It’s just the two of us. Tom picked up a shift, so won’t be back till long after everything’s done. A bowl of chips wobbles between our laps. In the TV light, our legs tangle across that old coffee table Jamie thrifted for to match the couch. I put on one of those Earth docos Jamie likes, the Attenborough kind that goes on and on about places you won’t believe without seeing them, that Jamie says he wants to visit after uni’s all over.
✷ ✷ ✷
“I’ve always wanted to climb Machu Picchu. Know where that is?”
Yes, I said, I remember you told me. South America.
“It’s in Peru, along the slopes of the Andes.” He had this look to his eyes, warm brown eyes, as he traced one hand in the air, the other down my- “spine of South America.”
The bed creaked as I pulled in closer but he kept going on.
“Imagine walking through the ruins among the clouds, watching their shadows in the valley below.”
I remember being so close, closer still. I ran a hand through his hair, splitting locks into wisps. “Like steam over a nice black coffee.”
Jamie chuckled. “I mean- yeah. It’s kinda awe-inspiring, right?”
✷ ✷ ✷
I bought him a travel board last Christmas, something brand new, a world map for pinning photos to. Pictures he kept round the unit got emptied from their frames and tacked up in our room, the whole thing my side of the bed. Didn’t need to be, but that’s okay. Compared to the bed, the dresser, it looks good.
TV audio stuffs up and the screen crackles. Jamie untangles, flips on the lights, knocks the chips over as he goes to deal with it. That guilty smile when he sits down.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. No preloved next time.”
Like our couch, table, chairs, all the plates and cutlery, everything we share with Tom, it’s all second-hand, and likes to remind you every day. We’re lucky this place came with a fridge. Jamie says everything’s gotta be saved up for after uni, for Machu Picchu, for us to see the rest of the world.
What’s the rest of the world got?
He couldn’t even wait to finish his degree.
✷ ✷ ✷
“You know you still don’t have to go if you don’t want to,” I called from the bedroom.
I folded another pair of pants and put them in line to board Jamie’s suitcase. He came back from the bathroom, wedging in what he needed. The bed creaked again under the weight.
“London’s not even exotic or ‘awe-inspiring,’ Jam. It’s just another city on the other side of the world.”
He turned away, went through drawers. “Samantha, please. I do. It’s a year’s scholarship, you know I need this.”
“It’ll be cold and wet and probably smells worse than the tavern’s Sunday clean-up.”
That made Jamie laugh. His arms came around me from behind. “And the open gutters’ll run with the filth of the masses. There’ll be rats-” he nibbled on my ear.
I swatted him with a pair of socks.
We swayed in each other’s arms.
“I still wish you weren’t going. At least for so long.”
“You’ll be fine.”
✷ ✷ ✷
Attenborough’s describing the Amazon as rain starts outside.
Listening to it like this makes everything feel cosier, that much closer, so I lean into Jamie and press my hand into his, the other playing with his hair like it should. I twist a lock round my finger. It’s been dark for years but I can still find where he was blonde in lines of gold, like in old, polished wood-grain.
Must be all I’m good for, since I still have that tavern job. Tom put in a good word after the barista gig finally died, got it for me in the Christmas hire – not long before that travel board.
I wipe the bar down till you can see your pout and everyone’s gone because we’re closed. Except Tom, trying to make conversation till I’m ready to go.
✷ ✷ ✷
“He sent me a picture from the London Eye. Dragged a bunch of poms with him.”
“Couple weeks, though. Be good to have him back.”
“Sam and Jam still gonna have that cute ring to it?”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “I still like it. Worked in high school, nothing wrong with keeping it that way.”
Tom’s laugh echoed through the bar. “Sure, cuz everything’s just the same.”
He dodged my dishcloth and went on laughing.
“Sam, I think you need to be honest about what you really want.” He spread out his arms. “This- now I’m happy with this, but what about you?” He pulled something from his pocket and tossed it on the bar: a ziplock bag.
Tom flipped a glass and barely caught it. Grinning, I saw the light dance in his eyes. “Already took one on break. That new dickhead manager couldn’t even tell.”
I threw a couple back and hoisted myself up, over and into him just like we’d practiced every close that month.
✷ ✷ ✷
I close my eyes, rest my head on Jamie’s shoulder. “Love you, Jam.”
“Love you too.”
Just let that moment sit a while longer, before anything else, just the two of us on this beat-up couch listening to the rain and that stupid TV now telling me how cold the South Pole is. I need everything to sound right, better than practiced.
“Stuff like this makes me wanna have a place all to us, y’know.”
Jamie’s still watching the TV. “Someday, yeah.”
“Why not sooner?”
“Oh, you know the plan.”
I wait a moment. “London wasn’t part of our plan, and that went fine. Why not something else?”
