Mitch didn’t know when he fell asleep, but given how fitful the night before turned out to be, it wasn’t a shock that he passed out as soon as he went horizontal. Stretching languidly he was unhurried about getting up. Despite the crick in his neck and his chilly nose, he felt refreshed. A few beech leaves rested on his flannel that landed there when he slept, and he brushed them away.
Once he was upright, he spotted Jodie seated at the end of the dock. She looked like a serene specter, wrapped in a delicate shawl that was layered over a black long sleeved dress, and her hair down in loose curls. Tiptoeing to where the shore met the planks, he stayed quiet while he took a picture of her.
“Fancy meeting you here,” he softly greeted once he joined her, but didn’t immediately take a seat.
“I got worried about you,” she admitted. “But you looked so peaceful that I didn’t want to disturb you.”
“Thank you.” He lowered himself at last, bumping her shoulder with his.
“For what?” She looked at him, both puzzled and amused all at once.
“Caring,” he settled on. “Caring enough to come find me. And for everything else, I guess.”
“Ha,” she barked with no heat, then rested her head on his bicep and hooked her arm in his. “Remember when we’d drink Fireball out here, like a couple of idiots?”
“Sure do. And we’d laugh over the name ‘Kinky‘.” Mitch grinned.
She snorted, her nose scrunching up. They reminisced about the past for at least fifteen minutes, until enormous gusts of wind cleared the lake and mercilessly bombarded them. Mitch helped Jodie up, then followed her up the stone stairs. “Where the fuck did that come from?” she yelped.
“No idea!” Mitch held tightly to his hat so that it wouldn’t take flight. Once they were back in the safety of the house, he settled into the recliner and cycled through the photos that he took. He passed the camera over to Jodie to show her the doe, but she continued to scroll through some more until finding the picture of herself, then asked for a copy of it. “We’ll see,” he teased as he took the camera back, already planning to get it printed and professionally framed as a Christmas gift.
He resumed scrolling, and unfortunately went back far enough that he reached the photos before the breakup. And he knew that he shouldn’t look, or should delete the contents from off of the SD card once he transferred the most recent pictures onto his hard drive, but he worked through them regardless. Naturally, there were a many of Calvin, predominantly candid so that he wouldn’t protests about poses or lighting or whatever he was wearing. His delicate profile always made Mitch’s heart inexplicably swell; even then, now over a month removed from the situation, his chest ached. Though their love died out long before the relationship itself had, Calvin ghost proved to be difficult to banish.
There were other photos which harbored various sentiments, such as dogs from parks in Greenwich, or street art from when he worked in New York City and wanted to convince himself that he was somewhere that he belonged. Not that he felt any closer to whatever that could look like, but at least he now had a better idea of what it didn’t.
The idea from earlier resurfaced, about moving here and away from Monument. It wasn’t even that long ago that he toyed with the idea of moving back to France, after being cheated on and then stalling out too many times to be functional. At the time, he reasoned that a fresh start was in his best interest. Hanging around the emotional equivalent of a nuclear exclusion zone was bound to give him cancer, after all. And he could try to get to know his mother again, try to deprogram her from the church’s brainwashing.
But when Jodie’s grandmother passed away, and that was far more important to deal with.
“Having deep thoughts?” asked Jodie.
“Nope,” Mitch lied. If he was going to do anything drastic like uproot himself all over again, the first thing that he needed to do was figure out how to approach the subject. Right now, it was easier not to. “You?”
“Yeah. Do you think Avi would be mad if I fucked his wife? Or at least asked?” She said it so casually that Mitch did a double take.
“Girlfriend?” Mitch clarified while trying to recall if there was a ring on her finger, or if she said something about it and he just refused to process the information.
“Whatever.” Jodie rolled her eyes. “They’ve been together for like 10 years. That’s a wife ain’t it?”
“How did you know that?” Sitting up a little straighter, Mitch didn’t care if he looked desperate.
“Last night, at the fire? I asked about it, she responded. Do you just not pay attention to people when you’re in full thirst mode, or-“
“You literally -without any hesitation- said that you wanted to fuck Charlie. Who’s thirsty here?” Mitch threw his arms up.
“I like to think of it as being pragmatic, thank you very much. You like…” She put a finger to her chin. “You yearn. You’re a Victorian woman that keels over because she had a broken heart. Should I get you a vibrator to help with your hysteria?”
“That’s such a low blow.” Pouting, he crossed his arms.
“It kinda was, huh? Sorry about your shitty heart. Still can’t believe that I let you wrestle. Gonna get my best friend killed.”
“Eh, it’s pretty reinforced now. I’ve already had the conversation with my doctor about it. Something really traumatizing would have to go down. I’d have to get struck by lightning or fall a hundred feet for my heart to give out at this point, and I’d be dead anyway if either of those things happened.”
“What about smoking?”
“I’ll quit. Again. Just need a little time,” he promised. “But you gotta, too.”
“FUCK!” Jodie shouted, throwing herself backwards and kicked her legs in the air like an angry toddler. “I know. Abuela died, I got back into it like a dumbass. I’d been doing so good, too. But it fucks with the estrogen.” She covered her face and mumbled, “Thank you for not rubbing it in.”
“I’d never do that to you,” Mitch assured her.