“You sound much better.” Jay said, as soon as he heard her voice over the line. “I take it you found everything…accommodating at Abuelita Maria’s Consuela?”
Alex sighed into the phone. “This is the best bed and breakfast I’ve ever stayed in. I’ll have to leave the proprietor a big tip.”
He laughed again, shifting the phone to his shoulder.. “I take hundreds and fifties." Swiveling in his chair, Jay glanced to where the door opened and the bell announced his grandfather’s departure from the shop. His attention snapped to the dark hair and eyes of the young woman from the electronics warehouse. She’d been exchanging small talk with his grandfather while he filled the order form replenishing the stock. Now she leaned back against the counter and licked her lips.
Jay threw her a crooked smile , drawing her over to him as if he’d tossed her a barbed and baited hook. When she began to move toward his chair, He focused back on the tightly aligned part numbers. Scanning the form and Trying to keep his concentration on Alex’s voice, he ignored the twist in his gut.
“Did I call at a bad time?”
“NO. no, this is a perfect time. Just give me a second, Okay
Jay scribbled his selections in a mad rush, his pen moving beyond his conscious thoughts. He could feel the delivery girl’s breath on his neck, her dark eyes focused on him. Alex’s voice in his ear kept him from turning around to absorb the young woman’s flirtations. The girl beside him never passed up the chance to flirt with him, despite his gentle refusals. He didn’t have time for her today, and yet somehow he still felt the old familiar desire to make her happy. Offering another half-smile to her, he signed at the bottom of the page and handed it back. “So, how d’ya like The Big Apple?”
Alex burst into an animated description of the cab driver, her amazement at all the water, and how her neck still ached from craning her eyes up to stare at the skyscrapers.
A carmel-colored hand gripped his, snaring his gaze back to his guest. , Jay felt long satin fingers caress his arm. The Latin beauty was smiling. Her full lips curved luscious and plump around her tongue. She mouthed ‘thank you’, using the slow deliberate expression of her mouth to make the point. Trailing her fingertips across his bicep, she winked. He grimaced at the sultry movement, sparking bittersweet memories of those lips. With a slight wave, he turned back to the phone. He didn’t care about the ignored invitation. He knew it was an empty offer . His restless thoughts refused to consider anything but Alex right now. “How’s it been going with…New York?” He didn’t want to have this conversation with her. The one where she made excuses for Charles while he chewed through his tongue. With Charles’ number staring at him from a post-it note on the wall, he knew it had to be done. Picking up the pen he had used on the Markham Electronics order form, he twisted it between his fingers, waiting for her to give him her stiff upper lip speech. The hesitant silence across the phone remained and he broke its tenuousness. “Lex, Are you Okay?”
"Yes, I just...I’m…I need to ask you something?”Her voice came slowly over the speaker as if she were dripping the syllables imbedded in frozen molasses. “
Jay straightened his slumping shoulders and stiffened his back. Through the heavy lids of his dry eyes, he stared at the bleary number. If this was about Charles he would have to be very careful in his answer or she would hear more than he intended. “You know you can ask me anything.”"
"Do you think its Okay if a girl has a boyfriend, or a guy has a girlfriend, they should fall in love with someone else, or worse, with each other?”
Jay’s jaw dropped. His mouth felt as if he were choking on his tongue. Was she trying to tell him something? Was he supposed to have some magical response that would bring her back? His mind went blank. The echo of silence kicking at his brain until he forced himself to speak. “What are you talking about Lex?"
“Just answer the question? Do you think if two people fall in love with each other while they’re dating other people they should get to live happily ever after?”
Jay chuckled, unclenching his fists from where they were balled on his knees.. “Those are two different questions Lex. If you are with someone and not in love with them, then you should let them go. If you think you’re falling in love with someone because you’re bored or tired of the person you claim to love, then you should work on the relationship with the person you‘ve made promises too.”
Alex was quiet again, He could hear her gnawing on her lip the way she did when she was trying not to form an opinion. He knew it was too late, she’d already jumped to her conclusion. Now she wanted him to agree. “Love is loyalty Lex, and trust.”
