Chas wanted to install a solid oak door for Kate because he thought that would impress her. He assumed she was going to be around while he did the work, but she wasn’t.
The word chump came to mind, but he brushed it off. He was too busy trying to stabilize the door as he worked the screws and hinges; it was more difficult than he imagined.
This was late on Friday afternoon, and Chas figured he would at least get to see Kate when she came home from work. He kept working at the door, and after a few hours, everything lined up perfectly. Kate would have been impressed.
Chas had met Kate at Bronson Manley, where she was a patent lawyer and he was mail clerk for the Greensboro firm. A chance conversation between them led to lunch, more out of convenience than harmless flirting, though he wanted to suspect a bit of both.
Chas found the lunches exciting; she would always order a Jack and Ginger right at the start, which seemed scandalous, even though the liquor never quite loosened her tongue as much as he’d have liked. After a few months, Chas had thought these occasional lunches might be leading somewhere because Kate was eager to schedule them, but then she continued to remain mostly silent whenever they met. In a way, he liked this muted conversation on her part because Kate appeared to enjoy his company while he rambled on about his life. Although she never reciprocated, he didn’t mind the offer of a free ear. He had told Kate all about his brother in Chicago and how they both grew up in Charlotte. He also told her about his tax problems and his ex-wife in Raleigh. And yet, Kate never offered or admitted any troubles of her own. It was all good, though.
Chas thought about the lunches, and looked around her apartment, feeling a little embarrassed now. Kate’s style of living was so refined; the carpets matched and the colors blended. The leather furniture appeared in certain corners because it made sense there, and the odorless kitchen was all stainless steel. Kate’s condo made the differences between them more apparent. He quickly picked up his tools and started towards the front door, when he happened to notice a letter on her dining room table.
The letter was from the State of North Carolina, Department of Corrections, and it stood apart from the colorful fliers for pizza delivery and tanning salons. The envelope was open, with half of the letter hanging out of the torn envelope, in plain sight.
The return address was the Probation Division, Greensboro Field Office, Guilford County. The letter was addressed to Kate.
He paused a moment –this was clearly her business, not his. But maybe this is what Kate deserved? A nosey seducer –because she always kept quiet and didn’t talk about her life. Chas figured this might even things up.
He looked around the room, and quickly picked it up.
Sgt. Derek G. Leach
NCDC/GBO Field Office
7501 W. Market Street
Greensboro, NC 27242
March 10, 2012
4505 College Rd. #503
Greensboro, NC 27240
Dear Ms. McCourt:
Pursuant to the terms of the North Carolina v. McCourt (GBO #NK-422) disposition, your probation period will end on March 30, 2012. As required by the court, your community service and probation period, having been satisfactorily completed, will result in your conviction being expunged from your criminal record and all records will be sealed. If you encounter any problems with your criminal record in the future, please see NCDC Publication NCS-11 to resolve disputes that may arise.
Chas stared at the letter as if trying to parse a foreign language. Probation? Kate? He guessed probation wasn’t something someone would mention to a co-worker, but… he thought this was something she might have mentioned in light of all the revelations he made about himself, during the lunches. Chas tried to understand why his admissions to a failed marriage and tax problems didn’t inspire some pang of quid pro quo within Kate, some exchange of personal secrets.
Chas was trying to figure everything out when he was startled by the sound of a key in the front door. He froze before he could place the letter back.
“Chad! Yes, yes, Chad and the door today!” It wasn’t Kate, but Gavin, a lawyer from New Zealand who worked at the firm. Tall and imposing, he helped with the firm’s overseas clients.
“Chad from the mailroom, right?” He smiled wide. He reminded Chas of Hugh Grant, polite and perhaps a pervert.
“Chad, I’m Gavin, yes? Over in Liaisons.” Chas knew what department he was from. “Kate said you’d be working on things, and say, the door looks to be working, not bad, not bad at all,” Gavin said, as he quickly walked over and examined the door, blindly grabbing some shot glasses from the kitchen along the way. Chas hadn’t said a word yet, still too consumed by this new, criminal aspect of Kate. After a moment, Chas mentioned the correct way to say his name, gathered his tools again, and made his way for the front door.
