Thought I Knew You(7)

By: Kate Moretti

“Do you cross the line, Claire?” he asked quietly, his back to me. “The demarcation line in our bed, do you move to the other side? Why do you just stare at my back? Why is it always my burden?” He picked up his suitcase, turned, and out of habit, kissed my forehead. Emotionless, rote. He left for the airport. I hadn’t seen him since.

In the dim light of the barn, the late afternoon sun shining through the slats in hazy beams, I cried. I cried because he was right. Greg was the fixer in our life, our go-to guy when everything went to pot. He’d addressed the termite problem last spring. When we had water in our basement over the summer because of three days of rain, he called a plumber to install a sump pump. Until then, I hadn’t known what a sump pump was. He paid the bills, and a few weeks ago, when we had some illegitimate charges show up on our Visa, Greg called Visa and had them cancel our cards and get the charges removed. Those little things in life that I didn’t know how to do, or wouldn’t think to do, terrified me. How were we going to work as a family until he came home? We were fractured, a puzzle missing a piece, without him. He needed to be home. He needed to come home and fix it. Fix us.

“Cody? Come here, Cody! Come home, bud!” I searched the mostly empty barn, pausing to listen for the sound of his nails on the concrete floor. The barn was empty save for the neighbor’s cat, which ran when he saw me, a black ball of fur, skittering away on little white feet.

Cody wasn’t there. I wasn’t surprised. Whether rational or not, I started to believe with unflinching certainty that Cody would not come home until Greg did.

Chapter 4

The first year I worked at Advent, my manager sent me to a training class to understand compliance and the Code of Federal Regulations for drug manufacturing. I worked in the Quality Control Lab as an entry-level technician, and the training was part of orientation. At the time, basic orientation and compliance training were temporarily done offsite in Rochester so employees from New Jersey, Rochester, and Toronto could be trained at the same time.

I jumped at the chance to do the three-day training course and dragged Sarah, my college roommate, with me. We called it a mini-cation. She took four days off work, and we drove her ten-year-old Toyota the five and a half hours to Rochester. The first night there, we each drank a bottle of wine in our hotel room, silly and drunk on our freedom. I used my corporate American Express for everything—the room, our meals, gas, and the wine. We had a completely free vacation from our one-bedroom box of an apartment. We got the most expensive room I felt comfortable getting, which included a large Jacuzzi tub.

The next day, class started at nine, but being so nervous and green out of college, I arrived at the conference center at eight thirty. The instructor was already there, setting up the room in a large tabled “U.” I hurried to a seat in the back corner and pulled a book from my bag, trying for invisibility. I had a pounding headache from the wine and a venti-sized Starbucks coffee to help me through it.

The instructor coughed, and I pretended not to hear him, avoiding eye contact. Tucked into my book, I heard people filter into the conference room and take seats around me. I realized quickly that almost everyone knew each other, as the greetings were filled with a jovial familiarity that included private jokes and nicknames. In addition, I seemed to be the youngest person in the room by no less than five years. Oh, good. This should be a fun-filled three days. I took out my notepad and pen, just for something to do, and then reddened when I realized that no one else seemed to be taking notes. Too self-conscious to put the pad away, I left it unopened in front of me.

“Hello, everyone. I’m Greg.”

Half the room tittered. “Hi, Greg!”

The introduction was solely for me and possibly one other person. When Greg announced we were going to introduce ourselves, my mind went blank. For a moment, I forgot everything about myself, save for my name. Why was I here? Where did I work? I listened to everyone ahead of me and formulated my answer, repeating it like a mantra. I’m Claire McGivens, and I work in Quality Control in Raritan, New Jersey.

When my turn came, I said, “Hi, I’m Claire McG—” I raised my hand to self-consciously tuck my hair behind my ear, and in the process, elbowed my obnoxiously tall cup—for heaven’s sake, why is it so damn tall?—spilling coffee all over the table in front of me. The lukewarm liquid traveled toward the lip of the table as I sat, paralyzed. Two classmates raced over with paper towels.

I mumbled, “Thank you,” propelled into action by the coffee edging across the table, threatening to spill over onto my colleague’s suit pants.

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