Feigning a smile, I mouthed another “thank you” to the waitress as the phone receiver rung in my ear. May left me alone in the office, a messy small room with papers piled high in no clear order or fashion. It smelled strongly of whiskey and cigarette ash. One snubbed out death stick still wafted smoke inside a small black ash tray.
I licked my lips and swallowed awkwardly, fighting my dry throat. The gravity of this phone call didn’t hit me until that moment. This will be my first phone call home. It might even be my last. Drew’s teary eyed apology played over and over in my head like the worst over played pop song ever.
Not that thinking was my strong suit, but I ran out of time to think of something meaningful to say. My mouth had a habit of running and I was always the idiot chasing after my words and trying to pull them back. There was a pause on the other end. Someone answered the phone and I could hear their small hesitant breaths. Only silence passed between us, the seconds inching forward.
“H-hello?” A voice spoke softly. I could taste the fear through the receiver, the pensiveness that this was an exchange that could only end with bad news. Her only family was gone. I hardly recognized Millie’s voice. She spent so much time yelling at me, I never heard the soft cadence of her whisper. “Who is it?”
“Millie,” I mirrored her, surprising myself. I cleared my throat and said more clearly, “It’s me, Jess-”
“Jess!” She gasped. “Oh, Jess! Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Where are you? Is Drew with you? Jess! You should hear what Jacob is saying about you! He said you went crazy!”
I tried to speak up, “Millie-”
“He said you kidnapped Drew and dragged him into the night against his will- Oh! But of course I know that’s a crock-of-shit! Drew? Is Drew okay? Jacob keeps sayin’ how he’s Drew’s mate and I have to do everything I can to keep myself from vomiting-”
“Millie! We’re fine...” I swallowed and took a deep calming breath. There was too much to touch on at once, but most of it, I couldn’t bring myself to admit to Drew’s grandmother. She didn’t need to know the extent of Jacob’s cruelty. Dropping my head on the threshold, I said, “We’re alive. We’ve been living in the mountains.”
Again, a pause. The anticipation almost made me spill more of the truth.
Finally, she released a sigh of relief. “At least you’re together.”
“Is my mom okay? What about my step-dad? What happened to my roommates? Zach and Lyle?”
“Your momma was taken to the pack house. It seems they’re keeping most of your family there under house arrest, but don’t let that scare you. Joe, your step-dad comes and goes and let’s us know she’s fine. She’s just bored out of her mind. Your friends didn’t submit at first. They were at Zach’s girlfriend’s house, you know Sandy Mitchell?”
“Yeah, well Sandy’s mother knocked some sense into the boys and they all took a knee. They’ve been worried senseless about you. Zach said out of everyone in the back, you’d be the only one brave enough to take Jacob on and I said, more like stupid-” She caught herself. “S-sorry-”
“No,” I smiled. “I miss hearing your voice. I wish you could give me a hard time in person.”
“I don’t. You boys better stay away. Jacob is out for your blood, Jess. It seems like he was going down a list. Everyone on Ezra’s council has suffered the same fate—” A flash of faces flooded my mind. The local pediatrician and a sick kid’s best friend, Dr. Elizabeth Janes. Miles Wilson was the high school principal, who single handedly kept my ass out of juvenile detention. Ezra’s father, grandfather to us all. All of them. Dead. Just like that. I grappled, trying to remember the last time I saw them. A wave of nausea slammed into me and I had to sit down and close my eyes to keep the entire diner from tipping upside down. I was pretty sure the last time I spoke to Principal Wilson, it was more like an argument that ended with me telling him to go fuck himself.
“I think you’re the only one Jacob didn’t cross off his hit list.”
Resting my elbow on my leg, I needed to hold my head up or I’d fall through the world. “Millie, what do I do?”
I shut my eyes and shook my head. “Millie. I’m so sorry. Drew wanted me to tell you he’s sorry he left you behind and I am too-”
“Stop,” she stated. Her words landed with a heavy thud. “You listen here, there was nothing you could have done. I’m not as fast or agile as I used be and I would have slowed you two down...” She took a deep shuddering breath. She spoke, saying this as nothing other than fact. “Tell my grandson I love him.” Her words wavered, on the cusp of full out sobbing. “Tell him that I don’t want him to save me and I don’t want him to feel regret.”
“This can’t be the end Millie. This can’t be the last time I speak to you.”
“It just might be. Once you two settle down and find a new home-”
“I don’t want a new home.”
“Don’t argue with me Jess Castellano, I will reach through this phone and jerk you around.” She gritted her teeth and the heat of her words reached through the receiver and nipped at my cheek, the way my legs burned when I stood next to a bonfire. “As I was saying! Once you two find a new home and you feel safe again, then you can call me again. Give me that number and I will reach out to you when I feel it’s safe. I’ve already been on the phone too long.” I could hear her roll her eyes. I knew that huff. “Jacob has the older women creating a meal to celebrate his successful reign. Load of bullshit. The man just can’t help giving himself a public hand job every bloody day.”
Laughing through the tears, I managed to keep back to my feet. “I miss you so much.”
“And I actually miss you too. Give Drew a hug for me and a kiss. Keep it PG.”
“I will,” I half lied, feeling a squeeze in my chest. This was the time to say goodbye, I could feel it, but a goodbye could mean forever. Saying goodbye to Millie Burton made me feel like I was letting her go and I wasn’t ready. Instead, I told her and I even tried to smile, “We’ll talk later, right?”
“We’ll talk later.”
I didn’t hang up the phone right away, listening to her own hesitation and her breathing. She hung up first and when there was nothing, I put the phone back without lifting my hand. My whole body felt too numb to be alive or even real. Glancing around, I took in this messy office and tried to tie myself down to the real world, so the next time the rug gets pulled from underneath me, maybe the fall won’t hurt so badly. Maybe next time I can land on my feet.
How was I supposed to go back into that diner and tell Drew that more of our pack was dead?
How could I tell him that his grandmother said it wasn’t safe to call again?
“Hey sugar,” May appeared through the door. She was smiling, but her eyes weren’t. They were quirked in an odd way. Her comment sounded more like a question. “Your friend back there said he’d be right back.”
“Be right back?” I stood, my heart thumping against my chest like I just took a shot of adrenaline directly to the heart. “He said that?”
“Uh, yeah?” She ran her hand through her hair. “It seemed like he had some business with a couple of the boys.”
The hair on the back of my neck stood to full attention. All the blood in my face drained to my toes and I darted out of the office. May jumped back to miss getting hit by my human shaped battery ram. I stormed into the diner, already out of breath. The fear strangled my lungs like a hand closing around rotten fruit. I narrowed in on our table. Just as she said, Drew was gone. Only his coffee cup was left and two plates of uneaten breakfast. Leaning across the table, I scowled past the tensil and lights, through the window at a tall burly guy with his hand clutching the scruff of Drew’s neck. The last thread of my humanity could be heard snapping across the world, followed by the growl of a very pissed off wolf.