Note: Every Monday until July 31, I’ll be posting chapters of Room for Two on my blog. Read Chapter 5 below. Want to start at the beginning? Read Chapter 1.
Read on Kindle | Paperback | Nook | iBooks | Smashwords
The evening before I flew to Phoenix, I walked through the house and examined the work that had been accomplished. All the walls had been repaired and painted white. The old carpet had been torn out, and new floorboards installed. The bathroom had been gutted, and a new shower and toilet had been put in. The house smelled of fresh paint and was finally looking habitable. I was pleased with the progress.
As I paused in each room, I realized Krista had been right. The house had great potential. She had been able to look past the dead insects and neglect to see its true beauty. I had been too preoccupied with its disrepair to see that a little work could make the place livable.
I stopped in one of the bedrooms and thought about what I was going to do with it. This was supposed to be Hope’s nursery. I could see her crib in one corner and a shelf full of dolls and toys against the far wall. This was the room in which I had imagined playing with her and tucking her in at night. I had planned on painting the walls pink. Instead they glistened with a new coat of white paint. I felt a lump rise in my throat and quickly left the room.
There was a knock at the back door. Before I could answer it, my mom entered. She held a plate of steaming pepperoni pizza and had a smile fastened to her face. As I wolfed down the pizza, my mom walked through the house. I listened to her footsteps echo off the walls as she went from room to room and examined at the day’s progress. Her footsteps reinforced how empty the house was, and I wondered if it would ever feel full without someone to share it with.
"You’ve finished painting," she said, when she finished touring the house.
"The family’s been a lot of help," I said. "Couldn’t have made it this far without them."
"As I walked through the house, I felt that Krista has seen what you’ve done. I believe she’s happy with the way it’s turning out."
I looked down at the floor as I always seemed to do when someone talked about Krista. Though well-intentioned, my mom’s comment made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t the first time she had said something like that. A few weeks earlier the family had gone on a trip to Salt Lake. After we returned, she told me she had felt Krista was sitting in the van with the family, enjoying the conversation, wishing she could be part of it.
"She probably would be happy with the house," I said. "Too bad she decided not to stick around for it." I said the last part under my breath. I was counting on my mom, who had always been a little hard of hearing, not to catch it. Mom didn’t seem to notice the comment, but I regretted the remark as soon as I said it. "I’m sorry, Krista," I said quietly. "I didn’t mean that."
Whether or not my mom actually sensed Krista had seen the progress on the house, I knew Krista would be happy with the improvement. I only wished she had seen the same potential with her life.
I finished the last of the pizza and waited for my mom to leave. I wanted to be alone. A death might have brought most people closer to their family, but it had driven me further from mine. After the initial shock of her death had worn off, Krista had become a saint. No one seemed to remember the odd behavior she exhibited before she died or the fact that she killed herself and — as far as I was concerned — Hope. There were times I felt I was the only one still angry or upset about it. Because of this, I was unable to talk with anyone in my immediate family about Krista or anything related to her death.
My mom paced around what would soon be the remodeled kitchen, looking at the walls. I sensed she had something she wanted to say but was unsure how to bring it up. I wasn’t in the mood to wait. I still needed to clean the paint brushes and pack for my trip.
"Do you have something you want to tell me?" I said.
"Bridget finally developed some pictures," she said. "There’s some of you and Krista." Bridget was my sister and an aspiring photographer.
"Oh?" I said. "Did you bring them over?" I thought the least I could do was act interested in them, even if they were the last thing I wanted to see.
"They were taken week before Krista died — at that Sunday cookout. Remember?"
I knew what day she was talking about. My family had decided to have a final barbeque before the weather turned too cold. Bridget had taken some pictures of the two of us with a new camera she had purchased.
My mom took an envelope out of her pocket and removed a photograph from it. "Look at this one," she said.
In the photograph Krista was wearing the blue flower-print dress she had worn to church that Sunday. She was sitting on a white plastic lawn chair. I was squatting next to the chair, looking at her pregnant belly. My right arm was around her shoulders. My left hand rested on her tummy, and I remembered I had been hoping to feel the baby move while Bridget snapped pictures. Krista’s face was turned away from the camera, nestled into my shoulder.
I turned and wiped away a tear. Seeing a photograph of Krista pregnant brought back too many memories. I looked at my mom hoping my expression would ask her why she had shown me the photo. My faced seemed to say she still hadn’t told me what was on her mind.
