||The New Season
by Kim (KP) Pritekel
Disclaimers: Though these lovely ladies may resemble women you know that belong to RenPics, well, they’re not, so ha! These two belong to me.
Subtext: Yeah, it’s in there, so if you don’t remember Martha Quinn or Winger, or Poison, then I’d say your childhood consisted of Brandy and Hanson, and you’re probably not old enough to be here. So out with you!!!!
Note: Thank you to the Angel of Music herself, Sarah Brightman for her wonderful music, and incredible song, Deliver Me.
Note #2: This is a work of fiction, and I have no idea if Washington State University, or that of Minnesota have a girl’s hockey team. If they don’t, well in my world they do. If they do, well in my world they’re different. So please don’t email me telling me that I have the wrong mascots, or anything. Just pretend. : )
If you’d like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am, or that I royally suck, fell free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com
The drive was long, my mind whirling around the facts that I knew. My mother was sick again, and she needed me. No one knew how long she’d be sick, or how long I’d be back home in Seattle. I took my hand from the wheel, and slid in a cd. Sarah Brightman, “Deliver Me”. That woman always had the power to calm me at my worst. And this would most certainly qualify as one of those times.
Last Saturday when I’d gotten back to my tiny little one bedroom apartment in Minnesota, the light on my machine had been blinking ominously.
“Jenny, honey, this is Connie. Your mother is sick again. It’s come back. This time, well, I just don’t know. Call me as soon as you get this, okay? Bye.”
Connie’s words played over and over in my head as I drove this long, lonely stretch of highway. Incurable. Maybe a month, maybe six. Who knows? It’s come back something terrible.
I began to sing along.
Deliver me, out of my sadness,
Deliver me, from all of the madness,
Deliver me, courage to guide me,
Deliver me, strength from inside me....
I passed under the sign that would lead me home. I hadn’t been home for about a year; it was too hard to leave school in Minnesota, and if I wasn’t practicing for hockey then I was playing hockey. If I wasn’t playing hockey, then I was recovering from the last season. I was a defensemen for the Wild Cats, a perfect position for me because of my size. At just under six feet I could keep any opponent away from that goalie. Now with summer break only two days in the making, I’ve come home.
The house looked the same as it always did, except mom’s flowers weren’t quite as spectacular as they usually were. From what Connie said, she hadn’t been able to get outside for nearly a month. Why didn’t you call me sooner! I had asked. You’re mom didn’t want you to have to miss any school for her. She doesn’t even know I’ve called you now. She’d be upset.
I pulled my Outback into the short, steep driveway, and cut the engine. I sat there for a minute, staring at the small two story with the white paint that needed redone, and the dark blue trim that I had helped mom paint three years ago. That had been the last summer before I’d left for school on my hockey scholarship. Maybe I’d paint this summer. Something to help the time go by.
“Mom?” I called out as I headed into the house, my backpack slung over one shoulder, and a small suitcase held in my hand. I walked through the front hall, looking into the family room off to the right. She wasn’t in her usual spot watching General Hospital. Hmmm. I headed to the kitchen and saw that hot tea had been made not too long ago; the used teabag sat drying on a saucer. I peeked out the back door and saw only laundry drying on the line. Okay, I guess upstairs it is.
“Mom?” I called out again as I bounded up the stairs. My long legs made short work of them, as I took them two at a time. A habit since childhood. My mother would yell at me saying I looked like a monkey. “Mom?” I called a bit quieter as I hit the hall.
“Jenny?” came a weak voice to my left. I headed toward my mother’s room, and stopped in the doorway. She was wrapped in blankets to her chin as she laid in her bed. I noted the tea cup on the night stand next to a tray littered with pill bottles. “Honey. What are you doing here?” she pulled a hand from under her cocoon and reached it out. I walked into the room, and took her clammy hand in mine. Connie had told me not to mention that she had called.
“Well, it’s summer break, so I decided to come home and see you.” I smiled.
“Oh, honey. You shouldn’t have done that. Such a long trip, and gas is so high right now,” she said, her voice weaker than I’d heard it in a while.
“That doesn’t matter, mom.” I hugged her gently. “I missed you.”
“I missed you, too, honey.”
I took a seat on the side of the bed, still holding her hand in mine.
“How long are you staying?”
“I’m not sure. For a little while, at least.” I stared into the sunken, washed out blue eyes of my mother. At one time, before the accident, we had looked so much alike, except for the fact that she was about six inches shorter than me. I had gotten my height from my father. “Where’s Connie?” I asked.
“I think she went to the store. She should be back soon.”
“She left the front door open, and the screen unlocked. That’ s not safe, mom.” I admonished.
“Oh, I told her to. That lock is sticking again. I knew she wouldn’t be gone long. Besides, maybe it’d be better off if someone-“
“Don’t even say that, mom!”
“Oh, honey, I’m just an old lady who’s dying anyway.”
“Jenny? Is that you?” I turned to see my mother’s live-in nurse-turned house keeper- turned shopper- turned friend, Connie standing in the doorway of the bedroom. I smiled, and stood.
“Hello, Connie. How are you?”
“Come here, you!” she grabbed me in a monster hug, her stout body warm and comforting against me. “How are you, honey?”
“I’m fine.” I laughed. “Okay, you can let go of me now.” with one more bone crushing squeeze, she let me go and stared into my eyes. Her own kind brown eyes conveyed to me all that I needed to know. I nodded slightly, and she released me. I noted that the soft brown skin around her eyes had become tight, more lined. Worry lines.
“You hungry, girl? That is such a long trip.”
“Well, yeah, actually I am.”
“Well, come on, then. I’ll fix you some of those waffles you love so much.” she turned and headed toward the door.
“You spoil her too much, Connie.” my mother smiled.
“Well, my kids never come around no more. I have to spoil someone!”
“I’ll be back, mom.” I squeezed my mother’s hand, and kissed her on the cheek. I stared at her for a moment, my heart breaking. She had lost so much weights since I’d seen her last, and she had more lesions on her face than last time.
I followed Connie into the kitchen, and sat at the breakfast bar, watched her perform her magic with milk, eggs, and her other secret ingredients, that no matter how hard I tried, she would never tell me.
“She’s so thin, Connie.” I said, my eyes on her dark hands working of their own accord. Connie had always amazed me the way she could be working on three or four different things at the same time, and never get confused, or disoriented. She was the dearest friend that we had ever had. She had started out coming once every two weeks six years ago, until two years ago she had moved in. My mother just needed too much care.
“Yes, she’s lost a whole bunch of weight in the last month or so.” Connie shook her head sadly. “It’s a crying shame.”
“You know, after all this time, it still makes me so mad that twelve years ago they didn’t check the blood of donors. But after the accident, she had needed blood so bad.”
“I know, honey. They just didn’t know no better then.”
“Sometimes I wonder if she wouldn’t have been better off if she would have just died with dad.” Connie looked up, her dark eyes sharp.
“Don’t ever say that, child. You needed your mamma here. Don’t ever say that, again.”
“I know, Connie. But look how she’s suffering.” I pointed my thumb in the directions of the stairs. “What kind of life does she have?”
“She doesn’t. But she got to see you grown, and that’s what she wanted. Now you go to that big school of yours, and are a big star on their hockey team.” she smiled at me. “Your mamma is so proud of you, honey. And so am I.” she reached over and squeezed me hand. I smiled at her. Connie was more like a grandmother to me.
“How are her T-cells?”
“Not too good, but better than they were last week when I called you. Today they are just under sixty.”
“Wow.” I said quietly as I watched her crack an egg.
“So, tell me about you. What’s going on in that iceberg of a state? And how’s that fella of yours?”
“Tim? Oh, he’s okay, I guess. We’re fighting.”
I smiled. “Yes, again. He doesn’t even know I left.”
“Well, honey, I never really liked him anyway.”
“Yeah, I’m kind of thinking me either.” we smiled at each other.
The sun was out, the day was warm, and I was restless. I had been home now for nearly three weeks, and we were in the second week of June. I sat on the back porch, staring out at a butterfly that seemed to float through the air, before it disappeared over the fence. I stood, and went inside to put on some tennis shoes. I felt the need to run.
“I’ll be back, mom!” I yelled up the stairs, then headed out the front door.
I turned left at the end of the driveway, and headed down the street that I knew would lead to a bike path that lead behind our neighborhood. I used to run this same route as a kid.
It felt so good as the air of early evening blew against my face. I felt free, new, reborn. I had been pent up in the house with my mother. She went to the hospital twice a week for testing. I had only been doing it for a month, and I was going crazy. I had gained an entirely new respect for Connie. She required so much care. After awhile I had forgotten about myself, and what I needed.
Up ahead a little ways I could see the carved, cement bench that lined the trail on one side, a small man-made pond on the other. A lone figure sat on the bench, legs stretched out in front, an arm running along the back of the bench. As I got closer I realized it was a woman. She had short blond hair that fell over her forehead, blowing slightly in the breeze. She wore dark Oakley’s that hid her eyes; her face held no expression. She wore a black tank top, her very well muscled arms were tan. The legs that stretched out from her running shorts were also well muscled, and tan. I noticed a knot of bruises on her shins, and chuckled inward. That looked like me after a game. As I passed she glanced at me, then turned her attention back to the pond. But I had the distinct feeling that once I passed, she was looking at me again. I felt strange, a part of me hoping that she was looking at me.
Whoa! I shook myself out of my thoughts, and sped up my pace.
Days were flowing into weeks, and weeks into another month. July was half gone. My mother was feeling a little better. Yesterday, with Connie directing me, I carried my mother down the stairs, and out into her favorite chair out on the back porch. She was only allowed to stay for a little while for fear that she would catch a virus. I sat on the lounge next to hers.
“Oh, honey it is such a lovely day. You shouldn’t be cramped in this house with a sick old woman.”
I turned to my mother and patted her hand.
“Don’t give me that, mom. You know I’m not going anywhere.” I looked down when my mother grabbed my hand in her weak grasp. I squeezed her fingers and looked into her tired eyes.
“Honey, when I’m gone, I want you to know that the house will be taken care of. We have set aside some money to pay it off, and all that will be left are the taxes.”
“No, Jenny, listen to me.” I closed my mouth and gave her my full attention. “It’s up to you, honey. You can sell this place, or stay, rent it, whatever. I know that you have a life now in Minnesota.” my mother slowly brought our joined hands to her mouth and kissed my fingers. “I love you, honey. Always know that.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. “I love you, to, mom.”
I laid on my bed, the cordless on my stomach. I stared up at the ceiling, trying to decide what I should do. My boyfriend Tim had called earlier when I had been on a medicine run. He had been worried, and as a last resort had called here. Connie had told him that I was here, and I would call him when I got home.
“Honey, don’t waste your youth on a deadbeat. Either tell him to shape up, or tell him to get lost.” she had told me as she handed the phone to me. I wasn’t happy with him, and hadn’t been in a long time. Actually, now as I thought about it, had I ever been really happy with him? I knew the answer to that as I picked up the phone, and dialed the number to his dorm.
