Don't you remember?
The first time we met?
No more than children.
We were at boarding school, me the quiet blond haired boy with green-y eyes you said could never make their mind up, sitting in the window of our dorm rooms watching everyone’s parents leave. We didn't meet, of course, until later, when you undoubtedly turned up late. I was about to head out, wearing a scratchy shirt and those embroidered blazers and matching navy shorts to combat the late summer heat. We almost crashed into each other, I almost dropped the bag I was carrying and yet you seemed unfazed. Well, you never really were.
Dark unruly hair that Matron despaired over, pale blue eyes that sparkled as you leant forward with a grin and said hello. And that jersey you wore, not beige like the rest of us but a bright scarlet beneath the blue.
I know I didn't speak much in those first few days, but I'm glad you persisted with it. I remember especially that evening you sat yourself on the end of my bed, feet against the mattress and one hand braced on the metal stead. You'd taken an apple from the orchard out in the court yard and offered it up, insisting you'd get me to talk to you somehow.
You were my first friend in that school, and I suppose we always were more solitary than most of the others. You pulled me into various groups to make friends and tried to get me to join the school orchestra, even if I couldn't even manage one note on a violin (Much to my parents despair). I was so shy in those days, the first time you took me to meet your family I could scarcely speak. That seems to trivial now, but it amazes me how confident you were, how you'd greet new people without batting an eyelash.
Music was where you truly soared, even then. Your mother was particularly proud of this new found talent, of course she would be. Such a charming child, hair slicked back with wax, playing such exquisite pieces would only be a bonus for when she had guest over.
It's when children grow up they become less useful in such a sense.
We were 12, I believe, when you first told me of your intent to become a composer. Leaning over the stone rails that looked out across the gardens of the school, arms folded over, chin upon them. Your face lit up to talk of your music, your eyes took on a look I came to know well and I knew in that moment you'd never be satisfied doing anything else.
It was, I suppose, downhill from there with your parents.
You used your pocket money to sneak out and buy sheets of paper to write out your notes, lamenting all the while on the poor quality of the school piano. I would sit on the table behind you, swinging my legs as I read through the book we were supposed to be studying. It was often remarkable you did as well as you did in school considering I don’t think you read a text book in your life.
Of course the teachers liked you, I'm sure you could get away with murder. I think I'll credit myself, just a little, with your exam successes given how many times you borrowed my notes.
When you're in school, when you're that young, it feels like it will never end. There's years before you grow up, years before moving away and going to university and having to live properly. There's sweet shops, there's sneaking things under your mattress, there's summers and Christmases, there's becoming a prefect or getting the cane. There's becoming older without even realising it's happening, finding yourself and not being sure what to do, not liking what you find. Nothing ever seemed to bother you, even as you joked that 'does being friends with a prefect mean I can get away with this?' To be quite honest I'm never sure how you coped so well at that point, looking back. Maybe you didn't, maybe I hadn't yet learnt the signs as you do when two people become more intimately acquainted.
Perhaps you noticed before I did, you always seemed to be one step ahead of me. Had pushed the thought to the back of my mind through exams but now, with nothing to occupy my time but waiting, it clawed its way back.
There you were pointing out women to me in the cafe in town and I had to feign interest. Didn’t know quite what you saw in them, knew I should. Tried, really did, to like their soft curves and features. Preferred the way you talked about them if I'm honest, watching you describe the 'beautiful blonde just behind you' in something akin to poetry.
I confess I was rather more excited than I perhaps should have been by your proposal to go away on a short holiday. Corsica you suggested, famed again for its beautiful women. Agreed that Corsica sounded most interesting.
Think it was maybe three nights in that we walked up upon that rocky outcrop, picnic and all, and watched the sunset. Last streaks of red were fading when you spoke again.
"You ever wonder if there's more to life Sixsmith?" Confessed I wasn't sure what you meant "Well, Mater and Pater expect me to go to University and study some 'sensible subject', no offence meant to you Sixsmith but I simply cannot abide physics or the sciences and I cannot study economics when the people in charge of it are such useless buggers my sisters could do better. Then of course after all that, the long term well-paying job and the big house, I'm expected to woo and court some woman of good breeding. Not of course a woman of my choice, and have the society wedding and at least 5 children. I simply cannot abide the idea, and I know it holds no interest to you past studying."
Made a noise of protest somewhere along the lines of 'children would be wonderful'.
"Do not think I am such a poor friend that I do not notice your disinterest in the ladies of our town, as attractive as they may be."
"I have always been more invested than my studies than the usual young man."
