HIS WORDS HUNG THERE, IN THE DARKNESS BETWEEN OUR voices. I sometimes found comfort in that space, but in three months, I’d only found unrest. That space became more like a convenient place to hide. Not for me, for him. My fingers ached, so I allowed them to relax, not realizing how hard I’d been gripping my cell phone.
My roommate, Raegan, was sitting next to my open suitcase on the bed, her legs crisscrossed. Whatever look was on my face prompted her to take my hand. T.J.? she mouthed.
“Will you please say something?” T.J. asked.
“What do you want me to say? I’m packed. I took vacation time. Hank has already given Jorie my shifts.”
“I feel like a huge ass**le. I wish I didn’t have to go, but I warned you. When I have an ongoing project, I can be called out at any time. If you need help with rent or anything . . .”
“I don’t want your money,” I said, rubbing my eyes.
“I thought this would be a good weekend. I swear to God I did.”
“I thought I’d be getting on a plane tomorrow morning, and instead you’re calling me to say I can’t come. Again.”
“I know this seems like a dick move. I swear to you I told them I had important plans. But when things come up, Cami . . . I have to do my job.”
I wiped a tear from my cheek, but I refused to let him hear me cry. I kept the trembling from my voice. “Are you coming home for Thanksgiving, then?”
He sighed. “I want to. But I don’t know if I can. It depends on if this is wrapped up. I do miss you. A lot. I don’t like this, either.”
“Will your schedule ever get better?” I asked. It took him longer than it should to answer.
“What if I said probably not?”
I lifted my eyebrows. I expected that answer but didn’t expect him to be so . . . truthful.
“I’m sorry,” he said. I imagined him cringing. “I just pulled into the airport. I have to go.”
“Yeah, okay. Talk to you later.” I forced my voice to stay level. I didn’t want to sound upset. I didn’t want him to think I was weak or emotional. He was strong, and self-reliant, and did what had to be done without complaint. I tried to be that for him. Whining about something out of his control wouldn’t help anything.
He sighed again. “I know you don’t believe me, but I do love you.”
“I believe you,” I said, and I meant it.
I pressed the red button on the screen and let my phone fall to the bed.
Raegan was already in damage control mode. “He was called into work?”
“Okay, well, maybe you guys will just have to be more spontaneous. Maybe you can just show up, and if he’s called out while you’re there, you wait on him. When he gets back, you pick up where you left off.”
She squeezed my hand. “Or maybe he’s a tool who should stop choosing his job over you?”
I shook my head. “He’s worked really hard for this position.”
“You don’t even know what position it is.”
“I told you. He’s utilizing his degree. He specializes in statistical analysis and data reconfiguration, whatever that means.”
She shot me a dubious look. “Yeah, you also told me to keep it all a secret. Which makes me think he’s not being completely honest with you.”
I stood up and dumped out my suitcase, letting all the contents spill onto my comforter. Usually I only made my bed when I was packing, so I could now see the comforter’s light-blue fabric with a few navy-blue octopus tentacles reaching across it. T.J. hated it, but it made me feel like I was being hugged while I slept. My room was made up of strange, random things, but then, so was I.
Raegan rummaged through the pile of clothes, and held up a black top with the shoulders and front strategically ripped. “We both have the night off. We should go out. Get drinks served to us for once.”
I grabbed the shirt from her hands and inspected it while I mulled over Raegan’s suggestion. “You’re right. We should. Are we taking your car, or the Smurf?”
Raegan shrugged. “I’m almost on empty and we don’t get paid until tomorrow.”
After a crash session in the bathroom, Raegan and I jumped up into my light-blue, modified CJ Jeep. It wasn’t in the best of shape, but at one time someone had had enough vision and love to mold it into a Jeep/truck hybrid. The spoiled college dropout who owned the Smurf between that owner and me didn’t love it as much. The seat cushions were exposed in some places where the black leather seats were torn, the carpet had cigarette holes and stains, and the hard top needed to be replaced, but that neglect meant that I could pay for it in full, and a payment-free vehicle was the best kind to own.
I buckled my seat belt, and stabbed the key into the ignition.
I turned the key, and the Smurf made a sickly whirring noise. The engine sputtered, and then purred, and we both clapped. My parents raised four children on a factory worker’s salary. I never asked them to help me buy a car, instead I got a job at the local ice cream shop when I was fifteen, and saved $557.11. The Smurf wasn’t the vehicle I dreamed about when I was little, but 550 bucks bought me an independence, and that was priceless.
Twenty minutes later, Raegan and I were on the opposite side of town, strutting across the gravel lot of the Red Door, slowly and in unison, as if we were being filmed while walking to a badass soundtrack.
Kody was standing at the entrance, his huge arms probably the same size as my head. He eyed us as we approached. “IDs.”
“Fuck off!” Raegan snarled. “We work here. You know how old we are.”
He shrugged. “Still have to see IDs.”
I frowned at Raegan, and she rolled her eyes, digging into her back pocket. “If you don’t know how old I am at this point, we have issues.”
“C’mon, Raegan. Quit busting my balls and let me see the damn thing.”
“The last time I let you see something you didn’t call me for three days.”
He cringed. “You’re never going to get over that, are you?”
She tossed her ID at Kody and he slapped it against his chest. He glanced at it, and then handed it back, looking at me expectantly. I handed him my driver’s license.
“Thought you were leaving town?” he asked, glancing down before returning the thin plastic card to me.
“Long story,” I said, stuffing my license into my back pocket. My jeans were so tight I was amazed I could fit anything besides my ass back there.
“I’m always good,” she said, winking.
“See you when I get off work?”
“Yep.” She pulled me through the door.
“You are the weirdest couple,” I said over the bass. It was buzzing in my chest, and I was fairly certain every beat made my bones shake.
The dance floor was already packed with sweaty, drunk college kids. The fall semester was in full swing. Raegan walked over to the bar and stood at the end. Jorie winked at her.
“Want me to clear you out some seats?” she asked.
Raegan shook her head. “You’re just offering because you want my tips from last night!”