When they were saying good night, Sari reminded Kathleen that she had to clean out her apartment. “You cant just leave your stuff there forever.”
“It'll just get harder and harder to go back.”
“I know,” Kathleen said.
“Make the break,” Sari said. “I want to see you happy again, Kath. And I don't think you will be until you're completely out of there.”
“You're right.” Kathleen fished her car keys out of her purse. “Maybe I’ll just run by there tonight. Just throw everything in the car and then find a way to let Sam know I’ve moved out.”
Sari checked her watch. “Want me to come with you?”
“Nah. Jason and Zack are waiting for you.”
“I can call them-”
“No, don't. I’m fine. I’m just going to run in there, get my stuff, and leave. A clean break, like you say.”
“Good,” Sari said. “And then you'll be able to move on. You'll have a new job, a new place to live-”
“My old job, my old place to live…”
“It's still a new beginning in its own way.”
Sari hugged and released her. “I’m sorry things suck right now.”
“My own fault.” She trudged toward her car, her head down. “Hey,” Sari called. “You really okay?”
Kathleen turned to look at her. “Totally. Nothing gets me down for long. I’m tough.” She squared her shoulders. “I’m morethan tough. I’m Xena, the warrior princess. And I don't need no fucking costume to prove it.” She threw her head back and gave a passable Xena cry. People in the parking lot turned to look at her. “See?” she said. “See how tough I am?”
“You're a nut,” Sari said and got into her own car.
Kathleen watched Sari drive away. Even the car looked like it couldn't wait to get where it was going.
Kathleen herself was in no such rush. She took her time on the drive over to the apartment building, uncharacteristically gliding to a stop at every yellow light and staying well within the speed limit. She dreaded walking back into the apartment she had fled from, but Sari was right-it was time to clean it out and move on.
The doorman and elevator man greeted her with uncharacteristic warmth. “Haven't seen you around here much lately,” the first said. The elevator man actually smiled at her. “Good to see you again,” he said, before closing the door and taking her up to her floor.
Once she was inside the apartment, Kathleen looked around it with disgust. What was this place that she had lived in for several months? It could have been nice-it was big and pretty and well built-and instead it was a graveyard for balls and goals and dirty clothing and half-filled air mattresses. She hadn't even tried to make it livable. What was wrong with her? Why did everything good evade her touch, leaving her with nothing to call her own? Why did other people's lives fall into place and never hers?
She threw herself down on the air mattress in the living room and stared up at the ceiling. She never wanted to move again, just wanted to lie there forever in the peaceful quiet of the empty room, wallowing in self-loathing and misery.
Unfortunately for that plan, a loud banging started up somewhere in the building. She was getting more and more annoyed about it, when she realized it was coming from her own kitchen.
For someone who was never going to move again, she jumped up quickly enough. She ran, even, into the kitchen and flung the door open.
Sam was there, in gray pants and a white button-down shirt. No tie or jacket tonight. “Hello, Kathleen,” he said. “Do you have a moment?”
She stared at him. He seemed very calm, but then she noticed that one of his hands was opening and closing spasmodically at his side. The last time they'd spoken was when she had gotten off the elevator after their fight. “Yeah, I guess,” she said and took a step back.
“Thank you.” He entered and she let the door close behind him with a click.
“What do you want?” she said.
“I heard you come in.”
“You haven't been here for a while. I was thinking maybe I should be worried.”
“I’m fine. As you can see.”
“I’m glad,” he said. Then, “I was hoping you'd come back. I thought maybe we should talk.”
“Really?” she said. “Because I feel like we wrapped things up pretty well last time I saw you. You pretty much answered any remaining questions I might have had with that get-the-hell-out-of-my-apartment shit.”
“I was angry,” he said. “But I’ve been waiting for you to come back, hoping maybe we could-”
“I’m only here to grab my stuff. In two hours, this apartment will be all yours again.”
“You don't have to move out.”
“I don't?” she said. “Weren't you planning on throwing me out anyway? Or is that the problem-I’m ruining all of your fun?”
“Huh,” she said, leaning back against the counter. “Are you still here?”
He let out a deep breath. “I know you re not the world's greatest listener, but could you maybe just try for once?”
She looked at her fingernails. “It's not that I can't listen so much as it is that I’m not interested.”
“Pretend I’m talking about shoes.”
“Shoes?” she repeated. “How fucking shallow do you think I am?” She turned and walked out of the kitchen.
He followed her. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn't mean it that way. I was just trying to-” He stopped. “I’m sorry,” he said again. “But will you please just listen to me for a second?”
“Okay, fine,” she said. “What?”
He pushed his hand through his hair. His fingers were shaking. “I’m still trying to figure things out,” he said. “I didn't want to get hurt. I still don't.” She stayed silent. Then he said, “But I miss you when you're not around. It's been way too quiet around here, way too lonely. Unbearable even. You're like-” He opened his hands. “You're like a pet-company when I want company, so long as I don't mind a few stains on the rug and couch.”