“Leaving, now?” Gavin said with mock indignation, “No, stick around. It’s Friday!” He smiled again, holding up the shot glasses. “I figured you didn’t have anything fun going on in Gibsonville nowadays, so I brought some serious refreshment for us.”
Chas squinted and tried to understand this. True, he lived in Gibsonville and was a few months away from a divorce decree, and the only thing he had left for all his troubles was a lease on 50 acres of dirt in Alamance County –yes, that was all true, but Chas wondered why Gavin should know any of this. “Katie wanted me to stop by and check out the door, though I assured her you’d do just fine.” Gavin took a seat on the sofa and motioned for Chas to sit. “Let’s have a drink –to the big day!”
“March 30th… 2012?” Chas replied coolly. He sat down.
“Yes! Can’t wait for the party tonight.” Gavin pulled out a bottle of Sazerac Rye from his briefcase. He poured two shots, gave one to Chas, and poured the remaining whiskey into an empty decanter on the coffee table, as if he’d done this before. He rose his glass, “To Katie,” Gavin toasted, “a free person, a free woman, a free spirit!” They both smiled and drank. It really was good rye.
“Yeah,” Chas said slowly, “I wasn’t aware of any trouble Kate was having with the law or anything, but hey, you know, that’s her business and all what with—”
“I’d hardly call it trouble with the law, Chas.”
“Well, probation is legal sounding stuff.”
“Probation? I would hardly call her separation period a probation! And besides, the divorce is final now, not like our Katie ever kept the terms of the separation, gotta give it to her,” Gavin said as he raised the bottle for another shot.
Gavin jerked his head back, “Yes, separation. With all she talks about you, I am assuming she’s broached the subject of…”
“Right,” Chas thought aloud.
“You had no idea, did you?” Gavin laughed to himself. “Well, that’s her business I suppose. However, we all got a kick out of your experience in that department. The divorce, the taxes, oh my.” He looked into his empty shot glass, realizing his comment wasn’t complete. “But stunning, you know,” he said, “how you managed to… pull out of it all. Bravo.”
Chas wondered what else Kate told Gavin about his personal life. “So, was that Kate’s only legal problem?” he asked.
“Sure,” Gavin shrugged, “I suppose.” He took some files out of his briefcase, thought about it, and asked Chas, “What kind of question is that?”
Gavin opened and closed his jaw three times, and Chas wasn’t exactly sure what, if anything, Gavin was thinking about saying next.
Chas simply wanted to walk out now; he didn’t want to think about Kate, and much less what exact connection she had with Gavin, which seemed a very open-ended question at this point. Chas decided he was simply going to ask Gavin about this little letter he found. “I was under the impression,” Chas suggested to Gavin, “that Kate was on probation for something, and well… that’s all.” He studied Gavin for a response.
“Probation? You mean, actual probation, courts and all that, no?”
“And what in heaven’s name gave you that idea?”
“Well,” Chas said, “wasn’t there something with North Carolina v. McCourt?”
“Oh! The stalking. Oh, my. Ancient history as far as I’m concerned. I think she paid a fine and that was that. What a scene that used to be,” Gavin said as he twirled the bottle of Sazerac around and stared out towards the window with a smile. “Anyhoo,” he continued, “you probably want to get ready for tonight.”
“What, wait. What was Kate in trouble for?”
Gavin looked at Chas a bit too long. “Well,” he said, pausing. “Why don’t you ask her tonight, and you should probably change into something better.”
“Yes, Kate’s going-away party? Hello?”
“Going away… what, where?”
“Back home, Chas, don’t you keep up with anything? She’s moving away, up north.” Chas asked Gavin for the particulars on the going-away party. He started to realize that she had always been detached; he sensed she was probably just… waiting to leave town.
He felt like a fool; he felt a bit used, but he couldn’t articulate exactly how. He would talk to her tonight, calmly, just to try and understand. Being upset would be useless, he knew that much. Chas tried to define this new failure, but he could only see their friendship as nothing more than a last-minute shakedown.
He decided to attend the party.
When Chas saw Kate at the head of the banquet table, in a fancy restaurant called Lucky 32, his romantic delusion jolted him like the brakes coming off a roller coaster.
