The next morning, I woke with dried red paint on the tip of my finger, charcoal smudged on my cheek, hair still in a messy ponytail, curled in my enormous quilt. Rebel, my kitten, laid, curled near my arm. I smiled and ran my hand over her soft fur. Glancing at the sunlight streaming through my window, I groaned. Sun meant morning, morning meant school, and school meant seeing Jesse. What the hell was I going to say?
I pushed myself out of bed, instantly cold, my bare feet settling on the freezing wooden floors. Walking across the short distance to my dress I pulled out my comfort clothes, my favorite pair of jeans and an art camp T- shirt from last summer, that made feel safe, almost invisible. I slid the clothes on and walked into my bathroom, squinting as I flipped the light on. Fluorescent lights showed every fault, I noticed, studying the disarray of my hair and the bags under my eyes, puffy from crying.
"God damn." I whispered, softly, touching my face. I looked like shit.
Twenty minutes, and I was on the bus, resting my face against the cool seat of the bus. What was I going to say to Jesse? The bus pulled to a stop, irritated that school was this close, I pushed myself up out of the seat and stomped off. Jesse was standing there. Waiting for me. I felt my stomach flip and all of the sudden, I couldn't think straight, this was Jesse, but things had changed. Right?
His mouth was starting to open, to say something, anything, when Emily came up from behind him, sliding her hands over his stomach, and turning him around to kiss him. Tears clouded my eyes and suddenly, I felt like was going to throw up. Not even bothering to see if he pushed her away, I turned around, frantically trying to escape. I couldn't do this. I couldn't watch them together. I couldn't hurt this badly, wishing it was me in his arms. The school parking lot was the closest escape, and from across the distance I saw Shawn getting out of his car. I started off towards his car, tears spilling down now.
The instant he saw my face, he knew something was wrong. "What's wrong?"
"Just take me home." I couldn't explain it now. Not here, not when Jesse could come bounding across the parking lot any second, with his little lap dog at his heels. I just needed to go back home and work, go in the studio, and forget everything. Forget Jesse, forget how my heart was breaking, and forget being jealous.
"Jaz, stop, talk to me. What's going on?"
"Shawn, I don't have time. I need to leave, Jesse..."
"What about Jesse? He's right there."
Horrified, I whirled around to see Jesse coming across the parking lot. He was running, his hair blowing, because of the wind and he looked really worried. I glanced behind him. Emily wasn't there. Probably laughing with her evil flying monkeys about what a pathetic loser I was, to think I could be worthy of Jesse. Jesse, football player, with incredible eyes and a perfect smile.I had to leave. I turned, trying to get in the car, my heart pounding and my head spinning. But someone had my arm.
I looked over and saw Shawn, standing, a determined look on his face. Jaw set, face stone. "Shawn, please." My protests died in my throat, just the look in his eyes was enough to silence me. He wasn't going to let me run away.
And just like that Jesse was there, holding his side and breathing hard. His eyes stinging from running in the cold and his cheeks red. "Jaz." I looked down at my scuffed tennis shoes, that were littered with pen drawing and permanent marker doodles from when I was bored in class.
I felt Shawn let go of my arm as the bell rang loud and clear across the parking lot. "I'm going to go. Here, use my car, it's freezing." He put the keys in my hands and shot me a reassuring smile. I couldn't smile back, but I nodded numbly, fumbling with the keys in my cold hands.
I didn't say anything, just opened the door and got into the car. Jesse did the same. He turned to face me, but I just stared straight ahead. He used his hand to turn my face towards his.
"Stop crying, Jaz."
My irritation and defense system came flying back up, "I am not crying." Yeah, just ignore the salty droplets streaming down my face.
"Then, what are you doing?"
"I'm leaking anger and frustration, it's a new artistic method." Sarcasm came bubbling from my lips again.
His voice was gentle, sweet. "Stop leaking anger and frustration, then, okay?" His finger stroked my cheek. I pulled back, wiping at the tears on my face.
"Okay." Silence hung around us.
