Phone Calls

You couldn’t have called someone else? she said.

You’re the only person whom I trust when I’m like this, he said.

‘Whom,’ Nicole thought, even when he’s drunk he can use ‘whom’ correctly.

Nicole drove slowly. She hated driving at night in the rain—the way the road becomes a dark mirror, stretching and blurring the whites, yellows, reds, and greens of headlights, street lights, and stop lights. Or, in the absence of light, how the road and sky disappear into an oil-black slickness. On this night it was only a drizzle. But still.

Because I knew you’d come, Craig said after a long silence.

Nicole looked from the road to Craig, whose head rested against the window.

I might not have, she said, almost didn’t.

I knew you would, he said, and she could hear the drunken smile. I know you, he said.

Yeah, well, she said and stopped, not knowing how to finish: ‘You don’t know as much as you think’ or ‘You know too much’ or ‘You’ve never really known me’ or ‘You know me—more than anyone, you know me.’ All these things seemed true and so she said nothing.

Nicole finished the drive from the bar, where the bar tender had made the call for Craig, and pulled to a stop at Craig’s trailer. She got out and walked to his side, opened the door.

Let’s go, she said and helped him stand, supporting him as they walked to the door. Got the key? she said as she reached for the doorknob. It turned and the door opened. Dammit, Craig, you need to be locking this up.

No one gives a shit about my stuff, he said, and Nicole knew what he meant was, I don’t give a shit.

She helped him in. He had left the lights on and as she walked him to his bedroom she got a look at the picture on his wall, just above the television, the only picture in the place—family photo of Beth and the boys. Hell, why would he not call me? she thought as she remembered Craig calling her a week after the boys had died. He had been crying and she had come then. And she remembered when he called her after Beth had left him. When I see you, I think of them, Beth had said, and I think of you driving that damned car, how you lived and they didn’t—I can’t stay here. But she had—in the house—and Craig left so she wouldn’t have to. That’s when he moved into the trailer. Nicole had come then, too, when he was alone and needed to not be.

Nicole helped Craig into his bed, pulled his boots off for him, and turned off the light, stepping out the door.

Nic, he said—his name for her, the only person to ever use it and the only person she would allow to.

Nicole stopped in the doorway.

Because I love you, he said. I called you because I love you—can’t really stop.

I know, she said and stepped out the door.

Nicole turned on Craig’s TV and sat on the couch. She had dropped her kids off at their Granny’s when she had gotten Craig’s call, and they would stay the night there. I need to help a friend, she had said. Nicole’s husband was driving his truck and wouldn’t be back for almost a week, so she wouldn’t be missed at the house.

Nothing good was on, so she turned off the television and the lights, pulled the old quilt draped over the sofa-back and wrapped herself in it. She would stay the night, make Craig a strong pot of coffee in the morning and make him drink it black. Then she’d drive him to the bar to pick up his car and make sure he left. He wouldn’t remember telling Nicole that he loved her—or he wouldn’t let on that he did and neither would she.

Nicole closed her eyes, and she could hear the heavy breath of Craig’s drunk sleep from the other room. I love you too, she said in little more than a whisper. Not that it matters, but I love you too.

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