As I sat down to the table all I could do was stare at the food in front of me. I had never seen so much! It would take a book to describe all of those dishes, all homemade, and all looking very tasty. I looked around at the table and noticed an empty place. For Aiden. I hadn’t really been expecting to see him, but I was still disappointed. All of this effort and he wasn’t even here! I looked over at Carman and he smiled.
“I told you I hoped you were hungry. Mom can’t help herself.”
“I can’t, really”, Betty said. “I’m still used to feeding the family and the farm hands. Whenever we have company I can’t help myself.”
“It looks incredible!!!”, I said. “I’ll eat as much as I can”.
We tucked in. I was seriously in heaven here, and made good on my promise to eat everything I could. There was just so much! As we started having our fill we started talking. Just small-talk stuff, nothing of any note: How was school, do I like my teachers, stuff like that. Even Aiden’s mom was pleasant and jovial. Everyone was friendly but you could tell that they were avoiding talking about Aiden, which was fine by me. Then Aiden’s mom looked up and said “Oh.”
We all turned to look at the doorway, and Aiden was standing in it. He looked awful. You could easily tell he had been crying, and he was still wearing that filthy jogging suit. But he was here. He stood there looking at us, then finally said “Is there enough for me?”
Betty got up and rushed over to him, and ushered him over to his chair. “Of course there is! Here, sit down. I’ll load a plate up for you.”
Aiden sat, and we all just stared at him. He slowly looked around at all of us, and then looked down at the table. “I’m sorry”, he said, so quietly you could barely hear it. “I’ve been a jerk and I’m sorry.”
Aiden’s mom started to cry, so Bryon answered. “Don’t worry about it. We’re just glad you’re here with us now. Just eat.”
We all resumed eating, but the dynamics of the table had definitely changed. There was no conversation at all, except the occasional ‘Pass me this’ and ‘Pass me that’. The only noise to be heard was the clinking of cutlery on dishes. Aiden picked at his plate but barely touched it. Everyone at the table would occasionally glance at him and start as if they wanted to say something, but then they’d stop and resume eating. I was growing more and more uncomfortable. Finally I was full and stopped eating, so I just sat there staring at the food for what seemed like hours. This was awkward.
Eventually everyone finished eating, but we all just sat there, not talking and not really looking at each other. What had started out as a delight was now an awkward nightmare, and I didn’t know how to end it. Thankfully Carman did.
“Hey, Carmen, didn’t you want to see the carriage house?”
I jumped up. “Yes!”
He got up, we carried our dishes into the kitchen, put them in the sink, and went out the back door and into the yard.
“Wow”, he said. “That was uncomfortable.”
“I know. I didn’t know what to do. When I first saw Aiden I had a bit of hope, but he was just like he was earlier today.”
“Yeah, well, I think Aiden might be feeling a little embarrassed, and he doesn’t know what to say. I figured he’d have an easier time of it with with less of an audience.”
We walked across the yard toward a big building. It looked like a barn but it was a lot fancier. There were four big barn doors that looked almost like garage doors, and in between the two pairs of doors was a smaller, regular door. We went inside this door, and Carman flicked the lights on. Inside the building it was a mostly empty space but the walls were all covered in antique farm equipment: Saddles, harnesses, etc. There was an ancient stagecoach parked on one end. At the other end there was an old tractor that had been lovingly restored, and on the other side of the tractor there was a car under a cover.
“This place is cool”, I said.
“Yes, I love it out here. Long ago, before I was born, this was a place where they kept their carriages and stagecoach. Then it became a place where my father kept the tractor and some of the nicer equipment. After he died Bryon, Shawn and I restored the tractor. That car over there was Dad’s baby. It is in pretty bad shape, but we’re going to restore it some day.”
“What kind of car is it?” I asked.
We walked over to it and he pulled the cover off. It was the weirdest looking car I had ever seen, kind of like a cross between a sports car and a station wagon. The front was all rounded and swoopy looking, but the back looked like a station wagon except there were no windows. And it was tiny.
“It’s a Lotus Europa. It’s British. Dad bought it when I was a teenager. He was going to buy a motorcycle but Mom wouldn’t let him, so he settled on this. It was always his ‘toy’, but it broke down so often he didn’t drive it much. Still, he loved it. It was a part of him, so when he died we put it in here to protect it.”
