“You wanna go park with me?” she asked innocently.
His head snapped quickly to meet her eyes. A confused grin crossed his face.
“Oh my god. That’s not what I meant,” she said mortified as she realized her mistake. She flushed bright pink.
“I… meant to say go to a park. To a park. Outside of the car. No making out involved. Jesus.” She wanted to cry she was so embarrassed.
“Ha! No, it’s fine. Yeah, let’s go to a park.” He couldn’t help but laugh every few minutes in memory of the conversation.
After about ten minutes of mostly silence, she pulled into a park close to her house. It had a baseball diamond on one end, a small pond for ice skating in the winter and an array of different playground equipment all in blue industrial plastic. The wooden sign was branded “Sky Sight Park.” There was a vast view of the city beyond the tree line.
A recollecting look on Jesse’s face appeared. “Why did you choose this park?” he asked.
She hesitated in her response. “Well, I…was a part of the volunteer group in charge of trying to save the wetlands here. They are some of the only ones around that are home to four different frog and amphibian species that are close to making the Endangered Species List within the next few years. The city wanted to make that area over there a warming house for the winter and just behind that, a basketball court. I come here sometimes to remember and to listen to the frogs.” She pointed in the general direction of the pond and they began walking towards it.
“You were successful then?”
“Well, kind of. They still got their baseball diamond. But, I was in charge of doing the research on the frogs and presenting the information to the City Council. They later said that it was my testimony that had swayed their decisions. But, I didn’t do any of the legwork. Other people had to go door to door getting petitions signed and stuff. I just buried my head in books about frogs for six weeks.” She tried not to brag.
“You must really like frogs…” he said, raising one eyebrow.
She noted his sarcasm and smiled widely. “I suppose. But, it was more of the principle.”
“So, are you Little-Miss-Do-Gooder? Do you look in the newspaper every weekend to see what kind of volunteer opportunities there are for a young lady in the suburbs? Are you going to fly to Africa and feed the children dying of AIDS or build a house for a blind quadriplegic that blows through a tube to get move through his hallway?” His face was unreadable.
“Are you kidding me?” she asked, her smile faded.
“How disrespectful! Are you naturally this much of a prick or do you really just feel the need to repel everyone you speak to?” Her stride came to an abrupt halt. She wasn’t going to walk another step with him if he couldn’t answer her or provide some sort of reasonable explanation for his rudeness.
Hadn’t he realized that his question was rude?
“I guess it’s both,” he said after thinking for a moment and looking away from her. “This was a bad idea. I’m gonna go.” He started walking away.
Her mind twisted for a long moment debating what to do. The light was diminishing from the parking lot and it was getting harder and harder to see him; his silhouette fading.
“Are you running away from me Jess?” she shouted.
He got to the road, sat down on the curb of the busy street and began speaking out loud, but Charlie was too far away to make out what he was saying. As she got closer to him, she realized that he was about to get hit by the oncoming traffic. Honk after honk he ignored as three separate cars almost hit him and had to swerve suddenly to avoid him.
She yanked him off the curb and was lying in the grass with stains on her jeans.
“You were about to be crushed! Are you crazy?” she said as she stood up to wipe her pants off and marched for the car.
She paused mid-stride and turned to face him.
“Yes! I’m fucking crazy! That’s what you think, right? Crazy, stupid, messed-up?” he shouted.
“I don’t think you’re stupid.” Her tone grew soft.
“Oh, but I’m not as smart as Adam,” he snapped, running his hand though his hair.
What does that mean? Was that some sort of confession? Is he jealous of Adam? Does he think I like Adam? She stood and stared down at her shoes; her courage building as she found her words.
“You’re just so rude and out-spoken. You don’t need to say everything that creeps up into your brain. Don’t you care who you offend?” Charlie was overwhelmingly curious as to how he felt he could speak to people the way he did.
“Maybe you shouldn’t be so sensitive,” he said.
Her jaw dropped open and her brow creased.
“Let’s go look at your frogs now,” he said as he brushed her arm walking past her.
She was beginning to question her own sanity staying with him. Would anyone hear her, or see her if something happened? Was there enough lighting for her to be able to be located in the dark? Which shoes was she wearing in case she needed to run suddenly? She didn’t trust anything about him. Then again, she didn’t trust easily anyway. She really didn’t have much to lose, unless he wanted to take her virginity. Which, at this point, she would have given to a passerby.
She followed with a slight hesitancy.
He sat down in front of the pond and patted the grass next to him. “Saved a seat for you.”
“You are so confusing.” She couldn’t help but smile at his charm and warmth, at his inability to communicate, and that contradiction. Hot and cold was an understatement.
“I know, Red. Bear with me. I’ve never had many friends.” He looked around and with a smile, “I guess that’s kind of obvious!” He laughed.
A hesitant smile emerged and she nudged his arm. They both sat back with their arms extended backwards and legs outstretched in front of them.
“So, what now?” he asked.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” she said.
“Nothing, it was a stupid question.” He retreated.
“What do you want to do Jesse?”
“Smoke, I want to smoke.”
“You better start buying your own packs; otherwise I’ll think you’re using me for my Marlboro Mediums.” She grinned and threw the pack at him.
“I’ll buy you a pack tomorrow, Red.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his Zippo.
They sat through the night, mostly silent, until the horizon lightened. By then, they had both stretched out and were lying on the ground, listening to the chirping of crickets and frogs.
“You saved those frogs.”
“Nah, I didn’t do much.” She shrugged.
“Yes you did. You should be proud of yourself. They couldn’t exist without you.”
Charlie looked down at Jesse’s shadowed face just as he turned his head to avoid eye contact.
“Let me ask you something…” he said suddenly, sitting up, startling her.
“Shoot,” she said.
“Why are you still here with me?” he asked.
She considered carefully before answering, because she honestly didn’t have an answer.
When she didn’t speak immediately he said, “Because I’m not gonna fuck you, ya know.”
“Charming. Well, thank god for that!” How inappropriate! “I have never had a boyfriend, never dated, none of it! So, before you make an assumption about who I am or why I’m still here, take into consideration that I’m not gonna fuck you either!” She stood up and headed back for her car.
Her pace quickened and she pounded her feet into the ground with each step. “Way to ruin a perfectly nice evening Jesse!” she yelled over her shoulder.
Enraged, she arrived to her car and savagely dug into her purse in search for her keys. Hearing his shoes on the gravel behind her, she turned.
Staring at the ground, he was fumbling with a blade of grass. He looked surprised, hurt and ashamed — like he had no idea what he’d done wrong.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. He took a slow step toward her and she flinched. He leaned in closer to her lips. She froze and her fingertips went numb as she forgot to breathe.
He slowly but chastely kissed her cheek.
Charlie watched as Jesse walked down the sidewalk away from her until he was gone.
That evening, Charlie went home and exercised again. This time, for over forty-five minutes. She had done well the past few days on her diet and was starting to feel her clothes loosen around her waist. It was a good start, but she had a long journey ahead.