When I came out of the bathroom, both Peter and Jack had returned to the living room. Peter remained cordial but distant. Jack played with the dog and tried to get everyone involved in some other video game. Ezra continued to ask me questions about myself, ranging from what my mother did to what television shows I liked the best, and Mae seemed contented to play with my hair for the rest of her life.
It was after eleven o’clock when Jack declared that we should get going. Even with the anxiety, the night had passed amazingly fast.
They all walked us to the garage door, even Matilda, making me once again feel self-conscious. They were constantly putting me in the center of the attention, when they were all far more beautiful and fascinating than I could ever dream of being.
Mae hugged me tightly to her, and she looked almost like she was going to cry because I was leaving.
“You will come back, won’t you?” Her hands were still on my arms, squeezing them a little too tightly, and Ezra put his arm around her waist, gently pulling her back from me.
“We really enjoy having you over,” Ezra said, managing a much less frantic invite than his wife.
“Oh, she’ll be back,” Jack answered for me, grinning broadly.
Peter, who had been standing off to the side, took a step closer to me, and his piercing green eyes met mine. For one irrational, euphoric second, I thought he might kiss me, but he stayed frozen several feet from me.
Then, very softly, but so strong that it was definitely a command, he said, “Come back.”
“Okay,” I nodded. He must’ve established his human interaction quota with that, because then he turned and walked out of the room. I regained some sense of composure and forced a smile at Mae and Ezra. “I’ll be back. I promise.”
“We’ll see you soon then,” Ezra smiled at me. Mae looked as if she was going to explode with glee, and Ezra kept his arm firmly placed around her to stop that from happening.
“I told you Ezra would like you,” Jack said when we were in the garage. We were heading down to his Jeep, and I had a long tirade of questions to ask him, so I kept my mouth shut until we were safely inside. I didn’t want my thoughts interrupted at all. “Do you disagree?”
“I do not,” I replied, then hopped into the Jeep and waited for him. He had barely gotten in when I turned full on to face him. “Okay. What the hell does your family want with me?”
“What do you mean?” Jack asked carefully. He didn’t want to accidentally give away too much.
“You’re all fawning all over me, like I’m a shiny gem or something.” That wasn’t the right way to say it exactly, because I felt like they genuinely liked me.
“I don’t know how to answer that.” He started the Jeep and backed out of the garage.
“Jack! I have a right to know what exactly you’re doing with me!” My voice sounded shriller than I had meant it to, but some small part of me was actually afraid. They were powerful and beautiful and they wanted me. It was flattering but terrifying.
“No, I know. I’ll answer you. Just give me a minute to think about it.” The radio still played Smashing Pumpkins, and he turned it down as we started the drive home.
“You guys aren’t really brothers are you? I mean, not in the blood relative sense.” It was more of a statement, but Jack laughed and shook his head. “You’re trying to tell me that you all have the same parents?”
“No, we don’t,” Jack said, still chuckling over my question.
“You’re more like a fraternity or something?” I asked.
“Kinda, but more than that.” He was vague, as usual, and I sighed.
“Jack, what’s going on?” I asked him earnestly. “What is all of this? Why are you guys so different? And why do you think I’m special?”
“Do you trust me?” He looked gravely at me.
“Yeah, you know I do.” My heart raced. He was finally going to tell me something.
“Okay. Then… I will tell you, very soon. But you just have to wait a little bit longer.”
“Why? What’s going to happen in a little bit longer?” I demanded to know. “I’ve met your family, I hang out with you all the time, and I know that you’re not exactly human. What’s left?”
“It’s complicated,” Jack sighed. “And I… I don’t want to scare you off.”
“What could possibly scare me off after all I’ve seen with you?” I insisted incredulously.
“There are still parts of me you don’t know.” He kept his voice even, but it sounded more like an ominous warning. He gave me a sidelong glance to see how I’d responded, so I tried to look brave, but he could tell that he’d rattled me. “It’s about more than just trusting me, or even trusting my family. It’s about who you are.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” By now, I was getting frightened and confused, and I just wished he could be straight with me, for once.
“‘When you dance with the devil, the devil doesn’t change. The devil changes you.’” The way Jack said it, it didn’t sound like it came directly from him. He was quoting someone, so I took a stab in the dark.
“What? Is that like Dylan Thomas you’re using to confuse me?”
“No, it’s Joaquin Phoenix, and I’m not trying to confuse you. I’m just trying to prepare you.” For some reason, that sent chills down my spine, and I really wondered what he had in store for me.