She’d wondered what she would find under there. An embarrassing stack of magazines, a collection of sim dating games, secret Potterhead paraphernalia, or maybe even his school books because she never did see those among the litter of clothes and shoes. The last thing she expected was a box of weapons.
She made sure there was nobody coming down the hall before pulling the box out of its hiding place and on to the floor. Sitting with it between her outstretched legs, Ilana carefully sifted through it, being careful not to cut herself.
At first she only poked at things but, as she got comfortable, and her study partner lingered away longer than he promised, she ended up taking the items out one by one. There were a grand total of twelve knives, nine daggers, three guns, two cartridges and boxes of bullets, and one tattered notebook. Hesitantly, she reached out to pick up the only thing that could explain it all. Her hand shook, and she had to use the other one to steady it, but she was determined to know what was in that book.
“So you found it.” A cool, throaty voice came from the doorway, startling her.
She clutched her hands to her chest and stared up at the man. No, the shaggy hair and roundness of his face meant he was still around her age. She gave him eighteen the most.
“I told him you wouldn’t be able to resist. It’s a thrill isn’t it?”
“Wh-what is?” She asked shakily. Ilana had yet to move from the box or its contents. She also had the notebook, something she would have missed if the boy didn’t point it out to her.
“Knowing you could pick up any one of those and call yourself Death.” He leaned over to rest his shoulder on the doorframe and crossed his ankles. “I’m Hector but if you’re going to be one of us, you can call me H.”
“Nobody is giving out names.” Sandor came into view seconds after she heard his dismissal. Whatever Hector had planned, he wasn’t having it.
Sander’s eyes fell on her and she tensed. She wasn’t innocent either. She was on his floor with his hidden goods in front of her and his secret notebook still at her chest like it would save her somehow. “I didn’t mean to.” She hurried to get to her feet. If she had to explain, she thought it would be better at somewhat eye-level.
“You didn’t mean to misuse my trust, raid my room, or steal that?” His eyes didn’t narrow like she seen so many times before. Instead he just looked at her, arms crossed, shoulders relaxed, smiling.
She blinked a few times just to be sure but it didn’t go away. He definitely did smile for a second. “N-no,” she murmured dazed. What was that?
She didn’t get the chance to dwell on it. Sander crossed the short distance from the hall to the side of the bed where she had backed up to and pulled the book from her grasp. “You’re not ready.”
“Come on, Sanders. It took her three minutes to find it. That’s gotta mean she’s ripe.” Hector tried to get closer but Sander turned on him. From where she stood, fidgeting with her fingers, she could only see the shove and Hector’s glare of a departure. She didn’t like the added company but she didn’t miss it either, especially when she had explaining to do. She looked down at the book in Sander’s hand. She had a few questions too.
“You can ask one question.” Sander dropped to his knees and swept the weapons back into his box. “It can’t be about the book, the box, or the toys.” On toys, he smirked up at her.
She gulped from the sight of it. She saw that smirk of his before too. It meant he was hiding something, something that was too dangerous for the world to know about. It contrasted with the warmth of his brown eyes and the easy way he talked with her but she knew better. Sander Miller was the same boy who got suspended on his first day at school for landing two students in the nurse’s office and hitting a teacher. He was the same one who she saw laughing it up with the police who dropped him off at one of their sessions once.
She agreed to tutor him so he wouldn’t fall behind and each session was done either at her house, the library, or the ice cream parlor per his request. He could charm the truth out of anybody if he wanted and yet he always went for punching someone instead. Or, she looked past him to the empty hall, he shoved people away.
“If you don’t have one, you’re free to go.”
Snapping back, she shook her head quickly. “No. Erm, I mean, I have one. I just—“ she switched her weight from one leg to the other nervously, “Can I talk to Hector?” Where Sander was tight lipped, Hector was ready and willing to share what he knew. Problem was, she had to get through Sander first and he didn’t look ready to budge.
She shifted under his gaze. His easy smile fell but he didn’t say no. “Not tonight.” She opened her mouth to try and argue but he took her by her arm and led her out of his room, down the hall, the stairs, and right out the door. She made sure to count the doors as they walked. She counted five, including his, on the second floor and she was sure the hallway on the first floor led to more. It brought up the question of how many others lived there and how many of them were their ages but she used up her one question already. With that gone, and his hurry to get rid of her, she felt deflated.
“Can you tell me one thing?” She asked after he finally let her go.
He tucked a hand in his back pocket and cocked his head. “That will be two questions.”
“I know.” But she hoped he would allow it. “You owe me for helping, don’t you?”
“I don’t owe you anything.” He shrugged, looked over his shoulder at the house, then back at her pleading eyes. “What?”
“What am I ripe for?” It sounded perverse but that didn’t fit with everything that happened. The box, the book, the ‘toys’, and then the way he and Hector interacted with each other, it was some big secret and she somehow was connected.
Sander shook his head first, making her nervous. It was possible he only said yes so he’d know. He didn’t have to answer at all.
“You’ll find out soon.” He glanced passed her briefly. “Your ride is here.” The headlights hit him as the car turned onto his street and she thought she saw something silver behind him. “I won’t be able to see you for a while, family stuff, so don’t call me or come by. See you.”
He turned on his heels and she started to follow his back but the threat from her sister about getting in the car or else stopped her in place. They weren’t friends. Not in the conventional sense at least. She stared up at the window she knew belonged to his room, ignoring the horn behind her, and bit her lip. In all the time she knew Sander, he never did or said anything he didn’t mean. He brought her to his house and left her upstairs knowing her curiosity would lead her to trouble. He gave her enough time to find the box and go through its contents and then he let Hector introduce himself. It was planned.
Her sister honked again. Sighing, Ilana gave in to the obnoxious order and slid into the back. She had a few weeks to figure out her questions and then she’d see if she couldn’t convince him to really trust her. If he didn’t, then she had no choice. She’d speak to Hector.