Sunday, February 28, 2010

50.) Just Friends?

Soundtrack Song - Lady Antebellum, Need You Now

I didn’t say anything to Tubby right away—not even a “thank you” as he set down a plate in front of me with an assortment of all my favorite things. There were too many things coursing through my mind at the moment.

First of all, friends? I was angry at Kris, but I would have taken him back. I would have gotten over it. He apparently didn’t want to give me that chance. Maybe he wouldn’t have been able to handle being with me anymore. Maybe I had hurt him too much for him to get past it. But the question I was left with was: could I stand being just friends with him? Spending time with him in a strictly platonic capacity? I wasn’t sure. I still wanted him, still wanted to be with him, but he obviously didn’t feel that same way.

And then, I wasn’t sure how Tubby fit into this. I didn’t quite know what Kris had meant with his “nothing” comment. Tubby would have said something, if he had said something to Kris, because he knew how torn up I was about it. And, more so, Tubby knew I still liked Kris, so he wouldn’t tell him to “back off,” if that’s what Kris had meant. Tubby wouldn’t do that to me.

“Aren’t you hungry?” he finally asked, setting his fork down on his third cleared plate. I think he has four stomachs, like a cow or something.

I continued to play with my chopsticks, picking up a green bean and moving it to the opposite side of the plate. “Did you see that Kris was here?”

“Uh, yeah. I did.” Tubby scanned the now-empty room. “He still here? He finally apologize for being a dickweed?”

“No, he didn’t. And they all left about five minutes ago,” I sighed. I had seen them leave out of the corner of my eye, but I had actively avoided their gazes to minimize the awkwardness of the situation. Then I set down my chopsticks and looked Tubby straight in the eye. “Have you... talked to him? Since the hospital, I mean.”

I knew his answer was going to be no. I knew it, because he was my best friend. And even if he had temperamentally said or done something that I would have disagreed with or yelled at him for, he still would have told me—because that’s what best friends do. “Yes.”

“What?” I practically screeched.

“Calm the fuck down, Jo.”

I knew my mouth was hanging open, but I couldn’t believe it. “What happened? What did you say to him?”

“It was the day after your accident. You were napping on the couch, and he stopped over—”

“He came? He came to my house and you didn’t tell me?”

“You were still angry at him at that point, Jo, and I told him that and that he should give you some room to breathe.”

“But why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you say anything when I wasn’t as mad anymore?” I said with total exasperation. I grabbed onto my hat and pulled it over my eyes. My heart was pounding and I couldn’t catch my breath. I felt dizzy, like the walls were closing in around me. If only I had known. “That would have changed everything.”

“It changes nothing,” he growled in response. “He still left when you begged him to stay. You deserve someone who’s gonna be there for you, always. I can’t trust him with you. He fucked up twice, and you want to give him a third opportunity?”

“He said he just needed time to think. He took that time and came back. You don’t understand—I thought he didn’t give a fuck about me, like, at all. Not even enough to see if I were okay. How could you let me think that, Tubby?! You’re supposed to be my best friend.”

He started getting frustrated with me, I guess for not seeing things his way or agreeing with him. “I am, Jo-Jo—”

“Don’t you ‘Jo-Jo’ me. How could you?” I demanded to know. I felt... betrayed. Sure, I knew that Tubby wasn’t crazy about Kris, but I thought that our friendship meant he’d put what I wanted over what he wanted for me. He did have a habit of doing whatever he thought was best for me regardless of what I thought about it, like dragging me out of the house today, but this whole thing with Kris was such a big deal to me that I never thought he’d go so far to go against my wishes and then deceive me about it.

“Because it was just... easier.”

“Easier?” I started to cry. That was his answer? Out of all his possible reasons for keeping me in the dark over the past three weeks, he did it because it was easier—than what? Helping me be happy? Allowing me to make my own decision about what I wanted to do about Kris? “Easier to let my heart break?”

His expression softened as he moved from his side of the table to mine. “Jo-Jo,” he comforted, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. I tried to push him away, but he was too strong and pulled me toward him until I complied. “You saw him today. And did it make you happy?” I pressed my face into his shoulder and mumbled my response, which he couldn’t make out. “What?”

I turned my face so my cheek was against him and I could speak clearly. “I said, ‘I don’t know.’ I mean, yeah, I was still a little angry, but it was good to see him. It hurt, though, because I thought he was just trying to be nice....” I pulled back and quickly balled my hand into a fist, punching him in the arm as hard as I could. He didn’t even flinch. “If I’da known, I woulda been nicer!”

“Did it really matter?” he asked quietly, flattening my fist and setting it on the table before placing his own overtop. Like he needed to neutralize the threat. “If he didn’t apologize, I mean, then what did he even say to you? It couldn’t’ve been good, because you’re still upset.”

Burying my face against him again, I muffled what I didn’t want to say. Tubby chuckled, trying to be lighthearted. He moved farther away from me on the seat so I had to sit up straight. “Mind trying that again, Jo?”

Exhaling deeply, I repeated, “He asked if we could just be friends.”

“And would you rather have heard that three weeks ago, when he showed up? Would you have wanted me to wake you up, just so you could have heard it then?”

“Woulda been better than having to wait in this emotional limbo for twenty-fucking-one days,” I moaned, picking up one of my chopsticks and stabbing a piece of chicken.

“Limbo? Fuck that, Jo. Listen to me,” he grumbled, grabbing my face and making me look at him again. “Three weeks ago, you would have kicked his ass to the curb for deserting you. You wouldn’t have wanted to see him again, ever. But now, all of a sudden, you’re upset that he wants to be friends? Like, just friends? I don’t fucking get it. So what are you going to do?” he demanded to know. “Are you going to be friends with him, because you miss him so goddamn much?”

“I don’t know.” I jerked my head, so he let me go. I restabbed the piece of General Tso’s on my plate. “I don’t fucking know, okay? I don’t know what I’m doing to do. I miss him, and it was nice to see him again, but I don’t know if I can handle ‘just friends’ with him.”

Tubby paused for a moment as I continued to mutilate my food, and then he sighed. “So are you going to eat that, or play with it? Because it’s already dead, ya know.”

“I lost my appetite.”

With another sigh, he reached across the table and grabbed his fork, digging into my plate. “Such a waste of money, to come to an all-you-can-eat buffet and not be hungry.”

“Then why did you bring me here?” I asked him, watching him scarf down on my food after he had already eaten plenty.

He shrugged dismissively. “I was really jonesing for some Chinese.”

When he was finished, he paid and carried me back out to his SUV. Tubby asked if I wanted to do anything else, since I was out of the house again, but I declined. He took me back home and I wallowed there again for the next couple days. Occasionally, he’d stop by to see how I was doing and ask if I needed anything, and he’s the one who took me to get my short arm cast taken off. It felt so good to have it gone; in a couple more weeks, I’d be able to get a walking cast. For now, though, I could at least maneuver around with crutches.

All the while, I had Kris on my mind. It was harder to be angry at him, now that I had known he had at least stopped by. He had cared enough to do that, even if it wasn’t caring in the capacity I would have liked. Kris was important to me, and I missed him—I missed more than just our intimate moments, although I missed those, too. Most of all, I missed spending time with him.

Finally, I caved and called him. It was quarter after eleven, and I didn’t know if he’d be awake, or if he’d be out with his teammates doing something, or worse—with another girl. The more I thought about it, and the longer the phone rang without an answer, the more I figured that this was a bad idea. I was just about to hang up when his voice came over the line. “Jo?”

For a split second, I thought about hanging up the phone and pretending I didn’t do this, but I overcame that sudden urge and said, “Hey. Kris.”

“H-how are you? I was starting to expect that I wasn’t going to hear from you.”

I closed my eyes, feeling overwhelmed by the gentle sound of his voice. There was hope there, and maybe relief, too. “Well, I wasn’t sure if I could do this whole ‘friends’ thing, but I mean, well... I miss you, Kristopher. It’s been a long month without you.”

“I miss you, too, Jo. Has it really been that long?”

“Yeah,” I replied, looking down at my bare left arm. In that span of time, my broken bone had healed, but my heart had not. “It has.”

“Does this mean... you want to be friends? You don’t hate me anymore?”

I laughed softly. “I never hated you, Kris.”

“I’m glad you feel that way. I’m glad to hear it.” He hesitated, and I tried to think of something to say, but I couldn’t. “So, do you, um, wanna hang out or something?”

“Sure. What do you wanna do?”

“I don’t know. I could come over.”

After hearing his answer, I looked around at the too-familiar living room around me. I was starting to hate this place. “I’m kinda sick of sitting here.”

“I could come get you. If you wanted.”

“And then what?” I giggled, shaking my head. “It’s still kind of hard to get around.”

“Well, then I guess it settles it. I’m coming over. I’ll see you in about fifteen.”

“Wait. Now?” I asked, surprised.

“Sure. Why not?” he questioned. “Unless you’ve got something else going on, but I just assumed, if you were calling this late, you weren’t busy....”

“No, I’m not busy. But I figured if it were this late, you’d be tired or something.”

“We’ve got a month to make up for. Might as well get started now,” he returned. “I really did miss you, Jo.”

I smiled, knowing he couldn’t see it. I let the good feelings wash over me, pretending that things were back to the way they used to be before the week from Hell. We quickly got off the phone, and I hopped around and tried to make the place look presentable. I tossed the empty Mountain Dew cans into the garbage and tried to straighten up.

Kris let himself in, just like I had instructed him to do. By the time he walked through my door, I was back on the couch, with my left leg resting on a pillow on the coffee table: my usual position as of late. He came into the room, sat next to me on the couch, and dropped a bag on my lap. “Sorry I’m late. But I got you something. And your cast’s off.”

“Yeah. A day or two ago, it came off.” I looked at him carefully as my fingers dug through the plastic to discover what he’d brought. Laughing, I held up the DVD box. “Season one of Ice Road Truckers? Seriously?”

He shrugged. “I thought you liked it.”

Not wanting to tell the truth, I told a little white lie. “I do like it, but mostly I think I liked watching it with you.”

Kris smiled. “Then let’s watch it now.” He took the package from me and ripped it open, sliding it into the DVD player and coming back to sit with me on the couch. He sat a respectable distance away, close but not close enough to touch, with his elbow resting on the back.

We made it through the first episode, but I used the remote to go back to the menu so I could skip the second since we had seen it before.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“We’ve seen that one.”

“So? We should watch them in order, the whole season. That’s the point of having the whole season.” He reached over me for the remote, but I flung my arm to the opposite side.

“My TV, my present. You don’t get a say in this,” I teased.

“What kind of a hostess are you? Shouldn’t you appease your guest? Seeing as though I was nice enough to come over, and nice enough to bring you the present in the first place?”

“If you wanted to watch it, Kris, you should have kept it for yourself,” I laughed as he stretched across me again, his long arms almost grabbing the remote from me. “Be careful,” I warned. “Don’t hurt my leg.”

“Then just surrender the remote,” he chuckled. I leaned away from him and his body followed mine, until I was lying down on the couch and he was on top of me. His fingers curled around my hand, grasping the remote, but neither of us was paying attention to what was on the television screen anymore.

The pressure and weight of his body felt good over mine. I adjusted my position underneath him, so I was fully on my back and my cast was hanging comfortably down the side of the couch; Kris likewise shifted so his broad chest was hovering over mine, his face inches above me. He pulled the remote from my hand and, without looking away, set it down on the coffee table.

When his hand came back, he caressed my cheek. I closed my eyes, savoring the feeling and hoping that it would never end. I held my breath and waited. Just as I was about to open my eyes, his lips brushed against mine. I let him kiss me for just a second longer before I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed back, with everything I had.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

49.) Nothing

This is where I take the opportunity to thank my readers, followers, and commenters. I'm glad to see that you are enjoying this, because it's definitely different and sometimes a bit of a struggle. But knowing that I have such ardent readers keeps me going. Truly, your insightful comments mean the world to me, and make continuing that much easier. You're all brilliant! So, thanks again. I hope you like this installment, too.

Soundtrack Song - The Script, Break Even

What were the odds? How could it be that she was here, and I was here?

We’d never been in this restaurant before, but TK said that Kelsey was really jonesing for some Chinese food, and if Kelsey wanted it, well, that meant TK wanted it, too. And anywhere TK and Kelsey went, Heather and Staal went as well. If TK and Staalsy were going to go out for food, then they were really going to go all out; all-you-can-eat was their kind of style. Goligoski and I were just tag-alongs, with nothing better to do and no one else to spend our afternoons with.

It was just going through the motions, what I was doing. Being out with my friends, when I wanted to hole up in my apartment. They had let me isolate myself for a while, pursing their lips and biting their tongues when I turned their offers to hang out. But eventually, they started dragging me out without giving me the option to turn them down. Which was why I was here, at this restaurant, in the first place.

God, I was miserable. Kelsey and Heather told me that it was all my fault; I should have never left. But they didn’t really understand about how I needed to sort out the things in my head. Charlene helped a lot, because she had gone through something eerily similar—but while she was entirely sympathetic, Charlene had also reminded me that I was the lucky one. Not Jo. Because I hadn’t lost her in the accident. She said that Jo was still alive, and for that reason alone, I should have never let her go. I should have run into her room, grabbed her, held her, and never let her go.

Charlene gave me great perspective on the situation. Even though I had meditated each day in order to talk to Luc, it was nice to speak with someone who could talk back. I could hear her as she choked up on the line while we spoke, identifying and empathizing with me. She listened thoroughly and tentatively as I went through what I was feeling and thinking before she told me what she thought. She stated her viewpoint soundly and firmly, but never outright told me that I had acted foolishly by walking out and letting her go.

However, I did let her go, and as a consequence, I lost her. She was so angry when I left, but I was so confused and so distraught that I didn’t think she was one hundred percent serious when she laid it out on the line: stay, or go and go forever. In fact, I called her bluff. But apparently, she hadn’t been bluffing. When I showed up at her house the next day, willing to try to talk things out with Charlene’s advice under my belt, Tubby answered the door and quickly told me she was napping, still royally pissed at me, and that I should just back off and give her space, if I knew what was good for myself.

That wasn’t easy news to hear. I had driven by her house a few times since then, thinking that maybe, if I just tried again and knocked on her door and she saw me, that we’d instantly be able to reconnect. After all, a connection like the one we shared couldn’t fizzle out easily. Each time I thought I had mustered up the courage to get out of my car and go knock on her door again, I chickened out... worried that she’d still be fuming and not ready yet. Before I knew it, weeks had passed.

When she came into the dining room of this particular restaurant, though, she didn’t look upset, or even remotely sad. She was wrapped around her friend’s back, a smile curling the corner of her lips. He deposited her at the booth in the corner. Jo looked good, like she was doing well despite her injuries. She was dressed in a cute little outfit, a little skimpy for the cold December weather, but still cute. Maybe not dressed to impressed, but not like she didn’t care about her appearance. That was so Jo, to wear whatever she wanted without caring about the temperature outside. So carefree. Looking put together, too, with her hair braided and some make-up on. I guess maybe I expected she’d still be upset, too, but she most definitely wasn’t. There were doodles and drawings all over her casts, and part of me wanted to go over just to get a better look at that, to see what she covered herself with.

Goli nudged me with his elbow. He was sitting beside me at our table, and we were arranged so that only he and I had a good angle to see that booth. He nudged me to let me know she was there, but I already knew. And I had to wonder... why—or how—in the world we were both in this tiny restaurant at the same time.

I continued to watch as Tubby left the table. Jo looked bored as she waited, looking around for something to keep her interested. Suddenly, as if instinctively, her eyes met mine across the room. She shook her head and looked away, like she didn’t even recognize me, and it hurt. Had she just forgotten everything we’d gone through? Over it, already?

Kelsey was the first of the others to notice that I wasn’t listening to their conversation. “What are you...? Oh,” she mumbled, turning slightly in her chair to see what had captured my attention. “Imagine that.”

I nodded to Kelsey, acknowledging that she had found out my secret as I pushed the rice noodles around my plate. Was it some kind of coincidence? Was it random? Was it destiny? Or maybe it something altogether different: Luc’s unspoken half of the conversation. Luc, finally talking back. Could it be, or was I just reading too much into it?

“You should go talk to her. See how she’s doing,” Heather said, trying her best to sound blasĂ© and indifferent instead of encouraging or pushy.

“She doesn’t want anything to do with me,” I reminded her, stabbing at my food with no intention of eating any more.

“Dude,” Gronk finally grunted, inserting himself into the conversation like it was painful but necessary for him to impart his wisdom. “Chicks never know what the fuck they want.”

“Hey!” Heather interjected, crossing her arms in front of her and scowling. “Not true. Sometimes we just get... caught up in the moment and say things we don’t mean. Are you sure she meant it?”

“Pretty sure,” I grumbled. I hoped she didn’t, but I didn’t know if I were willing to risk knowing definitively.

“Don’t be such a pussy,” TK ordered, obviously feeling the need to throw in his own two cents. “Go get closure, or whatever it is they talk about on Oprah. If you don’t do something to snap out of this funk, you’re gonna get traded.”

“Yeah, to somewhere like Dallas. That’s worse than Florida,” Staal added. “Do you really wanna be a Star?”

Heather elbowed him, but I knew there was some validity to his statement. When I finally was put back in the line-up, I had posted two assists because I was so excited to be back. But since then, I had been kept off the score sheet. I wasn’t necessarily playing poorly, but I wasn’t realizing my “potential” either. And I heard all the trade rumors. I needed to do something to get out of this slump.

With one more glance in Jo’s direction, I caught her eyes once more. I didn’t need any further prompting; I stood up and took several long strides across the relatively deserted room. This wasn’t a well thought out move—I was just trying to capitalize on my chances. Isn’t that what it takes to get out of a slump?

I had wanted to do this for weeks, but I didn’t. I had wanted to see her, thinking that if we were together again, and I meant, just around each other, then maybe we’d be together again. She would let me explain, and maybe... just maybe... she’d understand. And this was my grand opportunity.

I slid into the booth seat across from her, hoping she’d look up at me. Jo’s fingers curled around the mug in front of her as she adamantly refused to meet my gaze. Her jaw ticked as she steeled herself to ignore me. Finally, I spoke first. It wasn’t poetic, but it was all I had. “Hey.”

Her eyes followed the lines of the table, moving from the wall on her right to the floor on her left. I guess this is how she felt when I wouldn’t look at her in the hospital. If there hadn’t been a cast on her leg, I’m pretty sure she would have run out the door.

“You look like you’re doing pretty good,” I added.

She shrugged. “I’m all right.”

“Good. I’m glad.”

“Sure you are.” She rolled her eyes.

“I am,” I sighed, softly. What did I have to say to get through to her? “I care about you, Jo. Don’t you know that?”

She looked up at me, then, returning my gaze with pain and uncertainty. “But you left. I....” she couldn’t finish her sentence, so she just shook her head and blinked back tears. Jo didn’t have to complete her thought for me to know what she was thinking: I’m so angry. I’m so mad at you. I can’t believe you left like that.

“I know I did. I had my own stuff that I needed to work through, but that doesn’t mean that it had anything to do with you. Well, yeah it did. Of course it did. But, I mean, not everything to do with you.”

“So, did you figure ‘everything’ out?” She stared at me intensely, as if she had X-ray specs and could see into my brain.

“I thought I had, but I guess not.” This wasn’t turning out the way that I had hoped, but I don’t think that I should have expected any different from Jo. She was stubborn and hardheaded. No way would she have changed her mind. I was a fool to think she would have. And what was I expecting, anyway? Hugs and kisses and Oh my God, I missed you so muchs? No, she’d obviously moved on already. “I know you’re mad I left. I probably would be, too. And I know that I’d probably be asking for too much if I were to ask for forgiveness, but... I’d like if we could still be friends.”

She snorted. “Friends? You want to be friends?”

I nodded. “Yeah. I mean, I know you might probably need more time. But you're here, and I'm here... and that had to have happened for a reason, right? Everything happens for a reason,” I told her, giving her a sad smile. It had to count for something.

“No, Kris. How many times have we gone over this?” she sighed. “Nothing happens for a reason. You just happened to be here....”

“I think this goes to show we’re meant to be a part of each other’s lives. At the very least, I mean.” I gave her a small smile. It was obvious that she hated me. Maybe, eventually, we’d be able move past it. “So, what do you say? Friends?”

Jo watched as she picked at her fingernails, no longer willing to look at me anymore. “I don’t know.” She glanced to some place behind me. “You’d better go before Tubby gets back. He’s not too pleased with you right now.”

“Yeah, I know. I figure the only reason I’m still walking and talking is because you haven’t sicced him on me yet.”

That garnered a laugh from her, and I felt like a ton of bricks had been lifted from my chest. “How many times do you I have to tell you? He’s really just a sweetheart trapped in an ogre’s body.”

“Yeah, well, that’s still pretty intimidating.” I turned around in my seat and spied Tubby, hovering around the buffet table and pretending like he didn’t see me talking to Jo. It was surprising that he didn’t storm over here and forcibly remove me from the table. Turning back around, I added, “When he tells you to back off, you listen.”

“‘When he tells you’.... Wait. Did he say something to you?” Jo tilted her head to the side, her eyes flitting between the two of us. “Kris?”

Tubby started making his way over to us, knowing we must have been talking about him if we both had been looking in his direction.

“It was nothing,” I dismissed with the wave of my hand. I began to slide out of the seat, ready to evacuate and head back over to my table with my friends.

“It was nothing, or he said nothing?”

“Nothing. So, if you change your mind, you know how to reach me.”

“Wait a sec, Kris. I....” She blew out a breath, her hands coming up to the sides of her face as she tugged her toque down on her head. “I’ll think about it.”

