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The Poems - part four
The next big encounter I have with him aside from English class during the school week and the after school visits is in late November. I’m running downtown to do some errands. I’m forced to spend my Saturday morning refilling my mother’s birth control prescription, buying food for the house or else I starve, and any other necessities. My mother leaves a twenty on the table. It’s never enough, but it’s better than nothing. Sometimes her flavor of the week will steal it. She would never know, and she wouldn’t believe me if I told her, even though I’m her own blood.
As I’m at the pharmacy, I bump into him.
“Oh, hi Rachel! Call me Jack when we are outside of school; I mean we’re both adults here. So what brings you to the pharmacy?”
“Picking up birth control.” After I said it I realized how bad it sounded.
“Oh, good for you”, he said, surprised and unsure of what to say.
“For my mother. It’s her prescription.”
“Ohhh. That’s sweet of you”, he said, relieved.
“Yeah, I recall her saying she needed it so she wouldn’t make the same mistake twice”, I blurt out in an annoyed tone.
“That’s horrible. If she treats you this way, why do you put up with her?”
“She is my mother. I do owe her a little bit. Plus, she does give me more freedom than most parents.” I quickly change the subject. “What are you here for? I didn’t think you lived in Woodburg.”
“I don’t, I mean I live in Chesterville. It’s only five minutes away, and we don’t have a pharmacy over there. My father is sick and I’m picking up his prescription and a little something.”
I smile. I know there is a cute story behind this. He always has adorable stories behind his actions.
“When I was sick, he’d get me my medication, and maybe some candy or a little toy to make me feel better, so now the roles are reversed.” He chuckles.
“Did you decide what you’re getting him?”
“I’m contemplating on getting him a Sudoku book. He loves puzzles.”
“Go for it!” I smirk.
“Say, what are you doing this afternoon?”
“After I finish my errands, I’m free to do whatever I please.”
“Would you like to meet my father? If you don’t, I understand. Yeah, your creepy English teacher did just ask you if you’d like to meet his sick old man. Forget it.”
“No, I’d actually like to get away. It’ll be a different experience.”
“Are you sure? I’d understand---”
“I’d love to.”
“Would you like me to pick you up? Or meet up at Woodburg High?”
“To be honest, I’d like to meet up at your house, if you don’t mind.”
“Well, apartment. If that’s what works best for you... ” He writes his address on my hand. I finish my shopping and drop everything off at home. I drive myself over to his apartment and park the car. It looked nice enough, the apartment complex. It was neither glamorous nor slummy. The outside is made of red bricks, with little lights over each door so you can read the apartment numbers. It’s homey and cute in a way.
I walk down to A105 and ring the doorbell. He answers the door. I enter into his living room/kitchen area. It’s cleaner than I thought it would be. There’s a small couch, a loveseat, and a semi-old TV for a living room, and a fridge, stove, microwave and sink for a kitchen. The divider between the rooms is a table that comes out of the wall with a couple of chairs to sit at for dining purposes. I notice a number of empty beer and liquor bottles in his sink, but besides that he is very neat.
“I’m sorry, but I had to make it a little more student appropriate”, he says as he sees be staring at the bottles.
“I understand. Are you going to show me the rest of it?”
He smiles. “Another time. We really should be leaving.” I believe that’s code for his bedroom isn’t “student appropriate”.
Jack drives us to a small town called Blue Spruce which takes about an hour to get to. He pulls into the driveway of an inviting and quaint house. It’s neither colossal nor petite, but it looks vacant, almost like it hasn’t been lived in for a while.
We enter the house and I follow Jack up the stairs to his father’s bedroom. I wait in the doorway as Jack talks to his father.
“Hey Dad, I picked up your pain meds, and I got you a little something to cheer you up”, he smiles. He has a completely different expression. It’s nurturing and compassionate. I never see him like this in class, and seldom when I’m after school. I can understand why he is being this way. I look at his father, he is waking from a nap and he smiles back at his son. The poor man looks so frail. He has circles under his eyes, so dark that they almost look bruised.
