If there’s one thing Malin is never going to understand about Avery, it’s his insistence on talking to strangers.
Avery likes to talk, and Malin has learned how to tune him out if he needs to. And if he’s working, he can always escape to his office — though it doesn’t matter, Avery finds his way into things whether he’s there or not. Malin’s thoughts, his designs. All the hidden spaces Malin has kept empty for so long.
Avery doesn’t have empty places. Everything he is overflows.
They’re in the check-out aisle at Fairway Market, and it’s nearly eleven-thirty on a Saturday so there’s quite a crowd. They’re away from the City for a weekend, in the house Malin designed for them that was recently finished. In a small town where you could drive to the grocery store, and park right in front of it.
“There would have been no one here if we’d shown up earlier,” Avery says, flipping through a tabloid. Malin is certain he’s never picked this magazine up in his entire life. He’s likely never noticed it before now, and he has no idea who the people on the cover are.
Malin doesn’t respond to that comment. He hates getting up early. Avery’s morning cheerfulness is harder to ignore than his chatter.
“Hey, do we need batteries?” Avery leans across him, grabbing a pack. He smells good, like he always does. Malin can close his eyes and remember Avery in his office, angry and pushing him against the glass, all over him. On his knees. It’s been a long time since that happened, but it’s a memory Malin revisits often. A pleasant one.
“Are they for you? All along, it’s been that simple. Simply take them out and you stop talking.” Malin takes the batteries and puts them back in the correct space on the shelf. “Non, cher. We don’t.”
Undaunted and still besotted by the check-out lane items, Avery grabs a pack of gum, some Tic Tacs, and a Kit Kat. “Do you want a candy bar?” He picks up a Mars bar, wiggling it. “These are your favorite.”
Avery doesn’t wait for him to answer, just puts the Mars bar — which Malin does like, and must have only mentioned once but somehow Avery still remembers — in the basket. Avery shifts, rocks back on his heels, picks up things and looks at them. Puts them down again.
Then he starts talking to the person in front of them, who is apologizing to Avery about an item that cannot be scanned and holding up their line. Avery tells her not to worry. The woman’s frown between her eyes smooths out and she smiles a little.
Avery puts people at ease. Even Malin’s ex-wife likes Avery, and Malin is fairly certain she still doesn’t like him. He’s not as easy to like as Avery by any stretch of the imagination.
“Do we have any coupons?” Avery asks.
“Did you bring any?” Malin tries to imagine Avery cutting coupons out of the paper. Combined they bring home a six-figure salary, and he’s seen Avery try to wrap presents. Cutting paper in a straight line was not his specialty.
Claudia used to clip coupons. Back when they were first married, with no money, living in Montreal. She couldn’t cut a straight line, either. Apparently Malin had a type, and it wasn’t straight. The thought makes him smile. He thinks, often, how much Avery reminds him of Claudia. How much she would have liked him.
How loud they would be in a room together.
“No, we’re lucky I remembered my wallet. Can we get lunch after this? We’re right by that salad place. You know. Le place avec la grande salades.” Avery’s version of French is made up of phrases cobbled together that he’s picked up from Malin and Johnny Hallyday songs.
Malin puts their groceries on the conveyor, neatly stacked and organized, and watches as Avery talks to the cashier. She’s telling him about her father, who was a world war two vet. She wants to go to the memorial in Washington.
“Why do you do that?” Malin asks, when they’re finished and heading towards the car. Avery has the keys, as if that will somehow allow him to drive. It won’t. Avery’s driving makes Malin feel homicidal on a good day.
“Why do I do what?” Avery clicks open the trunk, and he must be in a good mood, because he tosses Malin the keys without Malin having to ask. Maybe he just feels guilty driving the Jaguar since it requires top-line gasoline. “Have conversations with people I don’t know?”
“Oui.” Malin pockets the keys, pulling his sunglasses down over his eyes.
“I like people,” Avery says, shrugging. He starts putting the bags in the trunk. “They all have stories.”
“But why,” Malin asks, handing him one from the cart, “do you want to know all of them?”
Avery just grins at him and laughs in lieu of an answer. The day is warm, the sun bright. Avery’s told him before, I like you because you’re so mysterious. I don’t know what you’re thinking all the time.
On the way to the salad place, which Malin doesn’t care for but doesn’t mind because Avery likes it, Avery tells him about an idea he’s had for a building, a man at the gym last week who was crying on the treadmill and trying to pretend he was sweating, and Brandon and Justin’s continuing attempts to find a new apartment.
I like you because I always know what you’re thinking, Malin thinks as he drives, letting Avery’s words fill up the car like background music. And yet somehow you’re still a mystery.