Hometown Tourist

Prompt: Tell a tale of tourism. I decided to put my own spin on this prompt. After all, you don’t necessarily have to go very far to be a tourist. This story is actually building off of an idea I started exploring in a previous SaM post and wanted to see if it has what it takes to go a little further. This isn’t the start of that idea, but in the timeline of what I’m hoping could be my next new project, this scene comes in the middle. Hence the vagueness about some things. So please pardon that, and I hope you enjoy!

“Jessie?”

“Hm?”

“I believe you have what Southern women might refer to as a gentleman caller.” It was a statement, but the way that Jessie’s dad said it made it sound more like a question.

She looked up from her notebook and studied her father’s face. It was only recently that had the realization that Dad was aging. He’d always looked young for his age, but before college she saw him every day so she didn’t notice the changes settling in. But when she came home after months away – first at Christmas, now for the summer – his evolution was more obvious. There was more white hair at his temples, the lines around his eyes a little deeper.

But those eyes still held their sparkle, especially at the mention of a boy.

She continued chewing on the end of a pen cap in her mouth and the smile that started only in his almond eyes spread to his lips. “Take a look.”

A battle quickly raged inside Jessie. Her heart wanted Dad to be right, her head needed him to be wrong. She huffed, putting down the notebook that was currently filled with not her maid of honor speech and made her way from her childhood desk to the window.

Of course it was Eric. She knew it would be. After all these years, did he really think third time would be the charm?

For a smart guy, he must have had a death wish. Coming to her home was the one thing she told him she would not, could not let him do.

“He wants to know if he can see you.” Jessie pushed the thin drapes aside with her fingertips as she looked down to where Eric stood at the end of the long driveway, just over the property line beyond the fence by the mailbox, hands in his pockets. When he saw her, one hand flew up in the air to wave, the other pushed his rarely-worn glasses up the bridge of his nose. It was so casual, so ordinary.

Naturally it broke Jessie’s heart.

She turned away from the window. “Did he say why?”

“You spent all that time together away at school. You’re both home for the summer. I’d imagine that since he’s your boyfriend – ”

“He’s not my boyfriend.”

“ – he probably expects that you’ll keep hanging out.” He stepped forward and gave his youngest daughter a gentle squeeze on the shoulder. “Despite whatever you think, you do deserve this. And I’ve always thought Eric’s a good guy, even when you thought you hated him growing up.”

Jessie put her hands on her hips, mulling the words over as she chewed on the pen cap in double time. It wasn’t that she didn’t think Eric was a good guy. He was. She knew that even when she thought she hated him. Trying to convince herself that she hated him justified keeping him at a distance. Wanting more than anything to be with someone who could never really know the truth about the other most important people in her life was more than she could bear.

“Dad,” she started, praying words would come. “It’s just… the family and everything…” It was far too early on a Saturday morning for her words to work. “I have to finish my maid of honor speech.”

“Ah.” Dad picked up the notebook, looking over Jessie’s progress. “Well I’m no expert on these things because we never covered that in optometry school, but I’m pretty sure that a drawing of the flowers your mom put in here yesterday doesn’t quite constitute a speech.”

“Dad – ”

He pulled the pen cap out of her mouth, handed Jessie her favorite plaid flannel from its spot draped over her chair, and kissed her on the forehead. “Trust me. Don’t worry about all that. Let me worry about that. You go.”

It was still on the cool side as Jessie trekked down the gravel driveway towards Eric. The birds were chirping, the breeze was comfortable, and the smells of freshly cut grass, blooming flowers, and lingering raindrops from the previous night’s showers filled her from the inside out. Sure Jessie loved her college life – more than she was expecting to, if she was honest – but this. This. How could she have ever forgotten this for a moment?

People wouldn’t have made fun of her alleged apathy for traveling if they’d ever been here for five minutes.

But they couldn’t be here, and Eric knew that. “Eric Allan McKidd, what the heck do you think you’re doing?” she hollered.

