If I spend the weekend with him, it’ll feel just like how drinking went for me last night. It’ll be fun and exciting while it’s happening and I’ll forget about everything else while I’m with him, but then Monday will come. He’ll move and I’ll have an Owen hangover that’ll be so much worse than the Owen hangover I’ll have if I would just walk away from him right now.
He opens the door to his studio and a blast of cool air surrounds me, luring me in. I look inside and then at Owen. He can see the apprehension in my eyes and he reaches down for my hand. He walks me into the studio and for some reason, I don’t resist. The door closes behind us and we’re engulfed by the darkness.
I listen for the echo of my heart, because I’m certain it’s beating loud enough to hear one. I can feel him standing close to me, but neither of us is moving. I can hear his breaths, I feel his closeness, I smell the clean scent of conditioner mixed with whatever makes him smell like rain.
“Is it the thought of spending the weekend with someone you barely know that’s making you doubt this? Or is it just the thought of spending the weekend with me in particular?”
“I’m not scared because it’s you, Owen. I’m considering it because it’s you.”
He takes a step back and my eyes have adjusted enough to the darkness that I can see his face clearly now. He’s hopeful. Excited. Smiling. How can I say no to that face?
“What if I agree to just spend the day with you for right now? And we’ll go from there?”
He laughs at my suggestion, as if he thinks it’s silly that I wouldn’t want to stay the entire weekend after spending the day with him.
“That’s cute, Auburn,” he says. “But okay.”
His grin is huge when he pulls me to him. He wraps his arms around me and lifts me off the floor, squeezing the breath out of me. He sets me back down and pushes open the door. “Come on. Let’s go to Target.”
I pause. “Target?”
He smiles and adjusts his cap on my head as he pushes me out into the sunlight again. “I don’t have anything to feed you. We’re going grocery shopping.”
I’m losing track of the lies I’m telling her, and lying to someone like her isn’t normally something I would do. But I didn’t know how to tell her the truth. I was scared to let her go and scared to admit that I’m not actually moving on Monday, because the truth is, I’ll be in court on Monday. And after my hearing, I’ll be in either jail or rehab, depending on who gets his way. Me or Callahan Gentry.
When my father stopped by the studio this morning, I was careful not to say too much because I knew Auburn might be listening. But keeping my cool was harder than I thought it would be. I just wanted him to see what this is doing to me. I wanted to grab his hand and pull him up the stairs and point down at her, sleeping on my bed. I wanted to say, “Look at her, Dad. Look at what your selfishness is costing me.”
Instead, I did what I always do. I allowed the memories of my mother and my brother to talk me out of standing up to him. They’re my excuse. They’re his excuse. They’ve been our excuse for the last several years, and I’m afraid if I don’t find a way to stop using that night as my excuse, then Callahan and Owen Gentry will never be father and son again.
Nothing has made me want to stop this way of life like she has, though. As much as I’ve tried and as much as I’ve thought about it and as much as it defeats me every time my guilt wins, I’ve never felt stronger than I feel when I’m with her. I’ve never felt like I had purpose like I feel when I’m with her. I think about the first words I said to her when she showed up at my door. “Are you here to save me?”
Because are you, Auburn? It sure feels that way, and it’s been a long time since I’ve felt any semblance of hope.
“Where are you going?” she asks me.
Her voice could be used as a form of therapy. I’m convinced of that. She could walk into a room full of severely depressed people and all she would have to do to heal them is open a book and read out loud.
She shoves my shoulder and laughs, and I’m glad to see this side of her is back. She’s hardly laughed all day.
“I don’t mean right now, dummy. I mean Monday. Where are you going? Why are you moving?”
I glance across the street.
I look up at the sky.
I focus on my feet.
I look everywhere but into her eyes, because I don’t want to lie to her again. I’ve already lied to her once today, and I can’t do it again.
I reach out and take her hand in mine. She lets me, and the simple fact that I know she wouldn’t let me hold her hand if she knew the truth makes me regret ever having lied to her in the first place. But the longer I wait to admit the truth, the harder it becomes.
“Auburn, I don’t really want to answer that question, okay?”
I continue to stare at my feet, not wanting her to see in my face that I think she’s crazy for agreeing to spend the weekend with me, because she deserves so much better than what I can give her. I don’t, however, think she deserves better than me. I think she would be perfect for me and I would be perfect for her, but all the bad choices I’ve made in my life are what she doesn’t deserve to be a part of. So until I can figure out how to right all my wrongs, two days with her is all I’m really worthy of. And I know she said we would focus on today first before she decides to spend the entire weekend, but I think we both know that’s bullshit.
She squeezes my hand. “If you aren’t going to tell me why you’re moving away, then I’m not going to tell you why I ended up moving here.”
I was hoping to learn everything there is to know about her this weekend. I had questions lined up and ready to be fired, and now I have to withdraw, because there’s no way in hell I’m telling her about my life. Not right now, anyway.
“That’s fair,” I say, finally able to look at her again.
She smiles and squeezes my hand again, and I can’t fucking take how beautiful you look right now, Auburn. Free of worry, free of anger, free of guilt. The wind blows a piece of her hair across her mouth and she pulls it away with her fingertips.
I’m going to paint this moment later.
But right now, I’m taking her to Target. For groceries.