Chapter 7 – Kara
Kara felt uplifted by Amelia’s visit and had stopped dwelling, for the most part, on her past relationship with Tim by the time she returned to work and school on Monday. In her office, she redoubled her efforts to complete her application package for the officer program. She wanted to write the best essay for it that she could conjure up, believing that would seal the selection process for her. In answering a question on what obstacles she had overcome that made her want to be a social worker, she decided to write her essay on the effects of growing up in a single-parent household, and how her mother’s work for various NGOs over the years had influenced her in wanting to help others.
After work, she called Alex and accepted his invitation to go to the festival on Friday. “I want to stay at your place, but don’t take that to mean we are having sex,” she said, a note of seriousness in her voice. “After all, we have only been out together once before, and I don’t want to rush into anything.” Alex accepted her conditions and said that he would just be happy to be with her again.
With work and school, the week passed quickly, and Kara was able to take off a little early on Friday to get ready for her trip to Austin. It was still March and a little chilly, but not enough to need more than a light jacket. Kara decided to wear jeans, a thin sweater, and a black blazer to top things off. She liked the look. For overnight, she packed a small bag with a pajama short set and comfortable clothes for the drive back to San Antonio, as well as toiletries and some makeup. She wasn’t sure how things would go with Alex, but she put no thought at all into staying for two nights. She was certain he had schoolwork to do—law students always did.
With traffic, it took her an hour-and-a-half to get to the apartment Alex shared with his friend Mark. She sent him a text saying she had arrived, and he met her at the door.
Alex was wearing dark-wash blue jeans and a v-neck t-shirt. He ushered Kara into the living room that contained a sofa, a mid-sized TV, and a coffee table. The kitchen looked small to Kara, but overall, the place looked comfortable.
“Let me show you where the bathroom is and you can drop your things in my room,” Alex said cordially. “We have time for a drink now if you’d like. I figured we could get something to eat at the festival. Lots of food stands there.”
Kara remarked that she would forego the drink. Alex led her to his small bedroom and pointed out that behind the closed door on the left was Mark’s bigger bedroom. Alex’s room looked cozy, with a full-size bed and a small desk. Atop the desk sat his laptop computer, a stack of papers, and a couple of thick books. Kara stashed her bag in the closet after grabbing her makeup bag and asked to use the hallway bathroom before they left. She touched up her makeup and dabbed on a little rosewater. She preferred the natural floral scent to any sort of perfume.
Alex grabbed a dark brown leather jacket on the way out and drove a short distance to a paid parking lot that was already mostly full. “It’s a long walk to the festival grounds, but we can talk on the way to find some food,” he explained. During the walk in, the two talked about how they liked the music of The Frenzy, an up-and-coming young band. Neither had heard of the group preceding them, but Alex was excited about having a pass that would get them close to the stage.
“I’m so glad you agreed to come up for this, Kara,” he beamed as they approached the streets that were closed off for the festival.
“I’m excited, too,” she replied. “But I really don’t want to make the long drive back to San Antonio afterward.” She paused for a moment as they walked on. “Can I ask you a question, Alex?”
“Anything. Ask away.”
“I know this is going to sound silly,” Kara said, a little embarrassed, “but what is your zodiac sign?”
“Well, for what it’s worth, I’m a Pisces,” Alex answered. “I just turned 23 in February.”
So he’s a little younger than I am, she thought. Kara thought a minute about their signs as they waded into the crowd and made their way toward some food stands lining a street. Pisces was a water sign, while Gemini was an air sign. She recalled reading that a Pisces seeks absolute love and emotional intensity, while a Gemini is normally reserved on the outside when it comes to matters of emotion. She would have to tell him it would be a bit of a journey to get to know each other.
“I’m a Gemini, Alex,” Kara said. “I’m an air sign and you’re water. Those don’t often mix the best. They can, but we have to take things slow if we’re going to get to know each other.”
“Yeah, I don’t put any stock in horoscopes and all that. If I like you, it doesn’t matter when you were born or how the stars were aligned on that day. Oh look, a Greek food stand. Do you like Greek?”
“That sounds good. With the zodiac, I think there’s something to be said for the archetypes,” she said, perusing the menu signboard. “I’m not saying we won’t get along at all. I’m just saying I’m reserved and it may take some time for you to get to know me. I don’t ordinarily jump headlong into anything.”
“Understood. I hope you’re not so reserved tonight. I want you to have a good time.”
“Oh, I will.”
They both ordered gyros, and Alex ordered a beer. Kara got a bottle of water to go with her meal. They finished eating quickly and moved on to meet up with Alex’s friend, who was working security for the main stage.
As they walked, Alex remarked that he had found Kara attractive from the first moment he had laid eyes on her at the club on Sixth Street, and he thought she looked particularly lovely tonight. Kara thanked him for the compliment.
