DownUnder – Karen Uffelman
One minute they were enjoying the vodka tonics and live music. The next minute they were running for their lives. Jackson had hold of Maura’s hand and was pulling her faster than she could run. She lost her footing several times but was held up by Jackson and the surging crowd all around her, and had so far managed to not get pulled under.
“It’s okay, just stay with me!”
Easier said than done. Maura would not normally have a problem keeping up with Jackson, but they had been drinking all night and she felt extremely dizzy. She tripped for the third time and fell to her knees, but Jackson was right there, yanking her back to her feet, yelling encouragement that she could no longer hear. She thought her shoulder was perhaps dislocated.
There was a pair of double doors at the far end of the stage, and that seemed to be what Jackson was aiming for. Maura could see it, and could imagine almost imagine making it, but her legs felt heavier and heavier and she was having trouble breathing. It occurred to her that she was experiencing some kind of over-the-top karmic retribution. And then she blacked out.
*********** EARLIER ******************
Maura couldn’t get him off her mind. Stupid, ridiculous, womanizing Jackson.
Maura had made up with Rebecca – to the surprise of everyone, Rebecca included – two months ago. They had all been trapped at Maura’s parents’ house after the tornado: Maura, Maura’s housemate Andrea, Rebecca, and Rebecca’s brother Jackson. The tornado was scary, Maura’s parents had been oppressive, and Maura’s father had found her roommate Andrea in flagrante with Jackson in the basement.
What no one knew, not even Jackson, was that it had been Maura in bed with Jackson just minutes before. She had awoken, dazed and then incredulous, in her childhood rec room with her ex-girlfriend’s unconscious brother, and escaped only just before her pastor father came in from a long night of helping with tornado victims. Somehow the ever-surprising Andrea had wandered downstairs and into the hide-a-bed between Maura’s escape and Pastor Bell’s entrance and got all of the shame and credit. Andrea was red-faced but a little too slow to get dressed. Jackson was surprised but amused. Pastor Bell had no idea what to do. Maura had been close-by, wearing nothing but a man’s shirt, but acted as shocked and surprised as her father and somehow avoided incrimination.
The problem was that, although no one else seemed to suspect what actually happened, Maura herself knew and couldn’t stop thinking about it. The safest course she could come up with was to throw herself back in the arms of Rebecca.
“Hey – I’ve been thinking. I’ve been kind of a jerk. I miss you.”
Rebecca was suspicious at first, but not for long.
“I knew you’d be back! I’ve missed you too. I’ve really, really missed you.”
“You know how I never wanted to talk about living together? I think I might be ready to talk about it.”
Rebecca was over the moon by this change in attitude, and the idea of living together was particularly convenient since they’d both had their apartments blown to smithereens by the tornado. Maura was still staying at her parents’ house and about to go out of her mind.
So, for the next two months, Maura became the kind of girlfriend she had never been before. She’d return Rebecca’s texts right away, suggest going out for dinner, hold hands in public, and didn’t seem to mind endless apartment shopping. Whenever Rebecca wanted to roll in the hay, Maura was ready. Rebecca wondered aloud at Maura’s transformation, but Maura assured her that the tornado had just given her some perspective.
Then, about eight weeks after that crazy night in her parents’ basement, she ran into Jackson on the street.
“You look delicious as usual.”
“Cut it out,” Maura could feel her cheeks color, “how’s your new place working out? I haven’t seen you since all of the tornado drama.”
“Yeah, well, Rebecca has forbidden me from hanging around. She thinks I have a thing for you, you see.”
“I thought you had a thing for little Andrea,” Maura smiled. She happened to know that Andrea had hooked up with Jackson a time or two after getting caught with him, but Andrea reported that her affair with Jackson was “nothing” when Maura prodded her about it.
Jackson’s face lost its amused expression and his voice became serious.
“Listen, Maura, that was all a big mistake. I don’t know how I ended up in the sack with Andrea in the first place, and then I didn’t want to seem like an asshole.”
“I’m not an asshole, by the way – despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”
He still looked serious, and this confused Maura.
“Okay – I never said you were an asshole.”
He stepped closer, “And Rebecca is right. I do have a thing for you. “
“I have to get going,” Maura noticed she was sweating. Jackson was so close she could smell him. He smelled good.
“What are you doing right now?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I think I’m supposed to meet up with Rebecca and we’re going to study.”
She suddenly couldn’t imagine anything worse than going to study with Rebecca. It sounded repulsive, actually.
“Listen, I’m on the guest list for the May Day concert at the DownUnder Club, and the pre-funk is supposed to start at 5:00. There’s an open bar before the doors open and the music is going to be awesome. And I’ll be there. Studying with Rebecca is going to be boring. What do you say?”
He smelled really, really good.
Maura looked around for someone to save her, but the street was empty.
Jackson put a hand on her hip.
“Okay, sure – I guess I can miss one night of studying.”