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.”


1 comment:

Princess said...

I don't remember Landee being at Cafe Rio with them...hahaha

But good job cleaning that mess up.