Moving from her home in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina to Maine by boat was not Chloe’s idea of fun. She was a mountain girl at heart and hated to leave the sunset’s watercolor skies over the blue, jagged peaks.
Chloe’s mom was in the Army, so her family had to move around a lot. She had finally settled somewhere, until she had to move to Maine.
“Chloe,” Dad wrapped his arm around her shoulders as the boat swayed in the navy waves reflecting off the black night sky. “I know you didn’t want to leave North Carolina, but… can you do this for me?”
For the first time, Chloe realized that her dad needed her.
Chloe didn’t look like her dad. She looked more like her mother. She had the same long, brown hair and brown eyes.
Chloe clutched the glass Mason Jar in her hand. She fingered the holes in the lid.
“You still have Lillie and Oscar.” her dad noted.
“Lizzie and Owen.” Chloe corrected.
“Sorry.” He smiled.
Chloe glanced at the fireflies in her jar. Lizzie fluttered around a breadcrumb, nibbling happily (if fireflies can look happy) while Owen took the bottom. They flickered repeatedly. If they were speaking morse code, they would have said, qhdicesv.
Lizzie and Owen. The fireflies she had caught with her mom underneath the willow tree in her backyard a few days before she moved. Her mom had said that fireflies were stars that came down from the sky and wanted to help us with the biggest problems that we faced. She also said that they can only take you part of the way and you have to go the rest.
“We’re here.” Chloe said with no enthusiasm. She looked out at the horizon and saw Maine’s tall, green pine trees in the distance.
Chloe’s dad patted her on the back. “I’ll go get the bags.” She heard the horn sound as he disappeared below deck.
She tapped a message on the railing to her mom in morse code before she joined her dad below deck. “Love you.”
Jackson woke that morning to a face a lot like his looming over his bed. The face had the same attractive features and the same sky blue eyes and close cropped blond hair. The only differences were the crooked nose, bruises, and the double chin.
“Garh!” He fell out of the bed.
“HA HA HAA!” the face snorted.
“Noah.” Jackson sat up and faced his big brother. “You just can’t leave me alone, can you?”
“By the way, twirp,” Noah grunted. “The bus is going to be here in…” He checked his watch. “Three minutes.”
“What?!” Jackson rushed around his room, grabbing a pair of jeans, packing his backpack, scrambling to grab a t-shirt, and slid a sweatshirt over his tattered shirt all the while Noah leaned against the door, snickering.
Jackson peered at his alarm clock.
Noah burst out laughing and snorting. “You fell for that? Seriously!”
Jackson was too tired to get angry. He collapsed on his bed fully dressed and instantly passed out.
Chloe’s new house was not what she imagined. It was nice, but it didn’t seem like home. She was used to a porch so close to the mountains you could almost touch them. Now, she just had windows looking at a large pine trunk. In the corner of the window, she could faintly see a sparkling blue lake. That might be fun. She wasn’t complaining, but it just wasn’t right.
She trudged to her room and collapsed on her bed. Why did she have to go to school tomorrow? She seriously just got here!
The second she closed her eyes, she fell asleep.
Chloe dreamed of her home back in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The willow tree in her backyard, the fireflies, and the stars speckling the black sky. She saw her mom laughing as Chloe fed her fireflies breadcrumbs. Her mom was sitting on a red and white checkered blanket underneath the willow’s branches.
“Chloe, come here.” She cooed. Chloe sat next to her mom on the soft quilt. She watched her fireflies flicker on and off. Chloe leaned against her mom as Lizzie and Owen settled on the floor of the jar.
Her mom opened her mouth to say something but instead of her voice, Chloe heard the shrill beep of her alarm clock.
Her eyes fluttered open to see the popcorn ceiling of her new room. She slid off her bed and stumbled to her suitcase. Chloe sighed as she unzipped the bag. She pulled out a pair of faded jeans, a white blouse, and her snowboarding jacket that her mom had given her. She slipped the clothes on and absentmindedly brushed her hair.
Chloe didn’t want to stand out. This was going to be her seventh school in seven years. She knew how to blend in with other kids. She just hoped it wasn’t any different.
She slipped a folder and Lizzie and Owen’s jar into her backpack and reluctantly walked into the kitchen for breakfast.
Her dad was already up, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. His dark hair was all on one side as if he walked through a cyclone. Bed head.
“Ready for school?” he asked.
She grabbed a bagel. “Yep.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive you?”
“I’m good.” It was bad enough being the new girl. It would be even worse having her dad drive her.
She sprinted out the door and walked to school.
It wasn’t that far, but once Chloe got there, she saw kids pushing and shoving each other as they walked into the low brick building.
Chloe took a deep breath, and walked in.
Jackson was shocked at what he saw in his classroom that morning. He knew that they were getting a new student, but he did not expect her to be that pretty. She sat in the back of the classroom, trying to hide her face in a book. She was trying to blend in, Jackson realized. Smart girl.
Her eyes were chocolate brown, but there was something fierce to them as if she was expecting someone to attack her. In Greenvalley High School, Jackson could understand that. Her hair was the same shade as her eyes, the same rich chocolaty color.
