Thursday, July 22, 2010

112.) Change It Up

To: Anna, MelTing, and msd. This one's for you guys.

Soundtrack Song - Broken Bells, The High Road

While it definitely sucked big balls to have to leave Denver and head back to Pittsburgh, knowing I’d have to wait another week and a half or two weeks to see my boyfriend again, it wasn’t so bad—at least, not as bad as I thought it would be—which was a welcome surprise.

Kris had some time off before his series against the Red Wings started, but I had been super duper ridiculously busy as soon as my plane touched ground in Pennsylvania. I had last minute assignments to work on since we had missed a lot of classes in February because of all the snow, tons and tons of studying to do since I did want to show Kris a page of straight A’s when grades came out, and other loose ends to tie up, like putting in my two-week notice at work. It was easier just to quit now because I wouldn’t know how long I’d be out in San José, and then when we came back here to Pittsburgh in the summer, I would be studying my ass off with accelerated summer courses to catch up and start in the fall as a sophomore. And then of course, come fall, I’d be in California.

With all that to focus on, Kris and I didn’t even have tons of time to talk on the phone. Although, he did tell me a funny story how Pavelski wanted to thank me. Because Kent had agreed to let Kris and me have some privacy in Denver, he had kicked Joe out of his bed and made the poor guy sleep on a cot. During the next game, Joe had a multi-goal game. So now, he decided to sleep on his futon during the Detroit series—which had resulted in two more multi-goal games for him as well as tying Mario Lemieux’s record for three playoff games in a row with two or more goals in each.

Kris also said that he got pranked again in the locker room when they had their first practice after clinching the conference semifinals; apparently, the guys can only be so nice for so long before they have to act out. They reminded me so much of elementary students. They told Kris that now, since his birthday was over, all bets were off. I wasn’t really worried, though, because the further they advanced in the playoffs, the more focused and determined they would be—leaving little time for silly and innocuous stunts.

Besides all that, Tubby’s semester was done, and he was home. It was so great to hang out with him again; unfortunately, I was still stressed with class and couldn’t give him a lot of time like a best friend should. He understood, of course, but I still felt bad—because as soon as my semester was finished, I’d be gone again. Even once I got back after Kris’s season finally ended (whenever that would be), I knew I’d be diving right back into the schoolwork.

While we could, we had spent time together. I showed him my newest tattoo and watched as his eyes about bugged outta his head. It hadn’t been the best reaction, but it was no less than what I had expected. Then I sat through his lecture about how tattoos are permanent, yadda yadda, how could I be so stupid, yadda yadda, why was I thinking with my vagina instead of my head, yadda yadda yadda... but he eventually got over it just like I knew he would.

But right now, he was out looking for a part-time summer job or something to occupy his time this summer and pad his bank account before he went back to U Penn in the fall. And I was supposed to be studying. My books were spread across the coffee table in the living room, but I couldn’t make myself look at formulas anymore. There was one more final standing between me and my summer—tomorrow’s physics I final—and then the following day, Friday, I was going to be flying to San José. As of today, the Sharks were up, winning the series three to nothing. I was really, really, really hoping that the Sharks would sweep the Red Wings, but I never let those words leave my mouth. Funny how I was picking up Kris’s habits, including his superstitions.

So, instead of studying, I was packing for San José. His season was continuing past my semester, so to California I was going. Kris was currently in Detroit. Game four was tomorrow, the same day as my last final. These last two weeks had flown by—thank God! I was more anxious than upset during this short separation, because I knew that when I saw him again, that was it. No more of these sad, miserable goodbyes and long, dreadful separations. Sure, there would be road trips and times when we couldn’t be together or wouldn’t be, but nothing would ever have to compare to this.

If anything, I had learned to appreciate being with Kris. I missed kissing him whenever I wanted and holding him and likewise being held by him. Those were the things that I had noticed I had missed the most and wanted to do as soon as I saw him. All I wanted to do was spent time with him and soak up his aura and presence. I was so anxious to get out to California that I thought I would jump right out of my skin and bounce around off these walls.

I was going through the closet and trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to take to San José; it was a tough decision. What would I need? What would I have to wear? How long would I be out there? It was hard to say. As much as I was hoping for Kris and his teammates to defeat the Red Wings one more time, I also knew that in a fluky sway of momentum, it was also just as possible for Detroit to come back and win the next four games straight.

