- Beautiful Redemption
“Okay,” Taylor said. “No problem. Travis already left. What a piss biscuit he’s turned into.”
We returned to the car, and Taylor drove through town, turning down various streets, until he turned into a narrow gravel drive. The headlights illuminated a modest white house with a red porch and a dirty screen door.
Thomas opened my door, but he didn’t take my hand. He took all the luggage from Taylor and made his way to the house, glancing back just once to make sure I was following.
“Dad and Trent cleaned up everyone’s rooms for the occasion. You can sleep in your old room.”
“Great,” Thomas said.
The screen door complained when Taylor pulled it open, and then he turned the knob to the front door, walking through.
“Your dad doesn’t lock his door when he leaves?” I asked as we followed Taylor into the house.
Thomas shook his head. “This isn’t Chicago.”
I followed him inside. The furniture was as worn as the carpet, and the air carried a hint of mildew, bacon grease, and stale smoke.
“Good night,” Taylor said. “My flight is early. Is yours?”
Taylor hugged him. “See you in the morning then. I’ll probably leave around five. Trav said I could take the Camry since he’s riding with Shep.” He began to walk down the hall and then turned around. “Hey, Tommy?”
“Yeah?” Thomas said.
“It’s cool seeing you twice in one year.”
He disappeared down the hall, and Thomas looked down and sighed.
“I’m sure he didn’t mean to make you feel—”
“I know,” Thomas said. He looked up at the ceiling. “We’re up there.”
I nodded, following Thomas up the wooden stairs. They creaked under our feet, singing a bittersweet song of Thomas’s return. Faded pictures hung on the walls, all featuring the same platinum-haired boy I’d seen in Thomas’s condo. Then, I saw a picture of his parents, and I gasped. It looked like Travis sitting with a female version of Thomas. He had his mother’s eyes. He bore all her features but her jaw and long hair. She was stunning, so young and full of life. It was hard to imagine her being so ill.
Thomas turned into a doorway and then placed our luggage in a corner of the room. The iron-framed full-sized bed was pushed into the far corner, and still, the wooden dresser barely fit. Trophies from Thomas’s high school years sat atop shelves on the walls, and pictures from his baseball and football teams hung next to them.
“Thomas, we need to talk,” I began.
“I’m going to take a shower. You want to go first?”
I shook my head.
The zipper of Thomas’s suitcase made a high-pitched noise as he opened it. He pulled out a toothbrush, toothpaste, a razor, shaving cream, a pair of heather-gray boxer briefs, and navy basketball shorts.
Without a word, he disappeared into the bathroom and began to close the door, but it was off the track. He sighed and set his things on the sink, and then he jostled the door until it sat straight in the doorway.
“You need some help?” I asked.
“Nope,” he said before sliding the door closed.
I sat on the bed in a huff, unsure how to fix the mess I’d made. On one hand, it was fairly simple. We worked together. We were on assignment. Worrying about feelings seemed asinine.
On the other hand, the feelings were there. The next couple of days would be tough on Thomas. I’d pretty much stomped all over his heart because I was angry about another woman, who had coincidentally also stomped all over his heart.
I stood up and took off my sweater, staring at the broken door. From beneath the space at the bottom, light glowed into the dark bedroom, and the pipes whined as the shower spit and then shot out water in a steady stream. The shower door opened and then closed.
I shut the bedroom door and then pressed my palm and ear against the sliding door. “Thomas?”
He didn’t answer.
I slid open the door, and a gust of steam poured out. “Thomas?” I said again into the foot-wide space.
He still didn’t answer.
I slid the door open all the way and then closed it behind me. The shower door was fogged over, only showing Thomas’s vague form. The sink was in desperate need of a good scrub with limescale remover, and the peach linoleum was peeling up at the corners.
“It wasn’t for show,” I said. “I was jealous and angry, but mostly, I’m just scared.”
He still didn’t answer, instead scrubbing his face with soap.
“I didn’t enjoy being with Jackson. Almost from the beginning, I knew this was different. I can see it and feel it, but it still doesn’t seem right to me to jump back into something when I’ve been looking forward to being alone for so long.”
“But if I do, I need you to be totally over her. I don’t think that’s entirely unreasonable. Do you?” I waited. “Can you hear me?”
I sighed and leaned against the vanity with its chipped Formica and rusted drawer pulls. The faucet leaked, and over the years, a black drip stain had formed just above the chrome ring of the drain.
The tip of my thumb was at my mouth, and I nibbled at the skin around my nail, trying to think of what to say next. Maybe he didn’t want to hear anything I had to say.
I stood up and slipped my blouse over my head and then pulled off my tall boots. It took some effort to remove my skinny denim jeans, but the socks slipped off without effort. Thank God I’d thought to shave that morning. The long black strands of my hair fell over my breasts, so I didn’t feel quite so vulnerable, and I took the two steps toward the shower door.
I tugged once and then again. By the time it opened, Thomas was facing my direction with his eyes closed, lathered shampoo running down his face. He wiped the soap away and glanced at me, and then he quickly rinsed his face and looked again, his eyebrows pushing toward his hairline.
I shut the door behind me. “Are you listening?”
Thomas lifted his chin. “I’ll start listening when you do.”
“We can talk later,” I said, closing my eyes and pulling his face down so that my lips could reach his.
He grabbed my wrists and held me at bay. “I realize what our predicament is this weekend, but I’m done playing games with you. I don’t want to pretend anymore. I just want you.”