The coffee washed his mouth with a sour taste. Again. Ever since Eric had moved it seemed like he couldn’t get the coffee right anymore. Nothing tasted quite right anymore. Maybe it was the change in altitude or maybe he was coming down with something.
He shrugged it off and peered at the Rocky Mountains which he could see from his new apartment. They were truly a sight to behold. The Blue Ridge Mountains back east, though older, didn’t hold the majesty of the Rockies. He took another sip of coffee and almost spit it out. How could he keep getting it wrong? Sugar, cream, none of it helped. He poured it down the drain.
“Hey bro,” his brother Anthony was visiting.
Eric nodded. “Hey, don’t drink the coffee, it’s terrible. Maybe it’s bad or something.”
Anthony smiled ruefully. He’d done that a lot in the couple of days he’d been here. Eric asked him what was wrong repeatedly, but never got a clear answer. Ever since the move nothing was clear anymore. Maybe he just hadn’t fully recovered from the move yet. It’d take a while to fall back into a routine. The move itself had been stressful and driving over 1700 miles from West Virginia had been nearly more than Eric could handle. The road plays funny tricks on a person’s mind when they’re on it for that long. He thought more than once that truckers were a special kind of person to be able to do that for a living. No way he could.
“You sleep OK?” Eric asked his brother.
“Wanna go to Ihop?”
He snorted and shook his head.
“No, Eric. I’ll be OK without coffee.”
“OK, have it your way.”
Anthony leaned against the counter and folded his arms over his chest. “Eric, you can’t stay here forever. You know that right?”
“Oh God here we go again. Look, I needed a change, OK? I couldn’t just stay in Podunk West Virginia forever. I’m glad that’s worked for you, but I wanted to try something different. Why don’t you understand that?”
“I do.” He raked his fingers through his hair and heaved a deep breath. “I understand that it’s beautiful here, that it’s exactly what you want, but you can’t stay. It’s not right.”
“I just got here, Anthony! And now you want me to leave? Do you know how hard I worked to get here? Not to mention driving almost straight through. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but I’m here, and I’m staying!”
Eric hadn’t wanted to continue the argument he and his brother had started last night, and he wasn’t sure why Anthony had wanted to either, but here they were. It started with Anthony bringing up Jen, his girlfriend. Ex-girlfriend. Also known as a huge part of the reason Eric had wanted to leave in the first place. They were going to get married, but she had backed out at the last minute. Anthony was talking about people back home and said that Jen had a hard time driving by the house. She, of all people, had a hard time driving by the house. After what she’d done? It wasn’t hard for her to break his heart, and decide she didn’t want to marry him, but it was hard for her to drive by the house? Unbelievable.
The mountains really were stunning. They soothed Eric, so when he started again, he was more calm.
“Look, Anthony, I don’t want to fight, OK? This is just going to take some adjustment, for everybody. But I just can’t leave. Maybe once I’m more settled, I could come visit? Maybe for the holidays or something?”
Anthony shook his head. “Absolutely not.”
“I don’t get it. If everybody misses me so damn much, then a visit would be good, right?”
Anthony just stared at Eric. There was a sadness to his eyes that Eric had never seen before and didn’t like seeing now.
“I didn’t want to have to do this, Eric. I thought you would have understood by now. Everybody would love to see you again, but you can’t go back.”
“Understand what?” This was one of those moments again, like so many he’d had since he’d been here. Unclear. Like something was just out of reach. Like the coffee, and the feeling of still being unsettled. But that would all pass. It had to, right?
Anthony went to his duffel bag and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. He held it in both of his hands as if deciding whether he wanted to hand it over or not. Eric didn’t give him the chance to make up his mind. He snatched the paper from Anthony and unfolded it.
It was a picture of Eric and two dates beneath it with the words, “In Loving Memory.” The air seemed to leave the room. Anthony, the apartment, everything fell away and Eric stood in a white void. The second date was a month ago. But that was impossible. That was before he’d gotten to Colorado. When he was still driving.
Like stepping into the sun after being in a dark room, everything made sense. Harsh, painful sense. The dream he had every night. The car wreck. The grim faces. Anthony telling him he couldn’t go home and he couldn’t stay.
The paper slipped from his hands and disappeared into the void. Eric closed his eyes and imagined the mountains again. He let the feeling of peace and serenity they brought wash over him and take him in. He was home now.