Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Hearts of Steel: Chapter Nine

"Don't lose them," Priye said and grasped my arm.

"I won't," I promised. "Don't worry."

"There!" She pointed excitedly. "They're turning off there."

A flash of red brake lights and the amber blinking of turn signals pointed the way to the caravan of cars that had left the restaurant.

"I see them, Priye. Relax. Even if they do get ahead of us, I know what hospital they're going to."

"I don't believe this," Priye muttered. "All we wanted was a quiet evening with the family."

"I did my part," I replied, trying to ease her fears with a little humour. Very little. "I didn't talk about football tonight."

She returned a reluctant smile.

"At least your grandmother liked her bears. That's something to be thankful for, huh?"

"Her face did kinda light up when we brought them in," she remembered.

"That's better." I squeezed her hand.

"I'm sorry I'm not being better company. I'm just a little worried about my cousin, Ivie."

"She'll be all right."

"How do you know?" She demanded. "She could have brain damage."

"I doubt it!" I laughed at Priye.

When she made a huffing noise at me and folded her arms, I patted her reassuringly.

"They were just being kids, Priye," I continued. "They're extremely resilient. The doctors will be able to take care of her just like that."

"Corn flakes?" She said incredulously. "What normal kid sticks corn flakes up her nose?"

"Could have been worse," I offered.

"I don't see how."

"It could have been vegetables. Ivie told me at dinner that she hates vegetables."

Priye's smile widened. "She told you that?"

"Uh-huh. Made me swear that I wouldn't tell anyone. She's got everyone fooled into thinking that she's a good girl who always cleans her plate."

She looked at me, pursed her lips, and shook her head. "You're on her side, aren't you?"

"Whew. . .boy. . .the rain really is coming down," I said, deliberately sidestepping the question. "Here, put this on."

I handed Priye my jacket to throw over her as she opened the car door. I tried to find a parking spot close to the emergency room entrance. The best that I could do was about fifteen yards away. The parking lot was full tonight.

Priye stepped out and down into a puddle of standing water. I heard her curse under her breath and wondered whether she could still take her brand-new shoes back, as long as she kept the receipt.

I placed my arm around her waist, guiding her as we headed for the emergency-room doors. The doors slid open as soon as we stepped under the cover of the awning.

Priye slid the jacket off her shoulders, shook some of the raindrops off, and handed it back to me. She did all of this with barely a break in her stride. She'd caught sight of Ivie's parents talking to the nurse.

"Uncle Anthony," she called out, and clasped him warmly to her in a supportive hug.

I turned my eyes away so that she would not see the surge of jealousy. I didn't mean to feel petty. It was just that I had been looking forward to spending this time with her. Having to spend it in the emergency room of a hospital, instead of over a candlelight dinner, did something to me. Emotionally, I was somewhere between pissed that I'd skipped practice for this, relieved that little Ivie seemed to be all right, and pleased that Priye had chosen to ride to the hospital with me instead of abandoning me at the restaurant with the remainder of her family.

Something in me kinda snapped. Before I'd gotten a chance to get close to her, I was upstaged by a nine-year-old with corn flakes crammed up her nose. At some level, I felt about as childish as Ivie. I was three times her age, but was behaving, in my opinion, half her age.

While Priye tried to get information from her relatives, all I could do was stand by and try to look as if I was being supportive. A person could only stand around for so long without feeling about as functional and uplifting as the reproductions of artistic prints adorning the hospital walls.

I touched Priye lightly on the shoulder and said, "If you need me, I'll be over there." I indicated a row of chairs across the room.

"Uh-huh. Okay," she replied, though I wasn't entirely convinced that she was talking to me. She could have been responding to her uncle, for all the attention that she gave me. She never quite looked directly at me, just sort of turned her head toward the direction of my voice.

I took a seat and tried to find a way to look sympathetic, yet supportive. It's possible, though I put a cramp in my facial muscles like you wouldn't believe. The muscles that controlled my eyebrows alone went through some serious contortions; furrowed with concern, raised with sincerity, then arched in sympathetic support.

It wasn't that my sentiments weren't sincere. They were. No one could have foreseen how events would have turned out tonight. No one. I'd prepared for grilling from the parents, maybe scorn from the grandparents. I hadn't figured on having to dust off my old CPR skills.

I emphasized my emotions because I knew that everyone would be watching me. Priye came from a large family, but it was an extremely close-knit family that jealousy guarded against any rivals for affection. All I had done was give Priye my phone number. You'd think, from her grandmother's reaction, that I had passed on the plague.

