“I need to stop at the grocery store. I’m out of food,” Brandon said, breaking the awkward silence of the car.
“Okay,” Katie mumbled. The car fell quiet once again. Katie looked out the window, feeling comforted by the familiar sights around her. Columbia had been her home for the better part of thirteen years. While she loved the hustle and glamour of New York City, she missed the laid-back college atmosphere here. She smiled as they passed Faurot Field, where she’d experienced her first college football game. It had been an exhilarating experience, made all the more memorable by the two amusing Engineering students who’d sat in front of them. In the distance she could see the faint outline of the Hearnes Center, where she’d participated in countless blood drives. Finally, they passed the Mizzou Arena, which was home to the school’s basketball team. She and Rebecca had attended many games there in their college career. Rebecca lived for college basketball; Katie enjoyed the atmosphere and people watching at the games.
“I’m sorry if my being here inconveniences you,” Katie stated.
“It’s no problem,” Brandon replied.
“I can call Rebecca and crash on her couch for a few days. I don’t want to make things any more awkward than they already are.”
Brandon kept his eyes glued to the road in front of him. He still regretted the call he made over a year ago. Until now he had not realized the full consequences of his actions. He honestly wondered if he could legitimately repair the relationship enough to make the long-distance relationship work. He knew for a fact that he would never be able to convince her to stay. He only hoped he could heal the hurt. He hoped so, because deep down, he still needed her. “No. Stay at the house. I’d feel more comfortable with you there where I can keep an eye on you.”
“Well, okay. If you insist.”
“I do.” He smiled. Katie did not return the gesture.
They pulled into the lot of the grocery store. It didn’t take them long to shop. Katie essentially took over the task, putting various items and ingredients into the cart. Brandon knew one thing for sure: even if the living arrangements were odd, at least he would be eating great food for a few days. Finally, with their cart filled, they headed to the checkout lane. Katie reached for her wallet.
“I’ve got this,” Brandon said, urging her to put her money away. He suspected things had to be tight living in New York City.
“No, I insist,” she replied. “You’re saving me the cost of a hotel room. It’s the least I can do.” Katie swiped her card as she finished her statement, eliminating all room for argument.
A few minutes later they were pulling out of the lot and heading home. They picked up some Chinese food on the way, since neither one of them particularly felt like cooking.
Katie was silent and expressionless as they pulled up to the house. It was the same house they had lived in together for the two years before she left. “I’m surprised you stayed here,” she commented as he pulled into the garage.
Brandon thought about how to respond. Truthfully, he had stayed for several reasons. For one thing, the location was great. Plus, he really didn’t have the time to move. His job kept him busy. These were both good, valid reasons to stay, but the main reason was because the house reminded him of Katie. He couldn’t tell her that; it would only make him sound desperate and her feel guilty. “Well, it’s a great location and price. Plus, it’s a perfect size for all those wild parties I love to throw.” He laughed.
“Right.” Katie allowed a small chuckle to escape while simultaneously rolling her eyes. “You were always such a party animal...not.”
Brandon laughed then hopped out of the car.
Katie stayed in her seat for a moment. She was a little anxious to see the inside. Brandon had kept all the furniture and most of the dishes. Katie’s apartment in the city came fully furnished. The only things she had taken with her were her clothes, books, movies, photos, and her favorite coffee cups. She found herself wondering if he had changed anything. In all honesty, it didn’t matter. It would hurt either way.
“Katie.” Brandon’s voice interrupted her worrying. “Yeah.”
“You okay?” “Yeah.”
“You spaced out for a minute.”
“Oh, sorry. I’m just tired and hungry.”
“Well let’s get these bags inside then we can eat,” Brandon said then headed to the back of the Jeep. He opened the trunk and began carrying her luggage and groceries inside. Katie watched his long, muscular body move. She had forgotten how strong he was. When they had lived together, they always made a competition out of who could carry in the most bags. Brandon usually won, but only because his hands were bigger.
