This has no structure.
Not a massive surprise given it started life as a one-off thing, I suppose, but unhelpful now that it is longer. But there you go.
Thinking further, what gets to me – as I think rather a lot – is my utter lack of devotion to any of my characters. This is the longest thing I’ve done with, like, contiguous characters in it and I feel nothing for any of them.
Is that normal?
Following on, life became by turns average and also sickeningly lovey-dovey – though never at the same time.
When they were average they were average for old, predictable reasons. There was uni work that needed doing, bins that needed taking out when the rubbish finally started to peek out over the top, bills that needed paying and so on. That stuff was dull, but necessary. The lovey-dovey stuff was new and also considerably more fun. The giggling on Tillie and my parts had yet to stop. We couldn’t really help it.
We made an effort to meet up on campus more often. This was primarily my idea. Learning that Tillie’s days at uni tended to consist of her slouching silently from class to class – occasionally hiding in the library if she had reading that needed doing – but generally going home as quickly as possible once she was done had made me a little sad.
I did not like to think of her spending her days there in the quiet and on her own. So I would hang around when my own paltry seminars and lectures were done so I could leap out and walk with her where she needed to go or follow her to the library and bug her when she needed to do reading. I’m not sure she appreciated the second part quite as much, but it was hard to tell. She put up with it, which was enough, and even when me stern looks to be quiet her lights were still a very comforting shade that made me smile. Not that I knew what shade, but that’s a paltry detail.
Today was not one of those days, however. Today I had seen Tillie in the morning before she left and that had been about it. Our schedules did not match today. My schedule did match with Michelle’s though, which was why – following the extremely short-notice illness of the person who was meant to be taking our seminar – we were sat outside waiting for divine inspiration to tell us what to do next. So far, we had nothing.
We’d managed to pick out one of the numerous picnic-type tables that dotted campus for no discernable reason. In fact, our conversation had roamed over why these tables were all over the place, at least once we’d finished kvetching about being left in the lurch at such short notice.
Our combined theory that we’d worked on was that drunk people had moved them from where they supposed to be to where their drunk minds and drunk strength had told them would work better. We both agreed that this explanation was overwhelmingly likely, especially given the otherwise inexplicably isolated location of our particular table, which gave a commanding view of the valley but was otherwise too far away from anything to be of any real use. With that pivotal issue settled we moved on.
“We could have lunch?” I suggested, watching a knot of people I didn’t know meander off into the distance. Their day finished early, if they were going home already. Then again, my day was done at this point too. I was just staying put because I had no real reason not to. From the corner of my eye I saw Michelle shake her head.
“I’m not really hungry,” she said.
“I am…” I said dolefully. I wasn’t, really. I was mostly bored. This amounted to the same thing a lot of the time.
Michelle yawned and stretched and I fought the urge to watch her do it. It was perverse, but I had heard it said then when she stretched all the way up on a big yawn her shirt rode up a little around the middle. I had not of course ever observed this myself. Never. And had no desire to observe it again. Not even a little bit. That would have been unbearably sleazy and made me feel a bit guilty and filthy. I kept my eyes on the hill and the people I did not recognize who were now disappearing from view.
“Aren’t you meant to be having lunch with your, uh, friend?” Michelle asked once she had recovered from her full-body yawn. I was a tiny bit surprised about this, as I didn’t think anyone else had noticed. I certainly hadn’t made a point about telling anyone about that, and it didn’t strike me as particularly likely that Tillie had told Michelle, given her expressed opinions on Michelle. Speaking of which, I realized at that point I was hanging around with Michelle, though I couldn’t remember if I was supposed to be doing that or not. What had Tillie and me decided on? If anything? Should I be nervous about that? Probably best to just ignore it.
“Tillie? Yeah, most days. Just not today. Schedule clash,” I said, not nervous at all or in the slightest.
“Right,” Michelle said with a firm nod and that was that. I wasn’t sure what had just happened.
Nothing was said for a moment or two and I was about to say something – probably something incredibly witty and sparkling and dazzling – when Michelle dropped her bag onto the table with a thump and completely derailed my train of thought.
“If you’re hungry I think I have cake in here,” she said, digging around the depths of her bag. This was not what I expected, but I was not going to question providence when cake was involved.
“You have cake?” I asked.
“I have cake. I think I have cake. Leftover from one I made for a friend. Their birthday or something, you know how it is. Aging.”
“Can I see this cake?” I asked, moving a bit further along the bench. She rolled her eyes.
“Alright. But keep it on the down-low, yeah? Don’t want everyone wanting a piece.”
“Oh, of course not,” I said, flicking my eyes to the various, oblivious people dotted around campus. They were a fair way away from us it was true, but I had my eye on them all the same. Cake-thieves, every last one of them. Probably.
Michelle produced a Tupperware container some moment later and laid it on the table in front of us. Within it lurked tissue and slices of cake, semi-visible through the plastic. Popping the lid off she fished one out and handed it over. I found it dense and hefty, which was rather how I liked my cake, as a rule. Conscious of her watching me I brought it up and, trying a bite, found it utterly wonderful. Not precisely the apex of chocolate cake but certainly up there, at least with my limited experience.
I proceeded to cram the rest in with as little grace as I could manage. It occurred to me that a lesser person might have asked how old the cake was before putting in their mouth. For me, this was not a concern. Only a fool looks gift-cake in the mouth, that’s what I say.
