With Love to the Gentle Ones

As a sensitive kid, I regularly get lost in my mind. I over-think, I get stressed easily and I take things very personally. I get overwhelmed, I wind myself up and I get lonely.

And I know I’m not the only one.

This is my love letter to the kind souls I know whose skin is as delicate as hearts are strong.

~

Dear gentle one with the furrowed brow,

You are not alone.

That world swirling around your head is so much bigger than you think. Those thoughts weighing down your shoulders will feel a little lighter tomorrow. The sunshine is calling, maybe go see her.

Dear gentle one with the curious eyes and bitten lip,

With the chewed up fingers and the in-turned toes,

You are so fun. You go deep. You listen. I love the way you talk to me, and I love the stories we share. You’re my favourite person, because you’re always there. So thanks for that.

Dear gentle one with the messy hair and the dirty jumper,

Today you’re tired and that’s just fine. If you have a bath, it’s probably calling you. Do you have a podcast? They’re like a gentle brain workout. Take your mind outside of itself. Take it on a moon walk. Delve in to your passion without leaving your zone.

Dear gentle one with the pounding chest,

Do you feel alive? You are so alive right now. You’re thinking about the worst case scenario, and that’s just fine. You’re prepared, now dare to peek towards the best? Just imagine. It might be amazing. You’re ready, now jump. I’ll see you at the other side.

Dear gentle one with the tears in your eyes,

The world is full of anger and hate. It’s true. But you know what else? There’s more love. There’s billions of people in this world who aren’t angry, and they don’t hate. They are sitting in their window watching the sky. They’re reading a book. They’re kissing their partner. They’re writing a song. They’re dancing. You might not see them on the news, but they’re there. They’re probably waiting for you in your favourite coffee shop. Go visit them.

Dear gentle one with the lonely sigh,

You might be lonely but you’re not alone. Close your eyes. Do you have animals? Oh how they love you. Do you have friends? They love you too. Your parents probably love you too. I’ll bet your friend from work loves you; the one you tag in the memes. Classic.

Dear gentle one. I love you. You are my favourite kind of person. Thank you for listening, and thank you for confiding in me. Thank you for the music you recommend to me. I might not like it, but I sure like you.

Dear gentle one who cares so much,

It might hurt you but you have a gift. Your empathy is something to be proud of. You’re a dream human. Imagine if everyone felt the way you do. What a wonderful place this would be. Why not try to make a mini world of your people? Find your tribe. They’re probably in your special place. The place that feels like home, go make it home.

Dear gentle one, don’t ever ever change.

All my heart, and I mean it.

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Harleigh Q
Xo

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The Island

It often rained at night, but Shae loved it. The patter on the splintered windowsill reminded her of deep conversations with good friends.

It was 2am on a Thursday and she was wide awake. As she lay on her back, fingers laced and staring at the still ceiling fan, she tried hard not to think about the weekend before.

Where she lived, it was a small community. Most of her friends were fellow mainlanders living at the Resort. They worked during the day, cleaning the rooms, manning reception. Some of them would lifeguard or work the kitchens for a well-rounded experience. They were young, poorly paid and there for a good time.

It was Shae’s second summer at the Resort. Unlike most, she’d stayed for the winter too. The weather was milder and she had nowhere to be. Her father was long lost and she didn’t get along with her mother. As an only child she’d mainly raised herself, and moved away the second she turned eighteen. The Island was a refuge and the Resort was home.

She reached to the nightstand and flipped over her phone. The blue light glared back at her bronzed face. She pursed her lips. She had work in four hours and hadn’t slept a wink.

Shae rolled to her side and pulled her knees to her chest, wrapping her hands around her toes. She squeezed her eyes closed and stretched back restlessly to her former position. Dark brown hairs tickled her eyelashes. Sparkly blue eyes blinked at the ceiling as she blew her fringe away.

She knew she was attractive. Her eyes made for regular comment. Her colouring was so dark, how could she have such bright pupils. Shae didn’t know much about or care for her heritage. Her father had been a horrible man and she knew he was the one she looked like. As her meek and pale Irish mum lost herself to the bottle Shae found herself far away from her past.

Tonight, the main thought spinning around her mind was more recent; the weekend previous, in fact. A man had appeared on the island.

He was there to play acoustic for the dinner guests, and was staying across the hall from her. He was about late-twenties, a modest height. His hair was long and unruly, skin bronzed from many late morning spent with a surfboard. Everyone on the island was intrigued.

Friday night dinner was always an event. They all worked it. Shae wore a frangipani tucked behind her ear and served seafood with a smile. Their uniform was a crisp white shirt, black skirt and a vibrant tropical print apron. They had people from all walks of life staying on the Island. It truly was an affordable piece of heaven.

When the gentle sound of an acoustic guitar began drifting around the courtyard, Shae glanced over her shoulder. There he was; dark haired, serious and ridiculously skilled. It was his talent that caught her ear, not his face that caught her eye. Did he sense that?

~

Shae had a good group of friends in this little paradise. Five spectacular humans regularly gathered on her tiny, worn out balcony with a melting esky made of cardboard and stories galore.

Carlos and Lia arrived the same summer Shae had. The three of them had been super close, and slowly but surely a love for the ages began between the two of them. That was a story for another time.

James was a fun loving, long-haired yahoo who grew up on the south coast and came to the Island this summer for a change of scenery. He fit right in.

Simone was on another level. Her neurosis was rivalled only by her compassion. She was the first one at work every morning and the last to leave, ensuring every single box was ticked along the day. She’d bark cruelly at you mid-shift but tie your shoes for you right after.

Finally, there was sweet Leon. Italian born and raised, he wore his heart on his sleeve. Rarely would a single young lady pass through the dance hall without a hot and heavy experience with young Le. Shae loved him more than sense, but his overly affectionate nature had surely caused a lot of strife. They tend not to talk about the girl from the first week of summer. She said she liked me, he insisted. They nodded curtly like friends do, with only a shadow of doubt in their minds.

Together they were a family; that which none of them seemed to have left behind. Love flowed between them freely. They could be real and honest. Twelve hour work days take their toll on people, but as long as they had each other, they had a place to call home.

That’s why the events of Friday had been so incredibly unsettling for everyone.

~

The after-hours disco began promptly at 12am. A hut which used to house the Spa before it got upgraded to the top floor had been repurposed as a place for the young staff to blow off steam.

Shae turned up with her usual half-drank bottle of bourbon and Leon tossed a coke can to her from behind the makeshift bar.

The last few Fridays a new season guy called Callum had taken his place at the decks. He had the curliest hair she’d ever seen and a penchant for Trap. His remixed were far superior to a shitty little party such as this, but they were eternally grateful.

Taking Lia by the shoulder Shae lead, coke and Jack in hand, to the centre of the sweaty pack. Twenty or so workers would pack in to the tiny room every weekend, without fail. It was their one chance to party before the Sunday check-out rush and a new week began.

Most of them wore as little as possible, dripping their way through tank tops and denim shorts. Hands reached high, fingers spread towards the swaying exposed bulb above them. It danced with the bodies. The room always felt like it was alive, moving and breathing around them as they swivelled their hips and bounced up and down to the beat. Shae’s hair stuck to her face as she shook it from side to side, eyes closed and feeling the rhythm. Waiting for the bass to kick she opened her eyes briefly and spotted the acoustic playing stranger standing against the wall. He wasn’t looking at her. He seemed to have taken a deep interest in a spectacular and enthusiastic Simone. Her cropped blonde hair flew through the air, and mid length white dress clung to her enticingly. She moved like a mermaid, arms entwined.

