Okay, folks, so here it is after almost 2(!) month waiting time, I think! I am so sorry for that, I am horribly impatient myself, so it's quite hypocritical to take so long to update. I was pretty busy, but also - I won't deny it - kinda lazy.

I want to thank you all for the patience and loyalty. You're reviews are so intelligent and great, it really warms my heart! You guys are great.

As always, special thanks to my beta, son-of-puji. I really do appreciate how much effort you put into this, even you're so busy yourself :)


Eighth Chapter

Lisa's POV

When I woke up this morning it was 5.24 a.m. It was still way too early, but I regarded it as a positive development. After all, it was over two hours more sleep than I'd gotten last night.

I got out of bed and tiptoed into the bathroom, careful not to wake up my family. They were still unable to accept the sudden turns of events.

My parents were crazy with worry, moving around me like they expected me to go off like a mine field, which equally annoyed and abashed me. It felt as if I wasn't their daughter anymore. Their 'old' daughter.

Henry seemed to cope better with the situation. I could feel his eyes on me, whenever we were in the same room, and it pained me that even he saw me differently, but he left me alone most of the time. And most important, he hadn't tried to talk me into therapy, yet.

I quickly slipped into the bathroom, quietly shutting the door behind me. It was still dark outside, and freezing cold in the unheated room.

The days were getting shorter now as we moved more into the fall, and the nights colder, even though it was still comfortably warm during the days.

I stripped off my pajamas and quickly wrapped a towel around myself, covering my body. I knew no one was there to see me, and yet even the short moment of being completely naked made my heart rate pick up.

I stepped in front of the mirror and reluctantly pushed down the towel until it was wrapped around my waist, exposing my bandaged chest. They had been replaced by new ones in the hospital a few days ago and I had put off removing them ever since.

But now it was time to have a shower again and for that I had to take off the gauze. I unrolled the bandages with rigid fingers, layer by layer, until my chest was completely exposed.

I forced myself to look into the mirror with a mixture of dread and curiosity. There it was, an ugly, angry line over my right breast, brownish with a small layer of scab. I reluctantly touched a shaking finger to it, but pulled back immediately.

It was horrible. I was marked, labeled, inscribed as a whore. Used. Ravished. Up for taking.

Trembling with cold and nausea, I turned away.

After a long, painfully hot shower, I applied new bandages, carefully avoiding the look into the mirror.

It was half past six when I left the bathroom. Going back to sleep was out of question, I was way too agitated to relax now. It was too early for breakfast, so without further ado I decided to go for a morning run. I had always wanted to focus more on doing sport anyway.

The cold air hit me with all its merciless sharpness, but soon I felt that exercising was doing me good. It helped to get my head empty.

After an hour I returned home, only realizing how long I'd been out, when I looked at the clock. I felt better. Freed.

I entered the house and let the door fall shut behind me. Rustling noises came out of the kitchen and moments later my father hurried into the hall, his face flustered red.

"Lisa! Oh my god, sweetie, where have you been?"

"Sorry, dad," I responded and stripped off my shoes. "I've been up earlier so I went for a run. I'm really sorry, I didn't think."

Now, that I thought about it, I felt stupid. I had put my parents through enough already and now I was making them feel even more worried about me.

"No, it's fine, Lisa," he responded, obviously relieved to have me back unharmed.

But his reaction annoyed me. I knew, had I ever left the house in the early morning without telling anyone or even leave a note in the past, my parents would have killed me. Was my accident the overall excuse for everything now? They couldn't even punish me properly anymore.

"Come on, let's have breakfast, it's late already."

I followed him into the kitchen. When my mom saw me, her worried expression immediately brightened, and I knew that I wouldn't get the expected trouble here either.

"Lisa, my god, I'm so glad you are here. Where have you been?"

Before I could respond, my father started to explain. Annoyed that I was treated like a small child, who had been lost in the mall, I sat down at the table and started to make myself a sandwich.

I wasn't hungry, so I avoided eating by spreading the butter carefully on the toast over and over again. I felt my mother's eyes on me, so I forced myself to take a bite, rolling the dry bread around in my mouth.

