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FICTION
Jade
Alexandria Para

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Now I’m not a sentimental man, I’m not romantic, and neither is this story. If anything it’s sad and will leave a feeling of loneliness in the pit of your stomach. However, being a lover of words and literature, I can’t help to admit it’s a damn good story to tell. 

I’d looked in her direction before. We had mutual friends and had been to some of the same events. But it wasn’t until one summer that when I looked, and I truly saw her. My buddies and I had decided to take our boat out on that tiny hoity-toity lake in Indiana, drink some beer, and play our music much louder than is considered respectable. 

It was a perfect day. I remember driving to the docks, my hand out the window of my Jeep, pushing the breeze, Pearl Jam interjecting with the hum of my tires. The water was like glass—  it hurt to see the jet skis and speed boats cut through it, disturbing its peace. We left the docks and made a joke about all of the hot chicks we would see out on the lake that day; being Labor Day weekend, it was packed with vacationers from Chicago. They were looking for their own tiny piece of serenity, their own escape. Funny they turned in the direction of our small town to find it. 

I was shaking the sand out of my shoes and trying to find my Ray Bans when I decided to look up from the side of that pontoon. She was on her mother’s boat, wearing a floppy hat that let her long blonde hair have just enough freedom to appear wild and refined at the same time. As I grew to know her, I learned that she was exactly that: the perfect balance of wild and refined. 

“Hey, isn’t that Jade Cambel?” my buddy said as he pulled his sunglasses down to the tip of his nose to stare at her. “Yep,” I replied, trying to sound uninterested but unable to avert my eyes. He’d turned to the boat on the other side of us, full of young women in bikinis, raising their red Solo cups and yelling. They were nice to look at for a second or two, and then I lost interest and turned back to her. While dragging her hands through the water like she was searching for something, she turned her face towards me, and under the brim of her floppy hat I saw her eyes look up. She threw a halfhearted grin and then turned away.

It was annual tradition to rent a lake house for the weekend and throw a large party that would get out of control. A few of my friend’s wives were making food in the kitchen. I wondered what it would be like to have a wife, to come home to the same woman every night and not be somewhat dissatisfied. Were my friends dissatisfied? I found it rude to ask. 

As the sun started to set I headed out to the beach to start a small fire. The guests were pouring in, filling every room of the seashell ridden bungalow, laughing and hugging each other. I loved the feel of the sand beneath my toes, the sound of the waves as I came up over the hill and caught my first glance of the water. Anyone could feel free here. 

As I was stoking the logs I heard laughter bouncing through the beach grass and saw a bunch of brown arms tangled and swatting, and long hair blowing. There she was, among three other women, one of whom I’d already slept with and wished never to do so again. I’ll admit, my reputation was not that of boyfriend material. The other two women were pretty, but she was truly beautiful. I looked back down at the embers and smiled to myself. “Dude, you are an idiot,” I whispered quietly. 

“Hey Braden!” One of the women called and waved her hand at me. I forced a grin and stood up. They introduced me to her. “I think I saw you on the lake this summer, does your mom have a red speedboat? Or your dad?” I immediately regretted saying anything beyond a simple hello. She looked at me, half surprised and half pleased with my response. “Yes, that was probably me.” We sat down around the fire and the other three ran back up to the house to get blankets and round up the group. I looked at Jade for a second, when I was sure she was preoccupied with the sunset and the waves. She squinted out into the water and a tiny halfhearted smile formed. Her parents picked the perfect name— her eyes were the most brilliant shade of green. For the rest of the night I attempted to make small talk with her. I learned she was an attorney in the city and she came home every weekend. I learned her parents’ names and that she was an only child. She even told me her favorite color: yellow. 

Around midnight she stood up abruptly and announced, “Alrighty everyone. I’m headed out!” After a group sigh I volunteered to walk her to her car. We scuffed up the steep hill and waded through the grass in the dark, her in front of me. She wore a thin gold band on her right index finger, and had a constellation of birthmarks on her left shoulder blade- I could see it peeking out from her eyelet shirt by the dim light of the moon that night. With a quick swoop she grabbed her bag off of a beach chair and dug for her keys. The only car that lit up when she hit her key fob was a brand new black Range Rover. Without thinking I ran my fingers over my chin and said, “Of course.” 

As if my comment was not worth a response, she waved back at me over her shoulder without as much as a turn of her head, “See you around, Braden.” 

I continued towards her. “I was thinking, we should hang out sometime.”

“But what would we do?” It was the most frustrating and honest response I’d received in my whole life. I knew what she meant, though. What would we do? Would we go to dinner and talk about our careers and our families and recite every line that everyone recites on every single goddamned date? Would we go on a second date, a third? Would we get married and have children and end up in this beach house every summer for the rest of our lives, me in the living room, shooting the shit with my buddies, and her in the kitchen with a glass of wine in her hand, talking about what schools to send our kids to and what retirement option is the safest bet? I didn’t know what we would do, and after that string of thoughts I didn’t want to find out. But I was conflicted, because Jade had taken up a new home— in my mind. 

I had gotten her number from a friend and sent her a text now and then, trying to spark up a conversation, but her responses were anything but enthusiastic. I saw her several more times that summer, and every one of them we gravitated toward each other. I had spent those few months drunk on our whispers and the thought of her skin. She was sarcastic and at times downright rude, but with her friends she was different. Her smile was genuine, and her laugh seemed to carry throughout small groups as she told stories, as if it were a hip song on the radio that everyone loved.

