“How’ve you been, Simon?”
I shrug, and Ebb writes something down in her notebook. I crane my neck to see what it is, and she pulls it back. Frowning, I lean back on the couch and cross my arms. It’s not like she’s said something bad, it’s just a habit I’d picked up over the years. Being in and out of therapy since you were a child tends to make you curious about what they’re saying about you, especially if their evaluation could determine whether you get shuffled around yet again.
Not like that would actually happen with Ebb, especially since I aged out of the system a while ago, but it’s still a knee-jerk reaction to seeing someone taking down notes about me. Never mind that I’ve been seeing the same therapist for six months; some habits are hard to break.
Ebb is the best person I know, which is probably a weird thing to say about someone you pay to listen to your problems; but when you don’t have a lot of people in your corner, you learn to appreciate the ones who are.
Her office looks nothing like the small cramped rooms of the therapists I’d been sent to when I was a kid. It’s large and airy, with a red couch covered in pillows and crocheted afghans. The walls are completely covered in pictures of people, of places, of things. The first time I’d visited, I’d asked Ebb about her walls, and she’d just laughed and told me it reminded her of her life.
“What about it?” I’d asked.
“That I’ve lived it,” she’d replied and laughed again.
I love Ebb’s laugh. She laughs like everything matters, and it’s nice to hear. Encouraging. It’s one of the many reasons I keep coming back.
She’s still waiting for my answer, but I don’t feel pressured. That’s another thing I like about Ebb: she gets it. She knows that sometimes words are hard for me and that sometimes you just get sad for no real reason.
Ebb lost her brother when she was young. I know this because she accidentally let it slip during a session one day. I felt like a jerk for not comforting her, only watching as she’d wiped her eyes on the cuff of her jumper, but I know she understood.
Other people’s emotions are hard for me to handle, but I’m getting better at it, I think. I should probably ask Penny, considering she’s basically the only person I talk to regularly, now that Agatha’s broken up with me and moved away to the States. To California. To “find herself”, whatever the hell that means.
“I’ve been…okay,” I finally say, and Ebb nods.
“Well–,” I pause, “I did have an incident at work…”
Ebb nods, and I take it as encouragement to continue.
“I got fired again.”
“Uh oh,” she says, but not in a way that makes me feel bad.
“I messed up a customer’s drink and got so anxious as I was trying to fix it that I broke the machine.”
She tuts and writes something in her notebook again. My curiosity is too much this time. “What are you writing?”
“Just a reminder,” she replies, “I’ll tell you at the end of the session.”
That doesn’t completely satisfy my curiosity, but I drop the subject anyway.
We spend the rest of the hour discussing my week–what I’ve done, what I haven’t done, what I should be doing,–until the timer on Ebb’s side table beeps and she uncrosses her legs. Her head is bent, and I want to ask what she was going to say before, but she beats me to it.
“Have you thought about taking up a hobby?” she asks, pen still scratching across the paper as she looks up at me.
That’s not what I was expecting. “I mean…” I trail off, trying to remember the last time I’d done anything that could be considered a “hobby”. I play football with friends sometimes, except…except it’s been years since I’ve actually done anything like that. Christ, has it been that long? “It hasn’t exactly been a priority to me.” I say, avoiding Ebb’s inquiring gaze.
“Well, maybe it should be,” she says in a way that makes me think I don’t have a choice in the matter. Maybe that’s a good thing, because I know if I were on my own I’d never push myself to find something.
“I was thinking something therapeutic. Like… relaxing. Have you ever taken a painting class before?”
“You mean outside school?”
“Would you be interested in trying one?”
I shrug. Again.
She sets her pen down and tears a page out of her notebook, folds it, and hands it to me. “Here’s the information about the class. You don’t have to attend, but I think It’d be good for you.”
I take the paper, and look at the class name. “Why painting and drawing?”
“Well, Simon, I could list all of the reasons it’s beneficial to your mental health, but that’s boring and you don’t want to hear it. Long story short: it might make you happy and that’s a damn good reason, in my opinion.”
I nod, because I feel like I’m supposed to agree.
We make my next appointment, and as I’m leaving she says, “I really do think this will be good for you, Simon.” It’s like she can tell that I’m considering tossing the number, and I make a firm decision not to.
I wave goodbye and duck out the door, shoving the paper roughly into my jacket pocket. It feels heavier than it should, and I know it’s because I’m overthinking this. (As usual.) I’ll probably feel better once I have more information, but the thought of me enjoying an art class makes me want to laugh. I’m not artistic in any way, and I really don’t have any interest in spending time looking at stupid bowls of fruit, or drawing naked people, or whatever people do in classes like this.
But I’ll do it. For Ebb. (And because maybe she’s right about this. Maybe it will make me happy.)
(Something has to.)
* * *
I didn’t tell Ebb I had a job interview after our appointment. Didn’t want to jinx it, I suppose. Not that it’ll make any difference, I’ll still manage to fuck it up somehow. I always do.
Penny warned me that I should dress up, so I’ve exchanged my usual tracksuit and trainers for a button-down shirt with slacks and shoes that pinch my feet. I think I look pretty good, like I’m actually someone important going somewhere…well, important.
That thought makes me stand up a bit straighter as I press the button at the corner. I stop smiling to myself when I notice an old woman looking at me funny as we both wait to cross the street. I smile at her. It must not be a very convincing one though, because she scowls at me and inches away. I have that kind of effect on people usually. No one likes to get close to me.
It’s been that way ever since I was a kid: sullen and thuggish, and always bouncing my favorite red ball. Countless people tried to take it away from me over the years, but eventually everyone learned to leave me alone. (No one likes a biter.)
The light changes, and I leave the old woman and her scowl behind.
* * *
The interview did not go well. Or rather, it had been going well until they asked about my previous work experience, and I’d had to explain about getting fired all those times. I’d been tempted to lie, but I knew they’d just end up phoning my references and finding out just what a huge fuck-up I am.
The tube ride home is stressful as hell; the car is packed full of commuters and schoolchildren. It’s basically my worst nightmare come to life. I’m shoved into a corner, and I can barely get to the door in time once we get to my stop.
I’m practically crawling by the time I get to our flat, and when I enter I see Penelope sitting on the couch with her feet on the coffee table,–something she calls me out for often. When she sees me she drops her feet and moves her laptop onto the table.
I flop down on the couch next to her and exhale harshly. I want to go take a shower, wash this day off my skin, but I’m too fucking exhausted to get up again.
“How was it?” she asks, sounding hopeful.
“They didn’t even bother lying about calling me later.” I say, and her face falls.
She leans into me, and I let her. We sit like that until the sun goes down and the evening news comes on.
“Alright?” She asks, and I shrug.
She rubs my arms and leaves the room. I should get up and do the same, but the couch is comfortable, and seems as good of a place as any to process my day. I open her laptop and google the place on the paper. The class is located at a community centre not too far from the flat and it takes place every Thursday afternoon for 10 weeks.
I wince when I look at the price, but if Ebb thinks it’s a good idea…
Then, it’s worth it.
5 minutes later, I’m all signed up, and groaning as I look over the supply list.
Maybe I’ll ask Penelope for help.
Maybe this class might actually help.
Maybe I can actually fucking turn my life around for once.
I finally shut the computer and force myself to get off the couch and finally take that shower I’ve been craving. The hot water feels good and I rub the flannel into my skin harsher than necessary, but it helps me feel cleaner.
After I finish scrubbing my body, I wash my hair–noting that I really need to get another haircut soon. Then, I have to resist the urge to sit down, knowing that I’ll just stay there for an hour and our water bill with get hiked up, and I won’t do that to Penny. (Not again, at least.)
The class starts on Thursday, the day before my next session with Ebb, meaning I’ll need to talk myself into going all on my own. I wonder if that was Ebb’s plan–she’s sneaky like that.
I’m asleep before my head hits the pillow, and that night I dream of goats and paintbrushes and–for some reason–shiny black hair.
* * *
The first time I’d stepped foot in Ebb’s office, I’d almost walked right out. It looks nothing like the posh offices of the expensive doctors my father had sent me to in my youth and I suspect that’s part of what made me decide to stay.
The sofa is faded red and covered in way too many itchy blankets and pillows, and the walls are cluttered with pictures of people, places, and things. I’d meant to ask Ebb about them, but by the time I’d come up with a way to do it without sounding snobbish, too many sessions had passed for it to be a natural question. I resigned myself to just admiring them every time I waited for her.
