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Side Pocket: AN SRU Short

By Eddy Fettig

Romance

Side Pocket: AN SRU Short

What a fucking tool.

The girl with the drab, olive eyes glared at the Hispanic young man across the bar, surrounded by a trio of girls. He was playing it cool, acting aloof, while they fawned over him. She couldn't stand the sight. It disgusted her. To think that she had fallen for his charms herself was a horrendously discouraging thought. Lesson learned, at least. It had been a rough month, to be sure. Schoolwork was piling up, the Freedom Fighters were searching for new recruits to be ready to join work for the spring semester, and things had been awkward ever since the breakup. Smellerbee and Jet's romantic separation had been the same as their hookup: fast, explosive, and rash. In the aftermath, Jet had found it easy to go back to his business and woo over other girls, while Smellerbee had been left confused.

In one sense, she wasn't terribly devastated. After all, she had gone into things with low expectations to get some sexual tension out of her system. That had worked, but the ensuing emotional attachment had gone horribly wrong. Jet, she had realized, was not the type to invest in for the long haul. After the nuclear fallout, though, Jet had kept her around. Apparently his colleagues had insisted that she was too valuable to their little organization to be let loose. Beside that, Smellerbee had no where else to go. So here she sat at the Treetop Pub, alone at the counter on a dreary Wednesday evening with a biology paper due the next day that she hadn't started, ROTC in the morning, and plenty of dagger glares to go around as she slammed down mugs of beer periodically. The week would be another trudge through hollow habits as she pushed herself through her duties. When it came down to, the only comforts she had available anymore were cigarettes and booze. For having an Irish liver, she seemed oddly lacking in ability to hold liquor, though - fuckin' lightweight she was - and her voice was getting raspier by the week from the smoking.

"Eh, Smelly."

Smellerbee didn't respond to the bartender's call, her senses numbed and her mind wandering.

"Smelly. 'Ey!" Thunk-Thunk.

Smellerbee was jarred by the close rapping of her empty mug against the counter, inches from her face. Her eyes snapped open, her vision blurred and obstructed by messy orange bangs.

"Wha's wrong witchoo, huh?"

"Mmfffgg." Words wouldn't come out out from her thin lips, the freckles on her face cast against a warm red as she held her head on a palm supported by an erect arm.

Sneers, the bartender and loyal Freedom Fighter, sighed and pulled the empty mug away, setting it aside.

"Yoose oughtta call it quits for dah night, Smelly."

"Ffugginass," groaned Smellerbee, thumping her fist on the wooden counter top.

"Same ol' song n' dance witchoo tonight, huh? Maybe 'stead o' boozin' yoose oughtta do somethin' useful tuhmorruh. We gots a newbie or two comin' in during dah weekend."

"Whuhvz." Smellerbee's attempt at 'Whatevs' didn't come out as she would've liked, but it didn't matter. Sneers wouldn't listen to her - he never did. She could try and convey her frustrations with Jet or the aggravation of her life circumstances and he'd write it off and tell her to get over herself. Then again, that was perhaps exactly what she needed to be doing.

"Bahahaaa! Ohhhh, Christ. Fuckin' hilarious..." Smellerbee's hands were wrapped around her gut to contain the laughter bursting out. The boy who'd fallen victim to her prank glared at her with eyes like talons, gripping her from her humored stupor. The egg running down his face suddenly didn't matter to Smellerbee for a moment, those piercing eyes cutting through her like a knife through hot butter.

"Smellerbee, what the hell? Why would you do that?""Sorry, Longshot, girl's a crazy bitch...""Damn! The hell's your problem?"

But Smellerbee and Longshot weren't paying anyone any heed, still trying to read each other's fickle glances.

"Whoa, whoa, hey," Jet's voice cut into the commotion. "What's goin' on here?"

"I was...just pullin' a prank on the new guy," Smellerbee quickly explained. Jet frowned at her before glancing at her recent victim with a sigh.

