We pull into the little town of Prague, 50 miles from anywhere anybody would wanna be, with the gas gauge pretty close to empty, figuring on filling up the tank and getting back on the road. Turns out the gas station's only open on Tuesdays and Saturdays. This is Friday.
I guess it coulda been worse. Today coulda been Wednesday.
No motels. The town's too small to need one. Who'd wanna stay here if they didn't already live here?
The lady who lives next to the gas station gives us this information, and offers to let us stay in her cottage in the back. For a fee, of course. She also says she can give us a pitcher of lemonade and some stuff to make sandwiches. For another fee.
If I was still a cop, I'd take her in for highway robbery. But I get out my new wallet, and pay her what she asks, 'cause we don't have a choice unless we all wanna sleep in the car. And I don't even ask the girls, 'cause my leg is killing me, and I'm pretty tired.
"Cottage" is an exaggeration. It's one room with a fold-out couch, and a radio sitting on the rickety table. I guess we should just be thankful it has a bathroom.
It doesn't take too long to get settled in. I figure the girls can sleep on the fold-out. I can sleep on the floor easier than either one of them. It's not dark yet, but I'm thinking about going to sleep right away after we eat.
Lynn says she needs the bathroom first. She takes everything she brought along in with her-suitcase, purse, everything. I'm not sure what she's planning on doing.
Patty has a magazine, and she reads me things she thinks I might be interested in. Like, which movie star's marriage is gonna last and which isn't. How often you should give your dog a bath. What'll happen to your love life if you don't paint your nails the color to go with your birthday. She shows me the chart of the colors and which one is hers. Can't see that it would make much difference. They're all pink or red.
Lynn's in the bathroom a long time. After about an hour, I go over to the door and knock.
"Hey, baby, you alright in there?"
Some thumping from the other side of the door, and then she says, "Don't come in. I'm fine."
I hear the water run, and realize I haven't heard that before now. "Are you sure?"
"I'll be out in a minute."
One thing I've learned being married is, you don't wanna ask a woman too many questions about anything taking place in the bathroom. It's usually something you really don't wanna know about.
Lynn opens the door and comes out in her nightgown. She's been crying again. Patty scoots past us into the bathroom with all her stuff. Lynn puts her suitcase down and swipes at her face with the back of her hand.
I stop her as she's going past me to the couch. "Sweetheart, it kills me when you cry over me. Don't cry anymore. I'll try not to be such a jerk."
"I'm not crying." The tears run down her face.
"Dammit. Seems like I can't help being an asshole." I sit down on the couch and pull her down on my lap. "I'm sorry. I don't do it to hurt you. You know?"
She nods. I put my arms around her and she buries her face in my shirt. Just for a minute. Then she looks at me. I know what this look means, I've seen it before. It's that desperate look.
"You know I'll never not want you. I said for you not to come back if you left, but you know I couldn't ever turn you away. I'll always want you, no matter what. You know that, don't you?"
I must look confused, 'cause she says, "Never mind, just kiss me."
Don't have to tell me twice.
And that's what we're doing when Patty comes outta the bathroom. "Knock it off," she says. "I want to go to sleep.".
I wake up and don't know why.
"Shhh," Lynn says. "Patty's sleeping." She's down on the floor with me, her hand on my face.
She giggles. She takes my hand and puts it on her belly, kinda on the side. I lean in for a kiss---she says, "Wait."
So I'm waiting. And then I feel it. Sort of a little thump against my hand. From inside her tummy.
It happens again.
"That's the baby." OK, that's a stupid thing to say, I think Lynn knows it's the baby, but I'm feeling pretty stupid right now. I wait. It happens again.
"That's the baby." Yeah, just as stupid the second time, but I don't know what else to say.
"I realized you hadn't gotten to feel the baby kick, yet, and I thought you'd want me to wake you up for it. It's a quiet baby, but Doctor Graham says----"
She goes on talking. I guess I'm not a very good husband, 'cause I'm not paying attention. I'm thinking about this.
I knew she was pregnant. The signs were good before I left, so I was figuring on it; and now she's got this big belly, so of course she is, and of course I know there's a baby in there…….
But this is different.