Shae felt a pang of something. Thankfully she was distracted by James taking her firmly by the hips and redrawing her attention. He grinned wickedly at her and pulled her in for a kiss. Pushing her mouth open with his tongue, she tasted a familiar bitter pill and rolled her eyes. His mainland trip yesterday was productive then, she thought with a sigh. She didn’t need drugs to have a good time, but she wasn’t one to say no, either.

A bug eyed Lia gently tugged on Shae’s hair, pulling her away from James’ mouth. She swallowed and laughed at her excited friend. She had been there for a while already, it seemed.

By the time Carlos appeared, both girls were well and truly on their way to bliss. The music was getting better, and Shae had forgotten about the stranger, until he appeared in front of her. She stopped dancing as he raised his hand to her face and brushed her fringe from her forehead. She narrowed her eyes as he tilted his head, apparently seeing her for the first time. He grinned and moved his hand to her waist. Whatever, she thought. Life is good.

Hours passed; or was it minutes?

Shae and the stranger played a game, moving closer then further until they were nose to nose. As she raised her lips to his, he turned. Shae stepped back like she’d been stung. He moved past her towards an apparently now interested Simone, who raised her arm welcoming him. Then they kissed. It was a deep caress that went on a long moment. Shae felt repulsed. She moved through the crowd with urgency and slammed through the door just in time for her vomit to hit a nearby pot plant. Ugh. Her hand found the cold stone wall and she placed her forehead against it too. Things were spinning. She barely heard Carlos’ words of comfort when he placed his hand between her shoulder blades. Slowly she dropped to her knees and curled up on the concrete. Shae knew it was too much too quick. She had been swigging her Jacks while dancing and it wasn’t sitting too well with the pill in the pit of her tummy.

“Leave me a minute, hey” she groaned to her dear friend. He didn’t. In fact he took a seat between her and the stained plant and rubbed her arm affectionately.

“You, little lady, need to learn your limits.” His posh accent was only slightly condescending.

“I don’t have any,” Shae whispered back. She closed her eyes and sighed.

“Who’s the pretty fella with the hair? I haven’t seen him before. He seems to have a thing with our Simmy.” He laughed darkly. “You too, apparently.”

“Fuck off Carlos.” He always loved pushing buttons.

“I’m just saying that if it were up to me, I’d choose you. But each to their own.”

Shae pushed herself to a sitting position and glared at him. His sparkling white smile was dashing and exasperating. Her nausea had passed, so with a shake of her head she stumbled to her feet. “I’m getting water, and then we’re getting out of here.”

“Beach walk?” Carlos exclaimed.

“Go find Lia.”

They pulled open the doors to the dive of a dance and straight away Shae spotted Sim with her fingers entwined in the singer’s mane. I don’t compete. She chanted mentally over and over as she rooted through a box esky for a bottle of water. I also don’t often find anyone even remotely attractive. Her frustration at herself was growing. She was embarrassed and wanted nothing more than to disappear in to the night with a couple of people who made her feel loved.

~

As they strolled along the beach, Shae, and a swaying Carlos and Lia, she tried hard not to overanalyse the situation. Not really her strong point.

She didn’t notice when they collapsed in to the sand behind her and kept walking until the sun started creeping over the finish line of the ocean beside her. The island was so small she knew it would take her twenty minutes max to get back. Having long realised she was alone, she pulled off her near-dry singlet and shorts. Shae was wearing her favourite blue bikini bottoms. Her clothes discarded in a bundle, she stepped in to the wonderfully warm water and once deep enough, dove in head first. She often went for a dip before work, when the sun was still waking along with the rest of camp. The water was so still she could float on her back, salt soothing her tingling skin.

The problem with the Island was that when people came, it took them a long time to leave. The disharmony she felt in her bones right now wasn’t just embarrassment; she was feeling protective of her family. We don’t hurt each other here. She had spent a consensual night between Lia and Carlos before and many a beach tumble with Leon in the wee hours, but they all came from love; a love of each other, their home, their stories. They just wanted a good story. Who was this guy to come along and fuck it up?

Full of a new found fire, Shae dipped below the surface and swam towards shore. When her feet found the sand below her, she rose and flicked her drenched hair overhead. Her eyes began to focus on the shore, leading her to catch sight of something that turned her cold.

Simone was stumbling up the beach towards her from the opposite direction Shae had come. Her white dress wasn’t white anymore; it was red. She was clutching her stomach, and fell to her knees.

Shae had never moved so fast. She sprinted up the beach towards her friend and felt overtaken by horror as she absorbed the scene. Taking Simone’s face in both hands, Shae collapsed to the sand. The blood dripping from the stab wound in Sim’s torso was unstoppable. She tried covering the hole with her hand and holding her friend’s head up with the other, but it wasn’t working. The heat of the blood pouring between her fingers was the most sickening of sensations. She could actually feel the life leaving her.

“Help!” Shae screamed at the top of her lungs, knowing that no one would be around at this time. Helplessly she glanced down in to glazed green eyes. “Sim I have to go get someone. I can’t help you here.”

Simone groaned. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. The last thing Shae ever wanted to do was leave her alone like this, but she would die if she didn’t at least try. She glanced back towards her pile of clothes.

“I’m going to give you my shorts which you need to hold down as hard as you can and I will be back, okay?” the only emotion Sim could express was shock. Her mouth hung open, she wasn’t making noise anymore. Shae placed her head down gently and ran to her clothes. Getting back as quick as she could, she wrapped the shorts in to a big compression pad. “Please try,” she pleaded “Please try to hold this.”

The world became a blur as Shae pounded up the sand bank and along the boardwalk. She knew it would take her at least five minutes running to get back to reception and alert the emergency medic. How long does it take for someone to bleed out?

All she could hear was her heart pounding. Her lungs were stinging as reception finally came in to view.

Some guests were already out laying their towels to come back to later. Leon had just entered the pool area in his guard shirt, setting up for the day. He caught sight of Shae’s blood soaked singlet and freaked.

“Shae! What the Jesus?” she stopped short of the door and ran back to him, bright red and panting, and collapsed against the pool fence.

“Leon, Sim’s hurt. Beach by the hammock,” was all she managed before dropping to the floor and sobbing. Le knew he didn’t have time to comfort her, and he ran as fast as his feet would carry him towards the beach.

The boardwalk was an easy path and he had been a runner in high school, back in his home town of Pisa. His long strides found him there in minutes and a tiny heap of red and white in the sand gave the girl away. As he moved towards her, she was motionless. He skidded to a halt in the sand and lifted the lifeless body in to his arms. She was a small girl, smaller than him and he wasn’t the broadest. He knew he could make it back to the Resort with her. He had no choice.

~

Shae screamed when she saw them approaching.

“Why is she like that? Why is she hanging like that?” She used the fence to pull herself to her feet and moved ahead of them, opening the door for Leon to rush inside.

The reception manager, Margot, was already on shift in her immaculate suit and physically recoiled when she saw the state of the three of them.

“What in the hell are you – Jesus no.” As they got closer she saw the blood stained dress of Simone, her favourite receptionist. Her trembling left hand picked up the phone receiver while her right pointed to the door of staff quarters behind the desk. She hit zero and voice quivering, said to the operator “Tony. We need a medic.”

~

On Wednesday morning a memorial was held for Simone.

Some people said some things and white lilies were lined along the shore.

As a three year vet, her absence was felt everywhere. She had worked every area, met every person. Hushed conversations were had in every area of the Resort. It ran on skeleton staff, relocated from a sister island, as everyone was told to take a few days off.

