Tyler’s phone buzzed against the wooden table. In his eagerness to pick it up he slapped his mug, which flew off the table and splashed against the floor. He barely registered the spilled coffee. All of his attention was on the name that flashed across the screen of his phone: Ella Brown. He felt the breath catch in the back of his throat as he answered her call.
“Hey,” Tyler exclaimed with a nervous chuckle. “I was just about to call you.”
“Tyler,” came the curt reply. “I have your sweater. Do you want to pick it up? Or should I throw it away?”
Tyler’s excitement faded away as quickly as it came. From swimming competitions to wintery Sundays huddled by the fireplace, that had been Ella’s favorite sweater for all occasions. He still remembered the day he had given it to her. She had complained about the cold as they left the warmth of the movie theater. And though he only had on a t-shirt beneath that sweater, Tyler gladly gave it up. It was their first date, and she’d never returned it. He remembered how cold he was that night, the freezing air making it painful for him to breath. And he knew he would give up his sweater to her again if he could.
“You can keep it if you’d like,” Tyler said quietly, almost hoping she would say yes. The sweater was a token of their relationship. A part of him that she kept and a part of him clung to the idea that if she kept the sweater, some part of her was still hanging on to him.
“I mean it’s your stuff. I’m not trying to keep your stuff, Tyler,” Ella spat out his name like it was poison. It felt like only yesterday she uttered his name like it was sweet honey. How things changed, he thought.
“I’ll come over now to get it. Then we can talk,” Tyler said gathering his wallet and keys.
“No, I don’t want you to come over. Where are you? I’ll just drop it off.”
“I’m at a coffee shop. Please, Ella. Please tell me what I did wrong.”
“You’re going to have to be a little more specific than that,” Ella snapped. “There are like, fifty different coffee shops in the area.”
“Java Star on Fourteenth and Main Street,” Tyler said settling back into his chair. Disappointed as he was about the outcome of the conversation, his stomach did flips at the idea of seeing Ella again. While she was here he would have a chance to convince to take him back. He could be very convincing when he wanted to – it was the main reason why she avoided one on one confrontations after her text break-up.
“Alright, I’ll be there in five minutes,” Ella said and hung up.
Tyler pulled the phone slowly from his ear. He stared at the screen a moment longer and sighed. Perhaps seeing her one last time would be the closure he needed before he could move on. Three years was a lot of time to throw away, but he needed to try. Ella had made it clear she wasn’t into him anymore.
Why though? Everything had been going so perfectly. She loved me. She said it herself hundreds of times. And he had only made a couple of tiny mistakes. Nothing to deserve such hatred.
“You spilled your coffee.”
Tyler looked up to see the barista frowning down at him. She had another coffee in one hand and a muffin in the other which she set down on the small table in front of him.
“I didn’t order these,” Tyler said crinkling his eyebrows together.
“These are on the house, as long as you clean up the mess you just made,” the Barista said. She had a knowing glint in her eyes that made Tyler uneasy. You just got dumped – they seemed to be saying. Muttering a quick ‘thank you’, Tyler squatted down and mopped up the mess with a napkin. Coffee soaked through the thin paper and wet his hand. He wiped them on his jeans and plopped back into his seat.
The barista had moved on to another table, grinning down on the customer like he was the only person in the room that mattered. Monica, Tyler remembered. She was in his Psychology lectures and she sat all the way in the front, jotting down notes like her life depended on it. Tyler never took notes himself, but he admired the girl’s dedication. He much preferred to play basketball and get wasted with his buddies.
Ding ding ding! The little bells above the coffee shop door jingled as another customer walked in. Ella swept into the room like a breeze, her long coat swishing behind her like a cloak. For a moment all Tyler could do was stare at his ex-girlfriend. She had always been beautiful. But seeing her after all that time apart… Light reflected off her glossy black hair, which contrasted with her pale, porcelain skin. She moved like a ballerina, swift and daintily, yet forcefully at the same time. Tyler gulped. He hadn’t seen her in a month? A year?
Despite his nervousness, Tyler admired her precision. She always knew what she wanted and was never afraid to go after it. The certainty in which she moved about life was one of the things he loved about her. Maybe it was because he never knew what he wanted.