"Shall I give you a ride to school, sweetie? It's already past the time you would normally leave."

"Oh, no it's fine," I answered between two bites. "Err, a... school mate is picking me up at quarter past eight."

I said 'school mate', even though it sounded weird, because I couldn't bring myself to say 'friend'. My mother seemed surprised.

"Really? Who?"

"Oh, Jackson Rippner, he's living not so far from here, so he offered to give me a ride until I get a new bike."

My mother's eyebrows raised and for a moment she looked at me, like she used to look at her teenage-hormone-overloaded-daughter in the past. I almost felt normal again.

"Really? That's nice of him."

I heard the insinuation in her voice, and could see it, too, in the way my mom looked at me with that "sound's like someone has a crush on my daughter" – look.

I laughed an honest – yet bitter – laugh at the idea. That was probably the last thing he felt for me.

"Well, then you better get ready, it's almost eight o'clock. I'm sure he will be here on time."

That last comment was unnecessary, I thought, and it would've made me roll my eyes only two weeks ago, but now I was happy about it. If my mom already regarded me as a normal teenager, with normal teenage problems, then maybe we could get back to my old life sooner than expected.

I had already taken a shower this morning, but there was no way I could go to school all sweaty and stinky. And even though this meant having to put on new bandages once more, I was craving for another shower. The feeling of being dirty had returned, and I felt the urge to scrub it out of my skin.

Unfortunately, there was not enough time for that.

It turned out my mother had been right. At exactly 8.15 a car stopped in front of our house and my mother curiously inspected it behind the curtain of our kitchen window, watching me as I left the house.

"Good morning, sunshine," Jackson greeted me and gave me a full smirk. He was in a good mood, I noticed.

"Morning," I grumbled and climbed into the car. He took his time looking me over and I blushed at his scrutinizing stare, unsure how to interpret it.

"You look… better." He stated. The mocking had left his voice. "Slept well?"

It was there again, his shit-eating grin, and I wasn't sure if it was just a stupid comment or actually ambiguous – though I could not believe that he was that tactless – but I had seen the honest curiosity in his eyes moments before.

"Sure. Can we go now?"

With a shrug, he started the car and drove off. The way from my home to school seemed much shorter than the drive he had given me yesterday.

We didn't talk much. Mainly because I objected to give him more than one-word answers and only groggily so. After a few minutes, he stopped trying to start a conversation.

"So, here we are."

I looked around. We were in the public parking lots of our school. Countless students were arriving, greeting friends, running around and chatting cheerfully.

I gave him a fake look of surprise. "Oh, in front of all those people? You really want them to see that you were carpooling me?"

Jackson flashed me a grin. "Nah, it's fine, I'll just tell them that you wanted to at all costs."

He gave me a wink and got out of the car.

"Stupid bastard," I muttered and got out as well. A few girls not far away actually seemed to notice me, for the first time in their lives probably, and they stopped walking. I could see them exchange glances of disbelief.

Lisa Reisert in Jackson Rippner's car? I bet they were guessing how much I had paid him to give me a ride.

"How many periods do you have today?" Jackson asked and I turned around to face him, ignoring the girls whispering behind my back.

"I'm done at half past four, today."

He nodded. "Me, too. I'll wait."

Before I could protest he turned around and was immediately greeted by a couple of guys, who walked by. Not wanting to draw their attention on me as well, I dismissed the idea of going after him and telling him that a permanent carpool was not a good idea.

Sighing, I threw my bag over my shoulder. Eight more hours to go.

: :

"You're late!" Despite the fact that I'd always sworn to myself to never become like my mother, I couldn't keep the accusation out of my voice.

Jackson paused momentarily and looked at his watch.

"Yeah, ten minutes," he drawled sarcastically. "Relax, Leese."

"It would have been quicker for me to walk!"

"Why didn't you do that then?"

Flustered, I hurled my bag into the back of his car, searching for an answer.

"Because… because, you said you would wait. And I didn't want you to wait for nothing. Like I did!"

