Hunter leaves so I can take a shower and collect myself, but he promises to return in a day or two. The depression whispers that he pities me. That I’m foolish for thinking our relationship could be anything more. The real me, the rational one that feels more than self-loathing and despair, knows better. Hunter is giving me space because he cares about me and to press me now would be to take advantage of my vulnerability.
I smile to myself in the warm shower, unable to contain the hope and excitement swelling inside of me. I’m not better, not yet, but for the first time in weeks I see a way out. I am determined to claw my way back to being myself again.
I’m beaming when my phone rings the next day and Hunter’s name flashes on the display.
“Hey Hunter, what’s up?”
“Selene…” his voice sounds thin, his breathing ragged.
“Hunter what’s wrong?”
He takes a moment to catch his breath.
“Yagher found my place. I don’t know how he did it… but… he found me.”
“Are you okay? Where are you?” I drop onto the couch, my head swimming with confusion and panic. My leg jumps up and down, my body eager to be of some use.
“I’m fine. Caelen heard them before they got there. I’m somewhere safe.” His voice is evening out and his breathing has calmed. Am I the first person he’s called?
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Not right now. It’s just… Selene…” he sighs, “I have to lie low for a while. Until I know how the hell they found me.”
“Oh,” I say, “So I won’t be able to see you for a while.”
Hunter doesn’t respond. I hesitate, unsure of what to say and how to react.
I’m frightened by the prospect of Yagher being so close on his trail, relieved that he’s safe, frustrated that I don’t know when I will see him again, and moved that he is just as unhappy about being apart as I am.
The silence drags on and I am the one to finally break it. “It’s okay. Just keep me posted, so I know that you’re still safe.”
When we hang up I stand, knowing I need to move before gravity gets the best of me. I busy myself with any little chore or activity, determined not to fall into the darkness I’ve only started to shake off.
Fortunately, as Hunter’s confinement begins my own ends. Grant believes that –with some vigilance — it is safe for me to leave the apartment; Yagher’s efforts seem genuinely focused on Hunter and Mirena is, hopefully, no longer a threat.
Brie literally drags me out the door for the first time and takes me for lunch at a cute little 50’s diner down the road. After jumping at every noise for half an hour, I finally begin to relax.
“So, I know it’s almost here already… but I’m throwing a Hallowe’en party at Grant’s apartment,” Brie says as we share a plate of baked pita with spinach and artichoke dip. We’re both trying to conceal our glances toward the elegant desserts in the glass counter by the front door.
“A party?” I ask, surprised, “I didn’t think you’d ever throw another party ever again.”
“Neither did I, honestly,” her voice sounds distant for a moment, and I know we’re both remembering horrors we wish we could forget, “It was actually Grant’s idea. He thought the planning and decorating and stuff would keep me busy. And kind of, you know, help me get past what happened. Help me reclaim my life, I guess.”
“Yeah, I understand. It’s not a bad idea. What do you think?”
“I’m really excited,” Brie’s smile is vibrant and contagious, as usual, “I’ve already sent out all the invites. Oh! Here’s yours. I wasn’t sure if you’d be able to come, and I didn’t want to get your hopes up.”
“Thanks,” I say, taking the deep purple envelope she produces from her purse. Inside is a glittery invitation complete with pumpkin and black cat. Written in shiny gold print, it says:
You are invited…
When: Saturday, October 31
Time: 7:00 pm
Place: 811 – 1876 Sheffield Drive
RSVP to Grant or Brie by October 24
The last line has been added in black marker but the writing is unfamiliar.
“Is that Grant’s writing?” I ask, pointing to the black words.
Brie nods and rolls her eyes a little, “He was adamant about everyone being in costume. I think it’s just an excuse so he can show off what he’s done with his new arm…”
“What’s he done?”
“You’ll just have to come and see. You are coming right? Technically speaking, I need your RSVP by today.” When I hesitate, she pipes up, “It’ll be perfect; we can keep each other company and you can help me with the decorating. We can help pick costumes for each other. It’ll be like old times.”
Like her smile, Brie’s enthusiasm is catching. “Alright, alright, I’ll come. I’ve just got so much on my mind. Like getting a job — it’s nerve wracking enough without having to worry I’m going to be stalked or kidnapped or something.”
Brie’s smile grows, “Speaking of stalking, your friend Ryan has been asking around about you.”
My insides twist into tiny, painful knots – at least I was fired from the bookstore before all hell broke loose; I’ve been too afraid to contact the pub, unsure of what excuse I could possibly give.
“Don’t worry, he’s not mad at your or anything. He could tell something was up when you went missing a while ago. We fed him a story about this guy that’s been following you and how you had to go to the police to try to get away from him.”
“What am I supposed to tell him? I wouldn’t haven’t believed you if I didn’t see everything for myself.”
“You’re right,” I concede, imagining the look on his face if I were to tell him that I got mixed up in magical politics, “Thanks Brie.”
“Anyway,” she continues, “He’s taking the night off to come to the party and he mentioned that one of the full time wait staff is leaving in November.”
I weigh the risks of working again – somewhere I’ve worked before, somewhere where I could be easily found – but I can’t afford to look this particular gift horse in the mouth. “That would be amazing, I’ll give him a call tonight.”
The next week flies by in contrast to the slow drag I’ve become accustomed to. Between an interview with Ryan (a formality as he assures me I have the job), an appointment with Dr. Maharta, and way too many shopping trips with Brie, I hardly have any time to dwell on Hunter. During my brief moments alone, I imagine what would happen if Yagher found him. I invent complex plots to save him, none of which would ever really work.
I spend Hallowe’en morning and afternoon bustling throughout my borrowed apartment. For once, I’m eagerly anticipating a social event. I guess even an introvert like me longs for human activity after being isolated for a month. I spend the day making festive treats for the party, trying not to think about the old man who taught me to love cooking.
I finish fiddling with my hair and make-up shortly before Brie is supposed to pick me up. I find myself wishing Hunter would be there to see me. I’m wearing a blue plaid dress and sparkly red shoes with my hair in braids and blue ribbons. Brie had me try dozens of costumes, but Dorothy from Wizard of Oz had seemed appropriate. I wonder what costume would suit Hunter? Wearing a costume would probably contradict his entire aesthetic – his almost religious dedication to honesty and sincerity.
Brie texts me to let me know she’s arrived, and I grab the second-hand basket I’ve adopted in place of a purse. Brie is in a rush, eager to get back to the party which is surely starting without us. Her foot taps the entire elevator ride up to the Grant’s apartment and she almost runs to the door, pulling out her keys.
The door opens before she fits them into the lock and we both lift our heads, expecting to see Grant’s face. I grab Brie’s hand tightly when the face that greets us is not Grant’s, but Harvey Yagher’s.