Tag Archives: Romance

Miss Phillipa, Melanie Ifield

Photo by Johannes W on Unsplash

The doctors all agree that for me to feel entirely myself again (such an admirable ambition) I am to make my way to the seaside for a week. 

I emerge from a six-hour bus ride at a foreign bus stop in a foreign town. It is late and I am hungry. I am not supposed to feel hunger and the normalcy of such a physical sensation rocks me. Perhaps it’s the local’s blasted sea air working its insidious way into my digestive tract. Well, I’ll take this holiday, and return to work not a day over one week and see what they have to say about that.

I make my way down cobblestone streets. Nightlights are starting to twinkle into life, illuminating this strange town and its inhabitants. There is a sense of freedom in all their movements, as though they have imbibed too much of others’ good intentions. Well, they will get nothing from me. 

There is the sign I have been looking for. A weather-beaten panel over a door stating you could rest your head at the ‘Sea-Side Inn’ for the value price of $49 per night. What a delight. The night clerk greets me as I walk in. During our conversation he establishes, via pointed questioning, that I have a credit card and a driver’s licence. He mentions the tourist pack they have with maps to interesting destinations, all the beaches and bookstores. Could he interest me in these? He couldn’t. I take it anyway for appeasement’s sake.

A cheery voice from behind asks me if he could be of assistance and help me with my luggage. I am faintly amused. In all conceivability it is my wasted appearance which lends itself to such solicitous feelings. Certainly no one has ever offered to carry my luggage before.

I am led up a flight of stairs. A door is opened for me and I am left in solitude.

The bathroom smells familiar, as though they, like the hospital I so recently vacated, use hospital grade detergent. I look back at the mirror. How disagreeable. Not quite in blushing youth anymore. Quite the opposite really: pale, washed out middle age. Perhaps I could find my youth strolling these sunburned streets chatting gaily to other figments of my imagination.

I open the window. Bad idea. More of that sea air comes waltzing in as though every open panel of glass is a hand written invitation. It dances with my curtains, then marches through my hair and down my pipes. I shut the window.

There is not much evening left and I plan to be unpacked and fully rested for tomorrow when I shall face the foreign town and all its peculiarities. Tonight I feel the strength has left me.

Sunlight wakens me. It has sneaked in through closed blinds. I never sleep with the blinds open, no need to leave the flight path to the heavens all that open. I observe myself in the mirror after I dress. My image stares back at me and reminds me that time has marked me more effectively than any passing love affair. Dances are a thing of the misty past and knitting booties for non-existent grandchildren is supposed to fill my days in happy contemplation.

I venture downstairs. Legs a little wobbly. I wander along cobbled streets towards the distant sea. It comes on me suddenly. One minute I am contentedly strolling along and then I turn a corner and see the endless blue. I have to sit down and catch my breath.

I’ve never seen the sea before. It crashes majestically upon the shoreline and I feel very little. Not a feeling designed to flood me with the confidence that has been eluding me. Stupid doctors. Sent me to the wrong address.

People are actually stripping off their layers of civilisation and running at the seething mass of unfathomable waters. They are facing it and yelling challenges to the sky. I sit there and eye them doubtfully.

‘I am quite comfortable here, thank you young man,’ I reassure the darkly handsome stranger who catches sight of my breathless state. I am in no need of assistance and have no desire to thrust myself into the sweeping jaws of foaming waves.

This sea they are all so enamoured with appears dangerous. Look at them plunging in and spending energy one day they will kill to have again. They have no care that it whispers a dirge in its sleepless prowling of our coast. They are secure. They are young and how the young feel their own brand of immortality. Just you wait, I think with savage glee. You’ll sit here and feel the same feelings of wasted energy. I stand and stretch. My, how tiring all this fresh air is. I make my way to a small café I saw earlier.

I finish my salad and fish. I sit and let humanity wash over me in a tide of raised voices and sweet scents. I shudder and put down my wine, leaving the café, giving no tip. Do I seek the emotions of others? Do I reek of my inner grayness? Is my age a natural insult to their youth? Am I an object of their pity? I hurry away. I am successful I want to shout. I have a house, a car and a bank balance you would be envious of: I could buy you all. I halt at that thought, a part of me ashamed. 

A group of youngsters come careering passed. One knocks my arm and stops. Pleasant face screws up with worry. ‘So sorry missus. Don’t know what I was thinking, not to see you there. Hope I haven’t damaged anything?’

I open my mouth to deliver a blistering lecture, and close it again on a teeth-clenching smile. ‘Oh no dear, I am perfectly fine,’ and I turn to walk back the way I have come. Had I once been that age? All limbs and freckles and bursting forth with a vitality that alarms middle aged ladies so much? Seems unlikely. I always had an old and slightly jaded soul, just had to grow into it. I am well on the way. Perhaps being more elderly is going to be better than I imagine. I curl my lip in derision. May as well get that knitting out.

I am in an open aired plaza. I hear snatches of conversation. People glad the weather was holding, glad the storm of last week had blown over and delighted the local council was putting on a dance in two days, right here at the Plaza, wouldn’t you know? No, I didn’t know. Bother and damnation. My room overlooks the park attached to this Plaza. How annoying.

I find myself in a bookstore. A little light reading might pick my spirits up. I make my selection – there isn’t much to choose from – and return to the blistering street. I hasten back to my room, my sanctuary, and lean heavily against the door as it closes behind me. I frown down at my light and whimsical novel. It is full of romantic nonsense. Whoever would enjoy a chauvinist telling you what to do all the time? So controlling I could choke, but I have it now, so may as well get on with it.

Evening approaches. Marta Hermann’s novel on Lady Westerling’s Romantic Sojourn put me to sleep hours ago. I turn my head to look out of my window. Daylight has receded. Dinnertime approaches once more. There is a lovely little corner in my host’s dining lounge tucked obscurely away from nearly everyone’s view I can hide in for dinner. I eat a little more salad and a lot less fish. There is no red meat on the menu.

I feel eyes upon me. I glance surreptitiously across my garlic bread. Seated just within sight is a man. Well, nothing too portentous about that. I make no acknowledgement that he is looking in my direction. While I was the looker when younger, I can’t imagine turning heads now but there you go. Fair’s fair. The man may have forgotten his glasses. I finish my meal.

He has approached my table hiding behind a waitress. No warning. Pleasing deep voice says he can’t help but see I am alone and asks if I would care for a nightcap at the bar. Disturbing. I can’t imagine what encouraged him. I frown majestically and refuse politely. He smiles at me and suggests a holiday for one is never as much fun as having someone to share the tedium with. A kindred spirit in the most unlikely of places? I say I am too weary from my day. A second suggestion is forthcoming. What if we were to walk the beach together in the morning? I agree, if only to remove this obstacle from between me and my room.

I am in my room. My heart is beating a little too fast. This man has upset my calm. I cannot help feeling I have committed a grave error of judgement. Not to worry, there are a million ways of seeing off unwanted attention. I close my blinds and allow Lady Westerling’s ridiculous palpitations to put me to sleep.

