Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: Two
Title: Got a Secret . . . Can You Keep it? (Part Twenty-eight)
Jason placed himself between the bed and Janice, his broad shoulders blocking Ciel's view. “No way.”
Joanie joined Jason. Though dwarfed by his height and width, she was a force all her own. “You just step back. Haven't you and your psychotic family done enough?”
Silence descended. Janice didn't attempt to defend herself or move past Ciel's self-appointed bodyguards, and Ciel knew instinctively that Janice was leaving the decision up to her.
“Guys, it's okay. Janice and I need to talk.”
Joanie whirled around and crossed her arms. “You've got to be kidding me! You could've died! This is so not happening!”
Ciel reached a hand out, and Joanie grasped it tightly. “Jo, I love you so much. Thanks for always being on my side. I really want to speak to Janice . . . alone.” Before Joanie or Jason could protest, Ciel kept going. “You both can wait right outside, okay? I need this. Janice needs this.”
Joanie glared over her shoulder at Janice. “I don't care what she needs.”
“C'mon, Jo. This isn't you.”
“Okay, but I'm not leaving! I'll be right outside.” Joanie allowed Jason to lead her by the arm. She paused by Janice and poked a finger at her. “I blame you for this. You better not hurt Ci anymore, or I'll wipe the floor with you.”
Janice smiled sadly and nodded, maintaining her silence.
Jason glanced back at Ciel before closing the door. “If you need me . . . for anything . . .”
Ciel smiled. “I know. Thank you.”
After the door clicked closed, silence flooded the room, filling every crevice. A steady weight pressed down on Ciel's chest. She blinked back tears and turned her head toward the windows, which now emitted ghostly bluish light as the day drew to its end.
“Oh, Ciel.” Janice took a few faltering steps and sank to her knees, resting her head on the edge of the bed. She grasped Ciel's hand and squeezed so hard it was painful.
Ciel didn't complain—the entire situation was agonizing and heartbreaking and impossible. There was no neat way out, no happy ending. Tears slid freely down Ciel's face, the first time she'd allowed herself to feel wide-open since waking up in this hospital room. The burden of being kidnapped, fearing for her life as well as Janice's, and taking advantage of their spur-of-the-moment escape was a crushing weight, taking a tremendous toll on her still-healing body and her psyche. Ciel slid her hand across the scratchy blanket until her shaking fingers encountered Janice's tangled hair and started stroking it gently. Knowing there was someone in this world more lost than she was sent a surge of determination through Ciel—she would be there for Janice.
Janice lifted her head and looked back at Ciel, dry-eyed. “Aren't you pissed at me?”
“God no! Why would I be?”
Janice tilted her head, cradling Ciel's arm between her neck and shoulder so she could rest her cheek against Ciel's pale skin. “You never would have been hurt if not for me . . . and my psycho aunt. I bet you wish you'd never met me.”
“Stop it! You're my friend, and I'm not sorry about anything. Well, except maybe the part where we got locked up . . . and I got thrown from a horse . . .” Ciel laughed shakily. “Being drugged doesn't top the list, either.”
“God, I know! I've been going mad this whole week because I couldn't see you.”
“Why couldn't you see me?”
Janice's eyes widened. “Your pit bull of a mom! She hates my guts. I was only able to sneak in here because your parents left you alone for a few minutes. I've been skulking around here for days, dodging those stupid reporters.”
“My mom kept you from seeing me? I can't believe she'd do that.” Disappointment sat heavy as a stone in Ciel's gut. As far as she knew, Susan had never lied to her before.
“She said you didn't want to see me . . . that I was trouble.” Janice blinked away a sudden film of tears and sniffled. “She's right. I just—I had to talk to you, see for myself that you're going to be okay.”
Ciel shifted toward Janice, wincing when a flare of pain shot up her side. “No. We're friends, and you're not trouble. Maybe you've made some dumb mistakes, but we all have! My mom has no right to judge you.” She waved a dismissive hand in the air. “Anyway, let's forget about that. I'm worried about you. Janice, you're so thin and pale. Are you all right? Have you been eating?”
