Is This It A Short Story By Madori Renae

She loved this place. She enjoyed every unspeakable moment of the time spent here among the varying smells. There was the smell of coffee, both fresh and scalding at the brewing of every new pot. There was the smell of cigarette smoke forever clung to the sticky walls, the ashtrays at each table, and the occasional elderly gentleman whose sweet smell of tobacco would never leave him and it was secretly wondered if when his grandchildren embraced him, they remembered the smell as she remembered the familiar smell of this place. His car always smelled the same way, only sweeter. He had said the only other element that added to the balance was his previous use of a hanging car freshener. It had been one of those common ones that looked like a colored maple leaf. She even wondered what color it had been. She wanted to know everything about this strange and fascinating boy. But the scent ornament was no more and now that he had turned eighteen, he pulled out a cigarette more often because they were more easily at his disposal. Her mother smoked and she abhorred the act, though admittedly she had done it a few times herself to ease stress. But there was something special about the way he smoked. She would never tell him, but she secretly liked watching him smoke. Together with the way he looked and dressed and the way he spoke, he reminded her of a musician she might see in The Strokes. Consequently, this was his favorite band and she always wondered if the simulation was intentional. There were a lot of things she wondered about him. One thing she hated about the world they both lived in was that everyone spoke of keeping it real and being yourself, but beneath those guidelines were unwritten rules, and within those was one that prevented her from asking certain questions. There had been times when she asked anyway. But he told her she thought about things too much. They came here often. Both were avid drinkers of coffee and enjoyed a conversation over the steaming mugs. She had only recently started doing this. She was a young girl just beginning to see the world with new eyes and she was glad to have him as her guide. He was practically a veteran, though only three months older than she. You could tell by the way he communicated with the waiter in his dry monotone that spoke of such countless instances of experience that he had become bored with the cordialities. And by the way he sat down and looked perfectly at ease. She liked watching him. She knew the first day she had met him that they wouldn’t be friends for very long. She also knew that he would appear again and again in stories that she would write and he would always play the same person with a different name. There was something so entirely different about him. She knew there were others of his kind out there, but not in a place like this. They collected in places like New York City or Chicago, maybe L.A., but not here. She wondered how someone born and raised here could turn out like this. But for the most part, she didn’t care how he had gotten here because it only led to the conclusion of him leaving, which he spoke of often. She was only glad she had the chance to be near him before he went off and became one of those people she would always wish she could be but never would. That was his destiny and her fate.

Their mugs were filled and each pulled them closer. He inhaled deeply, and muttered, “I love coffee.” She laughed once and reached for the sugar. She tipped it over and they both watched the steady stream of sugar cascade into her mug where it immediately disappeared. After a few seconds, he said, “Do you want any coffee with that sugar?” She laughed, “Shut up,” and continued pouring. When she was satisfied with the amount that had fallen into her cup, she started to stir. “Sugar just ruins it,” he said for the sole purpose of irritating her. She took a timid sip, and said, “I don’t understand how you can drink it black. Coffee is bitter; it’s supposed to be made into something delicious.” “It’s delicious as it is,” he said. She shook her head, already done with this trivial argument. “It’s an acquired taste,” he concluded. She could hardly stand the way he always had to have the last word. Though sometimes he strived for the last expression; countless times he had ended a subject with a roll of the eyes or a bored sigh. Somehow this marked the end of whatever they had been talking about. She was an individual who typically spoke a lot, much more than the person on the other end of the conversation, unless of course she was having a conversation with herself, which she also did often. But even though she did much of the talking, he still held in his possession the capability to shut her down and end her endless outpour of words. In this way, he made her feel as if she talked too much. And this made her nervous. She was always nervous. She constantly fidgeted, or looked around the room because she couldn’t maintain eye contact. Sometimes he picked up on her uneasiness and sometimes he did not. She enjoyed the moments that he didn’t notice because it was then that she could be seen as a regular person. Not a child or a silly girl, but his equal. The nervousness was something that could not be helped. She had been this way for years. But when she was with him, a strange seed of hope seemed to grow inside of her. He made her think that with enough experience, she could be normal. When she left him, the high wore off and she realized the inevitable truth: she would never be normal. This was most dissatisfying because she wanted to be a member of his life, but she couldn’t be. Not for long. They both realized with horror what was playing on the juke box. A whiny country song peeled across the speakers and they both sighed. It was a heavy sigh filled with impatience for people who could actually enjoy this kind of music, pity for the people who dare called it music at all, and anger for the people who had put it on. “Oh my god,” he said in his characteristic way that always made me laugh. “Too bad we don’t have any money.” She said. “I’m pretty sure they have the Smashing Pumpkins on there.” “No, they don’t. Besides, the Pumpkins suck.” “Almost every old jukebox has Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. I love the Pumpkins.” “Punch you in the face,” he sneered. What he meant was: Stop talking about them because the Smashing Pumpkins suck and how dare you think otherwise. She knew he had a very particular taste in music. He enjoyed rock with a simple and humble mission. This included The Strokes, The Vines, The White Stripes, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, among others. Though recently he had gotten into some hippie music and she feared he would start smoking other things besides tobacco. He already

