Sequel: Good Enough
Status: Finished: The sequel is up! Read this, then go read that! (That's how sequels work) <3

Strong Enough

Shadows of My Heart

When the truck finally stopped in the driveway, I was immediately threw myself from its confinement. I wanted to be far away from everyone right now.

I bolted up to my childhood room and switched out my jean shorts and button-down for yoga pants and a jogging tank top. When my running shoes were secured on my feet, I strapped my iPod into the arm band, popped in my ear buds and once again found myself outside.

I ignored my mom as she tried to give me dinner. I pushed passed my dad as he tried to confront me again. When Mia spotted me, she shook her head, but didn’t move from her spot on the couch. Her eyes said she wanted to ask me about my day, but she knew this wasn’t the time. I needed my space. I had become the queen of avoiding my problems, and running was the best way to block out everything around me.

I stretched my legs and took a few deep breaths. It was almost dark now, but I had never been worried about being out alone. The last rays of sun were still clinging to the horizon and the street lamps were turning on.

It started with a slow jog before I found myself practically sprinting through town. The songs blasted in my ears and the thoughts about the ranch and Bryden and my shattered heart slowly melted away.

The harder I pushed my feet, the faster I moved, the less my mind reeled with memories and thoughts I’d fought for years. I couldn’t face this. I couldn’t face it then. I couldn’t face it now. I don’t know if I’d ever have the strength to deal with this.

About twenty minutes into the run, my legs were starting to feel the familiar burning sensation of fatigue. I was passing a park where I’d spent many Sunday afternoons playing with Alex or relaxing with the boys. I slowed my run to a walk as I rounded the small lake, coming to a bench.

To any normal person, it would just be a bench. To any typical passerby it would be wood and metal. But to me, it was a reminder. This had been our bench.

And just like that the run’s effects wore off. This time, though, the memory was happier.

“Apple Jax, what are you doing over here?” Bryden’s voice came from behind me.

“Sitting, duh. Is it really that hard to tell?” I was sitting on that bench cross-legged. The sun had just set passed the trees on the other side of the park. The last few ducks on the lake were enjoying the last of the warmth.

“I meant, what are you doing over here when everyone’s at the pavilion eating and hanging out. Why are you over here by yourself?” He plopped down on the bench next to me. The bench was just barely big enough for both of us to fit, so we were pretty close.

“I just wanted to enjoy the sunset. And it’s easier to enjoy it when you don’t have people asking if you want a hot dog or trying to get you to cartwheel.”

“Who’s trying to get you to cartwheel? I didn’t even know you could cartwheel. You fall over while walking.” He bumped his shoulder into mine, smiling like a goon.

“Bite me, it was just an example.” I stuck my tongue out at him before turning back toward the water.

While I soaked up the last of the sunlight and watched a family of ducks make their way out of the water, I could still feel his eyes on me. From the corner of my eye, I could see his body turned to face me. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I turned my face to him and locked eyes. There was something different about him tonight.

“Why are you still looking at me?”

“Because you’re beautiful.” His eyes didn’t leave mine as his smile grew. I couldn’t help but notice how much he looked like a little boy smiling like that—like he’d just received a new toy.

“Thank you?” I looked down at my cut off jean shorts and my old t-shirt. I literally threw my hair into a bun earlier today. I hadn’t even put on any make-up, knowing I’d just sweat it all off. “You realize I look like a frump, right?”

“You could wear a burlap sack and shave your head and I’d still think you were beautiful.”

“Where is this coming from, Bry?” He reached out and took my hand from where it was resting in my lap.

“Jacqui, I can’t keep it in anymore. I think you’re amazing. I’ve had a crush on you forever and I want you to know how great you are. You should be told every day how beautiful you are. And now that you’re not seeing Douche-face anymore, I want to ask you something.”

“Bry, what are you doing?” I was starting to get nervous. I hadn’t been nervous around him since the 2nd grade and here I was, heart fluttering, wondering what was going on.

“I’m asking you, Jacquelyn Walker, to be my girlfriend. You’re my best friend and I can tell you anything. I know your quirks and you know my faults and I want to be with you. So what do you say?”

I looked at him for a second, letting his words soak in. As the seconds ticked by, I slowly started laughing. I’ve no idea why, but I couldn’t stop it. Of course, this wasn’t the response he was hoping for and his face fell as a blush hit his cheeks.

“Is it really that funny?” He retracted his hand and turned from me, but I grabbed it back, recapturing his attention.

“Dumbass, of course I’ll be your girlfriend.”

“What? Then why were you laughing?”

“Because I can’t believe it’s taken you this long to ask me.” I put my hand on his cheek. “Tommy may have spilled the beans last year.”

“That piece of shit.”

“Don’t blame him, you could have told me yourself. You know he can’t keep a secret.”

“I was worried you wouldn’t feel the same or you wouldn’t want to mess with the friendship or something.”

“I’ve had a crush on you since the moment you hit Frankie Mattson in 7th grade for telling the other boys I was a whore. I didn’t realize you felt the same until Tommy’s big mouth let it slip.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you knew?”

“It was more fun torturing you.”

“I would be mad at you, but I feel like that’s a bad way to start out a new relationship.”

“I can think of a pretty good way to start a relationship.” Smiling, I pulled his face to mine in our first kiss. It was sweet and simple. His lips formed to mine like they were meant to be there. As I pulled away, the smile on his face had grown and taken over his entire expression.

“I could definitely get used to that.”

I thought that damn boy had stolen my heart that day. Of course, now I realize he always had it. He’d had it the moment I met him in Mrs. Martin’s 2nd grade class. He’d had my heart when he’d forced me to ditch class in 8th grade to go see a Blink-182 concert. He’d had it even when I didn’t talk to him for a month sophomore year after a fight I can’t remember the reason for. I’d always been his. And I still was.

That’s what hurt the most, I think. I wanted to hate him. I wanted to find someone better. I wanted to shove it in his face that I didn’t need him. But I couldn’t make him jealous because I couldn’t find anyone better. I’m not sure there was anyone better.

I sat on the bench, under the light of the lamp, watching the water move in the breeze. Eventually I pulled myself up and began the calmer run back to the house. This time my thoughts running free with all the good times I’d had with my boys back in high school. Remembering the love I’d had in my hands.

If I wasn’t so stubborn, I might have gone and found him right then. I don’t know what I would have said. But it didn’t matter because I was stubborn. I couldn’t let him back in. I couldn’t let myself be that vulnerable again.

As I ran back home, my resolve was renewed that I wouldn’t let him back in. I was okay with being alone. I didn’t need anything more than what I had back in Vegas. There was no way I could risk that kind of heartache again.

What was the saying?

Don’t make someone your everything because when they leave you’re left with nothing.
♠ ♠ ♠
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