Genevieve sat in the stairwell alone, munching on chocolates from her little Valentine’s Day gift from Levi. He had basketball practice and she had no idea where anyone else was, but she was happy to spend that lunch hour by herself. Though perhaps a little unromantic for a supposedly romantic day, she wouldn’t let that stop her from enjoying some chocolate. And the lack of romance could be explained by a desire not to give into consumerism, should she really want a reason for it.
"Hey." Merri entered the stairwell and sat down next to her. "Guess what I remembered today?"
Merri nodded and retrieved the small hardcover book from her knapsack. After hearing about the gift from Thad, Gen had insisted on seeing it herself, and she was glad Merri remembered it at last.
"Oh-mi-god that is the sweetest thing ever," Gen said as she flipped through the book. "David told me he’s happy Thad gave it to you."
"You’ve heard from Shaw?"
"Yeah, Michael asked me to keep in touch with him. You know, like a spy or something."
"I don’t remember him saying you’d heard from him."
"Uh, ‘cause I didn’t tell him, of course. Shaw’s nice—I’m not ratting him out to that prick." Gen met her friend’s eyes and held her gaze for a moment. "And don’t tell Michael. Promise?"
She turned her eyes back to the book. "Good."
"Did Shaw leave the country after all?"
Gen shrugged. "Didn’t say. We mostly talk about him and Natalya. It’s all pretty tragic, natch."
"Only that in some lives he was a chick. And they still got together. So she’s bi. How awesome is that? We’re a progressive bunch."
"I guess gender doesn’t matter when it comes to love."
"Right," Gen said with a snort. "I’d be damned if I ever screwed a guy. Ugh. Anyway, this is an awesome present. That’s so romantic that he gave you poetry." Handing back the book, Gen gave a little sigh.
"What did Peyton give you?"
"Just a Valentine’s Day card in my locker." Gen fished through her bag and produced the simple card.
Merri looked it over. "‘To my best friend on Valentine’s Day?’" she quoted.
True, the words stung a little, but Gen offered a smile. "My cards weren’t much better."
"Hey, I liked the Dora the Explorer Valentines you got," Merri said. "They were...cute."
"Not much more romantic than the one Peyton sent me, though. And I told you about her mom. She’s just...like a lunatic. So Peyton doesn’t want her to know we’re together yet. She’ll tell her in time."
"I know you said Peyton has a difficult life, but..."
"You don’t know the half of it. I’ve been going to her youth group meetings for a couple of months now."
"Which would be a world of awkward, I’m sure."
"Hell, yeah." Gen shuddered. "You wouldn’t believe the number of reasons I’m damned for sure—and that’s excluding the whole ‘lesbian witch’ thing, which they obviously don’t know about."
"And obviously won’t be."
"Not any time soon," Gen agreed. "As much as I’d like to tell them some time—that might be kinda fun. Then there was this one time, after singing and praying, that a girl fell on the ground in convulsions. I wanted to call an ambulance but they said she was just speaking in tongues."
"Is she okay?"
Gen shrugged. "Apparently grand mal seizures aren’t something Evangelicals are worried about."
Peyton appeared in the stairwell then. Gen’s eyes lit up until they met her girlfriend’s. No smile greeted her, no look of love—nothing but red-rimmed eyes and a slight glare. A rose was clutched in her hand and Genevieve’s expression fell.
"Can I talk to you for a second?" Peyton asked, her voice cracking a little. She tapped her foot nervously.
"Yeah, sure..." Gen swallowed hard and rose. Merri gave her a look, but Gen avoided her eyes—dread pooled in her stomach, but she tried to keep calm. Peyton moved quickly out of the stairwell and into the hallway, and Gen followed. Though they paused to speak there, a group of students walked by. Peyton opened her mouth to speak, then seemed to think the better of it and continued walking out to the side doors. She stopped outside and spun to face Genevieve.
Gen shivered in the cold. "What is it?"
Peyton held up the red rose. Tied to the stem with a ribbon was a tag. "What’s this?" Her voice took on a shrill tone of hurt and anger.
The school had a program where students could pay a few dollars to have a rose and a card delivered to a peer just before lunch on Valentine’s Day, so Gen had decided to surprise Peyton with it.
