Monday, February 22, 2021

Some Things Never Change Chapter III

 I end up spending the night with Erick. I mean, we quite literally sleep together. It’s not the first time Erick and I share a bed, but it’s been a while. I used to stay with him a lot when he first got injured. Lately, I just do it when he’s sick. Today it’s nice, because I can just relax. I’m not looking after him, I don’t have to remain vigilant in case he needs something. We play a movie, but I fall asleep almost immediately. I’m exhausted.

I wake up to his alarm clock at half-past four. Man, he gets up early. Not every day, but I guess today is bowel care day, so he has this whole routine that takes forever. I’m aware of all the awkward details of his disability, so I know what he has to do. But since he doesn’t need me anymore, I don’t have to stay and watch. I feel him move his arms to my side for momentum and then throw himself in the opposite direction so he can catch the rail on the side of the bed. He uses it to pull himself up slightly. He opens the drawer on his nightstand and starts taking out all his medication. I’m tempted to roll over and go back to sleep, but I know he’ll be more comfortable if I leave. Besides, I should attempt to sneak back home undetected rather than walk the walk of shame and have to explain my whereabouts to my mother. So I sit up in bed and say good morning.

“Sorry, Jules,” he starts, “I know it’s early, but I have to… you know.” It's dark, but I can still notice him blushing.

I did his bowel routine for him for years, and yet, he’s still ashamed. Well, I guess even with our kind of relationship, I wouldn’t want Erick to watch me go to the bathroom, so I don’t blame him. 

“It’s ok,” I rub my eyes. “I should go and try to sneak past my mother,” I cringe. 

“Ok,” he nods. 

He turns the lights on and I get up. 

“I’ll see you later,” he says from the bed. There’s something about his expression though, his blue eyes look up at me kind of longingly. Perhaps he wishes he could just get up and walk me to the door. 

I go to him and kiss his cheek. “See you in a bit.”

I let myself out. The street is deserted. My house is less than a block away. When we were teenagers I used to walk it at this hour all the time, although more often from Tony’s place which was two houses down. Now, the place has been sold and a new family lives there. I watch it lit by the dim street light. It brings back memories of the three of us sitting on the sidewalk, drinking cheap alcohol and laughing at stupid jokes. 

I reach my house and walk in as quietly as I can muster, but as I’m crossing the hallway I hear my mother’s voice. 

“Julia? Is that you?”

Damn it.

“Yeah, mom,” I debate whether to pretend I just woke up and I’m going to the bathroom, but of course she knows I’m just getting home. It’s like I’m seventeen all over again.

“Where were you?” I hear her getting out of bed. 

“I was with Erick.” No point in lying.

“Oh,” she sticks her head out the door. “Is he sick?”

“No,” I admit. “We were just watching a movie and I fell asleep.”

She wrinkles her nose disapprovingly. 

Oh well, it’s not like my mother usually approves of my actions. Everything I do seems to be a mistake in her eyes. Not that I make great choices. She’s probably right, and I have done nothing but screw up. 

“It’s a weeknight,” she points out like I’m still in school.

“I know, mom.”

“You could’ve let me know where you were, you know? I was worried.”

“I’m not a kid, mom,” I can’t help but say.

“You sure act like one,” she rants.

Boy, do I wish I had my own place. I shake her off and go into my room to try and get one more hour of sleep. 

I bit Erick to the café for the first time ever. I couldn’t go back to sleep, after all. There’s too much on my mind. When I get there, I stare at the sign: “Valhalla”.

“Are you guys ready for this?” I ask Tony and Erick, a mischievous smile playing on my lips. I feel like a teenager. We’re about to turn the corner into the street where my new coffee shop is located. As soon as we round the corner, the sign will be visible for them. It’s a surprise.

Erick pushes his chair forward and Tony follows. 

“No, you didn’t,” Erick laughs when he sees it.

“Oh, not that cheesy name!” Tony cries out behind him. “I can’t believe we named our band that.”

“Well, it was the nineties,” I say in their defense.

We all have goofy smiles on our faces. 

Erick rolls to me now. “You’re early,” he greets me. His blue eyes have a sad glow in the dim lights. 

“Morning, handsome,” I say.

He parks his chair next to me and grabs my hand with his curled fingers. I press his palm inside mine although I know he can’t feel it. 

Tony is early too. We’re still inside when he walks in. Pink Floyd’s Wish you were here is playing in the background. 

We're just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl, year after year” Tony sings in a low voice. He walks in behind me and holds me by the waist. Erick looks away. He busies himself by grabbing the sugar bowls, he sets them on his lap and rolls among the tables placing them down one by one. I made sure the space between tables is wide enough for him to wheel, still, where it gets tight, he grabs onto chairs and propels himself forward. I untangle myself from Tony’s hands. 

