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Powerless: Chapter 5

Jasper

I register the sound of Sloane’s beer can hitting the hardwood floor, but everything else is just white noise. Blood rushing. Heart sinking.

Harvey’s haunted face staring at me from the kitchen table is one I’ll never forget. It’s seared into my memory, right beside the day my little sister died.

“I’m going to need you to say that again.” I hear myself talking, but it’s out of body, like I’ve stepped out of my skin and am staring down on myself. I see Sloane swaying, her delicate hand pressed against her lips while the other props herself up against the doorframe.

“Beau is missing,” he says again.

“What do you mean, missing?” It’s like I’ve completely detached from what I didn’t want to hear.

He clears his throat and takes another heavy pull of the amber liquid in his glass. Everyone is anxiety drinking tonight. “Come sit down, son.”

Anxiety unfurls in my chest, spreading through my veins like wildfire and transforming into blind panic. I feel like a cornered animal.

“I don’t want to sit down.” My arms hang limp at my sides. My fingers have gone numb. Beau is my best friend. We’ve been joined at the hip for years. He’s the kid who saved me and brought me here—no questions asked. He’s my brother in every way that counts.

A special forces soldier with a personality the size of his doesn’t just go missing.

“I want to know what’s going on.” My voice sounds hollow and robotic to my own ears.

I feel a gentle pulsing around my forearm and the press of Sloane’s body inching closer to mine. Her fingers must be squeezing at my arm in a slow, steady rhythm. It almost feels like my heartbeat, the one that has slowed to a dull thud as everything spins around me. Her squeezing is what’s keeping it beating at all.

‘‘I got the call last nisht that he’d missed his scheduled flight, which isn’t out of the ordinary with him. But then this mornins I got a second call where I was informed that something went wrons on their mission . . . and he went missing.”

“What do they mean by missing?” My words come out harsher than I intend, certainly harsher than Harvey deserves. It’s his son who’s missing.

Missing. That word is running through my head on repeat to where it’s lost all meaning.

Harvey blinks. “You know how that unit works. They don’t tell anyone anything. All they told me is that he was on a mission, something went wrong, and he didn’t get on the transport out. They’re investigating now.”

The air is too thin and my lungs too small. The world is too heavy. Suddenly I’m back there on that day. Hot pavement beneath me, listening to my dad shouting and my mom wailing.

Feeling completely helpless.

“I need water.”

Sloane jumps into motion, her dress swishing as she walks across the kitchen and pours another glass of liquor. And I just stand here, staring at the bourbon in Harvey’s hand. It reminds me of Beau’s eyes, of going out and drinking too much with him, listening to him crack rude jokes and laugh too loud.

“Here.” Sloane lifts my arm and curls my fingers around the glass as if I’m a vegetable or something. “Let’s go.” Her hands are back around my forearm, and she leads me toward the table.

I go, too stunned to know what else to do. She pulls out a chair and sits me down. And then she goes to Harvey.

He forces a smile as he looks up at her. “I’m sorry I missed your wedding, Sloaney.”

Her eyes glisten with unshed tears as she drops a small hand onto his shoulder. “You didn’t miss a wedding, Uncle Harvey. The wedding didn’t happen.”

His gaze swivels between us with a small shake of his head. “I guess . . . I guess that makes sense, since you’re here with Jasper and not your husband. The two of you just look so natural together. I . . . I’m sorry.” One broad palm covers his face. “I’m not thinking straight right now.”

A choked sob lurches from his chest. Followed by a matching one from Sloane.

And then she’s there, wrapping her arms around the man who is my dad. In every way that I needed a father, Harvey was that person to me. He’s known so much pain in his life. So much loss and hardship.

Just like me.

And it seems infuriatingly unfair that something like this should happen to us.

Sloane doesn’t offer him apologies. She doesn’t tell him everything will be okay. “I love you, Uncle Harvey,” is all she says as she wraps her arms around his neck and hugs him fiercely, letting him gasp into her shoulder as a stray tear falls down her cheek.

Again.

Sloane has shed too many tears today.

And yet, she’s here. Drunk. And sad. And lost. She’s got dirty feet and is wearing an expensive, ripped wedding dress for a marriage that didn’t happen. Her life is in shambles, and she’s still here comforting other people.

Sloane is selfless.

She might not look it, but she’s strong.

She’s a got a huge heart. A gentle soul.

And watching her comfort Harvey right now, I let myself admit that the way I love Sloane might not be how one friend loves another at all.


. . . A fist lands on my shoulder, but I just laugh. This shithead punches like a toddler. And he just left himself open for me.

My knuckles crack when they slam into Tristan’s face, and blood sprays from his nose, which seems to function as some sort of signal for all his shark friends to swarm me.

