The Cunning (Book 1/2)

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Sam invited Janine down along with Madison.

“Afternoon you little crackhead,” Janine greeted Madison who smiled shyly as she walked into the living room.

“I’m not a crackhead,” she mumbled. Jase and Sam smirked at each other.

“You will be if you carry on going through gear at the rate you do,” Janine replied, picking up Sam’s cigarettes and taking one for herself. Madison didn’t say anything, she just blushed and curled up in Jase’s armchair.

“Leave her be. We all need a little pick me up every now and then in this place,” Jase said, Janine raised her brows in his directions.

“Don’t we just,” she said, tossing the cigarette packet back onto the coffee table and sinking down into the worn sofa. There was a knock on the door. Sam went to answer it, exchanging a few muffled words before he came back into the living room, dropping a roll of notes onto the dining table. Madison heard the upstairs door close. It was a customer. She shuddered at the normality of the situation and tried not to think too much about it.

“Either of you want a go?” Jase asked, stretching in his chair. He looked over his shoulder at Janine and then Madison who shrugged.

“I’ll try,” she stood up, taking the chair next to Jase, “what is it?”

“First-person shooter,” he replied before proceeding to tell her the controls. She started the game and they all watched intently. “To your left,” Jase instructed, she turned and managed to kill the enemy before they killed her, flinching as she did so. The boys laughed,

“You’ve got no aim whatsoever,” Sam chuckled. Madison rolled her shoulders, still trying to manoeuvre her way around the map.

“I’ve never really played games before,” she said, slightly embarrassed. She finished the game bottom of the scoreboard and handed Sam the controller. “I don’t get why people find this so entertaining,” she said, returning to Jase’s armchair.

“Keeps us busy,” Sam said, restarting the game.

A short while later, the customer came down and let himself out without saying goodbye. The boys didn’t seem bothered by this but it shifted Madison’s mood. She remembered where she was and what the house stood for. She remembered that it wasn’t always getting high and playing Xbox, especially not for the other girls.

“Can I make a drink?” she asked.

“Yeah, you know where the kitchen is,” Jase replied. Janine followed her out, opening the fridge and taking out a cold fruity drink.

“So... how was Jase with you after the whole Mike situation?” she asked, handing Madison a bottle and leaning her back up against the fridge.

“Not really any different to how he has been. He apologised for Mike hitting me and said that wasn’t supposed to happen but other than that,” she frowned, “no change.” Janine pursed her lips, staring at the kitchen door.

“He’s lightened up since you’ve been here. He’d have never offered any of us a go on the Xbox before.” Madison remained silent and Janine tilted her head, looking back at the youngster. “I think he’s tired, you know?”

“What do you mean?” Madison asked. Janine shrugged, taking a mouthful of her fruit drink.

“When I first got here, he was totally hands-on with everything. You could hear him bark orders from upstairs. If someone stepped out of line, they would know about it, if a girl talked back, one look from Jase and they’d soon shut up. I don’t know if it’s just you or if it’s been a long time coming but it’s as if he can’t be bothered anymore. I wouldn’t call what he had a passion for the business but there was an effort, you know? Everyone knew he was top dog and you were an idiot if you pissed him off but it’s like he’s getting old before his time.”

“Maybe he’s just seeing how messed up all of this really is,” Madison suggested, Janine scoffed,

“Yeah, a girl can dream. It’s probably just standard boredom because he’s been doing it for so long.” She pushed off of the fridge, leaving Madison in the kitchen to mull over Janine’s words for a moment. It wasn’t totally implausible; Jase had a moody aura about him whenever he had to deal with anything to do with the house. It was like he’d outgrown it. But if Janine had noticed a change in him then she wouldn’t be the only one.

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