Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Before the Always, First Installment

Something to tease you into reading Always & Forever . . .

Lydia walked along the brick of the fieldhouse.  She had ten minutes before she had to get back to the sideline of the football field.  She wanted to say hi to Jimmy.  She hadn’t seen him all day and she usually gave him a friendly good luck hug before the football games started. She took a few steps toward the locker room when she was grabbed from behind and blindfolded.
            “What are you doing?” she shrieked.
            “Relax, Lydia, we’re just going to have little fun,” a male voice remarked.
            Lydia’s hands went to her face and felt the blindfold.  Who’s we?”
            “Just a few of the guys from the football team.”  She felt a hand pull the blindfold tight so she couldn’t pull it off.  “I wouldn’t take that off if I were you.”
            There was a hand on her leg.  In fact, she felt several hands on her legs.  Her cheerleader skirt didn’t hide anything.  “Get your hands off me,” she pleaded.
            She felt the cool brick of the outdoor building against her back.  Someone had pushed her up against the building.  Her panic made her breathe heavily and she heard a few guys whistle.  “C’mon, Lydia,” a voice whispered close to her ear.  The hands were sliding up further.  “Give us a little show.”
            “Stop it,” she pleaded.  “I don’t do that!”  She batted at what seemed like a thousand hands molesting her legs.
            “That’s not what I heard.”
            “Whoever told you that lied.”  Lydia reached for an uwanted hand sliding up her thy, but hers was batted away.
            Lydia heard footsteps.  “What the heck are you guys doing?”
            Jimmy.  The hands let go of her and she slid down into the grass hugging herself.
            “Nothin’, Jimmy.  Just having a little fun with the new girl.”
            “Jesus, does it look like she’s having fun?”  Jimmy leaned down and put a hand on Lydia’s shoulder.  “You all right?”
            Lydia nodded.  She still had on the blindfold.  She reached up to take it off, but Jimmy grabbed her hand. “Wait a minute.”  He turned to the football players and told them to get lost.  When they were gone, he took the blindfold off Lydia.  Her big saucer eyes looked vacant.  She looked off to the side and wouldn’t look at him.  Jimmy knelt down and put his hands on both her shoulders.
            “Please don’t touch me.  I feel dirty.  I don’t want to remember this and have you be a part of it.”
            “Okay.”  He took his hands off her shoulders.Jimmy looked up at the clock on the wall.  Five minutes until he had to be  back on the field.  “If you want, I can stand guard so you can take a shower.”
            “Very funny, Jimmy.  Me take a shower in the guy’s locker room.  No way.”  She rubbed her shoulders and still could feel the filth of football players all over her.  Their hands didn’t know where to stop. She hugged herself tighter.
            She usually seethed when anyone called her by that nickname, but she let Jimmy do it.  She didn’t know why, but she felt comfortable with him calling her that.“What?”
            Jimmy sat his helmet down on the ground and sat down on top of it.  “Did they hurt you?”
            “You saw me. What do you think?”
            Lydia sighed and rested her head in her hands.  “What, Jimmy?”
            “Am I too late?”
            “Too late for what?”
            “Are you still innocent?”
            Lydia got up from where she was sitting.  “Of course I’m innocent!” she yelled.  “I didn’t tell them to do that.  They just grabbed me and started rubbing their filthy hands all over me.”
            “That’s not what I meant, Lyddie.  I know you wouldn’t tell them to do that.  Do you need to report them?”
            Lydia turned around so she wasn’t facing her new friend of a few days.  “I don’t even know who they were.”
            “They weren’t very smart, Lyddie.  They may have blindfolded you, but their jersey numbers are clear as day.  I’ll take care of it.”
            Lydia turned around and smiled.  “Thanks.”  The clock signaled three minutes to the second half.  “I’ll take you home after the game if you want.”
            Lydia looked over at the crowded football field.  “I don’t think I’m going to stay that long.”
