She had been awake for hours, lying in her narrow bed staring at the ceiling. Her body was tense, her hands constantly twisting and winding her hair around her fingers. She could not believe what had happened in the basketball court earlier. She knew their unfortunate collision had put her on his radar, but aside from that they had barely exchanged two sentences between them. She wasn't even sure he knew her name.
It had been her first kiss, guys at her middle school back in Ohio hadn't exactly been lining up for her. It had been her first kiss, and it had been nothing like she had imagined it. She had expected her first kiss to be romantic and sweet and soft, not intense and...dangerous. She realized now that he terrified her. His searing gaze and the heat that radiated off his body and right into the pit of her stomach felt too serious, too much. It felt like he might push her over some imagined line she did not want to cross. She closed her eyes, willing herself to go to sleep, but all she could see was bluish-green eyes gazing into hers and soft lips exploring her mouth.
The following week everyone was back and her nose and eyes a less noticeable shade of light purple mixed with yellow. Of course everyone noticed anyway, amused by her apparent failure to navigate past doors like a normal person. As if her classmates didn't already find her awkward, her battered face reminded them all yet again that she was different than them. She only confessed the truth about what happened to Hannah, who was the only person able to fully grasp just how humiliating the experience had been for April. She didn't tell her about what happened at the basketball court though. She didn't know how to describe what happened truthfully, and April sensed that Jackson wouldn't want her to tell anyone. It felt too personal, as if telling anyone about that night might mean it never really happened.
Of course she would see him everywhere now. Her body was like a magnet orbiting around him, constantly aware of his presence even if she couldn't see him. She saw him on his way to class, in the dining hall, joking with his friends outside the athletic centre, casually flinging an arm around some perfect girl on the way to assembly. He never looked in her direction, never noticed her like she noticed him. He was a constant presence to her, a dull feeling in her belly when he was close by. By the end of the week April begun to think she had imagined the whole thing. There was nothing in Jacksons behaviour suggesting that he thought about her like she thought of him - every minute of every day.
Exams were a few weeks away and she had never felt less focused despite being desperate to prove to her teachers and her parents that she deserved to be here at Hartwell. She spent her nights at the library as usual but the words on the pages seemed to merge into each other. She had just read the same sentence six times but the information just wouldn't stick. She decided she needed a break and headed out to the now covered tennis courts right behind the library. She settled down on a bench a little away from the path that ran between the library and the tennis courts and inhaled the cool night air deeply. She needed to maintain her A- average each semester to be able to keep her scholarship, she really couldn't afford to lose her focus like this, especially not over something so trivial as a boy. Ever since her uncle Dan had got caught under a tractor at the family farm when she was 8 years old she had wanted to become a doctor. There had been blood everywhere and a lot of screaming, which didn't faze her. She was used to pigs being slaughtered, she was not squeamish in the slightest. But she had seen her uncles mangled legs being put back together by surgeons at the hospital in Toledo, she had been allowed to see the x-rays and touch the screws that were poking through her uncle's skin and she had been fascinated. She wanted to get into the best medical school she could- Harvard, Stanford, Washington, North Carolina - all those places were on her list and she still needed to make that happen.
Ok, so he knew her name. Jackson slid down on the bench next to her.
"What are you doing sitting out here in the cold?"
"Needed a break from studying. Can't seem to focus much these days" she smiled thinly.
"You're pretty serious about school, aren't you?"
Was this actually happening? A normal conversation with Jackson Avery? It seemed almost more surprising to her than when he had kissed her.
"Yeah, I've got to keep up my average so I can keep my scholarship".
Shit! She forgot she had been trying to keep her scholarship under wraps. Why was she suddenly all talk around him? He didn't seem to judge her for it, nor did he notice that she had rolled her eyes at her own confession.
"You'll be fine, you're always working in the library, right?"
Ok, so now he noticed how she spent her days too? She couldn't help but give him a quizzical look.
"What? I notice, ok?"
"Noted" she smiled, glad that it was too dark out for him to see that her face had flushed bright red.
"So how come you decided to come to Hartwell?" he probed.
