Part One: Chapter Five
The Pogues- Love You Till The End
What do you do when all of your dreams come true? Do you hold onto them and pray that they'll never be taken away, or do you start to dream up new fantasies that seem miles out of reach? For so long I dreamed about Will wanting me, or failing that, the Perfect Man coming along to sweep me off my feet, to stop it mattering that he didn't. And suddenly it has happened. Suddenly it has happened and it's nothing like how I expected. It feels like I've stretched to touch the stars and found that I can reach them. When things start to take off between Connor and me, it feels like a fairytale; I spend hours awake at night wondering why I deserve to have him like me so much, because he very obviously does, and I can't understand why he thinks I am so interesting. The only thing that stops it from feeling weird is that I think he's interesting too.
As September draws to a close I spend at least half of my evenings by his side- either at his house, where Dean and I will watch TV and Connor will read me his favourite verses, or at the bandstand, when I'm brave enough to sneak out in the dark to meet him. The sign says 'Darling Park' but Connor calls it Eden and that sticks. Somehow I think that name is entirely more suitable, especially now when it is all overgrown and abundant. We are the only people that ever seem to go there, and as October progresses I add my own contributions to the bandstand, covering every empty space with lines about how happy I am and how hurt I am and how Connor has changed me so much, already, because he has, and being around him makes me more confident in my thoughts and braver in my judgements.
Dean, too, makes me look at myself differently. We start to spend time together at school, and although he still keeps his secrets to himself I find that conversations with him make up for not being able to talk to Connor throughout the day. One Monday morning in early October we find ourselves back in the practise room; he plays and I talk about how I don't know what to do about Ruby, how I can't handle watching her with Will but can't bring myself to hurt them both by admitting it.
"You say that like you don't have any other friends," he interrupts me, as I complain about not having a choice. "And I don't just mean me and Con, you know, plenty of people like you."
"I have acquaintances," I correct him, sighing to myself. "I know I'm not a complete social reject, but I don't know people well enough to just go up and be like, hi, wanna hang out?"
"Shut up," he says seriously, rolling his eyes but still looking at his sheet music as he speaks and plays. "You know them well enough, you just aint brave enough to get to know them better."
I nudge him indignantly with my elbow. "What is it with you people and my being brave? I'm shy, damn it. What do you want from me?" My tone isn't very serious, so he knows I'm not really offended, but still, he pauses in his playing for a second and looks towards me.
"You need to get over it," he says, smiling at me. "You're basically a cool girl, but if you're too shy to talk to people it comes across kind of stuck up, you know?"
I can't really say anything in reply because I know just how right he is. After our talk, I can't help but remember it, and when I start making an effort to talk to the people that surround me every day, even if it's just to say hi, I find myself being pulled into conversations. At first I just sit back and interject when I feel like it, being used to only speaking in class to answer the teacher, but by mid-October I can feel the change in me as I start to learn things about the people sitting around me, like that tiny, dark-haired Ade from Geography has a huge crush on Sean, the head boy, and that Dominic from English, my first kiss, just got dumped by his first boyfriend. It's all so interesting- much more interesting than sitting on the sidelines and listening, and I'm grateful for Dean's advice because he is right- the possibility for friendship has been there all along.
I even learn Cooper's first name- he moves next to me in History and we actually talk about things, from how stupidly in love with Ruby Will has become, to how much the group bores him these days, to my favourite songs and his favourite bands. I don't tell him about Connor or the important details, but somehow he already seems to know about my history with Will. I suppose I must have been very obvious, but Cooper doesn't judge me for it- he tells me that the music helps, and I tell him he is right.
"My band just got their first gig," he casually mentions a few weeks into October, as I'm rummaging around in my bag for my diary to write up the homework task. "I tried to tell everyone earlier, but Ruby was all into her stupid hair extensions story."
We are sitting at our normal desk at the side of the room, and he is leaning against the wall with one foot up on his chair. His dark hair is big again; it's actually the messiest just-got-out-of-bed hairstyle I've ever seen, but it looks cool because I don't actually think he's tried to make it that way. Everything about him is out of proportion- he's skyscraper tall but has barely any presence in the group at all, because he's so quiet and uninvolved. It's hard to imagine him fronting a band, but it makes me wonder if he's different when there's music. I think he probably must be.
"Ugh, stupid Ruby. Congratulations, though. Where is it?" I say, pulling out the pink planner and smiling at him. He grins at me, tapping the desk with his pen as he grabs the diary from me and flicks forward to November.
