by Bethany Showers
The cabin smells like wet wood and Pine-Sol. There are stuffed raccoons, wolves, and turkeys watching Adam and me eat our pulled pork and French fries. The cool autumn air whispers through the cracks in the door when his Mama brings us our drinks. She didn’t know what to order me, so she went for sweet tea. I thank her and she leaves us alone. Adam wants to teach me how to shoot a gun, but I will get too scared later and chicken out. I taste the tea and it’s like maple syrup with a little water. I let him finish it and he tells me I am too sweet for the tea anyways. The South is too sweet a place for me, I joke in reply.
I tuck my knees underneath myself, copying the Osaka locals, and sit back on my ankles. My legs relax into place while others around me give up and sit cross-legged. A woman with fair skin, dark hair, and a red kimono shuffles about the teahouse with candies and red bowls. She walks by me and sets the tea down by my knees. I nod my head in a slight bow and look into the sharp-odored algae below. It’s green tea at its most basic root – matcha. Leaves grown specifically to be plucked, dried, crushed, flattened, and ground up into a powder, which is then doused with boiling water and whipped into a frenzy. It’s supposed to be good for you, and my friend watches carefully as I sip it. How is it? he asks. Bitter, I say. But I finish it nonetheless and eat the sugary treat placed next to the bowl. It’s supposed to counter the sour taste, our hostess tells me. I shrug. I like it, the bitterness. It has worked hard for its form.
It’s not supposed to taste good, they told me; it’s just supposed to get you drunk. I believed them. It smelled like a Starburst gone wrong and tasted like sugarcoated gasoline. I took another swig and passed the bottle to Sarah who gulped and passed it to Mary who sipped and passed it to Liz who joked about finishing it and almost did in one go. We debated which guy in our group of friends was the hottest and talked about how far we had all gone. Sarah and Liz could have been CEO’s with their resumes. Mary and I couldn’t have even gotten part-time jobs. I finished off the bottle only so they could spin it. It’s not supposed to taste good, I told myself. It’s just supposed to get me drunk.
Before the vodka, I shot back soda. Caffeine was a sheltered teen’s alcohol. I put my hand on his arm while his girlfriend was looking away and he leaned close to whisper in my ear. We had inside jokes that his girlfriend never understood. I reveled in the moment as he looked only at me. He held me longer than others when we hugged goodbye and we made plans to travel the world one day, just the two of us. At night, he would tell me that he loved me more than her and I would pity her. She must know what we are doing, I used to think in fear. She’s my friend, I thought. She has to know.
The next morning, I would learn the following: Mountain Dew (around him) made me crazy and yes, she did know.
Black and Tan Mocha
I order the same thing every time I’m at this coffee shop. He buys it for me with an easy smile. I wonder if this is a date. He talks only about class and how behind he is with his work. When I smile and look into his eyes, he looks away and talks to someone else. He then asks if I am ready for the math exam. I tell him yes and he tells me he’s not. We laugh and he touches my knee. I wonder if this is a date. He asks if I want to grab something to eat after the exam and I eagerly say I do. He assures me he’ll pay as a thank-you for tutoring him and I tell him it’s no big deal. He will not answer my calls after the exam. He will not show up to the coffee shop like he told me and I will wait at the booth for hours. I will wait even after realizing he’s not coming, until I can no longer feel the caffeine in my veins. I will leave in time for the sun to set low. It will not be a date.
Unsweetened with Extra Ice
Grandma Connie orders unsweetened iced tea with an extra cup for ice. She wants it cold in the southern summer heat. It will always surprise me how a native North Carolinian could ask for unsweetened tea every time we eat out. Her grandson Adam orders sweet tea with lemon. We all talk about the hurricane outside and Grandma Connie rubs her hands periodically over her knees under the table. She looks at me and smiles. We really should go shopping together again, she says. I always wish she was my real grandmother in moments like that. Her eyes are so warm. Yes we should, I tell her. Shopping would be lovely. She says she is so thankful that she has us in her life and suddenly tell us she misses her brother. His funeral was the previous Tuesday. I nod, unsure of what to do with the grief. I don’t say anything and she asks the waitress for more ice.
Plum Sake Sangria
On my 21st birthday, I have mono. I have a cake and a balloon, but no alcohol. When I return to school, I am told not to drink for three months. I wait only three weeks before ordering my first (legal) drink at Hops Co. off Oleander. I order the sake-based mixed drink, because it reminds me of Japan when I had two full bottles of sake in one night and became fluent in Japanese for three hours. The sangria is different, though. Sweeter and lighter. I sip it slowly and savor the plum. The waitress notices when I finish and asks if I want something else to drink. She tells me they have a special spring drink with watermelon vodka. I could get a discount since I’m celebrating my birthday.
But I order water instead and my roommate asks for more sugar in her sweet tea. I laugh. The South is too sweet a place for me, I say, and she answers that I may be too bitter for the South. Adam whispers that I’m not bitter at all and I remember a time when I never would have believed him. I have been plucked, dried, crushed, flattened, ground up into a powder, boiled, and spun round and round, but Adam balances my bitter taste with his patient, sweet words. I still tell Adam I want to move to the North after graduation. He tells me he prefers the snow anyways.
Bethany Showers is a double major in English and Creative Writing at UNC Wilmington with a double minor in Asian Studies and Japanese. Her work has been published in Atlantis Magazine and The Second Story Journal. She hopes to teach English abroad after her graduation in the spring of 2017. She is originally from the Washington DC Metro area in Ashburn, Virginia.