"Stay away from him Belle, he's trouble."
"You've only met him a couple of times."
"I can tell, alright?"
Admittedly I could never tell if I envied or pitied my friends who did not have older brothers. Sure he bugged the hell out of me the majority of the time, and our few, brief conversations together were littered with insults and swear words. But still, he was always willing to be there for me, and always looking out for me. That second part was something I never knew whether to think of it as a good thing or not. For starters, it meant if he met any of my male friends he'd be weary, he'd grill them and question them and when he realised they had no intentions towards me 'in that way', he'd buy them a pint and tell me he liked them.
Of course, in a very few occasions, he would spot a small gesture – a hand to the neck, a small fidget, a glance in my direction – and instantly he would be on guard. In these cases, he could go either way. He could buy them a pint, decided that yeah, he was alright, take me to one side and say "so, anything happening between you and so-and-so?". Other times he'd frown thoughtfully, buy a pint and, as nice as possible, tell whoever it was to "stay away from my little sister, alright?"
Don't get me wrong, this didn't happen that often. And most of the time I listened to my brother, because after all he was older, he knew more and his instincts, nine times out of ten, were spot on. Either that, or generally I had no interest in these guys.
This time, it was different, and I felt more than willing to throw caution to the wind and for once not listen to my brother. Besides, it was too late to step back.
"What have you got against him?" I asked, tilting my head to one side as I ran my tongue over my lips. They felt much as they usually did after a night of drinking and kissing; soft, supple. I knew if I looked in the mirror they would be bright red, making lip stick not necessary. I stared hard at my brother as he ran a hand through his quickly growing hair, frowning at the floor.
"A feeling, alright?"
He didn't know about the previous night – the pair of us had, to put it bluntly, been pretty sneaky about the whole thing, stealing kisses when no one else was around, and hanging behind when they went to get food. It had been fun, exciting, and even now I felt a twinge of excitement from it all.
"A feeling? What, like the male version of woman's intuition?" I spoke sarcastically, unfolding my legs and stretching them across the bed. My brother was sitting in the large arm chair in the corner of my bedroom, the bookcase beside him littered with my favourites; Ben Elton, Stephen Fry, Nick Hornby. Shelves below reflected my tastes a couple of years back, the spines with books by Meg Cabot and Jacqueline Wilson. Sometimes, when feeling particularly nostalgic I'd withdrew one of these 'juvenile' reads and open it, losing myself in the books I'd read as a kid.
"I guess so."
As we stared at each other; the same blue eyes, the same nose, the same jaw line and smile (although now I was the only one smiling, his mouth was set into a frown); I found myself drifting once more into the memory of the previous night. The happiness, the shock, the surprise.
And it had been a shock. I'd known Greg for a while, and yeah I thought he was a nice guy and all. But never had I expected something to happen. What surprised me even more was that when he first leant in, when his lips had locked on mine, I responded instantly. My body, of its own accord, squeezed against his. And my brain was laughing, giggling, going 'OK, this is Greg...why isn't it weird'?
Suddenly all the things I had taken as off-hand comments, as random compliments had come flooding back to me; the times Greg had seemed to be, not overly nice, but defiantly considerate, kind, and not in a brotherly way like I was used to with most of my male friends. All of these had run around my head after we'd gone home, keeping me awake most of the night in a strange drink induced half-state, where I couldn't quite tell if I was awake or dreaming, my mind replaying the night over and over again, the smile not once leaving my face.
My brother had met him a few times before, true, but I don't think he'd ever felt his brotherly instincts kick in like they had last night before. He didn't know, that was true, but still, he must have felt something to feel he had to warn me.
"What makes you think something might happen, anyway?" I threw it in there to see what reply my brother might give; once or twice I'd gone for guys based on his observance, based on his comments of 'I think that guy likes you'.
See, my brother was protective, but not overly so; I put it down to the fact that he'd made sure I could always look after myself.
