When Jessica heard the annoying, familiar sound of gunshots and screams coming from the living room TV, she briefly wished that they weren’t a part of Dylan’s video game but that they were real and that Dylan would be dead. It was only a passing thought, and she was ashamed by it, but, dammit, when she discovered Dylan had finished off the last bit of coffee, she was furious. She wanted to storm into her daughter’s room and tell her that he couldn’t live with them any longer, but that would start a fight, and Jessica didn’t want to fight with Sarah; she just wanted coffee.
Dylan had been living with them for two weeks, and Jessica was beginning to view everything he did - from the way he kept his mouth open when he talked to his inability to clean up after himself - through a lens of irritability. She’d accepted him into the house on her daughter’s wishes because she felt bad that his parents kicked him out. Now she understood why he'd been kicked out (he was lazy af and inconsiderate), and she was having difficulty controlling her emotions toward him.
Dylan left his mark all over her home. Jessica noticed his pubic hair in the shower and stains of his piss on the floor in front of the toilet. He had claimed Jessica’s spot on the couch as his, eaten groceries that were supposed to be ingredients for dinners, and spent hours playing video games. The nastiness of those images soaked into her brain, making it heavy with hatred. She wanted to go into the living room and throw him out the front door. The bastard, she thought (this is how much some people want coffee).
As she ground her teeth staring at the empty Folgers tin, she quietly cursed herself for allowing the arrangement to happen. She was both shocked and flattered when Sarah asked if Dylan could move in, shocked that her daughter would ask such a thing, and flattered that her daughter might think she was a cool mom. Standing over the counter, about to cry at the anger that had risen inside of her from not having coffee, Jessica no longer cared about being cool. If she had been stronger, she could have told her daughter there was no way in hell she was letting a boy she’d been dating for three months move in with them. She felt stupid for allowing him into the house.
Dylan had a habit of wearing his pajamas all day and what made it worse was he’d wear the same pajamas for days on end. Not just two days in a row either, but, like, four days. The first week he’d lived with them, it miffed Jessica so much she offered to do his laundry. She found he had other clothes; he just always wore the same ugly pajamas, which were part of a matching set that Sarah had bought for them for valentines day. It was pathetic. Even though Jessica worked from home and could get away with wearing pajamas, she made a point to change and get ready for the day as if she would leave the house. She concluded right then in the kitchen that something was wrong with the youth in this country; they drink your coffee, steal your spot on the couch, piss on your floor, wear dumb pajamas, and live on their phones and in video games. It was bullshit.
Jessica stormed into the living room, ready to unleash her fury on Dylan as soon as he looked at her, but the bastard never took his eyes from his video game. Jessica noticed that he didn’t even remove his hand from his pants where he was scratching himself. She cleared her throat to grab his attention. He took his hand out of his pants and gave it a smell.
“Dylan,” she said. He jolted up from the couch, startled. Jessica continued, “Can you turn this down? I have to start work soon.”
“Sure thing, sorry, Jess.”
Shortening her name was just one more thing that Dylan did that Jessica despised, but, going against her desire to turn into a ball of fire and burn down the living room, she didn’t mention the peeve.
“Two things,” Jessica said, “How’s Sarah doing, and did you finish the coffee?”
“Yea, I think she’s still not feeling well. Periods must suck, right? I don’t know how you guys deal with that.”
Jessica stared blankly at Dylan. What was it with young people thinking they could talk to adults this way? She would never have spoken to either of her parents like this. Didn’t he realize she was paying for everything in the god damn house and was twice his age? Where was the respect?
“Did you finish the coffee?” Jessica asked.
“Did I? My bad.”
Dylan paused his game, put down his controller, and looked at his coffee mug, giving it a swirl as he picked it up.
“There’s not much left in here, but you can have the rest.”
Dylan extended the mug towards her.
“No, Dylan. I don’t want what’s left of your coffee. I want my own coffee. I have to work today, and now I don’t have any,” Jessica stopped herself before she began to rant. She was the adult; she couldn’t throw a tantrum.
“Forget about it,” she said, “I’m going to check on Sarah.”
“Cool,” Dylan said, unpausing his game, “Oh, wait. If you’re going in there, can you get my phone charger?”
Jessica didn’t respond as she turned down the hallway of her two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment. The pandemic had forced her to downsize and move out of the townhouse she was living in. The apartment walls were thin enough that you could hear murmurs of things that were happening in any room. Jessica made sure she lowered her voice when she entered her daughter’s room unannounced and began scolding her with her concerns about Dylan.
Sarah wasn’t having it, “Mom, don’t do this right now. You’re on your period.”
Jessica was appalled, “How can you talk to me like that? On my period! How do you know that?”
“We’re synced up, mom. I’m on mine, so you’re on yours.”
“Is that a thing?”
“Mom, oh my god. Yes, it’s a thing.”
“I don’t want to talk about this. Dylan finished my coffee. I’m pissed.”
“Go get more.”
“I’m working, Sarah! I can’t leave the house to go get coffee.”
“I’ll get some for you later if I feel better. Just leave some money on the counter.”
“I don’t think Dylan should stay here much longer.”
“Mom,” Sarah shouted, “Stop it! I don’t want to talk about this right now. Why do you hate Dylan so much? We love each other. Why are you being like this?”
Witnessing her daughter fully spaz in front of her made Jessica rethink her intentions. Why had she come into the room and brought up Dylan when her daughter was in pain and she was about to go to work? How was she standing in her daughter’s bedroom arguing with her when this was precisely what she was trying to avoid? It was like without her coffee, she didn’t know how to act.