In the time it took for Tyler to blink, Ella had crossed the room and plopped down on the booth across from him. He continued to stare as she sipped on the fresh coffee Monica had set down in front of him. One pinky pointed towards the ceiling as she tipped the mug towards her mouth.
“Ella, you’re looking, great – I mean okay.” Tyler stammered. “You’re looking okay.” He grabbed the muffin and took a big bite out of it to stop himself from saying something stupid. Banana muffin. It was his favorite. He wondered how Monica knew that.
“I’m here to give your sweater back, but damn, this is some fine coffee,” Ella said peering into the cup. “What flavor is this?”
“Pumpkin spice with a dash of cinnamon,” Monica materialized next to them, causing Tyler to jump in surprise. The muffin sailed out of his hand and landed on the table sending crumbs flying everywhere.
“Careful, Tyler, you already spilled your coffee!”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Tyler said grabbing a napkin and dabbing at the crumbs. All he managed to achieve was smear the crumbs into the table.
“Don’t worry about that, I got it.” Monica took her wet rag and swept up the mess until every last crumb was wiped away. She put the dirty rag in a small plastic bag and tucked it all in her apron.
“Who’s this? Your new girlfriend?” Ella stared at Monica with an upturned eyebrow.
Tyler held out his hands and shook them violently in an attempt to distance himself from the waitress.
“No, no! She’s just the coffee person! I don’t even know her that well!”
“Nonsense,” Monica grinned. “Tyler’s in my Psychology lecture! We’ve worked together sometimes!” To Tyler’s horror Monica smoothed out the back of her skirt and plopped onto the booth next to him, nudging him with her butt.
“You must be Tyler’s girlfriend!” Monica gushed like she and Ella were old friends. “You’re really pretty! Gosh, are those real diamond earrings?”
Tyler banged his head against the table three times. All he wanted was to talk to his ex-girlfriend one last time before she disappeared from his life forever. He was being cock-blocked by a waitress.
“Yeah, these are real diamonds,” Ella said brushing them with the tip of her finger. “A friend bought them for me.”
“A friend?” Tyler asked incredulously. Those weren’t earrings you bought for friends.
“None of your business,” Ella snapped.
“They really suit you,” Monica gushed.
“In any case I think you look beautiful,” Tyler said.
Both girls turned to look at him with upturned eyebrows. Their expressions were so similar it gave him pause. Tyler cleared the itch from his throat and shrugged.
“It’s true. You’ve always looked beautiful.”
“Sure, Tyler,” Ella said clearly not appeased.
“What’s your story? How did you two meet?” Monica asked.
“Um,” Tyler said.
“Why do you ask?” Ella said sipping at her coffee.
“I’m just curious,” Monica said with her unwavering smile. “You two look really cute together. As you know I’m in Tyler’s psychology class and we’re working on a project – not together this time. I’m doing my research on human interactions. Why don’t you go first, Ella.”
Maybe it was Monica’s warm smile, or maybe it was the warmth of the coffee but Ella’s features softened as she set down the mug. She continued to finger the handle with her purple painted nails. Finally she gathered her thoughts and looked into Monica’s eyes.
“We met three years ago in this coffee shop,” she began. Every so often her eyes darted in Tyler’s direction only to dart back to look at Monica. He, on the other hand, had his full attention on Ella, soaking up every word like rays of sun. Oh, how the days had been so bleak without her. Now that she was here the heavy clouds around his head seemed to lift away and the air he breathed tasted as sweet as her raspberry shampoo.
“I was sitting… right in this booth actually,” Ella said looking around in surprise. “Anyways, Tyler was my waiter and he always brought me a pumpkin spice latte and a banana muffin. At the time I thought he was cute, so I came back every day for the coffee, but he would always bring me a banana muffin. And every time he would say, ‘it’s on the house.'”
“Tsk tsk,” Monica turned to Tyler shaking her head. “You know that’s against store policy, Tyler. All customers have to pay for their orders.”
Tyler glared at her. “You just gave me this coffee and muffin on the house.”
“As the manager I can do that.” Monica said with a shrug. “You were just the barista, remember?”
“Whatever,” Tyler scowled.
