Catch up here.
The phone rings while I sit cross-legged on my folded up futon reading Merlin. I slip the bookmark between the pages and place the book next to me as I reach for the phone.
“Hello?” I answer trying to unwind the tangled cord.
“Hello?” the voice asks.
“Hey. I was hoping this was your number.”
“You found the right one,” I state dumbstruck.
“Are you free for dinner tonight?”
I hesitate as the questions from last night resurface.
“I’ll understand if you don’t want to,” he says softly.
“Yes.” I give him my address and tell him how to call up from the security door.
What did I just do?
A week after J.D. walked me back to my dorm, I went to Ala Moana for the Liberty House sale. I walked down to Makai Market for halo-halo when I was done. I dropped my shopping bag in the chair next to me and sat down. I was digging in the cup with my spoon when I noticed someone sitting down across from me. I brought my head up.
Brown eyes locked with mine and J.D. grinned. He folded his arms on the table and leaned forward. “What are you doing here alone?”
“Shopping.” I pointed to my bag with the spoon still in my hand.
“By yourself?” he asked curiously.
“I didn’t realize I wasn’t allowed to shop alone. Did they change the rules and forget to tell me again?” I replied acerbically and took a bite of my halo-halo to quell the butterflies in my belly.
“Sorry.” He chuckled. “I’m just not used to seeing college aged women out by themselves.”
“Because they have an insane need to run in packs to validate themselves. I don’t feel the need to have others stroke my ego. What are you doing here?”
“Mark wanted Korean food.” He pointed to the Yummy’s counter.
I shifted and saw Mark placing his order. “Why didn’t he just order delivery from J.R.’s?”
“He doesn’t like J.R.’s. But, he has to buy me dinner for his ride. Do you want a ride back to campus?”
“No, that’s okay. You don’t have to.”
“I know I don’t have to, Ari. I’m offering so you don’t have to wait for the bus.”
“I was going to walk.”
“You walked here?”
“Yeah. It’s a nice day and it was faster than the weekend bus schedule.”
“You are an enigma.” He shook his head and chuckled. “I should know by now you’re not like other women.”
“The other women are missing out.”
“How about it? Ride back?” he repeated as Mark approached with the plastic bag containing their dinner in hand.
“Why not. Hey, Mark.” I covered my cup of halo-halo and stood up.
“Hey, Ari.” He nodded his blond topped head at me.
“We’re giving Ari a ride back,” J.D. informed Mark.
I followed them to J.D.’s car, a 1985 white Honda Accord hatchback. Boxy like most cars of the 80s, but with many triangles common in two-doors.
“Thanks for the ride,” I said to J.D. when we reached the stairwell for their building.
“I’ll walk you back.”
I opened my mouth.
“Don’t even try. You know I’ll do it anyway,” he interrupted before I started.
“Bye, Mark,” I called to him as he hit the first landing.
“See ya, Ari.” He waved and continued on.
“The ride was enough.” I said as we walked across the courtyard.
“My dad is a Marine, remember? He taught me to be a gentleman.”
“He taught you well.”
“I’ll tell him you said that when I go home tomorrow.”
“You go home just for a day?”
“Brunch with my parents and free laundry.”
I chuckled. “Are you staying for dinner, too?”
“Not if I can help it.”
I gave him a questioning look.
“My dad may have taught me to be gentleman, but we don’t always get along,” he explained.
“Sorry. I know what that’s like.” I switched gears quickly before he could respond to my statement. “Hey, would you let me treat you to dinner tomorrow to thank you for the ride and the walks back to my dorm?”
“I’d like that. I’ll even drive.”
I turned my head and he winked. I gave him a slight smile.
“I’ll be here at six,” he said as we arrived at the front door of my dorm.
“I’ll see you then.” I entered through the doorway and headed down the hall without looking back. I didn’t want him seeing the stupid grin on my face I could not wipe off.
The next evening I stood in front of my dresser and mirror brushing out my long black hair after applying a little lipstick. I tucked my teal silk tank into my jeans and slipped on my plain black leather flats.
I arrived at the front door downstairs and J.D. stood outside waiting. He wore his black jeans and shoes with a white dress shirt, the long sleeves rolled up to his elbows.
“You weren’t waiting long, were you?” I asked after the door closed behind me and we started for the parking lot. I breathed in the faint woodsy scent of his cologne.
He grinned. “No. I just got here a few seconds ago. You look great.”
“Thanks. So do you.”
“How was your visit home?”
He shared his uneventful trip home on the way to the car. “Enough about my boring day. What did you do?”
“My day was even more boring. I studied all day.”
We engaged in more small talk on the way to Compadres and through dinner.
Our waitress brought the check at the end of the meal and held it out to J.D.. I snatched it out of her hands. Her eyes opened wide then she walked away.
“Ari, you don’t have to,” he said seriously with his hand out expecting me to hand the check to him.
“I asked you to dinner to thank you. You agreed to me treating you to dinner,” I reminded him as I pulled my wallet out of my purse.
“Thank you.” He sat back in his chair.
We walked to his car without a word between us.
“I owe you a long story,” I blurted out once we were out of the parking garage.
He stopped at a light, twisted in his seat to face me, and shook his head. “No, you don’t. I’m okay with not knowing,” he said somberly.
“J.D., I like you. I need you to know because if this goes anywhere after tonight, it will hang over me and I will keep finding excuses to not tell you if I don’t do it now.” I inhaled slowly then blew it out softly. “Do you remember me telling you about the party where I met Brad, the rest of the swimming and diving team, and a few other people?”
“After the party I kept running into one of them for over a week. We’d chat for a few minutes each time then go about our business. I really had no interest in him and he never appeared to have any interest in me.”
