Article Title
Article Title

Thruway

by IN Short

     The Subaru’s wiper blades squeaked against the windshield as they cleared the wet snow falling from Central New York’s gray December sky. Tyler’s car was dependable – good in rough weather. I’d come to believe the same thing of him. I saw it in the way he drove to Pennsylvania every other Friday to pick up his two children and then back again on Sunday to drop them off. During the weekend he would let them have dessert, a scoop of ice cream each, but only after they finished their green beans. I heard the dependability in Tyler’s stories from school, how he took on Jamaal for extra tutoring because the boy didn’t have anyone else in his life to care about his education. After Jamaal aced his spelling test, he scratched a handwritten note that Tyler showed me, beaming.

     “You’re a cool teacher, Mr. Ance,” it read.

     I zoned out on the Thruway as Tyler steered us along the Mohawk River and past barns set on distant hillsides. I thought about what it might be like to live in such a place with Tyler. It had been eight months since our first date, and he’d met my friends a few times. He spent a late summer week with them swimming, reading and sunbathing on Sacandaga Lake, but this was to be his first Cookie Baking. The annual event started freshman year of high school after Karen’s then boyfriend dumped her right before Christmas.

     “I thought I’d do it now, because, like, I really can’t think of a good present to get you, and I don’t want to be lame,” Christopher Mansler had said. Jane baked a batch of gingerbread to cheer up Karen, and then Mary and I wanted in. Tugging the tray of chewy cookies from the oven and smelling their spicy aroma, Jane suggested we bake treats every Christmas season, no matter what. We’d already been friends for three years at that point. Wouldn’t we remain friends for always? It seemed like a silly question to us then. Two decades later, the question seemed even more preposterous. Some things in life are given. The lucky among us take friendships for granted and hot baking sheets from ovens.

     Since college, I was the only one to separate myself. The other three moved from high school in Queens to college in Ithaca to serious relationships in Syracuse, though Mary had since endured a hostile divorce. The three of them were like ducks flying south for winter, traveling through life in a protective pack. I had felt the urge to escape. I was never going to be as pretty as Karen or as tall as Jane or as funky as Mary. So if I couldn’t win with guys, I could win with my job.

     Not that I saw it as a competition, but it was my defense. I needed something to boost my confidence. And my adviser kept telling me how skilled I was at dealing with people. I doubted her at first, but eventually realized that seemingly random people would approach me.

     Though it upset me that the cute guy with the crew cut would never make eyes, it amused me when townies, bag ladies, and old men would come up to me and not stop talking. One middle-aged guy wearing a wife beater that permitted his veiny arms to flail as he animated his story told me he was going to stop drinking because of me. All I did was ask about his daughter, whom he’d mentioned earlier in the conversation. He shattered his half-drunken beer bottle onto the floor in his vow to quit, which prompted security to escort him out the door by his underarms.

     “Fine by me, partner,” he’d said, work boots sliding across the thin, dark carpet. “I’m done with booze anyhow!”

     After college, I chose a career, and no lake effect snow, and Albany. The places the mind and a life can go while driving two hours east on the Thruway. Funny how farmland ripe for growing never seemed to me like a good place to start anew, especially in the winter, when snow covers apple orchards and dead rows of corn.

     “Would you ever live here?” I asked Tyler.

     He turned down Handle’s “Orlando,” one of his favorite operas.

     “On the Thruway? Probably not.”

     “Har har,” I said. “I mean out here, in the pastures.”

     “Well, I’m from Lionsville. We passed it 20 minutes ago.”

     “I know where you’re from. I just mean would you ever want to live in this kind of a place as an adult?”

     “What are you getting at?” he asked, pointing the bill of his pale green baseball cap at me. The brim shaded his eyes and made his gaze appear sterner than I think he’d intended.

     “Nothing. I’m just wondering about our future. Pondering where we’ll end up. Sometimes I think about getting out of Albany, and it’d be nice to live closer to my friends.”

     “Our future?”

     “Yeah. Our future. Does that scare you?”

     He stared ahead. The dotted passing lane undercut our left tires like the teeth of a saw.

     “No, it doesn’t scare me,” he finally said. “Just not something I’ve spent much time on.”

     The words struck me with force, as if the Subaru had smashed into a wall at 70 miles per hour. Not something he’d spent much time on? This wasn’t a new lesson plan for school we were talking about.

     “Me neither. I was just thinking about it right now. My mind always drifts aimlessly in this part of the state. I think it likes to mimic the landscape,” I offered.

     He placed his hand on my thigh. It felt small there. He squeezed, and I know he meant it as loving, but it felt more like a clamp pinching above my knee. I placed my hand on top of his so he would stop.

     “I love you,” Tyler said. It was sincere, but I couldn’t help think he said it in an attempt to end the conversation.

     “Are you looking forward to seeing everybody again this weekend?” I asked.

     He nodded but appeared more contemplative than affirming, the corners of his lips remaining unchanged. I didn’t press. I couldn’t force Tyler to like my friends. Nor could I coerce them into liking him. But I wanted them to. I recalled how reassured I felt after my first date with my only boyfriend in college. We’d gone to grab a couple cream ales, and I wasn’t sure if my rush of feelings were bubbling to the surface just because of the beer’s carbonation or if there was something else there. When my date had left the next morning, after sitting around my apartment and talking with Jane and me about his love of romantic comedies and after scrambling eggs – adding extra pepper to mine and shredded cheddar to Jane’s – Jane smiled wide.

     “He’s cuuute,” she’d said. “And so funny!” I wasn’t absolutely certain that I had shared either thought. He was slightly overweight with a beefy face, and his jokes were one-liners. Too dry for my taste. But when he called later that evening to ask me out again, and Jane lured me to the phone singing, “It’s for youuu,” I accepted the second date as much for myself as for her.

 

Andrew Waite’s chief accomplishments include winning two Frisbee golf major tournaments (Master's 2012, The Playa’s Championship 2012) and $30 at his monthly poker game. The above dribble is an excerpt from his novel, Doors, about the coming out crisis as told from the straight spouse perspective. Look for it on Amazon this winter.

 

Image courtesy of andyarthur

 

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IN Short is The Inclusive's annual short fiction week, featuring work from staff writers and contributors. Check the author page to see more contributions for IN Short.