Borders and Barriers

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"He made her into a crashlander who was seeing reality for the first time, and she was happy to plummet."
When someone hears the name Emelia Archer they think of the Instagram famous trendsetter, the daughter of Archer Enterprises, and the one who crashed herself into a scandal.
When someone hears the name Jackson Andrews they go...huh? Then they think of the art-loving boy, the one who stayed in the shadows for the fun of it.
Push those two opposites together and you've got a story, maybe not a love story, but a story nonetheless.

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6. Nerves are not steel,

 

Chapter Six

 

Nerves are not steel,

But mercury.

Pretty and Poisonous.

 

Emelia

Trinity had a pub, a grocery store, a diner, a bookshop and a craft shop. She knew this because she took a gamble and slowed her jog to a walking pace when she travelled back towards the Cabin.

Her cure for the gnawing need for sleep was immersing herself in the outdoors, taking more risks and believing that she wouldn’t get caught. The risqué nature was her second skin and with a simple mantra of belief, she thought that no one would recognise her.

The town was small and compact, and she knew that she could find her hobby somewhere within the space. First, she called into the bookshop, finding solace in its crowded bookshelves. There was a single bored teenager manning the register and he didn’t even look up when the bell tinkled on top of the door.

She spent an undefined moment of time walking up and down the aisles, seeing what the shop had to offer and, in the end, walked up to the counter with three books in her arms. She felt nervous about the teenager recognising her, after all the girl had, but that had been before the hair dye. She had to risk it, and she had to do was believe in her second skin.

The three books were two fiction paperbacks and one hardbacked non-fiction on hobbies. The teenager looked at her once, clicked his lips together as he scanned the books. Had she been that nonchalant when she was a teenager? She didn’t think so but then again, she hadn’t been a part of small-town privacy.

Once out of the shop with her purchases in hand she walked past the craft shop and remarked that it was the perfect place for an art snob like Jackson. It catered for all crafts and from the window, she could see paints, brushes, skeins of wool, and needlepoint.

But then the smell of sugar drew her away.

She retracted the thought and stored it away to tell Jackson later – maybe it would draw him out from his isolation.

The diner was painted in red and white like the classic American getup. The smell from the food within was divine enough to tempt her into the establishment and she ordered coffee and a slice of pie, which was where the smell originated from, before she could second guess her thoughts.

“I haven’t seen you in here before,” the cashier said, an ageing woman who looked a bit like Mrs Claus. The implied question jerked Emelia out of her reverie and she tore her eyes from where the woman was pouring coffee into a cup.

“Er yeah, I’m Harper, I’m staying in Cabin 231, first vacation here actually,” the words were stunted and awkward and she cursed herself for it. But it was the opposite of the hoarse smoothness of the Love Queen.

“The Andrews Cabin?” the woman raised her eyebrows as she handed Emelia her coffee.

Emelia just nodded and didn’t elaborate on which Andrew boy she was with. She knew that Jackson would have had her head if she revealed his identity without his permission. “Just getting a break from the city you know?”

“Well Trinity will certainly give you a break, my name is Mary Croft, enjoy your stay here Harper and maybe I’ll see you and the Andrew boy around,” Mary’s eyes twinkled, and Emelia grinned back, escaping with her cup of coffee and plate of pie.

She allowed herself some time to sit in one of the quaint booths and eat the caramelised apple pie that she had been attracted to. Against her better judgement, who screamed to go back to the cabin and get out of the public eye, she cracked open a book and drank her coffee until there was nothing left but the ceramic bottom of the mug.

When she looked up next, an hour had passed, and her phone buzzed in her pocket. Jackson had texted her, not confident enough to ring her, but he expressed concern about her whereabouts. She rolled her eyes and with a full stomach she exited the diner, waving to Mary on the counter, and walked her way back to the cabin, her mind still half on the romantic adventures featured in the paperback.

“Where have you been?” Jackson asked from where he lounged on the sofa, a sketchbook stretched across his lap.

“I called into town after my run, no one recognised me if that’s what you’re worried about,” she gestured to her bookbag and went to her room to unpack it. “You know Trinity may be small, but they have a fab diner which does great pie, and they also have a craft store which I think you’ll like.”

Emelia pretended she didn’t see the sudden glow to Jackson’s eyes when she emerged back into the main room.

“Maybe you’ll be human enough to check it out sometime, make that one outing turn into a second outing,” Emelia teased and started to tell him how she had used her alias and not given anything away about the true reasons behind their stay.

Jackson just went back to drawing as he listened to her, although he wouldn’t show her exactly what he was sketching.

 

Jackson

The thought of the craft store was tempting. Emelia had told him about it and although she hadn’t gone in, the mere thought of it was enough to make him itch. On one hand, he could finally get his hands on some paint, colour overtaking the limited supplies of ink and pencils that he had. On the other hand, it meant physically encountering people, talking to absolute strangers who would instantly know that he was an Andrews and attach presumptions to his person.

He was in a tragic dilemma that took days to unravel. He started off small, running with Emelia for several days in a row and trying to ignore her when she came back from the diner with a new tale. The tales were often about the delicacies that Mrs Croft made, pastries and pies that Jackson had never tried and each time he was more tempted to go down there.

But he wasn’t ready, he knew that because the itch gave way to an annoying buzz when he even thought about following Emelia to the diner.

The running influenced him; he was getting faster and stronger, becoming more tired before the early hours of the morning could approach and waking feeling rested come five in the morning. He wondered if venturing further would affect him too.

One day he made his mind up, stuffed his hands into the pocket of his hoodie to abate the buzzing, and said to Emelia that he wanted to go to the craft store. It was morning, barely nine, and hardly anyone would be up. Emelia just smiled at him and led the way, looking knowingly as Jackson’s eyes went to the cabin as they passed it.

