Never Let You Go (a modern fairytale)(3)

By: Katy Regnery



“I—I care about you, sure,” she hedged.

He clucked at her, shaking his head as his knuckles tightened on the wheel. “Didn’t ask if you cared about me, Zelda. Asked if you loved me.”

She heard the warning in his voice and subtly crossed her fingers in her lap. “’Course I love you. But what does loving you have to do with it?”

“You know? Sometimes I think you like to play stupid just to piss me off.” He picked up the Snapple bottle in his lap, pressing it to his mouth, and she watched a stream of dark brown spit shoot to the bottom of the glass. When he turned to her, some brown spittle on his bottom lip made it glisten. “If you love someone, you want to make them happy.”

“By doing something we both know is wrong?”

“Wrong?” He clucked again, backhanding his mouth to wipe it clean. “Now, honey, the only thing wrong is the way you’re looking at this.”

“How’s that, Jonah? How is me stealing from my employer right?”

“Because then you and me can join our friends for a sweet little weekend getaway. And your Jo-Jo will be happy. And happy is always right.”

Griselda shook her head, angling her body away from his and leaning her elbow on the window. She knew very little about happiness, but Jonah’s version of it didn’t agree with her.

“You like Shawn and Tina,” he cajoled.

She ignored him.

“A few beers? A good time?”

. . . that would likely end up with Jonah and Shawn, his friend from the cable company where he worked, getting stinking drunk and shooting beer cans off rocks like rednecks until the sun came up.

“Didn’t even tell you where we’re headed yet,” he said, poking her thigh just a little too hard to be playful.

Looking askance, she gave him a bored, annoyed look.

“Makes me want to smack your mouth when you look at me all ugly like that, Zelda.”

She flinched before forcing a small, brittle smile.

“That’s my girl,” he said, spitting into the bottle again. “Shawn knows a guy who owns luxury cabins a couple of hours from here. Somewhere out in Pennsylvania. Said he’d rent one to us.”

“Whereabouts?”

“Naw, that’s not right. Not Pennsylvania. Uh, West Virginia, I think.”

Griselda’s breath hitched, but Jonah was staring out the windshield and didn’t notice.

“Always so much goddamned traffic in the goddamned city,” he griped, merging into the thick D.C. traffic as they crossed the bridge into the quaint neighborhood of Georgetown. One modest benefit of dating Jonah was that he drove her to work every morning, which meant she didn’t have to take the bus anymore. “Why can’t you work for a family closer to home?”

“Money’s better in the city. Where in West Virginia?” she asked, trying to calm the fierce thumping of her heart by taking a long, deep breath.

Jonah’s eyes darted back and forth, looking for an opening in the stream of cars before finally turning. His voice was distracted. “I don’t—uh, it’s by a river, I think.”

Her fingers trembled in her lap as she scrambled to remember the names of them, praying it wasn’t the same one that she visited over and over again in her dreams, in her nightmares.

“The Cacapon?”

“Naw, that wasn’t it.”

“One of the Forks?”

“Naw.”

“The Cheat?”

“You making that up, baby?” His eyes darted to hers, narrowed in accusation.

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “There’s a river called the Cheat in West Virginia. Honest.”

“Well, that wasn’t it, anyway.”

“The . . .” She clenched her jaw hard before spitting out the words, “The Shenandoah?”

He pulled up in front of Senator McClellan’s townhouse and turned to her. “Look at you, all booky-booky smart and shit. Yeah. The Shenandoah River. That’s the one.”

Griselda took another deep breath and nodded, looking down at her lap, her brain short-circuiting as she flashed back to the last time she’d felt the waters of the Shenandoah against her skin. She shuddered, trying to force the thought from her mind, but she couldn’t. The shock of hearing the river’s name had already conjured the image of Holden’s wet, filthy face, his hair plastered to his head, his eyelashes dripping with water, his terrified gray eyes that somehow managed to tell her how much he loved her, even though she . . . she—

Jonah grabbed her chin a little harder than necessary and dropped his lips to hers, kissing her forcefully, bruisingly. When he pulled back, his eyes were narrow again.

“You know I hate it when you space out.”

“Sorry, Jonah,” she said. “Got lost in thought.”

“If I ever thought you was thinking about another man, I’d—”

She shook her head. “There’s no one but you.”

He smirked, kissing her again, still hard, but not quite as angry, and it shamed her that the bitter taste of his mouth was so comforting. “Now tell me you’ll do it.”

“Do it?”

“The money. Take a bracelet or something. I’ll fence it. She’ll never notice.”

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