What I’m Riding . . . Crave XIV

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After they left Kabuki Tate followed Ru back to her room at the Hampton Inn on Glenoaks. She didn’t know what she wanted to happen, or even what she expected given the direction their conversation had taken over the course of dinner. Did she think they’d end up in bed together? Was that really how she wanted him, using her as a temporary vehicle to drive away the grief he felt over his murdered wife?
.        Yes. She would take Tate any way she could get him. The very admission should fill her with such shame, but it didn’t.
.        Such debates over conscience were soon deemed premature; once they were alone in her room the mood completely changed. Where at the restaurant Tate had seemed open and unburdened, he now lingered in the doorway, hesitant and distracted.
.        “I don’t know if I should be here,” he said.
.        He was looking around the room in such a way that Ru wondered if he completely understood just where “here” was.
.        “We could go back down to the lobby,” she suggested. “Free coffee and tea all night. Comfy couches. I saw Oreos in the vending machine.”
.        He didn’t even crack a smile. In fact, he looked almost panicked. His eyes glassed over, the rims growing red, and with a feeling close to horror Ru realized he was about to cry.
.        “I don’t know if I should be here,” he repeated, his voice breaking in the middle of the sentence, “but there’s really no place else to be, either.”
.        “Tate.” She advanced, gently taking his arm. “Come on. Sit down a minute.”
.        He pulled from her grasp, running his hands through his hair. He sniffed hard, like he was vacuuming up a long line of coke.
.        “I think I should just go.”
.        “Okay,” she said, backing off, giving him space. “Whatever you want. It’s okay.”
.        “It’s not, Ru,” he said, and now she could see he was crying. Contained and steady, but still tears rolled down the sides of his face. “It’s not okay.”
.        “I know that,” she said, suddenly feeling so completely ill-equipped to handle any of this. “But it will be.”
.        He let out a mirthless laugh. “Will it? Tilly wakes up screaming every fucking night, calling out her mother’s name over and over again until she throws up. Her eyes aren’t even open, she doesn’t even see me or hear me, I’m hugging her and talking to her and she’s screaming and choking and my mother-in-law takes her from me with this look . . . this look like I did this to her. Like it’s my fault. Brynn won’t even get out of bed. She pissed it last night, continued to sleep in it. Twelve years old sleeping in her own piss. Siobhan’s yelling at me to get her to go to school. To stop bringing food up to her because eventually she’ll get hungry and be forced to come downstairs to the kitchen table and eat with the rest of us. Make her go to school? Make her eat at the table? I can’t make her go to the fucking bathroom. How do I make a girl whose mother was ax murdered outside her home do anything? I’m trying to keep her living, for God’s sake. Both of them act like they could give a shit whether or not they even wake up the following morning, let alone how they’re going to spend their day. They don’t care about eating or school or showering or fucking breathing. They don’t care. And through all this I’m supposed to not let on how much I want to stay home from work, not eat and piss my bed, too. I don’t care either, Ru. I can’t find the reason to live myself. How am I going to find it for these two girls? How?”
.        The question was rhetorical, but somehow she sensed she needed to come up with an answer. Somewhere in her Dr. Phil, Maya Angelou, Eleanor Roosevelt repertoire of quotes, she could fish out one to give to Tate now.
.        “You must do that thing you think you cannot do,” she said, not knowing which historical figure first spouted it. “You do care, Tate. You care about your life, and you care about your daughters’. An entire family of bed-wetters is not an option.”
.        He looked at her as if she were ridiculous, and for a horrified instant she wondered if she really was as shallow as she felt. Empty. Stony bottom, with nothing but air filling the cavern.
.        “My God, you deserve so much better than me right now,” she said. “I’ve reached my late thirties with no husband or children or even a best friend. I’ve got no brothers or sisters, and my parents are people who send me a hundred dollar check twice a year for Christmas and my birthday. I’ve never been anyone’s shoulder to cry on. And now when it’s you, with this situation, when it’s so important, I have nothing to give. In fact, I feel like crying myself. I need sympathy for me. That’s how fucked I am, Tate. I need your fucking shoulder.”
.        He actually started to laugh, and so did she.
.        “Tate, please leave before I send you home to also have your family shitting the living room couch.”
