Painfully bright light woke Jackson. He shielded his eyes with a hand and looked in the direction of the light. He always left his blinds shut, angled with the top of each slat toward him so he could get the perfect combo of illumination: not too bright as to hurt his eyes and white-out his vision, but not so dark that he couldn’t see anything. He rolled over and reached for his glasses, but they weren’t there. Neither was his phone. Jackson’s heart picked up as he sat up, nudging his stiff legs over the lip of the mattress so he could use both hands to explore the side table. Maybe he’d accidentally nudged his phone and glasses toward the opposite end of the surface. Jackson closed his eyes and let his fingers wander in a precise order, starting with the corner closest to him and moving across, then nudging up a few inches and sliding back toward him. Nothing felt right. The edges of the table were all wrong, the lamp base, too. He found a book, a traditional English-print book, and a few other items he couldn’t positively identify. What the hell?
Jackson forced himself to take a few deep, slow breaths. Even with Molly, getting disoriented from time to time was a part of being blind. The important thing was not to panic, because Jackson had always found his way out of situations before, hadn’t he? Except of course at the party, when Dan had rescued him. Dan!
A surge of memories from last night flooded through Jackson’s brain: the sound of Dan’s voice, so commanding and yet tender; the slide of his slightly calloused fingers over Jackson’s chest; that pleasant fullness; his smell, cologne fading into clean sweat. Now that Jackson had relaxed, thrown away his expectations—that he was in his own room—he realized he’d been silly to even begin to freak out. Dan’s room smelled strongly of him: the traces of his cologne lingered, the faint sweat on his clothes somewhere nearby, probably the sheets, and then underneath it all was the masculine scent Jackson could only describe as “Dan.” Jackson’s half morning wood grew and ached, begging for his attention, but he ignored it. Where was Dan? Jackson was certain he was alone. The mattress didn’t have the sink it would if another man—especially someone as large as Dan—was in it, and Jackson couldn’t hear anyone’s breathing but his own.
Jackson had known this room from floor to ceiling when his sister and father had lived in it, but right now Jackson had no idea how Dan may have rearranged it, since Dan had carried him in. “Molly?” Jackson wasn’t expecting her to answer, but he gave it a try. He didn’t have his phone, or his cane, and he had no clue whether there were clothes or shoes all over the floor, or if the bed was on a totally different wall than it had always been.
Deep breath. Use the light to orient yourself. Even through his closed lids, the light hurt, particularly the eye he’d had the injection in yesterday. If he was facing the light, it meant Dan hadn’t moved the bed. Jackson reached back to feel for the wall to make sure he had his bearings correct, then let out a soft sigh of relief when his fingers slid over plaster that had been repainted so many times throughout the life of this house that it would sometimes chip and fall off in places, and Jackson could feel that. If the wall was on his left and the window in front of him, it meant the bathroom was to his right and the door that led to the rest of the house was behind him. Jackson took a deep breath, rubbed some of the tightest muscles in his legs to try to get them to relax enough he could stand. Then he used his hands to help ensure his feet were as flat on the floor as they could be. He found the wall with his left hand and used it to help him stand, ensuring he could brace himself in case his legs decided to be particularly stubborn or his balance was being a bitch, as it often was when he first woke up or late in the day.
“Dan?” Jackson called out. He strained. He heard his own breath. The hum and whoosh as the AC kicked in and blew fresh, cool air into the room. The subtle swoosh of the ceiling fan. And faintly, off toward his right, the sound of water running. The shower, maybe? Jackson knew that if Dan hadn’t changed anything, if he took four steps he’d reach the window, and then he could use that wall to help him find his way to the bathroom. Jackson just had to hope there wasn’t anything for him to trip on along the way.
Jackson’s finger bumped against something. He slid his hand over the lip and felt it. The door frame. He saw brightness instead of the darker color of a closed door, but he stuck his hand out as a precaution. When he found only open air, he realized his suspicion had been confirmed. He felt the steaminess of the bathroom, could smell soap in the air, but the water had shut off, which meant Dan must have finished his shower. “Dan?”
