Chapter Ten

"Sucker love is known to swing, prone to cling and waste these things. Pucker up for Heaven's sake, there's never been so much at stake."

The was still a good five and a half hours left before Jay needed to find a new set of wheels, a change of wardrobe. The police would file a Missing Persons Report and unless Jay wanted to be found not doing anything would be tantamount to a duck sitting in the middle of a pond in the peak of hunting season – assuming his parents would go to the cops and why would they?

It was better to be safe than sorry, though, and that was why Jay was hiding out in a mostly deserted roadway behind dilapidated houses. It served only to the homes garages and what cars weren't wedged into the small wood structures were parked in overgrown grass and rusting to death – a sin, especially concerning the classic Mustang sitting just before the Civic's front bumper. The Ford looked like it still ran, no tire was flat, but it was fairly easy to get caught with a stolen car with collector plates.

If Jay borrowed that rusting Mustang without asking – but with every intention of bringing it back only because there was no hope for the car's survival – he would be the flaming pink flamingo amidst a sea of polar bears. And even though the rust cancer was contained in small speckles by the rear view window and on the crease of the hood, it was still as noticeable as a neon sign hovering over someone's head; only a small number of people in the world are purely evil enough to treat their classic muscle cars so badly. The plates were another problem: he'd have to hunt around for another classic in order to swap them, that is of course if no one would find a 1998 mini van with collector plates suspect. Since Canada was not yet filled to the brim with Jessica Simpson clones Jay would hold back on riding off into the night with that beautiful, though slowly dying, white V8 kitten.

Vaguely, to get his mind off the travesty of car abuse, he thought about what Ilse might be doing right now. Asleep probably since it was five in the morning, but maybe not. Jay wasn't that stupid, he knew full well that Ilse had most likely reluctantly fallen asleep if at all.

Ilse, in Jay's mind, was sitting on her bedroom floor, knees to her chest, shakily focusing the beam of a flashlight on the door right across the room from her. He was rather sure in the fact that Ilse was absolutely rigid with a combination of fear, desperate hope and painful anxiety for the sun to rise. She hadn't moved for hours, was frozen much like a statue in poise for attack. If the door opened Ilse was more than ready to jump up, rip her left hand out from under the bed mattress to reveal the long and shining knife she had stored there for over four years, and scream as loud as humanly possible.

Jay knew it down to his bones that Doll Face had done this because it was what he had done for years, every single night until he was able to will himself off the floor and into bed. Eventually he stuffed his baseball bat back under the bed and merely laid stiff with wide eyes and aimed his flashlight beam at his bedroom door. Somehow he was able to put the flashlight away and be confident that his night light – now upped to the highest possible setting – would warn him of a reunion with the devil.

He had gone through a night without a lamp on for the first time in ten years. The ketchup and vinegar bottles had at one point stopped their dance into the deep fryers and shattered, hundreds of Mark Jacobs coming out of the ooze and walking into each other to form a larger than life rapist babysitter. Poor Jason had woken up to find that the cold hand on his thigh was his own, nails boring into the tender flesh as if in search of gold. In that moment, staring through fear bleary eyes at his aching hand still attempting to dig, dig, dig, into thigh muscle and bone and marrow Jay realized what he had to do.

Find Mark Jacobs and make him pay. Make him pay with every ounce, every last drop of that depraved man's blood.

Jay would do what Icarus had failed to do: reach the sun without wax wings melting, reach the star without plummeting to his end into the sea below him. It was no longer prudent to try flying around Mark Jacobs, he needed to face him again or burn trying.

For ten years Jay had chained himself into a dark corner, nursing his wounds by ripping them wider and digging them deeper, sewing his eyes sightless and that was what Mark Jacobs had wanted. Jacobs had not only succeeded in shattering the glass figurine of a boy, he had fruitfully caused the boy to wallow in his own filth and every day get a little farther from the bright star of hope.

Jay played only with desperate hope. Desperate hope, overused as both words are in the story of his life, was basically a falsity. It wasn't any kind of real hope, not anywhere in the family tree, but something believed in for the sake of not believing in anything at all. To believe in nothing at all was to say that Jacobs had won, so before the ashes had even settled Jay had embraced desperate hope in a choke hold. But it was a joke. Jacobs had won, had been winning for a decade and Jay's make-believe only pushed the champion further along.

He had forfeited his entire life, handed it to Jacobs on a silver platter with a bloody smile. It was high time to get it back.

&&&

The Miller household on closer inspection was slanted; not in the literal sense, but the home was bias in the kind of way that only this family could have caused. If they moved the house would once again stand straight on its foundation, though somewhere else in the world the new building the Millers walked into would suddenly creak-groan-lean to the side. It was a brand that made Jay stare at a flower pot with vomit rising slowly in his throat.

