Friday, April 30, 2010

80.) Mantra

What a game. What a goal by the leading man. One more period to go; keep it up, boys! Oh, and, to all of you who like to say I keep outdoing myself.... I can't outdo the last post. That was as close to perfect as I'll ever get, so don't keep your hopes up. :)



Soundtrack Song - Snow Patrol, Run

Just like a road trip.

I told myself that, over and over again, as I tried to will myself to stop crying as Kris held onto me as we lay naked on the uncomfortable, stripped bed. Of course I didn’t want Kris to go—not one bit—but he was traded. His contract, bought and sold like chattel. It was final, a done deal. Kicking, screaming, and crying weren’t going to make a difference. These tears and my begging would have no effect on Ray Shero or motivate him to undo his decision.

I’m not gonna lie, though: I did seriously consider tying Kris down to the bed and refusing to ever let him go, Misery-style. That is, until I realized that not only would that plan be really complicated and slightly selfish, but it would also be a felony. And I didn’t need a criminal charge on my record.

Kris calmly wiped away my tears, and I silently vowed that I wouldn’t let him see me cry again. Just like I had figured out last night, after my dream: you can’t control your feelings but you can control your reactions. So that’s what I was going to do, control what I could.

Besides, it wasn’t helping him for me to be upset. My tears couldn’t change the fact that he had to leave. Crying and raging against his inevitable, impending, certain departure would do nothing but make him feel worse about something he had no hand in or wanted no part of. I wasn’t going to make him feel bad—worse, rather—about something that he didn’t want for himself, either.

And I tried not to be sad for myself and wallow in my misery; sure, I was going to miss him with the remaining pieces of my bruised heart, but Kris was going to be missing more than just me. He was leaving more than just me. This change wasn’t just about our relationship to him, like it was only about him for me. No, see, he was not only leaving his girlfriend, but also leaving his home away from home, his professional team, his friends, and his life in Pittsburgh. I couldn’t imagine being in his hoes, having to start over, fresh, on my own.

He was leaving everything behind in Pittsburgh. But since Kris was my everything, and he was going away... I felt like I was losing everything, too. It was so selfish, and I struggled again to bury my hurt and tuck it away from him. I had to focus on my strength and being strong, for him. He needed that from me, right now, more than I needed anything from him. We were taking turns leaning on each other, and it was my turn to be the support he needed. He deserved that from me, and damn it—I’d give him anything.

I took one last deep breath and visualized all my fears and sadness and self-pity being expelled from my body.

“You all right?” he asked once my cheeks were dry.

My impulse was to tell him, No, everything’s all wrong, this wasn’t supposed to happen, but I reigned it in. Instead, I simply replied, “Yup.”

“That’s my girl,” he sighed, kissing my temple. It was painful to keep up this façade, especially since his romantic nature made me want to crumble in his arms and weep all over again, but I only had to remind myself that this was for Kris’s benefit and I was immediately determined again. As long as it was for Kris, I could do anything. “Shower?”

I agreed, and we stood under the hot spray together and shared wet kisses as we rinsed away the built-up sweat, messy bodily fluids, and residual condom lubrication. We didn’t do anything other than kiss, because our bodies were still humming from the crazy intense sex we’d just had. I don’t think either of us had the stamina to handle another round after that. It really had been a draining experience, mentally and emotionally as well as physically, but it was amazing and just... intense, that nothing would ever compare.

I’d always been the type of person to live for the moment. Every day had to top the day before in order to be worthwhile. But when Kris and I were making love, literally manifesting and conjuring love, I had really wanted to live in the moment, to pause time and stay in the present forever and ever. When he’d whispered the magic words, my body shot off like a rocket and I had felt lightheaded, faint, and out of breath like I had flown beyond the atmosphere, where there wasn’t any air. And when I’d finally sunk back into the troposphere, I was mad at myself for not having control over my body or my emotions. I guess the sex had been so incredible that it made me lose all my senses and rationale.

Kris and I let the water pour over us, knowing that this would be the last time we’d really be able to touch each other and enjoy it. His hands would occasionally roam over my back, to my sides, where his thumbs would subtly brush against the sides of my breasts. The sensations would send a painful jolt between my legs, warning me that I couldn’t let his actions progress too far; but just as quickly as performed that gentle action, he would stop. Like he knew, somehow.

My hands, likewise, cupped his face, cradled the back of his neck, massaged his scalp, grasped his shoulders, and squeezed his strong arms. I knew I’d miss these arms. We knew that each moment we spent in the shower was a moment wasted that should have been spent packing or doing something constructive to prepare for his departure. But emotionally, this was all necessary. We needed to be together, simply be, together, and we were procrastinating.