"Well I did think that, then I wondered if maybe there was something else."
You picked up a cherry and chewed it thoughtfully. You were never very tactful with such things and I watched as you knotted the stalk with your tongue. I can't say for sure but I think I was blushing.
"That's the look I was waiting for." You looked so pleased with yourself, grinning in the moonlight. "Do you find me attractive?"
"Excuse me?" I spluttered.
"I was merely wondering if your tastes lay more with the male persuasion. Do not look so offended Sixsmith, I myself have somewhat of a curiosity in that direction." I could just about see the glint in your eyes and I stammered over some illegible excuse. "It's not something to be offended by Sixsmith, even if there are those who proclaim, quite too loudly, otherwise. I say that they have such a loud outcry that must be a reason behind it. I'd say that that reason is their own fear that they might like it themselves." You stared at the sky that I was trying so hard to concentrate on.
"You think so?" I asked eventually.
"Oh come on Sixsmith, those men will complain about anything given half the chance. I just rather like giving them something to complain about." Glanced around, realised you were far closer than you had been, than you should have been, your hair dark and unruly, eyes staring up through your eyelashes as a small smile played on your lips.
Your lips slotted so perfectly against mine, moved so in sync it's something I still scarcely believe. Things like that only happen in books, not in real life.
Can't remember when I fell in love, confess that I can't remember much of what Corsica itself looks like past the way the sunrise looked against your skin and brought out the chestnut in your curls when I woke up next to you.
I think love happened somewhere between the voyage back to England, between going to Cambridge, between watching you stretch out over the back of a chair as you worked and leaning down to kiss you, between nights spent curled up on a too small bed listening to you breathe and you waking me up with kisses the next morning. And then you’d be back in your room the next night, and someone else would be there instead of me.
It happened gradually, I can't even pinpoint when I realised I'd fallen for you so hard. I think I might have laughed, laughed until I was crying at the whole stupidity of it all and how I was so desperate to just be with you despite the fact that we weren't together, we weren't a couple or even monogamous. For God's sake I think you were off with a girl you'd set your sights on as this realisation was happening but... I loved you.
I don't think I can stop.
Somehow it was still worth it, despite everything you did. It was still worth it for that shine in your eyes, that smile that turned up almost un-noticeably more on the left side, and that laugh...
I can hear you saying I'm stupid, but you must understand. In fact I know you do.
I still remember the night you got dis-inherited. Am not going to hold complete pity for you, but have some. For the way you came to my rooms with such a look on your face that told you me you had no idea what to do. It was gone in an instant, replaced by your usual exterior. 'Better off without them' you said. I'd be inclined to believe it if you hadn't ended up as you did, but who's to say.
Can hear you chastising me for the comment now.
Was more surprised than maybe I should have been when you told me you were leaving the university, I say leaving like you had a choice. I think I should say, instead, it surprised me when you said they were kindly asking you to leave the course.
Really shouldn't have been, not after what you said about Sir Trevor Mackerras and not after hearing night after night about your distaste for the way things were taught and presented 'in such a pompous, self-involved upper class way you never did see Sixsmith. It makes my mother look like a scullery maid.' All I could think about was ‘what does this mean for us?’ if you weren’t going to be in Cambridge anymore.
Allowed you to sleep in my bed many a night, between hotels and god knows where else. Watched you slip slowly, do wish you hadn't thought gambling was actually a good way to fund your composing but there we go. Felt like we were suddenly back in boarding school, with you scrimping and scraping together all the money you could to buy your manuscripts.
Then you vanished. Turned up to the hotel you'd been staying at, on the last of your good gamble, for lunch to find you quite gone. Almost had to run to escape from those collectors who felt sure that I knew where you were despite the many times I assured them that no I was just as confused as them.
Received your letter a few days later, perfectly you. Running of to Belgium on nothing but a whim, of course I shook my head - any sane man would. Couldn't help but smile though, at your writing on the paper and the words you'd penned together just so, the descriptions and the tones.
Hoped, rather too much, that I would be able to visit you. Unfortunate how things turn out.
I feel numb, like I’m under a frozen lake and everything is muffled.
It's amazing, when you look back, that you realise so much. You realise all these signs that were there long before you noticed them. And you realise that you should have gotten there sooner.
There were so many letters, little things, of Ayrs, his wife, of course, I wouldn’t expect anything less. And then Eva.
Didn’t dare write back what I wished. That letter, so poetic as you wrote of your infatuation and I could I could have mirrored it perfectly at you. It stung, but then we’d always been friends first, on the surface. I wanted to tell you everything, didn’t dare risk it, so I sent you a box of the sweets we used to save up for at school. Petty things, but I wanted to remind you of what we had, that I was still there.
