**Author’s note: This can be read as a stand- alone story, but if you read Falling Forward first, you’ll appreciate this one more.
The sun was starting to wake and so was Jenny. She wiped the sleep from her eyes because she could no longer contain her excitement. Next to her, Ethan began to stir.
“It’s too early, babe.” He said.
“No it’s not. We have a long drive ahead. We should start moving."
He grunted, but sat up in response.
“I’ll go make some coffee.” She left the room and padded into the kitchen.
When the coffee was ready, Jenny and Ethan plopped into the lawn chairs that were on the front porch of their apartment. They sipped their coffee without talking. Both of them needed time to become sufficiently caffeinated before becoming human for the day. The sun peeked up over the horizon bathing the sky in hues of orange, yellow, red, and hints of purple. Beams of light emanated into and through the clouds breathing life into heaven. Ethan broke the trance.
“I’m going to get ready.” He said.
“I’ll be there in a minute.” She replied.
The sun was now fully alert, and Jenny and Ethan had finished loading the car. Jenny dutifully hopped into the shotgun seat while Ethan took his place behind the wheel. Before they could set off on their adventure; however, the car needed fuel and so did they. As Ethan was pumping the gas, Jenny went inside to get the snacks. She grabbed two sodas and walked around deciding which bag of chips was calling to her the most. Jenny’s indecisiveness made inconsequential choices such as selecting a bag of chips an almost impossible task. At last she picked the salt and vinegar. Of course, that bag was just out of grasp. She placed her foot on the bottom rack of the display and reached as far as she could.
“Babe, I’ll get that.”
Jenny turned around to face Ethan.
He approached Jenny. He leaned in and kissed her pushing her against the rack.
“Ethan!” She squealed. “There are families around us. Keep it G rated please.”
“Ok. Ok, but just wait until later.”
“Later were making the pie, remember?” She teased.
“Well maybe we could just…before…”
“While the pie is baking?”
Defeated, he stepped back from Jenny, but not before grabbing the chips. Once Ethan had stepped away, Jenny attempted to move from the rack. Unbeknownst to them, Jenny’s shirt had snagged on a hook. When she moved, the whole rack toppled downward. Fortunately, Jenny had managed to escape unscathed, but bags of chips had scattered all over the floor. The sour cream and onion, the salt and vinegar, the barbecue, and the plain bags had now become a mixed pile.
“Great, we’ll never make it to the cabin now.” Ethan said.
“I..I..I’m sorry Ethan. It’ll just take me a moment.” Jenny answered.
“I’m going to pay for our snacks. You can meet me in the car when you’re done.”
Jenny nodded and bent down to clean up her mess. As she did, her eyes welled up and a few tears escaped onto her cheeks. Don’t cry. Babies cry. Grown women do not. She told herself.
A voice startled Jenny out of her thoughts. She turned around. “Evie! What are you doing here?”
“Getting gas.” Evelyn replied.
“Haha. You’re so funny.”
“Are you okay?” Evelyn asked.
“Yes, the only thing that is bruised is my pride.” Jenny said.
“Nobody even noticed.” Evelyn said. She began helping Jenny re-shelf.
Jenny knew that wasn’t true, but she pretended otherwise as did the other patrons. With all the commotion, Jenny now realized that there was a man with Evelyn. He had bent down to help as well, and Jenny found herself admiring his lean, muscular frame.
“Thank you. You two don’t have to help, really.” Jenny said.
“Too late.” Evelyn smirked. “Oh, I almost forgot. Sorry, I’m bad at introductions. Jenny, Caleb. Caleb, Jenny.” She gestured to them respectively.
Jenny reached out and shook the man’s hand.
“Jenny, Caleb is my twin brother.”
“Oh, that’s right. She doesn’t mention you at all, ever.” Jenny joked. Funny, she never mentioned how handsome he was with his dark blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. He probably has a girlfriend. Wait! Ethan! He was surely going to be mad now. She had lost track of time.
“It’s nice to meet you.” She added as they both stood and shook hands.
“Likewise.” He said.
“Please forgive me. Ethan is waiting in the car. I must go.” Jenny said.
