Tuesday, January 26, 2010

30.) Words, Words, Words

Soundtrack Song - Hoobastank, The Reason

I know that I read somewhere that there’s some kind of physical, chemical reason that men fall asleep after sex. I’m not sure if I buy into that, but I didn’t mind lying in Kris’s tight embrace as he slept heavily next to me. Once we’d finished—or, rather, when I had finished with him—I had untied him, and we curled up together. Our skin was clammy and sweaty, and it wasn’t exactly comfortable as he exhaled hot breath on my neck, but I wouldn’t have changed positions for anything.

For twenty minutes, I tried to fall asleep, too. It’s not like I wasn’t tired; I definitely had gotten a workout. But I couldn’t sleep, so instead I lay beside him and listened to his rhythmic breathing and felt the steady rising and falling of his chest.

My stomach rumbled, and I checked the clock. It was six in the evening, and I was starving. For a split second, I thought about leaving. After all, I had spent the entire afternoon with him. However, I didn’t want to go. It would have been rude, of course, but I also had really missed him when he was out on the road. We shared this closeness that I just couldn’t define, and even though we had spoken on the phone while he was away, it wasn’t the same as being in the same vicinity as him.

I slowly and gently slid out of his arms, being careful not to disturb him. He looked so... angelic as he slept; that’s the only way I could think of to describe him. His hair fell onto his forehead, pushed to the side, and his lips were slightly parted. I dressed in Kris’s sweats and shirt, as just another way to be close to him. I smelled like him, and wearing his clothes was like having him near me at all times.

Then I headed into the kitchen. I opened the bag on the counter, looking to see what Kris had ordered for lunch and hoping that it would still be good after sitting on the counter all afternoon. I pulled out a container, noting that it was the same thing he had ordered that day when we went to the deli for lunch. That day we ate out and he told me about Luc and I told him about James. Talk about a creature of habit. I opened the bag of sour cream and onion chips and munched on one.

My phone beeped from the other room, so I found it in my jacket pocket and flipped it open. Two missed calls and a text message, all three from Tubby. I checked the message, which simply read: So?

I laughed and called him back. He picked up on the second ring. “What’s up, girl?”

“‘So’ what?”

“Your boy toy. He okay?”

“Yeah, he’s gonna be fine,” I told him, knowing that there still probably would be some difficult times ahead for him, as he was forced to sit out a few games.

“That’s good. I know you were worried.”

“Yeah, I was,” I told him, suddenly feeling a pair of arms wrap around my middle. I leaned back against Kris’s bare chest, rolling my shoulders and allowing him to envelop me. “But everything’s good now. I’ll talk to you later.” I quickly hung up the phone so I could feel his strong arms on me. “Up already, sleepyhead? I figured you’d be out for a while.”

“You wore me out,” he replied. I could hear the smile in his voice as he spoke into my ear. “I was wondering where you’d gone off to.”

“I got hungry. I guess I worked up an appetite.”

“I bet you did.” Kris cleared his throat, and it gave me reason to look up at him. “Listen, Jo, that was... great. I mean it—I don’t want you to think I didn’t like it. But I’m not usually like that.”

I giggled at his timidity and kissed the underside of his jaw, which was mildly scruffy with a five o’clock shadow. It was adorable, how shy he was about it now; he definitely wasn’t shy a few hours ago. “That was the point, Kris. I wanted you to let go of your sense of duty and responsibility, and just have a little bit of fun. Get a little wild. Don’t worry. If it makes you uncomfortable, we don’t have to do it again. Your way’s fun, too.”

He chuckled. “Well, I wouldn’t say never again.” He reached around me, grabbing a chip from the bag on the counter. “Who were you talking to?”

“Tubby,” I said nonchalantly. He grunted, and I looked back up at him, unsure what he meant by that. “Problem with that?”

“No.”

“Then what’s with the sudden attitude?”

“Well, you don’t want girls calling me. But your best friend is a guy.”

“Tubby and I are friends, Kris. You know that. You knew that from the start. And if this is because of what I said earlier, you have to understand where I’m coming from. Some girl I’ve never heard of calling you, when we were in the middle of something?”

“I remember telling you to ignore it. You’re the one who jumped to conclusions like you don’t trust me.”

I scowled and tried to pull out of Kris’s arms, but he held onto me. I couldn’t believe he was going to do this now. “If you’re just gonna be a jerk, then let go.”

“Stop it,” he replied, firmly but kindly. “I’m not trying to make you feel bad.”

I took advantage of knowing that he wasn’t at full strength and twisted until he couldn’t hold on with his bad arm. “Well, you’re either calling me jealous again, or you’re questioning my friendship with Tubby—and I don’t like that any better.”

Kris let go, but he placed his arms against the counter so I was still stuck in front of him, facing his direction. I didn’t immediately look him in the eyes. “If you say you’re just friends with him, then you’re just friends—”

That’s when my head snapped up and I glared at him. “I don’t like what you’re implying by saying it that way. Like you can’t take whatever I say to you at face value. Like I’m gonna lie to you.”

“That’s not what I meant! Stop trying to pick a fight here.”

“I’m not trying to pick a fight,” I barked, crossing my arms in front of me. “You’re the one who copped an attitude. You give one to me, and I’ll give it right back.”

“Jo, will you just stop it? I’m not, ugh, I didn’t mean anything by it. Except that it’s not fair for you to comment about who calls me.”

I pursed my lips and glanced over his shoulder. “I don’t care who calls you.”

Kris let out a deep breath and took a couple steps back. He wiped his hands over his face and then through his hair. “I don’t cheat on my girlfriends, Jo. I’m not talking to other girls, if that’s what you were worried about. You know, I thought we were ready for this. I guess I was wrong. But I thought that we could have a go at a real, honest relationship.”

“Honest? I’ve been honest from the start. You’re the one who’s calling into question my integrity. I don’t cheat, either. And Tubby and I have never been anything more than the closest, best of friends. Have I ever given you any reason to doubt anything I’ve said?”

“No. And I’m not questioning you.”

“Then what do you want me to do, huh? Because when I tell you I don’t like girls calling you, you get all mad because you think I don’t trust you. Then when I tell you I don’t give a fuck, you get all mad because you think I was a mistake. You can’t have it both ways, Kris.”

When he didn’t say anything back, I headed for his bedroom. I was pissed. Emotions had been running high ever since I showed up, so maybe I had overreacted. But Kris didn’t have the right to mock me and call me jealous if he was going to turn around and pull the same shit on me.

I didn’t think I was wrong. Okay, so being a bitch to Charlene without hearing the whole story was probably not the smartest thing to do, but Kris had never mentioned her. I had no problem with them staying in contact—they would always be bound together by Luc. As far as I was concerned, they needed each other, and I would never tell him they couldn’t talk to each other. And I didn’t not trust him; he was, as far as I was concerned, a stand-up kind of guy. Maybe it was because I had been so worried about losing him that I had dug my claws into him without being consciously aware of it. But I had no intentions of sharing him, especially after our rolls around in the sack.

I threw off his clothes and began searching for mine. “What are you doing?” he asked. I hadn’t even heard him follow me.

“Duh. What does it look like? I’m getting dressed.”

“You’re just going to leave?”

“You’re mad at me. I don’t have a reason to stay.”

I’m mad at you? You’re the one who’s leaving.”

“You don’t want me to go?”

“I don’t want you to leave here mad at me for some damn reason that I don’t even understand.”

“What do you want from me?” I stepped into my panties and spotted my bra on the edge of the bed. I reached for it, but Kris scooped it up and refused to hand it to me. “Come on.”

“I’m a faithful guy. And I don’t just pass around my phone number to girls. Didn’t you know that?” I vaguely recalled when he handed me his number. It seemed like eons ago, but he did seem reluctant to give his phone number out to me. I sighed. “So if someone’s calling me, if a girl’s calling me, it’s for a reason. Okay?”

“Okay,” I mumbled, knowing he was right. But I still didn’t like the idea of someone of the female persuasion calling him, for whatever reason.

“So no flipping out on me, okay?”

This time, I said it a little louder. “Okay.” Then I added my own two cents. “And you don’t get to give me shit about being friends with Tubby. He’s been with me through everything. He’s my best friend. If you can’t deal with my male friend, then you can’t deal with me. Got it?”

He nodded. “I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just trying to prove my point.”

“Good. Now, can I have my bra back?”

Kris smirked. “Are you sure you want to put it on? It looks uncomfortable.”

“Yeah. I should go,” I told him, smiling sadly. I wasn’t in the mood to stay. Nothing like getting your faults rubbed into your face to ruin the mood. Even though I know he didn’t mean to do it, it still hurt. I’m not a perfect person, but that doesn’t mean I like to be made aware of that.

“I thought you said you were hungry. Why don’t you stay and eat dinner with me?” I thought about it for a second, wanting to stay because I wanted to be around Kris, but also wanting to escape, too. I was ready to go home, wallow and throw myself a pity party for being such a jerk, and smoke a bowl to help myself forget about it. “Come on, Jo. Don’t stay mad. We talked about it, we figured it out. It’s over now.”

“Anger doesn’t just go away, Kris. You don’t wave a magic wand and things are back to how they were. I felt like you accused me of something, and even though I know you didn’t mean it, it doesn’t take away from the fact that it still fucking hurts.”

He stepped farther into the room. “What did you tell me? That you can’t change it, so don’t let it change you. You know I didn’t mean anything by it. I like you. I wouldn’t do that.” The back of his fingers brushed my cheek.

I whispered, “I know.” I closed my eyes. “And I don’t want to make you mad at me. I’m sorry.”

“I’m not mad. You’re kind of cute when you’re jealous.” I immediately pouted, and he laughed and pressed his lips against mine. He returned my bra. “Come on. Let’s just eat.”

Reluctantly, I dressed and followed him into the living room, where he’d placed two plates on the coffee table for us. We ate in silence and watched television. This certainly wasn’t I had in mind for my evening plans, but then again, today definitely didn’t go the way I thought it would.

I ate what I was hungry for, and Kris finished the rest. I leaned against the back of the couch, feeling tired and emotionally drained. He sighed and lay down, dropping his head up in my lap with his injured shoulder propped up against my stomach. Kris looked up at me and smiled, and I couldn’t stop my hand from reaching out to run my fingers through his hair. He sighed again and turned toward the television. Instead of paying attention to whatever show he was watching, I focused on the way his hair layered as I combed it and tried to block out any other thoughts.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

29.) A Little Tied Up

Soundtrack Song - The Donnas, Love You Til It Hurts

Consciousness came back to me slowly as I woke up next to the soft, warm body beside me. I didn’t bother to open my eyes, but I smiled as I remembered what had transpired. “Sorry I fell asleep.”

Jo giggled as I felt her reposition herself, so she was looking down at me. “Not a problem. I hope you’re well rested.”

I opened my eyes. “How long was I out?”

“About twenty minutes.”

“Yeah, I’m good,” I told her, reaching out to embrace her... but something held me back. I pulled again, feeling pressure around my wrists. Quickly looking at either side of my head, I saw my dress ties wrapped around my wrists, which were in turn tied to the bed frame. “What? Jo, what the hell?!”

