|Winter Pays For Summer
Author: StreetSerenade PM
Expectations. How they're met, how they're not, and how sometimes one needs to just let go of them.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Chapters: 8 - Words: 67,742 - Reviews: 10 - Favs: 7 - Updated: 06-05-09 - Published: 05-12-09 - Status: Complete - id: 5058388
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Winter Pays For Summer
Disclaimer: Don't own the show or the characters, yadda, yadda.
A/N: First off, big thanks to Teri, Ava and White Lily Blossom for the input into various parts of the story. It helped me work out the kinks(which there's still plenty of). Secondly, imaginary readers, I apologize for the length of this. I went through about three break-ups(with the same person) while writing this, so be gentle with me. I still think this story is all over the place and makes no sense whatsoever, but I'm just ready to dust my hands off and let it be. :o) And here we go...
It had been ten years since the six of them had all stood in the middle of town saying their goodbyes that very first summer. And here they were once again, a little bit older, a little bit wiser, in the same town, on the same street, under the same lampposts in the tiny town square, ready to begin the procession of departures one more time. If sidewalks could talk.
They had gathered for a single weekend and despite the tantrums and awkwardness that had occured throughout, as they stood in the dusk on Sunday evening they all looked somewhat saddened to put an end to it all, but at the same time it was clear they were more than ready to go back to their own worlds. All of them had come to participate in a gathering for their own reasons, with their own expectations on the line. Within the past few days some had come to meet theirs, some had also come to exceed them, while others had since decided to let go of them entirely.
Friday, Three Days Earlier
Hamilton hated hotel rooms. There was rarely an occasion where he needed to check into one, but when he did he never felt completely relaxed. In a way they reminded him of the anonymous Rawley dorms in that the majority of them were identical and overall unexpressive. He was disappointed to note that the door to the room he found himself within on this particular morning definitely did not face east. Of course it was pretty easy to overlook details like that when he had Jake sleeping on the other side of the bed, inches away.
They had spent the better half of the previous day on the road, but come evening fatigue convinced both of them to check into a small inn just outside of town. Now as he laid about, he concluded they were roughly an hour away from their destination: New Rawley. Thankfully they weren't due to meet up with a few townies from their past until later in the afternoon. In the meantime though he was keen to make the most of what little time they had left.
He turned onto his side and snuggled up behind her, yet when she moaned ''Mmm, Ryder'' he was quick to move away and sit up.
''Are you awake?'' he asked, eyes widened. ''Because that better have been a joke, and if it was it's not funny.''
She turned over in order to face him and give him a lazy smile. ''Why so easily offended? I was messing with your head...dude.''
He laughed with relief and decided to play along. ''I'm not sure if I believe you.''
''And anyway, why would I ever dream of Ryder? You're far prettier, you know that.''
The remark didn't sting him so much since she sat up and kissed him good morning in the next breath. He took the opportunity to plop himself back onto the mattress and pull her down with him, allowing her body to hover over his. His vantage point gave him a chance to study the young woman in front of him. The delicate features he'd become accustomed to through the past few years, how they always seemed to render him speechless despite his familiarity with each and every one of them. The small, feminine nose, the lips he often claimed with his own, even the goofy ears which she tried to hide with her hair once it had finally grown back out. He took a strand of it between his fingertips, contemplating the length just barely reaching her shoulders.
''Don't get any ideas, Fleming,'' she said from above. ''We still haven't taken a shower.''
''Is that an invitation? I mean, have you seen the statistics of how many people injure themselves stepping in and out of the tub each year? It's staggering. But I'm willing to be there - strictly for safety purposes - of course.''
''How selfless of you.''
''It's who I am,'' he said innocently.
She dipped her head to lay a single kiss on his bare shoulder before disentangling herself from his grasp and stepping off the bed. ''Tell you what, I'm going to shower. You try to pack up our stuff in the meantime though, okay? And seeing as how you're so adamant I promise that sometime this weekend me and you will find some...us time.''
He grinned, pleased with the arrangement.
''Because I have a sneaking suspicion I'll never get you out of bed if we start now,'' she added.
''Okay,'' he sighed wearily, feigning sadness and waving her away. ''Leave me if you must.''
She gathered a stack of clothing already placed on top of the dresser and made her way to the connecting bathroom, though not before taking his hand briefly as she passed him on the bed. A small gesture to cement her promise.
Once she was out of the room he crawled out of the bundle of sheets, rose off of the mattress and took to the task at hand: packing up their various belongings that they had left scattered throughout the room the night before. His camera on the nightstand, Jake's iPod on the dresser, a few discarded items of clothing lying on the floor. He tucked them all away securely in the single, large piece of luggage. They didn't normally travel on Jake's bike and they knew doing so would limit them to carrying one bag, but she was adamant that since they tended to walk or take the subway everywhere in the city, it would be fun to take her bike out.
He glanced at the bathroom door again when he heard the water turn on. He never got tired of that. Just listening to her shower made him grin, and he had been doing a lot of that recently.
She had never been able to continue her schooling at Rawley and he wasn't sure what they carried on back then could even be considered a relationship since every few months the weight of the distance would become too much resulting in some kind of disagreement, some kind of clash, some kind of break from each other. The longest one occurred just before senior year and continued on for a few years and well into college.
She still wanted to be friends she had said and while a stronger person might have been able to sustain a friendship, Hamilton knew his weakness. He could never not want her, a fact which he was certain he'd never be able to hide, which is why, after some hesitation, he let her go without a fight. It had been unbearable in the beginning, not being able to hear her voice on the other side of the telephone, having to remind himself that she wouldn't be visiting him the upcoming weekend.
And then one chilly November evening he found himself resorting to one of his old habits, climbing out of a second story windowsill to sit on a ledge. His then roommate had thought him crazy, but Hamilton paid him no mind. Sitting up there in the cold, looking out at the overcast sky of New Rawley, it gave him an entirely different feeling than it had when he was under the sun. It was then and there he had come to the conclusion that Jake was somewhere out in the world living and breathing without him and the ache he felt inside would only subside once he learned to live and breath without her. As he climbed back into his dorm room he set out to do just that; get on with his life.
During the time apart he got on with his studies, finished university, made several small but noticeable waves in the world of photography and even chit-chatted his way through a handful of dates. By his early twenties he found that life without Jake wasn't impossible. It was manageable, doable, completely livable, but also, somehow, void of something. He didn't dwell on the fact much, until three years ago when out of the blue he got a call from one Monica Pratt; his heart skipped a beat as thoughts of her daughter gave way.
The older woman had expressed her need for a photographer with a youthful edge to produce something unique for her forthcoming biography about herself and her stage career and he was more than willing to agree to a meeting. A few days later he had brought his portfolio to her apartment in the city where they discussed how and where she wanted to be photographed. She had been charming as ever and when all was said and done he had accepted the job offer, eager for the experience, anxious to be involved in such a high profile project.
