“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
The truck made a clunking wheezing sound as we pulled to a stop outside the motel, the engine sputtering like it was on its deathbed. I eyed the dashboard warily, expecting some sort of warning light to flash. When nothing happened, I glanced over at my brother, who was focused on the tourist pamphlet we'd picked up at the last gas station.
He noticed my gaze on him after a moment and gave me in innocent look. “What?”
“This thing's about to have some sort of mechanical seizure, that's what.”
Ezra rolled his eyes. “You worry too much, Zoe. It got us here from Baltimore, didn't it?”
“Yeah...” I admitted. “But that's a long way to go for any vehicle, much less one this...vintage. Besides, it was hardly a straight shot from there to here.” Various detours and backtracks had turned a thousand-mile trip into something closer to fifteen hundred. And as much as I loved my twin, that much quality time together was more than enough. “Thank God we're finally here,” I muttered.
“New Orleans,” Ezra said with a little too much enthusiasm as he flipped through the guide book. “Also called Crescent City, the Big Easy...famous for beignets, jambalaya, gumbo, and the ever popular red beans and rice.”
“We're not here for the food,” I said with a sigh, pulling the keys out of the ignition then frowning as the truck continued to chug for several moments before shutting off with a painful rattle. “I'd really love to find another car, Ez.”
“Just as soon as you find a job to pay for it,” my brother replied evenly. “You know our savings account is almost empty; we can't afford any more hefty expenses.”
“A car that isn't a ticking time bomb is an expense I'm willing to pay for,” I remarked.
“So get a job,” he repeated, turning another page in his book. “Aha! They say the French Quarter is a pretty chill place to hang out. We should check it out.”
“Absolutely not.” I shook my head. “We came here to blend in, remember? Not draw attention.”
“So, you've heard the same rumors I have. And waltzing into the one part of town that's full to bursting with witches is probably not such a good idea. You remember how Seattle went,” I added darkly. “I'd like to avoid a repeat performance.”
He sighed, mood sobering. “Look, Zoe, I know things haven't been easy these last couple years...”
“That's such an understatement I don't even know what to say.”
“...but this time's different. I can feel it,” he added earnestly as he saw my skeptical look. “I know you're leery of trusting gut instinct and all that shit, but something about this place feels right. Don't you feel it?”
I tilted my head for a moment, assessing my feelings. And...yeah, nope. “The only thing I'm feeling right now is sleep-deprivation,” I told my brother curtly. “So let's just grab our bags and turn in for the night, okay? We'll figure out the rest in the morning.”
He stared at me for a moment, frowning slightly, then relented with a shrug. “Fine,” he said, shouldering his door open and stepping out. “I'll go grab the room keys from the desk clerk.”
“Thanks,” I said absently as I craned around in my seat to snag my duffel bag.
I pulled it into my lap and rummaged around until I found what I was looking for. It was a small photo album, just a couple inches thick and a hand-span wide and tall. It was looking a little worse for wear, but tattered or not it was absolutely precious to me. The contents were all I had to remember my family by, the images inside the only ones remaining of my mother, of my father, of me and Ezra as kids....of all four of us together, as a family.
I had one single picture of my mother's brother, but hadn't kept it for any sentimental purpose. It was simply so that me and my brother would never forget the face of the bastard who'd betrayed us so brutally and torn our family apart. He was still out there somewhere, and we needed to be ready for his next move.
From what I could tell he'd ceased doing his own dirty work years ago, having not come after us in person in quite some time. Which didn't mean we were safe, far from it. The assassins he'd hired continued to pursue us with increasing vigor, and would continue to do so until he either rescinded the bounty or pursuing myself and Ezra became too dangerous for them. And while me and my brother had managed to knock off more than a fair number of those who'd come after us, I doubted it would be enough to dissuade a heartless band of magical mercenaries. Our luck was just not that good.
And while my brother and I couldn't be killed, life on the run to avoid endless torture and suffering was definitely not ideal.
For the thousandth time, I wished upon my uncle a terrible death followed by a roasty stint in Hell. This whole blood-soaked mess was all his fault. From beginning to end, all the death, all the pain, all the fear, could be laid at his doorstep.
Just because his precious baby sister Rina, our mother, had married a werewolf, our father Lucas. Sure, it was taboo, especially for a nice woman from a powerful witch bloodline, but really now. Cursing your sister's children to immortality so you could torture them and watch as their mother suffered for their pain? That was just sick, in so many ways.
Dear Uncle Reginald's vendetta had since claimed both Lucas and Rina's lives, leaving me and Ezra as the last of our family. And being ageless and nigh-immortal, it seemed like we'd be around for some time yet. Provided our thrice-cursed uncle didn't find us first. I was pretty sure he'd find some sort of loophole that could enable him to slaughter us if he really put his mind to it, and as much as I hated my life I refused to meet my end at his hands.
I was startled from my reminiscing as Ezra thumped on the driver-side window. “You gonna sit in there all night or what?” he demanded, dangling the keys to the motel room.
“Hell, no.” I stuffed the album back into my bag and stepped out of the car, taking a deep breath of the fresh night air. “Which room are we in?”
“Twelve,” he replied, gesturing vaguely in what I assumed was the direction of our room. We'd begun staying in a single room together just a few weeks ago, when we'd finally realized that constantly moving + no consistent work = serious cash flow problems. Staying in one room instead of two was an easy thing we could do to save a little cash, and for the most part we could co-habitate easily. Being half werewolf tended to make tempers run a little high but we'd managed well-enough in the twenty-something years we'd been on the run together. I wasn't sure if we'd both stay in one piece if another few decades went by like this, but I tried not to dwell on such morbid things if I could help it. I was pushing forty, looked about twenty, had a psychotic uncle who wanted to torture and kill me, and had a loving twin brother in the exact same situation. Our lives sucked big-time, but it could be worse; I could be alone. But so long as I had my brother, everything would be fine.
We entered our motel room and after double and triple-checking to make sure all windows and doors were secure (there was no telling when one of Reginald's little murderers-for-hire would try to make a move), we collapsed into our beds and fell asleep.