“Most kids do,” a voice answers from somewhere to my right, under the old, ten-foot rusty slide. I can just barely make out the brown broken bits through the veil of snow.
“I figured you’d be there. In the dark, just watching.” I make my way to where he is, but stop short. I stay by the swing set, close enough to hear, but not bothering to look at him.
I’ll play by his rules. He has what I want, Jenny Parks. We both know that I know.
I can hear the faint laugh carry in the night, but he makes no other comment and instead there’s nothing but the bitter cold between us.
“What about now?” he asks me and I resist the urge to turn my head to face where he is. Instead I stare at the graffiti on the back of the brick building.
“What about now?” I question.
“Are you still afraid of the dark?”
His question makes me smirk. “I never said afraid… I said I hated it.”
“You didn’t have to say you were afraid, Jase. Every child is afraid of the dark.”
A moment passes and I stalk forward to lean against the metal bar of the jungle gym.
“You wanted something?” I ask him, knowing that my back is to him and knowing he could sneak up on me if he wanted. I’ll risk it.
“You wanted something,” he answers me as if it’s a correction. His voice a bit louder this time, followed by the sound of footsteps. “Don’t turn around just yet.”
“Understood,” I respond quickly, knowing in my gut I’m walking away from this. He wants me to know something. And I want to know what it is.
I can hear him stop just a few feet behind me and I stay where I am although the need to turn rings in my blood. I’ve never crossed Marcus and from what I know, he’s never crossed me. But he isn’t on our side either, and that makes me question where his intentions lie.
“You’re looking for information and I came with… a gift.”
My pulse quickens as I hear more movement behind me. Gripping the bar tighter until my knuckles have turned white, I ignore every need to turn, making my muscles tense.
“A gift?” I press him for more information.
“Yes,” is all he gives me.
“Is it Jenny Parks?” I dare to ask, giving up information, but in the hopes of cooperation.
“Jenny is fine.”
A beat passes and the muscles in my arms coil, my grip too tight, the adrenaline in my blood racing to get somewhere, or to do something. To simply react.
It’s a puzzle with Marcus, attempting to ask the right questions, because he has all the answers.
“What are you doing with her?”
“I’m helping her.” His voice is faint this time, as if he’s farther away now. The crunch of the snow beneath his feet makes me realize he’s pacing. Maybe considering telling me something.
“You know I want answers… I want her sister to have a life with her. She wants her back.” There’s only the soft call of a midnight wind that whistles in the lack of his answer. “What do you want me to know?” I ask him, acknowledging to both of us that’s all he’ll tell me anyway.
“Did you have a nice conversation with Mr. Stevens?”
An exhale of frustration slips through my lips at the change in subject. I answer him, “It went well.”
“What did he tell you?” he asks.
“He said you were building an army,” I say and raise my voice to make sure he can hear me. He does the same and takes steps to come closer, but still stops far enough behind me that I can’t see his shadow yet against the pure white snow.
“Building one?” The tone of his voice lingers in the air, and his answer leaves a chill to run down my spine. “Did you think I did all of this on my own? There’s always someone looking for salvation, for redemption, for something to believe in.”
“You’re their savior?”
“I’m no savior and the things they do… it’s no redemption.”
“So you’re using them?” I ask him and rein in the simmering anger as Jenny’s face from the pictures in Bethany’s house flickers in front of me. Back when things were different.
“I’m giving them what they want,” he answers.
“And then?” I ask him. “What are you going to do with Jenny when she’s done doing your bidding and you have no use for her?”
My head falls forward, heavy as I struggle with the need to force an answer from the man I used to fear. I focus on staying still. On not facing him so I can gather more information. I need an answer. I need to know where Jenny is. I have to know if she’ll ever come home.
“Did you know wolves used to live here? Back in the day, so to speak.”