"You all right, Longshot?"

The boy nodded, saying not so much as a word, wiping runny egg from his buzzed hair with paper towels Jet had provided.

"Smellerbee has an odd way of showing affection, huh?" Jet noted with an amused smile. Smellerbee grinned, picking some wax from her outer ear with a shrug. The attention of the crowd at the nearby table dispersed back to their drinking.

"You'll get used to it, Bumpkin Boy," she teased, slapping her fist onto his red and black plaid jacket, amused by his tall, wide baseball cap in his hand.

He huffed out a laugh through his nostrils, shaking his head slowly as he bunched up the paper towels and tossed them in a nearby trash can.

"So that's it?" taunted Smellerbee. "Just gonna take it?" The boy didn't give her the satisfaction of a response, casually brushing her off as he set his tall black cap back on his head. She observed a green aiming reticule on its black surface.

"You'll learn to deal with her," Jet mocked, slapping Longshot on the shoulder. "She's a handful. A real psycho if ever I knew one." He raised his brows to the olive-eyed girl.

Smellerbee frowned and gave Jet a friendly smack across the back of the head in retaliation. "I am fucking rainbows and sunshine, you ass."

As her glance went back to the newcomer, a stupid grin plastered over her face, her insides tickled with intrigue at his prying, dark eyes. Every time her eyes had met his since first contact, he was already locked on her - blatantly ogling her visage, it seemed. She didn't know what to make of it aside from the light nausea his mysterious, careful expressions evoked. She cocked her head a few degrees to the side, pushing greasy orange bangs up over her head and letting them fall back down as her humored demeanor changed gears to arrogantly narrowed eyes.

"Take a fuckin' picture, Pal, it'll last longer," she coyly scolded, a twinkle in her eye as she folded her bony arms across her flat chest.

He smirked at this, and shook his head slowly, bemused. He lifted a slender arm and rubbed his fingers along the side of his tall face, but no words emerged. It agonized her, this silence. What was he thinking? What words sat at the edge of his tongue? Why did he seem so interested in her? She'd just doused his head in runny egg moments before.

"So, yea," Jet interrupted their tension, nudging Longshot to follow him to the the back of the pub. "That's Smellerbee. Anyway, I hear you're a pretty good aim, guy."

Smellerbee was now the one staring, intent on observing this new creature from afar as he followed Jet. In reply to their leader's comment, he shrugged, bobbing his own head slightly from side to side. His back was turned - had he spoken? Had he said anything?

"I've got a BB gun we keep around for shits and giggles," Jet explained. "How's about we go out to the parking lot and you show me where a nickname like 'Longshot' comes from, huh?"

Smellerbee's patience paid off. Just as the two men slipped out through the back door of the bar, Longshot stole one last look over his shoulder, his eyes going straight to where the Irish girl stood. Their split second of mutual intrigue set a butterfly flapping through her gut.

"Someone's got an admirer," teased he pig-tailed blonde from the table behind where Smellerbee had been standing. "He's pretty cute, ain't he, Bee? Try not to scare this one off, I'd like to get to know him."

Smellerbee's fogged mind cleared to reveal hostility and she snorted with contempt.

"Back the hell off, Cherry," she seethed, not giving the girl the respect of even turning to face her. She whirled around the table, her freckled face burning with rage and flustered confusion. "You don't get to be everyone's fuck buddy around here." She stomped her black military boots to the front door of the pub, a flurry of pitch-heightening 'Ohhhhh's' in her wake at Cherry's expense. She didn't need to look to envision the blonde whore's appalled pouting. Shoving her way out into the cold, she shuffled her hands through her pockets to retrieve a cigarette and a disposable lighter. She shivered, muttered "Shit" to herself, and lamented her stupidity for forgetting her coat in her dorm room back on campus as her trembling hands fought to fuel her addiction. A few desperate flicks later and her cigarette was ignited. She sucked in a longing breath, exhaling a blend of smoke and vapor into the chilly air.