I nodded and tapped my hand on the table before turning and leaving. It would have been the understatement of the century to say that our little discussion hadn’t gone the way I had hoped, but it didn’t go as bad as I expected. I rejoined my friends as they finished their meals, with nothing left to do but wait.

Friday, February 26, 2010

48.) Chinese Lunch Buffet

Soundtrack Song - Carolina Liar, I'm Not Over

There wasn’t much I could do. I was stuck on the couch, for the most part. It was too cold to go out and do anything outside, and even if I had wanted to do anything, I really couldn’t be that mobile. I had crutches, but they were hard to use with a cast on my left arm; I even borrowed a wheelchair, but it was too hard to fold it up and take it places. I was, literally, stuck on my couch. It was a struggle just to manage the stairs on my own, so I pretty much lived on my couch.

Despite that, even if I could have gone out and done stuff, I don’t think I would have wanted to anyway. It had been weeks since my accident—weeks since Kris walked out and never looked back—and I was still upset. When he left the hospital that day, I was downright fuming with anger. In the hospital room, I had meant every word when I said that I wouldn’t want to see him again if he left. And leave he did; Kris didn’t call or show up or otherwise try to contact me. I didn’t know how he could go from so sweet when he helped dress me, to not caring enough to leave. He left for good, just like I told him he would be doing.

However, the truth of the matter was, if Kris would have called or shown up, I would have taken him back in a second. When I gave him that ultimatum, I thought that I could be strong enough to follow through, but I wasn’t. I was definitely still angry, but I missed him like crazy and I would have given anything to see him again. I didn’t want to be the one to cave, but damn, I wanted him to succumb to the longing, if he felt it at all. I missed everything about him: his hair, his eyes, his accent, his kisses, and even his stubborn, preachy personality that was totally driving me up a wall. At least when he preached to me, that meant he cared. Er, I thought.

I didn’t have any one to talk to about it, either. Tubby didn’t want to listen to me, because he hated that I missed Kris. He got angry every time I brought it up or mentioned it. Once or twice, I thought about calling Kelsey or Heather, thinking that they’d understand. After all, they’re girls, and they’d be a lot more sympathetic than Tubby. But in the end, I decided not to call them. They were Kris’s friends, not mine. It didn’t feel fair. Even though they’d probably understand him and know how he was doing, it felt almost like spying on him. And did I really want to hear if they told me he was doing just fine, without me?

And of course he’d be doing fine without me. He obviously didn’t miss me. Or even care enough to wonder about how I was doing. All I could assume was that I was like a little pet project for him—something to do on the side when he wasn’t tied up with hockey. I was like a science experiment, or a psychological trial, and I didn’t turn out the way he wanted. So he dropped me.

Even knowing all that, if he were to show up on my doorstep this very minute... I’d take him back without question. I’d give him hell for the hell he put me through, but I’d welcome him back with open arms. If he would tell me that he needed all three weeks to think and have space, I would have accepted it. Yes, that makes me lame. But I just missed him so much. I ached for him, physically, mentally, emotionally. When I thought about it, I really hadn’t known Kris that long, but it didn’t take much for him to make this incredible, indelible impression on me.

I had about a week before my arm cast could come off, and about three more before I could get a walking cast on my leg. And I couldn’t wait; as far as I was concerned, it couldn’t happen soon enough. There was only so much of this I could take. I was spending my time watching crazy YouTube videos and seasons of Spongebob Squarepants while drawing on my casts with Crayola markers, eating ice cream and chips, and drinking Mountain Dew. I would have imbibed something harder, but there wasn’t a drop of alcohol in the house, and I couldn’t leave to get any, either.

“Do you want me to help you get up the stairs? Jo, you need to shower. Seriously. I can smell you from here,” Tubby called from the hallway. He must have left himself in.

“You’re smelling Cheetos, not me,” I yelled back, never tearing my eyes away from the television screen.

“When is the last time you bathed?” I shrugged in response to this question, not really knowing the answer and not really caring enough to figure it out. “Gross. Come on. Stop being such a lump. Shower, get dressed, and let’s go do something. You need to get out of the house for a while.” I shrugged again, not caring enough to even state a response.

Tubby, finally getting fed up with me, walked into the living room and grabbed my right arm. He pulled and hoisted me off the couch before he bent down at the knees, wrapping his arm around my legs, and lifted me onto his shoulder. “Tubby! Put me. The fuck. Down!”

“It’s been three weeks,” he grunted, carrying me up the stairs.

I balled my hand into a fist and pounded at his back, but they were like love-taps to him. “I don’t care how long it’s been. Stop manhandling me!”

He didn’t say anything further until he set me down in the bathroom. Before he slammed the door shut behind him, he growled, “Fucking wash yourself.”

Angrily, I pulled the tank top over my head. I ignored the reflection in the mirror staring back at me. I had full-blown roots and bags under my eyes. My hair was greasy and limp, and I looked like I hadn’t seen the sun in months, not weeks. I’d never admit it, but Tubby was right. I did smell.

I ran a bath and carefully lowered myself into the tub, with my left leg hanging over the side. Every other time I’d done this, it had been more like a sponge bath, but I realized how disgusting I felt so a bath felt necessary. Soaking in the water felt so good—better than I expected—as I rinsed away the thin layer of grime on my skin and shaved for the first time in a long while. Once my right-hand fingers and right-foot toes were wrinkly and pruny, I tried to push myself up enough to sit on the edge of the basin. However, I lacked the foresight to think that the ceramic would be slick. I was stuck.

“Tubby!” I hollered, not seeing any other option.

After a minute, he cracked open the door. “Yeah?”

“Help me, please. I can’t get up.”

He had the decency to look away as Tubby offered me his hand. He was strong enough to pull me up without having to watch what he was doing. I grabbed my towel, wrapped it around my naked body, and then leaned on him step out of the shower.

I wrung out my hair. “Thank you.”

“Feel better?”

“A little,” I replied with a slight smile.

“Good. We’re going out for Chinese.”

Shaking my head, I told him, “I don’t think I want to go anywhere. It’s just too hard to get around. Let’s just order in. What do you say?”

“I say, we’re going out. You’ve been in this house for way too long. You need a change of scenery. You need to do something instead of just sit around and wallow. He left. It’s not the end of the world. You’re better off without him, if that’s how he’s going to treat you, Jo.”

I sighed and reached for my comb, brushing my hair for the first time in a while. “You shouldn’t talk about things you don’t know nothing about.”

“You know I’m right.”

“No. I know you’re wrong.”

“Listen. Kris was good for you—I won’t argue that. I was glad to see you open up to someone. You know that, because I thought you were doing great. I was happy for you. You were being you again, for the first time in years. But if he doesn’t want to be there for you at a time when you need him most... if he can’t be there... he doesn’t deserve to be there for you in the good times, too.”

“Please just stop,” I whispered, giving up on my hair. I braided a pair of pig-tails, and then grabbed a black skull cap to hide my roots. Hopping into the other room, I pulled open some drawers in search of some clothes that would fit, despite the casts. Even though it was December, I chose a short, denim skirt. None of my pants would fit with my cast.

I found a purple, hooded sweater in my closet, and slipped into that. The cast stretched out the sleeve, so I yanked it up to my elbow to expose the cartoons drawn on the plaster. I probably looked ridiculous.

“I mean it, you know. You need stability. And he’s got you on this emotional rollercoaster.”

“And I meant it when I asked you to stop,” I barked. “Do you think you’re helping? I can’t help it that I miss him. If I could just flip a switch, then I would. But it’s more complicated than that. I don’t know why you can’t get that.”

Then I hopped back into the bathroom to apply some make-up. I wanted to cover up the dark circles under my eyes, if I planned on going out in public. It was more like a public service than for my own benefit; no one would want to see me looking like that.

When I finally felt that I was presentable, Tubby sighed and turned his back to me. I grasped his shoulders and jumped onto his back, and he let me ride him piggy-back style down the stairs, out the door, and into his black Jeep. It was very unladylike, but I didn’t care; it was convenient and easy, which was a change from the way I had to struggle to navigate through my house.

Even though he said all kinds of things that I didn’t want to hear, Tubby was always there for me, to lean on—figuratively as well as literally. I wrapped my arms around Tubby’s neck and kissed his cheek. “I want you to know that although you’re driving me up a fucking wall, I love ya, Tubs. You’re the bestest friend in the history of friends. Every girl should have a Tubby.”

“Sounds good to me, because I’d like to have every girl.”

I snickered as he set me down and opened the door for me. The air was cold against my bare legs—at least, the parts of my legs that were bare—and the wind cut through my sweater. I missed my jacket, but I hadn’t yet decided what I was going to do with it, whether I was going to see about getting it stitched back together. As much as I wanted his jacket back in jacket form, I knew that it wouldn’t be the same. I wasn’t sure what was worse: no jacket at all, or James’s jacket, pieced together as a bitter reminder of my accident and all those horrible consequences.

We pulled up in front of Ming Cho’s, where we used to eat at least twice a week, before my schedule got busier with Kris. Ming Cho’s had a cheap all-you-can-eat lunch buffet, and Tubby prided himself on getting his money’s worth, every time. I latched onto him again, and he carried me into the restaurant. Our corner booth was open, and it was just like old times. The waitress recognized us and made small talk. We ordered our drinks, and then Tubby pushed away from the table.

“Sit tight, I’ll grab you some food,” he offered. “Whadya want?”

I shrugged. “You know what I like. Whatever. Oh! But definitely crab rangoons if they have them. I love those things.”

He nodded and headed off to the buffet line, and I read my Chinese horoscope. Romantic, charming. Uh huh. Graceful, soft-spoken. What a laugh! Passionate but jealous lovers. I hissed, that one hitting close to home. I immediately looked away from the place mat as I felt the breath sucked out of my lungs. God, I missed Kris.

I missed him so much that I was hallucinating. I could have sworn that I saw him at a table across the room. But that couldn’t be. What the hell would he be doing here, at this hole-in-the-wall restaurant? Catching myself staring at his doppelgänger, I forced myself to look away, just as the waitress brought over our drinks. She poured me a mug of oolong, and I grabbed a packet of sugar to sweeten it.

Dumping about half the packet into the steaming tea, I slyly glanced back up at the table to look at not-Kris. The rest of the people at his table looked familiar, too: Jordan, Heather, Tyler, Kelsey, Alex.... Fuck, it was Kris. And he totally caught me looking at him. I focused my line of sight on the mug in front of me, clenching my jaw.

For the past three weeks, I had missed him. I was angry at him, but I missed him so much. And now he was just yards away from me. I wanted to talk to him, but I certainly wasn’t going to go over there. Then again, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to talk to him anymore. I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know what I wanted to say.

But it didn’t look like I was going to get a say in the matter right now, because he was making his way over, and I had no clue what he was going to say or what was going to happen next.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

47.) WWLD

Soundtrack Song - Toby Keith, Cryin' For Me

“I’m going to tell Tubby that you’re dressed and ready to leave,” I lied, watching as she sucked her bottom lip into her mouth and bit down, her teeth digging into the soft pinkness.

