“Why aren’t you getting ready?” Jason asked as he walked in the bedroom door.
My eyebrows rose. I was sitting on the bed, reading a book I’d found in the corner of my closet. The cover had been too mangled to read and the first few pages were ripped out, so I’d started about halfway through the first chapter. I hadn’t gotten that far into it before Jason came in.
“Ready for what?” I asked as he closed the door and strode toward the bathroom.
“The party,” Jason answered, sending me a confused look.
“What are you talking about?” I closed the book and turned to face him.
“You’re coming with,” he stated before ducking into the bathroom and flipping on the faucet. “I said we’re leaving at ten, and that’s in twenty minutes.”
“Since when am I coming with?” I questioned. “This whole week you’ve been going places without me; why would now be any different?”
“Because I say it is,” Jason said, sticking his head out of the bathroom. “Do you want to go, or not?”
“Of course I do,” I replied incredulously. “I just didn’t know.”
“Well,” he shrugged. “If you don’t want to wear pajamas to a party, you should change.” He went back into the bathroom and closed the door, leaving me sitting with the book in my lap.
For the past two weeks Jason had constantly been out, hardly leaving any time to even look at me. It felt odd not seeing him as often as usual, and it felt lonely. Something had changed in him since Leah had shown up, and it didn’t seem good. Distant was one of many words that came to mind. Other than Jason and Leo, there was no one in the house I really talked to, and since most everyone had been out on runs and doing other things, the house felt giant and I felt empty.
The only time Jason and I really spent together was in the morning, when he accidentally stirred me getting up to leave. I’d sit up and talk to him because I’d miss him during the day, and most of the time would fall asleep at night before he came back. The cycle didn’t feel right, and now that he was taking me to a party I should’ve been happy; instead I felt awkward, like I didn’t know how to talk to him. Thirteen days didn’t seem like much, but when you had nothing to do all day each hour felt like an eternity. Maybe I just wasn’t used to being away from Jason this much, but my reaction was scaring me — it was like I was going through withdrawal, sick from not getting the drug I needed.
I stood and walked to my closet, sighing as I ran over a rack of clothes with my hand. A coral shirt caught my eye and I tugged it down. Without waiting I pulled off my sweatshirt and slid the new one on. It was sleeveless, loose-fitting all the way down where the front ended at my hips and the back ended mid-thigh. I traded my sweatpants for dark leggings, then chose the black wedges I’d worn for the last party. Shaking out my hair, I decided it was okay as it was, natural waves flowing down my back.
Jason was digging in his closet for something as I came out of mine, stepping into the bathroom and reaching for my makeup. I’d mostly run out and would need to get more, but I used what little eyeliner and mascara I had left to go with a casual look in under five minutes. I pushed hair from my face, stepping back into the bedroom to find Jason striding to the door.
“Ready?” he asked. He wore black jeans and a gray jacket, his hair three weeks past needing a trim pushed up in the front.
I nodded, following after him out and downstairs. Xander, Blondie, Tyson, and Carter were all talking in the kitchen. When Xander caught sight of Jason and I, a glare glanced his features before he composed himself and told everyone else it was time to leave. I followed Jason into the garage, pretending I hadn’t seen Xander’s look, and gave a small thanks to Jason as he opened the passenger door for me. He jogged around to the driver’s side as the large doors rumbled open and everyone slid into their vehicles.
“Where’s Leo?” I asked, buckling my seatbelt as Jason backed out and drove down the driveway. I’d noticed his car wasn’t in the garage. Two vehicles followed behind us, one holding Blondie and Tyson, the other with Carter and Xander.
“He went ahead,” Jason answered shortly. “I wanted him to see who was there; scout out the place before we all throw ourselves into it.”
“He pulls a lot of weight around here,” I said absentmindedly.
I’d noticed Leo had been doing a considerably larger amount of grunt work than Tyson, who was the real newby. I understood the whole “trust” thing with him, but things like running out for more food, scouting a party, or even filling up someone’s car with fuel wasn’t something that needed a great amount of faith. A feeling I had told me this was their punishment for him for supposedly letting shady people slip through the doors at parties. It was hardly justifiable, and it frustrated me.
Jason shrugged at my comment, keeping his eyes on the road. “Someone has to do it.”
“Tyson?” I suggested innocently enough, crossing my legs and resting my elbow on the armrest.
“It doesn’t matter who does it,” he answered dismissively.
