Mitch’s brain hit the ground and splattered into a million chunks; if he reached up and touched the side of his face, he might find blood gushing out of his ear canal and dribbling down his jawline.
Of course, were that the case, present company would probably alert him.
“Oh, that’s cool,” Jodie nodded. “Where’s she coming out from?”
“Tacoma,” Avi answered.
“The lake?” Jodie asked.
“No, that’s Tahoe,” giggled Avi. “Tacoma. Washington state.”
“Fuck, I’m so high,” she squealed and closed her eyes, sinking further into the couch cushions. “Sorry. Carry on.”
“But yeah, I’m maybe trying to get her to consider moving out this way, since I’m going to be around here for the foreseeable future. Really wanna sell her on it, y’know.” Avi’s head hung low, his usual confidence and enthusiasm waning like the tide.
“Well,” Mitch cleared his throat, desperate to appear to be the embodiment of stable and not being on the verge of fracturing. “Vermont in its full Fall glory is certainly one way to do that. People travel from across the world to see the foliage.”
“And like, Mitch and I can totally clear out if you guys wanted space. Also there’s a fireplace. And a hot tub,” added Jodie. “And a canoe? There’s a canoe, right?”
“Think so. And they put a fireplace in the master bedroom, too,” Mitch mentioned, the words continuing to freely spill from his mouth. He needed to find the valve to shut it off and stop talking forever.
“Fuck, that’s romantic,” Jodie whistled. “You could treat it like a B&B. But sometimes Mitch and I will be around and on an irresponsible amount of edibles. Which you both may also partake in, if you wanted. That can be a sweet benefit.”
“That all sounds fantastic.” Just like that, Avi was all smiles once more. “I was trying to figure out what we could do, and the best I could come up with was apple picking. That was the other thing that I wanted to ask you guys about, I needed some more ideas.”
“There’s an orchard right nearby the house,” Jodie sing-songed. “So you can still do that. And there’s plenty of cider places as well that are super good.”
“Great! I’m sold.” Avi fully perked up; Mitch, experiencing the exact opposite temperament, needed to escape from where he was trapped on the middle seat. While the word girlfriend still attempted to assimilate itself into the shitty goo that made up the remains of his rotted brain meat, Avi grabbed his arm and softly asked, “Hey, are you really OK with this? If it’s your family’s place and you guys were just planning on going up and having a good time, I don’t want to intrude.”
“Of course! Why wouldn’t I be OK? It’ll be great. If your girlfriend’s anything like you, she’ll love it,” Mitch asserted
“You’re the best. I appreciate this so much.” The hand squeezed, and despite it being in his best interest to not acknowledge it, Mitch turned towards Avi and saw those enormous brown eyes staring at him; cheeks lifted, plush lips curled around stupid perfect probably fake teeth, the most sincere -goddammit, tender- expression that anyone had given him. More sincere than any boyfriend that ever dropped an ‘I love you‘ after fucking. It was as though a huge icicle that’d been dangling from a gutter drain finall dropped: impaling him in the guts, but not instantly killing him.
“Sure man, you got it,” Mitch numbly responded, patting Avi’s knee with as much friendly casualness as he could muster. He then swatted Jodie’s legs off of his lap and stood up, excused himself, and went out onto the front porch.
Limply dropping onto the steps, he pulled out a pack of American Spirits and tapped out a cigarette, rotating it between his fingers before slipping it between his lips. For the fleeting second he reconsidered lighting it, wanting to challenge his failing willpower, but ultimately surrendered. Leaning back, he rested on his palms and stared up at the half moon overhead. At least he could relish in being able to put weight on his right arm.
The ‘I love you‘ that he heard while eavesdropping now made sense; he hoped that Avi was talking to a family member, but his subconscious knew that wasn’t the case. Good people like Avi weren’t single, nor should they be.
The emptiness which Mitch spent the last few days living with had at last begun to fill up with a sort of sediment that was neither alien nor familiar; it simply was.
He couldn’t determine the amount of time that passed when Jodie came out to join him; judging from how close the cigarette burnt down to the filter, about 10 minutes. “Can I get one of those?” she asked, and wordlessly he handed her the entire pack. They sat in a companionable silence, both of them focused on the night sky.
“Guess there’s no problem now,” Mitch finally commented as he snubbed the filter into the thick glass ashtray that lived out on the steps.
“Mitch,” Jodie gave him a pitiful side glance, but he shook his head.
“It’s fine. Never thought I had a chance, anyway.” White paint flakes from the steps loosened and wedged under his fingernails; he briefly examined before wiping them away on his jeans. “Not the first time I liked someone that wasn’t an option. You know that.”
She threw an arm around his shoulders, and he allowed himself to be pulled down enough so that Jodie could place a kiss on the top of his head. Smoke from her cigarette wafted up into his nostrils, but he didn’t bother to adjust his position to avoid it. “Still sucks,” she remarked.
“Still sucks,” he agreed.