Sharp Edged Snow (#10)

A piercing scream had me sitting bolt upright from a dead sleep, smashing my forehead on the top bunk support beams. Tears pricked my eyes as I stumbled out of bed and made for the door. I kicked toys out of my way, avoiding the Barbie shoes and Lego pieces with experienced steps.

“Gabby! What happened?” I yelled into the empty hall way.”Is Fritz okay? Where’s the baby?”

“Sasha it’s SNOWING! Come here!”

I could hear Fritz singing loudly and baby Jeanne laughing, probably at his goofy faces.

So the shriek was of delight, not fear. My stomach unclenched a bit and I detoured to the bathroom to look at the faint black and blue egg rounding on my head. It bled a little and I slapped a band-aid on it. I’d be the butt of all the unicorn jokes for the next week. Sometimes siblings sucked.

I huffed at my reflection, hazel eyes and curly dark brown hair I threatened to cut off every other week. But Mama liked my long hair so I kept it. I grabbed a hair tie and wove it into a braid while I traveled through the maze of hallways in Grandfather’s mansion. Having lived there for most of my life I didn’t really notice the priceless paintings hanging on the walls or the museum quality vases and statuettes on pedestals anymore. We lived in his ancestral home, passed down from Bromser Grandfather to Bromser  Son since it had been built. The accumulation of wealth was staggering when you thought about it all at once but I was a teenager. What did I care for art and dusty books when there was TV and Kindles?

I did notice the gaping holes in the floor where workers were replacing the plumbing and the buckets of plaster surrounded by smoothers and scrapers for the crumbling ceiling. Three out of the six bathrooms were in disarray, being re-tiled and caulked. There were paint chips and furniture catalogs sitting on boxes in corners.  There were hazards everywhere, thanks to Mama and Grandfather.

They had a crazy idea to turn the Bromser estate into a hotel or a bed and breakfast or something, which meant it needed updating. For me, it meant hazards to keep the younger kids away from and summer break would be spent painting and shopping. Ugh.

Down one flight of steps, two flights and I walked into the main foyer. The excitement got louder and I followed it into the informal living room where we spent a large majority of the day since that was where the big screen TV and computer was.

“Sash! Can we go out? There’s so much of it. The ground is nearly covered!” Gabby, the second youngest, looked at me with wide hopeful eyes that looked just like mine and she dragged me to the large window. She gave me a second glance and a little frown. “What happened to your head?” I ignored the question and peered outside. There was indeed a large swath of white covering the lawn. For a moment I swelled with excitement. Snow! We’ve never ever gotten snow this late in Spring!

“I bet I can beat you in a snow ball fight, Unicorn brain,” Fritz said, grinning at me. I rolled my eyes. So predictable. He carried baby Jeanne who slapped the window and drooled, making baby sounds of excitement. I scoffed at his bet, turning my nose up at his ginger hair. He was Grandfather’s “mini-me”, the only one in the family with orange hair now that Papa had passed on.

“Like you ever have, Carrot head. You can’t beat the Queen of Diamonds.”

My nickname on the softball field. I was a beast at sports, on my way to getting a full scholarship to my top choice university. Fritz rasberried me, knowing it was true so he couldn’t say anything. “Besides, there’s not even enough yet to make a ball. A snow pebble maybe.”

“It’s still coming down. I bet we could build a snow man by dinner time.”

I took baby Jeanne away from him and wiped her slobbery mouth with her bib. She patted my cheeks, asking for “outside”.

“You’re making a lot of bets you can’t win Fritz.”

“Saasshhhhhaaaaaaaa! Let’s goooooooooo!” Gabby whined.

I stared out at the falling snow. Yeah there was no way we were missing that.

“Alright,” I relented. “Go get shoes and a jacket.”

“Yaayyyyyy!”

My siblings tore off to get ready and I found some pants and shoes for the baby, who kept insisting for “outside” and struggling against my efforts to clothe her. I stepped into a pair of Mama’s Uggs, too big still but I was too lazy to walk back upstairs. I shrugged on a flannel of Grandfathers from the coat closet and we waited for the others by the window. The wind changed direction and started blowing the snow across our porch. I frowned down at it as a few pieces swept across the wood. Since when did snow have sharp corners? And it looked kind of dirty. More yellowish than pure white.

I looked up and saw that the sky was bright blue–no clouds in sight. When did snow ever fall without clouds? That was impossible. I saw a formation of planes roaring away in the distance when I looked farther across the sky. We never saw that many planes out here either.

I cracked open the window, expecting a chilly breeze against my skin. Warm scented wind curled around me and I began to suspect something was very wrong. When Fritz and Gabby came tearing back downstairs and tried to pull open the door I stopped them with a fearful shout.

They looked at me and scowled.

“What gives Sasha?” Fritz said, annoyed.

“It’s not snow,” I whispered and I pointed out the window. “Look down.”

Fritz huffed over to me and shoved me out of the way, looking at the porch. He looked back at me with his eyebrows raised, a stupid expression on his face.

“It has EDGES, dummy! And there’s black specks on it. What has sharp edges and black specks?”

Gabby pressed her face to the window.

“Books?”

“Books,” I agreed. “Those are book pages.”

“But why?”

I took Jeanne away from the window, which made her squawk in protest and I went to the computer, jiggling the mouse to wake up the screen. I saw Fritz creep toward the door and I picked up the nearest object and threw it at him. A book.

“OW SASHA!”

“You idiot! Don’t go out there!”

His freckled face turned red and he rubbed the spot where the book hit him; square in the shoulder, where I’d aimed.

“You’re the idiot! It’s just paper.”

“And what if it’s coated in anthrax or something Fritz? What if it has the bubonic plague wiped all over it or the avian bird flu, huh?”

He crossed his arms and slouched against the wall, once again beaten by his older sister. Gabby came over to me, solemn faced. We waited for the home screen to pop up and I pinned Jeanne’s hands away from the keyboard long enough to type into google “world news”. The first article to pop up was written in bold letters “GOVERNMENT BANS BOOKS”.

“Oh my god,” I whispered and clicked on the link.

I read the article silently, scrolling slowly through the extensive article. Words like “terrorism” and “anarchy” and “control” pierced me and my jaw went slack. A yawning scream started inside my head the longer I read and my stomach clenched with nausea. This was so much worse than I initially thought.

“What?” Fritz asked, coming out of his pity party long enough to realize I wasn’t paying attention to him at all.

“They’re banning books,” I said, barely able to get the words out.

He scoffed and my hackles raised instantly.

“So what? Books are dumb. Whatever we need we can get on the internet.”

I set Jeanne down on the floor and I stood, my back to Fritz so I wouldn’t feel the need to punch his stupid face.

“It’s because of people like YOU that this even happened,” I growled. “You’d believe anything the government tells you. The internet doesn’t always boast the truth. The only true source of knowledge is books.”

“Hey I had nothing–”

“It’s not about BOOKS though!” I barked. “It’s about the government taking away our freedom of speech. They’re superseding the Constitution, taking away what makes America, America and stomping all over it. If there’s no line they can’t cross, they’ll take everything over and they just crossed that line. We’ll become a dictatorship.”

“Oh yeah okay–” His voice was dripping with so much sarcasm  I could have strangled him with it. “How do you even know what you’re reading is true if the internet lies?”

