Written for Intermediate Fiction. Creative writing minor
|I met Jessica two weeks before the local county fair. We met while she and some of her friends were bowling one night where I worked. She was with a couple of her guy friends, having a few drinks and attempting to bowl. When she came up to ask for another whiskey and coke I decided to chat with her. I asked for her phone number and let her get back to her game. She messaged me the next night after I’d texted her asking when I worked because that was the first night she’d ever seen me there and said she often went to the bar next door.
I messaged her back that I only worked a few nights a week. She sent me a picture from her camera gallery. Large deep blue eyes, and long curly blonde hair, and a wonderful smile that made all her pictures seem much brighter. She said she was a senior in college with multiple jobs, but she was older than a typical senior, and I wondered if she would have any time for me.
We began chatting about our lives in the small town we shared, and how I’d only been here for less than two months after moving to live with my parents after my previous relationship ended. But we discussed my dream of joining the Army and following in the steps of my older brother who had a successful military career. It wasn’t long until I asked her if she wanted to hang out that night. She had such a bright and captivating personality, I immediately loved her ability to hold such diverse conversations. She agreed to hang out and we began to try and decide what we should do. She said she wanted to go grab something to eat or have drinks. I had to confess that I wouldn’t have the money to do that until later in the week when I got my next paycheck. Instead I offered a movie because I was able to get free tickets. The bowling alley and theater were in the same shopping center.
I met her at her apartment at 7 PM. She was dressed simply; leggings and a hooded top boots to her knees. Her long hair was pulled up into a tight bun low on the back left side of her head. She wore very little makeup, but still looked great. Her frame was curved and supple, but incredibly sexy. I drove us to the theater in my beat up 2001 white Dodge Ram, and when we approached the ticket counter all she said she wanted was popcorn with lots of butter. I let her pick our seats, and we settled in and enjoyed the newest Justin Timberlake movie Runner Runner, while making small witty comments here and there. When we left the parking lot, she invited me to come back to her apartment to talk. We went back to her apartment where we talked for almost two full hours before I had to leave.
She didn’t plan on seeing me the next day, I could tell because she told me that I should come cuddle, thinking it wasn’t going to happen because I was at work, but I told her I could come after 5 o’clock up until I had to leave for work. I met her at her place; she asked to go up the street to cash her paycheck from her receptionist job. We got into her car and drove to the opposite end of her street. After she’d cashed her check, she looked around the deli while I ordered at the counter. I finally grabbed her hand and walked over to the cupcakes which she said she wanted, while positioning my body close to hers, my hand on her hip; I could tell she wasn’t expecting me to touch her because I felt her body tense. I placed my order and we left. When we got back to her place she began cooking fajitas for herself while I ate what I’d ordered at the deli.
She was set to graduate in seven months, and she truthfully didn’t know what she wanted out of a relationship with a guy at that point. She didn’t feel like it was fair to get too serious in case she had to immediately move after her graduation, and honestly I felt the same way about going off to boot camp. I could also tell she wasn’t sure about dating an active military man, afraid of going through a deployment, since her best friend from high school had been in the Army, and she knew what a toll it took on him emotionally as well as on their friendship. We decided to take our time with our new friendship and not rush into anything before we hashed out the details of our lives in the near future.
The week of the fair arrived and we picked a Saturday to go because we both were off work. Since she knew the layout of the fairgrounds since she grew up here, she picked me up from my parent’s house. As we headed to the fair it began to rain, but we decided to keep going. We got to the fairgrounds and started walking under my large umbrella around the grounds. But by the time we’d made it to the expo building it was pouring. We stood under the awning questioning what to do, when she asked me if we could go inside and look around at the booths.
She mainly wanted to look at clothing boutiques. We made our way around the building. When we headed out of the expo center half an hour later she asked if we could eat. Since it was still raining, harder than before, we just chose one of the vendors immediately around the livestock barn just a couple of yards away from the expo entrance. She chose a Frito pie with onions. I ordered the same and we found a seat among strangers, but it was out of the rain, which was all that mattered. We watched the rain pour off the food stand that was attached to the expo center’s roof. Jessica ate slowly and we talked while we patiently waited for the rain to let up. Once it slacked off enough for us to get out and walk around for about twenty minutes. Our jeans were already soaked from the knees down, our shoes and socks were soaked through as well. I held the umbrella between us; we made our way to the ticket booth.
At first she swore she said she only wanted to ride the Tilt-a-Whirl once, twice at most. We bought six tickets each. The rain was a light sprinkle at that point so we closed the umbrella and made our way to the ride. We gave the operator our tickets, three a piece, and made our way down the diamond plated walkway to the cart the assistant was ushering us into. We crouched into the purple and silver half-moon cart and pulled the big bar up onto our laps. She tucked her purse tightly under her arm and I moved the umbrella onto my lap in order to wedge it there so it wouldn’t fly off during the ride. Once the operators had filled enough carts, the ride slowly began to make its way up and down the artificial hills while spinning around its pre-determined axis. I looked over at her face as we swirled around and around, she had the biggest smile on her face, bigger than I’d ever seen on her before. It was the smile of an ecstatic child. It was the most beautiful sight of innocence in an adult you’d ever get close to. A few times during the ride she left out a high pitched giggle from deep within her. As the ride finally slowed to its final swirl, she let out a heavy sigh.
“That was so fun! I didn’t think our cart spun as much as it could have, but I liked it. I don’t think I have as much of a head rush as I did last year though.” Her words spilled out quickly, from an obvious burst of adrenaline. “Let’s go see if the jewelry booth is open.”