I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye. His impassive tone annoyed me, but I didn’t say anything more. At least when we weren’t talking Jason couldn’t brush me off.
Jason’s quick change had confused me, was still confusing me at that point. As far as I knew, I hadn’t done anything to make him angry or push him away. Nothing had felt right between us since the night he went to the hospital, and I found myself thinking — knowing — I would give anything to get back to what we had before.
I didn’t say anything the rest of the drive, silently hoping Jason would start a conversation. Needless to say I was disappointed when he didn’t. We spent thirty minutes with nothing but the sound of tires on pavement filling the truck’s cab, pulling in front of a house several miles outside Oakland just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore.
The property was three times the span needed for the house, which was even bigger than the one we were living in. People were streaming in and out the front double-doors, drinks in hand and some already stumbling drunk. Windows covered almost the entire first floor of the modern-looking structure, showing multicolored lights rotating around inside. The two levels above the first were marked in the middle with two balconies stacked on top of each other, giving the illusion of a small hotel. It was certainly big enough and looked extremely well-kept from the outside. I could only imagine what it looked like on the inside.
Jason took his keys out of the ignition and swung out of the truck. I moved to do the same, tugging on the passenger’s side handle. My forehead pulled together in confusion when nothing caught within the door and it remained shut. Checking that it wasn’t locked, I tried again. I received the same result and sat staring at it until Jason appeared in front of me. He pulled the door open and offered me his hand. I took it and dropped my feet to the lawn, giving him a confused look that he either didn’t see or ignored. Had Jason child-locked my door?
I didn’t get the chance to look before he slammed it and pressed the lock button on his key. I walked beside him through the grass and up to the door, blinking hard when he dropped my hand but relaxing a bit when I felt his arm ghost around my waist. Xander and Carter were ahead of us on the way in, and we ducked inside to be hit with loud music and the stench of marijuana. My nose wrinkled and I leaned closer to Jason, hoping to smell more of his cologne than the skunk-like scent.
Leo appeared from my right, surprising me. He gave me a small nod before turning to Jason. I scanned the main area as they talked over the music, marveling at the high ceilings and expensive furniture. A cuboid chandelier hung over our heads and modern paintings lined the cream walls. Beyond the expanse we stood in was an archway that supported a bridge-type walkway, and beyond that a wall of windows that looked out on a pond in the backyard. Several people stood over the archway, pouring bottles of vodka to their open-mouthed friends below.
“Uriah isn’t here, but that isn’t shocking,” Leo spoke loudly enough for me to hear. “He’d steer clear of these places because no one here is even close to being worth his time. The most intimidating guy in this house is on the third floor, last bedroom to the left. He has quite a bit of power in the area and has two guys standing outside the door.”
“Name?” Jason asked.
“Isaiah Nixon,” Leo answered.
“Anyone else worth talking to?”
“There’s a guy named Harrison French on the second floor. I’ve heard he has connections with a lot of suppliers in and around Oakland. He’s probably someone significant enough to at least have on your radar, especially when negotiating with other dealers.”
Jason nodded. “If you find anyone else worthwhile, find me right away. I’ll either be talking to Isaiah or Harrison.”
Leo disappeared back into the crowd. People were dancing even more sloppily than at Jason’s parties, most likely because Jason had a standing bring-your-own-beer rule. He wasn’t a fan of binge or habitual drinking, so there was scarcely a bottle of scotch, vodka, or beer in the house at any given time. No one wanted to buy enough cases to knock themselves out cold, so his parties were usually, but not always, tame in comparison to others.
“Come on,” Jason said, his palm pressed against the small of my back to guide me.
I walked alongside him through the archway and over to a staircase I hadn’t seen from the opposite side. It lead up to the bridge-walkway, connecting to another one with rooms on either wall. Jason didn’t hesitate in pushing past people, making his way to the door a young looking guy stood in front of. He looked only a little older than me, crossing his arms and puffing out his chest.
“We’re here to see Harrison,” Jason told him flatly.
“It only matters to relevant people.”
The guy looked him up and down, evaluating Jason’s intimidating posture. After two seconds his eyes flashed to me, then his hand found the door knob and he leaned inside. The music was too loud to hear what he said, but soon he stepped aside to let Jason and I through. Jason took the lead, letting his fingers drift to my elbow to still touch me as we entered.