He started the car. "I'm here, now, right?"

I drummed at the armrest with my fingers. There was a tension inside my body that could be compared to the feeling you get when you hadn't moved for a really long time, the need to release some physical energy.

Maybe that was the reason why I was so pissed off at – admittedly – nothing.

"I could have been home already, if it wasn't for you!"

I knew that I sounded ridiculous, but I couldn't stop. It felt so good to let it out on him. Even if I didn't really knew what 'it' was.

"You know, you're right," Jackson snapped angrily " I heard there's a great shortcut through the forest that saves a lot of time."

The silence that followed was heavy with reproach and disbelief. Even the car's engine growled ominously.

"I think I'll walk the rest," I whispered, trying to keep my voice from trembling. I was so incredibly angry. And embarrassed. How could he bring this up in a snide remark like it was nothing but a sick joke.

"Lisa." He didn't say anything else, just my name. Like it was an apology. I waited, but there was nothing more to come.

"Let me out."

"Lisa, it was a stupid remark. I didn't think."

"Oh, you didn't think!" I exclaimed, feeling heat rising to my face. "I'm glad that it's so easy for you to forget about this, because for me it really isn't!"

My eyes started to burn at my words and I felt a tingle in my nose, but I refused to cry. Not in front of him. Not because of him.

"You know what, it's all right. I'm not angry with you. To honest, I'm not even surprised. It just confirms what I said about you yesterday."

His lips pressed into a tight line as he remembered my words - that I would never forget what a horrible bully he really was – his eyes turning to ice.

"It was a stupid remark, but it slipped and I think if you wouldn't be so melodramatic all the time, you would realize that you're overreacting," he finally pressed out with forced calmness.

I stared at him, as he kept his eyes trained on the road, and my hands balled into shaking fists.

"You really find me melodramatic? I'm overreacting?"

Now my voice was low, too, and laced with the same held-back anger like his. For a stranger it might have been amusing to watch us, both trying to keep appearing calm and controlled. But the topic was too bitter to be laughable.

And this game went on for much too long now.

Jackson pulled the car over to the right side of the road and killed the engine. Confused, as we weren't there yet, I looked around.

"If you want to get out, get out."

His face was a mask, clear of any emotion. If anything, he looked bored. It made me furious that he gave up so quickly, that he didn't even try to apologize. Or to change my mind.

We were both stubborn, thickheaded and convinced that we were in the right, but right now one of us had to jump over their own shadow. This constant see-saw didn't lead anywhere.

"I thought you wanted to give me a ride?"

This time he looked at me and the coldness he radiated was worse than his anger.

"You said you want out."

"God," I exclaimed, throwing my hands into the air. I felt like tearing my hair in frustration. "Do you even feel sorry for what you said to me? Or is it all my fault again? Overreacting, stupid, little female me!"

His façade seemed to crack slightly as the lines around his mouth hardened. At least he was as frustrated as me.

"I am sorry for a lot of things I said to you in the past, but I have tried to be nice so many times now and you still don't get it. Why should I apologize if you don't want to forget about it? You're holding onto this like you want us to be enemies. So I decided to give it up. If you feel better sulking in self-pity, I'll let you do it."

"That's the most ridiculous excuse I've ever heard," I said sharply.

His eyes glinted maliciously at me.

"Or maybe," he continued, ignoring my remark, "Maybe you really want us to stay enemies. Because you lost everything. Or does anyone who knows what happened to you treat you like they treated you before? My hostility is the only normal thing you still have, and you just don't want to lose it!"

My mouth opened automatically to respond something, to shoot back a witty retort, something that would take the meaning out of his words, but my brain couldn't come up with anything, as I gaped at him, probably looking very much like a fish.

"You… you are so disgustingly full with yourself! Do you really think that I am so dependent of you that I try to provoke your hostility? I want you to leave me alone, that's it!"

"Then just get out of the car. I promise it'll be the last time that I offer you a ride."