Jamie turns his head and I feel his lips on my temple. “Different.”
“But different’s good.”
He doesn’t turn his head back. “Where’s this coming from anyway?”
I pick myself off his shoulder. I lean away and stretch, popping joints till he pauses Attenborough so he can properly look at his girlfriend. “Jamie, I want us to move out.”
✷ ✷ ✷
It was only once we’d finished that I noticed Tom’s bed didn’t creak. Lying there, the only noise was my breathing, Tom’s as well, still going back and forth between us. I shifted on the covers, waiting for some other sound, Tom watching beside me.
I’d been there before, his bedroom, just hanging out. Not like that until after Jamie left. There wasn’t a lot to it, framed movie or band posters on the walls, shelves next to amps and a guitar, next to the bed we were still lying in. But how did it all get there?
“Still feeling it?” Tom’s eyes looked pretty funny up close.
Were my eyes like that too? I took a deep breath. “A little.”
“You know what takes the edge off?”
I said I didn’t, please tell me.
“Food. That takeaway from other night, how’s that sound?”
He shook on some pants and went downstairs. I pulled my top over my head. I gave the room another once over. I remember thinking about negative space for some reason. I didn’t want to eat sitting on that bed, why had I thought about that, so I put on my pants too and followed after Tom.
Fridge cold sweet and sour pork had never tasted so good. We didn’t bother with furniture, just stood in the kitchen spearing from containers.
Tom had started before me so he finished first. “So what now?”
Still eating, I shrugged.
Tom kept going. “He’s back before the end of the month. I don’t-” He put his hands up. “What do you want to do?” The kitchen lights looked flat against his eyes.
“Yeah, but what do you want?”
I swallowed and threw the empty container in the sink. “That’s for me and Jamie. We’re happy, it’s comfortable. We can be happier, more comfortable.”
✷ ✷ ✷
I can’t sit on this couch any more. “We have the money.”
We’re both standing up.
Jamie tries to step closer to me. “You know that’s not what it’s for.”
“I do, it’s for us.” He doesn’t know how much I missed him.
“Yeah, it’s for us, for us to travel together. I don’t want to go to places like London without you. I want us-”
“Then why go in first place?”
A smile spreads itself across his face, why? “I don’t want to just be sitting around my whole life. There’s so much I want-”
He doesn’t know. “Sitting around like me?”
“No, I never said that. I don’t mean that.”
“I’m just here sitting around with the rest of your preloved shit.”
“Samantha, where is this coming from?”
I drop back to the couch, knock the chips with a foot. I just need him to know how I feel, nothing else. Please, I can make this happen. He sits back down with me. I can do this.
Someone pounds on the door.
Jamie makes a move but I get up. “No, I’ll get it.”
I tear away from the couch. I grind my teeth. Who the fuck-
✷ ✷ ✷
“Close your eyes.”
“What for?” I looked around our room, Jamie’s clothes all about from unpacking.
I did what he said, listened to him rummage through a bag, felt his breath on me as he stepped close and put something in my hands. A small box.
“When I first got there, going through the Heathrow airport, I saw this and thought of- remembered what you said about trying to keep warm.”
I waited until Jamie said I could open wide.
A bracelet. Silver link chain. Handmade, said the label. New.
A single charm looked up at me from velvet cloth: a sky-blue enamel coffee mug with a swirl of rising silver steam.
“Oh, wow. Thank you.”
Is that how you’re supposed to sound?
He can’t know. He doesn’t need to.
✷ ✷ ✷
It’s Tom. Before the door’s even properly open, he pushes past me, dripping all over the floor, plastic bags clenched in both hands. He stops in front of the TV, treading a stray chip into the carpet.
Jamie gets up. “Y’alright, man? Thought you’d be later.”
Tom looked from him to me and back again, eyes back and forth, bloodshot. “Was hungry so stopped for Chinese, enough for everyone. I-” He tries to smile. “I just got fired.”
Jamie gives me a look. How should I know?
“Yeah, I- can we just sit down?” His voice breaks but Tom isn’t looking at me. “Jamie, dude, I’m- I’m real sorry but I- we gotta talk about something.”
“It’s important. You still like Chinese, right?”
Rory is an English/Irish-grown & Meanjin/Brisbane-based first year Creative Writing student and aspiring writer/editor who likes exploring ideas of expectations, perspective, and the every-day weird. Lately, it’s been all about people trying their hardest to not figure things out. With short stories, Rory wants to create pieces you’ll not just reread but reinterpret every time.
You can find more of his work in the fourth, fifth, and sixth (upcoming!) issues of @scratchthat.mag, a fresh-ish poetry addition to @bluebottlejournal, the latest issue of @inkblotmagazine, Cold & Soggy 2021, and through his Instagram @rory_writes_sometimes.