“Your table is ready,” I say.

“Yeah, I can tell. Do you need any help?”

“Thanks, Erick’s got me covered,” I shake my head.

“Hey, man,” he walks back to greet Erick.

“Morning,” Erick says. 

They also linger a little longer when they’re done having breakfast. Tony’s so anal about the whole schedule thing, that I can tell he’s worried about me. I would say it’s sweet but really, I just want him to leave so he stops staring at me with that look on his face like I’m a wounded animal or something.

I’d be lying if I said I'm not feeling down about losing the café, but I’m not terribly sad about it either.  In the grand scale of things, this is nothing when I’ve lost so much already in my life. I feel numb.

Finally, at eight o’clock, Tony gets up and walks to me. 

“Call me if you need anything. Ok, Jules?” he says holding my hand. “Or if that ashole comes by.”

I nod. 

I’m relieved when Jessica arrives at noon. I was worried she might quit after yesterday. The café is busy for a Tuesday morning. I let her take over waiting on customers, and I retreat behind the counter to do the cooking. This is my favorite part of owning the café. I really enjoy preparing food, even if it’s just some sandwiches and the occasional salad. 

I’m in the middle of a cream cheese bagel when a woman in her late sixties walks in. Her hair is as black as it used to be, but a hint of white roots tells me she dyes it now. She’s wearing a skirt suit and low heels. Even at her age, she’s still quite pretty. 

“Oh no, you don’t!” I stop her before she reaches the counter. “You do not just walk into my café like this. What the hell do you want?”

“Hello, Julia,” she greets me like she didn’t wreck my entire life the last time she was around. 

“I should call the police,” I threaten. 

“You do what you have to,” she fakes a remorse look. “I’m ready to atone for my mistakes.”

Atone? She’s ready to atone for her mistakes? Does she think this is a soap opera? Is she serious? How could she possibly repair the damage she did? There’s no amount of penance she could do that would make things right.

“Get out of here,” I say.

“Just hear me out,” she starts. “All I ask is that you let me explain.”

“No way!” No freaking way. The last time I listened to her it ended my marriage, amongst other things. 

“Please, Julia,” she begs. 

“No,” I say roundly. “Jessica, will you take care of things for a while?” I say turning to my employee. “I have to go out for a minute.”

She nods. I take the apron off and grab my coat. 

“Julia, please.”

“Oh,” I say before I leave. “And whatever you do, don’t listen to this woman. She’s not welcome here.”

“Julia,” she calls out to me again, but I’m out the door. 

I arrive at Cross Transports and head straight for the elevator. 

“Mrs. Cross,” Betty says and it stings this time. “Are you here to see Erick?” 

“I’m here for my husband,” I say before the elevator’s door closes.

Erick sees me when I step out. “Jules, hi,” he says. He’s got a folder with papers in his hands and he sets it on his lap to roll towards me. “Are you here for lunch?” He asks.

“No, uh… I’m here to see Tony,” I admit.

He gets a hurt look in his eyes.

“Oh,” he says simply.

I don’t have time to explain, so I just leave him sitting there and head for Tony’s office. He meets me at the door. I guess Betty called him. 

“Jules, what is it?” He asks, concerned. “Did that bastard show up?”

I shake my head no. 

“Your mother.”


I step past him and plummet on a chair. He stares at me for a second, then he closes the door behind him and crouches in front of me. 

“Your mother just showed up at the coffee shop,” I blurt.

“How did she find you?”

“No idea,” I shake my head. She could’ve just googled me.

Tony sighs. “What did she say?”

I puff. “That she wants to atone for her mistakes.”

“What?!” Tony stands up outraged. “Please tell me you didn’t…”

“I didn’t listen to her,” I interrupt him. “I told her to leave, and I came straight here.”

“Do you think she’s still there?”

The Valhalla is roughly a ten-minute drive from Cross Transports, so she could very well still be there.

“I don’t know. Do you want me to call Jessica?” I suggest.

“You just left her there?” 

I’m not sure if it's a reproach I hear in his tone or just surprise. He’s looking down at me from his full height and I feel shorter than ever sitting on this chair. Suddenly I understand how Erick feels always having to look up at people. It’s not a good feeling. I stand up, something Erick can’t do. 

“I didn't know what to do,” I defend myself. Perhaps it would’ve been wiser to call instead of rushing over here. 

“How could you?” I hear Tony in my mind. “I told you not to talk to her. I told you not to listen. How could you be so…” He stops himself but I hear the rest anyway. 

“I… I’m sorry,” I start to apologize all over again. 

