I had been able to avoid Jackson for a few days now and Ricky won't even look at me anymore, but it was the weekend now which meant everyone was spending it at Uncle Joe's Diner.
Uncle Joe's was an older African-American man who stood a good 6'5 off the ground. He knew his place was the hang out for a majority of teenagers in town and knew everyone by name. Not to mention, Joe made the best burgers and shakes in town.
"For it being early September, it's scorching out," Tracy complained, fanning herself with her Math folder. We were supposed to being working on homework, but this Saturday afternoon was too warm to think, and Uncle Joe's shakes were too good to care.
"The heat wave is still coming through," I reference the weather. I glance around at all the other kids hanging out in the A/C of Uncle Joe's yet could only focus my attention on the popular kids. Jackson had his arm slung around Lillian who were sitting across from Tanner Adams and Miriam Clark, their best friends. I noticed a foot rubbing up against Tanner's leg from under the table. I looked up to see that foot belonged to Lillian. I almost puked from the realization of what was going on. However, up skipped Irene Hernandez, an attention seeker who never stopped dreaming of being popular. You could hear her high-pitched voice from across the diner.
"What's up, you guys?" The second a sound came out of her, Miriam rolled her eyes out of annoyance.
Just then, the door to the diner opened and a bell signaled a customer. Not any customer but Ricky. Everyone had to stop and watch him because his presence was that overwhelming. I glanced at Miriam who whispered something into Irene's ear, making Irene nod excitedly and skip up to lean against counter, next to Ricky who waited for his pickup order.
"You're new here right?" Her squeaky voice made him flinch.
"Yep," he mumbled pushing money across the counter to Joe who watched Irene carefully.
"That's funny, because I was looking through old photos from elementary school and I could have sworn I saw a kid who looked just like you! His name was even labeled as Richard," she gave him a full smile with all teeth showing. Ricky became suddenly uncomfortable and glanced around the diner to his audience of listeners.
"There must have been another little boy named Richard. I've never lived here." He turns away, grabbing his bag of food.
"What are you hiding from us, Ricky?" She dares to call after him. Everyone was frozen, as if someone pressed pause on the diner. We waited for his response, even Joe was gazing over the counter.
"I have nothing to hide from anyone here, so I'm not hiding anything." He looked over his shoulder at Irene before continuing his exit. Someone pressed play again because the entire diner was filled with conversation now.
"That was intense," Tracy observed.
"I'll be right back," I slide out of my booth and walk out the door behind Ricky. I run to catch up with him, grabbing his arm. Just as I did, I tripped on a crack in the cement, causing me to almost face plant into the sidewalk if Ricky hadn't caught me.
"Are you okay?" He scans me quickly to check if I'm broken.
"I'm fine," I stable myself by grabbing his upper arms and couldn't have helped but feel his muscle under his black cotton shirt.
"Why are you out here?" He asked, hands on my waist to settle me.
"What was that in there because that was nothing." I make it clear that I was not standing there for him to shrug off my questions.
"She had her facts wrong, that's all," he shrugged, relaxing the muscle in his face which were previously tense. A couple walk past and I quiet my voice.
"It bothered you, I could tell," I murmured, concerned for him.
"Listen," he smiled, reaching out a hand to run his thumb across my cheek as an endearing gesture and strangely it was calming. "It didn't bother me because it was nothing."
"Are you sure?" I double-check because I know for a fact he is lying.
"Of course. You need to get back to your friend. I'll see you later, Klara," he gives me one more smile before continuing his walk.
That evening, after dinner, Father went back to the station to finish some of his case's paperwork. I was alone in my room assigning story ideas when I hear a tap at my window. Going to glance outside, I see Jackson's eyes coming from the dark below. Opening my window he hisses, "Do you still have the ladder?"
As children, we built our own rope ladders from tools we found in his garage and kept them in our closets to use on secret missions. Going to my closet, I find it shoved to the back and hooked it up before throwing it down to him. In a few moments, he was crawling into my bedroom, a sight I haven't seen in years.
"Jackson, what do you want?" I ask, turning away from him as the memories were causing water works to form.
"I saw you run out of the diner after him," he spoke in his lower tone that came so seriously.
"Your point?" I let my hand wrap around the end of my bed frame.
"I told you that I didn't want you going near him," he says in such a way that reminded me of the way he acted before his social status sky-rocketed. I turned and faced him in anger, "Why do you think you have some sudden control over my life? Any importance that your input had, flew out the window years ago when you chose people like Lillian and Tanner and Miriam over me. All the reliability you had was erased when you stopped coming to my window, when you started to ignore me, and when you left me in such a hard time for both of us." The warm tears were definitely streaming down my face now and I hated it. He took this opportunity to step forward and cup my face, wiping the tears from my eyes with his thumbs.
"But, I'm here now, Klara. I'm standing right here."
"But you weren't right here ten years ago, Jackson. I understand part of it was your mother but even at school..." I took a deep breath and let my gaze fall as his hands were securing my face. I think he was afraid I would turn away from him or even worse, walk away. Honestly, I was scared of the same thing. The truth is that this talk was long awaited and now we blowing up at a time when I least expected it. "I know you lost your father... but you have to also see that I lost my mother."