She wore jeans, a white shirt and a purple snowboarding jacket. Jackson decided to go talk to her.
Before he could, the bell rang, and everyone went to their seats.
Mrs. Alaster strode in with her blond hair bouncing around her shoulders. She looked about thirty, but Jackson wasn’t sure.
“Okay,” she said to the class. “Looks like we have a new student with us today. Chloe? Would you like to introduce yourself?”
Chloe. That’s her name.
“Um, I guess so.” Her voice reminded Jackson of the hot cocoa his mom used to make during snowstorms. Warm and sweet.
Chloe set her book down and cautiously walked to the front of the classroom. Chloe locked eyes with almost everyone in the class, maybe trying to see who would be the most trouble towards her. When she met Jackson’s eyes, he might have blushed.
“I moved from North Carolina to Maine because my mom is in the Army.” A kid behind Jackson exclaimed, “That’s so cool! Do you, like, know morse code and stuff?”
“Yeah,” Chloe looked at the floor.
“Can you show us something?” Mrs. Alaster motioned towards her wooden desk. Chloe walked over. She did a series of knocks and clicks.
“What did you say?” Mrs. Alaster asked.
“ ‘I’m glad to be here.’ ” She shuffled back to her desk.
No she didn’t. Jackson learned morse code with his dad to communicate with him through the walls of their house. She had tapped out ‘Miss you, Mom.’ Jackson wondered what it would be like without his mom around.
He wanted to help Chloe. Not just because he wanted to hang out with her, but because he knew that she might want a friend after moving all over the country.
“By the way,” Mrs. Alaster continued. “We are changing seats to day for the start of the semester. Luke, you sit here, Amelia, here, Levi, right over there, McKenzie behind Amelia. . .” She continued on with her list until she finally reached Jackson’s name. “And last but not least, Jackson. You will be sitting in between Chloe and Mitchell and behind Luke.”
Jackson swore his heart did a somersault inside his chest. He glided back to his desk. He took a seat on the right side of Chloe and did his best to act calm.
“Hi, I’m Jackson Wilson.” Why did his voice sound an octave higher than usual?
“Hi,” Chloe got up to sharpen her pencil. (Maybe on purpose.)
Jackson didn’t mean to, but he took a glance at Chloe’s backpack. He saw a glint of glass and a faint yellow light. He leaned closer.
“Hey!” Chloe had snuck up behind him. “What are you doing?”
“I-well, I…” Jackson stammered. Her eyes moved from him to her backpack and her expression softened.
“Those are just my…um...”
“Yeah.” She took a deep breath. “Sorry. I don’t want you to think that I’m snappy at everybody, but a few of my past schools have been...well,... rough. My name is Chloe.” Jackson took her outstretched hand and shook it.
Man, why’d the teacher have to call on her. Chloe had learned to just say where she used to live and where she is now. Some really nice teachers asked her a few more questions, like what she liked to do. Chloe normally just said she liked to snowboard and do art.
And that Jackson guy, Chloe felt weird around him. It’s never happened before. She had butterflies in her stomach and felt really warm around him.
Oh no. Did she have a crush on him? No, she refused to think about it.
Mrs. Alaster passed out textbooks while Chloe was thinking.
“Flip to page #57. We are going to do a project on America’s economic progress from the 1600’s to 2000’s. It has to be twenty to thirty pages. This is a partner project and I will assign them.”
There was groaning from the class as partners were assigned. “-and Chloe and Jackson.” Mrs. Alaster concluded.
Out of the corner of her eye, Chloe saw Jackson glance over, but she didn’t dare look. Her face burned, but she kept her eyes on small things like the clock, the boy’s head in front of her, and the map on the wall.
* * *
The rest of the day was uneventful. Chloe had math, science, English, P.E., study hall, and lunch. At lunch, she sat at an empty table in the corner of the cafeteria. Chloe saw a few people in her homeroom like Amelia, Luke, McKenzie, and Levi. They waved to her, but they just moved to their own tables.
It wasn’t until she was leaving lunch until the grade ahead of her came in.
Chloe threw her trash away in a trash can by her table. As she turned around, she ran into a guy who looked vaguely familiar.
“What’s your problem?” he grunted.
“S-sorry, I didn’t see you.” Chloe backed up from the bulky kid.
“You bet you didn’t see me, twirp. You wouldn’t mess with me if you did. I’m the boss here, and this is your last warning.”
“I’m sorry, I’m new here. I didn’t know.”
“Well you do now!” He shoved her against the ground, with kids laughing behind him. She hit the tile, hard.
She now knew why the kid looked familiar. He had the same close cropped blond hair and icy blue eyes.
Jackson. He looked like Jackson.
“Um, by any chance, do you know Jackson Wilson?” Chloe tried to stall while she planned what to do. She pulled into a crab walking position.
“You’re friends with my brother, too? Just when I thought you couldn’t get any lamer.” He advanced.
