His grin faded as he went on. “I should have spoken up with him, should have told my aunt that Lorna was lying. I should have got him help. I wanted to, I did. But, like I said, then I’d feel guilty, because I’d sort of felt indebted to her. That was how she made me feel.”
Hearing the shame and guilt in his voice, I patted his arm. “You were just a kid, Evan.”
His chuckle was humourless. “He always says the same thing. But I still should have helped him. He’s my twin.”
“You didn’t know any other way. To you, that was probably normal.”
“I was eleven when it finally clicked in my head that it wasn’t right. When I started spending time at my friends’ houses, I saw how other parents were, how the kids were treated equally. But the real turning point for me was the time when I went inside one of my friends’ homes with him and we found his dad beating up his brother. The first thing my friend did was jump on his dad’s back and try to help his brother.
“That was when I really started to defend Jared rather than just divert her attention from him. We started to spend lots of time together and we became really close, and maybe that was a lot to do with being the only two people who knew the real her – we were each the other’s validation that we weren’t crazy for thinking that this supposed martyr was truly, well, evil.”
“I’ll bet she didn’t like you two becoming close.”
“No, she didn’t. She turned on me big time, and she did some mean shit to me, too. But I was still the golden child, no matter what. Jared, on the other hand…She made it clear to him in as many ways as possible that he didn’t matter to her, that he wasn’t even a person. I’ll tell you one thing that I remember. It happened when we were in our teens. We got quite a bit of female attention at school. I’m not being boastful here, I’m just—”
I held up a hand, smiling. “No, it’s okay, I can fully imagine. I’ll bet Jared loved that.”
“Actually, he didn’t. He hated attention back then. Hated it. He didn’t trust anyone, he thought everyone was fake, he expected everyone to try to use him, or to f**k him over. He even hated his looks, because he looked so much like Lorna. He couldn’t bring himself to respect many of the girls who rallied around him because most were as superficial as the bitch that gave birth to us. But he wasn’t bitter or a total ass**le, he was just very guarded and even quiet. He never really showed emotion…probably because at home, emotions had always got him in deep shit.”
It was at that moment that I realised that I had been asking a lot of Jared when I wanted him to talk to me. But how was I supposed to know that this was such a hot button for him? Still, I felt like crap for pushing him.
“Mom’s friends used to tell her she must be so proud to have such handsome sons. She’d say of course she was. One of those friends used to flirt a lot with Jared, who was freaked out by it and avoided her as far as possible. When she got a little too heavy, he went to Lorna and told her to keep the woman away from him. Wanna know what she said? She told him to give her friend the little fling that she wanted. She actually told him to f**k her friend, which he didn’t, and that got him punished.”
“Please tell me that you’re joking.” When he shook his head, I asked, “How old was he?”
My jaw practically hit the floor.
“She didn’t see people as ‘people’, Sam; especially not him. Jared was just a thing for her to use and manipulate. When Magda turned out to be exactly the same, it did something to him. It changed him. Something in him just…went. Although he hadn’t cared about Magda, he’d thought he did at the time. What’s more, she’d told him that she loved him. That was something he’d never had before. But she just became another woman that hurt, used, and betrayed him.”
Had I ever wanted to hurt Magda more than I did right at that second?
“When he was made Heir and the spotlight was on him…That was what he’d always wanted. Not necessarily the spotlight itself, but recognition, acceptance, and respect. And, yeah, he got a lot of female attention too. But, again, they didn’t want him. They wanted the Heir, they wanted to use him. It didn’t even bother him; he’d come to expect that from people, had convinced himself that women were users and manipulators. There’d never been anyone to make him think differently.”
The click in my head was so definitive that I was surprised it hadn’t been audible. “So, basically, all that prejudice...it wasn’t because he thought women were the inferior sex. It was because he was angry at women in general.”
Evan nodded. “But you…you didn’t care that he was the Heir. You didn’t jump into his bed. You were going to require some effort on his part, some respect, and he liked you enough to give you both. I don’t think either of us can appreciate how hard it must have been for him to take the chance of letting you in, knowing you could hurt him. I imagine it was a while before he even realised he’d let you in enough to care about you. He’d probably convinced himself it was all physical, that sex would make it go away.”
Thinking back to the way Jared had behaved in the beginning, how Fletcher and I had mused that he seemed to be sulking over my refusal to shag him, I thought that Evan might just be right about that.
“Now do you see why he’s being so protective, Sam? You’ve been the exception to every rule. You’re the total opposite of all those women who used him. You’re something he hadn’t imagined existed, something he needs and will be determined to keep. If you are at all worried about Magda, don’t be. He would never want her or anybody else. Nothing in this world could stop him from Binding with you. Nothing.”
And if Evan was right about that, I’d been worrying for absolutely no reason. Jared hadn’t shut down because he had doubts, he had shut down for reasons deeper than I would ever have imagined.
“I know the protectiveness is driving you crazy, Sam, but you won’t get him to tone it down. Not with how scarred he is, not with how determined he is to never lose you. If you really do love him, don’t ask him to change. Just…indulge him in this. Not all the time, but at least sometimes. Especially while your gifts don’t seem to be working.”
I nodded. “Okay, that’s fair.”
Evan looked at me beseechingly. “Now can you understand why he hasn’t wanted to talk about our mother?”