I had never considered dumping a full $6 steamy cappuccino on a total stranger before, but when the young couple in the window leaned in for another kiss, I deeply considered it. On the day I’m supposed to dump Abe the vulgarity of their affection is an affront. Bouncing my leg, I glance at my watch again trying to maintain some semblance of composure. He’s already running ten minutes late and my stomach twists and turns with every shaky sip of caffeine. Meeting this late in the day was Abe’s idea; I would have much rather taken care of this in the morning. Instead, I’ve been stewing for hours thinking over what I’m going to say, guessing how he’s going to react. My phone buzzes, making me jump, and I nearly knock my coffee off the table. Cleo’s texting me reassuring phrases interspersed with, “he’s drama” and “he’s selfish” and “you’re in public.” My stomach flips again as I consider what Abe might say. Three months ago when we met, he was burning pictures of his ex at a bar. Looking back, that seems like a very obvious sign that the relationship was doomed.
Why did I get coffee? Not being familiar with the small, modernist café, I look out over marble-topped bistro tables and past the macaroon filled pastry counter trying to find the bathroom. As I’m weighing the options of leaving my coat at the table or loosing the table if I bring my coat with me, Abe walks in. All legs and a tangle of hair pulled back at the nape of his neck, he looks for me; his hands are stuffed deep in his bulky sweater pockets. Just as I’m taking a deep breath to quell my nausea, he sees me and grins. At least he’s in a good mood, even if my stomach is crawling out of my body through my throat.
Maybe I should forget it and give the relationship more time. Who doesn’t want a little artistic drama in their life? Me, probably, but Abe likes me and that’s a lot more than can be said for a lot of human beings.
“Hey babe,” Abe says as he leans down to kiss me on the forehead. I stiffen involuntarily; there’s no going back now. Abe’s entire demeanor instantly changes and he folds himself into the small chair across from me. He looks down at his elegant hands, twisting in front of him, with bitten nails and says softly, “you’re leaving me.”
I nearly spit. Maybe this was going to be a lot easier than I thought. When his eyes meet mine – eyes that are sometimes warm like your childhood teddy bear, and sometimes harsh and dark – they’re sparkling with fresh tears. Opening my mouth to speak, nothing comes out. All the phrases I prepared vanished and I’m staring back at him, helpless. Abe takes my hands and leans in, he’s kissing them quietly and I can see his shoulders start to shake. I thought there might be a dramatic display, but that’s why I wanted to meet in public.
I try to calm him down, putting our hands on the icy marble table, “Abe, we’ve barely been dating for – ”
“You think it matters to me how long – how long we’ve been together? Sage, baby, I knew we could be something – something special – the moment we met, and – and now you’re just giving up?” His voice had risen an alarming amount.
Abe’s display startles the Canoodling Window Couple who looks over at us just in time to see Abe shove my hands away from him. Wonderful. Head bowed, now he’s full blown crying. He’s oozing wet, loud, gasping sobs and I’m frantically looking around for a napkin or a tissue or a trap door.
Trying to keep the desperation out of my voice I forge ahead, “I just – Abe – please, we’re, uh, looking for different things.” It sounded lame and cliché as soon as it tumbled out of my mouth, but it’s the truth. I should be more specific, about how we were doomed from the start, and really neither of us have that much invested in this relationship. I can’t bear the crying! I want to leave, immediately, and never look back. Tossing my phone and getting a burner would be easy enough. Photoshopping a new passport and moving to Costa Rica can’t be too hard, right? Besides, now, as he’s wiping his face and taking short ragged breaths, just doesn’t seem the time to say, Abe, you’re extremely dramatic and it’s exhausting for me. I’m looking for more of a Netflix and snuggle, a nurturing type of companionship! Abe thrives on excitement and angst; I thrive on harmonious consistency.
“I just, I’m looking for, you know, uh – ” but his glare stops me cold. Abe’s wet eyes are blazing and boring into me, past my grey ones and deep down into the pit of my stomach. I shift uncomfortably in my chair. It’s the gaze that made me buy him that first beer, so intense and enticing, yet now, it’s just downright unsettling.