"I mean, it doesn't seem like your kind of place really."
"Um, not sure if I should take that as a compliment or not...?"
"Oh no, I didn't mean it like that, I just meant... You're different, that's all."
He was backtracking furiously. She decided to let it go, she knew she was different, she couldn't argue that fact.
"Asides from giving me the best possible academic chances, I guess I thought it would make my life more interesting."
Jackson nodded to himself, pondering her answer.
"Has it? Made your life more interesting?"
"Yeah, it has" she said truthfully.
She thought about her new life at school, and about how much she'd miss this place if she didn't manage to keep up her average. She shuddered at the thought. Although she still didn't feel like she fit in completely and George had gone back to ignoring her after all her perfect friends had returned from holiday, Hartwell had become a perfect escape from her small town upbringing. He mistook her shudder and moved closer to her, placing one arm on the back of the bench behind her, as if to warm her up. She shot him a wide eyed look, warning him off, not sure if she wanted to go down this road with him. Yet again she was unable to form words as the light from the pedestrian path behind them caught his eyes and made them sparkle. He softly brushed the hair away from her face, his fingertips barely grazing her skin. She was doomed once again, completely helpless as his face closed in on hers. This time the kiss was softer, gentler than the last time, less intrusive. His lips melted into hers, tounge softly meeting hers. Suddenly she felt like she had been unlocked, finding the ability to move again, and she did. She eagerly grabbed the side of his neck, deepening their kiss. She was biting his bottom lip tenderly, breathing in his sweet breath, smiling into his mouth. As she pulled back she could smell him on her skin. That night she could still smell him on her skin.
It became a habit for them now, every other night or so he would find her as she came out of the library and pull her into the shadows behind the old brick building. They'd spend an hour or so together, wrapped in each other's arms before they had to rush off back to their respective dorms before curfew. If it was raining or snowing they'd duck into the empty pavilion by the tennis courts or an equipment room in the athletics centre. Squished in between nets of volley balls and thick rubber mats April lost herself in him, wanting nothing more than to be close to him. Time seemed to stand still when she was with him, just holding his hand could slow the world around her right down. She missed him when they weren't alone together, even if he was in the same room. Every night when they said goodnight it felt like goodbye, her body not recognising that the deprevation was temporary.
She was infatuated with him, unable to see any flaw in him at all. Even as he kept her distance from her during the day, she convinced herself that he was doing it for her, to keep their private little bubble intact. She couldn't bring herself to tell Hannah about him, not knowing what label she could put on what they had, not knowing if she'd even believe her.
She would hear his name on other girls lips, followed by admiring glances and the fluttering of lashes. Her lashes would flutter right along with them, her heart pounding loudly in her chest. Occasionally her eyes would meet his across a courtyard or in the dining hall, she would always hold his gaze for a brief moment before tearing herself away, blinking rapidly as if she had been staring directly at the sun for too long.
"You like him, don't you?" Hannah asked, already knowing the answer.
Crap. She had met his gaze during assembly and held it for a few seconds longer than she normally would.
"Are you really gonna make me say it?" Hannah was incredulous.
"Sshh, keep your voice down," she hissed, looking around to make sure no one else had seen what Hannah had seen or overheard their conversation.
"Yeah, ok, I like him" she admitted in a barely audible whisper.
"You know he stares at you all the time," she whispered conspiratorially back, echoing Aprils low volume.
April glanced across the room, meeting his eyes again. This time she looked away immediately.
"Stop eyefucking him!"
"Hannah!" April hissed back, burying her head in her hands.
"Seriously, stop it. You're embarrassing me" Hannah said in an overly serious voice.
April refused to look at her best friend, her face still covered by her hands. She shook her head. Was it really that obvious?
"Calm down, Apes" Hannah laughed, "I'm joking, I'm sorry!"
April felt Hannah's arms pulling her into a tight hug, but she was still not ready to come out from the provisional shelter her hands offered. Just as she thought she was going to have to tell Hannah everything the Headmaster walked into the assembly room, silencing the room. April had never been happier to see Dr Holden in her life, relieved that the topic was off limits for a while longer.