But none of those feelings could compare to what rushed through him when Jake walked into the apartment with what looked like a newly purchased laptop in tow, announcing ''next time you have trouble signing into your email account how about not throwing your coffee at the screen, huh, Mom?''. She stopped short in recognition but quickly recovered as both he and Monica stood to greet her. Her mother thanked her for picking her up a replacement laptop with a peck on the cheek. Then fortunately for him Monica politely put a halt to the meeting in order to prepare for her dinner date for the evening. With that she glided out of the room and before he knew it he and Jake were left to exchange awkward pleasantries. The pleasantries led to coffee, and coffee to dinner and dinner to her doorstep.
''Do people still call you Jake?'' he had asked at the end of the evening as they arrived in front of her building.
''Not really,'' she admitted with a shrug, ''Bella and Will still do; I talk to them occasionally. Everyone else pretty much just uses Jacqueline. It wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that it sounds so, you know, WASPy.''
''You're telling me. I have to live with Hamilton Fleming for the rest of my life,'' he grumbled playfully.
''Tragic,'' she quipped.
He felt like falling over. He had forgotten how beautiful she was. How funny she was, how adorably awkward she was. When she leaned in and gave him a hug he was more than happy to accept it even though he knew that it meant the night was coming to an end.
''I'm sorry,'' she said quietly as her chin rested on his shoulder.
''Sorry for what?'' he had asked, slowly pulling away.
''For how it ended between us. It was ages ago, I know, but...I probably shouldn't have ran when I did, like I did.''
He bit his bottom lip, but still found himself asking, ''Why did you run?''
''To tell you the truth...I don't know,'' she began uncertainly, ''I mean, what seemed like a really good reason at seventeen doesn't seem like one at twenty-two. I'm not trying to make excuses or skirt around the question, it's just...anything I say now probably wouldn't cut it. I probably wouldn't make much sense.''
''Yeah, but since when have you ever made any kind of sense?''
''True,'' she said, amused. ''My point is, though, I'm sorry.''
''It was fun, though, right?'' he had asked, needing to at least know that it had been as much of a memorable experience for her as it had been for him. ''... cause as weird and crazy as it was, it was one of the most amazing things that's ever happened to me. Even though it ended, I still think that. And,'' he paused to look up at the many windows of her apartment building, ''I'm sure you probably have some guy waiting up there for you to walk in the door. That should hurt me, it does hurt me, but I hope you have that and if you don't I hope you find it. Because...you're something else, Jake.''
He watched the muscles around her mouth twitch until they formed a smile. ''Ditto,'' she replied then.
It was amazing to him, how one single trite little word could make him fall all over again. And while her doorstep didn't exactly lead to her bed that night, it had opened a door to something. Something that had eventually led him here, to some Carson hotel room as she showered nearby.
He dug further into the bag, reaching for the hidden compartment inside and pulling out a small black box. Careful to keep his back to the bathroom door he quietly re-examined the contents. The ring. The one he found himself continually studying for the last several weeks. A small, plain, simple band.
Hamilton smiled down at it before quickly securing it away into a pocket of the jeans which he had picked out for the day, figuring it was safer to carry it on himself for fear she'd come across it if it were left in the luggage. He then plopped back onto the bed and looked up at the ceiling as he listened to her shower, grinning from ear to ear the entire time.
''Okay, here's a good one. Angelina Jolie or Giselle Bunchen?'' asked Will from behind the wheel of Scout's vehicle.
''Um, Giselle, I guess,'' said Scout with little enthusiasm.
Together they traveled the outskirts of New Rawley as they took part in a very old game Will had decided to resurrect moments earlier. Scout wasn't in the mood for it, but then again, he doubted he'd be in the mood for much of the weekend. After all, it had been Will's idea to arrange the little reunion of sorts that was due to take place later that day.
After high school graduation they had attended the same university, after which they both ended up in Boston. Scout had entered the ad world quite easily, while Will took a different route, adamant that his place was in the literary world. He had always been the dreamer, yet after receiving a string of rejection letters from publishing agencies which expressed little or no interest in his work he had been left feeling uninspired.
When Will said he was considering a weekend away to clear his head, Scout chimed in with support. But then his friend went about planning a weekend in New Rawley and thought it fitting to gather a few friends, hoping their company, along with memories of New Rawley, would inspire him and spark a flicker of creativity. He had even sent print outs of his unpublished novel to each of them with notes attached, telling them of how he looked forward to seeing them and hearing their thoughts.
Will had apparently kept in contact through email with Jake and Hamilton on occasion and was pleased that it took very little effort to get the couple to rearrange their schedules in order to join the gathering. With Bella and Sean still residing in New Rawley, the odd one out had been Scout, who hadn't been as keen on the idea to revisit his youth.
He still wasn't keen on the idea.
''You want to stop somewhere and grab a bite to eat?'' Will asked as he carefully switched gears at his side.
Scout responded by reclining his seat back and placing a stack of papers, Will's manuscript, over his chest. ''I appreciate what you're trying to do, Will, really. I get it; male-bonding. But I'm just ready to get this weekend over with.''
''Oh, come on.''
''Hey, if you recall I didn't want to come in the first place. The last thing I wanted was to be surrounded by Happy Couples for two, three days straight.''
''Oh, and you think I'm not a little bummed to show up with no one on my arm? But this trip isn't about that, it's about us catching up, having fun. I know every once and awhile a few of us see each other, but this time we're all going to be here.'' Will explained to his friend, then softened. ''You haven't seen Hamilton since high school graduation. Hell, you probably haven't even seen Jake since that one summer session-''
''It's not them I'm uneasy about seeing,'' sighed Scout.
And that's what it came down to. Sadly Scout thought that's what it would always come down to. Bella.
When the truth about their respective parentage finally came to light shortly after her family regained control over the garage Scout had assumed that they would finally make a go of it, that all of his intense longing hadn't been for nothing. Unfortunately, while he had been longing, she had been learning how to move on. For the remainder of his time at Rawley he secretly pined for her, attempting to be 'just a friend' all the while he was waiting in the wings in the hope that one day, somehow, he'd be presented with an opportunity to make more of it.
That day never came and it was during their last conversation that he realized it might never come. It had taken place the night of his high school graduation ceremony from Rawley in 2003. Hamilton had been in poor spirits before, during and after the event for some reason, Scout remembered. Will and Sean thought they'd cheer him up with a few celebratory six packs they had scored. Scout, though, didn't take part in their small gathering. Mostly because he always tried to avoid Sean, but also because he knew it'd allow him a few moments, a few hours alone with Bella.
When the guys went off to console Hamilton he had managed to sneak away from his parents to walk Bella back into town. They chit-chatted, talked of the future, of her plans to attend a local college, of his acceptance into an Ivy League university. He was just killing time until they arrived in front of her garage. And it was there where he had laid himself out to her one last time, and one last time she had to tearfully decline his affection. He left town with Will the next day, wounded.