Determined to win this round, Katie quickly got out of the car and grabbed the remainder of the groceries, along with her satchel and purse. She was carrying eight bags total—almost twice as many as the five he had taken. Slowly, she walked over to the door and clumsily fumbled with the handle. Once inside, she shouted out, “Eight bags. I’m the—” but her declaration of victory fell silent on her lips. Her momentary surge of happiness was crushed by a powerful wave of nostalgia and regret. Everything about the house was the same as when she had left. The couch, chairs, kitchen table, even the pictures were the same. She looked at the fireplace mantle and teared up a bit. There, proudly displayed in a frame, was the same graduation picture she had given to Bella. For a moment she thought about taking it down and hiding it, but decided against it. This was his house and she would not meddle with it.
Katie was able to gain her composure. She could cry later, while she was alone in the guest room. Right now she needed to act normal; make Brandon think everything was okay; convince him that being here wasn’t tearing her apart. She slowly made her way to the kitchen then set the groceries on the counter. She dumped her bag and purse on a chair and began putting the food away. She was nearly done when Brandon emerged from the guest room.
“Your room’s all ready to go.” “Thanks.”
“I like what you’ve done with the place,” Katie commented.
“Well, interior design was never my thing,” he replied. “Here, let me help you with those.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m almost done. You can get some plates and bowls for dinner though.”
“Okay.” Brandon walked towards the cabinets just as his phone rang. He checked the caller ID and frowned. “It’s my mom. I need to take this.”
“Okay.” Katie decided to use the time to take a quick shower. It had been a long day. She felt all grimy and gross from her travels and she had a desperate need to be clean. Besides, Brandon’s mom was notorious for having long conversations.
Showering was a good way to kill the time.
Katie walked into the guest room and opened her bag, which Brandon had placed on top of the Queen-sized bed. She grabbed only what she needed and headed towards the guest bathroom. She would unpack her other things later.
She passed by Brandon, who was sitting on the couch, still on the phone. Their conversation was quiet. Brandon was listening intently to his mom. She couldn’t hear what she was saying, but it looked like it was making Brandon angry. She shrugged and walked into the bathroom. She doubted the conversation had anything to do with her. If it did, he would tell her. With that thought, she closed the bathroom door and turned on the shower.
Brandon was seething mad when he hung up the phone. He hadn’t planned on telling his mom that Katie had returned—at least not yet. He wanted to take the time to figure out what exactly was going on between them. Unfortunately, that brief period of reflection was denied to them because someone had let slip that Katie was in town. His mom, of course, had been thrilled that Katie had, as she put it, “Finally come to her senses and realized where her place was.”
Brandon always hated when she said that. Truthfully, he had never really understood his mom. Her beliefs were positively antiquated and had no place in the 21st Century. She personally believed that careers for women were merely a place filler until they found a husband. She failed to grasp the concept that women had dreams too. While he admired women who chose to stay at home and raise families, he did not believe they should be forced into that position.
So, predictably, she was upset when he told her that Katie was only here for a visit. He did not mention the reason for her visit. He expected his mom to respond with any combination of whining, guilt tripping, and pouting. He did not expect the cold, heartless suggestion that she made. It was so vile that he immediately hung up on her.
“Well,” his mom had whispered, “you could always have a little ‘accident.’ Then she would have to stay, for the baby of course.”
Brandon heard the sneer in her voice and it made him sick.
For her to even think that he would stoop so low enraged him beyond reason. Furthermore, it made him question just how well his mother even knew him.
Brandon heard the shower shut off and made an attempt to calm himself down. He didn’t want Katie to see him in this state and think that she was the target of his anger. As a cover, he began searching for a movie to watch. He settled on a Monty Python film just as Katie stepped out of the bathroom.
“Want to watch a movie while we eat?” he asked as he studied Katie. She was dressed in loose fitting basketball shortsm and a t-shirt. Her long brown hair was wrapped up in a dark blue towel. He assumed that the oversized clothing was designed for his supposed benefit; to make him feel more comfortable. But the clothes didn’t matter. He knew what lay beneath and it made him want her even more.
“Sure,” she replied. “What did you have in mind?” “Huh? Oh, the movie,” he said quickly. He had a lot of things in mind. Right now the movie was filed somewhere way in the back.
“Yeah, the movie,” she sighed. “I was thinking Monty Python.”
“Sounds great. Let me just put my clothes away real fast,” she said then hurried from the room.