As I rooted through my clothes, I tossed them on the floor. Some things got immediately tossed into a suitcase. I pulled out my red, silk dress that I had worn on Valentine’s Day. Kris liked it, so I packed that, too. I figured that I’d probably never have to wear it, but maybe Kris and I would spend a night in together and he’d like to see me in it.

I was feeling so good about this, but the next thing that happened really knocked me off my feet: I found James’s old leather jacket. After Tubby had had it stitched back together as my Christmas present, I had tucked it away here—and hadn’t seen it since. The jacket had never been the same, and looking at it all stitched up was as heartbreaking as it was to see it in pieces. Taking a few backward steps, I collapsed down on the bed, clutching the leather to me. Instinctively, I sniffed it; it still had the burnt smell from the accident, but his smell was still there, albeit faintly.

I cried harder than I had in a really long time, slipping into it and curling up on the bed. It was sad, and I missed him. Most of all, though, I felt guilty. I hadn’t gone to his grave since December fifteenth, and I had just been so busy that it didn’t even really occur to me that I needed to go see him. Even after Luc’s birthday and being with Kris for that experience, it should have made me want to come back here to Pittsburgh and visit James. Sure, I could have made the excuse that the weather had been bad with feet of snow outside and a salt shortage by the city, but then why hadn’t I gone in March? April? Now in May?

So I went. I made myself get off the mattress, take off the jacket and tuck it under my arm, and find my car keys on the kitchen counter. My feet were dragging and I didn’t go over the speed limit as I drove to the cemetery, and I kind of felt like a kid having to walk to the principal’s office: if I prolonged the journey, then maybe I could somehow get out of my punishment.

The parking lot was pretty empty, and I didn’t see anyone on the grounds. That was just the way I liked it, because then no one would look at me funny as I sat there and talked aloud. The last time I’d been here, I was pretty much a wreck. Today, I didn’t feel so devastated. I was disappointed in myself for allowing life to get in the way before I came back out here, and sad for James. I wondered if he had been lonely for all those months.

“I’m sorry,” I told him, taking my usual seat in front of his headstone. My fingers reached out for the words etched into the marble and traced the letters: b-r-o-t-h-e-r, and then backwards, r-e-h-t-o-r-b. “You know I always tried to come out once a month. And now it’s been about six. I don’t know how I let that happen.”

Huffing, I folded the jacket in my lap. “I figure you’re still mad about this. Tubby got it all fixed up, but it’s not the same. It can never be the same,” I mused out loud, thinking about how that applied to so much going on in my life right now. “Maybe I can change it? That’s what happens all the time, right? Things change, your dreams transform, and so does the world around you. You’ve gotta learn to adapt. It’s not good when things stay static. We can change it up. What do you think about... a wallet?” My fingers traced the lines of stitches. In my head, I could see it perfectly, a soft, leather wallet with the initials J.R.A. stamped onto it. James Randolph Anderson; of course, it could also stand for Joanna Rachelle Anderson, but did that really matter?

“At least that’s something I can still use, right? I mean, I want it to be useful, something I’ll see and touch every day. Especially when I’m gone....” The breath caught in my throat. “See, I’m, uh, going to California. Then I really won’t be able to visit you. Fuck, James, I didn’t even think about this! How can I leave you?”

I leaned my head against the cool marble; it didn’t matter what the temperature was outside, because his headstone was always cooler than the ambient air. I closed my eyes and hoped that I could make him understand. “Kris got traded, you see. He’s a Shark now. He really fits in with the team. The guys all like him—and me, too, I think—and he’s doing so well out there. And there’s this school, with its own research observatory! It’s perfect, James, more perfect than CMU. I really want to be out there with Kris.” But the question was: who did I want to be with more? My boyfriend, or my lonely brother? Who else came to visit him? Who would talk to him and keep him company? Even I was doing a poor job of that, and James had always been the most important person in my life. I guess, that is, until now. I wanted to stay here with James, but I needed to be with Kris. And there was my answer.

