The Morning After
Rivers; Or What to Do When We Are Dying
Slamming the door was probably his first mistake. Maybe if he’d come in quieter she wouldn’t have noticed, and he could take the time to piece together the information he needed without having to ask her. Maybe he’d have a few more seconds to breathe before she robbed him of his speech. She’d always been good at that. All of that was a matter for the past. He’d slammed the door on his way in; she’d jumped; and the two of them stood in complete silence. She’d been just moments from stuffing another sweater into the suitcase, her hand still hesitated just briefly over the open luggage, clutching the canary yellow cardigan he’d bought for her in New York 3 Octobers ago. They were friends then.
“Remember when we bought that?” he muttered low, half-hoping she wouldn’t hear it.
“Yeah…” she said after a second. “It was your birthday. I told you not to spend any of your money on me, but you insisted”. For a moment she tried to smile, but it looked like it died somewhere along the way, lost its light.
“It looked pretty” was all he could say. His eyes weren’t really on the sweater, but on her hand, bare and lacking a ring. She caught his eyes for just a moment, and seeing where his dark browns were staring, cut hers to the dresser, just as brown and deep, save for the glittering silver ring resting stagnant.
“I’m sorry” she said, or tried to say. Halfway through, he yanked his eyes up to hers and she saw them burning. “Don’t” he stated, face frowning into something in-between pain and anger.
“Tai…” she whispered, losing her grip on the sweater. Tai noticed that it still fell into the suitcase, already filled with clothes. He struggled to find his words. After the fifth time his mouth opened, words finally decided to come forth.
“Just tell me why…” part of him wished he’d never said it.
“I’m just… not sure anymore”
“About what?” his voice turned icy. She hesitated, a few thousand thoughts turning in her head. What could she say? What didn’t she know?
“I love you” he said, as if the words would change her mind. Something in the way he said it, the desperation in it, made her wish they would.
“I know.” Jasmine finished, placing a finger in the lowest hanging curl in her hair.
“You only do that when you’re biting your tongue” Tai said matter-of-factly. He’d taken somewhere between 3 and 5 steps towards her in the past few seconds, and now she had to look up to meet his eyes. She recalled a few of the times he’d joked about her short height. Those memories seemed so distant now, so lost in where they’d come.
“Jaz…talk to me. You know I’d do anything for you…” at this point he was practically begging, his voice barely above a whisper. She placed her hand on his chest, her ring finger still bare. Some sad part of him wanted to believe he’d just imagined the ring on the desk.
“I’ve never doubted that.” she said, meeting his eyes to smile at him. Tai allowed his sadness to bleed a way a bit. She always had a smile like running water at sunset. It sparkled, but not blindingly, it was just warm.
“But this is something that I have to do for myself” she said, still trying to hold the smile.
“You’re amazing, Tai. And you deserve all the love and attention you’re seeking. I just… can’t give that to you right now”. He could see she had more to say, so he let her.
“I don’t want you to think I don’t love all the things you do for me. I do. But it’s not fair for me to desire those things from you without being able to return them. I have to focus on myself right now… and I’m sorry it took me so long to realize that”. By this point, twin trails of tears were making their way down both of their faces, She thought to say more, and likely would have, but could do nothing but shriek when the bang came.
Plaster and paint cracked and split where his fist impacted. His teeth were barred against each other, grinding together and giving him a look like a snarl. His whole body quaked with built-up rage, or perhaps anguish. This lasted until he noticed her hand no longer on his chest, and the horrified look on her face. Now it was his turn to look away.
“I’m sorry” he whispered, his voice cracking. She didn’t answer, instead just backing away a bit and turning back to the yellow cardigan. He lowered his hand, but it still remained in a fist, flecks of paint mingling with the red around his middle knuckle.
“Don’t…please” he said again. He wanted to be embarrassed at all this pleading he was doing. “I’d never hurt you… you know that”.
“I do. This isn’t about that. It’s about me, Tai”. She punctuated his name by closing the suitcase, leaving her key on the bed they’d shared for almost 2 years now. She moved past him, and as much as he wanted to reach out and grab her, just to have another moment to talk to her, to figure this out. Instead, he’d stared at the floor she’d been standing on, As the door to the bedroom opened for the first time since she’d slammed it, she turned her head to offer what could have been a smile.
“Work on that temper, okay?” Something about the way she said it didn’t seem like a joke.
