"So what are you guys doing tomorrow?" McKinley asked the trio as we stood outside the diner, full from our meals and ready to go home.
"Um, I don't believe we're busy," Lucy answered quickly, though I could see Jackie flash her a pointed look.
"Really? No date on Valentine's day?"
Lucy stayed quiet for a few moments, and then the apples of her cheeks started turning a pale crimson. Her blue eyes cast to the floor and she giggled, then shook her head before looking back up at him with a smile. I could tell McKinley was sizing her up and preparing to go in for the kill. And by the looks of it, it would be hook, line and sinker for Lucy- she had taken the bait a long time ago.
"Well, would you maybe want to get together again? Say, have a night on the town?"
"That would be awesome!"
"Yeah? Well give me your number, and I'll hit you up tomorrow."
Jackie rolled her eyes and walked away after bidding good-bye to the rest of my bandmates. She walked past me, offering me a half hearted smile and dark brown eyes I thought looked oddly quite sad. I thought we were having a good time in the diner, but I guess I was wrong; so I followed after her, even though her pace said she didn't wish for my company. But a couple hours with this girl wasn't enough to sate my growing appetite to get to know her, and I gave in to my instinct.
"Hey," I said, falling into step beside her. She paused at the driver's side of her Grand Wagoneer and looked up at me, obviously forcing a soft demeanor. "Are you tired at all?"
"Not really," she answered. "Why?"
"Would you wanna come with me somewhere? I'd like to show you something."
She studied me for a moment, her little brows slightly furrowed and the hint of a frown playing at her rosebud mouth. She was watching me cautiously, apprehensive of going somewhere late at night with a near perfect stranger. I chuckled inwardly a bit, offering her my kindest smile, but her expression never wavered. It was that moment I realized that Jackie was going to be a difficult girl to crack- she had a guard up like the wall of China, and it was clearly impenetrable.
She crossed her arms.
"Where?" she inquired, her brow quirking involuntarily.
"You'll see. Wanna come?"
"Is this where you trap stupid bimbos with your charm and lead them somewhere isolated so you can strangle them with a shoelace?"
I snorted with laughter, and I guess that was all it took to get her to drop her defenses a tad, because the corners of her mouth curled and I could even see her little nostrils flaring as though she were silently giggling.
"Really?" I said. "You can bring Lucy and Ricky if you want, just to be safe."
She turned around and looked over her shoulder at Lucy, chattering excitedly with McKinley, and Ricky among the band, mostly flirting with Ronnie who paid little attention to him. Then she reverted her attention to me, and the moonlight caught her earth colored irises in the most adorable manner. She wiggled her nose, probably irritated by the ring in her right nostril, then met my gaze as though she had just made up her mind about something.
"Okay, fine," she finally surrendered.
"Cool. Follow me," I ordered, gesturing across the road with a nod of my head to a fence that guarded the darkness that was the ocean. "But you have to hurry. Come on!"
Once we crossed the street and jumped the fence, we landed on a hilly field, and I started to run. I could hear the light pattering of her shoes hitting the ground as she followed behind me, the salty wind that the ocean carried brushing our faces with a cool draft. I turned to look at her over my shoulder and grasped her hand, yanking her along with me as her short legs struggled a little to keep up with my longer ones.
"Where are we going?" she cried out breathlessly as we trailed over the field toward the glistening sea. "And why do we have to run?"
"You'll see!" I responded.
When I started to feel sand in my teeth and the earth became less solid, I knew we were close. She was huffing behind me, holding on to my hand as though she might fall flat on her face if she so much as thought about letting go. Honestly, I quite enjoyed the way her warm, soft skin felt against my calloused fingers. Although her exterior denied it, I knew she was something delicate, something that needed to be carefully protected, and she had probably gone through most of her life doing so herself.
We reached the shore, which greeted us with a gurgle and white bubbles gently lapping the sand. She came to a stop beside me, trying to catch her breath, though I continued to pull her along as we began to walk over the sand toward a narrow grassy path. I led her up at a gradual incline, ascending further until the sand gave way to solid ground, and the greenery became a rocky hill. Finally, we reached the flat plane that was a bay cliff, which overlooked the ocean that was sparkling with the glow of the ivory moon.
As though it were a lady, the diamond-like orb sat primly upon the straight horizon, casting its milky shine over the water, breaking it up into millions of tiny fragments that looked like glittering jewels on rippling black velvet. I heard a soft gasp come from behind me, and when I turned to look, I could see Jackie with a hand over her mouth as she gazed wide-eyed at the ocean she hadn't taken time to see since she moved to California.
I watched with a grin on my own face as her little hand fell from her lips, which hung open, staring in awe of the brilliance that was the sea at night. I could instantly read her love for the water, and although the splendor of the sight was breathtaking, something about this girl completely overpowered it. Perhaps it was the fact that I had already grown overaccustomed to the beach, and didn't care much for it anymore; perhaps I was taking it for granted; or maybe, just maybe, this girl was just that special. I could honestly say I hadn't paid as much attention to any other girl like I did when I looked at Jackie.
"Wow, Leo..." she whispered, her tender voice carried by the ocean breeze. "I don't even..."
"She's beautiful, huh?" I asked, my eyes totally locked onto her, though she was unaware of it in her enchantment.
"I don't think I've ever seen the moon so big and bright before."
"Well, that's the great thing about living in Los Angeles- you get the best of both worlds. The big, bright city on your right, and the big, endless ocean on the left. It's why California is better than Texas."
