A Four-Edged Square – Part 3
And so, she did. She told me about her latest boyfriend, Gerry. How she had walked into his flat and found him fucking another friend on a half-built Ikea dresser. She told me about how her lab-work, and research at the university where she worked was dull and tedious. Simple tasks an undergraduate could do. And no matter how much it paid, she was overworked, eternally tied. She went on to tell me that she might have a problem with alcohol, but couldn’t be entirely sure. She wanted me to tell her the point at which a ‘regular drinker’ becomes an alcoholic – but I couldn’t tell her what I didn’t know.
Finally, she asked me what I thought of it all, of her.
“Are you depressed?” I asked.
“Ah, what is depression but a politically correct way of saying a person’s… fucked.”
“It’s not that, you know it’s not.” I said, attempting to see something revealing in her eyes. But they were as stoic, as steely as ever.
“Fine, call that if you want,” she said. “My life just seems to fuck itself in the arse more and more as I get older.”
“Don’t be so harsh on yourself.”
“I just can’t help but feel so lifeless, so helpless. At the mercy of this unforgiving universe. It’s as though, with each day passing, the future becomes vaguer and vaguer.”
“That’s why you suggested all… this?”
“Probably…” she said, as if admitting to a heinous crime.
“It was about time anyway. I think the rest of us were just scared to bring something of that magnitude out into the light. We need you for that.” I said. “I suppose we’re like one big, living organism. Each of us its own part, essential to the being, but useless on its own.”
“I like that.”
“Well, you know, I try…”
There was another brief moment of silence. And within in this silence I thought about all that had happened in the last few minutes, all Allie had divulged. A part of me wanted to go back in time an hour, to fall asleep – or pretend to – before Allie could wake me, before she was somehow able to make my love for her even stronger. Yet, on the other hand, I was glad. Both that Allie was able to talk about this stuff, and that I was able to listen, feel what she felt, help even.
“So… this is a reciprocated thing, then?” I asked.
“What?” She said.
“You know what I mean.”
“And, like myself, I think you know the answer to that too…”
I did. Or at least for the past ten years, I’d suspected. I laughed at the absurdity of our situation, our predicament that we had suddenly found ourselves in at the turn of the biggest moment in our lives. It really showed the hilarity of the world, and the utter spontaneity of everything that existed within it.
I felt Allie shuffle a little closer. Her knee pressed against my own. I could feel the heat from her body. I willed for my mind for it to not think of the things it did, knowing what it had the power to do, knowing how much a single action might bring all the walls tumbling down.
Silence, once again ensued. Even Allie seemed momentarily lost for words, something I was not used to.
“Jack, just fucking kiss me.” Allie whispered.
“You heard me.”
“Think about it, Allie.”
“I don’t think I need any more time for that,” she said.
With that, I felt her move, slowly at first, apprehensively. I told myself to get up, to return to my own sofa, to wait until morning when things might be normal again. A time when feelings would just be feelings, a world in which all the normal rules would apply. But my body wouldn’t move, not even a twitch. It was telling me to stay here, every part of it; led by commander in chief – my heart.
She sat on my legs. Her face was close. I could smell her breath, faintly of stale beer, though I suppose my own smelled no better. Slowly she moved closer. And inch by inch, only her face came to fill every angle of my vision. My breathing juddered, my heart raced as though I was closing in on the last leg of a marathon. She was there, right there; Allie.
I kissed her.
Her arms cradled around my neck, squeezing, transmitting fifteen years of desire. I knew that, because I was doing the exact same thing.
It felt like the world had suddenly erupted, every firework in existence going off at the same second. As if all the years we’d left in the past had been a test for that very moment, like everything else had just been practice.
I knew, as Allie unbuttoned her shirt, that nothing had, and nothing would ever come close to this. It was both terrifying and utterly exhilarating. And in the moment, I couldn’t think of anything else. My heart wouldn’t allow my head that much.
I awoke the next morning with a mild headache from the previous night’s drink. There was an unusually heavy weight pressing on my side. I pushed my elbows into the sofa to get up and make my extra-strong-tremor-inducing coffee, there was a muffled yelp. “Fuck!” Allie shouted.
