I don’t know why I was crying so hard, so hysterically. Maybe it was the adrenaline, or the relief, or the obvious contrast between Parker and Tom. I had felt a sudden wave of relief that my little dog was safe, but he was in the arms of the man whose heart I broke. I felt guilty for bringing the man I now wanted. Seeing the two in the same room was comical; thin, lanky Parker versus stocky, athletic Tom. It only added to my hysterics.
I sat in the waiting room chair of the old vet’s office. They were the old, brown vinyl-padded chairs with metal legs. There was one old, wooden bench along the wall where Nomad perched eying me and Dingy with confusion. Tom was silent and standing near the doorway, tired, hands in his jacket pockets. He seemed concerned, but didn’t make any move to comfort me. I was grateful. I couldn’t control my tears. I think added comfort would only add fuel to the fire. Parker had been sitting beside me trying to calm me down, but gave up and walked into the office. He was on the phone.
Dingy was his normal happy self. He hadn’t even realized he was lost. He just ran our usual route here to see Parker. That made me feel happy and sad at the same time. He licked my tears where they dripped to my hand. I felt silly then. Why was I crying? I needed to pull myself together so I could run back to my house. It then struck me as funny that of all the men in town I had to pick the only two who didn’t have vehicles.
Parker came out of the office. “I just got off the phone with your mom. Your dad’s coming to get you,” he said, stiffly and glanced at Tom. Tom just eyed Parker blankly.
I sniffed. “Thanks, Parker.” I was breathing normally now. Now I just had to wait the excruciating ten minutes it would take for my dad to get here.
“Can I get you something to drink?” he asked us.
I shook my head and Tom said, “No, thanks,” and sat down on the chair right beside the door and across from me. I could use a drink, but I wasn’t thinking of anything Parker would have in the little mini-fridge.
Now it was silent. Parker sat on the desk chair and we all just looked at each other. It was very awkward. I looked down at Dingy so I wouldn’t have to watch the awkwardness between the two men. Poor Tom and poor Parker. What was wrong with me? I could tell Parker thought I left him for Tom. It wasn’t like that, but I couldn’t explain it now. He would think what he wanted anyway.
It was Parker who broke the silence.
“Did they find out who broke into your house?”
I was grateful for something to talk about that didn’t have anything to do with either of them, and the fact that I didn’t have to think of it myself.
“No, so far they haven’t found any unusual fingerprints, but nothing was taken either. Whoever broke in just made a mess of the place.”
“Do you know what they were looking for?”
I shook my head. “No idea. I had just taken a bunch of old papers to the realty office to shred so I don’t think they could have gotten any specific information. I told Jason and he said he would check the office for me.”
He nodded and said, “It’s weird to think of Jason as the deputy Sherriff.”
“Yeah,” replied. I was grasping at straws for conversation. We already talked about this when Jason was first hired. There was a big front page article in the paper at the time. “Hometown Son to be Deputy Sherriff” was the headline.
Silence ensued for several more minutes. I jumped up, spilling Dingy to the floor when my dad’s truck roared into the gravel lot outside, the vibration of the diesel engine giving me a feeling of nostalgia. Nomad and Dingy bounded to the door; they recognized the sound as well. I followed and said to Parker with my hand on the doorknob, “Thanks for keeping Dingy safe.” I opened the door and the dogs ran to the truck. I looked at Tom as he followed me out and my dad got out of the truck to look me over.
“Your mother insists that you come home with me.” He gave me a look that meant he insisted, too, but he would never say it. I nodded and looked at Tom
“Are you coming?” I asked gesturing to the truck.
“Uh, I should probably just go back to the firehouse…”
“No, no. It’s clear in the opposite direction. Come on. My mom will have a good supper waiting and she’ll want to gush all over you for… well, everything.”
He looked at the capped, dual-wheeled, diesel truck and seemed intimidated.
“I don’t know…”
“Come on. I’ll never hear the end of it if you don’t come.”
He glanced up the road in the general direction of the firehouse. Deliberated for a moment then looked resolved.
I walked to the tailgate of the truck and my dad came around at the same time to let the dogs in. I picked Dingy up since he couldn’t make the jump. He could jump nearly six feet in the air to try to intimidate a person, but couldn’t make the four foot jump into the bed of the truck. My dad, a man of few words, put his arm around my shoulder and gave me a squeeze. I brought tears to my eyes a little, but I swallowed the lump in my throat and whispered, “I’m okay, daddy. Thanks for picking us up.”
He nodded and asked, “Who’s your friend?”
I turned toward Tom who was behind me and introduced them. They shook hands and I realized there was a real resemblance between the two. Both were quiet and tall, broad shouldered and strong from hard labor, only my father’s was from owning a farm and Tom’s was from construction and fire training. My dad’s face was lined around the eyes where they crinkled when he smiled. Everyone said I had my dad’s smile and I always felt sentimental pride when they did. I loved my dad’s smile. Tom’s crinkles were between the eyes and forehead, though. From what? Worry? Concentration? Grief?
