She had kissed Michael goodnight and climbed out of the taxi. It was only after the taxi had carried Michael away that she realised he’d taken her cigarettes, but she’d pocketed two in case of that eventuality.
I’m trying Michael. I’m trying. She thought, as she lit one up. But I need things that are bad for me sometimes. You never did understand that about me. You’ve always been so damn wholesome.
She turned on the TV, slowly smoked the first cigarette, looked at the other and decided to save it, and then put herself to bed. As she leaned over to turn out her lamp Alicia glanced around the room. It had become a mess again. A layer of discarded clothing and chip packets had grown up from under the carpet like fungi. Michael disapproved of mess. Order had been so drilled into him at ADFA that he was no longer able to appreciate a bit of healthy chaos. She didn't mind him keeping his own place spotless, but she resented his attempts to correct her habits. She liked a bit of mess. Mess is what makes a house a home. With such thoughts floating in her head, Alicia fell asleep.
She woke the next morning with a blank, calm feeling of conviction. A mental list: Things I need to do.
1. Eat a healthy breakfast. She spooned cheap yogurt out of the tub and into a bowl and sliced up an apple.
She missed real yogurt – the stuff that was actually cultured, as opposed to the concoction of artificial colours, flavours and texturing agents she bought these days. She ate fairly well for a student, but eating well for a student doesn’t mean a whole lot.
2. Buy milk for coffees. Alicia stepped outside and hurried the few metres to the store.
Pick up two litres of full-cream milk. Put it down and pick up two litres of skim. Put that back and compromise – two litres of light milk. Go to the counter. Look at the cigarettes. They had her brand, but she wasn’t going to buy cigarettes. Don’t buy the cigarettes. Alicia grabbed a mars bar and threw that on the counter instead. The only way to fight addiction is indulgence.
She walked back home slowly, savouring the chocolate and the crisp morning air. Once inside she made a coffee. Two sugars. Fighting addiction with indulgence. Distraction. Decadence.
3. Dump Michael. The drive to the café went too quickly. Alicia wasn’t ready; she had to sit in the car for a few minutes to steady herself. She opened the car door just as Michael’s car pulled up one space along. As he stepped out of the passenger side Alicia saw the P-plates. Jen, Michael's younger sister, was driving. The seventeen year old girl jumped out of the car and ran to embrace Alicia.
Shit. I can’t do this.
“Hey Alicia!” Jen grinned. “I got my P’s! I’m saving for a car now.”
Don’t tell me about your life. I can’t be hearing about your future right now.
“That’s great, Jen! Congratulations!” Alicia forced a smile and managed to hold it. She looked over at Michael; he was smiling with a self-satisfied ‘my sister and my girlfriend get on so well’ look.
Don’t do this. Don’t pull their world to pieces.
Maybe now was not the time. Perhaps she should wait. After all, she did like him. She liked him a lot. Perhaps she even loved him, though she wasn’t entirely sure what that meant. It was like the cigarettes; she loved every second, but she knew they were killing her. This boy, this relationship – it was killing her.
“Okay, let’s head inside, Mike. I need a coffee.” Alicia mumbled a goodbye to Jen and hurried in to find a table that was at least a little bit secluded. Once they’d ordered she began to explain.
She explained why their relationship could not work, not in the long run. She explained how they wanted different things from life – irreconcilable things. She refused to be the stay-at-home woman. The one he left behind. She did not want a long distance relationship, and she did not want to have to worry about him when he went away to serve. She realised now that nothing could deter him from going, but that she couldn’t be a part of it. She said that she had to end it now, because waiting would have only hurt them both. Through all of it she maintained a tone of certainty which she knew was necessary, but was a world away from how she felt.
She watched him dissolve from incomprehension to tears, and when the coffees were finished she led him gently outside and sat him down on a bench, and held him, and just let him cry.
There was nothing left for her to say, and there was nothing for him to say either. Nothing to ask, or plead. He was crying because he understood.
After watching an astonished Jen drive Michael away Alicia went back into the café and bought another coffee. A white-chocolate mocha, two sugars and full-cream milk. Then she lit her last cigarette. Fight addiction with indulgence, and hang up when he calls.
Romance writing is not a strength of mine. This is a lot more soppy and angsty than I would like. I'll try to fix that some time. This is probably my least favourite part of 'War-Torn', becuase I had to add it in at the last minute (well, the last month or so) to make sure I reached the required word count. All the same, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it.