“Yo?” his roommate, Paul said after three rings.
“Hey, Paul. Is Tim there?”
“Yeah, Jen. Hang on. Yo Paul! Phone!”
“Hello?” Tim’s quiet voice said over the line.
“Hey.” I could hear the edge in his words. “What the hell do you think you’re doing running home without telling me, Jen?”
I closed my eyes, trying to swallow the immediate anger. I took a deep breath. “What, am I your prize, Tim? Do I have to check in and out with you?”
“Don’t be that way, Jen. You know what I mean. I’ve been worried.”
“Well, there’s no reason to be. My mother is sick again. She needs me.”
“What about how I need you, Jen? Doesn’t that count? Your mom will be around.”
I took another deep breath so I wouldn’t lose my temper. I could feel my blood boiling. Then I decided that was it. I didn’t want to deal with this crap, especially right now.
“You know what, Tim, you soulless bastard.” I heard him suck in his breath in surprise. “My mother will not be around. She’s dying. You hear me? She’s dying. So you can take your needs and shove them up your ass!” I tossed the phone on the quilt, and laid back down. It felt good. I knew I had done the right thing as soon as it was out of my mouth. Tim had become extremely possessive over the last few months, and he hated me playing hockey. He said that since I had started to lift weights and bulk up that I looked like some kind of dyke. I knew he was jealous of the attention I got from my sporting accomplishments. Tim was a book worm, working in the library, which is what I had liked about him initially. I seemed to be drawn more toward quiet men. But he had shown his true colors as time had gone by. Now I felt free.
August was here, and practice would be starting in three weeks. I had been running regularly since I had been here, but now it was time to start with speed drills, and to start lifting again.
As a kid when I had been into figure skating, my mom had known a man named Quimby who owned a local ice rink in the neighborhood. He would let me go in and practice before school and after he closed up at night. It was time to give Quimby a call again.
“Gretzky! How are ya, luv?”
I had always gotten a kick out of his Irish brogue.
“I’m fine, how are you, old man?”
“Ah, couldn’t be better if Saint Patrick himself were under me roof.”
I giggled. He had used that line since I had been knee high to a grass hopper.
“’M so sorry ‘bout yer ma, lass. Such a tragedy.”
“Thanks, Quimby. We’re taking it day by day, you know?”
“Ay, that, luv. Er ya needin’ the rink?”
“Yes, sir, I do. I’ve got to start training. Practice starts in just under a month.”
“Yuv got it. Ya know where the key is, ay?”
“Yes. Thanks, Quimby. Same time?”
It felt so good to have my skates on again. I decided that for today’s practice I would just wear some sweats and a tank. It was cold as all get out, but I knew that once I started my drills, I would be frying. I left my pucks and stick at my mother’s house. Today I just wanted to play. I skated around the perimeter of the rink as fast as I could, my hair blowing back in the wind that my speed was creating. I opened my mouth, and let out a scream of victory as I turned, and began to skate around backwards, my legs powerful from years of practice, and intense workouts, propelling me, pushing me. I spread my legs, thrust my body around, and came to a screeching stop, ice chips flying. I was out of breath, my hair plastered to my forehead. I rested my hands on my thighs, and stared up at the ceiling, a smile forming on my face. I had needed that.
When I got home from the rink, I found Connie upstairs with my mother. I stood in the doorway with my skates over my shoulder. I watched as Connie wiped my mother’s forehead with a damp towel, and gave her ice cubes to suck on.
“Is everything okay?” I asked quietly. Connie turned and looked at me over her shoulder.
“Hi, honey. How was your practice?”
“It was great.” I murmured.
“Well now, Jenny, don’t sound so excited, girl.” I grinned, and walked into the room.
“Is she okay?”
“She’s fine, honey. Just getting a cold. I’m trying to keep it at bay. We’ll see how it goes.” my mother coughed weakly and opened her eyes. She smiled at me.
“Hi, baby.” she whispered.
“Hey.” I sat on the other side of the bed, and stretched out next to my mother.
“Tell me about your day. Did you see Quimby?” she asked, turning her head to look at me.
“It was wonderful, mom. I had forgotten how much I love that old rink. Yes, I saw Quimby. He’s a trip.” she laughed weakly.
“He’s always been good to you.”
“Why don’t we let her sleep now, Jenny?” Connie said, putting the washcloth in a bowl of warm water on the nightstand, and slowly raising her large body from the bed.
“Okay.” I kissed my mom on the forehead, and stood from the bed. I looked down at her, my eyes full of worry. She was so clammy. I knew she had to be running a heck of a fever. “I’ll talk to you later, mom.” she smiled at me, and closed her eyes. I could see the worry in Connie’s eyes as we headed downstairs. Neither of us spoke. There was just nothing to be said anymore.
I would be leaving for Minnesota on Sunday morning. School started on Tuesday there. It was Friday night, and I had been invited to a back to school party by a girl named Lori who I had gone to high school with. I had been thrilled at the prospect of getting out of the house. My mom seemed to have gotten over the cold, and was doing pretty good.
From the looks of it, as I pulled up to the curb two houses down, the party was already in full swing. Lori rented a five bedroom house with three other girls, and one of their boyfriends, all students at UW. As I walked up the front walk I could hear the pulsating beat of Def Leppard. This was an all 80’s party, so I knew I was going to at least like the music. I usually wasn’t much for parties, but I needed to get out with people my own age. Besides, it had been about two years since I’d seen Lori, and not since graduation three years ago since we’d partied together.
“Jenny!” Lori exclaimed when she saw me ease my way around a couple who had found the front door the perfect place to make out.
“Hey, Lori!” I yelled above the music. She grabbed me in a quick hug, and tugged my by the hand to the kitchen where a plethora of different kinds of alcohol was displayed on the kitchen table.
“Drink up! If you want anything mixed, we have a mixer under the sink!”
“Okay! Thanks, Lori!”
“Have fun!” she kissed me on the cheek, and hobbled out of the kitchen. Yeah, I’d say she’d had a little to drink. I chuckled to myself, and glanced at all the bottles of different shapes and sizes, and colors before me. I settled with my usual, an Amaretto Sour, and headed into the throng of people that were talking, dancing, and all drinking. I saw only a few people that I recognized from school, but most were total strangers to me. In the corner I saw a girl that looked somewhat familiar. What was it about her? The bench! I realized that she had been the girl sitting on the bench when I had gone running that day. Her blonde hair was hidden beneath a baseball cap that she had turned backwards. She was talking to someone, sipping a beer now and then. I could only see her upper body with other party goers blocking my view. She had on an open flannel, with what looked to be another tank underneath. Something caught her eye, and she turned and looked in my direction. She seemed to recognize me, too. She raised her beer in a salute, her incredible green eyes twinkling from alcohol. She grinned, the sexiest smile I had ever seen on anyone. it was somewhat crooked, cocky. Then she turned back to the girl she had been talking to. I was taken aback by how I had been affected by her. Well, there are sexy people of both sexes. It doesn’t mean anything.
“Hey, want to dance?” someone yelled behind me. I turned to see a guy about my height with light brown hair and eyes. He looked pretty sober. Good, that meant my chances of being groped were still pretty low.
“Okay.” the song had changed to a fast song by Cyndi Lauper. We danced in the tiny amount of space allotted, both of us nearly chest to chest.
“So, who do you know?” he asked.
“Who do you know!” he said a bit louder.
“Oh, Lori. We went to high school together.”
“Oh, a friend of a friend who knows one of Lori’s roommates!” I smiled.
We decided to just dance and forget about talking. The music was just too loud. We danced to two more songs when suddenly the music stopped. My ears were ringing.
“Thank god. I think I’ve lost half my hearing.” my dance partner smiled, rubbing his left ear. “Hey, want another drink? I think you lost about half of it by people running into you.” I looked into my nearly empty glass, and grinned.
“Well, I got in a couple of drinks.”
“Be right back.” he took the tall glass from my hand, and disappeared. I looked around, scanning the crowd. When my eyes landed on a Seahawks hat turned backwards I realized that I had been looking for the blonde. She was standing in a group of girls, her arms wildly animated as she told some story, the other girls laughing hysterically. As a small crowd of people moved out of my line of sight, I could see more of her. She was shorter than me, probably around five three or four, but was powerfully built. She wore cut off jean shorts, and hiking boots.
“Here you go.”
I turned to find the guy behind me with a fresh drink. “Thanks.”
“I’m Sam, by the way.” he grinned.
“Hi.” he shook my hand. “Want to go get some air?” I thought for a second.
“No. Not really.” he looked slightly disappointed, then smiled.
“Well, I think I’ll sit this dance out,” he said as the beat of an old Pat Benetar song began to crank up. “I need some space!” he said, his eyes widening for emphasis. I laughed.
“Okay. Thanks.” I said lifting my drink. He smiled, and headed toward the front door. I took a long drink, hot from dancing, and nearly choked. God!! He had given me straight rum! I took a deep breath of cooling air as the liquid scorched my throat, and hit my stomach like a fireball. I was a lightweight when it came to alcohol, and I could already feel the effects of the little bit of the Amaretto Sour, and then the huge drink of rum I’d just taken. I stared down into the clear liquid, and decided that I’d finish the glass. Why not? I hadn’t been drunk in a long, long time.
A couple more guys had asked me to dance, and now I was feeling no pain, so I eagerly accepted. We danced, and danced, and danced some more. The room was swirling. I hadn’t been this drunk in quite some time. I didn’t feel like I’d be sick, but I did feel like I owned the world.
My current dance partner was a good looking guy with black hair, and intense gray eyes. He was all hands. I kept brushing is paws off my ass, but the next beat they found their way back again. I saw him glance over my shoulder.
“Hey, Joie.” he said, a half smile on his lips.
“Go.” I heard a voice say behind me. The guy raised his brows, and grinned.
“Good luck.” he whispered in my ear, then disappeared into the crowd. I turned around and was shocked to see the little blonde. She had that sexy little smile on her lips again. Winger’s “She’s Only Seventeen” was blasting as she placed her hands on my waist, pulling me toward her. I was surprised at how strong she was. Next thing I knew, we were body to body.
She began to move me with her to the music, slipping one of her legs between mine. Not sure what to do with my hands, I placed them on her shoulders. I could feel the muscles move under my fingers. She looked up at me. I had never seen eyes that color of green before. Beautiful. She took her hands off my waist for a second, and pulled her flannel off, whipping the material right out from under my fingertips, and tossing it on the ground at our feet. Suddenly my fingers grasped the hot skin of her bare shoulders. Her tank was green, and tight, showing off that little body of hers, that I could tell she was more than a little proud of. She brought her hands back to my body, resting them on my hips.
