“Of course.” Shay’s voice was stable, while on the inside she was struggling to remain calm. “But do you mind if I sit down?”
Shay was about to sit on the floor when Jack ran over to grab the step ladder she and Sienna used to reach the higher shelves. He brought it over for her, and she situated herself on the top step. She crossed her legs and waited anxiously for him to proceed.
“God. Shay, I don’t know what to say. I’m such an idiot.”
“You’re not an idiot.”
“I am,” he insisted. “I thought I’d come up here and give this huge inspirational speech and you’d jump into my arms. But I don’t even know how to begin and now I’m babbling on and on, and I’m such an idiot. Don’t say I’m not because I am. And Shay . . . What’s happened to us?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, do you still want to be with me?”
“Of course!” Shay told him. “Things are just so difficult right now. Matt is de—gone. I’m not just going to get over that.”
“That doesn’t mean you need to push me away.”
Jack shook his head. “We used to be able to talk about anything, and now we don’t talk at all. I don’t know what to do.”
“Please don’t act like it’s your fault.”
He threw her a dry smile. “It’s not me, it’s you, right?”
“I thought you wanted to talk, but if you’re just going to make fun of me, I’m going to leave,” Shay threatened. She didn’t want to leave, but she didn’t want him to mock her and make her feel guilty either.
“I’m sorry. Making you upset is the last thing I want to do.”
“I know, but we’re both hurting and I don’t want either of us to say anything we don’t mean,” Shay told him. “You say that you don’t know what to do like there’s a simple solution that we’re not seeing. Jack . . . I feel like a part of me is missing. And the hole that it’s left, it isn’t healing. Everything that happens just rips and tears at it even more. There’s nothing that anyone can do to help me, and there’s nothing that I can say to you to assure that I’m going to get better.”
“I just want you to say that you’ll try.”
Shay closed her eyes and took a deep breath through her nose. Then she nodded. “Okay. I can do that.”
He bent and kissed her softly on the forehead. “Thank you.”
Instead of cringing away as she normally would have done, she leaned into his lips and felt his warm breath tickle her skin. It was nice. She didn’t have to worry that he expected more at that moment.
“Do you want to go for a walk with me?” Shay asked.
Jack didn’t hide the shock in his expression, but he nodded. “Yeah. I’d like that.”
He held out his hand to Shay and she intertwined the fingers of her good arm with his. He helped her to her feet, and this time her legs didn’t fold beneath her at the first contact with solid ground.
They stopped at Shay’s room first so she could grab a pair of shoes, and then went downstairs and out the back door to follow the trail that wound around the mansion and through the garden. The forest that grew around it was lush and green, much brighter and more open than the dark vegetation Shay had been used to in the North.
The air was warm, and she was able to enjoy it for once. She wasn’t being rushed around in training or pushed to her limit on a mission. She could just walk and breathe and not have to worry about anyone being in danger.
“Grandmother Clarissa said there’s a building out here somewhere from the slave days and that an underground tunnel connects it to the mansion,” Shay mused out loud to Jack. “It’s probably all dusty and boarded up, but I think it sounds kind of neat.”
“The mansion is so old and big. I’m sure it has lots of hidden passageways.”
“Isobel would have wanted to explore them all with me, if she were here,” Shay said. “Do you think she’s doing okay?”
“Of course. And I’m sure Isobel worries about you just as much as you worry about her.”
“They must be really nervous. I know I would be if I were meeting members of my family for the first time.”
“Why don’t you ask Grandmother Clarissa to track down your parents?”
Shay shrugged. “I guess it’s sort of a pride thing. If they didn’t want me then, they obviously don’t want me now, so why should I try so hard to find out who they are?”
“That’s true, although I can’t understand why anyone would want to get rid of you.”
“Don’t put me on a pedestal,” Shay told him. “I don’t deserve it.”
“Well, sure, you’re unpredictable and stubborn, but you have some good qualities, too.”
“‘Some,’” Shay repeated.
“You’re considerate and loyal and funny, and not to mention, beautiful. And I think you deserve to be put on the highest pedestal there is.”
Shay’s face turned a furious shade of red. She dropped her head to stare at the ground, loose brown curls falling around her face like a thick curtain. The toe of her sneaker hit a rock and she watched as it skittered along through the dirt and fallen leaves.
“If I’m so wonderful,” she whispered, “then why does Kendall hate me?”
That put him at a loss for words, and they walked in silence for a few minutes. A rabbit rustled the leaves on a nearby bush as he nosed around for food, and a lark sung from its perch on a branch above Shay’s head. Sunlight filtered down through the trees and created a beautiful pattern on the forest floor.
“Some people are just miserable,” Jack finally replied, “and they need someone else to blame it on.”
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Author’s Note: I mentioned this in some of my other stories, but I just made a Tumblr and I’m going to be posting ideas and advice and other writing things on it, so if you have one and would like to follow me, my username is kenwriter96. Thanks for reading!