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’’I know how close you and Jaxon are, Sara,’’ she\d said when we were alone one evening. ’’I\ve been there with Jaxon\s father.’’ Lucinda never talked about Jaxon\s father, so this got my attention. ’’We were very much in love, but I was dependent on him, and when he unexpectedly left me, I had to start from scratch. I was four months pregnant with Jaxon with no plans, no education, nothing under my belt to carry me through. It was hard. I trusted him, and he used to tell me how much I was his everything. For him to go against everything I believed in, it was a shock and a heart break that I would do anything to prevent you from ever experiencing.

’’I love Jaxon with every fibre of my being, but he\s going to make mistakes, and I don\ want him to have the power to hurt you like his father hurt me. You need to take care of yourself. You\ e young and you\ e learning, and that combination in a relationship can be toxic. Look after yourself first and foremost, and listen to your head more than your heart.’’

Listen to my head more than my heart? I slept on that thought nestled in Jaxon\s arms. It kept me up most of the night. I wished I knew what happened between Lucinda and Jaxon\s father. What would have caused someone in a loving relationship to just up and go? That would never happen to Jaxon and me. He was so deeply in love with me, wanted me every moment I was around him, it was impossible he would follow in his father\s footsteps. Right?

I fought tears when I realized I was exactly in the same position as his mother. Vulnerable of heart ache, I\d willingly given Jaxon my heart without even thinking of what it might cost me. Stupid, foolish girl! How could I be so naïve? She was right. I was going down the same road she did allowing someone else the complete control of my affections. I couldn\ be that way anymore. I had to preserve a piece of myself in case he did hurt me.

Right before we left, Lucinda gave me a hug that lingered longer than usual. It was as if to say, \In case I don\ see you again, I love you.\ But of course I would see her again. This shift in her pulled on my heart strings and had me gulping back a sob. What was her problem?

Jaxon, oblivious to our chat and to this change in behaviour, gave her a hug, glared at Mark one last time, and jumped into his seat, holding my hand after he started the car and began our journey back to Winthrop. He was a bright star, raining his shine down on my mood and lifting me up to his level, making me forget the sad goodbye Lucinda had given me.

In hindsight, now that I look back on it, that ride home was the start of our tumultuous relationship. It literally began when I opened my mouth and declared, ’’So I\ve been thinking, I get a few nights a week free, and I want to put them to good use. Figured it would be time well spent if I landed a job and started making my own money.’’

I looked over at Jaxon and studied his expression. His eyebrows scrunched together in thought, and then he leaned over and turned off the radio. ’’Can I ask why, babe?’’ I couldn\ decipher his mood in that monotone voice of his.

I shrugged. ’’Well, for one, I think it\ll be good to bring in some more income.’’

’’Is there something you want in particular that you think I can\ afford to get you? I promise, Tiny, whatever it is, I\m sure I can get it.’’

I shook my head. ’’No, Jaxon, there\s nothing I want.’’

Now he was confused. ’’We\ e doing really well. We\ e not struggling financially. My job makes f*k all, but I swear, Sara, I\ve got a lot stashed away from... Well, you know what from. So don\ sweat it.’’

I sighed. This was his way of dropping the subject and getting his way. An unjustifiable anger bubbled in my chest at his nonchalant demeanour. ’’Jaxon,’’ I started again, trying to rid the edge in my tone, ’’I want to get a job for myself. When I said money, I meant that was a perk - you know, getting more income into the bank. But it\s really about me branching off and paving my own way.’’

’’Branching off?’’ He tore his eyes off the road and at me. I saw his eyes widen and a note of panic flicker.

’’Not like that,’’ I hastily said, squeezing his hand tight. ’’I love you more than anything, you know that. What I mean is, I want to contribute and earn my own money and be a little independent.’’

He let go of my hand and raked it through his hair. He was looking more and more uncomfortable by the second, returning his conflicted gaze to the road.

’’Tell me what you\ e thinking,’’ I demanded, irritated by his silence.