“It’s right there on our front lawn! They’re trying to control the flow of information and suppress the truth of the people. They want to do our thinking for us so we don’t question them anymore. They’ll say it’s for our own good but they just want to make us subservient sheep.”

I gave Fritz a hateful glare. “For those of you who don’t know what that means, it means slavery.”

He didn’t move or say anything. He just stared at his scuffed sneakers. I stormed over to one of Grandfather’s book shelves and pulled out a worn copy of Aesop’s Fables. I waved it at Fritz.

“This was your favorite bed time story book as a kid,” I said. “It had beautiful illustrations you would stare at while Mama read you the story and you would talk about what the stories meant. They were teaching you and giving you memories. This is a learning tool but also history passed down from generation to generation. The stories of our ancestors.”

I pulled another one out, a Frederic Nietzsche tome.

“This guy had a voice, an opinion. People idolize him for his knowledge and his truth, for being different and not being afraid to say what he saw. The government hated him and the people loved him and now they want him to disappear. What will happen when Frederic is gone; when no one remembers his truths?”

Fritz didn’t have an answer for me. Either he was too stupid to understand what was really going on or he was sulking about me being right. Again. Either way, it pissed me off.

“They’re going to destroy all the books. History. Fiction. Philosophy. Manga.”

There was a pregnant pause. I knew Fritz loved his manga. It was probably the only thing that he read and the only thing that would have bothered him about this take over.

“It’s a hostile take over, guys. And it’s only going to be the first step.”

There was so much more roiling inside me; so many more things I needed to say out loud. My siblings didn’t get it. It wouldn’t become real to them until the soldiers broke down the door and took all the books outside and burned them. It wouldn’t be real until it was too late. I wondered with an inward scoff if my Kindle account had already been wiped.

“I want Mama,” Gabby whispered, her lip wobbling at my harsh tones. She was carrying baby Jeanne, clinging to her like she would a stuffed animal, afraid to let go. Jeanne was still insisting for “outside.”

“I do too Gabby. Lets go call her while our stupid brother stays here like an angry little kid.”

“Shut up Sasha,” he grumbled and crossed his arms.

When I passed him on the way to the kitchen, I flicked his forehead in annoyance.

“Wake up, dummy. This is real life, not a movie.”

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Vanilla with a Cherry on Top, Raw (#9)

It was code you see.

If the right people heard it, they would know and they would pass it on; like a stone dropped in a pond. Ripples would appear on the calm surface of the lives of every day people and just like that, it would begin again.

The whispers. The knowing eyes. The Hunt.

Easy.

Vanilla. Vanilla meant white. Chocolate meant brown. Dark Chocolate was black. Pretty self-explanatory. People can’t change the color of their skin very easily. And where I live, any color other than brown stood out pretty well. Brown hair, brown eyes, brown skin. Brown callouses and brown dirt under the nails from working in the fields. Brown houses and store fronts.

A white moth stands out much better against brown trees.

We embrace brown in every sense. We’re agricultural. We work the earth, dawn till dusk to produce food for ourselves and the markets. Our ancestors used mud to make our houses. Our Gods came from the earth and sky. Our heritage is strong and proud, but we do not flaunt it zealously. We are a humble people, hard-working and vigilant. We work for our families, we play with our children, we dance to our music and laugh freely. We are a community that looks after one another.

We are Vigilant– We Watch.

We accept most flavors of strangers but they don’t usually like to stay in our brown-washed community very long. It’s hard work to stay here and people don’t like hard work. We are a “visit only” locale that boasts hand-made crafts, home-grown vegetables and delicious restaurants with recipes hundreds of years old on the menus. We’ve been labeled a “small but delightfully rustic town.”

We like it that way. Tourists don’t suspect a smiling and helpful person to be anything except kind. Some will take advantage of that. Some will respond in kind. It’s like that way with strangers.

We of the earth know better. As much as we are smiling on the outside, our dirt colored eyes watch and observe. Nothing goes unnoticed by us. We are as sharp-eyed as falcons . That white man sitting too long at a children’s park. That black man buying way too much fuel. The Spaniard that threatens his girlfriend with a subtle back hand to her cheek. She cowers likes she expected the blow.

We see it and we drop the pebbles into the well of our community. The rest of us will hear them drop and observe the ripples. We protect our own.

Precautions are taken. We are friendly and subtle people. A cadre of mothers suddenly start showing up at the park with their broods and make lively conversation until the white man leaves. A mechanic will show up and offer to work on the black man’s car since he noticed so much fuel being purchased. Subtly of course so he doesn’t suspect. An old kind-hearted grandmother will take the cowering girlfriend aside for some tea while the Spaniard is at the bar.

We watch and we wait. Often times it’s nothing.

But when it’s not–

–we become a people of action.

No one suspects us. We’re too nice; too accommodating and there are lots of places to hide in our rustic and far spread town. We know every place though. And the Police–they’re one of us too on the inside. But while they took an oath to uphold the law, we took one to uphold life. OUR life.

When the first child went missing, we had to let it happen. The police had to launch their investigation first. It had to be legal and official. We still watched. Information was passed around. We could have helped the authorities. COULD have. We didn’t. We never did. You might think it’s immoral and unethical to withhold information this way. “Impeding an investigation”, in legal terms. But what would happen if the police caught him? Jail? Appeals? A 5 year sentence; a slap on the wrist?

People of action don’t give slaps on the wrists or appeals. Not when it comes to ours.

Three days. That’s our limit. That’s all the time we need to search and plan. Day four is execution.

More pebbles are thrown in the water and the ripples crisscross over each other, like a dozen conversations. “Vanilla…” “Raw.” “Sticks and stones…” “Red sauce.” It’s code, you see. Eventually our whispers merge into one definitive echoing agreement. Day four.

Vanilla with a Cherry on top, Raw. 

The white man didn’t come to the park day five. The mothers showed up as usual to laugh and gossip and let the little ones run off energy. They give their reports to the police and tell them to come by for some flan because they work too hard. The black man accepts the help with a smile and our eyes soften. The Spaniard breaks his hand in a bar fight. Oops. So the grandmothers come over to help the girlfriend move out and disappear while he’s at the hospital.

We are an involved people.

Day seven, the newspaper reads:

A body was found yesterday brutally murdered in an abandoned field off Arrow Head road. The police k-9 units led officers to the body late last night while scouring the area of the missing child. A perimeter has been set up for investigators and teams of forensics have been dispatched to the scene. Preliminary reports state that the identity of the body belonged to Darrell Ferguson, a known pedophile and child abductor in three Southern California counties. Officials state that Ferguson had fled the authorities and disappeared across the border months ago. The details of the murder are not being disclosed at this time.

In good news, the child in question has been found and returned to her family although the state of her health, mentally and physically, are yet to be determined. The family requests that the public keep their distance to let the incident pass into memory but they want to thank the police offers that found the child and the community who never stopped supporting them or searching.

“Thank you for Watching,” was a direct quote from a family member.”

We didn’t need the media telling us the details. Our whispers paint a picture better than any photograph of that bastard. His white skin was no longer white but a cracked and rusty-red, rivulets and spatters painting his corpse. His ribs had been cracked open with a rusty bolt cutter and the bones thrown far for the coyotes to chew on. The heart had been extracted and set upon his broken, wide open mouth like a prized glass egg on display. And then a large hole had been bored through it, just large enough to squeeze his castrated manhood inside like a bulbous and flaccid dagger.

