Thank you, everyone, for the reviews and support and all that stuff…it's great!
This is the last chapter in this segment of Inkverse – trust me, I have a lot more coming. It's taking over my brain. So look for the next piece soon-ish.
And lastly, feedback is encouraged! Enjoy.
Chapter 4: Saccharin
"It's perfect," you declare, clapping your hands together.
"It's a rusted sardine can," Luke says.
"Well, I didn't know you were so good with words," you say. "Gotta love the metaphor."
"It's going to fall apart."
"It's a piece of crap."
"It was well-loved."
"The engine will fall out while you're driving."
"I want it," you tell him. "In fact, I want to marry this Jeep. I'll need to buy a ring, too."
Luke rolls his eyes. "You really want it?"
He grunts and takes a walk around it. "I can fix that…" he mumbles. "That can be replaces, this -" he bends to study whatever he's looking at, and you giggle.
"Luke, if you're going to have to fix everything on there, it's not worth it," you say.
"You want this," he says. "You should get what you want."
You tilt your head at him. "Thank you," you say. Oh, God, you're getting teary. Which is ridiculous. You blink, look away, and then meet his eyes again. "Thank you."
He shrugs. "It's nothing."
You hug him anyway, standing in the middle of the lot at the used car dealership, on a bright February day. You admit, to yourself, that hugging Luke is not purely platonic on your part – God, how could it be, after all of your obsessing? – but it's still a nice, friendly gesture.
Luke looks embarrassed, and shuffles his feet. "Uh, I'll go do some bargaining for you."
"Why?" you ask.
"So you don't end up paying a ton of money for this…thing."
"And the insults keep on coming." You give him a mock-scowl. "I'll remember this."
"You better," he replies.
Rory's eyes are wide as she assesses the Jeep parked out in front of the potting shed. "What do you think?" you ask her.
"It needs a name," she says solemnly.
You laugh. "Alright, kiddo, you think of one, okay?"
"Okay." Rory rocks back and forth on her feet. "Mommy?"
"Can we go for a ride?"
"We sure can," you reply. "You want to go right now?"
"Yes!" Rory runs to the passenger door, and hesitates. You pull it open and lift her up. "Seatbelts, please."
"I know, Mommy."
You start the engine, and fiddle with radio. "Where do you want to go?"
"Oh, you're so predictable," you say. "Anywhere it is."
You drive out of the inn's road. Freedom. You have freedom.
It's sweet that Luke comes to see you and Rory and the still-unchristened Jeep. It's sweet that he sits with you on the little step off the potting shed, and watches Rory make a few snow angels in the dying snow.
It's sweet, unbelievably so, and you hug your knees in an attempt to keep warm and to hold onto the feeling of happiness. It's almost too sweet. Artificial. It's there, and then it's gone. Insincere.
Do you really think that you don't deserve things like this?
No, you don't.
But you hold onto your legs, curling up, keeping close to yourself and not letting go.
"You've got one hell of a kid," Luke mumbles, grinning at Rory, who is now trying to roll a snowball. She throws it at you.
"Oh, yeah." You stick your tongue out at her. "She's a keeper."
"Just like her crazy mother."
"I've never thrown a snowball at you," you protest.
"Don't need to."
"Making judgments on my level of crazy, are you? I think I'm offended." You stand up and make your way to the snow.
"What are you doing?" Luke demands.
You scoop up some snow. "Nothing at all."
"You – aw, jeez." Luke didn't make it out of range in time. He wipes snow from his neck. "You are eight."
"Thank you," you say.
He bends, a hand darting for the snow. You stay still, watching, wondering. He walks, getting closer and closer and closer – and in the instant he reaches for you, you know what he'll do.
It's icy, slipping down the back of your neck, chilling you. You shudder and shriek. "Mean!" you cry at him.
"Deserved," he counters.
"Nuh uh." You dive for another snowball, but Luke grabs your arm. "Not fair."
"It's in self-defence."
"Sure." You try to break free, but he holds on. "Alright, let me go now."
"Promise you won't throw more snow?"
Luke lets you step away, with a glare from him. You back up, smiling – and attempt another ambush. Tough luck for you – Luke is ready.
"Nice try," he tells you.
"It was worth it," you say. "What's the ransom?"
"For you to walk free?" He pretends to ponder it. "I'm supposed to ask for your soul, right?"
"I like my soul," you reply. "You can't have it."
"Too bad for me."
"I think so." You attempt a shrug.
You sit back on the step, with Luke. You cast a look at him, as you try to fish out a chunk of ice from your collar, and he smirks.
"Help would be appreciated," you say, twisting your arm around.
"Fine." He peels back your scarf, and plucks out the offending solid.
"Thanks." You toss the ice into the air, and let it fall to the ground. "Also, thanks for the help with the Jeep."
"It means a lot."
"It wasn't much."
It happens again: that feeling of not knowing quite what is happening. Except that it is you this time, and not him.
But you're still kissing.
He meets your eyes again, after, while Rory stares. You reach your arms out to her and hug her. To keep the overflow of emotion inside.
You think of what you did last time. Brushed off the motion, pretended it never happened.
You know you can be different. You look over Rory's shoulder.
And Luke's eyes are agreeing, that yes, this time you can really try.
You reach for his hand, and you feel that joy, bursting out.