That's where her trance ended, and she dropped her bewitched demeanor to look at me pointedly, though there was a cute smirk on her flushed face. She shook her head, then turned back to watch the waves roll into the shore, lowering herself to sit at the edge of the cliff where her feet could hang freely over the drop. I hesitated for a moment, observing as the ocean's breath whipped her wavy hair around, bringing the fragrance of smoke and jasmine along with it. Then I joined her, having a hard time keeping my eyes off of her.
"Do you miss it?" I suddenly asked, and I could see her contented countenance fall slightly at the thought of her answer.
"Sometimes," she answered gingerly. "I miss my friends mostly, but I'm glad I made the move."
I paused momentarily, considering my next question carefully. The hell with it, I thought- I wasn't one for censorship and definitely not much for subtlety. I might only have one shot with this girl, one moment with her, and there was no way I wasn't going to utilize it.
"Why'd you do it?"
There was a brief silence, and her eyes lingered in the spot between us, as though she were debating whether or not she should look at me. She decided against it apparently, because she turned her face back to the sea where she so obviously drew the most comfort from. Her shoulders drooped and she let out a sigh.
She paused again. A smile blossomed over her lovely features, and then she did revert her gaze to me, giving me the privilege of witnessing its beauty in all its simplicity.
"I wanted to start over. A new place, with new people... a new life, basically."
I nodded my head at her, my grin never leaving my face as I tried to read her expression. I didn't know what caused her to run, but I knew that she was still hurting from it by the way she closed herself off to others. I knew this confession was something that required a massive amount of strength, and perhaps it was the moment she got caught up in that supplied that for her. All I knew was that this new information wasn't something to overlook or take for granted; she had probably only shared it with Lucy and Ricky, and although it was very vague, it was still sincere.
"Rad," I stated. "Something like that takes alot of courage."
"It's faith, mostly," she admitted, then looked up at the sky. "Someone up there is watching over me."
She stopped there, and I knew that was the extent of what she was willing to share. Although my curiosity continued to grow, I didn't press her anymore. She would tell me more when she felt a little more comfortable with me, and I was okay with that for now. I leaned back on my hands, then decided to completely lay flat on my back. I watched as the stars twinkled overhead, one in particular shining its brightest- but it was all alone.
"So what do you do, Leo?" she asked me.
Without looking at her as I folded my hands behind my head, I responded with, "Music. It's my life."
"Do you have a studio that you record at?"
"Well, I have some of my own equipment, but not a full blown studio yet. Right now, I just travel around alot, with different artists that hire me."
"And here I thought you were a one-band man."
"Nah, the Dead Poets is more like a side gig, really."
She nodded her head, then turned and looked at me over her shoulder, which she rested her chin on. Her big eyes watched me closely, with a look that was almost overwhelmingly too endearing. A few loose strands of her hair fell into her face, but she didn't move them.
"That's really cool," she continued. "What you do is literally what I've always dreamed of doing."
"Which is what? Performing? Let me guess... you wanna be a rockstar."
"No, dude. You get to travel. I want to go all over the country in my Jeep with all my gear and live off of the tips that I get from playing at different venues every night. I want to meet all kinds of people and hear all of their weird stories, see new places, making millions of memories..."
Her voice trailed off, and she sighed again, almost dreamily this time. Most girls would have done that only when they fantasized about their favorite movie star. I knew there was something more, and it was probably the most important point of them all, but her silence told me she wasn't yet willing to clue me in. A barely audible buzz vibrated in my pocket, but she was so lost in thought that she didn't even notice.
When I pulled it out, my screen was bright with a text message from McKinley asking where I was. I ignored it, instead noticing that it was seven minutes to midnight and putting it back away so that I could give all my attention to this girl who was sharing a little piece of her heart with me in this intimate moment near her favorite element: water.
Then she did something that caught me by surprise.
Without looking at me or saying a word, she sank back against the ground beside me, her eyes staring heavenward and that smile evident on her full rosebud lips. I could smell her hair as she lay next to me- smoke and jasmine, a mixture of her shampoo and Harvey's -and it took all of my strength and willpower not to reach over and stroke her cheek. She was, by far, one of the bravest girls I had ever come across, even though I could already tell her weakness was in the aspect of intimacy.
"What are you staring at?" she suddenly asked me, snapping me out of my hypnotism and consequently making me turn away to look at the sky with her.
"You had something on your face," I responded coolly, fighting my urge to laugh when I saw her compulsively wipe her face with the back of her hand through my peripherals.
"Did I get it?"
I reverted my attention back to her. There was just no escaping her tonight. I couldn't deny that even though she was wearing an old Led Zeppelin t-shirt with a repulsive discolored stain on the hem that was so bright and obvious it was offensive; and her jeans were so torn there really was no point in keeping the legs; and she was the most unpredictable, aloof and guarded girl I had ever met, which, in all honesty, scared the crap out of me- everything about her was just... lovely.
"Yeah, you got it."
There was solitude between us then. As I listened closely, I could hear that her breathing had synchronized with the waves that crashed at the shore, and the breeze that whistled past us. The rise and fall of her chest was the metronome that almost appeared to dictate the rhythm and timing of the tide; her olive skin, illuminated by the moonlight, was comparable to the celestial body itself.
"Hey Jackie?" I said, careful of the volume of my voice, as not to disrupt the tranquility of the moment.
"Happy Valentine's day."
Songs played: Grown Ocean by Fleet Foxes; Moon, Roll Me Away by You, Me & Everyone We Know; and Lost at Sea by Never Shout Never
Happy Valentine's day, loves! I know the story is moving at a glacial pace, but bear with me please! And again, thank you to everyone who is following Wolfsong. I promise there will be ultra fluffy cuteness, more shirtless McKinley, and lots of Leo's rock godliness in the near future. :)