Afterward the body had been surrounded by gasoline so the animals wouldn’t disturb it before the police discovered the kill. Be a pity to waste all that time and effort for no one to see the end result as intended.

Something the press would never divulge was that he had been alive when this happened. They wouldn’t, because some of them were there.

Just desserts.

We Watch. Welcome to our brown-washed town.

Spoilt 9th (#9)

It was never supposed to be this way. It never HAD been this way so what possessed me to try this year I’ll never guess. Maybe it was a last HURRAH before shit hit the fan. Maybe I wanted to try to inject some sunshine into everybody else’s shit storm and let them forget for a while.

I should have known better. But I wanted to try.

It started with a request. A simple request, as had been done every year before.

“Mom, I want a water balloon fight for my birthday.”

One year it was a cake. Just a simple chocolate cake with Neapolitan frosting colors. One year, she wanted a garden. I was so proud of my daughter for choosing unique gifts instead of bombarding me with requests for Tablets or Xbox One’s or Razor Scooters. Maybe not having cable in the house really did help.

It was still a huge deal to get ANYTHING for her birthday though since we used to be Jehovah’s Witness and thus eschewed any holiday traditions. What the kids didn’t know, they couldn’t miss and that’s the way it was. I did let them celebrate holidays at school since that was not at home. I refused to take them out of the classroom and let them believe they were being punished by not getting cupcakes. Ridiculous. Since we’ve cut ties with the good ol’ JW’s however, security had been lightened and I had no problem going back to my roots and getting my kid a small gift for the anniversary of her birth.

Water balloon fight. Cool. I can do that. It wouldn’t break the budget to get her a couple packs and maybe a little cake. She was all into Five Nights at Freddie’s so I knew the cake would have to be red and bloody and gory. It was a simple enough request so I got red and black frosting misters and a glittery red gel writer for the top.

That was it. That’s all that was supposed to happen. Then the texts started coming.

“What size clothes does she wear?” From my sister.

“What’s she into now?” From my cousin.

“Where are we having the party?” From my mom.

Wha…? Did I miss a memo somewhere? Since when was this a big ol’ thing? Okay, whatevs. I answered the first two no problem but as to the last… my house wasn’t big enough for lots of guests. I assumed from the texts that they weren’t just gonna drop off presents and bone out. So…a park.

Great.

This was right around the time that my brain shut off and my Debit card became an extension of my hand. People. Food. Decorations. Presents. PRESENTS! I couldn’t be the only adult to NOT get my kid something to unwrap! Toys ‘R’ Us. Hot Topic. Barnes and Nobles. Michael’s. WalMart for decorations. Target for wrapping paper and tape. Winco for food.

My god holidays are a media trap.

$400 later I was sequestered inside my laundry room for privacy, wrapping my first present in ten years thinking about whether I would be able to get a job fast enough to replace what I spent so we could make next month’s rent. Getting laid off was a bitch to deal with and humble pie tasted a lot like apple cider vinegar straight from the bottle.

But it would be fun, right? Worth it. Parties always were when I was growing up.

Well.

Mix one homeless and car-less sister who had suddenly become a single parent because of the death of her baby daddy with a depressed starving artist step dad, an over worked and under-appreciated mother and a hypochondriac cousin and see what you get.

Yeah. The tension was palatable. Yum.

On top of that, I was a terrible organizer. Or at least, this time I was. My plans had been blasted out of the water and I had to scramble to throw shit together. I over bought on just about everything. Way too much food for only 8 people. I didn’t even use the decorations because I didn’t get to the park in time to set up before people arrived and ran out of time to make the cake so I bought one instead, which was way bigger than it needed to be.  Great start!

The park site we got was bug infested. Black biting gnats were everywhere and no one had thought to bring citronella candles or bug spray. The kids didn’t care though. They were outside with the promise of getting wet, which was the whole point. I silently listened to the group of conversations going on around the table while I mixed dip and laid out sandwich stuff.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do about the funeral. I can’t even give him a good casket…”

“I’m on Somas and Tramadol for my pain and my doctor said I should have any ibuprofen in the mean time because of what happened during my surgery…”

“At work they just fuck around and take extra long breaks. I have to lecture them every damn time and I’m getting ready to write them up and give them an ultimatum…”

I mixed a drink for myself. Fireball whiskey and RC cola. I hadn’t had soda in months due to the new healthy diet I was on. I was slowly trying to  get myself off of sugar but I wasn’t sure I could deal with the negativity sober. Or at least without liquid happiness.

This was a bad idea.

I took the kids down to the creek and I plopped my jacket over my head to keep me from developing skin cancer. While they waded in and squealed over the moss collecting around their ankles I dipped my feet in the dirty silty creek shore and filled up the water guns one by one. I double-handed them and made the kids squeal louder with my squirting antics. So fun!

It’s all about the memories right? They’ll remember this for the rest of their life. The first time in a creek with the tadpoles and dirt and fish. I felt ashamed that this was the first time they’d been in a creek before. I practically learned how to swim in one as a kid, we were always camping and hiking. I was fearless.

We had a slew of visitors come and offer me drinks and conversation and snacks. I sat and tried not to think. This was supposed to be a bright spot in the middle of the craptacular month. I couldn’t add my woes to it so I smiled and drank and squirted until it was time to get things moving again. The bugs were getting too bad to tolerate for much longer and the sun was glaring relentlessly.

Time to get the ball rolling. Get on with getting on with this sham of a party.

Cake time! I announced. We wrapped the kids in over-sized towels and sand “Happy Birthday” for the first time in my daughter’s life. Then we ate cake and I smushed cake in her face. Bad mama. Ohhh she loved it though. It was gluey and half melted with way too much frosting but we ate.

Then it was Time. PRESENTS!

I don’t know who was more excited, me or the kids. Brightly wrapped gifts (or in this case, black and red to match the FNAF theme). Boxes and bundles of surprises, of unknown pleasures waiting to be discovered. And for me, I get to experience the opposite side of the equation now. Instead of the anticipation of getting the presents, I get to experience the joy of giving them.

With the family primed for pictures, we started. I gave her something boring first, trying to confuse her and lead her up the “Big Present.”

“Paint mom? Really?”

“Yeahh!” I said, upbeat with a big smile. “It’ll make sense in a minute.”

Chartreuse eyes looked at me skeptically but eagerly surveyed the big box on the table in speculation. The next one was a little purse with matching sunglasses that I thought she would love. She had complained that she needed new sunglasses and they were brightly colored in pink and green, her favorite colors, so I thought she would at least be thrilled with this gift. I bit my cheek when I saw her lips turn down and say not a word. She moved on to the next. Clothes. An emoji shirt (which she’d been all into with her class that year) and some pink capri pants.

“These are boring,” she said. “Not what I wanted at all. They’re kind of stupid.”

There was an audible snap in my brain and my rage came pouring out like liquid hot magma.

“Don’t be a spoiled brat Kate. You should be grateful you’re getting anything at all,” I whispered fiercely, bending down to her level so she could see the fury in my face. “I can take every single present back to the store and you’ll have NOTHING. Is that what you want?”

But I wanted Five Nights and Freddie’s–”

“BE GRATEFUL FOR WHAT YOU GOT, BRAT!”

