Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: Got a Secret . . . Can You Keep it? (Part 14)
Ciel's mouth hung agape as Janice rushed across the room and gripped her upper arms, giving her a shake.
“Did you just call me 'Mrs. Jeffries'?”
Frightened, Ciel only managed a nod.
“Bitch!” The venomous expletive was directed to a corner of the room, not at Ciel. “Liar!” Janice let go of Ciel's arms, balling her fists and pacing in front of the metal shelving, muttering curses. An old, fragile book was knocked to the floor and ignored. She seemed to forget about Ciel's presence in the bunker.
The metal door slammed shut with a banging echo, causing both girls to jump. Metal tumblers clicked home, sending a gunshot of finality ricocheting around the room. Janice raced to the door and beat her fists against its impenetrable surface, screaming until she was hoarse. Ciel stood helpless and watched her friend, unable to reach out to her due to the restraint shackled to her ankle.
Eventually, Janice placed her back against the metal door and slid to a seated position on cold concrete. When Ciel finally took a good look at her friend, she gasped, covering her mouth with one hand. Tear tracks stained Janice's alabaster skin, but what shocked Ciel to the core were the gaunt planes of her face and the sunken eye sockets with purple shadows marring the delicate skin beneath. Janice had lost a lot of weight, something not readily obvious beneath the baggy jeans and hoodie she wore.
“Janice . . . where have you been? I've been so worried. Your parents—they're heartbroken.”
Janice tipped her head up and swept her arm out, indicating the bunker. “At first I stayed here. Just recently I graduated to an above-ground cabin, and I'm allowed small amounts of fresh air.” She glared up at the corner again and raised her voice. “Convicts in prison get treated better!”
Ciel curled up on her cot and started shaking. The bunker must be bugged, and Janice was aware of the location of the device. “I'm scared. Please stop yelling at Mrs. Jeffries.” It was obvious to Ciel that if the woman had kidnapped two young girls, she was mentally unstable. She hadn't killed Janice or Ciel yet, but she might change her mind any moment.
Janice rose to her feet and made her way over to the cot, sitting down beside Ciel. Rather than embrace or comfort her friend, Janice's gray eyes burned with an intensity that scared Ciel. “Why do you think she's Paul's wife?”
Ciel swiped a few stray tears from her cheeks and glared at Janice, a flicker of anger taking root inside her. “I don't think, I know. Melinda Jeffries drugged me.”
Ciel looked down at her fingers as they twisted together. “I was stupid. I—I just wanted to find you! It was a foolish thing to do, but after school, I hid in the back of Professor Jeffries' SUV while he wasn't looking. When he got home, his wife wanted to use his car to go to their farmhouse. I tried to sneak away after, but she caught me.”
“What did she do?” Janice's eyes were wide with awe.
“She asked me if I . . . if I had a thing for her husband. I told her no. Then she pretended to be friendly and made me a cup of hot cocoa.” A few tears spilled down Ciel's face, and Janice held her hand. “Sh-she pretended to call my m-mom to pick me up, but I w-woke up locked in h-here.”
The two girls held each other. Ciel sobbed into Janice's hoodie. Janice rested her chin on Ciel's shoulder, her troubled gray eyes turning stormy. She stroked Ciel's flaxen hair, genuinely sorry her friend had been dragged into the middle of such a twisted situation.
“I'm sorry, Ciel. You shouldn't be here like this.” Janice's tone held an equal measure of sorrow and bitterness.
“Neither should you! Thank God you're still alive.”
Janice leaned back, her serious gaze capturing Ciel's full attention. “A lot of things are beginning to make sense to me now, and I'm afraid it isn't good news.”
“Wh-what do you mean?”
“Melinda Jeffries is my aunt.”
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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