After

By IEatBooksForTea

Mystery / Romance

15 - Jessica

"This is... cosy," is my attempt at making pleasantries with someone I have refused to see for over a year. Unsurprisingly, my words are tinted with sarcasm and a slight dubious lilt.

His apartment is dusky and dark, cowering under a cloud of shadows. His furniture is carved from gloomy, rotting pieces of dark wood, his rustic, red sofa the definition of a thrift store disaster - the dated, Paisley pattern is ripped, exposing the yellowing foam underneath. And I'm pretty sure I can make out the cobweb shape of a coffee stain seeping into the fabric. The walls feel tight and close; if they were living creatures, they'd be breathing down my neck. The only light seems to be coming from a worn, free-standing lamp in the corner. The light it gives off reminds me of rotting oranges.

Matt slings a wine bottle from the top of a dusty, dark wood cabinet and dangles it in my direction. "Drink?" He asks plainly, not waiting for me to answer before he's already sloshing the liquid into two large, wine glasses, refusing to stop until the alcohol is lingering just below the rim of each glass. It spills over onto Matt's hand as he snatches up one of the glasses, sharply presenting it to me.

"Thanks," I mumble, unsure, the glass almost slipping between my fingers as I grip it. I can't even tell what colour the wine is in this dim light.

I take a sip. Mm. Red. Appropriate.

There's no doubt in my mind that Matt would still have poured those wine glasses for himself, even if I hadn't been here.

"Wanna sit?" He offers, though his words are tripping and skimming over themselves. I can already smell alcohol on his breath. I physically cringe at the idea of having to go anywhere near that sofa - but it looks like the most comfortable surface in the whole, claustrophobic-inducing space.

Stiffly, I shuffle my way around an awkwardly placed side table to the sofa - which is positioned to face an ashy, gaping fireplace that doesn't look like it's been used any time in this last century - and lowering myself onto it. Matt wastes no time in joining me; though his entry isn't so polite. He slings himself into the furniture and I'm surprised his wine doesn't slosh over all the surfaces in the room, including me, until I realise he's already drunk half of it.

"So," he lifts his glass in a mocking salute as he drapes his body unflatteringly across half the sofa, almost shoving me off the side. I'm surprised that his lanky body hasn't tumbled off the armrest yet. "What brings you here?" He pauses to hiss my name like a snake.

Matt is a drunk. The realisation hits me like the wrecking ball that should be smashing through this horrendous apartment. I never knew alcohol made him so aggressive. No. Maybe that was just the way he was now. How did I have the right to determine what was normal and what wasn't anymore?

Matt. He used to be so nice. Too nice for his own good. I feel my chest, despite myself, mourn for the lost Matt trapped in the past, back in those mines, back when I was-

No. I snap myself out of it. Not now, Jess. Not ever, I scold myself, feeling my fragile heart shuddering inside my ribcage.

Something to say. I need to spark up some kind of conversation, something to make this bearable.

I watch Matt gulp down the rest of his wine in one swing.

My mouth becomes dry as my lips try to form words. "How did the trial go-"

"Don't ask me about the case," Matt grits his teeth, his eyes flashing in emotional pain. I'm sure he's aware it's there by the way he avoids my gaze. "I've had enough of that... Please."

Thank heavens. I let out an audible sigh of relief. I don't think I could have survived a conversation like that.

My eyes skim to the coffee table where documents and newspaper clippings are sprawled across the rough wood. Curious - evidently privacy not being a part of my vocabulary - I lean forward to study them.

My throat chokes.

"These are all about Em..." I breathe.

Matt snaps his stare to me, swiftly lunging forward and sweeping up the documents into a file and shoving them away, out of sight.

"Don't..." He warns, but his hard eyes waver and in a split second, he's collapsed back onto the sofa, covering his face with large, unsteady hands.

"I can't take this," he growls, though his voice breaks as I hear the unmissable sounds of sobs muffled by his hands. "I'm going crazy here," he groans, one hand sliding up from his face to drag into his hair.

His skin is distorted by rough tears.

My fingers dig into the palms of my hands, mentally rehearsing my mantra. Don't get involved, Jess. This will only make you worse. This will break you again. This time you'll never get up.

But the sunken look on Matt's face makes me swear at those meaningless words, and I'm pulling closer to him.

"Hey," I try my best at a comforting voice. As much as I didn't enjoy my therapy sessions, the experience has geared me up for this. "Hey, Matt." I'm so tempted to slap him across the cheek, to get him to snap out of it and face me. But my fingers are tangled in the material of my long, baggy shirt. "Look at me!"

He does. His watery, shivering eyes look at mine. And my heart sinks.

"I see her everywhere, Jess," his voice breaks but his gaze doesn't. He's latching onto it - just so he can cling onto something. Something that's not alcohol.

"Who?" I ask cautiously. But I already feel like I know the answer.

"Em," he shatters. His whole body is clenched, the tattoo on the side of his neck wrinkling. "She's haunting me."


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