I woke up in a daze. I wasn’t in my bed.
My heart started to beat faster and louder, fear rising in my throat like bile. The bitter taste sat on my tongue as I glanced around with sleepy eyes. The place was familiar. Too familiar. The lumpy sofa cushions, the faded throw rug that had been tossed on top of me, and even the yellow-tinged light that cast a worn-out glow across the room made me feel slightly uneasy but even more at home. Home. Then I remembered where I was. I remembered the bathroom, and Alfie, and crying. I didn’t remember falling asleep.
There was a noise that sounded like a kettle boiling coming from the kitchen. Cups were placed on the counter, spoons clinking as coffee was put in the cups, the pouring water still bubbling slightly, and the final stir. They were comforting noises because they all meant that there was someone else there with me, especially because it meant that Alfie was with me. The smell of coffee wafted through into the living room. The light coming through the curtains was dim. I pulled out my phone to check the time; 4PM. I had no idea how long I’d slept for. After a moment, Alfie made his way back into the living room with two mugs of coffee in his hands. He handed me one, and I sat up so that he could sit beside me, but he decided to sit on the sofa opposite me. I felt a kind of rejection flow through me, which was silly, because we’d only been talking for two days.
I watched him hold his coffee between his palms gently, slightly worried whether it was cold in the room or not. I wanted to share the throw with him, but instead I pulled it off and got up, dropping it in his lap. He looked grateful.
“So, um, how long was I asleep for?” I asked worriedly.
“A few hours. I just want to apologise, Olivia,” Alfie’s voice was rough, as though he had a throat infection or a cough. “I didn’t mean to get upset like that. I didn’t expect it to affect me as much as it did, but it just made everything feel so real. And I know I probably overstepped my mark when I held your hand and hugged you, but I just felt like we could be closer and comfort one another, because I’ve finally found someone who understands what I’ve been through. And I really hope that this isn’t going to scare you off.”
“You’re not scaring me off, Alfie. I appreciate the comfort, really. In all honesty, it feels like I’ve known you for so much longer,” I replied. I had finally said something honestly. “Thank you for helping me. And thank you for showing me the room. It really put some things into perspective, and put aspects of my mind at rest. It helped, even if we both got rather upset.”
In one corner of my mind, I was wondering whether he’d stayed on the sofa with me as I’d slept. The thought of it made my stomach leap; being held by someone was a big deal for a person with minimal physical contact with others. Even thinking about holding his hand made me feel happy and excited, let alone us actually sleeping together - in the most innocent sense of the phrase. I’d dreamt about being held and having someone, but I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to talk about or ask. Should I ask about whether we slept against each other? I asked myself, then responded with a swift no, in fear of appearing too upfront to him and being self centered. So, I stayed quiet and sipped at my coffee, still trying not to think about the bathroom or Arianne or being touched gently by Alfie as I cried. All three things made me feel horrible and uncomfortable, and I knew why. I thought I knew why, anyway.
“I’m glad, really. I don’t want to scare off the only person I can talk to,” Alfie took a sip at his coffee and pursed his lips. “I know we’ve not been talking for a very long time, but I agree. It feels like I’ve known you for so much longer and, if I’m not being appropriate by saying this, I’d like to know you for a very long time. I can tell you’re going to be someone close to me for quite a while, Olivia. Thank you for coming here.”
“You really don’t need to thank me,” I smiled gently and took a gulp of coffee, trying not to splutter when I realised how hot it was. I coughed and frowned down at my cup, and he laughed. His laugh almost made me forget how much my tongue hurt. “I guess I came here the first time for myself, not for anyone else. I don’t really know why else I came here; I don’t know whether it was because I was bored or wanted to set my mind at ease, but I’m really glad I did. It meant that we met. And that makes me very grateful. Not grateful that all of this happened, but grateful that I had the idea of coming here in the first place. Oh, I’m not making sense.”