Something about this 'Longshot' guy clutched at her mind, refusing to let go. The intensity in his eyes...Did he find her attractive? It wasn't the same kind of look Jet had used to give her. It was much more complex than that. For the first time in as long as she could remember, Jane "Smellerbee" Fitzpatrick wanted to learn more about another person - get to know them a bit.

It was quite a curious prospect.

Jane stared at the back of his head with curiosity and uncertainty, contemplating her next move. He sat at the counter of the pub, his only company a cowboy hat sitting beside a nearly empty glass of scotch. Jane's bony fingers drummed along the wooden pool stick in her hand before she at last approached him.

"Hey." She nudged his shoulder with the fat head of the pool stick. His head rotated slowly to face her, and her stomach churned at the split-second of flustered awe she witnessed before he masked his emotion. "Wanna play?" She grunted, struggling to act as aloof as possible, waggling the stick slightly. Longshot shrugged, tipping his head to the side. Jane decided to seize this as a 'yes.' "Cool." She bobbed her head to the back room, where the pool table rested. "C'mon."

Longshot slammed down the last bit of his drink and lazily perched his gallon hat onto his head before shuffling beside her to the room.

As they entered, Jane could feel her fingers begin to tremble at this powerful presence. Being with him alone for the first time suddenly made his confident yet calm demeanor more clear to her. He eyed her carefully as she began to place the pool balls into their triangle, haphazardly arranging them with shaky hands. She set the game up as swiftly as possible without a word, plopped the cue ball into place, and whiffed it entirely in her hasty first strike.

"Pfff," she laughed in spite of her failure, watching the white orb gently clatter against the rest, hardly moving them. "Guess I'm a little quick on the draw tonight," she passed her mistake off hurriedly, eager to hand the stick over to Longshot. Longshot smiled at her error and lined up his first shot with care while Jane dug her hands into her tight jean pockets. It had been a while since she'd worn these pants. They were bleached, with various tears with shredded, thready patches, and hugged her figure - if one could call it that - rather snugly. Longshot poked the cue ball, causing a barrage of rattles as the balls danced about. A striped one fell into a pocket, then slowly rolled along to the compartment built into the side.

"Heh." Smellerbee nodded. "So, uh...-" She paced around behind Longshot, examining his hind quarters as she did so. Puh-rih-tee lean. "-...Jet says you're an Ignis boy. That right?"

Longshot, his eyes still attentive to the game, nodded, lining up his next move. Ignis was one of the four dorms on campus, and the only boys' dorm Jane had stepped foot in. Aero kind of creeped her out with its pseudo-frat atmosphere, and Aqua, the opposing girls' dorm, seemed too...bubbly. Terra was the better of the two options she had, but the mood there could often feel too rigid and quiet. Ignis had life to it without being over-powering. A boy from Ignis she could handle.

"We get a lot of guys from there," Jane noted as Longshot hit and missed, sinking his next ball. She accepted the cue stick and set her sights on a solid. "What year are ya, anyway?" Her tongue poked out to the side as she prepared her shot. She managed to land it, dropping it into a corner. "Yes," she quietly celebrated. She cast a puzzled glance to Longshot, who hadn't replied. He was sticking up two fingers. "Er...What, a Sophomore?" she hypothesized. He nodded, leaning his back against the table's side opposite of her.

The fuck? What is he, mute?

"Hey." She jabbed the stick through the air at him. "Don't talk much?" He shook his head slowly, calmly observing her with those harsh, brown eyes of his. "So what's your real name, Bub?" she wondered, tapping her ball without enough force to sink her target. As she passed the stick to him and they swapped positions, he gave her raised, expectant eyebrows. "Fine, I'll go first." Thumbing her chest, she offered him a cocky smirk as soon as bent over the table, his eyes drifting to her. "I'm Jane Fitzpatrick. Most of guys here only know me by 'Smellerbee,' though."

