Friday, 13 January 2006

Chapter 1 | Just Friends

The first time we met was probably at school. I can't remember it. He was very quiet, shy and didn't know very many people.

I was 15, he wasn't cool. Nor was I, but I had friends who were.

He never spoke, although he was the cleverest of them all. He dressed badly and listened to Bob Dylan and hated Metallica.

Those things mattered more than I was willing to admit at the time.

Those things might have been the downfall of the us that never really was.

Now there's a lesson I'll be teaching my female children, whilst they refuse to listen, of course.

Then one day, he strode across the waxed linoleum with the most bizarre haircut I'd ever seen; a result of his best friend being bored the night before. It involved shaved patches.

His slightly more extroverted friend took to my friend M, not in a sexual way, but I think they both saw each other as the lesser of evils in an especially dire class.

One day, Extroverted Friend and The Boy With the Ridiculous Hair showed up at M's house and we hung out.

I sat next to The Boy as we watched TV, and just sitting there, his brown eyes falling into mine, made me feel like I was cheating in my 15-year-old way on my much better dressed, better looking boyfriend.

We all became friends. Strangely, no relationship ever ensued from that group of hormone-addled, undersexed people, us extroverted, socially proliferous girls and a bunch of spotty, geeky boys.

With a somewhat disintegrating family and parents who were rarely there, The Boy's house swiftly became our main hangout.

I didn't want to admit I was in love with him, but I know now that I was from that first day in front of the TV. He wasn't right and didn't fit into my life.

But he had something special, everyone noticed. He had the eyes of a 70-year old in his 16-year old face below the lopsided hair (he shunned hairdressers so it bore traces of his friend's creativity for months afterwards). The other boys would always agree with him, although he never bossed anyone around.

Everyone wanted to be his favourite, but he never favoured anyone. As he was introduced to the school's social scene through us, girls started appearing and falling for him left right and centre. Even if I'd wanted to compete, I might have lost out. Maybe I was scared of losing.

As we got older, we started going into town at the weekends, to go to bars and clubs. The Boy didn't really like going out, although he drank plenty at home.

So I used to go over to his house after the bars closed, knock on his window and stay over in his bed, resting my head between his shoulder blades in my sleep. We used to kiss, cling onto each other, waiting for something to happen, and it never did.

Even when he had other girlfriends, he would look at me in that certain way, and I would wonder why he didn't want me. "I don't want to be the first", he said. Why, I still don't know.

One night, in a bar, he licked the Irish cream off my upper lip and I pushed him away. "I'm not your girlfriend," I said. He said nothing and just kissed me. I can't imagine he kissed his girlfriend like that.

In our platonic group of friends, this was our secret. Boys thought I was an ice queen. In reality I was offering myself to The Boy on a plate, and accepted, but neither of us knew how to handle it from there. We didn't fit into each other's daytime lives in a way.

We saw each other every day, went to see crap matinees, ate in cheap restaurants, stayed up all night discussing literature.

One time he stayed with me for days on end when my parents were away, but nobody knew. On the last evening, another of our friends made a comment as to how nobody ever seemed to be good enough for me.

"I just don't want to belong to anyone," I said, and I thought I meant it.

The Boy looked at me. "Not even me?" he said so everyone could hear it. As our eyes met, I knew I would lie to him, but I didn't think it mattered.

A split second passed, we were the only ones to notice, and I wanted it to be that way.

"Not even you," I said. And our other friend laughed at his own joke and said "how could you even think a girl like that would want someone like you."

The Boy met my eyes behind his back and I knew I'd deliberately broken his heart. But I was scared of what I was feeling.

When I was 19, I'd had it with my home town, with staying at home, with everything. I was so bored. So I left the country.

He wrote me. Long, meandering letters about his boring job, his dysfunctional family, never saying he missed me, although I think maybe he did a little.

And I got rid of my virginity and came home after six months and he made love to me, it was New Year's Eve or very early on New Year's Day, and waking that morning I knew he mattered. But I said nothing. And my flight left the next morning.

Maybe that was what opened my eyes up. I thought, even with my very limited experience, that the earth doesn't move like that with just anyone. I realised why I never bothered to look twice at anyone else, why I hadn't for years.

So I came home and told him I'd decided I was in love with him. But it was too late.

I went to university, brought home a new boyfriend, and in the early morning hours while my boyfriend was asleep in my bed across the room, The Boy and I were sitting next to each other on the sofa, and he leaned in and whispered in my ear, begging me for one more kiss.

But I couldn't. From now on, it's all or nothing, I said.

And nothing is what I got.

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