Prompt: Love gets him into more trouble than hate ever could.
Once again, you’ve made the Your Story competition a success! Thanks to everyone who participated in competition #65 (either by entering, reading or voting).
Out of more than 300 entries, readers helped us pick “Cold Turkey” by Cindy Lam as the winner. For winning, Lam's story will appear in an upcoming issue of Writer’s Digest.
by Cindy Lam
“Oh Christ,” I breathe. I always envisioned us meeting again, but never like this; never so close to the present. I had imagined our run-in countless times when my restless body would cramp against whoever I was holding that night. I would bury my face in the nape of their neck and inhale, the way you do when you crack a loaf of fresh bread — but they would never smell the way she did. They were the regular croissants and bagels that were baked on the daily, available from morning to night; she was the baker’s special that you lined up at the first sign of dawn to get before it was gone.
She stands by the counter, delicately wiping excess foam off a mug and strides to the bar, giving the latté to an eager customer. Her back faces me, but I could recognize her as a lost child would recognize their mother in a crowded supermarket. I watch her walk around the limited space, effortlessly floating on the balls of her feet. She perches to the tip of her toes to grab a bag of fresh beans, the small of her back exposed as she stretches. I used to explore the smooth valleys of her spine, its grooves like marbles under a cover against my fingers. Her goosebumps would stand on its ends and I would treasure each one of them, a Morse code only I knew how to read.
“Oh,” I hear gasp. I wake from my memory and find her gaping in front of me. “How long were you standing there?” I allow her gaze to comfort me as it always has.
“Quite a while,” I admit. “But the menu here is so overwhelming.” My ears perk at the sound of her laugh. From our proximity, I inspect the features of her face and sharply inhale; her beauty never ceases to amaze me. Her cheekbones were just as high as my memory proves. I used to gently brush them with my thumbs in a circular motion, as if I was shopping for linens. My thumbs would get trapped in the hollow of her cheeks and she would sigh, the anthem of my existence. My eyes wander down to her mouth, the hands of an archaeologist processing every line, every spot, every scar. Have the lines around her mouth gotten deeper? Has someone been making her laugh more than I did? The thought saddens me as I look away.
“What are you doing in town?” she asks, wiping the spotless counter with her apron, its tassels cinched tightly around her delicate waist.
“I’m staying the weekend for my mum’s birthday tomorrow,” I reply. And I wasn't ready to see you at all, I silently add. She smiles and tucks a piece of her hair behind her ear, its ends frayed like an experienced toothbrush.
“Tell her I give my best, and that I miss her shepherd’s pie,” she sighs.
“Oh man, so do I. Ramen and Chef Boyardee is the extent of my cooking knowledge,” I chuckle and scratch my beard.
“I know,” she quietly says, and then looks at me quizzically. “That’s new.”
I raise my brow at her and then realize what she’s referring to. “Oh, Hailey made me grow it out.” I regret the words as soon as they slip from my mouth.
I swallow. “My girlfriend.”
“Oh,” she says and looks away. “How long have you been seeing each other?” She unsuccessfully tries to hide the crack in her voice.
“Like, a month or something,” I reluctantly say.
She clears her throat and smiles at me. “I’m glad you’re happy.”
“It’s not anything serious,” I blurt. “She’s part of my program and it kind of just happened.”
She gives me a long stare and nods. “My shift ends in about fifteen minutes,” she says, looking over her shoulder, and then again at me. I feel my body tense but I hold her gaze. “My roommate’s gone for the weekend,” she continues, still keeping eye contact. I purse my lips and break away from her stare. I desperately rummage through my mind and try to find the smallest thread of strength to keep me grounded, but all I know of now is her. I exhale and she twitches her mouth.
She reaches out for my hand that has gravitated towards the counter; I let her.