Saturday, August 19, 2000

In/Exhale - August 27, 2000

Glad everyone enjoyed last week's brotherly bonding!

Last week, we got to see a tender moment between Kai and Jon, and learn a bit about how the two brothers were separated when their parents' died, and how each man reacted in the interim. We also learned about Jenny, Jon's former girlfriend, whom he's meeting today.

This week's episode is a short one. No Kai, but we do get some of Jon's backstory and a bit of Renee's.

Need to catch up? Try the Table of Contents.


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August 27, 2000

Although Kai hadn't said it, Jon knew Kai's MLS had flared up, milder than the first attack, and that his legs were still weak. So Jon had simply nodded when Kai'd announced after breakfast that he intended to hit the Y and swim for a while. Jon had patients in the afternoon, rescheduled from the day before, but what met him with dread was the meeting he had with Jenny in less than an hour.

He changed his tie about thirty times, disgusted with himself whenever his eyes met their reflection in the mirror. Was Kai right? Was Jenny still interested and this some kind of last-ditch attempt to see if he was, too? Jon shook his head, pulling the tie out of his collar and tossing it back on the bed. He was being ridiculous. Jenny had asked him to chose between her and Kai, and he'd sided with Kai. Jon acknowledged, as he slipped on yet another tie, this one a dark, not-quite-navy blue, that he had most likely been difficult. Things had been easy between Jon and Jenny at first, but once it looked like Kai might not live long enough to be transplanted--or worse, be too sick for one--Jon had thrown himself into his work, into doing everything he could to try to keep Kai's strength and morale up, and he'd gotten a little . . . focused. But, as Jon had told Kai, he didn't regret it. He would do it again. He couldn't give up his work, even now that Kai was hopefully cured, and if Jenny couldn't understand that, then . . .

Jon sighed heavily, pulling at the knot to adjust it before smoothing back his hair. This was a mistake, he knew it. Especially since he would never leave Jonesville, especially not while Kai was still here. Whatever he and Jenny had had, may have had, was gone, irrevocable. Over the past year especially, as Kai recovered from the transplant and years of weakness, Jon had convinced himself he didn't miss her, didn't need her. He had his work and what little was left of his family, and nothing else mattered. But as he stared at his reflection, the color of the tie bringing out the blue in his eyes, he knew he'd been deceiving himself. If Jenny were willing to take him back, he knew he'd leap at the chance--so long as he didn't have to abandon his work or his brother. But hadn't that been exactly the reason they'd split in the first place?

Shaking his head, Jon clipped his pager to his belt, shoved his keys and wallet into his pocket, and snatched his white coat off the hanger. He'd keep his meeting with Jenny short and head straight to the hospital, where he knew a pile of work waited on his desk for him, eager to keep his mind occupied.




#

Renee lay on her bed, one knee bent, her opposite ankle resting on it, rotating the joint, making circles in the air with her foot. Her hair spread around her as she stared up at the ceiling. One hand held the phone to her ear, while the other rested on her stomach.

"I'm fine, Maw Maw," Renee said for the tenth time so far. Her grandmother, Evangeline, had called to ask about her first week of classes, worried that Renee wouldn't be warm enough or eat enough, or a number of other similar concerns. "It won't get cold till October, and as far as the food goes, there's nothing a little Crystal's can't fix." Evangeline had insisted Renee stock up with hot sauce, Blue Runner beans, and other non-perishables from home before she'd left New Orleans to go north for the semester.

Evangeline sighed heavily. "I just don't understand why you had to go so far north. What's wrong with LSU?" she asked in her soft yat accent.

Renee bobbed her foot nervously. "Maw Maw, we've been over this. I needed to get away. And the architecture program here is really good."

"Oh, hun, don't I know it. But that don't mean we don't miss you. Luc especially. He's been trying to convince your daddy to let him go to NOCCA for his art."

"Yeah, well . . ." Renee began, dropping her legs and crossing her ankles. "It's more likely the pope'll tap dance naked in Time Square," Renee finished dryly.

The New Orleans Center for Creative Arts offered half-day programs for high school students talented enough to pursue the arts; students who were accepted attended their normal classes at their regular high school half the day, and spent the other half at the new campus in the Marigny, focusing on writing, music, theater, dance, or visual arts. When Renee was in high school, she'd begged her parents for permission to attend for visual arts, and had been refused. She needed to focus on her academics, they told her, on realistic goals instead of frivolous "hobbies." As talented as she was, though, Luc was infinitely more so; he had an innate eye for beauty, and art came to him as naturally as breathing. Renee could only imagine the kind of work he could produce with the training he'd get at NOCCA.

