“I’m sorry,” Polly said. “Put down your gun.”
“No fucking way,” I said, cocking it.
She put her hands up, her eyes widening in fear. “I’m really sorry. I wanted to find you alone. I swear, I looked away while you were…you know…”
Jesus Christ, was she serious? I just glared at her.
“I wanted to talk to you,” she said. “I don’t have a gun. I promise I won’t hurt you.” She had a teeny, high voice, kind of like Minnie Mouse. This was what Jason was screwing?
I looked her over. She probably didn’t have a gun. She was one of those petite, girly types. She probably did the damsel-in-distress bit a lot. “Are you alone?” I asked.
“I swear,” she said, “it’s just me. If Jason found out I came to talk to you, he’d be really angry.”
I put the gun away. “What do you want?”
“Can I come closer?”
I considered. “Whatever.”
She took several timid steps forward, but eventually stopped out of my reach. She clasped her hands in front of her, twisting them nervously like a five-year-old. In that moment, she disgusted me. I hated her.
Sometimes weakness does that to me. I see it, and I sneer at it. I know that I was weak once, and if Jason hadn’t trained me, I’d still be weak. It doesn’t matter, though. I still can’t stand it.
“You’re different than I expected,” she said to me in her tinny voice.
“So are you,” I said. I’d expected Jason would want someone with more of a spine.
“You’re like him.”
I was so not like him. But she could say what she wanted. “Is there something I can do for you?”
“I’ve known Jason for a while,” she said.
Not as long as I had. But I didn’t say that. It sounded petty. “Okay.”
“I met him when he used to do the street fights.”
“You didn’t know about that? They were on youtube. Lots of people knew about them. Jason was like a celebrity.”
Somehow, the fact that Jason had run around beating people up on youtube after we broke up did not surprise me.
“Anyway,” she said, “I really liked him. He seemed so strong and masculine, you know, but he was also kind of…haunted. I thought it was sexy.”
Yeah, okay. I guess she’d pegged that right. I nodded. “I get that.”
“Well, he’s just, he’s getting different,” she said.
“No,” I said. “He’s not getting different. He was always like that. You just wanted to see something else.”
She twisted her hands harder, getting them caught up in her skirt. “Maybe so,” she said softly.
Damn it. Despite myself, I felt a little bad for this girl. I kind of knew how she felt.
“Sometimes he scares me,” she said.
“Leave him,” I said. “Get the hell away from him.”
She laughed kind of helplessly. “I wish I could.”
“You can,” I said. “You could stay with us. We’d find someplace for you. Someplace safe.” I didn’t really know how we’d do that. I didn’t like this girl much, but I did feel sorry for her. Maybe if someone just helped her out a little bit, she’d be stronger, and she wouldn’t need to be with dickwads like Jason.
She shook her head. “No, that’s not really an option. I can’t do that.”
I wasn’t going to force her. “So you just wanted to have girl talk, then? Did you think I’d tell you that underneath all that violence and anger, Jason’s really just a fuzzy puppy? Because he’s not. He’s deeply disturbed. And he still flirts with me all the time, so–”
“No, I know that,” she said. “He’s still in love with you. He’s never lied to me about that. I didn’t come to complain about him.” She looked embarrassed, like she’d brought the wrong thing to a dinner party. “He’s scary sometimes, and I think he’s losing it, and that’s why I came to talk to you. You’re looking for that book he has, aren’t you?”
The grimoire? “Yes,” I said.
“I thought so. If you had it, he says you could make it so he can’t, you know, make everyone listen to him.”
I nodded. “I could.”
“I think that would be better,” she said. “He didn’t used to do that all that time, but now, it’s like he’s controlling everybody. Maybe if that went away, he’d be more like he used to be.”
I smiled sadly at her. “Sweetie, I don’t think he’s going to change. I waited for years, and he never did. He just got worse.”
She unclasped her hands and rubbed the tops of her thighs, still looking incredibly nervous. Was it me? But I was being nice now. “I have to try, though, you know? Everyone else has given up on him. If I give up on him too, I’m afraid he’ll lose it completely.”
My heart went out to her. “You can’t help him,” I said. “You can’t stop him.” Maybe only I could do that. And I resisted doing it all the time, too. How messed up were we both?
“I’ll help you get the book,” she said. “I’ll get it for you, and I’ll bring it you. It’s really all I can do, okay?”
“Okay,” I said. “But I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“He won’t hurt me,” she said. “He never hurts me.”
I’d said that before.
But as much as I didn’t want Polly to be in danger, I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. If she wanted to help, I’d let her. We set up a time to meet again, in two days, dusk, in this same spot.
