In this chapter, Astin and his ex-girlfriend bond over the way things used to be…
What Happens in Texas
Martha sat opposite Astin on the kitchen table, nursing a beer. Astin had already finished his first and was onto his second. Pablo had gone out for a late night ride on his horse, so they had the place to themselves.
Martha swirled the beer bottle a few times. ‘Do you ever wish you hadn’t left?’ she asked, her eyes on the bottle.
Astin leaned back in his chair, opposite her. ‘I didn’t used to.’
Martha’s face fell. Of course it would. Why had he said that? She’d dumped him because she’d wanted him to stay and couldn’t envisage a life for herself in the big city. He’d been a boy with big dreams, she a girl with small ones.
‘But who knows what would be different by now if I hadn’t?’ said Astin.
She glanced up at him. ‘Are you talking about your accident or something else?’
He shrugged. He didn’t know any more. It was mostly drunken ramblings. ‘Do you remember when we were at school, and everyone was always after our attention?’
Martha scoffed. ‘Yeah.’
‘Hollywood is like high school on a global scale. One wrong move and everyone turns on you.’
‘But they haven’t turned on you, have they?’ said Martha, her voice filled with concern.
‘I went from being eye candy to a zoo exhibit. Everyone wanted to know what I looked like after such a horrible accident.’ He sighed. ‘I’m not sure which is worse.’
‘They don’t see you for who you are, do they?’
‘No,’ he said, ‘but I’m not sure I know who that is any more.’
‘Oh don’t get all pensive on me,’ said Martha. ‘You’re just the same as you alway were.’
Astin nudged her foot under the table. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
She nudged him back. ‘It means you’re just as stubborn, just as smart, just as funny, and just as handsome as you ever were…’ Her voice trailed off. She looked up and met his eye. His heart thudded in his chest. Astin stood up and threw his bottle in the recycling. When he turned back around, she was still looking at him. ‘Please don’t look at me like that,’ said Astin. It was confusing. Everything was confusing.
Martha stood up and walked over, standing just a few inches away from him as she tossed her own bottle into the recycling. Her eyes met his. And then she kissed him.
Astin tossed the used condom into the bathroom bin and splashed water over his face. When he emerged, Martha was already getting dressed.
‘What’re you doing?’ he said, suddenly feeling exposed. He was still naked, and since the accident he’d lost all his muscle. Even though he’d started exercising again, it wasn’t enough to regain even half of what he’d had a year ago.
She pulled on her t-shirt and turned to face him. ‘I like you, Astin, but I’m not expecting anything. I know your heart is somewhere else.’
He sunk onto the bed and pulled the covers over himself. She was right. Was he really that transparent?
‘If you care about her that much, you should go get her back,’ said Martha, tying her shoelace.
‘It’s not that simple.’
Martha turned to face him, tucking her leg under herself. ‘Do you love her?’
He pulled the duvet tighter around himself.
‘What was the last thing she said to you?’
‘To fuck off out of her life.’ The words played in his head like a demented lullaby every night.
‘I see,’ she said. ‘So you’re respecting that?’
‘I texted her and apologised; she never replied.’
Martha ran her hands through her scraggly hair. ‘Then I hate to say it, but maybe you need to move on.’
‘I wish I could,’ he said with a sigh.
‘If you love her that much, why don’t you reach out to her again, now that the dust has settled?’
‘No, she made it clear how she feels,’ said Astin.
‘We all say things we regret in an argument. If she was upset when she spoke to you, she still has some feelings for you. If she says it like she has a million better things to do than be in the same room with you, then you should be worried.’ Martha stood up.
‘Take care, Astin.’
He didn’t see her out. He was too exposed, physically and emotionally. Martha knew him too well, even after five years apart. She hadn’t changed much. Nothing in that town had.
But him? He’d never be the person that grew up in that town ever again.