If I see it, it shall Crack

If I see it, it shall crack.

If I touch it, it shall break.

 

I thought my walls were mortared brick. Barbed wire and galvanized steel. I watched you at the base of them, staring up. You, this skinny waif. What could you do? I’d rain acid on you and you stood there unmoving. I’d send volleys of sticks and stones and you endured, sloughing off the debris with a shrug of your bony shoulders.

When you reached your hand out, I held my breath. You looked at me and I cannot fathom what you saw but I exhaled when you lowered it again. Always with relief. You can’t do that.

Don’t do that.

You told me stories, juggling words and images like a jester. My lips stretched into a smile while we played together far apart, you looking up and me looking down. I didn’t notice, or maybe I pretended not to notice, but my line of vision narrowed to the exclusion of everything else.

You were rooted inches from me; like the trees you were so fond of and you insisted you had no desire to leave. Why would you, you asked. You had sunlight and shade and rain all in one place. You would grow strong here. Not could. Would.

What? Don’t say those things.

I couldn’t keep you. Don’t you see?

You showed me bright flowers. Spots of lovely color down on your level of the world. You pointed out furry fauna in the distance and I became enamored with the look of innocent merriment on your face. I opened my mouth and colors would come out to swirl around you and make you smile. Sometimes to make you cringe and I regretted those times. Regretted relying on you so much but I couldn’t help it. You listened and sympathized and I craved your wisdom; that of an old man thrice your age.

You coaxed me down from my parapet, step by reluctant step. Damn you. I didn’t even notice.

 

I always thought I was the flame.

Seeing you in front of me, I understand now I was the moth.

 

If I see it, it shall crack.

One day, after a long and painful and wonderful dance between us, I reached for you. I unlocked the door at the bottom and I pushed it open slowly, hand trembling, storms and tempests forgotten. I leaned against the door and closed my eyes, taking a breath before proceeding. I willed your hand to raise to me again. I promise I’ll catch it this time!

My heart was in my throat. It throbbed, adding to the desperation to get them out. But for a second, when I caught your eye and opened my lips to speak the pulsating words that would set us free, you looked away– For a moment, you turned away, distracted by a flash of color beyond my vision. It wasn’t the first time but this was the most important time.

If I touch it, it shall break

Everything shattered. Not brick and steel but the most delicate of glass, the bell jar that had been surrounding us until now, keeping us cocooned in our intimate dance. It rained down on us, cutting skin and making me scream. Not from pain. How DARE you look away?! Love turned to scorn in a flash and I flung my scorched blood in your eyes when you turned back around, bewildered and scared.

I tried to take a step. I don’t remember if it was forward of back but your hands flung open the door. They stopped me. I heard something snap and I gasped, vision blurred as the world went soft.

Oh God…

Not on the outside, but on the inside. It wasn’t bone or a muscle. Something intangible. I was flooded with molten sunlight like a break in the thunder clouds. It was then that I knew that if you started to walk away from me, I would have crawled over the shattered glass of my own making, naked on my belly, shredding my outer person to ribbons if it meant I could follow you.

Not that you would let me. No, you didn’t let me walk the path of pain in pursuit of you. Not now, not then. You would rather I walk across you as a bridge than harm myself further. Instead, you brought my face up to yours and breathed life into me, waking up seeds long dead and whispering to them in a secret language I barely remember.

You grew happiness in me and it bloomed slowly into something bright and real. Vibrant petals that shyly opened their faces to you. Fluorescent pink, speckled orange, palest beautiful yellow. Colors you waited for.

You, with your patience and your scars. You, whom I could not take my eyes off of, even sitting atop my walls. I was the arrow and you were my magnet, pointing steadfast north. I didn’t wiggle or waver such was your pull for me.

If I touch it, it shall break.

It wasn’t you that broke. I assumed it would be you because I’m me and that’s what I do. I hold things tightly and I break them. But you are deceptively strong. Your bones are thin but they are steel and your heart beats valiantly for the adventure ahead of us. You hold my hand confidently but when I want to run back to my tower, you let me because you know I’ll come back to you. The face you show me shines with hope and I’ve become addicted to it.

You dodged past my cynicism and doubt and you broke me with your gentleness. I lay comfortable in your arms now, surrounded by color and the tendrils of love wrap around us, binding us gently but firmly.

“I love you.”

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Our First Dump: what we grew out of the manure

“My gawd our first house was a dump,” I said from the floor as Mikhail passed by on his way out back.

He paused and knelt to look over my shoulder, fingertips caressing my neck and slipping under my neckline to brush over the swell of my breast. Cheeky monkey.

“Good memories there for sure,” he agreed, his tone playful.

I smirked up at him, a flash of passion igniting between us. Wrinkles and all, we still had it.

“Indeed. If those walls could talk. Or the floor. Or the counter tops…”

My fingers gripped the shiny pages of one of the photo albums I was searching through  and a picture had caught my attention. It was an unflattering shot of a dingy beige one bedroom house with falling apart rain gutters, cobb-webby, over grown hedges, a broken up walk way and a dirt driveway half laid with brick. One window had been broken, probably by some stupid kids on a dare, and there was a sizable hole in the roof right in the living room.