She sang along to the song as she ground our bodies together. My mind was in a whirlwind. I didn’t know what to think, my thoughts jumbled from all that I had drank. She moved her hands around my hips and rested them on my butt, pulling me tighter to her. I stared at her, shocked, but then adjusted to the new rhythm she was setting. My body was tingling, my head turning to mush.
The song came to an end, and I felt her slowly take her hands from my body, sliding them along my hips, and catching briefly in the belt loops of my jeans, then they were gone all together. I took my hands from her shoulders, but she grabbed one of them as they fell to my body. She kissed my knuckles, her eyes never leaving mine, then she dropped my hand, and disappeared. I felt someone tap my shoulder, and turned to see a wide eyed Lori grinning at me.
“I see you met the notorious Joie.” she laughed. I looked back in the direction where the blonde had gone, and turned back to my friend.
“I guess. Who is she?”
“Trouble.” she smiled.
I awoke to a dog licking my cheek. Eww! I opened my eyes and saw Lori’s German Shepherd, Rex panting in my face. I sat up, pushing the dog away. I felt like I was on a ship that was on rough seas. I put my head in my hands. Oh, god. Now I remembered why I don’t get drunk very often. I glanced around from my place on the floor, and saw all the bodies strewn on the couch, on the floor, and one guy was curled up on the coffee table. I slowly stood, glancing at my watch: 7:15. With a groan I made my way to the bathroom, careful not to step on anyone. I sat on the toilet, my head buried in my hands again. I tried to remember what time I had finally gone to sleep. I think it had been around four or four-thirty. Here I was, three hours later. I groaned again. I really needed to get home.
I stood in front of the sink, and took off my T-shirt, and shook it out a little. I grabbed a washcloth and wet it, running it over my neck, and under my arms. I needed a shower, too. I took a whiff. Ugh.
I took a tour of the house until I found Lori, asleep in her bed with some strange guy that I knew wasn’t Mike, her boyfriend.
“Lori?” I whispered, shaking her shoulder.
“Hmm.” she mumbled, her eyes tightly closed.
“Lori?” I said a little louder. She peeked one blue eye open.
“What?” she mumbled into her pillow.
“I’m going to head home. I’ll call you before I head back.”
“Mmhmm.” she closed her eye again, and sighed. With a grin I made my way out to my car.
I stopped at a Duncan Donuts on the way home, and grabbed a huge cup of coffee, and slowly sipped it. I began to feel a little better, if not tired. I turned onto the street that would lead to my childhood home, when my eyes opened wide, sleep forgotten. Sitting in our driveway was an ambulance, its lights spinning red and blue. I pulled my Outback to the curb, and jumped out, running across the lawn as two paramedics came out the front door, one at each end of a gurney with my mother strapped on, an oxygen mask over her pale face. Connie followed them out, tears in her dark eyes. She stood on the front porch.
“Connie!” I yelled as I ran. Connie turned to me, relief washing over her features.
“Oh, honey. Thank God you came home. Your mama had another relapse, honey.” she grabbed me, holding me close to her. My eyes stayed on the two men the whole time as they loaded the gurney into the back.
“Pneumonia again?” I asked quietly. I felt her nod. “Let’s go. We’ll follow them to the hospital in my car.” I pulled away from our friend and headed back across the lawn as one of the men jumped into the driver’s side as the other one closed up the back of the ambulance. Connie closed the front door, and followed me.
We waited in the emergency waiting room, Connie sitting calmly, me pacing, mostly so I could stay awake. Connie had explained that she had woken up at six-forty-five to my mother’s tremendous coughing fit. When she went in there, she realized that she was coughing up blood, and called for an ambulance. I glanced down at her.
“So what do you think, Connie?”
She shook her head, her eyes grave. “I think your mama has had one hell of a fight, but honey, I think she’s done fighting now.”
I plopped down in the hard chair next to her.
“Connie, what am I going to do? I’m supposed to leave for school tomorrow morning? School starts Tuesday.” Connie sighed and looked at the floor for a minute. Absently she took my hand in hers, and placed them on her leg.
“Well, honey. You were here when your mama needed you most. You can feel good about that.” she turned sad eyes toward me. “I fear it’s going to happen, child. Do what your heart tells you to do.”
“Miss Carlson?” I looked up to see a woman wearing scrubs walk toward us, a stethoscope around her neck.
“Yes?” I stood. She walked to me.
“Hello. I’m Dr. Rourke. I’ve just been with your mother.” the doctor’s eyes looked very sad. “I’m afraid that there is nothing that can be done. The pneumonia is in the latter stages, and now all that your mom can do is rest.”
I stared at her, dumbstruck. What Connie and I had been talking about for two months was about to happen. No amount of talk can prepare a person for that.
“Okay.” I said.
“I’ve called her regular doctor, and he’s on his way. Mrs. Carlson has asked to go home.”
“Home?” Connie stood next to me, her arm on my back.
“That’s where her heart is, honey.”
“I’m sorry.” Dr. Rourke said, and walked away.
“Uh, Dr. Rourke?”
“Yes?” she turned and looked at me.
“Can we see her?”
“Of course. Follow me.”
My mother was laying on a narrow bed with an oxygen hose in her nose, and an IV in her wrist vein. She was asleep, her breathing shallow.
“Hello, Connie, Jenny, it’s good to see you.” I turned to see Dr. Drake enter into the small curtained cubicle. He had been my mother’s doctor since the beginning. “How are you?” his gentle voice and quiet manner had always been a comforting presence.
“Fine, doctor, thank you. It’s good to see you again, too.”
“How’s our hockey star doing?” he smiled.
“Not so good today, I’m afraid.” I smiled weakly. He patted my shoulder and grabbed the chart at the end of my mother’s bed. He glanced at it, then at her, then at me. “She wants to go home.” I said. He nodded sadly and put the chart back in it’s holder.
“Yes, Dr. Rourke told me. I think it’s the best thing for her, Jenny. At this point the love of her family will do more for her than any medicine could.”
The drive home was a quiet one. We had an ambulance drive my mother back home so that she would be provided with oxygen and intravenous medicine until she could be hooked up in her bed. Connie and I followed the white and red van, neither of us talking. My mind was whirling. What was I going to do? I could not miss this semester of school, and hockey would be starting up in less than a week.
“I’m going to enroll at UW, Connie.” I said, my eyes still on the road, and the van ahead of me.
“Honey, I think that’s a good idea.” Connie said quietly.
“Do you?” I turned to look at her. She nodded.
“Yes, I do.”
My mother was settled into her bed with oxygen, and all her medicine running through her system, and was sleeping peacefully, and I crashed. I took a long, hot shower until I felt human again, then glanced at my alarm clock: 10:04.
“God.” I groaned, then fell face first into the soft, thick quilt.
Monday morning found me at the University of Washington in the administration building, begging to be let in. I explained the situation, and after numerous calls to my school in Minnesota, I was told,
“Jenny, we see that your grades are outstanding, and with your accomplishments on the Minnesota girl’s hockey team, we’d feel honored to have you as a student in our school. However, your scholarship is not transferable. I’m sorry.”
I looked into the woman behind the desk’s eyes, my mouth hanging open.
“But, I have a full scholarship, ma’am. There is nothing at all that can be done?”
“I’m afraid not. But, welcome to UW.” she said with a bright smile.
I walked across campus to talk to Coach Maron, the UW girls hockey coach.
“Yes, Jennifer. Coach Donovan and I go way back. I remember you from that game last fall. You kicked our butts!” he exclaimed with a wide smile. “What makes you want to come play for us?”
“My mother is sick, and I’ve decided to stay home with her.” I explained softly.
“Oh. Well, I’m sorry to hear that. But what a break for us.” he smiled again. “Miss Carlson, I’d be proud to have you on our team.”
And so in a matter of half a day, my life was turned upside down. I had called my landlady and had made arrangements for her to send me all of my stuff. Luckily the place had already been furnished when I had moved in. The cost of her shipping my belongings was going to seriously hurt my savings account, not to mention the cost of having to pay tuition. At least I didn’t have rent now. That would help immensely. So now it was time to get a job. Back in Minnesota I had been a department manager at Wal-Mart for two years, so I didn’t think it would be that terribly difficult. By the end of the day I had become the assistant manager at Rupert’s Pizza. Not glamorous, but a job.
School for UW had started that day, but I had talked with all of my professors, and the coach about the fact that I would not be to class or practice that week. I wanted to be with my mother, make sure that I was there for her when she... well, that I was there for her.
I sat with her, read to her. Sometimes she was lucid, other times she was asleep, and would be for the entire day. She seemed to shrink before our very eyes. Black circles caused her eyes to become even more shadowed, her brow seemed to have grown too large.
Connie did everything, leaving me time to stay with my mother. I gave her a sponge bath with Connie’s help, and some days I just sat on the chair at the side of her bed, and held her hand, staring out the window. One day like that was the following Saturday. I had found one of my pucks in my bag, and now sat holding her hand in one of my hands, stared out the window, and turned the puck over and over in my other hand, the rubbery feel of it a comfort to me.
“Baby?” I looked down at my mother who was staring up at me. She had not been awake all day, and had not spoken in three days.
“Yes, mom?” I asked quietly.
“Go play, honey.” she said softly, glancing at the black puck.
“Honey, I’m not going anywhere. Please. For me. Go play. I know practice started Wednesday. Connie told me.” she smiled. “Please? I promise. I’m not going anywhere.” she kissed my hand, her dry, cracked lips scratching my skin. I smiled and agreed.
“What are you doing! Stevens, get over her, now!” the coach’s voice boomed in the large rink. Sixteen girls stood around on the ice in full uniform. Coach had given me mine when I had visited him on Monday. “You do that high sticking crap again, and I’ll bench you for half the season, you got that?”
“Good. Now get your ass out there!”
“Coach Maron?” I asked as I entered the rink, my huge duffel full of equipment slung over my shoulder.
“Yeah?” he turned to me with irritated eyes that immediately slid from his face. He smiled. “Carlson. How goes it?”
“How’s your mom?”
“She’s fine. She ran me out of the house.” he grinned, his gum showing like a little pink tongue between his side teeth.
“Go get suited up.” he nodded toward the locker room. I quickly got changed, and when the coach saw me approach, he blew his whistle. “Okay, girls. Round up.” all my teammates eyed me warily, especially Stevens, as they skated toward us. My eyes bugged when I saw a pair incredible green eyes looking at me. That girl from the party. What had been her name? Joie? I had been too drunk to remember much. “Okay, this is Jenny Carlson. Most of you probably remember her from Minnesota State when they wiped us off the map last year? Well, this is their Minnesota Wall. Nothin’ gets past this one. So I want you all to welcome her. She’s a transfer.” the girls said nothing; some looked bored, some down right hostile. I glanced at Joie. Her face held no expression. She turned and headed back to her position as center, tapping her stick on the ice as she waited for practice to begin again.
It felt so good to play again. For the first time in a gut wrenching week I was able to let go of everything, and just play for the game that I loved. I had never played better in a practice. I could tell the coach was beside himself with excitement. The other girls kept an eye on me, catching my every move.