"Do you see it?" she asked.
I glanced at the picture. I didn’t see anything significant about it, other than the fact it was probably the last photograph taken of the two of us.
"Look at Krista," my mom said. "She’s not looking at the camera."
"So?" I didn’t understand where she was going with this.
"Her head is turned in all of the pictures."
"Krista wasn’t feeling well that day," I said.
"But do you ever remember her not smiling for a photograph?"
My mom was right. Krista had always smiled for the camera. She was usually quite photogenic. Even so, I didn’t see the point she was trying to make.
"What are you getting at, Mom?"
"Look at her face again. It’s so unlike her not to smile. She wasn’t herself. I really think she was mentally ill."
I turned away again, this time to stop myself from saying something I’d regret. Now that Krista was dead, everyone had turned into psychiatrists and knew the reason Krista had killed herself. If it was so obvious, I always thought, then why hadn’t anyone said anything while she was alive? The photograph was not enough evidence for me.
"We don’t know why she did it," I said. "We probably never will."
"I don’t think the photograph’s a coincidence," my mom said. "I think some things happen for a reason."
I wasn’t in the mood to hear my mom’s "There are no coincidences" speech. According to her, everything happened for a reason — usually a spiritual one.
"It’s a photograph," I said. "Nothing more."
"Just look at it, Abel."
I took the picture from her outstretched arm and set it on the paper plate covered with pizza crumbs.
"When I look at that picture, I see a woman who’s tired of life. She’s sad in a way I don’t think any of us can understand. But I don’t see the ravages of schizophrenia or any other mental illness." I sat back down on the chair and tried to calm down. I hoped that my mom would leave.
"Why must you be so angry?" my mom said. "It was her time to go."
Her last comment sent me over the edge.
"It wasn’t her time!" I said. "It wasn’t Hope’s time either! They’re both dead because Krista made the choice to put a gun to her head!"
I threw the photograph to the floor. It landed upside down between a tool box and a circular saw.
"Abel — "
"I don’t want to hear it!"
My mom put on her coat and gloves without saying a word. She opened the back door to leave. I could feel cold air filling the kitchen. I felt I should apologize or say something, so she wouldn’t think I was angry at her while I was in Phoenix.
"Mom," I said as she stepped into the cold. "Thanks for the pizza."
It was a weak attempt to smooth things over. She closed the door without saying good-bye.
I sat on the chair for several minutes, then picked the photograph up from the floor. I brushed the pizza crumbs and dust off it and set it on the kitchen counter. Then I did one final check of the house, making sure everything was in order. I turned off the lights one room at a time. Even though I was proud of the way the house was looking, I still regretted buying it. I didn’t relish the thought of living in a home, a neighborhood, and a city that constantly reminded me of Krista. I wanted to live in a place that wasn’t riddled with memories. That’s why I was looking forward to the trip to Phoenix — it was a place where, for a few days, I could forget about everything.
That night I took a long, hot shower. I scrubbed hard, making sure to remove all flecks of paint from my face, arms, and hair. I wanted to go to Phoenix without any traces of Utah on me. I realized as I scrubbed, however, that a part of Utah would always stay with me. Inside I would always carry the constant ache that Krista and Hope were dead.
The sun was low in the sky as the plane descended into Sky Harbor International Airport.
From several thousand feet above Phoenix, it seemed that every other house in the sprawling metropolis had a swimming pool. There were palm trees and cacti growing in most of the yards. Everything about the city looked warm and inviting.
Brent was waiting on the other side of the security checkpoint. He looked exactly as I remembered him when I had last seen him four years ago: tall and thin as a rail with short, light brown hair, narrow blue eyes, and a big smile.
We spent the drive to his house catching up on each other’s lives. Brent told me about going to school and working to complete his degree in Criminal Justice. He told me about meeting his wife Bethany, their courtship, and how much he was enjoying married life.
"You sound like you found your soul mate," I said.
"Yeah, I did," Brent said.
Hearing about Brent’s happy marriage made me jealous. I rolled down the window and let the warm evening air blow though the cab of Brent’s truck. A convertible roared past us, the long, dark hair of the driver flailing straight out behind her.
