Chapter 17: Liam
“So,” Bentley sighs, pulling one of the stools out from underneath the counter and sitting down, facing me. “Tell me about you and Miss Libby. How y’all met and such.” He gives me a knowing smile and quietly asks, “Did y’all diddly-doo?”
After a second I comprehend, my eyes grow wide and I face Bentley with what must be an outrageous expression. “Bentley!” I scold, and he just laughs, clapping me on the shoulder. “I didn’t think so, boy, but I had to ask. Yer not quite like that, I’m aware, but I really am curious about how you two met.”
Pursing my lips to the side, I slide my hands up and down the neck of my guitar and mumble, “Well, what all do you know?”
“Well,” he grumbles, squirming in his spot and looking up at the ceiling of the shop, as if looking for the right spot in the past to retell. “She told me that she met this guy that was suppose to meet her at Cornelia’s. I asked her if he was from New York, and she thought so, so I told her he most likely wasn’t going to come.” When I give him an alarmed look, he shrugs and says, “Well, was I wrong?”
“I guess not,” I groan, brushing my hair back with one hand and gripping my guitar close to my torso with the other.
“So?” Bentley prompts, and I sigh, beginning the story of Libby and I. The story of us.
“We met in Times Square. She came up to me and kissed me, and then I kissed her, and then we agreed to meet at Cornelia’s,” I recount, staring at a Beatles’ album across the store as I remember that moment on the sidewalk, apart from everyone else on that street.
“That’s it?” he asks, holding his hands out as if waiting to grasp more information from my mind.
I shrug, plucking a few chords on the guitar in my hands. “That’s it.” I pause. “Well, besides what you saw here. I didn’t meet her at Cornelia’s, I apologized here, she accepted it-”
“Of course she did,” Bentley agrees.
“- and then I gave her my number.”
Bentley stares at me. “You don’t have a cell.”
“So what number did you give her?”
“My house phone.”
“And you’re still here because...?” he asks, and I realize that he’s letting me leave early. For Libby. For a girl that we both like.
“You’re serious?” I ask, pausing my fingers on the strings of my guitar.
He notches his eyebrow. “Run Rapunzel.”
Debby and Jere arrive at the apartment the same time I do, my taxi and her car pulling up to the curb in unison.
Seeing Jere’s curious eyes peep over the back of the seat in the back of Debby’s car, I laugh and hand my driver a ten for the ride. Grabbing my backpack from the floorboard and stepping out of the taxi, Jere’s eyes go wide and he hurriedly squirms his way out of his carseat and out of the car, running up to me and not bothering to close the door behind him.
“Daddy!” he squeals, and I bend down to lift him into my arms.
“What up, little dude,” I sigh from slight exhaustion, recounting the last time the little guy’s stepped on a scale. He’s gained a few pounds heavier since the last time I held him.
“Aunt Debby and I,” he recounts with wide eyes, leaning back in my arms to look at my clearly, “we-we went to a restaurant that was so good. They had the most awesome french fries, Daddy.” I smile at him and I walk up to Debby as she slips out of the front seat of her car, closing the door for her and engulfing her in a side hug.
“How about we all go inside,” I request, but Debby just shakes her head.
“I’ve got to head over to my house - my husband’s waiting for me, as you know,” she remarks, and I nod understandingly.
“Yeah, Bentley let me off a little early so he should be home sometime soon,” I mention, reopening the car door for her. She gives me a kiss on the cheek and tussles Jere’s hair, before getting back into the car and driving off.
“Well,” I sigh, looking at my son as he looks at me with the same eyes I’ve grown accustomed to over the years. The same eyes that have grown a part of my heart. “I guess it’s just you and me, kiddo.”
“And Uncle Jimmy,” he adds, nodding his head as if he were obviously right.
“Yes, and Uncle Jimmy.”
Walking inside, I find my worst nightmare: Jimmy on the phone. Jere squirms out of my arms and I gently set him down on the ground, slowly sauntering my way over to where Jimmy is sitting in the living room, bent over on the couch with furrowed brows and a befuddled look on his face.
