As always, comments and suggestions are always welcome.
It took almost two hours for Jason to copy and explain his notes to Debbie, the article he had sketched out on Stevenson, and his strategy over what they should do next, subject, of course, to Miles’ approval. Debbie was more than capable of filling his shoes for a few days and had the advantage of already being familiar with the story. Still, he’d kept most of his ideas in his head, not on paper. That, and the fact that you needed some kind of Rosetta Stone to understand the notes he did take, made Debbie the only practical choice. It would have taken too long to bring anyone else up to speed.
The nuts and bolts mechanics of working a story seemed to dispel the surrealism he’d been struggling with. By the time Debbie and Miles forced him out of the news room, Debbie assuring him that she would call if she had any questions at all and Miles insisting the paper could survive for seven days without him, Jason almost felt normal.
At least his mind seemed to be functioning properly and he no longer felt like he was standing off to the side watching himself like some kind of puppet. Now he felt capable of taking care of the things he needed to do before leaving.
How he would handle the tasks he’d face in Port Salish was another story, but he’d deal with that later.
There was still one problem he didn’t have an answer for. He had no idea how to handle his relationship with Lisa and this new development wouldn’t help. She would want to drop everything and come with him. Unfortunately, it wasn’t what he wanted. Somehow, he needed to let her know that this was something he needed to deal with on his own. At least at first.
The drive home was uneventful. The accident this morning had been to the north; he was heading east and most of the traffic was still heading into the city, not out. His apartment was part of a large complex on the southwestern edge of Bellevue, across Lake Washington from the city proper. He’d lived in the same place since his junior year of college. It held a nice mixture of college students, retirees and young couples just starting out. Best of all, it was just a few minute’s drive from both the University and downtown and a short walk from the lake.
He gathered his accumulated mail, let himself into the apartment, deposited the mail on a dusty kitchen counter and his laptop and briefcase on the floor. For a moment, he just looked around his little one-bedroom. He hadn’t been home since Friday morning, three days ago, and he felt like he had to reacquaint himself with the place. He walked through the living room and into the bedroom and bath. Everything was exactly as he’d left it, which is why it felt so weird. It was like everything had frozen in place three days ago.
Back in the living room, he checked his land line answering machine for new messages. There weren’t any.
He decided he could put it off no longer, pulled out his cell and sent Lisa a text asking her to call him when she had a minute. The class she was in now would end in about ten minutes.
He sighed and headed into the bedroom to start packing.
“In the laundry.”
He pulled a soggy mass of wet denim from the washer and tossed it into the dryer. One of the first things he’d realized was there was no way he would be able to pack for seven days without doing laundry first. He simply didn’t own that much clothing. The first load had just finished washing and he was making room for the second.
Lisa swept into the kitchen, tossed her bag on the counter, sending pieces of his mail scattering to the floor, and headed straight for him, her arms already extended. She looked like she was going to burst into tears. He straightened up and accepted her hug.
“I’m so sorry,” she murmured into his chest. “Are you okay?”
“I’m okay” he assured her.
Lisa stepped back and looked up at him, her hands still holding his. “Really, how are you doing?”
“I’m okay. Really. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet.”
“It will take a while, I’m sure.”
He let go of her hands and returned to the task of moving laundry from the washer to the dryer. “For now, I’m just trying to keep busy.”
Lisa looked down at the dirty clothes piled around their feet. “Don’t waste much time sorting, do you?”
“Never have.” Jason finished loading the dryer and turned it on. “I just wash everything in cold water.”
Lisa rolled her eyes. “Maybe that’s why all your white socks are actually a light gray. Clothes come with washing instructions for a reason, you know.”
He shrugged. He hadn’t been aware there was a problem with his socks.
“Here, let me do it.”
Jason didn’t protest as she forced him aside and began sorting his clothes into piles of whites, darks, and colors, explaining the differing water temperatures for each as she went. Jason let her go. It made her feel useful and he had no burning desire to do the laundry himself. The fact that he would probably never sort his clothes, didn’t mean he would stop her from doing it.
