Chapter Seven: Jake
Jake asked me to take off my clothes, not in a sexual way, but because my outfit was distracting and “disingenuous”. I couldn’t argue, I guess. I was playing a role. He turned his head while I slipped out of my lace and silk and into a robe. It was still pretty short and silky, but he said he could deal with that one.
We sat on the floor at the end of the bed and tried to have conversations that were unrelated to sex. It was difficult, considering the room we were in, with its toys and boxes of condoms, and the fact that my slippery robe kept sliding open against my will.
He told me about his life—as open a book as ever—and how he dreamed of better things. “I always wanted to be a baseball player,” he said dreamily. I mused at how much faith he had in himself. “What about you?”
I didn’t think long before saying, “I don’t have a dream.”
He looked at me in surprise. “What?!”
I wasn’t entirely telling the truth. I had a dream, but it had been destroyed long ago. And it was a person, not a thing, so I didn’t think Jake would want to hear about it.
I shrugged and let his question hang in the air.
He put his hand on my knee and I played with his finger tips, picking them up and dropping them back onto my skin. He made no move to push it further. We sat in deafening silence.
Finally, he said, “I just want you to know something Buttercup…or whatever your real name is, I guess. What’s your name?” I shook my head. That wasn’t going to happen, not yet. “Okay…fair. Well, I just want to say that…I really like you, and I don’t want to have sex with you…here. In this house.” He stopped when he saw my confused expression and grabbed my hand, holding it tightly, waving it with his as he spoke. “I mean, you know what I mean? It would just be so…fake. Even if it’s the real you. This place is not you. And I’m not your customer. Do you understand?”
I thought for a minute and nodded my head slowly.
“Are you mad?”
I smiled. “Of course not. I know what you mean. But…you really shouldn’t come here then. I can see you outside of here, when I’m not this.” I motioned down my body, realizing that the girl he had met the first time wasn’t exactly much different, just another version of the role I was playing.
He sighed. “I get it. It was probably kind of stupid of me to come here. I mean, I’ve heard what has happened to other girls who fuck up. I’ve seen a few of them on the streets…they’re totally fucked up. I don’t want that to happen to you.”
We sat quietly for a minute as I thought about Peony.
“So…you’re okay that I work here though? That doesn’t…weird you out?” I asked cautiously.
He shook his head and kissed me gently. “No, Buttercup. I know we all have fucked up pasts and yours just happened to lead you here. I respect that sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. I mean I’m not Jesus Christ myself, so how can I judge.” He kissed me again. “But, are you gonna tell me your real name? I kind of feel like a pimp calling you Buttercup.”
I giggled and kissed him back. “One day, maybe.”
Jake left, with the promise of seeing me again soon. I knew where to find him. I couldn’t tell him when that next time would be, though. Randy gave days off when he thought we deserved them, whether that was once a week or once a month. I had learned not to trust his rules, but also to never disobey them.
Before he left, I mussed up our hair, slapped our cheeks and told him to seem embarrassed as he left. Violet had told me that a good call girl will make you feel like your sins will never be forgiven.
Randy was waiting in the foyer, but didn’t seem suspicious. His pointed stare served as a warning, though. I would not push my luck and try it again. Randy knew everything that went on in this house. Everything. But in that moment, I felt too good to care.
I smiled sweetly at him and touched his chest flirtatiously as Jake slipped out the door. He slapped my hand away but his face softened slightly. He told me to get back to work, and I obeyed, thinking that that was the end of it.
The next day, however, after I had been with a particularly rough customer, I was walking towards the kitchen for ice when someone grabbed my hair and threw me face first onto the cold marble island. I tried to scream but my face was pushed harder into the marble. My underwear was ripped away and I heard Randy’s snarl as he roughly pushed himself inside me.
“I heard you and your little boyfriend,” he growled. “This is for not getting fucked yesterday.”
I gasped. Was he talking about Jake?
He thrust harder and harder, my ribs banging painfully against the island, my neck at an odd angle. He finished quickly, as he always did, and shoved my face once more into the marble before slapping my ass and walking away, laughing under his breath.
Violet took a look at my bruised stomach later that night, shaking her head. “You have to be more careful,” she hissed, “You know what he’s capable of.”
