Fiction

Atonement Decaf

By: Peter Nemenoff

He had a nervous demeanor.

            Elijah sat in a café, a full latte in front of him. He occasionally picked it up, and blew on it, even after it had cooled down, but would ultimately put it back down, effectively abandoning it as nothing more than a prop.

            He sat at a table for two, fairly central in the half full café, facing the entrance so that he could easily be seen. To pass the time he kept examining the terrible artwork on the exposed brick walls, making it appear that he probably cared for it much more than he actually did.

            He did not want to be on his phone. Sadie always complained that he was on his phone too much. He did not want to be seen on his phone when she walked through those doors, at any given moment.

            She was currently seven minutes late, not that he was counting. He just wished she would arrive already. He had been dreading this date. It wasn’t even a date. They had broken up a couple of months earlier. It had not been the first time, but this time certainly felt like the last time. Except she had reached out to him to meet up. She wanted to talk about something. What it was he didn’t know, but she didn’t want to do it over the phone. She wanted to meet and talk in person. He had been intrigued and agreed, but now that the day had arrived he couldn’t possibly imagine what she had wanted to meet for. To get in another fight? Why bother? To get back together? That ship had seemed to sail. To try and create some kind of a friendship? Maybe. Whatever it was he couldn’t decide, but his anxiety kept climbing the longer he waited and she was now eight minutes late.

            Sadie arrived after eleven minutes.

            She pushed open the door to the café, and looked to each side before spotting Elijah directly in the center and greeted him with a wave before strolling over.

            She had dressed up for the occasion, wearing a long, dark dress, with a short jacket on to keep her warm from the cool fall weather. Despite the season and overcast sky, she still wore a pair of large sunglasses, which she casually removed as she approached the table.

            If she was nervous she didn’t show it, or so Elijah thought.

            He could only assume she was more nervous than she let on. He could also only assume the hesitation she also felt in contacting him. Did she wrestle with it? Did she dial the number and then delete it before dialing? Did she talk herself into it? He would never know, but if she did hesitate then whatever she had to say must have been important since she did follow through with their meeting.

            She stopped just short of the table, paused, and Elijah politely stood up to greet her. For an awkward moment they just stared at each other. Did she want to turn around and leave? Pretend this whole thing had never happened? She kept her poker face never revealing any nerves. She stayed and broken the silence.  

            “Hi.”

            “Hi,” he greeted her back.

            “How are you?” she inquired.

            “Good. Good. You?” He didn’t really know. They hadn’t done much small talk in their recent messages.

            She considered the question before answering.

            “Good,” she finally landed on.

            He nodded.

            “Good.”

            “Good,” she agreed.

            So far it was going better than Elijah had expected, despite the fact that they were still standing. He decided to put an end to that.

            “Here, have a seat,” he offered.

            “Thanks,” she smiled.

            They both sat down, creating the next conversational obstacle.

            “Do you want a coffee?” Elijah asked, jumping back up, ready to go to the counter to place her order. She quickly dashed that dream.

            “No.”

            “Tea?”

            “I’m fine.”

            “Something to eat? A muffin maybe?”

            “Nothing,” Sadie said definitively. She wasn’t here to eat or drink. Despite being polite, he could tell his insistence otherwise was starting to annoy her. Besides, he knew she wasn’t here to eat or drink.

            Despite that her refusal was starting to annoy him.

            “Are you sure?” he said, unable to let it go.

            “Yeah, I’m fine,” she said, obviously trying to stay polite but her tone began to betray her.

            He nodded, and sat back down, back to their awkward silence. He took a long sip of his now cold latte in an act of defiance. He really tried to look like was enjoying it too, but she seemed unimpressed.

            He put down his coffee, but decided he still couldn’t let it go.

            “It’s just that you said you wanted to meet for coffee, so I figured you might want a coffee,” he said.

            She let out a deep sigh.

            “It’s not about the coffee.”

            “It’s not?” he asked.

            “Honestly, I just wanted to talk in person so I said ‘coffee,’ like a code.”

            Elijah knew coffee had been code. He had seen it done so in every modern movie, sitcom and book in his lifetime. Despite being aware of this information he still felt compelled to push the subject. It probably stemmed from his uncertainty in his meeting with Sadie and their history together. He decided it was probably best to check himself before he went too far.

            “Okay, I get it,” he said.

            That was all Sadie needed to move forward.

            “So now that I have you here, let’s talk.”

            “Alright,” he said, still curious about the purpose of this encounter.

            Sadie was then able to launch into the part of the conversation that Elijah could tell she really wanted to talk about. The part he imagined she had rehearsed in the mirror, prior to her arrival. If she was nervous, she had still not let on as she did not give any indication of anxiety or nerves. Maybe if she had relented and had a coffee or tea.

            “I know we didn’t part on the best of terms,” she began.

            “That’s an understatement,” he said, recalling their last encounter.

            “Okay, it was brutal,” she conceded.

            However, for Elijah the scab had yet to heal.

            “You screamed at me, in front of our friends, out of nowhere, over a game of trivial pursuit,” he reminded her.

            This historical fact of their relationship did not need to be restated. It was well known and documented.

            “I know what I did,” she said.

            “I’m happy you do, because I still have no idea what I did wrong,” he half accused but also half pondered, trying to figure out his own fault in the experience.

            He knew she wanted to claim moral victory in their fight, but was unable to do so since alcohol was involved, as well as witnesses, and neither party came out that evening looking good.