“You’re fucking dead, Gervais! I’m gonna go to the back field and burn that filthy car you live in. Put you on the street where you belong.”

His words hurt a hell of a lot more than his punches. I glance around, feeling the press of new people around me.

Everyone assumes that hockey players are popular, I’m proof that isn’t always true. I’ve been reduced to town trash in the wake of everything that’s happened, and these are the kids at school who’ve been getting a kick out of reminding me where I belong on their totem pole.

Today I boiled over.

When I glance hack at Tristan, it’s the boy standing behind him who catches my attention. Beau Eaton. School Quarterback, honor roll, basically the town prince who everyone loves. Never took him for the type to join in on something like thi

“Tristan, fuck off.” He gives him a shove and steps up, blocking me from the gathering crowd. “Everyone fuck off! Show’s over!” he announces, crossing his arms and glaring back while our fellow students disperse.

Shame hits me. Not only am I the weird homeless kid whose parents left him behind . . . I’m now the most popular kid’s charity case.

Before I can even think about what I’m doing, I turn and run straight for the stand of trees that divide the schoolyard from the scrubby back field. Straight for the old broken-down Honda I’ve been calling home.

“Hey! Wait up!” I hear Beau call, but I don’t look back. Humiliation drives me forward, and within minutes I’m leaned up against the white hunk of metal trying to catch my breath. It’s a shit place to live. But it’s dry, and it’s close to the hockey rink. And that’s all I care about.

“Are you really living here?”

I groan. Of course, he had to follow me. “Yeah.”

A hush expands between us. I’m too embarrassed to turn around and face him.

“Come to my house.” That’s what he breaks the tense silence with. That’s what has me spinning around to look at this bright, shiny golden boy of a teenager.

“Your house?”

“Yeah.” He nods surely, arms crossing over his chest as he tries to look at me and not the squalor I’ve been living in. “Lots of rooms. Lots of food.”

“I—”

“I’m not taking no for an answer. Grab . . .” He looks behind me now, features pinched. “Whatever you need. My brother Cade will drive us once Rhett is out of detention.”

“You sure?” A small, fragile flame of hope flickers inside of me. “What if your family doesn’t want me there?”

He just scoffs. “I guarantee my family doesn’t want you living here.”

And just like that Beau Eaton cements himself as one of the very best things in my life . . .

“Hi.” Sloane’s voice is quiet and tentative behind me.

“How’d you know I was here?” I don’t turn to look at her head poked out of the window. I’m still frozen, and it has nothing to do with how cold it is out right now.

“Hard to forget our nights out here, to be honest.”

She’s not wrong. Our nights spent out on the roof were some of the best of my life. They usually started out as the worst nights, but then she’d come join me and they were instantly better.

“I could also feel the cold air from the hallway.”

I grunt, not really in the mood for talking. In fact, I feel completely hollowed out.

“You cold, Jas?”

I shrug, not caring if I’m cold. I’m too busy imagining all the awful things that could have happened to my brother.

He told me he would leave the army soon. Of course, he always said that. And every time I wanted to believe him.

We all hated him deploying—it felt like the statistics weren’t stacked in his favor anymore. Like he’d gotten off scot-free too many times. Like he was too sunny and goofy, and the universe would take that away from him at some point.

I hear Sloane clambering out the window of her guest room. The room right beside the one I spent my teenage years in.

I’m about to tell her I want to be alone, but when she wraps a blanket around my shoulders and plops down beside me, tucking herself in against me, my body releases a breath I didn’t even know I’d been holding. She presses close beside me, all downy and comforting. Her sweet scent wafts to my nostrils. Smells like coconut and icing on a cupcake.

Forcing myself to stay staring at the dark fields, I ignore her presence. Until I see an ugly cartoon basset hound pushed up to my face.

“Drink.” It’s not a question. It’s a command.

I shake my head, feeling more like my traumatized teenage self than I have in years.

“Come on. I’m dehydrated from crying in the shower. Please don’t make me drink alone. Beau wouldn’t approve.”

I snort a laugh, but it’s followed by a wounded, keening noise. The sound of Sloane sniffing is the only response. We don’t look at each other.

“WWBD,” she says with a sure nod.

“Pardon?”

“What would Beau do? We both know he’d drink the beer.”

I’m sure if I even glance at her, I’ll break down, so I crack open the stupid Buddyz Best Beer and take a long pull.

“This tastes like shit.”

She drinks, and from my periphery, I see her nod. “Matches the day. Shit is the theme.”

I grunt my agreement. “You’re not wrong.”

Her shoulder bumps into mine but she doesn’t move away. She tucks in closer, pulling the same patchwork quilt we used as kids around us. And just like when we were younger, she doesn’t poke and prod. Or try to get me to talk about my feelings like a therapist I never asked for.

She’s just there.