“You made this?” I asked through a mouthful. The very picture of couth sophistication. Michelle gave me a somewhat disapproving smile.
“It’s rude to talk when you’re eating, you know. And yes. Is this a big surprise to you?” She asked. Mindful now of just how much cake was actually in my mouth I chewed as demurely as possible and swallowed. It felt like it took an incredibly long time and I was acutely aware of Michelle’s eyes staying on me the whole time. But I got it done.
“I imagine you could ably turn your hand to just about anything. I’d just never really thought about you baking a cake before,” I said. This was true. Michelle leaned in a little closer, which I did not expect. Her eyes did not leave mine, however much mine might have wanted to maybe look somewhere else. Which they did. Just not much at that moment, for whatever reason. She had big eyes. Must have been gravity. The pull exerted by big, big eyes.
“What have you thought about me doing?”
I swallowed, and still could not look away.
“Has anyone ever told you you have big eyes?” I asked. This did not appear to be what she had expected me to say, as she blinked and cocked her head ever so slightly to the side.
“Is that a good thing?”
“I think so. But that’s me,” I said, finally able to tear my eyes away and glancing casually at just about everything I could that wasn’t her. Grabbing a loose napkin from inside the plastic container – I hadn’t noticed those up until this point, for whatever reason – I dabbed my face to clear up errant chocolate. That stuff could get everywhere.
The bench creaked as Michelle slid closer, eliminating any remaining distance between us. Looking down I saw her leg touching mine and for reasons that were not entirely clear my face got very hot all of a sudden.
Oh dear. I remembered why faces got hot. Tillie had told me. Wait, no, she’d pointed it out, and I’d explained it, I was just ignoring it. I could feel the panic coming back again, however much I tried to shove it down.
“I, uh, yeah. Really good cake. Never had you, ah, uh, down as a baker. Not that I didn’t – you know – think you were capable or anything it was just – I mean, it just wasn’t something I, uh…” I stared at my hands while I babbled uselessly, as it seemed the be the best and safest place to look. I could feel Michelle next to me as this sort of solid, impossible to ignore presence radiating heat. She really was incredibly close; turned my way and leaning in. I could hear her breathing, which did make me worry she could hear mine, too. I glanced up.
“You-“ I started to say, and I would probably have said something quite profound had Michelle not interrupted me. I still trying to put one word in front of the other when she took hold of my head with both hands, tipped my face up to hers and pressing her lips to mine. Filling my face with cake was not an action I thought would have led into, well, anything like this. Getting kissed. Didn’t see that coming.
I would have been lying to myself if I said I’d never thought about it happening.
‘Thought’ perhaps not the right word. Fantasized, maybe. Longed after. Intensely desired. Just a bit. In the irrational, grabby, hedonistic part of the brain that keeps running underneath what your sensible mind tells you life should be like. The part that wants to keep eating even when you’re full or wants to order another drink even though you can barely even pronounce your own name anymore. The part that wants fun without consequences. That part had wanted it to happen.
But the actual, thinking me knew it shouldn’t. Not like this, and not now. Making it worse was that it was far, far better than I had even imagined. Even with it being sudden and unexpected – maybe because of that. It was good. Really, really good. But why did she have to do it now. Why did she have to feel so soft and warm and hold me so tightly so closely to her and look so beautiful with her eyes closed the way they were. My heart felt like it was trying to beat its way out of my ribcage and everything seemed frozen.
The split-second our lips touched seemed to just go on and on and on until I got enough of a grip of myself – after that tortuous, yawning stretch of no time at all – to disentangle myself. Since I was still sitting down, this did not work out in my favour. Catching my legs on the bench I fell flat on my back with a thump I felt in what seemed to be every important part of my body. Ignoring that and also ignoring that I seemed to have knocked all the air from my lungs I scrambled away from the table as quickly as I could (which hurt, but what can you do), frantically grabbed my bag from where it had been quietly sitting and lurched up onto my feet.
“ThankyouforthecakeMichellebutIreallyhavetogonowseeyoulater,” I blurted before leaving as quickly as I could without looking like I was sprinting.
Michelle made no moves to follow me and said nothing. Or at least I didn’t notice either of these things, but then again I was keeping my head down, my eyes on my shoes and trying not to think about turning back to look at her. I watched the grass beneath me turn to tarmac as I hit the path out of campus and followed it on instinct.
Trying and failing to keep my mind solely on what my lower body was doing and nothing else, errant thoughts about what had just happened kept poking and prodding and worming their way in. This was bad. If I started to think about that, I would have to start thinking about what had to happen next, and that would hurt.
Michelle had smelled nice. I’d forgotten about that. Tillie didn’t really smell of anything, and I’d got used to it. I had forgotten that this was unusual, and not the other way around.
I stopped staring at my feet for a moment to look up at the path stretching ahead of me. It disappeared off into woods and some generic housing a bit further ahead. Home seemed a long, long way away, and I knew I’d have to spend the whole way there thinking. Thinking about what to do, and thinking about how horrific anything and everything I could possibly do would be. This was not a situation there was any easy way out of. This I knew with absolute certainty.
Up until that point in my life I had never really understood why people sometimes wished the earth would just swallow them whole. Now I understood it, though I wished I did not.