Turns out that Jake is staying in his Dad’s house for the time being to help with the part preparations. That means for me that I have to cook for three instead of two persons – not a big deal – and that he is around all day. Wordlessly he helps me polishing after a while, keeps carrying trays and boxes with glass and crystal bowls into the kitchen and back.
My arm and wrist hurt by the time I’m finished. The last task of the day, hanging up the laundry, takes up the last shreds of my strength and all I want is taking a long, hot bath.
The thought of going out later is less than tempting, but Miho will mercilessly hunt me down if I cancel now. So it’s coffee, a quick shower and a short prayer that dressing up will get me into the right mood after all. A sundress, a light cardigan, strappy heels, not too high. A glance in the mirror and for once I actually feel good about myself. I apply some mascara and add a hint of blush on my cheeks, brush my hair and stagger out of the bathroom just in time for Mom to ask me why I’m dressing up like that.
“I’m going out with a friend,” I explain, grab my purse and make sure I have everything I need.
“And does that friend happen to be Jacob?” The small smile on her face, the slightly raised eyebrow screams ‘I knew this would happen eventually’, but then again I never told her about all the stuff he did to me.
“No, Mom, it’s definitely not Jake. I want to have fun after all.”
Her expression changes, her smile turns into a frown. “Oh, honey, you’re not still hung up on Benjamin, are you? I mean, I know you liked him a lot when you were younger, but he’s engaged now.”
“Mom, it’s not Ben either. I’m going with a girl friend. Miho Fujiwara. I think you have some insurances from her Dad.”
“Oh yes, I remember her. Her mother told me when she came back here after college. I mean, she’s a good example that you could have it both. Studying somewhere else and then coming back here and work and live here.”
And here it is, motherly guilt-tripping over my decision to leave this town and try to find my happiness somewhere else.
“Yep, I bet her Mom is really happy.” No matter how Miho feels about it. “Okay, I’m off now. Don’t wait for me.”
“Jazzy-bee, take care, okay?”
Take care. I love you. I don’t want you to go. I don’t want to be alone.
Maybe it’s my imagination, but that’s what I’m hearing. For once it’s not my ears playing tricks, but my guilty conscience.
I hug my Mom, kiss her cheek and run off before she can say anything that would change my mind.
Miho picks me up as promised and we walk through the early summer night.
“It’s not that far and since I figured we both would drink the car’s not an option,” she explains and I agree. My heels aren’t that high that I would mind either and after sitting on that chair most of the day I’m happy to stretch my legs a bit. The click-clack of our steps makes a nice rhythm and we reach the club before I can even start complaining about walking. I fill her in on everything that happened that day, including my little stunt with Jake and his bed.
“Well, I bet he had something else in mind when he thought about getting you into his bed,” she dryly states, making me snort in laughter.
“Yeah, as if. He’s gotta have a very specific kink because all he ever does is spilling drinks on me and making me cry.” I can’t even imagine him thinking of me like that. He has seen me during my retainer days, during puberty when my body was completely misproportioned. He has basically watched me growing up and unfortunately that wasn’t a pleasant sight. That’s why I also know that Ben will never fall for me. They might not see me as their sister, but still as a kid. Not that I’ve grown much ever since I was 12, height-wise at least.
“Well, he always stroke me as a kinky bastard.” Miho shrugs and drags me across the street, waves me off when I reach for my purse to pay for my entrance.
“My turn. You buy the first round of drinks, okay?”
“Sure. But don’t you dare ordering something like a 40 years old whiskey!”
She laughs, greets the bouncer and pays for us.
“It’s like an after work club, but not really. I mean, it doesn’t open at 6 and closes at midnight, but most people don’t stay really long either. Most have work tomorrow, but at least they do work. Not go to school anymore.”
I had my fair share of college parties and although I just finished it, I’m not keen on running into a crowd of High Schoolers either.
“Works for me.”
I have to shout already, the music is overwhelming, bass booming and pounding in my ears. It startles my heartbeat out of its own rhythm. One of the few perks wearing hearing aids brings is that I can just turn them off, the instant relief of a slightly muffled volume makes me sigh. Feeling the music more than hearing it was strange in the beginning, but after all my clubbing nights in college I’m used to it by now, the tingle it leaves pleasant to me.