“Do you think he’s dead?” I blurt, trying to cover my fear by chugging more beer. It’s the question that’s been dancing around in my head for the last couple of hours. The one I didn’t want to give voice to, but it leapt from me all the same.

I chance a look at Sloane now to see how she might react to my dark question. But as usual, she doesn’t shy away from my darkness—after all, she’s my Sunny. She chases away the dark just by being herself.

“I think . . .” She rolls the can between her hands, creating a loud crinkling sound in the quiet night. “I think that’s not the type of energy I want to put out into the universe for him right now.”

A strangled chuckle rumbles in my chest, and she jabs an elbow into my ribs. “I’m serious! Do you go into a game thinking you’re going to lose it? Or do you envision yourself winning? I obsessively run through a dance in my head before a performance, but I don’t let myself see a miss or a trip. And I’m going to treat this the same way.”

She nods, small dainty features pressed into a determined expression. “If Beau is out there, he needs our good energy. He’s too . . .” One hand rolls around in front of her as she searches for the word. “I don’t know. He’s larger than life. He won’t go down without a fight. I have faith in him.”

Unshed tears prick at my eyes. Larger than life. He is that. Determined. Relentless. That fucker doesn’t take no for an answer. And wherever he is, I hope he doesn’t right now either.

I lean into Sloane, and she rests her head against my shoulder. I don’t know how long we sit in a companionable silence, just staring out. No sounds except the intermittent hoots from an owl, the odd huff of air from a cow, and the quiet nicker from a horse.

“I love the moon on nights like this,” she murmurs. “It makes everything appear almost silver. It makes everything glow.”

Tipping my chin up, I peer at the sky full of creamy white stars so thick in spots it almost looks like a blanket. It reminds me of when we were in front of the steakhouse and I couldn’t see a single star on a perfectly clear night.

After our argument, I drove out to Chestnut Springs and spent the night in one of the small house I bought in town. Tonight I’m too fucked-up to go anywhere, but there’s this part of me that doesn’t want to sleep in my childhood bed.

It feels like too much right now. It feels too real.

Sloane’s body heaves a heavy sigh, and I wonder how she’s feeling after the shit day she’s had too.

“I’m sorry about Sterling,” I offer, not meaning it.

“Don’t bullshit me, Jas.”

A quiet chuckle rolls from my lips. “Okay. I’m sorry about your wedding.”

She sighs again, petite shoulders rising and falling with such tiredness. “I’m not.”

Her blunt response takes me by surprise.

“No?”

“Nah. Spending my life barefoot in the kitchen as Mrs. Woodcock sounds fucking terrible. I’d rather be barefoot in a dirty liquor store with you.”

I want to laugh but jealousy lances through me. Followed by relief. Relief that she hasn’t taken that path.

Relief that she’s sitting here with me instead. Because, wrack my brain as I might, I can’t think of a single other person I’d rather be with in the wake of this news.

I feel her shiver beside me and turn to press a kiss to the crown of her head, but her hair is wet and cold.

“Your hair is wet.”

She shrugs. “Yeah. I came straight here after my shower.”

An ache hits me in the center of my chest, and I shake my head at myself, not wanting to read more into that than I should. After all, she almost married someone today.

“Let’s go, Sunny. You’re gonna freeze with wet hair out here.” I stand and reach a hand out for hers, small and cool in mine, as I pull her up. I squeeze once and try to let go.

But I can’t. I want her close. I just don’t know how to go there.

She doesn’t suffer from the same confusion though. Without a second thought, she steps into me. My arms fold around her along with the thick blanket that rests over her shoulders as her hands slide over my ribs. Her forehead presses to my chest, and I cup the back of her head.

Maybe it’s our height difference. Maybe it’s just tradition. But I’ve always hugged her like this, and she’s always let me. There’s a comfort in it somehow. A familiarity.

“You’ll be here in the morning?” This is what she’s always asked me on bad nights. Like she wanted to make sure I wouldn’t drop too far into my sadness. So far I wouldn’t come back.

“Where else would I be?” is what I’ve always responded with as my hand slides over her damp hair. Because I will be.

Because she’s a tether that has never let go, even when I’ve wanted her to. Before I joined the Eatons, I felt like no one would miss me if I were gone. But now I know that’s not true. They would. Sloane would. And that’s always kept me grounded in a way I needed so desperately as a grieving teenager.

She pulls away with a quiet sniffle and downcast eyes. “Goodnight, Jas. Just knock if you need me.”

“Goodnight, Sunny.” I ruffle her hair and turn away.

We head to our own rooms. The same way we did as kids.

I crouch to fit through my window and curl up on my bed. Then the insistent pressure in my chest cracks and the tears come.

Just like they did when I was a kid.

The difference is, I wish Sloane were still pressed against me, and I never wished for that back then.


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