Tommy stood beside the floor-to-ceiling office windows, gazing out at the street eight stories below. A man dressed in a brown leather jacket appeared in miniature, unlocked the door to his black convertible and climbed in. The car’s turn signal blinked twice and the vehicle pulled away from the curb. Tommy closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the clear window glass.
The faint click of a woman’s high heels sounded on the floor outside. Tommy opened his eyes and raised his head to see Lucy turn the knob and peek around the door. Her brow furrowed above her square eyeglass frames.
“I’m so sorry,” Lucy said. Her long stride brought her across the office to Tommy. “Steve told me he was running late, but I didn’t have time to call you and give you a head’s up. I told the receptionist to warn you, but she took an early lunch break without passing on the message to anyone.”
Tommy’s blue eyes stared at Lucy. Not for the first time he wondered if the real estate agent was a natural blonde. She seemed a little old not to have any grey hair.
“Tommy?” Lucy asked, “Are you okay?”
Tommy shook himself. I need to stop worrying Lucy, he thought. She has more important things to do.
“I’m okay,” Tommy said. “No big deal.” His voice cracked, exposing his lie. He cleared his throat and continued. “In any event, we had to see each other again sooner or later.”
“Well,” Lucy said with forced heartiness, “on the bright side, at least all of the paperwork is done now. I’ve got both of your signatures everywhere I need them.”
Tommy couldn’t bring himself to look Lucy in the eye, but he could hear in her voice that her concerned expression hadn’t gone away.
“The only thing left to do is tidy up for the open house,” she said. Your home is such a great space. I just know it will sell. The fruit trees out back are incredible. They’re definitely going to bring in some foot traffic. You did get rid of the boxes in the basement, right?”
“Not yet,” Tommy replied. “I’ll make sure to do that.”
“Remember,” Lucy said, “I’ll be arriving around one o’clock to open up. You need to go visit with friends or go to a café. Something fun. I’ll give you a call on your cell when I’ve locked up.”
“Right,” Tommy responded. “I remember.”
Lucy had explained to him when they had met the week before that buyers liked to see the property without the owners or their belongings hanging around. Somehow this helped them to visualize themselves in the space. She hadn’t said the words, but the implicit message was clear—lingering evidence of failed relationships did not sell homes. Nothing like getting kicked out of your own house.
“Well, I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” Lucy said. She pretended to be busy sorting the files on her desk. Her green eyes darted up to the clock. “Look at the time.”
Tommy picked up his jacket and shuffled over to the door. His hand rested on the brass doorknob. He turned back to Lucy. His mouth opened to say something, then shut again when the lump in his throat blocked any words from forming. He lifted his hand to wave instead. Turning once more to leave, he spotted something on the window. His forehead had left an oily smudge on the otherwise immaculate glass.
* * *
Tommy thought back to the encounter in Lucy’s office. He had walked in head held high, ready to sign the forms that would allow Lucy to put the house on the market officially. Seeing Steve’s brown head, with the familiar thinning spot on the crown, stopped him mid-stride. Steve—being Steve—had turned around in his chair and greeted Tommy with a grin. As if we were just old friends, Tommy thought, as if Steve hadn’t just left me high and dry after three years together. Just like the prick to show up without telling me.
Tommy’s eyes glanced unseeing at the numerous house listings that papered the walls of the real estate office. He wondered if Steve and his new lover had started looking at houses together. The thought that Steve might be buying a home with someone else made Tommy nauseated. He tortured himself imagining scenes in which Steve walked arm in arm with a faceless bear of a man into open houses. They picked up flyers, took measurements, discussed square footage and decorating plans. Tommy pressed his hands to his ears to shut out their voices. He could still hear them droning on in his head. They debated the curtains and bed sheets and discussed whether or not they could knock down the north wall in the kitchen.
“Shut up!” Tommy hissed at himself. The receptionist at the immense walnut desk in the lobby glanced up at him in surprise. She must think I’m crazy. Tommy hurried out towards the elevator, hands stuffed into his pockets, jingling his keys. Time to get out of here and move on with my life.
* * *
Tommy turned his key in the lock and stepped through the front door. His feet echoed on the expanse of bamboo flooring. Amazing how much bigger the space looked without the furniture, the books, the accumulation of two lives.
Tommy walked out into the garden. His shoulders warmed in the sun. His eyes squinted against the bright light. There, tucked in a corner underneath the wisteria trellis, grew the lemon tree he and Steve had planted. He remembered how the two of them had laughed and joked about how they would always make lemonade together. They had made love afterwards, kissing on the grass, touching each other with dirt on their hands and underneath their fingernails.
Would the new owners share a kiss each time they picked one of the plump yellow fruits? Would they sit together on the patio in the evening sun sipping lemon drop martinis like Steve and Tommy had every summer? It made no difference. Either way Tommy would no longer squeeze home-grown lemons. He would buy them at the grocery store just like before he and Steve had co-signed the mortgage. Only now he wouldn’t have someone to make lemonade with. Typical. The person who screws everything up gets the happy ending and his partner gets left behind to pick up the pieces. I feel like an old man, Tommy thought.
The phone rang inside the house. Tommy walked back across the grass and opened the sliding glass doors into the kitchen. His hand grabbed the phone on the third ring.
“Hello?” Tommy said. “Who is it?”
“Hi Tommy, Steve here. Funny running into you today at Lucy’s, huh?” Steve paused. The silence stretched awkwardly until Steve cleared his throat and continued. “Anyways, I remembered when I saw you that I left some tools in the shed out in the backyard. I can swing by later to pick them up. Would you mind getting them out and putting them by the front door for me?”
“Sure,” Tommy said. “No problem.”
“Thanks,” Steve said. “Oh, by the way, Jason and I were thinking we’d stop by the open house tomorrow. You know, check out what Lucy and you have done with the place. Maybe we’ll see you around.”
“Yeah,” Tommy said. “Maybe. I’ll put the tools by the door.”
His hand shook as he replaced the phone on the receiver. Tommy looked at his fingers clutching the mouthpiece. His knuckles had turned white from the force of his grip.
“Jason and I…coming over to see the place…” Tommy repeated to himself. His breath hissed out through clenched teeth. He walked back out into the yard. “I’m so mad,” Tommy yelled up at the sky. “I’m so fucking mad.”
Tommy stared at the lemon tree. He saw Steve’s face peering out through the green leaves and yellow fruit, laughing at him, taunting him. You’re so pathetic, Steve sneered. That’s why I left you. You’re a loser. No one wants you anymore.
Tommy’s breath quickened. His nostrils flared. He spun around, walked away. Tommy found himself opening the door to the garden shed, looking down at the tools. How did he get there? He grabbed the red-handled axe and strode back to the lemon tree.
“Bastard,” he shouted. “Lying, cheating bastard.”
Tommy swung the axe down with each choked out word. The blade bit into the soft wood. Branches cracked and split. Splinters flew around Tommy’s ears. Yellow orbs rolled on the grass at his feet. Tommy sobbed and gasped. His arms gave out and Tommy dropped the heavy tool.
He squatted on the lawn, cradling his head in his hands. What had come over him? Now he would have to call Lucy and tell her to change the flyers for the open house. What a waste.