Yoharie: Love Back (part five)
The next item on the timetable, then, was Val, in his room, telling himself Sasha would call. Sasha would not call. They were friends, they were more than friends… They were less than friends. They could never be more than friends…ex-friends…because Val had allowed the No Rules rule. No commitment, nothing owed. Nothing by rights to be expected.
It was a good laugh, a mild laugh (one he wasn’t ready to confess to Sasha), so many rehearsals in his head of hunting Sasha down. His wailing over whys and hows. Valentine Yoharie, Nightmare Bitch. But history is recorded in things done. He hadn’t done it.
Final item, realization. Whatever flow was going, Sasha went with it. He had a lanky build, a sauntering walk, unassumed charm…the charm of liking without caring. Sasha liked all the world. And could take all the world or leave it.
Faithlessness might be in the cards, serious cheating…
Probably no. And that truth, if Val loved Sasha, was the good and bad of it. He might have cured his angst-fit anytime he’d had the courage to make a ripple.
“Cathlyn is taking Elberin, so he’ll be in a house, with a cat person.”
“Good news.” Speaking to a headrest made the difference. When you had to pretend what Trevor would do with his pet while they were in Florida, weighed with you at all…
“So you wouldn’t take your cat on a road trip? Maybe he likes it.”
“Maybe not. And my mom wouldn’t. Giarma’s against what I did going up to St. John.” Trevor, driving, shot a glance at the back seat. Sasha, having this conversation, gave a friendly grin.
“I put out food and water and an extra box. A day on the road both ways, a day at the Gathering.”
“No shit, I have to read this book. I’d go to that, definitely. Buy a sword.”
“Yeah… Kind of down the last couple of years. I went to the ’13 one, dropped out after…even me.”
“Man, you gotta kick it up.”
“How old is Elberin?” Val said. If they stayed a couple it would always be this way, Sasha grooving in on any topic, himself deadening the mood.
“Eight?” Trevor asked Giarma.
“You said the vet thought he was two.”
“When he used to sneak in my garage and spray everything. I had him chipped and snipped.”
“Eight.” Sasha passed this word to Val.
“They wouldn’t give you two weeks?”
“I’d have to quit. You’d have to quit. Then we both get other jobs.”
“No, guys,” Giarma said. “But a plane ticket? Could you get enough time off to fly down the last weekend and ride back up?”
Trevor said: “Pool it.”
“Then I’m gonna owe too many people.”
“No.” Sasha tapped his forehead to convey this. “I mean like owe.”
“That’s okay. Be a stranger,” Giarma said.
“I kinda picture my dad wanting to drive us down in, like, one night.”
“Because of money?” Giarma, in a space where Sasha, if he had more to say, hadn’t thought of how to say it, was silent herself. But she was problem-solving. “Harrisburg to Tallahassee, connecting. Two seventy-eight. Easily, we’d cover it if everyone chips in fifty.”
“Two tickets,” Trevor said.
“But…you, me, the guys, Dawn, Dad… Okay. Trevor is right if Trevor has to be right, I wasn’t thinking. But what, seventy, eighty…” She backhanded her partner on the arm, and Val echoed the gesture with Sasha, having a different meaning.
Private, even from his own love. Don’t kill it, stay happy.
Couples you saw, brittle, done with each other, at the Jesus fuck, what’s wrong with him stage like the Hibblers, must have started with their teasing. Their differences, still amiable, over what counted for effort, and what fell short. More than for himself, he wanted Giarma to have this, a settled old age in coupledom. Like the Witticombes…
While the Witticombes were not old old…
“Not money. He just does stuff like that.”
“You should go home for a while.”
“Like…an hour? A week?”
“Until I call you. I need to talk to him about you moving in. Can’t just.”
“No…I never said I…”
Sasha did nothing romantic here, no stopping of a pout with a kiss.
Val sighed. Sasha picked up his phone to scroll messages: “My dad was never like, how come you don’t have a girlfriend? I don’t think he cares…I could be gone every weekend, he wouldn’t ask. But one time I figured I should have the talk. And I just said it…I don’t hate girls, but I mostly like boys. And since he didn’t answer, I said, you wanna throw me out? He said don’t be stupid. I thought, well, okay…I didn’t think Dad could be cool with it, but…brave new world, right?”
They’d met for pizza, Val with a duffel, expecting Sasha, who’d told him on the phone, “Bring your stuff”, to say in person, sorry…
Or not show up.
He showed up. And spotting Val, bent over with laughter. Flung onto the opposite chair, laughing still. Only a spoon was handy, and Val peered for a hanging booger…
Or whatever was wrong.
“Are you mental?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’m funny.”
“Oh, give up. But I have to tell you. Dad thinks you’re a girl.” Sasha held up a hand, stifling more giggles. “So I came in, I saw you from the door, I was checking you out…” Theatrical shrug. “Dunno. Could be. Your voice, though…and I mean, does he remember he met you already?”
“He thought I was a girl the whole time?”
“Nah. But this is Arkady, right? So maybe it’s wise guy stuff. Like my father is so happy I have a girlfriend I’ll get ashamed of myself and go out and find a real girl. Dad, I broke up with Val. Meet Mary Ann.”
Now Val got the giggles, and a server came to stand laughing with them, until they’d sobered up enough to order.
A blocked lane forced the line of cars they were stuck in to slow, slow, then stop. The cause ahead, not able to be seen from where hope lived, of signaling and getting left. Everyone was signaling now; one or two creeping the berm. Through the windshield and rear glass of the truck behind, they saw a sedan letting space grow, inviting horns leaned on and getting them, the driver craning for a Good Samaritan. The driver had the chin and shoulders of a fat man, sunglasses, and a Ravens hat pulled low.
Nothing about him would have made them think there was anything…about him. Jeremiah Hibbler’s form was far from uncommon. But the driver batted at, his lips moving in corrections, frustrated, of a maniacally bouncing Australian Shepherd.
(2020, Stephanie Foster)