Further blathering in this nonsense tale about nothing
This sort of crisis-management thinking was not my strong point. Everything that had gone wrong today poked and prodded at my brain and the numerous, overwhelming possibilities of everything else that could also happen boiled up from the base of my skull. My jaw clenched.
It was probably a mistake. Had to be a mistake. That explanation made sense. There was no-way Michelle would have ever done anything like that deliberately, at least not with me. Had someone else been sitting where I had been sitting then it might have been deliberate, but they had not, I had been, so it was unthinkable. Definitely a mistake. Had to be a mistake.
This excuse did not get me very far, as even I was only willing to believe so much. There was very little I could do to soften the simple reality that she had, in fact, and in full possession of herself, kissed me. And known it was me when she had done it. It was something she had meant to do. Was it something she’d thought about doing? Had she, perhaps, thought about doing it about as much as I had thought about it? More? I wasn’t sure it was something I wanted to find out, and whether it would help me even if I did. More pressingly, why had she waited exactly until I had an actual, formal, bonafide relationship with someone else before doing anything about it? It wasn’t as if I’d been locked down at any point in me knowing her, and it wasn’t as if she hadn’t known that.
I stopped myself short of comparing nice girls to busses with a tendency to appear in clusters, as that was likely something someone would take offence to. Not that anyone had access to my thoughts. But still. It might slip out if I thought it, and then I’d be in trouble. More trouble than I was already in. Oh God, was I in trouble? I probably was. This was the sort of thing that made people upset when they found out about it. Tillie was the sensitive type. Very sensitive. It wouldn’t take much to destroy her. This would do more than that. Oh God.
She’d told me, too. Tillie had said she wanted me to stay away from Michelle and I hadn’t and now this had happened. Did Tillie know this would happen? Maybe she was just afraid something like it would happen. But it did happen! Something like it happened! It wasn’t my fault though, I didn’t know. But that doesn’t matter. I should have known I should have listened. I’m in so much trouble.
Who does that, anyway? Who kisses someone like that? That sort of thing doesn’t actually happen, surely? That it did – and to me! Me! – must be some sign that I’d stumbled into a dream or fantasy. Or maybe this was all a practical joke. That must be it. Not a mistake, a joke. Michelle was like that, wasn’t she? Always with the dopeslaps and the nicking my clothes. Definitely a joke.
I could go back and check. No, no. Terrible idea.
Oh God, what was I supposed to do? This was my fault. I should have known better. I could have just stayed away. Should have done. No cake was worth this. Nothing was worth this! I felt dreadful.
Lord Michelle had been beautiful though.
Now why was I thinking that? That’s not an appropriate thought. You should be thinking of a way to resolve this with saving everyone’s feelings. Your feelings are more or less expendable in this, because they are crude; Tillie and Michelle however should be accommodated. Wait, is that patronising? I mean, they are persons with agency, is it my job to look out for them like that? Yes, yes; this is my fault, after all.
There was no way this was going to go well, what are you thinking.
It was going to be horrible, naturally. Knowing my abilities of digging myself deeper and ramming my foot in it, there was no way I could be relied upon to talk my way out of it. Ignore it? No, not an option.
This must be what being an adult felt like. Confusing and stomach churning. Why would anyone want to be an adult, again?
A hand on my shoulder appeared and I stopped walking. That wasn’t my hand. It took me a second or so to connect the hand with the raised voice I had only half-heard before, and which had apparently been directed at me. Blinking, I looked up and around and saw a group of three lads perhaps my age, one the owner of the hand on my shoulder. All were looking at me.
“Yes?” I asked, bamboozled. Was there something on my face? Chocolate maybe? People didn’t usually stop me to talk to me, and these guys looked like they had a reason for doing so. Maybe even a good one. Maybe.
“Hey yeah, him. I know this guy,” one of them said, wagging a finger in my direction. I pointed to my chest and he nodded.
“You do?” I asked. I could not for the life of me think of where – if anywhere – I had seen this person before. But then again, I didn’t exactly have a good head for faces in the first place. Maybe he was actually my best friend and I’d just forgotten. Then again, maybe not. Looking at him, not wishing to jump to conclusions, I had the impression we probably wouldn’t get on. Just a feeling. Call it a baseless assumption.
“Yeah, I do. He’s that guy who’s fucking the robot.”
Not so baseless anymore. No, I definitely feel we wouldn’t be friends. I had decided this now.
I opened my mouth to reply but really couldn’t actually think of where to start with that. His wrongness was like a perfect sphere; there was no angle of attack that was better than any other, and it was so hard and so dense I’d likely just glance off anyway even if I tried. All efforts at forming a coherent argument in my head having failed I grasped falteringly at the air in front of me and said the only thing left to me:
“Yeah mate it’s definitely you. I’ve seen you around, you know? I told you it was him,” he said, the last part directed at one of his friends. Maybe it was just because I didn’t really like them, but they all looked vaguely similar to me; as though someone had just grabbed a bunch of features from a sack and thrown them onto mannequins and then copied the results.
Although, as said, this was probably just because I didn’t like them. Whatever rising terror and panic about my current, highly confusing situation I’d had had been almost instantly replaced with mounting irritation, maybe even approaching anger. I hadn’t been properly angry for a while, and the feeling was novel but Either way, the guy’s friend certainly seemed to think this was something worth chuckling about.
