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Jade Thorn frowned at the display. She was looking for the perfect cake for Jason’s birthday, and none of the cakes showed were right for her brother. Jason was…one of those guys who was bursting with personality and happy contentedness. He was the best bro ever, and Jade wanted his eighteenth birthday to be perfect.
“Hey, long time, no see. Can I help you with anything?” a familiar voice asked. Jade startled. She turned to see Julian King, a guy she’d known since childhood. “You’ve got that look on your face,” Julian said, a teasing smile playing across his handsome face.
Jade found herself staring into his blue eyes. The eyes, which, over the years, had sparkled with happiness and cried with sorrow. Jade remembered the day that Julian’s dog, Daisy, had died, and his fifteenth birthday, which had happened just two weeks ago. One week before it happened.
“Look? What look?” Jade asked
Julian laughed. “The look that says you’re irritated and stressing out. Am I right?”
“Well, I have every right to stress out,” Jade huffed, angrily. Then she started to turn. If Julian was working here, she was leaving.
“Wait, Jade,” he said, grabbing her arm and gently spinning her around. “Talk to me, okay? I…I’ve missed seeing you, and—”
“Save your breath, Julian,” Jade said sharply, with more force than she’d intended. She pushed his hand off her arm, and hurt clouded Julian’s eyes. “I’m not here to talk with you. I…I just needed to get something.”
Julian sighed. “If this is the way you want it to be…” He rubbed his forehead, as if he had a pounding headache.
“What kind of cake would be a good type for Jason? These just don’t seem right, you know?” Jade nodded towards the cakes, as if she hadn’t heard a word he’d said. Julian’s hands slowly dropped from his face, and he gaped at her, shocked. She ignored the look. “I feel like Jason should have a special birthday this year. Since…everything that’s happened.”
Julian dipped his head. “Still having trouble accepting it.” He bit his lip. “Remember, I’ll always be here for you if…you know, you need me.”
Bitter, painful memories came flying back, making Jade shiver. “Come here, girly, come here! Come see what we can do, what we did to your big brother! HAHAHAHAHA!” Jason, lying in a pool of blood.
Jade cried out. “No! No, he’s alive! Jason is fine, he’s alive and I’m going to get him a cake, Julian King!” She was crying now, crying all over Julian’s work clothes, and…wait…Julian? He was rubbing her back soothingly as she sobbed against his chest. Jade pushed away from him, and his arms dropped limply to his sides.
“How…dare you,” she cried in heavy gulps. “Why do you…pretend to care…about me, and Jason? You were with those people. You…I trusted you. I trusted you, and you made it obvious that you didn’t care!” Jade turned and ran for the door, swiping away her tears angrily. She made it out onto the street and stared forlornly at the traffic rushing past.
Something, or rather, someone, caught her attention across the street. Jason? It was Jason! He was wearing his red sweatshirt that he loved, and Jade shook her head in disbelief. Jason. Jason. She was almost afraid to call out to him, afraid he would vanish, that it was all a dream. If it was, she was never waking up. She stepped off the sidewalk, oblivious to the honking, noisy traffic in front of her.
Suddenly, someone slammed into her from behind. She screamed as the figure in red disappeared from her view and the hold on her waist tightened. She fought it, slamming her fists into bone and flesh. To no avail, because Jade was jerked to the ditch, and rolled back to the sidewalk, where she lay, stunned. Once she realized what had just happened, she turned her head to see who had pulled her away from Jason.
Julian was trying to sit up, and Jade could see the obvious welt on his face, the bruise forming around his eye, the blood on his left arm. Served him right, if he was trying to stop her from getting to Jason. Jason.
“You,” Jade spat accusingly. “What do you want? Are you trying to stop me from being with Jason? I just saw him, on that sidewalk over there!” She pointed across the intersection, but the figure was gone. Julian’s eyes searched hers.
“Are you okay, Jade?”
