“But she’s not ready for it,” Jack said. “He’s not ready for it.”

“You’re not ready for it,” Ezra countered.

“Maybe not,” Jack relented. “But he feels too conflicted for anything to work. He’s just making everything harder on her than it needs to be. I mean, you saw her today.”

“It’s incredibly painful, rejecting it,” Ezra calmly said. “Peter’s showing a tremendous will just going against it, but eventually, he’ll give in. It’s impossible. Whatever pain he thinks he’s avoiding, this is far worse.”

“How do you know?” Jack asked him suspiciously. “You never rejected it.”

“I did at first,” Ezra said, then backtracked. “I tried to ignore it, and that was brutal. But I saw Peter after what happened with Alice.”

“And?” Jack pressed Ezra when he didn’t say anything.

“He’s not taking it well,” Ezra said simply.

“How much longer will this go on?” Jack asked, and I couldn’t help but notice a hint of sadness in his voice.

“Not much longer.” Ezra breathed deeply. “We’ll just have to keep an eye on both of them.”

“Ezra!” Mae called from another room, sounding farther away than them. “Come here! Milo’s beat me at chess twice already! You’ve got to try against him! He’s amazing!”

“I’ll be right there!” Ezra shouted back to her, then spoke quieter to Jack. “You understand?”

“Yeah,” Jack said reluctantly.

I didn’t hear Ezra’s footfalls when he walked away, but that didn’t surprise me. Jack’s silhouette appeared in the doorway, and I quickly closed my eyes, pretending I was sleeping.

Matilda whimpered as he walked past her, and he patted her head before sitting on the couch next to me. As soon as I felt the couch moved, I stirred as if I was just waking up.

“Did you sleep okay?”

“Yeah,” I nodded and moved so I was sitting on my knees facing him. My voice sounded thick from tears, but I hoped he would think it was from sleep.

“Hey are you okay?” Jack sounded sad and worried. My eyes adjusted to the dark, and I could map out the concerned expression on his face.

“Yeah, just tired.”

“I gathered that when you passed out.” He tried to keep his tone light, but he struggled.

What Ezra had said had gotten to him too, and when he felt anxious, I felt it even worse. It wouldn’t be much longer before I started to cry.

“You sound upset,” I said.

“Nah, I’m fine,” Jack insisted, shaking his head in the darkness.

“Jack, promise me that I’ll be okay. You know I’ll believe anything you say, so just promise me that everything will be okay.” My voice sounded more nervous than I would’ve liked.

“I know you can’t understand right now, but you’ve got nothing to worry about.” Then he put his arm around me and pulled me close to him, resting his chin on the top of my head. “I’m upset because I care about you too much. The problem’s me, not you. You are gonna be better than fine. I promise.”

“You’re right. I don’t understand,” I said. He stroked my hair, and I moved my head on his chest. Then I realized something odd. “I can’t hear your heart beat.”

“Just listen harder.”

Pressing my ear closer to his chest, I listened hard, and, there it was, very faint and incredibly slow. I wasn’t timing it, but it couldn’t have been beating more than ten or twenty times a minute.

“It’s so slow!” I jerked my head back so I could look at him. “Are you okay? You’re not having a heart attack, are you?”

“No,” Jack laughed, this time sounding more like himself. “That’s just the way my heart beats.”

“But that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.” I furrowed my brow, trying to understand. “That’s not how my heart beats.”

“I know.” He was mildly amused, but my confusion always seemed to entertain him. “I can hear your heartbeat.”

“How? You’re way over there.” He was actually sitting right next to me, but he was still too far away to hear. “You’re hearing isn’t that good.”

“It is for this one thing.” He reached out and put his hand gingerly on my throat.

At first, I didn’t understand what he was doing, but then I felt his thumb stroking my jugular vein. He was feeling my pulse, and a look of sheer pleasure passed across his face. A warm hunger radiated from him that I didn’t grasp.

“Jack!” Ezra’s voice broke into the room, and Jack instantly dropped his hand, as if he’d been caught with his hand up my shirt instead of on my throat. “It’s late. Milo’s tired. Maybe you should take them home. Unless you don’t feel up to it. In which case, I’d be more than happy-”

“No, I’ve got it,” Jack replied gruffly and stood up.

Ezra gave Jack a disapproving look as we walked out of the living room, but Jack refused to look at him. For me, Ezra gave a reassuring smile and said he hoped that I would come back soon. Mae hugged me tightly at the door, but she hugged Milo even tighter.

During the car ride home, Milo rattled on endlessly about what an amazing house Jack had and how great Mae was and all the fun things he’d done while I had been asleep. I rested my head against the cold glass of the window, and found that for once, I had very little to say.