To one who waits, a minute seems a year.
Tonight, Hutch phones to tell me he’ll take a cab home from the airport. “No point in waiting up—the flight doesn’t get in until almost one.”
It’s been six weeks, and he thinks I’ll wait for him at home. I roll my eyes. I try to do it loudly so he’ll hear. “Of course I’ll come to the airport.” We do this dance every time he goes away.
“Okay. And Starsk?”
“Yeah?” This is usually where he tells me he won’t do another book tour.
“Six weeks is too long. Not doing it again.”
“You say that every time.”
“I mean it this time. The next book can sell itself. I’m done. Life’s too short to spend it missing you.”
“We’ll talk when you get home.” But we both know talking won’t be the first thing on my to do list. Not after six weeks. I hope he gets some sleep on the plane.
Six weeks. That’s forty-two nights. Days too, but after the first couple weeks it’s the nights you notice most. And not just for the obvious reasons. I visit the self-serve aisle when I have to, just to take the edge off. Just so I won’t drag him into the bathroom at the airport and have my way with him. I can fill the days okay, it’s the nights that do me in. Nights are when Hutch and me figure stuff out. It’s when we remind ourselves why we put up with each other. It’s always been that way for us. I can spill my guts anywhere, anytime, but Hutch . . . he needs the cover of darkness, the weight of my hand in his, to say the things he wants.
Six weeks. I should be used to it by now. He finishes a new book about every eighteen months—he’s got six in the series now—and his publisher sends him out on tour to flog each one. Book signings, radio and newspaper interviews, free booze. Twenty cities, from Rochester to Seattle, in forty days. Like a rock star, I tell him, but without the groupies. He smiles and says some people find writers damned sexy.
The first week isn’t so bad. I eat all the crappy food he never lets me buy, refuse to drink decaf, and watch lots of reality TV. One of my big regrets in life is that I’m too old to try out for So You Think You Can Dance. Hutch still wants to go on Jeopardy one day. Know-it-alls for five hundred, Alex.
The second week, I spend my free time organizing old photographs and doing odd jobs around the house. A couple years ago I put in the hot tub as a surprise—I had big ideas about it spicing up our sex life, but mostly we end up sitting in it, drinking Hutch’s expensive wine and talking about the plot of his next book. His books are all detective stories, and he steals (he prefers borrows) a lot from our old cases. He hasn’t written about Gunther yet, I don’t think he will, but I’ve been wrong before. Even after all these years, it’s still a little too fresh. His private eye’s been an undercover dance teacher, cruise director and moonshine salesman. I keep waiting for the poor guy to fall for a hooker with a heart of gold, but maybe that’s too much of a cliché, even for him. Once he got injected with poison and almost died. When one reviewer criticized that plot as being too unbelievable, I sent him the newspaper clippings from Bellamy’s trial. Hutch’s books sell well, better than my photographs ever will, so I shouldn’t complain.
The third week, I pick fights on the phone. No matter how well the conversation starts, it always ends up with me sniping and him getting all quiet. The phone is the next best thing to being there, like dead is the next best thing to being alive. The phone is the devil’s plaything—it gets the words right, but the emotions all wrong. By the end of the third week, I hate the phone.
The fourth week, he picks fights with me. The fourth week I miss salad, I’m back on decaf, and I’m digging through the kitchen drawer for his tofu lasagna recipe. In Portland he says he loves me. “I know,” I answer. I hear him sigh and he hangs up without saying good-bye.
The fifth week, I begin to count the days left until he gets back. I sleep on his side of his bed, drink from his coffee cup. I am officially pathetic by the fifth week, but I know it, so that should count for something.
The sixth week, I work hard to remember the taste of his lips, the low sound he makes when I take him in my mouth, his soft snore when he sleeps. But mostly I remember what it was like before I knew any of those things. I remember the years I waited, trying to find a way to tell him how I felt.
And then I think maybe six weeks isn’t so long to wait after all.