It was dirt cheap, a bank foreclosure on the market for years and marked down to practically nothing. There was so much wrong with it that the work needed to make it livable would have cost about as much as buying a newer home. It was in the middle of a spread out cul du sac, the ugly pimple of a house on a street of roughly polished jewels. The neighborhood had probably come up around that little shack of a house it looked so old and outdated.

I wanted it immediately, much to the chagrin of my husband.

“You’re crazy Jen! We can’t live there. Not even the Munsters would live there.”

It was everything we weren’t looking for. Small, one bedroom, next to people on the city outskirts and a massive fixer-upper. We couldn’t even move into it immediately because it needed to be re-roofed and fumigated first. What sold me though was that it was on an acre of land. Uncultivated weed and rock strewn potential with a chain link fence property line. I stood there and my mind soared with possibilities. Bonus was that it was near to the university Mik wanted to work at.

When I went into the realtor and placed my bid on the decrepit property, I could see the surprise and the relief on the agent’s face. One less ugly duckling to try to foist off on people. As soon as I’d gotten the call that the house was ours, I drove myself over to the bank and had gotten a line of credit to start making improvements immediately. And then my life was consumed with Auto Cad, tape measures, floor plans, building materials, phone calls and negotiations with contractors while trying to decide what to unpack at the rental, living out of boxes and settling my husband into his new job and learning a new town.

I flipped through the detailed photographs of the interior, the before and after photos and I paused to admire our handy work. Mik and I, we were good together. We had similar taste profiles when it came to decorating and color schemes. We loved the idea of trying to bring the outdoors in so we had a lot of natural tones inside with pops of bright color to break up the monotony. Forest green with orange, butter yellow with lily pink, celestial purple and chocolate bronzy brown.

“Remember this Mik? This was our first argument ever I think.” I pointed to a painting that took pride of place above our couch.

“The Pesky Flower Painting. I remember that day. Belligerent red-head.”

I’d bid on it an an auction that we happened upon one day while furniture shopping. We barely had any walls up at the time so shopping for decor was pointless but I liked to look anyway to get inspiration and ideas. The piece had been done in oil paints and it was two feet tall by three feet wide. It was impressionistic in style with florals but had deep bold colors and large round flowers. It was so very unlike the Monet copy cats I’d seen everywhere with their chinzy sweet pea vines and pastel lotus blossoms floating on blue-green ponds.

It was still generic, I admit. Something even I could have painted with a little effort and time. And it didn’t really suit our breezy au natural decor. But, like the house, I had to have it. It had been done by a local artist who apparently had a fan base in town. I got into a bidding war with another woman over it. Mik had attempted to reason with me about it, trying to focus my attention back to the task at hand and let it go. The amount of money this stupid painting was getting from me was ridiculous and something my budget really couldn’t afford.

But I always got what I wanted, be it husband, house or painting.

“It’s for a good cause Mik,” I snapped, when he tried to tug my numbered paddle away playfully. “We’re supporting our community.”

“Seriously Jen. You don’t need it. Let it go.”

“Mikhail!”

My sparky green eyes met his stubborn brown and I resolutely held my paddle up for the next bid increment: $375. When his lips pursed and his thick brows came down, I knew I’d irked him. He walked out of the hall and I stayed to watch the artist sign the painting in front of me, not really hearing what she was saying. I glanced at the other woman bidder and she stuck her nose up in the air at me.

Well okay. No one was going to be happy with me that day apparently.

The painting had started a love of hand made art in us as a couple though, after Mik had gotten over the exorbitant amount I’d spent on it. Whenever we traveled I sought out pieces to add to our collection; pieces somewhat more interesting and unique than the “Pesky Flower Painting” as we’d come to call it.

It had started another tradition between us as well and I smiled as I turned to a page that had nothing on it but a single photograph, a dried pressed flower and a rectangle of white card stock with my loopy cursive written on it. The photograph showed nothing but a freshly churned acre of smelly manure filled dirt at the back of the house and a large white basket sitting on a broken chair with balloons tied to it.

I felt bad about the painting. I get crazy obsessed some times and there’s no stopping me. Mik tries to tame the beast sometimes and sometimes I even listen. I didn’t commit a grievous sin this time but I still wanted to make up for it. Plus the stress of juggling a new job, unpacking, contractors and family had us both fraying around the edges. We needed something for us, to reconnect.

So I spent more money.

But this was money I had set aside in the budget already that my dear patient husband didn’t know about. It was a surprise I had intended to spring on him when the house was more finished but after seeing how much he was taking on, I thought I’d move the time line up a bit. All I had to do was have him to be gone for a weekend and that didn’t take too much convincing on my part. He was very close-knit with his family.

I had to fit the newly hired contractors around the plumbers and the carpenters but lucky for me, chain link fences were easy to mow down and the workers didn’t really impede with each other all that much. I talked with a man in a polo shirt and jeans and showed him a few drawings I’d cobbled together from my conversations with Mik. For $30 an hour he gave me his professional opinion and a list of trustworthy resources that would give me good prices if I dropped his name. When I told him I needed it done in a weekend, he paused only for a moment and then immediately got on his cell.

“Hey, Paul, I got a client who needs a quick job done for the week-end…”

I ordered sub sandwiches and ice-cold lemonade for the workers and watched from my newly roofed house as my brand new fence was installed. I did some work on my lap top while dump trucks hauled off dirt and then brought more dirt in, along with a healthy pile of manure which had me seeking the relaxing environment of a coffee house near by for a good portion of one day. I spent another half a day scowling at google maps as it led me on wild goose chases through towns that didn’t even have a dot on the map and huge cities I got hopeless lost in.