            “You have to, Lyddie.  Coach Jones will freak if one of her girls is missing.”
            Jenni Newton, one of the cheerleaders who had convinced Lydia to join the squad, walked by.  She glanced at Lydia’s wrinkled uniform and stray hairs then raised her eyebrows at Jimmy.  He took a step back to cause some distance between him and Lydia.
            “What was that for?”
            He nodded toward Jenni and a few of the other cheerleaders. “Your friend over there thinks something is going on between us.”
            “Is it?”
            Jimmy shook his head a little too fast, Lydia thought.  “No, just friends.  That’s all. Biology lab partners.  Nothing else.”
            Lydia heard the horn of a two minute warning for the second half of the football game to start.
            “Better get back to your post, QB1,” she quipped.
            Jimmy wrinkled his forehead.  “Army brat?”
            “Nope.  Marines.  Base doesn’t sound as good as post.  She watched the clock count down quickly.  “Better go.”
            “You, too.”  Jimmy grabbed her hand and ran to the football field.  He dropped her off on the sideline and then made his way to the field where he was needed.
            “Well, if things go the way they looked a few minutes ago, you and I might get to double date soon.”
            “What are you talking about?” Lydia asked.
            “You were in the boy’s locker room a few minutes ago weren’t you? Giving QB1 a pep talk, I presume.”
            “Um, no, not really.” Lydia hugged herself again and shuddered.  She could still feel those hands wandering all over her.
            “What’s wrong with you?”  Jenni asked.
            Lydia looked at the sideline for any inkling of who the guys were that attacked her.  Her eyes scanned the line of football jerseys, but no one seemed to look guilty as charged.  “Nothing.  I just really want to go home.”
            “What?  Riley not living up to your high standards of living?” Jenni snapped.
            Lydia sighed.  “I don’t really know what home is.  I’ve never lived in one place for more than a few years at a time.”
            The crowd stood on their feet.  The second half started and Jimmy threw a pass to his best friend Nick Stokes.  He ran it downfield for sixty yards until he was tackled.  The girls threw their pom poms in the air and cheered.
            Jenni pointed to Stokes.  “He doesn’t know it, yet, but he’s going to fall in love with me.”
            Lydia rolled her eyes.  “I doubt it.”
            “What do you know?”
            “More than I should, that’s all.  He’s Jimmy’s best friend, isn’t he?”
            “Yep.  So, see , if you hook up with Jimmy, then I can hook up with Stokes and life in Riley would be great.”
            Lydia rolled her eyes. Life in Riley would not be great. Not ever.  The town was too small.  Everybody knew everyone and their business.  If you picked  your nose in public, you’d end up in the daily news on the society page, full page photo included.  She had no idea why her parents had decided to move here for her last two years of high school.  She was going to get out as soon as she could.
            The game wasn’t even close.  The Riley Warriors won 56 to 3.  After the game, Jimmy ran over to the sidelines where Lydia stood.  She wrapped her arms around his neck.  “Good job, Jimmy.”
            He smiled.  “It wasn’t all me.  Someone had to catch the passes I threw.”  He nodded towards Stokes who was eyeing the rest of the cheerleaders.
            Stokes smiled,but kept his eyes glued to the girls.  “Hey, Lydia.”
            Lydia gave a sigh of relief.  His voice didn’t match any of the ones she had heard earlier.”Good game, Stokes.”
            “Can I take you home, Lyddie?” Jimmy asked.
            “What about the party?” Stokes asked his friend.
            “I’m tired.  Didn’t get much rest off the field.”
            “Not my fault, we were on fire tonight, Brown.”
            “Whatever.  The ride, Lyddie?”
            “You’re awfully persisent, Jimmy Brown.”
            “Is that a yes?”
            Lydia looked over at Jenni. She was her ride, but something about the way she had talked to Lydia didn’t sit right with her.  She nodded her head at Jimmy.  “Sure, Jimmy.  I’ll take you up on the offer.”