He only smiled. “And here I thought coming here bright and early would be a safe bet. I guess somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed.”

“You can’t come to my home. I’ve told you that a million times.”

“Okay.”

It wasn’t the response she was expecting, like he’d just poured a cup of water on her head. “Okay?”

“Okay. I know that. I even respect that. Notice how I am not, technically speaking, at your home.”

“This is my house.” Jessie’s arms spread wide as she spun around. “My yard. My farm where I am more than capable of finding a shovel to knock some sense into that thick head of yours.”

Eric nodded in agreement. “I know you can. And I know from the lump your art history textbook left on my skull last semester that you will. But I’m not at your home.” He leaned on the fence next to him and nodded his head downward. “According to the state of Illinois, not to mention your dad, I am, right now, very much not at your home. I’m on public property.”

Jessie looked down at their feet, back up to Eric’s laughing eyes, down, and up again. Technically he had a point.

Morally she wanted to punch him, which maybe wasn’t a terribly moral response.

She opened her mouth to say as much, but he spoke first. “I know you’re mad. I know. And I am sorry because that’s not my intention, but please hear me out because that wasn’t my intention.”

She pulled the flannel on over her tank top and rolled up the sleeves. “I’m listening,” she said, not quite able to meet his eye just yet.

“I know that something has been going on with you and has been for a while. You were different at school and lately it’s like… you were drifting away again and I don’t know what I did, but I want to make it right.”

Jessie winced when she looked up and saw his pained expression. “You didn’t do anything.”

His features immediately brightened. “Awesome. So spend the day with me.”

“Excuse me?”

“Come on. You and me. Nothing fancy, I swear, just you and me and an adventure for the day.”

Jessie looked over her shoulder to the house. “Eric, I…”

“I already talked to your dad,” he said gently. He bent over and held up Jessie’s purse. “Before he got you. Keys, ID, phone, emergency tiny sketch pad all here. And I texted your mom and your sister. They insisted you get the day off.”

When Jessie turned around again, Dad was standing on the front porch, raising his cup of coffee in the air in greeting. Mom reached for the doorknob to come out, but stopped at the sight of Eric. Instead she waived. Tears welled up in Jessie’s eyes but she willed them not to fall as she waived back to her parents. One tear did escape when Eric joined her, even calling out, “See you later, Mr. Yamamoto!”

It had felt like such a normal thing. For a moment there, anyway.

She deftly wiped evidence of her feelings away when she lowered her hand, disguising it as nothing more than tucking a stray hair behind her ear. “Okay, McKidd. Lead the way.”

 

Adventure isn’t a word Jessie ever would have associated with the parking lot of the Woodbridge Towne Square. The look that settled into her nineteen year old features had a way of instantly exposing her old soul to Eric. She wasn’t confused, necessarily. Curious. Perplexed. Unsure. But not confused. She knew that she and Eric saw the world in vastly different ways, so she was almost always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in these sorts of situations.

She’d been silent during the drive. His excitement couldn’t be contained. He hummed a song of his own creation, thumbs drumming on the steering wheel of his beloved pick-up. Eric hopped out of the car within seconds of pulling into a spot, ran around, and opened Jessie’s door. “You ready?” he asked, dancing from foot to foot like a dog anxious for his owner to just throw the Frisbee already.

Jessie unbuckled her seat belt and peered over his shoulder. “Define adventure.”

Eric offered her a hand and she climbed down. “Adventure: an exciting or remarkable experience.”

Her brow furrowed. “In a parking lot? In a Woodbridge parking lot?”

He shook his head as he closed the door behind her and took her hand, a silent request for her to come along. When she obliged, he spoke again. “How long have you lived here?”

“My whole life, same as you.”

