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It Doesn't Taste The Same – Short Story

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jbishop15

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Michael picked at his food, moving it around with his fork and spoon. Jenna poked him with her chopstick, trying to get him to laugh. 

 

“It’s fine,” Michael said, finally. 

 

“You love Japanese,” Jenna said. 

 

“I did, yeah. It’s been too long, maybe. Doesn’t taste the same.” 

 

“You’ll get your taste for it again.”

 

“I hope so, “ Michael said. 

 

Jenna picked up a piece of chicken, and ate it. She eats quickly, as quickly as she can, and the majority of her food is already long gone. She takes a bite of steak, a drink of sweet tea, a spoonful of fried rice; Michael’s spoon is still in his hand. 

 

* * *

 

They walked to her car, his hand on her shoulder, steadying unsteady, broken legs. Michael stares straight ahead. He carries a to-go cup in his left hand. There is a beep, and the car door unlocks, and they climb into her sedan. It’s hot inside, and the seatbelt buckle burns Michael’s fingers. 

 

“Where do you want to go now?” Jenna said. 

 

“Is Millers’ Books still around?” Michael said. 

 

“Yeah, I think so.” 

 

She turns the key on, and backs out of the space. They pull out of the parking lot, and get on the road, and merge with traffic. It’s heavy, but it’s moving. 

 

“Do you still work over here?” Michael said. 

 

“Not anymore. I’m a teacher over at Henry High,” Jenna said. 

 

“Seriously?” 

 

“Yeah. I got my degree about ten years ago, been there since.” 

 

Michael leans his head against the window.

 

“Jesus,” he said, almost to himself. Jenna doesn’t say anything; her hands shift on the steering wheel. 

 

“How’s it being at moms?” she said. 

 

“Weird. Kind of scary. I wish there was somewhere I else I could go.” 

 

“It’s on the market. We’ll split the money when it’s sold, and you can get your own place.” 

 

Michael plays with the air conditioning vent; shutting it, opening it, blocking it, cooling his palm in front of it. 

 

“She never wrote me. Or called. Or visited.” Michael said. 

 

“I know. She wanted to.” Jenna said.

 

“Nobody did. Visited, I mean. Or call. Or write.” 

 

“It was tough.” 

 

Michael turned on his side, stared out the window.

 

“I know.” 

 

* * *

 

They were inside Millers’ Books, wandering the stacks. Michael had a book in his hand; something thin, from his childhood, but it dangled from his finger tips like he was desperate to get rid of it. 

 

“Are you going to get that?” Jenna said. 

 

“I have a copy at home.” Michael said.

 

“Why are you carrying that one around?”

 

“I like the way it feels.” 

 

There’s a table in the back; tucked away in the corner. It’s scratched, and beaten up, and the chairs around it look the same. For the first time, a smile spread on Michael’s face. He put the book down on the table and sat in the chairs. 

 

“I can’t believe it’s still here,” he said, almost to himself. Jenna sat across from him.

 

“What is it?” Jenna said.

 

“I sat at this table fifteen years ago. It was the last thing I did. I carved my initials into it.” 

 

Michael ran his thumb over an inscription: MJB – 3/2001. Jenna looks at it.

 

“This was where you were?” Jenna said. 

 

“Mhm. I spent my last day here, before I had to turn myself in,” Michael said.

 

“We looked all over for you. Thought you had ran.” 

 

“No. I was here. I didn’t go anywhere else. I had nowhere else to go.” 

 

The smile faded. He grabbed the book and put it over the inscription. He ran a hand through his hair. 

 

“I’m ready to go,” he said. 

 

* * *

 

They were in the car again; on the road, back home. The radio was off, and it was silent. Michael had leaned back the seat, and his eyes were closed, but he wasn’t asleep.

 

“You alright over there?” Jenna said. 

 

“Yeah,” Michael said. 

 

“I figured you’d fallen asleep by now.” 

 

“Can’t. Not yet.” 

 

“Why not??

 

“It’s not lights out yet,” Michael said. Jenna looked at him, and then back at the road. 

 

“What was it like?” she said, finally. Michael opened his eyes.

 

“Uncomfortable,” he said. 

 

“That’s it?” 

 

“No.” 

 

Michael stared up at the ceiling. 

 

“You don’t talk about it,” she said.

 

“There’s nothing to talk about,” he said. 

 

“There’s plenty to talk about.” 

 

“Nothing pretty.” 

 

“It doesn’t have to be pretty.” 

 

Michael didn’t say anything. He fiddled with the vent again. He grabbed the seat handle and pulled it up level. The car slowed; they were at a stoplight. 

 

“Are you ever going to talk to me? About any of it?” Jenna said.

 

“Probably not,” Michael said. 

 

“I’m your sister.” 

 

“Hm.” 

 

Jenna looked at him. He was expressionless; he stared at the road.

 

“I am,” she said.

 

“A sister visits. A sister writes. A sister calls.” he said. 

 

“I didn't know what to say.” 

 

“Just like mom.” 

 

“That’s not fair,” Jenna said. 

 

Michael finally looked at her. 

 

“Did you know that dad still hasn’t called? Neither has Alex. My own father and brother want nothing to do with me. And I get it. I really do.” 

 

Michael turned on his side. He closed his eyes. 

 

“I wish that you would stop pretending to like me. We both know it’s not true,” he said. 

 

* * *

 

Crickets chirped, and as the car passed, a dog barked. Jenna parked the car in Michael’s driveway. They sat in silence. Michael’s eyes were closed; he still hadn’t slept. 

 

“We’re here,” Jenna said, finally. Michael opened his eyes. He unbuckled his seatbelt. 

 

“Thanks for dinner,” Michael said. 

 

He got out of the car. He took the house keys from his pocket and didn’t look back. He heard the car pull away, and he didn’t look. He unlocked the front door, and walked in, and closed it. The house was cold, and dark, and his first step creaked. 

 

Michael stared into the dark.

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