gave frequent lectures on how weed wasn’t bad for people but she refused to hear any of it. He thought he knew everything. She decided to make a comeback. “Well, I’m sure they don’t have The Strokes on there.” He swallowed the last of his coffee and set down the mug. “That’s because no one appreciates good music anymore.” “That’s the truth,” she agreed. Her taste wasn’t as specialized as his. She could even be occasionally caught listening to something that might be found on the radio. But she had strong and loyal roots in musical heroes that the world had heard little of. As did he, and they were both glad that they had that in common. She watched as his face became hazy for a split second while he lit another cigarette and a plume of smoke rose in front of him. He sucked on it once, deeply, and then rested it over the dull green ashtray. She watched the particular curve his fingers assumed to hold the stick, watched the ginger flick of his fingertip to clear the ashes from the end. Then she took in his entire image. He watched her watch him. He examined her expression and found something interesting, something he couldn’t decipher. This is why he liked her. “So why The Strokes?” she asked. He leaned back and sighed gently, as if settling in to tell some children a good story from his past. “My cousin used to listen to them, along with The Vines, the White Stripes, all those guys. I started listening to everything he did. I got burnt out on The Vines, burnt out on The Stripes, but The Strokes…man, I couldn’t get burnt out on them.” She smiled, because she understood him. “That’s how it is for me. With Showbread,” she said. “And even now, when I hear a Strokes song come on, it’s like ‘Oh, now this is a good song.’ She nodded. “I know,” she agreed. Music was powerful. The waiter appeared as soon as her mug was emptied. “More coffee, guys?” he asked. He inched his cup forward and said, “Yeah, man. Thanks.” After a couple of minutes, an old song called “Take It Easy” came on. “I love this song,” she exclaimed. A flood of memories infiltrated her mind. “You were really loud there for a second,” he commented with a smile. “I don’t care,” she said. “Would you like me to yell for everyone to hear?” He set down his cup. “That won’t be necessary.” Neither of them could keep a straight face. “No, I mean I really like this song. I remember on my way back home from Florida, I listened to this song the whole way. I was high on life then. I felt like a new person, like I had seen all there was to see and it was this great feeling, like I could do anything. And when I listened to this song, I knew that the guy who wrote it was feeling the same way when he made it and I thought, when I write songs, I want them to be this way.” He looked into my eyes and sipped his coffee. After a moment, he said “I’m proud of you.” She smiled gleefully. Compliments from him were rare and they never ceased to fill her with happiness. People like him had all the power in the world over people like her,

