Monday, February 1, 2010

Chapter 23: Delete

by Landee

Kris didn’t know how long they had been sitting on Adam’s couch. He had been drifting in and out of consciousness with the warmth of MJ’s body beside him and the feel of her hand in his. It would have almost been heavenly had it not been for his throbbing right eye, the tenderness of the back of his head and the most painful way MJ would squeeze his hand each time to get him to wake up again. He didn’t think the force with which she would squeeze was entirely necessary but he wasn’t about to say anything. He figured he deserved any punishment given to him right now.

Judging from the light outside Kris figured it was about 5 o’clock now. So maybe they had been sitting here for 2 hours or so? Tori had left a while ago but Kris hadn’t heard where she was going. Jimmy had gotten up and left not long after without a word. AV had been in and out, checking his pupils with a flashlight and refreshing his ice baggies.

He had barely moved a muscle in those two hours and, now that he was starting to think a little more clearly, he realized neither had MJ. She hadn’t uttered a single word since she sat down but she hadn’t insisted anyone else come and keep him awake either. Kris decided to take this as a sign that maybe all was not lost after all.

Kris slightly turned his head toward MJ so he could see her with his good eye. His vision was still a bit blurry but he could see that she sat with her head leaning back against the couch staring up at the ceiling, her feet tucked up under her legs. This caused her to lean on him slightly. If a stranger had walked into the room right then he would have figured Kris and MJ were a happy couple snuggling on the couch and enjoying each other’s company.

“I’m feeling a little better now,” Kris said, his voice raspy from not speaking for a few hours. MJ glanced over at him quickly and then looked back at the ceiling, her face unchanging, her hand remaining in his.

“What time is it?” he asked, hoping this would get her to speak to him.

MJ got out her phone, pushed the home button so the time would show up and held it in front of his face.

5:47pm.

“Thanks,” Kris muttered.

He adjusted his weight a little to prepare to stand up but the moment he moved a wave of nausea hit him. He took a few deep breaths to keep from vomiting and closed his eye. When he opened it again he could see MJ staring directly at him. He turned his head just in time to see concern on her face. The look of concern was gone instantly and the emotionally void expression returned. Kris sat back into the couch.

“Ok, I’ve just done some intense research on the internet,” AV said, rushing into the room. “It turns out this Shemily person doesn’t know anything! I mean, really, the sister of a doctor? What kind of credentials are those? So what, you shared a bathroom with a future doctor growing up so now you’re qualified to spout off medical advice? No. And that whole ‘keep the person awake all night’ thing is a myth, by the way. After looking at several medical websites I’m thinking we need to get you to a hospital.”

“No, I’m totally fine!” Kris said in the most upbeat voice he could muster. He didn’t want it to be obvious that he was fighting off a wave of nausea at this very moment. If there was one thing Kris hated more than donating his precious universal blood, it was doctors and even more than doctors, hospitals. He hadn’t been to a doctor since his last visit with a pediatrician when he was thirteen. And hospitals? Man, those places gave him the creeps. The smells, the tubes, the lighting… all repulsive. Kris shuddered just thinking about it.

“How many times have you thrown up?” AV asked. “Tori said you vomited once at Café Rio and then twice more on the way home.”

“Well, the one at Café Rio, yes, but the other two were because of Tori’s driving,” Kris said. “She’s a terrible driver….really, really terrible.”

AV looked skeptical. “And are you still feeling nauseous at all?”

“He looked like he was about to throw up just a second ago,” MJ offered up before Kris could lie and say no. He might have been angry with her for making him that much closer to having to go to a hospital but he was so happy to hear her voice actually acknowledging his existence that he forgot the anger and relished in it. His split second hesitation caused AV to switch into high gear.

“Oh dear, ok, that’s it. Here we go….stand up Kris, honey,” she said, putting his arm around her neck in an effort to lift him off the couch. MJ got under his other arm and together they became his crutches. “We are getting you to the hospital right now. No ifs, ands, or buts, mister.”

The sudden movement of standing up was more than Kris could bear and he threw up on Adam’s family room carpet. Luckily his stomach had been almost completely empty but still. Embarrassing.

“Don’t worry about that,” AV said. “I’ll get that. You just concentrate on getting out to the car. Ok. Let’s go. Come on.” AV encouraged and soothed Kris every step until they reached the car. MJ held him up, keeping one arm around his waist in the back and one hand on his abs, but said nothing.

She smells good, Kris thought, just before losing consciousness.

#

When Kris awoke he was laying on his side on an uncomfortable bed. The buzz of a fluorescent light was buzzing in his ear and the single sheet which covered him was extremely scratchy. He went to rub his eyes and let out a yell. Touching his right eye sent a shooting pain through his entire body.

“What the?” Kris mumbled as he tried to sit up.

“Now, now, just lay back down,” someone said to Kris gently as they pushed down on his shoulder. He recognized the voice as AV’s but couldn’t see her. He rolled over onto his back and saw her standing next to the bed. He looked beyond her and saw MJ sitting in a chair, peering at him over the top of a magazine.

“Hey!” he said, grinning. He was so happy to see her there. Wait, see her where? “Where am I?” Kris asked.

“Scripps Mercy Hospital, sweetie,” AV said. “You blacked out and we brought you here immediately. You’ve been out for about 30 minutes. They had to come and get you out of the minivan with a gurney.”

“Blacked out? What? Why?” Kris was thoroughly confused. At a hospital? Oh no. The last thing he remembers is being in the bathroom at Café Rio. He thought for a minute. Yes. Tori wanted him to do something crazy…he couldn’t really remember what right now. He had then gone in the bathroom and sent a text to…MJ? He couldn’t exactly remember that either. And now he was here in a creepy hospital. It was as if an entire paragraph of his Word document day had been highlighted and then someone pushed the delete button.

Kris felt for his iPhone in his back pocket and slid it out. He propped himself up on one elbow, slid his thumb across the screen to unlock and went to his texts. He looked over at MJ who was looking curiously at him now. Her curious look was adorable, he noted. After his phone opened the text app he touched on MJ’s name. He scrolled up a little to read their latest conversation as he could not, for the life of him, remember where they had left off:

Kris: Ah! Didn’t even consider that problem. I guess I must first choose between your hand, and Tori’s nonsensical tests. 

MJ: You probably think you can have both.

Kris: I do have excellent testing skillz. Can text one-handed if necessary.

MJ: Not interested in seeing that demonstrated, thanks. 

Kris: K, can I show you how I can put my iPhone in my pocket and just hold your hand?

MJ: Yes, if you want to.

KRIS: Will your hand be available for the holding sometime this evening? My hand’s schedule has been completely cleared and anxiously awaits your reply.

(4 minutes later)

MJ: After checking my hand’s calendar, I am pleased to inform you that it is available for the holding this evening… and forever if you’d like. I’ll see you for lunch in a bit. I can’t stay away.

Kris smiled and looked at MJ. Why was she looking at him like that? The look on her face was not matching the sentiments in these texts at all. His head began to spin and he lay back on the bed.

“Honey,” AV said, “you got punched in the face by some random guy and hit your head on the ground pretty hard. You…don’t remember any of that?”

“Punched? In the face?” Kris asked as his hand went up and gingerly touched his right eye. Well, that explains that. It also explained why this pillow felt like there was a baseball in the middle of it jamming into the back of his head. Ouch.

