One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

The warm, soft sensation of Seth’s lips against his trailed through Jacob’s memory as he lay in bed Saturday morning. Real lips; not a dream of celebrities, or unbidden fantasy; real lips. It didn’t matter at the moment who's they were, they were real. Jacob’s senses wouldn’t let him forget that. His body responded to his sense memory almost immediately.

He threw his arms over his face, trying to dispel the image, trying to shut it out, but it was no use. It had been real.

The idea of having to go to school on Monday sent waves of dread through him. He already planned to miss his morning practice; He couldn’t face the guys on the team right now, but he couldn’t justify missing the evening practice as well. Even more so than before, he felt like they would just know by looking at him.

And what if Seth hadn’t kept his mouth shut? He said he talked to the girls about this kind of stuff. What if it got out? He didn’t think Seth would do that to him, but the anxiety still gripped his insides.

Jacob dragged himself out of bed and decided to go for a run. He needed to get his body moving to clear his head.

“Not without breakfast, you don’t.” Jacob’s mom caught him before he managed to escape through the front door. “I made eggs and bacon especially for your sister’s big day.”

He had completely forgotten. His sister, Alice, would be trying out for the swim team this afternoon. He was supposed to take her.

“I put the keys for the station wagon by the door. I’m sorry again that I won't be able to take her, but the book club only meets once a month. Thank you for being such a good big brother.” His mom patted his shoulder as he sat down at the kitchen counter in front of a plate heaping with bacon and eggs.

“It’s okay Mom. I didn’t really have anything planned anyway,” he said.

Jacob heard a rumble of feet coming down the hall.

His eleven-year-old sister, Alice, skid into the room in socked feet before almost tumbling over the first stool at the kitchen counter. Jacob’s father, Miles Foster, followed soon after, pretending to be out of breath.

“You beat me again, kiddo. You’re going to have no problem at tryouts.”

The family gathered around the counter and Jacob’s father clasped hands with his mother on one side and his sister on the other. Jacob took his sister’s and mother’s hands and bowed his head as usual.

His father began to say grace, “Thank you Lord for this meal we are about to receive. May we always be blessed with plenty, may we always be grateful for the bounty we receive, and please watch over my sweet daughter, Alice, in her tryouts for the Middleton Minnows today. In Christ’s name, Amen.”

“Amen,” the family echoed and dug into their breakfasts.

“Where were you last night, Jake? You didn’t come home until after dark,” his mother asked between bites of egg.

Jacob already had an answer prepared, “I’ve started tutoring someone from school after practice.”

“That’s very generous of you,” his father commended him. “Who's the lucky student?”

“Seth Thompson.”

“Ah, Mark’s boy. It’s a shame what they’ve been through.”

Jacob looked up at his father, curious.

“Beatrice Thompson, Mark’s wife, died in a car accident about six years ago. If I remember correctly their son was in the car with her, but he survived. I’m sure they will be very grateful for your help. You’re doing a good service, son.”

Jacob nodded but turned back to his breakfast so his parents couldn’t see the guilt on his face.

The family dispersed soon after. Jacob helped his sister load her swim bag into the Mazda station wagon and drove her to tryouts; He never got to go for the run he had wanted; and drove his sister across town to the Middleton Lakes swimming pool.

The pool was crowded with kids and their families all clambering for a chance on the team. It was a tiny pool, but it served its purpose for tryouts. The majority of practices would actually be held in the neighboring city of Caldwell, where they had an Olympic sized pool. Jacob found a spot in the shade near the fence while Alice ran off to change.

Jacob didn't mind taking care of his sister, but he wasn't keen on being in public at the moment, especially when there were shirtless lifeguards on duty. One lifeguard, in particular, was chatting with a couple of girls, one of which Jacob recognized from his neighborhood. They must have had siblings trying out as well. Jacob did his best not to look, but he couldn't help taking a glance at the chiseled six-pack of the lifeguard. At least it would look like he was checking out the girls. He busied himself with his phone as a distraction.

Too late. One of the girls noticed his glance their way and dragged her friend over to say hello.

"Hey, Jacob Foster, remember me?" She waved at him as she approached.

He vaguely remembered her, but couldn't remember her name. He waved back half-heartedly.

She hurried over.

"Jacob, this is my cousin Ashleigh. She's visiting for the weekend, so we're having a party tonight. It would be great if you could come."

A party? Jacob almost refused, but a party might be exactly what he needed. "Sure, I'll go," he responded.

The girls grinned at each other. "If you give me your number, I can text you the invite," the girl said, beaming. That was probably the whole reason she asked him in the first place. Girls could be scary. She handed him her phone and he input his name and number. "Great! I'll text you in a bit. We'll see you tonight!"

