The Morning After the Life Before

She was always going to be judged for her life choices, but only one opinion meant anything at all. Contains content which may offend.

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Tabitha rolls onto her stomach. The winter’s light shines down on her through the plants, creating mottled shadows across her honey skin. She gives me a satisfied moan, and I adjust to a sit at the edge of the bed.

“Going?” she asks me, and I nod to the tune of a thought in my head.

“It’s my apartment,” I say, shaking my head as I realise what she asked.

She lays on her side, draping her fingers over her breasts in a way that could only be invitation. I smile at the memory of her saying she wasn’t ‘into girls’. Well, her actions are speaking louder than her words now, and I wonder what her mother would say if she knew where my hands and mouth had just been.

“Why the rush?” she asks as she rests her head on the pillow, giving up her wistful smiles and seductive self-caressing.

I turn to her, admiring the curves of her body, the falls of her sandy blonde hair, and pink of her cheeks that tell me she’s not joking. She seems breathless, but not because we were doing anything like cardio.

I wipe my mouth and start feeling around the floor for my underwear. They’re the same shade of blue as my carpet, and that’s less than helpful in moments like this.

She moves behind me, slinking up to my back and making sure I feel her enviable breasts for all they’re worth. Not that I fancy complaining. Her hands glide across my shoulders, followed by a massage around my back, across my ribs and then my breasts. I roll my head back and sigh.

“I only sat up,” I say, and she chuckles behind me.

“Come and play,” she whispers as her fingers descend.

“Why?” I ask as I remove her hands from my thighs and turn to her. “I clearly didn’t satisfy you enough the first time.”

She snorts a little and pulls away, sitting in a pose that I’d have decided was cute if I wasn’t also growing frustrated.

I kneel up on the bed and watch her, raising a brow as I do and she giggles out a tease. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in another game. It isn’t every day I get a blonde bombshell in my bed, especially one that hadn’t experienced sex with a woman before.

She tilts her head, wrinkles her nose and matches me as she rises to my level. Her hands find their way onto my hips and she presses me close, bellybutton to bellybutton.

“You know, I get the feeling that I could just drop dead now and you’d just go make yourself a sandwich,” she says.

I smile. “I don’t much fancy a sandwich.”

She laughs and feels my body as I feel hers. She’s so close now I can taste her, and my tongue dances behind my lips as I try to fight away the temptation.

Grabbing her wrists, I rock her onto her back and straddle her before she can blink away the surprise. I lean in close, so close I can see flecks of brown in her pretty green eyes, and stop a snarl.

“I thought you didn’t like girls,” I say.

Her eyes flash wide as though reliving last night, and finally she looks as sober as the first time I met her. If only I’d noticed how miraculously interested she was when I told her I’m bi.

“I-I’m sorry,” she says.

Sorry for what? Does that mean she’s a lesbian? Or…

She starts to wriggle out from under me and the realisation is as cold as the day is without human contact.

“My boyfriend is probably wondering where I am,” she says as she starts scrambling for her clothes. “T-Thank you, though. Last night was fun… and this morning. I was satisfied.”

“Not by Tom, though, I guess?” I say without looking at her. “Thought you two broke up.”

Fairly sure that’s what she’d said right before she shoved her vodka-doused tongue down my throat.

She’s silent, and I sigh.

“I used you too,” I say, hoping it’ll offer some weird ounce of comfort. “I don’t date women.”

“Yeah… you said last night.”

“So, it was just sex,” I say more so to myself. “You’re not the first girl to try playing it risky.”

I see her nod in the corner of my eye, but she seems lost for words. I have no interest in finding out why she wanted to cheat on Tom, or why she picked me. She’s not the first bird to flutter in and out of his life due to boredom, but I’ve known him a long time… I’m now the other woman.

“Please don’t tell him,” Tabitha says before quietly leaving the room.

I stare at the scrunched up sheets on my bed, the satisfied stains, and the absence of her under the dancing shadows.

“I really need a new vetting system,” I grumble as I lay back in my bed. Tabitha was a new name to be scratched into a very long list of ladies that are only gay when they’ve had their will relaxed by alcohol. “I need new friends,” I add as I realise how many of those names are too close to home.

Tom won’t be happy when he finds out, but, of course, it’ll be my fault – not the lie’s. I’ll be the pariah and he’ll tell Jared, and then Jared won’t… uh. No, Jared never would to begin with.

My phone buzzes.

It’s him.

“Speak of the devil,” I say as I answer the phone.

“Yeah? What have I done?” Jared asks. He sounds breathless.

“You jogging?” I ask.

“No, a hill,” he says.

“Mmmhmmm, it’s a bit early for hills, isn’t it?” I lay out in bed.

“Aha, not for milk it isn’t, what are you up to?”

“Lying in bed… naked.” Not sure why that last word made an appearance.

“Uh, ha, thanks for that lovely image,” he says, clearing his throat.