It was a clever trap, I admitted. If I got out, I would lose this fight and would let him get away with that ridiculous assumption that I wanted to keep up the hostility. If I stayed, I would – in a way – confirm being dependent of him.

"I'll stay, if you say you're sorry."

Admittedly, not the best decision. It was childish and ridiculous, and I realized that I was granting him a small victory with this, meaningless, but still a victory. But it apparently was enough for him, because he laughed quietly, suddenly sounding pleasant again and started the car.

"Alright. I'm sorry. I actually really am. It was a stupid thing to say."

At his genuine smile, I couldn't help but smile back and give him an approving nod.

"You see, that wasn't so hard, right?"

He shook his head in disbelief and pulled the car onto the road again.

"Want to listen to some music?"

I nodded and he turned on the radio. While his mood had obviously improved, I couldn't help but think about his words, and how cruelly spot-on they'd been. He was always like this, I realized, such a tactless jerk, but still, with surprising insight into the human psyche. Into my psyche.

That was probably what made him so popular, and so feared at the same time.

We arrived in front of my house in short time. As I tried to open the door, I found that it had been locked again, and giving him a glare, I saw that he was smirking, obviously finding this joke incredibly funny. My gaze darkened at the reminder of our fight and at the fact that he seemed to take it so easy already, but not wanting to provoke a quarrel again, I simply raised my eyebrows, indicating him to unlock the doors.

A soft click told me he'd done so.

"Lisa?" he called after me, after I'd gotten out of the car.

I turned around and looked at him expectantly.

"Tomorrow, same time?" he asked and it sounded genuinely kind. Hadn't I known him, I would've thought of him as the nicest guy I met in a long time, in this moment.

"Okay."

Jackson's smile was brief, but warm, and I felt an unexpected tingle in my stomach at the soft expression in his eyes. It was so unusual of him to show this side of him to me.

"Who's that?" he suddenly asked and nodded towards the house.

I followed his gaze to see the curtains of our kitchen window fall back in place. Embarrassed, I shot him an abashed grin.

"Ah, that was my mom," I muttered.

Jackson grinned, obviously catching on my embarrassment, but didn't rub it in.

"Well, then say hi for me. And see you tomorrow."

I nodded, silently cursing my mother for her conspicuity. I waited until he'd driven away before I went inside.

"Hey, mom," I greeted her, when I entered the kitchen. She looked up from the apple she was slicing, pretending to be surprised to see me.

"Lisa? Oh, you're home early."

"Yeah. This school mate gave me a ride, in case you've forgotten," I answered sarcastically.

"Oh, right," she said, acting as if she'd just remembered our conversation.

I almost laughed. She was such a bad actress.

"Okay, well, then I'll go do my homework."

"Is he coming tomorrow as well?"

I rolled my eyes. "Yes, and the day after tomorrow, he probably will, too." I had an odd feeling, saying it out loud.

"Alright, honey," my mother said, barely hiding her satisfaction.

As I climbed up the stairs to my room, I couldn't help but wonder if she was actually assumed there could be something between us. How could she possibly think that I would want a boyfriend after what I'd gone through. Didn't she realize that those things were the least of my problems now?

Or maybe, I thought, maybe she was just trying to avoid the topic. Like by behaving like that typical teenage mom, she would venture into safe territory again.

Thinking about it like that made me realize that this was at least better than the concerned looks and the suggestions to start therapy.

If I had the choice between the concerned 'my-daughter-isn't-my-old-daughter-anymore' – mom and the 'my-daughter-is-getting-a-boyfriend' – mom, I surely would have decided for the latter.

Who would've thought Jackson Rippner could actually come in handy one day.

: :

The next days started pretty much the same, with me waking up at a time way too early, then going for a run and taking a shower , before the now familiar car pulling up in front of my house to pick me up. Even though I would have preferred a night with a long, good sleep, I could feel the effects of running in the morning. The relaxing sensation of exhausted muscles and bones, the possibility to release some physical energy and get the head somewhat free, if only for an hour.