But Jo saw right through me; I was feeling claustrophobic and needed to get out of there and away from her. I needed space to think. She knew that, which is why she said, “Don’t you dare walk out that door. You do this all the time. When you’re hurt and upset, you wall off and don’t let anyone in. This isn’t the first time you have pushed me away. Remember your shoulder?”

Instead of trying to play it off, I admitted, “I’m not pushing you away. I just can’t do this.”

“Do what, Kris? You want me to just shut up and not tell you when I think you’re acting like an ass? Well, too late, because you’re acting like a total ass. You wanna tell me when I’m wrong, and then not listen with that holier-than-thou attitude? You wanna dish it out, but you can’t take it?”

I shook my head. How could I even begin to explain to her what I was thinking? Jo wouldn’t want to listen anyway. It had nothing to do with how she wanted to chastise me—and I could tell by the fiery look in her eyes that that was exactly what she wanted to do. She could say what she wanted, if she wanted to, but that wasn’t why I needed to get out of this room.

It really just hurt me to see her reclining in that bed, completely unconcerned for her own well-being. Jo wasn’t upset at all about getting in the accident; she just was worried about that damn jacket. She wasn’t sad at all, and she didn’t apologize for it, either. In fact, she was cracking jokes, which weren’t funny. She was just... so nonchalant about the whole thing, and I was miserable. My chest was aching, feeling empty, devoid of my heart.

“Say whatever it is you want to say,” I sighed.

Jo exhaled slowly and formulated her argument. “You want me to move on. You think it’s silly that I’m upset over James, when he’s already dead and I’m not.” She crossed her arms over her chest and took a deep breath. “But you’re doing the same thing here.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are. You are so stuck in your ways, like, worse than anyone I’ve ever known. I’ve learned so much from you, but it’s like I’ve taught you nothing. You’ve gotta be more flexible in life. Accidents happen, and they happen even though you try to avoid them. Sometimes, there’s no one to blame and you can’t point fingers. You have to just accept that as a part of life, Kris.”

“No,” I countered. “There’s always something that you can do. Some way to have control over the situation. Maybe that means playing it safe—”

“There’s no such thing as a safe bet. Living life means taking risks. Hell, life is one big risk. You never know what’s going to happen when you wake up in the morning.” Jo paused and changed her approach. “Kris, how am I supposed to take a chance on you, when you won’t take a chance on me? When you flat-out refuse to take chances, period?”

“You’re a dangerous chance. When I woke up this morning, I didn’t think that I’d be here, looking at you. In a fucking paper dress.” I pointed to her discarded hospital gown. “Covered in bruises. Held together by plaster. Jo, you could have died.”

“But I didn’t! I’m a pretty tough broad, Kris. It’ll take a lot more than a little wreck to get rid of me.”

“A little wreck? A little wreck? Look at you, Jo!” I pressed my palms against my temples, trying to understand how she could blow it off so easily. “Whether you think so or not, you could have died. And you don’t give a flying shit. You treat it like it’s nothing. And where would that have left me?”

“What?” Jo screwed up her face, tilting her head to the side. “What do you mean, where would that have left you?”

“You... you live too large. There’s no room for me.”

“Wait a second. What? I-I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she stuttered and stammered, appearing perplexed. “Where is this coming from? I don’t even know.... There’s plenty of room for you in my life. I made room for you. I, I mean, how can you even say that? How can you think that?”

The look on her face was almost as heartbreaking as the news I had received of her accident. It would hurt to leave, but it would hurt to stay, too. “Is that it? Are you finished?” I asked, resting my hand on the door knob, poised to go.

“No. No, I’m not finished,” she said forcefully, trying to stand on her good leg.

“Sit down,” I instructed softly, not wanting to see her do anything to hurt herself. Anything else.

“Fuck you! Don’t tell me what to do!” Her face turned red from yelling. She hopped toward me once, her hand on the bed and trying to maintain her balance. “Don’t go,” she cried. “I need you, Kris. Don’t you need me? Has this meant nothing to you?”

I thought about telling Jo that this had really meant a lot to me, if not everything. That’s why it hurt so damn bad. That’s why it was killing me inside to see her so physically damaged, and especially to see that she didn’t care. She knew about Luc; since she had experience with losing someone close to her, she should have known how much it would upset me to see the same thing happen twice. She knew how adamantly I felt about it, and how important it was to me. And, she freaked when I was injured. So wouldn’t she expect the same of me?

Because it didn’t mean nothing.... That’s why I had to go. So I could think about things and figure out what I wanted to do. Figure out if she meant more to me than my deeply ingrained philosophy, outlook, and approach to life. Jo was okay, at least well enough that she didn’t imminently need me. Tubby would be there to take care of her while I tried to get my head on straight and prioritize.

So, I didn’t say anything. I turned the doorknob in my hand and opened the door.

Her eyes darted to my hand before she looked back up at my face. Jo shook her head and tried to appear strong. “If you leave now, don’t think you can just come back. If you go, you go for good. I don’t want to see you again.”

“You don’t mean that,” I told her, calling her bluff. She was scared and upset and unsure. “I do care about you, Jo. I just need to think.”

“About what?” She flung her arms out at her sides, questioning me. “If you care, you’ll stay.”

“It’s not that easy!”

“Yes it is, Kris. It is that fucking easy. So what are you going to do? Stay, or go?”

I left.

Tubby looked at me funny as I exited the room, obviously wondering what was going on. I shoved my hands in my pockets and just kept walking, not bothering to look up at him. He didn’t like me, so there wasn’t going to be any pleasantries exchanged. And if I had upset Jo, then he really wasn’t going to be happy with me.

The idea struck me, as I left the hospital: it was Jo’s perspective, about putting yourself before others, which I had adopted and obeying right now. And she said I had learned nothing from her.

I just needed space, room to breathe, room to think. Jo had me all confused. I wanted to stay, but I needed to get away. It was bad enough knowing that she had been in an accident, but seeing her... seeing the injuries... the image was burned into my mind’s eye. It was not something I’d be able to forget sometime soon.

I started driving home to my apartment, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to be there. That place had too many memories of Jo, of times when she would come over. Sitting on the couch with her, my head in her lap, as we watched Ice Road Truckers; standing in my kitchen, eating dinner; showering together in my bathroom; and lying in bed with her, and everything that entailed. I couldn’t go back there, yet. So I kept driving, no real place in mind to go.

My body moved autonomously, independently of my brain, so when I pulled up in front of the rink, I didn’t know how I had gotten here. It was an old, outdoor rink, one that I had seen a few times when I had driven around town, but had never stopped at before. There were shaky-looking metal stands on the opposite side, where I walked over and sat, all alone. Luc and I had practiced in rinks, much like this one, when we weren’t playing games.

At times like these, I wished Luc were still around. The irony of the situation was not lost on me, because I knew that if he were, in fact, still alive, I wouldn’t be in this position and in need of his help and advice. Everything would have been different. I wouldn’t be the person I was right now. I wouldn’t have cared if Jo rode a motorcycle because I would probably be riding one with Luc. Then again, I wouldn’t have had the need confront Jo about the issue and want to befriend and help her.

If I were adhering to my philosophy, I would want to tell Jo just to stop riding her motorcycle. That she should count herself lucky that it wasn’t any worse and learn her lesson about how dangerous it was—and give it up. But she enjoyed it too much and she was too stubborn to see it that way.

I tried to pretend Luc’s accident never happened. That he was here with me. “What would you do, Luc?” My feet rested on the bench on front of me, and I placed my elbows on my knees and then cradled my head in my hands. “How would you handle this?”

Jo and Luc were so alike that I knew the answer without imagining what he’d say. He’d get right back on his bike. He never gave up on anything, despite his ailments and injuries. Luc would have seen it as a setback, but nothing more. And he would have teased me for being a chicken, for taking things so seriously. Luc loved life and loved to live it fervently, with such carefree passion. He wouldn’t have let anything hold him back from doing what he wanted to do. He never did.

And most importantly, he’d want me to be happy. He was my best friend; that’s all he’d ever want for me. Jo—usually—made me happy. I was so worked up right now, though. My stomach was churning, my head was reeling, and I couldn’t sit still. I wanted to calm down, to relax, but I couldn’t. The last time I was feeling this worked up, when I injured my shoulder, I had Jo to distract and mollify me. I didn’t have that luxury this time around, because she was the reason for my anxiety.

I wondered why things happened the way they did. How was it that Luc’s crash was so bad and he died, when Jo was relatively unhurt? Was it luck? Circumstance? Fate?

If this were fate, why did I meet Jo? I thought, when I met her, that I was supposed to help. I thought it was a calling, a purpose, that there was a reason behind our meeting. I thought that I was meant to help and point her in the right direction in order to get her life back and achieve her postponed dreams. In some respects, I did, but not enough or not in time. Maybe it wasn’t destiny after all. Maybe it was just a random happening. But if it were random, then why did it feel so... epic? Monumental? Why did it feel like it was supposed to mean so much?

And why couldn’t just one thing go smoothly for me? Growing up wasn’t easy, when it was just me and my mom. It certainly wasn’t easy when my stepdad entered the picture, either. Because I had been the man of the house for so long, and then it was a lot of adjustment. Luc’s death. Getting injured. And now, my girlfriend’s accident. At what point was life supposed to get easier? Sure, there were a lot of good things in my life. Making it to the NHL. Being friends with Luc, for as long as that lasted. Meeting Jo.

I groaned out loud. Jo was fun. I did enjoy our time together. But was the struggle worth the happiness, in exchange? Were the fun and good times and shared affection enough to cancel out the pain? Because she was bound to be stubborn and difficult in the future, no matter what. Jo was always going to be synonymous with frustration and aggravation. Maybe I should just cash in my chips and call it quits while I was ahead, before I became too emotionally invested and this would be more difficult.

Laughter pulled me out of my thoughts. I lifted my head enough to watch as a bunch of kids dropped their bags and funneled onto the rink, forming teams and calling sides. I started wishing I was young again, like those kids, with the knowledge that I had today. There were so many things that I would have done differently. But I still couldn’t figure out what I should do about the present.

Still, I didn’t have any answers. I wanted so badly to talk to Luc, even if I thought I knew what he’d say to me. Hearing it from him would just be such a relief. But I couldn’t talk to him, so I decided to do the next best thing: call Charlene.

Monday, February 22, 2010

46.) Hospital Visit

Soundtrack Song - Rise Against, Savior

I woke up again, this time after having been sedated. This was really getting old. But when I wouldn't calm down, the doctor had calmed me down for me with a quick injection.

Not thinking and perhaps still groggy, I brought my hands up to my face so I could rub my eyes with the back of my hands, but I hit my brow with my cast and cursed. “Oh fucking hell.”