Again his hand swiped through his hair. He let out a sigh. "I just...could tell. That's all."
"How? Reading his mind?" I rested my elbows on my knees, looking hard at my brother.
"You know when a guy talks to you in a club?"
"Yesh." I nodded, my smile now turning into a frown.
"You notice how, say, with Michelle," my best friend, as much a sister to my brother as some of his mates were like brothers to me "I'll put my hand here?" He gestured to the side of his chest, and I nodded once more, knowing what he meant. The aforementioned friends of his would often place their hands just under my breast when we out, and I knew not to take it in a sexual manner. "Well, I don't know if you noticed, but with Steph," his oldest female friend, and the one girl I'd seen my brother really fall for "I'll put my hand here?" He put his hand on his waist, and I let myself smile again.
It suddenly clicked.
When I had been talking to Greg the night before, he'd had his hand on my waist, his mouth close to my ear. And that was exactly what my brother meant.
It was all in the body language.
A week later and I found myself drunk once more, my head spinning as Greg wrapped an arm around my waist and helped me stumble towards the waiting taxis.
I leaned into him, resting my head on his shoulder and breathing in his smell. Michelle always called it 'man-smell', no matter what the combination of smells was. Tonight, it was the smell of tobacco (mine, clinging to him from when he'd come with me outside), alcohol, sweat and cologne. And it smelt good. To me, that smell was heaven.
"Are you alright?" We'd stopped walking and he put his hands on my shoulders, turning me to face him. His green eyes swam in front of me, though I managed to lock my sights on them. I nodded slowly, giving him a drunken smile to emphasise the point. Half of his mouth lifted, one of his hands brushing the hair out of my face. "How drunk are you?"
My heart was beating, I felt nervous and butterflies had settled themselves into my stomach. Nothing, so far tonight, had happened, and I was starting to think the previous weekend had just been a one-off. His walking me to the taxi...well, that was just him. Being nice. As usual.
Unfortunately, my drunken mind couldn't tell when I just shouldn't talk, or mention...certain things. Before I could even think of what I was going to say, my mouth was moving.
"Drunk enough to know I want to go back to yours, sober enough that I know it's not a good idea."
Without a word, his lips were on mine. I let myself melt into him, parting my lips slightly to let his tongue enter. We gripped onto each other, his hands in the small of my back, pulling me into his body. My hands were entwined in his hair, holding onto the strands and pushing. He let out a soft moan before pulling back and looking at me with narrowed eyes and a strange, thoughtful expression.
"Why isn't it a good idea?"
I closed my eyes, trying to think of the best way to phrase my current thought process without sounding like an idiot, or a slut, or a prick tease.
"Greg, I want to...I think I want to...you know...just not yet...."
When I opened my eyes, he was looking at me with his oh so cute half smile. He reached forward, holding my hand and pulling me once more towards him. "Nothing has to happen unless you want it to."
I didn't say anything. I didn't need to. I just nodded, fear gripping my stomach as he pulled me towards the taxi. He gave the driver his address and off we went, his arms around me as I rested against him, by this point almost too drunk to keep my eyes open.
I was wasted; but what I had said was true. Drunk enough, sober enough. Strong enough?
I should have trusted my – my brothers – instincts.
I should have listened to him.
His arm was wrapped around my shoulders, holding me tight to him, protectively he held me, our bodies curved and fitting together almost perfectly. I was reluctant to force myself awake, wishing I could just stay like this.
Because as soon as my brain kicked into gear, then I knew I'd rather be somewhere else.
Last night had been way too weird; although I hadn't let him get far, he persisted. And it had scared me. Even my firmest 'NO' was not enough. Eventually he had stopped trying, and we'd fallen asleep. But still, I couldn't remember being that...not scared. Just worried, I guess, with a guy before.