Yes, I realized later that my mother came out of my mouth just then. Her eye brows were in her hair, arched in surprise, looking at the intense scene. It’s not like she wouldn’t have done any less. Hell, she would have smacked mine and my sister’s mouths if we were ever ungrateful shits like that!

There was a hushed silence and Kate looked gobsmacked. I slammed her next present on the table in front of her, emphasizing my immense displeasure. It was a new drawing book with a beautiful pastel cover that I now figured she would probably never use and moved away from her before my fingers wrapped around her little white neck.

Somebody else took pictures. I stood back in my hateful little bubble and watched as she blew through the rest of her gifts. Clothes, drawing books, scented crayons for God’s sake! And the piece de resistance: an awesome “Spin Art” activity that my sister and I begged for as kids but we never got. It was seriously, the creme de la creme of presents in my mind. How happy I was to give her something I never got to have! And it was pushed aside without a second glance.

I was done.

I started picking up trash and packing things away, silently seething. How did I raise such an ungrateful little wretch like that? I’ve always taught her manners, to say please and thank you, to share and be generous. She painted her teacher a coffee mug when I took her to a ceramics place. She ALWAYS shares her after school snack with her sister. She loves baking cookies for her class mates and giving them out just to be a nice kid. So what happened?  THIS level of nonchalance I didn’t understand. It was so out of character for her. I wanted to take everything back and teach her a lesson. Lucky for her most of the receipts were thrown away already.

My black mood seemed to be the straw the broke the camel’s back. While the kids entertained themselves with the promised water balloon fight, everyone else gathered their stuff and boned out. I got a quick kiss and some murmured advice.

“It’s just overwhelming for her. Don’t be too harsh.”

“Her first party. It was bound to happen. She’ll come around.”

Never again. This was the first and last party I would ever throw. I plunked everything in the car and drove home, trying to find room in my fridge for all the extra food no one ate and setting the half eaten cake on the counter. Fuck it. Fuck it all.

I stayed in my room like a grumpy adult child the rest of the day, barking out orders and losing myself to my own distractions. What they said was right. Kate had been overwhelmed with everything and I was willing to forgive her for that. She was still little and it was her first party ever. But this reminded me of the reason I never wanted to start celebrating in the first place, even after we left religion behind.

People make such a huge deal out of holidays, frantically running around trying to find the perfect gifts and decorations and food. They get anxious and spend way too much money and go into debt for one perfect day. Why? For what? It was too much to take in all in one day. Too much excitement, like having nothing but sugary treats all day long and then feeling hung over by the end of the night with an achy stomach and the world spinning.

I got it. I really did. But I was never ungrateful for the stuff I got.

The next day I sat Kate down and made her draw out and write Thank you cards to everyone with her new scented crayons. I still refused to look her in the eye but I did calmly explain why her reaction made me upset and that I would like a little more appreciation from her for the things she was given.

Because I was the adult. One of us had to be.

Adulting sucks. Don’t adult.

 

Little Dove (#8)

(A sample of writing taken from a fantasy story I’ve had to re-write because the original draft was eaten by my old computer >.<)

“Jo.”
A cool hand caressed the cheek of a sleeping girl, who moved slowly and opened brown eyes full of dreams.
“Addie?”
“Mhm.”
Jo twisted around in her already twisted blankets and opened her eyes more fully to see the woman leaning above her. It was still dark outside. The clock said 3am. Her voice was breathy from sleep.
“Did you just get in then?”
“Just now.”
“It was so long this time.”
“I know, little dove. I’m sorry. Did you do okay on your own?”
The other girl snorted and stretched, throwing an arm back over her face, settling back into her pillows.
“I don’t need a baby sitter anymore Ads. I did fine on my own. I car pooled to school and didn’t burn down the house cooking my meals.”
“Obviously.”
“Are the others here too?”
“Soon. I was the first back.”
Jo smiled, revealing an adorably crooked set of eye teeth that poked passed her top lip. She hated them and yet had refused to get braces to fix them. Contrary Jocasta, Little Dove of the Kinley household. Blonde, white, gentle and full of cooing warmth for all living things. And yet there were times, like being woken at 3 am, that she showed her more sarcastic side. Addison Kinely smiled down at her little sister and kissed her cheek.
“We’ll talk more in the morning. I only wanted you to know we were back so you didn’t freak out hearing us in the morning.”
“I wouldn’t freak out.”
“Still.”
“Mhm. Ni ni Addie.”
“Good night Dove.”
Addison walked on soft feet away from the bed and closed the door so she wouldn’t disturb Jo any further with the noises now coming from down stairs. She hurried down stairs to help load in equipment, taking what was offered to her and placing it in it’s proper place. Gun and bullet cases–tucked in the safe behind the false wall in the coat closet. Prosthetics, contacts, pass ports, finger printing kit– attached to the backside of the sink, behind the cleaning chemicals and trash bags. Delicate technology like bugs, taps, and wires were hid in a drawer in Mother’s room, third down from the top of the armoire and placed in a jewelry case then locked in place.
The other girls stealthily hid their own equipment; some in plain sight like Kat’s computer full of data cracking programs, blue prints, time tables and viruses even the Government would cringe to know existed. Mina couldn’t hide much in the house. Her Suzuki was parked in the garage next to the family Jeep and her darts, throwing daggers, and tasers were hidden in tool boxes covered purposely with old spattered paint cans, chemicals for car maintenance and dirty rags. All Mina’s domain. Last came beautiful but deadly Leilani, She needed nothing but her brain and a good cup of coffee. On a good day she would kill you 10 different ways before you even blinked while reciting your entire life to you. Female Sherlock Holmes. Scary.
“She’s okay?” Leilani asked, blue eyes sharp on Addison’s face in the dim living room light.
“She’s fine Lana. Everything went smoothly.”
“I’ll check when she wakes.”
Addie rolled her eyes. Always the same with Lana. She asked a question but no matter what answer you gave, she always had to find out the answer for herself. Mina came in, all leather and wind blown black hair, sucking on a lollipop.
“Lay off Lana. Jo’s been able to look after herself since she was like, seven.”
“We’ve never left her for so long before,” Mother said in a hushed voice, wiping a gloved hand across her forehead and displacing the brown waves fallen over her eyes from out of her pony tail.
“She’s going to have to get used to it,” Katherine pointed out, settling in her bar stool at the end of the table and opening her laptop. “It’s not getting any easier to do this now that we’re on the radar.”
“Yeah, thanks for that LANA.”
Icy eyes pierced the short Asian girl, daring her to continue. Mina rolled her lollipop between shapely lips and stared back nonchalantly.
“Min,” Mother warned.
“It’s true.”
“Whatever,” Addie interjected, ever the buffer between the two sisters. “Kat’s right though. Jo needs better protection if she’s going to be left on her own more often.”
“Or we can just bring her WITH us,” Mina said, crossing her arms.
She was met with three pair of frightful eyes, as she always did when she suggested it. She sighed and cocked a rebellious hip to the side where her gun was still sheathed in it’s holster.
“She’s not DUMB guys. She knows we’re not some hired rent-a-cop help for the rich and famous or whatever lame cover-up you gave her this time. She might even help if you gave her the skills. PLUS–” she said, raising her voice over the protestations rising like a wave around her. “She’s a fresh face.”
“Enough,” Mother said, putting a stop to the old argument before they woke Jo with their bickering. “She’s too delicate for this work. It’s why WE do it. So she doesn’t have to”
Mina rolled her black eyes and went back to sucking on her candy.
“Leave her out of it,” Lana warned. “Tomorrow, for her, we’re home and nothing else matters.”
The silence in the room was only a strained agreement between the sisters. They dispersed, hiding the remains of their gear, showering in turn and eating a quick snack before returning to their own beds for the first time in weeks.

