***Please be advised: there are spoilers for Collide below. If you do not like spoilers, please do not click read more and yell at me later for it. If you’ve already read Collide or don’t mind spoilers, have at ‘er! 😉
The following is an excerpt from Consumed, available December 15th, 2014. Copyright 2014 J.C. Hannigan. All rights reserved.
The first day of my third year of University was not off to a good start. I overslept even though my alarm went off. This prompted me to have to rush my morning routine, my system void of coffee. I hated mornings to begin with, but mornings where I had to rush with zero caffeine in me were the absolute worst.
“Morning!” Jenna’s chipper voice greeted me as I tore my room apart, looking for something to wear. She was paused in my doorway, peering in with just a towel wrapped around her body. I glared at her, resenting her early morning perkiness. Jenna laughed, shaking her head at me as she passed. She didn’t take my grumpy mood personally. After two years of living together in an apartment near our University, she’d long since accepted the fact that I wasn’t and would never be a morning person.
I slapped on some makeup that artfully hid the bags under my eyes, and selected a semi-hot outfit from my wardrobe: a pair of well-worn skinny jeans, a sleeveless black V-neck shirt, and a plaid black and blue button up blouse.
“Are you ready yet?” Jenna asked, standing in my doorway again and watching me as I ran my fingers through my hair, teasing the slight curls.
Jenna was dressed in an expensive pair of Guess jeans and an A-line midnight blue shirt paired with a brown jacket. I used to complain about how much she spent on her clothes…until I tried a pair of her Guess jeans on. Even I had to admit they were almost worth the price tag, they were that comfortable.
“Yeah,” I grumbled, still not awake yet. I threw on my black leather jacket, the same one I’d worn since high school. I couldn’t remember a time I hadn’t worn it. The leather had seen better days, but I still couldn’t retire it to my closet. Jenna had tried for years to get me to hang it up.
Jenna’s thin blond eyebrows arched in question, but she didn’t make a smart remark about the jacket. She knew I was ready to kill without my morning cup of coffee.
“Let’s go to get coffee before class,” Jenna suggested, speaking sweet promises of coffee straight to my soul. I nodded gratefully, grabbing my messenger bag and flicking off my bedroom light as I followed her.
Our apartment was rather small, but it suited us both well. We each had our own bedroom with large closets. The bathroom was a little cramped, but we managed. The living room and kitchen were open concept, with a flat screen TV and a couch, a coffee table and two end tables from Ikea. All the furniture were second-hand Kijiji finds by me. Jenna was completely wigged out over the idea of second-hand furniture, until I mentioned we’d be depending less on her dad financially. Then, she was into it.
Jenna’s parents paid for the apartment. They didn’t want Jenna to have to worry about making ends meet while in school, they wanted her to focus on University. They allowed me to live there rent-free as well, but I still insisted on giving Mr. Burke rent money each month that I earned from my part-time job. I was used to working and accustomed to taking care of myself.
Mr. Burke allowed me the illusion of fending for myself, but I knew that he was not-so-secretly putting all the money I gave him for rent in a separate bank account to give back to me after graduation. Jenna had spilled the beans one night, but insisted I keep the knowledge secret. I knew that her parents felt indebted to me, so I kept her secret.
I hadn’t done a single thing to earn this kind of treatment from them, in my opinion. I stood by Jenna when she needed it. I didn’t think I should get a free ride for doing the right thing and being a good friend. Besides, if anyone was indebted to anyone else…it was me to them. They lessened the headache and stress of living expenses, and got me out of my mom and Larry’s house.
My mood darkened slightly at the thought of my mom and Larry. It’d been two years since I’d left home, and I was thankful every day that I was on my own. I still spoke to my mom often, but my trips back to North Bay were becoming less and less frequent. If it weren’t for Jenna, I wouldn’t return home at all. Unlike me, Jenna wasn’t estranged from her parents and enjoyed spending holidays with them.
“I can’t wait to graduate,” Jenna remarked, sighing wistfully, thinking about the year ahead of us. We both had one more year left of classes before our undergraduate studies would be done. After that, it was a free for all. Jenna’s goals tended to flip flop all over the place. She didn’t really know what she wanted to do. She’d loaded up on a whole bunch of courses, taking several business ones.
