Coffee & Cigarettes

So this is a short story that I’ve been working on for about a year now. I decided to use it for my Creative Writing class last semester, and this is what I’ve got so…yeah.

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His fucking cigarettes.

That’s all that ever mattered to him. Celeste could have sworn that smoking cigarettes was the only thing that Asher cared about these days. As long as he had a pack of cigarettes and a cup of coffee, he was set for the week.

Who needs a relationship when you have your daily pack of smokes? Even though Asher made an income with his part-time job at the record company—it was really a full-time position, but he firmly believed that his indie rock band was going to take off any day now if the label would just listen to their mixtape— he stopped taking her out because it was “a waste of time and money”. He needed to devote his free time to his career, something he expected her to understand.

Yet, he was willing to venture to the local convenience store and splurge on a pack of American Spirits every week. Apparently, spending a dime on Celeste was excessive, but Asher didn’t think twice when it came to his fucking cigarettes.

Sometimes when he wasn’t around, she would remove the pack from the dresser and roll one of the sticks around in the palm of her hands, balancing it in-between her delicate fingers. It was slightly longer than her pinky; a mixture of nicotine and tobacco wrapped around a thin piece of white paper with an orange base coat. The design was basic and mediocre at best. After staring at it for a few minutes too long, she would place the cigarette back into the box, tuck it underneath the disheveled cluster of disposable pictures of them smiling in various locations from spontaneous adventures of the past, and shut the drawer. She would then occupy herself with the nearest distraction in order to avoid crying out of frustration again.

They weren’t in love with each other anymore, that much was clear on Asher’s end of the stick, but Celeste cared about him deeply, more than she ever had anyone else. At times, she cared for him more than herself. Pleasing him was always on the top of her agenda—she willingly went out of her way to fetch him coffee from his favorite barista while she was out. And when he was low on his smokes, who bought his back-up supply? Ding ding ding, we have a winner. The last time Asher had done anything nice for her was yesterday when he let her use the bathroom first. (He proceeded to frantically yell at her from outside the door for taking so long during the entire ten minutes that elapsed though.)

Asher was the type of guy Celeste always pictured herself settling down with. But at this point, she questioned whether she was settling with him or for him. Whenever she complained about his lack of interest to her friends, they insisted that she was being delusional and made up excuses on his behalf:

“If he didn’t care, he wouldn’t write love songs about you.”

“You’re just overanalyzing things.”

“He seems like he has a lot going on, don’t overthink it.”

“You’ve got so many other things to worry about, that should be at the bottom of your list of concerns.”

Celeste wanted to take their advice, but they didn’t see him like she did. They were blinded by Asher’s charisma, which overshadowed his faded qualities. Behind every joke he cracked was an insult. There was a double meaning for every line in his songs. Her friends weren’t around him constantly—though at this point in time, she and Asher rarely spent any quality time together except for bedtime. Him, her, and his fucking cigarettes all tucked into the big, comfy bed. They were one happy family.

Asher and Celeste lived together, but barely spoke to each other anymore. When they parted ways in the morning, Celeste could barely get a hug from him, much less a pat on the back. He wasn’t one for public affection, but he willingly held her hand if she sneakily slipped her palm in his, which she considered a good compromise. A kiss from him was rare, but he planted them on her when she least expected it, a gesture she found endearing. When he touched her skin, she felt sparks like lightning on the bark of a tree. He was the rose and the thorn, catching her eye and pricking her finger simultaneously.

Celeste couldn’t resist how Asher made her feel. The smooth sensation of his fingers sliding down her skin; his hands wandering across every inch of her; the warmth of his body beside her every night, occasionally spooning her frame. The random moments when he made her laugh so hard that a trail of tears streamed down her face were the highlight of her week. Now, she only cried tears of denial.

The worst incident had been two weeks ago when he had forgotten when it all began. That day, they had spent the whole afternoon together down by the harbor. Asher had even packed lunch for them—two halves of a peanut butter, banana and nutella sandwich, a bottle of champagne, and a container of mixed berries. After they ate on the beach, he offered to take her sailing, but it was getting late. He kept talking about a new song that he had written and was eager to share it with her, so they rushed back home where he would play it for her. The whole time they had been together, he hadn’t smoked a single cigarette.

But the moment they returned to the apartment, he remembered.

“Shit, I forgot that I’m out of cigarettes. I’m gonna run down to the store and pick up a pack. Do you need anything?”

Was he seriously asking her that of all things? She needed him to be there. She needed him to stay. She needed him to show her that he still cared. She needed him more than he needed his fucking cigarettes.

“No.”

“Okay. I might buy a cup of coffee while I’m out. Do you want any?”

“I hate coffee.”

“Oh, yeah. I forgot.”

“You’ve been forgetting a lot of things today, haven’t you?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing, unless you forgot what today was.”

“It’s Wednesday…”

Asher stared perplexedly at her. Celeste rolled her eyes and stormed off into the bedroom. He didn’t follow her.

Of course Asher had no idea why she was mad. How could he? He didn’t even know when her birthday was, how could she expect him to remember the one date that mattered the most?

Celeste stared at a photo of them that was mounted on the wall with duct tape. They were leaning against a brick building, arms tangled up in each other and laughing. But what she hadn’t noticed before now was the fucking cigarette that was laced between his fingers. It crept into the frame so discreetly with its ember delight, serving as a constant reminder that it would always be there. No matter what, it would always come between them. This was something Celeste would never be able to overlook. She was the third wheel in her own relationship.