The room was lit by a single fixture at the center of the ceiling, illuminating a large portion of the space. Directly under the light was a table meant for six, surrounded by four people. They were engaged in a game of poker, glancing nervously at the man sitting at the head. I took him to be the dealer, seeing that he wasn’t playing as the round progressed. Jason took me slowly over to their side, both of us watching carefully.
“Well,” the dealer said suddenly, looking up at us and smirking through his goatee. A dark beanie covered his shaggy hair, giving the illusion he was two years younger than he probably was. “McCann, is it? Lastings?”
How did he know who we were? If this was Harrison, I didn’t think Jason had ever met him before; I knew I certainly hadn’t. Maybe he knew my brother, but I highly doubted it considering Harrison was based up here. I tried not to show my surprise, leaning toward Jason. I was taken even more off-guard when Jason seemed to move away, leaving me to stand by myself. Shooting him a fleeting glance, I noticed he hadn’t taken his eyes from the man.
“I’m Harrison,” the man continued. “Although, if you did your research like I did, you’d already know that. Figured if Crowe showed up to the new kid’s first party, he was worth my attention.”
Jason remained calm through Harrison’s attempt at intimidation. “You’d be right.”
Harrison gave another smirk. “Buy-in is three grand.”
“I’m not here to play,” Jason replied automatically.
“Then you’re not here to talk.” Harrison’s eyebrows rose as a challenge. “And I was more talking to the two of you.”
Jason’s eyes narrowed the slightest bit. “I’ll play; she won’t.”
“She has a mouth of her own.”
“She’s not going to use it.”
“She has a name,” I shot at both of them.
Usually I wouldn’t have minded Jason speaking for me, especially in this situation, but the way he was going about it was incredibly annoying. Add in that he had barely spoken to me in two weeks even with the small fact I lived with him, and he hardly had the right to tell me, or anyone, that I wasn’t going to speak.
Harrison nodded, a satisfied look on his face. “Alright, then. Tell you what, McCann. You both play for free if Phoebe wants in.”
I snuck a look at Jason and tried not to tense at his hard stare. His eyes were beading straight back into mine, telling me I needed to shut up. If he had been anyone else, I would’ve ignored him completely and gone ahead and played; but this was Jason. I was treading on thin ice in his territory, being disrespectful to him in front of a man he needed to do business with. Everyone else in Jason’s house had to live in Oakland too, and I assumed no one wanted to be thought of as weak and taken advantage of on a daily basis. It didn’t matter whether or not I talked back to Jason behind closed doors, but now with spiked scotch already ticked off on his list of weaknesses he didn’t have room to be dissed by his girlfriend.
His girlfriend. I still hadn’t asked him about what, exactly, we were, nor had I had the courage. When I’d gone to visit him in the hospital, the title had felt like it fit. But with two weeks of almost no words shared between us, even the idea felt a little pushed.
I bit my lip. “Not much of a poker fan.” Jason turned his head slightly toward me, a question poised in his expression that I didn’t think anyone else would’ve been able to pick out.
“Come on,” Harrison pressed. The men all around the table were glancing nervously back and forth between their cards, Harrison, and Jason and I. “Have a little fun. It’s just a bit of money.”
Shaking my head, I shifted my weight away from Jason and onto my right hip. “No. Jason’s a better player than I am, anyway."
“Have it your way,” Harrison replied. “Make room for McCann.”
Two guys on the end of the table separated and another grabbed a folding chair leaning against the wall. Jason stepped forward and took it, shaking it out and sitting between the two who’d moved. A roll of cash was dug out of his pocket and tossed on the table.
“Five grand,” Jason grunted. “I’m feeling generous.”
I moved to stand behind Jason, my left hand on the back of his chair. He rubbed his palms together before receiving cards from Harrison, then proceeded to play. They went on for a few rounds until two of the four playing folded. Jason was left with one other guy, staring each other down from either side of the table while Harrison watched in amusement. Playing conservatively, it was another good five minutes before Harrison laid down the last card.
The guy opposite Jason smirked and laid down his hand. “A straight.”
Jason held a steady gaze, then put down his cards. “Flush.”
The man swore loudly, pushing back from the table as he saw the five cards marked with clubs lying on the table. Jason let the hint of a smile slip as Harrison clapped his hands together.
“I love running around with a smart kid,” he pointed his words toward Jason. “Played your bets right for the hand you had.” Harrison nodded at the three men in the room with us. “Why don’t you boys go wait outside.”
They left rather reluctantly as Harrison pushed three rolls of money toward Jason. Jason took them and stuffed the cash in his pocket, his eyes on the man across from him at all times. They watched each other for a long moment before Harrison glanced up at me.
