She stood in the courtyard in front of the dorm buildings, bag on the ground next to her, arms folded. Jackson stood next to her, waiting in silence. No words had passed between them since last night, Mr Boyd's presence further complicating matters. Finally a big, black town car pulled up next to them, and she climbed in the back as Jackson opened the door for her. They were finally alone, mute driver aside, as the car pulled out of the school grounds. There was an awkward tension between them, the silence feeding the anxiety growing inside her. As they reached the highway, neither of them had spoken, making her shift uncomfortably in her seat.
"I'm so sorry," Jackson finally broke the silence, eyes filled with sincerity.
She said nothing, offering him only a thin smile.
"I mean, I'm sorry I got caught, you know, not about everything else." He was rambling, eyes flickering uncertainly.
"Are you pissed?" he asked when she still didn't respond.
"No...no," she started, tears pricking her eyes.
"No, it's just everyone knows now...my parents know, your mother knows, the teachers know, everyone knows! And everyone is just so disappointed, you know, which is worse than being angry ovbiously, much much worse! And now I have to call my parents and talk to them about it, and I have to face your mother, who I've never even met, and God knows what she thinks of me now! And as if I wasn't already humiliated enough my parents couldn't even pay for my ticket home, and I'm just absolutely mortified, and..."
"Stop it April, please!" he interrupted her ramble, grabbing her gesticulating hands, calming her instantly. "It's gonna be fine, I promise."
He was looking at her intently, voice soothing, but she couldn't stop her hands from shaking, tears pressing behind her eyes. She let her tears fall, the anxiety and guilt having taken their toll on her.
"Hey...," he said softly, shuffling closer, wrapping his arms around her. "Seriously, no one cares about the money. And your parents will probably be upset for a while and then they'll forget about it."
His voice was less than convincing, but she wanted to believe him.
"As for my mother..," he said through gritted teeth, voice trailing off, eyes blinking rapidly as he spoke again.
"It's fine. It'll be fine."
He was reassuring himself more than her, which worried her. She only knew a little about his mother, he was never willing to share too much information about his family. She knew she was a brilliant surgeon of course, which had excited her at first considering her own dream for a career in medicine, but Jackson had downplayed it, everyone in his family was a surgeon, it didn't excite him at all. She also knew his mother must be a strong woman, having raised Jackson mostly by herself, whilst building her career and heading up the board of the Harper Avery foundation, which sounded impressive though she wasn't quite sure what the big deal was. Jackson had also let on that she was intense, constantly calling him, keeping tabs on him, to the point that he would avoid her calls, or roll his eyes when yet another text message beeped on his mobile phone. She realised he was apprehensive about going home, his body tensing as the car brought them closer to Boston.
"Guess we should cool it for a while though?" he half joked, trying to make her smile.
"You think?" she said sarcastically, rolling her eyes, but forced to smile despite herself.
Three hours later they rolled up in front of an imposing red brick town house, trepidation gripping her, making her move slowly. Jackson grabbed her hand, trying to reassure her as they stepped up to the door, her hands sweating as the doorbell chimed ominously. She dropped his hand abruptly as soon as the door opened, bringing her face to face with Jackson's grinning mother.
"Sweetheart!" she shrilled, kissing her son forcibly, leaving a smear of lipstick on his cheek. "It's been no time at all."
Her voice was laced with sarcasm, eyes narrow and smile stiff, pushing her son through the door, focusing her attention on April.
"And you must be April," Jackson's mother said, still smiling, expectant eyes scanning her. "You're nothing like I expected at all."
"Hi Mrs Avery," she managed, unsure whether the last comment had been a compliment or not.
"Nice to meet you," she tried, knowing it sounded ridiculous considering the circumstances.
"Yes, well, as much as I love spending time with my baby boy, this is not his finest moment, it's it?" she snapped, shooting daggers at Jackson, who looked dumbstruck at his mother's words.
"And call me Catherine, I hate Mrs Avery."
April swallowed hard and stepped into the house as Catherine beckoned her to follow.
"Now, I have spoken with your mother, April," Catherine started, making April stumble behind her. "And I promised her that you would call as soon as you arrived, ok?"
Oh no... April had been hoping to put off that conversation for another day at least.
"But first you need something to eat," she said practically, ushering them both into the large kitchen.
"And I'd also like for us to have an adult conversation about this...business."
