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AFTERTASTE
by Meredith Mileti

Genre: General Mainstream Fiction, Mainstream

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It’s the sort of rainy day in mid-November when the lamps need to be lit in the middle of the afternoon and you find yourself wishing you owned a cardigan. While Chloe sleeps, I change my clothes. No reason to greet Jake in a flour-covered sweat suit. I put on a blue V-necked sweater and, almost as an afterthought, loosen and brush my hair. The apartment, which I take some pains to tidy up, is suffused with a cozy, apricot glow, the rich woodsy smell of a long-simmering soup, and the heady aroma of freshly baked bread. 

I turn on the gas fireplace, put on a Diana Krall CD, and settle into the sofa with the Sunday Times. The doorbell rings a little after three, and when I open the door, Jake is standing there in the doorway, holding a small stuffed gorilla. 

“Hi.” 

“Hey,” he says, gesturing sheepishly with the gorilla and looking around me into the apartment. 

“Sorry, ah, come in. Chloe’s still sleeping. I tried to call you. Did you get my message?” 

“Yeah, I did. You didn’t say what you were calling about, and I was in the neighborhood anyway, so I just came.” There’s an edge to his voice, as if he thinks I’m trying to get away with something. He takes off his windbreaker, which is slightly damp and smells of cigarette smoke. You wouldn’t think it, but quite a few chefs smoke. I’d quit years ago, long before I’d even met Jake, but he still occasionally smoked, usually when he’d had a few too many. Or when he was nervous. 

For reasons I can’t fathom, Jake seems desperate to see Chloe. He was probably afraid that I was going to cancel on him, when actually nothing could have been farther from the truth. I want Jake to see Chloe. 

He hangs his coat on the hook by the door. Like he still lives here. Then, he makes for the sofa, sits down in the spot I’ve just vacated, and begins flipping absently through the Times, the gorilla in his lap. 

“Nice gorilla.” My voice is teasing and, if I’m not mistaken, a tad flirtatious. 

I’ve gotten him to smile at least. 

“She ought to be getting up any time now. It’s late for her to be sleeping,” I tell him, even though it isn’t. I don’t offer to wake her, which I’m sure Jake would prefer so as not to have to sit in awkward silence in a living room that used to be his. “Want some minestra? I think I got the last spollichini of the season.” 

Jake follows me into the kitchen, lured presumably by the promise of the luscious legume, and grateful, I’m sure, for something to do. He lifts the lid and gives the soup a stir, closing his eyes and allowing the steam to waft up and moisten his face. 

“Buono,” he says, giving it a taste. Standing beside him I’m filled with longing, a jolt so piercing that I have to grab the counter to keep from doubling over. I can’t believe he’s no longer mine to touch, to hold, that we can’t just take advantage of the fact that Chloe is napping and tumble into bed together. Jake looks up from the soup and meets my eye, a brief look, but I can tell he knows what I’m feeling.