The Boss Vol. 6By: Cari Quinn & Taryn Elliott
The following summer, Grace had come back to teach again. She helped teach two different glass classes that time, one basic and one more difficult, and I’d taken both.
Once, she’d glanced at me with questions in her eyes. How could I be both a beginner and an advanced learner at one time?
By that point, I wasn’t a beginner by any stretch. What I happened to be was a sixteen-year-old boy who was falling for a girl he could never have.
The camp was big enough, the amount of students diverse enough, and Grace’s tenure as student teacher brief enough that we barely spoke. A few fractured conversations here and there, the imparting of a technique, a question when I managed to stifle my shyness and actually speak to her. But she was totally engaged in her art, and I was completely immersed in her.
Like a good little stalker, I found out everything I could about her. I knew she was Annabelle’s granddaughter, obviously, and that she’d been mostly raised by the woman. I knew she had no siblings. I knew she tended to dress young for her age, wearing the kind of knee socks and plaid skirts made famous in porn videos, but in total innocence.
There was no feigned purity in Grace Copeland. Not then. She’d been truly untainted.
Once, I saw her grandmother push her on the swings at the playground beside the school. She was far too old for it, of course, and had protested heavily until her grandmother’s teasing encouragement had quashed her resistance. When Grace hadn’t been able to go high enough on her own, she’d begged her grandmother to help push.
Watching them laugh together, their joy palpable, had been like another kind of knife. Except this one had been fashioned from want.
I had little family. My mother loved me, in a distant, tolerant way. She was far too occupied with basic survival to think about the warm, fuzzy stuff she probably thought I didn’t need.
What I needed was Grace.
For years, I banked that need. In the summers, I took her classes. Anything she offered, I signed up for. If she recognized me from one year to the next, she never indicated so. Plenty of the students returned to the program, and she was entirely immersed in sharing her gift.
But even in the off-season, I kept tabs on her. She was a pampered Marblehead townie, and I wasn’t good enough to shine her shoes. The car I’d scrimped to save for hadn’t been used only as transportation to my part-time job. It had also been about Grace. To say she became my obsession would be like saying glass could be used to shield as much as to reveal.
All along, I’d planned for the day I would stop watching Grace and we would be together. Until that door was closed to me forever.
I’d never expected Grace herself to be the one to blow it wide open again.
Her voice forcibly ripped me out of the past. “Yeah, sorry.” I jerked my fingers over the trackpad, closing the photo of me and a dead woman. And inadvertently clicked on something so much worse.
The picture was as clear as the other one was grainy. This one showed a man in a dark suit moving up a driveway to a house. Beside him was a black Range Rover. His entire bearing betrayed his irritation. From the length of his stride and his pinched brow, he wasn’t pleased at being interrupted it what likely the middle of the day from the amount of sunlight.
The man was me, the driveway belonged to Grace’s grandmother’s beach house, and the date imprinted in the corner was the day before Annabelle Stuart died.
“You.” Grace’s voice wobbled. “Another picture of you.”
There was no denying it. How could I? I was in living color, filling the damn screen.
That was Annabelle, always fucking me over. This time she’d even managed it from beyond the grave.
“I can explain.”
“Oh, I’m sure you can. I don’t doubt that for a moment. The great Blake Carson always has a reasonable explanation for the ridiculous.” Grace gripped the edge of the counter and stared off into the distance. “The bigger question is will you even bother, or will you just fob me off with some morsel as you have every other time I’ve tried to dig at the truth?”
I hated that she was right. Hated more that I’d have to do it again this time, if I intended to keep her close. And I had to, because her safety was paramount.
That I’d wanted her for so long I couldn’t imagine my life without her now that I’d finally, finally gotten a taste…well, that was secondary.
I sure as hell hoped it was secondary.
“You won’t believe me, but I can assure you that I never intended for things to go like this.”
“Like what? Me squatting in your house, demanding my job back after you fired me? Or maybe you mean you never expected to get involved with me after you were clearly somehow involved with my grandmother. Something you refuse to elaborate on.”