By Sierra Gierlich
You’re here again at the same coffee shop, a small building tucked in an isolated corner of the city. She’s here again, too. You want to say more to her, but all you can mutter is your order and a meek hello. Her hair as red as fire, her eyes like bits of sapphire. Just last month you spent hours crawling through your Instagram trying to find her, scanning the friends lists of all your friends, hoping you’d find Jessica. The Jessica that works every Tuesday and Friday at Soul Roast. After mindlessly skimming thirteen local Jessicas, you found her.
You like all her recent photos, comment when you feel enticed, but when face to face with her, say nothing. Just your regular black coffee with two sugars and an extra shot of expresso. Just as the thought passes your mind, she looks at you and smiles. Look away, pack up your laptop, and head for the door. But before you open it, take one last glance at Jessica and feel a rare smile form across your face. Pull out your phone and send her a DM—you look beautiful today. Tuck your phone back in your pocket, and leave.
Step through the doors of the café onto the street and begin your walk to campus. The wind is swift, the ground cold under your soles, and the sky is dull. A man approaches you. Dirty, drunk, and vacant, he’s wearing a sign around his neck that says he has lost his wife and needs money for food. Keep walking. He reaches you and asks if you can spare a dollar. His shoes are torn, his clothes look like they have fallen into a paper shredder. Yet, you look past him. As you walk, feel the weight of the wallet in your back pocket; you can almost hear the crinkling of cash in the folds. But keep walking. Put your headphones in, put your phone up to your face, and look as if you have just received a text so life-changing that it rendered you unable to look into his eyes. You fall into the crowd, all receiving the same text, all their faces illuminated.
You’re late for class. Scramble in and sit at the back as if not to be noticed. As if no one heard the huge slam of the door, as if your teacher did not have to stop his lecture to welcome you, as if everyone hasn’t already giggled at your discomfort. Take out your notebook and start jotting down notes. Two lines in and your phone lights up.
It’s a notification from Facebook: Jennifer Martins has a birthday today. Don’t care, you whisper to yourself. Start scrolling through your Facebook feed. That one chick you sat next to in freshman year Bio got knocked up, your old soccer buddy got a new job, and Steve Olson just beat level 109 in Candy Crush. Cool. Scroll past all the news of your peers and stumble across an article about California. An earthquake collapsed thousands of buildings and homes, racking up a death poll in the hundreds. A national tragedy. Tell yourself how sad. A GoFundMe page has been created to support the rebuilding of California, and to help the families who lost their loved ones. Exit out. Open up Twitter, and in 160 characters give your condolences to the families, ending your tweet with a #prayforCA and #RIP. When your phone lights up again, this time you get excited: it’s Jessica. She replied, thank you, and asked if you want to come to her party tonight, and ended the text with the little emoji that’s winking with its tongue sticking out.
Well, that’s suggestive. A couple of classmates look back and your smile drops instantly, only a smirk remains. You reply that you’ll try to stop by, even though you know damn well you’ll be there. Antsy now, scroll again through your Facebook feed. Watch a video of a monkey throwing bananas at its zookeeper and silently laugh to yourself as you wait out the last 45 minutes of class.
Stop over at Mikey’s house on your way home from school. The same house you stopped at every day on your way home from second grade until you graduated high school. Walk in, and you’re hit with the stench of old hash and BO. The smell that indicates a woman hasn’t been around for a few weeks. In the living room Mikey’s screaming into his headset. He hands you the bowl, you take a hit or two and go on your way into the spare room with the extra set-up. Log on and start the new map with your guys for the next four hours. During a break you and the guys are all talking on the mic, first time you’ve all talked in a while. They say after the last game they’re gonna head over to Mikey’s for beers like they always say.
After the game ends, go back into the living room with Mikey. He’s packing another bowl when you come in. Watch playbacks of the game you just spent hours playing, laughing at the commentary that consisted of YOU DIDN’T COVER ME and WE’RE ALL GONNA FUCKING DIE. Spend the next hour talking about your kill streaks and how next time Ross couldn’t play because he was too annoying on the mic. The guys never show up. The night is closing, and Mikey turns to you with a blank stare. He tells you that Sarah left him. He says she cheated on him, she was crazy. He says what all men say when they are left high and dry. When they’re sad, when they’re lonely, when they’re broken. Say you’re sorry. Say if he needs anything, you’re there for him. He offers you a beer, you decline. You leave.
Before you know it, you’re at the party. She’s there waiting for you, her red hair flowing all the way down her chest, shadowing the curves of her body.
“I thought you wouldn’t show!”
“And I thought your house would be bigger!”
She smiles at you. Her stone eyes like weights resting on your body, you feel paralyzed. She grabs you by the hand and introduces you to all her friends. She takes you around her house, shows you all her family photos, never letting your hand go through it all. She offers up a game of beer pong which you can’t refuse. You suck, but somehow by God’s good grace, you make freshman cup. She grins at you while your own face is large with excitement. She slowly removes her top and giggles, her skin as smooth as milk. You’re blushing, you’re excited, you think you’re in love. She ends up winning the game, shocker, and you find yourselves on the living room couch, watching her friends bombing karaoke. She feels like air resting on your thighs, a moment so precious. Then your phone rings.
You go to grab it but she is already pulling it out of your pocket. She giggles while she tosses it to the couch across from you.
“It’s just you and me right now, they can have you later.”
Just as you begin to respond, she kisses you. The room stops, noises mute, and you feel alive. Like really alive. This moment is unlike anything you’ve experienced in months. It’s tangible, intoxicating, encapsulating. It’s real.
Wake up the next morning with your phone pressed against your face. After Jessica’s house, you spent the rest of your night lying in bed scrolling through Twitter, seeing everyone’s posts about the California tragedy, and liking them all. The guys are all texting you to get online. Text Mikey and tell him to log on. He says he’s not in the mood. You read it but don’t respond. Turn on your console and open up the new map. Spend the next three hours of your morning playing online with your friends again.
Everyone’s screaming at each other like you have all entered a real-life war zone. As if you were all battle buddies taking out the opponent as an army. You all say you’re gonna go get drinks this weekend. Your phone lights up. Ignore it. Once you’ve finished the game, hop in the shower, start getting ready to work your twelve-to-close shift. Start putting on your headphones to walk out the door, and you see that you missed a call. It’s from your mom. Read the transcript version of her voicemail, with all the spaces where your phone couldn’t comprehend what she was saying. Later you realize it’s because she was crying. Piece together that your grandmother in Vermont just passed away. The one you visit every year. The one who took care of you when you were a child in Vermont, before your parents’ divorce. Always sweet, always loving, and always leaving you her own voicemails. Go through your mom’s Facebook and scroll through the old pictures of you all. Find and post a picture of you and your grandma from when you were six. Fallen asleep on her chest after an intense session of cowboys and Indians. A cowboy hat askew atop her head as she placed a kiss on yours. Write about what you guys used to do together and how much you’d miss her. End the post with #rip, and start playing music on your phone.
Don’t call your mom back. Begin your walk to work. Head in your phone, fingers refreshing your feed to see your friends’ condolences and likes. Start smiling. Jessica liked your post.
Sierra Gierlich is a junior at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. She is an English major and enjoys writing stories.