Jenna always said she was envious of how solid I was in what I wanted to do, but the truth was…I hadn’t the slightest idea of what was going to happen once I graduated. I knew I would always want to write, but I needed something a little more concrete than that to fall back on. It wasn’t like they were dueling out jobs for writers. Still, I stuck to my goal. The last thing I wanted to hear from my Mom and Larry was “I told you so”. They both insisted I should pursue what they considered an “actual” career, like becoming a dental assistant.
“What’s your first class?” I asked Jenna, my voice groggy from lack of use. We descended the stairs and pushed on the doors that led to the street. Our apartment was located in a beautifully renovated Victorian house near Sandy Hill, five minutes away from the University campus. I yawned as the chilly morning air hit my face. 8:00am was way too early for classes to start, in my opinion.
“Accounting, but not until nine,” Jenna explained, giving me a sheepish smile. “I’m hoping to run into someone at The Bean though.”
The little coffee shop between our apartment and campus, The Bean, was a quick seven minute walk from the stoop of our apartment, a mere five minutes away from campus. I’d managed to land a job there shortly after we moved to Ottawa. I absolutely loved working there. Not only was the coffee and food amazing, but my bosses were awesome. The Bean was run by Jamie Atwood and Mark Judge. Mark was the baker and chef, and Jamie ran all of the business end and scheduling. He also worked the front and was by far the customer’s favourite to deal with.
Aside from Jamie, Mark and I, there was only one other employee, a guy that Jenna had a not-so-secret crush on. His name was Lucas, he was nice, from what I knew of him (which wasn’t a lot) since we worked on opposite shifts.
Lucas was cute enough. He was tall and lanky with jet black hair. His eyes were a hazel colour, and he wore black square framed glasses. He reminded me of what Harry Potter might look like in his early twenties, if Harry Potter was a hipster. When Jenna had confessed her new crush to me, I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Were you obsessed with Harry Potter in high school?” I had asked her, trying to control my laughter.
“No,” she glared, unimpressed with joke about Lucas’ looks. Moments later, she could no longer hide the smile that revealed her true feelings. “Okay…maybe a little.”
He was not my cup of tea, but Jenna was clearly into whatever he was serving…so much so that she could barely form the words to get her order out when he was at the counter.
“Why don’t you just ask him out?” I grumbled, questioning my friend’s sanity. If I had the option of sleeping in a little longer on Monday mornings, I’d definitely be taking it. Jenna shrugged, lifting her hand up to touch her short hair. She’d recently chopped off the length, going for a cute and trendy bob that resembled Victoria Beckham’s hair. It suited her, but she was still unsure about it. I knew she was questioning her decision to chop off her hair again, especially with the looming possibility of seeing her crush. “You look fine,” I added, rolling my eyes.
Jenna’s insecurities were unfounded. She had that in your face, all-American-girl beauty. Blond hair, blue eyes, killer curves and a dimpled smile. She radiated warmth that you couldn’t help but be drawn to. She was a startling contrast from me. I had long dark hair, emerald green eyes, and a sarcastic bite that kept everyone at a safe distance. I had more curves than necessary, and I hadn’t grown taller since high school while Jenna had shot up in height.
Our tastes were vastly different too. Jenna loved bright colours and had a fashion taste that I couldn’t understand. I liked nice clothes as much as the next girl, but I couldn’t be tempted into splurging on anything. Jenna’s look was considered expensive, professional and classy, while mine was more grunge or glam grunge, according to Jenna, and I certainly didn’t mind shopping in thrift store finds.
Our walk took less than the predicted seven minutes, and soon we were waiting in the crowded line at The Bean. It was a popular spot for college students. Everybody loved the vibe of the shop and how personable Jamie and Mark were. I could hear their playful banter from the kitchen, even if I couldn’t see them. It made me smile. Jamie and Mark were madly in love with each other, and it was refreshing to see.
Jenna grasped my upper arm, her nails digging in enough for me to almost wince, even through the leather sleeve of my jacket.
“It’s him,” she whispered, delicately nodding her head in the direction of the cash register. I rolled my eyes, exasperated with her.
“This time, try actually saying something to him,” I muttered, gently tugging my arm away from Jenna’s grasp. “Play it cool,” I added.
