When I pulled up in the parking lot at the supermarket to get Ma’s long list of groceries, instead of walking into Woolworths, Travis walked the other way.
“Where you going?” I called out.
“Just over here,” he answered. He kept on walking to the park at the end of the complex. It was just a small park, some kids had graffitied the seats and the play equipment was kind of broken, but there were big maple trees which Travis headed straight for. He sat down on the dirty park bench and by the time got over to him, he was pulling off his boots. He looked up at me and smiled, then took off his socks and put his bare feet on the grass.
The longish, green grass.
I sat down beside him. “Trav, you okay?”
He gave me a bit of a smile. “Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You’ve just been a bit quiet, that’s all,” I said, avoiding making eye contact, looking at his feet instead.
“I just wanted to feel grass under my feet.” He shrugged. “Didn’t realise I’d miss the feel of grass.”
Then it dawned on me. Travis was homesick.
I swallowed down the lump in my throat, and could barely form the words. They were a whisper at best. “Do you want to go home?”
He sighed. “We’d better get Ma her shopping first, or she’ll have our hides.”
He didn’t understand. “No, I meant home, home.” I cleared my throat and took a deep breath. “As in Texas?”
He shot me a look. “What?”
I felt a bit sick at the thought, but that voice in my head that knew this was inevitable at some point was loud and clear. I didn’t want to hear it, I didn’t want this to end – ever – but I had to know. “Home. Do you miss it?”
He didn’t answer for a while. I could feel his eyes on me, burning into me, but I couldn’t look at him.
“I’ll understand, Travis,” I whispered. “Just say it.”
“Charlie,” he said softly. “Look at me.” He waited for my eyes to meet his before he continued. “I won’t lie to you. Yes, I miss it. I miss my family.”
I nodded and took a deep breath, trying to keep it together. “I don’t blame you,” I said. My voice croaked and I bit my lip to stem the burning in my eyes. I couldn’t bear to look at him, so I looked out at the car park instead.
I shook my head. I couldn’t do this. Not here, not ever. I wanted to stand up and walk away, but I couldn’t seem to move.
“Charles Sutton you can stop that right the fuck now.”
I looked at him then, and his face went from pissed off to oh-hell-no when he saw that I was fighting tears.
He kind of laughed, but put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me into him. “No, no, no, Charlie, no. I’m not leaving.”
I lifted my head from his shoulder and looked at his face. “But you miss home.”
“Yes, I miss my folks, but that’s only natural. I don’t want to go home, maybe for a visit sometime, yes. But not for good.” His eyes were soft and he smiled. “Charlie, you’re just waiting for me to tell you it’s over, aren’t you?”
I swallowed hard. “Well, I wouldn’t blame you.”
“Well, you know what?” he asked. “You’re stuck with me. I’ve told you that. A hundred times.”
“Are you sick of it though? Even just a little bit?” I asked. “The heat, the dust, the monotony of it all. Being so far away, from everything. I know it’s not an easy life.”
He smiled but looked out to a passing car. “You know what does bother me, Charlie?”
“The fact I keep telling you I’m staying, that I love it here, that I love you,” he said quietly. “And you don’t believe me.”
I wanted to take his hand. I wanted to reassure him with a touch. But I couldn’t. My hand wanted to move, but my hammering heart wouldn’t let it. “I do believe you.”
“Then why do you always think I’m leaving?”
I shrugged. “Because I would understand if you did.” I looked back out across the car park again. It was easier than looking at him. “I do believe you. I’m sorry if you think I’m doubting you. Because I’m not. I doubt me.”
“That I’ll fuck it up, or the fact I’m not technically out,” I admitted. His eyebrows furrowed in that what-the-hell-does-that-mean way he did. “Well, this weekend… I booked us into a twin room so the lady behind the counter wouldn’t know, I wouldn’t dance with you, I walked away from you in the stupid electronics store, and I wouldn’t hold your hand at the movies and that’s not fair on you.” I shrugged again. “I’m trying, Trav, but it’s not easy for me. I wanted this weekend to be a bit special and I kinda failed.”
“I never asked you to hold my hand at the movies,” he said, obviously confused.
“I know you didn’t. But I wanted… I wanted to hold your hand,” I admitted quietly. “And I couldn’t do it. Even in the darkened cinema. In case someone saw it… I hate that I can’t… like right now. I want to do something as simple as hold your fucking hand, and I can’t.”
Travis stared at me for the longest time. “Charlie. You didn’t fail. This weekend’s been great. And don’t ever apologise.”
Before I could lose my nerve, I asked him, “Are you happy? Here with me?”
He didn’t answer. Instead, he just kind of smiled and shook his head in a frustrated I-can’t-believe-you’re-so-fucking-stupid kind of way. “Charlie, do me a favour?”
I nodded. “Sure.”
“Take your boots and socks off.”
He looked pointedly at his bare feet. “Boots and socks. Take ‘em off.”
I considered arguing. I considered telling him it was the middle of town, in the park next to the supermarket, and that taking my boots off probably wasn’t strictly proper. But it was Travis, and it was kind of pointless in arguing, and considering how this conversation was going, I didn’t dare. So I took off my boots and socks.
“Doesn’t that feel good?”
“The grass,” he said. “Under your feet.”
It was like soft paper, and… green. “I guess.”
“Of all the things, I didn’t think I would miss this.”
Travis looked at me and grinned. “Weird, huh?”
I thought about it for a long moment. “I guess not. Not if you were used to it before.”
He smiled wistfully, and sighed. “Charlie, I can see how hard you’re trying this weekend.”
“I want you to be happy.”
He smiled more genuinely this time. “I know you do. And I am.”
“But?” There definitely sounded like there was a but looming.
“I’ve loved this weekend here with you. No work, no anything. Just us.”
“And all you want to do is go home.”
“No I don’t,” I lied.
He raised his eyebrow again. “You really are a terrible liar.”
“I’ve loved being here with you,” I said quickly. Then I shrugged and opted for honesty. “I just feel very… out of place.”
“Can I tell you something?”
I nodded, really not wanting to hear what he had to say.
“You don’t belong here.” He smiled at my expression. “You belong on Sutton Station. It’s a part of you. The vastness, the open spaces, the red dirt.”
“It’s who I am.”
He smiled. “It’s who I love.”