"Jake, can you please come on already?"
Ignoring his mother's voice, Jake Allen sprayed his cologne, taking his time getting ready for dinner. He knew that it was already nearly six-thirty, which was when dinner was supposed to begin across the street at the Ayers' residence, but Jake always took his time when it came to entering that house. He glanced at the laptop on his bed, thinking of the email he had received a few hours ago; he especially was prolonging his arrival to dinner today.
Having received no answer, Diane Allen appeared in the doorway to Jake's bedroom. "Come on, Jacob. Now."
Jake made a face and held his hand against his stomach. "Maybe I'm not hungry today."
Concern made Diane's eyebrows raise. "Are you okay?"
The grumbling of Jake's stomach answered for him, and a sheepish smirk appeared on his face. "I guess so."
The concern turned to disapproval on his mother's face. "Right now," Diane repeated, flicking the overhead light off in Jake's bedroom and leaving him in the dark. "I'm leaving without you and not saving you any food if you don't come on."
Resisting the urge to laugh a little at that, Jake exited his bedroom, following his mom down the stairs. It was December, and after the most stressful fall of his life, his first semester of college was finally complete. He had only been home for a few days, but he couldn't deny the glow of happiness that exuded from his mother. She must have been lonely while he was gone. And she's only going to get lonelier, Jake thought nervously, feeling his stomach lunge.
"You know, Hannah got home today," Diane stated as she put on her winter coat. "Her last final was this morning." She glanced at Jake, who was careful to keep his face guarded, as she stepped outside. "That should make you walk faster because you know she's going to be more than ready for her first homemade meal. The table might already be empty."
The mention of Hannah did nothing to alleviate the nervous energy in Jake's stomach. He was thankful to turn his back as he locked the front door and chose to remain a few steps behind his mother while they walked across the street. Patricia Ayers, Hannah's mother, had been the best friend to Diane since their own college years, and he had made many trips to dinner at the Ayers' house; this one was the most painful.
Without knocking, Diana pushed the front door of the Ayers' house open, and Jake entered only a moment behind her. Coming down the stairs as he walked in was Hannah, and Jake couldn't ignore the sparkle that lit up her blue eyes when they shared a glance. Quickly, however, the sparkle was masked, and a smirk was placed on Hannah's face, which Jake was just as quick to mirror.
"Jacob," Hannah greeted flatly.
The pair shared a long look until Jake looked away. Then a smile blossomed over Hannah's face as she went to Diane, throwing her arms around her neck. "Hey, Diane! Oh my God, it's so good to see you!"
"Oh, sweetheart, it's so good to see you too!"
Making a grand gesture of rolling his eyes, Jake bypassed the reunion between his mother and Hannah and made his way to the kitchen, where Patricia and Isaac, Hannah's brother, were setting the table.
"Hey, Jake," Isaac greeted easily. "How's it going?"
"Amazing now that I see all of this food." Jake grinned at Patricia, who was setting bowls of mashed potatoes and corn on the table. "It smells incredible."
Patricia beamed and swatted Jake's upper arm. "Look at you trying to be sweet." She tipped her head back and laughed. "Don't you worry, Jake. I've baked your favorite chocolate cake."
"Jake gets his favorite when I requested the menu?" Hannah's voice came from the doorway, from where she was casting a sour look at Jake. "Mom, that's not quite fair."
Patricia rolled her eyes. "Oh, hush, child."
"No, I think I see Hannah's point," Isaac agreed; it seemed as though the expression on his face was almost a pout. "Mom, Jake always gets his way around here. You might as well adopt him as your kid instead of me and Han."
Patricia rolled her eyes. "Isaac, be quiet." She walked so easily that she could have been dancing as she traveled around the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on dinner. Jake thought it was very sad that Patricia tucked away a plate of food into the microwave, undoubtedly for her husband who was almost never seen.
Jake took his normal seat beside Isaac, and Hannah sat across from them, while Patricia and Diane continued bringing food to the table. Meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, green beans, and buttery rolls were added before everyone was seated.
"How do you think you did on your final this morning, Hannah?" Diane asked as bowls of food were passed around the table.
Hannah wrinkled her nose. "I had to write an essay about the globalization of education." She shrugged and heaped a mountain of mashed potatoes onto her plate. "I'm not even really sure what that means, but my professor seemed more interested in her pending divorce all semester, so I'm sure it's fine."
Jake hid a smile; this class of Hannah's had been a recurring joke. In order to hide his amusement, he took a bite of meatloaf, swallowed, and smiled at Patricia. "This is the best meatloaf you've ever made."
Grinning sheepishly, Patricia swatted the air with her hand. "Well, eat up."
"But don't eat too much," Hannah began sourly, "or you won't save any room for that chocolate cake of yours."
Jake took a sip of his milk and raised his eyebrows across the table at Hannah. "Either you're really bitter, or you're really scared I won't leave you enough to fill your never-ending appetite."
