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To: Edgar Weem < [email protected] >
From: Renegade Son < [email protected] >
Someone tried to snatch Azazel last night. That doesn't have anything to do with the Sons or you, does it? And you don't have any ties to a Liam Sutherland, do you? I'm willing to cooperate with you, but you need to be straight with me.
Even though it was late, I couldn't sleep. I sat in my room with the door shut, picking at my bedspread. I felt so alone. I toyed with my phone, searching through the contact numbers. There weren't many names there. Jude. Jason. Hallam. Some people from work. I didn't know many of them well. I certainly couldn't call anyone for comfort. As I scrolled through them, I settled on my younger brother Chance's name. Chance lived in New Jersey with Grandma Hoyt. I hadn't talked to him since Christmas, when he'd come to visit us in Florida. I knew that I couldn't tell Chance what was happening to me here. I didn't want to worry him or endanger him. But suddenly, a longing welled up inside me to talk to someone who I'd grown up with. Someone who I'd known before all this mess had started. My brother.
I hit send on my phone, holding it to my ear as it rang. It was late. He was probably asleep.
But Chance answered. "Zaza!" he greeted cheerily.
Geez. For the first time in months, the nickname didn't make my stomach turn over. "Hey Chance," I said, grinning from ear to ear. "Sorry I'm calling so late."
"It's no big deal," he said. "I'm up."
"So how are you, little brother?"
"Excellent," he said. "I'm going to Italy."
"What?" I said.
"Yeah," he affirmed. "I'm going to a boarding school in Italy for really rich American kids. It's going to be a blast."
"Whoa," I said. "When were you going to tell me this?"
"I was going to call you," he said. "Soon. I totally was. I have tons of crap to tell you. And Jason. Hey, is Jason there? I wanted to ask him if he got the new game for X-box."
"Um ," I said, "Jason and I are kind of fighting."
"Oh," said Chance. "So that's why you're calling me."
"Sort of," I admitted, fighting tears.
"Hey," said Chance, his voice full of concern, "it'll be okay. You two are awesome together. He really cares about you."
"Yeah," I said, trying to pull myself together. "So why are you going to Italy?"
"Well," said Chance, "I asked Grandma about it months ago, because my friend Palomino got shipped off at the beginning of the semester."
"Oh, right, your friend, Palomino," I said knowingly.
"She's not my girlfriend!" Chance said. "Anyway, she's been in Italy for months. I barely get to talk to her except online."
"Sure, Chance. Whatever you say."
"She's not!" he said. "Anyway, Grandma said no. She said she wanted me close. But then, right after Noah and Gordon left a few weeks ago—"
"Wait," I said. "Noah and Gordon were there?" Noah and Gordon were my adopted brothers. No one had heard from them since November. They hadn't even come to my parents' funeral service.
"Oh, I forgot to call and tell you that," said Chance. "Sorry."
"Where have they been?" I said.
"I don't know," said Chance. "They didn't stay long. They just came by one day. They talked to Grandma Hoyt for hours in her office. Then we all went out to dinner. The next morning they were gone. And right after that, Grandma Hoyt said that it would probably be best if I went to Italy."
"So you'll get to go to school with Palomina, then," I said. "That's cool."
"I know, right?" I could tell he was smiling on the other end.
"That's weird about Noah and Gordon, though," I said. "I haven't heard from them at all."
"Really?" said Chance. "Because they told me they were planning to visit you."
I called Jude when I woke up and asked him if he could give me a ride to school. The thought of facing Jason and walking to school with him was simply too much. I'd cried myself to sleep the night before. I felt guilty for practically accusing Jason of sleeping with Lilith. And I couldn't shake the look in his eyes when he'd left my room. He was right. There was no way that he could possibly be unfaithful to me. It wasn't like Jason. I was probably temporarily insane. But it didn't help that Lilith was always around.
I got ready as quickly as I could. Jason and I crossed each other when he was getting ready to take his shower, and I was leaving the bathroom. I looked down at the floor and not at his face. He didn't say anything to me. I didn't say anything to him either.
When Jude knocked on the door, I gathered my book bag and purse and went to meet him. Jude grinned at me as I slid out of the apartment.
"How come you're not walking to school with Jason?" he asked.
I sighed. "He came home late last night. Drunk. He was out with Lilith."
"Oh," said Jude, looking sympathetic. "I'm sorry."
We started for his car. "So," Jude asked as we walked, "did you call the police?"
Right. Jude had been with me when I'd been attacked. Dammit. Being around him was probably a bad idea. "Hallam thinks that someone might have tried to kidnap me to collect ransom from my grandmother," I told Jude.
