Wednesday, December 16, 2009

9.) Un/Comfortable

Soundtrack Song - Kenny Chesney, Who You'd Be Today

I woke up around ten. That was pretty late for me, because I like to get up early and get in my workout before I really have to start my day. Thankfully, Sunday was an off day for the team. It's always nice to have a day to relax and take it easy.

The nice thing about my apartment was the gym in the basement. A lot of guys on the team lived here while they were establishing themselves on the team and in the area. TK lived here, and Talbo did for a while, too. They've all got places—houses—for themselves now. This is a nice fit for me, though. I don't need a lot of space, and even though I don't really talk to my neighbors, it's nice to have them around. Otherwise, it would be so isolated.

I stuck to the usual routine: bike and weights. The gym facility was empty, probably because most of the tenants were still passed out in their beds. Once I finished, I headed back up to my apartment so I could shower and get dressed. I decided that I would call some of the guys to see if they wanted to go grab a bite to eat for lunch. Chances were, they weren't doing anything anyway.

As I turned the shower on, my ringtone began to echo from the other room. So I wrapped a towel around my waist and headed into my bedroom to find it. Seems silly to cover up when I know I'm the only one here, so it's not like anyone's going to see me... but I guess I do it out of habit.

Allo?” The line was silent for a moment. “Allo?”

I was about to hang up when a voice came through the line. “Uh, Kris?”

“Hey, Charlene,” I said, a little concerned and unsure if everything with her was okay. She didn’t sound the same.

“Um, it’s Jo.”

“Oh! Sorry,” I apologized, suddenly feeling sheepish. Nothing like mistaking a person for someone else. “How are you?”

“If you’re expecting another call—”

“Oh, no. I just didn’t recognize your voice. And I wasn’t sure if you’d call.” In fact, I didn’t think she would at all. Jo seemed so put off and maybe even a little offended. I hadn’t been harboring any hope that she would, so this was a delightful surprise.

She cleared her throat. “Well, I wasn’t planning on it.”

“I’m glad you changed your mind,” I said honestly, smiling ear-to-ear although no one could see it. It was one thing to offer help, but it was another thing entirely for her to accept it. Of course I wanted to do what I could, but now I had the chance to actually do it.

“So, uh. How do you want to do this?” she asked quietly.

I could only imagine how tentative and unsure she was feeling. I did my best to be reassuring and comforting. “I was going to go out for lunch. Would you like to join me?”

Jo paused for a while on the line. “Um....”

“It'll be easier to talk in person,” I explained.

“Okay. Where would you like to meet?”

The thought of her riding her motorcycle on my account unnerved me. “I’ll just pick you up. In an hour?” She was silent, giving a voice to her hesitation. For a moment, I worried that I was being too imposing and that I was going to scare her off.

“I guess that’s okay,” she sighed, making it sound like her agreement was painful. I wondered if she could be at all warming up to me, albeit reluctantly; like she just didn’t want to look like she wanted to talk to me even though she truly did. I mean, why else would she agree, if she didn’t want to?

“All right, then. One hour.”

I felt my mood lighten. It wasn’t even that my mood wasn’t already good; now it was just exponentially higher. It’s like how volunteer work always makes you feel good. This was more than that, though; not just a chance to do something good and beneficial, but a chance to make a difference in someone’s life. Not just a good deed, something to put a smile on her face, but really a chance to make a change.

How often do we really get a chance to make that kind of impression on someone else? How often have you met a person, knowing that you could leave an indelible mark on him or her? Knowing you had that kind of power? Or, how often have you consciously thought that you could meet someone who could have that effect on you? We never think about things like this, but in reality, you never know when you could experience something world-changing or something life-altering. Today held that potential.

I went back into the bathroom to finally get that shower, which felt so good after working up a sweat. The steam and heat worked the lingering ache in my muscles, the pounding water massaging my body as I stood under the showerhead. I lost track of time and had to rinse out the conditioner from my hair with cold water.

Deciding on jeans and a hoodie, I dressed comfortably. Depending on how the day could go, comfort was my main priority, especially when the conversation would broach an uncomfortable subject. Since I was making such great time, I did a few chores around the apartment, paid a few bills, and then I grabbed my keys and my wallet.

When I pulled up in front of Jo’s house, having remembered the way because of driving here only two days before, I turned off the engine and stepped out. Common courtesy dictates that I should get out of the car and walk to her door. When I pick up the guys, I just honk and wait, but I wanted to be nice. This was a big step for her, so this was the least I could do.

Before I could make it up the walkway, her front door opened, and she stepped out with her friend, the guy that I had seen Friday night. I’m not gonna lie; he looked scary in the daylight. Fully capable of causing me bodily harm. I recalled Staalsy’s words, about him being either her boyfriend or her bodyguard, and I realized that I truly did not want to mess with him. I nodded in his direction and smiled, to show him that I meant no harm.