She giggled again, pushing herself back on her knees. I noticed she was wearing my black Kas√ľal shirt. Jo must’ve gone through my closet. Of course she did; that’s how she found my ties. “That’ll teach you to fall asleep on me.”

“You’re joking, right?”

Biting her lip, she said, “Okay, listen. If you’re really weirded out by this, I’ll untie you. But I wanted to let you just lie back and relax and just enjoy yourself.”

“Do you think that I didn’t enjoy it?” I asked, trying to figure out what she was getting at as I struggled again. The flashbacks hit me; it had been a memorable afternoon with Jo, spent exploring her body and finding ways to make her cry her out. Once I had realized that she cared—or, rather, how much she cared—by wanting to be there and wanting to help me, it just felt natural to take the next step.

“Hmm, no, I know you enjoyed it.” Jo stopped teasing me. “That’s not what this is about. I think you get to be a little too preoccupied with worrying about everyone else, making sure the people around you are well and good before yourself. And I want you to forget about all that for a little while. I want you to just concentrate on feeling and living in the moment. I want you to relinquish control and let me take the reins, and trust me. I want you to let me make you feel good.” She cocked an eyebrow and watched me squirm. “So, what do you say?”

“I say....” I pulled again, this time testing the strength of the knots. They weren’t too tight, but they strong enough that there wasn’t any give. “Holy hell, Jo, how often have you done this?!” I shook my head. “No, wait, I don’t want to know.”

She chuckled again. “Actually, I’ve never done this before. Always wanted to try it, though. I guess being a Girl Scout came in handy.” She asked seriously, “They’re not too tight, are they? Are you okay with your shoulder?”

“No, I’m okay.” I looked at Jo again, and she had a tantalizing mix of lust and mischief in her eyes. I wanted to say yes, but I wasn’t sure that this would be a good idea. I could tell that she picked up on my uneasiness. I didn’t consider myself a prude, by any means, but this really wasn’t my cup of tea.

“Here’s the deal. You’re tied up, but you’re completely in charge. Whatever you want, you just let me know. And if you get uncomfortable, then tell me and I’ll stop.” She sidled up next to me, hooking a leg over mine, tracing shapes on my chest, and purring in my ear. “All I know is I’ve been waiting a really long time to do some particularly naughty things to your sexy, hot body. Do you want me to tell you, or would you rather have me show you?” Jo nibbled on my ear, and her hand trailed across my chest, tweaking one of my nipples. My body jerked in response. My breath shortened. “I think you want me to show you. All you have to do is say the word. Say yes.”

Her tongue followed the curve of my ear as her foot rubbed against my leg. I hissed my answer, “Yesss.”

Jo smiled devilishly. “Great. I’ll be right back.” She dashed off the bed and out of the room.

“Wait! Where are you going?” I questioned, pulling against my restraints. What had I just agreed to? I was starting to have second thoughts. Maybe this was a bad idea.

She stepped back in the room, suggestively sucking on an ice cube and walking toward me with a certain kind of swagger. Rejoining me on the bed, Jo leaned down and took the ice cube out of her mouth so she could kiss me. Her tongue was cold as it swirled in my warm mouth. As we kissed, I felt the freezing contact of the ice against my nipple, and I moaned. It was melting quickly, and the cool water slid down my chest.

“So far, so good?” she asked, trailing her cold mouth along my jaw.

I licked my lips, but my mouth was dry. “Yeah. Good.”

Jo took her time, swirling the melting ice cube around my chest and down to my stomach, her lips following the path of her hands. Her tongue dissected my abs, following the lines of my body and running over the goosebumps she was causing. At first, I felt weird, not being able to do anything in reciprocation. As she moved along, I forgot about that as I got caught up in the movement of her hands and lips. She kissed along my happy trail as she dragged the ice cube down my leg.

“Do you like this, Kris?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you want me to stop?”

“No,” I groaned, hating even the idea of that. “Don’t stop.”

“Do you want me to suck your hard cock?”

“Jo....” I started, not sure what to say. Usually I didn’t talk like this.

“That’s it. Tell me what you want,” she ordered, perched between my legs and making heated eye contact with me. “What do you want?”

“Suck it,” I told her gruffly, trying to reach down to guide her head and pretty little mouth where I wanted it, but I couldn’t.

She smirked and placed the tiny remnant of the ice cube in her mouth, guiding the cold ice down my dick as she took me in her mouth. I choked on my breath from the sudden, cold sensations. The eye contact was intense, and I eventually broke it to watch her mouth work. One hand collected her hair at the nape of her neck so I could see perfectly what she was doing, and her other hand cupped my balls. I struggled again against my bonds, wanting to somehow contribute as the last of the ice melted.

“Relax, Kristopher,” she advised, licking the length of my shaft from base to tip like a lollipop, and then using her hand to jack me off as she spoke again. “Don’t worry. I promise to take care of you.”

“Ugh. Fuck, Jo.” I could barely get the words out, wanting so badly to be inside of her.

“All you had to do was ask,” she laughed, moving until she was straddling me and reaching down to slide onto me. She was wearing my shirt but not her panties, and she was hovering over me, ready to end the foreplay.

I didn’t want to delay the moment, but I couldn’t ignore the practicality of what we were about to do. “Protection,” I muttered, pointing lamely to my nightstand.

She pouted. “I’m clean, you know.”

I nodded and then shook my head, not exactly offering any coherent rationale. After all, the blood was flowing in places other than my brain. “I’m sure. Just being safe.”

With a groan, she reached and leaned to grab a foil wrapper from the stand without leaving her spot. Jo ripped it open, slowly and teasingly rolling the condom down my erection. “Satisfied?”

“Not yet,” I quipped, raising my pelvis off the bed and trying to show her what I wanted her to do.

“Well, we’ll see about that,” she snorted, reaching back down and guiding my penis into her. I’m pretty sure my eyes rolled back into my head from the slick heat enveloping my dick as she eased herself onto it. I watched her eyes close and her teeth dig into her lip as she fully sat on my dick and then squeezed her muscles. I moaned loudly as she leaned onto my stomach and began to grind into me. It felt so good, and I couldn’t think or feel anything that didn’t have to do with Jo.

Her face was flush and her breathing was quick, and she was emitting those tiny, squeaky sounds that let me know she was enjoying it, too. I could see her hard nipples poking through the black fabric that was hiding her body from me. Once again forgetting I was anchored to the bed, I tried to reach out to strip her of the shirt.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, then leaning backward with her hands against my thighs. “Don’t you like this?”

“Take off your shirt,” I ordered.

Jo stopped her grinding as she crossed her arms and grabbed the hem of her shirt before she pulled upward and began to move on top of me again. Her breasts began to bounce, and my eyes followed them, up and down, up and down. “Is that better?”

“Damn, I want to touch you,” I growled ferally, thinking that the only way this could possibly get better was if I could feel her smooth skin. If I could amplify her quiet moans into impossibly loud shrieks. “Untie me.”

“Are you okay?” she questioned breathlessly, looking down at me with worry and casting aside her want to make sure I wasn’t in pain.

I knew that if I told her the truth, she wouldn’t release me. So I lied. “No.” Well, it was a partial lie. I’d be a lot better when I could move again.

“God, I’m sorry,” she apologized, leaning forward and grabbing the knot around my left wrist. Jo was poised such that her chest was right over my face, and I barely had to move in order to pull her pert nipple into my mouth and clamp down on it. “Oh, Kris,” she moaned and laughed. “You’re fine, aren’t you?”

“As soon as you let me go,” I mumbled around her skin. Then I thrust upward and drove myself into her, desperate to make her moan again.

“I wanted to please you,” she eked out between her sharp intakes of air.

“This does please me,” I explained. It made me hotter to hear her cry out. She reached down and threaded her fingers through my hair, holding my head in place as I sucked and flicked and nibbled.

“I’m so close. Oh, Kris.”

“Imagine what I can do if you untie me.” My phone rang and interrupted our moment. “Ignore it,” I told her.

“Who could be calling you now?” Jo let go and leaned over to the side of the bed and found it, picked it up, and read the caller ID. “Charlene?” She cocked and eyebrow at me, and she didn’t look happy. “Who’s Charlene, and why is she calling you while we’re having sex?”

I could see the wheels turning in her head, the mood ruined. “She’s just a friend,” I explained, not wanting to answer her and bring up Luc in the middle of our intimate moment.

Jo looked down at me like she didn’t believe me. She pressed the “accept call” button and pressed my phone to her ear as I shook my head and struggled to stop her, but my efforts were futile. “Hello?”

I could barely hear Charlene’s voice as I strained to listen. “Um, hi. I was trying to reach Kris, I guess maybe I dialed the wrong number....”

“No, this is Kris’s phone. He’s a little... tied up... at the moment,” she replied with attitude.

“Oh. Well, I just wanted to check to see how he was doing, you know, being injured and all. I guess I can call him later. Or can you just tell him that Charlene called?”

“Oh, I’ll pass along the message. But don’t worry, Charlene. I’m taking good care of him.” She began to move again, and I had to bite my lip to prevent any sounds from escaping.

I could hear the pause on the line, so I tried to diffuse the situation. “Jo, it’s not what you’re thinking—”

“This is Jo?”

I watched as Jo stopped, bit her lip, and looked down at me, appearing very confused. “Yeah. How do you know who I am?”

Charlene laughed. “Kris has told me all about you. It’s nice to finally get to meet you. Sort of.”

“Oh. Um,” she mumbled, turning red. I could see she was feeling embarrassed from assuming Charlene was just some random chick. “He hasn’t mentioned you.”

“It’s fine,” Charlene laughed again. “I wouldn’t have expected Kris to tell you about me. I was Luc’s girlfriend. I just like to keep in contact, and I wanted to make sure he’s okay. But I’m sure he’s in capable hands. Tell him I said ‘hi.’”

Jo looked down at the screen, still confused. When she finally spoke, she said, “Uh, Charlene says ‘hi.’”

I shook my head. Part of me wanted to be mad. “Jealous much?”

“I’m not jealous,” she replied, leaning back down and grabbing my hair. “I just don’t want other girls calling you when I’m on top of you. Or at all.”

“Yes, you were,” I teased her. I didn’t find jealousy an attractive quality, but I kind of liked that she wanted me all to herself.

“Shut up,” she ordered, placing my mouth where she wanted it so I wouldn’t be able to talk.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

28.) Patience is a Virtue

Soundtrack Song - The Donnas, What Do I Have to Do

The knock at the door couldn’t have come at a better time. As much as I enjoyed kissing Kris, I always reached a point where I had to stop before I wanted to do something else to him, like put my lips elsewhere and let my hands roam toward more sensitive areas. I could feel my body heat up, like I was suddenly contracting a fever, and I knew that we had to stop before pure lust took over my body like a pod person.

Kris let go, seemingly completely unaffected like I was. It really sucked; either he had the willpower of a saint or I lacked the steel will he had. As he walked to the door with his wallet, I let out a frustrated breath of air and wished I was one of those “good” girls that liked the idea of waiting. However, I most definitely was not.