Jackson groaned loudly, slumping down on one of the bar stools at the breakfast counter.
"The housekeeper made some sandwiches before she left," she motioned towards the plate on the counter, pushing April forwards when she hesitated.
The grand kitchen, the housekeeper, Jackson's straightforward mother and the thought of her own overbearing mother waiting for her call was a lot to take in. She was as uncomfortable as could be, picking at her sandwich, despite only having consumed a bowl of cereal under Mr Boyd's supervision early that morning.
"Well, let's not beat around the bush any longer," Catherine started, Jackson cringing at her choice of words. "There will be no sexual activities for you this week, is that clear?"
She didn't wait for them to respond, and neither of them could, April's mouth falling open at the candour of Catherine's order.
"I promised your parents there would be no inappropriate conduct while you are here under my roof, and I intend to keep that promise. You will be in seperate rooms, on seperate floors, and you will keep your doors open. And I can guarantee you that I will hear you if you try anything stupid, ok?"
She flashed Jackson an angry look, his face despondent, resigned to his mother's will.
"During the day the housekeeper will be here, keeping an eye on you while you work very, very hard on your coursework. During the evening, I will be here, and you will keep me company with witty stories from school and reports on all the wonderful knowledge you are soaking up at the very expensive educational facility your loving parents are investing in on your behalf."
She paled at Catherine's last remark, guilt gripping her for the hundredth time that day, eyes welling up.
"Now," she said, tone softer, eyes flickering between her and Jackson. "You were stupid enough to get suspended for breaking the school rules. I pray to the Lord that you were not so stupid you didn't protect yourselves?"
"Moooom...," Jackson groaned, flinging his head back and squeezing his eyes shut. "Please don't!"
"Jackson Avery!" Catherine scolded him, using his full name to full effect. "Teenage pregnancy is very unbecoming, especially for an Avery!"
"We use condoms, ok!" he shouted, stretching his arms out on the counter and burying his face in them.
"Condoms break," Catherine continued, not letting up.
"Condoms don't break!" Jackson argued, pulling a face at his mother.
"It's ok, I'm on the pill," April snapped, wanting to break up the argument.
"You are?" Jackson whipped his head around to face her, pure surprise in his expression.
"That's great, dear, I'm so glad you two are on the same page."
Catherine's voice was laced with acidity, clearly not impressed with them.
The three of them glared at each other for a moment, before Catherine swooped her out of the kitchen, showing her to her room.
She was put in a big room at the top of the house, two whole floors separating her from Jackson, which seemed a little excessive. As she ascended the stairs she had been overwhelmed by the grandeur of the house, the wide, sweeping staircase, the high ceilings, the expensive-looking wooden floors and the sheer scale. She knew Hartwell was an elite school and that Jackson came from money, but she had no idea how wealthy the Avery family actually was. The contrast between his background and hers slowly began to sink in, and as she took in where plush surroundings she began to feel a little lonely, abandoned even.
She flicked her eyes to the phone in her hand, stalling. She answered texts from George and Hannah, assuring them she was fine, letting them know the brief details of the day's events before taking a deep breath and dialling her parents number.
"April," her mother's voice was angry, but calm. "You have made a very serious mistake this time."
"I know," she said, voice thick with regret. "I'm really sorry, mom."
"Is that April?" she heard her dad shout in the background.
"We didn't let you go to boarding school so you could make mistakes like this," her mother continued, ignoring the angry man.
"We didn't let you go away so you could spend all your time thinking about boys!" Her dad sounded furious.
"I know," she repeated.
"School is your number one priority," her mother insisted.
"And you can forget about that boy too!" She could imagine her dad pacing around their living room, waving his hands angrily at her.
"Of course it is, mom," she agreed. "You don't have to worry about that, I promise."
"We're very disappointed in you," her mother emphasised, and she could feel the hurt in her voice, knowing she had let her down. For once her dad had nothing to add.
"I know," she whispered, voice breaking, hot tears rolling down her cheeks.
"Your father says hi," her mother started, rounding off their conversation. "Please behave yourself for Mrs Avery."
"I will," she sniffed. "Love you."
"Love you too," her mother finished, voice still cold, breaking her heart a little.
She got ready for bed, wiping the tears from her cheeks. She was about to climb into the big canopy bed when she heard a soft knock on the partially open door.
