The Old Soda Shop, excerpt

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The Old Soda Shop

Sam Balantyne trudged down the slushy sidewalk of the historic district of Greely, Colorado, gazing unseeing into the falling slush.  The gray sky suited his mood.  Very few people were foolish enough to be out walking in this mess.  Most people had the sense to be at home or somewhere warm.  Not Sam.  No, thanks to his flaky, thoughtless sexy roommate, he walked down an icy street in a part of town where even bikes were frowned upon just off campus. It was safe enough not to look. No random cars would splash murky water on unwary pedestrians. No cars were permitted on the brick work streets of Old Town.
Sam knew where he was going and exactly how many steps in the icy slush it would take to get there.  An hour ago he’d been contentedly curled up on his bed studying for midterms next week, when his flighty room mate called.  He curled his hands into fists inside the deep pockets of his navy wool pea coat.  Fucking Matt.  Such a God damn pie in the sky dreamer. How did I end up with an art student for a room mate in the first place?  Every month turned into a damn race against the clock to see if Matt would be able to pull together his share of the rent, or the cable, or whatever.  Bad enough that Sam perpetually fed the man, now this.Apparently Matt had gotten the rent money but couldn’t be bothered to come home and give it to Sam.  No. Sam had to meet him at the soda shop off Fifth Street because Matt had other things to do.  Ordinarily, Sam loved the soda shop.  He and Matt had spent many great sunny afternoons there, sitting on the patio, guy watching and laughing, even occasionally sharing a lemon Italian Cream Soda.
The bitter cold wind cut through the thick wool of his coat, and Sam caught himself wondering if Matt had had the sense to wear a jacket himself when he left the apartment that morning.  Probably not.  The sun had been shining then, and Matt never could see beyond the moment.
Someone, possibly even Matt himself, had put a colorful knitted ski cap on the head of the old stone lion that guarded the occult book shop next door to the soda shop. The lilting notes of a sexy little jazz number drifted from the tiny bar on the other side of the soda shop.  The music, the glow of the light from the window, it created a perfect backdrop for the vision that met Sam’s eyes when he looked up. In the golden glow of light from the soda shop window, he saw Matt, sitting at a tiny table for two on the front patio of the shop.  He wore a thin leather jacket, and Sam’s navy blue wool beanie tugged down low over his ears as he sat on the tiny black iron chair.  His booted feet rested on the other seat.  Matt puffed on one of the little clove cigarettes he favored and cupped his hands covered in fingerless gloves around the tiny source of heat.  The little table in front of him held an ashtray and two steaming mugs of hot chocolate into which the slushy snow fell.  Sam shook his head.  Smoking cloves was bad enough, better than tobacco scent-wise by a small margin, but who the hell sat on the patio in this freaking weather?  Air headed art majors, that’s who.  The words spilled from his mouth before he could stop them, a ludicrous tirade that his own mother would have cringed to hear. “God damn it Matt!  How many times have I told you to dress warmly when you leave the house?  You’re going to get sick!  And...” He snatched the cigarette out of his roommate’s hand.  “Smoking this shit will kill you!” Matt turned to look at him, and Sam nearly groaned.  The heavy feeling in his heart, the anger at Matt’s foolishness, seemed to melt away as he caught the expression in those bright blue eyes.  He wasn’t surprised to find his own heart beating faster, stirring with desire despite the cold.  He was surprised by the lilt of happiness that brightened the grey of the late winter day.  Fuck.  He didn’t want to feel this way, to let anyone have the ability to create sunshine in his day with a crooked little smile.  Especially not Matt.  Matt drifted along perfectly content, dreaming and painting and starving for his art.  Sam dreamed of bigger things. He wanted success, the bright lights of a big city, and by big he didn’t mean Denver!  He wanted all the luxuries life could afford. And that look in Matt’s eyes… had he always looked at him that way?  Shaking his head, Sam declined the seat Matt removed his boots from with a grimace.
“No, thanks.  I’ll pass.  Look.  I’m going home this weekend.” He hadn’t planned to, but a weekend in Denver with his mom and dad, siblings running all over, would screw his head back on straight.  “You keep the rent money.  Use it to find another place to stay, okay? I can’t keep doing this every month.”
Matt protested instantly, the shock on his face heart wrenching.  “Sam, I promise.  It won’t happen again.  I got a job. That’s why I couldn’t come to the apartment.”
Sam shook his head, schooling his features to hide his feelings. “No.  It’s just not working out for us.”  But it could, his heart argued.  He shut it down instantly.  Not taking that chance.  Better to end things now, before either of them got any more involved and while they both still had the chance to make their dreams come true.
“Sam, I love you.  I don’t want to move out. Just, please, give me one more month to prove I can do this?”  Matt’s voice cracked on the words he forced out.  Sam couldn’t tell if tears or melting snowflakes caused the dampness on his pale cheeks.
Hardening his heart, Sam continued. “That’s just it, Matt.  I don’t want to be loved.  I don’t want to love anyone.  I just wanted to get laid a little.  I need freedom to pursue my dreams, and taking care of you, it’s a burden I don’t want. I thought it was all just fun.  You’re taking things way too seriously.  So, please, do us both a favor and leave before I get back Monday afternoon?”  His dad would lend him the money for the rent this month.
Unable to meet those blue eyes without throwing his arms around Matt’s slim shoulders and hugging him tight, without promising that they could try again, without swearing he would never be such an ass again, Sam turned back and stumbled against the stone lion, knocking the knit cap into the slush, where eddies of muddy liquid blurred its bright colors.  He whirled and tromped back up the street he’d just come down, ignoring Matt calling his name behind him as he went.

1 comment:

  1. Oh no! My heart is breaking. This is so beautiful. I've got tears in my eyes. Well written, Lee.


Be Yourself

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. ~e.e. cummings, 1955