She opened the door and Bill stepped inside, carrying a case of longnecks under his arm. “Hey, Bill—”
“Shit, am I the first one here?” Bill asked, looking around the empty room. He put the case of longnecks down on the counter that divided the living room from the kitchen. “You want me to put these in the fridge, or you got a cooler?”
“No, can you actually—”
“Hold that thought — you mind if I use your bathroom? I gotta take a piss.” Bill crossed the living room and started down the hallway. “It’s this door to the right, right?”
Maria pushed her hair back away from her face. “Yeah.”
“I must be pretty early, huh?” Bill asked from the bathroom, shouting over the sound of his own pissing.
“No, not really.”
The toilet flushed. Bill ran the faucet, but not long enough to have actually washed his hands, and walked back out into the living room. He noticed the beer still sitting on the counter. “Better put that on ice else it’ll get warm.”
“Bill, I’m not having a party.”
“Oh shit, did I get the wrong day?” Bill looked at his watch.
“No, it’s the right day, but I cancelled the party. I called everyone else, but I couldn’t get a hold of you. I talked to Carrie and she said she’d tell you if she saw you, which I assume means she never saw you.”
“Nope,” Bill said, shaking his head. “I’m real bad at keeping up with people.”
“Anyway. I’m sorry you drove over here for nothing, but I think you should just take your beer and go, okay?” Maria picked up the case of longnecks and held it out for Bill to take.
Bill studied Maria’s face a moment. “Are you all right? Is anything wrong? Because you seem upset.”
“Don’t really want to talk about it,” Maria said. “Your beer.”
“No,” Bill said, cocking his head sideways as he continued to scrutinize her. “Something’s not right here. I don’t think I should leave you alone, not when something’s bothering you.” He gestured to the couch. “Let’s sit down and you can tell me about it.”
“Take your goddamn beer, Bill.”
“I don’t care about the beer. I care about you.”
“Well I’m sick of holding the goddamn thing.” Maria set the case back on the counter.
“Let’s sit down.”
Maria folded her arms. “I’m not sitting on the couch with you.”
“Then you sit. I’ll stand.”
“I’m fine. I don’t need to talk to someone, I’m not depressed, I’m not going to kill myself or whatever you’re thinking, so you can leave with a clear conscience.”
“You’d feel better if you—”
“Bill get the fuck out!” She felt herself starting to cry, and took a step back from him. “Who are you that you need a reason to leave someone alone in their own house? It’s not enough to be asked over and over and over again? My father died last week, all right? Is that enough of a reason to want to be left alone, you think?”
Bill gazed sympathetically at her and sighed. He held out his arms. “Here. Come on.”
Maria let out an aggravated groan. “Will you please just go?”
“Take a hug and you’ll feel better.” Maria sighed and opened her mouth to say something but Bill cut her off. “Hey, I don’t want anything from you. Okay? I’m not trying to pull something. I just think you’d feel better after a hug. Then if you still want me to go, I’ll go. But you can keep the beer—”
“I don’t want the beer.”
“I’ll take the beer too, then. Now come’ere.”
Maria stepped forward and allowed Bill to fold his arms around her. She turned her cheek against his chest and felt how warm he was. Without quite realizing she was doing it, she put her arms around his waist and pulled herself closer to him. She thought of her father and closed her eyes as tears ran down her cheeks.
“It’s okay,” Bill whispered, placing his hand on her head and gently stroking her hair. “It’s okay, I know how you feel.”
Maria sniffed back a trail of snot that was trickling out her nose. “You do?”
“Yes,” Bill said, “I remember just like it was yesterday, the day Jimmy Smits died on NYPD Blue.”
Maria opened her eyes and pulled away from him. She wiped her nose on her sleeve. “I’m not quite ready to be joking around yet, Bill, so maybe now you ought to—”
“I’m not joking, I was really devastated. Did you ever watch that show? Remember when they killed off his character, Bobby Simone? That was so sad . . .”
“Yeah, well I don’t really think there’s much of a comparison.”
“Oh, you must not have seen the show, then. I think it’s a real credit to the writers and the actors how real it felt, how sad I actually was over it. It was even sadder than when Edith died during the summer hiatus of Archie Bunker’s Place. I thought it wouldn’t be, because with Simone at least they gave you a chance to say good-bye, but that only wound up making it worse.”
“Bill, you can’t talk about characters in TV shows dying as if they were real people, all right? Unless you’ve lost an actual person, you can’t possibly understand what I’m going through. Now — for real this time, because I’m getting kind of really pissed — take your beer and get the fuck out of my apartment.”
Bill nodded his head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have tried to say it was the same thing. I have lost real people, too, though.”
Maria stared at him for a moment, unmoved. “Have you.”
Bill nodded sadly. “Freda,” he said.
“Who was she?”
“Don’s wife from The Don and Mike Show. She died in a car accident a few years ago.”
Maria folded her arms and looked at the carpet. “Did you know her at all personally?”
“No, but I’ve listened to that show for like ten years,” Bill said.
“Jesus Christ . . .”
“No, I know what you’re gonna say, but I took her death pretty hard. The show just wasn’t the same for awhile. Just goes to prove how serious and sad death is, you know? It can really ruin a funny radio show.”
Maria went to the counter, picked up the case of longnecks and shoved them into Bill’s arms. She went to her front door and pulled it open. “You can walk out right the fuck now and not come back, or I can call my cousin the state cop and have him show you out.”
“All right.” Bill walked past Maria out the door. “I’m sorry. I was just trying to help,” he said from the hallway.
Maria leaned against the edge of the door and gazed sympathetically at him. “Did you know your grandfather, Bill?”
He shook his head. “I never met either grandparent on my father’s side. My grandfather on my mother’s side died before I was born.”
“What about your grandmother?”
“Well, don’t you remember how sad you felt when she died? How much you missed her and wished you could see her again? How empty and unsteady you felt? Because that’s how I’ve felt every second of every day since my father passed away.”
“Well actually,” Bill said, “my grandmother’s still alive. Ninety-one and no end in sight!”
Maria closed the door. She watched through the peephole as Bill lingered a moment in the hall, then finally turned and left.
She picked up the remote as she sat back down on the couch and clicked on the TV. Flipping through the channels she found Family Ties on TV Land. She watched a minute, and realized it was the episode where Steven’s father died. She turned it off.
She settled back against the arm of the couch and closed her eyes. She didn’t feel like television tonight.