“Please, please, please, pick up…” I jump from one foot to the other, pray to every entity for the dialing tone to change into a click. When it comes my heart stops, soars high and hits the ground again when the recorded message tells me to talk after the peep.
“Hey, uhm, hi Sam. It’s me. Jazz.” I clench my eyes shut, why do I have to sound so stupid? “I wanted to apologize for not calling last night. My whole week has been crazy but yesterday, gosh, yesterday takes the crown. I had some kind of family emergency and I know it’s not an excuse for cancelling our conversation. Anyway, I really hope you give me a chance to apologize in person and not to your voicemail. So, uhm, let me know when it’s a good time for you and we can chat.”
My throat is so dry, I have troubles swallowing. Especially my pride.
“I – I miss talking to you.” It’s good that there’s no video to my audio, I don’t want appear weak but that’s what crying usually is. Showing weakness. A last deep breath and I keep talking, I’m almost done anyway.
“Yeah, so, gimme a sign when we can talk. Have a nice day. Bye.” I slam the button to end the call, just in time to burst out in tears. I fucked up. Again.
“Shouldn’t you be polishing something?” Miho asks when I trudge into the café. At least my eyes look more or less normal again, nothing I couldn’t blame a shitty night for.
“Shouldn’t you be making me a coffee? A big one? Like, really huge?” I ask back.
“Still hungover?” Her hands fly over the levers and buttons of the chrome monster but all I can see is the stream of black liquid filling an extra tall cup.
“Nope. Even worse.”
There’s no one else in the café at this time so I rest my head on the counter.
“Wanna talk about it?” She slides the cup over to me and I sit up properly. “And take some sugar for it, you are extra sour today.”
“My Dad showed up last night.” I stir my coffee, without putting in sugar though.
“And that’s bad?”
“You have no idea.” My spoon makes a soft noise when I place it down on the counter. “Not only did I find him elbow deep in my Mom’s blouse, no, he had the audacity to actually act as if I should be happy to see him!”
It only dawns on me that Miho has no clue about the very – let’s call it unique – relationship Dad and I have. I love him as a person, but he was and is a shitty Dad. Most kids are upset when their parents break up, I only ever prayed that it would be the last time every time it happened. I love Dad, I love Mom, but not together.
He was never violent or abusive, just completely focused on himself and his needs, his wishes. He still is.
“Yeah, finding your parents making out is always strange. I mean, they are people and they probably have sex and all, but I don’t want to know about that.” Miho shudders, probably just thinking about her own parents.
“It’s not only that, although that’s already bad enough. It’s just – you know, my Dad has always these visions of grandeur. Thinks he’s a master businessman. Comes up with a new great business idea every few months – after the last one failed. He comes back, crashes at Mom’s place, clears her bank account and runs off again to his next crazy idea.” I shouldn’t talk about him like that, but ever since I was a kid he never cared much for us, never helped Mom. Instead he comes to leech off her and otherwise stays god knows where.
“I couldn’t afford a prom dress because Dad needed money for his realtor license. Mom hasn’t been on vacation for as long as I can remember and we always, always lived on a very tight budget. But he keeps travelling all over the country, burning through his own money and once that’s gone through whatever Mom was able to save up to that point.”
The whole frustration of the last few years makes my throat tight, I take a sip of my coffee to buy some time and push the tears back.
“Wow. Sorry, I didn’t know it’s such a touchy topic for you.” Miho squeezes my arm lighty, I nod my head without looking at her.
“Sorry for venting that early in the morning. It’s just – the worst is that Mom still loves him, no matter how often he fucks up. He keeps leaving her alone and all she does is patiently waiting for him to come back.” That’s her idea of love. Wasting her life waiting for someone who would never stay.
“And when he’s back they are all lovey-dovey for a week before they start fighting all the time.”
Great role models.
“So it’s the ultimate on-off-relationship?” Miho sums up my explanation.
“More or less, yes. Dad’s latest stupid idea is a food truck and he took all of Mom’s savings to buy one. And since we’re having a festival here…”
“Food truck, festival – yes, I get it. How convenient for him that he can crash on your Mom’s couch, huh?”
“Anyway, this whole ordeal took me off guard and so – I forgot to call Sam last night. I apologized this morning, but so far…” I shrug, hang my head. This day is only a couple of hours old and it already sucks.
“Is Sam the unforgiving kind?” Miho busies herself with some cleaning. I glance at the clock, it’s almost time to leave.
“I certainly hope not. So far we got along just great, no major fights and all. Except for me storming off when it got too serious of course.”
“Which wasn’t the most clever thing but not really despicable. So no need to beat yourself up because of that.”
