Twice in the same week Jason found that he had a crush on someone for the first (and second) time since Koren left. First Crush was hippier than slim Koren, which he caught himself thinking of as an unusual choice for him, but he had heard that butts were the new breasts, and did different ways of being attractive really go in and out of style the way foods and fashion did? Of course he still knew how to find people attractive, that wasn’t what was new. But the woman at the food co-op wasn’t just hot, he also liked the way she used her eyes and voice, how she found a way to flirt over a bag of coffee beans. She had really nice slender fingers, but Jason collected his plastic sack and left without finding out her name when he noticed one of Koren’s friends approaching the registers. Not that he would have done anything different if he had learned her name. Koren had gotten him shopping at the co-op. Now he always felt like he was trespassing when he went there, but it was the only place he could find that coffee. Coffee he’d been turned on to by one of Koren’s former professors at a Christmas party. Everything came back to her. Jason had been living out of a suitcase and a trash bag at his mother's house. He was still paying rent; it felt important somehow to keep the apartment, at least for another couple of months when the lease ran out, but he also hated going there, hated collecting the mail, all with only his name on it, from the box with "Koren Boulos" scratched out of the name tag. For some reason it had seemed extra hurtful that she had changed her address so quickly after moving out. His teenage bed was old and hard, a fact he'd never minded or even noticed until he'd spent almost a year sleeping on Koren's pillow-top mattress. She'd made him soft and now sleeping kind of hurt. There were several things she’d left behind when she went. She’d been disconcertingly thorough, but what was left he’d gathered in a paper bag by the door. The contents didn’t even fill to the top: a leather bracelet that had fallen behind the couch, a thin yet well-made shirt—a man’s shirt, formerly belonging to Koren’s grandfather and given to Jason (but Koren had worn it too sometimes, and even if she hadn’t he couldn’t have kept it). A pink silicone tray that made ice in the shape of penguins (empty, despite being in the freezer). A wooden top that he didn’t recognize, so it must be hers somehow. A mystery novel, a tube of Vagisil, and a roll of her favorite dental floss, bought specially. There were other things though. Ungatherable things. The sound of trains passing their apartment, the apartment she had chosen for its proximity to the tracks. A taste for oolong tea. The ability to keep plants alive. A hesitation every time Jason considered throwing something away instead of recycling it. An urge to look for her car in the driveway every fucking time he came home, even though it hadn’t been there in weeks, even on days he hadn’t been thinking of her. A compulsion. Second Crush came to the bar where Jason worked on Thursday and again on Friday. She had very long hair, not like Koren’s. She drank Côtes-du-Rhone, trailing her fingertips along the stem of the glass so that it made a soft whine, and alternated between not looking at Jason and looking too long at him. She was a little older that Jason, maybe late thirties, maybe even forty. She didn’t speak much, but when she did he detected a bit of an accent. She wore a little too much eyeliner, or maybe she had put it on too long ago and it had shifted down to her lower lid. It made her look sleepy and mysterious. Jason found himself practicing thinking about her, about anyone new, about anyone besides Koren. Trying on crushes to make sure he still could. How would her body feel? Soft? Wet? This was a dangerous game to play at work. Was she muscled? Did she have a tattoo and would he like it? Maybe she would wake up early and bring him a mug of oolong tea. Maybe she hated tea, would bring him a cup of strong coffee. Black. Or maybe he’d be the one to wake up first and bring her some mug of something. Maybe they’d skip hot beverages all together, wake up around the same time and fuck instead. Jason looked at the name on her debit card. A - O - I - F - E. He tried to shape his mouth in a way that would make that sound come out. "EYE-oh-fey. Eh-oh-IF-fee." He knew he was doing it wrong, but he also knew that the silly sort of confidence that comes with fucking things up was really one of his better traits. That and his hair, he'd been told. Crush giggled. "It's EE-fah." He imagined taking Aoife to The White Heart, one of his favorite bars, but Koren's favorite too. There was a little pleasure in imagining running into Koren, how she might react to seeing him with a woman who had a name more exotic than hers. She'd always liked it when he said her name because he'd always thought it was so cool. Aoife Aoife Aoife. Aoife was barely pronounceable. How cool was that? In a month or two, it would be something to fight about, something for Koren to forgive when they got back together. Jason couldn’t stop himself from imagining their inevitable reconciliation. He had adjusted his view of the future with each new event. First, Koren would come back to him after spending the night at a friend’s house. When it wasn’t that, she would break down while packing her things, and realize her mistake. When it wasn’t that, it would take a week of living without him to remember what she was missing. Maybe two weeks, but she would never go through with