E is Even More Than Anyone That You Adore Can Love
It was a beautiful morning at Lakeshore Manor Heritage House. The sun glinted off the bright blue waters of the lake and brightened the green of the leaves and the purple and red of the zinnias just outside of the orchard. I paused for a moment to enjoy the peaceful breeze and soft chirping of birds before shattering it all by starting up the power mower.
Oh well. There would always be more beautiful mornings. Also, power mowers are pretty damn awesome.
I was finished with the lawn by 8:30 and decided to take advantage of the half-hour before Andrea arrived to stretch out on my back under the shade of the apple trees and nap.
Hmm. Gentle breeze... twittering birds... traffic in the distance... waves hitting the shore... bicycle on the road... calm and peacefulness and--
"Chris? Oh my God, Chris Edwards, is that you?"
Because it was, in fact, me, I opened my eyes and sat up.
And then fell back over.
Blinking a few times to make sure that I wasn't seeing things, I sat back up. "Jenna? Jenna Gooding?"
"The one and only." She smiled brilliantly and hefted herself over the fence. "Wow, it's been a long time. I don't think I've seen you since... Mary Alice's wedding last year?"
Ah. Mary Alice's wedding. I remembered it well. I was surprised Jenna remembered, though.
I went to high school with Jenna Gooding, and back then she was one of those gorgeous girls who was so off-limits that their boyfriends would beat you up for just thinking about them. And I... well, let's just say that I acted out battles from the Napoleonic Wars with my sister's dolls for fun in my spare time.
But unlike a lot of the other gorgeous girls, Jenna was nice. And smart. And non-judgemental. We were even kind-of-friends at one point. I spent most of high school dreaming about her, to be perfectly honest. She had long, dark hair, that fell around her face like a silky curtain, and eyes that sparkled when she laughed, and a generous mouth that wasn't afraid to smile. And also breasts. This was very important for high-school me. Her breasts looked like they were the perfect size and shape to fit into my hands, and I spent a significant amount of time in high school imagining just that.
Actually, looking at her now, she hadn't changed much. Her hair was still long and dark, and her eyes were still sparkly, and her mouth was still smiley, and her breasts were still... well, in possession of fantasy-like qualities. Fantasy-breasts.
Feeling a little bit dizzy, I reminded myself of the reason we'd stopped hanging out in the first place. Jenna's omniboyfriend, Ralph McAllister, threatened me with bodily harm if I didn't leave her alone. And that was that. We didn't speak again until her cousin Mary Alice married my buddy Nathaniel last year.
"Yeah, must be," I told Jenna, letting her think I'd been quiet for such a long time because I was trying to remember the last time we'd seen each other. "Well, you've mostly been in Toronto, haven't you?"
Jenna nodded. "Yeah, but now that we've graduated, Ralph and I are back in town. What about you?"
Ah. So Ralph was still around. Damn.
"I've been going to school in Montreal, coming back summers to work here." I jerked my thumb at the heritage house behind me. "But I'm headed to BC for grad school in a couple weeks."
"Really?" Jenna looked very interested. "Grad school?"
I shrugged. "Makes sense with unemployment being the way it is."
"Yeah, I haven't been able to find a job yet." Jenna's brow furrowed, and she looked quite troubled. "I mean, Ralphie keeps telling me I don't have to work, since he's capable of supporting both of us, but that's not the point. I mean, I want to work."
Ralphie. I didn't really want to talk more about Ralphie, but I couldn't keep myself from saying, "So you and Ralph are still living together?"
"Oh. Well, not right now. I mean, we've only been back in town for a few months, we're both back living with our parents." She paused, looked at me. "But we are looking for a place. Together. Because we're getting married."
It was like a blow to the gut. Of course I realized I had absolutely no chance with Jenna Gooding, but still--
"That's.. that's great," I told her. "Well, I'm really sorry, but it's nine and I have to get back to work."
"What time do you finish tonight? We should definitely catch up." Jenna's smile lit up her whole face and suddenly remembering pesky little details like breathing became difficult.
"I'll come by. Are you doing anything tonight? Maybe I'll bring a picnic and we can go sit on the beach."
It sounded too much like a date for me to really be comfortable about it, but Jenna sounded so excited that I agreed.
It was another ridiculously hot day. Carrie and Birdie sat on the porch with their needlework while Nick and I lounged on the grass in front of it, all four of us chatting companionably. Well, kind of.
"I've never been so offended in my life!" Birdie exclaimed, knitting viciously.
Carrie stifled a giggle. "Well, I mean, I guess the way your petticoats bump your skirt out kind of makes you look... a little bit... pregnant."
"I do not look pregnant! And anyway, wouldn't it still be rude to say 'Oh, when's the baby due' to an actual pregnant woman you don't know? Especially one who is in character as an unmarried nineteenth-century maid."
"Birdie, the visitors have no way of knowing that you're supposed to be unmarried, okay? It was just an innocent question." Carrie was starting to sound exasperated.
"You're awfully sensitive about this, Birdie," I cut in. "Are you sure you're not pregnant?"
Birdie gasped, outraged, and chucked her knitting needles at me. "How dare you!" Beside me, Nick's laughter was cut off as one of the knitting needles hit him in the shin.
"Ow, that hurt!"
"Aw, poor baby," Carrie crooned sarcastically.
It kind of devolved from there, until we were all eventually just hurling insults at each other, until...
"--and your pecs could use a lot of work, buddy!" Birdie hurled at Nick, and it was so ridiculous an insult that we all burst out laughing.
"Coming from you, Birdie, that is so..." Nick couldn't finish his sentence, he wa laughing so hard.
"Typical?" I suggested.
"Well, it's true," Birdie said huffily. "Although you do have very nice arms."
"I said, you have very nice arms." Birdie frowned. "Your legs aren't the greatest though. I'm sure Carrie would agree."
"What, about the arms or the legs?" asked Carrie.
"What? When have you ever seen my legs?" Nick demanded.
"Chris definitely has better legs," Birdie mused. "Quite nice, actually."
"Hey, don't bring me into this," I warned.
"Almost like soccer player legs."
"Soccer player legs?" Incredulous, I looked down at my pants and then up at Birdie. "What are you talking about?"
""Hey, I'm just offering my opinion as an impartial connoisseur of male body parts," Birdie shrugged. "You don't have to listen if you don't want to. I'm telling you that you have good legs, and you should capitalize on that. Wear shorts more often or something."
"Don't listen to her, Chris," Carrie advised. "Birdie will only be happy in a world where all men walk around naked."
"I'm sorry, am I interrupting something?"
We all jumped. Jenna was standing just inside the gate, looking at us like we were a little bit crazy.
"Jenna, hey! Is it four already?" She'd changed since this morning, and the shirt she was wearing gave me enough of a view of the fantasy-breasts to be a little on the distracted side.
"Five to," Nick told me.
"Close enough, I'm outta here. Be right back, Jenna."
As I headed into the house to get changed back into my street clothes, I heard Birdie return to the topic of Nick's arms. I couldn't tell whether Carrie was amused or offended.
Jenna was quiet for most of our walk down to the waterfront. After we'd found a spot on the grass and spread out a blanket, I joked, "What's got you so glum, chum?"
"Oh, I'm not glum. I just... I was talking a little bit with your coworkers, they're very... interesting. Are what's-his-face and the brunette--"
"Nick and Carrie?"
"Yes, them--are they together?"
"I'm not really sure. Even Birdie doesn't know what's going on with them."
"Birdie's the redhead?"
"Yeah. What's with the sudden interest?"
Jenna shrugged. "She's very... different. And Nick and Carrie, well, it just seems like they click. You know?"
