60 comments

Contemporary Sad Romance

Someone had taken a bite out of his croissant. He was pretty sure he bought a whole one and there was no-one else at their usual table because Jess hadn’t arrived yet – because Jess was late, keeping her usual schedule – but he also didn’t remember taking a bite himself.

But he felt crumbs on his lips, between his teeth. Could he have done it? He decided to take another bite, thinking it might jog his memory. No, nothing. He felt his teeth tear the flaky pastry, felt its dough dissolve on his tongue, but it was utterly flavourless. Or rather, it all tasted like hazelnut, because hazelnut filled the air, because that’s all that anyone asked for here.

He set his croissant down and let out a ragged breath. Glanced at the door – couldn’t glance away from it. Where was she?

The din of the other patrons was getting to him. The indistinct mumbling of a crowd accented by the odd laugh, the clattering of spoons against ceramics, the occasional clack of a laptop keyboard – it all took on a syrupy quality. Like the blurry shrieks at an enclosed pool, the human noise became viscous. Threatened to drown him. He gasped, clutched at his throat, and his foot beneath the table hammered a drumline into the floor.

Where was she?

He startled when the other chair scraped against the tiles and, in a haze of almond-peach scent, Jess, in a mauve top, plopped down at the table.

“Oh. My. God.” She spoke, never once lifting her eyes from her phone. Her right hand typed a response to her silent conversation, and her left, somehow, managed to put her purse, her travel mug – containing a pint of Indonesian black, no sugar, no nothing – and a tiny plate with a quartered all-dressed bagel, all on the table, all at the same time, without spilling so much as a poppy seed.

“Jess–”

She raised a brow and an index finger, and then typed another response. Her eyes fluttered over what was probably a groupchat with Anita and Mona and the others, and the subtle twitches of her lips and cheeks betrayed a drama much more interesting than the blandity of real life.

Finally, she spared him a glance, and a sudden smile as sugary as her coffee was bitter.

“Hi Chris!”

“It’s Chrisis,” he muttered. “I told you, my artist name is–”

Again, the finger. She shook her head vigorously and typed a manic two-thumbed response. “No!” she said. Another response. “No she didn’t!

Chrisis sighed. He took hold of his plate and spun it around. Once, twice, thrice – on the fourth time round, he spun too hard and the plate wobbled, spraying the table in crumbs.

“Don’t be messy,” Jess said, not looking away from her phone.

He wasn’t even sure it was meant for him, but he stopped playing with his plate and napkinned the crumbs. His throat had gone tight and dry, and he took a sip from his muddy brew. And he winced. Why had he bought hazelnut? He hated hazelnuts. And why had she recommended it, if she never drank anything but black?

The sudden appearance of her snapping fingers, right at the tip of his nose, startled him.

“A coffee date,” she said, beaming a wide smile, “in the middle of the work day! How nice.” She picked a sunflower seed off her bagel, with a pair of almond-shaped nails – not green nails, but peridot, which Chrisis knew the sparkly colour was called, which Chrisis hated that he knew.

“How interesting,” she continued, scrunching up her nose, “that you chose coffee, even though it’s my lunch half hour, and I’m super busy with the Mitsubishi campaign, and crazy stressed, and the sandwiches here are preassembled in a factory and reheated in a microwave, and Esposito’s – which you know I like – is just down the street and in fact closer to my office.”

“Um–”

She tapped her finger on his lips and grinned. “Shh, shh. Really, I don’t mind.” Her eyes drifted to her phone for a moment and she thumbed another message. “Really, I’m happy.” Her eyes lingered on the phone and then snapped to his. “Just happy you’re awake and dressed at 12 o’clock.”

Chrisis frowned. “Jess–”

Another lip tap. “No, no, I know. Artisting is hard. I know all about it. Debbie and Mark – I told you about them, right? Debbie and Mark are my creative leads for visuals and sound, and they both run tight teams, but gosh they do seem stressed sometimes. Lots of chasing the muse, of trying to figure out how to meet shifting client demands and still create something engaging, fresh, and with a soul. Hard work, definitely, very hard. Although, I suppose they did find a way to nine-to-five it. And to make a paycheque.”

