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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8. Rock Bottom is a teacher.

 

Chapter Eight

 

Rock Bottom is a teacher.

It lectures you until you get it into your skull,

What your purpose is

And then it's up to you

To crawl out of the big hole

And do whatever it takes to

Make that purpose the shovel

That fills the hole you fell into.

 

Emelia

The day Jackson started to paint the sign was the day she admitted that she had to learn how to be by herself. They weren’t alone, far from it. On that first morning, Jackson checked the weather, packed a bag full of art supplies and trekked through the forest, not running but briskly walking, with a smile on his lips. She knew that he was no longer a were-turtle but a human finding his legs and enjoying it. He talked to her more and the words came easier and she told him how she got a text off his brother Michael asking whether she influenced the Instagram upload. They laughed about it and when they reached the sign, Jackson busied with stripping off the old paint and she contented herself with a book.

She still didn’t have a hobby, not one that had stuck and had fit her perfectly.

The Croft’s came by sometime in the afternoon bringing lunch with them as they had promised.

Mary reminded her that she was always there if she wanted to learn how to bake and cook. The reason why she had refused it in the first place was that she thought it to be too domestic. It almost felt like she was giving up her freedom to conform to a stereotype and she would be giving up her control. Her view felt wrong and right at the same time and she was awfully conflicted on it.

She knew that it would take her some time to get her mind around it, just like it had taken time for Jackson to come out of his shell. He wasn’t all there just yet, but he was making gigantic steps forward.

The Croft’s kept them company and Harold even helped strip the paint away. Soon the sign lay bare, a bit sadder compared to what it used to be.

“I swear it will be shining and beautiful by the time I’m done with it,” Jackson said as he turned away from it and walked back to the cabin, needing a day to pass before he could work on it again.

The days passed in a routine like fashion; Jackson would rise early, pack and go to the sign, and Emelia would follow him but even as the days dragged on she began to realise that she needed to work out how to function properly. At first, she alternated between reading and scrolling on her phone. She searched Jackson’s art profile and realised that some of the updates were pictures on the wall of the cabin, the profile being updated even when they were in Trinity. She was in awe at the drawings, the earlier ones giving way to paintings; acrylics of stacked colours to give texture and oils of dripping canvas’s. There was no doubt that he was a good artist. She knew that from the way he spent an entire day drawing the outline with faint lines of graphite, eyes switching from the demo drawing in his sketchbook to the sign every few minutes. Curling letters of Welcome to Trinity stood in front of a backdrop of trees and the lake. It would look stunning when it was finished but it would take days.

People soon came up to them because like all small towns, news travelled fast. At first, he seemed terrified on them, shying and even bundling up inside of his hoodie. On those occasions Emelia sat close, glad just to have something to do and ignoring the fact that she was considering Jackson as a thing. But then the conversation developed, he fed them their cover story of a vacation and how Emelia was a friend who had wanted to come on the trip with him. He flushed when the same teenager that had recognised her the first time suggested that they were a couple, but he didn’t deny it.

“It’s an easier cover story and people believe it,” he said as he finished off a fork full of pasta packed from the Croft’s.

She was aghast for a few tense moments, having never thought of it before, but then she smirked and wrapped her arm around his waist from where he sat, “Well I can certainly act,” she joked and watched as the flush deepened. He looked awfully like a tomato.

Eventually, Jackson was giving out his art Instagram to others and getting commissions for when he was finished with the sign. He looked more comfortable amongst the people that paid a visit, more comfortable in himself too.

“They don’t ask about the business, they ask about me.” He elaborated when she asked him about the changes. He whistled to a tune and came back to the cabin with green paint up to his elbows, smelling of paint and varnish fumes. But he was happy.

Dear, why don’t you sit with me for a couple of minutes?” Mary Croft asked her one day and she looked worriedly to Jackson who was talking to someone and painting at the same time. “You’re lonely, aren’t you?”

It was a simple but hard question. She took a deep breath and nodded. She was lonely, lonely in her own skin because while Jackson had figured out his own purpose she hadn’t. She was jealous of him and it was a monstrous emotion that coiled in her chest and yawned.

Mary just patted her shoulder and offered for her to go back to the Croft house, “Harold will keep an eye on your boy here for you, I’m sure Jackson won’t mind being left alone for a while.”

It took two days for Emelia to leave Jackson completely. She started off simply, going into town for groceries while Jackson was still at the border and she reminded him that she was just a phone call away. But he was fine, and they talked about it that night; Jackson, for the first time in a long while, was fine with being surrounded with other people. And that statement, although said through a row of teeth, made a crater form in Emelia’s chest. She didn’t exactly know why it was there, not knowing that her feelings ran that deep.

