Bad Day at Black Rock
“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” — Allen Saunders
Awakened by a troubling dream, Roy got out of bed and went into the kitchen to make breakfast. It was only four-thirty—early even for Roy. As his eggs cooked, his mind wandered. In the three weeks since Roy had unofficially received his walking papers from Alan at Charley’s Crab and three weeks less a day since he’d foolishly called Tommy, he’d made painfully little headway with Carolyn.
While she hadn’t said she wouldn’t go to New York, she hadn’t said she would and Roy thought it best not to push her. He was convinced she would eventually realize staying was impossible and that their time on the Outer Banks was over. Then again, maybe he needed to push since time was running short. Both Tommy and Ken wanted him gone by the end of the month and Roy needed her on board. He wasn’t leaving Buxton alone.
As Roy fumbled around in the kitchen, lost in thought, he grew increasingly impatient. Carolyn had had sufficient time to at least wrestle her demons to a draw. New York would be good for her and Roy. Where was her faith? But even without knowing the details of her early years, Roy understood she was scared—and fragile.
Remaining in Buxton, however, had lost its appeal for Roy. Although his three-year stint working for Ken had come to an unexpectedly abrupt end, it was time to move on. Roy’s severance package was still tied to Carolyn staying in Buxton, but both he and Ken knew that wouldn’t hold. Roy could be too much trouble if Ken didn’t honor the deal regardless of what Carolyn did. Without The Bungalows, though, Roy would have to find work elsewhere. He’d worked too hard to squander his hard-earned savings. Making a living as a writer was unrealistic, but Roy was sure he could find something in New York. He always had.
Breakfast over, Roy grabbed a beer despite the early hour and moved to the living room. His future consumed his thoughts, followed quickly by his past. He took stock of his forty-year-long professional life. His resume resembled an odd assortment of loosely scripted vignettes. Although every position he’d ever held had started with great promise, they’d always deteriorated over time. Roy’s solution had been to quit and find less problematic employment. He began to wonder if Ken had been right. Maybe he was just a drifter. God knows no one would have ever mistaken his so-called career for a success, even if it had been entertaining at times.
Initially, Roy’s Buxton opportunity had been a godsend. It had solved his personal financial crisis, afforded him time to write, and helped him forget the Alison debacle. He didn’t even mind being Ken’s patsy, if that’s what it took to buy a fresh start. But now he realized he was tired of managing The Bungalows. Tired of Buxton, tired of Claire and Danny, and especially tired of Ken. The only thing he wasn’t tired of was writing. And, of course, Carolyn.
On edge waiting for her to get up, Roy grabbed a second beer and headed to the beach. Walking along the shore—tired and alone—a nagging thought caught up with him. What if Carolyn didn’t come around? What if she refused to accompany him to New York? Not possible he decided, and quickly dismissed the notion.
When Carolyn finally did come looking for Roy, she was quick to notice the beer he held, and quick to register her displeasure. Nonetheless, they kissed briefly and she took his hand as they walked up the beach.
“Did you get up early again today?”
“What do you think?”
“I think you’re already into your second beer and it’s barely eight o’clock. You left your first on the counter in the kitchen.”
“Sloppy. Sorry. I didn’t sleep well. I thought a beer would take the edge off.”
“Since when do you need an excuse?”
They looked at each other knowingly and smiled, then continued walking for a long time without speaking. Finally, Roy’s patience gave out.
“I think maybe it’s time to get this business decided. What do you say?”
“And that business would be…?” Carolyn asked, knowing full well what Roy meant.
“You telling me you’re coming to New York with me.”
“You can’t what? Tell me? Or come with me?”
“Carolyn, I’m not in the mood to rehash all the unlikely scenarios that could somehow change our situation and allow us to stay put. Are you?” Roy asked, shaking his head. “Because there aren’t any.”
Carolyn stopped walking and dropped Roy’s hand. Turning to face him, she grabbed him by the shoulders.
“You don’t know that for sure,” she insisted.
“I do, Carolyn,” Roy said, frustration evident in his voice.
“But you haven’t given me enough time to work on Ken. I’m sure he can figure out something to do about Tommy.”
“What planet are you living on? Ken doesn’t want to do anything about Tommy. My leaving suits him fine. The question is whether you’re ready to move on.”
“Don’t put it on me, Roy,” Carolyn said, angrily. “Besides, you’ve done great for Ken down here. He’d be a fool to let you leave.”
“It doesn’t matter. He needs to placate Tommy. End of story.”
“Don’t give up so easily. Can’t you talk to Tommy again and convince him that revenge just isn’t worth his time?”
“I can’t, Carolyn. Stop it. If you’re afraid to try your luck on New York—and on me—just say so.”
When Carolyn looked away and didn’t respond Roy backed off. But he knew nothing was going to change the course of the conversation. Carolyn slowly returned her gaze to the man she’d virtually lived with for the past three years.
“Sorry, Roy. I’m not a gambler. You know that.”
Roy walked away from Carolyn, finished the few drops of his beer that remained, then turned and walked back in her direction.
“It’s not a gamble, Carolyn,” Roy said, not sure he meant it. Still holding the beer can, he folded his arms across his chest and rocked back on his heels. “I’ll make it simple. Are you coming with me or not? You said in the beginning you wanted to. Now you say you’re afraid. Afraid of what?”
“Oh, that’s great. That certainly bodes well. So I frighten you. I had no idea.”
