On his way back to Carter’s to pack his things and make flight arrangements, Jack used his cell phone to call Brittany.
“Are you okay?” he asked her immediately.
“What are you going to do about Carter?”
“I have no idea.” She sighed. “I think I might need to get a lawyer. I want to know if there’s any way I can force him to get tested.”
“You’ll need a good lawyer to fight Carter,” Jack said. “He’s smart as hell and from what Ally says, he can be kind of unscrupulous.”
“No kidding.” Bitterness sharpened her voice.
“Listen, we can try again to convince him. I don’t know if we’ll have any luck, but we can try.”
She was silent. “You don’t have to do that,” she answered. “But if you could... She’s my baby, Jack.” Her voice hitched. “You and Ally have been great about all this. I want to apologize again, Jack.”
“It’s okay. I don’t know what it’s like to have a child, I guess, but I was getting close to understanding. I get that you’d do whatever you have to, to save her.”
“Yeah. And Jack, you need to call the clinic. They need to give you all the test results.”
“Okay. I have the number. Hey, okay if I come by later? Sarah and I are almost finished the tree house. And I need to clean up your yard.”
Silence. He waited, heard a sniffle. “Yes,” she whispered. “That’s fine.”
After he flipped his cell phone closed, he called the clinic and spoke to the oncology nurse. She confirmed Brittany’s message and gave him all the results of the physical he’d had. Good to know he was healthy, anyway.
When he got to Carter’s place, Carter was of course at work. Jack plugged in his laptop and booted up, checking e-mail from work. He sent off a quick message to his boss to let him know things had changed and he’d be ready to head back sooner than anticipated.
Then he paused. The thought of leaving Ally made him feel empty inside. Hell.
This was not good. He had a job, a career that was important to him. He should be desperate to get back to the action. But, strangely, he wasn’t. The image of Ally as he’d left her that morning came to mind, warm and rumpled and sexy. All he wanted right now was to be back there with her. He couldn’t help but smile even as he was just a tad worried about how he was feeling and the conversation he was going to have with Carter.
Jack had the rest of the day to kill before Carter came home and he took one more shot at convincing him to get tested to see if he could donate for Sarah. He packed a few things, and when he came across some DVDs he slid them into his laptop and started looking at images to pass some time - images of Baghdad, Falluja, the night that Mohim’s wife and child had died.
He changed to another DVD and Ally’s face appeared full screen - the college graduation pictures he’d taken. Whoa. He hadn’t seen those for a while. Christ, she was beautiful.
His chest ached.
He’d left the day after that. The only other person who’d seen these photos was Carter, that night when Jack was downloading them from his camera to his computer.
Jack remembered looking at the images of Ally with Carter at his side and how dumbfounded they both had been. He clicked to another image. A photograph of Ally came up, an extreme close up where she’d been shrugging out of the graduation gown. Because she’d been wearing a tank top, it almost looked like she wore nothing under the gown, one shoulder bare, her eyes full of naked longing as she gazed at the camera. At him.
Jack remembered Carter asking him why he’d taken so many pictures of Ally. He remembered the two of them standing side by side, looking at that one image and Jack had muttered something abut how gorgeous she was.
Two hours later he’d walked in on her and Carter kissing.
Everything sharpened into focus, clear and pure.
“Son of a bitch,” Jack growled. He stared at the screen, horrified suspicion seeping through his body.
* * *
Jack somehow found Carter’s office in an impressive high-rise office tower in downtown LA. Every sense was hyperaware – the smog and the exhaust fumes stung his nostrils, the roar of traffic assaulted his ears. The air of the office building chilled him as he walked into the lobby and his sneakers squeaked slightly on the marble floor as he strode to the elevators. He jabbed the up button, turned away from his reflection in the stainless steel doors.
Carter appeared surprised to see him but showed him into his office. “What’s up buddy?” He took a seat behind his desk, while Jack carefully closed the office door behind him. Then he walked towards Carter’s desk, went around behind it.
“Stand up,” he ordered, his voice low and tight. Carter gaped at him. “Stand up,” he said louder, rougher. Slowly Carter raised himself out of his black leather office chair. He had barely straightened when Jack drove his fist into Carter’s gut.
With a gasp, Carter doubled over, clutched his abdomen.
“You fucking asshole,” Jack growled. “I was pissed off enough after what I found out about you and Brittany. But even that wasn’t as bad as what you did to me and Ally.”
“What are you talking about?” Carter wheezed, looking genuinely confused as he struggled for composure. He stepped away from Jack’s clenched fists, gasped again for air.
“You knew I was into Ally,” Jack bit out. “That night before I left, when I did those pictures. You knew. And you deliberately went and seduced her, just so I couldn’t have her. Then you lied to her about my e-mails, told her you never heard from me, just to keep us apart. You are a fucking bastard and I want to kick your ass so bad...”
He took a deep breath. “Just tell me why,” he ground out through gritted teeth.
Carter lowered himself into his chair, blinking rapidly. He ran a hand through his hair, rubbed his stomach. “Uh. I have a meeting in a few minutes,” he said. “This isn’t really a good time.”
“Just tell me why you did that,” Jack said again. “I want to understand.”
Carter’s eyes narrowed. “Okay,” he said, his voice flat. “You two always had some special bond. You were friends before I ever came along, and even though we were supposedly the ‘awesome threesome’, I never felt like I was really one of you. You two spoke your own language; hell, sometimes you didn’t even have to say anything and you understood each other.” He gave a bitter laugh.
Jack stared at him. “You never said anything back then.”
“Yeah, right. What would I say? I’d sound like a whining little kid. And frankly, when I moved to Garden City I was just happy to have friends. I went along, glad to be included in your little circle. Even though I don’t think I ever really was included.”
“Yes, you were,” Jack said slowly. “Of course you were. We were all friends.” He moved away from Carter’s desk.
“Not like you and Ally were. Then, in college it was clear you were falling in love with her. That pissed me off. I figured, why should you have her? You had all the talent, you were going to be the famous hotshot photographer. She even loaned you money to go to New York so you could ace one of your courses.”
She had. When airplanes had flown into the World Trade Center, Jack had been so desperate to be there, to capture what was happening, Ally’d offered him money so he could fly there. His photos had earned him an A+ on that course.
“Well, I cared about her, too,” Carter continued. “So I just made my move first.” He shrugged.
“No.” Jack’s hands, still clenched into fists, ached, and he opened his fingers. “You didn’t just make the first move. You wouldn’t have made any move if it wasn’t for the fact that you figured out I cared about her. You did that on purpose to kick me in the teeth.”
Carter kept his face expressionless. “You can think what you want. It’s all moot. You left and gave Ally up.”
“I gave her up once. Hell, almost twice.” He shook his head grimly. “I’m not giving her up again. And if you have a problem with it...you can go fuck yourself.”
“I should have known you were screwing her.” Carter’s mouth twisted. “When you didn’t come home the other night…”
Jack’s stomach rolled. “So do you admit you deliberately kept all my e-mails from her?” he asked slowly. “You really did want to keep us apart, didn’t you?”
Carter shrugged. “You took off. It just seemed cleaner if she thought you disappeared.”
“You bastard.” Jack stared at the man he thought he knew. He didn’t know him at all. He turned and walked out of Carter’s office.
Extreme Close Up Chapter 30