MJ had gotten up from her chair and was walking over to Kris’ bed just as a nurse came in the room. MJ quickly sat back down. Kris squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his forehead with one hand while the nurse put a blood pressure cuff around his other arm. He was racking his brain in an attempt to remember anything about getting into a fight. He couldn’t even think of a single person that hated him enough to punch him the face like this. Had he almost gotten mugged? Did someone mistake him for someone else? Was he jumped in the Café Rio bathroom?

“Kris? Kris Allen?” the nurse was saying.

Kris opened his eyes. The nurse was leaning over him and smiling from ear to ear. She looked positively giddy. “Oh my gosh! Kris!!” she was now practically squealing as she bent over him and hugged him as best she could while he was laying prostrate on the bed. Once she was arms length again he got a better look at her.

“Jeni?” he whispered.

“Yes!!! Wow! How are you? I mean, I can see you’re not doing great right now, but I mean, other than this how have you been??” She was talking a mile a minute and it was making Kris’ brain hurt.

“I…I thought you had, uh, moved to Arizona or something?”

“Yeah, I went to nursing school there and now I’m back and working here! I can’t believe this! I didn’t think I’d ever see you again!” Jeni was practically bouncing up and down now.

“I thought you got engaged to some guy named Michael?” Kris asked.

“Oh, right, well, that didn’t exactly work out. It’s a long story really.” Jeni replied. Kris had to admit she looked really good. Her hair was a little shorter than when they had dated but her skin was still flawless and her smile infectious.

“Yeah, no, this is awesome to see you. We should get together sometime…or…something,” Kris stammered because he felt like it was the thing to say.

“Oh my heck, YES!” Jeni said, each word getting higher and higher. “Here, let me give you my new number!” She grabbed Kris’ iPhone out of his hands, and in a matter of seconds went to Contacts and added herself to his phone book. Then, for good measure, added herself to Kris’ Favorites list.

Jeni handed Kris’ phone back to him. “I’ll be back in a minute. I’m going to get my phone so I’ll have your number too!” she said and then left the room pulling the curtain closed behind her. Kris sat stunned for a moment and then looked down at his phone. Now there were two people on his Favorites. MJ and Jeni.

MJ.

Kris had been so thoroughly confused at the whole not knowing where he was, the not knowing why his right eye wouldn’t open, the general uneasiness he felt even being in a hospital, the seeing some random ex-girlfriend, etc. that he had completely forgotten MJ was sitting just a few feet away. He looked over at her to see what she thought about all of this but she was just sitting there, her head in her hand staring at an empty space on the floor. Kris got the feeling she would rather be anywhere than here right now. She looked tired.

“Huh. That was weird,” Kris said, in a weak attempt to start a conversation with her. MJ just sat back in her chair and stared at him. Kris stared back (with his one eye only, obviously) waiting for her to say something in her usual snarky way. She didn’t. Jeni then came back into the room in a tornado of energy, breaking their line of sight.

“K! What is your number?” she asked while flipping her phone open. Kris recited his number and gave her a half-hearted grin. “Yay! A bunch of people are going down to Tijuana on Friday. Remember my friends Holly, Cami, Dexter and Raj? Anyway, I’ll call you. It’s going to be sooooo fun! Oh, and the doctor will be in in just a minute to look at you. K? K. See ya!” And with that, she was gone.

“Well, she seemed nice,” AV said. She had been standing at the foot of Kris’ bed and now moved back up near his head. “So, I’m just a little concerned that you don’t remember what happened to you.”

“No, no…I totally remember,” Kris stammered. “I was just confused after waking up in a strange place. I got punched by some guy in the bathroom at Café Rio. He, um, thought I was someone else I guess. He apologized, but, you know…” Kris trailed off. He was hoping he sounded convincing enough. A little amnesia after a head injury was enough to get yourself ordered into a CAT scan or an MRI or something. There was no way in ayche-eee-double-hockey-sticks he was going to let that happen. He wanted out of here as soon as possible. He had some things to piece together (i.e. what freaking happened??) and, according to his last text from MJ he had an appointment to hold her hand tonight. There was no way he was going to do anything to mess that up.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Chapter 22: K.O.

by Jespy

Kris blinked a few times, but the constellation Orion was still floating above his head, right in his line of vision. He decided to stay where he was for now, as he was pretty sure there were no stars arranged in such a way on the ceiling of Café Rio, and maybe the fact that he was seeing them meant he had a concussion or something. For a second there, he thought maybe he was dead, but the hard tiles beneath his head, covered in grit, smelling faintly of Café Rio’s signature sweet pork, was a dead giveaway.

He was alive; he only wished he were dead.

“Just so you know, Tor, that was for MJ. Not for you.”

Kris recognized Jimmy’s voice, but not the sharp, angry tone in which he spoke, void of his usual cool-calm-collect composure. He could almost feel Jimmy punctuating every syllable with a finger-jab to the air in front of him.

Tori was full-out crying now. Loudly. And from the sound of feet stomping on tile, moving away from where he was laying, it was safe to assume that Jimmy had stormed away, and took someone with him. Probably MJ. Kris couldn’t imagine her sticking around after what he had just done.

“Tori,” Kris finally managed to say, still looking up at the ceiling. His voice echoed in his ears. He reached his hands up to apply pressure to the sides of his head, because he felt like it was going to burst open at any minute. “Tori,” he said again, swallowing hard, “is she gone?”

“Yeah,” she said with a sniff, not even pretending not to know who he was asking about. “Our plan didn’t work, Kris. I’m sorry.”

Our plan?

Kris blinked up at the ceiling again, but he still saw a half-dozen blurry stars, and they were starting to sway and rearrange themselves into different constellations. Orion, to Cassiopeia, to the Big Dipper. The last of which was a good description for how he felt about himself right about now.

He heard the sharp scrape of a chair being dragged out near his head, and the sound of a body collapsing into it. It was Tori. He recognized her sniffles, periodically stifled as she’d take a bite of her salad, which he would never describe as meatless, despite having no meat, as to do so would be an oxymoron.

He realized she was speaking to him, but she was talking with her mouth full and her words were so garbled, he couldn’t begin to make sense of them. In fact, he was still trying to wrap his brain around what had happened in the last five minutes.

The moment he’d seen MJ walk in behind Simon, with Jimmy at her side, Kris had locked eyes with her. She looked shocked, her brown eyes as wide as two backyard trampolines. It was not unlike the expression in her eyes when he had kissed her backstage on Karaoke night. He wished he could go back to that night and begin things differently with her. Ever since that night, it seemed like for every step he’d take forward, towards a relationship with MJ, he’d take two steps back, towards MC Scat Cat. The regrets were really starting to pile up, and he couldn’t stop it from showing in his eyes as he looked at MJ.

The moment he let that regret show, MJ’s eyes had clouded over with tears.

Kris was ashamed of himself. He hated himself. He wanted to punch himself in the face. Of course, Jimmy beat him to it.

But before Jimmy punched him in the face, Simon had a few choice words for Kris, including a string of British curse words, all of which were quaint and adorable-sounding to anyone west of the Atlantic. The customers closest to them turned in their seats to look at Simon and smile adoringly, placing their hands over their hearts.

“Consider yourself uninvited to bloody wedding!” Simon had shouted at the end of his tirade. “So much as show your face, and I’ll call Scotland Yard and have you hauled off to jail!” Then he turned to Tori, took her by the shoulders and kissed her cheek. “I apologize, my dear, but I have lost my appetite. In fact, I won’t make good company for at least few days. But I’ll see you before the wedding.” He kissed her cheek again, glared at Kris, then turned on his heel and left.