Ebb wasn’t the most organized therapist. She was always running a bit behind and she’d need a moment to collect herself before our hour began, but she never cut me off early and she always made me feel like I was being listened to. I overlooked her flaws and continued to return.
Today she’s wearing a long skirt and an old jumper. She looks like a bag lady, but I don’t mention it. She must have just gotten a haircut, because her blunt, blonde bob looks even more blunt than usual. I don’t mention that either. Instead, I just lean back on the couch and cross my arms. (Ebb says that isn’t healthy body language.) (I’d told her where she could stick her healthy body language, and she’d just laughed.)
“How are you today, young master Basil?” Ebb asks. (She’d started calling me that as a joke, and it’s a testament to how much I like her that I allow it.)
“Fine,” I say, and she snorts.
“Are you really?”
“Why not?” The tip of her pen is hovering about her notebook, and I find myself wondering what exactly she writes about in there; but then I decide I’d probably be happier not knowing, and inhale.
“I got into a fight with my father again. He’s still pressuring me about joining his firm.”
“And you still want to continue teaching?”
I nod. My mother had been a teacher, and sometimes I wonder if she’d take my side against my father about this. If she were alive that is. The way my father acts, her word had been law. He thought she hung the moon and I’ve always been convinced that the moon was hung for her pleasure.
I don’t think my father hates my job, but I suspect he thinks that by keeping me close by he can control my life better. Like if I’m still under his thumb I’ll turn into the son he really wants me to be, instead of a constant disappointment. Like I am now.
Ebb doesn’t like it when I think like that. She says I get tapes in my head that keep playing the same things over and over: that I’m worthless; that I’m unlovable; that I’ll never be the son my mother wanted, and definitely not the one my father would prefer.
The first time I’d admitted some of those thoughts out loud, Ebb had nearly torn her notebook in two.
“Who’s told you those things?” she’d asked.
“Me,” I’d replied.
And then she really did rip the book. (I showed up at the next appointment with a new one, covered in goats like the one before it.) (Ebb loves goats.)
I cross and uncross my arms, wrinkling my nose when one of the garish wool afghans itches against my leg as I move. I’d come by on my way to the club and my tennis shorts were riding up my arse, making it hard to concentrate on what Ebb was saying. I missed the first part of her sentence as I subtly adjusted myself until I wasn’t being driven crazy. (More than I already am that is.)
I must not have heard her correctly. “Excuse me?”
“I said have you thought about trying a painting class? At our last session you’d mentioned you’d like to pick up some new hobbies, meet some new people. There’s a class that I recommend to a lot of my patients that seems to help.”
“So, I’d be in class full of your crazies?”
Ebb makes a face. She hates when I use that word.
“Art can be very therapeutic,” she says, not bothering to respond to what I’d said.
I scowl, “I don’t need therapy.”
She laughs, “Then, why are you in my office?”
She’s got me there.
* * *
Fiona is waiting outside the building when I exit, arms crossed and scowling.
I roll my eyes. “What are you mad about now?”
She scoffs. “What makes you think I’m mad about something?”
“Shut up, Basil,” she says, with no real venom in her words.
We have a standing lunch date after my therapy appointments. It’s good. They’re a nice excuse not to go back to my flat afterwards and wallow in self-pity. Plus, Fiona doesn’t press me to talk if I don’t feel like it, and is fine if I don’t listen to her prattle on while I work through whatever I’d discussed with Ebb that day. This session wasn’t too bad; Ebb hadn’t pressed too hard about my issues with my father, or anything else that might upset me too much.
“What’s that?” Fiona asks, and I realize I’m clutching the paper with the art class information on it.
“Nothing,” I say, but it’s no use. Fiona’s already snatched it from my hands and is reading it over.
“Art class?” She sounds surprised, but not disappointed. (I don’t know why I thought she would be. I guess I’m so used to disappointing people that it’s a shock when I don’t.) “Are you going to tell Malcolm?”
“Why would I need to ask my father’s permission to attend a fucking art class?”
“You know why. If he thinks you have enough free time for this…”
“Then, I have too much free time,” I finish for her. My father is under the impression that if I have any time that it should be spent with him, helping out at his firm. Which is why I pretend like my job keeps me too busy to spend too much time there. I suspect he only “allows” my tennis games because he considers it an appropriate leisure pastime. But an art class? And at a community centre, no less? It’s not for the son of Malcolm Grimm.
I’m 25 years old, dammit. Too old to still be under my father’s thumb, as Ebb gently reminds me often, but that’s what happens when you’re still mostly financially dependent on the bastard. (One downfall of being a teacher. It doesn’t pay well.) (It pays rather abysmally, actually.)
“What do you feel like eating?” Fiona asks, ripping me from my pity spiral.
“Sushi?” I suggest hopefully, and she wrinkles her nose. Fiona hates sushi.
“Okay?” I try to hide my surprise.
“Okay, we can get sushi.” She sounds resigned.
“Why are you being nice to me?” I say suspiciously.
“Can’t I be nice to my favorite nephew without being subjected to an inquisition?”
“I’m your only nephew. And of course not.
“You just look a bit shit that’s all. Like you need some good news. And that good news is that we’re getting sushi.”
“Fuck you,” I spit, but I suspect she’s right. I haven’t been sleeping well, or taking much care of myself at all. What’s the point? It’s not like I have anyone to keep it together for. Christ, that’s a depressing thought.
“Is that any way to speak to your favorite aunt?”
“You’re my only aunt,” I say and feel my pockets to make sure I didn’t leave my mobile on Ebb’s couch. (It’s happened before. I swear that couch eats things.)
I jump when Fiona lays on the horn.
“Shut up and get in the car, Basil.” She says, and I do.
* * *
When I get home later, I’m so full of fish and still tipsy from the sake Fiona’d insisted we order. I’m torn between taking a nap and finishing up some work I’ve been putting off, but instead I decide to look up the class Ebb told me about. I don’t know why, but my curiosity gets the best of me and it feels like I need to sign up for it now.
I type in the web address in my mobile and squint at the screen. It looks standard enough, once a week at a nearby community centre. I’ve never taken a class at one of those places before. Everything my parents ever signed me up for was at private studios, or done at the manor with tutors, but I can’t see Ebb recommending either of those things to any of her craz–other patients.
The class is fairly inexpensive, but I still use my father’s card. (It’s not like he’ll ever see it. He never bothers to check my bills, not unless I make an excessively expensive purchase. Like a flat.) (It took him a while to get over that one.)
I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders as I sit down on the couch and fight back a yawn. Today has been long and it’s not over yet if the papers I need to grade have anything to say about it. I’ve also got to go through my basket of bills to make sure that I don’t fall behind. In fact, I’ve got a rather long list of tasks I need to accomplish before the day is through, but none of them sound as nice as curling up on the couch and falling asleep.
So, that’s what I do.
* * *
I’m sitting alone in the teacher’s lounge like I usually do. I’ve barely touched my sandwich, I’m too busy checking and rechecking these assignments. I swear every year my classes keep growing, my free time keeps decreasing, and my job becomes less and less desirable.
I don’t have afternoon classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I really don’t have any excuse not to show up at the community centre tomorrow.
It’s a bloody beginners art class, how bad could it be?
* * *
“I had another job interview,” I tell Ebb halfway through the session. (It’s not that I forgot, I just didn’t want to bring it up at first.)
“That’s great!” she exclaims.
I look down at my trainers. “Well, I had two job interviews.”
“That’s still great,” she points out.
“I only got one of the jobs, though.”
“Which is still great.”
“Why isn’t that great, Simon?” Ebb presses, and I shrug. It’s not like my new job is hard or particularly terrible, it’s just that I seem to go through them so quickly that I can almost predict what I’ll do to get myself fired at each new one.
Talk about the world’s worst superpower.
* * *
I don’t know why I decided to go to this bloody class. I don’t do art, it was one of my worst classes in school, but somehow Ebb had managed to convince me. For all her faults, she really does know what she’s talking about.
When I walk in the door, I see that everyone has gotten there much earlier than me, and there’s only one open chair. I sit down on it and look at my desk mate: he’s in a ratty tracksuit and dirty trainers; he looks like a walking cliche. His hair is cropped close to his head on the sides and curly on top and I suppose he’s quite fit. If you’re into chavs, that is.