He hadn't thought it possible to hurt anymore than he already did, but some years later when Will let it slip that Bella and Sean were engaged to be married, he discovered a whole new side of hurt. He was never more convinced that it had been love simply for the fact that he had never experienced anything as painful. After that he had asked Will to respectfully never speak of Bella or her life to him again. Will hesitantly obliged and had been doing so for the past several years.
But now Scout was readying himself to see her again and quite frankly he felt car sick.
''I know it's going to be a little strange to see Bella and Sean, but it's been awhile,'' Will resumed the conversation. ''I'm just saying it's time to move on.''
''You don't think I have?'' Scout asked. ''This time last year I was engaged, okay. I had this beautiful, bright girl ready and willing to walk down the aisle with me. That's moving on.''
''She was ready and willing, yes. You, on the other hand, were anything but. And it isn't exactly moving on when you never even get to the alter.''
Scout opened his mouth, ready to launch his defensive, but instead went silent, neither confirming nor denying Will's observation, only adding, ''My life is content.''
''Life should be so much more than just content though. I think getting away from your life for a few days will be good for you. It'll give you some time to put things in perspective.'' Will then looked to the bundle of computer paper which Scout was using to shield his face from the sun. ''So how far along are you on my book?''
''Ummm.'' Scout made a long, drawn out thoughtful noise, trying to stall.
''Because you've been reading it for the last couple of hours. I'm not expecting a thesis, but what do you think about it so far?'' he asked, hopeful.
''I should probably finish reading it before I give you my take. You know, a fully formed opinion.''
Will nodded and kept his eyes on the road. Scout, though, brought his eyes back down to the pile of text in front of him and tried desperately not to fall asleep.
Elsewhere Bella was peering under the hood of a truck when she heard the rumble of a motorcycle near her gas station. She smiled as she backed away from the vehicle and began wiping her hands on a nearby rag, trying to tidy herself up as best she could, dressed modestly in jeans and an oil-splattered tee. The bike came to a stop at the side of the station and she watched two people dismount and discard their helmets.
''Next time I say we flip a coin for the front seat of the bike,'' the taller figure suggested to his counterpart.
''Whatever you want, Princess,'' said the female companion.
''Jake, Hamilton.'' Bella waved to the couple who raised their heads in greeting as they made their way towards her.
She saw them once every few months when one or both of them would ride to New Rawley to get standard maintenance done on the bike. While Hamilton mostly used his trips into town to visit his parents, Jake tended to use hers as an excuse for a girl's weekend. The two women were different in more ways than they were alike, yet Bella felt most comfortable in her mechanic jumpsuit; Jake regarded her bike as if it was her firstborn child. Neither of the young women could be easily labeled or categorized, and it was that shared understanding that they both appreciated. She supposed that was why she and Jake kept in contact, even after the dark haired girl wasn't allowed to return to Rawley Academy.
While all parties had since gone on to form other friendships and bonds independent of the others, each of them made time for the friends of their past. The visits had, of course, become fewer and fewer throughout the years, especially when Jake and Hamilton began settling into their life together in New York, and as Bella herself took on the roles of wife and young mother.
Her relationship with Will had also changed due to distance. The day after his graduation from Rawley he was waving goodbye as he boarded a bus with Scout at his side. As he went about furthering his education outside of their hometown Will emailed, sent cards every holiday and birthday, yet every time Bella tried to put forth the same efforts towards Scout she never managed to get through. She couldn't very well hold it against him, though. She wanted to believe that their friendship could've survived their failed romantic entanglements, but she supposed that maybe, when all was said and done he was simply meant to be a long lost friend. One she was only meant to know briefly, for a season.
She was well aware that on occasion an outsider would look at her quiet existence and promptly deduce that there wasn't much to it, Bella never considered her life to be small or simple. In fact, she had always thought that quiet lives were often the most rewarding.
It was only months ago that Sean had reminded her so when she arrived home late one evening, having just finished a tow job all the way across town. After parking her truck and hopping out she approached the entrance of the station, yet paused when she saw her name glowing in the large, front window of the gas station. 'Bella's Garage' a large, illuminated sign read. She had to blink several times before she realized the image was real and not simply brought on by fatigue.
Sean had walked out then; all smiles as he explained that he had discussed it with her father and they both felt that it was time to retire Charlie's name and sign from the building in order to make way for a new generation to take the reigns and the credit. She had worked so fervently in her youth to keep the business afloat, and it was now, finally, being placed entirely in her hands. To others it may have been just a simple neon gas station sign, but to her it signified so much more. It was the life she wanted. It was fulfillment.
She could only hope that Scout was off somewhere, experiencing his own, but she quickly shook the various thoughts from her head as Hamilton and Jake finally arrived in front of her.
''What's up, townie?'' Hamilton asked.
''May I remind you, Hamilton, that not so long ago you were a townie by default,'' Bella said as she took turns hugging each of them before turning her gaze to the bike parked several yards away. ''Did you get some work on that done? I heard you drive up here, it sounds like-''
''Ah, Bel, you know Jake would never let another mechanic touch her bike,'' Hamilton reassured.
''Even though your prices have inflated dramatically the past year,'' said Jake. ''Whatever happened to the days where you gave stuff away for free?''
''They're gone,'' said Bella as she led them to the front of the station and motioned for them to sit on a bench protected from the sunlight under the carport. ''Once my dad started to slowly step back I saw just how much money it takes to run a business and the freebies dried up.'' She waved towards the pumps, the garage, the building she always called home, her passion. ''But my baby is doing pretty well now. We even got a couple of clerks on the payroll, but I already told you guys this over the phone last week. What about y'all?''
''Same ol', same ol'.'' Jake spoke up. ''I still got the gig with that internet security company.''
Hamilton cackled, ''You used to spend hours hacking for fun, now you make a living preventing little tween techies from doing the very same thing. Such a sell-out, baby.''
Jake turned to Bella, eager to defend herself. ''I'm not a sell-out. Just last month I hacked into MySpace and set every user profile song to Hamilton's favorite old Third Eye Blind tune.''
''What?!'' Bella's eyes widened, impressed.
''A little birthday gift for Ham,'' the dark haired girl explained.
''A very original, thoughtful gift.'' Hamilton conceded happily and glanced admiringly at Jake out of the corner of his eye before sneaking a quick kiss.
Bella couldn't help but be tickled. ''Ham, buddy, you're like a giant puppy when it comes to Jake.''
Jake then looked upwards and tilted her head in mock consideration. ''I did find him chewing on the furniture last week and he does piddle all over the living room if I don't take him out for his evening walk. Plus you don't even want to know what he tried to do to my leg this morning.''
''Ouch,'' Hamilton said loudly, mocking offense and lightly elbowing her in the side.
''Which reminds me,'' Bella announced, ''last week me, Sean and little Matty watched Lady and The Tramp, and it made us think of you guys.''
''Careful, Jake takes issue with being called Lady,'' remarked Hamilton.