just by a few simple choices of words. She wondered if he knew that. Surely not, or he wouldn’t mock her all the time. He leaned forward and put his shoes over hers. She giggled. He almost always had this smirk on his face. It was one of the things she liked most about him. But she knew in that moment, when the weight of his feet were upon hers and that smile was on his face, that this would be the last time she ever enjoyed his company. It filled her with sadness, with nostalgia for the times spent here though they hadn’t even ended yet. But she didn’t show it. She just went on laughing. When she was with others that was what she did. Whenever she had these moments where for a certain second she was quite sure the sky was going to fall, she just laughed and laughed. It had nothing to do with that old phrase “Just smile.” It wasn’t a way to shy away from oppressing thoughts, but rather her way to keep herself together in public. She had a habit of falling apart and she didn’t want him to know that. Quite frankly she didn’t want anyone to know, but especially not him. People did not like broken people. They reminded them too much of themselves. She noticed he scanned the menu for the third time. “I’m really hungry.” “Then buy something to eat.” He looked around exasperatedly. “I already have to buy your coffee.” She gave him a look. “I told you I didn’t have money before we came here.” He smiled. Sometimes she swore he only kept her around so he could mock her and then celebrate his victory over gullible people like her. She wished she could show him that she wasn’t as gullible as he thought. She just had trouble thinking clearly around him. Obviously if she possessed a shred of common sense around him, she wouldn’t be around him at all. Her parents wouldn’t approve, at least, of that she was sure. It was like she was transformed into a different person around him. She felt more like herself, though that wasn’t always a good thing. She was more afraid and talkatively giddy, but she felt…cute. Likable. Apparently he agreed because he frequently invited her along on these adventures. Sometimes she felt that if she stayed in his life she would become his bracelet. A pretty little thing on his wrist that served the specific function of making him laugh and listening to him, something he could show others but didn’t particularly admire himself. Something casual and conveniently forgettable that would only be noticed when sought to be used. She was used to being a center of idolization for the opposite sex, and perhaps that was why she couldn’t understand his disinterest. It made her want to be everything, or at least the particular something that he wanted, but he seemed to look at her and see nothing desirable. But she enjoyed the company nonetheless. She enjoyed any company, for she often had none at all. A waitress with blond hair emerged through the swinging kitchen doors. She caught her eye. “I love your jacket,” she commented. “Thanks,” she said with a polite smile. Then she turned to him and said, “She hasn’t seen my pants.” He shook his head. “I don’t like your pants. I just decided.” She slung her legs out in front of her and examined her purple pants splattered with white bleach spots. “Oh but these are my lucky pants,” she whined in mock dissatisfaction. “Why don’t you like them? They’re purple.” He looked down at her legs painted with the skin-tight pants. “They’re too purple.” “But who wears purple pants? Purple is fun.” “Pants aren’t supposed to be purple.”

“Pants can be whatever you want,” she protested. “And if you’re someone like me who doesn’t even like wearing pants, they better be something special that you enjoy wearing.” “Right,” he agreed sardonically. “Because you’d hate to have the sudden urge to take your pants off because you hate them so much.” She laughed, accidentally sputtering the coffee she had just sucked into her mouth. “Exactly,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to like your pants.” He seemed to be done with the conversation, but after a decisive second, he said, “I still don’t like your pants.” She frowned and shrugged her shoulders, stating passively: “You know? I knew you would hate these pants when I put them on this morning. Maybe that’s why I wore them.” He said nothing more about the purple pants for a couple minutes, during which time they played games with their eyes. These unspoken games always made her laugh. He knew there was something particular about his face that made her giggle and he abused the power. “Punch you in the face,” he finally said. This was his signature phrase, especially with her. Literally translated, it meant something like: “I do not feel like admitting that you are right so I will simply speak this phrase that expresses my exasperation with you because I have lost interest in your opinion upon realizing that I cannot challenge it.” Or something like that. Like many phrases, they had different meaning at different times. After a moment she said, “Some people think they’re always right.” He drilled with a stare that was somehow knowing, affectionate, and jovial all at the same time. “Others are quiet and uptight,” he replied. The unspoken word that followed: Touche. They got their mugs refilled again and settled back comfortably in the booth. She breathed in deep and her toes squirmed inside of her blue sneakers. She could never tell him how happy being with him made her, how hopeful he made her feel. Despite how much he made fun at her expense, she felt she might be falling in love with him and all his arrogance and selfishness. He made her feel alive. It wasn’t that life before him felt dead, it was more like life since him had been more fast-paced, emotional, and real. For a moment her life didn’t feel called to a higher purpose, but rather her mission was to simply live. Good god, what was wrong with her? She might as well join him and the weed with all this delusional talk. She would never abandon her faith. Certainly not for him, no matter how wonderful he made her feel. In fact, if the two couldn’t coincide, she was certain one of them had to be false and there was only one of the two she would question. Unfortunately for all of his good qualities, she knew she couldn’t trust him. There was something in his eyes, something about the way he was so entirely calculated that told her he lived for one person and one person only and that person was himself. It was sad, in a way, because she knew he didn’t believe in love, and with that narcissism that ran so deep within him, he wouldn’t be able to see it even if it was right in front of him. She wanted him to feel it. She wanted him to feel that contentment. Though she had never felt it herself, she knew it wasn’t a pursuit of happiness because those sorts of things are never fulfilling. No, it was contentment that people were after. And she thought, she hoped, that love would be one of those few things that actually possessed the peace of contentment. But she could only hope. What did she know about love?