“Got yourself a good one, McCann,” he said. “She’s patient, and knows how this game works.”
“Poker is simple,” Jason replied right away. My jaw clenched, but I didn’t say anything.
“That’s not the game I’m talking about,” Harrison answered, noticing my change in posture. “Lastings has more insight than I think you give her credit for. She’s watching out for you, and you sure as hell better count yourself lucky after that little trip you took down to the ER. Any other girl would’ve been out the door faster than you could’ve said anything, and it’s a good thing she stayed because she can read people well. I’m not surprised you brought her tonight, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you brought her to everything you go to.”
I couldn’t see Jason’s face, but I was fighting a small smile. It was flattering to hear someone — even Harrison — say something like that about me, especially to Jason. Chewing the inside of my cheek, I stopped myself saying anything about not really having a choice about staying, because I knew I would’ve anyway. On top of that, I was no negotiator, but at least I knew what to say and when — but most often, when not — to say something.
“Let’s go, Phoebe,” Jason suddenly said, standing from his chair abruptly. I backed away, giving him room to get out from where he was. He reached out and took my elbow, much harder than he had before and began tugging me to the door.
“I’m open for business anytime,” Harrison called after us. “Let me know when you’re ready to recognize potential. Then we’ll talk.”
Jason pushed out into the hallway, catching the first kid we’d seen off-guard. I tried not to let my thoughts fly as I fell into step beside Jason, his hand drifting to press against my back. The music seemed to have increased in volume, leaving no room to try to ask him a question. I simply walked with him back over the archway and up another flight of stairs, the rest of the party disappearing from sight as a hallway enveloped us.
Just like Leo had said, two guys were standing outside the last door on the left. It probably wasn’t a good idea for Jason to go in this fired up, especially with the chance he had of losing his temper so quickly in a new area, but we approached nonetheless. As we neared, the two guys shared a look before one went in, coming back out within five seconds and holding the door open for Jason and I. I thought for a moment this Isaiah person might know us as well, but didn’t have a chance to ask before I was pulled in.
This room was much like the first we’d seen, with the exception of the table. Instead, a simple two-man table was where a dark olive-skinned man sat, assessing us as Jason and I walked in. His arms were crossed as he waited, only saying something when Jason came to stand directly behind the empty chair with me beside him.
“Sit,” he said. “And welcome. I hope you’re enjoying my party.”
Jason paused only a second before lowering himself into the seat across from who I assumed was Isaiah. “Nice property out here.”
“Nice and spacious,” Isaiah nodded. “Plenty of room for business; which I assume is what you’re here to talk about.”
“I need an ally,” Jason responded, not leaving any time for questions. “It’s as simple as that.”
“What do you need me for? You already had Crowe in your door for a reason other than to kill you. From what I hear, you two go way back.”
“As strong as he is, Uriah is still only one person,” Jason pointed out. “It would be nice to have people everywhere, especially out here where business is smooth sailing. We could help each other out.”
“And how do you figure that? Last I heard, the new guy was on his way to the hospital for being dumb and drinking something he wasn’t supposed to. You could be a liability.”
Jason’s jaw clenched. “I’m not. Ask Uriah, if you really want proof. If I thought I would bring anyone down I wouldn’t have stepped through that door. I like being a burden about as much as I like being held back.”
Isaiah drummed his fingers on the table. “How many guys do you have?”
“Five,” Jason answered. His hands found the pockets of his jacket and shoved inside.
“Does that include her?”
“No. She has nothing to do with any of this.”
I wasn’t sure whether to feel flattered or annoyed that Jason wanted to keep me out of his life outside the house. It was a dangerous way of living for anyone, and I could understand not wanting to bring someone into it — but that took an amount of protectiveness to keep a person away from the kind of violence Jason dealt with. Was Jason protective of me? The thought sent a flutter through my stomach despite how much being babied could frustrate me.
“That’s fair,” Isaiah said with a nod. “But five doesn’t seem like a lot.”
“It’s enough,” Jason assured him. “We function fine, and near Poway we controlled a large part of the area. If you still think it’s too few, I am here to make ties. My five plus however many you have, and we’ll do more than just survive.”
“I would hope so. I survive fine by myself, let alone with another group to keep me company. More allies, more bodies to worry about than just mine.” Isaiah gave Jason a calculating look.
