Hunter throws open the door as Caelen and I arrive. His smile is wide and overwhelming.
“That was much quicker than I was expecting,” he says. I smile back, brimming with a long-forgotten sense of pride.
“I’d like to remind the Optimists’ Society that it could still be a trap,” Caelen interjects. He jumps onto Hunter’s small table and lies down.
“Sit on the bed or something,” Hunter scolds him, “And I heard back from some of the other connections I have in Seimei. They seem to think she’s genuine. Whatever you said to her Selene, it seems to have made some kind of impact.”
“I just told her the truth,” I shrug. His excitement is contagious, and I find myself smiling as well.
“It’s funny how well that works,” he says, and I realize how close he is to me. His scar draws my attention to his lips but I force my gaze down at his hands. They are tucked into his jeans pockets as always.
My phone vibrates and I force my focus to the screen. It’s my mother. Finally.
“I’m sorry, I have to take this,” I say and Hunter nods, sitting down beside Caelen who has made his lazy way to the bed.
I walk to the farthest point from them, which happens to be the kitchen. My conversations with my mom can get… heated.
“Hello? Mom? I’ve been trying to get a hold of you for…”
“Selene?” she interrupts. She’s been crying, but that’s not unusual, “Selene. We have to talk.”
When she continues her words are like a punch to the gut. I stagger against the counter. Some part of my brain registers Hunter standing and walking over. I turn my face away from him.
“Mom, do you need me there now? There’s a bus first thing tomorrow morning…”
“No, Selene. I’ve managed on my own for this long, I think I’ll be okay,” as usual, her blows connect as solidly as she intends them, “I’ll see you on Tuesday.”
I hang up the phone, trying vainly to keep the tears back even though I can already feel their warm trails down my cheeks.
“Are you okay?” Hunter asks, walking over, hands tucked away into his blue jeans.
“Yeah, I’m fine, but I have to go,” I dodge around him, rushing to the stairs.
“Someone die?” Caelen shouts from where he’s still lying on the bed.
“Caelen!” Hunter yells at him.
My laughter is dark. Hollow. I stare into Caelen’s inhuman eyes, “Yeah. My dad.”
“Selene, I’m so sorry,” the moment Caelen says it I know I need to get away. I don’t want his pity. Not from him, not for my father.
“Forget it. Seriously. We didn’t really get along. He was abusive,” I add, figuring there was no point in hiding it. Honesty is the best policy, right? Wasn’t that what we were all just saying? “I have to go.”
I head up the stairs, determined not to look back. I slip my shoes on and practically trip out the door. Something warm brushes against my hand. I look back to see Hunter reaching out to grab it.
“I’m sorry,” he says, pulling his hand back quickly, “I just wanted to say that if there’s anything you need… just… let me know. Okay? I don’t want you to be alone in this.”
“Yeah. Okay,” I stutter, then add as sincerely as I can muster, “Thanks.”
“Would you mind if I check in with you later?”
My heart is pounding and my hand feels warm where he touched it.
You fucking monster, a small but persistent voice says, Your father just died and you’re here getting turned on by some guy you hardly know. The same guy who made you cringe last time he touched you. I push the voice aside, though the guilt leans on me like an old friend.
“If you want,” I answer, trying to sound casual, “I’ll be okay though. Honestly.” Liar.
I’m relieved when I open the apartment door to find Wynn reading on the couch. She jumps to her feet the moment we make eye contact. I break down as she hugs me, and collapse into her arms.
“Can you come with me?” I ask, after explaining between heaving sobs what has happened, “I can’t face my mom on my own.”
“Of course,” she stands from where she’s helped me onto the couch and goes to the kitchen. She pulls down two oversized mugs, “When is it?”
“Tuesday, in the morning.”
She pauses, a mug in each hand. “Yeah. Okay, I can make that work.”
“Nothing,” she shrugs and I know that means she’s trying to avoid something; she should really know she can’t fool me by now.
“Wynn. What’s happening on Tuesday?”
“It’s just a speaker. A microbiologist.” She says it as if she could care less, but I can tell it’s important. She wanted to go.