I looked the car over. It was kind of ugly, but a cool sort of ugly. I looked inside, and the interior was even smaller than I would have thought. The dash panel looked like real wood, and the seats were leather, but other than that it was really plain inside. Behind the seats there was, well, nothing. I expected a big, cavernous space, but the car ended right behind the front seats. Carman almost read my mind. “The engine’s in the back, behind the seats”.
He re-covered the car and we looked around at some of the other stuff. I was just starting to get bored when we heard “Hey.”
We both turned around and there was Aiden, standing inside the door looking at the floor.
“Well, I think I hear my mother calling”, Carman said, as he slipped past Aiden and went outside.
I looked at Aiden and said “Hey.”
He went over to the stagecoach, climbed up onto it, and sat down on the seat. He was staring at the wall. I remained standing, just looking at him. My heart was pounding. I didn’t know what to say or do.
I looked around. The only other place to sit was on the tractor, so I started moving toward it.
I looked at him. He was still looking at the wall.
I walked over to the stagecoach, climbed up, and sat next to Aiden.
After a long, awkward silence, with him staring off at the wall and me just looking around at things on the walls, he said “I’m sorry”. It was barely audible.
He spoke a little louder, but was still looking away from me. “I said I’m sorry. I was being a dickhead to you, and you didn’t deserve that.”
Since this was exactly what I had been thinking, I stayed silent.
“I’m going to try to be better. I don’t know if I can, but I’m going to try. I thought about what you said, about Richie not really hating me, and I think I believe you. It’s still going to be hard to forget that he said that. But I’ve got to try. For Mom.”
I retracted my hand and suddenly felt very foolish.
“Please”, he said. “Don’t make this any harder than it has to be.”
My mouth suddenly got very dry. What did he mean? I was just about to ask, when he spoke again.
“I know I’ve got to do better and be stronger around Mom, for her sake. It’s not going to be easy for me, but I’ve got to do it. But I don’t think I can do it with you around.”
I stammered “But... I...”
“It’s nothing you did! Believe me, I don’t want to end things with you! It’s just that everything from before reminds me of that night. When Carman played that music from that movie earlier, I could hear it. I thought he was playing it on purpose. I wanted to run downstairs and smash the stereo, but I realized he couldn’t possibly have known what movies we watched that night. I also know he wouldn’t have done something like that. But it’s more than that. Every time I thought about you (and I did think about you, every day) it brought me right back to that night. That’s why I didn’t call you. I probably never would have, but Carman made me. He thought that seeing you again might help me. And it did! Believe me when I say that it did. I listened to what you said up in my room, and I thought about it. You were right about everything. But it also hurt a little, because as soon as I heard your voice I was brought back to that night. Then when I uncovered myself and looked at you it was the same thing.”
Aiden interrupted again. “Let me get this out before I lose the courage. I like you, Carmen. I really do. But every time I think about you, or see you, or hear you, I’m taken back to that night. I just can’t help it. I kind of felt the same way about Mom too, and that’s why I avoided her, but I have to stop thinking like that because she needs my help. And I need to help her. We need to get through this together, the two of us, and I don’t think I can do that with you around. It’s going to be hard enough as it is, I can’t deal with having to think about you too.”
I had nothing to say, so I said exactly that. I felt like somebody had reached into my chest and pulled my still-beating heart out. I felt hollow.
He then reached down and grabbed my hand. He squeezed it. “I’m sorry,”, he said. “I just hope you understand, and that you’ll forgive me.”
He held onto my hand for a
few minutes as if waiting for a response. I had none. I was
devastated, but I was trying to hold myself together. Even as my
heart had just been broken, all I could think about was how he had
asked me not to make this any harder on him. I was determined to
grant him at least that. I was not going to break down in tears. Not
here, not now. I wanted to say something. Anything. I wasn’t sure
of exactly what, whether I was going to tell him that I understood or
beg him to change his mind. Instead I chose neither and sat there
silently, afraid that if I tried to talk I would lose it.
After a while he released
my hand, got off the carriage, and walked toward the door. Just when
he got to the door he turned and faced me. It was the first time he
looked at me since coming into the building. As I considered this it
occurred to me that it was actually the first time he had really looked at
me since I had first gotten there and had that argument with him.
There were tears streaming down his cheeks.
“Please, forgive me. I... I...”
He stopped talking but kept looking at me. I was still looking at him but could not bring myself to say anything. I was still processing what had just happened, and did not trust myself to talk.
“Goodbye”, he said. He turned around and walked out.