He was standing on the front porch, to the right of a cedar porch swing bed complete with Far Side comforter and rose yellow pillow. The sanctuary of the open.

Waiting for the door to open was not yet on the activities list, for Jay hadn't rung the doorbell. Nerves hadn't taken a hold of him, but lack of words had. Ilse didn't like him, so how was he suppose to talk to her? What the hell was he even going to talk to her about, anyway? He had driven over here on a whim and now that he was here his mind was utterly blank.

About to swear loudly and walk away, the front door opened and a rather large man stepped out onto the porch and picked the morning newspaper up off the welcome mat. "Rather large", on second thought, didn't do the man justice. He was huge, would make that M. Shadows guy from Avenged Sevenfold blush and forever give up weight lifting; he was that big.

Finally noticing the strange boy on his porch, the man straightened up and snapped the rubber band around the daily newspaper with such ease it was freaky, looking at Jay with the same intensity he had passed down to Ilse.

"Can I help you?" His timbre of voice would also make M. Shadows glue his lips together with industrial strength glue.

Somehow, coming face-to-face with a brick wall of a man who could kill him with a perfectly executed swat to the skull with that newspaper was oddly comforting.

"Yeah. I'd like to speak with Ilse."

Moving his vision away from his visitor, Mr. Miller glanced at the day's headlines. "Do you now what time it is, son?" For such a solid man, the signs of middle age he was not immune to. His hair, though still full and thick and all there on his head, was completely an old metallic shade of gray and shone slightly orange in the rising sun.

"I know it's early, but it's kind of important."

Stern face void of any deep wrinkles, but still showing evidence of a life fully lived, Mr. Miller looked back at Jay. "You're a friend of hers?"

Jay frowned. "Well, not really."

"Then I don't think it's wise to bother her so early in the morning. Ilse hasn't been having a good few days and the last thing she might want is an early morning visitor that isn't one of her friends." Evidently throwing the newspaper on a sideboard hidden somewhere behind the front door, Mr. Miller tossed it over his shoulder and walked out toward Jay who, out of fear of being clobbered in the eye by one of the man's elbows, backed away. "You can come back after she returns home from school," he explained while gathering the pillow and blanket.

"Sir," Jay said calmly. "I won't be here when she comes back from school, that's why I need to talk to her now. I'm leaving the city no later than two hours from now."

"A little young to be heading off on your own," Mr. Miller observed folding the blanket, then looked to Jay with a hooked eyebrow. "You're not taking her with you?"

"No, sir. This is a one man job."

Nodding once, Mr. Miller placed the newly folded blanket on the close end of the porch swing and set the pillow on top of it. "Then why is it so important to talk to her?"

"I still have a chance to apologize to her, that's why. I've fucked up my chances with everyone else in the world, but I figure I still have time left for her."

"That's good of you, but right in the middle of breakfast?" He seemed visibly uncomfortable with that notion of breakfast, his daughter and newly released from prison son in the dining room alone with their father stuck on the front porch with some annoying kid who just wouldn't take the hint of leaving; in fact, he started to look and sound a little panicked. "I'll let her know of your apology…."

"Jay, but that won't work. It needs to be in person or she won't get it."

Mr. Miller was walking back to the front door. "My daughter isn't thick, Jay. She'll understand what you're apologizing for."

"I'm aware of her lack of a thick skull, sir, but she really won't understand if you just give her the message. I'm sorry for holding you up, for having to leave her alone in there with him, but if you just bring her out here so I can talk to her you won't have to worry about Luke."

Panic and confusion, not the two greatest emotions to throw at a defensive linebacker of a man. He turned around and twirled his wedding band.

Softly, concentrating intensely at a knothole in one of the floor boards of the porch, Jay said, "It takes one to know one, sir. You can tell her that if you're so damn insistent, that and my apology. I didn't really mean to call her that and get her in trouble and all the other shit I must've done."

Whether she wanted to or not Ilse had to deal with the rip cord connecting she and Jay, the one at the moment she was completely blind to but would know about soon enough. She might not take a liking to it being there when she learned of it, might want to take a machete to it and sever the line, but that wouldn't change anyone's past.

Jay shifted his body weight to his other foot. "She's a lot more like me than she knows, might want to ever admit. You can tell her that, too, for me, sir. Tell her I'm sorry about what happened."

With a sigh Mr. Miller shook his head. "Tell her yourself, and you can stop calling me sir. That isn't my name, but Bertram is. Stay there."

Doing as he was told, Jay waited as Bertram Miller practically ran into the house to get his daughter away from Luke – most likely the only reason this conversation was being allowed to happen.

