Restless Heart Syndrome
Chapter 3: Last of the American Girls
Jackson landed softly at the edge of a small clearing in the woods; small pebbles and twigs scattering and spraying beneath his feet as he brought his broom to a halt within the thinning trees. Leaning his broom against a tree, he looked around to see if anyone else was there yet.
He’d planned to arrive early and unseen, his method of transportation hidden from any unwanted, prying eyes. He’d actually taken a bit of a risk in flying his broom here. He’d had to fly low and carefully through trees and other obstacles to keep from being seen. His mom had been working, so she couldn’t drive or apparate him and being only 16…he could do neither himself. So a broom had been his best bet in traveling to meet a group of old friends for an afternoon of swimming at a local, yet fairly remote pond.
He looked and then listened, not hearing any indication that he had been beaten here by anyone else and his magical cover blown. The forest was quite quiet and still, so he found it safe to make his way to the nearby gravel trail that he knew led down to the water.
According to his watch, Jackson was supposed to be meeting Anna and a few other people here in ten minutes. Anna had called him up a few days ago after she had gotten home from school and invited him to join a few of her friends, a few of who had actually gone to primary school with him.
He had been nervous at first about accepting. He had thought at first that perhaps he and Anna could just hang out, the two of them, like they did most summers and holidays. Even though he knew a few of the people joining them, he was worried about how he’d act around them. It had been a long time since primary school and since he’d been thrust amidst a totally non-magical setting.
Anna knew why he went to Hogwarts and that he was a wizard. There had been too many unexplainable things that happened around him when he was younger and it had become increasingly difficult to hide something so essential from his best friend as he’d gotten older.
With the help of his mom and some work on Uncle Ron’s part to ensure they’d not be reprimanded for breaking any laws, they’d been able to let her in on their secret. At first Anna had thought he was joking; trying to play some sort of trick on her. But after a few demonstrations and a long period of stunned silence on Anna’s part, she had begun asking questions.
It seemed after the initial shock and general improbability of what she had just been told and had witnessed had worn off, her curiosity and trust in the strength of her friendship with Jackson seemed to win her over. That had been about five years ago now and not much had changed between them besides the fact that Jackson no longer had to be careful about what he shared with her pertaining to school and the magical world he lived in the majority of the time.
It was a big weight off his shoulders to be able to be completely honest with his best friend…
Jackson was stopped from entertaining his next train of thought when a crunching sound met his ears. It was the sound that tires on a vehicle made when rolling across loose gravel very slowly. He turned and paused just in time to see a red SUV come rolling down the gravel path he had been making his way towards. It rumbled slowly on past his current position from within the trees, the vehicle moving down towards the pond. The windows were tinted in such a way that he couldn’t tell just who was inside, so he waited until it was a safe distance down the trail until he stepped out onto the trail and began walking towards the water.
His own sandaled feet crunched quite loudly and scattered the stray pebbles all about as he made his ungainly way after the SUV. He gave a slightly self-conscious look down at himself to check over his appearance.
He was dressed in a pair of faded jeans and an over-sized white t-shirt. Underneath his jeans he wore a pair of swim trunks. He hadn’t worn them outright because he had been slightly worried about the pale state of his legs. Long Scottish winters and slow-thawing springs didn’t do much for his complexion and he was well aware that he was looking a bit pasty as this summer had just begun.
Jackson continued walking on, rounding a long bend in the trail before a glint of sun reflecting off the now visible pond’s surface met his eyes. He shielded his gaze for a couple of seconds as he walked closer; the red SUV that had passed him coming into view as well. It was now parked on the grass a couple of meters away from the water’s edge.
Jackson slowed a little, allowing time for the occupants of the vehicle to extricate themselves so that he could make sure that it was the party he was waiting for and not some group of random strangers. On cue, the driver’s side door opened up and someone stepped out...
…Someone wearing white flip flops that were connected to a pair of very tan and very long, slender legs...
…Legs that were interrupted only by a pair of tiny denim shorts that should surely be illegal to wear in the presence of any teenage boy.
Jackson continued to watch on unabashedly as the said owner of those legs reached back into the vehicle to grab something, only enhancing his view of just how little those shorts actually covered.
He was staring and that was extremely rude –he knew that. But all of the totally irrational and impulsive parts of him were keeping his eyes in place.
His attention was again diverted and all breath returned to his temporarily devoid lungs however when he suddenly became aware of the fact that no other doors of the SUV had opened and nobody else had gotten out from inside.
This–long-legged–girl, seemed to be the only person there.
And as Jackson’s eyes once more found her, he saw that she had now seemed to have spotted him…and was waving.
He chanced a small glance over his left shoulder, making sure it was he who she was gesturing to.
There simply wasn’t anyone else there. She was waving to him.
“Jackson!” the girl called; her wide smile and oval sunglasses taking up most of her face.
Now she was calling him…and by name.
Jackson took a few steps closer, trying to place her.
“Hey!” the girl called again excitedly, dropping the large canvas beach bag she had been holding as she moved towards him.
“I didn’t even realize I passed you,” she said to him in surprise. As she stepped towards him, her hands went to her face, pushing up the oval sunglasses so that they rested atop her head now, giving him a clear view of her face. “I could have given you a ride the rest of the way,” she added.
