Part One: Chapter Four

Hmm.

I will be the first to admit that this chapter is slowwww. Well, I think so. The pictures aren’t overly interesting, and it’s a lot of background stuff, but I kind of think it’s necessary to gear the next chapter ahead, so… deal with it. 😛 Just kidding! It is short, though, because I thought I’d like to keep the background blah-blah-blah to as much of a minimum as possible. Feel free to share comments, positive or negative, but please keep in mind that it’s definitely going to get more dramatic in the next few chapters!

 

Jake didn’t check his phone until the following afternoon. Aurora was watching TV in the living room when he walked in, looking at his phone curiously.

“My mom called me last night,” he told her. “Like four times.”

She looked away from the TV to him, her eyes creasing in delicate worry. “What about?”

“I don’t know,” he said with a shrug, dialing the number and putting it to his ear. “I’m going to find out, though.”

“Hey, Mom,” he said when the other line picked up. “What’s going on?”

He listened to her tell him the news she had. Aurora tried to hear the squabbled voice from where she sat, but she couldn’t make out more than an indignant tone. She kept her eyes on Jake’s face, which changed rapidly from curious to confused to angry. Her heart dropped. Maybe they knew.

“So we can’t do anything about that?” he asked. More squabbling only made Jake’s face darker.

Aurora bit her lower lip. What was happening?

“Great. Well, thanks,” he said. He hung up.

He sat down on the couch beside her with a heavy sigh, and Aurora felt slightly better. Chances were he wouldn’t sit down next to her if he knew what she’d done. Still, her voice was timid when she asked, “What now?”

“Did you know Wes was involved in a huge drug ring?” he asked numbly.

Aurora swallowed hard. “Yes,” she croaked. “But I don’t know how involved.”

“Apparently he was a key player. Which means two things.”

“What?” she asked.

“First, it means the cops are, for lack of a better term, happy that he’s gone. Which means that unless someone steps forward and says, ‘I killed Wes,’ they’re not going to do much of anything,” he explained.

“Oh,” she said. She forced herself to mask the relief that was now coursing through her veins, and instead she placed an expression of disbelief and anger on her face.

“Secondly, it means that the drug lords are so worried about being found out from whatever evidence Wes may have had that could out them, so they completely destroyed the house. It was cleaned out and burnt to the ground. Whatever evidence there was is gone.”

“So what does that mean?” she asked, keeping her eyes on the TV. She couldn’t look at him anymore. The good feelings she had now were too strong to hide. She actually had a chance at getting away with this and having a life. A good life.

“It means that Wes is pretty much a closed book. But now the investigation on Shannon is put to a complete halt because they have little to nothing to go off of. All thanks to Wes’s stupid decisions.” The anger in Jake’s voice was unmistakable.

Aurora was unsure what to say to this. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled.

“It’s not your fault,” he said, standing up. She looked up at him with eyes that contradicted his last statement, but he didn’t notice. “I need some air. Since Wes was apparently dancing with people that are way worse than I expected, I think we’re going to be here a while. Especially if you’re right about us being next.”

And he left.

He headed down to the beach again. Initially, he planned on just sitting down, but his body seemed to want to try to keep pace with his mind, so instead he walked the length of the ocean lapping the shore as he thought.

Why hadn’t she told him that Wes was doing something so dangerous and illegal? Why hadn’t Wes told him? “Well, that’s kind of obvious,” Jake said under his breath. “But you’d think she would’ve said something. I mean, that’s a huge lead on potential suspects.”

And why didn’t she seem too torn up about the fact that nobody cared Wes was dead? Did she even care? He knew he’d only been mourning his sister, but the death of his best friend was also a wreck on him emotionally—he just couldn’t handle dealing with both of them at once.

Something odd was going on. There was something she didn’t want to tell him. Little things kept coming out that she needed to explain, and he was quickly getting impatient with her. She was keeping the investigation at as much of a turtle’s pace as the drug lords were.

He kicked the sand, water squishing into his shoe.

He returned after nightfall and just walked into Aurora’s room without knocking. She was sitting at the desk, immersed in the same book as yesterday, and she looked up in surprise when he walked in.

“Hi,” she said with wide eyes.

“I have a question for you,” he replied stiffly. In reality, he had numerous questions for her, but he wanted to catch her off-guard with them so she had no chance to lie. He motioned to the bed. “Get comfortable.”

They both settled on the bed, and Aurora looked at him in expectant silence.

“Why didn’t you tell me about Wes’s drug involvement?” he asked.

Aurora blinked, then looked at the wall opposite them. “I didn’t want to scare you,” she said. “They’re scary people.” This—for once—was not a lie.

“I’m not just talking about in reference to the murder,” he interjected. “Why didn’t you tell me when you first found out about it?”

Now Aurora fell into a telling silence. It became clear she wasn’t going to answer, nor did she want to. Realization dawned on Jake’s face.

