The birds outside woke him up before he was ready. Annoyed, he came into consciousness, opening his eyes to the bright light in his room and a splitting headache. Oh drunk —-, what did you do last night? The sepia playback from the night before was interrupted sporadically by blanks in the story line and finally the story cut short right before the end. The film must’ve fallen off the reel. Or something like that.
He parted his sticky lips for the first time and licked them, checking the clock by his bed. 12:30 pm. He could have gone for another hour or two for sure if it weren’t for those stupid birds. He didn’t brush last night and his breath was rank from the nighttime. He could also taste remnants of the night’s drinks and cigarettes. Stretching out across the slightly yellowed sheets, he made a mental note to do laundry in the next week. His shirt from the night before was damp from sweat and the sheets could stand a wash.
Not wanting to move but too thirsty now that he was awake, —- swung his feet onto the cold floor. The cold November air managed to spread past the thin walls of his house and settle itself everywhere in his room but the small pocket of warmth in his bed. The floor was the most hostile of them all. Head still throbbing, he winced at the cold but grabbed a gray cotton sweatshirt from his dresser and pulled it over his head as he walked into the kitchen.
The lukewarm water ran straight from the leaky tap to his plastic cup – and also all over his hands. His roommate had tried to fix the leak in the faucet by tying a washcloth around it, but the cloth had since soaked and the water shot through again.
The cup filled and he drank it all in a few gulps, imagining each swallow could somehow undo the things he didn’t remember doing from the night before.
He dropped the empty cup in the sink. His heart was beating, and his lips were cold and moist.
She brushed her long, dark hair and dressed for the cold, putting her book in her bag and double-checking her reflection in the mirror on the way out the door. Jaw set and mind cool, she had made up her mind to get to the bottom of this, one way or another. She waited until she was certain he would be awake to call him. She figured 12:45 should be fine, even though she had been awake since 9:00 that morning. She dialed his number as she stepped into the cold, holding her breath from her nerves and from the temperature outside.
The shower was warming up and he was pulling off his shirt when he heard his phone faintly buzzing from his bed.
“Meet me in an hour,” her voice said nervously over the phone. She sounded so much younger than she was.
Curious, and now committed, he hung up the phone and stepped into the hot water. —- stared up at the steam curling toward the ceiling and the ruined paper on the walls while the water soothed his headache. He wanted to know why she called. Those few nights in the summer had been all right but he had never been particularly invested in the relationship.
He brushed his teeth hoping to freshen his breath as best as he could, but knowing that there wasn’t really much he could do.
Pants, shirt, sweater, socks, shoes. Wallet in pocket and keys in hand, he stepped out into the cold. The digital clock on his car’s dashboard said he had fifteen minutes to spare.
She sat there in the coffee shop hidden under a scarf and cradling her book like it would offer some kind of advice for what was to come. There was a couple at the table next to her having coffee and reading magazines. She had dark hair and thick bangs; he wore round glasses that reflected the light. There was an older woman poring over a thick textbook and taking notes in big, slanted cursive. There was a table of three teenage girls who hadn’t quite grown into their looks but who did their best to impersonate the models in Seventeen Magazine. One girl’s hair was haphazardly straightened and her split ends stuck out, making her hair look more like a straw broom from afar.
There was a low chatter in the room. The girls laughed at jokes amongst themselves and one in the couple would occasionally point an article or an advertisement out to the other.
She heard his footsteps before she saw him walking toward her. He looked the same, though his hair might have grown a little and he may have gained some weight. His blue eyes were as bright as ever, even inside the shop. He settled across from her and she sat in silence for a moment.
“Well, the ball’s in your court,” —- said.
The room went quiet. She could smell the alcohol on his skin.