In a hoarse whisper he says, “you’re right.”
A sigh of relief floods over me, “Abe, yeah! See, we’re different, that’s -”
“We are different,” he starts talking over me and I see the Window Couple look up again, “You know why we’re different? I’m looking for someone who’s entranced by the idea of love, a deep passionate intimacy that transcends time – I’m – I’m not looking for some place holder, some facsimile of love. I’m not scared – scared like you are – of having such a deep connection with someone. Do you know what you’re looking for?”
Obviously a rhetorical question, but his rising decibel has me bristling and I start to answer, “Well for starters, someone who -”
“You – you’re just looking for that blasé boy who doesn’t take risks, who can’t feel. You’re not looking for – for love. You think you want a deep connection with someone but you don’t even know how to love. I want to connect; know a person’s soul. You’re too closed off for anything real to exist. You want safe, not love. Love – love isn’t comfortable, Sage!”
A spray of angry saliva makes its way to my face as Abe slams his fist on the table; I startle. Settling back into his chair, Abe snarls and spits his final damnation,
“You – you know what you are? You’re cold. Cold hearted.” My face feels searing hot; I look down and see my knuckles, wrapped around my coffee mug, are white.
A whirring starts in my head and stillness consumes the café. People are trying not to look, pretending they can’t hear, but it’s silent. I don’t want to cry but my vision is blurring. Why does my body always betray me? When my brain wants to shout, instead, my body makes me crumple and cry. Completely focused on breathing, my eyes are burning, and I barely hear the clear, crisp voice from behind me,
“Hey, asshole, maybe give this girl a break? I think it’s pretty obvious, to like, the whole café, that ya’ll aren’t in love. So, maybe skedaddle and look for your Nicholas Sparks romance somewhere else.”
Gasping, Window Couple is now blatantly staring, slowly sipping their drinks. Abe cranes his neck to look behind me, at the speaker. The stranger’s brief and surprising interlude shocked Abe into silence. I use that moment to gather my most piercing thought. After a false, strangled, gargle of a start, I force the words out,
“You’re – you’re a self obsessed little boy who doesn’t have the emotional depth to -to understand any love that isn’t a toxic, exhausting romance. You never let me feel comfortable or secure in our relationship,” Abe starts to interrupt, again, but I’m gaining momentum so I raise my voice over his,”and screw you for making me feel bad for wanting comfortable and secure!” To avoid any further feelings tumbling into the abyss of this broken relationship, I drink deeply from my mug. My hands won’t stop shaking and some coffee makes it’s way into my lap.
Abe doesn’t speak. Instead, he stands up with such abrupt force his chair flies into Window Couple, who clasp each other, as if on a sinking ship. In a few brusk strides he’s at the door and pulls it open; before he steps out into the chilly air, however, he turns back. Red faced, he glares at me and growls,
“You’re a cold hearted bitch.”
There are audible gasps from the audience. He’s already through the door but before it rattles shut, I shout after him, “you already said that!”
I feel lightheaded and giddy. Giggling into the awkward silence that is overwhelming the tiny room, I just sit there. Then, the stranger behind me starts to clap, which makes me laugh even harder. It’s more like a frenzied wheezing cackle than a laugh, but the baristas start clapping too. Someone whoops. Almost immediately, the tension in the café has dissolved into various combinations of unsure applause and relieved chuckles. Drying my eyes on my sleeve, normal conversation resumes around the café. I turn to the Interrupter: like me, she’s in her late twenties. She’s wearing round tortoise-shell glasses, that frame her lovely, angular face.
“Can I buy you a drink?” I ask her, feeling extremely confident and brave, but mostly grateful.
Snapping her laptop shut she raises an eyebrow at me, “Only if it’s next door at The White Lion pub.”
All my leftover anxious energy releases with a true, gut-level laugh and I hold out my hand, “I’m Sage.”
Grasping it firmly and picking up her bag with her other hand, my comrade in arms responds, “Emmaline.”
Cold Hearted Bitch is my first real attempt at a short fictional story. Please, comment with constructive critiques!