Not only was I mad at him for not calling and letting me worry about him since Saturday’s game, but now I was sexually frustrated, too. As pissed as I was, I didn’t really want to leave either. The situation should have been simple, but it wasn’t. I was trapped by my attraction to him, which seemed to outweigh the mental aggravation he caused me. I knew that it was selfish of me to be so angry at him for not letting me know how he was, but I never claimed to be a good person. He was the one who was injured and in pain, yet I was the one making a fuss about being hurt.

It was such an utter relief to know that he was okay. I couldn’t stand the idea that he might have been seriously injured, that I would have to lose someone else that way. I couldn’t stand the idea of losing him. Mr. Sensitive, as I liked to call him, finally was showing his flaws. He got so caught up in his own feelings that, for once, he overlooked mine. I was still mad, but I couldn’t be too mad. He was human, after all, and plus, I was getting to see a side of him that he had previously hidden.

Figuring out why it bothered him so much was easy. When you lose someone close to you, everything somehow comes down to that. It’s like you carry their death around with you always, like a trinket in your pocket—you can forget about it temporarily, but you can never fully erase it from your memory.

Kris paid the delivery person and lugged the bag into his kitchen. “Are you hungry, Jo?”

“No,” I replied, deciding to join him in the other room. Not for food, anyway.

He fumbled with the knot in the bag, so I playfully hip-checked him out of the way so I could do it for him. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Go sit down. I’ll do it.”

He scowled again, looking just as cranky and miserable as he did when I had showed up. “I’m not handicapped. I don’t need you to take care of me like I’m suddenly an invalid.”

Why do people get such attitudes when you try to do something nice for them? Knowing that he was dealing with a variety of unpleasant emotions, I tried to keep my own in check to avoid making this situation worse. “You’re right. You’re fully capable of doing this yourself. But I want to help. I want you to let me take care of you. You know, crush your medicine and mix it with your applesauce. Wait on you hand and foot. Whatever you need.” When my joking didn’t lighten the mood, I turned serious. We were starting to flip our roles as I became the nurturing one. “I feel really helpless in this situation, and I just want to be able to do something for you. You’ve done so much for me.”

“Okay,” he finally assented. He wrapped an arm around my stomach and pulled my back against his front in an awkward hug. I relished in feeling the length of his body against mine, that is, until he pressed his lips against my neck. “Thank you.”

I tensed, trying not to react to his touches. Really, I don’t think Kris had any idea how much he affected me. “You’re welcome. Now go sit down,” I commanded. The fever was coming back, and I needed some distance to cool off again.

“You know what? I think I’ve lost my appetite,” he mumbled, and I could feel his lips move against my skin as he spoke. The contact—and the possible implications of his statement—made me shiver.

“Seriously, Kris, you need to stop.” My body betrayed me, arching against him slightly and tilting my head to the side to give his mouth better access to my neck. I didn’t want him to stop, but if he didn’t, I couldn’t be held accountable for my actions. My heart was pounding, my mind was racing, and I couldn’t catch my breath. I wanted him so bad. I hated that I always had to ask him to back off because I couldn’t handle it. Every time we were this close, this happened.

“Well, what if I told you that I didn’t want to stop this time?” Kris’s whispered words only served to fuel the fire. His hand moved across my stomach, and the thin fabric of my shirt didn’t do much to act as a buffer. “Jo?”

I turned slowly so I was facing him; he didn’t back away, so the lengths of our bodies were still touching when I could finally look up at his face and into his eyes. Was this it? Did Kris finally feel ready? And, more importantly, was I mentally prepared for this now, after being so upset at him?

The corner of his mouth curled upward, and his eyes sparkled. “I’ve never seen you speechless before.”

“If you’re not serious, then don’t tease me.” I put my hands on his sides, feeling through the material the body that I so badly wanted to touch and explore.

“No teasing. Jo, I want to make love to you.” I closed my eyes as he said that, almost in disbelief that I was hearing it. “Will you let me make love to you?”

I chuckled lightly, opening my eyes again. There was the sensitive, caring man I knew so well. “Not if you have to ask. You never... ever... have to ask me for permission.”

He laughed, too, before closing the distance between our mouths. His kisses were soft and sweet, just enough to entice me into wrapping my arms around his neck and wordlessly beg for him to follow through on his offer. After a few moments, he pulled back and grabbed my hand, guiding me toward the back of his apartment and into his bedroom. I felt giddy and anxious and... nervous. It didn’t just feel like our first time together; it felt like my first time ever.

When we were in the room, I wasn’t sure what to do. I mean, I knew what to do, and I knew what I wanted to do, but I was scared to make the first move. It was new to me, to be in this position and be so timid. Kris looked back at me, and we smiled at each other. “I wish this could be more romantic and less spur of the moment. Do you want me to put on some music?”

The mental image of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” playing in the background and rose petals spread across the bed was slightly hilarious to me. I shook my head. “No, this is good enough for me.” I bit my lip as I reached for the hem of his shirt, standing on my tiptoes as I tried to pull it over his head. He helped me, taking extra care with his shoulder. Once his shirt was off, I could see the angry, purple sign of his injury. Kris grimaced slightly as he discarded his top. I didn’t want to say it, afraid to make him angry and ruin the moment, but I asked, “Are you going to be okay for this?”

I didn’t expect him to smirk good-humoredly, but that’s what he did. “Are you telling me you want to wait?”

“I just don’t want to hurt you or make it worse.” Despite the bruise, he looked so good. His taut, defined muscles. The even, tan color of his skin. I wanted to run my tongue over every ridge and furrow of his abs. It would have been the right thing to do, to wait until he was in better condition, but I really, really didn’t want to wait. Like I said, I’m selfish.

“I’ll manage,” he promised, reaching for my shirt. I raised my hands over my head as he slowly removed it. I shook my head, letting my hair fall back down to my shoulders. Before I could use my turn to pull down his sweats, he reached out for the button of my jeans. With fingers moving so slowly, he threaded the button from its hole and tugged on the zipper, millimeter by painstaking millimeter. Then he grabbed the waist of my pants and carefully pulled so that only my jeans slid down my legs.

I stepped out of my pants as they fell down to my ankles, wishing that I had been more judicious when I had frantically selected my clothes. I had been in such a frenzied state because I wanted to see if he was okay so badly, that I hadn’t worried if my underwear matched. Kris, however, thankfully didn’t seem to notice or, at the very least, care that my panties were blue and striped and my bra was solid purple.

He kissed me again, still sweetly yet also more passionately. I ran my hands down his chest and past his waist, hooking my thumbs under the elastic band of his pants and pushing them down. I admired the way his thick, skater legs stemmed out from his boxers. With the removal of each piece of clothing, his body continued to impress me. I knew it—he—wouldn’t let me down.

As I reached for his boxers, he grabbed my wrists. “Not yet.”

Groaning, I complained, “I thought we were done with waiting? I’m ready now.”

Kris pulled me down to the bed with him so we were both sitting, and then he lowered me down so I was lying beneath him. The pressure of his hard, warm body was driving me wild, and I squirmed beneath him and rubbed every part of my body against his with a moan. “We’re not waiting. We’re just going slow, and we’re doing it right.”

“There’s no wrong way,” I teased him, still thinking that we were wearing too many articles of clothing.

Kris smirked again, obviously hearing my comment but ignoring it. He inserted a finger underneath my bra strap, slowly pulling it off my shoulder and kissing down my arm as he lowered it. I watched as he moved his mouth to my chest, kissing and licking along the edge of the cup of my bra, before finding my hardened nipple through the cotton fabric. I hissed and arched my back instinctively, no longer able to watch. I reached behind me and unhooked myself before I straightened my back and lay down again.

He took my hands in his, intertwining our fingers and pinning my hands back against the bed. “Hasn’t anyone ever told you that patience is a virtue?”

“Hasn’t anyone ever told you that life is too short to play games?”

“Hmm. You must have forgotten that I play games for a living.”

I couldn’t help myself—I had to laugh. Even in the midst of getting down, we were laughing. It was more than sex. He looked down at me, laughter in his eyes, and that’s when I knew that this is why he had insisted on waiting. He wanted to foster this connection and encourage it, like a green-thumbed gardener with a blossoming seedling. It’s why I was feeling so anxious, excited, and nervous. It meant something with Kris, versus how it had been with everyone else.

For whatever reason, that realization made me hotter for him. I squeezed his hands and leaned forward to kiss him. With our lips pressed together, he let go and finished the task of discarding my bra, then gently cupping my breasts and sliding down my body so he could once again put his mouth to better use. Even though his hair was shorter than what I would have preferred, it was still long enough for me to run my fingers through it and grab a fistful.

My whole entire body was humming with electricity and need, and I didn’t think I could possibly wait a moment more. It wasn’t just that I had been enjoying what he was doing; I had had weeks to envision and plan for this, and the anticipation had been the greatest turn on. I let out a whimper, thinking that I would surely explode if this didn’t happen soon.

When Kris peered down at me, he must have seen that pure desperation and mercifully decided to put me out of my misery. I lifted my hips and he grabbed my panties, dragging them down my legs and letting his fingertips caress my flesh all the while. I grabbed a pillow and situated it underneath myself before he stripped himself of his boxers and slid a condom down onto his hard dick. I made sure I was propped up enough so he wouldn’t have to lean forward and put any strain or pressure on his shoulder.

He held onto my hips with one hand as he guided his cock toward my entrance. I closed my eyes in sublime pleasure as I felt the head slide easily into me, but I forced myself to open them back up when he didn’t continue.

Kris slid back out and then reinserted, allowing himself to move in a little more. Then he repeated by pulling out and pushing slowly back in, once again a little further. He did that over and over until, at last, he was fully inside me and I finally felt complete.

“Are you okay?” he asked breathlessly, looking down at me with hooded, bedroom eyes.

“Never better,” I promised. No other man had bothered to ask me such a question mid-coitus; it was refreshing. If anyone else had done it, I probably would have laughed at him, but I liked that Kris had wanted to make sure I was enjoying it. “Are you okay?” I repeated, pushing my pelvis up against his.

He moaned and began to move inside of me. “Never better.”

Friday, January 22, 2010

27.) Sidelined

Just a little note: you guys are fucking awesome. I don't say it nearly enough, but your encouragement and comments absolutely mean the world to me. I say that with total sincerity; I read those comments every time I need a boost throughout my day, whether it be for motivation, inspiration, or just a smile when I need it. I love you all, and I hope you enjoy this post. I got the inspiration for it while sitting in the stands at yesterday's game against the Caps.

Soundtrack Song - Alicia Keys F. Ludacris, Like You'll Never See Me Again

My shoulder was killing me. The team doctor had given me something to take to help with the pain, but I didn’t want to take it. Taking any medicine would be like accepting that I was injured, and I didn’t want to believe it. Juvenile thinking? Perhaps—but I didn’t want to admit defeat.

Out for two weeks with a shoulder contusion. The same shoulder that had bothered me last season, especially during the Cup run. I wanted that rebound; I wanted to score that goal. I’d scored my first of the season against Anaheim, but then I’d been held off the score sheet in LA and the team had lost. I know my priority should always be defense first, but I was supposed to be an offensive D-man, and I needed to prove my worth to get re-signed. Pittsburgh’s an athlete’s dream, and I wanted to stay. And if I wanted to stay, then I needed to show them that I could help the team win.