It is Tuesday. I have a date to go walking on the beach. Good grief. What had I been thinking? I sit and ponder how to escape this demanding social event. I am not a social creature. (Sometimes I am, however, Master of the Understatement.)

A knock sounds on my door. Not here already! I have never dressed so fast. I answer the door in bright yellows and brilliant whites. Enough to paralyse the best intentions. It is a maid. Would I like my orange juice here or out on the terrace with my gentleman friend? I have forgotten his name already! It is supplied with amusement.

I’m not saying Amery and I are friends upon our return to the motel, but we have talked and know a little more of each other. I agree to meet him for dinner and retire to my room. I am in turmoil. I lie on my bed. This Amery is a wonder. Most disturbing. My eye wanders over Westerling… Perhaps I can fit in a chapter or two before dinner.

As usual, I have drifted to sleep. I glance at my watch. Good heavens, I’ll be late. I study my wardrobe. Somehow, it all seems a little out of place now. I choose the only evening-looking garment among the meagre contents of the cupboard. I eye my rather sombre appearance.

Amery has booked a table in a neighbouring restaurant. He takes my arm, to direct me to the right doorway I can only presume. My stomach flutters and I quickly put it down to hunger. I am faced with a beaming waiter – may he take my coat? It is much too grand to call this scrap of material a coat, but yes, he could take it if it makes him feel any better. Amery smiles at my tone. Amusing, am I? At least meat is on the menu. Amery quietly studies what they are offering. He does many things quietly I am discovering. Fascinating. Perhaps it’s his age. He’s probably said it all before.

Dinner is a strange affair. I find myself searching for interesting pieces of myself to place into his silent and warm companionship. I wonder if my doctors would be smiling in satisfaction.

I am glad when it is over, I tell myself. In reality, I think I have enjoyed someone else’s company more than my own for the first time in years. Disturbing. I am faced with the inevitable good night scene. Do I commit myself to further dates? I am in a quandary. Amery escorts me to my door. I know where to find him if I would like some more company, I am informed. I close the door. Having fulfilled my promise to talk to another human being on my holiday, I am now under no further obligation to continue doing so. I go to sleep on the thought that while no obligation exists, a desire might. Thoroughly disturbing.

I cannot believe the quickened pace this holiday is now setting. A veritable whirlwind, I fear. Tonight is that Council-approved concert. I see a note slipped under my door. My disloyal heart leaps. Amery? A notice, actually, for all those who wish to help in providing supervision for the concert. Oh my, now wouldn’t that be fun? I shudder.

A knock. That helpful maid again? This time I answer in my dressing gown, note in hand. Bright delighted smile. Am I supervising? Certainly not. Pleading gray eyes. I shall have to think, I say, putting those pleading eyes on the shelf for later.

My in-house phone rings. Amery. Have I received a note? Yes, but I am determined not to be a part of it. I am admonished. Surely I will not turn my back on a bunch of children? I fume. Coercion. Had he spoken to a certain pair of gray eyes? Chuckles flow down the line. It is possible – didn’t they work on me? Certainly not, but he does. I am a registered supervisor before breakfast is done. Dreadful, but my resistance is weak (perhaps I should change my reading material).

Today I refuse to see Amery out of conscientious objection. I plan to idle my time away watching the waves. I need time to think, away from this insidious feeling. I am most assuredly letting myself be swept away with events. Holidays always seem to work against our nature. 

I sit at a bench, Greek Salad in hand. A group of young, lithe bodies pass me. One stops. It is gray eyes, off duty and rearing to fling herself into the onrushing embrace of water. Will I be swimming today? Highly unlikely, though I do wear my outdated navy suit under my dress for reasons best described as the same recklessness that took me on my date last night. We are joined by the rest of the gaggle, swaying in slips of material that surely have no legal right to be called anything, let alone clothes. Have they perfected sincere, puppy dog eyes, this generation? I am overwhelmed with beseeching sets of them. I fear I must swim or dream of hurt, reproachful looks for days.

The water is cool and nibbles in a friendly fashion at my toes. The gaggle of youth dances off until waist deep. It’s a little disconcerting, this close inspection by seething masses of salty water.

Sunburn has turned me from fluorescent white to fluorescent red, and discomfort interrupts me. I have studied the patterns of water for hours. I face Amery and masses of screaming partygoers in relatively few hours. I leave gray eyes fluttering them at a hapless group of young lads. Ah, for the
grace, and innocence, of the young. Though come to think of it, that glance was definitely not innocent.

I pass through the lobby. Could they suggest Aloe Vera for my skin? They could indeed. I retire to my room to shower and apply layers of oil. I observe my reflection. A faint resemblance to a sautéed underfed lobster.

I wake later to flames marching down my back and across my shoulders. Dressing for this concert proves challenging, but luckily, hours later the concert is over. Relief. I am on fire. Sleep beckons and I crave my solitude.

I spend Thursday bemoaning my lobster-like state. Gray eyes is on afternoon shift and brings me drinks whenever Amery is lax. I believe I am not good company by the looks that pass between the two. Amery insists on staying by my side, however. Incorrigible.

Sleep is an uneasy and fitful friend. Friday looms near and threateningly similar. I take painkillers. I may still look poached, but at least I can’t feel it, so I take a walk with Amery. Amery takes hold of my hand like it is something precious. Am I completely unaware of his feelings? There is no response to a direct attack. This Amery has wiggled himself into my holiday and stolen my calm self-possession. The afternoon is spent in joyful discovery of a kindred spirit. I amaze myself.

It is Saturday. My week is almost over. A last day to sit and watch the ocean. A last day to indulge in endless chatter with my Amery. It is warm and my skin requires the shade. I am happy in his company. I am aware of the each of the hour. There are rare quiet moments today. It is as though we know every word matters. Amery’s silence is gone. All the words he thought he had said and done with now tumble out in a fever. I am not silent either.

 I shall always remember my Saturday. There is nothing said I wish to repeat. Our words are for us alone. I just know it has opened a world of possibility where once I saw inevitability. Only six days? Who could credit it? Sometimes it takes the smallest amount of time to work the greatest changes imaginable. I look over at the bed in my little room and see his peaceful face sleeping there. Somewhat cynically, I smile at my contentment, such a new phenomenon. Life has given me another chance and I go forward to grasp it with both hands. Sometimes a miracle comes
along.

The sea air stirs my curtains and I cannot help but breathe in and fill my lungs to bursting point. A warm voice laughingly tells me to leave off from my solitary contemplation and come to bed. I look again at the quarter moon and reach out to close the blinds. I hesitate. Crawling into bed, I glance over at the wide-open view and wink at the stars and the moon.

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Yellow, Aylish Dowsett

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

You’re nervous.

You’ve wiped the sweat from your palms three times now. Yet your hands still shake. A little tremor. Nothing too violent.

You choose the powder blue shirt over the others, matched with silver cufflinks. They’re scratched, but they do just fine. They’re your lucky pair.

You readjust your shirt as it sticks to your back, the scent of lemon seeping from your skin. She bought you that. You liked the smell.

I would’ve chosen the burgundy shirt. Gold cufflinks. But I am merely an observer. A silent spectator if you will. My favourite quote about me says

“the trouble is

you think you have Time.”

