Halfway through the walk across the peninsula towards Kennedy’s restaurant, Jared was nearly soaked with perspiration. Not because of the heat or the walk, he was nervous. He stumbled across Huggie Bears, a non-descript convenience store tucked behind several bungalows and beside a set of baseball fields, and slipped inside to grab a bottle of water and his bearings. He was getting lost on the walkways but he could tell he was at least heading the right direction. He had time to get lost, the ferry ride is almost an hour.
“How do I get to the Bay from here?” he asked the clerk who rang up his purchase.
“Not more than a kilometer. You’ll come to the main road after the ball field. Cross that and head straight a ways.” she answered with a thick Irish brogue.
“Are you from Ireland?” he asked, pointing out the obvious.
“Aren’t we all?” she responded with a wink. “Are you looking for someone?”
“I’m meeting someone at the ferry.”
“That doesn’t come ’til half past.”
“I know. I don’t want to be late. I need to be there when she arrives.”
“Well you better be going then.” she suggested.
He paid her the $3 and went to step away.
“Do I know you?” she asked.
“I don’t think so.” he said and he walked out of the store back in to the heat of the day.
“I think that was Jaret Leeto!” he heard her shout to someone inside the store. Great. He thought. He picked up the pace, crossed Rockaway Blvd and skirted between more bungalows on his way to Kennedy’s. He recognized this part of the walk, the church was over his shoulder somewhere to his right. He pulled his hair back in a sloppy bun, it was getting quite long again. It felt good to feel the air on his neck. He dabbed his sweat with his shirt collar and readjusted the rest of his clothes. A vain attempt at making himself presentable for Erica. When he got to Kennedy’s he saw the pier where the ferry would normally dock. It was destroyed in the storm. Up the water a ways was a temporary structure. Metal. That’s where he disembarked earlier. He sat on a bench and retied his laces before watching the ferry grow on the horizon. He could see New York City in the distance. It was a clear day.
The beach was relatively silent for such a nice day. He wondered where everyone was. Maybe at work. Or home for lunch. Probably at the ocean side. He really liked this community. Even though it was packed with fans. As the clock ticked towards 12:30, Jared could make out every detail of the ferry but he couldn’t find Erica in the faces of those on the bow. Just a handful of people. Not surprising at mid-day. He stood up when the boat docked and made his way to the temporary pier to greet Erica. She was one of the last ones off. And she looked gorgeous. Sun kissed and windblown. His heart sank again and he cursed himself. He really messed up. Big time.
She was wearing a pair of distressed blue jeans, a white tank top and a soft yellow button up that she left undone. Lacy sandals and her hair was off her face. Her makeup was subtle and she was talking with someone as she walked down the plank. The someone, a man twice her age, was blushing and gushing and Erica was smiling kindly. But Jared could tell she was uncomfortable. A fan of hers perhaps? Or maybe an old pervert. He couldn’t tell exactly. Erica noticed Jared then, bid the old man farewell and charged towards Jared.
“Kiss me.” she demanded. And Jared pulled her in to his arms and did just as she asked. And it was divine.
“Ok! Ok!” she grumbled as she pulled back from him. “Did he leave?” she asked without looking over her shoulder.
“Who? Oh. No. He’s still there. Watching. Should I grab your ass?” he teased.
“No. But do something. He’s a creeper.” Jared took her bag off her shoulder and grabbed her hand and they turned around together and headed back towards Roosevelt Walk hand in hand at a brisk pace. “I can’t get a moment’s peace since The Circle came out.” She said and Jared knew what she meant. The Circle was her latest film, based on a best-selling book by Dave Eggers. Jared had to be honest, it was a very good movie that was quite popular. Even Jared saw it and he never goes to the movies. But he went to that. Opening weekend. Telling himself something about still being supportive even if from a distance. A great distance.
“You were great in that.” he said softly. Erica released Jared’s hand then.
“Too great apparently. Now everyone thinks I’m an open book now.”
“You were a quite convincing Mae Holland.”
“Thanks.” Erica put her hands out to take bag her bag from Jared and he shook his head.
“I’ll carry it.” he suggested. Erica relented and stuffed her hands in to her pockets instead. The bag was cumbersome and heavy anyway.
“So, Mr. Leto. Why the fuck are you at my Grandmother’s again?”
He stopped walking “I told you.”
“Yeah, but I don’t believe you.”
“Why would I lie about that?”