But her last words were lost on him as recognition and realization finally caught up with him.
Her dark brown hair was much longer than he’d ever remembered seeing it and the light green halter top she was wearing showed off more of her figure than he’d ever been aware there even was.
It was Anna who was waving to him.
It was Anna who was now walking towards him, speaking words of greeting that he wasn’t quite hearing.
It was Anna who he had been quite openly and unabashedly ogling and appreciating just a moment ago.
Merlin, she’s grown up nicely…he thought to himself.
But as soon as that thought entered it, he shook his head to try and dispel it.
Where the hell did that come from you pervert?...an internal muse chastised.
While he had taken time to try and gather himself, Anna had closed the gap between them and was standing a few feet away, still smiling brightly. And he like a daft twit had yet still to even acknowledge her presence by any word or gesture.
“He–” he paused, clearing his throat as it failed to allow him to form his words. “Hey,” he finally managed, his mouth curling into a smile of his own.
“You had me a bit worried there for a minute,” Anna admitted with a smile, seemingly not thrown off by his hesitation. “I thought maybe it wasn’t you after all…and that I was shouting my head off to some random stranger.”
“Yeah…sorry,” he found himself apologizing as his left hand reached up to rub the back of his neck.
It was an annoying gesture he did out of habit only when he was nervous.
What the hell are you nervous about? He asked himself even as he did it. It’s just Anna, you wanker.
“Guess I wasn’t paying attention…” he offered, his voice fading slightly as she finally stood about a foot from him; still smiling brightly up at him.
“Well it’s so good to see you again Jacks,” she said warmly as she reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him down into a strong embrace. Jackson’s own long arms seemed to find their own way around her, completing the embrace. He had to tell himself to breathe every few seconds as she pressed herself against him.
She finally released him after a few seconds, stepping back only a few inches so that she was looking up at him, surveying his face.
“Wow,” she said rather breathlessly with a smile as she took in his features. She seemed quite oblivious to the fact that he was waging his own battle as he looked back down at her, trying hard to return her gaze and not let his eyes wander southward away from her face.
Eyes up Potter a stern internal voice rang out from within his head.
“God you’ve grown…” Anna said as she shook her head in amused disbelief. “I mean–you’ve always been abnormally tall–but–” she trailed off, still smiling. “I’m starting to wonder if your mum has to raise the roof a few inches each time you come home for the summer?” she teased.
“She’s thinking about it,” Jackson shot back with a grin. “She had a contractor over just last week to draw up some plans,” he teased with equal measure. He felt his shoulders and the rest of his body instantly relax with this new onset of playful banter. This is how it usually between the two; there was always mutual kidding and joking that came easy. They could always make each other laugh and she could always seem to make him smile with a bit of quit wit.
“How is your mum?” Anna asked.
“Good,” Jackson replied with a nod. “She says to say hi and that you two will have to have one of those–girl...night…thingy’s–soon,” he relayed, waving a hand in the air dismissively as he spoke.
“Nice, Jacks,” she said as she rolled her eyes at his word choice. Jackson felt the corner’s of his mouth tug upward slightly at her use of his nickname. Only Anna and his mum usually called him that. To everyone else he was Jackson or simply Potter at school. And to a few cousins and certain uncles who thought it was funny–J.J.–for Jackson James.
“So–er–where are your friends?” Jackson asked aloud after they’d lapsed into silence. He had looked around, noticing once more that Anna had surprisingly come alone. “I thought the lot of them were coming today?”
“Yeah…well…” she began as she sighed heavily. “It looks as though I’ve been ditched by every last one of them…the majority at the last second,” she added with a shy smile. “A few forgot they’d already made plans, two had to work and the last came down with a nasty bout of the flu in the past 24 hours…”
Jackson nodded, noting that she didn’t seem the least bit crestfallen at having been stood up by her friends. On further self-examination–neither was he, really.
“So it looks to be just us today,” Anna said. “If you don’t want to stay here and would rather do something else–I understand.”
“What?” Jackson replied. “No…this is fine,” he added, gesturing around at their surroundings, suddenly worried that she didn’t want to hang out. “It’s not your fault they all bailed…and besides, you drove all this way out here. Wouldn’t want to waste a perfectly good day in the water.”
“If you’re sure?” she asked once more.
“I’m sure,” he reiterated with a smile.
“Great,” she replied as her radiant smile once more returned. “I even brought us a bit of lunch if you get hungry later.”
“Me? Hungry?” Jackson replied in mock confusion.
“Right…when are you not?” she teased. “Isn’t your mum always saying that you’re hungry enough to eat a–hypo…graff–or something of that sort?”
“It’s–hippogriff,” Jackson corrected her, trying to keep his amusement under control. “And if you’d ever seen one…I think you’d have to admit that I’d have to be pretty desperately hungry to want to eat one–very big, scary claws…” he explained, raising his hands to gesture and intimate the sheer horror in a hippogriff’s talons.
“Ok…well considering I didn’t even know something of that nature even existed until a second ago…I guess I’ll go on believing you could eat it,” she laughed.
“Yeah…it’s a kind of half-eagle, half-horse thing…you’d probably have to see it with your own eyes to get my drift,” Jackson responded with a sly grin.
