"You see there 'Queeny', you stopped making sense two sentences ago!"
"That's because you aren't nearly as smart as you think you are."
Much Ado About Nothing
The infamous splash hear round the world actually didn't turn into a bigger war. Anticlimactic, I know. It was just a thing that she got over with the same grace that would become her signature calling card. In fact, we started to have some conversations during breaks and lunches. We started talking to each other in group settings as coworkers are want to do. And after a handful of conversations with each we were fine. She was surprisingly funny and seemed to genuinely have a decent heart. Something I secretly admired in people. I would come to find out Jess saw me as someone that people seemed to automatically like, though she admitted she never understood why as I didn't have a presence to me. Neither of us every shared this to each other of course. We weren't exactly close friends, but associated with each other enough due to sharing the same group of friends.
Where is the life that I recognize?
That lasted until I had briefly left at the end of summer to visit my pops. Before I left I had told one of my friends there about my father and his illness. Part of me was hoping I would not return, but I did feel like I needed to tell someone. Geoff got to be the guy. You see, things weren't looking great. My sister wasn't going to be making this trip as she was a bit younger and my father was adamant that his little girl not see him weak. And he was weak. He looked ... not like my father. The rounds of chemo and radiation ... those that have seen it know ... those that haven't consider yourself blessed. I left for Florida with a sickening feeling. Last time I didn't want to go there, but this time I couldn't shake the thought that the man who taught me how to live and see the world as an amazing gift ... may not be around much longer. I worried that my kid sister would not be able to handle this. My father had taught me so much in just the last few years about how to be a human being, a good person, that my heart broke at what the absence of him would mean for her. I was not in a good place, though I tried to hide things well.
Jeric is a bastard!
After arriving home and taking a few days to decompress, I called up Geoff and Joe from the theater. We all went out to a local miniature golf/arcade place. I was informed that Jess would likely be joining us. Turns out that Geoff and Jess had started seeing each other. My curiosity at this change turned into horror later that evening, when Jess and I found ourselves near a Mortal Kombat cabinet. After I lost a match with someone and stepped away to let the owner of the reserved quarter replace me, I noticed Geoff was looking at both of us. No. Not at us ... around us. Like he was embarrassed. Then I heard the question that set me off.
Jessica put her arm on my shoulder and looked me in the eye. Compassion ... genuine and honest compassion. I knew what was about to happen before she asked, and as she asked it every muscle in my body tensed. She knows.
"Look, I heard about your father ..."
I was already on my way to losing it before she said those words. I had the forethought to remove her hand and walk away. I actually started to walk outside. I should have kept going. I didn't. I turned around to say something and ... there she was. She was following me. She was actually going to follow me outside! I didn't want other people to know!
I will spare you what I said exactly. I have a gift for being a people person. I pay attention, and I notice things. What peoples weakness are so I can avoid them, what they like so I can make them feel better. I used to consider this just a thing I did because I was expected to be a master of industry or something. I tell you this, because I knew just what to say to Jess to make her back away. I took out my mental scalpel ... and carved her apart. Imagine the worst thing someone can say to you. Words that would break you. That. Like I said, I have a gift. It only took about a minute she stood there shaking and saying nothing ... I try and tell myself that I had already turned around by the time she was crying ... but I heard the tears. I also heard her say, "Joe ... ". The way she said it ... even then I wanted to turn around ... but I couldn't. I did notice something else before I left. Jess was still alone. Geoff and the rest of the guys ... disappeared.
There are a few things in this world I wish I could take back. This is one of them. There was an arrogant side to me. I actually considered myself better intellectually than most, and even morally. When you mix that with rage ... bad things happen. I was ... snarky and sarcastic most of the time. I had an air of being superior when I wanted to. Jess would tell you as much, but in high school ... such an attitude breeds success.
Where is my friend when I need you most?
As the school year continued with my friend dating Jess, I couldn't exactly avoid her. I can say that any budding friendship we had was over. At least that was how I viewed it. She constantly challenged me. We debated and argued about everything! Some of these debates actually became heated, though never to the point where I took out the scalpel. At first I could tell she was angry at me ... but it wasn't genuine fury. Disappointment? If I actually cared I would have paid closer attention and wouldn't have had to wait until later to ask her. I did notice she would hold herself back ... and I also noticed something else ... this I recognized ... concern. It was subtle. Even when she wouldn't hide her annoyance at my derision of the educational system in the backwater State I was forced to reside in, I saw that she didn't want to fight.
That quote under the picture, during this era, I took to calling her Queeny. It was not a term of endearment. I came to the conclusion that she was hopelessly naive, and she believed me to be a black hole from which no positivity could escape. She also said that self-interest was my calling card and arrogance my currency. That girl could be salty!
As Fall came to an end, and this is the weirdest thing to explain just right, I felt like I should argue with her, that it was safe to argue with her. She denies this, but .... I swear I saw her smile once or twice. My friends thought we were hilarious together, especially Geoff. As fall came to the end, and I puzzled about this bizarre and complex creature of a girl who could hold her own against me ... her boyfriend Geoff decided that he preferred a less complex puzzle of a girlfriend.