I barely heard the navigator over my stream of cussing and horn honking.

But I did not come back home in vain. I did have my white basket and my balloons and it had been filled with colorful goodies and ugly dingy lumps in plastic bags and glossy packets fanned out artistically over tools with my cheesy note on top of it all. I set it on a broken chair that morning and watched as the last of my $1500 budget rolled away and the final piece of fence was put into place.

I took one picture and waited for Mik to come home, spending the time picking out a cute but sexy sun dress and arranging my hair back from my face. The better to kiss him with, my dear. I had a picnic lunch ready for us to eat on a makeshift table (home-made pizza, of course) and floor pillows in what was going to be our living room.

He knew something was up when he pulled into the drive way and I was waiting for him by the front door, all smiles and sexiness. Or it could have been the heavy manure smell. I didn’t let him question me. I can’t lie worth a damn. I stood on tip toe and pulled one of his tie around his eyes, blocking his view.

“Really Jen? There are workers all around still you know. I’m sure their noise would mask yours but–”

“Hey you pudd I’m not a horn dog ALL the time!”

He smiled and my heart pooled into a gooey puddle in my rib cage. That gap-toothed grin made me fall in love with him all over and over again. I slid my arm around his waist and led him carefully through the studs that were framing our walls, nudging tools away from his big feet.

“I smell pizza,” he said upon entering the living room.

“Really? THAT was the first thing you smelled?”

“Well no.” He swiveled and ducked his head down to breathe in the scent of my hair. “The first thing I smelled was my lovely wife and she has the best smell in the world after a long trip away from home.”

Guh. So much love for this man.

“Pizza is a close second though.”

“Don’t worry. I told Pizza you loved it and you’d come home soon. It didn’t miss you too badly.” I pulled him to stand in front of the sliding glass door leading to the back yard (soon to be replaced with a glass pane door) and I pressed myself against his back, relishing the feel of him in my arms.

I could have this all the time now. I didn’t have to wait months at a time to feel his warmth against me. I didn’t have to squeeze as much love and memories as I could into a weekend and then fly back to the reality of my life. Mik was mine now; my husband. My life mate. We were living together and only a few steps away from a cuddle or a kiss. Sometimes the thought was so overwhelming I cried.

“I love you Mikhail.”

His hands caressed my arms side to side, comforting and waiting for me to settle again.

“I love you too Jeniveve.”

I reluctantly let go and stood in front of him again, sliding my fingertips up his face and pulling his head down for a sweet soft kiss. Then I opened the doors, gagging on the shit smell, and carefully led him outside.

“Jen, what did you do?”

‘Welcome home, my beloved.”

I took the blind fold off and watched his face as he took it all in. The new fencing around the property, tall enough to keep prying eyes away. The mounds of fresh dirt, landscaped into pleasant rolling hills around the property, creating curve and depth and texture. The ground churned deeply and sown with fertilizer to accommodate whatever plants we were going to grown there.

“We can put our little tea gazebo there maybe,” I said, pointing to the far corner of the yard. “And a fountain there. Or there. Maybe a pond if you want. I have a little room for my herb garden here on the trellis by the kitchen window. See? Oh! And there’s a plot for the green house. I made it extra big for you.”

My husband wasn’t one given to exclamation point feelings. He didn’t burst out laughing or gasp with surprise as I did. He stood there, taking it all in and I could see the wheels turning in his head. I tried to be patient and let him absorb it all. I tired not to worry that I’d done it all wrong and it was terrible and nothing like how he wanted it. After all, my memory had a culmination of years of discussions regarding our first garden. Did I get it wrong? Had he changed his mind, seeing it all now?

“Jen–”

“Here!”

I gestured to the basket and he glanced down at it. The balloons said “Congrats!” and “Welcome Home!” on them. Inside were a two pairs of gloves, his and hers, a set of trowels, dozens of seed packets and bags of bulbs, some which I had hoarded that year from the Breck’s catalog, taking note of which flowers he’d been mooning over, and some found at nurseries all over the county. There were tulip bulbs his mother had given me from back at his home and a cutting of the very first Coleus I’d ever grown from seed. There were tiny seedling succulents native to California where I was from and in the middle of it all a fat purple dahlia plant, the exact type and shade as the one in the Pesky Flower Painting. On this was my note, which read “Let’s plant roots together. The first of many.”

So cheesy, I know. But it’s us.

He wordlessly drew me into a hug and we stayed there for a long time, saying nothing. I don’t know if he cried. His face was pressed tightly against my head but his heart never faltered from its steady rhythm. The Pizza was stone cold by the time we’d roused ourselves. I almost missed when he whispered in my ear.

“Thank you for being my home Jeni.”

I smiled, a little teary, and replied, “Always. As long as we both shall live.”

See, the painting had been the start of one of MY dreams; to own my own home with my loving husband and fill it with our shared accomplishments. To have stories of our travels together and photo albums full of memories. To me the paintings represented the end of an era and the reward for our years of waiting and long distance traveling to see each other. We had things TOGETHER now. Granted we didn’t exactly buy the painting together but it was the first thing I hung in our first house and the first place we made love was on the couch underneath it.