No self-respecting mack would have let an opportunity for getting to know a beautiful woman pass by. As I sat in the hospital waiting area, I thought about what I might have done to change the progression of events that had brought me here.

"What are you in for?"

A voice, gravelly and demanding, accosted me as if I were an unwelcome guest at the country correctional facility.

I looked to my left, then to my right, and twisted around to try to find the interrogator. A little boy, who couldn't have been more than eight years old, sat cross-legged on a chair behind me and four seats over.

His arms were folded, his chin resting on his forearms as he peered back at me with two of the oldest eyes that I'd ever seen in a child. Curious and suspicious at the same time.

"Are you talking to me?" I pointed to myself.

"Yes, I'm talking to you," he responded. He had an old man's voice, too. I didn't get that much bass in my voice until long after puberty.

"I'm not sick, I said. "I'm here for a friend of mine."

"The fine lady in the black dress." He nodded his approval to me. I wasn't quite sure how to respond to that. They say that kids are brutally honest. And it was obvious that he had good taste in women. So I let that one go unchallenged.

"What are you in for?"

"I'm not here for me, this time. I was here last week. For this."

He held up his arm and I noticed that it was encased in a bandage from elbow to wrist. The bandage was covered with signatures in various inks, various colours.

"I'm here for my sister. Can you hear that screaming?"

I lifted my head, training my ears in the direction of one of the wards."

"I don't want injection! I don't want injection!" It was a childish treble, rising in pitch, intensity, and frequency, followed by the crash of something loud and metallic.

"That's her. She's going to get stitches. Flipped off the bed and busted her fat head wide open. Mum told her to stop jumping in the bed. That's what she gets for not minding."

"Stitches. Man, that's rough."

"She'll be all right," he said knowingly. "When they strap her down, she'd get the injection."

"How do you know so much about the emergency room? Do you want to be a doctor when you grow up?"

He gave me a look that said, Oh please!

"What's your name, son?"

"Mum said that while she's in there with Dammy, that I shouldn't talk to strangers. I shouldn't tell them anything. Not my name. Not where I live. Or nothing."

"That's good advice that your mother gave you." I extended my arm to him. "Just so we're not complete strangers, name is Jack. Jack Deneen. My friends call me J.D."

"Nooo," he contradicted with all of the enthusiasm of a child catching an adult in an untruth. "Everybody calls you Flash."

"Now, just how do you know that?"

"My daddy saw your picture in the paper and told my mum that you might just do some good for football if your ego didn't get as big as your head. What's an ego, Flash?"

"You tell your father. . ." I began, then quickly checked myself. This was a kid, even if he did have an old man's mouth. "You tell your father thanks for the advice." I amended.

"Do you want to sign my bandage, J.D?" He asked, holding his hand up again.

"Sure. If you can find some room for me."

"Mrs. Larry's whole class signed it. Even Junior. And he's the one who pushed me off the stairs in the first place. See? He signed it right there and drew the broken bones with the blood gushing out of it."

"A veritable Vincent van Gogh," I remarked.

"A very who?"

"Van Gogh. He was a famous artist back in the day."

"Emeka is not going to be an artist when he grows up. My mum says that he is going to be a sociopath. What's sociopath, J.D?"

"You'd better have your parents explain that one." I deferred.

He tossed a dark blue pen to me from his stash of crayons markers, and pens crammed conveniently, if not orderly, into a zippered plastic bag.

"I think I see a spot right here," I said. "It's just below the elbow." He turned his back and extended his arms as best as he could. I signed my name with a flourish and drew a flattened oval with cross-hatching. That was my rendition of a football. In the center of the oval, I penned my jersey number. Not exactly worth displaying, but the artistic attempt brought a smile to his face.

"Thanks, J.D. I guess this means we're not strangers anymore. So I'll tell you my name. My name is Damola, my parents calls me Junior. I still don't know why. But I'm not going to tell you where I live. I don't want my mum to beat me."

"Pleasure to meet you, Junior. And you're welcome." I resisted the urge to reach out and pat him on his head. I settled for balling up my fist and holding it out to him for a little dap. He clenched his own fist and tapped it once on top of mine.

"There you go," I encouraged. It struck me as oddly sentimental, how small his hand looked on top of mine. For a moment, I could almost imagine that this wasn't a stranger's hand. Instead it was the hand of my own son, sharing a special moment with me despite the grimness of our surroundings.

