In this chapter of PS, Elyse has just finished her winter dance performance on campus, when an unexpected visitor, Jon, approaches her. Elyse is still reeling from her experiences with Brendon and isn’t very inspired to have dinner with Jon when he asks her… but, she does go out with him… and learns a bit more about his relationship with his girlfriend, for what it’s worth.
EXCERPT FROM: “PS, BOOK 1”
CH. 17, VISITATION
“Surprise,” Jon said, reaching out to hug me warmly. “You were great.”
“What are you doing here?” I exclaimed in total shock. It came out more distressing than I meant it to, but… my emotions were all over the place these days and, therefore, a bit difficult to control until after they’d already revealed themselves. Practically every conversation I had with anyone required me to back-track and correct my bad behavior or ill-begotten phrasing. Jon seemed completely unfazed by it.
“I came to see you dance,” he grinned, oblivious to my inner turmoil. “Can I treat you to dinner?”
Wow. I totally wasn’t expecting this, this… frivolity. It felt like it came out of nowhere. I cast a questioning glance at Claire. She shrugged her shoulders at me.
“Umm, sure,” I told him. What harm could dinner do?
“Great,” Jon laughed heartily, “How does Chinese sound?”
Honestly, the whole thing seemed really odd to me. Jon must have officially broken up with his girlfriend by now. Maybe he was looking for someone to spend the holidays with. Someone like… me. Of course, what I really wanted to do right now was go home and wallow in my lack-of-Brendon’s-friendship-and-love-at-Christmastime misery. But I was hungry… so I figured I may as well feed my appetite. There would be plenty of time for wallowing later.
I cleaned myself up in the dressing room before meeting Jon back at the bleachers. We walked out into the cold, dark night crunching through the snow in our winter boots. I breathed heavily into my fuzzy fleece scarf and watched my breath dissipate into the freezing air. The sky was clear and the stars were shining brightly over our heads — in total contrast to my state of mind.
“So, how long have you been dancing?” Jon’s voice bit into me like ice, breaking the silence as though he had flung a snowball at me. It wasn’t his fault. My mind was somewhere else. Anyone’s voice would have hit me just as hard. But his words were a surprise. He’d asked such a simple question. It dawned on me then that he and I had never had this conversation before. Jon really didn’t know me very well.
“Oh, just about all my life, I guess,” I told him unromantically.
“I haven’t seen or heard much of you lately.”
“No.” I told him, wishing that single word could convey volumes of information to him about the whys and wherefores of the thoughts that were running through my head: No, you haven’t seen me lately. No, I haven’t been myself. No, I don’t really want to go to dinner with you, but I will because — ultimately — if I want to live, I must eat. No, it’s not that I don’t like you or find you unattractive, but I don’t want to encourage your intentions because I… well, because I have none. Not for you, not for anyone. I can’t afford them.
“You seem a little down. Is anything wrong?” Jon’s voice became light and soothing.
It was a direct assessment and question, but I still didn’t want to tell him the truth. I couldn’t. What would I say? “Uhh, yeah, I’m depressed because the guy I’m in love with — who isn’t you, by the way — doesn’t love me, and we’re not even friends anymore. Oh, and did I mention I’m specifically and inclusively insane?” Instead, I offered him something more diplomatic, “It’s just this time of year, the cold weather, finals starting next week….”
Jon wrapped his arms around me and patted my shoulders vigorously, pulling me brusquely against his side as we walked to his car. “Well, I can help with the cold a little. Finals are up to you, of course… but I do know what you mean about the holidays being a bit gloomy.”
“Really?” I asked, “Are you gloomy, too?”
“Umm,” he paused, thinking playfully, “no, not really.”
“So, did you break up with your girlfriend?” I asked, albeit rather apathetically. I cared, but not too much anymore. It was just easier making conversation than thinking about all the things spinning in my brain.
“Yeah,” he became more pensive, “it was a long time coming. We’d been dating for a couple of years. I guess we weren’t really right for each other though…” His voice trailed off and he hesitated before speaking again, “You don’t really want to hear this, do you?”
“Sure,” I told him. Hearing about his relationship dramas would be much easier than thinking about my own. Carry on.
“Well, we met at work…”
I nodded, suddenly wondering what his impression of me must be now. The last time I’d seen him, Claire, Abby and I had walked out on his performance before it had even begun. “So… what went wrong?”
“She said I was too undecided… because I couldn’t give up my music for my day job or my day job for my music. She wanted me to choose. It was actually kinda weird, I thought. It wasn’t like she was giving me an ultimatum to choose between staying with her or going our separate ways… but she wanted me to choose between my two careers — which, ultimately, I guess, was the same thing as choosing her… or not. If I stayed an accountant, she’d have me, but if I kept playing shows, she was outta there.”
