J O H N
He watched the sleeping girl with one thing on his mind. Why did he tell her that story?
He thought it would be a good way to scare her out of anything she was thinking of doing, but for some reason, he regretted it. He wanted her to see him as a monster, didn’t he?
He wanted things to run smoothly from here on out, and if she thought he was willing to murder, she’d back down a bit. But now he wasn’t so sure about it. There was this feeling in his gut that terrified him. Feelings about that day resurfacing. It had taken him a good couple of years to get over what he did, and it killed him inside. He had taken a life, no matter how much of a scumbag he was. The life draining from his eyes was something John could never forget. And he would life with that guilt forever.
Telling Mari brought it all up again. He wanted to seem macho in the way he told it, like he didn’t give a single fuck about it. But he did.
She was whimpering in her sleep, hiccups every so often. He decided to pull over for the night. New York was days away now, even if they drove all day every day. He had to get some shut eye at some point. But he couldn’t just leave her like this in case she woke up. She would find a way to escape and he wasn’t so much of a light sleeper.
He exited the car and popped the trunk open, sighting his handcuffs. Sliding back in, he cuffed her gently to the seat and rested his head back, just staring at her. Without the cunning glint in her eyes, she looked peaceful, adorable. Her face was small as was her button nose. Her lips were pursed into a pout as she slept, her eyebrows scrunching down over her eyelids. She was indeed very beautiful.
“Mom…” she whispered out. A pang shot straight in his heart at her voice. Why was she affecting him so greatly? She was a little sweet girl. Way too young for him too.
He felt his eyelids grow heavy and his mind drift away slowly, her face burned into his brain.
What startled him awake was the persistent prodding of a little finger to his torso. His eyes opened to meet her honey ones, bright and hopeful for the new day. What plan had she come up with now? She had that look in her eye that meant trouble.
He had told that story to discourage that, but it did nothing. It appeared to do nothing at all, somehow. He told her that he had killed one of his bounties. Perhaps she believed she was safe because of the job he was tasked to do. She had to be brought back alive, so he couldn’t exactly use his gun on her. But she had to be fearful of what he was capable of, right?
John barely knew whether he was overestimating her or underestimating her. That was what made it all so thrilling. She was a mystery he hadn’t worked out yet. Normally, he would understand his bounties, and therefore be able to track their movements systematically as he understood their thought process. But she was an enigma. She liked plans, that was something that stayed consistent. He only had that to work with. That was how he found her all those times. When she did something off the cuff, it would throw him off and he would have to start again from scratch.
Now here she was, with some renewed hope and probably another plan that would fail or backfire. She was safest with him. She must have known that. Only he, in the outside world, had to take her safety into account. Everyone else would try to exploit the young naïve girl.
“Morning,” she greeted with a bright smile. Her mood was definitely working, it was definitely throwing him off. He didn’t even know how to respond to that. Last night, she had been attacked. That would have been hard to wrap her head around, especially with such a sheltered world she had come from. But she seemed absolutely fine, as if nothing happened.
His eyes caught the bruising around her wrist where the guy had grabbed her. He was infuriated by the mark on her and figured Alessandro would be too. Hopefully, it would fade enough by the time they got back.
“Morning,” he grumbled back. He wasn’t exactly a morning person, and he certainly hated being woken up so… irksomely.
“Handcuffs?” He reluctantly dug the key into the lock and released her unharmed wrist from the restraints. “So… food?” she chirped like a little singing bird. John was too exhausted to scoff, so instead just looked at her with uncertainty. Figuring out her angle this early in the morning was dangerous. He wasn’t at his sharpest in the mornings and could make errors in his judgement of her. “You said we could eat breakfast. And it’s breakfast time.”
“You didn’t seem too concerned about your stomach when you were on the run, otherwise I would have caught you much easier.”
“Exactly. But now that I’m caught, we can eat,” she exclaimed. She looked like a child on Christmas Day, eager to open her presents. But this wasn’t inconsistent with her behavior. There had been plenty of times where she seemed like a young child in his eyes. This was her. Perhaps her life development had been stunted by the sheltered life she was living. Perhaps she was much too spoiled like the princess she was. But she didn’t strike him as spoilt. No, she wasn’t even asking for much. She asked for food. And he should feed her something.
Eventually, they pulled up to a gas station with a diner connected next door. It was out in the middle of nowhere with only truckers for customers. It was relatively secluded if anything were to go down between Mari and him. If he tried to run, not too many people would see him shoving Mari into his trunk.
“No funny business, I mean it. None. Got it?” he warned. His eyes narrowed at her daringly and she just shrugged and nodded, not affected by his tone one bit. But he just needed her to understand. He wouldn’t take any of her shit out in public. They needed to fill up the car and their stomachs and hit the road once again.
He kept her close at all times, his hand placed on her lower back, guiding her. He first paid for the gas and then they entered the diner together. Once the waitress showed them to a booth, Mari was bouncing on the seats as though she had never been in a place like this before.
“What are you eating then? Order quickly. I don’t want to hang around,” John said in a frustrated tone. He was irritated by her because of the looks he got from the truckers that saw the two of them together. They were silently judging him for a relationship they didn’t even have.
“What are you getting?”
“Nothing… coffee, probably. Now, hurry up and decide.” Her eyes scanned the menu, taking her time with every option that John couldn’t help but huff at.
“I’ve never been in a diner before,” she commented absent-mindedly. She’d never been in a diner? He knew she led a sheltered life, but he couldn’t quite understand just how sheltered it had been. There were plenty of experiences she was having for the first time with him, and it wasn’t just shooting someone. It was just basic things, just the fundamentals of life. Like breakfast at a diner.
“Hi there,” another female upbeat voice exclaimed, causing a grunt to escape John’s lips. “I’m Karen, I’ll be your waitress this morning. Are you ready to order?”
John stared at Mari questioningly and Mari was still scanning the menu. When she glanced up, he pointed at his watch. With a sigh, she ordered, and he followed.
“Are you always this irritable? Why can’t we just take our time?” she questioned.
“We have to get back on the road, get you home.”
“Is my father pressing you? Is he pissed it’s taking so long?” she asked with a small smirk on her face. What was she doing now?
“Alessandro knows I’ll get the job done.”
“Alessandro?” Her attention had peaked at the use of the name that John hadn’t even considered. He hadn’t given it a second thought when saying it, but she was clearly finding something out from it. “You must be someone special for him to allow you to call him by his first name. That’s rare. I should know.” It was at these times that she no longer looked so young, like she had all the answers in the world. She sounded much wiser than her age and her questions were calculated. He began to wonder if the other, more youthful persona was all an act. But it had been played so effortlessly.
Even now, he was nowhere close to figuring her out.