He arrives at the end of the cafeteria line slightly before she does, but a forceful push against his side knocks him out of place and he almost trips over untied shoelaces.
"Sorry," he says, righting himself and taking his place in the queue behind her.
The response she'd prepared, Back off, kid, I haven't eaten in a whole day, fades from the tip of her tongue when the boy doesn't even get mad. "Why are you apologizing? I pushed you."
"Force of habit. Sorry."
There stare at each other for a bit – her because he's a complete doormat if she's ever seen one, and him because she's got really striking glass-like eyes, if that doesn't sound too creepy.
He's the new guy, and they're eleven years old here. Only one of them will remember this encounter; the other won't know what hit them until later.
Jade almost gags as she tosses the moldy bread in the trashcan. Why can't her mother go to the grocery store like regular people instead of buying gas-station lotto scratch cards?
She's on the steps leading up to the front doors, making snowflakes out of her detention slips (skipping class, talking back, nothing interesting) when a boy named Beck sits down beside her, asking if she is okay. She tells him it's none of his business, but he pushes forward and says that his friends have diagnosed her with an eating disorder because she never eats.
She snorts. They've all probably watched too much Dr. Phil. What she has is called a low-income, single-parent household, not that she'd share that with him.
"Here, have my hoagie," he says, and she doesn't even know what that is. Then he pulls out a glorified sandwich out of his backpack, leaves it on her lap and stands up to go back the way he came.
She sits beside him in band on the first day of grade eight even though there are four (he counts) empty spots elsewhere. His heartbeat quickens because this seems like an accomplishment, like he's waited long enough, and the butterfly has finally landed on his finger and now he has to focus on not scaring it away by doing something stupid, like sneezing or speaking too loudly.
By the end of class, she hasn't rolled her eyes or narrowed them at him once. He figures it's safe to ask about the rest of her schedule then.
"God," she says, before he can, while packing up her instrument, "you're really terrible with that trumpet. Stop before you kill a small animal."
They become friends after that, but there's no tracing it back to one moment. The memories are blurry and he wishes that he hadn't dismissed so many of them so early on when it was still too soon for them to have any significance.
He meets a lot of people freshman year, but it's Jade who's beside him by his parent's pool on the first day of summer vacation.
He stares up at the sky instead of turning to look at her in case his eyes wander. She's in her swimsuit and eight grade had been kind to her, you know, and he should really be a gentleman if he's planning on asking her to be his girlfriend today.
The idea of bringing Jade to yoga seems so initially brilliant that he wishes he'd thought of it before. She'll learn breathing techniques and be less stressed so that maybe she'll stop making people cry and pee and lose their dignity.
The plan sort of flops, though, when Jade snarls at all the girls who are apparently admiring his butt during downward dog.
He spends the summer at acting camp, taking cool workshops taught by legit famous people. In the evenings, he visits her and they'll go through their favorite monologues from movies. Jade ends up surprising him with her raw talent for slipping into characters, and the first song she sings him makes him feel like he hasn't known her until now.
Beck blurts out that she'll get into Hollywood Arts for sure, that she should join him next year. She lets him get excited over that while she picks at the peeling, dingy yellow wallpaper in her bedroom, left by the previous owner. "I bet they have scholarships, Jade," he says.
They do, but she doesn't get them.
Time and distance don't come without a strain on their relationship.
She doesn't understand that a late play rehearsal is a late play rehearsal. Sometimes the only practice space he has is at another girl's house, and he's not even doing anything wrong, just running lines and eating cupcakes.
Other times she treats him like a mirror on the wall, only wanting his reassurance that she is the prettiest. There's always some threat in her periphery. She must be making them up, but he wouldn't know; lately they've been looking in two different directions.
He doesn't want to hurt her, but that's probably the reason why their break up is such a mess, with all the jagged edges of a cut by a dull blade.
She could have told him that this is what happens when you play with safety scissors. Good intentions but nothing to show for it but a botched job and sore fingers.
Life without Jade only works for a few months, and then he's pretty lonely. Graduation rolls by as he realizes that most of his high school friends weren't actually great friends. He should have branched out and gotten to know different crowds, like the musicians and the tech crew and the singers.
The upside of his summer job at the hardware store is that it's right beside the sandwich shop where Jade's conveniently working. She has an eyebrow and a nose piercing now, even a tattoo in the inside of her right arm.
"I never pictured you working here," he says after placing his order because he is dumb and that's the first thing that comes to mind.
"Oh, the deli slicer had a certain appeal," she replies, all customer-friendly, nodding at the shiny contraption in the corner.
"I'm sorry, Jade," he says after placing his order on the second day.
She rolls her eyes. "Beck, it's been forever ago. I've moved on."
