Being Red: Chapter Five

In reality, Gregor does not wish for me to remember; he’d rather I forget who I once was and give myself over entirely to the persona he’s created for me. Perhaps I’ve made this too easy for him over the years, blindly following my childhood savior at the prospect of revenge and at the expense of my own identity, but if I’m honest with myself, my only regret is that I can’t remember the name my mother gave me. Gregor was a means to an end, first food and shelter, and later a gateway to retribution. Now I’m only Red, the heartless killer. I’d be no one without my vendetta to give me purpose, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t harbor a deep-seated hatred for my parents’ killers and their kind, yet sometimes I wish I knew who I was before all of this. I wonder who that little girl who hid in a hamper while her parents were murdered was, and I wonder who that girl would have grown up to be had she awoken in her bed the next morning and realized everything had been nothing but a terrible dream. Surely a woman with far less blood on her hands, but I can never ponder such questions for long.

I emit a heavy sigh as Hayden helps me stand.

“Henley can take it, babe. She’s a big girl,” he says, gently grabbing my chin. He tilts my face to get a better look at the damage.

I pull away. As always, it will heal. Scrutinizing my wounds won’t change anything.

“We’re a team. We shouldn’t need to fight each other without remorse,” I argue.

Hayden doesn’t disagree, just gives me a look that says I’m going to get another lecture, and ushers me towards the bathroom. He gives me a fresh towel to wash my face, but I don’t really care about the mess of blood. I’d rather skip straight to icing my injury to reduce potential swelling and speed the healing. I wipe away the blood for Hayden’s sake; he is responsible for my appearance, and I won’t allow Gregor to inflict any more harm on my account. When I am presentable, we make our way across the compound to Gregor’s office.

Outside the door, I raise my fist to knock, but I stop myself; notorious assassins don’t need permission. I push through the doorway. Gregor sits behind his mahogany desk, reading through a pile of paperwork. He hardly looks up when we enter. Again, I do not wait for his leave, sinking into one of the chairs situated before him. I feel Hayden hovering awkwardly at my shoulder, unwilling to risk the same boldness.

“I see you’ve considered what I said,” Gregor observes, gesturing for Hayden to take the seat next to mine.

“You know as well as I that our goals are mutual,” I say. “I will do all that is necessary to see them realized.”

“I trust you will,” Gregor says. “You can start with Jordan Davies.” He goes back to reading the documents on his desk, looking up only when I do not immediately rise to leave. “I sent your briefing and expect results by tomorrow night.”

A clear dismissal, so I stand and leave briskly, hoping that by some miracle, Jordan Davies is on the approved kill-list with Clint Woodsworth. I tell Hayden I need a shower, which is true after the abuse I took from Casey at practice, and head to the women’s locker room, happy to be alone.

In the shower stall, where I know I am safe from prying eyes, I switch my phone to silent, thank Hayden for the life-proof phone case he got me last Christmas after I destroyed yet another cell, and text Kellan the name of my new mark.

The screen lights up almost instantly in my hand.

No go.

I lean my forehead against the cool tile wall and close my eyes tight like I can make the text disappear if I pretend it doesn’t exist, the showerhead spraying the back of my head with a steady pressure that would normally be soothing.

Here we go, I think, hoping this isn’t the beginning of the end.

Yet somehow I’m sure the end has already begun, and I just missed the memo.

Sneaking off to meet with the wolves feels like the stupidest thing I have ever done.

“You’re late,” Kellan observes when I finally make my appearance.

“Because I can just waltz around doing whatever-the-hell I fancy and announce to everyone in my life, ‘Hey guys, I’m gonna pop out to meet with a werewolf. Who? Just the alpha. No big deal. Keep my dinner hot for me, won’t you?!’” I grouse, my voice dripping with a ripe mixture of disdain and sarcasm.

Kellan doesn’t miss a beat. “I have your new mark.”

“Right down to business, huh?” When he doesn’t comment, I ask, “Who is it?”

“Doesn’t really matter to you, does it?” he asks.

For a moment I pause, somehow uncomfortable. “No, I guess not,” I finally answer.

Kellan smiles with what I can’t help but think is sadness in his eyes. “We have somewhere to be, Dearg.”

I don’t care for this new nickname. It sounds something like “da-rook” to me, but it’s better than hearing him call me Red like everyone else, so I don’t comment. Besides, I used up most of my attitude on my first verbal swing, and I’m mentally depleted already. Still, I manage a forced, “I’m not going anywhere with you.”

Kellan just turns and walks away like he expects me to follow, and I do, dammit, but I do.

Kellan has a truck, an old white Toyota Tacoma. I’m not exactly sure what I expected, but it does suit him. He swings himself up into the driver’s seat and leans over to unlock the passenger door. Fingers on the lever, I hesitate a moment before opening the door.

“Considering running?” he asks, putting on his seatbelt.

“Yeah,” I don’t bother to lie, “but you’d catch me.”

Kellan just chuckles and starts the engine as I get in and buckle my own seatbelt. The truck is much cleaner than I expected, and smells…practically fresh, with a mixture of something almost tantalizing I can’t quite place. But I suppose he can’t drive in his other form so my assumption that it would be filled with fur and smell like dirty dog is completely unfounded.

To fill the silence, and quiet my own thoughts, I ask, “Where are we going?”

“You’ll see,” is all he offers in return, his eyes decidedly fixed on the road.

I bite back a growl and keep my grumblings about abduction to myself. After about fifteen minutes, I grow impatient and wish he would at least turn on the radio to distract from the lack of conversation between us, but then we turn into a middle-class neighborhood, and I perk up, interested.

