Jack and Diane [part IV - fin]
They agreed to meet a N'Awlins on King Street at 10:00. The girl arrived first, and ordered a Macallan to calm her nerves.
The girl was remembering the time when she was a littler girl, and her cousins lived near a golf course. Sometimes, after dark, when the golfers had gone home, the girl and her cousins would go hunting for golf balls. One summer they collected a whole bushel full. They counted them. They sorted them by colour. They sorted them by brand. They played Brobdinagian marbles with them. They bounced them on the driveway. They wondered why golf balls bounced — they're not made of rubber.
So they cut one open.
A circular slice with a pocket knife, and the skin of the ball peeled right off. Inside was not the rubber ball they were expecting, but rather a tightly wound ball of very fine elastic strands. It reminded the girl of the story of one of her Cat In The Hat books. Her cousin Danny wanted to bounce it. The girl wanted to see how long the string was. So she rubbed the surface gently, like Aladdin rubbing his lamp, until the end of the string loosened. Then she began to unwind it.
The ball was not, in fact, made of elastic strands, but of only one strand, fine as a hair, and miles long. The girl unwound and unwound. Her cousins became bored and left in search of other games. And still the girl unwound the elastic string. The ball became smaller and smaller.
Then the ball began to move on its own in her hand. Startled, she dropped it to the ground and watched as the elastic, having achieved some critical point, began to unwind itself. Faster and faster the ball spun, the elastic hair spraying out around it like the Tasmanian Devil's wake until, finally, a tiny rubber ball popped out and bounced quietly away.
The bartender placed a Macallan in front of her. Neat, with a glass of water on the side. She took a sip. Grimaced. Looked up. And there was Jack.
"Hey, you," he said. It was as though no time at all had passed.
He asked what she was drinking. He ordered the same. Then: "Do you still have the Corrado?"
"Yes. How's Beauty?"
"She's fine. She's in storage. I take her out once in a while, when it's a beautiful sunny day."
"Isn't it always a beautiful sunny day in California?"
"It is," he agreed. "So, how's ___?"
Jack said nothing. He looked at the girl with his steel blue eyes for several minutes. Then, this time, he did do what she wanted him to do. He wrapped his arms around her. And for the first time in two years, the girl felt the golf ball stop spinning.
"I read The Velveteen Rabbit once a year, at Christmas, whether I want to or not," Jack told the girl, "And I never want to."
They talked on the phone nearly every night. For hours and hours. Until his cordless phone would run out of power. Then he'd call her back on his cell phone, just to say goodnight, and they'd talk for another hour. She, lying in bed, half asleep; he, pacing the floor of his kitchen, three thousand miles away.
There was a giddiness to their relationship. A kind of excitement she hadn't felt since highschool. This time, there were no taboos. There was no one to hurt. No one else, at least. It's not that there were no obstacles. There were — and are — and some of them are Very Bad. But the girl had known about the Very Bad Things since that summer at the Internet company. She learned more about them now.
She had Hope.
On the girl's birthday, last summer, Jack invited her to San Francisco for the weekend, and took her dancing at The Starlight Room. It was a magical night, and the girl felt just like Cinderella.
Jack promised to take her to the opera, because she had never seen La Bohème.
They said that thing they never say. And the girl said to Jack, "This time, I choose you."
An invitation to a fall wedding on Toronto Island arrived in the girl's mailbox, and Jack agreed to be her escort. It had been several weeks since they had seen each other, and the girl couldn't wait to see him again, and to show him off to her friends.
And then something happened, something that had nothing to do with the girl, that she could neither help nor prevent, and the Very Bad Things resurfaced.
He called her and said, "I will not come."
Oh yeah, life goes on. Even after the thrill of living is gone. "I cannot bear this again," the girl thought. And so she wrote this story, to say, fuck you; and this story, to say, I understand; and this story, to say, but I'm not pining. And she promised herself that Jack would never make her cry again.
And then late one night the phone rang, and it was Jack. "How was the concert?" he asked. There was a note of sarcasm in his voice. Cleverness, wit, sarcasm; these were all qualities the girl sought out in her friends, and Jack had them in spades. But this time, something was different. It almost sounded like he was jealous.
And so they began to talk again. Infrequently, and on eggshells.
It was just after Christmas. They were talking about Stephen King and the Boston Red Sox. And the girl said, "So, my friend Sara is getting married in New York in March. You'll never guess what her fiancé's name is."
"With a PH or a V?"
"With a V. But still, come on!"
The girl didn't want to ask, she didn't want to ask, she knew the answer would be no, and she didn't think she could bear it. But even the thinest sliver of Hope is nevertheless a sliver of Hope, and so she asked:
"Will you come dance with me?"
"No," he replied.
"Ouch," she said.
And then, a few weeks later, he called and said, "I will come dance with you."
And now the girl is trying hard not to count the days until March 19. She has a great deal of work to do, after all: papers to grade, midterms to prepare, class preps to prep, textbook chapters to edit. So many people are depending on her.
And so she's agreed to share a hotel room with the maid of honour, and she's asked another friend who is driving to the wedding to pick her up at the airport.
She wants more than anything to believe that Jack will be there, but she won't allow herself more than a very, very, very thin sliver of Hope.
Go to next story in sequence, which begins The Viking Trilogy. Or, skip ahead to find out whether the girl was stood up by Jack. If you've just joined us, Gentle Reader, click here to read the story of Jack and Diane from the beginning.