Oysters

by: T.E. Cowell

“Jim felt like he was back in his twenties, young and reckless, full of raw emotion. He’d forgotten what it felt like to be in love.” A short story where a spark is reignited, but not to the delight of all…

A few days after Jim’s girlfriend, Jen, flew across the country to attend the funeral of her grandmother, Jim invited Mia, a coworker, over to his apartment Friday after work. Jim had never cheated on his girlfriend before, but he knew that he would if Mia presented him with an opportunity to do so. Jim was attracted to Mia in a way that he wasn’t, at least not anymore, attracted to Jen. On top of that, Mia seemed to be attracted to Jim if all of the eye contact and smiles she gave him on a daily basis were any indication. Jim felt like he couldn’t pass up on an opportunity like Mia, that if he did he’d regret it later on and possibly for the rest of his life. He often dreamt of Mia. In such dreams he was having sex with her or was about to. Sometimes his girlfriend would appear in the dream, bereaved, tears running down her face. Jim would apologize and say he didn’t love her anymore, and then he’d wake up.

Mia followed Jim home in her old, beat-up Mazda and parked on the street in front of Jim’s apartment building. Jim drove into his designated spot directly below the apartment and met Mia in front of the building, and they started up the paint-chipped stairs together. Jim lived in a small apartment complex about a three-minute walk from the local library, where Jen worked. Jim and Jen had been living in the same apartment for a few years now.

Jim unlocked the front door, stepped inside, and as Mia entered the apartment she looked at Jim and smiled.

“Welcome to my casa,” Jim said, shutting the door behind them. He glanced from the kitchen to the living room, the couch, the coffee table, then at the cat, Homer, curled up on the couch, eyeing them sleepily.

“Nice,” Mia said.

“Not really,” Jim said. “But it could be worse, I guess. It works, at least for now.”

“You should see my place,” Mia said. “It’s about half this size and twice as messy.”

“I’d like to,” Jim said, and then he rubbed his hands together. “Well, care for a beer?”

“Yes, please.”

He stepped into the kitchen and opened the fridge. Another thing that he liked about Mia was the fact that she drank beer, that she wasn’t a teetotaler like his girlfriend was. Jim had gone to a bar a month or so ago after work with Mia and she’d ordered the same beer he’d ordered, the strongest beer they’d had on tap. It was almost like a date. Jim had neglected to tell Jen about it, had told her when he returned to the apartment that day that he’d had a late day at work.  

“Which would you prefer?” he asked as the crisp refrigerated air hit his face, “an IPA or a stout?”

“What’re you gonna have?”

“I think I’ll go with a stout, at least to kick things off.”

“Then I’ll have a stout too, please.”  

Jim took two stouts from the fridge. The stouts came in twenty-four ounce cans and were stronger in alcohol content than the IPAs. He showed Mia the cans and asked,

“This too much for you?”

“No way,” she said. “Bring it on.”

“They’re pretty strong.”

“I’m stronger.”    

Jim grinned as he took two glasses down from the cupboard.

Mia stayed the night at Jim’s place, too drunk, she claimed, to drive home. After the stouts they each had an IPA, then washed the beer down with a pizza Jim had in the freezer. Before eating the pizza they had become familiar with the taste of the other’s saliva. Jim was no longer hungry for food after kissing Mia but he managed to scarf down a slice of pizza anyways, and Mia did the same. After eating they picked up where they’d left off.   

“Wait,” Mia said once they’d moved into the bedroom. “I need a shower, I’m gross from work.”

“Me too,” Jim said. “I’ll run it for us.”      

“I don’t have any clean clothes.”    

Jim thought for a moment. “You can try on something of my girlfriend’s. You’re probably about the same size.”

Mia seemed to think for a moment, and then she shrugged. “Okay. When does she get back, by the way?”     

“Wednesday.”   

“So we have plenty of time.”    

“Five days is plenty of time?”   

“Well,” Mia said, “you know what I mean.”

In the morning Jim was the first one up. He looked at Mia lying in bed, her face on its side on the pillow, a strand of hair partially concealing her eye and he thought I’m in love again. He had thought that he might be in love with Mia for awhile now, but only in this moment did he realize that it was true.    