Buddha was correct. I am limited. I have no control, just as you do when you are born. And when you will die.

You look up, squinting against the fading light. The bruised sky watches you back. As do the trees, the cedar wood bench and the swings in the distance. A couple hurries past you, umbrellas swinging from their arms. You’ve chosen a good spot. You’re proud.

The bruised sky grumbles and you reach for your own umbrella. Blue plastic fans out over you like a protective shield. The rain begins to fall, tapping lightly, like tiny excited feet. You wait.

But it wasn’t always like this for you. You’re happy. If I take you back, it won’t be that far. Let’s start off with four years, shall we? The shadows of your past are still a part of you, after all. Isn’t that what you humans say about me?

.

It was cold. Dark. Damp. Mould clung to the air as cockroaches do to food. The wallpaper was peeling, curling over like long, overgrown toenails.

You hated it.

You didn’t want to live there.

But you did it for her.

For the both of you.

You were moving the last of the boxes from the van. Beads of sweat rolled down your forehead, so you used your t-shirt to wipe it away.

Navy, with white edges.

She appeared at the back door, with gloved hands and grass stains on her golden, bare legs. A grin shone across her face. Your eyes slowly grazed her body as she walked towards you and took your hand. Her yellow dress melted into your blue. You smiled.

.

But remember the first time you fought? I know it’s unpleasant to recall.

There was shouting.

Crying.

Puffy eyes.

You broke your favourite bowl. You’d made that together.

She stormed out.

You didn’t follow her.

And then you did.

That was three years ago.

You got through it.

.

Now, what about that time when you performed on stage? I remember it clearly. It was dim and smoky. Hundreds of hunched eyes watched you.

You only did that because of her. Because she pushed you.

Believed in you.

Gave you the courage

to believe in yourself.

She squeezed your hand, her dark eyes sparkling as you went on stage.

And my, what a performance it was. You brought the house down, as you humans would say. I knew you had it in you. I always did.

That was two years ago. My, how you’ve grown.

.

We can go back further, you know. I may be limited for you, but for me, I am eternity.

I promise you this won’t hurt. Only a little.

This was before all of it. Before her.

You were sitting at the back. You were slouching, with your feet slung over the seat in front of you. Arms folded. You wore a jumper, with the hood pulled over your face.

Cobalt, with frayed drawstrings.

The room began to fill up. People sat with their friends. Chatted. The air became thick with it. But you stayed back. Kept your arms folded.

You wanted to be alone.

It was better that way.

Everyone fell silent as someone approached the stand. You were having a guest lecturer that day. A student from another university.

You rolled your eyes, preparing to absorb yourself in your own thoughts. Your mind was not a bad place. It just hurt. Memories seared the edges.

But as you began to drift away, you stopped.

The guest lecturer.

Her pale, yellow blouse seemed to shimmer as she spoke. Her voice carried across the theatre. Powerful. Fiery.

You were hypnotised.

You’d never seen so much

passion

and beauty

from someone before.

As the lecture ended, people drowsily got to their feet. Some ran. Others stumbled out the door.

But not you.

You could have walked past like everyone else.

Out into the sunshine.

But you chose to wait.

You walked slowly down the stairs,

waiting for people to leave.

She gathered her things.

Smiled at other students.

And then you walked straight towards her.

My, were you brave.

You said you loved her lecture. You stuttered. She smiled.

And you walked out into the sunshine together.

It was that moment in Time that changed it all.

Changed everything for you.

For both of you.

You took a chance.

Lived in the moment.

Time changed. Your life shifted.

.

The rain thumps on your umbrella and it is now dark. A golden streetlamp glows nearby. The lights of cars flicker behind the trees.

You’re nervous.

You slide your hand into your pocket, pressing the outside of a small box to your skin. You hope she likes it. Loves it.

And then you see her.

She rushes towards you, her dark curls tucked under her hood.

She laughs when she sees you. Saying how cold the rain is. She forgot her umbrella.

You cradle her against you, her wet cheek nestling against your blue shirt. You smile and kiss her forehead.

You

are

yellow.

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Drown Me Out, Salvatore Pedavoli

My thoughts, like smoke,

cloud my mind.

I cough and splutter.

It’s killing me.

 

I’m holding the rim of a steel sink, focusing on my reflection. My heart is almost in time with the muffled music outside. I can feel it pulsing in my throat.

Pull yourself together.

Someone staggers to the sink beside me and starts washing their hands. They spit up something and cough. I brace myself and leave the bathroom disgusted.

As soon as I’m back on the dance floor the beat reverberates through my entire body. My ears are screaming.

I work my way through the crowd of dancers. Escaping through a security door and down concrete stairs into a quieter room. The walls are thick, it’s as though the room upstairs doesn’t exist. The music is softer. The faint fog of the melody drifts through the space.

‘Welcome back,’ says Tony as I approach my small group, ‘I bought you another whisky.’

A glass of amber liquid sits on the table between him and his friend, Nicky. I thank him and take a sip.

‘You like Fireball, right?’ he asks.

I nod and sit down.

‘Sophie will be here soon,’ says Nicky.

Tony asks me how I’m feeling and I shrug my shoulders. I’m terrified, but he doesn’t need to know that.

‘All you need to know is that she went through a bad break up,’ Tony explains, ‘And she really loves fancy cheese – like you!’

Well, that’s wonderful. We can spend the night talking about cheese and her shitty ex boyfriend. Fantastic. I’m going to be the guy she vents to all night. I bet this is all just so Tony and Nicky could go out but not feel guilty about their sad friend. Figures.

You’re just some nice guy that girls talk to. Not a real man they want to hook up with.

My knee bounces out of time with the music and I glance around the room as though she’d suddenly appear. I don’t even know what she looks like, I don’t understand why I even bother.

Nicky jumps up suddenly, tapping furiously on her phone. She announces that Sophie has arrived and whisks away to go find her.

I take a deep breath. Tony asks me if I’m alright.

‘I really didn’t need to be set up,’ I say, ‘I can find a girl on my own.’ I smile. He’ll think it’s a joke if I smile.

Tony gives me one of his impish grins. ‘Yeah, I know – but you’ve been busy with work, and kinda stressed out lately. Plus, Sophie said she wanted to come out, and you guys’ll get along really well. Trust me, you’ll like her.’

That doesn’t mean she’ll like me.

 

A person worth being,

I wish I was worth knowing.

If only pretending to be someone else,

was as easy as wearing their clothes.

 

In the moments leading up to Nicky returning with Sophie, my stomach had rung out all its acids and my heart started violently beating within my throat. I’d rehearsed nine different ways of saying ‘hello’ without settling on which one I’d use.

In the end it didn’t matter because, when they arrived, I was looking down at my knees and didn’t notice them approach.

‘Sophie, this is Erik.’

I look up just as Sophie says hello. She’s a small girl with a veil of blond hair that falls gracefully over her shoulders. Her blue eyes rival the bright lights of the dance floor.

Oh, those eyes.

I manage to say hi.

