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frogandbanjo t1_japavv2 wrote

Step One: Deflect With Crisis.

I burst into tears. He couldn't tell if they were happy or sad. He was off balance. I amped it up to eleven. The ring box closed and went back in his pocket.

"Oh god, oh god, I'm sorry!" I blubbered. "Oh my god, it's just... my uncle Phil! His second wife! Oh god, I'm so stupid!"

"Baby, no!" he protested. "You're not stupid! Baby, please, whatever you need, you just tell me. We don't even have to talk about it unless you want to."

The foot traffic threatened to become a gawking crowd. I looked around, communicating to my not-going-to-be-my-fiance in no uncertain terms that I was utterly mortified.

"Do you want to go home?" he asked. He wasn't the dumbest guy in the world. That was nice. Of course, I didn't want him to be all that smart, either.

"No!" I brazenly lied. "You went to all this trouble - oh god, you spent a lot of money, didn't you? I've ruined the whole night!"

"Jesus, no!" he said. "Kari, this is my fault. I had no idea, and... and I should've. No good boyfriend would've let this happen."

"No, no," I replied, dabbing at my tears. "I don't talk about them... well, you know... because..." I started up again one more time for good measure.

With the ring back in its box and in his pocket, I was safe. He hemmed and hawed with his whole body, then finally moved in to embrace me. I let him sweat in an awkward, one-sided hug for just a moment before melting into him, letting him think he was comforting me.

"Take me home," I sniffled.

"Yeah," he said. "Yeah, of course, baby. Anything you need. Do you want me to call somebody? You know, because..."

I shook my head into his chest. "No," I said. "Take me home and stay with me. I don't know if I want to talk about it, but just... be there."

I felt the heat. That was good. That would keep him off balance - not just with desire, but with guilt, too.

Step Two: Backstop

Social media is fine, but every girl needs at least one real live friend to keep her secrets - or to divulge them at an opportune moment, once everything goes crazy.

"So, I need the invoke the circle," I told Penny.

"Oh my god he didn't!" she immediately replied.

"Hey," I joked, "you have to make it official!"

She didn't quite slap herself, but the effect was the same. Rituals were so important to girlfriends. I held out my hands and she grasped them, just like we would at a seance.

"The circle is invoked," we said almost in unison. We both glanced around suspiciously. There were other groups at other tables, but they didn't care about us. Unbeknownst to poor Penny, if any of them happened to eavesdrop and remember a few tidbits, it was all the better.

She was still amped up. I started sending disruptive signals, and gave her a few moments to pick up on them.

"What happened, Kari?" she asked.

"I freaked out a little," I admitted, skipping past what she'd already assumed. "He was so perfect at first. I felt so stupid, and he said and did everything right. He took me home."

"I mean, I didn't want to say anything..." Penny said.

Social media or not, a public freakout wasn't going to have gone unnoticed and undocumented. I couldn't lie about that part.

I hung my head. "Yeah, I figured," I said. "For what it's worth, you put on a good show just now. Anybody watching wouldn't have thought you'd already known."

"Oh, honey," she said. "I didn't want to ruin anything for you, just in case... you know... things ended up going really well afterwards."

"It's totally okay, babe," I said. "We weren't in the circle. You were being a good friend. But now we're in the circle, and... I think I have to tell you something."

"... shit," she said. She reached out for my hand again. I let her take it.

"Yeah," I said. "He was perfect, and then we... you know. And then it got weird. And then it got bad."

"Do we need to go to cops, Kari?" she asked. "It's your choice, obviously, but... do we?"

I shook my head. "I don't think so," I said. I looked up at her and pretended to freak out a little. "No! No, he didn't do anything. It's just... everything turned. The vibe. The way he moved. There was a change, and it made me feel..."

"Unsafe," she said. "But he left, right?"

"Yeah," I said. "He left."

"Let's get the locks changed," she offered. "I'll backstop some bullshit either way - if your alarm bells stop ringing, or especially if they don't."

"God, I feel so stupid," I said.

"Don't," she said. "The smartest women in the world get fooled sometimes. It sucks that you can never know. It just sucks. He might be a really great guy, Kari, but if you get a vibe, you shouldn't just ignore it. Take a few steps. Make yourself a little safer."

I noted the irony. I'd already made things a lot more dangerous for my boyfriend. There was an argument to be made that that did make me safer, but it was a twisted path through a dark forest. The more silver I'd found, though, the less guilty I'd felt.

I nodded. I let my eyes get wet, but I didn't cry. That was a good balance.

"You're the best, Penny," I said. "I mean that."

"I know," she said, trying to break the tension.

I let her.

Step Three: Isolate

How does the cartoon go? "I know that you know that we know that they know that I know that you know..." and it only ends with a shotgun blast to the face or a giant mallet to the head.