“I don’t think I understand. If your with someone and you love them, how could you develop feelings for someone else? If you’re not in-love and neither is the guy you’re attracted to, then you can’t help falling in love with each other, right?”
Jay leaned back in his chair and looked at the wall behind the desk. The papers and flyers hanging there flapped in the heater’s air, as it moved down the wall. He frowned watching the flurry play with the yellow note holding Charles’ number. His feelings about love and commitment had never been concrete, even in his own mind. He just believed in forever and the work it took to make that happen. How could he explain this to her in a way that'd make sense. Alex's voice broke into his thoughts when she asked if he was still with her. It was time to tell her the truth. “Do you remember my girlfriend, senior year of high school?”
“That little tramp Olivia?”
Jay smiled, making sure to wipe it from his voice. The five years since highschool had not tempered Alex’s feelings for his ex-girlfriend. Even though a part of him enjoyed the flare of temper in his best friend whenever they talked about it; he needed her to understand something about Olivia now. She couldn't here the smug satisfaction in his memory of Olivia if he wanted Alex to understand.. “Yeah, Olivia. Actually,
"I thought you were going to answer..."
I promise I’m answering the question,” he assured.""
what does her being a skank have to do with this?”.
“She did break up with me first." The only response from Alex was a grumbling agreement. “When Olivia came to see me that morning I had no idea she’d come to break up with me. We went out the night before and when I dropped her off, I thought everything was fine. Later when she showed up on my doorstep, she was so cold. Looking back on it, I should have realized what was happening. she was going through some stuff because her mom was leaving her dad."
Alex cleared her throat. “Her mom was leaving her dad? How come she didn’t end up moving away?"“Her mom didn’t divorce her dad, she just left him and the family for another guy." Jay felt the impact of his statement ring in empty silence across the phone. “Our entire date that last night consisted of us talking while we sat on the swings in the park. she cried, telling me about her mom's work. I was confused but she explained. Her mom had started working again because her dad worked 12-15 hours a day to make enough money. It was a nice life, but they wanted more. Her mom took a waitressing job and met a bunch of new friends and now she had a man, not her husband, telling her she was beautiful, flirting with her, giving her the attention, that her husband wasn't."
"Because of all the long hours and their two different shifts?”
Jay hesitated, clearing his throat of the lump forming there with the memory. “Probably, but Olivia didn't see it. Her mom was running off with this guy and Olivia was devastated. She said her whole concept of true love had been broken. She couldn’t understand how you could just turn it on and off if any random guy made you feel pretty or desirable.”
“Jay What did you tell her when she said that?”
He shrugged, as if Alex could see his reaction.. “I didn’t really tell her anything, I was seventeen, and I didn’t know the answers." He felt a little guilty about breaking Olivia’s confidence.Sucking in a long breath, he listened for Alex on the phone.
""You didn't agree with her whole 'broken heart/love' thing did you?"
“Try to see her side Lex. after that night she decided that love doesn’t last because if her parents could have it for twenty years and then have it evaporate in a few months, then no matter who you are with, eventually it will go away.”"
“That's why she dated every guy in the school who would have her after that?"
Jay sighed, remembering the pain of watching her earn the reputation Alex just labeled her with a moment before.. “Yeah Alex,” he said reaffirming his clear tone and dropping the memory as if it were burning on his tongue. “but the point is, Love isn’t a shiny new car that shows up in your driveway every morning just as new and unused as it was the night before. Love is the reason you wanted that car in the first place. Everyday you spend with her is one more day that she isn’t new any more. People throw each other away like old cars, because there are so many shiny, pretty, new, or just different ones out there. You don’t throw a perfectly beautiful piece of steel away because the tire is flat or the fuel pump is broken. You don’t trash her because you have loved her for so long you want the thrill of another one. Love has to be a choice you make everyday, if you can’t make it because there’s nothing there to love, then you have to find what you loved in the first place. If you’re with someone who is hurting you and isn’t going to stop, then yeah, give yourself permission to love someone else. “But if you loved each other and have just forgotten why, then find out. You may have to turn your back on a lot of new, shiny CARS though."