Fifteen minutes from the airport we exited the freeway and drove into a quiet residential area. We drove by homes with cacti and gravel for front yards and groves of orange and grapefruit trees, their branches heavy with fruit. A few minutes later we turned into a community of white townhomes with orange Spanish-styled roofs. Brent parked his truck at the far end of the parking lot. I grabbed my duffel bag from the back of the truck and followed him to the center of the complex past a large swimming pool. The blue water looked cool and inviting.
Brent’s townhome faced the pool. We were met at the door by a woman of medium height. Her hair was a rich, dark brown color as were her large, doe-like eyes. Her skin was pale and flawless. Brent had done more than find a soul mate, he had married one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen.
"Abel, this is my wife, Bethany," Brent said.
We shook hands. Her hand was warm and smooth.
"Brent’s told me a lot about you," Bethany said.
"Nothing too bad, I hope."
"Actually I was hoping to hear some stories about him."
"I’m sure I have a story or two you haven’t heard yet."
Bethany looked at my baseball hat. "The Detroit Tigers," she said.
Her comment caught me off guard. Tigers fans were rare out West and outside of baseball fans, few even knew what the old English D represented.
"You like the Tigers?" I said hopefully.
"No, but I’m from Michigan," she said. "People wear hats like yours that all the time in my hometown."
"Well, maybe you can convert your husband," I said.
"Fat chance," she replied. "He prefers to root for a winning team."
I felt the laughter inside me before it burst out. I was laughing. I wanted to get down on my knees and thank this beautiful woman for her gift of making me laugh, and making me feel safe and accepted, not the pariah of being a widower.
The three of us spent the rest of the evening talking. As we chatted, I watched as Bethany stroked Brent’s arm with her long, slender fingers or playfully hit him when he told a joke. Her actions made me long for Krista in ways that hadn’t manifested themselves until then. I missed the way Krista would stroke the back of my neck when we were watching television or the smell of her hair when she would lean her head on my shoulder. I missed putting my arms around her and feeling the familiar curves of her body. That evening I would have done anything to have her again at my side.
Shortly after midnight Bethany yawned and excused herself. I watched as she walked up the stairs to their bedroom.
"You’re a lucky man," I said, looking back at Brent.
"I know it," Brent said. "I don’t deserve her."
"The hell you don’t."
"So am I."
My eyes wandered to the photographs of Brent and Bethany hanging on the wall. There was one of them on their wedding day. In the photograph they were holding hands and had smiles as big as the picture. The photo brought back memories of my own wedding. Krista and I were married on a freezing December morning, but I didn’t remember feeling cold. Instead I felt thrilled and lucky to have someone as so beautiful and perfect as Krista as my wife. I caught myself smiling for a moment, waiting for Krista to walk into Brent’s front door, as if she had just arrived late, or had run out to get something from his truck. I felt like half of a whole, and the other half was gone forever. The feeling burned inside me. It made me want to cry or vomit or rewind time. I glanced back at Brent. The happy look on his face that was there only moments before was gone.
"Are you all right?" I asked. The sadness was etched deep into his blue eyes. I thought he was going to tell me something was seriously wrong with his marriage, or maybe he was dying from some incurable disease.
"How did she die?" Brent said quietly. "What happened?"
His comment left me momentarily speechless. How could Brent not know? My mind raced through the phone calls we had over the last two months. I thought I had told him about Krista but couldn’t be sure.
"What do you know?" I said.
"All I know is that she died unexpectedly."
My stomach lurched. "I’m sorry," I said. "I thought I told you. I’ve told the story so many times, I just assumed you knew."
"I wanted to ask, but it didn’t seem right to do it over the phone."
"Brent," I said, "my wife took my handgun and shot herself in the head." Those words stood in the room as big as a building. The clock in the kitchen ticked so loudly I could hear it over the hum of the air conditioning. Miraculously, as I told Brent about Krista’s suicide and Hope’s brief life, I didn’t shed a tear. A part of me wanted to tell him every detail, to unload it all on him, and cry. But I kept much of it to myself. I gave him the newspaper account story, as if I was telling this sad tale about someone I knew, not about myself.
Brent didn’t say anything while I talked. He simply stared at me with the same sad look. When I finished, there was silence for a long moment.
"I’m sorry you had to go through that," Brent finally said.
"You don’t have anything to be sorry about."
"Can I ask a question about that day?" Brent’s words were barely audible. It sounded like he was whispering, afraid to speak in case someone should overhear his question.
"Ask whatever you want," I said.
