It was cold, variably below fifty, and grey. The wind nudged against his back then went around, enveloping him in its passing. Everything, he noted while outside, was grey — from his sweater to the sky to the inside of the rehabilitation facility.
The receptionist blended into her surroundings, made distinguishable only by the shadows that appeared on her face. Reed fixated his eyes on her, expression void and uninviting — even after she lifted her head, tired and bag-heavy eyes focusing on him. For a moment in time, as he got nearer, he wondered if she recognized him. But she didn’t. There wasn’t a light in her eyes to tell him otherwise, no give in her lip or chin, no subtle stiffening of any part of her body. Nothing. She was as cold to him as this entire place was, just as unreadable. Grey. Neutral.
“I’m here to see an inma— patient, Deirdre Dolan.” Reed requested politely when he leaned forward and propped one forearm along the tabletop. He could feel her stare at his arm like she were trying to set the sleeve of his sweater on fire; immediately he dropped his arm then settled on burying his hands deep into the pockets of his cuffed jeans. He pressed his lips up into a smile awkwardly in silent apology.
After that, she asked, “Name?”
“Han, Reed.” And his head snapped up, entire body overcome with an unwelcome stillness, paralyzed by the shift in atmosphere from amorphous to silently hostile. Nadene. With a declarative step forward, posture solid and confident, she asserted, “She isn’t here.” Such a statement sounded factual, it broke apart the barriers and redefined the separation between two extremes. The known and unknown. Nadene looked proud while verging on smug. When Reed didn’t say anything, she took another step forward to the desk and asked redundantly, “You’re looking for one Deirdre Dolan, correct?” Yes. Then quickly reiterated, “She isn’t here.” In response, Reed’s lips parted and his clenched jaw loosened. What he felt right now, he couldn’t tell. Shock or disbelief.
“Do you understand the importance of this, Reed? Antichthon is where this murderer belongs.”
He scoffed and chuckled under his breath when he dipped his head down, staring at the ground. Funny, that was real funny. She’s not here. He repeated that over in his head until the words meant nothing to him, until his first and second meetings with her all blurred together and became one in the same. Nadene was so sure, so eager to lock Deirdre away — on nothing, on confessions, on possibly planted evidence. The last time he saw Deirdre was at the coffee shop before Nadene interrupted. His chest squeezed, suddenly anxious for no reason he could understand; his heart beat faster. “It’d be easy to say it was her.” He scoffed again at the memory, more derisive this time than a dismissal, while still staring at the ground. So was it true, then? Was Deirdre a killer? Was she any of those things Nadene so blatantly and openly accused her of? His abdomen felt tight and bubbly, so much so that he began laughing — boisterously, like Nadene had just said the most undeniably hilarious things. He couldn’t stop thinking about their first talk, how evasive she had been with everything he asked, selective with her responses and their second meeting had gone very much the same. Promises she made were never fulfilled. “It lines up. There are people who can place her at the scene of the crime.” And she’s not here? He found that extremely hard to believe. Nadene would pounce at the very first opportunity to get her grips around Deirdre. Reed only laughed harder and doubled over, hugging his midsection with his eyes squeezed closed, few tears spilling out. Shock, disbelief and distress.
“Reed—” Nadene tried to cut through his fit of hysterics, tone stiff and uncomfortable by his reaction. “I could use your help, perhaps…” He tried to straighten himself but when he did, it only worsened. “I lack several resources for investigation on my own…” He laughed at the idea of being used like cattle, guided down a path to push forward a particular narrative, like he were as daft as a larger portion of the community — willfully blind to the supernatural. The answer was right here, staring him right in the face with so much genuine alarm and fright as if he had just gone mad. He didn’t have to ask to know she was going to give him another workaround, lead him on a chase through rabbit holes with no clear answer in sight.
But maybe he was daft. Maybe Deirdre really was a killer that really did slit peoples throats while they were unconscious. And god, if that was true. “It’d be easy to say it was her.” Reed considered falling down in front of the receptionist’s desk just as his delirious laughter turned into gross sobs. He didn’t.
She’s not here. But she is, she has to be. Deirdre hadn’t answered anything — no calls, no texts, nothing. And there was a growing ache forming in Reed’s chest, a gape of emptiness that made his hands curl into his fists out of frustration and desperation. Shock, disbelief and betrayal.
He had to be daft. Willfully blind to the wrong things — to facades that hid horrible things underneath. Azul drifted to mind and he wondered then how Deirdre could, at all, be like that. Monstrous. Evil. It didn’t seem possible. So, what if it wasn’t her and what if she wasn’t really here? Then where else would she be? Ireland with her mother? “She’s not here.” Nadene repeated.
His chest still felt tight, still bubbled like it did before but now there was a tickling of something else, and he chuckled maniacally on and off in-between tears while he stared at Nadene. Reed leaned all of his weight against the edge of the desk. “You’re lying to me,” He insisted with a snarl, believing that to be the truth, and pointed accusingly at her, jabbing his finger at her. Everything she said and did was contradictory, evident by lies she told directly to his face before.
Nadene looked sad now, like what she was witnessing was devastating or heartbreaking, like he were having a breakdown. She began shaking her head at him, slow, feigning understanding. Her reaction rubbed him the wrong way, made him take several large steps away from the desk. “I know she’s here, let me see her. Please. I need to see her,” I need to know— Reed’s voice cracked and tears spilled out more than before, unable to be controlled. She wasn’t missing, that was ridiculous especially after everything Deirdre told him about this place, about her. Still, in all his doubt, he questioned his own confidence in the belief that Deirdre was innocent. Was it truly as impossible as he thought? Deirdre always spoke highly of her own species, spoke of fae domination and human eradication like it were normal things. Then there was vague discussions of her duty as a banshee, like it were required of her or else she’d bring shame to her family. But people changed, leaves could be turned over and he was sure he saw that in her. He was sure he saw her own doubts but maybe he was wrong and blindsided, maybe it was all a trap that he fell for as some stupid, disposable human. He faltered, tripped on his steps backwards. Azul had been nice to his face but feral all the same. Could Deirdre have been the same way?
“I’m sorry, Reed,” Nadene apologized sympathetically, disingenuously, “She’s really not here. I promise.” He shook his head and grit his teeth. Denial.
Promise. He snorted. Where else would Deirdre be except here? “Then prove it to me,” Reed demanded and as he was about to request specifics, Nadene cut him off.
“You and I both know why not.” There was an unforgivable anger in Reed’s eyes after he rolled them, replaying her long list of excuses in his head along with everything else. Then she said, “You need to go. We can’t help you here, Antichthon doesn’t have the answers you’re looking for.”
Turning his back out of defeat, shoulders tight with tension, Reed started down the long hallway to leave. All he wanted was to see her, to make sure she was okay — whatever being okay meant in a place like this. He wanted to hug her, he wanted to know she was innocent, he wanted to be told that Nadene was wrong. He wanted to be told none of it was true and not to believe the sliver of doubt in his head; but now, it seemed, that was hard to do. “Sounds like a situation the police can help you with.” And he swears he could hear the mockery in her own voice that made his spine shiver with a coldness. He stopped midway down the corridor and turned halfway to look back at her bitterly, she the only one really that stood out amid all the grey — but he wished then that she were transparent, wished she wouldn’t give him the run around like before. “It’d be easy to say it was her.” Nadene was as cruel and as underhanded as the people she chased after. She took…strange joy in this.
Don’t you understand, Reed? Antichthon is where this killer belongs.
He felt empty. “Have a terrible rest of the day, Nadene.”