Jenna looked nervous. My heart warmed a little for her. She’d had a rough go the last several years and a traumatic experience at the end of high school had left a sour taste in her mouth. She’d had a brief fling with a mutual friend of ours, Jake Patterson, but it hadn’t worked out. They were just too different. The three of us were still friends, but more like distance friends that communicated by Facebook. The last I’d heard from Jake, he had cleaned up his act and was joining the military. It would be interesting to see how that played out; Jake hated authority figures and spent the majority of his high school career selling marijuana.
When it was our turn, I greeted Lucas with a nod. He smiled back at us, his hazel eyes lingering on Jenna for a moment before he spoke. “What can I get you lovely ladies?” Jenna giggled and was visibly blushing.
“I’ll take a coffee,” I jumped in allowing Jenna a moment to collect herself, while hiding my smile at my friend’s discomfort.
“Green tea for me, please,” Jenna squeaked.
“Is that our Harlow I hear?” Jamie’s sing song voice rang out, his blond head popping up over the kitchen door. “It is! Mark, Harlow’s come to say hello!” Seconds later, he was walking purposely around the counter to embrace me in a hug. Mark came out with a tray of donuts, grinning his hello at me and winking warmly at Jenna.
Jamie was tall with shoulder length blond hair and a tan that he religiously kept up. He had forest green eyes and was very lean. Mark was night to Jamie’s day. He had dark hair, dark eyes and a dusting of stubble across his chin. He was taller and broader. Both were friendly, warm, inviting and extremely fun. They’d all but adopted Lucas and I as their surrogate children. What I knew about Lucas was all from Jamie, who was quite the talker.
“You’re not coming by to bail out of your shift tonight, are you?” Jamie joked.
“Of course, I already told you that I quit!” I joked back, grinning.
“Nobody else would hire you, you’re too cold,” Jamie shot back, winking at me.
“Oh please,” I rolled my eyes. I knew he was kidding, but it still stung a little. I was a good employee, I did my job and I was warm to the customers, but I knew I wasn’t fooling Jamie or Mark. Smiling and exchanging easy banter with customers did not come easily to me.
“Here’s your change,” Lucas interrupted, “Unless you want me to add it to my tip jar.” He said with a wink.
“Sure, go ahead. Buy yourself a haircut,” I shot back, smirking. Jamie laughed.
“You wicked girl,” he abolished. I shrugged, sparing a glance at Jenna. She was biting her glossy lip, looking, I hoped, at Lucas. Jamie’s keen eyes swept over her, noting the object of her attention. He grinned mischievously. “Hmm, looks like I have a lot of work to do today,” he added thoughtfully. “I’ll see you around three, Harlow. Good luck today!”
Jenna and I stepped aside to wait for our orders. She looked down at her feet, disappointment marring her delicate features. She didn’t see Lucas’ eyes slide back to her after he finished taking the next order or how his gaze lingered on her as we fixed our beverages at the sugar station.
“Gee, thanks for the help,” Jenna muttered as we left The Bean and headed towards a cluster of the campus’ many buildings. She took a sip of her Green tea, pouting at me with her wide blue eyes.
“Don’t ask for my help,” I warned her, laughing. “You won’t like the method.” I took a sip of my hot coffee, embracing the flavours as they danced across my taste buds. “Besides, I think maybe Jamie is adopting this cause.”
“What?” Jenna exclaimed, looking behind us at the doors to The Bean. I told Jenna stories about how Jamie loved to meddle in other people’s business and play matchmaker.
I grinned, happy that maybe Jamie would get off my back about dating if he had Lucas to focus on. Plus, Jenna needed the help. Of course I wanted to help Jenna. I thought about mentioning her to Lucas, but I wasn’t exactly known for my delicate approach on such matters. Jamie would be better at it. I was too blunt. Jamie was honest, but he had a gentle way about him. I was a bit cold as he pointed out. I figured I would leave this one to him.
“You’re late, by the way,” Jenna huffed, nodding her head in the direction of a large clock that hung on one of the campus building’s towers. Bantering with my co-workers had set us back. I was late for class.
“Crap,” I muttered, glaring at her. She shrugged innocently and gave me a small wave as she headed towards the building where her accounting class was.
I headed straight towards the lecture hall while trying to finish my coffee before I reached the doors. I shoved the empty disposable cup into a nearby garbage pail, my anxiety rising with each step I took.