When who I presumed to be his parents came out to collect Junior, he ran up to them, shouting on top of his lungs that I had signed his bandage. My signature had been elevated to importance over Emeka 's gore-gushing bone drawing. A proud moment for me - to go from booger-picker to best ball player all in one evening.

"Looks like you've made a new friend." Priye settled into the seat next to me.

"He's a good kid." I assessed.

"If a little loud," she observed.

"You have issues with kids?" I asked, partially to tease her about the comment she'd made about the kid in the airport. The other part of me wanted to feel her out. I wanted to know her feelings about kids in general.

Myself, I can see an entire carload of kids. I want enough to start my own football team, offense, defense, and coaching staff included. Sounds impractical, maybe even like the ramblings of a madman. But that's what I want. And I want a woman who shares that vision. Or nightmare. It all depends on how you looked at it.

So far, Priye seemed two for two against children. She loved the kids in her own family. Her panic when Ivie had fallen back in her chair, choking and grasping at her throat, told me that she had the capacity within her to love. But it's different when they're your relatives or someone else's kids. You could love them as much as you want to, then give them back when it's inconvenient for you to have them around.

I still didn't have a good clue of where she stood on having children of her own. That reminded me of how little I actually knew about her. Did she want kids? Could her thinly dislike of children be a symptom of sore grapes? Maybe she wanted kids but couldn't have them.

Though I couldn't help but notice that she had what my grandfather called baby-bearing hips. Her hips were wide enough to handle the load of the last stages of pregnancy. Yet they were not so wide that I couldn't wrap my hands around her. They were not so unwieldy that I didn't want to put my hands on either side of her and pull her toward me.

"Look, Daddy! Look who signed my bandage!" Junior turned around so that his father could get a good look. "Jack 'The Flash' Deneen. You were wrong, Dad. He's not a struck-up pretty boy with washed-up dreams of ever playing in the NFL. He's good people."

Priye and I exchanged glances. I don't know who started laughing first. The gleam of amusement in her eyes might have been sparked by the quirky twitching of my lips. She laughed until tears came to her eyes, then rested her head on my shoulders to gasp for breath. I kissed the top of her head.

"How's Ivie?" I asked.

"She's going to be all right. She's more scared than hurt and more embarrassed than scared. Thanks for acting so fast, Jack."

"I'm glad I was there to help."

"Don't be so modest. You know that you picked up a few points with my family, don't you? They'll be talking about you for weeks to come.

"Really?" I asked, toying with a few strands of braids that had worked themselves loose from her twist. My index finger traced the line of her jaw and followed along the outline of her full lower lip.

"And what about you, Priye? Will you be talking about me, too?"

She pulled her head away, coy. "I can talk about you now, if that's what you want," she replied, lifting one eyebrow in mock annoyance. "Let me see. What's an old standby? Oh, yes. You're ugly and your mother dresses you funny."

"That's not what I meant and you know it."

"I know," she said, turning serious in an instant. "And I can't say what I'll be thinking about in the weeks to come, Jack. I haven't planned that far ahead."

"Then why don't you let me put something on your mind now?" I asked tacit permission for something I'd pretty much made up my mind I'd do from the moment I saw her at the restaurant: I was going to kiss her. I had to. There was no way I wasn't going to try.

As I leaned forward, I hovered just a fraction before moving in. I wanted to give her the chance to change the direction of the conversation. She didn't pull away. Instead, she closed her eyes.

"Hey, Flash! My dad wants to shake your hand."

Junior popped between us, yelling his father's offer to make introductions.

"Hold that thought," I murmured to Priye, and forcibly pulled myself away.


There he goes. I sighed in both relief and resignation. I watched as he chatted with the little boy’s family. The Flash was charming, gracious, as smooth as fresh silk. He certainly had a way with people. His popularity had something to do with being some kind of hotshot athlete. But I was equally sure that Jack Deneen would be just as charismatic flipping patties at some joint.

He was a force unto himself, drawing everyone in and around him with all of the intensity of a tornado during the play-by-play reconstruction of a Steeldog glory game. As the gathering around Jack grew larger, I felt my patience growing thinner. This wasn’t the time or place for gridiron grandstanding. This was a hospital. There were sick people here. People on their deathbeds. The feats of an athlete seemed inconsequential in comparison to the life-and-death battles going on all around us.