Sophie looks at me with a soft expression, and for a few seconds we’re in silence. She fidgets with the straw in her drink. I should think of something to say, but in that moment all I can think about is how much she actually knows about me.

How blind is this date to her?

Erik,’ says Nicky, pulling me out of my head, ‘Sophie likes blue vein cheese – tell her she’s nuts.’

‘But… I like blue vein?’

She lets out an exasperated sigh and tells us we’re both crazy. She and Tony decide it’s time for a cigarette. They bolt for one of the smoker’s rooms without inviting us.

Sophie sinks down into one of the chairs.

‘She says the cheese thing every time I meet someone. You’re the second person who’s been on my side.’ She sips her drink and cringes.

‘Strong?’ I ask.

‘It’s basically vodka with a shot of orange juice.’ She inhales sharply, ‘Not the worst Vodka Sunrise I’ve had, though.’ She nods in my direction, ‘What’ve you got?’

‘Fireball Whisky.’

‘That’s the one with cinnamon, right?’

My heart begins to calm as we settle into a discussion about alcohol. Conversation with Sophie moves fluidly. I’m struck by how easy it is. She asks questions, and gives answers that I can respond to. She doesn’t seem nervous at all and that puts my mind at ease.

I look down into my near empty glass and wonder if it’s time for another drink. There’s a soft tingling in my head. It’s muffled the intrusive voice that’s been whispering unkind words. In its place is a tipsy friend who wants to have fun.

Sophie starts to ask about where I work when she’s interrupted by Nicky. She and Tony have returned, shrouded in the smell of cigarette smoke. They command us to scull our drinks because it’s time to dance.

We gaze at each other and, without thinking, I wink at Sophie. She smiles as I consume what’s left in my glass and follows suit. Her face scrunches and she exclaims that it was too much vodka.

Tony urges us onto our feet. Eventually we make our way down to the dance floor. Everyone seems to be packed in tightly; I wonder how we’re expected to dance. Tony takes hold of Nicky and together they disappear into the throng.

Sophie leans toward me, ’I need another drink.’

We fight our way to the group of people lining up at the bar. I buy rum and coke for both of us. We drink slowly, sticking to the edge of the room. I’m bracing myself for the inevitable discomfort of being within the dancing crowd.

‘I can’t dance,’ Sophie admits.

I look at her and shrug, ‘Same.’

Sophie downs her drink and waits for me to do the same. We ditch our glasses. I’m surprised when she takes my hand and pulls me. She leads me through the fray to a less dense corner of the room. We stand at arms length and move awkwardly to the music.

I want her closer to me.

She isn’t moving her hands much. I take hold of them and wave them around. This makes her laugh so I pull her towards me. She doesn’t object. Her hands crawl around my shoulders. I hold onto her hips. We’re moving with the music, bodies pressed against each other.

I become aware of every limb she’d be able to feel and a voice inside my head whispers:

Can she tell?

The voice dissipates when she looks at me. Those bright blue eyes take hold. We’re so close I can feel the warmth of her breath. I could kiss her. Should I kiss her? Would she let me?

 

I dreamt about a beautiful girl

with eyes as hard as stone.

She told me I wasn’t enough.

What woman could love half a man?

 

It’s almost three in the morning. Sophie and I are sitting on the balcony of a hotel room playing Snap as quietly as possible. Tony and Nicky have taken up the bed. We were letting fate decide who gets the couch.

Sophie is very competitive.

‘I don’t think it matters,’ she says, her eyes are trained on the pile between us, ‘I probably won’t sleep anyway.’

‘Why not?’ I move a card towards the pile, her hand twitches and I laugh.

She doesn’t answer until I place the card down. She swats my hand. It wasn’t a matching pair.

‘I usually sleep with a noise machine, like one of those white noise things.’

I watch her hand pull a card from her deck.

‘What’s that do?’

‘It’s supposed to, like, block out negative sounds…’ she puts the card down and smacks it almost instantly, ‘Haha! Suck it!’

‘You cheated, your hand was hovering.’

Sophie laughs and scoops the pile towards her.

‘So, why do you need to block out negative sounds?’ I ask.

‘Ah, it’s like…just something I read ages ago. So, I tried it and now I don’t sleep easily without it. But I have, like, mild anxiety and it’s been helping with that.’

A gentle curtain of rain begins to fall. I stand and walk to the edge of the balcony, extending my hand to catch a few drops. There’s a lingering haze in my mind. The intrusive voice is quietly murmuring in the background. It asks me to find out how much she knows.

If she’s gonna reject you, you may as well find out now.

You done with Snap?’ Sophie asks, ‘Do I get the couch? Did I win?’

I turn around and lean on the balcony, ‘Nah, you cheated.’

Sophie stands and points at me, ‘I won.’

I call her a cheater again. She moves towards me, sticking her head out under the rain for a moment. Again, I question how much she knows about me. Is she waiting for me to bring it up? Does it even need to be brought up? Maybe this night won’t go any further than drinking, dancing and playing snap on a balcony.

After a prolonged silence, she leans back and looks at me.

What is she thinking when she looks at me? If she doesn’t know, does she just see a man? What kind of man does she think I am? What was her ex like? Does she wonder if I’m better than him? Does she wonder what secrets I’m hiding?

Would a real man have tried to kiss her by now? Was she waiting for that? Does she think something’s wrong with me because I haven’t?

My heartbeat quickens because she’s still looking at me. She’s expecting something from me. I can feel it. I look down at my shoes.

Real men are in control.

Erik,’ she says.

Real men aren’t afraid.

I look at her.

Real men don’t have secrets like this.

Sophie moves in front of me. She cups my cheeks with her hands. They’re soft against my skin. I look at her. She closes the gap between us; kisses me very gently. I feel it surge through my body, but only for a short moment.

I pull away from her.

 

half

inauthentic

fake

liar

 

Sophie steps back and apologises. She blames it on alcohol and suggests it might be time for bed. Her voice is shaky. I’ve upset her. Why did I pull away?

‘It’s not you,’ I say quietly.

She laughs and warns me not to use that line. There’s a bitterness in her voice and she turns to the balcony door. I move to stop her, grabbing her shoulders. She pulls away from me.

‘Did they even tell you?’ I say curtly.

She turns, ‘Tell me what?’

They didn’t tell her? No, they did – she’s just pretending not to know. Or, maybe not.

I don’t know!

Idiot. Should have kept kissing her.

I back away from her and return to the balcony. I’ll have to tell her now. You can’t just drop a line like that and pretend it was nothing.

‘Tell me what?’ she repeats, she moves beside me.

I shake my head. Maybe she’ll back off.

She lets out and exasperated sigh, ‘I know…enough about you. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have kissed you. It’s too sudden, I’m just…’

I look at her. She’s leaning on the balcony again, gazing out into the rain.

You’ve upset her.

‘If it’s too quiet I start thinking,” she says, “and if I start thinking too much I’ll make myself cry.’

‘So, you kissed me to stop yourself from thinking too much?’

After a few seconds she smiles, laughs slightly and looks at me, ‘It sounds stupid when you say it out loud, but yeah,’ she turns with her back to the rain. ‘I just…need something to block out the…’ She waves her arms around her head for a moment, ‘Voice.’