For the first time that night, I grabbed her hand. The jewelry booth was in fact open, and she reluctantly let my hand go not long later so she could run her hands along the large plexi-glass cases. She glanced over some of the cheap silver hearts and joked we should get one that said “Jessica + Chris Forever.” She stopped in front of the pet tags, eyeing them carefully and I had an idea of what she was looking at since we’d had a lengthy conversation about her love of her dog, Pete.
“Can I get the small blue paw print please?” She cheerfully asked the vendor.
The man tossed a small notepad onto the case in front of her and told her to write the name and phone number she wanted on the tag. I watched as she wrote the name “Pete” on the pad with her big bubbly handwriting. The man glanced at the pad, and asked if she wanted a phone number as well.
“Nope, just ‘Pete,’ it’s not for him, it’s for me.”
Pete was the handsome black and white Border Collie that belonged to her parents and lived with them hours away. She constantly talked about him since I’d met her; he was practically a son to her. I’d trained border collies to do agility courses when I was a teenager, so I completely understood why she loved that dog so much. She wanted the little blue paw print with his name to keep on her keys.
We turned and walked away, trying our best to ignore the game vendors attempting to con us into games we’d never actually win. I looked ahead and pointed to the large blue and white ride. The Flying Bob. “Let’s ride that!”
“No way, absolutely not. Look at it, it’s way too fast; I’ll get sick from that thing.” I briefly attempted to coax her onto the ride, she insisted I could go all I wanted but she planned on staying on the ground below.
“Well I’m going to go.” I said as I headed to the ticket booth. The ride was an additional two tickets more than what I still had.
“Wait, I guess I’ll do it, and if I hate it I’ll know next year that I for sure don’t like it.” She said as she approached the window and asked for two tickets as well. We headed straight on to the ride, up more diamond plated steel, slick from rain, and incredibly steep. The good thing about the bad weather of the evening was that none of the rides seemed to have any waiting lines.
I could tell she was out of her comfort zone and more nervous than she’d probably been in a long time. I patted her knee and smiled at her while we sat, she flashed a hesitant smile back at me, but I couldn’t help but feel she wasn’t fully happy with me talking her into getting on the ride. Soon the ride’s DJ came over the speakers and announced that we should all hold on tight as AC/DC played behind his muffled voice. We took off slowly but picked up speed quickly, it was similar to a roller coaster but with less room to move. We went up and down in the swinging cart around the ride. I stared ahead and held on tight, enjoying every bit of the ride. Half way through the DJ announced we’d be going in reverse and I watched as she attempted to brace herself. We spun all around, swinging from side to side in a tiny blue and silver cart as we rose and fell quickly around the ride. The ride only lasted a few minutes, and it was time to get off. The hardest part was getting off the ride, down the slippery diamond plating.
“So, how was it?” I asked.
“Wow. You know that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. I actually had fun. I’d do it again. I definitely have a head rush now,” she said as she smiled wide.
We enjoyed one more ride, The Sizzler, eating and drinking a few more of the carnival delicacies like fried Snickers, lemonade, and the quesadilla she obsessed over before we both decided to head home after our long evening. We’d spent a lot of our money, and we’d endured the rain, had a blast enjoying ourselves like children for a few hours, but we were tired. The rain made the humidity heavy in the air, and her windows never quite would clear the entire way home. Her hair was messed up from the weather and soaring through the air all night. She still looked beautiful to me.
The next day I went to work while she stayed home to do homework. I sent her text messages throughout my shift arranging to see her once I got off the clock. As soon as my boss let me go, I drove straight to her house. When she opened the door I tossed a small stuffed bear I’d won from the machine at work at her. She smiled and backed up to let me in.
“How was work?” She asked.
No matter what she said, her words were so genuine; I could always tell she actually cared what the response was no matter what she may have asked. She could ask what my favorite color was and manage to sound like she truly cared what the answer was. Around her I felt special, and wanted, maybe even needed, and it was a good feeling after being taken for granted for so long in my previous relationship. I dropped my entire body onto her couch and covered my eyes with my arm. She managed to gently sit between the open space between my legs, resting her hand on my thigh. Her hand rubbed across my stomach as we sat there in silence.
Our silence may have hinted at my feelings, because as much as I liked this woman, I couldn’t shake thoughts in my head that I just wasn’t emotionally ready to be with anyone. There were the two child support payments looming from my meager checks from working 15 hours a week at minimum wage. Financially I couldn’t afford to date. Between her photography business and receptionist job, the only two of her four that made money, she was in a much better financial position than I was.
I opened my eyes and stared at her beautiful face. “I have something to tell you.”
“Um, okay,” she said, “this doesn’t sound good.”
“I guess it’s not.”
“Then what is it?”
“I’m not ready to be with anyone in any romantic way right now.” I said. I had previously been married and had a son with my ex-wife, and the relationship I’d moved here to get away from had resulted in a daughter. I just couldn’t be with anyone right then.
“So what does that mean exactly?” She asked, her voice cracking a bit.
“Right now, all we can be is friends.” We stayed there, I didn’t know if I should leave or stay, but it was becoming more obvious that she wanted to cry.
“Let’s just hang out tonight and we’ll go from there.” I knew she couldn’t let me go, she didn’t want to, but it was the easiest transition for her.
I didn’t stay much longer that night; I couldn’t handle hurting her and seeing it in her eyes. That night she went to bed without texting me goodnight. I lay in bed, staring at a message screen of texts we’d exchanged. How could I have hurt such a sweet person?
As each day passed I could sense she was bitter that she’d been led on, but I knew she’d find someone, and it didn’t seem long before I saw her one night at the bar with the new guy she was dating. She looked happy. Our eyes met a couple of times while I went about cleaning up beer bottles from the bar before heading back into the bowling alley, she smiled as she spoke, but glanced away quickly.