Ascent

Jenna doesn't make it a habit to go around saving people, especially when she has errands to run. But when Brendon, the quiet, nervous man in front of her is being stalked by a woman way too old to be wearing a shirt with that much skin showing, she makes an exception. Thus begins the start of their romance. With the help of Eric, Jenna's entirely too sarcastic best friend, the couple embarks on a journey to discover just how deep their relationship can go. Along the way the two must face fears, loss, and their new found feelings of love. The question is: Can they leave behind what's holding them back and start a life together? Or will Jenna's past tear them apart?

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5. How my date got hijacked

"If you were a horse you'd be going to the glue factory!"

I'm yelling at my car, extraordinarily angry with it for not working. I've been trying to get it to work for an hour, and it's getting late. I just wanted some coffee. This is ridiculous.

I knew I should have paid attention to the check engine light. It's just that it showed up as soon as I got home. And then the third season premiere of Med Team: Los Angeles began. I wasn't about to miss the first few minutes where they revealed if Benjamin survived the Flight For Life helicopter crash.

Listening to the sputtering of the engine now, I regret it. But only a little.

Besides, how was I supposed to know? It's an old car. Sometimes the lights just flicker on and go away when I tap the dashboard. I didn't think it would actually stop working.

I groan again, slamming my head back against my headrest. Why have you hurt me this way, cruel world?

I'm distracted from my self-loathing and misery by my phone ringing. A tiny picture of a soccer ball pops up, Brendon's name appearing over it. I really need to get an actual photo of him instead of the icon I found.

Why is he calling me? I'm not in the mood to be peppy and fun right now. 

Still, I'm sure he'll be worried I died or something equally silly if I don't answer. I sigh, picking up.

"Hello?" I ask.

"Hey! How are you?"

"At the moment? Not great."

"I'm sorry. Why?"

I like how concerned he seems. Not to say that isn't a natural reaction, but it makes me warm inside anyway.

"My car's broken. Do you know anything about engines?"

"Besides that they're in the front? Not really. I don't have a clue when it comes to cars. I wish I could help. My dad might be able to give you advice if you have to know."

"No, it's fine. I'm sure I can get it handled. I'll get someone else to put something in it until it works again. So, what do you need?"

"I can call later if you're busy. I don't mind if you ar-"

"Brendon, tell me. It's not a big deal."

"I had a question."

"Alright. What? And why didn't you just text me?"

"I don't like texting very much. I tend to find my words can be misunderstood if I text as opposed to call. Before you tell me, I know that's weird. My friends make fun of me for it all the time."

It's a little unusual, but it's also endearing. I tuck my legs up under me, leaning an elbow against my window.

"Oh, okay," I reply, holding in a laugh at his embarrassment. "What's your question?"

There's a moment of quiet as he gathers his words.

"I was wondering if you want to play soccer with me. I'm off tomorrow, so I thought it might be fun to do. I know it's only been a few days, but I thought I'd ask anyway. If that seems boring or you can't that day, we can do something else. It's only an idea."

My day just got a whole lot better. I remember how passionate Brendon got when he talked about soccer. Playing with him would be a lot of fun.

"No, that sounds great!" I chirp, trying not to seem too excited. "What time tomorrow?"

"Really? I mean, yeah, of course. How about eight?"

I attempt to hold in my groan at the early time, but it comes out anyway.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Eight is just . . . fine."

"You can tell me if that's too early, Jenna. I understand that everyone's not a morning person."

"Oh, thank god. Yes, that's too early. I'm sorry."

I can hear his laughter on the other line, the deep tone of it radiating through the receiver.

"It's alright. What time would work better for you? We can do it in the afternoon, but keep in mind it gets hot later in the day. Especially since it's supposed to be warm tomorrow. The weather's being kind of crazy lately."

When could I handle waking up? I can still do morning, just not so early.

"How about eleven?" I ask, attempting to find a compromise.

"That's great," he answers, excited. "We can play for an hour or two. Then if we're not too tired we can get some lunch. So it's a date?"

"Yep,” I chirp. “Where are we doing this? Since you came to me last time, I can meet you at your house."

"No!" he exclaims in haste. "I mean, uh, that's unnecessary. Your car is broken. How would you get there?"

"It's fine. I'll just call a cab. Don't wor-"

"You shouldn't!" he interrupts, still flustered. "There's a soccer field by your house. There's no need for you to come all the way to my apartment."

"Brendon, are you okay? Is something wrong?"

Why is he so adamant about me not coming to his house? Maybe he's a really messy person and he doesn't want me in his apartment with it looking dirty. I can see that.