But the garden for Mik was HIS dream realized. Other than me, of course. My dream was always on the inside. His was on the outside. He’d talked about planting gardens across America, leaving a legacy of greenery behind him. Not just him though. US. Planting seeds and sowing roots and watching patiently together as they grew. Getting our hands dirty in the soil side by side. Sharing the responsibility of watering and weeding and fertilizing. Watching as the flowers slowly bloomed, another reward for all the hard work and patience.

Gardening and Jeni, his two dreams coming together as one. A home with Mik, my dream realized at last. 15 years, 8 houses, 3 book shops, one tiny house trailer, and 10 different cities we’d lived together and we were still going strong.

I shut the photo album and lunged in to bite my husband’s neck, gently scraping my teeth over the sensitive skin.

“Hey there,” he murmured, settling next to me and sneaking his cool fingers underneath the hem of my shirt. The tips traced the edge of my pants and I gave a cheeky smile.

“Haven’t you sown enough seed for one day you ol’ Jack rabbit?”

“Never is enough with you. I don’t think the neighbors heard us the first time.”

“Damn. Gotta fix that then,” I said and invited him in for a deep kiss.

Quickie #13 A-MEOW-sing

PROMPT: What is one thing you couldn’t have as a child that you have gotten yourself as an adult? 

A cat.

As a kid, I never really owned a pet. We tried to keep several cats (usually ones that my sister and I rescued from bushes and gutters) but our landlords didn’t allow us to keep them. Forget dogs. They were even more noticeable than cats and my mom had a fear of dogs, having been bitten by one as a child.

I tried hard for a bunny a couple times. They could be kept in a cage and they didn’t make sounds. I was shot down. Non-negotiable. (Likely because mom knew SHE would be the one cleaning the cage and stuff.) There were no hamsters or guinea pigs or rats (which are SUPER CUTE!!) I made do with visiting other people’s animals.

Even as an early adult in my 20’s I was a broke red neck so we couldn’t afford an animal. Food and litter yes, but not vet bills and shots and any medical problems it may have. It took me until I got into my 30’s to get a cat. I originally wanted a dog because they’re slightly more fun and hardy with two young girls around. But my husband was very much against getting a dog. Cats basically take care of themselves.

I rescued her, naturally, from an animal shelter. I didn’t actually PLAN on doing it. I didn’t physically pick her out and go meet her and play with her and take her home because it was a conscious choice. She just kind of…happened, as these things do.

My Lily Blossom Jewel. (The kids named her, lol.)

We have a thrift store down here that is owned by SPARC, Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center. It wasn’t the shelter I volunteered at but it was still a shelter and every weekend they set up a few cages inside the shop with cats and dogs up for adoption. All of them spayed or neutered, chipped and had their first shots. I had wandered in because of the pit bulls outside ( SOOO CUUTEEEEEEEE) and I was in search of some new reading material (as always.)

I played with the bitty baby kittens, all spiky fluff and milk teeth. I had already decided I did NOT want a kitten as a first animal. Litter training and shots and claws in the ankle at midnight. No thanks. So they were fun to play with but not to take home. I was immune to their charms. Then I turned around and found this gorgeous black prince of a cat—laying in his litter box. I burst out laughing and he turned his head to look at me like like “WHAT? Crazy lady!” Poor thing looked so lost.

Ohhh he was magnetic though. Long glorious black hair, big yellow eyes and his name was Gerry.

(Side story: my friend L who lives in New York has two black cats named Kismet and Karma. She’s convinced that she’s going to marry Gerard Butler so when I saw the big black cat named Gerry, I thought of her and how perfect it would be for me to have him.)

I almost got him. $20 and he was mine.

I called reinforcements to try and deter me from picking this cat up so I called my bestie/cousin Rebecca and begged her to come down and walk me away from this gorgeous creature. She met me at a local pizza place and we discussed it. She wasn’t much help because she volunteered at the shelter too. Yay adoption! Okay. Last resort. I called my husband and asked permission, hoping he’d say NO.

“Do what you think is best.”

Ugh. Seriously? Making me be a responsible adult and decide for myself?

I walked Becky and myself back down to the thrift store and showed her the one I wanted. She agreed he was glorious and he would make a good pet for the girls. Kinda derpy and calm and fluffy. (He was still in his litter box.) The hair balls though…

“Oh Jessie look at this one. She looks like Harrison!”

I perked up, tearing my eyes away from my almost cat. “Harrison?”

This was the first cat I fell in love with at the shelter. He was a muddled brown and orange striped tabby with beautiful green eyes and a dignified old man chin. As soon as he saw me come in to the play area he would come right out of his hidey hole, his long whippy tail straight up in the air in greeting. He was shy, but always came out for a cuddle when it was me. He was also 14 years old.

I couldn’t bring myself to adopt him. I couldn’t bear it if I could only keep him for a year or two. My heart would break and my girls would be traumatized. So I let him go to a nice caring family that would love him to the end of his days. But this new cat in the cage with Gerry could have been Harrison’s daughter. She had the same stripey muddled fur. She had two different colored paws in front, one brown and one orange. And she was sleeping amid the chaos in “Meat loaf mode”. (You know, when cats tuck their paws up underneath their chest when they lay down so they look all round like a meat loaf?) She also had a slight harelip which made her look like she was permanently snarling or curling her lip in disgust at these petty human beings. OMG. So damn adorable!

