"Okay, sleepy-head. Time to wake up," A voice that sounds distinctively like Jason's says, intruding on the almost reluctant sort of peace that has settled over me as soon as I succumbed to the desire to lean back in the passenger seat, and shut my eyes. For a moment, I simply remain as I am, eyes closed, and skin rather pleasantly warm in the wake of the sunlight that has been wafting in through the car window for quite a while, now. But the weight of Jason's hand on my thigh somehow has the ability to pull me back to the present, regardless of my rather stubborn desire to simply remain oblivious to the world for a moment, my eyes slowly opening as I squirm a bit in a half-hearted attempt to stretch my muscles, and I turn my head to look at him head-on.
"Yeah, she does," I reply, tilting my head from side to side in order to crack my neck, and exhaling as a strange sense of relief floods through me after the fact, "Guess I won't be easy prey for your impromptu slasher film, after all."
"You're really not going to let that go, are you?"
"Nope," I confirm, sending Jason what is probably a rather goofy lopsided grin, and yet not entirely finding it within myself to care as I realize he has used the small beat of silence that follows my remark to reach for my hand once again, and twine our fingers together as they had been before I had fallen asleep. For a moment, I find myself almost captivated by the sight, my teeth chewing at my lower lip while Jason simply focuses on driving down what I can only surmise is a driveway through the brief glance I make out the window. But before I can come up with anything to say to break the silence, even in spite of the fact that it is about the farthest thing from an uncomfortable one, I find myself distracted by the realization that we have now pulled through a rather dense bit of foliage, and emerged into a small clearing, at the center of which, is…
"You—this—how?" I stammer, eyes blown wide as I stare, open-mouthed, at the cabin for a moment, before forcing myself to turn back to Jason just in time to register his obviously amused expression at my expense. The place is huge. Almost bigger than my Nana's cabin that was always a favorite haunt for my family over summer vacations. And although I am more than a little curios as to exactly what the implications may be to Jason and I spending an entire weekend here on our own, I find I am distracted by the slight squeeze that he gives my hand, his expression hopeful, to say the least, as he relinquishes the contact for just long enough to put the car in park, and take the key from the ignition.
"Can I assume your shock is a good thing?" He asks, shifting just a bit in the driver's seat so that he is facing me directly, and reaching for my hand once again while I nod enthusiastically in response before the words to confirm my excitement come to mind.
"Good. I was a bit worried you'd find it all…a bit too "Secret Window."
"You know, I'd almost forgotten about that movie," I tease, watching as Jason opens the driver's side door, and taking that as leave to relinquish his hand for long enough to exit the car, myself, so that I can lean forward against the car, with a smile toying at the corners of my mouth instead, "Tell me that's not one of the ones you picked for this weekend—"
"What would you say if it was?"
"I would say I should have known you would, but you're responsible for finding me psychotherapy if it's as creepy the second time around as it was the first."
"I think I can handle that," Jason assures me, the grin he gives me causing me to grip the side of the car a bit tighter than I would ordinarily in hopes that the rather cliché act of going weak in the knees makes it damned near impossible to remain standing, "Want the keys so you can do some exploring?"
"Shouldn't I help you get the bags inside?"
"Nah—I think I can handle it. Unless you stashed a body in one of yours, instead of a weekend's worth of clothes."
"Pretty sure I didn't do that," I state, frowning a bit as I consider the fact that doing something like that is exactly the sort of thing a certain anonymous someone might actually do, "But if you're that worried about it, I can—I can help—"
"Ava, I was teasing," Jason replies, concern coloring his features for a moment, as he leans against his own side of the car, and watches my expression carefully, as though suspecting that I am not being entirely forthcoming, "You good?"
"I—yeah. Yeah, I'm fine."
"You're sure? Because we don't—we don't have to do this—"
"Jason, I promise you, I'm fine," I repeat, forcing what I can only hope will be a convincing smile to my lips, and pushing myself back from the car to skirt around it and hold my hand out for the aforementioned keys, in the same motion, "And I think I'll take you up on that offer of exploring, if it's still open."