“I only have two Vicodin pills left,” he said out of the blue. This was how their conversations worked. New subjects were started as strands of interest twisted around in his mind. This was why some of the topics were completely unrelated to the topics that preceded them. “You shouldn’t be taking them anyway,” she said. “You are not in any pain.” “They are wonderful little pills.” “Ironically,” she decided to say. “I liked you best when you were on those. It’s a shame they’re almost gone.” “Are you just saying that?” he asked. She examined his expression and decided that he didn’t care what her answer was either way, which probed her to be mean. “Possibly.” She looked into her halfway filled coffee cup. She stirred it once and watched the liquid twirl around the spoon. “Have you ever wondered why they call coffee ‘black’? It’s actually brown.” He smirked. She knew he liked the way she always noticed stupid things, even if he thought is was unnecessary and dumb. “I suppose like most things,” he said. “The description doesn’t always match the definition.” She was pleased with this answer and thought to say, “Yes. Kind of like God.” He looked at her and she could see the message of warning in his face. If only he knew that just because she could discern the unspoken message he tried to send, that didn’t mean she would play along. She had a will of her own. “Seriously,” she continued. “Most of the things people believe about God are opposite of who He really is.” He leaned forward. “Religion was made to control people,” he said, stating the opinion she’d heard many times before. “It’s not a religion,” she replied. “It’s a—” “Relationship,” he interjected. “So I’ve heard. But how can you know God?” I hesitated. It was a good question. “Well, the Bible tells us who He is and that’s one way you get to know Him. But you also have to have communication. You have to pray.” He shook his head. “That’s ridiculous. Religion is a hoax. You can’t talk to God. Have you ever actually heard him to speak to you?” She knew he was mocking her, but she didn’t care. Instead of answering his question, she said, “Why do we have to hear him with our ears? Why does everyone want to bring God down to our level? If God was like us, he wouldn’t be sovereign anymore. He created us and he loves us, but we have to take the leap of faith.” “If God loves us so much and he wants everyone to believe, why doesn’t he just show himself?” “If he was tangible, where would faith be? That’s too easy. Of course we are going to believe in something we can see. We’ve been trained to trust our eyes. We’d be fools to deny what our eyes can see. God wants us to make the choice to trust him.” He drilled her with his eyes. “Fine,” he said. “You’re right.” But she knew he didn’t believe her anymore than he had last time they’d had this conversation. “Let me ask you a question. Do you believe India is real?” “Of course.” “Why? Have you been there? Have you seen it?” “I just know it’s there,” he said, growing annoyed.

“But why? Because other people who have seen it told you it was there? Because it’s documented as existing in a book?” “You can’t even compare God to India.” He said, catching her drift. “Why not? It’s the same idea. You cannot favor atheists who say there is no god when there are just as many people who say there is one.” “I’m not an atheist,” he said evenly. “I know. You’re an agnostic. But what’s the difference. In the end…” “Talking about hell is a scare tactic,” he spat. “Everyone uses it.” She looked at him with a serious expression. “I am not trying to scare you. I’m just saying, what if you’re wrong?” “You know what?” he said, getting spirited. “I just want to live my life. I want to be ninety years old on my death bed and look back at my life and say ‘Man, I had a hell of a good time.’” She smiled. That philosophy sounded ideal, but it was false. Human nature simply didn’t work that way. “So it’s all about you, then? You have a problem living your life for anyone else but yourself?” “It’s not selfish. It’s—” “You just said you want to live for fun.” I said plainly. He looked at me levelly. “I guess you’re right. I’m just a selfish dick who wants to do something other than spend my whole life waiting on something I can’t be sure is real.” She nodded. None of this was soaking in. This was the problem with nihilists. They were so sure of their belief in lack of belief that they were not open to anything. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” he said. “You’re not going to convert me.” “I wasn’t trying to convert you,” She said softly. “I was just trying to get you to consider some things. It’s important to question what you believe. I question my beliefs all the time. The more you refute your own argument, the more certain you can be of its validity.” He nodded, and she knew he agreed with that much. “Okay,” he said. “Okay,” she echoed. And God disappeared from their conversation. Neither of them was sure where to lead the conversation after that. He just stared at her, and she stared back, for the most part, aside from the occasional glance about the room to keep herself from laughing or getting too anxious. After a couple of idle minutes, he puffed his cig and muttered, “Punch you in the face.” This time, the phrase meant: Way to kill the conversation. And she wasn’t sure what to say to that, so she just smiled as pleasantly as she could. This made him laugh. “When are you going to get your license?” he asked. She shrugged. “Whenever I learn to drive, I guess.” He shook his head. “Just go take it. You learn as you go.” She shook her head in reply. “That’s stupid. You have to learn the skill before you take the test that tests your skills.” “Punch you in the face,” he said. “You think about it too much.” “That’s probably true,” I said. “I overthink everything.” “Well, just stop,” he said. “It’s easier said than done.” “No….you just….stop.” he said slowly, as if she were five years old. His smirk told her he was joking, at least to some extent.

