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Tam wasn’t ready to answer yet. He let the phone fall onto Ash’s desk and put his head down on it, chest heaving, burying his face in his folded arms.
He stayed there for a long while, leaking hot tears against his arms, until eventually the crashing waves of his grief just seemed to dry up. That well of distress was still there, a hole where his faith in his family had been, but it was, for now, empty.
Finally, he moved, stretching an arm out blindly until he found a tissue box, tugging one free, and using it to get himself cleaned up.
It wasn’t like he felt better, exactly, but who would? Maybe there’d be more to let out later, but for now, other than his head throbbing and his nose impassibly stuffy, he mostly felt frustrated and impatient for all the time he’d wasted. It would be easy to start beating himself up.
He picked the phone up again and saw a new email notification, but replied first to the text: I’m the owner’s brother. Have you seen him?
If he was being cagey, he knew the person on the other end was too. If someone had just found the phone, why not say as much? Did Ash give them his phone? Did the witch hand it out to someone? Or did this person take it away from Ash themselves? Whoever it was seemed to be trying to feel Tam out just as much as he was trying to feel them out.
But what did that mean?
The witch didn’t stand to gain anything more from Tam’s family. Surely it couldn’t be her. If it was, why wouldn’t she just ignore Tam’s messages.
After sending his response, he took a moment to read the email. It was from Jared:
Hey, dude, long time no talk. Happy birthday! How’s your year off school been? Uni is hell lol. How can I help you out with the Valley? I don’t know too much about it one way or another, but if you need to know anything about vampires, especially the Dupré gang, I’m your dude. Now, I’ve met Rainier Dupré himself before, but that’s about as deep into Valley culture as I’ve been. Dunno if I can help you but willing to try. You and Ash have a good day!
Tam suppressed his initial flinch, forcing himself to focus on the contents. He wasn’t sure off the bat how vampires might be helpful, though he supposed anyone who was deeply involved in Valley social politics might have some information that could help him, or might be able to provide some sort of ally against forces he didn’t know how to deal with. He could make a trade himself, if it came to it.
He decided to mull over how to reply to Jared on his way down to the library.
Getting up, he snagged Ash’s charger—if he found Ash and couldn’t get him out, at least he could hopefully keep his laptop alive and let them communicate—and the folder with the contract. After a moment’s consideration, he slid the card with the tickets in as well and put them all in his backpack. Maybe Ash’s handwriting could be useful to someone somewhere, and if he managed to solve this quickly, they could still make tomorrow’s play.
Then he headed out of the house, ignoring his parents’ calling out to him on the way out the door.
Tam had walked to the library many times, and hardly needed to pay attention for the few blocks it took him to reach the Valley. As the sidewalk began to slope, he shivered. The air felt different as soon as you crossed the line, entering that territory that surrounded the gate to the Otherworld. He wondered if it felt like this in every city: a district where the air was thick, the ground felt a little different, the scents were subtly wrong.
It still looked normal around here, this far out. Apartments and houses were intermingled, though the apartments were thicker and houses fewer as he headed down into the Valley’s city center. Soon the residential area gave way to storefronts and shops: antique shops, corner stores, office buildings, and all the rest.
It’d look like a regular downtown, except for how the human population dwindled in comparison to the monsters roaming around and going about their business, and how the things the shops offered were not, generally, things humans needed. Charms Charms Charms flashed in one window, with And Hexes written beneath it in window paint. Half a block further, Humanburger sold their fast food through a street-side walkthrough window. Legally, the meat they used wasn’t actually human, but Tam figured there were probably ways to disguise that when the inspectors came around.
He reached the corner of Birch and Mayflower, and tapped the walk button to cross the road. Across the street and to the left, the library’s strange old twisted facade stood; further down to the right was the Theater of Dreams, where he and Ash had sometimes gone to shows. He knew the stores and businesses in this area best, as close as it was to his home and to Ash’s work, but had rarely gone much further down.
Few humans did.
Tam’s phone buzzed. He had to wait until he was across the street to check it, and even so, a wolf-drawn cart’s driver flipped him the bird when he got his phone out halfway across.
The unknown texter had written: I might have seen him. Are you two close?
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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]