_____________________________________________________

Jo woke fully to the smell of apple cinnamon pancakes, coffee and Mina’s delicate perfume wafting from their shared bathroom. She looked through heavy lids at her clock. 6:30 am. Did they even sleep? She stumbled out of bed, her sheets tangling around her legs and dragged herself to the bathroom. Mina was still in there, applying a layer of glossy pink color to her lips and touching up her mascara.
“Welcome back,” Jo croaked and reached for her tooth brush.
“We’re back,” she said airily and fluffed her little sister’s blonde rats nest. “You really should use leave-in conditioner Jo. Your hair gets tangled because it’s too fine.”
“Murph,” Jo replied, mouth full of foam.

She watched the curvy Asian woman apply a stripe of glittery liquid silver to each lash line and then top it with a layer of black in the crease. She was going “pretty goth” that day with her pink plaid mini skirt and cutesy white screen tee that had some adorable pink haired anime character on it eating a lollipop. She had on white thigh highs held up with a garter belt and some ridiculous platform boots Jo wasn’t sure she could even walk in.
“So anything exciting happen? Have a party? Kiss a boy? Go crazy and buy some land in the Galapagos?” Mina asked.
Jo snorted and spat.
“I was promoted at work to pill pusher. Yaayyyy. And I finished planting my grafted seedlings. I’ll see in a few weeks how they came out.”
“Ohh honey we need so much more than leave-in conditioner to haul you over,” Mina sighed and gave Jo’s head a one armed hug.
“Mhm.”
“Anyway, hurry down when you’re dressed. I’ll give you a ride to school so you can avoid the Lana-nater. We’ll pick up chocolate Croissants and chai tea on the way to the Studio.”
“Sounds good,” Jo said, smiling at Mina in the mirror at their own private joke. She went back into her neat as a pin room (Lana wouldn’t have it any other way) and rummaged through her drab but comfortable wardrobe. She chose something at random while Mina clattered downstairs, making as much noise as possible and yelling “Good Morning!” at the top of her lungs. It was sure to piss off Lana and Jo gave her bed a smirk.
Lana was the oldest sister and the meanest. Mina and Jo would call her Lana-nater, after the Terminater when they got in trouble with her, which seemed like every second of every day. The older, severe looking girl with the piercing eyes ran the house like a drill Sargent and Jo was interrogated every time Lana came home from a work trip. It had been the same since she was first brought to the house. There was never any praise from Leilana, not for any of the sisters. Only criticisms and the drive for everyone to do better. Addison was and always will be the middle-woman between Lana and everyone else, smoothing everything over as best she could to keep the peace. She was the only one able to deal with Lana’s harshness.
Kat brushed it off with a cool disregard, her eyes and ears filled with nothing but numbers and static. So it had been Mina who became Jo’s self-appointed buffer from Lana’s wolfishness when, at age six, she found a tiny red-faced Jo cowering in the tool shed after a particularly harsh lecture. After that Mina insisted Jo room with her and under the pulsing tones of techno played on full blast, Jo could cry in peace on Mina’s lap and heal the wounds of disappointment in herself that Lana had instilled.
As a teenager though, Mina’s role had shifted from protector to teacher for Jo. Out of all her beloved sisters, Mina was the only one who pushed Jo to broaden her horizons, to try new things. Often it didn’t work because Jo had a quiet nature and was content with simplicity. But at least she tried and some things DID stick. Which was why every day Jo left the house an hour earlier than most for school and rode her bike to a little Kendo studio for lessons.
“You’re a wimp,” Mina said, standing with Jo in front of the studio four years ago, arms crossed and popping bubbles with her bright green bubble gum. “Kendo is a non violent form of martial arts that can build muscle and reflexes. My ex owns the studio and agreed to teach you for a couple weeks to see if you like it.”
Jocasta was scrawny and weak when she first gripped the long bamboo stick and ached all over after the first day. She’d never done anything more strenuous than pick up potting soil bags. But she came back the next day and the next, enjoying the power she gained over the Kendo sticks and the release of tension from her hectic family life. No one else knew about her lessons except Mina. Sadly, Jo knew her sisters would object to them. Why? She couldn’t even imagine. She often thought they wanted to keep her deaf and dumb the rest of her life, puttering with her herbs and flowers like a little doll. Only Mina saw more; PUSHED her to do more.
The blond girl hurried into her clothes and ran a brush through her long honey blonde hair. She took a quick glance in the mirror, saw chocolate brown eyes, a sharp chin, a dusting of freckles and two tiny indentations in her bottom lip where her crooked teeth pushed past her lips. She sighed. Plain Jane Jocasta. She started downstairs and took a fortifying breath.
“Jo darling! My little Dove!” Mother greeted, her brown hair smoothed back into a bun and sea green eyes alight with joy. “We didn’t want to wake you last night when we came in but we’re home!”
She came around from behind the stove and gave her youngest daughter a hard long hug.
“Welcome back Mom,” Jo said, feeling joy trickle through her at the warm embrace.
“I’m sorry we were gone so long,” she murmured into Jo’s ear, “I know you don’t like being alone so long.”
“It’s fine Mom,” she said. “I’m not a kid anymore.”
“Still….”
“Did you need any help with your homework or projects?” Kat asked, never turning from her computer. “It says here that you have a History project due next week. And a test in your Geometry class tomorrow and your grade is a low B. Did you need help prepping? We can go through sample problems after dinner.”
It was an order, not a request. It was how Kat showed she cared. Jo sighed and released her mother to go peer at Kat’s screen. It had been a request of the family that Jocasta’s teachers keep a calendar of events as well as her grades online for her family’s benefit since they traveled so much.
“That’s fine Kitty. I’d appreciate the help.”
She kissed her rumpled and distracted sister on the cheek and grabbed an apple from the bowl of fruit on the table. The whole time Jo had been in the kitchen she felt Lana’s eyes digging into her. She was leaning against the sink, arms crossed, mouth a thin line of judgment. Addison was no where to be seen. Jo’s heart start to quicken when she raised her eyes to meet Lana’s and opened her mouth to greet her when Mina came barreling through the kitchen and grabbed her roughly by the arm.
“Late. Gotta go. C’mon.”
“Jocasta!”
Jo stumbled out the door into the garage, clutching her apple as she was dragged toward Mina’s sleek motorcycle.
“My bag–”
Mina shoved a heavy back pack at her and a coat after it.
“Thanks.”
“She’s been in a mood since she got home, biting everybody’s head off.”
“Awesome.”
“Let’s go, before she has Kat hack the garage door opener.”
Mina swung a long leg over the seat of her bike and plunked the keys into the ignition. She kicked the stand up and steadied the bike as Jo shrugged on her jacket, put the apple in a pocket and mounted behind her. Jo settled the heavy bag on her shoulders and took the helmet Mina offered.
“Welcome home, by the way,” Jo said, a long-time weariness in her voice.
“Yep. Same old, same old huh?”
The blond girl set her feet on the pegs behind Mina’s and gripped her waist lightly. She lowered the visor and Jo’s world went into shadow. Mina opened the garage door and cool morning wind brought goose flesh to the girls’ skin. The Asian girl never seem to mind though. She rarely got cold. Jo, on the other hand, was already freezing.
“Giddy On up! WOO HOO!!!”
Mina roared out of the garage, upsetting the two cars parked at the front of the house owned by the family and several others parked on the street nearby. Jo smiled. Mother would be getting calls again no doubt. But no one could tame Mina. Jo preferred it that way.

