10 - Where the Explanation Begins

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         It was hard to pretend like everything was just dandy during dinner, especially because Jacoby had decided to keep an eye on me. I found myself at the receiving end of his numerous glances. I didn’t know whether to be relieved or mortified when his mother directly addressed the issue while we were digging in to salad, all of us, sitting outside on tables pushed together to form two giant lines, one next to the other.

         “Jacoby, you seem rather interested in Jasslyn today.”

         Jacoby stiffened and dropped his gaze onto his plate of greens. The only thing that suggested he was irritated and embarrassed was the sudden flare of vegetation that spiralled up the fork he was holding.

         His mother turned to me as if sharing a scandalous secret. “You know, he’s been staring at you all night,” she whispered loudly. Her friends and family tittered. I managed a weak smile. “Can’t seem to take your eyes off of Jasslyn, can you, Jacoby?” she cooed to her son.

         I held my breath in dread. What could he say to that? What could anyone say to that?

         Jacoby calmly placed his fork down on the table and looked up at his mother, then at me, not even a hint of a blush on his face. His eyes were as dead and sarcastic as the first time I had seen him at the park. His fork, however, glowed pink from the flowers wrapped around it. He stared evenly at me for a few ticking seconds before saying, “No, I really can’t.” Without taking his eyes off my face, he added quietly, “She looks beautiful tonight.”

         A feeling of general astonishment rippled down the long table and it was quiet for a lengthy moment. All I could hear was the grill crackling.

         An obnoxious part of me huffed and thought, So you’re saying I look hideous every other day?

         I didn’t say that, of course. With this crowd, it would be considered flirting. And unlike Jacoby, my mortification was palpable through the heavy blush on my cheeks. I felt a nudge on my side and looked to see my mother raising her eyebrows expectantly. “Jasslyn?”

         “Thank you,” I whispered, unable to meet Jacoby’s relentless stare. It took a few unsteady moments for me to force myself to raise my eyes. “You look good, too, Jacoby.”

         His eyes flashed and we sat like statues, glaring at one another until the chatter had resumed.

         What just happened? I found myself asking. Jacoby had challenged me, and somehow managed to pass it off as a compliment, under the scrutiny of everyone at the table, too. And I…I had somehow given it right back to him, something I only managed to do once every blue moon. I thought I’d be happy, ecstatic, even, like I always was whenever I “beat” Jacoby. But I wasn’t. On the contrary, I was filled with trepidation all throughout dinner, nervous that his anger would flare and…and…

         Truth be told, I didn’t know what he would do, and when I thought about it in the jam-packed backyard after dinner when everyone was admiring the garden, I felt silly. What could Jacoby possibly do? He wouldn’t hurt me; he wasn’t the bullying type, much less the abusive type. What exactly was I afraid of?

         I don’t know, I said to myself. I kicked off my high-heels and placed my feet in the grass. I hadn’t been in a more comfortable position all afternoon. If only I had found this place from the start. The slab of stone I was sitting on was cool, and it was conveniently placed next to the tall, wooden fence surrounding the yard.

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