I felt him shift slightly in his sleep, and very carefully I dislodged myself from his hold, slipping out and bending down onto the floor, retrieving my shoes. As I sat on the edge of the bed to put them on, I felt his hand reach out and rest on the small of my back.
I glanced over my shoulder, my eyes locking on his. He smiled sleepily. "What you doing?" His voice was slurred as he blinked, as I leant towards him and planted a soft kiss on his forehead."I've got to go."
I sat back up, returning to the task at hand; tying my shoelaces. Seconds later I felt his arms wrap around me, felt him kiss the back of my neck.
"I can't." I twisted my head, looking into his eyes. "Family stuff, you know?"
"Alright." He let out a sigh, arms still holding me close before kissing me firmly on the mouth.
"Text me?" I whispered, unsure if I really did want to go. My resolve was wavering with every moment I spent with him.
"Sure." He nodded, let go of me and fell back onto his bed, closing his eyes.
"See you." I muttered, standing up and grabbing my bag, slowly, quietly, leaving him to sleep.
I let the music drown me, listened to only it and the sound of my feet moving along the pavement. Inhale, exhale. Taking long drags on the cigarette, I ignored the sounds of the city slowly waking up, knowing it would be a slow, quiet day, a lazy Sunday afternoon as the majority of citizens recovered from their hangovers.
My mind was racing, my brain buzzing; I felt lost, confused, and knew as soon as I got home I'd phone Michelle, praying she was awake. I needed the girls, my best friends; needed to talk to them, desperately.
I liked him, but now my brother's words were coming back to me, a small voice at the back of my brain. I knew what I had to do now; I had to step back, detach. For a while. Until I got everything sorted in my mind, until I was no longer confused.
The likelihood was he'd be out in the next week or so, and I knew it would take longer than that to get my head sorted. So I could either not go out, or I could curtail my drinking and avoid getting wasted, therefore allowing myself to say something that made sense and sounded good if he expected something else to happen.
I tried out different lines in my head.
"No!" Too simple.
"Back off!" Still too simple, what if I added "boy" to the end? Nuh uh, too much of a 'seductive' thing, I thought. Maybe.
"Not tonight, I don't want us to just be a drunken thing." Sounded too much like I wanted a relationship. Which I didn't. Not right now.
I reached the train station, letting out a sigh as I flicked the butt to the ground. Whatever happened, I wanted to be able to say 'no' next time I saw him, to turn him down. I needed that; I needed to be in a position of power. For a while at least. Until I got my head sorted.
Michelle's head was close to mine, the pair of us talking in amidst the others there. "Is Greg coming?" She asked, as my eyes flickered up and landed on my brother, deep in discussion with Steph.
"I don't know." I replied truthfully, though as usual when his name was mentioned the butterflies fluttered into my stomach, my chest constricted and I reached eagerly for the Southern Comfort and lemonade, drinking it quickly through the straw. Michelle's gaze stayed fixed on me, worried and concerned. "Listen, will you like, make sure I'm not alone with him?"
"Of course." She nodded, squeezing my shoulder. "Already said so, didn't I?"
I was worried about this, but not too much. Luckily for me there was a huge group of us out, giving me plenty of excuses to mingle and move about. But I still couldn't shake the feeling that tonight was going to be bad, as much as I hadn't been able to shake the good feeling about the night out the previous weak.
Wrapped up in conversation with Michelle, I didn't even notice Greg arrive until I spotted him out of the corner of my eye, chatting to one of the guys. I glanced at my brother to see him watching Greg carefully as Steph spoke, her hands moving quickly, animated in whatever she was talking about.
I took a deep breath, half turning in my chair so as not to look at my brother. Still talking to Michelle, I caught his eye and gave a brief nod, acknowledging his existence but not enough of an invitation to join in the discussion.
He didn't return it.