"Good. Keys, then?"
"Of course, my lady," Jason teases, laughing openly at my obvious roll of the eyes in response, and fishing in his jeans pocket for a moment, before withdrawing a small key ring, and handing it to me, his hand lingering over my own for a moment, in the process, "Explore away."
With one final smile that feels significantly more genuine than the one that preceded it, I turn on a heel with keys in hand and head towards the stairs leading up to the porch, taking them two at a time as I realize that something not all that far from excitement has replaced the earlier sense of trepidation I felt in the wake of Jason's inadvertent remark about finding a body in my luggage. I know he didn't mean anything buy it. How could he, not knowing anything at all about 'A', or what they have been doing to not only me, but my friends as well? And although a part of me is honestly more than a little nervous at the prospect of potentially having to hide a new mystery text, should one come this weekend, I find that at least for the moment, I am far more intrigued by the possibility of a chance to get away from it all, a slow exhalation leaving my lungs as I make it to the top of the steps and the porch, my hand hardly shaking at all as I place the key in the lock of the front door, and endeavor to make good on my promise to explore.
After all, if Jason is so determined to use this as an opportunity to get me to relax, I would be a fool to let him down…
A few hours later, I find myself curled up on the sofa in the den, curled up against Jason's side, my hands curled around a mug of hot cocoa while the sound of the fire crackling in the fire place almost soothing, in spite of the lingering doubt that creeps up in the back of my mind every time I think I may have just forced it away for good. I cannot explain it, fully—why I am so bound and determined to persist in dwelling on something I can't control, instead of simply allowing myself to enjoy the moment. But before I can spend too much time considering the potential list of reasons behind such a reality, I find myself distracted by sudden sound of a scream emanating from the television speakers, my body twitching a bit in response while my thoughts come crashing back to the present all at once.
"Geez—looks like someone's still skittish with horror flicks," Jason remarks, allowing his arm to drop from its place on the back of the sofa so that it rests around my shoulders, instead, "You good?"
"Yeah. I just—why does the girl literally always go into the creepy shed, instead of getting the hell out of dodge?"
"Probably so that the cute guy will save her from the crazy killer."
"What, that's not what you would do?"
"Well—I guess it might depend on the guy that was coming to my rescue," I admit, secretly pleased that I seem to have wheedled my way out of a true confession as to the reason for my jumpiness, and allowing that pleasure to give me the leave to lean my head back so that I can look Jason in the eye before going on, "I'm not going to risk being hacked to pieces by an axe murderer for just anyone, you know."
"I guess I should be happy about that."
"I do," Jason confirms, watching with apparent interest as I avert my eyes to take a sip of my hot cocoa, in a rather botched attempt at hiding the sudden flush in my cheeks, "What kind of friend would I be if I left the job of defending you to just anyone?"
"Ah—a smart one?"
"I think I'm all out of ideas," I shrug, trying to avoid the frown that wants so badly to tug at my lips in response to Jason's use of the word 'friend' in the same sentence as a reference to what we are to one another, no matter how vague, "How about we hear one of yours?"
"Is that your way of changing the subject?"
"Am I still going to hear one of your theories if I say yes?"
"Probably. I never was smart enough to say no to you."
"You say that like it's a bad thing."
"Well it's not. Trust me," Jason promises, his arm tightening just a bit in its position around my shoulders, and prompting me to shift just a bit so that I can rest my head against his shoulder in a gesture that is so ingrained in instinct that, for a moment, I can hardly remember to breathe, "As long as it's not a bad thing for you."
"I—no. No! It's not!"