Not everyone agreed with my sense of propriety. When a young woman resident in too-fight scrubs stood close, laughing a little too loud at one of Jack’s corny jokes, I felt my waning patience come to an abrupt end. I’d had just about all I could take of Jack Deneen and his entourage of devoted fans for one night.

Yes, I was grateful for his quick thinking and his knowledge of CPR. Because of his efforts, my cousin Ivie would live to hate and hide another corn flakes. And yes, I had to admit that we made a good-looking couple, walking arm in arm into the restaurant. Heads had turned as we’d walked by. The way my family responded favourably to him, I had private, fleeting fantasies of seeing him as a permanent addition. If he looked at me one more time with heat in those tiger eyes, I was going to melt into a messy puddle.

But the more time I spent in his company, the more I realized how much I didn’t know about him. I see the public face that he puts forward, the crowd-pleaser, the female magnet. Judging by the quick way he’d dumped me for the willing ear of an audience, it made me rethink how much I wanted to know him.

I hoped that it wasn’t jealousy. Could I be that petty, that selfish? He was a man of the public. His profession counted on his being +able to please the people. So he wasn’t doing anything. Not really. He was just being Jack. If I couldn’t handle who and what he was, then the fault was mine. It was better that I found out now, before I allowed myself to get emotionally invested in him.

I told myself that it really didn’t matter. I was only going to be in town for a few more hours anyway. I might as well enjoy his company for the little time we had left. I stood up, physically putting myself away from the negative feelings that were starting to bring me down. A few words to my aunt and uncle to check on Ivie, make my excuses. Said my good nights. Then I raised my hand to vie for Jack’s attention.

When I knew that he was watching, I held my hand up in the shape of a T. Time out. Game over.

He nodded and mouthed over the heads of his fans, Sorry. He tried to pull away, but not before signing a few more autographs, shaking a few more hands.

“Time to go now, Jack.”

“Is everything all right?”

“Uh-huh. They’re taking Ivie home tonight.”

“Some crazy night, eh, Priye?”

“Absolutely insane. I’m exhausted.”

“Then let me give you a lift home.”

“Do you mind? I’ve got to get out of here. I can’t stand being in hospitals.”

“Come on then.” He placed his arm around my shoulders. And in that moment, all of my irritation fell away. He felt so right, he should have been at my side all along. As if he’d always be there.

Still, I couldn’t bring myself to trust those feelings. So much had happened this weekend. My emotions had gotten a total working over.

“The rain’s stopped,” he said as we stood under the awning of the emergency-room entrance.

“Uh-huh,” I responded, and congratulated myself on what a witty conversationalist I’d turned out to be tonight. I looked out onto the parking lot, shaking my head. “Some date this turned out to be.”

“Thank you,” Jack said, with a wry twist of a smile.

“Why are you thanking me? It was horrible! First, you’re raked over the proverbial coals by my family. Then you have to dredge cornflakes out of my cousin’s nose and wind up driving through a spring monsoon to get to the emergency room. Please, Jack. You don’t have to be kind.”

“I wasn’t being kind, Priye,” he gallantly denied. At least, I thought I was being gallant. “Trust me,” he replied. “I was being completely selfish. My actions were motivated by my own self-interests.”

“I don’t believe you.” I shook my head slowly back and forth. “I don’t think you have a selfish bone in your body.”

At that, he laughed loud enough to draw the attention of several of the waiting room occupants still inside. He bit his lip to stem the laughter, leaned close, then whispered.

“Yes, I do, Priye Cole. And one of these days, when we get to know each other more intimately than we do now, I’ll show you.” He raised my hand to his lips and kissed it. His eyes never left mine. And before I knew it, the words popped out.

“I don’t want the evening to end like this.” They flew out of my mouth before the wisdom of revealing my innermost thoughts could prevent them. I think that I surprised him as much as I did myself. He took a started step back and didn’t speak for a couple of seconds.

“In that case, darling, what would you suggest?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t know. I just know that we can’t let the date end on this note. Maybe we could go out for a drink or something? To talk, rationally, normally, without the fear of a fiery airplane crash or being under the watchful eye of my relatives.”

“Sure. I’d like that. And I know the perfect place.”

“What are we waiting for?” In my mind, I reasoned that I had one more chance to correct the karma between us. If we couldn’t make an honest connection sitting and talking over a drink, then there was no hope for us. None at all.

