Tuesday, June 22, 2010

102.) Underwear

I finished with my Physics I exam, the first person to complete the test. Normally, I would hang around, maybe double check my answers, and wait until someone else made a move to hand theirs in before I’d gather my things and leave. This time, I didn’t bother. I pushed away from my seat, slinging my bag over my shoulder as I sauntered to the front of the room and handed in my exam.

A little over a week had now passed since Kris and I had last kissed in the San José airport. One week down, six or seven more to go. It felt good to have some time under our belt because it brought us closer to being together again. When every day felt like a struggle, I reminded myself that each passing day was one day less between me and him and us being together again, on a permanent basis. Well, at least a more permanent basis, because we couldn’t account for road trips.

I still missed Kris like crazy—how could I not?—but it did get a little easier as more time passed. I figured that I’d be sad until I hit the halfway mark in the beginning of April, because until then I would be concentrating on how I had to leave California to come back home. But after that midpoint, I would probably get taken over by excitement over getting to go back out to see him. It was like a climbing a mountain and having to get over the crest, and things would be downhill after the worst, hardest part was over.

To cope, I had plunged back into my schoolwork, studying and reading for hours in the library, and I had talked my boss Bob into giving me an extra shift or two per week at the Mellon to help keep me busy. Not only did those things distract me from feeling too sad or lonely, but it meant that I was around people. Even if I didn’t talk to those people—and I didn’t, because I’m not exactly the most social person on Earth—it was still better than sitting alone in a big, empty apartment.

The lounge was empty since classes were still in session at this time of day, so I plopped down on one of the couches. It wasn’t even eleven here yet, so I knew Kris would still be sleeping on the west coast. He wouldn’t get up for another half an hour, so even though I itched to call him and talk to him, I resisted. He had practice today and a game tomorrow, so he needed his rest.

The Sharks had won every game since their losing streak ended. First Minnesota, then Dallas, Vancouver, and Colorado. He’d tallied a point in each of those latter three games: an assist on the power play, an empty-netter, and another assist. Honestly, I’d lost track of his points since his trade, but it was something outrageous like fifteen. Sure, he had had a couple of off nights, but when he was on, he was on; I wasn’t sure how long this point-per-game pace would continue, but it was incredible. I could hear the relief in his voice and how much more relaxed he seemed since the team had turned it around. They were finally gearing up for the playoffs, and things were looking so promising for them. Maybe this was the year for San José. I certainly had my fingers crossed.

Kris was so much easier to handle and way more fun to talk to when his team was doing well. He wasn’t one to pay attention when I talked about the way he acted on his team or his reactions to losing, and I think it’s because I made him feel like he was lying on a therapist’s couch. Can’t say I blame him for that, because I had felt the same way when he talked about me and losing James and dealing with my grief and all that. I felt kinda stupid, having everything laid out there in the open like that, but it had helped, I guess, and I wanted to give Kris that same benefit.

The losing really wore him down and ate away at him—much more than it seemed to affect any of his teammates, past or present. No one liked to lose, but Kris had such a disdain for it. He was paid to win, and he worked really, really hard to be in such good shape; the man was pure muscle and strength.

When he didn’t win, he became so focused and determined, trying to figure out what went wrong and what he could do to fix it. That wasn’t just his attitude toward winning, either; it was his entire attitude toward life. His dad was a jerkhole assface? Fine, then he was going to be the polar opposite and treat his mother—and consequently all the women in his life—with utmost respect and love and consideration to make up for his mistakes and missteps. His best friend died? Then he was going to carry on his name in his honor in order to accomplish all the things Luc couldn’t, being sure to play it safe to avoid the same fate. Neither of those were his “problems” to fix, but when the people around him were in distress, he wanted to make things all better.

Luckily, the team was clicking and executing, and they looked like a contender. This made Kris happy, yet he was still just as focused and determined as ever. The playoffs were about two weeks away, and he was preparing for it by getting into a good place psychologically. He wanted to be ready for whatever came his way; it was all a part of his “handyman” mentality, as I liked to call his Mr. Fix-It attitude. As annoying as it was sometimes, I can’t lie and say it’s not one of the things I love about him. After all, to truly love someone, you accept the good and the bad. It wasn’t even necessarily a bad thing anyway—just a little irksome when it interfered with my whims.