Longshot blinked a couple of times at her before resuming the game of pool, smacking a solid into a stripe which fell into a corner pocket.

"Uhhh..." Jane shrugged up her shoulders with some irritation. "And you?"

Longshot's face remained calm, amused, and silent for another moment. Jane's heart thumped at the socially awkward situation, enticed by his 'hard-to-get' attitude. Longshot tipped up the wide brim of his hat and finally looked her way.

"Johnny," he said quietly. She had been expecting some kind of thick accent, but there was only a trace of Southern in his words, much like herself. "Johnny Johnson."

"Pff," Jane puffed out in a jerk-reaction response, rolling her eyes. "Fuckin' eh. Tell me your real name."

His eyelids sagged halfway while his eyebrows raised, and it dawned on her: that was his real name.

"Huh," acknowledged Jane. "That's...a pretty stupid name..."

"Good thing it's not the only name I've got, then," Johnny pointed out with a tint of irritation.

"Whh...Y-yea, right." Jane bobbed her head in a couple of short, brisk motions, eager to resolve the situation. "I didn't-...It's-...I'll just call ya 'Longshot,' then."

"Mm."

Jane exhaled deeply but slowly, relieved and excited at once. She'd gotten him to say something, at least.

"Smellerbee."

"Huh?"

She whirled her head around to the room's entrance to see Jet leaning against the doorway.

"Quit dickin' around with the new guy. You've got work to do tonight, remember?"

"Uhh..." Smellerbee cocked her head to the side in admittance, then slapped her hands on the pool table's edge. "Yea, yea..." She sighed, casting a glance to Longshot - to Johnny. "Sorry to cut this short, Cowboy. Next time."

Johnny tipped his hat to her, carefully studying the way she dragged her skinny legs out of the room. Upon exiting, she waved to him, her expression dull but her olive eyes sparking.

"Take someone to help you, Bee."

"The hell do I need help for?"

"It'd speed things up is all, and we're on a bit of a time crunch here."

"Oh. Right. 'Kay." Smellerbee conceded to Jet's point, studying the crinkled list in her hand.

Fuckin' groceries. Of all the shit he could have me doin' today...

Smellerbee felt there were more pressing matters that warranted her attention - including but not limited to final exam studying - but on the other hand, this was a great excuse to leave the crowd for a while...and bring a friend.

She scoured the pub, anticipating a gallon hat. The Treetop was packed tonight. The weekend before finals could do that, leading some students to drown their stresses away in alcohol and socializing. Smellerbee hadn't been much in the mood for either, opting instead to ramp up her cigarette schedule. The hat revealed itself from a table toward the entrance. To Smellerbee's dismay, Longshot had picked to sit at a table that included Cherry. The blond's blue eyes clashed with the red-head's green in a heated moment before Smellerbee thumped Longshot's shoulder.

"New Guy, Jet needs us to go get some stuff. C'mon."

Longshot nodded, topping off his stout, and tipped his hat to the group before slapping on his padded, leather coat and following Smellerbee out.

As they broke through the entrance doors into the slushy Saturday afternoon, Jane zipped up her black winter vest and sighed.

"Jet wants us to get shit for this party he wants the gang to have tonight."

"Mm."

"So, yea. Let's just get this done, I guess. I'll drive."

The two of them filed into the car and slid out of the Treetop lot, traversing town for a grocery store. As the opening of 'Sweet Home Alabama' filtered gently through the vehicle's speakers, Jane tapped her hands along the wheel in rhythm.

"Where ya from?" she wondered bluntly.

"Texas," replied Johnny simply.

"Heh, no shit? Me, too." She nodded slowly with the music, contemplating what to say next. "It's...a big state, so...Yea." Brilliant conversationalist, she was. She already had enough trouble with small talk, but having to basically ride on her own small talk quickly derailed into failure.

