Originally published on FICTION on the WEB
“You’re not the one,” she says with a sigh as the man walks into the small café, a café which neither has servers nor coffee.
Taking the only other seat available at the only table in the place, the man looks at the brazen, brown haired woman in confusion. “How’s that?”
“You’re not the one,” she repeats. “I’m sorry.”
“What do you mean, I’m not the one?” His eyes begin to squint as small black strains of hair fold over his forehead.
“Don’t make this more awkward than it already is.”
The man begins to ripen with rage as his cheeks turn into cherry red apples. “Is this a joke? You’re fucking with me now, right?”
The woman rubs her fingers against her temple and raises her eyebrows. She feels like a small part of herself is about to dig through her forehead and fly free. “No. I’m not joking. Please, can we just go to reception and see if we can get a refund?”
“A refund? They don’t just give refunds like that,” he says, snapping his fingers.
“Because they take this seriously. As I planned on doing. As I hoped you would. But apparently, you just take one look at a man and decide he’s not for you.”
“I’m sorry I just –”
“Think I’m ugly? Is that it? I don’t know why they would match us together if you were apparently so much more attractive than me.” He combs his hand through his hair.
“No, it’s not that, I’m just really picky. And –”
“And you’re able to decide before you’ve even talked to a man?”
“No, please. Explain it to me.” The man leans back in his chair, crosses his arms and waits.
“Alright, well…” she looks around momentarily. “… It’s like this. I’m walking in a garden and I see some lilac’s, and I think to myself ‘oh, those are pretty,’ but in my mind I know I came in there for lily’s.”
“So you’re calling me a lilac? Oh, and how cute, I’m wearing purple.”
A small puff of air whiffs free from the woman’s nose. “I’m saying you’re just not the flower I’m looking for. You’re not a lily.” She looks over at an orange one painted on the wall.
The man shakes his head. “Have you ever thought that – that maybe you just haven’t given lilacs a chance? That maybe – maybe if you picked up a lilac and gave it a sniff you’d realize that ‘wow, I actually like these flowers even more!’ Has that ever crossed your mind?”
“Are you saying I should sniff you?”
“No. I mean –”
“I know what you mean. I was only joking.”
“Oh,” he says as the pair shares a laugh.
With her smile, she has become real, like a painting walking out of its frame. The man eases. His cheeks cool down and cross back into cream.
“But seriously… We get another two tries, right? What’s the big deal if the first one is a wash? Do you really want to be with someone who you had to convince to be with you in the first place?”
“I don’t have two more tries,” he admits, breathing out loudly.
“Oh. Well, you’ll still have one more. I’m sure that one will go better. You’ll walk in, and the woman you match with will be like ‘wow, he’s the one!’ I’m sure of it.”
“That won’t happen.”
“Because I don’t have one more.”
The woman flinches, her eyes expanding into oceans. “What? How is that possible? How old are you?”
“How have you blown through two matches in four years? All the friends I know who have used this are still with their first match.”
“I would think you would know how, seeing as you’re about to blow through your first match before the sun has even dropped.” His teeth press together as he swallows his tongue.
“Is that what happened? Both times?”
Expecting him to explain, the woman waits and raises her brows, but is met only with silence.
The fact of the matter is that both of his earlier matches started out better than he could have ever imagined. When he first came in, he expected little, but came out with a lot. He did it, he thought. He found the woman he was going to marry. He was sure of it, only minutes after meeting her.
She was everything he ever imagined; beautiful, long brown hair; deep, bright blue eyes; a body type he thought he would only see watching smut, and the most infectious smile he’d ever seen. It was always the smiles that made him fall, and hers made him fall hard.
The problem was that when he did fall, she dug her heel into the center of his heart, causing it to burn worse than a branding. It was only after meeting his second match did the pain begin to subside. She was just the medicine he needed. But now, with his third match, he feels like he’s taken the poison once again.
“Let’s go then,” the man says, rising from his seat.
“To reception. You wanted to try and get a refund, right?”
“I did, yeah. But I don’t want to risk you losing your last match. I would feel horrible knowing you were out there, all alone, because I took away your last chance.”
“But you don’t want to be with me.”
“Then there’s nothing else to talk about. Like you said, I don’t want to be with someone who has to be convinced to be with me.”
As her eyes droop and her mouth begins to hang, the man begins to leave, forcing the woman to get up and follow him into the hallway, leaving the café.