“I thought you were attractive then too, Alex—and fun. So let’s have some more fun tonight and see where things lead.”
A light, cool breeze was blowing as they approached the ever-thickening crowd surrounding the main stage area. As the two stood in line to present their tickets, Kara chatted about cosmetology school and how she was looking forward to resubmitting her application for the master’s program before her enlistment was up.
“I’m going to take some leave in May to apply for jobs and go on interviews. I’ll be done with school by then and hopefully I’ll get my license quickly, probably just before I leave the Navy,” she said. “How is law school, Alex?”
“Oh, I’m always writing papers. They say second year is the hardest. I’m constantly in the law library. Very little time for a social life.”
“I hear you. I’m working full-time and going to school at night, so not much time for socializing for me either. In fact, that’s why my last relationship ended...” Her voice trailed off as she realized quickly that you aren’t supposed to talk about your last relationship with someone new.
“How long did it last?” Alex asked, seemingly unfazed by the mention of an ex.
“A couple of years, but we both got too busy and just kind of drifted apart.” Kara was not about to go into great detail, especially about her last encounter with Tim. She believed everything she had read in the past about not bringing up exes with someone new was as good as gospel. Still, she was curious about Alex’s past. He was a good-looking, if a bit nerdy, young man. Surely he’d had girlfriends in his past.
“What about you, Alex? What was your last relationship like?”
“Oh Jeez. The last real relationship I had was my high school sweetheart. She got a full scholarship to Stanford, headed for California, and that was the end of that.”
More than five years since his last love? Kara thought to herself. That can’t be. “Really?” she asked, a note of surprise in her voice. “There’s been no one since then?”
“Well, I’ve dated a few girls here in Austin. Nothing has lasted long enough for me to call it a relationship though. Besides, I’ve thrown myself into my studies so I could get good enough grades to get into UT Law. That’s hard to do. And I’m not a player like Mark,” Alex confided. “I don’t know how he finds the time for all his girlfriends. Schoolwork seems to come so easily for him.” He paused a second. “I just do me, as they say, for now. But when the right girl comes along, I’ll know.” He smiled.
Kara smiled back. “Mark and Amelia would’ve had fun together,” she remarked.
“Oh, I’m sure they would have. Birds of a feather, right?” Alex chuckled. “How is your friend?”
“She’s doing very well. We’ve been friends since our college days in Florida. She’s a buyer for a chain of fashion boutiques in the Southeast and doing quite well. Last week was the first I’d seen Amelia in three years, but she’s there whenever I need her.”
Finally they presented their tickets and were on the grounds, making their way toward the crowd gathering around the stage.
Alex said, “My friend Joe told me he would meet us on the edge of the crowd and clear the way for us to push up front. Everything’s on the up-and-up since I paid a little extra for special passes.” They soon spotted a muscular young man wearing a t-shirt reading “Security.” Alex waved and caught his attention.
“Joe, this is Kara. Kara meet Joe,” Alex said. The strangers exchanged greetings.
Joe said, “Kara, you’ll want to grab Alex’s hand and follow me. If we rush into the crowd, people will part the way for me since I’m wearing this t-shirt.” Kara did as she was instructed, and the trio pushed their way right up to the security rope in front of the stage.
“This is where we part ways, amigos,” Joe said. “I have to go to work now. These things get crazy sometimes and people try to hop up on stage with the bands. Nice meeting you, Kara.”
“Likewise,” she said, dropping Alex’s hand. She wasn’t much for public displays of affection, including handholding. She was, after all, just at a show at the invitation of a friend.
The audience didn’t press in too closely for the opening act, a local Texas folk/pop band. Alex appeared to listen intently, while Kara just took it all in. They were good, but she wasn’t sure she would buy any of their music. Maybe she’d listen, though, if she got a free download on her phone.
The band played a half-hour set and received a mild ovation. But Kara could tell that the crowd was there to see The Frenzy and no one else. They were a pop/rock group with a couple of hits already under their belts. Their lead singer, Catherine Hester, had flaming red hair and was gorgeous enough to be a model. Her vocal style was energetic and she had amazing range, leading some music journalists to dub her “Catherine the Great.”
When the opening act was done, Kara excused herself to use the port-a-potties and get a drink. Alex vowed to hold their place and handed her a $20 bill. “Could you buy me a beer on the way back?” he asked. “And get yourself something too. I don’t know what you want to drink.” Kara didn’t know either.
She found the johns on the back edge of the field, and nearby she saw a few concession stands. She wasn’t ordinarily a beer drinker; she found the ones she’d tasted too bitter. But maybe she could find something else alcoholic. She was rewarded when she found a stand with a frozen margarita machine, so she purchased one, a beer for Alex, and a bottle of water, and threaded her way through the crowd back to the stage area.
