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It's ten days until my twentieth birthday, and I should be all giddy like I usually am, but I'm not. I'm not because I remember what happened a week after Erik's twentieth birthday: we broke up. Sure, nothing like that can happen, but it's still sort of haunting me.
And to make matters worse, it's on a Saturday, and I know either Jen or Jack is planning something. Something big with balloons, lots of people, and me as the center of attention. Not really my idea of a good time.
But who can worry about good times when they have to run to their American Judiciary Systems class which they coincidentally share with thier ex-boyfriend who they just happen to still be in love with? Certainly not I.
I can barely focus on getting dressed, thanks to all these painkillers. Yeah, I may be ambidextrous, but I still shouldn't have willingly submitted to going to class the day after I got released from the hospital.
I yank on my jeans - pretty hard with only one good wrist - and pull my Harvard sweatshirt - sure to cause a few stares - over my head. I slip on my white and red Adidas sneakers and tie them about as well as I can, grab my backpack and head out the door. Thank god the lecture hall isn't that far away, so I can still make it before Professor Blake walks in at precisely 8:01:15, as he does every day.
There's my first offensive glare of the morning, obviously because I'm walking around Brown University with 'Harvard' written on my sweatshirt. But it doesn't bother me, because it means nothing. It's a sweatshirt for god sakes.
I walk in the door and get another look, this time from a grad student. I'm contemplating staring right back, but then that would be rude. I walk in to the lecture hall, thankfully five minutes early, and take my usual seat : fourth row, center. Erik's not here yet, and he usually takes the seat beside me, so he can get another one or suffer for an hour.
Here comes Max in the door. He's a strange breed; a pre-law and biochemistry double major. Combine that with being a lax player, and you've got just about the weirdest college student you've ever met. But he's a good guy, as anyone of his gazillion friends will tell you. He takes the seat beside me, whereas he's usually beside Erik. He must be trying to save us both the agony.
"Hey Joey, how's the arm?" He asks, genuinely concerned.
"It's okay. The painkillers are really a discommode. And this cast is a pain in the ass."
"You're telling me. Yours is just a fracture; when I was a sophomore in high school, one of the seniors whacked me in the arm with his stick. Not only did I break my wrist, but I had the imprint or a lacrosse stick burned on my arm for two weeks."
"Ouch. I bet that felt great."
Erik's walking in now, and Max can probably tell I've gone stiff. Erik tries to overlook me, and sits down on the opposite side of Max. Max looks like he's been caught behind enemy lines, and he obviously doesn't like it.
"So, we're all friends here. Let's talk about the weather. Nice and sunny out there, huh Jo? When do you think it'll snow again Erik? Personally, I'm hoping we get a big storm so I can go skiing this weekend, but I'm not betting on that."
Erik pats him on the back saying, "Nice try Arden, but I don't think we're ready for that yet." Max shrugs and pulls his book out of his backpack, just as Blake comes in. And now for an hour of fun with the American law.
Evan, Max, Jill and I are all in Frank's, this awesome deli Joey and I discovered on our second date. Evan's ordering his dinner, and I'm still trying to decide. Trying to decide more than one thing, but that's beside the point. It's almost six o'clock, and I've had exactly twenty four hours to think over everything, which believe me, I've done thoroughly. I'm planning to run some ideas by the guys and Jill over dinner.
It's my turn to order. "Turkey and American cheese on rye with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and mayo please." I recite that like my home address. I know Joey's by heart too: turkey breast and provolone on wheat with lettuce, tomato and half the mayo. Things like that make me want Joey back more than anything in the world.
I get my sandwich, pick up the Mountain Dew off the counter and head for the booth we usually sit in. The conversation got started without me, so I listen in to pick up along the way.
"...So my dad says 'Max, you've got to learn how to be a man, do these things right,' and I just start cracking up on the spot. There's no way he could have known why I was really messing up." I guess you had to hear the beginning, because Jill and Evan are laughing, and I have no idea what's going on.