From there, the pair is silent, looking at everything but each other as they make their way to the elevator. Only now that they are not focused on each other can they notice the décor of the building. The base of the walls mimics a grass field. Peeking out of the grass are roses, one of every color, with flashes of other flowers as well. Below all this is the carpet, brown like soil. Poking out of the soil are small seeds, each marked with an empty label. The ceiling is covered in clouds.
“This place is like a fucking museum,” the woman thinks to herself.
On the walls, above the grass, there are pictures, pictures of people, all smiling brightly, and all in pairs. In the elevator, the message is just as clear. All the numbers, from 1 to 100, are linked in pairs, presented as two equal sides of a whole heart. Floors 20 through 50 are all host to cafés, identical to the one the two in the elevator met at before. Each café is shaded so that no customers can see in or out, forcing their attention not to stray from their respective matches.
Underneath, on floors 2-19, are the sign-up rooms, where customers meet with a representative to initiate their match. Once matched, the customers are given a time, floor, and café number to arrive at so that they can meet their new partner.
Pressing the number in the elevator, the pair quickly drops down from their floor to Floor 1: Reception.
⚘ ⚘ ⚘
“Names?” the receptionist blurts out before either of them can say a word.
“Jason Campbell,” the man states matter-of-factly.
“Jessica Burke. We were wondering if –”
“Hold on,” the reception cuts in, typing their names into her computer. “You were saying?”
“– If we could get a refund.”
“For our match. I think you guys may have made a mistake.”
The woman considers her computer screen. “It says here that you two were matched up earlier today and were scheduled to meet…” She pauses to look up at the pair. “… 30 minutes ago.” Waiting for a response, but not getting one, the receptionist continues. “Are you trying to tell me that after talking to each other for 30 minutes that you two have already decided that you are not meant to be?”
“More like 30 seconds,” Jason murmurs to himself.
Hearing this, Jessica looks over at him, giving the cold glare of a woman who has been putting up with him for 30 years. “It just – it wasn’t love at first sight,” she tries to explain.
The receptionist begins to explode in a fit of laughter. “Love at first sight?” she exclaims. “Wow. The last person I ever heard use that phrase was my grandmother. And she was talking about her grandmother! Love at first sight. Come on now. What’s the real issue? Still in love with an ex? Lied about something with the representative who set you up with this match? What?”
“No, he’s just not what I was expecting.”
“Not what you were expecting, huh? Let me tell you something about expectations.” The receptionist widens her eyes, making sure Jessica is listening before continuing. “They’re bullshit. You think you know what you want? You don’t. You may have an idea in your head, but you don’t really know. Let me ask you something. Do you know what we do here?”
“Not you. I can tell you know just by looking at your history. I’m asking her.” The receptionist points at Jessica.
“You find people their perfect partner and then they live happily ever after and all that.”
“No. We find people someone who can be their perfect partner. It is then up to the new couple to work together to become each other’s perfect partner. Love takes time. We don’t expect people to instantly fall in love in those little cafés we send you to. If we did, we would install some beds. We do expect you to get to know each other, however, and take the relationship from there. And if the relationship doesn’t last, for whatever reason, we will give you two more tries. From there, though, you’re on your own.”
“So you don’t give refunds then?” Jason asks.
“We typically only give refunds in the event of sudden death. In that case, a refund would be approved and you would receive another match, disregarding the previous one.”
“Does that mean I have one more match outside of this one? My last match, my wife, she died in a car crash about a year ago.”
Jessica quickly grabs his hand. “Oh my god. Jason… I’m so sorry. I was such a bitch. I didn’t know.”
“It’s alright,” he says, patting her hand and releasing its grip on him.
“I’m very sorry to hear that sir. But no, we can’t give you another match. Our policy only allows another match to be given in the case that a spouse died within the first year of a relationship. It says here that you two were together for two years before she passed.”
“You people are unbelievable,” Jason snaps.
“If you want, you can try applying for a refund, but I must tell you that it is extremely rare for a refund to get approved outside of cases of sudden death.”
Jessica puts her hand back in Jason’s, letting his name expel out of her as she does. He gives no attention to this, her words passing right through him.
“Okay, so how do we apply for it?” he asks.