“No, you’re making perfect sense. I’m grateful that we got to meet, regardless of the circumstances,” from across the room I could see his smile, the small curve of his lips rising up to match the glint in his eyes. I didn’t know what the glint meant, but it made my heart flutter all the same. We sat in a semi-awkward silence for a while. My eyes swooped around the room, but always ended up landing on him again and again. He sat there with his empty mug in his hands, staring back at me. I shifted. I felt slightly uncomfortable under his gaze. I started to feel slightly self conscious, and why wouldn’t I? He was perfect and extraordinary. I was plain and ordinary and small, but he seemed to still be interested in spending time with me. I didn’t know whether it was because of what we’d experienced or if we had an actual connection, but either way I was thankful. He cleared his throat and looked into my eyes from across the room, the green and blue seemed to meld into one. “Your notebook is on the table, by the way.”
I looked around in fear for it. The last time I’d seen it was when I’d left it on the sofa. After a moment I saw it sat exactly where he’d said it was, looking as plain as I did. The pen was poised on top of it. I started to panic. What if he looked in it? What if he had read what I had written about him? Then he’d know exactly who I was. No no no no no. No, he wouldn’t have read it. I picked it up and placed it in my lap protectively. I suppose he had noticed my panic, because he shook his head reassuringly.
“Don’t worry, I didn’t read any of it,” his voice was gentle. “I’m not that weird.”
“Okay, good. Not that there’s anything bad in there, but, yeah,” I was stammering. I felt caught out. I didn’t know how to explain the notebook, but he seemed to understand.
“After what happened, I used a book as a coping mechanism for a long time. I used up tens of books and still have them somewhere. Don’t worry. I know how personal and private they can be. I’m not a dick,” Alfie was smiling. “I wouldn’t read anyone’s things unless they gave me explicit permission.”
I nodded. He was so perfect. I thanked every deity in existence for the chance to meet him again. I was the luckiest girl in the world in that moment for being able to spend any amount of time in his presence.
We stayed there for a long time, just talking about everything and anything. We talked about work and friends (neither of us had many) and even coping mechanisms. Neither of us explained what we were coping with, he may have assumed that I was coping with depression or losing Arianne or something else, but I didn’t care. We just stayed there talking. After a while, he came and sat next to me. Then the sun started to go down, so he turned on the light. When he sat down again, he was sat slightly closer. We just kept on sitting there, both facing forward, talking to the wall just as much as we were talking to each other. I knew what he meant about having someone to talk to who understands. Even if he didn’t necessarily understand what was happening in my brain or what had happened to me in the past, he understood what I had just been through and how I was feeling.
I left in the twilight, making my way through the woods quickly so I didn’t get caught in there in the dark. The streets were prettier as the sky changed colours, making the houses silouhettes and the birds blacked out against pinks and blues and oranges. It was truly beautiful how the colours melded together like paints, a work of art created by people in some sort of afterlife as a way of communicating with the people who were still living and breathing in the hell still growing strong on Earth. One day, I’ll create that art, I thought, not realising that I’d told myself that one day I’d die and be in the blackness that comes after it; a void of absolute nothingness. I knew deep down in the bottom of my gut that there was nothing after that life, but the thought of being able to keep in contact with the people you loved was always a nice one. It was always comforting to think that you could see how everyone was doing, and laugh as the world grew more and more fucked.
My flat was warm when I got in. I didn’t feel like showering, so I ran myself a scalding bath and sat in it, reliving the day. The water grew cold slowly. I washed my hair and got out. I put my pyjamas on and wrote every moment of the day down in my notebook; every little detail was scribbled into lines and margins in an attempt to document the very second I fell in love.
NOTEBOOK POST #2. BOOK #1.
I can’t believe it happened. I faced one of my biggest fears. I confronted another thing from Arianne’s past. I did it. It happened. I’m having to repeat it to myself over and over to believe that it’s true.