"No way," said Jude. "The rich one in New Jersey?"
As if I had another grandmother. My dad's parents had both died before I was born. I nodded. "Hallam's going to contact her and see if she wants to involve the police." This wasn't true at all. As far as I knew, no one was going to contact my grandmother.
I didn't really think that the person who'd snatched me was trying to get money from my grandmother. I didn't know what I thought anymore. I wasn't completely convinced that it was the Sons, exactly. But they seemed like the best option. Still, I did need to be careful. I scanned our parking lot quickly, looking for any suspicious figures or cars.
Not seeing anything, I got into Jude's car. We backed out of the parking lot and pulled onto the road.
"You aren't worried about it, then?" asked Jude.
I sighed. "I guess I should be," I said. "But all I can think about is Jason and Lilith."
Jude laughed. "Yeah, I guess that makes sense. I mean, being carried off like that was probably pretty traumatic. You'd want to focus on something else."
"Maybe that's it," I said. But it was odd. I hadn't found the experience traumatic at all. Maybe it was because so many other much more horrible things had happened to me. Or maybe it was because I'd been able to get out of the situation all by myself.
"It was cool how you just punched that guy in the face, and he dropped you," said Jude. "I didn't know you could punch so hard."
"Neither did I," I said.
"Really? So you think it was like adrenaline or something? Like when people lift cars?"
That was an interesting theory. "Maybe?" I said.
"How did you feel?" Jude asked.
"I don't know. Um, calm," I said. "Weirdly enough, I felt really calm."
"That's awesome. It's probably why you were able to deal so well with the situation."
"Yeah, but it's strange, isn't it?"
Jude shrugged. "Maybe you're just growing as a person," he said. "You're stronger now. You and Jason are arguing a lot. Maybe you're growing out of him."
"No way!" I said. "I'm never going to grow out of Jason! He's everything to me."
"And if he were sleeping with Lilith?"
"Maybe not yet. But what if he does?"
I shook my head. "It won't happen."
"What if Jason had done something horrible?" Jude asked. "What if . . . I don't know, he killed someone or something?"
Ha. Jude didn't know it, but I'd already witnessed Jason kill five members of the Sons, saving my life. "That wouldn't make any difference," I said. "None of it would."
"So even if he cheated on you, you'd forgive him?"
I considered. When I'd found out Toby had been cheating on me, all of my feelings for him had shriveled up. I'd felt nothing for him except disgust. There hadn't been any way I could have forgiven Toby. But if I found out that Jason had slept with Lilith, would he disgust me? No, I realized, he wouldn't. He'd still be Jason. It would hurt. I'd be devastated. But there would be nothing more devastating than losing Jason completely. "I think I would," I said.
"Wow," said Jude. "You really like him."
"I love him," I said. "More than anything else on earth."
Jude pulled the car into the parking lot at school and parked. We both got out and began walking toward the building. "So why do you think you two are having problems lately?" he asked me.
"I don't know," I said. Why were Jason and I arguing so much? We never argued much in the past. How had it started? I thought back to the beginning of the week. Lilith. The bell. Jude. At some point, Jason and I had stopped trusting each other. Jason didn't believe me when I said we were in danger. Jason didn't take my side when I didn't want to let Lilith stay with us. Jason didn't like Jude. It seemed like everything was spiraling out of my control. I didn't know how to make anything better. "If he'd just listen to me," I said. "If he'd just believe me, maybe . . ."
"He doesn't listen to you?"
"He was mad at me because I didn't call him last night when I went to the shooting range."
"But he was at work."
"I know," I said. "And he said that I was angry with him because he wasn't there to protect me. But I wasn't. I took care of myself just fine, without him. I didn't need his help. But he wouldn't listen."
"He gets angry a lot," said Jude.
"He's always beating people up. I don't want you to take this the wrong way, Azazel, because I know you really care about him, but are you sure he's, well, good for you?"
I glared at Jude as we entered the school building. "Of course I am."
He shrugged. "It's just that he seems kind of scary sometimes." He paused. "You wanna go to my locker or your locker first?"
"Yours," I said. "And he's not scary. Not to me."
Jude's locker was on the first floor. I watched as he dropped off his book bag and grabbed his History book. "Never?" asked Jude. "He's never scared you?"
"No," I said, even though that wasn't strictly true. There was one time, back in November, in a hotel room . . . But Jason had been really upset then. And he'd stopped when I asked him to.
We were climbing the stairs to my locker, which was on the second floor.
"Maybe I'm out of line," said Jude.