“Did I wake you? I was trying to be quiet, but I really needed a shower after last night.”
Last night? Was it morning already? That would explain the bright light from the window. Without his phone or watch, Jackson had no way of knowing the time. “Is it safe to come in?”
Dan laughed. “Not like you can see I’m naked, but even if you could, don’t think I’d mind.”
Jackson frowned. “Is the floor clear?”
“Oh. Oh.” The sound of Dan moving around, bare feet on tile, the crumple of . . . fabric, maybe? Then a subtle whoosh and a soft thunk. “It is now.” Perhaps Dan had thrown his towel into the tub.
Jackson kept one hand on the door frame and cautiously took a step, mindful of the threshold. Once he felt the cool tile under his toes, he let go, though he kept one arm out, partially for balance and partially as a precaution. It had been a long time since he’d been in this room, and it probably hadn’t changed, but his vision was so whited-out right now, especially since he’d kept his eyes shut, he couldn’t be sure.
Dan put his hand on Jackson’s waist, his fingers reaching for Jackson’s ass, and Jackson stiffened at the sudden unexpected contact. Dan retreated. “If you don’t want me to touch you there—”
Jackson squinted, shielded his face with his hand. “Is that light coming from the room or the window?”
Dan made a confused sound. “Oh. That’s why your eyes are shut?”
“I don’t have my glasses,” Jackson said. He was irritated, and it wasn’t entirely Dan’s fault.
“Oh. I’m sorry. I’m so stupid.” A moment later, Dan walked by Jackson and the light shut off.
Jackson risked opening his eyes. Some light still entered through the textured-glass window, but it created a good balance as long as Jackson didn’t look in that direction. He realized he didn’t put in his eye drops last night or take his meds, which explained why his eyes were bothering him so much and his legs were so tight. Both of which lended to his bad mood.
“Is this normal?” Dan grabbed Jackson’s chin. It was tender, but it caught Jackson off guard.
“My being a little bitch in the morning, you mean?” Jackson was only half joking.
But Dan chuckled low, a soft, warm, inviting sound that made Jackson sigh inwardly. “Your eye is really red and your face is all black-and-blue around it.
Thankfully, Dan didn’t try to touch him there. “Yes.”
Dan made a sound of displeasure. Then he wrapped his arms around Jackson, and before Jackson could react, he kissed him.
Jackson melted. Dan felt so good, and he was a fantastic kisser. The way he worked that tongue, the way he sucked on Jackson’s, Jackson imagined Dan must give great head, too. Jackson’s dick grew and Dan seemed to move so that it rubbed against his leg. Jackson knew he’d had something he wanted to talk about with Dan, but right now he couldn’t concentrate. He could feel Dan’s dick on his stomach, warm precum easing its slide along his abdomen. Jackson wasn’t sure if either of them could come this way, but he was willing to try. Jackson found Dan’s arm and tried to pull him closer. Dan’s skin was still humid from the shower, and Jackson wished he’d woken up half an hour earlier so he could have had hot morning shower sex, even if it wasn’t an easy feat for him.
Dan suddenly picked Jackson up, pressing him against the wall, sitting him on his knee. His kiss became more aggressive, and all of Jackson’s higher brain functions had sailed away. He wondered if Dan was going to fuck him here, bare. Jackson wanted it. Wanted to feel that delightful fullness again. Wanted to hear Dan’s husky, domineering voice shout as he pounded Jackson into the wall.
“I want to fuck you again.”
Jackson let out a sigh intended as an assent, nodding.
Dan growled and then licked each of Jackson’s nipples in turn. Jackson shivered so much Dan had to adjust his hold to keep Jackson from falling. And then Dan licked between Jackson’s pecs and his hips bucked. He wanted Dan to go lower, to envelop his dick in that hot mouth. To suck Jackson till he screamed. But Dan was teasing. He licked the spot where Jackson’s neck met his shoulder, then sucked on it softly.
