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Falling Forwards, Chapter 1

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“That’ll be $12.95.” I handed the clerk a twenty dollar bill. He tossed my newly acquired strawberry chewing gum into my open purse.
“Seriously, Jake,” I said, “when are you going you quit this job? You hate it as much as I do.” Though I ask him the same question every day, and he always gave me the same answer.
“I’ve told you, Alexandra,” he stressed my full name to add a tone of seriousness. “As long as I work, I can put food on the table. Food means survival, and unless you want me to die anytime soon, stop complaining,” he snapped, furrowing his eyebrows in thought. Jake shook his straight, jet-black hair out of his eyes and adjusted his rectangular glasses. “Plus, it’s not like my dad or my sister can make any money. I’ve got to pick up the slack, even when my job isn’t exactly desirable. You know how it is. No one else will want to hire me. Or someone like me.”

“You know that’s not true.”

He scoffed and didn’t reply.
I noticed that his official Davis’ Quick Mart button down shirt was getting a little ratty. A few threads have begun to come loose, probably a result of his attempt to roll up the sleeves to combat the hot, stuffy work environment. His hard, muscular forearms stretched the fabric.
I sighed pointedly, giving up. Jake had to be the smartest kid in the eleventh grade, yet he insisted upon lowering himself to the level of underachievers by working at Davis’ Quick Mart, of all places. It killed me.
“Alright. But one of these days, you’re going to wake up and see that there are plenty of other jobs out there that will suit you just fine. And you’re going to thank me for inspiring you.”
He laughed a short, quick laugh. He handed me my change roughly. “We’ll see about that.” He treated me like a child- a child who couldn’t really understand what it’s like to live in the big world. I hated it. I scowled and rolled my eyes at him, but I could see that, despite his condescending words, he knew I was trying to be a good friend. He also knew how important he was to me. Ever since he’d helped me out of a dark time after my father left, we’d been inseparable, and he’d been my support- my shoulder to lean on even on the s***tiest of days.
The store was pretty quiet today, so I remained next to him for a little bit longer.
“What do you want to do tonight?” I asked, leaning on the conveyor belt and scanning the headlines of one of the brightly colored pop culture magazines.
“I dunno,” he yawned, “the usual.”
“’Kay, then it’s your turn to pick the movie.”
“I don’t want to pick the movie.”
“Come on. It’s not a big deal. I have to get on home and let Buzz out.” Buzz was my hyperactive Samoyed who, if left alone for more than a few hours, had the potential to destroy the entire house with her claws.
He groaned. “Fine, then.”
“Good. I’ll meet you at the cabin, then?”
“Yes, of course,” he says, “but what about Desiree?” he referred to my mother, who was more like a sister, really, than a mom. It was laughable to consider her capable of raising a family.
“She’s out with Brady tonight. We’ve got the house to ourselves.” Desiree had been dating this guy for a grand total of four-and-a-half months, which is pushing an all-time record, as far as my mother’s relationships went. “Is that cool?”
“Sure thing,” he said quietly, smiling his typical half-smile, and I knew then that everything was going to be okay.

A few hours later, I heard a knock on the door. The sound reverberated throughout the entirety of my wooden house, and I thought I see the walls vibrate slightly. Grudgingly, I climbed out of the sunken chair I’d been stuck in to answer it. Jake’s face lit up as he saw me, as if I’d made his whole day just by being here- something he did quite often, actually. I overlooked it.
“Did you get a movie?” I asked after letting him in.
“Yup. It’s called The Heat of Hell.” I gave him a quizzical look. “We haven’t watched a scary movie in forever, Lex,” he explained, smiling guiltily, “so I thought we could watch one tonight-” he caught my expression and stopped.
“I don’t know, Jake,” I said warily, and after a moment, “I’m not really in the mood for a scary movie right now.” Or ever, I added in my head.
“Oh, c’mon,” he punched my arm playfully. “How bad can it be? It’s only rated PG-13. And plus, I’m here in case you get scared.” He proceeded to pull me into his arms in a bear hug. His hard biceps pressed into my cheekbone.
“Mmmf, Jake, lemme go,” I mumbled into his chest. He wasn’t comprehending my legitimate fear.
He buried his face into my hair and laughed softly, holding me against him. “So, you ready?” he challenged. His breath slid down my neck, raising the baby hairs there.
There’s no beating him when he’s dead-set on something.
“Sure, okay,” I sighed dejectedly. “But don’t scare me or anything. I’ll have bad dreams enough without watching this.” He released his hold on me slightly to look at me.
“You’ve been having bad dreams again?” he asked, worried now, his dark brown eyes scrutinizing me.
I didn’t feel like explaining just yet. The whole “bad dreams” thing was a bit of an understatement; they weren’t really dreams, and they were way worse than just bad- but that’s a conversation I’d save for another day. I sent him a weary look.
“Never mind. Forget I said anything,” he said defensively.
I unwound myself from his strong arms and curled up on the pull-out couch that faced the flatscreen. I had stretched it into a bed before he arrived, just as I always did, and stacked up some pillows for us to lean against. This room was by far the most comfortable, and the flatscreen was a pretty recent investment. I stared at the black screen, unblinking, preparing myself mentally for the challenge ahead.
It was challenge because my heart was already beginning to thump unevenly at the thought of Jake and his damnable strong arms sitting next to me, in the dark, for two hours. Especially since he was my best friend, I wasn’t blind the fact that Jake was unbelievably good looking. He’d grown out of his awkward, tall lankiness and carried himself with more confidence and grace than he’d ever had. Most of the people I know would call him arrogant, even, but I knew better. The bad acne of his preteen years had cleared up, leaving his face flawless and smooth. His strong, slightly squared jaw lay under full lips that he bit whenever he was nervous or thoughtful. It was a cute little habit.
Besides noticing his physical changes throughout these three years of our friendship, I grew to know Jake- the insightful, brilliant, caring Jake better than any other person in the world. I knew his likes and dislikes, his pet peeves and his guilty pleasures- and for all those reasons, I was more attracted to him now than I’ve ever been before. So I had to exercise some self control- because as well as I know him, I have no idea how he feels about me. All of his touches, the small reminders of affection that lie on the border between friendship and more did nothing but confuse me.
He popped the DVD into the player and turned the TV on, grabbing the remote on his way to the convertible couch. He swiftly flopped down next to me, our thighs resting against each other, and pulled a blanket from the basket below our feet. He threw it over both of our bodies and pressed Play on the remote.





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