After much soul searching I decided to keep our appointed Monday night reading date. I dreaded it.
I picked up the house in order for him to vacuum and prepped Peyton that after tonight we’d be seeing very little of The Neighbor because, “Mommy’s heart hurts too much still.” My explanation was accepted with youthful wisdom.
“How do you feel about that, Pey?” I asked.
There was a thoughtful pause then, “I’m happy and sad. Happy for you [that you won’t hurt anymore] and sad because I’ll miss him. But I’m ok.”
I was vacuuming Peyton’s room when I saw him sneak in trying to foil the dog’s senses. Once both the little person and dog realized he was there there was much exuberance and bouncing by all. TN finished vacuuming the apartment and I was strangely uncomfortable when he disappeared into my bedroom to clean.
When he was finished we picked out books and settled in and TN intermittently cuddled with the dog and read to Peyton. When we were done I kissed my baby goodnight and turned out the light without fanfare. TN didn’t know that Peyton saw this as the last reading for some time.
I felt heavy and sad and far, far away. And he looked good. Very good.
He’d shaved his head recently and his better eating habits over the last few weeks showed. I sighed as I grabbed a mug of tea and we sat down on the couch.
“I can’t stay for long,” he said immediately.
“So how are you?”
And for the first time in weeks we talked and I didn’t feel emotional. He was just a friend on my couch. My mind was made up: this is the last week I’ll see him for some time and the decision being mine this time makes me feel stronger than I have in weeks.
I’m leaving town in 10 days and he has agreed to take care of Faisal for me while I’m gone. The dog has been farmed out to another friend, but the cat, well, there’s literally no one else to take care of him. I don’t mind, really. I won’t be around anyway.
As we discussed hanging out on Saturday night I mentioned that I would have a list of things to go over with him. “And I’m taking you to the airport, right?”
“No,” I shook my head confused. “You convinced me it was easier to just leave my car there last time we talked about it.” He remembered us discussing the cost, but he’s been operating under the assumption all this time that he would be my taxi. “No, I’m driving.”
“Oh,” he said staring out into space.
There was a shift last night and if I had to guess he noticed it, too. I wasn’t emotional, I wasn’t obviously in pain, I wasn’t all there. Truth was I’d been a wreck since I’d seen him last — crying off and on for days — and once I’d made the decision to cut ties soon I felt freer and stronger than ever. My noodle had stiffened.
The dog lay with his big head pillowed by TN’s crotch. TN’s thick, muscular thigh was on top of his paws and I wished so badly to make some lewd comment, but that wasn’t appropriate anymore so I kept my mouth shut.
I adjusted my bralette, the one he’s never seen or touched, and tied my hair into a knot atop my head. My aching heart felt icy, a distant rattle from just a few days before.
We talked about work, said we were both doing ok, caught up on the messy lives of friends. Then I was suddenly stricken with the need to be away from him.
“Well, you better go cook that steak you mentioned earlier,” I gently prompted.
His eyebrows shot up, surprised. This was only the second time in 3 years I’d cut a visit short.
I walked him downstairs to the back door and let the dog out to pee as he got his shoes on. I don’t know why I was surprised when he opened his arms to hug me, but I was.
I wrapped my arms around his body and buried my face in his shoulder and inhaled his clean, manly scent. His warmth seared the parts of me touching him.
“You must be in heaven with this cold weather,” he said as we pulled apart.
“You know me well,” I replied.
“Call me this week,” he said and added, “If you want.”
I said, “Ok,” without having any intention of doing so.
I let the dog back in and shut the door.