'NICHOLAS DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE. GIG, 7PM THE DEN' he writes, and it's pretty much a scribble but I laugh, because his writing is just as messy as he is.
"Who's Nicholas?" I ask, curious, and he looks surprised before laughing at me with an easy grin.
"Me," he answers simply, before tossing the book back to me. And before I know what I'm doing, I tell him I wouldn't miss it for the world, but I am pleased with myself for doing so and making a new friend, because it's almost like a good thing has come out of the pain Ruby is causing me.
Somehow, with Connor and Dean behind me, I do manage to spend time with Ruby and Will too. I rejoin the group with little fuss- spending lunches laughing along to jokes that I don't find funny and ignoring the Katies' smug expressions when they see me look away from Ruby and Will's kisses. Danny and Jordan continue to be clowns and Will carries on being clueless and I carry on pretending I'm fine with being Ruby's sidekick, telling her I'm okay on the one occasion that she remembers my feelings and takes me aside to see how I'm doing with the whole situation. 'I thought you needed to get over him anyway', she tells me flippantly, and it is only Cooper's arrival on the scene that stops me from crying in frustration. All I can really do is remind myself that the pain will pass and that when it does, I'll be grateful I didn't ruin my friendship.
It is strange though, when, two weeks into October, I have an early morning run in Will outside the humanities block and he pulls me into a hug. It's probably our first post-Ruby conversation, and I'm grateful that he's still talking to me because from what Ruby has told me, I'm fairly sure she's let it slip that I still wanted him even when I told him I was over it. He looks as gorgeous as ever, I notice, but I notice it without any surprise, because by now I am used to the way my body reacts to him. His summer-tanned skin is perfect as ever, his dirty blonde hair is perfectly groomed- Will may not be interesting like Connor, but his conventional good looks and rugby muscles are enough to make me swoon.
"You got Geography first?" he asks me casually, glancing towards the door to the ugly little grey building. He sticks his hands in his blazer pockets- I can't help noticing that his shirt is untucked and his lips are kiss-swollen. The block is right next to the car park, and I can't help but wonder if he's come from Ruby's house, or if they've been kissing by the trees that separate the cars from the building.
"No, it's History this morning," I say quietly, tucking my hair behind my ear nervously. I'm painfully aware that I didn't have time to finish my makeup, and that my face is probably as shiny as his car. I don't really care that he got my timetable wrong, because it's only October, but I know that he's there for Sociology even if I don't admit it.
"Oh, right," he says amiably, nodding his head. I expect him to carry on, but he doesn't. He just stands there, suddenly looking a bit awkward, like he knows there's something he should say. I make to go before he can say it, but he stops me with a grab of my wrist. "Look, I just wanted to say cheers for being so cool about me and Ruby, yeah? I know she was mega worried you'd be pissed at her."
I goggle at him- what does he expect me to say? It's okay, I just want you to be happy? Does he want me to confirm my feelings or deny them? I blush and stare at the concrete because I have no idea what I'm supposed to say.
"I don't know why that is," I say eventually, deciding that denial is the best tactic. "I'm pretty happy with my own boyfriend, I don't see anything wrong with her having one." I can't help myself- old habits die hard, and I have to say it, if only to scrutinise Will's reaction. His shock is picturesque- his face is a caricature of surprise, and I don't think 'boyfriend' is a word he was expecting to be associated with me, considering how long I've been in love with him.
"You and Coop?!" he exclaims eventually, staring at me with interest for the first time. I shake my head in confusion.
"No, of course not. He's your age, actually," I say reluctantly, and I see him mentally going through the group in his head- Danny is his age, but he also makes a point of making fun of me on a regular basis. Jordan is in my year. Cooper's brother, Johnny, is Will's best mate, and is vice captain of the rugby team- he's seeing a girl in their year this month, plus, he refuses to go out with anyone in our group of friends. I don't know why Will assumes that he knows this 'boyfriend' of mine- and believe me, I use the term with caution considering that I refuse to bring it up with Connor, afraid of the commitment and dependence it implies- but it irritates me that he presumes so much. I roll my eyes at his silence.
Before Will can say anything else, my phone goes off; it is a text from Connor, and I know it's silly but I can feel the anticipation building up inside as I see the little closed envelope icon on my screen. I say a casual goodbye to Will, texting Connor back with a smile plastered on to my shiny face as I practically skip into History. Suddenly I can't wait to be at Eden- I have a feeling that this night will be an important one for me and Connor. Just thinking about him makes me happy, and I feel it building up within me through the day . I can't stop myself from obsessing and doodling his name in between bunch of lyrics that remind me of us.