Miho motions towards the bar and I follow her, shout my order at the barkeeper and wait for her to add hers, too. The barkeeper nods, a few practised strokes of work and he sets two glasses down on the counter, takes my money and turns to the next customer.
The drink is strong, but good. Exactly what I need right now. I always liked sweet drinks, slightly fruity and fresh. Orange juice is my favorite. Add some vodka and I’m good to go. We find a bar table in the back, with view on the dancefloor and the bar.
“You wanna dance?” I have to focus on Miho’s lips to understand her, shake my head at her question.
“Not yet. Lemme finish this before. And maybe get another.”
She nods, taps her foot lightly to the music. It’s actually nice to be out again after the last week only going back and forth between Mom’s place, the café and the mayor’s home. The alcohol helps me unwind a bit together with the almost hypnotic beat of the music.
Two more glasses later and I’m happily tipsy, actually consider dancing now that the floor isn’t empty anymore. Miho keeps yelling and the dim light and loud music makes it almost impossible for me to understand her. We come up with an impromptu sign language that only works half of the time because I throw in some actual sign language every now and then when I forget who I’m talking to.
“I’m going to get us another round!” she shouts, points at the empty glasses and doesn’t even wait for my nod or my order before she pats my bum and walks off. She gets handsy when she’s drunk, alright.
I watch the dancers for a while, wonder how some of that still passes as innocent dance and not already as dry humping in public.
A tall glass appears in front of me, but not Miho. She’s standing behind me, loops one arm around me, the glass in her hand. I take it from her, sip carefully – delicious. Fruity and with a hint of rum. Perfect.
She rests her chin on my shoulder, together we keep watching the other guests.
Something’s off. She smells nice, but wrong. Clean, like soap. Or shaving cream…
Her free hand settles on my hip and now I’m sure. This is not Miho. There shouldn’t be anything digging in my lower back if this was her. She’s wearing a dress, no jeans. So no belt. And no belt buckle.
My brain lags a second behind but my body moves the moment whoever is behind me pulls me closer. I stagger, turn and already shout profanities when I recognize the smug grin.
Jake raises his hands appeasingly, his laughter loud enough to make it through the noise and my buzz.
“Stupid asshole, you think this is funny?” I’m seething, this feels worse than back when he –
“Hey, calm down. Your own fault for not checking earlier. I mean, do you let everyone get that close to you?”
For once the drink between us doesn’t end on my clothes, but on his. And his face.
“Fuck you!” I scream, turn around and stomp off. Before security gets me. I scan the bar for Miho, find her in conversation with another familiar face.
“Hi Jared, bye Jared,” I rush out, grab Miho’s arm and drag her with me. “Gotta go now.”
“What’s wrong?” she wants to know but we are already half out of the door.
“I might or might not have dumped my drink on Jacob Rosenfeldt.” Ushering her out I check if he’s following me, with another drink just to get even.
“I’d say he deserves it, but why now and here?”
Outside I turn my hearing aids on again, look left and right to find out where exactly I am. My brain takes a short break but soon enough provides me with the necessary information to find the quickest way out of here.
“Ehh, long story,” I stall and lead Miho through a small alleyway to the next bigger street.
“Yeah? Well, I guess we won’t go back there so we have time enough for you to start talking.”
I must have interrupted at a crucial moment for her to get that agitated.
“He kinda snuggled up to me, I thought it was you and when I noticed I freaked out and threw my drink at him.”
“What drink? Your glass was empty.” At least she’s not laughing.
“He brought me a drink. And it’s a shame, it was a good one.”
Now she bursts out laughing and the adrenaline and alcohol in my blood drags me with her into a laughing fit, until my eyes water and I need to pee.
“You wanna grab another drink at my place?” she asks, still wheezing.
Tomorrow will be hell, facing Jake with a hangover doesn’t sound appealing at all. But having another drink does.
“Please tell me you have some pastry at home.”