Now I know it. I feel it. There's a real child in there, just under my hand. Poking at me to let me know it's there. Our child. A real baby, waiting to come out. My child.
What if I'd gone to Montana?
I mighta never had the chance to see my kid. The one just there, poking me.
"Bud?" Lynn's hand is under my jaw, making me look up at her. "Hey---you in there?"
Her smile goes away; I guess I look pretty serious. I lean in for a long slow kiss.
"Thank you for not letting me go." My hand is still on her belly. "Thank you for giving me this."
A few minutes later, Patty starts to snore.
"Dammit." I take a deep breath and roll over on my back. "I forgot she was here."
"Shhh, don't wake her up." Lynn sure is giggly all of a sudden. "Just kiss me."
A couple minutes later, I say, "I guess we don't have to take our clothes off."
"She's seen us kissing lotsa times, so even if she wakes up…….."
"God knows kissing you's more fun than sleeping."
"Stop talking so much." She giggles some more, and pretty soon I'm laughing too, in between kissing her. It's kinda fun not to worry about doing anything else.
After a while, though, we get a little more serious about it. I begin to get lost in it. That happens to me sometimes; I forget about the outside, forget who's sleeping a few feet away, forget what we said we were gonna do. Forget everything. Except her mouth. Her body. How good it is.
Before the sun comes up, just at that point when the dark gets a little less dark, I realize I've been talking. That's another thing that happens sometimes; but usually only when I'm close to the end, when I'm driving us up another notch, when I've been lost for a while. I say things. I don't plan it, my mouth opens and stuff comes out. Muttering, rambling, mixed up with the heavy breathing and groans. Sometimes I don't realize it till afterward, sometimes I don't really remember what I said.
Sometimes I'm lucky and I say things like how beautiful she is, how good it feels, that kinda thing. Sometimes I say things I regret later, especially if the person I'm with remembers them. This time I'm kinda afraid I've been confessing.
I'm pretty sure I said "I'm sorry." More than once. And Lynn isn't asking me what I'm sorry about.
Dammit, not now. I don't wanna go now. Not yet.
I'm looking at her in the faint light. She's so beautiful. We've been together a while now, married part of that time, and there are still times when I look at her and can't believe my luck, can't believe she's with me. I'm not anybody special, I didn't do anything special. I don't know why she loved me. I wish I hadn't screwed up.
I can't read her face. I don't know what she's thinking. I don't know how much I said, what I told her. She's not saying anything, just looking back at me.
I sit up and look toward the window. Patty's still sleeping, I think. Her breathing's real heavy, real regular. "I wasn't trying to deceive you, or keep it a secret. I was waiting until we got back."
She still doesn't say anything. I have to swallow hard. "I don't know what I woulda said, though. I didn't have that figured out."
I wish she'd say something.
"We'll be back ho-back in Bisbee in a day or two." I almost said back home. "Do you want me to find another place right away?" I have to stop talking and clear my throat. Keeps clogging up. I feel kinda sick.
My child. I wanted to hold my child.
I wish I hadn't screwed up.
I can hear Lynn getting up off the floor. Kinda surprises me when she kneels down right next to me, and sits back on her heels. Her hand is on the back of my neck for a second, then on my head, stroking kinda like she did when I had long hair.
"Every time we have a problem, you run away," she says. "Stop running away. Am I that scary?"
I close my eyes and feel her fingers moving on my scalp for a minute before I say, "I figured you wouldn't want me now." I can't look at her.
"Didn't I just get done telling you I'll always want you?"
"No buts. I know you. I know you don't sleep with every Loose Lizzie that comes along. You probably have plenty of chances, but you don't do it. You love me."
It isn't a question, but I nod my head anyway.
"I know some other things. You won't tell me what happened to you, but I know it was bad. I can see it in your eyes. It hurt you. Not just these--" She touches the scars inside the open front of my shirt. "---but inside, somewhere. It shows." She makes me look at her. "What ever you had to do, so that you could come back to me, will have to be OK." She kisses me. "I won't lie to you and tell you it doesn't bother me. I'm not happy about it. But I think you're in enough misery for the both of us."
"And you know something else? I love you." She straddles my good leg and moves up close, puts her arms around my neck.
"God only knows why."