“It is a lovely image,” I say and he laughs. “You can store it in your wank bank.”

Now I can’t quite get that image out of my head.

“Yeah, I will, thanks. Can never have too many deposits.”

“I think your computer would disagree,” I say as I roll onto my stomach and root around the floor for those damn knickers.

“Oi, I cleaned it out.”

“And you didn’t share?”

“Sorry.”

There’s a weird silence and it makes me feel far too uncomfortable. I find my knickers.

“Why did you phone?” I ask as I try putting the blasted things on one handed. “Up for a pint?”

“Wow, no, Lynn, it’s not even 10am, but thanks, no I was wondering how you’ve been.” It’s that concern in his voice that could melt me. The only person I’ve ever known to give a crap if I vanish for a few days. “I know what Criss said wasn’t on.”

I grit my teeth.

“Criss? What did she say?” I ask, faking complete amnesia regarding the incident that landed me at the house party last night.

He’s silent.

He knows I didn’t drink a drop, and he probably knows I went somewhere to self-destruct… he might even know I brought someone back to my bed to do it.

“We, uh, we broke up,” he says after he clears his throat again.

“W-what, why?” I ask, trying not to sound too delighted down the phone.

“I don’t think you’re a whore, for a start,” he says flatly. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having fun with consenting people. In fact, you know, I think it’s pretty cool that you own yourself the way you do. Don’t apologise for it.”

I bite my lip and try not to have this conversation over the phone. There are a lot of things I want to tell him but I can’t, not face-to-face. No matter what nice things he was just saying, I still felt as Criss described, especially since Tabitha had skipped out not five minutes ago.

“You know… there are people who think I should only have sex if I’m in a relationship,” I say. “But my relationships also fall apart because I just can’t emotionally feel the way I physically feel about people.” I’m not sure why I feel the need to justify myself to Jared. I’ve made no excuses before. “So, should everyone be celibate until they know without a doubt that they’ll be with that person forever? I thought I would…”

“I know you did,” Jared says, huffing.

“Where is this hill?” I ask. “There’s no hill near your house.”

“Nah, I’m not climbing the hill anymore. Just too many stairs.”

My heart almost stops and I leap up to my feet, bounding through my apartment to try throwing the latch on… he’s there. He’s stood in my kitchen with a kettle in one hand and his phone in the other. His eyes slide up and down me, and his lips slowly part.

“Uh, hi,” he says, and hangs up.

“I-I told you I’m naked,” I say as I start to step backwards, throwing my phone on the couch as I do.

“You said I could put it in my wank bank,” he countered, his eyes still struggling to look anywhere other than me, and I can feel my face flush like Tabitha’s had. “Sorry.”

He finally looks away, fumbling to put the water in the kettle and stifling a snigger.

“Oi.” I grab the nearest piece of clothing I can find, a t-shirt from two days ago, and use it to cover myself. “Why are you here?”

“Doing what we always did,” he says. “You know, back before Criss.”

“Eh?”

“You know, you’d go off and vanish for the night and I’d come round and make sure you’re still alive.” He nods as he says this, and then sits the kettle back on its perch. “Good times.”

He’s looking at the kettle as I try fumbling on the t-shirt.

“I saw Tabitha,” he says coolly.

I freeze.

Shit.

“Doesn’t take Sherlock to work out why she was here.”

“I didn’t know.” I sit on the couch and grab a nearby pillow to shield the rest of my ‘modesty’. Not like I’ve never walked around in the buff in front of him before.

“Didn’t know what?”

“That she was still with Tom.” I grit my teeth. I wasn’t sure whether to tell him the truth about her lie, but I swallow that thought. Just feels like it was too cliché, passing the blame off on her.

‘Don’t shag your mate’s ex,’ was a favourite quote of Tom himself.

“They’re… complicated…” Jared says as the kettle starts to boil.

I watch him. I watch him like this man is the same person as the kid that used to carry me on his bike to school in the mornings. The same one that got drunk off half a bottle of whisky neat and then vomited on a policeman’s shoes, and only got a scolding. This is the same guy who used to turn up after bad nights with a loaf of bread, a bag of bacon and bottle of fizz. We’d curl up and watch Pixar movies under a blanket fort.

Then Criss happened.

He stopped answering my calls, and whenever we’d meet in person he’d play clueless to our dirty in-jokes. She’d turn her nose up at me or point me to ‘butch’ lesbians (or what she thought looked like lesbians) and ask me if I’d ‘bang ‘em’. I remember when he first heard this and looked uncomfortable, but eventually he started laughing.

Now he’s here again like nothing has happened, but he’s making tea.

“Why are you really here, Jared?” I asked flatly. “Apologising for pretending I didn’t exist while you were with her? In fact, did you break up or is that not something people like lying about these days?”

“What the heck’s gotten into you?” he asks as he turns around to face me. He’s got a tea bag in his hand like some middle-aged chump.