"You don’t have to answer it."
There was a pause, then the question came out.
"Do you think Krista waited for you to come home before she pulled the trigger?"
It was one of those questions that until now, no one had dared ask. I closed my eyes. The events of that afternoon replayed themselves over in my mind.
"Yes, I think she waited," I said opening my eyes. "It seems too much of a coincidence that I arrived home just as she decided to pull the trigger."
"Why do you think she waited?" There was a little hesitation in Brent’s voice. He seemed unsure how deep he could probe.
"Maybe she was hoping the baby could be saved," I said. "Perhaps she thought letting me witness her death would put an exclamation point on her suicide. The truth is, I don’t know."
What I didn’t say was I really didn’t want to know the answer to that question. If Krista had waited so I would be the one to find her — so my last memory of her was one with a bullet in her head — then knowing that truth would be hard to live with. It was better to let it go.
"When you were driving back to your apartment, did you have any inkling she was suicidal?" Brent’s voice had more confidence this time, but he still looked at me for some kind of reassurance that the question was okay to ask.
I took a deep breath, then slowly exhaled. There were parts of that day I hadn’t told anyone — not even family members. I considered telling Brent the lie I had so convincingly told since the day Krista died — that her suicide had been completely unexpected. The truth was I had been warned three times something was amiss and had ignored each warning.
I cleared my throat and rearranged the couch pillows I had been leaning on. I opened my mouth to speak but stopped. I felt my throat tighten. I closed my eyes and fought back the tears. In the silence that followed I again thought about telling the lie I had repeated so many times. It was the easy way out. The one thing I had learned since Krista’s death was that no one was ever going to question my version of events. But there was something about telling a lie that ate at my very soul. My life, already a daily struggle, was made even more unbearable because I refused to tell the truth. In that moment, I made the decision to tell Brent everything.
"You know those strong spiritual impressions you receive occasionally?"
"I had three of them before she died. Odds are if I had acted upon any of them, Krista would still be alive right now."
I let my words hang in the air for a minute before continuing.
"The day before she died, Krista called me at work and said she wanted to spend the night at her grandmother’s house. She didn’t give a reason why."
I remembered that conversation clearly because Krista had been calling at least once an hour. She never gave a reason for her calls that day other than she just wanted to see how I was doing. By the time she called with the request to spend the night at her grandmother’s, I was so annoyed with her constant interruptions I had agreed to her request just to get her off the phone.
"After work I stopped by the apartment to pick up a change of clothes and a few other items. As I was putting everything in the trunk, I felt a distinct impression I should go back to the house, retrieve my gun, and give it to my brother for safekeeping. Even though the feeling was very powerful, I ignored it."
I could remember standing by the car, my left hand on the trunk, ready to shut it when the feeling hit me. I looked back at the dark apartment windows. My gun was locked in a case, and, at the time, I thought I had all the keys. Besides, it was late and I was hungry. I brushed the feeling aside, shut the trunk, and drove away.
"The next morning I awoke early to run errands. Krista was still asleep. As I pulled out of the driveway, I received another strong impression. Only this time I felt that instead of going to the store, I should drive straight to the apartment. Again I ignored what my gut was telling me."
I had told myself there was no reason to go to the apartment. Krista was at her grandmother’s house. There was nothing to do there except finish unpacking. As I arrived at a major intersection, I felt strongly I should drive to the apartment. Going straight through the light would take me home. Turning left would allow me to run my errands. I didn’t know what to do. The closer I came to the intersection, the stronger the impression became. It was like the feeling was being blared into me by someone with a loudspeaker, though I didn’t hear anything. I just felt it. Finally I had to make a choice: drive straight or turn left. I turned left.
"The third impression came as I was walking up the stairs to our apartment. This one was much stronger than the previous two. I felt that I should open the apartment door very quietly and not say anything once I walked inside. But I ignored that feeling, too. I opened the door. . . ."
There was no need to continue. I stared at the rug on the floor and traced its intricate pattern with my eyes. I felt too ashamed and embarrassed to look at Brent.
"You know what I think about every day?" I said. "I wonder how different my life would be if I had listened to those promptings. Every morning I wake up and my first thought is: why did I ignore them?"
More silence. A tear ran slowly down my cheek to my chin. I felt it land on my shirt.
