I first met Jack the summer I turned sixteen. He was handsome and charming, but I didn’t fall in love with him then – not at first. For one thing, he had a girlfriend. She was a spindly, sick-looking, silly girl of seventeen or eighteen, down from Savannah to visit her Mobile relations for the summer. She smelled of old money and blue blood, while her name took care of everything else.
They were kissing behind a pair of robust azaleas; I was quite embarrassed to have walked in on them – or rather, into Jack. I had been searching for my younger sister and had stumbled over a tree root straight into his shoulder. He caught me before I hit the ground; the girl screamed dramatically, as if terrified, but I thought she overdid it a bit.
“Whoa there!” He had a good-natured voice and an inviting smile, and a long, shining scar slashed cruelly from his widow’s peak to the top of his left ear. “You okay?”
I looked up, dazed and grateful that I hadn’t fallen on my face. “Umm… Yes. I think so. Thank you,” I blurted. “Sorry, I –”
“Hey! Slow down. It’s totally okay,” he began, reassuringly. I glanced up at the girl. Judging from her expression, I somehow didn’t think she felt the same way about my clumsy intrusion into their private rendezvous. He followed my eyes to where she stood, pouting, under one of the reaching live oaks. “Oh. This is Claire.”
“Claire Worthington,” she cut in. “And you are – ?”
“Bree. Just Bree.” She raised her eyebrows, as if amused at some subtle joke.
“And I’m Jack,” Jack added quickly, sensing tension. “I work here. Claire is down for the summer. She’s being presented here by her Mobile relations.”
“The Mobile Worthingtons,” she added. I nodded, trying to look as if I had the vaguest notion of who they were. She seemed satisfied, because she finally turned her piercing eyes form me to Jack, waiting. No one said anything for a minute or so. Feeling awkward, I turned to go.
“But where are you from?” Her eyes glittered somewhat maliciously as she spoke.
“Ah… I’m from Fairhope. Or point Clear. One of the two.”
“You mean you don’t know? Well what is your surname?” She was grinning now, thoroughly enjoying my discomfort. I wondered faintly why some rich people were like this, and others could be as nice as Jack seemed to be. It also mystified me that they were attracted to each other. I decided all rich people must be attracted to other rich people.
“Well, the lines are sort of indefinite. Point Clear isn’t really a town or anything. My last name is Clarke. Bree Clarke.” I was nervous and trying to keep from stumbling over my words.
“I’m just Jack. I work here,” he offered simply, smiling. It was my turn to raise an eyebrow. I risked a quick peek at Claire, who had turned bright pink. The blotches of color were surprisingly becoming on her pale, pointed face, and her embarrassment was understandable. I knew very little about the local elite, but from what I had observed of the many who played their polo games near my house and frequented the ballrooms of the Grand Hotel, this romance would have been scandalous at best. Especially with her introduction to high society looming, I thought.
“Ok, well, I should go,” I began slowly. Claire pursed her lips as I turned and began walking back to the pool.
“It was nice to meet you,” Jack called.