“That’s nothing. It’s something I’d be doing if we were roommates or if I had my own place.”
“Add it to your hours worked,” he demanded in an irritated tone. “You’re going to need those hours because I suppose you’re going to throw this in my face, too.”
He reached into his pocket and tossed me a small book the size of my hand.
I picked it up, recognizing the object immediately.
“I found it on the kitchen counter,” he explained. “Since it’s a national bank, all I had to do was drop in and make a deposit.”
I turned the worn paper book around in my hand. Even though I was pretty sure the bank no longer issued the books, I’d had it since I was a kid. “It’s my savings account book, but there was nothing left in it.” I’d drawn every penny I could from the account when I’d left Ohio. It had only been a couple hundred dollars, but it had helped in the very beginning to buy food and a few other things I’d needed.
“There’s money in there now,” he muttered.
I opened it, but I didn’t see a recent deposit, which made me more certain that the books were obsolete. All he’d probably needed was the account number.
I looked at him, astonished. “Why?”
He stood up, but his emerald gaze was still pinning me to my chair with its intensity. “Because if something should happen to me, I have to know that you’ll be okay. Your days on the streets are done, Ruby. If I get hit by a truck tomorrow, you’ll still be okay.”
I wanted to tell him that I wouldn’t be okay if something happened to him. I’d be devastated. Because he was more important than his money.
“I’m not your responsibility, Jett. I’m a grown woman.” My reply came out harsh because I was still not good with thinking about his demise.
“I’m making you my responsibility because I want to,” he answered in a graveled tone. “And I need to know you’re going to be okay even if I’m not around.”
“Why?” I asked hesitantly, not even wanting to consider any day that didn’t have Jett in it.
“Because I fucking care about you, Ruby. Don’t you get that?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think that I do understand.”
What Dr. Romain had said during our first day of counseling drifted through my mind.
My uncle hadn’t protected me. He’d hurt me. And we were related.
But Jett, somebody who had only met me several weeks ago, was concerned about my future?
I wasn’t sure how to reconcile that.
But I finally answered, “Please understand that nobody has ever cared about me since my parents died, Jett. Nobody has ever tried to protect me over the years that I’ve been homeless. Nobody really cared.”
“I fucking care,” he answered in a clipped baritone. “You can accept that or not. You don’t have to spend the money if you don’t want to. But keep it because it means something to me. It gives me peace of mind.”
I looked at his tense expression, the muscle in his strong jaw twitching with irritation right before his face went completely blank. He started to walk away from the table, probably headed for the office where the computer equipment was set up.
I’d hurt him.
I knew it.
And that was the last thing I wanted to do to Jett.
My heart was aching as I cried out, “Wait. Please don’t run away.”
I jumped up from my chair and moved in front of him. My pride and confusion wasn’t nearly as important as what he’d done for me.
My vision was blurred as I looked up at him, but I refused to cry. “I admit that I’m not sure how to deal with somebody who cares, but what you did—nobody has ever done something like that for me except my parents who opened that account for me a few decades ago. Thank you.”
“Is that the end of your protest, Cinderella?” he asked as he raised my chin gently with his fingertips.
“I won’t spend the money unless I need to,” I warned him.
He nodded curtly. “I can live with that.”
“But please know that it means a lot to me,” I requested as I took his hand from my face and held it tightly.
He twined our fingers together. “I also did it so you’d feel safer. I guess I wanted you to know that you’re always going to be okay. Nobody can take that security away from you, Ruby.”