“Jake!” Beth called out as she pulled the front door closed. He’d told her he’d meet her at the campus coffee shop but never showed. After nearly two years as the more stable half of their unorthodox whole, Beth had reconciled with the fact he would as likely show up for a casual date as not. Jake managed to make up for his appalling lack of reliability with an enormous generosity in everything from trivialities to essentials. If she came up short for rent or a utility bill, Jake covered her without ever mentioning payback. Beth had never failed to pay him back, though.
As to their unusual yet intimate relationship, Beth only ever got up the courage to ask him why their closeness never went further than kissing. Although sometimes their kisses could progress to a full on passionate make out session only once had they ever crossed over to real intimacy. Just at the point where she might have given up her V card to him, they stopped and not once since had they ever gotten as far.
They had a huge fight once when Beth got up the nerve to ask Jake just what it was they were doing. He gave her his usual half smile and ruffled her hair. All he said to her was, “You’re cute.” He didn’t sound condescending, exactly, but she felt put down even so.
And so it was she stayed at the library till eleven thirty on a Friday night to “study”. Finally, figuring he wouldn’t call her and beg her forgiveness anyway, she found a couple other late nighters going to the same dorms she was headed to and walked home with them. No answer came back to her but the sound of Tom Waits at high volume from inside the apartment.
She walked down the hall and as she passed Jake’s room she resisted the urge to press her ear to the door. He had been secretive for the last several weeks and defensive when Beth questioned him over the most benign subjects. Best not test his patience.
Almost to the bathroom door, Beth heard the unmistakable sound of two voices in very intimate conversation. Hearing through the door, but not wanting to, the sounds of two people in an obviously passionate situation is always embarrassing. When one of them is your understood boyfriend, one could only describe the feeling as excrutiating.
Beth retreated back down the hall, aiming for first, her things, and then for the door. Just as she put her hand on the knob, Jakes door burst open. An almost too thin boy emerged from the room naked from the waist down, his hair bed tousled and deep caramel colored. Right on his heels, Jake – whom Beth caught just as he slapped the boy on the rear – snapped his head in her direction like he’d seen an accident happen in his peripheral vision.
“Bethy,” he glanced at the boy and back at Beth, “meet Eric.”
Eric looked supremely uncomfortable as if an inexplicable hole opened up in the floor he would not hesitate to jump in it to get away from the current scene.
Beth smiled, shocked really, that she could be so clueless, “Hi, uh, hello, Eric. Nice to meet you.”
Jake, without taking his eyes off Beth said, “Eric, disappear into my room for a bit, will you?” Eric slipped through the tiny sliver of space between the door jam and the door and Jake snapped it closed behind him. “Beth, you had to have known.”
Her mouth dropped open. Uh, had to have known? Like, “How, Jake? How was I- and for that matter, what am I supposed to have known?” She plopped down in the chair she’d brought over from her apartment because Jake liked “that weird swirly pattern,” and looked up at him.
To her everlasting irritation, he actually rolled his eyes at her, “I’m not going to apologize to you. You stayed with me because it was easier for you.” It was her turn to roll her eyes, but Jake went on, “Oh, don’t play like you don’t know what I’m talking about, Bethy,” he reached over to the coffee table for a well worn pack of cigarettes and shook one free.
And just when had he started smoking? “You can’t smoke in here,” she said automatically.
His soft chuckle startled her. “Oh, Beth, Beth, Beth… You know why you have accepted my almost unreasonable facsimile for a relationship with you?”
Beth finally felt a bit of something akin to defiance rise up in her. “Enlighten me, Jake.”
Jake tapped the cigarette on the table and then tucked it between his lips, talking around it as he reached for the lighter, “Because you’re not ready for the real thing, girl.”
“Oh, you know so much.” She jumped out of the chair and headed toward the door.
“Think about it,” his words stopped her, “I give you just enough affection to fulfill your needs,” he paused to light the cigarette and took a lascivious drag, “But you don’t have to put out for me. That suits you because you’re not ready.”
Without turning around she said, “I think you’re just pulling this psycho babble out of thin air to push your guilt off on me.”
Another long drag, followed this time by a long exhale before he spoke again. “Maybe you’re right.” Drag, exhale. “But maybe I’m a little right, too.”
Beth bit her lip to keep the tears in check. “I liked you Jake, I really did. I thought we…”
A soft laugh, “That’s just it, Beth. You liked me. I’m comfortable, because I don’t threaten to take anything more than you’re ready to give.” He took another long drag. “But you don’t want to give those things to me, do you. There’s someone else you want. You just used me. Like I used you.”