Upon the water changing temperature and pelting at us like icicles, we finally got out of the shower and got dressed. Facing the daunting task ahead of us, we both finished packing his clothes. He took care of his suits and dress clothes while I loaded his suitcases with his tee shirts and jeans. This would go a lot faster if we tag-teamed it, which meant we’d have more quality time together before he left. It really fucking sucked, but we made silent work of it.

I came across his Kasüal shirt, and I hesitated to add it to his things. I wore this shirt of his all the time, and I liked it so much. My favorite memory of this shirt was wearing it when I had tied him up. I had found it in his closet when I had searched for his ties, and I had thrown it on and kind of pilfered it from him.

Suddenly I felt his breath on my ear and his hands at my waist. “You can keep it.”

“Really?” My fingers dug into the fabric like I’d never let go of it, like I wouldn’t even give it up if he asked me to pack it for him.

He chuckled at my simple excitement. “Yeah. It’s practically yours anyway. I mean, you’ve commandeered it, and I don’t think I’ve worn it in months.”

I smiled at him and placed it back into the dresser, where it belonged. Where all his things belonged. I should have been throwing a fit, pulling his things out of his luggage instead of putting them into his bags. Prolonging his time here, not helping him leave me or making it easier for him to do so: showing him how much I wanted him to stay. With every piece of clothing I stuffed into his bags, I felt another piece of my heart break off. Each possession that got packed away brought us one step closer to Kris’s leaving. My heart was completely shattered by the time he was all packed up for his trip, but he looked so... broken and beaten that I didn’t even care how I felt.

Kris zipped up his suitcases and locked them, carrying the pieces of luggage and matching garment bag and placing them by the door. He clapped his hands together, to demonstrate that one task was finished. Personal things, packed up. Equipment, being taken care of. Ticket, done. Hotel, done. And he’d call his mother at the airport. What now?

He let out a puff of air, obviously contemplating the next step, too. It was only eleven or so, so we had a bit of time before he had to be at the airport. I tried to think of what he would want to do with his last two hours in Pittsburgh—or at least, his last free hours. It broke my heart, but I had to ask him, “Do you wanna say goodbye to the guys?”

Any semblance of a smile that he may have had disintegrated from his face as it fell. “No, uh, I’m sure they’ll call or send me texts or something. I think, I mean, it would be weird to show up at practice. I’m not a part of that team anymore.”

“They’re still your friends—”

Kris shrugged, and his nonchalance over this killed me. He’d spent years with them; wearing a sweater with a fucking penguin on the front versus a shark didn’t negate the time they’d spent together or their memories or their friendships. “It’s, just, different now,” he explained. “I don’t want to go and see the looks on their faces or hear them say they’re sorry, because they can’t be sorry since it wasn’t their fault. Someone was going, and it was either one of them, or me. They’re going to be glad it wasn’t them. I don’t need to remind them how lucky they are that they get to stay.”

I wanted to comfort him, but there was nothing I could possibly say to counter that. Moving to his side, I held his right hand with my left and squeezed his forearm with my right. Then I pressed my forehead against his shoulder. Desperately, I racked my brain for something reassuring to tell him. But they were lucky; I hoped that they all were all well aware of that.

“So, then, what do you wanna do? We could do something Pittsburgh-y, if you wanted. Primanti’s? The lookout from Mount Washington? The Point?” I listed those options, forgetting for a moment that it might be painful to do something distinctly Pittsburgh-related in his last few hours here. I quickly tried to backtrack. “Or we can just go out for a quiet lunch at the deli you like—”

“No,” he interrupted with an ever-so-soft chuckle. “Wow, I must really look depressed if you’re willing to let me stay stuck in my rut and order my usual.”

“Not at all. Just saying that a little comfort food may not be such a bad thing at a time like this. You just name whatever it is that you wanna do, and it’s done.”

“Hmm,” he hummed, obviously thinking it through. “I wanna stay in, eat here, and watch Ice Road Truckers with you.”

Any other day, I would have chastised him for being boring, lame, and utterly white bread. But at this moment in time, under the given circumstances, just the two of us eating in front of the TV sounded perfect. “All right, babe. You pop in the DVD, and I’ll see what’s in the fridge.”

