The Cunning (Book 1/2)

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“How do I lay?” Madison asked as Jase slid down to the floor.

“Cross your arms, cross your ankles.”

“Don’t drop me,” Madison said as she got into position and lowered herself across his hands, “I will crush you.” Jase sniggered,

“Shut up.” Within second, he held her elevated in the air. Then she wobbled.

“Okay, point proven, put me down!” she squeaked. Jase laughed again, letting her get up before pulling himself to his feet, taking his cigarettes out and offering her one. She accepted. He lit it. They climbed back on the bed, both picking up their drinks. After a few seconds of silence, he looked at her, not saying anything. “What?” she asked, beginning to feel self-conscious under his studious dark eyes. The corners of his lips turned upwards ever so slightly.

“You want to smoke another one?” he asked. She grinned.

“Not like there’s anything else to do.”

Madison was well and truly high after half of the second joint. The rest was burnt out in the ashtray. Her heart was beating rapidly.

“You good?” Jase asked, noticing her unusual silence. She took a deep breath, nodding.

“Yeah, it’s just really hot in here.” He chewed his lip and stood up, grabbing his keys and unlocking the window. When he turned around, Madison was stripping out of the joggers she had on.

“You a bit light-headed?” He asked, sitting back down. She looked at him, anxiety crawling through her body again as she nodded. He offered a comforting smile, putting his arm out. “Come here, lay down.” She did as he said, resting her head on his lap. Instinctively, Jase began brushing her hair back from the side of her face, gently running his fingers through. “You’re alright,” he whispered, picking up the rest of the joint.

“You promise?” She didn’t move, out of fear it would make the throbbing in the front of her head worse.

“I promise.” She sighed, scrunching her body up, “you still getting cramps?” A nod. Jase’s hand moved from the side of her head to her lower back, rubbing in an attempt to soothe her pain. If what Sam had said Janine relayed to him was true, he needed to keep up appearances to ensure Madison continued to trust him but right now, lines were beginning to blur. He tipped his head back, blocking out the frustration.

“Madison?” he asked, she hummed. “Why isn’t anyone looking for you?” Her body tensed a little before she relaxed again. She shrugged.

“The only person that would think to look for me is my mum and we’re not exactly close. She works abroad a lot. I’d be surprised if she had actually noticed I’d gone.” It was only a half-lie, Madison saw her mum for ten-minute intervals between their busy work schedules around once every two months and even if she had noticed her absence, it was unlikely she would publicise it. She’d been working on her low profile for a long time, and nothing would bring her out of hiding. Jase wasn’t sure what to say. Madison’s lack of surprise was unfamiliar. He’d assumed being made aware that she wasn’t being sought after would upset her but she went unfazed.

“Would no one else be trying to find you?” He continued, taking one last drag before stubbing out the roach.

“The only other person that would be wondering where I was is my boss, but I had a few days off when I got brought here so he probably just thinks I’ve left without giving him notice or something. It’s only a small shop. We have a lot of youngsters come and go so it wouldn’t be that weird.” Jase looked down at her, he considered telling her what Peter had done but decided against it. Her knowing wouldn’t make a difference anywhere.

“Besides,” she sighed, “do you have any idea how many people go missing every year and never get found?” she looked up at him, “a lot. I’m just a statistic now.” Jase avoided eye contact as her words sunk in. The fact that no one was looking for her was a good thing and yet, he couldn’t shake the feeling of discomfort it was giving him. She started moving, and he lifted his hand, waiting for her to settle on her back, looking up at him. She didn’t seem bothered when he rested his hand on her hip bone.

“How did you know how to pick a lock?” he asked. It was weird to have him be the one enquiring about her life.

“My dad taught me lots of things when I was younger.” He didn’t say anything in response and she tilted her head at him. “Why do you do this, Jase?” He wanted to give her a reason that justified his actions but he fell short. A year ago, it all made sense but now, he wasn’t so sure.

“My mum was a prostitute. I used to come home to all kinds of different men. Some of them beat her up, and some of them tried to beat me up. She never did anything about it.” He shrugged, picking up his drink. “She spent any money we had on drugs. I started selling so I could feed myself, be able to get clothes and pay the electricity and heating bill. I was working for Benny. I had lots of friends at school that I sold to,” he laughed sadly, “I even sold to half my mum’s customers. One day I came home from school, she’d stolen a load of the stuff I was selling as well as money. I had an argument with her, got into a fight with her boss, packed some shit and I’ve been here since.” She mulled over his words.

“You think your upbringing makes this job easy?” she asked. He finished his drink, looking down at her.

“I think it used to. When you’re young and you’ve never really had anything, it’s simple to just do whatever you have to do to get money. This kind of stuff is something I’ve been around my whole life. I’m desensitised to all of it; hence the reason Benny knows he can rely on me. None of it bothers me.” He said it nonchalantly, but there were undertones of sadness in his voice.

“Why don’t you just leave? Do something different?” she asked. Jase smiled, lifting his hand to her face and brushing her cheek with his thumb.

“Come on, Bunny. You’re not stupid.” Plenty of things in the house were easier said than done. The only way to get out of the life was death or prison. Neither of them was much of an option. Her stomach growled and Jase’s brows furrowed. “Have you eaten today?” She shook her head and he sighed, rolling his eyes. “He’s fucking useless,” he mumbled, referring to Adam who was left with the responsibility to take the girls their food. “I’m going to assume you’re hungry?” Madison appreciated the shift in topic and atmosphere, looking up at the ceiling as the thoughts of food filled her head.

“Is there anything you can put on the toast?” she asked. Jase picked up his cigarettes,

“I can do better than that,” he said, sparking up, “did you want to get pizza?” Madison groaned.

“As long as that isn’t some sick joke.” He laughed lightly,

“No joke, I can’t be asked to make toast or anything and I haven’t eaten all day either.”

“It feels like years since I’ve had anything but toast,” she hummed, eyes closed, picturing the stringy cheese and smell of doughy pizza.

“I gave you an apple the other day,” he replied defensively, Madison smiled,

“Yeah, that was a gourmet supper.” Jase laughed, taking his phone from his pocket.

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