And now he didn’t remember me. How could you forget someone you loved even if I did rip his heart to shreds? I pour some vodka into my bathwater. How was I ever going to get him out of my head now? I could make being depressed my full time job. That’s what country singers did. I could be a country singer. I belt out a couple verses of Achey Breaky Heart and take another swig.
The following week I tried to steer clear of our newish neighbor. I wasn’t used to having a friend live so close, close enough to where I felt obligated to invite her in if she was lurking around the rose bushes looking sad. I didn’t mind her as much as everyone else seemed to, but I was getting tired of hearing it—the constant cautioning. What was it exactly that they were seeing and I was not? I liked people, I wanted to help them, but not at the expense of my relationships. They were right about some things—she’d moved in six months ago and she was starting to resemble me more and more. She’d even dyed her hair black like mine. I’d not have thought anything of it, except the following week when I went to the salon, my stylist told me that Fig had come in and asked for the exact color formula he used on me. Distance, that’s what I needed. It was oppressive to have someone watching your every move, be it through their blinds or right on the street corner. And then I got the call. My dad wasn’t doing well. I booked my ticket, all thoughts removed from Fig, and Darius, and strangler trees.My father was dying. He’d been dying for two years now, I’d lost count of the times I’d said goodbye. I flew to Phoenix, renting a car at the airport and driving the rest of the way to the hospital in Mesa. Cancer is the most awful thing, a slow eating monster. What was once a man is now a shadow. A hard thing for a child to behold.
On the first day there, he grabbed my hand between fitful sleep, then all of a sudden, his eyes opened and he said, Darius is wrong. Bad.I balked. My father had always loved Darius. I chalked it up to a nightmare. But, when your mind was already having tremors of doubt, something like that stayed … seemed prophetic. I asked him about it when he was feeling better and letting me spoon soup into his mouth.Darius? What? What did I say?
I paused, the spoon suspended between us. That he was wrong … bad.My father raised his eyebrows. He has a problem with sex. I can see it all over him. But, he’s a nice guy. You know me, I like the degenerates.
I frowned at him. What does that even mean?
Eh, everyone has their demons, Jojo, babydoll. He reached out and rubbed my knee, then looked exhausted from the simple gesture.I heard voices in the background.
I have to go, she said. I’m doing after school tutoring. This is the love of your life. You have to fight for him.She was quiet for a few seconds. Figure out who this girl is. If she’s just a fling, let it go, he’ll come back to you. If it’s more, you have to put a stop to it. Hear me?
She hung up. I felt rejuvenated. I stopped for a Jamba Juice and drove straight to the apartment complex I’d followed Caleb to a week earlier. His car wasn’t there. I knocked on the door and heard a dog barking. I knocked again, louder. If that damn animal kept making that racket, someone was going to notice. At my feet, there was a Welcome mat and a small potted plant to the left of it. It did little to brighten the dull grey corridor. Looking around, I squatted next to the plant, lifting it off the ground. Nothing.I stuck my finger in the soil and dug around until ... I came up with a small Ziploc baggie. I dusted away the dirt with my finger and leaned in for a closer look. A key. I snorted. Standing up, I put the key in the lock, and the door swung open. My ankles were immediately under attack. I managed to dodge my way around the ugly creature and close the door to the apartment, locking it outside. I pressed my ear against the door. I could hear it whining on the other side and then the faint click of nails on concrete as it trotted away. Good.