It was nice to be able to do something today that felt ordinary and normal. I hated repetition and routines, but it felt good to be able to fall into this moment with Kris like we had on so many other occasions. We ate roast beef sandwiches and apples with peanut butter and pretzels, and Kris ate whatever I didn’t. Once he was finished eating, he lay down on his side and placed his head in my lap so he could still watch the screen intently.

He fell asleep as I soothingly played with his hair. I think he was exhausted from the emotional turmoil, so it didn’t take much to work as a catalyst to get him to rest. It probably wasn’t a good idea for him to sleep now when he could nap on the plane, but there wasn’t anything for us to do until we had to leave for the airport.

I turned off our phones so we could spend these last few moments together in isolation; I assumed that his teammates would begin calling him once they were out of practice because then they’d all know. And I likewise figured that the girls like Kelsey and Heather would call me to express their shock and sympathy. That’s when I commiserated with Kris and realized why he didn’t care about seeing the guys one more time—I wasn’t looking forward to hearing from the girls because secretly, I’d know how thankful they were that their boyfriends weren’t the ones who were traded.

Even though they’d have the best of intentions, I didn’t want at all to deal with them and their sympathy. Not when I had the opportunity to spend these last few minutes here with Kris, enjoying these moments for what they were worth—which was a lot. These were invaluable, because I knew that soon, I wouldn’t be able to. Just like a road trip, I reminded myself, but it was going to be a long two weeks until my spring break rolled around, and I didn’t even want to think about what was gonna happen after that.

At twelve thirty, I gently nudged Kris and brought him out of his slumber. He wasn’t sleeping too deeply, but he was still hesitant to put himself into motion. Hell, I was hesitant to put him into motion, but we couldn’t avoid this. This was the beginning of our long goodbye.

“Come on, Kris. Up and at ’em, big boy.”

“Tell me it was a dream,” he sighed, awake but not yet opening his eyes. “Tell me my bags aren’t packed and by the door. Tell me I’m still a Pen.”

“I wish I could tell you those things. I really, really do,” I sighed, fighting the frog in my throat. I was so sad for him. “But we’ve gotta go.”

He held onto my legs and nestled against me again. “Not yet. I’ll just catch a later flight.”

As great as that sounded, I knew that wasn’t a solution to the problem. We’d be putting it off, but the time we’d buy ourselves would be even more strained and tense. “Kris....”

“I know.” He sighed again, looking up at the ceiling with a blank expression. “I know.”

“What are you gonna do about your car?” I asked, suddenly thinking about that. There were so many details that I was sure I wasn’t even thinking about now, that would come to light as time progressed. What else were we forgetting?

“No, you’re not allowed to drive it,” he told me with a grin, knowing that wasn’t what I was asking but teasing me anyway. As considerate of a person as Kris was, he was still a typical guy who didn’t like anyone touching his car, his baby. It was good to see him grin. “So don’t even ask.” He paused, then considering my real question. “I guess it’ll sit here. It’s not like I can drive it to California, with the time constraints.”

“I guess that means we’re taking my P.O.S. car?” He nodded his response. “Well, okay then, let’s load ’er up and get on the road.”

We carried his things down and loaded up the trunk, but before I could get behind the wheel, he kissed me slowly. It was a passionate yet chaste kiss, if such a kiss could exist. “If I haven’t said it yet, Jo, thanks.”

I was a little confused. “For driving you? I mean, of course. It gives us more time together, and like I told you, I only have comp and public speaking today—”

“No, not for that. But thanks for that, too. I mean for being so understanding.” His thumb rubbed against my cheek. I was going to especially miss these simple, romantic, meaningful gestures of his. I grabbed his hand and held it in mine to get him to stop; I’d lose all composure if he kept that up. “I know that this is hard on you, too. And after I told you my whole spiel about wanting to stay....”

“Well, you know, it sucks, but what else am I gonna do? Break up with you? Because that’s not happening. I’m a lot harder to get rid of than you think, and you’re gonna have to try a lot harder than moving thousands of miles away.” It was supposed to be a fun and reassuring joke, but it only highlighted the fact that he was really going to be that far away.

We let it slide and got into my car, puttering our way westwardly on I-376 toward the bustling airport. Every turn of the axle, every inch the vehicle carried us, and every step we took toward the check-in counter brought us closer to the separation that neither of us was looking forward to. Neither of us wanted this, but we were going through the motions, regardless.

Just like a road trip. I repeated my mantra in my head again. Except at the end of this “road trip,” he wouldn’t be coming back. I’d be going out to visit him. And I was hoping that he’d have his feet under him in San José by then so we could relax and enjoy our week together.