“Sorry? You’re sorry? Erick is lying in that awful hospital, and you’re sorry?”

“I should’ve called you. I didn’t think fast enough. I’m sorry,” my voice cracks.

“Jules?” Tony’s voice is strange. 

“Jules, what if he never walks again?”

I know what it is. I know what it sounds like.

“Call 911! Dad, dad talk to me, please.”

It’s fear.

“Jules,” he whispers and his voice is heavy with fear. 

Of what? What is he afraid of? His mother disappearing again? 

“No, no, no, Jules,” he looks baffled. He's shaking his head at me and curling his eyebrows up. He has hunched down slightly to look me in the eye. “I’m not angry at you. Please don’t cry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… I’m sorry,” he repeats.

His tone had made me suck in my stupid tears, and I thought I had managed to get a hold of myself. But I don’t know what he’s apologizing for right now, and I’ve longed to hear those words for so long that a part of me feels he’s sorry for before, for everything that happened years ago. And that breaks me. 

“Tony, I’m so sorry for everything,” I say when the movers have loaded the last box. We’re standing in our empty house, and it’s not our house anymore. Not just because it has been repossessed by the bank, but because we’re not together anymore. Our furniture is gone, our marriage is gone. Please Tony, please say you’re sorry too and all will be forgiven. We’ll start over and losing the house won’t matter, it will just be a replaceable possession. Say you’re sorry too, and I’ll run to your arms. I will never again think about all the awful things that have happened in the last months. Everything you said to me will be erased from my memory. I swear. We can still fix this.

He stands there quietly. Our eyes are locked together, and I will him to say the words. Please, I beg in silence. 

He takes a deep breath and looks away.

“Let’s go,” he says dryly.

Tony takes a step towards me. Fuck. I dodge him and storm out of there. 

Erick is still in the hallway when I come out of Tony’s office. He has the same papers in his hands again. He’s holding them up between both his palms. I notice he sees me from the corner of his eye. For a second, he pretends to carry on with what he’s doing. But then, he does a double-take and turns to look at me intently. 

“Jules,” he drops the folder and pushes his rims. But I can’t be here right now. I know Tony is still behind me, and I need to leave. The elevator is right next to Erick, so I head for the stairs. If he looked wounded before when I said I was here for Tony and not him, he looks devastated now when he realizes I’m deliberately going where he can’t chase me. It’s as if I have physically shoved him away from me. But I don’t stop. I can’t.

The wind makes the trees dance. Or perhaps it’s not a dance, but a battle. They stand there, stoically, while the wind tackles them over and over again.  One gust after another, the branches bend and the leaves flap, yet the trees withstand. I watch the rhythmic waltz. I listen to the beat waves. Whoosh, whoosh it comes and goes, brushing the sky with a raspy sound, like the salty foam reverberating over the sand on a beach. 

I’m sitting on a bench in a public park. I’ve been here for a while now. I didn’t go back to the café. I couldn’t go home either because my mother would’ve been there, and if Erick’s eyes were any indication, I know I look terrible. I had nowhere to go, so I just kept walking. After a while, I stumbled into this park and just sat down on a bench. I’ve been contemplating the trees since then.

If I were still in my twenties, I would just take the first bus out of town and stay away for a few days. I would get drunk at a cheap bar, maybe even hook up with someone. But I’m not twenty anymore. If I don’t go back to the café, Jessica will leave it open, she doesn’t have the keys to lock up. Someone might break in and steal my coffee machine, the only thing worth a damn in the place. My son will worry about me. So will my mom, but if it were just her, I would say fuck it. No one will take out the clothes I left in the drier. No one will water the plants in the café nor the fern in my room. 

Although perhaps none of that matters.

The tree crowns sway. I close my eyes and the wind hits me too. It feels cold on my cheeks and my nose. I listen to the whooshing sound and let it take me far away. Now it is the ocean breeze I feel.

“You’re so beautiful,” Tony’s voice tickles my stomach. He scratches me with his short beard while he kisses my belly. His heavy palms are pressing down my thighs. “Sooo beautiful,” his warm breath tickles the tender skin. 

I’m lying on the warm sand. The sun has set, and it’s starting to go dark. I can hear the rhythmic sound of the waves crashing against a rock wall, then softer on the shore, and whispering as they arrive bubbling to my bare feet. 

Tony’s lying half next to me and half on top. I grab his broad shoulders and get wet sand on his skin. He turns his face and kisses my hand that’s still on him. We hear a whistle. It’s the lifeguard telling us to clear the beach. Tony curses under his breath and sinks his face in my stomach.

“Hey, love birds,” twenty-three-year-old Erick yells from the distance. “You’ll get arrested.”

