Checking Out

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I'm sitting on the front stoop of her apartment building. I can feel the coldness of the concrete through my jeans as I survey the mess that is the front yard. My shit is all over the place, my clothes strewn about the lawn, dirty and clean mixed up together. People drive down the street, pointing and staring, like they know what happened. I'd like to pull them out of their cars and kick their asses for being so presumptuous. I found my wallet in the yard when I got here, my credit cards gone. She changed the lock on the door while I was out, too.

I'm afraid to see my house. She still has the key. I can imagine my furniture trashed, holes in my wall, pictures broken, clothes all over the place. Sighing, I set about gathering my stuff and loading them into my pickup truck. We were together for three years and I've spent most nights at her apartment with her in the last two, but yet, everything still fits in my truck. Most of it stayed at home and never made it here. She lived closer to my job than I did, closer to the bars, closer to my guys. It was a matter of convenience, really. And the sex, I liked coming home to the sex.

Starting the engine of my old Ford, I can't figure out what set her off. She's said before that she'd had enough, but I guess she meant it this time. Perhaps I should have listened to her more, but she was constantly talking. How was I supposed to know what was important? It just went in one ear and out the other. Sure, I spent hours shooting pool and getting drunk with the guys, but I gave her her freedom. Isn't that what women want? A guy that allows them to still go out with the girls? A guy that tells her she's pretty, believes her when she says she has a headache? A guy that can hold a steady job? I gave her all of those things, what more does she want?

Pulling up to my place, I see that the front door is wide open and my windows are broken. Yep, she's been here. I step inside, mindful of the broken glass. All the candles she had brought over are gone. The pictures are broken, the glass shattered, the frames destroyed, and the pictures themselves torn to shreds. My furniture is overturned, and the holes in my walls lead me to believe that they have become well acquainted with a hammer. She could be a bitch when she wanted to. In the bathroom, my medicine cabinet had been wiped out, the contents on the floor, and the lipstick on the mirror informs me that I'm a fucking bastard and I should rot in hell. In the bedroom, my drawers have been emptied and everything has been thrown about the room. And the top of my dresser was swept clean, with one exception. Her key to my place is resting there.

That hurts, more than the clothes in the yard, the holes in the wall, the broken windows, the writings on the mirror, everything.

I take a seat on my bed and put my head in my hands. She meant it this time. There would be no apologizing, no efforts to fix this relationship, and no mind-blowing, wall-pounding, waking-the-neighbors, make-up sex. It was over; she'd had enough. I look up into the mirror across from my bed. There is lipstick here, too, but that's not what catches my eye, but rather, how much I look like my father.

My mother had walked away from my father one day, and I can still remember how he sat on the edge of his bed, staring into space, clutching his bottle of beer. My mother never came back after that. I haven't seen her since I was eight-years-old. And my old man, well, he kept drinking and kept working at the factory. It wasn't all bad, he kept a roof over my head and food on the table. Sometimes, he'd bring a woman home and they would stay for a while, but eventually, they all left, just like my mom. My dad just stayed the same.

And now looking into the mirror, I look just like him. I have the same rough face, the same large nose, the green-gray eyes, the same thick head of dark blond hair with a gradually receding hairline. And I'd probably be sitting here with a beer in my hands if I hadn't ignored the kitchen and walked right into the mess Tracy created when she left. I sigh and rise to my feet, reaching into my pocket for a cigarette and light it, all in one swift motion made familiar by years of habit. I wander back out through the hall and into the kitchen. I might as well start cleaning up. This mess won't clean itself.

In the middle of my kitchen table is a note in Tracy's bubbly handwriting, written in bright pink ink:



I always knew that was an appropriate name for you. I guess you found your shit, since you always stop by my place after work. I think that was everything. I dumped your beer out, so don't come looking for that, either. And if you feel inspired to try and apologize: DON'T. I'm tired of you, your lies, your mistakes, your drinking, your friends, everything. Stay the fuck out of my life!



I always hated it when she called me Dick. I liked being called Rick for a reason. Even when she made a joke out of it, saying she liked mine and hence the name, I still didn't like it. I crumple the note and toss it back onto the kitchen table. It was good while it lasted.

Moving across the kitchen, I grab a beer from the fridge. I've found it's always good to keep a supply at home, even if you don't usually sleep there. You never know when you'll end up in the doghouse and want to crash in your own bed. I grab a broom and dustpan from the pantry and go through the living room and begin sweeping up the glass.


"Your old lady mad at you for coming out tonight?" Gus asks, after taking his shot and missing the pocket on the pool table by mere centimeters.

