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And yes, there were boys. I had an awkward and shy boy ask me out on a date the first week I was there, like Lucinda had surmised. I agreed only because I didn\ want to hurt his feelings. Unfortunately, the date was even more awkward and unmemorable, and Garrett Abbott was crossed off my Potential Boyfriend list. I didn\ think that guy could grow a beard or had it in him to shave that lanky hair of his, which were deal breakers at the time.

My second boyfriend was Jordan. He was in Jaxon\s grade and good friends with him. Jaxon was very unimpressed by this and scowled at me for potentially making it awkward between him and his friend. ’’You know, he asked me if it was okay to ask you out! Why the hell would I have anything to do with it? Now if you guys go down the shitter, he\ll probably stop hanging out with me, Tiny.’’ Tiny. He\d been calling me that since I was twelve, when he\d doubled in size and I was physically tiny next to him.

Although I thought he was overreacting, I didn\ mean to intrude on his friendship, but I certainly didn\ think it was that big of a deal. In fact, Jordan and I were a solid couple for a year and a half. He was my first kiss, my first dance with a boy, and, well, my first ever boyfriend. He was cute, tall, and sometimes funny. Also sported short dark hair, check! He was good at sports and talking to him was easy. I was sad to see him go, but my interest in him died very shortly after he vacationed with his parents the entire summer. Being apart made me realize just how much I didn\ really miss him, and not missing him made me realize that the feelings I\d harboured for him were not very deep. It wasn\ love, and it wasn\ real either. It was just... two teenagers who liked each other.

Jaxon was very amused by my break up, and wasn\ afraid to show it. Actually, to put it more accurately, his reaction was overly joyous than what I would have expected from my supposed best friend. But even at the time, I suppressed the tiny suspicion of why that was.

I stepped back from boys after Jordan and focused on my school work. I also got a part time job as a convenience store cashier. I never let Lucinda know the store was owned by a Jackal, but it was the only place that took my resume and gave me the job. I never had any problems working there, and the Jackal owner was hardly ever around, so it worked out well. I was technically not associating with that gang. Just an employee.

Working and studying kept me occupied and distracted me from futile pastimes like partying and gossiping. I was only making minimum wage, and my hours were quite short, so I wasn\ pocketing a whole lot. Yet I felt good at every cent I earned knowing it was done the right way, unlike some people...

Jaxon, by some grand miracle, graduated from high school along with the others I\d been friends with. It was hard to adjust to not seeing him there - whenever he had been there, anyway. In my eleventh grade year of high school, I\d been bombarded day dot by girls. I didn\ try to fall under some pretence they wanted to actually get to know me;I was sure they could care less. No, now that Jaxon was not sticking out gloriously among the crowd of students in school, they wanted to know all about his whereabouts, and our friendship - very evident by our inseparability throughout the two years I\d been there - was the gateway for them.

I didn\ understand the attraction like them, but that was because I really knew Jaxon. I\d grown up thinking of him as my friend and even so far as to say he was like my family. I knew he was drop dead gorgeous, but our friendship was the forefront of my mind. I needed that kind of stability;he was my rock I could always count on.

But what the girls saw was superficial. On the outside, he had that bad boy image;you know, the mysterious, dangerous boy who doesn\ care about authority, doesn\ care about school and rules, and people... I wished I could understand that naivety, wished I could find my own bad boy to drool over, but having a father who bashed my mom and me around, didn\ have a job, and didn\ care about a damn thing either except for himself, had turned that notion of bad boy into a harsh reality.

There was nothing se*y about a real life bad boy, and that was the awful truth chicks didn\ want to accept. Girls enjoyed the two dimensional man, and Jaxon was not one of those. But would he ever pretend to be for their amusement? He was capable of that. If he sat there in brooding silence for a long enough time, then sure, you could take him as someone who lacked depth or care. He was too much like me in a lot of ways, one way standing out more than others: he never let people in.

So I dodged every girl I came across, further befriended boys who were easy to get along with and kept to myself.