But instead of scoring, I became a liability—and I was pissed about it. In the first period of the game against the Sharks, no less. I traveled to Boston with the team on Sunday morning because there wasn’t enough time to book a flight straight to Pittsburgh. It wasn’t fun for me, and it certainly wasn’t fun for the other guys that had to put up with me. After the plane touched down in Massachusetts, I headed straight for Pennsylvania.

I should have been happy that the MRI and X-ray were good. I should have been happy that it wasn’t a worse injury that would keep me out for longer. But I wasn’t; I was miserable. I was prescribed anti-inflammatories and rest, neither of which were going to ease my mind. I blockaded myself in my apartment with no intention of leaving until I could at least hit the gym.

Injuries are a player’s worst nightmare. They suck; first of all, you’re in pain. Not a pleasant experience. Second, you’re sequestered from the team like you’ve got the plague or swine flu. We’re all friends, so it’s not like we don’t or wouldn’t stay in contact, but I’m supposed to be resting, which means no work outs, no practices, no hanging out in the locker room. That twenty-four seven camaraderie is missing. Then there are all the thoughts about who’s going to come in and replace you. Will they play better than me? Will I have to try extra hard to regain my spot? With all those thoughts in my mind, no wonder I didn’t want to be around other people. It's as much a mental thing as it is a physical thing.

I opted to order lunch and have it delivered so I wouldn’t have to change out of my sweats or leave my apartment. There was no reason for me to leave, and I had no motivation to go anywhere anyway. Maybe it was mopey and lame to want to sit around and do nothing—but hell, I was told to rest, and that's what I was doing. At around one, I heard my buzzer go off, signaling someone at the main door was requesting entrance. Figuring it was my food, I buzzed the delivery person in, grabbed my wallet, and opened the main door.

“This should cover it,” I said, holding out a twenty. When he didn’t take the money and I didn’t get a response, I looked up and my heart fell. It wasn’t the delivery person from the deli; it was Jo, red-eyed and visibly upset. “Jo, what’s wrong?”

We hadn’t spoken in a few days. Since the team was on the west coast, playing the California teams this week, we should have been able to talk more often than what we did. The time difference matched well with her work schedule and crazy sleep routine. However, talking on the phone was difficult for us. We could discuss the mundane and the trivial things, but heavier subjects are best left to face-to-face conversations. Plus, Jo had seemed a little more subdued from stress since her birthday. I knew it had to do with the overwhelming worry from restarting her life and getting out of the rut she had been, but that only increased the impossibility of talking about those types of topics while I was on the road.

So I hadn't expected Jo to just show up unannounced, and especially not in her current condition. This kind of emotional display was not typical for her. Jo opened up to me when I asked her questions, and she was always honest—in fact, brutally so. She was not the type of girl to hold anything back, even though she never offered her opinions unsolicited. Jo wore her heart on her sleeve more than any other person I ever knew; she couldn't hide her emotions if she tried. However, she did often try. Today was not on par with that. She was upset, and she wasn't bothering with trying to conceal it.

“What the fuck, Kris? You couldn’t call? You couldn’t call to tell me you were okay?”

I stood there silently, trying to figure out what in the world was going on. This was why she was upset? “Of course I’m okay. I’m fine. It’s just a deep bruise,” I told her, wondering what the big deal was. I obviously wasn’t seriously injured.

“I was working. I didn’t know what happened—I had to hear about it from Tubby. Fucking Tubby, Kris, who refuses to watch hockey and had no idea what happened. So all I knew was you left the game with an undisclosed injury.”

It wasn’t easy to keep my patience, talking about something I wanted to forget about. “I just fell on my shoulder funny. I’m out for a couple weeks, but honestly, Jo, I’m fine.”

“I didn’t know that. All these hits, Kris, like the ones on Tucker and Booth. So many players are getting sent to hospitals on stretchers.... And I didn’t know how you were. I thought you’d call to tell me you were okay. I thought you knew I’d be worried about you.” That’s when the fresh tears started as she futilely tried to blink them away. “Why didn’t you let me know?”

That’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks—I’d been so caught up in my misery over my fresh injury that I never thought about how anyone else would feel about it. Least of all Jo, which was a great disservice to her, because of course she’d be worried if I had gotten hurt. She’d gone through that with her brother, learning after the fact how a seemingly innocent hockey hit had quickly turned devastating when James got sent careening head-first into the boards.

“I’m sorry, Jo. I didn’t even think about it, what with James—”

“Forget about James!” she cried. “I was worried about you! No call, no message, nothing. No word at all. I thought you said you cared, Kris. You should have at least let me know you were okay. I was expecting the worst.”

At that point, Jo completely stopped trying to hold back her tears, and the only thing I could do was reach out with my good arm and wrap it around her as her body shook. “Why don't you come inside?” I sighed, opening the door more and guiding her into my apartment from the publicness of the hallway.

“No. I’m so mad at you. So mad. I don’t even want to be here. I just had to check you out for myself, in person, to make sure you were okay. You can go fuck off now, for all I care.”

“You don’t mean that,” I mumbled, closing the door behind us. I felt bad for Jo, that she was so upset, but I wasn’t in the mood to handle her emotions because I was so caught up in my own.

She shrugged out of my hold, spinning on her heel and glaring at me with daggers in her eyes. “Yes, I fucking do. You can’t just ignore me, especially during the times when I need to hear from you. You probably talked to your mom, right?”

I nodded, knowing that I talked to my mom, Charlene, and Luc’s mother, too. But they had all contacted me first, and I had called them mostly to get them off my back. Injuries are frustrating, and I didn’t want to deal with anyone. “Yeah, but she called me. I don’t remember hearing from you.”

“Don’t you dare,” she spat out at me, her words dripping with venom. “I’m not the one who got hurt. It wasn’t my fault. You should have been more careful!”

“It was an accident. It’s not like I tried to get hurt,” I groaned. I couldn’t believe Jo was making me have this conversation.

“Of course you didn’t try. No one ever tries. But you did. And you need to realize that if you get hurt, you’re not the only one who has to deal with the pain. I can’t even believe you didn’t even think about how I felt.”

“It’s not that I didn’t think of you specifically, Jo. I really didn’t want to see anyone. I don't want to see anyone, okay?”

“Well, guess what, mister? You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to waltz into my life and then decide that you want to wall off just because you feel like it.”

“You wouldn't understand,” I grumbled, plopping onto the couch and grabbing the remote to flip through the channels.

“No. Don't you do this, damn it!” She stood in between me and the TV, blocking my ability to focus on something other than her. “Don't insult me by telling me what I would or would not understand. I'm pretty fucking smart, remember?”

“This doesn't have anything to do with that. It's a hockey thing. You just wouldn't get it.”

Jo knelt on the couch cushion beside me, so she was looking down at me. It made me feel like I was a child being scolded. “I might not've played, Kris, but I know a thing or two about hockey.” I didn't answer her, but I didn't try to ignore her again either. She lowered her volume and cooed, “Come on, Kris. Don't shut me out here. I was really, really worried.”

“I appreciate the fact that you wanted to make sure I'm doing all right. I'm fine, and now I just want to be alone. It's not about you. Don't take it personally.”

“How can I not? How can I not take this personally? Of course I'm taking this personally. You're acting like an ass.”

“Name-calling. Nice,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“I didn't say you were an ass. I said you're acting like one. But you're right, this isn't your fault—it's mine. I should have known better than to talk to you. I should have gone with my instincts and blown you off and never called. I should've never allowed you to be in a position to do this to me. And this is exactly why. It's funny, though, because I never took you to be a douche bag.”

“I'm not. Stop trying to make me feel bad, okay? I feel bad enough as it is, and I don't need you to make it worse.”

“I'm not trying to make you feel worse. I'm supposed to be able to make you feel better. I can't do that if you won't talk to me, so please just talk to me. I let you in. I told you things. Now let me do the same for you—let me help you.” She reached over and tousled a section of my hair. The feeling of the pads of her fingers and her nails as they brushed against my scalp was soothing. “Kristopher.”

I let out a breath. “I hate being injured. I hate that someone is going to come up and take up my spot on the roster. I hate that I can't play.” I turned my head and looked at her. “I have to play, Jo. I don't know what to do with myself until I can play again.”

“What do you mean by 'you don't know what to do with yourself'? The world doesn't stop just because you can't play. There's plenty for you to do.”

“I told you you wouldn't get it,” I sighed, once again focusing on the television.

“Don't underestimate me. I get it,” she assured me, removing her hand from my hair and placing it on my far cheek and then turning my face so I was looking at her again. “This is about Luc. You play every game for him, because he isn't able to. And if you can't play for Luc....” She paused. “You've lost who you are in trying to dedicate yourself to his memory. It's not just about playing for him, Kris. Everyday you live is a day you live for him.”

I looked at Jo, who was looking back at me with sad hope in her eyes. She knew it all, without me having to tell her. It's like she read my mind. More than that, it's like she knew my heart. Somehow, she saw through me completely, but it didn't make me sad or make me feel vulnerable. It made me feel a little less alone, which was weird, because I never before felt lonely.

She continued, “Luc wasn't your friend just 'cause you played hockey. He was your friend because you're a good person. You're selling yourself short by thinking it's just about the game. It's about life. Don't just live for Luc, Kris. Live for yourself, too.”

I looked at Jo, trying to figure out my next move. She was partially right, because Luc had a great influence on the person I had turned into. I played for him, and I tried to live my life in a way that wouldn’t make up for his death, but would make me feel like it wouldn’t have been totally in vain. I learned from him and shaped my life around those lessons. But it didn’t mean that I did everything for him. I was still my own person. I played hockey because I liked it, too. I did what I thought was right by my own moral code.

Jo interpreted my silence as sadness rather than contemplation. “Come on. Let’s go do something to get your mind off this.”

“I don’t feel like going anywhere,” I told her.

“Don’t let this get you too down. You can be upset that it happened, but you can’t change it so don’t let it change you. Why don’t we go for a walk or go see a movie, hmm?”

“No, I don’t want to do that.” I reached up with my good arm, placing my hand at the back of her neck. “I want to stay in.” Applying a little bit of pressure and pulling her toward me, Jo obliged and leaned forward to kiss me. It didn’t fix anything, having her here with me, but it made me feel a little bit better.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

26.) One-Way Conversation

Soundtrack Song - Coldplay, Let's Talk

I closed the door and shook my head. What had I done? I love Kris's hair. Or, I loved Kris's hair, because Kris's hair was no more. Ruined. I had ruined it. I hadn't meant to change him. I didn't want to leave that kind of lasting impression, but it was too late—he had to get his hair cut now to fix what I had done.

“You didn't have to kick your boy toy out on account of me,” Tubby called from the other room. “If y’all wanted to do the nasty, I could have come back in a few hours. I’ll never begrudge a friend birthday sex.”

“Don't call him that,” I mumbled, taking my place back on the couch and ignoring the rest of his comment.

