The Turbidity of Love
Turbidity: the fogginess or clarity of something (usually water). Jaiko (pronounced jay-co)
Jaiko was just another man who fell in love.
It was a normal midsummer day at the restaurant. Jaiko worked hard as a busboy before he started his last year in high school. He wandered out to the patio and collected dishes in various stages of consumption just after the dinner rush. He looked out across the street at another regular part of his day, the girl drinking her coffee while reading a book.
He had always wanted to approach her, but didn’t know how. He turned to head inside with his pile of plates when he stopped. Why not now? He looked back just as she flipped through another page, completely unaware of his lingering gaze. He remembered his wife on their wedding day and thought twice, then thought again because he was way too young to be married yet. Weird.
He stayed there, motionless as she licked her thumb and moved onto more of her book. He shook his head and set the dirty dishes on the table. Halfway across the street, too far to turn back now, he marched on to her little table at the coffee shop until he stood before her awkwardly. She raised her eyes to him questioningly and he stayed there, silent. She lowered her book and leaned back in the chair.
“Can I help you?”
Her voice was even prettier than he imagined. So much depth emanated from her lips. It was uncanny and beautiful. Only after a very uncomfortable amount of time passed did he realize how odd it was for him to be there, silent. He cleared out his throat, at a loss for words, but tried to force them out anyway.
“I’ve been watching you.”
His face flushed a dark crimson red.
“I-I mean, I see you every day!” He tried to correct himself.
Her expression remained unchanged from its confused and frightened position.
“I mean, I’m not a stalker or anything, I just work across the street, and, well, you come here every day, and, you know, I-I’m, uh…”
He finally reined in his prattling, both of them wondering why he had come up to her at all. Jaiko sighed and took a step back.
She remained stunned into silence, him being a completely unexpected part of her day. She wanted to leave this strange man, and it would be incorrect to say she was compelled to stay there, but honestly, she didn’t understand why she hadn’t left yet.
“Can I buy your next coffee for you? You don’t owe me anything for it…” He stated weakly.
She slowly slid her receipt into the book to keep her place and stealthily began to pack up and leave.
“Nevermind, I’m sorry.” Jaiko rattled off, marching right back to his job across the street. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid! He thought to himself. He grabbed up his load and brought it inside without a word. After racking up the dishes, he headed back out, hoping she had left to save him from further embarrassment. What was I thinking?
He walked out the main doors and found her standing before him. He tried to freeze in place and ended up stumbling over his own clumsy feet instead. She watched him fall and did nothing to help him. Great. Is she here to talk to my manager or something? Preparing for his upcoming consequences, he quietly pulled himself back to his feet, eyes refusing to look at her.
“Sorry…” he muttered under his breath.
This time he froze properly, the seconds ticking by as though they were infinite. She cleared her throat after a few dreadful lifetimes had passed.
“I suppose I can’t turn down free coffee.”
With a sudden spark in his chest, he looked up into her beautiful hazel eyes.
“Really?” He smiled with delight, remembering not to be too eager about his luck. “I mean—”
Her plump, pink lips formed a smirk. “And as my stalker, I’m sure you know when I’ll be back?”
His words abandoned him and all he could do was nod exuberantly. She turned and walked away.
“I’ll see you later, Stalker.” She waved her hand in the air casually, her back to him.
Everything that could possibly go wrong went absolutely wrong. He had no idea why he offered to pay for her coffee. He didn’t exactly make much, and every penny he did make had a very clear future use, but he wasn’t going to let this chance go to waste either. He had grown to admire her from a distance all summer, and Lord knew why she was giving him a chance now, but he was absolutely taking it.
The next day, he took his break early in order to coordinate with her arrival at 5 o’clock. She was always very punctual, but so was he. He smiled and opened the door for her and she didn’t say a word to him as she picked out some new tasty pastry to go with her usual drink. It was odd that they never spoke during this interaction, but he didn’t want to fumble through all the wrong words again, and she was still wary of him. A week was all he could handle though.
His meager savings for fun had evaporated, meaning he wouldn’t be able to go to the movies with his friends later. It’s not that it wasn’t worth it to him, it’s that he knew he couldn’t keep up. Somehow, that was worse. So he took his break early and determined to work out a deal with the shop owner. He begged and pleaded for a discount at least, but the shop owner wouldn’t relent.
“Come on, please? There’s no way I can afford to do this every day!” Jaiko gave his best sad eyes, but they’d lost their charm a couple of years ago when he got into high school. Still, it was worth a try.
“Why not? She manages.” The owner argued.
“Come on, please?” Jaiko was becoming more desperate. “I’ll do anything. Want me to do yard work or something? Free labor?”
The owner scratched at his chin, pensive. Seeing the boy’s determination, he decided there was no harm in getting free work out of him. “My yard has been neglected this summer.”