I meet him at Eden later with a dizzy excitement fizzing through my veins. There are so many things I want to say to him; big, epic things that I've never before believed myself capable of feeling or saying with any sort of truth. I want to say 'I'm scared to death I'm dreaming', 'you consume me' and 'tell me it's not just me'. I want to tell Connor that he has become the stars in my teenage darkness and that I'm paranoid that any second they'll be extinguished, but that I've realised it is the best feeling in the world to know that you have something it'd kill you to lose. He grins at me as I bound up the steps to the bandstand and kiss him quickly; he's been waiting, I notice, and there are new marks on the woodwork that I am dying to read.
I have to remind myself to breathe- I stare at him so intensely that it makes my brain ache. I hang on his every word- even as he stumbles through, not even looking at me, I feel I'd pay by the letter for every single utterance from him, as if it is something profound. Connor looks honestly, genuinely beautiful- both in a purely aesthetic way that has nothing whatsoever to do with my feelings for him, and on a deeper, emotional level too. I have become enchanted by the 'insignificant significances', as he calls them, every little quirk of Connor that I know nobody else is noticing. I love that it matters to him that I have noticed, and that this time I'm not simply some sad little girl with a crush because he is noticing me, too. It's such a perfect feeling.
I search the aged balustrade with eager eyes, delightedly recognising the work of e.e. cummings by the entrance; 'the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses, nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands'. It makes me smile to know that I recommended the poem to Connor the week before, and he has managed to pick out my favourite line without any prompting. Connor has been writing in red sharpie this time- he nods his head towards a new addition to the rafters which I have to get my own torch out to read- Connor has replaced the one in the middle with a lantern stolen from his grandmother's garden.
The words are his this time, written below some Pogues lyrics (Love You Till The End, ironically) and they make my heart constrict with a slow, delicious ache.
"Oh to catch a fallen star-" he writes,
"to bask in its loveliness,
heedless of its burning,
to wish upon maybes and somehows and
other regrets too painful to mention
in polite company.
Oh to catch a falling star;
beautiful things are more
beautiful from a distance,
as touch extinguishes the life
of each fleeting butterfly.
But a star is a diamond.
Oh to watch it burn- what
I wouldn't give to see it die,
recklessly brilliant and
Oh to catch a falling star-
to tell me that I am not falling,
that I am alive to feel the burning.
Oh to know that I am awake, when
half-dreaming I spy a miracle
in the sky amidst the Boeing 747s.
Oh to catch a falling star;
a last chance, perhaps, to
wish you back beside me,
or, perhaps failing that,
to transport me, for a moment,
across the night's starr'd face
to your own dear one.
Oh to catch a fallen star;
though I do not need that,
not tonight, not really.
A fallen star is a wish being granted,
and to catch one would be selfish;
I already hold you in my arms,
and heedless of all stars,
you burn the brightest."
I have tears in my eyes as I finish- not because I think it is a lovely poem and a lovely sentiment, which I do, but because I know it is written for me. I can't quite bring myself to stop reading, to turn back to Connor. Somehow reading the poem has just made everything seem a hundred times more intense.
" I don't know what to say," I tell him, still staring. "It's perfect, Con."
He tugs gently on my arm, and finally I have to face him. I expect him to say something cheesy, like 'no, you are', but he pulls me in for a kiss instead, his lips moving against my own with unrestrained joy. I can feel him smiling into it, even as he holds my face in his strong hands and crushes me to him.
It feels like he is trying to tell me something. It is unlike all of the other kisses we have had, which have been fleeting and light, or slow and careful. This time when he kisses me it is like he is giving me something- a promise, even. He holds me to him and it is dangerously intimate and his hands move down to my waist, his thumbs rubbing the skin of my hips as our body parts are pulled flush against each other. He groans into my mouth as the friction increases. He tastes like skittles and orange juice... It's all too much for me.
It's not that I don't feel it. It's that I'm too scared to acknowledge what I'm feeling. My head won't let my hands move from his cheeks. My brain, working in overtime, is telling me that it's getting more serious and that it's not fair on him when I still like Will, which is the inconvenient truth. I cannot possibly deny that I have feelings for Connor too, but it's the kind of kiss that makes me realise just how deep his have started to become. If I have learned anything it's that Connor is the kind of boy that kissing means something to. I get the feeling he's not just trying to see how far he can get, and somehow that feeling scares me even more.
