The ride home was silent. In fact, it was so silent that Gerard would've been glad if they had been in a car crash if it meant it would end the uncomfortable silence. He glanced at his daughter and saw the look of hurt on her face. She wasn’t happy.
Gerard wasn’t sure exactly what was going on between those two, Gia and that son of a bitch, but he had his suspicions. He knew they liked each other, but he feared there was something more. Of course he wanted his daughter to happy, and Lucas was obviously doing the exact opposite.
When they got home and Gerard watched her drag herself upstairs to her room, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to go buy a shotgun and shoot someone or if he would rather go talk to his daughter and make her realize it didn’t matter, that she was too good for Lucas anyway.
But the thing is, if he knew the full story, he wouldn’t think that way. Perhaps if he knew what was going on, it would convince him otherwise.
Lucas and that brunette girl from the coffee shop haunted Gia’s thoughts for the rest of the day.
As she was lying on her bed, music blasting from the stereo, all she really wanted was for the bed to swallow her whole and hide her from everything, even her own thoughts. It was a long shot, so she settled for picking up a random stuffed toy from the head of her bed and suffocating herself with it. She stopped when she realized that the toy was SpongeBob. When she was still getting to know Lucas, he had introduced her to the wonderful world of cartoons. SpongeBob was one of those cartoons, and the first Christmas present he got to her was actually a SpongeBob Squarepants DVD because she liked it so much.
Gia chucked the toy away, and it hit Lindsey’s legs as she had opened the door just a few seconds before.
“Why are you manhandling SpongeBob?” the woman asked, picking up the yellow sponge from the floor.
“He was being irritating.”
Lindsey set the toy on the chair and then sat down at the foot of the bed. Gia sat up, knowing that Lindsey wasn’t leaving any time soon.
“Your dad told me about Starbucks,” she started.
“Of course he did.”
“I was wondering if you wanted to talk about it. I’m better with that stuff than you might think, you know.”
“I just don’t really want to think about it.”
Lindsey sighed. She didn’t really expect Gia to start pouring her heart out, but even a small conversation would’ve been nice. “Alright,” she said, and got up to leave. But before she closed the door, she turned back and continued: “You know, we might not be all that close, but that’s not because I haven’t tried. I wish you didn’t keep me out of your life like that.”
The woman left, leaving Gia even more depressed and ashamed than she’d been earlier. She had made herself a promise to make more of an effort with her stepmom, but it wasn’t easy.
Gia stayed in her room for the rest of the day, until her dad came to ask her to turn off the music so Bandit could sleep, and Gia decided that she had to get out for a while. The knowledge that she had deepened the already wide gap between Lindsey and herself was practically choking her, and she had some hope that if she went outside, maybe she’d meet someone who she could bum a cigarette from.
Lucas tossed his car keys to the general direction of the key bowl. The keys hit the mirror which was handing on the creamy white wall and fell on the dusty floor, right next to the spot where his roommate’s keys were. Needless to say, the key bowl wasn’t in much use in this household.
The boy kicked off his shoes and left them in the middle of the corridor, unbuttoned his jeans, sighed contently at the loosened pants and headed straight for the fridge. He opened it, grabbed a carton of milk and a box of cereal from the table. With this little lunch, he headed for his next and final destination: the couch.
“Hey,” he said to his roommate Danny who was already sitting on the other half of the black couch. Thank god it was black; otherwise no one in their right mind would sit on it. They had spilled more food on the sofa than they have eaten in a life time.
Danny and Lucas went way back. They had been best friends since kindergarten when they both realized it would be really cool to have a friend who liked to eat mud as well. Only a few months ago, when Lucas’ parents decided to move to another state and Lucas wanted to stay in Belleville to finish high school, he was given permission to move into an apartment of his own. His parents still sent him checks of course and paid his rent. And who better to have as a roommate than your equally lazy and messy best friend. Danny was glad to get away from home and have some independence as well.
So, these two boys shared this lovely little pigsty, as well as a car that got a wonderful antique-look from all the rust that was covering it pretty much all around.
Danny swallowed the mix of warm beer and cheese nachos that he had been chewing. “How was your date?” he asked his friend, but didn’t look away from the TV that was playing reruns of Friends.
“I saw Gia.”
That got his attention. A nacho half way to his mouth, Danny raised an eyebrow. “Gia? I thought you were out with Janie?”
“I was. I saw Gia at Starbucks and I tried to talk to her but…”
“You know, Janie was there.”
“So you still haven’t told her, huh?” Danny asked. He didn’t have much sympathy for his friend. Danny usually took his friend’s side, of course - bros before ho's - but in this case, he couldn’t help but feel a bit bad for Janie. She was a nice girl. And then there was Gia, who Danny liked a lot despite the fact that she seemed to be scared of him. Danny wasn’t the first person to treat women with respect, but he still didn’t feel bad for Lucas at all.
