Seeing her again was like taking a step into my past. I wasn’t the boy I’d been when I first asked her to come up the stairs with me. But looking across those shelves at her, I could experience, for a minute, what it was like to be the old Gavin.
She’d changed. I remembered that now, puzzle pieces falling together. Softer around the middle. Sadder, too. When she looked up at me, she wasn’t joyful the way she’d been before, but shocked. She glanced anxiously behind her at the man, as if worried he would guess who I was. I didn’t say anything but bought a bottle of perfume, letting my hand linger when she handed me the change. Then I hung out at a bar down the street until the hour came for her to lock up.
Rosa was reluctant to see me then and wouldn’t go to her apartment. But when we got to the old hotel room, she forced a smile and put on the face that I would grow used to over the years that followed, a pretend sort of happy.
If she’d had a baby in that time I was gone, I wouldn’t have even known.
If it had been mine, she would have had no way to contact me about it until I showed back up again.
Damn it. Why hadn’t she told me when I came back? We could have sorted this out.
The phone felt cold in my hands. When I got back to Bud’s, I didn’t bother going inside. I knew exactly where I had to go.
I fired up the Harley and headed for Interstate 5 and the border.
My father never missed a thing.
“You were expecting him, weren’t you?” he said, stretched out in Gavin’s chair in the corner.
Mom sorted through their bags from the museum purchases. “Never mind that, dear. Look, I got you some things to set around the room.” She unpacked a handblown glass bowl swirled with blue and yellow and set it on the side table with the flowers. “That’s better.”
I gritted my teeth. “Thank you.”
Dad yawned. “Did the doctor say if you were leaving today?”
I glanced at the clock. Two in the afternoon. “He hasn’t been by. Another staff member came in and seemed to indicate I wouldn’t be here much longer.” I picked at the sheet across my lap. Gavin’s last two texts were cryptic and short, just “At work” and “I’ll get there when I can.”
“Was it a nurse?” Mom asked.
My hackles rose. “No, just somebody from the hospital.”
“Maybe we could page the doctor.” She arranged herself on a chair, tugging her knitting from a bag. Great, she was going to settle in. Maybe I could walk the halls a bit and try to place a call. Except I didn’t have anything but this breezy hospital gown. And Gavin had my keys. I was stuck.
“He’s probably got more pressing patients than me,” I said.
“Then they should give up your bed, send you home,” Dad said.
The gray-mop-headed nurse popped in. “Time for a temperature check.”
Mom stood up. “Do we know when Corabelle gets to go home?”
The woman clicked on her iPad. “The doctor should be by soon. He’ll decide.” She sheathed a thermometer and slid it into my mouth.
We all waited for it to beep, as if it would be anything but normal. I felt fine.
She peered at it. “Hmm. Up again a bit. You been out of bed a lot?”
I shook my head. “I feel fine. I was walking earlier. Maybe I just did too much.” It was a lie. My chest felt like it was being crushed. But I wanted to go home.
She tapped the temperature into her iPad. “Let’s take it a little bit easier, just to be sure.”
“I will.” God, I could not jeopardize going home. I was already going crazy.
Dad locked his hands behind his head and stared up at the ceiling. “Sure you don’t want to come back with us? I don’t know why you couldn’t finish up in New Mexico like you planned.”
I had to keep all my stories straight about why I had transferred. “I have a better shot at grad school here.”
“Sure was nice having you closer to home.”
“It’s nice here. I can see why Corabelle would like it,” Mom said, diplomatic as always.
My phone beeped and I practically lunged for it. Surely Gavin would be off work soon, or at least have a moment to let me know when he could bring my clothes.
But the number was unfamiliar.
Hey — a hospital just called to schedule an interview. Said you gave them my name. Thanks. Tina.
I smiled. I hoped she got the job, if she wanted it. I pictured Sabrina in her paint-splattered dress and stifled a laugh.
“Good to see you happy,” Dad said. “You haven’t smiled enough lately.”
I would have said it was Gavin, and new friends, but I let it go. The last thing I wanted was to invite Dad to start bashing him again.
“You know, I ran into Alaina the other day,” Mom said.
I stiffened at the mention of Gavin’s mother. “Oh?”
“She got a little flustered. We haven’t really spoken for a while.”
Since the funeral, probably. Gavin’s departure had pretty much ended the friendship between his mother and mine. “Where was she?”
“At the grocery store. I think she must have started going to Wal-Mart since I never see her at Peppers.”
“You think she’s avoiding you?”
My dad snorted. “She ought to be.”
“Arthur,” my mom said. “She’s not responsible for how Gavin acted.”
“She’s responsible for how she raised him.” He sat up. “No-account fool.”