This story is one of the September Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
James flipped the coin; heads. He has to cook dinner tonight. We’ve been doing this since the beginning of quarantine. It was the best way we found of passing time and sharing our chores. The coin chooses everything: who has to take out the trash, who picks the movie, who has to cook, who has to clean our apartment.
But things started getting a little complicated when the president announced the spread of the coronavirus decreased, so we were allowed to leave the house wearing a mask. The problem is that I’m a germophobic. And James loves the jasmine tea from the tea shop two blocks across from our house. Like everything else, who had to go buy more tea was whoever the coin selected. And, of course, it was me.
“If you knew how much this scares me, you wouldn’t make me go,” I said.
“No, it’s because I know how much it scares you, that I’m making you go.” He held me by my shoulders and kissed my forehead. “Besides, we both agreed that the coin chooses absolutely everything. No backing away now, Avery.”
My brain started looking for an excuse, but it could only wrap itself around the fact that maybe the president was wrong. Maybe the virus’s spread was as high as always, and I would get sick from the moment I stepped outside. And then I would have to go to the hospital and be around thousands and thousands of sick people. James would probably get sick too, and there would be no one to take care of our cat, Persephone. We would both die, and she would be forever thinking we abandoned her.
“Look, you’ll be wearing a mask. It’s two blocks to go, two blocks to come back. You’ll spend less than twenty minutes at the tea shop.”
James went back to the couch, reading his book, not paying attention to my struggle anymore. I took a deep breath.
“I’ve got this,” I said to myself.
“That’s the spirit.” James chuckled. “Jasmine white, alright?”
“James, we’ve been married for two years.” I looked at him with a smile. “I know your favorite flavor of tea.”
“Okay,” he said, smiling back at me. “Love you.”
I stepped outside. It was my first time in months stepping on the sidewalk. It was a usual day of summer, warm and sunny. I saw people walking around, with masks, looking busy with their own thoughts.
Two blocks to go, like James said. I walked in the tea shop, grabbed three boxes of jasmine white tea, and stepped on the line to the cashier. I glanced at the wall. It was decorated with the most beautiful collection of teacups. I thought about the virus sticking to them, and in the air around me. All the people that could be sick, at the same store as me.
I tried focusing on breathing, but that was a little hard because of the mask.
“Next!” the lady behind the counter shouted.
Pay for the tea, get out as fast as you can, I said to myself. I paid for my tea and left, finally able to breathe again. The second part: two blocks back to our apartment. The easy part. The part I should not be scared about, even with all the virus around me.
I finally made it to the doorstep. James was still on the couch, reading with Persephone sleeping next to him.
While I showered, James boiled the water for our tea. Then we sat in the kitchen. James was holding his favorite teacup, and I had my Star Wars mug. I felt alright, finally safe at home. James was telling me about the book he was reading, and watching the heat from the tea fog up his glasses made everything worth it. The coin, the virus, the fear. It all summed up to seeing the smile on his face, and his fogged glasses.