“Hey, I’m leaving now. I’ll see you when I get back,” Asher said from the distant room. She heard him gently shut the door behind him as he left. He didn’t bother waiting for her response— he never waited for anything from her anymore.

“It’s our anniversary,” she sighed.

He didn’t get it, and he never would.

She didn’t get it, and she didn’t get him.

Celeste knew that nothing would change if she continued to passively confront Asher, but she didn’t understand how he could be so oblivious to the obvious. As soon as tension started to build up, she walked away instead of addressing the conflict. While she avoided tackling the issue at hand—or rather, in his hand—surely he could sense that she was upset about something. Instead, he went about his day, barely blinking an eye as if everything were fine.

By now, she had given up. A person could only decipher as much as they were shown and Asher clearly hadn’t been trying to reveal much of himself to Celeste in the pat seven months they had been dating. He let her read a song every now and then, but that was about as personal as it got.

While the pair shared many intimate moments, they lacked intimacy outside their bed. After they had sex, Asher would roll over to the side of the mattress, pull a cigarette and a lighter from the drawer, and take a long drag of smoke. The only physical contact that seemed to give him a rush was a thin, burning cigarette between his lips with smoke entering his throat from the other end. Once the cigarette burned out, he would wander into the kitchen and fix a cup of coffee for himself, leaving her alone in the bed to sift through her waterfall of thoughts. Celeste had never been so distant to someone who was so physically close to her.

What was the point of having a girlfriend if she couldn’t satisfy him as much as his fucking cigarettes?

He wasn’t always like this. She never would have predicted this outcome based on the first time they met at the coffee shop. He sat across the room at a table by the window, buried in the center of a hardcover book. He had a cigarette tucked behind his ear, but he seemed to have forgotten it was there as he read, momentarily pausing to take sip of the drink in his mug. Celeste wondered what book it was, thrilled to see someone so engaged in reading. On cue, he turned the page, briefly shifted his eyes away from the book, and they met hers like a magnet. He stared at her with curiosity, analyzing her frame. Her eyes sought his face for a signal, but he continued to stare inquisitively. A petite smile cracked on her face, which he returned with a wink and a nod. She felt the burning sensation of her cheeks flush, and then averted her line of vision to her cup of tea. Ten minutes later, he approached her, inviting her to watch his band perform at a bar later that week. They exchanged phone numbers, and it didn’t take him more than an hour before he called and asked her out. She was so flattered that she couldn’t say no.

With him, she could never say no.

If only she had known then what she knew now.

Celeste sat at the edge of the bed, unsure of her next move. Asher laid motionless beside her, unconscious in his sleepy, dream state. She had to get out of here; she couldn’t wake up with him. Not anymore. Asher readjusted his position beside her, accidentally rolling too far over and nearly pushing her off the bed. As she stood up, the springs of the bed creaked. He immediately lifted his head from the pillow, eyes slowly opening with a cast of tiredness twinkling in them.

“Where are you going?” he yawned.

“To…get something to drink. I’m thirsty.”

“Okay.”

He buried his head back into the pillow. Celeste walked into the kitchen, tracing the outline of the marble counter with her finger in search of a mug. She then poured the remains of the red wine into the mug and chugged down the sweet concoction before returning to the bed. She sat on the mattress, back faced towards him. She had no desire to glance in his direction; she needed to avoid him for a little while.

“Are you alright?”

“I don’t know,” she sighed. “Bum me a cigarette, would ya?”

“Since when do you smoke?” he chuckled under his breath.

“Well, I’m a writer so shouldn’t I? I’ve got my alcohol right here, all I need is a fucking cigarette and I’m set.”

They stayed as they were. She stared at nothing in particular, distracted by everything in focus; the streetlights flickering outside, the metronome ticking of the cat clock on the wall, the faint buzz from the radiator that had previously hummed them both to sleep.

“Come back in bed. Let’s go to sleep.”

“What for?”

“For me.”

She heaved a disgruntled sigh and wrapped herself beneath the blankets. He scooched over so she could come closer, and held her in his arms until they both fell back asleep. When she woke up covered in sweat a few minutes later, his body could not have been further away from her. She threw off the stained white sheets that had embraced her night after night for months.

Her mother once told her, “If a man doesn’t chase after you, keep on walking, baby.” He had finally given her a small portion of what she wanted, the gesture had been made, but it was too little too late. For once, his actions had proved otherwise and before, she might have believed them, but the lack of affection was of no comfort. Deep down, she knew that the romance between them had been burning down slowly, like one of his cigarettes. The spark couldn’t last forever. Maybe it was time for her to put it out and crush the remaining bits under the heel of her shoe.

In the morning, Asher would wake up in the bed alone. On the dresser, he would find an ashtray full of disintegrated cigarettes and photographs. The scent of tobacco would be fresh, meaning that she hadn’t left too long ago. He would sit up, on the verge of springing out the bed, head spinning with confusion. As his vision adjusted to the light seeping into the room between the cracks in the curtains, he would hear nothing, confirming that she was gone. His first instinct would be to get up and look for her, but he would hesitate, like she always predicted.

He wouldn’t worry because he knew that she would come back.

She would always come back with tired eyes, a cup of coffee and a pack of his fucking cigarettes.

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