Chapter Seventeen--Cigarette Smoke

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"But those same predictable bad choices and asinine behavior are a big part of what made you who you are today. And from what I've seen, that Jenna Lawson is pretty freaking great. That's a big part of you that I need to know to understand you. And that's very important to me." Her exhale is literally visible when I say this. "Come here."

She scoots a little bit closer, her head finding my chest and my arms circling around her. Subconsciously, my nose finds her hair, which smells like a combination of hotel shampoo and hospital. About the only two places that we go, anyway. I'm sort of glad that our arms are occupied because I don't know what I could even say to her at this point.

Finally, I stand up, pulling her with me. "Come on. I need to go apologize to your sister for breaking her heart." Jenna sighs but stands up anyway, carefully taking her hand out of mine and clutching it against her waist. She shivers and I know that she assumes I'm going to keep my distance from her because of this. Half to spite her and half for some reason I don't understand, I slip my arm around her shoulder. To my surprise, she actually inches closer to me.

She turns over her shoulder slightly and I finally get a look at the right side of her face. The last words that she said--those ones that still cripple me with fear--arc gently across the smooth swell of her cheek, my name curling behind her ear. I've never seen anyone's body willing to hide the secrets of their words--for some reason, Jenna's is protecting her and hiding the vital part of our lies. I stop her and gently take her face. "What?" She mouths, obviously uncomfortable with me touching her.

I run my thumb carefully across those words imprinted on her skin. "Nothing. Come on." I break away and start walking ahead of her, but not before I see the shocked and hurt expression on her face. I'm sure that I'm giving her whiplash at this point, but there's only so much I can do anymore.

Annabel: When are you and Jen going to be back? We have some good news.

Me: We'll be right there.

Jenna looks over my shoulder. "What's this good news?"

I shrug and just motion for her to walk with me. Random questions about her past bounce around in my skull. I ignore the urge to relentlessly fire off. How many boys? How did you communicate? Did you love any of them? But I don't ask because I feel as if our relationship is in the most fragile state that it's ever been; if I've ever been so unsure about how she feels and how I feel, it's now. Jenna suddenly declaring her confused feelings should have made this mess easier to untangle, but now I see everything in a new light. Every step, every sign, every flick of the eye causes me immediate mental turmoil.

One thing that I can definitely appreciate about her is that she leaves me alone when I need it. I can easily say that I have introverted tendencies--especially when I'm with people that I have no interest in knowing better. Even though Jenna is probably my best friend, there is only so long that I can try to make up useless chatter when inside I am practically dying. She understands this because she's the same way.

"You know, there's definitely a good thing about being deaf, John. She turns around and starts to walk backwards as she signs. "I now have a completely logical reason to ignore people when I don't want to talk to them."

I crack a smile and grab her elbow before she runs into a grimy trash can. "I was just thinking about things along those lines, actually..."

She just nods and we walk the rest of the way to the hospital in silence, with the sound of balding tires sloshing in puddles and the smell from street vendors and heavy cigarette smoke choking the air. "What can I do about...this?" She motions to the new words arching across her cheek.

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