"Of course I'm sure, Jason! Why wouldn't I be?" I inquire, once again squirming around until I can look him in the eye, one brow raised in silent inquiry as I wait for him to reply. For a moment, it almost seems like I may not be the only one holding something back. That perhaps he, too, has something he's dealing with that he'd rather not discuss, at least not yet. But before I can decide whether or not to ask him about it, or leave it be, he seems to shake himself out of his own internal thoughts, a furrow marring his brow for a moment, before he summons the wherewithal to speak.
"I don't—I don't know. Are you—what do you want from this weekend, Ava?"
"What do you want from this weekend?" Jason repeats, something unreadable flickering across his face as I pull away from him in favor of leaning over to deposit my mug of cocoa on the nearby table as a means of delaying just a bit while I consider my answer as best I can. If I were to be honest with myself, I don't honestly know what I want—whether I can be content with the idea of just being Jason's friend, or if I would rather have us become something—more. And although a part of me wants to fall back on my typical mode of operation, and do or say something to distract Jason from the answer he so clearly seems to desire, I know that decision will not really fly. Not now.
I owe it to him to be as honest as I can, no matter how uncomfortable I may be as a result.
"I—I guess I just want to forget about everything else, for a while," I begin, biting my lip for a moment as I gauge Jason's reaction to my confession, and realize that it does not seem to be that unfavorable at all, "Melissa—school—all of it. And I think you might just be the—the only one that might actually want to help me do that."
"Seems like you've got me pegged pretty well."
"I wasn't aware you were—peggable—"
"Well, when you say it like that," Jason laughs, his amusement prompting a slight smile to tug at my lips, even in spite of my lingering embarrassment over having said such a thing at all, "Is that all that you want?"
"No," I manage, ducking my head down while my fingers take up the task of toying with a stray bit of fabric that is poking out from the blanket hanging over the back of the sofa, as though it has suddenly become the most fascinating thing in the world, "I kind of thought—it's probably stupid of me, but I kind of thought we might talk about—about us as well."
"It's not stupid. Not at all."
"No? Then why do I feel like I want to sink into the floor right now?"
"Because you're over-thinking this. Like always," Jason suggests, reaching for my hand, and frowning a bit as the contact of skin on skin has me jumping as though I have just been burned, "It doesn't have to be complicated, like it was before."
"Really? Because from where I'm standing, just about everything in my life is complicated, whether I want it to be or not."
"I think that's exactly why we should do whatever we can to make sure this—isn't."
"And how are we supposed to do that? I mean it's not—I had to agree to a bribe from Melissa to ensure she didn't go running off to tell Mom and Dad about us the second I left!"
"Okay, so maybe it's still a little bit complicated. But that doesn't mean it always has to be."
"Right, because my parents are going to just suddenly fall in love with the idea of—wait—what do you want from this weekend?" I question, allowing my gaze to stray towards where Jason's fingers still twine through my own, and I find myself emitting a resigned sort of sigh before I gather the internal fortitude to go on, "Why are you doing this, in the first place?"
"Maybe I'm just the guy that's able to tell when the girl he cares about needs a little time away."
"Yes, Ava. I care about you. I probably always will," Jason interrupts, startling me with the obvious sincerity that is so inherent in his words, such that I am quite powerless to do anything other than allow him to use his hold on my hand to tug me back to his side, while his chin comes to rest against the hair at the top of my head, "You can't tell me you didn't know that."
"Actually, I think you'll find that I can—"
"Is this the part where you start talking about lacking sufficient evidence to prove I'm not a liar?"
"Maybe. What are you going to do if it is?"
"I'll probably start wondering if maybe Julliard isn't the right fit for you, and you belong at Harvard Law, instead."
"Ew. No way," I protest, my nose crinkling in distaste as I simultaneously startle myself with how readily I curl back into Jason's side, as though seeking some sort of comfort that only he can provide, "I'm not the lawyer type."
"Could have fooled me."
"You just don't like that I was arguing, do you?"
"Oh, I wouldn't call it arguing, exactly," Jason corrects, emitting a startled grunt as the comment earns him a soft smack in the abdomen, though that doesn't seem sufficient enough to stop him from pressing on, regardless, "But you gave it your best shot."