Johnny shrugged, sniffling a bit and wiping his nose with his sleeve. He coughed hoarsely, and Jane struggled to contain some uncharacteristic concern. A few minutes later, the two arrived at a local grocer and filed out. The wind had picked up, and Johnny had opted to leave his hat in the car, pulling his coat's hood over his head. Jane shivered and stuck on a gray winter hat she'd bought during a sale at the campus store recently.

"Fuck," growled Jane through the wind, maneuvering the parking lot with great haste alongside her assistant. "Don't get how people up here can deal with this shit..."

Johnny replied with a harsh, deep-throated cough. He'd been hacking it up the whole trip so far.

"You OK?" Jane prodded as they entered the automatic doors. Johnny shook his head as he dropped his head down with a sniffle. "Sound like hell, man..." Jane tugged a shopping cart from the pile and pushed onward into the store. A flurry of laughter caused Jane's shoulders to perk up in irritation - the source was a trio of students in line to check out.

"Sokka, you're making everyone stare at us," growled the only female in the group, a tan-skinned girl of foreign ethnicity. She elbowed her like-skinned companion, who was flapping his arms and shaking his hips.

"That's kinda the point of the Macarena, Sis," the boy advised, continuing to flaunt himself at the back of the line to passers-by. The third, a paler skinned boy with bright eyes, stared with confusion.

Jane turned away as they went by, glancing at Johnny with a dulled expression.

"Fuckin' weirdos," she grunted under her breath, shaking her head as more laughter erupted from behind them. They made a beeline for the meat section in the back corner.

Packs of hamburgers and hot dogs were loaded in - enough to feed a small army. Jane carelessly tossed the packages in, and Johnny straightened them out after.

"That should be enough, right?" Jane wondered aloud, picking at a pimple on her temple. Johnny shrugged, and Jane sighed. "Yea. All right," she huffed, grabbing the cart's handles and heading to grab the proper rolls.

"I don't get you," Jane announced with a casual, blunt edge as she dropped the last of the bread in. "What's with the silent act? Huh?" She shot him a suspicious glance and he raised his brow with a smirk.

"Sometimes words hide the truth," he advised calmly, his voice hoarse.

"Wh-...?" Jane rotated her palms out to him. "The fuck does that mean?" she growled impatiently. Johnny tipped his head to the side and wiped his nose, and Jane huffed through her nostrils in reply with a roll of the eyes, slapping her palms against her pants as she continued with their task. "Whatever...We'll play your game."

The next fifteen minutes were a silent affair, with Jane grumpily stocking the shopping cart with all manner of necessary materials, from paper cups and plates to plastic utensils and soda. She refused to meet his gaze, but got the impression from his body language that he somehow found this all entertaining. Checking out took a while, naturally, which only further burned Jane's fuse down. She swiped the proper card, punched in the code - messing up the first time and in turn getting more frustrated - and hurriedly pushed the hefty batch of supplies out the door, leaving Johnny to play catch-up.

When they reached the pint-sized vehicle that Jane called her own - a beaten up two-door with black paint - at last there were words.

"You see?"

Jane froze, staring into the empty trunk with confusion, still uneasy with looking him in the eye. He went on without her full attention.

"In that silence...-" Johnny shivered as a gust of winter wind intruded. "-...the truth revealed itself." His voice crawled along, raspy and tired.

Jane huffed through her nostrils and grabbed a bag of meat, tossing it into a corner of the trunk. She glared at him with narrowed eyes.

"And what the hell truth is that, huh?"

"Jet didn't say I needed to come with you today...-" A fierce cough. "-...did he?"

Johnny grinned as the red-head's face went pink, her fierce gaze quickly dulling and turning back to her task, which he began to assist with.

"Silence clearly bothers you." He nodded sagely, wiping his runny nose with his sleeve as Jane slammed the trunk shut.

"That so?" she snipped, rushing to slide into the car. After they had both filed in, Johnny nodded to her again and she sighed. "You don't know a thing about me, so just-" Another flurry of hacking from her passenger cut her off. "Fuckin' Christ, you losin' a damned lung over there, New Guy?"