Pursing her lips, Hannah scoffed. "I'm not bitter or scared. I'm just trying to be neighborly and give you a friendly reminder."
"When are you children going to stop with the fussing?" Patricia asked, shaking her head rapidly. "It's just unbelievable that you are still hung up on this rivalry."
Isaac snorted under his breath. "Yeah, isn't it, though?" There was a soft thump, followed by a yelp from Isaac; when he directed a glare at his sister, Jake realized that Hannah had kicked him beneath the table. Isaac scowled and continued, "It's just getting a little bit tiresome, that's all."
"Oh, you guys will work it out someday," Diane said confidently.
Patricia sighed. "And I will be the happiest woman on the planet if that ever happens."
Isaac glanced back and forth between Jake and Hannah. "Did you guys hear that? That happiest woman on the planet. The whole planet."
Glaring fiercely, Hannah bit into her dinner roll, and the obscenities racing through her head were clearly directed at Isaac. Regardless, she didn't say anything, and neither did Jake, who had become extremely entertained by the trails his fork made in his mashed potatoes. He stayed mostly quiet for the rest of the meal, while the mothers prompted small talk and discussed the upcoming holidays. Lost in thought, he was almost blindly eating his dinner in oblivious silence.
"Hey, Jake, want to play Call of Duty?" Isaac asked.
Pulled out of his reverie, Jake realized that everyone had finished their meal; even his own plate was empty. "Uh, sure," he agreed with a nod.
"You guys are so predictable." Hannah tossed her strawberry blonde locks over her shoulder and took her plate to the sink, where Patricia was already beginning the dishes. "Is that all you guys ever do?"
Isaac opened his mouth to retort but apparently thought better of it, for he forced a smile that could have just as easily been described as a smirk. "You can join us, if you want."
"How thoughtful of you," Hannah replied, pulling a face. "I would love to."
Moments later, Jake found himself lodged between Isaac and Hannah on the living room couch, feeling like maybe he could just stop breathing. If it wasn't a personality disorder affecting him, it was going to be cardiac arrest from an overload of nervous energy.
"Why isn't this working?" Isaac grumbled at the television screen. He stood from the couch and went to the gaming system to adjust some wires. "This is a mess."
Hannah leaned in to Jake's side, resting her hand against his forearm. "I missed you," she said softly into his shoulder. Jake let his hand caress her thigh, smiling down at her. "I feel like I haven't seen you in forever."
"I know." Jake pressed his lips delicately to Hannah's. "I'm glad you're here."
"Um, guys?" Isaac towered over Jake and Hannah, his face registering disbelief. He leaned over and sarcastically whispered, "Maybe you two will want to keep your public displays of nauseating affection a little quieter while the moms are here."
Hannah rolled her blue eyes grandly and nudged Isaac's face away with her hand. "Shut the hell up. They're preoccupied." She tilted her head at her younger brother. "Besides, it seems like you'd want us to get caught."
Chin jutting outward stubbornly, Isaac insisted, "No. The deal we made is that the first one of us who comes clean about his or her relationship is the weakest link. I am going to win fairly, not by you losing out of stupidity."
Jake laughed lightly, frequently forgetting the details of the deal the siblings had made. "You and Avalon still going strong then, Isaac?"
Pink tinged the younger male's cheeks. "Yes. As a matter of fact, we are." He moved quickly back to his place on the couch before his blush could get any brighter and started maneuvering through the video game's options with the controller in his hands. "Now let's stop talking about it, so you can kick my ass at this game."
Grinning, Jake shrugged simply. "Okay."
"Well, not to interrupt this bro-session," Hannah began, sounding a little bit irritated, "but are we still going to that party later, Jake?"
Isaac's eyes lit up. "What party?"
"Obviously, you weren't invited," Hannah informed him calmly; she then directed her attention back to Jake. "Are we?"
The party had actually slipped Jake's mind. His friend, Ethan Sharpe, was throwing a reunion bash while his parents were out of town for the weekend, since everyone was officially home from college for winter break. "Of course," he replied, giving Hannah's thigh another gentle caress. He smiled at her, even though his inner turmoil was ever-growing. "What time did you want to head over there?"
Hannah slid her hand into Jake's and nibbled her lower lip in thought. "I don't know. Maybe I'll go call Tisha and see when she's going. Then we can just go with her and Brent."
"Sounds good to me," Jake answered. The video game was beginning, and he found himself thankful for the distraction - a situation that was occurring repeatedly this evening. When Hannah stood from the couch and disappeared up the stairs, he felt himself relax deeper into the couch's cushions.
Isaac pressed Pause on the game. "Is there trouble in paradise?"
Surprised, Jake blinked at the narrowed eyes of Isaac. "No. Why do you ask that?"