Not to say that it wasn’t one of the most horrible things I’ve ever experienced, because it was. It hurt me and it hurt her and it hurt Alfie more than I thought it would. I didn’t like that it had hurt Alfie. Richard’s blood was everywhere still. The smell was exactly the same as it was on that day almost eleven years ago, and it hurt. It’s still stuck in my head. There was still his fucking handprint on the side of the bath. I’m pretty sure that if I had looked closer I could have probably seen his fingerprints in it. The only thing that was different was that his body wasn’t there. I suppose in a way I’d still expected it to be there, even if I had been to his funeral. The fact that everything else in the house is the same just made me wonder whether they’d left his corpse there to rot as a warning to others. My head is sick, it always has been. I hate it.
Alfie was there with me. He held my hand. He held me. I’ve never been held properly before. When I said I wanted to see the bathroom - well I didn’t say it so much as nodded to agree to it - he stood up and offered his hand to me and I swear to God my heart was going to leap out of my chest when our hands touched. I never want to touch another person’s hand. He made me feel safe and kind of happy even though I was terrified about going into that bathroom. His touch sent sparks shooting up my arm the first time our hands touched, and I knew in that moment that his hand is the only hand I want to touch from now until the end of time. His presence was overpowering, and I just want to feel him beside me for as long as possible. I never wanted to leave his side. I didn’t want to leave.
I’m not going to write about the bathroom because it was hideous and I hated it and I don’t want to think about it. It doesn’t deserve to be written down with all of the nice things that happened. ‘Nice’ isn’t the best way to describe it. I don’t know how to describe it. It was like I was dreaming it all. Being so close to him, touching his hand and his arms and his back was all just so fantastical that when I look back on it I think that I must have created it all in my head. But I didn’t. I can still feel his hand clasping mine and his fingers rubbing circles on my back and his head on my shoulder as he cried.
He cried. He cried and my heart broke more and more with each sob that rocked his body. His tears are precious and should never fall. I felt the overpowering urge to destroy everything that upset him, but then I realised that it would mean destroying myself, which wasn’t what I wanted. So I settled on thinking about making him happy, making him laugh and cradling him when he’s sad. I want to be the only person to wipe his tears away, and never be the person to cause his sadness. We fell asleep together, I think. At least, I fell asleep. I don’t know if he did. I hope he fell asleep. The thought of sleeping beside him just makes my knees weak and my heart float. I’m in the clouds and I’m not afraid of falling because I’m just going to be falling for him each and every time we see one another. I don’t know if he’s going to fall for me, and the not knowing doesn’t even worry me. I’m happy falling. Sure, I’d be happier if he fell for me, but falling is a curious sensation and I’m just content to be experiencing it for the first time in my life.
When I woke up, he wasn’t there. To be honest, not seeing him there hurt, especially because I’d fallen asleep so close to him. I want to wake up to him every day. I want to hear my name on his lips with every good morning, and see his smile every single minute. I can safely say that I had a kind of panic when I realised that he wasn’t there, because I didn’t want to be in that house on my own. If he wasn’t there, then I didn’t have the person who makes me feel safe, and I would have been vulnerable and the memories could have come back. But he came back and I felt my heart calm almost instantly. The effect he had on my was astounding. I loved it. The coffee he gave me was warm in my hands but didn’t compare to the blush that rises up my face whenever we touch. I wanted him to sit next to me and get closer and closer until we were pressed against each other, but he sat on the sofa opposite me. I was slightly offended. I reminded myself that to him, I was still an acquaintance or a friend, whereas to me he was something so perfect and wonderful that I wanted to stare at him and spend as much time with him as possible.
I don’t know how long I stayed there for, but I really didn’t want to leave. At one point, when I mentioned leaving, I thought I saw a look in his eyes that meant “don’t go”, but I could have been imagining it, because all I wanted was to be near him for as long as possible.
We hugged when I left. It was a short hug, but I tried to put everything I had into it. I don’t know if he understood or not.