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.

6 comments:

  1. hahaha, i LOVED the end of this chapter and your subtle way of explaining his shorter haircut as of late.

    Such a good chapter even if it was mostly transitional for the two of them. I enjoy reading about them cuddling :)

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  2. hahaah that was totally cute. i loved it:)

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  3. No, shorter hair on Kris Letang will never be okay. Sorry to burst your bubble. :)

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  4. Ugh ok... there were so many fantastic things in that chapter... I don't even know where to start!

    I loved the whole 'scene' of Jo trying to find picture of her brother... and that Kris literally drove her to drink lol. (I would probably drink too if it was me - oh who am I kidding? There'd be no 'probably').

    And I LOVED the explanation of Kris's hair getting cut! It makes me feel so much better about it... it still doesn't make it look good but... I loved it.

    I love how this story always revolves around real things that are going on... yay!

    Ugh... I just, I'm smiling. Even though there was no sex it was still great and made me happy.
    Also, the whole thing with Tubby, already seeing it, made me laugh... take that Kris! hahaha, I know Jo didn't really mean anything like 'get jealous now' by it, but I still kinda hope it does... and leads to something fun! =P yayayayay ID!

    Did I mention how much I love this story yet? Cause I do... really!

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  5. Kris Letang never EVER fails to make me smile. This chapter was really really cute and I can't even pinpoint what exactly made me love it so much.

    Maybe it was the part where Jo is still pissed about Kris not having sex with her, because I know that'd be my attitude too. Or maybe it's the fact that there's finally an explanation as to why Kris cut his gorgeous, gorgeous hair :P

    Two thumbs up, Jay! Too bad I don't have more hands, because this really deserves like eight or nine thumbs up hahaha

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  6. Okay, any chapter that has the word "bellicose" in it is a winner as far as I am concerned.

    Oh, and loved the introduction between Tubby and Kris.

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