He didn’t come the following Friday. He didn’t. Fucking. Come. He really was going to be a chickenshit little motherfucker.
Fran sat in the kitchen oscillating between righteous anger and lonely tears, until finally she decided that sitting in the kitchen looked too much like she was waiting for him, so she sat in the living room and oscillated there instead.
Fran was good at not calling Mick. A decade had taught her plenty about his need for space, for time. He needed time. She was giving him time. He needed to think about things, to hold each feeling in his hands and examine it like a puzzle piece. Given time… what was it he had said? Given time, he could usually work out why something was a bad idea.
Oh for fuck’s sake.
He hadn’t even texted her to say he wasn’t coming. There’s time and space, and then there’s just rude.
She watched “Ball of Fire” on Netflix and thought how much Gary Cooper looked like Mick.
She filled a hot tub and sat in it for fifteen minutes, then decided she’d had enough baths to last a lifetime, and had a glass of wine instead.
She tried to read. Couldn’t focus. She tried to cook dinner. Wasn’t hungry. She tried to clean. Didn’t care. Tried to meditate. All she found inside herself was adrenline: run, fight, run, fight, her body didn’t care which, but it wanted it now. In the end, she just stood in the middle of her tiny little house, fighting tears. She took a couple of deep breaths and screamed “FFFUUUUUCCK THIIIIIIIS!!!” and felt a little relief.
But since nothing was different, she didn’t really feel better.
She tried to think of something else she could do that wouldn’t just make it worse.
But there was nothing she could do. Not until Sunday.
He didn’t go on Friday. He worked in the morning, he ran at noon, and then he didn’t go.
He did cook. He made enough paiella to feed minor island nation. He made enough paiella to construct a minor island nation out of rice and chorizo.
And then he sat in his dark little kitchen and stared at it all.
He had been waiting for his insides to settle into some kind of decision: stay or go. The difficulty was that either outcome was change, and both would ultimately mean losing Fran.
And if this last week had taught him anything, it was that he wouldn’t survive for long without Fran. Not that she kept him fed and clothed or anything, but that she sustained him. Without her, he fell into tiny, broken pieces. He had moved through the week in a body that was no longer a single coherent unit but a not-very-cooperative coalition of cells. Some of them wanted to go this way, others wanted to go that way. Some of them wanted to run, some of them wanted to lie in bed. Some of them wanted to live, some of them wanted to die. Some of them were already dead.
Fran was the secret ingredient that had made him whole.
So the choice is, he thought, Be a person with Fran for a while, until she gives up on you, or cut to the chase and stop being a person now.
No, that was a conclusion he came to last week, before Fran had said she loved him.
She loved him.
While he held that one thought in his mind, he was whole.
Did it change anything? After all, this was Fran. She could do anything.
Sunday morning was supposed to be her race day with Mick. For most of ten years, one Sunday a month was race day with Mick.
But he didn’t come on Friday, and he wouldn’t be there today either.
Mick was gone. He was a chickenshit bastard who apparently believed that she was a horrible person who would make him miserable, so he clearly didn’t deserve her love, so the sooner she stopped loving him, the better.
Screw him. (Oh god, she wanted to screw him! Why was he not in her bed every night, every afternoon, every morning?) She was still going for her run.
Fall has arrived overnight. At last the morning was brisk and orange, and it would stay that way through October. She stepped out the back door for the one-mile trot to the gym.
He was sitting on her back step. Just sitting there in his running clothes, sweating, with his elbows on his knees, like she was the one who was late.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey.” She frowned at hom. “How long have you been there?”
“About half an hour. Forty-five minutes.”
“Oh.” She frowned at him, half hope, half despair. “Why?”
He shook his head, swatting away the question. “Let’s go up the mountain.”
“You didn’t bring me dinner.” Why are your here?? Are you here to dump me or make love to me??
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“And you were an asshole the last time you were here.”
“I know, Frannie.”
“I -” she stopped and fought the sting in her eyes. “I have been scared out of my mind that you were never coming back.”
He stood up then. He didn’t touch her, but he said, “Let’s go up the mountain.”
So she drove them to the mountain and they started to climb, side by side, not speaking. If silence was the best he could do, she’d take it. As long as he was beside her.
The trail gained 600 feet of elevation in the first mile, then more or less flattened out across the ridge, until they approached Dry Knoll, the peak with a view over the whole valley. They ran across the ridge, Mick pacing himself to Fran, until Mick said, “Let’s stop a minute.”
“What? Why?” They were passing the crumbling stone walls of the Eyrie House ruins, a mountaintop hotel that had burnt to the ground 100 years ago, leaving just some scattered stone remnants of wall and arch.
“Just, I need to stop for a minute.”
They stood looking across the vista, hands on hips, getting back their breath.
“Why are we up here, Micky?”
“To give me perspective.” He stood still, his eyes traveling over the span of the valley. “C’mon let’s sit down.” He led her to a soft, mossy patch tucked behind a blackened stone wall, where they sat side by side in silence for a long time. Fran tried to stay calm and still, give him the time and space he needed.