East Side Academy

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Chapter 15 - Saturday in the Park

“Saturday in the park / I think it was the Fourth of July” – Saturday in the Park, Chicago

Arya

“I hope you had a good time there,” James says as he pulls out of the church parking lot onto the road.

“It was perfect, James.” I say, “Everyone was so lovely and kind, and I do mean it that I want to come back again next time.”

James smiles, “Good, I want to bring you back again. I will admit I got a bit worried that I messed up when Gloria started hitting me with that tea towel.”

I laugh, “She’s a firecracker, but you didn’t even come close to messing up at all. I enjoyed all of it and I’m happy that you wanted to bring me there and have me be a part of it.”

“You’re the first person I’ve ever brought there.” James says, “I wanted to keep that part of my life to myself but with you, it’s different. With you, I want to share everything.” I just stare at James as he is driving. How can a boy be so perfect? He’s so kind, genuine, smart, athletic, and handsome? How can one person have so much? “Why are you staring at me like that, Arya?”

“Just curious how a guy like you could want to be with a girl like me,” I say.

“Clearly you don’t realize how amazing you are.” James says, “Because if you could see yourself the way I see you, you would know that you’re exceptional.”

“You barely know me,” I say, “How can you already know that?”

“I’ll admit to stalking your Facebook profile,” James says, “From there I could find out you’re smart and athletic from all your awards, and then that you are kind and caring for all the volunteering you do. I may have also talked to your friend George about you.” James confesses. George never mentioned anything like that to me, and, as if he is reading my mind, James says “I told him not to say anything to you.”

“You must really like me then.” I smile at James and he smiles at the road.

“Well, I know the feeling is mutual,” James says.

“You seem sure about that?” I say.

“I saw the way you were looking at me in the library that day,” James says, and I give him a sideways glance, “I knew you couldn’t possibly be picking out a book from the Latin section.”

“How do you know that?” I say, “Maybe I was interested in learning the language?”

“I’m sure,” James says, “I admit, I didn’t mind looking up from my homework to see you pretending to look at books in an effort to get my attention.”

“I did not…” I start to say, but then James takes his left hand off the steering wheel and effortlessly brushes it through his hair. He makes this effortless movement look so sexy and I also get a clear view of his bicep once again.

“You were saying?” James says as he puts his hand back on the wheel, smiling at the fact that he was able to stop me mid-sentence.

“Oh, shut up, Bartholomew,” I say as I slap his stomach with the back of my hand.

“Hey!” James says in reaction, “Only my mother and Gloria are allowed to use my middle name.”

“Well, I’ve just added myself to the list,” I say smiling.

“Well, you’re restricted to only call me that within the confines of this car,” James says.

“Whatever you say, Bartholomew,” I say, looking out the side window, knowing that it irritates him. “So, where are you taking me now?” I say, changing the subject, “Because I’m so hungry I’d consider eating a sheep’s head.”

“A sheep’s head?” James asks, giving me a questionable look before turning his eyes back to the road.

“It’s a delicacy in Norway.” I say, “My aunt was visiting there and she and her friend accidentally ordered two sheep heads at a restaurant there.”

“Did they eat it?” James asks.

“Oh no,” I say, “They were both pretty horrified when the sheep heads were placed before them. The restaurant was nice about it though and prepared something else for them that was a bit more American-style cuisine.”

“Well, unfortunately, I don’t know how to prepare a sheep’s head so that won’t be on the menu for tonight,” James says.

“Oh, darn it!” I say in jest, “I guess you aren’t as amazing as I thought.”

James just laughs at me. We continue driving along a straight road and there are few cars around. The sun looks like it’s about to set, and before James turns in, I know exactly where he has taken me. “Here we are!” James says as he pulls up in an empty gravel parking lot on the edge of a giant lake, and parks next to a giant willow tree with a picnic bench beneath it.

“Please tell me you have a cute little woven picnic basket in the back full of treats,” I say.

“Not quite,” James says as he gets out of the car. I follow him out of the car, putting on my jacket with the outdoor chill, and he opens the trunk to reveal a giant red and white cooler. “Couldn’t borrow Red Riding Hood’s basket, so this will have to do.” And then he pulls out the cooler along with a towel and shuts his trunk and we proceed to the picnic table.

We stand on either side of the picnic table, James puts the cooler down next to the picnic bench and I help him place the towel to cover the entire table portion of the picnic table, and then we both sit down. “So, for tonight we have,” James says as he reaches over and opens the lid of the cooler, and pulling out two glass containers, “Potato salad and three bean salad, courtesy of Costco.” Holding them up and placing them on the table. “A bag of honey dijon chips, courtesy of Metro.” James places a bag of chips on the table, “Ginger ale.” And he pulls out two cans of ginger ale, “And best of all,” James grabs a giant glass container that was resting at the bottom of the cooler, “Samosas, courtesy of my mother.”

“They look delicious,” I say, looking through the glass container. “Everything looks great James. You’ve gone above and beyond.”

