I swung by the PX and cashed my checks.
I drove straight to the motel next to the Silver Saddle, and next to my old beach apartment. I took a room and paid for it up to my date of departure. I stayed in the room that night after picking up some fast food, chips, and some beer. I laid in the bed and watched TV. Something I hardly remember doing really.
Saturday, I drove to Virginia Beach. I just parked and walked around, doing some Christmas shopping for Bonnie and the kids, and for Bernie. I still wasn't sure if I was going to be there by that time or not. I was conflicted. When I finished, I went to see Bonnie.
I simply turned over the gifts to the kids. Since I wasn't sure I would be there on Christmas day, I wanted to give them their presents so I could see their faces when they saw what I got them. That was the point of it anyway, yes? I also gave Bonnie hers. A gold heart necklace, similar to the one I had gotten Lori way back when. She offered me to stay with her for the rest of my time there instead of the motel, but since I already paid two weeks in advance, I declined. Plus, I really wanted to be alone then. I still had a lot of thinking to do.
I also handed over Bernie's gift and asked her to give them to Lori after I left. If I decided to leave. I wanted to watch Bernie open his, but in this case, I would have to settle on imagining his expression. Along with that, I handed over a wrapped gift for her to give to Lori. I'm not going to say what it was. That's my secret.
Monday morning, I stood out on the shore watching the ocean. A cold front was sweeping through so it was a bit chilly. I'm not sure for how long I was there, but I heard someone coming up from behind. "Carroll?"
I turned to the sound of the voice. It was Greg. I approached him and we shook hands. "How you doing?" I greeted.
"What are you doing here? I thought that was your name in the registry. Aren't you supposed to be out at sea right now?"
"My time came up." I said.
We wasted a few minutes with idle talk before he offered me a job. "Hey, are you working anywhere or anything?"
"No." I stated. "Just hanging out for a while, trying to decide my next move."
"I have a room that got trashed a couple weekends ago. Come take a look at it with me."
So I did.
Standing in the doorway, I spoke the obvious. "Looks like someone had a hell of a party."
"I haven't had time to do the repairs yet." Then he turned to me. "I have everything for the job in the storage building. I figure it shouldn't take but maybe a week or so to get it back into shape. What do you say? Want a job?"
"Sure." I figured. "It'll keep me busy while I'm here."
"I'll barter with you." He bargained. "What you already paid for the motel room and your services in exchange for staying in the apartment. No one is staying there for the moment so it's yours if you want it for the rest of the month. Or for when you decide to leave. Which ever comes first."
I turned to look at the place and smiled. I stuck out my hand. "Deal."
"You know," He went on to say, "if you do decide to stay in Norfolk, I could use a man like you. Think about it?"
I nodded my head. "Sure, I'll keep that in mind. Thanks Greg."
And just like that, I was feeling like I was back in business. Nothing like having options in life.
I quickly grabbed my belongings and transported them to the apartment. Walking in, I took a good look around. "Honey, I'm home." I announced. So much for the welcoming committee.
I bought some groceries and settled in. The next day, I went to work. There were some holes in the wall, it needed painting. The carpet needed to be replaced. So did the sink in the bathroom. I could do this.
That night, I became a little restless. I took a chance and decided to skip on over to see Jr. I knew there was a risk that Lori would be home and see me, but I just wanted someone to hang out with other than Bonnie and the kids.
As fate would have it, Lori wasn't home. Perhaps a quick in and out.
Jr. was there with Becky and we got to talk for about an hour. I told them where I was staying and requested they say nothing to Lori about it. I was able to get out of there before she returned from whatever she was doing.
A couple days later, around noon, I was consumed with my work when I felt a presence behind me. I turned to look. It was her. She was standing there in the doorway of the motel room just watching me. "Jr. told me you were back." She said. Yeah, I forgot to ask them not to tell Tiffany. Stupid me. She had completely slipped my mind.
"Tiff, what are you doing here?"
"I thought I would drop by and say hello."
She appeared a bit apprehensive. I know I was. "Yeah," I countered. "I thought I would try on my handyman shoes for a while." I walked closer to her. "What's up?"
"I don't know." She floundered. "I missed you."
I quickly began to realize the purpose of her visit. I lowered my head. "Look, Tiff, it's not going to work."
"Why?" She somewhat sighed, taking in a deep breath. "I thought ...." And she left it hanging.
"What?" I snapped back. "What did you think? That I am the man of your dreams?" I smiled, trying to lighten the mood. "Look at me. I'm a bum. You can do so much better. Trust me."
She fidgeted a little when I approached her and lifted her chin with a finger. I leaned in and kissed her on the lips. "Did you honestly think we were going to get married and I to be the father of your children?" I grinned. "I'm a whore. At least, that's been the way of it since I arrived here. I don't like it either, but that seems to be what I am."
"No you're not." She tried to assure me. I kept to my guns. "I used you, Tiffany." I confessed. "I used you to get back at Lori. For that, I am so sorry. I apologize. You're a beautiful girl, and oh, so sexy to boot. You're also sweet as hell. But I'm not the guy for you. You know this is true, don't you? Come on," I pushed playfully, "you know it, don't you?"
She began to smile. "Can't blame a girl for trying."
I chuckled and gave her a hug. "No, I can't, but tell me, is it reallly that hard to find a guy these days?"
"You have no idea." She crackled.
I took a quick look around. I figured it was time for a break. "Hey, I'm hungry, have you had lunch yet?"
"No." She answered. I put an arm around her and led her outside. "Come on, let's go grab a bite. My treat."
I find it obscenely fascinating the manner in which the universe likes to toy with me sometimes. I'll never understand its sick humor. Then again, maybe I'm not supposed to understand it, just accept it. Who knows?
Jr. and Becky came by to spend the weekend with me. Tiffany did not accompany them. It was just us three. We ate a lot of pizza and drank a lot of beer. They would retreat into the other bedroom and screw each others brains out while I would take walks on the midnight beach. I was still trying to decide if I wanted to go see Lori or not. I knew time was ticking down. As it always does, eventually, it would run out.
I finished my job that Tuesday. Greg was pleased with the work I did. Sitting at his desk as we gobbled down a couple cheeseburgers and fries, he revisited an earlier conversation. "Have you thought about my offer?"
I carried my eyes to the side to contemplate. "Can I have one more day to consider it?"
He smiled. "Take all the time you want." He said. "Tell you what, if you want a job, just let me know. Okay?"
That night, I took my last walk on the beach. I made up my mind to make my decision before returning to the apartment. Take my flight home, or cash in my ticket? One way or the other, my decision was going to be made. This was my last night to reflect on everything that has occurred since I touched down in this city. It was my last chance to decide who I was going to be for the rest of my life. The fear of the answer was no longer going to hinder that process. Just take a deep breath, Carroll, and make a choice.
I think I was scared that it was too late. Did I over stay my proverbial welcome? Am I just fading into the background? Or have I become part of this town? Did the town now become a part of me? Is this why I was struggling so hard with what I wanted to do with my future? And how was my writing involved with this decision? Just how much did I truly desire for that? Then I started thinking about my family. My little sister. God, how I missed them so much. Perhaps the answer was there all along. But like a light that suddenly turned on, I soon realized what I wanted to do. I need to make a change. A serious one at that. Oh yes, now I know what I wanted to do. What I needed to do.
I looked up at the stars above. "You win." I whispered.
The universe always does get the last word.