''Who said she was Lady, dear?'' asked Bella. ''You're the pretty, pampered bright-eyed Lady and Jake's the tough, wise-cracking, no nonsense Tramp.''
''That may very well be,'' said Jake as she turned the tables on Bella. ''But every time I see you and Sean kiss it's like seeing a life-size version of Barbie and Ken being pressed up against each other by the hands of some giant six year old or something. It's unsettling.''
The three friends shared a laugh until their mirth eventually died down and Bella piped up with an anxious inquiry, ''So, um, have you guys heard if Scout was going to make it out this weekend? I mean I talked to Will and it was unclear so I was wondering...''
The couple shook their heads at her sadly and as if sensing her unease with the answer Hamilton cleared his throat and changed the subject. ''Ah, I forgot, we came bearing gifts.''
''Oh, yeah!'' Jake said loudly, looking quite eager to follow his lead. ''Where's the little one? We got him a something.''
''With Sean, he's out running errands,'' Bella replied as Hamilton pulled out a small, plush teddy bear that appeared to be wearing a mechanic's jumpsuit and presented it to her.
The subject of how one young Matthew Banks came into existence was rarely, if ever, discussed. The couple sitting across from her knew the details of the story, having witnessed the grief it had caused her a few years earlier. It had been an addition to the Banks' family no one had expected, and despite the circumstances that led to it Bella found herself embracing her role as mother in a way she could have never predicted. She was now, finally, coming into her own, taking over the station as Charlie eased into retirement, raising a family with Sean, bravely settling into adulthood.
It was sometime later when Hamilton's mother, Kate, greeted her son at the front door of her home on the Rawley Academy campus. She had been expecting him and after a quick, but warm embrace she waved him into the house.
''Where's Jacqueline?'' she asked.
''She's in town catching up with Bella. They were doing those silly magazine quizzes when I left. 'What Does Your Hairstyle Say About You?' According to the two of them my hair says I'm needy and I smother those closest to me, but whatever. Do we have anything to eat?''
Kate laughed at her son's ability to turn any and every conversation towards the topic of food. She motioned for him to follow her through the foyer and towards the kitchen where she had been preparing a few sandwiches and packing them away into plastic containers.
''Shall I make you one?'' she offered. Hamilton flashed her his pearly whites in response and she began the task at hand.
''So what's all the food here for, and where's dad?'' he asked as he hopped onto the kitchen counter.
''I sent him under the house.''
''Wouldn't a divorce be easier?'' he asked playfully. ''Why is he under the house?''
''Well, summer session ended last week, and it was rather last minute but I finally convinced your father to, um, take a trip with me. A trip we've been needing for awhile now.''
''That sounds nice. What, are you guys going on a cruise or something?''
His eyes were wide, bright and innocent. Her expression, on the other hand, dimmed as she contemplated what to reveal, if she should even reveal anything. ''Actually,'' she began, ''it's a retreat for couples. Couples in therapy.''
Hamilton laughed as if it were a joke. ''What?'' he asked, finally pushing aside his awkward chuckles. ''What do you guys need therapy for? And this still doesn't explain why dad's under the house, by the way.''
''Well, with us being gone for a few days I figured it was the perfect time to get a little remodeling done in the master bath,'' she explained further. ''We're paying the Rawley groundskeeper to do the work for us. He said it'd be best to cut off the water flow to the house off before we leave and he starts tearing the bathroom apart so your father had to crawl under the house to turn the water main.''
He raised his eyebrows, expecting more. ''Okay, the mystery of Dad's adventure underneath the house is solved, but what's this about therapy? I knew you guys used to go to sessions when I was younger, but I thought you worked everything that you needed worked out.''
''Hamilton, it's never that simple,'' she said soothingly. ''Sometimes your father and I still need a little help sorting ourselves.''
''Sorting what out, though?'' he asked, still confused.
''Everyone has their issues. Every couple fights from time to time, and every couple works through them in their own way,'' she said reassuringly.
He stared at her, silent and cautious. He obviously didn't like what he was hearing, and it was clear he was worried for her and Stephen's well being, and that of their marriage.
''Calm down,'' she urged with a shake of her head, ''your father and I are just going to give ourselves a tune-up. It's not as if we're drawing up divorce papers.''
He allowed himself to breathe a little more easily. ''I hope that's never the case.''
''That's certainly not what's happening now, but...one never does know. Sweetie, you do know that not everyone gets to live happily ever after, right?''
''I guess I just have this notion that when you find the right person...things just work themselves out. It's like, me and Jake, it hasn't always been easy but things came together again eventually on their own. It shouldn't be hard.''
''You and Jake,'' Kate said loudly, directing the conversation onto another subject. One she was more interested in discussing. ''How are things?''
''We're great actually,'' he said, reluctant to move on.
Kate Fleming had been in utter shock when, long ago, it was brought to her attention that her son's ''best guy friend'' Jake was actually his girlfriend Jacqueline. Even more alarmed was she when she realized she had given Hamilton permission to room with Jake that summer of 2000. It had taken several exchanges between her and the object of her son's affection before they connected, and several more before Stephen Fleming, the Dean, had given his forgiveness. They had both slowly been able to see that despite the ridiculous charade Jacqueline 'Jake' Pratt was a smart, level headed young woman. She had, after all, wisely rebuffed Hamilton's attempts to move into her dorm that one summer.
But they had insisted that with her stunt there should come consequences, and they were quick to notify Monica Pratt, who responded to her daughter's elaborate cry for attention by committing herself to a Broadway production, and thus confining herself to New York in order to sort out their relationship. Although Jake had shown interest in attending Rawley Girls simply to be near Hamilton she had ultimately agreed with her mother's choice. She was pleased to have finally made her only parent take notice, and wasn't about to squander the opportunity to reconnect. While Kate herself voiced her support of the decision, Hamilton had made it clear he didn't care for the arrangement. The very arrangement that in turn lead to the two parting ways briefly, but it had all worked itself out, somehow, as Hamilton had said.
''I don't think she and I are ever going to need couple's counseling,'' Hamilton said, bringing her back to the conversation at hand.
''Let's hope not,'' she said and quickly produced a plump sandwich before her son's eyes and offered it to him on a small plate. Hamilton accepted it, taking a large bite, his cheeks bulging from the large portions of food he shoveled into his mouth. ''I do hope to see the day where a couple of Munchkins are-''
''Grandchildren, Munchie.'' Kate clarified.
''Cute one, Mom.''
''Running around,'' she finished her previous thought.
''Yeah, well, don't hold your breath on that one. We can't even agree on what kind of dog to get. But there is something I've been wanting to tell you about...''
Hamilton gave her a reassuring smile as he set his sandwich down on the counter and dusted his hands off. ''I want to show you something, but you have to promise not to say anything to Jake and ruin it for me...'' he winked. She watched as her son dug into one of his pockets and pulled out the small, black box he had handled earlier that morning. ''Me and Jake,'' he said.