“What, does that bother you?” He turned to look at me, noting the scowl on my face. “Holy shit. You’re kidding, right?”

“Shut up, Tubby,” I growled, crossing my arms over my chest.

“No. No way. I don’t believe it. You guys haven’t had sex yet?”

“I said, shut up, Tubby.”

“How have you not fucked him by now? Unless his dick doesn’t work. If that’s the case, then I feel sorry for you.”

“Seriously. Stop it,” I barked at him.

“Ouch. I see I’ve hit a nerve.”

I sighed and rolled my eyes. I really didn’t want to have this discussion with him, because it was still a sore subject with me. “We agreed to wait.”

“We? Do you mean ‘we’ as in you and Kris, or ‘we’ as in just Kris?”

Now I was really annoyed—mostly at the fact that Tubby didn’t just know me so well, but it was like he could read my mind. I ground my teeth together. “Does it matter? Does it make a difference who decided what?”

“It does if you’re not happy about it,” he replied softly, slowly completing his one-eighty degree turn. He had stopped teasing me and now was trying to help.

I shrugged. “Well, I mean, I’d rather wait and make him happy, I guess, rather than pressure him into something he’s not comfortable with. I want him to want to, not just want to appease me. Make sense?”

He nodded, a Cheshire grin across his face. “Aw, Jo.... You really do like him! It’s like my little girl’s all grown up.” He pretended to wipe a tear from his cheek.

“Bite me,” I laughed, standing up and stretching. I definitely hadn’t slept well last night; Kris’s magic hands had helped lulled me into a superficial slumber, but I had woken up and then sidled up to him. It wasn’t the same as sex, but it was as good as I was gonna get until Kris decided we were “ready,” or whatever it was we were waiting for. Long story short, I was achy from sharing a couch with him.

“I mean it. Willing to put yourself second, just ‘cause you want him to be happy. That’s mature, Jo.”

I didn’t bother to respond; he did have a point, though. Under no circumstances would I ever make excuses for myself—I knew that I was selfish. I had relied heavily on Tubby as my best friend, especially over the past year while he took a couple semesters off, and I had taken advantage of him and his benevolence. If anyone deserved my selflessness, it should have been Tubby, not Kris. “I’m sorry for everything I put you through, Tubs. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to make it up to you.”

He shrugged, stretching his arms across the back of the couch. “What are friends for?”

His quick dismissal tugged on my heartstrings as he just chalked it up to the typical duties of friends. People like Tubs don’t come around often in someone’s lifetime, and friends like that are one in a million.

I changed into fresh, clean clothes and told him where I was going and what I was doing. “Do you want me to go with you?” he asked.

“No. I really want to do this alone.”

“What do you want me to do? Wait for you? Come back?”

“Whatever. I don’t know how long I’ll be,” I told him with a yawn. “How about I just call you later?”

“Are you sure?”

I nodded, and we left the house together and departed in opposite directions. The sky was gray, matching my mood and also promising a rainy afternoon. I backed my car out of the garage. A sweet sixteen present for both James and me, this car was my winter and rainy-day mode of transportation. I knew these roads well.

I've found that there are several types of cemetery-goers. First, there are those that stop by only on the major holidays and anniversaries, i.e. Christmas, birthdays, and deathdays. And then there are those that show up religiously, every week, rain or shine. Of course, then there are the people that never show up.

I don't fit into any of those categories. I never come to visit out of a sense of obligation, nor out of habit. No, I come to visit whenever I want to. Whenever I need to. Our birthdays just happen to be one of those times that I need to come see him.

And I don't bring flowers with me, because I think that's useless and dumb. I mean, what good are flowers? After a while, they'll just wilt and die and decompose. Why bring a dead person something pretty and alive? It's like rubbing it in his face, metaphorically of course. And then, just to have those flowers die, well, wouldn't that just be a bitter reminder for him?

I don't bring trinkets or presents with me, either. They'd be of no use to him anyway. It's like an offering to an altar, and I know that it's symbolic more than anything, but it just feels... pointless to me. That's why I always just bring myself, sit, and spend time with him. Besides, that's all he'd want from me—just my time.

A lot of the weekly visitors show up on Sundays, so the place was pretty jumping, for a cemetery. A few of them gave me funny looks as I walked up to James's headstone and sat in front of it, resting my back against the inscription. I stretched my legs out and crossed them at the ankles as I dug my hands into the pocket of my leather jacket and pulled it closed around my body.

“Hey,” I said aloud, fully cognizant that I was talking to someone who would never answer me. As a science-minded individual, I knew that talking to James was a little crazy, but it made me feel better. “Happy birthday, Big Bro.”

My hand skimmed the manicured grass on my right before grabbing the blades and ripping them from the earth. I raised my hand and released, watching the grass float away in the wind. “I hope you don't mind that I skip the pleasantries and get right down to business. I really miss you. I mean, I always miss you, but especially right now. I don't know what I'm doing, and I could really use your guidance.

“I'm going back to school. I'm calling tomorrow, to see if I can go back in the spring or if I have to wait til next fall. I'm gonna try, at least. I don't know if I can do it. These were supposed to be things we were going to do together. Go to college, work toward our dreams. I know we weren't even going to the same school, but we were supposed to go through it together.”

Identical twins share a connection with each other, somehow. Fraternal twins, not so much—but James and I were inseparable. I sometimes hear people describe their heartache after losing a loved one as being like a piece of them is missing; for me, James wasn't a missing piece. When he died, it was like half of me died. Like the entire left side of my body had gone numb and stopped working. In comparison, a mere hole in my heart would be welcome.

We had both had trepidations and wary fears about how he was going up to New Hampshire for four years. After all, we'd never really been apart from each other. We were twins, brother and sister, and we'd had practically the same class schedule up until our senior year. We'd roomed together until our mother deemed that it was no longer socially acceptable for a boy and a girl to share a bedroom anymore. But we knew that we had reached a fork in the road, and we had to go our separate ways on two parallel tracks in order to realize our potential. He had to go play college hockey, and I had to go to a university with a good science department.

It wasn't going to be easy, but it's not like I wasn't going to be able to talk to him or see him on holidays and breaks. I never not wanted him to go. I'd rather he be halfway across the globe and reachable by phone or E-mail than to be so close and silent.

“I don't know how I'm supposed to do it without you. Without you telling me that I can do it. I know that I can but it's not the same if you're not there to share it with. Because we were supposed to share our successes, and now you don't have anything to share with me. I guess that whatever I accomplish is gonna have to be good enough for the both of us.”

I smiled to myself. “Does that mean that I have to achieve twice as much, to compensate for you? That sounds like a lot of pressure. And you know that I don't do so well under pressure. You always were the one who had their head screwed on straight. For the most part, anyway.

“Maybe it'll be easier, though, to be back in class in a school where no one will know me. Because then they won't know about you, either. And it's not that I don't love you, James, because I do. But it's hard to live when you're defined by someone's death. Everyone here, it's like all they know me as is Joanna, Jimmy's sister. Poor Joanna, the girl who lost her brother and hasn't been the same ever since.”

A few more people walked by, and I kept quiet as they passed. I didn't want them to think I was nuts. “Twenty. Can you believe it? I can’t. I still remember when we were ten, and we wondered about where we would be in another ten years.” I sighed. “Never in a gajillion years would I have expected this. Me, sitting here. You, six feet underneath me.

“I really do wish you were here. And not just because I need you or miss you or wish things hadn’t changed. I would like to know what you’d be doing now. So much potential. I wish I could see the man you’d become. Would you have a girlfriend, or would you still be breaking hearts? Would you have picked a major by now, or would you be flitting through classes without really caring? I know you just wanted to play hockey, but you would have succeeded in anything you chose.”

For a few moments, I didn’t say anything else; just like I didn’t want to tell Tubby, I didn’t want to tell James either. The ridiculousness of the situation wasn’t lost on me. After all, he was dead—I didn’t have to come here to talk to him and I didn’t have to talk about anything I didn’t want to. He wasn’t a live person that required a back-and-forth conversation.... But despite my hesitance, I strangely felt like I had to tell him.

“And James? I met a boy.” I pulled my knees up to my chest and chuckled softly. “I think you’d like him. I mean, I know you’d like him, because he’s a Penguin. And he’s not like a typical jock. I know how much you hated the idea of when I’d come out to party with the team because of how the guys would act. But he’s different. He’s not unlike you, but in a non-creepy, non-incestuous kind of way. Maybe I’ll introduce you at some point. Bring him here, I mean.

“Ugh, I know it sounds like I’m crazy. I can't really introduce you guys, just like I can't really talk to you. I'm fucking insane. See, I'm just confused and so unsure, and I just want someone to honestly listen. Like, Tubby's trying to move on to bigger and better things. I can't keep him here any longer, and it was unfair of me to even let him come back from Philly. I should have been able to hold myself together and not demand that he return. I mean, I never asked him to, verbally, but he felt that I needed him to, and that was all my fault. So he's going back, and I need to make sure that I'm okay with that so he can be the person he's going to be. I can't hold him back any longer.

“And there's Kris, and he says that he wants to help and that he cares. It's not that I don't believe him, because I do, for some odd reason that I can't quite explain.... I mean, in the scheme of things, we've barely had time to get to know each other, but I just feel like I know him, ya know? Kindred spirits, or something of the like. It's like I've known him forever.

“He gets it in a way that Tubby can't, because he's been there. He's been here, he knows what it's like. But then again, he doesn't quite get it either, because he didn't know you. He wasn't there to see what it was like, after you died. How hard it is to try and do what you've always encouraged me to do, without you here to share it with. I mean, I guess I know, deep down, that you wouldn't want me to give up just because you aren't here, but it's not the same. It holds a different appeal.”

I sighed again. “I just wish that I knew I was doing the right thing. I wish you could give me some sort of sign, anything, to let me know that I'm at least pointed in the right direction.” Looking up, I waited, hoping for some miraculous indication that James approved. It was stupid; it was crazy to think that he could just make something happen, but I wanted—no, needed—a sign so badly to know that I was on track. Like he was finally going to hold up his end of the conversation, but there was nothing. No change. I stood up and dusted off my ass. “This is what they mean by 'faith,' right? Having to know in your heart, without any external proof?

“But you know me, James. You know me. I don't believe in things I can't see or touch or feel. If this is some kind of test, I'm going to fail.” For the first time, I felt the stinging sensation of tears pooling in my eyes, so I pinched them shut and hoped with all my heart. “Please please please, give me something to go off of?”

When I opened my eyes, everything looked the same. I kicked myself for thinking something would actually happen or that James could even manifest a sign for me. “Okay. I'm losing it. Bye, James. I'll come back soon, I promise.” I ran my fingers along the cool marble and headed for home, racing the storm clouds before they let out a flood of rain.

Monday, January 18, 2010

25.) Connection First

I woke up at some point in the middle of night, finding myself alone in a strange bed. It took me a second to realize where I was—which was a little freaky. Not like I usually wake up and don’t remember where I am; I wasn’t like the other guys that went home with a different girl every night.

It was a deep sleep that I had been in, so the night and my new surroundings came back to me slowly. It probably would have been easier if Jo had been beside me in bed, but she was nowhere to be found. I pushed away the sheet that was tangled around me and decided to look around her.