We didn’t talk much more. I couldn’t help but repeat my offer to her. She could leave Jason and stay with us. She was firm, if quiet, in her response. She wouldn’t leave him.
After she walked off, her small body disappearing into the trees and the growing darkness, I couldn’t help but think a little about her. What was the difference between Polly now and me at seventeen? At that age, I’d been just as devoted to Jason, and just as sure of his internal goodness, hidden in there amongst all his complexity and danger.
If I were honest with myself, what she said was true. Jason wasn’t one to hurt women he dated. When it came to other women, like his mother for instance, he didn’t seem to care too much about gender. But he’d never hurt me. No. Jason’s violence had always been directed towards people who threatened our safety. He’d protected us. If he hadn’t done a lot of the things that he’d done, we’d be dead. And it wasn’t like I was a saint either.
Well. Jason’s violence hadn’t always been directed against threats to our safety. Maybe he thought of them as that, but sometimes, he was motivated by jealousy, pure and simple. It made him ugly. Hell, I guess I wasn’t immune to it either. Hadn’t I let loose with my magic because I’d seen him making out with Polly? If only, back in New Jersey, things hadn’t gotten so out of hand. If only, when I thought about Jason, I didn’t remember a motionless body on the floor, and Jason’s wide eyes as he claimed, “I didn’t mean to hurt him.”
And I guess it wasn’t strictly true that he’d never tried to hurt me. There had been the time in the Sons’ stronghold, when he’d shot at me. That was the only time he’d ever threatened to hurt me. When he’d done it, he’d had that look in his eyes. That empty look, full of rage.
Afterwards, I remembered him sobbing on his knees, forcing me to hold a gun to his head, and begging me to shoot him, to end all of the darkness within him. He’d known what he was capable of. I’d discarded it. I hadn’t believed it was there. Did that make me stupid? He’d sobbed like that in New Jersey too, but it hadn’t mattered anymore. He’d crossed a line, and he could never make it right. Never.
Back then, Jason was all I had. I didn’t believe I could count on anyone else. I guess, back then, I felt like I needed someone to count on. Now…well, now, I was used to being on my own. Maybe that was why it was so hard to let Kieran in. Because Kieran wanted to take care of me. And I didn’t know if I wanted to let anyone do that for me ever again. It was scary for one thing. And it was unnecessary. I didn’t need help. I’d been through so much. I was what I was. Trying to be vulnerable for someone like that wasn’t something I really wanted to do. But if I was going to have a baby, I was going to be vulnerable, and I was going to have to get used to–
Crap. The pregnancy test! I checked my watch. Fifteen minutes?!
That was too long, wasn’t it? But what happened if you read the test too late?
I raced over to the test and snatched it up off the ground. It was too dark. I could hardly see anything. I sat down hard on the ground and held it up to the kerosene lantern. I could see one strong pink line. My heart thudded.
But no. There was another line there. It was faint, very faint, but I could see it. And the test said that even a faint line was a positive.
No. No, no, no. Please, no.
Why had I lost that other test? If I had it, I could test again.
Two lines. I was pregnant. Oh, God. I was pregnant.
As I got back towards the church, I could hear angry voices, talking over each other. Great. This was all I needed. I was pregnant, and now I was coming back to an argument. I trudged up from the woods. Everyone was still sitting outside around the grill, where I’d seen them last. Kieran was on his feet, gesturing wildly. Hallam was standing too. He was pointing his finger at Kieran. They were both talking at once. I couldn’t make out what either of them were saying.
I sat down in an empty chair. No one seemed to notice that I’d arrived. Maybe no one had noticed that I’d left.
“You’d risk the lives of these people on some kind of revenge errand?” Hallam was saying.
“They’re dangerous people,” Kieran said. “And they’re in this area. I think they need to be dealt with.” Oh, okay, I got what this was about. Kieran wanted to rally everyone into going after the people who’d murdered his family. Hadn’t I told him that Hallam wouldn’t go for it?
“We have neither the resources nor the time–” Hallam started.
“Time?” said Kieran. “What are we so busy doing here, huh? I don’t think we’re doing anything. We’re sitting around waiting while Jason’s people attack us and ruin our boat.”
“You’re not taking anyone with you to find these people, and that’s final,” said Hallam.
“Well, can I ask them?” Kieran said. His eyes swept the group. Everyone turned away from him, not meeting his eyes. “Maybe they want to help.”
Hallam gritted his teeth. “It’s not their decision. I’m in charge here, and I say that no one’s going anywhere.”
Kieran’s nostrils flared.
“Sit down,” Hallam said.
Kieran did, but he didn’t look like he liked it.
“Now,” said Hallam. “If that madness is over, perhaps I could get back to what I was trying to discuss, which was that–”
He was interrupted by Gus, who’d been inside. He stuck his head out the back door. “Radio transmission!” Gus yelled.