“You were involved too, weren’t you?”

She continued to stare straight ahead, but she nodded almost imperceptibly.

“Not in the way you’re probably thinking,” she mumbled. She looked at him in earnest. “I never was what Wes was to them. I just gave them a place to stay and eat when they needed to keep a low profile.”

“Kind of like a trashy Underground Railroad,” Jake muttered snidely. Aurora shrugged in reluctant agreement. He shook his head, then dove into another question. “I find I strange that you’re not really sad or angry about what happened. Why is that?”

Aurora dropped her eyes to the bedspread. “I am,” she said in a low voice.

“You don’t act like it.”

She traced the pattern on her quilt. “There’s a lot you don’t know about Wes and me, Jake.”

“Then share, please. Because your behavior is raising questions I don’t want to ask.”

She hesitated. Then she closed her eyes and took a deep, rattling breath.

“My marriage started off like a fairytale. Well, not quite, but it was fun.” A strange, Cheshire cat expression came over her face as she reminisced. “You know Wes and I got married only a few days after his 18th birthday. I was 22 at the time. He was that bad boy, the one every girl lusts after, but he treated me like a queen. Isn’t that the way it always starts?” She shook her head bitterly.

“The problem with bad boys is they’re always bad. They don’t choose to be bad in some aspects and good in others.” She looked at Jake, tears rising to her eyes. “I should’ve seen it coming.”

Jake didn’t say anything. She wiped her eyes and continued.

“He never pulled his own weight. He always wanted to be riding his motorcycle or at the club with his friends. I didn’t think too much of it; I figured that was the price I had to pay for marrying an 18 year old. I thought he’d grow out of it.”

“But he didn’t. He just got worse and worse. He got involved with those horrible drug people, and he brought them back to my house where I slept. He’d get drunk, and he’d bring them into the bedroom to show me off. He’d get mad when I’d tell him it made me uncomfortable. ‘Why am I in a relationship where I can’t be proud of what I have?’ he’d always ask. And then he got that job at that bar when he was 21, and that only made it worse.”

Now she was rapidly blinking back tears that threatened to fall in rivers.

“And then I got pregnant.” Jake’s eyes widened when she confessed this, and she nodded in confirmation. “I knew he wouldn’t tell you that.”

“Where’s the baby?” Jake asked, looking around the room as if expecting to see an infant lying in a corner somewhere.

“Stillborn,” she whispered. “They say it’s the mother’s fault if things go wrong in the womb, but the doctor told me the father has a lot more to do with it than you’d think. Chances are that the drugs in Wes’s system when we conceived did it. That’s what the doctors think, anyways.”

“I’m sorry,” Jake said quietly, pulling her into his arms. “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be,” she murmured back. “It was a little boy. Can you imagine a little Wes running around?” They both smiled a bit at the thought.

“Anyway,” she continued. “After that, I couldn’t function right. I lost touch with my friends, and to be honest, with Wes. I wouldn’t go out, I wouldn’t have sex, I wouldn’t do anything but go to work and come home. I didn’t even sculpt.”

“You always loved to sculpt,” Jake remembered.

“Yeah. But I couldn’t. Wes didn’t seem to care. He just got mad at me for how I was acting.” She gritted her teeth as she added, “So he started sleeping with your sister.”

Jake stiffened at the mention of Shannon. “How do you know?” he asked monotonously.

She looked at him scornfully. “I may have been out of it, Jake, but I wasn’t stupid. They worked together. She’d be in my house when I got home from work, looking at me all smug and secretive. Her things were in my bedroom.”

Jake sat up and looked her in the eyes. “Maybe that’s true. But even without that, you didn’t deserve that sort of marriage.” He shook his head to emphasize his point. “You deserve the fairytale you thought you had.”

“What are you saying?” she asked.

He smiled at her. “I’m saying you’ll have that someday. I promise you.”

She smiled back, willing herself to believe him. He stared into her eyes with intensity. “So you’re not actually upset that he’s gone?” he asked.

She bit her lip. “I am,” she replied. “I really am. But only because the Wes I once loved went with the Wes I no longer loved.” Her chin began to wobble.

Jake nodded in understanding. “Don’t cry,” he begged softly.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized tearfully.

“No. Don’t cry,” he said firmly. He pressed his mouth against her ear and nuzzled her. She giggled involuntarily at his gesture. “That’s better.”

“Jake,” she began seriously, “is it wrong for me to think I may, in the end, be better off now?”

He paused, thinking this over. “I don’t think so,” he said. “In your situation, it makes sense, and I understand what you mean.”

“Good,” she said.

“I feel like I understand a lot more about why you are acting the way you are,” he told her. “I had a lot of questions, but now I get it. You and Wes just weren’t meant to be.”

“Is anyone?” she asked cynically.

He pulled back and looked at her with a grin on his face. “Do you really need to ask that?”

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~ by lilrunningback on June 16, 2011.

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