“We cooperate, not depend on others,” Jason said flatly, though I detected an underlying tone of defensiveness. He was worried about being seen as weak, and it was beginning to wear on him.
“That’s good to hear.” Isaiah leaned forward in his chair and stretched out his arm. “If Crowe wants you, I’d be a dumbass not to at least give you a shot.”
The corners of Jason’s mouth played at a sly grin. He took Isaiah’s hand and shook once before letting go and standing up. “I’ll send a guy your way in a few days.”
“Don’t bother,” Isaiah said sternly. “We’ll meet in the middle.”
He the listed off a location I’d never hope to remember. I assumed only someone who knew the area would know the place. They agreed to each send a guy Wednesday night, then brought their conversation to a close. I noticed Isaiah looking at me closer as I turned away, being lead by Jason’s palm on my back. Chewing the inside of my cheek, even with my back turned his stare made me uncomfortable. Jason and I were almost to the door when he spoke.
“You’re the Lastings girl?”
I stopped and turned. “Yeah.”
How did everyone seem to know who I was? Maybe these people knew my brother or Markus, or even Tyler, who as far as I knew had never been to Oakland. What if Jason wasn’t as little-known as he’d made himself out to be? I’d been happy to move somewhere that wouldn’t bring up the fact I’d more or less turned on my brother and boyfriend without them knowing, but I’d been reminded of them a lot at that point.
“It’s a shame, what happened,” Isaiah said, giving me a mostly neutral look. “One of my guys told me.”
My forehead pulled together in confusion while Jason began to pull me through the door. What was he talking about? Was it when Jason and his group had intruded into our house and took me captive? It seemed odd that he would bring it up, seeing as I was with Jason and not resisting. He could’ve been talking about Emmett being shot, but he had to have healed by now. Plus, with Jason in the room, would he even say anything like that so soon after shaking hands? It wasn’t hard to tell Jason had a short temper.
Before I could think anything more, Jason lead me out of the door and we were soon walking down the hall again. He seemed more calm than when we’d left Harrison’s room, but I knew underneath he tended to brood. It was better not to push him with questions, but eventually I wanted to talk to him — not just about the events of tonight, but everything in the past two weeks since the hospital. I wanted to know what was going through his head, and what he thought of this thing we were doing that seemed more like going in circles than being part of a relationship.
Two flights of stairs seemed to go by in a couple seconds, and in another few moments Jason and I came to a stop in front of Leo. He had a drink in his hand but hadn’t consumed any of it. I glanced around the main area and spotted Blondie in the far corner, talking and laughing with a group of girls. Carter was beside him looking a little unhappy; he was still torn up about his girlfriend, and I couldn’t imagine a time when the topic wouldn’t be sensitive.
“Anyone else?” Jason called over the music.
“No,” Leo shook his head. “All that’s left are plastered idiots. How did talking to Harrison go? I didn’t get much of a word on him.”
I saw Jason’s jaw tighten and sighed inaudibly. It was hardly fair that even the mention of a name could set him off, and I didn’t doubt he would be stirring in thought for at least the next twenty minutes. Leo wasn’t the one I should’ve blamed; really it was myself that had been at fault, saying anything at all in front of Harrison. If there was anything guys didn’t like, it was being told to realize their girl is better than them.
“We’re leaving now,” Jason told Leo. “I don’t want any of you back at the house until at least midnight. This is Isaiah’s party, and I want eyes and ears everywhere we can get them. I just talked to him, and at this point he’s more of a friend than an enemy.”
Leo nodded. “Got it.” He then stepped around us and headed into the crowd.
Jason didn’t say anything before dropping his hand to my elbow again, then proceeded to lead me out. I didn’t like being dragged around, but I knew better than to say anything while he was angry; especially around other people. The image this gave off was similar to that of a dog on a leash, which bothered me, but I could suffer through it knowing that most people in the house wouldn’t even remember where they’d been when they woke up.
A minute after talking to Leo, Jason and I swung into his truck and pulled off from the curb. I looked out the window for most of the drive, experiencing the same uncomfortable silence as on the way. My hands wrung together as he pulled into our neighborhood, and soon the driveway of where we lived. Again, I had to wait for Jason to pull open my door to get out. I tried to shoot him a look to get his attention, but he hardly seemed in the mood for talking. My fingers curled into fists and I followed him in the house.