Jo was down in the living room, sitting on the floor with her back resting against the couch. The TV was on, casting the only light in the room, although the volume was turned down to the point where it was barely audible. There were pictures and photo albums spread out around her on the floor and on the coffee table and a pair of scissors in her hand. Also, a half-full beer bottle beside her.

“Whatcha doing?” I asked, joining her.

She glanced up at me with tired eyes and gave me a meek smile before focusing back on the assortment of images all around her and chewing on her bubble gum. “Couldn’t sleep, so I decided to find a picture for my new locket.”

“How’s that going?” I sat on the couch so I was catty-corner to her position.

Leaning her back against the couch cushion, she looked back up at me and said, “Not so good, actually. It’s tough trying to find a picture of his head that’s small enough to fit the size of the locket.”

“Oh,” I replied, feeling disappointed that this wasn’t an easier ordeal. I wanted it to be a happy process of finding a picture that would evoke a positive memory, so she could keep it with her always.

“It’s just that all these pictures are, like, portraits or him with another person. I need something of him far away.”

“What about in a big group of people? Like a team photo?”

Jo’s eyes lit up. “Kris, you’re a genius!” She pushed off the floor and grabbed a year book off the bookcase, flipping through the glossy pages until she found the sports section and the picture of the varsity hockey team. “This is perfect.”

“Do you want to cut that up? Don’t you want to save it?” I hated to think that she was going to mar that book, a collection of memories, when she could get a copy of the picture and leave the original whole.

“It doesn’t matter to me. Pictures are nothing more than images on paper. They’re not real memories. It’s only symbolic, and I’d rather have it with me than in a book I never look at.”

I nodded, not totally understanding but trying to pretend like I did. Memories fade; photographs don’t. They immortalize a moment in time, and while I know that pictures of an individual never compensate for their absence, it’s nice to be able to look at them and remember all the good times.

Once his picture was cut out and safely tucked away in the locket, she picked up her bottle and joined me on the couch. Jo sat beside me but at the other end of the couch, leaving plenty of space between us. “I turned the noise down. I didn’t want to disturb you. You fell asleep so fast that I figured you musta been real tired.”

“No, you didn’t wake me. I just... woke up, for some reason. What about you? I thought you were tired.”

“I was tired. I am tired. But I couldn’t fall sleep. When I’m thinking about stuff, I can’t sleep.” She played with the necklace, twisting the chain around her fingers and looking toward the television, although I could tell she wasn’t watching it. She pulled her legs up so her feet were on the couch, further creating distance between us by putting up a physical barrier.

“Like what kinda stuff?”

Jo shrugged. “You know,” she said curtly, not bothering to look at me.

“Are you mad at me, Jo?” She shrugged again, and then I know. “You’re still mad about what happened? I thought I explained it to you—”

“Yeah, you explained. I get it. I mean, I kind of do. It still doesn’t make sense to me, but you want to wait, so I agreed. It’s just, like, it’s a tough day for me. And add you on top of it, and I just wish I could sleep the whole day, but I can’t.” She took a sip from her bottle. “And plus, my side hurts.”

“Did you try taking any pain medication? That would help a lot better than that,” I told her, nodding at the beer in her hand.

“Don’t patronize me, okay? I’m just hoping it can help me sleep. I’m not trying to get drunk. I’m not trying to drink myself into a stupor, so save your fucking speech for someone who needs it.”

I wanted to roll my eyes, but I knew that wouldn’t help. She was angry, I think both at me and the world in general, and that’s how she wanted to deal with it. “I only say it because I care about you.”

“Yeah, yeah,” she sighed, tilting the bottle against her lips again. “So much so that you’re afraid to show me.”

I put my face in my hands. Why must she always make things so difficult? I did care about her; she knew that. She reminded me so much of Luc, when she wasn’t being bellicose, in the way she could let go and have fun no matter the circumstances. She was carefree and easy-going and generally just a joy to be around. She was a breath of fresh air.

But she was stubborn, also. I don’t know if Jo didn’t know how much it pained me to her talk like that. It was one of the reasons that I wanted to wait—I wanted things to be good between us. I needed to know that she cared about me, too. Not just wanted to be with me, but needed to be with me because of who I was and what I meant to her. And right now, I didn’t know what I meant to her at all. For all I knew, and if the boys were right, she just thought I was hot. Which was nice to know, but counterproductive.

So, I was feeling frustrated. I realize that I had kind of pushed and inserted my way into her life by offering her help when she never even asked for it in the first place, and that this was a very awkward way to begin a friendship and a relationship with someone. I understood all that, but I also thought that maybe she knew I did it because I liked her and wanted more for her than what she was giving herself. Because I had come to care for her in, and I wanted her to reciprocate those same feelings.

It wasn’t that I thought we needed to wait until we were in love. I wasn’t that old fashioned. But I wanted it to be more than just sex. I knew that the chances of me finding a love like what Luc had with Charlene were slim to none, and that’s not even what I was expecting, but I did want something that could potentially make me feel that way. I wanted a connection first; I was connected to Jo, but I didn’t know if she was connected to me.

I asked, “So, are you going to sit over there and ignore me? Is that how you’re going to deal with this?”

“I’m not ignoring you. I’m just trying to relax so I can go to sleep.”

“And that’s why you won’t even look at me?”

Jo dragged her eyes away from the TV screen. She exhaled and then slouched against the arm of the couch, stretching her legs out until her feet were in my lap. It was her way of reaching out. I took one of them into my hands and began to rub them. “Please stop trying to make me feel bad.”

“I’m not trying to make you feel bad.”

“You might not mean to, but you are,” she moaned as she leaned her head back and closed her eyes. “That feels really good.”

I chuckled and moved on to her other foot. “I thought you said I was making you feel bad?”

She licked her lips. “Shut up, you know what I mean. I told you that I would agree to wait, but that doesn't mean I still can't be upset about it. And it's certainly not helping that you're giving me an amazing foot massage.”

Tracing the arch of her foot from heel to toe with my thumbs, I said, “So I'm not even allowed to touch you now?”

“Stop twisting my words around. You know that's not what I meant. I'm saying you're not helping when I know what those hands are capable of,” she frankly replied. She sat up, still leaving her feet in my lap. “I thought you got it, Kris. The way I can say whatever's on my mind, uncensored—and everything I told you. Not everyone knows that stuff about me. Hardly anyone does. I thought you knew that.”

“I do.” I continued to rub, decreasing the amount of pressure until it tickled her and she squirmed and squealed. Then I went back to massaging them as she lay back down with a moan. “I do.”

“You know that that’s a real big deal, right?”

I thought about what she said. I knew that it was a big deal for her to talk about it, because I could tell how shut off she was when we first met. However, I did not equate opening up to me the same as caring about me. My being there for her was a sign of how I felt; I still needed a sign from her to know that I was more than just an ear to her worries and a shoulder to lean on. “Yeah. I know.”

I waited for Jo to say something else, add to her argument somehow, but she didn’t. When I turned to look at her, I saw that she was sleeping. Knowing that she had been struggling to fall asleep, I decided against trying to scoop her up and take her up the stairs to her bed. I didn’t want to run the risk of disturbing and rousing her, because she might not be able to fall asleep again. I also thought about getting up and leaving her to sleep in peace, but I decided against that, too. So instead, I rested my head against the back of the couch and stayed there.

In the morning, I was woken up to a deafening scream in my ear. My reaction was to jump up and leap into action, but I ended up falling off the couch with a groan before I could realize that Jo and I had been lying down together, side-by-side, on the couch. Two sounds then overwhelmed me: first, a deep, rumbling laughter and second, Jo asking, “Oh my God, Kris, are you okay?”

“Yeah, ‘m okay,” I mumbled and slurred, still coming out of my deep sleep state. “What’s going on?”

“Sorry, man,” came that deep voice again. “Didn’t mean to startle y’all.”

“Tubby let himself in and scared the crap out of me. I thought someone was breaking in and gonna murder us.”

“How come whenever a white chick sees a black man, she automatically assumes he’s gonna kill ‘er?”

“It ain’t got nothin’ to do with being black. It has everything to do with you showing up unannounced and not even bothering to knock,” Jo laughed. I looked at the two of them as they bantered back and forth, and finally she made the introduction. “Oh. Yeah. You two don’t know each other. Tubs, this is Kristopher Letang. Kris, this is Preston Montgomery the third. Known on the street as Tubby, so it makes him seem like a hard ass. But don’t worry, he’s relatively harmless.”

I pushed off the floor and reached out to shake his hand. So this was Tubby, Jo’s friend. He was sizing me up—I could tell. “How you doin’, man?”

“All right,” I replied, trying to equal the strength as we shook. “You?”

He didn’t verbally answer; instead, he just nodded his head before he changed the subject. “So, I’m assuming I didn’t interrupt anything if you guys were sleeping?”

That’s when I realized that I was still shirtless and Jo was without pants. “Uh. I’m gonna go get dressed,” I muttered, feeling embarrassed. I thumbed toward the stairs. “Do you want me to bring you anything, Jo?”

“No. I don’t care,” she chuckled, settling back in on the couch and pulling her shirt down over her knees. “Nothing Tubby hasn’t seen before.”

I wasn’t sure how to take that, so I just left and headed for her bedroom to grab my shoes and shirt. They were just friends, right? I’m sure it was strictly platonic. She told me that she liked me, that she wanted to be with me, so I didn’t have anything to worry about. But then what did she mean by that?

Tubby was sitting on the couch with Jo when I walked back into the living room, not unlike the way we had first been sitting last night. Or early this morning. Whichever. “So, what are your plans for today?” I asked her as her friend flipped through the channels.

She stood up and walked me to the door, speaking quietly. “Going to the cemetery later. And Tub will probably take me out for lunch or something. Just a quiet day.” Jo reached up and began to fiddle with the shiny locket around her neck.

“Will you let me take you out?” I reached for her free hand. “A real date?”

Jo smiled sadly. “Not today, Kris. Any other day but today.”

Feeling sad, I kissed her hand and then her cheek. “Okay. I’ll call you.”

“You’d better,” she sighed, reaching up to tuck a strand of hair behind my ear. “Oh my God. Kris. I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry,” she quickly gushed, her eyes widening.

“What? What is it?” I asked back, confused and scared. Something was upsetting her.

“Your hair. It must have happened last night, when we were sleeping. Jesus Christ, please don’t be mad.”

“What?” My hand flew up to my hair, and I tried to figure out what she was going on about. Then I felt it. Her gum. In my hair.

“Peanut butter. Rubbing peanut butter in will dissolve it, and you’ll look as good as ever. We’ll fix this. I can fix this.”

I couldn’t stand the thought of her rubbing peanut butter in my hair to remove a wad of gum. As if having gum in my hair wasn’t bad enough. “It’s okay, Jo,” I sighed, hating what had to come next. “Let’s just cut it out.”

Her eyes widened even more—which I didn’t think was possible. “No. No, Kris. You can’t cut your hair. I can’t cut it.”

