Thursday, May 7, 2009

darlington road

The sheets swish, and I raise my head from the pillow to look down the length of his blue checked comforter, bathed in late afternoon sunlight. Oh, I see- he moved his feet. For a second there I thought he’d gone, but no, there’s his breath on my back. I hitch the covers up to my chin and nestle deeper into the pillow while he snakes his arm underneath mine, bringing it to lie across my chest.

“Don’t fall asleep,” he murmurs somewhere behind my right ear. I smile, and push my back into his chest.

“I won’t.”

***

“Fucking phone, I wear to god, if you don’t stop ringing-“ and like magic, it stops. My hand gropes the floor, feeling amidst the cheap, thin carpet for a cheap, thin cell phone. The buttons beep as I pick it up, checking the last missed call. It’s him.

I turn on my side and let the phone rest on my cheekbone while it calls him, searching through all of Sydney for his, buried in his pocket. Ring, ring. Shit, I should have answered.

“Hey Bubbi. What are you doing?” Every time, his accent is like new, sending a shiver down my spine. Every time, picturing his smile makes me smile.

“I’ve just got up. My head is killing me- must have been the wine last night.”

“Poor baby. Never go drinking on a school night, that’ll teach ya. Got class today?”

I groan at the unwelcome reminder that I have to sit through yet another lecture, one in a series that I’m pretty sure was designed for the specific purpose of giving me a headache or putting me to sleep.

“Yes, in a few hours. Have you?” I can hear him clicking the mouse of his computer in the background. He must be checking his email.

“Already been, love. I’m done for the day.” More clicking.

“Right well, I’m going to have a shower. Should I come over after lecture?” I know he’ll say yes, he does every time, but somehow it still feels more polite to ask. Something about me just can’t assume it’s ok, though I have good reason to.

“Yep. Call me when you’re downstairs.”

***

“Now, Aphrodite was more that just the goddess of love. In one myth, she even…” I know I should be writing this down but somehow all I can think about is going to see him. It’s strange; I thought I would spend this time here alone, getting used to my own company again. But then she dragged me to that party and his smile- I was a sucker for it from the start. I don’t even really know how it happened. If you asked me all I could tell you was that one minute I was looking at her, and the next minute I was totally blindsided by his smile and the hair dangling in front of his eyes. I remember in particular the way he held his beer: in his right hand, fingers slightly splayed but loose, elbow at a right angle and kept close to his body. He used the bottle to gesture, especially when he made jokes.

“Apollo, now, he’s a character…” I check my phone and decide that I can’t take another hour of this. Gathering my things as quietly as possible, I slip out of the auditorium and walk through the sun-lit quad. There are birds of paradise blooming along all the buildings, tempting me to pick just one.

As I come to the corner I pull my phone out of my bag and dial. It rings while I walk across the street to the door. Standing underneath his terrace I can her his phone ringing inside. Why doesn’t he-

“Oi!” He’s leaning over the railing, his hair flopping forward and his shirt floating away from his chest. “Catch!”

I snatch the keys out of the air and turn the correct one in the lock. The heavy door shuts loudly but I don’t care, I’m already halfway up the stairs, my fingertips skipping along the banister. As soon as I’m inside his room I shut the door and take off my shoes, leaving them in the tiny space next to the closet.

“Hello, Bub. Good day?” he walks over and wraps me up, smelling like sunshine and warm cotton from being on the terrace. My arms encircle his shoulders as his do the same to my waist, just under my ribs.

“Better now.” For all that I pretend not to like him that much – to myself and to her – I do. He’s a good man, when he’s not stuck in his own head rethinking and rethinking things.

“Come lay down,” he entreats, pulling the covers back. I slip under, turning my back to him so that there’s enough room for both of us. Damn this incredibly tiny bed.

***

When I wake up I think at first that I didn’t sleep at all, but then I realize that he’s not in bed, he’s at his desk, and it’s dark out. “Shit, I’m sorry.”

At the sound of my voice he looks up and over at me, and smiles. He gets up and comes over to climb into bed with me, and I turn over with my back to the wall so that I can look at him as we talk, cheek pillowed in one hand.

“Nothing to be sorry about,” he says, pushing away a piece of hair that’s ruining my line of vision. “I’ve just been thinking while you were sleeping.”

“Really? What about?” He pauses, looks at where his hand is resting on the sheets between us.

“Well, I don’t know quite how to say this and I don’t want you to take it the wrong way, but, I love you. I’m not really sure in what way except that you’re a good friend to me and you’re there for me and I really appreciate that. So I just wanted to tell you.”

A million things go through my mind in the tenth of a second that I hesitate: he’s picking at the fabric of the comforter, there’s a lock of hair sticking in the sweat on my neck, itching, the image of our hips reflected in the mirrors on the closet doors, finally the actual words. And then the realization: I can’t say it back and still be truthful. I won’t say it back, if it’s not truthful.

“Listen, you don’t have to say anything because it’s not a big like ‘I love you’, it’s just that you mean a lot to me. That’s all.” he looks up, tilting his head on the hand it’s resting on. I rest my hand on his bicep, saying “Well you’ve been the same for me. So thank you.” Even as I say them, the words sound lame, obtuse, anything but genuine even though I mean them. Thankfully he doesn’t hear it that way and pulls me close, throwing me off balance and pushing my trachea into his shoulder. When we pull apart we’re both smiling, though I can’t for the life of me figure out why I am. Isn’t this what I tried to avoid all those times I reminded him that I was leaving? And what about the night I told him I thought we should just be friends? Even as he left that night I knew I had hurt him irreparably, and bless him, he gave me another chance. I never told him I had the feeling I’d do it again when I left.

He lays down on his back and pulls me into him, my head coming to rest in the nook between his head and shoulder. His other arm is flung above his head, and I run my hand from his stomach up to the tips of his fingers and back again. Eventually I feel his breathing slow and deepen, his arm around my shoulders relax. I stare at the expanse of grey plaid covering his chest and wonder: could I? Do I? What do I say if this happens again? Over and over the questions ask themselves, butting up against the walls of my skull and rebounding only to whisk past invisible answers on their way to ricochet from the white bone for another time.

Gingerly I roll over and in the process both wake him and knock my knee against the wall, hard. Damn this incredibly tiny bed. My cheek rests on his bicep and I reach up my hand to rub his palm, then entwine my fingers with his. I feel his other hand on my shoulder, first on the bare skin, then pulling up the sheet to cover it and coming to rest there.

“I’ll walk you home in a bit. Don’t fall asleep,” comes from his lips somewhere behind me, the words already trailing off as he starts again to doze.

“I will.”

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