I was glad that Kris was so intensely honed into that ultimate target of winning that it didn’t leave time for much else. He watched more tape, worked out harder than usual and upped his rep count, stuck steadfastly to his monotonous routines, and slept longer and sounder, which was one of the reasons I resisted the urge to call and wake him up before his alarm and pulled out my iPod to fill the silence. I had a speech to give on Friday for my public speaking class, and I was feeling kind of anxious about it; I decided to pull out my note cards and go over my bullet points again and practice in my head. Until I know someone, I’m kind of awkward and shy—and having to stand in front of a group of people and talk to them only intensified that reaction and behavior.

Since I was alone, I mumbled my speech aloud, practicing like I was going through the whole thing. When a person strolled through the hallway and took a seat on the other side of the room, I quit speaking out loud. No need to look like a nut if I didn’t have to.

Minding my own business, I ran through my entire speech. It was relatively easy now, to remember what I wanted to say, but it would be a whole nother story once I was standing in front of a room full of my peers. I really needed to try it in front of a mirror or something.

My iPod ran out of juice, and the music cut out in place of silence. Now all I could hear was the rustling of papers from the other studying student. I glanced over in that direction as I accidentally dropped my music player loudly on the table. He looked up as I peeked over at him and recognized him. I had forgotten all about Dave. After our little debacle in the bar, I put him and his stupid friends so far back in my mind that I hadn’t even thought about it once I left for San José—and then I hadn’t seen him once I got back from break.

He quietly and awkwardly nodded at me, giving me a small, sad smirk to say hello. That wasn’t the Dave I knew, who would’ve sat down right next to me just like every other time we met up in the lounge. Was he scared to talk to me? I was the one mad at him and his loser posse, so he didn’t have a reason to suddenly be so apprehensive around me.

“How was your break?” he asked me, sounding a little hesitant as he attempted to start a conversation.

“Good.” It was awkward talking to someone so far away. It’s like he was purposely keeping his distance. “Yours?”

“Good. Did you have fun in California?”

I wanted to blow up on him. I could just tell that he was implying that I didn’t go! Like he was trying to catch me in my lie. What a douche bag. My jaw ticked as I forced myself to calm down. I was wearing my Lick Observatory sweatshirt, and I could totally rub it in his face as proof of my trip, but I realized that that wouldn’t really solve the problem. All that my sweatshirt served as was proof that I went California; it didn’t prove that I was dating defenseman Kristopher Letang, former Penguin and current Shark.

So instead, I tried to take the higher road. God, it was tough. I wanted to yell, but I didn’t. I was facetious rather than shrill and angry. “Gee, Dave, it was absolutely wonderful. My boyfriend and I had such a great time. Thank you so much for asking.”

“Hey now, there’s no need for that. It was an honest question. I told you, Jo, that I believe you.”

“Oh, right. It’s just your friends who think I’m a bitch and a liar.”

He sighed and shook his head, pausing before he answered. “I apologized for them already.”

“Yeah, well, you can’t apologize for other people, Dave,” I spat out at him, making sure that I was plenty loud for him to hear, even all the way over there against the wall.

“If I can’t, then why are you holding what they said against me?” he countered gently. He wasn’t being spiteful or ignorant like me, and it made me even more angry.

“Because if you hang around with assholes, then maybe you are one, too.” As soon as the words left my mouth, I instantly regretted them. Dave had never been anything remotely like a jerk to me. In fact, he was just the opposite: really nice. He had offered to be my friend during a time when I hardly had any in this town, and I had tried to take him up on that. It just didn’t work out.

“My friends are nice people. They’re a little misguided about a lot of things, and generally just... skeptical.” That comment of his hit close to home, too. How many times had Kris said that to me about his friends, when I thought they were all bitches, too? And guess what... some of them—most of them turned out to be really nice people, who I was now leaning on to help me get through this rough patch.