“Right. Yet in those almost two decades, you don’t seem to know anything about this place. I mean with homeschooling I can understand that to a certain extent, but once you started in junior high with the rest of us, I never really got it. You never came to the library or Uncle Bill’s Diner and half the places that make this place what it is…” He paused to push his glasses up again, choosing his words with care. “It’s not a big place, but it’s our home. Yours too. I know you’ve always seen yourself as an outsider everywhere, but I think that maybe if you felt connected with where you come from, it might help.” He ended with a shrug, his shoulders rounding in and his free hand fidgeting with the hem of his t-shirt. His head was down, a bunch of dark blonde hair falling in his face but not enough to hide the fact that Eric’s eyes were glued on Jessie’s.

He had a point. Maybe. It was enough of a possibility that Jessie was willing to give it a try. How long had she dreamed of how big the world is? How many times had she tried to build walls to keep it small, convinced it was better that way because it was safer that way?

But like Eric said, Woodbridge was a small town. And she’d already let her world get a little bigger by going away to college. That had been okay.

More than okay. It was wonderful.

This time, Jessie was the one to tug on Eric’s hand still clasped with hers, their walk resuming. “So what’s first? And please say coffee.”

Eric’s smile was in full force, not a sly grin like most guys trying to impress a girl or when they were younger and he was no doubt following the bad advice of his older brother. This was pure happiness, borderline silly in how wide it went, and bigger still when Jessie laughed at the sight of it.

“Yes coffee. Like I’d be crazy enough to think you could function this early if you’re not under the influence of art or caffeine. And you can get the best stuff in town is right here.”

The parking lot wasn’t home to just cars this morning, but several rows of small tents, each one containing tables and colorful goodies. Some were crafts, most were fresh flowers, fruits, and vegetables. It was a feast for the senses. Vendors chatted with customers and each other, little kids ran around with anxious parents trailing in their wake. Even the library that was at home across the square and shared this space with the town hall, a pond, and the collection of other shops had a booth set up with a hand-painted sign announcing “Used Book Sale! Hardcovers – $1, Paperbacks – 50¢.”

They took their time stopping at each booth, taking pictures on their phones of everything they found interesting or funny or weird or delicious (which is to say, they took a lot of pictures). And Eric hadn’t been lying when he said the Suttons had the best coffee. The whole thing felt so familiar to Jessie. Like a song she’d heard once a long time ago, recognizing the tune but none of they lyrics.

From the farmer’s market, they had lunch on the banks of the pond, made up entirely of the morning’s discoveries. They went to the library where Jessie renewed her card for the first time in far too long, had milkshakes at the diner that apparently should have defined her high school years. They only stopped walking and talking when Jessie’s need to sketch was overwhelming, when a digital picture on her phone wouldn’t quite satisfy her.

The day ended a few miles away, far from the town center. Or at least it felt far away from everything in the middle of the nature center. Even though Woodbridge existed on the outer edges of suburbia with neighborhoods full of manicured lawns and cookie-cutter homes, a slice of a more honest outdoor setting wasn’t always easy to come by outside small farms like the Yamamoto’s.

Shade was heaven to Jessie’s warm skin. There was a color to her arms and legs that certainly hadn’t been there when she woke up. Eric’s hair looked more blond than sandy now, too, his ears pink where he’d been hasty in his sunscreen application.

They shared a bottle of ice-cold water from the nearby information and exploration cabin that sat on the edge of the lake. Where the one in the town square was neat, functional, and clearly man made, this one was a home to life. A family of ducks glided across the glassy surface in unison and the occasional fish made a splash. Sitting on top of the picnic table, Eric took a long drink before handing the bottle to Jessie. “So, good day?”

She nodded, wiping away renegade droplets from her mouth with back of her hand. “Great day. Thank you again for it.”

“It was nothing,” Eric scoffed. “Just killing time with my good friend. I mean I know it’s not the same as spending a perfectly amazing summer day alone in your room up to your elbows in paint, but…” He let the sentence taper off, his whole body shaking with the silent laugh that came when she playfully punched him in the arm. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you tan before.”