I hated being the last student in a classroom, and judging by the time on the clock tower, I was twenty minutes late. I would undoubtedly be the last student to arrive. I pushed opened the doors, wincing slightly as they loudly creaked, announcing my belated arrival.
A stern looking woman in her mid-thirties was standing at the podium, her pale hair pulled back in a tight bun. Her piercing gray eyes narrowed in on me. She furrowed her brow, frowning as she showed her displeasure at my disruption of her class.
“Sorry,” I apologized, my voice barely above a whisper.
The lecture hall was massive, and it was full of students. My eyes widened as I searched the rows for a vacant seat. I started walking up the stairs, finally spotting one almost at the very back of the far left side of the hall.
“I do not like interruptions,” Professor Pedersen said rigidly, her voice rang out sharply against the silence of the hall. I gritted my teeth, feeling thousands of eyes upon me. “If you’re late, don’t bother coming in. I will be locking the doors. I do not wait around to start my lectures. You need to respect the hours allotted for this course and arrive on time.”
My face burned with irritation and embarrassment. I kept my head down, allowing my dark hair to fall in my face. I didn’t like being called out like that. Normally, I’d toss a smart-ass remark at her, but I’d learned something about University teachers; they tolerated a lot less than high school teachers.
At the thought of high school teachers, my heart seized momentarily in my chest…as it did every time I thought of him. I absently fingered the necklace that rested on my collarbone before I forced myself into the present: the task of finding that single free seat.
I made my way through the lecture hall quickly, apologizing to the people whose legs I had to step over. Relief overcame me as I found a free seat and sank down into it. The hall was overwhelmingly silent. Professor Pedersen refused to continue her lecture until I’d found my seat. Everyone was staring at me, including the Professor. Her stern gray eyes finally left my face as she resumed her lecture.
“What a bitch,” the guy beside me said, his voice low and gruff. I looked at him, resisting the urge to raise my eyebrows in approval.
He was a good head taller than me, even while sitting down. He had long dark brown hair that reached just past his shoulders and brown eyes with an intense ring of gold encasing the pupils. He had a slight dusting of facial hair across his jaw, as if shaving hadn’t been on his list of priorities. He was clearly in excellent shape, his prominent muscles showcased by the simple black t-shirt he wore.
I drank in his defined forearms, following the entire length of his body. My head kept focusing on the word “defined.” Defined was one way to describe him. I raised my green eyes to his face, pausing on his thick lips and sweeping across his strong features. He looked like a Viking, or even a Barbarian. I had to admit to myself…I was impressed with what I saw, and I didn’t normally like guys who had better hair than me.
He wore a grin as I studied him. His smile suggested that he knew what I was thinking. He extended a large hand, offering it to me. “My name is Jax.” He said confidently.
“Harlow,” I said, shaking his hand while I resisted the urge to smile.
“Pretty name,” he remarked, his white teeth flashing as he smiled at me widely.
“If you two are done talking, I’d like to resume my lecture.” Professor Pedersen’s voice rang out across the lecture hall like a sharp whip, drawing the eyes of my peers back to me.
“Sorry about that,” Jax’s grin was even wider. He waved his hand, motioning for her to continue. The Professor’s lips were pursed in a thin line as she continued on.
It was hard to focus on anything that Professor Pedersen was saying. I knew that Jax was staring at me. The seats in the lecture hall were close to one another, separated by thin armrests. Jax’s arm rested on his armrest, a mere inches away from my arm. I felt the tingles of his nearness. He was electrically charged and my body responded without my permission.
I bit into the inside of my lip, wanting to move away from this stranger that evoked feelings of attraction in me. I didn’t want to be attracted to anybody. I wasn’t ready for anything. I absently touched the necklace at my collarbone again, a nervous gesture I had developed shortly after my relationship with Iain ended.
My heart squeezed painfully at the mere thought of him. Iain Bentley was…well, Iain was a big deal to me…even still.
Iain was my first love. We met in my final year at high school. I still remember the first day I saw him, sitting at his desk. His dirty blonde hair and Caribbean blue eyes would stay etched in my mind, probably forever. Our relationship was a whirlwind affair. I fell quickly and hard for him, but our relationship was doomed from the start.
