Bitter SustenanceMature

 

The phone, now taped to the wall, rang shrilly in the sombulant silence of the apartment. Jake, who had nodded off, woke with a start. His head, no longer pounding, still rang with a dull, metallic grinding as he stood up to answer it.

“Hello,” he said.

There was the sound of people on the other end.

“Hello?”

“Jake,” a voice said finally.

“Rita?”

“How are you?”

“Um...” Jake looked back at the girl, “Good. I'm good.”

“How have you been? We haven't talked in a while.”

Jake's heart sank back into its bed of ash.

“Yeah. Well... you broke up with me. I thought keeping in touch was... inadvisable.”

“Don't make this...” she sighed. “I miss you.”

Jake resisted the urge to drown her in obscenities.

“I... I've missed you too. But... listen, Rita, I'm kind of busy right now. Why did you call?”

“I just... I wanted to maybe see if you wanted to get a cup of coffee. Its been a while, and I thought maybe it might be nice to catch up.”

“Coffee?”

“Yeah. Just coffee. That's it.” Jake sighed in Rita's hopeful silence.

“Fine. Coffee. LaCreme?” They had exchanged their stuff there.

“No. I was thinking Redeye.” Jake grit his teeth. Redeye was where they first met.

“Do you really think that's a good idea,” he asked.

“Its close to you. I just thought...”

“Fine. Redeye. When?”

“Give me an hour.”

Jake hung up. He thought about grabbing his bag so he could finish some work while he waited for her, but thought better of it. He grabbed his coat and closed his door, locking the door and the deadbolt.

Rita was usually late. Jake sat in the back of the coffeeshop, sipping a dirty chai, and staring off into space. People around him typed furiously on laptops at the small french tables that were crammed into the place. He hadn't been back here for almost a year, during which time the jobless hipster population had tripled.

“Hey,” Rita called over to him. She strutted over to his table, and bent to kiss his cheek. Jake jerked back reflexively, shocked by her display of habitual intimacy. They both figited awkwardly in the relative silence of laptop typing.

“I'm gonna grab a mocha, you need anything?”

“I'm good.”

When she returned, she sat down across from him, slinging her purse over the back of the chair.
“So...” she said.

“I don't know why we're here, Rita.”

“Always the philosopher.”

“That's not what I meant and you know it.”

Rita sipped her steaming mocha, her eyes rimmed with salty tears. She stared off out the window. Jake's heart softened irrisistably, in spite of his anger.

“What's wrong?”

“It's nothing... I...”

Jake, in a reckless show of the affection he still held for her, reached out and took her hand.

“What's wrong?”

“Nate...” Jake winced at the mention of her boyfriend's name. The man she had left him for, just over seven months ago.

“I'm sorry... I shouldn't be putting this on you.”

Jake sighed and sat back, finishing off the last of his drink. As he was getting up for a refill, Rita grabbed his arm.

“He hit me.”

“No. Really?”

“It was after we came home from a party. He was quiet the whole way home in the care. And he was a little drunk by then...”

“You're not making excuses for him.”

“No, no... I'm just. He was drunk and he... we got into a fight. He pushed me against the wall, and he slapped me. Hard. Across the face.”

Rita sat, her eyes reluctant to leave the surface of the table. Jake was at war with himself. He knew he was walking back into her web, but he couldn't stop his feet from moving. That old, pink smoke coiled around Jake's heart again and any thoughts of his unearthly visitor evaporated.

“Are you safe,” he asked her. Her eyes met his.
“I... I think so. I'm staying at my sister's place right now. I had to leave after that.”

“How is Colleen?”

“She's good. She just got hired on to do the effects for the new Blane movie.”

“The one with the demonic horse?”

“Yeah. She says its good work. It pays well, and it will get her noticed.” Jake laughed.

“Yeah, but by who? Teenage boys?” Rita laughed.

“Hold on, I'm gonna go get a refill,” Jake said, getting up. “I'll be back in a minute.”

He ordered his usual dirty chai, and waited as the baristas performed their occult steamed-milk magic before him. He paid little attention to them, as his thoughts, drawn like a tounge back to a rotten tooth, returned to Rita.

He knew they were no good together. Every one of his friends told him so. Unfortunately they only told him after she had broken up with him, so Jake didn't see much value in their opinions. But over the lonely months, Jake had reflected on his and Rita's relationship, and had discovered that they were right. They had actually been pretty horrible together.

He had always put his own concerns to the side, in favor of Rita's. Her life, plagued by petty dramas largely of her own creation, always dwarfed any consideration of his own life. Ironically, this was one of the reasons Rita gave for their eventual separation. She said she wanted someone who would stand up for themselves. What she really wanted was someone who would take care of her problems as well as their own, and be thankful for the opportunity.

This brought him back to the girl in his apartment. But before he could bring any serious thought to the problem, Jake noticed that the coffee cup on the top of the stack over the espresso machine had started to float.

