having reservations. On one hand, it makes sense that she would want to find out who did it. On another, it’s hard to believe that anyone would be willing to do such a thing, especially someone from your own community.
Especially someone like—
While I know it’s cruel to place the blame on someone when they can’t defend themselves, it seems too odd, too coincidental, that this would occur after he’d received such a harsh punishment, especially with another Wells Hunting and Fishing store opening.
My mother’s phone chimes—and though I see the reservation light up her eyes, she lifts it into view.
Then, a short moment later, she says, “That’s them.”
“They’re ready to see you?” I ask with a frown.
She nods. “Yes. They are.”
After taking a moment to compose herself, she reaches for her purse, secures it under her arm, then starts toward the door, but not before she turns to face me. “Oaklynn,” she says.
“Yeah?” I reply.
“Don’t go too far from home today for me. Okay?”
“I won’t,” I reply. “Don’t worry.”
“I have to, especially given what’s just happened.”
With a nod, I follow her to the door, then say, “Bye” and watch her make her way from the house, down the porch, then out to her car.
As she pulls out of the driveway—and as the rumbling impression of her vehicle fades into the distance—I turn my head to regard the Meadows household, then lift my phone up.
The only thing I text to Jackson is: We need to talk.