What had been an unfamiliar and unwished change in my former morning routine mere days ago had already turned into everyday life. And even though I would have never thought of counting Jackson as a strict part of my day-to-day – and more so, a part that wasn't entirely unwished – even that my mind seemed to have accepted somehow.

And even though Jackson and I still weren't really engaging in friendly conversations – not that it would have been possible, since neither of us wanted to reveal too much of ourselves in front of the other – the atmosphere between us became much more relaxed.

We weren't talking much, besides the usual 'Hi – hi – bye'. Most of the time we would simply sit next to each other in silence for the short time of the drive until we reached our destination. But it was comfortable silence. Sleepy, bored silence in the mornings and exhausted, drained silence in the afternoons.

"You're walking in the wrong direction!"

I stopped and turned around, spotting Jackson leaning against his car about 30 feet away.

"Oh right," I said, walking up to him "Sorry, I forgot to tell you, but you don't need to give me a ride home today."

He looked more like a twelve year-old instead of a senior high school student as he was standing there, pouting slightly, in the public parking lot of our school, which was usually crowded with students, but right now completely empty except for a few cars, due to the late time of day. At five p.m. most students were already home.

The fall slowly stripped the trees of their red and yellow and brown garments and some trees were already bare. It was a beautiful day, and I had decided spontaneously to go to my old, deserted spot on the beach, where I could do some drawings. I hadn't done that in a long time, and I felt like I needed the isolated, calming effect of that place.

"Really? Why not? Don't tell me you have a date!" Jackson said, curiosity mixing with the usual mocking.

"Of course not," I snarled, angry for whatever reason. "I wanted to take a walk to the beach, that's all."

"The beach, really? I've never seen you there before," Jackson remarked warily.

I pursed my lips. Since when was this any of his business?

"It's a remote little spot, but really nice. A bit away from the public beach side. It would be way too much of a detour for you," I added, hoping to shake him off. However, Jackson didn't seem to take the hint.

"No, it's fine, I'll give you a ride. The beach isn't that close and you'll need at least 40 minutes on foot."

I felt uncomfortable with the idea of having him driving me there, because it was my place and mine alone, and Jackson Rippner was the last person on this planet I wanted to share it with.

"No, really, it's fine…" I said, trying for the last time.

"Come on, Leese, if you walk it will be six until you're there."

He was right and I couldn't come up with a better argument, so I simply shrugged.

"Okay, then."

I had to give him directions, while we were driving and despite the fact that I had been there so many times, I struggled to remember the way. I just had never paid any attention to the names of the streets, when I'd taken the bike.

"You can stop here."

We were close to the little trail of sand that led directly to the bay. Jackson looked around.

"Here? There's nothing out here." With a grin, he added. "Or are you taking me here to kill me?"

"Haha," I responded dryly and got out of the car. Jackson followed me and I turned around to him, not really hiding the alarm on my face.

"Err…"

"Relax, relax. I know that you don't want me to come with you."

Embarrassed that he had detected my discomfort about his company so easily, I hastily remarked. "Oh, no, really, that's not it at all…"

"Really? Well, great, because I'm dying to see the place where Lisa Reisert is spending her free time!"

You bastard, I thought, angrily. He knew very well how to direct things to his liking. Now I could hardly tell him no.

"It's really boring, just a small piece of beach, nothing spectacular!"

He shrugged, grinning broadly. "I'm sure it isn't that bad, if you like to come here."

I sighed and started to make my way through the waist high marram grass towards the little part where you could walk. The air already tasted like salt and I could faintly hear the ocean. Despite my company, I involuntary relaxed.

I stopped to take off my shoes and Jackson walked into me from behind, making me fall forward into the sand as I was bending down.

"Oh, I'm sorry."

"No, no, it's alright, never mind."

Awkwardly, he helped me up, neither of us looking at the other. The air between us seemed to have changed somehow, into what, I couldn't tell – didn't want to tell – but it was making my cheeks flare with embarrassment.

"It's right there," I said, just to say anything, and hastily continued my way. His presence behind me was unnerving, the sound of someone else breathing, and the feel of his body heat in my back made my skin crawl.

This place was my place and mine alone.