“What if they’re not really in love with you?” she said in a choked whisper.
Jay held back most of the fury he felt with the reappearance of the pain he heard in her voice. He wasn’t sure Charles was the reason she was asking but he made no mistake in the fierceness of his answer. “Then they are blind and stupid and they don’t deserve you. Lex, what’s going on? Did you finally answer Charles’ calls?“
"No, I’ve been reading my mom’s…wait…What?" Jay bit back a grimace. ""
“How did you know I have been ignoring Charles’ calls?"
Swearing silently, Jay cleared his throat. “He called me when he couldn’t find you to ask me if I knew where you were.”
Alex gasped.“He’s worried about me enough to call you?”
“Yeah,” Jay said, kicking himself, “He’s got an explanation for why he wasn’t at the airport this morning. He feels bad and wants me to convince you to call him so he can come get you.”
“Is it a good explanation?” she finally asked.
Jay’s throat growled behind his short, succinct words,
“Blatant lies.”"What time did he call you?”
Jay glanced at the display on his phone, trying to remember. "two or three hours ago."
he flinched at the frustration he could hear in the grind of her answer between clenched teeth. he didn’t start calling me until it was mid afternoon here. I could have been dead somewhere by then.”
"You're not, you're fine. I'd like to keep it that way too. Are you going to call him back?"
“I’m still too angry with him to talk to him, but I’ll call him once I calm down.”"
Jay frowned at Charles’ phone number taunting him. He could hear more hurt than anger in her voice. He knew stewing over Charles’ unanswered calls would just prick at her flawless sense of loyalty. “I don’t blame you for being mad at him Alex,” Jay said. “but that will pass. Are you sure you still want to work this out with him?"“I don’t know, Jay. I think that no matter what I decide though it’s time for him to commit to either get on or get off this ride.”
The tears sprang back to her voice. Jay swallowed the curse he wanted to fling at Charles.. “I’m sorry Lex.Do you want this number he gave me?"
"No, Ive got one on my phone I’ll use, but thanks and Jay…”
Her voice softened to an appeal. “I’m sorry about all this. Taking care of me isn’t supposed to be my best friend’s job.”
Jay laughed without humor as the bell to the office jingled behind him. He turned to see Tricia McConnell’s strained features standing in the doorway, highlighted by the setting sun.“Yes, It is.” He said, Standing from the chair. “That and anything else you need.”
Alex dropped the phone back into her lap. The warmth of the room was weighing on her eyelids. The sudden spark of sadness lashing at her thoughts pushed her mind away from her own difficulties.
“Olivia Markham.” She said out loud into the vacant air. “He’d have loved you forever.””
She stood and reclaimed the manuscript from the floor at her feet picturing The dark haired beauty from high school.
With the remnants of Jay’s voice echoing in her thoughts Alex began to ascend the staircase again. There was a story she was missing here and only one person who could fill in the blanks for her.
Her tumbling emotions limped along weakly beside her, convincing her she just wasn’t steady enough to make that phone call yet. Instead, she climbed back into the warmth of the bed and kept reading. A faint glimmer of hope still alive in her heart that she just didn’t understand all these crazy journal entries.
Entry #38 July 21
I had dinner with him and his parents tonight. It was excruciating.“I don’t think your mom likes me very much.” I told him when he was kissing me good night.
“It’s not that she doesn’t like you.” He told me. “She just thinks we are moving too fast. She wants me to date other girls.” I laughed at that, having enough girls to date was not the problem and the fact that his mother thought she had this mess figured out was a cruel joke.
Little did I know this conversation would be the joke. I was totally unprepared for where that little revelation was headed.When I wondered why his mom wanted him to date MORE girls, He gave me this insane story. His mom set him up with some random girl when he'd moved home. Evidently, his interest in me messed it up. She figured by spending time with me, he couldn't pay attention to anyone else. He thinks his mom is irritated that she can’t control this part of his life. Its pretty clear to me, she just disapproves of our being together.