I've certainly hidden things from people coming over. My bed is a secret vortex for all my mess if I don't have time to clean. If only it would stop eating my socks. It's learning from the dryer.

"I'm fine," Brendon answers. "I just, um, I'm worried about you. I heard this thing about a taxi driver kidnapping his passengers lately. I'll come and take you, it's safer. Besides, I like that field better than the one by me."

I hadn’t heard about that, but I don’t read the paper much. He’s probably always up to date on the news because of his job.

"If you say so," I answer, shrugging.

I don't miss the way he sighs in relief. He must have one of those huge piles of things in his bedroom like they show on those hoarding shows. I'm starting to think I watch too much TV. Nah, that’s not possible.

"So whatcha doin'?" I ask, trying to ignore my car issues.

"I'm just sitting at my desk in the office, making paper footballs and flicking them at my coworkers. And talking to you, obviously."

"Shouldn't you be working? Because usually people go to the office to get things done."

"You don't consider hitting Jared in the head working?"

I laugh, an image popping into my head of him flinging paper at some poor guy.

When he speaks next, he sounds satisfied I thought that was funny.

"Besides, my article is done besides editing, and it's almost my lunch break."

"Almost?"

"I won't tell my boss if you won't."

"Don't come crying to me when you get fired."

He chuckles, and I hear a chair scuff against wood in the background.

"Jared?" he asks away from the phone. "What are you doing with that water bottle? Hey, careful. You're going to spill. Oh, no. Don't you dare! I said-"

He screeches, and I can hear a splashing noise. Then he's back on the line.

"Sorry, Jenna, I have to go. Jared just dumped his water on me, so now I need to put him in a headlock. But tomorrow, right? I'll see you at eleven."

"Sure," I reply, giggling. "Go get him."

"Will do."

He hangs up. This is when I realize an obnoxious grin is on my face. 

I try to shake it off, but it stays planted there. Oh well. It can't be helped. The man is funny.

I give up on my car, shooting it a glare as I return inside. I spend the rest of the night creating the perfect soccer outfit. I even look up pictures. I know it's silly, but I want to look cute and practical at the same time.

Once I've achieved soccer look perfection, I head to bed. The giddy butterflies I get remind me of being in high school. I haven't been this excited for a date since then.

Even when my eyes close, it seems like I only blink and it's morning.

I scurry about my apartment, getting ready. I pull my hair into a high ponytail, smoothing it down before I place one of those fabric headbands on my head. I step back to survey myself. Do I look okay?

I want to put on makeup, but I know that would be a bad idea. Not only is it silly to wear when being active, but I don't want to have it bleed everywhere when I sweat. I enjoy not looking like a swamp monster.

The buzzer startles me, and I almost trip when I scramble to the door to let Brendon up.

I take a moment to compose myself while he heads up the stairs.

He knocks, and I let him in.

"Hi, pretty boy. Come on in."

"Hello, Jenna. Thanks."

He looks around, taking in the view of my apartment now that he can actually see it.

"Your home in very nice," he compliments, and I smile.

I worked hard to make it as homey and Jenna-like as possible. The amount of hours I spent in home decoration stores was ridiculous. I think I could have made my own design show by the time I was finished.

"Thanks. I can show it to you, if we have time."

Is that awkward? Do people show each other their houses anymore?

"That would be lovely."

Good. At least if it's weird, Brendon's interested in it. If he can be odd, so can I.

I show him around, beaming at how impressed he seems with my decorations.

I have to be inconspicuous and shove a dirty sweater under my bed with my foot when we enter my bedroom, but the rest of the tour goes by without a hitch.

I'm thanking every deity I know of that I had the presence of mind to clean yesterday. I mean, it was my usual cleaning day, but this makes it even more worthwhile.

"I can tell you watch design shows," he says when we're done, appreciative of what he's seen. "All of the things you've put in are beautiful. And there's a lot of the purple you like."

"Thank you," I say again, pleased. 

He looks around again, curious.

"Where's your cat?"

Oops. I totally forgot about that. Quick, think of something to say.

"Um, it died?"

Real smooth, Jenna. Great job. That was a lie he would give, not you.

He processes my tone that lacks grief, thinking about why I'm lying.

"It was Eric that time, wasn't it?" he asks, grinning.

"Shut up. I didn't want you to get upset again."

He laughs, wrapping a hand around mine.

"That's sweet," he says. "I'm happy you were so worried for my well-being."

"Yeah, whatever. Now come on. We don't want it to get too late."

I grab my water bottle and slip on the tennis shoes that I left by the door, glad I put them in a place they couldn't get lost.

That would have been embarrassing. I can only imagine how that conversation would go. 