‘You sound psycho. I just use alcohol…or music.’

‘We all have our ways of dealing with shit.’

‘So you make out with random guys?’

Don’t say that!

She frowns, ‘I hang out with people, yeah…’

‘I’m sorry,’ I say, ‘I shouldn’t have implied…I mean…’ I shrug, ‘I’m a dumbass.’

‘You are.’ She’s smiling again.

I glance at her. Has she been feeling like this all night? Has this all just been her way of covering her anxieties? Was she just trying to block out an intrusive voice?

Isn’t that exactly what I was doing?

‘You hide it very well.’ I say.

She bursts out laughing, covering her mouth. She shakes her head, ‘Hide what? My crippling anxiety?’

I nod.

‘Well,’ she turns and taps me on the chest lightly, ‘Now you know it’s all just a facade.’

 

I’ve made a suit of armour,

with the skin of men I’ve known.

I’m Frankenstein and his monster,

a Mister Hyde that I’ve sewn.

 

I hold the rim of the porcelain sink, focusing on my reflection. It’s quiet enough that I can hear the steady ticking of my heart. I breathe slowly. I’m going to tell her my secret.

It’s almost four in the morning. Neither of us believes we’ll get any sleep. We’ve decided to share the couch, but we’ve pulled the cushions off and manufactured a bed on the floor. We’re going to talk until one of us falls asleep.

I breathe in deeply.

When I come out of the bathroom she’s lying on the bed, curled up on her side with her back to me. There’s a blue blanket thrown over her legs; it might be big enough for the both of us.

I lay down beside her.

‘Sorry I took so long.’

No response. I prop myself up and lean over her. Her eyes are closed and her hand is hanging over the edge of the couch cushion. Her phone lies just below it, there’s a video playing.

I nudge her gently but there’s no response.

She’s fallen asleep.

There’s always next time.

 

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Bright Star, Emma Stubley

Before, the crowd hid us.

Amongst the swaying dancers, no one even noticed two girls kissing. But when Athena pulls me on the DJ’s stage with her, we become the center of the universe. She puts her hands on my waist and the crowd slows. Suddenly everyone is looking at me. I stand on my tiptoes, slipping on the beer-polished floor as I try to make out the glowing exit light hiding behind the swarm of heads.

‘Relax,’ she whispers in my ear and the crowd growls in response.Athena just dances, head down, eyes squeezed tight, ignoring the attention we are drawing.

There’s got to be an exit in here somewhere. But it’s not near the bar, or at the back of the room. The crowd stares at me. They are a pride of growling lions, hungry, shoes scratching against the floor. It makes my skin crawl. We don’t fit in here.

‘We should leave,’ I mutter, grabbing her hand.

They turn to watch a man with slicked back hair, a white shirt buttoned to the top and crocodile-skin shoes. He is front and centre, the king of the pride. His eyes undress me, picking out my weaknesses. He doesn’t move, his chest neither rises nor falls. He is still, except for the mechanic movement of his wrist that swishes wine in his glass, around and around. My palms sweat and he watches me rub them down my thighs. His mouth twitches, smirking at my submission.

He takes a sip and nods. A path appears in the sea of footy shirts and flower crowns, revealing a door, light from the wharf outside seeping underneath. I grab Athena’s wrist and pull her towards it, holding my breath in anticipation of a crushing wave that never comes. Just before we push out the exit, I look back. The man is still staring at us.

Who is he?

 

‘Do you want to find another club?’ she asks as we wander down Darling Harbour. She teeters along the edge of the wharf pretending it’s a balance beam. She is so carefree, holding her arms out and wobbling.

‘Didn’t that bother you?’ I ask as I count the shadows around us. None of them move.

‘Just try not to think about it, yeah?’ She runs to me and kisses my hand, leaving a ghost of lipstick on my knuckles. ‘How about Scary? We’ve not gone for a while.’

I look around to see if anyone saw us. Only the shadows. There was a day, before the eggs cracked on my car, before the love letters spray-painted on my front door, when I didn’t look behind me. I didn’t care who noticed. I held her hand as we danced down the escalators to the harbour, greeting the flying whale on the way. We ran through fountains with the other kids and kissed in the back row of the Imax; 3D glasses discarded, eyes closed. Later, we sat on the wooden boardwalk, feet hanging off the edge. Hands touching. Carefree. The world glared at us and we just watched the sunset. We told ourselves we could survive here. Belong here.

We don’t.

 

 *

 

It’s midnight. We stand in line in the 7-Eleven. Athena has grabbed a sausage roll from the pie warmer and the grease soaks through the paper bag.

‘It’s too early to go home,’ she says, wiping her hands down her dress. ‘Besides we have to wait ‘til your mum falls asleep.’ She rests her chin on my shoulder, waiting for an answer.

I stare at the wall of cigarettes as I hand money over, ignoring the cashier’s eyes as he notices how close together we are standing us. He calculates each of the three atoms, nodding as though he has proven our sin.

Outside the shop, streetlamps yawn in a lazy flicker that barely illuminates the shadow-littered street. With only a pregnant moon watching us, I take Athena’s hand. For a moment, quiet reigns.

A shadow stretches across the pavement. It is long and thin and peels away from the brick wall, forming the shape of a leg. A crocodile-skin shoe follows, bringing with it a man – no; The King. Yellow lips stretch into a plastic smile. I feel greasy, itchy. He balances a cigarette between his fingers. Tendrils of smoke reach out, filling the air between us.

‘Ladies, you can’t be going home so soon?’

I recoil, only to find Athena transfixed, breathing in the smoke. She smiles at him, leaning closer. I grab her wrist, attempting to pull her away.

‘I can show you a new world. One where girls like you belong. A safe place.’

Athena tugs back, and I stumble closer to him.

‘It could be fun,’ she sings to me, her fingers dancing up and down my arm. They fiddle with the sleeve of my shirt. She looks back at him. ‘Where is it? Oxford Street?’

‘Somewhere new.’

I can smell the fruitiness coming from the cigarette smoke. Cherries. I am intrigued. ‘It could be fun,’ I repeat.

Athena giggles, taking a bite of her sausage roll before she skips off down the street.

 

*

 

The moon is pinned between 12 and 1 as we climb the graffiti-covered staircase to the club. A shadow curves up the stairs with us. My stomach tightens as we follow a path of phone numbers and lewd advertisements. From the top, the King smiles at me with the same overstretched grimace as before, reaching a hand down. Shadows buzz around him. Maybe this was a bad idea. I take a breath and step inside this so-called paradise.

The walls are painted like rainforests. Ivy drips off a balcony outside. A fishpond lies sunken into the middle of the room. It paints the ceiling with the silvery glow of its water. Koi fish jet beneath the surface like shooting stars. Bouncers guard the edge of the room, roses tucked into their lapels. On the dance floor, girls dance with other girls, their lips too close and hands too wandering to just be friends.

We move to the bar where an ibis sings pop songs. The bartender, a lion-faced man with a mane pulled into a bun, serves us a shimmering drink in a coconut.

