Lucky and Jason

This scene was deleted from an early draft of Earth Song. Please note that the following excerpt has not been edited or proofread.

“I’m sorry about last night,” I said. 

Jason waved his hands as if shooing away a nagging fly. 

“I don’t know her well, but I thought—“ I fumbled for discrete words.

“If you took her out in public, you might lure out an attacker, or at least spot someone or something that could give you a lead. And you asked me to dinner because as a simple contractor, a would-be attacker would have misgivings but wouldn’t worry too much.”

“No would-be attacker would be dumb enough to think you weren’t a threat.”

“You overestimate my reputation here. I am contracted to the ANA, and I don’t live on clan territory. I’m infamously the only one here who doesn’t. You might recognize it as a dominance issue, but all the humans, saturated with their own corrupt politicians, think I have a big mouth and a lot of flash, and that’s about it.”

I squinted at him. I doubted the majority of people could think he was so superficial. 

He saw my doubt and pulled out his phone with a smirk. “Look,” he showed me his screen. He flicked through his Instagram, full of pretty woman clamoring for his attention: hanging from his arms, playing with his hair, kissing him on the cheek. He laughed, hugged, and winked his way back at me through every photo. I flicked my eyes to his face though and saw an emotionless slate. His eyes couldn’t have seemed more dead. 

He opened Snapchat and pulled up more of his saved photos showing the same. 

“This is the me Washington knows. This is who the humans need to think I am.” His tone sounded normal again, and when I looked up he had his usually cheerful expression.

“Ego and lipstick stains?” I teased.

“Easily understood. Easily distracted. Easily manipulated.” As he said the words his face returned to the screen. He lost his humor, and his smile and everything I knew was Jason. Something was wrong. 

He tapped on a picture of a striking brunette. She leaned over him as he sat on a bar stool, gloating at the camera. Her hand was interwoven in Jason’s hair, her colored lips brushing his cheek. Her eyes were closed, showing off expertly subtle eye-makeup. Her name was in the caption: Minuette.

“She was hired eighteen weeks ago as an intern by the director of communications for Senator Johnson’s reelection campaign. I met her five weeks ago, and now I’ll be joining the senator for golf this Sunday.” He tucked his phone back into his pocket. He looked uncomfortable and chewed his tongue. I knew that face. It was the I-know-I-am-wrong face.

I didn’t want to ask him outright. He was putting on a brave mask. So instead, I rolled my eyes at him. “Oh woe is me, I must use all the gorgeous women I can find to get at their powerful, conniving masters.” 

“You sound like you’ve been watching trashy daytime TV,” he smiled. “And it’s not that, not really. I like the chase. I respect those women.”

“Oh? I thought you ‘met’ these women by looking for the next-highest rung on your ladder.” It was smart. It sounded like I criticized his lifestyle. His answer should tell me what was really going on.

“I do, but I don’t just pick ‘em and dump ‘em. I’m not that bad.”

“Well, you’re not that good either,” I muttered. 

He laughed. “There are a lot of pictures, but not as many rungs. I’ve only dated a handful of them seriously. Mostly, its a small fling. A few nights, a long weekend. I make sure I meet her at the office or happy hour or brunch or something where I can make the friends I need to. Then, when it fizzles out, we’re done, but I have the network I need.”

“When it fizzles out?”

He looked annoyed. “I really do try to get to know them. The time I spend with them is genuine.”

“Never for long, though.” I searched his eyes, and saw true hurt there.

He paused, “No, never long.”

We grimaced at one another. 

“I didn’t meet you to be skewered for my choices,” he said.

I kept quiet. 

“It’s not like I need yours or anyone’s approval.”

I still kept quiet. Why did he care so much that I believed in his little power games?

Jason made a sound that could have come from a bear’s throat, a frustrated growl. His volume had increased,“I don’t need to apologize for who I am.”

“And I don’t need to apologize for calling out your bullshit. You think I don’t see you’re unhappy? You think I would’t notice? You’ve always been tripping over yourself to make sure the next person down the road will love you just as much as the last, so you end up never letting yourself spend one second loving the person you already have back.” I stopped for breath, the anger pushing me to continue despite the hurt on his face. “I can’t imagine what it cost you to walk away from your clan, not even once but twice. I won’t understand it and I never will. But I don’t need to understand to see that you are terrified of being alone in this world. I don’t need to understand to see you play your stupid power games so you never feel vulnerable.” 

He looked like I’d stunned him with a taser. He didn’t say anything back for a while, so I chugged my coffee and crumpled the cup in my hand. 

“I might be one of the only people in this world who actually knows who and what you are. I will never believe you’re actually as weak as the man in those pictures, and I won’t pretend that you’re dumb enough to think it would fool the people you actually cared about.” 

I turned on my heel and walked out of the gardens. Not even the tree’s soothing sighs eased me. 

I was ashamed of myself. No matter what I felt, I shouldn’t have chewed him out. If I had really wanted to make it better, I could have said it so many different ways that didn’t just… attack him. 

I was so mad at him. The kid I had known was cocky and playful, and could have easily grown into the playboy in those pictures. I believed that personality. It was the man I saw holding the phone, the slackness of his mouth, the dullness of his eyes. Whatever he paid to live here in the city, whatever he deemed he had to do, I didn’t think he could afford the cost. 

He was family. I didn’t want to see the kid grow into someone so lifeless.

I was at my car but the time I heard running footsteps. I opened the car doors to let the too-hot air out and waited.

“I’m sorry,” Jason panted when he got to my side. 

“I’m sorry too. I shouldn’t have—“

He pulled me into a hug and and hugged him back, hard. 

“I missed you, you know?” He let me go and pulled out his wallet. He gave me a business card with a single phone number. “If you ever need anything.”

I snorted. “I already have your phone number.”

“That’s the number for my head of security at my compound. You’re welcome any time.”

I smiled and tucked it into my pocket. “Thanks. I missed you too. We all did.”

“Well, not Lu,” he smiled evilly. 

“He said he didn’t, but I know he did.”

“If you say so,” Jason said back. 

“If you need anything, you know you can call, right?”

“I will,” he answers without a pause. 

It was enough. I drove home just a little bit happier.