“Where’s Jersey?” Lucas asked, wanting to change the subject. He was already feeling bad enough as it is, and he didn’t need Danny to start nagging him to tell the truth.
“I dunno,” Danny shrugged. “Somewhere I guess.”
Lucas rolled his eyes and called for the dog. After a moment, a large gray Weimaraner with half of his ear missing emerged from Lucas’ bedroom with a toy hanging loosely between his teeth. He squeezed the toy, a fluffy one in the shape of a bunny, and it made a wheezing sound. Lucas scratched the spot behind his ear and Jersey closed his eyes and growled in content.
As happy as Lucas had been to take care of Jersey for the past two years, it was still a constant reminder of Gia. After all, she was the one who had originally defended him on that alley years ago. Back then, Jersey had been only less than a year old, although considerably large for his age, and now he was about four. When they had found the dog, he was badly abused by his former owner, and to this day carries the bruises. A piece of his ear is missing, and although the bald spots on his fur had begun to grow hair again, the fur was still thin on those spots. The psychological trauma had disappeared, at least that’s what Lucas thought and he was pretty certain he was right. But what he didn’t know was if Jersey still missed Gia or even remembered her. After all, for weeks after her departure, the dog did nothing but lay on the floor and sigh.
“Did you take him out for a walk?” Lucas asked Danny, who shrugged a response. Of course he didn’t. Jersey was Lucas’ dog, and while Danny was generous enough with his time to play and feed him, walking him was still mostly Lucas’ job. Even since they moved into an apartment of their own, Danny had quit school and was just hanging out at home, barely even getting off the couch.
Lucas stood, glanced longingly at the box of cereals and carton of milk that had now been claimed by Danny, grabbed the leash that had been lazily thrown on the floor and connected it to the collar around Jersey’s neck. He pulled his shoes back on, buttoned his jeans again and then they were off.
Jersey’s nose was practically glued to the ground as he wagged his tail, happily moving from tree to tree, occasionally raising his left back leg to mark his rightfully claimed territory. Lucas zipped up his black hoodie to keep the cold wind out. It was still midsummer, but the clock was nearing 8 PM, and the temperature was lowering considerably.
Still, neither of them, the boy nor the dog, expressed any desire to return back home. No doubt Danny had passed out on the couch again with the TV on. Lucas didn’t particularly want to go kick him off the couch again so he could watch some TV himself.
Just as Lucas dug out his phone from his pocket to change the song that was blasting into his ears from the little ear buds, a surprisingly strong breeze brushed by them. Jersey’s head suddenly sprung up and he sniffed the air. Then the leash, which was loosely wrapped around Lucas’ fingers dropped as the dog dashed off running deeper into the park, the leash flying wildly behind him.
Lucas shouted at the dog to stop running, but had no option but to run after him. Jersey had probably caught the scent of a particularly irritating cat and had to show it who’s boss, but tonight Lucas didn’t really feel like fixing any scratches caused by sharp cat claws. Normally he’d let Jersey to do what had to be done, since the worst he ever did was bark for a half an hour at an imaginary cat he thought he’d smelled.
Panic started to rise in him when he lost track of the dog. He couldn’t hear him barking anymore, nor could he see him from the dark. Lucas felt a lump in his throat, and looked around frantically. He swore that he’d never take the dog out again, and was just about to start shouting his name when he heard it.
The noise was a whimper, sort of a desperate cry, and Lucas’ first thought went back to the day when he and Gia found Jersey behind that pile of trash bags, beaten up and in pain. But when he listened more closely, trying to figure out the direction of the noise, he realized it wasn’t quite the same. This one reminded him of a child who missed his or her parent and couldn’t stop crying. It was urgent and desperate, needy.
When he located the direction of the sound, he started running towards it. Jersey was a big dog, and fast one at that, too, he had gotten nearly to the other end of the park. Lucas stopped running when he saw the dog in the light of a lamppost. With a relieved grin, he walked into the light and pulled on Jersey’s leash to release the girl Jersey had jumped on.
“Thanks,” Gia said and sat up, but stayed on the ground so she could pet the overly excited dog who was a tiny bit calmer now that the leash was in Lucas’ fist.
“He didn’t hurt you, did he?”
Gia shook her head. “No, he’s a good boy. Aren’t you, Jersey?” A rant of ‘yes you’re a good boy’ and ‘did you miss mommy? Yes you did!’ followed, all said in a sweet, sugary, high-pitched voice that made Lucas laugh and Jersey go crazy. The dog repeatedly tried to jump on Gia, but was always pulled back by Lucas and eventually settled on just licking her face and rolling on the ground like a puppy.
After Jersey settled down and began to throw loving looks at the girl, Lucas extended a hand to help her up.