The guy that sits down next to me looks like a tosser. He’s in jeans and a white paint-splattered button down that stands out sharply against his reddish-gold skin. His hair’s long, dark, and wavy. It looks silky to the touch, like it would slip through my fingers if I tangled them in it. I bet all the girls find him bloody gorgeous. What an arse.
I’m barely listening to the instructor as she goes over what we’re supposed to be doing today, so I don’t catch anything beyond the fact that we’re supposed to be drawing and then painting the bowl of fruit at the front of the room.
I watch as the other students stand to go get their paint and I go to follow them. Not paying full attention, i accidentally trip over the foot of my tablemate.
“Oi,” I snap, “watch it!”
He fixes me with a cool glance. “You’re the one who tripped over me. Are you really thick enough not to realize that?”
I flush. He’s right. (Not about me being thick. That he didn’t do anything.)
“Just–watch it.” I say, glowering at him. He looks unruffled, and I hate him for it. Why won’t he get upset?
Why do I feel the need to upset him?
I refuse to let this idiot bother me.
Okay, he is bothering me, but I refuse to let him see that. Why does he infuriate me so much? The class has barely begun, and I already feel as if I’ve managed to make an enemy on the very first day, An enemy I’m forced to share a desk with. I decide I’m just going to sit somewhere else next class.
The instructor–who introduced herself as Miss Possibelf–clears her throat from her spot at the front of the classroom and says, “I hope you’ve made yourselves comfortable as these are the seats you’ll be sitting in for the next 10 weeks.” I groan internally. No one else looks bothered by the news, but no one else has to sit next to a bloody idiot for 2 hours every week.
I hope Ebb is ready to hear about this.
Once I start painting, I find it’s much easier than I expected. It’s even sort of fun. And relaxing. Maybe Ebb was right. Maybe I did need this. I lose myself in the process, relaxing into the smooth routine of brushstrokes on canvas when I notice someone glaring at me. Of-fucking-course.
My eyes flicker over to his painting and then back to mine. Fuck, I thought this was supposed to be a beginner’s class! Who does this arsehole think he is, coming in here like he doesn’t know shit, and then making us all look bad? I don’t realize I’m glaring until I notice his brush has stopped moving.
“What are you looking at?” he snaps, and I feel myself bristle.
“Nothing,” I snap back, and he sneers at me. Christ, I could strangle him. I’m about to say something more when the instructor–Miss Possibelf–turns up behind us.
“Excellent work, Baz,” she praises, and her face changes when she looks at my painting. “Mr. Snow…” she starts “that looks–you need–it–Baz, do you mind helping him?” the arsehole nods, and she walks off, but not before taking one last look at my easel and grimacing.
“We’re supposed to be drawing the stuff in the bowl,” Baz says, snidely, after she’s out of earshot. I want to march up to the front, grab that fucking bowl, and toss every single piece of fruit at his head.
Ten points for hitting him in the widow’s peak.
I smile to myself as I imagine his expression if I actually did that, and he kicks me in the ankle.
“What are you smiling like an idiot for?”
“Nothing,” I say and my daydream ends. Baz turns away, and I glare at him out of the corner of my eye.
After less than five minutes of conversation, I’ve decided that I hate him. He’s infuriating. And rude. And he insulted my painting. (He’s right though. It does look like shit.) (That doesn’t change the fact that he’s still a tosser.)
We don’t talk for the rest of the class.
* * *
I lay in bed and think about Baz.
I’m tempted not to go back, if I’m honest. I might not, except it means that I let Baz win and I refuse to do that.
But if I do go, he’s just going to be there, with his stupid smug expression and his stupid perfect fingers. And I’ll have to keep sitting next to him. And he’ll just keep being a bloody tosser, and we’re going to end up fighting each other one day, so I really should just stop going to the class and save us both the trouble.
Except…except Ebb had seemed really excited for me to go. I know she expected it to be good for me, to help me somehow.
I decide I won’t let Ebb down, even if that means putting up with Baz.
* * *
I can’t keep going back to that class. Not if Snow is going to be there. Not if I’m going to have to keep sitting next to him. Why did he have to fucking sit next to me on the first day? Why did Miss Possibelf tell us that our current seats would be our seats for the next ten weeks? Just my fucking luck. Of all the people to sit in that damn seat, it had to be him.
My students can blame Snow for the fact that I’m grading their assignments harsher than I normally would. I should wait until I’ve calmed down to read these, but I already put it off long enough that the class has actually started complaining about not getting them back.
I’m halfway through an essay that makes me want to tear my hair out, when my mobile buzzes. It’s my father. I frown. I really can’t deal with him right now.
“Basilton,” he says, like it’s a greeting, “I’m outside your door.”
I curse quietly and go to open it. “Hello, Father.”
He nods and steps inside.
It’s strange to see my father in my flat. In his expensive suit and slicked back hair, he looks like a lord; not the kind of person you’d expect to be standing in a lounge full of Ikea furniture and cheap art prints. (I like art, I just don’t like making it myself.)
I’m about to offer him a seat, but, as usual, he doesn’t wait to get to the point of his visit, “Now, you know I don’t have a problem with you being in therapy. In fact, I was thrilled when you finally took your mother’s suggestion and started going, you know I was. But–” he pauses like he doesn’t know what he wants to say next, which is bullshit, “I don’t think this class is necessary. Your time could be better spent on other things.”
“Like working for you.” I say flatly. He doesn’t even look ruffled as he nods in agreement. “I’ve told you before: I’m not interested. If you’ll excuse me, I have papers to grade. For my job. My job that I’m satisfied with.” I say, as calmly as I can, to his retreating back. He waves dismissively back at me, and I slam the door harshly, making a picture on the wall rattle.
“Oh, piss off,” I snarl at it.
Damn my father. It’s just a class! It doesn’t even affect him in any way. Even if I wasn’t taking it, I still wouldn’t take his fucking offer. Fuck him. Fuck this. Fuck Snow.
I groan and glare at the painting, “I have to go back now, don’t I?”
Maybe I’ll get lucky and Snow will choke to death on his body spray.
One can dream.
* * *
I can’t believe Baz is back. I don’t know why I’d expected him to stop coming–maybe I thought I’d scare him off or something,–but here he is.
Baz sits down and pulls out his fancy pencil case. My eyes flick to my sad ziploc full of supplies. I’m not jealous, I just wish I had a better way to carry my things. That’s all. I don’t care that Baz has shiny new things; I could have shiny new things if I wanted to. I’m just not a show-off the way he is.
He’s still pulling out his supplies, extra slow–like he’s trying to rub them in my face. I refuse to give him the satisfaction and I resolve to ignore him for the rest of class. Hopefully for the next eight weeks, as well.
Of course Snow is back. As if my life could ever be simple. He’s wearing another tracksuit, and I’m rapidly becoming convinced that he owns nothing else. He catches me staring and pulls a face. I look away quickly, and focus back on the paper in front of me.
Today we’re learning how to shade, and I almost feel a stab of pity when I see Snow’s three crappy pencils. I consider loaning him one of mine, but change my mind at the last minute; I’d probably just end up offending him somehow.
I go to the front to get a piece of paper and, when I get back to my table, one of my pencils is missing. I glance to my left and of-fucking-course Snow has it clenched in his grubby little paw.
“That’s mine.” I snap, and he looks up in surprise. The tip of the pencil snaps off as he abruptly stops mauling the paper with it, and I clench my jaw.
“I don’t have the right one,” he says, like that excuses his theft.
“That doesn’t mean you can just take mine! Christ, were you raised by wolves?”
His face screws up in anger, and I watch as he snaps the pencil in half, dropping the pieces on the table in front of me.
I don’t know how to react to that, and I refuse to sink to his level of childish behavior. Snatching the broken pencil pieces up and stuffing them in my bag, I turn my back to Snow. I can feel his eyes on me and it burns, but I refuse to look at him.
We don’t talk for the remainder of the class.
* * *
At the beginning of our third class, Miss Possibelf tells us we’re going to be painting again. I make a show of making sure my supplies are as far away from Snow as possible, and he glowers at me.
We work in silence, barely acknowledging each other, and I begin to think that maybe this will get easier.
And that’s when my elbow hits the cup of dirty paint-filled water.