Jackson’s fingers dug into Dan’s skin.
“Mmm. Like that?”
Dan laughed in a teasing way, and then heaved Jackson away from the wall, strong arms wrapping around to support Jackson’s back. The cool air felt harsh on Jackson’s skin after the warm humidity of the bathroom.
“I can walk, you know,” Jackson said peevishly, but he was interrupted by Dan’s kiss, warm and hot and promising, and it made Jackson’s protest shrivel up as the tingle in his stomach bloomed along with his hard on.
“I know, but do you want to?” Dan’s voice was low, sexy, and playful, and it made Jackson want him even more.
They kissed off and on, hot and heavy, tongues battling each other the short distance to the bed. Dan stopped, nibbled the base of Jackson’s neck in such a delicate way it made Jackson’s breath catch and his hips buck, his aching cock struggling for release.
“Not yet. I have big plans for you.” Dan chuckled and dropped Jackson on the bed with a reverberating bounce.
The padding of bare feet on the wood, creaking beneath Dan’s weight. A slight slithery swoosh and a click and the light in the room shifted; Dan must have adjusted the blinds. Then the slide of the wooden nightstand drawer opening, Dan rustling in it, and a moment later, a plastic click. Then a squirt, and the slide of a hand on skin that made Jackson reach for his own hard-on.
“Not yet,” Dan warned but with no real threat in his tone, brushing Jackson’s hand away. A moment later, a cold wet finger circled Jackson’s opening and made him shiver. Dan hummed low in his throat. How the man could manage to sound so sexy when he wasn’t even speaking mystified Jackson, but he loved it. “God, you’re so tight and yet so responsive,” Dan said almost to himself, teasing Jackson but not yet trying to push his finger in. “Like a virgin who knows what the fuck he’s doing,” Dan added with a laugh.
Dan teased, and Jackson’s stomach was taut with the anticipation. Just when Jackson was certain Dan would finally penetrate him, a song started playing, the sound coming from near Dan. Dan’s ringtone, maybe?
Wendy, run away with me. I know I sound crazy: don’t you see what you do to me?
Dan ignored it, sliding a hand up Jackson’s thigh, but the song was loud and had clearly zapped the mood.
Wendy, we could get away. I promise if you’re with me, say the word and we’ll find a way.
Jackson’s erection faltered. There was a chance it could be Dan’s mother calling, or his best friend, or a work colleague, and that Dan just liked that song. Maybe that song was his ringtone for everyone. But the prominence of the name “Wendy” in it made Jackson’s stomach sour. Suddenly, the pain of his eye and his legs pushed their way to the front of his consciousness, and he pushed hard against the mattress to help pull himself father back on the bed and into a sitting position.
By now, the phone had silenced, and Dan tried to salvage the moment. “Come on, don’t be like that.” He grabbed Jackson’s arm without warning, which made Jackson tense and bristle even if he didn’t say anything immediately. Dan brought Jackson’s hand to Dan’s thick hard-on, and for an instant Jackson lost himself again in the slick stickiness of Dan’s precum, the firmness and thickness of Dan’s cock. The memories of how it had felt inside him.
Wendy, run away with me— Dan’s cock was suddenly gone as the ringtone cut off.
“What?” Dan demanded, clearly irritated.
Jackson could hear Wendy, her voice a bit grainy, say, “‘What?’ That’s the answer I get? You haven’t called or picked up when I have since you stormed out.”
“First of all, you kicked me out. I remember a very melodramatic tossing of my things over the second story balcony. If I hadn’t been quick you would have damaged thousands of dollars of camera equipment!” Then Dan added, a bit hushed, “Besides, I’m sorta in the middle of something!”
“Don’t hang up.”
Dan sighed. The direction of his voice changed subtly, and he said, “I’ll only be a minute.” Jackson couldn’t be sure if Dan was talking to him and not Wendy, but he expected he was. Dan’s passing footsteps on the wood floor crept father and farther and then Jackson heard a door nearby slam. Dan’s bathroom?