"What's so funny?" I ask them.
"Something about Max's dad, a boat, and the next door neighbor," Evan answers claming down.
"Guess you had to be there," Max says to my less-than-amused look.
"So Reiker, you wanted to talk to us about something?"
"Yeah. See, the deal is that I want Joey back, but I don't know how to do it. If she'd been the one to break it off, I'd be able to go crawling on my knees, begging for her to take me back. But it was me, so I don't know what to do. And I asked her dad if I could marry her."
Evan practically spits his food out. He recovers and laughs. "I thought you just said you asked for her hand. Funny Reiker."
"That's what I said."
"Evan, shut up. I think it's sweet. Very nineteenth century, but sweet," Jill came to my defense.
"You want to marry Joey?" Max asks, not sounding too surprised.
"I think so. I love her. Besides, it wouldn't be any time soon."
"Well that's good," Evan blurts out, then looks a little ashamed of himself. "Sorry," he mumbles to Jill, who's already giving him an evil stare.
"I'll help you out Erik, but don't count on Dr. Unromantic and his alter-ego, Mr. Unmannerly here. They haven't got a imaginary bone in either of their bodies. I should know, I've gone out with one of them for a year." "Hey, I'm romantic, and imaginative," Max is trying to defend himself by being whiny.
"Yeah, right. Anyway, what do you have in mind Erik?" Jill is obviously amused by Max.
"I'll show you I'm romantic," Max says with mock anger. "E-mail her this awesome letter telling her you lover her, you want her back, yadda yadda yadda. Start it off with some Celine Dion song or something. Joey would love that." Jill looks over at him a little surprised.
"Then get a ring, and go over to her room, knock on the door, and get down on one knee. Very nice." Evan adds thoughtfully.
"A little fanciful, aren't we?" They're getting a little too out there. "It's a nice idea, but Joey's a cynical, heartbroken mess, and that would be too knight-in-shining-armor." Jill points out.
"What if she isn't?" The thought finally comes to me. What if Joey's glad we broke up? What if she wanted me gone? It's probably not the case, but it could be.
"God, observant, aren't we?" Max says sarcastically. "Joey is ass-backwards, head-over-heels in love with you. Think! What have we been telling you since Saturday? Joey and Erik sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes twins in the baby carriage. It reads perfectly."
"Nice analogy. So I'm cynical too, sue me."
"Cynical? You? Haha, very funny. Cynical, no way. No self-confidence, maybe," Jill laughs.
"All right, I'll try it your way, but if it doesn't work, you three die a slow, painful death." Maybe their way will work, and Joey and I will end up happily ever after. But I'm not counting on it.
I just got home from three hours in Jubilare, hanging out with Mack. Not my idea of a great time usually, but it was fun tonight. He was a lot less antisocial, and dropped some of the anarchist's crap that is always the majority of any conversation with him. Maybe I'm easing up some. Anyway, Pacey and Aryn came by tonight, looking for an old Radiohead cd. She seemed cool; good for Pacey at least.
I've got to do the last bit of my homework now. It's not much, just a lengthy definition of justice, so I'll check out my e-mail before I start. I sign on, open the mailbox, and find a lot of junk. There's only three of any worth: one from Jack, one from Mandy in my AJS class, probably asking for help on the justice definition, and one from Erik. I'm going to check out the other two first.
'Hey Jo, just wanted to warn you that Jen's got something up her sleeve for the day of February 9 *hint-hint*. -Jack'
'Hi Joey, I'm mailing you to find out how you did on Blake's definition. I, surprisingly, did great. LMK, Mandy'
I click on Erik's not sure of what's coming. Anxiety hits me as it opens.
