Robin had left his phone in the kitchen overnight, and the battery was nearly empty when he checked it. After he plugged it into the charger, he swiped down the notification pane and saw a text chat bubble.
The message was from Dan.
Hey! Been a couple of weeks and I haven’t heard from you. Hope you’re doing all right. <insert aimless weather ramble here> Now that things are more settled, do we want to talk about getting together for coffee? I can leave Trevor at home if that’d be too much. He’s cool either way. I feel like we have more to talk about, though. I miss chatting with you. Is that weird to say? Message me back either way, even if it’s to say stop texting me. I mean, I know we agreed to keep in touch, but that could have been you being nice. I guess? Dunno. Okay! Going to stop rambling now. Chat soon?
Robin welcomed the warm familiarity of Dan’s rambling text. No matter Barrett’s feelings on the subject, Dan was a good person. Very human, as he’d once said.
Thumbs to the keyboard, Robin chewed on his lower lip for a moment before tapping out a reply.
No, delete that. Hey followed by an exclamation point wasn’t his MO.
Robin: Thank you for—
For what? Damn it.
Robin put the phone aside to mull over his reply and went about the business of organizing breakfast. A sense of déjà vu rolled over his shoulders as he sat again at the table, by himself, with a solitary meal set in front of him. He ate alone most days. Why did today feel different?
A sideways glance at the spot Gimli had occupied for seven years served only to deepen Robin’s melancholy. With the carpet gone, there was only bare floor beside his chair. He liked the blond wood laminate he’d chosen. It brightened the whole space. But it was as though he’d erased a stain… no, a shadow.
Maybe he should go back to bed. Today didn’t have to happen, did it?
Robin’s gaze landed on the front door.
Or he could go out. Today not happening officially left a hole in his schedule. In the universe. A gap he could slide through.
The idea had appeal.
Robin did not feel immediately tired.
A not-day required some preparation, however. First, a shower.
One of the saddest side effects of living within was that his personal hygiene had become less of a priority. He showered regularly, but not every day, especially in winter. Why would he? He was like a glacier, creaking and cracking over a single location.
Robin neatened his short beard next, after wiping steam from the mirror. Energy inspired by the warmth of the bathroom and the buzz of the trimmer snapped through his veins. Leaning forward, he concentrated on his reflection.
His nose wasn’t so big.
Next, clothes. A not-day required clothing outside his sweatpants and cozy-socks collection.
Surprisingly, his jeans fit. When he wasn’t impersonating a glacier, Robin did exercise. He had an app on his phone that dispensed workouts led by happy, shiny people, and John had left a complicated piece of machinery in the spare bedroom. It’d been a while, though.
Robin posed in front of the mirror wearing only his jeans and wished he hadn’t. He was pasty, had a slight paunch and not enough muscle.
“What a catch.”
Sighing, Robin pulled on an undershirt, a flannel button-down he hadn’t worn in four years, and a wooly cardigan with shoulder and elbow patches that conferred a vaguely academic flavor to his appearance.
On his feet went clean socks (matching) and a rugged pair of boots. If he made it to the sidewalk, he could take a turn around the block. Early April sunshine streamed through the bedroom window, beckoning him onward.
Back in the kitchen, Robin pocketed his wallet and keys and picked up his phone. If he was going to walk around the block, he could stop at the grocery store. Kaleb would probably want to be paid, anyway. Robin could afford it.
Fully dressed for the first time in—let’s not finish that calculation—Robin stood before his front door, shoulders square, chin lifted, chest burning with purpose. Then he squinted at a shadow between him and the door… a smear on his glasses. If he was going out, he should wash his glasses.
Back in the kitchen he berated himself for the sideways thought he should wait to use the dishwasher, thereby giving his glasses a good scrub, steam, and shine.
“Dish liquid and hot water will do.”
Glasses washed and dried, he confronted the door again. Turned the lock. Pulled it open. Blinked and squinted at the sunshine flooding across the floor and the lower half of his legs.
He took a step forward. Another. Breached the screen door and let it snap closed behind him.
He was standing on his front stoop, washed, groomed, dressed, his glasses sparkling, his chest—not tight yet. His shoulders light.
This. Was. Happening.