actually renting her own place. When it wasn’t that, she would regret, within the first month, signing that year lease—it would be money wasted, but she’d come back. Even as he paired himself with Aoife, it was a fling that would push Koren back into his arms. Koren Koren Koren. It wasn’t like there hadn’t been signs. Koren had always lived in a state of discontent—it was one of the things Jason admired about her, but in hindsight it was a problem. Koren was always traveling, or thinking about traveling, to Korea, to Thailand, to Cambodia, to Ireland, to Iceland. She had gone back to school twice during their relationship and Jason had always loved the way she craved knowledge, though his own cravings were few, and remained mostly sated. It was when she bought a copy of Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem that he began to realize he was part of the life that she was looking to travel beyond. It had hurt, but he couldn’t or wouldn’t articulate why at the time. It was a book he owned and had recommended to her shortly before they moved in together. She had loved it, as he knew she would, and he would have given her a copy, except with the cohabitating and the what’s-mine-is-yours, a second copy would have seemed redundant. She had reread Slouching Towards Bethlehem several times and recommended it to others. Jason had been secretly proud of knowing his sweetheart’s taste so well. And then in January, she had come home with a copy of the book, newly purchased for herself. Used, she said. Couldn’t resist. Jason wanted to feel that pride again—here she was continuing to love the book that he essentially gave her, his copy had been living on her desk for months—but instead he felt the first fingers of dread. They still wouldn’t break up for a few months, but he should have known then. Aoife came in again on Friday, and this time she was with another woman Jason had seen before, named Mary. Mary was in her fifties and had very long hair dyed a synthetic red. She had an accent—Irish or English, maybe that’s how she knew Aoife—and wore a lot of gold jewelry. Someone more judgmental might call her a cougar. Jason had always liked Mary, and watching her interact with Aoife made him like Aoife even more. They were weird together, and flirtatious. They were definitely drunk, but not dangerously so. When they ordered a bottle of wine to split, Jason made sure they weren’t driving, then went ahead and served them. Mary was asking the tough questions tonight—what was Jason’s name, where was he from originally, what beers did he like, what wine? Each question produced a withering glance from Aoife, a glance that only broadened Mary’s grin and eager, shining eyes. They were there to see him, a realization that made Jason feel flattered and bashful at once. It was a relief to move on to other customers, though part of him wanted to stay there. No one else wanted to talk to him much that night. Two single men and a couple were each eating dinner. One older man, Jason thought his name was Ray, wanted to talk about his business acumen, but Jason was able to move on quickly. There were two women at the other end of the bar drinking gin and tonics who had just been to see a medium, to contact a dead son. “The doctors gave him too much medicine. And his heart exploded.” Apparently they’d been able to contact him, but Jason didn’t stick around to learn what he’d had to say. He had a cramp in his tongue and found he had been clenching it. Per dentist orders, he'd managed to all but quit grinding his teeth, but he still held all his tension right there. He would jam his tongue against the backs of his teeth until it tingled with pain, starting to mold itself into the shape of incisors. He relaxed and inched away from the two excitable women, back to Aoife and Mary. Their wine was almost gone, but now they wanted just water. Mary asked Jason if he had a girlfriend, and for reasons he couldn’t have explained, Jason said yes. He glanced at Aoife, who seemed unaffected. Mary had to take a phone call, and while she was gone Aoife asked to pay the bill, “before my friend gets back,” she said, “so that we don’t have a fight.” Then she leaned in and told Jason he was beautiful. It wasn’t the first time a customer had complimented him—it came with the territory, tame comments as well as more forward ones—but this was one of the first times the word stuck to him. Beautiful. A feminine word. A word he had been subconsciously applying to Aoife. Not himself. He barely entered into this equation. Aoife was still talking, her tone switched to one of lamentation, something about Jason’s youth. The tenderness of her attention made his insides crumple. Before he could speak again, Aoife was leaning back again and Mary had returned. “Oh, just give the boy your number, Fe!” When he got home to his mother’s house Jason walked into the living room, brought his body down onto his knees, walked his hands forward and lowered himself onto his face. The wooden floor smelled a little like damp, but it was clean. His mother was still awake. "Are you drunk?" she asked. "No." "Are you okay?" . "Jason?" "I'm just going to lie here for a minute, okay?" "Don't you want to get into bed for that?" "No." "Jason. The floor is uncomfortable. Let me help you into your room." "No." "Jason." "Ma," he said, turning his head towards her, "this floor, at least, looks as hard as it is. Unlike that bed. So, I know what I'm getting into." "Jason?" "I'm fine," Jason, said, peeling himself off the floor. "Ma, I'm fine."