“Because that’s what you do!” she nearly shouted. The tension he spent a year avoiding sucked the sun right out of the day. Immediately.
“I don’t….I don’t lie.” he said drawing out the last word like he couldn’t even say it let alone do it.
“You lied our entire relationship!”
Erica started walking again and Jared had to follow.
“I didn’t lie about anything.”
“You said you loved me!”
“I did!” he sighed “I do!”
“Could have fooled me!” she said and she wiped below her left eye where a tear had fallen. Jared wasn’t expecting this. He’s not entirely sure what he did expect, but certainly not this. Jared felt terrible. As he should.
“I didn’t lie. I got scared.”
“Nice excuse.” she said.
“I did. I can’t do … love. I told you that. I warned you!”
“So this is my fault?”
“No. It’s me. I’m all fucked in the head. I never wanted to hurt you. Please believe that. I made a big mistake. HUGE mistake. And I’m so sorry I hurt you.” He put the bag down and pulled her in to his arms. She was really crying now. Streaks of tears coated her delicate face. “I’m so sorry.” he whispered in to her hair. He held her tight and she caught her breath.
“I don’t know what to say to you.” she said when she finally pulled away. “You broke my heart.”
She slapped his chest “You’re such an asshole!”
“I don’t want to get back together with you. I hope that’s not why you’re here.” she stated.
He hadn’t thought about getting back together with her at all. He missed her. That was true. But he was still deathly afraid of all she represented. An anchor. Someone to answer to. He doesn’t want that. Ever. No matter what the price.
“I told you why I’m here. And it had nothing to do with you at all until I saw your picture on the wall.”
“Well you know what my Gran says about coincidences?”
“There are none.” May said after she sat the two of them down on the couch in her front room. Erica with a glass of chilled ginger-ale and Jared with a cup of ice water. “The Lord doesn’t do coincidences.”
Erica and Jared sat side by side on the sofa, a cushion between them, like two bad teenagers caught in the act. Or two school kids caught with hands in the cookie jar. They were being scolded. And like good kids who only dabbled with the bad, they were respectfully listening to her lecture them both.
“Don’t Granny me Erica Healy.”
Jared stayed silent. Probably the smartest move he’d made in a year.
“Gran, It’s over between Jared and I. We’re ok. We’ll stay …friends. But we’re not dating again.”
“You shouldn’t run away from love. Either of you.”
“I’m not running.” Jared said softly.
The ladies both looked at Jared simultaneously. But neither of them acknowledged what he said. Which was good for him, that statement could have ignited a firestorm.
“It took your father twenty one years and three children with some harlot who wasn’t even good enough to marry to realize he only loved your Mother.” May said sharply. Erica tried to stop May from telling her parents tragic ‘love’ story but May kept on talking right over her “Twenty-one years! Just think about all the time he wasted. And you’re an only child because of that mistake! An only child in an Irish family. It’s unheard of!”
“I’m not an only child. I have two brothers and a sister.”
“They do not count.”
“They do to me. Can we change the subject? Please?”
“We’re not Momma and Daddy Grandma. This is different.”
“No it isn’t! He’s the love of your life! You said so yourself. Or do you not remember last year? Crying on my front porch step about this boy?” Erica was turning two shades of beet red and Jared was looking at the floor now, guilty.
“And you.” she said slapping Jared’s kneecap. “I can see everything I need to know about what went on between the two of you in those blue eyes of yours. Snap out of it! And get over yourself!”
“I wont let this happen again. And frankly, you don’t have twenty-one years to screw around with like Phil.”
“Grandma, I love you, but this is crossing a line.”
May sat down in her barcalounger and crossed her ankles as she smoothed down her church dress. Jared thought about the company then. When had they all left? His stomach growled quietly when he thought about all the vegetables he had cut up.
“I need to freshen up, and you two need to talk. Really talk.” May said and she left the room.
“I’m sorry.” Erica said apologizing the moment May was out of earshot for her Grandmother’s intrusion in to their sticky situation. “I don’t know what has gotten in to her.”
Jared stayed quiet for a while. Looking at the floor. Turning his shoe over and over and grinding the tip in to the carpet.
“Are you ok?” Erica asked after a few minutes.
Jared looked up. His nose was red and his eyes were filled with tears. Erica softened and this time pulled him in to her arms. Jared laced his arms around hers as she held him from the side. “I’m such an idiot.” he said.