Seventeen

As Julian hung up the phone, he frowned, considering what he should do about this new bit of information Teddy had given him: that if he could help it, he wouldn’t keep anything from Jules. Which meant he couldn’t help it, and if that were the case, Julian had to find things out on his own.

But should he? What if he got Teddy in trouble? Then again, what if Teddy was already in trouble? He couldn’t imagine what sort of situation his best friends could be a part of that simply couldn’t involve Jules at all. Apparently, it wasn’t of the utmost life-or-death secret kind of thing, because that Kol guy seemed to have no problem oversharing. So, it was something that was better kept a secret, but if Julian happened to find out…how could anyone blame him?

Setting his phone down on his pillow, he padded out of his room and over to Teddy’s. Teddy never locked his door, but still Julian very seldom went in there. If the two wanted to spend time together, they usually did it in the living room or the kitchen. Occasionally, like when Jules was feeling poorly or too upset to venture out, Teddy or Grey would come and join him in his bed—Jules had the most comfortable bed—but there really was no situation where Jules tended to go into Teddy’s room for any length of time. That said, he had been in there before, but only to grab a shirt or jacket he wanted to borrow.

On those occasions, he’d never noticed anything strange, but he hadn’t been looking closely before. Now was different; Teddy wasn’t going to be home any time soon and after tomorrow, he’d be in the hospital. This was the only time he would get an opportunity to snoop.

He felt a pang of guilt that he was even snooping now. But the way Teddy made it sound—he didn’t want to keep this secret from Jules anymore. If Teddy wanted Julian to believe him and not ask questions, he needed to know what it was he was truly hiding. Teddy’s hands might be tied as to whether he could tell him anything, but that wasn’t to say he couldn’t figure it out himself.

As Julian pushed open the door, the room was pitch dark. Teddy had a blackout curtain on his window which blocked out even the slightest light from the night outside—he said he had trouble sleeping, and Julian understood that well enough. He flicked on the light, revealing the rest of the room.

Where Julian’s room was slightly messy—clothes and props from various plays spread out throughout the room, DJ equipment from his EDM phase nestled in a corner, and fashion magazines splayed out like a work of art on his floor—Teddy’s was immaculately clean and decidedly more masculine. Black and grey comforter, computer desk set up with pencils in a jar and not a single thing out of place (ironic, considering his attention to deadlines and the like were so much laxer than Julian’s), and a big black bookshelf full of various books, both school related and not. A queen-sized bed took up the central position of the room, a nightstand on each side covered in framed pictures. A few of Teddy’s somewhat big family, but most with either Julian or Grey featured in them. Pictures from plays they’d done together, choir concerts in high school, even their first summer camp adventure when Julian had gotten poison ivy and Teddy broke his arm. Their whole lives were pretty much documented in those pictures, and Julian couldn’t help but smile at all of them.

He picked one up and dusted off the glass with a delicate hand. They were ten years old in that picture, Julian’s smile stretching across his face. Looking at it compared to some others, though, he noticed a slight strain in Teddy’s otherwise carefree expression. Julian remembered the day it had been taken; they’d gone to Tybee Island with Teddy’s family for the week, staying in a couple of suites at a seaside hotel. Julian had never been able to stay in a place like that before, and he’d enjoyed the opportunity. Teddy’s elder sisters had all fawned over him, thinking he was just the cutest thing, and Teddy had made fun of him for all the female attention he was getting.

But towards the end of that vacation, something happened. Teddy got super sick, running an insane fever—even worse than the one that Julian had suffered the night Teddy found him in the tub—and his parents had to rush him to the hospital. Teddy’s eldest sister, Bianca, was seventeen at the time and already had her driver’s license so she had taken Julian home. He’d worried about Teddy for days, and then finally, they told him that Teddy had had meningitis but he was better now. They resumed their vacation, all doing their best to enjoy the remaining days on the beach. Julian hadn’t noticed anything different in Teddy back then, but looking at the picture now he could see that it had affected Teddy more than Julian ever knew; maybe he had been right in the car, when he’d said that Jules just didn’t notice when Teddy got sick. It made him feel like a terrible best friend, all told.

