Because Jess Sounds Like 'Yes'

She doesn't remember where she met him, no particular moment engrained in her head. But her memories of childhood are laden with his bright smile, and the cowlick on the left side of his scalp, the part never lying just quite as flat as he would have wanted.

He was obsessed with puzzles, all strategies and one-step-ahead thoughts running through his mind at every second that his eight-year-old heart wasn't napping away. When she gave him a Rubik's cube for his ninth birthday he hugged her so tight she thought that the feeling of his arms around her would be something tattooed into her skin.

He liked peanut butter and banana sandwiches. And spending entire summer days biking to the fountain in the neighborhood over. Barefoot and often shirtless, his hair would be slicked back from his face as he traumatized the cooing pigeons.

When the doctor told his family that his mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer, she was the first person he called. His voice was a blur over the phone, and as muddled as the tears that leaked down his face.

Three years later when his family moved away, he would write emails in navy blue Times New Roman. Friday nights at eight o'clock meant playing Mario Kart in front of the web cam until he fell asleep in his Buzz Lightyear sleeping bag; Yoshi's cart propelling off rainbow road into the darkness.

But plans would be made and a birthday party across town would lead to "next Friday, for sure", and one person would be alone for the night. He started playing the trumpet and running on the school track team. She got braces and took tennis lessons at the local gym. Friday nights became track meets, school band concerts, and tennis tournaments.

And so they grew apart.

~Eight years later~

She's walking to the school library, benches of upperclassmen judging silently from their perches on the surrounding seats. It would be understandable if she wasn't a senior herself. But as an upperclassman, the awareness of self image digs deep and grows roots in the marrow of her bones.

Her butt's big, filling up her jeans, the belt buckle digging into the soft flesh at her middle when she walks and bends. Her breasts grew over summer and suddenly the upgrade feels like a betrayal by her own body, the extra weight bringing attention she never wanted in the first place.

She's angling her body in as she walks, shoulders rolled forward, head tucked down so that bangs brush the arch of her cheek with every step she takes.

And then, a whisper across the lobby. "Jess." Not so much a whisper, more of an exhaled greeting. Like a crowd whisper that was honest to god trying to be subtle but slipped out in a moment of indecision and haste.

She falters but keeps moving. Because 'Jess' sounds a lot like 'yes', and she's responded to strangers too often, and experienced the flash of humiliation that burns across her cheeks as she mutters a stuttered apology at the interruption. So she keeps walking.

Then, "Jessie."

And she stops. It's him. She hasn't heard his voice in eight years, and she's dreamt about seeing him again so much that she was sure that his voice was warped in her memories. But the deep baritone is resilient, the ascending tone at the end of her name a dull statement. He isn't questioning if it's her.

He knows.

Eyes widening, she lifts her head and sees a boy dressed in Air Force fatigues, the dark pants swallowing up his legs that melt into the bright linoleum of the school hallway floor. His hands fold his flight cap into his jacket pocket, the silver pins on his shoulders shining brilliantly in the fluorescent lighting.

"Alex," she breathes out, the sound of his name a soft flick of her tongue that vibrates her teeth as she speaks.

He walks forward, steps measured and calculated to land him just in front of her. If he reaches out, he could grasp her chin. But it's trembling so hard now that his grip could slide right off. Dark hazel eyes search her own green ones, and his lips part. His presence is consuming, the energy of his body setting every sense in her body afire with consciousness.

"I promised myself that the next time I saw you I'd do this." And with that single sentence, he tilts her face up to his, her bangs falling away, creases between her eyebrows smoothing out as his lips make all the stress in her body retreat to focus on this single moment.

His lips are soft and firm as they move against hers. Her hands settle on the creases of his elbows before moving up to his shoulder blades. His hands drift to grasp her sides before sliding to her lower back.

Pulling back for a moment, he smiles, the birth mark next to his cheek transforming as his dimple weaves its way onto his features. He leans his forehead against hers, and locks his arms around her waist to tug her body to his, holding her warmth against him for a moment as he rests his chin on top of her head.

He's grown tall since she last saw him. The stocky nine-year-old that used to have trouble pedaling to the neighborhood fountain has become lean limbs that fill out his cadet uniform handsomely. His hands are strong and his arms sinewy. Protective and capable without being overbearing or restrictive, he holds her.

"I missed you," he whispers, the words drowned out by her choked sob, the tracks of her tears leaving a crusty trail of salt in their wake. Her fingers clench in the back of his uniform. He swallows, the sound a roar in the silence hovering between their bodies.

"I-"

"want a full report on the effects of absolutism in France by Monday," the teacher drones, her voice a sharp contrast to the daydream, and the girl's head snaps up, her hand flexing without the weight of the head it had been supporting for the ninety minute class.

The bell rings, and her bangs slip out from the crevice behind her ear to brush into her green eyes as she gathers her notebooks and departs the class. And she walks past the benches, gazes of upperclassmen brushing over her before moving onto the next possible spectacle.

This is my entry for A Drop of Romeo's Star-Crossed contest! The entire story before the 'Eight Years Later' is actually completely true, and inspired by a friendship with my childhood friend that dissolved after we moved apart. I hope you liked it, feel free to review!

notjustink