AN: Well it's been forever. Nearly a year I think? And honestly, I can't give you guys a good reason for my absence. I simply lost the motivation to write. College has been taking up a lot of my time, and I couldn't ever come up with a place for this to actually go. I'm still stuck, but I finally came to terms with the fact that it wasn't fair to you guys, my loyal readers, to just abandon this.
On another note, TBKnight – I can't see what contact you left in the review! Thanks for the idea though, I'm still looking for someone to bounce ideas off of.
Without further ado, here's the next installment of GoL. I hope I don't disappoint!
Life was pandemonium.
Understatement of the year? Perhaps. Even with a seemingly uneventful week passing by, Leslie was overwhelmed by the fast pace. People wanted to be friends with her, which was certainly something new. From what she remembered, the last time she was the new girl it was like she had brought some rare disease to the town. Everyone avoided her like the Black Plague – and quite frankly, if she were being honest, she would have preferred a situation akin to that. The only real differences she could surmise were that she didn't have cooties any more, and her parents were significantly more famous than they had been.
Whatever it was, she didn't like it. She felt like she was on display somewhere for everyone to ogle. How a set of science fiction authors obtained such a status in the nation was completely an enigma. Maybe Leslie could chalk it up to the fact that it was a fairly small town and they simply never had anything exciting happen.
She heaved an audible sigh when the school week had finally ended. With as much homework as she had loaded on her throughout the week, Leslie hadn't had much time to spend reacquainting herself with her family. That and she certainly was looking forward to relaxing and not getting caught up in the whirlwind of school. Unfortunately, the peace and quiet lent a time for Leslie to reflect on everything that was different.
During the week Leslie hadn't had much time to dwell on the loss (or rather, lack of) her best friend in this world. Now, it seemed to hit her full force that this was, inevitably, the price she had to pay in order to live again. It was plausible, sure; after all, returning from the grave would rattle anyone beyond repair, even if it was with the best intentions. This was the way it had to be, and even though she didn't have to like it, she had to accept the fact that she had to start over when it came to Jess. They were, at least, on better terms. He wasn't sending her death glares any more, although admittedly there hadn't been much exchange between the two after the day in the shop. A few polite words shared in passing, a typical formal conversation, but nothing more. She had been taken by the braniacs, and he was a part of Hoager's crew – which she would never stoop low enough to join.
At some moments she fought an internal battle. It was challenging for Leslie to be treated like some stranger when she felt such a deep connection in return. All the memories she shared with Jess weren't real, at least not in this world she now had to live in. To him, she was just some new kid who had moved to his small town, taking his glory in the only area he shined in and further pushing him off the radar. As much as she hated to admit, Leslie knew she couldn't blame him for the hostility.
All of the pent up emotions that were starting to break the flood gates were why Leslie decided to wake up at five in the morning on Saturday. A good long run was exactly what she needed to clear her head and try to establish the way of this new life.
The fates, however, seemed to want to play unkind on this particular day.
"You've got to be kidding." The words broke her from her train of thought as she was quietly moving away from her home, not wanting to disrupt her parents' sleep. Immediately her head turned, and she saw the very person she was trying to not think about. He was dressed for running, she easily concluded, and she knew he had gathered as much about her from her own attire. And, she noticed, he was just about excited to see her as she was him. She bristled slightly as she was reminded of one of their first encounters, recognizing the patronizing tone.
"Am I not allowed to enjoy a run on a Saturday morning?" she challenged, her arms folding across her chest as he stopped a few feet away from her.
Jess exhaled rather loudly, almost visibly deflating. "I just thought that I'd at least be able to run on the weekend without it turning into a competition, but clearly I was wrong."
Leslie could hear the grudge and defeat in his voice, and she sighed. "Look, I'm sorry for publicly humiliating you or however you took it, alright? I was just trying to prove to Coach Giles that I was good enough to be on the team. If I had any idea how much it would have wounded your pride…" she faded out, mumbling. It was obvious to her that, at least in this instance, things were still fragile between them. He was older now, and regarded at the school as the best runner. It was only natural for his ego to be hurt, but really, it was a bit ridiculous at how personal he was taking it.
"My pride isn't wounded," he shot back defensively, "besides, it wasn't like I was running my best that day. You caught me off guard. If I raced you again, I'd surely win," he finished smugly, and Leslie rolled her eyes.
"Fine. Would a rematch make you feel better?" she conceded, knowing what was about to happen. He wasn't going to let her in until his ego was restored, and that meant Leslie needed to learn how to swallow her pride.
Jess's face lit up a bit, and he gave a dignified smirk as she fell for his all-too-obvious ploy. "Yeah, first to the end of the road wins." He then moved up beside her, getting ready. "On your mark, get set, go!" he all but shouted as he took off, determination all over his face.
Leslie kept a pretty good pace, not trailing too far behind him. She knew what she had to do. Sure, she didn't like it at all, but it was her only shot at making things right – or at least, better – between them. So Leslie sucked it up and let him win. She wasn't sure she would have won anyway, with how hard he was pushing himself, but she knew she definitely didn't try her hardest. Quite frankly, she hated it. Her pride was big too, and it was hard to humble herself enough. That was, until she saw his face.
