Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ugly Beginnings

      Olive and Thaniel had the exact kind of trepid, rocky relationship anyone would expect two inexperienced young people to have when they're still learning how to be with another person, rather than fulfilling their own selfish wishes without a second thought. It started quickly and ended quickly, going from best friends to sworn enemies to strangers in practically the blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things. They weren't bad people, they were just stupid kids, as we all were at one time or another.

      Olive sipped her coffee in one hand with a copy of Persuasion by Jane Austen opened in the other. It was the trend to go to the local coffee shop to be studious, so that way everyone could witness one another's accomplishments. And Olive could understand the motivations behind the trend. Trying to do homework at home was one of the most distracting, unproductive things she'd ever experienced. For some reason the coffee shop with its elevator music and steady stream of strangers walking in and out provided her with a more calming atmosphere where she could focus instead of chatting with her friends via Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Instagram, text, Skype, Twitter, and e-mail.
      “Yeah, could I get a grande soy mocha latte?” came an uncomfortably familiar voice from the cash register. Olive looked up from her book only to jerk it immediately back into place in front of her face like a shield. Her cheeks flushed and she was holding the book way too close to her face to actually be reading it. She fiddled with her hair to try to look busy and important, which really sent the opposite message, to no avail. The awkward fidgeting drew the attention of the boy waiting for his vegan latte, who strolled up to her.
      “Hey, Olive,” came the smooth voice of Thaniel.
      Olive made sure to make a big show of looking up from her book and being completely shocked to see Thaniel standing there. “Oh, hey, Thaniel! Wow, it's been a while, good to see you!”
      “Yeah. It is. Mind if I sit?”
      “Uh... yeah. Sure! Totally.” The lady doth agree too much.

      “So... was that good for you?” Thaniel's voice was soft yet hopeful. The couple sat side by side, half their clothes situated back on, Thaniel looking at Olive, Olive looked ahead. She was attempting to put her hair into a bun and had a look of muted focus on her face.
      “Yeah, I guess so. I mean, of course, baby,” Olive stammered.
      Thaniel's smile dropped quickly and his brows knitted together. He looked down into his hands and picked at a cuticle. “Oh,” was all he said in reply.
      “Oh, baby, I'm sorry. It's just all so exciting and new. I'm not sure how I feel, is all. But you were wonderful. I promise,” Olive said while putting a hand on his arm.
      Thaniel managed another meager smile at her in response, and then an awkward silence sat between them as they tried to figure out what to do next.

      “What have you been up to, Olive?”
      “I'm getting my Masters in Literature at Cal State Hayward, so I read a lot of classic literature and analyze it. Pretty exciting.” The last statement was said half-heartedly as Olive waved her book around in her hand as her example. “What about you, Thaniel?”
      “I'm still working on my Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering at Cal Poly,” Thaniel said with a nonchalant shrug, even though Olive knew he should've had his Bachelors already.
      “Ah, cool,” Olive replied with an awkward nod, playing with the corners of the Austen pages.
      “Olive, I think I should tell you something,” Thaniel said in the same tone he used when he was nervous or unsure. Quiet, awkward, shy.
      “I... slept with someone before you.”
      “WHAT?” came the harsh reply before she could even think about what she said or how she said it. A bunch of coffee shop customers looked over at them and Olive managed a forced smile and blushed at the attention. “I'm sorry...” she murmured quietly under her breath, “but what?”

      “This was your first time, right?” Thaniel asked gingerly, putting his hand on Olive's.
      “Yeah. Yours too, right? We both waited until we found someone we loved,” Olive answered for him in reply, looking up into his eyes naively.
      “Right,” Thaniel responded.
      Everyone has lied in a relationship before to save the other persons feelings. Thaniel and Olive weren't the first and wouldn't be the last to think a white lie was acceptable rather than the truth, and due to their lack of honesty, their relationship would turn into more fights than conversations before long.

      “I'm so sorry, Olive. I know it doesn't matter now. It was so long ago. But I feel bad for lying to you. I didn't want to hurt your feelings.”
      “Well good job,” she snapped back, exacerbated. She sighed deeply and rolled her eyes, flipping the pages of Persuasion back and forth, listening to the sounds of the pages scrape against her thumb. Olive felt the old feelings of frustration forming into a lump in her gut, but knew they were based on nostalgia rather than the current situation. “I mean, I guess it's fine. It doesn't matter anymore anyway.”
      More awkward silence filled the ever growing void between them. Thaniel got up to grab his soy latte and made a motion to leave. “I'll leave you alone so you can get your homework done.”
      “Wait, hold on.”
      Thaniel stopped.
      “I... well, I kinda lied to you, too.” She shifted uncomfortably in her chair and avoided his gaze.
      Thaniel sat down next to Olive again, giving her his full attention.
      Olive smiled awkwardly and opened to mouth to talk, but found nothing came out. She was such a coward sometimes. Thaniel was still attractive and soft spoken, but she also remembered him from so many stupid arguments. “You weren't my first, either, Thaniel.” She buried her face in her book so she didn't have to see his reaction.
      “What did you say?!” He sounded genuinely upset. “Who did you sleep with?!”
      “Pipe down! Jesus, Thaniel. Don't let the whole coffee shop in on my dirty laundry.”
      “Tell me, Olive! Who else did you fuck?”
      She scoffed at him and furrowed her brows in irritation. “Don't be rude. You fucked someone else too and I didn't throw a bitch fit. This was years ago, in case you didn't remember.” Thaniel's gaze just continued to bore into her like a silent interrogation. “Okay! It was Tim Michaels.”
      “Tim Michaels?!” a scoff from Thaniel. “I can't believe you!”
      “And... Danny Boomer. And Alex Estrada. And a couple guys you never met from summer school.”
      “Five?! Did you say FIVE?!”

      “You were looking at her!” Olive screamed at Thaniel. They picked a fight with each other over everything and nothing. Thaniel protested that he wasn't, Olive let her insecurities get the better of her, and they turned personal quickly as they pointed out how the other was selfish, unmotivated, and lacking in pretty much every way. Neither of them were proud of the teenagers they were at the time, the monsters they became in their relationships. It was like seeing a different person and realizing they had their own faces.

      “I didn't want to hurt your feelings. You were so insecure about being inexperienced. I wanted you to be comfortable,” Olive said as soothingly as she could muster, thinking she had done him a favor.
      “You... you were a little slut!” Thaniel half yelled at her, drawing more stares from the coffee shop patrons.
      “Me? You're the slut! I've seen your Facebook page. You're with a new girl almost every week. You're never going to grow up, Thaniel. At least I have a long term, serious boyfriend now. I got my shit together. You're still trying to get your undergrad.”
      “Fuck you.”
      “Fuck you back!”
      Thaniel stormed out of the coffee shop.

      Olive and Thaniel were good people, but they always brought out the worst in each other.

Author's Note:

      This is a 2014 piece written for an Advanced Narrative Fiction class. The assignment was to play with both manipulation of time and the point of view. So I came up with a very simple plot that my significant other helped put a little spin on. Since playing with the way a story is constructed is difficult for me to do, I wanted to avoid a complex plot, because I didn't think I could focus on plot and construction at the same time. I prefer to just let a story flow, and let the time and POV work itself out naturally. But my classmates laughed a lot at this story and enjoyed it, so I must've done something right.
      P.S. The name Thaniel comes from the book The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding. I wasn't clever enough to come up with my own awesome original character name.

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