Once his bags were checked and his ticket was printed, we took the escalator down to the lower level, where he would be going through security. There was no line, since it was a Monday afternoon, so there was no need for us to rush through our goodbyes. But then I said to myself, just like a road trip. We wouldn’t be saying “goodbye.” We’d say “see you soon,” like we always did, because we both knew the importance and significance of a goodbye. And we weren’t leaving each other; we were just being temporarily separated.

Kris had his carry-on slung over his shoulder, his ticket and his passport with his work visa inside in his hand. This wasn’t final, but it was still a big deal. I tried to picture him in his new uniform, celebrating a goal during the game, to make this a little easier on me. Sure, California didn’t necessarily have the best hockey climate, but it was better than, say, Florida or Texas—where the only way they could lure fans into the arena was by employing fucking ice dancers to entertain men between periods.

“Does San José have ice girls?” I asked, pursing my lips angrily at the idea.

The inquiry pulled him out of his deep thoughts, and probably seemed very out of the blue to him. “Uh, I don’t think so.... At least, I don’t recall...” he mumbled, his eyes pointed up and to the left and he tried to remember. “Why?”

“Good. I fucking hope not. And if they do, you stay away from them. Ya hear?”

He laughed at me. “Really? You’re really going to warn me against hanging around ice girls?”

“Yes,” I hissed, narrowing my eyes at him and jabbing my index finger into his pec. “Stupid, skanky, scantily-clad figure skater wannabes. Stay. Away. From. Them,” I ordered, stabbing him with my finger with each of those last four words. “Better yet, no girls. Period. You’re only allowed to hang out with your teammates, and that’s it. Capisce?

“Yeah, ouch, I get it, I get it. Just stop poking me,” he replied with a smirk, batting my hand away and rubbing that spot on his chest where I prodded him into compliance. “It’s a good thing I think you’re kinda cute when you’re jealous.”

“I’m not jealous,” I huffed, crossing my arms across my front. “It’s just that you’re far too trusting, or too fucking oblivious when it comes to stupid bitches hitting on you. And stupid ice bitches are the ultimate jersey chasers. They just hang around and spread their legs quicker than you can say ‘Hi, I’m a Shark.’”

“Geez, Jo, have you even ever met an ice girl?”

“No.” I wasn’t backing down from this, and nothing he could say would make me change my mind. “But I don’t need to be around one to know what they’re like.”

“Well, besides the fact that I think you’re being a tiny bit judgmental, you don’t have anything to worry about. There will be no ‘hitting’ going on. I will tell them that I’ve got a girlfriend who I love very, very much. That I’d never do anything to hurt her,” he said, raising his eyebrows as he said as a way to inform me that he’d be true and faithful to me.

“Yeah, I know, Kris, and I trust you, but I don’t trust them. If you tell a girl that you’re a one-woman guy, that only makes them swoon even more. Loyalty is like a fucking turn on. Ugh, some bitches don’t understand boundaries and will do whatever they can, not even caring if you’re attached. They just wanna be able to say that they slept with you.” I looked him square in the eye, hoping that this was sinking in. If he wasn’t so attractive—if he looked like Ovechkin—this wouldn’t even be an issue. “You’re too damn good-looking for your own good. Damn it, I wish you were uglier.”

“Did you seriously just say, ‘I wish you were uglier’?” He shook his head, no doubt thinking I was crazy. “I thought the only reason you liked me at all was for my dashing good looks.”

“Well, believe it or not, it’s not the only reason,” I teased, smiling at him.

He smiled back, but in a serious way. When he spoke again, his tone was low but clear. “Jo, you know that I would never—”

“I know, I know. You aren’t like that, but you seem to assume that means other people have similar morals. Just, please, it’s easier if you avoid all females at all costs, ’kay?”

Kris laughed at me again, rubbing my upper arms and leaning his forehead against mine. “Okay. I promise, I will be suspicious of every girl I meet and believe that she wants to get into my pants—”

“Oh, stop it,” I warned, rolling my eyes. I wanted him to be more skeptical of girls’ motives, but then again, I didn’t want to change a thing about Kris’s outlook on life or personality, because that was one of the things I loved about him. It was one of the reasons we had met, connected on this deep level, and fallen in love with each other; how could I want to alter that part of him? Fucking hell, I was warning him to stay away from girls like me. I mean, if he hadn’t’ve wanted to bring out the best in me... if he had been able to walk away and not want to reach out and help... where would either of us be right now?

