Author: Guede Mazaka
It was a stupid idea, maybe. Seemed all right at first—find out more about Jess’ background so the next time Joe went around her parents’ place, he wouldn’t feel quite so out of his depth. At least he would know what the food was, and if he couldn’t figure out what to say, then he wouldn’t have to stand about looking like a gap-mouthed prat. But now he was staring at the little lumps of food all mashed together in the big plastic tray Tony had dropped off, and he was thinking it was a completely moronic idea. Yeah, sure, food would solve everything. One mouthful and he’d magically be an Indian and everything would be all right.
He should’ve asked Tony to stay. Aside from the fact that the other man could help talk Joe through this minor panic he was having, it would’ve been only polite. Tony wasn’t even his friend—he was Jess’ and rightly speaking, he should have stayed as far away from Joe as possible instead of helping him. After all, everything in Jess’ life had been fine before Joe and footie had come along. Without him, there wouldn’t have been Jess hiding from her own family, and there wouldn’t have been Jules and Jess nearly splitting up.
No, that was stupid. Jules brought Jess to the team in the first place; not that Joe was blaming it all on Jules, because she obviously hadn’t been trying to cause any distress. And neither had he.
But despite knowing that, somehow Joe still felt guilty. He’d felt the cold twisty feeling starting when he’d seen Jess, beautiful and shy, walking out of that German hotel, and while it’d gone away after Jess had somehow reconciled with her family, it’d only come back stronger when he’d watched her plane soar away. Her taste on his lips, her parents uncomfortably hiding their tears behind him, and him with the thought that it was all wrong.
Joe had hoped that maybe the problem was time, because he’d still been her coach then, but after two months he knew that wasn’t it. He had another two months before Jess came home for winter break and before it was no longer the safe distance of a telephone call, and he was praying as hard as possible that he’d figure it out before then. But all he had to do was see Tony’s face, smiling and understanding and tacitly accepting, and then Joe knew he was no closer to untangling the knot in his gut.
The food was getting cold. It’d be a shame to waste Tony’s efforts, especially since he was going out of his way to help Joe. He was Jess’ friend, and Joe had already made enough trouble among Jess’ friends and family than to be starting anymore.
Very slowly, Joe picked up his spoon and tried the first brightly-colored heap. It burned his tongue, but it didn’t warm his stomach any. Still, he kept eating because he didn’t want to disappoint Tony.