"Nah," I say, taking a swig of my beer, rolling the liquid around in my mouth before swallowing. "Me and Tracy are done." I set the beer on the edge of the table to make my shot. "Three-ball, corner pocket," I declare, gesturing with my cue stick. I hit the three-ball gently, nudging it past the eight-ball and into the pocket.

"She kick you out?" Gus asks as he lights a cigarette, a smug grin on his face.

"It was just time. She was pretty pissed, though," is all I say, unwilling to get into it. I lean over and take aim for another shot. "One-ball, side pocket," I gesture again. I miss the shot, but I am lined up for my next one, provided Gus doesn't bump me.

Gus snorts. "She'll be back in a week. She always comes back."

Taking another swig of beer, I shake my head. I pull out a cigarette and light it, inhaling the smoke deeply, feeling the burn in my lungs. "Don't think I want her back. It's time to move on."

Gus leans over and aims, calls his pocket, and shoots, sinking the ball.

"Diane," I say, nodding my head to a woman leaning over the jukebox in the corner, taking another swallow of beer, "she's looking pretty good."

Gus chuckles. "Yeah, Diane looks pretty good to everyone. That's why everyone knows her."

I nod. Gus has a point. Diane and I have had a thing going off and on for years, along with half the town. I watch Gus as he makes another shot. "I dunno," I say, taking a drag on my cigarette. I don't exhale until I lean over to take my turn. I call the one-ball, make the shot, and straighten to aim for the eight-ball. "Maybe it's time I move on, head out of here."

At this, Gus laughs outright. "Come on, Rick, you know you could never leave. We've been talking about this since high school. This town is like 'Hotel California,' you can check out any time you like, but you can't ever leave."

"Maybe it's time I try." I call the shot, make the move and sink the eight-ball, ending the game. Doc and Tommy come over from the bar with fresh beers and the four of us begin a new game. From the corner, Diane smiles to me.


I wake up in the morning, my mouth tasting like cigarettes and beer. Not a pleasant taste, even for me. Diane's reddish-brown hair is splayed across her pillow, her hand on my bare chest. She is not wearing anything, half under the covers, and I can see her naked breasts. They aren't as firm and as high as they once were. I guess we are all getting older.

I roll out of bed and pull on some boxer shorts and make my way into the kitchen. I'm glad it's only late-September and the weather is still decent. The plywood I put over the windows does not provide good insulation. Lighting a cigarette, I set about getting some coffee going. I put some water in the microwave to boil, grabbing two bags of instant coffee and put them into two mugs. Diane likes her coffee in the mornings, and truth be told, I can't function without it and a good smoke. When the water is done, I put it into the mugs and let it set. I put a little sugar into mine and take Diane's to her, black.

I make eggs for breakfast, scrambled. Tracy hated scrambled eggs, but I can't get enough of them. Add just a little bit of salt and pepper and I think I could live the rest of my life eating scrambled eggs. Diane doesn't come into the kitchen until the eggs are done. Her coffee cup is already half empty. She takes a few bites and pushes her plate away, insisting that she has to go to work. I watch her leave and say nothing as I pick at the eggs from her plate. I look around the kitchen and wonder what I am staying for. I could leave it all.

Maybe I could go to California and become an actor. I chuckle at the thought. With my crooked nose and my broad forehead, they'd pay me to stay out of the pictures. Maybe I could go to New York and become a musician, never mind the fact that I can't play an instrument. I can sing decently, when I'm not drunk. Perhaps I could move to Washington, D.C. and become a politician. That would work, since I can lie with the best of them, but I have nothing beyond a high school education. Texas would work, though. I could be a cowboy, except I know nothing about riding and ranching.

I'll have to give this some more thought.


Tracy calls me four days later. "Please come over, Dick. I'll make it worth your while…" she trails off, her voice husky and seductive.

I just drop the phone back into its cradle. The bitch broke my windows, put holes in my walls, and broke all of my stuff. I am not going back to her, not even for the sex. If that's all I want, I can get it almost anywhere.

She calls me back two minutes later, and screams into my ear, "Damn it! I want you to come over."

I hang up on her again, saying nothing.

A minute later, she's back on the phone once more. "Please?" she begs. I can hear the tears in her voice. I hate it when she's like this. She can be so manipulative. "I really need to talk to you."

I sigh. "Fine, Tracy, I'll be over."

When I get to her place, Tracy is immediately all over me, licking and kissing, touching and stroking. I pull her off of me and set her firmly on the ground. "What do you need to talk to me about?"

