Always Watching

Disclaimer: This says the same things that all disclaimers say. I. Don't. Own. Anything.

Author's Note: I've been thinking about doing a companion piece to On my Cheek for a long time, but didn't really know where to go with it. Hearing all the 'Go Jackie' sentiments this week, I decided that what I really want to do is show Jackie growing as a strong and truly independent person.

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It's been three weeks.

Well actually its been three weeks, two days and four hours. I swore to myself that I would stop counting the minutes. I need to start to move on. And it was giving me a headache trying to add and multiply all those minutes and seconds.

Donna says I really need to stop counting the hours and days as well. She just doesn't seem to understand though. Counting those hours and minutes are all I have left. If I let go of those then that's it. It's over.

Ending my relationship with Steven is different than ending it with Michael. With Michael, I had this whole box of our memories. There were tickets from movies and concerts, stuffed animals with stupid names, gifts that I made him buy me, and pictures of the two of us preening. Steven wasn't really into all that. We spent most of out time hanging out, and he wasn't the kind of guy to shower me with gifts. So all I have that proves that we were even together is a t-shirt.

One t-shirt.

How can a relationship boil down to just one t-shirt? Does that even count as one? Maybe that's what was wrong with us. We didn't have enough stuff. I guess I'm not really talking about material things, although I do think he should have bought me more gifts and a bag of pot doesn't count as a gift.

I guess I'm talking about the basics of a relationship. Things in common, respect, friendship, and trust. Steven and I didn't exactly rack up the points in those categories.

I thought I was doing so much better than Michael. I thought I'd grown up. How ironic. Michael turned out to be a better match. We didn't have much in the way of respect or trust, but at least we had lots in common.

I guess I'll just have to make sure that the next guy is exactly the kind of guy I should be with. The only problem is that I don't want there to be a next guy.

After I left him alone in the car, Steven tried for a week to get me to talk to him. He followed me everywhere. He was a damn stalker. I hated it except for the fact that I loved it. I loved that he cared enough to try again and again to win me back. I know I shouldn't think like that, but after a whole year of just assuming he loved me it was nice to know he did.

Too bad it was too late.

He stopped me in the driveway one night when I was walking home. He asked me where I'd been with a tone in his voice that I only remember him using when he accused me off cheating on him with Michael.

We were broken up, and he was still accusing me.

I broke that night. I broke down into tears which I'd so far prevented from doing in front of him. I told that I couldn't keep doing this. I couldn't keep breaking up with him over and over again. Each discussion hurt more than the last.

I told him he was destroying me.

After that day the discussions stopped. He hasn't left me though. He still follows me. He follows me with his eyes. I see him watching me in the hallway, in the cafeteria, at the Hud, and in the basement.

I never look back at him. I just sit there and pretend I don't notice. Which is an absolute lie. His constant stare is so intense it feels like a caress. Sometimes I can imagine that he's actually touching my neck with the softest of caresses. It's unnerving the effect it has on me.

And I think he knows that. I think that he's hoping that one day I'll look into his eyes and all the pain and betrayal will disappear, and I'll just fail into his arms. He's exactly right of course.

That's why I'll never stare back. That's why I'll never so much as even glance in his direction. I can't.

But I know he's always watching.

*********************************

I should be happy.

I've finally begun to move on after many tears and yells. Tim Foster asked me out a couple of weeks ago. We had our second date tonight. Our second attempt at a kiss. My second time to blow it.

I don't know what my problem is. He's absolutely perfect for me. Tim is one of the most popular juniors in school. Mainly because he plays for the basketball team. I've actually watched him play when the cheerleaders decided to try cheering at their games. It was only a couple of times because who knew that basketball could be so boring.

He's also really rich which is great because he can buy me everything that I can't buy for myself anymore.

And on top of that, he's very nice and sweet. I can't really believe my good luck in meeting him. We met in the school hallway. I banged my locker open in frustration and banged it right into his face. I stammered out an apology, and he asked me out. He joked on our first date that it took a mild concussion to work up the nerve to ask me out.

He'd had a crush on me for months, and I had no idea.

It suddenly dawned on me how distanced I'd become from everyone at school. When I'd been dating Michael, I still reigned the school. He was popular, I was popular, and we were popular together. Dating Steven changed all that. He was barely even recognized by the school much less popular. So I had to make a choice between popularity or Steven. I chose Steven.

Perhaps I chose wrong.

I forgot how much I love going out on dates. I forgot how much I love gossiping with the girls on the squad about guys. I forgot what it was like to be me.

Tim brought me to Dolce tonight. It's this expensive little restaurant that usually takes months to get into. He seemed to know everyone there though. Apparently his family dines there quite a bit.

