Brooke was left with the thought for the next hour as Jack continued to meet with 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. Her stomach was in knots from thinking about it. From thinking about how… that person could be her. Might be her. Did some part of her think that they were falling for each other? Or was she just falling for him?
They were having sex. They were becoming good friends. She was seeing sides of him that no one has probably ever seen. And yet…
…the curse was still intact.
“Brooke, get a hold of yourself,” she whispered, burying her face in her hands. “Don’t you dare go down that rabbit hole.”
She took a few deep breaths, willed her nervous tics to stop, and decided to go for a nice, long walk.
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 get back to my hotel before its 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, meanwhile, was given six porterhouse steaks, about four cubic feet of tossed salad, and a pair of loaves of the same bread. Michelle went straight for the wine before digging into her plate.
“The good news is, we’ve got to keep things simple. The bad news is, we’ve got to keep things simple.”
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 actually 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.
Brooke blinked, her mind was a jumbled mess. Things just went from bad to worse. “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 one of history’s most infamous men: Al Capone. “Visibility!” she declared.
“Visibility?” Jack said.
Michelle was unimpressed. “That’s the opposite of what we need to do, honey.”
But Brooke shook her head firmly. “Use your publicity as a shield,” 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 will be watching their every move. They’ll be pressured to treat him fairly.”
Jack and Michelle looked at each other for a second, before his mouth widened into a broad smile. “You hear that?” he said excitedly. “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.
“Well, it’s better than no plan at all,” 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.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Brook swallowed and looked away. “I… nothing,” she said quietly.
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, crouching. There was something in his face that reminded her that he was much older. “This is whatever you want it to be.” He sounded a little confused.
A stupid 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 took a big gulp straight from the opened bottle of wine.
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 look so hot when he did that? Why did she have to like him so much?
It was no use, though. Attraction or no, she had 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. “Heindel decided to let us open that letter early.”
Jack knelt at her feet and leaned in, waiting for the verdict with bated breath. “And?”
“The curse can be broken, alright.”
“Brooke, c’mon, don’t leave me hanging here,” he said urgently. “What the hell do I need to do?”
“She said that you were supposed to…” A swallow. “You were supposed to learn how to care less about yourself and your projects and more about… about something or s-someone else.”
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.”