When the bus pulls into our station it is nearly four in the afternoon. We step onto the paved platform, squinting in the already lowering sun. Neither of us seems eager to look at the other. Strangers stream around us, eager to be out of the frigid air.
“Thanks for coming with me,” I finally manage.
“I’ll see you soon,” his eyes meet mine briefly. I nod and he turns away. I watch him disappear from sight, jostled by the crowd, and it feels as though there was something more I should have said.
I walk in the opposite direction from the one he has taken, trying to puzzle out this lack of closure. Trying to understand how I could feel so light after such a trying day. My introspection is deep enough that I’m surprised to find myself two blocks from home when I finally take note of my surroundings. I’m also surprised by the tall figure only steps ahead of me.
My insides jolt as I lift my gaze to Mirena’s. A bead of sweat glides down my neck despite the cold.
“You’ve been annoyingly elusive these past couple of days,” she coos. Her slanted smirk is nauseating.
Instinct says to run but I know panicking will only encourage her. I’ve been under her scrutiny for weeks; she could have kidnapped me multiple times if that were her intention.
“What do you want?” I ask, amplifying my anger and indignation to conceal the fear beneath it.
“I’m impatient,” she answers, tilting her head playfully, “I know you have connections with Hunter. He’s probably the one who stole you from me isn’t he? Conveniently for you, the guards couldn’t remember anything. But father isn’t convinced that he’s a threat. So it seems I need some proof.”
“I told you I don’t know what you’re talking about. A friend of mine found me and helped me out. I only met that red-haired guy once. Why is this so important to you?”
“Johannes is dead because of him,” her voice is cold and almost detached, “He’s my student. If he’s a traitor then it’s my responsibility.”
“You said your family doesn’t see him as a threat, so what does it matter anyway? Johannes is dead because he murdered innocent people!”
Her smirk dissolves into a deadly sneer; I’ve touched a nerve – still raw and exposed from Johannes’ death. She reaches out, gripping my forearm. I clench my eyes shut as I pull away from her with all of my strength. I’m prepared for pain or unconsciousness, but instead I fall to the ground as she lets go of me effortlessly.
I open my eyes to find her lying on the ground, unconscious. A small, blue stone rests against her right foot. Large hands lift me from behind and as relieved as I know I should feel, I’m also afraid of the person who stands behind me.
“Are you okay, Selene?” Yagher asks, walking around to face me.
I open my mouth but resort to nodding, too disoriented to speak. What the hell is happening? How do I handle this?
Yagher walks towards Mirena’s body, prone on the cracked sidewalk. I glance around but the street is deserted. I wonder if this seclusion is by design, whether Yagher’s or Mirena’s, or by chance. Yagher opens a pouch on his belt and pulls out some leather gloves. He puts them on before cuffing her hands behind her back, removing the crystal, and leading her into the back of an unmarked police car parked around the corner. I follow dumbly behind him.
“Get in the car,” he says to me as he walks to the driver’s side.
“Look Yagher, I’m almost home anyway… I’d rather walk…”
“Get in the car,” he interrupts before slamming the door behind him.
I linger for another moment, staring blankly at the passenger door as I try to fabricate an explanation. The revving engine jolts me into action and I take my place beside Yagher. Mirena sits behind me, separated by a plexiglass divider; she’s dazed, but clearly coming around. Yagher’s expression is one of pure rage.
“How did you know I was in trouble?” I ask, hoping to win some points for starting the conversation.
“Grant texted me about your dad’s funeral. I thought I’d stop by and see how you were doing. Then I saw you with her so I quietly pulled over and came around behind one of the houses,” his tone is level but his expression still hasn’t changed.
“Thank you,” I say meekly.
“I heard everything, Selene,” he stares dead ahead. I shift my attention from his face to the window and realize that we’re driving in the opposite direction of my apartment.
“Where are we going?”
He ignores the question. “When you disappeared a while back… you weren’t just upset, were you?”
“No,” my voice is almost a whisper, but I can tell by his clenched jaw that he heard.
“Why did she take you?” There’s a tense pause before his expression softens the tiniest bit, “What did she do to you?”
