Back in the basement apartment, while Delaney settled in to watch a too-loud MTV special, Gary nodded to Kathy, silently inviting her to join him on the outside patio. There in the evening quiet he registered his complaint.
“Man. I don’t need to go through that again,” he grumbled as he nudged her off the patio on to the lawn, away from the open window and Delaney’s keen hearing of all things contentious. “I know he’s your old man, and he is putting a roof over our heads. But that’s no reason for him to go off like that.”
Kathy took a moment to complete a visual tour of her mother’s gardens, admiring the colorful beauty. By the time she turned back to Gary her frown had turned grim. “What are you talking about? What did Dad say to get you so upset?”
“Come on, Kathy. You were there. You heard him. He has no idea what I do, or how good I am at it. When it’s all said and done, he just can’t get past the fact that I don’t have a job.”
With a pause and a deep breath, Gary stood tall, ready to play his trump card. “His little girl is living in Mommy and Daddy’s basement, because her guy isn’t sharp enough to get a job. That’s exactly what he was saying, in his own judgmental way.”
From the beginning of their relationship Kathy had been drawn to Gary’s calm confidence in the face of their sometimes unpredictable Southern California circumstances. How often, when others were losing their cool, had his unflappable assurance provided a sense of safe harbor?
Collected and in control, he had worn his professional success like a badge. Now, absent that success, at least for the time being, it seemed that she was seeing cracks in his confident facade.
Gary moved to her side, silently seeking her support. He was used to being the one in charge. Discussing something so important from what seemed to him a position of weakness was an uncomfortable thing.
“Kathy, I guarantee I’m giving it my best shot. You know that. But I’ve got to level with you. It doesn’t look too promising.”
“Does that mean you might be willing to settle for something less than the perfect job?”
He stiffened. Walking back to the patio he asked over his shoulder, “You just can’t get past that, can you? You’re just like him. You don’t understand at all.”
She moved closer, trying to look into his downturned eyes. “I just want us to be practical. That’s all. We need a second paycheck to make this work. And we agree that we want it to work.” She paused for a moment. “Don’t we?”
“What we need is a paycheck from a real job,” Gary countered, reaching out to grasp her shoulders, squeezing a bit harder than necessary. “I need to be doing what I do, not playing keyboard jockey, working for peanuts.”
Backing away from his grip Kathy paced across to the patio and back. The cold determination in his words had adrenalin-fed muscles in the small of her back tightening. Rubbing at the pain, she was asking herself if he could ever settle for something like a middle ground.
“So what’s the answer?” she asked.
“Whatever it is, it begins by facing the truth,” he said. “The job situation sucks. That’s true in L.A. It’s just as true in Tanner.” He felt the butterflies churning, knowing there was no reason to hold back. It was time to lay it on the line.
“The difference is, in L.A. people know me. They know what I can do. Up here I’m just another face in the crowd. No one has any idea how good I am. Every interview comes down to something like a beauty contest, with a dozen contestants.”
“I’d vote for you in any beauty contest.” Would he be willing to accept her feeble attempt at humor?
Gary turned quiet for a moment, looking for a way to say what must be said. “Will you get serious?” he finally asked. “Look. I know how much you wanted your Tanner idea to work out, for Del and for us. You know if I could find a decent job up here I’d be happy as a clam to stay right here. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
“So, you’re giving up. Is that it?”
“I’m not ‘giving up.’ I’m no quitter. But it’s time that I started checking in with some of the guys back home. With half a dozen calls I can get the word out. That’s a lot better than wasting my time making cold calls up here, for something that’s never going to work out.”
Moving to her side, he slipped an arm over Kathy’s shoulder and pulled her closer. “We have to face facts, Babe. Tanner’s not going to cut it. It’s time to think about heading back home. At least down there I can be collecting unemployment.”
Kathy cringed at his pronouncement, knowing how he hated even thinking about that....being on what he called ‘the dole.’ For a moment it appeared she had something to say. Then, turning away, she started off across the lawn toward the back fence. Gary waited impatiently as she stopped, turned around, and slowly made her way back to where he stood at the edge of the patio. She was chewing her lip and shaking her head. And still he waited.
Finally, clasping her hands to her chest, Kathy explained, “I guess you’ll have to do what you have to do. In the meantime Del and I will be doing the same. Which means we’ll be staying here....in Tanner.” With that she stepped around him and disappeared into the apartment.
Watching the door close behind her a part of Gary wanted to follow....to explain again the reality of their situation, to help her understand. But why? He was not going to change her mind. In light of that reality, perhaps it was time to revisit his own priorities.