That was something that James had taught me—that you live each moment like your last, and you do what makes you happy while you can. Kris made me happy, and once I set my mind to something, the only person who could possibly stop me from doing it was... me. Besides, who would begrudge me from going?

Tubby. That’s who.

Just like he had taken me to the airport before my spring break, he took me once I had finished my last final. I was certain that I had done well enough to get those straight A’s, but I had to wait two weeks before I could access my grades online. I had elected to leave James’s jacket behind in the closet; once Kris and I came back, I’d take it a leather worker’s and get a wallet made from the supple, unstitched leather. While I was somewhat pleased with that solution, which I’d come up with on my own, I needed time to adjust to it before I actually did it. It was still a huge step and a ginormous change from what it, and my life, had been.

“Jo-Jo, you’re sure about this?” Tubby asked again, like all of a sudden I was going to change my mind.

“I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life,” I assured him. “Tubster, I love him. I’ve gotta be with him.”

“I know. But... wow. Moving out to California to be with him?” His eyebrows were raised and his eyes filled with concern and uncertainty. “That’s big.”

I shrugged. It didn’t feel big or major to me. That’s where Kris was, so that’s where I had to go. “It’s not permanent. He’s not staying out there once the season’s over, however it ends for him. I know that he’s not thinking about it, because it would be like a jinx to plan his time off when he doesn’t know how it will end. But he’s not spending the summer in San José. He’ll vacation, he’ll spend some time at home in Montreal, and he’ll spend time in Pittsburgh because I’m gonna take summer classes back at CMU—I’m just waiting to see when he’s finished playing to know if I can take them all summer or just second session. I’ll figure out what to do in the fall later, once we have a better idea of whether he’ll still be in San José or not. I know it seems so up in the air, but... it doesn’t matter. Being with him is all that matters to me.”

“I know,” he repeated, shaking his head. “But you’re following him. You’re dropping everything to follow him, and, just, what if something happens?”

“What would happen?”

“I don’t know. Just something.”

“Oh, Papa Bear,” I chuckled, standing on my toes and reaching up to hug him. He did remind me of a big ole bear, protecting me, his little cub. “You can’t be afraid of ‘something.’ Life is full of all kinds of ‘somethings’ that could always ruin our best-laid plans.” I pulled back, my hands still on his shoulders as I gazed up at him. “I have to go. Have to.”

“Yeah, but, remember what happened after your accident? He left. You were still in the hospital, and he left you there when you could have used his help.”

Frowning, I let go of him. Why did he have to bring that up? It was not a proud moment in either of our lives. “He didn’t leave because of me, but because he needed to get his head straight. He was confronted with potentially reliving the worst day of his life. I know what that’s like,” I explained, thinking in my head about the ways I totally overreacted, first when he incurred his shoulder injury last fall and then when he got into that stupid fight with Hartnell on James’s death day. “I can’t fault him for needing space, because that’s what he had to do to deal with the situation.

“And, may I remind you, that he came back,” I said with my eyebrow raised. “You told him to go away, but that doesn’t change the fact that yeah, he came back to talk to me—even though I told him if he left that it was over. So, I mean, you gotta give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s been with me through everything since then. I don’t where I’d be—who I’d be—without him around.”

“Okay, but, what if something like that happens again, and you’re out there and I’m back here? It sucked being away in Philly when I knew you were going through a rough time with his trade.”

“It won’t!”

“Humor me, Jo-Jo. What if it does?”

Sighing, I replied skeptically, “I just... I can’t think that that’s gonna happen. Life’s too short to sit here and wait around for him to come back. I gotta take advantage of the good thing I have going. I just....” I couldn’t lend words to the feeling in my chest. I had to be with Kris when I could.

I’d be pissed at myself if I hadn’t learned my lessons. First James’s death, and then Kris getting traded. I was sick of the people I cared about being taken away from me. At least with my boyfriend, I could go out to California to be with him. He wasn’t forever gone. That’s why I had to go and leave to be with him. “Please, Tubs.... Understand.”

“I know, I get it, I do.” He sighed and loosely held onto my upper arms. “I guess I just wish you could stick around some? I finally finish my semester, come home for the summer, and now you’re leaving. Doesn't seem fair to me. We haven’t had much time together since December.”