“Then maybe you’ll have to show me sometime?” she said with a quirked eyebrow, catching his gaze before she looked away just as quickly, suddenly looking a bit unsure of her quick response.
Was she blushing?
“I’d probably get arrested for doing so,” Jackson teased. “You know–showing you a mythical, magical creature that technically to you doesn’t really exist.”
“Well I wouldn’t want that,” Anna replied shaking her head. “So I’ll just take your word for it.”
“Good,” Jackson replied with a nod, wondering slightly how they’d even really gotten on the subject.
“Well…I brought some blankets and towels for us,” Anna said as if to bring about a change of subject. “I thought maybe we could spread them out near the water to sit on,” she added, gesturing to the beach bag she’d taken from inside her vehicle. Jackson could now see that it contained the said blankets and other various items.
“I’ll help with that,” Jackson offered as the two began to move towards the SUV. Not allowing her to resist or offer her own help, Jackson scooped up the beach bag as Anna went to the back of the vehicle and opened up the back hatch. She reached in and after a few moments produced a small cooler.
Jackson instinctively made to take the heavier cooler from her, but Anna stopped him.
“I’ve got it,” she said, shooing him away. “I’m not helpless.”
“Oh…I know that,” Jackson reassured her, recalling many a time when they were younger when she showed just how “not helpless” she was to any unlucky bully that crossed her path.
She was a year older than Jackson was in school and they’d actually first met on one such occasion. A group of older boys had started to tease Jackson. He’d done some bit of accidental magic that they’d witnessed and that he couldn’t explain away. So naturally they’d started following him around, trying to goad him into reacting and calling him a “weirdo.”
Anna had been the one to bring their efforts to a screeching one day on the playground. She’d sent two of the boys to the headmistress’s office that day; one with a bloody nose, the other sporting a nasty black eye. Jackson couldn’t recall exactly what she had shouted at the older boys when she’d chased them away. (Although he’d never heard a little girl say those words before).
Needless to say, the boys hadn’t really ever bothered him again–even in the years to come--and Anna had stuck around. At first she said it had been to keep an eye on him in case the others came back. But it had grown into something more quickly and they soon had become best friends.
Now it was quite a comical thing to think back on that day. Anna was actually quite a petite girl. Compared to him, she was quite short and slight. Although, as he’d noticed before, she had certainly grown a bit these past few years. But to think she could ever manhandle anyone like she had then would seem a bit laughable. But Jackson knew better…she was anything but helpless.
So firmly carrying the cooler, Jackson allowed Anna to steer them both towards a grassy spot near the pond. They both deposited their items on the ground and Jackson stepped back and watched as Anna delved into the beach bag, pulling out a large flannel blanket. She began spreading out the blanket on the grassy bank and Jackson obliged by grabbing the two loose ends of the blanket opposite Anna, helping her smooth it out completely.
“So…shall we swim first or tackle lunch?” Anna asked as they plopped down on the blanket, the cooler temptingly settled between them.
“It’s up to you,” Jackson replied automatically, feeling the chivalrous remark come to his lips before he realized.
“Oh…it is?” Anna asked with a raised brow. “Well then if it’s my choice…I guess a dip in the pond is up first. That is, unless you simply can’t wait for lunch…being a growing boy and all…” she added with a teasing smile.
Jackson couldn’t keep a silly grin of his own from showing on his face in return.
“I can wait,” Jackson assured her with a nod. “Swimming sounds great.”
“Right then,” Anna replied with her own self-assured nod. “So it’s ‘last one to into the water’s the loser’ then?” she replied cockily with a mischievous grin as she pushed herself up from her spot on the blanket.
“Huh?” Jackson replied a bit dumbfounded as he watched her stand up.
“A race,” Anna clarified. “Last one to the water has to eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch!” she yelled as she spun towards the water, sprinting away from Jackson even as he attempted to comprehend what she’d just said and why she had bolted.
“But I don’t…like…peanut butter…” Jackson muttered stupidly as he pulled himself to his own feet, watching Anna as she ran away, giggling and throwing looks over her shoulder back at him.
“Come on!” she yelled as she stopped just before the water’s edge, beckoning to him.
Jackson took a tentative step before he was frozen in his tracks, temporarily paralyzed by the sight before him.
In what was merely a second but seemed to happen in slow motion, Anna had reached down and pulled on the bottom hem of the green tank top she was wearing, tugging at it and pulling it over her head. Jackson felt his jaw drop as she peeled away the top, revealing a simple black bikini top.
A bikini top that left way too little for Jackson’s imagination.
Then, in the next instant, Jackson was sure his heart had given out–or at the least–all the air sucked from his lungs. Anna was now reaching for her shorts–those same denim shorts that had captivated him only minutes before. But now those seemingly minuscule shorts were being pulled off and thrown aside–leaving in their place what seemed to be skimpiest of garments.
His mind was reeling.
The combination of her hasty dash towards the water and the sudden revelation of the little black bikini from beneath her clothes had him struggling to regain himself.
She’s trying to kill me…he thought to himself as he watched her finish throwing aside her clothes, still laughing even as she waded into the water. Was she doing this on purpose?
Forcing what air was left in his lungs out in an attempt at steadying himself and kick-starting his brain again; Jackson began to move towards the water and a splashing Anna, who was now calling him again.
