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April 25, 1990
Ted finally revealed his plan to me, and he wants me to be a part of it. Me? Can you believe it? I can't. We're going to start working immediately, probably tonight. And he's worked it so that I can stay out as late as I need to help him. I'm actually getting an independent study credit for this. I'm so excited!
Ted is so, so gorgeous. And the fact that he picked me to help with this plan means that he must think there's something special about me too.
Chance sighed. "Are you going to shoot Jason or am I?" He leveled the gun at Jason.
"No," I said.
Chance's finger tensed on the trigger.
And there wasn't time for thinking, there was only time for action. I whipped my own gun up, quickly aimed, and squeezed three shots into my little brother's torso. His face registered shock, pain, and then . . . nothing.
Sobbing, I feel into a heap on the floor, forcing my eyes shut tight.
And when I opened them, my dorm room was bathed in sunlight. I was tangled in my bed covers. I was still sobbing. And my head was pounding like a brass band was playing in my head.
It had been a dream?
But it had seemed so, so real.
Rubbing at my eyes and trying to calm my sobs, I picked up my phone from my nightstand. I called Chance. It rang and rang and rang for a ridiculously long time, but then he answered.
"Zaza?" he mumbled sleepily. "Why are you calling me at six in the morning?"
I sobbed in relief. "I'm sorry," I said. "I just had a dream. I needed to know you were okay. You're okay, aren't you?"
"I'm not going to be able to go back to sleep," he said.
"Are you crying?"
"No. No, I'm fine," I said. "Try to go back to sleep."
I hung up. I flopped back on my bed. My head throbbed in response to the sudden movement.
Well. Drinking wasn't working anymore. It didn't drown out the dreams. And it just left me with hellish hangovers. Maybe it was a sign. Maybe whatever my subconscious was trying to tell me was too important to be ignored anymore. Maybe I was going to have to face it.
But before I did any of that, I was going to drink a lot of water and take a lot of ibuprofen. Ugh.
Professor Moretti had asked me to stay after class. I stood at his desk, hugging my books to my chest. He was flipping through a stack of papers to find mine. I wished he'd just say whatever he had to say and let me go. I knew I wasn't doing very well in school. I didn't really care. I probably had a bright future as a professional assassin, and you didn't need a high school education for that.
"Ah, there it is," said Professor Moretti, pulling my paper out of the stack.
"I'll try to do better," I said.
"What?" said Professor Moretti. Then he shook his head. "Oh, no. Amy, that's not why I wanted to talk to you. I found your paper very insightful."
"You did?" I was pleasantly surprised. I was still hung over from drinking before bed last night, but it felt good to have done something well. I didn't feel like I'd done much of anything right in weeks. I barely remembered writing the paper. I did remember that it was about Things Fall Apart, the book we'd been reading. Well, the book we'd been assigned to read. I'd cobbled it together from reading a few chapters, class discussions, and a judicious use of SparkNotes.
"You seem to have quite a large amount of empathy for Okonkwo," said Professor Moretti.
"Well, his whole life gets destroyed, doesn't it?" I said. "It's not his fault. It's the fault of the white missionaries. They just come in and totally mess everything up."
Professor Moretti shrugged. "Some critics think that Okonkwo is a classical tragic figure, like Odysseus or Hamlet. His tragic flaw could be seen as his pride or his rashness. Some feel that Okonkwo brings his downfall upon himself."
"I thought you said that my paper was insightful," I said. Why was he pointing this out to me, anyway?
"I think it was. I think that most of my students have difficulty identifying with an African character from the late 1800s. You seem to be able to put yourself in his place quite readily. I think that qualifies as insight into the work."
I nodded slowly. "So was it good or was it bad?"
"The paper is well-written. You shouldn't worry about that. I'm sure I'll give it a high mark."
Then why was I talking to him? "Thanks," I said. "Is there . . . anything else?"
"I just find it so interesting that a girl of your age and your experience would so strongly be able to put yourself in Oknokwo's place."
"I didn't really do that," I said. "It's just obvious. I mean, all Okonkwo can do is react. Everything just goes from bad to worse in that book. I mean, isn't that why it's called Things Fall Apart? Because things fall apart in the book?"
"The title is an allusion to Yeats poem. We discussed that in class."
"Yeah," I said. "I've studied 'The Second Coming.'" Three times this year, actually. In every English class I'd been enrolled in during my senior year. "But, I mean, that's Yeats' point too. He thinks that the world's coming to an end. Or that the era of Christianity is coming to an end. And everything's falling apart."