Jessica looked at Sarah lying there like she was on her deathbed. She was under the covers, curled into a tiny ball, and had one hand clutching her stomach. It reminded Jessica of how she looked when she was a kid; petite, gentler, more manageable. Jessica’s maternal instinct flickered inside, and she felt the sudden need to try to help her daughter.
“I’m sorry,” Jessica said, “I shouldn’t have come in here like that. What can I do to make you feel better?”
“My cramps are so bad,” Sarah moaned.
“Let me see if we have anything,” Jessica said, turning to exit the room. She walked down the hallway and then across the living room in front of Dylan.
“Did you get the charger?” Dylan asked.
“No, I forgot. I’m getting something for Sarah to help her stomach.”
“What are you getting?”
“I don’t know. Tea or something,” Jessica said, annoyed.
“Can I have some?”
Jessica exhaled a grunt to acknowledge that she’d heard him.
The tea was next to the coffee filters in the cupboard. It was a caffeine-free marigold tea, which was supposed to help with menstrual discomfort. She decided to make some for herself and put the kettle on the stove. She hoped that replacing one hot beverage with the other would satisfy her habit of drinking coffee and bring her some peace.
Jessica picked up her phone and checked her work email as the water heated up. The fifteen new emails made her insides feel as hot as the flames heating the kettle. With coffee, work emails were just part of the job, but without it, everything seemed impossible. She switched from her inbox to check Slack and had the same dread. She continued to scroll, depressed.
The hissing of the kettle slapped her out of her trance, and she put her phone on the counter. She grabbed three mugs from the cupboard and set them on the counter. It annoyed her that work was about to start and that she was making tea for everyone. Once again, the result of not having caffeine in her system was affecting her; everything was miserable; everything was a challenge.
When Jessica walked back to the living room carrying the tea, she found Sarah was curled up on the couch beside Dylan. The sight of both of them in their matching pajamas sickened her. Neither of them had showered or brushed their hair. They looked like teenagers on Christmas morning, except it wasn’t Christmas; it was a workday, and Jessica wasn’t in a good mood. Dammit, she thought, I think I’m a bitch.
“Here’s tea,” She said, placing it on the coffee table atop coasters, “It might help you with your cramps.”
“I don’t want tea,” Sarah said.
Jessica felt a bomb go off in her temples, and it made all of her blood rush to the ends of her body like it was trying to escape. She’d reached her limit. The hell with work, she thought. Screw Dylan and Sarah, she thought. But most of all, she thought, fuck this day! She was about to tear their world apart, but before she could speak, Dylan said something,
“Darling, you have to try it. Your mom made it just for you. It will make you feel better.”
Jessica gulped down the hateful words she was about to spew as she listened to Dylan.
“Here, I’ll take a sip. I bet it’s real good.”
Dylan wrapped his hands around the mug and immediately squealed in pain.
“You need to let it cool down,” Sarah said to him.
Dylan reached for the mug once more, except this time he gripped it by the handle.
“Gotta use the handle,” He said.
Jessica watched as Dylan lifted the mug to his mouth and took a tentative sip.
“Mmm,” He said, “It’s hot, but it’s good. You should try it.”
Jessica felt the beating at her temples quiet. What was unfolding in front of her was unexpected. She’d let her emotions nearly get the best of her, but maybe she’d been wrong about Dylan; perhaps he wasn’t all bad. Maybe there was good in this boy after all.
“It’s good,” Dylan said again, extending the mug to Sarah so she would take a drink. She shook her head no.
Jessica lingered for a moment letting the last bit of adrenaline from the moment drain out of her body. Things aren’t that bad, she thought; I am just upset I don’t have coffee, and I was about to act crazy.
And just before she turned to go to her bedroom, where her home office was, she saw that Dylan’s face was red and blotchy.
Dylan had his hands on his stomach and looked like he was in shock.
“Dylan, how are you feeling?” Jessica asked.
His lips were swelling, and the blotchy redness was quickly turning into a full-blown rash. Sarah screamed when she realized what was happening to her boyfriend.
“Baby, are you ok?” She panicked, touching his face.
His lips had doubled in size in front of them, and the rash covered his hands, forearm, and neck.
“Mom,” Sarah screamed, “What’s happening?”
“He’s having an allergic reaction,” Jessica said, grabbing her phone, “I’m calling an ambulance.”
“Why did you give him that tea?” Sarah yelled at her mom.
“You’ve never liked him! You’ve never liked us,” Sarah yelled.
“Sarah, stop it. This was an accident; I didn’t know he’d be allergic to the tea. Calm down.”
Sarah quickly focused all her attention back on Dylan.
Jessica spoke to the operator, “Hi, this is Jessica Stumfall. My daughter’s boyfriend is having an allergic reaction in my home. Could you please send someone right away?”
As Jessica provided the necessary information to the operator, Dylan’s breathing turned to wheezing and became louder. Jessica saw the fear in her daughter’s eyes as Sarah stroked Dylan's hair and squeezed his hand. Jessica had never seen a person's face balloon up like that in a matter of seconds. The Marigold tea was like poison to him. She should have known a man couldn’t handle tea meant for menstruation relief.
When the paramedics arrived, Dylan was lying on the floor. His throat had nearly closed shut, and after the medics checked his vitals, they quickly administered a shot of epinephrine to revive him. They put him on oxygen and then onto a gurney to get him to the ambulance, and Sarah rode beside him on the way to the hospital. Dylan would be given an intravenous with antihistamines and cortisone and later find out he had an allergy to marigolds. They would both still be in their pajamas.
Jessica didn’t get any caffeine that morning, but that ended up being fine. Even without coffee, she enjoyed having the house to herself for the first time in fourteen days, accident or not.