He’s the one who made me strong enough to endure this. He was the reason I knew I had to be strong, because he needed me to be. But he was also the reason I was struggling to be strong, because I was going to miss him. I still needed him. I flung my arms around his neck, standing on my tippy toes and burying my face against his strong, thick neck. “Take me with you,” I begged, my lips brushing against his flesh. I was half serious, half joking.

“I wish I could,” he sighed in response. His hands landed on my waist, his empty right hand sliding under my hoodie and resting on my bare skin to hold me in place. His hand felt so warm, and I wasn’t even cold. Or if I was cold, I didn’t realize it until he touched me.

“You can,” I mumbled, knowing that even though, theoretically, I could drop everything and follow him out to California, I wouldn’t be following him to San José.

“No I can’t,” he adamantly maintained, talking into my ear. “It’s not just that you’ve got class, Jo. But this is your first semester back. You’re already halfway through. It’s so important, and I’m so proud of you for how you’ve gone back to school and how well you’re doing. Jo, it’s just like you never missed a beat.”

“How can you say that? You didn’t know me back then.”

“You’re right, I didn’t, but I bet it’s like you picked up right where you left off. It feels like it, no?” I nodded. “This is so big for you. This is the first step to getting on track to accomplish your dreams. I can’t pull you out of that. I... I couldn’t bear to know that I was the reason you gave it up.”

“My dreams mean nothing if I can’t share them with you,” I told him, forcing myself to suppress my emotions. “I wouldn’t even be going back if it weren’t for you. And I wouldn’t be giving it up, just... pressing pause.”

“I would feel guilty.” The sadness in his eyes when he said that is what made me nod and yield. He already felt bad enough about leaving, so I couldn’t add on to that by making him feel like I had thrown away everything I’d worked so hard to gain back. “As much as I want to be with you... here, there, anywhere... I won’t do it at your expense. I promise you, Jo, this’ll work. We’ll make this work.”

“Of course we will. We have to,” I said, swearing and pledging to give this my all. I needed him too much to let some several thousand miles come between us. “I’d rather have you somehow rather than not at all. We’ll find a way.”

He hugged me tighter, and I placed my cheek against his chest so I could feel his chest heave with each of his deep breaths. “Don’t worry. The way the Sharks burn out, I’ll be done with my season before April’s over. Probably before you finish with your semester,” he sighed, and I pulled back to see a smile on his lips. But I could tell that smile was a cover.

Part of me wanted to grin at that notion: if San José choked in the first round like they were famous for doing, he could be done playing in less than two months. That would mean we wouldn’t have to be separated for that long. But I kicked myself for that wanting that—because I was supposed to want Kris to win another Cup this year. Even if that would mean he’d be in California for four months instead of the minimal two.

Staunch in my determination to be his support, I grabbed his wrists and tugged, showing him how serious I was. “No. Listen. Remember when we talked about this, on the drive back from Shippagan? I said back then that you had to do what was best for your career, above all else. Yeah, this move came as a shock to the both of us, and neither one of us wants this to be happening, but it is happening, we can’t change it, and the same logic applies here for a trade like an offer.

“You’ve got a real chance with the Sharks, Kris. It’s not that the Pens traded you away—don’t think of it like that. Think of it as the Sharks traded for you. They’re putting a lot of faith in you, to join their team and play your fucking hardest, to use your experience and skill to lead them well into the play-offs, as a real contender for the Cup. That’s a shit ton of responsibility to put on you, but they believe you can do it for them.” I squeezed his wrists, maintaining the pressure for several seconds so he knew that I was dead fucking serious. “And I believe in you, too, Kris. I’ve got all the faith of the world in you.”

“That makes one of us,” he answered jokingly. At least, I’m pretty sure it was a joke.

“I mean it. I so fucking mean it that I can’t even say how much I mean it.” I blinked back the tears. It wasn’t just about him leaving anymore. It was about showing him the confidence I had in him. “Go and play your fucking heart out. Show ’em what it takes to win, and then win it all with them. And I want you to lift that fucking Cup over your head again and rub it in Ray fucking Shero’s face when you do it.”

Kris chuckled; I wasn’t sure if he thought it was funny that I said that or if he really thought it was possible to accomplish. Or if he was thinking the exact same thing but just wouldn’t say it aloud. “Well, I won’t jinx me or my new team like you just did, but I will give it my all.”

“That’s my boy,” I sighed, mocking the way he had said something similar to me earlier. This was it, the time had come. We started the goodbye process, for real. “Have a safe flight. Text me when you land? I know you’ll be busy, but I just wanna know you got there safe. And call me tonight to let me know how it goes, I mean, I wanna know everything.”

