His Little Bounty

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Chapter 42

M A R C E L L A

It was the day of the funeral. All of them clad in black. John had asked Sara to lend Mari a dress, considering they were the same size. Mari, however, was smaller, thus the short dress appeared not so short on her.

She and John had been drawn together; their connection unrelentingly persistent. She supposed that should aid in her plan, but she feared it would only realize the pretenses. Thus, her plan was a dangerous one, one that was her last hope. She hadn’t tried to escape for a while in her traditional way, not a true one. This was it. She was gaining his trust. She would appeal to his human side to let her go. He would care enough about her that he wouldn’t be able to give her back.

John was distant today though. She kept close to him, like she was told, but he didn’t touch her. She had grown accustomed to his touch. However, she respected his attitude on the day of his mother’s funeral.

Sara wept significantly on the car ride to the church. Their father was in a state of his own, stinking of whatever he had found in the cupboards last night. John, he remained stoic as ever. But he was more tense than usual. His back straight like he had a pole shoved up his ass. His hands clutching the steering wheel. The veins popping out of his muscular arms. Jaw clenching and eyes dry. This man wanted to be strong, for his sister and his father perhaps. Or perhaps to save face with Mari.

But she didn’t view mourning over the loss of a terrible parent as weak. That would just make him human. And she knew there was a monster that lurked within him, his driving force against succumbing to his grief or his lust.

The service started and as the pastor spoke, the family merely listened. His grandmother made some speech about her daughter’s childhood and Mari assumed that was all they knew. They had clearly given up on their child, and their child’s family. Sara should be in a house like theirs and should have money like they have. She could, at least, have a financially sound life, even if it happened to be loveless. But instead, she was to stay with her drunken father. And John couldn’t do anything about that.

She watched John’s face as his sister spoke. She didn’t know what she expected to see, but the lone tear that ran down his cheek surprised her. It… gave her hope. And relief. And determination. It could be morally said that she was being absolutely disrespectful. She was still thinking about herself and her escape at this man’s mother’s funeral. All she could do was think about whether her manipulation would work.

But, instinctively, she clasped his hand in hers, facing straight ahead of her to avoid his reaction. She could feel him jump. Then his fingers interlocked with hers and held on tight. His touch sent shivers tone her spine but comforted her all the same.

There were more people at the funeral than there were at the wake. From high school friends to temporary work colleagues, to just friends and family of the grandparents. After the ceremony, they all gave their condolences. They all had drinks back at John’s grandparents’ house, the hosts not seeming in mourning in the least.

Mari picked a glass up and downed some alcohol without John seeing. She had never been given any alcohol, asides from that party she snuck out to. John still held her hand, still kept a tight hold on her.

As the liquid slipped down her throat in one fast movement, she had an idea. It was risky but for it, she had to get away for a time. She wasn’t sure whether he would let go now that they had latched onto each other.

Finally, she managed to get away, still in his sights for now, ending up right by Sara and her grandparents parading her to their friends.

“Ah, who are you? I saw you come here with John,” a man said, extending his hand to Mari. Before she could reply, the grandmother did it for her.

“This is Ella, John’s new girlfriend,” she declared.

“Girlfriend? Very young, aren’t you?” a woman commented.

“I’m twenty. I’m not that young,” Mari replied, her eyes scanning the crowd for John. She just needed to keep an eye on his movements. She spotted him with a group of men, chugging down their bottles of beer and loudly chatting. She suspected they all were old friends. Luckily, he didn’t see her, so, for now, she would keep track of where he was.

“Twenty? You’re two years older than me and John is fifteen years older than me,” Sara exclaimed, her eyes widening in alarm. All of them appeared either shocked or unsure of this revelation. She was only twenty years old. John might have been over a decade older than her, but that didn’t make him too old for her, even if they were together.

“Age has never been a concern of mine,” Mari said confidently.

“It should be, child,” the grandmother said.

“My brother doesn’t get attached to people. He doesn’t have girlfriends. Why are you here? Why did he bring you here?” Sara interrogated.

“Because he’s attached to me.” And she was attached to him. Somehow, someway, he would always find her, and she was never enraged by that. The chase with him was exciting, it was fun.

Sara narrowed her eyes at Mari, unsatisfied by that response. Sara was beautiful and tall with light brown hair. Mari figured the girl would have the attention of plenty of boys at high school. But she didn’t have the attention of her family. That was something Mari could understand.

When Mari was a little girl, she yearned for her father’s approval. The sense of achievement that would come from that would make her world. But she was a princess locked away in her tower. Her father barely ever saw her. When he did, he only ordered her around. Before becoming a teenager, she would do anything to make him happy, and then she understood that nothing would.

Her mother, what she could remember of her, was timid. Always so timid around Alessandro and around her. Her mother’s attention was barely kept on anything. She was so sacred of everything that she folded up into herself, into her shell.

There were plenty of her father’s men who flirted with her, a couple were beat for it. She could hold their attention incredibly well, and yet, her parents’ attention was something she could never win. She wondered whether she held her father’s attention now.

She was startled when she felt a pair of hands on her hips and arms like tree trunks snaking around her waist. But then she relaxed as she realized the familiar touch.

“What are we all talking about?” John asked with strict authority that made a couple of the people gulp.

“Your girlfriend,” Sara answered with the same fight. She didn’t cower to her brother’s protectiveness. John raised his eyebrows in question.

“Oh, how she eats like a pig,” he joked. Mari playfully whacked him on the shoulder and made a face at him. And he chuckled lightly. He was trying to cheer himself up using her. And she liked that. She liked making him smile, being a light in the darkness. She needed to feel useful.

“I do not,” she argued. “You just don’t feed me well enough. And there’s nothing wrong with liking food.” The whole group was staring at them, watching their interaction, and looked as if they were coming to an understanding.

“John!” a man called out, beckoning him back over to the group of guys.

“Behave,” John whispered in her ear before returning to them. Somehow, he had some trust in her if he could keep leaving her to her own devices a few times. Which worked out in her favor.

“So… what’s my grandson doing with his time now? He doesn’t keep any of us updated.”

“You should ask him yourself then. It’s none of my business what he does and doesn’t want to tell you,” she answered with a humorless smile. Then she walked away from them, her eyes glued to John to make sure he didn’t see her.

She promised John she wouldn’t try to escape whilst they were there. It wouldn’t be playing fair and she agreed with that. He was clearly affected by his mother’s death more than he let on. She couldn’t do that to him; her conscience wouldn’t allow it.

But she couldn’t stop trying. She couldn’t stop plotting. They were close to New York City now, close to Dante, close to her miserable fate.

Mari acted tired and rested her head on John’s shoulder. They soon got back to the house and he placed her on his bed as he picked up the book she had been reading. She watched him for a while, skimming through the book like it was the most interesting thing he’d ever read. His eyebrows were furrowed, like he was trying to decipher something.

Soon enough, he sat at his desk and tilted his head back.

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