She grins, waggles her eyebrows. “I know what you need, baby. Rum and cake. I got both, come on.”
Miho lives in a nice little apartment only a few minutes away from the café. Bedroom, living room, the tiniest kitchen I ever saw but a balcony with a view to die for. Lots of books and trinkets make me feel welcome and at home the moment I set a foot into the place.
“Have a seat, I’m just getting all we need.”
I sink into her couch, flex my toes that are cramping a bit after being crammed in those shoes all night.
What have I done? After all those years holding back so that Mom doesn’t get into trouble with her employer I have just assaulted his son.
“Oh god…” I wail, not too loud to not alarm Miho’s neighbors, and hide my face in my hands.
“You look as if you need a strong drink.” A glass with juice and – as I find out after the first sip – gin appears in front of me like a beacon in the night.
“When Jake goes and tells his father what I did-” I mutter, shiver at the implications.
“Not ‘when’, ‘if’,” Miho points out. “If Jake goes… and I don’t think he will.”
She plops down on the couch next to me, pulls her leg up and under her, leans against me.
“I’m not so sure about that. I mean, he’s the biggest snitch I know.” How often did he run off to my Mom or his Dad when something happened when we were younger? How often did he blame me for one of his stupid stunts? Too often, that’s for sure.
“I don’t wanna apologize to him,” I whine and drown my sorrow in more gin.
“Then don’t. Wait what happens and if he gives you trouble because of that, tell his father that you acted on instinct and that it was your free time. You couldn’t possibly know it was him but he definitely knew it was you. So whatever excuse he has, if you don’t have an established physical relationship – and I assume you don’t – it’s his own fault for basically assaulting you.” She sips her drink, motions towards the coffee table and the two plates of cake there.
Two bites of delicious cake later I calm down enough for other thoughts to enter my mind.
“Hey, was that really Jared earlier?”
Miho stabs at her cake, crumbs fly off the plate. “Yep.” The ‘p’ is very prominent. Explosive almost.
Another stab. “Yep.”
“Didn’t you agree on a date for Sunday?” I scoot over a bit, the cake crumbs litter the couch and my lap.
“Not sure if he still wants that. He was there with some other woman after all.”
“Oh.” I thoroughly chew my bite of exquisite cake.
I fumble for a different topic, try to save the mood somehow.
“The cake is great.” Another huge bite vanishes in my mouth, I give her an enthusiastic thumbs up, eyes wide.
At least she’s laughing again, even if it is at my expenses.
The risk of choking on her cake is real so we eat up, wash it down with more booze.
“He’s not that great anyway,” Miho grumbles after a while.
“Hey, just shut me up if I’m overstepping here, but weren’t you dating this guy in High School?” I remember her running around with this basketball dude, one of Jake’s friends.
“Mhm, Pat. Yeah, that one… I kinda messed that up.” She stares into her glass, avoids my eyes. Okay, so that break-up was definitely not amicable and mutual, a concept that seems foreign to me anyway. At least after I saw what my parents did in the last years, on and off again with lots of drama every single time.
“For whatever it’s worth, I kinda crashed and burned my last relationship, too.” A huge swig and my glass is empty again, leaves me with nothing to cling to. “Spectacularly.”
Admitting it doesn’t take away the pain and heartache, but eases the weight nonetheless. I haven’t really talked to Sam since our huge fight, kept the feelings and worries buried under a never-ending stream of work and duties. Sure, every now and then the pain bubbles up like carbon dioxide in a soda you shake too much, but as long as the cap is on the bottle it’s fine. So to speak.
“Did you sleep with a coworker in your own home so your significant other walked in and caught you?” She sips again, out her lips are curled into an annoyed pout.
“No? I mean, who would do that?” I know that there are people stupid or reckless enough to get caught in the act, but no matter the circumstances, I wouldn’t do that to Sam. Not that what I did was any better, though. Definitely not less hurting.
She lazily raises her hand in an answer to my question and my tipsy brain needs a few seconds to catch up.
“Wait, what? He cheated on you in your own home?! That’s so low!”
“Nope. Not ‘he’ did.” Her head tipped back she empties her glass, sighs once she has swallowed the alcohol.