No one knew what really happened on the beach that night.

Many guests left, shaken by the horror of being so close to death on their holiday. Though there were no witnesses, everyone had their theories.

Some said it was suicide. It’s always the ones you least expect. A few had noticed her getting hot and heavy with Mr Acoustic but apparently she’d left the party alone before him. The worst rumour of all, though, was that it has been Shae. Driven by jealousy, she had hurt her friend.

And we all know who her dad is.

Shae didn’t leave her room until the memorial. She had stared at that ceiling fan and cried until there wasn’t a droplet left. She was empty.

By Thursday, everyone was expected to return to work. Shae and Leon had both been offered longer if they felt like they needed it, but they mutually agreed that any longer with their thoughts would drive them insane.

Lia knocked on Shae’s door at 5am sharp with a freshly cut mango.

“I need you to eat this, and I’ve got you working kitchens today.”

Lia had taken over Sim’s coordinator role. She was in charge of rostering the junior staff. Having done a roll similar at the old mainland hotel she worked at, she was enjoying the power again. She wouldn’t dare admit that to anyone though. The Island had become a game of Cluedo and she was not the one in the library with the candlestick.

Shae looked like shit, which was saying a lot for a very naturally pretty girl. It was a good job she wasn’t public facing that day, but kitchens require cleanliness; forced sponge bath it was.

Half an hour later Carlos arrived at the door and smiled at them both.

“Come on, poppets. We’re going to miss morning brief.”

When the three of them arrived in the staff room, they made their way towards Leon and James. Both of the boys wrapped their arms around Shae as a show of solidarity. She was cold to their touch. The tension in the room could be cut with a knife.

They had their roles and lunches read and the day began. Everyone who had been at the party on Friday was giving Shae the once over. She had never wanted to disappear more in her life. No one had a kind word for her. She was ignored, shoved and glared at until a buxom girl called Pam had actually grabbed her by the hair and threw her in to the freezer room.

“We all know you did it,” she spat at her before slamming the door. A laugh echoed from the others present, and then it fell silent. Shae couldn’t feel much anyway, but she wasn’t there long before James appeared to rescue her.

He pulled open the door and sighed at her. “Come on babe, we’ve had enough deaths on this island.” She usually enjoyed his dark humour, but she couldn’t even muster up a smile today. She almost felt like she deserved the barrage of hate, and she couldn’t work out why.

Is this just killer kid guilt? Is this a delayed punishment for being the child of a monster?

James placed his arm around her shoulders and almost carried her to the back lot pool. It was a lot quieter, covered by shade for most of the day. A woman lay reading on a sunbed and an older man was doing laps. Other than them, they were alone. James lowered Shae to the edge of the pool and she dipped her legs in to the cold water. She felt tears brewing as her feet swayed. Aside from a couple of very reluctant showers and the sponge bath Lia forced on her that morning, she hadn’t been near the water since Saturday morning.

“I know you didn’t do it,” said James lightly. He stretched and lay on his back, feet dangling.

Shae didn’t want to hear it. It wasn’t her friend’s opinions she was worried about.

“I have a theory. I think it was Lia. She wanted that coordinator job. Told me so herself.” Shae scoffed.

“Don’t be stupid. And don’t talk about our friend what way. You don’t know whose listening.” She glanced cautiously over her shoulder. The lady reading had stood and was pulling on a kaftan, making her exit.

James pulled one of his legs out of the water and stared at her.

“Maybe it was me.”

“You’re so deadly.”

“I’m serious Shae. I don’t know what the shit was that we had, but I can’t remember any of that night.” She bore deeply in to his eyes, searching for a hint of a joke. There wasn’t one. Then she felt a shudder. Was he looking for reassurance or trying to confess something?

“Please James. I can’t handle this. You would know if you hurt someone. You’d have been covered in blood. Let’s not talk about this anymore.”

“Right.”

Shae pushed herself to her feet and walked towards the pile of Resort towels to dry off. She fought hard against the visions swimming around her mind. It was all getting to be too much. She couldn’t talk about it with her friends. It wasn’t her first time seeing a dead body, but she didn’t want them knowing that. It would just make the conjecture worse. Tossing the towel in to the large laundry basket, she caught sight of someone new entering the area. Her heart skipped a beat.

The long haired acoustic player moved to the corner of the pool. He was fully clothed, jeans and a white vest. When he felt someone staring at him, he looked up at Shae and smiled. It was a very big smile.

That’s when everything when black.

 

To be continued…

A Safe Place – A Short Story

The apartment was more of a room, really. The sleeping area was only guarded beyond a large bookshelf and a neatly hung tapestry. Christopher had painted it himself.

Never wanting Eden to feel like he was intruding her space, night three he had brought home a king size bed sheet he’d found in the second hand store up the street and proceeded to turn the pretend wall in to his new studio. He meticulously drew up the lines to centre the mandala, and created seven shades of blue (no easy feat with cheap material paints).

Their living arrangement was temporary but necessary for both of them. They had met at a love-in the weekend before. Eden’s long, copper blonde hair had captivated Chris from the moment he saw her. She would toss is over her shoulder and it would slide right back over again, thick and fast. He had never seen so much hair in his life.

His own dark blonde matte sat miserably around his ears. It seemed no one in the new group he had infiltrated had ever been forced to a hairdresser by a strict father. He tried not to envy, but he was certainly curious about their stories.

James was the central point of the gathering. Cross-legged and calm, his aura gathered the group without the need for words or gestures. He simply smiled with his eyes closed. His moustache was thick and groomed to perfection. He had no beard, and some impressive sideburns.

When James felt the presence of six other bodies in a circle around him, his eyes opened. He took a long, slow breath and looked at each of them. His gaze was piercing and all-knowing. Most of the group smiled in return. It took everything Chris had no to look away after two seconds. James stared at him the longest.

The record player crackled in the corner as it reached the end of A side Revolver.

One of the men rose to change it. He had on brown corduroy trousers, the most flamboyant vest Christopher had ever seen, and nothing else.

The four others in the circle were equally as interesting to look at. One had hair pulled back in to a waist-long pony tail and wore no shirt at all. The man to her right was staring intently at his hands, as though he was seeing them for the first time. Earlier someone had referred to him as Leo; to his right, a remarkable blonde wearing a handkerchief as a top. Finally, next to Chris, there was Eden.

Chris already knew he was in love with her. Hidden behind the unruly curls were hazel eyes and a magnificent smile; a smile which she had already turned to him twice. Chris didn’t necessarily want this kind of distraction in his life, but there’s no use fighting it. One love to another, he knew he was the worst for it.

Was this one different? It was too soon to tell.

At that moment, Leo distracted him by reaching his intriguing hand out, as though needing help with something. Chris took it, and they awkwardly held on.

After a few moments, the woman on Leo’s left reached forward and placed her hands gently at either side of their clasp. Corduroy stepped inside the circle when he returned from flipping the record and did the same. Soon they were all wrapped in a strange hand embrace, and James was the last to join.

“You are all so welcome here,” he said calmly. They broke apart, and each person settled back in to their space.

“You’re beautiful,” said Leo to the handkerchief wearer next to him. She raised her lips to his and kissed him in response. He bowed his head with a smile. Chris was confused.

Meanwhile, the topless lady was resettling herself on James’ lap and then the striking blonde and Eden were leaving the room hand in hand.

