It Is What It Is

Chapter 14

Frustrated and pissed off, April climbed all four flights of stairs to her room and slammed the door behind her, instantly remembering she wasn't supposed to shut her door. She groaned as she dutifully set the door ajar again, before climbing up onto the bed and pulling her knees up to her chin. She wasn't built for arguements, she could never find the right things to say and always lost her nerve, backing out at the first given opportunity.

She felt completely unsatisfied with how she had left it with Jackson, no obvious resolution in sight. She wasn't sure why she had picked a fight with him in the first place, even more clueless as to why she had kept pushing him further into it. She was tired, of everything and nothing, just wanting someone to tell her that everything was going to be ok. She knew that no one would, she had made sure of that, and again she felt lonely in the big house.

She had hoped that they could get over their arguement quickly, that a couple of hours apart would somehow dissipate the animosity between them, but he wasn't interested. As they sat down for dinner, she could feel him withdrawing, averting his eyes and keeping his communication to affirmative or dismissive grunts as his mother questioned them about their day. Covering for Jackson she launched into a ramble on the dynamics and activities of cellulase enzymes, filling his silences with excerpts from her biology coursework. Catherine's eyes flicked knowingly between the two of them, politely smiling at April's enthusiastic conversation, bemused by Jackson's sullen expression. After dinner he quickly got up and left the table, retreating to his room, leaving her alone with his mother.

"He would hate me for saying this," Catherine started, gathering up the dishes.

"But he is just like his father. Always internalising, turning on the mute button, when he actually feels like screaming."

She nodded slowly, helping Catherine clear the table, suddenly quiet now that the tension had left the room.

"He doesn't talk about him much," she offered, wanting to get off the topic of their arguement.

"Jackson's father left when he was nine," Catherine said, straightening her back as if she was bracing herself against some unseen foe.

"He was old enough to know what it was like to have a father, but not old enough to know that his father leaving had nothing to do with him."

She swallowed hard, images of an abandoned 9 year old tugging at her heart.

"He's worked hard to disassociate himself from everything his father represented ever since," Catherine continued, eyes determined, if a little hard.

"The money, the name, the privilege, the medicine, he hates all of it. He even hates coming here, even if he won't admit as much to me."

She could see a flash of hurt in Catherine's eyes, though she recovered quickly, arranging her face back into a stony, unflinching expression. Seeing that brief flash of anguish in Catherine had given her a looking glass into how her own parents might feel if they knew the full extent of her embarrassment over her background and upbringing. She felt dejected, she knew she had betrayed them, failed them.

"It doesn't mean he doesn't love you," she said, not really talking about Jackson anymore.

"Well, exactly," she smiled brightly, most definitely still talking about Jackson. "Why don't you go talk to him, my dear?"

She bit her lip, hesitation building up inside her again.

"No make-up sex, though," Catherine chided, eyes glinting, small smirk on her lips. "I'm still upset with you both for getting suspended."

She couldn't get out of the room fast enough, flushing deeply as she hid her face in her hands.

She gently pushed the door to his room open, entering quietly. He was slumped on his bed, some sports magazine in his hand, weary expression on his face. He shifted when he saw her enter, no words acknowledging her, but making space for her next to him on his bed. She sat down, folding her arms around her legs, sitting next to him in silence for a few minutes.

"You were probably right," she offered. "About the money thing."

He shrugged imperceptibly, still not speaking to her.

"I'm sorry," she said quietly into her knees, both of them staring blankly ahead.

"You've got to stop holding this thing over my head," he said sadly, eyes dropping to his hands.

"I know."

Her voice came out in a pained whisper, betraying the struggle inside her. She knew she was being unfair to him, knew that he had done nothing to hurt her since she had let him back in, but she still felt like she hadn't been put back together properly since she broke apart.

"It's like you can't see yourself the way I see you," he sighed, frustration evident in his voice, and in his face. "It's like you refuse to believe in it, or in me. Like you don't trust that I love you."

"I know you love me, Jackson," she said, suddenly fiercely, sitting up straight. "I do. It's just that I felt excluded, for a long time, and I felt that you were a part of it. It's stuck with me."

"I'm sorry you felt that way, April," he said, finally looking at her. "But you have to believe me, I didn't try to hide you, I wasn't embarrassed about you, that's not what happened."

"Even you said I was different, Jackson," her voice small again.

"Different as in independent, different as in intelligent, different as in not the same as every other girl batting their lashes at me," he retorted, spelling it out for her.

"You can believe there are differences between you and other people all you want, but how much you play into them is up to you."

She let his words sink in, wash over her, trying to fit them in. He was holding up a mirror to her face, letting her see for the first time how deep her insecurities ran, how they had penetrated her core, grinding inside her. She was terrified then, afraid that her insecurities would hold her back, destroy her, keep her from letting him all the way in.