Yes, he thinks, but even so, he still might love her. He continues to buy sandwiches for lunch there every day after that.
"I thought you said monotony wasn't your thing," she tells him once as she searches for change.
"It isn't." He can't resist. "But I don't come here for the sandwiches."
"Ugh," Jade groans, sounding revolted, and sort of flings the coins at him, which he fumbles to catch. He isn't deterred, though. Easy's boring.
They're dating before fall and pretend they're young again until Beck has to go off to college. He'd asked what her plans were earlier, but she'd waved him off, saying that perhaps college would come later.
He studies filmmaking at first, but decides he likes the theatre program more; she's auditioning for things, tries searching for a good agent, books a couple of commercials. It's a tiring struggle as the rest of the world slowly becomes unveiled to them, but they keep their hold on each other.
"She's some kinda wonderful / She makes a mean steak and she's an eyeful / My baby she's some kinda wonderful to me / She's some kinda wonderful to me." He plays this song to wake her up on her birthday just because he can. Her head disappears under the covers as she groans.
"It's your favorite type of band, Jade!" He gleefully raises the volume. "Canadian!"
The force of a pillow hurtling towards him shouldn't knock him off the edge of the bed, but it does. He's kind of in awe at how she hit his head with such great precision without even looking.
"She's some kinda wonderful, you see."
His mother calls to check up on him, ask him about his sleeping habits, eating habits, the usual, until: "You're still with that girl?"
"Yeah," Beck says. There's only been one girl to whom she could be referring with that question. To his parents, Jade is known as 'the girl who kept Beck holed up in his RV for most of high school', and also, 'the girl he moped over for the rest of it', and later, 'the girl who distracts him from his college studies'. They've clearly underestimated her ability to become all those things because they don't know her well enough to understand how she had. He supposes this is mostly his fault, in retrospect.
His mother hums thoughtfully, not exactly in disapproval or approval, just in thought.
He says, albeit belatedly, "I'd really like for you to get to know her again."
"You can bring her home for Christmas."
Half his family thinks he's lost his mind; the other half grow quite fond of her abrasiveness. No one's indifferent, though, and he decides that this is a good thing.
Networking and opening up new opportunities comes easily to Beck. Jade will sometimes grumble words that she doesn't mean under her breath. They don't see his talent, she argues, they look at him and see the pocket money of tween girls.
She still carries her insecurities close, and he's still learning to be more sensitive to these things. They may be older and better at getting over themselves, but pride still gets in the way occasionally.
One night Beck oversteps his boundaries with some offhand, trivial comment, but that mine sets off the rest of the trust issues, and all of a sudden they're going around in circles again in a particularly stubborn argument.
"If I'm such a burden, then why don't you – "
"If you were a burden, then I wouldn't be wasting my time to make you see – "
It goes on like that for a while.
She thinks she's being clingy again, like how she was last time he was prompted to leave, so she balks before her next move and grabs her keys instead, heads out the door so he doesn't have to.
He's probably looking for a love story that she doesn't know how to write.
In the morning, they stumble upon each other in the kitchen. Her jacket is strewn on the couch, a makeshift blanket that has his chest feeling a little heavy.
"I thought you left."
Uncharacteristically subdued, she shrugs. "I couldn't go."
"Sometimes I feel like the luckiest guy in the world," he admits on another night when they are resting in bed and the world has slowed down. "I don't know why you picked me."
"You gave me a sandwich once," she murmurs absently, reminiscing. She is already half asleep.
"My sandwich offering won you over?"
"It was actually good," she lies for simplicity's sake. She doesn't remember anything about the sandwich. She remembers a boy and his niceness, how it wasn't only a fluke, a one-time occurrence, and how he never used it against her like she thought would happen.
"New York City?" she repeats.
"Come with me," he asks again, his certainty stronger this time. Life is a gamble, so why not roll the dice before they lose their turn? They'll travel light. Just them, a couple of bags, their young idealism.
She considers this during another sip of coffee. "Since when have I ever been an idealist?"
She follows him across the country, anyway. Being in love has probably made her one before she ever realized it.
They haven't unpacked yet, so dinner is a little picnic set up on the floor of their one bedroom apartment.
Beck digs out a small velvet box from his pocket and presents to her a small diamond ring, which still manages to twinkle in the dimness. She could really kill him for all these giant leaps of faith he's been putting her through if she didn't have all these other reasons to keep him around.
He's that little boy again with the butterfly on his finger when he asks her to marry him.
She feels their whole future flourish in front of them when she says yes.
I stole a few lines of dialogue from my favourite TV show. Thanks to Cassandra/Bade Prompts for organizing this Save the Date event. My prompt was a good sandwich.