What on earth was happening? First, Michelle, a friend, figures that today is a good day to kiss me out of nowhere, now I’m being accosted by random strangers for dumb reasons. Was I still asleep? Was this a deeply mundane but deeply unpleasant dream I was due to wake up from at any moment? What was wrong with these people?
“Couldn’t find a real girl?” the taller of the two lads hanging back said, doing a great ‘I’m talking quietly but not quietly enough you won’t hear’ voice. I squinted at him, mouthed ‘what’ and pinched the bridge of my nose. How is a person supposed to react to something like? I genuinely had no experience or any real idea. Why would anyone even say that to another person? To what end? This was not a situation I would have been able to parse on a good day, and today had taken a steep dive not long ago into not very good at all.
“I’m sure there’s a riveting and worthwhile conclusion to this but could we cut to that? I’ve got shit to be, places to do,” I said. Far too eloquent. I was starting to sweat in the way I always did in vaguely confrontational situations, not helped by the looks on the faces of the three which made it fairly obvious they weren’t taking this as lightly as I apparently was. The one with his hand – still – on my shoulder looked especially deadpan about it all.
“They’re just not natural, mate. You get me?” He asked.
“Disgusting…” hissed the tall one, who seemed to have very strong feelings on the matter. He was certainly giving me a powerful evil eye, as though my actions had personally harmed him. The remaining one just seemed to enjoy chuckling a lot, to the extent the noise was starting to grate in my ears.
“I really don’t get you, no,” I said. At this point I decided that it would probably be best to walk away. After all, how could they possibly counter that masterstroke?
Turned out, they could counter it by gripping me harder and pulling back. Cunning. Yanked off balance I tottered a bit and probably lost what little dignity I had left at that point. The lad holding me had a look of aggrieved bewilderment on his face, while the tall one looked even angrier than he had before.
“We’re just trying to help you out. A lot of people have noticed, they’re all talking about it, it doesn’t look good,” the first lad said, finally removing his hand. I could not really understand what he had just said. The words made sense, but they conveyed a message that made no sense to me.
“My primary concern isn’t looking good, thanks. Now can you let go of my shoulder so I can move away?”
This, apparently, was the straw that broke the tall boy’s back as the moment I’d finished speaking he pushed forward towards me.
“You’re a fucking disgrace,” he said. Or spat, more accurately.
I did not expect him to hit me. I probably should have done, but I didn’t. My body had been braced from almost the moment it had picked up on the waves of aggression coming off of him but my brain had clearly not accepted that people still hit one another in this day and age. They did. And it hurt when they did, too. That much hadn’t changed since the last time someone had punched me in the face, which admittedly had been some years ago now.
There was that tiny, infinitesimal sliver of time when the body moves away from the impact. Like the instant you fall into freezing water but for a split-second you seem to think everything’s fine until your nerves notice what happened. That was that moment. Then the reflexes that told my skull to move away from the blow came and I jerked back harder. Then the pain happened, and it was fairly considerable. Stumbling back, hands whipping up to my face, I was too stunned to really have any strong feelings about how they came away with blood on them. He’d burst my eyebrow. Ouch. That stung.
“Motherf-” I started saying, only to have another fist – maybe even the same one, I really couldn’t tell – drive into my gut and double me over.
Being a guy (and maybe ladies do it too, I don’t know) I had of course spent many a fruitful minute daydreaming to myself about what I would do if a fight broke out. You pass that one guy in the street, he stares for no real reason, you consider all the ways you could easily take him in two blows. Three tops.. I’m pretty sure everyone does that. Turns out though that I’m basically a massive wimp, or at least that fighting isn’t as easy as it looks. It’s hard consider one’s next move when all the air has been knocked out one’s lungs.
“It’s broad fucking daylight! What are you doing!” I heard another of the lads growling, seeing feet scuffle from the corner of my (blurred) vision. Peering up and wheezing I saw the tall one being wrestled back by the other two. He struggled against them – for whatever reason, to keep beating me presumably? That’d help the situation – briefly before calming, or at least stopping trying to fight them.
“It’s fine, there’s no-one here, but we should go,” said the one who had up until this point only been chuckling. He had a deeper voice than I expected. He wasn’t wrong, either; the normally busy route to and from uni was, barring us, deserted. How unusual. Obviously a day for the unusual.
I just about managed to resume breathing again properly, but it was uncomfortable, and I certainly didn’t feel like standing up anytime soon. Resting my hands on my thighs I stayed bent, wheezing, feeling my face beginning to swell and throb. That was probably going to leave a mark.
“I’m cool, I’m fine, he just pissed me off, smug fuck,” the tall bay said, straightening himself out as the group turned. He spared me one last glare, jabbing two fingers in my direction “Be watching you, shithead.”
And then they walked away, just like that. I raised one shaking hand to give them as much of a wave as I thought I could manage before I had to return the hand to steadying myself.
“Good talk guys. Really felt like we made a connection. The connection of your fists with my pallid, yielding flesh. Meaningful connection, guys, thanks. Ow ow my face and gut, ow…” I croaked, trailing off into a wince as I tentatively brought the same, shaking hand up to touch at my eyebrow. My eyebrow objected in forceful terms and I winced.
“Ow…broad daylight, man…that guy had some strong opinions…and maybe a strong swing, I have no frame of reference…ow, ow…” I muttered, squatting down to continue catching my breath.
What the hell had that been?