Everyone stood up at once and started for the church. We got a little bottlenecked at the doorways, but within a minute, we were all inside the radio room. We crowded inside, not bothering to sit down. Hallam squeezed between our bodies to get to the radio.
Hallam seized the radio’s microphone and pushed the button to talk. “Wakefield team here. Wakefield speaking. Over.”
“Copy that, Wakefield. Sit tight while I put on Phillips. Over,” said the crackling radio.
We waited. The radio hissed and sputtered for a few seconds, and then Phillips came on.
He didn’t waste any time on pleasantries. “We’ve been trying to reach Junkin’s team up north for the past three days with no answer. We can only assume the worst. Teams to the south aren’t making near the progress you’ve made. Right now, you’re our best shot. Over.”
“You’re saying you want us to try to get across the river? Over,” said Hallam.
“Affirmative, Wakefield team. Your orders are to get across that river as soon as possible. Over.”
“Well,” said Hallam. “There’s a slight problem. We don’t have a boat anymore. Over.”
“What happened to the one we sent you? Over.”
“It was sort of destroyed. Over.”
“Good God. You’ll have to find another boat somewhere. We need your team on the move as soon as possible. Over.”
“Copy that, HQ,” sighed Hallam. “Over and out.” He looked around at everyone who’d gathered inside. “I need to think. Everyone out except Marlena and Lily.”
We all trickled out of the room with the radio. Most people headed back outside to talk about this new turn of events, but I didn’t feel much like company. I started back for the sanctuary. I thought maybe I’d go out the front of the church and take a walk, maybe look for a coat hanger or some stairs to throw myself down.
But Kieran caught up with me in the sanctuary. “Hey,” he said. “Where were you? I could have used your help with Hallam earlier.”
I was amazed. “Kieran, I was on Hallam’s side. I don’t think we need to go after those guys.”
“Well, now, it’s impossible anyway, considering we have orders to get across the river.”
“They have orders, Kieran. Not us,” I said. “I think we should go back to D.C., like we’re supposed to.” I hadn’t realized I thought this. But I guessed I did. I wanted to wait until I saw Polly again, but if she delivered the grimoire, then everything would work out. I’d strip Jason and me of our powers. Hallam and Marlena could get past Jason easily then, I hoped. And Kieran and I could go back and…what? Play house? Except for the baby part, everything would work out, I guessed.
“You do?” He considered. “I guess you’re right. We were only hanging around to try to stop Jason. Now that they’re going to go west for sure, I guess they’ll sneak around him or something, like you suggested earlier.”
I nodded. “Right.”
“So when do you want to go?”
“A few days, I guess. They still need another boat. I’m sure Hallam and Marlena are in there deciding who’s going to go looking for one.”
“Okay,” said Kieran. “Sounds good.” He sat down heavily on one of the pews. “I guess it was crazy of me to try to get everyone to help me go after those guys. It just drives me nuts knowing they’re still out there. I wish I’d killed them before.”
I sat down next to him. “Sorry,” I said, taking his hand. “Maybe I should have used my powers.”
He shrugged. “Well, it’s done now. There’s no point dwelling on the past.” He squeezed my hand. “Where were you anyway? You disappeared after dinner.”
There wasn’t much point in keeping it from him, I guess. I got the pregnancy test out of my pocket and handed it to him.
He made a face. “What is this?”
“It’s a pregnancy test, moron. Two lines are positive. One’s negative.”
“Oh,” he said. “I can’t read it in this light.”
I took it back from him. “It’s positive.”
He sat up straight, taking my other hand. “It is?” He sounded excited.
“Yes,” I said, doing my best not to sound excited at all.
“Wow,” Kieran breathed. He hugged me.
I let him, but I didn’t hug back.
“Hey,” said Kieran. “What’s wrong?”
Was he an idiot? “What do you think is wrong? I told you I didn’t want to be pregnant. I’m glad you think it’s so wonderful, but I don’t.”
Kieran let go of my hands and got out of the pew. He stood in the aisle, not facing me. “Damn it, Azazel.”
I let my head fall back and stared at the ceiling. “What?”
“You’re so hot and cold,” he said. “Yesterday, I thought you were into it, and now you’re not. I don’t know what to think.”
“It was just an idea yesterday,” I said. “Now it’s a reality.”
“I want you to be happy about it. I feel like an asshole if I’m happy about it and you’re not.”
“Sorry that the fact that I’m going to gain tons of weight, get stretch marks, and go through hours of painful labor doesn’t make me thrilled. Sorry that makes you feel like an asshole.” How could he possibly make this all about him?
“Forget it,” Kieran mumbled. He trudged back through the church, out the front door, the way I’d planned to go. Now I couldn’t even go for a walk.
