She Said, He Said

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The first time she said it she was nervous. The phrase was awkward, untested. She’d never felt the sound form in her mouth. “It’s all jake,” she said smiling. She thought it was funny; she was being ironic. He rolled his eyes at her.

“You’re hilarious,” he scoffed.

She had found the word days before in a book of 1920s slang. “Jake,” she laughed. “Like your brother.” She paused for a moment. “Jake, I mean.”

“I know which one you mean,” he chuckled.

“It means okay, like, ‘everything’s jake.’”

Now he laughed. “Nothing about that is jake.”

The second time she said it she wasn’t nervous, but she wasn’t quite ready to be serious about it. She hid the phrase behind a layer of irony and said it with a grin.

“Aren’t these cookies jake?” she joked, shoving one toward his mouth.

“I think,” he chuckled, pausing to chew. “I think you’re using that wrong. It just means okay, yeah?”

“Whatever. Same thing.”

He took another bite of the cookie in her hand, smacked his lips, and made a face. “On second thought,” he said, “jake might be the perfect word for these.”

She pushed the cookie, smearing it against his face. He grabbed her and they wrestled and laughed until he kissed her and she kissed him back. Later she giggled and told him that was "just jake" too.

The fourth time she said it she was in love. They were lying in the grass outside of his apartment building. He was on his stomach flipping through a textbook for class. She laid next to him tracing lines into his back with her fingers. She didn’t know she was smiling at him until he asked her what was up.

“Nothing,” she said, still smiling.

He looked at her for a moment and then kissed her on the forehead. “I love you,” he told her for the first time.

“Everything’s perfect today, isn’t it?” she giggled. Then softer and more earnest she said, “it’s jake.”

“I still don’t think you’re using that right,” he said, but it didn’t bother him so much anymore.

The fifth time she said it they were hanging up the phone. “Everything jake?” She asked.

“Everything jake,” he told her. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

The ninth time she said it was after he rear-ended a Jeep. When he got back in his car after exchanging insurance, he couldn’t stay still. He kept rubbing the back of his neck. He wouldn’t look at her.

“It’s jake,” she told him. His hands stopped shaking.

“Yeah,” he said.

The thirteenth time she said it they were walking to class. The sixteenth time she said it he was drunk. The twentieth time she said it was right before she met his parents, and the twenty-first was during dinner. The thirtieth time she said it she was crying and he wasn’t sure what to say. The thirty-fifth time she said it he said it first.

At a certain point it became their word. A creed that they repeated to each other in times of worry and an exaltation in times of splendor. When she said it the first time it was a joke, but now it was something more—a code, a vow, a communion. They didn’t yet share property, but they shared a language.

She said it the night of the fight. It was the thirty-ninth time.

“I told them you’d be there,” he told her. “I didn’t think you’d mind.”

“You never thought to ask? You assumed I wouldn’t have my own plans?”

“It’s important to me. It’s my family. I don’t know, I thought you’d get that.”

“I have school. I have an exam. I can’t just drop everything for a dinner.” She looked at him, silent for a moment. He held her gaze. “Can’t you just tell them? They’ll understand.”

“They would, but my grandma won’t and they’re weird about her.”

“You’re grandma’s going to be there? Jesus Christ. Are you kidding me?”

“You have to go.” He looked down at his feet.

“I’m not going.”

“You’re being selfish.”

“Totally not jake.”

His eyes shot back to her face. He looked hurt, then indignant.

“You’re a brat,” he said and walked out the door of her apartment.

That wasn’t the end of their relationship, but the end began there. She could trace the lines of mistrust and follow the threads of fracture back to the moment he walked out the door. Every fight afterward carried the memory of their first, then their second, then their third. Every hurtful word piled on top of the other until they overwhelmed the couple, until a mountain formed and suffocated them both. When they finally broke up, she felt relief--and so did he. She didn’t use any of her adopted words or their special phrases. Just an agreement, that was the end.

The last time she said it she was single. She saw him at a grocery store, in the pasta aisle. They hadn’t talked in nearly nine months, they hadn’t cried over each other in nearly seven. She was nervous when she touched him on the shoulder and said his name. He turned around and flinched when he saw her.

“Oh,” he said. “Hey. How are you?”

They hugged.

“Good,” she told him. “I’m good now.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“Oh yeah, I heard about you and—” she furrowed her brow and tapped her foot. “What’s her name? Sexy Dracula, from the Halloween party.”

“Yeah—Angie. I guess that makes me sexy Elisabeta?” He chuckled; she did too, to be polite.

For a moment neither spoke. They looked at each other and wondered what to say. It had never been this hard.

“Well anyway,” he said finally. “I have to—”

“Word, word. Yeah I should go too.”

They hugged again— a fumbling, clumsy hug.

“Stay jake,” she said. It felt wrong. She said it like she’d never felt the sound form in her mouth and it spilled out into the space between them—an awkward, messy reminder of what used to be a comfort.

“I don’t think you’re using that right,” he told her and smiled before turning back to the shelves of pasta.

She had a new language now, he realized. Something different picked up from months of work and school and friends—months without him. Her slang was unfamiliar to him now. It sounded forced. He thought about their word, their shared language. He thought about they way it permeated every aspect of their lives together. It consumed every first—their first “I love you,” their first family dinner, their first big fight. Had it been theirs or did she force it too? Had it faded from her vocabulary or had she pushed it out on purpose? Had he? He grabbed a box of angel hair and walked to the end of the aisle. She had been a mess and she had acted like a brat and she’d flung the word into their lives like she’d flung herself into his. She had forced her way in and seen herself out—of his world and his heart and this supermarket conversation—and he couldn’t help but think maybe he was better for it all.

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