“I’ll do it!” Jaiko jumped at the opportunity.
“Alright, but just the coffee.” The owner warned.
Jaiko sighed, accepting the partial win. Better than nothing.
“Oh, hey, Stacy.” The owner waved and smiled behind Jaiko.
He spun around and worried about how much she had heard.
“How’s it going?” She smiled pleasantly. “I’ll have my usual. As for my choice of the day…” Her eyes searched the options curiously until they fell upon something intriguing. “That one.” She pointed out.
“You got it.”
The owner put together her order and the two youngsters continued with their daily routine. He loved that it was feeling like a routine. He had always wanted to be a part of her world and even if the moment was small, he enjoyed being there. A smile crept on his face and he turned towards the register, thankful to have this little moment with Stacy, the beautiful girl across the street.
The man handed Stacy the items and waved her off. “Don’t worry about it. It’s covered.”
“You don’t have to ring it up?” She tilted her head.
“Nah, he’s going to mow the lawn for me in return.” The owner casually explained, making Jaiko turn a bright red. “And he put up such a fuss that I figured he could just have it today.” The man grinned.
“You weren’t supposed to tell her that!” Jaiko exclaimed, looking at Stacy as though he got caught doing something bad. Instead of looking down on him or reprimanding him, she giggled.
“When were you going to do this?” She asked.
The blush faded and Jaiko just stared at her in wonder. Is she really talking to me?
“Hey, kid, can you come by Saturday?” The owner asked. When Jaiko didn’t respond, the owner repeated himself. “Hey. Saturday sound good?” Jaiko’s eyes were completely stuck on Stacy.
“I think that’s a yes.” Stacy answered for him, facing the owner again. “And I guess I’ll see him too. You paying me extra to watch him?” She motioned her head in Jaiko’s direction and the owner laughed.
“I pay you enough to watch Otto as it is.”
“Darn.” She snapped her fingers playfully. “Oh well. He’s kind of boring anyway.” She took her items off the counter and left the shop for her usual table, all the while being watched in silence by Jaiko.
“You come off like a real creeper, man.” The owner nudged Jaiko’s arm and pointed out across the street at his workplace. “Ain’t that your manager?”
Waking up, Jaiko looked beyond Stacy at his manager angrily hunting for him. “Uh-huh.” was all he uttered as he frantically dashed back over to his job.
Jaiko received a well earned lecture about the importance of not taking more than ten minutes for a break during the dinner rush. He stayed quiet, dreaming about the prospect of seeing Stacy in a different setting. He’d never been so head over heels for someone, except in his college days where he found his wife.
Jaiko stopped and shook his head. College? I still have my senior year of high school to get through! After the firm talking to he received from his least favorite manager, he nodded eagerly and went straight back to work with more fervor.
That Saturday, Jaiko got up early and headed over to the owner’s house a few blocks away from his. He never knew the man lived so close, but maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that he lived within walking distance of his shop.
He pulled out the old fashioned lawn mower from the shed, the kind that doesn’t need gas and you just need to push. Even though he had tried to be early, it still grew too hot to work after long. Jaiko used his shirt to dry off his face and after finishing his work in the front, he moved to the back and figured he should do that too.
Nearly done, he noticed Stacy standing on the porch holding a toddler. He stopped and dried off his face, deciding after a second that there was no way he was going to be more presentable than he was now, no matter what he did. He smiled awkwardly and gave her a wave.
“You’re not one of those boys that likes to take off his shirt and show off?” She asked playfully.
He considered it for a moment, his hand inching its way to the end of his shirt. He wasn’t very confident in his own looks and resolved to keep it on.
“You actually want to see it?” He spat out doubtfully. This made her laugh and his face softened.
“You’re really weird.” She admitted.
He shrugged. “I know.”
She stared at him thoughtfully this time, the fear nowhere to be seen. “When’d you start stalking me? Was it when you got the job at the restaurant?”
He leaned on the lawn mower, appreciating the break this conversation gave him. “Actually, I didn’t even notice you at first.”
She looked almost offended, but he continued on as though he hadn’t noticed.
“You were just a part of my everyday, boring life. Jerk managers, awesome coworkers, and the regular that liked to read across the street.” It was unfamiliar for him to be so forthcoming, but it felt natural to talk to her. It was the truth, after all. “I had this really bad day a few weeks back. None of my friends were working and I thought I was gonna get fired.”
He stretched out his arms overhead and approached her, mostly for the shade, but also so he didn’t have to talk so loud.
“But there you were, reading your book, like always.”
She waited patiently for more, enraptured by the normalcy of it.
“I envied you.”
“Envied me?” Her lips parted, hungry for his explanation. It was almost poetic, like one of the many love stories she’d read.
