Author: Teresa Mummert
"I'll make us some coffee." I grabbed my T-shirt from the coffee table and pulled it over my head as I made my way into the kitchen. Jenn tugged on the hem of her own top, suddenly realizing she had never put her pants back on as she left her room in the middle of the night.
"Oh, God!" She ran into her bedroom and slammed the door closed, leaning back against it and banging her head softly against the wood. She opened her eyes to Roxy staring at her from her bed. A light tapping came from behind her head.
"Jenn?" I asked from the other side.
"If you want me to leave…"
"No! No…I just need to get dressed."
I prepared the coffee as I waited for her to get dressed. For the first time in a long time, my dreams were better than reality and I wanted to slip back into sleep for as long as possible.
"That smells good." Jenn smiled as she made her way into the kitchen. Roxy whined and headed for the front door. "I think she needs to go out."
"A walk sounds nice." I held out a mug of coffee for her.
"Thanks." She closed her eyes as she breathed in the warmth through her nose. "I'm just gonna watch some television. Lock the door on your way out."
"You aren't going to come?" My heart sank.
"I just thought you meant alone." She took a small sip of her coffee and smiled at the sweetness. I had added an extreme amount of sugar, just the way she liked it.
"That doesn't sound nice at all." I smirked as I took a sip from my coffee.
"Fine. But you have to hold the leash."
"That's a deal." I winked at her and she smiled into her cup as she turned toward her room to find a heavy sweater. The weather this time of year was unpredictable at best but it always seemed chilly to me. My body was used to the dry heat of the desert.
I grabbed my coat and pulled it on as I watched Jenn do the same with a heavy cable-knit sweater.
"I wish you didn't have to leave so soon," she said as we made our way down the stairs of her building and out the front door.
"Me either." I pulled Roxy to the left and we began walking down the street.
"I was thinking I could visit. Maybe during a three-day weekend or something. Of course, I'll need to get my license first."
"We'll see." I hated myself for not confessing where I was really going right then and there. She needed to know. I was developing feelings for her and if she felt anything, it was going to crush her to find out I was going back to war.
"Well…I mean…if you want me to." She tucked her hair behind her ear as she looked down at the sidewalk. I was a horrible bastard. She was walking next to me thinking I didn't want to see her again and I still couldn't find the words.
"Come on." I stepped off the sidewalk to cross the street toward a park.
"I'm going to have to go back to Jake's today. May and the kids have been begging me to spend more time over there."
"Oh…okay," she said as she stepped through the gate to the park. I closed it behind us and unhooked Roxy's leash so she could run.
"It's been great getting to know you the last few days." I stared off at Roxy as I shoved my hands in my jean pockets.
"Yeah. It's been an adventure." She kicked at the dirt with the toe of her shoe. "You're a good friend."
There it was. The stinging pain in my heart I had become accustomed to before I met Jenn. I was her friend. That is what I wanted. I didn't want her to worry about me. I nodded as I clenched my jaw trying to ignore the ache in my chest.
"Come on, Roxy!" I yelled across the empty park. Roxy stopped running and turned to look at us before slowly trotting back in our direction.
"Are you going to stop by before you go?"
Her eyes were on me and I swallowed the lump in my throat before raising my gaze to hers and nodding. She hesitated before wrapping her arms around my neck and squeezing me tightly. I placed my hand lightly on her back as I blinked back tears.
"I'm going to miss you," she whispered as her face buried in the crook of my neck. Her lips pressed softly against my throat, and I wrapped both my arms around her and hugged her, lifting her feet from the ground. Roxy brushed against my leg and I summoned all the strength I had inside of me to release my grip on Jenn and place her feet back on the ground. I forced a smile as I tucked her hair behind her ear.
"I should go." I wanted to make her smile, make her laugh, but I didn't have any idea what to say to her. I clipped Roxy's leash back on to her collar and pushed open the gate, waiting for Jenn to walk through.
As we made our way to my car parked out front of her house, our pace slowed. I didn't want to say good-bye.
We stopped in front of the car and turned to face each other. Jenn bent down and began petting Roxy as tears filled her eyes.
"You be good and keep an eye on Shane." She slowly stood and I struggled not to wrap my fingers in her hair and kiss her the way I had imagined doing. "You can call me…if you want," she said as she took a step back. I opened the passenger door and let Roxy jump in the car before closing it behind her.
"I will call you," I replied as I stepped in front of her. She nodded as her eyes brimmed with tears. "Come here," I whispered as I took her in my arms and held her. "I'll call." She nodded against my shoulder, and I slowly forced myself to let go of her.
