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Tam stared at Sahil. “Uh, that’s kind of,” he began, before closing his mouth on blurting out his immediate thoughts.
So Sahil was part of a secret organization and wouldn’t be available for the next few nights. Tam was pretty sure he had some idea what that could mean, though he didn’t exactly want to jump to conclusions. He turned over his phone and tried to check subtly; the news and weather app always listed the phase of the moon.
“Your organization,” he said after a moment. “If they’d make okay allies, that means they’re well-known around here and have some kind of power, right…? I, uh, look, I don’t want to pry, just, if I’m going to make allies, you’re the one who suggested I know who I’m making alliances with, and you’re also the one doing research for me, and I trust you, I don’t really want to run around behind your back trying to guess, so, are they, maybe…”
Sahil put his face in his hands. “Oh my god,” he muttered.
“Sorry,” Tam yelped, immediately embarrassed. “It’s cool, seriously. I mean, I’ve always thought werewolves were neat, and—”
Sahil looked at Tam plaintively between his fingers. “Dogs,” he muttered again. “Weredogs. You don’t find a lot of wolves in the big city, but dogs are fucking everywhere, you know? And cats. And sometimes coyotes. We’ve had a problem with werecoyotes lately.”
“Oh,” Tam said. “Okay. So weredogs.” He sought around for something to add, something that wasn’t I’ve always liked dogs. “Thanks. Seriously. See? That’s how little I know, so glad to have someone on my side who knows what’s up.”
“Sure,” Sahil said. He sank back in his chair, dropping his hands with a sigh, then gave Tam a smile, halfway between embarrassment and relief. “I can talk to our leader if you want, but like I said…”
“Right, yeah. I’ll follow up with Jared and see what seems better. If you can send me more info about, uh, your leader, that’d be cool to help,” Tam said. After a moment, he put a hand on Sahil’s again and squeezed. “Don’t worry about doing it while I’m here and making it weird, though.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Sahil said.
“I’m going to go to Beanheadings,” Tam said. “Do you want me to bring you guys back anything? Coffee or food?”
“Coffee would be great,” Sahil said. “I’m not sure how many of us are going to be doing research? Probably around four of us so the others can keep handling library issues.” Tam opened his mouth. “Yes, I drink coffee, no, it’s not poisonous.”
Tam closed his mouth.
Sahil laughed, then rose, picking up his notepad. “I’ll start emailing you information as we get it pulled together,” he said. “I’ll start with that webpage. Take care of yourself, Tam. Ash wouldn’t want you to get hurt for him.”
“Ash doesn’t get a say right now,” Tam said, but he smiled back.
As Sahil went to catch the others up on the bad news and get started researching, Tam checked his phone, beginning to head down to Beanheadings.
The texter had responded: Ask at the counter if Antoine is there. I’m a regular in the late evening & I usually sit at a table at the back if it’s free. I’ll keep your brother’s ringtone on, also, so you can text to find me.
Ash’s ringtone was a stunning rendition of My Humps and one of the most annoying sounds in the world. Tam realized, abruptly, that the mystery texter was probably hearing it every time Tam messaged him, and couldn’t keep from laughing a little, albeit painfully.
So that was one meeting arranged, though whether this mystery texter would be an ally or not, he still didn’t know. For the others… he took a mental tally.
Tam had to wait until he heard more from Sahil to know about his leader. In the meantime, he’d email Jared back as soon as he got settled at Beanheadings. He’d explain things as honestly as he could—he couldn’t imagine Jared would be anything but sympathetic about the idea of a missing sibling. He’d ask more about Dupré specifically, as well as what it might cost him to even talk to the man. If Jared had talked to him personally, he had some idea of what was up.
Then there was Lithway. Had Ash just lucked out in getting the first tickets sold, or did he know someone in the theatre? Tam was pretty sure that Ash couldn’t have known Lithway themself, not without telling Tam about it—unless he’d been specifically keeping that detail secret in order to surprise Tam with the tickets. Tam had to admit that if he’d known Ash and Lithway were friends, he’d definitely have harassed Ash for an introduction. And the Theatre of Dreams was just down the street from the library. It’d be more surprising than not if theatre workers didn’t stop in regularly to make copies of plays, do research, and just spend their breaks reading.
What other options could he look into? Maybe he could find another powerful witch and get to know them, or even a demon. Though he’d been warned about demons nonstop growing up—school had PSA meetings about it, even—he knew that they were particularly easy to trade with. Maybe a last resort, though.
Tam realized abruptly he’d arrived at Beanheadings and almost walked past it. He shook himself, grabbing the door handle and heading inside.
The shop got its name due to the owner being a dullahan—a headless horseman, and one of the wild fae who lived in the area. As far as Tam knew, Kearney Dillon didn’t actually work in the coffee shop himself, just owned it. Still, the model head mounted over the menu board with a cup of coffee to his mouth was supposed to be an exact likeness of the man, freckled and with wild braids. Urban legend had it that Mr. Dillon had passed away long ago and had his head preserved as part of his legacy.
Tam, who had seen the owner arguing with a neighbor before on one of his and Ash’s rare visits here, doubted that. His head had been present, being waved around with fury.
Heading up to the counter, Tam abruptly stopped short. The barista working today was an unfairly attractive incubus who had apparently taken advantage of a lax uniform policy to not wear a shirt under his apron. His nametag said he was Matthias, which probably wasn’t his real name. “Hey, what can I get you?” He smiled, jet-black hair tumbling over his shoulders as he leaned forward, the light glinting off his horns.
It was like fate had realized his thoughts about demons to put one in his path. For a moment, Tam stopped breathing entirely.
“It’s cool,” the barista said, as if reading his thoughts. “I work here, so ordering is just ordering, you’re not getting yourself into anything, sweetheart.”
“Right,” Tam said, then cleared his throat when his voice broke. “I’ll have a caffè mocha, please.”
“Anything else?” Matthias asked. He tapped the bakery case. “Our sandwiches are pretty good.”
Abruptly, Tam realized he was starving. He hadn’t eaten breakfast, and it was well after lunchtime now. “Yes,” he said fervently. “That ham, fig, and brie one? Is it any good?”
“It is fantastic,” Matthias promised him, eyes twinkling. Tam realized that the demon probably had been able to tell he was frantically hungry, even when Tam couldn’t. He rang Tam up, then held a card out to him. “You’re number 6! I’ll give you a call when your order’s up.”
A little embarrassed, Tam took the number card and headed to a table. He sat down, pulling out his laptop and sending Jared the email before he could forget again.
Then, a little masochistically, he loaded up facebook. Among the birthday wishes from friends were matching wishes for his brother, all unanswered. He loaded his brother’s page and saw messages from his parents among them: Love you, Ash. Be safe out there. And, Drop us a line when you can, baby.
He didn’t know how he felt. He was angry, and he was sad, and he was hurt. He felt like they should be apologizing to Ash, or expressing something other than just concern when it was all their fault. He wondered how messed up they were over this, and if it was something he could have known about in advance. He felt like he should have known somehow, like he’d missed some sort of sign.
Swallowing, he closed the tab and pulled up the website address that Sahil had sent him, waiting for The Urban Explorer’s Guide to Branwin Valley to load. If he had time to feel, he had time to memorize streets.
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[Completed Parts: Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 | Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Day 26 | Day 27 | Day 28 | Day 29 | Day 30 | Epilogue | Author’s Notes]