He tried to act normal as he approached the water’s edge, reminding himself with every step to breathe and keep his gaze upward, away from the danger areas that might get him in trouble. Which was, undoubtedly, everything below her face taking into account what she was–or wasn’t–wearing at the moment.
“Took you long enough,” Anna teased as he finally reached the water.
“Yeah…well…you caught me off-guard there with your little race,” Jackson managed to stammer out as he glanced out over the water and away from any danger zones.
“We used to do that all the time–race to the pool, the swings, the water fountain–” she said, reminiscing about their younger days.
“Yeah–and like then–the only time you win is when you cheat,” Jackson shot back playfully, unable to help himself.
“Well you’ve always had longer legs than me…not fair in my books,” she lamented as she waded further out into the water and away from him.
“A likely excuse,” Jackson scoffed in mock indignation.
“We could argue all day about nothing Jacks…” Anna retorted. “Or…you could get your scrawny arse in here and enjoy the water,” she added, playfully sending a large splash of water towards him with a swing of her arm on the surface of the pond. Jackson jumped back, but failed to successfully dodge all droplets of water.
“Scrawny?” Jackson challenged with a raised brow.
Anna only smiled in return.
“I’ll have to disagree about that,” Jackson found himself replying rather cockily. He would always probably be on the slighter side, but he was by no means as skinny and gangly as he’d once been growing up.
As many girls at school could be traced to saying at least once in their lives–Quidditch does a body good.
Jackson could proudly say that he’d heard it said (once or twice) about himself this past year. And he had to admit that the sport, combined with the recent affects of another growth spurt had allowed him to begin to fill out his frame with a noticeable layer of muscle.
Scrawny he certainly was no more.
Feeling a bit riled by her comment, Jackson felt it only fitting to rebuff her challenge of his physique. He proceeded by reaching down, very much like she had with her halter top, pulling his t-shirt over his head and depositing it on the grassy bank of the pond. Next to go were his sandals and jeans, which slid off rather easily and joined his t-shirt on the ground. He was left standing bare-chested and bare-foot in just his green swimming trunks that fell just about knee length.
Having shed his outer layers, Jackson turned to face Anna in the pond again, hoping to have firmly shot down her previous remarks. But as he turned fully to face her, he caught her quickly look away from him, suddenly more interested in the surface of the water than anything else.
Jackson was a bit confused.
Had he startled her with his impromptu shedding to his swim trunks? He didn’t see how that could be the case, seeing as she had done the same only moments before–and in a much showier fashion.
Or had she been staring at him as he’d pulled off his shirt and jeans and then been embarrassed that he may have caught her? That could either mean he had disturbed her and turned her off enough to draw her eyes and stare as he’d stripped off.
Or–he could only hope to think–she had liked what she had seen of him…
Where had that thought come from? A part of his mind asked loudly after the thought had sprung up.
But Jackson had little time to contemplate it when Anna seemed to shake out of her own revelry and spoke again.
“Are you going to come in or not?” She called to him, having regained her voice and controlled nature.
Jackson looked back at her to find Anna watching him again.
“Jeez you’re pushy,” Jackson huffed back, momentarily pausing to gauge the nature of the situation, unsure of how to proceed after the last few moment’s awkwardness. His usual, cheeky response came a bit slower than usual and had nearly died at his lips as the sizable difference and sudden shift in their chemistry hit him.
There was something palpably different in the way they were treating one another Jackson couldn’t help but think even as he entered the pond himself; even as he sent a playful splash of water towards Anna as he dove towards her, causing her to shriek in surprise and outrage.
They had spent the last hour or so in the water, splashing and diving; having contests as to who could stay under the water longer and how far each of them could walk out into the water while still touching the bottom. Jackson had the decided advantage in the latter, being so much taller–but they seemed to find fun in it nonetheless.
So after having exhausted most of the interesting, yet mindless information about school and the like the two could come up with in conversation, Jackson had spotted an old rope near the far edge of the pond that hung from a thick oak branch overhanging the dark, cool water. It had been Anna’s idea to use it to catapult themselves out into the water.
It was quite apparent that someone had once placed it there for the very purpose that they were now going to use it for and that many more had found it along the way over the years. As Jackson and Anna had clambered back onto shore near the base of the tree, unknown years of carvings and graffiti could be seen etched into the solid wood of the great tree, testament to the generations of people who had stood on this very spot.
“Scared?” Anna asked, yanking Jackson out of his contemplation as he looked upwards at where the thick rope was knotted to the middle of the branch. The rope looked solid and the branch hearty, but there was no telling from his vantage point if it would hold. Anna’s voice was challenging again, playfully defying his trepidation.
“No,” Jackson snorted, trying to dispel any possible worries of the safety of the rope that had sprung up in his mind. “I’ll even go first,” he shot back with a challenging raise of one brow.
Anna laughed at Jackson’s sudden assured-ness.
“Well go on then,” she prodded. “Show me how it’s done,” she added further, handing him the end of the rope she had been grasping in her hands. The gesture was clearly a challenge.
Jackson took it, not wanting to allow any room for Anna to jibe at him any further. He gathered the thick rope firmly in both hands, pulling it back towards himself as he took steps back towards the tree; readying himself to make a run back towards the water. Anna had backed of to the side, allowing him ample room to maneuver.