“Okay!” Coach Maron blew his whistle. “Good job, girls. Hit the showers!” I caught Joie’s eyes as she headed off the ice. She looked pleased as she nodded to me. I nodded back, and headed toward the locker room.
As I stripped out of my gear, my heavy pads falling to the floor, I felt a thrill pass through me. I leaned my head back against the wall, my dark hair plastered to my face. I sat there in my pants and a sports bra for a long time, just thinking.
“You going to stay there all night?” one of the girls asked as she walked by, naked except for a towel in her hair. I smiled.
I showered and dressed, and I found myself looking around again. I didn’t see Joie anywhere.
“So how did it go, honey?” Connie asked as she put dinner together.
“Oh, Connie, it felt so good to get back on that ice!” I plopped down on the stool at the breakfast bar across from her. “Those players are a bunch of hags, though
“Well honey, it couldn’t have been too bad, those blue eyes are practically glowing.” she smiled, and patted my hand.
“I’m going to go up and see mom.”
Sunday afternoon I stood at the window, my hands in the pockets of my shorts, my eyes red. I felt soft hands run down my arms, and then the familiar warm, comfort of Connie.
“You okay, honey?” she asked softly. I could only nod. “It’s for the best, child.”
“I know.” I said, my voice hoarse from too many tears. “I know.”
“Are you sure you want to be here, Carlson?” Coach Maron said, his voice gentle as I stood in his office, my duffel slung over my shoulder.
“Yeah.” I said. He stared at me for a moment, almost as if he was sizing me up.
“Okay. Go suit up.” I turned to leave. “Jenny?” I glanced at him over my shoulder. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
I was a mess out there. All over the place, missing block after block. Coach Maron blew his whistle, again.
“Carlson! What the hell position you playin’, anyway?” he bellowed.
“I know, I’m sorry, sir.”
“I don’t give a horses ass if you’re sorry! Don’t apologize, just improve!”
“The Minnesota Wall, huh? I’d say more like the Minnesota Guerilla.” I turned as I heard the other defensemen talking to the wing. They both cracked up, stopped when they saw me looking at them, but then cracked up all over again.
“And you, two? Are you a wing, Martinez?”
“Than what the hell you doin’ over there!”
I glanced at Joie who was looking back at the spectacle. She was glaring at me.
I stumbled into the locker room, just glad that it was over for one day. I was a mess, my insides all wrapped up together into a nice bow of emotion. I knew I was about to lose it, and just wanted to get out of there. I had my bag slung over my shoulder and was about to head out when I saw Joie heading toward me, and she didn’t look happy.
“Hey, Carlson,” she said, her voice loud, angry. “What the hell was that today? I know you can do better than that! Jesus! You were pathetic today! You looked like a goddamn circus clown! What, you got a hot date your minds on, or what?”
I could take the criticism, and I knew that I deserved it, but not today. Not like this. I could feel the blood pounding in my head with that last comment, rage building. I dropped my bag where I stood and walked toward her. She stood her ground, still in her uniform. I grabbed two fistfuls of her jersey, and forced her back, slamming her against the wall. I was in her face. Her green eyes showed shock, but very little fear. Cocky little shit.
“Tell me, have you ever had to watch your mother as she slowly died from AIDS?” I growled, my voice low, dangerous. “No? Well, yesterday my mother lost that battle.” I stared at her for a moment as I saw realization dawning in their emerald depths, then I released her shirt, turned to see my teammates staring. A hush as deep as the grave filled the room. I picked up my duffel, and walked out.
The funeral was to be Wednesday, and I decided that I would skip practice on Tuesday. My mind was too far gone, and I knew that I would make a total disaster of myself again if I went, so instead I went to Quimby’s.
I had brought my stick and some pucks with me, intending to do the practice alone that I knew I couldn’t do with the crowd. I skated around, and around, did my speed drills, and then I lined my ten pucks up in front of the goal, and with an aim born of precision, I hit one after the other into the net, the whoosh a satisfying sound. As I went down the line I could feel my throat burning, my eyes getting blurry. The last puck I sent flying as hard as I could; it flew over the half wall and into the seats.
“Arrghhhh!” I screamed into the empty rink. I dropped my stick and my gloves, and fell to my knees, my face buried in my hands. I cried like I had never cried before. I felt the pain and the sorrow seep through my fingers, and plop onto the ice, forming a salty pond. I stayed like that for a long time, though I’m not sure how long. Eventually my tears dried up, my face tight, my eyes burning. I felt so tired all the sudden. I gathered my gear and my self, and headed home.
The weather was beautiful as we all stood in the green grass. I glanced over to the side and saw my father’s grave. I had not been out here to visit him in a while. I stared again at the polished black and silver casket before me, the red roses piled on top were a nice contrast in color.
I wore a form fitting black dress, my high heels sinking slightly in the soft ground. A large group of mourners stood behind me. I felt Connie’s reassuring hand on my arm. I listened as the minister talked of an eternal life, and how my mother’s soul now was with God.
Suddenly I felt like I was being watched. I glanced up, and about twenty or thirty yards away stood a lone figure. Her dark glasses hid her green eyes, and their expression. She wore a black pant suit, her right hand clasped her left wrist as her arms hung in front of her. She was looking directly at me. I stared back. It seemed an eternity had passed, neither of us moving. I glanced down at my mother’s casket again, and when I looked back up, Joie was gone.
Everyone had left, leaving me alone in this house where I grew up. I walked its lonely, quiet halls feeling like a ghost. Connie had moved back into her duplex, but had promised to come by often to see how I was doing. I told her I was fine, but the truth of it was I was lonely, lost. I looked around the old house trying to decide what I should do. Finally I decided to work on the home work that I had picked up; afterall, I had a week and a half of it to do so I wouldn’t get too far behind.
I changed out of my dress, and put on some shorts and a navy blue tank. I sat at the kitchen table feeling like I was ten again, my mom making me sit and do my spelling before I could go outside. I rested my chin in my hand and tried to concentrate on what I was reading. No good. My mind was just too full to comprehend anything. With a sigh I closed my text book and stared down the long front hall and out into the early evening through the screen door. I saw a couple kids ride by on bikes, laughing and yelling to each other. Deep in the house somewhere I could hear the ticking of a clock. Tick tock, tick tock. Such a hollow sound, kind of like a midnight train whistle. I ran my hands through my long, dark hair then pulled a hair tie out of my pocket, and tied it into a ponytail. With a sigh I stood, and walked over to the refrigerator. Tomorrow I was supposed to meet with the lawyer. Finding nothing that interested me, I decided to go up to bed and read. I needed to get rested up, anyway. Our first game of the season was in just over a week.
We were to be at the school at five in the morning, and have all of our gear loaded onto the bus, as well as ourselves, so we could be on the road. As we all stood waiting to board, Coach Maron pulled his clipboard out of its usual holster, the back of his pants, and told us our hotel assignments.
“Okay, ladies. Here’s who you’ll be shacking up with. Listen up!”
“We can’t pick our own?” one of the girls asked.
“No, you cannot pick your own. This is not summer camp. Listen up, now. I do not want to repeat myself. Stevens and Martinez. Gibson and Waller. Braden and Norman. Carlson and Peterson...”
I glanced over at Joie to see what her reaction was to the news. She was staring down at the sidewalk. As I watched, she took off her Seahawks baseball cap, ran her hand through her blonde hair, then put the cap back on, backwards. As she did that I noticed a small gold hoop at the top of her ear that I hadn’t noticed before. She looked up, and I looked away. We had not spoken since that day I had lost my temper in the locker room. She had never mentioned my mother’s funeral, and neither had I.
“Okay, ladies. On the bus. We’ve got a thirty two hour trip ahead of us. We’re going to stop for the night, though. So let’s go!” the Coach clapped his hands, and stood by the door.
As I sat in a seat by myself, I gazed out the window, my head against the cool glass as I watched the scenery fly by. Girls all around me chatted amongst themselves. I felt so isolated with these girls. They had all been playing together for years, and so outsiders weren’t welcome. I think many of them were also intimidated by me. I was good, and they knew it. To lose a place on the team by the new girl was the ultimate slap in the face. My thoughts headed toward the team we were to play tomorrow. They were good, rough, and generally ruthless. At my old school we had won, but by a very small margin. Should be a good one.
Further back in the bus I heard a fit of laughter, and I grinned. I knew it was because Joie was telling one of her endless stories. I wondered about her. She seemed to be such an obstinate woman. I didn’t know what to make of her. What did she make of me? When I had seen her at the funeral part of me had been shocked, yet for some reason another part of me had not.
Too much to think about. With a sigh, I closed my eyes, and fell asleep.
“Hey, Minnesota Wall, wake up.” I opened my eyes to see Kyra Waller standing next to my seat. She smiled at me. “Come on. We’re at the hotel.” Kyra was one of the only ones who even bothered to talk to me. Kyra was a fellow defensemen, and was very good. I think we both respected the talent of the other.
I rubbed my eyes and looked around. It was dark out. I had slept the entire trip. Well, this half of it, anyway. I inched my way in the line down the center aisle of the bus, and we made our way out into the cold night. It was early October, and fall was coming with a vengeance. I pulled the ends of my jacket a little tighter around me as a brisk wind was picking up, blowing my hair. It was about seven thirty, and I was hungry. I looked around to see what was near us. I could just barley see the sign for a Denny’s over the tree tops. I decided to dump my bags, and head over in that direction.
The room was like any other Holiday Inn. Clean, small, and smelled kind of strange. I stopped dead as I entered through the door, though. Only one bed. Why me?
“Are you going in?” I heard behind me, a smile in the voice. I turned and saw Joie standing behind me, grinning. Without a word I stepped over the thresh hold, and plopped my bags on the table that was to the left of the door, two identical chairs on either side. I made a quick trip to the bathroom, and started to head out again when Joie, who was sitting on the bed talking on the phone stopped me, her hand over the mouth piece. “Hey, Carlson, some of us are heading over to Denny’s. Wanna come?”
I stared at her. Shit. I was going there, too, so it wasn’t like I could lie. An idea struck.
“Well, actually I was just heading over there myself. But I was going to study. You know, with the transfer and all, I’m kind of behind.”
“Yeah. I understand. Okay. I guess we’ll see you there, then.” I grabbed my backpack from the table, and slung it over my shoulder. I had my hand on the knob when she called me again. “Hey, Carlson.” I glanced at her over my shoulder. “I’m sorry.” she said quietly. I smiled, and left the room.
Denny’s was bustling, the noise at a high level. It was a Friday night, and from the looks of the patronage, there must not be anything else for twenty-somthings to do other than hang out at Denny’s. I shook my head, and walked over to the hostess.
“How many?” she asked.
“One. Non-smoking, please.”