She laughed to ease the tension that her expression surely portrayed. “I can’t,” she said. “I guess it’s kind of like a habit. Or maybe it’s a girl thing.” He smothered the end of the cigarette. “Maybe,” he said. “But you think about stupid stuff way more than any girl I’ve ever met.” “I think about important stuff too,” she defended. “That’s not the point,” he said. He cradled his mug in two hands and breathed deep of the smell wafting above the cup. He really did love coffee as much as he said. “Writers have to think a lot,” she decided to say. “I try to put every experience into words.” He leaned forward until he was only inches from her face. She tried to keep her breathing steady and prevent her knees from trembling. “How would you put this—me and you—right now, in words?” he asked. She thought for a moment. “Frustration,” she said first, to make him laugh and to quietly express her disdain for his inability to value another person’s opinion. “And bliss.” They locked eyes for a moment and she wished for a split second that they were somewhere darker, somewhere colder, and that his intention in leaning forward was to kiss her. She could almost feel his lips on hers. But he broke the severity of their closeness and leaned back, never breaking the stare. She leaned back too. She realized in that moment that this was it. This was all they would ever be. Friends: one thirsting for more, and the other hoping there wasn’t too much expected. She would not be able to live with that brutal truth, which was one reason she would not remain his friend. She was not accustomed to the position of best friend when it came to males, especially ones she sincerely liked. She was the thirsty one, and he was the uninterested one. The indifferent one. She was quite sure if she chose to blatantly express her feelings in making the first move, or even with seduction, he wouldn’t even flinch. She had fallen in and out of love with many guys in her short seventeen years, but he was the second of only two she dreamed of seducing. She felt unattractive and plain now that she was sure of his real feelings toward her. It always worked this way, didn’t it? The boys she held contempt for followed her around like lost dogs, and on the occasional chance she found something she liked, it taunted her mind, and tripped her into falling in love with someone who did not want her. She inhaled deeply. She caught the overwhelming essence of coffee and cigarettes and breakfast food being fried. She would never come to this place again with him. This was the last time they would be seen together, though she sensed—hoped—that they would remain side by side, at least for a little while, in their minds before their connection that had seemed so natural and nakedly pure slipped into the subconscious. Later, when they were about to go their separate ways, he said, “See you tomorrow.” “No,” she said confidently. “I think this will be the last time.” He looked at her, a smirk playing at his lips. He enjoyed toying with her. “Okay,” he said decisively. “See you tomorrow.” She rooted a fine line on her lips. “I was serious,” she said. “This is it.” “Is this it?” he asked. She caught the double meaning and said nothing. She realized in that moment that she was just a stupid, lonely girl who would never get to have him, never get to say he was hers. He loved the attention he got from her, but

more than that he loved the power of being able to deny her. His ego was his god, she realized. She’d met many boys like this and had almost misjudged him as someone apart from that senseless crowd, but sure enough he was just like all the rest. All boys were like this—subscribers to their own sick egos. The result was the same but different in all of them, kind of like religions that sought to serve the same thing but each had a certain way of doing it. His ego had taken its last stand against her. She loved him and he had the power that entailed, but she had the power to walk away. She could make herself a player in his own stupid game. She didn’t have to let herself be tortured. “Punch you in the face,” he said, after she said nothing. She used to love the phrase, simply because it was his and he spoke it. But she realized it for what is was—his casual way of mocking her, of reminding her that he was everything he would never give her, and she was just the silly girl who would have to watch it go by unpossessed. This was it. “I dare you.”

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