And then came the damning letter. Shouldn’t have been surprised, you’ve never been one for tutors and authority, but strangely I was. How short a time ago you’d been writing about a new lease of life and yet here… It was like that night in Cambridge all over again, where I saw your face as it really was for one moment before you turned it around in your usual manner.
Knew I wasn't supposed to visit, did anyway.
Arrived early, as instructed. Found only a look of distaste when I asked after you at Le Royal. Remembered you mentioned the Belfry, so located it and began my assent. You didn't mention how narrow the steps were, or that the bells chime ever quarter hour. Gave me the fright of my life, emerging from the dark wooden steps to a chorus of clangs and booms.
Got used to it.
Realised I had no idea how to find you, so stayed there, staring out across the city because it was as good a place to start as any. I can see why you love it so much, looking out.
Didn't see you come up the stairs, wish I had. That was selfish of you.
Or maybe I'm being selfish, wanting that chance to talk you out of something you were set on, making you stay with me.
Maybe it was hard for you.
I don't know. I'll never know.
Stayed there until the chimes were merely a fact of life, rather than something to jump at.
Almost stepped around that corner, didn't. Vaguely aware that something was wrong. Feeling followed me around all that morning, searching out the cheapest hotels I could find. Gave up around 6 o'clock and retired to my own rooms. Wish I hadn’t now. Scouted out the other hotels for the next morning and restarted my search.
One felt like you, I could see you staying there I suppose. Barely got the confirmation from the land lord before I was bounding up the stairs.
Can't explain it, but I knew I needed to get there.
Knew somewhere in my heart you wouldn't let go of that waistcoat for any reason, or maybe just hoped you hadn't given up on me.
Reached the first landing when I heard it. Gun shots sound so very odd from such a distance. Stopped for one moment, barely took it in, suppose now I knew but at that point all I could think of was getting there in time.
Took steps two at a time, nearly fell twice when the wood curved beneath my feet. All in such detail I didn't realise I was taking in, so vivid. Nearly knocked over the lamp as I barged into your rooms, papers fluttered from the desk and beneath my feet as I rounded the corner trying to find you. Then time stood inexplicitly still. Gripped the door frame to splintering, trying to stop my hands shake. And all there was was you, in that cold bath tub in that unforgiving room which you should never have been in in the first place. All black and white, but this burst of colour still dripping, still warm as I walked slowly toward you as if I expected you to jump up and say you'd fooled me. Knew you hadn't, knew you would never move again. Still checked your pulse, don't even know why. The gun clattered, ringing around the room as the only sound and I cradled you as I had before but this time you weren't crying or laughing or kissing me. This time you were a rag doll in my arms, still warm as if you'd breathe given the chance. Hands came away red. That's when I cried. The red seemed so real compared to everything else, like I was watching it on a screen, but the red made it real.
Held you until others arrived, didn't stop crying even as they took you away from me. Knew I'd never see you again when you left Cambridge somehow but... Didn't think it would be like this. You could have at least gone off with Eva and left me behind, knowing you were out there somewhere, knowing you were happy.
Found your letter waiting for me when I got back to the hotel. Amazing how much a small piece of paper, smudged and crumpled can mean. I imagined you writing it, words nearly overlapping as you hurtled toward the end. Wished I'd made it sooner, wished I'd just rounded that corner. Maybe I could've talked you out of it. Knew the thought was stupid, you're too stubborn to talk out of such things. It would have been unfair to make you live for me.
Thought about following after you.
Heard your voice telling me this was a foolish and idiotic idea, told you that - as you were gone - you had no say in what was idiotic anymore. Knew I'd never win that argument against you though. Never could.
Sat and read your letter again.
Re read the piece about meeting again, wished it desperately to be true.
Wondered if I'd do anything differently.
Maybe I'd not fall in love with you this time. Knew that wasn't true, had never been able to resist your curls and your blue eyes and that crooked smile.
Maybe I’d not let you go, find an apartment in Cambridge where I could finish my studies and you could compose at some cheap piano we found in a second-hand shop and complain exactly like you did in boarding school. And it could be Corsica again.
But you were never the settling down type. I may have had your heart, but I would never share your life so completely.
Perhaps I was right to let you go, in what little way I could. Perhaps it was always destined to be this way, you always said didn’t you? You’d never reach 25. So out of character to be early, all I asked was one more moment.
Maybe I just thought that when we got to that point you’d have a reason to stay.
Maybe next time you will.