Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: Got a Secret . . . Can You Keep it? (Part Six)
After school, Ciel wove slowly through the noisy crowd of students spilling through the halls. Trepidation caused a butterfly dance to swirl inside her as she second-guessed the impulsive decision to run to the handsome football player when it all became too much to handle.
She turned into the arm of the hall that housed her locker, wondering if he'd show. She hadn't even told him where her locker was! It would be a perfect way to bow out gracefully if he'd changed his mind. To her surprise, Ciel spotted Jason lounging against her locker, a bulky green and white backpack slung casually over one shoulder. His face was turned, and she examined his profile for a moment—a strong jaw, a small bump over the bridge of his mostly straight nose, and a mop of tousled brown hair that fell over his forehead. The back of his hair was damp and curled over the collar of his letterman’s jacket.
“Um, hey.” Ciel ducked her head, allowing her hair to swing forward and cover part of the red rushing to her cheeks.
Jason turned and dazzled her with his sexy smile. “There you are! Thought you stood me up.”
Ciel's throat constricted. Imagine Jason thinking I stood up someone like him! That's a hoot! She shook her head and hugged her books closer to her chest.
Jason stepped aside so she could access her locker. It took three tries for her to open it, and then her mind went blank, so she stuffed most of her books in the locker and prayed she hadn't forgotten anything important.
“Do you want to walk through the park?”
“Don't you have practice?”
“Nah. I told Coach something important came up.”
Ciels eyes widened. “You did?”
“It's the first one I've missed—no biggie.” Jason shrugged.
As they reached the end of the hall, Joanie came flying around the corner. Her eyes bugged out when she saw who Ciel's companion was.
“Who's your . . . friend?” Joanie inclined her head toward Jason.
“Joanie, this is Jason.”
“Hey. How are ya?” Jason nodded to Joanie.
“I'm great . . . and you're . . . the quarterback of the football team.”
“Gotta run, Jo. Call you tonight.” Ciel shot her a look.
Joanie grabbed Ciel by the arm and pulled her in close, incredibly strong for one so thin and bony. “You damn well better.” The answer came through gritted teeth. She pushed her large-framed glasses in place and turned to Jason with a smile. “See ya!” With a wave, Joanie loped off.
“Sorry about that. She's just . . .”
Jason grinned. “Looking out for her best friend, like she should.”
By that time, the halls were almost empty. They still garnered a few side eyes as they made their way out of the building, but only Ciel seemed to take notice.
There was a chill in the air, but the first signs of spring were all around them as they entered Jacoby Park. Birds were building nests, the beginnings of bright green grass were pushing up through the moist soil, leaves and buds sprouted, and that special smell of freshening and renewal was floating on the breeze.
Jason walked close to Ciel, close enough that the sleeve of his jacket rubbed against hers. His shoulder was much higher than her own, and once, when she glanced up to gauge how tall he was, she found him gazing down at her with a half-smile on his face.
Even though she'd run to him in desperation, and it must have been obvious there was something going on, Jason put Ciel at ease on the walk home. He talked to her, asked about her interests . . . joked around with her. They liked a lot of the same music, and both had a thing for silent movies and sci-fi. By the time they reached Ciel's house, she was having a great time with Jason and forgot to be intimidated by his popular status at school.
Nobody was home yet. Ciel had Jason wait in the living room while she ran upstairs. For one, she wasn't allowed to have boys in her bedroom when her parents weren't home—not that it had ever been an issue—and for two, she only wanted to show Jason select items from Janice's trinket box. After all, she intended to safeguard Janice's secrets to the best of her ability.
She chose some photos from the box since they were the current source of her distress. With Professor Jeffries and Janice's stepmom off the hook in Ciel's book, she was back to square one.
They sat at the kitchen table poring over the pictures. One picture was of Janice with her father and stepmother, and the other was of a girl sitting in a field blowing on a dandelion.