My kind of cat.

And then she started coughing and I’m like ‘ohhhh gawd what’s wrong with her? I can’t get an already sick cat.’ While I sat and debated this huge decision, Becky had struck up a conversation with a lady who, apparently, was the director of SPARC and knew her already because of her social media posts for the dogs. Becky was an advocate for a tri-paw pittie named Bullet.

“Hey Jessie guess what? If you adopt a cat, you can get it for free because you’re my cousin and I know people!”

Oh what the fuh—-

“You were supposed to convince me NOT to adopt!”

She shrugged and grinned.

“I can’t take you ANYWHERE. Seriously. I’ll take her though please and thank you.”

The female Harrison looked up at me for the first time with big yellow eyes and I’m like, Yep. Mine.

“Great!”

Back then her name was Brooke. There was a flurry of activity where this poor cat was taken from her cage, pushed into my arms for a picture, both of us freaking out, and then put into a cardboard box for transportation. I signed some paper work and then—that was it. I had a cat, 1 years old named Brooke. She said nary a word on the short drive to my house. I kept looking at Becky, thinking the cat had died of shock or something. Don’t cats usually meow or something, at least in protest?

Becky carried in the cat into my room while I rounded up the girls for a group meeting. My husband merely shook his head at the computer desk and ignored us. He knew I would get a cat. If I want it, I get it.

“Okay. I have a surprise for you. But you can’t freak out or you’ll scare her.”

They immediately zero’d in on the box and Becky opened the top of it so they could see the cat for the first time. They were almost vibrating with excitement but also trying not scare our new pet.

“Can we keep her mom?”

“Yes. She’s ours. She needs a better name though. What are we going to name her?”

On the drive over I told Becky I was betting on them picking “Rainbow Heart Jewel” or “Lily Blossom.”

“Um how about…”

Yeah. Do I know my kids or what? “Lily Blossom Jewel.” Now I typically have beef with people that name their animals human names. Naming a pet Bailey or Charlie or Bella just annoys me. Be more original please! But Lily was also a flower, one of my favorites, so I thought it was acceptable.

While the girls tried to figure out the whole cat thing, coaxing her out of the carrier so they could pet her, I found a box and lined it thickly with blankets, putting it in a quiet corner of the room. And then my husband came in to check on everything.

“How much?” he asked.

“Free!” I chirped happily. “Becky knows some people.”

He peeked into the box and nodded. I could already hear his objections. Another mouth to feed. Medication and flea treatments. Shots and emergency vet bills. Another expense we can’t afford. I hesitated and then suggested that Becky and I go get stuff for Lily. Food and a litter box and stuff. Which just proved his point.

We left and I felt a little guilty buying her necessities but it all melted away when I got home and Lily immediately came out of her hiding place under the bed, tail up in the air (just like Harrison) and proceeded to lay on my feet, purring like mad as if she knew she found a home at last. I looked at Becky and started to cry. She hugged me and started to cry a little too. She’d forgotten what it was like to get an animal for the first time since she’d been raised with cats her whole life.

My cat. My very first cat. A childhood dream come true at last. Who wouldn’t cry?

Turns out I wasn’t the only one affected by Lily’s presence in the home.

My oldest daughter, Moira, was diagnosed with high-functioning Autism at an early age. She has social/emotional issues and one of the treatments suggested was actually an emotional support animal. This was why I wanted a dog initially. The change in her was instantaneous. She stopped crying in class. She was able to focus and calm herself down a little better. She was suddenly a jabber jaw and only wanted to talk about her new cat. Her speech teacher was flabbergasted.

Like, holy CRAP kind of instantaneous.

My other daughter was kind of meh about the whole thing after awhile. Lily didn’t bond with Cassidy as much as with Moira and I. She slept on my bed and Moira’s but rarely on Cassidy’s bed. I long suspected animals can tell when people are “different” though.

She affected my husband last. He did it when he thought I wasn’t looking. He leaned over our bed where she was laying down and he slowly ran a hand down her head, all the way down her back and called her “His Princess”, an affectation he usually saved for his girls.

And that was it.

Lily has been ours for the last three years. We discovered she’s allergic to fleas and grain based food. She loves shiny craft puff balls better than any other toy. She isn’t really affected by cat nip and she is a huge talker. Constantly yelling at us to pet her or play or pay attention. She tries to act like the big kitty on campus some times and intimidate the other cats in the neighborhood but she’s really a coward. A lover not a fighter.

I haven’t seen her climb a tree, ever. She likes to go for walks! Especially at night. She’ll follow me to the mail box and we’ll do a couple laps around the house together so she can play Mighty Hunter Kitty in the bushes. She snores when she sleeps and her fur is extremely soft in the winter but turns into a wire bristle brush in summer, comparatively. She still hates being picked up but she’ll tolerate it a little more now. She hates kisses.

My first cat, Lily Blossom Jewel.

The Green Knight (Part #1)

Whatever he touched, grew.

Seeds, bulbs, out of season fruit, clearance bin brown weeds in cracked pots, dying trees set out on the side of the road and notoriously difficult plants to keep alive, like african violets and bonsais. If it could grow, then it would, under his care. That was how met him actually. They were in line at Lowe’s in the gardening department. She had one solitary succulent in a pretty pot. Behind her was a tall, clean-cut man who had a cart full of nothing but brown dying plants and some soil.