'Joey - Maybe this is weird, overstepping my boundaries as an ex-boyfriend or something, but I just wanted to see how you were doing. Max, Evan and Julie suggested this crazy idea that I send you a letter proclaiming my love, but you know how I am. It's just not in my nature to be so...what's the word? Forward? I don't know. Anyway, I would have asked in AJS today, but it seems better to do this where you can't see me. Chicken, I know, but not looking at you makes it so much easier to...nevermind. So, how are you?
All of a sudden, I have this urge to see him, talk to him - anything. He's being his passive self, even though he sent the letter, because he didn't say what was truly on his mind. He won't have the nerves to actually ask me in person. I leave Jack and Mandy's letters unanswered, and pull the plug on the computer. I shut off the lights and open the door. I'm going to speak to Erik.
I sent that letter two hours ago, and still nothing. I'm getting antsy. Joey and I need to talk, and I've used up every last ounce of patience. What I have to say to her is going to be said now. She can be showering, studying, in there with another guy, I don't care. I'm going to speak to Joey.
I shut the door and glance down the hall as another door slams. It's Erik. All my courage has drained out of me, and I'm not sure I can do this. One look back at him, and I've got the will to go on. I don't care if I'm balling by the time I reach him, I'm going to do this.
Joey's coming. She's slowly walking towards me, definitely intent on doing her job. I could duck back into my room and avoid this whole thing, but I'm not backing down. I love her too much to let this kind of a chance go.
"Erik?" I mumble, barely inaudible, as we're nearing each other.
"Joey. God, we have to talk." Erik grabs my hand and leads me back to his door. He fiddles with the handle and shoves it open. "I'm not wimping out, I'm going to do this," he says shutting the door.
"Do what?" As if I don't already know.
He walks toward the bathroom, then whips around quickly.
"Okay...almost three weeks ago, I said something that I'll regret for the rest of my life; I said we needed to take a break. I thought we did, I thought maybe you needed it, but I was so very wrong, at least on the first part. All I needed from this break was to realize what I probably already knew deep inside me."
I think now is the time to tell him about Pacey. "When we did split, I was having these insane thoughts about someone. Not just someone, but Pacey, of all people. They were weird, and they were making me think I wanted to be with him. But right after you decided we should take a break, I knew I was wrong. It was some weird form of...admiration, I guess. I regret letting you split us up."
Maybe I should make my move now. She probably just told me one of her deepest secrets, about Pacey. I think I should at least lay it out on the table, sort of like an open subject.
"Joey, I - "
"Wait a sec. About the accident, I think I need to explain something to you, like I owe it to you. Greg and I were going out on a date, not just driving around together. Jen and Jack put some date ad in the Providence Daily, and Greg's friends answered it. I guess Jen thought it would cheer me up, so I went, just to prove I wasn't some heartbroken fool. I just thought you should know that I was going out on a date with him."
She probably thinks that I think she is a slut, or that she has to rely on having a guy at all times, or that she wasn't waiting for me. I know Joey all too well. But these Pacey and Greg issues are nothing. So what, she had a crush on Pacey, and went out with Greg. This doesn't make me love her any less.
"It doesn't matter to me. I love you, under any and all circumstances. You know that."
"Yeah, I do, but I don't think you know that. I know I never said it much, but I love you. I love your shyness, your passiveness, your curiosity, your sense of adventures unfulfilled, everything about you. I may be young, but I'm pretty sure this is what most people spend a life time looking for."
"When you were in the hospital, and I thought I was going to lose you, I knew. I knew I loved you no matter what, and that life would be a literal hell without you. I'm going to do the guttsiest thing since the lax stick tattoo on my left shoulder blade." Seriously, there is a three-inch black lacrosse stick tattoo on my back. I bend down on one knee in front of Joey.
"This may not be the best time to do this, but I have to. I haven't got the ring, but I'll get it. I love you so much, and I know I'd die without you. Being passive most of the time, I know that things will happen in time, with fate at the wheel. Nothing has to come of this, except the proof that I love you. Joey, will you marry me?"
To Be Continued
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