            “Maybe that’s the problem,” she lamented.

            Elijah was still attempting to wrap his head around what exactly he did that was so wrong.

            “All I did was make a joke about Bill Clinton having the most expensive blow job in history,” he said.

            He could tell Sadie was still not impressed as she had trouble hiding it from her face. Her eye roll was most epic.

            “For like the hundredth time.”

            Except that hadn’t always been the case.

            “You thought it was funny before.”

            It had been different before. He knew that. They had both thought a lot of things had been funny before. They had felt a lot of different emotions before too, at least he had. He could only imagine she had felt the same way too. He knew they had been a flurry of positive emotions at one point, but had mostly veered towards the negative at the end and it had become harder and harder to remember those earlier emotions.

            They had met two years earlier. Their relationship at the best of times could be described as bipolar. Their highs were immense, but few and far between the low moments and fighting.

            She had been his teacher.

            It certainly wasn’t as scandalous as it initially sounded. They met in an adult education class. She was teaching a vegetarian cooking class for some extra money. Elijah had taken it with the purpose of possibly meeting someone. It had been recommended to him by his mother who thought that would be a nice to place to meet some women. Most of the other people in the class were older, as it turned out, in their sixties, at least. That’s what he got for finding a class in a magazine he saw on the newsstand on a street corner. Old fashioned marketing probably leads to an older clientele.

            Sadie treated him like the star student from the beginning of class, probably because he was the only one close to her age. She certainly flirted with him enough as she continuously called on him in class. He didn’t discourage it.

            The class only met six time in the course of three weeks. They went on their first date after the third class in the middle of the second week. It never got better than the initial high of their relationship and slowly devolved into more fighting until their eventual blow up and break up a couple of months before the current meeting.

            “Listen,” she said, breaking his concentration. “I didn’t come here to re-hash old arguments.”

            “Then what exactly did you want to talk about?” he asked, becoming increasingly frustrated at what exactly she had actually intended to come here to do.

            Sadie showed hesitation for the first time since she had arrived. She sighed, closed her eyes, and quickly composed herself, hiding any previous doubt and launched into her speech. The one Elijah imagined she had prepared and rehearsed beforehand.

            “Here’s the deal. I wanted to meet you today, because it is almost Yom Kippur. I know neither one of us is particularly religious, at all, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about who I am, and us, and in the spirit of atonement and forgiveness I just wanted to say I’m sorry.”

Elijah was stunned. He was not expecting this apology. Had he known he would have been less on the defensive in their meeting, but how would he have known? He had only been defensive, because that was the only way he had known how to act around Sadie given their previous encounters at the end of their relationship. He honestly didn’t know how to react or what to say. This unexpected apology had completely thrown him off guard. Sadie seized upon this silence to continue.

“I know we have a lot of history and have said a lot of things to each other that can’t be unsaid, but I just wanted to acknowledge my part and say it wasn’t all one-sided. I contributed my fair share to the discourse in our relationship and again just want to emphasize how sorry I am,” she said, then decided to add, as if she had forgotten, “In the spirit of Yom Kippur and all.”

Elijah was touched. He really was. He had not expected this at all. He also felt bad. She had taken the higher road. Here he was, coming in defenses up, ready for battle, when it turned out to be unnecessary. Not only that, but he felt she sounded genuine. It didn’t sound fake or like some kind of manipulation on her part. They had played so many games with each other in their time together that he knew most of her tones by heart. This was one he hadn’t heard in a while.  He felt he should say something, offer some gesture to suggest that he heard her, forgave her, and was ready to move on to a new chapter of friendship in their lives and co-exist without any kind of animosity.

So in the most genuine tone he could muster up, he said, “Thank you. That was brave to do. And in the spirit of Yom Kippur I just want to acknowledge my part in everything too and also say I’m sorry. Because, I am, sorry.”

Apparently that was the wrong thing to say.

Sadie’s face turned red. Her eyes slanted and stared down Elijah with a piercing cut. The anger inside her looked to be boiling like hot water in a tea kettle and when it came to a raging conclusion it exploded out of her mouth in a spasm of turbulent but coherent words.

“Well, you can’t say I’m sorry!” she screamed, the people at the tables around them definitely noticing. Elijah slunk down a little in his chair, but she continued, “Those words meaning nothing from you! You’ve said them so many times!”

That was unexpected. Had she meant to do that? It didn’t seem like part of the prepared script. It just seemed to kind of came out of her like a dam breaking. If it wasn’t planned she looked like she had now regained her senses, and she looked as stunned as Elijah felt. He himself just stared at her with eyes wide open, waiting for her to make a move.

If she wanted to apologize again, it seemed she had quickly rejected that idea. Maybe she was never sorry at all, as the anger that came out of her came with such ferocity that she must have really meant it and never really gotten over any negative feelings.

Without exchanging another word, she got up from her seat, elegantly pushed it in, and then not wanting to appear rushed, sauntered out of the restaurant at her own casual pace leaving Elijah alone, still wide-eyed.

He had no idea what had just happened. Was that just another game? Another manipulation? Had she just lulled into him into a false sense of security so that he would let his guard down and she could then get the very last word in their dumpster fire of a relationship? He just had one thought to express and express it he did.

“What the hell was that?!”

But there was no one left to hear it, except the awkward feeling strangers sitting at the tables around him.  

And that was that.

Categories: Fiction

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