The first place Jason turned when walking in was toward the stairs, and I followed. He seemed hurried, almost as if he was trying to get away from me. My bottom lip was taken between my teeth as we stepped into his bedroom. I kicked off my heels and shoved them into my closet while he shed his jacket and strode out of sight. Comfortable in what I had on, I sat down on the bed and waited for him to reappear. He came out in black sweatpants and a gray t-shirt, hands shoved in his pockets. I waited a few seconds before opening my mouth.
“Jason,” I said quietly. When he didn’t turn, I said his name again in case he hadn’t heard. I knew after his name left my mouth for the third time that he was ignoring me. “Dammit, Jason! Can we just talk?”
“About what?” he shot back, turning toward me. His whole body seemed tense as we held stares. Jason had been pacing at the end of the bed while I leaned against the headboard, trying to get his attention.
“I don’t know,” I said incredulously. “Anything? We haven’t talked in two weeks.”
“We’re talking right now.”
“This isn’t talking.”
“What is talking then?” he pressed, not really searching for an answer.
“A conversation,” my forehead pulled together. “One where you’re not acting like I’m burdening you just by being in your presence.”
“You’re going to have to come back later, if that’s what you want,” Jason bit back.
My jaw went slack. “What the hell? Is there something I did, because I can’t remember. All I know is that bitch Leah waltzes in and our whole world flips upside down! Where have you been all day? Why can’t you just sit and talk to me for ten minutes without being interrupted?”
“It doesn’t matter where I’ve been,” Jason said, avoiding all of my other questions. “Leah has nothing to do with this.”
“What even is ‘this’?” I shot. “Please, tell me, because I have yet to figure it out.”
“Why can’t you just keep to yourself for once!” Jason suddenly barked. “You’re not making this any easier for me!”
“What am I not making easier? I can’t do anything about it if you don’t tell me what I’m doing wrong, Jason.” I stood up from the bed, meaning to go stand in front of him, but he turned and walked toward the doors to the balcony. “What do you want me to do?”
“I don’t want you to do anything,” he turned, sending me a look that made my chest pang with hurt.
“That makes no sense! I sure as hell don’t want to live — sleep in the same bed — with someone who doesn’t even spare two minutes to talk to me. Do you just not feel like I’m good enough anymore?”
“No,” Jason brushed me off, turning away. “That’s not it.”
“Are you sure?” I laughed bitterly. “Because everything that’s happened tonight has told me otherwise. You see me as weak, don’t you? First you won’t let me play poker, next you’re saying I’m simple-minded to Harrison, and then you say I have nothing to do with your group!”
“I don’t see you as weak.”
“So then is this about trust? I think we covered the whole ‘trust’ thing when I didn’t bolt when I had the chance.”
Jason seemed to hesitate. “It’s not that.”
“Really? You put a fucking child lock on my door. Really mature of you, I’d say.” He looked away and I let out another hoarse chuckle. “That’s what it is, isn’t it? I don’t know how the hell you figure I don’t deserve your trust. I had the power in my hands to kill every single one of you, but I chose to stay! God, what an idiot I was, thinking I’d be better off here than somewhere no one texted me back.”
Jason spun. “What did you just say?”
I closed my eyes briefly, taking a deep breath as I realized I’d just let him know I’d found his old hiding spot in Poway. “The important thing is that I didn’t kill you when I had the chance. If that doesn’t scream trustworthy, after everything you’ve done to me and the people I love, then I don’t know how I’ll ever get through to you.”
“I do trust you!” Jason shouted, taking a step toward me. “Why do you think I’ve been taking you places now? Why do you think I leave you alone here? If I didn’t trust you, I never would’ve brought you in to talk to Harrison or Isaiah.”
I was caught between my heart swelling and someone throwing a dagger into my side. Jason was hiding the reason he’d been so distant, and I wanted to know why. It couldn’t have been so bad that he couldn’t tell me. I hadn’t done anything… had I? My temper started to rise, angry at myself for both causing a problem and being so effected by Jason. Why was I letting him control my emotions like this?
“Then what?” I yelled. “Just talk to me!”
“Why do you care?”
My mouth dropped open. “Did you seriously just ask that? I have to live with you Jason, apparently whether I like it or not! I’d at least like to enjoy what little I can from this actually miserable situation you brought me into over two months ago. Two months; that’s how long I’ve been in your house, been sleeping in your bed; and you can’t tell me why you’re not speaking to me?”
“What is this really about?” Jason narrowed his eyes, trying to assess me.