"Yeah, well, you succeed. Against all my better judgment," I tell him, tilting my head back to risk a furtive glance at his expression, and finding myself all but completely powerless to avoid the grin that steals across my features as I realize he is nothing short of amused at my response, "Remind me to ask you at some point where you learned to be so good at doing that."
"Yeah?" He replies, his gaze effectively holding my own, in spite of how I can feel the skin of my cheeks burning at the sudden realization of exactly how close we are, whether this weekend was meant to take us back to that, or not.
"How about the next movie we watch is something less—slashy?"
"Works for me," He agrees, sending me a smile, before shifting so that I am once again tucked against his side with my head beneath his chin. I would be lying if I were to pretend that some small part of me didn't almost wish that he had held my gaze for just a moment or two longer, the memory of what it used to feel like to have his lips moving over my own distracting me for a moment, until I somehow manage to force myself to redirect my attention back to the movie just in time to see the would-be killer chase the self-proclaimed damsel in distress into the woods.
I can only hope that this particular rendition of a horror film is the closest I come to the genre for the duration of the weekend ahead…
Some time later, after stifling my giggles as I watch Jason endure the chick flick that I selected as our second movie of the weekend, I find myself enjoying surprisingly luxuriant water pressure in the shower of the cabin's master bathroom, the sensation of the water pounding against my skin slowly easing all of the pent up tension the preceding week has placed upon my muscles with far more success than I expected. For the first time in what feels like forever, I find myself faced with the prospect of legitimate relaxation—something I truly never expected to find in the wake of everything that has happened since the discovery of Ali's body what feels like ages ago. And although I am more than a little bit reluctant to believe that such a thing might be feasible, I find that I am just as determined to allow myself something in the form of a small victory, my fingers carding through my damp hair in an effort to ease the soap suds from the locks, before turning so that the spray falls across my upturned face, instead.
Almost as soon as I have done so, however, I find that I am startled by the sudden darkness as all the lights in the bathroom go out at once, my heart catching within my chest as I turn from the spray of the shower so that I can crack my eyes open even though I know I will not be able to see a thing. Of course, I am no real stranger to situations like this, having endured my fair share of temporary blackouts at Nana's cabin when my family would visit, and a summer storm would knock out the power for an hour or two, at the most. But right now, there is no storm. Not even an abundance of gusty winds. And so, I find that I am biting my lip as I sidle over to the shower door and crack it open just a bit, only to realize that Jason has beaten me to the punch, and is already clearly outside the door, as though he anticipated I would call out before I had the chance.
"Hang tight, Ava—I'll check the generator, out back."
"Okay," I acknowledge, frowning as I realize my voice has cracked just a bit in response to the sudden bout of nerves that hits me like a freight train. Before I am fully comfortable with the idea of being left to my own devices, even for the small amount of time that Jason will be outside, however, I register the sound of his footsteps receding back down the hall. And, although I know it is probably foolish, I find that I am hurrying to shut off the water and clamber out of the shower onto the towel I have left on the floor at my feet, my hands groping for the towel bar nearby so that I can wrap another around my body in an attempt to not feel so exposed.
With that done, I pad out of the bathroom and down the hall to the bedroom, instead, my steps a bit more than hesitant despite the fact that I want nothing more in this moment, than to put on some sweats and a baggy t-shirt before the power comes back on. I can't really seem to put my finger on it—why I am so worked up over something that is, in all likelihood, just a routine event at a cabin this far in the woods. But whether or not I repeat the mantra that I am fine over and over in my head, it doesn't seem to make any difference.
I still feel as though I am suddenly crawling out of my skin, and that thought alone is enough to have me emitting a resigned huff as I reluctantly bid farewell to whatever tentative relaxation I had managed to find in the shower, my mind going a thousand miles a minute as I go through the motions of rifling through my bag until I find the comfortable clothes I am searching for, and pull them out as I simultaneously allow the towel to drop from its place bunched underneath my arms.