Jackson took a quick second to stretch his knees and then carefully stood up, making his way to the bathroom in the same manner as before, nearly tripling on something soft and damp—Dan’s towel, perhaps?—before arriving at the door. Dan’s voice was muffled through the wood and he couldn’t hear Wendy, but it was enough to sate his curiosity.
“You talked to your sister about our sex life?!” Dan shouted so suddenly and loudly Jackson probably could have heard him from the bed. Jackson’s stomach soured at the thought of Dan having sex with a woman. But they were engaged. Of course they’d had sex. Jackson tried to push it from his mind so he could concentrate on eavesdropping.
“I can’t just come home. I signed a lease. And the house owner is a lawyer. I’m sure she’d make me pay up the ass if I back out now, and I don’t have that kind of money.” Jackson could hear the pat-thud of Dan’s footsteps; was he pacing? After a moment, Dan let out an annoyed sigh and said, “I’m not using your money for this.”
The words struck Jackson. He remembered how excited Dan had gotten when he’d realized Jackson was a blueblood, and how eager Dan had been to go to the krewe event. Then he’d wormed his way into Harold’s good graces (who knew Harold had any) as if he’d been born into Cadmus. Jackson was broke, and Lyn not much better off (at least before she married), but Dan didn’t know that. Or maybe it wasn’t about money, but influence. Even as a blind, broke cripple, Jackson’s last name still carried a certain cache. It was a key that could unlock doors if someone knew which ones to pursue, and Dan definitely seemed charismatic enough to do it. Maybe he’d swindled this Wendy just as he had Jackson. Maybe Dan had seen Jackson as an easy mark. Maybe he’d been planning this for months. Even years.
Maybe Dan was the one who’d broken in.
Jackson felt his heartbeat speed up and his breath begin to come in puffs. Dan was supposedly a friend of Lyn’s best friend, who’d vouched for him, but if Dan was a con man he could have set the whole thing up without any of them even realizing it.
Maybe Jackson was being paranoid, but what did he really know about Dan? And yet how easily had he fallen under the man’s spell? Jackson sucked in a huge but quiet breath as if he could use the air to push away all the feelings stirring inside him.
Jackson’s early childhood had been spent at the school for the blind in Baton Rouge, but once he’d mastered Braille his father had decided to move him back home and send him to St. Ignatius, where generations of Santoros had been educated. It was a wake up call for Jackson, where he was the only blind kid and also the only one with a physical disability.
Recess was normally off limits to him; even if he had tried the school wouldn’t have allowed him, so he spent most post-lunch periods alone in those early days before he had a personal aid, reading. But Jackson could never forget the first rainy-day recess, when suddenly all his classmates were stuck inside like he was, and for the first time he had an opportunity to join in on their games.
The swell of voices in the small classroom was disorienting for Jackson, and since the kids had reorganized the desks for their small groups, it meant he’d run into one or someone more than once, or bumped shoes with his cane, all of which would elicit anger or laughter. Usually a mix of both. With the occasional dose of condescension.
Jackson stopped to listen, focusing on a group of boys near him.
"OK. Tap 8 . . . and I play . . . Jokulhaups!" One boy announced triumphantly, followed by a slapping sound.
"What? No! You can't do that!" Another cried, sounding devastated.
"Yes I can! Goodbye, Nightmare!" The first said gleefully.
"Aw man. That was my best card."
Jackson wasn’t sure what game they were talking about, but it sounded fun. “Can I play?”
A chorus of laughter from what sounded like half the boys in his class. “Sure. You can play,” the kid who had used the Jokulhaups said. “If you tell me what this card is.” Snickering.
Jackson’s stomach sank. A card game? He’d played a few different kinds back at the school for the blind, but those, of course, had Braille or some other kind of tactile markers so he could identify them. Nothing he’d overheard sounded familiar, but maybe the boys had made the game up. Knowing he had no shot at answering the boy’s question, Jackson still took the card, rubbing his fingers over its smooth surface. The paper was thicker and less flexible than any other kind of card he’d felt before. The edges were rounded, although they were . . . frayed? . . . in one of the corners, which gave it an almost cottony feel. Strange.