"The funny thing is that now when I think about Krista, I get angry. I’m furious that she killed herself. I hate her for taking Hope’s life and her own. But I feel so responsible for everything. If only I had only listened to those feelings, Krista would still be alive."
I waited for Brent to say something — anything. When I finally got the courage to look at him, I saw his expression was full of compassion. For some reason I expected anyone who knew the full story to be appalled and revolted at me.
"I’m so sorry, Abel," Brent said. "I don’t know what to say."
"You don’t have to say anything," I said. "It feels good to finally tell someone the whole story."
That night for the first time since Krista died, I didn’t have to fight off memories of her suicide. Instead I thought back to the promptings and how little, sometimes seemingly insignificant choices can have the biggest impact on one’s life. Over the coming months I would tell what I had told Brent to my family and close friends. And as I stared at the dark ceiling and waited for sleep to overtake me, I knew that telling them was going to be the easy part. The hardest part was still to come. I needed to forgive myself for my inaction.
The next morning Brent and I drove to Mesa Community College to run. I had always lived in places with cold, snowy winters. In Phoenix it was clear and sunny and temperatures were in the low sixties. It was perfect running weather. It was a nice change to wear running shorts and a T-shirt in January.
I tightened my running shoes and started around the track. Brent stayed with me for a few laps, then slowed and eventually stopped after I lapped him twice. He sat on a long wooden bench next to the track and watched me run the final laps. I finished the four-mile run in thirty-one minutes and forty-seven seconds — a personal best. Breathing hard, I walked slowly over to the bench where Brent was resting.
"You’re in good shape," Brent said. "I wish I could run like that."
I sat next to him and slowed my breathing. I leaned back, closed my eyes, and let my skin soak up the sun. There was a slight breeze, which felt good.
After several minutes I become aware of the presence of someone nearby. I opened my eyes and saw a woman on the far end of the bench stretching. She had long legs and jet black hair that hung just past her shoulders. She was wearing blue running shorts and a matching tank top. The top emphasized her large, round breasts. When the woman stretched her arms above her head, her tank top pulled up just enough to reveal a flat, well-toned stomach. The woman looked at me and smiled. I smiled back. She pulled her hair into a ponytail and put it through the back of a white baseball cap. It had always turned me on when a woman wore her hair in that fashion.
I followed the woman with my eyes as she ran. She was clocking in at just under than two minutes per lap. After five minutes of running her skin shone with a thin layer of sweat. It made her body looked sleek and oiled. I found myself wishing I had some energy left to run. It would be fun to try and keep up with her. By this time Brent was watching her, too.
"She’s hot," I said. I regretted the words as soon as they left my mouth. It seemed inappropriate to say something like that less than two months after Krista’s death. I looked away, embarrassed.
"Do you think about getting married again?" Brent asked.
The question surprised me. The few times that I had tried to imagine myself with someone else, it always ended up being a slightly different version of Krista. Sometimes the person had a different hair or eye color, but in the end it was Krista’s face I always saw myself looking at.
"It’s crossed my mind once or twice." I said.
"If Bethany died, I don’t think I could marry someone else."
"Why not?" I asked.
"She’s perfect for me."
I watched the woman complete another lap. Her ponytail bounced with each stride. I tried to picture myself in that woman’s arms. Each time, the woman’s face would turn into Krista’s. I could see Krista’s bright blue eyes, small nose, and her mouth that would melt into mine when we kissed. Her body lay next to me. Her milky white breasts were pressed against my side, and the sheet was pulled just far enough back to reveal the curve of her hip. Again I tried to imagine myself with the track woman. I couldn’t make it work. Krista had been my best lover and closest friend. She was the only person I could see myself with.
I took one last, hard look at the woman as we headed to Brent’s truck. I still found myself in Krista’s arms.
On the way back to Brent’s house, I leaned my head against the window and watched the sun-drenched streets of Phoenix roll past. My thoughts were on Krista. Her outlook on life had always been so positive. What had changed? I thought back to September and how, almost overnight, she had stopped caring about things she had been passionate about such as work and her poetry. Nothing mattered to her anymore. The energy and joy that was part of her everyday life had vanished.
"I was such a rotten husband the last few months of her life," I said. I hadn’t meant to say that out loud, but it came out anyway.
"You had no way of knowing what she was going through," Brent said after several moments of silence.
"I never tried to understand her, Brent. When she started acting weird, I just became upset."