I did, because I'd kind of noticed it too and brushed it off. "Yeah, I guess."
"I don't know. It's just, this whole getting-married thing... it's making me think about things differently."
And it was forcing me to think about her differently. Every time I tried to look at her, my gaze was drawn down to the diamond sparkling on her ring finger. I wished that it looked wrong on her finger--too big and ostentatious, or something--but it looked perfect. Like it was meant to be there. That made me hate it even more.
"I'm not sure I like it," Jenna continued, and it took me a minute to realize she wasn't talking about the ring. "Sandwich?"
I took the offered food. "Alright, how's this. When you're here with me, we're going to pretend like nothing's changing. We're going to pretend that it's like high school again, when the only important thing is what's going to happen on Friday night."
Jenna smiled brilliantly. "Deal." Then she moved closer to me on the blanket to shake on it and I almost fell over for the second time that day.
Because when she was that close to me I could smell her hair, and see down her shirt, and the combination of the two made me lightheaded. And then when her hand touched mine there was apparently a mini-nuclear reaction.
Jesus fucking Christ, someone up there hated me.
I'm not sure if she felt it too, or if time was just going really quickly in my Jenna-addled brain, but she seemed to pull away really quickly. Not that it helped much. Apparently, my long-lost lust for her had been awakened.
"So--being that we're pretending like it's high school," she began, and her voice skittered across my skin, awakening nerve endings I'd been trying to forget were there--"your mom told my aunt you have a girlfriend in Montreal?"
Well, that's a mood-killer.
"Oh--you mean Lauren? No, we broke up in March on account of she's a psycho-bitch. It was kind of scary actually. She counted how long it took me to respond to her texts, and if it was longer than twenty minutes she would assume that I was cheating on her and show up at my apartment and throw things at me."
Jenna burst into startled laughter. "Oh my God. Really?"
"Yep. I should have gotten rid of her the first time, but I was kind of afraid of what would happen it I dumped her."
"What did eventually happen? I'm assuming that you did the dumping in March."
"Yeah. She called me three to twenty times a day and played sad or angry music over the phone."
"Okay, that is kind of psychotic. How long did that last?"
"Until I came back home for the summer. Didn't give her my home phone number and had my cell number changed."
"Good for you."
We ate in silence for a few minutes, and then Jenna said, "You know, you're very open."
I blinked at her. "What?"
"I mean... most guys, or most guys I know anyway, they don't like to... well, most of them would never admit they were afraid of a girl, anyway."
"Maybe they've never met Lauren. Seriously. She is terrifying. I thought she was going to be one of those chicks that slaughter their ex-boyfriends' pets or something. Not that I have any pets, but my roommate did. Mice." I shuddered. "I can just see Lauren picking out their cute little livers and eating them raw..."
"Mice livers are cute?"
"Well, no, it's the mice that are cute. But Lauren is immune to cute. Once she kicked a puppy. It was a sad day."
Jenna was laughing again. "You're crazy, Chris."
For some reason, it felt like a compliment.
Jenna wanted to hang out again, and even though it sounded like a very bad idea, I agreed. What can I say? I had no way to resist her.
This time we canoed out to the middle of the lake and back. A few guys in sailboats gave us dirty looks--we were the only people out in canoes that day--but other than that it was nice. I was in the back, steering, which was excellent because it let me look at Jenna as much as I wanted without her noticing much.
Her strokes were smooth and sure, the paddle sliding in and out of the water soundlessly and without splashing. I was impressed. Maybe it was just Montreal, but it seemed to me like most girls, if they were even willing to get into a canoe, absolutely sucked at canoeing. Watching Jenna's shoulders as she switched sides, I noticed something on her left shoulder blade.
"Jenna, is that a tattoo?"
Fortunately the wind was relatively light, so we didn't have to yell to be heard.
"It depends what you're looking at. I do have a tattoo on my back."
"What is it?"
"Skull and crossbones."
"Cool." Sexy. "Really cool. Why skull and crossbones?"
"I took a class on the history of piracy once." Jenna sounded almost defensive.
"Awesome, I love pirates," I said, in an attempt to lighten the mood (although pirates really are awesome. Beat ninjas any day of the week).
Jenna laughed. "So do I. Anyway, I thought it was really interesting that even though pirates are by definition law-breakers, there was still a pirating code that generally regulated behaviour. And individual pirate ships tended to be well-run, quite strictly run, actually, or else there would be a mutiny. So, for me, that's what the skull and crossbones represent, rejecting the status quo--the country's laws--for something different. Not necessarily something better, but at least something that offers a little more opportunity, a little more agency."
"Is that something you've done? Or that you're doing? Throwing over the status quo?"
Pausing in her stroke, Jenna turned to glance over her shoulder at me. She looked frankly surprised. "You don't think it's funny, or stupid, or completely missing the point?"
"No. I think it makes sense. I think it's cool. I've never thought of pirates that way before. It's interesting. And I think it's admirable to throw over the status quo--so many people are unhappy with it, but most aren't strong enough to do anything about it. And your view is a lot more realistic than, say, anarchy. Which makes it more possible."
Jenna turned back to the front, but didn't resume paddling right away. "It's something I wish I could do. Throw over the status quo, I mean."
We were silent the rest of the way back.
The tattoo dominated my thoughts. On the one hand, it was sexy as all hell, flirting in and out from behind her shirt as she paddled. I'd never thought about a skull and crossbones as being sexy before, but on her it definitely was. It brought up images of swashbucklers ravishing innocent young maidens in torn silk dresses, and I had to work very hard not to picture myself as the swashbuckler and Jenna as the maiden.
Then there was the reason behind the tattoo, which was even more problematic. I admired her for the sentiment and the attitude it symbolized. I also felt like I knew something about Jenna that no one else did--although, let's be realistic, she'd probably told the story to everyone else who'd asked. And then, when I thought of the vulnerability and wistfulness in her voice when she admitted she wished she could reject the status quo, something inside me went strangely soft and mushy.
This was bad.
The whole lust thing was bad enough, but I could deal with it if I had to. But if it became more--if it became a repeat of the giant crush I had on her during high school, multiplied by a billion because now I actually knew her and was capable real adult emotion--if it maybe turned into something bigger than even a giant crush--
I couldn't even let myself think of that, because every time I did I remembered that Ralph played hockey in high school--defense--and was fucking huge. And strong. And aggressive. And not at all shy about beating up guys he thought were hitting on Jenna.
When we got back to the shore and went to get into our separate cars, Jenna turned to me. "Hey, Chris, before you go, can you tell me something?"
"Do you actually like my tattoo?"
The question took me by surprise. "Yeah. I mean, the skull and crossbones are cool in general, and, well, I mean, I think they look good on you. Suit you. And I really did mean what I said, about it being admirable."
Jenna pursed her lips, and for a second I thought she was going to cry. "Thanks. It's just... I know we're not supposed to talk about this, but Ralph kind of disapproves. He didn't want me to get a tattoo in the first place, and he thinks that pirates are stupid. I tried to explain it to him, but he didn't understand. And--and he doesn't like my hair. He thinks I should cut it, because short hair is more practical. But I love my hair long like this. It's just little stupid things like that, but I'm kind of starting to wonder if I'm being unreasonable."
Former hockey player or not, I really, really wanted to hit Ralph at that moment. "You're not being unreasonable, Jenna. I'm sure if he knew it was making you feel bad he wouldn't say anything." Actually I wasn't sure of this at all, and I think she might have noticed because she wrinkled her nose at me.
"He doesn't take time for me anymore. And he doesn't--" Jenna turned red and looked away.