“To apply for a refund, you will have to have been dating for at least one month. You must also live together for that entire time, regularly engaging in intercourse, while leaving your place of residence at least once a week, going out together on dates. In short, you two need to show an actual effort to make this relationship work if you want to attempt to receive a refund from The Garden.”
“Did you say we have to have sex?” Jessica asks. “Regularly?”
“Yes. Healthy couples have sex. Regularly. Failure to achieve a healthy sex life due to a lack of sex will be seen as a failure on your part. Being stubborn will not get you a refund.”
Jason begins to laugh. “You don’t have to fuck me just because you feel bad that you’re the only match I have left. We don’t have to do this.”
“No. I want to give this a shot now. I want to prove that they make mistakes.” Her nose crinkles as her eyes shift to the receptionist. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Jessica never did believe in The Garden. She has what her friends describe as “an old soul.” She thinks people should find each other naturally, in the streets. She thinks, “if I can find friends without the help of an organization, then why can’t I find a partner without one?” But she never could find one that way. All she ever found was drug addicts and losers. People too afraid to even talk back to her when she approached them. It seemed that anyone worth talking to was already taken.
She never knew it at first. Meeting these men, she would find herself astounded at how charming and handsome they were, compared to all the other’s she’d talk to. Time after time, she’d fall for the trap, sleeping with them, only to find out later that they were cheating on their wives with her. It seemed insane to her that everyone was going to The Garden, too lazy to find anyone on their own. But it was the truth. And it had been, since long before she was born.
⚘ ⚘ ⚘
“I thought you were a carpenter, how the hell do you afford a place like this?” Jessica says, entering Jason’s apartment. Her eyes dart from corner to corner, bouncing around like a pinball, hitting every object on the way.
“I used to share it with my wife. She inherited it from her father and left it for me in her will. It’s all paid for, even the furniture. All I have to pay is the utility bill every month.”
Jessica raises her brows as she continues to make her way through the apartment. Looking at the TV, taller than her, her eyes start to pop out of her head. “Jesus Christ,” she says. Continuing to the bedroom, passing the chrome colored kitchen on the way, she falls, back first, onto the bear-sized bed. The black satin sheets sway around her as her body lands.
“Comfortable, huh?” he says.
She sits up and swats the spot beside her with her hand. “Join me.”
Looking like he was just told to sit on a rock, he plants himself next to her, keeping his eyes on his hands, resting them on his knees. Jessica takes a hand of her own and places it on the closest one of Jason’s. The warmth of her hand forces his to tingle but his face does not turn. Deciding to fix this, Jessica takes her other hand, places it on Jason’s chin and moves his attention to her as she connects their lips. Jason is taken aback by this and hesitates at first, releasing from her touch for only a moment before looking into her sapphire blue eyes and bringing it back. He suddenly starts to feel Jessica’s hand sliding up towards his crotch at which point he jumps off her completely.
“What are you doing?” The words crack out of his mouth like a whip.
“You know exactly what I was doing,” she replies with her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he continues. “I find you very attractive, I just – I thought you weren’t interested in me, and all of sudden you start kissing me and…” he closes his mouth before the rest can come out.
The wind slowly escapes from his mouth. “…Your eyes look just like hers.”
She starts to rub his shoulder affectionately. “It’s alright. I just… I find you attractive too. Really, you’re not ugly. That’s not why I said what I did back in the café. And… I want to give this a chance. So, I just thought, might as well dive in with both feet, right? But if you’re not ready –”
“It’s not that,” he says, looking at her as he talks now. “It’s just been a long time. And I’ve never done it so quickly after meeting. Daisy, that was her name… we didn’t start becoming physical with each other until a couple weeks after matching.”
“That’s not that long.”
“Well, no, but it felt like a long time. I really felt like I knew her by then. To be honest, I had already started to fall for her by then. And… I only just met you the other day. I don’t really feel like I know you yet.”
Her hand stays still, compassionately rested on his shoulder as the silence takes over the room. Her mouth starts to turn towards the ground.
“I feel like I’m back at the bar,” she thinks to herself, lowering her head. “Another man not interested. My friends said things were different at The Garden. ‘Just try it, trust us! Whoever you get will love you!’ Yeah, right… Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I fucked it all up with that whole refund shit I pulled. Now he won’t even –”
Suddenly, she falls back against the bed, feeling Jason’s hands around her thighs, pulling down her pants faster than she put them on.