“What do you think she did?” Remembering that night makes me want to curl up into a ball right there in the leather seat of Yagher’s car. I manage to wiggle my feet up onto the seat and hug my knees tightly.
Yagher looks over briefly. Again, there’s a barely perceptible softening of the muscles around his eyes. “But why did she take you?”
“The same reason you keep asking me stupid questions. She thinks I have something to do with Hunter.” There’s no point in lying to him. I’ve basically been feeding Mirena the same lies as Yagher this whole time anyway.
“Who was the friend you mentioned? The one who helped you escape?” He’s very calm when he asks and I wonder if he suspects the truth. If he’s hoping that he’s got it all wrong and I’ve got nothing to do with the man who tried to kill him. I know I need to stick to the truth as much as possible.
“I don’t know,” I say, and he immediately throws me an aggravated look. I continue on quickly, “I don’t. I’ve never seen the guy before and I’ve never seen him since. He just said he was working for Hunter.”
“That doesn’t make sense Selene. If you don’t know him then why the hell does he keep saving your life?” Lucky for me, Hunter’s already provided the answer to this question and this is the perfect time to feel out Yagher’s reaction.
“He said that Hunter was sorry. He knew what I did to save you and felt bad that he was responsible for it. He wants to make amends,” I take a deep breath, knowing that I’m about to say something that could help change the world, “He said he regretted what he did to you. That he was sorry.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” His face turns red and his voice is taught like a guitar string about to snap.
“I had just discovered the truth about you. I was angry and hurt and confused. I didn’t know what to think. Everything since the party… it’s been a lot Yagher.”
He is silent for a moment, the rage slowly abating. His colour returns to normal, but there’s a stubborn set to his mouth that belies his frustration.
“I’m sorry, Selene. You’re right – you didn’t ask for any of this. Whatever the hell that redheaded piece of shit is up to, I wish he’d leave you out of it.”
Well, that isn’t promising.
“What if that guy… what if he was telling the truth? What if he really is sorry?” I know it’s risky trying to defend Hunter, but I also know how crucial it is to convince Yagher of his intentions.
High-pitched, cold laughter suddenly filters through the barrier dividing us from the back seat. “What a beautiful fairy tale, you naive little child,” Mirena turns to Yagher, eyeing his reflection in the rear-view mirror, “Why don’t you take these off and I’ll find out if she’s really telling the truth.”
“You’re going to stay back there and you’re going to shut your mouth or you can finish the rest of this trip in the trunk.” Mrena grins but remains silent.
“She’s right though,” he concedes quietly, “It’s naive to think that someone like Hunter has suddenly had a change of heart. Evil doesn’t just disappear like that.”
Evil. So, he’s already passed his judgement. I can try to explain to him about Hunter’s childhood, about the torture and the cruelty. About the way his family made him hate Yagher, made him think he was responsible for his fate. But I know it’s pointless – it would be a dead giveaway that I’ve been talking to Hunter.
I hear a grinding, gravelly noise and I look out the window to see us pulling onto a long, dirt road. We pass the occasional laneway but the thick tree line obscures whatever lay beyond.
“Where are we going?” I ask for the second time.
“Home,” Yagher answers, finally allowing himself a comfortable smile.
The road ends, transforming into a narrow driveway bordered by iron gates. Ahead of us lies a massive homestead. The buildings are short, mostly one or two floors, but they sprawl lazily across the expansive property. The shutters and doors are bright white, stark against the earthy brick walls. Past a jagged row trees – a mix of oaks, maples and various pines – I can see rolling fields and what looks to be a barn or work-shed.
Yagher follows the paved lane to the front of the main building, but doesn’t stop. He continues onto another path that circles to the left, finally parking in front of an archway dividing one of the long wings of the building.
“You live here?” I ask in awe. I must look ridiculous with my head snapping back and forth, trying to take in the entirety of the property.
“No,” Yagher laughs, “Not anymore – I grew up here. I have a small apartment in the city now. It looks over the riverfront. You should really come visit sometime.”
I pop an eyebrow at him. Seriously?
He shrugs and opens his door, stepping out into the frosty, country air. Without any explanation, he pulls Mirena roughly from the back of the car and shoves her towards the archway. Not knowing what else to do, I open my door and follow.