Instead of following him, I lay down on my side and curled up in a little ball on the pew.
I dreamed of honey. Just outside Columbus-Belmont park, the river was made entirely of honey. It was thick and amber colored, and it oozed over the rocks and the grass on the banks. It smelled cloyingly sweet. The scent drifted up to the lookout house where we’d rescued Lily and the others. I was standing outside the lookout house, gazing down on the river of honey, wondering if it was tainted, or if it would still taste good.
A fly alighted on my shoulder. It spoke to me in a teeny voice, not unlike Polly’s. “You can’t go across the river, or you’ll get stuck in it,” it said in my ear.
I brushed the fly off of me, annoyed.
Above me, the sky abruptly convulsed into storm clouds. The blue sky was obliterated with gray. Lightning flashed behind them, illuminating the wispy edges of the clouds. The clouds shifted, moving in and out of each other, and then solidifying into a shape. I cocked my head to stare. The shape became clearer and clearer as the clouds knitted themselves into each other. It was a face.
I shuddered as I recognized the face. Liam Sutherland, the most evil man I’d ever met. We’d never been enemies, not quite. But he’d never really been on my side either. Sutherland’s idea of fun was raping and killing teenage girls. Sutherland made his living by selling information to the highest bidder. Sutherland had dirt on everyone, and no one could touch him. He bought his immunity from every government. He worked with high officials in churches and pagan organizations alike. Why was I dreaming about Liam Sutherland?
Sutherland’s cloud face looked down on me. His angry eyes bored into mine. “Azazel,” he said, delighted. He’d always found me a little too creepily attractive for my taste. I’d hoped that these days, I’d be too old for his taste. I’d hoped that he’d died when the solar flare happened. Why was he in the clouds? “There are things you don’t know about what’s happening out west.”
Ah. It was the same song and dance all over again. “What do you want for your information, Sutherland?” I asked. He always had a price. He always wanted to trade. And if I had no money and no information, he always suggested we trade by him raping me. I’d never let that happen. If Sutherland didn’t always turn out to be so damned useful, I would kill him.
“Why, my safety, of course,” said Sutherland. “You don’t think I don’t know that you and your boyfriend are trying to spoil all my fun, do you? Promise to leave me alone, and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Leave him alone? “You afraid of me, Sutherland?”
“Terrified,” said Sutherland, grinning widely. Then the clouds that made up his face dispersed as rain began to fall.
Drops of it fell on my hands and head. It wasn’t water. It was honey.
Sticky, warm honey was coating my hair and clothing and sliding all over my skin. I dove for the lookout house, the only shelter around. Jason was inside. He was holding a baby. It was swaddled inside blankets. I couldn’t make out its head.
“It’s raining honey,” I said.
Jason just shrugged. He made cooing noises at the baby. “I don’t know how much longer I can wait for you, Azazel. He’s getting stronger.”
I wanted to get away from Jason, but the sky was still spitting out large gobs of honey. I could hear them splat against the roof of the lookout house.
“They’re coming,” said Jason. “I’ve held off as long as I could, waiting for you, but soon I’ll have to do it without you.” He sighed. “It won’t be easy. I can make them want to work together, but I can’t make them want to destroy. They have to want that themselves already. But you can do that. You can make them want to kill him. If we were together…”
Even in my dreams, Jason was trying to get back together? Jesus. “Give me the baby,” I said.
“Why?” said Jason. “It’s not yours. You don’t have babies. You never have babies.”
“I’m pregnant now.”
He shook his head. “This baby isn’t yours. You remember what kind of babies you have.” He pointed into the fireplace in the lookout house. In the corner was a twisted piece of blackness, a worm-shaped thing with rows and rows of sharp teeth. My dream in Italy at the Sol Solis school. My dream of having a baby with Jason. That monster thing. But you couldn’t remember other dreams in dreams. Could you?
“Stop worrying about babies and worry about what family you’ve got left,” said Jason.
I turned away from the fireplace. There, standing behind Jason, tied to the poles holding up the lookout house, were Hallam and Marlena. They were bleeding.
I rushed to them, working at the knots that held them fast to the poles with honey covered fingers. I couldn’t untie them.
I looked at Jason furiously. “If they’re my family, they’re your family too. Why are you doing this?”
Jason laughed. “Because it’s fun,” he said.
Jason turned back to the baby. “Baby’s going to learn how to torture people today, aren’t you?” He tickled the baby’s tummy. “Yes, you are, little man. Yes, you are.”
“Stop it!” I screamed, and–
–woke myself up on the pew where I’d been sleeping. It was morning. Light streamed in through the shattered windows. I’d slept out here all night, apparently.