• Chapter Two: Surprising Confessions

    I dropped my books on the floor, mouth open, as I tried to comprehend what he was saying in my head. What in the world could he have known that everyone else didn't already know?

    Was what I had thought true? Or was he playing with my head? Did he know what I was thinking?

    And could I really afford to trust my intuition? If he knew the truth, was it really better to know? I had told myself that it was safer to be ignorant, but I knew I couldn't forgive myself if I avoided it.

    I needed the truth about her death, and if he could give it to me, then I had no reason to protest his terms.

    "Fine," I said as I bent down to pick up my books, being careful to avoid his cold, catlike brown eyes. "I'll meet you at the Java Hut. Just don't waste my time."

    "I won't, if you're willing to listen to what I have to say," he retorted, not trying to hide the victorious grin on his face. He combed his fingers through his shaggy, blond hair. "What I know may sound a little bit unbelievable."

    “You have two hours to prove it," I said, slipping my cell phone out of my pocket. Two hours was all that I could spare him; I didn't want any questions to arise.

    “It’s rather complicated,” he said uneasily. “Two hours might not be enough.”

    “Well, then, you’d better cut to the chase. I don’t have time to waste on this,” I replied. “I was under the impression that you didn’t want any questions to arise from other people. Was I wrong?”

    “No, but…”

    “Fine, then,” I snapped. “Two hours. I have to tell my father that I’m going to be late, but I’ll be there if I can.”

    “Good,” he said with a resigned sigh. “I guess it can’t be helped. Just be there.”

    Don’t worry, I will be, I thought. I didn’t know it, but the time in which choices could be made had long passed. I turned around and stomped over to the parking lot.
    “Sullivan residence.”

    “Hi, dad – “ I stammered, trying to figure out just how I was going to phrase this.

    “Lexi? What are you doing? Shouldn’t you be on your way home by now?” he asked with a yawn.

    “About that… I have a science club meeting today. I didn't find out about it until this morning.” I placed my hand on the hood of my blue Oldsmobile, trying to calm my nerves. I was an adequate liar when the situation demanded it – as it did at that point – but it was unnerving to lie to my father, even if it was necessary. “It’s going to last until about four. It seems that someone’s been stealing from the treasury again, so Jared called an emergency meeting two days ago. The whole council has to be there.”

    There was silence on the other end of the line. I could tell that my father was having trouble grasping what I was saying; the call probably woke him up from his usual nap. What if he called my bluff? What if he called Jared? What if –

    “Oh. That’s horrible,” he murmured. “I’ll start dinner up for you, okay?”

    “There’s no need,” I said cheerfully, relieved that he didn’t catch the lie in my voice. “I’ll be home before Zach gets home. You should just rest for a while.”

    “Okay. Just be careful, okay?” He yawned again. “Come home safely.”

    “Will do. Love you, Dad.”

    I flipped my phone shut; that had gone more smoothly than I had expected. Now all I had to do was drive up to the Java Hut and –

    “So, someone’s been stealing from the club?” asked a familiar voice behind me. I froze up for a moment, and then slowly turned around.

    “Jared,” I said with a nervous laugh. “You heard?”

    “Kind of hard not to, Lex,” he replied, laughing. “First I’ve heard of it, though. You'd think they'd tell me, since I'm the president.”

    “Listen, Jared – “

    “Do I even want to know why you’ve suddenly started lying to your dad?”

    “Well…” What could I say? “I might find out just what happened to my mom?” I could, but I didn’t want to see the skeptical look that would indubitably appear on his face.

    I’d seen it before, whenever I tried to tell Zach what I believed. If a twelve-year-old boy would doubt it, what could I do to convince Jared of what I believed?

    “Look, Lexi, I just want to make sure you’re not going off to do something stupid. Are you?”

    “I don’t think so,” I retorted, trying to keep my voice even. If it was stupid, I couldn’t change anything at that point.

    “That’s not an answer.”

    “I’m just looking into something,” I said, more to myself than to him. “If Dad calls you, could you cover for me?”

    He looked at me with that strange look on his face that he usually got, then shook his head and patted my shoulder.

    “Of course I will. Just don’t do something stupid, okay?”

