Catch up here.
The small fuzzy green ball pings between the painted court and J.D.’s racket. He catches it in his left hand on a return from the ground then lines himself to the right of the center line. He brings up the ball and racket together then winds up the racket behind him and releases the ball overhead. The woven strings whack into the ball, propelling it at lightning speed across the court. I leap to the right while pulling my racket back. The ball whooshes by.
“ACE!” he yells then thrusts his fist in the air, grins proudly at me, and fishes another ball out of his pocket.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I say dully and roll my eyes.
J.D. steps to the left of the center line and prepares his serve. Another ball rockets past me. He steps back to the right and this time my racket sends the ball back to him. We volley back and forth a few times then he slams it to my backhand. I bring the racket back high, lock my wrist, and pretend the racket is a knife while swinging down. The strings connect slightly underneath the ball, slowing it down on the return and dropping it low over the net. He chases it down, stumbling as he reaches for it and taps it into the net.
He rights himself, looking befuddled and spreading out his arms. “Where the hell did you learn a backhand slice?”
I tap the strings of my racket against the heel of my hand and smirk. “Martina Navratilova.”
He points his racket at me. “It’s on. Thirty, fifteen,” he calls out the score for the point. He twists the handle and lets the racket spin in his loose grip.
“Okay, McEnroe.” I retrieve the two balls he aced and throw them over the net at him. The first hits his calf, the second hits his hip.
“Ariana!” He furrows his brow then the faint line of a smile appears on his face.
“I miss you already,” J.D. says gloomily with his arms around my waist and mouth drawn down. He leans over and our mouths meet with the longing we know is to come in the months ahead.
I clutch his face between my hands, not caring that people in the terminal are probably repulsed at the sight of two lovebirds sucking face.
He breaks away and breathes in my ear. “That blue sundress has always been my favorite.”
My cheeks burn and I smile shyly, dropping my hands into the folds of the dress. “I love you,” I whisper.
“I love you more, babes,” he murmurs and moves in for one last quick kiss. He waves to his dad and locks his chocolate eyes with mine before turning for the gate.
I push down the rising tide of tears while watching him walk through the boarding door and down the ramp. I clasp my hands in front of me, let out a small breath to quell the storm in my chest, and spin around once he is out of sight.
I stroll silently with Rick through the bustling airport. He ends the hush in the parking garage.
“Ari, I’m really sorry about how I treated you,” he says remorsefully.
“It’s okay, Rick,” I reply dismissively.
“No, it’s not,” he insists as we climb the stairs. “You told me more than I should know and it wouldn’t have happened if I was sober that day. I’m damned lucky you talked Jack into sticking with me.”
“He loves you, Rick. I know Karen still cares for you and I’m sure Tommy does, too. Thanks for the ride, by the way. Sometimes it sucks not having a car,” I say changing the subject.
“Jack would kill me if I made you take the bus home.”
“He said you’re the one who taught him how to be a gentleman,” I kid.
“That I did, Ari,” he says nodding and slightly smiling. “If you need anything while Jack is gone, call me. I owe you more than I can repay.”
We arrive at his car. “You don’t owe me anything, Rick.”
The phone rings on the other side of the door as the deadbolt snaps into the door. I jam the key into the doorknob, turn it quickly, and throw the door open. I jump the short distance to my desk to grab the phone letting the door slam behind me.
“Hey, babes,” J.D. says joyfully after I answer.
My heart skips at the sound of J.D.’s voice. “Hi, baby,” I return dropping my backpack on the floor and kick off my slippers.
“I’m ready for it to be done.” I turn on the stereo and hit play on the CD player. Johnny Rzeznik rocks out.
How could you believe in someone sorry sad like me?
I know the deal and I thank you anyways
And if you leave you know I’m crawlin’ at your feet
You never get weak when I’m leaning hard on you
And I guess it’s just the way you are
“You just started four days ago,” he says surprised.
“Bad case of senioritis and missing you the last month and a half.” I fall onto the futon.