Corduroy laughed and laid backwards, pipe clamped between his teeth. After a few minutes of Chris glancing around, trying not to look completely out of place and uncomfortable, Corduroy raised his body back to seating position and held the pipe out for him to take.

“It’s all good man,” he said with a steamed grin. Chris wasn’t big on drugs, but he was big on a good time, and right now felt like he was living in a different decade to these people. Try new things, he reasoned with himself. And so, he did.

Two hours later Christopher knew everyone by name. Corduroy was named Mikey and was a musician. Topless was named Mary and worked in a law firm as a secretary. The handkerchief blonde, Jane, and Eden were heartbreakingly in a relationship, and James was a full time ‘healer’ also known as a drug dealer. This he already figured from their meeting at the ferry port earlier that day.

The night had been a blur of heavy conversations, shouts of ecstasy and clouds of smoke.
When he woke the next morning on Eden’s sofa he couldn’t remember getting there, but was sure glad he had.

Jane sauntered to the kitchenette in a sheer nightdress and held a pot under the tap. She placed it on the stove and began boiling the water for a morning brew. It was bitter cold, Chris was beginning to realise, and he wasn’t quite sure why they both weren’t more clothed.

“You’re Scottish aren’t you?” cooed Mary without turning around.

“Irish, actually.”

“Different.” She pulled the pot away as the bubbles appeared and poured the steaming hot water in to three tea bag-filled mugs. They were mismatched and chipped but charming non-the-less.

Chris rose to take one and brought the patchwork blanket with him. It was wrapped around his waist, protecting his modesty. Mary really couldn’t care less.

Eden yawned loudly from behind the bookshelf. A rustling of the bed sheets gave her movements away. She appeared from behind it wearing Chris’s shirt and underpants, and smiled at him knowingly. Her hair was even wilder now than it had been the night before. She made no attempt to tame it.

Mary walked the mug up to her girl, cupping the rim with her hand so that Eden could take the handle. They shared a gentle kiss and Christopher looked away.

He felt guilty but he wasn’t sure why.

“How long will you be living with me?” Eden enquired and she perched herself next to him on the small sofa. She sat sideways with legs crossed, facing him expectantly.

“When did I-“ he began and Mary scoffed.

“Honey, were you present last night?” Eden placed a hand gently on what she presumed was his knee. Chris grinned nervously.

“I’m sorry. That was my first time trying… that.” His tone was uneasy. If he’d agreed to move in with this lovely lady with no memory of it, what else had occurred that evening?

Mary took a seat on the coffee table in front of them and rested her head in her hand, mug curled in the other.

“You said you needed somewhere to stay while you set yourself up. You got here yesterday? You did well to run in to James. He’s a good man.” She leant back and took a sip, narrowing her eyes at him.

“I, well, suppose I did, yeah.”

The specifics were discussed at length. In other words, Eden told him it was to be six months, no more or less, and she wouldn’t accept any money until he had a proper job. She had a good income as a switchboard operator, which was enough for both of them to get by.

Mary wasn’t as pleased about the situation, but she had to go away for a while, and she didn’t want Eden left alone.  Chris had asked her where she was going, but he didn’t receive an answer. Instead she took her leave and he was left alone in an apartment with sweet Eden.

The tapestry was coming along nicely one week later. When James and Leo arrived in the afternoon his tee-shirt was more blue than white, so he decided to change. As he placed it in the second sink, in the corner of the sleeping area and next to the only toilet, he heard the group’s hushed voices.

Chris hadn’t wanted to eavesdrop but he had so many questions about these new people. He crept towards the bookshelf and listened.

“How is she?” asked Leo, his voice heavy with concern.

“I haven’t heard a thing,” replied Eden.

“I’m sure there’s a way we can track her. I know people in London. I can put the word out.”

“No,” Eden hissed back. “We can’t do that to her. She’d never forgive us. This is something she needs to do. We just need to be here to support her when she gets back.”

“You’re a fool,” boomed James, making no effort to lower his tone. “She’s not coming back.”

Christopher knew he better re-join the group before things got heated.

“Where are we going tonight?” he attempted brightly as he walked towards them, buttoning his paisley shirt from the bottom.

James had Eden pinned against the fridge, but pushed himself away from her as Chris approached.

“The Bar,” he muttered as he made his way back to the door.

Leo shrugged with a half-smile, gesturing for Eden to follow. She bowed her head, looking more worried than angry, and did as suggested.

The Bar was below Eden’s building.

When they entered James made his way directly to a gentleman in a fur coat waiting by the taps and they embraced. Eden and Leo took a place next to them and waited to order.

This establishment was unlike any Chris had seen before, and a stark contrast to the old pubs of Dublin. The room was long, with a heavy brown hue and a swirl patterned carpet. There were booths lining the wall to the right and left, and a large circular bar in the centre. It looked like a stage was placed at the far end with a large green curtain covering it. The jukebox blaring ‘Help Me, Rhonda’ was positioned right next to the main ordering station. A young and slim man with perfectly slicked blonde hair was bent over before it, reading the selection.

When Chris took a step he was knocked sideways by an overexcited young woman making her way to the exit. “Sorry,” she blushed, before sweeping past him. A huge man in a leather jacket followed her out. He was old enough to be her father, surely.

Chris started to take more notice of the patrons and nearly lost his footing again when he spotted two men in the corner booth staring intensely in to each other’s eyes. When the record ended and the next song began to play, the man to the edge of the booth pulled gently on his companion’s hand and guided him to the dance floor. They bopped in a loving embrace across the room, miming along with Diana Ross to ‘Stop! In The Name Of Love’. The sight was so foreign to Christopher that he had no idea how to feel. Staring is rude, lad. He shook his head and made his way to the bar, where his friends already had their orders. Eden handed him a dark ale and he downed half of it in one.

“Thirsty?” she breathed with a smile. His heart pounded and he turned away, searching for somewhere to take refuge. When his gaze reached the door, the young girl who had ran in to him before had re-entered, looking proud as punch. Behind her came two blushing men, one the same as before, and the other new and just as large. Their leathers did nothing to hide the coyness of their expressions. Was she setting them up? Chris realised.

“What is this place?” he said out loud without meaning to, and turned open mouthed to Eden.

“It’s a safe place,” she said quietly. The group moved towards a free booth at the back of the venue, past the now-busy dance floor. Chris climbed in first and took his place next to Leo. James and his friend sat to the right and Eden, to his left. She spent most of her drink gazing longingly towards the dancers.

After a while, when Chris was ready for a refill, the unmistakable opening notes of Dusty Springfield’s ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’ sounded. Eden’s eyes grew wide and her lip trembled. Chris thought he should do something about it.

“Hey, let’s go,” he gently nudged her out of the booth and took her hand, leading her to the middle of the crowded floor. Everyone held each other close, and Chris twirled his fingers in to Eden’s thick mane, resting her head against his chest. His heart was thudding and he hoped she couldn’t feel it. Eden burrowed closer. They moved so slowly they were barely moving at all. He clasped her right hand in his left.

Chris looked up, and was struck by the fact that everyone around them was in love. It was a truly beautiful moment.

As Dusty hit her final high a huge crash and screams forced the entire dance floor in to panic.

Before Chris knew what was happening he was being forced by the crowd backwards, towards the stage curtain, and he pulled Eden along with him.

“POLICE,” echoed the roars from across the room. Chris glanced back over his shoulder, and through the crowd spotted a constable fling his baton across the head of one of the leather-jacket-clad men from before. The other came to his aid and was punched hard by another officer.

“What the fuck is going on?” he cried as he stumbled up the stage and attempted to lift Eden up with him.