I sighed. “So, everyone knows, then?”
“Honey, there are no secrets in this house. You ever bring a non-john here again and no one will be able to protect you.”
I nodded sadly and she placed a small bag of ice on my face. There was no pity on hers.
“Anyways, Dahlia and I are going out tonight, is there anything I can bring back for you?”
I thought about it and wrote something down on a piece of paper. “Could you make just one stop?”
When Violet returned later that night, her and Dahlia giggling and drunk, I asked her if she had succeeded.
“Yesh!” she slurred. “Damn girl, that boy is hawt! Just please god don’t fuck it up for yourself. He’ll be where you said. Don’t you worry, girl.”
Randy had decided to give me my day off, despite my little transgression. Maybe he felt a little guilty himself. My face had been slightly swollen since the incident which had affected my ability to lure in customers for a few days. I had expected him to blame me, but maybe he wasn’t as unwavering and cruel as he wanted us to believe.
I met Jake at the spot I had specified on the note I gave to Violet, trying to hide my surprise that he showed. I was wearing “normal” clothes, as he had requested the last time I met him—sneakers and jeans. It felt unnatural to me now, but he said several times how great I looked, and he seemed to mean it.
We held hands and walked to the movie theatre I had picked for us. It was far from the Flower Garden, and would be dark, so there was little chance of anyone seeing us—Randy’s never ending eyes especially. This was just how it was and how it was going to be.
We got popcorn and a seat in the back row. The theatre was mostly empty, the few people there entirely unfocused on watching the movie. Little puffs of smoke rose from the seats in front of us.
I couldn’t remember what the movie was about, Jake and I only paying attention to the sweet taste of each other’s tongues. His tasted like mints, which made me giddy. I hoped mine didn’t taste like the lube I had been scrubbing out since the day before. Maybe Jake didn’t want to have sex with me in the brothel, but the floor of a movie theatre, sticky and full of old popcorn wasn’t enough to deter him.
Afterward, we climbed back into our seats, popcorn stuck to various parts of our bodies, and Jake lit a joint, passing it to me. I took a long drag and put my head on his shoulder, thinking maybe this would be one of the best days of my life, when I remembered it years from now.
The girls told me that my happiness was finite. All of them had tried to be with someone outside of the Flower Garden, and all had failed.
“He may say he’s okay with it now,” said Jasmine, the most honest of the Flowers, “but as soon as he wants you for anything other than sex he’ll change his mind. And if he doesn’t, there’s something wrong with him. No man wants to share.” I gave her a dirty look and told myself I was different. But not even I could believe that entirely.
When I met up with Jake, always in hidden alleyways or dark restaurants, I would talk like I hated the Flower Garden, to make him think he had nothing to worry about, and to shield him from jealousy. No matter how much or how little truth there was in those words, I was sure that if I made him believe them, nothing between us would change.
In return, Jake would talk about breaking me out and setting me free. I laughed when he said these things, but he never seemed to find it that funny.
I met him one night at the park by the river, recognizing his silhouette from afar, sitting on our bench. I remembered the day we had burned our names into the wood with an old piece of glass and the heat of the sun, on the hottest day of the year. It was barely legible. We had been seeing each other for nearly a month, without a hitch and I had decided to share something more personal with him that night.
We sat on that bench, straining to make out the water in the darkness, hands interlocked. I took a breath and blurted, “My name’s Isabelle,” immediately questioning the words as they left my lips. Now I either had to marry him or kill him.
He stared at me, a slow smile creeping across his face. “I love you, too, Isabelle. And don’t worry, you’re safe with me.”
My chest swelled almost painfully. I wondered if he’d read my mind. We spent the rest of the night kissing each other on that bench.
A day or two later something new happened. I had my first house call. They were quite rare, as they required more pennies than the majority of our client base could afford. They were mostly made by old, rich white men, whose reputations could not afford to be tarnished by leaving their homes.
I was excited, expecting the luxury of a rich man’s home. Randy’s nephew, his “pimp in training” was to take me in his car and wait outside the entire time. I smiled as Randy’s face contorted with worry, sending me and his nephew into the night.