Jackson brought the card close to his face, trying to see whatever he could through his blurry, limited sight. That made the boys laugh harder, but he ignored them. Maybe if he could tell them just one thing about the card they would let him play. He knew one side was brown and the other was shaded with enough red over its surface that Jackson could see it. He smoothed his hands over the paper again as if somehow the 2D images and text would become tactile.
“Hey, watch it, that’s a rare card,” the Jokulhaups kid said, yanking it out of Jackson’s hands suddenly.
“It’s red,” Jackson said. At the school for the blind, he had been proud of his ability to identify intense colors, one thing that helped him stand out among kids who could only sense light or who were totally blind.
But here, Jackson was the freak. “No crap. You can’t play if you can’t see the cards, dummy.”
And the boys returned to their game. Suddenly all Jackson could hear were the not-so-hushed murmurs, like, “Think his Mommy has to hold his dick when he pees?” or “Bet he sits down like a girl.” or “Or he pisses on his feet!” Each followed by increasing laughter.
Jackson had ended up retreating to his desk, holding his cane as if it were his lifeline, listening to his classmates having fun around him. He’d never felt so alone.
It was twenty years ago, and yet the memory still echoed in Jackson’s head. One reason he’d decided to take Molly and walk to the streetcar for his meeting at Harold’s, which thankfully had been moved from the evening to the morning. Jackson was grateful because it gave him an excuse to leave the house, and the trip would give Jackson time to think, to process, to decide how he was going to handle Dan the next time they met. Because Jackson had managed to get to his room, get dressed, and get Molly harnessed before Dan finished his phone call. He’d tried to talk to Jackson as he was leaving, but Jackson had merely said he had an appointment, and walked out.
The day was pleasant, warm for winter, the sun hot on Jackson’s head, a gentle breeze that stirred the leaves and the fabric of Jackson’s pant legs. Jackson closed his eyes and listened: the brushing of leaves against one another in the trees surrounding him; the murmur of lazy traffic on St. Charles behind and in front of him; Molly’s panting. He waited for the rumble of the streetcar, announcing its presence with a ding-ding of its bell. Even before that, though, Jackson could feel it, the subtle tremor of the ground, vibrations cascading through his feet up into his body.
As the streetcar grew nearer, Molly shifted, her signal to him to be ready. Jackson heard the whine of the breaks as the streetcar slid to a stop in front of him, the creak of the doors as they opened.
“Hey, Jackson. Long time. Hop on up.” The voice was familiar. Thick Westbank accent, a bit rough with age, always with a smile lilting the words.
“Emile. Guess I don’t ride the car as much when school’s off.”
“I’m heading toward Canal. Sure that’s where you wanna go?” Emile was always good at confirming Jackson’s destination before he even climbed up into the streetcar.
“Yep. Krewe stuff. ‘Tis the season, right?”
Emile chuckled low. “Been a long time since you were involved in that business. But hop in. We’re pretty full, but the seat right in front’s free.” Another reason Jackson liked Emile; he saved Jackson the trouble of figuring out where to sit.
As much as Jackson disliked cars, he’d always loved riding the streetcar. He loved the rumble as they moved over the tracks, the sound of the wind through the open windows and the smells that it brought with it. Even the feel of the seat and the metal grab bar, all of which grounded him somehow without leaving him disconnected in the same way riding shotgun always did. He knew it didn’t really make sense, but maybe it was because somehow the streetcar gave him a sense of freedom and independence while being driven around robbed him of that and reminded him he was a blind man in a sighted man’s world.
And that was the last thing Jackson needed right now.
“Wow! An actual blind guy with a dog and everything!” a voice off to his right exclaimed. A girl. young, but not a child. Probably middle school or high school. Jackson still couldn’t decide what made him stand out more, the bright white cane or Molly.
“Don’t be rude,” an older woman said, maybe the girl’s mother.
