Good News


3. draft

Josh’s mum would take Ella, Josh and me out for lunch most weekends. She had this way of asking questions that made it hard to tell whether she was looking straight through you or genuinely excited about every word you said. 


Her husband, Josh’s dad, had walked out on them when Josh was about twelve; turns out he had had another partner, another kid, for years. Occasionally she would just start crying these big horrible tears into her pasta or potato salad and Josh would have to take her outside and hold her like dad holds me. Then they would both sit down, act as if nothing had happened, and she would ask one of those intensely uninterested questions. 


I didn’t really mind answering some awkward questions in exchange for a free lunch and a few hours with Ella and Josh, but the crying was never nice. It made for uncomfortable lunches.


“So, Ella, have you made a decision about university yet?” And then that look. 


“I was thinking I might go to dance college.” Unsure whether to expand on this statement, Ella bit her lip, nodded, and was silent. 


“Josh is thinking of applying to Oxford, aren’t you honey?”


Josh was not thinking of applying to Oxford, Josh was thinking about touring Europe with his band. 


“Maybe. It depends on what the music course is like.”


“What about Liberal Spring Park and the songs you were going to record?” I said it just to see what would happen, but I knew from the look Josh gave me that it would been much better for all of us if I had said nothing.


“Josh isn’t thinking about that anymore, July. Josh is thinking of applying to Oxford, to study music or classics.” And that was that. “What do you think you will do?”


“I’m not really thinking about it. Maybe have a year off.” I had become very aware of how adults took the fun out of talking about yourself. Wait until it was just the three of us to start planning next year.  


I wonder if Josh knew how weird his mum’s questions were. I glanced at him, but his focus was very much on folding half a pizza into a thick wedge that could be eaten in three bites. Maybe he thought the same about my dad, maybe that was just what being an adult was: asking these boring questions you didn’t want to know the answer to and the person being asked didn’t want to share with you.


The rest of the lunch went by pretty well and Josh’s mum was in the bathroom when Ella knocked her half full or half empty coke all over my bag. She started to laugh, then couldn’t stop laughing, so I started laughing and so did Josh. 


I was laughing so hard that my ribcage ached and my eyes started to water. The kind of laughter that inexplicably possesses you. Every time I thought I could stop it, I would look at Josh or Ella and one of us would start all over again. Then I realised I couldn’t breath. I went to take a gulp of air but these deep spasms, it wasn’t laughter anymore, pushed it away. Literally pushed the air back out of my mouth. My body wouldn’t let me take a breath. 


Ella and Josh had stopped laughing now.


This would be the first time Josh had seen me have a panic induced heart attack and the thought of that, and quickly after that the thought of what he would think, made it so much worse. Ella was reaching out to grab my hand as everything started to go slow motion. My focus was on the uneaten pizza crusts on the table but they were bobbing like fishing floats pulled under the surface of the water and the room was dimming like the F1 key being held down and the brightness on a computer screen fading to nothing and all these metaphors were actually in my head then and there while I tried to keep my eyes on the pizza crust and...


Josh was standing over me, which meant I was laying on the floor, which meant I had passed out. 


“What happened?” That is the only suitable thing to say after passing out. 


“You passed out.” And that is the only suitable thing to reply. 


He moved to a crouch so that he could talk to me in a soft voice meant for no one else. 


“Ella told me about... about the attacks. I wish you had told me.” His voice had an edge of concern to it that I had never heard from him before. 


I hadn’t told him because I was embarrassed, but more than this I thought he wouldn’t care. He was Josh; Josh who liked playing football and guitar and not talking much; Josh who hung out with us because he lived next door to Ella and we had all grown comfortable with the idea when we were too young to question why.  


“Are you OK?”


My breathing was normal now and I was so used to the heavy beat of my heart I could ignore it. I nodded a yes and looked round. We were still in the pizza place and everyone was twisting their neck to get a glimpse of whatever was happening, their dinner enhanced by the anecdote they could tell the next day. Ella and Josh’s mum were standing next to me, I hadn’t noticed them because of Josh’s prominence and they seemed happy to let him take charge.


I could have stayed on the tiled floor for hours while Josh whispered his concern into my ear. He gripped my arm to help me stand, not like dad gripped me or Ella held my hand, like something completely different and other worldly. My heart was still beating hard, because it always beat hard, but not with anxiety so much. And then I knew that I loved him and never wanted him to let me go. Who until a few minutes ago had just been Josh. That if he stood over me or crouched next to me I would be safe and I wouldn’t feel like this anymore. 


And then I knew that I was going to ruin everything for all of us.    

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