Girls

Every day millions of baby girls are born in to this world.

A few of us are very, very lucky.

We are born in to love. We have a beautiful home to call our own. We are raised with kindness and patience. We have two people who adore us and do everything in their power to do it right. We can avoid the badness of this planet because we are grounded by love and support.

We really are the lucky ones.

There are lots babies who don’t have it so good.

Having a family who give me everything is something that for the longest time I have taken for granted; yes, I love them more than breath, but I never truly appreciated just how well I did in the life lottery.

As I became a woman I explored the world a lot more. I travelled a lot. My morbid curiosity kicked in and I started studying crime in my spare time as a hobby. My Papi being a prison officer gave me an acute awareness of ‘badness’. I don’t think I ever comprehended the extent until it started to creep in to my life. I realised that heartbreak and poverty and pain are always only a stones throw away from all of us. It is very close to home. It’s getting worse, too.

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I have seen girls and women with sparks and brains and character dim and change and break. I’ve seen the affects a childhood or relationship built on fear can have.

It all kind of came to a head the night I watched the British drama ‘Three Girls’ which is a factual retelling of a harrowing and sickening trend; women who fall prey to evil men.

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For a start, watch it. I cry a lot, but this broke me. I held it in until the end of part one and then I snapped. I felt it, all of it, and I sobbed and I couldn’t stop. I cried for every single baby girl in this world who doesn’t have a daddy to protect her. I cried for every baby girl who found herself out of control of her situation. I cried for every rape victim, every exploited child, every female used and abused with no where to turn.

We know our world is filled with bad, bad people.

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I hate the fact that we have to discuss an entire gender in such a negative way. Of course we know it’s ‘not all men‘. It’s a fact, though, that male violence is one of the biggest issues we have. As women we are raised to always have our guard up and be vigilant. We know to walk quickly when alone, be on our phone, not wear anything too revealing, not make eye contact, avoid going out at night.

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I wish I could open my arms and hold close every single person who has ever been hurt, and I hope that in writing the way I do I will open a dialogue or raise awareness. I just want to talk about it. We are not okay.

Women are forever in an inferior position when it comes to physical dominance. There is a threat of violence and control that most of us are not physically capable of overcoming. When we are in what we think is a safe place, and people we trust betray us, where can we turn? Most of us can’t punch our way out. We can’t assert dominance or command respect. We can’t just get up and leave. That isn’t something that our society is comfortable with as a whole. I can preach equality until I am blue in the face but it is a fact that there are still so many men out there who see women as inferior and treat us as such.

There are girls growing up in worlds where they are told that all they have to offer is their body. They are hurt, they are used and maybe they’re discarded. Maybe they are recycled until they’re too ‘old’ and ‘dirty’ to be considered desirable. Drugs and alcohol are used to get them through. They might be used as a tool in the power play or maybe they’re an escape mechanism. Lower socioeconomic backgrounds are the most vulnerable.

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How can we help them?

Why is the first question that gets asked always ‘why didn’t she say no? Why didn’t she walk away? Why didn’t she defend herself?’

How about: ‘why the fuck are men still raping women?’

We shouldn’t have to raise women to protect themselves. This victim blaming bullshit needs to end.

We are not objects to be used. We are human beings with the same brains as everyone else. We feel pain. We do what we need to to survive.

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Everyone knows someone who has been raped. You might not realise it, because she probably didn’t tell anyone. The majority of rapes aren’t reported for fear of the consequences, be it a further threat of violence from the perpetrator, an inability to escape the situation, or fear of the marginalisation they will face from their peers. Maybe they just won’t get convicted like the sickening graph above.

#MeToo started a few days ago. A queen I have adored for years named Alyssa Milano began the movement on Twitter to show solidarity with women who have experienced sexual harassment and assault. Suddenly, the vulnerable conversations had between close girlfriends are out there for the world to see. Thousands of women are taking to social media to confess their own experiences of sexual violence or violation. It’s not a hushed topic anymore. Now we see just how big this thing really is.