It took some maneuvering and a lot of “excuse me” pleadings to wind her way back to Alex, but she found him just where she’d left him.
“Thanks for the beer, Kara,” he said. “I’m glad you got back when you did. I have a feeling this crowd’s going to press in tight in a minute. I see you found yourself a frozen margarita.”
“Yes. I’m not much for beer.”
“Yeah, I’m not crazy about the cheap stuff they’re serving here. The next time we go out, I’ll get you to try a micro-brew. There are so many good ones here in Texas that they serve in the Austin bars.”
“Maybe I’ll try one then,” Kara said with a smile.
After some time had passed, the roadies had swapped out gear on the stage. The stage lights went off for a minute. The sun was just starting to sink on the horizon, so the audience could still see everything on stage, even with the lights dimmed. But suddenly the spotlights came on, making it bright as midday, and The Frenzy took the stage to a great deal of applause, hoots and hollers. They launched into their first song, and Kara couldn’t believe how much louder they were than the previous act. But it sounded great. Holding her drink in her left hand, Kara reached into her purse with her right to grab her phone.
Catherine Hester was running around the stage in a clingy, bright blue top, tight-fitting, sparkling gold pants with a high waist, and white platform shoes encrusted with what looked like diamonds. Probably just crystal, Kara thought to herself. She knew only Catherine could pull off an outfit like that. And she had that flaming red hair!
Kara didn’t get a video of the opening song, but set up her phone to record video of the songs she liked. Alex beamed at her as she shouted and sang along with the songs she knew.
“Wow, you really can sing!” he shouted over the noise of the crowd. She smiled at him and kept on singing.
With two encores, The Frenzy show lasted almost an hour-and-a-half. Alex ducked out in the middle of it to use the port-a-potties, but returned quickly. Kara’s ears were ringing when it was over. Maybe I’ll get foam earplugs before the next concert I see, she thought.
After they’d found their way back to the car, it took forty-five minutes to get out of the parking lot and on the road. While they waited patiently, they played the radio and the two talked about the parts of the show they enjoyed most.
“The night’s still young, Kara,” Alex said. “Would you like to go somewhere for a drink?”
“Yes, your place, if you have anything there I’d like.”
“We always have something to drink: beer, vodka and cranberry, or 7-and-7. Those are your choices.”
Kara thought a whiskey drink sounded good and told him so. As they pulled into the apartment complex’s parking lot, Alex remarked that he didn’t see Mark’s car anywhere around. “It’s likely that he’s out somewhere, so it looks like we’ve got the whole place to ourselves,” he said as they walked to the apartment.
“Oh, that’s good. We can have a drink, maybe a snack, and watch some late-night TV.”
“Television is crap this time of night, but I think I can scare us up some cheese and crackers.”
“I don’t have a TV,” Kara said. “It’s all good to me, even the crap. And commercials are interesting to me as well, since I’m not exposed to them a lot.”
“Surely the lady you rent from has a TV?”
“Yes, but the only time I watch it is when I babysit her toddler, and then it’s just kids’ shows. Once he’s off to bed, I usually read.”
“Ah, an avid reader. Much better for the mind than the boob tube.”
Kara chuckled at his expression.
Alex fixed a drink for Kara once they’d gotten to the apartment and she had settled onto the couch. He found her a sitcom rerun to watch as she sipped her drink and he went to the kitchen. He found some cheese spread in the refrigerator and some vegetable crackers in the pantry, and he prepared them on a small plate. He brought them out to the living room and sat beside Kara on the couch. She was laughing aloud at the absurdity of the comedy on TV. Alex waited for a commercial break before attempting to strike up a conversation and offering Kara a cracker.
She barely took her eyes off the screen as she took the cracker, then her eyes were glued to the set again as she said thanks. Alex could see she was serious when she said she liked TV. She was transfixed, and it was like he wasn’t even there. He decided to just sip his beer and eat a few crackers in silence. It seemed he was just happy to have her company, even though she wasn’t talking. He enjoyed watching her enjoy herself.
When the show ended, Kara turned to Alex and said, “I’m sorry, I’m being a terrible guest. You’d better shut this off, Alex. If you fix me another drink, we can talk for awhile.”
He dutifully got her a refill. When he returned to the couch, Kara said, “Tonight has been terrific for me. I don’t get out much lately, and I can’t recall the last time I went to a concert. Thank you so much, Alex.”
“You’re welcome.” He took a sip of his beer. “So where do we go from here?” he asked, looking into her eyes.
“Well, here’s the thing, Alex,” she replied, gazing back at him. “I’ve only been out with you twice, but both times have been great. I like you a lot, but I’m not a casual hook-up kind of girl.”
“I don’t expect you to be.”
