In the grim, dank corner where I write this, I see that it is nearly done. For a given value of ‘done’. What does that mean to anyone? Nothing. It just means that it will stop. So look forward to that.
“You know exactly what we have to talk about,” she said and I drooped, sagging against the wall as I let my bag drop to the ground. I nodded dolefully.
“Yeah…” I said. All of a sudden I felt very, very cold. Tillie was very obviously unimpressed with my melodrama – which had been unintentional – but clearly thought better than to be sidetracked by it.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you. I was upset,” she said, straightening up but keeping her arms folded across her chest. ‘Folded’ summed her up pretty well at that moment. Normally her tail trailed behind her, but now it was a coil she was resting on, and it only looked like it was getting tighter.
“I know. I’m sorry,” I said.
“Why are you sorry?” She asked. Which stumped me immediately. My jaw flapped a moment before the rest of me gave up.
“I don’t know…”
Being English, apologizing was a reflex that didn’t require much thinking. Like blinking. And like blinking, when pointed out, it tends to make you stumble on it. Tillie didn’t have to blink which gave her an unfair advantage. Or maybe I was getting confused and lost in my own words and morose thoughts. Probably that. I noticed dolefully just how impossible it is to hide in a hall, especially when you’re already in conversation with the person you want to hide from.
“The party. We need to talk about the party,” she said. Obviously really. I felt colder.
“Oh. I thought you enjoyed it? A little bit.” Even as the words left my mouth I could feel how feeble they were, like the waft from a creaking fan on a stifling day. Not sure where that imagery came from. Probably panic.
“I didn’t. I was lying to you,” she said. I didn’t even know Tillie was capable of lying. Learn something new every day.
Thinking about it, I probably could have worked that part out on my own if I had been paying attention. But I hadn’t. Worse, I had to admit to myself that I had been deliberately ignoring it. More fool me. Turns out pretending a problem doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away. That’s the sort of thing I wish someone had told me sooner.
“I know you meant well bringing me along and it’s not your fault it’s just…I didn’t like it. There were all these people I didn’t know and all these girls and – and – and everyone was looking at me. I know people look at me. I’m – I wouldn’t say I’m used to it, but it doesn’t bother me much when they do it. But yesterday, in that room, with you – I – everyone looking at me knew I was there with you and I knew they were all thinking ‘why is he here with that’?”
“I really don’t think they were thinking that…” I said, though not being a mind-reader I lacked conviction. Maybe they were had been. What if they had been? Not that what I said mattered; Tillie continued regardless.
“And there was that one girl, the one you sat next to. She definitely didn’t know why you were there with me. I could tell. And with the way she was with you, I didn’t know why I was either. Or I started to wonder.”
“Michelle?” I asked, not entirely sure who else she might be talking about. Again, Tillie did not acknowledge what I said. Which was fair enough. I’m background noise at the best of times.
“They have – she has – things I don’t. Things I can’t have and never will. Which means she’ll always be better than me and have more to give you than I do. I want to be a lot to you, mean a lot to you, be special. If she has things I can’t ever have then it’s just not fair. I can’t do it! How can I do it? I can’t do it the way they can, I just can’t and it’s not fair!”
I did not like the tone of this conversation or the direction it was taking, even if I didn’t fully understand it. I swallowed, and once I had I still couldn’t actually say anything. Seeing me still quiet, Tillie threw hands up.
“I had no-one here, no-one! All through first year I was on my own and I was still on my own until you came here! Now I have someone, one person! Just one. You! The only person I have I can talk to a-and do fun things with and the only one who ever, ever let me even get near them. And I don’t want you to go away and I don’t want to be on my own again with no-one but I don’t have what she does and I can’t do what she could do with you and…”
I was staring at her, and she clearly noticed my blank expression. What she was saying was sad, devastating even, but I felt there was something significant I was missing. She clearly twigged this, and her shoulders slumped.
“How blunt do I have to be with you?” She asked with obvious tones of resigned despair, lights pulsing most morosely.
“Very. Very blunt, please. As blunt as you can possibly be. Hit me if it helps.”
“We can’t have sex,” she said in a rush. I think my eyes might have gone a bit wide at that. Before I could reply, she went on: “I don’t have the ladybits for it, it just won’t work. I don’t really have anything that girls have that boys like. I’m just – I mean look at me. This is me, this is just me, this is what I look like. I saw that girl, and I saw what happened when you looked at her, too.”
This made me a touch indignant.
“What happened!” I asked, desperate to defend my honour. What little I had left.
“Your face got all hot. I know what that means,” Tillie said, her tail coiling in on itself more and more. This tripped me up for a second, as I really couldn’t work out what she was driving at. Then I wondered how hot my face must have been for her to even notice. After that, I worked out exactly what she was talking about and was pretty sure my face got hot again.
“Uh…how do you know that?” I asked.
“I can see body heat,” she said, as though I already knew this. I did not know this about Tillie. First lying now this. Truly a learning experience.
