Love Me Never

Page 30


And that’s when I find it. Mashed behind a bunch of shirts is a hard wooden box. I pull it out, the sweet smell of tobacco wafting up from the intricately carved Cuban cigar box. It was his father’s, or so Avery said. I briefly wonder how she knows so much about Jack when they don’t speak at all. They obviously knew each other in the past, but how well? Probably very well.
Whatever he did must have been unforgiveable, if Avery and Wren are so afraid of him, now.
I shake that thought out for the millionth time and open the box. Inside is a stack of carefully-arranged letters, each on the same pink stationary with clouds around the edges. I take the topmost; open it slightly to check the date to make sure it’s the most recent. It is. I shove the box back behind the shirts and hesitate before closing the drawer. Who even writes letters in this day and age? It’s so old fashioned and, as much as I hate to admit it, romantic. Finally, I have something from Sophia in my hands. The illusive, mysterious Sophia is right here, waiting for me to read her words. It would be so easy to just pry the letter open a little. Just one sentence. One sentence never killed anybody. Except it has, probably, somewhere down the line of thousands of years of human existence, but like hell that’s gonna stop me.
The handwriting is curly, elegant, and very girly.
Dear Jack,
Can you believe it’s October already? I put up a string of orange Christmas lights and paper bats over my bed. You’ll see it when you come next time – it’s really getting me into the spooky vibe. The nurses are saying we’ll carve a pumpkin and put it on my windowsill. I’m going to give it a fu manchu mustache and call it Mr. Miyagi. Or I’ll make it Hello Kitty. Which do you think would scare more people on the street below?
I’m doing well! Dr. Fenwall thinks I’ll be well enough for a day out after my next round of treatments. We should go somewhere you want to go, this time. And don’t argue! I dragged you to the carnival last time and I know you hate it so you can drag me wherever you want and I won’t complain at all! Promise. Okay, maybe a little whining. But only when my feet start to hurt or I see something cute I want. ;)
She really is sick. But she sounds so cheerful and sweet, I can’t help but like her already. And Jack at a carnival? I can only imagine the intensity of his glares whenever someone would try to offer him cotton candy or pull him into a game of ring toss. And on the ferris wheel? I scoff. He’d be bored the whole way through. He’s a party pooper like that. But even still, Sophia seems to really like him. She sees beyond it, somehow.
I know you’ve been feeling down lately and working extra hard for me, but don’t worry. Dr. Fenwall says he’s talked with the billing department, and they’ve got a grant just for people like me. So, it’s okay if you don’t work for a while. I’ll apply to it, and I know I’ll get it. That way you can just relax and have fun instead of worrying all the time.
I munch my bottom lip. Working? Is that why…is that why he works as an escort? To pay her hospital bills? Can’t her parents pay them? Does she have parents at all?
Anyway, I’m so happy to hear about the new girl. Isis, you said her name was? I know, I know, you hate her and you can’t see why hearing about her makes me so happy, but I am!
My heart jigs around in my chest. She’s talking about me!
But Jack, really. When was the last time someone affected you like this? You never talk about your classmates. She’s the first one you’ve mentioned to me. She must have made quite the impact on you. She sounds like so much fun. I’m so, so happy you’ve met your match. Yes, you heard me. Match. She’s kicking your butt, and you better step up if you want to win!
That’s why I’m happy. You have someone to fight against, and I know how happy that makes you, in a weird, competitive, perverse way. You always used to complain about how everyone at your school was so stupid and boring. You don’t have many friends. And I prayed everyday you’d find someone who’d give you a run for your money, who’d make you feel alive again, who might pique your interest enough for you to become friends. Well! There she is! You can thank me later. You’ll let me meet her, won’t you? I’d really like that.
Anyway, I better finish this and send it off. Nurse Brown poked her head into my room and caught me writing this at four in the morning. Heehee.
I love you like a brother, Jack. You know that. I miss you every day. You know that too.
I close the letter and wince. I feel like I’ve violated some sacred barrier by reading it now that I’ve finished it. I have to get back downstairs and leave. Holding this thing in my hand is making a sick guilty feeling pool in my stomach with every passing second.
I whirl around and collide with someone’s hard chest. Frigid blue eyes blaze with the coldest fire I have ever seen, the face they belong to carved in shadow and rage.
I squeak and shield myself. “Leave a pretty body for my mom.”
3 Years
17 Weeks
4 Days
I know two things for certain.
1. I’m not going to escape this house alive. I have good reason to believe this. Predominantly, the way Jack Hunter has been handling a butcher knife for over fifteen minutes.
2. I smell like dog poop. Possibly because as Jack marched me into the kitchen and sat me down, Darth Vader pooped on me. But not before I tied a ribbon to its tail. The savage sith lord is currently chasing himself in endless circles in the hall. I snicker.
Jack hasn’t said a word since he caught me in his room. He instantly plucked the letter from my hands, grabbed my wrist, and marched me down here and told me not to move or speak. Feeling all kinds of hells guilty, I do neither, and simply watch him mess about in the kitchen with cold, precise movements.
Jack cuts mushrooms and asparagus with practiced ease. He’s already chopped some beef and seared it with a delicious-smelling sweet soy sauce. He throws the vegetables in, and begins chopping bean sprouts and red bell pepper. When Jack’s back is turned, I grab a pepper piece and munch, then make a face and put it back. Jack absently grabs the same piece, not knowing I’ve bitten it, and bites the same end, chewing thoughtfully as if to gauge the taste.
“Ew, gross!” I say. “Now your germs and my germs are fraternizing and making germy little babies!”
He glares at me. I weigh the pros and cons of an early death and shut my mouth.
“Did you want jasmine rice or white rice, Jack?” Mrs. Hunter’s voice stabs through the tension in the kitchen as she walks in with two bags of rice, one in each arm. She sees me, and smiles.
“Oh! Hi Isis. Are you joining us for lunch?”
I shoot a look at Jack, who coolly ignores me and chooses the jasmine rice bag.
“Uh, yes? Provided I won’t be taken out back and shot afterwards?”
Mrs. Hunter laughs and settles beside me, and Jack just dumps the rice into the rice cooker on the counter.
“How was Sophia?” She asks her son.
“Fine,” He says tersely. “They’ve decorated for Halloween.”
“You should make her that pumpkin pudding you made last year. She’d love it.”
Jack’s hand goes still as he flips the stir-fry. It’s a quick-stutter stop motion, but he continues when the meat starts to burn.