And that’s when Jimmy’s fist exploded in Kris’s face.

He fell straight back like a piece of tazed timber. He had never been so thoroughly punched in his life, and the crushing pain was surprise. That lasted a few unbearable minutes, before it turned into a more throbbing-type pain. His vision was blurred and doubled, thus the floating stars, and there was high ringing in his ears. His entire head felt like it had been stuffed inside a giant cotton ball, hooked to a cement block, and thrown off a dirty Jersey pier into the ocean.

Even with all the pain, Kris was glad somebody had had the guts to punch him out. It needed to be done. He deserved it. Although, it should have been Simon’s weak British fist to punch him in the face, instead of Jimmy’s strong American one.

Kris heard Tori munch another bite of her salad and then say, “What are we gonna do now? Did you hear Simon? How could he possibly think of still marring me after you kissed me like that? And I haven’t seen Jimmy so angry since… well, since a long time. I think he actually wanted to punch me more than he wanted to punch you. It’s like he punched you harder to make up for the fact that he couldn’t punch me.” Another bite, then chew a bit. “I’m so so so glad I’m a girl and boys can’t punch me, ya know? That looked super painful. And the sound your head made when it hit the hard floor? Gross. I’m gagging, Kris.” Then she scrapped her chair back and leaned down to say in a lower voice, “Are you gonna get up off the floor, Kris? People are staring.”

“I’d like to. I mean… I don’t know if…” Kris raised himself up on one elbow and heaved himself to the side just as his pork salad came up from his stomach, and all over Tori’s shoes.

#

He was not fit to drive. That was what the doctor (who happened to be eating lunch at Café Rio) had said. Actually, she wasn’t a doctor, but her brother was. Shemily (which was her name) took one look at Kris and diagnosed him on the spot.

“You got punched in the face, hit your head on concrete tile, your vision is blurred, you feel disoriented, and you barfed? That means you have a concussion and shouldn’t drive. I know because my brother is a doctor.”

So Tori was driving his car. Barefoot. Her vomit-soaked shoes found a new home in the trashcan at Café Rio. Kris had to promise her a new pair. She drove so manically, pressing on the gas petal then letting up then pressing, that he felt like he was on a pirate ship or something. He had to have her pull over twice so he could hurl on the side of the road. The second time, as he was wiping the barf from his mouth with a napkin, he got a glimpse of himself in the side view mirror. His right eye was almost completely swollen shut, which explained why he couldn’t seem to focus his vision, and the two-inch radius surrounding his eye was already a deep crimson.

“There is no way I’m taking you home right now,” Tori said, putting on her blinker and pulling back into traffic. “I don’t want to chance running into Simon, what with him being your next door neighbor. Plus, I think I should keep an eye on you for a while. At least overnight.”

Kris looked over at Tori. Her hands were on “ten and two” on the steering wheel, and she kept glancing over at him nervously. Could she actually be concerned for his wellbeing?

Kris started to lie back against the headrest, but felt a sharp pain at the back of his head and pulled back. He probed the area with his fingers and felt a huge lump, tender to even the slightest touch. That must be where his head had hit the floor. Sighing, he turned his head toward Tori and rested his ear against the headrest. Then he closed his one eye that wasn’t already swollen shut and tried to relax away the pain.

“Kris! Don’t fall asleep! Are you falling asleep?”

“No,” he mumbled, keeping his eyes closed.

“Well you better not, unless you want to slip into a coma and never wake up and then die,” she threatened. “Kris! Open your eye!”

Her concern made him smile for some reason. Probably because it was so unexpected.

“Kris, I’m pulling over if you don’t open your eye this instant! Kris!”

He cracked open his good eye and she visibly relaxed. “That’s better. Keep your eye open. No falling asleep. Here, give me your hand.” She took one hand off her death grip on the wheel and held it out to him. Giving her a little peace of mind was a means to an end for him, so he went along with it and took her hand. “Hold on nice and tight. And if I squeeze your hand, you squeeze back fast or I’ll know you’re falling asleep.”

Kris thought he had a better chance of living if Tori kept both hands on the steering wheel, but he was too exhausted to argue that point with her. Instead he said, “So what’s the story with you and Jimmy?”

She hedged the question at first, and Kris had to threaten to close his good eye before she finally gave in.

“I’ve been in love with Jimmy for as long as I can remember,” she said, glancing at him to check his reaction. He just stared back at her, waiting, so she continued. “Our moms are BFFs, did you know? They met on blogspot when Jimmy and I were just kids, and they instantly imprinted on each other. We took family vacays together for years, and eventually his family moved to Bako to live closer to our family, and to launch their joint business venture: Instant Imprints T-shirts. We were practically raised together from then on. Jimmy is four years older than me, so he always thought of me more as a little sister than a potential girlfriend. But I was oh-so-obviously in love with him.”

She squeezed his hand, and when he didn’t squeeze back fast enough, she squeezed again. “Kris! C’mon!”

Squeeze.

“That’s better. You better squeeze back faster next time or I’m gonna pull over for reals.”

He rolled his eye.

“Anyway,” she continued, “Jimmy didn’t really take my crush srsly. I would follow him around, all swoony, hanging on his every word—it was very pathetic, but you know Jimmy. Never lets anything bother him. He was always so sweet with me too. I would show up at his house almost daily—he lived just down the street on Severn Lane—and he’d swing open his front door, looking pleased to see me, and say something like, ‘Finally! Tori’s here!” even though his friends had to hate me hanging around—I was only a freshman, after all, and they were seniors. His girlfriends especially hated me. Once, I showed up at Jimmy’s house and he’d been watching a movie with this girl all snuggled up against him. I can’t remember her real name, but we called her Toddler Dancer, cuz she danced like a toddler. But anyway, Jimmy just said something like, ‘Oh, you’d love this movie, Tor,’ then he got up from the couch and started the movie over for me, and made room for me on the couch. Toddler Dancer spent two hours glaring at me.”

This was all hard for Kris to imagine. Tori on the wrong side of unrequited love? She was just so freakishly hot.

Squeeze.

Squeeze.

“Good squeeze, Kris. Where was I? Oh yeah. It wasn’t until the summer before my senior year of high school that I started to notice Jimmy noticing me. He was home from school for the summer—he went to Harvard, ya know? So clever. Anyway, our whole family went with his parents to pick him up from the airport, and when he saw me waiting by the baggage claim, he just looked at me differently, like I wasn’t just a little girl with a crush on him anymore. We spent the whole summer together, hanging out, watching movies, talking until two in the morning and then texting for another two hours after that. We couldn’t seem to spend enough time together. And it was nice, ya know, cuz I liked hearing about his classes and his goals and dreams and stuff, and he also liked hearing me talk about my interests, even though it was mostly superficial stuff compared to his plans to change the world. Stuff like boys and shopping and becoming a shoe designer. He never judged me for being interested in that kind of stuff, because he knew there was more to me than that. But with the summer mostly over, he still hadn’t made a move on me and I started to think that maybe I was wrong and he did still see me as a little sister to him.”

Squeeze.

Squeeze.

“Of course, he’d always have his arm around me, which I knew didn’t mean anything to him because that’s a casual thing for him to do. But I lived for those moments. I would let myself melt into him. I’d pretend he had his arm around me because he loved me so much that he couldn’t stand to keep his hands off me. That’s how I felt about him. Do you know what I mean?”