“…right. That’s not…” I wanted to say ‘that’s not creepy at all’ but it really wasn’t the time, so I went no further. But I did have to finish saying something, so I picked it up: “that’s not really that important though. I mean, sure, let’s say she’s nice looking – which she is, fair play to her – but that doesn’t mean anything, you know. She’s just, well, Michelle. A nice girl I know and talk to sometimes and who hits me on the back of the head and steals my clothes for no reason. That’s it. Anything else is out of my hands. It’s all…biological responses and stuff. My body is not me. Luckily for me I have a brain sitting somewhere on top of all this that can actually help me make good decisions from to time.”
Tillie clearly had to take a second or so to actually understand and run through what the hell I had just said. To be honest, I didn’t really know what it meant anyway, it just sort of rushed of me all at once. It had sounded much more eloquent before I’d said it.
“So…what does that mean?” She asked, slowly.
“It means I like Michelle, because she’s nice, but not nearly as much or in the same way as I like you. She’s a nice person to be around, which is great. You’re special. Very special. I actively want to be around you. Or you to be around me. Or, you know, like, us together. But, uh, yeah – I think we’re getting away from what’s really important here anyway,” I said, scratching the back of my head.
“Did you say ‘ladybits’?” I asked.
“This is serious!” She said, but she couldn’t keep it straight and she – like me – broke down in giggles. She even started coughing, which is mind-bending on numerous levels for someone who doesn’t have lungs or a throat or a mouth or anything to even start the coughing process. She did it all the same anyway, defiant of reason as ever. That’s my Tillie.
Now then. There was a thought. My Tillie. That wasn’t so bad.
Not in the possessive ‘mine! Get back!’ sort of way, of course. That would be have been less fun and considerably more insulting to Tillie. More in the sense of having someone so deeply enmeshed into your life that they really do become yours in a way, and you theirs. Joined at the hip, inseparable, can’t think of one without the other, two becoming one etcetera etcetera.
Schmultzy and sickly yes, but cute too, and very compelling as far as ideas went. Now it had gotten into my head there would be no shifting it, and invariably from that point on everything was going to be tilted in one way only. Worse things had happened.
“Well, we can cross that bridge if we come to it. If we’re in a position to come to it, I mean. I, uh, damn. Have you ever heard of the expression the cart before the horse?” I asked. She shook her head.
“Uh, at what point were we actually in a relationship?” I asked. Her lights went black. Not just ‘not on’, actually, solidly black. It was pretty impressive. Also terrifying. She then basically went into actual meltdown right in front of me.
“Bu-but you – you – you were just saying and you were so nice to me and we hugged and you and you – I fell asleep on you! I – oh no oh no oh no-“
That she was so panicked she’d finally slipped up and said that she’d ‘fallen asleep’ would be useful later and I would definitely bring it up, but not yet. For now, I had to interrupt her by waving my hands about a bit.
“Sorry, I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t mean, like, we’re not in one. It’s just we sort of…we’ve sort of fallen into one, if this is one, you know? So let’s be formal, make it all clear to one another. Would you, Tillie, like this – uh, us, I guess – to be, sort of, going out? As it were?” I asked. She didn’t even wait a second.
“Yes. Yes I would,” she said, then she paused, and added: “If you want to.”
I thought about this. I had sort of been thinking about it the whole time we’d been speaking, knowing that it would all inevitably lead up to me actually having to decide something. Not good with decisions me, on the whole. I expected more confusion and indecision on my part, more vacillating and umming and ahhing. But with that moment having finally arrived, it all snapped into focus.
I thought about ‘my Tillie’ again. I thought about the things she’d said, the looks we’d undeniably got at the party the previous night, the bruises on my ribs (which I’d almost forgotten about at this point, to be fair), her dozing off in my arms, that little tremor than constantly ran through her. The jokes, the ‘good mornings’. That spring in my step I tended to have nowadays whenever I was heading home. There was a lot to think about, and not a lot of time to do it in. It all seemed pretty obvious though, even before I’d started. I did want to.
“Yes. Let’s. We can start right now,” I said and I could not help but grin, the most glorious feeling right in the pit of my stomach. Like being a kid all over again.
“Really?” She asked in genuine surprise, maybe taken aback by my sudden burst of enthusiasm.
“Yeah! I mean, it could all go horribly wrong and we might end up hating each other, but we won’t know if we don’t try, eh?”
“Don’t say that…” She said sadly. Go me.
“I’m joking, Tillie. I’ll always like you, no matter what happens,” I said, spreading my arms “Would you like a hu-“
She shot at me like a damn train and hit me round the middle hard, slamming me back into the front door, my head snapping back into the frosted glass with a ‘thunk’. That was a surprise, not to mention painful. But still oddly adorable. Wincing, I smiled anyway and put my arms around her back as hers wrapped about my waist. Her head was pressing into my chest, which was slightly new. I guess having a tail meant you could sort of vary a bit with your exact height, which worked out well in this case. I smiled.
“You’re so little…” I said.
Then, without really thinking about it too much, I bent my head down and put a little kiss on the plate that covered the top of her head. I don’t know why. I just did. She was just there and it just felt like the thing I had to do. So I did. She made a squeaking sound and hugged me harder.
“We’ll be alright, I think. I think we’ll be alright,” I said to her. Just to her. Just to my Tillie.