I walked to the cab and got in, sliding to the middle to make room for Tom. The vents blasting hot air were a deep contrast from the cold wind. My legs were beginning to feel stiff but the heat seemed to help. The men followed.
I had just realized that I cared about why Tom had worry lines. It was disconcerting that I felt this strongly this early in a relationship. Was this even a relationship? Did two business appointments count as dates? What if during those appointments we didn’t think about business at all? Does that constitute it as a date? I’ve been away from this way too long… Parker and I didn’t really date. We just…. were. But Tom and I aren’t really dating either. He didn’t just come on to me all the time, though; he hung out with me and my two best friends when I wasn’t feeling well, and he just ran across half the town to help me find my dogs, and now he’s meeting my parents.
Wait, aren’t there some dating rules that I need to be following? Like, how many dates before we kiss? Or, when do we sleep together, or when do we meet the parents? Does meeting the parents automatically mean you are serious? Does my mother think that?
Oh, no! My mother is going to be queen of the cuckoo’s nest!
The slamming of the two doors brought me out of my inner panic attack. I shook it off and tried to act normal. Tom doesn’t need to think I’m some loon who makes mountains out of mole hills.
But Tom wasn’t looking at me. He was staring straight out the windshield. He made no move to relax or look around. He was sitting really close to the door, making sure not to touch me. My dad’s truck was big enough to comfortably sit three people in the front seat, but it looked like Tom was making sure we didn’t get too close. He must be as nervous as I was. I wondered if he was feeling as awkward as I was about what we were actually going to my house to do earlier. We hadn’t been going there to get my shoes like we told Jason, at least, not until after… So we didn’t really lie, we just omitted useless information.
Okay, and now I’m babbling in my thoughts. Perhaps staring out the window was a good idea. The back roads to my parents’ place were still pretty snowy. The wind pushed huge drifts across the narrow roads, and there was so little traffic out here that the county didn’t send out plows for several days. Eventually, the farmers would just hook a plow blade on their four wheel drives and tractors and do it themselves, my dad included. I always loved looking at the snow on the small one lane roads before they were plowed. Growing up it made me feel isolated, cozy, like nothing bad could ever get to us while we were in our large farmhouse and completely cut off from the outside world.
That gave me a sudden surge of anger.
Someone had been in my house and all it took was a little brute strength and a crowbar. They had gone through my things, could have lid on the bed, eaten my food, possibly petted my animals. They say Labradors are great watchdogs, but not great guard dogs. Nomad could have made half the mess just by wagging his tail and Dingy didn’t know any better.
How dare they? How dare they? I have never felt so violated in my life. I was seething, incensed, livid. I already felt bad for the next person who wronged me.
Suddenly the heat blasting from the vents felt too hot so I turned it off in a huff.
My dad glanced my way and said, “Everything okay?”
I just nodded. Although, I had started wondering how to keep people out of my house while I was here. I felt like I needed to sit on the steps facing the front door with a shotgun, the way women from old western movies wait for their men to come home, but are keeping watch, protecting their homes and children from the marauding natives. Except I was the native in this case. It was my house.
The compulsion to tell my dad to go back to my place had almost taken over when he said, “Your mother is worried about you staying in town tonight. You should probably stay until things blow over.”
“What about my house? Shouldn’t someone be there to make sure nobody breaks in again?”
“I think that it was just someone looking for some cash and either they found some or they didn’t. They wouldn’t go to the same place twice and risk getting caught.”
“I guess so,” I sighed. I also knew that my mom would call me every hour, keeping me and my dad awake all night with her worrying.
That’s when I remembered Tom was coming with us. I was afraid to mention this because I was afraid my dad would turn around an take him right back into to town. Although I knew Tom would feel uncomfortable staying at my parents, I couldn’t help but get excited over the idea. I decided to keep my mouth shut until we pulled into my old driveway.
It was an old two-story farmhouse dating back to the 1860’s with modern renovations. My parents got tired of repainting the old wood siding every year so when it finally went bad they went vinyl. It was a dark, red-barn color with a dark driftwood brown for the trim, wrap-around porch, and shutters. The thing I like most about this place was that it had three fireplaces: one in the living room, one in my parent’s room and one in the dining room.
Our driveway was long enough that we used to use the four-wheeler to haul our trash cans to and from the garage, and my mom was always at the end of the driveway on cold days to pick me and my sister up from the bus. The barn, silos and garage were behind the house and the woods to the left of it concealed a small natural pond where Claudia and I learned to fish with our dad. It didn’t matter where I lived, this was always going to be home.