"He doesn't what? Jenna, now that we're talking about this, what doesn't he do?" The fact that she was trying to avoid the issue made me even more curious. Okay, well, I was also trying to build up reasons why Ralph was no good for her, possibly to be presented to her at a later date, but I was really mostly trying to help. Sort of.
"He doesn't take time in bed anymore either," she said very quickly and very quietly.
I was at once surprised that any man who had managed to get fantasy-breasts in his hands would stop appreciating them, incredibly angry that Jenna was being thusly mistreated, and secretly gleeful for completely selfish, pointless (it wasn't ever going to happen anyway) reasons.
"Maybe," I tried tactfully, "maybe after you're married things will get better. Take it to a new level or whatever they say."
Jenna looked down. "I know, it's just cold feet, right? That's what my mom said. It's just cold feet because I'm afraid of forever. I'm sorry."
"What are you sorry for? We're friends, Jenna. Well, kind of. I want to be friends, anyway. And this is what friends are for, right?"
It wasn't entirely truthful, because I didn't really want to be friends, I wanted to be much, much more than friends, but I couldn't exactly tell her that, so it had to do.
With a sad smile, Jenna clasped my hand. "Thank you." She leaned in to kiss my cheek, and then ran for her car. She was out of the parking lot before I regained the power of speech.
Fuck, I was in trouble.
It was more than the fact that every nerve in my body was either doing a celebratory dance or demanding a repeat performance in its exact location. It was more than the memory of the one second when her hair curtained us from the rest of the world (and smelled wonderful), and her fantasy-breasts brushed my arm.
It was the sucker-punch in the gut I felt watching her leave me to go back to Ralph.
And that was dangerous.
"A bunch of us are going to MacElroy's tomorrow night," Jenna said when I answered the phone Friday afternoon. "You should come."
"Define 'a bunch of us.'"
"Well, okay, it's mostly Ralph and a bunch of his friends. Which is why I want you there. I mean, Mary Alice and Nathaniel will be there, but they'll probably leave early so Mary Alice doesn't get overtired."
"Why can't Mary Alice get overtired?"
I could hear Jenna's eye-roll over the phone. "She's pregnant, doofus. You didn't know?"
"Clearly not." Nathaniel, the guy who learned to speak Klingon when we were fifteen, was going to be a dad? Really? "Why doesn't anyone tell me these things? Hey, Mom--" I shifted the phone away from my face as I called down the stairs-- "did you know Nathaniel and Mary Alice Parker are expecting?"
"Didn't I tell you?" she yelled back. "Sherry tells me it's going to be a girl!"
"I really can't picture Nathaniel with a little girl," I said into the phone. "Although I imagine Mary Alice is over the moon."
"They both are," Jenna sighed. "And I think Nathaniel will make a cute dad. Can you imagine him when his little girl tries to go on a date? He'll try to be intimidating and fail miserably, because he can't be intimidating to save his life and you so totally know she'll have him wrapped around her finger. It'll be awesome. We can laugh at him."
"I see your point."
"So are you coming or not?"
Not like I had anything else to do. "Might as well. I can catch up with Nathaniel, anyway. I've only seen him a couple times since he put on the old ball and chain."
Jenna huffed. "Don't call it that. Anyway, we're probably going to meet up around sevenish, have some dinner and a few pints, see where the night takes us."
"Alright, Jenna, I'll see you then. I've got to go just now, because apparently I'm tying up the line."
"See you tomorrow night, tiger," Jenna laughed.
"Forget about it. See you later." Jenna hung up abruptly.
I turned to my sister, who had come in during my conversation, glaring and waving a sign saying "I AM EXPECTING A CALL N00B."
"Caitlin, why would Jenna call me a tiger?"
"I don't know. Why are you still after her? She's getting married."
"I am not after her. And if I was, I wouldn't still be after her. Since I stopped going after her when I was sixteen. So if I was going after her I would be going after her again." I frowned at Caitlin. "Are you trying to imply something?"
Caitlin rolled her eyes. "Whatever. Boys are stupid. If James O'Connor calls, tell him I'm very busy and will call him back later. And then tell me he called."
"James O'Connor?" Caitlin started to leave the room, and I followed after her. "James O'Connor is only a year younger than I am. Is that even legal?"
"I'm seventeen, dumbass, I can sleep with whoever I want."
"Sleep with? What do you mean, sleep with? Caitlin--"
But she had already slammed the door to her room.
"You look like shit," was Nick's assessment when he arrived at work the next morning.
"Gee, thanks, man."
"Seriously, Chris. You look kind of like you got hit by a truck."
I glared at him. "My seventeen-year-old sister may or may not be sleeping with an older man. Also someone referred to me as a tiger yesterday and I have no idea why."
"Um." Nick shrugged his shoulders restlessly. "That wouldn't happen to be that chick who came to see you last week, would it?"
An awful suspicion arose in the back of my mind. "Yes. Why?"
"No reason." Nick looked too innocent.
"Nick. Tell me."
Under my wrathful gaze, Nick withered. "Okay, fine. You remember what we were talking about before she showed up?"
Arms, legs, Birdie? "Yes..."
"Well, we kind of continued the conversation after you left. Or Birdie did anyway. She kept going on about soccer player legs, and then she said something like, 'I bet if Chris were an animal he'd be a tiger.' And the chick--what did you say her name was?"
"Jenna," I supplied, dread growing in the pit of my stomach.
"Right, Jenna. So Jenna said, 'How do you figure?' And then Birdie kept going on about legs or running or something, and then Jenna said, 'Isn't that an expression? You know, like someone can be a tiger in the sack?'"
"You're making this up," I told Nick. "That did not happen. If it did happen, I may need to go shoot myself now."
Nick ignored me and kept going. "And then the girls giggled, and Birdie asked Jenna if she would know--"
"Christ on a cracker. I may need to shoot Birdie too."
"And Jenna said you guys are just friends--"
"--and then she was quiet for a bit and said, 'Hmm. Tiger. I like it.' And Birdie said something about maybe Jenna will get to find out--"
"Make it stop!"
"--because she's never seen you leave five minutes early before--"
"Who tells people that?"
"--and before Jenna could say anything, you came back out. Don't feel too bad about it, man. Girls tell each other everything."
"I'm still going to kill Birdie."
"Did she ruin your shot with Jenna?"
"I never had a shot with Jenna. She's engaged," I snapped.
I wasn't really that angry, because it wasn't too horrible--it was just Birdie being Birdie--and anyway, it didn't seem to have affected my friendship with Jenna. Still...
"So, Nick... what animal were you?"
Nick muttered something that sounded suspiciously like "beaver."
"Wait. Birdie called you a beaver?"
"She said it's because I'm persistent and hardworking!" Nick exclaimed defensively.
Suddenly, being a tiger didn't seem so bad.
MacElroy's was just starting to fill up when I arrived at half-past seven. I barely had time to search for Jenna among the scantily-clad co-eds, menacing military types, and sketchy downtown-dwellers that made up most of the pub's clientele when someone shrieked "There he is!" and the next thing a short, wide, female cannonball slammed into me so hard I nearly toppled over.
It turned out to be an over-emotional Mary Alice, who started to sob loudly as soon as I patted her on the head and said, "Hey, kiddo, how's it going?"
Nathaniel came up behind her, re-adjusting his glasses on the bridge of his nose. "Hey, Chris! Long time no see!"
"How come you never come to visit us?" Mary Alice demanded through her tears. "We miss you!" The sobs started afresh, and Nathaniel pulled her away from me and fished a kleenex out of his pocket for her.