“You tell me! I can’t even start a conversation with you anymore because I don’t know how. What changed in two weeks? We went from wanting to be as close as physically possible to hardly even looking at each other overnight.” My blood was beginning to boil with a newly found anger I didn’t know I had. “Do I even want to know what I did?”
“You didn’t do anything,” Jason said evenly, moving to turn away. I saw his chest fill with air. “Dammit, Phoebe why do you even care? You’re so fucking suffocating!”
My chest constricted. The last thing I ever wanted to be for anyone was overbearing and annoying. “Than tell me how to fix it!”
Jason threw his hands in the air. “Jesus, why are you always trying to fucking help?”
“Maybe it’s because I fucking love you!”
The room went deafeningly silent.
What had I just said? Had it been the words I’d been dreading since that night in the hospital? Had it been what I was trying to deny, but could never come up with a good reason as to why? Had it been what I hadn’t even admitted to myself?
The answer was yes. I’d just told Jason McCann, my enemy by nature, that I loved him.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, horrified at what had just come from my mouth.
Suddenly I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Hands shaking, I backed away, moving toward the door. Jason hadn’t said anything, hadn’t moved from his spot until my hand was on the doorknob. When he turned I sucked in a sharp breath, throwing myself into the hall before he could move toward me. Everything around me was getting tighter and I was panting. I had to get out of the small hallway, but couldn’t think of anywhere to go. I wouldn’t make it far if I tried to leave the house, and the last thing I wanted was to be caught in someone else’s room. My head turned to the side and landed on a door to my right, resting against the far wall. Before I could think twice I scrambled for it, wanting distance between everything and everyone right then.
It was the room Jason had offered me our first day here; the room I should’ve taken when it came up. If I had, maybe none of this ever would’ve happened. I wouldn’t have continued sleeping with Jason, wouldn’t have stayed up just to watch him doze off, wouldn’t have had the guilty pleasure of waking up beside him every morning. All of those things had brought me dangerously closer to him. I’d admitted it to myself the same time Jason had heard it — I loved him.
It must’ve been some cruel joke, falling for my enemy and captor despite my amazing boyfriend back home. I leaned against the door after slamming it shut, sinking to the floor in a ball. I tried to think of Tyler, feel something by just picturing him, but the sensation never came. I’d convinced myself Tyler was too familiar to love, that Jason was new and exciting, but I’d failed to look ahead. Predicting this would’ve been impossible; letting the confession slip so easily in the heat of the moment, fighting with him for not speaking like a couple should. Hell, I didn’t even know if that’s what we were. For all I knew, the reason he’d been gone for the last two weeks was because he was screwing another girl.
The thought hurt me more than it should’ve. Jason never specified anything, but I guessed I’d just assumed… It was rash of me, and never should’ve happened in the first place. This had started when I’d tried to gamble my way out. I should’ve just stayed in the basement, only coming up when I needed something. For all I knew, Jason might’ve gotten bored with me and just let me go. I was an idiot, and my feelings for him couldn’t be undone.
What hurt me the most wasn’t having to admit to myself I was in love with Jason and an idiot for it; what hurt was that he hadn’t said anything, hadn’t even moved until I’d fumbled with the doorknob in an attempt to get away from him, from the situation I’d caused. Did that mean anything? It could’ve meant a thousand things; that he didn’t love me in return, that he was shocked, that he wanted me away from him. With everything that’d happened, I honestly didn’t know whether he still wanted me at the house. I was trouble enough, and that had shown tonight. But where would I go? Home, to where no one had tried to get me back from Jason? It would be embarrassing, trying to put on a smile when I knew I wasn’t valuable enough to get back. Here, without Jason, I knew no one and had no money. I’d be hung totally out to dry.
I began to breathe harder, wrapping my arms around myself as I brought my knees to my chest. Why did I let him have this power over me? The only place I was bound to end up was here, heart aching and trying not to hyperventilate when I realized he didn’t share the same feelings. The space between us felt endless. Maybe I would rather go back to Poway, live there where my brother had to love me instead of here where the humiliation of my confession would hang over my head; but the thought of leaving him sent an even more painful stab through me.
I don’t know how long I sat there in the dark, having forgotten to flip the light on before falling into a pit of my own thoughts. My legs had fallen asleep from being pulled so tightly to my body and my head ached from thinking too much. I needed to change, bring a pillow in to sleep with in what I was going to call my room from then on. I couldn’t sleep in the same room with Jason, not after what I’d just said to him, not after knowing he didn’t want me anymore. To help myself sleep better, I stood and mustered up the courage to open the door.