"Jaz, we're going to have to talk eventually."
"But Emily might be getting lonely in homeroom."
"Jaz, don't talk like that. Emily isn't what's important." He looked serious, "This is about us, not her."
"She's a part of it. Emily, your perfect girlfriend, and she still is your girlfriend, Jesse, isn't she? I mean, judging from that little kiss in front of the buses, I'd say she's still what's important." What had I expected? Had I really expected him to break up with her and show up with roses for me, professing his undying love? This was the real world, not some fairytale.
"God damn it, Jaz. You, and me that's what's important. Our friendship, that means more than some three-week relationship with a cheerleader. And you should know that."
"You should have shown it more!"
"You should have told me you had feelings for me!" He looked mad, too. Good, we could both get mad.
"When did I have time to tell you? You were always with Emily or with the team. How was I supposed to tell my best friend that I was having more than friendly feelings for him when he didn't seem the slightest bit interested in me, as anything, especially as a girlfriend, maybe not even as a friend?" Not to mention that I hadn't understood my feelings at first.
"How could you think that?"
"Think what? That I was cutting into your social time, your popular life, and that I was just a little bit out of place, as the geeky artist?"
"Geeky artist?"
"Yeah, the nerd you used to like hanging out with, until you discovered the better things out there. " My heart hurt. I was finally saying things that I had secretly been thinking since Jesse made the football team, since all of his friends seemed a little bit too cool, since all of the hot girls at our school had him on their crush list, since I had felt out of place.
"Nerd? Jaz, you aren't a nerd, you aren't a geek!" He grabbed my hand, he looked stressed, like he couldn't believe I actually thought the things I was saying. But I did. "Jaz, you're gorgeous."
"What?" I pulled my hand away, trying to see if he was kidding.
"You, Jasmine Stone, artistic genius, are gorgeous. You're beautiful, cool, funny, smart, "
"That's not funny."
"I'm not making fun of you, Jaz. I'm being serious. Emily, she's just a girl. You are the girl I have wanted to be with, since I can remember."
"You.wanted me?"
"No. I want you."
"What about Emily?"
"Stop. Emily is nothing. You are everything. And you know what? You always have been, Jaz. Maybe, I'm not the only one who needs to open up their pretty eyes and look around. I was always there, while you cried over all those other losers.you don't think I was jealous?"
"I always thought you saw me as another guy." My voice was quiet, cracking.
"Never."
"But you just kissed Emily, I saw you, I."
"You didn't see me push her away and you didn't see me repeat what I told her last night, that me and her are over."
"You broke up with the poodle?"
"The poodle?" He laughed his wonderful laugh; he had never heard my nickname for his beloved love interest. That one, and bitch, skank.the list went on and on. "Yeah, I broke up with her."
"For me?"
"For a lot of reasons, but you are at the top."
"You really have feelings for me?"
"Jaz, I've been your best friend for two years. And every time I can smell the shampoo in your hair, I can't think straight. Every time, you smile, my stomach flips. Every time, you pass out on my couch or on my bed, and I see you sleeping there, I just wake you up and kiss you. Every time, you have a smudge of paint on your cheek from when you've been working late, I can't stop thinking about how beautiful you are. Every time, you cried over your Dad, I wanted to kill that son of a bitch and take away all your pain."
I realized I was crying again. It all made sense. Every weird look, every time he'd said something weird. He wanted me. Like I wanted him. And I had wanted him, all the time, too. I pressed my fingers over his lips.
"I love you, Jesse. I really do." Then, without thinking, I grabbed the collar of his football jacket, pulling him closer to me and I kissed him. And soon, he was kissing me back. His fingers in my wavy brown hair and mine in his sandy blonde, I couldn't think, couldn't do anything, but feel the kiss, feel him. I pulled back, not able to breathe, looking at him, it looked like he felt the same way.
"Jesse."
"Jaz."
We couldn't talk, couldn't think. I traced the outline of his face with my finger, slowly, savoring each detail. "Best friends." He gently kissed my lips again, as if testing my response.
"Forever."