.        They laughed uncontrollably for a good two minutes, and when it subsided they made their way down to the lobby, where they shared a sofa, a package of Oreos and two steaming coffees.
.        “She was a real pain in the ass,” he said about his wife, quite affectionately after half an hour of detailing for Ru the history of their relationship. How and when they’d met, the honeymoon phase that continued through the birth of their girls, the complacency they’d fallen into. She was surprised at how easy it was to hear all of it. Ru always thought it would devastate her to hear how much Tate loved his wife, how happy she’d made him, what a fitting companion she was, but given current circumstances, Tate’s affection for his wife was endearing. And more than just a little of a relief. Not that Ru ever suspected him of her murder, but she supposed it would say a lot about him—none of it positive—if he thought of Elaine’s slaying as a convenient tragedy. At one point Ru had fancied the woman an absolute nuisance, the obstacle that separated her from her very destiny, and even she had felt a modicum of sadness at her brutal demise. It was a reassuring comfort that Tate was personally feeling the devastation of the death of his life partner and not just the mother of his children.
.        “Obviously she had her complaints about me, too,” he continued. “We had no problem expressing our dissatisfaction with each other. More difficult was figuring out how to fix it. Or even if we wanted to. I guess that’s what I was trying to figure out.”
.        He made a gesture towards her, which she supposed was meant to represent their time spent making out in his car. Since that time she’d held on to the hope that she was more than that to him. That she was also the dinner they’d had, the lunch at Canter’s, the conversations more than the kisses. She wanted to believe their time together had served a higher purpose for him than just a confirmation on whether or not to remain with his wife. She held her breath, now awaiting his judgment on what their time spent together meant about them.
.        “I’m sorry I dragged you into my mess. You say I deserve so much better than you right now when it’s my fault you’re even here.”
.        “It’s my fault,” she whispered, so softly she almost believed she hadn’t spoken at all.
.        “What?”
.        “My fault,” she said, the weight of it all suddenly hitting her. She didn’t know how she knew, but she knew. Everything happening to Tate right now: all her fault.
.        “I sought you out,” she said, looking into his eyes. His hollow, bagged, red-and-black eyes. The devastation in them, all her fault. She placed her hand on his cheek, the softness of his skin lost beneath the scraggled beard.
.        “For over twenty years I’ve held on to this image of you, of myself, of the girl I should have let myself be so that you would find me attractive. But I never had the courage. Too late, I found it. At forty, with you a married father. Did I suddenly find it because given your circumstances it would still be an impossible feat, to have you? Was it not courage at all on my part, but the worst kind of cowardice there is? To convince myself that I was somehow in a position to right the wrong, so to speak. To finally name what I wanted, to go get it? Tate, what was I doing with you? I contacted you, I flew to you, I who have no responsibilities to anyone but myself insinuated myself into your life. With purpose, and not such a noble one at that. Or clear cut. My friend Zane warned me. He said, ‘You better know what you want and your reasons for trying to get it.’ But I didn’t. I went into that car with you with no plan. No plan of mine, that is. I had an old plan, seventeen-year-old Ru’s agenda, to have one moment with you, something to check off a list of things I always regretted not doing. I’m sorry, Tate. I’m so, so sorry. For Elaine. For her mother and your daughters and you. My selfishness—my stupidity—has just made a mess of everything.”
.        He rose for a moment to retrieve a few napkins from the hospitality station and handed them to her. She wiped her eyes, blew her nose, all the while making declarations of how much trouble she’d brought into his life.
.        “Even now, with all the tragedy you’re dealing with, I’m burdening you with my feelings, imposing myself upon you. Asking you to feel somehow sorry for me. I’m just . . . evil.”
.        He shrugged. “You’re a girl. You’re all selfish and evil.”
.        She alternated between laughing and crying.
.        “I heard one of the best things ever on an episode of Friday Night Lights shortly after Elaine was attacked,” he said. “You can find a reason why anything’s your fault if you look hard enough.”
.        “Hmmm,” she said, her tears beginning to finally subside. “So wisdom along with snatches of Taylor Kitsch.”
.        “Like pouring cheddar cheese over broccoli,” he affirmed. “But the point is, we don’t know what this Facebook psycho was doing. Maybe they don’t even know any of us. Some genius hacker with nothing to do but surf the Internet for weekly tragedies and then harass the people connected. They could have sent that message to every one of my Facebook friends.”