"It was just a present," Gen said, shocked at the level of distress apparent in Peyton’s dark eyes. "It was supposed to be romantic."
"But we talked about this!"
With a sigh, Gen realized what had her so mad. "I didn’t send it to your goddamn house. What’s the big deal?"
"What’s the big deal? You sent a rose with, ‘Love Gen’ on the card to my classroom!"
"And I repeat: so what? No one cares. It’s not like I sent a huge lesbo singing telegram to kiss you at your piano recital."
"Goddamn it! You can’t do things like this!" She tossed the rose onto the snow at Gen’s feet and the action struck Genevieve like a slap across the face. "You don’t understand—"
"Everything is easy for you—"
"Easy? Jesus Christ, what planet are you living on? You don’t think I’ve been teased and harassed and called names for the past three years? It’s not easy! It’s not simple! No one ever said it would be—"
"But it’s different for you. Your parents don’t care; your friends don’t care—"
"No, but for some reason my girlfriend cares!" Gen crossed her arms over her chest, shivering, and tried to force back her tears. Still, her vision clouded. She tried to lower her voice, to respond without the hurt, and act calmly. "Look, I know T.V. says stuff like you shouldn’t force anyone out, and I’m not trying to do that. This was one little flower out of all kinds of them delivered today. No one is going to tell your mother."
"You don’t understand—"
"Yeah, I think I do! And I can’t do this. I’ve faked it at dinner with your parents and at your stupid youth groups and at school and any time we’re anywhere unless it’s out of town. I can’t hide what I am..." She took a deep breath. "And you’re going to have to decide what you want."
"Just tell me!" Gen squeezed her stomach to keep from shaking and fixed her gaze on Peyton’s. "I want you. I need to know if you feel the same."
"You know how I feel! You know that—"
"I know what you tell me. But I don’t think you want me enough to fight to keep me."
"So what are you saying? We can’t be together unless I’m out?"
"Not out...just...I don’t know, able to calm the fuck down about things? You just—"
"It’s not that simple!"
"It is that simple!" Gen chewed at her bottom lip. She couldn’t stop shaking, though she didn’t know if it was from the cold or the pain. Taking a few breaths to steady her, she tried to keep from shouting. Instead, her voice came out low and strangely calm. "Either your heart is breaking right now...or it’s not."
Tears streamed down Peyton’s face. "Gen, I...I can’t. Please—"
But Genevieve didn’t hear anything else as she stormed back into the school. Merri still sat where she’d left her in the stairwell.
"Gen? What’s wrong?"
Genevieve leaned against the wall and sank down to the floor. "I...I think I just broke up with Peyton." She let out a sob as Merri pulled her into a hug.
Worst Valentine’s Day ever, Gen thought as she walked up the steps to her house. She’d gone to Michael’s briefly, but couldn’t deal with his crap and decided to leave early. It was dark by the time she reached her front door. Some moping to depressing love songs up in her room was definitely in order. Maybe she’d skip dinner too, and then crank up Nazareth’s Love Hurts in candlelight.
"I’m home," she called. The lights were on, but no human answered her greeting—only Penny met her at the door. "Mom? Dad?" Her gaze travelled to the foot of the stairs where a suitcase sat. Walking toward the living room, she found her father in his favourite chair. "Dad, what’s going on?"
He stared at the T.V. and answered without looking at her. "Your mom’s leaving, Genny."
"Where’s she going?"
"Her sister’s, I imagine." He took a swig from a bottle of beer.
"She’s leaving me."
Gen’s eyes widened. She waited for the punchline, for a grin—for anything to suggest he had been joking. No reassurances came.
"Leaving," he said again.
She paused in the doorway for a moment, hoping he’d say something further, but no explanation came. Gen turned and stormed up to her parents’ room to find her mom packing another suitcase.
"Mom?" she called in a low voice.
Teary blue eyes looked up. Patches of red dotted her face and Gen realized her mom had been crying for a while.
"Hi sweetheart. How was school?"
"D-don’t ask me about fucking school! What’s—"
"Watch your language, Gen."
"What the hell is going on?"