Iain Bentley was my twelfth grade English teacher.
I know what you’re thinking; he took advantage of me. He was deeply disturbed to even consider a relationship with a student. It wasn’t like that. Life isn’t black or white. It’s complicated, it’s messy, and it doesn’t always fit into perfect little categories of right and wrong.
My final year of high school was dramatic and traumatic. I met Jenna then. I befriended her after a power-hungry son of the town’s Chief of Police sexually assaulted her. In fact, I tried to stop it from happening. When it was clear I was too late, I stepped into the role of best friend and helped Jenna seek justice from her attacker, which she got eventually. Thanks to my testimony, Andrew Cooper and his father faced legal repercussions for their actions. Andrew Cooper got a slap on the wrist. He was sentenced to community service, however there was a smear on his permanent record.
Carl Cooper, on the other hand, was serving time for dirty work. He covered up his son’s illegal actions. Not only that, he had secret dealings with some of the big drug dealers in town. When I exposed Chief Cooper for his part in keeping the law from touching Andrew, I exposed him in all his wrong doings. He was going to spend a long time in prison.
As if having her innocence stole from her when Andrew raped her wasn’t enough, Jenna ended up pregnant…like some kind of horrible Lifetime movie. I helped Jenna throughout her entire pregnancy until she gave birth.
And Iain…he was my rock through it all. Jenna’s sexual assault brought up tormented memories of my own past. If it weren’t for Iain…well, I probably would have returned to a dark and scary place. Iain was the one who suggested the idea of adoption to me for Jenna. She couldn’t stand the idea of an abortion, but struggled with the idea of raising a child conceived by sexual assault.
Unfortunately, just after the trial of Jenna Burke vs. Andrew Cooper, photos of Iain and I together surfaced. Iain was charged with sexual exploitation of a minor, and had to serve one year in jail. Locals were outraged that one year was all he got. I was naive and optimistic that after that year he would find me again.
He hadn’t. I hadn’t heard a word from him in the last two years. Not a whisper.
I missed him more than anything. I missed our conversations in his worn kitchen. I missed the way he kissed me. I missed how he knew exactly what I needed when I needed it, and often before I knew I needed it.
“So…are you just going to sit here all day then?” Jax’s voice rumbled, rousing me from my reverie. Startled, I looked around, noticing for the first time that the lecture hall was almost completely empty. I looked back at Jax. He was standing up, looking down at me with a delectable smile on his lips. I cleared my throat, forcing a smile, and all but jumped out of my chair.
“Nice meeting you,” I said over my shoulder, weaving my way through the lingering students at the top of the aisle.
I didn’t necessarily run away, but I wasn’t exactly walking either. I pushed opened the doors to the lecture hall, carefully avoiding catching the eye of the professor that didn’t seem to like me much.
I had three more classes that day before my shift at The Bean, and I couldn’t concentrate in any of them. I was thankful that it was the first day of a new semester. Most professors weren’t expecting us to focus, except Professor Pedersen, it would seem.
With fifteen minutes to spare, I made it back to The Bean, sneaking in the back to toss my uniform on and wrap my long dark hair in a sock bun. Mark greeted me with a cheerful hello, his hands completely covered in flour from preparing dough for the next days bread. Jamie was in the office, finishing up on inventory. I peeked my head inside while I tossed on my hairnet. “I’m here.”
“Good,” Jamie grinned. “I’ve been dying to ask you…your pretty little friend, she has the hots for our Lucas, doesn’t she?” he leaned back in his desk chair leisurely.
“Yes, she does,” I shrugged. “I guess she likes Harry Potter more than I thought.” I added, shrugging at him before I closed his office door to the sound of his laughter.
I joined Lucas out front. There were a few customers in line, but we handled them quickly. We had about ten minutes before the next rush of students came in. In an hour, Lucas was off and it would be just me manning the front. Jamie and Mark were heading out at five, and I would close up the shop at 9:00p.m. by myself.
“So, how was your day?” I asked, my lips in a thin line as I resisted the urge to smile at Lucas’ bewildered expression. I didn’t normally start conversation with anybody. Jamie was always able to get me to talk, although it had taken him a year, but I certainly wasn’t friendly with Lucas.
