by Jef Coburn
When Neil meets Jade, he is struck by her exceptional personality. But Carly is a long-time friend who becomes available for more than friendship. Suddenly, Neil has to decide whether to pursue the promising relationship or the surprise romance. He has to adjust when he learns there’s more to someone than he had thought. In the absence of a sure thing, how shall he gamble?
Chapter Six: Everybody Fights
Skating with Jade was great. Yes, some people stared. I kind of can’t blame them. I don’t even think Jade truly blames them. Jade taught me a neat trick for dealing with people who stare. Apparently, if you just look right back at them, smile, and wave, it snaps them out of it. It’s oddly satisfying as well. They still talk to each other about it, but Jade said that part didn’t bother her as much because she never knew for sure whether they were talking about her or something else. She just chose to assume what she wanted to believe was the case. I do that, too, at times. I guess we all do.
“Sometimes kids come up to me before their parents can stop them. They just come right out and ask me why I’m green.”
“What do you say?”
“I smile at them and say, ‘I just am. That’s how God made me.’ Then I ask them if they like green. They usually say yes.”
“I can’t think of a better response,” I said with admiration. “What about when they say no?”
“They don’t really say no. Sometimes they just don’t say yes. Their parents drag them away apologetically, or they just take a long look before they walk away.”
Jade was clearly a better skater than I was. I was outdone again but, again, it didn’t matter. She stayed with me, she adjusted her pace to accommodate me, and yes, we did the couples skate, holding hands and everything.
As I said, skating was great. It was at dinner that the trouble started.
We went to a place I’d never been. The reviews were good and, although I gave her the standard disclaimer, I felt confident about the choice and, more importantly, about how little the choice really mattered in the grand scheme of things.
I tried to remember the last time I’d felt that way on a dinner date. I couldn’t. Sure, I wanted everything to go well, especially after my shaky start on Wednesday, but I knew Jade cared more about connecting and getting to know each other. We had the same priorities.
“I have to confess something,” I said foolishly.
“Go on,” she said.
“That was not my first recent attempt at skating.”
“Thursday night we did the office after-work thing there.”
“Really? You practiced up for me? That’s adorable.”
“No... well, yes, but not intentionally. That was how I got the idea for us to go there.”
She paused. She took a bite of food. She chewed it. She took a drink of water. Then, as if to end the suspense mercifully, she asked the question. “Was Carly there?”
“Yes, along with three others.”
Her smile faded. “Interesting that you felt the need to add that last part.” She looked at me intently. “What’s going on, Neil?”
It would be easy for me to say that Jade’s ability to read me had snared me. However, truth be told, I think part of me wanted to go there. Telling her would feel weird, but not telling her would feel more so. I hadn’t run the comparison consciously, but I knew it instinctively.
“I guess I feel guilty,” I said.
“Did something happen?”
“No! No, nothing like that. Please believe me.”
“I do,” she said. “And even if something did, it’s really none of my business.”
“Well, it didn’t,” I reiterated.
“It’s just that Carly told me something.”
“She broke up with Ben because Ben asked her if she was—”
“Interested in you.” She didn’t even ask it. She said it as a confident statement. She finished my sentence.
“They had a big fight. He was bothered by it, which bothered her, and now I’m—”
“Everybody fights, Neil. People fight and break up. People fight and stay together. People fight, break up, and get back together. Everybody fights. Are you bothered because you feel like you caused their fight? Is that it?”
“I see,” she said, pausing to eat and think. “So she has you bothered in more ways than one.”
“I really like you, Jade. You know that. You make me feel worked-up and at peace all at the same time. I feel like I know you better than people I’ve known for years.”
“It’s not a ‘but.’ I just wanted you to know everything. I wanted to tell you the truth.”
“And just what is the truth? Neil, I wouldn’t presume to tell you not to explore things with Carly or anybody else. I don’t have that right. Ask yourself, though: If we were a couple, if we were exclusive, and you realized Carly tempted you the way that woman tempted your friend, would you be willing to change jobs like he did?”
I knew I couldn’t answer that, and it angered me. I sensed my voice getting louder. “I thought I could be honest about my feelings without getting into a fight. I guess I don’t know you as well as I thought I did.” As soon as I said it, I knew it was the worst thing I could’ve said in that moment. It must have felt to her like I was accusing her of pretending to be somebody she wasn’t. The worst part was that I knew I was, and she had never given me cause to accuse her of that. She had never hidden anything from me that mattered, and any subterfuge on her part was an effort to be who she really was, not just the green girl.
After a moment of terrible silence, she spoke quietly, her voice trembling with pain and strength. “We’re not fighting because you don’t know me. We’re fighting because you don’t know yourself.”
Copyright © 2021 by Jef Coburn