Friday, October 21, 2011


In the morning, we were dressed and ready to leave before nine.  My mother tried to make us breakfast but I couldn’t imagine eating for at least a week.  Everyone gave Steven very enthusiastic hugs goodbye and invited him to come back soon.  

“They’re going to miss you more than they miss me!” I said when we turned onto the main road.

“I’m very charming,” he smiled.  That was true.  “I left your brother a jersey, hope that’s okay.”

“Oh my God he’s gonna die!  Can you tell how hard he was trying not to ask you to sign something?  He was twitching!” I put my hand on Steven’s arm.  Today he just wore a long-sleeve t-shirt and jeans.  “That was really nice, thank you.  You were an excellent house guest.”

“I had fun,” he reached up and ruffled my hair.

We drove toward the coast, singing along to the stereo and making fun of other drivers.  The day was devoid of serious conversations like we’d been having - our pasts, our lives and families.  Or the way he’d snuck into my room last night, even for an innocent moment.  It was just pop culture and bad vanity license plates all the way to the exit for Tampa Bay.  Which Steven drove right past.

“Uh, you missed it.”

He just smirked and kept going.  Fifteen minutes farther on, he took a new exit and didn’t stop till we were parked in a wooded area with a tiny gravel parking lot.

“I got today off,” he smiled but there was hesitation in his voice.  “I know you could have spent more time with your family, but I wanted to surprise you.  I hope that’s okay.”

“Uh, yeah.  What are we...?” I looked out the window, hoping he couldn’t see the color rising in my face.  More time alone together.

“Come on.”  He grabbed a bag from the trunk and we followed a well worn path through the woods - which turned out to be quite short and opened onto a little rocky beach.


He ignored me.  Steven went down near the water where a narrow-ish strip of sand was dying in the post-high tide sun.  He opened the bag and produced a beaten up blanket that I recognized from my parents house.  It went down right at the edge where the water lapped at the shore.

“It’s gonna get wet, but your mom said I could throw it out,” he called out.  Then he reached back into the bag and pulled out something I’d forgotten I owned.

“This is kinda small,” Steven smirked.  It was a bathing suit I hadn’t worn since high school - a green and white gingham bikini.  He also had an old pair of swim trunks from my brother.

“Kara, I don’t want to go back yet.”

I glanced around.  The cove was beautiful, secluded, private.  It was nearly useless as a beach, which would explain why no one else was here on a surprisingly warm day.  If you stood - or laid - still in the sun, it was actually hot out.  

“You wanted to know what I did on my first ever off day in Tampa.  Marty told me about this spot and I sat here for hours,” Steven squinted at me in the sunlight.  “I just want one more day, or part of a day.  Please.”

I took the suit from his hand.  

Brendan is going to kill me.

I’d done it last night after I let myself into her room and kissed her forehead.  During our walk with Leo and lounging around her family’s house, everything had felt so right, so comfortable.  This should be part of my real life.  I went into her room to tell her everything.  But when she looked back at me I couldn’t make the words come.  So I snuck back downstairs and asked her mother for help.

I needed more time with Kara.  The morning gave me clarity and calmed me down - I wasn’t going to do anything.  My patience was renewed.  But I needed more of us.  She disappeared into the trees and came back in her old swimsuit.  I stood there gaping.

The suit wasn’t really too small, but the bikini top was padded from back when maybe she’d needed it.  Now it had her dangerously close to spilling right over.  I rolled my tongue back into my mouth before she could catch me staring.

God, you are beautiful, I wanted to say.  But I went into the woods and changed too.  When I came back up, Kara was laying on the blanket, toes in the water.  The scene was so peaceful that she was almost out of place - all skin and curves, she belonged in a rap video.

We lay side-by-side, not touching, for a while.  A cool breeze blew crosswise, but stillness in the sun was enough to keep us warm.  Remnants of yesterday’s feast lulled me into a waking coma.  The rhythm of the tiny waves maintained my drowsy state.

This isn’t real life.

But it was one day of vacation and for that one day, I didn’t care.  Silence and solitude had become treasures to me since joining the League, and this place had both and more.  I’d take every second I could get.  I rolled onto my side and looked at Kara, who was not really sleeping either.

“You’re beautiful,” I told her quietly.

“You too,” she answered without looking.

I love you, I wanted to say.  But I didn’t know anything about love.  I didn’t know if she loved someone else.  And I had only known her for a few weeks.  More likely I was already too close to scaring her away.  So I lay back down and let the tension between us sit on my chest.  A few minutes later, Kara shifted and her hand slipped into mine.  I turned my head but she had her eyes closed.  We lay there holding hands in silence for as long as I could stay awake.

When I came around, Kara’s spot was empty.  She was at the top of the cove, building a little tower of rocks on a large, flat stone like a kid would play by themselves.  If we ever ended up together I would buy us a house with a private beach so we could be alone and quiet whenever we wanted.

