Jessica Thompson as That Girl

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XXVII. Invalid Reasons

Jessica’s POV:

There’s a problem. I think there’s a bomb inside my chest. That’s a reasonable explanation as to why I can hear a ticking sound. Something is about to explode.

The screams from the people on the rides seemingly faded into the background as he continued looking at me.

“What?” I question once more.

“Let’s get outta here,” he said again.

No matter how many times I heard that sentence, it doesn’t sound right. He cannot possibly be offering me a chance to sneak out with him. It’s obvious what a guy and a girl do when they sneak away together.

They sneak out of a crowd.

They go on a small adventure together.

While they’re on their adventure, something will bound to happen.

A little flirting here and there.

Next thing we know, we’re kis-

No.

That can’t be right. There’s no way Jax wants to sneak off to kiss me or anything like that. Then again, he does have a reputation. My parents taught me never to believe rumors, but a fire doesn’t spread without a little help.

I bit my lower lip and stared at Jax, who refused to remove his gaze. It’s sturdy and rigid; unlike last night, he spent time in my room. I will be lying if I say I didn’t gaze out the window once in a while, expecting him to knock against it.

“Jax!” Someone screams. Our gazes revert towards a group of teenage boys and girls. I remember them; they’re the group who typically surrounds him. The troublemaking group as the townspeople would name them.

Jax, with a rigid body, stood up and gave the guy who shouted his name a handshake.

The guy hung his arm around Jax’s shoulders and laughed. “Told you all he was at the food court.”

“How can you just leave us like that?” The girl questioned. Her sight dropped towards me, but she didn’t say anything. I didn’t either. There’s nothing to say.

“Who’s this?” The guy who had his arm wrapped around Jax asks with a mischievous smile. ”Fuck man,” he said before Jax can respond. “You’re gone for like ten minutes, and you’re bagging a girl already?” I didn’t particularly like the sound of that.

Jax looks at me, then bursts out laughing. “Are you kidding me?” He elbows the guy lightly. “I don’t know her.”

I would be lying if I said that it didn’t hurt because it did. I know I told him to pretend not to know me whenever someone we know is around, but I didn’t expect my words to eat me this harshly.

“Why are you two sitting together?” The girl asks.

Jax scoff, “It’s a fucking seat. Should I marry you now since I sit next to you every day?” Jax may sound rude, but I can feel the warmness behind his words.

Being left out is a feeling I never really liked. I know I’m not as socializing as other people, but whenever a group surrounds me. It often reminds me of how lonely it feels to be cast aside.

I stacked all the trashed and stood up. Without giving Jax another look, I threw away the trash and walked towards the couple rides where my friends are at. My friends. I’m not lonely.

“Fuck, man. You scared her away,” the guy said.

I’m not mad. A bit sad, but not angry. I mean, I’m the one who asked Jax to pretend not to know me. So, what right do I have to be upset with him? No. Even if I didn’t ask that, and he pretended not to know me. It’s within his rights. We weren’t really friends, to begin with.

My phone buzzed, and I stopped walking. I look down at the bright screen.

Panty Dropper: Are you okay?

No, but I will be.

I turned off the screen and continued walking. There’s no point in getting upset over a guy I barely know. Pointless and a waste of energy.

I hung myself by the bars and stared at the couples’ ride. The line is a lot longer than I thought, and with each passing holiday, only more couples will be made.

I kick a rock.

I’m a lonely potato.

When the ride stops, one by one, the couples step out.

I’m even lonelier now.

I watch as Krista laughs at something Francis whispers into her ear. They would make a good couple. Her face turns red, and she punches his arm. I wonder what they’re talking about.

I tilted my head when Ivan and Shannon got off of the ride with their hands’ tangled. Ivan’s face was full on red while Shannon had a massive grin on her face. Somehow, it feels like Ivan got taken advantage of inside that dark ride.

The wind brushes past me, and I close my eyes. Fortunately, after a few blinks, the itchy pain disappeared. I hate it when something gets into my eyes.

I look forward, past the rides.

Brody?

Alone?

Shouldn’t he be with Victoria?

He stared at Krista and Francis with this unexplainable face. My eyes drop toward the two cones of ice cream. He must have gone to get Victoria ice cream and somehow end up here.

“Ah,” I made a sound. “Don’t look at them like that when you’re the one who’s been rejecting her all these years.”

“I agree.” My eyes widened at the sudden response. I turned around, and Todd happened to be there. Behind me. A bit too closely. I mean, we are practically childhood friends, but it doesn’t give him the right to be so close.

“Agree about what?” I question. He could not have heard what I said. No one should.

“Whatever you just said.”

“What did I say?”

Todd grins, “What do you mean, what did you say? Why should I repeat what you’re saying?” He’s playing with me.

“You shouldn’t intervene,” I respond. If I can’t probe, no one can.

Todd cocks his head; his hair slightly swayed to the side. “Intervene what?”

I pouted and turned away. They were all gone. I smack my forehead. I’m standing at the entrance, and the exit is on the other side. They mustn’t have seen me since my back was turned when I was talking to Todd.

“Why are you here?” I ask.

Todd huffed out a foggy breath, “You see me at the autumn festival every year. Why is this year any different?”

I look up from between my hair, “I mean, why are you here? At this spot? Where’s your girlfriend?”

“Megan?”

“If that’s her name.”

Todd leaned against the bars and crossed his arms. “She’s on stage.”

Now, I remember. Today is the first night of the pageant. “Why aren’t you there? You know, to support her? Your girlfriend?”

