Bench Warmer

© 2015 & 2017
By Vosco Rash

Jim sat quietly on the bench as Kendra talked with Dave.

Jim had come along with Kendra because she was doing some Christmas shopping and wanted company.

Kendra’s boyfriend Dave just happened to be working at the mall at one of those vendor carts dispersed throughout the walkways.

It amazed Jim the things people would spend their money on.

As he sat on the bench he began to wonder what he was doing there. He disliked shopping and would usually only tolerate it when it absolutely needed to be done.

But Kendra was hard to say no to. And so Jim was stuck on a Saturday morning at the mall.

He watched the stream of people as they went about their various activities. From shop to shop, carrying differing numbers and sizes of packages.

Jim was just beginning to contemplate the fates of those that passed around him when Kendra caught his attention.

“Dave says he gets off in 45 minutes so I thought we could hang out and wait for him.”

Jim sank a little on the bench, he had been in the mall for several hours already and the next 45 minutes might do him in.

Kendra pulled Jim off the bench as she told Dave where they would meet after the allotted time. Kendra had a few things to get before they were done, and she was determined to use the time she had.

Jim followed Kendra into a section of the mall that seemed to contain no refuge for his eyes.

He sought desperately for some place to look that wasn’t filled with anyone half-naked or contained any sort of underwear.

He found the floor to suffice, and began to pray that they were just passing through and not about to stop.

Just as the thought passed through his mind to his horror Kendra stopped. Jim noticed an open bench off to the right and vaguely heard Kendra mention something about a sale.

“I’ll wait out here” was all he could get out before she disappeared into the lace and frills. Jim thought his eyes were going to burn up so he sped off towards the bench.

As he made his way he had to dodge some sort of preschool group heading towards the Santa at the center of the mall. Just as he reached the bench an old man sat down taking a break from what was probably some sort of daily walk around the mall.

As Jim tried to think of what to do that didn’t include physically harming this old man he noticed a bench open behind the other one. All other thoughts left him as he dove onto the bench.

Glad to have some sort of refuge Jim continued to look at the floor and wondered how he got here. After several minutes Kendra came back out to say she would only be a few more minutes.

Jim, still looking at the floor, waved his hand in the air to acknowledge that he would be waiting on the bench.

Once again Jim began to wonder what he could have been thinking when he agreed to come to the mall but he already knew as Kendra stood smiling before him.

Jim was crazy for Kendra but he never knew how to tell her and now she was going out with Dave, Jim’s best friend.

“Sorry you had to just sit there but you could have gone in with me.”

“That’s okay, I really have no business being in that store and I wouldn’t want to miss out on this great bench.”

“Oh well if you’re happy there, I could…”

Before she could finish Jim cut in, “No really if you want to move on I am totally cool with that. In fact good bye bench.” Jim stood up and saluted the bench. “There see.”

Smiling at Jim, “Okay I’ve only got a few more things to pick up.”

Jim rolled his eyes without Kendra seeing him, and stepped in behind her as she headed off to the next store.

Things became monotonous for Jim as they went on from store to store.

He never seemed to be any good at making conversation especially with girls, and so there were several quiet moments.

Another thing Jim had discovered was that he was not any good at picking out gifts for other people but he still found himself being asked about his opinion on whether a certain person would like a T-shirt or a book.

He felt bad that he could not be more help and began to feel frustrated.

Kendra did not seem to mind that Jim was not much help but rather took any opinion he could offer and enjoyed not being alone while she shopped.

Jim enjoyed hanging out with Kendra but he began to resent being in the mall.

He only had so much tolerance for shopping and then he started feeling claustrophobic and anxious; like he was going to burst out of his skin.

The feeling just came upon him with a suddenness, and then it sort of exploded.

One minute he was fine, helping to pick out a shirt for Kendra’s younger sister, and the next thing he knew he wanted to be as far away from the mall as possible.

“Hey Kendra, how much more shopping do you have.”

“Well I am pretty much done. I was just waiting for Dave to get off work.”

Jim looked at his watch. “Hey wasn’t that about 10 minutes ago.”

Kendra looked at her watch in surprise, “Oh shoot, we need to get to the food court.”

Before anymore could be said Kendra ran off and Jim was left holding a blouse that they had been looking at for Kendra’s grandma.

Jim hung the blouse back up and smiled at the sales clerk as he ran after Kendra. He caught up with her outside of the toy store just as she was making the corner towards the food court.

“Why are you in such a hurry” gasped Jim.

“Huh, what.” Turning slightly towards Jim, “Oh, we need to get to Dave.”

