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cold comfort for change

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Jackie was sobbing into her hands before she even made it halfway to her car. She didn’t want to do it until she was out of Steven’s view, but she couldn’t stop it, the way the tears just overflowed like they’d been there waiting for her all along.

She stumbled into the front seat of her dad’s Lincoln, the only thing she still had of his that didn’t feel completely tainted by everything he’d done, and folded her arms over the steering wheel, crying like a little girl. Absently, she thanked God that she always wore waterproof mascara.

How stupid was she? How stupid was she to let this happen to her again ? Was there something about her, some invisible sign stuck to her back that said “cheat on me” in giant letters, something that made it clear to every boy she loved that he should break her heart like this?

She thought it was bad when it was Michael. God, she had spent weeks in agony, crying in her big pink fluffy bed, fighting with Laurie, blabbering about her heartbreak to Donna and Eric and whoever else might listen. And it had hurt, what he did, it had, but this was different. This hurt in a way that it hadn’t when it was Michael; that pain had been halfway self-indulgent, a way to get attention and affection, something to talk about and obsess over. She had always known who Michael was, and for him to cheat was heartbreaking, but not necessarily unexpected. He burned her house and took advantage of her money and played stupid pranks, and Jackie was smart enough to know, deep down, he wasn’t someone she could count on. 

But this heartbreak, this was Steven. Steven, the person she trusted more than anyone else, the one she always depended on, the one who would roll his eyes but let her cry on his shoulder, this was him, taking her heart into his hands and throwing it down onto the concrete. This was the feeling of the last good thing in her life crumbling down around her.

Jackie lifted her head, taking shuddering breaths to try and calm herself. She had to get out of here; there was no way in hell she was going to let anybody see her like this, which meant Donna’s or Eric’s were out of the question.

So she drove to her house, probably a little recklessly, but she always had a tendency to drive fast. (Steven would put his hands on the dash and say, “Jesus, Jackie, are you trying to get us killed?” She’d always throw him a look and say, “Maybe.” Then they’d go back and forth, burning each other and flirting until the whole thing was forgotten.) She hadn’t been back there since they moved her into Donna’s, and no one else had either. She stared at the For Sale sign in the overgrown yard. It broke her heart all over again.

Steven was the only one who knew it all, knew the entire sordid story of her parents. The secrets her father kept, the way her mother drank, the fights they’d have late into the night, their voices echoing through the seemingly cavernous walls of their home. It was the only time in their relationship that he had asked her to talk, had said, “You can’t keep all this inside, Jackie.” And in that dingy little basement room, she’d spilled the whole thing, all of it, every terrible prison visit to her father and ignored call to her mother. He’d listened, too, really listened. More than Michael ever had. More than anyone ever had.

And now that was gone. One mistake, one misunderstanding, was all it took for Steven to go find comfort in the arms of some skank nurse. She couldn’t stop picturing it, what that woman might have looked like, how she would have kissed him, what her hands would have looked like unbuttoning his shirt. She probably just ripped it off and discarded it to the side; Jackie always carefully folded Steven’s clothes as they came off, much to his annoyance. (“Jackie, why are you doing that, it’s a t-shirt.” She’d scoff at him. “You don’t have enough decent clothing for it to just be thrown around, Steven! You have to take care of it!”) She bet that other woman hadn’t even thought to do that. And it hurt to think, but she bet he was glad for it.

It made her skin crawl, imagining him with this faceless, nameless woman. His hands touching her skin in the way that always made Jackie shiver, not in the way that made her feel delicate or fragile, the way men always liked to touch her, but the way that made her feel awake, electrified, like she was the furthest thing from delicate. Like she was somebody strong.

Jackie didn’t feel strong now, crying in her car in front of her childhood home. She felt alone. And the worst thing, the thing that made every sob ache even more, was that the only person she wanted to talk to about this was Steven. Steven, who would take her hand in his and squeeze, who would kiss her softly, who would say, “It’ll be alright, Jackie.”

The tears began to subside, eventually, like tears always do. The sun was starting to set, and Jackie knew she would have to go to Donna’s soon, would have to face her and everyone else and tell them what happened. And then, she would have to face Steven.

But she still had a little time before any of that. She half-heartedly flipped on the radio, and that Pink Floyd song came on, “Wish You Were Here.” She knew it well because it was one that they all liked, one of the very few that they could put on the record player in Eric’s basement and no one would have any complaints, not even her. Really, it was one of about three songs she and Steven both loved. 

Jackie leaned her head against the window as the song played. In the back of her mind, she knew she must have looked very dramatic like this, as if she were in a movie, and that helped a little. She hoped her mascara had held out.

As she listened, she wondered about Steven, about how he was feeling right now, and where he was. Maybe he was still sitting in his car where she left him. Maybe he was listening to this song too; he liked this station. She could picture him, the way he’d tap fingers on his knee to the beat, the slightest smile on his face, the kind he always had when he was listening to music he liked. She loved that smile.

And you know? Despite how badly she was hurt, despite the fact that she wasn’t sure she would ever be able to forgive him, despite it all, she loved him . She loved him more than anyone. And she hoped that somewhere, he was listening to this song too.