“You didn’t have to do that.”
“I know, but I wanted to.”
His father takes the book out of the pharmacy bag and smiles again. “Thanks Jackie! I’ve done a few of these in the newspapers and I enjoyed them. Thank you again.” He places the book on his nightstand and sits up in his bed. “Who is the beautiful girl in the door?”
“That’s Rachel; she’s a student of mine. She’s the one I told you about last time, the girl with the poems. Let me get you some water to take your pills.”
“Oh right. Yes. Come and sit.”
I take a chair and move it next to his bed. I wonder what his father thinks of me or even his son and the questionable relationship we have so far. “Hello Mr. Priston. I’m Rachel”, I smile.
“You sure are a cutie! Now how old are you?”
“Yes, that’s right. So Jackie has told me a lot about you. He says you’re a good writer.”
“He read me one of your stories. It made me laugh so hard I almost wet myself.”
“I’m glad it brought you joy!”
“So how much time do you guys spend together?”
“Just a few afternoons after school.”
“Okay. Well, he enjoys your company. I can tell. I just worry about Jackie sometimes. He’s usually alone with no woman in his life. He needs a friend to keep him going, you know?”
“I bet Jack has friends outside of work, but I do understand what you are saying.”
“Good. I ain’t saying for you two to be involved, but I know he trusts you is all.”
I smile. His father likes me, but is concerned about his son’s proximity to me. I guess I can’t blame him. “I know.”
His father pats my hands. “You’re a good kid, and you’ll turn into a wonderful woman soon. I can tell.”
“Thank you.” I take his hand to comfort him. Jack enters with a tall glass of water and lunch for his father. His father eats a little then takes his pills.
“These pain pills knock me out, so Rachel, I want to say goodbye in case I’m asleep when you leave.”
“Okay. Sweet dreams.”
Jack motions for us to go downstairs. In the kitchen, Jack prepared lunch for us: 2 turkey sandwiches. We sit at the table and I solemnly break the silence.
“So what’s wrong with him?”
“Cancer. Pancreatic cancer.”
“Oh, I’m sorry…” I pause. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“It’s kind of a personal thing.”
“Then why did you invite me?”
“I don’t know. The thought occurred to me and then I just blurted it out.” I could tell that his statement wasn’t completely truthful.
Another moment of silence occurs. “He’s worried about you, that you’ll be alone the rest of your life. He wants me to look out for you while I can.”
Jack laughs. “He must be getting a little senile.”
“I think he fears that we’re ‘involved’.”
“I guess I can’t blame him. I do talk about you more than my other students. You know, I started this whole creative writing thing so I’d have something to read to my father. I visit him every Saturday and I tell his nurse she has the day off, and I come up here. I read him the stories and poems and I ask him which ones he likes the best. He always seems to enjoy your short stories. He says you’re able to capture people’s personality well, and that you can express flaws as being beautiful.”
“That was sweet of him to say.”
“While you were walking down here, before I left him to join you, he talked to me a little. He says that even though you don’t say much in person, you exude what you’re thinking in your eyes. He says you’re sincere. He likes you.”
“I thought so too.”
“He says you have a soft touch; a warm person.”
I smile then finish eating.
“How much longer does he have?”
“The doctors say he could pass at anytime. They truly don’t know.”
I nod, yet I wonder if his father in a miniscule way gave his blessings. But I try not to fret over it and enjoy the rest of the afternoon.
We don’t get back to his apartment until about 7:00. As he parks the car, he asks if I wanted to come in.
“No, I probably should be getting home.”
“Are you sure? I could make you something to eat, or I have some snacks if you’re hungry. I would feel bad if I sent you home without feeding you dinner.”
He wants to cook for me? Who wouldn’t give into that? “Alright, but I’m helping you”, I smile.
We enter his apartment and he goes straight for his fridge. “What are you in the mood for?”
“I don’t know. What do you have?” I say as I walk over to him. He opens the door wider to make space for me to see.
“How do you feel about chicken?”
“I like chicken.”
“Okay, how about salad?”
