Mitch hadn’t expected to address any of this right away, but he needed to try. So he opened up about Nate, and then Toby, and then the breakup with Calvin, and then Calvin in general. Occasionally, he stopped to ask if Marie relayed any of this to him already, but Roland urged him on. Unlike the conversation with his aunt, the tone and context now was far less optimistic; bleaker, more raw. Before, he painted a picture of an upward trajectory, a person not to be worried about. Now, he was at rock bottom with nothing left to lose or sell.
He talked about the injury, and that he started smoking again, and how he shared a bed with Jodie because otherwise he’d be homeless (Roland interjected to remind him that he’d always have a home with them in Burlington, and Mitch apologized). He mentioned that he stayed mostly clean for nearly a year, and how therapy helped because otherwise he was sure he would have fallen back into it by now.
He spoke about his hobbies, how for a while wrestling was the only thing that kept him going when everything else died out. But also that he recently returned to things that he used to love, like music and photography. When he mentioned Avi, he could hear the reverence in his own voice. Roland mentioned that Avi sounded very nice, Mitch kept his eyes fixed on the table. “He is,” he nodded. “He’s…unique. I’m really glad we met.”
And when Mitch said those words, something inside of him finally unlocked. Yes, he loved Avi with his entire being, but no longer was it something horribly consuming that left him aching with hunger pains. For the first time since he’d been unfairly blindsided by these feelings, it felt comfortable; peaceful, even. Avi’s existence and companionship were much too important to Mitch, and at long last his heart accepted that it didn’t need to grieve over the failure to captivate and possess what it would never be allowed to have.
With this newfound strength, Mitch fortified himself enough to ask how Bernadette was doing, and Roland let out a heavy sigh. “Still Catholic,” he answered, and Mitch openly grimaced, pulling a sad laugh from his uncle.
It was the longest they spoke in years, and the most that Mitch ever revealed about himself, at least with regards to his adult life. Eventually, they migrated from the kitchen and into the living room, where Roland started a fire in the hearth and Juno kept Mitch company, insisting on attention when he delved a little too hard into emotional territory. He noted the gray on her face as well, and regret continued to assail him over the time that he’d never be able to get back.
“You are welcome to stay however long you would like,” Roland informed him as the sun began to set. “But how long were you actually planning to?”
“I don’t know,” Mitch responded. “I didn’t really think any of this through. But Jodie’s blaming herself, though. And I have a new gig at a radio station in Wickburg on Sunday, so I probably should-” He bit the inside of his cheek. “I should go back home.”
“Home is a wonderful thing,” Roland commented. Mitch let the word settle on his tongue and in his mind.
He’d spent the last few months being close to so many people he cared about, and that cared about him. Though there were trials and tribulations aplenty, he’d never actually been alone during any of them, even when he convinced himself that he’d been abandoned.
Monument was home, whether he wanted to accept that or not.
“You’re right. Roland, I’m sorry, I gotta go back.” He ran a hand through his hair and stood up, pacing frantically.
“Do not,” laughed Roland. “Go where you are needed. I will phone Marie and tell her that I am staying for the night.”
After retrieving his meager items from the master bedroom, Mitch hugged Roland with a ferocity and asserted that he’d be in touch more often. He gave Juno a final pat between the ears, sending them flopping to and fro. They exchanged final goodbyes at his car, and he inserted the keys in the ignition.
The engine, however, did not turn over.
“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me!” Mitch shouted after several attempts, but it refused to start. He rested his forehead onto the top of the steering wheel. “Goddammit. C’mon, Pokey,” he whined at the Volvo, trying to will it to live.
He got out, and Roland attempted to troubleshoot what the issue could be, but a battery jump yielded nothing. Letting out a string of curses, Mitch grumbled, “I can’t believe it shit the bed NOW. This is exactly my luck.”
“It is quite old, I am surprised it has lasted this long,” Roland offered as consolation. “Do you want to spend another night, and try to get it to a local garage tomorrow? It may cost more to fix than it is worth, however.”
“Lemme…I’m gonna call Jodie,” Mitch exhaled. “I wanna let her know that I actually intended to come home, so she doesn’t think I hate her or left forever.”
The conversation lasted exactly 41 seconds. He told her that his car died in Rutterburg, and she told him that she was already out the door and coming to pick him up, leaving no room for argument. Roland cracked up when Mitch relayed this information. “She has always been so…so ready to go, yes?”
Mitch shook his head fondly. “You said it.”