That evening I carried a take out dinner to my room and ate alone. I didn’t feel bad though, or particularly lonely. I think mostly I felt proud of myself that I’d faced my fear of that dark place in my life. I think I came out of it a stronger man. I still had a ways to go in my eyes but it was a good start, the first positive step in a year really.
The weather had been nice and I wanted to take a walk to give me more time to think. I realized that I’d been avoiding that when I could help it. Cramming my days full to keep my mind busy. It was a wonder I could stand the drive there to Gulfport since it gave me almost nine hours with nothing to do but think. I tried not to think even then spending the time singing off key but loudly to my favorite country music. That had been something that Amanda and I had only partially shared, it felt strange to never have to compromise and listen to her New Age stuff if I didn’t want to. I didn’t mind it but it wasn’t driving music in my opinion.
Walking west from the hotel I was going straight into the setting sun. It made me wonder how the drivers could see to drive. I spent most of the time looking either to my left at the Gulf of Mexico as it sparkled red and yellow reflecting the sunset or to the right at the wonderful old houses and even older huge oak trees. I think what I felt that night was a little peace for the first time in a year.
My cell phone chirped and I almost just silenced it but then, afraid it might be one of the children I took it out and looked at it. It was Billie Mayfield. I could get away with not answering it. She would just assume I was busy but I also knew she’d keep trying even if I never called back as her inevitable messages would ask me to. I answered it.
“Hey Cliff,” I heard Billie say sounding a little hesitant.
“Hi Billie what’s up?”
“I just called to see how you were doing. I haven’t talked to you in a while.”
We’d talked the previous Saturday. I smiled knowing why she was calling andwhy she sounded hesitant. She knew darn well that I’d have been thinking that it had been one year today. She was still grieving in her own way too. She and Amanda had been very close.
“I’m doing good Billie. How are you doing?”
It was not like Billie to have this much trouble with a conversation. She either had something to say and said it or hung up.
“Good Billie. I had a long talk today with a guy I know from the poker room here. The fact that it is…the day it is” I paused unable to bring myself yet to say what that day meant. That would come later. “well it kinda got to me. Talking about it helped though. You know that’s the first time I’ve really talked about it since it happened.”
There was a long silence and I heard her take a deep breath. I could picture her wiping her eyes with a tissue. “Good Cliff. I’m happy to hear that really.”
“Thank you. And are you really ok?”
“I am Cliff. Now that I know you are especially. I guess I let my imagination run away with me and worried that the anniversary might hit you really hard.”
I smiled, reading that to mean she’d been afraid I’d do something stupid.
“It did Billie but a friend I didn’t really know I had was there for me. And now another friend is checking on me. What more can I ask for?”
“Oh Cliff!” She paused, sniffed, and went on, “I’m so relieved.”
“Thank you Billie. Was there anything else?”
Right then I knew I’d stepped in it but I didn’t really care. On Saturday we spoke because she called to ask me if I could come to a dinner party the next Saturday, this coming Saturday. I’d begged off making a decision with the excuse that I might still be here.
“I’d really like to have you come to the house on Saturday. It’s not a big party Cliff but you’ll know a few of the people and it will be fun.”
All along I’d been planning to beg off completely as I managed to do for most of the things she and others invited me to. Suddenly I actually wanted to go. Right then I made a decision that I was done with this trip. I was going to leave in the morning, one day early and head home. I just plain wanted to be home for a while and to see the children and a few friends.
“Sure I’ll be there. What time was it again?”
There was a bit of a stunned silence and I smiled. It was almost worth accepting so readily just to know I’d thrown the unflappable Billie Mayfield for a loop.
“Were you hoping I would say no?” I could not resist teasing.
“Cliff! Of course not! How can you say that?” Billie said and then heard me chuckle. “Oh you! Cliff it’s so good to hear you sound so good today of all days.”
Her words brought back to me what day this was and what she meant but it felt different. It still hurt but it was like maybe it was healing over a little bit.
I took too long thinking though and it worried her. “Oh crap! I’m sorry Cliff I didn’t mean to bring it up again!”
I smiled and shook my head, gestures that were, of course, lost on her on the other end of the phone. “Billie it’s ok. What time should I be there on Saturday and should I bring anything?”
“Around 7:00 will be good and you don’t need to bring anything but knowing you like I do you feel you have to so bring a bottle of that white wine you like. Is that ok?”
“Whatever you want Billie,” I said. “Thank you for calling to check on me.”
“You don’t mind then? I don’t want to be a pest.”
“You’ll never be a pest Billie. I appreciate it.”
We hung up then and I walked on feeling good and enjoying the walk. I remembered back to Amanda and I taking this same walk at nearly this same time of day. It had been hotter then but just as pretty. I missed her terribly and would have done anything to have her by my side again but for the first time in a year when I thought of her I didn’t cry. I was sad I suppose but in a happy almost contented way if that makes any sense. I guessed she would always be with me. Maybe you can’t spend that much of your life with somebody and not have them be part of you. That part of her that was inside me would have to do.
I turned back toward the hotel intending to pack and get to bed early planning to make an early start and be back home in the early afternoon the next day.