"You don't have to be so fucking serious all the time. We can have fun, you know?" She climbs up on me again, pressing herself to me.

I push her away again. "I'm going to go." I turn to walk out the door.

"Don't you walk away from me!" she yells.

I stop and turn around. "Why shouldn't I?"

"Because I'm pregnant," she states firmly, not batting an eye.

I've had women pull these sorts of stunts before. Hell, Patty once tried the same stunt with my dad. Patty was a psycho. But she also gave me my first taste of the female form. I walked in on her one day getting ready to go out. She was walking around my father's bedroom, completely naked, breasts bouncing, the dark triangle of hair between her legs beckoning my gaze, hiding the mysteries of the world from my eleven-year-old eyes. She invited me in, unconcerned with her nakedness, and I was more than happy to accept her invitation.

Pulling me from my memory, Tracy insists "No, really, I am." She must have seen the disbelief on my face.

"You been tested?" I ask.

She nods. "Yesterday. It was positive."

"Go see the doctor. Get another test. Show me the results. Then I'll believe you." I pause for a moment. "I thought you were on the pill?"

"You think I wanted to get knocked up by you?" She replies defiantly, one hand on her hip.

I rub my hands over my face, a gesture I learned from my father. "Let me know when you know something. Then we'll figure this whole thing out." I walk out the door and leave Tracy standing there.


Driving into Charleston, Tracy is gazing out the window, for once silent. She is indeed pregnant. I'm not entirely convinced that it is my kid, but she swore I was the only guy she was with in the whole three years we were together. I know she's lying. I caught her in bed a year and a half ago with Vinny, but I just turned and walked away. She doesn't know I know. But I'll do what she wants. Who the father is isn't that important to me.

"You sure this is the right thing to do?" she asks, looking at me. There is no resentment or anger in her voice, only fear and concern.

"We talked about this, Tracy. Neither one of us can really afford a kid. We don't even like each other anymore. The only reason you called me was to tell me that I knocked you up." I keep driving.

"I know. It's just," she sighs, "this is a life. A kid. We are killing a kid." She's looking out the window again. Glancing over at her, I notice a tear slipping down her cheek.

"Tracy, you and I both know we couldn't give this kid a good life. It's better this way. We are two fucked up people that don't have any right to bring a kid into this world. It'd turn out just as messed up as us."

"I know," she whispers quietly as she wipes at her tears. "I just never thought I'd be responsible for taking another person's life."

"There's a lot of things we never think about," I say, focusing on the road. I drive up to the clinic to drop her off, moving right past the protesters with their disgusting signs. I'm not proud of this, of the situation and the way we are treating it. I'm not proud to be robbing an innocent kid of its chance at life. They don't have to rub my face in it.

Tracy gets slowly out of the pick-up truck and moves to close the door.

"I'll be back in a little while," I call to her.

She nods as she shuts the door and walks away, climbing the steps to go bravely inside.


I hoist little Billy up onto my shoulders. He's a year old now, it's his first birthday. Tracy walked away from him when he was three months old, leaving me to raise him alone. Gus, Mikey, Tommy, Vinny, and Doc are here, my closest guys, and Diane has baked cupcakes for Billy. Diane is four months pregnant herself. She has no idea who the father is, and honestly, it could be any one of us.

Billy's laughter rings through the air. It's like music to my ears. I was pissed as hell when I found out Tracy didn't go through with the abortion, but I moved past it. And the day Billy was born, I knew it would have been a mistake to terminate his chance at life. Of course, I wasn't about to tell Tracy this. And she left three months later.

My house is now littered with toys and pictures of Billy. I couldn't have done this without my friends. They aren't the best bunch, I'll admit, but they have always been there to watch Billy when I have to work, they'll cover shifts for me if Billy is sick, and Diane spoils the boy like he was her own.

Billy may not have a mother. I may be his only family, but he's got my friends, and all of us, we're a family, as messed up as we may be. I love my son and I'm doing my best to give him a good life. I don't want him to turn out like me, like any of us. I set Billy down on the ground and watch him go crawling off, over to Gus and Diane. He pulls himself up on Diane's legs and reaches up to her. Gus leans down and scoops him up. Diane lifts his shirt and blows raspberries on his stomach, sending him into a fit of giggles.

I pick my soda up off the picnic table and drink deeply, the fizz tickling my tongue. I smile as I watch my son and our family. I could never leave this place, deprive Billy of this. I can't believe I ever thought about leaving. Turns out the Eagles said it best, "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." And who says I want to leave?

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