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I found the restaurant easily enough. It was the only one in the hotel, after all. I pushed open the wooden doors, and was immediately greeted by a very pretty hostess with blonde hair and a nice tan.
She asked, “Just one? Or are you meeting someone?” The woman fluttered her dark, long lashes. It seemed natural to her.
“Oh, actually… Would you happen to know where Jace is?” I asked. No, that was a stupid question. Why the **** would she know him by his first name? And h-“
Her face fell as she glared at me, distaste in her expression. “Yes, of course. He is here, and he’s in a meeting right now. You’ll just have to wait.”
“Well- But Jace told me to meet him here.”
She shrugged. “Sorry. I have strict orders not to let any of his little toys in,” she snapped. “You shouldn’t even be in the hotel right now. I’m going to call security.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Ex-cuse me?” I demanded. “I will not be spoken to like that,” I said. “Go and get Jace right now.”
The hostess rolled her eyes. “Listen, kid. He doesn’t want to see you. Go. Away.”
“Get him. Now.”
She shrugged. “Fine. If you’d rather he kick you out in person, then-“
“Just go get him.”
“No, listen, Joseph,” I demanded, pounding my fist down on the table. The salt and pepper shakers shook along with the silverware resting on the surface. “She is a physic. Or a mediator or something. And she might even be a doppelgänger.”
He spun around, eyes wide. “Have you any idea what you’re suggesting, boy? You think she has some type of relation to Natalie! Well, you’re as crazy as Roman. Don’t you think he hasn’t suggested the same thing? And what the fuck has led you to believe that there is even the slightest chance she possesses any type of psychic ability whatsoever?”
“She described it to me. She said that, sometimes, when she looks in a mirror, her reflection talks back to her. That the person looks exactly the same as her. And that she can hear the words playing in her head, sounding like her own voice. This all kicked in when she was about twelve or thirteen. She gets some type of motion sickness afterwards. Do you have another explanation?” I asked, my voice a harsh whisper.
He sighed and leaned back in his chair. He took a sip of his coffee. “No, I s’pose not.”
I nodded, glancing at my watch. “Well, I have to go. I thought Ava would come downstairs, but it looks like I underestimated her time to get ready in the morning. I await your decision,” I told him.
He nodded, still looking unhappy. “Good-bye, Jace.”
“Mr. Nelson?” an annoyingly high-pitched voice said from behind me. I spun around, jacket in hand. The girl rolled her eyes. Jessica, I thought, her name is Jessica. “There’s a girl to see you. She insisted. I threatened to call security, but she-“
I raised my eyebrows. “Ava? Why would you do that?”
“Well, you usually-“
“Call me and ask me if I want you to throw her out next time, okay?” I snapped. She nodded, looking upset. And…jealous. I rolled my eyes.
“I apologize, Ava. It seems we’ve come to a bit of a…misunderstanding,” Jace said, arriving before me. I smiled, but I thought he could tell it was fake.
“Come on, this took less time than I thought,” he said, grabbing my arm and pulling me away. As soon as we were out the door, I shook my arm out of his grasp. He began, “What’re you-“
“Shut up. Let’s go to the room,” I said.
He grabbed my shoulder. I hit his hand, but his grasp didn’t waver. He pulled me to the side of the hallway. “What did I do?” he asked quietly, his voice tainted with a soft growl.
I glanced down at my feet. He took my chin in his hands and pulled my face upward. I tried to look anywhere but his eyes. However, they were just so captivating that…
I tore my gaze away, forcing myself to focus on the light next to his head. “Ava, come on. Don’t be like that. How can I fix it if I don’t even know what I’ve done wrong?”
I glanced back to his face again. “You and your friend kidnapped me. My family doesn’t know where I am, my parents don’t know where I am. I could be dead for all they know. Rape, murdered, and chopped up. My bits could’ve been locked in a safe and thrown into a sinkhole, and they never would’ve found me. Or something along those lines.”
He shook his head. “Isn’t that like what happened in Lovely Bones.”
I waved it away. “That is completely beside the point,” I snapped.
“Okay, well… I don’t know what to say. I wish I didn’t have to keep you here. I want you to be okay with this. I’m sorry. You’ll never know how sorry I am. But I’m not sorry for meeting you. I’m so, so happy I met you.”
“Don’t lie,” I snapped, just wanting the emotions to fade. Truth is, I had no idea what I wanted anymore.
“I’m not lying. Ava, you’re the absolute best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said.
I held my breath. Did he really just say that? Seriously? Like, really? He… Jace… he said that? To me? Why? How… What… When did this… What are…? How is he…? Why did… he?
I had no more snappy comebacks. “She called me one of your ‘little toys.’” I whispered.
He pulled me into a hug. “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for all the pain I’ve caused you. I’m sorry for all of the pain you’ve had to endure.”
Then, I cried.
I cried for feeling worthless, because I’d never really understand why my mother and step-father hated me so much.
I cried because I’d worked two jobs, struggling to support my family.
I cried because I’d missed out on the teenage years that I deserved to have.
I cried because I had been taken away from the only thing I’d ever known.
I cried because I had absolutely no idea what I’d gotten myself into.
I cried because I hadn’t cried since I was a child,
Since I scraped my knee on the playground,
Since I was bleeding, hurt, cold, and alone,
Since my mother told me to get up and stop whining.
I cried because I couldn’t do anything about it.
I cried because I wanted to.
I cried because I needed to.
“Ssh, don’t worry, Ava. It’ll all be okay in the end. It’s just been hard, I know. I’m sorry. It’s going to all be fine. I’ll stay with you, I promise,” Jace whispered into my ear, as I let out my tears onto his nice blue shirt.
When I was done, I finally whispered. “You didn’t shave this morning.” I wiped my tears away with my arm.
He cocked his head to the side, unsure of where the conversation was heading. “No, I didn’t.”
“You look really professional with your blue dress shirt and dress pants and everything. And your black shoes.”
“It’s really, really hot,” I whispered, blushing. Did I seriously just say that out loud? I thought to myself.
He leaned down and planted a kiss on my lips. I guess I did, then.