Renee sighed. "I guess I could call them, try to convince them. It’d be a shame to let Luc’s talent go to waste."

"You should, hun," her grandmother said over the phone. "I know you had to do your thing, but it’s been tough on him, you being gone."

"JP giving him trouble?" Renee sat up.

She and her older brother had always butted heads, and JP and his sense of hyper-masculinity didn’t mesh well with their younger brother’s more artistic inclinations. Even though, at twenty-five, JP no longer lived at home, working for their father, and with parents who worshiped him, meant that JP was likely around the Poche residence more often than not. And without Renee there as an insulating buffer, she sometimes worried about Luc, who, at fourteen, was shy and quiet, yet somehow did almost as good a job as Renee did of pushing JP’s buttons.

"You know how it is with those two. It’d mean a lot to him if you gave him a call, and even more if you managed to convince that stubborn son-in-law of mine to let the damn kid pursue art if that’s where his heart is."

Renee curled her legs up and nodded, smiling at her silliness. "I miss you, and Paw Paw, and Luc," Renee said, neglecting to mention the rest of her family.

"Believe it or not, but I think JP misses you, too. In his own way. Brings you up mostly to complain about why you didn’t just go to Tulane."

Renee picked at her right big toe. "You know why I had to go, Maw Maw."

Evangeline sighed. "I do. Your parents sure don’t. They had Jude over to dinner the other night."

At the mention of Jude’s name, Renee’s blood momentarily ran cold. "For true?"

"For true, hun. I didn’t even know about it until he showed up at the front door, and that stupid daughter of mine was practically on her knees licking his shoes."

Renee grunted at the visual; it was metaphoric, but not far from the truth. "He’s a jerk. A jerk they hated when we were dating, and now that he’s going to be a doctor, suddenly he walks on water!"

Renee had originally met Jude through her older brother, JP–they’d been fraternity brothers at Tulane, and Renee, sixteen and impressionable, had been completely smitten by the older man. He had dark, straight, thick hair he kept short but long enough to show its body, and his face–very New Orleanian in its look, with a rounded nose and strong jaw–had captivated her, especially his eyes–a light green, almost gray, that was eerie yet entrancing. His strong shoulders and charming grin had only added to his allure, and it wasn’t long before they’d started sneaking around, seeing each other behind her family’s backs.

At first, it had been great. Jude hadn’t been her first sexual experience–that went to a guy she’d dated briefly and hooked up with after their freshman homecoming game–but Jude was the first real serious boyfriend she’d ever had, and first true sexual relationship. And the thrill of knowing how her parents wouldn’t approve, especially since Jude was five years older, only enhanced the experience. She was young, in love–or so she thought–and she’d believed he’d loved her, too.

"You just need to find yourself a good, handsome Midwestern boy to bring home to us. Someone who . . ."

Her grandmother’s voice trailed off, but Renee’s mind supplied the missing thoughts. Who won’t hurt you? Who knows what "no" means? She shuddered, but then thought of Kai. He was the first guy since Jude she’d found herself entranced by, fantasizing about. The first she thought she might be able to be with.

"Maybe you should tell them," Evangeline continued after a pause, her voice quiet. "You know that’s not something I can't do for you. Although, God, I’ve wanted to. Your paw paw and I left as soon as he showed up. I couldn’t even look at him."

"It’s all right," Renee said, hugging her legs to her chest. When she’d called her grandmother, she had hoped for a few laughs, not this, not remembering him, the real reason she’d gone a thousand miles north for college.

"No, it isn’t, sweetie. You might be all right now, but what he did is not, and never will be all right. All right?"

That forced the shade of a smile on Renee’s face, and she wiped her cheeks with the back of her wrist, not even realizing until the dampness met her skin that she’d been crying.

"There is this boy," Renee said suddenly. "It may not be anything, but he’s nice."

"Good," Evangeline said with a smile in her voice. "You need a nice boy who will treat you right."

Renee let her body unfurl and sink back down on the bed. "Maw Maw, how did you know Paw Paw was the one? Did it take a while, or did you just know?"

Her grandmother let out an amused chuckle, then took in a breath. "I think I knew the moment I met him. I used to smoke back then, you know. Not a lot, mostly because I thought it made me look older and more sophisticated. I’d gone to Pontchartrain beach with some girlfriends, and we were hanging out, giggling and chatting, and I kept trying to light my cigarette, and the wind kept snatching the flame away. And there was your paw paw, suddenly, lighter in hand, with this steal-the-moon grin on his face. I think I fell for him right then and there."

