Chapter 1: Whiskey Isn't Meant to Gather Dust

Saturday morning came too early. Ellie sat on her couch, laptop on her lap and a stack of papers next to her. She reached for her mug filled with hot coffee and took a sip. As soon as the hot liquid reached her lips, she jerked and spit it out on her pajamas. “Who needs a life when you can get burned by coffee while working on a Saturday morning at home?” she mused. It did not matter. At least she was going out with her friends that night. She just had to get through that one painstaking report, that never seemed to end.

And just in time for a much-needed break, her good-looking neighbour stepped outside for a jog. He was wearing those typical tight shorts. No matter how hard Ellie tried, her eyes slowly dropped down his body. He stretched for a good bit on their veranda, while Ellie washed her brain and burned her lips repeatedly. Sometimes she wondered if he took his sweet time on purpose. Did it really matter though? She would gladly partake in this game anytime. “That’s right, stretch them glutes.”

He turned toward her window at that moment. Had he heard her? She quickly diverted her gaze back to her laptop, spilling some more coffee on herself. “Oh that’s hot, that’s hot, that’s hot.” She wiped herself with a tissue and looked back outside. He had just gone back to lock his door. Safe, she was safe.

-

The night settled in, her supper was cooking in the oven, the music was blaring and her glass was filled with a good red wine. Ellie danced in her little black dress in the bathroom as she applied makeup. In between a dab or two of eyeshadow, she took sips and swayed her hips from one side to the other.

“Mamma mia! Here I go again…”

She struck various poses in front of the mirror while holding her hair up then letting it down, deciding that letting her brown hair loose was the best option. As she gave her reflection a last glance, her doorbell rang.

It was Jason. He was too well-dressed. That bothered Ellie.

“Hey Elena,” he offered a smile as he stepped into the house.

“Hey Jason…” They stood in front of each other until Elena stepped to the side to close the door behind him. However, since her arm was raised to hold the wine glass, Jason thought she was reaching for a hug. He reciprocated the gesture. What resulted was a collision of two straight bodies followed by an attempt to correct the situation by one party stepping aside, and the other patting the back.

“Right… well you look good. Plans for the night?” Jason asked as he walked through the living room into the kitchen. “You haven’t changed much of the place.”

“Well, it hasn’t been that long.  And yeah, I’m going out with Alex. How have you been?” She followed him in and pointed at the cardboard box with the barely started whiskey bottles. They had been gathering dust in her kitchen for too long since they had broken up.

“I’ve been well, and you?” He took a breath as he checked the many bottles. “You sure you don’t want to keep some?” There was a pause, too long, as they both appraised the other. The small talk was wildly unnecessary, they silently agreed.

As Jason picked up the cardboard box, his back still to her, he jumped the gun: “Actually I meant to tell you something. I’m engaged.”

She set down her glass on her table and squeezed her arms across her body, in front of her chest.

“Engaged… to be married? Oh well. Wow. Congratulations. It hasn’t even been that long.” She muttered.

“It’s been a year,” he stated as he finally faced her, confronting her. As he straightened up, so did she.

11 months and 25 days, but who was counting? Neither of them.

“Right. A year. Nevertheless, good for you. I hope my invitation got lost in the mail. Congratulations again.” She was already halfway through her living room on the way to the door. Unconsciously she had stopped where a picture of the two of them had hung. Jason’s eyes scanned the wall behind her but all they found was a painting of a woman and a swan.  

“Elena,“ Jason hesitated. He found her eyes, innocent and lost. They were such a contrast to the rest of her look, so confident and regal, “I - I’m going to get going now, I think.”

“Let me help you with the door.” She held it open for him. As he passed, she caught a whiff of his scent, a mixture of his cologne and Jason’s particular smell.

“I’ll see you soon,” he told her as he exited. She closed the door behind him, and stayed there holding her breath. She couldn’t yet hear the perceptible sounds of someone going down the metal stairs. Hand over her mouth, she silently backed away.

As she slowly made her way back into her kitchen, she changed the music to Leon Bridges and turned the volume up. Going through the motions her mother had taught her years ago, she set down the plates, the cutlery and napkins. Her simple decanter had enough for two glasses already – she knew that was the limit. She simply refilled her wine glass and took her seat, inspecting the green tree that peeked through her kitchen window.

