He Never Told Me What He Did For A Living
I realized my error when I glanced around at the street signs- none of them looked familiar. Gerard and I had talked most of the way over, so I hadn’t paid attention to where we were going. I cursed myself inwardly for being so stupid. I should have just pushed him away. I shouldn’t have kissed him. I shouldn’t have liked it so much. I leaned against an abandoned building for a moment, taking in my surroundings. My eyes fell upon a sign: Riverbank Park. I made myself at home on the nearest bench, focusing my eyes on street signs so I could figure out exactly where I was. My heart stopped when my gaze landed on a shopping center nearby: Kearny Plaza Shopping Center.
We had completely left Belleville behind and I hadn’t known it until this very moment. Granted, it was a ten minute drive at most, but with walking or taking a cab as my only options, it wasn’t looking good. I sure as hell wasn’t going to spend the night in a park. I glanced at my watch; it was already after 3 o’ clock. I sighed and patted my pockets, then remembered that my iPod, along with my book and any money that might come in handy, was all back in the club. Again, I cursed my stupidity. After this particular predicament, I was definitely going to ask Gran for a cell phone- if I made it out of Kearny. I snuggled deeper into my jacket and watched the orange leaves falling from the trees. Some of them drifted into a pond.
I didn’t realize there were tears rolling down my face until I tasted the salt on my lips- the same lips that had been previously entangled with Gerard’s lips- twice. Kissing someone once could be considered a mistake; after that, it becomes something entirely different. One would think that Gerard thought of me as a toy, something he could lead on, kiss, and crush in the palm of his hand. If I let him back in, would he only use me again and again, as long as I let him? How long before a kiss would turn into a caress, and a caress would turn into sex?
Angrily, I wiped the tears from my face. How dare he tease me into thinking there was something between us! I wasn’t stupid enough to believe it was love. How could it be- I’d only known him for a few weeks now. Again, the tears began to fall, and this time I let them fall as I buried my face into my hands. There was an ache in my heart- why had such a beautiful friendship turned so sour?
I didn’t hear the leaves crunch, nor did I hear his voice- the scent of his leather jacket alerted me of his presence before he ever sat down next to me. “Josie,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
I couldn’t bear to look at his face. “Just don’t, Gerard. Please.”
He was quiet for a few minutes, and the silence hung thick in the October air. There was a rustle followed by a low beep, and I assumed he was checking his cell phone. He sighed. “Josie, it’s nearly four. We need to get back home before the temperature drops more. Besides, you know this isn’t the safest place in New Jersey.”
The tears had either stopped or my face was too numb to feel them anymore. “Fine,” I said quietly. I noticed he’d brought my bag; it was sitting between us on the bench. I slung it across my body carefully, and shoved my hands into my pockets. He was right; it was getting colder already. A shiver shook through my body but I refused to utter a sound of discomfort. Automatically, he reached out to steady me when I tripped over a rock and I stiffened at his touch. As if he could read my mind, he removed his hand quickly, his hazel eyes looking deeply troubled.
I was surprised to find Mikey waiting in his vehicle for us to return, and Gerard’s car was already cranked, heater blasting, I assumed. I got in quickly without looking at Mikey- I was too afraid that if he saw the pain that must be written on my face, he’d know that all was not well between his brother and I. Gerard’s car was toasty warm, and I was thoroughly defrosted by the time Gerard got in the driver’s seat. Mikey honked twice as he pulled away and sped down the road. “I’m just as confused as you are, you know?” Gerard said as he drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “I don’t know what to do. I’m eleven years older than you.” He ran a hand through his hair before depositing those face-obscuring sunglasses on his nose.
“I meant what I said earlier about age not being a big deal to me,” I said quietly. “I am eighteen, you know.”
“That was when we were friends,” he said, frustrated. “Not…this- whatever this is.”
“Then what are we supposed to do? Go our separate ways? Avoid each other?”
Gerard licked his lips and shook his head as he put the car in reverse. “I don’t know, Josie. But we can’t be together. What would people think? Your grandmother? My family? Our friends? The media?” he said, sounding disgusted at the mention of the media. “They’d eat you alive, Josie!”
I was quiet as I thought about what he was saying. I came to the conclusion that his points were valid. “I understand,” I told him. “I just…I’ve never felt this way before. I’m so confused. This is a disaster! I’m ruining my first friendship!” The tears were falling yet again. It was really getting to be old.
With a frown on his face, Gerard looked at me and took my hand in his. “It will be okay. We will figure this out. I want you in my life Josie; I’m just not sure where you’re supposed to fit. Damn it,” he cursed as a vehicle pulled out in front of him. He released my hand in order to use his middle finger on the jackass who’d cut in front of him. “Mother fucker!” he yelled.
I chewed on my bottom lip. “What if we don’t figure it out?”
