“Just let me eat my lunch in peace,” Jake murmured to the girl sitting on his left. Amélie smiled mildly and took a long drag from her cigarette, then threw her head back and blew the smoke up into the air—her signature move. “I’m a dragon,” she always used to say, and then she would laugh at her own joke. She didn’t speak this time—Jake didn’t think she could.
Jake stared at his wrap (southwest chicken with a spinach tortilla). He hadn’t eaten anything since that morning, but the cigarette smell was everywhere on the patio of the OCOCTDGYFP (Only Café On Campus That Didn’t Give You Food Poisoning). He looked around to find the source of the smell, but when his eyes landed on a 300-hundred pound, impressively bearded man arguing on the phone while smoking a cigarette, he decided that the best option was to leave.
“Don’t follow me,” he hissed at Amélie, swinging his backpack over his shoulder and tossing his wrap in the trash. No point in trying to eat it while driving—he had tried that before and pieces of chicken ended up in places they shouldn’t have. Amélie stretched her arms up and smiled coyly at him, but she stayed seated. When he got far away enough from the patio that he couldn’t smell the smoke, he looked back. She was gone.
“Do you know how much I want to die sometimes, Jake?” Amélie asked him once. The air was dark, sharp, and cold and Jake could see their breath in clouds. They were sitting on his driveway, Amélie drinking whiskey straight out of the bottle (“it’s like hot chocolate, only better.”) while he watched. He didn’t like alcohol much—he knew it only led to mistakes—but he couldn’t pretend to control her.
“Stop it,” Jake said.
“A lot. But then I think about you, and I feel better. You keep me sane.” She took another swig of crown and fell against his shoulder. He could just see the silhouette of her face from the porch light; her pale skin, her sallow cheekbones, her narrow nose, her dark eyes. She was getting worse again—that was usually when this type of conversation came about.
Amélie grabbed his hand with her own icy one. Her hands were always incurably cold (“They reflect my soul,” laughter.). “Do you love me, Jake?” she whispered. She sounded so uncharacteristically small. His heart leapt, cried “Yes!” but he somehow felt as though he was walking into a trap. He often got that feeling with her. No matter how much he loved her, he also knew her. She was manipulative. But he couldn’t lie.
Her hand squeezed his tighter. “Okay.”
They fell asleep out there, in mid-November, on the cold concrete of the driveway. When he woke up, his head aching and gravel etched into his palm, Amélie was gone. Neither of them mentioned what was said again.
“Shoot,” Jake said under his breath. There was another girl in the waiting room. Thankfully, it wasn’t Kayla. He stood in the doorway, evaluating the situation, trying to decide between sitting in his car for another half hour or enduring a potentially torturous conversation.
The girl was pretty in a bohemian-hippie sort of way—and she was reading a book (encouraging, although he couldn’t see the cover. It could be Twilight, or worse). She had dark skin and high cheekbones—maybe African and Native American? She wore a flower-patterned, ankle length skirt paired with a white tunic-style shirt and a flower crown.
He had just decided that he would probably rather wait in his car when Henry walked through the door. Henry glanced quickly from the girl to Jake and grinned devilishly. Jake shook his head desperately, mouthing NO, but Henry gleefully trotted to the girl’s chair.
“Hey, Mara, how’s it going?” he asked. The girl looked up from the book and rested it in her lap. A wide smile stretched across her face, dimpling her cheeks. “What’s up, Henry? Is it that time already?”
“No, no, no. I thought that you might be lonely now that you switched session times,” Henry said loudly, “So, I supposed I would introduce you to our other Thursday regular.” He gestured to Jake, who was still standing awkwardly halfway out of the doorframe. “Jake, come meet Mara. Mara, this is Jake Rivers.”
Jake reluctantly stepped forward to shake her hand. “Hi, nice to meet you.”
“Hey there. Mara Taylor,” she said brightly. As she stood up her book fell off of her lap. “Oh, cupcakes! I’m such a klutz,” she said, reaching down to pick it up. Cupcakes? Jake thought. He sighed inwardly and gave Henry a pointed look. Henry just grinned and retreated back into the hallway. Mara reemerged, book in hand, flower crown askew.
“Sorry. I’m trying to avoid cursing, so I substitute food words where I would normally swear. I used to have quite the sailor’s mouth,” Mara told him, upon seeing the expression on his face.
“Oh, I didn’t--”
“Of course you did! It’s fine, I’m used to it,” she said dismissively. She held the book up higher as if he couldn’t already see it. “The Great Gatsby. Have you read it?”
“Yeah, a couple of times, actually,” Jake said.
“For school or for pleasure? Because if it’s for school, it doesn’t count,” Mara said, settling back into her chair. “You can sit down. I don’t want to feel short and I don’t want you to feel awkwardly tall, but these sandals were not made for standing,” she said, motioning at the stringy shoes on her feet.
“Once for school and once for pleasure,” Jake told her, sitting in his usual spot on the couch. Mara nodded. She seemed like a good listener—she leaned in, her brown eyes wide, involved with his every word.
“This is the first time I’ve read it. I’m trying to expand my horizons,” she said, making a curtain-parting gesture with her hands. “I like it so far, though. I like the optimism. Anyway, what’s your story?”
Jake shrugged, an automatic reaction. “Nothing much.”
Mara raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Nobody’s story is ‘nothing much.’ Especially not someone who attends regular therapy. Trust me, I know from experience.”
Jake smiled wryly. “Some people are born naturally unstable.” He knew that from experience.