“It’s no sheep’s head, but I’m glad you appreciate it,” James says.

James begins opening up all the containers and then grabs reusable utensils and two plates from the cooler, handing a plate and fork to me and putting a spoon in both the bean and potato dishes. I immediately open up the bag of chips and take a couple for myself, “So good!” I say.

“I also have water if you prefer that to ginger ale,” James says, about to grab it from the cooler but then I crack open one of the cans of ginger ale. “I guess that’s my answer then.”

James and I have a great meal on the picnic table in the park. Not a single person disturbs us the entire time and we get to watch the sunset. We eat everything, cleaning off all the containers and plates, leaving only a quarter bag of the chips left. We clear everything off the table, including the towel, and put it all back into the cooler, with the towel folded on top. We both go and sit on the table portion of the picnic bench, with our feet on the seat portion, facing towards the lake.

“It’s beautiful out here,” I say.

“It really is,” James says, “There something about being next to the water,”

“It just calms you,” I say, and we just sit in comfortable silence for a while. “James?” I finally say.

“Yes?” he asks, both of us looking out onto the water.

“I’ve heard things about you,” I say, “They say you haven’t been on a date since Grade 9, that you keep to yourself, is that true?”

“I’ll admit, I dated a lot of girls at the beginning of Grade 9,” James says, “You know, new people and everything.”

“But then?” I ask, turning to look at him, but he continues to look out on the water. I can see him debating with himself internally, he wants to share himself with me, but clearly, this is not something he talks about often or at all.

“My dad died over the Christmas break during my Grade 9 year,” James says. “He was killed in a car accident.”

“I’m so sorry, James,” I say, wanting to reach out to comfort him, but I wait.

“It was late at night,” James starts, “My dad and the other driver both thought they were the only ones on the road. My dad went through a yellow light and the other driver went through a red. The other guy survived but not my dad.” James looks down at his fingers, fidgeting with them. I put a hand on his shoulder so that he knows that I’m still there. “They phoned us when it happened. Must have been three o’clock in the morning, it was the worst thing in my life. My Uncle Terry drove my mom out to identify the body and I stayed with my sisters. My uncle had to identify the body because my mom just couldn’t bear it.” I can tell James wants to tell me more, but it’s like his body just won’t let him, and he’s already shared so much with me.

“You don’t have to say anymore, James,” I say, rubbing his shoulder continuously. I remember two years ago my dad telling me about a family with three kids that lost their father. I remember feeling bad for the family, people that were strangers, but then I didn’t think about them again. It’s James. It’s his family that was the center of a tragedy.

“So I wasn’t interested in much after that.” James says, “My uncle offered me a job working at the construction company. Initially to earn some extra cash, but now I’m saving up for school. Everything changed. Hanging out with the guys or flirting with girls just seemed to not matter anymore. School, soccer, work, and my family became my entire focus. My mom was always sad, and I had to be there for my sisters, it took everything out of me, and I was so mad at that guy who drove through the red light. In an instant, he took everything from us, he changed our lives forever. I just had to accept that we would have to live without my dad.”

“James…” I say and then he finally turns towards me to look me in the eye.

“I don’t know why it changed with you, Arya,” James says, “I just know that you made me feel something that I have never felt before, and I couldn’t stay away even if I wanted to.” And then we just stare at each other. I want to know James completely. I want to know everything about him and be everything for him. And just then I feel a bite on my ankle.

“Ah!” I say and then slap my foot.

James slaps his neck and looks down on his hand, “I guess the mossies are out now.” And he laughs.

“Gotta love Canada,” I say.

“Let’s head back to the car before we get eaten alive,” James says, stepping off the picnic bench, grabbing the cooler and towel to put in the trunk of his car. We sit in James’ car, protected from the annoying mosquitoes that are the Canadian signal for it being time to come inside. James looks at his phone, clearly reading something of interest.

“What is it?” I ask.

“Just my friends,” James says, “They are having a bonfire by the lake and wanted us to come out.”

“Which lake?” I ask.

“Pike Lake.” James says, “We don’t have to go.”

“It’s not that far from here,” I say.

“Are you sure you want to go?” James asks me.

I’m not sure I want to go. You see, my gut is telling me not to go, that something will happen around these people I don’t know in a place I don’t know. But then my brain tells me that I should go because I think ‘will James want to be with me if I’m not willing to hang out with his friends?‘. In any situation, you should always listen to your gut because it knows things that your brain doesn’t. Your gut understands things that your brain can’t even comprehend. Your gut’s decision or feeling may not even make sense at the time, and it can’t give a logical explanation of why it feels that way, but it’s always right. “I think it would be fun.” So why did I ignore it? Why did I choose to attempt being accepted by James’ friends over my gut that has never let me down?

“Okay!” James says, starting up the car, “But I should warn you that Malcolm will be there.”

“He probably thinks I’m some crazy monster or something,” I say.

“I think he used the term psychopath,” James says, “But he’s a good guy, he’s willing to apologize and start over again.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” I say.

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