to normal. Just like Jack had said.
She stared down at the box. At the brilliant, almost perfectly shaped orbs
catching the light. She knew better than to ask. They were expensive as hell.
One more pretty prize to add to her collection. One more present from a man
whose grand gestures grew with each passing holiday. Caroline was
determined to appreciate the gift, though she had her reservations.
“You didn’t have to do this,” she whispered.
He took the box out of her hand, carefully removing the necklace. “It’s
They didn’t have many but he made sure to observe them all. “Does any
of that matter anymore?”
“It matters to me.” Jack placed the pearls around her neck and kissed her
softly. “Did you know that no two pearls are alike? Each one is completely
unique, like a snow=ake. The ancient Romans only allowed their emperor to
wear them. They were that valuable. That precious.” He kissed her again.
She blinked and tried to look away from him, but he tipped her chin up.
He didn’t stroke her cheek, didn’t kiss her, didn’t do any of the things that he
did on their Christmas nights. Her eyes were drawn to his and for the !rst
time in months she looked at him. Really looked at him.
They’d spend their days hustling around, doing whatever they could to
keep themselves occupied. There were times when Caroline would barely see
him. How often did they study each other? They had very few emotions or
thoughts left unsaid but Caroline very rarely made the e-ort to focus on him.
On his features. The way his eyes crinkled when he smiled, or the sound of
his laugh. The way his hair would fall into his face when he was working late
at night. The way he’d stare at her when he thought she wasn’t looking.
He was starting to look his age. They both were. Stress could destroy the
body in a way that nothing else could. But she didn’t care. It didn’t matter
whether Jack was young or old. Whether he was healthy or not. Whether he
was angry or sad, joyful or indi-erent. He was hers and always would be.
The ballroom remained silent save for the ticking of a clock. Neither one
of them moved. The world ceased to exist. They were alone but they were together, and that was all that mattered. They stood there, their eyes locked
together, until Jack lowered his gaze. The briefest of moments passed before
he took her in his arms again.
“You are my everything, Caroline. My world, my life, the reason I exist.
We’re going to get through this. I promise.”
How could he say that? She could sense that things were changing, that
they soon might spiral out of control and neither one of them would be able
to stop spinning. She was terri!ed to verbalize what she was thinking but
said it anyway, knowing it would upset him. Caroline hated that her declining
mood might ruin Christmas.
“I’m not sure I can believe you,” she whispered. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t expect you to,” he said. “I can believe enough for both of us.”
“Gabe tells me you’re from around here,” he said. “Suppose I should have
!gured that out. But I don’t know a whole lot about you aside from what’s
Caroline took another gulp of her now lukewarm hot chocolate. Kudos to
Gig for very subtly changing the subject. “I grew up in the northwest
suburbs. Unincorporated Deer!eld, so pretty much Bu-alo Grove.”
“Where’d you go to school?”
Talking about the distant past was much easier than thinking about the
last few years. “Stevenson.”
“Got yourself a high class education, then.”
That was one way to look at it. Her high school usually ranked as one of
the best in the country. Or it had. She didn’t know what the public schools
were like now. “I guess so. My parents lived in a small house in a very
modest subdivision. They paid a shit ton in taxes to make sure I went to a
“Looks like it paid o-.”
Caroline looked around the balcony, her expression more than a little
ironic. “Yes, because my life is so wonderful now.”
“I didn’t mean that. I meant you actually did something with it.”
Forget reliving happy childhood memories. She hated talking about
herself. Always had, always would. “What about you?” Caroline asked.
“What’s your backstory?”
“Cicero. Crappy high school. Loyola. Sox fan.”
“You were doing so well before that last one.”
“Bleed Cubbie blue, do ya?”
“A little. It’s funny how the things that used to matter to you seem pretty
insigni!cant as time passes.” Caroline looked toward Wrigley. South of Gig’s
place, past apartment buildings, bars, and restaurants, many of which were
shuttered closed. She couldn’t see the stadium but knew exactly where it
She and the guys had watched some NBA games during her recovery.
Professional sports were an e-ective distraction from the nation’s woes.
“Does Major League Baseball still exist?” she asked.
Gig shrugged. “I suppose. The teams from California and Texas pulled
out. I hear they’re playing in their own leagues with di-erent players. The
Blue Jays withdrew out of solidarity. Canada doesn’t seem too happy with
Santos right now.”
“Are they planning on doing anything?”
“Not so far as I’ve heard. But who knows? Maybe the rebellion is plotting
with international forces.”
He wasn’t as plugged in as she’d assumed. Another step backwards. She
hoped he knew what he was doing when it came to getting them to
California. “Maybe,” she whispered.
“You miss this place,” Gig said. It wasn’t a question.
“I do,” Caroline said. “I loved Maryland and D.C., even Pennsylvania in its
own way. But my heart is here. The air feels di-erent here. My spirit feels
di-erent. Does that make sense?”
“I understand completely,” he said. “This city is my soul. It’ll be hard to
Gig looked quite unhappy at the prospect. He probably felt the same way
she did. His home wasn’t his home anymore. “It’s not like any of that matters,” she said. “Everything has been altered.
I’m not safe anyplace, no matter where I think I might belong. Maybe I don’t
“Or maybe that’s why we need to get our asses to California,” he said.
A newly empowering thought. She’d almost forgotten why they’d
traveled to Chicago in the !rst place. “When are we going to leave?”
“We’ll wait a bit, make sure we’ve got a clear path. Then we’ll motor
down to Oklahoma.” He nodded toward the door. “We’ll talk about it in
greater detail with the guys tomorrow.”
She wasn’t overjoyed at the idea of that journey. Bad things happened to
friends who traveled by automobile. Another subject change seemed in
order, one that Gig seemed to desire anyway.
“You’re a Rambler,” Caroline said.
“You know your mascots.”
“I went to Marquette. Your school sucks.”
“I see.” He laughed loudly. “I like your sense of humor.”
“Glad somebody does.”
“You’re just pissed because my school’s bigger than yours.”
“Bigger isn’t always better,” Caroline said, then grinned. “When it comes
to schools, that is.”
“I’m glad you’re lightening up a little,” Gig said.
She patted his hand. “You too. I was afraid you were a giant asshole.”
He didn’t act o-ended by her comment. “Even with Gabe’s word I wasn’t
sure whether I could trust you guys. Hard to break free of my natural
suspicions. Spent too much time wearing the badge.”
“Probably. I’m glad you’re not a jerk. We need to get along in order for
this to work.”
“Your friends are worried about you. Maybe we should work on that, too.”
She picked at a stray thread on her sweater. Like she wanted to talk
about that with a man she’d just met. “That’s because I’m crazy.”
“No, you’re not,” he said. “You’re going through a rough patch, but you’ll
“How can you say that? You don’t even know me.”
Gig turned to look her in the eye. “I don’t,” he admitted. “But that doesn’t
matter. You’ll do it because you don’t have any other fucking choice.” PURCHASE LINKS:
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