I am not the only traveler
Who has not repaid his debt
I've been searching for a trail to follow again
Take me back to the night we met
And then I can tell myself
What the hell I'm supposed to do
And then I can tell myself
Not to ride along with you
I had all and then most of you
Some and now none of you
Take me back to the night we met
I don't know what I'm supposed to do
Haunted by the ghost of you
Oh, take me back to the night we met
Instantly I'm swept back to that night. The smell of his rain damp hair. The feel of his gentle hands on my naked skin. The taste of his lips. He made me feel vulnerable, desirable, beautiful. I loved Ronnie to the core of my being, but I never felt that way when I was with him, and a pang of guilt knots in my stomach.
He comes into focus, and I can see his dark hair is longer, shaggier than I remember. He has a few days of stubble on his face, which I have always found to be sexy. His skin is rough and tan, like he spends his days in the sun. The smell of the earth and windblown linen comes off him. It's comforting. It smells like home. I shake his hand, and I can feel dry calluses along the inside of his palm, like he works with his hands all day. He looks at me with the same crooked smile I remember. I have tried so hard to forget that night, forget my infidelity, forget him, but I am left with a daily reminder in those familiar eyes.
My mouth is dry and I'm finding it difficult to form the words. Any words. Can he sense my hesitation? Does he remember me? I just stand there shaking his hand and staring at him like I'm a mute. I want to say something. Anything. I want to ask what the hell he is doing in my house. How did he find me? How does he know my mother? But like Life, words are tricky bitches too.
"It's very nice to meet you Caitlin." He says calmly. How can he be calm at a time like this? He must not remember or recognize me. If that's true, I'm grateful for it. I can't have my mother know about that night. It would kill me. She would kill me. "Your Mom has told me so much about you."
Wait. What? What has my mother told him? Why has my mother told him anything? I slowly turn my head to stare at my mother, still unable to speak. Is there actual cotton growing in my mouth now? I open my lips to say something and a bit of dust flies out.
"Caitlin. Don't be rude to our guest." She says in a hushed tone, so he won't hear, but he hears it anyway. How can he not? We're less than a foot away from each other.
I continue to stare at my mother, wordless. I think she took the hint of my inability to speak, because she smiled her fake "everything is fine" smile, chuckled uncomfortably and said, "Barry here is my neighbor." She placed her hand on his shoulder and continued. "He bought the farm next to mine about 5 years ago, and he has been my savior."
"Oh, I don't think I'm a savior." He said modestly, as his cheeks began to flush with color.
"Don't be silly. If it weren't for you, I would have lost my house." She says in a very fake southern accent, as if she's come right out of Gone With The Wind. All she needs to say is "I declare" and fan herself. Sometimes I think she doesn't realize she's doing it. It just pops out, like it's been lying dormant waiting for the right moment to free itself, and it always frees itself when she's flirting with someone.
I shake my head at the revelation of what my mother just said. What does she mean she almost lost her house? She never said a word to me about being in trouble. I finally find my words and practically scream at her, "What do you mean Mom? You never told me you were going to lose your house." I glance at Barry out of the corner of my eye and see he has not taken his eyes off me. He probably thinks I'm crazy the way I blew up at her. I didn't mean for it to come out mean. I was just surprised by what she said.
He's still staring. Not in an obvious way. Not in a creepy way, but almost as if he's studying me. Like I was a painting or a statue, and he is observing the beauty of the art. Does he remember me? How could he? It was nearly 6 years ago, and I'm sure he has had plenty of lovers since then. As handsome as he is, I'm sure he could have any girl he wants, so why would he remember someone a plain as me. I have brown hair, and brown eyes. Nothing special. Plus, I've put on about 10 pounds since that night. A baby and marriage can do that to you.
I look down and realize I'm still shaking his hand. No wonder his staring at me. He probably thinks I'm a lunatic. I drop his hand instantly, and turn my attention back at my mother, waiting for her to explain.
"Well honey, I didn't want you to worry. You had just had the baby and you and Ronnie were fighting all the time."
"We weren't fighting all the time." I interrupted her. How could she say that in front of him? He doesn't need to know anything about my marriage. "We weren't fighting all the time. I just didn't want him going to away so much. I needed his help with the baby, and I wanted him around. We discussed his deployments. We discussed." She looked at me with pity in her eyes.
"Well…" she started again, "You had your own issues and I didn't want to bother you with mine. Barry had just moved in next door and he was looking to expand his business, so I sold him my acreage. It was a win win situation for the both of us. His profits have doubled, and I was able to keep the house." She smiled at him sweetly. Cougar.
"Thank you for helping my Mom. That was very kind of you. So, what is your business?"