The young red head led me to a tiny booth for two that was tucked into a corner. I sat down, gave her my drink order, then pulled out my books. I decided that since I had made my bed with the lie, I may as well lie in it, and actually get some studying done. It wasn’t long before I heard a loud group laugh their way in. I was not surprised to see Joie and friends standing at the door, waiting to be seated. She was surrounded by about half the team, lost in a sea of laughter. For a moment I felt wistful. I missed my teammates back in Minnesota. I understood the camaraderie here. We had had the same thing there. When you have to depend on each other... To my horror they were being led in my direction. I looked around and saw a large table that was being cleared. It was right next to my little corner of the place.
“Great.” I mumbled.
“Hey, it’s the bookworm.” Joie grinned as they were seated. I smiled, and stuck my nose back into my book. I never knew I could find Chemistry so very interesting.
My dinner arrived, and I dug into my chicken salad with gusto. I did my best to ignore the laughter from the next table. I didn’t feel like being a joiner these days.
As I walked back to the hotel my mind began to wonder again. The weight that had been on my shoulders over the last few months had been immense, and I could tell I was beginning to crack. I glanced up at the clear night sky with all its countless stars and I wished to be somewhere else. Anywhere else would do. I wished I hadn’t had to have a roommate that night. I needed to be alone, to think, and get rid of some baggage. With a sigh I walked through the parking lot, and headed to the room I was to share with Joie.
The hot water ran over my cooled skin, and felt like bliss. I closed my eyes, my face raised to the powerful spray.
I dressed in my flannel bottoms, and a Wild Cats T-shirt that was faded and stretched out, and walked out of the bathroom followed by a huge ball of steam.
To my surprise Joie was sitting in one of the chairs at the table. She had a paperback face down on her lap, her eyes staring at the bed, but I knew she wasn’t seeing the bedspread with its awful yellow and orange pattern. I wondered what she was thinking.
The table and chairs in front of the window were only about 3 feet away from the bed, the side of the bed where I had left my books and reading glasses. I moved around the bed, and sat near the pillows, tucking my feet under my legs.
“Um, the bathroom is free.” I said quietly, startling Joie from her thoughts. She jumped, and looked at me. “The bathroom is free. “ I said again.
“Oh. Okay.” she stood, and hurried around the bed, as if she were trying to get away from me. God, what, was she repulsed by me, or something? If I didn’t know better, I would think she was nervous. I know I sure as hell was. I knew Joie’s reputation with women.
She grabbed her overnight bag and disappeared into the bathroom. I sat where I was for a while. I could feel my eyes getting heavy again. I shoved my books back into my bag, threw it on the floor, and climbed under the covers, laying on my right side, my back to the bathroom and Joie’s side of the bed. I stared out the window, seeing the orange glare from the sign outside. I thought again of my mother. Before she has started to get sick, we had taken a trip to the Grand Canyon, just the two of us. A road trip. It had been during summer vacation between fifth and sixth grade. She had called it my graduation to junior high trip. We had stayed in hotels like this across half the country. I felt tears stinging behind my eyes again. I swallowed hard, trying to shove the thought and my emotions back where they belonged.
I heard the shower cut off, and no more than ten minutes later the bathroom door opened, and the room was filled with the smell of soap and toothpaste. I felt the bed shift as Joie lowered her weight onto it. I held my breath, hoping that that would make the lump in my throat go away. No such luck. I felt the trail of a tear trickle down the side of my nose. I clenched my eyes shut, praying that I would stop. I felt another tear ease its way out to follow the path of the first, then another, then another until I was out and out crying. I swallowed my sobs, trying not to make any noise. I held my breath as I felt the bed shift again, then I felt a strong arm move over my hip, and rest against my stomach, the full length of a warm body against my back. I didn’t know what to do, but then that one arm moved back a bit until the hand gently stroked my arm in a gesture of comfort. Joie didn’t say anything, just let me cry. I wanted so badly to turn to her, bury my face in her chest, feel her arms around me.
I almost could hear the screeching of tires in my head. Where had that come from? I was in bed with another woman who had her body pressed against my back, her hand stroking my arm. It felt good. It felt right. But then, I never had turned to men for comforting, I reasoned. And I hadn’t turned to her.
Eventually I felt empty, all my tears gone. I sighed deeply as I felt my heavy eyes close. The last thing I remembered was Joie tightening her hold on me. I fell into a peaceful, dreamless sleep. The best I’d had in weeks.
The next morning came with a vengeance as the bright morning sun slammed through the large picture window, and right into my eyes. I turned on my back away from the intrusion, and saw Joie standing by the bed, her back to me. She was in a pair of jeans. I noticed how the material hugged her butt. I mentally shook myself. What is wrong with you, Jenny? My god. She only wore a sports bra, her shirt in her hand, and her flannel laying across the bed. She lifted her arms as she prepared to pull the shirt over her head. I watched in wonder as the muscles in her back flexed with the movement. God, she was so beautiful. My eyes moved away as the sight of interest was covered by red material. She turned and noticed that I was awake.
“Hey. Coach came by a little while ago. We’re out of here in a half hour.” she said. I looked into her face, and couldn’t read her. She guarded her expressions so well.
“Oh.” I said as I sat up, rubbing my eyes that burned.
“I didn’t wake you because you looked like you were pretty peaceful. I know sleep is hard to get on these road trips.” she gave me a meaningful look, then sat on the bed, her back to me as she shoved her clothes from yesterday in her overnight bag.
“Yeah.” I said weakly. I remembered the feel of her arm. I had felt so safe, so secure. I pulled myself out of the warm bed, and headed for the bathroom.
The rest of the drive was uneventful, and we reached the school in just enough time to get changed, Coach Maron to give us a pep talk, and get on the ice.
The first half of the game was going well, we were tied 2-2 when I did the worst thing a player can do; I got distracted. The puck was coming, as well as their best, and fastest skater, determined to score. I saw her coming, but for the life of me I don’t know why I moved the wrong way, she swung, the puck flew by me, and flew over the goalie’s head, with a whoosh, 3-2. The crowd was on its feet, and I hung my head. The half time warning sounded, and I rushed off the ice.
As I hit the locker room, so did fifteen other girls.
“What the hell was that!” “You’re a joke!” “Get your head on straight!” “Good god, Carlson! Go back to Minnesota!” “Minnesota Wall my ass!”
“Enough!” the locker room echoed with Joie’s order. All the girls stopped, jaws almost audibly clicking shut. I stared at her, miserable. Joie looked at me, then she gave me that sexy little grin that I suddenly remembered from Lori’s party. She stared into my eyes, her message of understanding and support as plain as if she had said the words. She sat down, waiting for the Coach. We didn’t have to wait long.
“What the hell!”
The second half of the game went off with an explosion, we were back, and we were kicking ass.
I sat in my same seat as the bus roared down the highway, taking us back home to Washington. I had on my radio with headphones, and listened to the college station as the voice in my ears recapped the game.
“In the first half of tonight’s game the crowd wondered what had happened to the wonder of Minnesota, Jennifer Carlson, or better known as the Minnesota Wall, a recent transfer to UW, as that wall seemed to crumble as she made mistake after mistake leading to our own Hawks scoring on the Panthers, taking the lead by one. Panthers Coach Jim Maron must have had one hell of a half time meeting, ‘cause the Wall was back, and the girls came back on the ice with blood in their mouths, and an eventual victory on the board. Washington State U takes our own down, 7-3. In other news...”
I turned the radio off, and pushed play on the tape deck. As the soft music of Beethoven filled my ears, my mind reached out into the night, replaying the events of the past couple of weeks with Joie. I had a lot of time to think; we weren’t stopping this time. It was to be a straight drive back to Seattle.
I could see Joie a few rows up, across the aisle as she was once again cracking the other players up with her wild tales. I smiled to myself. She should write some of her whoppers down. Then again, maybe she did. Joie Peterson seemed to be full of surprises.
I thought back to that grin she had given me in the locker room, and then I thought again to Lori’s party. I hadn’t remembered much of that party once I had really started drinking. But that smile had brought back a memory that had stunned me. I remember dancing with some guy, his hands all over my butt, and then we had been interrupted. By Joie. She had danced with me then. Oh, what had been that stupid song we were dancing to? I couldn’t quite recall. The only thing that was sticking with me right now was the feel of Joie’s body against mine as she had led us in an extremely sensual dance. I felt a blush rise up my neck as I thought about it. I looked around to make sure no one was looking at me. Her body had felt so soft, the skin of her shoulders nearly scorching my fingers.
I glanced in her direction again, and was surprised to meet green eyes. She didn’t smile, didn’t say anything. Just looked, then looked away. She was such an enigma. What did she want? I had never come across anyone quite like her before.
Then I thought about last night. Why had she done that? It was almost as if Joie knew exactly what I needed, and never denied me her comfort. Her mere presence had such contrasting effects on me. In some ways it is a comfort, familiar. In another way she scares the hell out of me. Why? I find myself watching for those looks that she sends my way, like they’re only for me.
My thoughts wondered to her body. She was short, but was built so compact, strong, extremely powerful. That thought sent a strange feeling to my stomach, a feeling that I realized with a start was,... was,... arousal? I drew my brows as I thought about this. No, couldn’t be. There was no denying that Joie was an extremely sexy woman. But, like I had thought at Lori’s party, there are both men and women who exude sexuality. That title is not just reserved for the Antonio Banderas’ of the world. There was a difference between finding someone attractive, and being attracted to them. She just caught my interest because I couldn’t figure her out. I was a psychology major. My job was to figure people out, that’s all....
When I got home I decided that it was time to take my new life in my hands, and make it work. I never wanted to break down like that in front of anyone again. I was strong, and I hated how weak and dependant I had become over the last month.
I looked around the house, realizing just how much work it needed. The house had been in my father’s family for nearly sixty years, the house itself almost eighty years old.
When everything had been settled after my mother’s passing, I had enough money to pay off any lingering debts, as well as the rest of my college tuition. I was a junior this year, so I only had two more years left, that is if I didn’t decide to go to Graduate school. So now with my job at Rupert’s, I could afford to fix this lace up, and I could do most of it myself. I had always been good with my hands, and once I had read a how-to manual, I could generally figure it out.
Work was going well. The job was easy, though I had a bunch of smart ass high school kids to keep up with, and they were constantly wanting to take breaks, go smoke, were on the phone, or talking to their friends or boyfriends or girlfriends who would come in. One day I even caught a girl named Rosie in the cooler making out with some guy with long, greasy hair, who none of us had seen before. Needless to say, Rosie no longer worked for us.
“So, boss lady, how did the big game go last night? I heard that one Minnesota Wall kicked ass and took names. Sugar, when are they going to give you a new nickname, anyway? You know, maybe something with the word Washington in it? But you know, that’s just a thought from this here poor boy.”
I looked at my friend, Rico, and smiled.
“You are such a drama queen, Rico.” I laughed.
“What? Me?” he put his hand on his chest, and looked at me wide-eyed, surprise. “Well, I should hope so. At least, my drama coach should hope so.”