“You? You did that?” I can’t really believe it. Sure, back in school we weren’t close or anything but in the last few days Miho has definitely become a great friend, as if we have more of a past than we actually do.
“I sure did.” The bitterness in her voice doesn’t match her tired expression, she rubs her eyes and I’m not drunk enough yet to have lost all my tact so I interpret it as sign of weariness instead of crying. Not sure if she’s already comfortable enough around me to let me see her cry.
“Wow. Ehh, that’s… I bet you had a good reason.” My offer of an excuse is lame and she snorts, shakes her head.
“Not really. I know it’s what everyone says, but it just happened. I hadn’t planned it and I regretted it the moment my brain kicked in again.” She now rubs her temples but I let her talk. Maybe it helps.
“Patrick – Pat – we have been together for ages. He was my first serious relationship. Not my first love and not my first guy, but he was the first one I was serious with. And he loved me. A lot.” She stares at her glass, purses her lips. “I need more booze for that.”
I remember Patrick only from some times when I ran into Jake and him somewhere. They were friends of sorts, not the closest but getting along.
Miho’s rummaging through her kitchen while I try to come up with a mental image of Patrick because every time I’m close it’s Jake’s stupid grin I see.
“Okay, so he was the first guy I actually saw myself with in 10 years, heck, maybe even in 50 years. One to go steady with, you know?” She walks back in, her drink less opaque than last time. More liquor, less juice.
“And we were dating since I was 17, and I figured I’d grow tired of him eventually but surprisingly I never really did. We had our ups and downs but then he followed me to the college of my choice and I kinda knew that he’s the one. Things were really good for a while.” She curls up on the other side of the couch, as if being close to someone else now was making it harder for her to talk. “So we actually graduated college – not without any troubles at his side but he really knuckled down and passed his exams the last year. We moved into a nice apartment, he got a job, I got a job.”
Water condenses on her glass, her free hand is busy scratching up the fabric of her couch, as if there’s a stain bothering her.
“I expected him to propose any time now and I was ready to say yes. People say it’s stupid to marry the first real partner, but if you know it’s the one, it’s the one, right?”
I shrug. How to tell if someone is the one? I mean, it’s so subjective, feelings and no reason.
But I motion for her to carry on.
“So at my new job there was this guy. He reminded me a lot of Pat before we settled into our life together. Fun, flirty, just a tad unpredictable.”
I inwardly groan. Not hard to see where this is heading.
“So when your relationship to Patrick got stuck in a rut-” I begin but she shakes her head.
“No rut. No fights. Nothing. We were the same as always, only that I started to think: ‘What if you slept with the coworker? Just once? Pat didn’t need to know.’” She gnaws at her bottom lip, scratches with the nail of her middle finger at her thumb. The clock on her sideboard ticks, slices the times in handy little pieces, seconds adding up to minutes.
“And did he really find out like that? Did he catch you in the act?”
She blinks, her gaze focuses on me again.
“No. Thank goodness it wasn’t that dramatic. I got a drink with said coworker, it was planned to be a bigger group but in the end it was just him and me. We had some wine, I went home with him and in the morning and I went back to my own place. To our place.”
I’m not sure if I really want to hear what happened next but I don’t stop her.
“Pat was furious. No, first he was relieved, he had tried to call me again and again. And then he got furious. And I just told him. Said I spent the night with another man.” She swallows thickly, flashes me a wry smile. “So much for ‘he doesn’t need to know’.”
She sighs, sets her glass down. “He’s living with a very nice girl now. I think they plan to marry soon, at least from what I could gather from his social media accounts. I know I hurt him a lot but it ended all well for him.”
“But not for you.” No questions needed, it’s easy to see how much this still weights on her.
“Nope. I guess I don’t deserve happiness after what I did to him.”
“Now that’s bullshit. You made a mistake, you are sorry for it, the universe has probably punished you enough. The only one punishing you now is you.” It’s always amazing how easily we can come up with sound advise as long as it’s not for ourselves.
