It takes Baz five minutes to get here. He smells of cedar, like he always has, and of the laundry detergent he’s been getting ever since he started living by himself. Nothing about him is as composed as it usually is—possibly courtesy of the text of distress I sent him—and there is something wild in his eyes, a look I haven’t seen in months.
He barely has to glance at me before I fall apart.
It’s pathetic, really. I’m crying into his—very nice, probably much too expensive for me to take to the dry cleaner’s—shirt, clinging to him like a child. Of all the things I have done in my life, this is by far the most embarrassing.
When I cry, it’s because everything feels like too much, like something I can’t handle on my own anymore. And normally, it’s Simon I go to. His shirts aren’t as nice, so I don’t feel as guilty for sobbing into the fabric. Besides, he’s my best friend, so it’s part of the friends’ contract.
Baz… I don’t know what we are these days, but I'm not sure it's quite this.
He’s very gentle though. His hands rub soothingly over my back, his head settles atop mine, and he doesn’t let go until my sobs subside to sniffles. My lower lip still quivers and the pressure in my chest is only just beginning to loosen, but I feel much better already.
“Go clean yourself up,” he implores, squeezing my shoulder. “It’ll make you feel better.”
It does. I splash my face with cold water a few times, in the tiny bathroom that is littered with Simon’s and my toiletries and a small collection of rubber duckies (no one ever said us living together was a good idea). My fingers shake as I push my glasses back onto the bridge of my nose.
I force myself to take deep breaths— ‘Inhale, exhale. In, out.’ —and then walk back into the living room. Part of me hopes that he left, even if I know that he wouldn’t. But no, he’s there. Bent over the table, tidying up my work space. His slender fingers trail around the books and papers scattered across the surface, picking up instead the candy wrappers, a cup of tea gone cold and empty pens.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asks, his hands full of the trash I could have taken care of myself, hours earlier. A messy work space is a messy mind, I know that. It’s me who taught Simon the same thing and Baz by proxy. But things have been… stacking up, I suppose.
I do want to tell him, tell someone, so I do. I start with, “I’ve got a paper due nine am and it’s just not working.” But in the process of opening up, I can’t slam the door closed again in time and everything comes tumbling out. How exhausting it’s been living with Simon, and frustrating trying to deal with what happened at the end of my last semester at Watford, and the pressures of going to a normal University where I can’t use my magic to excel, and the strained relationship with my brother Premal.
“You should try talking to Simon’s psychologist. She’s really quite good.”
“Maybe I’ll think about it another day. I’ve got…” I check my watch, feel stress burn a hole in my stomach at the time. “About six hours.”
“Okay. You’re going back to work.” His hands are on my shoulder, massaging me as he pushes me down into my chair. The empty document’s blinking the cursor at me tauntingly, but for the first time tonight it doesn’t threaten to break my resolve. “What do you want from Slurp?”
My fingers halt an inch from the stack of papers I was about to grab. “Slurp?”
“Yes, Slurp,” he replies, arching his eyebrows over unimpressed grey eyes. “We’ll need brain food to get us through the night.” At the look I give him, his lips curl up. “What? You didn’t think I was leaving you alone, did you?”
“Basilton… You don’t have to do that, you know. I’ll be fine. I’m a big girl.”
“Penelope.” He doesn’t call me that often. ‘Snow’ and ‘Bunce’ are still his preferred ways to call us, at least when it’s the three of us. “Tell me what you want.”
With a sigh and a small smile, I concede. “The house fried noodles, and the biggest size slurp juice they have.”
I don’t get much work done while he’s gone, but enough that I think I might still pull this off. My highlighter bleeds fluorescent all over the pages I printed at the University library yesterday and while I might not have put much on paper, the essay is starting to form inside my mind.
The smell of fried pork carries up the stairs from the hall, so I’m out of my chair and standing in the doorframe already when Baz reaches the fourth floor. He has a plastic bag in one hand, a book in the other. A grin stretches across his pale cheeks, locks of his dark hair dangle loose against the sides of his head. “Get back to work, Bunce. I know how doors work.”
We eat together; me at the table, books on Renaissance literature open in front of me, paragraphs appearing on the screen of my laptop as if by magic conjured, Baz on our couch, feet propped up and a book on his chest. He scribbles down notes on a notebook he steals from Simon’s room. We work and eat quietly, but it’s pleasant enough. I feel his presence and am comforted by it.
I hadn’t realized how much I have grown to love this boy.
It’s hours later when I finally push away from my desk. My eyes ache, but pride glows as warm as the sun inside my chest. Baz has fallen asleep where he lies, with an arm over his eyes and the book tumbled to the carpet. I smooth out his hair and retrieve a blanket. He’ll be sore regardless, but it’s the only comfort I can give him.
Then I trudge to my own room. All I have energy left for is closing the blinds, to drawn out the light and noise of London waking up, then I’m falling in bed and falling into a dream world blissfully void of stress and deadlines.
When I wake up, it’s late afternoon. The events of last night filter in slowly as I get changed into something more comfortable to spend the rest of the day lazing about in.
Baz... Simon and I used to think of him as this great, unpredictable evil. Unpredictable, yes. But evil? He’s the sweetest guy I've ever known.
He’s also wrapped all around Simon when I enter the living room. They’re a tangle of limbs perched upon our slim couch, hands tucked under shirts and into hair, mouths pressed to skin. I nudge Simon’s leg with my foot and watch gleefully as they crash over the edge and onto the floor.
Even curled around each other, that can’t feel particularly good.
“Baz, will you make us breakfast of the leftovers?” The boy nods, steals a last kiss from my best friend, then vaults over the couch and disappears into the kitchen. I hear pans clanging, the stove sputtering out a cooking flame.
I help Simon up off the floor and deposit him into a seat. I join him, wrap my arms around his waist and cuddle up to him. He hugs me close, smiles against the side of my head. “I know what you said about public displays of affection, but—”
“Baz and I had a moment last night.” I lace our fingers together and smile up at him. “I’ve been thinking about him as your Baz for a long time, you know? Your roommate, and then your friend that’s also my friend, maybe?. But I think he really is my friend now.”
Simon’s smile widens so much it almost falls off his face, and it’s so genuine it hurts just to look at it. “That’s really great, Penny. Does that mean—”
“The PDA-rule is here to stay, Simon.”
From the kitchen Baz hollers: “C’mon, Bunce. I thought you were on my side now.”
I chuckle. Everything feels fuzzy, in the same way Christmas morning does, and the first day back at Watford used to.
This, I think. Just, this.
And to think that life felt too heavy just a few hours and a text message ago.