He looked around, then pointed at his chest and mouthed ‘me?’, as if he couldn’t believe that I was actually talking to him about non-work related things. I rolled my eyes, irritated. This was exactly why I didn’t make a habit of talking to people.
“Okay, I’m just going to cut to the chase,” I said, frowning. “My friend, the blond one? She thinks you’re cute. Jamie noticed and he’ll probably harass you into finding your balls and asking her out. You’ve been warned.”
“The hot one?” Lucas’ expression was even more bewildered. His eyes widened slightly, as if this information was new to him.
“Are you blind? Yes,” I rolled my eyes dramatically. A huge smile broke out on Lucas’ face.
“Huh, well go figure,” he said thoughtfully.
“Excuse me,” a voice that sounded vaguely familiar broke up the little pow-wow session Lucas and I were having by the coffee maker. Lucas chose that moment to go in the back to grab more coffee cups, leaving me to man the till. I turned my head, seeing the tall, dark and handsome guy from my Psychology lecture waiting in front of the cash.
“Oh, it’s you again,” I exhaled, approaching the cash. My lips curved in a small smile, in response to the infectious grin on his face.
“Yes, me again,” he said, his eyes lingering on my face for a moment. I arched my eyebrow, alerting him that he was staring. He cleared his throat, shaking his head slightly. “Can I get a large coffee please?”
“Yes,” I rang his order in, careful to avoid meeting his eyes. I wanted to look at him, and I found that a little…alarming. My body’s reaction to just sitting beside him was a warning itself. I wasn’t ready for anything and I didn’t want anything. I want Iain, I thought stubbornly, but my body ignored me, tingling with anticipation and excitement.
Jax held out his money, forcing me to reach a little further than necessary. My eyes met his. I was again struck by the gold rim around his pupils. The startling colour faded to a gentle brown, but it was still unlike anything I’d ever seen before. His eyes were captivating and mysterious.
He held onto the money, looking down briefly at my right forearm, at the tattoo of a quill and inkpot I’d gotten shortly before beginning 12th grade. “Love the tattoo,” he said, his eyes slowly roaming back up to my face.
I snatched the cash a little too roughly from his large hand, feeling vulnerable and exposed with his intense gaze upon my face. I handed him back his change, my mouth in a thin line. “Your coffee will be ready to the left of the cash,” I told him, motioning with my head for him to move on.
“See you around,” Jax said with a wink.
I glared at his retreating back. He looked muscular he even from behind. This guy oozed sexual appeal in the most annoying way. I was left reeling and feeling guilty from our brief encounter.
“Oh my word,” Jamie sighed, fanning himself and blinking dramatically. “Who was that!” My brows furrowed. I didn’t notice when Jamie approached; Jax distracted me.
“Some guy,” I muttered, busying myself with wiping down the already spotless counter.
“I could practically taste the sexual tension rolling off you two. Snag that up honey, and hang on tight,” Jamie winked. I rolled my eyes, trying not to let Jamie’s comment get to me. Jamie predicted sexual tension at least a hundred times a day.
Lucas left at four, then Mark and Jamie left at five, leaving me alone to manage the store until our close at 9:00pm.
Although I adored my bosses and tolerated Lucas, I preferred closing the store alone. It wasn’t a difficult job, and I enjoyed watching the majority of the customers. They were pretentious University types who thought they were rare intellectuals. Watching them interact with each other was amusing.
Closing the store was simple. I closed the cash register and deposited the money into the safe in Jamie’s office. I powered down all the machines, made sure everything that needed to be kept cool was in the refrigerator, threw out what food hadn’t sold or took it home, because Mark’s baked goods were too good to resist. After that, I scrubbed down every surface until it shined. Finally, I activated the alarm and locked up. It took about an hour to ensure everything was done. After that, my walk home was quick.
I was never fond of walking around at night, and my past hadn’t exactly eased my anxieties about it. But I also knew how to defend myself, or at the very least, how to run fast and scream. I carried pepper spray with me and made sure I walked down the brightly lit portion of the street. My heart still pounded in my chest any time I passed an unfamiliar person, but I made it home safely. I unlocked my apartment door and was greeted by the delicious scent of Chinese take-out. My mouth started watering in response to the assault on my nose.