“And one more thing…”
“Yes, that’ll work! I’m going to start on the main course; do you mind working on the side dishes?”
“No problem.” I take the lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and anything else that seemed salad-worthy. “You have mushrooms?”
“Yes, they are good for you.”
“I assume you don’t approve of mushrooms.”
“They are gross, and are fungus.”
“Well, you have odd taste!” he said jokingly, but I got the feeling he wasn’t just talking about food.
I cleaned all of my ingredients, cut them, then mixed them. Jack was cleaning the chicken breast, and then started to dip them into bread crumbs. I smile at him while he is cooking the meat, as I heat up leftover rice, adding broccoli and shredded cheese to add flavor.
We finish cooking, so I set the table. We sit across from each other, him in the kitchen and I in the living room section.
“You have a big variety of food in your kitchen.”
“I love to cook, and eat!”
“The chicken is delicious! I’ve never had someone cook such delectable meal for me.”
“I didn’t do all the work, but thank you. You did a wonderful job as well!”
“It’s really nice not to have to do all the work. It’s especially nice to have company when I eat.”
“I completely agree.”
“You know, we should do this more often.” And we did. Since that night, every month when he’d renew the prescription, I’d visit his father, and then we’d have dinner together.
“Have you saved room for dessert?” he suggests so kindly.
“How about some chocolate ice cream and some strawberries?”
“I’d love some!” I smile. “You know, strawberries are an aphrodisiac.” Jack begins to smirk and blush a little. As he prepares our dessert I clear the table. Only for a second the thought crosses my mind that I could get used to this: dinner with him every night, us cooking together. I quickly pop that thought bubble and move over to the sink. As I place the dishes down, I see the bottles. I glance over at Jack as he scoops the ice cream. He seems okay, but I can only imagine the pain he is feeling, knowing his father could die at anytime. At the same time, he can manage spending hours reading my works and helping to improve my abilities. Maybe Jack’s father is right; I’m his friend that keeps him going. Jack hands me the bowl and a spoon, and I follow him into his living room. We sit on his couch and eat.
“You know, for such a young adult, you do eat really healthy.”
“I try. It’s better to start now than later.”
“This is true.” I pause as we continue to eat. I decide I want to get to the bottom of this. “Why did you really want me to meet your father? I know that it wasn’t just because you had the opportunity.”
“Am I really that easy to read?”
“I guess that I wanted my father to meet you, so he would know who was writing his stories that he enjoyed. Also, it does make it easier, to have company when I visit him. I mean just staying there for hours and watching him sleep, wondering if he will wake up is not that greatest thing to occupy your time with. I guess I thought I could trust you too, since you’ve been sharing so much of your personal life with me. It would just be easier to show you his condition than to tell you. I mean, it all starts to wear at you after a while, you know? There only so much that you can do on your own. Sometimes you do need to lean on people a little.”
I smile, unsure of what to say to that. He just bared his soul on me and I don’t want to say something stupid that would make him question trusting me. “I’m here if you need me.” I lightly caress his shoulder hoping that shows my sincerity. He looks up from his bowl and half-heartedly smiles back at me. “Do you write poems about him?”
“Can I read them?”
“Some other time.”
“So I can let you into the depths of my soul through my poetry, but you won’t let me read some of your work?”
“Yes, that sounds about right to me.” He chuckles.
“Fine. I’ll bring some of my work on Monday.”
“Good, because I’d love to read it.” We finish eating and I offer to help with the dishes.
“It’s 9:00. You probably should be heading home, and no one likes doing dishes.” I stay to help anyway. I stand next to him, he washes the plates and I rinse. There were moments when our hands touched when passing the plates that I could have sworn his hand lingered for a slight second, but maybe that is just wishful thinking. After the dishes I decide to leave, but as I’m about to leave, he stands at the door to his apartment.
“Thank you.” He smiles and squeezes my hand. He watches me go to my car and drive away. That was the best Saturday I’ve ever spent with someone. After I arrive back at my house, I write his address in my notebook. I don’t ever want to lose it.