The hallway was dark and empty and I couldn’t hear any noise coming from anywhere in the house. No light filtered from underneath Jason’s door, and I assumed he’d left to go somewhere I wasn’t. Telling myself this made me feel better, made me think I wouldn’t have to face the mortification of going back into his room after running out. I padded to the door softly, turning the knob before I could change my mind.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw Jason sprawled out on the bed, lying in the dark and staring blankly at the ceiling. Biting my lip, I averted my eyes and tried not to let my face show the stabbing pain in my torso. Striding into my closet, I ducked in and quickly pulled out sweatpants and a sweatshirt. Not wanting to be in here any longer than necessary, I tucked them under my arm with the intent of changing in my room. I shut off the closet light and stepped out.
I let out a yelp and dropped my clothes as Jason suddenly appeared in front of me, gripping my shoulders and shoving me up against the wall. My mouth fell open and I stared into his dark eyes, heart pounding too hard in my chest. Another cry escaped my throat as his unreadable expression disappeared from my sight, his lips pressing roughly against my neck as his fingers pressed into my sides.
“I’ve been out,” he mumbled against my skin.
“What?” I gasped, stunned.
“I’ve been out all day trying to avoid you,” Jason continued. “I was letting my guard down repeatedly, and I let Xander convince me it was because of you. I thought if I could get away — put some distance between us — I could get my head on straight again.”
“What are you–“
I was interrupted by his mouth, pressed flush to mine. When Jason pulled away a strangled noise escaped my throat. I was desperate for his touch after missing it for so long.
“Shut up and listen to me,” Jason instructed, holding my waist tighter and teasing my shirt up.
“When Harrison was talking about you like that,” he continued, “I wasn’t angry because I didn’t already know. I was angry because I did know, and I was trying to tell myself it wasn’t true. But the truth is that I have an amazing girl.”
I sucked in a sharp breath as his teeth grazed my collar bone before he pulled my shirt over my head. Goosebumps were raised all over my bare skin, back pressed to the cold wall as Jason pushed himself closer.
“I put the lock on your door because I want you to need me. It’s stupid, but I know without me you’d be just fine. I wanted to feel like I could do something, even though you’re perfectly capable. I need you to need me.”
His hands slipped under my thighs and pulled my legs to wrap around his waist. Our chests were pressed against each other and my mouth formed an “O” as he sucked hard against my neck.
“I didn’t want you to play poker because I didn’t want to bring you into any kind of game Harrison might’ve played,” Jason mumbled against my skin. “The last thing I want is for you to get hurt. And why can’t you help in making this easier for me? Because making this any easier would mean you leaving; and I couldn’t stand that.”
“Let me finish,” he interrupted. He reached down for my hand and guided it to the back of his neck. I tugged on the hair at his nape as he tipped his lips up to kiss me. “Most of all, I’ve been angry with myself and taking it out on you. I’m angry that I forced you to leave your home; I’m angry that I didn’t stop there, and forced you to stay in my room; I’m angry that I let it get this far, that I don’t want to go back. I wanted you initially because I was selfish and couldn’t resist a beautiful girl; and I still want you, but for more than just that. I want you because you can make me smile without trying; because you ask about my life while no one else cares; because even when I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”
Jason kissed me again, softer this time. I let myself linger on his mouth, trying to savor his taste while I could. My head was spinning and I didn’t know what was happening, other than that his words sent wave after wave of butterflies through my stomach and caused my heart to swell.
“Now that I finally know what the hell is going on, I think I can finally focus again,” Jason said. “I was afraid to say anything, to even think about it; but Phoebe… I think I love you too.”
After what felt like forever, Jason’s lips ground into mine and everything seemed to fall into place.
Sorry for condensed text at the top, it exceeded the chapter space limit :D
Sooooo... Thoughts?? Took twenty-five chapters, but hey. They love each other.
Cheers to one year! A little bit longer chapter than usual in honor of the anniversary, and I hope it made your day a little bit better.
Side note: The Kim K game is ruining my life. And my family just got a PS4, so I've been obsessed with Infamous: Second Son since Christmas. So that's what I've been doing.
Another side note: Only about four more chapters left of this story... Oops. Lots of stuff goes down, and I hope you're prepared. And if you want... there will be a sequel :)
Please leave a comment, because I am curious as to what you think about really anything so far. Love hearing from you all!
Here's to the coming New Year! Next update will be in 2015!