I attempt to get up, but Tony pins me down to the sand. He hovers over me with his entire body, and I’m small under him. I can feel his hardness pressed against me. But he doesn’t move. He just looks at me, his black eyes piercing into mine. 

“I love you,” he gasps. 

He holds my eyes for another moment, his sturdy upper body backed up by the sound of the sea and the immense sky above him. He’s not waiting for an answer, he knows I can’t speak. Then, he drops his face to mine and kisses me so deeply that I feel underwater. 

He smiles, his mouth still pressed to mine, and opens his eyes. The solemn stare is now gone, and a mischievous glow plays in them.

“We’re coming,” he yells back to Erick. 

I open my wet eyes. I’m really cold now, and as much as I feel like just staying here staring at the trees, I have to go back. I get up and take my cell phone out to check the time. 

Quarter after six.

I have three missed calls from Jessica. Perhaps she’s thrown the apron away, and the coffee shop is now deserted. Six missed calls from Tony. None from Erick. 

As I walk back to the café, I start to get angry at myself. Furious actually, for a million reasons. Because I didn’t retain Tony’s mother, because I was about to cry yet again like I’m a five-year-old; because I can’t stop thinking about the stupid past, I can’t stop feeling the same pain even after all these years. Because Tony apologized to me for the first time in eight years and I couldn’t even stay to find out what the hell he was apologizing for. Because I just behaved like a crazy person, and because I hurt Erick. Oh, the look on his face! 

When I cross the threshold of the Valhalla, Tony jumps out of his seat. If he’d been on his usual table, I would’ve seen him from the corner and just left. But he was inside, sitting on a table for two, facing the door. There’s an almost empty coffee mug in front of him. He’s been here a while. 

“Christ, Jules,” he puffs. “Are you ok?”

“I’m fine.”

“Where’ve you been?”

I sigh.

“Jules,” he starts, but I interrupt him.

“Did you find your mother?”

That distracts him, and he seems to forget what he was about to say. Which was exactly my intention. 

He shakes his head at me. “I wasn’t looking for her. I…”

“I’m closing early,” I interrupt him again. 

Except the place is packed. There are customers on every table, and there are a couple of girls ordering cappuccinos to go. I can’t believe Jessica held down the fort.  

“Jessica, I’m so sorry,” I say to her, feeling guilty for having left her alone all afternoon. “How did you manage to take care of everything on your own?” I ask because the place looks ok. There are no angry customers, no dirty tables, and everyone looks fairly happy. 

“Oh, Mr. Tony helped,” she looks at him and almost swoons. Then she quickly looks away embarrassed. 

I restrain myself from rolling my eyes. Really? She’s like two years older than my son. However, I could care less if she’s smitten with my husband. I have more pressing matters at the time. 

“How long have you been here?” I ask Tony.

He shrugs.

“He’s been here since you left,” Jessica says with dreamy eyes. 

Since I left? He must have come right after I left his office. 

“Oh,” I say. 

The question is, did he come here to try to catch his mom, or was he chasing after me?

Two more customers arrive at that moment, and our conversation is cut short. Tony stays with me until closing time, and then, he insists on taking me home. We don’t talk about anything though. 

“Can you drop me off here?” I stop him when we turn into my street. “I need to go see Erick.”

“Why?” he asks.

“I… kind of have to explain something to him,” I mumble.

Tony stares at me for a moment while the car is still moving, and I get this nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. 

“Ok,” he finally says and stops the car. 

I avoid looking at him again as I get out. And although I feel him lingering afterward, I walk to Erick’s door without turning around. I finally hear the car leave when Mrs. Sanders opens the door.

“Julia, good evening,” she greets me.

“Good evening Mrs. Sanders. Can I see Erick?”

“I think he might be in bed already,” she says like last night, but she moves out of the way to let me pass. 

I cross the house all the way to Erick’s room and knock on his door. 

“Can you go away, ma? I had a really bad day,” he yells from across the door. 

I let myself in.

“It’s me,” I announce as if he weren’t looking straight at me.

“Jules,” he composes his expression after the original surprise. “What are you doing here?”

“I… I wanted to apologize,” I take a step towards him. 

He’s on his underwear again and he’s got the same weights on his wrists. He doesn’t take them off this time though. Instead, he grabs a towel and starts to struggle, trying to spread it out on his lap to cover himself. Like I haven’t seen his scrawny legs before. 

“No need,” he says tightly. 

“Erick, I…”

“I asked Lou out,” he blurts out.

“Who?” I ask although I know exactly who he’s talking about. 

He ignores me.

“She said yes.”


No comments:

Post a Comment