16th Street Mall is always such an interesting sight, even with the briskness of Colorado’s freezing temperatures. Natives – despite rabid snowstorms that last well into spring – will still venture out into any weather conditions for a simple fruit smoothie. Not a warm chocolate mocha, not some hot apple cider, but a blended beverage chock-full of vitamins and yummy flavors that is equally as chilling as the forty-three degrees it currently is. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get one of those guys that rocks flip-flops and a tee shirt in the dead of winter, or a girl wearing shorts with a pair of moon boots. Denverites are weird like that.
I’m not much of an exception, at least when it comes to my hunger or drink cravings. With gloved hands folded into my coat’s pockets and my scarf cocooned around my neck and jaw, the weather is the least of my thoughts. My typical nine-to-five spent at a desk could get stressful when I had more than enough on my plate, so getting out for a nice walk was something I indulged in frequently after clocking out. I moved into a downtown loft with a roommate to eliminate my long commute. Literally walking one block and up some stairs I could definitely deal with as opposed to a shitty drive through rush hour traffic to pay for an overpriced parking space that was still blocks away from where my company was located. That alone meant less money spent on gas and parking, which meant more luxuries for my appetite.
Stepping through the glass door of Jamba Juice, I didn’t get more than a couple of feet inside. The chatter was a roar of teenaged girls, a herd of volleyball players who looked out of state with their unfamiliar matching track suits and embroidered hoodies. Luckily I was in no rush to be anywhere, so I waited in the lengthy line, feeling sorry for the two cashiers that were scrambling to take orders as well as process them, all with no additional help.
Personally I didn’t mind lines. When time slows down like this, it gives you time to reflect, to pause and think about your life. It had been particularly difficult for me to get up today, but not because it was Valentine’s Day. I’m a hardcore romantic in spite of my being single for almost four years, so it’s not that I hate this lovey-dovey holiday. February fourteenth is not a happy date for my family, even with my mom continuing the tradition of giving my sister, dad and I boxes of chocolates. The past few years I’ve always made sure I visited my family, so we could have dinner together and be strong for one another. Most of all, I did this for my dad. I can’t begin to imagine how losing your first child from suicide feels.
I gnaw on the inside of my lip, blinking rapidly to struggle against the tears that always appear when I think about my (technically half) brother Charlie. My heart quivers each time I relive the viewing of his body in my head: skin milky white, face lifeless, completely vacant. Abnormal. Not right. But seeing my dad, the toughest person I know, just break down so bad… It is beyond me how he’s still alive, until I remember that, even through the endless pain, in a way my brother’s death brought our family closer together. Sometimes, I start weeping if I look long enough at my hazel-blue eyes in the mirror. When they’re more of an ocean hue than the earthy tones of a forest, I look just like him, my blonde hair replacing his black, but still the resemblances are torturous.
When the cashier called me up I jumped as I snapped back into the present. After I ordered and paid for my own, I sidestepped to let the next customer through. I heaved a shaky breath, collecting myself as I had somehow managed to train myself to do in order to avoid a meltdown. Surprisingly, it wasn’t an extremely long wait, but instead it was just a little obnoxious among all the idle conversation that comes with bringing home a gold trophy. I unwrapped my scarf halfway to balance the growing heat of other smoothie-craving bodies. Soon I took off my gloves, just in time to pick up my smoothie. I was still so out of it that I wasn’t expecting somebody else to have ordered the same size, and the same flavor, simultaneously after my own, and it made me flinch when I felt their icy hand brush over mine.
“Hey, that’s–” he paused, a very unintentional, staggered pause that left me time to interject with politeness.
“No worries, go ahead, I have time to wait.” I smiled to reassure him, knowing I truly was good on time. Dinner would be in a few hours, which was somehow a blessing as I just now took in this stranger’s attractiveness. He had a sculpted facial structure, with nice cheekbones, a long nose, and a high forehead. Those features made me think he wasn’t just another American mutt who had generations of mixed ethnicities in his gene pool. The dark brown beard was short but full, well-trimmed yet grizzly, but handsome all the same. His light hoodie and jean jacket made me think he was an out-of-towner, like he was teleported from a seaside beach to my current city. Deep cognac eyes stared at me through some simple half-rim glasses, and my heart thudded against my ribs. I think my pheromones increased their production rate from his gaze alone.
