Jovie was someone you could tell genuinely cared about people. We almost immediately became friends after he held my hair back that night. It would have been impossible to not be after such a unique bonding experience. What an interesting way to meet someone, but after I got to know him a little, it just made sense that it happened that way. He did little things like that for others all the time. Like buying coffee for someone behind him in line, making sure his friends were safe if they were out drinking, or walking on the traffic side of the sidewalk. It was the little things that he wouldn’t expect you to notice. And he didn’t want you to notice. He also did this thing that no one else had ever done for me before. I’m usually pretty quiet in a group setting, but if I ever speak up, Jovie makes sure to look at me and show me he’s listening. Serena was wonderful, but her presence took up a whole room when we all hung out and yet somehow, when I spoke up, he made me feel like my words were more expensive than anything. He just listened to people. He kept their thoughts like little gold stars, close to his chest. I had never felt so heard before. With all of the mindfulness for others and their constellations, I wondered how much room he had for himself in that head of his. Don’t get me wrong, Jovie Baker wasn’t a doormat. He didn’t let people walk over him, but he really didn’t let them take a step near the ones he cared about. He was the truest form of a friend- and I mean that. No matter how many jokes Serena made about there being something more, there just wasn’t. Jovie never made me feel like he wanted anything from me other than a laugh or a smile and I liked it that way. Part of our companionship did remind me of how Harvey and I used to be, but it was the part where I felt comfortable with him almost immediately. We could just exist together. No questions or expectations. And that’s what I’d needed the last few weeks. A friend.
You know how before, I talked about the excitement of the new city and my fear of crashing into myself once it wore off? Well, it was happening. I tried to push my sad thoughts down deep, but they were beginning to slowly bubble up, which wouldn’t be a problem if I’d just let them spill over a little. But I refused to. In fact, I slammed the lid on tighter and I felt like I was living in a pressure cooker of my own feelings. I should talk to someone. I should tell at least one person about my life before I moved here, but I didn’t want anyone to know. I didn’t want anyone to pity me because that made me feel awkward, but mainly, I didn’t want to relive it. So, I kept it inside and I kept the pressure cooker on until it exploded everywhere in a mess of tears and snot and missing him.
“Where are we going today?” Jovie asked.
I looked down at the list I kept on my phone of British chain restaurants I had to try while I was in London. We were both on our lunch breaks from work and often tried to find somewhere new to eat, but we were broke so we usually stuck with chain food.
“Let’s try Leon,” I commented, clicking my phone closed.
We walked comfortably next to each other, Jovie’s arm brushing up against me every so often to avoid other pedestrians. He made comments about people passing by and we pretended to guess what conversations were happening near us. One couple was arguing because they couldn’t agree on the best dressing for a salad. One old lady was talking to another old lady about if she should dye her hair green or pink. It was stupid, but it was us. It made me laugh for the first time in days.
“Oh, Gertrude, I can’t believe you’d consider any color other than sea sick green,” Jovie laughed, the sound bright and welcome in my ears.
“But, Joviee, I simply think pink suits my complexion!”
“Joviee... how original,” he sarcastically stated. “Ah, here we are.”
We’d turned the corner and a big red sign with LEON in yellow letters marked our location. We stepped inside, welcoming the aroma of fresh food swirling around us. After standing in line for a little bit, we ordered. Jovie got a chicken sandwich and I got a veggie bowl. I turned to make fun of him for always getting fried chicken wherever we went, but something stopped me in my tracks.
“Jovie, why do you always-”
My mouth froze, parted lips sucking in a gasp so quickly I almost choked. I only saw the man from the back, but I saw the tattoo clearly. The black and grey rose tattoo in the same place as his. He pushed against the door as he left with nothing but the ring of the doorbell lingering behind. I was all of a sudden under this spell. I had to follow him. My feet moved without a second thought, quickly following the man’s footsteps out the door. I was just a few steps behind him. He was wearing a yellow beanie and a white tee shirt. My eyes locked on the beanie, trying not to lose it in the small crowd walking the street. My ears didn’t even register Jovie running behind me, shouting at me. All of a sudden, I was on fire, chasing this little yellow beanie of hope. The thought that it couldn’t be him didn’t even cross my mind. For that moment, I wanted to believe it. My legs burned as I increased my fast walk to a full on run, my heart beating out of my chest. My breathing grew ragged and tears spilled down my cheeks as I got closer. The space between us grew smaller as the man stopped at the crosswalk. I stood a few feet away, trying to catch my breath. It couldn’t be. Why would he be here in London? Why didn’t he tell me he was okay? There was no way... but, there was this stupid little thought drowning out the rational ones: what if it was him? That stupid little thought caused my feet to pull me closer and I found myself tapping on this man’s shoulder.
He turned around and my breath hitched in my throat, only to be released in a disappointed sigh. Brown eyes scanned me with confusion. It wasn’t him. The guy looked worried and concerned as to why a random woman with tear stained cheeks was looking up at him like he could have been a ghost. Because that’s what she thought he was. It was impossible.
“I’m... I’m sorry. I thought you were someone else,” I mumbled blankly, covering my face as I ducked back through the crowd waiting at the crosswalk.
I couldn’t control myself as the air, turning colder every day, rushed in and out of my lungs, stinging my throat as I gasped for more. My vision was blurry, but I saw Jovie pacing up and down the sidewalk holding his phone to his ear. I made eye contact with him and suddenly I wanted to disappear.
I was crashing. I didn’t want him to see me like this: driving one hundred miles per hour into a concrete wall that I built months ago. I didn’t have any control over the steering wheel, but no matter what, the space between me and the wall was getting smaller and smaller. I turned down a side street, having no idea where I was going. I just knew I couldn’t let anyone get hit by the shrapnel I was about to create. My eyes stung from the mascara that had gotten mixed in with my tears as I wiped my hand across my face.
“Maeve! Maeve, wait! What the hell? Would you just stop for a second? Jesus, you said you didn’t exercise much in school,” Jovie’s voice bounced off the brick and concrete buildings around us, echoing through the alleyway. A few people nearby looked at him like he was crazy.
I realized I wasn’t going to get away from him. He was almost more stubborn than me. So, I faced him in all my snotty, mascara stained glory and was surprised to feel him rush into me. His arms closed around my body, pulling me tightly to his chest. And all at once, that concrete wall turned to water.
“What happened? What’s wrong?” he pulled back, looking down at me.
And I let it all out. I told him everything right there on the sidewalk as he wiped salty tears off my cheeks. Saying Harvey’s name out loud again for the first time in months cut deep, but somehow it relieved the pressure I’d been holding in for all of that time. I took the lid off. I let it spill, finally feeling a release.