A Number

Chapter 1

The two sat apart from each other, Jack's fuming green eyes boring into Alina's drooping head. Alina's blonde highlights seemed faded in the thin veil of darkness they were under. Her usual lively nature was hindered by the current topic at hand: her uncanny ability to attract unwanted attention—particularly the type coming from the male persuasion. Of course, it was unwanted to Jack; he believed in equality. The ultimatum Jack had in mind was this: either he had the right to flirt around and bring women home or Alina stopped her sexual tomfoolery altogether, work be damned to hell for all he cared. Jack shifted in his chair, trying to find a comfortable position to fully deal with this all the while Alina sat still, hands pressed on her bare lap. The girl's long locks of hair blocked her hazel eyes from Jack's view. They had to solve this dilemma somehow.

So… where to start?

In the beginning, as always, Jack figured, his eyebrows furrowed in annoyance. Releasing a sigh, he sat up straight and started with: "Alina, how-"

"Jack," she stopped him; her action outright infuriated him. Her interruption sounded nervous, as if she was afraid to do that. She had every right to fear Jack's decision—their relationship's fate rode on the coat tails of his seemingly scorned heart.

The last thing he wanted was an uncooperative bitch in his hands. She sleeps around without caring for the consequences! Alina's known for this and last he checked she didn't have a care in the world about her harlot reputation. Her shaky words, her lack of eye-contact, it made him question her usual confident profile.

This wasn't like her.

Pursing his lips in polite defeat, he moved his hand forward, signaling Alina to continue with her uninvited interruption. She lifted her head up, revealing her teary hazel eyes, not that Jack cared for her pain. What she's been doing for the past eight months was far more hurtful than anything he could magically put together in a minute. After a few seconds of silence, Jack once again moved in his chair in a subtle attempt to deal with the awkward and suffocating atmosphere. He lightly bit down on his tongue—waiting on the girl to speak up like he thought she would.

"I want to tell you a story, Jack." Alina finally relayed.

"Heh, its story-time now?" the man scoffed in disbelief, his obvious uncaring attitude making Alina shuffle awkwardly in her loveseat. "I sure hope this is relevant, Alina. Don't lead me on. I'm not one of your projects." He stated, his smoldering gaze ripping through Alina's unreadable visage. Jack meant it: he didn't have room in his life for a lie. He could tell she was injured by his comment and that's what he craved to see. Sadistic tendencies aside, Jack wanted to see if the idea of losing him pained her, it had to matter. If not, then the man wasted his time and he prided himself in being an organized individual. Misusing his time was never a valid option; like hell would he let it be one now. Also, whether he'd like to admit it or not, he was emotionally invested in this usually vivacious succubus. Her presence was the color in his black and white world. If he had to take that out of his life…Jack frowned at the thought. A tale without the ethnically mixed and seemingly indestructible bombshell would be equal to losing a limb—he'd be compromised.

Jack knew he felt dependent on her adoration, yet he abhorred it. Such vulnerability made him reminiscent of times where he was forced into a helpless role. He winced at the memories, wishing that Alina continued with what she was saying. When his mind got started, it was a bitch to make it stop. Running a hefty hand through his brown hair, he heard her voice break through his growing thoughts,

"I'm good at what I do for many reasons. Some of them my fault, others somebody else's fault, and then there's just plain old human nature."

"At least you take in some of the blame; I like honesty in a woman." Jack offered as he pushed himself up and out of his wooden chair. He heard Alina chuckle while he made his way toward the kitchen's refrigerator.

"Glad to hear," she quipped with a small smile curving her thin, pale lips. Alina heard the sound of glass clinking and liquid pouring. The poor man was looking for comfort in the arms of bourbon flavored delusion tonight, lovely. While a little miffed at the thought, Alina didn't blame him for wanting that. Who would want to be next to her? She's nothing more than a shameless girl unafraid to flaunt what she has as a means to get the job done. She saw him return with a single glass of liquor in his hand, its amber elixir sloshing back and forth as he made his way back to his seat. Her weak smile grew at the sight of that. He didn't make her one. "Well, now I know where I stand." Alina pointed out, leaning into her plush two-seater with one leg over the other.

Jack sat down in his original seat, the cup's crystal brim upon his thirsty mouth. Nodding, he replied after taking a grateful swig: "Glad to know," Jack was sure the throwback of Alina's words wasn't lost on her. His nose wrinkled at the strong scent and bitter taste of his pure vice drink, but he appreciated the effects that came with it. The alcohol dulled the sharp edge of his situation. Placing his cup down on the glass table in front of them, he sighed and pressed his back against the base of his seat. "So, you mentioned you had a story." Jack pointed out, voice even with a thin layer of forced, mannered kindness. He noticed she sat up straight now, her hair fell away from her pretty eyes. Even if she only wore a partly buttoned up sunny yellow shirt and a pair of ivory shaded panties, Alina still managed some form of grace in her stature. With a propped hand underneath his chin, he grinned at the thought; Jack had to marvel at that talent—a girl who sleeps with guys a plenty but still has the ability to seem nothing short of a proper princess? You don't see those every day. Jack remarked silently with his smile still fresh and wide. Among his hazy thoughts, he came to realize that his bourbon was causing a placebo effect. He wouldn't be smiling otherwise. He was getting somewhere.