“It’s fine. I guess I needed to make an appointment anyway,” I lied, waiting as she grabbed the scissors from the living room and quickly cut the gum out.

“Please tell me you’re not mad. I’m really sorry.”

“I’m not mad.” My hand instinctively reached up and felt the section that was shorter than the surrounding ones. I’d just have to wear a hat until I could get to the barber. “I’m not adverse to change. Sometimes, we just have to get forced into it,” I told her, trying to be reassuring, but I had the opposite effect.

She bit her lip. “It’s okay if you want to get upset with me.”

“I’m not upset.” I kissed her again, knowing that all the words in the world wouldn’t make a difference. She was definitely more upset over it than I was. I looked behind me once to wave goodbye, and she was standing in the doorway and watching me walk out to my car.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

24.) Do Right

Soundtrack Song - Morningwood, Take Off Your Clothes

My side was bugging the shit out of me. It felt irritated, like sunburn—a constant burning sensation. And it was red, too, just like a burn. But I was impressed with it. I’d been playing with the idea in my head for a while, and it looked even better than I had imagined.

Kris and I caught each other’s eyes, and I could see that he was a little nervous. It's weird how the deep, heavy discussions came so naturally, but these simple moments were almost painful in their awkwardness. He's so shy sometimes—not afraid to broach the painful subjects, of course, but he was no expert on the lighter topics. He pursed his lips before he said, “So, did it hurt?”

“Yeah,” I replied with a smile. “Of course it did. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought.” I bit my lip, feeling exposed and wishing that I could read Kris a little better to know what he was thinking. I knew what I was thinking, and let's just say that I was very glad that I had coincidentally worn the bra I had stolen from Vicky's over the summer. Only one way to find out. “Do you have any? Can I see 'em?”

He reddened instantly and looked away. “Uh, no. Don’t have any.”

“You’re one of those ‘my body is a temple’ people, aren’t you? Eat healthy, no drugs or alcohol, no foreign objects in your body? Am I right?”

“Well, I’m a professional athlete, so I have to take care of myself.”

I turned so I was no longer looking at him through the mirror. “I’m sure you do.” Taking a step closer to him, I hooked my arms over his shoulders and laced my fingers through his long hair. Then I lowered my voice. “Why don’t you show me?” Before he could answer, I pulled his face down to mine so I could kiss him.

This wasn’t one of the sweet lip locks that we had exchanged earlier. I tried to manifest all my emotions and desires in this one gesture, pulling his lip into my mouth and biting down on it softly. His hands moved to my hips, and I felt his tongue slip into my mouth.

Reacting purely on instinct, I let slip a little moan as I fumbled with the large, black buttons of his coat. Once that was done, I pushed the jacket off his shoulders, and he let go of me just long enough to allow the material to fall away from him. Then Kris put his hands back on me, on the bare flesh of my sides—and my fresh tattoo.

I jumped and hissed from the jolt of pain. “Shit, Jo, I’m sorry,” he mumbled, retracting his hand like he had just touched a hot burner of a stove.

“It’s okay,” I told him encouragingly, doing my best to put the pain out of my mind and focus back on Kris and his body. Because that would make me feel a lot better. Despite the pain on my left side, I was on fire from his touch on my right side. Just like Kris could irritate and turn me on at the same time, my body was physically reacting to him in two entirely different ways. I tried to kiss him again, but he turned his face away. “I’m telling you, it’s okay.”

“No. Maybe we should stop.”

“Stop? We hardly even started,” I retorted, reaching under his shirt and feeling his abdominal muscles. It was like a transdermal drug; as soon as I touched mere inches of his skin, I wanted to—no, I needed—to touch more. Ugh, who was I kidding? I wanted to lick him from head to toe.

“Jo,” he whispered, grabbing my hand gently and stilling it.

Turned down. I hated this stinging feeling of rejection. I was kicking myself, because I really had convinced myself that he liked me. He told me that he liked me. “Okay. Fine.” I picked up his jacket from the floor and threw it at him. I was hurt and angry. “Get out.”

“Wait a second—”

“No, Kris. Get the fuck out. You don’t want me, fine. Then leave.”

“I don’t not want you, Jo. I just....” He exhaled deeply. “Don’t you think it’s too soon?”

I snorted. “No. I want you. It sounds like you want me. So what's the problem?”

“I just think we should wait. I want it to be special, and I want it to mean something.” Kris took a hold of my hands in one of his, and he pressed the other against my cheek to turn my face to look at him. “Don't you want it to mean something?”

I jerked my head away and out of his cupped hand, and then I crossed my arms over my chest—half in anger, half to feebly cover myself. Standing in lace was only making me feel more vulnerable and hurt. “Way to make me feel like a whore, Mr. Sensitive.”

“You know I didn't mean it like that, Jo. I’m not attacking you,” he said, taking a step back like he could physically feel the vibes I was sending in his direction. Kris reached for my shirt on the bed and handed it to me. “Relationships are built around trust and common ground—which come with time.”

“You sound like a fucking E-Harmony commercial,” I mumbled, feeling irritated.

“I just think we should wait until we get to know each other better.”

“What else is there to know about me? You know my entire life story. You know things about me that I don’t talk about, that I don’t talk about to people who don’t know,” I spat back, raising my voice a little more with each sentence as I threw the shirt over my head to cover up. “That line is fucking bullshit, and you know it.”

“I know your circumstances,” he replied, sounding calm and cool. “I know your life, up until this point. But that doesn’t mean that I know you yet. I don’t know your middle name. I don’t know your favorite movie or favorite color or what kind of music you listen to or what your hobbies are. I’m not even sure what the natural color of your hair is. We haven’t even been on an honest-to-goodness date!”

I sighed and grunted at the same time, emitting a strange sound. “What does that matter? You know about my brother and my family. You know where I went to school and what my extracurricular activities were. You know where I was going to go to college and what I was going to major in. What I wanted to be. And you know that I’m trying really hard to figure out my future while not completely sacrificing the present. So you go ahead and keep telling yourself that you don’t know me that well.”

Plopping down on the bed, I thought that if I ignored him, he’d go away; I’d poked so many holes in his argument that he’d have to leave in shame. Alas, that was not the case. Instead, he took what was quickly becoming his usual position—sitting beside me and comforting me with his hand on my back, rubbing circles along my spine. However, Kris’s hand on my body was having quite the opposite effect.

“I’m sorry, Jo. You probably think that this is weird. That I’m weird, because I’m not acting like a typical guy—”

“Just stop trying to redeem yourself or make me feel better. It’s not working.”

“Will you just hear me out? You’re not listening!”

“Fine. Talk,” I commanded, turning to face him, impatiently waiting for whatever it is he wanted to say. I was mad and upset and really close to frustrated tears; seems like I was always crying around Kris.

“It’s just the kind of person that I am. I think that the relationships we form with other people are important and meaningful. Family, teammates, friends.... If life can be so short, then we need to make every minute worth our while. And that’s not through random hook-ups. I don’t just hook up.”

“Still making me feel kinda slutty.”

He ran his free hand over his face. “You really are a unique person, do you know that? I’m telling you that it’s because I like you that I want to take things slow. That I want to do things right. And you’re finding offense in that.”

“Because I live in the moment. If there’s something worth doing, then you’d better do it now. If you plan on waiting for the right time, then you’re going to be waiting for a long time. The perfect moment is now because you can’t guarantee you’ll be here when that ‘right’ moment rolls around.”

“I don’t like when you talk that way,” Kris mumbled.

“Can you deny that I’m right?”

He spoke slowly and carefully. “If we make wise, informed decisions, then we can—”

I didn’t mean to instigate a heated discussion, but I lashed out. “And what ‘wise, informed decisions’ do you make on a regular basis? Like you lead a safe life, Kristopher Letang. I’m not even going to talk about that you play hockey and could get hurt. But you’re on the road for how many months out of the year? How many hours do you spend on a plane, hmm? Every time you set foot on one, you run the risk of crashing. But do you ever think of that?”

“It’s safe enough. They wouldn’t put everyone, the players and coaches and media, on a plane if it was that dangerous. More people die in car crashes—motorcycle crashes—than plane crashes every year.”

“Damn it, you don’t get to make up the rules as you go along! A crash is a crash. At least on the road, I’ve got control of my bike. When you fly, you’re just a passenger. And I’m not saying that you’ve got to give it up, because I would never, ever tell you to give up something that you love, but I’m making you aware that you’re being a complete and total hypocrite.”

He pulled away and spoke again, sounding resigned. “You’re entitled to your opinion, I suppose.”

“Don’t pull that shit on me,” I argued, not ready to give in yet. “You’ve commented on how I live my life, but as soon as the tables are turned, you won’t even stick up for yourself.”

“Why bother? You’re mad at me because I don’t want to take that step yet, and now you want to pick a fight. Because you won’t allow for anyone else to a differing viewpoint.”

“No! I don’t care if you don’t agree with me. But when it affects me, then yeah, I get upset. So sue me.”

“It does affect you, Jo. That’s why I want to do it right—I want to do right by you. And it affects me, too. So this isn’t all about you, okay? I’m involved, too. My feelings are on the line, too.”

I crossed my arms around my stomach and leaned forward, closing my eyes and thinking. I wasn’t used to a guy who cared about waiting, especially when I made my intentions clear. If you even looked a guy the right way, he’d be ready to find the nearest bedroom or closet or backseat in seconds flat.

So this was definitely not what I was used to. The roles were reversed here, with Kris playing the sensitive soul and me as the impatient, anxious one. Why was I falling for the one guy that was the exact opposite of my usual? But, if this was indeed a relationship, then he was absolutely right—it wasn’t just about me. I had to take his emotions into account. I had to delay my own gratification to ensure his. I sighed. “Fine. We’ll wait.” Then I stood and looked down at him as he remained sitting on my bed. “You’d better be worth it.”

Kris smiled up at me with his dark eyes, through the dark hair falling into his face. He grabbed onto my legs and pulled me toward him; I slipped and fell against him, and we tumbled to the bed. We both laughed a tiny bit, and I adjusted my body so I was lying on my right side.

“I promise you, Jo, it will be worth it. When the time is right,” he assured me, threading his fingers through my hair and leaning in for a kiss.

I had to end it quickly. I couldn’t believe that we were lying in my bed and restricted only to kissing. “I’m feeling kind of tired now.”

“Are you kicking me out again?” he asked, a smile now playing on his lips as he wrapped his arms around me and I nestled against his broad chest.

“I’m merely informing you that I’m going to go to bed now, and that you can leave if you want.”

“And if I don’t want to?”

At those words, I looked back up into his face, a little shocked. He was talking about spending the night, but nothing was going to happen. Yeah, this was definitely a new experience for me. But I felt so comfortable in his arms that I almost didn’t mind that this was all we would be doing. “Then you can stay.”

With another quick kiss, he stood and flicked off the light before pulling off his shirt and crawling back into bed beside me. I discarded my pants and bra and snuggled back into his arms, letting him envelope me. We had each stripped ourselves of some of our clothing, yet none of our bare skin was touching.

“Good night, Joanna,” he whispered.