“Thanks. But the point is, I have no idea of Sam is the type to hold a grudge. We haven’t been in such a situation before and now I’m hopelessly lost. Should I call again? Send texts? Just wait for Sam to contact me again?”
She has no answer, of course not. She doesn’t know Sam at all.
“I know that sounds like some stupid bla bla, but I’m sure whatever you do, it will work out in the end. I mean, I never believed in rules saying you shouldn’t call within a certain time to keep the upper hand or stuff like that. If you guys are actually in love, some misunderstanding won’t be the end of it.” With an encouraging smile and nod she shoos me out of the café, but one questions still lingers, clings to my every breath and step. What if I am the only one truly in love?
Tomorrow is the party and I won’t have to come and clean the house, so I really have to make sure to get it spotless today. Jake greets me with a grunt, his morning must have been coffee-less so far. At least I had my first dose already or even the sight of his smug grin at my tired face had me in tears. But not today.
“So, you’re going to the festival later?”
This seemingly innocent questions ring all the alarms in my head.
“Not sure yet,” I deflect, focus on scrubbing the kitchen sink.
“It’s been ages since I last was at a fairground,” he muses. The coffee machine splutters, less intimidating than Miho’s machine from hell, but the coffee is hot and strong. Just how I like it.
“Must have been in college.”
I hum as a sign I heard him, not wanting to encourage him to continue this conversation, but not exactly planning to be rude. Not yet.
“You like the fireworks, don’t you?”
I shrub harder. How does he know that?
“They are okay, I guess.”
“I know a good spot to watch them.”
I straighten up, keep my eyes on the sink. “And?”
“Nothing ‘and’. Just saying, if you want to watch them from a good spot, I know one.”
When I look at him he’s already watching me, doesn’t even pretend not to. Very suspicious.
“Why? You wanna light up some firecracker next to me?”
“Why do you always think the worst of me? No, that’s not my plan. But you worked hard the last week and I thought – you know what, forget it. I never even said anything.” He grabs a mug and pours himself a coffee, stalks off as if I insulted him. Honestly, after all that time he still acts as if he’s the victim. But I am the one with the scars and the deeply rooted distrust!
I rush through Mom’s list of chores and the whole house, dusting, vacuuming, picking up things on the way. After battling the huge vacuum cleaner up the stairs I go through all the rooms. Elias’ bedroom is the first, after that down the hall until I reach the rooms of the boys. Whatever has gotten into Jake, I can’t just ignore his room so I knock, wait for an answer. There is none so I knock again, call out to him that it’s me and that I need to get inside. A few more seconds tick by so I carefully open the door, ready to slam it shut in case I see something I don’t want to see or get yelled at. But nothing.
He’s not there.
I quickly take care of his carpet and make his bed, pick up a dirty shirt and socks. Once out of the door I breathe easier again, take the clothes to the hamper before I continue cleaning the floors. Ben’s door opens easily, I push against it with my hip while vacuuming the doorstep and the area in front of the door on the hallway.
Someone taps me on the shoulder and I jump, scream, my heart leaps and beats furiously. With a clatter the vacuum cleaner drops on the floor, misses my foot only by a few millimeters.
“What the-!” It takes a few seconds for me to recognize Ben, in a T-shirt and shorts, hair disheveled and eyelids heavy with sleep.
“Goodness, what are you doing here?”
He motions towards the vacuum cleaner and I turn it off, the silence between us awkward now.
“I was sleeping until you came and woke me up.” He was never an early bird and his morning grumpiness reminds me of an adorable bear after hibernation. Like a teddy.
“Sorry, I thought you went back home last night.”
He scratches the back of his neck, hides his yawn behind his other hand.
“Nah, I figured Mads might need some more time to cool off. She’s got quite a temper.”
Oh, yeah. They are living together. Or better, they were. At least if Maddie was serious about breaking up.
“You know she really hates that nickname, do you? I mean, I remember her screaming at this one guy in her class to wouldn’t stop calling her that.”
“Actually she never told me that before.” He shrugs, a movement that threatens to ruin his shirt. God, those biceps are straining against the fabric and I wonder why he even wears a shirt. Not that I want to see him without it, but the one he’s wearing is just a tad too tight. The good way.
“Well, she must really like you to let you call her that until now.” I bent down to pick the vacuum cleaner up again. “Sorry for waking you up, I try to be more considerate now.”
“Don’t sweat it. Wasn’t on purpose anyway. Besides, it was time for me to get up, I have to work later.” He stretches a bit, still sleepy. I can’t drool over him now, not when he can still see me.