After a while, I had given up on the idea of anything more than what it already was, which I had no idea how to describe. 

And then one night, at Skip’s bar by the docks, I wandered off from my group of friends to get another round. When I turned, she was there. It was the first time I had seen her drunk. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she said under her breath as she looked me dead in the eye. I knew that I would go home with Jade Cambel that night, and so I did. 

I remember tasting the whiskey on her mouth and the way she laughed when she took off her clothes. I wondered if there were any lighting that didn’t flatter her body. A few feathers floated up to the ceiling fan as we fell back onto my bed and for a second she laid next to me and she said “I don’t want a boyfriend.” “Ok,” I responded, half relieved, half disappointed and again, conflicted. The next morning when I walked her to the door, she shook my hand goodbye and smiled sarcastically. A month later, Jade had a boyfriend.

He was an ok guy. Nothing more than ok. The kind of man a girl thinks her parents want to see, clean cut and soft spoken, amazing career. She’d met him in the city, or so I was told. The first time I saw them together ended up being a torturous five-hour adventure that I wished I’d never agreed to. Our friends had invited us all to a wine fest down by the water and I had no idea I’d be spending the day in such close proximity to them. I remember feeling such disappointment when I saw them together. “I don’t want a boyfriend.” No. She didn’t want me. I watched her across the way and she looked like those women in that kitchen, bored and dreary. Jade was not Jade in that moment, and as it gave me some pleasure, it also broke my heart. But then her face lit up as she looked up from her glass of Merlot and saw me standing there. She noticed my concerned expression and gave a small shake of her head. 

Nearly a year went by before I saw her again at a dinner party. I said hello to her and her response immediately made my heart jump. “Hi, Braden, you look the same.” I told her thanks for the neutral compliment and as dinner came to an end I had caught her staring at me five times. I walked her to her car that night, just as before, her in front of me. She wore the same gold ring, but this time her shoulders were covered. All I could see was her golden hair and the curve of her cheek when she turned her face. She got in her car and started to talk but stopped herself. And then, “Why didn’t you respond to my text message?”

“What text message?”

“I sent you a text after the wine fest at the beach”

“I never received one, I would have responded, Jade.” I looked at her with my eyebrows

raised, insinuating she should know this already.

“Oh, no.” She buried her face in her hands, laughing.

“I must still have you blocked! I’m so sorry, Braden!”

I started to laugh. I demanded she unblock me as I shut her car door. Minutes later I sent her a text and she responded. A month later, she was single again. I’ll never know if seeing me that night had anything to do with her leaving her boyfriend, because I've never asked. But for the first time I asked to see her and she agreed. 

We met at the beach and walked along the water, some of the time next to each other but it seemed to make her nervous so I held back a bit. She wore a white dress and I loved the way it looked against her brown skin. She told me she ended the relationship because she became bored, and that she had a habit of becoming bored with men. “I pick guys that will be a good match, you know kind, good career, husband and father potential,” she said. “But, I only really like them enough. Of course, there is attraction, but nothing much deeper than that.” 

I asked her if she wanted to get married and have children and she stopped walking and turned to me “I really don’t know. I want to want those things.” 

“Well why don’t you ever get involved with a guy you feel more for?” I asked hesitantly.

 “Because say there is this great chemistry and attraction and dynamic between a man and me, I pursue a relationship with said man, and a year down the road we’re bored. He’s bored and watching tv and I’m bored and cleaning and what we had that was beautiful is dead. I don’t have the heart to kill something like that.” 

“So, you would avoid being with someone you love to avoid ruining it?” I understood, and wished I’d never asked the question.

The next week I asked her to dinner, and the week after, and the week after that she finally said yes. It was the best date I’d ever had. We laughed, and for once I felt like the room was big enough for both of us to live and breathe in.

I became lost in her, our time together, the way she felt when I touched her. I hung on every word she said and for months and months we were drawn to each other like moths to light. 

For her birthday, I had decided to take her to dinner in the city. She was quiet that night, and I, forgetting everything I’d ever heard her say, assumed she had a daunting day at the office. We sat at that table across from each other, a bottle of wine and two expensive plates of pasta. Through the silence my brain woke up, my heart sank and I felt nauseated. That moment I realized we were becoming a “we.” It had snuck up on us, we had no chance to run or to fight it. And at that specific moment she looked up at me from her plate, sort of how she did from the water that day on the boat, and I saw a sadness in her eyes— a disappointment. 

Without saying a word I knew that she was on the brink of boredom. Her eyes told me everything I had dreaded to see for the past eight months, everything I knew was inevitable but tried to cheat. We were stuck on this bridge, somewhere between those drunken nights by the water and that kitchen at the beach house. I didn’t want Jade to become a wife, or a mother. I didn’t want Jade to be ordinary and I didn’t want us to be considered “one”. I didn’t want to drown her, suck the life out of her. So I stood up, in a suit I would never wear again, and I walked over to her. “Jade, I have to go.”

 I could see her eyelids fill with tears. “Yes, I know,” she said as I kissed her forehead. 

Jade Cambel will remain in my mind; that is where I keep her. And no woman will ever compare to her, because I had the heart to set her free. Now, I am married, and I have two sons. I have a wife in the kitchen holding a glass of wine, organizing appetizers for our beach weekend and I love her, I do. This life has been comforting and sweet. 

Are there nights that I sit by the shore and think of a young woman, with a gold ring on her finger and bright green eyes? 

Every summer.