Kate took the box from his palm and slowly opened it to examine it's contents. She knew what it was, what it meant for her son and his partner and digested the news with a proud smile.
Hamilton beamed confidently. ''She and I haven't exactly talked about it seriously, but...I think I know where we want to go with each other.''
Scout had been sleeping in the passenger's seat for the past hour and Will, having been the one to do the majority of the driving, was growing tired of continuously readjusting his position behind the wheel so he was relieved to arrive at New Rawley's main street. The small, quaint shops that lined it were still alive and bustling quietly with patrons, some of which he waved to in recognition.
''We're here,'' he groaned as he parked Scout's car at the gas station. His sleeping friend made no response so he turned to holler out of his window. ''Yo, pump girl, I don't have all day!''
He hoped his imitation of Rich Snob was loud enough to wake his travel companion and convincing enough to get Bella storming over in a huff. Scout, though, continued to slumber, but after several moments Will finally saw movement in his driver's side rear view mirror. The form was too close to make out a face, but he was positive that the figure walking over towards the vehicle was definitely female.
''Bella, honestly, you're getting slower in your old age,'' he said sarcastically as he opened his door and stepped out only to be greeted by an amused Jake Pratt.
''Nice ride, Krudski,'' she said.
Will and Hamilton had managed to develop a friendship at Rawley after he had found out he was able to return for the Fall semester, and while he hadn't been close to Jake prior to that he maintained electronic correspondence with her after she failed to return. He hadn't seen them in a few years, though he exchanged emails with them a few times each month. He and Jake would passionately discuss, dissect and debate the books they referred each other to. Hamilton, meanwhile, would always attach his latest photos and fill him in on the success he was finding as a freelance photographer.
''Yeah, the car is Scout's,'' he said, delivering a hug. ''I didn't know you were here already. I didn't see your bike.''
''Hamilton has it. He's visiting his mother.'' She returned his embrace before stepping back slightly in order to get a better look at him, and then peering inside the car to spot a Scout napping. ''You told me in the last email he wasn't coming.''
''I talked him into it.''
She raised an eyebrow. ''Do you think that was wise? I mean, considering...'' she stopped talking and nodded to the sign in front of the building with Bella's name on it.
''I think Scout can handle it. Besides he really needed this, for reasons completely unrelated to Bella. Speaking of, where is she anyway?''
''Upstairs. I told her I'd stay down here and keep a look out for customers.''
Will cracked up, ''You offered to pump gas?''
''She had to change clothes and her day-time clerk is running late. Someone had to. Besides Bella said something about cleaning out Matthew's potty trainer. Tell me which job you would have offered to do for her?'' Jake shivered at the thought and led Will through the entrance of the station.
She hopped on the bench by the window to get a view of outside, just in case a real customer did drive in and need assistance. Will, meanwhile, busied himself looking over the decor. Bella and Sean were slowly but surely making small improvements to the building, he noted, glancing over the subtle but significant changes since he had last visited. Gone were the mess of papers and wires, the front of the station was now tidy, yet still cozy and he leaned himself against the front desk.
''Don't get me wrong, I love her little Matty,'' Jake continued, ''but I gag if I have to drink a sip of Mountain Dew. With that in mind, I highly doubt I could ever deal with diaper duty.''
''And here I always thought you were fearless,'' he said playfully. ''Never mind babies, I'm still waiting for you and Ham to send out the wedding invitations. You'd make such a dashing groom.''
''Shut up,'' Jake said with a smile.
''I do hope you'll consider me to be your best man when that day comes.''
She laughed, but then sobered quickly. ''Seriously, I don't know if you'll ever receive a save the date notification from us. I'm not sure Hamilton and I even need to go there; marriage. I know what we are and what we're about. I don't necessarily need any grand assurances.''
''Ever the individualist, you are,'' Will held up his hands, abandoning the topic. ''Well, I'm glad you guys showed up. I'm excited about this weekend. We should've done this years ago, but everyone was in college and spread out everywhere and then Matty came along-''
''Everyone started living. It's understandable that no one really had the time.''
''Well, we have three days now,'' he said brightly. ''By any chance, have you managed to read my book? The one I forwarded you last month.''
Jake's expression dimmed as she bite down on her lip. ''I've read some of it, yes.''
''And, what'd you think?'' he asked, eager for her opinion.
She winced, as if someone was pulling a band-aid off of her skin. ''Well...''
The door was yanked open suddenly and Scout stepped into the station rubbing at his eyes and smacking his lips, which had apparently dried during his nap.
''Will, you just left me out there by myself? The windows were rolled down and everything. Mosquitoes went to town on my legs.'' Cranky Scout bent down to swipe about at his bare legs, not even registering the figure lounging about behind him in the window seat.
''Don't be such a pussy, man.''
Scout turned around, irritated, about to let loose a retort, yet he stopped short and flinched in recognition, his expression equal parts shock and amusement. Although Will had kept in contact with Jake and Hamilton, Scout, on the other hand, had never developed much of a bond with either of them that summer. He had been too immersed in his Bella-induced depression to form anything more than a casual friendship with Hamilton during the remainder of his time at Rawley. His only knowledge of the couple came from Will, who occasionally filled him in.
Scout had seen her girl it up on the trek to Carson some years prior, but Will knew the Jake before them was a little more polished. He could see it was a shock to the shorter man's system. Despite her tomboy-ish attire of jeans and tank top, her feminine attributes were quite apparent. The soft but striking features, the subtle make-up, the dark, choppy hair. All topped off with that old, familiar slouch.
''Close your mouth and stop gawking, Calhoun,'' Jake ordered.
Scout half-coughed, half-laughed. ''It's going to take me awhile to get used to this. In the back of my head I still remember you, Jake, mostly as the lanky, little coxswain. But this is...'' he paused and took a gulp, impressed. ''Dude, you're hot.''
''Dude, I can still kick your ass,'' replied Jake.
With another chuckle Scout stepped forward and offered her his hand. She stood up and accepted it and even gave him a half-hug. It was at this moment Bella walked downstairs, entering the front room of the station. Her eyes flickered towards Will, then over to the man who had his back to her, in a friendly embrace with Jake.
''Hi,'' Bella said to the room, causing the other three to turn to her. Will and Jake shifted, preparing themselves for the inevitable awkwardness.
Scout turned around and gave her an awkward, nervous smile. ''Hi.''
Seconds later Bella shook off her trance and made for Will, pulling him into a hug. ''Krudski,'' she said, ''you still have that baby-face.''
A few moments passed before she stepped back and, without a word, very cautiously hugged Scout, albeit with a little more hesitance, and a little more space between them.
The front door opened again, this time, though, Sean entered the room. In his mouth were a few pieces of mail and in his arms a toddler who fidgeted restlessly. He paused as his eyes scanned over the others. Jake and Will received a small smile, but when his gaze settled on Bella and Scout his face suddenly went blank.
