What If

Favim.com-cute-girl-happy-pretty-smile-469397Jenny was late, always late.  She laughed a little too loud and she asked the most bizarre “what-if” questions just for fun.  Harold didn’t appreciate them — the “what-if” questions…didn’t see the point.

“What would you do if you woke up one morning and couldn’t remember who you were or anything about your life?”

“I don’t know, Jenny. “  Harold tipped a bottle to his mouth, emptying the last of the water from it.

She giggled at Harold’s obvious irritation with her question and plunged another berry into the fruit dip before taking a bite.  She knew exactly how to push his buttons.

“I know you don’t know, Harold.  I’m asking you to think about it and consider what you’d do.”

“There’s no point, Jenny.  It’s not going to happen.”

“I know…but what if it did?  What would you do?”

“I’d not meet you for lunch.  That’s for sure!  I’d know nothing about you and I’d never have to answer these stupid questions again!”  He stood and brushed off his pants, gathered his jacket, and picked up the empty brown bag that had contained his sandwich.

“Oh c’mon, Harold… don’t leave yet.  I’m sorry.  No more what-if’s today.  Sit back down…I brought cupcakes.”  Jenny smiled, holding up a peace offering topped with chocolate icing.  Harold couldn’t resist…it was chocolate, after all, and he sat back down on the blanket she had spread by the pond.

They met there often for lunch.  Sometimes he wasn’t sure why he’d come and yet, when invited, he never turned her down.  There was just something about his sister.  She was worth the trouble he supposed.  Little sisters were annoying that way, even after they were all grown up.  All grown up…ha!  Would Jenny ever be all grown up?

“We’re playing at The Cellar tomorrow.  Want to come?”

“I don’t know…Martha’s not really into the music thing, you know?”

“Martha’s not, or you’re not?  C’mon, Harold… loosen up a little.  It’ll do you good.  When was the last time you had a night out?”

“I was out last Friday, for your information.”

“Business mixers don’t count, Harold.   You’ve got to get out of that suit once in a while and live a little.”

“I do live, Jen.  Just different than you, that’s all.  I’ve got responsibilities.  I’ve got people counting on me.”

“The band counts on me.  And my cat…she counts on me too,” Jenny said, mustering a tone that resembled offense at Harold’s remark.  She licked the icing from the top of her cupcake.

“Maybe”

“They do!”

“Nooo…maybe I’ll come.  I’ll ask Martha….no promises.  We’ll see.”

Jenny smiled and bit into her cupcake as Harold finished what was left of his.   She walked him back across the lawn toward his office building, stopping briefly to purchase a scratch off from the cart vendor on the corner…a waste of time and money Harold informed her.

“Fine.  I bought one for you too but now I’m keeping it for myself!”  He shook his head and gave her the look that said she was crazy but he loved her anyway.  She hugged him quick and turned to leave, calling back over her shoulder…”See you Friday!”  Then she waved and was on her way.

*****

He could hear it from the street as he approached…loud and with too much bass for his taste.  It was good that Martha had stayed home with her headache.   At the edge of the sidewalk, stairs led down to The Cellar.  The door, black and narrow, burst open and a couple came through, startling Harold and nearly knocking him over.

“Sorry, Dude.”

“Sure.”  Harold excused the couple and stepped tentatively inside.  The room was cramped and full of people.  They were dancing near the stage, if you could call it that.  There were a few hi-top tables in the back, near the bar.  Harold found an empty seat and claimed it quickly.  He wasn’t a dancer and he’d need a drink if he were going to try to appreciate something about tonight.

Jenny stood on the stage, front and center, gripping the microphone with both hands, her eyes closed tightly and her mouth open wide as she belted out the song.  She sang with power and feeling as if she meant every word.  Never mind that Harold couldn’t understand the lyrics.  Her body rocked as she sang and when she stopped to take a breath the guitar took over and she bounced along in rhythm.  Her eyes open now, she scanned the crowd and, seeing Harold, she smiled, winked at him and gave a thumbs up, happy that he’d come.

Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.  Harold ordered another drink and settled in.  “This next one’s for my brother,” Jenny said, “He could stand to have a little fun tonight!  But, hey, its Friday night…couldn’t we all?!”  The crowd whooped and whistled and the drummer started first, then the rest of the band followed suit and the room was filled with music once again.  It wasn’t bad, Harold thought.  Or perhaps it was the drinks taking effect.  In either case, he was glad he’d come and when the set finished up and Jen joined him at the table he told her so.

“Thanks,” she said, and she spun herself around on the stool, still coming down from the thrill of the performance.

“So, Harold…where would go if money was no object but you had to leave tonight?”

“Seriously, Jen?  Really?””

“Seriously, Harold.  Play along with me. Please?”

The drinks had weakened his defenses and Harold found himself more resigned to answer than object.  He picked up his glass and downed the last of whatever was in it, scrunched up his face and searched his brain for whatever place came first to mind.

“Spain.”

Spain?  Who says Spain?”

“I do, I suppose.  It just popped into my head.  That’s what you asked me for, right…the first place that came to mind?”

“No, actually.  I said if money was no object.”  Jenny laughed, happy that he’d answered at all, given his disdain for hypotheticals.  She leaned in and lowered her voice.

“Listen.  I’ve got a secret.”  A playful grin spread wide across her face as she reached into her pocket and pulled out what looked like a ticket.  She pushed it across the table toward him.

Harold looked at the slip of paper.  It was shiny and stiff with colorful writing and symbols arranged in neat little rows.  There were cherries and clovers and stars and, in the middle row, three golden horseshoes.  It was a scratch off.  None of it made any sense to him but he knew the sparkle in Jen’s eyes meant that somehow this was something.

She was biting her lip, doing her best to hold the secret inside just a bit longer, though it was bursting to get out.

“I won, Harold.  We won.  Those tickets I bought us at lunch yesterday…Harold its one hundred thousand dollars!”  She mouthed the amount slowly, barely whispering the words.  It was more money than Jen had ever had at one time and Harold wondered how she’d managed to keep this to herself until tonight.

“Jen, this is great.  You’ve finally got something to lean back on… “

“Oh no!  Uh uh..no way!  Don’t do that, Harold.  This is found money.  Found money is meant to be used, not saved.  Used for something fun…for something we’d otherwise not be able to do.  It’s a gift, Harold.  You don’t stash a gift away for someday…you unwrap it and you play with it.”  Jenny jumped off her stool.  She pointed a finger at him and gave him a look of warning, then backed herself toward the bar.  She wasn’t angry, she was having fun, but Harold knew enough to know that any further argument would only upset them both and not change her mind.

She returned to the table carrying four shots.  Lifting the first to her lips, she closed her eyes and knocked it back before slamming the empty shot glass down on the table.

“Your turn.”

“Harold drank.  Whatever it was, it burned on its way down and took his breath.”

“Jesus, Jen!”

“Yeah, well, you needed convincing.”  She raised an eyebrow in an I-told-you-so kind of way then laughed.  When Jen laughed her eyes danced and her cheeks glowed and she seemed to exude happiness.  Harold looked across the table at her and couldn’t help but feel glad she was his sister.  He loved her despite her faults…perhaps even because of them.  She was everything he wasn’t and she reminded him, constantly, that this life was to be enjoyed.  He worried enough for the both of them but, if he was being honest, Jen never asked him for help.  She may not have a plan, but she always managed to take care of herself.

“So, where should we go?”

He looked at her, confused.

“Well Spain is out of the question.  If we’re leaving tonight it has to be someplace that doesn’t require a passport.”

“You’re serious?”

“Of course I’m serious.”

“Jen, I can’t just pick up and leave.  I’ve got a job…and Martha.”