We reached the small bay and I quickly took a few steps to the side, lucky grateful not to have him so close behind me anymore. If Jackson noticed, I couldn't tell, because I was doing all but looking at him.

I could feel his eyes on me, burning into the side of my head like laser dots, as I kept my eyes trained on the ocean, having a hard time pretending that he wasn't there. He knew that I was uncomfortable under his open stare, but he apparently didn't mind. Didn't he realize how much I wanted him to leave right now?

The silence stretched out between us and I shifted where I stood, my toes wriggling in the sand. The calm feeling that usually overtook me at this place was replaced by a sudden wish to dig my head into the sand, or to jump into the water and swim away, anything to get away from him.

After some time, Jackson softly remarked. "It's nice."

I looked at him and he returned my gaze openly. I looked around like I had to reassure myself that it was true what he'd said. "Yeah?"

When I looked back at him, it seemed like he was standing closer than before. He didn't spare one glance at his surroundings, his eyes still boring into mine as he answered. "Yes."

I didn't know what to respond to that. Respond to anything what he said, actually. A strange confusion had taken over me since we had arrived and right now it was getting so strong that I couldn't form a coherent thought.

Just as I turned away from him, it felt better.

"So, what are you gonna do now?" Jackson asked and followed me over to the place where I would usually sit down and start drawing.

"Umm, I was planning on drawing something…"

My voice trailed off at the smirk on his face and I knew that we were both thinking about the same thing, that time when he had taken my scrapbook from me and browsed through it. The fact that he had seen some of my most private drawings still drew a blush of bashfulness and anger on my face.

"Great! Don't bother with me, pretend I'm not here."

I huffed and sat into the sand, pulling my drawings utensils out of my bag. Pretend I'm not here, my ass. He knew just as well I couldn't do that!

Still, I tried bravely, attempting a sketch of a dead tree near the cliffs, my fingers almost trembling from having him watching me so intently.

"You're really good," Jackson said after a while, pulling the scrapbook from my hands to look at the sketch. "When did you start drawing?"

I shot him a dark look, slightly irritated that he interrupted me and reached for the book. "Can I have that back?"

"When you answer my question."

I sat back and shrugged, not really seeing the point of this discussion. "A few years ago. I would draw something every now and then, during school maybe, when I was bored, and when I started to realize that I actually wasn't that bad, I started doing it more and more."

Jackson smiled and skimmed through the last pages of my scrapbook, ignoring the hand I held out. "But you haven't drawn anything in the last weeks," he observed.

Again, I shrugged. This time, the nonchalance was forced, though. "I had other things on my mind lately."

He looked up at my sharp tone and there was a pained expression in his eyes that startled me.

"I know you think that it didn't affect me at all, but… don't think that I take this lightly."

I didn't respond. My eyes fixed on the grayish waves, the water breaking against the raw cliffs.

"You have no idea how shocked I was, when I found you that night," he continued. "How helpless I felt. One minute we're fighting our usual childish high-school fights, and the other you lay there, as if you were dead…"

He broke off and I could feel him shift uncomfortably. My hands turned into tight fists at his words.

"What do you think how I reacted? Indifferent? Gleeful even?" His voice became louder and I felt chill run down my arms, making the little hairs stand up. I realized that I had never been alone with him like this, in a place fully remote and isolated.

Heatedly, he claimed. "I'm not such a person, Lisa! I'm not that fucked up!"

His voice was trembling slightly and I stiffened, still refusing to move.

"God damnit, look at me!"

I jumped when he grabbed my chin and turned my face toward his, his thumb dipping into the skin beneath my lower lip. I stared at him, terrified by his sudden anger and the almost feverish glint in his eyes. He was sitting close to me, his knee was pushing into my thigh. I became aware of the threat of him as a man, not as some high school jerk.

He seemed to read what was going on in my mind, because he released me and shuffled back in the sand, putting distance between us.

"Relax, nobody's hurting you," he soothed and only then I realized that my eyes had filled with tears.