"Do you agree that everything's falling apart?" asked Professor Moretti. "That a rough beast is slouching toward Bethlehem to be born?"
"Of course not," I said.
"Perhaps slouching towards Shiloh?"
I jumped back as if I'd been burned. Shiloh was the place that Jason was born. Did Professor Moretti know? "Shiloh?" I repeated, trying to sound nonchalant and clueless.
"What's happened to you in your life that you understand Okonkwo's plight, Amy?" asked Professor Moretti.
"Nothing," I said. "I don't understand his plight. I don't know. I guess he did have flaws. I mean, maybe he did bring the whole thing on himself."
"Maybe he did," said Professor Moretti. He put my paper down on top of the pile of other students' papers and stood up. "In Things Fall Apart, the rough beast that changes the world of the Igbo is the white missionaries. This school is funded by the Sons of the Rising Sun, as I'm sure you're aware of. Do you know much about the Rising Sun legend?"
I swallowed. "Why are you talking to me about this?" I asked.
"Are you late for something, Amy?"
I shook my head. "It's lunch," I said.
He nodded. "That it is. I won't keep you too long. I promise." He smiled. "The Rising Sun?"
"A little bit," I said. "But I don't see how it connects. I mean, the Rising Sun isn't a 'rough beast' is he? He's not evil."
"Our legends tell us he would impose a completely new order on the world," said Professor Moretti. "He would change everything. Is there any way for change to happen without violence and bloodshed and revolution? Aren't there some people who would see that as evil?"
"But it's a legend, right?" I said.
Professor Moretti shrugged again. "There have been reports," he said. "Buzzing in our organization. Signs and wonders. A boy who can drive men insane and rise from the dead. A boy and with him . . . a girl."
I swallowed again. Shit. He did know. "But that doesn't fit, does it?" I said. "I mean, the Rising Sun was supposed to act alone, right?"
"You know more than a bit about this legend, don't you?"
"No," I said. "No, I don't know anything. And I really was supposed to meet someone for lunch."
Professor Moretti nodded. "Mr. Black, then? The two of you seem quite close."
Damn it, damn it, damn it. He had to know. First George Churchill. Now this. Jason and I were going to get ourselves killed. Of course, George had seemed scared.
"The reports," I said. "Officially, I thought that the organization didn't think that the boy in those reports was anything special."
"Well," said Moretti, "wouldn't it be odd if things were falling apart in the organization? If the center couldn't hold?"
"So this boy, then," I said, "if you saw him, you might think that he could be, well, dangerous. To things he perceived as threats." I was treading a pretty fine line, here. After all, Professor Moretti did work for the Sons. Directly. And I was all but admitting who I was. Still, if the word about Jason had travelled this far, maybe I could still scare him. Maybe.
Professor Moretti raised his eyebrows. "Noted, Amy. Noted." He smiled. "I wouldn't think he had anything to fear. Not from me. Go to lunch."
I couldnt find Jason in the cafeteria. I tried calling his cell phone, but he didn't pick up. Instead, I just sent him a text message, telling him we needed to talk as soon as possible. Palomino and Chance were sitting at our regular table. I got some food and sat down with them.
"Where's Jason?" asked Chance.
"I don't know," I said. "I haven't seen him since our last class. He's not answering his phone."
"Are you two fighting?" Chance asked. "Because last night when I got back, he didn't seem like he was in a great mood."
"We're not fighting," I said.
"You can tell us," said Palomino. "We were fighting, you know. It's okay to fight."
"We're not fighting," I said.
"Is it about your drinking?" asked Palomino.
"Yeah, are you drunk right now?" Chance asked.
"I'm not gonna drink anymore," I muttered.
"We're just trying to help," said Chance.
I got up. "I'm not really hungry," I said and walked off. Chance and Mina were calling after me, but I didn't pay attention.
Instead, I left the cafeteria and went for a walk. I had a lot of things to think about. Outside it was warm. The leaves on the trees were green. The grass was growing. It was late spring. I could hear birds calling to each other. Could see insects crawling along the sidewalks. It was a beautiful day. And everything was going to hell in my life. Fast.
I wandered between the ancient buildings of the Sol Solis school, gazing at my feet if I passed anyone. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I didn't even want to smile at anyone.
It was bad that Professor Moretti seemed to know who Jason and I were. Even if he said that we didn't have anything to fear from him. What did that mean, anyway? How had he figured it out? Was it really because of my stupid essay? Was that enough to arouse his suspicions? I guess, despite the fact that Jason and I had changed our names, we still did seem suspicious. We appeared right after the incident in Shiloh. We were together. And Jeremy and Amy were maybe too close to our real names. What was Professor Moretti going to do? Would he tell someone? Would he try to hurt us?