Jim quietly left the bedroom for the kitchen, where he started making coffee. As the coffee brewed he petted Homer on the couch. He looked out the window at another blue-sky morning. He heard the occasional car passing on the street.

“What do you think?” he said to Homer. “Huh? What do you think about all this? Pretty crazy, huh?”    

Homer purred and looked Jim in the eyes, then nuzzled his head into Jim’s arm.     

Jim stood up and took two mugs from the cupboard, filled them with the freshly brewed coffee, then he went back in the bedroom and set one of the mugs down on the nightstand on his girlfriend’s side of the bed.

Mia was still asleep and Jim thought of kissing her on the cheek but decided against it, not wanting to risk waking her. He left the bedroom once more for the living room, where he sipped his coffee and looked out the window. After a time Jim went back into the bedroom and took the mug of coffee, cold by now, from the nightstand and put it in the microwave.

Finally Mia got up. Jim heard her from in the living room go into the bathroom. He heard the toilet flush, and then she came out. She looked at Jim and smiled sleepily. 

“Morning,” Jim said.

“Good morning.” Mia yawned, stretched her arms towards the ceiling, showing part of her stomach. “Did I sleep long?”

“No. I liked watching you sleep.”

“You were watching me?”

“Well, for a minute. Nothing creepy.”

Jim stood up from the couch and moved closer to Mia. He wrapped his arms around her, brushed back her hair. He kissed her neck, then ran a hand up and down her back.

She was wearing Jen’s blood-red panties, Jim’s favorite if he had to choose, as well as one of her V-neck t-shirts.

“I made coffee.”

“Oh good! Can I have some?”

“Of course. I can make us some breakfast as well, if you want.”

“Really? Like what?”

“You like eggs?”

“I love eggs.”

“I make a mean scramble.”

“Great. I’m starving.”

After breakfast they returned to the bedroom, had sex again, and then showered. Jim felt like he was back in his twenties, young and reckless, full of raw emotion. He’d forgotten what it felt like to be in love. Things had been stale for him for so long now.

“What should we do today?” he asked once they were dressed. They had already agreed to spend the day together.

“Want to check out my place? I should probably stop by anyways, to get the mail and say hi to my landlord, let him know no one kidnapped me.”

“Sure,” Jim said. “I’d like that.”     

Mia drove her Mazda the ten or so miles to her place, which was off a road Jim didn’t think he’d ever been down before. They lived on an island in Washington State, not far from Canada. Jim had always lived on the island but Mia had not, she was relatively new to the area having moved from the Seattle area. She had told Jim she had seen pictures of the island in a magazine and had felt inclined to see the place for herself. Then she hadn’t wanted to leave, and ended up staying in the hostel in town until she found the job she now had, as a delivery driver. Jim had been a delivery driver for the better part of a decade now and though he’d seen a lot of people come and go, he had never seen anyone quite like Mia before. The first time Jim saw Mia he thought that she was too attractive to last long, thought the job would be too physically demanding on her. She proved him wrong. She’d been working as a delivery driver for almost a year now. She was evidently stronger and tougher than she looked.

Mia parked in front of a regular-looking wooden house, neither large nor small, on the side of the road opposite the water. They got out and walked alongside the house for the little cabin in back, detached from the main house.

“It might be a little messy,” Mia said before opening the door.

“That’s alright,” Jim said. “I don’t trust tidy people.”

“Your place is pretty tidy.”

“That’s because my girlfriend’s habits have rubbed off on me. If one thing’s out of place she freaks out. If a single dish is in the sink she has to put it in the dishwasher.”

“She sounds anal.”

“She is.”

Mia opened the door and they stepped inside, and immediately Jim saw that it was true, that Mia’s place was half the size of his own. And what had she said she paid per month for it? Seven hundred? It seemed like too much for such a small place. But, then again, the island was expensive to live on. A lot of people had to work two or three jobs just to get by. There was a saying on the island: you either had three jobs or three homes. Meaning, of course, you were either broke or rich. The island was a refuge for retired folks who’d done well for themselves. Jim delivered to such people’s million-dollar waterfronts on a daily basis during the week, as did Mia.

