By Reagan Greenwood
Edited by: Maddy D.
Caleb could hear the gravel crunch underneath his truck tires as he pulled off the highway onto Indian Hills Road. It nearly drowned out the low hum of the man from the local radio station rambled about how awful the drought was this year. Caleb already knew that though. The winter cold was finally rolling out and the warmth of spring was settling in, along with the lack of rain. He glanced in his rearview mirror to see the dry dust hang in the air after being disturbed. The treads in the road had to have matched his own tires by now. He had driven this road multiple times a day, every day, for the past two years. Not to mention all the backroad booze cruises he went on during high school. If people could own roads, this would be his. And everyone knew it too.
Caleb twisted the steering wheel to the left without flicking on his blinker, ready to pull into the driveway but, instead, he slammed on the brakes. The faded, chipped red gate that usually welcomed him home with open arms was now chained shut, keeping him out and the memories in. He could hear the distant sound of country music circling through the trees and into the cab of his truck. Johnny Cash. She was probably cleaning the kitchen in a pair of old cut-off shorts, just like she did every other Thursday. They used to clean tomatoes from their garden in that kitchen. They used to dance together in that living room. They used to do a lot of things. But now, Caleb was stuck with an angry red gate that hated him so much that he wasn’t even allowed off the side of the road. She probably hated him too.
He was about to pull back onto the road when he heard a low bark followed by the snapping of twigs. Caleb grinned as he saw the wheat-colored coonhound run around the final curve of the driveway at full speed. He fumbled as he unbuckled himself, eager to greet his old friend. He knelt down in front of the gate.
“Moose! Hey boy,” Caleb said while scratching him between the ears. “How’ve you been? You taking care of your momma?” At least that made one of them.
“Moose, get back here!” He knew that voice. How could he forget it? It was the same voice that he had heard say the words ‘I love you’ every day for years. The same voice that urged him to leave a voicemail when it was two in the morning and he was twelve beers deep. She stopped abruptly as she turned the same corner that Moose had just taken at full speed. She did not react nearly as excitedly as Moose had. Moose had tried to break through steel bars to greet him. She, on the other hand, looked at him as if she had just witnessed him murder someone.
“Ivy,” Caleb said as he stood up, hoping it could make him seem stronger than he felt. He was right about the cut-off shorts, but not the large Chiefs tee shirt that he knew wasn’t hers and it never belonged to him.
“Caleb, what a surprise.” Was she expecting someone else or had she secretly been hoping that he would show up at the door like he had prayed she would several times before? “What are you doing here?”
What was he doing? He hadn’t even really intended to end up here. It was more of a habit than anything. Sometimes he just forgot that dreams end after he woke up in the morning. “I thought maybe we could just… catch up.”
Ivy looked at him for a while, not moving, not saying anything. “Yeah, okay,” she said finally. “You might want to shut your truck off first though. I haven’t bothered changing the lock combination, yet.” Caleb smiled briefly. She had told him a month ago that she had changed the locks and deleted his number. Maybe that wasn’t the only lie she told him.
Ivy didn’t say anything until they reached the screen door, the diagonal tear was still there. He had always intended to replace it, but like many other things, he never got around to it. Ivy told him to excuse the mess even though it was much cleaner than when he had lived there. There was fake fruit sitting in glass bowls on the middle of the living room’s coffee table and the center island in the kitchen. Needlepoint pillows were placed neatly on the couch, solely for decoration, not use. Caleb had always thought decorations were just a waste of money, but, he had to admit the place looked nice.
“I see you changed some things.”
“Yeah,” Ivy glanced past him to the far wall behind him, “some things.”
He followed her line of sight. The large, wooden “Gathered with Love” sign hung proudly above the fireplace. That was the first thing they had bought for the house when they decided to move in together three years ago. Ivy had begged him for it all throughout their Target shopping trip. Eventually, Caleb gave in. She was so giddy while carrying the giant sign through the store, constantly knocking things off the shelves. That may have been the last time he had seen her so happy.
“Since when did you start buying Chiefs gear?” Caleb asked despite his better judgement urging him to stay quiet.
Ivy looked at the sweatshirt and laughed lightly. “Uh, my dad actually. I never really noticed how few sweatshirts I owned until recently. So he bought me one. Of course, they only had extra larges, but they were on clearance apparently, so he couldn’t pass it up.”
“Oh Dan, he could never let a good deal get by him,” Caleb laughed while scratching Moose, who had yet to leave his side, between the ears.
There was a pause. Caleb searched his mind for something to say. What does a guy say when he’s sitting in a house that belonged to a woman he once shared his life with? He could talk about the heat wave and the drought or maybe admit that he hasn’t been the same since he walked out. One was too much and the other was simply not enough.
“Why are you here, Caleb? Be serious,” Ivy asked. She looked exhausted suddenly, like asking that question involved intense labor.
He sat there for a moment. He hadn’t meant to show up. It just happened. Had he wanted to? Of course. He had debated walking through her front door several times and apologize for thinking that he needed something new. He thought about telling her how he was wrong for thinking that he didn’t need her help. He wanted to admit that having her lecture him for not working hard enough was better than any night out with the guys. But the thought of showing up on her porch and seeing her with someone else, or being turned away convinced him he was better off sitting on a barstool, imagining a life where he hadn’t given up on her. “I honestly don’t know, Ivy.”
She stared at him. Not angrily or with annoyance. She just stood there looking at him, waiting for whatever was next.
“I honestly didn’t mean to be here. I thought about it a lot. I thought about calling you and asking if we could get coffee sometime and get some closure or whatever they call it. I thought about a lot of things but I never actually did them. So, honestly, I have no idea why I’m here,” Caleb said as his grip tightened on the countertop, “but I’m really glad that I am.”
Ivy nodded her head and grabbed Moose’s leash from the nail hanging by the door. Moose immediately sprung from seated position. “Come on,” she said looking directly at Caleb. “Let’s take a walk. Let’s just… enjoy it.”
Caleb nodded his head and rose from his seat. He held the door open for her and Moose. Together they walked down the driveway and past the angry red gate. The gravel scraped against the soles of their shoes and Moose panted excitedly. He looked over at her and she offered him a small smile. And he enjoyed it.