More Than Words– part 5 (#7)

(Part 1 Here) (Part 2 here) (Part 3 here) (Part 4 here)

Shoes. Jacket. Keys. Wallet and Phone. Sunglasses. Work Badge to bypass the witches at the receptionist desk. Lock the Door. Get in the Car. Drive the car. Go FAST.

Steph. It was Steph. Almost as bad as Jer. But thank gawd it wasn’t.

The closest hospital to the stadium was about 15 minutes away from my apartment. I careened through back roads, my emergency flashers going and I shamelessly ran red lights if I saw it was safe enough.

The first text in a week and it was an SOS. It was so petty of me to run away. I saw that now. What if it HAD been Jer? How much more of an ass would I feel right now for not being there, for not seeing something might be wrong? Gawd I was so incredibly selfish.

I screeched around a corner, setting a couple of dogs off. Their ski jacket humans put their arms up in a “WHAT THE FUCK?” gesture.

“Sorry!” I yelled uselessly.

I felt my phone buzzing in my pocket. I ignored it. I was half focusing on the road and half trying to crank my brain into giving me answers to a problem. Did Steph have any pre-existing conditions that I didn’t know about? Was he hung over today? Did he have a blood clot? Did he have an arrhythmia? I couldn’t remember. I didn’t know because I wasn’t there. I hadn’t BEEN there. I couldn’t ask the question I needed to.

Left. Right. Light. Wait; now go. Almost there. I saw the flashing lights of an ambulance. It pulled in just before me.

I squealed into the emergency parking lot of the hospital and slammed the car into park. I shoved all my junk into my over-sized jacket and kicked open the door, scanning the lot for familiar cars. Jer wasn’t there? Or did he ride with the van? I disentangled my phone from my pocket and checked messages.

Alma. Alma. Gale. Jer!

-Going to the hospital with Steph-

So he WAS here. I pressed the call button and hurried out of the biting cold into the warmth of the lobby, snowflakes instantly turning to liquid on my hot skin. I waited breathlessly by the door. Jer wasn’t picking up. Dammit! My heart beat was choking me, anxious about damn near everything. My eyes swept over all the faces waiting in the lobby. Not there.When they started to blur I pressed the heels of my hands hard against my sockets and took a deep breath. It’ll be okay. Jer’s here. It’ll be fine. Steph’s in good hands.

I waited in line at the receptions area, shifting from foot to foot. I rapidly responded to the texts blowing up my phone.

Alma: “WTF Jac?! CALL ME YOU ASSHOLE!”

Alma: “OMG!!! STEPH! UPDATE ME!”

Gale: “Just saw the TV honey. Give Steph and Jerry our prayers and love.”

“Can I help you ma’am?”

I swallowed a few times, swiping at the tears in my eyes and leaned down to the clear plastic window at the bored nurse.

“Yes, a man was just admitted into the ER. His name is Stephen and I need to see him right away—”

“Jac.”

My head whipped around at the sound of my name. And then there he was. The face I’d loved for years tense with worry and no trace of his easy smile. But it was a face more familiar than my own. The beauty mark next to his left eye. The creases around his eyes from laughing. Cinnamon brown irises that revealed everything he was feeling, but only to me. Just now they were a storm of emotions and I couldn’t keep up.

A balloon rapidly blew up inside my stomach and floated up through my chest and stopped at my throat, trying to inch its way up and out. It was the same reaction I had when he told me he loved me. Was this PTSD? Panic attack?

No. This didn’t feel bad. It felt wonderful. Jer was here and he was okay.

I didn’t feel my feet hit the floor as I rushed to him. I teleported into his arms and tried to fuse him into my anatomy, burying my face into his chest. His arms went mechanically behind me in a return gesture. I clung like an adult monkey to his torso and squeezed until he grunted. My brain fought over what to say first but I still couldn’t speak. Not about what happened anyway. I was here for a reason.

“They’re doing a CT scan now,” Jer murmured in my ear. “I didn’t see what happened. I was in the locker room when he went down.”

I latched my arms behind him and was silent for a moment. I knew he was beating himself up for not being there.

“Did he tell you anything on the ride?” I managed to squeak out.

“He couldn’t really speak around the oxygen mask. I don’t know anything except he was stabilizing on the ride here.”

We stood there in the lobby wrapped around one another for a long time. Tears leaked out of my eyes and slipped down my cheeks. Tears for what Jer must be feeling and for my own sorry self. I wanted to say I was sorry for putting him through hell. I wanted to explain why I did it more than anything but I didn’t even KNOW that. I wanted to open my mouth and tell him it had been the most horrible week of my life, including pledge week for my sorority and that bad case of food poisoning I got when he tried to cook me rancid scallops.

I could only cling with all my strength. Slowly, he returned the pressure with his arms and laid his chin on my head.

“Goddammit Jer. You asshole,” I cursed softly.

“I know.”

When Jer knocked on the door to alert the nurse on the other side to open it, I was firmly gripping his other hand. He took me to a curtained stall where I saw a pile of Steph’s clothes were on the corner of the bed, neatly folded, his prized sunglasses setting on top and his yellow sneakers waiting down below.

“Do you have any suspicions?” I asked.

I looked up at the tall man and my eyes instantly went to his beauty mark. It always seemed like a bull’s eye for my lips. I would drag his face down to mine and kiss it before he left me for the day. He told me jokingly once he was going to get lip prints tattooed there since I was leaving my lip stick marks there all the time anyway. It was “Jac’s Mark”.

He looked down at me and my pulse leapt, throwing off my breathing rhythm. He probably heard the catch in my voice. Warm Tiger’s eye brown. Red brown honesty tinged with distrust and hurt.

“When we were going to the locker room after warm ups he was going on and on about a weird thing that happened at the bar. I was only half-listening but I did catch that he felt like he’d been running a marathon as soon as he stepped inside.”

“Had he been?” I wondered. This was Steph at after all. If someone dared him he would jog to the next city and back for a beer.

“I don’t know. I was distracted. I didn’t ask.”

I bit my lip and looked away. Passive-aggressive anger. I deserved it. I knew I did but it still hurt. I didn’t say anything else for a while. I stood there like a human statue, gripping Jer’s hand and refusing to let go even when he twitched to signal me to.

“You’re impossible,” Jer said.

Yes, I know, I thought.

He took his phone out and started to speak into it. Probably a mass text to let everyone one we were still waiting. I should have done the same but I didn’t reach for my phone. There was pressuring building inside me and I was focused on it. I felt it bubbling up like a geyser about to blow. What was going to come out? I didn’t even have a clue. There was a week’s worth of big things and little things I wanted to tell Jer about and I wanted to scream at him for being an idiot and ruining things. I wanted to hug him again and tell him it would be alright, that I was there even if it wasn’t.

I wanted–

“You’re in love with me?”

I felt Jer’s gaze shift to my face. It was flaming hot like a sunburn. Why the fuck did I have to start this NOW? Jesus Jac, you ridiculous moron–

“Yes, I am.”