“Okay, I’m off. Cleaning somewhere else now.” If he notices that I’m practically fleeing he doesn’t comment on it.
I try once more to reach Sam but talking to the voicemail isn’t lifting my mood. After finishing the floors I follow Mom’s cleaning schedule which tells me laundry has to get done – including ironing shirts. So it’s back upstairs to get the laundry from the hampers, on my tiptoes to not disturb Ben again.
I know Jake’s not in his room, but I have picked his laundry up already so I make a beeline to the bathroom to get the towels. Bad idea.
I notice the moment I open the door – the air is humid and warm. Someone’s in the shower. In the huge shower with the glass enclosure, and although the panels are fogged I can clearly see who it is.
“You just wanna stand there gawking or do you need something?”
Jake turns to look at me and I fight the urge to drop my gaze, instead I tip my head backwards, stare at the ceiling.
“Uh, sorry, this – holy, this is embarrassing. I didn’t hear the shower and the door wasn’t locked and I just wanted to get the towels and-”
“Well, I hope you will leave at least one here for me. Otherwise go ahead, take what you need.”
Since the shower is turned off no new steam comes and the old steam starts to settle. Tiny droplets run down the glass panel, taking the cover of fog with them. Oh boy.
“What? Changed your mind? You can also join me if you want.”
No witty response comes to mind, not even an indignant refusal. My mouth opens and closes, like a fish, and no sound comes out.
“Or would you want to sneak a peek first? To make sure it’s worth your time?” He opens the glass door and that sets me into motion.
I squeak a high-pitched ‘no, thanks’, grab the towels off the rack and rush out, followed by his laughter.
In the hallway I pause, lean against the wall to catch my breath. My heart is racing, my complexion betrays me by broadcasting my feelings in scarlet all over my face. I am officially an idiot.
“Jayjay, you okay?”
For the second time in less than one hour Ben makes me jump. I’m afraid he can read from my expression what happened so I keep my eyes on my shoes, towels tightly pressed against my chest.
“I’m fine, just – tired. Don’t worry, I just need a quick break.”
“Okay, but if you need something else, just tell me, okay? No matter what.” He steps a bit closer, tries to peer into my face but I shake my head.
“No, I’m good. Really.” My shaky smile does nothing to reassure him, the crease between his eyebrows proof of his doubt.
“You want a glass of water?” One step closer and I’m trapped between him and the wall, the towels the only barricade. I just want to decline when the door to the bathroom opens.
“Oh, hey, Jake.” Ben looks up, his eyes going wide.
“Dude! You can’t run around butt naked here! We have a girl in the house. Cover up your junk.”
I want to die. Right now, and please quickly.
“I guess the girl you’re referring to wouldn’t mind a peek given that she took all the towels with her,” Jake points out. I can hear his footsteps coming closer but I’m mortified, can’t move my head to look at him – or better, to look away. The heat from his shower still surrounds his body, I can tell he’s close without looking.
“Did I interrupt you guys somehow?” Confusion sneaks into Ben’s voice, he takes a step back from me again.
“Yep,” Jake says the exact moment I shout: “No!”
I push all the towels into Ben’s arms, bolt from them before I see more than I want of Jake.
Still jittery I hide in the laundry room, fight tears and screams and the urge to kick something, someone. I really want to hear Sam’s voice now but can’t leave a message of me sobbing on the voicemail. Not very attractive after all. A few deep breaths, some nervous pacing and I can pull myself together enough to cram the part of the laundry I already have into the machine. Just when I open the bottle of detergent the door opens.
“Hey, you ok-”
With a shriek I spin around, spill half of the bottle over Ben’s shirt. That’s it, I have to leave the town now. Better leave the country altogether.
“Oh shit, I’m so sorry!” Frantically I wipe at his shirt with what turns out to be another shirt, dirty of course.
“It’s okay, calm down. Geez, I just wanted to check on you. Are okay? You look as if you’re that shy from melting down.”
My hand stops moving, I throw the shirt back into the laundry machine.
“Do I? Because I feel as if I’m already just some puddle.” A choked out laugh hides my first sob.
“What’s wrong?” The shirt still clings to him, the smell of the detergent pungent, tickling my nose.
“Life sucks right now, but I feel like I shouldn’t complain. I mean, you don’t exactly have it easy either, huh?” I sniffle, blame it on the detergent though.
“Huh? Oh, you’re talking about Mads. She’ll come around.” He shrugs, strangely unburdened while I’m still blaming myself for that scene last night. “And you know, never hold up travelers.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if she wants to go I won’t stop her. I mean, if she just stays for my sake, that won’t be the same, will it?”
