Catch up here.
We sit in J.D.’s car, parked in the driveway of his split level, zero lot home in Hawaii Kai. The air conditioner is blasting chilled air on my face.
“It’s going to be okay,” he assures me.
“Then why do I feel like I’m walking into GITMO?” I wipe my sweaty palms along the hem of my blue sundress.
“Hey.” He traces the back of his right hand along my cheek. “You’ll be fine.”
My stomach churns. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
“You’re not doing anything yet, babes,” he eggs me on.
David Gahan croons:
I don’t want to be tied to anyone’s strings
I’m carefully trying to steer clear of those things
I jerk the door handle and J.D. turns off the car. Our fingers entwine on the way to the front door. We slide out of our slippers on the porch and J.D. gives my hand a little pressure from his before opening the door.
A kitchen with parallel counters is on the left and a set of stairs is on the right leading down to the garage and up to a large open room. A large, broad shouldered, muscled man wearing an aloha shirt and khaki shorts with a buzz cut rises from the dark rattan sofa in the living room in front of us and meets us in the entryway. I hear the echo of a tennis ball connecting with a racket.
“Dad, this is Ariana.”
He smiles. “Nice to finally meet you, Ariana.” His voice is deep and throaty.
“Likewise, sir,” I return bashfully.
“Please, it’s Rick. Only Jack and Marines call me ‘sir.’” He snickers. “Come in. Have a seat.” He gestures to the living room. “What would you like to drink? Beer? Coke? Juice?” Rick asks.
“Juice is good, Dad.” J.D. leads me to the sofa and he slips his arm around my shoulders once we are comfortable.
A Wimbledon game is on TV. I recognize Pete Sampras, not his opponent. I’m about to ask J.D. who the other guy is when Rick returns with a can of Hawaiian Sun guava juice in each hand.
“Thank you.” I take one of the cans and J.D. takes the other.
“You’re welcome.” He sits in the chair to my right.
I wipe down the top, pop the can open, and pretend I’m gulping down liquid courage instead of sugary pink nectar.
“Jack tells me you’re graduating in December.”
I nod. “I am.”
“What’s your major?” Rick starts the Inquisition.
“Psychology, with a minor in English.”
“That’s an odd combination,” he remarks.
“I like taking English classes and had enough credits for a minor,” I explain.
“What are you planning on doing with your degree?”
“I’m going for a Masters in Social Work to do therapy.” My heart races.
“Admirable work,” he comments approvingly.
J.D. wraps his left hand around mine and plays with my ring. My heartbeat slows down.
“What kind of therapy?” he probes.
“I’m not sure yet.”
“Where do you plan on practicing?”
“I don’t know. I need to get into the program and see what interests me before I decide.”
“You’re staying at UH?” he asks confused.
“That’s been my plan,” I assert.
“You’re not going to the Mainland with Jack?”
“No.” I reply dumbfounded.
“Does this mean you two are going to break-up again when Jack leaves to go back to school?” he questions forcefully.
“We don’t know, Dad,” J.D. answers exasperated.
“Your mother and I were married by the time we were your age,” he states arrogantly.
“And look at you now,” J.D. retorts.
I tense and my heart pulses faster again. J.D. squeezes my hand.
Rick’s eyes dart between us scrutinizing. “Are you two sleeping together?”
“Dad!” J.D. exclaims sitting up.
My face flushes.
“Why else would you be seeing her without knowing what you’re going to do in August?” Rick questions loudly.
I carefully set my juice on the coffee table and smooth out my dress on my lap. An eerie calm washes over me taking all the worry with it.
“Because I screwed up and she was generous enough to give me a second chance!” J.D. yells.
I rest my elbows on my legs as I lean forward, fold my hands together, and clear my throat. “We’re adults. It really isn’t any of your business if we are or not. But no, we aren’t sleeping together.” I keep my tone low and steady.
“Are you saving yourself or something?”
“That’s enough-“ J.D. starts disdainfully.
“I was talking to Ariana, not you,” Rick interrupts angrily.
“Don’t answer him,” J.D. mutters under his breath.
“I know you and J.D. don’t always see eye-to-eye, but he still respects you. I want to believe you’re not always this crass with people you just meet.”
Rick’s eyes bulge and he clenches the arms of his chair. “I will not be disrespected in my house!”
“But it’s okay for you to disrespect me by making judgments? I get why you might ask J.D. in private if we were sleeping together given his history, but you don’t know me. And defending myself from a bully who is used to people following his orders as they come out of his mouth is not disrespectful, it’s standing up for myself.”
He raises a finger at me. “Listen-“ he starts indignantly.
“No, you listen. I was raped not long before I met your son. When I finally told him about it he showed me more respect than I imagined was possible. Despite his mistakes in the past, he still shows me more respect than you are right now.” I sit back and cross my arms over my chest, engaging Rick in a stare down.
Go ahead. Say something else.
