(Continued from Geneva – 5)
She watched him navigate the confusion of the parking lot like a kayaker running rapids. Absorbed in the task at hand he hadn’t reacted when she told him that she lived with that whole shit-show that she left back on the blanket. She really, really didn’t want to go home and face them again tonight which she hadn’t, of course, told him. But the longer he sat in silence yanking at the steering wheel and alternating punching the gas and slamming the brake the more she thought she’d be back in the shitty apartment on Logan tonight, hugging her edge of the bed trying to stay as far away from Brittany as possible.
To say he’d gotten used to being alone in the last couple of months was probably a bit of a stretch but he had accommodated his new reality fairly well. There were awkward times-running into couples in restaurants or bars who would give him the sad ‘how are you managing?’ face or like today-going to the concert alone. But, on the upside, there was no one to answer to but himself. His decisions affected only him…
He realized they were out of the parking lot and probably five miles down the state road and he still hadn’t said anything. Shit!
“That’s OK”, he said. “You can stay with me tonight.”
“Really? Where did you go there, for the last hour?”
“Wasn’t an hour. Fifteen minutes tops.”
“Felt like an hour.”
“Sorry. I’ve gotten used to the whole inner-dialogue thing. Problematic when there’s someone else here.”
“Was afraid I freaked you out…”
“Not hardly. Look, I have a lot of room.”
“You live alone, then?”
“Yes. And to get it out of the way: separated-she left, divorce papers filed, no going back, and she’s not coming back. There are five bedrooms, six if you count the futon in the office so there’s not only plenty of room, there are plenty of rooms. Goldilocks your way into one of them tonight, get some rest and tomorrow decide what and when.”
They came through the tunnel and the city flashed open through the windshield. He slid to the outer lane and navigated the almost-empty parkway with ease, leaving the lights of downtown in the rearview and coming up on the exit that would lead to University Center and her apartment. She thought about asking him to swing by so she could grab some stuff, but didn’t want to push it. Nor did she want him to know what a crappy place she lived in.
His exit was a few miles beyond where trees and hills still ruled. She knew where Haler Heights was, but never really got over to that part of town. It wasn’t her kind of neighborhood. “That’s where money goes to live”, her Mom had said. She didn’t know about that, but it wasn’t but two lefts and a right from the parkway that they were on a dark two-lane road that flowed through hills with no evidence of houses at all except for the occasional light well back in the distance.
He slowed and swung into what seemed to be a random opening in a stand of trees but was actually a crushed stone driveway. They looped around a small rise and ended at a large old house with two lights glowing on a wrap-around porch. He stopped and turned the truck off, killing the lights. She leaned forward to look at what could have been a forbidding shadow looming over them.
“You didn’t tell me you lived in a haunted house.”
“Not all Victorians are haunted”, he said stepping out. “Most. Not all.”
She stepped down timidly and felt the surrounding darkness and silence like a heavy blanket. She could see a shed and a garage in the fading glow of the porch-light but really, Nothing Else. For the first time since the parking lot at the concert she had a pause. Was this a mistake?
He stopped on the porch and turned to see her, back to him, unmoving, facing the night. He kept his mouth shut; she needed to figure this out herself. He was nervous too but didn’t know if mentioning that would help her situation. After a moment, he stepped back down the stairs and approached but no closer than the front of his truck.
She turned with the little half-smile that melted him the first time he saw it.
“Fucking dark out here.”
He grinned. “Only at night. Look-you want to go back now, we can. You want to go back in an hour, we can. Whatever.”
She moved first, stepping past him but allowing her hand to trail across his arm. “Come on. Let’s see if the place has lights inside.”
He entered the code in the darkened keypad beside the door and slipped a key into the lock. “Enter”, he said stepping aside. She walked past him hesitantly until the motion detector caught her and switched on a lamp in the foyer and two others in the sitting room.
“OK”, she said. “That’s cool.”
He passed her into the sitting room to a rough sideboard where the bottles were. “I’m making myself a drink. You want?” She hesitated, eyeing the liquor then him. “Look. Don’t start trying to figure out the right answer to every question. If you want one, tell me.”
“Sure”, she said. “Whatever you’re having.” He picked two tumblers from the counter and filled them with ice from a small fridge below the counter, then the brown liquor from the shelf in back.
“I’m a bourbon guy”, he said handing her a glass.
“Of course you are”, she smiled feeling the unease slipping away.
He held out his glass, “To Farm Aid” he said as they tapped glasses.
“To Farm Aid”, she said taking a thick enough swallow to tell him that it wasn’t her first bourbon.
“I could really go for a shower…”, she said.