It’s hard to keep my expression straight. I can only imagine Jase as a young boy, watching everything that happened and speaking up, expecting it to help, when there was never any help coming.
“He used to have hope.” My first statement is quiet and I think it goes unheard so I raise my voice. “It sounds like he was a good kid,” I comment and Carter’s forehead wrinkles with amusement.
“Sure, as good as the Cross boys could ever be.”
“You know,” I start to say, and that stops him from walking off while I tap the glass base of my Dr. Pepper on the counter. “My sister was like that. When I was growing up and she was in high school and even part of college, she was a lot like that.”
“Is that right?” he asks, leaning against one of the stools and listening to my story.
“When our mom got sick, she had Alzheimer’s.” I have to take a quick sip as the visions of my sister, a younger, healthier version, flood into my mind. Jenny would stand outside the university before every football game and every council meeting with flyers she’d printed from the library. “My sister wanted to educate people. She said it might help them because if you can diagnose it early, it can lessen the symptoms.”
I’ll never forget how often Jenny stood there after mom was diagnosed. I met her outside the stadium one chilly October night. She had a handful of flyers and tearstained cheeks. She’d been there every night that week, and I wanted her to come home. I needed help. Mom needed help.
When I told her to come home, she broke down and cried. She didn’t want to go home to a mother who didn’t know who she was. She said she blamed herself, because she knew something was wrong and she hadn’t said anything. She did nothing when she could have at least spoken up like she would have before she was busy with classes.
All the while she spent her nights standing there, I did what was practical. I listened to Nurse Judy, I figured out the bills and how to pay them all with what we had. I took care of the house and learned how to help any way I could.
My sister looked backward, while I tried to look forward. I think that’s where the difference really lay.
“That doesn’t sound like mouthing off,” Carter comments.
“Maybe that wasn’t the best example,” I answer under my breath, not seeing the similarity so clearly like I did a moment ago. I find myself lacking, not unlike the way I felt back then. The visions of her that night she cried on the broken sidewalk don’t leave me.
“She blames herself then?” Carter asks and I have to blink away the memories.
“Yeah, she did. Blamed,” I correct him. “She passed away this past month.”
Something strange happens then. The air in the room turns cold and distant as Carter looks away from me.
Some people deal with death differently, but it’s odd the way he reacts. He doesn’t look back at me. He stares off down the hall and past the kitchen toward his wing of the estate, avoiding my prying gaze.
“I’m sorry,” he finally speaks, although he pays close attention to the mug in his hand. His lips part but only to inhale slightly; I think he’s going to say more but he doesn’t. And then it’s silent again.
I don’t like it. The little hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention and the uneasiness I felt when I walked into the kitchen greets me again.
“When she died, I inherited her debt and met your brother, so if nothing else…” My voice trails off. What the fuck am I even saying?
It’s hard to swallow, but I force down a sip of the cold drink and let the taste settle on the back of my tongue where the words all hide. At least her death led me to Jase.
Was I really thinking that?
Was I really drawing a positive out of my sister’s murder?
“A debt? Did Jase help you out of something?” Carter’s dark eyes seek mine and I reach them instantly. Suddenly he’s interested.
“The debt my sister owed,” I state, feeling a line draw across my forehead as I read his expression. No memory is worn there of the money she owed the Cross brothers. Money Jenny owed to Carter.
Jase blamed Carter, didn’t he? He said Carter wouldn’t let it go even if Jase wanted to.
“Who did she owe money to?” Carter asks and the wind leaves my lungs in a heavy pull. Drawn from me so violently, that I drop the bottle to the counter with a hard clink.
Jase lied. Staring into Carter’s clueless eyes, I see it so clearly now.
He lied to me about the debt.