I swallowed hard as I stepped around her and opened the driver-side door. I should have walked away the first time I saw Jenn on the bridge. She didn't need me. I slipped inside the car and pulled the door closed before I could say anything else
. I glanced at her one last time before pressing the button to start the car and pulling out into the street. My eyes immediately fell on my rearview mirror as I watched her step inside her apartment and disappear.
The drive back to Jake's house had been the loneliest I had felt in a long time. You never truly understand what you are missing until you have it in your grasp and push it away.
"Where have you been? We expected you here last night," May asked as soon as I walked through the front door.
"I stayed with Jenn." I rubbed my hand over my eyes and bent down to let Roxy off her leash.
"Shane, we can't have that dog here. Zack is allergic!" She grabbed hold of Roxy's collar and took her out the back door into their fenced in yard.
"Shit. I'm sorry, May. I didn't know."
May folded her arms over her chest.
"You would have known if you picked up your phone every once and awhile." She smirked.
"I don't have anywhere to take her." I sunk down onto the couch as I rubbed my hand over my forehead.
"Rough night?" she asked as she sat down next to me and patted me on the leg.
"No. Rough good-bye." I laughed sardonically as I shook my head.
"I didn't take you for the 'love 'em and leave 'em' type."
"It wasn't like that, May."
"What was it like?" she asked as I lay back against the back of the couch with a sigh. "You can't live your life with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake."
"You ever wonder if I wouldn't make it home?" I asked as I turned to look her in the eye.
"No, Shane. I knew you are good at what you do. You're a fighter. That's why I don't understand why you are giving up."
"Chelsea didn't think I would make it back. Do you know what that feels like? The one person in the world who should have had my back just gave up and left me to die alone in the desert."
"Chelsea wasn't strong enough, but that doesn't mean you aren't."
"I'm not so sure anymore. I just walked away from someone I cared about because I couldn't tell her the truth."
"Because I was scared to lose her."
"Looks like you lost her anyway. Why not put all your cards on the table. Let her decide what she can handle."
I leaned forward with my elbows on my knees as I hung my head and thought about what May had said. She patted me on the back and stood from the couch.
"I'm going to make us some coffee and if you feel like talking more, I will be here to listen."
I grabbed the remote and flipped through the channels on the television. It was equal parts news and reality television. I couldn't stand either. Both were nothing but lies. Much like my life. So I couldn't really complain. I wondered if she was sad I was gone. If she was at home wishing I would come back. I wanted to, more than anything, but I didn't know if I could say good-bye to her again.
"Do you think I'm like my father?" I asked to May, who stopped what she was doing and turned to face me.
"I don't know your father, Shane."
"That makes two of us."
She grabbed two mugs of coffee and came to join me on the couch.
"He was always so stressed out, and he hardly ever was around. I feel like I am setting myself up to repeat history."
"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
I took a sip from my coffee and struggled to swallow the bitter brew.
"You think I should find my father?" I asked as I got up and made my way to the cupboard to find the sugar.
"I don't think it would hurt to get the answers you have been looking for. Are you trying to make yourself sick?" she asked, eyeing the sugar I poured into my mug.
"Jenn has a sweet tooth."
"Ahh…well, that explains why she likes you." May gave me a wink.
I smiled as I took a sip of my coffee and stared down into the murky liquid.
"I'll see what I can find out."
She got up from the couch and put her mug on the table before disappearing back into the hallway.
"Please tell me he is not hiding in your closet," I called after her.
"No. But he is probably on the Internet." She reappeared with a laptop in hand.
"You're serious about this."
"You're not? You have always been worried that you would never live up to this impossible man you think you need to be because of him."
"Fine." I set down my mug and took the laptop from her hands. "If he was too busy for his family, I'm sure he's too busy to update his Facebook." I sat down at the kitchen table and powered up her laptop. Her hand fell on my shoulder. I placed mine on top of hers. "Thank you."
"That's what family is for, Shane."
I began my search in all of the obvious locations. I searched the news for Devin Tudor. Most of my memories of him involved weapons and a temper, so I figured that would be the best avenues. I scoured the records, looking for any clue as to who he was or where he had come from.
The search turned up nothing. I moved on to social media. It is rare nowadays for anyone not to be online, no matter how old. I checked his name with various spellings, but the only names that popped up belonged to people much younger than my father would be.
"Any luck?" May asked as she opened the fridge.
"None. He's like a ghost." I ran my hands over my hair and stretched.
"You want a sandwich?"
"You know, you're not really on any of that stuff either."
"So you're saying I am like my father, right down to my lack of trust in Internet privacy?"
May laughed as she grabbed ingredients from the fridge and carried them to the counter.