“You give new meaning to the Green Knight,” the lady commented, looking down into the cart and whistling impressively.

“Pardon?” His dark brows came together in confusion. The bangles on her wrists tinkled as she shifted her pot from one arm to the other. He saw a flash of a colorful tattoo under her flowing dress. She looked up at him with a friendly grin, a strand of her flamingo pink hair blew in front of her face.

“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” she explained. “A famous poem about King Arthur’s nephew and a fairy named Bertilak.” She said it as if everyone should know what she was talking about. “About testing a man’s virtue and the truth of his word.” When the dark-haired man continued to stare silently at her she cleared her throat and gestured to his cart. “Annywaayyy are you really going to try bring those back to life? They already have one root in the grave by the looks of it.”

He blinked, trying to catch up, but nodded to the last bit. Sir Gawain? Bertilak? Who talks like that? He couldn’t decide if she was flirting or genuinely being friendly. Or a know-it-all trying to impress him.

“That’s a type of magic then. I even kill these things,” she said, lifting the succulent mournfully. “They’re so pretty and graceful when they’re alive.”

Finally a response spurred his mouth into action. It came out a little more harsh than he intended but he did want to know.

“Then why do you keep trying?”

She shrugged, making more tinkling noise. One of her dangly silver earrings caught on the neck of her dress and she shook her head to dislodge it, wincing as it pulled. She was like a living fairy orchestra or something. She made noise with every movement. It wasn’t unpleasant though.

“Practice makes perfect?” she guessed with a chuckle. “I don’t know really. Just that I like having something alive in the house besides my cat.  I had plants growing up as a kid but never seemed to be able to take care of them myself. When I kill them though, the pots are always useful to catch water from the leaky roof.”

She peeked up at him to see if he would smile. He didn’t.

“Have you tried a gold fish?”

It didn’t occur to the man he was being rude at this point. All he could see was new life potentially being carried off to suffer a slow death by a pink haired hippie. She laughed though, accepting the hidden insult behind his words and throwing it back at him.

“Gold fish are ugly. Betas are better and my last one lived for two years before the cat ate it. He gets jealous of any attention I give other animals. Another reason for the plant.”

He nodded and looked away. Awkwardness now. She was undaunted though. She had to see him smile. He looked so stoic. A smile would transform him.

“Any tips for me?”

“What?”

“For the plant. I can see it bothers you the crazy pink-haired lady might be carrying it off to its death.”

“Don’t over water,” he said immediately and seriously. “If the leaves start browning, stop watering. Only do it once a month or so. And maybe get some succulent food.”

Slate grey eyes peered up at him and he looked into them for the first time, making him notice the smattering of freckles on her nose and cheeks. Her glossy pink lips pursed in consideration. She nodded.

“Thanks. That’s good to know actually. Do you ever smile?”

He blinked at her again and she saw his face shift from serious to shut down. He thought she was flirting. Not untrue but it was friendly enough. He was a tough customer. She snorted delicately and gave a rueful smile.

“Good luck on your quest, Sir Knight.”

She paid for her plant, looked behind her. He wasn’t paying attention at all. Deliberately so.

RIP little echeveria, he thought, carefully placing his dying specimens on the counter. It would have a few months of good life at least. He paid for his clearance bin projects and rolled the cart to his car. When he popped the trunk and began setting them in a box to avoid spillage, he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“Here.”

The pink haired lady handed him a business card with a crystal ball and a pair of scissors on it with bright pink lettering. He couldn’t see her eyes behind her sunglasses but he had a feeling she wasn’t looking directly at him. She was biting the corner of her bottom lip. He looked down at the card.

“The Psychic Salon?”

“We predict what the future holds for all your beautification needs!”

Her voice was fakey-happy and it made his eye muscles twitch.

“Don’t judge. It pays the bills,” she sighed, acknowledging the ridiculousness of it. “My cell is on the back if you want to check on the plant. I have a feeling.”

He tried not to show any emotion on his face. A few of them swirled in him. Incredulity. Irritation. Humor. And curiosity.

“A feeling?” he asked as she started backing away.

Her hair was a waterfall of ombre pink down the front of her neon dress. He saw more tattoos along her shins and the tops of her sandaled feet.

“Yep. The name’s Flora by the way.”

“That’s ironic,” he said, tucking the card into his jeans pocket.

“Ain’t it though? But at least I’m still alive.”

She waved from a pink (what other color would it be?) VW Beetle and drove too fast through the parking lot, squealing the tires.

Welp, it’s dead now for sure, he thought. Snapped in half by the 2-G turn she just pulled off into the street. He, however, drove home carefully. He had precious cargo in the back so he naturally drove like an 85-year-old granny.

It was a long, lovely drive out of the city and he allowed the day to melt off his shoulders. Not a pink thing to be seen out there except a random tea rose or a hibiscus. When he pulled into his drive way he was greeted by the shushing of the wind through the trees all around. His mind was immediately wiped of the encounter with the pink haired Flora as he made a mental list of chores to do. It was a long list.

______________________________

Flora would be lying if she said she wasn’t disappointed that her cell didn’t ring with a strange man’s number the next day.  Or even the next week. She didn’t really expect it to given his disdain for her murdering plants but a girl could hope. He was a handsome one.