I transitioned from freaking out to embarrassed to apologetic to loving. I didn't drop hints. We were past that. I told him flat-out that I owed him a special night. I told him I was a modern woman with her own job and her own money, and that I needed to take responsibility for what I wanted. He got the message. Of course, he also got the subtext. Did he get the sub-subtext? Cue that cartoon. Silver buckshot. Silver hammer. His name wasn't Maxwell. Ah well.

I was surprised he let me get the equivalent of the last word. He let me drive. That was the lynchpin. That meant he was down to whatever he could keep on his person until his backup could arrive. The compromise was that the moon was a waning sliver. I had to assume he knew my bloodline and my strength; I wasn't going to be weak. I just wasn't going to be a giant totem of magical, animal fury that could shift and eat him before he could unholster a gun.

I hoped he was one of those chuckleheads who assumed that werewolves would never pack heat, but it wasn't vital to the plan.

On a romantic bridge with a brook underneath, late at night, with a few tiny hints that I'd prepared a different kind of event - a stray balloon, some music, nothing hard to erase - I kissed him one last time.

"How did you know?" he asked.

"Ordinarily, I'd tell you," I replied. "But not this time."

"Wait, what?"

"There's a way for this to happen where nobody dies and nobody goes to jail, Gopal. You were really good to me. You fell for me. Don't try to deny it. I could smell it. I still can. It's why I got careless."

He shrugged. "Okay."

He wasn't as stupid as I thought. That really hurt. Denial would have made me feel powerful. A confession would've made me feel special.

"I imagine I've got ten minutes or less, so no big monologues. I've faked my death a dozen times, Gopal. I'll do it again, and this time it'll be a murder. Do you understand?"

He stayed quiet. I saw the gears turning. I couldn't figure out his math, because I didn't know his premises. I didn't know if he'd underestimated me in turn, or if he'd somehow struck a perverse balance between love and duty.

"I really thought the silver ring was perfect," he said. "It was so obvious and so stupid that you'd never believe I was a hunter."

"What was the endgame?"

He shrugged again. "You know I won't answer unless I think you're going to die."

"Exactly. Good."

"I can't smell like it you can," he said. "Did you? Love me?"

"No," I lied. "But I didn't know, either - not until after the ring. You were a meal ticket. Most of us can't even afford a decent legend these days. It's too hard. Social media's the best we can do."

"Better a ticket than a meal, I suppose," he said. "Shitty, though. Real shitty."

"Yeah, well, 'peaceful coexistence' is a lot prettier when nobody's trying to murder anybody else, fuckstick. Nobody criticizes a con that got Jews out of Germany."

"Jews don't eat people."

"Depends on who you fucking ask, doesn't it?" I retorted. "Go back a few centuries and a few of your major benefactors had all sorts of opinions on that, too. Maybe they still do. What did that comedian say? Cons like me can't hold a candle to the reigning world champions."

"Werewolves don't officially exist," he countered. "That's a pretty impressive con job."

"Not mine. Social forces beyond my control. Vampires, maybe. Atlanteans. Lizard people from the center of the Earth. Who even knows?"

That got a chuckle. I realized I'd talked too long.

"Goodbye, Gopal," I said. "You can tell your bosses it was smart to recruit an Indian-looking guy. Eurocentrism; shame on me. Won't work again."

He pulled out the ring box and tossed it to me. I snatched it effortlessly from the air.

"You earned it," he said. "Worth a few hundred."

It was a clever trap. Tossing it would have been petulant; it would've made him feel big. Keeping it reminded him that I - we - were on the back foot. We needed the money. I needed the money to start all over again.

"Sorry I didn't get an appraisal on your life," I said. "Otherwise I'd have a witty retort."

I was away before he could reply again. I still heard it, but I pushed it out of my mind. I cut myself open and let the blood flow everywhere. I didn't use silver, or my own claws. That meant I had to do it over and over again; I tried not to be annoyed by the healing factor. That would have been baiting the gods.


frogandbanjo t1_japawsz wrote

Step Four: Never Look Back

But I did, because I'd loved him. He didn't come after me. He spun some bullshit. He took his lumps with his superiors. He was cleared of all wrongdoing in my disappearance. I didn't have to finalize the frame job; I let it fizzle.

I'd loved him, but I felt worse about Penny. That's just how it was. I knew I'd need another one of her, whether I risked another lover or not.

The ring was worth closer to a thousand. I only got a few hundred. I made it stretch.


TynamM t1_jat6gz2 wrote

This is a magnificent story. Complete in itself yet sketching a compelling world.


frogandbanjo t1_jaub83k wrote

I appreciate it. It can be tough trying to write stuff after a prompt's already gotten some responses and upvotes. Thanks for taking the time to read one of the later entries.


TynamM t1_jaw9t3h wrote

I deeply loved the multiple layers of do-you-know-that-I-know-that-you-knew going on in the protagonist's thoughts. It's hard to do that in the space of a short without being unclear but I was able to follow exactly how the levels of deception interacted, which kept my attention rivetted.