“Just run,” she firmed, absolute fear in her eyes.

They pushed with the horde through the stage doors, the screams and crashes following them to the alleyway to the side of The Bar.

Eden halted Chris as he tried to run towards the road. “They’ll be waiting out there; we need to go this way.” They fled towards the back of the building and Eden released his hand. She pointed towards a metal staircase about six feet off the ground, the bottom ladder missing. “Gimme a boost then I’ll help you up.” Her fear had turned to determination, and where she had caught her breath, Chris had lost all of his. Speechless and terrified, he boosted the small woman up to the first rung and she pulled herself up with all her might. He had the sickening realisation that this wasn’t the first time she’d had to do this.

After clinging to the bottom of the ladder and using the wall as a boost, he made it up to the second level of the stairs; someone’s terrace. Eden stopped and crouched, breathing and listening hard. Sirens were blaring as backup was called in. A man was shouting the name Simon over and over somewhere nearby, with no reply. A woman was shouting angrily, until she wasn’t anymore.

After twenty minutes of absorbing the situation, they slowly climbed the remaining stairs to their level and Eden cracked open the window. Once in, they sat together on the small sofa and didn’t say anything for a long, long time.

Finally, not being able to re-watch his mental footage any longer, Chris turned to Eden.

Her eyes were glazed over and lips hung apart. She didn’t move, so he raised a finger to stroke her arm.

She shuddered, but didn’t pull away. Slowly, her gaze turned to his.

“What just happened?” he whispered.

“That was a raid. It’s illegal to be us. We are against the law.” She pressed her lips together. “A lot of those people have been beaten and taken away now. Some are probably in hospital. A few might never see their loved ones again. Fuck, James!” she leapt to her feet and to the phone in the corner of the room. She dialled furiously. Her finger slipped out of the coil and she cursed again. This time she dialled more carefully, and hung her head as she listened to the ringing.

Chris’ ears perked when he heard James pick up from across the room. He stood and stepped closer to Eden, in the hopes he could catch the conversation.

“Thank God,” she breathed, clutching the handset closely. “Are you guys okay?”

Christopher wished he hadn’t heard the words that came next. It was quiet but clear as day.

They got Leo.

Eden threw the received down and marched towards the front door.

“Where are you going, Eden?” Chris called after her, completely unsure if he should follow. She turned on her heel, eyes blazing with fury.

“Down to the station, because I’m sick and fucking tired of losing everyone I love.” She threw open the door and it slammed hard behind her.

Chris stayed.

~

Since 1814 homosexuality was considered a ‘Crime Against Nature’ and this was used to justify the raids of bathhouses, bars and restaurants known to be frequented by the queer community. The official charge was ‘Sodomy’ and men could receive up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

In the 1950s activists began campaigning for fairer treatment, though ‘solicitation’ was still punishable by prison. It was legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation, and thus blackmail became a common form of power play during this time.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that things really started to change, though there was still a prohibition on serving alcohol to gay people.

The modern LGBT civil rights movement began on Saturday, June 28, 1969 with the Stonewall Riots. When police raided a New York gay bar called the Stonewall Inn, the patrons fought back.

What should have been a safe place for people shunned by family and friends, or a small escape from the closet, was instead a danger zone. The threat of harassment, violence and imprisonment wasn’t enough to deter them, for where else did they have to go?

It wasn’t until 1973 that it became illegal for someone to be dismissed purely for their sexual orientation.

The AIDS epidemic of the 1980s was a new challenge to the community. Fear reared it’s ugly head as the general public once again took a firm stance against the gay community.

In 1993 ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was put in to place, designed to stop witch hunts against queer people within the military. However, it wasn’t until 2011 that the military were no longer able to expel people based purely on their sexual orientation.

In the early 2000s, civil partnerships became recognised in the place of marriage, so that queer people in loving relationships could have some of the rights that married straight people are afforded.

Finally, on 26th June, 2015, marriage equality is legalised through the United States.

On 11th June, 2016, a mass shooting occurred at a gay club in Miami and 50 people were killed.

In August 2017, the Australian government, unable to come to a decision in house, ignoring the overwhelming poll results of the Australian public, decided to spend approximately $158 million dollars by arranging a plebiscite on same sex marriage. This is a compulsory postal vote asking the public if they believe that queer people deserve the right to marry in Australia.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-14/525-million-price-tag-on-same-sex-marriage-plebiscite-study/7243298

When we win, which we will, I hope this government realises what their spinelessness has done to our Country. Our people are having their lives put in strangers’ hands. They are having their love debated by people who don’t need to have an opinion, because it has nothing to do with them.

I hope that one day we have a government who represent the majority, like they are supposed to.

I hope our people know that they are loved, and that we will win this.

I hope that we can finally move out of the dark ages and in to the light of love and acceptance.

I hope that one day some people will realise they don’t have to have an opinion on everything, and when it doesn’t affect you, sometimes it is better to just listen.

I hope that one day we can all be capable of empathy.

I hope.

http://www.equalitycampaign.org.au/

Let love win.

Harleigh Q

xo

Band Aid – A Short Story

Trigger warning: this story contains references to some heavy shit. I’m not going to say exactly what because I don’t want to ruin it, but you get the idea. There is also time hopping, and neither the characters nor the story are based on personal experiences.

Enjoy xo

~

The scream of the crowd was so coarse it almost sounded like waves crashing in to rocks.

P’s knee-high boot heels clacked and echoed through the empty hallway. Everyone was watching the show, and she was on her way out. Her once soft blonde locks were pulled back in to a messy bun. Her chiffon maxi was fraying at the bottom and torn at the knee. She hiked it up and slung the oversized denim jacket she stole over her shoulder. One of her three lighters fell from the pocket to the tiles below. She didn’t stop to collect it.

~

The tour had been grand, to say the least; twenty five shows in thirty days.

The bus stank of stale cigarettes, spilled bourbon and sweat. It was dirty and it was home.

P usually slept on the top bunk, far right. Reuben was on the bottom. He was always on the bottom.

He wasn’t married, which was a bonus. He was one of the few she knew who let the life consume him without pretending to be a human outside of it. The only person he was hurting in the process was himself. He had a bad habit involving injectables and could fall asleep anywhere, guitar laid gently in his lap.

Smith was the daddy. He would carry the boys both figuratively and literally from time to time. He always had time to talk because he was the singer. Making noise with his mouth was his favourite pass time, and he especially loved the sound of it. He tried to be sober once and it lasted three weeks. In P’s mind, that was an excellent effort. His bunk was always immaculate.

Mick, the bassist with the permanent chip on his shoulder, was the polar opposite. Purposefully destructive, his anger was palpable. Everyone but Smith wanted him to leave. Even he wanted to leave. Coke doesn’t pay for itself, however, and he wasn’t going to get girls outside of his rock star persona. Matted brown hair hanging in his face, deep set green eyes and a forever furrowed brow; P thought he would almost be attractive if only he’d lighten up. Smith and Mick had known each other since they were four years old. Smith was the kind of man who made family out of anyone. Mick knew he wasn’t going anywhere without destroying the only long term relationship he had.

Shane was the happy-go-lucky drummer with a permanent grin and glint in his eye. He was just happy, man. He knew how good he had it. His sandy blonde hair sat in a Beatles’ style mop. Often compared to a young Ringo, there was a constant stream of giggling fans in his presence. The girl he’d married at twenty one only ever made an appearance when they approached places she found interesting. She flew to Sydney last week for a two day shopping and fighting spree. The rest of the group avoided the bus like the plague in that time. The usual complaint was the fact that Shane refused to book them a hotel. P suspected she knew exactly what ghosts were haunting that bed.

