Catch up here.
I stoop to pick up two bouquets of dead roses in front of my door.
“Give me your keys,” J.D. demands, holding out his left hand and readjusting my duffle in his right.
I drop the keys into his hand and stomp back to the trash chute. The door is propped open with his slipper when I return. I push the door open cautiously, checking behind it to make sure he’s not in the closet then kick his slipper out of the way. He exits the bathroom vexed, rubbing along his jaw with his thumb and index finger.
“Let’s pack a load in the car. You’re staying at the house,” he states, arms akimbo.
“It’s not safe, Ari,” he points out gravely. “You’re lucky he hasn’t already broken in.”
“We leave Saturday night,” I contend.
“He’s been stalking you since August. You had a public breakdown a month ago. He has to know I’m back in town. If he escalates, I don’t want you alone here when it happens,” he says firmly.
“You could stay with me.”
“He has no idea where I live. He sure as hell doesn’t know my real name or Dad’s. And if he showed up while I’m here, I don’t know if I could stop myself from beating the shit out of him.”
I cross my arms over my chest. “Fine,” I forfeit sullenly.
He closes the distance between us in two long strides and hooks his fingers into the belt loops on my shorts then tugs me close. “I’m scared for you.”
“I feel like I’m living in fear if I stay at your house. It’s like he won.” I rest my hands on his biceps.
“You’re having nightmares and screening your calls. You’re already living in fear. Leaving here ends it and we win. He can’t find you.” He lets go of the belt loops. “Now let’s get some boxes in the car and get out of here.”
He calls Rick then loads his car with a few boxes, a suitcase, and my duffle bag. I call home and give Lola J.D.’s number. The phone rings as soon as I hang up and I reflexively move to pick it up.
My hand falls to my side and the machine plays the outgoing message. I cross my left arm over my chest and curl my right hand in front of my mouth, letting my elbow rest on my left wrist.
“Ariiiiiii,” Lance’s voice sings.
He’s leaving a message?
“Where arrrrre youuuuu? You went off somewhere with J.D., didn’t you?”
The clack of the doorknob being unlocked by a key breaks the dead air. I whip my head towards the door as it opens.
J.D. is rigid in the doorway. He clenches his teeth and the muscles in his arms twitch under his t-shirt.
“You can’t hide from me forever. I’ll find you.”
He lunges for the phone and door slams behind him.
He pounds the desk with the side of his fist. “Dammit!” His face is flushed and he breathes heavy as he grips the edge of the desk.
I stroke his back lightly in circles. “Baby, he won’t find me. Remember?”
He turns his head, eyes red and watery. He grabs me and yanks me into a bear hug. “I can’t lose you again.”
I wrap my arms around him. “I’m right here,” I assure him.
I don’t know which of us is more scared.
Rick is waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs when we arrive. He heaves himself to his feet as we climb out of the car.
“I cleared up the studio for you two,” he says.
“You didn’t have to do that, Dad.”
“Yes, I did. I already started to as a surprise. Ari is family now and your room isn’t big enough for you two with all the furniture and boxes. It can be yours while you finish up med school and Ari is in grad school.”
“Thanks, Rick.” I reach out with both arms and he opens up his.
“Welcome to the family,” he whispers before letting go. He slugs J.D. in the left shoulder. “Let’s get your bed moved.” He turns and runs up the stairs.
“Ow,” J.D. says massaging his shoulder and circling it backwards.
“Do I need to kiss it and make it better?” I tease.
“Maybe later,” he growls and swats my butt then runs after Rick.
The studio is same size as the two-car garage underneath it. Three of the walls are lined with picture windows from corner to corner. A long closet lines the fourth wall from the door to the corner. It feels twice the size of my studio.
J.D. intercepts me carrying a box from his room and plucks it out of my arms. “I’ll get the boxes. Why don’t you get my clothes out of the closet?”
I cross my arms in front of me. “Are you saying I’m not strong enough to move boxes?”
“I would never.” His eyes light up with his smirk.
I eye him doubtfully.
“Your uncles would kill me if I did.”
“I would kill you first.”
The guys help me move out on Friday after J.D. and I spent the week packing everything I didn’t pack before Christmas. We order pizzas for dinner back at the house and they leave when they finish eating to get ready to meet us for New Year’s Eve.
I sit on the foot of the bed brushing out my damp hair wearing a red silk tunic tank over a black pleated rayon skirt that grazes the top of my knees. J.D. returns from his shower shirtless in jeans. He heads for the closet and removes his black dress shirt.
I take in a quick breath and lean back on my hands, watching raptly. His left arm slips through and he pulls the shirt up to his shoulder. His right arm stretches back searching for its target, finding it, and sliding in. He shrugs the shirt to cover his shoulder then tugs both sides of the collar to straighten the shirt. He grabs the third button down and pushes it through the buttonhole.
He spins around, discovering me watching. The sides of his mouth curl up while he continues to button his shirt. “Do you like what you see.”
He saunters over, pushes me down, straddles me on all fours, and grins playfully. “We can run on Hawaiian time. You have something to kiss and make better.”