Bella's own blank, stunned expression at seeing Scout turned to beaming as she stepped away from him and over to Sean. Her smile became even wider when she took the toddler from his arms and into her own. ''And this is, um, Matthew Banks,'' she said more so to Scout than the others, who had of course met the young tyke several times before.
The group then went silent, save for the toddler who spoke soft, nonsensical mumblings to himself. Scout, obviously thrown by the appearance of the child, shifted anxiously, but he smiled at the tyke, and then at Sean as if trying to diffuse the tension. Will, though, was eager to recapture the light atmosphere that filled the room moments earlier and with forced excitement declared that the group should begin making their way out of town and into the sticks.
Once her weekend staff arrived at the station to relieve her, Bella and Sean spent a good half hour saying goodbye to their son before leaving him in the trusted custody of Bella's own father, Charlie. With promises to call several times and pop back into the station at least once to check up on him sometime during their weekend excursion, they left.
The couple were now traveling in her truck towards the predetermined spot the group had mapped out and agreed upon, just past Rawley Academy towards the wooded area near the lake.
''Are you sure this is okay?'' Bella asked as he sat behind the wheel.
Sean stared ahead at the road. ''Why wouldn't it be? We've spent time with Jake and Ham before, and you know it's not very often Will gets to visit us.''
''I mean having Scout here. It wasn't exactly a part of the plan.''
''I know,'' the blond man said before reluctantly adding, ''But this whole weekend thing is a big deal for Will. He and Scout are friends, it's not like I can say anything even if I wanted.''
Bella nodded, relieved. ''I just don't want to make anyone uncomfortable or put the guys in a position where their weekend gets ruined because you and Scout and...history.''
He laughed in an attempt to calm her nerves. ''That isn't going to happen. I mean, okay, am I somehow going to become best friends with Scout over the weekend? I seriously doubt it. But you know we're not exactly kids anymore. He might be the same guy he was however many years ago, but I'm not, so believe me when I say you won't see me throwing any punches in his direction.''
Sean took a moment to reach over and take her hand, reassuringly. Rather than overreacting as he was known to do in his younger days, he simply mustered a smile, swallowing any discomfort, reminding himself that he no longer had anything to prove to the world when it came to his relationship with Bella. While he had been known to fly off the handle in his younger years, especially when it came to her, he had long stopped resorting to caveman chest thumping in order to feel secure in his standing with her, yet he was still curious and somewhat fearful that despite time and distance the connection that she had shared with Scout Calhoun all those years ago had survived intact.
He wondered if maybe there was still something there, lying dormant. He wanted to believe that all they had since built together amounted to more than what she shared with Scout for those few brief summers. Time would tell, or at least, the upcoming weekend would.
Scout was behind the wheel of his vehicle following Bella's truck as Will reclined in the passenger's seat, watching silently as the scenery swept past his window. Jake, meanwhile, remained in the backseat talking on her cell phone, leaning forward so her head was positioned between the two men.
She spoke into the receiver as she moved closer to Scout, examining the top of his head. ''Yeah, Scout ended up coming. I'm riding with the guys now so you should just meet us there. Uh-huh...Of course...No, no, Scout totally still has all of his hair.''
''Who the hell are you talking to, Pratt? And of course I still have all my hair! Why would I not have my hair?'' huffed Scout.
Jake didn't respond but merely continued her phone conversation with Hamilton, who was still at the school campus. ''...How would I know that?! I haven't seen him without his shirt off since my one summer at Rawley.'' She pulled the cell away from her ear, covered the mouthpiece and looked to Scout. ''Ham wants to know if you still have the man-boobs.''
Scout set his jaw, turned red and glared at the dark-haired girl who was grinning inches away from his face. ''You're asking for it, Jake, and you,'' He pointed a stern finger at Will who was barely able to contain his laughter. ''Don't even start with me. I don't know what you all are talking about because I, Scout Calhoun, don't have man-boobs.''
Will and Jake turned to each other, sharing their amusement. Scout, though, continued to stare ahead at the road, and despite his best efforts not to he had to smile and add, ''You know what I'm praying for? A deer in the road.''
Hamilton was leaning on Jake's bike which he had parked on a shoulder encased by tall trees as the others came to a stop a few feet away from him. The occupants exited their respective vehicles and he made his way over to greet them. He took turns bumping fists with the men and delivering manly half-hugs to them before finally saddling up at Jake's side while addressing the group as an entity.
''Summer session at Rawley just ended,'' he announced. ''That means the campus is deserted other than the groundskeeper so we practically have the woods and the lake to ourselves.''
Scout raised his hand as he stood amongst the group. ''I'm still not at all clear on what it is we're doing. When Will roped me into this trip I assumed we'd at least be staying in a cabin of some sort. Are we not?''
''There's no cabin,'' Hamilton clarified.
''So I brought my air humidifier for nothing?'' squeaked Scout, which caused the others to laugh inwardly. ''What? It's the kind that spurts out cool mist. It's refreshing.''
''We're roughing it this weekend,'' Sean explained rather calmly. ''I brought everything we need to camp out properly. Come on.''
The men then began assisting Sean as he unloaded the camping gear from the bed of the truck. Down came several bagged outdoor chairs, as well as two medium sized tents for the group to share. Meanwhile, the two women pulled down the single, large ice chest.
Jake popped the lid open and peered in. ''We really should've thought to stop in at a grocery store in town before heading out here. Seriously, Hamilton could eat all of this in one sitting, there's no way it'll last all of us for three days.''
''My mother said we were welcome to raid her pantry. It's only a fifteen minute walk back to my parents' house,'' said Hamilton.
''Actually,'' Sean interrupted, ''there's one thing I forgot to bring that we'll probably need to go to town for. Alcohol. Any volunteers?''
In succession Scout, Will and Sean heaved 'not it' as if they were children, leaving Bella and Jake to roll their eyes in unison. ''Fine, I'll go.'' Bella relented. ''But someone has to come with.''
With a smirk Scout suggested, ''Jake, why don't you toddle off too and leave the men to set up camp.''
''And why don't you wear a sports bra for those things?'' Jake made a wave towards his chest area.
''I'll tag along if you drive,'' Hamilton offered his companionship to Bella, which she accepted. After a few brief exchanges with the others they were driving off in her truck.
The rest of the group then began the process of carrying the camping equipment further into the woods. Will led the procession into the large mass of trees and foliage with Scout on his tail. Jake and Sean, on the other hand, almost collided into one another as they were about to walk after them. They then paused together at the beginning of the narrow pathway.
''Ladies first.'' Jake beamed playfully, allowing him to walk ahead of her.
''How gentlemanly of you,'' Sean, comfortably familiar with her sense of humor, teased back.
A short time later Hamilton and Bella were back in town, having been the two elected to make the trip to the convenience store. Together they strolled the aisles as Hamilton read off a list he had managed to make in his cell phone.
''Okay,'' he began, ''extra snacks, sun-block, lots of bottled water and most imporantly alcohol.''