She gasps, her sorrow quickly turning to excitement. “What are you doing?”
“Diving in. Do you want me to stop?”
“No!” The word shoots out of her like a sneeze.
Rolling off each other, their sweat starts to seep into the sheets.
“Wow…” she breathes heavily, gazing deeply into the hairs on Jason’s chest. “No one has ever done that to me before.”
“Never.” All the men before Jason were always too focused on themselves to satisfy her. It was rare that they would even kiss her once they got into the bedroom. And never down there. They would just stick it in, smashing into her aimlessly, treating her like a hammer would treat a nail. And when they were done, they would leave. Just watching Jason, laying there next to her, not leaving, filled her with a feeling she hadn’t yet felt before.
“That’s surprising,” he says.
“Well you were the one to initiate, so I kind of figured you had more experience.”
“I mean, I’ve had sex before. I guess… it was all just a lot more vanilla than that.”
“I see.” To Jason, she had the experience of a nun, presenting herself like a plank of wood. His contention for her satisfaction was little compared to his own dissatisfaction.
“Were you always this intimate? With your other partners?” she asks.
His teeth begin to expose themselves as the air exhales from between them. “Absolutely not.” Jason didn’t even know how to touch his first match. When he first saw her naked he just stood there staring, looking like he had a gun to his head. He still blames himself for the way it went down, although he would never tell Jessica that. It was a secret he shared only with himself. He often thinks: if only I knew what I know now, maybe then things would have been different. I would have been better. I wouldn’t have been so selfish. It’s my fault things ended the way they did.
“Daisy and I had a lot of time to practice,” he says.
They lay in silence for a moment as Jessica twirls Jason’s chest hairs around her fingers.
“Jay… I’m sorry for what I said back in the café. I was wrong to judge you so quickly.”
“After a few days with me you’re finally starting to smell the flowers, huh? Or was it just the sex?” He raises his brow and smiles with devilish delight.
Jessica laughs lightly at this, pushing against Jason’s shoulder playfully as she does. “Asshole.”
Jason’s smirk stays still as he shrugs.
“Can I ask you something,” she says, her voice taking a stern turn. “What happened with your first match?”
Jason’s face morphs, his expression turning into that of a man who has just taken a sip of shit, expecting it to be syrup. “Why did you have to ruin the mood?”
He starts to turn away from her but she grabs his forearm and pulls him back.
“Jason… I want to know you. I need to know what happened.”
“Because it’s a part of you. Do you want me to tell you my history first? I can if you want.”
The air pushes free from his mouth. “Fine. Tell me then.”
She takes a deep breath in and begins. “Well… the truth is I’ve never really been in a real relationship.” Jason’s eyebrows rise. Jessica continues. “I mean, I’ve never really wanted to be in one, not until now.” She grabs his hand. “And no one I’ve been with has really wanted to be in one either, not with me at least.”
“Where did you meet these people?”
“Just you know, bars mainly.”
“There’s no one worth meeting at those places.”
“I know. I didn’t then. I thought maybe I would be the exception. But I wasn’t. The only nice men I ever met at those places turned out to be liars. Assholes.”
“I thought I was an asshole,” he says. She laughs. He smiles, relishing in her glow.
“You are. But you’re more than that.”
The grip on her hand becomes firmer as Jason warms up.
“It means a lot to hear you say that,” he says.
The dimples in her cheeks flare up. “Do I get to hear your side of the story now?”
“I was hoping you had forgotten.”
“Not getting off that easy.”
“Fine,” he says. “What do you want to know?”
“What was her name?”
“Oh.” For the first time in her life, she feels guilty for having a favorite flower.
“What did she do?” Jessica asks.
Jason looks down at the covers, gazing into the darkness. “She cheated on me,” he says, his eyes still fixated on the bed.
Jessica begins stroking his arm with tender affection. “That’s –”
“With my brother.”
Her hand stops moving. “What?”
“She cheated on me… with my brother. My fucking brother.”
“Oh my god. Jay. That’s terrible.”
“Which is why I don’t like to talk about it.”
Her hand continues to move across his arm. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. You were right. You needed to know. It still makes me mad is all.”
“As it should. Fuck her.”
“That’s nice of you to say, but you don’t have to.”
“I want to. It makes me mad just hearing about it. What a selfish cunt.”