Brent stopped at a light. A black Honda Accord pulled up next to us. A baby girl lay in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat. She looked like she was crying. The woman who was driving picked a doll from the floor and handed it to the baby girl. The baby shook the doll and smiled. The light turned green, and Brent accelerated, leaving the black Honda behind.
"There are times I haven’t been the best husband either," Brent said.
"You ever hit Bethany?" I asked.
Brent shook his head. "No, I’ve never touched her."
"I shook Krista once," I said. "Violently. I might as well have hit her."
I looked back out the window. There was no way I could look someone in the eye and admit to what I had done.
"A few weeks before she died," I said, "I reached the breaking point. Krista was brushing off appointments with friends. She kept skipping her prenatal checkups. Then one day she unexpectedly quit her job as a court clerk."
I remembered calling Krista during my lunch break only to be told by one of her coworkers that she had quit her job that morning without giving notice. Stunned, I called her at home. Krista had refused to tell me anything other than she couldn’t put on a happy face for people at work anymore. Neither of us expected Krista to work after the baby was born, but we had been planning on her working long enough so we could use her health insurance and save a little money for some baby-related expenses. But it wasn’t the money or loss of benefits that bothered me. It was Krista’s continued irresponsibility. She didn’t care about anyone — even herself. Most days she sat around in her pajamas doing nothing.
Traffic slowed in Brent’s lane, and the Honda drove past. I tried to get a look at the baby girl and see if she had the doll, but the car passed too quickly.
"The next day Krista kept muttering under her breath about living in a dark and unjust world. I ignored her, hoping her mood would lighten as it usually did. But this time it went on all day. I should have ignored it, but every time she walked past, I felt anger building inside me. At first I was able to keep it bottled up. Finally I had enough. I remember thinking I didn’t want Krista raising our baby. I was worried she wouldn’t be able to care for it. I grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her as hard as I could."
The moment was vivid in my mind. I could see Krista limp body in my hands, her head flailing back and forth, as I shook her. My voice was loud, demanding to know what was wrong with her and why she was behaving so oddly. When it was over, her eyes stared right at me in shock as if she couldn’t believe what I had just done. I let her go, and she slumped to her knees.
Brent slowed for another light and stopped right next to the black Honda. The baby in the back seat clutched her doll tightly to her chest. The woman driving the car looked at her watch and tapped the steering wheel impatiently.
"After I shook her," I continued, "I took a few steps back in disbelief at what I had just done. I opened my mouth to apologize, but nothing came out. For what seemed like several minutes we just stared at each other. Finally Krista stood up and walked to our bedroom and locked the door."
I had knocked on the door and pleaded with her to forgive me to no avail. Krista had remained locked in our room for hours. When she finally came out, she didn’t say anything to me the rest of the evening.
I felt warm. I rolled down the window and let the cool air fill the cab.
"It must have been frustrating living with someone whose behavior changed from day to day," Brent said.
"I should never have shaken Krista," I said. "I should have been in control."
The woman in the black Honda picked up her cell phone. Hearing her mother’s voice, the baby girl tried to find her. Unable to see her from the rear-facing car seat, she twisted her head trying to catch a glimpse of her mother. The light turned green, but this time the Honda pulled ahead of the truck. At the next intersection the car slowed and turned right.
"You want to know what hell is, Brent? It’s not a place with fire and a bunch of red devils with pointy tails and pitchforks. Hell is being separated from the love of your life and looking back on your own actions and wishing you had done things differently."
"I’ve made mistakes with Bethany," Brent said.
"You can still ask Bethany for forgiveness," I said. "You can try to be a better husband. I can’t tell Krista I’m sorry about the time I shook her. I can’t apologize for not being more understanding or patient when she was off her rocker. You’re going to wake up tomorrow, and Bethany is going to be lying in your arms. You’re so incredibly lucky, Brent. You can still be a better husband. I would do anything to be in your shoes right now."
My last words put an end to the conversation. I could tell by the way Brent pursed his lips that he was frustrated. I felt bad. Brent had only been trying to comfort me, and I had pushed him away, telling him that he didn’t get it. At that moment I wanted someone I could relate with. Someone who could tell me that what I was going through, what I was feeling, and how I was reacting was normal. The problem was I doubted that there was anyone out there who could help.
We drove in silence until Brent pulled into the parking lot of the townhomes.