The two women sighed together. "Thanks, Maw Maw. I love you. Take care of Luc for me, will you? And I’ll give them a call. I’ll talk to you next week."

Renee hung up the phone and stared up at her ceiling for a moment. Tomorrow. Tomorrow she’d see Kai again, and maybe she’d build up the courage to ask him to coffee. Maybe they couldn’t be more than friends. But she’d take what she could get. She could live with "just friends" if it meant seeing more of that smile and those sparkling blue eyes.




#

Jon pulled into a parking spot across from the Horatio Jones Park fifteen minutes early for his meeting with Jenny. Pushing his way out of his car, he leaned against the door, watching what looked like a peewee soccer game underway in the field in the distance, a sea of bobbing boys in brightly colored uniforms kicking the ball around with more enthusiasm than skill, parents yelling encouragingly from their folding chairs on the sidelines. The sun came down warm on the top of Jon's head.

He closed his eyes for a moment, breathing in the sweet smell of grass and letting the distant sounds of the soccer game filter around him, staring hard at the brilliant color that danced behind his lids. He should plan a trip. Take Kai somewhere for a weekend. He was well enough to travel, and it might be nice for the two of them to get away. But where? The idea of Chicago crossed his mind until he remembered Jenny and frowned.

The crunch of tires on pavement, followed by the cutting of a car's engine drew him to open his eyes. A silver BMW 325 was parked two spaces over, and he could hear the tinking of the engine as a tall, thin woman with long dirty blond hair stepped out. She turned, shutting the car door, and Jon temporarily lost his breath. Her designer sunglasses perfectly framed her face, drawing his eye to her pointed chin and small mouth. The light breeze tossed her hair about her shoulders, catching the light and making her look like a model in a shampoo commercial.

"Jon," she said simply without removing her glasses, walking to her trunk, which she'd popped open. Leaning forward, she pushed the door up and leaned over, peering in, balancing with one long leg outstretched in the air before settling her feet together and standing up with a small box in her arms.

"Jenny," Jon finally managed to echo, crossing to retrieve the box, squinting a bit against the sun. "You look good."

She shrugged. "You look surprisingly rested."

Jon sighed and tried to smile, although he was certain his cheeks failed him. "Kai's doing well. Believe it or not but I took yesterday off."

She snorted, but managed her own smile, a veneer, perhaps, but it still made a warmth fill Jon's stomach.

They stood together in silence for a moment, and Jon shifted the box, peering into it to try to determine its contents. From what he could see, it was all junk, and when he bothered to glance back up at Jenny, he saw she'd removed her sunglasses and was waiting to meet his eyes.

The deep green of her irises betrayed her reticence, and Jon realized Kai was right. This meeting had nothing to do with the box of junk Jon held with one arm, rested on his hip.

She bit her lip and thrust her hand into her pocket, hesitating for a moment. Her teeth briefly caught her lower lip as she slowly pulled her hand out, fisted.

"Just one more thing," she said. "Something of yours you should have back."

Jon watched, and as she held up her hand, palm up, slowly opening her fingers, his stomach sank into his feet and he nearly dropped the box. The sun caught and reflected in the facets of the diamond of the ring nestled in the grooves of Jenny's palm.

Jon stared at it for a moment, unable to move, struggling to process the finality of the gesture.

"I know you had told me to keep it in case I changed my mind. But I'm not coming back to Jonesville. It didn't feel right to hold onto it anymore."

Jon felt her take his free hand and place the ring firmly in it. Forcing himself to look up at her, he saw a wane smile as she pulled her sunglasses back on. Already crossing around her car to shut the trunk and make for the driver's door, she looked back at him.

"You're doing good work, Jon. Hope I get to read your research in JAMA someday." She pulled her door open, and just before she slid in, she added, "I really hope Kai does well." A subtle nod of her head, then she sank into the seat, pulled her door shut, started her engine, and pulled carefully away.

Gripping the ring almost painfully, the box pressing against his ribs as he held it with his opposite hand, Jon knew he'd never see her again.


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Stay tuned next week as things start to get interesting between Renee and Kai (and complicated between Kai and Nikki) when we skip forward to Friday, September 1!

Continue to September 1, 2000 - Part 1 ---->

1 comment:

  1. Wow--GREAT chapter! Thanks for writing about Jon. I love these glimpses into each character's thoughts.

    ReplyDelete