Jason’s mouth curls up as a breath of air breaks free.
“Do you still talk to your brother?” she asks.
“Absolutely not.” He hasn’t. Not once since he found out. Never even to tell him why. If he couldn’t figure it out for himself, then so be it. It’s his loss.
“You’re still mad at him?”
“He’s dead to me.”
“But she’s the one who cheated on you, not him.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. If anything, what he did was worse.”
“How do you figure?”
“She could have cheated on me with anyone. In fact, I’m sure she would have. It wasn’t just a chance thing. He just happened to be one of those losers at the bar. You’ve probably seen his type. Sitting at the bar, staring at women, but never going up to them. That’s my brother.” His voice rises with each word. “But lo and behold, in walks Lily, a girl he’s actually talked to before. Naturally, being that she was my girlfriend. ‘Oh, I can talk to her,’ he thinks, and so he does. Lily, she came in to find someone to fuck. Why else would she be in such a dive? No respectable person walks into a bar on purpose. And here comes my brother, talking to her before she can target someone else. ‘Eh, I guess he will do,’ she thinks and starts to seduce him. Now, my brother had never been with a woman until then. Like I said, he’s a fucking loser. This was his chance. But she was my girlfriend. You don’t get to take your chances with another man’s girl. Forgive him? Fuck him.”
“I just thought… he’s your brother.”
“He’s a piece of shit. I hope she ruined him.”
Both of them are sitting up on the bed at this point, their legs crossed. Jessica tries to look Jason in his eyes, wanting to take the pain away from him, but he won’t look at hers. He stares at his feet, fidgeting his fingers between the toes as he rocks his head back and forth.
“I think I’m going to take a nap,” he says, turning away from her.
She motions her hand out to touch him once more but pulls it back before it reaches him. Her mouth turns sideways and her legs become undone as she lets them off the bed and walks out of the room.
⚘ ⚘ ⚘
Thirty days have passed since Jason and Jessica first met. Officially, they are free to seek out a refund if they so choose, but the thought of doing so has long since passed each other’s minds. Today, marriage is on their minds.
Standing at the altar, Jessica looks on with love as her old friend Evelyn prepares to give her vows to Adam, the man to be. Her smile is genuine, but her attention is lost. She is imagining her own alter, putting herself in Evelyn’s place. Wearing a dress just as white, she looks up and sees Jason shining back at her. I do, she hears him say before pushing his lips towards hers. As they touch the image breaks and she snaps out of her daydream, looking back at Evelyn.
Jason, meanwhile, is looking at Adam, imagining an altar of his own. He looks down at an empty page. The only words written sit at the top. “Vows,” it reads. He looks up at his bride to be and sees that there is no one there. Looking out at the audience all he sees are rows of empty seats. He snaps out of it and turns to Evelyn, who has started her speech.
“I was really nervous when I went to meet Adam for the first time. I had never gone to The Garden before and I wasn’t sure what to expect. In all honesty, I was worried that they might set me up with a total creep.” Sounds of laughter wash through Jason’s ears, forcing them to prickle as his mouth remains closed. “But when I walked into that café and saw him, waving at me with that million-dollar smile, I knew right then and there that he was the one…”
Jason looks over at Jessica and sees her smiling at him. He smiles back, giving the type of smile a child would give a photographer on picture day.
“Hey handsome,” Jessica says to Jason, giving him a quick peck on the lips before joining him at the table. “I missed you up there,” she says as the rest of the bridesmaids join them, taking their seats around the circle. Jason looks at the women, all dressed in blue, and then at their partners, all dressed in black, before turning back to Jessica, the only comforting face in the place.
“I missed you too,” he says, grabbing her hand. “It looked nice up there. How did you like Evelyn’s speech? That was something, huh?”
“Oh yeah, she’s always been the romantic type. I was actually surprised she didn’t go on for even longer. She can get pretty gushy.” She laughs, putting pressure on Jason’s hold.
“Was she the one who told you to go to The Garden?” He takes his hand out of hers and starts setting up his handkerchief. “I know you said that all of your friends encouraged you to use it –”
“For good reason,” one of the bridesmaids blurts out from the other end of the table, raising her glass.
“– but that one, in particular, helped pushed you over the edge.” Jason finishes, ignoring the interruption.
“Yeah, that was Evelyn. Like I said, she’s always been the romantic type. And that has always extended beyond herself.” Jessica looks at the other bluebirds, raising her eyebrows as they nod in agreement.