These days these new girls they make me nervous
They go to school and do bottle service
They can’t decide they keep switchin’ majors
Bein’ indecisive makes me anxious
A strong part of him didn’t want to open his eyes. I’m really growing to hate Drake. Despite his complaints, he allowed himself to fully awaken with a grunt and a grumble. Tai’s eyes, still half-lidded to hide the encroaching sun, took in the room around him; the cream-colored walls, the carpeted floors, and the light pink curtains resting on either side of the bedroom window. On the nightstand, there was a picture of 3 girls, perhaps a little older than college-age, huddled up in the grass and laughing wildly at what he assumed wasn’t that funny of a joke. This brought him back to his phone, still blaring the melodramatic base drum and piano symphony of Drake’s Jungle. Sighing to himself, Tai reached a hand up from under the blanket and shut off his alarm. The semi-blinding screen of his phone read 10:12 AM. He’d slept the whole night through. **** it. He allowed himself the mental swear as he rose to sit on the edge of the bed that wasn’t his. That mistake proved costly, as the motion awoke the bed’s other occupant. A blonde head of hair poked itself out from under the blanket and yawned.
“Good morning, babe.” The girl said, her voice colored over with the remains of her yawning sigh.
“Hey. Did you sleep okay?” he said, a smile on his lips.
“Absolutely. Last night was great.”
He held the smile a little longer and turned to find his shirt on the floor. As he rose to put it on, he stretched.
“Glad to hear it. Sadly, I gotta go. My dumb ass forgot I have to work today. Sorry”.
It wasn’t necessarily a lie.
“All good” the blonde answered. He was almost certain her name was Julia. But maybe it was Joy. “Get on out of here then. You’ll call me later though, right?”
Tai flashed another smile at her. “Of course I will” he said as he placed his last shoe on and made his way to her bedroom door; which wasn’t necessarily a lie either. He would call her again, just to tell her that he feels like he made a mistake and didn’t want anything serious. He’d apologize, tell her she’s worth someone who can give her all their time, and wish her all the best. It was just the way things went.
For the first few weeks, Tai kept a mental tally of how many times he’d pulled the same act. But by now, almost 4 months into “the game”, he didn’t bother himself with the number anymore. Rather, he accepted it as a part of his routine, the way one would see a weekly walk in Rittenhouse Square or a run along Kelly Drive. For Taichi Inazuma, this was the way of things, and in his mind, he was all the better for it.
The entire look of the complex lobby came off as rather posh to him. Then again, pretty much anyone he knew that lived downtown was a snobbish *******, so he supposed it fit the bill. All in all, he had to admit that the girl he’d just left must have had some decent wealth if she could afford to call this obnoxiously luxurious place her home. Crossing under a glass chandelier, he’d almost made it to the door when he was alerted by the telltale chime and buzz of his phone. Thankfully, it was just a text, from Josh. Speaking of snobbish ******** he bitterly thought. Begrudgingly, he held his thumb down on the home button of his iPhone and let it bloom to life, showing the message.
[10:22 AM] It’s super slow today, don’t bother coming in.
Well, there goes my plans for the day, Taichi ventured as he swung the glass door of the apartment complex open to the air. He’d thought to just close his phone, knowing his manager would know he got the message. Alas, decorum won out for once, and he allowed himself a moment to reply.
[10:23 AM] Got it. See ya Sunday.
A light breeze passed through his dark grey mop of hair, and Tai followed it with a hand brushing the short-cut hair aside. For a moment he remembered all the times people would ask him why he died it. He never answered; mostly because he hadn’t. Genetics were just weird like that. A rumbling bus’ engine roar broke him from this reverie. Philadelphia was, as always, alive with motion and sound, even this early on a Friday. The corner of 19th and Chestnut wasn’t anything overly special, given decent shade under the towering skyscrapers of Center City. Only a block away from the verdant Rittenhouse Square, Tai could already hear the chatter of citizens out on morning walks or passive jogs. The sound had become something of a metronome, allowing him time to pace his thoughts on his walk home. Striding slowly, the long streets of Chestnut came alive again, in a different way.
“So where exactly are we going again?” she questioned, that same snark and sass evident in her voice as was always there. Her face wasn’t quite a smile, but it wasn’t exactly a frown either. The strange half-smirk curved her cheeks in an all-too-beautiful fashion, and beside himself, he smiled hard in response.
“Does that matter? You’re with me, so hush” he snarked back, turning that half-smirk into a full smile. The kind he loved seeing on her.
Tai had to forcefully shake his head, as if the memory clung to his skin with viscosity. No time for that, not right now. He repeated like a mantra for a few moments. This wasn’t exactly new. Philly was full of memories. Street corners, old diners, so many places packed full of images he no longer wished to see, even if they brought smiles to his face. Sometimes Tai would just… run into them. The irony of that moment wasn’t lost as he almost physically ran into, or more accurately got ran over by a passing White Honda. The blare of the driver’s horn was enough to convey his anger, but the irate commuter decided to lean out of the window and shout at Tai, for good measure if nothing else.
“Jesus, **** dude. Watch where you’re going!”.
Tai mumbled a response and kept going, picking his head up for a moment before lowering it again to flip through his phone.
Distractions are gonna get me killed one of these days.