I stare at the sign for a full minute before finally dialling Yagher’s number.
“Hello?” his voice is gentle, hesitant; he knows it is me.
“Hi.” I swallow hard and close my eyes, “I know this is out of the blue, but… could you pick me up?”
My heart is racing but it barely manages a full beat before he answers: “Sure. Where are you?”
He pauses this time, and for a moment I worry that he has hung up. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
While I wait, I walk the short distance to the alleyway where I first saw Yagher, bleeding out on the concrete while his father wept. It feels as though something should happen when I glance down to that same spot, but I feel nothing. The atmosphere is so full of early evening light and life that it doesn’t even seem familiar.
A voice behind me calls my name. Yagher stands at the curb, keys in his hand and what is clearly an unmarked police car parked behind him.
“I – I’m sorry to call you while you’re working,” I’m practically stuttering, having had no time to prepare for this meeting, “I just… kinda… found myself here and I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea getting home on my own.”
Hey, it’s almost true.
“It’s okay, I’m just coming off of a shift anyway. I’m glad you called, honestly. I wanted to talk to you,” he says as he opens the passenger-side door of the car.
I duck in and sit, feeling incredibly awkward and vulnerable. I peek at my wrists to see if the bruising is still noticeable, but the car is dark enough that any traces are imperceptible. Yagher is oblivious as he sits beside me and starts the engine.
“How are you doing lately?” he asks, merging into the traffic on the street.
“I’m alright, still working on getting everything back to normal I guess,” I stare out the window, not wanting to look at his face as I lie to him. I remind myself that he has lied to me for a long time, kept secrets that shouldn’t have been his to keep. It doesn’t help much.
“I’m sorry you got dragged into everything. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth right away. I hope you don’t think that’s why I was hanging around,” from the corner of my eye I see him glance worriedly at me. I notice that he doesn’t apologize for stealing my memories in the first place.
“I get it. You live in a world where you don’t know who to trust. Where you have to hide who you are from pretty much everyone. But, it was a lot to take in for me. I hope you understand why I needed some space. When the memories hit me like that, well… it was pretty overwhelming. I didn’t mean to scare everyone,” I’m really hoping he buys the whole memories-out-of-nowhere thing as a decent excuse for my avoidance.
“I trust you,” he says, and I feel my nails digging into my thigh as I cringe. I’m not sure I believe him, but it doesn’t make the fact that I’m lying any easier. Should I really blame him for keeping things from me when I’m doing the exact same thing? But if I were to tell him about Hunter, would he hear me out or try to use me to get to him? What would happen to Grant? I don’t want to lie, but the problem is that I don’t trust him.
“I know,” I lie quietly, and continue staring intently out the window trying not to think of the many ways I might take advantage of that trust. “Is that what you wanted to talk to me about?”
I turn to see him shake his head as he pulls into the parking lot behind my building. We sit silently for a moment, both awaiting some kind of closure to the conversation. He breaks the silence first, “I wanted to ask if, with your memories returning to you and everything, if you remembered any more about the party? Or Hunter Elliot? If you’ve seen him since?”
My heart starts pounding and I forcefully slow my breathing. I keep it simple, “No, I’m sorry. I really don’t know if I’m going to be much help.”
“It’s alright,” he says, though his disappointment is plain in the crease between his thick brows. I nod and start to open the car door when he speaks again, “Selene, I should tell you something. Hunter… he’s the one who attacked me that night. I didn’t want to scare you, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s a coincidence that your memories came back when they did. It’s possible he’s triggered them somehow, which would mean he’s after me again. He might come after you too.”
“It could just be because I ran into you again,” I suggest, though I file his words away for closer consideration. It’s true that I don’t have a whole lot of grounds for trusting Hunter, but he didn’t kill me today and he has saved my life on more than one occasion. Still, I can see the pinkish scars peaking around Yagher’s white collar and the lingering image of his broken body shakes my faith considerably.
“Maybe. But I’d rather be safe,” He digs into his pocket and pulls out a blue iridescent crystal on a thin silver chain. He passes it to me, but I hesitate to take it, unsure of its meaning. “Take it – it’s a protection spell. It should be strong enough to last for a couple of months at least.”
“I thought you said protection spells didn’t last that long,” I say, reaching out to take it. I deliberately avoid touching his hands, but I’m not sure whether it’s a new habit from my encounters with skin mages, or an attempt of removing the intimacy of this moment.
“Good memory,” he smiles, “It’s different when it’s held in a physical object though; it won’t trigger until it’s needed. My uncle is a craft mage, he helped me make it.”
“Thank you,” I say, but it feels inadequate for everything that I know went into its making, so I add, “It’s beautiful.”
Yagher’s mouth twists to the side like he’s considering something, but then he just nods and says, “Have a good night Selene Kondo.”
“You too, Harvey Yagher,” I reply, shutting the door.
As I walk away he leans towards the passenger window and yells out of it, “You should try using my first name more often.”
I smile and wave him off, feeling incredibly confused and guilty. I put the necklace in the pocket of my jeans as I head up the apartment stairs and try to forget about it. It helps that there are two surprises waiting for me when I arrive upstairs.
The first is an empty apartment. Wynn is out late, which is unusual for her. She’s typically a homebody except when she’s being a workaholic. I’m not sure if I’m relieved that I don’t have to lie to yet another person, or frustrated that I’ve been left alone with my thoughts once again.
Luckily, the other surprise is much more pleasant; on the floor by the door, as if it’s been slipped underneath, is a note. It is written in a neat and slightly ornate hand on a yellowed paper card. Inside it reads:
Dear Ms. Selene Kondo,
You are hereby invited to join me for a traditional feast taking place on the autumnal equinox this September 23rd. If you, my honoured guest, are at all interested in the preparation and historical tradition of said celebration, you are welcome to drop in any time before then.
P.S. Best come hungry.
I can’t help but grin when I think of spending time with the old man. I feel like he might be the only person I can confide in completely, the only neutral party I can go to for advice. That aside, I’m simply grateful for the promise of his company.
I glance at the clock to see that it’s already after eight, and I quickly text Hunter to let him know the situation. He replies quickly to thank me for filling him in, and tells me that I can still contact him whenever I need to. I am frustrated when I realize how long I have to wait to see him again, and confused by how badly I want to trust him. I sigh, and give myself permission to muddle through that thought later.
Before finally relaxing for the night, I call my mom. I’ve called three times already since her message, but I only ever reach her voicemail. Tonight is the same. I leave a message, asking her to please call and let me know what’s going on. When I hang up, I have that familiar feeling that something ugly is lurking in our future, waiting to dig the rift between us a little bit deeper.