I had a two-o’clock flight tomorrow out of Lagos back to my safe, predictable life in Accra. Here was my chance to step out, to take a chance. A little voice in the back of my mind kept urging, egging me on.

. . .Go for it, Priye. You go, girl.

“I’m going, I’m going.” I said out loud in response to the voice, and ignored the strange look that Jack threw in my direction. I had to make myself take this chance. As much as I liked him, if we didn’t establish a bond here and now, I had no doubt our chances for success would be ruined once I was back in Accra. I barely made time for my own family. I couldn’t see myself putting forth the effort for a man whom I’d known only a couple of days.

The drive to the restaurant was quiet. But the silence wasn’t strained. It was natural, expected. It was as if we both were caught up in our own thoughts. Once, we stopped at a red light. He clasped my hand and raised it to his lips. Such a sweet gesture. So smooth.

One part of me basked in the attention. The other half wondered how many women he’d charmed with so polished a move. No! I pushed the thought to the back of my mind. I’d made the decision to go with this feeling. I wasn’t going to ruin it by letting negative thoughts seep in. I didn’t want to know who he’d been with. He was with me now. In here and now, that was all that mattered.

He held my hand. I squeezed back. I couldn’t go so far as to kiss him but I could let him know what kind of effect he had on me.

Jack released my hand long enough to pull into a parking spot. It was even more crowded here than at the hospital. I glanced at Jack.

“Are you sure you want to go in there? It looks kinda crowded to me.”

“It’s a popular place, so it’s always crowded. Don’t worry about it, darling.” He winked at me. “I’ll get us a table.”

“You must know somebody on the inside.”

“I know a lot of somebodies,” he admitted.

“I don’t doubt it,” I muttered under my breath. If he heard me, he didn’t respond. Instead, he helped me out of the car. His arms was wrapped securely, possessively around my aist as we walked up to the door.

From the moment we walked in, I could feel all eyes on us. I felt self-conscious at first, not unlike a bug under a magnifying glass. From the number of people who hailed him as soon as he walked through the door, I couldn’t tell if it was because he was a sports celebrity or because he still frequented this place.

“Welcome back, Flash.” A hostess greeted him with a kiss. She barely glanced at me. Why would she? Who pays attention to window dressing? That’s how I felt. Like something to adorn his arm, like a watch or a cuff link.

“Hi, Anne. Got a table for me?”

“Always, sweet thing. Just give me a minute to clear out your regular spot. Next time, don’t make yourself such a stranger.” She disappeared through a maze of tables.

“One of your old haunts?” I asked.

“Yeah, me and my boy, Paul, you remember him? The one who was on his honeymoon? We practically lived at this restaurant anytime we are in the country.”

“I wasn’t talking about the restaurant,” I said, then winced. Did that come out of me, sounding like a jealous hag?

“Oh, you mean Anne? She’s like a sister to me.”

I rolled my eyes. I could grab any man here, plant a sloppy wet kiss on his lips, but that didn’t make him my cousin.

Anne came back, crooked her finger at Jack, and led him to a table in the rear of the restaurant.

Jack held out the chair out for me, kissing me on the cheek as he slid it under me.

“So,” he said, as he took a seat across from me, “what shall we talk about?”

“What do you want to talk about?” I countered.

“You,” he said simply, leaning onto the table.

I could feel my face growing hot under his direct glare. “Do you want to narrow the subject field a little? That’s a pretty broad topic.”

“Nope. I want to know everything about you, Priye.”

“That’s impossible. Even I don’t know everything there is to know about me.”

“Okay,” Jack relented. “Then let’s start with something simple.”

“Simple is good,” I agreed, nodding enthusiastically.

“How’s this for starters? Tell me how you feel about me?”

I nearly choked, so unexpected was the question. Kinda early to start talking about feelings, though mine were running the gamut with this man. Why couldn’t he ask me what my favorite colour was or my favourite food? Why not start with something like where I grew up or the types of movies I liked. Any one of those would have been an appropriate first date question.

“What?” he asked, smiling smugly at my stunned expression. He knew that he’d rattled me. I guess that was his way of paying me back for playing it so cool at the airport.

“Simple?” I suggested, lifting an eyebrow at him.

“A man of simple needs and wants,” he corrected. “Not simple of mind.”

“What do you want?” I asked.

Now it was Jack’s turn to raise an eyebrow. The heat in his eyes answered the question for me. The way his gaze swept over me caused my heart rate to quicken. My breath caught in my throat. I cleared it delicately and clarified my question by asking: “What do you want out of life? What happens when you’ve played your last game?”