“Wha-wha-wait a minute, hon,” he says, laughing in disbelief. “You must have the wrong number. I’m Jimmy.” He pauses, listening to the other side of the line. “Well, Lilly-” he stops abruptly. “Sorry - Libby -" and that’s all I have to hear.
I snatch the phone out of his hands and he shouts in surprise, staring at me in shock and anger. “Hey, Libby, it’s Liam.”
“Liam,” she sighs on the other line, and my heart abruptly stops at the sound of her voice. “Who was that?”
“Oh, my roommate,” I say, glancing at Jimmy who’s staring at me like I’m reinacting the tango. Suddenly remembering that I have a son, I search for Jere but hear him walking around in his room above us. Walking into the kitchen for some privacy, I sit on the floor in front of the stove and say, “So... how’s your day been?”
She laughs, and I ask her what’s wrong. “It’s just that,” she giggles, “I kiss you out of nowhere, and you ask me ‘what’s up’? That’s great, Liam.” She laughs again, and I smile, realizing my mistake.
“That’s true. So... Why?” I ask, needing to know the answer to the question I’ve been asking myself for the past day and a half. Why, why, why?
“Well...” she hesitates. “It’s a long story.”
Rolling my lips inside my mouth, I silently lean over to the side to check on what’s going on in the living room, only finding Jimmy stretched out on the couch with a beer cradled to his chest, his eyes fixed to the television. “I’ve got time.”
“Okay,” she says, beginning the story that would change my life forever.
When she finishes, I’m speechless. “Wow,” is the only thing I can come up with.
“Wow?” she prompts, laughing. “That’s all I get for telling you my adventure for the summer? For telling you ‘why’?”
Rolling my eyes at myself, I cover my eyes with my hand and mutter, “No, no, no, don’t listen to me, I’m an idiot. It’s just... that’s heavy. But really, really great of you to do that for your friend.”
"Old friend,” she reminds me, but I purse my lips in disagreement.
“I don’t think just because she’s gone from your life means that she’s your ‘old friend’. I think she’s still your friend even though she’s, uh, dead. She’s still with you, in a way. Like in your bucket list,” I remark, attempting to make a point. “You’re keeping her spirit alive by completing all of these things she wasn’t able to do. I call that being a true friend, if I’m not mistaken, Libby.”
I smile to myself at the sound of her name on my lips - how right it feels to say it. There’s silence on the other line, and I ask if she’s still there. “Yeah, yeah. Um, that was just, uh, sweet of you to say that.” She pauses. “I’m really lucky to have picked you to kiss.”
I freeze, amazed with this girl I’m talking to you. “I am too,” I agree, my smile broader and my insides convulting. And then an idea hits me. “Tomorrow’s Thursday.”
“Um, would you like to come over to Juke’s around the time I leave work, and join me for ice cream? It’s a tradition of mine.” And Jere’s.
“Really?” she asks, her voice perking up at the end.
My lips twitch at the ends, and I nod. Realizing a second too late that she can’t see my nod, I hurriedly say, “Yeah, yeah. I mean, if you aren’t busy with the whole, uh, bucket list thing.”
“Well...” she says, and I know that I practically just volunteered myself for something unintentionally. “I do have plans to cross a few things off Liv’s list tomorrow, but I think I can make an exception.”
I pause, waiting for more, but she stays silent. “Is there a condition?”
She laughs, “Of course.”
“What shall it be?” I ask, throwing my arm out dramatically, once again forgetting that she can’t see me. “The sky’s the limit!”
“You have to help me out with a few of the things on here.”
“Which ones?” I try to think up some things that would be on my bucket list but come up empty.
“Well...” she pauses. “I guess it’ll just be a surprise. I don’t have the list on me.”
“You’re not at your hotel?”
“How did you know I’m staying at a hotel?” she skeptizes, and I shrug
“Are you not?”
“... No,” she sighs, defeated, and I laugh.
"Anyways,” she emphasizes, “will you help a girl out?”
Smiling, I agree. “Yes.”