    He was always saying that – “Be careful,” or, “Don’t do something stupid.” I wondered when he would realize that I was perfectly capable of worrying about myself.

    “I promise,” I said with a smile. “Don’t worry about me.”

    “I’ll try.”

    I opened my car door and crawled into the driver's seat, trying to avoid Jared’s gaze. He was the only person that could see through my facade; I didn’t understand why it was, but he always saw things that other people couldn’t be bothered to see. I wondered why he was even interested in what I was thinking when most people assumed I was a psycho who enjoyed getting into fights.

    I knew I could trust him; he had kept worse secrets than this. So why was it that I couldn’t bring myself to tell him about what Nicholas had said? Why was it that I couldn’t even look into his eyes, for fear of losing what little control I had over myself?

    What was it about him that made me fear his reaction…?

    I twisted the key into the ignition and turned up the radio to drown out my thoughts.
    "You showed."

    I glanced over to the head of sandy, blond hair I had been looking for. "Of course I showed. Did you think I wouldn't?"

    "I didn't know. You're unpredictable; I didn't know whether you would come or not."

    I let out a ragged breath. He knew me better than I expected him to; I almost left out of sheer frustration. He was more difficult to find than a normal person, that much was certain...

    I sat down in the booth that he had reserved for me, trying to keep myself from having a coronary. Was it really better to know the truth? I had asked myself that multiple times before, but that question gnawed at me then. Why did I feel such a compulsion to discover things that were better left untouched? There weren't many questions that I couldn't answer - at least, not of that kind - but the entire situation had unearthed many that I didn't even bother to try to answer. Did Nicholas have the answers that I needed?

    And did I really, truly need them?

    As much as I asked myself that, I couldn't bring myself to leave. I wasn't going anywhere until I found out what it was that I was actually looking for.

    "Aren't you going to ask me anything? Surely you're curious about all of this." He smirked; it was as if he knew he had won. His smirk was something that had never failed to irritate me, and that moment was no different. I couldn't help but feel defeated from the situation, and he had no right to rub it in my face.

    "It's more than curiosity," I muttered. I was sure that he knew that, but it had to be said. "What do you want me to ask? Better yet, shouldn't you be telling me what you know?”

    "I have the right to withhold whatever information I deem necessary. Besides, I assumed that it'd be easier to answer the questions that you put forth."

    I glared at him. "They seem rather ignorant."

    "Try me." He returned my glare, as though he were irritated by my defiance. "You'd be surprised at what I'd want to hear."

    I sighed. This was going somewhere that I didn't intend for it to go. "How in the world could you know something that I don't?"

    "I have more information than you do. Next."

    "What information?" I snarled; I had finally snapped. "Even the police believe that she committed suicide."

    "Oh. That," he said with a chuckle. I let out a low growl. "The police know exactly what happened."

    "She committed suicide?" I could feel myself growing closer to leaving, despite the promise I made to myself earlier. Why did he bring me here, if he was just going to repeat the same stupid thing that everyone else had told me repeatedly? What right did he have to pull me from my duties for this?

    "No, she didn't. The police aren't exactly forthcoming with what they know. The information isn't being released to the public." He calmly sipped at the cappuccino that he ordered, his narrow, brown eyes glinting mischievously.

    "Last I checked, family doesn't qualify as being public," I spat, though what he said made sense, in a twisted sort of way. Maybe the reason that I believed she didn't commit suicide was because it was obvious.

    "So we come to this point," he said cryptically. "They covered up the truth, Alexis. Your mother was murdered."

    I didn't know what to say. Should I have been surprised? This was what I had come to the meeting to hear. "What proof do you have?"

    "A normal girl would be shocked by what I just said," he said with a chuckle. "You seem to be defying my preconceived notions of you."

    "Just answer the question!" I snapped.

    "Fine. There were marks on her corpse that suggested outside influence, plus the fact that the gun was planted at the crime scene." He laughed, as though something were funny. "There were no sets of fingerprints on the gun, belonging to her or otherwise. The gun itself was never loaded; that much was obvious by the lack of gunpowder on the barrel. It's probable that the police planted the gun."

    My mind was reeling, but I couldn't bring myself to show just how shocked I was. What motive could someone with that much influence have to murder her? I didn't believe that she committed suicide, but it was harder to believe she had been murdered than I thought it would be.