Johnny collected himself, shaking his head to ease off her concern. It didn't work. And what was more bothersome was that it existed at all: her concern.

"Why would you have the quiet guy come...-" Johnny took a deep, shaky breath as they exited the lot. "-...when you can't stand silence?"

"I don't fuckin'-...Gah." She shook her head in frustration. He was backing her into a conversational corner. What a sly bastard. Oh, no. She wasn't admitting anything. Her internal debate as to why she even was interested in this guy was put aside when Johnny wheezed ferociously.

"Shit, Johnny," she growled with a frown - the first time she'd called him by his real name. "We're stopping and getting you...something. I can't put up with that God damned cough all night, man."

The two enjoyed a short-lived moment of mutual appreciation as they waited at a stoplight. Olive eyes glanced over to dark brown, and both sets sparked as they had days prior when they'd met.

The bar was entirely bleak on this Thursday night. Finals week was finally concluded, and since many of the Freedom Fighters were recruited college students, most had run for the hills by now to be home for the holidays. "Home" and "holidays" were two words that Smellerbee loathed. "Holidays" meant having to go "home" to be with "family." What this boiled down to was being forced to spend time with her idiot cousins, her ignorant uncle, and a whole bunch of people whose names she often filtered out or forgot who knew nothing about her aside from her "special circumstances" growing up. A whole lot of pity partying and being reminded of things she didn't need to be reminded about rounded things out nicely to create an experience she abhorred in this new frontier of relative independence that was college.

Smellerbee sat alone at the counter - Sneers wasn't even around to badger her, as he'd gone off to the bathroom. She glared at her shot glass, full with its second serving. Getting hammered would feel great tonight, but feeling hung over at the outset of a flight to Texas in the morning would not. A hand on her shoulder sprung her to action, flipping her elbow out and brushing it off with a gruff "Get off!"

To her surprise and embarrassment, the fingers that had touched her belonged to Longshot, who immediately retracted his limb, backing off defensively.

"Christ," Jane huffed under her breath, running her hand through her messy bangs. "Fuckin' eh, Longshot. Don't be such a creeper..." She turned away to her drink, and Longshot smirked at how bright her face had become. He landed himself in the stool besides her and hunched over.

"Thought you'd be gone by now," Smellerbee grumbled, leaning her forehead into her palm, elbow on the counter.

"Thought I'd find you here," he replied in a coy, quiet tone so only she could hear.

She shook her head at him, lifting a brow.

"Pff. Well, here I am. Now what?"

He dug into his coat pocket and dropped a beaten up cue ball beside her shot glass. She snickered and nodded, popping her vodka down her throat with a rough cough and scooping the ball up, its smooth and weathered surface comforting in her hands. She tossed it up with one hand and caught it with the other.

"Heh. Let's get to it, then, Hoss..."

They sauntered into the backroom, empty and isolated, and closed the door behind them.

"So Johnny..." began the red-head, sifting the billiard balls together in preparation of another game. In this privacy, she relished the ability to peel off their monikers. It wasn't something she could do with others - even with Jet, it had always been an issue. "Why haven't you left yet? Huh?" She hoped that her intuition was correct on this.

She passed him the pool stick, and - much to her delight - he stared at her with a look that read, 'Oh, you know...' before smashing the cue ball into the pyramid. As the balls clattered across the table, Jane felt butterflies partaking in the vodka in her stomach.

"Just couldn't leave without saying good-bye to me, could ya?" she teased, rolling her eyes and attempting to act aloof. "You're pathetic, you know that?"

Johnny nodded complacently as he landed a striped ball into a corner with ease.

"You try to pull the silent-type crap, but I can read you like a fuckin' book," Jane continued to taunt, smacking him on the back playfully. The grin on her face melted as Johnny quipped back.

"You try to play the tough-girl, but I can see how much you're hurting through the cracks." Tat-Clack! Rumble-clak...Another ball sunk.

