Author: Guede Mazaka
It’s sunny here in America, sunny like bright lemonade, and it’s free wind and no parents, and it’s good. Jess has her dorm with Jules, so they’ve defied all the horror stories about roommates—anyway, what’s left for them to fight over?—and they’re just two girls, laughing and sipping colas while they pace out the perimeter of the pitch. Or they’re kicking up their heels, faces upturned to watch the floating black-and-white center of their world. Sometimes classes interfere because Jules can take math and science only in terms of trajectories and crosswind speed and Jess is only now getting used to this arguing thing let alone seeing it as the way to get the grade. Sometimes it’s staring at a limp packet of McDonald’s fries and suddenly moaning for a good basket of chips, like Jules did once and nearly got herself an ambulance called ‘cause they thought she was having a stroke or something. Sometimes it’s having the window open and the fan on to blow out the smoke while trying to improvise aloo gobi on a hallmate’s hotplate ‘cause Jess just can’t take the cafeteria curry anymore, not with the way she wants to cry in it as if that’d improve the taste. Sometimes it’s this or that, but they always come back to their little bit of green field.
Jess worried a little about Jules near the beginning. Jules said it was all good and settled, but the first time she answered the phone and it was Joe calling, her smile got all tense and she didn’t look at Jess when she handed over the phone. Later Jess found Jules slamming a ball around the field, working her charges in a way that was going to save the game at a meet about two weeks later. When the coach took them all out afterward, Jules was flushed and giggling and she wouldn’t stop saying it was only Jess set her up so well, but still. After that, Jess kind of hinted to Joe that calling her isn’t such a good idea, that she’ll call him instead.
For a while that works out, but lately it seems as if Joe’s always letting his answering machine handle this side of the ocean. He has a new team to train up, and his two best players gone to boot, so of course he’s busy. Jess can understand. Really. Maybe she sat on the bed once and read half-a-chapter of physics without knowing a single word, but she was dribbling past girls half-a-head taller than her the next day and she just felt so damned good when she shot that ball through the impossible gap that she forgot even to try calling till the week after.
“You curse like an American now,” Tony teases her as he grabs her to him, careless of the shoulderbag thumping them both in the side. “What’ll I tell your parents? They think America’s all NYPD Blues and movie stars blowing up the freeway.”
“Oh, shut up.” Jess is that happy again, so happy that she almost knocked Tony back onto the escalator when she hugged him. It’s been one hundred days since she left England and now a little bit of it is coming for a week, and she can say ‘damn’ and ‘fuck’ if she wants to. The parents don’t have to know.
Anyway, if they did know even a little, they’d die of shock. It was hard enough to make them understand about the footie, and now that life is all crushed-grass stains on knees and late-night giggle-fests, Jess just…wants to wait a little. She’ll tell them, eventually. She’s being easy on them; she knows how hard it is.
She’s got her arm through Tony’s arm and for a moment he stares at her, but then he sort of shrugs and grins it off. It makes Jess wince a little bit before she does the same, remembering that there’s no nosy mother’s friend to make a marriage out of a friendship. She’s used to doing it with Jules, and Tony’s from even farther back. “So come on, what’re you doing here? Your mother wouldn’t let you come just so you can check on a girl that didn’t even have sense to marry you.”
“Oh, she only said that once. She just was hoping I’d get settled before I finished college, that’s all. She’ll get over it.” Tony says, adjusting his bag. He’s thinned out a little, gotten some muscle on him. Jess can feel it in his arm. “But yeah, aside from getting to see what America’s been doing to you—I’ve been offered a good shot at grad school here. Figured I could take a look around and all—”
“That’s great! You’d be right here and I could…” And Jess babbles on and on, dragging them all over campus and grinning and smiling so hard that she almost doesn’t hear Tony. “What?”
He’s panting hard, she only now notices. But he just waves off her concern and mutters something funny and self-mocking about not able to keep up with the girls, and when he taps her arm, it’s because he’s looking worried about her. “Hey, are you sure you’re all right? You sound like—”
Like she misses home. And yeah, Jess does, but it’s not a hurting thing. It’s just this…little bit on the edge, and it’s been there for a while without her being able to do anything about it. So when it goes away, yeah, it’s going to be a bit of a snap. “No, I’m fine. I’m fine. Really.”
“Okay.” Tony shrugs again, keeps waiting for something. Finally he looks around and fiddles with his pockets, too casual to be uncomfortable. “So’s Joe, if you wanted to know.”
“Oh,” Jess says, and it’s not quite how she should have said it. “Oh. Oh, great! Yeah, I…yeah. I miss him, but it’s not so bad because there’s footie and classes keep me busy, and there’s Jules.”
Jules, who isn’t here and who Tony is now looking for, once Jess had reminded him. Jules, who sucks hair into her mouth when she sleeps and who’s always trading help on essays for help on physics. If she hadn’t come to America with Jess…well, Jess doesn’t think she could’ve done it without her. “She’s got a boyfriend. His birthday’s today, so they went out. But she says hi.”
“Hi back, then,” Tony replies, trying to grin Jess into grinning. “Hey, I shouldn’t be worrying on Joe’s behalf about anyone—”
“What? No—oh, no no no.” That makes Jess smile, though she’s still mad inside about how this is Tony and suddenly everything is strained when it shouldn’t be. She wishes Jules were here, after all. She thought it would be okay, that after she’d stepped on that plane everything had fallen into place and that she’d have a clear shot. But she guesses the game’s not quite over yet, and she wants her partner back. There’s no one else who can read her moves so well. “Me? Nah.”
Tony laughs, though it’s quieter and more uneasy. “Come on. Don’t tell me I’m the only boy for you.”
The words fall flat because Jess can’t quite get her feet under them in time to loft them back up. She smiles and stares at Tony, and finally they lean towards each other and laugh in confusion.
“Let me drop off the bag and then you can tell me all about Jules and America,” he says.
“And you tell me all about Joe and London,” Jess says right back, too fast. The sun’s still bright and she hooks her arm through his, and they both pretend they hadn’t gotten it all wrong.