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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5. Progress is small.

 

Chapter Five

 

Progress is small.

A toddler with small feet.

Bathe it and feed it,

Give it the attention and love it needs

And you’ll get growth.

Leave it alone and you’ll

Get nothing

But a crying toddler.

 

Jackson

They started off tentatively but instantly. The next morning Jackson stumbled out of his room for breakfast and found Emelia at the table, nursing a cup of coffee in one hand and her phone in the other.

“I hope you’re not on social media,” he yawned, frowning at the ink on his collarbones. He wondered when it had got there and looked up to see Emelia put down her coffee and smile at him. He was immediately taken aback by it.

“I’m scrolling through but not participating, it’s hard but I know to keep to the contract,” she rolled her eyes in the angle of the post-it notes on the fridge. Here he noticed photos pinned next to the amendments, his brothers and their friend's arm and arm around a lake, then their parents. “There are approximately over a thousand messages asking me where I am, a few hundred asking if the Archer family have paid off my mistakes and about fifty asking me if I’m alright. UK E-news has already speculated that I’m on a vacation with a lover to get away from the tabloids, not far off actually,” she joked and Jackson waved a butter knife absentmindedly towards her from where he buttered his toast.

“That’s the public for you,” he murmured.

“That is why you’re a recluse isn’t it?” she asked and he was in two minds on whether or not to escape back to his room like usual. “I’m asking you a question, you’ve got to answer it per the amended contract.”

She enjoyed this far too much and she looked like she hadn’t gone for a run that morning. He muddled over the answer while eating his toast, using it as a very tasty excuse. “You know why I don’t go out in public, that note told you.” Sleep Deprived Jackson trusted Emelia too much. The Normal Jackson wanted to get on with her reluctantly but not deeply.

“I want to hear the intricacies of it but I’ll let you off, ask me a question first and then you can answer mine,” she sipped her coffee nonchalantly and Jackson ate his toast.

“Why the social media queen? What’s the appeal?” he finally decided on and he watched as her features twist. Both of their questions were hard to answer.

“It’s confusing how something you used to love and look forward to can twist and slowly destroy you,” she began, a soft exhale as they breathed together into the sudden silence. “I used to look up to celebrities, wishing that I had their lives. They seemed so utterly perfect. To be loved by the public, to be viewed as adoring and to inspire others. I loved how people loved me. I loved how they could only see the good version of my life, not the hangovers and the breakups and the mayhem. I love how I was suddenly perfect. But popularity isn’t what it’s cut out to be, it comes with dramas and sinners and mania. I may be loved by them but I am hated just as intensely. Their hate is unrivalled when they only know what I fit onto Instagram or on paparazzi photos. Words travel and stick to newspapers and magazines, and they pack a punch.” She sighed, letting the motion of her ribs flattening against her diaphragm relax her strained muscles. “I imagine that your self-hibernation is like that, how something so quiet can turn into something incredibly loud.”

“You know nothing.” He murmured, not believing that she could physically allow his emotions to creep out of her lips.

She laughed, a breathy sound against the coffee mug in her hands, “I don’t know whether you got that pop culture reference or not. But loneliness gets the better of us if I can feel it in a room full of people surely you can with a room full of painted faces and stillness?”

“I’m not–“, he thought about it. He was about to say that he wasn’t lonely. But that would have been a lie. He wasn’t alone, he had made some friendships, neighbours, the girls from the art store he sometimes visited in person and the online people he still kept in contact with. But it did get lonely sometimes. “I get by, mostly. Do you know about the scandal with my brother?” he asked and she nodded.

“The stalking case right?”

“Yeah, Ethan was stalked by a girl for several months. She thought that they were destined to be together so when he got a girlfriend the girl started sending worrying photographs. She followed him around, threatened to kill his girlfriend. She even physically threatened him with a knife in AE’s parking lot one time. Luckily he called the police in time and she was arrested. The whole family was harassed for months by the media about it. From then on I wrote the clause that I wouldn’t have anything to do with the business and my family agreed to it.” The truth rolled out of his mouth like a red carpet, a damned confession. It felt too personal to be around that small breakfast table, with her scrutinising eyes and an empty plate.

“It’s easier for you,” she mused, resting her hands on her chin.

He shook his head as he got up to wash his dish and he felt more comfortable with his back facing her instead of his face.

“It’s safer,” he contradicted.

“No it’s easier, it’s easier for you to pretend that you don’t exist in the media’s world because then you won’t be harassed. It may be marginally safer but who could say that your building couldn’t catch on fire, or that a neighbour has a bad day and does something they regret? It’s easier for me to hide my problems with alcohol and partying because it’s the only things I think I’m good at. It’s easier for you to draw people instead of interacting with them. It’s easier for me to kiss boys than sign papers and invent technology. We’re both doing the same things.”