“I’ll ask Brie,” I tell her.
“You don’t have to,” she begins, but I shake my head. I wipe away the lingering tears with a sleeve of my sweater.
“No, I don’t. But I can tell this is important.”
“I might get a chance to talk with him. My professor was going to recommend me to his lab,” she confesses, “But I’m not leaving you alone.”
“I won’t go alone. I promise.”
I call Brie later, after Wynn leaves for an evening class.
“Umm… I can’t, Selene.”
I inhale, trying to hide how desperate I feel. “Okay.”
“I did what you said. I told Grant how I felt and we had this big talk and… well… we’re leaving for the Bahamas tomorrow. He thought we could use some quality time together. We’ll be back in a couple weeks though. I’m so sorry.”
Of course. Grant would book them a last minute trip to the bloody Bahamas to reassure her of his feelings. I sigh, “I’m glad you worked things out. Hope you have a good time.”
“You shouldn’t go alone Selene. Do you have to go at all?”
“Yes. My mom…” I don’t need to say any more; Brie was my best friend growing up after all.
“Maybe you can ask Yagher…”
I close my eyes, using my free hand to rub the space between them. I remind myself to breathe. “I’ll think about it.”
I consider my options after hanging up.
Harvey Yagher will almost certainly read into the request much further than I’d like. And I’m not sure I could stand his righteous anger if I told him about my relationship with my father.
Sean Harris is a possibility, but bringing a strange old man to my dad’s funeral would probably raise a lot of questions. And Mr. Harris doesn’t seem the kind of person who gets out much.
What other choice do I have? I can only think of one.
I stare at my phone for a while before dialling Hunter’s number, feeling intensely stupid for asking him to attend something so personal with me.
“Hello?” the moment I hear his voice the awkwardness dissipates. I believe he was sincere when he said I could ask for anything.
I still feel nervous enough that I stutter, “Hi… Uh… hey Hunter… Um.. D-Do you think I could ask you for a favour? It’s kind of out of nowhere and I don’t want you to feel obligated or anything…”
“That’s alright, what is it?” Why does he always sound so gentle? So understanding? Like I could tell him anything…
“Well, I have to go to my father’s funeral and my roommate is busy that day… and uh… Brie’s on a surprise vacation with Grant. I know I should just go by myself but… I’m scared,” I almost whisper those last two words, and I can feel the tears rising again.
“No, it’s okay. It’s not something you should have to face alone. I’ll go with you,” he answers without even a breath of hesitation.
“Are you sure? I’m so sorry, I just haven’t seen my mother for a long time and I can’t imagine being alone after the whole thing is over. I didn’t see my dad for a long time before he died, and I don’t really think that was wrong, but I still feel guilty. You know?” I’m rambling… am I rambling? Why am I even telling him this?
“Selene, it’s okay. I only feel bad that you can’t bring someone you feel more comfortable with.”
“Maybe it’s better this way – maybe I won’t cry as much if I’m with someone I don’t know as well.” I laugh nervously, “The funeral is on Tuesday morning. It’s an about an hour bus ride there and back so it’ll take most of the day. If you’re not available it’s okay.” This is his chance to back out, to offer an excuse if he doesn’t actually want to come.
“I was planning on hiding out for the next couple of weeks, remember? Now that I don’t have to worry about eyes in the sky, I’m pretty free,” his laugh is warm and comforting – I want to hear him laugh more, “Actually, it’ll be nice to have some time to talk to you. I was disappointed when Seimei got involved.”
“Me too,” I say quietly, again feeling guilty that I’m looking forward to seeing him despite the occasion.
We finalize the details before he hangs up. I sit hunched over on the edge of the bed, my stomach sick with the emotions whirling inside of me. I obsess over Hunter’s touch – that brief moment when he reached for me. Did he do something? Is my desire to trust him the result of some spell, or a rare act of trust? I drop back onto the bed and close my eyes.
I understand now why he always keeps his hands tucked away. Why he refuses to touch anyone. Yet, as convoluted as it’s made my decision to trust him, I’m not certain I would take back that fleeting gesture.