Three

I came home one day from school to find a familiar looking blue beat up car in the parking lot. My feet stalled as I recognized who it belonged to. My heart was all a-flutter, and my anxiety skyrocketed at the realization. I turned myself around and ran to Jaxon\s house.

’’My father\s back,’’ I said to him the second he opened the door.

He was still wearing his pyjamas, his hair in a million different directions, and eyes puffy from a long night of doing whatever illegal bullshit it was that Jaxon did on Sunday nights.

’’What?’’ he said, rubbing his eyes as I pushed passed him and into the house.

I paced the corridor, trying to relieve myself of the sudden busy legs I was experiencing.

’’Did you see him?’’ Jaxon asked.

’’I saw his car in the driveway.’’

’’How do you know it was his for sure-’’

’’Because he\s been calling my mother for the last few weeks,’’ I interrupted in irritation. ’’I told you this.’’

Jaxon didn\ respond immediately. He watched me pace the house leaning back against the wall with his arms folded, studying me.

’’I thought he was gone for good...’’I mumbled to myself. ’’He\s been gone five years...Who does he think he is? And she\ll take him back because that\s all she\s good for... I\ve had it with this crap...’’

Finally, after many restless minutes, I sat down on the red recliner in the living room and stared idly at a spot on the beige carpet. I could feel the well of tears forming in the back of my eyes, but I suppressed their company. Things had been going so well since he left. Even though I had a non-existent mother in my life, the house was an easy roof to live under as long as the bills were paid and there was food.

Jaxon moved to the three seater couch and sat at the end closest to me.

’’You don\ have to go back,’’ he said.

’’What do you mean?’’

He shrugged. ’’Pack your shit and leave. He\s no good. You and I know that. I\m sure Mom will let you stay here.’’

’’And then what? Stay here and do what, Jaxon? Leech off your mother? I can\ do that. There\s no room for me here, anyway. I\d rather move out on my own and make it by without freeloading.’’

’’You\ e not freeloading,’’ he argued, giving me a look of annoyance. ’’I\ve been making good cash on the side, Sara. I contribute here and can float all of us.’’

I shook my head. ’’I can\ do that.’’

’’Why not?’’

’’Well, we\d have to discuss it with your mother first.’’

’’As if Mom won\ say yes,’’ he scoffed.

I couldn\ explain to him exactly why I didn\ want to move in. The real reason was that I was frightened for my mother. Yes, the woman who never showed her maternal love for me in any shape or form still had my unconditional love. My father, on the other hand, did not. He was nasty and cruel, and I fully blamed him for being the reason why my mother was an alcoholic in the first place. At least with him gone she had never been verbally abusive to me. We didn\ fight. Every now and then there were disagreements when it came to money and how it should be spent: main one being forced to take portions of my paycheck to fund her alcohol habit. Still. These were struggles I was able to live with.

My father returning would tip her over the edge again. She would never be conscious or mentally there. He would be his horrible self, manipulating her, arguing with her, beating her...

’’I just can\ ,’’ I told Jaxon, looking away from him.

Jaxon was disappointed, which was ironic since I was always the disappointed one when it came to us. It was funny seeing him take my role. He furrowed his brows, pursed his lips, and stared daggers into me. ’’What if he does something to you?’’

’’Like what?’’ I feigned ignorance knowing full well what he was going to say. He knew all about my father.

’’Like turn his attention to you and hit you?’’

’’But my mom, Jaxon... I can\ just leave her with him.’’

He pondered my words for a few moments, and that was another sight to behold: Jaxon Barlow actually pondering something! He was always the impulsive one with no regard to consequences. There was no indication he even had a moral compass in that brain of his by the amount of crime he was committing. He was beyond skilled at what he did, and only lately was the town really knuckling down on security.

’’Wait right here.’’ I watched him stand up and leave the room. Shortly after, he reappeared and sat down with his hand out. Looking down, I saw a cell phone. ’’Take it. It\s got a month\s credit in there already.’’

