five

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I quickly ceased the waterʼs plummet into the tub and slid back the glass door. The room was misty from the hot water, the mirrorʼs surface fogged over. But despite my suspicions the bathroom was empty. No one was sitting in the corner staring at me. Or at least, no one I could catch.

I sighed at my jumping to conclusions, shaking my head. Of course no one was there; I was just jumpy.

I was still shook up when I reactivated the water fall, in haste covering my head in a thick layer of shampoo and conditioner. It took me a while to calm down from my momentary fluster, because all that consumed my thoughts were the letters and the man with Mandy. I was almost positive that he was the one who stabbed the man Mandy saw. I couldnʼt just sit here and pretend everything was okay. But what else could I do? If I were to return and attempt to rescue my best friend I would be signing Mandyʼs own death sentence. Maybe I could send someone to find her? Call the cops? Anything?

So many answerless questions were clouding up my mind that I could hardly keep my balance in the small capacity of the shower. I rinsed my hair out, soft excess tumbling down onto the damp floor and being transformed into a wave of tiny bubbles. And, with a great sigh, I turned the water off.

I stepped from the tub and immediately located a large, fluffy towel hanging loosely on a nearby hook. I accepted it into my palm and wrapped it around my soaked body. I dried myself off in Olympic record time, fluffing out my relentless curls into some sort of messed up hairstyle. I gathered the clean clothes I brought in with—- a T-shirt and sweats—- and shortly following, decided I wasnʼt pleased with how silly my hair looked from the humidity. I slowly tugged the hair tie off my wrist, wet and heavy, and knotted it into my hair. The ponytail was low and disheveled, but I couldnʼt care less at the moment.

As I moved to exit, I realized something...off putting. A cold chill stilled my body, my heart pounding out of my chest. The door. It was open. Only a little, but still I remembered crystal clear me closing it completely. I felt a rush of uncertainty move through my entire body as my fingers gripped the cold knob. What was going on? Something wasnʼt right here.

I brushed it off and waltzed through the entry way. It was a miracle that I could stay here at all, I wasnʼt about to spoil it with my anxiety. I shut the door behind me, making my way to the bed. But as soon as I tossed my dirty clothes back into my suitcase, I was nearly knocked back by utter shock.

Jasper was sitting cross legged at the head of my bed.

He was just siting there, staring, as if he were trying to figure my whole existence out. He was silent, not uttering a single syllable. It took me a few moments to recover, as I straightened out my posture.

ʻʻJasper, you scared me.ʼʼ I stated, heart still racing.

ʻʻSorry.ʼʼ He muttered, then he smiled.

ʻʻWhat are you doing here?ʼʼ I asked somewhat dazed, closing the lid to my suitcase.

ʻʻI can ask you the same thing.ʼʼ He countered, slowly bringing out his legs to stretch. A heard a very distinct crack when he reached the limbs completely out, which made me jump.

I managed to laugh a little. ʻʻDid Luke not tell you?ʼʼ

ʻʻHe told me you were here for some concert and couldnʼt stay at a hotel, blah, blah, blah..." He wiggled his fingers at me unimpressed as he began to slide his way to the floor. His feet rested firmly on the ground as he rocked himself to stand.

ʻʻOh, um, looks like you already know then, so why ask me?ʼʼ I inquired as he sauntered toward me.

ʻʻBecause youʼre lying.ʼʼ He said starkly.

I was thrown off by this, breath catching in my throat. What? How did he... ʻʻWhat are you talking about?ʼʼ I sputtered.

ʻʻI would know if you were having something as...catastrophic...as a show near here.ʼʼ The word catastrophic rolled off his tongue like silk, his feet stopping directly in front of me. He wetted his teeth with a swipe of his tongue, grinning at me. I couldn't tell if he was joking or not, and the uncertainty sent me spiraling.

I moved back a ways but he only moved with me. ʻʻJasperーʼʼ

ʻʻHey, you wanna know a secret?ʼʼ His voice suddenly ducked down to a whisper, his eyes wide.

ʻʻW-what?ʼʼ

ʻʻEver since I found out about you,ʼʼ he leaned in, almost against my ear. ʻʻI have had a major crush on you.ʼʼ He giggled dryly, making me pull back without hesitation

ʻʻI understand. Thank you.ʼʼ I murmured and sidestepped around him. It was evident now: this guy wasn't completely there. I didn't know how gone he was, but I wasn't interested in finding out.

ʻʻI listened to your song ʻIrisesʼ first.ʼʼ He continued, swaying steadily on his feet.

ʻʻDid you now?ʼʼ I asked not all that interested, shuffling through the clothes in my suitcase, in search of a jacket of some sort.

ʻʻAnd I thought, here is a girl who can sing like Mariah Carey and actually sings about misunderstood and beautiful things.ʼʼ He told me, voice rich with genuine intent. Thatʼs when I looked up and saw that his eyes were alive again, like when I first saw him. His expression wasnʼt serious or playful. It was gentle and fascinated. Nostalgic. It weakened me.

I cracked a single smile, still unsteady around him. ʻʻYou're very sweet.ʼʼ I complimented half-heartedly, still fishing around for a damn jacket.

ʻʻHere.ʼʼ He said and reached out his hand. In it was a black hoodie, too large to fit me.

ʻʻOh, um, itʼs fine.ʼʼ I awkwardly declined. How did he know I wanted a jacket?

ʻʻI insist.ʼʼ He urged.

ʻʻReallyーʼʼ

ʻʻC'mon, just wear the stupid jacket.ʼʼ He pleaded teasingly, a deep, authentic burst of laughter popping out from his lips. His eyes retained the warmth that briefly rested there and for an instant I almost forgot the unstable part of him that greatly troubled me.

I cautiously nodded, bringing the hoodie into my hold. ʻʻYeah...thanks.ʼʼ I mumbled and glanced around. After a few short pauses I decided to add before I forgot, ʻʻYou can just call me Claire, you know?ʼʼ He looked at me quizzically, I continued. "You don't have to call me Ms. Saleen, like earlier."

Jasper smirked. ʻʻFirst name basis with my queen. Not too bad.ʼʼ

ʻʻQueen?ʼʼ I laughed a little. ʻʻI donʼt know about that.ʼʼ

ʻʻClaire.ʼʼ He tested.

ʻʻJasper.ʼʼ I responded.

ʻʻClaire...ʼʼ

ʻʻJasper.ʼʼ I giggled and slipped the hoodie over my head. It smelled like cigarettes and boyʼs shampoo.

ʻʻI like that.ʼʼ He concluded.

ʻʻGood, Iʼm glad.ʼʼ I told him, bewildered at myself. I was shocked that it was so difficult to stay disinterested and angered at this guy. Once I familiarized myself with the blackness of his wardrobe, I realized a handsome face lived beneath the ebony eyeliner.

ʻʻBrunch will be ready in a minute. That's what I came to say.ʼʼ He finally informed me and I thanked him. After a momentary pause filled with heavy silence, he left. Leaving not a trace of his presence behind.

 ̄ ̄ ̄ ̄ ̄

Is Jasper hiding something?

Who is the person sending the letters and keeping Mandy hostage?

Will Mandy ever be safe?

Will Claire?

Maybe youʼll find out in the next chapter?

Maybe not?

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