I slapped him on the arm, and looked at his dark good looks. Rico was half Italian on his mother’s side, and his father had been born in Spain. His hair trimmed just so, his clothes always pressed and tucked in. He had so many guys after him he didn’t know what to do with himself.
Ricco and I were in the back, a he was our chief pizza maker. I was haling him chop up veggies and meat for another of his works of art.
“So, what are you going to do for Thanksgiving, sweetie?” he asked, giving m a side glance.
“Oh,” I sighed as I chopped up some onion. “I don’t know. I think I’ll have a family friend over.”
“Really” he asked, as he wiggled his eyebrows. I glared.
“Get real, Rico. She’s a fifty year old woman!” I laughed.
“I’ve heard weirder things.”
“What about you?” I shoved the onion bits aside, and started on some bell peppers.
“Todd has this thing planned. I don’t know.” he waved the topic away with his hand.
“Ah, trouble in paradise?” I grinned. He scowled.
“I was only with that wonderful piece of doughnut once!” he exclaimed as he smeared some pizza sauce on a large, thin crust.
“Only once, huh? Hello, Rico! You still cheated on him!”
“Well, yeah, but...”
“You men are incorrigible.”
The next two weeks flew by with practice, school, practice, a game, more school, painted the outside of the house, and started on the inside. Finally it was Monday, the first day of Thanksgiving break.
During our last practice on Friday, I had wanted to talk to Joie, tell her to have a nice Thanksgiving, but she was out the door as soon as she was changed, not a word to anyone. I wondered if she had some huge family thing to get to. Was she even from Seattle? I had no idea. I knew nothing about her.
When I had walked in to work that Monday, Randy, our other assistant manager ran up to me.
“Jenny, the video games aren’t working again!” his hyperactive personality in full swing. He grabbed my arm, let go, grabbed my hand, then was back to my arm. My god. Get a grip! Well, I guess he had one. On me. I slowly pulled away from him.
“Randy, this is not a tragedy, honest. Don’t worry. Let me grab some tools, and I’ll look at it, okay?”
“Oh, good. You know that with the crowd tonight we’d have a riot if those things are out of order!” he flew off toward the kitchen.
“Scary.” I mumbled, then went in search of some tools.
I had pulled out the Mortal Kombat machine, and was n the floor behind it, my legs sticking out the side. I felt like some sort of twisted, futuristic car mechanic. I had my arm up inside the machine through the back panel trying to see if everything was connected when I felt like I was being watched. I craned my neck to see if someone needed something. I first saw a pair of tan hiking boots that led to a pair of lost fitting blue jeans with a hole in the right knee, two thumbs hooked into the belt loops, up to a flannel tied around the trim waist, and finally up a bright , and then to green eyes toped by a golden brow raised in amused question. I smiled nervously.
“Might I ask what the hell you’re doing?” Joie asked.
“Uh,” I pulled my arm out from the machine, and realized that I was covered with grease from my fingertips t my elbow. Joie laughed softy. “We’d have a major crises on our hands if these machines don’t work.” I grinned.
“Well, I’d say you’ve got something on your hands.”
“Yeah.” I glanced down at the gooey mess before I met her gaze again. We were both quiet for a moment, and for the first time since I’d known her, it seemed that Joie was at a loss for something to say.
“Well, I just wanted to tell you that you really kicked some serious ass these last couple of gamed. We couldn’t have won without you.”
“Thanks.” I said, my voice quiet. That meant alot coming from her.
“And, I wanted to tell you that I hope you have a really good Thanksgiving.”
I stood, wiping my hand and arm on a towel that I had brought with me for that very purpose. She glanced down at the white towel turned black, and grinned.
“Well, I guess you must be as good with your hands as you are with your feet.”
“Yeah. They seem to think so here, anyway. And thanks, Joie. You have a great holiday, too. You’ve probably got some big thing to go to, huh?” I asked.
“Just the norm.” she smiled, and walked away.
I watched Joie as she left the restaurant, and hopped into her dark green truck. She glanced at me through the windshield, put her Oakley’s on, and backed out of the space.
Thanksgiving day came, and I was not in any mood to be thankful about anything. Connie had invited me to be with her and her family before I had even had the chance to invite her. Her two sons and their families had flown in, one from Colorado, the other form Pittsburgh. I felt like an intruder, though Connie kept telling me repeatedly that that wasn’t true, that I was as much a part of her family as her sons were.
She made a wonderful meal, as I knew she would, and I ate as much as my nauseous stomach would allow. Finally after two house of trying to be social, I had to leave. I found Connie in her small kitchen dishing up pie.
“Connie,” I said as I stood behind her.
“Oh, Jenny, what kind of pie you want? We’ve got pecan, pumpkin, apple-“
“None, actually. I’m going t go.” she turned to me, her dark brow drawn.
“Are you sure, child? It kills me to think of you alone, honey.”
“I’ll be fine, Connie. I think I need to be alone.” I explained quietly. She walked over to me, and hugged me tightly.
“Okay, honey. You know if you need anything?”
“I know. I’ll call.”
I drove around aimlessly for awhile, not wanting to go home, but not real sure where to go. My eyes narrowed as I realized that I was headed toward the cemetery. I pulled into the parking lot, and headed over the familiar grassy hills, passed all the gray and white stoned, reading some of the names of the long dead. Some had fresh flowers in little copper holders, others were just set on top of the stone itself.
Suddenly I stopped, a familiar figure up ahead about twenty yards. I looked around, and saw a clump of trees, and headed toward them, resting my hand on one of their massive trunks, the sharp bark digging into my palm.
She sat just off to the side of one of the stones, her knees drawn up, crossed at the ankles. She had her arms wrapped around her shins. Her blonde hair almost glowed in the late afternoon sun, its dying, golden rays bringing out the fiery highlights. She wasn’t really staring at the grave, or anything for that matter. She just seemed to be staring off into space, toward the sun. I saw her Oakley’s sitting in the grass next to her. She’d obviously been there for a while, the remnants of her partially eaten lunch on a small blanket next to her.
I glanced off to the right where I knew the path was that would lead to the graves of my parents, thinking that I should go, that I was encroaching on a very private moment, I was invading Joie’s space. But I couldn’t leave. I could not take my eyes off of her. As I watched I saw her bring up a hand, wipe one of her eyes, then she unfolded herself, and stood, gathering her blanket and trash in a bundle. She looked down at the stone, kissed her fingers, and pressed them to the top of its rough surface. Joie stared out into the sun again, then turned and walked away.
I watched her until she was out of sight, then stared back at the stone. I tired t decided what I should do, knowing that I should just go sit with my parents, but instead I found myself waking toward the stone, reading its carefully etched inscription.
Here lies Thomas J. Peterson- Beloved Son and Brother
Born February 2, 1969
Died March 29, 1992
I wondered if this had been Joie’s brother? He would have been older by a few years. She had looked so sad. I knew that look. That feeling. With a sigh, I shoved my hands in my pockets, and headed toward my parent’s graves.
All of us were counting the days until Christmas break, and for finals to be over. I had met a nice guy at school named Ron who had asked me to see a movie with him. I agreed, welcomed the idea of going out, though I really didn’t care with who. I knew I was going to have to be careful with Ron, though. I had heard through the almighty grapevine that he had liked me for a while, and in truth I had no interest in him in that way. I didn’t have any particular interest in anyone.
After Thanksgiving, at our first practice, Joie had seemed quieter than usual, her spunk gone. I turned around from my locker, buttoning my shirt, and I caught her gaze. For just a moment our eyes met, and she looked so lost. I wanted so badly to run over there, take her into my arms, and tell her that it would be okay, that she could always talk to me, I could comfort her like she had me. But before I could even think about moving a step, those incredible green eyes were gone, and I was staring at the back of her head as she walked out of the locker room.
Christmas came and went, and Ron and I spent more time together. He had been a gentleman up to this point, and I did enjoy his company, but whenever he would op into mind, his image would be wiped away like chalk from a board, and instead I would see Joie’s face, hear her melodic laughter and voice. She would give me that special little smile of hers, and I would feel myself shudder.
Coach Maron was having a huge New Year’s party at his house for all of us on the team, and we were allowed to bring a date. I took Ron. The party was semi-casual, semi-dressy, so I wore a tight fitting sleeveless dress that reached to my knees, and was the color of my eyes. Ron wore a nice pair of slacks, and dinner jacket. We made a cute couple, or so some of the girls said.
I looked around, trying not to be too obvious as I looked for Joie. Then I saw her. She was alone, and looked incredible. She wore tight fitting black pants, and a sleeveless silk shirt that was a color of green that made her eyes glow. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She looked around, and her eyes settled on me.
She walked toward us. Ron stood next to me, his hand possessively on my lower back. What was it with men that they felt the need to possess, and conquer?
“Hey, Carlson.” she said, her voice low. “You look beautiful.” she said, her eyes taking in all of me. My mouth suddenly felt like the Sahara.
“Thank you, Joie. So do you.”
“Who’s this?” she said, a smile plastered on her face.
“Hi. I’m jenny’s boyfriend, Ron.” I closed my eyes, and groaned inside. For some reason I didn't want Joie to think I had a boyfriend, and in fact in my mind, I didn’t.
“Oh,” Joie looked at me, her expression blank. “I’m Joie. Jenny and I play together.” her eyes darted quickly to mine, a small twinkle inside, then walked away. Ron looked at me, his dark brows drawn.
“Strange chick.” he muttered.
The party began in full swing as loud music was piped out of the Coach’s incredible stereo system. Many of the girls had dates, and for those who didn’t, or who were there with each other, Joie stood around with them, their laughter contagious as the crowd grew larger to listen to Joie’s outrageous tales. She also danced some, once with the Coach, but more often either in a group with others, or a couple of times another girl from the team. She seemed to be having a great time, yet all I wanted to do was leave, go home, and watch a movie or something.
I kept an eye on Joie all night, and not once did I see her give me a side glance, or a secret smile, or even acknowledge my existence. This really bothered me, and I didn’t know why. I danced with Ron on and off, but mostly sat back and watched, nursing a glass of champagne.
“How long do you want to stay?” Ron whispered.
I glanced at him, his face radiated boredom. I looked at Ron’s watch, and saw that it was only ten thirty. I considered if I wanted to stay until midnight or not. I could always tell them that I had another party to go to. But I knew that if we left, Ron would want to go home with me. He had been giving me all the signs lately that he expected his very own New Year’s gift from me. Yeah, and then you woke up. I could just tell him that I wasn’t feeling too good, and wanted to be alone? Or should I just break whatever this was off with him? Deep in my gut that’s what I felt like I should do. I really didn’t like the way Ron was getting and I couldn’t blame him. In his mind things were progressing the way they usually do when you’re attracted to someone. I had found lately that I even dreaded the end of the night because I knew that he would want to sit in his car for half an hour and make out like we were in high school again, or something. I was beginning to feel repulsed. Ron just wasn’t the right one for me. I turned to him now.