Ignoring the curious look Alina was throwing at him Jack grabbed his glass and downed his drink. The mixed concoction burned his throat like an angry firestorm. Get buzzed, asshole. Fuck this night, fuck it hard.

"You seem thirsty, honey." The girl across from him pointed out with mild amusement. After all this time, her tiny cat-like smirk still lingered along her lips.

"It's only when you're around, Ali," he managed. "Guh-…I promise." Jack finished as he took deep breaths to soothe the savage sting gripping his pained windpipe. He was desperate for a blurry picture, a way out would have been better but responsibility asked him to stay.

While making another beeline to the kitchen, Alina asked: "Nervous?"

"No, I just shit bricks for a living, baby." He threw back. He could already imagine the sly grin she had going at the sound of his biting remark. Jack didn't bother doing this calmly; he rushed to get bottles of bourbon, whiskey and vodka together. He had plans for his troubled head tonight.

So did she. "Do you want to know how I'm so good at what I do? You know, gathering information, fucking—that sort of business?"

"Sure Ali, tell me how you got abused at the hands of a sadistic piece of shit that didn't know the boundaries between a grown man and a fucking child." Jack snapped, his mixed drink finished and sitting in his quivery, twitchy hand. He sounded insensitive, sure and yes he expected the girl to cry after hearing that but an impatient man like him didn't have time for frilly, padded talk. Her silence pushed him to drink, his nerves cracking under the impolite pressure. "Don't you tell me I'm making you cry. 'Cause fuck your tears, I'm not dealing with that shit right now." He noticed her shrink slightly at the sound of his loud outburst but he really couldn't deal with her, he couldn't handle the backward nature of their relationship. "Alina—I just can't fucking stand this. I started dating you assuming you would be mine and only mine. Screw sharing, I can't stand any of that crap—forget it. So unless you're willing to see me walk out that door, you're either gonna stop your 'information gathering', find other tactics to do said gathering or you let me bone the hell out of a bitch anytime I God damn want!"

She didn't bother responding to that last demand; he was losing his common sense to both anger and booze. Instead she jumped right into her explanation: "The concept of age being just a number is selective, Jack. I say selective because sometimes older men and women can't get beyond the ideal of their lover's youth. They grow attached because of the fact they are young—that they can experience something that is long dead in their older counterpart. These youth hunters can be a part of a childhood that was either absent, taken or misplaced in their own life. They can shape and morph these malleable children into something they want...into something they wanted to be. They could make them suppliers of selfish indulgence."

He couldn't hold back his frown; that sounded terrible. Did she truly go through that hell? "So…I wasn't too far off the truth, was I?" Jack asked her in all seriousness, his once harsh tone becoming soft. He drank slowly from his alcoholic mix—taking comfort in its numbing qualities because the subject at hand was growing darker than he'd like. Jack kept standing by the sink, refusing to return now. He was tired of running back and forth for his destructive cure.

"Not exactly close, but you have the right idea. The idea of age being nothing more than a simple number has its grey areas, as I hinted at. Many consider the child involved a victim. Most never bother to wonder if it was a consensual courtship. The assumption of rape is all too commonplace."

"Oh God…" for a guy who was getting his booze on, Jack was filling in the blanks rather fast—too fast for his liking. By the time she started talking again, his glass was already empty. He busied himself with another drink as she kept going.

"I had practice at a young, young age. Let's say twelve."

"You weren't even a teenager yet, Ali. What the fuck, man?!" he was becoming rowdy now, his stomach twisted into painful knots at the thought of a corrupted albeit youthful Alina. Yet, he realized she was right: it was pretty easy to come to the conclusion that she was abused.

"If it makes you feel better, I didn't lose my virginity so quickly. That surprisingly took some time." She pointed out, hoping that this would help smooth Jack's ruffled feathers a little.

"Not long enough though, am I right?" Jack questioned, doubt sounding heavy. Not as much as she hoped for, but it would have to do for now. Nobody said this admission would be an easy one. Sipping his third cup, he heard her answer with:

"I suppose you can say that." Her head turned towards the right, Alina's hazel eyes on the small table beside the couch arm next to her. She grabbed a hold of her small, round medallion—its circular compartment opened at the touch of a tiny switch underneath the charm. The picture revealed a group photo with her 'family'. Her parents of course stood beside their cheerful children but one man stood between Alina and her father. Despite the black and white texture of the picture, Alina could easily remember the features of that person in beautiful, delicate detail. His collected smile, his short auburn shaded hair, his lightly almond shaded skin, the smooth feel of his velvet touch—all of these small, memorable fragments struck a chord in her already quaking heart. But what really took a toll on Alina's susceptible mind was the one thing he asked for:

"Dance with me,"