Friday Fiction: “Hot Coals”

I have a goal to write a story based on a song that I’ve had in heavy rotation for the week and post it on Fridays. This week is the Cold War Kids Song, “Hot Coals.” If you don’t listen to the Cold War Kids, what are you even doing with your life? They would be my house band if I was rich enough to have a house band.

Hot Coals

He did not want to wake up, did not want the check his phone, did not want to see what kind of messages might have been left by Cynthia. They had spent most of the night together, until she left around three in the morning to get a nap and some coffee before work. He did not plan for last night to happen the way that it happened, but there were always complications when conversations rumbled toward feelings and raw emotions.

Instead of checking his phone, he went into the living room, turned on the television, and stumbled into the kitchen to get a bowl of cereal. The stumble was less about the slight hangover he had and more about the sleepiness he was walking off. They stayed up late, talking, getting into things that he did not want to get into. Cynthia was always the type of person that wanted him to talk about his feelings for her, tell her everything. He was the type to show her and not tell her anything. He poured milk in the bowl and sat in front of the television to watch whatever was on.

The news was playing footage of a new war in an already war torn country, people walkedthrough rubble and crumble, trying to find something salvageable in their decimated lives. When the news person tried to interview some of the citizens that wore their broken hearts on their faces, most of them did not have many words to say. He watched them give the reporter sad interviews and the reporters asking dumb questions like “How do you feel about losing everything?” and “Do you have plans to go somewhere else?” The people, the humans whose lives had been destroyed overnight, looked at the reporters, looked at the cameras in sheer disbelief in the audacity of the situation. He finished his cereal and took the bowl to the kitchen. The devastation of the entire world played in the background while he rinsed it in the sink, and he felt like a part of it all.

Cynthia came at him last night like she had an agenda, like she knew that there were feelings below the surface the just was not telling her, and all she had to do was make him fumble and pull them out of him. She played his weakness, gave him vodka, steak, and sex before she asked him, “Where do you think this is going?”

“This?” he mumbled.

“Yeah. You and me.” They had been dating for two months, and even though he was not talking to anyone else, he did not want to tell Cynthia everything he was feeling. He did not know if she was ready for all of it, and so he played all of his feelings close to his chest, thought carefully before he replied to any question that might have been a trap to get him to expound on his thoughts, and played humble. This night, everything felt different. Maybe it was the state of the world, the war stuck on repeat and turning into normalcy and turning everyday citizens into shocked news interviews, that made him open his mouth.

He opened his mouth and the words tumbed out. “I don’t know. I think there’s something going on between you and me that I could consider to be special and lasting. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of permanence in life amymore, so I’m glad that I have you because I want you around for a long time.”

They were lying in bed, naked, and Cynthia propped herself up on an elbow, turned completely toward him. The look on Cynthia’s face made him understand that he went too far. Her smile was so wide and her eyes were so big that she had taken his turn of phrase, like a pin in a grenade and pulled it. “Are you serious?”
He wanted to say that she was getting a little ahead of herself, but Cynthia’s look made him think it was easier just to say, “Yeah,” and move on.
The bedroom exploded. “We’re getting married!” She was on top of him, jumping up and down, kissing him on the lips, screeching. He smiled along with her excitement, and at the time, in that moment, he thought that even though he did not mean to give her the impression of a long term commitment, he had made the right choice. He was not going to stop all of the celebration. Cynthia said, “I need to tell my friends. When are you going to get a ring?”
He did not have anything else to say. He let her go on the phone, call her best friends, tell them the news, while he walked around the apartment, wondering what he was going to do next. After she was done, they stayed up until she had to leave, mostly listening to Cynthia, telling him about their future plans. He stayed silent and let her talk, which was his most comfortable position.
With the idea that his girlfriend wanted to get married so quickly rolling around in his head, he sat in front of the news again. He did not want to check his phone, did not want to know what might be on it. The news coverage still panned over the rubble of the destroyed city, everything ruined. His mind raced through the problems that he did not want to face. He could tell her it was all a mistake, but then maybe it was not a mistake. In a world that was this fucked up, he needed to cling to someone so that he did not meet the apocalypse alone, but maybe he should tell her that the conversation last night was a mistake, that they needed to give it a break so that he could figure out exactly what he wanted. This was a better idea, to take some time with his now complicated feelings. Did he really want to marry her? Did he even love her like that? Was he holding onto her because he did not want to be alone?
He thought about this long enough to grab his phone. He was going to send her a message, tell her that they needed to reevaluate the things that they discussed last night. He unlocked the screen and the first thing he saw was a message from Cynthia. “Babe. I haven’t told you this yet, but you’ve made me the happiest woman in the world. I should’ve told you this in person, but I can’t wait to spend my life with you. I love you.”
He reread the message a dozen times. She had not told him that she loved him until then. Now he had no choice. He took a deep breath and typed, “I love you too.”

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