April raced back to her room, still reeling from Rich's comments. What the actual fuck? Why was blow jobs suddenly on the table here? She was not even 15 yet for Christ' sake, she was not thinking about that shit just yet, but now Jackson was telling his friends that she was doing these things to him, telling them she was great at it? She felt sick to her stomach, sick that he would dare share intimate details about her to his stupid fucking friends, that he would actually lie about what transpired between them, cheapening their relationship in one fell swoop. She halted suddenly. Relationship? What relationship? In her anger at Rich's crass comments she had briefly forgotten how Jackson had behaved towards her, cold, indifferent, and worst of all... embarrassed. She stopped dead in her tracks, all her breath suddenly knocked out of her and she bent forward trying desperately to catch her breath. It wouldn't come. She tried to persuade her brain to breathe for her, pleading to let air fill her lungs again, panic setting in as it would not. Her throat constricted, her lungs searing with pain as they screamed out for oxygen. She gasped sharply in a high-pitched noise, stifled sobs escaping as she gulped for air. She inhaled sharply, her breathing laboured, her vision blurred. She stayed crouched over for a long while, oblivious to her surroundings. Her feet were frozen to the ground, still heaving for air, when strong hands found her and forced her to stand up and move.
She was suddenly back in her room and aware of her surroundings again, but still unable to form words or breathe normally. George had found her and brought her back, not asking her any questions, knowing she would not be able to answer. She simply placed April on her own bed, removed her shoes and coat, made her drink a glass of water and put her to bed. She felt numb, disorientated. What the hell just happened? She waited for George to fall asleep, for the dorm to go quiet before letting herself cry. She cried silently, falling apart at the seams, hot, fat tears rolling from her eyes, soaking her pillow. She moaned without making a noise, her stomach contracting with each silent howl. Her whole body hurt, it hurt so fucking much. The pain was deep, shaking her soul on the inside, irreparably shredding her heart. How could there be this much pain without any physical harm? She wanted it to end, nothingness would be better than this. She hoped for sleep, but it would not find her. She never told anyone how much she cried that night.
Morning came, but she did not welcome it. She tried to make her body move, aware that George was watching her closely. She gingerly stepped out of her bed, wincing in pain as she stood up. She felt as if she had broken her ribs. With every breath her chest screamed out in protest.
"You need to stay in bed today" George ordered, still not asking her any questions.
She nodded slowly, accepting her limitations. When everyone else had left for classes, she went into the showers and cried until the water ran cold.
Hannah came to see her at lunchtime, clearly concerned for her friend.
"Can you tell me what happened?" she carefully asked, searching her eyes for answers.
April merely shook her head sadly, not knowing where to begin, or even if she had the right to hurt as much as she did.
"What did Jackson do to you?" she whispered into her ear, pulling her head down to rest on her shoulder, sweetly stroking her back.
And that unravelled her, understanding that her best friend had known the source of her upset all along. So she confessed the whole sad story to Hannah, she told her about their meetings, the intensity, the unspoken secrecy, the lies and finally the pain. As she recounted every last detail of the affair out loud for the first time, she realised he had been rejecting her all along. Every minute she had spent with him she had been losing him, piece by piece. She never really had him at all, it had been over before it had even began. And that broke her heart all over again.
That night she cried silently again, while everyone was sleeping around her. She wanted to scream to let her pain out, but instead she was holding her breath, clutching her stomach to silence herself, her scream stuck in her throat. She struggled to breathe, knowing that he wouldn't come see her the next day nor the day after. Instinctively she knew that he would offer no explanation, no sliver of hope for her to cling to. This day had been so damn hard, but she also knew tomorrow would be harder. She realised this was only going to get worse, and with a sinking feeling she understood she was not going to be ok for a long time.
The next day she got up early, showered and did her hair in a high ponytail. She ignored the sharp pain in the pit of her stomach, moved slowly but with deliberate movements, readying herself for today's classes. As she faced her reflection in the mirror she was surprised at how normal she looked, how there was no sign of her broken insides from the outside. She was a little pale maybe, her eyes faintly swollen, but other than that no one who didn't know her really well could tell she was not ok. She arranged her face into a half smile, knowing that it would not reach her eyes.