His eyes bore into me—not necessarily in a malicious way, but like he was definitely sizing me up. After a few brief moments, he nodded back in my direction, although he didn’t smile. I felt like I had some kind of approval, which worked for me, because I certainly didn’t want my ass kicked. Maybe I could hold my own on the ice, but this guy could no doubt do some major damage.

With his obvious consent, I focused my attention on Jo. She said something to him and squeezed his arm. I noticed that she was dressed in worn jeans and black Chucks, a plain white tee shirt underneath her beat-up leather jacket. As she walked toward me, the chain of her wallet swung at her side.

“Hey,” I greeted her, reaching out to open the door for her.

She looked at me suspiciously as she walked past. “Hey.” I closed the door behind her once she slid into the seat, and then I trotted around and got into the driver’s seat and started up the engine. She blurted out her next words. “You do realize that this is crazy of me to be doing this? Getting into the car of a complete stranger and trusting you not to murder me, dismember my body, and bury me in the woods?”

I smiled, chuckled, and shook my head. Of all the things she worried about, that was it? “Well, I promise you, I won’t lay a hand on you.”

Jo nodded and looked out the window, and then looked back at me when I didn’t put the vehicle in drive. “So where are we going?”

“There’s a deli I like to go to. Seat belt.”

“You’re serious?” she scoffed, giving me a funny look. I nodded and she strapped in like I had instructed. “You know these things aren’t life-savers, right? Seat belts have been known to decapitate people in accidents. Sometimes, people would have been better off not wearing them.”

“They’ve also been known to save lives,” I responded, putting it into gear and pulling away from the curb. I made sure to keep my hands at ten and two, carefully obeying the posted speed limit. “Everyone has to wear them when I drive.”

“Whatever,” she mumbled, looking back out the window. We rode in silence all the way into town, not even listening to the radio. It was awkward, but not really uncomfortable. After I parked, we headed into the deli. The worker remembered me and got me my usual, and Jo stepped up to the counter, ordered, and paid for herself before I had the chance to offer. She glanced back at me as we waited for our orders to be prepared. “You come here pretty often if you have a usual.”

“I guess I’m a creature of habit,” I thought out loud with a shrug. “When I find something I like, I stick with it.”

“How will you ever know if you prefer something else if you never try anything else?”

“Why should I try something else when I already know what it is that I prefer?” I asked back, a smile surely playing on my lips.

“You can’t possibly know what you prefer unless you’ve tried everything. And you can’t possibly have tried everything.” She picked up two bags of potato chips off the counter as she illustrated her point. “It’s like saying you prefer plain ole chips, but you’ve never even tried the sour cream and onion! You can’t know unless you try.”

I grabbed the bag of plain chips out of her hand. “But if I know I like plain, why bother trying the other kind, when I might not like it all? Then I’d just be mad I didn’t get the plain.”

Jo snorted. “You’re so white bread.” She tossed the bag of sour cream and onion chips back on the counter and then picked up her own bag of plain, opening it and popping one into her mouth.

“Is white bread a bad thing?” I asked, putting down the package in my hand and picking up the bag she had just dropped. “And I see you prefer plain.”

She rolled her eyes. “But at least I know I’ve tried sour cream and onion. And as for being white bread, well....” Her voice floated off without finishing her answer as she shrugged. I was curious about what she meant, but I didn’t press her to complete her sentence or her thought. When our sandwiches were made, we carried them to a table outside as if by unspoken consensus. The weather was still nice for mid-October, and we were taking full advantage of it.

Jo picked at the bun of her sandwich, nibbling on it here and there but not really eating. I could feel her watching me as I ate. “Is it okay?” I asked, pointing to her food. I figured she didn’t like it and didn’t want to eat it; that’s why it’s a good idea to find what you like and stick to it.

“Tell me about what happened,” she said, throwing a piece of bread on the sidewalk for a straggling pigeon to attack.

“Pardon?” I was so confused. Was I missing something?

“You said you lost someone.” Jo looked up at me. “Who?” I paused for a moment, not sure of what to say. I had offered to be there in case she ever wanted to talk; I hadn’t expected this. She tossed another piece of bread to the ground. “You told me you understand. That you had experience. How do I know if you can possibly understand unless I know what happened?”

I swallowed the last bit of food in my mouth. She had a point. “My best friend, Luc. He was my greatest friend and a really great guy.” I smiled as some of the memories flooded my consciousness. “We played in junior together, in Val-d’Or. We were more than just teammates, we were roommates, too. We played on the national team, too, and won gold together. We were both drafted the same year. He went in the first round. Luc was such a good player. He was only beginning to come into his own.”