’’Give me a second,’’ he muttered, moving into the emergency lane on the side of the busy road.

’’You\ e seriously stopping the car?’’ I rolled my eyes. ’’F*k\s sake, Jaxon, I should have just waited until we were home to bring this shit up.’’

He ignored my irrationally rude comment and turned the car off.

’’Are you gonna talk or what?’’ I exploded, throwing my hands up in the air.

Jaxon, bless his heart, ignored that as well. He turned to me, licking his lips like he did when he was heavy in thought, and said, ’’I know you love me, but I get scared sometimes that this is too good to be true.’’ I rolled my eyes again. ’’You\ e my world, Sara. You always were the most central part of my life.’’ F*k\s sake, just tell me why you\ e upset! I screamed internally.

He sighed and grabbed my hand. As if reading my mind, he said, ’’The reason I\m upset is because I feel like we don\ spend enough time together as it is. I work five days a week from eight til five, and I\m not complaining about that, but the days are long and I get tired, dirty and sweaty as f*k. The guys are great, don\ get me wrong, and the owner loves me, so there\s no pressure there, but all f*king day I count down the minutes until I get to see you. And even when I do come home, sometimes you\ e still at school, and other times you\ e out with Lexi. Again, I\m not complaining, but I value our time together more than anything.

’’I can understand you want to get a job, but then you\ll be gone more days and with your school work and my own work, I just feel like it\ll be stripping the valuable time we could be spending together. Life is only short, and I\ve come to realize that during my apprenticeship. I don\ care about money anymore. I don\ care about making it big or any of those stupid foolish dreams I had when I was a kid. I care about you, and I care about us, and that\s what\s important. I mean, you\ll be working when you get out of Uni, anyway. What\s the rush?’’

What\s the rush? I ripped my hand away from his, cursing under my breath. ’’I can\ believe you\ e playing the guilt trip thing on me, Jaxon!’’

’’Guilt trip?’’

’’Yes, you\ e trying to make me feel guilty, trying to get your way like usual.’’

He stared incredulously at me. ’’I\ve just bared my heart to you, and all you take away from it is me guilt tripping you?’’

’’Because you\ e being ridiculous! Going all emotional on me like I\ve done you wrong when all I want is to get a job! You can\ force me not to, Jaxon!’’

’’You\ e absolutely right. I can\ force you, but Sara, when have I ever forced you to do anything you didn\ want? Come on, baby, you\ e being irrational.’’

’’Don\ tell me I\m being irrational! You\ e the one that decided to get all shitty about this!’’

’’I\m being honest and telling you that I\m upset for-’’

’’For no f*king reason! I\ve had it!’’ I opened the door and stormed out, wading into the long grassy field beside the road.

’’Sara, stop!’’ I heard him yell. Then I felt his hand around my arm and he tugged me to him while all I wanted to do was shove him away and scream. He cradled me into his chest even though I tried to wiggle my way out. ’’Stop fighting me! I didn\ want to argue.’’

’’You\ e the one that decided to argue!’’ I roared into his chest, shaking with an anger that was foreign to me.

’’Alright, alright, I\m sorry. I\m very sorry. You want to get a job, then get a job, baby. You can do that. I shouldn\ have been upset. Alright? Don\ be angry with me. I love you.’’

I felt entitled to that apology, which I would much later on admit was utterly ridiculous.

’’Come back to the car. When we get home, you can do up a resume and everything. Does that sound okay?’’

I heaved a shrug, acting like an insolent child that got her way but didn\ want to show how giddy that made me. I let him lead me back to the car.

The rest of the journey home was in silence with me festering in that unfamiliar anger, and him holding my hand tightly like he was afraid to let go.

Eight

I got what I wanted: a job. It didn\ take me long at all. Lexi recommended me to her boss at the bar she was working as a casual at. She told me he liked young, pretty girls because eye candy was good for business. They had me wearing this annoyingly tight white top with the bar\s name ’’Bar None’’ on it, and matching tiny white shorts.