Her cat watched her with derision as she carried the phone all around the tiny apartment, even into the bathroom. She considered dying her hair green and getting it cut. Maybe some bangs? or a pixie cut? She settled on doing her nails instead. Less dramatic.

She researched succulents online. She thought about going back and getting another one, just to spite the unsmiling man. She bought a modest dark green dress and pulled her hair up into a bun. She hated it and returned it the next day for a bright orange one and some gold flats to match.

After the second week, she stopped hoping for the phone to ring with a strange number (that wasn’t bill collectors) and cut her losses.

She resisted the urge to water her little succulent as she stared at it on her table during meals. It went against nature to NOT water things, right? What a backward plant. But the serious face the man pulled on her when he talked about watering was so darn cute it stuck with her. Maybe he was like a succulent too. He was happier being dry and humorless.

She should be used to the disappointment by now. She scared men with her colorful hair, bold tattoos and even more colorful life style. Her choice of career usually put them off especially after they discovered what she could have been. They never understood why she settled for less. Pfft! Stupid male egoism and power. She was socially awkward and in-your-face and enjoyed a good laugh. She always asked for what she wanted and meant what she said. Life was too short to mince words.

She was sure the stoic man was long gone. Sometimes her “feelings” were wrong, mainly when they regarded herself. She confused “feelings” with emotions or desire. She wanted to see what he looked like with a smile. It was important to her somehow.

So it was a delightful surprise when tall, dark and lanky darkened the door step of her work, looking completely out-of-place amid their female clientele. Her first thought when she saw him at the counter was she was glad she wore the matching bra and panties that day. Jesus.

“If it isn’t the Green Knight,” she said casually, looking up from shaving half a woman’s head in an intricate tribal pattern.

She felt a frisson of mean-spiritedness hum briefly in her veins seeing how uncomfortable he looked amidst the gawdy, gypsy caravan interior of the salon waiting room. His dark blue polo shirt and jeans stuck out like a black fly in unicorn poop. The other stylists eyed him with interest, ready to pounce on virgin hair and snag a new client.

“I lost your card,” he said, looking at her and then away.

Was he blushing? Oh gawd. A fierce bubble of hope lifted her mood.

“You lost it?”

“I washed it, actually.”

The salon went dead silent and he slid his hands in his pockets self-consciously. Buzzers stopped vibrating. Magazine pages stopped turning. Bubble gum popping stopped mid snap. He looked at his shoes; probably the safest place for his eyes. The sexual tension in the room went up about 16 degrees and he had the attention of every female in the building now. He fidgeted under the scrutiny.

“Is that so?”

Flora mashed her lips together to stop herself from smiling broadly. He came. She’d been right this time. Her feeling wasn’t wrong then.

“Miha, marry him right now! He does laundry!” a plump woman named Marrieta called from the back, cackling joyfully while she washed a client’s hair.

“Lay off Eta,” Flora called out. “The poor thing is ready to run as it is. He’s a gentle Knight after all.”

“I’ll do him for free!” another dark-haired woman called out, patting the vacant washing chair and snapping a curling iron playfully at him.

“You had the last one Dionne! Give him to me!” called the resident flamboyant gay from another empty chair. He flashed a very white toothy grin and blew a kiss at Flora, who gave him evil squinty eyes.

She breathed deeply to calm the girlish giggles threatening to erupt from her throat and concentrated on finishing up the last details of the shave, before passed her client on for a break. She grabbed the man’s arm and hauled him outside and around the side of the building where they could talk without spying eyes.

“Hi,” she said, putting her hands in the pockets of her apron where he couldn’t see them fidgeting with nerves. She tried to pull off ‘causal’ even if she felt far from it. Her nerves were tingling and distracting her.

“Hi,” he replied.

He looked good in dark blue. He wasn’t looking at her. He was looking everywhere except her but he was THERE. She decided to go easy on him.

“Sorry. You look shell-shocked. Will you ever recover from my embarrassing co-workers?”

She’d worked there so long that they were more family than co-workers really. The teasing and bickering and competition was from years of ups and downs together at the salon. It was second nature to her now and most of the clientele were used to it as well. They enjoyed the casual, playful environment. Like a mexican “Barber Shop” with Flora as the resident white girl. In the face of her green Knight though, every glaring embarrassment was apparent and she felt she needed to apologize.

“Uh…yeah I’ll recover. Eventually. I hope.”

She gave a half-hearted chuckle.

“Time will tell I guess. I know a good therapist though, if you need a recommendation.”

They stood in awkward silence, her joke dying on the vine. They scuffled their feet and shifted their weight, deliberately not looking at each other.

“How’s the echeveria?” he asked quietly.

“The what?”

“The plant you confessed to possibly murdering.”

She gave a full bellied laugh now that briefly revealed a gap between her two front teeth before she covered it her hand. Her nails had been done in bright acid green since he’d last seen her. His favorite shade of green. They matched the sweep of shadow on her eye lids and complimented her mulberry purple lipstick.

“You came all the way down here and offered yourself up on a silver platter to ask about my plant?”

He blinked and looked away from her face.

“Yes?”

Oh he was a rare one.

“It’s not dead yet. I read that it’s pretty hard to kill them actually. One question though.”