            Jimmy walked Lydia over to his blue Chevy pick up.  He opened the door for her and climbed in on the other side.  He started the engine and looked over at her.  She hadn’t said anything from the walk from the field to the parking lot behind the stadium.
            “You sure you’re all right?”
            Lydia forced a smile.  “Fine.”
            Jimmy pulled out of the parking lot and headed toward the street.  “Something tells me you’re not.”
            Lydia hugged her shoulders tight.  Jimmy looked over at her and noticed she was shivering.  He threw his letter jacket over to her.  “Here.  Sorry.  I haven’t had a chance to fix the heat, yet.”
            Lydia grabbed the jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders.  “There’s places that can fix it, you know.”
            “Yeah, but what’s the fun in that?  I’d rather do it myself.”
            Lydia rolled her eyes.  “Hey, Jimmy?”
            “Hey, Lyddie.”
            “Do you have any idea where you’re going?”
            Jimmy grinned.  “Nope.  I was hoping you’d tell me before we ended up in Texas or someplace worse.”
            “There’s no place worse than Texas.”
            Jimmy grabbed his chest.  “A girl after my own heart.”
            Lydia grinned again.  “You might wanna turn left here.  I think it would be a good idea.”
            Lydia gave directions to Jimmy until they ended up in front of her house. Jimmy stared at the brick structure that was three stories high with a circle drive.  “Wow,” he whispered.
            “It’s not what it seems, Jimmy.  The outside’s nice, but it needs a lot of work on the inside.”  Lydia stared at the floorboard.  Jimmy thought she was talking about the house, but she was talking about herself. She could look like she was fine and keep all her thoughts inside, but she really was screaming on the inside.  How could she have let those guys put their hands all over her?  Why didn’t she fight back like her daddy and all the other Marines she knew taught her?  She didn’t want Jimmy to know how weak she really was.  She didn’t want him to know that there was a constant battle going on between her mom and dad.  Daddy had just retired from the Marines and Mama was working nights at the hospital.  The tension in the air between them was so strong that Lydia couldn’t walk through the house without being smothered by the silence between her parents.  She was hoping that Jimmy just meant the house and wasn’t looking at her to see if she meant something deeper.  She kept her eyes averted to the floorboard.
            “Whatever, Lyddie.”  He got out of the truck and walked over to open Lydia’s door.
            “You don’t have to-“
            “Yes, I do.”  He leaned in closer. “There’s a pair of eyes looking at me through that window.”
            Lydia looked over and saw that her dad had pulled the curtain aside and was looking at Jimmy holding the door open for her.  She gave Jimmy another hug and walked toward the door.  “Thanks for the ride, Jimmy,” she called after him.  She met her dad at the door and walked in.
            “Anytime,” he yelled back. He got in his truck, started the engine and stared ahead.  This being friends was not enough for him.  He wanted to take Lydia out soon before he burst.  She had only been at the school for a couple of weeks, but even so his heart melted whenever she walked into a class.  Then, when he saw the way those guys had their hands all over her when he walked toward the locker room made him fume with anger.  He put his foot on the gas and headed home.     
            No girl should ever have to go through that.  He wanted to pick her up off the ground and take her someplace safe, but he couldn’t do that.  Not when they were just supposed to be friends.  He was going to talk to Coach about what happened and see if he could get a few of those players off the team.  From the looks of it, they were mostly third string players anyway.  He pulled into the driveway of his own house and walked inside with a look of revenge on his face.  His mom saw him walk in the door and followed behind him to the kitchen.  She stopped in the doorway.
            “Honey, what’s wrong?” Anita Brown asked.
            “Nothing,” Jimmy grumbled.  He went to the refridgerator and rummaged around until he found an apple.  In the process, he knocked over the carton of milk which spilled to the floor.  He slammed the apple on the counter and grabbed the kitchen towel hanging on the oven door.