His lips drew taut, and his breathing tight.

“But I’m not criticising,” she continued. “I know how important ‘the process’ is, even if that includes smoking all my weed and sleeping in every day.”

Chrisis willed her to stop talking. Willed himself to start.

She patted his cheek. “Seriously, I’m happy. It’s nice to spend some time with you. Oh, also!” She dug into her purse, pulled out a notepad, scribbled, and tore a sheet for him. Placed it on the table when he didn’t take it. “I need you to pick up my dry cleaning today, at Felice’s, before 4 o’clock. I hate to dump so much work on you, but I just cannot find the time, what with my full-time job, doing a grocery run, cooking our dinner tonight, visiting my grandfather in the hospital, fixing the tear in your pants, organizing the itinerary for your friend’s stag in Vegas, and finishing that bit of dry walling at the house.”

She picked another sunflower seed, with a trace of bagel dough, and ate it, and then turned her attention to her phone.

Chrisis drummed his hands on his thighs. He started to say something and then sputtered – three times. Each was prefixed by a louder inhalation, and each ended with an even more ragged wheeze. Finally, on the fourth gasp, he managed some words.

“I think we should see other people,” he whispered.

“What?” She swiped on her phone.

He cleared his throat. “I think we should see other people.”

Jess glanced at him. “What? Who?” Her brows furrowed and she scanned the place. “What people? Who are we looking at? Who is–” And then she gasped, covering her mouth with a fluttering hand as her eyes widened.

“Oh. My. God!” Jess whispered sharply. “Do you see what she’s wearing?” A grin tugged at her lips. “She cannot pull off mauve in this weather, but bless her for trying. Oh! But those shoes! They are adorable! I bet Anita would just die if she saw me in them.” She turned her attention back to him. “Good find, but Chris–”

“–Chrisis!–”

“–I don’t want you looking at women in mauve. I’ll overlook all the porn, but mauve’s a little close to home. That’s my thing.”

She turned her attention back to the phone, surreptitiously angling it to the mauve woman’s shoes, stealthing a photo. Her face lit up, probably after Anita’s response.

“I mean,” Chrisis said, sitting up tall with an inhale and then collapsing into his shoulders with an exhale, “we should break up.” He looked at the table as he spoke and his voice was small, and when Jess didn’t respond, didn’t stop her typing and didn’t interrupt her attention on the cell, he wondered if she’d heard him. Wondered if she’d ever heard him.

“Break… up… what?” she asked, finally. Her attention flitted through the gaps in her words. Then she lowered the device and looked at him. “Is that that new movie? Wait, another date? Two dates in one month?” Again, she donned that oversweet smile, the one with all the sharp teeth in the spotlight, and Chrisis glared at his own hands. “Hoowee! And they said romance was dead. Spoil me like this and a girl might get ideas.”

Chrisis ran the nails of his left hand over the top of his right. Pressed them in. Dug into the skin, plowed a furrow into the flesh. When he got to his knuckles, he raised his nails and brought them down at the base of his hand, and started another round. When he began his third pass at carving divots, Jess put her palm on his hands and he froze.

“It would be nice,” she said, her tone fainter, her smile softer. “I mean it. I could shuffle some things around, offload to Debbie, and we could do something tomorrow evening?”

Chrisis snorted, jerked his hands away. “I’m breaking up with you.”

It was subtle, but she actually rolled her eyes.

“I’m serious!”

“Yeah? Like last time? Or all the other times?”

“I mean it. I’m leaving you.”

She barked a laugh. “And going where? Move into that tiny one-bedroom with Rick and Danny and Moe? Live on the streets?” The smile soured. “Back to your dad’s?”

He snarled. “I don’t care!”

“I know you don’t. That’s your problem.”

He slapped his palms onto the table. “Well yours is you never listen!”

“Well yours is you never talk!”

Their shouting was loud enough the neighbouring tables noticed, and so they turned it down to a quiet stew, glaring at each other over the mountain of history between them.

