The fact that Mitch got any sleep at all was nothing short of a miracle. He chalked it down to a stress response, like his body would actually kill him if he didn’t rest. His heart was already faulty enough, after all; the horizontal scar down his sternum from two open-heart procedures was evidence of that.
Waking up long before the alarm went off, he carefully avoided disturbing Jodie as he went about preparing for the day. Unfortunately, the bathroom was occupied before he could get to it, so he waited on the top step of the stairwell and messed around with his phone.
Thus far, Calvin hadn’t tried to change the time they agreed upon, which came as a genuine surprise. Not that he needed to be present, because if anything, it’d be preferable that they didn’t see one another or interact at all. He still hadn’t worked out how to keep Avi from getting involved with any of this, short of attempting to convince him that his ex was a murderer or something.
While he strategized, Estrella, the ragdoll cat that Jodie inherited from her grandmother, rubbed up against Mitch’s side and chirped; he felt blessed to be graced by this elusive appearance. “Hey there.” Mitch held his knuckles out and for her to brush against them. “You hungry?”
Estrella squeaked in response, so Mitch stood and the cat perked up, alternating between purrs and frantic noises more akin to a mouse than a cat. But before he took a single step downstairs, the door to the bathroom swung open; the shower must have stopped running while he paid attention to the cat.
In the doorway stood Avi with steam pouring out from behind him and a towel wrapped around his waist. His hair was damp, and beads of water trailed down his bare chest and midsection. “Oh, hey!” he greeted cheerfully, and Mitch opted to stare at Estrella instead of looking at him. “I just gotta get dressed, and then we can go. Wait, did you eat already?”
“It’s cool, take your time, gotta feed the cat,” Mitch spoke simultaneously. Then, once the words registered, he answered the question with, “No, but I’m not hungry.”
“Well, I just got back from a run and I’m starving.” Avi walked towards his bedroom, then stopped. “Do you mind if we grab something on the way?”
“That’s fine,” Mitch agreed. Desperate to move on from this situation, he scuttled into the bathroom and locked the door behind him. As much as he wanted to get in and out of Connecticut post haste and finally move on with his life, he wasn’t about to make demands to the person providing a selfless favor.
He took a leak, then brushed his teeth and applied deodorant. After some debate, he splashed on some cologne; not that he was trying to make himself appealing -especially not for Calvin- but Avi was about to be stuck in the car with him for six hours, so he could afford the bare minimum courtesy of smelling decent. At the very least, he took a shower before going to bed, and the new clothes that Jodie bought for him were freshly laundered, so he wasn’t rancid. He was presentable, even.
Satisfied with his preening, Mitch followed the impatient cat downstairs to where her food dishes were located. On the way to the kitchen, he had a rare encounter with Mia, the daughter of Victor’s girlfriend and fourth member of the duplex. The two exchanged pleasantries: he inquired about how college was going, and she asked about his arm. She was on her way out the door to go to one of her two jobs, so the the conversation was brief. Once she left, Mitch savored the fact that he’d been able to complete a normal human interaction with minimal awkwardness. With any luck, he could survive the long car ride ahead.
He opened up a can of wet food and grabbed a fork from the drawer, and half of its contents were scooped into one small dish. As Estrella delicately nibbled, Mitch poured some kibble into the other dish, then gently scratched the base of her tail, causing her rear end to lift up like a wave’s crest. Then, trying his damnedest to be thoughtful, he dug through the cabinets for a bag of coffee to make a pot while he waited. Alas, footsteps that could be heard from the dining room distracted him from his mission, and Avi surfacing with a tight tank top and chino shorts didn’t exactly help him focus any better.
“Has the cat always been here?” Avi asked, his eyes glued to Estrella, clearly amused by her presence; Mitch couldn’t blame him, she was a silly looking thing, after all. “I’ve never seen it before!”
“Yeah, that’s Estrella. She’s shy.” The poor cat had always been skittish, and everyone assumed it was due to the same genetic defect that made her cross-eyed and unable to meow. However, Estrella seemed to take her previous owner’s passing just as hard as Victor and Jodie did. It reached a point that Jodie took her to the vet and needed a prescription for an appetite stimulant because she stopped eating altogether. Mitch visited around that time, partially to keep an eye on Jodie and partially because he was in yet another never-ending rough patch with Calvin, and became the unfortunate participant in medicating a cat.
In retrospect, if he just faced down the inevitable and called it off then, he could have moved up here sooner and even had his own room instead of making do with sharing Jodie’s bed. He was sure that Toby and Calvin still would have fucked, but at least he wouldn’t have been cheated on, so that wouldn’t be dangling over his head every waking moment.
And. He could have gotten clean sooner.
Should have, could have, would have. Who really knew for certain.
Instead, he did what he always did, and returned to what was familiar the moment that things went wrong. The established trail was safer, because getting hurt wasn’t so bad when he could brace for it. Meanwhile, the unknown path almost cost him everyone and everything that he ever loved. The unknown path nearly got him killed. These days, the only risks that he took were in the ring, and even that confidence had been shaken.
“She?” asked Avi, dragging Mitch from out of his spiraling thoughts and back into the present.
“She,” Mitch confirmed.
“Well, she’s very cute,” Avi spoke as though he was addressing a child showing off a new dress, but unlike a small girl, Estrella simply continued to chow down.
“I’m sure she appreciates the compliment,” Mitch softly chuckled.
“I sure hope so,” Avi smiled brightly, then clapped his hands together. “Anyway, ready to hit the road?”
“I think…” Mitch trailed off, then gathered himself. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”