“Sure,” Kris said, and he stopped himself before he could think about MJ, and how much he wanted to just hold her hand. “So nothing happened that summer, then?”

“Well, something did happen, but it wasn’t until his very last night in town. We were down in his parent’s basement, watching a movie, his arm was slung across the back of the couch, and I was snuggled up real close beside him, but acting as if I didn’t mean anything by it. Have you ever felt his chest? Or his abs? Rock hard. He’s built. He has muscles on top of muscles but not in an over-the-top way. Think Jacob in New Moon. Anyway, I was sitting there beside him when he turned to me and said almost casually, ‘The only reason I haven’t kissed you is because you’re 17 and I’m overage and it feels illegal. This is killing me, though.’

“I am telling you, I about died! I was so caught off guard by it all; my heart was pounding like I had just run all the way down the driveway to my mailbox! In heels!”

Long squeeze.

Normal squeeze.

“So I blurted out some stupid response, he laughed, and then he leaned down kissed me, finally, for the first time—”

“What did you blurt out?”

“—and it was the most amazing kiss. Have you ever had a first kiss with somebody you were already in love with? It’s breathtaking—”

“What did you blurt out?”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s not pertinent to the rest of the story.”

“My eye is closing…”

“Kris! OK, fine! I said, ‘please, I’m begging you.’ Don’t laugh, geez, I told you it was stupid. But it worked, obviously, because he completely caved and kissed me despite my underageness.

“We dated long-distance for a year. He came back to visit every chance he could, but it wasn’t often. That was the best and worst year of my life. But the next summer, I was finished with high school and he was finished with his undergrad and we could finally be together.”

“So, you got engaged, and then you called off the wedding only days before. Why?” Kris asked.

“Well, it’s hard to explain,” she said, sighing. “I don’t know if you’ll understand this, but it just felt like the wrong thing for Jimmy, ya know? Marrying me when he had all these big plans for himself. He wanted to go onto law school and I sort of pressured him into marrying me first. I just couldn’t stand to be apart from him anymore. He went along with what I wanted just to please me. It took me a while to realize I was making a mistake. I didn’t want to start off our life together that way, forcing him to do what I wanted. I tried to explain it all to Jimmy, but he kept telling me not to worry, he was ready to marry me. He just wouldn’t listen. So I finally forced him to listen and called off the wedding.”

“Whoa,” Kris said.

“I know.”

Squeeze.

Long Squeeze.

“It was terrible. Jimmy was angry and hurt and wouldn’t speak to me for about a year. I’d never cried so much in my life. I was miserable, and I made a whole lot of other people miserable too.” She glanced over at Kris and said, “You can understand now why I can’t put my family through that again? I know this is my fault and I need to take responsibility for it all, but I don’t think I’m strong enough to do it again.”

Kris nodded, but he actually thought Tori was underestimating herself. She was a lot stronger than she knew. Mentally speaking.

Tori pulled onto Adam’s driveway and turned off the car, but she stayed in her seat and twisted toward him. Something else was on her mind, he could tell. After a few false starts, she finally said, “Kris. I’m gonna help you fix things with MJ.”

“I don’t wanna talk about it,” he said, finding a firm voice despite his fuzzy head. MJ seemed like such a lost cause now that even hearing her name made his heart feel like it was in a vice grip. That pain was much worse than any other physical pain he was feeling right now.

Tori nodded a little and squeezed his hand. He didn’t know if she was squeezing his hand in understanding or squeezing his hand to make sure he wasn’t dying, but he squeezed back just in case.

“Well, so you know, a black eye really suits you.”

“Really.”

“Yes. A black eye on your boyish, adorable face? Makes you look interesting and mysterious.”

His black eye was no mystery to anyone who mattered, but he didn’t say anything.

Tori squeezed his hand one last time and then let go without waiting for his response. She jumped out of the car and ran around to the passenger side and opened his door for him.

“Mm fine, Tori,” he said when she tried to put her arm around his waist and help him out. He was very lightheaded, but Tori’s fragile, weak arm wasn’t capable of supporting his weight; she would only get in the way and make walking more awkward.

“Hey,” a voice said from behind Tori. Kris’s head shot up, because it was Jimmy. “You need help?” he asked, watching Kris evenly. Tori stepped back and put her hands on her hips with a huff. She gave Jimmy a look that wouldn’t inspire a reunion between them anytime soon. Kris decided he’d have to talk to her about that, or she’d never patch things up with Jimmy.

“I think you’ve done enough,” she said.

Jimmy ignored her, looking only at Kris. He didn’t apologize to him, and there was no contrition in his expression either. Kris didn’t want one anyway. They both understood that he had gotten exactly what had been coming to him. Jimmy had only done the necessary dirty work, like taking the trash out to the curb.

“Uh, no, I got it,” Kris said, and quickly stepped from the car to prove this, which made him sway. He tried to reach back for the door to steady himself, and was in danger of kissing the driveway, when Jimmy moved past Tori and put his shoulder under Kris’s arm.

So Kris walked up the path to Adam’s house, supported by the guy who had punched him in the face only moments before.

Adam was standing in the open doorway, arms crossed, eyebrows raised. Kris remembered that he needed to talk to him about that lying jagbag Simon, but it would have to wait until he could get him alone. “What the aych were you thinking?” Adam asked, closing the door behind them.

“It wasn’t his fault. If you want to blame someone, blame Landee…” Tori started to say but then AV walked in the foyer and let out a cry, her hands flying up to cover her mouth. “Oh no! Kris, what happened?” she said.

So, Adam knew what Kris had done to deserve this, but AV did not. For that he was grateful, even though she deserved to know. The wedding she’d been planning was about to fall apart and he had played a key roll in this mess.

“It appears he was punched in the face,” Jimmy said.

“What?! Why? Who would do such a thing to our Kris? Bring him into the family room, Jimmy. Oh thank goodness you’re here to help.”

“I’m fine,” Kris said, collapsing on the far left side of the couch.

“He’s not fine, and neither are my shoes,” Tori said, sitting on the coffee table across from him and studying his face.

“Great, what happened to your shoes?” Adam asked.

“He threw up all over them.”

“The strappy red ones?” Adam asked, horrified.

“Yes, but don’t freak out, he’s going to buy me a new pair.”

“Threw up?” AV asked incredulously. “This is serious. We need to take him to the hospital.”

“I saw a doctor, I’m fine.” Kris leaned to the side and pulled Shemily’s business card out of his back pocket.

AV took it from him, read it, and said, “What’s this? This isn’t a doctor’s business card, it’s some girl who works at AT&T.”

“Her brother is a doctor,” Tori explained.

“I see,” AV said. “Well, I’m gonna give her a call, then, because I have a few questions. But who in the world would punch you, Kris? What happened?”

“I didn’t really see the guy, just his fist,” Kris said, locking eyes with Jimmy, who had taken a seat in the arm chair closest to him. He looked relaxed, sitting with one foot up on his knee, home teacher style, but there was concern marking his expression, which made Kris nervous. Maybe he was in worse shape than he knew.

When AV left the room to call the doctor’s sister, Jimmy leaned forward and said, “You do look terrible. If I’d known how poorly you’d take the hit, I wouldn’t have used my left hook.”

Tori shot Jimmy a look. “Was it really necessary to use your left hook anyway? You knocked him out!”