I see it before it hits me–the tipping cup, the spreading water–but I don’t react in time. I get drenched from the knees of my trackies to my trainers, and fucking Baz is pretending to look sorry, but he’s hiding an obvious smirk. I want to punch him. I might actually punch him if he keeps looking at me like that.
The only thing on my mind right now is how to get him back. I can feel myself getting angry. It feels like flames against my skin, and I want him to pay for trying to embarrass me in front of the whole class.
Baz stands up quickly and runs to get paper towels, but I know he’s only trying to make himself look better in front of everyone else. If I wasn’t so wet I’d refuse his help, but I have no choice but to suck it up. I make sure to glower at him as I take the towels; so he knows I know what he did.
“I’m sorry,” he says and he sounds so sincere that, for a second, I believe him. But then I remember this is Baz, and Baz hates me and would never apologize to me, especially not after he just got me soaked.
This must be payback for when I broke his pencil last night. Fine. Two can play at this game. If he wants a prank war, he can have a prank war.
I wait until everything settled back down to make my move. I almost don’t do it; it’s too much, too juvenile, but then I adjust myself in my seat and feel how my trackies are clinging to me. Not only are they wet, but the paint that was floating in the cup has stained the grey fabric; that alone makes it easier to do what I do next.
Baz is carefully painting what looks like a rose, completely oblivious to that fact that I’ve flipped my own brush upside down. I’ve made sure to scoop up a large amount of paint, and set my jaw as I pull my brush back and let it fly.
It sails towards Baz’s side of the table and splatters across the sky of his painting. He whips his head to the side and fixes me with a murderous stare.
“What the fuck, Snow,” he spits out through gritted teeth.
“You can’t do stuff like that!” I spit back, meaning the crap he pulled with the water cup. Except the expression on his face makes it seem like he has no idea what I’m talking about.
It occurs to me that maybe I should have reacted in a different way, but that thought is abandoned when a glob of cold paint hits my cheek.
“What the hell!” I dip my brush in the paint again and sling it in his direction a second time. Baz retaliates once more, and we’re engaged in a full-scale paint war when Miss Possibelf appears in front of us, looking angrier than i’ve ever seen before.
“Gentlemen,” she yells, her face beginning to go red, “what is going on here?”
We both freeze. I’m still holding up my brush, and the three of us watch as some paint starts to slowly drip towards the floor. It seems to take forever to separate from the bristles, and I swear the noise it makes when it hits the floor reverberates through the room.
“This is not a class for children,” she says like she’s speaking to…well…children. I guess we were behaving a bit childish, and I don’t try to argue with her as I gather up my bag and exit the classroom, not even bothering to clean up or put my painting back on the drying rack.
I’m aware that makes me seem like a dick, but I need to get out of here. Now. I can already feel my breathing getting faster and I’m starting to get dizzy. I hope I have enough time to get back to the flat before this escalates. I don’t want Baz to see my like this; he’d never let me live it down.
I decide the tube is too much right now, and decide to walk home. It takes longer this way, but maybe it’ll help me calm down. I stop next to the building and do the deep breathing exercises Ebb’d shown me. Once I managed to lower my heart rate slightly, I shrug my bag back onto my shoulder and start walking.
Ebb had brought up Baz at our session yesterday. She thinks I should try and “extend an olive branch”, “be the bigger person”, and we should “stop constantly being at each other’s throats”. I know she has good intentions, but there’s no way we can be friends. We can’t even stand to sit at the same table together once a week.
The wind starts to pick up, and I shiver. That’s still not enough to make me consider the tube, so I wrap my hoodie tighter and make my way back to the flat. I want to stretch out in front of the telly and forget about Baz, forget about this whole damn feud.
The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that Ebb is wrong for once. She doesn’t even know Baz; she has no idea what an arsehole he can be.
No, only I get to experience that.
I should have fucking done it on purpose; he deserves it.
Snow is a bully, and he’s making this class excruciating, but if I quit I have no excuse not to help my father.
I’m glad my next session with Ebb is before class; I don’t think I could face Snow otherwise.
When I step outside of the building, I see him walking north–the direction I need to go. I turn around and stalk off the opposite way, even though it will take me twice as long to get back to my flat. I’ve been meaning to exercise more anyway.
* * *
I want to pretend it’s a coincidence that I scheduled this week’s therapy session right before art class, and that I didn’t plan it that way so that it would be easier to deal with Baz. Ebb saw right through me, of course, but was nice enough not to mention it. (Especially after I told her everything that went down between us last class.) (I still haven’t gotten the paint out of my trackies.)
I let myself into the flat, calling out “Penny?” and getting no response. Figuring she must still be at her lecture, I head to the kitchen to raid the fridge. Something about therapy always seems to spike my appetite. I grab the rest of my leftover curry–and Penny’s too–from the other night, and go to the couch to make myself comfortable while I wait for her to come home.
The only thing on tv at this time of day is Doctor Who reruns and children’s programmes, so I opt for the first choice. Settling into the couch, I pop the lid on the curry and tuck in. The first bite reminds me that I probably should have heated it in the microwave, but it’s still pretty good cold, so I keep eating it.
That’s where Penelope finds me an hour later, sprawled out half-asleep on the couch, surrounded by empty styrofoam takeaway containers, while The Doctor battles aliens on the telly.
“Simon,” she says, and then louder, “Simon!”
I start, causing the box resting on my stomach to fall, scattering basmati on the carpet. Penny frowns.
“Have you been doing that all day?” she asks.
“No,” I say, feeling defensive all of a sudden, “I had therapy this morning. And I have art class at…” I glance at my phone, “Shit! It’s in 20 minutes!” I groan. The community centre is 10 minutes away by tube, and it’ll surely be crowded this time of day. I scramble off the sofa while Penny watches. She’s making that face she does when she’s trying not to be amused and she’s failing as usual.
I’d met Penny on the first day of secondary school. No one had wanted to sit with me during lunch, until she’d sad down, with her red hair and ridiculous glasses, and immediately launched into a rant about our teachers and the other kids in our classes while I just stared.
I wasn’t much of a talker then,–I’m still not–but Penny has always talked enough for the both of us, and I think that’s why we get on so well.
After we’d graduated, we moved into a little flat in London. It was almost like an unspoken thing, that we’d live together. Not like that: Penny’d had the same American boyfriend since we were 13, but I couldn’t see myself living anywhere without Penny, and she knew that as well.
We’ve lived here for 7 years, and it’s the second longest time I’ve spent in the same house. I’m constantly terrified that one day Micah is going to take her back to the states with him, and I’ll never see her again. Ebb reminds me that America isn’t amnesia, but that doesn’t help.
I worry I’m too dependent on her. I’ve brought it up before, but she just brushes me off and says that she’s not doing anything she doesn’t want to. And I believe her.
Penny never does anything she doesn’t want to–she’s stubborn that way. I admire that about her. I’ve always just done what I’ve been told, trying my best to stay invisible as I was shuffled through the system.
I’d been lucky to stay in my last foster house for so long. Long enough to finish school and graduate and finally age out and be on my own, where I could walk to tesco without a letter from the bloody Queen.
Sometimes I don’t know what to do with all that freedom, if I’m honest. Ebb says that probably one of the reasons I get so anxious all the time: I’ve never been able to make my own decisions, and now I’m 25 and I have no idea what I’m doing. I can’t even take the bloody tube on my own without risking a very public panic attack. It’s so fucking embarrassing.
That’s part of the reason I’d started seeing Ebb. I want to learn to function on my own; to be ready for the day when Penny finally leaves, and I have to scan my own credit card, and get my own mail, and make my own phone calls. Ebb says I’ve made a lot of progress, and I guess I believe her; but there are still days when I need my hand held (literally.)
It’s getting closer to class time, and I try to stay calm. If I had the money, I’d call an uber. The tube is my least favorite place to be especially on days like this, when my anxiety is already so high that the thought of being packed into a car with the that many people makes me want to vomit.
Penny must see it on my face, because she picks up her bag from where she’d dropped it on the floor and holds out her hand. I take it, gratefully, and let her lead me out the door.
* * *
Baz is late to class. Baz is never late to class. Not that I care. In fact, I’d be happy if he didn’t even show up today, because then I’d actually get to paint in peace for once, without him looking over at my easel and making his fucking snide comments. And helping me.
