mom doesn't know.
Jax is ignoring me and it's beginning to make my stomach ache. It feels final and heavy and it kind of makes me itch.
Mom says I itch because I want to take the words back, and she asks me why I won't. I say it's because Jax doesn't like retractions—they are stupid and cowardly, and he tells me that I shouldn't have to take anything back if there's truth to it.
But when Mom hears this, she just stares at me with hard, thinking eyes and says, No, that's not why.
Mom calls it pride, but she doesn't know.
It seems to me there aren't many good people in existence, but I know Jax is one of them.
He doesn't even volunteer at shelters or tutor kids like I do, so sometimes I don't get it. He's lazy and really impatient, but somehow he's a bigger person than I am. Somehow he is the most genuine person I know.
And I don't know how I found it in myself to hurt him. I did, though, and I'm still not sure if I'm supposed to stomp into his dorm and say, "Jax, I never meant it," because even after all these years, I don't know how he'd respond—even if those five words would be the most truthful ones I've ever spoken and I'd be a coward to deny him a retraction of the words I'd never meant.
It seems to me there is only one way to find out, but Jax has always been the brave one, not me. So maybe I'll just wait.
(Because Jax was the first to put hot sauce on his celery sticks in the sixth grade, and I only poured the Tabasco when he'd taken his first bite. He even asked a girl to the Sadie Hawkins dance back in high school just so I wouldn't be afraid to ask a guy. Jax always goes first.)
I think I'll wait. Yes, maybe I'll just wait.
It's been two months. The calendar next to the cereal cupboard says so, and I realize that sitting around is rather draining. My weary hands grab a bowl and I pour some Honey Nut Cheerios in—glucose for short-term energy, but what did my biology teacher say about long-term? I can't remember, but I think I need some.
"What are you waiting for, sweetheart?" Mom says as she puts the lipstick back in her purse and stands up to leave. She has been asking me this for two months—maybe I should stop coming home on the weekends—and always her face is expectant, and always I disappoint.
"Jax," I say around a mouthful of cereal. Glucose for short-term energy, Jax for long-term.
She just says "Oh" and tells me to make sure I fix my hair — I already have, but I tell her I will anyway — and then she is out the door.
I think Mom is tired of that answer, and I know I am tired of waiting. (Jax always told me I was the patient one, but sometimes he is wrong.)
"Jax," I say mildly, plopping down on the stone bench we used to share on the far side of the campus.
He scoots over a bit and unscrews his water bottle. "Cadence."
I am almost surprised that he even responds, but then I remember that this is why I love him so much. He flows and he flows and I don't think he's ever surprised.
"So I've been thinking," I start off, and while I feel like looking down at my feet or at the bird that's tap-tap-tapping at the bread on the ground, I am looking right into his golden-brown eyes. Jax says eye contact makes everything more real. "I've been thinking maybe you were wrong about some things."
"Yeah?" he says simply, but there is something different in his voice. He seems expectant, almost hopeful, but my instincts are often screwy so I just keep talking.
"No, you were definitely wrong about some things." I am more confident this time around, and not just because Jax isn't fond of indecision. I think Jax makes me more confident, period.
I am quiet and he is quiet, and finally he says, "And here I was thinking you came over to apologize." I try to hide the wave of relief that hits me and soothes me all at once because now I know I can still say sorry. I made him wait two months for me to trample pride and wrestle fear, but I can still say sorry. Jax smiles wryly. He has been hurting and wishing and Jax is the sweetest boy I know.
I clear my throat. "You were wrong. I'm not patient. And who says I can't take back my words? I want to. They were stupid and cowardly."
Jax is quiet and so am I and finally he says, "So you don't think I'm ignorant or hasty or over-confident—and you don't think my dreams are kids' dreams?" He sounds like a confused boy who needs reassurance, but Jax is never confused and he is never uncertain.
"No," I whisper and I swallow as the tears burn my eyes because sometimes I am confused and uncertain. The boy with the dimples and the ever-whistling mouth—the impatient eyes and the beautifully stubborn brow—this boy is helping me with that. He has always been helping me and I need to help him right back because it feels like we are fighting a losing battle.
"So you think that one day my parents will understand that I don't need a stupid trophy wife—" oh, he spits out the words, "and you know that I'll only ever want you?" Jax is holding my hand and my gaze and my heart, and he repeats softly, "Cadence. You know that, right?"
I nod and he nods and he says lightly, "Okay." Then he reaches into his back pocket, tells me to close my eyes, and I jolt in surprise when something cold grazes my knuckles.
I look down and his name is spelled in cursive letters on the back of my left hand.
"The heck?" I say slowly and dryly, and he holds up a stamp with a grin stretching across his face.
"My sister had this made for me a while back and I found it in my closet." So Jax stamps his name all over my hands and my forehead and my cheeks and my neck and after a while I start to wonder if he is just having fun or if he wants to remind himself that I'm his.
And it's silly but there is a part of my heart that flinches at the plastic sticker on the stamp. The label is peeling and faded but it says "washable," and of course it is, but as my eyes lock with his I decide that I don't want the ink to ever fade.
But Jax looks so happy and so sure and his eyes are so warm and so wise and Jax makes me believe him when he tells me—promises me—that nothing can stop us.
We're just kids, after all, and what can stop a kid?
(But we're kids struggling to get through our last years of college while fighting against a society that still demands too much, controls too much. We're kids, but they want us to grow up too fast.)
But I believe him because it is the only thing that feels right. I believe him, but there is a part of my heart that still falters.
Mom is so pleased.
But even though it hurts her to say it because it shouldn't be this way and it should never be this way, Mom says maybe Jax and I — maybe we love too much.
I want to demand a retraction but Jax just shakes his head and says Mom doesn't know, and for some reason that makes my stomach ache. It makes me get to scratching, too, and then I feel like crying.
Mom calls it premonition, but she doesn't know.
author's note. uhm. sometimes this feels like a prologue but i've never really written one so how am i supposed to know what that feels like?
anyway. the heck? this was supposed to be happy. oh well. i went downstairs to eat and when i came back and re-read i was like, "seems finished to me," so now i'm posting it. and it's different than what i usually write so send the con-crit my way and don't be shy ya little rascal. and if you think this ends weirdly, i might agree with you. (i don't mean you telling me to make them get married or anything ROFL. you can if you want, though. it'll be funny. do it!) right now i'm lazy and it feels finished. therefore it is. some things are better short, anyway. like dogs. i like them shorter than me.