“What’s the matter?” Jack asked, brushing her shoulder with the pad of his big thumb as soon as the others were out of sight.
“I think I’m wondering why I’m still here,” she said, folding her arms and looking away. There was a crack in the wall; she looked at that.
“If you want to go home, I don’t blame you,” he said, smiling a little. “I’d hightail it out of here if I could, too.”
“But… I like you.”
Jack chuckled. “Right. That does complicate things, doesn’t it?” There was a pause as she began to start feeling sorry for herself again and didn’t say anything. “If it matters, I don’t want you to go,” he said quietly. “You’ve kept me laughing through all of this.”
“I don’t want to go,” Brooke elaborated, “But at the same time, I do. I miss my crappy food, my crappy car… I miss sitting on the floor in the living room and eating burgers while watching Netflix, you know?”
“You could do that here,” he blurted. “I mean… just because I’ve got money doesn’t mean you couldn’t… feel more at home.”
Brooke smiled. “Don’t forget I have school too, Sputnik.”
“Well that certainly trumps anything I’ve got.”
“This all has just felt like a weird vacation. I guess what I’m saying is…” She sucked in a breath and leaned into his touch. “That I think I have a life I need to get back to.”
“Brooke, you can leave whenever you need to leave. Though maybe a night passage would be less… stressful, given the circumstances.” He sounded sad. “However, I need for you to know that you’re welcome here any time, that if you need absolutely anything, give me a call, and I’ll see to it that you get it.”
“You mean it?”
Jack smiled. “Of course I do. Brooke, you…” Then he scowled as he thought. “You gave me a new lease on life, you know. I’m in your debt.”
“It’s just what friends do,” she said, and waved him down for a kiss. After a moment he broke away.
She nodded. “Yeah, I think that’s what this is going to have to be for now. I need to finish school, finish finding myself, all that jazz… And you need to put your life back together.” There was a pause as she thought for a few seconds. There was still the elephant in the room. “What I don’t get is… why you’re still like this, though.”
Jack looked away and his face darkened. “I guess there’s still more work for me to do on myself,” he murmured.
Brooke was thinking up something to say when Amos’s voice sounded from the nearest green light. “Martin Foster is on the line for you, Master Ilyin.”
The two looked at each other and Jack cocked a brow. “Put him through.”
“Brooke?” came Martin’s voice.
“It’s the both of us, dad. What’s up?”
“Well, believe it or not, Lisa Thomas is dead.” Brooke and Jack exchanged surprised looks. “About an hour after I left the hospital, actually. She reacted to a drug they gave her, went into cardiac arrest, and boom. Gone.”
Brooke covered her mouth, feeling a little shook up. “Jesus… maybe she wasn’t full of crap after all, then.”
“Who can say,” said her dad. “Mr. Ilyin, what do you make of it?”
Jack’s shoulders had slumped, but he was rubbing at his face in deep thought. “I’ve got the sinking feeling that my exit clause went with her.” Brooke’s hand shot out to rest comfortingly on his knee. She watched as his other hand balled up into a fist, and the muscles in his arm tighten, but all he did was press his knuckles into the mattress hard enough to leave a permanent divot. “So that’s that, then,” he said.
“Dad, we’ll call you back later,” Brooke quickly said, and Amos cut the line before Martin had time to respond. She was up in his lap in half a second, balancing on his strong thigh, and trying to wrap her arms around some part of his chest. It was like trying to hug a tree. “Jack, I’m so sorry,” she said against him.
His arms went around her too, those thick, massive limbs almost twice as long as she was tall, and he held her for a good solid minute. She felt his deep, slow, powerful heartbeat under her cheek, and when he took a breath, he took her with him.
“I’m a tech genius, or so they say,” he rumbled quietly. “I should be able to figure this one out.”
“I know, but…”
He gave her a squeeze. “I’ll be fine, really. Don’t worry about me, alright?” Then: “I want you to go live your life.”
“I feel like I’m abandoning you now.”
Jack moved her away from him just enough to be able to look her in the eye. “Don’t. Don’t do that to yourself.”
“Finish school, young lady.”
She blushed and nodded. “Yeah, OK.”
He lifted her up to his face so he could kiss her. Her knees pressed to his chest and she held onto his rough, stubbled cheeks when he sucked her tiny lower lip into his mouth and took it between enormous teeth. A moment later and he was roughly exhaling through his nose and snaking his fingers through her hair to massage at her scalp and gently maneuver her head as they continued. Brooke’s own fingers raked from his jaw around to the hair behind his ears and she dragged her fingers along the skin there. He rumbled deeply, then broke away, running his thumb along her lip where his teeth had been.
“Can I visit you in Anacortes?” he asked.
She bit back a smile. “I don’t think you’d fit in the house. The backyard would probably be fine, though.”
“When do you want to go?”
“In the morning, I guess.”
He nodded. “I’ll arrange to have you escorted out of the house to the dock. I don’t want any of those damn sharks out there smelling blood and biting.”
The rest of the day was a whirlwind. Ryan came up with a PR strategy to manage things as best as anyone could hope for, and by afternoon he’d shot out a press release that the news stations promptly devoured like piranhas with a piece of meat. Jack, getting restless, wanted to speak to the reporters himself, but Michelle forbade it until that suit arrived. She also forbade him to drink anything for the rest of the day lest he needed to use the restroom.
As Ryan and Michelle buzzed around the house, making calls – via Amos, there was still no cell service – Jack was stuck in the great room with nothing else to do but watch TV. Brooke kept him company.
At some point, she looked outside and noticed a fog rolling in, and she remembered how thickly it had gathered about the island that morning she first arrived. When she turned her attention back to the news broadcast, the helicopter reporters were taking notice too, as their view of the house slowly faded away.
“What’s up?” he grunted.
“The creepy fog is back,” she said, looking outside.
“Yeah, I need to get a tarp or something to cover that goddamn hole in the wall.”
“Fog meaning obscurity, Jack.”
A little light went off in his head, and she thought it was mighty endearing that a computer genius like him could sometimes miss the most obvious of things. “Amos,” he said, getting onto hands and knees, “Tell Michelle I’m stretching my legs for a while.”
“Are you sure, Master Ilyin? I believe that Gary Patel is due to be hosting a press conference in roughly nine minutes.”
Jack snorted, squeezing outside and standing up. “I don’t need to tune in; I’ll be seeing that bastard in court soon enough.” Then he looked down at Brooke, who was standing next to his leg. “Shall we go for a walk?”
She smiled up at him. “One more for the road, right?”
His hands were around her, and she was hoisted up into the air to sit on his shoulder. She sucked in a gasp at the sudden gain in altitude and held onto his head, one of her hands gripping a fistful of his hair. Jack gave her a wink. “Yeah, something like that.”