No, I hate when he helps me. He’s so condescending when he explains color schemes and proper brush strokes and his voice gets all excited as he starts to ramble, because he actually really enjoys this class, and he’s so passionate about fucking still lifes, and–
And it’s annoying. He’s annoying. And now he’s 15 minutes late.
“Simon?” Miss Possibelf asks in that lilting voice of hers, “do you know where Baz is?”
I shake my head, because why the hell would I know? Why can’t she ask one of his friends? Then it hits me that I’ve never seen him talking to anyone in class except for me. Does this make us friends?
No, of course not. We can’t be friends if we argue all the time. I don’t like Baz. I hate Baz. And the only reason I want to know why he isn’t in class is because I need to make sure he’s not thinking up a way to mess with me.
Miss Possibelf nods and addresses the rest of the class. “Today we’re going to start our final project! I’ve got a collection of postcards on the front table, and you’re each going to pick one and try to paint something inspired by the picture on the front!”
She claps her hands together to signal that we’re supposed to get up. I haven’t even taken two steps towards the table when the classroom door flies open, and Baz stumbles in.
I stand up quickly, and the whole class turns to look at us. I can feel them waiting for one of us to say something. I want to, I really do. I want to be the one who gets the first word in, but when I see the look on Baz’s face my words leave me. (Not that they’re there that often.) (Except when Baz is around.)
“Sit down, Snow,” he says tiredly, “I’m not the queen.”
I frown, but do what he says. He joins me at the table, looking like he’d rather be in bed than here with me. I want to know what’s wrong. Wait, do I? No. I don’t care. I don’t care about Baz; I just want to get this project done. I don’t have time to worry about Baz.
Except…except Baz doesn’t know what we’re doing today.
“We’re supposed to paint postcards,” I say, and he looks up at me. “Do you want me to get you one?” I don’t know why I’m being nice to him, but he nods and I go to pick ours out.
There are only two postcards left, and they’re both from the Grand Canyon. I pick them up, selecting the one with the simpler illustration for myself.
As I walk back to our table, I stare at Baz and notice just how terrible he looks. Not unattractive, Baz could never be unattractive, but he looks completely exhausted, slumped over on his stool like there’s a heavy weight on his shoulders. I want to shake him until he tells me where he was and why he looks like that. I want him to talk to me, to at least look at me.
I get my wish when I hand him the postcard and our fingers brush. His gaze meets mine, and he’s blushing. Only Baz could look handsome when he’s blushing. I scowl, and he looks confused.
“Here,” I say, “It’s all that was left.”
Baz looks shocked for a moment, and then his blank look returns. “Thank you,” he murmurs and turns his attention to the assignment.
I find myself actually wanting to talk to him, but he looks like he’s concentrating really hard,–if the way he’s staring intently at the postcard is anything it go by,–and I don’t want to interrupt him.
I take one last look at the beginning of his painting, and then begin my own.
I’m packing up to leave class, when I feel a hand on my shoulder. I turn around and Snow is standing there, looking expectant.
“Do you want to go out for coffee?” he asks, and I’m certain I’ve misheard him.
“Do you want to go out for coffee? With me? Now?”
What the fuck is going on? “Why?” I ask, suspicious.
He shrugs. (He’s always fucking shrugging.)
I consider his offer and decide that I have nothing better to do. “Sure, Snow,” I say. “Let’s go out for coffee.”
* * *
The walk to the Starbucks around the corner is silent, but not unpleasant. The line isn’t too long either; we’ve chosen a good time to come here.
“A pumpkin mocha breve,” I tell the girl at the counter, and Snow makes a face. “What?” I snap at him, and he just wrinkles his nose.
“I didn’t figure you as the type of person who ordered drinks like that.”
“And what kind of drink should I be ordering then?”
He cocks his head. “I don’t know, I’ve always sort of imagined you sitting around drinking those tiny cups of expresso.”
“Espresso,” I correct, and he looks confused.
“That’s what I said.”
“No, you said, EX-presso, but it’s pronounced ES-presso.”
Snow frowns, and I start to regret saying anything, so I change the subject. “Spend a lot of time thinking about my sitting around drinking coffee?”
“N–No, of course not!” he stammers, blushing all the way to the tips of his ears. Interesting.
It pisses me off a bit when Baz called me out for the expresso/espresso thing. I know he meant well, and it probably didn’t seem like a big deal to him, but he’s the only person–except for Penny–that I feel comfortable talking in front of. I don’t want him to ruin it by correcting everything I say.
I’ve managed to keep my stuttering under control, but I’m worried he’ll lose his patience and get annoyed when my words get stuck.
“What are you thinking about?” he asks.
“How do you know I’m thinking about something?”
“You get this look on your face when you’ve got something on your mind. It makes you look a bit constipated.”
I’m too surprised to be upset by his comment, and laugh. He joins in and we’re both snickering in the corner of the shop. People are starting to stare at us now, but I can’t be bothered to care. Baz has that effect on me. He always seems so confident and in control, and I’m dead jealous of that. I wish I could command the attention of a room the way he can, but at the same time I’m not sure if I’d actually want to attention of a room full of people.
Maybe I just enjoy the way being around him makes me feel. Like I could be confident like that; like I could remain unruffled in stressful situations.
Maybe I just enjoy being around him.
I think I might even like it more than fighting with him.
We find seats, and Snow makes himself comfortable. I curl my lip as I watch him scoop the entire pat of butter out of the little plastic container and plop it on his scone. It melts only slightly before he replaces the stop and takes a huge bite, moaning indecently as he chews. I can’t stop myself from rolling my eyes, and he stops mid-chew.
“Whu?” he says around a mouthful of scone, crumbs flying from his mouth and onto the table. I wrinkle my nose at them, and he quickly finishes his bite and tries again. “What?”
“You have truly terrible table manners, has anyone ever told you that?”
“Nope,” he grins, taking another huge mouthful, making exaggerated chewing noises that I really shouldn’t find adorable, but I do and it’s maddening.
He’s maddening. And I’m mad about him. Oh, fuck. Fucking fuck.
I’m falling for Simon Snow, and I can’t do anything to stop it.
* * *
Baz is hanging around the front of the building when I arrive, and I swear he almost smiles as I fall into step next to him. We enter the classroom together, and everyone’s head pivots toward us.
If I’m honest, I’d almost forgot there were other students. All of my attention is usually focused on Baz, and it occurred to me that we’ve had an audience for our fights. An audience who seems surprised to see us walking calmly together to our table, and sitting down without a single insult exchanged.
I wonder if this is our new normal and I find that I wouldn’t mind that at all.
Turns out Ebb does know Baz; all I had to do was be nice to him, and he went from vampire to bunny rabbit almost instantly. I quite like the change, even if it has stirred up some confusing feelings in the pit of my stomach. I managed to shove them away–as I do with any sort of complicated thought–and focus on today’s task.
I glance over at Baz’s paper, and see him painting a bloody brilliant sunset. Red, gold, and pink streak the sky over the canyon, and my breath catches.
“Shit, Baz,” I whisper, “it’s like you’ve really seen it.”
“I have,” he says simply, “when I was young. My family went on holiday to the States often. Well, we did, until–” he cuts himself off and busies himself with his painting once more.
I shouldn’t press, but we’re friends now. Isn’t that what friends do?
He glares at me, and I’m worried for a moment until it starts to soften. Then he just looks like he’s in pain.
“We stopped going after my mother died. The last happy memory I have of her is watching the sunset over the canyon. She was holding my hand–I still remember how her hands felt. They were always rough, but that was comforting to me. We watched the sun set on our last day of that holiday.”
“What happened next?” I ask, half-afraid of the answer.
He bites his lip, and I reach out to touch his arm; he lets me. “Less than a week after we returned home, she was hit and killed by a drunk driver. I was in the backseat. I was only five.”
I inhale sharply, and grip his arm harder. He doesn’t flinch away and almost leans into the touch.
We sit like that for a few minutes, and then go back to our respective paintings. Neither of us speak for the rest of the class, but this feels nothing like those other times.
Everything is different now.
* * *
The next four weeks are a blur of therapy sessions, art classes, and coffee dates; Snow waits by the door after every class, waiting to walk with me to Starbucks.
It’s an easy routine, and I find myself enjoying it far more than I probably should. When Snow asks me to the cinema one day after class, I almost feel excited before I realize he means as friends. I should turn him down, but I’m a masochist apparently.