As we pull into the drive of a nondescript beige house, two kids move out of the way, the older boy grabbing a basketball before it can bounce in front of the truck and pulling the younger girl aside with him.

Kellan gets out of the car and ruffles the girl’s hair. “Hey, Em,” I hear him say through the glass. “Go tell your momma we’re here.”

I don’t get out, just remain glued to my seat. I think I’m beginning to guess what’s happening here, and I don’t like it one bit.

Kellan fakes to the left as the boy tries to dribble the ball past him. The boy doesn’t fall for the feint, spinning out of Kellan’s reach like a pro before taking a long shot that goes through the hoop with a swoosh. I can’t help that I’m impressed.

Kellan looks back at me as if he can feel my eyes on them, and gestures for me to join them on the driveway, smiling like he’s about to introduce these people to a long-lost friend. I can’t very well refuse, and I’ve already made the situation awkward enough by sitting in the truck for so long, so I pretend I was fixing my makeup in the visor mirror, pat hairs back into place that instantly spring back out in unruly curls, and gather my purse.

A woman comes out of the house at the same moment I step down from the truck. My neck prickles, and I know instantly she’s a werewolf too.

“Leanna Davies,” she says, extending her hand to me, the little girl at her heels. I take her hand hesitantly, releasing it as soon as is socially acceptable. “Emma, Jason, say ‘hello’ to our guest,” Leanna instructs her children. They do, and I wave at each of them, hating that I am unsure what to do.

That scheming bastard! I seethe, reigning in my temper for the sake of the kids. “Kellan, can I talk to you for a minute?” I say aloud. “Alone,” I qualify, to ensure he understands completely.

I think he’s going to brush me off, but Leanna says, “We’ll be inside eating dessert. No hurry.”

I get back in the truck for added privacy and wait until Kellan slides into the driver’s seat next to me.

“What the hell are you thinking?” I whisper-yell at him as soon as his door is fully closed. “Do they know who I am? There are children here for the love of all that’s holy!”

“I’m thinking you need perspective. Leanna is fully aware of who you are; I don’t lie to my pack. And of course; children are a perfectly natural part of family life,” Kellan states as if ticking items off a list, his tone suggesting I am grossly overreacting.

“I can’t go in there,” I protest.

“Why not? You’ve been invited.”

“You know perfectly well why not,” I insist.

Kellan sighs, the first sign that I might be making a dent in his patient exterior. “You need to understand exactly what is at stake here, and Jordan and Leanna agree.”

“But they have kids!” I protest.

“Exactly. They’re a family, and families like theirs are in danger, forced to live knowing that any day one of them might not come home, because of men like Gregor Callahan.”

I hear the unspoken “and hunters like you.”

“How can you trust me with them?” I ask, skeptical and a little defensive. Gregor would never allow a wolf anywhere near his compound if he could help it, let alone invite it in the front door.

“You’re not a cold-blooded murderer; you fight for a cause. I’m just trying to show you a different side of the story, one in which we aren’t the bad guys.”

“How do you know I’m not going to use this knowledge to kill them all later?” I argue.

“Because this isn’t their house; it’s on loan. Now stop overthinking this and come inside.”

Part of me still wants to refuse, the part that is scared to face the potential for change and wants to harbor the familiar hurt and hate Gregor has fostered in me since I was a little girl. Another part of me is tired of looking for revenge; no matter how much you take, it’s never enough to satisfy the pain.

Kellan opens the door for me, and I slip off the seat so he can usher me inside. It’s a beautiful house, but I see what Kellan means; it lacks the lived-in quality of a home, the sofa in the sitting area too plump and the coordinated throw pillows situated too strategically to belong to an occupied residence. Kellan must know a realtor.

“I made raspberry-rhubarb pie,” Leanna says from the island, a perfectly-laid breakfast bar straight out of a remodel by Jonathan Scott. A quarter of the dessert is already missing, and Leanna serves another full quarter to Kellan as I ogle the HG-TV-worthy kitchen finishes. When Leanna sets a plate with a much more manageable piece of pie in my hands, I try not to size her up too obviously.

Kellen is already half finished with his portion, and poisoning me would destroy their entire plan to infiltrate Gregor’s syndicate, so I take a tentative bite. My tastebuds are in love, and I suddenly wish I had the time to bake.

“Jordan will be home soon,” Leanna says. “It’s our family game night, and I thought we could all play. Any requests?” She looks to me as the “guest.”

I’m sure I played games with my parents, but my memories are so limited, and Gregor sure as hell never taught me any. I shake my head, not sure playing a game is a good idea in the first place, but I offer up one of the only games I know, “How about Monopoly?”

At the same time Kellan says, “Anything but Monopoly.”

Leanna laughs, a full, happy sound, and I find it difficult not to like her even a little. “I have to agree with Kellan on this one; Monopoly is infamous for ending in arguments. Wouldn’t be the best choice when we’re trying to make friends.”

She says it simple as that. Friends.

The word hangs between us until the front door opens and a new voice breaks the silence. “Who’s up for Uno?” a man I assume must be Jordan suggests. “Em wants a rematch after the last time you were over for game night.”

The kids come running as if on cue, and Jordan leads everyone to the dining room as Leanna passes out another round of pie. Kellan takes the chair to my left, and Emma climbs onto the chair to my right, sitting on her feet so she is tall enough to reach the table, her cards, and her pie. “I’ll show you how to play,” she offers sweetly.

The proud look on Jordan’s face makes me feel like the worst person alive, worse even than the monsters I hunt, for how am I any better than the wolves who killed my parents if I leave children fatherless, or worse, without any parents at all?

With rising shame, I let Emma see my cards and whisper in my ear when it is my turn to play.

I’m not a werewolf, but I know without a doubt I’m the real monster.

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