"Wh-? The hell are you saying?" demanded Smellerbee, arms crossed defensively.

"You've had a hard life," Johnny explained gently in the moment of tranquility as he readied another move. Tat-Pff-Clack! Rumble-clak...Nice bank shot.

"Like you fuckin' know," hissed Smellerbee.

"I don't," conceded Johnny. "I've had it pretty easy, by comparison."

"What makes you so damned sure, ya cockbite?"

He shrugged, chuckling at her language.

"I just...know." Tat-Clack! Rumble-clak...Wow. Good spin control on that one.

Jane gave in to his silence for a while. He finally missed a shot, giving her a chance to land a couple in herself, only to slip up and grant him access to continue. As he prepared his last shot - the 8 ball - she finally let out some of the thoughts that had been churning in her head.

"Know what? I get it. I'm a wounded fuckin' deer in the woods and you're comin' in to get an easy hunt. That it?"

He shook his head cautiously. His eyes were avoiding hers, she could feel it. They had been throughout the entire game. Why? What was his deal this time? Was she being too defensive? Hmph. Maybe she could've tried not being as accusing...

And then it dawned on her that she was even thinking thoughts like 'Maybe I should try not to be rude to this person' in the first place. And that, in and of itself, seemed to mean something.

"Listen. Johnny."

"Side pocket," Johnny called. Tat-Clack! Rumble-clak. End game.

"I don't get what you want with me, but lemme tell ya right fuckin' now..." Johnny set down the pool stick and wound around the table as she spoke, meeting her face to face, her hands buried in her cargo pant pockets. "If you're trying to get in my pants-..." He interrupted the thought, taking off his cowboy hat and wedging it onto her head, shoving her messy bangs into her face. "The fuck-...?" she whispered, flustered and embarrassed at his proximity as she pushed the hat up. As soon as she'd managed to restore her sight, he was right in her face, administering a gentleman's kiss on her heavily-freckled cheek. Her expression turned pale, her face lit on fire, her teeth grit together, and the butterflies in her stomach rattled their cage. Wide, war-torn eyes of olive glared at serene, calming dark brown.

"I don't usually have much to say," Johnny admitted, backing away a few inches to give her space. "It's not every day someone interesting enough comes along to give me reason to speak."

Jane recalled how, in the days since he had been added to the gang, everyone mocked him for his lack of words. In this moment, she suddenly realized that she had yet to see him speak to anyone beside her.

Don't give in to this weirdo, came her conscious. You know what happens when you let men in. They're disgusting. They're selfish. Even if you don't let them in, they force their way in. Remember why you've made the choices you have - why you've become the girl you are.

But in the presence of this young man, her gut instincts were withering. He somehow had a gift of putting her at ease - even without words. He was different than any of the men from before.

She leaned back toward him, her hand finding its way onto his shoulder against her will. It was a good thing he was still wearing his winter coat - she might have been tempted to keep her hand there otherwise. Her conscious kicked in, and she slowly pulled her wrist away. That unrelenting feeling within her bowels overtook her once again and pushed her to close the distance between their faces, her mouth opening to go in for a kiss. Before she reached her mark, she tilted her head forward, causing Johnny's lips to caress her pimply forehead. Her eyebrows were bent in frustration and longing.

"I can't," she whispered, wrapping her arms around her stomach in a futile attempt to settle her queasy reaction to the situation. "I want to, but...-"

"If you want to...you can," Johnny assured simply. "It's all in here." He poked an index finger at the very spot he'd just kissed. "I'm willing to wait."

Don't do it, Jane Fitzpatrick, you stupid bitch. Don't. This is what happened with Jet, remember? You jumped into things and they got outta control, and look where that got you.

"What do you mean, 'wait?'"

"For you. You've been through a lot, haven't you? You need time."