The Croft home was exactly what she thought it would be. A two-story house with a white picket fence, a porch and a large bay window at the front. What she didn't expect however was the dog; a greying German Shepard who ran up to her and licked her shoes before she leaned down to pet him.

“That’s just Sergeant, nearly as old as I and Harold are,” Mary said and ushered her towards the table, a slice of cake already presented. Jackson swore that it was Therapy Cake and Emelia could only agree. “Now what is on your mind dear?”

Emelia cracked a weak smile as she put down her fork, words freezing up before they could come out. Then she found her voice, in scraped up fragments of honesty and illusion. “When we first came here, I and Jackson fought like crazy, he wasn’t as confident then and I made it my project to make him a new persona before I remade myself. Now that he’s on his way to being alright I don’t know how to do the personal goal.”

She ran out of words quickly, but Mary nodded along. She asked more questions and Emelia had to understand she was just Harper here, the girl with a blank slate. It was hard to quantify her life to this endearing woman, to fabricate and cover vital aspects of her life.

“I’m a recovering alcoholic you see,” she glossed over, knowing slightly that she used to be addicted to the lifestyle more than the drink, “and I came here to start over and I don’t know what else to do and with Jackson not here as much I– “

“Oh dear, you poor girl, finish your cake,” Mary gestured to the cake and Emelia had to swallow her surprise. “The healing power of cake is not to be underestimated, its why I asked if you wanted to bake or not.”

For the first time in days, Emelia chuckled and ate the carrot cake without much complaint. She explained her situation, how she had tried watching films, reading and poetry to fill the void inside of her. But nothing had worked.

“I don’t want to lose him or myself,” she whispered into the crumbs of the cake as she finished it and Mary tapped her on the shoulder and ushered her out of the chair.

Mary’s orders were final, and Emelia found herself over the kitchen counter, Sergeant sitting near her feet, while Mary taught her how to roll a fondant rose.

“The reason why I didn’t want to bake was that it's too delicate, too stereotypical. I didn’t want to be a scientific fact you know? Societies cut out.”

Mary stopped from where she was rolling out a batch of pale pink fondant, whacking the rolling pin dusted with flour over Emelia’s hip gently.

“What was that for?” Emelia asked, glad for the apron which protected her bony frame.

“What do you think?” Mary tutted, “Now girl I’m going to deliver a few hard truths. Baking may be stereotypical of a woman but it’s for a good reason. We hold the power, if the men want to eat then we control what, when and how much they eat. No man is going to go into that kitchen and do it himself, not when societies taught them that women do it. Baking is our power. You lost your power through drink and partying, another societal expectation, now you take that power back. The way I see it is this; baking is a middle finger to the men who tell you belong in the kitchen but then complain about an empty stomach.”

The words were hard to wrap her head around at first but then she understood them. They spent the day decorating a cake and when Harold came in, regaling the progress that Jackson had made, he thanked Emelia with a pat on the shoulder.

She left there with a smile, knowing that she could do something and fill the crater just a little. She didn’t think that she would be back, but she was. The next day Mary taught her how to make a sponge cake, the day after that a carrot cake, the day after that the famous apple pie.

Come the week after, when Jackson turned to the highlights and shadows of the forest, Emelia was providing him with her own cooking and going into the bookshop for recipe books. She had to try and while not everything worked exactly as Mary had done it, it was certainly an attempt.

Soon flour and jam smears became almost as much of an occurrence as Jackson’s paint droplets.

The day Jackson finished off the sign, nearly three weeks since he had begun painting and three days of straight varnishing to make sure the paint didn’t fade, she baked him a chocolate cake. A slice sat pretty in a clear plastic box, a layer of dark chocolate icing on top and they both ate it while staring at Jackson’s masterpiece.

From where the sign had previously looked like a piece of driftwood with Trinity’s name on it, now it looked like a stained antique. Welcome to Trinity; the home of trees, it read, curling writing decreasing in size and hiding amongst lake reeds and background trees. The letters gleamed with the white highlights to the black writing and the trees looked like they could leap from the wood itself.

“You should be proud of yourself Jackson,” she said, their shoulders pressed together.

“So, should you, this cake is good,” he remarked, and they basked in their accomplishments.

That night the town gathered around the sign, food mainly provided by both Mary and Emelia, and rejoiced in living in Trinity. Harold gave Emelia and Jackson a pair of red candles, which he then lit.

The pair couldn’t say no and as the light faded they let the wind whistle through Emelia’s long skirt and Jackson’s leather jacket, eyes fixated on the red glow they held in their hands. While they walked along the road into Trinity, the rest of the group gathered in the forest, candles held aloft as the warmth travelled down to their hands.

Emelia only found that Jackson got a teenager to take their photo on his phone when the shutter sound drew her eyes away from the candle. But she couldn’t muster up the energy to be mad at him because damned, she felt emotionally full for the first time in a long, long time. 


 

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