He jerked his head over to look at me. “Don’t say that- not yet. Josie, I haven’t known you long but you’re a special young woman. Hell, you’ve got me eating out of the palm of your hand!” he said with a small laugh. On a more serious note he added: “I meant it when I said I care about you.”
Not trusting my voice, I nodded.
I cared about Gerard too, but just how deeply I cared for him was still a mystery, yet to be unraveled. The rest of the ride was silent; each of us trying to figure out a way to save our friendship…if that’s what we were going to call it.
When we pulled up at Gran’s house, her Buick was parked in the driveway. “Looks like Gran made it back home,” I said. I wondered where she’d been, if not at Mrs. Way’s for a visit. Maybe Gran had met someone to keep her company.
“I’ll walk you in,” Gerard said as he unbuckled his seatbelt.
“That’s not necessary,” I said quietly.
Ignoring me, he killed the engine and got out. I sighed and followed him up the walkway, rolling my eyes when he said, “Ladies first.”
I opened the door and let Gerard in, closing it behind him. “Gran? I’m home!” I called out.
There was a clatter in the kitchen, and I rushed in that direction with Gerard hot on my heels. “Gran? Are you alright?”
She was bending over to pick up the pieces of a porcelain tea cup. “Oh, Josie dear, I’m fine. Gerard, won’t you help me with this?”
“Of course, Lorraine,” he said and immediately knelt to the floor and began picking the shards up carefully. I grabbed a small broom and dustpan from the closet and swept up the tiniest pieces and dumped them in the garbage. Gran had finally quit worrying over Gerard cutting his hands on the pieces and was now sitting at the table. I joined her, taking the seat across from her and studied her face. She looked worried.
“Gran, what’s wrong?” I asked gently.
She didn’t answer. “Gerard, please, sit,” she said, gesturing to the empty chair next to me. Politely, he sat, casting me a sideways glance as he did so. I shrugged slightly. “Josie, sweetheart, I have something to tell you. Some…bad news, I suppose.”
I reached for her hand, squeezing it. Beneath the table, Gerard grabbed my free hand. I was too focused on Gran to pull away. “Gran, whatever it is, I can handle it,” I assured her.
“I know you can, Josie. I just wish you didn’t have to,” she said taking a deep breath. “I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. All those days I’ve been gone…I had appointments…with doctors, with specialists. And they all came to the same conclusion, sweetheart. It’s in stage 4, too late to have any hope.” Gran looked grim, and I felt as if an ice-cold hand had a grip around my heart, forbidding it to feel or beat- it was just numb.
“But they can do something, can’t they? Chemo or radiation? Something like that?” I sounded desperate, and Gerard tightened his grip on my hand.
Gran shook her head. “The doctors seemed to think it would only be a temporary fix for me. And I don’t want to live like that, Josie.”
“So…that’s it, then? I just have to sit around here and wait until…until it happens?” I thought I’d surely run out of tears earlier, but my eyes were proving me wrong.
“Please, Josie, try to understand,” she pleaded. Her eyes were begging me to not be so hasty.
Abruptly, I stood, the chair scraping across the tile angrily and my hand jerking free of Gerard’s. I was aware that I was acting childishly as I stomped upstairs to my room. Throwing myself onto the bed and burying my face in the pillows, I wept until I had nothing left.
A soft knock came at the door. Wiping at my face, I sat up to find Gerard standing at the door. “Are you okay?”
I shrugged. “I’m not sure. I don’t know what I feel right now,” I said softly.
“Whether you will believe this or not, I know how you feel. I lost my grandma Elena, and she meant a lot to me; she taught me everything I know. I miss her every day, but she is in everything I do- my singing, my art. She lives on in my heart and in my memory.”
“Gran is all I’ve got. I don’t know what I’ll do without her.”
Gerard hesitated and came to sit next to me on the bed. “I know I never asked before, but Josie, where are your parents?”
I bit my lip. “My mom is a drug addict, and I don’t know who my father is. He could be anyone- my mom got pregnant while she was a prostitute.” I looked down at my hands and picked at my chipping nail polish. I was so ashamed of what I had been born of. While I knew it wasn’t my fault, it was still embarrassing to tell people such a story. My mom had considered adoption before Gran stepped in and said that she would raise me. For 18 years, Gran has been my mother and now it seems as I will be facing the future without her.
“I didn’t know that,” Gerard said. I could feel his eyes on me but I couldn’t bear to look up at him. “You shouldn’t be ashamed to tell me anything, Josie. I’m not going to judge you for your parent’s mistakes. In my eyes, they gave up their right to know an amazing young woman.”
I thought for a moment. “I’m not ashamed that Gran is the one who had to raise me. She’s raised me well- I’m proud of the person she’s shaped me to be. If my mom had raised me…” I drifted off, deep in thought of what my life could have been. I could be a carbon copy of her- a drug addict, a prostitute, and a thief.
I’ve never been more thankful to have Gran in my life than I was in that moment.