by Alexander Miller

Foreign voices brushed their ears in the surrounding air. Jones and Renata scanned the Wal-Mart aisles. Early morning fatigue cemented Jones’s feet. He dragged. They were both tired. They needed to make this stop first before going to the gym. They were aware of their own silence. They said nothing to one another while they walked through the store. Neither of them attempted to be first to split silence. They didn’t exchange glances. They continued, looking in opposing directions of the aisles. Fingertips brushed each of their own hips. They didn’t hold hands as they usually did. The sounds of Spanish seemed to echo and only made things more annoying. Coming from outside’s summer humidity succeeded in worsening the discomfort. Now the foreign language was pounding.

Jones, his last name, had gotten his nickname, not by virtue of his birth name, but for a popular contemporary rhythm and blues singer known for slow ballads. Jones was always teased by his teammates about how late night romantic phone episodes would last, while his teammates delved into the thickness of a playbook. They felt they had appropriately nicknamed their friend. They all had classes the following morning and they all had separate dorm rooms. Jones was the star player with a good memory, and felt no need to spend his hours becoming a scholar of plays, but made more efforts at finding love. He possessed immense talent and his athletic ability was unrivaled in the conference. Renata was always busy with her school work and sorority life. Jones’s common misconception of beauty and smarts would be disproved with Renata. She was a paradoxical double-edged sword of femininity. She was popular and reclusive in the same breath, and the toil of college classes never got the best of her erudition.

Renata always walked faster. Jones would have to keep up when they went through stores. Her long curly hair bounced as she moved with swiftness. She always convinced herself that she walked and undertook actions with greater purpose than Jones. They had been together for months and she always hated that about Jones. She never evinced any verbal indication of it however. Jones took his time when there was no rush. Renata noticed where she needed to go and whipped herself in that direction. She didn’t alert Jones. She had no intention of doing so. Jones was still left walking and scanning aisles. He passed an aisle. He browsed, seeing the multitude of over-the-counter medicines. He noticed Renata had stopped to the right at a counter. He followed.

Renata stood at the counter next to a few elderly Hispanics. A woman came to the counter to ask what she needed. Jones stood two steps behind and to the left of Renata. He had a lazy lean to one side. His nonchalance bothered Renata. He pretended to stare blankly. He was new to this sort of thing, and embarrassed he didn’t have any money.

“I’ll pay you back when I get the money,” Jones said from behind.

He had broken the silence, and until that moment, it had seemed to be a forbidden act. Renata didn’t turn around to ancknowledge his speech. She had already asked for what they needed from the pharmacist. The woman behind the counter turned and went to the back for assistance. She spoke little English. Renata was alone for a moment at the counter with a few people behind her. A few of them looked at Jones with peevish stares. Others gazed with curiosity, exchanging between Renata and Jones as their subject. The other customers wavered behind Renata. They whispered to each other. Jones felt Renata’s aura of frustration. The whispers in Spanish were vaguely audible. Jones could tell they were speaking about them. He understood most Spanish than the average American. Renata leaned against the counter with impatience, tapping her fingers on the counter. She clutched her purse in the other hand. Jones sighed. He felt a labyrinth of guilt in his gut for what happened the night before. It made him sick with incessant wrenching. It wasn’t entirely his fault with what happened, but he felt responsible. Renata said nothing about it. She did nothing to assuage Jones’s guilt.

The air was cool in the store. Jones was overcome with an uncomfortable cold sweat. He saw Renata finish up at the counter and take the small box in her hand along with a receipt. They both walked around a bit more to find some other item that Renata mentioned she needed. Jones insisted that he pay for it. It was affordable. Renata initially resisted, but to Jones’s surprise, she conceded to his offer.

Renata didn’t wait for Jones while he paid. He searched for her outside in the car. He got in and shut the door. Renata held the box in her hands. She read the directions on the back on what to do.

“I’ve never used it before, but I’ve had friends who have,” she said. “Kerry had some complications from taking it.”

Jones callous nature with these situations didn’t disappoint. He said nothing. Renata sought no reply. She didn’t look over at him. She had gotten used to use nature.

“I will pay you back for it,” Jones said. “I should be paying for it,”

Renata adjusted the rear-view mirror and clicked her seatbelt. None of the actions consisted of acknowledgement.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said.

He remembered a nice time. There were no complications before then. Jones held Renata as they sat on a towel on the Miami Beach sand. His arms around her back leading under her arms, she grasped his arms, feeling his definition, reading his deep sense of joy. The night was cool and the air was smooth against their bodies. He watched the wind flail against Renata’s hair. It was one of her most attractive features, her very exoticism embodied in something physical and material. They sipped the merlot that Jones brought. They shared past secrets, even painful ones. He remembered her tale of taking a life. He titled his neck back to look at the stars. He gazed at them every chance he got. Their faintness of white and bluish radiance, their astonishing variety could hold his attention for hours at a time. He focused on Renata’s eyes when she spoke.

“It’s nice out,” Jones said.

Renata’s lips parted, unveiling the beauty if her smile.

“Yea, it is,” she said. “Thank you for dinner. It was nice.”

“You don’t have to thank me,” Jones said.

Renata’s smile remained. She held it with authenticity and unhindered focus as she looked at Jones in a way no other woman had. Most of Jones’s previous women meant little to him. Seeming more like conquests than love affairs, they yielded with to his indirect methods of persuasion with little difficulty. Renata was different.

The calmness of the moon’s glimmer in her eye seized him. She was strong. Her eyes were a gateway to her being, and he was paralyzed at just a glimpse.

The blissful memory of that night remained etched into his mind. He remembered it with great detail.

Jones looked out of the window of the silent car. He was desperate for Renata’s approval. There was still silence. He always felt that he was worth something to himself. He wanted her to know it too. He wanted reassurance that she trusted he would pay her back. He felt obligated to pay but couldn’t. And the very incapability left Jones angry and frustrated. His blood boiled. His countenance indicated no vestige of guilt.

“I want to pay you back,” he persisted. “Can you say something? I want to talk about it.”

“What do you want me to say?” Renata snapped.

Jones paused.

“I need to know that you believe me. You’re acting like this doesn’t bother you. I don’t want to fight with you,” Jones said.

“You’ve promised things before,” Renata said.

Jones leaned down slightly. He was disappointed for a moment, recalling earlier promises he had made.

“I need to know that you trust that I will pay you back, Renata,” Jones said.

Renata said nothing.

She started the car and sped out of the parking lot. They went to the gym.