What do you do when you like your characters too much to kill them off? I started writing this story and had in mind that it would have a sad ending but once the characters had come to life on the page, I found I couldn’t do that to them. So I simply changed the ending.
I can’t move my arms and I’m so tired my eyeballs feel like they’ve been replaced by lumps of grit. Even blinking hurts. Perversely I’ve had the opportunity to sleep these last few hours but I couldn’t. I tried counting sheep and doing complex mathematical sums in my head but not one wink to be had. This is torture, pure and simple. Abi is working late but should be home any minute. We’re going out to celebrate our anniversary, four years, but all I can think of is cool sheets and an undisturbed seven hours. Bliss.
We met at a party. My mate Phil worked with the sister of Abi’s flatmate so we blagged an invite. It felt mapped out, like something important was destined to happen on that humid night in August. The party was jumping when we arrived, too many bodies trying to squeeze into the kitchen or dance in the poky lounge. A wall of heat hit us as we walked in and it felt like the best kind of gig; vibrant, sweaty and alive. The bass was thumping so hard you could feel it in your chest, like a heartbeat.
Phil and I grabbed a beer each then shoehorned our way into the lounge and boogied around in there for a while. It was very intimate, everyone rubbing up against each other, but a great way to start the evening. I was dancing with this foxy girl, all skimpy top and skintight jeans, when I got that hairs-rising-on-the-back-of-your-neck feeling that someone was looking at me. I glanced over my shoulder and, sure enough, there was a petite girl with short, dark hair staring at me, a wry smile etched on her lips. It put me off my stride and where moments before I was more than happy dancing with Miss Skimpy, now I’d lost my groove and it felt almost wrong to be dancing with her. I waggled my beer bottle at her, disentangled myself from the writhing mass and headed towards the kitchen. There wasn’t much more space in there but I managed to find my way to the sink where beers were bobbing in icy water. I grabbed the nearest one and held the chilled, perspiring bottle against my forehead. It felt cool and delicious.
Miss Skimpy hadn’t missed me and was now dancing with a beardy hipster type. Slightly irked that I had been replaced so quickly, I searched the room for Phil and noticed him leaning against the mantelpiece, attempting to conduct a conversation with a cute looking girl over the very loud music. Leaving him to it, I went through the French doors, down a couple of steps and into the garden. Despite the humidity, it felt fresher outside and there were groups of people enjoying the fact that you didn’t have to yell directly into someone’s ear to be heard. A familiar smell wafted towards me, sweet and pungent, which reminded me I had a joint in my pocket for just such an occasion. I had just taken my first toke when a voice behind me said, “You’re nicked, mate.” I spun around and found myself looking down at the petite girl with the elfin haircut. “Gotcha!” she grinned, punching my arm lightly. “Are you gonna share or do I have to go and make friends with those people over there?” indicating a group whose laughter drifted across to us.
“Be my guest,” I said, handing her the joint. She inhaled deeply, held her breath for what seemed like an eternity then slowly exhaled smoke which hung around her like a halo. “If it’s any consolation, you don’t have much in common.” “What?” “That girl you were dancing with. Puddles have more depth than she does so unless you want to talk about nail bars and Made in Chelsea, you’re better off out of it.” “Who says I wanted to have a conversation with her?” I deadpanned. That grin again, “Touché, mister.”
She handed the joint back to me, staring directly into my eyes as she did so. Her gaze was disconcertingly honest and I noticed that she had eyes the colour of moss and freckles on her nose. We chatted for a while and realised we had a lot in common; similar taste in films, books and holiday destinations and discovered we both worked in the music industry; Abi in A&R for a medium-sized label with solid indie credentials and me as a sound engineer. We also found we knew a lot of the same people and were surprised we hadn’t bumped into each other before.
I had finished my beer and my throat was dry from all the talking so I volunteered to brave the crush to get more refreshments. As I sidled through the tidal wave of bodies, a strange feeling hit me and I struggled for air. Then I realised, this is it, this is what love feels like, being punched in the gut. That particular image probably wouldn’t look quite so romantic on Valentine’s cards though.
Abandoning my quest I retraced my steps, needing desperately to get back to Abi. I hurried down the steps and across the parched lawn towards her. I stood in front of Abi breathless with emotion and looked down at her with fresh eyes, so completely different from who I was five minutes ago; a changed man. The air between us became charged as Abi felt it too. I closed my eyes and leaned down to kiss her when I heard sniggering. My eyes snapped open to see her giggling and covering her mouth to suppress the laughter. “I’m sorry but you just looked so serious, like a love-struck teenager going in for his first kiss.” I was just about to take offence when she stood up on tiptoe, flung her arms around my neck and gave me the sweetest, softest kiss of my life. “Wow!” she exclaimed when we resurfaced, “Does that mean we’re going steady now?”
There’s the door. My left arm’s got pins and needles so I shift slightly to ease the discomfort. “How are my two favourite people in the whole world?” Abi calls out at she rushes into the lounge. “I’m trapped but Freya seems fine,” I reply. Abi gently plucks the sleeping baby from me and kisses the downy fluff on top of her head. I stand up, flexing my arm to try to restore circulation, “I’ll hop in the shower while you two catch up on gossip.” “My sister’s coming round in half an hour so you’d better be quick. No wandering around in your underwear showing off your cute tush.” “Sure thing, hot stuff,” I reply embracing my wife and daughter. Sleep? Highly overrated if you ask me.