“I honestly didn’t think he’d go down like that.”

“I’m fine,” Kris insisted. This was getting embarrassing. Now he was a jerk and a wimp. He actually felt queasy again but he was determined to hold it back this time.

“Dude, your breath is probably nast, so Imma go grab you some gum,” Adam said.

“Plus Motrin, and a glass of water,” Kris added.

Adam nodded and patted Kris’s shoulder on the way out of the room.

In the silence that followed Adam’s departure, they could hear AV’s muffled voice as she spoke on the phone with Shemily in the other room. Then they heard her call out, “MJ! Get down here, we need you! Hurry, honey!”

The three of them exchanged looks. Kris hadn’t allowed himself to even think of her since he left Café Rio. He didn’t know what to say, or how to deal with this situation at all. He wanted to get down on his knees and beg for forgiveness but he had a feeling that wouldn’t go over well. He’d probably puke on her shoes, too.

The couch was positioned in such a way that Kris’s back was to the kitchen. He could hear AV in there, opening drawers and then the freezer. She was still on the phone with the doctor’s sister when she said, “MJ, there you are. Kris has been hurt. Hurry and take these ice bags into him and help him, OK?”

Tori’s eyes widened slightly, but then she gave Kris a quick reassuring smile. When MJ walked into the family room, it was hard for Kris to look at her, but he made himself do it. Her eyes were clear, carefully void of any expression, but she cringed when she saw his face. She had two ice bags in her hands, but she just stood there as if she didn’t know what to do.

“Sit here, MJ,” Tori said, all business now, patting the cushion next to Kris. “Give him one bag that he can hold that over his eye.” MJ followed her instruction without a word. The ice offered a surprising amount of relief from the pain, and Kris let out a sigh. “He needs ice on the back of his head too,” Tori said. “No, he can’t hold both bags of ice, MJ; you’ll have to hold it for him.”

“It’s OK, I got it,” Kris said.

“Kris, will you stop saying you’re OK?” Tori snapped. “It’s really annoying, geez! Make sure it stays right over the lump on his head.”

MJ’s arm came up to rest on his back as she plopped the ice pack on the back of his head. The jagged ice cubes on his sore head gave him more pain than relief, but he kept this to himself. He shut his eye for a second and just enjoyed MJ’s closeness. Then Tori snapped at him again. “Kris! You can’t fall asleep. Open your eye. MJ, hold his hand,” she said sharply. “He wants to fall asleep, but you can’t let him. If he looks like he’s falling asleep, squeeze his hand.”

And so it happened. Not the way he had hoped it would happen, but it happened. And it didn’t matter that she was doing it out of some strange obligation; he still had a heart-pounding physical reaction to her hand in his. It felt small, and was cold from holding the ice bags. He wanted to bring their linked hands up to his mouth and kiss the back of her hand, but he didn’t, of course. He just held it, and occasionally brushed his thumb over hers.

“You OK, MJ?” Jimmy asked after a while. She just sort of shrugged.

AV came back in the room, then, and sat down next to MJ. “OK, here’s what the doctor’s sister said. Kris has a concussion so we can’t let him fall asleep tonight or he’ll die. It’s gonna be a long harrowing night.”