Two tables are pushed together at Moose’s. A deejay is playing eighties music and the people on the dance floor are whooping with delight to Love Is A Battlefield. J.D. heads back to the bar for drinks once I’m seated.
“Sorry we’re late,” I apologize.
“It’s not like you to be late,” Brad needles.
My face is on fire.
Brad’s eyes widen and he leans in, “When?” he asks in an undertone.
“After graduation,” I return quietly.
“You sly dog.” He punches my arm lightly.
I smack his forehead with the heel of my hand.
“What secrets you two sharing?” George asks.
“How yo mama screamed for Brad to do it again,” I answer deadpan.
Brad, Patrick, and Mundo howl and raise their hands to me. High fives all around except to George who is steaming. I flash him a sweet smile.
“Damn you, Ari. I feel like one masochist around you.”
“Because you are.”
J.D. returns with six shot glasses full of golden liquid and passes them out.
Brad raises his, “Slaínte!”
“Slaínte!” we echo then cover our shot glasses with our hands and slam them on the table.
Bubbles tickle my palm. I remove my hand and throw the Tequila Popper back. Sweet fiery liquid rolls down my throat.
We do several more rounds of shots then I snatch J.D.’s hand and drag him bouncing to the beat of The B-52s to the dance floor. The guys join us and J.D. steps away for a minute. Cutting Crew comes up and we sing along with exaggeration. J.D. returns mid-song, tugs me in, and sings along, “Oh, I-I just died in your arms tonight. It must’ve been some kind of kiss.” He dips me low and I throw my arms around his neck. Our lips meet for a brief dance then he pulls me upright. The driving synthesizer opening for Black Celebration starts and we sway to the tempo, bending at the knees. At the end, the music segues to the tell-tale double beat of Tainted Love starts. I break away from J.D. and jump up and down, closing my eyes.
Sometimes I feel I’ve got to run away
I’ve got to get away
From the pain you drive into the heart of me.
Hands latch on my upper arms jerking me backwards shocking me out of my musical reverie. More hands grab my shoulders and arms wrenching me back up. I smell muskiness close to me, and my eyes flutter open. J.D is a breath away looking behind me, hands grasping my shoulders. George and Mundo stand pressed in on either side of me. I look down and notice Brad’s and Patrick’s hands on my arms along with other hands I do not recognize.
I stiffen, my pulse accelerates, and I peek at J.D. His jaw is steely and his eyes burn with intensity. I hear muffled shouts behind me over the music. The hands on my upper arms latch tight like a vise. My breathing becomes erratic and I gasp for air. J.D. glances down and draws me into his chest with his right hand on the back of my head and his left at the small of my back.
The fingers of the vise-like hands are pried off my arms. The other hands on my arms release. I attempt to turn and look but J.D. stills my head between his hands.
“Look at me, babes,” he says just loud enough to be heard over the music.
My eyes are hot and my body is shaking.
“Ari! Look at me!” he shouts.
I turn my gaze up to him to find warm chocolate pools waiting for me. “It was him, wasn’t it?” I sputter.
“The police have him.”
“How?” I ask stunned. “owHThat was too fast.”
“They were already here because of New Year’s Eve.” He folds his arms around me.
I lay my head on his chest and breathe in his musky scent.
An officer signals to J.D. after he talks to the guys separately and we step outside. J.D. gives him his account of what happened. I tell him about the flowers, phone calls, and face-to-face confrontations with Lance.
“Do you want to press charges?” he asks.
“We’re leaving tomorrow. Will I need to be here?”
“Do you have a number where the D.A. can contact you?”
“Will he have access to it?” I cock my head towards the squad car Lance is sitting in.
J.D. gives him his number in D.C.
“The answering machine tape would help if you still have it, too,” He hands me his card.
“I’ll see if J.D.’s dad can bring it in.”
We move near the door. “Thanks guys,” I say as J.D. drapes his arm over my shoulders. I press my head into him and weave my fingers into his.
“I can’t believe you dated that crazy fucker,” Mundo says.
J.D., Brad, Patrick, and George voice their agreement.
“He wasn’t like this when we were together. He was funny, bright, and a good friend. I don’t know what happened to make him snap. But I feel like he snapped before I talked to him at the Row.”
Rick Springfield is blaring inside. The beat of Jessie’s Girl and knowing Lance will be behind bars for the night alleviates the stress.
We head back to the table. J.D sits and tugs me onto his lap. I lay my head on his as he caresses my back with his right hand and rests his left hand on my leg.
Brad and Patrick return with Long Island Ice Teas. “I thought it was appropriate,” Patrick snickers.
I take a sip. “Yours are better, baby.”
“I have the magic touch,” he grins wickedly.
“Yes, you do,” I whisper. I raise my glass to the guys. “Happy New Year!”
We tap our glasses together and take a swig.
The deejay begins the countdown and everyone joins in. “Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven! Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! One! HAPPY NEW YEAR!” the whole bar shouts.
“Happy New Year, baby,” I say lovingly, stroking J.D.’s cheek with my right hand.
“I love you, babes.” His hands cradle my head.
Our lips meet and I pour out all my love for him in that kiss to start the new year.
©Debi Smith, 2013