I mull his words over in my mind, wonder how he can be so nonchalant about this. I can’t just let go of Sam and we haven’t planned to get married. So how can he?
“Okay, that stuff starts to itch. You don’t mind, do you?” he asks and takes off his shirt. “You can put this in the machine, I don’t think you need any more detergent, though.”
What’s up with the guys today for them to casually walk around half or fully naked in front of me?
My 17 years old, thirsty teenage self would probably die of blood loss now, although I occasionally caught glances of Ben at the pool with only swim trunks on back then. But I never saw him up close. His abs, right in front of me, those biceps – I’m sure he wasn’t in that good shape in school anyway.
I realize I’m staring, but who would blame me? Well, besides Maddie maybe, but she’s not here.
“Yeah?” I blink, shake off that daze.
“Are you okay now?” How can he be that sweet and that hot at the same time? I shouldn’t even enjoy this view, not when I’m still trying to win Sam back. I’m a horrible, horrible person.
“Yeah, thanks. I just – I’m really, really tired. You know, my finals, the graduation, coming back here only to start working for your Dad…” I shrug, pray that he would cover up a bit and dread it at the same time.
“And your situation with your boyfriend,” Ben points out, ready to help.
“Yes, that’s part of it, too. But I don’t have to tell you about heartbreak, huh?”
He shrugs again, now better visible for me without his shirt. Dammit. I’m going to burn in hell.
“I try not to dwell in the past too much. Life changes all the time, I’m going with the flow if I can.”
Nice philosophy, just not for me. I’m fighting tooth and nail for what I consider mine. And I hate losing something I have worked for so hard.
“Must be nice,” I muse loudly. “Being able to let go of anger and pain. I hold grudges forever.”
“Like with Jake?”
That works better than a cold shower. I straighten up, slam the door of the washing machine shut with my foot.
“Okay, anything else you need from me?”
He realizes that whatever mood it was, it’s gone now.
“No, not really. I guess I should wash off that detergent. Gonna hop into the shower real quick. Can I get a towel or do I have to air-dry, too?”
My mind stutters to a halt at the image, I force it aside so I can stalk out of the laundry room towards the linen closet. Once he has a towel he winks at me and leaves. I need a coffee and a break, but since I can’t have neither I pick what comes closest: I call Miho.
“If you’re not dying right now keep it short, the place is packed,” is her greeting.
“I’m kind of dying, alright. Or I’m already dead and gone to hell. Feels like it at least.” I sniffle, a sound that gets Miho’s attention.
“What’s wrong?” I can hear her walking around, she tells someone she’ll be back soon – probably her part-timer.
“Everything! I messed up with Sam, can’t even apologize because I only ever get the mailbox. Jake keeps driving me nuts and Ben – ugh, everything is such a mess and I can’t stop crying.”
The sounds of the café in the background fill the line while Miho is silent. She clears her throat, hums briefly.
“Okay, how far are you with your work? Do you still have a lot to do?”
“Almost done. Just the laundry.” A hiccup cuts off my words. I have planned to dust some more, pick up some stuff here and there.
“Tell them to take care of the laundry on their own and get your ass over here. As soon as the fairground opens it will be dead in here anyway.”
“I can’t,” I meekly object. “It’s Mom’s job on the line, not mine.”
Mom. God, how I hope that she won’t fall for Dad’s tricks again. I’m still miffed that he had the guts to show his face here, food truck or not. He promised not to come back, not to pester Mom for money again. That liar. And now she will need even some more money, he will take whatever she has without a care what she will do afterwards. Just like last time. Just like every time so far.
“Sorry, it’s – I’m fine. Just needed to talk to someone. Vent a bit. I don’t want to keep you from your work. Will call you later again, okay?”
I take a few deep breaths, force the tremble in my voice down.
“You sure?” She sounds suspicious. I shouldn’t have called her, now she will worry and although it comforts me that she cares about me that much, I also feel guilty.
“Yeah, of course. Thanks for listening. Go back to your coffee machine.” I laugh to lighten the mood again, not sure if she buys it, hard to say without seeing her after all.
“Fine. How about you swing by when your work is done?”
“Only if you pour a good swig of booze into my coffee.”
“Deal. Send me a text when you leave there and I can make sure there’s a drink waiting here for you. How does Espresso Martini sound?”
Fancy for sure.
“Perfect. And again, sorry for disturbing you at work. See you later.”
After her goodbye I end the call. My eyes still sting but the tears have stopped. I only have to make it through one more day and I can go back to my old life – minus Sam.
My fingers type a short “I miss you” but I don’t send it. Won’t change anything after all.