The nephew dropped me off, speeding away as soon as my heels hit the pavement, saying he needed a score and would see me later, completely disregarding Randy’s orders. I could see why Randy didn’t trust him.
The location was a mid-range rundown motel in the city centre, which was not what I had been expecting. There was nothing lavish about the call—the guy was probably lazy. I sighed and tried to hide my disappointment.
I knocked at the room number I had been given and waited. The door swung open and my mouth dropped. I froze in place. He smiled at me, his crow’s feet more pronounced than I remembered, and his hair long and shaggy. Dane. Dane was here. I sputtered in surprise.
He looked over my shoulder and pulled me inside, bolting the door behind us. He looked me up and down as I stared at him, his eyes wide with shock. “Holy shit, Isa.”
I had no words. Finally, he stopped staring and grabbed me tightly in a hug, the hugs that I remembered. He kissed my forehead and my cheeks and my lips, longer than he should have. The touch of his lips brought back the anger that I had tried to forget. I pushed him away.
“What the fuck is going on, Dane?” I spat.
He seemed to physically snap back to reality. “Cookie, Isa, I…I came to get you. I heard what happened back home, and, I’m so so sorry.” He held my hands. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you. You must think I’m an asshole, I know. I was being stupid, but I’m going to make it up to you—.”
“Dane!” I shouted, backing away. He was babbling. That always meant he was hiding something. Like when he used to say he didn’t know where Kay was during her treatments, but he knew. He had babbled then, too.
He blinked in shock.
“How the hell did you find me? And what are you doing here?”
“Rumors, mostly. And I told you, I came to get you. To protect you. I won’t let you, Kay’s daughter, live like this.”
Something seemed wrong. “What do you mean, protect me?”
He shrugged. “We did what we had to do.”
He let out a long sigh. “Me and…that doorknob who says he’s your boyfriend. We’re saving you.”
I threw my hands up and screamed. “No! What did you do! And how do you know him?” I moved towards the door but Dane blocked my path, looming largely over me.
“Isa, just listen. Please, I’ll explain.” I could barely breathe. He started rambling without waiting for my response, my head spinning violently. “I went back to Detroit, and I heard from someone that you were here, and in a whore house, of all places! And then I got here and I asked around to see if anyone knew where this…place might be and this—,” he gritted his teeth, “—kid, said his girlfriend worked there and…well, I guess we realized we were both talking about you.”
Me. I was the lost girl. The girlfriend that needed protecting. I gawked at him. “So, what are you gonna do, Dane?”
My question seemed to make him forget he was holding me hostage and he moved away from the door to sit down, sighing heavily from his confession.
He began telling me his plan, but I didn’t wait long, ripping the deadbolt off the door and running out of the room just as he said the word “gun”. I screamed and raced back to where the nephew had dropped me off, just as he pulled back into the spot, the car full of smoke.
Dane wasn’t chasing me, but calling after me calmly. I jumped in the car and screamed at the nephew to go! Go! Go! He was stoned but still seemed to understand my sense of urgency. He pulled into traffic and I grabbed the steering wheel, swerving to avoid hitting cars.
We screeched to a halt in front of the Flower Garden and I jumped out, leaving the nephew behind and running into the house. The front door was open and I could hear the girls screaming, but I didn’t stop to think before charging inside.
I burst in the door and saw Jake, holding a gun, pointed towards a huddle of the girls, and Randy on the other side of the room, his hands in the air. “Stop!” I screamed.
He spun around and aimed the gun at me. I dropped to the floor, just as he shot, the bullet going through a vase on a shelf by the door instead of my face.
He looked at me in horror and immediately dropped to the floor beside me, crying apologies.
I stared at him, frozen, my heart on the verge of exploding out of my chest. There was a bang and Jake jumped, a pocket of blood spilling out of his arm. Myself and the rest of the girls screamed. Jake didn’t hesitate and turned around wildly, aiming the gun in Randy’s direction.
I quickly pulled at his arm and he stumbled back, the gun firing, a bullet going into the ceiling above Randy’s head. Randy dropped to the floor, his face contorted in fear. Jake had missed, and turned to look at me in shock.