After the time at the cinema, we start going more places together, and at times the lines of our friendship seem like they’re beginning to blur, but I’m too afraid of losing Snow to try and test them. I’m certain he’ll never return my feelings, and I would rather have him as my friend than go back to being enemies.
Ebb isn’t as easy to convince, and she spends nearly the entire hour needling me about how I should “take risks for the sake of my own happiness.” I just sneer at her, even though deep down her suggestion is every fantasy of mine coming true.
If I’m honest, I’m also unsure about the future of our current level of friendship. Our next class is the last one, and neither of us have brought up what will happen after it ends.
* * *
The days until our final class seem to go by too fast, and I know it’s because I don’t want it to be over. Without this class, what reason will Baz and I have to see each other?
Okay, so maybe we’ve hung out on other days once or twice, but there’s no way that means anything.
The final class is over too fast, and Simon is walking towards the door. I watch his retreating figure, and then decide I’m not ready to say goodbye to Simon.
“Snow,” I call out. He turns around, looking quizzical.
“Come back to mine?” I ask, hoping I don’t sound as nervous as I feel. He nods, and I feel myself smile.
Maybe Ebb was right. Maybe my own happiness does matter.
Our hands bump casually, as we walk side by side to my flat, and I feel the tell-tale sign of butterflies in my stomach. I feel like a damn teenager right now, inviting their crush over for the first time.
I suppose I am.
* * *
We’re standing in the kitchen with our drinks. I keep telling myself to invite him into the lounge, but that feels far too personal. (Which is insane; but, then again, Snow makes me a bit insane.) (Even when he’s not being an idiot.)
Our finished paintings are leaning against my kitchen cabinets and, even though they’re completely different, they somehow manage to match.
I realize I’ve been staring at the paintings for too long, so I take a sip of my drink to try and dispel how awkward I must seem. Snow is looking at me with a curious expression, and it’s making me feel warm all over. Or maybe that’s just the vodka. Either way, something feels different, like tonight we might actually cross the line from friends to…
To something more.
I shake my head to clear those thoughts. I’ve only recently stopped Simon from hating me, I can’t run him off by both admitting I’m queer, and that I’m quite possibly in love with him. (I especially can’t tell him that I wanked to the thought of him the other night.) (That guilt is going to eat me alive.)
Baz looks miserable and I hate it. I’m not even the direct cause of it (at least, I don’t think), yet I still feel as horrible as if I was.
I reach out and touch his cheek, and he lifts his head to look at me, “Simon–,” he whispers, “Simon, I–”
And that’s when I kiss him.
* * *
I kissed Baz last night.
Christ, I kissed Baz.
Baz, who I’m holding while he sleeps.
Baz, who I’m holding while he sleeps when I’m naked except for a sheet.
Baz, who I’m still holding.
Baz, who I don’t want to stop holding.
Baz, who shifts in my arms, cracking one eye open and smiling softly. At least he was, until he seems to register it’s me looking down at him and his face slips into a scowl. “Why did you kiss me last night?” he asks. in a way that demands an immediate answer.
My face falls and I bite back a groan of frustration. “Fuck, Baz. Because I wanted to!”
He looks at me suspiciously. “I don’t believe you.”
“I did!” I insist, but he still doesn’t look convinced.
“We didn’t–we didn’t do anything else, did we?”
I shake my head, and I swear he looks relieved.
“What does this mean for us?” I ask.
He looks away, pointedly ignoring my question, “Are you hungry?”
“Don’t try and change the subject,” I growl, but my stomach chooses that moment to betray me, rumbling loudly and reminding me that I haven’t eaten anything since lunch yesterday.
“I’ll make you breakfast,” he says, like he continuing to avoid the subject.
I don’t want to let it go, but my stomach rumbles again and the need for food wins out over my curiosity for now. We pull on our pants, and I follow him down the loft steps and into his tiny kitchen.
He opens the fridge and sticks his head inside. “I only have eggs.”
“Eggs sound good,” I assure him, and he cracks a tiny smile as he takes the carton out.
I lean against the counter and watch Baz prepare our meal. His brow is furrowed in concentration, and I want to reach out and smooth it down with my thumb. His hair is tousled, and I like that look on him. I feel warm thinking about the fact that he’s letting me seem him like this, and it gets harder to resist the urge to touch him. So I don’t.
I gently move him away from the hob, turning him until he’s facing me, and then leaning in for a kiss. He turns his head, and I frown.
“Why are you still here?”
“Because you offered me breakfast.”
He rolls his eyes. “I mean, why didn’t you leave last night? After you…after you kissed me?”
“Why would I have left?”
“Because you regretted it.”
“What makes you think I regretted it?”
“Because!” he cries, “you’re you! You don’t want to be with someone like me, you’re never going to wake me up in the morning and call me ‘darling’! You don’t want this.”
The eggs start to smell like they’re burning, and Baz moves quickly to turn of the gas and move the pan.
I wait until he’s finished. “But I do.”
“No, you don’t.”
“I do,” I say, seriously, “I do. I want this. I want all of this, if you’ll let me. I want to be with you Baz, really, I do. So, tell me how I can prove it to you.”
He shrugs, and I let out an exasperated sigh. “Christ, Baz! I didn’t have some sort of ulterior motive. We don’t even hate each other anymore! It’s been ages since we even fought.”
“It’s been less than four weeks,” he reminds me.
“Is that not enough?”
Baz picks up a spatula and pokes at the overcooked eggs.
“One kiss and you think the world’s gone upside down.”
“Two kisses,” I say. And I take him by the back of the neck.
* * *
The next two weeks fly by. Baz turns out to be more romantic than I’d expected. He’s always taking me new places and buying me presents that I pretend to be embarrassed about, but secretly love.
Everything is going perfectly, and I finally feel like I know what it means to be happy. Until one Tuesday afternoon, when Penny takes my hand and tells me that Micah asked her to marry him, and that she’s moving out at the end of the month.
And then my world starts to crumble.
* * *
I’m slumped over my kitchen table, clutching a glass miserably. My job has become increasingly shit as of late, and I’m upset because I’m actually considering leaving it and giving in to my father’s wishes.
My mobile vibrates, and I jump. The display says it’s my father, and I wonder if I jinxed myself by thinking about him. I take a deep breath and hit answer.
“Basilton,” he says, “how are you?”
He wants something. He never bothers with pleasantries unless he wants something. “Fine,” I say as politely as I can, “and you?”
“Good,” he replies, “good, business has been good. We just closed that deal we’ve been working on for months, and I’m taking your mother and siblings out for dinner to celebrate. I was wondering if you’d like to join us.”
I close my eyes and rake a hand down my face. It’s been ages since I’ve seen Daphne and my siblings, and an evening out with them sounds lovely. But I know my father; there’s a catch.
“What do I have to do?” I ask.
“Nothing at all, son,” he says, and I want to believe him. I want to believe that my father actually wants to spend time with me. I want to believe so badly that I say yes.
“Good, good, excellent,” he clears his throat, “we’ll see you this Friday evening.”
“I’ll be there,” I say and hang up.
As soon as I do, my stomach drops. I’d completely forgot about my date with Simon. I can’t call back and cancel, not without explaining to my father why I couldn’t go. I really do want to see my family; I miss them. It gets lonely living on my own, even with Snow over as often as he is.
I find myself looking forward to this dinner.
* * *
My day couldn’t be worse. I knew that I would eventually lose this job too; I don’t know why I’m even surprised.
Fuck, I want to see Baz. I want to see him and not have to think about my problems, but then I remember he’s got that family dinner today.
I know that Penelope’s home; her shoes are in a pile by the door, and I kick mine off in the same direction before fully entering the flat.
There’s a strange man in the lounge with Penelope, and I get nervous. Strange people randomly showing up in my home is something that still sets me on edge years later. Even though I know this person isn’t here to take me away to a new home, I can’t stop the anxiety that bubbles up at seeing him.
“Hello,” I say, as politely as possible, as I set my bag next to the door.
The man nods his own greeting, and Penelope widens her eyes, as if asking “who is this?” I try to shrug as discreetly as possible, and he clears his throat.
“Right, yes, I should probably introduce myself. I’m Oliver Jones, and I’m here on behalf of your grandmother.”
“I don’t have a grandmother,” I say, without hesitation. “You have the wrong person.”
“Is your name Simon Salisbury?”
I shake my head. “Simon Snow.”
