She clung to him, arms tightly around his neck, willing their time together to last and last. It was the day before school broke up for Christmas and she was heading back to Moline early the next morning. Three weeks without Jackson seemed like a harsh punishment she didn't know what she had done to deserve. She broke away from him, leaning her forehead into his, fixing her eyes on the concrete floor of the tennis pavilion they had snuck into.
"Is it sad that I wish this holiday wasn't happening?" she croaked.
He softly laughed, hands at either side of her face holding her just where he wanted her. His hand suddenly twisting into her hair, tugging tightly. This action alone made her open her mouth and melt her body into his. His lips crashed down on hers, his tongue sliding into her mouth, claiming her with every nip and tug. His other hand now on the small of her back, fingers splayed and digging into her greedily. She could feel her own heart thumping and pulsating between them, her breathing shallow and ragged, making her light headed and weak in his arms. Sometimes when he kissed her like this she forgot to breathe altogether. Sometimes she forgot her own name.
The heat of their embrace intensified, and as Jackson's grip on her grew tighter panic started to rise in her throat, sensing that something had shifted between them. His hand moved slowly up her side, burning her skin as it moved. As it reached her breast his mouth tensed in hers, fingers reaching around to stroke her over the thin material of her shirt. The blood was now thumping hard in her ears, chills running down her back and her skin protesting into goosebumps. Her head was spinning, alarm bells going off screaming at her to pull away, but his hold on her was firm and unrelenting. Once again she was rendered paralysed by him, and she felt the muscles in his arms and abdomen move and tense into her. She felt a hardness pushing into her hip, and in a flash she understood and the spell was broken. They pulled away from each other simultaneously, dark eyes on her, hooded with heavy lashes. Silence hung in the air between them. He pulled at the waistband of his trousers, adjusting himself and April realised she was staring. She quickly averted her eyes before he noticed, flushing deeply.
"So, have a nice Christmas?" he offered, making it sound like a question.
"You too," she managed, barely able to meet his eyes. Suddenly he was gone, leaving her to steady her knees alone.
April found herself back in her bedroom in Moline, anxiety preventing her from sleep. Her parents house was quiet, too quiet now that she had got used to the constant buzzing of activity of her dorm. She was used to falling asleep to muffled giggles, doors slamming and George's incessant tapping into her phone. Here she was alone with her thoughts, only punctuated by her elder sister's soft breathing in the bed across the room. Her mind was racing, every insecurity she had about herself bubbling to the surface. She groaned inwardly as she recalled how Jackson had touched her breast, and how her own body had betrayed her by hardening under his touch. It had been an involuntary reaction, hormones surging through her and responding to him without her permission. She had never imagined her body would react to him in such a way, nor that his would respond to hers either. She had often thought her face too plain or her hair too overpowering, but she had never even considered her body at all. Her body was an abstract form to her, serving the basic functions she required of it. She could mostly walk in a straight line, her legs could carry her through PE classes without creating too much spectacle, her body was neither a hindrance or a help to her in most situations. Except when exiting cinema lavatories obviously. But now she was forced to face up to what boys, or one boy in particular, might see when looking at her body. She was slender enough she supposed, though perhaps a little too hard and bony in places, a little to straight and flat in others. She was nothing like George or her perfect posse, there was no scandalous curve to her ass, no muscle tone to her legs, nothing bouncy under her shirt. Her body was still young, still boyish under the layers of clothes she armed herself with every day. That night when Jackson had kissed her with such passion, she had understood very clearly what danger could lie in a kiss. He was pushing her towards that invisible, unspoken line she had set for herself and she was not ready to cross it with him yet.
Christmas passed slowly, each day inching her closer to her return to Hartwell. She had no way of contacting Jackson, phone numbers never having been exchanged. She spoke to Hannah every day, but avoided the topic of him feverishly. She rambled into the phone to Hannah about life at the farm, her exasperating sisters, her fussing mother. Hannah knew April well enough not to press her on the matter and let her continue her rants without interruption. She felt guilty for filling Hannah's ears with such detailed descriptions of insignificant happenings in her life, oversharing the unimportant things and sharing none of important ones with her. Hannah had become her truest confidante, accepting all of her insecurities about her background and her scholarship money without a hint of judgement, but sharing her inner turmoil regarding Jackson Avery seemed inconceivable to her.
As April returned to school she already knew that she would be unable to deny Jackson anything he asked of her and she was uneasy about how'd their eventual reunion might play out. She entered her room, surprised to see George's things in their place, as she had mentioned more than once that her mother was pulling some strings for her so she could finally have her single room. George swung into the room, slamming herself down on her bed with a huff.
"My mom is such a bitch," she sulked, producing her cigarettes from her inside pocket.
She then launched into a ramble about how her mother was ruining her life, how George could see right through her tough love crap and how unfathomable it was to her that her mother couldn't understand that teenagers needed their privacy. April's heart sank, she had hoped she would be on better terms with George by now, but it was clear she wanted nothing to do with her.
"Sorry," she mumbled, a catch in her voice as she spoke. "Guess you're stuck with me for the rest of the year."
George lifted her head, noticing the catch in her voice, something shifting in her tone of voice as she spoke again.
"It's fine" she said, glossing it over.