“Oh my God, that smells amazing,” I said, practically drooling as I kicked my shoes off and made my way over to the island that separated our kitchen from the open concept living room. Several boxes from our favourite Chinese take-out spot were laid out, along with two plates. Jenna was leaning into the refrigerator, searching for something to drink.
Neither one of us was big on cooking. We lived off take-out and frozen dinners, which explained why I’d gained a couple of pounds. Every once in a while, one of us would go on a health kick and try to cook healthy for a while. It typically lasted a week, if that.
“You’re just in time,” Jenna told me, closing the refrigerator with two bottles of water in her hand. “The guy just delivered it.”
My stomach rumbled, reminding me that I’d skipped out on almost all of my meals the whole day. I snagged a plate and started filling it with the delectable goodies from the stark white cartons. Jenna followed suit. We didn’t have a kitchen table, so we made our way over to our second hand couch and set our plates down on the coffee table.
“I’m so hungry,” I whined, practically moaning as I shoveled a hot spoonful of Chow Mein.
“You should probably stop forgetting to eat,” Jenna commented, eyeing me judgmentally as I scarfed down another bite. “Unless you want to ward off any potential love interests with your Neanderthal table manners.”
I snorted, nearly choking on the mouthful I’d been trying to swallow. I grabbed the water bottle, drinking back to help move the clump of food down my esophagus. “Funny girl,” I muttered.
Jenna smirked, pleased with herself. She grabbed the remote off of the coffee table and started flicking through the channels, looking for something to watch. She settled on reruns of Jersey Shore.
“Will you ever get tired of watching that?” I grumbled, irritated at her choice. I wrestled the remote off her, choosing an episode of The Simpsons to watch instead. At least re-runs of The Simpsons were slightly more tolerable.
“Old habits die hard,” Jenna remarked, looking at my collarbone where the silver necklace Iain had given me still rested.
“I know,” I sighed, rolling my eyes. She was right, of course. The mention of Iain prompted my thoughts to drift. This time…it wasn’t Iain’s face I pictured.
“What’s with that look?” Jenna inquired, taking a bite of an egg roll. She chewed, staring at me as she waited for me to explain.
Jenna and I had grown extremely close over the last several years. We were best friends, practically sisters. She tolerated my dark and brooding moods, and I tolerated her spells as well. Jenna, as happy and bubbly as she naturally was, still had her moments of falling into a deep depression.
Every once in a while, Jenna would think about the little baby girl she gave up for adoption. I knew it was the hardest decision she had ever made, and would remain the hardest decision she would ever have to make. Jenna’s virginity was ripped from her. Prior to being raped by Andrew Cooper, she’d been a virgin, hoping to save herself until marriage…or, at least until she found someone she really cared about. The first time she’d ever gotten pregnant, and it was with the guy who raped her. I could fully understand her moments of deep depression.
Jenna and I bonded over our similar experiences. My first time wasn’t the storybook picture of perfection either. I (like Jenna) also had my virginity stolen from me as if I’d had no right to it to begin with. I went to a party with my boyfriend at the time, to celebrate his win in a silly little high school basketball game. Things were new with Cole, and I tended to go along with whatever he said. I never expected him to slip a roofie into my drink, nor did I expect him and his basketball buddies on the team to take turns raping me.
I kept silent about the gang rape out of shame and embarrassment. I didn’t report it to anybody. In fact, I barely told anybody about it. Shortly after the incident, I switched schools and met a girl named Lauren. She quickly became my best friend, and for the longest time, she’d been the only one who knew what really happened that night. The rest of my peers thought I was just a whore.
My friendship with Lauren was intense. Lauren had a taste for trouble, and I tended to go along with her absurd plans. Lauren had a way of making things sound like a good idea. At the time, I was rebelling a lot and trying to overcome what happened to me at my old school. I wanted to forget. Lauren’s plans always seemed fun. She had a way of getting me to forget about all the crap from my past and let go. It was her zest for life, her hunger to just be that made her who she was.
Lauren introduced me to my second boyfriend, Rhys. He was best friends with her boyfriend, Alex. The two of them worked at a tattoo shop in Toronto. I met Rhys when Lauren and I skipped school one day to get friendship tattoos. The six minimalist black birds in flight across my left collarbone was done by Rhys. It was a painful reminder of a painful past, but also a beautiful tribute to my friend. Lauren had the same piece inked across her right collarbone by Alex.
