Her eyes widened at the same time he felt it. Jake’s skin pulled tight against his body. He knew why she made him feel the way she did. He knew why her eyes weren’t cold and empty.
He knew her face.
SIX MONTHS AGO
Emma shoved open the side door of Hofstetler’s. The chill in the air pulled her skin tight, shrinking it around her bones, and she shuddered. It was freezing out, but she didn’t care. Anything to get away from her dad and the scene he was making in the middle of the frozen food aisle. It was bad enough when her parents fought at home, but doing it on the phone in the middle of the grocery store was a level of humiliation Emma couldn’t bear.
She could go sit in the car – she had a key – but she didn’t want to be confined. She was trapped already. If they didn’t live so far from town, she would run home. But they did. As much as she loved the woods – her woods – she hated that they were so far from the places she needed them the most.
Emma stuffed her hands into her coat pockets and stepped into the alley. She would stay as long as she could stand it. Until her father’s shouts at her mother became shouts for her.
Jake tipped his head back against the cinder block wall and watched his sigh float up to the flat grey sky. The air was icy but he pushed his sleeves up anyway, needing to feel free from something, even if it was just his shirt.
He heard the door open at the same time he heard her voice. “Oh,” she said. It was a soft sound, full of surprise and something else he recognized. Disappointment. She wanted to be alone.
Jake peeled himself off the wall and turned to the girl. She stood stock still in her designer jeans and expensive down jacket. Her face was flushed, her brown hair messy in its ponytail as if she were running. He wondered how she could look so in motion without moving at all. “Hey,” he said.
She looked all over him, at his bruises, the stain on his sweatshirt, his boots. Everywhere but in his eyes. She looked, but she didn’t really see and he couldn’t tell if he was glad she didn’t or not. Mostly he wanted to be ignored, he wanted to disappear, but this time, with her, he wouldn’t mind being seen.
“Hi,” she said with a disinterested shrug, before walking to the wall across from him and leaning against it.
The alley was narrow and they stood only a few feet apart. It felt too close, like they were invading each others' space. She tapped a heel of one foot into the toe of the other, her eyes on the grease-dotted ground. Jake watched her breathe in angry little huffs and thought that maybe they weren’t so different. The jokes he would’ve made, poor little rich girl, stuck in his throat.
She lifted her head and looked him straight in the eye. “Parents really suck, you know?”
He was pinned by her gaze. She searched his face, like she expected an answer, and that answer mattered. He had the sudden urge to tell her everything he knew about just how much parents sucked but he stopped himself and only nodded instead. “Yeah, I do.”
She reached up and pulled a band out of her hair. It fell loose and wild around her shoulders and Jake felt his fingers itch to touch it. He shoved his hands into his pockets and shifted his gaze to his feet.
“Hey,” she said, but he didn’t look up.
Something small and soft hit him in the chest. He threw his hand out and caught it instinctively. Her hair tie.
“You don’t go to Fremont do you?”
He shook his head, finally meeting her gaze. “Nope. I dropped out.”
He expected to see something ugly in her eyes, disgust or pity, but it wasn’t there. Instead she looked wistful, maybe even sad. “You’re lucky.”
He didn’t know what to say to that but it didn’t matter. Before he could open his mouth a shout rang out from the parking lot. “Emma! Dammit, where are you?”
“Shit.” The girl jumped away from the wall. “I gotta go.”
And just like that she was walking away from him -- a breeze that passed through the alley on its way to somewhere else.
She was halfway to the parking lot when he remembered the small black band in his hand. “Hey,” he called after her. “You forgot your hair thing.”
She shrugged, “Keep it.” And then she looked at him over her shoulder with just the hint of a smile, “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
It was the bruises that made Emma remember. The way they lined his arms in shades of purple, green, and yellow. She’d seen him before.
Something about the way he said her name made her heart beat faster. It was the mixture of surprise and hope. He was happy to see her.
“What are you doing out here?” She asked, surprised that her voice was only a whisper.
The boy reached for the black band around his wrist. He slipped it off and held it out to her. A hair tie. “I think this belongs to you.”
Come back Friday to see part three from Natalie!
Photo used with permission by Matt Hill, aka Matt(ikus) on flickr
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