“I will. I don’t know when I’ll have time or what’s gonna happen, but I’ll fill you in on all of it.” He paused and switched gears, once again becoming the caring Kris I knew so well. “And I know how strong you are, Jo. You’re as strong as I always thought you could be. But if you need anything, need to talk about anything or whatever, call me. You’re my girl, and I’ll always have time for you. You call and I’ll answer, as long as I’m not out on the ice. I’m at your disposal.”

Sighing, I whined, “Yeah, except you’ll be three hours behind.”

“Doesn’t matter. I mean it. Any time, day or night. Time difference be damned.”

That made me smile. “’Kay. God, I think I miss you already.” I peered into his eyes and hoped he felt it when I said, “I love you, Kris.”

He leaned down and kissed me softly, his thumb coming between our mouths so he could caress my bottom lip and get me to open up for him. I felt his tongue flick inside my mouth, and I had to push him away before this got too difficult to put a stop to. “I love you, too, Jo. But I’m not gonna miss you. I’m not gonna be sad that you’re not with me, because I’m gonna be too busy being excited for you to come out to Cali. I’m just gonna look forward to your visit.”

I smiled at that, still fighting back tears. That was Kris, always focused on the positive. “I’m going to book my ticket as soon as I get back home. I’ll let you know when I’m coming.”

“That’s what she said,” he laughed.

I reached up and cupped the back of his head, pulling him down to me so I could rest my forehead against his. “Since when did my boyfriend start telling ‘that’s what she said’ jokes? Jesus Christ.”

“Since when did my girlfriend lose her sense of humor? Come on, that was a good one, right? ‘I’ll let you know when I’m coming.’ Funny, right?”

Chuckling, I didn’t answer him. He didn’t need any encouragement. We kept delaying it and putting it on hold, finding things to distract us from the big goodbye. Then I closed my eyes and swallowed, bracing myself for my biggest test. “I love you. Lame jokes and all. But you gotta go, babe.”

“I know,” he whispered, grabbing me tight around my middle and hugging me so hard that I couldn’t breathe. Or maybe it was my emotions that were choking me. “Love you. See you soon.”

“See you,” I managed to get out, before he crashed his lips down on mine and crushed my mouth with his. And then, as abruptly as he kissed me, he let go and spun around and hurried into the now nonexistent line at the security gate. I carefully took in the sight of him walking away from me: his backwards black Pirates cap, the way his biceps bulged out of his tee shirt, and the way his hot skater ass filled out his jeans.

I wrapped my arms around myself, watching as he quickly handed his ticket and passport over to the guard, who scribbled on his paper and let him through. Kris toed out of his shoes, dumping them and his bag into a plastic tote before he walked through the metal detector. He went through without a problem, and I remained still and continued to watch as he stepped back into his shoes, slipped his ticket and identification into his pocket, and threw his bag over his shoulder.

Just when I thought he wouldn’t look back, he did. Kris didn’t just cast a look over his shoulder; he stopped, turned, and waved at me. I could see how sad he was. His face lacked the smile that usually lit up his face, and I could tell from this distance that his brown, puppy-dog eyes were dull. He only pursed his lips together and nodded. I kissed my fingers and wiggled them at him as I waved back. He acknowledged that gesture with another nod, and then he began heading back toward the people mover, jogging so he could slip into the awaiting cars rather than wait for the next one. He moved amongst the people until I lost sight of his black hat, and he was gone.

As soon as Kris was out of sight, I plopped down on the bench across from the departures and arrivals boards. I wasn’t going to move until I saw that his flight was boarded and gone. As long as he was at the airport, still in Pittsburgh, I was going to be here, too.

But I was wrong when I thought I felt alone upon my return from Montreal. This... this was feeling alone. As many times as I told myself that this was just like a road trip, it still felt different. And I felt empty.

I turned on my phone and ignored the messages that immediately appeared on my screen. I could answer the girls later; right now I wanted comfort and only one person could give it to me. I dialed a familiar number and waited for him to pick up. It only took two rings until I heard him greet me, “Hey, baby girl.”

I wanted to say something back, but I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t even make a sound; I was sobbing noiselessly, sucking in air that never made it into my lungs, hyperventilating. Everything that I had bottled up, wanting to hide from Kris, was escaping from me now. And it wasn’t pretty.

“Jesus Christ, Jo, what is it? What happened? Are you okay? What’s going on?” Tubby paused, giving me a chance to speak. A chance I couldn’t capitalize on. “Come on, Jo-Jo, talk to me. You’ve really got me worried.”