Robin was halfway down the front path when a cat poked its head out of the hardy shrubbery planted between his house and Jai’s. As black as night with large, unblinking yellow eyes, it stalked out of the shadows, across Robin’s scrubby spring lawn, and sat in the middle of the front walk.
“Hello there.” Robin crouched and extended a hand.
The cat regarded his hand with bored disdain.
Robin wiggled his fingers.
The cat’s ears swiveled back and forth. Its whiskers twitched. Then it lurched sideways to form a black streak before disappearing beneath the shrubbery on Sean’s side. Robin had about a second to wonder what had startled the cat before another blur of color entered his peripheral vision. He turned too late to see the huge, shaggy dog leap toward him, and could only put his arms up in the hope of what, exactly, he wasn’t sure.
The dog crashed into his chest, bearing Robin to the ground. They landed with a thud, a cry, and a bark. Then the dog used Robin’s balls as a launch point and disappeared over his head. Robin might have heard a yowl and bark after that, but his recollection of the next minute or two would forever be hazy as he curled around his groin and tried not to whimper.
“Oh my God! Are you all right?”
A young woman stood over him. Robin wanted to curl tighter. His balls had suffered enough injury, not to mention the rest of him. This was why he rarely ventured outside. Why he never went outside. Not the front way, anyway. No fences meant mad dogs and unlucky cats. And young women crouched over him, faces pinched with concern. One face. One woman.
“I’ll be okay,” Robin wheezed.
“Should I call someone? Is this your house?” Another frown. “Did you just move in? I didn’t see a truck. I never saw the other owner. I heard he was some kind of hermit. Never went out.”
An expression of pain must have crossed Robin’s face because she asked again, “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Was that your dog?” he asked.
“No, my cat. The dog belongs to the couple at the end of the row and it. Is. Never. Chained. I’ve called animal control, like, sixteen times.”
Robin had uncurled enough to sit on his front path, and he noted, somewhat incoherently, that he was at the precipice. In line with the terrace guarding the sidewalk. If he extended one leg, it would fold down over the steps. If he extended the other, he could sit on the steps. If, after that, he stood, he would be on the sidewalk.
“Listen, if you’re sure you’re fine, I need to go get my cat before that animal eats it.”
She stuck out her hand. “I’m Gallia, by the way. I live in number 216.”
“Robin.” He jerked his head toward the door behind him. “222.”
“Welcome to the neighborhood!” With that, she bounced up and went in search of her cat.
Robin sat there, one leg folded beneath him, the other bent awkwardly toward the steps to the street, wondering how long he could remain in place. Outside. The impression of being in a gap, in a not-day lingered, perhaps spurred on by the fact he was sitting somewhere between inside and outside.
Was this progress? Could he take the next step?
He could feel his wallet inside his jeans pocket. Remembered the mental list he’d started compiling for his trip to the grocery store.
Did you just move in?
This new neighbor, this new person, would unfold his legs, conquer those last two steps, and stand on the sidewalk.
Robin uncurled his leg and scooted forward, the sound of his jeans dragging against concrete oddly loud. Another scoot, and he sat on the step with both of his feet planted on the sidewalk. The ambient noise of the neighborhood flowed back down the street. Cars on Castor Avenue, a leaf blower tackling spring maintenance, voices, and what might be Gallia calling for her cat.
Despite the pain in his balls, a smile tugged at Robin’s mouth. He’d done it. He was touching the street. A part of his body had officially left the premises.
He’d gone out.
Robin wouldn’t be “taking a turn around the block.” Kaleb would earn his pay this week. But it was still a victory. Fatigue did not hang over his shoulders or form a haze between him and outside. Panic had yet to stitch his gut in half.
A part of him wanted to belittle the triumph. It was only the sidewalk. But the part of him that remembered the therapy sessions he’d abandoned last year urged a different view.
Take this for what it is.
Robin glanced over his shoulder at the house next-door. He was wondering whether or not he could or should make that his next goal when movement behind a window upstairs caught his eye. Robin focused on the window for a moment, not able to see much beyond the reflection of the sun. Had it been a bird flying past or someone behind the glass?
He turned to the street, leaned on his hands, and tilted his head up a notch, putting his face in the sun. Gosh that was good. Warmer, somehow than the sunlight he caught on the back patio.
Take this for what it is.
Robin breathed out and smiled.