“Hey guys,” Avi greeted in a shaky voice as he unbuttoned his jacket.
“Wait, what happened?” Jodie launched out of the recliner and met him in the hall. After he shrugged the coat off, she snatched it away and hung it up on the coat rack. With a heavy exhale, he dropped his luggage onto the bottom step.
“Flight was canceled. Couldn’t reschedule to get home in time, so here I am,” he answered while unlacing his shoes. Exhaustion oozed out of his voice and body, viscous and pooling onto the hardwood floors below; it was so palpable that without a doubt it’d sink into the grain and eventually warp the lumber.
“Were you at Logan this whole time?”
“Sure was,” Avi looked up at her with a weary smile. “Thank goodness for the airport bar.” As he sullenly marched towards the living room, Jodie stepped aside for him and traded helpless glances with Mitch. But as Avi drew closer, Mitch’s focus went to him and they locked eyes.
Slowly, Mitch drew his legs in and sat up, then leaned over and patted the furthest couch cushion. A flash of relief crossed Avi’s face at the offering, and he took the seat. Mitch tossed the vape to him, and they got high without exchanging words. For a short while Jodie participated, but soon after announced that she had to go to bed due to tomorrow’s schedule. “Don’t stay up too late,” she warned Mitch.
Once she left, a hush fell over the room. A million questions raced through Mitch’s head, but he couldn’t articulate any of them. He wanted to know if Avi was OK, but that seemed inappropriate to ask. Furthermore, guilt gnawed at him with its jagged teeth for having the audacity to be elated that Avi returned.
“Any chance that I could get some of that blanket?” Avi requested, and Mitch didn’t hesitate to stretch out the throw and kick half of it towards him. Grabbing the other side, Avi threw it over his lap and melted into the cushions.
“Can I ask you something?” Mitch spoke up for the first time since Avi arrived.
“Shoot.” Shutting his eyes, Avi tucked his chin into his chest.
“Are you gonna be in trouble for this?” Out of every question that Mitch could have asked, he didn’t have the first clue where that one came from, or why it aggressively cut to the front of the line. Generally, he avoided prying when something wasn’t his business, and in this case he really did not want to know.
But he’s aware that he must get better with allowing people to share themselves with him. It’s uncomfortable to put someone in that position of being vulnerable, and out of empathy he never wants to intrude. It’s also uncomfortable to be presented with such information, because then it needed to be tended to and protected, like being charged with caring for a still-beating heart.
In the past, he’s tucked these precious bits in with his own heart for safekeeping, but too often that’s backfired. Because those things become a part of him as well, absorbing into his system and imprinting onto his cells. Should something happen between him and that other person, it isn’t just his own heart that breaks. He’s left holding onto all of this deeply embedded data that does him no good, which winds around his tender insides like an invasive species and choking out everything that’s native.
Sometimes people freely volunteered this information, but Avi did not. Like Mitch, he rarely opened up about facets of his life unless prompted, but Avi was somehow even more evasive about providing details. It made them kindred spirits, Mitch thought, though most people may consider this kind of behavior unusual. But there’s no moral high ground on the topic, at least not in that house: Mitch hadn’t spoken to his mother since his mid-20s, his father was a non-existent entity at best and either in jail or scamming another poor woman at worst, and well over a year had passed since he last saw his uncle and aunt. Then there’s Jodie’s entire situation, and Mia’s father passed away when she was young.
Point was, Avi fit in with the lot of them, and yet he was still an outlier. As far as anyone knew, his family was rather nuclear and intact, with a mother and father, a brother and sister; when he rarely spoke of them, there was fondness and reverence, but then he’d hastily change the topic. One time Jodie pointed out that he never brought up Charlie, and said that she wouldn’t have believed that she existed if she hadn’t met her in person. Ever since she brought it up, that didn’t sit comfortably with Mitch.
Mitch’s question went unanswered for some time, and he worried that -as he feared- he reached down too far and struck a nerve. Avi’s eyes opened slowly as he stared ahead, but he wasn’t watching the program. His profile transitioned several times, from apprehension to turmoil, and then to resignation. He tilted his head at a glacier’s pace, and stopped when it moved just enough to look over at Mitch. The rims of his eyes were puffed up from irritation, the white of his eyes bloodshot, and Mitch’s chest tightened.
Avi responded with a flat “Dunno”, then turned back to the TV.
Mitch didn’t say anything further, ever wary of trespassing. As he silently fret, the narrator mentioned how falcons became endangered in the 1970s due to pesticide applications. Then the tension cracked when DDT was mentioned by name, which triggered the both of them to immediately shout as though they were famous commentators and this was a wrestling match.
Some time after the giggles finally died down, it went quiet again, but at least the mood had lifted as well. Before the program was over, Avi fell asleep, and his gentle snores occasionally overlapped the TV’s already low volume. The dishwasher chimed to signal that it was done, so Mitch got up and returned to the kitchen. He began to unload it so that there’d be one less task for tomorrow, but as he took out a few baking instruments, an idea struck him.
Entering ‘easy vegan desserts‘ into his phone’s browser -adding ‘best‘ after the first batch of results loaded- he then searched until some kind of brownie popped up that he knew they had all of the ingredients for. He tread carefully to make as little noise as possible, for there was triumph in presenting someone with a finished product that was made specifically for them, versus the humiliation of getting caught in the act of making it.
It wasn’t until the brownies were out of the oven and tested for doneness that Mitch so much as entertained the idea of leaving the kitchen, so he sat and idly scrolled, looking for other vegan Thanksgiving recipes. Unfortunately, the bulk of the ingredients they’d bought had already been used up, and every grocery store would already be closed until Friday. He sent a few texts to some of the guests, sending along recipes and asking if they had anything to spare in their pantries.
Despite Mitch’s suspicion, the brownies smelled and looked like brownies, and when he bit into a small sample, even tasted like one. Nothing fancy, but acceptable. Hopefully Avi would be fine with mediocrity. He put them into a plastic container and put a sticky note on it that said VEGAN, then set it aside with the other specialty dishes and wandered back to the livingroom. Avi remained asleep, and his glasses were still on his face and edging further down the bridge of his nose.
“That can’t be comfortable,” Mitch mused, and without forethought he reached down to gingerly removed them, then set them down onto the coffee table. Turning back around, he was about to take his place on the couch once more, but paused to study Avi’s face.
He’d never seen him asleep, which was creepy, and he a creep for having that thought. But he could not stop staring, despite knowing better. More than anything, Mitch wanted to sweep the bangs that hung limply over Avi’s forehead, especially the gray hairs at the edges. He adored those small white patches even though Avi made a few passing comments about being self conscious of them.
He wanted to run his thumb along the plush part of Avi’s cheeks, feel the long eyelashes against his finger pads. Bump the soft curve of Avi’s nose with his own. Whisper words that burned him up directly into Avi’s mouth-
As his thoughts gained traction, Avi’s eyes slowly fluttered opened, and shame swooped in low and knocked Mitch off balance. “I-I-I-” he stammered. “Your glasses. I put them on the table,” he pointed for full effect. “They were falling off. I’m sorry, I-“
“Oh,” Avi beamed up at him, soft and barely conscious. “Thanks, man.”
“Don’t mention it,” Mitch breathed out, then hurried to the other side of the couch but didn’t sit. The snoring resumed before he had the chance to suggest that Avi go to bed. However, Avi was an adult and capable of making his own decisions, so he didn’t worry about it. Instead, he turned off the TV and hit the light switch, then went upstairs.