Actually Love - Jessie & Zach

By: Melanie Shawn

The Crossroads Series

Chapter One

I am in love.

A crisp chill hung in the air as Jessie stood, motionless, her fingers wrapped around the wood-framed doorway. A warmth filled her from the inside out as she stared in awe, unable to speak. Love was not something that Jessie had ever expected to experience in her life, mainly because she had not truly believed in its existence.

Until now.

The wooden floors creaked beneath her feet as she leaned forward, her eyes roaming over every single inch of the object of her heart’s desire. Sunlight shone in through the two large windows, blanketing the entire area in angelic light. Pivoting slowly, she spun around to fully take in the experience. After completing the three-hundred-sixty-degree turn, Jessie’s eyes once again fell on the source of her newfound love. A vintage Victorian clawfoot bathtub.

When she stepped forward into the bathroom, her heels clicked on the black-and-white-checkered tile. As she walked toward the deep tub, a shiver ran from the top of her head to her high-heel-booted toes. Winters in Chicago were no joke. Neither were summers for that matter. This place did have heating and air conditioning (thank God!), although she didn’t think they were utilizing it for the open house.

Reaching down, Jessie danced her fingertips along the bathtub’s edge. The surface was smooth and cold. After giving it a thorough visual inspection, even this close, Jessie couldn’t tell if it was an original tub from the Victorian era or if it was a perfect reproduction.

The plumbing was definitely not original. The hot and cold fixtures were four-pronged, silver, with a white ceramic button center—one with an ‘H’ and one with a ‘C’. There was a removable silver nozzle with a white ceramic handle and a round showerhead that looked to have several settings. This was the bathtub of her dreams.

She could already picture herself soaking in the luxurious tub, wine glass sitting on the sill of the window with the amazing view of the park across the street, bubbles floating around her. There was no better way to relax after a fourteen-plus-hour day than by immersing yourself in hot water.

Well, there was one way. Sex. Good sex. But since Jessie had always been able to take care of herself with infinitely superior results than she’d ever experienced with a partner, she was starting to lean towards the belief that good sex was just a myth perpetuated by society so that the species would continue. If women truly accepted the fact that they were far more capable of satisfying themselves by playing Solitaire rather than playing Poke-her, the entire human race may cease to exist due to lack of procreation.

The only small spark of hope Jessie had that there was even a kernel of truth to the out-of-this-world, earth-shattering, mind-blowing sex so many people “claim” to be having was the fact that all five of her cousins and two of her sisters seemed to have found partners that they had achieved that status with. If she hadn’t been a firsthand witness to the undeniable change in each and every one of them when they found their significant others, she would stand behind her conspiracy theory that good sex was as prevalent a myth as Bigfoot.

Muted sounds of an entrancing stringed melody drifted through the air. Jessie gazed down through the glass window facing the park to find a young man seated on a brick retaining wall strumming a guitar, its black case open in front of him for tips. Scanning the area, she saw several women jogging on dirt paths while pushing sport-style three-wheel strollers and four elderly men sitting on a bench playing cards. The scene instantly put her at ease.

Jessie loved people-watching. She always had. That was part of the reason she loved big cities and had left her small town of Harper’s Crossing as soon as she graduated high school. Well, that and the fact that there was anonymity in numbers. She loved the feeling of being totally invisible while surrounded by a crowd of people.

It had been six months since Jessie had returned to small-town living and she felt like a trapped animal. After graduating from college, she remained close to her alma mater for a year. Partly because, with such a large family, there were too many distractions in her hometown and partly because, whenever she went home, it felt like she was living under a magnifying glass of constant scrutiny.

Since her return, Jessie had begun to feel a little bit (a lot!) claustrophobic. Her family wanted to know where she was and what she was doing at all times. It wasn’t that they were overbearing, just overprotective. And it wasn’t so much that Jessie had anything at all to hide. Quite the opposite—her life was categorically boring. It was just that she hated anyone knowing anything about her that she did not feel the need to share organically.

In that respect, she was the black sheep in a family filled with over-sharers. At least in her immediate family. Her sisters loved to talk things out, share every detail of their lives. That had never been Jessie’s style. She’d always related to her older cousins, Seth and Bobby, whom people referred to as the strong, silent types. The brooding bookends of the five Sloan boys. They only spoke if they really needed to say something. Which, from the time she was a little girl, had made sense to Jessie. She never understood the appeal of telling people what was going on in her head or her life unless absolutely necessary.