Chrisis breathed deep. Felt his heart hammering, felt it struggling to get away. He’d come this far and freedom was within arm’s reach. And so, he continued with a hiss, “I hate–”

Jess’s face hardened even as her hands covered his, her fingers tense.

“I hate,” he said again, snatching his hands out from under hers, “this.” He breathed ragged, his face twisting ugly to match his words. She barely breathed at all. “I hate what we’ve become.”

Slowly, without looking at them, he placed his hands on hers. “We can’t go on like this.” When he squeezed, she squeezed back.

“I know.”

They sat in silence for the rest of the lunch break, the noise around them washing over them and past them, a river of meaningless human traffic. Neither looked at the other; neither looked at anything at all. Only their fingers moved, only their hands felt.

Finally, Jess’s phone signalled the end of her break. She let go of him and turned off the notification. “I’ve got to go.”

Nevertheless, it was Chrisis who rose. “We can’t go on like this.”

She nodded, still not looking at him.

Chrisis turned for the door, took a step, and then turned around. Before he left, he grabbed the sheet of paper with the dry cleaning details.

September 19, 2023 21:33

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

60 comments

Aeris Walker
15:21 Sep 22, 2023

Oo I love that subtle ending—says so much in just a short line. This couple…Jess is infuriating in her overpowering, self absorbed way and Chrisis is frustrating in his passivity. I like how you dance around the topic and bring in so much body language and tension to really show what these characters are feeling. Excellent work there. Also, I’ve said this before, but I’m so impressed by your discipline of putting out a story a week. I saw a YouTube video recently of a timelapse of a woman drawing a few marks on her wall each day with a sha...

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:48 Sep 22, 2023

Ha, maybe! But I'm a fairly impatient person too, so who knows, might just ruin the wall out of frustration. I think it helps that I like the writing. I like being read - of course, that's awesome - but the actual writing can be fun too. Don't know if I'd ever want to do it as a full-time job, in case that ruins it. Glad the overbearing/passive came through. The socially awkward prompt put me on that track, as it seems like both those who don't talk at all and those who talk too much can bungle things up. Thanks for reading, Aeris!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Martin Ross
16:23 Sep 24, 2023

“Artisting is hard” — I love that. “Chrisis” and the peachy/almond Jess (I had a flash of cyanide toxicity) — brilliant way to convey diverging, irreconcilably entrenched differences. I always find navigating between the self-satisfied everything-for-money and art-only-for-artist-sake creatives a difficult proposition, though my empathy remains with Chrisis (probably through my dealings with narcissistic PR people).

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:46 Sep 25, 2023

The cyanide aspect didn't even occur to me, but that's very fitting :) Yeah, the two extremes in art are hard to reconcile. Like any extremes, they probably get in the way more than they help, since reality rarely cares about our beliefs or convictions. Thanks for the feedback, Martin! Glad you enjoyed the story :)

Reply

Martin Ross
23:19 Sep 25, 2023

The problem for me developing community art has been in trying to imbue the pragmatic and accessible with a fresh and unusual vision. Had I a French accent, that might not have sounded quite as pompous.🤣

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
AnneMarie Miles
15:29 Sep 24, 2023

The two are very well developed characters, but man, they drove me a little crazy, ha! This is the friend couple that everyone is constantly giving relationship advice to and their friends are probably so frustrated with their (or more likely, just Jess's) complaining (since Chrisis seems like he just doesn't have the nerve to complain outwardly). The nervous and uncomfortable energy is very well played in this short and bittersweet story. From the beginning, we can see that Chrisis is uncomfortable, but also irritated, so we know somethin...

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:49 Sep 25, 2023

Thanks, Anne Marie! That's some great feedback :) "we realize it's actually both ways when the two squeeze hands" - I'm particularly glad you pointed that out, and that the tension came across as two-way. I think Jess being dismissive is probably some kind of defence mechanism. Ignore a problem and it'll go away, that kind of thing. Only, that doesn't always work, does it? Especially when it involves ignoring another person. Also happy the physical descriptions worked out. In "show, don't tell", physical descriptions seem to be one of th...

