Serial – Episode 5 of “20th”

Tim waited on the floor, still recovering. It was too early for this to be some random solicitor, but still he hoped. From outside he heard a faint “Hello?” in Lynn’s voice. He hadn’t been wrong to expect her, and he knew she would be aware he was home still. His car was out front. He needed to recover. Quietly as he could, he unlocked the door, hoping she wouldn’t hear the click as the mechanism disengaged.

He sent moved quickly to the bathroom just across from his bedroom and closed the door. He waited for a second set of knocking.

“It’s open!”

He heard the turning of the handle as she entered. “Where are you?”

“In the bathroom, just getting ready.”

“Well, happy birthday, butthead.”

“Right. Thanks,” he called. He ran the water in the sink and stared at himself in the mirror. He didn’t look like a crazy person. He maybe led the life of someone crazy, or certainly the life of someone destined for insanity, but he didn’t feel that he’d crossed that line yet. But then what had just happened to him? Did he have an episode. Janet felt so real, but the whole thing was so surreal.

“That doesn’t sound very cheery.”

More to the matter at hand, he still looked like a man who had seen a ghost. He splashed water on his face and rubbed it vigorously. Grabbing a nearby towel, he dried his face in a similarly aggressive fashion. His face looked a bit more lively, if splotchy now. He replaced the towel and stood in front of the bathroom door, breathing deeply. He needed to be careful. Lynn hadn’t been filled in on a lot of his past, and certainly not on the significance of this day for Tim.

Out in the living room, he heard her plop down onto the couch, followed shortly by the sound of a zipper being undone. Tim was about to wonder if considering recent events he would be up for a bit of friskiness in the early morning when he remembered the backpack on the couch. Stocked for a day of potential emergencies. It was not the kind of thing a man just heading in to work would have with him.

He opened the door and stepped out into the hall. Lynn had placed a small wrapped package on his coffee table, but was now poking at the contents of the backpack, as Tim had feared.

“Good morning.”

“Looking a little bleary-eyed there, birthday boy.

“Early day.”

“For both of us. You said you’d have to work, but I don’t buy that whole celebrate the day after stuff. So. Surprise.”

“You didn’t have to get me a present.”

“Shut up. After a year, you get a present. Maybe that’s not all you get, either.”

“I do have to go into to work.”

“What’s with the backpack?” And there it was.

“I was just organizing some things. Moving stuff around.”

“And storing it all in here? You’re like Survivor Man in there.”

Tim laughed and hoped it sounded more natural to her than it did to him. This was very rapidly turning into something that he felt as if he should be able to handle in a suave fashion but was failing to do so entirely. He turned to find his laptop bag so he could busy himself with packing that up in an effort to look busy.

“These water bottles are still cold.”

“Yeah?” He braced himself and tried to think of what he would say in response.

“Were you going somewhere?”

The playfulness was gone from Lynn’s voice now. There was suspicion there. Tim had the fleeting thought that the fact she wasn’t suspicious immediately spoke to her good nature. He had to stall.

“What?” Brilliant.

“You heard me.”

“I’m going to work. I told you.”

“Why would you need to bring all this gear to work?”

And then he was a deer in headlights. He stood, scratching at the back of his head and, he knew, looking all too much like he was trying to come up with something believable to say.

She got up off the couch and approached him with an inquisitive and pained tilt of her head. It was the look of a hurt woman and Tim, who had yet to be in what he would consider a mature relationship, half expected that what he would hear next was some form of ultimatum.

Guilt and relief washed over him simultaneously. Emotional involvement was always something Tim felt was akin to signing a death warrant. He couldn’t tell himself what he felt for her was love, but he couldn’t tell himself it was anything else, either.

A breakup then would be a blessing. She wouldn’t be blown up or kidnapped or murdered or raped or stuck in a car that was sinking to the bottom of a lake. She would just break up with him because he was a bad boyfriend and after a year of it, on a day when she had tried to surprise him and be sweet, she had had enough.

“Is this about your parents?”

Or not. But she had provided the excuse that was so obvious that he was amazed he didn’t think of it himself. More guilt at that. His parents’ deaths, reduced to a convenient ruse for his girlfriend.

“I just try to get out, be on my own a bit.”

“And I’m messing that all up. I’m sorry.”

She turned red and turned, reaching for her purse. “I should go. We can just celebrate tomorrow.”

“Wait. No. It’s fine. Stay.”

“It’s fine. I don’t know what it must be like to have lost parents. I’m not mad or anything. I’d never be that girl.”

“I mean it. Stay”

Tomorrow. Lynn assumed that there would be a tomorrow. And why shouldn’t she? She lived in a world where they would both be fine tomorrow and everything would be the same. They would be young and in love and they’d get dinner and watch a DVD and unwrap presents. He didn’t want the last day that either of them saw each other to be one where Tim brushed her off for any reason.

He also couldn’t have her stay with him for the day and not warn her. Maybe after he was done, that breakup would be coming anyway.

“Come on, I need to show you something in the bedroom.”

“That’s a big 180.”

Tim shook his head. “I’ve got a poster I need to show you. And then we need to talk.”

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