Brooke was left with the thought for the next hour as Jack continued to fill in his lawyer.
“Care about… someone else?” she murmured to herself as she chewed on the end of the pen and spun around in the chair. The young woman’s stomach felt tight as she thought about it. As she thought about… that person maybe being her. “Nah,” she decided, scoffing. “Don’t even think about it.”
But she couldn’t not think about it. They were having sex, they seemed to be growing as friends, and…
She shook her head and repeated herself. “Don’t even think about it.”
When the sun dipped below the horizon, Amos informed her that Jack and Michelle’s conversation was over and that dinner would soon be ready. She nodded and headed outside.
“I wish I could stay, Jack, but I’ve got to call the water taxi before it gets too late,” Michelle said, looking at her very expensive watch as Brooke approached and took a seat at the far end of the table. Amos was bringing out the cart of plates, including Jack’s enormous serving, as the lawyer began putting her things away.
“You’re not going to stay for dinner?” he asked.
“I’ll have a few bites, but its already nine.”
“What’d… you guys figure out?” Brooke asked when her meal was placed before her: filet mignon, candied carrots, endive salad, rustic bread, and red wine. Jack, on the other hand, was given six porterhouse steaks (each with their filet intact), about three cubic feet of tossed salad, and a pair of loaves of the same bread. Michelle went straight for the wine before digging into her steak.
“It’s a pretty simple case,” she said. “Except for the fact that, well…” She gestured with the glass at Jack.
The giant man heaved a heavy sigh and brought a steak to his mouth. He held it pinched between two fingers as he tried to eat without making a mess. “To put it in plain English, we don’t know what my goddamn rights are.”
“We need to make sure he’s still a legal person before we get anyone else involved,” she clarified.
She hummed and hawwed a little. “We need to make sure he’s safe…” Brooke chewed slowly as she thought. How could this be done, ensuring him some kind of recourse should the law not want to play fair? She thought and thought, and altogether suddenly remembered something. “Exposure!” she declared, excited by her own idea.
“Exposure?” Jack said.
Michelle cocked a brow. “No, that’s… quite the opposite of what we need to do first, honey. He needs to be kept on the down -”
But Brooke shook her head firmly. “Visibility is his best defense right now,” she said. “Record a video and send it to the press. Make him go viral. By tomorrow, millions of people could know what’s happened to Jack Ilyin, and when the cops and the courts step in, a billion eyes would be watching their every move.”
Jack and Michelle looked at each other for a second, before his mouth widened into a broad smile. “You hear that?” he said excitedly, pointing in Brooke’s direction. “She’s fuckin’ brilliant, that one.” He turned to her. “Brooke, I could kiss you right now!”
She blushed and bit her lip, but still smiled. “Save it for when it works,” she dodged.
“Sounds like a good a plan as any,” Michelle relented. “Still, I’m going to speak with a few law scholars I know about the whole human rights thing. See if we can’t dig something up that will protect you because Patel is going to use every dirty trick in the book to get you out of the picture.” She took one last bite of food before finishing her wine and standing up. “Even if that means getting you shipped off to a zoo. All the better for him.”
Jack went to stand, but remembered that he was no longer six feet and change. Instead, he took Michelle’s hand in both of his and shook her whole damn arm. “I’ll get you those papers as soon as I can. There’s gotta be something in there that can help me.”
“If you’re as smart as I think you are,” she countered wryly, adjusting her glasses when Jack let her go, “Then there oughtta be. It’s just a matter of reading all the fine damn print.”
Jack gave Michelle his every last thanks, and sent her out with an extra bottle of wine. Brooke said her goodbyes, and the two of them waved from the house as she set down the path toward the dock.
“Isn’t she great?” he beamed as they headed around back again. “She’s great.”
“Well, I’m sure she’d be less great if you weren’t paying her so much.”
“Everyone needs to be paid.”
Brook swallowed and looked away. “I don’t need to be paid,” she said quietly.
“Of course you do. It’s only fair.”
They walked in silence for a few seconds as heat slowly rose to her face as she thought. Eventually, the words just came out of their own accord, it seemed: “Jack, what are we?” she asked, stopping in her tracks and looking up at the giant before her. “What the hell is this?”
He stopped, and frowned, and looked at her. Then he was suddenly crouched down, and there was something in his face that spoke of his being 15 years older. He studied her for a moment, reading her like a doctor reads a patient. “This is whatever you want it to be,” he quietly rumbled in response.
A stupid goddamn lump hardened in her throat and she blinked back the pressure building in her eyes. “What if I don’t know what I want this to be?”
His hand was on her back, his thumb on her shoulder, and Brooke had to look at the ground. “Then we play it by ear, and you let me know if you figure it out.”
“Augh!” Brooke ripped herself from him and stormed away, back to the expensive teak dining set by the pool because that’s where they’d started and that’s where there was liquor. “Forget it.” Then, quieter: “I’m just a dumb fuckin’ kid.” She reached for the opened bottle of wine and took a long swig, not even bothering with a glass.
There was the faint quaking of his footsteps as he came into view again. God, he was handsome. “Brooke, what’s the matter?” he asked. His eyes were harder than they were warm; but that’s just how he was. It was how he prepared himself for doing damage control.
She laid down on the grass, looking up at the stars, with the wine still in hand. She didn’t want to answer, because there was no good way for any of this to come out.
He was standing over her now, like a tall pillar of hard muscle and blond fuzz, arms crossed over a chest thrice as broad as any other man’s. Why did he have to do that? Why did he have to be so fucking hot? Why do I have to like him so much?
It was no use, though. She was going to have to tell him.
“I talked to my dad,” Brooke said quietly. He gave her a look that told her he was confused as to how this related. “He found Lisa Thomas.”
Jack’s brows shot upward and he knelt at her feet, leaning in. “And?”
“She’s OK but she’s convinced she’s going to die anyway.” Another gulp of wine. “And yeah, she cursed you because you were a big-name asshole. Fessed up to that pretty readily.”
“…What does all of this have to do with you? Us?”
Brooke took a deep breath and tried picking out some constellations, but all she could find was the Big Dipper. “She said the curse could be broken.”
The air was suddenly very tense. “She did?”
“She said you… you had to care about s-something more than your own inventions,” she began, then swallowed. Barely a whisper: “And that… you had to care about someone else more than yourself.”
Jack’s expectant posture drooped, his mouth became a fine line, and he wrung his hands as he looked away. “I… see.”
They sat in silence like that for a few moments. “So that’s it, then,” she said quietly, still trying to get rid of that damn lump. “Assuming she’s telling the truth, then… the proof is right here in front of me.”
“Dammit, Brooke, what do you want me to say!” he said, suddenly rising to pace. “What am I supposed to do? What… fall in love with you?”
The tears flowed freely now and she sat up. “I don’t fucking know, OK! I don’t make the fucking rules!”
Jack scoffed; one of those anxious sounds people make as he ran his thick fingers through his hair. “What does that mean, anyway…” he muttered. “Care about someone more than… I care, alright?”
“Yeah, how much?”
“Dohuya,” he said.
“Dohuya! A hell of a lot!”
She looked at him through tear-streaked eyes. “But not more than yourself.”
He buried his face in his hand and said nothing; just breathed those long, deep lungfuls of air.
“I’m going inside,” Brooke murmured, standing up from the grass and brushing herself off. “I’ll see you in the morning.”