Annie has agreed to a date with Gavin, the handsome handyman from Cheney’s store, but a trust has been broken. Will Annie’s dreams be collateral damage? If you haven’t caught up, you can read the first four chapters here: Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four. Let’s see how Annie’s doing…
It wasn’t just that he picked his teeth with his thumbnail at the table, or that he tried to order for me, it was the way he laughed. I had put myself together, changing my outfit three times, rushed out the door with a fib ready on my lips if Nan asked who I was meeting. I had stumbled through the awkward realization that a smile and a cute butt was not enough for me, even for a “distraction from my life” date.
Gavin hadn’t stopped talking about himself since we’d arrived at the restaurant. We slid into a booth at the back of Jimmy’s Family Cafe and perused the menu as he continued with his life story — how he had started the handyman business two years ago, how he still didn’t regret not going to college because he didn’t see the point, how loving and present his mother was in his life, but his dad was a hardass who died young and wasn’t missed. I couldn’t tell if it was nerves or if he always spilled his guts like this on a first date, but I was grateful because the more he talked the less I had to. I prayed silently that he had enough material to get us to the check so I wouldn’t have to answer or avoid painful questions about the current state of my family life.
But it wasn’t to be. Just as I was biting into the burger he’d cracked a joke about when I didn’t choose a salad on the first date, he zeroed in on exactly the last thing I wanted to discuss.
“So Cheney told me you have some internship next year for writing or something. What’s that about?”
My eyes rolled before I could stop them and he laughed. A loud guffaw, smile broad on his face, not realizing that I hadn’t joined him in his amusement.
“No, I don’t.” I took the bite and looked down at my plate while I chewed, occupying myself with squirting ketchup on the plate for my fries.
“You don’t, huh?” I glanced up to see him watching me, waiting for me to elaborate.
“Nope.” I popped a fry into my mouth and smiled through my chewing hoping he’d move on if I didn’t react.
“So you don’t want to be a writer?” His elbows were on the table now, food left untouched because he’d found a better treat in bothering me about things I’d rather him not know. I was furious with Cheney for putting me in this position and furious with Gavin for not getting the hint.
“I did,” I thought a short answer would give him enough satisfaction to move on, “but life happens, you know? A lot in my life changed very quickly, and now it doesn’t make sense for me to go. So that’s that.”
“Does Cheney know you aren’t going?”
“Yes, and I don’t know why she would tell you otherwise.”
“Well,” he said with another laugh, “seems like it’s for the best anyhow.”
“What does that mean?” I wiped the burger grease from my hands.
“I don’t know.” Gavin finally picked up his own burger, looking for something else to fill his mouth now that the words were running short. “Your heart doesn’t seem to be in it anyway. And I get it. Life does happen, and hobbies take a back seat when it does. That’s just how it goes, right?”
I felt like I’d been slapped.
“Hobbies?” I glared, no longer the least bit concerned about making a good impression.
“Yeah, writing, gardening, that kind of stuff. Sometimes we’ve just gotta get to work and push through and not get too caught up in time-fillers. Idle hands and all that.” Another bite. A drip of pink juice from his undercooked burger slid down his chin, but he didn’t seem to notice taking another bite before even swallowing the first.
“Writing isn’t my hobby. It never was. It’s what I wanted to do with my life. It’s what I studied at college. Everything I ever wanted to accomplish in life came down to being a writer.”
That laugh. It crept under my skin and needled its way into my heart so swiftly I was shocked at the surge of anger that swept over me.
“What the hell is so funny about that?”
“I’m sorry,” another chuckle, “no need to get your panties in a twist. Maybe I’m just naive about that kind of life. Hard work for a hard buck, that’s how I was raised.”
“And you don’t think writing is hard work?”
“Putting words on paper? I mean, I never liked it in school, but it’s just telling a story, right?”
I breathed in and out, using the gift of his momentary silence to try and steer myself away from yelling.
“You know what,” I set my napkin on top of what was left of my food and reached for my purse, “I could spit a lot of names at you right now, and I’m really tempted, but most of the words coming to mind are probably over your head, so I’ll keep this simple. Go to fucking hell you ignorant piece of shit.”
I didn’t wait to hear his response. I was across the restaurant and out the door in seconds and let each stomping step it took me to get home fuel the fire of astounded anger. I still had the consciousness to open the door quietly and softly open Nan’s door to make sure she was asleep before shutting myself into my room and pulling down the typewriter from its recent home in the back of my closet.
I set it down on mom’s secretary desk I’d squeezed into the corner and retrieved a small stack of blank paper from an open package on a shelf. I fed the sheet in and sat staring at the blank page, fuming, grasping for words, any words that I could pour onto the page.
My mind was a blur of pain and a deep feeling of betrayal. Cheney had told my secret. She had hung me out to dry and allowed me to be bombarded by a cute smile with a limited vocabulary for her own damn pleasure and I couldn’t stand the way it was making my stomach churn.
I typed a few words of frustration and crossed them out. I typed a sentence or two about what writing was or wasn’t and crossed those out too. I sighed and tried to put words to the storm of memories and fears about my mother that had consumed me over the last several months, but I didn’t get past “M-o-m” before I was sobbing and I couldn’t see the paper through the tears.
I stood up and pushed my hands through my hair, understanding why women in old movies tore at their hair in desperation after heartbreak. I stared at the typewriter, blurry until I swiped away the tears with the neck of my shirt. I knew now that everything that had happened, everything I felt, it had broken me. The life I’d imagined was dead. Just like my mother.
I pulled out my phone and opened my email app. I quickly read through the draft I’d typed earlier in the week but hadn’t had the guts to send. It was for the best, though. If I didn’t let go, I’d just keep hurting and I couldn’t bear anymore hurt.
I hit send and watched as the bar creeping along the bottom of my screen filled and my formal decline of the internship flew off to New York in my place.