It was like I was frozen in time. I could hear Ada speaking to me, but I was more concerned with the stacks of money in front of me. My mind was going a mile a minute. They weren’t small bills either. These were only hundreds.
An ominous feeling of dread consumed me and I felt my throat get dry.
“…and why the hell are you in a bikini?”
Ada’s question threw me off guard. Before I realized it, I zipped the bag and stepped from around the desk.
“Some kid,” I began, stumbling over my words, “The Devaroux’s son—he brought this over for Uncle Frank. I was just putting it in his office for him.”
“Duke was here?” she perked up, walking into the office now. My heart rate spiked while my cousin wore a grin on her face at the mention of the boy.
“Yep, but this is for Uncle Frank, so we should just leave,” I met her halfway, stopping her from moving forward. She narrowed her eyes, looking over my shoulder before looking back at me.
It occurred to me just then that she knew the Devaroux boy.
“Duke?” I questioned. She looked down at me. “Wait, you know him? Since when? I didn’t even know they had a kid.”
“That’s because he’s a bastard,” she smirked, ready to spill the juicy details. “He rolled in a few months ago. He’s a total heartthrob. We all know he’s not Jenna’s, but it looks like he’s going to stay with Mr. Devaroux indefinitely. He doesn’t really talk to anyone, but Viola’s mom—you know she works at the school—says he’s enrolled for school next semester.”
“Oh,” was all I could say. Ada continued.
“The whole town wouldn’t shut up about it. They even put the guy in the paper. I understand why he doesn’t bother with any of us. Wait—did you talk to him wearing that?”
“He showed up while I was in the pool,” I responded lamely, clasping my hands together behind my back. It was embarrassing enough living through it, let alone telling Ada about it. She snorted, but it didn’t seem malicious.
“Well at least you weren’t wearing one of your frocks when you met him,” she teased.
“Whatever,” I snapped. “We should really get out of here. I doubt Uncle Frank wants us in his office without him.”
The thought of that money was making me nervous. I couldn’t shake the dark feeling inside of me. I knew I wasn’t supposed to see it. I felt like I was in deep, deep trouble. My uncle was a nice guy—but all that money in stacks couldn’t mean something good.
“I don’t care.” My cousin rolled her eyes and sauntered around me. I reached out for her arm before she could get far. She looked down at my hand with a frown before ripping her arm away. “Don’t be such a freak, Clarice.”
I hated it when anyone said my full name. It made me sound like an eighty-year-old woman, and she knew that. I ground my teeth together.
“It’s nothing important anyway,” I insisted, crossing my arms. She didn’t listen, but I was grateful to see that she went for the folder first. She flipped through it, her eyes scanning every page. I was surprised at how interested she was. Then, without warning, she turned towards the bag and unzipped. The folder fell out of her hands and she stepped back.
The bad feeling in the pit of my stomach returned and Ada looked up at me with wide eyes. Her mouth opened, closed, then opened again.
“Close the damn bag!” I demanded. She zipped it up without hesitation and I breathed easier.
“What the fuck,” she swore, placing both her hands on the back of her neck. “Duke brought that over?”
I could only nod.
She was silent for a moment before shrugging.
“Weird,” she muttered and made her way out of the office.
“That’s it?” I called out, rushing after her. She wasn’t even fazed. She gave me a confused look. “You’re not worried about all that money?”
“No?” she responded as if it were a question. “It’s just money, Clary. Dad’s got a lot of it.”
“It was brought over in a duffle bag,” I reminded. She let out a dramatic sigh.
“Yeah, from Mr. Devaroux.” She spoke as if Mr. Devaroux could do no wrong. It was apparent that she was done with the conversation because she walked away without another word as I stood there in the hallway dumbfounded in just my bikini.
I glanced back at the office and ignored the part of me telling me to abort mission like Ada. If there was truly nothing wrong then it wouldn’t matter if I took another look in the bag. Right?
I found myself standing over it, twiddling my thumbs. The gaping hole in my stomach returned as I unzipped, but I did my best to ignore it. Nothing had changed, there was still wads of cash inside of this duffle. I moved some around just to see exactly how much there was when I cut my finger.
“Shit,” I cursed, pulling back immediately. I looked at my hand and saw a scrape on my index finger. No way was that a paper cut.
With my good hand, I tore through the bag to see what had cut me and was shocked to find a small chest inside. I took it out and examined it. It was heavy. I shook it but didn’t hear anything rattle around in it. I frowned when I tried to open it and noticed a small keyhole. I huffed in annoyance.
So, Duke Devaroux comes by to drop off loads of cash, a folder, and a teeny tiny treasure chest with sharp edges?
I listened to my gut feeling and placed the chest back in the bag, covered it up with the money, and zipped it up. The tightness in my chest disappeared and I took a deep breath. It didn’t concern me. This was my uncle’s business and not mine. It was the beginning of the summer and I needed to be focused on regular teenage girl things like boys, high school, and clothing.
So even after I left the chest alone in my uncle’s office, I tried to focus on those things. But the only things that came to mind in terms of boys, high school, and clothes were Duke Devaroux, his sudden appearance and enrollment in my cousin’s high school, and the outfit I was going to wear when I confronted him tomorrow.
This was on my mind heavily at dinner. Ada was talking to Uncle Frank about something that Viola said at brunch while I pushed the carrots around on my plate. He noticed and asked me if anything was wrong. I wanted to question him about the duffle filled with cold hard cash and a treasure chest, but I didn’t press the issue. He hadn’t seemed the least bit surprised when he came home and I informed him of the items Duke brought over. He’d just nodded.
My uncle was a good man, and I shouldn’t jump to any conclusions, but I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling I had as I tried to go to bed that night. I was just going to ask Duke a couple of questions. He’d be more approachable than Mr. Devaroux himself. It shouldn’t be hard to find him tomorrow since he lives next door.