“Thank god the ground wasn’t wet,” Gia said as she removed the grass from her skirt. “This is Hazel’s skirt and she’d kill me if I got grass stains on it.”
“Could we talk?” Lucas blurted out before he could stop himself. His attempt to speak to her earlier was unsuccessful, and his thoughts were now even more distorted than they had been before, but he still felt like he owed it to himself, and to Gia, to sort things out between the two of them.
“Are you sure we can? Should you call your girlfriend and check up if it’s okay?”
Lucas frowned, not pleased at all with her response. “That’s not fair and you know it.”
Gia nodded. She did know. She had no right to be upset about that. “Sorry.” She followed him to the nearby swing set, and Jersey laid down next to Gia’s swing. As they sat in silence for a moment, Gia looked around the darkness of the park and realized where they were.
It seemed like ages ago, but somehow it was all still clear in her memory. She had gotten off from school and after picking up Jersey, she had came to this same park and sat on this exact same swing. It was the day she first saw Lucas after his return from California. He had tried living with his mother, but came back. That had been a happy event. Now that it was Gia’s turn to come back to Belleville, it seemed that no one was particularly happy about it. Even Frank, who had been overjoyed at first, was now paying the price for trying to spend time with her.
The tips of Gia’s shoes, the black ballerinas with small white bows on them were buried in the sand by the time Lucas spoke.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
Gia couldn’t help but smile. “Yeah, you made it very clear earlier.”
“I mean it though. I shouldn’t have come by your place. I don’t even know why I came, I just needed to see you. And I didn’t mean to do what we did, although… It was nice.”
“Nice?” she asked with a laugh.
“Well you know what I mean. You were there, you should know.”
She did know. The heat of the moment, the passion, the near dreamlike state she’d been in at the time… It was all burned into her brain, a constant reminder of something wonderful, but at the same time, it also brought up the shame she felt.
“It wasn’t your fault,” she said once she realized he was waiting for her to say something. “It takes two to tango, you know.”
“Why did you come back, Gia?” he asked. It wasn’t the question itself but the tone in which he said it that let Gia know that he would’ve perhaps been happier if she had stayed in Connecticut. And Gia would’ve never admitted it but knowing that Lucas would think that, it hurt. After all, he was one of the few people she cared about.
“It’s a long story,” Gia finally answered. “But it looks like I’m not leaving again very soon.”
This conversation wasn’t going the way he’d planned. Lucas wasn’t sure how he wanted it to go, but this wasn’t it at all. He missed the days when they could just talk about anything and everything. He began to wonder if what they should’ve done was just stay friends.
“I didn’t expect you to come back. I honestly didn’t. So when we lost contact, I figured… Might as well get over it, right? I met Janie at school. I’m in this band now, nothing major, we’re still in the garage phase, and Janie came to see us play. She’s the drummer’s cousin. Two weeks later, we were together.” He saw the distant look on her face and sighed. “If I knew you were coming back, I wouldn’t have even thought about her.”
“But you did.”
“That’s not fair. I didn’t know.”
She nodded, although bitter to admit it. For a while they were silent, and almost instinctively Gia’s fingers found the spot behind Jersey’s ear that made him melt when it was being scratched.
“Did you have a boyfriend? You know, while you were in Connecticut?” Lucas asked after a while.
Gia glanced at him. “Yeah. Sort of, anyway,” she answered, but didn’t go into any more detail. She was sure he didn’t want to hear about Sean, and she didn’t particularly feel like talking about him either. There were too many regrets linked to Sean.
“Were you headed somewhere?” Lucas asked suddenly, changing the subject.
“No, just on a walk. I should probably go back now, though.”
“Yeah. I should get back home too.”
“By the way, you live across town. What are you doing all the way here?” she asked, only now realizing how far they must’ve walked.
“Actually I moved. I share an apartment near by with Danny. You remember him, right?”
Gia nodded. Sure she remembered Danny. He was okay, but she was never that taken with him. The first time they met, he had stared at her like she was some sort of an alien. “My condolences.” They got up from the swings, and Gia hesitated for a moment before she said: “I know this is kind of awkward but… I’d like to see Jersey again, if that’s okay with you.”
“Yeah of course. He’s missed you a lot.”
Gia nodded, relieved that he said yes. Despite the time they spent apart, Jersey was still her baby. And she was glad the dog still remembered her. At the time leaving Jersey to Lucas had been a good idea. But now she realized that maybe it was a bit too cruel to do to her baby.
During the ten minute walk home, Gia found that she could not stop thinking about Lucas. She told herself that she wasn’t jealous, tried to convince herself, but the image of him kissing and hugging his girlfriend was burned into her mind. It was like an annoying itch that she couldn’t shake. And the worst part was that she knew it was hopeless. She could think about it as much as she wanted, it wouldn’t change anything. Lucas just wasn’t hers anymore.