"I'm sorry I'm not more confident," she said, voice strangled. "These insecurities, sometimes they are just so loud, you know, like I can't hear anything else."

"We all have insecurities, April. You make me feel weak, you scare me a bit."

"Why?" She was taken aback by his honesty, his fearlessness.

"Because you make me tell you things about me that I don't even tell myself."

She felt like a fraud, an imposter, berating him for trying to hide her when she had been hiding herself the whole time. Here he was, heart firmly on his sleeve for all to see, while she was hiding behind old excuses, refusing to open that final door. She had caught up to that place where she had pushed her imaginary line in front of her, finally ready to let him push her across it.

"You make me feel strong," she eventually said, lacing her hand into his.

She woke up the next morning confused, not knowing where she was. Her arm was numb, fingers dead, realising they were still intertwined with his. She had fallen asleep on top of him, head on his chest, legs locked into an awkward mess, still fully clothed on top of his bed. He stirred under her, stretching his long limbs, slowly opening his eyes. She realised it was the first time she had woken up next to him.

"Morning," he murmured, voice still marred with sleep.

She kissed him softly, with her eyes open, wanting to see him. It was the first real kiss they had shared in days, and she could feel that familiar old hunger as their lips met. Their kiss deepened, his arms clutching her tightly.

"Good morning, children!" Catherine chirped loudly, slight edge to her voice.

They broke apart with a jolt, April swiftly scurrying out of bed, Jackson covering his lap with a pillow.

"Cold showers for you both, I think," Catherine stated gleefully, taking in the scene in front of her. "You looked so cute last night I didn't want to disturb you, but you are going to have to wait for that make-up sex for a long time, I'm afraid!"

She could feel her cheeks burning hot, quickly heading for the stairs, as Jackson groaned loudly, hiding his head in the pillow. She could still hear Catherine chuckle as she reached her room.

The days passed slowly in Boston, their constant supervision and seperation feeling very much like a punishment. Their argument had been settled, but their relationship still felt fragile, not being allowed the reassurances of physical contact. In some ways it was nice having to leave their physical need for each other at the door, thereby forcing them to find other ways to connect, passing inside jokes between them, sharing comfortable silences as they did their coursework, texting each other after they had gone to bed.

But being so close to him and not being able to touch him drove her insane, and she could tell he felt the same way. His hands lingerered on hers, tracing small circles with his thumb on her skin as they sat next to each other on the sofa, not daring to sit close. His goodnight kisses started off innocent, but grew more fervent as the week progressed, hands clenching as he disappeared down the stairs each night. They way he would look at her as she cracked her neck or rearranged her ponytail made her body hum with a low electic current. Catherine delighted in their discomfort, not missing a step, taking every opportunity to tease them, stretching the rubber band as far as it would go.

By the end of the week they had taken to sitting on opposite sides of the room in case they bumped into each other by accident, as if that would trigger something they would be helpless to stop. Mrs Morello had just left for the night, usually signalling that Catherine would walk through the door at any moment, but instead Jackson's phone jumped angrily on the glass table in front of them. The conversation was brief, his expression unreadable.

"My mom's stuck in surgery," he said, hanging up.

The silence hung in the room between them, taking in the significance of that simple statement.

"We can't," she croaked, eyes wide, no conviction in her voice.

"No, she'd kill us," he agreed, squirming in his seat.

Their eyes met across the room, his impossibly dark, hers narrow, lids heavy. She bit her lip, breath suddenly shallow, hands fingering her loose braid.

"I think I better go to my room," he said, abruptly getting up.

She was left nervously stroking her hair, stomach in knots, palms sweaty. Finally she stopped thinking, body moving on its own accord, legs purposefully climbing stairs. Before she knew it she was in his room, straddling his lap, mercilessly claiming his mouth. He cursed under his breath, pulling her head back by yanking on her braid, his hot mouth on her neck. Her mouth went dry, every short breath filled with urgency and pleasure. She was home, she was back where she belonged, his tounge tasting, probing, cherishing her. She tugged at his clothes, desperately wanting to be closer to him, grinding her hips down, feeling him harden beneath her. He groaned loudly, fingers digging in to her skin. Chills gripped her spine, tingling all the way up to the nape of her neck, making her shudder. She pulled back, regaining her senses, gasping for breath.

"We can't!" She exhaled heavily, practically sobbing into his neck as she rolled off him.

"Fuck!" He flopped back on the bed, brining his hands to his forehead, shaking his head in pure frustration.

"Sorry," she giggled, readjusting her clothes.

"I think my balls are literally going to fall off," he groaned, adjusting himself, discomfort clear in his eyes.

When Catherine came home a few hours later they were back in the living room, sitting across the room from one another, as uncomfortable as ever.

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