Hey, Brendon. I'm not organized enough to even find my shoes for our date after you came all the way here. Sorry about that.

I'm sick just thinking about it.

I straighten up, coming face to face with a curious Brendon.

"What?" I ask.

"Did you just put on your shoes without tying them?"

"Yeah," I answer, shrugging. "What about it?"

I bet he's one of those people who ties their shoes each time. It's just so inconvenient. I don't understand it.

He opens his mouth to respond, but seems to think better of it.

"Nothing," he says instead. "Let's go."

"Okay."

He goes to leave as I grab my phone, and this is when a thought pops into my head. I still need a picture, not the little soccer icon.

"Wait!" I call.

He turns back, looking at me curiously.

"I need your picture," I proclaim, smiling.

He looks surprised at my comment, and most definitely confused.

"For your contact when you call," I add quickly, so he isn't weirded out.

"I don't like pictures with just me," he complains, avoiding my phone. "I feel so awkward trying to pose."

"Come on," I beg. "Please? Would it help if I was in it too?"

"Maybe. Why do you want me to do this?"

"If you're going to call me a lot, I don't want you to just be a soccer ball."

"That's what I am?" he asks, sounding amused. "Alright. If you're in it as well, that's fine."

I sidle up next to him, opening my camera and facing it towards us.

"Say solidified dairy product!" I cheer, trying to make him smile.

He does, and I sneak in my own grin as I take the picture.

"Tada!" I chirp. "Look! Now it's us as your contact."

"Send that to me too," he requests, smiling again. "Then you'll have a picture in my phone contacts too."

Once he gets it, he pulls me by my sleeve towards the door.

"Okay," he says. "Now that that's handled, let's go play."

I step out with him and make sure the door is locked when it closes, checking three times. It's a weird habit I picked up somewhere along the way, but I've been teased for it so many times I've become pretty good at hiding that I'm doing it.

As we turn the corner of the hallway, I see Eric in the stairwell. I wasn't expecting him, but half the time I'm not. He likes to show up without warning. I gave up on discouraging the habit a long time ago. My complaining goes in one ear and out the other.

"Hey," he greets. "I was just about to talk to you. Do you want to go see that new-"

He cuts off abruptly when he sees my date.

"Movie?" I ask, continuing his question. "No, I can't. Brendon and I are going to play soccer."

"Who?" my friend asks, eyeing the man before something clicks. "Oh, the grocery guy. He's smaller than I thought he would be."

"You must be Eric," Brendon says, seeming irritated with the way the blonde won't use his name and with his slight insult. "It's nice to match the voice on the phone to the person. Especially since you seemed so . . . unique."

His comment seems more like an insult than a compliment.

"Yes, you too," he replies, eyes narrowing as he evaluates the man. "So you're taking Jenna on a date? To play soccer? She's really more into hockey. Not that you'd know that."

"I did actually know that," my date answers, voice dropping. "But I think she'll like it. It never hurts to try different things. You know, out with the old, in with the new."

"I don't think so, but I guess there's a slim chance. I would like to try it as well."

Oh my god. They're practically hissing at each other. I'm waiting for them to start circling.

"Anyway, it's good you two finally met," I interject, trying to break their intense staring contest. "Sorry, Eric, but you can't try it. I'll watch the movie with you tomorrow. We've got to go, right Brendon?"

"No, that's actually a great idea. He can come," he says, something off about him. "That's fine."

"Yeah, cool it," Eric agrees. "We're just gonna play a game of soccer. It'll be fun."

"But you're not even wearing the right kind of clothes to play sports," I complain, confused.

Why is my date being hijacked? And why is it being turned into a face-off?

"I have some extra workout clothes in my car. I'll change when we get there."

I feel like I'm a territory that two male apes are fighting over. I can't say it doesn't disturb me that I compared myself to a piece of land.

"You know guys, let me just say you both have way too much testosterone right now. You need to dial it back a little."

They both look at me, realizing what they've been saying.

"Sorry," Brendon mutters.

"I'm not doing anything," Eric proclaims at the same time.

"Okay, whatever. Let's go before you two punch each other. I'm riding with Brendon. There better be no arguments about that."

"Fine," Eric snaps, turning to the dark-haired man. "Where are we going?"

"The field by the high school on Belford Ave. Do you know where that is? If not, it's close. You can follow me."

His tone almost seems condescending.

"Yes, I know where it is," Eric replies, irritated. "I have lived here all my life."

"Just making sure."

They continue to size each other up.

I apparently need to separate them, so I push the blonde until he walks down the stairs and out the door. I gesture for Brendon to follow. I feel like a mom mediating between siblings.

I sure hope this day isn't as long as I feel it's going to be.

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