“Sorry,” I panted, barely able to squeak out the one word.

The concern in his voice was palpable. “What is it? Are you okay?”

I sniffed and inhaled, my chest burning and aching. One word was a struggle. This felt familiar, because I had already put Tubby through this many times during his first semester at Penn last year. Except before I was usually drunk. “Yeah.”

There was a pause on his end, and when his voice finally resounded again, there was a deep gruffness to it. “Does this have anything to do with your boy toy?”

I choked out another sob. Of course he would immediately jump to conclusions and assume Kris did something wrong. Typical Tubby; I found a bit of solace and comfort in that, how some things would always stay the same. All I could get out was, “Traded.”

Tubby was my best friend, and he often knew me better than I knew myself—but he wasn’t a mind reader. It took a few seconds before he could piece those three words together and figure out what I was so torn up about. “Oh. Oh. Oh no, Jo-Jo, I’m so sorry. Where’s he going?”

“San.... San,” I stuttered, trying to calm down enough to talk coherently. “San José.”

“Oh, man. Fuck. I’m sorry, Jo. When does he leave?”

“Two minutes ago.”

He was silent for a while. It didn’t bother me that he wasn’t talking, because I just wanted to be on the phone with him. It was soothing. Finally he said, “I got spring break next week. When’s yours?”

“Week after yours,” I told him. My voice was hoarse, but at least my ability to speak was returning as I regained my facilities. “I’m going out to Cali to see him for my break.”

“Well, I’m coming home next week.”

“I thought you were going to Myrtle Beach or something like that?”

Tubby sighed. “No. Roger bailed on me, so I was just gonna stay in Philly. But now I’m coming home.”

“No, Tubs, I want you to have fun. I’m okay, I promise, I just needed to talk to you.”

“I’m not leaving school. It’s just for break. Imagine it, baby girl, if I come home, it’ll just be me and you for the whole week. We haven’t hung out just us for a long time. I’ll be home Sunday, but I’m sure I’ll talk to you before then.”

“Yeah, okay,” I sighed. “It’ll be good to see you again. I have missed you.”

“Missed ya, too, Jo-Jo. Talk to you soon.”

I hung up and sat quietly, staring at the boards until on time switched to boarding, and then to departed. Pushing off the bench, I headed back to my car in the short-term lot and answered the next call that came through to my phone. “Hey, Kels.”

“Hi, Jo,” she said tentatively. It was obvious that she wasn’t sure what to say. “Um, so, how... how are you holding up?”

“Okay, I guess. He’s in the air now,” I replied.

“Do you wanna come over? Heather and Véro are here, too. We can have a girl’s afternoon. Ice cream and chick flicks.”

“Uh, no chick flicks, please,” I begged. No way could I watch some sappy movie where the girl gets the cute, perfect man at the end. Not when my cute, perfect man was on his way to California for the rest of the hockey season.

“Okay, that’s fine,” she replied softly. “We’re gonna buy the junk food. What do you want?”

“Turkey Hill birthday cake ice cream,” I told her, getting into my car and heading for her place. I was so thankful for the girls who were going to help me get through the second worst day of my life.

14 comments:

  1. This was a heartbreaking beautiful chapter. It just so eloquently illustrated a truly heartwrenching farewell between Kris and Jo...I honestly cried, no joke.

    This story is just altogether so beautifully woven and emotionally charged, thank you so much for continuing to write and share with us.

    <3

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  2. Oh, Jay<3 You never, ever disappoint. My heart is continuing to break as this story goes on. I feel like it really hit me in this chapter that Kris is actually leaving. Like reading the scene in the airport made it so real.

    "With every piece of clothing I stuffed into his bags, I felt another piece of my heart break off."
    ^^Ugh, cue the tears. Jay, I feel so connected with Kris and Jo. It makes me so incredibly sad that Jo is being torn apart by this, yet she puts on a brave face for Kris. She knows how badly he needs to see that she's okay with this, because if she was a wreck, it'd only be that much harder for him to leave.

    And then the scene in the airport? Oh, man. That was almost too much for me to handle. It was so vivid and real that I could almost see them standing there, saying their goodbyes. I love that for the most part Jo stood strong. And I loved how they prolonged the goodbyes for as long as possible. And then when Kris turned back and waved. Ugh! My heart broke again</3 I'm just glad that Tubby's coming home soon so Jo can have somebody to lean on again.