“Oh yeah, the universe punished me plenty.” She rolls her eyes, sits up straighter. “Of course it wasn’t enough that I ruined my relationship and had to move out of my home. When I came to work the next time people were whispering and gossiping. Turned out that the guy told everyone that he had ‘climbed Mt. Fuji-wara’ and enjoyed his 15 minutes of shady glory.”
“No!” I spill a bit of my own drink when I lean forwards, closer to her. “He did not!”
“Sure he did. So the gossip started and he made all these innuendoes and when I couldn’t take it anymore I quit. Left everything behind and – of course – ran home to Mommy and Daddy. Taking over the café was just an emergency solution at first, but after the old owner retired and offered me to take over, I kinda liked it. Now it’s my own business and if there’s an employee causing drama, I can just kick them out. Not that I have many employees anyway, just two part-timers.”
I would have never thought that Miho would cheat in a relationship. Her story reminds me that we don’t know for that long, it just feels like it because we clicked instantly. Hard to believe it’s just a bit more than a week.
“So seeing Jared with some other chick – I deserve it, I guess.” She slumps back, curls up a bit. “And you know what’s even worse?”
“I made a total fool of myself when I saw him there. I mean, at first I was really happy, but then I saw him flirting and whispering with her and when he noticed me…” She huffs a breath, half laughter and half sob. “He came over and asked me if I was there on my own and I told him I was with my girlfriend. I panicked and all I could think was that I would look even more pathetic if I was there alone instead with someone else.” She rubs her eyes again, I really worry about her lashes by now. Time to lighten the mood. I bat my lashes at her, give her my best bedroom eyes.
“Soooo… we are dating now? Will I get a friendship bracelet? Will we braid our hair and paint our nails?”
I laugh when she swats into my general direction, but to my relief she joins in.
“You’re only my girlfriend until I find someone better. Once Keira Knightley accepts my advances we’re done.”
“I’m only a stopgap? Story of my life.” I take another sip and when I look up again I catch her gaze.
“Is that what happened to you? Is that why you don’t want to talk about it?”
Dammit, she’s sharp. I rather listen to her than talking about my own misery.
“No, actually that’s far from it.” The remaining cocktail is meant to give me courage but I guess heartburn is more likely.
“So when I started my internship there was this supervisor. Pretty young, pretty pretty, very smart. I had a crush from day one, but as a good intern I toned it down so it wouldn’t get in the way of work.”
“Hmm, an office affair. How scandalous.” She winks at me and I chuckle with her.
“No, we didn’t do anything until I left the company again. I mean, I dreamed of it, naughty stuff on the desk or the copy machine, but I figured someone like Sam would never fall for someone like me anyway. The best I could get was some casual fun and honestly, I would have died for that alone. Turns out dying wasn’t necessary.” I grin wryly, slide down on the couch until I can stare at the ceiling. At least that isn’t judging me.
“The day after I finished my internship I got a text – from Sam. Asking me out for coffee. Obviously our attraction was mutual and the timing couldn’t have been better. I wouldn’t actually date my supervisor and Sam is very serious about not mixing job and private life. So we had that coffee, talked a lot about everything and nothing.” I instantly knew that this was the one. “I fell so fast and so hard, it was scary. A few months everything was great, it was like a dream. And then graduation was close and things got complicated.”
I turn on my side, knees drawn to my chest.
“So he dumped you?”
“Not really. We were discussing what to do next, after my graduation. And suddenly there was this key to Sam’s apartment and I-” A helpless shrug is hard to manage while lying down so I push myself up again.
“I ran. Didn’t even explain why, just grabbed my purse and fled home.”
“Wow. I wish I would still smoke, I feel like a cigarette now.” Miho stares out of the window, there’s hardly any light pollution here.
“I never smoked and even I feel like a cig now.”
Her answer is drowned out by a fit of giggles, everything seems so silly.
“This whole confession thing is really, really exhausting.” Still chuckling I snuggle into her couch, wait for the world to stop spinning.
“Do you miss him?” She throws a blanket over me, grabs one for herself.
“Sam. Do you miss him?”
I throw my arm over my face, enjoy the sudden darkness.
“With every fucking heartbeat.”