''I think we're good to go,'' Bella declared, pushing their small cart of items in front of her.
''Jujubees.'' He threw his head back and turned around towards the candy aisle. ''Jake wanted JuJubees.''
Bella raised an eyebrow as he began his search. It was back when he still lived in New Rawley during high school that she discovered that within the tiny little group of people she called her friends, she and Hamilton were the most alike, at least when it came to how they each approached their romantic relationships. He liked overly sweet, sweeping gestures, as did she. It was their idealistic view on love that helped their friendship along for whenever their respective relationships with Sean and Jake hit rough spots they were always able to confide and sympathize over smoothies at Friendly's.
The one time someone commented that they would actually make a great couple resulted in both of them nearly choking on said smoothies. This, of course, was something neither of them would ever be open to. ''No offense,'' he had said to her after recovering from his coughing fit, ''but I like girls with a little more of an edge.'' She of course responded with, ''No offense but I don't like guys who are prettier than me.'' They simply didn't have that kind of chemistry and had never been at all interested in trying to emulate it. But they got along well, so well that she could spot his shifts in mood and emotion, mostly because they often looked like her own.
So as they stood there in the aisle she sensed something which led her to ask, ''are you okay?''
''Huh?'' he said, still staring at the section of empty shelf. ''Why do you ask?''
''You just seem really happy to be here. More so than usual. It's kinda weirding me out. You're not up to anything are you?''
''What do you mean by 'anything' ?''
''I don't know. You just have a certain look about you today that I don't think I've ever seen before.''
The poor thing then looked down at himself, his chest and arms as if they alone would give his intentions away.
''Nevermind,'' she said rolling her eyes at his less than sharp display. ''You probably just got lucky this morning and if that's the case, good for you, but I don't want to know.''
''I'm just in a good mood. A great mood. No reason, don't worry about it,'' he said breezily.
''If you say so.''
He then began leading them to the front of the store where the check-out was located. Once they arrived at the counter the clerk immediately began ringing them up and bagging their purchases. When the cashier announced their total Hamilton happily made for his pocket, and pulled out a few large bills. It was only as they were walking out of the convenience store did he, once again, throw his head back.
''Seventeen.'' he said to the sky above him. ''She wanted the new issue of Seventeen. Pack this into your truck and I'll be back.'' He turned and started briskly back towards the store entrance.
''God... that boy is soo up to something,'' Bella said as she continued pushing the buggy towards her vehicle in the parking lot.
Back in the woods, the rest of the group had located a satisfactory area to set up camp, choosing a clearing no more than thirty feet away from the lake with a small dock directly in front of it, which they thought they could make use of later on. Sean had started to assemble the two tents with assistance from Jake, who obviously hadn't a clue as to what she was doing. Scout and Will, meanwhile, stood several yards away, above the small, portable grill Sean had brought in the truck.
''It's taking forever for these hotdogs to cook through.'' Will sighed with annoyance.
''Hey, Will.'' Scout coughed. ''Don't get me wrong, I'll always consider Ham an old buddy but,'' he lowered his voice and leaned forward, careful not to be overheard. ''I kind of wish maybe I'd have been the one brave enough to go 'gay' for Jake.'' His eyes widened as laughter rolled out of him.
''Don't we all,'' Will said under his breath.
''Had I known that,'' Scout raised an eyebrow and motioned his head towards the girl in question. Jake was standing off in the distance, holding a portion of the plastic tent up for Sean while balancing her cell between her shoulder and ear, asking 'What do you mean they didn't have Jujubees?' into the receiver. ''Was underneath those long sleeved shirts...well.'' Scout, embarrassed by his own thoughts, decided not to go down that road.
Will rolled his eyes. ''You better not let Hamilton hear you.''
''Bah,'' Scout waved him off dismissively and plopped himself into one of the chairs nearby. He grabbed a family-sized bag of chips and began to snack, speaking through loud, crunchy mouthfuls. ''It's just an observation. Jake's gorgeous. That doesn't necessarily mean anything coming from me though. I was never really keen on brunettes.''
''Ah, yes, I think everyone's well aware you prefer blonds.''
Scout threw a Dorito chip at Will who merely laughed it off and added a few more hotdogs to the grill before turning serious. ''Listen, I appreciate you tagging along so far, but if you want you can go back into town and grab a hotel room. You don't have to stay with us. I know the whole Matthew thing probably took you by surprise and...if it bothers you, I understand. I'll know you at least tried.''
Scout dropped his bag of snacks down into his lap. ''I knew Bella and Sean had a life here. It's not as if I expected to come back and see things have stood still. It's just that hearing that she's moved on and seeing that she's moved on...two different things.''
Will exhaled. ''I didn't tell you about Matthew, and I probably should have before you agreed to come because-''
''It's not your fault. That was my choice, to fall out of the loop. Look, Will, I'm not saying this weekend won't be a little awkward at times but she's moved on...so have I. It's been years. Like you said, this is about fun.''
The realization that Bella hadn't stopped living, thriving in his absence both pained and relieved Scout. The sight of her holding the toddler had made him even more aware of the reality of the situation. As awkward as he knew sharing a weekend with her would be after all that had transpired he decided to breath through it. He hadn't been all that excited about attending this gathering, but now that he was here he was determined to prove to himself, if no one else, that he had grown, that he had survived the first great heartache of his youth, that he could stand to be in her presence without his actions and emotions reverting to those of the teenage version of himself. Until then, though, it would just be easier to pretend he was unaffected.
''Besides,'' Scout began after gathering himself and mustering joviality. ''You really pulled this weekend thing together for everyone and it wouldn't be cool if I just ditched you now.''
Will smiled warmly before cracking, ''That and you're probably hoping you'll get to see Jake in a bikini.''
''That too.'' Scout then resumed crunching on his snack.
''Calhoun, keep your Dorito-stained hands to yourself,'' said Hamilton as he and Bella appeared in the clearing and walked towards them with a couple of brown paper sacks in hand.
''I wouldn't dare try anything and you know it,'' Scout assured. ''Besides something tells me that girl of yours is ten kinds of crazy. No thank you.''
''Who's ten kinds of what?'' asked Jake as she jogged up to the group and greeted each of them with a nod.
They simply shook their heads at her as if to say 'don't bother'. Instead of prying further, she announced she was departing the area briefly. ''My side of the tent keeps collapsing on itself so Sean told me to go, like, gather firewood for tonight or something. Anyone want to keep me company?''
The group shrugged with disinterest. Hamilton even wrinkled his nose and said he'd stay behind with the others.
''Then I'll be back before the sun goes down.'' Jake waved them off as she started walking backwards and away from the group. ''If I find any axe wielding psychos wandering around the woods in search of pretty, young victims I'll be sure to send them your way, guys.''