"Hey," Jackson said, voice tired as he pushed the door open. "My mom said I could come say goodnight."
She must have looked worried, because he quickly continued to explain.
"If I'm not downstairs in five minutes, my balls will we served to me on a platter apparently."
He shrugged sheepishly, hesitantly taking a small step into her room.
"You're risking your balls for me?" she smiled through wet eyes, walking over to him and pressing her cheek to his chest, wrapping her arms around his waist.
He grabbed her tightly, kissing the top of her head.
"Anything for you," his voice hoarse, stroking her hair.
They hugged each other for as long as they dared, Jackson kissing her chastely on the forehead before sprinting down the stairs again.
The following day was spent in the stiff and formal dining room, hunched over their coursework. The housekeeper, Mrs Morello, was a chunky older woman, short, dull red hair marled with straggly, grey patches. She took her new task to heart, constantly fussing around them, checking up on them every ten minutes. It had been the tenth time that day Mrs Morello had asked April if she wanted a drink, and she couldn't help but huff in frustration when she had left the room.
"I know, it's a bit much," Jackson smiled, rolling his eyes.
"No, it's not that," she sighed, rubbing her forehead. "I'm perfectly capable of getting up and retrieving a drink for myself if I need one."
"It's her job, just let her get on with it," he shrugged, returning to his coursework.
"It just makes me uncomfortable, that's all," she explained.
"Um, it's just very different from what I'm used to from back home," she admitted, flustered. "It's a big contrast."
"It's just money," he shrugged, brushing her off.
"You don't get it," she sighed, shaking her head.
"I'm a scholarship kid, my parents couldn't afford to bring me home when I got suspended. People at school are going to find out."
"Why do you care what people think?" He looked at her blankly, eyes blinking, frown on his forehead.
"It was hard for me to fit in as it was," she explained, voice a little shaky. "I just don't want people to know, ok?"
"They already know, trust me," he dismissed her. "Did you ever wonder why they put asterisks next to your name in the school directory? They put those next to anyone who has some sort of scholarship."
She swallowed hard, realisation sinking in. She had wondered what the little denotation next to her name had meant, but she hadn't ever connected them with her scholarship status.
"Oh, god!" she groaned, hiding her face in her hands.
"People don't care, April," he said seriously. "Don't worry about it!"
He didn't see where she was coming from, and she was increasingly irritated by him dismissing her.
"I grew up on a pig farm, Jackson," she snapped, face still hidden in her hands. "Plenty of people care."
"I know these people, ok? They're not all elitist assholes with nothing better to do than judge you based on what your parents earn," he said, getting annoyed with her.
She could feel her indignation growing, his willingness to deflate her reasoning irking her.
"Come on, Jackson!" She spat her words out, her temper rising to his annoyance. "You never even wanted to be seen with me that first year!"
"What are you talking about?" he retorted, raising his voice. "I never tried to hide you!"
"You never even acknowledged me unless we were alone!"
Her voice was suddenly high-pitched and shaky, betraying some old pent-up emotion hiding inside.
"We were just sneaking around all the time, God forbid that you should ever talk to me at dinner or anything!"
"Are you serious?" His eyebrows were knotted together, eyelashes blinking furiously. "April, people knew. You're crazy if you think they didn't."
"I felt like you were embarrased to be seen with me. Like I was this obsessive weirdo that you just liked making out with occasionally."
Her words came out harsher than she had intended, hurt flashing across Jackson's eyes.
"You make yourself out to be more different than you really are," he sighed, frustrated. "I think your life would be much easier if you realized you're not that weird."
She fought the urge to contradict him, trying to let his explanations sink in, but it was as if she had picked off a scab, leaving a fresh new wound, aching and throbbing with familiar old pain.
"You weren't comfortable around me," she said, shaking her head, voice low but steady. "I'm sure of it."
"It must be nice, to be so sure of something," he spat, eyes narrowing.
She said nothing, seething with accusation.
"We were 14", he started, emphasising each word. "It was intense. I freaked out, ok?"
"It was intense," she conceded, still fuming.
"It damn near killed me, Jackson. It magnified every insecurity I ever had about myself."
"I'm not perfect," he said, pleading with her.
"I fucked up. I hurt you. But when I say I'm sorry, I mean it. It's been two years April. When are you going to forgive me?"
"I thought I had," she sighed, calmer now.
"Guess I fucked up too."