“Okay, I thought that Janice's stepmom was the one who raided our hideout—until I saw this picture. The woman I saw had long, black hair, and Mrs. Strohm has blonde hair. By the way, Detective Hoffstra was hired by the Strohm's to find Janice.”
“How do you know that?”
“He was having a cup of coffee with my mother when I came down for breakfast the other day. He showed us his creds, and he identified the woman in ths picture as Janice's stepmom.”
“So there's still the matter of who the dark-haired lady is. And who is that a picture of?” Jason points at the girl in the field.
“Looks like Janice,” Ciel said hesitantly. The girl in the picture had on a dress Janice wouldn't be caught dead wearing, her hair was in a loose braid down her back, and she was blowing on a dandelion. All very un-Janice-like. The shape of the face and the odd little birthmark were in evidence, though.
“That is not Janice.”
“She has that odd little birthmark, see?” As Ciel pointed her fingertip at it, something struck her—the birthmark was on the wrong arm. “You're right! Janice's birthmark is on her left arm! Who is this girl then? She's obviously a relative.”
“Doesn't have any.”
“Maybe you should show this to her parents.”
“Maybe. I'm just afraid of the questions that might come up. I promised Janice not to let her stepmom get near any of her shit. I mean, if I thought it would help find her, then I would.”
“Yeah. I don't see how this picture would help.” Jason shook his head. “You know, you're a really good friend, Ciel.”
Ciel blushed. “Th-thanks. I'm going to put this stuff away. Be right back.” She ran up to her room, relieved to have a moment to compose herself.
When she came down the stairs, she peeked over the railing and watched Jason for a moment. He stood by the mantle poring over her family photos. He was so nice and . . . normal.
“I'm back. You want a drink?”
“Nah. This is such a cute picture . . . is this you?” Jason turned, holding the picture of Ciel in her pink tutu when she was eight.
“Oh . . . ugh. My mom refuses to put that hideous thing away!” Ciel's face burned, and she tried to snatch the picture out of his hand.
He held it out of her reach, laughing good-naturedly. “You want this, huh?”
“Jaaaason!” Ciel leaped in the air, grabbing at the wooden frame.
They parried around the living room for a few minutes until Ciel lost her balance and Jason reached out, steadying her against the wall beside the fireplace.
Ciel looked up at him—face flushed, eyes bright, hair wild around her narrow face—and he stared down at her with an intensity that caused her heart to flutter. Warm, calloused fingers traced her fevered cheek.
“I'm sorry, Ciel. I really like that picture.”
“Oh . . .”
Jason glanced down at her lips. “I really like you.”
He lowered his head until their lips met, a soft press. Ciel was sure her heart would break free from the cage of her ribs, sure that Jason could hear it slamming hard and fast. When he placed the picture on the edge of the mantle and moved in closer, she forgot all about her embarrassment or how unlikely it was that he would be interested in her.
First kisses can be all-consuming, and Ciel was lost in the feel of his lips on hers, his hands cupping her face, and the bolt of heat that flared inside her and seemed to deliver showers of sparks through every cell. Jason's fingers splayed over the sides of her delicate neck, his thumbs caressing her cheeks, as he tilted his head and deepened the kiss. When his tongue licked at her lip, Ciel panicked and wrenched her head to the side with a gasp.
“What's wrong?” he whispered.
“I—you . . . um . . .” she sputtered. “Wh-what are you doing?” Ciel looked down at the carpet.
“But . . . why?”
Jason laughed. “Because I like you, Ciel.”
“No, you have a thing for Janice.”
“Where did you get that idea?”
“You followed Janice into Jacoby Park that time.”
“I never followed Janice anywhere.”
“I saw you!”
Jason tipped Ciel's chin up and waited for her to look at him. “I wasn't following Janice.”
“It was you. I was following you.”
Sarah Aisling hails from the East Coast of the US and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and precocious daughter. She’s currently editing her upcoming novel, The Weight of Roses. When Sarah isn’t being enslaved by her characters, she can be found with her nose in a book, obsessing over nail polish or anything leopard, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SarahAislingAuthor Website: www.sarahaisling.com