Reply

AnneMarie Miles
21:15 Sep 25, 2023

I agree - I think it is a defense mechanism, as denial often is. And I think this short moment in Jess's life actually tells us a lot about her personality. I can see there's a lot of deep insecurities in her, she just hides them better than Chrisis. Ugh, I feel you on the stage directions! Show don't tell is one of the most challenging parts of writing. It's hard to find the balance between over embellishing and giving just enough so that the reader understands what's going on. I had to read up on some Reedsy tips this week to get my stor...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Bob Long Jr
17:04 Sep 20, 2023

.. and my conclusion is the poor guy doesn't have it in him .. at least now .. to leave her.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Bob Long Jr
17:02 Sep 20, 2023

Great story and I hope you can write another one about these two ! Painful how she was so preoccupied. I got at least 3 chuckles along the way. Dang .. good writing !

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:36 Sep 20, 2023

Thanks, Bob! Yeah, some things can definitely be funny to an observer :) Glad you enjoyed it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Anthony Carello
13:19 Sep 20, 2023

That's a classic. They'll be together forever! Nice story.

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:37 Sep 20, 2023

Heh, it's possible :) Thanks for reading, Anthony!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Michelle Oliver
06:20 Sep 20, 2023

Hmmm a doomed relationship or a doomed breakup. Well done on meeting the prompt and leaving us hanging here. Poor Chrisis is in a crisis. You do a marvellous job of presenting their dynamic, the power in the relationship tipping quite in her favour. He feels like he is drowning in this relationship yet we get the feeling that he will, stay in it. Which then raises the question as to why she stays in it? The fear of the unknown is greater than the dissatisfaction of the known, perhaps. That sad little “I know” shows that she recognises the pr...

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:39 Sep 20, 2023

Yeah, it's complex, isn't it? I figure there was love at some point. Maybe there still is. You're probably onto something with the safety of the known too. The desire to change is ever at war with the desire to stay the same, and I suppose that's why things have to get worse before they can improve. Thanks for the feedback, Michelle!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Graham Kinross
10:26 Dec 11, 2023

So he didn’t leave her? Come on! I feel a bit sorry for him but he should have left. The eye rolls and the way she talks to him is really annoying. They sound codependent and it’s clearly toxic the way she goads him that he’s not going to leave.

Reply

Michał Przywara
02:14 Dec 13, 2023

I think toxic is the exact right word, and codependent might be too. For some people, a bad relationship is better than no relationship at all, which seems silly, but we humans do silly things. I wanted to dig into that a bit this week, and explore it. I think we all have a certain life inertia, and we won't change things until the uncomfortable is greater than the comfortable, even if to an outsider, a simple change is clearly better. Thanks for reading, Graham!

Reply

Graham Kinross
11:00 Dec 13, 2023

You’re welcome.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Amanda Lieser
05:21 Oct 20, 2023

Hi Michal! You’ve delivered a beautiful story of intense heartbreak. There is so much empathy that I have for both of these characters. Of course, I naturally have to side with our narrator who is expressing how he has died throughout this relationship, but in contrast, we have his partner who has her own issues. Perhaps she spends her whole life filling her day with Insignificant things because she’s spent so much time building a career that has taken everything from her-namely, her personal life. Yes, this relationship needed to end, but I...

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:38 Oct 20, 2023

Thanks, Amanda! Glad to hear that her side of the story comes across as having issues too. I don't know if her personal life has suffered because of work, or if she overcompensates at work due to personal issues, but there's definitely something there. I guess a lot of problems are like that: chicken and egg, right? I appreciate the feedback!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Jarrel Jefferson
18:56 Sep 30, 2023

I really enjoy how well developed Jess and Chrisis are as characters, on top of the attention you give to the senses, which makes the setting come alive without you having to outright name the setting (even though Jess ultimately reveals they’re in a coffee joint). I also have a soft spot for short stories with failing relationships. Well done, overall.

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:43 Oct 02, 2023

Thanks, Jarrel! Glad to hear the initial descriptions worked out. They were surprisingly fun characters to write, given the unpleasant situation. I appreciate the feedback!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Samaira S.
08:58 Sep 30, 2023

Wow, I love this! I'm really not used to reading stories with both 'sad' and 'romance' tags that don't end in a partner dying or either being left heartbroken. I love the way the story depicts reality in a way most romance stories fail to do. Great work!