I turned away, showing my back to him when I felt the tears spilling, refusing to cry in front of him. It was the first time that I had a breakdown in front of another person. I had always managed to hold it together until now. The tightening in my chest and throat foreboded a panic attack and I pulled my knees to my chest, hiding my face.

The panic set in and hindered my breathing, making me emit choking sobs that sounded absolutely pathetic to my own ears. I didn't want to know how I looked to him right now. Helpless, weak. I despised myself more than I did him at this moment, but it only made me cry harder.

I felt Jackson move behind me and lay his arm around me, carefully stroking my hair.

"I'm sorry, Leese. I didn't want to frighten you." There was clear distress in his voice. At first it surprised me, but then I remembered his despair when I had cried in front of him in the forest, his incapability to deal with the situation. He was obviously unable to comfort another human being.

When I didn't stop, he pulled me into an awkward half-embrace, as I wouldn't leave the curled up position I was in. "Hey, calm down."

My sobs died down and I breathed in deeply, trying to get it together. He squeezed my upper arms lightly and I stiffened as I realize how close he'd gotten. He was still holding me, his hands rubbing circles on my arms and shoulders and I was practically leaning against him.

"I'm sorry," I sniffed. "I didn't mean to be hysteric."

"It's okay. I expected it, really. I'm surprised how long you managed to keep up the façade."

Those words weren't exactly comforting, in fact they sounded more like his chauvinistic bullshit than solace, but I sensed that he was trying his best to be friendly.

I shifted a bit, expecting him to release me now that I had calmed down, but he didn't make any attempts to let go of me. With more force, I pulled myself out of his arms and he reluctantly lost his hold on me.

I moved away from him, suddenly finding myself unable to meet his gaze. I felt him watching me and a blush rose up in my cheeks. Experiencing this new, gentle side of him confused me, and I didn't understand why I felt so uncomfortable about it. It was, after all, much better than being bullied.

"I should go home, now," I said, even though we hadn't been here for long, yet. I just couldn't bear to be alone with him for any longer.

"Okay. I'll drive you home."

He stood and helped me to my feet, before quickly bending down and scooping up my belongings. I reached out to take my bag from his hands, a 'thanks' already forming on my lips, but he ignored me and swung it over his shoulder, carrying it for me.

I felt my face burn as I followed him, oddly embarrassed by the gesture.

"Really, I can carry it."

"No, it's fine."

It was, in a way, a polite thing to do, carrying a girl's bag, an act that so did not fit to the brisk, cold tone his voice had taken.

We quietly made our way back to the car, where I secretly threw a glance at the reflecting surface of the window. I looked like a mess, with puffy eyes and red nose, and I quickly wiped the tears away with my sleeve, hoping to erase as much evidence of my breakdown as possible.

We drove back in silence, both of us lost in thoughts. Once or twice, I threw a glance at him from the corner of my eyes, but he kept his eyes stolidly ahead, feigning ignorance of my presence.

"Well, I guess, I see you tomorrow," I said, when the car stopped in front of my house.

Jackson nodded absently. "Don't forget your bag."

I climbed out of the car and he drove off without another word. I looked after him, until the car rounded a corner, confused by his sudden taciturnity. Against my will, against the voice of pride and rationality which told me that I hadn't done anything wrong, I wondered if I had angered him somehow.

After all, he had been the one who followed me to the bay, not I. I had made very clear to him that his attendance was undesired, so what did he expect? Was he upset because I had literally fled from the bay in the end? Or was I overreacting again?

In the end, I decided simply that it was useless to dwell on it, anyway. I wouldn't reach a conclusion, other than blaming myself, and if I'd ask him, all I would get was a cryptic answer or a cynical stare.

They say, a girl can never tell the truth about how she feels. If that was the case, then Jackson Rippner had definitely more of a girl than he liked to admit.


Next chapter is going to be Jackson's POV again. I'm really looking forward to it and am already halfway finished ;) Please tell me what you think about the pacing, I'm really scared that it gets too boring for you guys, I'm trying to keep the whole process a bit realistic, just because I want to be respectful to the issue this story is dealing with.