“Simon Snow Salisbury?” he asks, and it looks like he’s reading it off a paper.
“You have the wrong person,” I say again, but he doesn’t budge. Penelope intervenes just in time, and I don’t break his glasses.
Fuck, what am I going to do without her here?
* * *
It turns out that Oliver Jones was legitimate, and I really am Simon Salisbury. It’d taken a lot of persuading and official documents to convince both Penelope and I that this guy was serious. Now I’m just here trying to work out the fact that I had a grandmother out there, and that said grandmother decided to leave me a decent amount of money. (Okay, a lot. It’s a lot of money.) (And that’s overwhelming.)
I sit down and start to read the letter he passed on to me:
You don’t know me, and I’m so sorry for that. I tried to find you, searched for you ever since you were born, but I could never track you down.
If you’re reading this letter, it means my lawyers have managed to finally track you down. If you’re reading this letter, it also means I’ve passed on. I’m so sorry I’ve never got to meet you when I was alive. I’m so sorry for a lot of things.
I’m sorry about what happened to your mother. Lucy. Lucy, my rosebud girl. The light of my life.
I’ll never know what she saw in your father, only that whatever he got her involved in led to her downfall.
Lucy went traveling after university, which is where she met Davy–your father. I didn’t hear from her for years after that, until I got a call from a hospital that I needed to identify a body.
You don’t want to hear any more details about that, and I don’t want to share any.
She’d arranged for you to be taken into care while she was still pregnant, and by the time I’d received any information, I’d already lost you in the system.
I’m so sorry you never got to meet her, but maybe I can pass on her memory through this letter.
Enclosed are pictures of her, and I’ve arranged to have more of my things sent to you. You don’t have to accept anything, of course, but there are quite a few photo albums and memory books that you might find interesting.
I turn the envelope upside-down, and three photographs fall out. I pick them up. The first one is a picture of Lucy at what looks like 15 or 16, standing in front of the Grand Canyon.
It looks exactly like it did on the postcard: vast, and imposing, and mysterious. Like it’s hiding secrets.
Looking at Lucy in the photo is like looking at myself, only with longer hair. We have the same nose, same smattering of freckles across our faces. Her shoulders are broad and her smile is sure, and it hits me that I’ll never know her.
It’s been ages since I’ve cried for my mother, and somehow it’s worse now that she has a name and a face.I don’t know how long I lay there; only that the sky’s gone dark, and I’ve managed to curl into a ball facing my wall.
I don’t know what I want.
I just know it’s not here.
* * *
When I enter the dining area of the restaurant, I don’t see Daphne, or Mordelia, or my other siblings. Instead, my father is joined by a man I recognize as one of his business partners, and a pretty dark haired girl, who is smiling in my direction.
“Basilton, this is Keris,” he says, and it hits me that I’ve been tricked. He didn’t really want to make amends, this was all a scheme of his to finally marry me off to some daughter of one of his business partners and bury the queer thing under the rug as some sort of youthful folly.
“I can’t–” is all I manage to choke out, fingers gripping the back of the chair I refuse to sit down on. I’m too mad to continue, and he just keeps fucking sitting there, like he didn’t lie to get me here, like this isn’t a huge bloody betrayal; like he’s actually being a decent human being.
“Aren’t you going to join us?” he asks, and I can’t believe him.
“No, father, I’m afraid not,” I say harshly, and Keris frowns. I feel a pang of regret, because she’s probably a lovely girl. I don’t mean to hurt her, but I can’t do this. My father has gone too far this time.
I can’t make out my father’s response over the sound of blood rushing in my ears. I turn and storm out of the restaurant, vowing never to fall for his tricks again.
* * *
I’m shaking by the time I arrive at my flat, and I practically run inside and into my room, shoving essentials into a carry on: my laptop, a few changes of clothes, and whatever else you’re supposed to take with you on a spur of the moment trip across the Atlantic.
I hear the honk of the uber I’d made wait outside, and I grab my bags, rushing out the door. At the last minute I pause, and almost leave my father’s card behind, but then decide it’ll come in handy for this.
Mind made up and jaw set, I exit my flat without looking back. (Except to lock the door. I’m not an idiot.)
I don’t even know what “this” is, exactly. I just know I need to get to the last place I felt a connection to my mother, because I need to talk to her. I need to know if she’d really want me to be the person my father expects me to become.
I need to know. I need answers. I need answers now, and the only way to get them is to see the sun setting on the canyon.
She’ll be there, I know it. I’ll feel her there and then everything will fall into place, and I’ll know what I’m supposed to do. I just need to…I need to…I don’t know what I need to do.
I’ll figure everything else out once I get to the canyon; to my mother.
I just need to get there first.
And I need to take Snow with me.
* * *
I’m still breathing heavily when the uber pulls up to Snow’s flat. I throw a few notes to the driver as I launch myself out of the car and up the front steps. I’m so fucking nervous I could vomit. I need to see him.
I jab at the buzzer and listen for the familiar sound of his footsteps thundering down the stairs.
Snow opens the door and looks surprised. “Baz? I thought you were at dinner.”
“I left early.” I say, trying my best not to sound as winded as I feel.
“Because we’re going to the States.”
“What? Why?” Snow repeats, stupidly.
“Because that’s where the Grand Canyon is. Keep up, Snow!”
“Why are we going there?”
Christ, he’s slow tonight. “Because I have to talk to my mother.”
Bunce chooses that moment to walk through the door, and Simon chooses that moment to blurt out our entire plan to her.
She stares me down, “You’re an idiot.”
“Fuck off, Bunce.”
“No, you really are! How do you suppose you’re going to get in? Have you filled out any of the paperwork? Simon doesn’t even have a passport!”
Shit. I don’t want to admit that she’s right, that I completely forgot all of this.
So much for spontaneity.
* * *
It takes us nearly a week to prep for our trip; eventually Snow receives his passport, the proper paperwork is filed, and we’re completely packed and ready for our not so spur-of-the-moment journey.
I’d thought waiting would lessen my urge, but it only made it stronger, the task more necessary.
My stomach starts to flutter as we load our bags into the back of the uber, and Snow grabs my hand. He does a good job of calming me down, something he’s had to do quite a bit these past few days.
Snow seems less anxious these days. I don’t bring it up for fear that being self-aware will reverse his progress, but it’s nice to see.
I let him sit in the front so he doesn’t get carsick, and the driver smoothly pulls away from the curb to take us to the airport.
And my mother.
* * *
After dealing with the long security line–and making sure Snow has plenty of snacks for the flight–we’re on the aeroplane.
The flight is long and, unlike Snow, I’m not able to sleep. (Truthfully, he’s so doped up on motion sickness meds that I’m a bit worried I might not be able to get him off the plane.)
Eventually, we start to descend, and the pilot comes over the loudspeaker and urges us to look out our windows to catch our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon.
I squeeze my eyes shut; I refuse to let my moment of clarity be spoiled.
The plane hits some turbulence, and the jolt wakes Snow up.
“It’s about time,” I pretend to growl, and he just blinks sleepily at me before closing his eyes once more.
(I do end up having to nearly drag him up and off the plan.)
By the time we deal with customs and baggage claim, and catching our charter plane to the airport closest to the canyon, it’s the middle of the night, and we’re both fucking exhausted.
Checking into the motel proved to be awkward. The receptionist asked if twin beds were okay, and fucking Snow opened his mouth to correct her. I kicked his ankle just in time, and he slammed his jaw shut.
I’m making it up to him now, though. We’ve pushed the two beds together, and I’m holding him by the shoulders, walking him backwards to the edge of the bed. When his shins bump the frame, I kiss him.
He doesn’t move his lips at first, but then he grabs the front of my jumper, pulling me into him until we’re crashing together, and the force of my body colliding with his knocks him backwards. His head thunks on the hard mattress, but I don’t think he’s noticed because he hasn’t stopped kissing me, his tongue licking at the inside of my mouth and his hands still gripping the fabric of my jumper.
We don’t get much sleep that night.
* * *
The walk from the bus to the spot I remember takes longer than I expected, and we’re both slightly out of breath when we arrive.
I close my eyes and allow Simon to guide me as close to the edge as we’re allowed.
“You can open your eyes now,” Simon whispers and my stomach swoops. I’ve been waiting for this moment for what seems like ages, and the anticipation feels like butterflies. I’m almost scared to look, but then I do and…
It’s a canyon.
