“I want you to stay,” Avery looked down at the remainder of her sandwich as she said this to me. We were finishing up lunch at what was once our favorite sandwich shop. The place was filled with tiny metal tables and chairs. It was the type of seating that almost forced an intimate conversation.
We’d come straight from the cemetery. I hadn’t known what to expect that morning. Visiting Chris’s grave was something that I always did alone, but it felt good to have some company. The memories felt more real with people to share them with, and although we arrived in a somber mood, spirits were definitely raised by the time we left. Chris had always had a way of making people feel at ease, and it seemed that he still possessed that gift. Even Avery and Danielle who never got along well were acting like old friends. The interaction seemed especially soothing to Avery. While we laughed about old stories a burden seemed to lift from her shoulders. She had remained in a good mood nearly all the way through lunch when the prospect of driving me back to the airport caused her to withdraw again.
“You know I can’t stay,” I said. I tried to catch her eye, but she wouldn’t look at me.
“I don’t mean today, but why don’t you come back? What’s so great about Michigan?”
“It’s not about Michigan being great. It’s about, you know, you’re just feeling a little nostalgic. You’ll be ok,” I tried to sound convincing, but knew I failed.
“I really miss you,” Avery broke her stare away from her plate, and looked at me.
“I miss you too sometimes,” I said. I leaned back in my chair, trying to create artificial distance between us.
Avery frowned at this answer, presumably not pleased with my qualification. She said, “Sometimes I think we made a big mistake. I know we were young, and things weren’t working out exactly as planned, but I never imagined you’d just bolt for Michigan. I mean, of all places. I guess I always thought that maybe we would get back together.”
“Why would you think that?”
“I don’t know. That’s what people do? Isn’t it?” Avery caught herself raising her voice slightly, and glanced around to see if she was drawing attention, but the other diners didn’t seem to have any interest in our conversation.
“I don’t know Avery, I’m sure there are people that get back together, but that doesn’t mean that we should. I think you are forgetting that neither of us were happy at the end.”
“We could be happy again,” Avery reached across the table, and placed a hand on top of mine.
I tried to think of what to say to this, but everything that passed through my mind sounded wrong. Avery stared into my eyes, waiting for a response.
“Don’t you think,” Avery broke the silence. “If you came home, we’d be happy again?”
“I can’t come home Avery, and I don’t want to.”
When I said this Avery flinched, and drew her hand away from mine.
“Why not? I don’t understand.”
“Michigan is where my life is right now. It’s where my job is, it’s where I need to be right now. Plus, I met someone out there,” my voice lost authority as I finished this sentence.
“You met someone?” Avery’s face told the story of a great betrayal, and even though I had always been loyal to her, and we were no longer together it did feel as if I was confessing an affair.
“Yeah, I met a girl. Cait.”
“And, she’s your girlfriend?” Avery asked me accusingly. Her emotions were raw. Anger and sadness seemed on the cusp of overwhelming her.
“I don’t know. We just started spending time together.”
“Of course,” Avery said sarcastically. “Still in the Honeymoon phase. That’s really cute Dave. I bet she’s just enamored with you.”
“Come on, Avery.”
“Is she prettier than I am?” Avery dared me to answer.
“Don’t ask things like that,” I deflected.
“I’m sure she’s pretty, and I’m sure she thinks you are just the greatest thing ever. Boy is she going to be in for some surprise.”
“I’m just telling you the truth. I don’t want to give the wrong impression.”
“Well thanks for that Dave, I’m glad that after everything we’ve been through that you care enough to not give me the wrong impression. What kind of impression is Cait getting?”
I didn’t answer.
“That’s what I figured. Cait, Cait, Cait. I fucking hate Cait,” Avery said, and with that she got up from the table.
She didn’t offer me any kind of goodbye. She just walked calmly out to her car, deposited my bags in the parking lot, and drove away. I didn’t make any attempt to go after her. I sat at the table, thinking about Cait, and the faulty impression that I had given her. I thought about trying to save what we had started to build together. Avery and I weren’t salvageable. Not on that day anyway. Chasing her to her car wasn’t going to solve anything. The broken pieces of Avery and I were irreparable.