Mara leaned her chin on her palm and smiled back, dimpling her cheeks again. “I somehow doubt that is the case with you,” she told him. She was incredibly charming, Jake noted.
“Maybe. You seem pretty content, so why are you here?”
“Clever diversionary tactic. However, I’m not easily fooled. We’ll come back to you later,” she said, leaning back into her chair and lacing her fingers together. “I’m here because my parents got divorced three years ago, which wasn’t that big of a deal. They were fighting all the time anyway, so ultimately it was going to improve my quality of life. But, they were taking individual cars to court to finalize the divorce when they each got into different car wrecks and died.”
“Dang,” Jake said.
“I know, right? How does that even happen? Anyway, that messed me up, so I went to stay with my grandmother, and she sent me here,” she threw her hands up in the air and gestured around her. “And the rest is history. I just started taking classes at the college, so I had to switch days for my therapy sessions.” She leaned onto her hands again. “Now, tell me about you.”
She was the polar opposite of Amélie, he thought. Where Amélie was angry this girl was content. Where Amélie was pale and dressed in all black, Mara was black and dressed like summer. Amélie was standing behind Mara’s shoulder now, her jaw set in a hard line, thin arms folded over her waist, her eyeliner heavy and raccoon-like around her eyes. He sighed and wished she would leave him alone.
“I have a messed up family,” Jake told her.
Mara nodded understandingly. “Don’t we all?”
Jake was about to reply when Henry reentered the room. “Jake? It’s your turn.” This time Jake wasn’t nearly so relieved to see him.
“Well, shall we continue this conversation next week?” Mara asked.
“Yeah, sure, see you then,” Jake said, following Henry down the hallway, taking one more glance back to see if Amélie was still there. She was watching him quietly.
“She’s cute, isn’t she?” Henry said once the hall door closed. “I knew y’all would hit it off.”
“She seems nice,” Jake said mildly.
“NICE? She’s a (freaking) saint. Sweetest girl I’ve ever met. She even makes it worth dealing with your sorry (self),” Henry said, opening the door to Fisher’s office.
“If you like her so much, why don’t you date her?” Jake asked.
“She’s only eighteen. I have morals. Plus--” Henry paused and looked around the deserted hallway secretively, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out a tiny box and pried it open. A small, diamond encrusted ring sat in a silk cushion. His eyes were wide behind his dark-framed glasses, as though he himself couldn’t believe what he was holding in his hand.
“Henry, I didn’t know you felt this way about us,” Jake said.
“You’re a (jerk),” Henry said, but a smile creased his eyes. He shoved it back in his pocket. “Do you think she’ll like it? It looks like something she would wear. If she wants to. You know. I’m doing it tomorrow, on our three year anniversary.” He laughed awkwardly. “I’m freaking out, man. I know she’ll say yes, but I’m freaking out.”
Jake clapped him on the shoulder. “She’ll love it. Good luck, Henry.”
“Thanks,” Henry said, glancing at his watch. “Fisher will be here in a minute.”
“See you,” Jake said, waiting to sit down until he heard the door click behind him.
He sat in his regular chair. Amélie was sitting in Fisher’s chair, staring at him with a question in her eyes. “Spit it out,” he said.
But she didn’t, because she wasn’t really there.
Mara waved to Jake excitedly from across the OCOCTDGYFP. This time she was wearing a bright yellow sundress that extended just past her knees and a jean jacket. It looked like she had packed her own lunch, according to the paper sack in her hand. She almost skipped over to his table.
“Why didn’t you tell me you went here?” she cried, inviting herself to sit at his table.
Jake had only gotten in one bite of his southwest chicken wrap. It was disappointingly soggy. “Our conversation was cut off,” he replied. Mara’s eyes widened.
“It was, wasn't it? Well, how much time do you have until you have to leave?” she asked.
Jake glanced down at his phone. Forty-five minutes until he would be forced to enter the torture chamber that was his History of Renaissance Era Art class. He looked at Mara, her eager eyes, the sun hitting her smooth brown hair.
“I’m done for the day,” he told her.
“Great, me too!” She leaned back in her chair. “I wasn’t prepared at all for these classes. My grandmother made me sign up, to be honest.” Mara laughed—it was a little squeak, her nose wrinkling up. “You know what I miss? I miss being a kid. I liked everyone when I was a kid. It was like I didn’t have to think.”
Jake tried to reflect back on a time in his youth when things weren’t so complex, but he couldn’t find anything. He wondered if he had just blocked it out, or if there had legitimately never been a time in his life when he was allowed to be thoughtless.
Jake decided on the intermediate option—he had been too young to remember, which essentially meant that his life had started going to (crap) when he was about four.
“I don’t really miss being a kid,” he finally answered. Mara nodded pensively.
“My life didn’t start going out of control until all of that stuff happened with my parents. I was fifteen—already past the happy childhood phase. But I suspect that yours ended sooner, hm?” She looked at him hopefully.
“I save that (stuff) for the shrink,” Jake said, trying to sound joking but failing miserably. Mara smiled knowingly and folded her arms around her small waist.
“No big deal. You can talk to me when you’re ready. I think we are going to be friends, Jake,” she said. Jake liked that she wasn’t overly persistent in trying to get him to sort out his childhood issues. He also liked the curve of her mouth and the dark smoothness of her skin, and the way her eyebrows arched inquisitively over her deep brown eyes when she asked him a question.
“Yeah, I think we are, too,” he agreed.
Got a lot done on this story! Please critique! Thanks <3