“You know, Ron, why don’t you just go ahead and go? I know you’re bored, and I can’t hurt everyone’s feelings by leaving.” I said with pleading eyes. Maybe if I turned the tables in his direction, he would unwittingly fall into the trap. No such luck.
“No, no. That’s okay. If you want to stay, then we’ll stay.”
Damn. He didn’t fall for it, but instead chose that moment to thank I was doing a good deed for him. He smiled.
“But thanks for thinking of me, babe.” he kissed me. I pulled away, trying to play it off like I was embarrassed. I found green eyes boring into us. My smile fell, and Joie turned away.
I finally made it home after a groping session on my front porch, and when I had gotten myself pulled out from between Ron’s paws, I calmly told him that he was moving too fast for me, and that I wanted to break it off. I hated that part. I had never been dumped in my life, always opting to get rid of them first. Ron took it well, only whined for about five minutes, then left.
I laid in bed that night and thought once again about Joie. This was becoming an every night thing. She was quickly occupying my last thoughts at night, and my first thoughts in the morning. I didn’t really want to try and figure out what lay behind that, or what motivated it. Right not, all I wanted was sleep.
To my relief, the holidays were over, and now I could fully concentrate on my studies, and the last few games of the season. Though we had done extremely well this year, we hadn’t quite made the championships. Oh, well. There was always the new season.
I had begun to notice that whenever I saw Joie she would go out of her way almost to avoid me. At first I was worried, then slightly alarmed. Now I was downright irritated. So today I had made up my mind that after practice I wasn’t going to let her fly out of that locker room, this time I would follow.
True to form, Joie grabbed her gear, slung it over her shoulder, and without a word to anyone slammed out the door, the late afternoon sun almost blinding.
“Joie?” I called out, as I hurried after her. She didn’t answer, but slung her bag into the bed of her truck, and unlocked the driver’s side door. “Joie, wait.” I said again as I stepped off the curb and walked over to her. She looked at me.
“Yeah? Make it quick. I have to be somewhere.” I stood for a moment, stung. I gained my composure quickly.
“What is the deal?”
“What deal? What, is there a sale somewhere?” she said with a humorless grin.
“Why are you treating me like shit? What did I do?”
Joie stared at me, and for a moment I thought she was just simply going to hop into her truck and drive away. Instead she glanced briefly down at the parking lot, then stared me in the eye again, her hands resting in her back pockets.
“Why don’t you ask your boyfriend.” she said, her voice quiet, then she did turn and hop into her truck. I backed away so she could close the door, and watched her drive off. Go ask my boyfriend? What the hell was that supposed to mean? Could she, could, no. Was she jealous?
I walked numbly to my car, throwing my bag into the back seat, and sitting behind the wheel, stared at the building before me. What was going on? My heart was pounding, and I felt sick.
“Damn!” I yelled, slamming my hand against the steering wheel. Why all this uncertainty? What was there to be uncertain about? I didn’t understand anything anymore. I felt so out of touch with myself.
The hockey season was now officially over, and spring time was coming to Seattle. I had forgotten how much I had missed the weather here. All the rain. I loved the rain. Life for me was pretty good right now. My grades were excellent, and I had made the Dean’s list again. I actually enjoyed my job, of course Rico could make anything enjoyable.
“Okay, sweetie, I need you to be my date Friday night.”
I turned to look at him, my blue eyes showing my confusion.
“Your date?” Rico sighed sadly, and turned to me, his deep brown eyes pleading.
“Todd left me, and now I’m on the prowl. So, see, my theory is if I take you with me to Scones, then it will attract all those cuties over there. Its the same as when man has a baby; all the women are attracted to him.” he explained, totally serious.
“You’re kidding, right? You think that if I go with you to a gay bar that all the men are going to flock to you?” I smiled, incredulous.
“Hey, I’ve seen weirder things happen.”
“I’m sure you have.”
So it was to be. This would be my first time in a gay bar, and I wasn’t real sure how I felt about that. Part of me was curious, part of me resistant.
Scones was a well known club that usually drew hundreds of people on the weekends. Rico and I showed up, him smelling like an add for Obsession, and dressed in his usual immaculate way in tight fitting Silver Tabs, and a tucked in silk T-shirt. He looked great, and he knew it. I was just n a pair of old jeans and a UW T-shirt. I had finally gotten away from all of my Wild Cats clothes.
The place was buzzing around the body heat of hundreds of strangers, and the pulsating bet of music that was blasted. We found a table near the dance floor, and made ourselves comfortable.
“you want anything, sweetie?” he asked, nodding toward the bar.
“Yeah, how about some rum?”
My head shot up as I saw Joie standing era our table, her green eyes alive. She looked incredible in tight fitting jeans, an open sleeveless flannel, and only a sports bra underneath. My mouth fell open. God, she looked so sexy! I stared at her. Was she referring to Lori’s party? Rum is what I had been drinking that night.
“Girlfriend, damn, if I already didn’t have my heart given away to all those cute boys, you'’ be in my bed!" Rico stood, and puled Joie to him.
“Hey, Rico, man. What’s up?”
Rico patted Joie on the butt. I felt a strange irritation at him wash through me.
“You are so yummy, sweetie. Anyway, oh, not much.”
“Where’s Todd?” Joie looked around as if she’d spot him not far away. They exchanged a look, and Joie smiled sadly and shook her head. “Not again.”
“I’m afraid so. He broke my heart.”
“Oh, I’m sure he did. Rico, you are such a slut.”
“Well, I’m a thirsty slut. You want anything, sweetie?”
“Nope.” Joie held up the bottle of Corona that was in her right hand.
“Okay. Be right back. Behave.” he said quietly.
I watched the whole exchange with interest. When Rico waked away, Joie turned back to me.
“I must say, I’m a bit surprised to se you here, Carlson.” she grinned.
“Rico thought it’d be easier to pick up guys if he had a lowly woman on his arm.”
Joie looked me up and down from my shoes clear up to my hair that was pulled back in a ponytail.
“I wouldn’t say lowly.” she said, that sexy little smile firmly in place. I was glad the place was dark so she couldn’t see the blush that was slowly making its way up my body. “So,” she practically purred. “Wanna dance?”
“Here we go. Amaretto Sour for you, three shots for me.” Rico sat at the table, and when he noticed the silent duel that Joie and I were having, he looked from one to the other. “Am I interrupting something?” he asked.
“No.” Joie said, never taking her eyes off me. “If you change your mind...” she grinned at Rico, slapped his shoulder, and disappeared in the crowd. I hadn’t even realized that I’d been holding my breath until I felt it slowly stream between my lips. I turned to Rico who had the strangest expression on his face.
I was totally confused. The last time I saw Joie she was treating me like the team leper, and making it obvious that she wanted nothing to do with me. Now?
I watched the dance floor, all the different couples, men with men, women with women. I was fascinated by the women couples. As I watched them dance, so sensual, beautiful, I realized with a jolt that I wished I were out there, too. I wanted to know what it felt like to be close, holding someone close. Hold a woman close. I caught a glimpse of a short blonde. She was dancing with a woman with dark hair. It wasn’t Joie, but for a moment in my mind I saw that it was Joie, and I was her dark haired dance partner. My mind reeled back to the night that I had been her dance partner, if only for that one song. And then I did see Joie. She and the woman she was dancing with made their way through the crowded floor. They seemed so wrapped up in each other. The music was on the slow side, and they were close, hands and arms and legs entangled. I saw the woman, an attractive red head, run her hand up under Joie’s lose flannel, her hand running over Joie’s back, and then that hand dropped back down, and caressed Joie’s butt. I became a bit uncomfortable, and had to shift in my chair a bit. Then I saw Joie lift her head from the woman’s shoulder, and look directly at me. The look on her face was intense. A look of pure desire. I felt a wave of jealousy rush through me as I thought that that woman didn’t deserve that from Joie, she was not who Joie should be desiring. But then as the two separated, and Joie looked at her, the look disappeared. Had that been for me?
Suddenly I wanted to leave. I needed to be away from this place. It was messing with my head, and with my body as I realized that I was totally aroused. I stood, and this caught Joie’s attention. She looked at me again. The look was still there, but not quite as blatant. She mouthed something, but I could not read her lips through the smoky darkness of the place.
“What?” I mouthed, and in return I just got that sexy little smile. I stared for a moment, and then that feeling of discomfort returned, and I turned to Rico who was in an animated conversation with a good-looking surfer-type.
“Rico, I want to go.” I said.
“What, why? Are you okay, sweetie?” he asked, concern written on his face.
“Yeah, I’m just tired.”
“I can give you a ride, baby.” surfer boy said to Rico, who smiled from ear to ear, gave me a quick peck on the lips, and wished me a good night.
I slowly drove home, my mind twisted in knots. The look that Rico had given me made me wonder, too. It was almost as if he knew something that I didn’t, but he figured that I should. Nothing was clear, except for one thing. Through all my strange thoughts and musings, I realized that I was indeed attracted to Joie. But how could that be? Isn’t that only reserved for someone who was into that sort f thing, like Joie and half my teammates? That just wasn’t me. Or was it? I stopped at a stop light, and rested my elbow against the armrest on the door, my chin on my palm. Could I possibly go there? Could I imagine being with a woman, and not just any woman, but Joie? With startling insight I realized that, yes. I could.
The month of March came in like a lamb rather than a lion. The weather was unseasonably warm, and I took advantage of that by wearing shorts and m tank tops whenever I could, though that was not often. if I wasn’t at school then I was at work.
I had begun to notice that Joie was coming into Rupert’s pretty regularly. Usually with a group of friends, her the center of the entertainment. I would watch her out of the corner of my eye, and chuckle to myself. I wondered where she got all of her energy. She would give the Energizer Bunny a run for its money.
As March slowly drained away in the sink of life, and April approached, I noticed that Joie began to come in alone. Almost every night she was there. Sometimes she would have a novel, and sit at a table for hours and read, or sometimes she’d be writing in a little book she had. Other times she’d do nothing but sit and eat. hat woman had an incredible appetite. She could put away an entire medium pizza by herself.
“Why don’t you go out and talk to her?” Rico asked one night, his eye on Joie and her pizza.
“About what?” I asked, trying to keep my voice as nonchalant as I could.
“I don’t know. Anything.”
“Why would I do that, Rico?” I asked, turning to him. He stared at me for a moment, his face as serious as I ‘d ever seen it.
“Why do you think she’s here, Jenny?” with that he walked away. I glanced out at her again, torn. I would have no idea what to talk to her about, but I did long to go to her. Talk to her. Whatever she wanted.
“I turned back to the receipts that I was going through, when I was startled out of my reverie.
“So how’s Ron?”
I looked up, and found myself drowning in a pool of green.
“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask his girlfriend.” I half grinned, an eyebrow raised.
“Well, aren’t I?” she asked, her own brow quirked.
