“You know it’s your fault, don’t you?”
“I said you know it’s your fault, right?”
“How the hell is it my fault?”
“Did you even tell her that you loved her?” Michael asked, casting him a shrewd glance. They were sat together in the heated embrace of Manhattan’s best coffee shop, their discussion slowly washed over by warm voices like waves against the sand. Jace simply wished they’d speak louder, and drown out their entire conversation. Instead, they spoke at a level to allow Michaels monotonous cynicism instant access into Jace’s head. He looked down at his coffee shuddering before him, within the pastel mug. It wasn’t the one who should be afraid.
“I...didn’t tell her,no.” He answered, gripping either side of his mug as if it were a crystal ball, holding a future he desired to know. In a way, it worked. His future was black, just like the coffee.
Michael laughed, except it wasn't a joyful sound. He signalled to the waitress, who pranced over with a metallic tray, laden with chipped mugs, covered in the sticky resin of drunk hot chocolate.
“Could we get another two coffees?” Michael asked. Nodding, she wrote it down accordingly, flashed them a shy grin and disappeared as quickly as she had arrived.
“Jesus,” Scoffed Michael. “We’d of been fucked if we wanted a scone to, wouldn’t we?”
Jace shrugged. “Yeah.”
He glanced around the little shop. Bathed in a warm, cinnamon glow, the cafe was everything he was not. Happy, fulfilling, purposeful. Cute mismatched chairs circling chipped tables. Pale wooden surfaces accented with stout potted plants and quirky teapots, usually to match the idiosyncratic clientele. People clinked mugs, discussed news or ate breakfasts together. Everyone was interesting. The strong, earthy scent of the coffees, americanos and lattes enveloped the room, sickening at first but gradually became the air you breathed in. You got used to it, almost as if it was a feeling. Jace wanted to lose himself right now, longed to just read the news and pretend his life was okay, finding solace in the unfortunate articles he read about. A sickening comfort, he knew that.
Looking back at his friend was like turning towards a completely disparate world. Michael looked back at him with a poorly masked judgement. The look in his eyes alone silenced the room, turned the coffee scent sour and the voices mute. The brief moment of euphoria was gone, and Jace was back in his life.
“See, believe it or not, girls like to be told they’re loved.” Michael said, a somewhat pitiful grin playing at the corners of his lips, vanishing almost instantly.
“I’d never of guessed.” Jace scoffed, though he had no right to be sarcastic. Because he truly never had guessed, and that was why Elaine walked away. He regretted everything he’d never said since.
“Did you ever say anything to her?” Michael asked. “Anything...meaningful?” There was a glint of desperation in his eyes as he watched him put the mug to one side.
Jace thought for a moment about what he had remembered to say. He’d told her she had pretty hair, a nice laugh, predictable things they said in movies to signal some sort of cliche connection. But never the obvious ‘I love you’. What had he said?
Then Jace remembered the light.
“She had the most beautiful light in her eyes.” He answered, weakly. ‘I’d tell her that often.”
“She had light in her eyes.” Michael repeated, the cynical tone returning to his voice. He raised an eyebrow as if on cue.
“Yes. It was amazing.” Jace replied. “She was, I mean.”
“Well, that’s progress...at least.” Michael replied, but Jace could hear the doubt in his tone. It was almost as if the poor masking was purposeful now.
“I got too close, and then I got scared to go further.” Jace whispered, more to himself than his friend. “I couldn’t say I loved Elaine. I wasn’t ready. I let myself get...entangled. Immersed in her life, She wanted me to say it.” He paused, and began picking at the sugar sachets. He tore a couple and poured the contents onto the table. Michael watched him.
“Why didn’t you?” he asked.
“I couldn’t. I either didn’t want to lie, or didn’t want to stay. If things got too intimate, I’d...back off.” Jace replied.
“You and Elaine...you’ve fought and fallen out more than any couple I know, mate.” Michael whispered, placing a heavy hand upon his left shoulder. “Maybe this is a sign it’s just not working.”
“I don’t know. The further I am away from her, the shittier I feel. “ Jace replied. “Mike, I don’t think I can be without her. Do I love her?”
“That’s something you ask no one but yourself.” Mike answered, plainly. “But to me this seems like you’re more in love with the aesthetics than the person…”
“That is NOT it,” Jace shouted, passing the seas of communication that previously swept the little coffee shop. People turned around, stopped reading, paused their conversations. He looked down nervously until their bemusement had passed. Turning to Mike, he lowered his voice. “That isn’t fucking it.”
“Then...maybe she just couldn’t wait anymore.” Michael snapped.
“Why do I feel like you’re not on my side, Mike.” Jace felt himself demand. He glanced upwards from his effigy of cold coffee and spilt sachets to his friend, who now shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Why is it that every question I ask, you automatically have pessimistic answers for? Do you want me to get Elaine back? Do you?”
Michael refused to answer. He brushed strands of hair from his eyes and straightened his collar.
Jace felt his eyelids narrow.
“Answer me.” He commanded.
“I don’t- I don’t think- Elaine needed-” Michael began to stutter, scratching his head and looking around with loose, wiry focus. He was no longer cynical. He was afraid.
“Mike, what the fuck did you do?” Jace asked, his stomach almost sinking.
“Elaine...Elaine came over. Two days ago.” Michael answered, practically choking over his own words.
“She was upset, said you didn’t appreciate her...we got drunk and-”
“I know how this fucking cliche ends, Mike!” Jace yelled, slamming his fist against the wooden table. Cold coffee erupted from the rattling pastel mugs and Michael reclined in his chair, panic visible upon his chiselled features. People now completely paused their tasks to glare at the two men. Jace no longer cared.
“How could you do that to me?” he asked, staring at Michael, someone he couldn’t even recognise at this point.
“I’m...I’m so sorry.” Michael answered.
“To think you were trying to take the bloody moral highground. Fuck you, Mike. I don’t even know you.” Jace spat. Michael’s face darkened, and his nervous expression faded into something darker.
“She was fucking tired, tired of just being a lightbulb to you! She wanted to be a source of purpose, a source of happiness, not a fucking light source, to service your disappointing little life, Jace!” He shouted, ignorant of the people he disrupted. All Jace could do was scowl in petty retaliation. The waitress approached the table awkwardly, placing the drinks down as fast as she could, desperate to serve happier customers. Neither of them acknowledged her. Instead, they sat in silence for a brief moment, quietly judging the other. Jace felt empty, and even more lost than before. The coffee shop felt cold, hollow and without the personality it once held. He thought of Elaine. If he’d known she had this sort of ultimatum prepared against him, he’d of told her. Even if he didn’t mean it. He truly wanted to mean it. If it would make Michael feel shitter he’d say it a thousand times over.
“I fucking loved her, you piece of-”
“You didn’t love her, ok? You loved the thought of having her, keeping her!” Michael snapped, cutting him off. “You didn’t tell her you loved her, so you’ve lost her. Fucking Karma for you. Maybe I’m a cunt, but I sure as hell can’t advocate your intentions either.”
Michael got up and turned to leave, snatching his coat and thrusting change onto the table. He turned once more to Jace.
“The irony is, only after losing your ‘light’ will you finally see what a fucking moron you’ve been.” Michael whispered, “hopefully.”