I'm typically not a fan of chatty bartenders, but this one is a welcome relief. When he hands me my second bottle of Corona, he introduces himself as Dominic Keely – from Wimborne.
"Oh, fuck off," I mutter under my breath. "You're a werewolf too?"
Dominic puts a finger to his lips and nods toward the flannel-clad older guys drinking at the other end of the bar. "No, but let's not use that word, all right? I'd like to keep my job."
"I thought you all lived alongside each other in peace." I squeeze juice from the lime into my beer and take a sip. I've already got a good buzz going on.
"It seems to be getting a lot harder." He keeps his voice low and pours himself a glass of water. "A couple cops were in here last night talking about the shit going down between the two packs. No one wants to get between the big bad wolves, but something's gotta give. Especially now that someone's dead."
"I just want to go home."
"So go home."
"Can't. Not until the fat lady sings." I clink my half empty bottle against his glass. "Cheers to having decisions made for you!"
"How'd you get tangled up with them, anyway? You're obviously not one of them."
"My dickwad of a brother signed me up for pack duty." Mimicking Dominic, I put a finger to my own lips. "Don't tell anyone, but I'm a witch. A real one, not one of those wart-covered monstrosities the department stores sell around Halloween." I point at the jukebox and change the song with a flick of my wrist. "See? Magick."
Flannel Guys wave Dominic over, pay for their beers and stumble out the door. Dominic changes the channel on the television to the national news and asks, "You want a Coke or something?"
"Vodka sounds better."
"No offense, but you don't seem like the type that's used to drinking during the day."
"You get paid to pour people drinks," I say, pushing my now-empty bottle toward him. "So do your job and pour me a shot."
Dominic raises his hands in mock surrender. "Are all witches as bossy as you?"
"Nope. Just me." I watch him pour the vodka into a shot glass and regard him suspiciously. "How come you're not freaked out?"
"Are you kidding? I live in the middle of two werewolf packs. If werewolves exist, then witches aren't a far stretch of the imagination."
"Good point." I down the shot and relish the burning feeling at the back of my throat. "How long have you worked here?"
"Just a few months. I -"
He's interrupted by the jingling of the bell above the entrance. A tall woman with electric blue hair flounces in and zeroes in on me. The predatory look in her black-lined eyes freaks me out. She parks herself on the stool next to mine and says, "Hit me with a bourbon, Dom. I've had a helluva day."
She drops her massive black purse onto the bar top and extends her hand. "I'm Poppy. You're Tanner's new girlfriend, right?"
I officially hate small towns.
"I'm Emrys. Tanner's friend," I reply, shaking her hand briefly. "He let me borrow his truck."
Dominic sets down Poppy's drink and tries to give me a glass of water. I shake my head and tap my shot glass. "Another." With a roll of his eyes, he complies.
"Day's not over yet, Poppy," Dominic remarks. "What's got you in here so early?"
"Starling cops are stonewalling me again. They're blaming the bombs over in Wimborne on some terrorist group. Can you believe it?" The reporter makes a disgusted noise and taps her long shiny nails against the side of her glass. "It's complete bullshit. My editor's pissed, and -" Her gaze lands on me once again and I fight the urge to get up and grab a seat farther away. "I bet you know what's going on. Care to give me a quote?"
"I'm not drunk enough. That's my quote." I give her a cold stare until she looks away.
Dominic watches the exchange between us with an amused grin. Poppy hardly sips her bourbon before paying for it, saying, "All right then. Tanner's got my number, so if you change your mind, give me a call!" She slings her bag over her shoulder and strides outside. My fuzzy brain realizes that the woman only came in in the first place because she saw me through the front window. I wonder why she gave up pumping me for information so quickly…
"Will you drink some water now?"
"No, no, no. More vodka. I forgot how much I like the taste."
I hum along to a Great Big Sea song and watch Dominic clean glasses, sweep the floor, and ready the bar for the post-dinnertime rush. It is all very mundane. I find myself missing Vancouver so much that I can taste it – the crush of the crowds downtown, the early morning smog, the honking cars and wailing emergency sirens...
I announce loudly that I am leaving. In my head I am going on a grand adventure, but in reality, my plan is to make it over to Tanner's house without falling on my face. Dominic sees me fiddling with Tanner's keys and tells me there is no way in hell that I am driving anywhere.
Brushing him off, I jangle the keys in his face. "I'm not dumb! One of these must be his house key. Anyway, it was nice to meet you. Check you later and all that."
Dominic comes around the bar and holds the door open for me. "Good luck out there."
The world tilts from side to side as I make my way down the sidewalk and up the cracked front walk that leads to Tanner's front door. It takes me a stupidly long time to figure out which one of the four keys opens the door, and when I do, I feel like I've won the lottery. As soon as I step inside I make a beeline toward the kitchen. I am ravenously hungry and rummage through the refrigerator as if I haven't eaten in weeks. I make a sandwich piled high with turkey, tomatoes, and mayonnaise, and wolf it down unceremoniously over the sink.
I then wander throughout the rest of the house. It is surprisingly clean for a bachelor pad. The furniture is spartan and the walls are painted in shades of beige. Gripping the railing, I go up the stairs slowly. I bypass the bathroom and a closet before stumbling into a bedroom. I have no way of telling if it's Tanner's or a guest room, and I frankly don't care. I bury myself beneath the white blankets and breathe a sigh of relief: I feel like I can hide here in the quiet forever.
But states of peace never last forever.
The sound of sharp footfalls bounding up the stairs awakens me with a start. I burrow deeper into the blankets and cover my head, naively hoping that I won't be found.
"You're trying to get me killed, aren't you? You won't stop being a pain in the ass until I'm dead."
"Shh. I'm sleeping."
Tanner whips the covers from my head. I blink owlishly. The harsh orange sunlight cutting through the blinds makes me cringe. "You absolutely reek."
I try to pull the covers back from him, but I'm fighting a losing battle. I rub my head and sit up slowly. "Gee, thanks." Catching sight of Tanner's deathly serious expression, a shard of worry cuts through my attitude. "Are we in trouble again?"
"Willem needs you to scry. He doesn't want to risk sending any of us too close to the border for reconnaissance."
"He's actually looking out for the pack? Wow, that's new."
"You're tellin' me." Tanner sighs and gestures to a half-opened door that looks to lead to a bathroom. "Clean yourself up so we can get going, please."