Love Me Never

Page 28


“Yes –”
“What am I saying, of course you are, you’re ugly. Bring some unfinished homework from one of those classes.”
And that’s the story of how I was recruited to become a cat burglar by Satan.
Jack’s house is fancy and huge – a gravel roundabout at the front cleaving the verdant front lawn in two. Rose bushes and massive lilies and apple trees crowd around the house. A hummingbird feeder glows red with sugar-juice as tiny jewel-toned birds flit around, sipping nectar. A gardener waters the roses carefully, his curly-haired head bobbing as he nods at each one, satisfied they’re growing well. I park across the street like Avery tells me to. She grabs both sides of my face and forces me to look at her.
“Pay attention, fat girl.”
“Paying a thousand attentions,” I squeak.
“You are Jack’s project partner for AP Bio. You’ve brought stuff to work on with him. He’s not there right now, and I know this for a fact, because he’s visiting Sophia. His mother is disgustingly sweet. She’ll let you in with no problem. Ask for the bathroom. Go upstairs and enter the second door on your right.”
“I’m gonna puke.”
“Save it for when you get out of the house!” Avery snaps, and lets my face go. “It’s just Jack’s mom, and his room. It’s not him. I’ll keep watch. If he comes home early, I’ll text you, so put it on vibrate and get the hell out of there if you feel it go off. If he catches you snooping around…” Avery shudders. “What he did with your butt crack picture will look nice in comparison. Got it?”
“Got it!” I salute.
“What are you looking for?” She quizzes me.
“A cigar box of letters.”
“And which letter will you take?”
“The most recent one.”
“And what will you do when you get it?”
“Get the hell out of the house and definitely never open the letter even a centimeter.”
“Alright. Do this, and we’re even, you hear me? I don’t talk about you stealing, and you don’t talk about me going to the shrink’s.”
“That sounds fantastically equal and all, but you’re forgetting the slight problem of he’ll notice a letter is missing because he isn’t dead-ass blind and he’ll ask his mom and he’ll know it’s me and then I’ll get maimed.”
Avery’s frown deepens. She pulls her red hair back and puts it up in a messy ponytail.
“I don’t care,” she finally says.
“I care extremely a lot!”
“I’m not gonna risk his wrath. But you’re already risking his wrath with this stupid war you two have going on, okay? I need to know what’s in the letter, do you understand? If I don’t find out –”
Avery squeezes her doll-like eyes shut.
“Sophia doesn’t talk to me anymore, or let me see her. It’s my fault. What happened back then was my fault, and Jack cleaned it up, okay? But she blames me. And she’s right – I deserve the blame. I was a stupid, mean kid and I did something I regret. I’ve been working for years on apologizing. Years, fat girl. Five f**king years to work up the guts to say sorry. But if I don’t see what’s in that letter, I might never get the chance to.”
I watch her face carefully. She’s not lying. For once her expression is something other than disgusted – it’s pained. A torrent of emotion is warring in her, and it hurts like hell. I know the feeling.
I get out of the car and shut the door behind me.
The Hunters’ gate is intimidating – all wrought iron curves and curlicues painted a fresh white – but it’s open. I stride up the driveway and smile at the gardener, who tips his hat to me. I ascend the steps and ring the doorbell, and a woman in a canary-yellow sundress answers. She’s so beautiful I’m struck dumb for approximately point five seconds – her hair is soft and tawny, kept short and bobbed. She’s maybe forty, with a brilliant smile and delicate ivory skin. She’s holding a glass of dirty water in one hand and a dripping paintbrush in the other. Her eyes are the same almond-shaped, piercing, lake-ice blues as Jack’s, but hers are joyous, whereas Jack’s are always dimmed by boredom.
“Hi! How can I help you?” She beams, slopping a bit of water as she balances the door open with one foot. Her socks are rainbow-striped, and it somehow puts me more at ease.
“Uh, hi, Mrs. Hunter? I’m Jack’s lab partner in Bio, Isis Blake. We were supposed to work on a project together today?” I brandish the papers. Her face falls.
“Oh, horseshit! I-I mean, darn!” She corrects herself quickly. “You know what? Jack left a while ago, but he’ll be back soon. Why don’t you come in and have some tea. Do you like tea? Or are you a coffee person? I can make coffee, just be warned it tastes like ass and looks like ass – I mean, butt.”
She struggles to hold open the door, and I open it for her. She smiles.
“Thanks. Come on in!”
I can’t help the whistle that escapes my lips when I see the foyer. A massive flight of stairs leads up, the carpets are rich and red and probably Turkish, not the Turkey kind, but the country kind, because turkeys can’t make rugs and there are hardwood floors and huge French windows letting in light and everything smells like lavender and is that a picture of Jack in his diapers oh my god he looks like a fat little Buddha –
“He looks like a fat monk,” Mrs. Hunter says, hovering over my shoulder.
“I was – I was just thinking that!” I say. “Like a Buddha, or something!”
“I used to call him all sorts of horrible names,” she sighs. “He was too young to understand them, of course, and I was so sleep deprived because of his crying I was ready to strangle someone, so instead of committing homicide I’d threaten him in a sickly sweet voice and he’d just smile and coo at me. Horrible of me, I know. Maybe that’s why he’s turned out the way he is.”
“Weird?” I offer.
“Oh, definitely weird.” Her eyes twinkle as she leads me into the airy, bright kitchen. “He was such a happy baby. But I worry, now. He’s become mostly just sad.”
She shakes her head as if to clear it and fills a kettle with water. “Is mint tea okay?”
“Yeah.” I settle on a barstool. “I mean, I don’t want to intrude, you seemed really busy -”
Mrs. Hunter laughs. “Busy? Not to brag, but I can afford to never be busy, ever. Though I admit, I miss the office sometimes.”
She places the paintbrush and the water down, and it’s then I notice the canvas in the room, facing some windows. Paints smear over a pallet, dozens of paintbrushes sticking up here and there in jars of half-dirty water. The painting itself is pretty – a horse of some kind. Mrs. Hunter rushes over to it and turns the canvas around.
“Oh no, no, no! It’s not finished yet! You can’t look.”
“Right, sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry. It’s me – I have this stupid thing where I get nervous when people see my unfinished works. Not that they’ll be any good when they’re finished, either.”
“That one was beautiful, though.”