Unconditional, page 18
Practice for She Likes the Weather had ended early enough that Saturday, giving Valerie a couple of hours or so on the beach. It wasn’t often that Kylie had a Saturday afternoon free, between work and other activities. Valerie waited until they had set up their little spot on the sand before opening up to her.
Her best friend’s excitement subsided, though she tried not to show it. Kylie rubbed sunscreen on her lightly tanned legs before responding.
“So Josh asked you to go out with him, but what you really expected him to say was that he’s been to jail?” She adjusted her sunglasses. “That’s a big difference.”
They had brought Kylie’s cooler with them, since it was larger than Valerie’s, and loaded it with cans of Sprite, bottled water and baggies of fruit. She offered Kylie some frozen grapes but she refused them. Valerie tossed them back in the cooler and reached for her own sunglasses.
The girls traveled light. Just the cooler, their canvas beach bags filled with tubes of sunscreen, a magazine or book, their cell phones, and a towel for each of them. Each had also brought her own beach chair.
“A very big difference,” Valerie agreed, not sure of what to say.
Kylie didn’t seem to be experiencing that problem. “What did he do time for?”
“Of what kind of drugs?”
“That, I don’t know.”
“Okay, well, so that’s it? Just possession?” She might’ve known she would have to divulge the whole truth. Kylie was smarter than to let it go with only a sliver of information.
“Possession…and armed robbery.”
“Armed robbery?” Disbelief singed her words. “Josh? Josh Coleman? When I think of guys robbing a store and waving guns around, I don’t see this sweet guy like Josh.”
“When I think about drugs—the illegal kind, anyway, not that I think about them much—I don’t think of him, either. Hard to see Josh getting high. But back to your question, Kyle…I don’t know if it was a store he robbed. Or how many robbers it was. Or if he was the one with the gun. I don’t know anything except that he was arrested and he went to prison for it.”
“Uh-huh. And who told you all this?”
“Hmmmph. Now there’s a pillar of integrity. Did you look it up online?”
“You don’t want to know?” Her friend assumed out loud.
“No. I guess I don’t.”
Valerie knew what was coming, even before Kylie picked up her cell phone. She looked out at the water, where parents were wading with their kids and a teenager was setting out with an indigo blue boogie board.
“Find out right now…” Kylie held up her phone. “Yes? No?”
At home, Valerie had come close to doing her own Internet search. Funny, how nothing was secret anymore, how in many cases, almost anything could be found on a search engine. She sighed.
“Val, was that in 2002?” Kylie asked, tapping the phone screen with a fingernail.
“I don’t know. Maybe?”
“Oh, that’s it. That’s him. Guess that was his local paper in Parsippany. And there’s a photo.”
Accepting the phone from her hand, Valerie’s eyes went directly to a picture of Josh. He was younger there, even slimmer, less muscular than he was now. He was on his way into a courtroom, dressed in an orange jumpsuit. He was flanked on either side by two uniformed police officers. His head was bowed and his hands were bound by cuffs in front of him.
“Send me the link,” she said glumly. “I’ll read it later.”
“Okay.” Kylie sounded rueful. “Sorry, Val. I was hoping the worst we’d find was that your ex-boyfriend was lying.”
“I wish that was true, too.”
“Does your mom know about this?”
“Ha! What do you think?”
A couple seated on their own beach chairs only a few feet away were listening to a radio. Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman” was playing. With her head tilted back and resting against her towel, which she’d draped across the back of the chair, Valerie listened to the song’s lyrics.
That was, bittersweetly enough, the way Josh made her feel to a “T”.
“Does she have to know, Val? I mean, she likes Josh, right?”
“Yeah. She likes him…now. You know I’m twenty-five, but to Mom, I’m still her little girl that she has to protect.”
“I know. Enjoy that, Val. I don’t have that anymore. You’ll miss that when she’s gone, which hopefully won’t be for many, many years.”
Valerie glanced at her, but Kylie was staring out at the sandpipers playing a humorous game of tag with the tide, and a couple of toddlers observing them and laughing. Kylie’s mother had died three years earlier of a heart attack, and every so often she would remember her mom and break down in tears.
Valerie squeezed her hand. “So I won’t tell her for now.”
“Nope. I mean, really, she doesn’t need to know. But he does need to tell you about it.”
“I know. I think he wants to, but he’s afraid to tell me. And he’s ashamed.”
“Well…pray about it,” Kylie recommended gently.
“I have. I am. Every day.” Abruptly, she urged, “Don’t stop liking him because of this, Kylie. I know you like Josh. Don’t let this change your opinion of him just because of something he did when he was younger, when we don’t even know the whole story—”
“I wouldn’t do that, Valerie. You’re right. We don’t have the whole story right now. Now if he hurts you, that’s a different story. If he hurts you, all bets are off. Nobody hurts you and escapes my wrath.”
Valerie laughed, then became serious. “I don’t think he would hurt me, Kylie. Not intentionally, he wouldn’t. And I would never want to hurt Josh, either. You know…we should do something together.”
“‘We?’ What do you mean, ‘we?’ You, me and Josh? I don’t think so.”
“No, no—you, me, Josh and Elliot.”
“Elliot? Elliot Bauer?”
“That’s the only Elliot I know. Nothing big or complicated. Just a picnic of a movie or something together.”
“Elliot Bauer. Josh’s friend. He’s cute, but nuh-uh.”
“Because he’s not for me.”
“Kylie McCoy, I’m not asking you to marry him. Just go out, the four of us, have fun.” With mischief glinting in her eyes, Valerie told her, “He is cute. Offbeat but cute.”
“He’s all right. I think I want an older man. Somebody more mature.”
At the risk of annoying her, Valerie persisted. “Elliot is older than you.”
“He’s—what? Josh’s age? That’s not much older. You know how young guys are. They’re afraid of commitment. I need somebody about thirty-eight, forty—”
“Oh, yeah. That’ll go over great with your dad, who’s in his fifties. And somebody that age is probably divorced. Already a father. Don’t you want to be his first trip down the aisle? And his last? Or is it because a man that age is more established? More settled financially?”
“No, it has nothing to do with money.” Shaking her head, Kylie stressed, “I’m a sale-hunting fashionista. I don’t care about money. And I’d like to be his first and all that, but I don’t see that happening. There aren’t too many prospects on my horizon. That’s why I want to lose twenty-five pounds. At least.”
“They’re crazy. Men are crazy. Because you’re beautiful, Kylie.”
Valerie knew those words, which were more truth than compliment, fell on deaf ears. For almost as long as she’d known her, Kylie had struggled with her weight, and in turn, her self-esteem. It didn’t help that a couple of guys she’d dated had made remarks about how pretty she would be if she would only lose some weight. She was pretty enough, with or without the added weight.
“Before you lose weight,” she said, trying a different tack, “you can decide to live your life regardless of what anybody thinks. Let’s get all dres
“I don’t care what other people think. And I do live my life to the fullest,” Kylie blustered. “Fine. I’ll do it. Pick the date and the place, and I’m there.”
Triumphantly, Valerie sank further in her seat, crossed her legs at the ankles, and smirked.
“I like when I win,” she boasted.
“You’re such a brat,” Kylie scolded lightly, but then they both laughed.