He needed time to think. The stakes were too high to settle for an impulsive, first-off reply....one he might regret later. In fact, it felt like a long walk was in order. Rounding the corner of the house he started toward the street, setting off on a late-evening tour of the south Tanner side streets.
He had tried his best....following every lead he could uncover and knocking on every door. From the beginning Gary had convinced himself that finding the right job would be a matter of showing what he could do. So far it seemed that no one had cared enough to give him that chance.
Now, in addition to those occupational frustrations, he was dealing with doubting glances and snide remarks from Kathy’s father. Obviously the old guy had his sights set on someone better for his only child. Maybe there was no one who would be good enough to satisfy him, certainly not an out-of-work techie. The old man’s disappointment was easy to read, but hard to endure.
If it had been anyone else Gary would have told him where to get off. But he was Kathy’s father. There was no need to upset her just to set the old guy straight. Yet there seemed to be no way of avoiding the fast-approaching moment of truth. More to the point, it was time for Kathy to hear his reasoning, and his regretful decision.
Delaney was asleep on the apartment’s living-room sofa. which served as her bed. In the adjoining bedroom Gary lay in the darkness beside Kathy, still bathed in the warm emotions of their love making, yet dreading what came next.
Though she could not see his expression, Kathy too sensed a change....something she could not identify. The gentle touches and tender asides he normally relied on after-the-fact were strangely absent. Whatever the reason, her friend and lover had turned uncharacteristically quiet.
“What is it?” she finally asked in a whisper. “Is something wrong?” That she had to ask a second time before Gary responded only fanned her concern. “What is it, honey?”
Finally, in a frightened whimper, “I have to go.”
“Home. I have to go back home.”
Reaching across the bedside table, she turned on the light. Wrapping herself in a sheet she turned to face him. Except he was not facing her. Instead he sat silently on the edge of the bed, staring at the wall.
“Why?” Kathy asked. “Why now?”
“Because there’s no reason to stay. There’s no work up here.”
“You mean there’s no work you’re willing to do.” She waited for his reply. Hearing nothing, she added her own conclusion. “You mean that being here with Del and me isn’t reason enough to stay. That’s it, isn’t it?”
Gary had spent the last twenty-four hours assembling his thoughts, gathering the words to say what needed saying. Never once had he paused to consider the daunting reality of looking into her eyes as he spoke them. Now, even before he offered his carefully constructed logic, she was doubting him. What would it take to make her understand?
Sliding up against the headboard, he pulled the sheet over him and turned to look into her questioning pout. He could tell she would be crying soon. It was time to move ahead, before he was sidetracked by her tears.
“Kathy, you may not believe it, but you are the reason for just about everything I do anymore. You’re the reason I came back to Tanner. You’re the reason I’ve been busting my butt looking for work and taking all that crap from your old man. All that has been because of you.
“But the job thing has been a complete bust. I need to prove to you, your dad, and especially to myself, that I can earn a living doing what I do best. That’s what I want for all of us. And the odds of doing that are a lot better in L.A.”
“Even though you know I can’t be there with you?”
Her reminder was not a surprise. Still he flinched at the sound of it. “I know that’s what you’ve said,” Gary nodded. “I guess I’m hoping that you’ll give that choice a second thought, or maybe a third. That you’ll be willing to change your mind, especially if I can come up with a decent job.”
Her first impulse was to remind him once more that her mind was made up. But why rehash that sad fact in the face of his ‘leaving’ talk? Instead, she reached over to switch off the light. For the next minute they sat silently in the dark....listening to each other’s breathing, trying on words to soothe the hurt neither of them could hide.
“I’m so sorry,” Kathy finally whispered. “It felt so right, the three of us here in Tanner, together. I really thought we could do it.”
She waited, but he seemed to have no reply. There was nothing left except her last question, the hardest one of all. “So when are you leaving?”
While she waited, Gary’s mind was churning, willing himself to speak the words that would make his choice final, beyond the point of turning back.
“I have a ride. A guy I met in Portland. He’s heading down to San Diego” It was easier he decided, telling her in the dark....not having to watch her reaction.
“I can’t afford an airline ticket. Hell, I can’t even afford the bus. So a free ride was too good to pass up. This way I’ll be able to leave the van here with you. You’ll need it to get to the coast and back.”
“When?” Kathy asked again.
She heard his loud sigh, then, “In the morning. He said he’d be here by eight-thirty.”
“Tomorrow? Why so soon?”
“I told you. I couldn’t be fussy. Not when the ride was free.”
Reaching through the darkness he pulled her to his shoulder. He had more to say. So did she. Instead, he held her close and let himself be comforted by her warm caring.