"Come on, Mary Alice." Jenna appeared suddenly out of nowhere to wrap her arms around her cousin. "Chris is only here for another week. Do you want to spoil that time with crying?"
Mary Alice made a valiant effort to shake her head no, and buried her face in her kleenex for a moment.
"So... congratulations, eh? I probably should have called sooner, or something..."
This seemed to do the trick, because Nathaniel's grin spread from ear to ear, and even Mary Alice managed to look elated.
"When are you due?" I asked Mary Alice, who was kind of starting to resemble a house.
"November," she beamed. "It's so exciting! Just yesterday we went down to Canadian Tire to buy paint for the nursery--it's called Orchid Glow, and--"
I immediately tuned out, since to me, there was absolutely no difference between Orchid Glow and... whatever colour orchids are. What colour are orchids?
Fortunately Nathaniel noticed that I was completely lost, and pulled me off to the bar to grab a beer.
"So," I said. "How do you say 'Daddy' in Klingon?"
Nathaniel gave me a shove. "Trust you to bring that up. I haven't spoken Klingon in three years, I'll have you know."
"Does Mary Alice even know you spoke Klingon?"
"I asked her out in Klingon, remember? The week before graduation." Nathaniel paused pensively. "Not my finest moment, I'll admit."
Before we could begin a mutual-ribbing session about our high-school nerdiness, Ralph McAllister pushed his way in front of Nathaniel and grabbed me roughly by the shoulder. "Edwards. What are you doing back in town?"
Ralph, as I've already mentioned, was a huge guy, with shoulders like a sawhorse and biceps like basketballs. Having my shoulder grabbed by him was not a pleasant experience, as I'd had too many occasions to discover.
"Hey, great to see you, McAllister. I've been in town working this summer, but I'm out to BC next week. I would ask you what you've been up to, but I don't particularly care."
Ralph blinked at me. "So you're being the funny man now, eh? Well, just remember to keep your hands to yourself and we won't have any problems."
After he swaggered over to the table where Jenna, Mary Alice, and a few menacing-looking guys were sitting, Nathaniel turned to me accusingly. "Chris. What did you do?"
"I didn't do anything!" I protested.
Nathaniel sighed. "It's Jenna again, isn't it. Didn't you learn the first time? McAllister's fists are not kind."
"Why does everyone assume I'm after Jenna? Is there a sign hanging over my head or something?"
"Yes," said Nathaniel. "Now come on. One of Ralph's bruiser buddies is hitting on my pregnant wife."
"Who does that?" I wondered aloud.
Nathaniel shook his head. "I dunno. I just want to thank you for showing up so I'm not the least masculine guy around."
"Hey!" I called out as Nathaniel began to head towards the table. "I'll have you know that if I were an animal I'd be a tiger!"
Ralph's bruiser buddy hit on Mary Alice until Nathaniel was angry enough to challenge him to a duel, which made Mary Alice cry, so they went home. Ralph took this opportunity to intimidate me by pulling Jenna into his lap and stroking her hair, while glaring at me--like this is my woman and you shall not touch, be gone ye of unfit genetic material!
So, needless to say, the evening was not going well.
At least not until Ralph picked up the menu and said, "Oh, look, baby, they have sushi here. I haven't had good sushi since we moved back."
An evil, evil idea started to form as I remembered Nick and Carrie coming in one day looking pale as ghosts. "We tried the sushi at MacElroy's last night," Nick had explained. "Never been so sick in my life."
"Oh yeah, it's a relatively new menu item," I lied. "My coworkers swear by the sushi here."
Ralph looked like he doubted me, but Jenna said, "Why don't you get the sushi, Ralphie. If it's no good we can try somewhere else next week."
I made a mental note to tell Jenna which sushi places were least likely to cause food poisoning, because as much as I hated her fiancé, I didn't want her to have to suffer.
As the evening wore on, Ralph and his buds got rowdier and rowdier and Jenna got quieter and quieter. She looked distinctly uncomfortable, squished between Ralph and some linebacker type. Since I wasn't too comfortable either, surrounded by equally mountainous men, I leaned forward to talk to her.
"So how's the job hunt going?"
She made a face. "Awful. Literally no one's hiring right now. I even started applying for minimum-wage jobs, and nothing's coming up."
"You should have gone to grad school, like me. I don't have to worry about the real world for another two to nine years."
Jenna laughed, delighted, but Ralph scowled and said, "Maybe it's time for you to grow up, like the rest of us. I'm not shirking my responsibilities, and neither is Jenna."
"Ralphie." Jenna laid a gentle hand on his arm. "It was a joke, Ralph. Clearly Chris isn't being irresponsible or trying to cling on to his adolescence or whatever you're accusing him of."
Shrugging uncomfortably, Ralph knocked Jenna's hand off my arm. "All I'm saying is, maybe it's time for Chris here to man up."
"What does that even mean?" Exasperated, Jenna leaned back in her seat and crossed her arms. "I think Chris is being responsible by going back to school instead of trying to get into an over-saturated job market where he has no chance. Would it be more manful for him to be sitting on his ass on EI right now?"
"Baby, I don't want to fight about this--"
"Then let's not." Jenna stood and pushed her way past linebacker guy. "I'm headed to the ladies' room."
There was complete silence for a few moments after she stormed off. Then two of the bruisers started talking about the start of the hockey season coming up in a few weeks.
By the time Jenna returned, there was a full-swing debate going about the Penguins' chances in the pre-season exhibition games. I wasn't participating, because I was afraid that if I disagreed with any of these guys they would beat me to a bloody pulp. Neither was Ralph, but I assumed that it was because he was upset about fighting with Jenna.
At least until Jenna got back and said, "Ralphie, honey, are you alright? You're looking a little bit pasty."
"I'm not feeling well all of a sudden," he muttered gruffly. "Think I'll go settle up and head home." My spirits rose considerably as he wobbled to his feet. "I'll call you tomorrow, baby," he called in parting. "Don't walk home alone. You know that car was stolen on your street last week. Wouldn't want anything to happen to you."
Jenna waited about five minutes after her left, and then since the Penguins debate didn't seem to be ending anytime soon, said, "I think I'll call it a night too."
I jumped at the chance. "Hey, Jenna, let me walk you home. You know that car was stolen on your street last week. Wouldn't want you to have to witness theft."
"How chivalrous of you," Jenna joked. "Are you going to wait at the end of my driveway to make sure I can get inside safely?"
"If you want me to," I told her gallantly as she called out a general goodbye to the table. They didn't seem to notice our departure. "I'm sure your parents will take pity on you and let you in if you forget your keys."
"Oh, they're out of town this weekend. My uncle Ned is showing some kind of crop at some kind of fair, and they went to see. Or something like that." She giggled as her foot caught on the pub's front step and she fell out into the cool night air. "Isn't it amazing out here?"
"Yep." Of course, she was amazing everywhere, but, I mused as I watched her dance down the street, there was something to be said for the ingestion of alcohol.
Other than a few tipsy comments, we were silent most of the way to Jenna's place. The cool night breeze was soothing after the stuffy heat of the pub, and Jenna, whose shirt had no sleeves, came and wrapped herself around my arm when she got chilly.
The close contact immediately set my blood boiling. I tried to look away, count the stars, imagine my grandmother in her nightgown, everything I could possibly think of, but just when I'd almost managed to distract myself, she would press closer, or shift her fantasy-breasts against my arm, and I would be back to where I started. I was half relieved and half disappointed when we finally arrived at her house.
"Well, I guess this is goodnight."
