“Hey, Jer, I received an e-mail yesterday,” Josh said as he helped his friend stretch before their usual early morning work-out.
Jeremy let out a grunt of exertion as he slowly stretched and lifted his arms over his head.
“Uhuh,” he breathed out.
“From Grace,” Josh quietly said, his eyes meeting his friend’s.
Jeremy paused for a few seconds, but continued nonetheless.
“Come on, dude, spill,” he uttered. Jeremy knew Josh would not mention Grace if it wasn’t necessary.
Grace was Jeremy’s ex-girlfriend from Harvard. Josh and she had common friends, but the only connection they had was being contacts in the business network called LinkedIn. Her request had been one of the things that surprised Josh. The other surprise came while he was going through one of their common friends’ photos. Josh saw a picture from their Harvard days which Grace had posted – pictures where Jeremy had his arms around her.
“I’m sorry. It’s out of line,” Josh started to apologize.
“Uh, it’s okay, I guess,” Jeremy answered. He was trying to concentrate on the task at hand. “There’d be no other way she could come in contact with me.”
They worked silently for a few more minutes, before Jeremy was done with warm-ups.
“You can give her my business line,” Jeremy said after taking a sip from the bottled water Josh threw his way. Josh understood. Jer’s private line was private – reserved solely for family, Jess and the closest of friends.
“I haven’t seen her since graduation,” Jeremy shared. “I wonder why she wants to contact me.”
“Come on, we have to get moving,” Jeremy sighed. They moved their way from the gym to the court, where they could hear talking and the sound of leather hitting the floor. Parsons and Morris were shooting freethrows. The others were either coming in or going through warm-up exercises courtside.
Josh found a seat and greeted the Rockets personnel near him. Jeremy was already on court, his focus on hitting from beyond the arc; Grace was far from his mind at the moment.
It had been a couple of weeks since Grace first contacted him about her upcoming visit to Houston. It was lucky that she was coming during a stretch where they had mostly home games.
Grace chose to invite him to Le Mistral – one of Houston’s best- if not Houston’s best restaurant.
Jeremy adjusted his cuffs and took one last look at his reflection. He looked alright – the go-to plaid shirt that was his favorite under the dark suit fit him well. No tie; no sweats and BruceLins either, Jeremy thought with a smirk. He had to get used to it – he can’t always dress like a frat boy – was what his big brother Joshua said.
“I’ll see you later, Josh,” Jeremy called out as he passed by Josh Fan who sat in the living room with a laptop.
“Yep,” Josh absent-mindedly answered,” Wait! Where are you off to?”
“Dinner with Grace,” Jeremy responded, with a shake of his head.
“That tonight?” Josh scratched his head. “Okay, later then.”
Jeremy had expected a more enthusiastic farewell than that – Grace wasn’t a complete stranger to Josh. He’s just preoccupied, Jeremy told himself.
As he drove to the restaurant, Jeremy’s thoughts went back to his days in Harvard. It’d been barely four years since he left it – since he last saw Grace. It felt like a lifetime had passed – he’d been through so much, both in his personal and professional life – and he’d grown up. Not totally, Jeremy, he told himself. He was still a big kid sometimes, friends and family would agree with that.
“Good evening, Sir,” the host greeted, instantly recognizing him.
“A reservation by Miss Park,” Jeremy responded.
He was led to a table where Grace sat and waited in anticipation.
Grace caught the sight of Jeremy’s tall figure as soon as he entered the restaurant. He looks great – gorgeous, Grace, he looks gorgeous. She strived to keep her pulse steady and her nerves intact. Grace had come a long way to see Jeremy; no sense losing her cool now.
She rose as he neared the table. Jeremy met her with a smile – the same heart-melting smile he’s always had. He leaned to give her a hug and just for a second Grace remembered how they used to be.
“Look at you,” Jeremy said when he released her.
“No, look at you,” Grace grinned. “It’s been a while.”
Dinner was… comfortable… the only way Jeremy could describe it.
Conversation with Grace had never been a problem. They had many common interests, a lot of common friends and acquaintances that it was easy to fall into the do-you-remember or whatever-happened-to type of talk.
She hadn’t changed much physically – still had the easy smile and laugh. Her confidence shone through, though. The young lady sitting across the table from him was smart and determined – without being a bully.