Neither one apologized to him.
It didn’t matter. Jackson leaned his head back, the vibrations of the streetcar traveling through his skull as if he were one with it. A fresh wave of loneliness tried to sweep over him, but he pushed it down. He was going into battle against Harold soon, and he couldn’t afford to show any weakness because Harold wouldn’t hesitate to use it against Jackson.
Harold’s house was eerily quiet when it was empty like this, the click, click, click of Molly’s nails on the hardwood echoing in the spacious halls, likely high-ceilinged from the way the sound seemed to bounce around disorientingly. Jackson followed his memory of the floorplan and Molly’s guidance to Harold’s study. When he found the door, he was ready to knock when he heard Harold’s voice from inside.
“Don’t tell me LaBranche number two is shut in! It’s my best well!” A pause in which no one else seemed to be speaking, which led Jackson to believe Harold must be on the phone. “I don’t give a shit what you have to do! I want you to get that well back online. Yesterday. Understand? I’m losing money every second that it isn’t producing, much more than your pathetic life is worth!” A loud clatter, perhaps Harold slamming the receiver down, and then a shout of, “Goddamn incompetent jerk offs!”
Jackson decided it would be best if Harold didn’t realize he’d overheard any of that conversation, so he ordered Molly to take him back the way they came. He could always lie and say he’d gotten lost trying to find Harold’s office. The man already saw Jackson as helpless, so it wouldn’t be a difficult deceit to pull off.
Jackson followed Molly’s pull through the harness as he thought back to what he’d just heard. Harold had obviously been talking about an oil or gas well, probably something here in Louisiana somewhere by the sound of the name. Which seemed strikingly familiar.
Jackson didn’t have too long to dwell on it, though, because only a few minutes later, he heard the sound of a door opening behind him, and Harold’s voice calling out, “You’re going the wrong way. That dog must not be worth very much.” He huffed. “Never mind. The tailor isn’t here yet. I suppose he can set up anywhere.”
The tailor had arrived not long after, so they’d gathered in the dining room in a part of the house Jackson hadn’t explored during the party. Harold stayed to observe, almost as if he were enjoying watching Jackson flinch and stiffen every time the tailor or his assistant touched him as they went about their measurements.
“I was certain someone of your persuasion would relish having two men put their hands all over you.”
Jackson grit his teeth; it would be pointless to try to explain how unsettling it was to be touched unexpectedly, especially over and over. Being gay didn’t mean he wanted to be pawed by anyone with a dick.
“Please stand still, monsieur,” the tailor grumbled for the twentieth time in his French accent that Jackson was almost 100% sure was an affectation. Too bad he read French better than he spoke it, because he would have loved to test his theory. Jackson took a grounding breath and tried to ignore the tailors as much as possible, turning his head in the direction of Harold’s voice. “So what is the real reason you made me this last-minute offer? Planning a PR stunt to show how open and accepting Cadmus is when the front page of the carnival supplement in the Times Pic has a giant photo of me with Molly, smiling in front of a float you don’t mind revealing ahead of time for the good press?” Jackson couldn’t help the scorn that dripped from his voice. As excited as part of him was to be honored with his rightful place in the court, a position he should have been offered years ago, he couldn’t shed years of resentment and bad treatment by Harold and other krewe members.
Harold’s wheezing laugh echoed in the large, high-ceilinged room. “No, but not a bad idea. Not that Cadmus needs any more publicity.”
“Monsieur, please, turn this way,” the tailor grumbled.
Jackson sighed. “Which—?” he started to ask, but the tailor or his minion impatiently pushed to shove Jackson into the position they wanted, causing Jackson to start to lose his balance. Molly must have seen he was about to fall, because she jumped up, bracing him with her body in time for him to stabilize himself with a combination of leaning against her and grabbing onto her until he could get his feet and knees re-aligned. It wasn’t something she had been trained for, but had instead developed through their close working bond. Jackson let out a sigh of relief. “I’ll move if you want but don’t shove me again,” Jackson snapped, hoping he was looking in the general direction of the tailor and his assistant.
