I knew it was dumb to wait for Duke to get his drink and sit with him. I knew he didn’t want to socialize with me. But he had a laptop tucked underneath his arm and I was in no rush to go back home and face Ada’s wrath. So, why wouldn’t I spend time with my super cute neighbor?
After initially seeing me, Duke pretended I wasn’t there. This made me a little upset. I hadn’t done anything to hurt him, so why was he ignoring me? It’s not like I followed him here, either. He was the one who came here after me. So maybe he was the one doing the stalking.
Why was everyone in Shale Valley anyway?
“Hi,” I waved in Duke’s face after he stood in the same area as me, waiting for his drink. I had to walk a few steps because he was purposefully trying to stay as far away as possible. He looked down at me and I was reminded of our vast height difference. I was an average height, but he was tall.
He wore a tank top that showed off his toned arm muscles which, again, didn’t seem plausible on a teenager. It only made him seem bigger in my eyes.
I took the time to admire him since he wasn’t speaking to me. His jawline was strong and square. He looked like he meant business. His blond hair was messily styled and looked even more golden today. His brows were pulled together in frustration. What he was frustrated about, I didn’t really know. I hadn’t said anything to him but hello. I knew if Ada had known I was going to see Duke today she would have suggested I wear something more appealing. My cream-colored tank top and matching linen shorts would have been too boring for her taste. She would have cringed at my hair. It was too hot to do anything besides putting it in a bun at the top of my head.
“Stop staring,” his deep voice startled me. I quickly looked away in time to have my drink placed on the counter. I thanked the barista and went back to stand next to Duke. He glanced down at me.
“Why’re you in Shale Valley?” I questioned, taking a sip of my tea.
“I like this place,” he shrugged, indifferent. His drink was placed down on the counter and he eagerly took it and stalked off. I happily followed. Once he sat down at a table and I took the spot next to him he huffed. “I especially like this place when I’m alone.”
He ignored me as he opened his laptop and started typing. I took the time to study him some more and gasped.
“You bought a hot drink?” I pointed out, cringing at the thought of drinking something hot. “It’s summertime in Mississippi. During a heatwave.”
“We’re not exactly outside,” he reminded, not looking up from his laptop. I tapped my fingers on the table softly.
“Still,” I objected, making a face at the coffee.
“I don’t like iced coffee,” he explained, shrugging. He looked at me as he was going to tell me something and I spoke before he could tell me to get lost.
“What are you doing?” I questioned, pointing at the laptop. I could see his internal struggle on whether or not he wanted to answer me.
“Homework,” he said after a moment. I lifted a brow. “I’m taking summer classes.”
“Oh,” I replied, not knowing what else to say about that. We were in high school. Typically, when someone took summer classes it’s because they failed something during the regular school year. I had a feeling this wasn’t his situation, though. He seemed smart.
“What subject?” I prodded, settling into my chair. I carefully placed my purse on the ground underneath the table.
“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” he countered, furrowing his brows.
“Well,” I started, not knowing how to phrase my thoughts. “I’m afraid of what Ada will do to me when I get back home.”
He grunted but didn’t ask me to explain.
“Our AC is broken,” I added. He was focused on his computer screen and not me. I sighed and took out my phone. I’d been gone for about an hour now. In a town as slow as Joyston I doubted the repairman was there already. I still had plenty time to kill and I couldn’t take the silence. I’d never been pushy with people, but Duke seemed like someone I’d want to get to know.
“I’m from Michigan,” I chatted. “I visit Ada and my Uncle Frank every summer.”
“Riveting,” he murmured, still not looking up.
“You’re not making this easy,” I pouted. He looked at me incredulously.
“I didn’t invite you here. This isn’t some coffee date,” he protested.
“You’d be a terrible date if it was,” I stated in a matter of fact tone. I wanted to cover my mouth in embarrassment as soon as the words escaped me. I felt my cheeks get hot and quickly took a long swig of my tea.
He pursed his lips and looked away again. My mind involuntarily wandered to the chest in my purse. I thought maybe sitting here and talking with Duke would get my mind off of it, but it only intensified my thoughts on the whole ordeal. If I went home, I’d be forced to check if the small chest was in that duffle bag of money. If it was then I just so happened to find a perfect replica. If it wasn’t, my uncle must have pawned it off. But why would he do that?
I could very well be beating a dead horse here, but it was worth a shot. I bent down and slowly took out the chest. After taking a deep breath I placed it on the table.
“Have you seen this before?”
He glanced around his computer screen before his eyes flashed up to meet mine with a knowing look. He definitely knew what this was and quite possibly knew what was inside. Okay, maybe that was a stretch.
“You don’t know when to quit,” he breathed, his voice impossibly low.
“So, you’ve seen it before,” I smiled at him. There was nothing friendly about the look on his face, though. “I found it at the pawnshop across the street. Cool, right?”
I was bluffing. There was nothing cool about this chest. It made my insides squirm just looking at it. In the same way that it drew me closer to it, it pushed me away. It was an enigma.
“I also found a similar one in the duffle you brought over a few days ago,” I continued, searching his face for a reaction. He didn’t give me one. “But, I need a key to open this and it didn’t come with one.”
We simply stared at each other for a moment. I thought he wasn’t going to say anything so I opened my mouth, but he beat me to it.
“You don’t know much about your uncle, do you?” he quizzed. He slowly closed his laptop and leaned on the table with his elbows. It was imposing to see and feel him come closer. He placed both his hands on the chest. I quickly put my hand on top of it to stop him from moving it. We were glaring at each other now. It was becoming harder to hold onto it. The bad feelings were only getting stronger with physical contact. After a few more seconds my hand faltered and I pulled away.
“I know my uncle very well,” I argued.
Instead of his hostile glare, he was looking at me with confusion now. He glanced down at the chest before looking at me again.
“If you know him so well, why are you asking me about his business?” Duke quipped, taking his own hands off the chest as well. Admittedly, Duke had a good point.
“I’m just curious,” I defended. I reached for the chest and winced on contact before putting it back into my purse on the floor. I looked back at Duke through my lashes. “You could be a lot nicer. I know you’re new to Joyston, but the people in this town are usually nice.”
He studied me for a moment.
“Why’d you come to Joyston anyway?” I asked, not caring how inappropriate the question was. I was feeling bold with Duke. It felt as though there were no consequences with him. I had nothing to lose and information to gain. He didn’t like my question, though. His features turned dark and he abruptly looked away. This only made me want to pry more.
“You sound like you’re from around here,” I continued. Instead of replying he opened his laptop again and started typing away. He was going to ignore me? Just like that?
After a couple of minutes of silence between us I stood up angrily.
“Fine,” I huffed. “Become silent again.”
“Have a good day, Clary,” he grumbled, not bothering to glance up at me. I cursed his name in my head as I left the shop. I’d meant to leave the whole situation alone, but I went and accidentally found this chest. Except, I don’t think it was an accident. As it sat in my bag in the passenger seat on my drive home, I could practically hear it calling out to me. I needed to open it.
Duke knew something about it. So did my uncle and Mr. Devaroux, though. It didn’t seem like Duke was willing to help anytime soon.
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