Letting out a long, steadying breath, Jackson looked once more back out into the pond, assuring himself that the water was indeed deep enough for what he was about to undertake. If it wasn’t…well…he’d worry about that later.
Glancing one last time at Anna, who was still waiting with a smirk on her face for him to jump, Jackson took off at a run towards the bank’s edge. He clung tight to the rope with both hands as the slack line tightened and he drew closer to the drop off of the ground beneath his feet. The wind was rushing past him as he ran, blowing his wayward black back off his forehead.
Then he felt the ground go out from beneath his feet and he instinctively jumped, allowing the rope to pull him skyward and out over water; catapulting him into the air.
Jackson opened his eyes and released the rope at the apex of his jump, looking downward as he seemed to hang momentarily suspended mid-air. It was a feeling akin to riding a broom for him.
He was airborne and weightless; totally oblivious to the laws of gravity that governed him otherwise.
But just as that wondrous thought crossed his mind, the water seemed to rush up at him at an alarming rate; his arms waving comically in the air in a feeble attempt at keeping himself aloft for just a bit longer.
His attempts failed and he hit the water with a tremendous splash that sent shock waves of pain through him as his bare skin and flailing limbs hit the unyielding surface of the water. His descent continued and he found himself pulled underneath the cool water and away from the rays of sunlight filtering through the water. He fell downward until his feet found the muddy bottom. He pushed off, propelling himself back upwards, using both his legs and arms to pull himself back up to the surface.
Coughing slightly from the small amount of water he’d inhaled on impact, Jackson’s head finally broke the surface. But instead of the bright glint of light from the afternoon sun above that Jackson expected to blind him, he was encased in a curtain of darkness. A wet, heavy something was pushing against his eyes, preventing him from seeing anything at all as he splashed around at the surface trying to gain his bearings.
He continued to struggle momentarily until a high-pitched laughing sound met his ears and he whirled around in the general direction of the noise.
“Having problems?” Anna’s sweet voice rang out amidst the splashing and Jackson froze, blowing out a great puff of water out of his mouth as he bobbed there in the water.
“No,” he muttered to himself, reaching up a hand to peel and lift away the thick layer of hair plastered over his face. The dark curtain that had obscured his vision and left him momentarily blinded had been his own thick mop of black hair adhering itself to his face.
His pushing back and removal of the offensive mop from his eyes and forehead seemed only to insight Anna’s amusement even more as she began to really laugh in earnest. He could only imagine what the action must have done to the already usually disheveled state of his hair. He supposed it was now sticking up in a million different directions; its comical state magnified a hundred fold by the saturation of water keeping it completely wayward and wild.
“Nice hair,” Anna shouted to him from the bank of the pond where she stood clutching at her side. “Very stylish,” she added with a laugh. She was clearly very amused.
Normally he would have had no problem shooting back his own smart ass remark to defend himself from Anna’s teasing. But he suddenly felt a bit self conscious about how he’d looked flailing through the air after he’d let go of the rope and the subsequent blinding he’d taken by his own hair. Had he really looked as ridiculous as he felt now?
Still laughing to herself, Anna reached out and grabbed the end of the rope as it swung back towards her. Jackson tread water and watched as she mimicked his earlier tactics and walked back away from the pond’s edge, gripping the thick rope tightly in her hands.
She disappeared momentarily from his vision as she neared the base of the big oak tree and was thrown into shadow by its great leafy branches. Jackson waited for a moment in silence, anticipating Anna’s reemergence. She seemed to be waiting an awfully long time to take her turn and Jackson smugly wondered if she’d perhaps chickened out. After her relentless goading about his courage, this thought brought a smile to his face.
But as soon as his lips had begun to twitch to bring that grin to fruition, a loud exhilarated cry startled him and his eyes strained for the shore of the pond once more.
He watched as Anna materialized from the shadows, running at full speed as she hurtled towards the edge of the pond, still clutching tightly to the rope. Like he had, Anna launched herself into the air as she reached the edge of solid ground; the pull of the rope propelling her skywards and towards his current position in the pond.
Jackson simply couldn’t take his eyes off Anna as she flew through the air towards the summit of her trajectory. Her dark hair fluttered behind her in a loose ponytail, creating a waterfall effect cascading outward.
He was absolutely memorized by the lithe form seemingly floating in mid-air. He’d momentarily forgotten to breathe; but essential functions like breathing didn’t seem all that important right now. Besides, it wasn’t as if any blood was flowing in the direction of his brain anyways…
But almost just as soon as he’d locked eyes upon the scene, a loud crack resonated throughout the stillness of the moment, interrupting whatever peace that had befallen the pond. He likened the sound to gunfire, or perhaps something that might erupt from any one of the products found in his uncles’ joke shop.
A scream rent the air and Jackson was jerked back to reality as he watched Anna plummet back towards earth. But her descent was all wrong.
She was still clutching the rope, but it no longer held any of the tension that had held her aloft before. His eyes traced the length of the rope back to its origination, but found that the sturdy branch to which it had been wrapped around had completely snapped from its mooring and was flying dangerously through the air behind Anna.
Anna was free falling at a much faster rate and from a much higher point than Jackson had. As she neared the water, she tumbled on an axle and angle that brought her head-first milliseconds before she met the water with a resounding crash that replaced her frantic cries.