    Was it simply because it was Nicholas who was telling me this, or was there more to it? I had known about the possibility this information had to destroy me from the beginning, but I also feared that the lack of it had more power than the presence of it. If Nicholas was right - if the authorities had the evidence, but chose to ignore it - then I only had the ability to shed light on the evidence that they already had.

    Instead of voicing these thoughts, I turned around, hiding my eyes with what little hair I had. For the first time in months, my vision blurred up with tears.

    "How do you have access to this?" I asked quietly. Could he hear the catch in my voice? I felt so weak at that moment, so fragile, that I felt as though I would shatter if nudged any more.

    "I found her before the police did," he said with a smirk. My stomach did another uncomfortable flip. "I was probably the third person at the crime scene. It was about two hours after she had died."

    "And you studied a dead corpse... why?"

    "It's an interest of mine." He grinned again. "Besides, it only took me about an hour. After that, I called the police."

    I always knew you were a nut case, I thought with a smile - the first genuine smile in months. "You don't strike me as the type to rely on the authorities."

    "I'm not, but I didn't want her body to cause a stink. God knows that it smells bad enough there as it is without a dead body rotting in a ditch."

    I gave a reluctant laugh; it was ironic how hearing him talking so callously about her could make me laugh again, after all this time. I should have been offended, but I couldn't force myself to feel that way.

    "Do you know who killed her?" I finally asked after a few minutes had gone by.

    "In a manner of speaking. I know who sent them," he replied coolly.

    "What motive did they have?"

    "She apparently stuck her nose where it didn't belong." He leaned in closer to me, as though he didn't want anyone to hear us. "There are things that no human should dare to try to understand, and she apparently had no idea just how dangerous those secrets are once they're unearthed."

    "Dangerous?" I gulped. This was getting too heavy for my tastes. "How dangerous?"

    "More dangerous than anything a human being could ever create in their imaginations." He leaned in closer still. "What if I told you that she wasn't killed by a man?"

    "What are you getting at?" I snapped. "Don't play games with me!"

    "I'm saying that she was killed by a Manticore."

    Manticore...? I was trying to think of what that word could possibly mean. A group of assassins? That didn't seem likely, but there had to be a reason why it sounded so familiar.

    And then I remembered what he said before. My eyes once again narrowed into a glare. Why did I even trust this guy? I thought he had information that I didn't, but it seemed like I had simply stumbled upon someone who seemed to be absolutely crazy. Why did I come to that stupid coffee shop to hear this? Did I really believe he could possibly provide me some sort of closure?

    I rose up from the booth, infuriated.

    "What's wrong, Alexis?" asked Nicholas, grabbing my wrist in order to keep me from walking away.

    "Don't touch me," I hissed. "I came here to get facts, not myths!"

    "I gave you the facts!" he retorted, tightening his grip on me. I almost felt myself surrender to this - to the sheer power of his will - but then I remembered why I met with him in the first place.

    "This is really low, Nicholas!" I exclaimed. "I didn't come here to have you open up old wounds! Do you know what this would have done to my family?"

    "I told you that it would seem unbelievable!"

    "It's hard to believe that my mother was killed by something out of Greek mythology." I yanked my hand out of his grasp, resisting the urge that I had to sit back down again. "I'll believe you if you can prove it."

    "The proof is staring you in the face, Alexis!" he hissed.

    "Fine, then," I replied, sitting back down in the seat that he reserved for me. "Show me the evidence. That's why I came here, right?"

    He shook his head, as though he couldn't believe that I would resist him. "Do you have to analyze everything?"

    "Of course I do," I answered, giving him what I hoped was a menacing smile. "If I didn't, you wouldn't have been able to convince me to come here, right? It obviously worked in your favor."

    "That's definitely true," he agreed. "I'll tell you everything as long as you stay here."

    At that point, I didn't expect to be convinced of anything by him - as a matter of fact, I expected to become more offended than I already was (if that was even possible).

    However, I couldn't make myself leave. I couldn't refuse him this, even though it was completely irrational, even though I couldn't guarantee that he wouldn't convince me of a truth that I wanted nothing to do with.

    I decided to listen - reason be damned.