Thursday, December 17, 2009

10.) Pandora's Box

Soundtrack Song - Bedlight for Blue Eyes, Michael

“Tell me about him. I told you,” Kris said, gazing at me like this conversation was supposed to be quid pro quo. Like just because he had told me about his friend Luc, I was supposed to tell him all about my brother James. That's not how stuff like this is supposed to work. I wasn't ready to talk about it yet. He squeezed my hand, and I fidgeted in my chair uncomfortably.

He let go, and I went back to playing with my sandwich. I don't even know why I ordered it, because my stomach was turning with anxiety and worry. This was going to come up; I knew that—this was, after all, the whole point of this random little get-together. But I still didn't want to talk about it. “James was my brother. What else is there to say?” I said nonchalantly, tossing more bread to the growing flock of pigeons on the ground.

I glanced up casually, and Kris gazed back at me with this look on his face... appearing sad and disappointed and let down. It made me remember Tubby's comments this morning. “We were twins,” I continued with a sigh. “Fraternal, obviously, and we didn't even look alike hardly at all. But we were as close as two siblings could be.”

I shoved my hands into the pockets of my jacket and crossed my arms around my stomach, so that I was wrapped up in the jacket. It wasn’t mine, really; it was James’s. He got the jacket his junior year of high school, and he wore it nonstop, like James Dean. That's when I stopped calling him Jimmy. As a consequence, he always smelled of leather, and his jacket took on the scent of the Axe deodorant he always used. The two smells mingled together, creating a scent that would always be indescribably his—and that’s exactly what this jacket still smelled like. It smelled like James, and it was like my security blanket.

“It must have been cool to have a twin,” Kris mentioned casually.

“Yeah. It was. I mean, we didn’t do the whole matching-outfits thing, since we weren’t identical. But it’s like having a built-in friend for life. We did everything together. We were together constantly. Because not only were we family, but we were in the same age bracket, too. We were Jimmy and Jo-Jo, the inseparable pair,” I laughed, shaking my head.

Once I started, I just kept going. After taking the initial steps, the following ones weren’t so bad. “He was six minutes older than me, and he never let me forget it. I followed him everywhere when we were younger, and he didn’t mind one bit. James included me in everything, even when his friends bitched and whined about the ‘tag-along girl.’ He stood up for me when they complained. My eternal champion. He watched out for me and it was annoying at times, but he was always telling me that I was the smart one so I couldn’t screw it up.

“Everyone loved him. There wasn’t a person that met James who didn’t take an instant shining to him. My parents, his teachers, girls—oh man, the girls chased after him like he was Justin fucking Timberlake bringing sexy back. And he was so smart, too. Got straight B’s, and he never cracked open a book in his life. Never studied a minute. He was gonna go to Dartmouth after graduation—that’s how smart he was. He was gonna play hockey on their team.”

“Your brother played hockey?” he asked, prompting me to keep talking.

“Oh yeah. A forward. Made me strap on goalie pads plenty of times. I once took a slap shot to my shin. I think it’s still dented from the puck,” I laughed, remembering that day clearly. “But then I broke my stick over his head. So needless to say, James didn’t ever try that again. He wasn’t that stupid.”

“You broke your stick, over his head?” he chuckled. “Poor guy.”

“In my defense, he was wearing a helmet at the time. And not to mention, he totally deserved it,” I continued, unable to hold back my giggles. I can still recall vividly the look of surprise on his face when I hit him, because he thought I was bluffing. “I knew it was an accident, but I had to teach him a lesson.”

Kris shook his head and asked, “Was he any good?”

“Captain of the varsity squad,” I explained. “He wasn’t the greatest of players. He wasn’t very fast, nor did he score a lot of goals. James was more of an energy guy, who got all the other players fired up. Knew all the motivational things to say in the locker room, and always stayed after practices to work on his shot. Not afraid to drop the gloves to defend a teammate. But that’s the kind of guy he was. Dependable, reliable, always there....” I trailed off with those last two words. Always there? Not anymore.

“So you really looked up to him, huh?”

“More than anything.” I went back to picking at my sandwich. The birds were really starting to flock around our table; feeding them was probably a bad idea. “James was more than just my brother or my twin. He was my idol. Just an all-around nice guy. I couldn’t tell you one bad quality he had. Like I said,” I added with a sad shrug, “everyone loved him.” Talking about James was like playing with a ping-pong ball: bouncing up and down and every which way. Moments ago, I had been reliving happy memories, and now the sadness of missing him was overwhelming.

“It’s obvious how much you miss him,” he observed. I wanted to roll my eyes and tell him that that was a stupid thing to say, but he kept talking. “I think that’s the first time I’ve seen you smile. Like, really smile.”