Panic seized Jackson and hit him fully in the chest, knocking all the air out of his lungs. He was frozen, rooted to the spot; unable to make his body react and move towards the spot where Anna had hit and disappeared beneath the surface.
His eyes watched the surface of the water where she’d went under begin to calm for seemed like minutes before his body finally caught up with his mind. She hadn’t surfaced yet. Something was wrong.
“Anna,” Jackson called out, her name tumbling off his lips in desperation a half-second before he finally dove into the depths of the pond after her.
His longs limbs propelled him downward into the dark depths as he frantically tried to reach her.
But the water was too dark and deep and even as he tried peering painfully through the shadows he couldn’t find her. He reached out frantically, his hands grasping for any touch of hair or skin that gave him any indication of where she was. But only the cold water slipped through his fingers, leaving his hands empty and void.
Breaking back through the surface and gasping for air, he looked around in desperation. His heart was beating frantically in his chest as his panic began to grow and he didn’t seem to be able to form coherent strings of thought that might help him form some plan of action to save Anna and summon her from the depths of this pond.
That was it…he could summon her with a wave of his wand.
Jackson once again twirled around in the water, this time whipping his head around towards the now distant shore where his wand lay amongst his discarded t-shirt and sandals.
A new sort of helpless seemed to seize him as he realized that he had a choice to make. He could dive back down into the depths and attempt once more to retrieve Anna himself, or he could make a quick break for shore to grab his wand and summon her to him.
Either one would take time–time that he wasn’t sure he had.
He wasn’t even sure just how much time had elapsed since Anna had disappeared beneath the surface. Jackson was only aware that every second that he didn’t act and she didn’t surface, was another that brought him closer to an outcome he didn’t even want to fathom.
Acting purely on instinct and without conscious thought, Jackson made that split-second decision and turned his whole body towards the shore, intending on seeking out his wand and rescuing Anna that way.
But just as he'd turned away from the spot and made to dive into his swim towards the shore, movement and noise from a few feet away once again froze him and attracted his eyes and attention.
The surface of the water was being disturbed; it undulated and bubbled as pockets of air rose to the surface, breaking it and creating waves and ripples in a spot a few feet from where Jackson floated. The water seemed to move faster as more and more bubbles punctured the surface and Jackson still could not tear his eyes from the spot or bring himself to make any movement in any direction.
And just when it seemed that Jackson could take no more of standing by and watching as the water boiled and bubbled, a hand broke the surface of the pond, scrambling and searching for something the hold onto. It was soon followed by the other and then a head , it's long dark hair plastered to and obscuring her face as she flailed about, coughing and gasping for air to return to her lungs.
It was Anna.
Upon the dawning realization finally sinking up his brain with what his senses were showing him, Jackson's body seemed to catch up and flip into action. In three quick strokes of his long arms he had crossed the few feet between them and without any thought at all had grabbed her and pulled her to him. She was still choking on the water that she had swallowed up into her lungs and shuddering uncontrollably as she continued to gasp and try and force air back into her body.
"Shhh...it's ok...it's ok," Jackson tried to soothe her as Anna clung to him desperately. "You're alright. You're ok..."
But Anna continued to hold tight to him as if something would drag her back under the water if she let go. Her arms were wrapped tightly around his neck, her head resting against his shoulder and her legs encircling his waist as he held his own arms around her, rubbing her back gently. In any other situation, her close proximity and the way her body was pressed tightly up against his bare skin would lead to a very different type of reaction, but his only concern now was to get somewhere where he could put two feet on the ground. With her clinging to him like she was, it was getting harder for Jackson to stay afloat using just his legs to propel him upward above the surface.
"Anna, I'm going to let go of you for a second..." he began to explain.
"No..." Anna rasped as she tightened her grip around his neck. "Don't. Just...stay..."
"I'm just going to move a bit closer to shore," he assured her. "You can keep holding tight to me. I'm just going to swim so I can touch bottom. I promise," he added, wanting and needing her trust him not to let anything happen to her again.
After a few seconds, he felt her nod of approval against his shoulder and he hesitantly took his arms from around her and used them to tread water and gently move them towards the shore and shallower waters. The entire way Anna continued to hold fast, unrelenting in her grip. After having drifted a good 30 feet or so towards the shoreline, Jackson felt the stony bottom brush up against the soles of his feet as the water shallowed. With only a few more steps he found that he could comfortably stand flat-footed in just-below chest-height water.
"I can touch bottom," he assured Anna now, who seemed to have her breathing under some sort of control and had stopped gasping. She was still however, shaking and holding tight to him.
"Oh god..." Anna sighed out.
"You're ok now..." Jackson whispered soothingly. "It's over."
"I...I didn't think I was going to get back up," Anna whispered, horrified. "I couldn't breathe..."
A small sob escaped Anna and she seemed to burrow back up against him. He responded by once more wrapping his arms around her, trying to provide some sort of reassurance that she was safe now.
"I tried to find you. But I couldn't..." Jackson told her quietly. "I'm sorry," he whispered in apology.
"It's ok," Anna told him, shaking her head as she lifted it from his shoulder. She continued to stay wrapped around him, but she now craned her neck back so that she could peer up at him. Jackson could see now that her eyes were rimmed red from the tears she had shed through her near-drowning ordeal.
