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02/11/2011

Branches

Andrew Morwood

On 7th January I pushed through the hot and busy club, in search of another beer, oblivion. It was a Monday, more suited to finding sex than a boyfriend but I liked the mix of people it brought. At the bar they stood three deep, leaning in on tiptoes to shout orders for drinks that made the place bearable. I bought two cans and pocketed all the change offered back to me on a silver dish. At the side of the dancefloor I sipped from one, holding the other close, awaiting the return of no one. The wall held me up as I surveyed the crowd for anyone I might want to sleep with, but found nothing in the homogeneous mix of gelled hair and tight tops. Then, above the throng, on a balcony I saw him with a jaw so strong it looked like it had been drawn. I turned away at once, too shy to offer anything more than a glance.

I woke and he was beside me, watching me, smiling. Even lying down I could tell he was taller, his legs reaching far beyond mine as I ran my socked foot down his shin. He pulled me towards him and I rested my head on his chest. His soft hairs tickled my nose. I felt the strength of his arm beneath me, securing me to him. The taste of tequila brought back flashes of memory – drinks knocked back and set up again, credit card slips signed with an unsteady hand and cashback given for use with the in-house dealer. In the middle of my floor lay two puddles of clothes and I noticed my pants still scrunched inside my trousers, as if brought down in one motion. His shoes lay on their side, laces still tied.

He laughed when I asked if we’d done anything risky and assured me we were both too drunk, managing only a mere fumble before I’d passed out. He cuddled behind me, his erection digging into my back and we talked as we would on a first date, offering the versions of ourselves we wanted to be. I  tried to be self-deprecating enough to be charming, but not so much as to be needy; he was forceful, yet soft, his personality matching his eyes. We showered together, adjusting the height so he could stand fully upright under the stream. He carefully washed my back, then my front and held me in his mouth until I came, smiling as he swallowed, a look of childish naughtiness on his face.

 

On Tuesday 5th February I waited by the kiosk at Cambridge Circus. I scanned through the crowds as they came towards me, looking down occasionally to the shoes. We’d met a few times each week, and texted most days, though sometimes he never replied. After thirty minutes of waiting my excitement gave way to anxiety – was this a brush-off, another lost chance? I tried calling him but there was no answer, no personalised message, just some woman giving a staccatoed recital of seemingly random numbers. Five more minutes turned into ten, and then fifteen, until he appeared before me. His eyes were bright and mischievous and I smelled cheap wine on his breath as he apologised for being held up at work. Though I didn’t believe him, I forgave him at once. That he’d wanted to see me again and again when many others hadn’t was enough. We missed dinner and just drank, moving from pub to bar until I lost count. In the quiet corner of a dark basement I watched tears wet his cheeks but I didn’t know why he was crying. As we sat in silence I realised he didn’t know either.

Next morning, I woke in my bed and he was beside me. Our clothes formed two pools once more on the floor. We stayed there for hours, his head resting on my stomach and I felt the stroke of his eyelashes at every blink.

 

On Friday 8th March I took him along to a friend’s birthday, nervous of our first outing as a pair. I felt all eyes on him as he was introduced to husbands and wives. He greeted each one with a surly disdain. We sat down to dinner, dished out in a new kitchen extension, the table set with her wedding bounty. Shy at first, he whispered in my ear when he needed a top-up, downing glass upon glass and not touching his food. It wasn’t until dessert came that he finally spoke. In the midst of a discussion about local schools and house prices, he turned to me and loudly proclaimed that he was so fucking bored. I laughed at first but he seemed deadly serious. He told them all they were wasting their lives, raising children who would grow up to hate them, making do. He stood, asked me if I was going to join him, or stay here and worry about a life that wasn’t mine. I left then without saying goodbye.  He’d burnt my bridges and I jumped over to join him. We carried on out into the night, hitting bars and clubs. We exorcised the dull dinner demons until we could take it no more.

In the grey morning, on the back seat of a taxi, he sat beside me, fingers punching the keys on his phone. The cocaine and alcohol that had loosened our tongues now made us guarded and jumpy. My phone buzzed in my pocket. The text read – I love you to the moon and back. x. I reached across the back seat, careful to avoid the gaze of the driver in the rear-view mirror, and took his clammy hand in mine, my finger gently tracing the folds of his palm.