.        “Did they?” she cut in. “Did any of your friends or relatives, anyone at all for that matter, tell you someone claiming to be Elaine contacted them on Facebook?”
.        He sighed. “That’s not the point.”
.        “I take that as a no.”
.        “What I’m trying to get at here is that we don’t know what the police know, what they’re holding back. They have to keep some things under wraps so they can narrow the field of who knows what, who’s involved in what. The police said they linked this person’s activity to a library here in Burbank. How could that have anything to do with you?”
.        “I don’t know,” she admitted. “I guess I just feel guilty.”
.        He leaned back against the couch, his long legs stretched out in front of him. “Yeah. I get that.”
.        She stretched out on the cushion next to him, close but not touching. After a moment of sitting like that in quiet reflection, she felt his fingers creep over to hers, intertwining.
.        “What was it about me that had you going for twenty years?”
.        She took a second to think before answering. “I’m not so sure it had all that much to do with you. It’s more what’s going on with me. Or not, I guess. I guess if I had something else, anything else meaningful in my life, I wouldn’t have felt a need to load all my hopes and dreams on the idea of you. An adolescent fancy I couldn’t shake.”
.        He nodded. “It could have been anyone.”
.        “No, no. I’m not saying that. I definitely liked you, Tate. I wanted you. It’s that I kept on doing it for the next eighteen years or so that was the problem.”
.        “You see it as a problem?”
.        “I’m sure some therapist would have a field day with it.” She squeezed his hand. “I’m just being dramatic. Something else us girls are known for. We like a good story, even if it’s not so happily ever after. All that aside, I’m here for you. As a friend. I can try to help with your girls, or your peace of mind, or if you need anything concrete. Help with answering sympathy cards or getting things in order, whatever. Whatever comes up during the course of all this, if you think I can help you with it, please ask. I mean, I know I’m on the other side of the country, but—”
.        She let the thought drop. Indeed, she was on the other side of the country. There was nothing she could do for him. Empty words. Unless she picked up and moved to Burbank. God, she hoped he wouldn’t suggest that. Or even jokingly acknowledge it as a possibility. She just might be fool enough to do it.
.        “When you leaving?” he asked.
.        “Wednesday, at twelve forty-five. I’m not saying that as a hint for a ride,” she quickly added. “I just like to answer a question as accurately as possible.”
.        He chuckled. “I’m starting to remember you at seventeen.”
.        She giggled along with him. “Not much has changed.”
.        He checked his watch, then sat up. “It’s getting late.”
.        She accepted the hand he held out to her and he pulled her up from the couch. When he continued to pull her in the direction of the elevators rather than the hotel exit doors, she stopped him.
.        “Oh, you don’t have to walk me up to my room,” she said. “I’ll be fine. You go on home to your girls.”
.        His index finger was crooked around hers, dangling, and he lightly swung their joined limbs.
.        “You don’t want me to come up?”
.        Again she took a minute before answering, mainly because she was sure he was asking her something else entirely different than what his words conveyed. She hadn’t been too swift throughout the years when it came to man-speak. When he said it was getting late, she thought he meant it was time for him to leave. She’d never entertained the possibility that getting late meant a diminishing window for other possible activities. She was reminded of the joke from Chris Rock: whenever a man asks you if you’d like something, he’s really asking if you want to have sex. Can I pull out your chair for you/how about some dick? Can I pour you some coffee/would you like some dick? Was Tate really asking “You don’t want my dick?” Was she reading too much into things? She’d spent her entire adult life believing she’d never gotten down on the beach blanket with Tate because he’d never asked. Maybe he had and she just didn’t know it.
.        He took her hesitation as confirmation that she did want him to go and he bent to kiss her cheek. “Sweet dreams, Ru.”
.        She felt him releasing her finger and she clasped his hand firmly, stepping directly in front of him. “I do.” She looked into his eyes. “Want you to come up.”

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About whatimriding

Born and raised in Philly, I spent several years in Las Vegas, working at the House of Blues and writing about the city. I now reside in Tampa, where I continue to work on novels, scripts and short stories and tearfully await former Lightning forward Vincent Lecavalier's return to the bay area.
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