Jason ignores this and continues. “Funny how that worked out, huh Jess?” he says.
“What do you mean?” she asks.
“Because you –” he stops himself. “Never mind, it’s nothing. Say, do you want a drink? I think I’m going to go get one.”
“What would you like?”
“Dealers choice.” Her cheeks rise as his feet do the same.
Giving a quick nod, he scurries over to the bar. When he gets back to the table he notices Jessica sitting alone. The rest of the table has made their way to the dance floor.
“I guess we’ll have to save these for later,” he says, setting the two drinks down on the table. Other than one drink being nearly empty, the two are the same. He reaches his hand out to Jessica, who has turned towards him. “Shall we?”
She puts her hand in his as he leads them away from the carpet and onto the hardwood. Looking around, his eyes wander over all the shining faces. His own looks glum, like a single cloud sailing through a sunny day. Jessica places a hand on it and turns his attention to her.
“Is everything alright?” she asks
“What?” he says, summoned away from his spell.
“I asked you if everything is alright. You look like you’re drifting away from me.”
“I’m right here,” he says, making himself smile.
She pulls her arms around his neck, letting her wrists twine together as they hover over his back.
“I’m really happy you’re here,” she says.
His smile becomes real as he places his hands around her waist. “Me too.”
The music starts to slow as the soft sounds surround them. Their hips begin to sway as their bodies move, together in tune. Staring deeply into each other’s eyes, four waves of blue come together as one as the stars around them disappear. For a moment, all that exists for each of them is the other. The floor below them, the music, the lights, the other dancers; they all wash away like whispers in the wind. Face to face, the future no longer matters.
⚘ ⚘ ⚘
Two cups of coffee sit between Jason and Jessica. With dinner served and dessert devoured, date night is almost over. Jason takes a sip from his mug as he glances around the restaurant at the other couples. Every table in the place is taken by two as the small place has filled up fast since they arrived. Jason’s feet start to tap as he lets more coffee glide down his gullet.
“I think I’m in love with you,” Jessica says, forcing Jason’s feet to freeze as his face turns to her.
“You what?” he says as spurts of coffee dribble down his chin. He takes a napkin from the table and wipes himself clean.
“I said, I think I’m in love with you.” She places her hands on the table. Jason keeps his under. “I was just watching you as you looked around… and I felt this sensation in my stomach. And then I felt this tingling in my cheeks. All of a sudden I realized that I was smiling. And it was because of you. Because I love you.”
Jason’s face freezes. His lips start to quiver but his mouth doesn’t open. Under the table, his fingers start to fidget.
“You don’t feel the same,” she says.
“I… I don’t know. No. Not yet. But –”
“You don’t think about me when I’m not with you?”
“I do. I think about you a lot. But –”
“But you don’t love me.”
“Jess. It’s not like that.”
“You either do or you don’t Jason.”
“That’s not true! Just because I don’t love you now doesn’t mean I won’t love you soon.”
“You just don’t want to be alone. Admit it,” she says, her voice beginning to boom, yet quiver at the same time. “If you had another match left you would have already left.”
“Jess, that’s not how it is.” His eyes start to plea for forgiveness, but she refuses to look at them, looking at the cold coffee instead.
“Is it because of how I acted when we first met? I thought we were past that.” She wraps a hand around the mug, almost breaking it apart.
“We are!” Jason reaches out, putting his hands over Jessica’s. As soon as they touch, Jessica pulls hers away.
“I know I acted like I didn’t want this when we first began, but I want it now. If you –”
“I want it now too!”
“I don’t believe you.” The water starts to drip down from her eyes. Seeing this causes the same to build up in Jason’s. “I’ll never be her.”
“The only times you look at me like I do you is when you’re thinking of her. How can I ever compete with a dead girl?” Streaks of black start to form under her eyes as her lips shake.
“Jess…” he says, his eyes sinking. He reaches out again, but as he does she rises. The speed of her ascent causes the chair to come crashing down behind her, forcing a loud smacking sound to echo through the restaurant, followed by a gasp or two from people who have assumed the worst. Jason moves his hands to his lap, shifting his eyes around rapidly.
“Don’t follow me,” she says, now at the attention of all the other patrons. “I don’t want to see you again.”