Even if he didn't do anything, I didn't like the idea of his knowing who we were. It meant he had power over us. If we didn't need to get into that library so bad, I would have told Jason that we just needed to leave. Of course, it wasn't like we had anywhere to go. We were fugitives from the Sons and probably from the authorities too. Maybe there were wanted posters up in Georgia, with my picture on it. I was a murderer after all.
That was what the dreams were trying to tell me, weren't they? I was always dreaming about doing horrible things. Clearly, I hadn't worked through my guilt over killing my brothers and Lilith. But hell. Was that the kind of thing you worked through? Did you forgive yourself for stuff like that? Was there even a way to forgive yourself for something so horrible?
Did I even deserve to be forgiven?
Why had I done it?
I'd done it for Jason. I'd done it for me. They were going to kill JasonNoah and Gordon. They'd captured me. They'd pursued me in their car. They'd forced me to wreck. They weren't exactly nice brothers. But that didn't mean they should be killed, did it?
My parents had always told me that life was about choices, and the best thing you could do was to make the most constructive choices possible. Anything destructive, they'd said, should be avoided at all costs. And I'd destroyed my brothers. And Lilith too. With Lilith, it seemed like a clear case of self-defense, though. She'd had a knife to my throat when I did it.
Even if I'd been defending myself. Even if I'd been defending Jason. I couldn't accept the fact that I'd done what I'd done. It had been bad enough when I'd had to deal with the fact that Jason killed people to defend me. This was something that I just couldn't deal with. I didn't know how.
The worst part of it was that sometimes I wondered about Jason himself. My family had been convinced he was so evil that he deserved to die. His own mother had prophesied that he'd enslave the human race. His own father thought that Jason was a monster that he'd created. And my brothers had shown me all these interviews with people who said that Jason had killed people. And that while he'd been doing it, he'd been smiling.
Jason said it wasn't true. I believed him.
I had to believe him, didn't I, because if I didn't, what did I have left? I'd done everything, sacrificed everything for Jason. If I didn't believe in him, what did that mean my life was? A farce? A waste?
Besides, I knew Jason better than I'd ever known someone. Hadn't I held him when he'd cried? Hadn't I slept in the crook of his arms, feeling him hold me, listening to him murmur that he'd do anything to keep me safe? If I'd sacrificed for Jason, he'd sacrificed for me too. Every time he did something to save me, he lost a piece of his innocence, and he didn't have much left. I'd wanted to spare him that. I'd wanted to take care of myself. But if we kept this up, would there be anything left of either of us, or would our souls disappear into calluses? Would we rub them so raw that eventually the only protection we'd have would be not to feel?
In some ways, Professor Moretti was right. I did feel like Okonkwo's life had been stolen from him. And I felt like my life had been stolen from me too.
But the truth was that things were never going to be the way they used to be. I was never going to be normal girl, going to school, just thinking about school dances or what to do with my hair. And if I were honest with myself, I didn't even want to go back to that kind of naiveté. Ignorance might be bliss, but knowledge, however painful, was always preferable.
By the time I got back to my dorm after classes that afternoon, I was starting to get worried about Jason. He hadn't called me back, and he hadn't been in any of the afternoon classes that we had together. I didn't know what had happened, but I hoped Professor Moretti didn't have something to do with it. He'd said that Jason didn't have anything to fear from him, but now, as near as I could tell, Jason was missing. As I made my way up the stairs to my dorm room, I tried calling him one last time. It went to voicemail, as it had all day. Where was he?
I burst into my room and flounced on my bed. I was worried.
"Hey," said Palomino.
"Hey," I said.
"Why'd you run off at lunch?" she asked.
"I've got a lot on my mind," I said.
"Like what?" asked Palomino. "Because I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to do with this baby, and I'm not being rude."
I sat up and surveyed her. "That's debatable," I said.
She threw a pillow at me. "Come on," she said. "What's going on? You can tell me."
"I haven't seen Jason since English," I said. "I've been calling him nonstop and he's not answering."
"He's probably hanging out with his brother," she said.
I stood up. "What?"
"I was going to tell you at lunch, but you ran off," she said. "I met Jason's brother this morning. His name's Jude or something?"
Jude. Crap. I crossed the room to Palomino. "Where did you see him?"
"Outside the dorm this morning," she said. "He asked me if I knew Jason."
"And you said yes?" I was incredulous. "Didn't you ever think there was a reason Jason and I are going under assumed names?"
"Jesus. Don't yell at me. He's Jason's brother," she said.