“What?” Grace asked, feeling his stare and heat slowly creeping through her cheeks.
“So, are you in the US to stay or just passing through?” Jeremy asked.
“Depends…” she answered cryptically. I hope there’s a reason to stay, she thought.
“When I’m done in here, I’ll be taking a month-long vacation which I’ve needed for a while.”
“You’ll be in San Francisco for Christmas?”
“Yes, finally,” Grace confirmed with a sigh.
At Jeremy’s silence, she continued. “My parents have been visiting me and having their vacations with me – wherever I may find myself at one point – so it’s not like I haven’t seen them. I just miss the old stomping grounds, you know?”
Jeremy nodded. He understands. There’s no place like home.
They both fell into thought.
At the mention of her parents, a slight memory came into Jeremy’s mind. Grace’s parents were kind and friendly, but he remembered that feeling of inadequacy – the feeling that they somehow had never been able to understand Jeremy’s passion for basketball. They never pressured the break-up, or rather the parting of ways Grace and Jeremy had. It was obvious even before their graduation that their lives were leading to separate paths. Grace was headhunted by an international IT consultancy firm even before she was done with Harvard and he was planning on trying to break his way through the NBA.
Grace sat and observed – was trying to figure him out. Something had changed with Jeremy – the way he stood and walked – a swagger of sorts. He was still the same charming, intelligent and funny guy she knew, but this Jeremy had a lot more confidence and maturity. Grace sighed. Go for it, Grace – now or never.
“Do you ever think about us?” she asked, her voice steady, unlike the beating of her heart.
“What?” Jeremy asked. He heard her – he just wanted to confirm what she was asking about.
Grace cleared her throat. “Do you ever think about us – how we were – together?”
At Jeremy’s blank stare, Grace decided to take a leap.
“I want you back.”
When her eyes lifted to meet his, her heart sank. She had expected something, anything but that look of pity.
“I see…” Grace interrupted.
“We let each other go, remember?” Jeremy answered. “We both knew that it wouldn’t work.”
He took both of her hands and engulfed them in his. “I can’t offer you anything more than friendship, Grace.”
Grace nodded. Jeremy was, of course, being the same kind person as he’d always been, but even his kind words couldn’t ease her disappointment. She was too proud to neither shed any tears nor be a total wreck about the let-down she was experiencing at the moment.
“I don’t know if I can accept your friendship just yet, Jeremy,” she honestly answered. She did take the comfort he was extending and did not let go of his hands.
Jeremy didn’t really know what else to say. He had not expected this. He thought it was dinner between old friends.
“We’d better go,” she said.
Jeremy felt like a jerk, but didn’t really know what else to do.
“Do you want me to drive you to your hotel?” Jeremy asked politely when they exited the restaurant.
“It isn’t far from here,” Grace answered. “I think it’s best that I get some air.”
“I’ll follow you there,” he insisted.
“Okay.” She wanted to prolong their time together – and to give it one more try.
When they reached the hotel, Jeremy turned to give her a hug, but Grace decided otherwise. She lifted her face to his and caught his lips in a kiss. After a few seconds, she gave up and pulled back.
“Grace…” Jeremy whispered. “I’m sorry.”
“You can’t fault a girl for trying,” Grace sighed.
“So, who is she?” Grace asked just as he was turning to leave. “I don’t mean to be rude, I’m just curious.”
“My best friend,” Jeremy answered and smiled at the thought of Jess.
She vaguely remembers best-friend Jess. Jeremy had mentioned her sometime. His smile told Grace everything else she needed to know.
“Goodbye, Jeremy,” she conceeded.
“That sounds like a death-bed goodbye,” Jeremy replied, making Grace laugh.
“Damn it, Jeremy, you’re going to be a hard man to get over with.”
“Come on,” Jeremy engulfed her in a hug – a brotherly hug which Grace took – even though that was all he could offer her.
“So, are you seeing Grace again soon?” Josh asked when Jeremy sat quietly watching late-night TV with him later that evening.
“Nope,” Jeremy answered.
When his phone beeped, Jeremy turned to his friend, “Sorry, I have to take this.”
“Hey, squirt, ” he said as he stood to walk towards his bedroom.
So what happens?
Find out here…