I heard the deep chuckle beside me before I realized that I wasn’t alone. “Don’t hurt yourself.”

“You mean, don’t hurt myself any more than I already have,” I groaned, dropping my hands down at my sides. Then I grimaced from the pain in my arm. This was going to take a lot of getting used to. I turned my head to the side, glancing at Tubby. He was sitting in a chair at the side of bed, watching me intently. “Hi.”

“Hey. How ya doing, Evel Knievel?”

I looked back down at my bed, seeing pieces of leather stretched across my lap like pieces of a puzzle, laid out and put back into place so it looked like a jacket again. My eyes burned with fresh tears, remembering everything. I scrunched up my face in an attempt to curb my reaction. “Not too good.”

“It’s okay, Jo-Jo. Don’t cry. Hey, don’t cry,” he cooed, pushing off the chair. He sat on the flat portion of my bed by my hip and leaned over me, pulling me toward him and holding me against his chest. His mouth was right by my ear as he whispered, “I know it’s his jacket, baby girl. But it’s only his jacket.”

With my good hand, I held onto his strong shoulder for support and strength. “It was all I had left of him, Tubby. It was all I had left of him that I could touch and hold onto.”

“We’ll get it fixed. Stitch it together. Patch it up, and it’ll be as good as new.”

“No! It’s ruined! Look at what they did to it, Tubby. Just look!” I pulled back from him and grabbed at the leather on my lap. “Three pieces. Three random pieces....”

“They needed to get it off you as quickly as possible. Like tearing off wrapping paper.”

“But I told them no. Ask Dave. I said no.”

“Who’s Dave?” He shook his head and spoke a little more sternly as he looked down at me again. “Doesn’t matter. They were doing what they had to do to fix you. They had to. Your wellness is worth a lot more than that jacket. So please, stop crying, or else they’re going to have to sedate you again. ’Cause then I won’t be able to take you home yet.”

“You don’t understand,” I wept, shaking my head and pulling the pieces up to my chest and underneath my chin, clutching onto them like a child holding a blanket to ward off nightmares and monsters. No one understood. There was only one person on this Earth who would understand. I had completely forgotten about him as I had lain in pain and then cried over James—what kind of horrible girlfriend did that make me? I would make it up to him, somehow, but I really truly needed him right now. “Where’s Kris?”

Tubby turned so his back was facing me, but he was still sitting on the bed. He wiped his hand over his face. “Out in the waiting room. Got some visitors out there, wanting to make sure you’re all right. They’d only allow one person in here ’til you woke up. I’ll send ’em in, and then I’m gonna go get you some clothes to leave in, okay?”

“Okay,” I said, grateful to hear that Kris was here, and also a tiny bit curious to know who else had showed up. But mostly happy to know Kris was here.

“I’ll be back in a few.” He squeezed my arm above the cast, gently so not to hurt my arm, and then he stood and left the room. My eyes stayed focused on the door as I waited for Kris to join me. I heard feet shuffling, and my anticipation grew. First I saw Heather, who sat in the seat where Tubby had been, and then Jordan, who stood at the foot of the bed and peered nervously down at me. Kris trailed behind them and hovered in the doorway, but he wouldn’t look at me.

For a moment, no one said anything. Then Jordan finally cracked, “So, how ’bout them Steelers?”

I tried to give him a small smile, appreciating his attempt at humor. Heather shot him a sharp glance. “Be a little more sensitive.” She faced me and added, “We were with Kris when he got the news. I hope you don’t mind that we tagged along to see how you were doing.”

“No, it’s okay,” I told them. “I’m fine.” Jordan raised his eyebrows, taking in the sight of my broken bones, painful and red road rash, and my tear-streaked face. “Really, I mean it. This is the worst of it. And I’m on Vicodin or something, so I’m just fine.”

“Then why are you so upset?” she pressed.

My fingers curled into the leather, and I looked over at the dark, brooding figure in the doorway. I needed his comfort and attention, his understanding and reassurance. “Kris....”

Upon hearing his name, he looked in my general direction. I know he saw my casts and my cuts, but he still didn't look at my face and see me. My chest tightened as I realized how upset he was, even though he was trying to hide it. I went from needing his consolation to wanting to console him; I hated seeing him in this state, and unfortunately, this was the second time this week he was worried on account of me.

I said his name again, but this time, it was soothingly and beckoning. “Kris.”

Heather stood and grabbed Jordan’s arm. “Glad to see you’re all right, Jo. I’ll call you sometime, and you, me, and Kelsey can all get together soon.”

I nodded, thanking them for coming. It was quiet in the room as they left, and I heard Jordan say, “Why did we come down if we were only going to stay for two minutes?” Then I heard a thump and a groan. I would have laughed if I wasn’t so worried about the way Kris wasn’t looking at me or speaking.

There was so much that I wanted to say to Kris. That I was happy that he was here. That I didn’t want him to look so damn scared, because I was fine. That I was so, so sorry for worrying him, but that he didn’t need to worry any longer. Those words of assurance, though, caught in my throat, and instead I begged, “Please look at me, Kristopher.”

He pressed his lips together and sucked them between his teeth, biting down as he finally met my gaze. I was able to read every emotion in those dark brown, puppy-dog eyes: worry, anger, sadness, relief, frustration, and helplessness. It tore at me.

“Thanks for being here,” I said. Then I subtly jerked my head to the side, gesturing for him to come sit by me on my right side—my good side. I just wanted him beside me, close by.

Kris hesitated long enough that I thought maybe he wouldn’t step forward; however, he did. He perched himself carefully on the edge of the bed, making sure to give me lots of space. I didn’t want space. I wanted him to touch me and comfort me, but he was so tentative and scared. I didn’t mean to scare him. I waited for him to make the first move and let me know what he was thinking.

“How did it happen, Jo?”

“Do we really have to talk about this now?”

“Yeah. Yes. Please tell me,” he beseeched, searching for answers in my eyes.

I sighed. “I was going through an intersection, and a truck came into my lane, so I swerved to miss it. And here I am.”

“That’s it?”

“Um, I guess,” I replied, not sure how to answer to that question.

“It looks bad. Like, worse than what you said happened. Did it hurt bad?”

“Yeah. Pretty bad. But....” I shrugged and puffed out my cheeks, slowly exhaling. What else was I supposed to say? It was a motorcycle accident; of course it hurt. But there wasn’t much sense in complaining about it, because I was in this mess and complaining wouldn’t change it or lessen the pain. I just had to deal with it.

“You’re so lucky, Jo, that this wasn’t any worse.”

That rubbed me the wrong way. I hissed, “What? Don't tell me I'm lucky. I'm not lucky that this wasn’t worse—I'd be lucky if I didn't get into the accident at all! I was being careful, and it still happened. And then look!” I grabbed the pieces of James’s jacket again and held them up for him to see.

He reached out and felt the worn leather, visually examining it and trying to see what the big deal was. “So?”

I realized then that he didn’t know, so I explained. “This was James’s leather jacket. He wore this thing everywhere like a fucking rock star. And now, just look at it.” I cried as I relayed what happened, because it hurt worse than the physical memories of the accident. “The zipper had jammed from the force of the accident, I guess. And they couldn’t get it off, so they had to cut it. And now I can’t wear it anymore, or pull it around me and remember him.”

“Shh,” he hushed quietly and soothingly, letting go of the jacket as I pulled the tattered remnants against me. “It’s okay, Jo. You can still remember him without this. Your memories don’t go away just because you don’t have his jacket in one piece.”

“No, I can’t. When I wear it, it’s like he’s still here. I could smell him and just feel him with me. Without this, he’ll be totally gone. I already miss him so much, and if I don’t have this....”

“It’s not about the jacket. The jacket is just a material thing. It’s something that he wore. It wasn’t him, and it’s not the important part of him, either. It’s not who he was.” Kris shook his head and began to scold me. “I can’t believe that you were in this accident, you’re here in the hospital, and you’re upset over a thing.”

“You were supposed to understand,” I mumbled through my body-wracking sobs, feeling angry that Kris, as the one person who should have known me better than anyone else in the world, let me down. “James is gone, and this was this last thing of his that I had. It’s like he’s dying again. I thought you, of all people, would get it.”

Kris grimaced noticeably. “I do, Jo. I understand exactly how you feel. I know what it’s like to have to relive the worst day of your life and have to deal with the idea of losing someone you care about, all over again.”

Suddenly, it all clicked. He wasn’t distressed over me; he probably was, partially, but definitely not fully. I didn’t understand until this very moment that he was going through, in his own way, precisely what I was going through. The epiphany hit me and sucked the air out of my lungs like I had the wind knocked out of me. For me, this wasn’t just about the accident, it was about James—and for him, this wasn’t just about my accident. It was about Luc, too.

I dropped the worn leather and latched onto Kris instead. He needed me as much as I needed him. “I’m sorry, Kristopher. I didn’t even think.... Oh, fuck, I’m such a moron.”

“I was so terrified,” he whispered, so low that I wasn’t sure if he had really said that. “It was bad enough that I got the news that you were in an accident, but then when I heard it was on your bike?”

I bit my tongue, not wanting to say what was on my mind. He was implying, whether he meant to or not, that it would have been okay if I were in a car accident—but because a motorcycle was involved, it was wrong. I was wrong. However, I let it slide and instead of calling his bluff, I pulled him closer toward me. He looked at my face, his eyes quickly darting down to my lips; I thought for sure that he was going to kiss me, but he pressed his lips against my forehead rather than my mouth before we wrapped our arms around each other and tried to absorb solace from each other.

We stayed that way and held each other for a while, neither talking nor moving, until footsteps interrupted us and we pulled away. “Sorry,” Tubby said upon his return. “But I brought clothes, so we can get you checked out and home.”

“Good,” I sighed, ready to leave this temporary hell. “I can’t wait to get out of this damn paper gown. But, I’m going to need some help.” I hated having to admit that I wouldn’t be able to dress myself, but it would be difficult to do it on my own.

“I’ll do it,” Kris offered, holding his hand out to take the clothes from Tubby. He was resigned about it, and I got the feeling that he thought it was his duty. Or he didn’t think Tubby should see me naked, either one.

Without putting up an argument, Tubby handed over the makeshift outfit. It was a pair of Tubby’s black sweats—no doubt he had been worried that a pair of my own wouldn’t fit over my cast—a pair of boycut panties, a sports bra, and a zip-up hoodie. Tubby closed the door and left Kris and me alone again. He gingerly pulled the underwear and pants on for me as I did my best to prop myself up. It was difficult, though, because I could only put my weight on my right arm and foot. It was like only having the use of one side of my body and the other side was merely dead weight.

I threw the sports bra on over my head but struggled to pull it fully down my side. “Here, let me.” Kris was careful to pull the elastic over my breasts and down my back. It was amazing how the little things were suddenly so troublesome to accomplish.

“A lot easier to take off my clothes than put them on, huh?” I laughed, trying to find humor in the situation.