"I sorry," I said. "I didn’t mean to unload on you like that. You invited me down to get away from everything, and I end up spilling my guts and yelling at you. You’ve given up a weekend with your wife to spend some time with me. I really appreciate that."
"There’s no need to apologize." Brent said. "I have no idea how you’re holding everything together as well as you are. If talking about it helps, then talk all you want." He put the truck in park and turned off the engine. "Do you still feel like having lunch with Jennifer?"
Lunch with Jennifer. I had forgotten about that. Jennifer was a mutual friend who lived in Mesa. We had talked a handful of times since Krista’s death. When she learned I was coming to Phoenix for a few days, she had suggested that the three of us do lunch one day.
Brent and I cleaned up, then drove across town to pick up Jennifer. Jennifer was taller and more pear-shaped than I remembered. Her curly blonde hair hung down to her shoulders, and her light blue eyes radiated her happiness. She had a sharp nose and a big smile.
"Abel," she said in her perky voice. "Come in!" She pulled me into a friendly embrace and said, "It’s so nice to see you after all these years."
I pulled away. I was happy to see Jennifer but wasn’t in a hugging mood. Jennifer didn’t seem to notice and turned her attention to Brent whom she hugged as well.
Brent had suggested lunch at Bank One Ballpark — home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. There was a restaurant in the ballpark that overlooked left field. He said it was worth going to, if not for the food, at least for the view of the field.
Jennifer was chatty, something else I had forgotten about her. By the time we arrived at the restaurant, Jennifer had told us about finishing college two years ago with a degree in history and economics. She’d returned to Phoenix, her hometown, and after working for a while in the real world, she found herself unhappy with where her life was going. She had moved back in with her parents and returned to school to earn her teaching certificate. By September she hoped to be employed as a high school economics and history teacher.
We were seated near the window that overlooked left field. The roof of the ballpark was retracted and sunlight filled the stadium. The waters of a swimming pool glistened behind the wall of right-center field. I looked over the empty sea of green seats, wishing it was summer and that there was a game we could attend.
As we ate, I noticed how Jennifer’s blonde hair brushed her shoulders every time she moved her head. I found it subtly attractive. As we talked, I sometimes thought I was looking at a taller, rounder version of Krista.
We talked baseball and the potential for our teams this year. It turned out that Jennifer was a rabid Cubs fan. She rooted as passionately for the Cubs as I did the Tigers. Brent, a Diamondbacks fan, was the most optimistic about his team’s chances this year seeing how they had just won the World Series in October. He was looking forward to the upcoming season.
"How long has it been since the Tigers have had a winning season?" Brent said. "Twenty years?"
"Eight," I said. "It’s been eight years."
"Yeah, but I bet it seems like twenty," Jennifer said and gave my shoulder a playful shove.
The playful touch of her hand on my shoulder felt surprisingly comforting. I found myself wishing she’d do it again.
"This could be their year," I said, even though I wasn’t optimistic things would be any different for the Tigers this year or anytime in the near future.
"Yeah, and maybe Babe Ruth will rise from the dead," Brent said.
Jennifer laughed. "Don’t be so hard on him, Brent. The Tigers have that All-Star on their team. What’s his name?" She looked at me expectantly for the answer.
"What All-Star?" I said.
"Exactly," Jennifer said. Her cackling laugh echoed through the restaurant.
Talking baseball put me in a good mood. I took a bite of my hamburger. It was thick and juicy. I looked over the ballpark and imagined a game being played on the field, the seats filled with fans.
"You go to many Diamondbacks games?" I asked Brent.
"Two or three a year, if I’m lucky."
"That must be nice."
"You’re always welcome to come down for a game," Brent said. "I’d love to go to one with a serious fan."
"Doesn’t Bethany go with you?"
Brent shook his head and looked away. It seemed like that was something he wished he could share with her.
I steered the topic back to the Tigers. "Too bad the Tigers play in the American League," I said. "If they didn’t, I’d come down for sure."
"Interleague play will bring them here one day," Brent said.
"Well, if the Tigers ever have a game in Arizona, I’ll buy some tickets and take you and Jennifer," I said.
At some point during the meal I remember looking over the ball park and realizing for the first time in months that I was happy and relaxed. Phoenix was a city without memories, and I found myself wishing I could start a new life in this sprawling desert town. If it wasn’t for the fact I had just bought a house in Ogden, I might have done just that.