“It’s okay; we need to finish shopping anyway.” Evelyn replied.
“Take care, Jenny. I’m sure we’ll see each other again at some point.” Caleb said.
“Thank you. You take care too, Caleb. I’m sure we will.”
Jenny hastened out the door. Her heart pounded in her chest. She didn’t know what to expect when she got into the car. Ethan was staring at his phone.
“Bout time.” He said.
“Sorry, I know. It was a mess. Evie and her brother showed up and helped me.”
“Whatever. Let’s get going, shall we?”
The ride to the cabin was long, but uneventful. Jenny and Ethan arrived just before dinner. They were exhausted and starving, but in good spirits. The cabin was a log cabin and it was gorgeous. It had a rustic and cozy charm, and it was secluded and nestled in the woods. Behind it was the lake; the water was still with the bright sky as its reflection. After they unpacked the car, and toured the house, Jenny and Ethan made their way out back to the fire pit. Ethan started the fire to grill burgers, and they both sat around relaxing in its warmth.
After they were both stuffed, Jenny rose from her chair and climbed onto Ethan’s lap. She snuggled him and he snuggled her back. “I know I was going to make the pie tonight, but let’s make it tomorrow. I’m too tired. Maybe we can have s’mores instead?” Jenny said.
“That’s fine as long as we can still…you know.” Ethan replied.
Jenny laughed. “You’re a typical man. You don’t even care about the pie do you? I’ll think about it.”
“Wait a minute. Who said anything about not wanting pie? I want my pie, and I want to eat it too.” He chuckled.
Jenny laughed harder until she was a ball of giggles, and Ethan too was soon reduced to tears.
He then composed himself and wrapped his arms around her tighter becoming serious again.
“I really do love you, Jenny.”
“I know.” She slowly pulled away from him. She wasn’t trying to recreate the iconic Star Wars line, but something was preventing her from saying it back to him.
“What’s wrong?” He inquired.
“I know you well enough to know that something’s wrong.”
“Just forget about it.”
“No, you’re going to tell me what’s wrong.”
“Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Jenny got off Ethan’s lap, and returned to her own chair.
“What are you doing?”
“If we’re going to have this conversation, then I need some space.”
“Jenny, what the hell is going on?”
“I care about you Ethan, I really do, but...”
“We are always arguing with each other.”
“For God’s sake, Jenny! You had to bring that up now? Here? We were having a good day and you had to ruin it.”
“You asked me what was wrong.”
“Don’t you dare blame me! You were the one who was angry first. All I ever do is apologize to you, and I’m tired of it.” He twitched, seemingly innocently, which to the rest of the world would go unnoticed, but Jenny could read his tells. His flared nostrils and the look in his eyes were dead giveaways.
“I don’t want to fight with you.” She said.
Ethan stood up and Jenny cowered. “You should have thought about that before you opened your big mouth. It’s too late now. Tell me, what else did I do wrong?” He grabbed the front of her hoodie and pulled her face to his.
“Nothing.” She cried. Still holding her with one hand, he released the other and smacked her across the face.
“Ow!” She sobbed.
Then Ethan slammed her back down. He waked away and kicked his chair knocking it over; he stormed into the house.
Jenny remained in her chair crying for the second time that day. She rubbed her face to ease the sting. She shouldn’t have said anything. Except for the snafu earlier, they were having a good day, which she ruined.
An hour later, Jenny was falling in and out of sleep in front of the fire. She woke when she heard Ethan coming out of the house. He was carrying the s’mores supplies. He emptied his arms and then stepped closer to Jenny. He gently caressed her face.
“I’m sorry, Jenny. Did I hurt you? I shouldn’t have gotten so mad at you. That is something I need to work on. Maybe I should go to anger management classes or something. Maybe I can do counseling. Whatever it is Jenny, I will do.”
“That’s great, babe.”
Jenny had heard this all before, and this wasn’t the last time she would hear it. He was all talk, but he never followed through. She tuned him out and stared at the lake. Now, instead of the bright sky, the lone moon was reflected in the water, and she began to sympathize with the moon because even with all the stars she still felt alone.