Hillary left the office early and arrived home around four. The living room and kitchen were empty.
“Where’s Ava?” she asked Elton, who stood at her feet silently.
He extended his front legs, parted his furry toes, and lifted his rear in a magnificent stretch.Â Hillary interpreted his response as informing her that he had been sleeping all afternoon and had no idea where Ava was.
They went upstairs to check Ava’s studio, but she was not there. “I guess she isn’t home,” Hillary said out loud, still talking to Elton, who was following her around, rubbing his side against her leg. Just as she was preparing to call Ava’s cell phone, she heard the front door close. Elton left her side immediately and headed for the stairs. “You’re supposed to be my cat,” Hillary muttered as she followed him.
“Hey, buddy.” Ava saw the cat before she saw Hillary.
“Hey, yourself,” Hillary said.
“What are you doing home so early?”
“I missed you.”
Ava smiled. “If I had known you were coming home early, I could have stopped by your office and we could have ridden home together. I was uptown, too.”
“What were you doing uptown?”
“Interviewing for a job.”
“What kind of a job?”
“When I first moved to New York, I drove one of those tourist horse and carriage deals in Central Park. I’m going to do that again.”
“Ava. We talked about this.”
“You talked about this. I nodded and said nothing because I didn’t want to argue with you.”
“There just isn’t a reason for you to work at a low-wage, miserable job you hate. You do not have to worry about money.”
“I can’t live like that, Hillary. I can’t just turn off the middle-class mentality. I am really uncomfortable with you paying for everything. It makes me feel kept.”
“But our relationship is not like that. This is because of what Collin said.”
“I don’t care what Collin thinks.”
“Good! Then forget about this silly job thing and concentrate on figuring out what you really want for your life.”
“What if my life goal is to be a carriage driver in Central Park?”
Hillary frowned. “You are an artist.”
“Just answer the question. Could you be with someone whose ambitions didn’t go further than that?”
“Yes. If that person were you, yes.”
“Liar.” Ava smirked.
Hillary shrugged. “It doesn’t matter because you’re not going to be a carriage driver for the rest of your life.”
“But I’m going to be one for awhile.”
“Are you consenting? Am I winning this argument?”
“Yes. I’m not going to tell you what you can and can’t do. I just want you to be happy.”
“I can’t say that driving a horse carriage makes me happy, but I can’t just sit here all day in this house alone with my thoughts and my art.” She picked up a plastic bag she had left by the door. “Do you want to see my uniform?”
It was a red vest and a black bow tie.
“Cute,” Hillary said.
“It reminds me of Big Red Basketball Band.”
“At IU, the pep band is called Big Red Basketball Band. When I was an undergrad, I dated a girl who played the trumpet in it. Her uniform was almost exactly like this.”
“Why weren’t you in this basketball band?”
“I was only in band in high school. Band at IU is really competitive and hardcore. I wanted to concentrate on art.”
“Are you going to model this for me?”
“I need a blouse.”
“No, you don’t.”
“And some pants.”
Hillary shook her head.
Ava raised an eyebrow and stepped out of the view of the front door. Then she slipped off her jeans and the Brown t-shirt that had once been Hillary’s.
“What do you think?” Ava asked as she stood before Hillary wearing just the red vest and the black bow tie, which was hanging loosely around her neck.
Ava treated the foyer as a runway and strutted her way over to Hillary.
“You smell like horses,” Hillary said as she put her nose in what was left of Ava’s hair.