I have had many conversations with fellow twenty-somethings about the times we have been sexually assaulted on nights out. Groping, touching, hurting us because we aren’t giving them attention. We aren’t reciprocating their advances. We moved away when they came too close. We accepted their offer to buy us a drink so now we owe them sex. We danced a bit too sexy so we deserve a hand up our dress. We went out for a smoke and were alone a few minutes too long. I never looked any of them in the eye, many of them I didn’t see coming, so I’m not really sure how I was asking for it. Is that where it all starts for these men? A casual man-handle without consent? Or are there degrees of inner predator?

Every single time I find a way to blame myself. I flirt too much (but I flirt with everyone…), my boobs were out (am I not allowed to be proud of my body?), I caught his eye (I should be able to look around the room without inviting an invasion), I didn’t call him out when he touched me (but his friends were all there and a lot bigger than me), I was too nice and I gave him the wrong idea (and some men wonder why women act like bitches), I went home with him (but I made my feelings about contraception clear).

We still aren’t talking about this enough.

For anyone reading this, and I genuinely hope there aren’t many, who might be going down the thought train of ‘well how do I know if someone is keen then? Am I just supposed to stand with my hands behind my back? Will a girl I hook up with turn around and say she didn’t consent afterwards?You aren’t listening to what we are saying. Unless you are the type of man who puts your hands on a woman without invitation, or takes a girl home who is clearly too drunk to look after herself, none of this is directed at you. If she moves away from you, let her! Don’t play the victim, because you’re not. I know for a fact that my men don’t feel this way, but I have seen the comment sections, I’ve overheard the loud, brutish pub banter, I know what we are up against. This isn’t a crusade against a gender. We love men. That’s the whole point. We want to be able to continue to love men and feel respected and safe while doing so.

Girls and women alike often live a life of fear. For some of us, the lucky ones, outside of a bar or club it’s just a passing thought as we wait for an Uber or walk alone at night. I always hold my keys between my fingers like a weapon and call my family as I walk, loudly stating where I am and that I’m on my way. I’m as privileged as they come with my strong family unit and ‘safe’ suburbs but it is always on my mind. I’m not exaggerating, and I’m not paranoid. Go read the hashtag.

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Today I am taking a stand; this is for my sisters.

I am opening the dialogue. I am using my voice to speak the truth without fear of offending. I don’t give a shit if I upset someone’s fragile ego. I do not paint everyone with the same brush, today I am talking about men who hurt women. It is real, it is constant and it is happening all around us.

There are thousands of issues in this world, but today, in the wake of yet another man in a powerful position being finally exposed for his disgusting actions, despite decades of protection from his colleagues (see: Harvey Weinstein) I stand for women.

I stand for Rose McGowan banned from Twitter for calling out other men who defended him, I stand for the girls who had their childhood stolen by organisations of men pimping them out, I stand for the girls and women who aren’t safe in their own home.

Let’s stand together, all of us, men and women, against this shit. Let’s talk about it, let’s call it out and let’s make a change.

This isn’t okay. It was never okay.

For women everywhere.

For the facts:

https://www.ourwatch.org.au/Understanding-Violence/Facts-and-figures

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/compendium/focusonviolentcrimeandsexualoffences/yearendingmarch2016/domesticabusesexualassaultandstalking

To learn more:

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/fiona-mccormack-preventing-violence-against-women-in-australia/6552078

How to help:

https://www.whiteribbon.org.au

https://www.actionaid.org.uk

Financial aid isn’t viable for all of us, but starting a conversation is a step in the right direction. Look around, and offer your help to anyone who might need it. If you’re one of my beautiful male friends, you can really help us. Don’t ever be a bystander. You have nothing to fear, we love you, but we just need you to understand.

Tara Moss on Toxic Silence

I’m so proud of you guys. It takes a strong woman to speak up and a strong man to listen and learn. Thank you for reading.

HarleighQ

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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…

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.