“You’re keen on reminding me that I have a girlfriend.”

“Loyalty is the best policy.”

He leans back, “I thought it was honesty.”

“Then, answer me honestly, why are you here?”

He shrugs, “Just bored. The pageant is just a bunch of girls walking around. I see it every year.” All the girls Todd dated are really into pageants. I think he dated at least half of the girls on the stage. The other half of the girls he dated are in college.

“I forgot. You have attended these pageants ever since middle school.”

Todd frowned, “I attended these pageants during my sophomore year, which is like last year. You make it sound like I’ve dated girls ever since I could walk.”

“And I’m the one who exaggerated your life story?”

Todd puffed out a laugh, “Okay. Enough about my lack of love life because I’m both honest and loyal.”

I nodded slowly, “Alright.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?”

“I heard you dated a few guys since you started high school.”

“You sound like an old woman,” I respond.

“Nope.” He grins, “I’m not going to let you go. Now, tell me, what’s going on? Why the lonely life?”

“Oh?” I tilt my head. “You’re interested in my life now? After avoiding me all these years?”

Todd licked his lips, “Touche.” He ran his hand through his hair and leaned back again. His actions are a bit awkward. “Would you believe me if I said I have my reasons?”

I rested my chin against my palm and stared forward. I should leave Todd and re-group with everyone else. My phone has been buzzing like crazy for the last minute. They’re probably trying to find me.

But, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to go back. Even though they’re a fake couple and a soon-to-be couple, I still feel like a fifth wheel. I feel like I’m getting between some sort of double date.

“Hey,” I finally said. I turned my head towards Todd and caught him staring at me. The wind blew harshly past us as the screams of children erupt. The light beamed on, magnifying the young man in front of me.

His face is much too close for me to feel comfortable. “Yeah?” And there’s only going to be more trouble if he continues to come closer.

“Can I ask you a question?” This isn’t the type of atmosphere where I should be bringing up this type of topic. Admittedly, I’ll regret it tomorrow morning or probably later on tonight. But I just have to know. I’m curious. Much too curious for me to care that I’m no longer in the safety zone.

“Yeah?”

I think I’ve known it for a long time, but I simply choose to ignore it.

Why?

Because he’s my brother’s friend.

Because he has a girlfriend.

Because he’s out of my league.

There are so many reasons to step back.

To block it.

The transparent emotions radiating off of Todd Barrett whenever he looks at me.

“Do you like me?” I can’t believe it. The words that slip out of my mouth. Those unmentionable words, piecing together like a perfect puzzle.

Why did I ask it now of all times?

I really don’t know.

But, before I knew it, we’re at this point of no backing down.

I asked a guy who has a girlfriend—a guy who grew up with me in diapers whether he has more than friendly emotions for me.

His chin parted slowly from his palm, and he stared at me with unexpectedly widening eyes. His dry mouth parted slightly, but nothing came out. He looked like he’s lost in a complete trance unable to distinguish reality from illusion.

He didn’t need to say anything.

His reaction says it all.

It’s confirmed.

He does like me.

Todd Barrett likes Jessica Thompson.

At that moment, I wished he would laugh to make this situation a bit less uncomfortable. Perhaps, he should lie. Laugh loudly, pat my back harshly, and then crack a joke about how he wouldn’t date me even if I’m the last girl in the world. Tell me how my Brody would kill him if I ever mention that in front of him.

But, instead of cracking jokes like old friends, his face turned red. He looked away from my eyes and stared forward.

His eyes.

They’re red too.

Maybe, he’s drunk.

Yeah. That’s it.

He drank alcohol before he came here.

Todd Barrett had risen and became a rebellion.

After that question, neither of us spoke. We both stared at the ride in front of us, tuned out in our thoughts as couples exit the ride.

My phone buzzes again, and I pick it up. It’s time for me to leave. I know I brought up the topic, and I expected it to feel comfortable. But this is extremely uncomfortable. “Hello?”

“Where are you?” Krista screams. The quiet conversation between Todd and me sounds louder than those around us.

I looked at Todd and caught him glancing at me. Quickly, he looks away. “I went to the bathroom. I’ll be back soon.”

“Okay. We’ll wait for you. Don’t follow strangers!” The phone call ends.

“I got to go.”

Todd nods, “See you.” His voice cracked. He cleared his throat and looked away.

I turned around and rushed my hands inside my pocket. Two steps and I stopped walking. I turned around. He’s looking at me again. It makes me wonder. Exactly, how many times did he look at me when he thinks no one is watching?

“I appreciate your feeling,” I said.

Todd got off of the metal fence and stared at me.

“But, I don’t believe I will reciprocate it,” I said. Even with the massive amount of people around us. It feels as if there’s only the two of us. “You have a girlfriend. Megan is a nice girl.” Even though she always glares at me and only sweet-talk me when she needs something. I’m confident this hostility towards me is because she caught Todd’s unspoken feelings. “I’m not sure what your reasons are for not telling me. But-”

He clenches his molars, “Are you telling me that things would’ve been different if I told you?”

“But-” I continued, “None of that matters now. Your reasons. Whatever they may be is invalid at this point.”

Todd sucks in his lower lip and clenches his fists.

“If my older brother is the reason.” He flinches slightly. I must be right on the dot. “That reason is also invalid now.”

I turned around and continued walking. Todd didn’t stop me. Of course, he didn’t. He doesn’t have the right. None.

Right now.

At this time of our lives.

In our current situation.

We’re not aligned to be together.

Even if our emotions aligned, our lives don’t, and sometimes, that’s just how things are. That’s life.

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