I have only just managed to tug the sweatpants on, and push my arms through both sleeves of the t-shirt when I find that I am freezing in place as the creak of the floorboards out in the hall reaches my ears, my heart once again thundering away inside my chest as I tug the t-shirt over my still damp hair, and stoop to pick up the towel as though I think it might serve any purpose as a weapon before heading over toward the door.
"Jason?" I call, biting my lip and stifling a low whimper of what can only be described as fear threatens to break free as soon as I realize there has been no response, whatsoever, "Look, if you're—if you're trying to freak me out, it isn't funny—"
Cursing my own stupidity as my stammered attempt at giving Jason one final chance to prove that the sound I heard only came from him apparently falls on deaf ears, I force myself to continue tiptoeing towards the bedroom door, my heart in my throat as I cling to the towel in my hands for dear life, and hope beyond anything that I am simply imagining things, and there isn't someone else in the house with me, after all. I pause, of course, just inside the doorframe, my teeth still digging into my lower lip so fiercely that I am honestly surprised I cannot taste my own blood as a result. But, before I can lose my nerve entirely, I force myself to step through that doorway, and head back down the hall towards the bathroom, my breath coming in shallow gasps as I realize the sudden sound of rustling that reaches my ears can only be coming from one place.
The window in the bathroom that I know for a fact was closed, when I left to put on some clothes…
Steeling myself for a moment, as I stand rooted to the spot in the hallway midway between the bathroom and the bedroom, I force myself to ignore the part of my mind that is all but screaming at me to run back into the bedroom and lock the door behind me, my shoulders squaring in spite of my ragged nerves as I push myself to keep moving forward, instead of going back. In some respect, I already know what might await me as soon as I step back into the bathroom, the heat from the steam of the shower still pushing its way through the open door the closer I get, such that it wafts against my face and causes me to shiver a bit in response. And, although I know that whatever side of me that is insisting on such foolish bravery, given what I suspect might be going on, is likely only going to result in whatever hope I had of this weekend being a peaceful one effectively dying away, I continue forcing one foot ahead of the other, my hands bringing the towel up like some sort of flimsy attempt at a shield as I round the corner and place my foot against the tiling of the bathroom floor once again.
I do not see it at first, of course, my eyes far more preoccupied with glancing into every single corner of the bathroom now that they have adjusted to the darkness, as though I expect someone to be lurking there, just waiting to jump out and attack. But, as soon as I determine that I am, in fact alone, in spite of the reality of the soft breeze that wafts through the open window at the opposite end of the room, it seems I can avoid the reality of what I had suspected might be coming all along no longer, my eyes drifting over to the bathroom mirror, only to find that a message has been drawn in the fog that still rests upon its surface, water droplets slinking down the glass around the edges of each of the letters, and causing me to do everything within my power to stifle a scream.
Better enjoy your time alone with Jason while it lasts, hon. Anything can happen in the woods. –A
Well hello there, my lovelies! And welcome to a rather unexpected new chapter in Ava's tale! I sat down earlier this afternoon intending to at least get started on this latest installment, only to find that I speed wrote the chapter all the way through to the end. So, hopefully you all enjoy the end result? I promise you, there is no shortage of drama in store for the future (both for the weekend in question, and when Ava returns to Rosewood, as well).
As always, my heartfelt thanks go out to each and every one of you that has taken the time to read, follow, favorite and review this story thus far! Special thanks, of course, go out to last chapter's reviewers: Ten Duel Commandments, ForeverTeamEdward13, Ineveryfandom, Hope10, Loving Liar, Princess1, Lady Bird, Guest, and Warriorqueen, for leaving such kind words of support and encouragement! I truly do appreciate all of the lovely feedback, and I hope you all continue to enjoy where the story goes in the future!
Until next time, dolls…