Tell me the bad things first. Don't spare me.
I look up at him sharply. It makes sense. Maybe we need to do this. When I begin to talk I feel Caleb tense around me. As if he is bracing himself for the very worst. As if he is some sort of saint or angel.
And I am succinct and truthful. I speak clearly, not mincing words or softening things. I talk about Cole's flaws. His debilitating flaws. I try not to psychoanalyze him as I talk, I just enumerate everything as if I am dictating a grocery list. I feel really detached suddenly, and I press further back into the crook of Caleb's arm, which has dropped down around my shoulders possessively. His grip hurts slightly. I know he is holding on for dear life, and I keep going.
I find places to stop and hide. Places I shouldn't describe and still I press on. Some of these things I have never said out loud before. Some of these things I will never say again. Even when Jacob asked me, I could not answer. Because I did not want to be seen like that in Jacob's eyes. I didn't want to change the way he looked at me. I didn't want to ruin things because he would have self-destructed sooner, of that I am sure.
When I have gotten all of it out I stop, a worn silence remaining. I am exhausted. I'm surprised that I held it together. Caleb kisses the top of my head too firmly, telling me he's going to make some tea for us. He pushes the blanket back around me tightly and disappears into the kitchen. Six minutes later he returns with a second, smaller tray and I realize I am famished. He slices some bread and cheese and we take a break, saying little, daring each other to stack up the jalapenos and eat them without making a face. He fails. I do not.
When we're done eating he takes both trays back to the kitchen and refills our tea mugs, bringing them back for us to hold while we talk. It's close to four in the morning but the sentry remains outside in the garden unless my eyes are playing tricks on me but I know they're not. He asks a few very blunt, difficult questions that I answer to the best of my ability. He's struggling with this.
This was not what he expected.
This is not what he knew.
This changes things, reversing the Pandora mechanism clicking into place one section over from where we thought we once were.
When we settle back in to our respective positions, he asks for the good. The reward for a hard night. Sing the praises of the one that has just been thoroughly vilified, change tack now, and sail towards a new light, blahblahblah. Find the good, Bridget, and get back to your happy place, hurry-quick, the sun is coming up and the wind is dying down again.
And I give him that reward just as the sun begins to rise. I tell him all the good things and I watch as he panics inwardly, hunting for a place to put everything in a tiny vessel that stows nothing, instead scattering it all over the globe, always leaving the wrong things behind and using precious weight for things of zero consequence. It's a delicate balance and we're always swamped and in peril. We're always sinking. We're always far from shore with no rescue in sight.
Oh and you know what else I loved about him? Even when everything was awful, if he was there, I felt safe. Even when things were bad, he was home and I felt safe. I always felt safe with him, even when I didn't.
I watch as Caleb visibly relaxes, for he knows that power well. It runs in the family.
We stabilize abruptly, stop taking on water, and head toward the shore. I have ceased to make sense when I blurt that out and I realize I can't say anymore, he can't process anymore and we're done for the moment. Maybe we'll pick the conversation up another time. Maybe we'll never talk about this again. It was unceremonious, outwardly unemotional. Yet I can hardly believe the weight that has lifted.
It's time to go home.
In my bare feet I walk carefully across the driveway, slipping into the cool, dank garage just for a moment.
Jake is there, standing in the center of the open room, hands clasped in front of him, eyes closed. I whisper his name and his eyes open. In them is a far greater sorrow than I have ever seen before.
Oh, Bridget, he says.
I close my eyes to protect myself. When I open them again Jake is gone and the garage is empty.
Another time, Preacher. I can't do this right now. I just did something really big and I need to think about Cole for a little bit.