    Wonderful, wonderful<3

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  3. That killed me. Oh, poor Jo. I love Tubby and Kris and Kelsey.

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  4. Jay, I know you are really well-informed, so did you read the story on San Jose ice girls? Seems that they don't have them, but it was suggested that they get some quickly as a distraction since the Avalanche goalie, Craig Anderson, has been caught watching ice girls more than once. And those photos are very creepy.

    Anyway I digress but that just popped into my head as I was reading. While everything was from Jo's POV, I felt so sorry for Kris in this chapter. He was the one with all his gear, leaving the place he knows and the girl he loves for the great unknown. It was perfect that Jo got her worries out, and they vowed to be faithful because that's the big worry with distance.

    As usual your details are exact,all the paperwork in his carry-on just shows how perfectly you envision each scene as you write it. I never think of you topping any update, they are all uniformly excellent.

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  5. I was sooo sad during this..
    Like my bf was leaving me! haha you have me sooo sucked into this story
    Jo's being so strong..I'm scared that she might break..that she may just be putting on a front? I know that Kris isn't gone forever..and the season is almost over..but still, for her being alone, it's still awhile.
    But we'll see right?! : )

    Loving the updates lady!!

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  6. Ugh, I'm at my job right now and full on crying. Well silently crying and trying to disguise it behind my computer screen.

    This chapter just moved me but it was SO SAD. So freaking sad, Jay. But beautiful nonetheless.

    Sigh, I really hope stuff works out for them soon. This is definitely one of your longer stories, are you going to have it keep going?? Just curious!

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  7. Ugh! That was heartbreaking! You made me cry!!!!lol

    I hope Spring break comes quick! =-)

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  8. Tres triste.
    It's good that she's got Spring Break to go visit him.... can't wait to see how Kris is holding out in 81...

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  9. I love love love your writing. No offense to anyone else who writes fanfics, etc., but you writing is just the best. Other fanfics are all about the main character (usually some girl with some kind of man problems in her past) getting with whatever Pen/random famous and good looking hockey player of choice. Most of them are vague, superficial, and superfluous to say the least. I think your stories are so popular because they focus on the human elements and are so real that the events feel as if they are really happening. The emotions are raw and are closer to what actually happens in real life, rather than some fairy tale where everything is just blah. You are a truly gifted writer, and I look forward to the next chapters. =)

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  10. oh you're breaking my heart!

    jo and the ice girls!

    “Okay. I promise, I will be suspicious of every girl I meet and believe that she wants to get into my pants—”


    you mix the right amount of humor with the right amount of heartbreak and raw emotion.

    can't wait for the next update!

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  11. Damn it Jay! I'm going to stop reading if all you do is make me cry like this!! (I kid really, I don't think I could ever stop reading this)

    But seriously, that was beautiful. And I'm honestly really happy Tubby's coming home right away.

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  12. I am still holding out that this is a prank - by the team and he was really resigned!!!!

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  13. I kept putting off reading this update, because as long as I didn't read it, he didn't leave.

    It was as beautiful and heartbreaking as I thought it would be.
    The shower where all they did was kiss and touch "Kris and I let the water pour over us, knowing that this would be the last time we’d really be able to touch each other and enjoy it."
    Oh packing,so sad and sweet. "With every piece of clothing I stuffed into his bags, I felt another piece of my heart break off."
    When she was ready to pack the Kasüal shirt. “You can keep it.”
    The entire airport scene makes me cry too much to quote anything but the funny stuff.
    "You’re too damn good-looking for your own good. Damn it, I wish you were uglier.”
    "Okay. I promise, I will be suspicious of every girl I meet and believe that she wants to get into my pants—” as well he sould be. Let's face it's mostly true!
    Okay just one sad, sweet airport quote “I love you, too, Jo. But I’m not gonna miss you. I’m not gonna be sad that you’re not with me, because I’m gonna be too busy being excited for you to come out to Cali. I’m just gonna look forward to your visit.”

    That's all I can do, I'm crying so much I can't type. Maybe I should just let my comments be how many tissues I needed to get through it!

    Jay there are just different degrees of perfection with your work. It's always amazing and each chapter is this perfect piece of the story.

    As aways thank you.

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  14. I'm playing catch up still (always) but I wanted to pause as I plow through reading to tell you: YOU'RE AWESOME.


    Tell me it was a dream,” he sighed, awake but not yet opening his eyes. “Tell me my bags aren’t packed and by the door. Tell me I’m still a Pen.”

    that... that right there broke my freaking heart.<3

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