"Like Carla said, it was a win win so there is no need to thank me. I have wheat and corn fields, and with the help of her land, I've been able to grow my name and my ranch as a legitimate source." He smiled that crooked smile and I involuntarily smile back at him. I just hope I don't give him an excuse one day to kick my mom out of her house. People can be vengeful when they find out about a hidden truth. My involuntary smile fades quickly. I can't have him finding out the truth. It would hurt too many people involved.
"Why are you here?" I asked flatly. My mother's face was stricken with horror. "Watch your tongue missy!" she snapped at me. Then tried to cover up her anger with her fake flirty smile, but her thin lips couldn't do it. It just came out looking like 3rd grade class picture smile, showing too much teeth and the mouth getting pulled back as if they were on fish hooks.
"I just mean, why has my mother asked you here?" I tried to sound a little sweeter than before, but it just came out dry and monotoned.
"I have asked him here to help with the move." My mother said answering for him.
"He doesn't need to help, I have hired movers." I was getting irritated with her fake pleasantness.
"I realize that, but they will move most of the stuff to your storage. You and RJ will still have some things that will need to be moved to my house. My back just can't take it and I don't expect you move everything in your state." She throws me that superior smirk she always gave me when she knew she had just won a fight. I give up. It's useless to fight. I shrug, "Fine."
She clapped her hands together, "Lovely. Barry you're going to sleep on the couch tonight. We'll start packing bright and early tomorrow morning. I'm going to get ready for bed, and I suggest you both do the same." She gave me a kiss on the forehead, "I'll see you upstairs soon." I nodded, not feeling tired at all. I want to just veg out in front of the TV and not think for a few hours, but that plan wasn't going to work with Captain Save Everybody sleeping on my couch. Maybe I should send Barry up with her, but I think that's exactly what she would have wanted. Any excuse to get him in bed. Not that I'm jealous or anything, but the thought of the two of them together makes me nauseous.
Barry gave my mom a half hug and wished her good night. He walked over to the couch and started taking off his work boots. "I'll get you some sheets and a blanket." I said quietly.
"Just the sheets would be fine. I get hot when I sleep." He sat with his lips slightly parted. I got the feeling he wanted to say more. I stood there a moment stiff, waiting for whatever he was going to say, but nothing came out.
I brought him a set of sheets, told him good night and walked into the kitchen. If I couldn't veg in front of my TV I would just sit and stare into a cup of coffee. I at least needed to wait till my mother fell asleep, before I went upstairs. I did not want another awkward conversation about her "savior".
"You can watch TV if you want. I don't mind." He said softly from the couch.
"No. I'm fine." I lied. I didn't want to be near him. I didn't want to think about that night, and right now, with him in the next room, I couldn't do anything but think about that night. It was raining, right?
I brewed my coffee, poured in the creamer and began to stir. The house was so quiet, all you could hear was the slight scraping sound of the spoon against the walls of the mug. It was almost hypnotic. I stared blankly into the light brown liquid circling around. My mind drifting to thoughts Ronnie. I wanted an empty mind, but thoughts of him were good. It was good to remember him. I didn't think about anything in particular, just pictured him at the kitchen sink, drying dishes, talking about his latest operation.
I was startled when I heard Barry clear his throat at the kitchen door. "I think the creamer is stirred enough." He said softly.
"Right." I took the spoon out of the mug. "Sorry if I woke you." My voice cracked, choking back tears, because the lighthearted thoughts of Ronnie turned grey and faded at the sound of his voice. The feeling of guilt knotted in my stomach once again. I couldn't swallow. I couldn't look at him. He would be able to read it plainly on my face.
"We went to the same high school, you know." His voice wobbled with nervousness. He stood there, waiting for me to speak. I didn't respond, didn't look up, I just kept staring into the solace of my coffee.
Of course, I knew we went to the same high school. He was a year ahead of me, but everyone knew who Barry Allen was. He was a track all-star, homecoming king, and valedictorian. The question is, how does he know we went to the same high school? We hung out with different crowds. I wasn't popular, he was. I was what you would call a nerd, and he was a jock. I went to computer club and AP classes, he had track practice and college prep classes.
"I graduated a year before you." He continued, after I didn't say anything. "Your mom, Carla, she had me over for dinner one night." He was stammering a little. Why was he nervous? "I saw a picture of you. From graduation. And that's when I saw what high school it was." He ran his fingers through his hair and took a deep breath. I could tell he was building up to something. He was fidgety, moving his weight from one foot to the other. He clinched his hands together then let them go. What has gotten him so riled up? Finally, he stepped forward, into the kitchen and pulled out the chair next to me. I still couldn't look at him. Is my coffee cold now?
"I never got a chance to return your shirt." He said.