“I didn’t want to be there, and instead, wanted to be in your world with you.”
Their gazes were locked tightly onto each other. Without realizing, they both hovered closer until only the curious toddler was between them, anxiously wondering what was going on.
“I still do.” He added, a lighter blush than usual taking up his face.
Her cheeks matched his and for a while, she let him be in her quiet little world. Otto started to get fussy in the drawn out silence, cutting it short.
“Guess I better get back to work.” Jaiko smiled nervously, happy to have gotten that second, even if it was short lived as it was.
“Guess we’d better go on a date some time.” She responded.
His heart skipped a beat and began pounding tirelessly in his chest. “Yeah?” But what will my wife think? he thought, shaking off the stray idea.
“You available Monday?” She set the boy down and Jaiko again wondered where his mind was going lately.
“Yeah, Monday.” He responded halfheartedly.
“When are you off?” Stacy asked as though she hadn’t seen his change in attitude.
He had to think twice about it to remember. “Seven.”
“Dinner then. I know just the place.”
Monday came by so quickly, it was almost instantaneous.
Jaiko was wearing a fancy tuxedo at the most expensive restaurant in town. He wondered how he could afford such a luxurious thing when the perfect vision of beauty walked in and distracted him. Stacy wore an elegant gown made of midnight blue that sparkled like the sky. The whole scene felt oddly familiar to him, but he let it go, taken in by her presence.
As any gentleman would, he pulled out the chair for her and took her coat. It may have been over the top, but that could only do more to impress her. Right? He hurriedly sat across from her as the server approached with a bottle of wine. For some reason, he didn’t protest. He knew he wasn’t allowed to drink yet, but he couldn’t imagine not drinking for this momentous occasion.
What momentous occasion?
“What’s with that look?” She smiled brightly.
For a moment, Stacy looked like someone else. The instance was so quick, he questioned whether or not it actually happened. Staring at her, the butterflies frenzied in his stomach. He was staring at his first love, having dinner with her. She was no longer the one that got away, but the one he was with. She was better than he ever could have imagined, and so much more.
“Nothing.” He said giddily.
She laughed in return. “It’s not nothing.”
“You’re right.” Jaiko took her hand in his and let the noises of the restaurant fade into the background. “It’s everything. I never could have imagined you’d go on a date with me.”
“Well, I’ll admit…” She leaned over the table a bit, whispering the rest. “You’re still really weird.”
Jaiko grinned and wondered what her lips would taste like. The plumpness of them seemed to be calling for him.
“You’re not even going to wait until after dinner?” Her tempting smile grew. “Is that all you boys ever think of?”
“It’s not just your lips.” Jaiko admits, recalling every time he ever heard her speak. “It’s every word that leaves them. I’ve always loved you from afar.”
Her face fell in surprise. “Love?”
He looked into her eyes, the fear and confusion returning in them like that first day.
“That’s so fast…” She pulled away, rethinking her situation.
“I’m sorry.” Jaiko grabbed her hand. “You’re right, it’s too much.”
Her mouth moved to the side of her face. “It is.” With much trepidation at first, the fear melted away. “But that’s sort of what’s charming about you.”
Not wanting to push her, Jaiko let her hand go. The words repeated in his head.
“You really think I’m charming?” He asked, doubtful.
“Actually, yes.” She smiled. “I’m tired of being afraid. I’m just going to do it.”
“Do what?” He asked curiously as she stood up and leaned all the way over the table to kiss him sweetly.
Her lips were soft and inviting, the hesitation in them still holding back. Jaiko decided he wouldn’t be afraid anymore either and closed his eyes, giving in completely. The moment was perfect. She was perfect. Everything was perfect. Their lips detached and he opened his eyes, his vision suddenly blurry.
“We’ve always wanted to know what it would be like.” Stacy’s voice was distorted and dark. “You should have approached me sooner…”
He blinked once, seeing the sun as though through water, blinked again and it was the restaurant, the one he had proposed to his wife at. His wife of five years.
Jaiko looked at his hand, the working hand of a thirty-something-year-old. My wife…
He looked at the sun again, it being darkened by some ghostly visage floating above him. His eyes widened. Surely he should have drowned long ago, but no. He felt empty.
He gazed at the formless creature and knew it had been feeding off his dream, the sweet taste of his first love’s kiss her meal. He remembered never actually approaching the girl at the coffee shop, the feelings stubbornly holding him hostage until he was in college where he met his wife. He couldn’t remember what brought him to the lake that day, or how he got into the water, but it was all over now. The creature had fed on him… and he was gone.
Now sated, it hid among the many bones left scattered along the bottom of the lake as Jaiko’s body slowly deteriorated and joined their ranks.
Jaiko was just another man who drowned in the lake.
That cursed, lonely lake.