The girls screamed, Dahlia breaking away from the group to run to Randy’s side. Jake didn’t wait to survey the scene, instead grabbing my arm and lifting me off the ground, dragging me out the door.
I looked back to see Violet staring at me with horrific sadness. I looked at her helplessly, stumbling with Jake away from the house.
Jake dragged me down the block to where he had parked a car. The nephew was long gone. He pushed me in and got in himself, yelping as he tried to reach for his door with his bad arm, only now realizing he had been shot. I didn’t move to help him, instead trying to calm my erratic breathing until we reached the motel where Dane was waiting.
Dane pulled me out of the car, him and Jake exchanging glances when I didn’t respond to their questions. They sat me down on one of the beds, staring at me with concern. I kept my eyes on the floor. They began to grow uncomfortable, Jake pacing back and forth in front of me.
Finally, I whispered, “Why would you do that?”
They both sighed. “We were protecting you,” Dane said.
“You hated it there,” Jake replied.
I stood up and screamed, my face wet with tears. “Those were my friends! Now I can never go back!”
They both rushed to my side, trying to comfort me, each putting an arm around my shoulder. I caught a glare exchanged between them. “That’s the point,” Jake whispered. “We’re getting you out of here.”
I shook my head. “You almost killed someone!” I pushed them away and pointed at Jake’s injured arm. “You got shot!”
All our eyes focused on Jake’s arm, the sight of blood seeming to snap them back to reality.
Everything was wrong. I had asked for none of this, and now what? Would Randy come after me? The Flowers would never forgive me.
Dane handed me some clothes and told me to get changed, we were leaving as soon as I was ready. I slowly put the clothes on while Dane looked at Jake’s injured arm, ripping a piece of linen and wrapping it around the wound. He whispered something about getting it looked at when we got to our destination.
“Where are we going?” I asked shakily.
They told me not to worry, they had a plan. I sighed and did as I was told, feeling too weak to argue.
I sprawled out in the back seat of Dane’s car, pretending to sleep, but instead listening to Dane and Jake, trying to gain any glimpse of where my life was heading next. But, for the most part, they just bickered about me.
“You don’t know her like I do,” Dane said quietly. “We should leave her alone, let her process.”
“Don’t think so, old man,” Jake snipped back. “She’s my girlfriend and I know how to comfort her.”
Listening to them talk, I realized the stupidity of love. Love doesn’t know when to quit, when to say when, or when to take a step back. Love is based on a whim, and is competitive and defensive if that whim is tested. Love makes you do crazy things. And in the end, love is a hazard.
It was true, I loved them both dearly, in different ways, in different times and places. But would I kill for them? Would I drop everything and leave my life behind? I had no choice this time, but what about the next time? I stopped myself before I could delve deeper and tried to sleep.
We arrived at our destination during daylight. As far as I could tell, we hadn’t stopped once. I wasn’t sure how long we had been driving, but we were somewhere completely unfamiliar. A small green house, surrounded by trees and the smell of fresh country air.
A beautiful woman, middle aged and with crow’s feet just like Dane’s came outside, wrapping Dane in a giant hug. She introduced herself as Elaine, his sister. He explained to me that this is where he had gone when he had left me the last time.
I nodded, understanding. It was beautiful and warm and brimming with love.
Elaine hugged me. She smelled like pine needles. “I’ve absolutely been dying to meet you!” she purred. “My, you look so young!” I wondered what exactly she knew about my past and where we had just come from.
She looked at Jake and gasped, gingerly touching the blood-soaked sheet wrapped around his arm, and pulled him inside the house, clucking disapprovingly at him.
I stared at the small green house as Dane stared at me. “We’re gonna be safe here, Isa. I promise.” He put a hand on my shoulder and kissed my cheek. I shivered and he smiled against my skin. Neither of us had to say it, but he knew he still had a hold on me.
I pulled away and glared at him.
He stood back and looked at me sadly. “I’m not going to give up until you forgive me.” He squeezed my hand and walked towards the house.
Reluctantly, I followed him inside, the wind chimes hanging over the door banging loudly against the wood and Dane’s face. He swore loudly. Elaine had finished bandaging up Jake, who was biting his lip to hold back tears. She was busily readying food for us.