My relationship with Rhys was one born out of convenience. At the time, it made sense to date him. His best friend was dating my best friend, he was cute, and he hooked me up with free tattoos. He’d done a gorgeous cherry blossom tree that crept up my right ribcage and cupped under my breast. But Rhys and I never connected. He never cared to hear about my day or get to know what happened inside my head. I was convenient to him in the same way he was convenient to me.
Lauren died in a car crash during our eleventh grade year on the way home from a Halloween party we went to with Rhys and Alex. Rhys was driving the vehicle that night and lost control. At the time, he was completely messed up on cocaine. I wish I had known that he was high. My biggest regret is getting into that car that night. I lost the first person I’d ever really felt a true and real connection to and it nearly ruined me. It was a big part of the reason why I’d relocated from Toronto to North Bay. I desperately needed a change, plus my mom had remarried and the guy lived there.
“You gonna tell me?” Jenna asked, still patiently waiting for me to continue. I chewed on my lip thoughtfully. Jenna was always open and honest with me, and while I didn’t exactly enjoy divulging any of the heavy shit that went on in my mind, with her, I tried. She wanted to know and she wanted to be there. I guess that’s what made her different from anyone else I knew. Aside from Iain, she was the only one who knew about my past, and about Lauren.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged, shifting uncomfortably under her intense stare down. “I sort of met someone today.”
“How do you sort of meet someone?” Jenna questioned, her lips curling with a slightly amused smile. I shrugged, choosing to shove another spoonful of food in my mouth instead of answering her. She waited a beat before impatiently rolling her eyes. “Okay, so tell me about this person you sort of met.”
“I don’t know,” I said, my voice muffled with food. “He’s hot, I guess.”
“How hot?” Jenna grinned, loving that I was sharing this rather insignificant detail with her. I was going to just keep it to myself, but I felt the need to hear her opinion about the sudden attraction I’d felt, even though I knew what she would say. I knew she worried about me, and I wanted to give her a reason to let go of some of that worry. Maybe hearing that I’d actually been attracted to someone who wasn’t Iain would help with that.
“Not Harry Potter hot,” I admitted, smirking at her. “But…more like…” I paused, thinking about the different kind of actors I could compare Jax too. “Jason Momoa. But Conan The Barbarian Jason Momoa, not Baywatch.”
“Oh, nice!” Jenna said, nodding with approval. “So, what’s the problem?”
“I don’t know. He just…stood out. He’s hot.”
“This is a big deal,” Jenna declared, looking on at me proudly. “You haven’t been attracted to anybody since Iain!”
“I know,” I gritted my teeth, annoyed at the reminder. I had hoped that she wouldn’t point it out. “But I’m honestly not ready for anything. Not that he asked.”
Truthfully, I was afraid. I’d felt attraction before. I’d definitely felt it with Iain. I knew what it was like to be in lust, and in love. But my track record wasn’t exactly good. Bad things seemed to happen whenever I dated anyone. Take Cole and the basketball team, for example. Then there was Rhys, the very reason why I no longer had Lauren in my life.
Then there was Iain. Two years was a long time to reflect upon one’s choices, and I couldn’t help but see the whole situation from an entirely different perspective, one marred with doubt and insecurity. Iain’s silence since his arrest suggested that maybe he felt the same way I was feeling; wrong about it. When it was happening, it felt so right. Iain awoke things in me that I didn’t know existed. But now…as I stood in the aftermath…I questioned it all. I wasn’t looking at things through rose coloured glasses anymore. I had no doubt that my feelings for Iain were legitimate. I knew were real…but I didn’t know if what we had done was right.
It didn’t help that the psychologist I was seeing at my mother’s request basically told me in more ways than one just how deviant the whole thing had been. It was easy to believe your love was real and raw and perfect when that person was there with you, reminding you just how true it was. But once that person leaves, you start to question things a little more.
I suppose it didn’t matter, Iain’s silence meant that he’d also had time to think. The result wasn’t a desire to be with me. If he had wanted that, I would know by now.
“You just met him, you felt an attraction,” Jenna said wisely, her words coaxing me back to the present. “Don’t read into it any more than that. Take things a day at a time. Just…don’t close yourself off.”
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