‘Ambrosia,’ he says. I take a sip. It is sweet. A pomegranate and strawberry blend. It tastes like summer, like immortality. My muscles instantly relax.

‘Dance?’ I ask, as I pull Athena onto the dance floor. The ibis sings Bohemian Rhapsody and we sing along. Athena’s eyes are closed, hips loose. Light dances across the glitter on her cheeks. Her hands run up my snakeskin tights and slip around my waist. I wrap my arms around her, letting our hips rub against each other. Her breath tickles my neck. My ponytail becomes looser with every song until my hair bounces on my shoulders. Athena wraps her hands in it. She is so beautiful. I draw her hair behind her ear and lean in. Just as I am about to kiss her, the King appears behind us.

‘Don’t you just love it here?’ he says, handing me another drink. As I sip it, I smile at him, slightly woozy, and take his hand.

‘It’s fantastic,’ I say.

He smells so sweet. Fruity. I pull him close to me. Athena is confused. She grabs my hand but I push her away. I take another sip as a bouncer taps her on the shoulder. The shadows swallow her, but I’m too busy staring into the endless galaxy of his eyes to notice.

We sip back the ambrosia, lining coconut after coconut along the bar while the ibis sings jazz tunes. It is just him and me now, everyone else has melted away. We laugh, heads thrown back, feet kicking. I kiss his cheek, his nose, his hands. The ambrosia has made me ravenous. The moon grows heavier as the song gets louder and I become drunker.

A slow dance plays, and his hand rests on the small of my back. We spin, dazzling and perfect, Cinderella and her king. ‘You and me, we are the golden ratio. We can be so beautiful,’ he says. ‘Together.’

I want this to be beautiful. I want to believe in this safety. It is so much easier. So I kiss him. I tuck my hair behind my ear, place my hand on his chest and kiss him. And it is perfect.

Until it isn’t. His mouth tastes of maraschino cherries. It is sour and artificial. My stomach turns. I push him away.

I’m going to be sick.

 

I find myself dry-heaving in the bathroom sink. A glass of pink liquor rests on the marble counter and I chuck it back, hoping it’ll soothe my stomach.

Then, he appears behind me. ‘Look how perfect we are. Together,’ he says.

I stare at my reflection in the mirror. My body redefines itself to his desire as his hand caresses my cheek. Sharp cheekbones. Plump lips. Curls graze against my shoulders, bouncing in a kind of effortlessness that takes hours to perfect. He kisses my neck. My breasts grow plumper and my waist grows thinner. Am I really this pretty?

I reach out to touch my reflection. It smears, leaving grease on my fingers and revealing the truth. Smudged mascara. Cracked lips. My t-shirt hugs my collarbone and hangs loosely, hiding any curves. The bathroom smells of vomit and cherry air freshener. I push him away from me.

‘This isn’t me. This is just an illusion. Just the promise of emptiness,’ I cry.

He grabs my wrist and spins me to face him. His fingers dig into my skin, and I feel the bones move. I gasp. I try to pull away but his grip is too strong. He pushes me back against the bathroom counter. The impact of the marble flashes up my spine and I’m ripped out of his fantasy. My vision goes black.

 

I sit across from Athena. Steam from a coffee machine perfumes the room. The cafe is filled with small children weaving between tables. Athena flicks grains of sugar at me and I hold my spoon up like a shield, giggling. Her nose scrunches at the bridge from the faces she pulls. I brush my fingers along her hand. This is the perfect day, the perfect future. The coffee machine splutters. Children knock a table and cutlery clashes to the floor. I look up, only to see him. He can’t be here. This is my dream. He doesn’t belong here.

Our cups explode into shards of porcelain. In the blast, I am torn away from her. Ivy wraps itself around her arms and she struggles to reach me. I try to crawl to her but something grabs my ankle, stopping me.

 

‘Wasn’t it easier to be with me?’ he asks ‘Isn’t this world safer?’

I knee him in the groin, and push him off me with more force this time. I dart out of the bathroom, back into the club. The music has stopped and shadows lurk on the dance floor. She has to still be here. But where?

The bottles behind the bar are filled with murky liquors, and the bartender bares his teeth at me. His mane slips free of its bun, flaring wildly around his face. She’s not near the barstools. I spin around the room. Crocodiles crawl out of the pond, snapping their jaws. Above me, bats hang from flickering lights. Snaps of light pierce through their wings like makeshift strobe lighting. I see no trace of her. Flapping wings swarm towards me, biting my neck and clawing at my face. I grab a fire extinguisher off the wall, and hold it like a weapon.

Something moves outside. Athena? I push through the glass doors, and out onto the balcony. She’s there, collapsed at the edge of the balcony. Her hair spills across the ground like spilt milk. Her arm is trapped beneath her body but reaches out, as if calling to me. Ivy from the balcony creeps towards her, twisting around her limbs- half-blanket, half-chains.

Oh God, be alive.

The King steps in front of her, appearing in a crack of thunder that buckles the concrete beneath us. He stands in the broad moonlight. Gnarled knuckles. Yellowing teeth. Skin stretched across his gaunt face. He is horrific. Why couldn’t I see it before?

The bouncers pour out from the club, onto the terrace. Their arms are covered in thorns. Pink petals have replaced their heads in the form of a grotesque face. They circle me, standing side-by-side with interlinking arms. The thorns grow across their chests until I am trapped in a caged rose bush. I swing the base of the extinguisher at the wall, hoping to make a hole.

The cage barely even budges. Instead, the thorns grow around it, swallowing the tank. I punch the guarded wall. Kick it. Flail against it. The rose faces just blink at me. A leafy arm uncurls itself from the cage and wraps itself around my neck. Its grip is just tight enough to make me gulp for air. Thorns dig in and drops of blood seep out staining the neckline of my shirt.

‘Come with me and you can save her,’ the King says. ‘I can protect you. Be the home you always wanted. You could be free from all of this pain.’

The cherry smell appears again, forcing me to imagine a life with him. The small suburb. The Toyota. The dog. The smiles shared with neighbours while taking out the bins. A peaceful life. Without Athena.

I remember the way her breath tickled me on the dance floor. The way her hands, those soft hands, accept me, the way they always have. The way she felt like safety more than anything else in the world. More than anyone else.

Here I stand, a girl in front of a king.

Fuck him.

I shove my hand through the cage of thorns. They scrap up the length of my arms, but I reach through. I won’t be paralysed by fear anymore. The petals flake away. Pink turns to brown, then dust. Thorns fall apart. The tendrils release their grip on me. The extinguisher clanks to the ground and rolls near my feet.

I pick it up and turn to face the King.

‘You were never protection. Only decay.’

The metal extinguisher is cool in my hand. I raise it. Point it at his face. Something fills his eye, perhaps fear. I squeeze.

Snowflakes line his eyelashes. He blinks and frost grows across his skin. He crashes to the floor. Gone.

Athena wakes up in a gasp. The ivy withers, shrinking back onto the balcony. I run to her.

‘You are my family. My home. I want you. I will always want you,’ I tell her.

I kiss her.

