[19] William Hartley

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"Maddy, it's Thursday. You know what that means, right?"

The poison in Will's voice is so thick, so evident, it makes me forget that there was once a time when he spoke to me like I was an actual person and not an object. It makes me forget that at one point we were actually friends.

My brief hesitation is all he needs to circle in and press further. Damn vulture, I swear to god. From the other end of the line I hear him clear his throat and release a sharp laugh. "Who am I kidding? You're not a complete moron, of course you know. You're probably on your way home already."

It's only when I notice Atty shift towards me that I snap out of my trance. I don't want him handling this for me. This part, more than anything, I have to do on my own.

This is my mess.

I take a deep breath and steel myself. You've got this Jade; you can do it. You're Madeira-Jade Hayes and your mama did not raise a pushover. Your daddy taught you to use fear, not run away from it.

But god dammit, I'm so fucking scared.

I ground myself by repeating my dad's words. The ones he would tell me every time I teased him for strapping up before going on patrol, since our town is relatively peaceful. He would always grin and say "even an amateur is dangerous if he has a gun."

I have to remind myself that I have a figurative gun. The pictures of Will that Pres-Jay worked so hard for are worth something. I'm not working with nothing.

But Will has a 'gun' too, and unlike me, he's not an amateur.

Knowing full well that there is a very real chance he will ignore what I have to say and release the pictures anyways, I push through. "No, I'm not coming back tonight. Before you do anything, it would be in your best interest, William, to come meet me. I have something you want to see."

He clicks his tongue and I've heard him do that enough times to know exactly what kind of face he's making. Thin lips pursed and long nose crinkled, as if he just smelled something foul. "Ha. Baby, I've already seen everything you have to offer."

Will's tone is lewd, more than I've ever heard from him. I feel a searing sort of anger beginning to bubble deep within me. What have I ever done to make him hate me so much? He has no right to treat me this way, I haven't wronged him- though, all things considered, I should've.

What a jackass.

I give him a mock laugh. "Wrong again, sweetheart. This is something else. Now, as someone who knows you and your parents very well, I suggest you get over here and handle the situation. Because I can absolutely guarantee that if you cause a shitstorm, you'll find yourself knee-deep in crap with no way out. Though I happen to think that'd be a fitting end for the likes of you."

This time he's the one stunned into silence. I take advantage of the momentum and push further, "and make no mistake- it will be the end of you."

From my peripheral I catch a glimpse of Presley; she's pumping her fist in the air while Jay flashes me a thumbs up. Atty has his gaze trained straight on me, unblinking, arms crossed. He looks like a soldier on guard.

Will doesn't argue, doesn't curse. Simply says one word. "Where?"

I explain the location and the approximate time he has to get here. He hangs up before I can even finish. Looks like I've pressed too many buttons. I guess if I didn't know it by now, this is it. There's no going back.

Full steam ahead, captain.

The four of us wait in the clearing in silence. No one says a word, only occasionally exchanging glances. Will should be here in a few more minutes.

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