I inhaled slowly and I felt hot warmth behind my eyes again. He squeezed my hand to try to turn my head around to look at him directly but I couldn’t. Not yet.

“Why now?”

“It was time.”

He had all the answers ready. That wasn’t fair. I still had none. There was more tense silence. I could hear my heart beat in my ears and I tried more deep breaths to calm it. What next? What could I say next that was true and honest?

“I–”

“Jac, nothing has changed for me.”

My word vomit hit the brakes. Goose flesh rose off my skin with the effort to hold it back.

“What?”

“Nothing has changed for me by admitting this to you. I’ve felt the same way for years and I’ll continue to do so for a long time. If we remain friends, I’ll still love you. If you decide you’re okay with this, I’ll love you harder and better than anyone ever has or could again. But I’m here with you, no matter what. You are my life, Jac and I will give you all the time you need to figure it out.”

“You would stay,” I asked, “Even if we can’t be more? Isn’t that kind of masochistic?”

“I’m a glutton for punishment. You’re worth it. I’m not going anywhere until you’re done with me.”

God fucking dammit. Everything rested on me now. The ball was in my court entirely and he waited patiently for an answer. He stared down at me, not asking for anything more than I was willing to give. Who DOES that? Who WAITS for someone for years, sitting on a massive secret like this and pretending everything is normal for MY sake because he knew I would flip out? He said it knowing he might lose me.

I slowly loosened my death grip on him and ran two shaky hands through my disheveled hair. Dammit, I thought. DAMMIT! I reached out, finally turning my face fully toward his and I dragged his head down to mine. My lips did not touch the beauty mark this time. They landed with irritation and desperation right on top of his and I heard his sharp intake of breath.

“I have had the most horrible week of my life,” I murmured to him, my lips brushing his while I spoke. “I hate you for putting me through it and I demand compensation.”

“And what is the price for one week of horribleness?”

His hands slid around my back and I saw his mustache elongate, parallel to his lips. He was laughing at me.

“Don’t leave.”

His eyes jumped to mine. Naturally, they were already tearing up. Why break the trend?

“I don’t have answers for you Jerry. Not good ones anyway. But I know that being away from you felt like I was going through the nine circles of Hell and I absolutely hated it.”

I paused, hearing my words and deciding I agreed with them. It wasn’t just emotion talking. It was me. I continued.

“You said you’re willing to give me time to figure it out. I’m going to hold you to that. It might be a long time though.”

“I know. You’re pretty thick in the head when it comes to this kind of thing.”

I pursed my lips at him and he finally gave me his crooked lazy grin. A tiny bit of pressure eased in my chest. There he is. At last.

“Shaddup! That’s the compensation I demand. Give me time.”

“So it’s not a no?”

The hope in his voice sent a fresh wave of goose-flesh down my body.

“It’s not a no.”

“Then I demand compensation as well.”

I raised my eyebrows at him, daring him to be ridiculous. He didn’t say another word. He rushed in and covered my mouth with his in a passionate, rough kiss. He punished me with tenderness and pressure, sliding his hands up to my face to keep me immobile while he nibbled my bottom lip and rolled the tip of his tongue across it to ease the dull ache. He demanded entrance into my mouth and I gave it, too surprised and lost to think about what this meant.

He gave me a week’s worth of frustration and sorrow when he crushed my mouth to his. There was an apology within his kiss when he brushed me so softly it felt like butterfly wings. And there was promise when he drew me close and lined his body up with mine, warming me down to my toes with pleasure.

Goddammit.

My lips felt tingly and bruised when he finally pulled away. I tried to focus disoriented eyes on him and frowned when I saw his smirk.

“You asshole!”

“That was my compensation. And maybe a little persuasion. A taste of what you could have.”

I turned away from him, face burning again, eyes bulging. My hand came up to cup my mouth holding the feeling of his promise against them. My other hand reached back toward him and he took it. We stayed like that until the curtain was drawn open and a harried looking doctor walked in holding a clip board. He looked at us and blinked. I wasn’t sure what he saw but he managed to keep his composure.

“Jeremiah?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“The patient said I should relay everything to you so you can alert his family.”

I took a step back so I was shoulder to shoulder with Jer, giving him strength as his best friend to hear whatever news came. We held tight.

“It turns out that the patient has been diagnosed with WPW, or Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.”

I looked up at Jer, who nodded. He knew what it was. He also looked relieved which allowed me to finally take a deep breath.

“He doesn’t require surgery then?”

“No, not yet. We’ll try medication and Vagal Maneuvers first and work up from there.”

“I can work on it with him. Thank you Doctor. Is he free to be discharged?”

“It’ll take a bit of paper work on my end but he can go home today, yes. Make sure he rests.”

The doctor exited the curtained stall and I immediately shifted around to hug Jer.

“Relief!” I said, sighing.

“In more than one way.”

I blushed and smiled into his chest.

“There’s one more thing though,” Jer said and I felt my shoulders sag. I waited for the other shoe to drop.

“Steph said when I talked to you again you owe him a box of coconut macaroons.”

I burst out laughing.

“He can have all the macaroons he wants! Idiot man. He might get a poisoned one though for what he put us through.”

“Maybe lace it with a laxative. It’s what he deserves after all.”

I laughed until my abs ached. This was Us. This was how life was supposed to be. Side by side with our lives stretched out before us. Who knew that it took something more than words to make me figure out it was what I wanted all along?

 

More than Words– Part 4 (#7)

Part 1 HERE  Part 2 HERE  Part 3 HERE

5 minutes till game time. My kitchen was clean, the trash was taken out and I took a record breaking short shower. 12 texts from Alma, demanding to know why she hadn’t been informed of my sickness. 1 text from Gale, making sure I really didn’t need anything. Nothing else on my phone though. Even though it had been with me in the bathroom where I could hear it clearly, I still checked. Dammit.

I sat back on the sofa, brushing my hair, the TV remote in my lap. My blanket would be done by half time. Rather, the blanket I stole from Jer would be done. It was the blanket that started me on the path to being an Registered Dietitian for a sports team. It was a “lucky” blanket now, forever immortalized in my mind and forever on the “do not throw away” list (much to Jer’s relief I imagine. It WAS his favorite after all.)

I was not a football fan by any means growing up. My mother was a die hard Packers fan. She had the Farve jersey, the cheese head and everything. While she hollered and screamed at the refs, I would hibernate in my room with head phones in, blasting music whenever a game was on, happily oblivious. I only came out for snacks. The first thing I said when I stepped foot in my dorm room at college was “THANK GAWD NO MORE FOOTBALL!”

Jer laughed at me hearing this. I didn’t know it was a sadistic laugh until later.

He figured out early on in the friendship that I would basically do anything for food. Every time a game would come on he wanted to watch he would try to convince me to watch too. Always it started out being a firm “NO” with me. I would rather do Calculus than watch grown men chase after an elongated brown ball and I despised math. My mustachioed friend would try to bribe me or threaten me sometimes but he knew he could always get me to agree with a good snack platter. Food was my downfall. So shameful.

Plus, it was Jer. Being with him was second nature.

In the early days, it was awful watching football on his little TV and being completely oblivious. Nothing made sense to me, no matter how much Jerry tried to explain. But he was a die-hard fan and so I became an honorary fan by extension as his best friend. He made me wear the fleece Lion’s blanket every game to mask my “unhealthy dislike of his future career prospects”. He thought I might absorb some football appreciation from it or something. He had some weird superstitions.