All through dinner he listened to me talk, and I know his was listening because he asked me questions. Questions about the new cheers we were doing and how I normally style my hair. He was genuinely interested in what I had to say. Steven usually told me to be quiet or just zoned out. He thought I never noticed the glazed look in his eye, but it always hurt slightly. Shouldn't things I care about be important to him as well?

This is the problem. I can't stop comparing Tim to Steven in everything. I feel like in a way I'm dating them both. There are times that I have flashbacks to times with Steven during my dates with Tim. Tim sometimes will say something or do something, and my first response is that's not how Steven would do or that's not what Steven who say.

Can you cheat on somebody with the memory of someone else?

That's partly why I can't kiss him yet. I don't want to be kissing him while thinking of Steven. I don't want to give Steven that satisfaction. I know that Tim was disappointed tonight. It was such a great evening and a kiss would have completed it. But I just wasn't ready.

Tim was really great about it too. He didn't walk away mad or try and push it. Smiling down at me, he just gave me a soft squeeze and told me he'd call tomorrow. I never thought I'd like a shoulder squeeze as much as I do. They're so comforting without being anything else. They aren't about getting me into bed or getting me to buy him something. They are simply to make me feel better.

The other reason is more disconcerting. I'm standing here alone on my porch watching Tim walk to his car, and I feel Steven. I feel his presence which is ridiculous because he's probably down in the basement with everyone else.

What the hell is my problem. Steven shouldn't be controlling my life anymore. He controlled it when we were together, and he controlled it for nearly a month after we broke up. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't be hurt by another cheating boyfriend, but it's harder to let go than I thought it would be.

I thought I could just dump him and move on, but I'm finding out that it doesn't work like that. He haunts me. He haunts my dreams, my nightmares, my dates, and my existence.

That's why I can't kiss Tim. That's why I'm so angry.

Because I know he's always watching.

*********************************

I'm proud of myself.

For most people this isn't all that great an achievement, but for me its huge. For the first time in my life I feel like I've done something good for me. It hurt like hell during, and I wanted to give in a million times. But the point is that I didn't.

I stuck to my promise. A promise I made to myself. I didn't go back to Steven.

Donna actually told me that she respected my decision. She told me it was time I started living my life for me instead of for whatever guy was in it. She told me I was actually becoming a self actualized woman. I told her I just met a guy better than Steven.

I finally told Tim everything. After our failed kiss last weekend, I called him. We talked for hours about everything that had happened to me last year. I told him about Michael running away, my dad going to jail, my mom leaving me, and Hyde cheating on me. He just listened until I was done and then told me I was brave.

Brave.

At first I thought he was mocking me, but then he went on to explain himself. He said that I was incredibly brave to put myself out there to somebody new after being hurt so badly in the past. He told me that he was touched to be that person. Tim then told me that we could just be friends if that's all I could handle at this time.

I realized that I would be a fool to let this guy go.

We talked for a long time about our relationship and basically decided to just go slow. So we spent the week getting to know each other. He walked me to classes, and I stayed and watched him practice. It was nice. It was normal.

I ran into Eric one day walking into the gym. He teased me about finding a guy who was just like me. He called Tim a Jackie clone and that the two of us deserved each other. I of course told him to get a life, rolled my eyes, and pushed past him. But then he did the strangest thing. He called me back and when I turned around, he smiled at me. Smiled and told me to take care.

He's probably just glad because he thinks I won't be hanging out in the basement as much now. It was probably relief I saw in his eyes. Because I'm pretty sure it couldn't be pride which is what I thought I saw.

Pride.

My date with Tim tonight was great. At the end of the date, he walked me up to my door and smiled. I was suddenly very glad this guy had come into my life. Not because I needed him or because I wanted to make Steven jealous. I was glad he came into my life because it showed me I could care about another. That I could move on. That I had moved on.

I kissed him. I kissed him with a clear head and a happy heart. It wasn't the most spell binding kiss, and I didn't go weak in the knees, but it was nice. Maybe it was a beginning.

As Tim walked away, I flopped down on the steps instead of going inside. I was happy. For the first time in a long time, I was truly happy.

I remember all that crap that Donna said about self actualizing and thought maybe it wasn't such crap. Maybe I was growing as a person and as a woman. I know I told her that it was because of Tim, but it never really was. I don't know where Tim and I are going. We may go nowhere, and that's okay. I can survive.

I can rely on myself to get through the tough times. And I'm proud of that fact. I'm proud that for once Jackie Burkhardt didn't rely on a boyfriend, her dad, or the cheese guy to get her through a tough time. She did it on her own.

For the first time all night, I thought about Steven. This time it didn't hurt to think of him. I had this warm bittersweet feeling. It was like looking at an old photograph.

I don't feel his presence anymore. It's as if I know that his eyes aren't going to be searching me out anymore. But that's okay.

I don't need him to always be watching.