            Anita knew if he stayed in this mood any longer, something bad was going to happen.  Anger always got the best of her son.  She hated seeing him so upset.  She tried to divert his attention to something he enjoyed.“You had a good game tonight.”
            “Thanks.”  Jimmy grabbed the apple off the counter and walked into the living room and saw his dad with his eyes glued to the television. “But, you’re not the one that I need to hear that from.”  He stared at his dad, but Dale Brown didn’t even take his eyes off the televison.
            Mr. Brown kept to himself most days lately.  He didn’t go out, he didn’t talk with anyone.  The doctors at the VA diagnosed him with PTSD a few years earlier.  His time in Vietnam scarred him.  Dale thought it was the reason he felt so introverted, but his son thought otherwise.  Jimmy felt that his dad had given up on him completely and he had a hard time dealing with his dad’s behavior.
            “I was 12 for 14 tonight, Dad.”  He bit the apple.
            “14 for 14 is better.”
            “Maybe I would’ve made 14 for 14 if you showed up.”  Jimmy slammed his fist against the wall.  The apple dropped to the floor and Anita picked it up.  She held it out to Jimmy, but he pushed it away.
            “Football isn’t my thing, Jimmy.  You know that.”
            “No, Dad.  I’m not your thing!  You wouldn’t care if I dropped dead on the fifty yard line.”
            Anita walked into the room making a barrier between the two men in her life. “Jimmy, calm down.  Don’t say things like that to your father.”
            “He doesn’t care, Mom.  He’s never cared about anything I do.  I could stand on my head while feeding the homeless and I wouldn’t even get a good job out of him.  You’d know what I get?”
            Anita shook her head.
            “I’d get a ‘what are you going to do for the rest of us’ and a look of disappointment.  That’s all I am to him.  Some stupid disappointment because I play football and don’t care about his precious Army.”
            Anita looked over at her husband and saw the clouds of Vietnam slowly making their way to his eyes.  She looked over at her son who looked like he was about to cry.  “Jimmy, don’t.”
            Jimmy took another bite of his apple.  “I’ll be upstairs.  I’ve got homework.”  He ran up the stairs and slammed the door behind him. 
            Anita walked over to her husband and knelt in front of him.  She rested her head on his knees.  “He doesn’t mean that, Dale.”
            “If he would just see that football isn’t going to get him anywhere.”
            “Dale, stop it.  He loves football.  He’s really good at it.”
            “He’s not going to get anywhere playing football, Anita.”
            Anita looked up at Dale.  The clouds were still there. “What do you want him to do, Dale?  Do you want him to join the Army and come back broken and battered like you?  Do you want him to spend five hours a week in therapy because he can’t get the images of those dead bodies being carried in the streets out of his head?”
            “Anita, don’t say things like that.  You weren’t there, you don’t know.”  He paused.  “You don’t know anything about what I’ve been through.”  His voice turned into a stern warning. 
            Anita swallowed hard.  The sobs in her throat wouldn’t stay down.  “He just wants you to watch one game, honey.  One game.”
            “When I have time, I’ll go.”  He kept his eyes on the television.  Anita looked and saw that he was watching a rerun of MASH.
            “Yeah, because watching that is so much more important than your own son.”

            Jimmy sat in the library staring at his math book.  He heard the thud of a book bag being put down on top of the table beside him.
            “Hey, QB1.”
            Jimmy looked up and saw Lydia.  “Hey, cheerleader.”
            “What are you up to?”  Lydia asked pointing to the book.
            Jimmy scratched his head.  “Um, I think it’s geometry, but I’m not so sure.  I thought more numbers would be involved, but all I see is letters.”
            Lydia let out a quiet laugh.  “Not so good with the math, are you?”
            “What are you, Yoda?”
            Lydia scrunched up her face.  “Who?”
            “What?  Are you serious?  You don’t know who Yoda is?”
            “Yeah, well, you don’t know what the Pythagorean Theorem is, so there.”  She stuck her tongue out at him.