The hollow sound of a tennis ball bouncing and players grunting permeates as the three of us remain silently deadlocked.
“I’m going to the car.” I spring up.
J.D. drops the keys in my hand. “I’ll be out in a minute.”
I get to the car and decide against getting in after unlocking the doors. I pace the driveway burning off the angry energy instead.
Inside, J.D. sits on the edge of the sofa. “Were you drinking before we got here?”
“Just some whiskey,” Rick answers quietly.
J.D. rubs his face with the palms of his hands. “We talked about this, Dad,” he says perturbed then gestures towards the door. “She was freaking out in the car because she was worried something like this would happen.” He pauses. “I can’t keep doing this with you.”
“She was impertinent!” he roars sitting up straight.
J.D. returns with the same tone and volume, “You only think she was impertinent because she didn’t kowtow or try to appease you like the rest of us do!”
“She had no right!”
“You were being a drunken asshole! She had every right! not only was she defending herself rather calmly, she had your number.”
“You told her,” he fumes.
“No, I didn’t. She’s naturally very observant.”
“I don’t like her.” He rests back against the chair.
“You don’t have to like her. But if she ever comes back again, I expect you to show her the respect she deserves. She’s been through enough without you adding to it.” He pushes himself to his feet. “If this happens again, I’m either going to Mom’s for the rest of the Summer or finding a friend to stay with. I’m done with this. Get sober or you lose me, too. I’m all you have left.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“I would dare. As Ari pointed out, I’m an adult. I don’t have to put up with your drunk ass shit.”
J.D. flies down the stairs and I toss him the keys.
“I’m sorry,” J.D. says to me once the car doors are closed.
He turns the key in the ignition and David warbles:
But when I’m asleep I want somebody
Who will put their arms around me, kiss me tenderly
Though things like this make me sick
In a case like this, I’ll get away with it
“It’s weird hearing someone call you Jack,” I say dodging his apology.
“My parents gave me that nickname. Only family really calls me Jack.”
“You didn’t have to tell him.” He looks out the rear window while reversing out of the driveway.
“I wasn’t going to, but he wouldn’t stop. I just wanted to stick it to him because he kept pissing me off.”
“I forgot to warn him about not pissing you off,”
He smirks knowing he broke the tension and we both break out in laughter.
“We should talk about it though,” I suggest when the laughing stops.
He pulls the car over to the curb, puts it in park then shifts in his seat sideways resting his arm along the top of the steering wheel. “You’re behind the wheel on that, Ari. I don’t want you to feel pressured into anything.”
“Is that what you really want?”
“I want you any way I can have you. If that means waiting, I’ll wait as long as it takes. I don’t want to lose you again over something trivial.”
“This isn’t trivial, J.D.”
“This wasn’t an issue three years ago and it shouldn’t be now. I have no expectations.”
“Your dad has a point though. What are we doing?”
“We agreed to let things happen this time. Don’t let my dad turn into another Paul. Please.”
“Wow.” I let his comment sink in. “Your dad and Paul. That just put things into perspective.”
“I can be smart sometimes.”
“You need to be smart all the time. No one wants a dumb doctor treating them,” I quip.
“Are we good now?” he asks snickering.
He pulls back onto the road.
“What did you and your dad talk about?”
“He admitted he was drinking.” He sighs. “My dad’s an alcoholic.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I ask in shock.
“And being raped isn’t? It hurts that you wouldn’t tell me something like that after I was so open with you,” I say upset.
“Ari, it’s hard. My whole life has been spent not talking about it. There are friends and relatives who still don’t know. Not telling you wasn’t about hiding it from you. It was about protecting the family secret like we’ve always done,” he clarifies.
“You know. You’re one of the few people who can put me in my place.”
“Someone has to do it,” he teases.
“Is that why your parents divorced?”
“Yeah. Mom couldn’t take the verbal abuse anymore after I was gone. I told him he needs to get sober or I’m leaving, too.”
“You can’t do that,” I insist.
“He tried to rake you over coals back there and now you’re worried about him?” he asks incredulously.
“You never told me he has a problem with alcohol. This is different from him just being a bully.”
“No, it’s exactly about him being a bully. He’s been abusive with us as long as I can remember. Tommy took off for college three years ago and hasn’t been back.”
“He’s a bully because he’s using a substance to cope with feelings he can’t manage.” I turn to face him in my seat and rest a hand on his forearm. “I can’t pretend to know what it was like to live with your dad. I do know it had to be scary as a child. I understand after a lifetime of dealing with his rages it’s hard to think of him as someone who is hurting deeply inside. Don’t give up on him. He’ll need you.”
I remove my hand and he catches it, pressing his lips on the back then covers his heart with it. “You amaze me. The compassion you have for him after how he treated you is astounding.”
“Well I took you back, yeah?”
The ghost of a smile forms. “Yeah.”
©Debi Smith, 2013