Syd woke with the sun again. The light filtered through the venetian blinds and hit the honey brown of her eyes. She blinked slowly, her dream of the night gently fading from memory. The sheets were pushed down by her feet. The evening had been warm, but the morning cool left her tummy cold to the touch. She wasn’t wearing a thing but a pair of bikini briefs. She traced her finger gently up her thigh, along her hip bone, and rubbed the back of her hand against her heavy lids.
The tanned body beside her stirred; his face turned towards hers, lips parted, still snoozing.
Syd moved her hand towards him, and pressed it to his cheek. She traced the outline of his mouth with her thumb. This beautiful man, with thick black hair and bright green eyes, was hers.
For years she had dreamed of this moment. For the longest time she wasn’t sure if it would ever come. A slew of men talked their way in to her heart and her room with no thought of staying. They left her cold and deserted, and cursing herself for letting them in in the first place. Still, she didn’t change. She let those smooth Casanovas with their big smiles and firm touches have their way with her body and soul, until after a while she didn’t have much left to share.
It was a shell of a woman sitting alone at the bar that night that Julian arrived. He was equable, he didn’t speak to her. He ordered a drink and went back to his friend. When Syd glanced over her shoulder at him, he was looking right at her. That electric stare cut straight through.
It still did.
Her touch must have woken him. He pressed his lips together and kissed the tip of her thumb. Syd sighed, and rolled away from him. She gradually wiggled backwards until their bodies completed a puzzle. Julian wrapped his arm around her stomach and pulled her in tighter.
“I love you,” he whispered. His breath tickled her ear. Syd wanted to cry. He buried his nose in to her auburn hair and breathed deeply. They stayed like this for a long time, lost inside a waking dream. When Julian’s lips pressed against her neck, Syd melted in to him completely. His body grew firmer. She enjoyed her favourite wake up call.
A while later, hair wrapped in a towel and smelling like mint and vanilla, Syd emerged from the bathroom. Her feet hit the cold tiles and she tapped towards the kitchen. She could hear the coffee grinder.
Inside the door, Julian’s hair was still dripping with sweat. He grinned at her and ran his fingers through it. “I love you,” he cooed again, planting a kiss on her forehead. He drew his hand down her back, fingers tickling her spine. She let her towel drop a little lower. “I’m going to shower.”
Syd watched him go.
“Don’t drink all my coffee, Sydney,” he called back to her. She smirked; her shoulders slumped at the memory. The first time Syd had stayed with this man, she had unwittingly used the last of his important Columbian beans to make a coffee that tasted like rocket fuel. Since then, she knew not to help herself, and he had bought her a jar of Moccona just in case.
Syd heard the shower running and walked toward the record player. A jazz artist she hadn’t heard of was replaced by the Rolling Stones. It was Saturday morning, after all.
She flicked the switch on the kettle and leaned back against the counter.
It had been three blissful months in the arms of this bronzed Adonis. Originally from Argentina, his family immigrated to Australia in the eighties. At thirty five, Jules was a little older than Syd. He had travelled extensively in his twenties, which made him wise. He had a social conscience she had never encountered before. He seemed to genuinely care about everyone and everything. The first time this struck her was also the first time she’d seen him cry. They were watching a David Attenborough documentary on a lazy Sunday afternoon. His eyes welled as he watched their planet die on television, and swiftly Syd started to care a lot more too.
He made her better, she decided; a better person, a better lover. She was selfish in her youth. She was selfish full stop. She really had to watch her words sometimes. Her fiery hair was matched only by her fierce tongue. Growing up bullied severely for something as ridiculous as your hair colour gives a girl plenty of opportunity to develop a defence mechanism.
Perhaps that was her problem with men. She could handle taunts and rudeness, sly comments and cruel stares. What she couldn’t handle was kindness. Syd would protect herself and her friends from any bro with the audacity to neg them out but give her a nice guy, a man with a compliment and a flashy grin and she was putty in his hands.
She couldn’t understand how her friends were so good at weeding out the genuine ones and the liars.
“None of them are genuine, Syd. That’s rule number one,” said her cynical best friend Marie between puffs of her menthol cigarette.
“That can’t be true Marie. If it were… what’s the point?”
“Exactly.” Marie narrowed her eyes at her foolish companion. Syd flushed crimson and felt overcome with sadness. I refuse to believe it.
One month later, she met Julian.
Syd was nestled cross-legged on the sofa when he emerged, glistening wet and a towel around his waist. She loved his rugged beauty, how natural he was in body and mind. When wet, his hair touched his shoulders. He shook it out like a dog and grinned at her.
