Love Me Never

Page 29


She flushes. “Thank you. I started taking classes a month ago. I like them, but I dropped out because all the teacher wanted me to paint were ugly, soulless little watercolor landscapes. No feeling! No passion!”
“Horses have tons of passion. Like, seventeen whole passions.”
“Exactly!” She claps. “You understand. It’s more fun to paint them than a bunch of boring trees.”
A tiny whirling dervish of canine madness streaks into the kitchen, making soft ‘whoof’ noises at me and wagging his tail. He’s pitch black, with cute button eyes and a damp nose he mashes against my ankle in an attempt to either gauge how long it would take for him to chew through my Achilles heel, or to discern what other dogs I’d passed in the street in the last seventeen years of my life.
“Darth! Down!” Mrs. Hunter snaps. The dog obediently wags its butt hard and jumps on the barstool next to me. Mrs. Hunter grabs a dishrag and whips it at him, and he jumps off and excitedly barks before doing several determined laps around the kitchen for no apparent reason.
“He’s so cute,” I say. “Darth is his name?”
“Short for Darth Vader. I mean, he’s all black, I’d just seen The Return of the Jedi, it made perfect sense at the time!”
“It’s way better than Fluffy.”
“Exactly!” She smiles. “He’s a mutt. Half Yorkshire Terrier and half sugar high chipmunk.”
The kettle dings, and Mrs. Hunter pours two cups of tea, and slides one to me.
“Your kitchen is amazing. The whole house is,” I try. She sips and smiles.
“You think? Truth be told I don’t use the kitchen much – it’s Jack who does most of the cooking. I just burn things and get paint everywhere. It makes him so mad.”
She laughs, and I laugh trying to imagine Jack’s screwed-up, exasperated face as he cleans paint off the counters. I burn to ask her a bunch of questions about Jack – here she is, the woman who bore him for nine months and put up with his crap for sixteen more years. She knows everything about him, I bet – how often he wet himself, what he was afraid of as a kid, what stupid-looking costumes she forced him into for Halloween. She probably knows about Sophia, too. My fingers twitch around my cup. Shut up, reflexes. This is no time to act up. Keep those wanton desires for knowledge inside, where she can’t see.
“So you and Jack must be friends, then?” Mrs. Hunter clears her throat. Darth Vader, finally exhausted by his valiant efforts, plops down at her feet.
“Ah…hahaha.” I smile. “Not exactly.”
She nods sympathetically. “I understand. He’s really hard to get along with, very withdrawn, a little snappish sometimes. He wasn’t always like that, but somewhere around middle school he started changing. Hormones, I guess. And without a father –”
She cuts off, staring at a space over my shoulder for a few moments. She shakes her head and sighs.
“I’m sorry. I’m babbling.”
“No, it’s okay,” I rush to say. “I mean, it’s not okay he doesn’t have a dad, or that your husband died, I mean, uh, crap.”
“It’s alright,” she chuckles. “No need to be careful on my part. I miss Oliver, god knows I do. But after seventeen years, I can say his name without breaking down. That’s an improvement, right?”
“Definitely.” I nod. “I’ve…I’ve got someone like that too. Someone whose name I can’t say.”
“Oh, honey, I’m sorry. What idiot boy would purposefully break your pretty heart like that? One who doesn’t deserve you, that’s who.”
I pull my sleeve down over my arm, and force a small smile. Pretty. She said it so off-handedly, like it was true. But it’s not. Of course it’s not.
“I have to use the restroom,” I start. “Do you know where –”
“Oh! Sure.” She gets out of her chair and gestures. “Right down the hall, through the living room, and to your left.”
“When you get back, let’s open this bag of Milanos! You like cookies, right?”
“I never want to meet the person who doesn’t!”
She smiles, and I trot down the hall, making a show of walking with loud footsteps so she thinks I’ve gone down it all the way. I climb the stairs as silently as I can, and inch the second right door open, sliding through when it’s just big enough to accommodate my fat butt.
Jack’s room is dim. The walls are painted dark blue, and dark blue curtains hang over the massive windows. The carpet is black, and the bed is king-sized and done neatly in all blue, too. But the blueness isn’t what weirds me out – it’s how clean it is. There’s not a single piece of dirty laundry lying around. His desk is organized neatly – pencils in a cup. His bookshelf isn’t alphabetical, but there are tons of impressive books on it; classics, some manga, and a small section of books fitted with paper-bag book covers. I pull the cover off one and snigger. Romance. He’s got a little section dedicated to it, and probably covered them so his mother wouldn’t see them. They must be Sophia’s favorites. There’s a TV and a Playstation 4 in the corner, and an Xbox. His computer is a laptop, and it’s sitting on his bed as if he just closed it to leave.
And the smell of him is everywhere.
It’s the smell of sleeping and studying and reading, of skin cells and rumpled clothes, of being a teenage boy but being a weird, clean one, who bathes with a particular type of soap and uses a particular cologne made of mint and honey that overlays his sweat. I don’t even know if it is cologne, anymore. It might just be how he smells, naturally. But it’s everywhere, and it’s intoxicating. My hands are sweating more and more with every inhale. It’s toying with my nerves – I feel like any second I’ll turn around and he’ll be standing there, glowering and plotting my ultimate demise.
I wonder if his mom knows what he does for a job? And why does he need to be an escort at all when his Mom is this loaded? It doesn’t make sense. Even if he wanted to have his own savings, which I respect, he could just get a normal part-time job like the rest of us. He didn’t have to go straight to escorting. With his looks, anybody would hire him. He could model! He could act! He could sell chicken wings and rake in the dough as ladies flocked to the counter daily just to see his face. Why escorting?
I shove the confusion into the time-out corner of my brain. You are being incredibly risky, Isis. You are asking big huge why questions while in the heart of enemy territory and last time I checked that gets people shot and killed. You’re the general! The war depends entirely on you! If you’re captured, it’s over!
Determined, I clench my fist and look around the room. Avery said it would be somewhere obvious, but still hidden. Thanks, Ave. That is basically extremely useful advice. I check under the bed, in the desk drawers, in his closet. Nothing. I’m running out of time. If I don’t get back downstairs quick, Mrs. Hunter will know something’s up and come looking for me. There’s only one place left – his dresser. I inch the drawers open and rummage through all of them. Except the underwear drawer. That thing can go to hell. At least he doesn’t fold his clothes precisely, because frankly the serial killer level of this room doesn’t need any further reason to go up.