"Who tried to kill him the last time we saw him!" I exclaimed.
"Oh wait," she said. "Maybe I do remember something about that."
"So help me, Palomino, if anything happens to Jason because of you"
"Calm down," said Palomino. "I didn't tell him anything. I just said that I knew who Jason was, but I didn't know where he was."
"You didn't tell him anything? Nothing at all?"
I called Chance. Jason wasn't in his room. He hadn't been all afternoon. I told Chance to let me know the minute he showed up, or better yet, have Jason call me. I paced, even though Palomino couldn't understand why I was so upset. I wanted to break down and spill everything to her, but Jason and I had decided that it was safer if Mina and Chance were in the dark about most things. The more they knew, the more danger they'd be in, or so we thought.
I wasn't sure what to do. I didn't think Jude was really a match for Jason. Jason had been trained by the Sons, and he was fast and strong and very deadly in a fight. Jude had spent all his time growing up with his crazy mother. Jude hadn't had any training. Of course, that hadn't stopped him from putting a bullet in Jason's skull, just a few months ago. If Jude had a gun, could he have . . . ?
I didn't want to think about it, but I couldn't think about anything else.
There was no one to help me.
The last time Jason had disappeared and I couldn't find him, I'd had Hallam, Jason's friend from the Sons. But Hallam had been working with Edgar Weem all along, betraying us. Hallam was out of the picture. Jason had told Hallam that if he saw him again, he'd kill him. And I was pretty sure Jason had been serious.
I asked Palomino where exactly she'd seen Jude and began asking everyone who lived in our dorm if they'd seen him too. They hadn't. And they hadn't seen Jason either.
I thought about trying to call Brother Mancini in Rome, but the Reddimus monks weren't violent people, and I didn't think they'd be able to do anything. Besides, while Brother Mancini and the Church were willing to help us in our struggle with the Sons, I didn't think they were extremely concerned with our welfare.
As the hours ticked by, I began to get more and more desperate. Every call I placed to Jason's phone went straight to voicemail. I didn't know what to do. I could go and look for Jason, but I had no idea where he might be. If Jude had taken him or done something to him, they could be anywhere. I didn't have the first idea about where to look.
But I had to do something. Curfew was looming, but I left the dorm anyway, and went to the assembly hall. The old church didn't seem a likely place for Jason and Jude to be, but it was the only place Jason and I went to besides our dorms. And I had dreamed about it the night before. I felt drawn there. The guards there were getting ready to lock up the building, but I told them I really needed to go the bathroom, and it would take me just a second. They let me in. I hid there, hoping that they'd go do some rounds and think that I had left while they weren't looking.
Once the guards were gone, the old church was silent and dark. I crept out of the bathroom and did a quick sweep of the sanctuary. No one there. I'd known this would be a bust. There was no reason to come here. There was nothing I could do, except sit by my phone and wait. But if Jude had . . .
On impulse, I traced the path from my dream last night, back through the church. Jason and I had never been in the church's basement. As far as I knew, it didn't have one. The basement in my dream had been a figment of my imagination. There was no way that there was a door back here.
But there was. And it looked exactly like my dream.
Had I seen this at some point, out of the corner of my eye when I was in the church? How could I have dreamed about something I didn't know existed? Swallowing, I eased the door to the basement open.
A flickering light greeted me from the bottom of the steps.
I took a step inside, placing my foot on the first step. I tried to do it carefully and slowly, but it made a noise.
"Hello?" said a male voice from the basement.
And before I could move, Jason rushed up the first few steps. He was a little sweaty, his dark hair sticking to his forehead. His face was dirty and so were his clothes. He was holding a gun.
"Azazel," he said.
I rushed to him. "You're okay?" I asked, hugging him hard.
He hugged me back. "I'm okay," he said. "How did you find me?"
"I . . . I had a dream . . ." I pulled back from Jason and surveyed the basement. Jesus. It was exactly the same, even down to the light bulb hanging on the chain. And in the corner, tied up in the same place Chance had been, was Jude. He looked unconscious. He looked like he'd been beaten up pretty badly. I could see that his right eye was red and swollen and that his lip had been bleeding. I turned to Jason. "What happened?"
Jason shrugged, wiping at his sweaty forehead with his dirty shirt. "I ran into Jude," he said.
"That's it?" I asked. "Why is he tied up? What did he try to do you?"
"Nothing," said Jason. "I didn't give him a chance to do anything."
"Okay, so why is he tied up and beaten up?"
"Well, he did shoot me in the head the last time I saw him, you know. I don't think he's exactly trustworthy."