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chapter 21: Vibes


It makes no difference that the Café Rio website indicates that there is no Café Rio anywhere near San Diego.  There is one.  As a matter of fact, it’s conveniently located near Adam’s house.  And, as another matter of fact, this is precisely where Kris was when he kissed Tori.  On the mouth.  Lips parted.  A little tongue.   
Half an hour before Kris had had absolutely no intention of following through on the plan Tori had laid out in the car on the way over.  No intention at all.  But what Kris was beginning to realize was that Tori, though seemingly short-changed in the smarts department, was surprisingly shrewd and cunning when it came to getting what she wanted.  And through no fault of his own, Kris had become a key player in getting Tori her little heart’s desire.  
Looking back now it was almost silly to think that he fought it.   Going against Tori was a lost cause from the get-go.  But fight it he did….for a while. 
Kris had stood in line deciding on what to order.  He usually went with the sweet pork salad with black beans & rice, no pico, tomatilla dressing, and extra tortilla strips.   However, knowing Simon was on his way made him think twice about his ole standby.  Salads weren’t exactly manly after all (even if a Café Rio salad was the most un-salad-like salad ever made).  And Kris would never forget how much Simon ridiculed him when, during his one four hour shift at Chuck E. Cheese, Kris ate his “on the job meal” completely from the salad bar.  You would think Simon had never seen a man eat a piece of lettuce before the way he berated Kris and attempted to emasculate him.   No, Kris wasn’t going to put himself through that again.  He ordered a much more manlier sweet pork burrito—enchilada style, for good measure. 
“Um, I’ll have the salad….oh no, no meat.  Just the beans, rice and cheese….” Kris could hear Tori ordering behind him.   It was a good reminder of her ridiculous food issues.  Just what he needed to firm up his decision to absolutely not help her out of her love triangle catastrophe.   After all, what did he have to gain here?  Nothing.  How would this help him move closer to a meaningful relationship with MJ?  It wouldn’t.   Why would he want to damage his relationship with Simon, his only link to the music business?  He didn’t.  Did he want a drink with his burrito?  He looked over at the drink choices and spotted Diet Dr. Pepper on tap.  Yes.  Yes he did.  Kris was feeling like he had all the right answers today.
Kris paid for their food, filled up their drinks and joined Tori at a table. 
“Now remember, when we see Simon pull up you need to skooch your chair over here and look into my eyes all lovey-dovey and stuff, I’ll do the rest,” Tori said as she dumped her dressing on her salad and began mixing it all together.
“I’m. Not. Helping. You. With. This,” Kris said as seriously as he possibly could, emphasizing each word.  “I already told you in the car.  No friggin way am I getting involved here.”
“Kris, puulleeeeeeeaaaaazzzeeeee,” Tori said in the whiniest baby voice Kris had ever heard.  She was stamping her feet under the chair a little as she said it as well.  The people at the table next to them looked over.
“No…stop” Kris said, putting his hand on hers in an attempt to steady her body from bouncing up and down.
“Exactly.  Perfect.  Just like that.  But with more eye contact,” Tori said looking down Kris’ hand on hers.
Kris recoiled his hand immediately as if he had just touched Parking Lot Willy’s toothbrush.  “I’m not kidding here, Tori!” Kris was getting agitated now.  He decided the best way to convince her was to simply be honest. “Look, judging from your comment earlier about MJ, you’ve probably figured out that I really, really like her.  I really, really want to get to know her better.  And I really, really don’t want to screw anything up with her more than I already have.” 
Tori looked at him with an expression of complete sympathy and understanding.  Good, thought Kris, maybe this is working and she’ll leave me out of it.
Tori’s sympathetic expression vanished and her eyes narrowed.  “It won’t screw anything up with MJ, believe me.  My plan is foolproof!  MJ will never even know why Simon has called off the wedding.  Besides, MJ has adored you since the second she met you.  No wait, since BEFORE she even met you.  She’s always known what she’s wanted in life.” Tori looked down at her salad, “I envy her that.”  The last sentence was uttered so quietly Kris could barely hear it. 
Gosh dangit, Kris thought.  He’d never seen Tori look so genuine.  Do not let her suck you in, he told himself.  She does look kind of pathetic sitting over there eating a meatless salad though…no no no!  Stop it.  You’re not doing this.
Tori looked up at him.  “Why are you squeezing your eyes shut & shaking your head?” she asked, back to her usual self.
“Was I?  Well, it’s probably because you’re making me insane,” Kris said clenching his jaw.  “Do you not see what is at stake here?  For ME?  Look, I’m sorry Jimmy showed up and you are now having second thoughts about marrying Simon.  I really am.  I know what it’s like to think you love one person only to realize you…” Kris hesitated, “…love someone else. I mean, no one understands more than I do.  But, even if MJ weren’t a factor here, there is no way I’m jeopardizing what I have going with Simon.  He’s my manager.  He’s my only link to the music business.  I’m not throwing that away for you Tori.  I’m just not.”
Tori laughed. 
“Why are you laughing?  I’m srs here,” Kris said, even more agitated than before.
“I’m laughing because you’re such a sucker,” Tori said, still laughing as she wiped her mouth with a napkin.  “Simon is hardly a manager in the music biz,” she continued, making air quotes as she said “music biz.”  “What was the last gig he booked for you?  Huh?  Karaoke night at The Shack?  What music producers have you met with where Simon has set up the meeting?  Any?  Didn’t think so.” She sat back in her chair and folded her arms across her chest, practically daring him to answer.
Kris stared at her.  He could hear the words coming out of her mouth but they made no sense.  Of course Simon had helped further his career.  He had… well, that one time he… actually, come to think of it, all he had done was criticize Kris’ music and told him to get a better haircut.  Kris had to admit his new I’m-Not-Trying-Too-Hard-Disheveled-Do was a brilliant move style-wise but what had it done for him career-wise?  Anything?  Simon had made all the arrangements when Adam and Kris recorded their demo tape but even at the time Kris wondered if they were just in the basement of one of Simon’s friend’s mom’s houses.  The equipment was pathetic and the sound quality awful.  And, as far as he knows the only person to ever hear that recording was MJ. 
“Don’t get me wrong,” Tori said, leaning forward, “Simon wants to be a manager more than anything. He loves music and he thinks you and Adam are superdee dooper talented.  But being the youngest manager in the history of Chuck E. Cheese doesn’t happen because you’re spending all your time helping someone else crack into the music industry, ya know?”
“But what about that $2000 Adam and I gave him a couple of months ago as an advance?” Kris asked, still a bit bewildered. “He said he needed it for his travel expenses for when he goes up to LA to promote us.”
“Oh….I don’t know….” Tori said as she absent-mindedly began to twist her engagement ring around her finger.
Kris could feel the blood rushing to his face.  He knew exactly where that two grand went.  He gripped the sides of the table in an effort to keep himself from throwing a chair across the restaurant.  Breathe, just breathe, he repeated to himself while at the same time picturing himself choking Simon until his pompous British accent no longer existed.  He obviously had no proof of this but he knew it was the truth.  All the little inconsistencies he had previously ignored instantaneously added up in his mind to form the whole of his realization.  Tori was telling the truth.  Even if she chose this moment to tell him just to get him to go along with her plan it was still the truth.   Now the question was what is he going to do about it?
Kris needed to walk around.  He needed to think.  He got up, without saying a word to Tori, and went into the bathroom.  He got out his iPhone to send a text to Adam.  He slid his finger across the screen to unlock it and immediately saw the text he had typed out to MJ but had never sent: MJ, I desperately want to hold your hand.  I ache to hold your hand.  I can barely think straight when I’m around you and your hand is within my reach—Kris was so annoyed with himself.  He hated it when he didn’t send texts right away.  Now, after all this time had passed, this text was going to be so stupid.  But at the same time he didn’t want her to think that he had forgotten about her.  He backspaced the entire text and decided to lighten the mood a little: Will your hand be available for the holding sometime this evening?  My hand’s schedule has been completely cleared and anxiously awaits your reply.
Send.
Kris’ small smile that had crept onto his face while thinking of MJ vanished as he remembered why he had checked his phone in the first place.  He went to Adam’s name and typed out a text: Dooooood, have you heard anything from Simon about his trips to LA?  I was just thinking he probably should have given us an update or something by now.
Send.
Kris didn’t want to say anything too damning over text.  What he really wanted to do was talk to Adam in person and figure out what their next move should be.  He hoped this text would at least get Adam thinking. 
He stood against the bathroom wall for a few minutes hoping either MJ or Adam would text him back but neither did.  As the seconds ticked by, Kris’ anger rose steadily.  He kept replaying in his mind all the things Simon had said to him in the past.  He thought of all the times Simon said he was “this close” to getting them a meeting with Sony Records and how his “contact down at RCA was very interested in Kris’ vibe.”  Who says vibe anymore anyway?  No one.  Certainly not anyone who works at a major record label, that’s for sure.  Kris was practically shaking with rage at this point.   He pushed away from the bathroom wall determined to face punch Simon the first chance he got. 
As he walked back to the table he looked at Tori and realized his chance to hurt Simon was right in front of him.  What better way to get revenge than to break up his engagement?  Kris knew his unreasonable side had taken over but he didn’t care.   He was determined to put Simon in his place and the perfect opportunity was being served up to him as easily as a cheeseburger at a McDonald’s drive-thru. 
Kris scanned the parking lot through the glass wall which spanned the entire front & left side of the restaurant.   He saw Simon’s Ford Fusion pulling into a parking spot a few spots away from his pearl-toned Suzuki XL7. 
“Ok Tori, let’s do this,” Kris said as he touched her on the shoulder.
Tori turned and looked at him, eyes wide with surprise.  “You really mean it?” she asked, her voice squeaky with excitement.
“It’s now or never,” Kris said. “Look.”  He nodded toward the parking lot.  Tori turned and saw the back end of Simon’s car sticking out of its parking space.  Now Simon had opened his door and was getting out.
“Ok…ok…um….ok…” Tori said as she stood up to face Kris.  “Let’s just, um…ok…let’s just act like we’re talking and then I’ll…”
“Ssshhh….” Kris said, pressing his finger to Tori’s lips.  He looked out of the corner of his eye, waiting until he was sure Simon could see them through the glass.  He was inches away from Tori’s face and they stood toe-to-toe.  He felt the vibration of his phone receiving a text in his back pocket and heard the muffled doodledoot but decided to ignore it for now.  If it was Adam he didn’t really need to consult with him on what they should do next now.  “Just hold on a second here…” he said, patiently waiting for the perfect moment. 
            “Kris,” Tori said, “you don’t have to….”
“It’s ok,” Kris replied, with a devilishly handsome grin, “I want to.  I reeeeeeally, really want to.”  Just then he could feel Simon’s eyes on them through the plate glass window. 
“Showtime,” he said as he reached down and took a hold of Tori’s face in both his hands.  He pulled her to him and gently kissed her.  Unlike MJ, Tori was obviously experienced in kissing and she immediately began to kiss him back.  Their lips parted.  The classic “plum” kiss began, but only lasted a fraction of a second before they heard—
“What in the bloody hell is going on here?” Simon yelled as he swung open the glass doors leading into the restaurant. 
Kris and Tori broke away from each other and Kris turned to face Simon, shoulders back with confidence.  He could not wait to hear what that lying, cheating jagbag Simon had to say about this.   Simon remained standing in the doorway, unsure of how he should handle what he had just seen.  Kris smirked a little as he had never seen Simon unsure of anything.  Kris’ smirk vanished immediately, however, when he noticed Simon wasn’t the only one standing there in the doorway. 
MJ was there too.





