Raymond was not sober enough to talk about anything, let alone going long-distance while I was traveling. He opened the door and gave me a big smile, which is how I knew he was past buzzed already.
“Hi, babe,” he said, “I’m glad you decided to come over.”
“Hi, Raymond. Is Ashe home tonight?”
“Ey-yup.” He said, “she’s upstairs.”
“Cool, could you go get her?”
He stared at me, brain trying to slosh the alcohol out of the way of logic.
“I want to talk to you both.” I said. I figured Ashe should be there so he would at least have someone to tell him what had happened tomorrow. I could just imagine her rubbing his nose in his colossal mistakes the next morning. Hopefully it would be a wake-up call for him.
He just stared at me, but already I could hear Ashe behind him. “Hi, Sandra,” she called, “want some ice cream?”
“No, thank you.” I called back, “Can you come here, Ashe? I want to say something.”
She walked over, bringing the gallon of ice cream and a spoon with her. She leaned in the doorway behind Raymond as he came out on the porch. She was watching me in the same way a normal person watches a trashy daytime TV show. She had clearly been waiting for this.
“Raymond,” I said, “I’ve been thinking about a lot of things over the last couple weeks, and I’ve made a decision.”
“Oh my god,” Ashe said softly to herself.
“I think that it’s time we go our separate ways. I just… I need to reevaluate the path I’m taking, and I think you do too.”
Raymond stared dumbly at me. Ashe took a bite of mint chip ice cream straight from the carton.
“What?” He said at last, “what are you saying?”
I was hot, suddenly flushed. “I’m breaking up with you,” I said, like a goddamn middle schooler.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said. He seemed to be fighting his way back to sobriety by sheer force of will. “Sandra, babe, don’t do this. We can talk about this, right?”
“No,” I said, “no we really can’t. Because you aren’t fit to walk right now, let alone talk about this.” I made a sweeping gesture to the entire world around us. “And that’s the problem. One of them.”
“It’s never been a problem before.”
“Yes! It has!” I exclaimed, “you just refuse to see it. All you want to do is drink, Raymond. And watch shitty out-of-date action movies. You don’t even go to bars so you can pretend to be social. It’s boring. I’m bored of it, and I’m shocked that you aren’t too. You don’t go anywhere or do anything!”
“And you do?” Raymond asked, “all you do is study! If it’s not your dissertation, then it’s your work for the alien. When was the last time you did anything interesting?”
I laughed, “Yesterday, while you were getting shit-faced, I went to a lecture by a scholar and learned about their research into language development in Mesopotamia. I asked you if you wanted to come, and you said no.”
“I do remember her asking that,” Ashe said from behind Raymond.
“You shut up,” He threw back at her. Ashe just rolled her eyes.
“And I have aspirations, at least. I have a future. At this rate, you’re not ever going to move out of your parents house. Do you really want to live with your sister your whole life? Do you think she wants to live with you? No offense, Ashe.”
“None taken,” She took another bite of ice cream, then put the lid back on the tub. “I’m moving out at the end of the month.”
“See!” I exclaimed, “Everyone is trying to get somewhere except you. And I am sick of trying to drag you along with me. I don’t think I’m going somewhere you’re interested in going.”
“And where is that?” Raymond asked.
I shrugged, “Academia, professorhood. Hopefully, in the short term, Australia.”
He blinked then said, “Wait… this is about your boss?”
I hesitated, and that was all the confirmation he needed.
“Jesus, Sandra, are you seriously leaving me for an alien?”
“No, Raymond. I am leaving you because you’re a drunk asshole who doesn’t respect me or my profession. It’s just taken literal first contact with an extraterrestrial for me to realize it.”
“Are you actually going to Australia?” Ashe asked me, “Because that sounds really fun, visiting Acharya or not.”
“Shut up, Ashe,” Raymond said again.
I ignored him, “I think so. I seriously need a vacation. I’ve got some documents for Acharya, but I really want to see the great barrier reef, so I’m going to go there for a while—”
“No, no, no, no, no!” Raymond said, “We are not skating past this. You’re leaving me and immediately running off to another country? What the fuck, Sandra?”
