I stopped along the way and had dinner at Burkley hall. It was busier than usual so I didn't get to Expressions until 5:45. When I arrived, Jimmy was already here, sitting in one of the armchairs beside the fireplace. I smile as best as I can and say hello as I approach. I say how nice it is to see him, although I’m confused as to why we’re meeting. He looks up from the coffee cup he’s nursing and gives me a smile of his own.
“Sorry, Jimmy, I guess I should’ve clarified that 5:30 was just a ballpark time. I didn’t know you’d show up right then.”
“No worries. And you can just call me Jim.”
I excuse myself to go buy a drink. While standing in line, I wish the line was longer. I secretly hope that Jimmy, or Jim, might just disappear by the time my drink comes out. But of course when my almond milk latte is ready, Jim is still comfortably sitting by the fireplace, gently holding his mug. I put on a smile before turning around and walking over, drink in hand. Right now the music is The Shins.
I state a trivial observation about the weather as I approach to keep awkwardness at bay. It's important that something is always being said. As long as someone is saying something or explicitly thinking of a response to what was just said, then all is okay. The problem comes when nothing is being said and the other person is looking into me, and me them.
“You come here a lot?”
“Somewhat. More this semester actually.”
“I miss this. I live too far to hang out here all the time like I used to.”
“Do you miss living on campus?”
“Parts of it.” He takes a sip of coffee. “I definitely miss the caf.”
“Everybody who moves away says that.”
“Ha I know right? But believe me there's a reason we're all missing the same thing. And it’s something you really can’t understand until you actually move out of the dorms. But for real, it’s nice to have access to decent food at any time.”
“I eat a pretty boring diet.”
“What do you like to eat?”
“Chicken and vegetables mostly.”
“So it’s true? Moriah told me but I didn’t believe her. You really only eat chicken and vegetables? Really don’t eat bread or pasta?”
I nod while holding my latte with both hands. “For the most part.”
“That’s fascinating.” Jim takes a large, excited gulp of coffee.
“Hey, I don’t mean that to make fun. I actually do find it cool that you can eat so healthy.”
“Does Moriah make fun of me for it? To you?”
“Not so much. Only once or twice.”
“Does she talk about me a lot?”
I take a sip from my latte and look out the window.
“Aren’t you studying here?” Jim says.
“Do you just prefer to-go cups then?” He says pointing at mine.
“It’s just what the baristas serve me. I never actually thought of getting a mug.”
Jim laughs. “I always ask for a mug. Something about it makes a coffee more homey. The way it feels in your hand. The way it feels on your lips when you drink it.”
I nod. I don’t know what to say back. Jim clears his throat and looks at his mug. The way he does this makes me guess that he's out of coffee.
“So. You’re probably wondering why I asked to meet up.” He now stares out the window. I continue staring at him. It is okay to look away when you are talking, but when the other person is talking and looking away, it's best to keep watching them.
“If you’re wondering how I got your email, it wasn’t from Moriah. She doesn’t know that I’ve talked to you, except for that first time the three of us ate got bubble tea that one time.” He fixes his gaze back onto me. I feel the urge to shift mine to the counter where the baristas are at or back out the window but I resist.
“I found it from the university registrar.” Jim clears his throat again. “They have every student and faculty’s email on there. You don’t smoke do you?”
“Right. Chicken and vegetables. I should’ve guessed. Mind if I get more coffee?”
“Not at all.”
“Okay. Be right back.”
I watch Jim walk over to the counter. He doesn’t look back the entire time while carrying his empty mug and standing behind the person who’s ordering.
Afraid that he might abruptly turn around and catch me watching him, I look out the window. Outside, it’s already dark as night. It had been bright enough to appear as evening when arrived just a moment ago. About half the people walking along Baker Ave is wearing a backpack. I reach a hand down to mine and feel the laptop through my bag's canvas. This has been the longest I’ve ever sat inside Expressions without going on my laptop, without even taking it out. I hear Jim approaching. I continue looking out the window until he sits down in the armchair across from me.
As soon as he sits down, he takes a long drink of coffee and makes a loud expression of satisfaction.
“That first drink is always the best. Are you drinking a mixed drink?”
I nod. “I don’t drink plain coffee.”
“Ah then, you wouldn’t understand. Not that I have anything against mixed drinks. Just those don’t have this first sip heaven feeling.”
He takes another drink while making the same face as before, but less pronounced. He then looks out the window nodding his head a couple times with a slight grin.
“I’m sorry for wasting your time, Talia.”
“Hmm? Why do you say that? I had planned on talking to you right now.” I look at him.
He rubs his thumb and finger around the rim of his mug. “I know. But I haven’t been saying what I've meant to. I guess I’ve been… just procrastinating really. I had a specific reason for asking to meet up. But now that we are here, I can’t seem to say what I wanted.”
“No. Really thanks for seeing me though.”
Jim’s eyes shift to the clock high on the wall off to the side.
“I need to get going. I guess I should’ve known, it’d turn out like this.”
He says good bye while standing up and leaves before I can slip in a proper good bye myself. Rather than using the door I came through, the one I always come through, he walks the entire length of the cafe, leaves his mug in the dishes bucket along the way, and leaves out the door which leads away from campus and off to the residential neighborhoods out back. I glance around to see what everyone is doing. Everyone is busy on their own laptops and textbooks. It's business as usual. I get up and find a table next to an outlet. Then I take my laptop out.
For nearly three hours I work on this week’s online Math Problems. According to the website, I've got only 27.6% left to go. I pack my bag, put on my coat and scarf, and head out the front door, throwing out the paper cup along the way. I cross Baker Ave to enter the border of campus. During the walk I listen to HousAtlantaVegas, Lack of Color, and Successful.
In my room, I do some assigned reading for my Computing History to unwind and wrap up the day. After brushing up and closing the window blinds, a compulsion drives me to open my laptop. There are two emails from Jim.
Talia. I'll probably regret this, but because of that regret is precisely why I’m forcing myself to say this right now... before I give myself the chance to chicken out and go the rest of my life not telling anyone.
Because I write this to you, it’s documented in writing, and I think that's best. You can do whatever you think best with this. It’s better it be saved in our inboxes rather than spoken aloud in a cafe only to vanish into the ether.
What I meant to say back there is that I’ve sexually assaulted Moriah. I didn’t know it during the times I’ve done it, but recently I’ve learned otherwise. I’ve not done it since I knew nay better. But now, I can’t with a clear conscience continue seeing her.
She is like the old-me, the one who had no idea of wrong. She doesn’t know that what I'd done wasn't right.
And at first I thought I should tell her. i would explain everything and she would understand. but now I don’t think so. As I've gotten to know her better, I don't think she's the type that might want to look at the world such a way. I just dont know how I could explain it all to her. She would just not understand. She would get mad at me for questioning things.
Since I don't plan on telling her anymore, I instead will break up with her.
It feels like it'd be better to let her keep her innocence.
We aren’t officially "dating" so I don’t think she’ll be that hurt. Any pain and confusion coming from me trying to explain things to her would be greater than the pain of a trivial breakup with just another guy.
I hope that you don’t hate me for this, Talia. And if you do, I hope you'll at least understand my position. But then again, can a person truly hate another they understand? Idk
< Oh, btw. I made this for you. >
Attached to the second email is a 2.4 mb file titled talia.mp3. I download and play it through the speakers of my Macbook Pro.
At first I think it’s just the Drake song HoustAtlantaVegas, but then it loops over and over again. Jim has taken the electronic intro and looped it into itself to make a seamless piece of audio that lasts nearly 3 minutes.