When I told him what I thought, he all of a sudden got this sheepish look on his face and then spilled the beans.
“I went out with a girl I knew from Arizona too. She came to see me a few weeks after that time we spent most of the night in the park.”
“How did that go?”
I know the sarcasm was glaringly obvious in my voice. He was lucky I didn't throw up on his shoes from the sick feeling rolling in my stomach. He gave me this pathetic, guilty smile The second one was “Better than my mom’s fix up.”
“How much better,
He couldn't even look at me, staring down at the porch or his feet.
“Well…my mom caught us making out in the driveway, the last night of her visit and she thought that meant I was keeping my options open, but then there were all the phone calls and your visits….”
“You were making out with another girl two weeks after that night we talked until dawn in the park?” I felt like my head was going to explode.I wished I could have shot needles through that crooked little grin of his. “Two weeks after you told me you’d been waiting for the chance to be with me, you were using that same line on some other girl? Did you give her that ‘best friends with benefits’ bit, too?”
I was even angrier when I got home. He'd begged me to forgive him. He was testing his options...blah, blah, blah. Ileft him on the porch wondering if he'd ever see me again, and fled back to my apartment. The stomping around the kitchen wasn't helping.All the noise brought Anne in. I told her about his dating other girls. She just listened. Maybe she said something, I don’t know. I was on the verge of tears and ready to just call the whole thing off. I don’t need the stress of the long distance or the fact that we barely see each other.
“Love is hard work Trish,” Anne said.
“Oh, I know,” I told her.
“You just have to ask yourself…If he’s ‘the one’ does it matter how much?”
Right then it did matter. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life fighting for a relationship that I had to cry over every other day.
Now, I’m not so angry. Just sad and lonely. He says he loves me and now he knows it. Can I trust him? Is it worth it??
The small black phone vibrated against Alex’s leg taking her attention from the.
manuscript. It vibrated once more and she shifted her weight to bring it out from beneath her thigh. The missed call message scrolled across the screen again. she bit her bottom lip. She wanted Charles to live with the knowledge that he had pushed her too far, that he was in danger of losing her, that…
She gave a shuddered breath. A quiver of panic stabbed at her heart. “What if he didn’t care? Alex opened her phone scrolling through the missed calls to program his number into her call list. she dialed the number. What if he doesn’t care? She thought again. Then what?? Her mind fought against the implications. Eyes filling with tears,she stared at the papers now scattered in a clump across the rug at the base of the chair. Disconnecting the call, she reached down to reclaim her mother’s manuscript.
“Entry #39 July 24
I went with Laura this afternoon to a family bar-bQ.. Not her family, HIS. I knew this was going to get me in trouble. I should have stayed behind. She was already distracted by the pressure of showing up in front of his whole family. Like I wanted to spend another awkward day meeting mom’ . she promised me it was just some of his brothers and sisters. I rolled my eyes at her, refusing at first. When she begged me to charm his family so she could feel less pressure, I caved like origami.
The party was fine. I wondered again where I had gone wrong when I’d screwed up family dinner the other night.
A couple of burgers and hours later,
we were saying thank you to him when Laura ended up taking a phone call from work. He and I stood next to the truck talking, He was really teasing me about how much his brothers liked me.
A shocker after the mother thing so I didn't really believe him. “Liam says if he weren’t already married, he’d go out with you himself.”
“I’m sure he was kidding.” I said not wanting to meet his eyes.
“Yeah, well, I told him your taken anyway, so he’d have to fight for you.” I smiled again, more like tried to smile."Am I?"
His eyes tightened and his jaw clenched as he looked over the hood of the truck. “I don’t know Trish, I guess that’s really up to you.” I shook my head, “What do you want to do about this?”
I hadn't really made up my mind before tonight. Standing there, looking into his pale blue gaze, I had to make the right decision. I gulped air like I was drowning before I could answer. “If this is where I’m supposed to be, and what I need to do, then I want to see it through.” He reached toward me but just laid his hand on the hood of the truck. “See it through.” He said confirming my choice. “Until we can work it out.