I made good time on Thursday and had gotten such an early start that even with losing an hour due to the time zone change I was nearing Orlando in the early afternoon. I knew but both Casey and Justin would be going to work straight from school and would not be home so I decided to drop in on Logan. He worked odd hours and his apartment was on the way so I decided dropping in unannounced would have a good chance of working out.
His car was in the apartment parking lot so I knew he was home. I knocked on the door andhis girlfriend Elaine wearing one of his shirts answered it and I was betting nothing else.
“Oh! Logan didn’t say you were coming! Come in!” She let me in looking embarrassed. She still seemed to somehow think I disapproved of her living with Logan even though they were both twenty-three now and hardly needed my permission for anything. “Let me go change. I’ll be right back.”
She hustled toward the bedroom five feet nothing of very pretty nervous energy. She nearly collided with Logan who erupted out of the bedroom in just boxer shorts. “It’s not those damn magazine people again is it?”
Then he saw me and stopped.
“Not selling magazines,” I said holding my hands up in mock surrender. “So don’t shoot.”
“Jesus Dad! I thought you were in Gulfport!” He said. “It must be sweeps month for magazines or something. I swear they come around here all the time. I’m sick of it.”
He looked at me then. “Are you ok? Why are you home early? You did say you’d be home either late Friday or early Saturday right?”
“Yeah I did but I just felt like coming home.”
“Because of what yesterday was?” He asked. Obviously it was on everybody’s mind.
“Well kind of but maybe not like you’d think.” I said sitting on the couch. Elaine came back with shorts and a tee shirt on and tossed Logan pants and a shirt, which he pulled on.
I told them about my conversation with Stew and later with Billie.
Logan had looked worried when I began the story but looked happier and happier as I went on.
“That’s great dad. It was kind of a rough day for me too but Lainey and I had a long talk about it too and she helped a lot.”
“Looks like I maybe interrupted some more therapy,” I said knowing it was unfair of me to take a jab at them that way since Elaine liked to pretend that nobody knew they were sleeping together even though the apartment had only one bedroom.
Elaine blushed and Logan chuckled. “You’re just jealous.” Then is face clouded and he must have realized I could have taken it wrong when Elaine jabbed him. “Jesus Dad. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
I had to smile. “It’s ok Logan. You two are good together and I’m glad you’ve got each other. If I was 20 years younger I might well try to get Elaine away from you.”
She blushed and Logan cocked his head and looked at me. “Maybe this is none of my business but on any of your trips have you…well…you know…”
“No Logan. I’ve had little desire and as far as I know no opportunity. I was married for 26 years so my dating skills would be a little rusty. They were never very good anyway if you’ll recall some of the stories your mom used to tell about our so called courtship.”
“But you will someday won’t you? You must think about it.” Logan pressed on ever the one to say what was on his mind.
Elaine was looking horrified. “Logan! Leave him alone! You can be such a pig sometimes!” She smacked his shoulder and came over and gave me a hug. “Don’t mind him Dad you know he talks without thinking sometimes. When the time is right you’ll know it and somebody will come along. You’re still young yet.”
The main thing that struck me first was that she’d called me ‘Dad’. She had vacillated as to what to call me every since sheand Logan began dating over two years before. She alternated between Mr. Rock, Cliff, which, she really seemed to find uncomfortable, and Dad.
I decided to just change the subject. “When Billie called last night I agreed to go to her party Saturday night. I didn’t even tell her not to try to do any matchmaking.”
“Does that mean you hope she does?” Logan asked, earning another smack on the shoulder from a disgusted looking Elaine.
“Actually it slipped my mind to remind her not to try it. Maybe all the other times I’ve told her will have some effect.”
Logan looked at me and laughed. “Oh yeah that is likely to happen.”
I laughed with him. “Well it’s not something I’m thinking about but I’m sure I will survive a little old dinner party even if she has somebody that ‘I just have to meet.’”
I pushed myself off the couch.“I’m going to shove on off home now. I just wanted to stop by and chat a bit. I’m really sorry now that I didn’t call first.”
Logan put his hand on my arm and looked into my eyes, “Dad you know you can stop by any time you want to don’t you? You don’t have to call first. I’m glad you came by and told us about your trip and yesterday and all.”
“Thanks son,” I said giving him a hug. “I know I can but I also know you’ve got your life to lead and I should be polite and call first.”
I slipped out the door then and walking to the car I thought about the last part of the visit and about Billie’s party. I found myself wondering if she would indeed just ‘happen’ to have somebody there that she thought I should meet. For the first time I didn’t want to try to get out of going to avoid that.
That realization made me both happy andguilty. Happy that I maybe was moving on but a twinge of guilt was there like I’d somehow be cheating on Amanda. I knew intellectually that was silly, if not just stupid but emotionally I had to face the fact that I still had that reaction. Maybe I wasn’t ready for that kind of thing yet. On the other hand as Billie kept harping, you can never have too many friends.
I decided to just take things as they came Saturday night. I was still running party scenarios though my head as I drove home to unpack and relax after the drive while I waited for Casey or Justin to get home.