I asked Johnny to come too but he was just being lame. He was all 'I gotta go to the mall, Evie' -- and wanted us to hang around Cinnabon trying to meet the girl who works there. She probably already thought I was the one in love with her cause of the number of times I'd done Johnny's stupid missions. His plan was for me to find some things out about her which he could then coincidentally mention in conversation when they apparently met for the first time. Whatever. Sooner or later she was gonna find out he was just a dick. Mind you, a lot of girls seemed to go for that. Not me. Johnny'd been hanging around the same places as me for so long he was more like a brother. He was charming, there was no doubt - but he had this annoying ability to screw things up for people, especially me - and he seemed to revel in it. I got enough of that at home where nothing was ever quite good enough. Mum and Dad weren't talking much these days and when I'd announced that I was moving out they started measuring up the same day for a new home office.
I was hatching plans of my own and had no intention of spending my day with Johnny in some luminous foodcourt at Southgate Mall. I mean god, I did that when I was like 12 and my idea of a good time was an Orange Julius and some fluorescent yellow shoelaces.
And anyway, I was still kinda pissed with Johnny since he'd made me and Dan kiss. It was nice, don't get me wrong â€“ but the sound of Johnny laughing after kinda meant that it would never happen again. Shame, cause Dan was quality. He was kinda quiet and different - he had whatyoumachallit - yeah, that's it - hidden depths.
In the afternoon I decided to ride down to Tenth Ave and see who was around and who might be up for going dancing. Mindless bop bop bopping always appealed to me and I knew who might be there on 80's night. The last three weeks I'd ended up dancing next to this tall guy with great cheekbones. We'd dance and smile and then just as the lights flashed to announce the last song of the night, he'd dash for a cab. Anyway, tonight I was gonna try and ward him off at the pass. Carpe diem and all that Robin Williams shit, yeah? I got on my BMX and headed for Tenth.
As soon I was on that fluffy pink saddle I felt that languid suburban summertime feeling of just cruising around looking for something to do. I wound my way through houses and strip malls and I thought about what might happen tonight and how it might be different from the thing I had going on with a certain beautiful dangerous little man. It's the kind of thing you can never explain to anyone else. I mean, the last few weeks he'd been letting himself into my new place in the middle of the goddam night to get into bed with me. I'd be half awake and we would lie there together, naked, holding each other. I always knew he was just drunk but somehow it was beautiful and intense. In the morning I'd leave for work or classes with him stretched out on the sheets. I could make up any old story about our happy life together without ever having to do much. Sometimes though I did wonder what he would've said if I called him up in the daytime on my own terms. But I had the whole summer ahead of me to work out these problems and for the moment life was cafes, kitchens and too much gin.
I pulled my bike up just before the bridge and decided to stop in at the Sugarbowl Cafe. It was usually a good place to hook up with people and make some plans for the night. I propped the BMX up against the big front windows of the cafe and had a quick scan. Lowden and Tina were there and I nodded but we didn't talk. They were holding hands across the table and looking all goth-intense. I saw that guy James from my English lecture with a couple of girls in the big booth and wondered for a minute if Dan might show. I didn't know what to say to him anyway. I sat down with a coffee and I guess I finally worked out that I could've said something about it so that Johnny's plan didn't work. But, as it was, Johnny's plan worked perfectly; and me and Dan, whatever it was we had, suddenly disconnected from one another. And that was that. What an asshole Johnny was.
'He's just been breaking into the house'. I'm telling Laura the story over coffee.
Laura breathes in. 'What? Oh my god, how?'
I tell the story again.
'I was just lying in bed the other night and he walks in, takes off his clothes and gets into bed--like we've been hanging out for years. It was so crazy'.
'So? C'mon Evie, what happened?' She leans closer.
I smile to myself and take a moment to think how I'm gonna tell it. I don't want to give away all the joy of it. I want to keep the intensity of the moment where he held my hand and I felt everything else disappear: the moment when I was lying in bed with a stupid grin on my face ready to burst with happiness. He was so perfect. Anyway, Laura, like almost all my other female friends, holds a major candle for Johnny so I know we're on a different wavelength.
'Uh, well, we just slept. It was nice'.
'Did you kiss him at least?' Her eyebrows are up.
I'm out with the boys again when Johnny comes out with it. He's got that fucking Cheshire cat grin and a twinkle in his eye. 'E-vie's got a boy-friend. I hear you've been sucking face Evie'.
Dan and I make eye contact. His face goes kinda still and then he casts his eyes down to the table. I wrap both hands around my coffee cup and try to pretend that I can't feel this horrible thing between us like he's hurt that I could kiss someone else. I feel like a complete shit and Johnny's milking it for all it's worth. How did he find out about anyway? I wonder if Laura's sold on the information in the vain hope of some better return.
'What're you talking about you idiot?' It's a lame attempt but worth a shot.
'Shut up E-vie' he sing-songs. 'Josh heard you blabbing all about it. Is he nice E-vie? Did he give you a good time? Hmm?'
I'm giving him nothing. Not a damn thing. You will not steal another one of my beautiful things Johnny and make it ugly. I look at Dan again. His eyes are chestnut and sad. But he's under Johnny's spell too so I watch as his face limbers up and he starts on me too.
'Oooh E-vie - does he have a cold tongue? Did he stick it in your ear?' I'm used to this. And anyway, Dan's teasing is kind of innocent - he's more trying to gross me out than humiliate me. That's Johnny's area of expertise.