 

On Wednesday 3rd April I asked him to spend the night with just me, away from the bars and the drugs and the world. I had been blaming him for my choices in the hungover days, for leading me to where he wanted to go, for making me have the last drink he craved. I stayed out because he wanted to, and I didn’t want him to disappear into a night I was unsure would bring him back. More often than not those nights ended in argument, over what I was not entirely sure. I would turn to face the tirades of anger that he spat against the world, my ears the only ones that would listen. I remained silent throughout, unwilling to be drawn in, my sulky silence adding fuel to the fire. Still, I hung on, unable to give up what I’d waited so long to have. I made do. On the mornings after those nights I longed to break the unease as we lay in bed twitching, unable to sleep. I couldn’t get close, our bodies too  sweaty and skin too uncomfortable to come together.

But that night we stayed in and opened a bottle of wine, both stopping after only one glass. It was then that I let him fuck me, something I’d never let happen before. He took me to bed and removed my clothes. I nervously joked that he should fold them. He probed gently at first, his fingernail catching and making me gasp. When he thought I was ready he pushed his cock inside me. I pushed back against him, my hands on his chest, as I tried to let him in. He took control completely and directed my movements, initiating me fully where others had failed. Afterwards I sneaked out of bed and made for the bathroom. I checked for the blood I was sure would be there. He came after me, folded his arms around me, placed his head against mine. He sang to me in a quiet deep voice – Girl, you’ll be a woman soon. My ear buzzed as I swayed in his arms and thought of nothing except I love this man.

 

On Saturday 11th May I took him away on a weekend break, trying to ensure he wouldn’t disappear again. He’d taken to vanishing for a day at a time and I never knew where he really went, was too afraid that an inquiry would drive him away. Begrudgingly I accepted it as part of the terms, but decided to try my best to keep him occupied. We drank champagne as we dressed for our special dinner, and I made sure the cocaine he’d brought stayed safely tucked away until we had eaten. His food went down almost as quickly as his wine and I struggled to keep up as he set aside his knife and fork and asked for my wallet. It was not the romance I expected, but I didn’t want him to leave me behind, so I charged headlong at each new bottle of wine opened and wrap unfolded, heroically trying my best to consume as much as I could so that he couldn’t.

The sun was just coming up as we struggled back to our room, thankful for the blackout curtains that shielded the junior suite. We wrapped ourselves in the untouched Egyptian Cotton sheets, eager to make good use of the three more hours we had before check-out. As we lay, too tired to have sex but too wired to sleep, he told me a truth only this hour could take. He pulled me in tight and admitted – when I looked at him a certain way he often felt like hitting me, a need so great he only just managed to control it. That he did made me love him more. On the train home I tried not to look at him in that way, though it took all my strength. I blamed him for the expensive suite that we enjoyed for just a few hours, for the robes we never slipped into, for the bath we never shared. For once, I blamed myself for letting it happen.

 

On Wednesday 12th June, he disappeared once more and I felt almost glad. I had an opportunity to get on with work, with life, to make good the lapses I’d allowed to occur. But I couldn’t move on, instead I watched my phone and checked my mail, unable to let him be far from my mind. I sent texts and made calls, trying from phones unknown to him, in the vain hope that he might just pick up. My messages became more and more frantic. I pleaded for him to return.

After three days of waiting and nights of light sleep, my phone buzzed on the bedside table. The text said – See you tonight? Can’t wait.x. I had spent most of the day working up to the meeting. I made promises to confront and to probe. But when I saw him I knew at once that the questions would remain unasked.

We carried on as before. He ordered cocktail upon cocktail on a tab he knew I’d pick up. As each drink hit me, I became more angry with myself, annoyed that I let this continue without any resistance. I felt my face slacken to a look of disappointment and I stopped trying to make conversation. I paid the bill and we left. We walked through the park and I kept two strides ahead, cursing him under my breath. He stopped me and spun me round by the shoulder, shouted what the fuck is wrong. I suddenly exploded and told him to leave. I screamed that he’d ruined my life. His beautiful eyes changed in that instant and he swung his fist hard, connecting just behind my ear. I stumbled away, trying to run, but I felt his hands grab hold of my back. He pulled me backwards onto the ground, his arms pinned mine behind my head. I looked up and all I could see were branches and leaves, I felt a puddle under my head. I struggled until there was no point. I smiled as he hit me again and again.

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