“So I guess I've served my purpose,” muttered Jim.

“What was that” asked Kendra, who was preoccupied with her search.

“Nothing, nevermind.”

Finally looking at Jim fully, “Is something wrong, Jim.”

“No, I’m fine. We should just find Dave.”

Just as he said that Dave stepped around a group of teen girls discussing their wardrobe choices for the next day and what boy was their favorite that week.

“Hi guys,” said Dave.

“Hey, babe. How was work,” purred Kendra as she embraced Dave.

Jim stood in envious silence.

“Work was good, sold some of those crazy Russian dolls. You know the ones that fit inside each other.”

“Oh yeah. So is that good?” asked Kendra who was completely enthralled by this tale of excellent salesmanship.

“It’s good for the boss, and hopefully I will get a nice fat commission.”

“That would be great,” turning to Jim, “wouldn’t that be great Jim.”

“Huh, what? Yeah great.”

Jim had become dazed by the sudden bombardment of the relationship before him.

He had actually let himself believe for the past few hours that Kendra might leave Dave and realize that she secretly longed for him. But seeing the look in her eyes when she looked at Dave crushed his hopes.

“I think we need to get some food,” said Dave breaking the silence within the threesome.

“That’s a good idea, shopping always makes me hungry. How about you, Jim.”

Jim snapped back to reality, “I am not sure I could eat anything.”

Another punch to the shoulder from Dave. “C’mon Jim not even some curly fries.”

“I’m not really feeling very good, I would actually like to leave.”

“Suck it up man, you just need to move around a bit.”

“Daaavve,” giving Dave a I-can’t-believe-you look, “if Jim isn’t feeling good maybe we should take him home.”

“Yeah but I still need to go into Zumiez to see if I can find something for my brother.”

Turning to Jim, Kendra offered her best sorry eyes. “Jim can you make it a tiny bit longer.”

"It is okay. I could just walk home from here."

"No, Jim. I am not going to make you walk." Kendra looks at Dave.

Dave throws his hands up. "Hey, I still need to get something for my brother. It will just be a few minutes."

Kendra looks back at Jim with puppy eyes. "Whadaya say."

At this point Jim melts a little, and as he is still unable to say no to her, “Sure, I’ll be okay.”

“Great. See all you had to do was be nice.”

“Yeah I guess.” Dave grabbed Kendra's hand as he took off in the direction of the Zumiez. "I'd still like to grab some food."

Jim stood still for a few seconds wondering what had just transpired and then slowly began his chase.

As he reached the store Dave and Kendra had just darted in between a crowd of busy shoppers making their cross mall trek.

He stopped short of the store and decided he did not want to go in. Instead he found a bench readily available and sat down.

He had not been there long when Dave came out.

“Come in here, you’ve got to see this.”

“I’ll just stay out here if that is okay with you.”

“What’s up man. Why won’t you just come in here for a sec.”

“I don’t feel like it, and don’t push it.”

“Fine, just sit there.” Dave went back in past some shoppers that had slowed to see what was going on.

Finally seeing that the show had ended they went back about their business. After a few minutes Kendra came out, and sat down next to Jim.

“What’s goin’ on. You don’t have to act like a baby.”

“What” Jim turned toward Kendra unable to believe what she had just said.

“Dave said you were out here throwing a fit.”

“And you just believe every word that flows from the mouth of Dave.”

“So what is all this just sitting here, even when he asked you to come look at something.”

“I just don’t feel good and I need to go. I have been in the mall too long.”

“Well all you had to do was be patient and wait, Dave just wanted to look at something for his brother and you are out here pouting on the bench.”

“I am not pouting, I just didn’t want to go in that store.”

“Why not.”

“I just don’t. Can’t that be a good enough reason.”

Kendra was beginning to show signs of frustration. “Sometimes I just don’t understand you Jim. We were having a good time, and now it has turned into this.”

"I just wanted to spend some time with you Kendra. But I am really just playing placeholder for him." Jim waved his hand towards the store.

Kendra stared at Jim but did not say anything.

Putting his head in his hands Jim lets out a sigh, “Can we go.”

“We are going to wait until Dave is done first.”

Suddenly Dave came out of the store and looked at Kendra. “So what is the plan.”

“I’m taking Jim home. What do you want to do after that.”

“I think I’m going to head home myself and change out of these clothes.”

“Okay well I’m parked this way.” Kendra pointed her finger in the direction that they had been walking.

Dave was beginning to walk in the opposite direction. I parked over this way. He pointed back towards the food court.

“But I thought your car was in the shop.”