One day before a game while wrapped in his stinky blanket we were talking about his career and he had mentioned possibly getting a minor in Nutrition.

I laughed at him.

“Seriously Jer? You cook vegetable soup every night for dinner. EVERY night unless I cook for you. Your team would hate you.”

The look on his face made me laugh. It was sad puppy mixed with indignant playful man. I swear only he could pull it off and be handsome and adorable at the same time.

“Leave my soup alone! It’s healthy and satisfying.”

“Whatever you say, darling.” I tried to keep the smirk off my lips and failed. He sighed dramatically for my benefit.

“It’s NUTRITIOUS Jac and it’s tasty.”

“Kale is NOT tasty.”

He ignored me.

“Career-wise it never hurts to have more knowledge. I need to take care of my future team on and off the field and learning to keep them on track with their diet helps achieve this goal. Besides, I would just be advising, not actually cooking. Leave that to a dietitian.”

I gave him a sarcastic look and watched him flick more chili lime popcorn into his mouth. He raised his eyebrows at me, waiting for my rebuttal.

“Plumber has a leaky faucet. Nutritionist has a limited diet?”

“Impossible woman.”

He tossed a kernel at me and I snorted, feeling I had won the battle and grinning accordingly.

During the game while he was engrossed, I researched careers in nutrition and educated myself on earning the Dietitian degree. It was supposed to be for Jer’s sake but my interest was more than just peaked by the end. I was enraptured by the possibilities.

“It would be kinda cool to be an RD,” I admitted a loud, over Jer’s mumbling about flags and unnecessary roughness. “For you and I to be on the same team with our careers. Athletic trainer and Dietitian Besties. We would see each other every day!”

“We already do,” he said, only half listening while he watched. I nudged him with my foot and demanded his attention. I got a half glance for three seconds.

“But we could travel together. We could wrangle gorilla men like people from the circus! Crack the whips. I like being bossy. It might be fun.”

He made affirmative noises and then started absently massaging my foot, absorbed in the tv. I sighed and pursed my lips. Impossible indeed.

“In the off season, I can consult with restaurants on their menus and teach children about health and proper diet. It sounds pretty amazing.”

“Yep. Sure does. Go for it Jacquie.”

I was already learning to become a chef anyway. It was what I was going to school for. This made my career choice broaden quite a bit and it sounded so appealing. I could take my job anywhere and didn’t have to be stuck behind a counter at a restaurant. I could educate people and cook and travel. So much win.

I talked to my counselor that week and we made a plan to alter my major and that was that. Why wouldn’t I follow Jer into a sport I disliked and cook for a bunch of stinky, ball toting behemoth lug heads? Duh.

Of course I would.

Why?

3 minutes.

With an irritated sigh I powered on the TV. I had no discipline. My heart tapped an erratic rhythm against my ribs while the commentators rambled on about team updates and player bios. My eyes were glued to the screen. I couldn’t seem to help it. I scoured the snippets of field shots they showed, backing up my DVR to see if I could see him. AT’s don’t usually get much air time unless there was an injury but Jer always said he would try to wave at me from the field if there was live coverage.

My head grew annoyed at my heart for being ridiculous and my heart railed at my head for being so…well, pig-headed. I leaned against the cushions and huffed at myself. Impossible.

“And here’s the coin toss–!”

_______________________________________________________________

More than Words – (Part 3) #7

(Part #1 HERE) (Part #2 HERE)

In the very beginning of our friendship, that first summer in fact, Jac put a muzzle on me. She told me that if I were to ever fall in love with her that I had to keep it to myself. She couldn’t know about it or everything would be ruined. I was taken aback by her sudden request. Who even says that kind of thing? I was alarmed until she followed it with a cheeky smile and I raspberried her, waved her off, sure it would never come to that.

What I didn’t know until later was that it had happened before. A good friend of hers had confessed his love for her but she didn’t feel the same way. She thought he would be able to deal with her rejection and be cool. Turned out not to be the case. The friendship became strained and they couldn’t talk anymore without fighting. Eventually the relationship died out. She muzzled me as a precaution, afraid it would happen again, but neither of us really thought it would need to be employed.

Until I fell in love with her of course.

It was around the time she was dating a guy she was pretty serious about. We were freshmen in college then, young and free from parental control and she had a long queue of guys after her. I didn’t understand then the burning feeling in my chest was jealousy. My experience with girls until Jac had been pitifully short. I ignored the ache because I knew Jac would always be with me, no matter what fool tried to take her away. #Bestiesforlife. That’s just how close we were.

Once I realized what was going on though, I felt that I didn’t have enough romantic influence over her to make her leave her boyfriend for me. Friend-zoned for the win. It became a painful cross to bear when she came to me sobbing because of her break up one night. There was nothing I could do though in the face of her tears. Words wouldn’t work. So I hugged her and bought her pints of ice cream and a box of tissues. It’s what best friends did.

“You know, I’m an Athletic Trainer, technically. I know a body’s weak points. Wouldn’t be to much trouble to debilitate him and make it look like natural causes.”

She laughed weakly and wiped her nose again, giving me a pathetic, watery smile.

“I could poison him with Belladonna and you could hide the body.”

“There you go. Team work!”

I could have told Jac that night. I could have made her forget that her heart had ever been hurt over the mongrel. “I LOVE YOU.” That’s all it would take. But it would have been a hollow victory. I wouldn’t do that to her on the heels of a bad break up. Plus such a declaration would most certainly push her away from me and that was the last thing I wanted. So I remained muzzled.

I stroked her hair as she curled beside me under our favorite fleece Detroit Lions blanket and let her soak my shirt with her tears, holding my tongue. She didn’t see it but my heart bled all over her that day and stained her. She had it all now. My blood, sweat, tears and now my heart. She had become, in so short a time, my life’s purpose. Whatever else happened to me, I had to keep this woman by my side.

“I’m sorry Jerry,” she sighed, on the verge of sleep with her puffy eyes and chapped lips. “I love you. What would I do without you?”

She never had to find out. Not for the next 5 years. I was there for everything, internalizing my agony over every new boyfriend and suppressing my jealousy with my own attempts at dating. It never ended well because Jac was still #1 for me. No woman likes to be told she’s second best. So I made the decision to be alone and focus on my career, being content as the best friend. Until now. I don’t know why I did it now. Maybe I couldn’t hold it in anymore. Maybe I thought the risk of losing her was worth her finally knowing.

I turned my face up to the iron skies above the stadium and let the snow flakes sting my skin. What are you doing without me now Jac? It was strange not to know. Between us there were hundred of texts a day when we weren’t together. Small things like what we had for breakfast to what we thought about global warming. The radio silence from her was killing me. But I couldn’t think about it too often; my anxiety would flare. Staying busy was my only sanctuary.

“Ready champ?”

Steph set a hand against my shoulder and pushed, breaking my day dream and my balance.

I saw the team and coaches start to head to the locker room to dress and I nodded, trying to get my head into the game. I jogged along beside Steph, half listening to his story about his crazy night at the bar last week while I made a mental list of injuries I needed to ice and rub out.

In the locker room I set my phone in my locker and snapped the lock in place. There. Then I turned to the fridge and started to dole out ice packs and do my job. Focus. Focus…