This story is one of the October Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
It’s at times like these where Bee wonders what goes on in Jax’s head, wonders what has got him so interested in the phone held up to his ear, the muttering that whips back and forth from his deep voice and the crackle from the crappy speakers of the flip-back phone clenched to his ear.
“No,” he keeps saying, and Bee wants to slap the phone from his ear, “No, I’m not selling.”
He’s distracted through their meal, and Bee watches the flame from the candle on the center of the table flicker and burn, wax melting and pooling in a puddle of unhappiness. She thinks she sees the distorted form of her frown in the glowing epicenter of the flame.
Jax hangs up, finally, and blinks.
Bee watches his eyes dart to his untouched meal below him, rib-eye cold by now, her own dish of pasta licked clean with utensils stacked neatly.
“S**t,” he says, his eyes wrinkling, and he holds up his hands, “I–”
“It’s fine,” Bee says. “I’m over it.”
Jax has the decency to shut his phone and shamefully shove it back into his pocket, regret filling his features. “I really am sorry.”
Bee shrugs. “How’s work?”
Jax runs a hand through his hair. “It’s bad, Bee. Investments aren’t good, stocks aren’t working out, it’s rubbish.”
“Rubbish,” Bee echoes, her eyes still focused on the flame burning steadily between them.
“I’m sorry,” Jax says, his voice quiet.
Bee shrugs, blowing out the candle, her eyes flickering to the smoke spewing and drifting up into the air.
Jax orders take-out next week from the old Chinese place across the street, and he comes through their front door with his arms full of green beans, chow-mein, and sweet and sour fish, a grin tugging at his lips. “I got our favorite,” he says, “and I thought we could pop in that movie you like. You know, the rom-com.”
Bee presses a kiss to his cheek, already on her way to the TV. “You mean 500 Days of Summer?”
“Yeah. That one.”
Bee’s halfway to the couch, eagerly searching through DVDs. But then she pauses, turning her head.
Jax’s still staring at his phone, the familiar wrinkle forming atop his forehead. He lets out a sigh, and Bee’s lips flatten.
Jax slips his phone away, pushing it further across the counter. “This time will be different. I promise.”
“If you need to—”
Jax just shakes his head, walking over to where Bee sits on the couch. He leans his head against her shoulder. “Ready to watch?”
Bee nods, but she’s all too aware of the notifications ringing from his phone every few minutes, and then the way his neck feels too stiff, and how he laughs always a second too late.
“Jax,” Bee says, her voice quiet, “just go.”
Jax pushes aside his uneaten Chinese food, biting his lip. “You’re sure?”
Bee has to stop herself from breaking. “Sure.”
It happens again. And then it happens again, and suddenly it’s been going on for months.
Jax comes home, tired and exhausted, but he has a smile on his face. Yet it’s all Bee sees of him, that moment when he walks through the door, and then she loses him to his job that follows him all the way home, everywhere.
“This isn’t working,” Bee says.
“I can’t do it.”
Jax’s smile fades. “Please, no.”
“This time will be different, Bee, I—”
“No,” Bee says, and this time her voice softens. “Jax, you know it won’t.”
“I wanted it to.”
“I know. I did, too.”