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:44 Oct 02, 2023

Thanks, Samaira! Maybe the dying character in this case, is the relationship itself. I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I appreciate the feedback :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Patrick H
01:27 Sep 30, 2023

Oh my a date from hell here! That was incredibly descriptive! I could actually taste the atmosphere! Nice!

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:45 Oct 02, 2023

Thanks, Patrick! I'm glad to hear that :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Zack Herman
22:20 Sep 27, 2023

He's right...they should see other people!

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:59 Sep 28, 2023

Indeed, sometimes enough is beyond enough. Thanks for reading, Zack!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Adrienne Ellis
21:03 Sep 27, 2023

I really love the beginning. I thought it was going to end up that he'd been poisoned, lol! I felt like you gave away too much at the ending. Only because I was routing for him. Great story!

Reply

Michał Przywara
21:01 Sep 28, 2023

Thanks, Adrienne! Poisoning's an interesting idea - definitely would have been an unexpected twist :) I appreciate the feedback!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Dragon The Poet
00:33 Sep 24, 2023

She seemed like a nightmare to be around omg, I hope he actually breaks things off officially and has a better life

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:54 Sep 25, 2023

Indeed! Everyone's got their limit for when enough is enough - maybe this is his. Thanks for reading!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Jessica B Taylor
21:43 Sep 23, 2023

Soooo good! Love it!

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:50 Sep 25, 2023

Thanks Jessica! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Joan Wright
21:37 Sep 23, 2023

So well done! I love how the tension built. I could actually feel it in my stomach. And I loved the ending with the cleaner's ticket. Thank you for sharing.

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:52 Sep 25, 2023

Thanks, Joan! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Andrea Corwin
21:03 Sep 23, 2023

OMG, no, Chrisis! Great story Michal, and great descriptions!! It aptly describes the current social media world with all the attention there, and away from in-person interactions. I hope Chrisis either finds someone else or Jess begins to listen and stop demeaning him.

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:56 Sep 25, 2023

Thanks, Andrea! Yeah, the phone thing at a social gathering is an odd phenomenon. Maybe a new socially acceptable addiction? I appreciate the feedback!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
05:38 Sep 23, 2023

In glancing over the comments, I’m amazed to find people saying « doomed relationship » or even questioning what he brings to the table. If the roles were reversed, it would be clear that the problem is emotional abuse—she belittles him, makes him believe that he can’t get on without her, and keeps him financially dependent on her so that he won’t have the confidence to leave. If it were a man doing that we would all be screaming for her to run! Her abuse is so well drawn and his capitulation at the end so disappointing.

Reply

Michał Przywara
03:13 Sep 25, 2023

You raise an excellent point :) And I'm very glad you bring it up, as I was hoping the story might suggest a couple different takes - seems fitting for the prompt this week. We can scream "run!" but how often do they listen? There's something about these problems, which makes them obvious for outsiders to see, and yet people stick to the relationships anyway. I guess everyone has a threshold for "enough," and sometimes it can lead to so much pain. I appreciate the feedback, Anne!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Delbert Griffith
11:10 Sep 22, 2023

Wow! Everything about this scream of a doomed relationship. Yet - yet it may not be so. So many couples that are unhappy with each other stay together. As one friend once told me, "you have too much time invested in the other to throw it all away." It's hard to argue that because every reasonable argument will fall on deaf ears. Artisting is hard. Man, what a great line! That says everything about how Jess feels about art. She furthers this by her remarks concerning her own creative people and how they manage to catch the muse doing a 9-to-...

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:40 Sep 22, 2023

Sounds like your friend's onto something. That's the sunk cost fallacy, right? Except, it's only a sunk cost if you quit, and winners don't quit. There's a lot of bad advice out there - or maybe it's good advice, but only in a narrow context, and not the kind of thing that should be applied everywhere. Older I get, the more convinced I become that communication is the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. Glad the story worked for you, Del. Yeah, they're on different wavelengths, and it seems like each harbours their own gru...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.