“Well it’s either this or we try the long-distance thing,” I said, “and frankly, I don’t want to.”
“I’m willing to try it,” Raymond said. “We can figure it out. It won’t be for long, will it?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “I really don’t. I don’t think it matters. I’m done, and that’s the end of it.” I started to turn away from them both, feeling sick and nauseated. I was suddenly very tired.
“Wait!” I heard Raymond run forward towards me. “Sandra, I love you. Please, don’t leave.” A hand wrapped around my wrist and jerked me back. “Don’t leave,” He repeated.
I ripped my hand away, or tried to. Raymond was, if nothing else, strong. He pulled me around and went down on one knee. I couldn’t help myself: all the stress and the emotional turmoil of the last month bubbled up, and I began to laugh.
“I’ll do any—” Raymond started to say, but he didn’t get farther. I was laughing too loud to hear him.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “this is just… this is just something else. What are you doing?”
He looked at me, confused. “I…”
I crouched in front of him, took his head in my hands. I felt, not for the first time that day, that warm pity for him that had been the foundation of our relationship for so long. “I care about you, but I want to go somewhere else in my life where I don’t think you want to follow. And it has nothing to do with anyone else besides the two of us. And maybe Ashe, a little bit, because she’s the only other person who might drive you to work on Monday morning.”
“Nope!” Ashe said. “Not a chance. Are you sure you don’t want some ice cream before you go, Sandra?”
I stood up from the crouch, leaving Raymond there on the lawn. “Yes, I’m sure. I still have a long night ahead of me.”
“Suit yourself,” She said cheerily. “Raymond, come back inside off the lawn. Let Sandra go. When you’re sober, you can actually think about what she’s doing.”
He didn’t move, though. He just sat there in the wet grass, shocked dumb. I thought about bundling him back into the house and putting him on the couch, but in the end I just nodded to Ashe.
I climbed back into my car and pulled away from the house, leaving the two of them spotlighted in front of the house for a moment.
I drove around two corners before pulling over. I turned off the car and put my head down on my steering wheel, and had a good long cry about it. A proper one, with ugly sobs and plenty of mucus. I thought about going back, apologizing, taking my words back. It was about even odds that Raymond would even remember what I said, after all, and Ashe was the kind to roll with the punches, so she would bounce back fast.
I reached for my phone, for a distraction from my current mindset, and saw I was already being flooded with messages from Raymond. I muted his number and tapped away, and saw Acharya’s message there waiting for me, still unanswered. “If you were here, what would you want to see?”
“The great barrier reef,” I sent back, and then, “If I visit, will you go there with me?” It took a few minutes, but at that point, I wasn’t going anywhere.
“Yes,” Acharya sent back. Just one word, but enough to unravel all the tension in my gut. I closed my eyes and focused on breathing. I think it was the unconditional way they said it. Acharya isn’t one to give a definite answer on just anything. When I opened my eyes again, I found there was a caveat. “I’m going to Sydney tomorrow, so in the wrong direction for the reef. When are you planning on making the trip?”
“Soon,” I typed back, hoping that the one word conveyed the same unquestioning agreement as theirs had. “Can I meet you in Sydney? How long will you be there?”
“My rental is booked for a month,” Acharya typed.
“Perfect. I’ll see you soon.” I wondered how fast I could get there. I wanted to buy a plane ticket for the next day, but I needed to do some serious rescheduling.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Acharya texted, and then, a moment later. “I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too,” I texted. And I had, I realized. I had missed them and worried about them. I wanted to travel the world with Acharya, and now that it was within reach, I could admit it to myself. “Okay, I’m going to bed,” I texted Acharya, “it’s late here.”
“Almost 2 AM, I know. Goodnight.” They sent back.
“Goodnight,” I said, and put the phone down to take a breath. My fingers were buzzing, and I was shaking. I felt awful and wonderful. I felt alive.
As I pulled out and started my way home, I dialed Julia through my car’s system. She answered with, “So, how’d it go?”
“I’m going to Australia,” I said, “as soon as I can.”