I sat down at the table beside Jake, trying to absorb everything in sight. I mused at the playfulness between Dane and his sister, as she whipped him with a towel.
I heard Jake clear his throat beside me and looked at him sadly. “What are we doing here, Jake?”
He stroked my hair reassuringly. “Isa…I’m sorry, but I’ll explain everything, okay? You trust me, right?”
I hesitated but then nodded. He put his good arm around my shoulders.
I sighed and closed my eyes, leaning against him mechanically, unsure of anything.
The house was bigger on the inside than it looked on the outside, and had enough rooms for us each to have our own, with Jake and I sharing. Dane didn’t seem to like that idea, but I assured him I would be fine. And to Jake, I assured him Dane was just an old friend, not willing or thinking it necessary to disclose the confusing and storied past of our relationship.
After dinner and dessert and a round of joints, Jake headed to our bed, unable to keep himself upright from the painkillers Elaine had given him. Dane headed outside to chop wood, or something else that made him feel manly. Elaine and I sat at the kitchen table, passing the remaining joint between us. I had already taken a liking to her.
“So, Isabelle, tell me something else about yourself.” She coughed after inhaling and smiled at me through the smoke.
“Well…what has Dane told you?” I still didn’t know what she knew.
She shook her head. “I don’t wanna hear Dane’s side. He’s mostly full of shit, anyways.” Her beautiful, kind face felt safe, and all that I was holding back flowed out.
The words gushed out of me. Things Dane didn’t know, and that for sure Jake didn’t know. About Kay and Sam and Julianne, and my life in the Flower Garden. When I got to the reason why I was there, at her little green house, she showed no signs of surprise. The only thing I didn’t mention was the short past I shared with Dane, not wanting to invalidate whatever he had already told her.
I hadn’t meant to spill my insides the way I did, but something about Elaine comforted me. Like a mother might.
“What do you think?” I asked, finishing my story.
She nodded her head slowly. “Isa…I think that while everything that’s happened is horrible, so horrible, it has made you stronger, no?” I shrugged. She patted my head gently. “But, we must move forward.”
I sighed, feeling drained, with nothing left to say.
She put her face in her hands and moaned. “I think I’m also really high, Isa.”
I smiled meekly and shook my head, getting up to leave. “Thanks, Elaine,” I said, and headed off to bed, trying to be quiet as I lay down beside Jake, watching him warily as he slept.
I awoke the next morning to Jake gazing at me lovingly. First thing in the morning, however, it creeped me out a little. I gently pushed his face away, feigning playfulness. He smiled and pulled me into his chest. He smelled like cologne and blood.
“We haven’t really had a chance to talk since yesterday,” he mumbled.
I pushed him away and climbed on top of him. “I don’t wanna talk,” I whispered, unsure of what I wanted to say to him.
“Isa, please, can you let me explain?”
Just then, the door swung open, and without so much as a knock, Dane entered.
I screamed and fell over, hurriedly covering myself with a blanket. “Dane, what the fuck?”
I peeked out from under the blanket to see him staring directly at me, sadly. He mumbled a sorry and left the room.
“What is that guy’s problem?” Jake threw a pillow at the door angrily.
I sighed, guilt flooding my body. “He’s just worried about me…I’ll go make sure he’s okay…okay?”
Jake grabbed my arm and gave me an uncertain look. I kissed him quickly. “I’m fine,” I said and he let go.
I threw on the same clothes I had worn yesterday and went to find Dane. Elaine sat in the kitchen drinking coffee, and she pointed out the back door, where Dane was hitting something with an axe. Chopping wood again.
I thanked her and ran out the door, keeping my distance as he wielded the axe wildly, hitting the ground more than the wood.
He ignored me and I called his name again. He stopped and gave me a withering look, walking away into the trees. I followed him.
“Dane, what? What were you expecting? He’s my boyfriend.”
He spun around to face me, his anger melting when he saw the fear on my face.
He sighed and dropped the axe, scratching his stubble. “I’m sorry, Cookie. I just…I guess I thought once you saw me that you’d…want…me.” He laughed at himself. “I can’t believe I just said that.” The laugh lines etched in his face charmed me as they always had.