George hovered around her, shielding her from her fellow classmates, some of whom stole curious glances at her. More than once she shot daggers at girls whispering as they passed the odd couple in the hallways. It was too much for April to process in her current state, but she was thankful she didn't have to walk those corridors alone. She managed to keep her composure in her classes, thankful for a distraction from her ripping heart and her crowded mind. As she walked out of her last class for the day George was there again, escorting her back to her room.
"You should know that no one believes a word Rich says", George said quietly, breaking their silence for the first time that day.
April had to take a deep breath before speaking, knowing she was close to crying.
"D-did Jackson tell you to say that?" she forced out.
"No", her voice halting, filled with apology. "No, I just know what he's like, he's always saying shit like that to people, trying to provoke them or whatever."
Her heart, briefly buoyued with hope that Jackson had tried to make things right somehow, sank back down. Of course he hadn't.
"Does everyone know?"
"Know about what Rich said or about you and Jackson?"
"Yeah", she admitted. And finally after a long pause, "and yeah."
April nodded slowly, shoulders tense and back rigid, her eyes blank, half-smile still plastered to her face.
"Fucking asshole", Hannah exclaimed, having slipped into the room without April noticing. Hannah clenched her wrists tightly, her whole body betraying the anger she felt, though her voice was calm.
"Come on, we're going to dinner" she urged them, her tone cool and ominous.
George came to dinner with them, April vaguely aware that this new social setting was peculiar. She didn't question it, her mind wandering as she picked at her dressing-less salad. They passed the meal in silence, neither of her companions eager to unsettle April. She was suddenly aware that the two of them had started some silent, frantic conversation between them, eyebrows raised, hands gesturing. Realising she had noticed, Hannah straightened her back and regained her cool compusure.
"What I don't understand", Hannah began, voice calm but overly loud, enounciating her words. "Is how someone can lie so much and not even feel bad about it."
April quickly realised who Hannah's words had been to the benefit of as Jackson hurried past their table, his eyes catching hers in horror for a fraction of a second. As soon as she was sure the coast was clear, she made her excuses and headed for her dorm, leaving George and Hannah to continue their wordless dialogue. She needed to be alone so she could cry without being judged, so she could be miserable without bringing anyone else down with her.
The following days passed in the same vein. Anguish, composure, numbness. Panic. Pain. Panic if she spotted him somewhere in a crowd. Pain if she didn't.
Days later she was called in to see her tutor, exam results ready for dissection. Mr Hall was a terrifying, middle-aged former athletics director, usually found roaming around campus screaming at the younger boys to tuck their shirts in or for skittish girls to stop dallying about and hurry back to class. April found she could tolerate him quite easily, her shirt never untucked and not one for dallying much.
"Miss Kepner, I'm afraid I'm at a loss with you", he boomed, furrowing his thick brow as he scanned over her report card.
"See for yourself."
April grabbed the thin sheet of paper offered to her, scanning them for the source of Mr Hall's displeasure. Crap! C+ in chemistry? No, no, no! She stared at the paper in disbelief, realising what this meant.
"It's not like you", Mr Hall continued. "You've been getting great marks all year, how did this happen?"
April gaped at him, no excuses forthcoming.
"Look, you've been unfocused since the mid-term holidays, you've not been yourself, I can see that."
He scrutinised her face, waiting for her explanation.
"Mr Hall, I'm so sorry, I know I can do better" she shook her head, voice pleading.
"I am well aware of that, Miss Kepner", he said, softening.
"That's why this is so frustrating. Look, I know something or someone has been distracting you, but you have to snap out of it and start to focus, ok?"
He nodded her head at her, forcing her to nod back.
"Ok, so I'm willing to give you a second chance here since it's your first semester and all, but I need you to understand how serious this is. If you let your grades slip again, you will lose your scholarship. Understood?"
She nodded hard and thanked him profusely before exiting his office, shook to the core. She had to get past this, she had to find her way back.
As she turned the corner she found herself facing Jackson, with no obvious escape route. She swallowed hard, bracing herself for the confrontation she had yearned for but hoped to avoid.
He spoke first, exhaling her name, eyes pleading with her. He went to move towards her, but halted as he saw her back away from him with a start.
"I'm sorry, ok?" he simply said, hands raised in an attempt not to startle her again.
She swallowed hard, arms crossed to shield her body, legs slightly apart to find firm ground beneath her.
She was surprised at her own voice, so cold, so foreign.
"I trusted you. That was my mistake, not yours."
And with that she brushed past him, not looking back, her heart tearing a little more as the distance dragged out between them.