I was too tired to correct him. “G’night, Kris,” I replied back. Even though I was exhausted, Kris fell asleep before me.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

23.) Birthday Present

Soundtrack Song - Dashboard Confessional, Hands Down

My lips brushed lightly against hers. I wasn’t sure what had spurred me on to do this; I wanted to kiss Jo, but I didn’t imagine it would be like this. Under the stars was a great location, but the fun of our night had declined.

It was fun. Sitting there with Jo as she pointed out the stars and told me the myths behind the constellations was a pleasurable escape. No thinking about the game we had lost a few mere hours ago against New Jersey; no thinking about how I was a minus for the night; no thinking about how I only had a single shot on net. And certainly no thinking about how I still hadn’t scored a goal yet for the season.

This was the kind of girl that Jo was—someone who focused on the light and airy and fun and lighthearted side of life. It was her philosophy, because life was too short to think about the negative. Although, it seemed like whenever we were together, we talked about our unpleasant experiences and devastation. But that wasn’t Jo’s nature. She liked to keep things the opposite of serious, and our fun adventure of trespassing to drink hot chocolate and stargaze was the perfect example of that.

Today was Jo’s birthday, and I had wanted to spend time with her in order to keep her smiling on her special day. I knew that I was sad on Luc’s birthday, remembering him and the good times we had shared; I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like for Jo to have to celebrate her birthday without her twin brother.

So when the conversation had taken that grim direction, I felt bad. I wanted to comfort her, and that’s why I kissed her. It was an urge that I couldn’t deny any longer, and since we had already made our feelings clear.... It was only a matter of time, and now was as good a time as ever. I wanted to make her feel better, and it was the only thing I could think of.

I reached up and caressed her right cheek with the back of the fingers of my left hand. Her lips were plump and soft, inviting me to kiss her a little harder. So I cradled her head in my hands and held her mouth in place as I moved mine over hers.

At first, Jo just let me kiss her, but then she turned and adjusted her body to reciprocate. Trying to kiss her while sitting behind her was a little tricky. The more she turned, the more access I had to her mouth; however, that also gave her less support and nothing to lean against. It was a lose-lose situation, but I didn’t want to stop, either. I couldn’t stop.

Jo’s hand grabbed a hold of my jacket, and she pulled on it to keep her balance as she tilted her head back. I finally released her mouth, feeling a little out of breath. Still wanting to be close to her, I rested my forehead against hers and opened my eyes to look at her.

Her eyes were closed, and her cheeks were almost the same color as the strands of hair that framed her face. Her mouth was slightly opened before she said, “Thank you.”

“For what?” I asked back, not sure what she was thanking me for.

“For not making me ask,” she giggled, looking up at me with an abundance of indeterminate emotion in her eyes.

“Well, I guess you’re welcome.” I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant, but she was smiling and that’s all that really mattered to me at the moment.

She looked a little relieved and sated as she nestled back against my chest and pulled the fleece blanket up to her chin. I wrapped my right arm around her body again, being very careful to not touch her sensitive left side, and I checked my watch around my left wrist. It was past midnight. “Happy birthday, Jo,” I whispered, kissing her temple.

“Hmm, thanks, Kris,” she mumbled, the sound further muffled by the edge of the blanket around her mouth. “Happy birthday to me.”

“I guess I can give this to you now.” I reached into the pocket of my jacket and pulled out a small box. “Although, I guess you don’t really need it, what with your ink job and all.”

“You bought me something?” she asked, pulling away from me again and quickly turning to look at me with a questioning gaze.

“Uh, yeah. It is your birthday.” As I teased her, I handed her the small box that I had purchased the day before.

“But you didn’t have to,” Jo whispered, barely noticing the box and still focusing on me. “I mean, I appreciate it, of course, but still.... You didn’t have to.”

I sighed and half-shrugged. “I wanted to.” It wasn’t something big or lavish; it was a thoughtful little gift that I thought she might like. However, my present certainly wasn’t going to compare to her new tattoo. “So are you going to open it, or what?” I joked.

“Yeah,” she replied smilingly, taking her eyes off me and peering down at the box in her hands. Jo bit her lip as she pulled on the ribbon and then lifted the lid, spying the gold locket resting on the pad of cotton. “Oh, Kris.” Her eyes flitted up at me as she smiled and picked up the locket, opening and examining it.

“I thought maybe you'd like to put his picture in it. That way, he'd always be with you. But, like I said, you've got your tattoo, so it's not—”

“No no, Kris, I love it.” She wrapped the open chain around her neck, and I picked her hair up off her back so her fingers could close the clasp with ease. Once the locket was fastened around her neck, she tucked it under her sweatshirt and placed her hand above where it fell on her chest. “That was really thoughtful of you. I can't wait to pick out a picture to put inside.”

Still feeling sheepish about the gift, I tried to explain better. “I understand that you're sad on James's birthday. But it's your birthday, too. I just don't want you to get so caught up in your hurt that you forget to celebrate your own life.”

“Shut up,” Jo replied nicely with a smile. “I get what you're saying. And I do appreciate the gesture. So, thank you.”

There was finality in her voice, so I stopped trying to explain my rationale behind the gift. “You're welcome.” She leaned back against me, letting out a soft, slow breath. We sat like that for a while, without talking or even bothering to find some way to pass the time. It was just Jo and me, keeping warm under a fleece blanket while reposing beneath a blanket of stars. A few times, I checked to see if Jo had maybe fallen asleep, but she hadn't. Finally, I glanced at my watch again, to see that it was now after one in the morning. “So, do you want to get going? It's getting colder.”

“Sure.” Jo nodded, and we stood and prepared to leave. I folded up the blanket we had been sitting on and shoved it into her bag. She kept the other blanket wrapped around her to keep herself warm, so I took a hold of her backpack and slung it over my shoulder as we started down the hill. Using her left hand to keep the edges of the fleece together at her front, Jo's right hand reached out for one of mine. She certainly wasn't shy—I had to give her that much.

I took her hand in mine and squeezed, continuing our walk side-by-side until we reached the bottom. We hopped back over the fence and headed toward my car, looking broken down and out of place at the side of the road.

It's not that I wanted our night to end; I was used to late nights, especially after games. And it had been a lot of fun, checking our baggage at the gate and escaping into the night. The air was too cold, and we had to get back to reality.

“I hope you had fun,” she said as we reached the car and got inside. “Probably not as exciting as going out with the guys tonight, though.”

“Oh no, this was a lot of fun. The guys didn't end up going out tonight anyway. We lost.”

“I know. I watched the game. But since when did losing mean you can't go out?”

“Because there's nothing to celebrate.”

Jo laughed and shook her head as she buckled in without me having to remind her to do so. “If you're feeling low after a loss, isn't that the time to go out and laugh and have a few drinks and forget about it? If you won the game, then you're already feeling good.”

“If you're not playing good enough to win, then you shouldn't try to forget about it. You should try to think of a solution.”

“Dwelling on it doesn't help.”

“Well, I certainly wasn't thinking about it tonight,” I told her, noticing again the differences in our philosophies. I didn't think it was possible to move forward until the losses in our pasts were dealt with and handled, and a plan was formulated for how to approach it in the future. Jo, however, didn't want to spend the time thinking about the bad things.

“I'm glad to hear that.” She waited a few beats in the conversation before she added, “You played well, by the way.”

“I thought you said you watched the game,” I mumbled, pulling back onto the road and pointing the car back toward the city.

“I did,” she replied softly. “You lost, 1-4 against a hot goaltender. And you were only a minus-one with over twenty-five minutes of ice time. That's not bad, Kris. You did well as a defender, score aside.” Not bothering to answer her, I shrugged my shoulders and concentrated on the pavement ahead of us. “You're not allowed to get all cranky now,” Jo added. She shifted in her seat and reached over, running her fingers through my hair. “It's my birthday, remember? You have to be happy.”

That made me smile and laugh, just a little bit. “Then you might want to avoid bringing up that subject again.”

“I don't have a problem with that,” she continued, her fingers wrapping around a section of my hair by my ear. “There are plenty of other things to do.”

I resisted the urge to look over at her, and instead kept looking forward at the road, clutching the wheel at ten and two like a good driver should. After a few more moments, Jo clucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth, turned so she was no longer facing me, and then turned on the radio and began to search through the stations.

“It is okay if we listen to music, right? That doesn't go against one of your Safety Nazi rules?” There was an edge to her voice; she was trying to sound like she was kidding around with me, but there was something else there, too.

“It's fine,” I told her, quickly taking my sight off the road to glance at her face, but Jo was looking out the window and not really listening to me anyway. She was humming along with the song and watching the passing sights as we continued the trek back home. With each passing the mile, the ride got a little more awkward. I hadn't been trying to be rude; I knew exactly what she had been getting at, and I simply wasn't sure how to handle that yet.

She was the first to break our newly found silence. “I don't mean to be a bitch, but can you drive a little faster? I have got to pee so bad.” That was probably the last thing I ever would have expected Jo to say, and it caught me off guard. I glanced over at her, and she looked defiantly back. “Don't stare at me like that. Girls pee, too, you know.”

I laughed—a lot. It wasn't even that funny; it was more in the tone of her voice, something so frank and sincere that was so unexpected. I sped up a little, still being cautious, to hurry back to Jo's house. When I pulled up, she practically launched herself out of the vehicle and toward her front door. I picked up her bag from the backseat and slowly followed the same footpath, reluctantly letting myself in.

I set her bag down in the living room and lingered. It would have been impolite to leave now, without saying goodbye, so I waited for her to reappear, but she didn't. Even after the water shut off, there wasn't any sound of movement upstairs. I wasn't sure what I should have been doing with myself, so I headed to the second floor.

A light was on down the hall, shining through the open door, so I walked down and knocked. “I just wanted to say goodnight.”

“You can come in,” she told me. I pushed the door open, finding myself in her bedroom. She was standing in front of the mirror, her sweatshirt and shirt off and thrown on the bed, and she was peeling away the large bandage from her side.

I watched as the image was revealed, like a magic unveiling, starting from top to bottom. It was a gray-scale hockey stick, spanning the length of her side with the blade of the stick pointing to her navel. There was a ribbon of script wrapped around the shaft, and then more writing beneath; I couldn't for the life of me make out what it said. “Is that English?”

“Of course,” Jo replied, never glancing back at me. Instead she stood there, cocking her head to the side and examining the work. “Come here and see.” Obeying orders, I walked to her side, still trying to read her tattoo. “In the mirror.”

I looked into the mirror, and suddenly the words made sense. They must have been written in reverse. “Why did you do it this way?”

“Because the tattoo's for me, and no one else,” Jo explained. “I want to be able to look at it and read it for my own sake, not to display it for everyone else. The guy doing it thought it was weird, but I like it.”

I looked more closely and read the words wrapped around the stick:
Nothing's forever
Forever's a lie
All we have is between
Hello and goodbye


Below was written: James Randolph Anderson
October 25, 1989—December 15, 2007


“It's nice,” I told her, looking away from the tattoo and seeing her, finally noticing that once again, she was standing next to me in just pants and a bra. The locket around her neck reflected the overhead light. We locked eyes through our reflections in the mirror, and I wondered what the hell I was supposed to do next.