“I’m worried. Why are you looking at me like you want to murder me?”
Syd laughed at bit her lip. “I was lost in memories; I won’t kill you until you’re old and rich.”
“I don’t plan on being either.”
“If you keep importing that coffee from Colombia, you won’t be.”
Julian winked at her before entering the kitchen. Syd sipped her painfully average instant coffee and groaned. “Can I have a sip of your rocket fuel?” she called.
“Seeing as you asked so nicely… absolutely not,” he said, poking his head around the door. “You disrespect my coffee. You disrespect me.”
“God forbid,” said Syd darkly. This man, she thought. He loves his coffee more than me.
She thought back to the night before. Syd and Marie had gone for dinner, which turned in to dancing. Marie was wild and fun. As Syd’s only single friend, she was the one she always turned to in times of need.
“He worships you, and I hate both of you,” she bellowed in to her ear over the loud music. Syd felt smug, but sad. Her friend was stunning. She deserved the world.
“He’ll come one day,” she shouted back.
“Nah,” laughed Marie. “You took the last good one.”
Syd frowned when she thought of her friend. She was the most supportive, strong woman she had ever met. Is there really someone for everyone?
“I have a surprise for you, my golden Goddess,” Julian began when he reappeared. He pulled a piece of paper from behind his back.
Julian was an artist. Not a struggling one, as his full time job as a law clerk saw to. He hated it, but it was a means to an end, as he often stated. He didn’t have many work friends. The few times she’d been out with them, they were dull and unfriendly. One night in particular stuck in Syd’s mind. His boss, a heavy set man with a terrible comb over had looked her up and down and tapped her on the behind.
“They’re a rotten crown.” Julian cooed in her ear that night as they Uber’d home.
“You’re worth the whole damn lot of them,” she finished. They shared a passionate kiss. That was the first time he told her he loved her.
Syd moved in a few days later.
Since then, Julian’s cartoons never failed to brighten her day. Syd looked down at his latest creation: a sleeping red head with a caption ‘My World.’
“This is for you,” he beamed.
“I’ll frame it,” she teased.
He looked so proud. His chest puffed out, his wonky grin. She wanted to eat him up.
“I will draw us old and in rocking chairs.”
“I’d rather live it!” She said with love. He stuck out his bottom lip. Syd had a tendency to shut him down without thinking. “Draw our future.”
“Right after I get eggs,” he muttered. “We don’t have any left.”
“I’d rather some toast. You can’t make eggs.”
“It is my life goal,” he announced loudly to the empty room, “to make you the perfect egg.” She was more interested in his slipping towel but nodded along anyway.
When Julian closed the front door, and said I love you for the third time that morning, Sydney didn’t say it back. She knew he knew. She said it with her eyes, meeting his and welling up. She said it in the way she brushed his hair out of his face as he finished his latest masterpiece. She said it when she made the bed, and laid out some of his clothes. She said it in ways that spoke more than words.
She knew he knew it.
But she spent the rest of her life wishing she’d said it that morning.
When the police knocked on the door an hour later she was already so anxious her hands were shaking. He hadn’t answered her texts; he hadn’t picked up his phone. He was always hopeless with that damn phone but today she knew he took it with him.
Maybe he left it in the car? Maybe the store was closed for some reason. Maybe he ran in to someone he knew and got talking and lost track of time.
‘Where r u?’
‘Is everything ok?’
‘Did the car breakdown? Do u need me to come get u?
She saw the uniforms and the look of sorrow on their faces. As soon as they opened their mouths it was like one of those silly cartoons when everything is fuzzy. She didn’t remember falling to her knees or how one of them had picked her up and walked her in to the living room. The noise coming from her mouth was something foreign; a pained moan from a ghost. Something she’d never heard before.
She heard the words ‘accident’ and ‘fatalities’ and something about a truck turn-over.
A hot cup appeared in her hand; his cup. She took a sip discerningly and gagged. It was rocket fuel. It was his coffee. She threw the cup across the room and it smashed in to a million pieces along with her heart.
“Never touch his coffee!” She screamed. She was held tight again a chest that wasn’t his and she thrashed with all her might, becoming a crumpled heap on the floor. Who can you call?
There is no one.
Six months later she sat in a cafe with Marie. Her voice was fuzzy and cartoon-like and Syd’d eyes glazed over as she stared at the barista. He had long floppy hair and flashed her a smile. Her stone face remained unchanged.
“Cherish the ones you love Marie,” she said flatly. Her friend fell silent. A hand cupped hers.
“Always,” she said quietly.