Lastly there was Matthew; Matthew the Manager. Matt was kind and intuitive, older and a gentleman. He was P’s favourite person. He was British. His thick Yorkshire accent could calm anyone. His hair was long and grey, often in a neat pony tail. His beard was trimmed, beer belly was prominent and hairline was receding, though no one would ever say that out loud. His shirts were always pressed to perfection.

Matthew had been big in the 70s. He was part of a folk trio who had taken off in the hippie community. Their songs about love and unity still struck a chord today with many wandering music fans, and he often had groupies of his own after each show. He’d always take time for a chat and an autograph. He never lost patience with anyone. It was a gift.

The other boys were less inclined to be so accommodating, though that depended on how short the skirt was.

P shivered as she used her modest body weight to press open the emergency exit door. The air was bitter cold. Their tour was ending in Melbourne, and at 11pm this August night the atmosphere was unkind. A speck of rain tapped her nose, and she pushed her glasses further up the bridge. She wouldn’t normally wear them at night, but she wasn’t in the mood for answering questions and her eyes always betrayed her.

Passing a pack of huddling fans in fur coats and Doc Martens she made her way towards the main road. She felt the looming tour bus presence behind her, but daren’t chance a glance at it. The events from the night before still brought a heap of bile to her throat.

She shook her head firmly to remove the thought and pulled the denim jacket tighter around her shoulders.

A taxi with their light off wizzed past her. Her phone screen was too damaged to order an Uber. She could barely receive a phone call.

On the corner she waited, for a touch too long. The cold was creeping its way in to her bones. The shallow breath escaping her mouth appeared in small clouds before her.

The girl had been young; too young, P had known from first glance. Buried beneath the layer of beautifully applied mac products was a child, no more than fifteen. Her gold halter neck hung loose at her undeveloped chest, but she supposed the boys were more likely looking at the shapely thighs on full display under her barely-existent mini. P had watched her carefully from her perch on Reuben’s lap. She had won her way in with her armful of flowers and gram of cocaine poking out of the wrapping. Where the fuck did she get that? was all P thought at the time. P was very used to sharing the group with other women, but she hadn’t expected this girl to hang around. The young ones get a bit giggly and see themselves to the door when the hard stuff comes out. Not this one though. She knew what she was doing, and it was equal parts mesmerising and terrifying.

P had shook her head as her brown leather boots found the floor. She lifted herself up and walked slowly around the circle that formed at the coffee table. The girl glanced up at P, and with a little smug smirk she made herself an enemy.

P marched from the room and found her way to the bathroom. A moment’s reflection in the mirror had her questioning her own motives. Do I want rid of her for her wellbeing, or because I think she’s a threat? She bit her lip. P was older when she hit the music scene, early 20s, passion before sense. She’d always been prone to hero worship in the place of love, but times were changing. These boys were now men in their 30s. She’d began following their tour three years earlier until eventually she’d become part of it. Every June she waited for the call, and this year it was Matthew instead of Reuben.

“’e needs you, Miss Thing,” he’d affectionately referred to her. It started the day they met. Her vintage Harrington had caught his eye and he nodded with fatherly approval and pride. You’ve really got it girl. You’ve got that thing they all want. Mystery.

Mystery is loneliness, thought P.

Apparently one bad trip too far, Reuben was on his final warning. Maybe his muse could fix the problems six months in the studio had festered. Maybe not.

The tour started wonderfully. Family nights, as P liked call them. They’d sit around and wax poetic about dreams and ideas, their solutions for all misery and corruption. Matthew would let out his billowing laughs and shake his head affectionately at the dreamy souls that surrounded him.

“You young ones, just you wait,” he’d say. “I once thought I could change the world too.”

P and Reuben were as close to love as two broken people can be. She sought therapy in his affections and he seemed to find his own in illegal substances.  He needed her physically, but mentally he was never quite there. In a way P never thought of herself as the type who would enjoy someone actually loving her, so this was easier; a story, with highs and lows and adventure and nothing else. It would end, as everything did, and she would go back to… what? Nothing. Sometimes nothing is better than the alternative.

Oh how her mind had changed. P used to dream of taming a wild musician, someone to share her passions, to dance and sing and dream with. Now she knew better. Artists can’t love. They’re too busy giving their all to their creativity. There’s nothing left but scraps.

A taxi pulled around the corner, yellow top light beaming. P raised her hand and it slowed before her. She wasn’t really sure where she was going, but it would be far away from here.

~

“Can you see with those glasses?” remarked the driver. He had a thick accent, it sounded Eastern European. P couldn’t manage a reply. Her gaze didn’t shift from the passing street lights.

A flash of big brown eyes returned to her mind, large and bewildered, pleading. P let out a heavy breath like she was trying to expel the memory. This time it wasn’t working. Her eyes welled painful but blinking away the tears just caused them to spill down her cheeks. Now she wanted to vomit.

That’s not my world, she told herself over and over. It’s not me. It’s not my fault.

The taxi stopped at a red light and P pushed open the door just in time for the puke to hit the pavement below.

“Hey!” growled the driver. “You can get out if you are sick. I will have no mess in my car. You will pay for it.”

P wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and slowly pulled the door closed with the other. “No,” she gasped, “I’m sorry, I’m okay now.”

He narrowed his eyes in the rear view mirror, but continued towards the city no less.

P pulled at some material in her hold-all and out came a t-shirt of Reubens. It was black, the band’s logo emblazoned on the back. She wiped her mouth and hand on it before throwing it on to the seat beside her.

~

When P returned to the room that night, the bouncers had already moved away. The music from inside was thumping. Smith had on Appetite for Destruction, his favourite post gig blow out album. Matthew pulled the door open just as she had reached for the handle. His face was paler than usual, and he avoided her gaze.

“I don’t think you should stay around, Miss Thing. Those boys don’t know what’s good for ‘em.” He bowed his head and gently moved past her, his hand grazing her shoulder as he went. P watched him go. The drugs are out, she guessed, before turning back to the door and letting herself in.

She wasn’t expecting the half-naked teenager to be even more naked than before, nor was she expecting Smith and Mick to be watching hungrily from the couch as she danced to Rocket Queen on the coffee table.

Shane had two slightly older but still young ladies perched on his knees at the far end of the room, joint hanging out of his mouth and eyes closed as he head banged to the beat.

Reuben was holding a pipe in one hand and reaching to the young one with the other.

She hopped off the table and bent over before him as he placed the pipe between her lips. The wind was knocked from P’s lungs.

“Reuben!” she snapped from across the room, but he wasn’t listening. A cloud of smoke shielded his face from her. When it dissolved she saw the wide smile once reserved for her. Every cell in her body wanted to rip him limb from limb, but something was holding her back. No, it was someone.

Mick had his arm wrapped tightly around her waist, holding her firmly in place. He had a good five inches on her, and was the only one in the group to frequent a gym. She saw his tattooed bicep flex as he pushed her backwards against the door, blocking her view.

“Don’t,” was all he said in his deep, intimidating way. P didn’t.

What felt like an eternity passed and Mick still hadn’t let her go. P found her words. “What are you doing?”

“What I was told to do. Reuben is busy. Why don’t we leave him to it?” It wasn’t a question, and he was standing so close she could barely catch a breath.

“What do you want?” came out as a whisper, which frustrated the shit out of her. She was strong; she wouldn’t be intimidated by this idiot. She tried to stand up taller, so his right hand closed around her arm.

