Rick was waiting on her couch when Vanessa came through the door after work. He looked tense, leaning forward with his elbows and forearms propping his head up by resting on his knees. His coat was on the arm of the couch beside him, removed only so he wouldn’t overheat during the wait. It was a moment before he looked up from his lap which gave Vanessa little time to process the rush of conflicting impulses and thoughts that passed through her mind and paralyzed limbs.
Relief that he was still alive, fury that he hadn’t returned any of her calls and had made her worry, frustration with herself for caring so much when she’d spent the last few days pushing herself not to, and fear that this would be it, the end, that this would be the last time he’d walk away from her and that he wouldn’t look back again or come back. Was he back?
“What the hell are you doing here?” She couldn’t help the harshness of her tone and immediately wished there was a better way to convey her relief along with her frustration.
“I used my key,” he said a little sheepishly. He pulled it from his pocket, placing it gingerly on the coffee table, where it became a boundary of sorts between them. Was he really just here to return her key? Why would he stick around? Was he trying to make her cry?
He saw her struggling for control over her body which had begun to shake and thought she was fighting against the impulse to scream and scold, maybe even attack him physically with the purse that was slipping from her shoulder or, worse, the noticeably full work bag that was working with gravity to rest on the floor.
“I, uh… I was going to just wait for you out in the hallway but then Mrs. Jenkins came home with a bunch of groceries and gave me a funny look and I didn’t want her to think we’ve been fighting so I pretended I had been looking for my key and had just found it.”
Vanessa nodded but remained silent and continued to hold her stuff by the door. Rick took a deep breath and stood up. He looked down at the key on the coffee table and spoke to that instead of to her.
“I want us to move in together.”
There were a few beats of silence before Vanessa responded. “I took the teaching job in Maine.”
“Good.” She set her work bag on the floor and dropped her purse beside it, walking a few steps into the living room and leaning against the bookcase.
“I’m sorry about how you found out and it was a crappy way for this to end,” she took a breath to regain control over the tears that threatened to beat her composure into submission.
“We’re not breaking up are we?” Rick asked, a hint of panic creeping in at the edges confused Vanessa.
“Isn’t that why you’re here? It seemed like you were returning your key or getting your stuff back.”
“I don’t want to break up. I want us to live together.”
“You said that. But I’ve made up my mind. I’m moving to Maine and while I don’t want to break up cause I love you, I’m… not… I’m not going to stay for you. During the last few days when you were not calling me and not texting me back, I told them I’d take the job and I am. I’m doing it. I’m going home and if that means that we can’t be together…” but she couldn’t finish the sentiment. Calling on her frustration didn’t carry her quite far enough.
“I understand and I get it. We have been kind of stuck here and haven’t really talked much about what we want or where we’re going and that was fine. You had every right to make a major life decision for yourself without me cause I didn’t make it clear earlier that I would like to be considered, if not consulted. But I’m saying it now.”
Vanessa shook her head and massaged her forehead for a moment. “Please, Rick. Stop fucking with me. Say want you want and quit this bullshit.”
“I want to come with you.”
“What about work?”
“Maine has bars, doesn’t it? Last I checked, it’s not a dry state.”
“What about your friends? What about your parents? What…”
“I want to be with you and if that’s where you’re going to be, then that’s where I want to be. My parents are used to me pulling shit like this. Honestly, I think they’ll take this better than the time I quit medical school after three months.”
Vanessa’s mind kept racing but no thought formed that was coherent enough to make it though her mental filter, so she simply crossed to him and hugged him. It was a relief to feel his arms around her and his chin rest on her shoulder.
“Are you sure we’re ready for this?”
“Well, my first thought was that I should ask you to marry me but I knew we definitely weren’t ready for that yet.”
“Plus, I don’t have enough money for an actual ring right now and I wouldn’t want to give you a picture of the ring I’d want to get you but will never realistically be able to afford.”
“What’re you talking about?” She pulled back so she could look him in the eye.
“When I was growing up, whenever there was something big we wanted to get my mom for Mother’s Day or her birthday, we’d print off a picture of it or clip one from the catalogue and stick it in her card.”
“Like an IOU?”
“Yeah. But half the time we never got around to getting it. Never saved up the money or something better (and cheaper) came out.”
Vanessa laughed. “You’re right. We are not ready to get married.”
“But I think we can move in together and whether that’s here or in Maine, I think we should. These last few days is the longest we’ve spent apart from one another in ages. And it didn’t feel right.”
“Then why didn’t you answer my calls?”
“I was processing everything and…”
“You went to Tommy for advice and he took your phone away.”
“Yup. He tried to talk me into letting you go but for everything he came up with I thought of a reason to make this work and a way to try. After I sobered up a little. There was a lot of drinking when I first got there. That was why he took my phone in the first place.”
“Probably a good move.”
“Definitely a good move.” Rick kissed Vanessa on her forehead and pulled her down beside him on the couch. She pulled her legs up and leaned against his chest. One of his arms came up around her back and he completed the circle with the other one, resting his chin on the top of her head. They sat in silence for a few moments.
“When do you leave?” he eventually asked her.
“They’re moving my dad to the rehab facility next week and classes end this week, so I thought I’d go and stay with my mom for a week or two. I can sign my contract and look for an apartment.”
He nodded. “I can see about taking a few days off work if you want. We could drive up and save the airfare. Tag team it, drive through the night.”
“I’ll check with my mom. I’m not sure she has the room since she downsized to the condo.”
“She still doesn’t like me, does she?”
“It’s not that she doesn’t like you. She was just really attached to my ex and was blindsided when things ended. She’s wary of getting her hopes up again.”
“You dad seemed okay with me though.”
“I think so. It started as another thing for him to fight with my mother about; she wasn’t crazy about you so he dug his heels in on your side. But since their divorce, he’s backed down on a lot of the things he’d always seemed so passionate about. Hasn’t really backed down on you though. Asked why you didn’t come with me when he had his surgery.”
“We won’t be looking anywhere too close to either of them, right?”
“We don’t have to if you don’t want to.” And they went back to cuddling in the silence of the apartment.