The youngest woman smiled first. Up close, I realized she was barely older than me - maybe 21 or so. Her hair was light brown and straight, and she had a soft, freckled face.
"Sit down, James, and don't look so nervous."
I sat down in the sofa, Patrick joining me. I pushed my bags to the side and tried to sit up straight and not hunch my shoulders.
"I'm Jules," said the young woman.
"Diane," said the other woman. She was perhaps in her late fifties, with light grey hair pulled back into a bun.
The man next to her was roughly the same age, with thinning white hair. "Harry," he introduced himself. Neither of them smiled.
"You're well-known here, James," said Patrick. "We've been anticipating your arrival ever since you and Imogen got in contact with me."
"Some of us have," murmured Diane. Jules threw her a sour glare.
"Of course we've all been looking forward to you arriving. I, for one, think we've so much to learn from a young man like yourself. We need some youngsters who'll keep the Order going, after the older ones have need to retire." She pointedly glanced at Diane and Harry.
"I'm sure you all have much more you can teach me," I said. "That is, if you'll have me," I added quickly, feeling my face flush.
"Wise, that 'if'. Don't think you automatically have a membership because of where you come from, James." Diane's dagger-eyes stared me down. "That's not how we work. We work with those who will be of benefit to the Order. We're not a school for ignorant teenagers."
I shook my head. "I completely understand. And I'm very grateful for this opportunity." I paused. "But... Excuse me, what did you mean when you said 'where I come from'?"
Diane, Jules and Harry all looked instantly at Patrick - and i did too.
"You didn't tell him yet," Diane muttered.
I wanted to ask what Patrick hadn't told me, but my throat had closed up.
"Patrick," Jules spat, shaking her head in disgust. "I told you he didn't know who he was - Imogen told me. I told you how you should tell him. Why didn't you?"
"Watch it, Julianne. Don't forget whose superior is who."
Jules looked ready to exlpode as she sat back and folded her arms.
"What's going on?" I asked.
Patrick opened his mouth, but Diane cut over him. "Your mother was a member of the Order."
At her words, I felt sick, partly with anxiousness for the subject of my estranged mother, partly with excitement - I had never even considered ever finding my parents. If I had a lead on where I might find her... My head spun with deliria at the thoughts.
"An impressive one, at that," added Harry. "She may even have been one of the most talented Trackers I've ever worked with."
"She was still in the Order when she became pregnant with you, James," added Jules.
Something was deeply worrying me. I looked directlt at Jules - she was the one that made me feel most at ease.
"Why are you..? Is... Is my mother retired from the Order?"
Jules' eyes were watering now. "James -"
"Jim," I said. I'm not sure why i bothered telling her that then.
"Jim, she's not retired. Your mum is dead."
I sank back into the sofa. That couldn't be true. After so many years imagining what my mum would be like, she couldn't be dead... She had to exist.
"I'm so sorry, Jim," said Jules, leaning over the table and touching my leg.
"No. Don't be. It's fine." I was getting a splitting headache. "I'm just gonna get some air." I got up, pushed past Patrick, and bulleted toward the lobby doors.
I considered running. Running and calling Becca to come get me. I was happy with them, right? I had family. What did I have now? Nothing. Nothing but an ability that had so far in my life brought me nothing but pain and loss. I thought of Tracey, and almost cried. I thought of Sam, and punched a tree.