Jessie propped her elbows on her knees and head in her hands. “Always. Mom’s part Italian so I actually used to get really dark in the summers. Then her English and Irish side kicked in once I got older.”

“Hence the red in your hair and freckles?” Eric took off his glasses and leaned in, inspecting the spots sprinkled across her nose and cheeks.

They hadn’t been this close since that first almost kiss a year ago at prom. Her heart pounded in her throat. She’d always just thought his eyes were simply blue, but now she saw the flecks of gold and brown bursting from the center. They were surprising, but so was everything about this guy even though they’d known each other for seven years.

When his eyes rose to meet hers, part of her wanted to back up, but a greater part of her wanted to stay. Jessie met his nod, just once, in answer. “Hence the freckles.”

With their faces mere centimeters apart, she was too close to see his smile with his lips, but it was obvious in the widening of his pupils and the crinkles at the corners of his eyes.

Then came the flash of uncertainty. He leaned back, ending the moment, his glasses back in place like a window.

Or a shield.

She had no doubt that her own cheeks were as flushed as his and that it had nothing to do with the summer sun.

Silence circled around them, threatening to let awkwardness ruin an otherwise perfectly wonderful day. For the second time in as many minutes, something bold in Jessie told her to hang on, to stay. She smiled, praying it could communicate what she was feeling because she wasn’t so confident in her words right now. “Thank you for playing hometown tourist with me. Seriously, you were right. I needed that.”

“You’re welcome.”

“You know,” she said, sitting up straight, “it’s not that I don’t want you to come to Rachel’s wedding. I do want you to. I do want you to be my date and hang out with my family and we make fun of each other’s dancing and all of it.” She sighed, shoulders falling as she looked away from him and out at the sunlight dancing across the water. “But it’s that you can’t come. For reasons I can’t tell you and Lord knows how much I wish I could.”

“I’m pretty likable. Flexible. Open-minded,” Eric said, his voice a miserable mix of frustration and sadness. “I’m a good guy. Your dad likes me, and your mom and your sister. We’d all have fun this year, the five of us talking together during your video calls home.” He hung his head, one fist clenching the picnic table so hard his knuckles went white.

Jessie reached down, laying her hand on top of his. The pressure immediately let up at her touch, the anger deflating leaving only a desire to understand. She scooted closer and tentatively kissed his cheek. She felt him suck in a breath, then sigh as she snuggled closer and rested her head on his shoulder. He let go of her hand, only so he could wrap his arm around her.

“Well then,” he said quietly. “Okay.”

“Rock on,” she replied, liking the sound of their usual words coming from the opposite person for a change.

Change. The word was still scary in Jessie’s mind, but less so because it was necessary. Bit by little bit, she’d been doing what she and Dad set out to all along. She wasn’t Rachel or Mom. She couldn’t and shouldn’t stay at home forever. Her world was bigger than that, there was so much to see. And family wasn’t just about the people you’re connected to by blood or name. It’s friends, the people you choose and who choose you back.

Eric McKidd, eternal optimist, all around good guy once he stopped being a pain in her ass, was just as much a part of Jessie Yamamoto’s family as the people she shared a roof with. He was her friend and so much more than that.

Change. It had to happen. If Dad could make change happen once on accident all those years ago, maybe the two of them could make it happen again on purpose. All the old rules said she had to choose, but the world was changing.

It was high time the rules got a revision. Because Jessie made her choice.

She was tired of being told secrets were her only option.

She walked the line between the Seen and Unseen her entire life.

Jessie Yamamoto chose both.

Now the only question was how.

Sarah’s Prompt: Summer is all about making choices, so this time I’m giving you an option. Check out the Instagram account called Yeah_Write, an account dedicated to daily visual writing prompts. You can pick an old picture (and it’s accompanying prompt if you wish) or go with the one for whatever day you start writing. Please link us to whichever picture you decide!

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