It’s a very pretty canyon, but it’s just a canyon. All at once, the avalanche of disappointment threatens to bury me alive. I don’t realize I’m falling until I feel Simon’s arms encircling me. He gently sets me down on the rocks and comes to sit beside me.
Anyone else would press me to talk about it, but anyone else isn’t Simon. Instead, he takes my hand in his and squeezes it gently. I rest my head on his shoulder and allow the tears to flow freely.
The sleeve of his t-shirt is soaked with tears and snot, but he doesn’t seem to notice (or care) and he pulls me up and wraps me in a hug. He still hasn’t said anything, and I’m glad about it. I’m not ready to talk about it; not yet. Maybe not ever.
This trip was supposed to give me answers. It was supposed to make everything make sense. It was supposed to fix–
It was supposed to fix everything that was broken.
But it’s just a fucking canyon.
I don’t know how long I hold Baz; I’ve got one hand under his knees and one hand stroking the back of his neck, playing with the hairs at his nape. His breathing has long since evened out, and I’d think he was asleep if it wasn’t for the fact that his eyes were wide open. He’s staring at nothing, and it’s a little disconcerting, but I know better than to say anything. So I just keep on holding him.
I’m thinking about my mother, about her dreams. The way my grandmother put it, she didn’t seem to think Lucy ever got to travel like she’d always dreamed. She’d only ever gone as far as the Grand Canyon, the same place I am in right now.
I make a decision.
“What if we don’t go back?”
Of course he’s going to pretend like he didn’t hear me, “I said, what if we don’t go back?”
“To the motel?”
He makes a strangled noise then, and I wonder if maybe I should have waited to bring this up. But it’s out there, and I can’t take it back, so I push on.
“What’s keeping us in London, Baz? I mean really?”
I open my mouth to tell him, but then I realize…
Nothing. We have no reason to go back. We don’t have to go back.
Christ, we don’t have to go back.
This thought makes me giddy, and I shiver.
Simon’s forehead wrinkles, “are you cold?”
I shake my head, and then I’m laughing. I’m laughing, and I can’t stop. Snow looks at me funny before he joins in; and then we’re both laughing–great big juvenile snorty laughs–while lying on the dusty ground.
We must look strange two grown men tangled together on the ground, faces red and puffy, laughing our arses off. I’m too far gone to be embarrassed by anything right now,
I’m ready. I don’t know for what, exactly. I just know I want it, and I can’t find it back in London. London isn’t my home anymore, I decide, and then find that I’m more than okay with that.
I bury my face in Snow’s neck, and breath deeply. He always smells good, like something sweet and brown. It’s comforting, and I’m tempted to try and convince him to stay the rest of the night here. Screw the lumpy motel beds; I’m more than comfortable here.
I’m about to voice my idea when Snow jostles my shoulder.
“You ready to head back?”
I’m nodding before I realize what I’m doing. Of course I’m ready. I’m ready for anything Snow suggests.
He stands and the last remnants of daylight catch his bronze curls. It’s beautiful. He’s beautiful. This canyon is beautiful, and I’m so fucking happy in this moment.
Baz lets me haul him up until he’s standing, and he sags against me a bit. I let him. It’s a long walk back to the bus station, but I don’t mind. Baz is a reassuring weight against my side, and the two of us slowly make our way down the path.
We don’t look back.
* * *
“I’m glad I listened to Ebb when she told me to go to that class,” Simon muses randomly once the building is in view. “I never would have come here on my own.”
I plant my feet, and he lets go of me. “Your therapist’s name is Ebb?”
He looks defensive. “Yes, what’s wrong with that? It’s a nice name!”
I stand fully and snort, because this is too hilarious. “Oh my god. Snow! I think we see the same therapist!”
He drops his water bottle, and it rolls away into the bush. “No way!”
I nod and walk over to the retrieve his water bottle, cursing as my hand nearly brushes a cacti. Bloody America, I swear everything is out to hurt people, even the plants.
“Does your therapist have that couch in her office? The ugly red one?”
Snow gasps, “You’re the one who keeps threatening to set her afghans on fire!” And then, almost instantly, his face falls. “I thought you were a sign from the universe,” he says quietly, sounding resigned.
I scoff, “Oh, grow up. You seriously believe in destiny?”
He looks sheepish, and I’m torn between wanting to kiss him and wanting to ridicule him.
So I do both.
Snow inhales sharply as I grab him by the collar and haul his mouth up to mine, crashing our lips together. It’s not a good kiss; our teeth clack together and Snow is almost slobbering, but I don’t let go, and he doesn’t stop.
He looks dazed when I finally pull away and start in on him.
“Fine, then,” I say, letting go of his shirt and crossing my arms, “we were destined to see the same therapist, who decided to send us both to the same class where we somehow managed to become enemies–which was completely ridiculous, by the way,–and now we’re across the fucking Atlantic, because you were daft enough to go along with my fucked up plan to talk to my dead mother through a canyon.”
I swear he cracks a smile at that, and I have to bite back a giggle. “If you want to believe this is destiny,” I continue, “then go right ahead.”
“Okay,” he says.
“Okay,” he confirms, “I still want to believe this is destiny.”
I stare at him. “Why?”
“Because the other option is that Ebb was playing matchmaker and it’s too weird to think about,” he answers, with a little shudder.
This time I really do giggle as I pull him in for another kiss, wrapping my arms around his neck, and revelling in the feeling of our lips sliding together.
Simon pulls his head back and smirks, making me reach for him. I do. And then I do it again.
I’d cross every line for him. I’m in love with him.
And he likes this better than fighting.
* * *
We were too busy kissing by the canyon to catch our bus, so we’d had to wait over an hour for the next one.
I’d looked up used car dealerships while he was using the bathroom, figuring it was cheaper and more practical than renting.
I’m planning to surprise him with the news when we get back to the motel. And I hope he’ll say yes. (He’d better, considering this was his bloody idea.)
Snow leans his head on my arm, whispering, “I’m glad we came here,” almost too quietly to hear, like he doesn’t really want me to. I pretend I don’t, but when I reach for his hand he takes it and kisses my knuckles one at time.
I start to pull it back, but he holds fast and I relent. He presses one last kiss to the back of my hand and places our intertwined fingers on the middle of the seat.
We stay like that for the remainder of the ride.
* * *
Ebb’s office still looks the same, despite being a grainy picture on my laptop screen, and it hits me that it’s the only thing that is. It will be nice to have something familiar when we’re on the road, though. We’re lucky Ebb agreed to keep seeing us over Skype, both separately and together.
We’re just finishing up a conversation when Baz elbows me in the ribs and moves away too quickly for me to retaliate.
“Do you want a slice of pie for the road?” he asks, and I suspect he might be joking, but I nod anyway. Baz rolls his eyes, but still stands up and makes his way to the front.
“Lemon this time, please!” I call, and he shoots me two fingers. I laugh, and Ebb must’ve seen too, because she joins in.
“How’ve you been, Simon?” Ebb asks, once we’re calm again.
I’m about to answer her, when I glance at Baz at the counter. I feel like I’m intruding on a private moment when I see him fishing around in his wallet; once the waitress has her back turned, Baz slips a $20 bill in the nearly empty tip jar. He looks around furtively and then does it again. He’s left $40 dollars, and I feel my heart swell a bit.
He nervously shift from foot to foot, and when the waitress hands him the container of pie and his change, he drops it straight into the jar. I watch as she notices the two bills in there and her eyes widen a bit. Baz may have his back to me, but I know he’s blushing.
He hates when he gets caught being decent.
The girl is asking him a question now. He waves his hand, but she still brings out another slice of pie, which I hope Baz won’t turn away. (He doesn’t.)
I look away quickly when he turns around and let him kiss me on the cheek when he sits back down. (I think he does it out of habit now.)
“She gave me two slices of pie for some reason,” he grumbles, and I want to laugh. I want to reach out and snog him until neither of us can breathe. I want to take him back to the canyon, show him the place where I realized I was in love.
I want to tell him; tell him what he means to me.
Instead, I turn back to face the screen, where Ebb is waiting patiently for my answer.
“I’m good,” I say, and Baz takes my hand under the table. I let him intertwine our fingers, and he does that thing with his thumb that I like. I squeeze his hand and everything feels like it’s supposed to. It’s all starting to make sense.
“I’m really, really good.”