That was true. But Jude looked like he'd been punched around a little. Okay, a lot. "You hit him?" I asked.
Jason was quiet for several seconds. "Azazel, you should go back to your dorm."
"What?" I said. "No. What's going on here? You haven't been answering your phone"
"I've been busy," said Jason.
"You weren't even going to tell me about this?" I asked.
"Of course I was," said Jason.
I looked around the basement again. It was so much like my dream. The whole situation was weirdly like my dream. But instead of my brother tied up, it was Jason's brother.
"Look," said Jason, "it's obvious what has to be done about Jude. And I know that you've been having those dreams. And I didn't want you to have to be part of it. It doesn't bother me so much, so I thought I'd just take care of it, and then let you know after. But you don't have to watch, you know."
I furrowed my brow at him for a moment, not understanding. Then chillingly, his words made definite cold sense. "You're going to kill him," I said.
"He tried to kill me."
"Today? Did he try to kill you today?"
"No. No, today he's just been talking about our Dad."
Dad? Oh. "Edgar Weem is Jude's father too? I thought Michaela Weem thought he was disgusting and evil. Why would she have sex with him again?"
Jason laughed, but he didn't sound amused, not really. "Who knows?" he said. He began to pace, gesturing wildly with the gun. "Apparently, 'Mommy' didn't just have sex with 'Daddy' again, but he used to visit her and little bro, Jude, here. And that's why when the Sons captured Jude, he didn't get in any trouble at all. He just got released into 'Daddy's' custody."
He wasn't done. "No, near as I can figure from what Jude said, the only reason Michaela was mad was that Edgar broke it off when Jude was about five."
"Jude said that he didn't know who his dad was," I said.
"He didn't. He thought Edgar was one of Michaela's boyfriends. Apparently, she had a few of those."
"It still doesn't make sense," I said. "We know that Michaela was plotting your death from the moment you were conceived. Because she told my parents about the vision she had of me, and"
"No," said Jason. He stopped pacing, turned, and looked at me. "No, she always hated me. It was just Edgar that she couldn't make up her mind about."
I went to him. Put my hand on his cheek. "Oh, Jason, I'm so"
He shrugged me off.
"sorry," I finished. I'd never seen Jason upset about his family. Usually, he seemed to have no interest in them at all. And he certainly hadn't had any qualms about hurting his own mother. She wasn't a very nice person, granted, but . . .
Jason shook his head. Squared his shoulders. "You don't have to be sorry," he said. "There's nothing to be sorry about."
I was quiet for several seconds. If Jason couldn't acknowledge that it hurt him that his mother had hated him, had tried to have him killed, then there wasn't much I could say. I looked at Jude, who still hadn't regained consciousness. "You can't kill him," I said quietly. "Not if we don't know why he's here."
"You're saying I should trust him?"
"I'm saying . . ." God, I really had no idea.
"Do you remember what Jude said to us when we were leaving the house in Shiloh? He said, 'This isn't over.' That was a threat, Azazel, and I'm pretty sure he was serious."
"But we can't just kill him," I said.
"We're not doing anything. You're going back to the dorm. I'm going to handle this."
Handle this. Like it was a job or something. Like it was an annoyance. An everyday occurrence. I shook my head. "So you're just going to put a bullet in his head? Or were you going to rough him up some more? Are you enjoying beating him up?"
"Enjoying?" Jason looked at me like I was insane. "Do you even know me at all? I don't want to do this"
"Then don't," I said.
"You want me to let him go? Just let him go? And what happens when he does whatever he's planning to do to make sure I don't forget I killed his mother? What then?"
"We don't know that he's going to hurt us."
"We can't afford to take the chance," said Jason.
"It's wrong," I said. "Killing people is just wrong."
"Wrong?" Jason shook his head. "Wrong? What happened to 'sometimes there is no right thing?'"
"What?" I said.
"You said that to me, after I shot the Sons in New Jersey. You said that sometimes there was only a choice between two wrong things. Do you remember that?"
Maybe I did remember saying that. And maybe I also remembered that I didn't believe in absolutes like right and wrong. Maybe I remembered that I believed that people had to make productive decisions. And maybe what Jason was doing here was simply that. If we wanted to make sure we stayed alive, we had to eliminate Jude. But . . . "This isn't the same," I said. "That was self-defense. They had guns in our faces. They'd already shot a lot of people. Jude hasn't"
"It's the same," said Jason. "But maybe it's not really about that. Maybe it's about something else. After all, you told me that you let Jude kiss you in Shiloh."
"So that I could get his gun!" I said.