Although it may have seemed rude, I laughed in his face. “Tubby! You’re the one who left for Philly for school. You get to leave, but I have to stay here to be here when you want me to?” I joked, poking him in the ribs. “Now that’s not fair.”

He grabbed my hands and stopped my assault on him. He was smiling, but he was serious. “I left because it was the best thing for you, and for me. I woulda lost my scholarship, and Kris was there and talking about helping you grieve, and I was just getting in the way.”

I got defensive, for Tubby, even though I was standing there and defending him to his own face. “You weren’t in the way. You’re never in the way. You’re my best friend, I love you, man, and I didn’t want you to go but I knew you had to go because it was good for you. You needed a break from me, from me having to lean on you, and you needed to go out and have fun and do your own thing. I would have loved it if you could’ve stayed, or if my going out to be with Kris didn’t have to mean leaving you, but... that’s how it is. You and I are always gonna be friends—best friends—no matter who's where geographically. Besides, I’ll be back. Summer session, remember?”

“Yeah, I ’member. I’ll see you when you get back, then.” He sighed, clearly having more to say but keeping his lips zipped on the matter. “Have fun. Get a tan. You’re so fuckin’ pasty. And I guess I’ll see you in a couple months?”

“Hopefully,” I smiled, thinking that I didn’t want to put anything in any definite terms because I didn’t wanna jinx it. We embraced once more. “Thanks for dropping me off. I’ll call you when I get settled in and stuff.”

“You’d better.” I got into the line at security and fumbled through my purse to find my driver’s license. When I glanced behind me to wave goodbye, Tubby was already gone. I chuckled to myself, like a crazy person, and looked straight ahead, focusing on the path ahead of me that was going to take me straight to Kris, with no return ticket purchased to ruin my ease of mind. I would not come back to Pittsburgh without Kris in tow, once his season was over, and we could look forward to our summer and the next coming year.

6 comments:

  1. Poor Tubby. I kind of think he is in love with Jo, but doesn't want to upset what she's got going on and confuse her.

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  2. "While it definitely sucked big balls..." Can it be Jo's feminine ways that attract Kris? Or just the earthy reality of her?

    The return of Tubby and the reappearance of the motorcycle jacket and thus, James, made me remember how much crap Jo has had to endure. When she was visiting the grave, I was a little afraid that she was going to go back to that dark place, but she is so much better now and she's motivated to choose Kris and living life. I think the wallet is a great idea, Jo needs to get practical and realize that James isn't in a physical place, he's in her mind and memories and she can visit him anytime, anywhere.

    I found the conversation with Tubby a little disturbing though, funny how we forget all the bad stuff when things are going well. Plus is Tubby prophetic, or just a worrier? But no relationship is perfect, and so far Jo and Kris are managing to overcome all the hurdles life (and Jay) are throwing at them.

    And a dedication...to lil ole me....awwww.

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  3. I'm so excited for them to be back together! Can't wait for the next update!

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  4. Thanks for the dedication :)

    Poor Jo. Nothing can ever be easy for her. I hate that she started to second guess her decision.

    ahHHhh I can't wait for them to be together again!!!!

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  5. Jay, Great stuff! I have to tell you a story... I was driving around the other day and this song came on the radio and my first thought was 'Wow! I can see Jay using this in her story' and Bamm you use it in this chapter! lol I have been meaning to tell you that I have that Civil Twilight song stuck in my head since you used it in that chapter a while ago! Thank you for not only writing a great story but helping to broaden my musical horizons!

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  6. I can't believe the dread I felt as I read this. Everytime I moved the mouse down I held my breath waiting for something bad. I'm not sure why, I mean, I should be happy things are working out for them. But the worry is there. I'm blaming it on: Shakespeare "The courses of true love never did run smooth."
    And Jay.
    As K so eloquently put it a few chapters ago:
    WHAT HAVE YOU GOT UP YOUR SLEEVE?

    I felt a little better when she made it to the plane because Jay wouldn't crash a whole plane. That's not her style... but there's something.

    Or it could be that I have trouble accepting happiness without looking for the bad, even in fictional stories, and that might explain many things in my life.

    Hmm... Personal enlightenment?
    Nope I'm still blaming Jay and Shakespeare!!

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