Her mother turned back to her packing and stuffed a pile of clothes in an open suitcase. "I’m so sorry honey, I didn’t want to do this right before your birthday, but...but I can’t stay anymore."
"But...Mom, I know he’s not easy to live with and he can be an ass, but that doesn’t mean you have to—"
Rebecca Weist dropped a blouse abruptly and turned to her daughter. "He’s been having an affair with someone at work."
Gen felt her whole world grind to a halt at that moment. "What?"
"His poker games? They don’t exist—he’s been going off to meet her."
"I’ve known for a couple of months. And he just keeps avoiding conversations about it, like always." Rebecca rubbed at her eyes and zipped up her bag. "I’ve tried so hard to deal with it, but...I just can’t right now. I’ve asked him to leave, but he won’t so I am—just for now." She swung an overnight bag over her shoulder and heaved up the second suitcase.
Gen stared in silence for a few moments as her mother carried her bags downstairs. It was too early for hurt, too early for betrayal... For that moment, she couldn’t get over the shock. Her mind tried to piece this new information together, to somehow wrap her brain around it.
"Mom..." She started down the steps to follow her mother to the door.
"Honey," Rebecca dropped her bags beside the front door and turned to her daughter, "I’m sorry. I’d take you with me, but you’d have to leave Penny because your Aunt Janice can’t have her in the apartment."
Gen gazed down at her dog. No, she couldn’t very well leave Penny too... Her bottom lip trembled. "Please don’t go."
"I’ll call you tomorrow—I promise. And I’ll pick you up on the weekend and we can go out somewhere. This is just temporary until your father and I can figure some things out."
Falling into her mother’s embrace, Gen squeezed her tightly.
"I love you, sweetheart."
"I love you too, Mom."
Once again in tears, Rebecca gathered her things and left the house, leaving a draft of cold air in her wake as she slammed the door shut.
In mere moments, Gen’s shock turned to anger. She stomped back into the living room to confront her father.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" she shouted.
Leo Weist didn’t reply; instead he took another sip of beer.
"How could you do that to Mom? How could you do that to this family?"
"That’s enough," he said softly, still not meeting her eyes.
Rage rose within her. "Don’t fucking tell me that’s enough! What is wrong with you? Get up and go after her! You need to—"
Leo rose abruptly. "That’s enough!"
Gen couldn’t recall a time in her life when he’d raised his voice like that and she shrank back just a little.
"I am the parent in this house—not you." He gestured towards the stairs. "Go to your room."
Tears built heavily in her eyes as she stared at him, unmoving.
Gen raised her chin slightly in defiance. "Fuck you." She turned before he could yell at her anymore. She shoved her feet into her boots, threw on her coat, and slipped the leash on Penny. After leaving the house, she stood on the front porch in the cold for several minutes.
She had no idea where to go or what to do, just that she needed to be out of the house. Sage and Mer were at Michael’s. Levi’s house was a possibility, but she didn’t know for sure if he was home.
And god, every time she was around him, she had to constantly lie and be on guard. Every minute of it was hell. That’s all anyone seemed to be doing—lying to one another. Her mom and dad...Peyton and her parents...Levi and the truth about Hayden’s death... Even with Sage, Merri and Michael, they all kept secrets from one another. Even among them, she couldn’t be honest. And she was so fucking sick of it, she could scream.
Maybe it’s time I put a stop to this.
Genevieve started walking.
Though Penny was unaccustomed to walking distances as far as Michael’s house—and in the cold at that—she kept up with Genevieve and didn’t drag her feet too much. Gen herself was exhausted by the time she reached her destination. She didn’t bother knocking, although the door was locked. Instead, she readied a simple unlocking spell she had learned and tested the odd time at Michael’s. The door opened easily.
"I think we all need to have a chat," Gen said as she strode inside and passed the others. Her voice told of her weariness; she’d reached the end of her tether and everyone else must have realized as much as they looked at her in surprise.
Sage and Michael had been sparring as usual, but paused at the sight of her. Merri and Finn each sat on the couch reading, and they in turn put down their books.
Gen stopped at the kitchen island, slid off her coat, and filled a bowl with water for her dog. While Penny collapsed at her feet, Gen hopped onto a barstool. Her face stung from the cold and worst of all her eyes hurt from crying on and off as she walked.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Michael asked.