’’What?’’ I frowned. ’’Why are you giving me a cell phone?’’

’’So that you can call me in case something happens.’’

’’Who\d you steal it off of?’’ I demanded, disapprovingly.

He rolled his sharp blue eyes. ’’I didn\ . Just take it.’’

’’Yes, you did.’’

’’I promise I didn\ . I fully bought it. I still have the receipt if you don\ believe me.’’ He raised his eyebrows expectantly, motioning with his head for me to take it.

I eyed the phone, quickly realizing it was the latest one of its kind out. I took it from him and turned it on, and took my time scrolling through it. There were no numbers stored, no pictures or videos, or wallpapers for that matter;nothing that indicated it was previously owned. Plus it was in immaculate condition.

’’I\ll give you the charger on the way out,’’ he said.

’’And the receipt,’’ I added, eyeing him suspiciously.

He didn\ respond to that. ’’You\ e almost eighteen and have your first ever cell phone, Sara. You\ e behind on the years.’’

I shrugged. ’’I\m not fussed about the latest greatest gadgets.’’

’’Except a cell phone\s been around for years and years and years...’’

’’Shut up, Jaxon.’’

He laughed lightly and leaned back in his couch, grabbing the remote on his way. He turned on the television and flipped through the channels.

I turned on the phone camera, enamoured for a moment at its high quality. I aimed it around the room and settled on him, zooming the image to his head. I chuckled, taking pictures of his wild, blonde hair. He was one of the few guys I knew that actually pulled off the long haired look. It was usually combed nicely, and sometimes he\d slick it back so that it rested neatly behind his ears. This morning, however, it was in all kinds of directions as if every strand was trying to escape his scalp, and it was downright hilarious.

He looked over at me as I clicked away with a frown on his face, and that frown captured on my phone had me laughing loudly and breathlessly. ’’What are you laughing at, Sara?’’ He was a self-conscious guy, so he smoothed out his hair with his hands and tidied up his crinkly white shirt.

’’Nothing.’’ I set the phone down and feigned ignorance.

He scowled and looked back at the television, scratching a spot on his chest. ’’So has anyone asked you out to prom yet?’’ he asked casually with a hint of a smile on his lips.

It was my turn to scowl. ’’Not yet, but I still have a few weeks to go before I need to worry about that.’’

’’What are you going to do if no one asks you?’’

I shrugged. ’’I\m sure someone will ask me. Doug\s been giving me some interesting looks as of lately. I think he\s trying to find the right moment to ask me out.’’

He raised an eyebrow. ’’Doug? Who the hell is Doug?’’

’’Some guy in my math class.’’

’’What\s his last name?’’

Oh, God. Here comes the interrogation... He was always bugging me about guys. ’’Mackenzie.’’

He sniggered. ’’Are you serious? Doesn\ he look like a weed? F*king seven feet tall, weighing a hundred pounds or some shit?’’

’’He is very tall, but he\s gotten really buff lately.’’

He made a distasteful face. ’’Yeah, okay. Have fun with that one, Tiny.’’

’’Maybe I will.’’ I smiled, leaning back into the recliner. I turned my attention to what he was watching, and found him on a parental controls channel, trying to put in a code. ’’Jax, your mom put a code on this for a reason-’’

’’I\m twenty, Sara. I can watch what I want.’’

’’How do you even know the friggin code? Your mom changes it every week.’’

His eyes shot to mine. ’’How do you know that?’’

I raised an eyebrow in a ’’are you really asking me that’’ look. He knew how close his mom was to me. She told me everything;sometimes too much.

After a few attempts, the dummy actually got it right. I gasped in shock as he smirked and clicked a movie. For a few minutes, I sat and watched a babysitter dressed in a white belly top and tiny skirt scold a boy that looked no older than eighteen.

’’You have to be a good boy,’’ she said, pursing her unnaturally gigantic lips at the boy who happened to be in just his shorts and nothing else, although, he did display a nice set of abs so I wasn\ entirely put off. Why the hell is she babysitting an adult, I idly wondered.


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