She needed to get out of her cramped room and stepped out into the cold night hoping she'd run into Jackson. She blinked away the tears threatening to spill out of her eyes, wrapping her arms around her body tightly. She walked to the tennis pavilion, though no sign of him there. She waited a few minutes hoping he'd turn up, but she was too cold and too restless so walked round to the back of the library instead. Again, no Jackson. She ducked into the athletic centre, glad to be out of the cold, and she finally spotted him. He was not alone, dressed in his sports gear walking down the hallway and towards the basketball courts together with a couple of boys she recognised from her biology class. She tried to catch his eye as she followed them down the hallway, but he didn't see her. Just as he walked through the doors to the basketball court he turned and looked at her, but he gave her no sign that he had seen her, no recognition in his eyes. As the door slammed shut in front of her confusion set in. Not sure how to interpret the situation she quickly scurried out of the athletics centre and went to see Hannah instead.
"Apes!" she squealed, pulling her into a tight hug. "I missed you so much!"
Finally someone who was happy to see her! April hugged her back, not wanting to let her go.
"You look like shit!" Hannah exclaimed, never able to filter her thoughts as they left her brain and found their way out of her mouth. Usually April welcomed it, but she must have looked dejected as Hannah quickly tried to recover.
"In a good way, though! Like you've had a the stomach flu and lost seven pounds without even trying."
She had to laugh, Hannah had the worst sense of humour.
"Thanks, that's the worst compliment anyone's ever given me" she sniffled.
"Seriously though, I think you're the only person I know who can go back home for Christmas and actually come back skinnier. What's your secret, Kepner?"
Jackson Avery's eyes. Jackson Avery's hands. Jackson Avery's mouth.
"My mom's cooking is actually worse than the stuff they serve here, believe it or not," she lied, rolling her eyes and smiling a little too brightly at her friend.
Four days passed and she had not seen Jackson yet. Well, she had seen him plenty of times, at lunch, on the way to class, going into the athletic centre as she walked home from the library, but she had not seen him alone. He was not waiting for her in the tennis pavilion or outside the library at night. He never met her eyes as she stared at him, looking for answers. And now she found that she couldn't stop staring at him, boring her eyes into him, willing him to acknowledge her with his eyes. Even George caught her staring at him once as they had walked to the dining hall together.
"Christ, pick your jaw up from the floor, April!" she snapped. "Your tongue is hanging out."
At least they had been alone.
On the Friday she was so frustrated and angry that she had gone to his dorm, full of bravado. Hartwell allowed visitation to the dorms, though with a strict open-door policy. She had never been into his building, intimidated by the thick clouds of testosterone hanging over the boys dorms. She walked in, having no idea where to start looking for his room, already losing her nerve. She caught the eye of a floppy haired blonde, slouched on a chair in the common room.
"You know where I can find Avery's room?" she asked impatiently.
"Looking for some Jackson-action are we?" he laughed, mocking her. "Form an orderly line by the door there, he will get to you in due time", his hand gesturing towards an imaginary queue of waiting hopefuls.
"Just tell me where his room is" she hissed, not in the mood for ridicule.
He pointed her in the right direction, shaking his head as she stomped down the hallway, red hair streaming behind her. He was sitting at his desk, headphones on, tapping away on his computer. She walked into the room, leaned against the wardrobe on the wall furthest from him, arms crossed in front of her chest. He caught sight of her, suprised to see her in this setting. He removed his headphones and turned around in his chair to face her. Uncertainty spreading across his face, he seemed at a loss for words. There was something else, something she couldn't quite identify, but she could see he was uncomfortable, not wanting to be so publicly alone with her. His nervousness made her uneasy and every well rehearsed line she had stored in her head was now lost forever.
"You've been gone" she simply said, hating the desperation that snuck into her voice.
He went to say something, words not quite reaching his lips.
"I've been busy" he finally managed, guilt evident in his downcast eyes.
She didn't respond, not liking where this was going, silently accusing him from across the room.
"Want a drink or something?" he offered casually as he stood up, already half way out the door, leaving her already.
She shrugged, staring hard at the carpeted floor in front of her feet. She heard his footsteps quickly retreating into the hallway as she was left alone in his room.
She had come here looking for some answers but so far she was only left with more questions. She became aware that someone had entered the room, interrupting her downwards spiral. She recognised him as Rich, Jackson's roommate, part of George's perfect posse. He swung into the room, grabbing some clothes out of the dresser in the corner next to her. He didn't seem surprised to see her there, as if girls were always just waiting in their room.
"So, you and Avery, huh?" he stated, not stopping to look at her as he rifled through drawers.
She didn't respond, her heart threatening to push her pain into her throat.
"It's like I always tell him, you know" he rattled on, not bothering to wait for a response. "It's the quiet ones you have to look out for. They look all sweetness and light, and then, suddenly they are all over you, desperate to stick your cock in their mouths, you know?"
He turned to face her, big sleazy grin on his face. April was too shocked at his words to even attempt a reply.
"So, how about it?" he said, stepping in closer to her. "Avery tells me you give great head, so how about you ditch his tired ass and give me a spin?"
She was already out of the door before he could finish his sentence, prompting him to yell out his last insulting words. Several of the boys in the hallway had heard their exchange and were guwaffing loudly as she desperately hurried out of the building, brushing past Jackson carrying two cans of coke in his hands.