"No. I didn't know what to do..." Jackson replied heavily.
"I got caught on something," Anna explained. "Something was wrapped around my leg and I couldn't pull free...no matter how hard I bloody tried," she said in disbelief.
"I dove for you..." Jackson breathed out, suddenly feeling the need to explain that he hadn't just stood there and watched as she had almost died.
"I figured that," Anna assured him with the slightest hint of a watery chuckle. "Thank you," she whispered to him, her beautiful hazel eyes locking into his.
"I...really didn't do anything..." he breathed back, now suddenly finding himself unable to look away from her or to even blink regularly. His breathing was deeper and more pronounced now, as though he had been the one recovering from being trapped underwater. His mind and body had chosen this moment to register and come to the realization that Anna was clinging--very--tightly to him.
"You stayed," she replied, still staring steadily at him.
“Yeah…”Jackson acknowledged breathily.
And then, everything seemed to happen in slow motion, and at the same time–entirely too fast.
He was mesmerized by her face that was just inches from his. Her deep hazel eyes seemed to burn into his; their many colors and shades of green and brown standing out bright against her tan skin. He watched as Anna's eyes flickered momentarily downward from their gaze on his eyes to his lips...
He'd been lucky enough in his short life to have seen that look a few times before.
He knew exactly what was about to happen about a second before it did.
Jackson could do nothing as he watched Anna's face draw closer to his, closing the space between them as she pulled herself closer.
Her lips were warm and wet, pressing softly against his own as they met.
At first Jackson couldn't respond--the gentle pressure of her lips moving against his was almost too much for him to wrap his head around.
Anna was kissing him...
'And you're not kissing her back,' a voice chimed in from somewhere back near his left ear. It was that sort of annoying, snide voice that seemed to pop up from time to time to remind you of your shortcomings.
Having been accustomed to ignore the voice for his better judgment for most of his life, Jackson instead took on the challenge and reciprocated, deepening the kiss and pulling Anna, if possible, closer to him.
His mind was screaming a million different things at him--most of them wondering what the hell was happening. But he couldn't be bothered to sort them all out at the moment. He was completely lost in the fact that Anna--his childhood best friend and the girl he'd thought he'd come to think of as a sister over the years--was snogging him.
And he liked it...
He rather enjoyed this a lot, actually.
So he was a little more than slightly disappointed and caught off guard when Anna moved away, breaking the kiss and the contact between them.
Still lost in the moment, Jackson slowly opened his eyes, not able to keep the contented sigh from being released from his own lips.
But whatever bliss he had been experiencing was immediately doused when he caught the look on Anna's face. She was now standing free of him, a foot or so between them in the water. And she was looking away; looking as though she'd realized what she had been doing and was mortified to have found herself kissing him.
Jackson didn't know what to do.
Had it been that bad? Had it been some big mistake to her? A kiss that was fueled by the emotion and adrenaline of the moment?
Because at the moment, Jackson didn't think it had been--at least not for him.
Because it was with that kiss and the look she had given him just before that, that he realized all the seemingly random thoughts and feelings he'd been having for her all day, the excitement he'd gotten after reading her letters about summer plans and the anticipation of seeing her he'd experienced in the days before their meeting today--these were not random things at all.
He really liked Anna.
He thought of her as more than a friend now and if he was truthful with himself, it had been for a while now. He'd just been too stupid and too afraid to do anything about it.
But that and their friendship was in jeopardy now. They'd kissed, and if she hadn't wanted it or was now regretting it--how could they go back to just being friends and forget that it had happened?
"I'm sorry," Anna whispered in a low voice as she brought her hand up to her lips, lightly tracing and feeling the place with her finger tips.
Her words and apology grated against Jackson's ears. She hadn't meant it and now she was sorry for it?
Jackson swallowed heavily, trying to keep himself cool and composed. He really felt as if not only had this whole day been ruined, but the sun and gone and the world had dropped out from underneath him. He could only stare blankly ahead of himself, not wanting to catch any more of the disappointed look on her face.
"I don't know why I did that," Anna breathed out in what sounded like shock, once more slowly shaking her head. "I'm sorry," she repeated.
This time, Jackson had to bite back a retort and looked away, shaking his own head in disbelief.
She was sorry? Well, she could stop saying it already--he'd gotten that much.
Not knowing what to do--part of him wanted to run back up to shore, get his clothes and fly home, another wanted to grab her again and snog her so she'd see it hadn't been a mistake to be sorry for--but instead he closed his eyes in a mixture of frustration and anger, turning his head away and only opening his eyes when the distant shore was all he could see.
"I'm not," Jackson heard himself say in a slightly choked voice before he could register that it had been himself that had spoken.
Maybe he should be truthful? Let her know what he felt? If it was true that their friendship had been changed or broken by the kiss, what harm would be done in letting her know that he enjoyed it?
"What?" Anna said quietly; although she could not keep her tone and evident suprise and shock from her voice.
"I'm not sorry," Jackson repeated, slowly turning back to face her. "If you are....I'm..." he added, but trailed off.
What should he say to her? What words would best relay how he felt?
"I like you, Anna," he said without pretense or the immense amount of hesitation he was feeling. "And if I'm honest with myself...I have for a while."