“I’ll be in my grave and hopefully heaven bound,” he responded. “But seriously, I have other plans. Other ventures I’m working on. My sports center, for example.”

He took a few minutes describing his business ventures to me. I listened intently, injecting questions to keep him talking. Anything to keep the focus off me. I think he knew what I was doing, but was willing to let me get away with it for now.

“And when I get too old to run those anymore,” Jack continued, “I hope to settle into my old rocker, spend my golden retirement years on secluded property somewhere. I’d spend my days fishing and watching my children, grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren grow up healthy, wealthy and wise.”

“I take it that means you want children?” I stated the obvious.

“Lots. Lots and lots and lots.”

“You plan on having several wives then?” I teased. “One woman couldn’t possibly have all of those babies.”

“Maybe,” he conceded, then took my hand across the table. “But won’t it be fun trying, Priye?”

“You weren’t an only child, were you, Jack?”

“No. I have a younger sister, Joella.”

“Where does she live?”

“She stays with my dad in the States.”

“And your mum?”

“She lives in Accra. I’d like for you to meet them. My dad should be visiting Accra soon.”

I tried to imagine Jack’s father, an older version of himself. And what about his mother? What kind of woman was she to help raise such a man?

“What do they do?”

“Retired. My mother has a side business, selling jewelry that she designs over the Web. My father’s retired from the state department.”

“Do they. . .” I began, but Jack cut me off.

“Want to become grandparents. Of course they do.”
“So, we’re back to babies again, are we?”

“You have something against them, Priye?”

“I come from a very large family, very close family. I would be a pariah if I said that I didn’t want children.”

“But how do you really feel about them, Priye? I’m learning about you that what you say and how you feel don’t necessarily go hand in hand.”

By the intense way that he squeezed my hand, it seemed important to him that I answer yes. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about children of my own. I mean I assumed that one day I would get married and have kids. But that day wasn’t here yet, so I hadn’t dwelled on it.

“What makes you think that I wouldn’t want kids?”

He shrugged. “Remember that kid at the airport?”

“Kwame? How can I forget?”

“He seemed to get on your nerves.”

I started to laugh. “He was getting on my nerves, but only because he was after my bears.”

I stroked Jack’s hand, easing his concerns. “I love kids, Jack. Absolutely adore them. That’s part of the fun of helping my parents plan our family reunion. I get to see all of my younger cousins again. That business about Kwame. . . well, that wasn’t as much about kids as it was a certain kind of kid. My parents doted on us. But my brothers and I were raised very strictly. My parents didn’t tolerate such ill behaviour from us. And I won’t tolerate it from my kids.”

I think I’d answered that question to his satisfaction. I could feel the tension easing from his face.

“Anything else bothering you Jack? Anything you want to know?”

So we talked. And we talked. . .

So we talked. And we talked. And we talked. And we sipped. Then we talked some more. Sometimes over each other in our haste to get the words out. The floodgates had opened and the flow would not be stanched.

In a perfect world, we would have shared, in the three hours that we talked, a lifetime of memories. He, painting a picture of his world; me carefully outlining and censoring the details of mine.

I sat with my chin propped on my fist, watching his expression change with each glimpse he gave me into his life. His emotions bubbled beneath the surface. I imagined his entire body to be a percolator, constantly steaming, bubbling. To take in his aroma was to be uplifted, rejuvenated. I couldn’t get enough of him.

We talked. And talked. Had an argument about his ever disturbing fans, who didn’t know when to mind their business and stay glued to their seats, rather than signing autographs. We stopped talking. Stood up. Then left the restaurant.

Jack climbed into the car, inserted the key into the ignition, and was out of the parking lot before he finally spoke to me. His movements were jerky, mechanical.

“Where are we going, Priye?” Jack asked. His tone was clipped, precise, carefully modulated to dampen the irritation I knew he must have felt. I guess he thought that he was trying to be civil to spare my feelings. It didn’t work. I knew that he was mad. He knew that he was mad. I think I would have felt better if he’d just been honest about it, instead of hiding behind that veneer of false civility. It made me feel worse to think that he couldn’t be honest with me.

Where are we going? Nowhere fast, I thought glumly.

All of the progress we’d made as we sat and talked was nullified in a single act of senseless aggression. Hmmmmph. Just like football. It’s no wonder I loathed the game so much.

I gave him directions to my parents’ house.

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