"I remember you told me I have to just shut up and not ask for reasons why you love me. It works both ways, mister." She kisses me again. "Now you're going to have to figure out how we can make love without waking Patty up. All this kissing's made me feel a little…..restless."
"I love kissing you. I could kiss you all night."
"We already did that." She giggles. "How 'bout we do something else now?"
"I thought you had to be careful---I thought you couldn't---"
"I'll be careful. There's some things I can still do." She unbuttons my shirt. "I missed you when you were gone." She reaches for my belt buckle. "And it wasn't just your face I missed. There are lots of things I missed about you, big guy." She licks my lips, and I'm thinking about that……."Some parts I missed more than others."…..and then she finds some of those parts.
The bathroom seems like a better choice to be alone than going out to the car. It's pretty small, but we manage. A coupla times.
And when we come out, the sun is up and so is Patty. "It's about time," she says, and grabs her suitcase. When she slams the door to the bathroom, Lynn starts to giggle again---God, she's giggly---and lays down on the fold-out. She pulls me down with her, and I think we're asleep before Patty comes outta the bathroom..
We're back on the road a little after noon. Patty takes the first shift behind the wheel. Lynn and I sit in the back and cuddle and kiss. I have to laugh at Patty's disgusted face in the rearview.
Lynn falls asleep again. I'm not sleepy at all. I feel like a big weight's gone off my shoulders. I'm not gonna have to pack up and move out. My baby still wants me, screw-ups, scars and everything.
She's really something. I thought she'd be really surprised. I figured she'd cry, especially since she's been crying so much since I got back anyway.
The whole night was something. Nothing better than kissing all night. Except the baby kicking. Feeling the baby inside her tummy wasn't like anything I ever felt before. I was sorry when the baby went back to sleep.
We're gonna be back in Bisbee sometime today. I haven't really thought too much about that before now. I missed everybody, but thinking about seeing them all makes me uneasy. Not sure why..
When we pull into Bisbee, it's about sunset. Patty's behind the wheel again, 'cause my leg started to cramp up while I was driving.
She says she needs a Coke and stops at the Dairy Dreme on the edge of town. The telephone lines are gonna be smoking now---I'm sure everyone knew Lynn and Patty were going to get me, so in just a little while, everyone in town who's interested will know I'm back.
And I'm right. When we pull into our driveway, there are people there waiting for us. A few I don't mind seeing---Richard and Nancy are there, the Rev's there, Herbert's just getting out of his car. Some neighbors, and a few sightseers. And I'm nervous.
We stop the car. Lynn's sitting up front with Patty; I was trying to stretch out and get my leg muscles to calm down. They both get out. I push the seat forward, grab my walking stick, and put it out the door ahead of me. My foot's asleep. It takes me a minute to get out of the car. I have to lean on my stick pretty heavily. My sleeping foot catches on the running board. I'm leaning on my stick and it slips in the gravel, and then I hit the ground.
I probably should be used to falling. Somehow it feels different if you do it in front of everybody you know. The silence is pretty loud for a few seconds. Then somebody says, "Ohmigod."
Lynn's down on her knees next to me, worried that I'm hurt, asking me if I'm OK. I would be, except I haven't been this humiliated since I was a kid.
Richard reaches to help me up, and I'm afraid I snarl at him. "I can get up by myself!" So he backs up. And then I find out I can't….quite….. get all the way up by myself. Shit.
I might be able to if I had a few minutes, if everybody wasn't watching me, if I didn't feel like an idiot.
So I'm on my knees down here on the ground, and everybody's afraid to help me, and I can't make myself ask for help. Great. We could be here all day.
Patty's the one who figures out I can't get up. She grabs Richard's shirt and drags him back over to me. She gets down and gets her shoulder under my arm, drags my arm across her shoulders. When I open my mouth, she says, "Shut up and quit being such a jerk."
She glares at Richard. So he does the same thing with my other arm, but he looks like he's afraid I'm gonna smack him.
When I'm up on my feet and leaning against the car, Patty hands me my stick. The Reverend is herding everybody away. Herbert walks up and grabs my hand and shakes it.
"We're glad to have you back, Bud. You come by when you're feeling better. We'll go do some shooting." Then he leaves.