“Harold, its a hundred grand…not a million.  I didn’t say let’s run away somewhere.  Let’s just go have an adventure.  It’s Friday night…we’ve got the weekend and enough money to do something crazy.”

Harold hesitated, considering the possibility.  The drinks had slowed his mind and softened his reserve.  He thought about laying on a beach somewhere warm.

“I can see I’m going to have to do this myself,” Jen said in mock frustration.  Her thumbs bounced furiously across the face of her cell phone for a few moments then she put it down and shot back the last of her whiskey.

“There.  Martha’s taken care of.   I’ve just texted her that we’re going on an adventure and promised I’d have you back in time for work on Monday.  She agrees a little adventure would do you good.  You’ve got nothing else to worry about so let’s go!”

Martha had always been the happy middle between them.  Tamer than Jenny, she was safer and easier to live with.  She understood them both…saw how they were able to bring out the best in each other and she never got in the way of that.   The three of them had grown up together, childhood friends until the two of them realized their feelings for each other went beyond friendship and they eventually married.

Harold knew there was nothing left to say and he drank his shot, prepared for it this time.

“Well, let’s go then.  To the airport…we’ll take the next flight out wherever it goes.”

Jenny didn’t wait for him to change his mind.  Beaming, she jumped off her stool and followed him toward the door.  The room pulsed with music, another band now on stage.  They wound their way through the crowd, out the narrow black door and up the stairs into the night.  Their ears were ringing, not yet adjusted to the relative quiet outside the club.  They never heard it coming.

*****

He was fortunate, they said.  The same drinks that had blurred his judgment and caused him to neglect looking back before crossing the street had loosened him and allowed him to flex and bend with the impact rather than resist.  His body, though badly bruised and broken in some places would heal and in time all would be well again.  At least that’s what the doctors told Jenny and Martha at the hospital before suggesting they go home and get some sleep.

How could they sleep?  How could either of them sleep?  Harold was their everything and neither could imagine a life without him.  Both Jenny and Martha feared the nightmares sleep may bring, knowing how close they’d come to losing him.  No, they would not sleep that night.  Instead, they’d spend the hours together, nursing coffees and trying to pretend everything was fine before returning to his bedside and waiting for him to wake up.  For once, Jenny didn’t want to think about “what-if”.

*****

The early morning light filtered in gently through the blinds.   He saw her sitting there, asleep, and thought it odd for her to be able to rest in such an uncomfortable looking chair.  He surmised she must have been there all night, her red hair tied in a knot, tousled and hanging sideways off her head.  He wondered about the circumstance that would have brought her, so disheveled, to his bedside so early in the morning.

Harold’s mind felt fuzzy and he found it hard to focus, every new thing he noticed drawing his attention in a different direction.  His leg ached and his head throbbed and at the moment he couldn’t quite feel his left arm.  He looked down to ensure it was still attached and then realized how silly it was to wonder such a thing.  That’s when he noticed the cast and the tubes running from his body attaching him to various bags hanging from a pole beside his bed.

It was then that she pushed open the door and noticed him awake.  She looked flustered.

“I knew it!  I knew you’d wake up while I was gone.  I only went to get more coffee.  They were out…can you believe that?  Out of coffee in a hospital cafeteria of all places!  Had to wait for them to refill.  Oh, I wanted to be here when you woke up.  Damn it, I always seem to somehow find a way to be late for everything!  Sorry…none of that matters, I know.”  She dropped her purse onto the empty chair and sat down gingerly next to him on the bed.  “How do you feel?”

He watched her as she spoke, animated and so full of life.  And when she finished her rant and centered herself and asked how he was, a smile spread wide across her face…a look of pure and honest compassion.  He couldn’t help but smile back…there was just something about her that glowed and made him glad that she was there.  If only he knew who she was.


© Kelly Rainey and 500wordsandcounting.wordpress.com, 2015.  

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