Chapter Nineteen

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Hiding in plain sight, behind your silences and rapid-fire eyes. I know you're really a riot inside. - Jackson Killian

Chapter Nineteen

Raw from the previous night's hug, I held back a bit, thinking I could let Jack go in first and follow without being noticed. I idled by my car, my fists jammed into the pockets of my coat, the collar turned up against the cold, and watched as Jack stepped out of the Tacoma. The skimpy, silver sunshine made the aspen leaves overhead twinkle. It plucked at and brightened every sliver of iridescence in the asphalt, reflected nothing but glare on the black windows of the building, caromed off the swirled paint of Jack's truck so that there was no safe place for the eyes to rest... except on Jack himself.

He was easy to look at in a soft rust sweater, newish blue jeans, and five o'clock shadow. He reached back into the cab to grab something, then straightened and wound a battered ball cap over his short hair. He looked directly at me. The brim tipped sideways as he canted his head in invitation.

I stopped about a yard from him, an unexpected wind swirled my hair over my eyes so I didn't see his hand as it reached for mine. Suddenly his fingers were around my wrist and he pulled me the last few feet.

"I think we should hug first. Every time we see each other."

He was warm. And solid. I turned my face into his neck—a pulsing cave I'd not sought comfort in for a long time. A warm familiar flesh refuge from another time and place.

"I think it will help me not say stupid shite."

I felt his cheek against my crown. His waist in my embrace. I squeezed. I tried not to worry about the next minute or the next hour or the cannonade in my chest. I started to pull away, like this was a friendly hug between friends and it shouldn't be too long, when his hand cradled my neck and held firm.

"And maybe you won't be so..."

I pulled back, but he didn't release me. Our eyes met and were, for a moment, fearless. Both of us. His gaze was direct but not unkind. Mine was the same.

A siren whined in the distance. Footsteps echoed from some nearby pavement. The trees rattled overhead, and the wind scattered the leaves above, swooped down to catch my hair and toss it over my face, again blocking my view. Without ceremony Jack wiped it back and tucked it behind my ear, his fingertips barely skimming my forehead but lingering at the tender skin under my earlobe.

"Reluctant. Maybe." He smiled. Just softly. It was more in his eyes, the way they were quietly warm and squinted, eyes that saw the inner me. Saw Kit as I needed to be seen.

"Maybe." My answer was a whisper whipped away on a gale.

We became separate and independent creatures again on the walk from the parking lot inside. Until just outside the office door when Jack took my hand and squeezed. We walked in like that.

"This is a promising start," Dr. Tam said, watching us unclasp in order to take our seats. "By all means. Move the chairs if you want."

He made an exaggerated nod at Jack's chair, maybe understanding intuitively who the leader was between the two of us, and who was led. Jack didn't hesitate. He dragged the clunky chair right next to mine and then sat in it, knees wide, elbows on the armrests.

I sat too, watching Jack and feeling outside myself. Feeling the world as a very still, hollow place where I was just shape and sound, clanging and echoing against all the permanence. Like everything belonged here except me.

I set my bag on the ground and tucked my hair, expectant.

Dr. Tam smiled at us. A cheerful, hopeful, insightful smile. He was very small and very slight and very different from either Ruby Bloom or Abby Shane. He kept his Bic in one hand the whole time, occasionally pointing it at us, sometimes just waving it around.

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