Jenna looked up at me, eyes wide. "Come on, Chris, come in for a minute. It's cold out here." To emphasize her point, she pressed my arm harder against her fantasy-breasts, which, now that I was up close and personal with them, did appear to be showing signs of being cold. Or possibly something else.
Holy fucking Christ on a cracker.
Against my better judgement, I let her lead me inside. "This cannot end well," I muttered under my breath.
"Hm? What's that?" Jenna turned towards me expectantly.
"Chris..." she stepped closer, until there was barely any space between our bodies. "Can you tell me something?"
Her proximity was doing such strange things to my anatomy that I wasn't at all sure I could tell her anything at the moment. "Nherg."
"You knew that Ralph would get sick when you recommended the sushi, didn't you?"
Oh, fuck. I tried to look as innocent as possible. Jenna just stepped closer.
"Why'd you do it?"
Like I could tell her without sounding like a complete tool. Yes, Jenna, I gave your fiancé food poisoning because I hate him and I want to be with you. That would go over so well.
Moving closer still, Jenna took hold of my chin so that I couldn't avoid her gaze.
"Was it... was it so that you could do this?"
Slowly, she raised herself onto her tiptoes, tilted her head, brushed her lips against mine.
It was like the first dose of a crazy addictive drug. Opiates, or something. When she pulled away I knew I needed more. Unable to think clearly, let alone remind myself why it was a bad idea, I grabbed her head and pulled her in for a real kiss.
For a second she tensed beneath my hands, and then suddenly she threw herself into the kiss with a passion that surprised me so much I fell backwards against the wall.
Her hands ran quickly up and down my chest, my arms, my back, and things were getting very heated very fast. She moved to nibble at my ear and whispered, "Chris--stairs."
Stairs. Bedroom. Sex.
Sex with Jenna.
And I was going to take my time. I was going to take so much time. Not like Ralph the Generally Inconsiderate. No, I was going to keep going, and going, like the Energizer Bunny, and pay Jenna more attention than she'd ever had, and--
By this point we'd reached the top of the stairs and she pulled away for a second to announce, "Shirts off time!"
Off came her shirt, and I almost had a heart attack from being in such close, personal contact with the fantasy-breasts. Then she said, "Your turn," and I shrugged out of my shirt, and she purred--purred--and jumped on me like a feral cat.
And can I just say, that about the size and shape of the fantasy-breasts--that I was completely right?
She hurried us through an open door and flicked on the light-switch, and I got an excellent view of half-naked Jenna. Then she pushed me down onto the bed and crawled up it after me.
"You don't know how much I want you," she murmured throatily. "I wanted you in high school, but you were too much of a gentleman to try anything. And then I really wanted you last year at Mary Alice's wedding. And now I want you so much that for the past week I've practically been bursting with it. I've been on fire, Chris--" by this point she was on all fours over me, grinning wickedly-- "and you're the only one who can help me put it out. Help me put out the fire, Chris."
And really, what could I do but obey?
The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes--after drifting awake to find myself pleasantly entwined with something warm and female--was a diamond.
Okay, okay, I'll admit that for the first half-second or so, I was completely convinced that I'd somehow fallen into an alternate reality or the future or something, and thus had magically acquired a hot fiancé. (Wasn't there a movie about that? Small secret: every guy secretly wishes his life was a sci-fi movie.)
But this was just a momentary lapse. I realized pretty quickly that the diamond was part of a ring that was on a finger that was lying on a pillow on which also rested a head that belonged unmistakably to Jenna.
Jenna. It was Jenna who was half-sprawled across me, Jenna whose soft, smooth leg was currently in between my much hairier ones, Jenna whose left fantasy-breast I was clutching.
Jenna who was engaged.
Jesus fucking Christ.
Realizing that I was feeling up a defenseless, engaged woman, I retracted my hand as quickly as I could (although this was a little bit difficult, since, as I mentioned, I was currently touching a fantasy-breast--you try to pull away in that situation). And I did not panic.
Okay, I panicked. But give me a break, here. Who wouldn't? It's the awkward morning-after times a million, because, hello, you've just slept with a woman who is engaged to a man built like a brick wall.
I tried to jump out of bed--because this is what you do when you just slept with an almost-married woman (even when she might not actually want to get married)--but Jenna, still passed out, somehow managed to get even more firmly on top of me and pin me into place, so that even if I tried to get out now, it would definitely wake her up.
Meh. Nothing I could do. I decided to go back to sleep and let her take the lead. She was the one who was cheating anyway. I was just the accomplice.
With that off my moral conscience, I put my hands back on the fantasy-breasts and went back to sleep.
When I woke up again, I was alone in Jenna's bed. Her clothes from last night were still scattered across the bedroom floor--well, across the whole second storey, actually, but meh, semantics--but other than that there was no sign of her. Well, except for the deliciously wonderful smell coming from the general direction of the kitchen.
After making sure I was at least somewhat decent, I headed down, following my nose. And stopped short at what I saw.
Wearing only--as far as I could tell--a silky robe that gave me a decent view of the fantasy-breasts, with her hair clipped loosely up on the back of her head, Jenna was standing in front of the stove frying up backbacon and baked beans. There was a fresh pot of steamy dark coffee to her side.
Seriously. Backbacon. BACKBACON. Most of the girls I knew wouldn't dream of preparing backbacon, let alone actually eating such a high-cholesterol breakfast. I mean, no-cholesterol was part of Lauren's healthy eating lifestyle diet thingy. (Not that Lauren was normal or anything, but still.) But, as I watched, Jenna took a giant bite of backbacon, followed it up with a healthy scoop of baked beans, and washed it all down with a generous gulp of black coffee.
Jesus Christ. She really was the perfect woman.
Well, except for the diamond, which was currently winking sunlight at me.
Why? WHY GOD, WHY? Why dangle the perfect woman in front of me like bait in front of a soon-to-be tuna steak?
Before I could recover from my moment of complete awe, Jenna turned around and spotted me lingering in the doorway.
"Morning, Chris," she said cheerfully after just a beat of awkwardness. "Breakfast?" Without even waiting for an answer, she ladled a huge serving of baked beans onto a plate and added a few hefty slices of backbacon.
"Do you even have to ask?" I grabbed the plate from her, trying to stave off awkwardness by keeping the mood light. "You know me, Jenna. Eating is my favourite pass-time."
The joke fell kind of flat. Probably because right after I said it I realized I'd said something very similar the night before, referring to something else entirely. Jenna just kind of stared at me, like I-can't-believe-you-actually-just-said-that, while I tried to do some damage control.
"I mean, I love food. Especially food with lots of cholesterol in it. Heart disease be damned, eh?"
Jenna blinked at me. "Um, I'm not trying to kill you."
"I never said you were!" Leave now, Edwards. Before you make things worse. Quit while you're... kind of ahead.
I dug into my backbacon which was, of course, heavenly. Jenna sat down across from me and finished her coffee while looking out the window. The awkward silence dragged on, until final I threw down my fork and said, "Well, then, let's have it."
Jenna blinked again. "Sorry?"
"Don't you want to talk about it? Girls usually want to talk about it. So. Let's go."
"There's really nothing to talk about. Momentary lapse in judgement. Cold feet. Whatever. So Ralph called this morning. We're going apartment-hunting. Since he got the job, you know. So... you should probably go when you're done eating."
But... but.. but...
But, for once in my life, I wanted a morning-after talk. I wanted her to say that she was leaving Ralph, because he didn't like her pirate tattoo, and wasn't considerate and caring in bed, and probably didn't like his coffee as dark as she made it. And also because he was an asshole. And I was awesome.
But Jenna was already standing up and leaving the kitchen. "I'm going to get changed. You can let yourself out when you're done."
