We’d be perfect together if either us could get past our broken hearts...
Every woman I get involved with proves that it’s better to live without loving anyone. I learned a long time ago that my mother was out to destroy my father using the best weapon she had: me. So keeping the people that I can’t help care about at arm's length is safer for everyone. As much as I'd like to change this it’s not worthwhile. When I show back up in Rollinsford, my crazy stepsister’s new best friend shows me everything I could have. Or rather, everything I have yet to lose. You know what sucks the worst? We’d be perfect together if either us could get past our broken hearts.
In a short time at Rollins University, I’ve managed to wreck my reputation. Mitch is one of the few who knows the underlying truth of what actually happened. He doesn’t hold my poor choices against me. But Megan’s self-destructive brother follows the pattern I need to fall out of. So why did I fall so hard and fast for a guy who can't decide if he only wants to be friends? And how do I put my heart on the line again for a guy like this?
Rain seems to keep people away more than snow. This is interesting because it is actually a lot harder to learn to drive in the snow. I’ve lived in the Northeast my whole life and still have white knuckles every time flakes begin to fly, even when I’m the passenger. Winter is cold and wet on the Cape. We get a good amount of snow, but nowhere near what I saw those two winters up at Rollins.
Maybe it is the ugly dinge of early spring that people avoid as the snow stops and the rains come as a deluge. It could also be that a few flakes may land on your shoulders during a snowfall, but when it rains the water quickly seeps through leaving everything cold and wet until you can get back to the warmth of your home to change and dry out.
I was three months into my art internship. My father was thrilled that I’d come back to live at home. He had been dating that real estate agent and just didn’t know how to tell me. Watching my father go out made me homesick for Rollinsford and the current wet season made for long, boring days when I wasn’t helping with a restoration, clean up or exhibit repair. Today I was assigned to the gift shop for the day. Just like when I worked at Professor Jackson’s gallery, I had a small sketchbook that I kept with me at the Maritime Museum for when things got slow.
It was a quiet afternoon other than the patter of raindrops on the old front steps. The register had been nearly silent all day, allowing me to shade the line drawing of a miniature dinghy that I pulled off a display shelf and set on the counter in front of me after my lunch break. With nothing to bother me, all of the attention was forced upon the little ship and making it look realistic, even in the shadows of the low incandescent shop lighting.
My concentration was broken when the bell jangled and a small group of men entered. They stopped among the shelves, conversations ebbing and flowing from one item for sale to the next. The non-threatening voices had a strong air of authority and evenness that allowed me to ignore their browsing the towers of glass shelving that partitioned the room and return to the sketch. Finally, one of the four men approached the counter pulling his wallet from his jeans pocket.
I plainly set the sketch down and looked up. At non-committal glance, I’d taken them to be a group of older gentlemen. Without giving much more thought than our vicinity to Provincetown, I’d also left any notions of why they would be out in a gallery midweek at the front entrance and had begun to sketch again. The not quite thirty-year-old man with onyx black eyes struck me silent when I should have been asking how I could help him. Those eyes were only offset from mine by a hair's breadth, and his raven-colored hair was cropped short all over with a slight peak at the front. He held his leather wallet open and I realized the lighter brown, though worn at the edges from being sat on, mostly matched the color of his bomber jacket.
“Can I get four tickets, please?” he asked.
The other three men varied in height and stature. All had a similar hairstyle and modestly worn jeans that managed the same clean cut appearance. The only differentiator was their combination of t-shirts, button downs, loafers, sneakers, or combat boots.
I saw the pale green identification card where a driver’s license would usually sit. “Do you need this from all of us, or will mine just do.”
“Yours is fine,” I replied, looking back from his cohort to the soldier. They would all be proud to show their cards and the likelihood that one of them was not actually military was slim. “Honor system.” I smiled. “You’ll have the main gallery to yourselves. It’s a cold day for anyone to be out.”
The latest traveling exhibit had been installed within the past two weeks. It had several nice pieces, antiquities, and the usual hum drum articles that rounded out the large white room. The rest of the museum had a more seafaring warmth, rich colors, and fabrics reminiscent of old sailors Federalist homes. The museum had acquired a Homer on temporary loan that fit well with the enclave of nautical paintings.
A taller, slim serviceman behind him said, “Anything’s better than being cooped up.”
I rang through the transaction and handed the officer back his credit slip to sign.
“The weather doesn’t bother us.” He scrolled his signature on the small paper. “We just needed to get away from the base now that we can.” I cocked my head questioningly. The handsome man in front of me continued. “We just got back from being deployed. It’s a long cramped plane ride, and when you are in the Middle East no one’s going to go off base looking for something to do. If you know what I mean? After all those months of sun and heat, a few raindrops aren’t going to stop us.” He refolded the wallet replacing it in his back pocket and accepted the small badges I’d placed in his opposite hand.
“And find some decent food.” Started the loftier man with an impatient tone about his upcoming dinner
“Know any place?” His black eyes danced back at me. It reminded me of the way stars shown in a galaxy. I was drawn into the light and life.
“There’s a new place about two blocks down on Second Street,” I replied wondering what the men had been eating all these months that could be that much worse than the food at the Rollins’ Student Union.
“Want to come with?” he offered.
There were still three hours until I was finished working. These men wouldn’t last that long here if they took the time to read each description. I nodded towards the street as a car splashed through a puddle.
“I’ll take a rain check.”
“I’m going to hold you to that,” he said. “What’s your name?”
“I’m going to hold you to that, Lindsey.”