“Cut it out, Roy. It’s not like that and you know it.”
“What I know is that it sounds like you’ve heard Ken’s ‘drifter’ speech once too often. Maybe you actually agree with him.”
“I don’t,” Carolyn said, but it didn’t sound like she meant it.
She looked away from Roy and walked towards the ocean. With her back turned, she sighed loudly and balled her fists. Appearing to gather her thoughts, she calmly returned to where Roy was standing. He hadn’t moved.
“You know, you can be a real asshole sometimes. Why weren’t you honest with me about Gretchen? Your ability to close yourself off is disturbing. Scary, actually.”
“Hey, there’s a lot about you I don’t know,” Roy said in his own defense.
“That’s because you never ask. Not because I choose to hide it. What else should I know about you that I don’t?”
It was Roy’s turn not to respond. He’d never told Carolyn about Alison.
“Jesus, Roy. Life would be so much easier for you if you learned to open up.”
“I told you, I was embarrassed. I didn’t want you to think I was a jerk.”
“I do anyway.” Carolyn said, half smiling.
“You need to decide, sweetie,” Roy said, using a term of endearment he usually reserved for the bedroom. “I have nothing new to add to the conversation. Are you coming with me or not? How many times do I have to ask?” Roy paused for a moment, before adding, “Maybe you’d like a written invitation?”
“Sure. That’d be nice. You need the address?”
“Don’t play games, Carolyn.”
“Sorry, but I don’t have anything new to add either.”
“Every time I press you, you manage to avoid a direct answer. I understand—I really do. Leaving Buxton is way outside your comfort zone. But what do I need to do to convince you it might actually be good for you? Good for both of us. I don’t want to go without you.”
“Carolyn, we can’t keep going around in circles. You know I can’t stay here.”
“And you know I have to, so please stop asking. This is hard enough. Do you really want me with you? Have you thought about what that means? Do you want that responsibility?”
“Sorry if this hurts, but I don’t trust you. And don’t tell me that surprises you because I won’t believe you. I’m just not willing to bet you’ll be around tomorrow. That’s not so tragic if it happens in Buxton. In New York, it would be a different story.”
“Carolyn. I’m not going anywhere. I love you.”
“Do you? I know you think you do. I know you’d like to. But I’m not altogether convinced you have it in you.”
“Pretty harsh, Carolyn. And you’re right. It does hurt. The more relevant question might be whether you love me enough to give our relationship a chance.”
Carolyn stopped walking and turned away from Roy. She paused for a moment, then swung back around, agitated.
“You know something, Roy, maybe I don’t. Maybe that’s what this is all about. It’s comfortable and easy down here. It’s not hard to be lovers; it’s not hard to be intimate. In New York it might not be so easy.”
Roy looked incredulous.
“I’d have to be a fool to go with you,” she continued. “Here we are questioning each other’s love. What’s that all about? Maybe we don’t love each other enough. But that doesn’t matter. Even without being sure I love you, I would go with you if I could. But I can’t. It’s a risk I just can’t take.”
The intensity of Carolyn’s pushback surprised Roy. Yesterday, he’d thought it was just a matter of time before she relented.
“I can’t believe you don’t want to come with me.”
“I didn’t say that. I do Roy, very much. But it’s not going to happen, not in this lifetime. Sorry.”
“You would do fine in New York if you gave yourself the chance.”
“Maybe, but the thought of uprooting my life is more than I can handle. I’ve found stability here—something I’ve known very little of in my life. Are you asking me to jeopardize that?”
Roy didn’t respond. There was nothing he could say. It wasn’t really a question. Besides, Carolyn hadn’t just made up her mind. She’d simply lacked the courage before now to tell him. Instead, she’d continued to hope he would stay, despite knowing that wasn’t an option. As Carolyn saw it, leaving Buxton presented Roy with yet another adventure. One in which he would, most likely, land on his feet. But it was a move she just couldn’t make. Fighting backing tears, Carolyn turned and headed to her bungalow.
Roy made no effort to stop her. Much of what she had said was true. He could never provide the security Carolyn required. It’s not who he was. And he wasn’t about to lie—at least not to Carolyn.
As Roy watched her cross the dunes to her bungalow, he turned and continued walking. A combination of sadness, regret, and disappointment took hold of him. But he also began to acknowledge a growing sense of relief. Taking Carolyn to New York represented a commitment. A commitment Roy would have tried his damndest to honor but wasn’t at all sure he would have been able to. His track record was no mystery to anyone—least of all himself.
Maybe, Roy thought, it might be better this way. But the truth was he had no idea. Dealing with life’s vicissitudes had never been his specialty. Instead, he had found it easier to avoid confrontation and remain unattached—personally and professionally. Doing so hadn’t always made Roy happy, but there was a pull to living life that way that was hard to deny.
His tenure at The Bungalows all but over, Roy thought briefly about trying to reverse course. But the time for that was long gone. Momentum was already pushing him forward. His future lay elsewhere. Roy David Bloom had been at this juncture before—too many times. He was sad to be here again. At thirty it hadn’t bothered him so much. Sixty-three was a different matter.
NOTE: I want to thank Victoria Brown without whose editorial skills and continual encouragement Roy Bloom would not have fared as well as he did. I am also grateful for the feedback I have received from readers. Roy Bloom’s story without an audience wouldn’t have been half the fun.