–Part 1 HERE—
I’d been staring at a black TV screen for the last half hour, wrapped in a ratty fleece blanket with a pint of chocolate ice cream melting in my hand. It was a puddle now. I didn’t notice. Half an hour till game time.
“Jac, I’m in love with you.”
In my mind’s eye I saw his lips form the words. I saw the curve of his thin mustache rise and fall in sync with his top lip. I watched his teeth briefly scrape his fuller lower lip when he said the word “love”. I watched his eyes, seeing the truth there in the depths of the brown and red streaks. So steady. So sure he knew exactly what he was saying, which is exactly how Jerry was so I knew it to be absolute truth. His pupils dilated and I felt him tense, waiting for me to say something. Anything.
What could I say? The words that wanted to come out log jammed in my throat, which had clogged with tears. I started and stopped for a minute, my eyes flitting to the buttons on his shirt, the stubble on his rounded chin, his slightly pink earlobe, the pulse throbbing in his neck; anywhere but his eyes. Not those honest as a prayer eyes. 7 years together, oblivious, and he tells me this NOW? WHY now? My head exploded. I ran away, leaving him standing there without an answer.
It had been radio silence between us for the past week and I still haven’t glued the pieces of my mind back together.
It was killing me.
I felt ridiculous, acting like I had broken up with a boyfriend; ice cream binges and all. I was crying my eyes out. Eating everything my nutrition professors said was the devil. My chest was a mess, tightening painfully whenever I head the NFL theme (which was also Jer’s text tone) and then feeling hollow when I realize it was just the TV. RIDICULOUS! I tried to tell myself. You weren’t even dating! Why the hell are you freaking out?
I kept staring into the black abyss of the TV screen, wanting answers to float across like some psychic news headline.
“Jacqueline Maden, best friend to Jeremy Owens, your heart is conflicted because you’re an idiot and can’t handle sudden changes. Mercury is also in retrograde, inhibiting your communication skills and because your sign is Cancer you find it difficult to face conflict head on…”
Ha. Definitely true but I suspected it was only a small part of the problem.
Why WAS I freaking out? My brain recoiled from the possibilities, refusing to pony up the truth. Instead, my treacherous heart ruled my body now and made me an utter mess. I hadn’t showered in three days. Yeah.
The phone rang behind me and I jumped out of my skin, dropping the ice cream and cursing out loud. I scrambled out of my nest, knocked my foot into the coffee table with another loud curse and lunged for the handset on the side table. I didn’t look at the caller ID, I just pressed “talk”.
“Hello?” I jammed a fist into my chest, willing the inflating balloon inside to stop and desist.
“Jacquie honey, where are you? The wives are all here and we’re sure missing you and your yummy treats!”
“Oh.” My response fell flat. “Hey Gale.”
I didn’t bother masking the disappointment in my voice. The chest balloon shriveled instantly. My second mother, who also happened to birth my best friend, was sweet as can be but a little insensitive and self-absorbed. She didn’t wonder where I’d been all week or why I hadn’t called or come by. She only cared that I wasn’t at her party and I hadn’t brought anything to munch on. I closed my eyes took a deep breath as an ugly ball of ire started tap dance along my ribs and make it’s way up to my mouth. This really was getting to be a problem.
“Get yer cute curvy ass over here Jac! Yer gonna miss it! Got a berry margie waiting for ya!” I heard someone yell in the background. There was a chorus of cat calls and greetings for me as well.
Traditionally, the wives/girlfriends attached to the team would all try to get together for “girl time” and make margaritas whenever there was a game on that we wanted to see. It was usually a twice a month thing, barring schedules. Some women would skype call and video chat and we’d have a grand ol’ time hollering and cussing at the coaches as badly as any rabid male sports fan. I wasn’t often a part of these since I traveled with Jer’s and my team as their registered Dietitian. It was my saving grace. God love Alma and Gale but there was a reason I traveled with a gaggle of sweating hulking gorilla neanderthals. They were less complicated. At least I assumed they were until recently.
I sighed into the phone and sniffled dramatically, deliberately clogging my nose to make it sound stuffed up.
“I’m sorry Gale, I’m sick. I haven’t been to work in a few days and I feel gross.”
It wasn’t really far off from the truth. I just wasn’t physically sick. My heart ached like it had been vomiting for a week though. Which it had.
“Aw, honey that’s terrible. Did you need anything? Some OJ or hankies? I can have them delivered to you.”
How very Gale. She lived across town from my apartment and she was going to have groceries delivered. Bless her germophobic southern heart.
“Nope. I’m gonna nap right now and try to sleep it off. Thanks though. Love ya. Kisses to the girls.”
In other words, don’t call me again unless you’re dying. I clicked off, not feeling regretful at all. Alma would blow up my phone as soon as the news hit her ears and I was tempted to turn it off. But I just couldn’t. Just in case. I cleaned up the puddle of chocolate from the blanket and then threw it in the washer. 25 minutes till game time.
The guys would be getting ready now, hydrating and horsing around, helping each other into their gear in that gawd awful smelly locker room. Jer would be there, icing injuries and massaging out muscle strains with his long cat paw fingers. I’d always told him he had acupressure hands and he couldn’t massage my back without me giggling like mad.
“You NEED it. If it tickles, the muscles are too tight.”
“I’m FINNNNEEEEEE. Nothing a hot shower and a shot of whiskey can’t cure. I’ll let you massage my feet though.”
And he always did. He would attempt to tickle me and I would attempt to kick him in retaliation. If he had time he would do my calves as well. If there wasn’t a game I would commute to colleges and schools to lecture about healthy food and give cooking demonstrations. Often, heels were required since I had to impress school boards and big wig money makers. My calves became tight in an un-sexy way and more often than not I was driving barefoot home and limping to my apartment. In return for his massage services, I would make Jer his favorite lemon cookies. “The Healthy Kind” of course.
I sighed and flopped back on the couch, flinging an arm over my face. I let the phone onto the floor and the clatter was cathartic. I hadn’t resorted to flinging things across the room in frustration yet but if answers weren’t forthcoming I might start.
Why did you have to change things? I demanded in my head to the ghostly image of Jer that haunted me like a shadow. Why couldn’t you have let it BE?
I missed his presence in my apartment, his tea pot whistling on the stove, the comfort of his thigh against mine as we read on the couch. It was all fine the way it was. Now my rose colored glasses had been cracked and I couldn’t repair or replace them. Ever.
What the hell was I going to do?