Kris didn’t find it so funny. He shook his head but didn’t comment. “Your tattoo’s not scraped up,” he pointed out as he grabbed my hoodie to help with that as well.

“Oh, no,” I replied. “The jacket protected me from getting road rash on my arms, stomach, and back.”

I slid my arms into the sleeves, and he joined the edges of the hoodie and began to zip. “Sounds like your big brother was there to save you from the worst, once again.”

Taking a moment to process what he said, I pressed my palm against my forehead and tried to force my body to breathe. Kris had a knack for saying things that rocked my foundation, like he had a whole different perspective on the situation than I did. First when he said James saved me from seeing his death, and now that his jacket had prevented the crash from hurting me any worse.

“See, this is why you shouldn’t be so upset about his jacket, Jo.” Kris’s voice was steady and calm. “You had it for when you needed it. And now, maybe, you don’t need it anymore.”

I shook my head, not agreeing with that logic. “I will never not need James. And even if I don’t need that jacket, I want it. That’s not fair. You can’t tell me to let go of the past, when you obviously aren’t ready to let go, either.”

Kris looked down at me as I sat on the bed, my arms now crossed over my chest. He was being hypocritical, and I wasn’t going to be tolerant of it on today of all days. Not after everything I’d been through. Not if he was going to treat me like an imbecile.

He couldn’t encourage me to move on when he was still stuck in his own ways. After everything we’d been through, he hadn’t learned anything about how he can’t plan for and expect the worst at the expense of really living. He was still in his own bubble world where he was right, I was wrong, and there was no middle ground, so I needed to be schooled. Well, he needed some sense knocked into him right now. He needed a wake-up call, and I was willing to give it to him.

Instead of egging me on, he surrendered; he once again kissed my forehead and headed for the door. I was shocked. “Where the hell do you think you’re going?”

Sunday, February 21, 2010

45.) Shades of Gray

Soundtrack Song - O.A.R., Shattered

“Heather, just leave him alone.” I heard Staal’s voice as the mild wind swirled around me as I sat on the curb outside the deli.

“I will not ‘just leave him alone,’” she replied firmly as she sat beside me. “Kris. I know you’re worried—”

“You have no idea how I’m feeling right now.” A little voice in the back of my head told me that I was being rude and inconsiderate, but I didn’t care. She wanted to help, but she was being patronizing about it. Heather didn’t know how I felt after losing Luc. And she didn’t know what it was like to feel those very emotions all over again. That sense of helplessness, over not being able to do a damn thing to help someone I cared so much about. Feebly impotent, in knowing that Jo was somewhere else, beaten up and worn, and that I was powerless to do anything to change what had happened or ease her discomfort. Incompetent.

It was worse this time, trying to deal with the news of the accident, because I had already been through it. I was reliving Luc’s death as well as dealing with the scare of losing someone else I cared about. Jo was putting me through that all again, whether she meant to or not, and it was exponentially worse this time. Maybe I should have been feeling differently about it, because she was alive. While I was relieved to know that she was okay, or going to be okay, my heart was still frozen in my chest as I tried to digest the information, like it would never ever beat again.

When Luc died, it was a sudden shock. We knew bikes were dangerous, but that didn’t stop him from buying one and riding it. I was going to, too. And when Luc had gotten into his accident, I decided that motorcycles were dangerous, and I was going to do what I could to make sure any future accidents could be prevented. It became my life’s mission. Luc’s death was a horrible, egregious mistake, and I almost let it happen again. I had failed in my task. And worst of all, I had failed to protect my girlfriend from that fate. I should have known better. I should have tried harder.

But, in the end, it was her decision. I had said what I had wanted to say and told her how I felt about her riding, but ultimately, it wasn’t up to me. Everything had always been her choice. When we talked the afternoon after she’d been drugged and I told her how scared I was feeling that it had happened, Jo had been the one to agree and lay off party behavior. I never told her to or made her. And then, when I suggested a color for her hair and she got mad, I made it clear that it was only a suggestion. It was her decision to accept my offer. So if she wanted to ride her motorcycle, that was up to her; if she didn’t want to heed my advice, there was nothing I could do about it.

Let’s get one thing straight: I didn’t want her to be in this position. I never wanted that, for her to “learn a lesson” or to have to go through this to understand where I was coming from; this wasn’t about I-told-you-so’s. This wasn’t about whether or not I thought she should have listened to me. This wasn’t just about Jo.

It would make me an asshole if I turned this situation into something about how I felt. Jo was hurt and in the hospital. Physically hurt—and to what extent, I didn’t know. Of course I felt bad for her and my heart went out to her, and I hoped that it wasn’t serious and she’d make a full recovery. Jo maybe was the one in the hospital, but I was hurt, too. I wasn’t bleeding, but I was broken. I was gutted. And scared, worried, concerned, angry, guilty, in shock, frustrated, confused, out to sea, and devastated. My feelings were legitimate and warranted, but Heather didn’t want to afford me that. She had me backed up, up against a wall.

“Okay. You’re right. I don’t know. But I know that you care about her. Maybe love her, I don’t know. And that this is your worst nightmare coming back to haunt you. But you have got to put that aside for now, for her sake. I bet she’s scared and in pain, and you being there would really help her. This is just like what happened after the club. You have to be there for her if you want to work through it together.”

“You don’t understand. I can’t.” I wanted to tell Heather how the fear was paralyzing. I was scared to death of Jo dying, especially this way. She was so lucky that it wasn’t worse than what it was, and I was so lucky, too. Just the prospect of what could have been was emotionally crippling.

It was like a phobia, a deep-seeded fear that was as much a part of me as my name or my eye color. But this was more rational than a fear of spiders or of snakes. What is more terrifying than losing someone close to you? What is more terrifying than having to go through those emotions twice? Maybe it didn’t happen the second time, but it almost did, and that scared the living shit out of me.

“You don’t even want to see her? Not at all?”

“Not like this, Heather. I don’t think I can see her hurt.” It was an opportunity I never had with Luc. He died instantly; there was no chance to say goodbye. It had been so sudden, so final with him. I didn’t know how to deal under the present circumstances, now that everything was up in the air. Now, I had to think about things that I didn’t have to confront when Luc died, because things had been so black and white up until now. Everything I thought I knew was now tinted in shades of gray, my world entirely upended.

Heather sighed and tucked a curl of her long, blonde hair behind her ear. “You’re not going because you want to see her in her hurt condition. Of course you don’t want that. Whatever her injuries, that’s not why you’re going. You’re going to see her because she’s okay. To be happy and relieved that things weren’t worse, and to celebrate that fact.”

I shook my head. “It’s enough just to know that she’s okay. I’m glad that she’s okay. But if I went to see her, all I’d be able to see are the injuries. She wouldn’t want me to be there, with that kind of attitude, and I simply... can’t see it. It’s a reminder of something that happened... something that I can’t go through again.... If I don’t see it, I can pretend it didn’t happen, and that would be best for me and her.”

“You can’t just pretend it didn’t happen, Kris. It did. It sucks, but it did. Listen, I’m not saying that the past isn’t important. Because it is. It makes us who we are. But for right now, for Jo, you have to put your past behind you. You have got to live in the present, Kris, and focus on what’s important at this present moment. If you don’t go see her in the hospital now, you best believe that she’s not gonna wanna see you in the future.”

“Jo would understand,” I told Heather. “She knows what I went through with Luc. She’d understand. She’d forgive me.”

“Do you think so? Do you really believe that? Or are you just saying that because it’s what you want to believe?”

I balled my hands into fists and pressed them against my eyes until I was seeing spots. “If this were just about Jo, I would go. She knows I care about her. But....” It was about dealing with all the emotions I didn’t have to go through when Luc died. Heather wouldn’t get it. However, Jo would understand, because she lost James. She knows how hard it is, how that hurt never goes away and how some situations just dig up those devastating emotions all over again. Like how she was worried when I hurt my shoulder....

Fuck. She had been concerned when I had been injured in the game against the Sharks. Jo had shown up at my doorstep, visibly shaken and upset with the fresh memories of James’s hit on her mind. She had already had to confront her worst fears of me reliving James’s fate—and now it was my turn. I groaned and muttered, “Let’s go.”

“What?” Heather asked, not sure what I meant.

“You said you wanted to visit her?” She nodded. “Well, okay then. Let’s go.”

She smiled, happy that I had apparently come to my senses, but then she wiped that expression off her face. It was still a sad, unfortunate situation, and no one should have been smiling. Heather took my keys from me, insisting that she would drive since I was upset and probably not able to focus. It made sense, even though I wished that I could have busied myself with doing something, like driving.

I stared out the window as Heather maneuvered my car around the city streets, Staal following behind us in his SUV. The only thing on my mind was what it was going to be like to see her. Tubby had said she was pretty banged up, but what did that mean? Bumps? Bruises? Fractures? Stitches? Scrapes?

I didn’t have experience with this aspect of an accident. I had dealt with death, not injury and concern. It was so complex, and I didn’t know what I was feeling. I wondered what Jo was feeling. Was she upset? Furious? Penitent and regretful, wishing she’d have driven instead, or would she be resigned, knowing that she took this risk when she straddled her motorcycle?

Would she even want to see me? Would she think that I would just want to lecture her? This wasn’t a time for that. It didn’t matter anyway; I’d already said everything I could have said to her about it, and she still chose what she chose and did what she did. Like Jo had once said to me: You can be upset that it happened, but you can’t change it so don’t let it change you. Getting upset about it wouldn’t change what happened, so I just had to find a way to deal with it.

There wouldn’t be anything to deal with if I had let her walk by me without noticing her the night of the season opener. If maybe I had lingered in the dressing room with the guys for just a half a minute longer so I wouldn’t have seen her in the parking lot while waiting for the bus. Or if I hadn’t have tossed my towel toward the bin when she was standing there in the locker room, weeks later. Or even if I had just decided to keep my nose in my own business and not done what I thought was right by interfering.

But I couldn’t have not done that. It wasn’t in line with my life’s mission of atoning for Luc’s death. I didn’t, however, have to get involved emotionally with her. I knew the type of person she was when I started having feelings for her, and she knew who I was when she confessed she felt it, too. I knew that she liked to ride and party, but she knew that I didn’t approve of those things. We thought we could get past that. I didn’t know if we could get past this now.

I guess I just had to see her and talk to her, and then we’d go from there.

“Are you coming?” Heather’s words pulled me out of my thoughts, and all of a sudden I realized that the car was stopped, in park, and the engine was off. We were at the hospital already. “We’re here.”

Letting out a deep breath, I didn’t move. Now that I was here, this seemed like a bad idea. Once I walked into that building, into her room, and saw her, whatever shape she was in, I couldn’t undo it. The implications would have to be dealt with, and no matter what happened, it wasn’t going to be easy. I wasn’t sure if I were up for that task. I didn’t want things to change between us, but I didn’t think that it would be possible for anything to not change in our relationship after this.