“Oh,no.”

It hadn't yet lifted entirely off its brothers, but it had begun to tilt irrationally to one side, as if attached to a magnet. It hung, rolling slightly side-to-side for a few seconds before it was snatched robotically by a barista. The girl with garish, pink hair then poured the shot of espresso into it, weighing the cup down enough to sit still, and topped it off with chai and steamed milk before handing it to Jake.

“Thanks,” he said, timidly clutching the mug.

He peered around the room at the dozen, tiny things that had begun to tip strangely, without anyone's knowledge. A pepper shaker on a table occupied by a goth design student had actually lifted off and was now drifting towards the ceiling.

Jake sat back down at the table.

“Rita, I'm glad you're safe, but this really isn't the best time for me right now. I've got a lot of stuff... well really just one thing, but its a really big thing and I need to figure it out before my car makes its way onto the roof.”

“I don't understand.”

“I've just. I've gotta go,” Jake painfully swallowed the steaming drink in regrettable gulps, “soon.”

“But we just got here, we haven't even talked about...”

Rita's eyes fell again. Here it was.
“About what?”

“No, Its not the right time. You should go. Yeah. You should go do what you've got to do.”

Ordinarily, Jake would have been pulled back in by this passive-agressive salvo, but he had already turned his ship around.

“Great. I'll call you,” he said, grabbing his coat.

“Wait. You're leaving?”

“Well, yeah.”

“You can't leave.”

“Why not? You just said...”

“Well I didn't think you'd actually listen to me!”

“Wait... you're complaining because I listened to you?”

“Um... yes. I am. I need you. I need somebody,” she quickly corrected herself, slipping back into her wounded doe demeanor. Jake sighed, massaging the space between his brows.

“I... I don't have time for this.”

“You don't have time for us?”

“There is no us! There was, and then you went off with Nate...”

“Who hit me!”

Every eye in the coffeeshop turned towards them as their voices, and the peppershaker, began to rise ever higher.

“You know what, I'm not doing this, not here.”

“Oh, right. Go. That's fine. Its what you usually do.”

“Oh ho ho... no. No. You can rewrite history however you want, but just remember who was there picking you up off the floor after you cheated on me in a drunken haze!”

“And you just KEEP bringing it up! You just can't let that go.”

“You screwed...” Jake loaded his tongue with as much poison as he could, “my boss!”

Jake's rage wafted off of him is blistering waves. Rita stood up, knocking her purse off the back of her chair. She stomped up to him, nose inches from his face.

“I was trying to get you a raise,” she spat through her teeth.

“You were trying to get your rocks off! If a horse would have been within arms reach I'd be calling you Catherine the Great right now!”

“You... I don't know why I thought we could work things out.”

“Work things out? What on earth made you think we could work things out? You're horrible. And what's worse, I loved you in your horribleness. But, see, I've had my skull knocked around lately, and its given me a new perspective on things.”

“You've met someone else, haven't you.”

Jake, already poised to make another stinging retort, let his mouth flop closed. He looked around again, and while everyone was watching him, their belongings had all started to levitate.

“I've got to go.”

“I knew it. You have. You've met somebody else. Who is she? What's her name?”

Jake put on his coat and strode out into the cold. Rita followed him.

“Are you screwing her, already?”

“No.”

“So there is a girl. I knew it!” Jake spun around, almost knocking into Rita.

“Yes. As a matter of fact, there is a girl. And she's sleeping naked in my apartment as we speak. Its only to be expected, considering the copious amounts of monkey-sex we've been having. I mean, I never knew you could have sex on top of the fridge, but by god we did!”

“Now you're just being disgusting.”

“Oh, baby, you have no idea. I spent two hours in the shower this morning washing chocolate out of my hair.”

“You didn't shower this morning, your hairs still all oily and... is this blood?”

“Don't touch me.”

“Is this blood? What happened to you?”

“Head-wound, I told you. Now leave me the fuck alone!”

“Did she do this to you, I'll kill her!”

“Don't you have your own problems to worry about? Go back to Colleen's. If Nate really hit you, then call the cops and get your stuff out of there.”

“What do you mean 'if Nate really hit me'? You don't believe me, do you?”

“Honestly, I don't know what to believe, and I don't particularly care right now. I thought this was just supposed to be coffee, but you had a 'plan' Rita. You always have a plan.”

“Well, one of us had to.” Jake stiffened.

“Goodbye, Rita.”

Even though his apartment was within walking distance, Jake hailed a cab. He shut the door with finality, and didn't look back as the cab pulled away. She could still hear her calling his name.

The entire ride home, he kept expecting the cabbie's beads to start floating, or for them to drive into a manhole who's cover was just past the 22nd floor and rising. Luckily for Jake, they made it home without incident.

Jake paid the cabbie and turned to go inside. Steve was waiting at the door.

The End

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