“I drove my dad’s truck. He took my mom’s car because she was out with my grandma today and they took her Cadillac.”

“Oh, okay, well I will just come over when I am done dropping off Jim.”

“ ‘Kay…” turning his gaze towards Jim, “hope you feel better, punk”

“Sure, sure.” Jim gave a weak wave.

Things never seemed to stay bad between Jim and Dave for long. One time in junior high they actually went two weeks without talking because of some dumb reason that they couldn’t remember.

Now Jim and Kendra was a different thing.

She was not so quick to just forgive and forget and the fight had nothing to do with her, except that it was her boyfriend involved.

This made the walk out to the car very awkward, and Jim searched for a way to make everything better.

The whole day kept running through his head and he wondered how things had gotten to this point.

Not sure what to do Jim suddenly blurted out, “I like you.”

Kendra’s countenance softened and she responded slightly puzzled, “I like you too.”

“No, you don’t understand, I really like you.”

Kendra turned to Jim as they sat in the line of cars waiting to get out of parking lot.

She looked him in the eyes and the look she saw told her more than the words that he spoke. Suddenly she realized what he was trying to say.

“What do you mean, you like me.” The car behind them honked as the line began to move and Kendra had to pull forward. “How can that be.”

Slightly dejected by the response Jim continued,

“I just do, I’ve liked you since we first met. That night at Dairy Queen. You were out with your friends and you accidentally spilled strawberry topping on me. I can’t explain it, I just feel it.”

As she was taken in by the memory Kendra responded distantly,

“I remember that…” she faded off and then snapped back. “That is beside the point, you can’t do this.”

“Why not, don’t I have the right to tell you how I feel.”

“No you don’t, you are Dave’s friend and you gave up that right when you introduced us.”

Jim’s mind was bombarded by images of Kendra and Dave and of missed opportunities he had to tell her before that.

Kendra could see Jim was contemplating something. He looked as though he had lost something. Traffic began to move again and she had to focus on driving.

After a few minutes Jim spoke breaking the silence.

“Kendra, I like you and nothing will change that. I can’t keep it in anymore. I know I should have told you before but I was scared and so I kept it to myself.”

“But why now Jim. I have Dave now.”

Jim began to answer but nearly choked on the words. After several more minutes of silence Jim tried again.

“I am sorry that my timing is bad…”

Kendra cut in “You bet your timing is bad”

Jim continued “But I just can’t hide it anymore, I might go insane.”

Kendra pursed her lips and smacked her hand on the steering wheel.

“That is not my problem Jim. You could have taken a chance, but now it is over.”

Taken back by that, and visibly shaken Jim tried to think of what to say.

Before he could Kendra began again.

“If only you would’ve come out with this before, things might’ve been different.”

“I wante…” before he could finish.

“But you didn’t and they aren’t different. And now because of this things will change.

I don’t think we should hang out anymore until you can work out your problems.”

“My problems.” Jim spit out.

He couldn’t believe this was happening.

Kendra continued to speak as though Jim had not.

“And I am going to have to talk with Dave about this.”

“Whoa, wait a minute why do we need to bring him into this.”

“He is my boyfriend, remember. Besides what were you planning to tell him if I had decided on you.”

Suddenly feeling like an ice cream flavor Jim was unsure what to say.

“I hadn’t got that far. I figured try for the girl, tell the boyfriend later.

It is hard to plan for a random act of the heart.”

“Maybe instead you should learn to control that, and think before you speak.”

Jim thought about coming back with a comment about things of the heart being above control, and sometimes even conscious thought but he stopped himself.

Just then he was filled with the thought of losing both Kendra and Dave as friends.

This was followed by a wish that he had stayed silent.

As they drew nearer to his house Jim felt a pain growing inside him.

He began to wish for a car accident, or some means of death that might strip him from this pain.

Unfortunately the car pulled safely into his driveway, and he was still alive on the inside.

Feeling defeated Jim closed his eyes. His mind moved rapidly not knowing what to do.

“Jim… Jim…” the snapping of fingers near to his ear threw Jim back into reality.

“What, what’s goin’ on.”

“I don’t know, you zoned out for a couple minutes I guess." Kendra smiled at Jim. "Hey I am sorry about in the mall. I think we all just needed to get out of there.”

Jim was unsure what to feel at that moment.

Whether he should be happy that he avoided the disaster of destroying friendships, or sad that he let his mind talk him out of another opportunity to share how he felt.

“So what were ya thinkin’ about.”

Startled by the question Jim blurted out the first thing that jumped to mind.

“Dairy Queen.”