Suddenly I wasn't hungry anymore. I pushed my plate away.
"That's it? You're just going to walk away?"
Jenna stopped, turned, and said in a perfectly measured voice, "Yes. I'm sorry, Chris. What were you expecting? Tears? Begging, maybe? I don't do either. I don't think you'll tell Ralph, because you hate his guts, and in my experience, guys usually bolt after a one-night-stand, never to be heard from again. So I really have nothing to worry about here. Have a nice day now."
To say I was flabbergasted would be an understatement. The chilly, emotionless thing this morning was so far from the warm, giving woman from last night that I couldn't even connect the two properly in my mind. I thought briefly about mentioning that, but then decided that might be verging on the desperate, so I cut my losses and left.
I decided that Jenna was a psycho-bitch and firmly tried to put her from my mind. Easier said than done, of course. You can't just forget about fantasy-breasts. Or awesome sex at night and backbacon in the morning. Or a cute little skull-and-crossbones tattoo playing peek-a-boo. Or the reasons behind that tattoo.
Or getting such a cold, flat-out rejection from the perfect woman. Ever.
Why did it matter, though? Why was it bothering me so much I couldn't even focus, and fumbled through my last few days of work in a miserable fog? Why did I feel, as I packed up my final boxes and got ready for the big move, that I was leaving behind something important and precious?
The answer came to me, strangely enough, on the last day of work, when I accidentally walked in on Carrie and Nick behind the willow at the back of the orchard. Well, walked in might not be the right word--accidentally spied, perhaps? Anyhow, what happened was that I was walking toward the back fence to check on a few loose boards, caught sight of Carrie behind the willow, her hands hovering somewhat dangerously over the buttons of Nick's period trousers and her skirts pushed up above her knees. Kind of shocked, I turned awkwardly, bent on getting away before either of them noticed me. But Nick's words stopped me short.
Those words? "God, I love you, Carrie."
This was incredibly weird due to the fact that while they'd been casually flirting all summer, as far as I knew they hadn't actually done anything until we went to the beach in mid-August. And also as far as I knew they weren't actually in a relationship, just hooking up.
So I turned around to see whether Nick actually meant those words or whether they were a reaction to Carrie finally getting his trousers unbuttoned (stranger things have been known to come out of men's mouths under such circumstances). And then a curious thing happened. I got a look at Nick's face (Carrie having removed her hands from his buttons altogether, so it couldn't have been that). And I recognized the expression on it. Because I knew exactly how he felt. Because it was how I felt.
Carrie, standing a little back from Nick, stared up at him, mouth half-open. "You do?"
Nick managed an awkward half-nod, clearly shocked and embarrassed that the words had actually come out of his mouth. And also that she wasn't jumping for joy.
"I... okay, wow. I mean... Jesus Christ, Nick, that was kind of a big bomb to drop."
"Yeah... I'll... I'll just be going now--"
"Um, no you are not. You can't just say something like that and expect me not to--"
Carrie grabbed Nick and pulled him into an intense-looking kiss. By the time she pulled back he had the dazed expression of someone who's just had too large a dose of laughing gas.
But I didn't pay too much attention to that--except, of course, for the sake of workplace gossip--because I was having my own little crisis.
I was in love with Jenna.
And it sucked.
I mean, Jesus H. Christ, what was wrong with my life? I finally found the perfect woman, and fell in love with her, and she was fucking all set to marry someone else. Yeah, I had to fall for the one girl I've ever slept with who wasn't desperately looking for a man to love her.
I am so fucking stupid.
Seriously? In love? Who even falls in love anymore outside of sappy movies? Was this what it was coming to? My life was turning into a sappy movie? One of those rom-com thingies? How incredibly depressing.
I considered calling Lauren up to prove to myself that I didn't really care about Jenna. And I couldn't. Okay, that might have been because Lauren is fucking whacko-psycho, and not because of Jenna at all, but still. It says something about my love life that I date only crazy women.
"Dude," Dan, Birdie's... special friend, told me at our end-of-summer celebration later that night, "all women are crazy. You just have to find a crazy woman that doesn't make you want to shoot yourself in the head."
Which was kind of funny, considering I'd have to shoot myself if I was sleeping, or God forbid living, with Birdie. But I guess there's someone for everyone, eh?
We were sitting at a table in the back of MacElroy's, and while Carrie and Nick climbed all over each other in sickening lovey-doveyness, and Birdie stood at the bar getting naive men to buy her drinks for us, I spilled my guts to Dan, who was at least somewhat sympathetic.
"Listen," was Dan's newest piece of advice, "some women are just bitches who use you. But some women go psycho as a reaction to cheating on someone. Don't take it too hard. If it doesn't happen, it wasn't meant to be."
I was starting to wonder if maybe he was reading this off fortune cookies or something.
"But how can I be in love with her? I mean, I haven't seen her in years, then all of a sudden we have a bunch of deep conversations and really really great sex--"
"Sometimes, that's really all it takes," Dan interjected.
"--and then she goes all ice-bitch and suddenly I'm in love with her?"
"These things happen sometimes," Dan told me calmly. "Sometimes you find out that your hot roommate has been wandering around the apartment in her underwear on purpose to get to you, and you're so surprised by that you realize you're in love with her just because she's so zany."
I blinked. "What? Who are we talking about here?"
He didn't answer me, mostly because Birdie returned at that point and plopped herself in his lap. "Oh my God you guys. Guess who I just saw come in? It's Andrea. And she's totally with the cute collections guy."
Carrie pulled herself away from Nick to respond to this juicy tidbit. "Graham? No way."
"Oh, you totally know he's the only reason she's always asking about damage to the artifacts. Because whenever there's damage he has to come over to look at it, and then they go and have a long conference in her office--"
"Oh my God!" exclaimed Carrie. "And you know, the last time he came, they were in her office for like an hour--"
"--and they were all sweaty and we assumed it was because her office is in the attic and it's always a freaking inferno in there?" Birdie finished. "Yeah, they were so doing the horizontal tango--"
"On her desk? That is so nasty!"
"So, sorry to interrupt this workplace gossip--" I started.
"Shut up, Chris," Carrie said amiably. "Gossiping about co-workers is the best part of any job."
"Oh, well, in that case--hey Andrea, did I ever tell you about that time this afternoon that I walked by the old willow tree--"
"Andrea!" Nick exclaimed loudly, cutting me off and giving me a dirty look. (Hey, his girlfriend started it.) "Didn't even see you there!"
Andrea looked rather bemused, although she probably hadn't heard the gossip about her, since the music was so loud in the pub. "Enjoying your freedom?"
Ignoring her question completely, Birdie reached across the table to put a hand on her arm. "How's Graham? Andrea, please, please tell me you're on a date with him."
Taken aback, Andrea blinked. "I--well--yes, kind of."
Birdie squealed and grabbed Carrie's wrist. "Oh my God! That is too awesome! You guys make the cutest couple ever. Oh my God. I was totally instrumental in getting you guys together, I call it right now, please invite me to the wedding?"
Andrea had a "WTF? wedding?" look on her face, but Birdie didn't stop.
"You could get married at Lakeshore! Oh, please do, it's so pretty in the spring with all the flowers, I love flowers. And--"
"Birdie. Babe." Dan covered her mouth with his hand. "I think you're about done. Head home?"
She looked about ready to protest, but Dan leaned down to whisper something in her ear, and she said, "Oh God yes, I would much rather be doing that," and left so quickly Dan barely had time to wave goodbye before he was running to catch up with her.
"Wedding?" said Andrea.
"Don't listen to her, she's a little crazy," I told her.