I looked over at Heather. Her eyebrow was raised and imploring for an answer in a soft, gentle way. I wanted nothing more than to slide over into the driver’s seat and put the car in reverse and back out of here. Call me a coward, but I just did not want to confront these demons; I wasn’t strong enough. It was easier when Luc died, because then I was just left solely with my devastation. But now, there were so many other consequences to stress over and address. The uncertainty was killing me, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to take that step and find out what was to come next.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

44.) Pieces

Soundtrack Song - Thrice, Artist in the Ambulance

I hurt. Oh man, I hurt so badly.

Everything had momentarily slowed down. Time had crept by, and it felt like I had all the time in the whole world to act and react and do something; but just as much as time had slowed, so did my ability to do something about it.

The bike had slid out from underneath me, and I had fallen onto my left side. I tried to brace my fall with my arm, but I felt a snap and it did little to break my fall. I tucked my head toward my chest and my shoulder took the brunt of the hit against the concrete.

My boot was stuck between the foot rest and the shift pedal, so I was dragged along the road with the momentum of the bike for several yards. The weight of the bike pressed my leg against the cement as it pulled me along with it, and the denim of my jeans began to wear away. I felt every stone and piece of gravel imbed themselves into my skin.

My foot broke loose from the bike, and the bike continued to slide without me. The inertia caused my body to roll over so many times that I lost track of what was up and what was down as I was thrown around like a rag doll. Finally, I came to a stop.

For a couple seconds, I couldn’t do anything. I could barely breathe because it hurt so much. Assuming that it would be easier to inhale without my helmet on, I brought my right hand up to my chin strap, and I gingerly unfastened it. I thought I heard someone yelling, Call 911!, but it felt so far off.

“Don’t take your helmet off!” The voice was a little louder, so he must have been coming closer. It still sounded like I was under water, though. The helmet was muffling the sounds, and I wondered how far out of the intersection I was. A man’s face came into view, blocking out the sun. “Don’t move. You could have a neck or back injury. I’m so fucking sorry. My daughter’s on the phone, and there’s an ambulance on its way. Christ, I didn’t even see you.”

“Ugh, fuck,” I groaned, giving up on taking off the helmet and settling for flipping up the shield. I wanted to sit up, but I couldn’t put any pressure on my left arm. It was definitely broken and completely useless.

“Oh fucking Christ, you’re a girl. I’m so, so sorry.”

I pinched my eyes shut, not wanting to look at anything to assess the situation. If I couldn’t see the damage, then I wouldn’t know for sure. And if I didn’t know for sure, then I could pretend nothing was wrong. Except it still hurt like hell. I wanted it to hurt so bad that I would black out, but the situation wasn’t that dire, so I was conscious for every miserable, painful second.

“How’s my bike?” I asked, trying to concentrate on my breathing and keeping it steady. My chest and my ribs hurt from rolling over, and I wished that I didn’t need to use my lungs so I could spare myself the pain of inhaling air. I really just wanted to be unconscious. Since I wasn’t, I tried to focus on something else, like how messed up my bike probably was. I really wouldn’t be able to afford to get it fixed, let alone get a new one if it was in bad shape.

“Your bike? You’re all mangled, and you care about your bike?”

I didn’t answer him. What was I supposed to say? Part of me understood that he was trying to help, but the accident was his fault. If he wouldn’t have caused it, then he wouldn’t have to hover over me annoyingly. I just wanted him to go away.

“I don’t know what to do.” He turned his head and yelled to someone else. “Claire, grab the blanket out of the truck!” He spoke to me again. “Please open your eyes. Look at me. Come on, hun.”

“No,” I moaned. I was pissed that he called me “hun,” like I was someone he knew.

“At least keep talking, so I know you’re still alive. Please don’t die. I’m so sorry. Just don’t die. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”

I answered him sarcastically. “Gee, in that case, I’ll try.” If I had had any energy, I would have punched him. What an asshole. I felt pressure around my left leg and screamed, “What the fuck are you doing?!”

“I’m trying to stop the bleeding. Jesus. It’s probably broken.”

“Ya think?! I fucking fell off my bike! Do you think I broke my leg?!” I forgot about trying not to move. I reached up to cover my face with my right hand, straining to maintain my ebbing patience—I knew freaking out wasn’t going to help, but I wanted to cuss him out.

Similarly to the way time had slowed when I was crashing, things started to blur together. I couldn’t tell if time was passing by quickly or slowly; it simultaneously felt like both. There were other voices, too, but they were muffled. Someone was directing traffic around me. The sirens began as a faint sound off in the distance, until it was deafeningly loud. The remorseful driver was pushed away, and two new strangers approached, wearing EMT uniforms. One talked while the other immediately got to work.

“We’re here to help. You’re gonna be okay. My name’s Dave,” the talker said. “What’s yours?”

“Jo,” I replied with a groan, speaking in quick bursts with short breaths. “I’d say it’s a pleasure to meet you, but it really isn’t.”

Dave laughed. “Glad to see your sense of humor’s still intact. That’s a good sign.”

“Are my limbs still attached? Because that would be a good sign.”

“Yeah,” he chuckled. “You’re in one piece. Leg’s definitely broken. Pretty bad road rash, too. Any loss of sensation?”

“I wish. If you’ve got any painkillers, now would be a great time to give them to me. My arm’s broken, too,” I told him. “I felt it happen.”

“We’ll get to that. Do you know where you are?”

“Brown and Jefferson. At least, I was.”

“Close enough. Open up your eyes,” he instructed softly, holding my head still with his hand as he shone a light into each of my eyes. “Pupils reactive,” he told the other guy, who was doing something with my leg. I bit my lip against the pain, trying not to scream. I still didn’t want to look down. “I’m going to stabilize your neck, and then we’ll see about taking your helmet off, okay?”

“I didn’t hit my head. My neck’s fine.”

“That’s good, but we’ve gotta be safe.” He placed the brace around my neck and carefully took my helmet off. Dave was working quickly and efficiently, giving me a sense of the urgency of the situation. Oddly enough, even though I was in a lot of pain, I wasn’t worried. “Now I need to take your jacket off, to see your arm and check out your ribs and stomach, okay?”

“You just wanna see my tits,” I quipped breathlessly. Just like always, I tried to use humor to lessen the severity of the mood. I knew I was going to be okay, and I needed the paramedics to be a little less serious. I wanted them to help me, but not act so damn somber.

“Just a perk of the job, I guess,” he replied, teasing me right back. Thank God he wasn’t a stick in the mud, because I would have gone crazy. Maybe he just knew that I needed him to joke back with me. “I promise to just look and not touch, okay?” He reached for the zipper and tugged it downward, but it didn’t budge. “Must’ve jammed,” Dave said aloud, either to me or his partner, I wasn’t sure. “We’re gonna have to cut off her leathers.”

“No,” I told him sternly. No way in fucking hell were they going to cut off my jacket and irrevocably ruin it. It was James’s, and it was all I had left of him. It was my security blanket. It smelled like him. I needed it in one piece. I’d rather die in it than have them cut it and save my life.

“Jo, we have to. I’ve got to see if your arm’s bleeding. What the fracture looks like. Or if there’s any internal bleeding.”

“No. I don’t care. No, no, no. You can’t do it if I don’t let you. And I’m not letting you.”

Dave looked up at the other paramedic, who shrugged in response. “Whatever. She’s in stable condition, she’s immobilized, I’ve got her leg in a splint, and she’s okay to move. Let them deal with it at the hospital.”

Dave shook his head and peered back down at me, so confused. “You can always buy a new jacket. It’s not a big deal. Please, Jo. Just a cut up the sleeve and at the side.” I tried to shake my head, and it rattled the brace. Dave placed his hands on the sides of my head and kept me still.

Tears formed in my eyes for the first time during this whole ordeal. “No. You can’t. It’s not my jacket. I can’t let anything happen to it. You don’t understand....”

He grunted and sighed. “We could puncture a lung if we move you and one of your ribs is broken. If we don’t know what we’re dealing with—”

“I don’t care. Don’t fucking cut it.”

Without my permission, they couldn’t remove my jacket. So they put me on a stretcher and then moved me into the ambulance. I don’t remember much about the ride. Every time I tried to close my eyes, Dave made me open them again. He did what he could to keep me talking and alert, but I just wanted to block it all out. He got whatever details he needed from me, like emergency contact information. I gave him Tubby’s phone number, knowing that they’d probably give him a hassle for not being family, but I made it clear that Tubby was the closest thing to family that I had. He probably would be able to make better informed decisions than my drunkard father, anyway.

My right hand came up to my zipper, hoping that I could magically get it to work. The only thing I could do was hope that the hospital would be able to get it off some other way, like pull it over my head once the neck brace could come off. Or stitch-rip the zipper and not cut the leather, because I could get that fixed and still have the jacket in one piece.

When the ambulance arrived at the hospital, I was whisked away under the fluorescent lights. Dave talked over me to the doctors, running through the list of injuries and what they did as emergency responders. It felt so surreal, like I was on an episode of ER. No one was talking to me, but they were all talking about me. I was like a dummy: something for them to work on without having to acknowledge that I was living, breathing, and awake. They pushed me into a sterile room as a doctor barked orders, talking about IVs and cleaning wounds and X-rays. They knew what they were doing; I was in capable hands.

I tried to warn them about how to take off my jacket, that they weren’t allowed to cut it, but a sudden wave of pain washed over me as a nurse took a brush to the abrasions on my leg. I screamed, begging them to stop, my jacket now the last thing on my mind. Not taking any heed to my implorations, they didn’t stop. The pain was so unbearable—infinitely worse than the injuries from the actual crash—that I finally got my wish and passed out.

When I came to, hours later, I was in a hospital room, lying in a bed with my broken leg in a plaster cast and elevated. I was in an uncomfortable hospital gown, which exposed all the cuts and bruises that covered and colored my left thigh. My arm was in a cast as well. My neck was free, and I could move my head again, allowing me to assess all the damage. I didn’t hurt as badly as before, so they must have doped me up with Vicodin.

It didn’t seem so bad. Besides my broken arm, the majority of the damage was restricted to my lower body. James’s jacket had protected my stomach, chest, and arms from road burn, so it only hurt from the initial contact from falling.

James’s jacket.

I tried to push myself up on the bed, looking around. I needed to make sure they got the jacket off okay. Searching around the room, I tried to find my things. My jeans were probably torn to shreds, but my jacket was just scuffed and worn. They couldn’t have just thrown it out.

A nurse walked in, and noticed that I was awake. She asked how I was feeling, but I cut her off and blatantly asked, “Where the fuck is my jacket?”

She immediately left the room, not giving me an answer. I grew impatient as she summoned for the doctor. How hard was it to answer one simple fucking question? Some guy in a white coat walked in and introduced himself, but I also interrupted him with the same question. “Where the fuck is my jacket?”

He cleared his throat and nodded to the nurse, who opened the dresser across the room. “It was removed so we could set your arm.”

“Removed how?”