Her mind cleared, and for the first time, she understood what he was asking. Was she okay? Jade looked at her hands, which had little bits of gravel stuck on the palms. Julian brushed it off, leaving her feeling tingly. Was she okay? Jade needed to focus on his question. No. Yes. Physically, she’d be fine. Maybe a bruise or two. That was okay, because Jade was used to bruises.
“Yeah. I’m fine, Julian. I need to go home now. I think Jason will be getting home from work, and I need to make him supper. You should go. Thanks for your help.” The last bit, that was automatic. Julian stared at her. His white collared shirt was torn in more than one place, blood caked on the left side where he’d rolled with her across the gravel.
“Julian, your shirt is torn. You can’t go to work like that, is that it?” He looked down quickly, taking in his battered appearance as he stood up.
“I’ll walk you home, Jade,” he murmured. “Wait a minute while I call my boss and tell him I’m leaving.” Julian stepped away from her, and Jade stood up, her eyes sweeping frantically for the red hoodie. Where was Jason? She hadn’t…imagined him, had she? He was there, wasn’t he? Even if he wasn’t, he’d make it home okay. She’d see him soon, when Julian finished talking on his phone.
“Come on, Jade, let’s go,” Julian said, his voice trembling. Jade snapped her gaze to his, and she wondered if he was hurting. His eye had to be throbbing. She’d had a black eye before, and they really were painful.
“I’m sorry, Julian. I didn’t mean to hit you,” Jade whispered, so quiet that she wasn’t sure he heard her. But a moment later, he turned and took her hand, forgiving her. They were quiet for a moment. Finally, Julian broke the silence, moaning with anger and distress.
“Jade, oh Jade. You shouldn’t be sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so, so, so sorry. I didn’t want this to happen, but…you’re going to get yourself killed. This was the only thing I could do.” Jade looked up at him, gazing at his pained blue eyes.
“What do you mean?” she asked softly. He looked past her, towards the street they were approaching. Julian’s face twisted into anguish.
“Jade Thorn,” a voice called out. Jade whirled around. A woman and two well-muscled men were making their way towards her. The woman had very pale skin, black hair wound into a bun and shadowy eyes that reminded Jade of a shark looking at its next meal. She was wearing a stiff white skirt and blouse, with a small blue cross pinned to her blouse. The men were both dark with thick, curly hair and dangerous eyes.
Jade shivered, and looked up at Julian, noticing just then how close she was to him.
“How do they know me?”
He just shook his head and looked down at her sadly. “Like I said, I’m sorry it had to happen this way, Jade. They…they promised me it would only be temporary.”
“Jade, my dear, you need to come with us,” the woman said as she stepped closer.
“No. No. No, who are you?” Jade backed into Julian’s chest, and he wrapped his arms around her. Trapping her. The woman moved closer, the bodyguards following her every move. “Julian, let go of me, let go! Why aren’t you—”
“Jade, it’s okay, they aren’t going to hurt you.”
“You know that? I don’t believe you. I don’t trust you, Julian. I cannot believe you would do this! Sell me out to some freako people? We’ve known each other for forever!”
“Look, I didn’t want you to get hurt. What if this is the only way, Jade? What if it’s the only way to keep you from dying? You almost got hit by a car today, and I could save you. But what about tomorrow? I can’t always be right beside you, as much as I’d like to. It’s only for your safety, Jade. Okay?”
“If you really cared about me, you wouldn’t be giving me up to some weird people. Orange Julius and Yellow Jadius, remember?” Jade looked up at him, and she could see the faintest trace of a smile.
“How could I forget? Jade, I want you to know that I—”
“Enough of this nonsense! Rashad, knock her out!” Julian turned to face the woman, his expression panicky. “This is getting to be a hassle,” she muttered.
“You said you wouldn’t,” Julian’s voice was low, and Jade could see a muscle in his jaw clenching. Then he looked down at Jade and began to speak, but she couldn’t hear him. Out of the corner of her eye, Jade saw one of the men advancing. She turned, but it was too late, she could feel the pain of a needle injecting something into her bloodstream. Jade felt her world go hazy, but right before she blacked out, she saw Julian, the Julian who never cried, begin to cry.