Waitressing was an entirely new territory for me since all I\d done were cashier jobs. However, after I adjusted to being on my feet so much, I got used to the hustle and bustle that came with the job.

Jaxon tried to be happy about my part time job, but I could see he was torn up about it. I felt frequently guilty for hurting his feelings and leading him to believe I\d rather be working instead of being with him. He just needed to realize I had to do it for myself, even though sometimes I couldn\ understand it either.

Individual independence. That\s what this was. Lucinda\s words echoed into my brain, planted like a seed so deep, it took root and spread, becoming my top priority. I remembered the joy I used to get in high school when I got my pay-check every week. It made me smile and want to pat myself ten million times on the back. I didn\ need Jaxon\s dirty money when I could make my own now without the dirty associated with it.

I worked three nights a week, and while they did interrupt what was once our usual routine, I felt like I was still seeing Jaxon enough that I wasn\ going crazy without him. He took what he could get, waiting up for me when I got home from the bar, which was sometimes in the dead of the night. He never pushed for se*, never argued or complained about my job. He simply cradled me in his arms and listened to me talk.

’’How was Lexi tonight?’’ he asked one time when I\d come home and crashed in bed next to him.

’’She wasn\ in tonight,’’ I answered.

He stiffened next to me. ’’Who dropped you off?’’

’’Stacey. She lives down the street.’’

He sighed. ’’You know you can ask me to pick you up anytime, right?’’

’’I know, Jax, but I feel too guilty making you come out when I know you\ e dog tired.’’

’’I\m never too tired for you.’’ It was the affection in his voice, so genuine with love for me that made me forget about independence sometimes. It reminded me there was an Us, too, and I had to stop with this mad obsession of getting ahead ’’just in case’’.

’’I love you, Jaxon,’’ I softly whispered, turning over so that I was facing him. We were side by side and I could see him clear as day with the moonlight streaming through the window. Sometimes I never paid enough attention to his beauty. He could have any girl he wanted, and yet he was here, in bed with me, dealing with a change in me that would become more and more unpredictable.

’’I love you more than I have ever loved anything in this world, Sara,’’ he whispered back, stroking my cheek with his rough thumb. His hands were calloused and coarse from his job, and feeling the prickly sensation of his skin hit me hard that he was doing all this for me.

He leaned into me and seared my mouth with his full lips, rousing me out of my tired state. I crumbled into his embrace, already breathless over the affect he had on me.

I greedily tore his clothes off and ran my hands up and down his hard chest and solid abdomen. I never grew tired of his body, of him, of this. He reciprocated until we were flesh against flesh.

Although we\d been se*ual over a year and a half, there was still something so new about it. We were still learning what we liked, and we took things very slowly. He was attentive to me in such a way, I\d never been left unfulfilled. In the process, I learned all there was to know about pleasing him.

As I brought my hand lower to cup his length, his hand enveloped mine and stopped me from furthering my objective. He broke away from my mouth and wrapped his arm around me instead, bringing me as close as I could to his side.

’’We don\ have to make it about that,’’ he said, sending feather light strokes down my back. ’’I\m happy just to hold you, Tiny.’’

Sometimes you look at someone and the first thing you see isn\ their physical attributes, but their soul. In moments of seclusion and peaceful contentedness, I saw Jaxon\s soul shining brighter than all the stars in the sky. And like a magnet, I drew nearer to his flame, awaiting for him to ignite me and swallow me into his hopeful world where happiness is made possible with kind words and soft gestures.

Like this moment, for instance. He was content to just hold me to him without seeking his own personal pleasure. His contentedness seeped right into me, and I was smiling dazedly up at him, watching my star shine like no other.

’’What made you want me?’’ Because there are so many other women you could have.

’’You\ e perfection.’’

’’I\m far from perfect.’’

’’Because your idea of perfection is unattainable, Tiny. That\s why you can\ comprehend that you are. But you are. To me, at least. You\ e everything right in this world, and I knew it back before I even understood it. Back when you were being bullied by that red headed bitch.’’


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