Andrea nodded and headed back to Graham, looking a little frantic. I was about to get up and head out myself, but Nick and Carrie reached up as one to pull me back into my seat.
"So. The old willow. We're talking about this." Nick glared me down.
I cringed. "Sorry about that. I wasn't actually going to tell her--"
"That," Carrie told me sternly, "is not what we're worried about."
"Honestly." I put my hands up in the air in a don't-shoot-me gesture. "I was walking to the back fence, I saw you guys, I turned around and left. Completely innocent. Come on, guys, you can't go doing stuff like that in public and be surprised if someone catches you. It could have been worse, it could have been a visitor."
Nick didn't look completely convinced, but he let it lie. Carrie shuddered delicately at the thought of getting caught by a visitor, then shrugged and said, "We could have told them it was part of our skit. They totally would have bought it. They would have loved it."
The worst part was, she was probably right. Humans have an incredible voyeuristic instinct (as I proved true, though I wasn't going to tell them that).
"If the inquisition's over," I said sarcastically, "I think I'll be going now."
Nick stood up to shake my hand, and Carrie came around the table to give me a good-bye hug. "Good luck this year--you be careful out west."
By the time I was halfway out the door, they were making out again.
Figured. God, why did they have to be so perfect together? It just made life depressing for the rest of us (i.e. me).
The night before I left for B.C. my mother made a huge dinner of all of my favourite foods and made sure that everyone was home for my "send-off dinner." I wasn't exactly complaining--my cooking will never, ever be as good as my mother's for one thing. But, of course, Mom had to drag in the one subject that would ruin the evening.
"So when are you coming back, sweetie pie? Are you going to be here for Jenna Gooding's wedding?"
I almost choked on a mouthful of fresh harvest corn.
"Um, I don't know yet. When is it?"
Mom looked a little put out. "She hasn't sent out invitations yet or anything, but I thought you might know. The two of you have been pretty close lately. Didn't you walk her home last week when Ralph was ill, and didn't she let you stay over on her sofa because you were really, really tired?"
(This was the lie I had told my parents, who kind of return to high-school mode whenever I'm home for the summer. It wasn't completely untrue. Just the sofa part.)
"Well, yeah, but--I don't think they've even set a date yet, Mom. I mean, they've only been engaged for, what, six months?"
Mom gave me her how-in-the-heck-did-I-give-birth-to-you look. Or possibly her OMG-men-are-crazy-and-don't-understand-simple-life-matters look. They're fairly interchangeable.
"Well, I ran into Ralph's mother at the Loblaw's yesterday and she said that Ralphie wanted a summer wedding but Jenna pushed it back to the fall because she liked fall colours better. And I do admit that fall colours suit Jenna much better. But, you know, it's already September, and if she plans to get married this fall she will have made almost all of her arrangements by now."
She was right. For all I knew Jenna would have spent the other night hand-adressing invitations rather than having wild monkey sex if it hadn't been for me.
This thought just depressed me further.
"She hasn't said anything to me. Anyway, I don't think I'll come. Poor student, remember? I can't afford airfare from B.C. and back just for that."
Mom was shocked. "But she's your friend, Chris! Her wedding is going to be an incredibly important day, and she'll want you there! You should want to be there!" At Jenna's wedding? Maybe if it was also mine. Not if I was going to have to watch her marry stupid-ass Ralphie. And I doubted she would want me there either.
"Yeah, not so much," I told her.
"Sam--" Mom turned suddenly to Dad, who was jolted out of his serious perusal of the evening paper (yes, we subscribed to the evening paper)--"Sam, why don't you offer to pay the boy's flight. So he can come back for Jenna's wedding."
Dad blinked. "Now why in hell would I do that, Lydia? The boy doesn't want to go, then he doesn't want to go. Simple as that."
(Yes, to my parents, I, 22-year-old Chris, was still "the boy.")
"But Sam, it's just the cost, he'd love to go--"
"No, he wouldn't. Jesus H. Christ, Lydia, use your eyes. Any fool can see that the boy would rather be forced to eat his own entrails than watch that Jenna girl marry Ralphie-what's-his-name."
You can see where I got my lovely eloquence from.
"What? But she's--"
"Not returning his feelings? Rebuffing his advances? Resisting his charms? No, Lydia, I really don't think the friendship argument is going to win you this one."
Seriously. Who says stuff like that? Also what kind of father reveals to the whole dinner table that his son might just have unrequited feelings for a woman who's getting married in a few months?
"Jeez, thanks, Dad," I muttered.
Caitlin, of course, was absorbing this all with an alarmingly gleeful expression on her face. "Chris, you got shot down! Also told!"
"Thank you, Caitlin. That was very mature of you," I told her sarcastically as she descended into a chorus of "shot dayown!"
"Sam, what are you talking about? Caitlin, who's getting shot? Chris, what's going on?" Mom looked so confused that I couldn't help but take pity on her.
"Dad's just making some observations on my unfruitful and ultimately depressing love life, which is about to culminate with the wedding of the love of my life to a complete asshole. Caitlin is reveling in my pain. You're the only one who doesn't get it. I'm going for a walk."
Leaving Mom gape-mouthed, Caitlin cackling evilly, and Dad going back to the evening paper, I strode out into the night.
I still hadn't resolved my issues with my family by the time a tearful Mom drove me down to Toronto the next day to catch my flight to Vancouver.
Mom tried to apologize on the way to the airport, but I wouldn't let her. "Mom, don't worry about it. Okay?"
She shot me a dubious look, but fortunately shut up.
The flight was like all cross-Canada flights--long, boring, and we didn't get any food. Also I'd forgotten to charge my iPod and the only in-flight radio station that worked en route to Vancouver was apparently All-Neil-Young-All-The-Time. Which got really depressing after about the first five seconds, and stayed depressing throughout.
Needless to say, by the time I arrived in Vancouver and set about trying to get to my new dorm room (goodie, grad residences) I was tired, cranky, hungry, depressed, and generally annoyed with life. And I missed Jenna.
Orientation and the first few weeks of class went surprisingly well. I mean, I still thought about Jenna a lot when I was alone, but when I was in company it was surprisingly easy to push her out of my mind.
Well, okay, it wasn't really easy, per se, but at least it was possible. Sometimes. On a good day.
I still heard periodic updates from mutual friends about her wedding plans. Dan, being the nice caring guy he was, sent me a picture of his neighbour's (friend of Ralphie's) invitation (although how he managed to acquire it, I'll never know). For a few days I was half-hoping, half-dreading that my own would arrive. But it didn't.
I was sitting at home one night, making plans for Jenna's wedding day (get so smashed I couldn't remember my own name, pass out in a gutter, feel worthless and miserable, etc.) when someone knocked loudly on my door. Thinking it was my suitemate Sayid with pizza (Sayid, noticing that I rarely ate due to being emotionally distraught, had become my prime source of food), I called out a casual, "Coming!" before slowly getting up and stretching the kinks out of my neck.
Except, when I opened the door, it wasn't Sayid at all.
It was Jenna.
There were dark circles under her eyes, and her hair was frizzed and greasy. But she was still the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I had to reach over and grab onto the door jamb to keep myself upright, especially when I realized that her dirty blouse offered me an excellent view of her fantasy-breasts (whoa lightheadedness).
"Jenna?" She didn't say anything. "Am I hallucinating, or something? I swear to God those muffins Sayid gave me must have had something in them, even if he did buy them at the grocery store like he said."
Jenna blinked and looked up at me. "What?" Then she went back to her previous occupation, which was looking at my bare legs.
Oh. Right. Crap. No pants.
