When I was seven, I remember being hopelessly intrigued by the huge farm next door, with the five rowdy boys that were always running around and chasing each other with sticks.
So I would climb up the sycamore tree that was planted on our side of the fence, but that grew over theirs. I would stay there for hours, watching the boys wrestle in the yard, run after soccer balls and dare each other to do crazy things. I desperately wanted to introduce myself, but I was too scared.
Then one day, after six months of sitting on the same branch, Jake came right up under the tree and peered at me. He was taller, older, and stronger, but his voice had a reassuring quality to it that can still comfort me to this day. That’s the real reason I consented to get off the tree.
“I know you’re there,” he said. “We’re about to have rhubarb pie, and I’d reckon my mom would love to meet a girl. She says she’s goin’ crazy with six boys around the house.”
Rhubarb pie! I was still intimidated, but my stomach was growling. I scampered down from one branch to another so fast that I fell off the lower one. I landed at Jake’s feet, not sure if I should laugh or cry.
He saved me the trouble of deciding by bursting into a reckless fit of laughter, bending over. Without a word, he held out his hand and helped me up.
And that was it. With a bang, I landed into his life. We haven’t spent a day apart ever since.
I don’t know why I started dating Ben. Maybe because, like the other girls in our grade, I was roped in by his cocky attitude and mysterious gray eyes. Maybe it was because being beside Jake was make me feel things I had never felt before, and I was scared.
Either way, now I was stuck, because like my best friend Mel kept reminding me, Ben was the most popular guy in our grade, and “girls don’t break up with Ben. Ben breaks up with girls” (Mel’s exact words). I didn’t particularly care about this — I wouldn’t care if Ben broke up with me— but there was another reason I would never tell.
If I’m not dating Ben, then there’s no one standing between Jake and I anymore. And the thought of taking our friendship to the next level terrifies me. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that I can’t lose Jake.
He’s waiting for me by the door as I walk down the steps, after spending half an hour showering and getting ready, to wipe the smell of horses and hay off of me. City boys like Ben don’t appreciate that smell the way Jake does.
Jake lets out a low whistle when he sees me. “You been fishing in your mother’s closet?”
My cheeks turn scarlet. Just because I don’t normally wear silk camisoles or lipstick doesn’t mean I don’t own any. “You been raiding the salvation army?” I retort.
He grins and pulls me into a hug. I find that familiar place next to his heart let the heat of his body seep into me. “You look good, Cassie.”
“You, too.” He looks more than good, in his white T-shirt that emphasizes his muscular chest and golden skin. He’s wearing jeans, as always, but at least there’s no more bits of straw in his dirty blond hair.
I avert my eyes, realizing that I’m staring. “Shall we go? It’s my turn to drive.”
“No way, Cassiopeia.” I glare at him. He only uses my full name when he really wants to annoy me. “I’d like to still have all my parts when we reach the city.”
“What, so that girl Amber can hit on you again?” I roll my eyes, hoping he can’t hear the jealousy in my voice.
“Maybe,” he green eyes twinkle. “If she comes home with us, you’ll have to sit in the back of the truck. Better bring a vest.”
I elbow him, hard, and snatch the keys from his hand. “Over my dead body.”