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Jackson kicked the oddly circular gray rock in front of him out of his path. Right now, he didn’t want, or need, anything in his way.
His girlfriend, Dahlia, had just broken up with him. Jackson wasn’t exactly sad- they hadn’t been together that long. But he wasn’t happy, either. He settled for simply being detached.
Dahlia, Dahlia, Dahlia, he thought to himself. Perfect Dahlia O’Malley, with her chocolate brown hair, ocean-blue eyes and tiny figure. Dahlia was the epitome of beautiful to Jackson. Every guy he knew felt the same. What Jackson had never expected was Dahlia to think the same about… well, him.
Jackson was tall and lanky. His hair was a dull blond, and his eyes were mud brown. He’d worn the same beaten black Converse hi-tops since eighth grade. Here in sophomore year, Jackson was still shocked they’d held up.
He sighed once more and continued his trek across the high school campus. He thought about what more he and Dahlia didn’t have in common: Dahlia was captain of gymnastics. Jackson couldn’t do a somersault. Dahlia maintained straight A’s. Jackson considered himself lucky to make an A-.
When they had first started going out, everyone had been in shock. Dahlia O’Malley and Jackson Shepherd? Really?
Yeah, well, Jackson growled to himself. Dahlia evidently thinks the same.
Flopping down beside the infamous thirty-foot tall apple tree, Jackson reviewed Dahlia’s parting words.
“I just don’t think this is going to work out,” she’d told him. “We’re too different, you know?”
Oh, I know, Jackson had thought then.
He sighed again and pulled himself out of his reverie by opening his French notebook. He needed to write a short story using six verbs. Jackson knew the quicker he finished, the more time he’d get to spend playing with his dog, Lexy.
Jackson straightened and began to search the campus. For just having been through a break up, he was surprisingly calm. All he really knew was that his levels of inspiration were dead. Zip. Zilch.
He might have spent the next hour searching for a topic to write in French about, had Chrysanthemum Burke not danced across the football field.
Chrysanthemum Burke was the outcast of Jackson’s class. She was tall for a girl- standing around 5’10’’- and had incredibly frizzy black hair that hung around her head wherever it pleased. She wore clothes she had found at thrift stores, ranging from outrageously colored dresses to shockingly patterned suits. Chrysanthemum was avoided by the majority of the populace because no one knew what her story was. And no one really cared to know.
But on that day, feeling low, Jackson was entranced by Chrysanthemum’s leaps and spins across the desolate field. He watched her spin around in circles, her ankle length dress colored with tangerine oranges and kiwi greens. Jackson blinked. Why am I using fruit names? He wondered.
He was so involved in his thoughts, he didn’t notice Chrysanthemum change her course and skip lightly to him, abandoning her fluid dance. By the time he had noticed, he was staring down at her very bare feet, the toenails painted a shimmery silver.
“Hello there,” she smiled down on Jackson.
He blinked. Several times. “Hi.”
She took that as an invitation to flop down beside him on the green grass. She appraised his blank notebook page with wide eyes.
“Need help?” She questioned.
“Um, no,” Jackson fidgeted nervously. “I’m fine, thanks.”
“You sure?” Chrysanthemum’s eyes widened even more. Good Golly, Jackson thought, her eyes are huge. And emerald green…
“Is that for French class?” She interrupted. Jackson froze and stared.
“How do you know that?” He demanded. He searched through his brains for some nugget of information… Chrysanthemum Burke wasn’t stalking him, was she?
Her eyes narrowed slightly. “I’m in your French class, Pierre.”
Jackson blushed at hearing his French name. Right. He could dimly recall noticing Chrysanthemum sitting in the far left corner of the French room. Huh.
“Write about a day in the park,” she randomly suggested. “You can use promener, faire, manger, nager, sortir and aimer.”
Jackson blinked at her easy suggestion. Why hadn’t he thought of that?
“No, no, no,” Chrysanthemum interrupted him. “Please call me Chrissy.”
“Okay,” Jackson replied, still feeling unsure.
“Here,” Chrissy pulled out her own notebook. “I’ll even help you.”
The next few weeks passed shocking smoothly for Jackson. People learned about his break up with Dahlia and moved on. His friends welcomed him back into the fold (he’d spent a vast majority of his time in the past weeks with Dahlia). School continued, life continued.
One thing had changed though.
Chrysanthemum Burke had inexplicably become Jackson’s best friend. They spent every day hanging out after school, going to a variety of places that included thrift stores (her choice) and the park with Lexy (Jackson’s). Chrissy, Jackson learned, was actually one of the funniest and smartest people he’d ever met. She could also play the flute and paint Monet-style pieces of artwork. And somehow, hanging out with Chrissy made him realize there were some unique things about himself.
For one, he could communicate with dogs like no one else could. All the dogs they ran into flocked to Jackson, licked Jackson and generally liked being around Jackson. Chrissy claimed it was due to his charisma. Jackson wasn’t sure, but the fact he seemed to have charisma made it all good.
There was only one bad thing about being Chrysanthemum’s best friend- the sudden shunning Jackson experienced. Everyone saw him and Chrissy hanging out and realized Jackson was falling, from his upswing in popularity with Dahlia, down to the depths with Chrissy. Jackson hated the constant teasing Chrissy endured everyday. He wanted to stand up for her, but her neutral expression deterred him. And also, Chrissy told him she was “fine” with it. Truth be told, Jackson didn’t really want to mess with the guys who picked on her.
But even with that, Jackson couldn’t help but wonder how he had never talked to Chrissy before she helped him with his French homework.
“Dude, what’s the deal with you and that Chrysanthemum girl?” Tristan Webber asked Jackson one day before lunch. Jackson and Tristan had been relatively close friends since kindergarten, and Jackson had considered him his closest friend- before Chrissy came along.
“What do you mean?” Jackson asked, eyes still on the math paper before him.
“You’re spending all your time with her!” Tristan exclaimed. “Seriously. You haven’t been this hung up on a girl since Dahlia. Four weeks ago.”
“Chrissy? I’m not hung up on her!” Jackson snapped.
Tristan started laughing. Jackson stared.
“Yeah, dude, you are,” he chuckled. “Think about it.”
Jackson sighed and began to think it over. Okay, Chrissy was his best friend. Okay, he did spend all his time with her. Okay, he preferred her more than anyone else. Okay, he hadn’t thought about Dahlia or any other girl in that way since he’d met her…
Tristan was right.
After school, Jackson ran to the apple tree. And as usual, Chrissy was standing under it, waiting for him.
He saw her look up and watch him, her face expressionless as he sprinted to her side. He watched her expression remain tranquil as he skidded to a stop in front of her.
Jackson, feeling quite light (and realizing what he’d known the moment he met Chrysanthemum Burke under the tree for the first time) reached out and took her hand, bedecked with gold bangles and silver rings.
“Chrissy…” He smiled down at his best friend, the girl he’d fallen in love with.
Chrysanthemum smiled back at Jackson, and his heart lifted with excitement. She smirked back at him.
“It’s about time.”