            “And you do?”  Jimmy asked smiling.
            Lydia ignored his boyish grin.“Yes, I do.  Despite my outward appearance as an airhead, I actually do know a thing about theorems and postulates.”
            Jimmy shook his head.  “You’re not an airhead, Lyddie.”
            “Tell that to the rest of Riley,”  Lydia mumbled. She slumped down in the seat next to him.
            “Besides, airheads are blond like Jenni.  So, that leaves you out.”
            “Yep, guess us brunettes have to use our brains every once in awhile.”
            Jimmy tapped his pencil on the pages of his book.  “Are you gonna help me or not, Lyddie?”
            Lydia looked over at the pages.  They were filled with triangles and theorems.  She could do geometry in her sleep if it came down to it, but she was having fun making Jimmy sweat. “A please would be nice.”
            “Please?  If I don’t pass this class, I’m done for the season.”
            “We wouldn’t want that now, would we?”
            Jimmy covered his face and ran his hands down his face.  “Please tell me you’ve heard of the church lady.”
            “Don’t you have a TV in that big house of yours?”
            “Yeah, but it only comes on Saturdays and Sundays during football season.”
            “Sometimes Thursdays.”
            “What about Mondays?”
            “Yes, Monday.  Definitely, Monday.”  She paused and smiled.  “And before you say anything, yes I have seen Rain Man.”
            “Well, that’s a relief.  Thought I was going to have to give you a lesson in pop culture.”
            “I’ll make you a deal.  I’ll teach you geometry and you can make me watch Yoda.”
            “Make you?  I wouldn’t make you do anything, Lyddie.”
            “Why don’t you tell that bit of information to the rest of your team,” Lydia snapped.
            Jimmy looked at his watch.  He had fifteen minutes until he had to suit up for practice.  He shoved his book into his bag and grabbed Lydia’s hand.  “You’re coming with me.”
            Lydia got her hand out of his grip.  “No,” she whispered.  She shook her head.  “I don’t think so.”
            “Lyddie, you have to tell someone.”
            “No, I don’t!”
            The rest of the people in the library looked up at her.  She mouthed sorry and walked with Jimmy outside.
            “Why won’t you say anything?”
            “I don’t want to cause any trouble.”
            Jimmy stopped and stood in front of Lydia.  He put his hand on her cheek.  He was totally crossing the line of just a friend, but Lydia wouldn’t listen to him if he didn’t.  “They hurt you, Lyddie.”
            “I’m perfectly fine.  No bumps, no bruises.”  She put her hand over his on her cheek.  He didn’t get the message to remove it and kept it up against her cheek.
            “But your eyes aren’t the same.”  He rubbed his thumb on her cheek.  Her face was turning red.  He stared at her chocolate brown eyes.  They were the prettiest eyes he’d ever seen.  Her face reminded him of one of those dolls with the big eyes and blond hair.  Except, Lydia had brown hair and her eyes spoke even when she didn’t.
            “Jimmy?” she whispered.  Her eyes stayed fixed on his.  She could see the golden specs in his green irises.  His eyes were gorgeous.  Too bad he had to hide them behind a mask on a helmet every Friday, she thought.
            “What?”  He couldn’t take his eyes away from hers.
            “Um, how’s that friend thing working out for you?” 
            “Terrible.”  He let his hand fall away from her face.  He couldn’t tell her what he really thought.  He couldn’t tell her that he wanted to lean in and kiss her.  Everything inside of him was telling him to go for it, but he was trying to be a gentleman.  He knew she didn’t like to be forced into things.  That was clear by the way she handled herself with the football players.  She just didn’t know how to deal with the aftermath.  He sighed at his thoughts.  If only he could just bend down and taste her lips.  He wondered if they tasted like strawberries.  He could smell the scent from where he stood in front of her.  “How much longer do I have to be just your friend?”
“Until you get an A in geometry.”
“Guess, I’ll be praying for a miracle, then.”