I rolled my eyes. They weren’t skeptical. They thought I was lying. They could have asked to see a picture or something. Not that I would have shown them anything, because it was none of their business. But they could have confronted me with their disbelief instead of talking behind my back. Stupid bitches! I didn’t need to be around people who were going to continually doubt things about me. “Don’t sugarcoat it. Your friends think I’m lying. So why don’t you?”

Dave shrugged. “I don’t have any reason to not believe you. You don’t seem like a liar to me.”

Blanking on a response, I sat there in silence. I wasn’t sure how to take his comments. He believed me, but he must have seen me when he came into the lounge, but he didn’t bother to sit over here by me like he wanted to talk. What was his deal? Why was he avoiding me now, if nothing had changed since before that night at the bar?

“Well, I’m not a liar,” I told him, reiterating that point to him for the billionth time. Then I paused before I said my next thought—I don’t even know why I said it. Maybe to spite him, since I still didn’t believe that he believed me. “He wants to meet you, you know.”

His voice cracked as he asked, “Kris?”

“Yeah. He wants to thank you.” My voice was low as I explained, because it was still a sensitive subject for me. “For tending to me after my accident.”

He shrugged again. “Notta big deal. It’s my job.”

“Well, there’s nothing wrong with thanking someone for doing their job.”

“Kinda hard when he’s in California.”

I had to take another deep breath to calm myself down. It sounded like a challenge. “He’s coming back. This summer, when his season’s over, he’s coming back while I take summer courses before I transfer out to California.”

Dave nodded then, turning back to his papers. Then he changed the subject, like he wanted out of the conversation. “Got a big neuroscience exam coming up at two that I have to study for.”

“Good luck cramming,” I snorted, watching as his eyes roamed quickly over the page and tried to absorb the information.

“I’ve been reviewing the material all weekend, and I still don’t get it. I’d never make it as a brain surgeon, that much is obvious.”

“I’d trade you in a heart beat,” I sighed, frowning and glancing at the cards in my hand again. “I gotta give a speech. I hate, hate, hate public speaking.”

“Sucks for you that it’s a mandatory class,” he laughed, and I scowled at him. “I’d so much rather do that than study some more. I’m seriously going cross-eyed like I can’t read anymore, but this is a big test for me. I have to pull my grade up.” He leaned his head back against the couch. “I’ll graduate with a C, but if I get a B, I’ll get honors. I’m already accepted into med school, but if I can get honors....”

Something about the way he was talking reminded me of Kris and the way he sought to be the very best—like how Kris had big dreams of winning it all again this year, Dave wanted to finish his bachelor’s with a bang. That’s probably what made me say, “I can quiz you, if you want.”

“Don’t you have your speech to go over?”

“It’s not ’til Friday, so I’ve plenty of time to review and practice.”

He tilted his head to the side, taking the time to seriously consider my offer. I didn’t know what there really was to think about, because it was a simple proposition. Finally, he answered apathetically, “I guess.”

I moved my things over to his side of the room, and I did my best to help him study. We took a few breaks along the way, like to get some food and pop out of the vending machines and when Kris called to talk. Leaving Dave in the lounge to munch on his Doritos, I headed outside in the cool spring air to talk to him with a bit more pivacy.

“Mornin’. How’d your test go?”

“I finished it super early, like, before everyone else. So I either aced it or failed.”

“Well, I’ve got my fingers crossed that you aced it, which I’m sure you did. Just like I know you’ll nail that speech on Friday.”

That made me smile. Kris remembered so much about my school and schedule. He was really an incredible boyfriend, and I let my feelings for him wash over me as I took a seat on the bench. “Thanks, babe. I’m super nervous about it.”

Kris laughed at me. “I don’t see what the big deal is with this, Jo. How hard could it be? You’re a good student, you know what you’re doing... what’s so difficult about talking in front of a few people?”

“It’s hard!” I whined. “I get all tongue-twisted and stupid when all those people are staring at me. And I’m not just talking about something or whatever, I have to say very specific things and what happens if I forget? One mistake and it screws me all up. I freeze up and blank, and it’s mortifying.” He chuckled, and I pouted even though I couldn’t see. “It’s not funny, Kristopher. Just because you don’t have to do it....”