After she pried her head out from somewhere beneath my shoulders, she said. “That happened, right?”
“Unless I’ve slipped into a coma, I’m pretty sure it did,” I said.
“Well… then,” she said, trying to gather enough strength to lift herself up. “That’s that.”
“It sure is.”
Allie threw the duvet from herself and stood, her legs cracked and creaked as she stretched. “Not to be funny, Allie, but you’re completely in the nude,” I said. It wasn’t a criticism.
She looked down, as if it was a revelation to her. “Yeah, so what? It’s not like you’ve never seen it all before… Christ, what are you, twelve?” I rolled my eyes. “And, well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re hardly the poster-child for modesty right now, are you?” My clothes were on the floor with the duvet Allie had kicked off in a sweaty fervour. She was right, I wasn’t.
Allie began walking into the kitchen. “Do you not want your… clothes,” I asked her. She said no words, instead, she turned her head and smiled.
Jess’s entire downstairs was open plan, free of any partitions. I watched her as she went, something I suppose she figured I might do. Every part of my insides were in turmoil. Sam, Jess, Sam, Jess – It was all I could think, all my mind would comprehend. What had we done? What had we potentially destroyed. All in one moment I felt happier than I had been for a very long time, and horribly cautious of what was to come just around the corner.
“You want coffee?” Allie shouted from the kitchen.
“My way?” I shouted back, trying to slip into my tangled clothes.
“Is there any other way?”
“Of course, not!” I laughed.
I craned my neck, now fully clothed, to see Allie wearing an apron and nothing else. God, that woman, I thought. What had she unleashed? What have we unleashed? And yet, I couldn’t resent any of it; not her standing there like that, not what had happened. Maybe I might come to in the future. Though at that very instant, I decided to take a leaf out of Allie’s book, to live in the moment, free of the future’s anxious restraints. Was it the best thing to do? I don’t know. I couldn’t be sure of anything. Nothing but the tantalising smell of coffee, and last night.
Sam walked down the stairs, rubbing his eyes. I didn’t say anything. He stopped just short of where the kitchen began… when he saw Allie. He glanced towards where I was, sat back on the sofa, fully clothed. “Don’t ask me,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. He gave me a look, that slight raise of his eyebrows, that almost half smirk, half grin. As ever, he was completely unreadable.
He turned. “Allie, do you mind putting some clothes on?”
She flitted around, surprised. “Oh, morning, Sam! Coffee?” As she plunged down the cafetiere, she gave me a look of her own. This one quite clearly said – ‘What the fuck do we do now?’ The last thing I had was the answer.
I grabbed Jess’s pile of clothes that sat on the floor by my feet, trudged over to the kitchen while trying to avoid eye contact with Sam, and thrust them at her.
With coffee in my hand, just the way I liked it, I sat myself on the kitchen counter. Allie had gone to the other side of the room to change into her clothes. Apparently, she lacked even more modesty that I thought she did. “Allie, why were you stark nude anyway?” Sam asked. The tone of his voice, I recognised it. He knew; of course he did…
“I got too warm last night,” she said, which I suppose was at least partly true…
Sam laughed. It was the kind of bitter laugh, a laugh of admittance, of realisation, maybe even of fear. Twenty years… what had I expected? “Oh, please tell me you didn’t!” He said.
Allie and I looked at each other through the corner of our eyes, without uttering a word. Sam knew the truth, anyway. “Jesus!” He said. “What the FUCK, guys?”
“Oh, come on Sam! Like you and Jess have never…” Allie said., crossing her arms.
He looked at me, though I didn’t know what for, backup? “Yeah, when we was eighteen, and I twenty. We’re almost THIRTY now. There’s a tiny difference.”
“It’s just sex,” Allie said.
“Do you want me to quote that for you, put it on your gravestone?”
“What the hell Sam?” I said.
“Oh, look! Mr innocent. Mr I never do anything!”
“Come on man, we’ve all known each other long enough to make this no issue. Not to mention we’re all adults.”
“Adults… sure,” he said.
I shrugged. “It’s complicated Sam.” Allie nodded. Though, I thought, was anything truly complicated to a person like Allie?
