It Is What It Is

Chapter 8

Angry and confused she limped back to her room needing to talk to someone, but George wasn't there. She found herself pacing around the small space they shared, not wanting to sit down in case she drowned in her own thoughts. She needed someone else's perspective on this, she wasn't sure she could trust herself to see this situation clearly on her own. Curfew had already passed 10 minutes ago and George still wasn't back. Groaning in frustration she fell back on her bed, kicking off her shoes and hiding her face in her hands, feeling like her head was about to explode. Finally George returned, flushed and happy, oblivious to her room mate's inner turmoil.

"Where have you been?!" she shrieked, jumping up from the bed. George jumped about ten feet up in the air, startled by April's sudden movement.

"Jesus, what's up with you?" she retorted, clutching her chest as she exhaled deeply and let her shoulders down.

"Jackson told me he misses me" she blurted out, eyes wide.

"He what now?"

George looked every bit as confused as April felt.

"Well, you're not going back to him, clearly" George decided.

"Are you..?" she asked incredulously when April didn't speak.

"N-no, that would be stupid, right?" she hesitated, looking to George for confirmation.

"Apes, he completely destroyed you last year. Don't forget that," George warned.

"I haven't..." she faltered, voice barely audible. She stared down at her bare feet, mind churning, her heart stuck in her throat.

"I hate him."

"Yeah, I can see that" George sneered, voice laced with sarcasm, one eyebrow raised in suspicion.

"No, I do. I really do," she said, this time with more conviction.

"I hate him for hurting me, I hate him for leading me on, and mostly I hate him for making me feel like I made the whole thing up in my head" she continued, voice more fierce with every word.

"But I still miss him" she groaned, bowing her head in her hands.

"And I hate that even more."

George gave her a sad smile and a long hug, before ordering her to bed with a final warning.

"Just be careful, Apes. Don't give him the power to hurt you again."

After a night of fitful sleep, April woke up more conflicted than ever. She was stuck somewhere in between remembering and forgetting, remembering how good she had felt when she had been with him and trying to forget how bad she had felt when she wasn't. Her brain was fighting her heart, an internal war raging inside her even as she slept. She needed more perspective and had caught up with Hannah at breakfast, but she had been angry at her for even entertaining the idea of forgiving Jackson. She had blankly refused to discuss it further with her, shaking her head in disappointment.

She had wanted to catch George alone again after lunch, but she had been nowhere in sight until she caught a glimpse of her disappearing behind one of the dorm buildings, blonde hair floating behind her. She was not alone, being dragged along by Tom, the stocky blonde who had clearly been in love with George since they had been kids. George looked happy, cheeks flushed and giggling away, eyes gleaming. The glances exchanged between them were unmistakable, eyes filled with natural intimacy and affection, want and longing. April suddenly felt like the worst friend in the world, not having noticed that her roommate, whom she spent ninety percent of her waking hours with, was in love.

After George and Tom officially became a couple it became impossible for her to avoid Jackson. Tom was one of his closest friends, George one of hers, so practically every meal was spent in his company. George also dragged her along to every important varsity game, all which Tom and Jackson seemed to be participating in. He was everywhere, all the time. And he refused to leave her alone, silently imploring her, eyes begging for forgiveness at every opportunity. For the first time since she arrived at Hartwell she wished she wasn't living at school, that she had a home away from campus that she could escape to, that every hour of every day wasn't spent in the company of her friends.

He finally cornered her after dinner one night, holding her back from their group of friends. She had run out of excuses, knowing that they would have to talk sooner or later. She eyed him warily, not sure if she would be able to let her brain stay in control for that much longer.

"April..." he whispered, voice strangled. "Please just talk to me."

"I don't know what to say," she responded truthfully. She had no idea how to even begin talking to him honestly, there hadn't been that much talking the first time around.

"I miss you, April" he started."It's crazy how we've gone months and months without talking but you're still on my mind every day."

Something was welling up inside her, making its way out despite herself.

"I just don't get how you can suddenly wake up one day and decide to never talk to me again," she retorted, voice calm but heart thumping hard in her chest.

"No reason. No explanation. No words. Just leaving me hanging like I never meant shit to you. It's kinda messed up."

"I know," he winced, voice hoarse and unsteady. "I'm sorry I hurt you. I was an asshole to you, I know that."

She took a deep breath, fighting the urge to cry, wrapping her arms around her body like an armour. He took a step closer to her, running his hand over his shaved head in frustration.

"You caught me by surprise, that's all." His voice was soft, those bluish-green eyes gleaming at her.

"I knew from the moment we started talking that I wanted you around, but I never thought I'd like you this much, and I never planned to have you on my mind this often. It was too intense, I got scared."

"What do you want from me?" she challenged him.

"I want you, April" he said softly, eyes holding hers.

It was everything she had wanted to hear, yet it wasn't.

"I'm still broken, Jackson. Even having this conversation with you is bringing back memories I've tried hard to forget."

It was becoming too much for her, not just struggling with her own emotions but also taking in his. His neck hunched, despondent look on his face.

"I can't give you any more right now," she finished, slowly backing away from him, needing to out of his reach.

His eyes fell to he floor, and she couldn't bear looking at him any more. She swiftly turned and walked away.

She was alone in her room, grateful that George was too disctracted by her boyfriend to notice she had stayed behind to talk to Jackson. She felt like crying, but no tears came. She sat on her bed, exhausted by the tension between them. He had said all the right words, exposed himself to her, but somehow it wasn't enough. A piece of the puzzle was missing, she couldn't add it all up in her head. She fell asleep on top of her bed, still fully clothed, her mind churning away as she drifted off.