The two girls bounced back over to the lifeguard, giggling the whole way. Jacob watched as she handed her phone to the lifeguard and he input his number as well.

A few moments later his own phone chirped.

Hey! It's Tiffany. The part will be at 7pm and 320 Sherwood Rd. Don't worry about bringing anything.

Tiffany, huh? The address was just down the street from his house.

Alice came back after completing her tryout, wet and exhausted. Jacob tossed her a towel.

"How'd you do?" he asked.

"You weren't watching?" complained Alice, pouting.

"Sorry, but I'll watch you win once you're on the team. How'd you do?"

"I had good time on the 50 yard free, so they put me in the level 2 group. The coach said I still need to work on my butterfly and my turns though."

"That's good!" said Jacob, encouragingly. He patted his sister on the back. "Ready to go?"

Alice nodded, flinging water droplets at Jacob.

That night, Jacob pulled up to Tiffany's house at 7:20 pm. He hoped he got there late enough to miss the awkward phase of a party when people are just arriving and you have to make small talk.

Jacob could hear the bass rumble of music coming from the house. It looked like there were already a fair number of people inside. Good.

He waded through the crowd of people at the entrance on his way to find something to make the crowd more bearable. Someone grabbed his arm as he passed.


Jacob turned to see who was detaining him. Sarah Williams smiled at him. She let go of his arm and shyly brushed her auburn hair behind her ear.

"Sarah. Hi," said Jacob, awkwardly, over the music. The last time he had seen her she had left him under the bleachers after being called away by her cheer coach.

"I'm glad there's someone else here from Forge. I was afraid I'd be the only one," Sarah blushed pink across her freckles. "How did you end up here?"

"I was invited by Tiffany this morning."


Jacob chuckled. "It's Tiffany's party."

"Oh." Sarah looked abashed. "My friend Carla dragged me here."

"Do you want to get a drink and go outside?" Jacob asked. "Then we won't have to yell over the music."

Sarah nodded and followed Jacob.

The back yard was small and there were a few people milling about, but the music from the house was at least somewhat muted, and the fall air felt crisp and refreshing. Jacob had never handled crowds well. He was fine with the physical contact on the court during games, but crushing up against other people without escape in a small space was not his idea of fun. The loud music only made it feel that much more claustrophobic. He didn't usually attend house parties, and he wasn't entirely sure why he had agreed to this one, except for wanting to escape thinking about the events of Friday.

The kiss filled Jacob's mind again. His face flushed and his breath caught in this throat. He was glad to still be facing away from Sarah.

"It's so much nicer out here," she said from behind him.

"Yeah," he said. He turned and leaned up against the porch railing near the back door. Sarah leaned next to him and sipped her drink.

"I don't usually go to parties like these. Carla was very persistent, though. She likes a guy from Middleton and heard he was going to be here. I didn't think I had a reason to come, except to support her, but I'm glad I did." Sarah put her glass to her lips again and looked out into the yard, away from Jacob.

"It's not exactly my scene either," said Jacob. "I'm glad I know someone. I haven't seen you since -"

"Since the game against Star High," supplied Sarah, still looking away.

"Yeah," said Jacob. Jacob had been surprised she was so forward at the time. It surprised him much less that she was being bashful now, but he found it endearing. She was a sweet girl. She would make some guy very lucky someday. "Hey, listen," Jacob started, but Sarah cut him off.

"I'm sorry everything was so sudden last time," she murmured. "I was scared. I don't normally do things like that, but-"

"It's okay, don't worry about it." For Jacob, it was completely normal, but he had the feeling that was not what Sarah would want to hear.

"It's just... I don't want you to think I do that often. The truth is, well," Sarah paused and took another gulp of her drink. Jacob noticed that her hand shook slightly. "For a while now, I've been thinking..." Sarah was bumbling over her words.

Jacob had a feeling he knew what she was going to say. He could tell she liked him. He could tell the day she kissed him under the bleachers. She was a nice girl. Any guy would be lucky. He'd be lucky. Perhaps this was exactly what he needed.

"Sarah," he interrupted her mumbling. "Would you go out with me?"

Sarah's head snapped up to look at him. "What?"

"Would you go out with me?"

"You're not making fun of me are you?"

Jacob was taken aback. Who would make fun of someone like that? "No, of course not," he said.

"Yes!" A large grin spread across her face.

Jacob had been right. This was exactly what he needed. Sarah's excitement was contagious. He was feeling a little giddy now himself. "Can I kiss you?" he asked politely, leaning towards her.

"Yes," she said leaning in, with a smile.

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