Sam sat on the sofa and rubbed his stubble. “Right, okay, okay. I’m not gonna freak out. I just can’t get that image of you two… doing whatever.”
“Maybe it’s not the healthiest of practices for you to visualise it,” Allie said.
“Only you could find humour in all of this…”
“Well, I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be funny, nor any reason why it should. It’s fucking life. And don’t say I don’t know what it means, because I do. I’m tired of living life in the grey corner of some amorphous room. Look, if it makes you feel any better, it could quite easily have been you.”
“What?” I said, almost spitting my coffee out.
“Well, no… I didn’t mean it literally, I meant in principle,” Allie said.
“Sometimes you make little to no sense at all.”
Allie shrugged, and then pointed at the stairs. It was Jess. She stopped half-way down. Sam saw her. “Jess, they fucked…”
“Jesus, SAM!” Allie screamed. “What is this primary school,” she pointed towards the door. “Why don’t you go and tell the headmaster!”
“I don’t understand,” Jess said, pouring my thick coffee. “Are you guys having a laugh.”
“Yeah… no…” Allie said.
Jess laughed. “You mean to say, that the two of you actually slept with each other?”
All I could do was nod.
“Well that certainly is one of the more fucked up things I’ve heard recently. But I can hardly say I’m surprised. You two have been non-psychically getting off with each other for years now.” Jess said. “Though, I don’t approve of it on my sofa, that kind of crossed the line if I’m being honest.”
“Who said it was on the sofa,” Allie asked.
Jess laughed harder then. Though, it wasn’t the kind of humorous laugh, more candid than anything. “I saw you guys on the sofa last night when I came for a drink. I almost shit myself on the spot.”
Allie and I locked eyes. Her face was bright red, as if she was using all her might to stop herself from bursting out in hysterics. There was something wrong with that woman, I thought. Somehow, she saw the comedy in everything, the pure madness of the world converted into absurdity. Maybe she wasn’t doing so bad. Maybe she’d made it sound worse than it actually was.
“Okay,” Sam said, calmly. “So where do we go from here?”
“We’ve got a lab to start,” Allie said.
There was a short pause, the room rendered entirely still. “You think things can be the same?” Jess said. She appeared serious now, as if the reality had just hit her in the face.
“Why not?” Allie asked.
“Because everything has changed. We don’t know how to work like this, we’ve never been like this. What if you fall out, what happens then? We’ll grow to dislike each other, we’ll drift apart. Then what? What will we do then?”
“I don’t know Jess. I can’t plan every fucking facet of my life. I can’t write it all down, predicting what might happen next. Sometimes shit happens, because shit happens.”
“You’re always like that. Spreading this… this reckless impulsiveness wherever you go, corrupting all the shit you touch.”
“Seriously?” Allie shouted. “What do you know about me?”
Allie threw herself onto the sofa. I was left standing between them, the object, the cause – or at least implicated – in this disastrous mess. What could I say to Jess? What could I say to Allie? And then there was Sam. I couldn’t work out whether he was just indifferent to it all, placated. It was as though twenty years of my past, the pleasure of my present, was crashing, crumbling down around me. As if all we had created was abruptly coming to a self-afflicted halt, all down to one hasty moment.
Was it a mistake?
“It can be worked out. We’re better than all this fickle bitching. I get it, alright, it’s a big deal. But it’s concluded nothing, we’re all still here. Hell, you guys must understand. Christ, we spend this amount of time with each other. We are able to say anything to any one of us. How can we not feel things beyond friendship? Sam, Jess, sure, you were eighteen and twenty, but it was still real, it still happened,” I said. “It has to be sorted, I understand, whichever way things go. I fucking love you guys, all of you.”
“You’re a couple now?” Sam asked, sounding bewildered.
I looked at Allie, but she wouldn’t glance in my direction. Instead she stared out of the window, a tear rolling down her eye. The elation had turned to anger, and to sadness. “I don’t know what we are, okay?”
Sam studied me for a while, before turning to Jess. “Get ready, we’re going to get coffee or something, that cool?”
She shrugged, “Sure, whatever…”