“Do you have any idea how much danger you’ve put us all in?” Ace raved for the hundredth time. He’d kept Zack locked in the room, still stained by the evidence of his crime, all night, yelling and shouting and threatening. Zack knew without a doubt that he meant none of it, just as he knew the speech made no difference. He’d go out again the next night, and the next, until he was satisfied. Until they all paid for their crimes.
Ace, apparently, knew that he was making no impression, and stopped. For the first time he really looked at Zack, really seemed to see him. “God, you’ve made a damn mess haven’t you. Go, take a shower, get some sleep. We’ll talk later.” Zack turned away immediately, glad to finally be released. God knew Blake’s brother was long-winded. He was almost there, almost free, when Ace’s voice drew him back once more.
“Why did you do it?”
Zack looked over his shoulder and gave the only answer he could. The only truth he knew, the only thing Ace would accept. In this instance, they were one and the same thing anyway. “He hurt Blake.”
Ace nodded, pacing thoughtfully, and Zack closed the door behind him. Damn him, he really was tired. It was almost time for school already, the house starting to stir. Zack hurried through his routine, the process complicated only by the fact that he had to scrape the blood and much from his hair and under his nails. That alone took almost half an hour.
“Hey Zes,” Blake yelled from down the hall when he finally reemerged, scrubbed pink and still damp, from his bedroom. “Where were you last night?”
“Nowhere. Busy. I had some shit to deal with.”
Blake nodded like it was a reasonable, satisfying answer. The silence stretched, though, neither of them willing to cave and break it. The hush accompanied them down the hall, into the kitchen, and through their breakfasts before that stupid little girl showed up. For once, Zack thought he might just be grateful for her presence.
“Hey,” she half-whispered, subdued, “Umh, Vier, I wanted to ask you something, if that’s alright.”
“Shoot.” Zack noticed that Jamie’s eyes didn’t meet his; that she barely glanced at him before going pale and looking quickly away. Blake, of course, picked up on none of this.
“Um, I was just wondering… Who is that lady?” Zack felt his friend stiffen beside him, saw the tendons in his hands stand out in sharp relief against the over-pale skin. He thought he might have reacted as well, although less obviously. The fact that Jamie had met her… “You know, kind of middle aged, I guess. She was sitting in the little covered balcony, with Deuce.”
“That,” Blake said, pausing for effect, though Zack was reasonable sure it was to steady himself, “is my mother.”
“Stay away from her. She’s dangerous.” Zack couldn’t help it. The girl was terrified of him, wouldn’t even look at him, but still he felt as though he should at least warn her. There were times, less often now, when Blake’s mother still smiled, still acted as she first had when they’d taken him in. But between were periods of silence, in which her emotions seemed to draw back and she became truly lethal.
Blake’s mother was a woman to be feared. Even by her own sons.
“Alright, well, she’s strange anyway.” Jamie paused awkwardly, finally looking at Zack, seeming almost surprised he wasn’t still dripping. “Um, so are you alright?”
He laughed. The possibility that he wasn’t was so amazingly humorous he just couldn’t help it. “God kid, it’s not like it was my blood.”
“Blood?” Blake interjected, glancing back and forth between them. “What blood?”
“Nothing,” Zack answered hastily, glaring at Jamie behind Blake’s back. He hadn’t meant for his friend to find out, not so soon. “I just found this cat, but it was already dead.” Times like these made Zack glad he had a reputation for bringing stray cats home with him. It almost made it believable that he’d gotten his hands bloody trying to help one.
Once again, Blake nodded as if it was perfectly logical, and the boy wondered exactly how gullible his friend was.
Jamie, for her part, had the grace to stay quiet.
Zack decided he would cut her some slack. Maybe she wasn’t as useless and idiotic as he thought.
A slim hope, but considering he’d have to live with her indefinitely, until one or both of them died, it was worth the effort of finding it. Zack felt a small smile tug at the corners of his mouth, and he just couldn’t stop it. He laughed, surprising both the other occupants of the table and sending Blake into a coughing fit.
Zack pounded his friend on the back and thought about how nice it was to be a predator, rather than prey.