Lynn's talking to Nancy right before Nancy comes over and grabs Richard. "I think Bud is really tired. We'll come back when he's more in the mood for company." And she drags him off. I kinda wish he woulda stayed. I think I could've eventually said I was sorry if he woulda stuck around.
Lynn's got that pissed off look on her face. I hope it's not for me.
It might be, but I guess it's not. Lynn says, "Never mind," when I ask her what's up with Nancy. "She's just got a bee in her bonnet right now."
I always liked Nancy. Wonder what's going on.
The girls are getting the suitcases outta the car. I look around, and everybody's gone. Just like that. Even the Rev. That kinda surprises me. I thought he'd at least say hi. Or good to see you. Or glad you're not dead. Or something.
Get inside the house---and the living room's blue and white. Everything. Blue and white. When I left, we had wallpaper with little bouquets of pink flowers, and the woodwork was wood-colored. Now the walls are white and the woodwork is blue. New sofa is blue. New chairs are blue and white.
Lynn sees me looking around. "Oh," she says. "I forgot you didn't know about this. The roof got a leak, and when it rained, it leaked in right on the sofa, and a mushroom grew inside it-or something--and then it got smashed, and smelled terrible, so we had to get a new sofa, and then I thought we might as well go ahead, we were painting the baby's room anyway, and anyway it was always so dark in here---"
I held up my hand. "OK. I got it. It looks real nice."
She smiles and looks relieved.
I just kinda wander around the rest of the house. She changed a lotta things while I was away. I suppose she got lonesome. Needed something to do.
I feel like a visitor.
It looks nice. It does. It just doesn't look like my house. It took me a long time to get used to the house the way it was before, just because I wasn't used to living with flowers and pretty things. I guess I can do it again. Might take me awhile.
I go out the back door and sit down on the top step. At least the outside is pretty much the same. Almost.
"Bud?" The door opens. "Would you like something? Something to drink, or we've got some ice cream in the freezer."
"I wouldn't mind a glass of scotch."
Lynn brings it out and sits down next to me. Patty comes out with a bowl of ice cream and drags a chair over next to us.
"This wasn't exactly the homecoming I had in mind," Lynn says."No?" I take a drink. "Don't worry about it."
She reaches over and takes my hand. I'm watching the fireflies. There's not very many yet, it's still early.
Patty says, "I'm sorry I called you a jerk."
"It's OK, I was being a jerk."
Patty goes in first. She was staying here while I was gone, so she just goes upstairs and goes to bed. Lynn starts to yawn, and I tell her to go on up.
"We rearranged the bedrooms," she says, kinda hesitating.
I smile to myself. "It's OK. I'll find you."
It's a nice warm night. Real quiet, except for the crickets. The stars are twinkling overhead. The fireflies are dancing. I can smell some of Lynn's flowers, don't know which ones, but they smell good. Sitting on my back porch in the dark, sipping on good scotch, can't see anything except what I expect to be there.
This part of my homecoming seems right.
When Lynn gets up in the morning and comes to the door, my glass isn't quite empty yet, and I'm still sitting right here.
"You didn't come to bed," she says.
She sits down next to me. "I'm sorry I changed the house. I didn't think how that would be for you when you came back."
"You didn't think I was coming back." I toss down the last of the scotch, and look at her.
Dammit. "Hey," I say. I make her look at me. "It's OK. There were times I didn't think I was coming back either. And don't worry about the house. It looks real nice. I'll get used to it."
We sit for a while listening to the birds, watching the insects, the sunshine, the dust in the air.
"I was gone a long time."
She lays her head on my shoulder.
"Mighta got used to being alone. Might take me a while. You know?"
After a while, I say, "I'm a lucky man to be here with you." I kiss the top of her head. "It's beautiful in the morning, isn't it?" She nods.
She's wearing a ratty old robe and her curls are kinda mashed on one side where she was laying on 'em. She's got sleep crusties on her eyelashes, and drool marks on her cheek. Pretty sure she doesn't know why I'm smiling.
"You know what the best part is?"
She shakes her head.
"No snow. I hate snow."
She giggles. I tilt her chin up and kiss her again. Sometimes things seem like they're gonna be OK.
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