He waited. She admired his profile. His lips were nice and full. They even looked soft and moist, not like most men’s lips. Her gut tightened painfully even thinking about getting close to his face. As it was she had to curl her fingers into fists to stop herself from straightening his collar and brushing a fingertip through his soft dark hair.

“You do have a phone right?”

“Yes.”

“And you know how a phone book works. And the internet?”

“Yeah.”

“Alright.”

She nodded and rocked back on her heels, grinning smugly. A car drove passed them and parked in a back spot nearer the liquor store on the other side of Flora’s salon.

“It’s okay if you wanted to see me you know. I like a guy who’s upfront with his attraction. You score extra points for coming to my work.”

She stared up at him, looking closely for any change around his mouth. Last time she tried to flirt he’d shut down. This time there wasn’t even a hint of emotion to give any indication of his mood. Damn he was hard!

“You don’t have any plants in the salon,” he said by way of changing the conversation.

And had a one track mind. What a pity.

“They die too,” she said, resigning herself to working around his pedantic exterior. “Lots of chemicals you know and kids dropping their juice boxes in them or pulling them out at the roots. Difficult to keep alive and unharmed here and fake ones are a hassle to keep dust free.”

He nodded, considering her answer. She took a breath to reply but what he said knocked it right out of her.

“I could bring some.”

Wha…? Her mouth dropped open in surprise. Was this guy for real? Did he have roots for brains? Her neatly plucked eyebrows went way up along her forehead, completing the shocked look.

“Some plants? Some living plants with real leaves and soil? Didn’t you hear what I just said?

“Yes I heard. I could bring tropical flowers maybe. Or Ivy. It’s pretty hardy and likes humidity.”

Flora barked out a laugh and covered her mouth again. Her bracelets jangled and slid up her arm. He was serious. He’d really given this some thought! She should feel flattered he’d given her a passing thought (and she was sure to girlishly flip out over it later).

“Now who’s planning to be a murderer? None of us have the time to take care of things other than paying clients. Why do you think my plants die? I’m never home to water them or too tired to remember.”

He shifted his weight and looked up at the gawdy pink sign advertising her work place.

“I’ll come water them,” he said.

Astonishment billowed off her in thick clouds. He raised his eyebrows at her once again open mouth.

“You’ll come every week to water them?” she asked, her voice sharp.

“Yes. Twice if it’s needed. Just depends.”

She reached out and put a hand to his forehead, checking for fever. She did so without thinking. He stepped away uncomfortably, out of her reach and she dropped her hand with a jarring cacophony to her side. Even more uncomfortable was the fact that she was staring so hard at him he had no choice but meet her eyes. The shimmering green shadow on her upper eyelid brought out the grey sharply and he noticed there were streaks of gold in the irises.

“You’re going to willingly come into that she-wolf den every week to take care of our plants? Do you have any idea what you’d be doing to yourself?”

“Yes. I think.”

“WHY?”

He didn’t hesitate.

“You said you liked having living things around you, not just animals.”

Flora thought he might at least consider running away. She was willing to give him a head start but the fact that he answered right away made her suspect he’d thought about this for a lot longer than the 5 minutes he’d been standing with her.

“You remembered that?”

“Yes.”

Flora thought she might burst. She didn’t know if it would be into tears or in screams but she nearly vibrated with the need to do something. She couldn’t hug him. He really would run away screaming. So licked her lips and took a step back, out of temptation’s reach.

“Alright. If you think you’re brave enough to come back I’ll let you bring some greenery in.”

He waited. There was another shoe waiting to drop in her statement.

“On two conditions.”

“Which are?”

“One, you will allow me to bring you lunch once a week as repayment.”

His sideways glance of unease made Flora roll her eyes and huff at him.

“I can cook pretty damn good, okay? And I know how to cook vegetarian. Or are you vegan? That’ll take some practice.”

“Vegetarian is close enough. More like clean eating though. I still enjoy chicken.”

Wow, she thought, he divulged something personal.

“Alright. Second condition.”

She paused for dramatic effect and he waited, tense and not looking at her.

“Can I have your name or do I keep calling you the Green Knight?”

His lips curved into the smallest of smiles, bubbling his cheeks and revealing a hint of a dimple. It transformed him into a man who was lighter and more open. Flora’s heart beat so loud it almost choked her words off.

“Finally.”

He didn’t ask her ‘what?’. He knew what she meant. She worked damn hard for that glimpse of him.

“I’m Rhys,” he said.

“Reese?” She spelled it out.

“R-h-y-s,” he corrected.

The fidgety woman stilled suddenly. The noise of her ceased and it brought his attention around. Now it was Flora’s turned to look away. Irish. Goddamn Irish man. A hundred questions frothed up in her mind and she clenched her jaw against them.

“What?” he prompted, sensing her hesitation.

“Come whenever,” she said abruptly. “I’m usually here 6 am- 3 pm.”

Flora walked away, fast. She walked into her salon, passed all the waiting clientele and straight back into the break room where she sat in a corner and buried her face in her knees, trying to breathe. More than a “feeling”, she thought. It was deja vu. It was a memory. A pre-memory not realized until the moment it happened.

She’d dreamed this all when she was just a girl. It was the dream that had been the start of her ending, all those years ago.

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 2 (#7)

–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.

Ughhhhh…

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?