Kate waved hello to Chas after she finally noticed him there –she had been talking with Gavin at the other end of the yacht-length table, and there was a small pile of gifts sitting on another table next to her.
Chas had not brought anything. He tried to locate which battles he could win within his psyche, and… decided not to fight the oncoming assault that he was, in fact, a chump. A bona fide, lonely, starter-model chump. He ceded that ground quickly in the battlefield of self-esteem. Regroup.
Chas arranged his silverware around his empty plate, studied a menu for a few seconds, and watched guests arrive, as if he, too, were expecting someone. A young couple and their friend, a short woman, sat down across from him. Chas was not feeling very talkative, and he wanted to be with the cool folks at the other end of the table, not this trio of dumb strangers.
He greeted these new table-mates and chatted about the rain outside. The couple was from Raleigh, and they were apparently some old friends of Kate’s from when she first moved into the area. Their friend was a cute young woman who said she was from High Point. She had a smile on her face that made her look stupid, Chas thought. Chas suddenly liked this. He ordered a strong Jack and Ginger with his dinner, and chatted in a light-hearted way with the strangers around him. He wanted to die.
“And where are you from?” the girl from High Point asked, introducing herself as Sherry. She was a hard blond, with blue eyes empty as glass, and she talked with a heavy East Tennessee accent that Chas found both sad and beautiful.
“I’m from around here,” Chas replied coolly.
“I’m from High Point, just by Jamestown, I like it down there, it’s not as hectic as things are here in Greensboro, but we don’t have any places fancy like this,” she said, pausing for a moment to put her hand in her lap before she asked: “You know Katie?”
“Yes, we’ve met.” Chas wondered what kind of inbred person thinks Greensboro is hectic. He was familiar with smaller cities, but had the opportunity to travel. He read books. He knew of places a little more cosmopolitan than Greensboro. He wondered if this girl had ever even left Guilford County before.
“I’ve heard so many cool things about Katie,” Sherry continued, giving a short list of what apparently made Katie cool. The whiskey was kicking in, and Chas patiently sat at the table, wondering just how fast he could gather his personal business together and move on with his life. He had his brother in Chicago; maybe some city life would be good for him? He wondered why he was living on fifty acres of dirt in the first place. Chas decided that he’d had enough of following women.
He looked at Sherry as she kept talking. “I’ve got a job,” Sherry continued, “at the Wal-Mart, in High Point. My mom got me the job. She’s been working there for fifteen years, can you believe that?”
Chas asked how old Sherry was.
“I’m twenty years old as of last week. Twenty, can you believe that? I’ve been around long enough to see three presidents on TV and I was almost old enough to vote for the last one. I’ve been working since high school, but I think I’m going to start taking some classes at Guilford Tech this fall. My mom doesn’t want to see me at the Wal-Mart in ten years, she says daddy had big plans for me, but I don’t know, I kind of like it there. The people are nice, and they pay me enough so I can do things, you know, see movies, cruise on Saturday nights, all sorts of fun stuff. I guess it’s just a fun job you know, and you see how everyone goes on about how much they hate their jobs–”
“That’s interesting,” Chas said as he allowed the waitress to place his entree on the table. He ordered another Jack and Ginger. “I’m sorry, you were saying?”
Sherry smiled at him and continued talking. And talking. Chas felt good to have the company, and he occasionally glanced down to the other end of the table. Kate’s pile of gifts was getting larger.
“Hey, Chas,” Sherry said, “I got Kate a foot massager for her going away, they were on sale, I figure she’d like it.”
“You don’t even know her,” Chas said rudely, but Sherry missed this.
“I know, I know,” Sherry said as she started in on her dinner, “but, like, I was invited so I thought I’d get something for her, you know. My last boyfriend, he wasn’t very thoughtful, so that taught me to always be thoughtful. I just keep trying to be extra nice to everyone else, you know. That’s how I work, you know, turn the other cheek, that sort of thing. What did you get her?”
“Katie!” She smiled.
“Oh, yes. Nothing.” Chas took a long drink and surveyed the room.