I reddened and bit my lip, focusing on the birds swarming by my chair. I fed them a little more and then dug around in the bag of chips. What was I supposed to say to that? What kind of statement was that anyway? Kris didn’t know me. He didn’t know how I smiled or with what frequency. Not to mention that this was, what, the third time we’ve ever spoken to each other? I shook my head and avoided looking back at him. Kris did not bring out the best in me. I wanted to yell No shit, Sherlock!, but I tried to keep my composure. “Well, yeah, of course I miss him. We were really close.”

“Do you mind if I ask how it happened?”

“Yes, I mind,” I spat, getting increasingly upset. Hot, angry tears began to pool behind my lids. “I don’t want to talk about that. You didn’t talk about it.” I felt so foolish at that moment for allowing Kris to pick me up and bring me here. Now I was stranded, with no way to get home. I wouldn’t have agreed to this, but Tubby was standing there with me when I called him, and Tubby had been nodding at me like crazy to encourage me and just tell him yes. It flashed through my mind that I could call Tubby for a ride, but I already ask too much of him as it is. Then I remembered everything he had said this morning and remembered why I was here in the first place.

Kris nodded and reached out for my hand again. “Okay. That’s fine. We don’t have to talk about anything you’re not comfortable with,” he replied. Kris made me feel so foolish for snapping. He was keeping to his word by just listening and not offering anything I didn't want to hear. When he squeezed my hand, I looked back at him and peered into his eyes. They were dark and void of the condemnation I had expected to see for not wanting to discuss that subject just yet.

“Sorry,” I mumbled, getting lost in those brown pools. They were oddly soft and reassuring; it wasn't an odd expression, but it was weird seeing it in the eyes of someone I still didn't know very well. “It's just not an easy thing to talk about. It still hurts, because....” He nodded, moving his thumb to the pressure point of my wrist and rubbing little circles in a comforting gesture. “I was supposed to be there, but I wasn't.”

Kris tilted his head to the side, looking at me inquisitively, confused and curious. “Be where?”

I let out my breath slowly and evenly. I'd said too much already, and I didn't want to continue. All those latent, suppressed emotions were building up against the dam wall. I knew that I should just release the pressure and let it out, because purging that negative energy would initially feel good; but that same expulsion would probably also include a flood of tears—a flood that would wipe out everything in its path and cause devastating damage. A veritable Pandora's Box. Uncorking these bottled-up emotions always results in me being stuck in a depressed funk for days upon days. It's better to ignore it than to deal with it; better to stick my thumb in the dike and plug up the leak.

So I didn't want to tell him, and I thought that I had damn good reasons to want to avoid this conversation. But there was something that made it seem okay; something about Kris that made me want tell him. I couldn't put my finger on what it was that gave me that impression, though. Or maybe it wasn't him at all. Maybe I truly did want to finally let it all out. Whatever the reason, I spilled. “At the rink. At his game.”

He knit his eyebrows together in a confused expression and opened his mouth to ask something, until the realization dawned on him—that the game I had skipped out on turned out to be James's last. Kris's agape mouth formed a small circle. “Oh. He.... Oh, Jo. I'm so sorry.”

I nodded, accepting his sincerity and sympathy without question. I wasn't sure if Kris didn't know what to say, or if he expertly kept quiet in order to wait for me to continue. After a few breaths, I kept going, laying it all out there. “I stayed at quiz bowl practice with Tubby instead of going like I told him I would. It was just supposed to be an ordinary, regular-season game. I didn't think James would mind if I didn't show up to one lousy game, because he was the one who told me that I should join the stupid quiz team anyway.

“It was a fluke. Apparently, he was battling for a puck in the corner, looked down to kick it out to a teammate, and this kid came up behind him and....” I took a breath and tried to forget about what had been relayed to me. “You need to understand that James never got caught with his head down. Ever. I don't know how it happened. It shouldn't have happened.”

“No. It shouldn't've,” he agreed, speaking up at just the right time. “Something like that should never happen. It's a shame that something like that happens in hockey at all, let alone that it happened to your brother.”

“I mean, why that game?” I asked rhetorically, ignoring what he just said. "The one home game I missed. Even worse, it was because of James that I wasn't there! I would have never joined that stupid quiz team if he hadn't have encouraged me to.”

“It's almost like he saved you from having to see it,” Kris whispered.

I stopped breathing. I had always faulted James for being the reason I wasn't there, thinking that it was a bad thing. I never before had thought to credit him with saving me from bearing witness to that. Like it was a good thing. That new line of thinking was like an existential eye-opener. “I never even considered that.”