Jason shrugged. "Well, that's what you say, anyhow. I wasn't there. Maybe you kind of have a soft spot for Jude, though. Maybe there's some part of you that"
"Jason Wodden, there is no part of me that is the least bit interested in Jude romantically."
Jason snorted, staring down at the guns in his hands. "The lady doth protest too much, methinks," he said. He looked at me. "You'll notice that I didn't say anything about a romantic interest. You went there on your own."
"You brought up kissing for God's sake!" I exclaimed. I sighed, crossing my arms over my chest. "I thought we were past this stuff."
"Past it? How can we be past it when you don't even want me to touch you anymore?"
What? Why would he say that? "Of course I do."
"Out of three attempts I've made to make love to you, you've turned me down twice," Jason said. "And then there's the whole orgasm thing."
"Jason, Jesus!" How could he possibly think that any of this stuff was related?
"Maybe you can't come because it's not me you want," he said. "Maybe you want Jude."
My jaw dropped. I was stunned. Completely and utterly flabbergasted. I couldn't speak, because I was floored by the idiocy of what he'd said.
"Guess I hit a nerve," Jason muttered.
I took a deep breath. "You know," I said, "Just because I don't want him dead doesn't mean I want to screw him. I have absolutely no interest in Jude. And I don't particularly ever want to see him again. But I don't think that means you should shoot him. That's all."
"Whatever," said Jason.
"Is that why you want to kill him?" I asked. "Because you're jealous? Which, may I say, you have no reason to be?"
"Stop saying that I want to kill him! I have to kill him! I don't have a choice!"
"You always have a choice, Jason," I said and started for the steps.
He caught me by the hand and turned me to face him. "Jesus, Azazel, he's my brother," he said, and he sounded agonized. "He's my brother, and he tried to kill me. And my mother tried to kill me, and my father thinks I'm some kind of monster and that I might have to be put down like a rabid dog or something! Everyone thinks I'm psychotic. And now you keep saying that I want to kill my own brother. Do you think it too?"
His eyes looked so haunted and earnest.
"Is there something wrong with me?" he whispered. "Are they right? Am I destined only to destroy things?"
"No," I said. "No, Jason, there is nothing wrong with you." Even though, as I said it, I had to admit that I wasn't even sure anymore. I cupped his face in my hands. "It doesn't matter how they feel about you, Jason. I love you."
He put his arms around me and pulled me in close to him. "Eventually, everyone thinks it, though," he said. "Anton. Hallam. They all start thinking that I'mthat I'm evil."
"Jason . . ." But hadn't I wondered this? Hadn't I thought this? "There isn't such a thing," I said. "I don't believe . . ." And I didn't know what to say. I didn't know how to comfort him, so I just kissed him.
As our lips met, I wished as hard as I could that we had some kind of help. That people supported us. That we didn't have to struggle endlessly against everyone in the world. If only there was someplace where people really just . . . cared about us.
He kissed me back hungrily, like he was trying to find comfort in my lips. I opened my mouth to him, letting the sweetness of his tongue into my mouth. I felt like we were drowning in each other, like there was nothing left in the world that either of us had besides each other. And we kissed like that until Jude stirred behind us.
"Could you start hitting me again?" Jude said, his voice raspy. "Because watching you two make out like that is really a lot worse than when you were just beating me up."
Jason and I stepped back from each other.
"Still got it bad for my big brother, huh?" said Jude. "You know, Azazel, they say it's hard for women to leave men who scare them."
"Jude, don't," I said.
"Did you know she told me that once, Jase? She said you scared her," Jude continued. He licked his bruised lips.
"Shut up, Jude," I said. He was making things worse. Maybe he'd been listening to our conversation. Maybe he knew that he was pushing Jason's buttons.
"I don't get it, honestly," said Jude. "I mean the guy's a jealous freak. He's killed as many people as Jack the Ripper. What do you see in him?"
I wrenched the gun in Jason's hands away from him and strode over to Jude. I put the gun in his face. "Shut up, Jude," I said.
"Come on," he said. "Why don't you just tell him how you really feel about me?" Jude smiled.
I flipped the safety off the gun. "Listen to me, Jude," I said, my voice flat. "If you say one more thing, I will blow your head off. All that stuff you're saying about Jason . . . We're the same, Jason and me. Okay? So, don't push me. Don't push Jason." I looked into Jude's eyes. "Nod if you understand."
Jude didn't move for a second, but then he nodded.
I noticed something, next to Jude on the ground. I knelt to pick it up. It was a leather-bound book. I opened it. Handwritten writing filled the pages. A journal of some kind? I held it up. "Jason, you know what this is?"