"Because you're uptight as hell today," Isaac replied, clearly suspicious; perhaps he was even more protective of his sister. "What's going on?"
Jake frowned and nudged the controller in Isaac's hands. "Nothing. Don't worry about it."
There was a lengthy pause, during which Jake had to undergo visible scrutiny from Isaac. It made him uncomfortable, but he thought he was doing a good job of hiding it. What was actually bothering him was something that he had to tell Hannah first and foremost, even though it would probably lead to Isaac getting pissed that Jake evaded the probing. Finally, to Jake's relief, Isaac looked away and resumed the video game.
"Well, why doesn't Brent want to go?" Hannah asked into her cell phone. She was laying on her back on her bed, socked feet propped up on her pillow, talking to Tisha Baird, her best friend.
"He's mad at me because of last night." Tisha sighed into the phone, sounding discouraged. "I went to the movies with Blaine and Carrie, but Brent's under the impression that I only went with Blaine. It's so stupid."
Hannah raised her eyebrows. While Brent had gone to school at Ohio State University with her, Jake, and most of their other friends, Tisha had stayed behind to study cosmetology. The distance, though it was only a couple of hours, had really strained their relationship.
"Maybe I can still convince him," Tisha went on. "Oh, hold on, he's calling. I'll call you back later, okay, Han?"
"All right. Good luck, Tish."
The line disconnected, and Hannah rolled onto her stomach, burying her face in the curve of her elbow. Yawning, she thought of how much she valued her daily nap during the semester. Overachiever Jake had scheduled all morning classes, and because he had encouraged her to do the same, Hannah had been subjected to waking up early to sit in the most wretched classes she could imagine. The perk was going back to her dorm or Jake's after lunch and snuggling up for a three-hour nap every day. But being home, she'd focused on unpacking, and now she was exhausted.
It seemed like she had only dozed off for a few minutes when Hannah felt the bed adjust to new weight being added to it. Fluttering her eyes open, she saw Jake laying down beside her. Unable to stop the grin from appearing on her face, Hannah cuddled into his side, hiding her face in his neck. "Hi."
Jake responded with a light laugh as he put his arms around her. "Hey, babe."
"Did you kick Isaac's ass?" Hannah asked, her voice muffled by Jake's body.
"You could say that." Jake stroked Hannah's hair softly. "There's something I need to talk to you about."
Hannah lifted her head and smirked saucily. "Is it about nap time, by chance? Because that's something I need to talk to you about. I expect a scheduled nap every day here too."
"Of course," Jake smiled.
Raising her head higher, Hannah kissed him lingeringly, enjoying the heat of his body against hers. Jake kissed her back deeply, pulling her closer against him. "I wish you could stay over tonight," Hannah murmured while trailing kisses down Jake's neck.
Jake's eyes closed as Hannah's kisses continued. "I know. I'm going to be so lonely without you."
Hannah smiled slyly. "Maybe you could just stay over, and it'll be our little secret."
"Mm…" Jake kissed Hannah again, his hand rubbing small circles against her lower back. "We can think about that."
"Good," Hannah said with a satisfied smile. "So…" She folded her arm to rest her head against her palm. "What did you want to talk about? Don't tell me that you want to bail on this party too. Tisha's having a hard time getting Brent to go, evidently."
"It's not the party." Jake looked down at Hannah's bedspread for a moment, apparently gathering his thoughts before he met her gaze again. "It's about school."
Hannah nodded patiently. "Okay. What about it?"
"I applied for this business fellowship program," Jake said carefully. "I didn't really think that I'd get it, but my advisor suggested it, so I gave it a shot."
"Ah." Hannah kissed Jake sweetly and smiled. "Of course you got it. You always underestimate yourself."
Jake hesitated and then nodded slowly. "I did get it." He cupped Hannah's cheek gently with his hand and added, "But I'm not sure it's something you'll be happy about. See, it's a study abroad program. And I'd be gone for a year."
That information settled slowly for Hannah. Finally, she blinked. "What?"
"It's an accelerated program for the International Business major," Jake explained, fidgeting on the bed. "It's an awesome program, Han, and it's such a good scholarship. It's better than what I'd be getting to stay at OSU."
"To stay…" Hannah inhaled deeply and sat up on the bed, putting some distance between her and Jake. She drew her knees into her chest, looping her arms around them. "Then you're really, truly considering it? Studying abroad for a year?"
Jake nodded slowly. "It's a great opportunity, Hannah."
Brow furrowing, Hannah stared at her boyfriend, fearful of fully comprehending what he was saying. Jake wanted to study abroad for a year. A full year? "So...what does that mean for us? If you're gone for so long?"
Jake sat up as well and scooted closer to Hannah, who leaned slightly away from him. "I'm not sure. That's why I wanted to talk to you about it."
Hurt, Hannah scooted further away from him. "It's such a great opportunity, and you're just now telling me about it. When did you apply for this?"