“Well, it’s on order,” Chas lied for some reason. He did not want to appear too rude, but wanted a line drawn. “Yes, I ordered her something. It will be shipped to her new place. It’s a…”
“Oh, well that’s good. She’ll have something to surprise her at her new home! That’s pretty sweet, she’ll probably remember that gift more than the others, you know, cause she got it last. It’s always the last gift that you remember and all. Like when my dad sends me my birthday gifts from Nashville, it’s always late, but I’m always so happy he remembered, I only see him about twice a year nowadays, but I’m old enough now I could probably go and see him myself if I want, but he’s always busy and on the road, always doing something, but that’s my family! We’re always thinking, always doing something, always working. Is your family here?”
“Mine’s always been here. We go back so far we can’t even figure who was here first,” Sherry said with a wave of her hand.
Chas sat back from his dinner and politely listened to Sherry. The friends who brought her seemed relieved. Sherry would occasionally make a comment and then look to the young couple for confirmation or affirmation, and the young couple would nod slowly in unison. Chas interrupted Sherry again.
“Tell me about this boyfriend.”
“Oh, Trent, what a blow. I mean, not only did he run his truck into the CITGO station on West Market, getting into all sorts of trouble, and going to jail again for drunk driving, but I came home one day and he was at my house taking naked pictures of himself and putting them on the Internet.” She paused in a rare moment of discretion, adding, “He was probably weird, you know. I dated him for about two years, anyhow, he finally cheated on me, he actually slept with this girl from the photo shop, and he blamed me, because I wouldn’t have sex with him,” she lowered her voice, “but we did everything else, you know.”
“Well,” Sherry blushed for a moment. “Yes. Oh, you probably don’t need to hear this, but it’s so fun to meet new people and everything.”
“Yes. It is.” Chas was thinking the entire time about closing his checking account, how long it would take to pack. Maybe his brother would let him stay in Chicago for a bit. Some place far away. With Sherry, he liked that he could have his mind on other things as she rambled on, and, if he was indeed leaving town, it was probably better to have someone around while he made his move. He felt no urge to explain himself; it was fun listening to someone else’s life. Chas actually enjoyed the sounds of Sherry’s each and every concern or desire that she ever had in her whole entire life.
“Anyhow,” Sherry continued, “I get lonely without Trent, you know, but I have my mom and all the folks at work, but it’s still nice to date, you know, go see movies, get hamburgers, that sort of thing, right?”
“You don’t talk much. I like that kinda,” Sherry said.
“Yes,” Chas said, looking around the table, “Well, is Kate going to make a speech here, or… is this it?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Sherry asked the young couple that brought her, and they told her that Kate was sure to have a few words by the end of the dinner. She asked, “So, Chas. What do you like to do for fun?”
“I like to hang out, you know, see movies, get hamburgers. How about we do that sometime?”
Sherry smiled. “I’d like that. Nobody asks anyone out anymore, they just sort of blend in with groups, and you know, sort of get together. It’s nice to be asked out!” Sherry turned to the young couple and announced her pending date with Chas. They nodded, looking at Chas with mild suspicion, but then they simply shrugged.
Chas assumed he was taking a perennial third wheel off their hands. He further assumed that they were happy for this, which was confirmed when the young woman in the couple mouthed a simple ‘thank-you’ behind Sherry’s back. He didn’t like that type of rudeness. Here was Sherry, out of her own loop, somewhat oblivious to what was happening in general, and Chas felt sorry for her, but… he also thought that if Sherry wanted to imagine that the simple offer of a movie was, in fact, something more, well… so what?
Kate got up to make a few remarks.
“Thank you all so much!” Kate beamed to the thirty of her closest friends. “I’ve had a wonderful time here, and I appreciate the gifts. I’m going to miss everyone, but if you’re ever in Hoboken, stop by and visit!” Thus was the extent of Kate’s remarks. Chas thought: Hoboken?
He looked around to Sherry. “I’m about ready to leave. What movie would you like to see?”
“Tonight!?” Sherry gasped, hands on her chest. “Yes, tonight,” Chas said as he watched Sherry contemplate the offer, rubbing her chin.
“Oh. Oh, okay, cool,” she said, turning to the young couple and explaining her plans for the rest of the evening. They nodded in approval, then rolled their eyes when Sherry wasn’t looking. Chas thought they were real assholes to treat her that way. He also thought about how many tanks of gas it takes to get to Chicago.
Author: Kevin Ricche