The craft store was everything he needed and more. The buzzing crept to an all-time high on the way there and then calmed once he was in the door. He was sure that he made a noise similar to that of a whale and Emelia left him in the stacks. He wanted to think that he came here because he was brave enough to beat the social anxiety but no, it was because he had run out of colour and the monochromatic posters on his wall were headache-inducing.

He let his hands drift across paints; watercolours and tubes of acrylics; sticks of graphite and pastels; brushes, gesso and sketchbooks with thick paper. He was in heaven, so much in a daze that time and the presence of people meant nothing. He wasn’t bothered about the fact that they may not fit in his suitcase when it came to the ride home, he just had to have them in his hands.

He paid, and only when he came back out into the high street did he wonder about the cashier.

Emelia stood there with her arms hung loosely at her sides but with a smile on her face, “Did that feel good?” she asked, and he nodded, almost incapable of words.

“Ah, Harper, how are you doing?” a woman called, and Emelia seemed all too comfortable to turn and talk to her.

“Mrs Croft, hi, I’m doing fine thank you for asking,” Emelia didn’t call attention to Jackson at first but then the woman’s eyes found his even when he skirted back.

“This must be the Andrew boy you’re with?” Mrs Croft smiled, and Jackson licked his lips to squash down the buzzing that emerged.

He found himself nodding, politeness taking over as he stepped forward to take her hand for a quick handshake, “Hello Mrs Croft, Harper has told me many things about you, it’s nice meeting you.”

“Ah, she is a lovely dear and you’re not like your brothers. But from a process of elimination you must be Jackson,” Mrs Croft was all elderly grace and Jackson knew that she meant nothing from her remarks.

He nodded again, and the woman continued.

I and Harold would love to have you two in the diner sometime, he would love to see your face, Jackson.”

Jackson didn’t know how to answer that, but Emelia did.

“I’ll be sure to drag Jackson there sometime before we leave Trinity Mrs Croft, no one can stay away from your pies for long,” she joked before politely making an excuse to leave.

Jackson felt the weight of his bag increase as he felt the eyes of the old woman on him. It was stupid, she didn’t mean any harm towards him and yet he felt this way. 

The world greyed their entire journey back to the cabin.

“I know that you’ve been begging me to get out, and I just have, but can you leave me alone for a bit?” he begged, not looking at Emelia’s face. He didn’t want to see the pity, not when he felt uncomfortable in his own skin.

“Yeah sure, I’m glad that you ventured out today though, you’ve made some monumental progress,” the words slowed as he made his way back to his bedroom.

Only the sound of a new sketchbook being cracked open saved him. Soon clear water became murky with whirs of colour as he lost himself into painting. Art was his sword and shield amongst the battlefield of social situations.

He may have hated his weakness, of not being able to function around the simplest of social interactions, but he had to recognise his victory. He had gone onto the battlefield and survived.

Maybe he could do this.

He kept that mantra for the next week when he became more like a turtle rather than a human. He even rewarded himself with one run with Emelia and felt grateful when she didn’t push him further than his limits.

But there was a danger in slipping back into old habits. The world outside almost disappeared and it felt like he was starving himself of the potential nature offered. He was restless in a way that he had never felt before, with a hunger for something more, something that art couldn’t offer him and that made him anxious.

Art was his crutch, who said that it couldn’t offer him everything?

One time he tried to go outdoors when Emelia was on her run. He managed ten paces from the cabin before he turned around and walked back, cursing himself for being both reckless and foolish. He twiddled paint-stained fingers and warbled around a too thick tongue before he asked Emelia if he could accompany her to the diner.

Hated feeling dependent on her, but he couldn't do it any other way.

He swore to himself that if he didn’t like it he would come straight back to the cabin, he could easily escape, and he wasn’t trapped by a woman with a too wide smile.

She agreed and tried to keep her excitement down as they walked to the diner on one rainy afternoon. Not many people were out due to the poor weather but that didn’t stop the way Jackson looked back and forth.

The diner did not make him feel better like the craft store had but the smell of sugar cut down the lead feeling in his stomach.

“It’s nice to see you two, Jackson how are your brothers?” Mrs Croft said as she took their orders and led them over to a table.

Jackson replied that they were well but busy and it seemed to be enough for the woman.

“This is Mr Croft,” she nodded to an older gentleman who hovered near the kitchens, “come on Harold, come introduce yourself.”

“It’s Harry to the customers Mary,” he joked before shaking Jackson’s hand over the counter. His knuckles were flecked with flour just as much as Jackson’s were with paint and he felt like they were kindred spirits. “I used to babysit your oldest brother when he was little you know, but onto more pressing matters do you paint Jackson?”

“Not this again, leave the boy alone,” Mary tutted as she plated up a cake for the two of them.

“What do mean, ‘this again’?” Emelia asked, sipping at the too hot coffee in her hands.

“Well, Harrold is always going on about the town’s welcome sign, he asks anyone who paints if they’re willing to decorate it but they all refuse and disappear without the project being finished. I know you’re here for two more months, so I mentioned it to him, but never mind him,” Mary continued.

“I paint, I dabble in it a little,” the words were out of his mouth before his anxiety could beat them back down his throat and Harold Croft looked pleased.

“Let’s discuss it then,” Harold followed them over to the table and the pair discussed how sad the sign was until Mary called her husband back to the kitchen. Jackson didn’t agree to paint it but he did agree with the man’s views.

Emelia held a glow in her eye, not unlike Mary Crofts, and he flicked his fork towards her.

“I didn’t say anything,” she joked.

“You didn’t have to,” he replied and stabbed the fork into the sticky cake. 

After one bite he decided that cake could be therapy. 

 

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