My cheeks flushed angrily. “But Dane…you said yourself that I’m just a kid. You left me! So why do you care?”
He rubbed a hand over his face. “Well…I guess I always just thought of you as mine. And look at you, you’re obviously not a kid anymore.”
My stomach did a backflip. “You never wanted me before,” I whispered.
He came closer to me and I backed up until I was against a tree. He put an arm above my head on the tree and leaned close to my face. “That’s not true.” He kissed me before I could say anything, my head spinning.
When he pulled away his face contorted in disgust. “You smell like that asshat.”
as if he had been called, Jake’s voice came from the other side of the trees. “Isa? Is everything okay?”
“We’ll talk later,” I whispered and pushed Dane away. I felt his eyes on me as I walked back towards the house.
Jake smiled with relief when he saw me. I tried not to appear flustered. “Hey, Jake! Don’t worry, everything’s okay.” I put my arms around his neck. “Just telling him to mind his own fucking business,” I whispered.
He patted my ass. “Okay, good. Fucking creep.” I winced at his words and followed him back inside the house.
I began to lose track of time at the little green house, finding ways to entertain myself. It could have been days or weeks or maybe even a month, I didn’t know. Elaine was very self-sufficient and grew most of her own vegetables, trading with her neighbors for other essentials. She mentioned there was a small market nearby that she would visit from time to time.
I was in the midst of digging up weeds in Elaine’s massive backyard garden when Jake wandered over, playfully kicking dirt at me. He was growing restless, with nothing much to do. He, apparently, was not good at adapting.
“Do you want to get in on the weed pulling action?” I asked, ripping a handful of shrubs from the ground.
He sighed and sat down in the dirt. “Not really. But…” He pushed me onto my back and climbed on top of me, kissing my neck. The garden was mostly hidden from the house but I still didn’t want to risk Dane seeing us. We had not gone back to the conversation he had started in the woods, that one day. Not only did I not want to get into it, but there was never really an opportunity, especially with Jake never letting me out of his sight. Though sometimes we’d catch ourselves gazing at each other, wondering what could be.
Jake and I rolled around in the dirt until it became uncomfortable, and the dirt began to lodge itself in awkward places. We tried to shake most of it off but still ended up going into the house completely disheveled.
Elaine laughed when she saw us and I apologized, promising to clean up every last speck. She waved us off and we hopped to the shower, shedding our clothes on the back porch. I was relieved when she said that Dane had gone out for the day.
In the shower, Jake smiled half heartedly. “Let’s talk, Isabelle.”
“What is it?” I asked, scrubbing the dirt out of my ears.
He sighed and moved out of the water stream for me. “I want to leave.”
I stopped scrubbing and stared at him. “What do you mean? Where do you want to go?”
He shrugged. “I dunno where, but I can’t stay here anymore. I’m so bored. And Dane creeps me the fuck out, always looking at you like you’re a piece of candy.”
“That’s not true.”
“Sure, it is. It’s weird. But I don’t want to go alone. I want you to come with me.”
I leaned against the shower wall. “This is sudden…I don’t know what to say.”
He seemed shocked. “I thought you’d jump on the chance to go.”
I was surprised that he thought that. I had never once said that I was unhappy here. And even if I was, I wouldn’t say it out loud, considering what he had done the last time I had said as much. I realized that we had mostly ignored the events of that night, not even mentioning it since the day we arrived. Now was as good a time as ever to bring it up.
“Don’t you remember what you did? You’ll be arrested eventually. There’s no way they’re not looking for you. All those girls saw your face. And me. There’s nothing out there for me. I’m just as guilty.”
He turned off the shower even though we were both still muddy. We sat on either edge of the bathtub, leaning against the walls and facing each other.
He shook his head. “There is something for you, you have me. And I can make us a life together. We’ll be safe. We’ll go far away and no one will know who we are. I love you, Isabelle. Don’t you want to start over?”
We had already started over, that’s why we were there, and the idea of doing that again did not appeal to me. I had already killed enough of my past selves. The Girl in the Little Green House had not been given enough time to flourish yet.
“I like it here,” I muttered quietly.