"I...Y-yea." Tears were beginning to well up in her eyes. Tears that had nothing to do with this young man but instead the trials he spoke of. "Shit," she growled under her breath, pulling away and wiping her baggy eyes. "It's...it's Christmas break," she reminded herself aloud, struggling to find a way to resolve this. "I can-...If you-..." A huff. Words weren't coming out. Her walls were crumbling. "Gimme a few weeks. I'll sort myself the fuck out, and...maybe...-?" She gazed at him, taking a deep, shaky breath with a trembling shrug. His slender hand wrapped around hers and squeezed firmly before letting go.

"Maybe," he acknowledged with a warm smile. With a tender affection, he removed his hat from her head and inserted it onto his own, pulling winter gloves from his pocket and slipping them on. "'Til then..." He tipped his brim to her and headed for the room's entrance. And that was it - he was gone. Probably for the best. His lack of presence immediately sent her reeling back into a state of self-doubt and worry and fear...which only confirmed how much potential good this strange little skinny cowboy could do for her, if only she could find a way to let him in.

At least now she was determined to find a way.

A/N: If you aren't familiar with the source story this comes from, please check out What I Learned at SRU. =)

Write a Review Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Eddy Fettig
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: Nothing like I have ever read. Loved every single bit of it, it had the right amount of romance and humour. I would definitely be re-reading this book. It certainly captivated me, it was so difficult to put this book down.

Jean Tryon: As a beta, I found this story outstanding!! Plot, grammar, phraseology, etc Rachel gives us it all. She takes the story into the future from where due South ends. She is an exacting and thoughtful author.

Julia Summers PA: It's Prodigious, Shocking, Stunning, Unbelievably fascinating and enduring yet evil has a presence about it! Epic writing style! - Nook Books and More BlogRed that pulls you in. The characters have a way of pulling you in. They are all unique in a way that gives it a different appeal then the ave...

Ro-Ange Olson: Loved it and couldn't put it down. I really hope there is a sequel. Well written and the plot really moves forward.

Jade Jez: What a wonderful, immersive book from Eliott McKay. It starts with an air of mystery, introducing main character Michaela, the clumsy teenager. From there, it whisks you off your feet and dumps you into a beautifully written world where you can almost smell and hear everything happening. I go...

Nadine Willard: I loved this story so much! I generally can't stand super girly romance stories, but this one was so relatable! I could not stop reading this, I read it straight through!! I wish this was a series, not just a single story 😊

PurpleInkling: Hippocrite is spelt hypocrite.Also it is an awesome story! A good one after so long. I was hoping someone would write a good fanficiton playing off what Ron said at the station. You are doing a remarkable job. It would have been interesting if Albus had also ended up in Ravenclaw though that mig...

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263Adder: Okay so I adore this story. I only knocked one star off plot for historical inaccuracies because I'm a bit of a stickler for that. The ending broke my heart though, considering you already changed history couldn't you (SPOILER) change it a bit more and have them together!!!! I want an alternative...

Fashakin Michael: I have looked for the right word to describe this piece of Art but I concluded with "Wow!" Every chapter held me glue till the last and the book is just the reflection of our environment with its reaction. Though the writeup is not far from what happens in home but the writer was able to hold me ...

FateFellShort: I have read this story and have followed the writers on tumblr from the beginning. Its a wonderful story. Beautifully written with a really nice pace, that makes it enjoyable to read more than once. For me, fairy tail has very good characters but what the writers have done is give them more depth...

Atractivo Sumit: The story is an amazing blend of what we call natural, plain romance along with subtle emotions and interesting twists. The plot is so beautifully interwoven.

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FreakyPoet: "you made me laugh, made me cry, both are hard to do. I spent most of the night reading your story, captivated. This is why you get full stars from me. Thanks for the great story!"

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Sara Joy Bailey: "Full of depth and life. The plot was thrilling. The author's style flows naturally and the reader can easily slip into the pages of the story. Very well done."

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Ro-Ange Olson: "Loved it and couldn't put it down. I really hope there is a sequel. Well written and the plot really moves forward."