"Back in October," Jake admitted. His green eyes were full of concern, completely settled on Hannah's face. "I didn't want to tell you unless it was serious. And since I got accepted into the program…"
"You want this?" Hannah asked, feeling incredulous but hoping it didn't show. "You really want to leave for an entire year?"
"It's about more than that." Jake folded his hands onto his lap. "It's better for me financially, academically - probably professionally. It's just a year. And then I'd be back to finish up here, in Ohio."
Hannah let that sink in. She stared down at the bed, her heart clenching and her mind reeling. With the two previous days without Jake so fresh in her mind, she couldn't imagine a week without him, let alone a year. How was she expected to cope with losing the person who meant the most to her for so long?
"It...it would really help my education," Jake offered quietly. "It'd set me apart from the rest, you know? Give me an experience that isn't so easy to come by."
Hannah's voice was quiet. "I don't want you to go."
"I know." Jake sucked in air quickly. "I don't like anything about the idea of leaving you. If you could come too, then it'd be perfect. But, Hannah, I really want this fellowship. I'm not saying it would be easy to leave for so long. Because it wouldn't. But it's something that I'd love to do."
"Then why didn't you ever mention it?" Hannah's eyes narrowed fiercely. "Jake, if I really meant that much to you, you should've let me know that this was a possibility. Even if you weren't sure you'd get accepted into the program, don't you think I should've been consulted about it? Shouldn't you have let me know that you could be leaving me?"
Jake lowered his eyes. "I was scared to. I was scared to think about not being around you."
"And now what?" Hannah could hear the coldness in her voice, but she couldn't help how betrayed she felt. She studied Jake, who was undeniably upset. "I can't believe you never mentioned this. Do you just not take us seriously, Jake? You really just thought it wasn't any of my business if my boyfriend was going away? I thought we meant more than that."
"Han, you haven't even told your mother about us," Jake pointed out quietly. He finally raised his eyes to meet Hannah's. "My mom's known since July. So maybe I don't know how serious we are on your end."
Hannah felt her mouth drop open, but she closed it quickly and fought the burning sensation of tears behind her eyes. "I can't believe you could say that."
Reaching out his hand to capture Hannah's, Jake spoke softly, "I didn't say that to hurt you. I'm just saying that I'm not the only person here who is keeping secrets."
"That's different." Hannah snatched her hand out of Jake's grasp and folded her arms across her chest. "I didn't tell my mom because of something like this happening. I don't want that drama of dealing with her pity or her trying to fix things. I don't want any of that Team Hannah or Team Jake shit."
Irritation flicked into Jake's eyes. "It would not be like that, Hannah, and you know it."
Hannah shrugged and looked away. "So when are you leaving then?"
Jake looked down at his lap again. "I leave for Italy the first week of January."
"Italy. In less than a month." Hannah shook her head in disbelief, just as a tear escaped and trailed down her cheek. "Does your mom know about that too?"
"Not yet." Jake sighed and ran a hand through his dark hair, stressed. "I was going to tell her later tonight." He moved closer to Hannah, his voice turning pleading. "Please don't hate me, Han. I honestly never wanted to hurt you."
Hannah swallowed roughly, pretending that tears weren't now staining her cheeks. "I c-can't…" She inhaled sharply and wiped away the tears that seemed to be coming faster and with more fury. "I don't know what to say."
"I don't want us to stop talking." Jake let his hand wander to Hannah's knee, desperate for her touch. "I don't know what I'd do without having any of you in my life."
"Then I think you should have mentioned this whole thing sooner than a month before you're going halfway across the world."
"I know. And I wish I would have." Jake tipped his head, his expression hopeful. "Can we keep in touch? Can we still hang out for the rest of winter break?"
Hannah dropped her gaze to her knee, where Jake's hand remained. As impossible as it was to imagine a year without seeing him every single day, it was almost more impossible to think of being around him, knowing what the outcome would be. "I don't know, Jake," she answered quietly. "I'm really not sure right now."
Flinching, Jake offered a weak nod. "Okay."
"M-maybe you should go home," Hannah suggested, her cracking voice barely more than whisper. Fresh tears filled her eyes when she stole a glance at Jake; his pain was as evident as hers. "Th-that'd probably be best for tonight."
Jake stood from the bed and leaned down to Hannah, pressing a kiss against her cheek. "I love you, Han," he said softly.
She kept her gaze on her lap, even as more tears threatened to erupt. Silently, she listened as Jake departed her room, and only then did she give herself up the sobs that had been bottling in her chest. Hannah didn't know what tomorrow would hold, but she knew that tonight held only devastation.
Author's Note: So finally, here is the beginning of the rest of Jake and Hannah's story! Even though this was just a one-shot, there is a full-length sequel in the works, and I expect its debut to be by the end of the month. :)