He banged his fist against the wall beside him. “No, you don’t, Isa! How could you? This isn’t you! You like adventure, right? There’s no adventure here for us. But we can make some! Just come with me.”
I looked at him, really looked at him. His dark brown hair, longer now than it was before, his black eyes, my favorite part of him, and that face, that beautiful, boyish face that I thought I loved. But how could I love someone that didn’t know who I really was? He didn’t understand me, not like I wanted him to.
“Marry me,” he whispered.
My eyes widened and I started to sputter. He knelt in front of me, carefully, trying not to slip on the wet bathtub floor, and pinched my lips together to silence me.
“You don’t have to answer now. But I want you to know that if you choose to come with me, that’s where I want us to go. Okay?” He peered into my eyes, searching for what my answer would be.
I didn’t respond and he turned the shower back on. We washed the rest of the dirt off our bodies in silence.
I wasn’t really listening to Jake as we lay on our bed, clean and fresh from the shower, and he
described his plan to leave. A million thoughts ran unbridled through my head.
“I have a buddy who lives in Ohio, he said we can crash with him. He’s coming with a car to get us. I’ll get a job and you can, too, if you want, to pay for our wedding? And soon we’ll have our own place—.”
“Jake, slow down.”
He sighed. “Isabelle, it’s time. We leave tomorrow night. I’ll be at the market with Elaine—,” as they had been doing every week, “—and my buddy will meet us there with a car. I’ll bring my stuff and find a way to sneak away from her. Meet me there, at exactly 7 pm, ready to leave. If you don’t show…well, you’ve made your choice.”
I stared at him in disbelief. “Why are you giving me so little time to decide?”
He smiled sadly. “I don’t want you to think about it too much. I want it to come from your heart, not your head.” He poked my chest and forehead.
I sighed and turned away from him. “I need to think.” I left him lying on the bed. There was only one person who could help me make this decision.
I walked past the kitchen as quietly as I could and onto the back porch where Dane sat in a plastic lawn chair, smoking a joint. He smiled at me and motioned for me to sit. I took a hit from the joint and tried to think of what to say.
Dane broke the silence for me. “I know he’s leaving,” he said quietly.
I raised my eyebrows at him. “How do you know that?”
He smiled. “The kid’s been miserable since he got here, always moping around the house. Also, I heard you two talking.” He smirked.
I exhaled slowly, ignoring his confession to eavesdropping on me. “So, you know about everything, then?”
He nodded. “How are you gonna break the news to him?”
I looked at him in surprise. “You don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“I know you don’t love him.”
“What? Yes, I—.”
He moved quickly and kissed me on the lips. My face reddened and I squirmed awkwardly. He watched me and chuckled.
“See? If you loved him you wouldn’t be here with me, right now.”
He put his hand on my knee. “Isabelle.” He made me look him in the eyes. “What do you want me to say? That I want you to stay? Of course, I do, you know that. So now you have to choose. I can’t do it for you. But if you ask me, your indecision is already a decision.”
He got up from his chair and walked around the side of the house, leaving me alone and more confused than ever.
I made every effort possible to make each and every interaction I had with Jake that night and the next day seem as genuine and optimistic as possible. I didn’t know my decision just yet, not consciously, so I had to convince him of the best possible outcome. I even packed a bag and left it, ready, at the foot of the bed.
When he left for the market with Elaine, I kissed him feverishly, but restrained myself enough to not make it seem like a goodbye. He showed no sign of questioning my intentions.
“See you later,” he whispered in my ear, meaning the literal.
“See you later,” I replied quietly, now knowing I meant the metaphorical.
I sat on the front steps and watched him and Elaine walk away, chatting happily. Elaine probably knew, too. We were just two dumb kids, after all.
I watched the hands on my wristwatch tick by, the minutes feeling like an eternity. Dane came to sit with me at one point, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the watch. He tried to make small talk, but once he realized I wasn’t paying attention he just sat with me in silence.
At 7 pm, I held my breath and closed my eyes, waiting until I felt light headed to open them again. A few minutes passed. And then a few more, and I passed the watch to Dane, which he dutifully tossed beside him. And that was it. Another chapter of my life, neatly closed and soon to be left behind, just like the rest of them.