“It matters because I know you’re developing some kind of theory here, and it would be nice to know if that theory has any basis in reality.” Ezra leaned back in the chair, looking at me evenly.
“It does. Or at least I think it does.” I glanced down at the floor, not wanting to admit to Ezra that I wasn’t really sure how much I could trust Violet. Maybe she was just messing with me for the fun of it. I shook my head, deciding that I had to go with the only lead I had. “Look, for the sake of argument, let’s just agree that everything I say is true.”
“No,” he shook his head.
“Ezra!” I groaned. “Just hear me out, okay?”
“I’m presuming this is all about Jane, and I already told you that I can’t help you with that,” Ezra said, his eyes looking sad. “Nothing can.”
“A vampire is branding girls, okay?” I ignored his refusal. “Something about that just feels wrong to me.”
“I would hope so.”
“No, not just because it is wrong, but like…” I shook my head. “It’s a gut feeling. I think it’s connected, but I might be wrong. Before I go on a hunt for the vampire branding people, I’d like to know for sure.”
“And how would you find that out?” Ezra asked.
“If it is the same guy, he probably marked the girls he killed.” I took a deep breath. “He probably marked Jane.”
“That’s a hell of a leap.” He pursed his lips and looked down. “A lot of vampires are not nice. They do bad things to humans all the time simply because they can. Just because a vampire is branding humans doesn’t mean he’s a serial killer. And even if it does, it doesn’t mean he left a mark on Jane.”
“You’re right. I know you’re right,” I said, but I hated to admit it. “But something about this feels like a vampire. I went out looking at the crime scenes-”
“You what?” Jack asked, startling me so much I nearly jumped.
I’d been too focused on my arguments to convince Ezra that I hadn’t been paying attention, and Jack had snuck up on me. He stood off to the side of the living room, his blue eyes wide and disapproving. I swallowed hard and smiled sheepishly at him.
“I didn’t see you standing there,” I said.
“You went to the crime scenes? Why?” Jack asked.
“What do you mean why?” I looked up at him. “I wanna know what happened to Jane.”
“And what did you find out?” Jack asked.
“Nothing. I don’t know anything.” I lowered my eyes for a minute, then looked up, pleading with Ezra. “But you can help. I know you at least know somebody on the police force. You can ask them. I know they withhold some information. If she has any marks, anything at all-”
“You’re gonna hunt down the killer? That’s your plan?” Jack raised an eyebrow.
“I don’t really have a plan,” I admitted.
“Yeah, I figured that, since you think it’s a good idea to hunt a serial killer on your own.”
“I can handle myself, Jack.” I stood up. “Milo and I are stronger than you.”
“Maybe,” Jack shrugged, but he momentarily looked hurt. Physically, Milo had definitely become a lot stronger than Jack, but it wasn’t something he liked hearing. “But you don’t see me doing stupid stunts like you.”
“You would if you liked Jane,” I shot back, but he rolled his eyes.
“You know that’s not true. I stood up for and helped her every chance I had,” Jack said. “I don’t want you to get yourself killed or to do something you regret.”
The French doors off the patio slammed shut, and Matilda barked a greeting as people walked inside. Jack didn’t say anything for a minute, and I knew he was holding something back.
“What’s going on here?” Milo asked, noticing the tension between us.
“What is going on here?” Leif repeated. He moved towards Milo and me but kept his eyes locked on Jack. Jack shifted uneasily under Leif’s stony glare.
“Your sister thinks it’s a good idea to handle Jane’s killer herself,” Jack said, and both Leif and Milo instantly turned back at me.
“You just promised me you wouldn’t!” Milo yelled.
“Yeah but…” I sighed and crossed my arms over my chest.
“Alice, I can’t believe you would do that! You lied to me!” Milo sounded genuinely hurt, and I groaned and flopped back on the couch. Any fight I had in me had completely gone out.
“It’s not that dangerous. I don’t know why you guys keep acting like it is. It’s not like I’m human or something,” I said, and Milo looked over at Bobby.
“I had nothing to do with it!” Bobby offered up quickly, and I didn’t blame him. If I could lie about my own involvement, I totally would.
“You lied about it, so you knew it was wrong.” Milo turned back to me. “You knew it!”
“I knew you would be mad, but you’ve got no reason to be mad! I can handle myself!” I looked up at him.
“Alice, you’re just a child,” Leif shook his head.
“Whatever. I don’t wanna talk about this anymore.” I brushed past them, preparing to storm out.
“Alice!” Jack ran after me, out onto the patio. The icy night wind whipped over us, nearly taking my breath away. “Alice!” When I didn’t stop, Jack grabbed my arm, forcing me to look at him. “What is going on with you?”
“You already know what’s going on with me.”
“No, I don’t.” He furrowed his brow, confused and hurt. “You’ve been so distant lately, and I know you’re hurting over Jane but… this feels like something different. And now you’re sneaking around and hiding things from me.”
“I’m not hiding things from you!” I snapped.
“Then what do you call a secret murder investigation?”
“You don’t understand.” I shook my head. “I knew you wouldn’t understand.”
“What don’t I understand?”
“Why I need to have something for myself!” I tried to pull my arm away from him, but he wouldn’t let go.
“This isn’t the kind of thing you have yourself. It’s not ‘alone time’ or a ‘hobby. This is dangerous, Alice, and stupid.”
“Let her go,” Leif said, his voice startlingly firm. He stood just inside the open French door, watching me and Jack argue.