“You didn't honestly want to see it, did you?” His thumb never stopped massaging the pulse point on my right wrist. My whole body felt numb, but I could feel that distinctly. Kris's hand was so warm.

“My parents were both there. They told me that I should be happy I wasn't there to see it happen. They told me that they wouldn't want that to be the last memory I would ever have of him.” I felt the useless tears try to escape, but I did what I could to hold them back—essentially giving myself an instant headache. “I'm glad that I wasn't there to see it, because I'm sure it would be all I'd see when I close my eyes. But part of me wants to know, wanted to see it for myself. But I missed his last few moments alive.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose with my left thumb and forefinger, the sinus pressure building up behind my eyes. It felt like I had been hit in the face with a baseball bat. Still struggling to keep my composure, I finally pulled my other hand out of his gentle grasp and covered my face. My teeth dug into my cheek as I forced myself to calm down. I was in public; I couldn't do this out here.

Kris pulled his chair around the side of the table until he was beside me instead of across from me. “It's okay to cry, Jo. Don't be afraid to let it out.”

“No advice, remember?” I said, throwing my hands into my lap and looking at him now that he was so close. My eyes were rimmed with red, and I'm sure my face was puffy. So unattractive, and yet I was sitting so close to this beautiful man. “I don't wanna cry about it. James wouldn't want it, either.”

He pursed his lips, and I knew he was holding back. I found myself being curious over what he wanted to say, but I was also glad that he wasn't saying it. Besides, I could probably figure it out anyway. Kris was watching me so intently, so intensely, and I wanted to look away but couldn't at the same time. He had me so confused.

“I think I want to go home,” I casually mentioned, wrapping up what I didn't eat—which was most of my lunch.

Kris nodded. “Okay. Let's go.” He pushed himself out of his chair, and I watched the way his body moved before standing next to him. I tossed the bundle of food into the nearby trash can and put my hands in my pockets, once again wrapping myself in James's leather jacket. I inhaled deeply and followed Kris as he led the way back to his car.


  1. "It's almost like he saved you from having to see it."

    What can I say? Kris, you are the most amazing man and you say all the right things, and I have yet to find one imperfect thing about you other than when you get your hair cut too short. And you score some amazing shootout goals, you defend your teammates when you need to, and you won the Stanley Cup for your best friend and every game you play, you play for him. I love you.

    Alright. Had to get that out of my system. Lovely chapter!

  2. As I go... like always lol.

    "The two smells mingled together, creating a scent that would always be indescribably his"
    ^^ Ok... getting emotional already, not good. I loved this line... I don't know why. It's so casual but brutal at the same time - one of the reasons everything you write is so realistic, is because of lines like this.

    "oh man, the girls chased after him like he was Justin fucking Timberlake bringing sexy back."
    ^^ ahahaha... ok, that's hilarious. I loved it. Again with these lines that just pull everything back down into the moment. I can totally picture this incredible guy and I have a feeling that this is going to be really hard to read...

    “It's almost like he saved you from having to see it,” Kris whispered.
    ^^ Ok wow... I'm not sure if I'm making sense now cause your description of James damn near finished me... but wow. Kris Letang... I don't even know what to do with you anymore.
    I can't even begin to imagine what kind of impact that single sentence just had on Jo and her perspective on everything.
    You're one of a kind love.

    "My whole body felt numb, but I could feel that distinctly. Kris's hand was so warm."
    ^^ Aww, the connection already. Like Kris is the only one who can actually reach out to her and save her... /sigh

    Jay, I can't form coherent thoughts cause I'm loosing it... this was pure wonderful.

    I know I tell you how much I love this story, but I don't think I've ever said thank you before.

    So, thank you. Thank you for writing such an amazing story that touches my heart and forces me to really *feel* things... I love being able to read ID and just know that it's going to be great. You're just an all around amazing writer =)

  3. Having Jo describe James broke my heart. So incredibly sad and well-written. That's all I can really say. And I'm not the smartest person, so I have to ask this: I assume he crashed into the boards head first and he hit his head in a funny way to cause that much damage?

  4. Wow, wow, wow...amazing chapter, and I am stunned that she opened up to him so freely...beautifully written and Jo, I have serious compassion for her now!

  5. Wow! Great chapter!
    I felt like I was sitting right there with them.

    Hopefully this helps her now that she has talked about it & starts to turn her life around.

  6. Jay, this chapter was truly amazing. When Jo was telling her story about James' life, I totally lost it. That was so heart-breaking, but I love how she was able to truly open up to Kris.

    And Kris. Could you be any more perfect? You know exactly what to say at the right time. I'm pretty sure I adore you.

    I'm really excited to see where it will go from here. Wonderful (: