The stall door opened and Rudy emerged. A new Rudy. Younger. Stronger.
He waved at the bank of urinals. “You realize this is the men’s room. They’re separate. Even in Key West.”
“You won,” she said.
“I don’t know who Max is, but he’s lucky to have you for a protector.”
He searched for a response. “That’s the first time I’ve acted like one.”
“Well. It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”
She unzipped the carry-on bag so the mink popped out a bit. “I can’t accept this from you.”
She watched it dawn on him the same way she’d watched the truth wash over Lili when Carter asked who fathered her child.
“Because you’re not getting on the plane,” Rudy said.
“Were you ever getting on it?”
“Come on,” she said, shouldering the carry-on and walking out of the restroom. The TSA security checkpoint was steps away. It was deserted, the walk-through metal detector and belt to the x-ray system completely idle.
“If you’re not getting on the plane,” Rudy said, “why did you come back?”
She smoothed his tie. “To make sure you did.”
He extended a toe, touching the carry-on holding the mink. “I still want you to have it.”
“It’s too much.”
“A memento of our brief association. Of our bargain.” He raised an eyebrow. “You remember that, right? Keep it. Sell it. Set it free in the wild. You’ll know the right thing.”
He was serious. Maybe after all she’d been through getting to no, it was time to get used to saying yes.
“Okay,” she said.
“Don’t forget this.” He handed her the Sunset Ale six pack carton. She peeked inside. Evelyn, the crab. The cardboard separating the individual bottle sections had been cut away to allow the hermit crab to have her the run of the place. The African Turbo she’d purchased was tucked in one corner, the mottled caramel and ivory surface gleaming.
“So,” he said. “After all this. What will you write about?”
“For this.” She held up the makeshift crab habitat. “And for saying what will you write about, instead of would.”
“Still speaking in riddles.”
She could feel their final conversation waning. She told herself to slow down and drink in the words as slowly as she could.
“I think you owe me one more thing,” he said. “From that first day? Your phone number?”
He had a point. She took the Moleskine and pencil from her backpack. If you could escape from God’s asshole and get to denial, you’d think you could finally scribble on paper. She flipped the Moleskine open to a blank sheet and ripped the corner from it. The pencil rested in her hand, warm and smooth. She let it descend. To an inch. Half an inch. Quarter of an inch. Until the tip of the pencil found the paper. Rested on it as if it belonged there. The sensation took her breath away. She was writing. Actually writing. The pencil moved, with purpose, the sound of the tip quibbling sweetly with the fibers of the paper. Maybe the journey was complete. Just maybe.
She finished, folded the scrap of paper twice, slipped it into his dress shirt pocket. It was as good a way as any to leave it. He extended the handle on his wheeled garment bag, slung his laptop bag over his shoulder.
“You know, Kak,” he said. “Rubber soles can’t keep you from getting struck by lightning.”
“That’s just it. I didn’t get struck. The bolt they threw hit a tree instead. They missed.”
“I like to think the sandals messed with their aim. But that’s a story for another time.”
“You really think there’ll be another time?”
“Or another life.” She patted the shirt pocket she’d slipped the scrap of paper into. “Call me first in that one, okay?”
He walked to security, presented his boarding pass and ID to the TSA agent, set his luggage on the belt, put his shoes, belt and phone in a plastic bin and walked through the metal detector. He didn’t look back.