Danielle had to get back to work that afternoon, and so I just called for a cab to take me to the airport. It was a little strange getting picked up Dominic’s Gourmet Deli, but it’s hard to surprise a cabby. He acted like it was a regular trip for him. When I got through airport security, and checked the status of my flight I called Cait. It was a relief to hear her voice. At first I was worried that she would pick up on my less than perfect mood, but her energy was so infectious that I didn’t have to feign my own for long. Rejuvenated by the thought of seeing her later that night, I said goodbye to her, and before boarding the plane thought I had accomplished what I set out to do with my return home. It didn’t play out exactly as I had hoped, but I believed that even if the closure between Avery and I had come about in undesirable manner, it had still come. I wasn’t expecting any more calls from Avery Palmer to the golf shop at the Lake Club.
I was on the last flight out of O’Hare back to South Bend, and the airport was practically deserted when we arrived. Not that it is ever a bustling hub, but as the other dozen passengers and I walked towards baggage even the modest building seemed excessive. Our footsteps echoed in the hallway, and few people who milled around could have been borrowed from a wax museum. Cait knew when I was arriving, and I hoped to find her waiting for me.
She was there, leaning up against a wall at baggage claim, but she was on her phone, and not watching the doorway as I entered with the other passengers. It was a relief to see her, but I couldn’t help being a little disappointed that she didn’t rush over into my arms. She started to pace, still on the phone, walking away from me, and I decided to just grab my golf clubs instead of interrupting her. I took a spot along the archaic luggage belt, and waited patiently for my golf bag to appear from the hole in the wall. Right after I saw them, Cait grabbed me from behind. I felt her breath, and then her lips on the back of my neck.
“You snuck past me,” she said, spinning me around to face her.
“I’m very elusive,” I took a moment to reacquaint myself with Cait’s face, and then kissed her.
“I had a really big production planned for when you came in, but then I got caught up on the phone. Forgive me?”
“I’m just glad you’re here,” I said.
“I’m glad you’re back,” Cait wrapped her arms around my waist, and gave me a hug, before pulling back slightly. Her hands found mine, and she looked at me in a way that made me feel like the luckiest guy in South Bend. “Isn’t that your,” her expression changed slightly as she watched my golf bag motor past us.
I turned just when it went out of reach, and had to side-step a few people so that I could grab it before it disappeared back into the unknown. When I got the bag off the belt successfully Cait mocked me by applauding lightly, and not being able to help herself, began to laugh.
“You know, you’re not very good at this,” I teased. “Talking on the phone, making me miss my bags. These are major offenses.”
“I know. I think my life-long dream of becoming a skycap just got squashed in a few minutes. Let me make it up to you. I’ll roll that beast out to the car.”
Cait motioned to my travel golf bag. I protested, but she took it from my hand, and started towards the parking lot. When she got to her truck she heaved the bag into the bed, and then looked at me, holding out her empty hand.
“Tips are appreciated Sir,” Cait said.
“You could use a nicer truck,” I joked.
Cait laughed, and suggested we get out of there, and I couldn’t have been more eager to comply.
For the first few minutes of the drive back to the cabin Cait told me of an incident that had happened at Franco’s the night before. She had been tending bar, and heard a commotion coming from the pool room. The noise came to an abrupt halt as a broken half of a pool cue came crashing through the doorway into the main bar room. This was immediately followed by bursts of uncontrolled laughter, and one of the locals, Paulie Young, heading to the bathroom will a thin line of blood running down his forehead. Cait had been reluctant to investigate what was going on, but eventually found out that the guys had convinced Paulie that he couldn’t break the cue stick with his forehead. Paulie had proven them wrong, but took a small gash around the hairline for his trouble. When he realized that no one was all that impressed, and he was the butt of the joke, Paulie rifled one of the surviving halves of the cue stick into the main bar room, and left.
Cait laughed genuinely at the story, and generalized about the absurdity of her job, and her need to find something else. It was a funny story, and I was happy to have Cait leading the conversation. I still hadn’t decided exactly how I was going to tell her about Avery, or what I was going to reveal, and when. The car ride didn’t seem like the place for that kind of discussion, and after Cait asked some non-invasive questions about my trip we settled into a comfortable silence. A few minutes from the cabin, Cait revealed she had something on her mind.
“Can I stay over tonight?” She asked.
“Of course,” I said, threatening any existing Guinness record for the fastest answer of all-time.
“Ok, I knew you wouldn’t mind, and I want to stay, I mean I was hoping to stay, but I just wanted to make sure.”
“Is something wrong?” I asked. I thought I had noticed Cait’s grip on her steering wheel tightening ever so slightly.