"Jenna, what are you doing here?" I tried, hoping to distract her from the pants-less-ness. Oh, and also the lack of shirt. Damn. I knew sitting around in my boxers drinking beer would lead me to trouble some day.
"Um, can I come in for this conversation? And you might want to put on a shirt. And also pants. I feel like this is a conversation that requires being fully clothed."
I thought about telling her that no conversation required being fully clothed, but decided not to push my luck.
Once I'd managed to safely get her through the common area and into my room (and also lock the door. Never take chances when the love of your life shows up on your doorstep) I said, "Jenna. Really. You're getting married in a week. To Ralph. What are you doing on the West Coast with me?"
She started to speak, and then shook her head, annoyed. "Seriously. Put some clothes on. It's distracting me."
I grabbed a sweater and some jeans from a pile on the floor. I couldn't tell if they were dirty or clean, but that didn't really matter at this point. Closing her eyes as though in pain, Jenna exhaled slowly and looked me over again.
"I'm collecting my thoughts, okay? I just... I want to make sure that everything I need to say gets said." She took a deep breath. "I just... I can't... I never meant to end up with Ralphie, like for good. I mean, we started dating in high school. How many of those relationships even last past graduation? He was supposed to be my first boyfriend, you know, the one you learn on so you don't mess it up with guys who actually matter. We were never really happy together, per se, but we were happy enough, so there was never really any reason to break up, and so we never did. And then eventually we got to the marriage stage, not because of any burning desire to get married, but just because it seemed like the next logical step."
She got up and began to pace across my tiny room, wringing her hands nervously as she went. "I didn't feel ready, it didn't feel right, but I never really thought about it... I guess it never occurred to me it might be more than just the usual, you know, cold feet. That's what they tell you, eh? Whenever you tell someone you're having doubts about getting married? They say, oh, it's just cold feet. Except sometimes it's not. But I never really thought about that until--well, until I ran into you again, and it was just so nice to talk, and none of the things that bother Ralphie so much bothered you, and it just made me realize--I'd only ever dated, I'd only ever slept with one guy in my life, and I'd never intended to stay with him permanently, but we were getting dangerously close to till-death-do-us-part. And then--and then--"
Now she sat down next to me and looked me straight in the face for the first time since she'd arrived. I wasn't entirely sure whether to be elated or depressed--was she here to thank me for helping her realize she wasn't ready to get married? To apologize for only sleeping with me out of curiosity?
Some of my thoughts must have shown across my face, because she bit her lip and looked away again. "I admit that... that night, part of it was desperation, or something, some wild desire to see if maybe it was better--if maybe I was better--with someone other than Ralphie. Or to at least be able to die knowing I haven't only slept with one guy in my life. But I honestly don't think it would have happened with anyone but you, because you... you understood me, or you seemed to anyway, and we had chemistry, and I wanted you, I really wanted you--and then--it was good, it was so good, so different from being with Ralphie. I just--I was terrified. I realized I didn't want to spend the rest of my life with him, but I didn't want to hurt him either, and I just felt so guilty, and--well, I'm sorry for being such a bitch to you. After you left, I went upstairs and cried."
She was looking pretty close to tears now. I reached out to touch her hair, but she brushed me away and started pacing again. "I tried to go ahead with the wedding. I didn't want to hurt Ralphie, I didn't want to deal with the embarrassment of canceling an engagement, I wasn't brave enough to do any of that. And I didn't want to end a six-year relationship on such slim evidence as a one-night stand. So... so I went to see him one night, and stripped down into my sexiest lingerie, and he said... and he said that when we were married, I was going to have to have my pirate tattoo removed, because it was inappropriate for a married woman. So I asked him to tell me more about what was appropriate or inappropriate for a married woman, and he--oh, it was so awful! He said he expected me to take his name, because it was a tradition. I don't know how we never had that conversation before, I guess I always assumed I would be keeping my own name and he always assumed I would be giving it up. And--there was more, but it doesn't matter. I just realized that I could never survive being married to him. I would hate it, all the time."
I stood and went to her, rubbed her back as she started to cry. "So I told him... I told him I couldn't marry him. I told everyone I couldn't marry him. I stood up on a table at MacElroy's and told it to the world. And it was awful--I can still see the look on his face. And the whispers--I don't know if the gossip was worse. Maybe. But just--I felt guilty, and sad, but at the same time I felt so free--and guilty that I felt free. And then--"
She'd stopped crying, and with a sniffle looked up at me. "I ran into your sister Caitlin--well, more like she ambushed me--and she gave me this address and said, 'I thought you might want this. You know, if you need to get out of town till this dies down. Or something.' And I went straight home and packed my bags and came here and--well I'm here now, and I figured, I was unemployed back in Toronto, what's the difference being unemployed in Vancouver?"
She looked at me like she expected me to say something profound. "So... you came here to get away for a bit?" I asked.
"No--well, yes, kind of, but--I just--Chris, you're the only guy who's ever made me tingle just by looking at me, and you're the only guy who understands the pirate tattoo, and I think we have potential for something deeper than that, and I was wondering, since I'm here and you're here--if you wanted to, you know, give it a shot. See if it works."
I was speechless, really speechless. It's not every day the love of your life breaks off her engagement and then flies across the country for you.
Looking far more uncertain than the circumstance called for, Jenna bit her lip. "So, how 'bout it, eh? Just try it out, you and m--"
She didn't get any farther, because at that point I picked her up, swung her around as much as I could in my shoebox of a room, and kissed her long and hard.
"So is that a yes?" she asked, breathlessly, a few moments later.
"Definitely," I said, unbuttoning her blouse, which gave me a good view of the fantasy-breasts (I had missed them so!) although this wasn't quite the point. "And you know where we're going to start?"
Jenna's confused mumble turned into a delighted moan as I kissed the skull and each of the crossbones of her tattoo individually. "Chris--"
Seeing she was close to tears, I gathered her up in my arms--it felt so good to have her there, warm and feminine and Jenna.
"Hey, man, I got some--" We both turned our heads in time to see my suitemate Sayid push his way into the room. He stopped dead when he saw us. "...Chinese takeout?"
"Oh, hey, Sayid. This is Jenna. Jenna, Sayid."
"Hey," said Jenna.
Sayid looked us both up and down We were both kind of dirty and unkempt, still locked in a tight embrace, Jenna's shirt part-unbuttoned, with visible tear-tracks on her face. Sayid shook his head.
"I brought you Chinese takeout," he said, setting the bag down on my desk and turning to leave.
He didn't acknowledge this, but we caught him muttering something uncomplimentary about people from out east before he slammed the door.
We looked at each other and laughed, and laughing reminded us how close together we were. Grinning up at me, Jenna licked her lips. "Let's go, tiger."
Gladly, I complied.
AN: Aloha, my readers. So this one turned out... interesting... I think that the ideas I was trying to convey are too big for a one-shot deal.
Anyhow. I know, I know, I said I was going to post by Labour Day, which was... a month and a half ago. I'm really, really, really, really sorry. A combination of writer's block and no-time syndrome (I'm going to university full-time and holding down two part-time jobs) combined to make an environment not conducive to updates. On the other hand, now that I'm done this I can go back to one-shot land, and just write whatever I feel like! So hopefully I'll be back relatively soon.
Ugh. I think I may have put too many random characters in this one. But I love them all! Caitlin is awesome, and I love Mary Alice and Nathaniel, and it was so fun to write Chris's parents. Also Sayid is my favourite.
But anyway, please leave me a review! Good/bad/ambivalent! Comments/questions/concerns! Favourite/least favourite part of this series! Anything!