“It’s almost the last night on tour, what do you think I want?”

“Fuck off Mick,” she snarled. “How dare you?”

“You think Reuben gives a shit?” he retorted with venom. He moved just far enough to the side for her to catch a glimpse of the girl now straddling the only man she’d ever let herself get close to. Her stomach dropped completely. Her throat went dry. Her words were gone again.

Mick didn’t speak this time either, he just yanked her forwards painfully, throwing open the door and tossing her outside of it in one fluid motion. She hit the floor with a thud and felt something sharp pierce her knee. He stepped out and closed the door behind him.

P looked down at a small pool of blood, a piece of glass. She pulled it out quickly and covered the wound with her other hand, her back to Mick the whole time. She had never liked him, but now? Now she hated him.

“He’ll fuck anyone, and I’ve heard the same about you.  I know what the fuck you do when you’re not with us. I know who you hang out with. You’ve got a reputation to uphold Miss Thing,” At that he pulled her up by the back of her shearling jacket. P spun and held the piece of glass up to his throat.

“You fucking touch me and I swear to God I’ll slice your neck and your wrists. You’re a shit bass player anyway and the boys would be a lot better off without you.”

Mick stepped back with his hands up, utter fury across his face. P lunged for the door.

It slammed hard against the wall when she flung it open. She saw the back of two heads, one blonde and one brunette, both messy and unkempt. Between them she saw wide, glazed over eyes and lips parted in an ‘oh’. The wild eyes fixed on hers and filled with tears, the girl was crushed beneath the weight of them both, but she didn’t make a sound. Reuben flicked his long dark hair over his shoulder and let out a howl of laughter, Smith took the girl’s chin in his hand and her eyes flicked to him. That was all P saw.

Her head was ripped backwards as Mick grabbed her by the hair. He pulled her so hard that she hit the floor again, this time with her head catching a badly placed amp on the way down. He entered the room and clicked the lock behind him.

“Who invited that cunt anyway?” he barked, but that’s all she heard. Welcome to the Jungle was playing now. Her vision went blurry, and then it went completely.

~

When P awoke she was still in the hallway. Her head was in someone’s lap, and her hair was being stroked. When the haze subsided, she saw the young girl gazing down at her. Her cheeks were streaked with mascara and dry tears, but when P’s eyes flickered open she had smiled.

“I’m Isa,” she whispered.

P couldn’t move, her head was still pounding, so she stayed in Isa’s lap. “I’m P,” she replied eventually.

“Oh, I know who you are,” the girl grinned back. “You’re my hero.”

What a bizarre thing to say, thought P. But the pit of her stomach was still churning, and what she had witnessed came flooding back to mind.

“Are you okay?” she asked meagrely, knowing what stupid question it was.

“I’m better than you,” Isa giggled. Her youthful jubilance seemed betrayed by the state of her hair and makeup. P had no idea what to make of her.

“I’ll take you to the hospital,” P said, slowly forcing herself up in to a seated position. The aching inside her skull was almost intolerable, so she lowered her head in to her hand to block the light. They were alone, and it was silent.

“Why would you do that?” Isa asked quietly. “I’ve been having fun.” Fuck, thought P. That’s not what it looked like. She turned one squinty eye towards the girl, who in turn raised her eyebrows at her. “I’m here because I want to be, and they wanted me to be, and you are lucky I am.” That petulant smugness had returned. P lost a few sympathy points.

“Fine,” she muttered. “Help me up then.”

The girls struggled to their feet. P looked down at her bloody knee and sighed. It looked worse than it felt. “Are you going home now?”

“Smith said I could stay the night, actually. He said there’s a free bed on the bus and my mum thinks I’m at a sleepover anyway.” She was proud of herself.

P knew the free bed was hers.

Both girls stood in silence for a moment. Isa shuffled awkwardly.

“Well, I think they’re waiting for me in the bus so… I don’t know if you’re invited.”

P wanted to spit. Her whole world was being torn apart by a Lolita. “Fuck off then,” she barked.

Isa sighed heavily. “I don’t want you to hate me.” P turned to look at her fully.

“You have no idea what you are getting yourself in to. I just hope for your sake they treat you better than they have me,” and with that she bolted down the hallway, never looking back.

Sitting outside the emergency exit door was Matthew. He had on two knitted jumpers and a parka, and was holding a cigar. He jumped to his feet the moment P appeared, and within seconds she found herself in one of the tightest, warmest hugs of her life. The tears weren’t voluntary but they came anyway, like a flood gate giving way after a long, wet winter.

Several minutes later, when the weeping subsidised to sniffs, Matthew placed his hands on her shoulders and pulled her back to see her face.

“P you’re one in a million darlin’. I really can’t ‘elp this. It’s the life they want to live and I’ve got to let them live it. If they aren’t ‘appy, we don’t get a record and then we’re all finished.” He brushed a limp blonde strand behind her ear and lifted her chin, so she would meet his eyes.

“Matt you’ve got no idea. She’s a child and they’re disgusting.” He looked hard at her for a moment.

“No one forced her to be ‘ere.”

Those were not the words P was expecting. Her world began spinning. They’re all as bad as each other.

~

Matthew begged P to stay for the last night on tour. “We’re in’t middle of nowhere,” he’d pointed out. Out of a sick sense of desperation for that not to be the end of her story, she agreed. One more day, she told herself; one more night.

When P returned to the bus at 4am, all was dark and silent. Isa was not in her bunk, nor anyone else’s.

The sun rose a few hours after, and having not slept a wink, so did she.

She ambled in the brisk morning air to what looked like a tradesman’s deli and bought herself a black coffee that tasted like tar. She just needed a purpose at that moment, and a morning coffee seemed appropriate.

After staring in to nothingness and smoking three cigarettes, P wandered back. She passed Shane’s ladies of the evening on her way in to the car park. Their hushed whispers rung heavy with excitement. Smith was standing by the door of the bus, cigarette in hand.

“Good morning beautiful,” he purred. P narrowed her eyes at him. Are we really just going to behave like normal? He furrowed his brow at her.

“Get out of the wrong side of the bunk this morning?”

P made a decision in that moment. She reminded herself why she was still there, she needed to get to civilisation, she didn’t want her adventure to fall to pieces, and from then on it was quite easy for her to pretend like the night before never happened. In fact, it was almost as if it didn’t.

Mick ignored her like always, and Reuben had given her cheek an affectionate stroke as he passed her on the way to the bathroom. They dozed through the four hour drive, interests only peeking when the Melbourne skyline came in to view.

“Honey, I’m home!” cooed Smith as he gazed out the window. Reuben wrapped his arm around P and kissed her gently on the top of her head. She tingled from the spot his lips touched to the tips of her toes. “It’s almost the end,” he sighed in her ear. She leaned back to look him in the eyes. He grinned that same old grin at her and her heart melted just a little less than usual.

~

The show was due to start at ten but the supporting act was running over. It gave the boys time for one more beer. As she followed them on their purposeful march to the stage she felt her heart break in to a million tiny pieces that she wasn’t sure she would ever be able to put back together again.

One by one they pulled back the curtain. The excited screams from the crowd grew louder each time. Reuben was the last to enter, and this time, he didn’t look back.

Neither would P.

Close – A Short Story

I’ll never forget his deepest brown eyes. They were always so focused on mine.
I always loved the way his nose twitched when he smirked at me.
The curls of his dark beard were tight and thick, a give away of his Mediterranean heritage.
He rarely smiled with teeth, but it was beautiful when he did.
Our jokes were quiet and dry; told between eyes and pursed lips. I knew him well.