“No, maybe a little. My mom’s back? That’s who was on the phone at the airport. She said called this morning and said she’d be back, but then when she got home, and I wasn’t there she called again. Started yelling about the house being trashed, and said I wasn’t taking good care of the dogs,” Cait paused, and I thought I heard her voice begin to crack. “I can’t handle seeing her tonight, not yet. Not when I was excited to see you. She’d ruin it.”
I remembered that Cait had told me that her mother was with some man in Florida, and she could conceivably come back at any time, but I wasn’t expecting to hear that she had returned. The first thing I thought of was how clean and neat Cait’s house had been when I was there, and I couldn’t imagine any dogs being better taken care of. Without knowing anything of the situation I assumed that Cait’s mother was likely upset with whatever had caused her to leave Florida, and was taking that out on Cait. She knew her sensitive spots, and went right for them.
“You can stay as long as you want,” I offered. I didn’t know if Cait would want to talk about her mother or not, but luckily she made it clear.
“I just don’t want to think about her right now. I missed you so much, and I know it was only a day, but it felt like more, because I knew you weren’t around. I couldn’t wait to see you, and then this happens.”
“It’s all right. I really wanted to see you too. And, this saves me the trouble of begging you to stay over.”
Cait looked over at me, and smiled when I said this. There was still a sign of a tear in her eye, but she had brightened a little bit.
“You wouldn’t have had to beg,” she said.
I told myself that I was preserving Cait’s feelings by not telling her about Avery that night. It really didn’t feel like the right time. She was upset, and she needed a place where she felt safe, and that is what I wanted to give her. She could trust me, and I believed that, but I didn’t want to give her any reason not to, not on that night. I would just wait a little while until things cooled off with her mother, until she settled back into a comfort zone. I convinced myself that clearing my conscience on that night would have been selfish. Cait deserved better, and so I did whatever I could think of to make her feel better.
This ended up being allowing Cait to teach me how to play gin. She didn’t want to watch anything on TV, or talk about anything to meaningful she just wanted a distraction. It came in the form of a project, and that was educating me on this card game. It’s a relatively easy game to learn, but it takes a little bit of practice before you begin to master it on any level. Cait seemed to know all nuances, and I believe did not divulge some of her best tips. It was a thorough, repetitive beating that I took that night. Cait was taking delight in each hand, and was not able to contain her excitement when I inevitably threw her gin card time and time again.
“Either I’m a bad teacher, or you are really a slow learner,” Cait said as she returned the deck of cards to the bag she had brought along. When Cait grabbed the bag out of the back of the truck I knew she never intended to not spend the night at the cabin.
“I thought I was playing great,” I said.
“Maybe you’re just used to low score wins,” Cait laughed. “Because those were some really low scores.”
“You’re so proud of yourself. Show someone just enough to get their ass kicked, and then gloat about it. That’s very cute.”
“I think so,” Cait agreed. “You’re just lucky we weren’t playing for money.”
“What were we playing for?”
“I don’t know,” Cait said. She threw her bag over her shoulder, and made her way back over to the couch where I was sitting. She positioned herself in my lap.
“If I knew the stakes I would’ve played harder,” I said.
“How about since you lost,” Cait was saying each word deliberately. “You have to do whatever I say.”
“What did you have in mind?” I asked.
“It’s a secret, but I’ll be in your room if you want to find out,” Cait kissed me sweetly, and then got up from the couch. She smiled, and headed for my bedroom.
Much later that night, I woke up in my bed facing away from Cait. I always liked to have her close, but I seemed to have lost track of her, and didn’t even feel her presence in the bed. I preferred to wait for Cait to drift to sleep before joining her, but she had trouble succumbing to her fatigue that night. I, on the other hand, was exhausted, and after a few minutes of massaging Cait’s back I was the one that had fallen asleep. I had been subconsciously aware of her shifting her position often during the night, never being able to get comfortable. I thought she may have left the bed completely, but when I rolled over I saw the familiar sight of her sitting up in bed. She was writing almost furiously in her journal, the page illuminated by the tiniest book light. I tried to close my eyes so she’d think I was still asleep, but I was caught.
“I woke you up,” she said apologetically. “I’m sorry.”
“No you didn’t.”
“I’ll turn the light out,” Cait flicked off the light, and closed her journal. She set it down on the floor next to the bed.
“You don’t have to stop,” I said.
“I was finished anyway,” Cait said. She slid down into the bed next to me, her back facing my chest. She reached back, and took my arm, wrapping it around her. She intertwined her fingers with mine, and finally after a few minutes fell asleep.