Chapter 20: Torn Between Two Weddings

by Jespy

“It’s all yours, Tor,” Jimmy said, handing over the keys to his rented Cadillac Escalade.
“Be gentle.”

Tori took the keys with barely disguised anger. “Why am I the one stuck babysitting the boys, while you all get to go shopping? I’m the bride,” she said, almost stomping her foot in frustration.

Having been stuck babysitting the Spawns of Satan many times in the past few days, Kris found himself sympathizing with Tori, especially when he saw what the Spawns were doing to that larger-than-life Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakual display.

Tori (who Kris had always called “Gityd” in his mind—which stood for “Girl in the yellow dress”—because he hadn’t known her real name) was the girl who Kris believed himself to be in love with until a few days ago, when he realized that he was actually in love with her younger sister, MJ. Tori had turn out to be rather self-centered and silly once he had gotten to know her, not to mention she was engaged to his British A-hole manager, Simon. But by the time Kris realized all this, he had really screwed things up with MJ—kissing her and then participating in an all-night texting fest with Tori on the very same night, to give an example. He’d been confused! But he wasn’t anymore, he knew which sister he wanted, and he was willing to do whatever it took to win MJ. That’s when this Jimmy fellow came into the picture, a Rhett Butler-type but without the mustache. Kris had yet to figure out why Jimmy had suddenly and unexpectedly arrived, and why his presence seemed to annoy Tori, while at the same time, make MJ so happy. Kris just hoped there were no romantic feelings between Jimmy and MJ, because he defiantly couldn’t compete with a mustache-less Rhett Butler.

“Tori, honey,” AV said, bringing all readers back to the present time, “we’re shopping for your wedding gift. You can’t come along.”

“I don’t think I should be brushed off like this and made to babysit,” she said, disregarding her mom’s perfectly reasonable explanation. “What sense does it make to have the bride suffer before her wedding day? I shouldn’t feel this unhappy. Can’t MJ watch the boys?” she said sullenly.

MJ rolled her eyes. “Fine, I’ll take them.”

But Jimmy slung his arm over MJ’s shoulders and pulled her back. “She’s not your lap dog, Tor, she’s your sister.”

Tori glared at Jimmy. An intense glare that carried more anger and resentment than the situation called for. MJ and AV seemed to understand where this anger was coming from, and looked even more uncomfortable for knowing. But Jimmy was taking it all in stride. He even smiled at her.

Kris couldn’t stand the awkwardness, so he jumped in, although it pained him to make the offer he was about to make. “Hey, I’ll go with you, Tori,” he said, despite wanting desperately to spend the day with MJ. “So you won’t be alone with the Spawns… er… I mean, with your brothers,” he said, which was like volunteering to shove bamboo shoots under his fingernails. He was a fricken saint. “Maybe we could drop them off at Adam’s house and then I’ll take you out to lunch or something?” he suggested, wishing he could take MJ out to lunch instead, who, incidentally, hadn’t spared him a glance since they’d left the theater.

Kris’s goal was to move this day along in the hopes that he’d have MJ to himself when the day’s wedding errands were finished up. AV was sure to have more to do tomorrow, but there would be some down time tonight.

Kris watched MJ chip away at her nail polish, and willed her to look up at him. But she didn’t.

AV heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank you Kris. Tori’s right, she shouldn’t feel left out before her wedding.”

“That will be fine,” Tori said, her chin raising a notch as he held out Jimmy’s car keys. “More than fine, actually. Kris is exactly the person I’d want to spend the day with.” Her eyes flickered briefly toward her sister, who was still the bearer of Jimmy’s arm, and then she looped her arm through Kris’s. She jingled the keys. “Take them. I don’t need your car. I have Kris,” she said suggestively, snuggling in closer to him.

Kris tried to put some distance between he and Tori, despite their linked arms, as he had no desire to send MJ any more mixed signals. All he wanted was her, and he would gladly convey that to MJ with a meaningful stare if she would just look at him, fhs!

Jimmy finally disengaged his arm from around MJ’s shoulders and took Tori’s outstretched hand, gently removed his keys, and then closed her fingers. “She’s all yours, Kris,” he said, matching Tori’s harsh gaze.

#

The Spawns were driving him crazy, so it was a good thing they were almost to Adam’s house. Tori had been staring out the passenger side window the whole drive, apparently too lost in her thoughts to carry on a conversation, which was just fine with him, but he wished she would snap out of it long enough to get her brothers under control.

“Boys!” she suddenly screamed, and Kris about hit a mailbox. “Shutty!”

Silence from the backseat.

“It’s as if you were reading my mind. Impressive,” Kris said. He glanced over at her and she gave him a half-hearted smile then looked away. Her eyes had been suspiciously shiny, as if she was tearing up, and Kris quickly faced forward, pretending he didn’t just see what he just saw.

When they pulled into Adam’s driveway, the Spawns of Satan burst forth from his faux-SUV like dough from a Pillsbury crescent roll can, and raced toward the front door. Kris got out and walked around the car, and then thought better of going inside. “I’ll just wait out here while you get them settled, if you don’t mind,” Kris called.

Tori nodded, and Kris acted as if she hadn’t nodded in such an obviously morose way. He didn’t want to know what was upsetting her, and he had no desire to get involved in another one of her problems. Hadn’t he done enough? Hadn’t he his own problems to figure out? Besides, Tori always recovered quickly. She’d probably be her usual bubbly yellow self by the time she came back out.

Kris put Tori out of his mind, leaned against the passenger side of his pearl toned XL7, and pulled out his iPhone. Before Tori and her watery eyes had distracted him, MJ had been on his mind. He was making himself crazy, thinking about her, but he didn’t care. He was craving her like a housewife craved an afternoon Diet Coke slash Diet Dr. Pepper cocktail, but without the accompanying headache. Every nerve in his body itched to have some contact with her, however slight.

He sent her a fishing text…

Kris: So, awkward question for you…

And then he waited. Her response came quick, to his utter satisfaction.

Doodledoot.

MJ: Awkward questions are best delivered thru text. Ask away.

Kris typed: What would’ve happened if I had tried to hold your hand during Paul Blart Mall Cop?

He was openly flirting with her. And it made his pulse race. Send.

Doodledoot.

MJ: If you had held my hand, how would you have managed to text Tori?

Kris smiled. He had sent Tori a few texts before the movie started, only because she had looked so sad, and apparently MJ had taken note. Had she been jealous?

Kris: Ah! Didn’t even consider that problem. I guess I must first choose between your hand, and Tori’s nonsensical tests. Send.

Doodledoot.

MJ: You probably think you can have both.

Yes, she was for sure jealous. Brilliant! He decided to tease her a little.

Kris: I do have excellent testing skillz. Can text one-handed if necessary... Send.

Doodledoot.

MJ: Not interested in seeing that demonstrated, thanks.

Kris: K, can I show you how I can put my iPhone in my pocket and just hold your hand?

She made him wait long enough for her reply that he started to doubt his approach. Had he sounded insincere? Should he have been more contrite? More understanding of her feelings?

Doodledoot.

MJ: Yes, if you want to.

Kris smiled down at her text, feeling the triumph explode inside him like a Mentos in a soda bottle. He was so happy that he typed out exactly what he was feeling, without editing himself: MJ, I desperately want to hold your hand. I ache to hold your hand. I can barely think straight when I’m around you and your hand is within my reach—

Before Kris could finish his thought or send his reply, he heard the front door open, and looked up to see Tori coming down the porch steps. He started to turn his attention back to his iPhone, but did a double take at Tori. Her eyes were swimming with tears.