"Calling a ‘family’ meeting. I’m really sick of everyone lying all the time so I think it’s time for some honesty." She locked eyes with him. "I’ve been emailing with David Shaw for about a month now. And no, I’m not going to tell you anything he’s said. I’m not your spy and my conversations with friends are none of your goddamn business."
Michael stared at her for a long stretch of silence before speaking. "Finn, take a walk."
"I said, take a walk!"
Grumbling under his breath, Finn stood, dressed in his outerwear, and left with the door slamming behind him.
Merri went to Gen’s side. "What are you doing?" she asked in a low voice.
"I know you’re upset about Peyton—"
"Look, I don’t want this to be the kind of group where everyone is keeping stuff from everyone else when half of our problems could just be solved by being on the same page."
"I know what I’m doing."
"Anything else?" Michael walked toward her and stopped a few feet away, arms crossed and expression suggesting he wasn’t terribly impressed with her yet.
"Yes, in fact, the next bit will lead into you revealing some things to us as well." Gen leaned her back against the counter and took a deep breath. "Last November, the three of us broke into your house."
From the corner of her eye, Gen saw Merri drop her head and curse under her breath. Ahead of her, Sage stepped forward cautiously, while Michael didn’t move. His jaw tensed, but he didn’t respond yet.
"I’d been having some recurring dreams," Gen continued. "And one of the things that stuck out was a reference to ‘The Brethren.’"
Something changed in Michael’s eyes then—a flicker of worry, perhaps? Gen savoured the moment.
"Then I ran into a couple of telepaths. They told me about the database on your computer. Sage, Merri, and I stole your key, broke in, and that’s when—and why—I took some of your books."
"Find anything interesting?" he asked coolly.
"Actually, yes. It seems you’ve failed to tell us that one of us is supposed to die. I think that’s a conversation we probably should have had several months ago."
"She’s right," Merri spoke up. "You should have told us."
"I fail to see how knowing about your imminent death would have been helpful," Michael replied.
"So it’s certain?" Merri asked. "There’s no stopping it?"
"I had hoped Natalya could tell me that, but she doesn’t seem to be in a hurry."
"Were you going to tell us?" Gen asked.
"If it became necessary."
"You are such a fucking prick."
"Do you know who it is?" Merri asked.
Gen glanced at her. "Huh?"
"We didn’t read everything there was on the subject. Are there any specifics we missed?"
Michael glanced at Sage for a moment. A horrible realization hit Gen.
"Is it Sage? Or did you tell her already? What’s going on?"
"He said he knew," Sage said quickly. "But he wouldn’t tell me who."
All three girls watched him, waiting for any kind of answer.
"Yes," Michael said at last. "There have been theories. All of you have been indicated at one point or another, but one name comes up quite a bit more than the others."
None of them dared chance a breath as the tension rose.
Michael’s eyes fixed on Genevieve. "You."
Her throat went dry. "Bullshit," she managed to whisper. She felt everyone’s eyes on her and Michael...could that be a smile of satisfaction on his face?
"If you have several hours to spare, I could show you the evidence," he said.
She felt Merri’s hand on her arm and her fingers trembled.
"I don’t believe you," Gen said before anyone else could speak.
"Believe what you want."
"You’re just making it up because you don’t like me. Now you’re trying to scare me ‘cause I’m smarter than you and I broke into your house!"
"What exactly was your point in asking if you aren’t going to believe what I tell you?"
"But nothing. Most of what I’ve read has indicated that you’re the one. And unless Natalya can tell me something I don’t already know, it looks like you won’t have a choice in the matter."
The words hit her hard. Her lip trembled, emotion swelling in her. After all the crying she’d done that day, she didn’t believe more tears could fall, and yet there they were again. "Please tell me you’re lying," she said in a low voice.
Michael shook his head. "Sorry."
"Yeah, right—I’m sure you’re all broken up about it," she said bitterly.
"If you die, I’ve wasted a lot of years of my life. I wouldn’t say I’m cheerful about that prospect."
"There’s nothing I can do about it. You’re going to die."
"I think she already did." All eyes shot to Sage, but she turned her gaze to Gen. "You remember back at Christmas? When we went to see that little boy, Austin?"
