J O H N
He’d never doubted himself as much as he did now. The decision rested in his hands and the blame laid with him that there was one at all. He took things too far, and now his heart wrestled with his head. He always finished the job. Always. But could he really take her back when he knew what awaited her?
It wasn’t just Alessandro’s respect that he gained all those years ago. He was given a second chance, an opportunity to be more than some lowlife criminal. Now he had a purpose. And he owed that to Alessandro. He also owed the loss of his compassion to Alessandro. Mari had given that back to him. And he didn’t want it but got it anyway.
She was engaged. He had just kissed a girl who was to be wed. Against her will but he still couldn’t stop the jealousy that flooded his system. He was turning green at just the thought of Mari with someone else.
Not taking her back would inevitably end badly. But what did that matter? She would risk everything for just a few hours of freedom. Letting her go might give her a few good years which he knew she would use to their fullest. What would happen to him? He didn’t know. He supposed Alessandro would never know about all of it, but John required Alessandro’s help to get all his enemies off his back. John would have to go on the run too. He wouldn’t be able to get any more jobs. His rep would be ruined. But this was her life against his pride. Would he risk it for a girl he barely knew?
That was a lie. He knew her. Perhaps better than anyone alive did. Certainly, better than her father.
They soon got back on the road and John had made up his mind. He would take her back. She had months of freedom. Perhaps they were focused on running from him, but that would always be her life even if he let her go. She had enough time. She would go back to her prison and he would forget all about her, he hoped. Deep down, he knew it was but a fucking dream.
The guilt would settle in, but he could live with that. And with time, he’d lose the ability to feel guilt once more.
When his phone rang, it startled the both of them in their deafening silence. He expected to answer and find it was Alessandro. But instead, it was Sara.
“John?!” She wept, her voice trembling insanely, and John was instantly alert. He had to stay calm. He had to make her talk some sense.
“Sara, calm down.”
“M-mom… it’s m-mom. S-she’s dead.” In that second, John felt… nothing. No different. His own mother had left the world, and he felt absolutely nothing. Which was a good thing in this instance. He would comfort his sister. He had completely forgotten Mari in the seat beside him. He glanced over to her to see her listening attentively. She probably could hear his sister’s voice from that distance away.
John had to make a choice now. And it was a fairly impulsive decision he came to. But he made a u-turn and headed in the direction of his home in Buffalo, New York. They were so close, yet this gave him an out. This gave him time to rethink his decision about Mari.
Whilst driving, Mari didn’t utter a word. She just accepted that they were going to his sister and she wasn’t going to argue. And Mari most likely figured he wanted time for the news to sink in.
John did and didn’t. He reflected on his childhood and life at home and decided that box was best left closed. He couldn’t be surprised about the death of his mother, or his father if he had died. They were useless and should have died long ago. John just hoped Sara was a little older before it happened.
Keller wasn’t his true last name. He had changed it from the minute he left home at seventeen. Luckily, his family couldn’t be traced to him, and an appearance at his mother’s funeral wouldn’t send the feds right to him.
Soon enough, they pulled into his old house’s drive. Beer bottles and trash was strewn everywhere carelessly. For some reason, he expected better of his parents. But that was just because he had forgotten. He had forgotten all that had happened, and he wouldn’t bring himself to remember.
He made sure to keep Mari in his sights, even though he had no idea how to explain her presence. They didn’t know what he did, and he wouldn’t tell them. He was sure Sara knew that he did bad things. Bounty hunting wasn’t necessarily too bad in comparison to what he did in his youth, but he was still a criminal. He still worked for criminals. All his friends were still criminals.
The door was ajar, just as he expected. The security of the house and its residents were never a concern of his parents. He felt guilty to subject Sara to their care, but what John did was more dangerous. She was better off at home.
The place was littered with police tape and in the kitchen, he found his sister, his father and a few members of his mother’s family.
His mother’s family was much different to all of them. Their daughter had been drawn to the dark side whilst they remained in the light. They were well-kept as usual. John’s grandfather was a successful businessman, so successful that his wife was just a housewife, maintaining the upkeep of their home. They weren’t overly rich. They just… had money. John had tried to convince them to take Sara in, but they were too wrapped up in their own lives. And they were here for their daughter’s funeral.
“You, keep quiet,” he whispered to Mari before anyone noticed them. She replied with a shrug.
“John!” his sister exclaimed, her face brightening at her brother’s presence. The others in the room eyed the couple that had waltzed through the door. “Who are you?” his sister asked Mari accusingly.
“His girlfriend,” she blurted out before John could get his word out. So much for keeping quiet. It wasn’t a bad cover, and he was surprised that Mari had caught onto the fact his family didn’t know his occupation. But playing the role of Mari’s boyfriend would thin the lines even further.
“Girlfriend?” his father slurred, obviously drunk. Drunk was a state of mind for his father. At least he was coherent. He was probably at his tenth bottle of beer. “She looks to be your sister’s age.” She almost was. That didn’t stop him from kissing her.
Neither John nor Mari said anything to that.
“This is Ella,” John introduced them quickly. “When’s the funeral?”
“You don’t visit your mother in years and then you come back and demand to know when the funeral is?” his father said, and John knew what was going on.
“I’m going to have to organize it, right? Any particular day. I have to be back to work,” John deadpanned.
John decided to get to work on the arrangements right away. He led Mari up to his childhood bedroom and locked the door behind him whilst he sat at his desk. Sara had given him her laptop for the time being, and he started phoning around for guests and time slots and flowers and music.
Mari sat idly on the bed, analyzing every small detail in his room.
“No funny business. I mean it,” John stated, not even looking back at the girl.
“Yes, sir,” she mocked in a dutiful tone.
“I’m serious, little girl. Do not try to run. You might think I’m distracted but-”
“But you’re not grieving,” she said, like she could read his mind. John turned back and narrowed his eyes at her. “If you were grieving, emotional distraction would mean I’d have a better chance at running. But you clearly didn’t have a good relationship with your mother. No funny business, I got it.” She still continued to surprise him, and he absolutely despised how much she interested him. She was a child when they met. But then she learned plenty out in the real world. And she had matured in the short time he knew her. It fascinated him.
He ought to start being careful with his emotions. She knew him enough that she could tell roughly what he was thinking. And that was terribly dangerous for him.
She had promised no funny business, but he was unsure whether he could take her at her word. She had kept it on that cliff side, or perhaps that was because he caught her by surprise with the kiss and had thwarted her plans. Which created the doubt.
They were so close to New York City. So close to her home, to her father, to her fate. She would start panicking and trying anything, he expected. But she had promised. These times were incredibly dangerous, and he had to watch his back in case he found Mari there with a knife.
There was too much to keep control of. Now with the funeral and his enemies and the very slippery Mari, he had to stay on top of it all. His mother had given birth to him and she had died. He felt slight grief too. He mainly felt it for his sister.
Where was Sara safe now?