Once he was within striking distance, Chloe pushed on her hands and lashed out on Jackson’s brother. She kicked him in the nose and he stumbled back.
“Cream her, Noah!” one kid shouted.
“Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!” chanted kids.
Chloe didn’t want to fight. She just wanted to get out of the cafeteria. She sprinted out, wiping tears from her cheeks as she went.
Jackson was not expecting that after he left the sixth period.
When he was leaving Mrs. Lucas’ class, a girl ran out of the cafeteria. She slammed into Jackson with so much force, his books were knocked out of his hands. She knelt down and helped him pick up his books.
“Sorry, I didn’t see you.” She handed Jackson the books and looked up at him.
Chloe. The girl was Chloe.
Tears were streaming down her cheeks and her eyes were red.
“Are you okay?” Jackson asked.
“Yeah, I just…” She backed away as if she was afraid of him. And with that, she ran off.
Seventh period sucked. His friends, Levi, Luke, and Taylor, wouldn’t stop pestering him about how he “had a crush on Chloe”. Honestly, he couldn’t deny it, but he would never admit that to his friends.
He grabbed the crumbled sheet of loose leaf paper that had hit him in the head. Jackson slowly unfolded the paper. He was shocked at what he saw. (No he wasn’t.)
Hey, Jackson, where’s yo girlfriend?
He crumpled the sheet of paper while Mr. Kurtz lectured on and on about an essay they would have to write.
With his dyslexia, he really couldn’t really tell. He would never tell Mr. Kurtz though. Or Noah, his brother. Or his friends. Or Chloe.
He hadn’t seen Chloe since she had slammed into him leaving sixth period.
The bell rang and Jackson packed up his books.
“Where’s your chick?” Taylor mocked.
“My chick? When was the last time anyone ever said that?” Jackson walked out the door with Levi, Luke, and Taylor trailing behind.
“What Taylor means, where’s Chloe?” Levi walked next to me.
“I don’t know.” Jackson packed his books up in his backpack. He slung it over one shoulder and walked outside next to the flagpole. He looked up as the flag billowed in the breeze.
Today, it was really beautiful outside. Honeysuckle blossomed and there was just enough of a breeze. The sky was clear, and the sun shone brightly on Jackson’s back.
“Well, see you guys later.” Jackson turned at the corner and followed the white picket fence down his street.
Of course, Chloe just had to run into Jackson when she was crying.
She just didn’t see how he put up with his brother. He was horrible and Jackson deserved better.
Chloe was thinking all of this as she walked home. Chloe pulled out Lizzie and Owen’s jar as she walked. She turned a corner and a calloused hand grabbed her arm.
“Go away!” she screamed. Chloe thrashed and kicked, but the hand had a firm grip.
“I’m gonna chew you up and spit you out, you little twirp!”
“Noah,” Chloe muttered.
“You humiliated me in front of the whole school.” Noah slammed her against the fence and the jar rolled out of her hand. Her head hit the fence with a deafening conk! Her head was spinning, and she couldn’t focus.
“What’s this?” Noah examined the jar.
“No…” Chloe managed.
Noah grinned. He slammed the jar against the pavement. The glass shattered like a million tiny daggers. A piece cut Chloe on her cheek, an inch below her eye. She couldn’t see Lizzie or Owen, but she was still dizzy.
“Hey!” Someone else had come to join the party.
“Jackson.” Chloe tried to sit up, but she blacked out.
* * *
“Chloe?” Jackson loomed over her. His nose was bleeding, but other than that, he looked fine. Behind him, a pine tree stood in front of a sparkling blue lake.
She was at her house.
“You hit your head and blacked out. I fought Noah, and let's just say, I'm going to be grounded for the rest of my life. I also kind-of, sort-of, may have carried you here.” He blushed. He said the word ‘carried’ as if it was a bomb.
“Don’t tell my dad.” Chloe warned. “He’ll make a big deal out of it.” Jackson nodded.
“Jackson?” Chloe sat up.
Carrying Chloe was indescribable. It was amazing, but he felt unsure about it. What if she woke up?
She looked calm and peaceful, as if nothing had ever happened.
At one point, she muttered something, then clung to his arm with her nails piercing his skin.
Once he got to her house, he laid Chloe on a blanket outside.
When she woke up, Jackson swore he had never been so happy. Night had fallen, and every star reflected off her eyes.
Now, they were sitting in front of the lake. Sitting in that silence had felt a little awkward to him. He tapped a morse code message on the pine tree trunk, and hoped Chloe wouldn’t notice. ‘I love you.’
Chloe stared at the horizon and smiled. “I love you, too.”
“What are you talking about?” But he knew he couldn’t hide it from Chloe. She looked at him and smirked. She laced her fingers in his and laid down. Jackson did the same. They looked up at the stars together.
“From the moment I saw you,” Jackson started. “I knew I loved you.”
“Me too.” Chloe scooted closer and Jackson wrapped his arm around her shoulders.
Chloe soon fell asleep. Jackson kissed her on the forehead and relaxed.
Jackson looked up at the stars. It was perfect.
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