For the first time, I noticed that a piece of metal was jingling from around his neck. “What the hell is this? She has a collar on you?” I looked closer at the name.
Hope filled my heart, which suddenly started beating faster. I rubbed my thumb across the engraved lettering. After everything I’d been through over the past two years, don’t ask me why this moment was the first that almost caused my eyes to water a little. It was just the right push I needed to keep this going—a little bit of hope that maybe she didn’t wish I were dead after all.
It took me a few minutes to get him to let me leave. He was trying to jump out the window to go with me. I was finally able to close it.
When I turned around, the goat’s face was still plastered against the window. I suppose I could’ve broken all the way into the house to get more clues about her life, but that would have been pushing it. Like I told Mutton…Pixy…I had to earn my way back into their lives, not steal it.
There was one more piece of business I had to take care of before heading back downtown. I remembered passing a home improvement store on my way to the house.
After a quick trip over there, I returned with a modest Craftsman push mower.
It took me about forty minutes to mow Aubrey’s lawn. When I got to the side of the house, Pixy was still waiting at the same spot. A few of the neighbors walked by, and I’d wave with a gigantic smile on my face. I hoped that they’d assume that she dumped Biffy Clark Kent’s lazy ass in exchange for a real man who did yard work. Either that, or maybe they just figured I was a landscaper.
Admiring the smooth tracks along the grass, I wiped my forehead with the back of my hand. My work here was done, but the real work was just beginning.
That night, I’d somehow missed her. Either she left in the middle of the afternoon, or she was still inside working late. After waiting until eight-thirty, I finally had to give up and reluctantly left for the bar. A huge feeling of disappointment consumed me. Seeing Aubrey at the end of the day was always my reward, and I felt cheated today.
“Carla Babes, hit me up,” I said, assuming position on my usual stool.
She was wiping the counter. “Aussie! You’re late tonight. Stalking overtime?”
“Eh. Today wasn’t so great.”
She stopped wiping to grab my drink. “What happened?”
“I somehow missed her at the end of the day.”
“You’re losing your touch,” she said, slapping my Rum and Coke down on the dark wood counter.
“I’m losing something…my marbles, maybe.”
Carla leaned her elbows down on the counter, displaying her massive cleavage. “Anything good at all happen today?”
I started to laugh. “Actually, something great happened. I found my goat.”
I chuckled again. “My goat. With a G.”
Her eyes widened. “What?”
I proceeded to tell her the story, everything from how Aubrey and I found him to the shit—quite literally—that happened while on the road.
“Aw…that’s so cute. So, he’s kind of like your child.”
“That was what Aubrey used to say.”
She must have noticed a look of melancholy wash over my face. “What’s wrong?”
“There was a man’s jacket hanging in her room. I think he’s living with her. They could be engaged or married for all I know.”
“Well, you wouldn’t know, would you? Because you haven’t talked to her.” She took her rag and whipped it over my head jokingly.
“This has to be handled carefully. I don’t want to fuck it up.”
“There’s handling it carefully, and there’s avoidance. How long are you really gonna camp out like this? You need to just rip the Band Aid off, man.”
Taking one last gulp down and slamming the glass on the table, I said, “I hate when you’re right, Carla Babes.”
“You must hate me all the time then.” She winked.
Aubrey looked so incredibly beautiful walking into work the next morning. It was windy, which made her hair especially unruly. As usual, she stopped into Starbucks to grab her coffee before heading into the building.
The ache in my chest was bigger than ever because I knew D-day was nearing. Even though I’d made a vow to “rip the Band Aid off” in the next couple of days, I still hadn’t figured out how I was going to approach her.
When she was finally safely inside, I let out a deep breath and exited my truck to head into Starbucks and get my own coffee. Hung over again this morning, I’d slept through my alarm, arriving too late to risk going in earlier and paying for her drink.
I decided to try something new today. I wanted to taste Aubrey. Well, I wished. Instead, I decided to order that frou frou drink she always ordered to see what it tasted like.
“I’ll have a large nonfat, three-pump vanilla latte, low foam and extra hot.”
The young cashier’s face always seemed to light up when she saw me. “You’re ordering her drink today…for yourself?”
“Changing things up, yeah.”
“What’s your name?”
“Why do you need my name?”
“It’s just procedure with specialty drinks. We write it on the side.”
She wrote my name in black marker on the cup, and I walked over to the other counter where you’re supposed to pick up your order.
I watched the barista make a couple of the drinks in line before mine. What a friggin’ process between the steaming and the frothing. It better have been complicated for five-bucks a pop.
I heard the cashier’s voice. “Aubrey. What are you doing back so soon?”
My eyes quickly darted toward her then I immediately pulled my baseball cap down and turned around toward the back wall. Heart pounding. Chest constricted. Stomach nauseous. A rush of adrenaline.
My heart had never beat so fast. I heard her voice behind me. “My boyfriend came into my office to talk to me and knocked my drink down with his elbow. It spilled all over my desk.”
“I’m sorry. Let me get you another one free of charge.”
“Thank you so much, Melanie. I appreciate that.”
It felt like the walls were closing in on me. The sound of the steaming milk suddenly seemed deafening. I wondered if I could get away with sliding away slowly with my back facing the wall until I was behind her and out the door. Just as I’d started to move, the kid making my drink shouted, “Chance!”
“Did you just say Chance?” Aubrey said.
At this point, I was just behind her.
Melanie, who probably figured Aubrey was just my innocent crush, decided that moment would be a good time to play matchmaker. She outed me. “Chance is the guy who paid for your drink the other day. He’s right there.”
Aubrey flipped around so fast that she accidentally backed into a display of plastic iced-coffee cups, knocking them down like dominos onto the ground.
Seeming unphased by the disaster she’d just created, she stood staring at me with her hand over her chest as if it were holding her heart in.
I took my baseball cap off and crossed it over my chest. With pleading eyes, I whispered, “Princess.”