Instead, he muttered something to the guy he had been talking to and moved off, around me and to the other side of the table, finding one of the girls who I was quite good friends with. Susie smiled brightly at his approach, and welcomed him to the seat beside her. I saw her cast a glance my way, giving me her trademark grin. I grinned back, leaning in to hear Michelle better but keeping an eye on Greg and Susie, knowing Susie wouldn't do anything but still feeling a surge of jealously inside.
I had to remind myself that I didn't care; I was, after all, trying not to get too close.
I pushed the doors open, stepping outside into the dark and taking deep lungful of air as if I'd just emerged from the bottom of the sea. It was ironic, really, as the air was currently full of smoke from at least twenty people.
My smoke joined there's as I lit up, pushing through the crowds to a small spot in this designated smoking area. I had needed to get away, needed to be able to look around and not see Greg squeezing up to Susie, had to avoid that sight.
We'd entered the club barely an hour ago and yet already I wanted to leave.
My head was spinning and I felt like I wanted to cry. I wanted to slap him, to scream at him, but that would be overreacting, wouldn't it? I didn't care what he did, didn't care if he liked Susie and wanted to take her home (though I knew she wouldn't go with him), I just thought he liked me enough to not do it so blatantly.
I had felt, before tonight, that I was in the stronger position, that I could turn around and tell him no.
What he was doing was like a slap in the face.
He clearly didn't care; he'd made no effort at all. Even earlier, when I tried to talk to him he had replied with a one word answer, before turning and going back to Susie, carrying a drink for her.
I leant against the wall, tilting my head back and staring at the sky above, at the first blinking star. I smiled to myself; star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.
I wish Greg would fuck off. I wish he would disappear. I wish I could rewind and un-do what had happened between us or...or do it better. Make him want me more.
Pointless. Futile. Stupid wishes that wouldn't come true.
The way I'd seen him with Susie, dancing with her on the floor, his hand on her waist...
It had reminded me of how he'd been with me, of the way he'd acted and the small, subtle signs that meant everything.
I wished he'd come outside, find me, tell me he was doing it because it was killing him, falling in love with me and knowing I'd be gone in a few months, off to University and a new life.
I wished he'd do that so I could lean forward, put a hand on his shoulder and whisper in his ear, telling him the truth;
"You fucked up honey. My rule is three times; I was so close to fucking you and you blew it."
Then, smartly and coolly, I could turn and go back inside the club, find the cute guy I'd seen checking me out and dance with him instead, banishing Greg from my mind.
But it wouldn't happen; just like with every other guy there would be no closure, no final word; it would just end. And I would be left behind, as I always was, upset and broken, hurt once more, each stab with the knife making me more determined that a guy would not get that close again.
Each time I'd go further and further with a guy, until eventually, who knew? Eventually I might sleep with someone. But each time I'd feel less, each time would cause less pain. Until no man could hurt me, until I mastered the act of guarding myself, pulling the armour on and allowing no guy access.
I heard Michelle's voice and as I turned I saw her standing with my brother, who now surveyed me with a strange, soft expression in his eyes. He could tell, I knew that instantly. He knew. And he knew that what I needed now wasn't a big brother who would flare up and offer to 'kick the shit out of that guy', though that would be nice. As I felt the pain and sadness weigh heavily in my heart, as I wondered if I would get through this and come out stronger (it seemed impossible right now), he knew exactly what I needed.
Feeling the tears finally break through, I stepped towards my brother. As my best friend stood to one side, he wrapped his arms around me and held me there, comforting and reliable, and I knew I would never change him for the world.
"Come on Belle." He whispered. "Let's go home."
A/N: Meet Isabelle Wolfe, my alter-ego/Main Character of The Gap Year Diaries, a work-in-progress based on my gap year. Here is a small short story from what happens to Belle; characters & events are very loosly based on people I know and things that have happened to me. I say loosly; they have been dramatised for the purposes of this. Hope you enjoy; and as always would love to know what people think. Like Belle? Hate her? Let me know; I may put some of The Gap Year Diaries up here at a later date.