 

The sky has sweetened since we entered the club. We walk up the black footpath to Wynyard station and slip onto a train just as the doors close. Something draws my glance back to the platform. A man stares at me, hair slicked back.

 

*

 

I sneak Athena into my bed as the morning takes its first breath.

‘Tell me a story,’ I say.

She creates a constellation, pinning together the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling. ‘In a great empire kissed by the gods, no one has to hide between moth-laced jumpers,’ she starts. ‘There, we are bright stars, luminescent, gorgeous.’

I close my eyes. ‘Where is this world?’

‘Far away,’ she sighs. She rolls over to me and rests her chin on my chest.

Here, we are still less than beautiful.

But, for now, it is enough.

 

 

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Heart of the Storm, Jacqui Chami

Rhythmic island beats from our neighbour’s dorm serenaded the rain. But the rain was relentless. Cyclone Winston was a force to be reckoned with. The wind was like a sadistic puppeteer pulling its strings – no mercy. Trees had been uprooted from the earth as though their grounded existence was a cosmic joke. An abandoned white bed sheet clung onto its last peg, flailing about on the clothes line. Empty boxes were strewn out in the pool of muddy rainwater collecting between the campus buildings, resembling a river. Towels had been piled up beneath the windows in all the rooms on the left side of the hall to absorb the leaking rain water. The rooms on the right side of the hall were untouched by the rain, both Neha’s and mine. Images flooded my mind as I lay in Neha’s bed, holding her safe and warm in my arms. It was less than a month ago when we first met at Suva airport, Fiji. We’d both been granted a scholarship from Wakeford University to study for a semester here at the Sandy Valley University. It’s hard to believe there was a time when we could have walked past each other at Wakeford as complete strangers. Now, I couldn’t begin to fathom life without her.

 

Homes had been torn apart, but our concrete walls stood high and mighty. The days and nights had morphed into one. The power was out. No cooking. No water. More importantly for some, no wi-fi. I recognised Ana’s loud hyena-like laughter echoing through the walls of Neha’s room. I smiled at the sound of it. It was only a month ago when I first met these girls. Our night had consisted of blaring loud music to drown out the sound of the pouring rain. I might have busted my speaker in the process. Ana braided my hair as we all sat at the dining table and shared stories, going through our supply of breakfast crackers and canned food. Even though the cyclone had confined us to our dorms, I had never felt more free.

 

I listened to the background voices die down as the girls slowly retreated to their rooms. Neha and I had left the others early to watch a movie on her laptop. Her laptop sat abandoned on the corner of the single bed, dimly lighting up her room. The wind danced against the shutters. I looked up. They remained tightly locked in place. I imagined the wind circulating the building, searching for a way in, tearing through whatever stood in its way. Shaking the thought from my mind, I pulled Neha in close and wrapped my arm around her waist. We lay on top of her bed sheets. Even the rain couldn’t drown out our heat. Her long, dark hair cascaded across the pillow we shared. The smell of her cherry blossom shampoo wafted through my nostrils. I nuzzled up to the curve of her spine. My fingertips wrote fleeting thoughts across her soft arms. Her hairs stood on end. My hot, heavy breath sent goosebumps crawling along the back of her neck. She tentatively held my hand close to her chest. Her heart was racing with mine. I swallowed, sliding my bare legs against hers. She responded, releasing my hand, running her fingertips down the side of my leg.

 

Wait, Neha’s straight, isn’t she? All she’d ever talked about was this Henry gamer dude on Team Speak who I couldn’t give two fucks about. Aren’t they in some weird, virtual relationship? Was I misreading this entire situation?

Her ass pressed against me.

Holy shit.

This could ruin everything. You’re friends. You cook together, you live together! Her oversized shirt slid up her body, revealing black laced panties. My fingertips teased her perfect mocha skin. Her body twitched in response as my fingertips danced down her waist. I slid my hand down the slope of her hip, enamoured by her curvy figure. My lips brushed against the back of her neck. A stifled moan escaped her lips.

Fuck it.

‘Do you want me to kiss your neck?’ I whispered in her ear. No response. Oh God. She doesn’t want this-

‘O-okay.’ Holy shit. Taking a deep breath, I lightly pressed my lips against the back of her neck. Her body tensed against mine.

‘Do you want me to stop?’ I asked through heavy breaths.

‘N-no.’

My lips caressed her skin, slowly tracing the length of her jaw. A moan escaped her mouth as she reached back, her fingers entwined through the strands of my hair. Her body turned to face me as I gripped her thigh, nails digging in, our legs entwined. Rolling my body on top of hers, I pressed myself against her warmth. She gasped, sliding her hands down my lower back, my tee hanging loosely from my chest. Running my finger over her parted, plump lips, I leaned in.

She pulled away. ‘I-I don’t think we should do that,’ she murmured, her heavy breath on my cheek.

‘O-oh, okay,’ I replied, hovering over her hesitantly. I watched her chest rise and fall, mirroring my own. She smiled at my confused expression. Lifting her head, she pulled me in to kiss her neck again. I kissed trails down to her chest. Her hips rolled against me. I did the same, causing a loud primal moan to escape her mouth. Giggling, I covered her mouth before pulling her on top of me. Bemused, I watched her confused expression as she tried to position herself. Sitting up, I undid the buttons of her plaid shirt, kissing my way to her chest. She gasped, falling down on top of me.

 

*

 

We lay for a short while in each other’s arms. It felt safe, warm.

I’d almost forgotten about what was going on outside these walls. The rain had died down, and the wind had become a whisper. Its soft breath tickled my ear, taunting the sound of my frantic heartbeat. Neha’s face rested against my chest as she caressed my exposed stomach.

‘S-sorry. My heart is beating so fast,’ I gasped through heavy breaths. ‘It won’t slow down.’

Neha laughed. ‘It’s okay.’

Bzzt. Bzzt.

I glanced over at her vibrating phone lit up on the bedside table.

Neha groaned, reaching for her phone. ‘Fuck,’she jerked upright. ‘It’s my mum.’ Buttoning up her shirt, she walked over to the chair by her desk, answering the call. Asalam wa alaikum mama?’

I curled up under her sheets as she spoke to her mum. I couldn’t stop smiling. Holy shit. That was my first experience with a girl. Finally. But what does this mean for our friendship? Is this going to be a friends-with-benefits sort of thing? Will this even happen again? Could Neha also be bi? I glanced over at her. We briefly made eye contact before she looked away, hanging up. She proceeded to scroll through her phone.

‘Everything okay?’ I questioned.

‘Yeah, my mum was just checking what we ate for dinner. She really thinks we’re living in poverty eating all this canned food.’ She laughed, scrolling through her phone again.

‘Okay, how are you not freaking out right now?’ I hammered, sitting up. ‘This changes everything.’

She put down her phone, looking at me. Her deep, brown eyes bore into mine. ‘I don’t want this to change anything. This doesn’t mean I’m bi or whatever…’ Her voice trailed off as she stared intently at the floor. ‘I don’t know why, I just felt comfortable doing that with you.’

She could be in denial. ‘Till next time then?’ I suggestively grinned.

‘No…’ She ran her hands through her hair, avoiding eye contact. ‘Mary I feel bad. I shouldn’t be doing this, it’s against my religion.’

