His face is a thundercloud. I jump up guiltily, my face flaming. And then I realize I have done nothing wrong. We have done nothing wrong. My innocence makes my voice strong. ‘We were just talking, Blake. Jack is my brother.’
Blake does not look at me. ‘He’s not your brother. He’s in love with you.’
‘Oh! For God’s sake,’ I burst out angrily, and turn to Jack in exasperation for support against such a distorted view of our relationship, and then I freeze.
Jack is looking at me with so much pain in his tortured, artist’s eyes. Why, Blake is right. My Jack is in love with me. Deeply. Hopelessly. Perhaps for years. It seems impossible. It is me who has been so blind, so stupid. Both our mothers knew it.
‘Jack?’ I whisper. I want him to deny it so it can all be as it was before—uncomplicated, beautiful, but he presses his lips into a thin line and starts walking towards the door. Blankly, I follow his progress past Blake, their shoulders almost brushing but not quite. He is in the corridor when I find my legs and begin to run after him. Blake catches me by the arm.
‘Let me pass,’ I hiss.
He looks at me. Implacable, his eyes glittering. ‘I don’t share,’ he rasps.
‘Please… He needs me now’
‘Your pity is the last thing he needs.’
‘I wasn’t offering pity. I was offering friendship.’
‘He doesn’t want your friendship either. He wants you in his arms, in his bed. Can you give him that, Lana?’
We stand there staring at each other, the air bristling. Then he releases my arm and backs away from me. I drop my head. As I stand there crushed by my loss, he puts his arms around me and draws me to his body. ‘I’m sorry, baby.’
I lay my cheek against his hard chest. Dry-eyed. When the loss is that big tears don’t come. I know from the time I lost my mother. Tears come when you release that person and I refuse to release Jack. He will fall in love with someone else. He will forget this love he has for me and then we will be brother and sister again. I feel Blake’s lips on my hair.
And I begin to cry. Not for the loss of Jack because I will never lose Jack, but for the loss of Blake, because I know in my heart of hearts I can’t keep him. Because of Cronus; because everything I really love is always being taken away from me. Blake doesn’t understand why I am crying or clinging or why I am insatiable. I am drinking the last of the summer wine. That night I let myself get drunk as a skunk.
When I go to visit Billie she has a surprise for Sorab. A beautiful rocking horse from Mamas & Papas.
‘OMG!’ I exclaim. ‘You shouldn’t have. That must have cost a fortune,’ I go to it and touch the soft brown material of the horse’s mouth.
‘Nah, I nicked it.’
I whirl around to face her. Trying to imagine how on earth she walked out of the store with such a big item in her arms. ‘Why, Billie?’
She shrugs. ‘It’s not a big deal. These big corporations make allowances for pilferage. It’s part of their operating costs.’
‘When we have our business are we going to make allowances for pilferage too?’
I raise my eyebrows and cross my arms over my chest.
‘All right,’ she says. ‘But I’m not taking it back.’
I laugh. Billie is incorrigible. Sometimes I wish I was like her. Life is such an abundant adventure. She takes everything with both hands.
‘Listen, Billie, I know why you did it, but you don’t have to compete with Blake. You’re Sorab’s aunt. You’ll always be there,’ and the words stick in my throat, but I spit them out, ‘Blake will not.’
‘I’m sorry, Lana.’
‘You don’t have to apologize to me.’
‘I’m sorry that you can’t have Blake.’
‘Yeah. It’s a bummer.’
‘I got a bottle of vodka,’ she suggests brightly.
I smile. ‘No, but I’ll have a cup of tea, though.’
We are sitting at the kitchen table having our tea when the doorbell rings.
‘Yeah, Jack said he might come around.’
She goes to open the door. ‘Hey, you.’
‘Hey, yourself,’ Jack says and comes in.
‘Hello, Jack,’ I greet softly.
‘Hello, Lana.’ He is surprised to see me. His eyes seem sad. So sad. I don’t think I have ever seen him like this. Now that his secret has been unmasked he seems purposeless, empty and defeated. He looks like a man who has had all his dreams and hopes shattered, and he is simply standing there looking at the shards in disbelief.
I move forward and he looks at me with a tortured expression.
‘I’ll leave you two alone,’ Billie says and walks quickly to her room.
‘We have to talk,’ I say.
‘There is nothing to say,’ he replies. His eyes are burning in his face, though. There is something he wants to say. Badly.
‘Tell me,’ I urge.
‘I am leaving for Africa soon. I volunteered. I’ll be working for a medical charity.’
I gasp. There are already tears prickling the backs of my eyes. ‘Where in Africa?’
‘For how long?’
He shrugs. A half smile. The old Jack poking through. ‘Until I feel better, I guess.’
I nod. I’m not going to cry. I’m going to be strong for him. Make it easy for him. I’m going to wish him well.
‘Before I go will you…kiss me, Lana?’
My mouth gapes. I stare at him. First thought: I love Jack. I can’t refuse him such a small thing. Second thought: my mouth belongs to Blake. I think of Blake saying, ‘I don’t share.’
‘Forget it, forget it,’ he says, and whirling around makes for the door. For a few seconds I am frozen, and then I am running out of the door calling to him. He turns in the corridor and looks at me.
‘Yes,’ I whisper.
I owe him this. This is my Jack. He would give his life for me. I love him. I have loved him all my life. One parting kiss. What harm can it do? The kiss is already doomed.
He strides towards me, broad-shouldered, confident, sure. The old Jack in every line. He stops in front of me. I look up into his bright blue eyes, totally different from Blake’s or mine. ‘Old blue eyes,’ my mum used to call him. He could have had any girl. All the girls in school used to call him Mr. Happening and he was in love with me the whole time.