“No.” she smiled then, a genuine smile that started in her eyes, and slowly spread across those full lips that now haunted my dreams. She nodded as she started to turn away.
“Interesting.” she walked back to her booth, grabbed her flannel, and left.
The next day was chaotic beyond chaotic. It was an incredible 75 degrees outside, and a Friday, so we were hopping. I had called in anyone that would be willing to sacrifice a day off, and I also began to wait tables. When it came time to close, it came none too soon. Even through the hectic day I had been disappointed that Joie had not come in all day. I felt a clenching in my stomach of fear; a silly idea that I’d never see her again even though I saw her every other day in the English building.
I was the last to leave, sending everyone home just as soon as the place was n some kind of order. With a sigh, I pulled the shades on the doors down, and backed out so I could lock the two front doors. I turned and nearly jumped out of my skin. Joie’s truck was parked directly in front of the door, and she sat on the hood, her booted feet on the front bumper. She smiled.
“Sorry if I scared you.” she said quietly.
“That’s okay.” I folded my jacket that I had brought over my arm, not needing it this night. “Oh, did you forget something?” I asked, indicating the building behind me. She smiled again.
“No.” she hopped down from the truck and leaned against the grill, her hands in her front pockets of her jeans. She glanced into the star-filled sky for a moment, then looked at me again. “To be honest, I’m not real sure why I’m here.” I cud just stare, my stomach in knots, and I had no idea what to say. “Do you want to take a walk?” she asked, her eyes filled with hope.
“Yeah.” I smiled. “Let me put this in my car.” She followed me over to my Outback, and waited for me to dump my jacket in the back seat, then we headed out down the street, neither of us talking. I realized that she was leading us toward a small lake that was near by, Swallow Lake, and had a beautiful bridge over it that had been put in about three or so years ago.
“It’s such a beautiful night.” she smiled. “This is the kind of night that poets write about.”
“Are you a poet, Joie?” she looked up at me, a peaceful smile on her beautiful face. She nodded. “So that must be what you write in that little black book of yours.” again she nodded.
“So you noticed my little black book, huh?” she grinned, a twinkle in her eye. We headed onto the bridge stopping half way across, rested against the railing. I stared into the murky depths of the water turned midnight black, the water rippling slightly with the gentle breeze.
“Yes, I noticed.” I said quietly. She looked at me again, but I could not read the expression on her face. I wished so badly that I could read her.
“Want to go sit down?” she asked, pointed to the grassy hill that sloped down to the path that lined the lake.
We both sat down, our shoulders nearly touching. I absently ran my hand over the thick, green grass, the blades tickling my palm. I could feel a tension in the air; it was almost palpable. Joie sat with her knees drawn up, her arms hugging her thighs. I had my long legs stretched out, crossed at the ankles. It felt so good to be still, sit down after such a hectic day.
“So why did you break up with Ron? He seemed like a nice enough guy, though he kind of dressed like an idiot.” Joie smiled at me, I grinned back.
“Yeah, he did, didn’t he?” she nodded. “We never were really going out, well, at least not in my mind. He had other ideas.” I turned to her. “I broke it off on New Year’s eve.” she looked into my eyes. I could see a tempest of emotions swirling through their emerald depths. “Why did you come here tonight, Joie?” I asked quietly. She held my gaze for a moment, her eyes unwavering.
“I wanted to see you.” she said finally.
“I was disappointed that you didn’t come in today.” I admitted. I couldn’t believe I had actually told her that. It was as if a wall that had been surrounding me was quickly falling away. I felt the need to be honest with her, as if it meant The difference between being happy, and being alone. She seemed to sense this, or maybe she just felt the same way.
“I debated all day on what to do. I can’t keep gong on like this, Jenny.” her voice was so soft, and a shiver passed through me as she used my first name. She never used it. I wanted to ask questions, but I knew that she would tell me the answers in her own time, so I stayed quiet. “Can I tell you something?” she nearly whispered.
“Yes.” I said, just as quiet.
“I think somewhere along the way these last eight months I’ve fallen for you.” she stared down at her knees, then looked over at me. “Pretty crazy, huh?”
“No.” I breathed. I didn’t know what to say. The words she said flew directly to my heart, and suddenly I felt like I couldn’t breath. “Joie.” I whispered. I could hear the need in my own voice, and it surprised me, as if it had come form someone else. She brought one of her hands up, and gently placed it on the side of my face. I closed my eyes, and leaned into the soft touch. I felt like I had never been touched before that moment. I felt her warm breath on my face as I opened my eyes. Her face was mere inches from mine, her eyes searching. Our gazes met, and it felt like there was a silent conversation in that one look. She was asking, and I was accepting.
I closed my eyes again as I felt her lean in towards me, then I felt her soft lips barely brush mine. I had never dreamed that she would be so soft, so tender. She pulled away for just a moment, then I felt her come back, pressing a bit more, seeking. One of my hands floated up through the night until it found her soft hair, cool against my fingers. Joie’s other hand began to caress my neck, her thumb rubbing against my jaw. I started as I felt the wetness of her tongue brush against my lips. She stopped for half a heartbeat, then when I pressed my hand into her hair, pushing her to me again, her mouth returned, her tongue seeking solace within my mouth. I opened my lips, and brought her in. I heard a small moan escape her throat as the kiss depend, heat surged through my body.
I felt myself being slowly pushed back into the soft grass, Joie staying with me the whole way. I could not believe the feeling of her warmth along the length of my body. I ran my hands through her hair, and then slid them down her neck to her shoulders as we continued to kiss
I opened my eyes when she took her mouth from mine. She was holding herself up on her elbows, looking down at me. What I saw in her eyes causes my heart to quicken and stop at the same time.
“I’ve dreamed of this.” she said, running her fingers through my hair that was splayed out on the grass around my head.
“So have I.” I told her, running my hands down her back. She kissed me again, soft, just a touch, then her mouth moved down to my neck. I closed my eyes, one of my hands returning to her hair, running my fingers through the thick softness. She reached one of her hands down and slowly began to untuck my work shirt from my jeans, a red polo with the Rupert’s logo on the left breast. I sucked in my breath as I felt her hand touch my burning skin beneath. She continued to kiss my neck, pulling the collar open so she could get to my collar bones, running her tongue along their length. Her hand crept up the skin of my torso, running her thumb along the center line of my abdomen, then she cupped my breast over the material of my sports bra. I groaned as her fingers touched my already aroused nipples. I reached both hands down and cupped her butt, pulling her into me. She moved one of her legs, parting my thighs with her knee, then laid her leg between mine. I couldn’t believe the sensations that were coursing through my body.
As Joie moved her way down my body, her hand worked my shirt higher until finally she pulled it off, leaving my torso exposed to the night. She moved back up to my mouth as she began to untuck her own shirt, another tank, and tossed it over by mine. Her skin was so hot as she laid herself back down on me, our kisses beginning to get wild, hungry. I had never wanted anyone so bad in my entire life. I ran my hands up her back until I reached the back of her sports bra, and ran my fingers under the tight, black material. Suddenly she sat up, kneeling between my legs, and she pulled the bra off completely. I stared up at her. She was incredible, like a goddess form mythology. The moonlight shone off her skin, her breasts so beautiful, the night keeping them partially shadowed. I reached for her, cupping the mounds of soft skin in my hands, elated at the feel of her hard nipples against my palms. Joie closed her eyes, her hands running along my arms, then settled on my hands as she pressed herself further into my touch. I wanted to taste her. I sat up, and Joie moved her body up so she was straddling my legs, our lower bodies touching. She moaned as I kneaded the flesh, then I brought my mouth to her. I brushed the right nipple with my tongue. Joie threw her head back, burying her hands in my hair.
“Jenny.” she breathed. I was being set on fire as I tasted her again, and again, and again, until I had as much of her breast in my mouth as I could, running my tongue all around the hard peak, biting and sucking gently. My hand was on her other breast until Joie reached down and released my own breasts. I moaned into her neck as she rubbed our breasts together.
I was being lowered back to the grass again. Joie was still straddling my hips, her upper body against my own, and we were kissing again. Her hands began to roam restlessly over my heated skin, finding my breasts. I closed my eyes as she played with my nipples, rolling them between gentle fingers, pulling and sending waves straight to my center. Her other hand roamed down to my jeans, running her fingers along the waistline, then stopping at the buttons. With slow precision that drove me crazy, she undid every button, caressing the skin of my lower belly as she went. She slipped her fingers just inside my underwear, teasing me with her touch, staying just outside where I needed her to be.
“Joie,” I breathed. She smiled, and kissed me again.
“Patience.” she said into my neck, as her tongue explored again. Her fingers slipped just a bit farther down until she was just caressing me, not quite enough pressure to penetrate through my wet folds, but with each stroke she added more and more pressure, until her fingers were slick, my hips bucking against her roaming hand.
She began to work her way down my body again, running her tongue all along my breast, teasing the nipples with her teeth, then running a wet trail down further until she reached her other hand. Slowly she slid my jeans down over my hips, and down my legs, then followed by my completely saturated underwear. I shivered as the night air caressed me, my need glistening in the light of the full moon.
I felt warm breath brush along the sensitive skin of my inner thighs, followed by Joie’s mouth. My hands shot down to her head as I felt her probing tongue find my aching need, and take it into her mouth. She stroked me with her fingers, playing me like an instrument until I felt her enter me only to slowly pull out then fill me again until she had a steady rhythm. I was panting now as I stroked her hair, puling it at one point as she had me strung to a pitch where I thought I would explode, then slowed down again until I was once again panting, and moaning her name. I could feel that ball of heat building, and I knew I was close. I pulled Joie farther into me, my hips working with her fingers and tongue until my back arched, my eyes closed tight, and felt myself explode around her as she sucked on me, pulling me as far into her mouth as she could, her fingers thrusting wildly to match the movements of my own body. Finally she took me completely over the brink, and I cried out into the still night, my voice falling into the trees, the grass beneath us, and the slowly moving water near by. I shattered into a million pieces, then found myself again as I found my breath.
Joie made her way back up my body, and rolled over, pulling me with her so my head was laying on her chest. She was stroking my hair, soothing my heated flesh. I felt my breathing beginning to return to normal, though I knew I would never be the same. Joie had touched something within me that had changed me forever.
“Jenny.” she whispered into my hair as she kissed the top of my head. “My Jenny.”
I think about that night often, and how full of magic it was. That was six years ago, in fact, six years ago to the day. Today is our anniversary.
I couldn’t decided what to get Joie, because no gift could ever match what she has given me. And just when I was beginning to get worried that I wouldn’t be able to find the perfect gift in time, I received news that I knew would need no box, no wrapping paper with a matching green bow to match her eyes, or a cute little card. No, this gift was enough all on its own.
As I sit here thinking, I rub my hand over my belly that will not show any signs of growth for a couple of months, but I know the gift is there. I can’t wait to see the look on Joie’s face when I tell her. When I tell her that in seven months we will have our very own little hockey player for the new season.
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