"Jason is all I have," I said to Jude as we stopped in front of my locker. I opened it. Stared inside at my books.
"That's not a good reason to date someone," said Jude.
I chewed on my lip. Opened my book bag. Exchanged a few books. "That's not why I'm dating him."
"Okay," said Jude. "I'm sorry. I won't say anything else. I just worry about you sometimes. Jason isn't like other guys, you know. He's . . . intense."
Yeah. Jason was intense. And after I'd met him, my life had gotten really dangerous, really fast. But that wasn't Jason's fault.
We started down the hall to 1st block. It was an Odd day, so Jude and I were heading to Mr. Sutherland's class. My heart sank. I really didn't want to see him again. And I wasn't looking forward to having two more days of detention with him either. Even if Mr. Sutherland wasn't a member of the Sons—and I wasn't convinced that he wasn't—he was kind of creepy. I could live a happy, fulfilled life never seeing him again, ever.
But when we arrived at Mr. Sutherland's classroom, he wasn't there. Instead, there was a different woman, who'd written her name on the board: Mrs. Clearing. She introduced herself as Mr. Sutherland's substitute.
I knew exactly why Mr. Sutherland wasn't at school today. He'd been the man who'd grabbed me in the parking lot last night. He wasn't at school, because I'd punched him in the nose. He probably had two black eyes. He knew that if he showed up today, I'd know it was him. I'd been right! Mr. Sutherland was mixed up in this somehow, and something weird was definitely going on.
I wanted to tell Jason about it at lunch, but I wasn't sure if we were speaking yet. Of course, maybe he wouldn't believe me, anyway. I didn't know what else to do, so I bought my yogurt out of the machine and sat down at our usual table. I waited, eating my yogurt, to see if Jason would show up.
It seemed like a very long time passed. No Jason.
Geez. He was really angry with me, wasn't he? So angry he wouldn't even sit with me at lunch? Of course, I hadn't walked to school with him this morning. Maybe I deserved the cold shoulder.
I finished eating my yogurt and stared into the empty container, running my spoon around the edges, trying to scoop up the last bits of yogurt.
"Did you ride to school with Jude?"
My head snapped up. Jason was standing over me, carrying his tray. He had a large helping of spaghetti with meat sauce and a salad covered in ranch dressing.
"Hi," I said.
"Did you?" he asked.
"Yeah," I said.
"Do you want to sit down?" I asked.
Jason hesitated. He looked around the cafeteria as if he were trying to find some other place to sit. Then he sat down.
We were quiet for several minutes, neither of us saying a word. I fiddled with my empty yogurt container some more, feeling very uncomfortable. I wondered if I should just leave. Maybe Jason wanted to be alone.
"I heard detention was cancelled since Mr. Sutherland isn't here," said Jason.
"Yeah," I said. I wanted to tell Jason why I thought Mr. Sutherland wasn't here, but I didn't. He wouldn't believe me anyway. What was the point?
"This morning, Hallam told me that he was going to be out late looking into some stuff," said Jason. "I've got to work tonight. So does Lilith."
So? "Okay," I said.
"I told him it wasn't a big deal, because you had detention, so I figured you'd only be home by yourself for an hour or so. But now . . ."
Oh. Jason was worried about my safety. At least that was something. I guessed. "I'll be fine," I said. "I know where the guns are. I know where the bullets are. I'll lock the doors."
"I might be able to get someone to cover my shift tonight, if you want," said Jason.
Jason wanted to stay home with me? "Well, would that be hard for you to do?" I asked.
Jason shrugged. "It might be. It's short notice. I don't know if I could convince anyone to work for me."
"Never mind, then," I said. "I'll be fine."
"Yeah," I said.
Jason nodded. "Just be careful, okay?"
We were quiet again. I picked up my purse and rummaged through its contents. I felt awkward sitting next to Jason and not talking to him. There were a bunch of old receipts in my purse. A few tampons. A slip of paper . . . What was this?
Huh. It was Mr. Sutherland's address. I still had that, did I?
Finally, the bell rang. Both Jason and I got up. I started away from him, heading to my 6th/7th block. Jason caught me by the elbow. I turned to look at him.
"Hey," he said, "I just wanted to let you know that I thought you did a good job taking care of that last night."
This was different than the Jason who always wanted to protect me. He was actually acknowledging that I could handle myself.
"Thanks," I said.
"Just make sure you do the same thing tonight if something happens, okay?" Jason asked.
"I will," I said.
"You better. I don't want anything to happen to you."