“Yes, it is funny, and yes, I do do it. All the time, I talk in front of cameras and reporters. In English. And you’re worried about a five-minute persuasive speech on the benefits of increasing security on campus on the weekends in front of a group of people who are going to be sympathetic, since they have to do the same exact assignment. And you know when you get it over with, you’ll say it wasn’t so bad. You’re making a mountain of a molehill.”

“Well, it might be easy for you, because you’ve been prepped for interviews since juniors. I don’t like talking in front of people, seeing them all looking back at me.” I pulled my knees up to my chest and picked at the fraying hole in my jeans. I didn’t usually think of myself as a cocky person, but I knew my strengths—and my weaknesses, too. “I’m just not any good at it, and I’m nervous.”

“Don’t be nervous. I know you can do it. That’s why it’s so funny, because you’re going to do great, Jo. Picture them in their underwear, and it’ll make things easier.”

“That doesn’t work,” I whined again, pressing my forehead against my knee. “You know it doesn’t work.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Remember when I sat there and you practiced on me?”

I laughed, forgetting my nerves temporarily as I recalled that particular afternoon. And also getting a little turned on, too, when I remembered what we did afterward. “But that’s because you were actually in just your boxers. I got all tongue-tied and distracted for a completely different reason. You can’t expect me to concentrate when you’re naked.”

“Anything I can do to help you out,” he chuckled, knowing that on that day, he didn’t help me out—he helped himself and got laid. I had still been stuck at square one when it came to giving my speech the next day, when I bumbled my way through it. “I’m almost at the arena. I’ll call you later. I just wanted to say good morning. When are you free?”

“Well, I work later, I go in at, like, nine thirty or ten or something like that. And right now I’m helping Dave study for his test, but I’m totally free this afternoon.”

“Look at you, little miss helper,” he replied, and I could hear the smile in his voice.

“You’re rubbing off on me, I guess. I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” I teased.

“A good thing. Totally a good thing.” He paused, switching gears and taking on a more serious tone. “I’m really glad to hear you’ve got friends out there. It makes it a lot easier to be so far away when I know you’ve got a support system to rely on and people to hang out with.”

I wouldn’t call Dave a friend, but I got Kris’s point. It was nice to have different people to talk to or be around so I didn’t have to wallow in missing him. I’d rather hang out with Kris than any of these other people, but they made due. Better than being alone, at least. “Well, I should get back, then.”

“Okay. I love you, Jo.”

“I love you, too, Kris. I’ll call you later.”

“Yup. Talk to you soon.”

I slid my phone back in my pocket and headed back inside to where Dave was getting orange cheese flavoring all over his papers. He didn’t say anything to me when I returned, obviously ignoring the phone call I just took. We reviewed his notes some more, and at quarter to two he headed into his classroom. Since I had nothing better to do, I waited in the lounge so I could see how it went. After an hour, he reemerged, looking less than confident although he said he didn’t think he did too poorly.

“All right now, your turn,” he said, dropping his bag and sitting beside me on the couch. He used the table as a footrest, reclining and crossing his arms over his chest. “Go ahead.”

“Go ahead with what?” I asked, confused as hell. I had no idea what he was talking about.

“You helped me with my test, and now it’s your turn. I’m gonna help you with your speech.”

While it was nice of him, I wasn’t about to take him up on that. More people had congregated in the lounge while he had been taking his exam, and I was not looking to practice in front of all of them. “But there are so many people here.”

“Yeah, and I bet there are more people in your actual class than there are in here right now. Besides, they’re not even paying attention to you, and they’ll think we’re talking. Just go.”

“But....” I looked around, seeing that the three other groups of people were definitely not looking at me but feeling like they would as soon as I started. “Can’t we go somewhere else? Where there’s less people?”

He chuckled at me. “Wow, you really don’t like this public speaking thing, do you?”

“No, not at all,” I groaned. “I don’t do so good around big groups, and it’s worse when I don’t know them.”

“Just picture ’em in their underwear.”

“That does not work!” I said, a little more loudly than I would have liked. A couple of the other students turned and looked at me, and I blushed and focused on a spot on the wall. Now he was really starting to sound like Kris.

“Well, now that you have everyone’s attention,” he laughed, his shoulders shaking. “Now’s your opportunity.” He continued to chuckle, adding, “Think that guy over there wears tighty whiteys?”

