The Long Road Home(8)

By: H.D. Thomson

“No. Nothing’s wrong with that, but it gives you a limited view on the world,” Clarisse explained, her voice rising. “There are other things out there that are ugly and hideous. But they have a purpose or necessity. Just because—” She broke off when John looked at her oddly. She shrugged and lapsed into silence. She’d been raving like a lunatic.

Clarisse searched for a safe topic. “So, do you still live over on Johnston Street?” she asked, though she already knew the answer. At a weak moment, a few months after their breakup, she had dialed his home and found the line no longer in service.

“No. I bought a place not far from there. It’s not very big. A townhouse. Just enough room for one person. It’s not what I envisioned for myself. I’d always thought—” John shook his head, then shrugged. “What about you? You’re not still living in the top of that old Victorian house, are you?” A sudden dimple formed in his right cheek as he smiled across the table at her. His teeth gleamed even and white, a dentist’s optimal example of good hygiene. “That landlady—and I use that term loosely—was a character. Every time I turned around, I swear she was watching me from the side yard or one of the windows.”

Clarisse’s lips curved. “I think she had a crush on you. Why else would she use any little excuse to come by?” Her smile turned rueful. “She wasn’t that bad, but it was just as well I had to move out. She had a tendency to be a little too forceful and domineering.”

“What do you mean that you had to? She didn’t evict you, did she?”

“No, of course not!” She pulled back from the table. What a stupid slip. She couldn’t very well tell him she moved out because she couldn’t walk up and down the stairs to her rooms any longer, now could she? “Her niece moved to New York because of a scholarship. She needed a place to stay, and my lease was running out. Everything seemed to fit.” One white lie wouldn’t hurt anyone. The woman did have a niece going to college. “I’m living in a house with a large yard and minutes from Jennifer’s place. It’s peaceful. It reminds me of those picnics we used to have over at—”

The dimple in his cheek disappeared, and his eyes cooled to the color of overcast, wintry skies. The smile on her own face dissolved. She was really blubbering today. Maybe she should just shut up.

She dropped her gaze to the table and focused on the silverware by her hand. She fingered the metal with trembling hands and glanced to where Vivian had disappeared. What was the woman doing in there—other than the obvious? She opened the menu lying by her side and hid behind it. She perused the available items. Pictures of thick juicy hamburgers, steaks, buttered potatoes turned her stomach. She didn’t think she could hold down anything solid. After a couple of minutes of hiding and no sign of Vivian, she put down the menu. “I think I’ll freshen up too. If the waiter comes by while I’m gone, I’ll have the Chef’s salad and a diet soda.”

She escaped the table and John’s relieved look. Teeth clenched, she strode through the tables without limping. She found Vivian leaning across the sink, looking into the mirror and dabbing a paper towel beneath her eye. When Vivian caught sight of Clarisse’s reflection, she snapped the faucet closed with a bang and tossed the towel in the trash. She tore angrily at another sheet from the paper towel dispenser.

“What’s wrong?” Clarisse asked.

“I can’t find my make-up bag anywhere. There’s no way I can travel for days without my paint.”

Clarisse nodded, finding it odd to get so emotional over a missing makeup bag. Not knowing what to say, she kept silent.

After drying her hands, Vivian tossed her mangled paper towel into the waste bin. She then turned, leaned a hip across the counter, and regarded Clarisse with narrowed blue eyes. “You’ve met John before today, haven’t you?”

Clarisse dragged in a breath of air and rubbed tiredly at her brow. She didn’t feel up to dealing with a confrontation. “Yes.”

“And what?”

Spine stiffening at Vivian’s antagonistic stance, Clarisse retorted, “And nothing. John and I might have had something once, but it was a long time ago. I doubt if we have anything in common now, so you can stop worrying about me encroaching into your territory.”