Oh boy, thought Kris, quickly shoving his iPhone into his back pocket. Not again.

She blinked and the tears spilled down her cheeks. By the time she reached Kris, her face had completely crumbled, and she threw herself into his reluctant arms, squeezing the breath out of him.

Umph.

“I can’t marry Simon!” she wailed in his ear.

“Shhh, it’s all right… Wait, what?!” Kris said, pushing her away and holding her at arm’s length. “What do you mean you can’t marry Simon? The wedding is right around the corner. Every arrangement has been made. You bought a yellow wedding dress!” And all that was exactly the wrong thing to say, because Tori’s wails turned to gut-wrenching sobs and Kris had no choice but to collect her back into his embrace. “Forget what I said. It’ll be OK,” he murmured, even though he knew it wouldn’t be OK.

As Kris soothed Tori, holding her delicate figure in his arms, he couldn’t help but think that up until a few days ago, this is exactly the outcome he would have hoped for. Staring up at the stars glued to his bedroom ceiling, he had dreamed that girl in the yellow dress would be in his arms, refusing to marry that A-hole Simon. What a selfish dream. Now it felt more like a nightmare. AV had spent a small fortune on this rushed wedding, and to call it off this soon before the wedding would probably cause her a great deal of embarrassment too. On the other hand, he couldn’t encourage Tori to marry a man if she was having doubts about it. He wouldn’t try to convince her one way or the other. She had to decide, and then take responsibility for it.

“Do you love him?” he asked gently.

She hiccupped. “Maybe, but not enough to marry him.”

Kris sighed. “Do you think you’re just having cold feet about getting married?”

She pulled away and looked up at him in confusion, and even with tear-streaked mascara, she was stunning. “It’s not about getting married, it’s about getting married to Simon. I want to marry someone else.”

Oh boy.

Kris said, “I think maybe you should talk to your mom about this, or MJ.”

Tori was shaking her head before Kris even finished his sentence, her eyes filling with fresh tears. “I can’t! I can’t break off another wedding. My family will hate me even more.”

Tori collapsed against him, sobbing, and Kris could feel the dread blooming inside him as her tears soaked through his shirt. “What do you mean ‘another wedding’?”

She sniffed, and spoke into his chest, but he could hear every muffled word. “I was engaged before. Days before the wedding, I called it off.” She wailed. “And everybody hated me for it!”

Kris hugged her and whispered encouraging words, even though he felt stunned and appalled. Two weddings, completely arranged and paid for, and then called off on a whim? He didn’t know if he was being fair about the whim part, but he couldn’t help but feel some anger on behalf of Tori’s family, and on behalf of the poor sap she’d left at the alter, so to speak.

“Wait a minute,” Kris said, pulling away to look down at her. “Who was the other guy you were engaged to?”

She nodded, seeing the guess in his expression. “Jimmy.”

Kris hugged Tori back to his chest, as he felt an inappropriate, yet unstoppable, grin coming on. Jimmy was the poor sap! What luck! Because there was no way MJ could have romantic feelings for one of Tori’s exes. Of that, he was sure—and grateful that he would never become one of her exes.

Kris tried to imagine Jimmy being jilted, and a fresh grin blossomed on his face. He looked at Jimmy’s arrival in a whole new light. Tori was right about one thing: Jimmy had some nerve showing up for her “welding” (ßas she had texted). But things must have ended somewhat amicably for him to do so. Or maybe not, Kris thought, remembering the last look Tori had given Jimmy. Either way, he had to admit, he would never have the nerve to show up if he was in Jimmy’s position, or the confidence to pull it off.

“Tori, try to calm down. It isn’t the end of the world. You have to decide what’s best for you—”

“Kay,” she said, sniffing and looking up at Kris. “I have decided what’s best for me. I need to make Simon call off the wedding so I can marry Jimmy.”

“How can you make Simon—Whoa, did you say ‘marry Jimmy’? I thought you didn’t want to marry him, either?”

“That’s right. I didn’t want to marry Jimmy, but now I do. I was wrong, I guess. I mean, I was right to call off my wedding to Jimmy back then, but wrong to agree to marry Simon now. Because I love Jimmy. I love him.”

Kris had never heard her speak with such unaffected honesty. Still, he had to ask, “Really? Cuz it seems more like you hate him.”

She nodded. “I hate him a very small amount. Mostly, I love him. Madly. Deeply.”

This was srs. And way beyond his understanding. “You need to talk to your mom about this.”

“No. You have to promise me you won’t tell her! I’m confiding in you, Kris.”

And that’s what he was worried about. “I’m the wrong person to confide in.”

“No you’re not. You’re perfect, don’t you see? I can’t bear to disappoint my family again.”

“Your family won’t be disappointed in you,” he said, boldface lying. “They’ll understand if you explain that your feelings have changed—”

“I have a plan,” she interrupted. “But I can’t do it without your help.”

“Uh, I dunno, Tori. This is kind of a conflict of interest for me.”

“I can’t do this by myself, Kris!” Tori wailed. “I have to get Simon to call off the wedding, and at the same time, get Jimmy to take me back.”

Kris didn’t like where this was going.

Tori continued, “Simon is so jealous, if he caught you and I—”

Kris jumped away from her. “No. No. I will not do what you are suggesting.”

Oh Sword. Simon is gonna kill me. Litrly. Kill me.

“Kris, please listen to me. It’ll be one innocent brotherly kiss.”

Kris walked to his side of the car and got in. Tori was buckled in the passenger side and wiping the last remnants of tears from her eyes with a tissue from her purse before he even had the key in the ignition. “You don’t get it, Tori. I object to so much more than a brotherly kiss from you. This isn’t right, and it’s not going to work, and it’s going to hurt a lot of people in the process. Honesty is the best policy in this case, believe me.” He looked over his shoulder and backed out of the driveway.

“Oh barf, Kris. How boring can you be?”

“I have no problem with boring.”

“MJ hates boring.”

Kris clinched his jaw. Then he said incredulously, “And MJ would find me more appealing if I kissed her sister? She can’t even stand it when I text you.”

Tori looked at him in surprise and Kris immediately wished he hadn’t said that. Tori’s reaction made him feel like he had divulged some sort of secret about MJ, and he would never do that intentionally. He wished again that he was with MJ right now, instead of with Tori. He replayed their last text exchange in his mind, torturing himself with his building desire to see her.

They were silent the rest of the way to the lunch, which was Café Rio. Tori started crying again at one point on the way there, which made Kris feel horrible, but she managed to reign in the tears after much effort. He felt sorry for her, and he wanted to help her do things the right way, although he had no intention of aiding and abetting her in any scheme.

Walking into Café Rio, Tori inhaled the tell-tale shaky breath of someone who has been crying, and looped her arm through Kris’s. He patted her arm comfortingly, looking down at her with concern. Tori had her iPhone in her other hand.

“Who are you texting?” he asked, watching her thumb skip across the keyboard. A one-handed text, while her other arm was linked in his.

“Simon. Just telling him that you’re taking me out to lunch, which is the honest truth. He seems mad about it, tho,” she said innocently. “He’s going to meet us.”

And that’s when Kris realized that Tori would find a way to drag him into this mess whether he liked it or not.