Lisa scooped up the pile of whites and dropped them in the washer. “Bleach?”
“Don’t have any.”
She sighed, added detergent, set the water temperature to hot and started the washer. “Well, hot water’s better than nothing.” She wiped her hands on the thighs of her jeans and turned to him. “What else do we need to do?”
“I don’t know. Not much. I need to pack once I have some clean clothes,” he told her. “Then, once the Benson’s get home, I’ll ask them to pick up my mail. I can gas up the car in the morning. I think that’s about it.”
“You’re not heading up there tonight?”
He shook his head. “First thing in the morning. I mean early. I’ll need to be on the road by 5:00.” That should get him to Anacortes by 6:30 with plenty of time to catch the 7:00 ferry. He’d rather be early and have to kill some time, than risk being late. If he missed the ferry it would be twelve hours before his next chance.
She looked up at him, her expression a cross between concern and something else he couldn’t identify. “I’m sure I could get a few days off. I’d just have to call a couple of professors.”
Jason took a deep breath. He’d gone over this conversation countless times in his head, searching for the right words, the perfect words. He’d never found them. Plus,in none of those scenarios were they standing in his tiny laundry room, dirty clothes piled around their feet. And none of the scenarios fully accounted for the living, breathing Lisa standing right in front of him, her dark eyes searching his face.
So he punted.
“You want some coffee? I made a pot when I got home, so it’s fresh.”
Something passed over her face. “Sure.”
Jason led her into the kitchen, stopping to gather the mail she’d knocked off the counter, then grabbed two mugs and filled them with coffee. Lisa leaned back against the counter, facing him.
“All I have is non-dairy creamer,” he told her as he set a mug on the counter. “Hope that’s okay.”
“It’s fine.” Lisa added some of the powder to her coffee and stirred it in. “You’re avoiding my question.”
Jason took a deep breath, released it. “I know.”
“You don’t want me to go with you.”
“It’s not that,” he paused. The perfect words had eluded him all morning and remained out of reach now. He just had to plow forward and hope for the best. “I don’t think it makes good sense right now.”
Again, something passed over her face, like a flinch, then was gone. She studied her coffee like the secrets to the universe were held in the dark liquid.
“There isn’t going to be much for you to do up there, other than give me moral support.”
“That’s kind of the point.”
“I know, but school is too important. With mid-terms coming up, it makes more sense for you to go to your classes and come up on the weekend. That way you won’t fall behind and the weekend is when the funeral will probably be held anyway. That’s when I’ll need you the most.”
She nodded, but didn’t look at him. “I just don’t want you to be alone. You shouldn’t have to deal with this alone.”
“That’s why God invented telephones.”
The attempt at humor didn’t even raise a smile.
“Honey, I really think this makes the most sense. ”
She still wouldn’t look at him.
He felt helpless. This wasn’t going the way he’d hoped. “Please, don’t be mad.”
“I’m not. I just don’t understand,” she said, finally looking up at him, her eyes bright with tears. “If my folks died I’d be a blubbering wreck. I’d want you with me because I couldn’t function on my own.”
“I don’t know that it’s really sunk in yet,” he told her. “It won’t be real until I get to the house, maybe not even then.”
The truth was he hadn’t yet shed a tear for his father. It was still just a bunch of words. Shocking, yes, tragic even, but it truly wasn’t real. He didn’t know when it would make that transition. When he saw the body? When he stood in his father’s empty house? At the funeral? He didn’t know. With his brother, it had been during the funeral, but when his mother died it had been immediate. Then, the sense of loss had hit him like a giant wave, nearly drowning him in grief.
Lisa had shed more tears for his father than he had.
What did that say about him?
She reached over now and took his hand in her own. “That’s what I’m worried about; when it does hit you, you’re going to be all alone.”
He squeezed her hand and shrugged. “It’s just something I’ll have to deal with. And I know where you are.”
Lisa shook her head and looked down at her coffee. “This creamer sucks.”