"That's mine," Jude said.
"I told you not to talk, didn't I?" I asked him, gesturing with the gun.
Jude pressed his lips together firmly, but he glared at me, clearly angry.
I stood up, putting the safety back on the gun and handing it back to Jason. "We'll gag him," I said. "We'll gag him, and we'll make sure he's tied up really tight. And we'll leave him here until we can talk about what we're going to do. Okay?"
Jason looked down at the gun and then over at Jude. He nodded. "Okay."
As I was falling asleep that night, I thought about what had happened. I thought about what Jason had said to me, about everyone coming to the conclusion that he was evil. He was right. His mentor Anton had found out that Jason was Edgar Weem's twisted creation and decided to kill Jason. Hallam, under the direction of Edgar Weem, had been ready to kill Jason if he thought that Jason's violence was getting out of control. Every member of his family had been ready to kill him. Were all of these people wrong? Was there something dark within Jason? And if there were, what should I do?
If I hadn't found Jason tonight, and he'd gone ahead and killed Jude, I would have felt horrified. So much of what Jason had done already horrified me. But tying someone up, beating him bloody, and then putting a bullet in his head? It was something that only monsters did. I didn't think Jason was a monster. I loved him. He was my everything. But I was glad that I'd been able to stop him from killing Jude.
How had I stopped it, anyway? I'd found him. But that had been because of my dream. In my dream, Jason had been about to kill Chance, my little brother. In reality, Jason had been about to kill Jude, his brother. In the dream, I'd threatened to kill Jason. I'd said, "This is the line. We're not crossing it." Then I'd shot Chance anyway, when he'd threatened to hurt Jason.
What did the dream mean? And why did it have such an eerie similarity to reality?
Because I'd put a gun in Jude's face too, just like I'd aimed at Chance in the dream. And when I'd told Jude that if he spoke again, I would shoot him, I'd been serious. I would have killed him. I'd said to Jude, "Jason and I are the same." Were we? If Jason did monstrous things, then so did I.
Suddenly, I flashed on the moments before I'd shot Lilith in the head. I hadn't thought about that in any detail pretty much since I'd done it. But I suddenly remembered the moments of clear, cold thought I'd had before I'd done it. I remembered that I had thought about the conse-quences of the action, the ease of casual violence, the fact that I'd be haunted and disturbed by it. And I'd chosen to do it, anyway. Because, I'd thought, no matter what anyone said about fate or Shiva or the power of Azazel, in the end, it was my responsibility. My choice.
But I'd dreamed last night, and my dream had come very close to true. Jason and I had done things that had no explanation. If we were what they said we were, then we didn't have choices. Because then we were only fulfilling destiny.
I couldn't have it both ways. I couldn't believe that I had choices and responsibility and also believe that there were mystical forces interfering with our lives. So what would I believe? What was the truth? And how did I decide how to proceed?
One thing was for sure. Jason and I were falling further and further into an abyss. It was like black water closing over our heads. And even if we remembered how to swim, I didn't know which way was up anymore. For all I knew, all our flailing was doing nothing more than dragging us down deeper.
Right before I fell asleep, a note of panic stole into my thoughts as I realized I hadn't had anything to drink. But I shook it away grimly. If the dreams were coming for me, I'd have to face them. And with that thought, I slipped into black and dreamless sleep.
The next day was Saturday, and we didn't have any classes. In the morning, when I woke up, Jason called me because he wanted to talk about what to do with Jude. I wasn't ready to talk about it. Instead, we decided that we'd check on him periodically throughout the day. I went right after breakfast, and I even brought him some food. Jason and I hadn't talked about whether we were feeding him or not, but I wasn't going to let Jude just die of thirst or starvation down there. That was a crueler way to kill him than simply shooting him. I couldn't believe that I was considering the most merciful way to kill someone.
I untied Jude to let him eat. As he shoved food into his mouth, he asked me, "What are you guys going to do with me?"
I didn't want to talk to Jude, especially because I didn't know if he was going to die soon. I wanted to distance myself from him emotionally. "What do you think we should do?" I said. "We clearly can't trust you."
"Listen, I want that diary back," said Jude.
"Eat," I said.
"You took it from me, and I want it back," said Jude.
"How did you get away from the Sons anyway?" I said. "And why should we trust you? Aren't you just trying to kill Jason?"
Jude guzzled some of the iced tea I'd brought him. "I just want my diary back, okay?"