He set the picture back down on the nightstand and made his way to the bookshelf. Teddy wasn’t an avid reader, not like Grey, but looking at the bookshelf he certainly seemed to love books a lot. Jules figured he just wanted to make his room look fuller. Most of the spines were covered in dust, having not been touched in the year and a half they’d been living together. But then he noticed that one book was not covered in dust at all. “Curious,” Julian muttered to himself, reaching to pick the book up off the shelf. It felt lighter than it should, given how thick the book appeared. Jules hefted it, hearing a weird rustling sound inside. That was definitely not normal.

Julian glanced over his shoulder, checking to make sure nobody was on their way inside. Nothing. He turned his attention back to the strange book and slowly opened it.

The book was hollowed out. Inside, there were a few pieces of paper, a red cloth, a couple photographs, a necklace of some kind, and a dried sprig of a purple flower Julian didn’t know the name of. He laid the contents out across Teddy’s bed, examining each thing individually.

He started with the papers. One looked to be a weird calendar of some kind—like what you’d get in a farmer’s almanac. This one seemed to be about Pagan holidays and full moons rather than weather predictions for certain days of the year. Julian had never known Teddy to be particularly interested in any of that stuff, but the Pagan thing seemed to be a theme as he looked at the necklace. It was a crystal—amethyst maybe? —dangling from a silver chain, what you’d expect from some new-age hippie type. Among the sheets of paper, there was also what appeared to be a page from a plant taxonomy index; this page in particular was about the purple flower he’d also found in the hollow book. Apparently, it was called aconite or wolf’s bane and it was poisonous. Julian had no idea what any of this meant, or why Teddy was keeping it hidden in a hollowed-out book, but it only made the mystery deepen for him. It was bringing up more questions than it was answering.

Shaking his head, he reached for the photographs. Maybe they could shed some light on the situation? The first one was of a man and a young Teddy. Julian had never seen this man, but he immediately felt unsettled by him. He was tall and thin, piercing golden eyes glaring out of his face. There was a small smile playing about his lips, and his hand was resting on young Teddy’s shoulder. As for Teddy, he looked tense and uncomfortable, as if he wanted to get away but was unable to do so for fear of some kind of punishment. The next photo also had Teddy and the man in it, but Teddy was older—maybe fifteen—and another man had joined them. He was older than Teddy here, but about the same height. He had dark hair and the makings of a beard, kind green eyes shadowed by thick eyebrows and a sour expression. The third picture was very similar, but much more recent and involving a fourth man. He was black, clean-cut, and looked very out of place amongst the strange group. He seemed more intellectually intrigued than anything. Teddy and the other guy looked less uncomfortable too, as if they’d finally gotten used to whatever their situation was. They seemed to be standing apart from the tall man with the golden eyes. The final picture was just of Teddy and the bearded guy, whose arm was slung about Teddy’s shoulder in a comfortable and familiar way that intrigued Julian.  Their faces were far more carefree, separated as they were from the golden-eyed man. They appeared to be good friends here, both smiling broadly. The back of the photo read “Ulfric and I, at his new shop.” Again, more questions crowded around Julian’s head. If this was a friend of Teddy’s, how come he’d never met him before? Or any of them, for that matter.

The last picture had been taken in front of a tattoo parlor that Julian had seen in town, though he’d never gone in. His own tattoos had been gotten at other shops around town—Savannah had no shortage of good tattoo shops. If this guy—Ulfric—owned a shop, maybe Julian should head out there. He couldn’t get any new tattoos for a while, thanks to his illness, but there was no rule against getting a price quote; he had every intention of getting a tattoo to commemorate his beating cancer, anyway.

Julian couldn’t wait to hear what Teddy would say when he mentioned wanting to go to this place in particular. If he could get out there, maybe he could find out more of what was going on from Ulfric. Who was the golden-eyed guy? What was his connection to Teddy? Why was Teddy so intent on hiding all this stuff from Julian?

Julian didn’t know, but he was dead set on finding out.

 

 

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