Add it to the list.

Eventually, the sun dropped behind the tree line and it started to get cold.  Without discussing it, we drove to the nearest busy strip and chose the loudest place on the street.  No more intimate alone time today - we’d reached our limit.  Kara had fish & chips and I stole her fries like I was still on vacation.  By the time we got back to the rink, it was dark out as I pulled up right next to her car.

She let out a short sigh.  “That was fantastic, Steven.  Thank you.”

“Thanks for Thanksgiving.”

“I’m sorry if I was quiet before.”

I touched her arm, felt the vibration of being with her pass physically through my entire body.  She couldn’t be sorry, she couldn’t regret this.

“Don’t.  It was relaxing, we relaxed.”

Kara squeezed my hand, still on her wrist.  “Bye.”

I forced myself to drop my bag on the bed and immediately dial the phone.  This was not going to get any better.  I went to the balcony and looked at the water, reminding myself of the calm I’d felt earlier in the day.

“Hey Kara, happy Thanksgiving,” Brendan said.

“How’s Houston?”

He groaned.  “I can’t believe I’m related to these people.  They drove down and got here a day early, so my mom was stuck with them and dumped them on me the minute I arrive.  Today I drove a minivan around and gave them a tour.  We stopped at every single Sonic, Kar.  Every one.  How was home?”

“Good.  Fun,” I said.  Elephant in the room time.  “Steven had fun too, I think.  Probably ruined his training program on my mom’s food.”


“Oh yeah,” I laughed.

“What’d you do today, just drive back?”

I could have lied.  I could have omitted the boat trip and not changed the story much at all.  Except that if he did that to me, I’d be furious.  “No, uh, Steven got the day off.  We went to the beach for a few hours.”


“It was nice, I felt so tired from yesterday,” I continued.

“The beach.  Cool.  So you guys just... what?  Sunbathed?”

Deep breath.  “Yeah.  Napped.  It was nice out.”

“Napping.  Must have been quiet.  What beach?”

“A little one, I don’t know the name.”  I heard myself trying to rush this conversation to a finish before he could get upset.  “Like twenty minutes from here.”

“So you spent the day on a the beach, getting tan and taking naps.”  The tone of his voice was darkening like a gathering storm.  So predictable and it was ruining my mood.

“Would you prefer if I didn’t tell you these things?” I snapped.

“I’d prefer if you didn’t do them, Kara.”

“You go out with your friends all the time.”

He huffed.  “And so do you.  To five-star restaurants and whatever-the-fuck-else you two are doing there alone together every single day.  He probably has a game tomorrow, right?  You’ll be wearing his jersey and screaming his name.   Does he get you to do that a lot when I’m not around?  No one to hear you on the beach.”

That did it.  A red haze of anger blurred my vision.  I knew exactly what Brendan had been really worried about the whole time - me cheating on him with Steven.  I’d tried to be respectful, even if I was confused myself.  

“Stop it,” I hissed.  My voice was hard and flat.  He must have realized what he said because I heard him suck in a breath.

“Don’t go tomorrow,” Brendan challenged.

I stopped at the grocery store to stock up on healthy things that would put my diet back on track after eating my body weight in Thanksgiving fare.  I set the bags on the counter and opened the sliding glass door, letting the cool night air into the stuffy room.  That’s when I heard Kara.

“I’m going.  No... I’m going to the game.  I’ll take Linsday.”  

She was on her balcony, probably no idea that I was ten feet away on my own deck listening.  Her tone was cold and sharp, like a broken piece of slate and something of the same dark color.

“Stop it, Brendan.  They are my friends... he is my friend.  If you’d stop overreacting all the time you’d like them.  Steven is....”  

My heart stopped, waiting.  Finally she spoke again.

“You’re an asshole, you know that?  I will spend time with whoever I want and right now, I don’t want to spend time with you.”

The phone beeped off, a too-happy noise for the words that preceded it.  Ten years ago she’d have slammed the phone down in disgust, a perfect punctuation mark.  Now there was only silence.  I sat there frozen as Kara took a look, slow breath.

“You over there?” she asked.

A horse could not have kicked me harder.  I was busted.  I was creepy.  I was exactly whatever Brendan was saying about me.  “Yeah,” I croaked.  “You okay?”

I heard her move to the railing, so I did the same and leaned over to see her.  She looked the same as she had an hour ago, curled in the front seat of my car thanking me for a wonderful day.

“Yeah.  Sorry about that.  He gets a little jealous... just cause he’s far away.”

“Well he shouldn’t worry,” I laughed awkwardly.  Doing less would insinuate I thought there was a chance of anything, ever.  Like I’d been thinking when she took my hand on the boat.

Kara shrugged, suddenly looking exhausted and defeated.  “Maybe he should.”