“I miss you, too. Only four more months left.” He pauses. “I’ve been thinking. What if you came back here with me after break?” he proposes.
“What?” I ask incredulously.
“You could come out here and work until Summer since you can’t get into the social work program until Fall,” he states his case.
“No promises, but I’ll think about it,” I answer still dazed.
“Sure, babes. I need to go. I’ve got to get up early.”
“I love you,” I sigh softly.
“I love you more,” he says breathily.
A smile spreads lightly across my face and I hang up the phone.
Brad and I sit on the curved cream concrete bench, leaning on the matching table under the warm sun in the Manoa Gardens courtyard after class.
“But you guys haven’t been back together very long,” he says upset.
“I’m not making a decision yet. He just asked me yesterday. I know it’s only been a few months, but I can’t imagine my life without him now. It would be nice to not be separated by twenty-five hundred miles,” I say wistfully.
“What if you decide you like it better there?” he presses.
“Chill out,” I demand. “I know you’re looking out for me, but you know I never make haphazard decisions. Has getting back with J.D. been bad for me?”
“No. You haven’t been this happy in a long time.”
“No, I haven’t.” I nudge him with my arm then rest my head on his shoulder.
He drapes his arm over my shoulders and squashes me into him.
A bouquet of dead roses lies across the foot of my door when I arrive home from work a week later. I open the door and step over the roses. I set my mail and backpack on the desk while keeping the door propped open with my foot. I turn around for the flowers. No card.
The phone rings and I yelp, dropping the roses and jumping back. The door bangs against the doorjamb. I pick up phone while my heart crashes against my ribs. “Hello?” I answer frantic.
“What’s wrong, babes?” J.D. asks worried.
“Baby,” I say exhaling relief at the sound of his voice. “I just found dead roses at my door.”
“I’ll give you one guess,” I say, pacing in front of my desk.
“He left a note?” he asks incredulously.
“No, but who else would it be?”
“I don’t like this,” he says gravely.
“I don’t either, but I’m glad you called. “How was your day?” I stop pacing, turn on the stereo then start the tape player and sit cross-legged on the futon.
I wonder how we can survive
But in the end if I’m with you
I’ll take the chance
“I talked to my mom today. She asked if you’d join us for Christmas.”
“Okay,” I agree.
“That was easy,” he says surprised.
“We have to make the most of your break.”
“You don’t want to come back with me?” he asks disappointed.
“I do, but I’m still thinking about it, baby.”
He is quiet for a breath before asking about my weekend plans. I rattle off reading and project list for my classes. He shares his plans to go out with some other med students to celebrate the end of their specialty surgery rotation.
He lets out a high pitched yawn. “I’m sorry. It’s been a long day.”
“Go to bed, baby.”
I toss the dead flowers in the trash then sweep up the fragments that broke off when they hit the floor.
He moves towards me menacingly, his face hidden in darkness. I back into a cold concrete wall. My hands shake and my heart beats wildly.
“We were meant to be together,” he says darkly.
“I don’t love you,” I cry.
I wake screaming, clutching my pillow to my chest then stretch over my head for the phone and dial.
“Hi, baby,” I greet J.D. after he answers the phone.
“Are you okay? It’s four a.m., babes.” J.D. asks rattled.
“I had a nightmare.”
“I’m right here,” he says comfortingly. “You’re okay.”
I close my eyes as he continues, letting his soothing tone wrap around me as my breathing slows.
“Better,” I drawl.
“Go back to sleep.”
The page of The Skilled Helper snaps in the air as I flip to the next page and tap the highlighter in my left hand absently on my desk. The CD player whirs while it spins to change CDs.
The sky is burning
A sea of flame
Though your world is changing
I will be the same.
The phone ringing cuts into the song. I drop the highlighter and grab the phone. “Hello?”
“Did you get my flowers?” Lance asks.
“How did you get in my building?”
“Walked in behind someone,” he says arrogantly. “I thought you wanted me to apologize.”