“Jesus,” she said. “I’m not a fucking cat, Sam.”
“No,” he said. “I was thinking more a dog. Cats are very clean.”
She turned her back on him, took a step away, then whirled back around. “You know what? We're both idiots.”
“Okay,” he said.
“We're both idiots,” she repeated. “We've just been taking turns at it. Sometimes I talk too much and say things I don't mean. And when I said that I wanted to marry Kevin and be rich forever, I didn't mean it. Because-” There was no way to say it and make herself look good. So she didn't even try. “Because I’ve never known what to do with myself. I have nothing I want to do and nothing I’m good at. So sometimes I just try things out to see if they fit. And I thought maybe going after money was a sign of-I don't know, maturity or something. So I tried it out. Tried to be-what's the word? When all you care about is money?”
She nodded. “Yeah, that's it. I tried being mercenary. And it didn't fit. I’m a flake and I put my foot in it all the time and I can be a pig when I eat-”
“I’m a pig and all those other things, but I’m not mercenary, Sam. If I were, I’d have married Kevin in Hawaii like I was supposed to.”
“You were supposed to get married?” he said.
“But I didn't.”
He smiled weakly. “I wouldn't call that one of your strongest selling points at the moment-that you were engaged to be married to someone else a couple of months ago.”
“It is, though,” Kathleen said. “I didn't marry Kevin, not because I couldn't but because I didn't want to. Doesn't that prove I don't just care about money?”
“It doesn't change the fact that I’m rich. And I can't quite see what other charms I’m likely to hold for someone like you.” He gave a twisted smile. “I’m well aware you could have any man you wanted.”
She took a step toward him. “Sam-”
He held his hands up, holding her off. “I don't want to be anyone's sugar daddy, Kathleen.” He looked at the floor and then back up at her again. “You have no idea how scared I am of becoming something like that.”
“If it makes you feel better,” she said, “you're not the sugar daddy type. I mean, if I wanted someone to take care of me and buy me things, I’d find someone who's actually nice to me. Isn't that kind of the point of a sugar daddy?”
“The money's the point.”
“I don't want your money, Sam. I don't even need it-I’ve started working for my sisters again.”
“That can't pay very well.”
“Well enough,” she said. “Well enough that if it would help you learn to trust me, I could pay my half of anything.”
He gestured around them. “This apartment costs two point five million dollars.”
“Well, not that, obviously. Anyway, I’m living with my sisters again. I just meant I can pay for my meals. And movies and stuff like that.”
“You think that will solve the problem?”
“Fuck it, Sam,” she said, flinging her right hand out. “Either you believe that I’m not just after your money or you don't. What else can I say?”
He studied her for a moment. “You're right,” he said finally “And I do believe you. Maybe it's a mistake, but I do. So where does that leave us?”
She was silent for a moment. Then she said, “I don't know.” She took another step toward him. “But if I were a dog, I’d be a stray. I have nowhere to go, no place to call my own-just be nice to me and I’ll probably follow you home.”
“But what if this is something else you're just trying out? Going after-” He shook his head. “Christ, I don't even know how to define what this might be. But what if you realize this-whatever it is-doesn't fit, either? What if you follow someone else home one day?”
“It's a risk,” she said.
“I don't know if it's one I want to take.”
Her mouth curved up in something that wasn't a smile. “Then get a golden retriever. He'll be yours for life.”
“They shed.” He took another deep breath. “Look, Kathleen, I don't expect anything permanent. And I don't want any promises. I’ve already been through that whole until-death-do-us-part thing and the fact that I’m here with you right now proves how meaningless those promises are. But I’ve been protecting myself for a while. To put myself out there again-with someone with your kind of track record-knowing how badly I could get hurt-” He stopped and said again, “I don't want any promises. But I need some sense of the risk/gain ratio. How much time am I likely to have?”
“Do you have to sound like such a businessman?”
“I’m using the terms I know.”
“Do you really expect me to have an answer for you?” she said. “Because I don't have any idea how much time we'll have. All I know is that there's nowhere else I want to go right now except upstairs with you. And not just because your sofas are comfortable.”
“I’ll have to Scotchgard them,” he said. “I mean, whether it's you or the golden retriever… either way.” They regarded each other in silence a moment. Then Sam held his hand out and she took it. “I am going to get so hurt,” he said before pulling her fiercely against him.
“It'll be worth it,” she whispered.
“I hope to hell you're right,” he said. And then they were done talking.
The airbed had lost some of its pressure, but by the time they had fallen down on top of it, neither of them noticed or cared.
Afterward, they lay there quietly, each listening to the sound of the other's breathing.
Kathleen broke the silence. “I’m knitting something for you,” she said. “That brown afghan thing I’ve been working on all month. It's for you-for your den.”
“Really?” he said. “I didn't know that.”
“Neither did I,” she said. “But I’m pretty sure it is.”
His leg found hers under the blanket. “No one's ever knit anything for me before.”
“That makes us even,” she said. “I’ve never knit anything for anyone before.”