Monica studied Tyler until he squirmed in his seat and looked away. Her gaze was electrifying. He couldn’t hold her gaze even if he tried. Those stormy grey eyes held such intensity he feared if he rubbed her the wrong way lightning would shoot from them and blast him into a pile of ash.
To make matters worse he couldn’t find the words to defend himself. Tyler took pride in those gestures he had shown Ella all those years ago. They seemed romantic at the time, and those gestures had led to him dating her after all. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever met.
“Sorry about the interruption,” Monica said returning her attention to Ella who had watched the exchange with glee. Not even a word to defend him.
“Yes, well one day I showed up right when his shift ended and I bought two drinks and a muffin,” Ella said. “I asked Tyler to come sit with me. I guess we hit it off.” She grabbed her mug and finished the rest of her coffee.
“That’s so sweet,” Monica gushed.
“It seems that way, doesn’t it? Sweet, sweet Tyler, such a romantic,” Ella shot him a look that sent actual bolts of electricity jolting down his spine.
“I didn’t mean to,” he said looking down at the table. The edge of his vision flickered with shadows. Even his stomach rebelled at his guilt, twisting and clenching like a serpent.
“You didn’t mean to,” Ella snorted. “Oh please, give me a break. You didn’t mean to jump into bed with another girl. And then lie about it. Yeah, tell me more about how you didn’t mean to do that.”
Tyler’s face grew numb with shock. How did she know?
“That’s just wretched,” Monica said covering her mouth. “How could you do such a thing? This girl was head over heels in love with you and you rewarded her by sleeping with someone else?”
“Two other women as it turns out,” Ella supplied.
“That’s just disgusting,” Monica said shaking her head. “And to think we bonded over our project. Were you trying to sleep with me too?”
Tyler’s shame turned to anger. “Listen, I barely even know you. We had one class project together and we got a C- on it because you forgot to turn your half of it in. And Ella…” he trailed off, grasping at words he couldn’t reach. Swimming desperately in a sea of emotions to reach the surface. To explain his actions even though deep down he knew his actions were beyond pardon. The drowning sensation was real now, and he struggled to breath. All the while a ball of molten lead seared through his stomach. Great, even his body was punishing him for what he had done to Ella.
“Ella I know I hurt you, but I really did love you. And I still do. I made the biggest mistake of my life and all I ask is your forgiveness. You don’t have to take me back, just tell me you forgive me. You can’t imagine the sleepless nights I’ve had thinking about what I’ve done, regretting it. We had something real and I messed it up. And I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Tears formed in his eyes as he said the words he had never gotten to say to her. She had refused to speak to him after their break up and now the bottled emotions came pouring out. The clenching in his stomach grew worse.
“Sleepless nights? Were they sleepless because you were having sex with other women?” Monica asked, no trace of pity in her eyes.
“Dude, this is literally none of your business,” Tyler said glaring at the barista. The gratitude he’d felt receiving the free drink and muffin vanished. This stupid girl was ruining his apology to Ella, perhaps ruining a shot of them ending back together. He opened his mouth to tell Monica to piss off but no words came out. His breath caught in the back of his throat. The ball of molten lead was exploding in his stomach now. Tyler grabbed the edge of the table and with tremendous effort tried to draw air into his starving lungs.
“Do you feel that, Tyler? Now imagine that pain times ten when I found out about what you did with those other girls,” Ella stood up with her hands on her hips. Tyler felt Monica do the same beside him. As he fell to the floor clutching his stomach he saw her smile. He remembered the first time he saw Ella smile and how it took his breath away.
“You think just because you’re popular you can go around doing whatever you like,” Ella was saying. “You think your dad’s money can buy you out of trouble. There are rules, Tyler. And when the rules are broken, expect repercussions for your actions.”
As she said the word punishment the dam finally broke, and everything Tyler had eaten throughout the day exploded from his mouth and his rear. It felt like he was spitting fire from both ends of his body. Through the tears that clouded his eyes he could see Ella and Monica filming the entire ordeal. No doubt it would be streaming from all social media platforms by the end of the day.
Clutching his sagging jeans, Tyler slipped through the enormous puddle he had created.
“And by the way, Tyler,” Ella called out as he reached the door. “I hate banana muffins.”