He remained with his back facing her, his hands white-knuckled over the kitchen counter. Then he moved and started to walk towards his room. He had had enough. “That’s our one conversation over with,” he muttered as he walked past.

“You’re walking away from your problems. The only solution is if we fix the root cause of our issues,” she called after him.

“You need to practice what you preach,” he threw over his shoulder and he heard her sigh before he locked himself in his room again.

It was only after he couldn’t take his frustrations out on his art that he faced up to it. She may have had a point but it was easier to ignore it. Life was easier in the darkness, in the small enclosure of his own habitat.

It was just easier for everyone.

 

Emelia

She did have to practice what she preached. But she knew what she had to do to fix her problem. Emelia had to procure a new life for herself, to live the life she could have lived if she had taken a step back from the business, like Jackson had done, but not isolated herself.

She needed to find a hobby. Something to give her life meaning instead of partying and drinking. For now, her hobby was to get Jackson out of the cabin, to transform a turtle into a man.

The next morning she felt adamant about her goal. So much so that she knocked on Jackson’s door at five in the morning and smirked when she realised it wasn’t locked. “C’mon were-turtle up and at ‘em.”

Jackson lay curled in his sheets like a burrito, hugging his pillow to his body and he grumbled, turning away from her.

“C’mon we’re going for a run,” she edged closer, being careful around his room.

“No I’m not, go away,” the words were slurred, sleepy and slow. Emelia had to smile in how adorable they sounded. An ankle was free from his duvet and she tugged on it, moving back when he kicked out in a flail. “I’m sleeping.”

Time for plan b she reckoned and went into the kitchen for a glass of water. The face Jackson made when she dumped the cold water on his face was priceless. Curses spewed from his mouth as his body jerked upwards and looked around him like he was in a war zone.

“What, what, are you doing?” he chattered, moving the soaking duvet away from his chest.

“We’re going on a run,” she said plainly, moving to his wardrobe and grinning when she saw more lounge pants than jeans. He had clearly packed for comfort instead of fashion. “This is your one outing of the day, remember the contract, you must get out of the cabin at one point.”

He flopped down onto the bed, “Yeah but I hoped that the ‘one point’ was the last day of the trip.” In reply, she chucked a pair of pants at him and hurried him to get ready. She didn’t let him get back into bed, no she took his arm and led him to the kitchen where they had a quick breakfast then motioned for him to put on shoes.

He grumbled all the way out of Cabin 231 and she plotted out their run, abating his worries all the while. “Look its six in the morning, no one’s about at this hour. We’ll see no one and you can commune with the trees.”

She saw the way he breathed in the cool morning air and for all he grumbled about the early hour she could tell that he enjoyed being outdoors. She allowed him to set the pace, keeping an eye on him so he didn’t head back to the Cabin too soon.

For half an hour all they could feel was the heat in their limbs, their hearts in their throats and the sweat beading on their skin. Emelia had no music, nothing to distract her, just Jackson beside her. Surrounded entirely by the trees and waking birds they immersed themselves in the pounding of their feet and they only slowed when they neared the town's sign.

“That’s sad,” Jackson murmured, gulping down water and getting his breath back.

“Yeah it doesn’t do the town justice does it?” she answered, sipping at her own water.

Jackson kept staring at it until he turned to her for the first time since she had woken him up, “Race you back?” he asked with a quirk to his lips. He seemed happy, not at ease in the outdoors but gleeful that he was there.

She nodded and he was away, racing back the way they had come. She called after him and listened as his laugh reverberated back through the trees. This was the Jackson she wanted to see. Not the turtle, not the ghost, but the man.

She smiled as she pushed her legs to catch up with him. She was in two minds to let him win or not but she had been running for a lot longer than he had. She couldn’t lose. She raced ahead and saluted him when she got in front of him, whooping when she was the first back to the Cabin.

“If you want to win then you have to come on more runs like that,” she joked, heading back inside. She caught the halfway nerves that he displayed when he saw people emerging from their own cabins, preparing for breakfast.

Baby steps, she reminded herself, getting him out of the Cabin was step one and they had many more steps to go.

She just hoped they wouldn’t go two hundred steps backwards again. The next day they went back to square one; well, maybe square two or three, where they talked for a while but then got stuck in their own heads. Jackson didn’t join her on her morning runs even when he woke at the same time she did on some mornings. He snapped at her when she suggested it and even though they passed one another more often, instead of keeping to their respective rooms, it felt like they were strangers instead of fragile friends.

She felt herself slipping back into fatigue, wanting her bed more and more, insomnia giving way to endless sleep.

She had to fix it, she just had to.

 

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