I shifted in my seat as I swallowed the lump forming in my throat. J.D. reached over with his right hand and slipped his fingers through my hand. Heat surged through me and my heart nearly leapt out of my chest. I took a deep breath to stem the flood of emotions and physical reactions.
“My roommate at the time was gone for the night. I left my door unlocked because I was afraid I’d wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and lock myself out.”
“I don’t need to hear the rest, Ari. If I hear you say what I think you’re going to say, I’ll want to track him down and beat the shit out of him.”
Tears fell fast and J.D. squeezed my left hand.
“It’s not your fault, you know.”
“I didn’t lock my door, J.D..”
We stopped at a light again.
He turned to me. “Look at me.”
I lifted my head and his eyes bored into mine.
“It was not your fault. He got into your locked dorm and happened to find your door unlocked. You are not responsible for what he chose to do.”
The light turned green and he broke eye contact. Tears continued silently as his reassurance sank in. We were still for a minute.
“Did you report it?’
“No. I ran into one of my neighbors in the bathroom right after it happened and told her. She didn’t believe me because I didn’t scream and he was in her room being hands off. That made me feel even worse. If my own neighbor and friend didn’t believe me and questioned my inability to react the way she thought I should then I thought no one else would believe me. Plus, he’s an athlete. I didn’t talk about it again until a few weeks ago when I finally told Brad and Patrick.”
“I’m sorry, Ari. Not all men are like him and your friend should have been more supportive no matter what she thought.”
“It really messed me up. I question everyone’s underlying motives. I don’t let anyone get close other than Brad and Patrick. I have flashbacks when I least expect it. I still don’t sleep well and I check to make sure the door is locked more than is necessary.”
J.D. pulled into the parking lot and released my hand as he parked. I unfastened my seat belt and J.D. pulled me into his arms. I relaxed in his embrace and rested my head on his shoulder.
He took my hand again as we left the car. “Do you want to come up for a little while?”
“It makes sense now.”
“Why you wear your class ring on your ring finger to keep men from hitting on you.”
“I never thought of it that way. Just as a way to keep guys I didn’t know at all from hitting on me. It never stops Jerry.”
“Jerry?” he asked shocked.
“Yeah. He keeps flirting with me and asking me out when I keep telling him I’m not interested.”
His roommates were in their rooms studying. He turned on the TV and made sure the sound was low to keep from disturbing them.
“Do you want a drink?” He stepped into the kitchen and pulled a bottle of beer out of the fridge.
He nodded and filled a cup with water then popped his bottle cap off with the bottle opener he kept on his keychain. I took the cup from him and held it in my lap. He sat on my left, slid his arm around my shoulder, and drew me closer as the theme song for The Simpsons started.
I leaned into him and sighed softly as my protective walls crumbled.
He took a drink from his bottle and set it on the floor next to the sofa. He covered my left hand with his and fingered my class ring with his thumb and middle finger while we watched TV. He sidled it up my finger, top then bottom and repeating until it reached my finger tip. He edged it back down in the same manner.
“I didn’t know you had a date tonight, J.D.,” Paul said as he stepped through the door. We made eye contact and he realized J.D. wasn’t alone. He looked back at J.D. confused.
J.D. stopped playing with my ring. “I’m still on my date, Paul.”
Paul waggled his finger between us. “When did this happen?”
I set my cup of water on the floor.
“Does it matter?” J.D. asked in return.
Paul scratched his head and walked out the door.
“Maybe I should go.” I started to move.
J.D. pulled me back and shook his head. “Don’t pay attention to him.”
The door to the upstairs bedroom opened a few minutes later and we heard the thunder of Mark and Dan as they ran down the stairs. They started into the kitchen but Mark stopped abruptly when he noticed us on the sofa. Dan rushed into Mark which caused Mark to lurch forward and allowed Dan to spot us.
“Hey, Ari,” Mark uttered awkwardly. His eyes flitted between me and J.D..
They quietly grabbed drinks and a bag of chips in between furtive glances then ran back up to their room shutting the door behind them.
I grabbed my purse off the floor as I stood quickly before J.D. could stop me again. He grabbed my hand, rose to his feet, and led me out the door.
“I’m sorry,” I apologized as we walked to the stairwell.
“The awkwardness was unnerving.”
“Give them time, Ari. Neither of us gave them any warning. One day we are friends as usual and the next my arm is around you and we’re holding hands. They aren’t used to seeing you with anyone. Face it, you’re not just one of the guys anymore.”
“You didn’t tell them we were going out tonight?”
“No. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know if we were just two friends going to dinner or if you were interested in me. I didn’t have the answers to questions they would ask so I didn’t say anything.” H paused. “I’m glad you asked.”
“I was feeling you out when I asked about Brad and your class ring. But I wasn’t sure what to do after you said it was a long story why you weren’t involved with anyone.”
We reached the front door of my dorm and I dug my keys out of my pocket.
“Thank you again for dinner.”
“You’re welcome.” I reached for the door and J.D. used our joined hands to spin me towards him.
“And for trusting me.” He leaned down and touched his soft lips to mine tenderly and chastely.
My body buzzed with the new physical contact. He stepped back and his eyes gleamed. We stood there gazing at each other.
He broke the silence. “Good night.”
“Night.” I unlocked the front door and he released my hand.
I turned to make sure the door closed behind me after I cleared the doorway. He was still there hands in his pockets, shoulders relaxed, and beaming.
“Am I crazy, Brad?” I ask over the phone. I called him after hanging up with J.D..
“Ari, a part of you that you kept locked away finally opened up to him at a time when you needed to heal. You need closure. Go to dinner, talk to him, and get your answers. Leave it at that. Even if he is interested again, it doesn’t mean you have to be. You have the power here.”
I have the power.
© Debi Smith, 2013