“I would have thought most girls liked dating a guy in a band. I mean — you know… you’ve got all those girls rushing to the stage and all… at your shows. You have your pick, right? So, I would have thought she felt lucky to be the one with you.”
Jon regarded me quietly, thoughtfully. “She never really came to see me play. Not that that’s a horrible thing or whatever. It’s not like I had an interest in watching her type at her computer all day long or anything,” he laughed.
“Did you write songs for her?” I couldn’t help asking. I’d always wished I was inspirational enough that a guy might write a song specifically for me someday. Thus far, that hadn’t happened, but I knew there were plenty of women out there that had received that honor. Sharona, for one. Donna, for another. Michelle. Jennifer. Suzanne. Leah. Amanda. Angie. Valerie. Maybe my parents jinxed Aubrey and me by naming us after songs that were already written.
“Yes, she was the reason behind a few of my lines.”
“What about your ‘Butterflies’ song?” In for a penny, in for a pound.
“Well, Drew and I co-wrote that one. It’s sort of just about our frustration about a lot of… well, a few girls we’ve known.”
“Oh.” Sigh. “So… what did you tell her?” Jon looked back at me confused. “I mean, what did you tell your girlfriend when she asked you to choose between her and—”
He threw his hands up in the air, “I’m not going to give up my music, you know? Would you give up dancing? Probably not. It’s the same thing, I think. I love doing it. I can’t imagine my life without it.”
Hmm. “But you could imagine your life without her.”
He stopped in front of me, looking around as if someone might overhear him and tell his ex what he was about to say, but we were alone, so he answered me. “Sadly, yes. I mean, it started off great, but… we just wanted different things in the end.”
And here I am worried about loving someone who doesn’t want the same things as me from the beginning — never mind the end. “Well… I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”
“Me, too… but, you know, if it was meant to be, it would have lasted. You can’t think too hard about these things, I guess. You can’t change someone’s mind.”
Yeah, I know…. My mind is irreparably damaged. I will always, always, love Brendon.
“So… are you ready to eat? I know a place that’s just a short drive from here,” Jon smiled and became livelier as we reached his car.
“Great,” I told him while he opened the door for me. I slipped into the passenger seat and inhaled the smell of cigarettes. I coughed lightly until he joined me in the car. “Do you smoke?”
“No. That’s from Drew. I gave him a lift to the train station earlier.”
“Oh, yeah? Where’s he going?” I thought it might give me an idea of somewhere I could escape to next, if Brendon stayed in love with Lucie regardless of my attempt to save him from her.
“Home. He lives in Maine — Kennebunkport.”
“Must be nice to be getting away for a while.” Although I knew my own holiday break was just around the corner, I couldn’t help feeling like leaving as soon as possible would do me a world of good.
Jon shifted in his seat, opening himself up more to me, as I kept my eyes on the road ahead of us. “What about you? What are your holiday plans?”
I turned to look out my window as though the answer was outside in the icicles dripping in frozen clusters from the trees. “Well, I haven’t really thought about it much. But… I’ll be going home to my parents and sister.”
“And, where is home?”
“Virginia. Outside of D.C.”
“Cool. I guess you’ve seen the White House and all the monuments and stuff?” He asked the standard “Oh-you’re-from-DC?” question I’d heard several times since I’d begun attending Brown.
I provided him Rehearsed Response #1: “Yeah. That’s pretty standard viewing for us down there. Actually, Mount Vernon and Monticello have always been my favorite historic sites. Oh, and Williamsburg. I like seeing the people dressed up in Colonial clothes.”
I sighed at the thought of being able to wear layer upon layer of lacy, form-fitting undergarments topped by a long cotton dress. Yes, wearing jeans and a T-shirt was way more comfortable, but I liked the idea of being purely feminine — and nothing said “lady” better than a long ruffled dress. That… and knowing a gentleman could swoop you up at any moment into a horse and buggy for a romantic carriage ride.
“So… what brought you up here, then?” Jon persisted. “I mean, why did you decide to come to school here?”
Hmm. Because New England is beautiful and romantic and I’ve always wanted to live beside the sea… not the kind that tourists clamor to on scorching hot summer days, but the kind that used to break young wives’ hearts as they watched their men set sail on the stormy ocean, leaving them behind to await their return.
What actually came out of my mouth was Rehearsed Response #2: “Well, I applied to a few schools around the country and was accepted at Brown. It’s one of the only ones I applied to that actually has a dance department, so… here I am.”
Jon smiled at me appreciatively and spoke in a Cockney accent to support his play on words, “Followin’ your ‘art’, I see.”
“How about you? Where did you grow up?” I asked, since it was my turn.
“Upstate New York.”
Jon’s response seemed as general as mine had been, and he didn’t offer any further details, but we were pulling into a parking space anyway, so the topic moved on.
“Here we are.”