"I didn't want to come here to talk about this..." Jackson let his hands fall down to my shoulder, down my arms until they gripped my hands. I looked down at them. "Promise me you won't be around him anymore."
"I don't understand what is with you and him," I shake my head in confusion. He ran his fingers through his dark brown hair, thinking of the correct words.
"I have always felt responsible for you, Klara. Even though it didn't seem like it sometimes, I always have looked after you in every way I could. There hasn't been any major threats and what threats there has been, I have always taken care of-"
"What threats has there been?" I interrupt.
"-Forget it Klara, that time has past. The point is that I don't trust him and the record he has with violence at his old school-"
"Those are only rumors."
"Klara," he let out all the air in his lungs as he sighs with a smile. His face relaxes as he admires my eyes. "Klara, Klara, Klara, always seeing the best in people, in situations. It's refreshing to be around innocence again." His hand reaches up to stroke my cheek, exactly like how Ricky had done this afternoon. I turn my cheek away but he tilts my head upwards and next thing I know, his lips graze mine. There was a pause between us before he presses his lips against mine. I quickly jumped back.
"Lillian..." was the only thing I could say. He became flustered and tripped over different forms of apologizes. The emotional moments between us were gone in a hurry when I remember why he came. "Jackson, why do you want me to stay away from him."
"Because he is lying to everyone." He gathers his thoughts.
"How do you know?" I question.
"What he said today in the Diner... Irene was right." He looked at me from under those long dark lashes.
"But he told me she had her facts wrong," I shake my head at him.
"Ugh!" He threw up his hands in frustration. "Here is the proof. I'm done with this conversation." He pulls out a folded piece of paper from his coat pocket and throws it on the bed. "When you're ready to face the truth, you know where to find me." With that he was leaning out of the window, making his way down the ladder.
I turned to open up the paper. It was a photocopy of an old year book from elementary school. On the third row down was a boy with a toothy grin named "Richard Parker." My heart fell to the pit of my stomach knowing that he lied to me. I stormed out of my room, stomped my way down the stairs and ran straight out my house, making a straight path to my neighbors. I pounded on the front door, to impatient to pause for travel time to the door, but kept knocking loudly. Thankfully Ricky was the one who opened the door instead of his grandmother.
"Shh!" He hissed, glancing over his shoulder.
"No, I'm not going to SHHH, I want an explanation." I held up the photograph and he took a second to look at it before nodding, his lips pressed into a thin line.
"Grams is in bed. Be quiet and follow me," he whispered. We tip-toed up the stairs and into his bedroom. He closed the door behind us and I glanced around his room. It was plain white walls and wood paneled floors. The bedspread was a dark red and the bed frame brown, reminding me of chocolate-covered cherries. The sheets were slept in which meant I woke him. I turned to speak to him and realized he wasn't wearing a shirt and only sweatpants, confirming my assumptions.
"You have a lot of explaining to do." I find my voice.
"Okay, what do you want to know." He goes to take a seat on the bed and runs his hand through his hair which was twisting and turning in all direction. To be honest I did know what to ask and I was attempting to look away from his chest so I began to pace.
"Why did you really move back?"
"Come on and ask the real question here."
"What question is that?"
"You know you're cute when you pull that trick but you know just as well as I do what you're here for," he leans his elbows onto his knees.
"Why did you move away if you lived here before?" The room felt so still.
"I had a life here with my family till my father did some very bad things to some very good people and we moved away to escape the problem. Coming back here is more than difficult and I'm trying to forget any reminders I had of that time in my life," he tells me in a matter of fact way.
"Why did you lie to me when we were outside the diner?" I ask.
"Why do you care?" He stands up and forces me to stop pacing by standing right in front of my face.
"Why didn't you answer my question?" I ask defensively.
"Why didn't you answer mine?" He raises an eyebrow.
"Because I feel something towards you that I haven't felt towards someone in a long time."
"And what is that?" He asks forwardly.
"Security." I let the word hang in the air before saying, "your turn."
"I lied to you because I want to protect you. I didn't answer your question because I feel something towards you that I have never felt towards anyone ever before."
"And what is that?" I nervously approach him.
"Admiration." He answers. I have never felt so scared yet so drawn toward someone before. I leaned forward and we kissed lightly before I jumped away. I didn't want to be the girl who kissed two guys in one night, yet I already was. Ricky's face was alarmed and hurt as I turned away from him. Without another word I turned away and ran down the stairs, forgetting all about the photo and Ricky's dad and just focusing on getting home.
Once at home, Father pulled into the driveway five minutes later, exhausted from work and retiring to bed. I had to go to sleep as well for there was too much commotion in one night for my emotions to handle. After tossing and turning, I finally got some rest only to be awoken by my father a few hours later.
"Dad what's going on?" I rub my eyes as he patted my shoulder.
"I have to go down to the station." He murmured to me.
"Why?" I checked my clock. "It's four in the morning."
"Tracy and her mother are coming over to watch over you two," he said, walking to the doorway.
"Why?" I repeat. "I don't need a babysitter." I chuckle to myself. His silhouette pauses in the doorway.
"Irene Hernandez has been murdered."