With that she turned her back and left the clearing. Even after her figure disappeared into the lining of trees and foliage Hamilton continued to gaze wistfully in her direction. Scout, Will and Bella traded bemused looks behind his back. Then a soft foam football flew into Hamilton's head causing the cluster of friends to turn around. A flustered Sean stood a few yards away waving at them, still struggling with the tents, unable to set them up properly on his own.
''Someone gonna come give me a hand or what?'' The blond man scratched the back of his head, overwhelmed by the task.
''Oh, you would definitely die out here,'' Jake laughed into her cell phone.
A few minutes after leaving the camp site she found an area littered with several decently sized pieces of wood, which she went about collecting. When her cell phone began ringing it was a bit of a juggling act in order to pull it from her pocket and answer it. Awkwardly holding the branches in her arms she then began to have a conversation with the person on the other line; Monica Pratt.
''I'm starting to rethink the outdoors thing myself, but you,'' Jake carried on light heartedly teasing her mother, ''I don't think you'd survive out here for five minutes. You'd go into shock the second you got dirt on your shoes.''
''Darling,'' Monica began, equally as playful, ''you're idea of roughing it is a day without checking your email. I've seen you go through withdrawls; youll sit in the corner of your bedroom shivering under a blanket. You're hardly one to talk.''
''True,'' Jake admitted with a wide grin.
They had long since rebuilt their relationship. No more was it the silent, distant mess that it had once been. By no means was it perfect or easy, but it was open, it was alive and functioning and that was what mattered, what counted. Her mother was now privvy to the goings on in her life and vice versa. While she would playfully, quietly bemoan her mother's inquiries about her life the truth was she was warmed by them, by every embarrasing question or awkward conversation. It was, after all, what normal mother's did and she was rather pleased with how far they had come together.
''But how is it really?'' Monica asked, quieting her chuckle.
''It's fine,'' Jake answered and slowly bent down to pick up another piece of wood. ''It's actually really nice out here. We're near the lake and we have a couple of tents and Sean brought extra sleeping bags for me and Hamilton.''
''Sean,'' Monica chirped. ''Is that the tall boring one I met that once at your graduation ceremony from NYU?''
''No, that was Will, but he's here too.''
''Ah, yes, Will,'' Monica corrected herself, ''Well, I was just calling to check in and make sure you and Hamilton got to your little gathering safe and sound.''
''Thanks. We'll do lunch or something when I get back.''
''Sounds like a plan.''
''Anyhow, what are you doing this weekend?'' asked Jake, picking up yet another piece of wood but in turn dropping two.
''Oh, my weekend will probably be rather low-key,'' Monica said quietly, her amusement gone completely, ''Last night Patrick and I decided to take a break from each other. A rather permanent one unfortunately.''
''Oh,'' Jake said soothingly at the mention of her mother's failed relationship with the gentlemen she had been involved with simply because heartbreak was never fun at any age let alone her mother's. ''That...just...sucks. I'm sorry, Mom.''
Monica tutted. ''Indeed, but we'll both be fine. Sometimes people move in different directions, it can't be helped. It's for the best really. I have a lot of life left to live and I don't quite feel ready to stand still just yet.''
An inability to stand still was once something they both had in common. Despite all of their differences that one personality trait had somehow been inherited. Her mother enjoyed travelling abroad, from one exotic place to another, one wild event to another. Jake herself had done her fair share of school-hopping, which had to do both with her mother's then lack of attention as well as her own boredom with her surroundings.
But then came Hamilton, who was so bright-eyed and beautiful. Their teenage coupling was filled and fueled by confusion and frustration, but he had been the first one to notice something beyond the false packaging she presented to Rawley. He then came to be the first person she had considered staying still for, with. Of course at seventeen she realized it probably wasn't the wisest thing to do, build her life around another. Which was why she had then decided to step away from the relationship in order for both of them to achieve a healthy sense of self.
Years later though, when they had both found their own identities, after he had been hired to photograph her mother, after they had reconnected Hamilton had floated the idea that it would be nice if he and her could manage to start new and build a proper friendship. So they did and they functioned surprisingly well together in that facet, except for the fact that every so often something would overcome one or both of them, causing them to say something that fell over the line of friendship and into something else entirely.
In conversation she had once noted to him that when he smiled, really smiled, his ears would move slightly, adorably on their own. He had blushed at her observation and she had kicked herself for the girlish thought. Another time, when meeting her for coffee he had noticed that she had gotten her hair cut short into a funny, funky Pepperment Patty-like do. ''You look like a cute little emo boy,'' he had said, which earned him a light slug to the arm. He must not have been thinking because he then reached out across the small table between them to soothe a hand over her hair. Realizing his more than friendly display he had nervously yanked it back and they had both lowered their heads to their cups of joe.
And then there came an evening that changed everything. They had dined out with a group of people they had been friendly with. After the dishes were cleared and desert was served the group remained at their table where several conversations took place at once. While she had enjoyed dinner and the company of the others she was eager to get away from the noise and non-stop dialogue and call it an evening. Hamilton, who thought it only polite to accompany her, had somehow picked up on her weariness and together they stood and said their goodnight, politely dismissing themselves from the table.
They paid their tickets, exited the eatery and started down the sidewalk. They were only a few feet away when she heard it; the beginning notes of a song she hadn't heard in ages playing from inside the restaurant. She could only hear it faintly, but the tiny thrill made her pause and smile.
It was such a simple, trite thing. What touched her was the fact that judging by the confounded expression on his face he had never heard the song nor the band. Regardless, though, he saw how it made her spirits rise, how it made her happy in some small, inconsequential way, and even though he didn't understand it, he wanted her to have it. That moment of pure, silly, simple child-like joy, however brief. It was as if her smile made him smile. And soon he looked just as thrilled to be standing there with her quietly reciting the words to 'Friday I'm In Love' to the city before them.
Not everyone got her that way. Not everyone would indulge in her silliness. That was when the tiny revelation hit her; he was still the only person she would ever stand still for. Staying absolutely still, in her mind, was the ultimate sign of her devotion and her devotion wasn't something she just gave to anyone or anything. But there on the pavement she decided it was something she very much wanted to give to him and by the end of the night her hand had found it's way into his as they walked along together.
She had worn her independance like a badge of honor and it was such a personal feat for her to achieve that sense of self while also embarking on a partnership with him. She'd found a balance that worked for her, for them and the relationship. Stillness had it's own joys, it's own thrills. As she saw it now, there wasn't a single detail she would change about the life she was leading with him at her side.
And so even though she didn't consider anything wrong with her mother continuing to find enjoyment in constant movement and action, she did feel a bit of sadness for her, even though the older woman quickly assured her that as much as she appreciated the effort she didn't need comforting.
''I'm okay,'' her mother explained warmly over the phone. ''Some people were designed to be a certain way, to want different things out of life. I've never been of conventional thinking.''
''Ditto,'' said Jake, kicking a small rock out of her path.
''So don't worry about me. I'm fine. If I need a shoulder to cry on, I'll call, but you just have fun with your little trip into the woods.''