I left Jude as soon as I could. Jason was going to check on him in the afternoon. I made sure that Jude's bonds were as tight as possible and gagged him again, even though he begged me not to. When I left him, I felt dirty somehow, like I needed to take a shower to scrub off the inhuman part of me. I told myself that being tied up and gagged in a basement was better than dead. Jude should be grateful.
Palomino's mother had sent her some money for a prom dress. She wanted me to come shopping for one with her. Our school wasn't too far from Milan, and I had to admit there was something appealing about going shopping for a prom dress in the fashion capital of the world. Palomino had a car. A good portion of the kids at school had them, but students were forbidden to use their cars except on the weekends. So Palomino and I took off for Milan.
We did our shopping in the square near the Duomo, which was an awe-inspiring cathedral that looked like something out of a fairy tale. Built of light gray stone, with at least fifty intricate spires reaching for the heavens, it was impossible to look away from. It simply didn't look real. I wanted to go inside, since it was a major tourist attraction. However, for Palomino, the Duomo was old hat. She'd seen it too many times to count and didn't seem the least bit affected by it. She had to pull me away as I stood staring at it, open mouthed.
Even though Milan is the fashion capital of the world, not all of the stores around the Duomo were priced in the stratosphere. Of course, Palomino wanted to visit those, but when I told her my budget for my prom dress, she took me to a more reasonably-priced store instead. "Actually," she said, "I should get one here too and save the rest of the money my mom gave me. You know, for the baby."
The store had various levels. Formal dresses were on the top floor. After we climbed the steps, I began sifting through the dresses on the racks. "Mina," I said, "seriously, what are you going to do about this? If you do manage to hide the fact you're pregnant from everyone, they're still going to know when you, like, have a baby."
"Yeah," she said. "I know." She held up a hot pink strapless dress with black polka dots. "What do you think of this?"
"Um . . . it's very Pretty in Pink, I guess," I said.
"Yeah, it's ugly," she said, putting it back on the rack. She pulled out a long shimmery green dress with spaghetti straps.
"Pretty," I said.
"You try it on," she said.
"You saw it first," I said.
"Azazel, try on the dress. Let's try to have some fun girl time for once."
Right. Fun girl time. When Jude was sitting in a basement tied up and bloody, and my roommate was pregnant with my little brother's bastard child. Okay. She held the dress out to me.
"What size is it?" I said, sighing.
"Oh, who can understand this ridiculous Italian sizing? It says it's huge, but it's made for dwarves, so don't worry about it and try it on."
I took the dress and went into the dressing room.
It was low cut and bunchy around my waist. I surveyed myself in the mirror. "I don't think so," I said.
"Let me see," said Palomino.
"No, it's bad."
I emerged from the dressing room. Palomino was waiting for me in a long black dress with a halter top and an empire waist.
"That dress is awesome on you!" I exclaimed.
"Thanks," she said. "I wanted something that would hide my belly."
I rolled my eyes. "Mina, prom is in a week. What kind of belly do you think you're going to have?"
"I already have one!" she exclaimed.
"You do not!"
"Besides," she said. "This dress is cheap. My parents give me money for all kinds of things, like dresses and stuff. If I don't spend it all and save it, and maybe if I sell my car, then, when they find out about the baby and they kick me out on the street, maybe Chance and I can . . ."
I hugged her. "You don't really think your parents are going to throw you out, do you?"
She shrugged. "They're going to be really, really mad, Azazel."
"That sucks." My parents would never have done something like that to me. Of course, they'd tried to keep me pure so I could participate in a Satanic ritual. Parents pretty much sucked no matter how you sliced it. "I'm so sorry."
"It's okay," she said. "I'm glad you told Chance. He's been really, really awesome. And I think it's gonna be okay. I really do." She smiled. Then she looked at my dress. "Oh God," she said. "That's awful."
"I told you," I said.
We ducked back into the dressing room and changed out of our dresses. Mina hung hers up on the door and helped me hunt through the racks some more. I tried on at least ten dresses. Some of them were okay. One of them looked really, really nice on the hanger, but didn't look so nice on me. One of them I really liked, but cost way too much money.
And just when I was beginning to despair ever finding a dress at all, Palomino rushed forward with a dress in her hands and gave it to me. "This one," she said.
She was right. That was definitely the dress. As I zipped it up in the dressing room and surveyed myself in the mirror, hardly able to believe how well it fit me, my phone beeped at me. Text message. I dug in my pants on the floor to get it out.
It was from Jason. "Get back here. NOW," it said.
"what's up?" I texted back.
"NOW!!!" was all he replied.
"Mina," I said, "we've got to go back to school."
Copyright (c) 2009 Valerie Chambers