Janice looked down, unable to meet Ciel's concerned gaze. “I can't keep much down. Not really hungry. I've been worried about you and . . . and Paul.” She fiddled with the sleeve of her black hoodie, and Ciel observed that Janice had bitten her nails to bloody stubs. “Everybody's pissed at me. My dad—and especially Lara. The cops aren't too happy, either, because I won't tell them shit. They arrested Paul for statutory rape! As if—as if I wern't there, and it wasn't what I wanted, too! They're making what we have into something dirty.”
Ciel grimaced but allowed Janice to unburden herself without comment.
Janice continued to pick at her sleeve with a frown. “I wouldn't talk, so they had to let him go. Lara told the cops about my diary, but the bitch couldn't find it. Aunt MJ has it—I know because she tore some pages out and shoved them in my face. All my shit's gone from the cave, so I'm guessing my aunt has it. I know she's not going to tell . . .” She shrugged her bony shoulders and smirked.
Ciel looked up at the ceiling. “Yeah, about that . . .” She gripped Janice's hand. “I went back there and took all your stuff. I wanted to keep it safe for you. It's all in the back of my closet.” She finally dared to meet Janice's eyes.
“Yeah, your aunt may have ripped some pages from the diary, but she left the rest sitting in the middle of the path at the park along with some of your poetry books. I climbed up to the cave and got your trinket box. I—I kind of read some of your diary.” Ciel hid her face. “I didn't want to, but I thought it might help find you. I'm so sorry.”
Janice smacked Ciel on the arm. “Please. After all we've been through, that's what you're worried about?”
Ciel peeked from between her fingers. “You don't hate me?”
“No! Just stop.” A sudden storm brewed behind Janice's eyes, and she rose to her feet and started pacing around the room. “They can't find my stash. The cops would have a field day with my diary! You won't . . .”
“No way. I've hidden it away all this time—you think I'm going to pull it out now?” Ciel chewed at her bottom lip, looking worried. “But, Janice, I can't unread what I read. Professor Jeffries . . . the way he treated you wasn't right.”
Janice quit pacing and spun to face Ciel. “What are you talking about?”
“The supply closet . . . at school?”
Janice looked away. “Ciel, there's a lot more to me and Paul than that. He loves me.”
“You're sixteen. He should know better!”
“Promise me you'll protect my secrets. Ciel, they've got nothing on him if I keep stonewalling.”
Ciel held her hand out, and Janice grabbed on. “You're my friend. I won't betray you, but part of being your friend means telling you the truth. He's no good for you. In the end, you're the one who's gonna get hurt. Can't you see that?”
Janice blinked back the tears stinging her eyes. “You're really smart, you know that? I don't know what the hell to do, but I can't let him go to jail.”
“Maybe he deserves to,” Ciel whispered.
The two of them stared at each other, unsure of what else to say. The uncomfortable silence stretched between them, yet their bond of friendship only strengthened.
The door flew open suddenly, and Joanie popped her head into the room. “Guess who's going home tomorrow? Your mom's on her way up to share the big news!” She glared at Janice. “You might want to skedaddle about now.”
“Yeah, thanks.” Janice nodded then turned back to Ciel. “You feel better. I'll see you soon.”
Joanie waited until the door clicked shut behind Janice before bouncing over to the bed and hugging Ciel. “You're going home, Ci! Wait until you see what I did to your room!”
“No, you're going to love it! I strung some twinkling white lights along the ceiling over your bed. It looks so cool, I'm going to do it in my room, too! Oh, and I'm sleeping over tomorrow night!”
“Awesome!” Ciel squealed. Joanie would be a buffer between her and Susan.
“Sure is! I can't wait for you to spill all the dirt on Janice and Professor Jeffries!”
Ciel's face fell along with her buoyant mood. Secrets could be a real burden. Rock, meet hard place.
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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