‘And having an online relationship with a non-Muslim guy isn’t against your religion?’ She flinched. That got her attention.

‘Please don’t make me feel any more guilty,’ tears welled in her eyes. My heart battled with my brain. I chose my brain.

‘So that’s why didn’t you kiss me?’ I pressed on. ‘Because the flaws of your faith only have room for Henry, not me. Am I right?’ I snapped.

‘I didn’t kiss you because I want my first kiss to be with a boy. I’m sorry but I don’t see you…that way.’ Her voice treaded carefully as though it were tiptoeing on eggshells.

‘Mary, I’m straight. I’ve never done anything before tonight…I just got carried away in the moment.’

And suddenly, I saw tonight for what it really was.

‘Look, we’re still cool, right?’ Neha questioned.

‘Yeah. Yeah, we’re cool.’ The pitter, patter of rain filled the silence in the room. I glanced over at the space on the bed where she laid moments before. ‘Will we ever do this again?’ a small voice I didn’t recognise escaped my throat.

‘I don’t think so. If we ever did, it would just be for fun. Could you handle that?’ she asked.

I hesitated, falling back onto the pillow.

‘Sure. Sure, I could handle that.’ I could handle it. Right?

 

*

 

3 months later

I dragged my purple, dirt stained carry-on through the front door of our 11th halls residence. It was 6am, everyone was still asleep. I hesitated outside Neha’s bedroom door. It would be so easy to knock on the door, see her face, spend the day asleep in her arms. Taking a deep breath, I took a step back. I had to be strong. Fighting the urge to wake her, I rolled my luggage down the hall to my room.

 

Kicking off my stained white chucks, I collapsed on my bed. Grabbing my journal from the bedside table, I flicked it open to my last entry.

May 19th

Dear Diary,

Everything I thought was real is nothing but an illusion. When I’m with her, I forget everything and everyone else. Yesterday put everything in perspective. She fooled around with Henry the same day she’d fooled around with me. She insisted on staying in my room after she told me. She could tell I was upset. I needed my space, so I frantically left for the bathroom. I sat in the cubicle, thinking. Eventually I snuck out to Rita’s room downstairs and told her everything. That was before Neha figured out where I was and intruded my ‘safe space.’ Technically, Neha didn’t do anything wrong. I know we’re not in a relationship. But when we’re together, I don’t think straight. I love her. This has to be love. Why else would I let myself feel so much pain?

 

I turned the page, hovering my pen over the paper. I was too tired. My journal lay abandoned on the mattress as I rolled onto my stomach, letting sleep take hold of me.

 

*

 

The sound of laughter resounded from outside my window.

Groaning, I rolled onto my back, slowly opening my eyes. The room was almost completely dark, faintly lit by my phone screen. I grabbed my phone, squinting at the screen. Holy shit. How long was I asleep?

11.30am: Neha: Hey! Weren’t you supposed to be back early this morning?

4.30pm: Neha: I miss you. When will you be back?

Smiling at my phone, I bounced out of bed, fixing myself in the mirror. Tentatively, I stepped out into the hallway. Weird. It was so quiet. Everyone must be chilling in their rooms. I strolled down the hall to Neha’s room, knocking on her door.

‘One second!’ I listened to the bed squeak as she got up, making her way to the door. My foot tapped anxiously. I finally get to see her. She opened the door. Her high pitched squeal rung through my ears as she embraced me in a warm hug.

‘Oh my God, you’re here! When did you get back?’ she beamed. Her long, black hair hung softly over her grey Star Wars shirt.

‘6ish? I’ve been asleep since I got here,’ I laughed, leaning against her doorway.

‘How was it finally seeing your family?’ she exclaimed, perching herself at the head of her bed.

‘It was amazing…’ I shut the door behind me, approaching her bed. ‘I didn’t realise how much I missed my mum and bro till I saw them.’ I sat opposite her, her laptop between us. ‘Nadi was incredible. I wish I was rich and could take my mum anywhere. She’s done so much for Carl and I, raising us on her own.’

‘She did an amazing job.’ Our eyes met. Everything felt warm and fuzzy.

‘Thanks.’ All I wanted to do was close the space between us and kiss her.

Ding!

My eyes drifted to the laptop between us.

‘Oh, sorry. Were you on a call before I came in?’ I imagined Henry waving his crippled gamer fingers from behind his laptop screen.

‘Pfft, that can wait,’ she closed the laptop and set it aside. ‘I missed my masseuse,’ she grinned.

‘Eh, this masseuse has had enough of her bossy client,’ I teased. ‘Her name’s Neha. She thinks just because she’s studying to be a teacher, she can teach the master of masseusery?!’

‘Wow,’ Neha laughed. ‘And this bossy client has had enough of her masseuse thinking she can invent new words, just because she’s a writer. Masseusery? Really?’ I snorted.

‘Okay, who should go first?’ Neha routinely asked. She laughed, reading the look on my face. ‘Okay I’ll go first, as usual. You’ll just end up falling asleep if I massage you first.’

‘Hey! That was one time!’ I laughed.

I shifted to the side of the mattress, giving her space to lay on her stomach. She slowly slid off her shirt, revealing black laced panties. I’d seen them many times before, yet they still had the same effect. Taking a deep breath, I perched myself on top of her, gently squeezing coconut oil onto her back. I watched her tense as it trickled down the arch of her spine. Setting the bottle aside, I spread the oil across her soft skin. My thumbs moved in circular motions up and down the edges of her spine. She moaned in approval. My hands worked their way to her neck, moving in intricate circles. Leaning forward, I rested my body on hers, running my nails along her arms. I watched goosebumps form as my nails followed their familiar route along her arms, down the sides of her back. I felt her butt twitch against me as I reached her ticklish spot. I moaned in response, gripping her hips. She giggled, placing her arms protectively by her side.

I leaned in till my mouth was inches from her neck. She stifled a moan as my breath caressed her skin.

‘M-Mary, we talked about this. I thought we weren’t going do this anymore. It’s been 3 weeks since we’ve-’

‘I’ve been counting the days too.’ I ran my lips lightly over her skin, silencing her. ‘I need you.’ Gripping her hips, I pulled her body against my warmth.

‘M-Mary. This isn’t fair on you. We talked about this-’

‘I’m done talking,’ my fragmented thought process escaped my throat in a broken whisper. ‘I’ll be fine.’

‘Are you sure?’ Neha’s body spoke on behalf of her mind. Reaching back, she placed her hand over mine. Thoughts flooded my mind.

Soon we’ll be back in Sydney. That means no walking down the hall to Neha’s room in the middle of the night when I miss her. Which was most nights. No cuddling when I feel lonely. No massages to relieve my physical pain, briefly numbing my emotional scars. It was inevitable that this would come to an end. Things would never be the same once we leave Fiji. I was willing to hold on for as long as I could, before letting go.

‘Mary?’

I silently wiped a tear away with my shoulder, staring at the back of Neha’s head. I would regret this, I knew I would. ‘I’m sure.’

Our bodies became one as our minds watched on in be-known silence.

 

 

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