The next day wound up being overcast and cold. The puddles had that crackle of ice at the edges, but no rain fell on the salt encrusted sidewalks creating patterns like snowflakes. I had started the morning in a ho-hum mood. Then as my manager and I had begun affixing new lettering to the walls in a smaller exhibition room, she began to ask me about my plans for after graduation and offered for me to stay on at the museum with a paid position when the summer season started. It was the spring in my step that I needed to get out of the doldrums.
By the time we’d finished refurbishing the exhibit, there were cut outs from the center of o’s, e’s and other letters on my clothes. I stood over the trash can in the gift shop trying to make sure that all of the errant sticky scraps had been accounted for when he came back on his own.
“Hey! Are you ready?”
“For what?” I couldn’t help but be amused at his forwardness while picking the last sticker off and turning my interest to his brown eyes and regulation haircut.
His ears were smaller, fitting perfectly to the place where a strong chin sloped forward on his clean-shaven face. He’d changed into a different collared shirt than he’d worn the day before. The jeans, however, were so close that I could not decide if they were a different pair. Over the top, he had on that same thinly lined regulation jacket that puffed out at the arms to accommodate varying sizes. Albeit, he didn’t look cold, but I didn’t see how it managed to keep him warm.
“That rain check you owe me. Unless you have another reason to postpone it.”
“I don’t. But I also don’t even know your name.” It was a half-truth, as the soft wings patch on his left breast clearly read LIEUTENANT J. EVANS.
“Yeah you do. I saw you read it off the bottom of my receipt yesterday.”
He’d cleverly caught my lack of skill and me biting my lip was confession enough as he graciously held out his hand for a formal introduction.
We shook, conceding that I was a bad liar, and he was enough of a gentleman to look past it.
“So, what do you say?” I perceptibly wasn’t going to get out if this by postponing any further, and in all honesty, I didn’t want to.
“Sure Jason,” I replied with soft assuredness.
“You ate here yesterday.” I began before Jason quieted my resistance to the same bistro by saying that I had made a good suggestion and his offer had been to take me there. When I politely noted that he had offered for me to come along, Jason poured on the charm, saying that what I had heard and what he meant were two different things entirely. He would have liked my company yesterday. He appreciated it much more this evening.
Initially fear consumed me that Jason would get the wrong idea. I wasn’t the type of girl who thought nothing about going off with some guy I’d just met. But his banter set me at ease and he quickly managed to pull out of me details about my internship at the museum, that graduation at Rollins was coming up, missing my friends, angst over my infrequent trips back to Rollinsford to help out with Meg’s wedding preparations, and enjoying time with my dad.
Jason was originally from the South. I heard a faint accent as he recounted his own college graduation in North Carolina, but told longer stories that made me laugh about ROTC and Skinner, the taller of the soldiers whom he was with the previous day, before they accepted their Navy commissions.
All four men had just returned from the Middle East for the first time and were stuck in limbo waiting at Otis to be reassigned as their orders had changed mid-flight. The tour of duty in a different country, and the fact that Jason was several years older than I was, gave me the impression that he was even more worldly. Even if he maintained that he was never truly off the base unless he was required to be. Any further remarks about what he’d been doing were undisclosed. Although later Jason confessed to being a helicopter pilot and told me that his squadron would be staying at the reserve station nearby, before moving on to their next orders.
It was a fun night, unclassified as a date, seeing past when Jason showed at the gallery unannounced to pick me up, he never pushed his advantage past being friendly. Of course, flirtations and innuendo passed easily between us. When Jason walked me back in the streetlight to my car he never attempted to steal a kiss, and even my wanting to hang out with him again didn’t encourage a feeling that I wanted him to. That is what probably struck me so hard when he did kiss me less than a week later.
He texted me that morning to say that new orders had come through and they were packing up to leave in the following day. Did I want to get together? I never considered saying no.
Meandering, we drove 6 and 28 with no destination in mind, from Hyannis back towards Buzzards Bay, stopping for a late lunch of clams at a stand that had opened unseasonably early. Bundled in my pea coat with two layers, including a cable knit sweater, the wind whipped and chilled me as we walked side by side along the fishing docks, watching barges move in and out of the waterway. I attempted to tuck my neck father down in my scarf to stop the onslaught of a gust and stomped my feet lightly.
Recognizing that Jason had hardly shivered in his uniform jacket, I mocked myself further by asking, “How can you not be cold?”
“Lots of nervous energy. Keeps me warm, I suppose, to always be on my toes.”
He stopped. I giggled a bit facing him while wiping a strand of hair that had fallen loose from my ponytail. It swirled back and his bare hands pushed it once again behind my ear, where it managed to stay. His fingers had been warmly tucked into his pockets and lingered against the cold of my cheeks.
“If I don’t kiss you, Lindsey, I’m going to regret it.”
His lips brushed against mine softly and Jason stopped to cup my face hardly pulling a breath away before devouring them with a greedy sweetness that I realized I wanted from him at that first tender touch moments before. His arms moved around the thickness of my layers, his touch warming every chilled part of me. Our faces dropped simultaneously and his deep black eyes looked from their minute station above me, into my own.
“I almost asked what you were anxious about.” My juvenile confession made Jason force an amused breath as he placed his lips on my forehead.
“Can I come back out from Newport sometime?” He’d taken my hand as we walked back towards his car.
“I suppose so, yeah,” I answered, sighing at the luck Jason had struck getting temporarily reassigned to the Naval Station in Rhode Island.
“You suppose?” Jason stopped walking but still held firmly to my hand. “Is there something you aren’t telling me?” he asked jokingly, but with a slight hesitation in his voice.
There was so much I wasn’t telling him.
Copyright ©2016 Jody Kaye
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a creation of the Author’s imagination
or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, establishments, event or locales is
coincidental... That's right, I made it all up!
This excerpt is taken from an uncorrected proof of the book. Mistakes are possible... In other words, I'm human too.