I looked at him and shook my head, but I couldn’t stop the tiny smile from breaking out across my face. “Ya know, that’s really not helping at all. I thought you said you wanted to help?”

“Yeah, yeah, okay.” Dave stood and picked up his bag, slinging it around his body and waiting for me to do the same. “I guess we can find an empty classroom or something.” He waved his arm in front of him, gesturing for me to take the lead and go ahead of him.

9 comments:

  1. I wish Jo wouldn't put up her claw-like defense and go into bitch mode so easily... Girl needs to relax, untwist her undies..something.

    I like Dave, and as much of bitch Jo was to him, he's still nice to her. bravo.

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  2. Cool, I'm home early from work, and here's this great post waiting for me.

    Well, Jo is showing how nice and well-adjusted she is these days, helping Dave with his homework. The whole deal with his friends is a little sketch though, why were they all over her about lying? Anyway, probably we won't be seeing them again, just Dave who is nice and could be a good friend for Jo. She seems so alone sometimes, no Tubby and just the other girlfriends to hang out with. I realize she's solitary, but she seems almost defiantly alone.

    Public speaking, only the #1 fear of most people. Not me though, like Kris I had to give speeches in my second language (French for me) and since then it's been a breeze, because at least it's in English!

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  3. Okay only time for a quick comment.
    Kris is bothered by the doctor examining Jo "down there" but has no problem with Dave being her only non-WAG friend? I know he trusts her...

    My mind is in the gutter today because all these made smile and sigh.
    1.the man was pure muscle and strength.
    2.He wanted to be ready for whatever came his way; it was all a part of his “handyman” mentality** see nice comment on his personality I had to take it to another level
    3.“Yeah, you’re right. Remember when I sat there and you practiced on me?” along with
    4. You can’t expect me to concentrate when you’re naked.”

    I really did enjoy the whole update and later I'll read it again. This time skipping the parts that got me distracted!

    Yippee, Matt Cooke for 3 more years!

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  4. Um, I really hope this Dave thing doesn't end tragically....

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  5. Dave's Back!!
    I like Dave!! Even though we don't know a whole lot about him..he's just easy to like, well to me.

    I do not do the public speaking thing well either!! Fuck. hahaha my face turns RED!!

    Great update!!
    I'm wondering where this Dave thing is going..if it goes anywhere?

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  6. Awa! Dave's back! I like Dave(: I honestly feel like (for the most part) he has good intentions and just wants to be Jo's friend. I hope I'm not reading him completely wrong hahaha but he seems like a really nice guy. Although I hope nothing sketchy goes down when he helps her practice her speech!!

    I'm so glad that it's getting easier for Jo and Kris. I know it still hurts a ridiculous amount, but Jo's right. Every day that passes brings them closer to seeing eachother again.

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  7. Just started reading your story and I love it. I'm writing a Max/Sid story, check it out on my blog if you want to. Would love to hear your feedback.
    http://finishedwithlove.blogspot.com/

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  8. Alright so... here's my 'sparknotes' for this update.

    I really hate them being apart. I think I say that a lot, but it's true. I'm glad it's already been a full week, cause that means we're one week closer... like Jo, I'm counting down the time till they can be together again.

    As far as the team goes, I am also happy that they're doing good... the only thing worse then the idea of Kris out there without Jo, is the idea of him out there without Jo, and losing.
    Although, it also means even more time before Kris's season is done... idk which I'm hoping for lol.

    And Dave... UGH! Ok so, yes I am glad she has someone to talk to... but I still feel like this guy has bad news written all over him. I could be wrong, and I really hope I am, but the more time she spends with him... the more worried I get.

    Especially spending time alone... that just can't be good. Not that I think Jo's giving him the wrong impression, cause I think he knows where she stands... but I also think that she's going to start trusting him, and I really hope that that's not gonna come back and bite her in the ass.

    In other news (lol), I love this new... better adjusted, better functioning Jo. It's not like there was something wrong with her before imo, but I just love the type of person she's blossoming into.
    I don't even mean this specific update either, just over all... I love the character development with her, it's been a joy to read.

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