Harold laughed again. “Jackson’s not just blind, he’s clumsy.”
Jackson felt every muscle in his body tense, and he wished he were close enough to strangle Harold, but he could tell even with the way the room distorted the sound that Harold had to be well out of arm’s reach. “I’m beginning to think you only invited me here for your personal entertainment. Are you really that bored?” Jackson started to fold his arms on his chest when the tailor tsked and pulled them away, pushing them up so they were spread out on each side like he was a scarecrow.
“I told you,” Harold said, sounding less amused and more irritated, a tone of voice that Jackson was pretty sure was one of the man’s default manners of speaking, coupled with sneering condescension. “The upper circle decided it was high time you were seated in the court.”
“But why now,” Jackson said, trying to hold in a whine of frustration, especially because the tailors were measuring his chest and the measuring tape kept brushing over his nipples as they adjusted it, making him shiver and draw in a breath. He prayed Harold couldn’t see that from where he was across the room. He didn’t need anymore gay jokes.
Harold sighed. “It’s the anniversary of your father’s first ride in the court, and after seeing your renewed interest in your birthright, we all decided it was high time you took your rightful place in the royal hierarchy for this year’s carnival.”
Jackson scoffed. “My father went to his grave never expecting me to be able to take his place, knowing the family legacy and our nominal connection to the krewe would die with him.”
Harold surprised Jackson by not responding for a long time. Finally he spoke in a tone of voice that was quiet and reserved and very un-Harold-like, “That isn’t true. Your father always hoped you’d fulfill your duty as the only Santoro male. It’s good he passed before he could be disappointed by how you’ve rejected your family heritage.”
Jackson clenched his fists, resisting the urge to strike out at the tailors. “And how the fuck would you know that?”
Harold hummed, and what that meant, Jackson wasn’t sure. But then he said, “I was friends with your father for longer than you’ve been alive.”
Jackson wanted nothing more than to escape this conversation. “Then why didn’t you go to his funeral? I may not be able to see but I know you weren’t there.”
Harold let out another sound Jackson couldn’t understand. Then, in an almost toneless voice he replied, “We all grieve in our own ways.”
Jackson breathed deeply as soon as he was out of Harold’s mansion, leaning against the wall in the enclosed garden. His phone rang, snapping him back to reality, the computerized voice announcing it was Dan calling. Jackson hit “decline” as fast as he could once the voiceover confirmed he had found the right button. Then, only a breath later, he asked the AI to call his sister’s work.
Lyn answered after only two rings. “Jacky? Everything OK? I’m in the middle of something, but I can drop it if you need me to come get you.”
Part of Jackson’s heart soared knowing that no matter what, he always could rely on his sister, and yet another part seethed at the way she still sometimes treated him as if he were a child, although Jackson was certain she wasn’t aware of it. “I’m OK,” Jackson said, even though he was far from it. But his sister coming to his rescue wasn’t what he needed right now. He just needed to hear a friendly voice after that awful conversation with Harold.
Jackson could almost hear Lyn’s frown over the phone, although she didn’t say anything.
“Were Harold and Dad really friends?”
Lyn seemed distracted; she was probably multitasking. “Harold? And Dad? Hmm. Yes. I think so. Why?”
Jackson pushed his fingers through his thick hair. After what happened this morning with Dan, he didn’t care if he messed it up. “Harold seems to think Dad would be happy to know I’m involved in Cadmus again. Taking up the torch of our ancestors and all that BS.”
Lyn was quiet, and Jackson thought she was working at first, but then she said in a quiet, sincere voice, “He would.”
Jackson scoffed. “Come on. We both know he would have preferred that you were a man so you could carry on his legacy.”
“Jacky, why would you say that?”
Jackson felt years of pain he’d sequestered away in the depths of his heart resurfacing, and the sting in his good eye as tears tried to form. But he managed to keep the emotion from his voice as he replied, “Because I’m the reason he killed himself.”