We had chosen a gas station that was adjacent to a fast food restaurant. While most of the others headed over to grab a bite to eat, Gideon pulled me aside and put one of those prepaid phones into my hand. He told me the next order of business was to call my Uncle Alden, like Gideon had promised.
I sauntered over toward the side of the gas station away from most of the cars and people, but in close proximity to Gideon, Talon, Elias, and Malachi. The males stood alert, watching our surroundings closely as if Atticus or his men would appear at any moment. I stood half in the late May sunlight and half shroud in shadow of the concrete building.
Around us the world continued. Life went on. People filled their cars up with gas, drank soda from those big foam cups, a man squeegeed his windshield, a child squealed loudly when her dog's face popped through her car window and stole a lick of her vanilla ice cream with sprinkles. But my heart pounded. This normalcy should have brought me comfort. I was free. Talon was free. Everyone I loved was safe. But still I was terrified and unnerved. This was a hard call to make.
I drew in a ragged breath and dialed Landon's number. I had never known Alden's. I wanted to talk to Landon, but I also didn't want too. I knew this would be awkward and he would be angry and hurt. I wanted to try and explain things to him, but I knew things between us would be fractured and broken, possibly beyond repair.
He answered on the second ring with an irritated "Hello? Who is this?"
Had he been expecting my call and figured the strange number was from me? I could imagine him clearly. The blond curls, a bit long and needing a haircut to help tame them, the defined cheekbones a model would envy, the dimpled chin, and most of all those dark blue eyes, just like my mothers had been. The way his eyes had looked, hurt and angry on the night of his 14th Birthday party. The way they were sure to look any moment now.
"Hello. It's me. Mera."
He breathed deeply. "I know who you are. My dad told me everything last night. Wait I take that back. I have no idea who you really are. How could you lead me on and let me almost kiss you and embarrass myself like that? I'm sure you thought that was pretty funny didn't you, Mera?"
His voice was hot with anger. I couldn't blame him. But at the same time I felt my own anger swelling. I had tried to tell him many times, not in "You're my cousin" direct terms, but in many other ways we couldn't be more than friends. He was the one who wasn't taking that hint.
"I never led you on! I told you we couldn't be more than friends! I had my reasons and now you know why-"
"Yeah, yeah! I know you were trying to protect me and my dad and you're stupid little human boyfriend, right?"
"Exactly! Atticus and Garren would have killed you and your dad if I told you the truth! Talon would have been tortured and killed for sure. Possibly even Grandma Helena and Grandpa Abraham too. I made a blood oath. I had no choice."
"Don't call them that! They don't even know you. I'm their grandson. There is always a choice! You could have trusted me. I wouldn't have told anyone. Tell me was it all a lie? Was anything out of your mouth the truth?"
His words stung. They hurt like physical blows. And he was right. He wanted to hurt me like I hurt him and he had succeeded. My vision blurred and I leaned against the wall behind me. I needed the solid support. I fought to keep my words even.
"I care about you Landon. And your dad, and our grandparents, Declan, Amelia, Raven, Serena-all of them. I'm sorry I hurt you all. But I did the best I could to try and keep you all safe. But I saw firsthand what Atticus and Garren were capable of. I saw them hurt people, and they made me do things I'm not proud of."
"Whatever. It was still a shitty thing to do, Mera. I'll go get my dad in a minute so you can tell him your sob story. He hasn't let me or my damn phone out of his sight for more than a few minutes all day. Right now he's helping a customer and I found a chance to escape. Things went to hell last night and my dad still opens his damn store this morning. But I guess it was good for business because people keep asking him about what happened last night. Especially since the cops showed up at our house this morning."
My hand holding the phone was sweaty. So I switched hands and wiped the palm on my shorts. I glanced over and noticed that Talon was looking at me anxiously from where he stood near a dumpster. I wondered how much he heard, how far my voice carried. I gave him a slight smile. He squinted his blue eyes against the sunlight and gave me a smile in return.
"What is everyone saying? What is Atticus saying?" I asked Landon.
"You're guess is as good as mine when it comes to Atticus, because he's gone. He, Marta, and Seraphina disappeared before the sun even came up and before the smoke even settled on Diablo Street. Serena and her parents have like barricaded themselves in their house and aren't coming out, but the cop cars have been there too. All kinds of rumors are floating around town. Did you know you are an operative of terrorist organization and you helped them lead a terrorist attack against the town?"
I thought this over. Atticus figured he couldn't talk his way out of this. Not when his secret lair was discovered with his DNA all over it. Even if he could have, his reputation was forever damaged, tarnished. And some of his men would undoubtedly turn against him to try and save themselves, when they became implicated. There was blood in that cellar and probably bodies in that lot.
"You can tell our friends the truth. I hope you do. Can you tell Serena I'm sorry? I wish I could talk to them personally, but I can't. ..By the way, what about my father? Did he go with Atticus and the others?"
There was a short pause and the sound of a door closing. As if Landon had walked into a room and had shut the door behind him. At least he was willing to keep talking if he'd hidden himself from his father. And when he spoke next his voice was quieter.