by G.W. Adamson
Caitlyn stood in the living room of her childhood home as if she expected to hear a sound or see someone enter. A yellowed newspaper lay on the dust-covered coffee table. Opening the living room curtains brought light and more dust floating in every direction. It appeared as though her mother locked the door and left without giving possessions a backward glance.
Ambling from room to room she realized there was little in the house that she really wanted, but she needed to be practical. The job she would start in June was entry-level pay, so she reminded herself to be grateful that she would have nice furnishings for her new apartment. Involuntarily she smiled. No roommates! After packing some kitchen items she went upstairs to look through the bedrooms. The window treatments and bedspreads in the guest room would fit her apartment, and she began taking them off. She heard the doorbell, but ignored it.
Her shoulders sagged at the sound of a male voice. It was someone who knew her. She stomped down the stairs, annoyed by the intrusion and determined to let nothing block her plans for a quick exit. Through the door’s peephole she saw Henry.
“Surprise!” he exclaimed, grinning when she opened the door. “Charlie Whitney saw you coming out of the Burger Shack, and when I saw a car in the driveway, I figured it had to be you.”
“Oh.” She smiled weakly, berating herself for leaving the car outside.
“May I come in?” He continued to smile as he watched her with guarded eyes, trying to determine her true feelings about seeing him on the doorstep. She could still read him.
“Sure,” she replied, though not enthusiastically. Her stomach began to churn.
Henry looked around. “I’ve never seen this room with a speck of dust. Your mom would have a fit,” he joked.
“She doesn’t live here anymore,” Caitlyn replied in a flat voice.
“Yeah. I heard your parents divorced a few years ago and your mom remarried.”
“Did that surprise you?” The bitter question slipped out before she could censor it.
“My parents are separated,” Henry offered without responding to her question. “Mom finally threw my dad out, which she should have done years ago. Don’t ask me why she thought a lazy, alcoholic bastard was better than no father.”
Caitlyn hadn’t forgotten Henry’s father at school athletic events that featured one of his sons. Staggering drunk, he cursed and insulted everyone, including referees, coaches, and even the players. More than once he was escorted off school property by the police.
“I don’t hate him anymore,” Henry volunteered. “Don’t care about him either. I had to let go of my anger in order to move on with my life.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” she agreed in a subdued voice, unnerved about recalling those years. She tried to shut down her memory and concentrate on the Henry standing in front of her. He hadn’t changed in four years. Still the proud owner of six-pack abs that showed under his tight shirt. There had been times at college, especially the first year, when she missed everything about Henry. Alone in her dorm room she would ache with both nostalgia and lust as she remembered his arms wrapped protectively around her. Dozens of times she was tempted to telephone him, but each time put down the phone, not wanting to cloud her new life. And dozens of times she wondered if she was making a mistake.
She noticed that Henry was still standing. “I’m being rude,” she apologized. “Would you like to sit down? I can’t even offer you a glass of water; everything is turned off.”
“I just finished lunch, but I would like to sit. How’s your dad doing?”
“Still working in Europe. I haven’t seen him since our graduation.”
“Really?” Henry arched his eyebrows in surprise. He had always admired Caitlyn’s father.
She settled back in her chair with a wry expression. “Bad fathers come in many varieties, including the sober, successful one. At least my father gives gifts of conscience-assuaging money. He agrees to everything I ask for, his voice crackling through satellite signals from whatever country he’s in at the time. And he always adds some half-assed apology for being in a place that is either too hard for me to reach, or unsafe for a woman to travel to by herself. We end the conversations by my letting him off the emotional hook that he seems to feel I plant in his back.”
She stopped, surprised by her vehemence, but even more surprised by her honesty. She hadn’t told any of her college friends that she felt abandoned by her parents. At New York University, where nobody knew her or her family, she reinvented herself as a confident, comfortable college girl. She had cleaned up her history, removed the discomforting parts, added a funny story here and there. Her parents were amicably divorced in her rewritten history.
“Just not a good match,” she would offer with a carefree shrug that gave away none of the turmoil. “The divorce was a positive move,” she would add, and eventually she realized that it was true, especially for her.
There was only one person in whom she ever confided the depth of her anger toward her parents. Connected by intelligence and ambition, and both from dysfunctional families, Henry and Caitlyn had been a team throughout high school. The difference had been that Henry’s family was an obvious mess, while Caitlyn’s parents had hidden their tumultuous relationship behind public smiles and economic success.
“And my mother isn’t much better,” Caitlyn continued. Having savaged her father, she saw no reason to stop now, not with Henry. “I truly think she cares more than my father as long as I don’t inconvenience her new life. I’ve seen her twice since she left here. When I called her to say I was going skiing for Christmas, she cooed ‘Oh, that sounds like a lot of fun! Of course, you’re always welcome here, honey’ in such a cheery, phony voice that I wanted to hang up on her. I guess she’s presenting herself as the loving mother in front of her husband, knowing that I will refuse her disingenuous invitation.”
“It sounds like your mom is happy now. But I guess it’s hard on you.”
“This is not hard, Henry,” she snapped in a severe voice. “The end of our senior year was hard.”
Henry leaned forward, looking tense. “I was so damned mad at you. I poured my heart out to you at the senior picnic, and you shot me down like I was nothing to you. Stone-cold.”
Caitlyn drew back, confused that they didn’t seem to be on the same subject. She quickly turned indignant. “You dumped me for Sharon Carter in March!”
“Aw, Caitlyn, we took turns dumping each other for four years. You know I always loved—”
“Oh, no! You were all over Sharon at that concert, which I heard about in great detail from a half-dozen people. How dare you blame me for one bit of your crummy behavior!” Realizing that she was yelling, she took a deep breath.