When Ilse came out of the house in monkey pajamas and gorilla slippers she didn't seem too happy, but really when did she ever? She did look slightly relieved, though, much the same way Bertram must have appeared when he was able to join his children in whichever room they used for eating their meals.

"He lets you call him by his first name?"

Ilse didn't move any closer than the welcome mat, leaned against the door jamb and tugged down on her top (which she didn't need to do, it was already down to her upper thighs). "So did Atticus Finch with his kids."

Jay smirked. "Somehow I pictured you in a dressing gown."

"Where'd you get a silly idea like that?" Ilse asked, not trying to make a joke, but maybe trying not to let an awkward silence befall the world. "What do you need?"

Jay tried to eat his bottom lip as he thought about what to say, thoughts screaming to be heard over the lightheadedness of hunger. "I…. I'm leaving today. I just wanted you to now I'm sorry about everything." He laughed shortly. "I know, that's so like Jay Hogart, isn't it?"

Perhaps in spite of herself Ilse straightened up a little against the door jamb. "Where are you going?"

"I don't know yet. Wherever the mail forwarding takes me."

"I'm confused."

Jay smiled softly. "Now you know how I felt the other day. I'm looking for someone, but unlike you I don't even know if he's alive."

It took a while. Several silent minutes had to pass before Ilse's break down of that sentence rung a loud, crisp sounding bell to her. She wasn't dumb, though Jay wanted to yell at her "What the fuck took so long?". Ilse just needed to, well, Jay wouldn't know: he couldn't be in two heads at once.

"You should be glad for that. Lucky," she replied in a softer tone.

"No, not at all," Jay stated earnestly. "Look, I just came by to tell you.…. It's too late with everyone else. But since you and me are more alike than either one of us are comfortable with maybe it's not too late with you. I can't take back being an asshole, but I can say I wasn't born one and being the way I am wasn't my main career choice – maybe my third, but defiantly not number one."

Standing in her corner, arms crossed over her chest and legs together in her typical stance, Ilse merely nodded her head and said a quiet "Thank you."

That was a disappointment. What was the point in having come all the way out here, wasting valuable research and travel time and acting like a decent guy for once if all he was going to get was a fucking thank you.

"That's it? Just a thank you? I could've gotten that from a rock, but no. It means so much more when I get it from you."

"I can't write a letter to my own brother, so of course I wouldn't know what else to say. Good luck, how about that? I hope you find him, really I do. Sorry I can't give you anything useful, like a shower."

Gruffly Jay said, "I knew this would be a waste. At least I said it, thought, maybe that'll do a little fucking good."

Ilse sighed. "Großmutter always told me, 'Ilse, never leave a man in a pit without fist throwing down a line of bratwurst.' Granted she was talking about Großvater watching her cooking, but it could pertain to this. I don't have much money for you for gas money, but as long as one of us can find the door to the secret garden it'll do."

"You don't have to."

She laughed shortly. "That's what you came here for, isn't it? Or would a computer better suit your needs?"

Jay shook his head. "I can't spend too much time here, I don't know when the notices will start."

"Notices?" Ilse seems shocked by the idea that there were people in the world who didn't tell their parents everything. "You mean they don't know you're going?"

"Oh, they know. I told them what happened, said I wasn't coming back and slammed the door behind me. They know. That's why I need to find him before the police stop me."

Ilse disappeared into the house, behind the front door for several seconds as she – most likely – poured through her purse. When she came back, she handed Jay several bills folded into a ball and frowned. "Are you sure you want to do this? Ignorance is bliss."

"Can't be any worse than hiding for ten years. Believe me, that's hell."

Wilting slightly, Ilse finally looked Jay in the eyes for the second time ever. Actually, she was staring at his eyebrows, but it was close enough – usually she focused on the tip of his nose. "Ten? So you were…."

"Seven."

It was evident she didn't want to say it, let alone face the time span of Luke's abusive madness, but after a long silence she tightened her grip on herself. "I was five. Finally screamed at thirteen."

"It takes some kind of strength to do that," Jay replied carefully.

"I still hate you," she hastily stated.

"I know."

"Jay?"

He beamed his attention ray on her face again. "Yeah?"

"I hope you find him."

"Thanks."

"I still hate you," she repeated just as quickly as the first time she said it.

"Uh-huh."

Jay turned around and began walking across the porch, down the steps and to his car when he stopped. Ilse was just entering the house when he asked, not too loudly but just enough for her to hear. "Hey, Ilse?"

"Yeah?"

"What…. If you don't mind me asking, what scar?"

"My brother had an old school box stencil of his name. He burned 'Luke Miller' onto my stomach, below the belt line."