She felt cold as she took in her empty kitchen. She lit the musk-scented candle that stood as a centerpiece and resettled into her seat. The oven alarm beeped loudly.

She got up, took the pot out of the oven, turned it off, and put some of the food in her plate. The smells already made her feel better. She licked the lime juice from her finger after decorating her plate of Moroccan tajine with a wedge.

Her phone started vibrating as she dug in. A text from Alex: “Elle ma belle, I’m so sorry but my sitter cancelled on me because she’s sick. I have to stay home. :( “

Elena stuffed an apricot piece in her mouth and chewed. She texted some of her other friends to go out; someone was bound to be available. The replies came quickly. “Date night with the hubby <3 <3 next time!” and a picture of a cat. Were her friends telling her to get pets?

What is life, Ellie thought as the decanter slowly emptied out and the music got louder. Her twin sister Adelina sent her a quick reply at that moment: “You have to stay positive in life gurl! Think positive attract positive!”

Who the hell even asked her about anything positive anyway? Did she look like she was having a rough time? Elena stared at her sister’s text. At least it wasn’t anything close to what their younger brother Keon had just texted her – in their group chat: “You should get on Tinder.”

Mouth still full, she let out a half-grunt, half-scream. “But seriously now!”

She decided she was not going to let this get to her. She switched up her Spotify to blare hits from all the decades; nothing could hold her from dancing. She emptied the rest of the wine bottle in the decanter.

The unidentifiable lyrics of Blue Da Ba Dee rang through the kitchen and Ellie jumped around as she had a realization: She did not need anyone to go out. She could go to the bar alone, who needs people? Not Elena.

And so she texted her siblings to let them know she was going to do just that. Adelina told her not to talk to strangers. Keon just said “ok.”

She was going out. As soon as she would finish her wine. She grabbed a bag of goldfish, her wine glass and turned on the T.V.

Love, Rosie had reached its climax, when the leads finally understand the meaning of life and – three soft knocks resonated. Somehow those woke up Elena from the alcoholic slumber she had fallen into.

She was swimming in a pool of goldfish and the poor crackers crunched under the weight of her body as she sat up. She checked her phone quickly to see if it could hint at who might be on the other side of the door, but there were no messages or missed calls.

Grunting as if every move was painful, she made her way to the front door. On the other side, for the second time that night, stood a good-looking man staring at her. This time however, the man was hispanic-looking and barefoot. Diego, her hot neighbour.

He spoke softly, “Hey Elena, sorry to bother you. Can’t seem to find my bottle opener, could I borrow yours by any chance?” He showed her a bottle of wine.

She was entranced. Music and laughter flowed through an open door - probably Diego’s open door. He waited patiently as she registered what was happening.

“Yeah, sorry, of course, come in.” She turned around and led him into the apartment. “Here you go.”

He opened the bottle in her kitchen and handed it back to her, “Thank you!”

“Oh, you can keep it for the night if you want. I won’t be opening any more bottles.” She laughed.

He chuckled, “It’s also the only bottle I’ll be opening tonight I think - it’s just me and a friend, no big party.”

They had walked back to her front door, “Ah I see.” Ellie was desperately trying to think of something clever to say, “well, have fun!”

He had crossed the doorframe already but he turned back, “Thank you.” His hand suddenly reached toward her face, her hair. He was touching her hair and she stopped breathing, “You’ve got something in your hair, sorry.” He pulled out a goldfish cracker and handed it to her.

“I was obviously fishing earlier,” she grabbed the cracker.

“We should have a bottle of wine together soon,” he winked.

“Anytime, you know where I live.” She leaned against the door and popped her hips to one side.

He chuckled and left - leaving her feeling embarrassed, alone and hopeful all at once. The music became a soft murmur in the air as he closed his front door. She ate the cracker.

It was not too cold outside - the fresh air felt nice against her alcohol-flushed cheeks. Elena stepped outside on the veranda and breathed in several yoga breaths. Chills overtook her body quickly enough. She turned around to get back inside when a reflection at her feet caught her eye. There was something by her door.

She crouched to stare closer. A bottle of Glenmorangie Signet eyed her back. “Hmm,” she grabbed it by the neck.

Back into her living room, she poured herself a glass - the perfect one to finish the evening. Clear now that she was not going out, she turned off the T.V., walked into her bathroom and drew a bath.