“I never thought I’d miss it so much,” Jessica told Jeremy, as he parked the car by In-N-out Burger.
Her parents had the Lins over for dinner on her first night home, but other than that, Jeremy and Jess had been out to eat almost every evening since. They’ve hit Panda Express and The Boiling Crab. Tonight it’s the In-N-Out. He was already talking about Fuki Suki House and Homma.
Jess absolutely loved Hong Kong cuisine. Her grandmother and she spent a lot of hours preparing dishes together while she lived with them. But she did miss the variety the Bay Area had to offer. In-N-Out was her favorite burger joint – like Jeremy.
“Wasn’t it constricting having to live with your grandparents while you were studying?” Jeremy asked while they stood in line to order.
“I loved it,” Jessica answered truthfully. “You know Yea Yea and Ma Ma, right?” Jessica’s grandparents had visited her family before, so Jeremy nodded. “I rarely got to see them, while growing up.”
“But what about your social life?” he asked.
Her laughter was bubbly and Jeremy noticed that some guys in In-N-Out looked her way.
“Too busy with school. I’ve always been a home body – like you. Unless your Warrior buddies taught you how to party…” she trailed off.
Jeremy shook his head in denial. “Basketball is my life – really pathetic.”
“Weren’t you dating someone in Harvard?” Jess remembered.
“Didn’t pan out,” Jeremy shared. “We parted as friends. You?”
“Not many were tall enough for me,” she grinned. “Sorry, that sounded mean. I guess, I’m too tall for the local Honkie.”
“I think your height is perfect,” Jeremy told her.
She smiled, “Yeah, ‘cause you’re a beanpole.”
“Miss,” someone interrupted their conversation.
Jess turned her attention to the guy behind the cash register.
“I’d like a cheeseburger, fries and a strawberry shake,” she ordered. Before she could ask what Jeremy wanted, the In-N-Out Burger employee was already telling her about a discount if she became part of a mailing list.
Please, Jeremy thought, a mailing list? If he wanted her number, he should just ask.
Jeremy laid his arm around Jessica’s shoulders and interrupted him with “And I’d like a 3×3, animal fries and a Sprite.” The employee looked up at him and mumbled, “Oh, sorry.”
Jess smiled at him and said, “I’m not interested in joining a mailing list, so no thank you.”
The employee actually blushed, answering “I’ll get your order– and your boyfriend’s – ready in a few minutes.”
Jessica started to say “But he’s not…” and looked at Jeremy. Jeremy had a silly grin on his silly face, she realized. He is enjoying this.
She raised her brows at him – Jeremy could see the flare of temper in her eyes. Whoops, he thought, here it comes, waiting for the reprimand. But Jessica merely snaked her arm around Jeremy’s waist, turned and stood on tiptoe in front of him to say something at his ear.
“I’m not a little girl anymore,” she whispered, her breath tickling Jeremy, sending tingles down his back.
Jeremy was suddenly conscious of how her body was closely pressed against his, the smell of lavender filling him. He was speechless. He never would have thought that Jess – his friend Jess– could affect him like that.
When she drew away, Jeremy slowly lowered his arm from her.
“Sorry,” he said in a low voice – for what, he did not know.
She merely smiled and Jeremy could breathe again.
Jeremy was trying hard not to look at her legs stretched out on the bleacher, but it was really difficult not to.
They had bought a tub of Chunky Monkey from the grocers after dinner and decided to drive around a bit. It brought them to Palo Alto High School.
You should not be attracted to her, he kept telling himself during their meal at In-N-Out, but he couldn’t help it. Jessica wasn’t ugly – she’s actually gorgeous, Jeremy admitted. She was smart without flaunting it. She was funny and had clever wit. If he thought about it, she possessed a lot of the qualities he would normally find in any attractive girl.
But she wasn’t just any girl – she was Jess, Jeremy groaned in his thoughts.
They sat on the bleachers overlooking the football field, watching a local team practice. They didn’t say much – they quietly took the single spoon in turn, ate ice cream and enjoyed the fading light. The air was balmy and still.
“I missed this,” Jessica opened up. “There’s always a buzz in the air in the Mid-levels – not noise, but energy.”
“Was it hard – leaving this behind?” Jeremy asked. In his head he was asking, was it hard leaving me behind?
“I missed my friends most,” Jess answered, smiling as she looked at Jeremy. “I missed my best friend.”
Jeremy felt happy at her statement. That’s good enough, he thought.
Jessica stared at him, noticing something.
“What happened to your stud earring, tough guy?” she teased.
“Well, you said it wasn’t me,” Jeremy explained. “Mom said she’s glad you could talk some sense into me.”
Jessica laughed at that – she loved Jeremy’s mom like her own.
“Now I can see you,” she said. Somehow those words tugged at Jeremy.
“Do you have any regrets, Jer?” she turned to him, looking intently at his face.
“With what?” he asked.
“You know, choosing basketball. You’re a Harvard graduate in economics – who plays basketball,” she said, disbelief in her voice.
“What’s so unusual about that?” Jeremy remarked with a laugh. He had been asked the same question so many times in his rookie year that it did not bother him that much anymore. Jess looked at him, waiting for an answer.
Jeremy sat up and turned towards her. “I am doing what I love. It just happens that I took an education first. It could easily have been Stanford I graduated from.”
At Jessica’s snort of laughter, he grinned. “Okay, I should not compare Stanford to Harvard, but if I went to Stanford or any local college, I would still be playing basketball.”
“It hadn’t been easy, right?”
“How would you know? You were in Hong Kong.” Jeremy looked at her in surprise.
“There is this thing called the internet,” she said and tried to avoid Jeremy’s gaze.
“You Googled me?” Jeremy laughed.
“Well, you weren’t saying much in your mails,” she said defensively, blushing.
“But you did Google me!” Jeremy said smugly.
“Oh shut up.”
Jeremy became quiet. He looked towards the buildings on the horizon.
“I sometimes think that I would have had an easier route to the NBA if I had gotten into Stanford. But it was not meant to be, I guess.”
He sounded so sad. Jessica moved closer to him, reaching out to place her palm on his cheek, as she said, “You’re there now – that’s something.”
Jeremy let her soothe him with her touch. Then he told her something he was worrying about.
“I don’t know for how long, Jess,” he said in a whisper. “I think the Warriors are not keeping me for another season.”
“What? But why?” Jessica asked, sadness for Jeremy filling her heart.
“They used me to pull in Asian-American fans. Besides, they have all the point guards they need,” he stated matter-of-factly.
They sat in darkness now, like the mood Jeremy was in. She enveloped him in a hug, hoping that it comforted him – and he let her. When she drew her face back to look at Jeremy, she could feel his breath against her face.
Don’t do it, Jeremy, his mind was screaming, but the temptation was too great. He leaned to press his lips softly against hers – the contact brief. Maybe she was in shock, ‘cause she didn’t say or do anything.
“Let’s go home,” Jeremy said. “Your parents will be worried.” He took her hand and led her down the bleachers.
“Okay,” she said. Jess did not really know what else to say. “They won’t be worried – they know I’m with you,” she added quietly.
Maybe they should be worried, Jeremy thought, while he grappled with the knowledge that he wanted to kiss Jess more than he allowed himself to tonight.