She rushes away, not stopping for a second at the sound of Jason’s call. He slaps a few bills against the table and takes to the door. Exiting the restaurant, he turns left to see Jessica speed-walking down the street. He opens his mouth but the words do not follow. Instead of continuing his stride, he turns the other way and burrows his head. “It’s too late,” he thinks, taking his feet with him.
⚘ ⚘ ⚘
Sitting on the corner of a curb stop, Jason finds himself alone. A heavy rain has just passed through his vision and only now is he able to see again. Above, there is not a cloud to be found in the night sky. His eyes are red and his mouth is drooped as his head hangs low, back arched, facing the ground. Taking a handkerchief out of his jacket pocket, he wipes the moisture off his cheeks before letting it soak up the rest of the water that continues to drip from his sockets. Afterwards, he places the white cotton under his nose, turning it green before tossing it to the side.
Taking a deep breath, Jason rises and begins to walk again. When his feet stop moving he finds himself in front of a bar. The sign at the top reads: “The Snake Hole.” It is the exact type of bar he imagines his brother must have frequented. That loser.
From where he’s standing he can’t even see inside, but he assumes it’s a complete dump; a place where the world’s garbage takes themselves to fester. Only those types of people go to bars. Only the lonely. The depraved. The desperate. Going to a bar instead of The Garden? You would have to be a damn fool. Every married couple he knows met their spouse at The Garden. Not one met their significant other at a bar. Not one even met anyone worth talking about at a bar. So, why would he?
“Fuck it, I need a drink,” he says, looking at the neon blue sign which reads: “OPEN.” Taking a step towards the door, he opens it and finds that the bar is even darker on the inside than it looked from the outside. He looks left to see a slew of empty seats where the tables are. To the right is the bar itself. Besides the bartender and Jason himself, there is only one other person in the dive. A woman, sitting in a shadow at the far end of the counter. Jason takes a seat at the other end, closest to the door.
“What’s your poison?” asks the bartender.
“Just give me a beer. One of those,” he says, pointing to the drafts.
“As you wish,” the bartender responds, handing Jason his drink a moment later.
Sliding a few bills onto the counter, he takes a sizeable sip from the glass before glancing over at the woman. In the distance, she looks a lot like Daisy, although Daisy never drank. She stares back at him, causing Jason to avert his gaze, focusing his eyes back on his beer, opening them to the accented taste of apples.
A moment later, the woman takes the seat next to Jason, locking her eyes on him.
“Let me guess,” she says. “Last match didn’t go so well, huh?”
“How do you figure?” he asks, looking over at her, noticing the emeralds in her eyes.
“There’s only two types of people who come in here. Losers… and lovers. You, my friend, look like you’ve ran out of love.”
“And what makes you think I’m not actually just a loser instead?”
A couple chuckles break free from the woman’s mouth. “Well, for one thing, you’re much too cute.”
Jason tries to hide his reaction, but his ruby red cheeks give him away.
“Alright,” he says, exposing his smile. “You got me. I’m a man without matches. Busted.” He raises his hands, palms out, to her.
“You poor soul. How will you ever find love now?” She fakes a frown, causing Jason’s smile to blossom.
“And what brings you here? What are you?” he asks.
“Me?” she asks, pointing to her chest. “I’m a loser, of course.”
“Oh, I don’t buy that.”
“And why not?”
“You’re much too cute.”
Bursts of laughter bust out. “Quite the Casanova, are we? Didn’t know those existed anymore.”
“And I didn’t know you could find such beautiful women in bars anymore.”
She puts her hands against her heart and feigns falling backward. “Oh. Again. What did I do to deserve such a charmer?”
“You came over and started talking to me.”
“Is that all it takes?”
Her dimples rise. “I like you. Youuuuuuuuu –”
“Jason,” he says, raising his glass to her. “You can just call me Jay, though.”
“Heather,” she replies, tapping her glass against his.
“So really, what brings you here?” he asks.
“Same thing as you, Mister Jay. No more matches. Need another way to light this fire now.”
“Well, I hear alcohol’s a good ignitor.”
“That it is,” she says, downing her glass. “I got a better idea, though. Why don’t you and me get out of here and go somewhere where the sun shines?”
“I’d like that. Although, it’s going to be quite a few hours before the sun rises again.”
“I’m sure we can find something to do in the meantime.” Her feet fall to the floor as she rises off the stool. “Come on. Let’s go.”