I knew that it was a stupid idea to go to Mr. Sutherland's house. I was convinced he was the man who'd attacked me in the parking lot, and that meant he was dangerous. I'd promised Jason I was going to be careful. If I went there, I'd probably be in a lot of danger, and there would be a strong chance that I'd end up getting hurt. I knew that I really shouldn't go.
But after I found Mr. Sutherland's address, I just couldn't let the idea go. Jason walked me home after school. We didn't say much. Things were still awkward between us. I wanted to say something. To apologize maybe. But just as I was screwing up my nerve to say it, we got back to the apartment. Lilith was there. She was on our computer, and she smiled when we came inside. "Hey!" she said.
I didn't say hi to her. She'd put me instantly in a bad mood. How long was Lilith going to stay here, anyway? I didn't think I could handle it for much longer. We needed to find someplace else for Lilith to go. She'd only been here for four days, and already she'd managed to practically destroy my relationship with Jason.
"Zaza, I thought you had detention," she said.
"Can you not call me that?" I asked.
She made an apologetic face. "It's just habit. I'm sorry."
"Mr. Sutherland wasn't there, so detention was cancelled," I said.
"Cool," said Lilith.
Jason was walking through the living room towards his bedroom.
"Jason, where are you going?" Lilith asked. "We've got to be at work in fifteen minutes."
"I'm going to change," he said. "I'll be back in second."
Jason disappeared into his room. I was left with Lilith. We gazed at each other for a few seconds.
"Well," I said, "I'm gonna go to my room too."
"Wait," said Lilith. "I, um, I couldn't help overhearing you and Jason last night."
"I mean," she continued, "not everything. It was muffled. But I was sure I heard my name. Were you two arguing about me?"
"You want me to leave, don't you?" asked Lilith.
"I . . ." I did want her to leave. But how could I say that? "No, Lilith. You can stay as long as you need to." God. How had she gotten me to say that? She really was manipulative, wasn't she?
"Really?" Lilith looked so relieved. She threw her arms around me. "Oh, thank you so much. I really need this. Thank you."
I didn't hug her back. "It's fine," I said. "It's really fine."
After Lilith and Jason left, I went and found the gun, just like I'd told Jason I would. I loaded it with bullets. Then I stalked around my house, locking the doors and windows, telling myself it was very, very stupid idea to go to Mr. Sutherland's house.
If I did go, I told myself, I'd bring the gun. I'd fight him off if he tried anything. After all, I'd fought him off the night before. Who was to say that I couldn't do it again, if I needed to? I could do it. I knew how to use the gun. I wanted to confront Mr. Sutherland, anyway. I wanted to know who he was and what he wanted. He'd given me his address because he obviously wanted me to come to his house. He'd tried to drag me off last night. He wanted to see me. Alone. How was I going to find out what he wanted if I didn't do what he asked?
And if I was wrong, then I'd know it immediately. If I got to Mr. Sutherland's house, and he didn’t have a swollen, purple nose, then I'd know it wasn't him last night. I'd know if my paranoia was getting away with me, the way Jason and Hallam claimed it did.
But if his face was mangled, then I'd have proof. Mr. Sutherland had attacked me in the parking lot last night. And I could use that proof to intimidate him. I could wave the gun in his face. Force him to talk. Force him to tell me who he was working for and what he wanted with me. I imagined Mr. Sutherland cowering in a darkened corner in his apartment, begging me to spare his life. Telling me everything I wanted to know.
I knew I shouldn't go, but the advantages to going seemed to outweigh the risk. If I could get enough information from Mr. Sutherland, then maybe we could stop anything bad from happening. Then maybe Jason and I could stay here. I could relax. He could too. We could be together again, without all the things that had come between us lately. I knew, even though it was a bad idea to go to Mr. Sutherland's house, that I was going to go anyway. I couldn't help it. I had to.
I brought bullets with me. I brought the gun, tucked into the inside pocket of my jacket. I brought my purse, which contained the slip of paper that had Mr. Sutherland's address on it. I locked the door to the apartment behind me, and I set out to walk to see Mr. Sutherland.
His house wasn't too far from mine or from the school. Actually, he lived in an apartment as well. It took me about twenty minutes all told, because I made a wrong turn and had to double back. But finally, I was standing at Mr. Sutherland's door. I double-checked the address one last time, and then I knocked on his door.
There was no response.
My heart was thumping, and I was squelching the desire to put my hand inside my jacket and feel the gun. Maybe he wasn't home. Maybe I was crazy. Maybe Mr. Sutherland hadn't been at school today because he'd gone on a trip. Maybe he had nothing to do with anything.
I knocked again.
I was ready to walk away when the door opened.
Copyright (c) 2009 Valerie Chambers