The next day I got to see Joe. We did go cycling. He actually looked a lot better than I had expected. In fact, he looked much better than he had the last time I saw him after the divorce. That was probably partly because of all the weight he had lost. I started to get worried if he was eating properly. But his skin and hair looked pretty healthy and he was actually smiling, so maybe he just started eating healthier. I started to get curious what he had to say to me, but the topic didn’t really come up at first. We spent a half an hour just riding around the field, the yellowness of the tall flowers almost overwhelming. We finally stopped, a long distance away beyond the beaten path. We sat down on the grass, watching the river flow, the hills on the other side covered in trees that cast huge shadows.
“Listen, there’s something I wanted to talk about,” Joe started. “I mean, it’s not something I’ve already decided on, but I’ve been thinking.”
“I… I think I’m going to move. Somewhere far away.”
“You’re joking,” I said. Joe shook his shaggy head, a pained expression on his face. “Is this about Marie again? Listen, it’s already been a long time since the divorce, you guys don’t need to-“
“You just don’t get it,” he snapped.
“Calm down, man.”
“Sorry… I just… Listen to me.”
“I…” his voice trembled. “It’s too much for me to take. I love her, but I can’t bear to be anywhere near her anymore.”
He was right. I didn’t get it. That raised so many questions. If you love her, why don’t you try to win her back? Can’t you guys just talk it out? She doesn’t hate you either, maybe there’s still a chance? But I just couldn’t bring myself to ask any of them. It seemed so inappropriate. I had no idea what had happened. That made being a good friend really hard. Never being in a relationship certainly didn’t help matters.
“And the whole place is full of memories you two shared, right?”
“Look, bro,” I looked straight at him. “You really think moving will change anything?”
“I don’t know… That’s why I wanted to talk.”
“You want to talk? Fine. I don’t think you should move.” Joe smiled a sad smile. I knew he knew I’d say it. “Sure, you shared a life with Marie here. All the pain you’ve had to endure is here. A lot of things will remind you of that, too. But you can’t go on pretending none of it happened. And it’s not just Marie you’ve spent times here with. There’s me, Jim, Gina, Candace, Dan, and you’ve got more friends. Oh right, before I forget, Jim’s starting a new D&D campaign next week and he wanted me to tell you you’re invited. Don’t worry, no girls allowed, just us guys.”
Suddenly, Joe burst out laughing. “It’s been so long! Sure, why not?”
“So, you think that’s worth staying for?”
“I don’t really know yet, honestly,” his face became somber once again. He took off his glasses and cleaned them with his t-shirt. “But thanks for talking with me, anyway. It felt good to get that stuff out of my system. And I’m really sorry I’ve been such a burden on you guys. We wanted this to be a private matter, so that no other people would have to be involved, but…”
“Hey, it’s no problem. I know you would’ve done the same for me.”
“Thanks a lot, pal.”
On the way home I picked some of the yellow flowers and put them behind my ear. I may have looked ridiculous, but that was the only way to transport them safely home. They were too beautiful to resist. Ginger liked them, too. Because of that, I spent the rest of the day trying to find a spot that would be unreachable to her to place the flowers. I doubted it would help in the long run. In the end, nothing I did ever made an impact.
The next day, I had trouble getting out of bed. I felt so tired and I had no idea why. Still, I had to get to work. That day I was manning the cash register. Around noon, a middle-aged woman entered the store. She had a kind, round face and big eyes.
“Can I help you, ma’am?”
“Yes, I saw that cute cockatiel you had on display. It’s a very pretty bird. I wanted to buy it.”
I hesitated for a moment. I couldn’t believe the time had come. “Sure,” I said with a slight stutter. I went up to Bradley’s cage. “The bird is 100$, but you’re gonna need some food and a cage with that, ma’am.”
“Oh, I know, I have a small cage with me,” she said. “I’ve actually had one for quite a long time, to be honest. I just can’t take the silence anymore…”
“Yeah, I get ya,” I said as I looked at her. Somehow, I felt I could really connect with this woman. “That’s always the worst part about having the pet. They’ll always live shorter than you will, and then they’re gone and it’s just so…”
“Yes.” We just looked each other in the eyes for a second. I then finally reached out my hand to grab Bradley. He chirped. “Anyway, Bradley here is still pretty young- I mean.”
“His name is Bradley?” she chuckled.
“I apologize, that’s what we called him at the store. He’s just such a friendly bird we couldn’t help ourselves. But you can call him whatever you want, you’re his owner now.”
“Actually, Bradley sounds pretty good,” she said with a warm smile. She bought some more bird feed and left along with Bradley. For some reason, at that moment, I felt really happy.