She walks towards the door. Without saying another word, Jason follows her, leaving behind half a glass of beer. As they exit, Heather places her hand in Jason’s, leading him away with her.
Walking out into the pale moonlight, Jason notices a familiar figure in the far distance, forcing him to stop at an instance. Under the dim yellow streetlight, he sees a woman standing at a corner. Her face is pointed away from him, but her hair has the same wavy flow to it that he remembers.
“Daisy?” his words echo down the sidewalk as his hand releases from Heather’s hold. “Daisy is that you?”
He runs towards the figure, leaving Heather behind. She stares out at Jason as he approaches the woman. Placing his hand on the woman’s shoulder, he turns her around. “Daisy?” he asks as the woman’s face appears.
“Jay? Jay, what the hell?” Jessica asks. The dim light above her causes her hair to glow. She looks over at Heather who now stands only a few feet away. “I knew you didn’t love me. How long has it been, Jay? Already you’ve found another!” She turns away from him.
“Jess, wait! I’m sorry.” A black car motions up towards the curb. Jessica opens the door. “I thought you were –” She closes the door before Jason can finish, already knowing what he’s going to say. The tires of the car screech against the blacktop as the car peels away. Jason turns around toward Heather.
“Heather?” She is nowhere to be found. “Heather, I’m sorry, it’s not what it looks like!”
He runs down the street, back towards the bar. Looking around for Heather as he runs, he fails to notice the stop sign in front of him as his head smashes into the pole, causing his body to fall to the ground and his eyes to turn.
Looking up at the street signs he notices a familiar combination. “This is where…”
In the middle of the street, her body appears. “Daisy…” She’s bleeding badly. The skin under her eyes has turned blue as the street starts to turn red. Jason finds himself in the driver’s seat, looking through the broken windshield, over at her body, sprawled out on the concrete. “She wasn’t wearing her seatbelt,” he says. “But I was driving…” Shards of glass stick out of her skin as her eyes stare out into the stars.
Pushing the driver side door open, he flops out of the car and crawls over to her. His ribs are shattered but the blood in his heart is still pumping. “Daisy,” he whispers, putting his hand in hers. “Daisy, please. Don’t leave me.”
⚘ ⚘ ⚘
“Look who’s finally awake.”
“Surprised you didn’t say Daisy.”
“Where am I?”
“The hospital. You hit your head real hard last night,” Heather says, gliding her finger across the Band-Aid on Jason’s forehead, causing him to wince. “You’re a real asshole, you know that?”
“So I’ve been told.”
“Getting a girl’s hopes up like that only to go chasing after a different girl the first chance you get.”
“It wasn’t like that. I thought I saw –”
“Yes. She was my wife. She died.” He reaches for his eyes and gives them a rub. The band is performing a heavy beat against his brain. He feels like he’s been asleep for days.
“I’m sorry to hear that. Although, that does help to explain the state I found you in.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I found you laying there – your head pouring out onto the pavement – you kept saying her name. And you kept crying. You were staring right out into the middle of the street. I thought maybe you got hit by a car, but then I noticed the dent in the stop sign.”
“I don’t remember that.”
“I didn’t think you would. Your head is pretty well concussed.”
Jason tries to pick himself up out of the bed but Heather pushes him back down. He rises for just long enough to see her blue scrubs.
“Are you a nurse?” he asks.
“Wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t,” she says.
Jason looks down. “She liked you,” he thinks. “And she’s still here. Don’t leave her behind again.” His eyes open as he faces them towards her.
“I’m sorry,” he says, reaching out for her hand. She lets him take it. “Can we start over?”
“That depends,” she says, squeezing his hand hard enough that it hurts. “Is Daisy the only one you’re still in love with? What about that Jess woman?”
He rubs his thumb across her hand as his teeth grind against his lower lip. “I don’t think I was ever in love with her to begin with. She just reminded me of Daisy.”
“And what about me? Do I remind you of her?”
“No. You seem different.”
“Alright then,” she says, releasing the tension from her hold as she strokes his arm with her other hand.
“It doesn’t bother you? That I still think about her?”
“It does. But I have an ex too. Also gone. And I still think about him as well. So, I think that makes us even. And besides, it’s not like either of us can go back to The Garden again. We might as well take our chances.”
“Might as well…”