"About the Vision Serpent?" Gen nodded. "Yeah—"
Michael swung around to look at Sage. "You did what!"
Sage dropped her gaze. "You heard me."
"In a nutshell," Gen interrupted before he could go off on a rant on Sage, "Finn told me that to contact Hayden, we needed to find someone who could contact the Serpent."
"I’m going to fucking kill him," Michael muttered.
"So I called Krysta—anonymously—and she directed us to this kid."
"I’m going to kill her too."
"So we went to see him, but it was a bust."
"No, it wasn’t," Sage spoke up. "I...he... Austin let me change one decision in the past in the hopes that Hayden would live. And it worked."
Gen listened to the whole tale of Sage’s venture into an alternate present, her own death, and being forced to trade Hayden’s life once again. When she completed her story, silence filled the room. Sage shivered, though the room was warm, and shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other.
"The both of you are a pair of fucking idiots," Michael muttered.
Gen ignored him and instead fixed her tearful gaze on Sage. Her heart ached for Sage—she couldn’t imagine going through all that and making that choice... "I can’t believe you...you gave him up like that."
Sage glanced at Michael. "Some things are more important than what we want." A look of understanding passed between them that Gen couldn’t decipher. Before she could ask, Sage looked away. "I thought there might have been a way to do something for my mom and for Kat, but not for you. And I couldn’t let you die."
Gen slid off the stool, walked to Sage, and threw her arms around the other girl. She imagined a hug was the last thing in the world Sage would have wanted, but couldn’t help herself.
"Thank you," Gen whispered.
Sage hugged her awkwardly in return, though didn’t reply. She gave a wan smile as Gen stepped back again and rubbed at her eyes.
"Do you want to go back to see the kid?" Gen offered, ignoring the look of horror she got from Michael. "We can go right now—"
Sage shook her head. "He’s not there anymore. I went by a few days after Christmas. Both he and his grandmother were gone. House was empty."
"So might that have...I don’t know, validated the prophecy or whatever?" Merri asked. "Gen did technically die."
Gen swung her gaze to Michael, a sense of hope coming to her.
Michael thought on the idea, then slowly nodded. "Perhaps. I’d still prefer to speak to Natalya."
"Shaw seriously doesn’t know where she is," Gen said. "Though I might not actually tell you if he had given me a location, I would have checked out any leads myself. He doesn’t know anything."
"Okay, you have to get that stupid notion of ‘checking out leads yourself’ from your head. You aren’t prepared to do that kind of thing. And just because your death in some other reality might be the death I’ve seen referenced in various texts, that doesn’t mean you’re invincible. Plenty of people still want you dead."
"The Brethren." Gen nodded. "Yeah, I gathered that. I told you, we’ve been doing some reading."
"And what else do you think you know?"
"That there are a lot of them," Sage said. "They’ve been around a long time and they’re committed to killing us."
Michael nodded. "That about sums it up."
"Why?" Gen asked. "Why kill us? Why do they hate us?"
"Once again, that’s probably a better question for Natalya. I just work here."
Gen wished she had some kind of evil spell to do to him for being so flippant on the subject of their impending doom, but anything she knew of that might do some damage would require preparation and time.
"How could you not tell us about them?" Merri said. "How could you not tell me?"
"Because apparently you can’t be trusted to keep your damn mouth shut and let things be," Michael said.
"I’m taking care of this. None of you need to worry about it."
Gen didn’t think any of them actually believed him. They were still on their own. Heaven forbid he trouble their poor delicate minds with life or death information.
"Now am I going to need to change my locks?" He looked at each of them in turn.
"That kinda depends on whether or not you plan on keeping important shit like that from us," Merri said.
"Fine, if it turns out anyone else is set to die, I’ll inform you of it."
Someone knocked on the door. Merri went to answer it, and returned to the living room again. "It’s Finn. He wants to know if—"
"I’m freezing my bloody balls off out here," Finn shouted from the doorway.
Michael nodded his consent. "The three of you can head home now. Unless, of course, there are any more discussions that should be had?" He looked at Gen pointedly.
"No, I think that about sums it up."
"Good. Now get the fuck out of my house."