I lean in and say, in a pervy drawl, 'Yeah, and it's not just cold, it's very, very long'.
Summer passes. I run into Dan on my own once and try to explain but it's too cringe worthy for either of us to deal with. I think we really liked each other but you can't regain that innocence. I bet Dan doesn't kiss another girl for at least five years. I feel like something cool coulda happened there but Johnny has a hold on Dan I can't battle with. Meanwhile I'm hanging out and having a good time. Most nights, I've got the dangerous drunken boy appearing in my bed. Nothing really happens so I decide not to mention it to anyone. I should really get the back door fixed but I totally love looking at the smooth curve of his back in the pink light of dawn and watching that intense body at rest. He's damaged goods - messed up family, can't say no to a drink - and I know enough to leave well enough alone. But anyway, you can never explain all the ways you love people.
And so, summer rolls on as every suburban summer does. And, as the man said, I measure out my life with coffee spoons. But happiness isn't always straightforward. I kept thinking about Dan and wondering if things could still be different.
And then one morning, I'm standing at the back sink in the heat of the cafe kitchen with my arms up to the elbows in soapy water and half a mile of stacked up countertops. People never stop eating. Judith, one of the girls I work with, comes and taps me on the shoulder. 'Um, there's someone here to see you. A guy'. We have a strict sisterly protection racket going on with all the girls here which means we're always checking if people wanna see their visitors. I peek around the wall that divides the kitchen from the front area worried that it might be Johnny come to make a bad situation worse. But no, it's Dan. My stomach leaps. Then I remember that I spent the morning at the meat slicer and that I probably have that sour whiff of blood that my butcher uncle always had. Not good. But Dan coming here alone is mega so I quickly take my apron off and tell Jude to say I'm on a break. 'Hey', I say, smiling, 'Do you have time for a coffee?' Dan nods. 'Cool. Um, okay if you go sit at that back table and I'll bring it over. Do you want anything else?'. 'Nah', he says. 'I'm good for a bit'.
The table is small. It's mostly used by staff as it's tucked into a bit of a corner and really has room for about one and half people. With two people it feels secret and intimate. I have no idea what to say to Dan. I'm just looking at his thick curls and his long dark eyelashes and trying to calm the giddiness in my belly. We chat for a bit and it's clear there's a vibe. Cool. Maybe it can come back after all. I'm still mortified about the kiss though cause it kinda spoiled everything. I'm so nervous and there's this long silence I just can't fill.
When I get home that night Johnny's car is parked outside my house. It's late, and at first I think he must be out somewhere nearby, just using my parking space, but as I'm turning the key in the front door I hear a car door slam. 'Evie!', he shouts to get my attention. He's running up the path. I can tell straight away he's on something. 'Evie', I need to talk to you'. He's following me through the open front door and into the hall and half leaning, half falling back into the door. 'I've decided we should fuck' he says, looking half cut and with a beady sweat on. 'You know,' he continues, 'we never have and so we should. I need to see your tits Evie'. He makes a grab for me and I step back more annoyed then afraid. 'Fuck off Johnny - what are you on?' 'C'mon Evie - you're giving it to everyone else but me and I fucking need it now' - he grabs my wrists and steps in so I'm pinned up against the wall with a door handle digging into the middle of my back. His eyes are dead and his breath tells the story of a whole day spent in the bar and then, probably, some coke or speed or both. 'Johnny, you better fucking let go of me now. Think about what you're doing! Ow!'
I wrench my wrists as hard as I can but he has the relaxed grip of someone too stoned to know what's going on. I get a knee up between his legs and crack him one as hard as I can. He moans and grabs himself. 'You're a fuckin bitch Evie', he hisses at me, still not quite able to stand upright, 'And a cock tease. I don't know why I waste my time on you'. He lets out a horrible low moan.
'I wish you wouldn't -- now get the fuck out of my house you misguided little asshole'. He flings the front door open and lurches down the path to the car digging in his pockets for his keys. 'Bitch!' he shouts, one last time over his shoulder, as I'm closing the door, hands shaking.
In the middle of the night I wake up to see Dan standing backlit by the window next to my bed. 'Dan? What's going on? ' I whisper in the half dark, 'How did you--?'
'The back door --- I was walking around-I-I just came to say, I came to tell you that--just that, Johnny's dead'.
'Oh my god, Dan', I say, jumping up to try and hold him but as the covers move with me, dangerous boy's sleeping body comes into view. There's a sound like Dan's heart hitting the floor. He just looks at me hard, turns tail and leaves. I'm hoping I might hear him smash something on the way out or shout and slam the door but he's gone in a glimpse of his shadowy body crossing the lawn below.
I sit there in the dark on the edge of the bed and close my eyes and think about how badly I've screwed up. And about Johnny lurching towards his car and how so many things are gone . Real, real, gone.
Meave Haughey is a short story writer based in Birmingham. Recent stories have been published in Comma Press’s The New Abject, and Forecast: New Writing from Birmingham, Doestoevsky Wannabe’s Love Bites: Fiction Inspired by Pete Shelley and Buzzcocks and in Birmingham, from the Doestoevsky Wannabe Cities series. Meave's story The Reservoir featured in The Best of British Short Stories 2021 compiled by Salt Press.
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