Over the next couple of days she avoided her friends so she wouldn't have to bump into Jackson, opting to live off dry toast she pinched from the dining hall instead of joining them for meals. She buried herself in her books or went for longer and longer runs in the evenings. At first it was easy to avoid George, as she was caught up in her relationship, but eventually she and Hannah caught on to her and cornered her in the library.

"Tell us", Hannah commanded, voice hushed but insistent.

"No," she moaned. "You're just going to be all angry and judgmental and stuff. I can't handle it right now."

"I won't, I promise," Hannah swore, eyes wide with innocence. "Is this about him?"

She frowned as April nodded in confirmation.

"I promise I won't call him a douche or a pussy for, like, 10 whole minutes."

"Oh, ok then," she laughed briefly. She paused for a minute to gather her thoughts.

"He said he misses me and that he's sorry for being an asshole."

Both her friends were looking at her hesitantly, dying to speak their minds but not wanting to upset her. She already knew Hannah thought this was a bad idea, she had been angrier at Jackson than she had been herself. George was more difficult to read, she had known Jackson for years and remained friends with him.

"Well?" She was asking them both.

"Isn't he supposed to be going out with Nikki?" Hannah suddenly remembered, annoyed that no one else had seemed to think that was an important detail.

"He finished with her like three minutes after he heard April had broken up with Ed," George informed them plainly.

They both gaped at George, wondering why this information was just coming out now. George simply shrugged her shoulders in response.

"He made such a big fucking mess of this, Apes, I wasn't about to encourage either of you back down this road."

April gulped, aware that both her friends were rooting against Jackson. Somehow she felt that it meant they were rooting against her as well.

Hannah was clearly processing hard, carefully selecting her next words.

"Do you miss him?"

"Of course I do," she admitted.

"I keep telling myself that I'm over him, I pretend to other people that I am, truth is I'm really, really not."

Hannah nodded sadly and sighed, defeated look in her eyes.

"What's stopping you then?"

"He made me fall for him so fast the last time," she began, struggling to explain her feelings, to find the right words. "He was the reason I woke up smiling in the morning, then all of a sudden he was the reason I went to sleep crying."

She hesitated for a moment, searching her brain and her heart for the words to make them understand.

"I'm scared he's going to make me fall harder and hurt me worse."

"He probably will," Hannah huffed.

George kicked her hard under the table, making her yelp. April rolled her eyes as several of other students eyed them curiously.

"Get back to your fucking books, retards!" George snapped, several freshmen jumping in their seats and hurriedly turning their attention away from them again.

"You two are seriously helpful," she sighed, getting up to leave.

The next day George made her come to all her meals, ditching Tom to sit with just her and Hannah. She could feel Jackson's eyes on her the whole time, but refused to look up to meet his gaze. She rushed out of the dining hall when she finished, walked the long way back to her dorm so she wouldn't run into him, and strayed off her normal route as she went out for a long run that night. Music blaring into her ears she pushed herself hard, willing all thoughts of him to leave her brain for just a little while. It was exhausting thinking about him, so she pushed him away, mindlessly pounding the pavement. After a while she was out of breath and had to sit down to rest, choosing a bench looking out onto the lake that bordered the hockey field. She flopped down, catching her breath, thoughts quickly returning to Jackson. She sat still for a while, trying to make sense of the chaos in her head. Head ear buds still in, she jumped as someone sat down next to her. First she was relieved, then worried as Ed joined her.

"How are you?" she asked cautiously as she removed her ear buds.

"Oh, you know. Heartbroken and miserable," he tried to joke, but it came out more sad than funny.

"I'm really sorry, Ed."

She had almost forgotten to feel guilty over the past few weeks, but now it was coming back with a vengeance.

"I never wanted to hurt you."

"If I'd known you would, I probably would have fallen for you anyway," he smiled sadly.

"At least I know what it feels like to be in love with someone amazing. And I know that it's going to be even better when someone wants me like that back."

She looked at him with a newfound clarity, his words hitting her, slowly sinking in.

"I hope we can be friends one day," she smiled, before getting up and continuing her run.

Ed's words had resonated with her, unlocking the final piece of the puzzle she had been searching for. She was afraid to start up with Jackson again, but maybe she shouldn't let that stop her. Perhaps he would break her heart again, but he might also help her put all her broken pieces back together. She realized that it was ok to let herself feel too much, that being scared was part of being human. She needed to let her self live again, to let herself expericence pain but also open herself up to happiness. Be afraid, but do it anyway.

She found him in their old haunt at the tennis pavilion, knowing he'd be looking for her there. She could tell he already knew she was returning to him. He approached her hesitantly, waiting for her to speak, to start this on her terms.

"I've missed you too, Jackson."

She stepped closer to him, carefully placing her arms around his waist, holding him so she could look him in the eye.

He let his breath out, relief washing over his face. He grabbed her waist gently, mimicking her hold in him. His eyes searched hers, looking for confirmation.

"I want you, April" he repeated earnestly. "Are you sure you are brave enough to want me back?"

She couldn't bear to be apart from him any longer, she moved closer into him, gazing at his lips, then into his eyes. Their bodies melted together, mouths reuniting. She was aching for him, starved of his kisses, so she tasted him, inhaled him, absorbed him.

"If anyone is going to break my heart, I want it to be you."

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