“Oh no, please, go ahead, it’s yours!” he rushed, placing the Styrofoam cup back in my hand. Immediately I pushed it back, giving my head a shake.
“Really, I don’t mind. I live around the corner and I’m not in a rush,” I replied, still holding it out for him to take.
“Here’s the other one!” the employee behind the counter chimed in, stabbing a half-wrapped straw through the lid and pushing it towards us at the edge of the counter. The guy swiped it up and we both moved out of the way. He turned to me and smiled slightly, more with his eyes than his mouth.
“Talk about perfect timing,” he said as we pulled the wrappers off our straws. We enjoyed a community sip and a sigh, still somewhat awkwardly standing together in the crowded space. My blood pumped at a high speed along my neck, and I was glad my scarf hid what I think was a blush. I was surprised I could even identify the notion, it had been so long since such a dominant expression was coiling out of my core.
“Yeah, it was huh?” I replied. I mentally face-palmed myself, wondering if I could say anything more pointless and empty. I was soon saved by his more productive words, his hand reaching out at me expectantly.
“My name’s Jovan. I was meeting some friends down here, but they’re not answering my calls now… You said you don’t have anything planned right now?” The hopeful tone he used was enough to bring any woman’s interest up a notch. I was worse than a fish caught on a hook.
“I’m Jenny, it’s nice to meet you Jovan,” I said while shaking his hand, which was ridiculously soft even compared to my girly paws. Cold, but very smooth nonetheless. “You wanna sit out front? You look like someone I’d like to know better.”
An invisible spark left his eyes and zapped mine just as strongly, and we both grinned with a shy manner that my gut was saying was only going to increase as our conversation moved on.
“That would be great, I honestly was going to say the exact same thing!” he admitted, holding the door open for me.
We strode outside, lowering ourselves into the wrought-iron lawn chairs. The frigidness they contained was bothersome, but the rest of my being and soul was beginning to warm up on an entirely different level, merely by daydreaming with wonder who this taller man was, and the potential for what position he might hold in my life. God’s irony was taking me for a spin today, and I was beginning to think that maybe it was possible for me to make some pleasant memories on February fourteenth.
This upcoming Monday I’ll be turning 24, and looking back on the 23rd year of my life, I am more blessed and optimistic than I’ve ever been. I won an award for positively impacting the organization and displaying leadership at my job of three years. I’ve invested and planned a volunteer trip to Lima, Peru for March of next year, where I’ll be helping the elderly and/or children to better their lifestyle. After helping some children in the Bahamas on my last vacation put out a fire near their home, my philanthropic tendencies have been pounding to get out and change our world with my own two hands.
Most importantly, through trial and error, I accepted a relationship that wasn’t meant to be, and in turn stumbled upon a man who perfectly complements myself. At Jamba Juice of all places! I had never thought such a close friendship could evolve so extensively and beautifully, and then so wonderfully yet hastily into a relationship. The love that I wake up to every day is still surreal, but the warmth that it brings me is everlasting. My inspiration and support for writing falls on the shoulders of this fantastic human, and I make sure he realizes that every day. Living together has become our reality, and over the hills and bumps, we still fit and don’t drive each other too crazy. He pushes me towards my aspirations and goals, while I do the same for him and his passions. The foundation we walk on and continue to build is astounding; the amount of faith we hold for one another is sturdy and encouraging. We were parents for a short while to two parakeets, yet unforeseen health issues took them from us. We were only able to pick each other up as a whole, and that is now how we treat ourselves: as “us”, as “we”, as “ours”. My independence and altruism drives him nuts at times, but I fight the good fight to prove that although I’m pretty old-fashioned, certain mindsets are no longer practical in today’s age. Because of him, I’ve begun writing again. The most heart-warming thing to have is someone who believes in you, especially when you do not believe in yourself.
Thank you e te au lei lei. ♥