I’m unsure when I lost him, but I’ll never forget those things. I’ll keep them with me no matter what.

~

I wasn’t hard to find on a Friday night.
Months earlier my roommate and I had stumbled haplessly in to a dive bar and never left. The music was cool and old, as were the drinks. My hands were never lost for a scotch on the rocks. I would always resist the urge to scoff at her vodka and cokes. Friends don’t judge each other, I’d song in my head as she sipped through her straw. Her lip gloss was bleeding. I’d tell her later.

Each night was a feast of live music and spinning decks. This night my favourite DJ had just remixed the chorus of Etta James’ Prisoner of Love. I watched a couple slow dance and a young girl in creepers twirl on the spot. I took another gulp.

I was tired from a long week and determined to drink. Going home before kick out wasn’t an option. We were friends with the bartenders and had a reputation to uphold.

I made a gesture with two fingers to my mouth and my friend nodded her head. She’d man the table while I’d chat aimless with the bouncer, cigarette in hand. I might have had two this time.

As I put one foot in front of the other I realised the scotch was going down well. The stairs felt shorter than they where when I arrived.

It was a crisp June evening and I hadn’t grabbed my jacket. I huddled close to my bouncer friend as he lit my smoke for me.

‘How are you tonight, mia cara?’ He cooed as I gazed down the blurry ally way.

‘Not bad. It’s fresh. I’m ready to party.’ He smirked and bowed his head.

‘When are we going to party?’ I’d been waiting for that.

‘Soon darling, soon’ I responded flatly. A group of young men were walking towards us. I stepped to the side to allow my friend to do his job. They each whipped out their ID’s. A couple of them glanced me up and down. I spotted a dark fellow at the back of the group looking at me quite intently. I spun my back to them and took another drag. I wasn’t wearing my glasses. I couldn’t make decisions on attractiveness at this time.

~

I rejoined my girl. Her long blonde hair flicked over her shoulder as she turned to me. ‘That couple are my favourite’ she purred. I glanced at the pair who were now swing dancing to a song I was unfamiliar with. I took a sip of my drink.

‘See anyone we know yet?’ She shook her head and sighed.

‘Thankfully. I’m starting to think we need a new local’. We both scoffed at the comment. This place could have been created by us, for us. Our kinda music, our kinda drinks, our kinda darkness. It had old style booths and candles in mason jars. The toilets were covered in graffiti. The staff drank with you and the bands stayed to socialise.

I felt someone watching me and turned my head slightly to see the same man from outside standing by the bar. He moved as I looked. Odd. ‘Is he attractive?’ I asked my companion. She put her lip gloss down and squinted towards the bar where I had tilted my head.

‘The beardy one or the tall one?’

‘Beardy.’ I finished my drink and glanced back to make sure there wasn’t anyone for her to get confused with.

‘Very,’ she answered quietly. I tilted my chin up and raised my eyebrows. Often our definitions of attractive were quite different. ‘No, really,’ she pressed. ‘You’ll like this one.’

I placed my empty glass back on the table and collected my clutch. ‘I’ll be back. Your lip gloss is running’.

I imagined her scrambling through her bag for her hand mirror as I sauntered away and smirked. I couldn’t see the man anymore but I saw my dearest bartender part the crowds to blow me a kiss. You have to be subtle when you’re going to skip the line, so I moved to the side and took a stool. I had hoped this might attract the stranger to my corner but I waited alone for a repeat of my usual.

When I made it back to the table my girl was now adjusting her hair. ‘Stop it. You’re fine.’

‘That’s alright for you to say, you aren’t going to run in to an ex here,’ she had a hint of stress in her gaze.

‘If we see him, I’ll murder him. How’s that?’ She grinned wickedly at me and chewed on her straw.

‘Excellent.’

~

Half an hour passed before I felt his presence next to me. It was a quick sweep past, and then next thing I knew the deepest dark eyes I had ever seen were gazing directly in to mine. He had knelt down at my table and placed his drink next to mine.

‘I’m sorry to disturb you, but would you like another drink?’ My glass was empty, but I don’t like to owe people things.

‘I’ll come with you,’ I responded, and my friend dutifully faded in to the background.

At the bar I could feel his closeness like a furnace. Did people usually stand this close when they didn’t know each other?

‘I’ve seen you here before. Didn’t your friend have pink hair last time?’ I laughed and nodded. No need to explain her wig fetish to a man we don’t know. He nodded and looked in to my eyes again. I forgot what we were talking about. I saw my bouncer friend appear over his shoulder, a shadow across his face. I looked away and sighed. Men are tiring, I thought.

A fresh whisky was pushed towards me and I was guided back to the table with a gentle hand to the lower back. He let me sit before he pulled up a chair. At this point he turned to my friend and she raised her gaze curiously.

‘Do you mind me joining you?’ He asked gently. She was pleasantly surprised. Her head shook with a smile and she turned back to the music. That was when those eyes returned to me.

I can’t tell you what we spoke about, how long we danced or which route we took back to mine, but when he kissed my hand at the door and walked alone up the city street I knew this one was different. I slept restlessly, between sighs and possibilities.

~

Two weeks later we had been out three times. The first night was dinner, the second was drinks on my balcony. The third was Riverfire.

The sky was lit spectacularly. We were perched on the riverbank in the most perfect spot, surrounded by groups of people drinking and cheering. I couldn’t help but notice his eyes on me when they should have been on the display. I grinned to myself and absorbed in this moment. I would remember this too. This was a feeling I hadn’t known, and I was starting to think it was the only feeling in the world that mattered.

An hour later, tipsy on cheap wine and butterflies we wandered hand in hand through the CBD. We took the long way home. The buzz of our surroundings was intoxicating. So was his company. I knew this wouldn’t be the end of the night, so I was in no hurry. I felt no urgency with him. Perhaps that’s how it’s supposed to be; when it’s more than just lust and a drunken adventure.

I hadn’t known this specialness. He didn’t have to tell me in words that I was magic to him. I felt it in his closeness, the way he watched my movements and smiled when I made a bad joke. Adoration? Perhaps just appreciation. Pure and sweet appreciation.

~

When we reached my door I scanned my key card. My roomie was out with her flavour of the month. We would be undisturbed.

It was then that he tugged my hand and pulled me in to his embrace. His lips pressed firmly against mine and I felt him breathe me in. We stayed that way for a touch longer than you should. I thought of the way his nose twitched when he smirked at me, the way he rarely smiled with teeth. I let myself be lost, and then he pulled away and I was back. The hallway was still red, the door was still open, my head was still in the clouds.

~

I’ll never forget his deepest brown eyes. They were always so focused on mine.
I always loved the way his nose twitched when he smirked at me.
The curls of his dark beard were tight and thick, a give away of his Mediterranean heritage.
He rarely smiled with teeth, but it was beautiful when he did.
Our jokes were quiet and dry; told between eyes and pursed lips. I knew him well.

I’m unsure when I lost him, but I’ll never forget those things. I’ll keep them with me no matter what.

Those were the things I remembered when his hands closed around my throat.

~

My body was found a week later in a small patch of bush land along the riverbank. A dog had sniffed me out on his morning walk. I was partially clothed, heavy bruising visible around my neck and wrists. The police said I was the third to be found in this way in the past six months. I was on every front page for the next two weeks, then when no more bodies appeared in the following year, people forgot my name and my story.

They never did catch him, the one who took my heart and my life; the one who never felt anything at all.