“Me? Me?” I stand and he looks away again. “I’m not your fucking sister, you can look.”

He does.

“You know what, it feels really weird that you’re here now,” I say. “As though I haven’t been spending the last four years wanting you to turn up and see if I’m okay.”

“I-I—”

“No, you don’t.” I throw the pillow back on the couch. “You completely changed when you were with Criss, so was that an act? Were you just pretending you found homophobic slurs funny? Or is this now an act? Did you break up and think, ‘who’d give me a pity shag? Ah, yeah, the woman, my best friend, who Criss called a ‘whore’ last night.’ Well, I’m not a fucking whore.”

“We broke up because she called you a whore!” he groans and I seethe.

“Why last night?” I ask. “And not the first time it happened? I know she’s never said it outright but she damn well implied it every time I saw her.”

He’s silent.

Hopefully dumbstruck for words.

The kettle boils.

“You know you sound really paranoid right now,” he says, turning back and putting the tea bag in my favourite Star Wars mug. “And yeah, I feel like shit for remembering how I’ve been treating you, and I still consider you my closest friend. It wasn’t right and when she called you that I realised what was happening.”

He turns to look at me and I purse my lips.

I’m always feeling ten seconds away from something explosive, and it was only ten minutes ago I was feeling nostalgia and missing him. Now I’m looking at the door, and he catches me.

“If you want me to go, I’ll go,” he says with a defeated sigh. “Just let me apologise for being a dick.”

“Go on,” I say with a stiff upper lip.

“I’m sorry for ignoring you when Criss was around,” he says. “I’m sorry for ignoring all the times she treated you bad because I thought I wouldn’t do better then her.”

“You could always do better,” I say.

“Yeah well, the only person who could ever do better never really offered,” he says. I see his jaw clench but then he turns away. “I’ll finish your tea and I’ll go.”

I’m not ready to sit again. Instead I’m going through what he just said in my head.

“Sorry, who?” I ask.

“What?”

“You said ‘the only person who could ever do better’ than Criss,” I repeated, slowly, still not sure of his wording. “Who?”

He takes a slow but deep inhale, pours out the hot water, and then exhales as he looks in my small fridge for some milk. It was frustrating because that’s exactly how he used to delay to work out a lie.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Well, it clearly does to you.”

“You know, I told myself I never wanted anything from you,” he says suddenly. He slams the milk on the side and stands as though trying to work out his next sentence. “You’ve always carried everything with you. The whole world would either amaze or destroy you and I could never tell which way you were going to go. And I damn well admired you for owning yourself and not letting people treat you like something you’re not, a slut or a whore.”

“What are you saying?”

“You’re like that Weeknd song, The Hills?” He chuckles and then smells the milk, then groans. “You’re gonna need to drink this black.”

“Sorry.”

“But that song,” he says, turning to me and wagging his finger. “That always reminds me of you. It bugged Criss because I love that song. When it came out I noticed you didn’t self-destruct until Criss was around, and you weren’t this bad with who you slept with. It’s like you stopped caring. And looking back on it, I think it bugged her that we still met up on Saturdays, no matter what and she always wanted to be there. And last night she was supposed to be working but, for some reason, she didn’t. I realised I’ve never been left alone with you since I got with her.”

I noticed, but I never said anything.

Couples. It’s why they’re gross.

“Just say what you want to say, Jared.”

“I don’t know what I want to say.” He pulls the tea bag out and flicks it in the bin. “As I said, I told myself I never wanted anything from you.”

“You mean sex?” That resolution stung more than I expected it to. “You didn’t want sex?”

He chews the inside of his cheek and then nods. With a sigh he hands me my cup of tea and starts backing towards the door.

“I’ve never heard you so confused in your whole life,” I say.

He nods, and starts to leave.

“I’m not going to tell Tom you slept with his girlfriend,” he says. “Since she’s ‘besties’ with Criss. I don’t want that kind of crap being flung your way.”

“I’ve always got that crap coming my way.”

He sighs. “See you on Saturday?”

I’m looking at him with newfound eyes, and he’s got a kind of vulnerability I haven’t seen since his appendix burst in Year 11. He’s not heartbroken, not like when Abbie cheated on him, but he was only with her for four months and they were thirteen. After four years, I thought Criss would be the one to unsettle him.

There’s a whole lot he’s just said and I’m struggling to piece it all together. There’s bits missing and bits so well coded that it’d require a trained professional to work it out, or someone that isn’t as blind as me.

Yet I am fairly sure he said something he didn’t mean to, and I’m fairly sure he used some past tense on some key phrases.

He sighs. “Never mind.”

“Wait. I have a question.”

“Yeah?”

He turns as I remove my top, and his eyes widened in a way I know I’ve wanted for a long time.

“You say I never offer?”

Sometimes she writes. Sometimes she doesn’t. Either way, she’s not doing what she’s supposed to be doing.

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