“Marriage is difficult,” Shelby says. When Ben laughs, she adds, “So I hear.”
“It wouldn’t be with you,” he tells her.
“Yes, it would be. Come on, Ben. It would be ten times worse.”
“It was always you,” Ben says. “Everything I’ve done since has been a mistake.”
“That’s not true.” Shelby feels her heart opening to him, but they’re each other’s pasts now. “I was a horrible girlfriend. You were always so nice, and I was the worst. You were smart to dump me. And you’re right. I should have called you about Blinkie.”
“Did you bury him? Did you have a funeral and everything?”
Shelby goes to the bookcase and brings out a little metal box. Blinkie’s name is printed on it. She paid extra for that. “He’s in here. I’m taking him to California.”
Shelby hears footsteps on the stairs. In her shock over Ben’s admission of unhappiness, she’d forgotten about James. He’s arrived with an order from China Sea in hand, the next best thing now that Hunan Kitchen has closed down. James stops in the doorway when he sees Ben, dropping his hand to pet Cooper when the dog races to him.
Ben looks at James, then glances at the overjoyed German shepherd. He’s beginning to see the light. “It’s his dog?”
“Ben?” James says, surprised. “Ben Mink?”
“He stopped by for his great-aunt’s table and chairs,” Shelby tells James. “He just got here.”
“I don’t want them. And that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to see you.” Ben is still staring at James. “Jimmy Howard?”
James comes in and deposits the takeout on the table. “Don’t worry,” he assures Ben. He just can’t help himself. “I don’t have any rubber bands.”
“Is he serious?” Ben says to Shelby. He turns to James. “You have the fucking nerve to mention the rubber bands? That was a trauma for me. I didn’t live it down for years.”
“To tell you the truth, I’m glad for this opportunity to make amends to you,” James says. “I get the whole Bambi thing now. I actually think it’s the most disturbing thing in film.”
“Do you?” Ben says. “Because I think the most disturbing thing in real life is that you’re fucking Shelby and living in my apartment.”
“It’s not your apartment,” Shelby says.
“I have my own place,” James tells Ben.
“Congratulations,” Ben sneers. He grabs the bag of food and takes out one of the white cardboard containers and some chopsticks. He opens the General Tso’s chicken. “Same order, different delivery boy. You don’t mind if I eat at my aunt Ida’s table, do you?” he asks James.
“Go right ahead. I hate Chinese food,” James tells him.
“He hates Chinese food,” Ben says pointedly to Shelby. “So how did this happen? An online dating site? I was the first choice for a match for her, you know,” he tells James. “He’s been in prison,” Ben informs Shelby. “He was the guy I bought drugs from.”
“We fell in love,” James says.
“Really? Well, fuck you.” Ben has begun to eat the General Tso’s chicken, which he always hated. “You know nothing about Shelby. Were you there for her when she really needed someone?”
James throws Shelby a look. He was there, but neither of them can say anything that will hurt Ben anymore.
Ben has noticed a copy of Nevermore on the table. “What’s this supposed to be?”
“James wrote and illustrated it,” Shelby says.
“He’s a writer?” Ben says mournfully. “I’m the one who loves books. I made you read Ray Bradbury.”
“The Illustrated Man, right?” James says. “Brilliant.”
Shelby has to get Ben out of here. She slips on her boots and grabs her raincoat.
“It’s Burberry,” Ben says to James. “Who do you think gave it to her?”
“Let’s go for a walk,” Shelby says to him.
“I don’t want to go for a walk.” Ben takes a threatening step toward James. “I doubt very much that you understand Bambi,” he says.
“I just wanted you to know I’m sorry for what I did back then,” James says. “I acted like an asshole and I got what I deserved.”
“Really? Because it seems like you got Shelby.”
“Come with me.” Shelby grabs Ben’s arm, and they go downstairs. “I don’t know where I would have been without you.”
“You’d be right here with that guy.” Once out the door Ben sits on the stoop, and Shelby sits beside him.
“No. I wouldn’t. I’d be lost.”
“So you’re saying you’re in love with him? The guy that made me cry in fourth grade?”
“It was a bad year for everyone. And yes. I am. I really am, Ben. I don’t think I knew how to love anybody before.”
“Perfect,” Ben says. “You had to learn now.”
Shelby takes his hand and laces her fingers through his. “Do you think Ana wants the table?”
“It’s too old-fashioned for her. She hates anything with history.”
“She’s right,” Shelby says. “It’s a piece of shit. I’ll leave it for the next tenant.”
They both laugh. “Good thing Ida is dead,” Ben says. He glances at Shelby. “Do you miss Blinkie?”
“I miss everything,” she says. “I miss you.”
“But it’s him, huh? Fucking Jimmy.”
“He was there the night it happened. He’s been writing to me all along. That’s how I fell in love with him.” Shelby is sitting on Tenth Avenue in the clothes she slept in, so she’s especially grateful for the raincoat Ben gave her. She wears it all the time, and she suspects she’ll put it to good use in California. “What happened with Ana?”
“She wants bigger, better, more. She wants to move to a fancier house than the one we already have.” He shakes his head, as if trying to shake off his confusion. “We’re having a kid,” he says.
Shelby feels a twinge of jealousy, but only a little pinprick. “Ben, you will be a great father. I wish you were my father.”