Henry stood up and started to pace. “I know. I was stupid. I’ve moved on, except for you, Caitlyn. Sometimes I think I will never get over the way things ended with us.”
He nervously licked his lips and brushed his hand over the side of his head. It was a gesture she knew well. “I tried to get your phone number at NYU, but they wouldn’t even acknowledge that you attended the school. I wanted to explain things. Your mom and I never liked each other. She thought I wasn’t good enough for you.”
Caitlyn wondered why he was bringing up her mother, whose opinion of him no longer mattered. She glanced at her watch.
“I was a stupid, enraged kid who wanted to strike back and hurt you like you had hurt me,” he continued. “The morning after the senior picnic I was going to play basketball and stopped at Anderson’s store. I saw your mom kiss that man. Then your mom got into her car and they both drove away. It happened so fast and I didn’t have a perfect view. At the gym, the guys started razzing me about you and I blurted out—” He halted, disconcerted by the shock on her face.
Her frown deepened as her mouth formed a perfect O. “You?” She exhaled the word, hearing her voice shake as her breath became shorter and heavier. “You started that rumor about my mother? You were the cause of all the whispers and giggles anytime I showed my face at the end of our senior year?”
Henry’s expression told her that he thought she had known. “It doesn’t matter what I thought I saw. I felt awful and that summer I told people that I made a mistake. You can ask Trish Goodwin,” he added, anxious to reassure her.
Caitlyn tilted her head to the side, narrowing her eyes, and said in a smooth voice that belied her seething heart, “Isn’t that like the cliché about a newspaper’s front-page headline screaming an accusation, and then printing a one-paragraph retraction on page 24 when the story turns out to be false? How can you retract front-page damage to a reputation?” She wondered if she was referring to her own reputation or her mother’s.
Henry continued to speak with a beseeching expression, but his words sounded distant. He made a mistake. It wasn’t her mother. It had been nothing but boyish anger. Caitlyn stopped listening, wanting to close her eyes, shield her ears with her hands, and sing loudly like a petulant child until the visions, and Henry, went away. Her mind swirled, trying to find a way to put the depth of his betrayal into words.
Her face was a mask when she interrupted him and said, “I think love and friendship mean putting another person on an equal level with myself. It’s that old ‘do unto others’ concept.”
“Yes,” he quickly agreed, nodding his head.
“For example, regardless of the inconsiderate, lousy things you did during the four years we dated, I would never have told people about your brother, Leon, getting that girl from Milton pregnant when he was engaged to Mari Ann Shale.” Henry’s facial muscles drooped as an eerie smile formed on Caitlyn’s lips. “Thought I didn’t know about that? Your father borrowed money from everyone. Didn’t it occur to you that he borrowed money from my dad? Your father needed money for the abortion plus a little ‘keep quiet’ bribe for the girl. Couldn’t have the Shale family finding out that Leon was already cheating on his ticket to the good life. Despite Leon’s good looks and athleticism, he was not what the Shales wanted for one of their daughters, not even homely Mari Ann. They wouldn’t have let Mari Ann near your brother if they had known about the pregnancy. I could have spread a lot of stories about your family, but I would never have done that to you.”
“How much did he borrow?” he asked through clinched teeth.
“That’s not the point, Henry!” She paused, gaining control with a loud swoosh of air through her lips. “I thought I could trust you; thought you were a better person than the sour-minded hypocrites that populate this town.” She stood up, trying to get her adrenaline under control. “I’m sorry, Henry, but I have a limited amount of time and a lot to do. I need to finish up so that I can join my friends in Mexico for spring break.”
He looked paralyzed for a moment until his self-respect kicked in and he stood up. “Well,” he said briskly, “I just wanted you to know that I made a mistake about your mother and I’m sorry. I hope you have a good time in Mexico. I wanted to set things straight.”
“Consider it done,” she said as she opened the front door for him.
She closed the door and walked mechanically to the bottom of the stairs with a still-pounding heart, then looked up at the second floor. The scene floated into her head as clearly as if it were yesterday that she had driven home from school at lunchtime. Classes were reviewing for first-semester tests, and Caitlyn was an A student who felt no need to stay in class and go over material she knew. She had little difficulty convincing the school nurse to let her leave because of a terrible headache, even though her mother was out of her office and couldn’t be reached. Pulling out of the school parking lot, Caitlyn turned up the radio and sang along.
Caitlyn pushed the remote control to open her garage door and stared, frowning, at the unfamiliar black Lincoln in the garage. Turning off her engine, she quietly got out of the car and without thinking of why, eased the car door closed without a sound. A small voice told her to get back in the car and leave. Now. But she entered the house, hearing music playing upstairs in her parents’ bedroom. She was halfway up the stairs before she heard the unmistakable sound of enthusiastic sex. She backed down the stairs in slow motion and closed the back door so slowly that her hand hurt, then backed quickly out of the driveway without closing the car door until she reached the end of the driveway. Even if her mother thought she heard something, Caitlyn would be gone before her mother could get to a window.
Caitlyn shook her entire body trying to rid herself of the memory and the jittery uneasiness that had enveloped her since her arrival.
“I’m putting the house on the market next week, and the contents will be sold with the house,” her mother had said when she called from South Carolina. “Take anything you want for your apartment. It’s all good quality and it will be nice for you to have some things from your home.”
Caitlyn turned her head to the right with a solemn expression and looked at the two packed boxes next to the kitchen. Taking her jacket off a coat hook in the hall, she walked out the back door, locking it as she left.
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing