New Years Eve, an old friend called me.
It was Neil.
We met at work in ’94. We took our breaks and lunches together when we could, we were insuborinate together and escaped being written up together more times than I can recount.
Since 2000, we drifted apart, our lives going different directions.
Neil got a new job, then moved to Tulsa.
When the Gray Expedition pulled into my drive, I stepped out onto the front porch and waved him inside.
Neil came bearing gifts, a bottle of Turning Leaf. He remembered my favorite brand of wine.
The hubs had already left with Wee One to check a well, then to see his folks,and lastly to check in on Bubba who was at a local teen NYE party.
Once, hubs asked me if Neil was gay.
I would describe Neil as a bit on the feminine side for lack of better words.
Neil always felt like a female friend more than a guy friend. Neil will give me his honest opinions about clothes, makeup, hair, relationships, ideas ect…
I gave Neil the grand tour of our new home.
We pulled the stools up to the counter and opened the wine.
We caught up on old times.
My sides are still aching from our uncontrollable laughing attacks we’ve always been prone too.
Especially when we remembered those crazy days….
*Neil’s emergency brake popping off his little s-10 pick up and it rolling into the lake one 4th of July party
*the night we went to The Shotgun Saloon and drank too many Long Island Iced Teas. We went outside to sober up. In the parking lot, Neil walked into my truck’s mirror, it knocked him to the ground and split open his eye. I stopped at a Walgreens where I patched him up with a butterfly bandage.
*that time we were lost in OKC and I made him go into a Quick Trip to get directions. No one spoke English well enough for him to understand
*when Neil cried and I told him not to be such a baby-he was so shocked he started to laugh.
*the time I met with his psycho ex-GF Les for an hour on the pretense of helping her reconcile with Neil. Which during the time Neil changed his locks, packed her stuff and delivered it to her parent’s house.
*when we went to the Psychic in Tulsa and the guy was right on with about 80% of his stuff
*the time we got stuck in the snow in the work parking lot and I spun out slushy cat litter all over him while he was pushing his truck
*the winter I had a personal stalker and our every move was a ‘stealth mission’.
I always wondered about Neil’s folks, not the white upper class people who adopted and raised him, but the drug addicted Navajo couple who abandoned Neil and his sister when they were practically infants.
Neil’s sister is lost to the world of booze and drugs quite like her biological parents…Neil, who is just the opposite, when he gives his word, you can bet your last breath he will keep it.
Odd how people turn out.
Neil gets up and checks out Wee One’s art work posted on the fridge. He peers close to a drawing and says, “wow, I see a budding little artist. Look at the detail on the brown spider.”
I had completely forgotten Neil is a talented artisit. Very talented, but rarely uses it . How could I have forgotten?
“you’ve changed” he said so quietly I barely hear him. He sits back down.
“yeah, I know. Look how fat I got” I answered.
Neil gives a big eyeroll, “please, look at me.”
Not hardly, he still has a boyishly lean frame.
Neil has the subtle beginnings of laugh lines. Time has being kind to him.
I sit waiting and not saying anything, then drain my wine glass. I pour the rest of the bottle into my glass when Neil shakes his head no.
“how so?” I finally ask.
My house is warm and cozy. It feels good to be sitting here with Neil. I have missed him very much, I just now realized.
Marvin is glaring at Neil for sitting on his (Marvin’s) stool.
Neil sighs and says, “your different”
Me, ” well, I am getting older.”
Neil, ” that isnt what I mean.”
Puzzled, I just sit and stare at him.
He goes on, ” You seem sad these last few times Ive been able to see you.”
Neil answers, “Your wild streak…..”
A minute of silence, I want to say something but I am not quite sure what to say. I remain quiet.
Neil, “You used to be happy all the time or you seemed that way.”
He goes on,” Hanging out with you was like hanging out with Def Comedy Jam. Crazy”
Marvin must have sensed my mood change from content to a slow swell of uneasiness. Marvin jumped up onto the counter and flopped himself between Neil and I. Not an easy feat for the obese Marvin without a stool for a boost.
Neil, “wow, this cat is huge. When did you get him? I still have Snickers. He is about 12 now.”
My thoughts drift to the thin, coal black cat Neil saved from certain death one Halloween. Neil, always the kind hearted. He risked being beat up by a bunch of ignorant thugs to rescue the kitten some losers planned on torturing for Halloween.
Neil reaches across Marvin and touches my bracelet. I fight the urge to jerk my wrist back. The urge stays but not strong. Dulled by the wine..perhaps.
Marvin looks at Neil’s arm like he wants to bite him.
“I’m don’t know” Neil says, “I have not seen you much since your car accident.”
Marvin has a distinct look of annoyance on his gray face.
Me, “well, you know what they say about head injuries.”
Neil leans back on his stool, his eyes open wide, “really? what did your doctors say?”
Now it is my turn for a huge eyeroll. I reach over and punch him in the arm and say, “no. hell, I dont know, it just sounded good.”
Marvin stands up and stretches his big feline body. He lays back down switching sides. I rub his tummy the way he likes, he still looks annoyed.
After a moment, I shrug and say, “people change.”
We sit and talk for another 5 minutes. It almost feels awkward but then it does not.
Hubs and Wee One arrive home. It is time for Neil to start his 45 minute drive to his wealthy folks house with the white leather furniture.
We walk outside into the cold wind together.
Scooter whinnies when he hears me. The wind makes Scooter sound far away but in fact, he is quite close.
Suddenly, I turn to Neil and ask him if he wants to see Scooter. We walk over to the fence where Scooter is waiting.
Freddie’s donkey ears can be seen in the dark. Neil gasps, “what the heck..is that a donkey?”
A low nicker from Scooter.
Neil says, “wow, he looks good. Call him over by the lights so I can take a photo for my dad.”
Neil whips out his phone…
Once, a long time ago, I rode a young horse for Neil’s father. His father fell into instant love with Scooter when they met.
We walk to Neil’s truck. I give him a fast hug. He is the one who looks sad.
Neil says out his window, “you can call me ya know. I’ll be at my parent’s house until Friday.”
I wave him off, then say, “drive carefully.”
The shadows feel welcoming, I step back out of the yard lights and watch Neil’s departure.
I wonder briefly about him pulling a Dr.Phil on me. Neil used to tape Dr. Laura‘s radio show and listen to her at work. I wonder if he still does. Nah, I decide. She’s a quack. Neil is probably a Dr.Phil fan these days.
I walk over to the fence where, ever the faithful, Scooter is still standing. I ask him, “am I sad?”
Scooter nudges me his answer.
My hands cup around Scooter’s velvet muzzle and I gently scratch his chin. He wiggles. No treats. I can feel Scooter’s warm breath on my freezing hands.
I linger for a few minutes outside, ignoring the biting cold wind.
Hubs opens the back door, he says, “is everything okay out there?”
I guess so.