I had my answer when the nurse presented me with three pieces of leather. “No. This is a sick joke, right? I told them not to cut it off. I told them,” I said forcefully, in complete disbelief. They couldn’t have done this. They didn’t have my consent.

The nurse handed me the pieces, and I ripped them out of her grasp. Pressing the leather to my face, I took a deep breath. It smelled burned from being dragged down the road; there was a hint of Axe body spray mingled with the leather. It was James’s distinct, characteristic scent, on what had to be James’s cut up jacket. James’s ruined, desecrated jacket.

I shook my head, blinking ferociously in an attempt to hold back the torrents of tears. It didn’t work, and I buried my face in the leather as my heart broke into pieces, too. I couldn’t catch my breath as I cried harder than I had ever cried before. My body shook and hurt all over, but I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t make myself stop, and I didn’t want to, either. It hurt worse than my accident. I wanted to die.

It was like losing James, all over again.

Friday, February 19, 2010

43.) Not Again

Soundtrack Song - Boys Like Girls, Go

The doctor gave me good news. I could start skating again after the weekend. It wasn’t as good as being able to lace up my skates at this very moment and hit the ice, but it was a step in the right direction. It was a hard date, something concrete. Something to look forward to.

The guys were all out on the ice, and I didn’t hang around to see them or talk to them. It sucked, not being able to be out there with them. Under other circumstances, I probably would have felt lost, but I didn’t feel that way right now. I had somewhere to go, somewhere to be; Jo gave me a sense of direction during this difficult time for me. Without her, I’d probably still be brooding in my apartment about this whole ordeal.

I headed to the deli early, knowing that I was going to beat Jo there. She was always late; late for work, late for appointments, late for everything. Jo couldn’t be on time to save her life, so I ordered my lunch and decided to wait it out. We said we’d meet at noon—meaning I showed up fifteen minutes early, and Jo would probably show up half an hour late. Fully expecting this to be the case, I ate my sandwich in peace, my phone sitting on the table next to my bottle of Dasani as I waited for the call that I knew was coming: Kris, I’m so sorry! I’m running a little late, but I’m heading out the door right now. I’ll see you soon!

As I ate, feeling starved, I was glad that Jo had finally, for some reason, listened to me. It’s not that I didn’t like her hair as is, because I did; it was cute and it suited her, somehow. But it wasn’t her. It was a way that she hid and disguised herself, and she no longer had any reason to do any of that. It was also a way that she kept people at bay. With a tough-looking exterior, she intimidated other people. Jo, underneath that, was a sweetheart. No one got to see that, though.

It was a defense mechanism, and I knew what that was like. For a long time, I wanted to keep people at arm’s length because I didn’t want to let anyone else hurt me. Not that Luc did it on purpose, but when you experience pain, you want to do whatever you can to make sure you’ll never feel it again. However, that was a shallow life, and that’s why I decided to make long, lasting relationships with the people around me. Make them count.

See, Luc’s death made me steadfast in my beliefs. It didn’t really change me; instead it fortified my philosophies. But Jo dealt with death in the completely opposite way. She did a full one-eighty. She wasn’t the person she used to be, and she’d never be able to be that girl again—but that didn’t have to be a negative thing. That’s what I wanted to show her.

In the process, though, she taught me a few things, too. Jo showed me that it was okay to take some time for myself. That I didn’t always have to make sure that everyone else was taken care of first, because sometimes, the best thing you can possibly do is worry about yourself foremost. And it was okay to try new things every once in a while. And have fun. You can’t ever forget to just have fun.

I heard the door to the deli open, and I looked up. Instead of seeing Jo, I saw Staal and Heather. After they ordered, they joined me at my table. “Sup, Tanger?” Jordan asked, plopping down in the seat that was obviously too small for him and looking uncomfortable.

“Waiting for Jo,” I told them.

“Did you bring the handcuffs with you?” he laughed.

I sighed as Heather shot us a very confused look. I shook my head, not wanting to explain. Heather changed the subject. “How’s she doing, Kris? All recovered?”

“Yeah, I think so.” My phone started to ring. “In fact, that’s probably her, telling me she’ll be here soon.” It wasn't Jo’s number on my screen, but the timing was impeccable. It had to be her. “Hello?”

“Kris?” The voice was deep and raspy, and definitely not Jo’s. It sounded familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. “It’s Tubby.”

“Oh, hey man. Uh, how’s it going?” I asked. I couldn’t place the voice because it was, quite possibly, the last voice I would have expected to hear. I could only imagine what he wanted to talk about, and none of it was going to be good. I braced myself to hear him berate me again for something that wasn’t my fault.

“Uh, well, I've got bad news. Jo’s been in an accident....”

Tubby kept talking, but I couldn’t hear what else he was saying. I wasn’t sitting in the deli anymore with Staalsy and his girlfriend; it felt like I was suddenly somewhere else, at another point in time. I was leaving my apartment, heading for my car. The wind was chilly as it whipped around my body, but the sun was warm. Just another typical late May day. I was fishing my keys out of my pocket when I got the call, from my agent with the worst news of my life. I thought he was just checking in, like he usually did. Making sure everything was okay, since we were in the Finals. But it wasn’t an ordinary call.

“Kris, I’m sorry. Luc... he was in an accident. He was on a motorcycle, and he crashed, and well, I’m sorry. But he... he died.”

I relived that moment, over and over like a broken record in my head, until Heather reached out and brought me back into the present. “What is it, Kris? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“No. No, please, God, no. Not again,” I mumbled to myself. It was happening, all over again, and there was nothing I could do. And I couldn’t go through this again. My chest tightened, and I thought for sure that my heart was just going to completely stop beating altogether. I licked my lips and spoke into the phone, avoiding the concerned looks of my friends. “Is she...?” I couldn’t even finish the question. My mouth did not want to form that word, dead, because I couldn’t even think it. My brain purposely wouldn’t come to grips with that idea. It couldn’t be; she couldn’t be. I would know, somehow. If she were dead, I would be able to feel it. You can’t be connected to someone like this, like the way I was connected to Jo, and not be able to know somehow.

Since I didn’t feel any different, that meant that Jo had to be okay. She had to be okay.

“No, man. Oh, no, I didn’t mean to worry you like that. She’s not dead.”

“Okay. She’s alive,” I repeated, letting that sacred bit of information wash over me. I finally exhaled and remembered to breathe. I knew it... I knew she was okay, because I would have known otherwise. I would have known.

“Pretty banged up, though,” Tubby continued. “That’s about as much as I know right now. I don’t have the details about what happened. She’s at the hospital, being taken care of, so they haven’t let me see her yet. Since I’m not family, they won’t tell me anything, and I can’t get a hold of her dad. I thought you’d want to know. That you’d want to come down, too.”

I placed my elbow on the table and cradled my head with my free hand. “I’m just glad to hear she’s okay.”

“Hey, me, too. From what I overheard, the accident wasn’t her fault. But still. And, of course, she was wearing her helmet—”

“Wait,” I interjected, cutting him off with complete disregard for whatever else he had to say. “Her helmet? She was on her bike?”

“Uh, yeah,” Tubby clarified. “Didn’t you hear me say that before? I said she’s been in an accident. She swerved to miss a truck and skidded on her bike.”

That’s when I closed my eyes and pressed the palm of my hand against the bridge of my nose, hoping that the firm pressure would alleviate the ache in my head. She wasn’t supposed to be riding anymore. She told me that she wasn’t going to be riding anymore. We had reached that understanding weeks ago, before her birthday. She had said that we would deal with it in the spring when she could ride again.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not now. I mean, it wasn’t supposed to happen ever, but not now, after she told me that she wasn’t going to be riding. Why did she choose to get back on her motorcycle? Why today? Why, when she knew she was coming to meet me? Why, when she knew how I felt about it?

I should have told her I’d pick her up. I never should have suggested that she meet me here at the deli. After all, I’ve always come and gotten her. I’ve always driven. Why didn’t I do that this time? If I were driving, the accident wouldn’t have happened. And even if it would have, she would have been in a car, where there’s a metal carriage surrounding her. And seatbelts. She would have been safer with me.

But then again, if it hadn’t been for me, she wouldn’t have been on that bike in the first place, headed in that direction, with the sole purpose of meeting me for lunch. If I hadn’t have suggested this morning that she get her hair dyed back to its natural shade, or offered to take her to a salon and offered to pay for it, she wouldn’t have had a reason to be on the road this morning. Or would she have been out and about anyway, headed for another destination?

I couldn’t play these mind games. So many alternative decisions could have changed this, but maybe changing the circumstances wouldn’t have changed the outcome. Knowing this, I tried to figure out what I should do.

“Kris? You still there, man?” Tubby’s voice echoed through the phone.

“Yeah. I’m still here.”

“So, are you coming down? I know she’ll probably want to see you.”

“I....” I hesitated. “I don’t know.”

I hung up the phone, unable to talk to him any longer and force myself to confront my fears. It wasn’t about cowardice, but about self-preservation. I just couldn’t deal with it; it was too tough. At least I knew she was okay. Right now, that was all that mattered. But I couldn’t go see her. I just couldn’t face her.

“What was that about, Kris?” Heather asked, looking a little timid but still trying to pry the information from me. “What happened? To whom?”

“Jo. Accident,” I told them, placing my phone on the table and covering my face. Honestly, I felt so numb, stuck in disbelief. There was too much to try to digest at once. It was relieving to know that she was okay, but I was still so scared and upset.

“But you said she’s okay, right? I mean, she is okay?” Staal asked, speaking up.

I nodded. “I guess so. She’s in the hospital.” I wanted to yell and scream in frustration. I couldn’t believe this happened... again, that someone else I cared about was in a motorcycle accident. Weren’t there some statistics, somewhere, that stated this could only happen to an individual once in their lifetime—like how lightning never strikes the same place twice? Why was I being struck twice?

“Poor girl. Geez, how much can she possibly go through in the span of three days? Jord, we should go visit her. Can we visit her, Kris?”

I shrugged. “I guess.”

“Well, aren’t you going?” She was pushing me further in a way that I did not want to be pushed. I shrugged again, rubbing my forehead and trying to fight against the emotions that wanted to set in. It was easier to feel empty and numb. “Kristopher Letang, your girlfriend is in the hospital. What the hell does this mean?” she asked, mimicking my shrug.

“It means exactly what you think it means,” I snapped. “I don’t fucking know if I’m going. I don’t want to go and see her like that, after she knew I didn’t want her on that damn thing. For exactly this fucking reason. Because I didn’t want to see this happen to her, too. I didn’t want to have to go through this again!”

“But you said she’s okay. It’s not the same, Tanger. It’s not like Luc,” Staalsy said quietly.

I knew that he was just trying to help, but I hated to hear him say that. Jordan Staal, who was never serious, ever, was trying to advise me. “I can’t go see her. Not like this. I can’t. I just... can’t,” I told them, shaking my head and pushing away from the table, suddenly in desperate need of some fresh air.