There were two couches, one that folded into a bed, which Mia slept on. There was a small table complete with two chairs. A good number of books were stacked mostly precariously on top of one another against the wall, like Jenga blocks threatening to topple over.

“It’s not that messy in here,” Jim said.

“Okay, maybe I was exaggerating just a little.”

There were some dishes in the sink though, Jim saw while Mia took off his girlfriend’s clothes and put on jean shorts and a tie-dye tank top.

They smoked a joint Mia had and then she convinced Jim to try oysters from the oyster farm just down the road. Jim had never tried oysters before and he didn’t think he’d like them. But he said he’d try them anyways, just to have something to do with Mia.

“They’re an aphrodisiac,” Mia said enticingly.

They left her place and walked along the road down towards the oyster farm. It was about two in the afternoon and very hot out. A handful of cars passed them on their way. Both Jim and Mia were high from the joint, so high that every movement they made seemed impossibly important. Jim wanted to wrap an arm around Mia but he was afraid someone he knew or who knew Jen might see him. It wasn’t too likely that this would happen, but living on a relatively small island, it wasn’t impossible either.

They passed a gravel parking lot about a quarter filled with cars, then started along a narrow gravel trail towards a few buildings up ahead. Past the buildings the water in the bay sparkled in the sun.

“We can get bread and cheese too,” Mia said. “If we want. And beer.”

“I could go for a beer,” Jim said. “You?”

“Sure,” Mia said. “I’m down.”

There were a group of picnic tables in the grass near the water’s edge with umbrellas above them for shade. A handful of people sat in the shade facing the bay.

“We go in here to see what we want and pay,” Mia said, and through an open door they went, into a small building where, behind the counter, stood Emma, one of Jen’s closest friends. Jim of course had no idea Emma worked here, the last he’d heard Emma had quit her teaching job at the island’s lone private school. Before Jim could flee out the door Emma’s eyes found him and she said, “Hey, Jim,” and then she looked at Mia.

“Hey, Emma,” Jim said, trying to sound more relaxed than he felt. Then he turned and opened a fridge stocked with beverages, took out two beers, one for himself and one for Mia.

Awkwardly Jim paid Emma for the beers and half a dozen oysters, as well as a pack of crackers and a block of cheese. Once he and Mia were back outside, walking towards an open table, Mia said, “How do you know her?”

“She’s one of Jen’s good friends.”

“You’re joking.”

“I wish I were.”

“Shit.”

“My thoughts exactly.”  

“What’re we gonna do?”     

“What can we do? Maybe it’s for the best, though.”    

“You think?”    

“Well, it’s not like I love Jen anymore. I’ve been thinking about breaking up with her for a while now but haven’t been able to bring myself to do it.”     

“How come?”     

Jim shrugged. “Because she loves me and I know she’d be devastated if I broke things off.”   

“That’s selfless,” Mia said.      

“I know,” Jim said. “Pretty silly, right?”

After the oysters and beer they walked back to Mia’s place, said hi to her landlord, then got back in Mia’s car and headed back to town, to Jim’s place. They weren’t talking now, not like before. The mood had changed since the incident at the oyster farm.

Then Mia said, “Do you think I’m a bad person?”

“No,” Jim said. “Why would I think that?”      

“Because I had sex with you even though you have a girlfriend.”      

“No. I think you’re a brave person, not bad though.”

“You really don’t love her anymore?”      

“Nope, not anymore.”

“And me? Do you love me?”

“Yes,” Jim said. “I do.”

Mia glanced at Jim and smiled. “I thought so,” she said. “I mean, I had a feeling. I love you too, by the way.”

Jen called Jim later that day, around dinnertime, but Jim didn’t pick up. She left him a message and after Jim listened to it he said to Mia, “She knows.”     

“How’d she sound?”  

“Very upset. She was crying.”     

Mia nodded. “I’m sorry, Jim.”

“Don’t be. It’s not your fault.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure.”

When Jen returned from the funeral she promptly moved out of the apartment and into Emma’s place until she found a studio. Then Mia moved into Jim’s place. Jim kept the cat, Homer. It had been Jen’s idea to rescue Homer from the animal shelter to begin with, but Jim was the one who ended up giving the cat the most attention.

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