Jackson found that with his last words, he was able to finally look at her. He was surprised to find her meeting his gaze. She still looked shocked, but the mortification he had seen before was gone.
"But..." Anna began. "You do?" she asked, sounding thoroughly surprised at his admission.
"Yeah," he admitted. "And truthfully--you've been driving me crazy all day."
"But..." she began again, looking this time--thoroughly confused. "I mean--you're with that--Lara--girl. And...I just...I don't want to be that girl that--"
"I--was--with Lara," Jackson corrected her, suddenly thinking that perhaps her sudden mortification had more to do with the fact that she thought he wasn't single, instead of her regret about the action. At least he hoped that was the case.
"You're not with her?" Anna asked with just the hint of what Jackson hoped was lightness in her question.
"No. She dumped me," he assured her. "It's been a few weeks actually."
"She dumped you?" Anna asked surprised.
"Yeah..." he admitted sheepishly, feeling the first hint of a smile tug at his lips as he caught the amusement in Anna's tone. "But I think I'll live now."
Instead of the cheeky remark Jackson would have usually expected from her, Anna instead drifted off into thought again. He wanted to let her think about things, but he also wanted some sort of answer as to how she felt.
“So…do you–do you really regret that kiss?” Jackson asked quietly, watching Anna carefully to gage her reaction.
Very slowly she brought her eyes back up to his and shook her head.
“No,” she admitted quietly. “But I’m kind of nervous about what it means.”
Jackson was a bit surprised by her last admission, so he cocked his head slightly to the side in acknowledgement of that confusion.
“It’s just–I really like you too…obviously,” she added with a slight smile. “But I don’t want to ruin our friendship.”
“I did say I liked you,” Jackson reminded her, taking one small step forward to bridge some of the space between them.
Anna smiled and nodded.
“I know. I sort of got that from the kiss…” she replied. “Unless you go around kissing every girl you know like that?” she half-heartedly teased as she brought a hand back up to the surface, her fingers playing with the smooth surface of the water.
With much thought or premeditation, Jackson reached out and grabbed the hand, pulling Anna back to him so that they were touching once more. She seemed momentarily thrown by his sudden display of assertive possessiveness.
“I’ve never kissed any girl like that before,” he told her, feeling ever bit of that possessiveness in the low tone of his voice that seemed to emanate from somewhere much deeper within his chest.
He looked down at her, all hesitation or trepidation gone as he wanted to make it perfectly clear what he felt for her. He caught and held her gaze, her brilliant hazel eyes boring into his green.
“And we can’t go and take this all back now, can we?” he asked her, not daring to look away or let her go for even a second.
“Isn’t there some sort of spell that could wipe my mind clean?” Anna said breathily as a small smile played across her lips.
“Yeah…I could obliviate you and make you completely forget this ever happened,” Jackson said with a smirk of his own. “But–again–I’d most likely get arrested for it. And would you want that…would you want to forget?” Jackson whispered to her as he leaned down a little closer.
Anna shook her head.
“So where do we go from here?” she asked quietly, searching his face for the answer.
“I think there’s only one road I think we can go down now…only one I really want to,” Jackson told her quietly. A fuzzy, warm feeling seemed to overtaking him and it was becoming increasingly harder to focus on anything other than her lips.
“It’ll be a risk,” Anna reminded him, wanting to understand fully that if they became more than friends it could and most likely would forever change their relationship.
“But one I’m willing to take,” Jackson assured her. “If you are…?”
“I think so,” Anna said with a nod and without question in her tone. “And damn the results,” she whispered fervently as she smiled up at him.
“Good,” Jackson whispered back, trying to restrain himself for a few more moments and allow her to speak if need be.
But what he really wanted to do was kiss her again–to pull her close again and enjoy the feel of her lips against his. He could feel himself leaning in closer to her as she continued to look up at him. But the space between them was getting smaller as he slowly bent his head down towards hers, tilting to the side ever so slowly.
But what seemed just inches from her lips, Anna brought a hand between them. She rested two fingers upon his lips, keeping him at bay and just short of another kiss.
“Like you…” she said with a smile. “I don’t go around kissing just anyone–especially boys who aren’t my boyfriend.”
A sudden, horrible thought crossed his mind and he momentarily wondered if she indeed was dating someone. He had thought she’d dumped that “Brad” bloke she had been seeing off and on the past few years?
But any more questioning of her single status was dismissed as he caught the playful smile on her face. She was putting him on, waiting for him to ask her something.
“So…would you…like to be my–girlfriend–then?” he asked, emphasizing the second to last word as it brought a sheepish grin to his face. It felt great to be asking her this–and at the same time, he couldn’t believe this was happening.
“That is–if you’ll have me?” he added. “You could always chuck me later if I turn out to be the world’s worst boyfriend,” he added.
“I very much doubt you could possibly be the worst,” she smiled as she brought both arms once more around his neck, pulling herself closer.
“It might be a bit premature to assume–” Jackson began to retort, but Anna cut him off.
“I guess I’ll just have to wait and see,” she said with a smirk. “And besides…weren’t you about to do something before I interrupted you?” she teased, craning her neck upwards, giving him ample assess to her mouth.
“Mmm…yeah,” Jackson murmured.
“Well get on with it,” Anna smiled. “I haven’t been kissed properly by my boyfriend yet….”
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