“I wanted you to address what you did. I never said I wanted an apology. And who apologizes with dead flowers? Have you lost your mind?”
“No, I lost you and I’m trying to get you back.”
“I’m not taking you back,” I tell him firmly.
“You will,” he says eerily confident.
“NEVER!” I scream and slam the phone into its cradle.
The phone rings again and I let the answering machine pick it up. Sting warbles through the answering machine’s single speaker.
Every breath you take
And every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take
I’ll be watching youE
I thump my book closed and drop my head on my crossed arms.
Warm rain is beating down as I exit Varsity Theater to the covered front. Humidity thickens the damp air and I stifle a breath to adjust. I eye University Avenue in front of me, but catch movement in my peripheral vision to my left as someone steps away from the box office.
“Ari,” Lance greets in a voice too sugary sweet for him. “You went to the movies alone?”
“Leave me alone,” I respond dismally, my post-action movie adrenaline rush now lost.
“Pity J.D. isn’t here to take you out,” he taunts with a sinister grin across his face and an air of pretension. “I could do that in his absence. Are you two still together? You haven’t taken my calls the last month so I have no idea what happened when he left.”
“The phone calls and dead flowers aren’t endearing, Lance. It’s sick.”
“Come on. Can’t we at least be friends?”
“No. You had your chance.” I spin to my right and march off.
I burst into a run and dash across Coyne Street in the downpour, sprinting for Bubbie’s. My hair and clothes are drenched and clinging to me within seconds of leaving the theater’s cover. I stutter step to slow down as I near the door.
Lance lays his palm on the wooden frame of the windowed door over my head as I attempt to yank it open. “You belong to me,” he hisses.
I pivot around, chest heaving, water streaming down my face, hands balled up at my side, and roar in his face, “I DON’T BELONG TO ANYONE! I’M NOT PROPERTY! GET AWAY FROM ME!”
Three locals getting into a nearby car stop. The short muscular driver calls out from his open door, “Eh, bruddah! You heard her!”
Lance drops his arm, glares at him through the wet strands of his hair, shoulders and chest rising with his heavy breathing, and heads back to the theater.
I wrap my hand around the door handle then look at the driver. “T’anks, eh.”
He thrusts his chin up at me in return then closes his door.
“What were you thinking?” J.D. asks raising his voice.
“I was thinking I wanted to go out and enjoy a movie,” I snap scathingly, walking in circles in front of the futon. “You know, something I did by myself a lot before four months ago! And I did enjoy it until he showed up and you got on my case!” I jab my finger in the air to emphasize my point even though he can’t see it.
“You can’t do that with him still leaving you dead flowers and calling you!” he exclaims angrily.
My face heats up. “We’re dating, J.D.! You don’t get to fucking tell me what I can and can’t do! I’m going to do what I damn well please like I always have!” I shout defiantly into the phone, my body buzzing from the adrenaline surging through my system.
“You’re being obstinate!” he hollers.
“You’re being domineering!”
A sharp breath comes through the phone. “I’m trying to look out for you, Ari,” he states, lowering his tone and volume.
“Then you should be here!” I bark indignantly.
The line is silent.
“Shit. I’m sorry, baby. I didn’t mean that,” I quickly repent and flop down on the futon.
“That really stings,” he utters disconcerted.
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”
“You know I’d rather be with you,” he reminds me in a hushed breath.
“I know. I’m sorry,” I repeat contritely. “This separation is harder than I thought it would be. I want you here, but I know school is the priority.”
“I just want you to be more careful, please,” he beseeches. “Call the guys the next time you want to see a movie. That’s all I ask.”
“They drag me to the girly movies,” I whine jokingly.
“And you drag them to the action movies. I know how it works with the five of you.”
“You know us too well.”
“I know you too well and I wouldn’t have you any other way, babes. I’m sorry for the browbeating. I know you don’t like people telling you what to do unless it’s family or your boss. I just worry about you.”
“I know, baby. I love you.”
“I love you more.”
©Debi Smith, 2013