It was one of the rare moments when she saw Jess without any inhibitions. He was happy. He was smiling. She couldn't remember any time in school when she saw him like this. This was her Jess, the Jess she knew and remembered. And in spite of herself, she smiled.
"Good job," she managed to get out politely, effectively breaking him out of his carefree moment as he came to terms with the fact that there was someone else there.
His face was smug in satisfaction as he looked at Leslie. "Yeah, well, see? I told you, you just caught me off guard last time." Modesty, clearly, was not his strongest suit.
Leslie in turn sighed, biting her tongue to keep from putting him in his place. "Well, bye then," she stated awkwardly, turning to go back to her house. She didn't really think she was in the mood to run anymore. Obviously her attempt at patching things up wasn't as effective as she wanted it to be.
She only made it a few steps before he spoke again. "Wait," he began, which caused her to turn and look at him. Even from a little distance she could visibly see the gears in his head turning as he contemplated something, looking a bit stuck. He took a moment, as if thinking things through, before continuing. "Were you still going to run? I mean, you are new to this town and I know a pretty good route…" he faded out uncertainly, as if he wasn't sure how to finish the sentence.
It was, she concluded, an invitation to run with him. She was almost happy – almost. "Wouldn't I just slow you down?" the somewhat scathing remark left her mouth before she could stop it. After all, he was gloating way too much for her liking, and it had been insensitive.
Jess looked a bit taken aback by her response. "No, I mean, it's more of a jogging route anyway. And I know you're fast and I never said you weren't or anything, and I wouldn't offer if I didn't think you could keep up, which I know you can…" he continued rambling, and Leslie could tell that was about as close to an apology as she was going to get for his rather egotistical behavior.
She held up a hand and he stopped, blushing in embarrassment. "A simple 'I'm sorry for rubbing it in your face that I won' would have sufficed, but sure, I'll come," she agreed, and he only nodded, silently thanking her for understanding what he was trying to say.
"It's this way," he finally spoke, regaining his composure as he picked up a slow jog, waiting for her to catch up. Leslie began jogging as well as she easily moved up so that she was jogging beside him, and the pace quickened to a good endurance speed. They ran in silence for a while, and occasionally Leslie fell just a bit behind to allow him to lead the way. The area was somewhat familiar, but she couldn't let him know that.
After a while of not speaking at all, Jess attempted to strike up a conversation. "So, what made you move to Lark Creek anyway?" Leslie gave a small shrug as he turned to look at her out of the corner of his eye.
"I think my parents were tired of living in D.C. We've never really been big city people, and they were hoping to relocate to something much more rural and quiet. Of course, I don't think they anticipated the reception that they're getting here. I just hope it all settles down soon," she finished, glancing at him briefly before looking back to the path. It was probably good too, because she missed the dumbstruck look that was on Jess's face.
"You mean," he began, gathering his thoughts, "you don't enjoy all the popularity you're getting?" It was an honest question, and Jess seemed to be quite shocked that the answer wasn't what he was expecting.
Leslie snorted in response before she could help it, the laugh not going unnoticed. "I hate it. People won't leave me alone at school. They only want to talk to me because of the status, not because they actually want to know me." It was still a wonder to her where her parents' fame came in to play, but Leslie knew she was suffering from it.
Jess still had a look of shock on his face as he tried to figure out just how to respond to that. He had always figured she was used to it and enjoyed the popularity. Yet again, another reason why he shouldn't have jumped to conclusions. "I just figured – I mean – I'm sure it wasn't any different in D.C. right?"
Leslie shook her head slightly, glancing at him once more as she continued jogging, even though the pace had slowed considerably since they had started talking. "No, actually. I think D.C. was just too big for anyone to really notice or care. Before my parents hit the bestseller list, I was an outcast, actually."
If Jess had been shocked before, this piece of information absolutely blew his mind. He never would have guessed that the new celebrity of their school used to be – well, like him.
"You must not have a lot of exciting things happen around here, if we're the talk of the town," she added in his silence, smiling weakly.
"Not really," he responded, snapping out of his thoughts. "I bet it will blow over soon though."
The rest of the jog was filled with random conversations, sometimes about the scenery and sometimes about other trivial things – but the important thing to Leslie was that they were having a civil conversation while doing something they both loved. When they returned back to the street both their houses resided on, he paused outside her house.
"Thanks, for jogging with me. It was definitely less boring, having someone to talk to." Leslie couldn't help but give a small smile at his comment, knowing it was as close as she was going to get for now. "You know, it wouldn't be bad, if you wanted to jog together every Saturday," he then continued, the apprehensive offer standing for a few moments.
After a pause, Leslie nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I think I'd like that." With one last smile and a goodbye, she walked back in to her house, waving as Jess continued on to his own.
Things may not have been perfect, or even great for that matter, but at least they were finally starting to look up. And maybe, just maybe, she could find a friend again in Jess Aarons.