Jo listened carefully and quietly as I shared some of my fondest memories of him. She nodded as she took it in and hummed encouragement as I retold my stories of nights in hotel rooms and away trips and summer visits and talked about how determined he was. I told her about everything that he had to overcome in his life to get the opportunities he had, the arthritis and the injuries; he had the world in front of him, only to have it all taken away.

I never talked about his death with her; I only talked about my favorite times that I shared with him—only the happy things. I didn't want to broach the subject of how he died, because I didn't want to sound accusatory; I promised Jo that I wouldn't give any advice, so I didn't want to give her that impression. I left out the sadness and his accident and the road trip that Luc and I had planned, and how what happened to him made me change my mind. She was like a caged animal: frightened, scared, and ready to lash out in fear and self-preservation. It was best to avoid anything that could be misconstrued as an attack.

It had been a long since I had had to tell the story of his life like this. Either most other people knew about him, or they knew me enough to not ask. But it was nice to not have to concentrate on the painful subject of his death, and just remember the fun we used to have together. I wanted Jo to know how much he meant to me and still means to me, so she knew that I was okay to trust.

“He sounded like a great guy,” she said finally, smiling sadly as I finished.

I mirrored her expression. “He was. Luc donated money to the local minor hockey club, so kids whose families couldn’t afford gear could still play. He was always thinking about other people first. Not just a great guy, but a great person.” I shook my head. It still doesn’t seem fair, even after all this time. I tried to banish away the thoughts creeping into my head. I was here to offer help, not to ponder the what ifs circling like vultures in my mind.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered sympathetically, reaching out and placing her hand on my arm across the table and locking eyes with me. “It’s never fair when young people with so much potential are the ones to go. I’m not saying that anyone deserves to die before their time, but especially the good ones. The world needs more people like that, not less....”

Her voice faded out again, but instead of letting it slide, I pushed for clarification. “Like your brother?”

“Like my brother,” she agreed meekly, looking away and retracting her hand.

I used my hockey reflexes to catch her hand in mine. “Tell me about him,” I softly asked, so it sounded like a demand. Jo looked at me with sad eyes, as if still unsure. “I told you,” I implored, reminding her of our deal. I squeezed her hand, and she squirmed.

7 comments:

  1. Ok as I go...

    Once again with the showers?! SHOWERS?! Why is he always naked in the shower!? It always distracts me... lol

    Ah! So I knew she was going to call after her talk with Tubby, but I'm still super pumped that she did! YAY!!

    BAHAHAHAHA ohhh Tubby... he's not even saying anything and I still love him. I'm glad he didnt' scare Kris *too* much.

    “Well, I promise you, I won’t lay a hand on you.”
    ^^ If Kris Letang said that to me, I would be more than mildly disappointed... /sigh I know that sex isn't on his mind... but not gonna lie, *I'm* excited! haha

    /sigh I was gonna keep commenting but I got to the part of him talking about Luc and I started crying and complelty forgot.
    I felt like I was actually listening to the real Tanger talk about him, not just a story. It was so perfect and true... I loved it, even if I'm still bawling =P

    This update was fantastic, just like all the others. The more I read, the more I fall in love with this one... it's so different than anything else I've read on here... love!

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  2. Most stories you read are about romance and who can get laid first, but so far, this one has just been about serious, important, and life-changing things, which is why I think I've really enjoyed it so much. I'm sure there's a relationship bound to bud in the future, and that's fine, but it's nice to read something that's about things that matter.

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  3. Jay- this is fabulous...I look forward to each and every chapter.....It truly is unique, keep it up!!!!

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  4. Sigh, I don't even know what to say. So many good things come to mind but it all blurs into one thought which is: wow. I really, really love where this is going and how you are taking us on a side journey first and getting to know the characters better.

    Great chapter :)

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  5. I grabbed the bag of plain chips out of her hand. “But if I know I like plain, why bother trying the other kind, when I might not like it all? Then I’d just be mad I didn’t get the plain.”
    That just completely explained my life. You don't want to know how many times I'm the loser standing in line at the ice cream store debating whether getting chocolate or a different flavor, and always ending up getting chocolate because I don't want to not like it.

    There were so many other things I wanted to quote. And getting up late on a Sunday is late? Haha on the weekends that's early for me! Amazing as always, Jay.

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  6. I loved this update, and am as anxious to read what Jo has to say as I read what Kris said re: Luc in this chapter...yep, I'm with everyone else, awesome, awesome story!

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  7. Awa you know just how to pull on my heart strings! I love that Jo went out to lunch with Kris and I love that Kris opened up to her. I'm seeing some real progress here for these two (: Jay, your writing is absolutely fantastic. Love this story<3

    “There’s a deli I like to go to. Seat belt.”
    ^^And for some reason, this line just killed me lmao

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