“I want to stay, but I don’t want to sleep on your couch. I’d like to sleep in your bed,” she said, her voice taking on a serious tone. “But we’re not at the sexual stage yet. I don’t even know if we’re at the point of making out yet.” Kara sighed.
“So what are you saying exactly?”
She looked down into her drink for a few seconds before responding. “You know what I really like? Back rubs and being held as I drift off to sleep. I really miss that kind of closeness. Is it possible to have that from someone you like without kissing or sex?”
“It’s highly unusual,” Alex answered frankly, his eyes widening at her honesty. “But I think we can do that. I miss having someone to hold too.” He paused for a second. “You can trust me, but I’m going to ask you one more thing. Can I see you again next weekend? I know it’s a long way for you to come, but I’m serious when I say I want you to try some good beer. I think you’ll like it.” He grinned at her.
“I think that can be arranged,” she replied, smiling back at him. “I just really want us to take things slow. It’s my way.”
She asked if he wanted to shower first or if he would let her.
“You always shower right before bed?” he asked.
“Yes, I do. I want to be fresh before I get into bed.”
It was not normally Alex’s way, but he agreed to let Kara shower before him. She got her pajamas and toiletries from her bag and headed for the bathroom. While she was gone, Alex stripped to his underwear and climbed into bed. He was hoping she would somehow change her mind and just jump his bones when she returned, but she didn’t.
“Your turn,” she said as she got in bed. Alex grabbed a clean pair of underwear from his drawer and dutifully went to rinse off in the shower. Kara liked the look of his taut body as he headed for the bathroom.
When Alex returned, Kara was under the covers on the right side of the bed. To Alex, her rosewater-and-soap scent smelled wonderful. He slid into the opposite side of the bed and she rolled onto her side, facing away from him.
“I’m ready for that back rub now,” she said.
“I don’t know if that will work so well with your top on.”
“Just put your hands under it, silly.” She wasn’t about to let him cajole her into anything sexual.
He rubbed firmly from her shoulders down her spine, to the small of her back, lifting her shirt up part of the way. Alex’s hands never once strayed to her butt or around the front to her breasts, and Kara appreciated the relaxing press of his hands.
“This is so soothing, Alex,” she sighed. “I’m so relaxed. I don’t think I’m going to stay awake for long.”
“I’m glad you like it,” he said, snuggling up closer to her. He had an erection, but wasn’t afraid at all to spoon with her and let her feel his desire. Kara didn’t seem to mind at all, and actually pressed her backside against him a little.
She was simply enjoying the closeness and trusted him, despite his hardness, not to take things any farther. He probably can’t help himself, she thought.
When Alex tired of kneading her back muscles, he pulled the back of her shirt down, put his arm around her, and drifted off as he listened to her purr softly in her sleep.
He woke just after 8:00 the next morning to find her dressed and packing her few belongings. “Good morning,” he said sleepily. “Leaving so soon? Do you want breakfast?”
“No thanks,” she replied. “I’ll get breakfast tacos or something on the way home. I have laundry to do and Cindy said something a few days ago about needing me to watch Jimmy for a while today.”
Alex stretched and said, “Okay then, but I hate to see you rush off.”
“Well, I know you probably have studying to do too. I’ve actually been up for a time. I heard your roommate come home around 6:30, but I stayed in bed for a bit. Then after I heard him close his bedroom door, I decided I’d better get up and get going. I really want to thank you for everything last night. It was a great time. And yes, I’ll take you up on those beers next Friday night.”
She smiled at Alex as she watched him roll out of bed and pull on his jeans from the night before.
“Okay, Kara, I’ll walk you to the door,” he said, a touch of disappointment in her imminent departure coloring his voice. She lifted her bag and they walked quietly to the front door.
“How about a nice goodbye hug?” he asked plaintively.
“Okay,” she said as she gave his shirtless body a quick hug. She liked how firm he was. “Don’t study too hard,” she remarked as she turned and walked out the door.
When she got back to Cindy’s place, mother and son were up and about. Kara confirmed she would be babysitting for a while that night, but not overnight. She told Cindy that she’d had a marvelous time the night before, but didn’t offer much other information, and Cindy didn’t press her.
Kara did, in fact, have uniforms and other clothing that needed washing, so she asked Cindy if the washing machine was free. It was. Kara went to her room to gather her clothes, but before putting them in to wash, she stopped to text Amelia about the previous night.
“The Frenzy concert was fantastic,” she wrote. “Stayed the night with Alex. I like him, but no sex yet. Told him I want to take it slow.”
After Kara had started the washer, she got Amelia’s reply: “Crazy girl. You should get some of that. Glad you enjoyed it. Atlanta was great. Drew was greater. ;].” Kara laughed out loud at her friend’s response.