Feel Free To Take It With You

Niall Shepherd

You ask me if it’s a big deal, I tell you that it’s not. If we were talking face to face I wouldn’t be able to lie like this. The further away you are, the easier it will be to lie. That’s the silver lining then, as shameful as it is. When you move away, you will need me to lie all the more.

‘But we’ll still be friends, won’t we?’

‘Of course we will.’

‘And we’ll still talk all the time, right?’

‘All the time.’

It’s not like you haven’t moved before. Your parents moved to Garstang and we stayed as close as ever. We moved away for University, to different cities, different ends of the country, and stayed as close as ever. I live half the year abroad now, with my girlfriend, we still talk all the time online, over the phone. We send each other letters. Who even sends letters anymore?

You haven’t got the heart to tell me. This time it’s different. It’s not a matter of distance anymore. You’re not just moving away, you’re moving on.

‘The song that always reminds you of me is the Alabama Song by the Doors’ you tell me in your latest letter. I remember walking through the town square, wasted, singing it as loudly and as badly as we could. You used to say things just to wind me up.

‘Let’s go back to your bedroom and fuck’ you’d say, all eyelids and smiles.

‘Can’t. We’d wake my parents up’ I‘d say.

‘You’ll die a virgin with that attitude.’

Shows what you know. Everyone assumed that we were fucking but we weren’t. We never did, not once. Even though we’d talk about it, joke about it all the time, that’s all it ever was, just a joke. A game we used to play. I’d never been so comfortable in someone else’s company.

You used to see right through me when I told you I was fine. You’d scold me when I didn’t take my medication. You looked out for me. When I ate my sandwiches at lunch the guys that hung out in the dinner hall would ask me if the things they said about you were true. Did she really do what they said she did? Did she do it where they said she did it? Is it true that she’ll do anyone? Anything?

You taught me to call people out on their bullshit, the most important lesson I ever learnt.

‘It’s a really nice house. I can’t wait to show it to you.’

‘Does it have a garden?’

‘A small one, yeah.’

You make a little plan inside your head. Me and Jil will visit in September. You’ll make us up a guest room, we can spend a long weekend together. He’ll be off work then, so we can all hang out, go on a double date, meet your friends. Except I’m never introducing him to Jil.

‘We’re both looking forward to seeing you again. It’s been so long since we saw each other.’

I agree, it’s been too long. Almost two years. I feel dizzy when I think about it. Two years, I should’ve been there for you. I never should’ve let it get this bad. Two years. I should’ve called someone, there has to be somebody you can call.

In spite of everything, it feels like a betrayal somehow. Something that I know you wouldn’t want me to do. Interfering.Whenever you call I get so sad that I can’t speak afterwards. Jil tells me that I ought to open up to you, explain to you that nothing’s going to change unless we do something about it. Try and make you see some sense. She doesn’t know you like I do, no one does. I’m selfish and I’m cynical and arrogant. You’re so much worse. Why won’t you just grow up and admit that you’ve made a terrible mistake? I want to help you but I can’t until you let me. I hate it when you’re like this. I love you.

‘What song reminds you of me then?’

‘God, I dunno. Anything by the Cure.’

‘No, no that’s such a cop out. One song. Come on, think.’

‘Back Door Man.’

‘Oh piss off you prick.’

People were cruel to you in High School. They were worse in College. The first taste of freedom, independence, the first opportunity to define yourself and people use it to tell you who you are. Slut. Bitch. They used to say it to your face. You used to laugh and laugh. We’d laugh all the way to the bus stop, back to my house, back to my bedroom. Then we’d get under the covers with a torch and a copy of ‘Secret Six’ and you’d cry until you couldn’t breathe.

‘What the hell do they know?’ You’d hiss, ‘what do any of those little pricks know about me?’

You were the strongest, the most fragile, and the angriest person I knew. So full of rage and bile, people were afraid of you. You made them feel small. It was incredible.

‘Just call me Prince Adam.’

‘Why?’

‘Because I have the power.’

You want to tell me that nothing will change, that you and I will stay the same forever. Like two bugs, frozen in amber. In my bedroom, reading comic books and drinking cheap cider, forever. You can’t do that though, you’ve never lied to me.

Is this going to change things? Are we going to change?

Of course not. We’ll be together forever. Best of friends.

I keep waiting for the phone call. The phone call from the edge, the place you’ll be when there’s no going back anymore. No denying it. You don’t believe that it could ever come to that, that you could ever be so vulnerable. That he could ever go that far.

I keep expecting to hear blood-stains in your voice, broken bones and bruises. More than anger, more than fear, you’ve called me in floods of tears before. I feel it in the ring tone now. Maybe it’ll never come to that.

But he said he’ll kill himself if you leave again.

‘I wish I had a garden like this’ I’d say when we had barbecues at your house. Just me and you, whoever you were seeing that week. A few friends from college. People that I didn’t know.

‘We’ll have one at our place’ you’d say. I see it in my head, the soft grass and the willow in the corner. Long branches like a curtain, the hidden, shady place inside.

We’d sit out in your garden after house parties, underneath an itchy woollen blanket. You could see the stars out where you lived. You couldn’t see them quite as clearly in Garstang, but we’d sit out in the garden together there, too.

‘I fucking hate this blanket’ I’d tell you.

‘Then give it here, it’s freezing’ you’d say.

‘No I’m alright.’

‘Well shut the fuck up then.’

Where do you draw the line? You used to call me in the second year of University, screaming like a banshee. You’d call him every name under the sun, tell him where to fucking go. If he thinks he can tell me what to do he’s got another thing coming.

He couldn’t get it right at first. Say the wrong words, do the wrong things. How was I supposed to know that he’d still be here in four years’ time? You’d never had a boyfriend for more than a month before. You never let them stick around long enough to hurt you. You were the one who did the hurting. Is that what changed? Did you feel sorry for this one? Did you feel guilty? Were you afraid that they’d been right about you all this time?

He’s tall like all the others. Dark like all the others. He has that certain roguish quality you like so much in boys. Wuthering Heights did a number on you for sure. Maybe that should’ve been a red flag from the start; Heathcliff was your ideal. I always hated Heathcliff, the mopey prick.

That’s everything you liked in boys. But they aren’t boys anymore, they’re men. What do you know about men? What did anybody teach you about men? All I ever learned is that I don’t know how to be one. I don’t much like your chances. Maybe I’m projecting my own worries onto you.

I’m not writing a letter back this time. I can’t. I’m selfish. I’m sorry.

‘So what is it? What song reminds you of me?’

‘Hold on, I’m still thinking.’


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