I pull away from him, gently pushing him back with my hands. He looks visibly disappointed, and confused- I suppose it is fairly difficult for him to understand my reaction, because I don't really understand it myself. I don't know why I couldn't just be happy and feel fireworks, like someone in my position should.
"Did I do something wrong?" he asks me, looking concerned and unhappy. I shake my head gently, trying to shake off the feeling of strangeness that has come over me.
"Sorry, I don't know what's wrong with me," I tell him reassuringly. I don't think he's reassured. I wouldn't be either though, because I obviously do know what's wrong with me; I'm a scared, naive little girl and he was kissing me like he meant it. My inner voice curses like a sailor. "How are applications going?" I ask him, desperate to change the subject. We haven't spoken much more about university- maybe because of the unspoken separation element of it all, I don't really know. I, of course, have told him that I want to go to Cambridge, and suffered through the inevitable 'oh, you're so smart' and 'wow that's a big dream to have' comments, but when it comes to Connor and his own future, it's like he completely closes up because he doesn't want to accept that he'll be leaving.
"They're going okay," he mumbles, shrugging at me. I notice that his voice is a little higher pitched now that I've unsettled him. "I sent my UCAS off last week, and I've already heard from Edinburgh, I got a letter telling me to expect a conditional."
"What?!" I can't hold back my surprise and hurt at this- not just that he's sent his application off without telling me, but also that he's pretty much got an offer- I don't like that he's kept it from me. The hurt isn't massive, but the knowledge makes me feel a little uncertain; maybe, I reason, he has kept it from me because he doesn't think it'll matter. Maybe he hasn't told me because I'm not his girlfriend and it shouldn't matter to me if he leaves in October... no, that's probably not it. But I worry anyway. And it really does matter to me, because my life started feeling good when he came into it and I don't want to feel bad again when he goes.
"Why didn't you mention it?" I ask, trying not to sound like I'm freaking out on the inside.
"I didn't want to ruin this by talking about the future," he explains, taking a few steps back and sitting down on the blanket that I brought with me. It's another snapshot of Connor that I know I will always remember- Connor, sitting on the crimson material in the glow of the lantern, surrounded by sharpie pens and autumn leaves. It reminds me of the night we met.
"How would it ruin it?" I ask, as if I don't already know the answer, and I sit down to face him, pulling my knees underneath me.
"Sam," he says patiently, wringing his hands, "you won't even let us put a label on this, I didn't think talking about me leaving, a whole year from now, may I add, would be a good move to make."
I frown at him because he's so exactly right, and it frustrates me. He isn't finished though- he looks up at me with his eyes sparkly with a depth of sadness that I hadn't even noticed.
"I didn't wanna push you away," he says, a little hoarsely, "everything else in my life is such a monumental screw up and I wanted this to stay perfect. You mean everything to me, Sam."
I hate that he can be brave enough to just come out with something like that and I hate that his reasoning is so right- for the first time since meeting him, I wish he didn't understand me quite so well. He knew that talking about the future was likely to scare me off- he is right to think that it'll push me away. Just hearing him say that I mean everything to him, despite knowing somewhere deep within me just how deep he is in, makes me feel vaguely claustrophobic, like he has pinned all of his hopes to me far too soon.
"What's screwed up?" I ask him, mindful that this part of his life is one he is generally unwilling to discuss. I guess he is probably talking about his parents- I don't even know if they're still alive. I don't expect him to actually tell me anything, but I also don't want to go down any of the other avenues of conversation that his words have opened up.
"... it's not really my story to tell," he says, looking awkward now. "Sorry. Probably shouldn't have even brought it up."
Everything he says seems to be getting under my skin tonight. "Can't you even give me a clue?" I ask him as my curiosity mingles with my irritation. His emoing really is starting to grate- I know it'd be awfully hypocritical to tell him to grow a pair already, but the sad, wounded puppy look isn't doing him any favours. I want to know that there is more to Connor than the sensitive, emotional poet that I've seen so far.
"Look, it's about Dean, okay?" he says. I wait for him to continue because I am quite curious about Dean too. "About Dean and my parents... Jesus, Sam, I really shouldn't be telling you this. Not without Dean's permission."
"Is there not a way you can tell me without telling me Dean's secrets?" I ask.
"No," he tells me, his voice grave. I want to know what it is that's so serious- he has this whole long-suffering, woe-is-me look going for him, and it's a bit sad and pathetic to me, especially since I'm still completely in the dark about the reasons. I suppose, though, that it's better than talking about my commitment issues. "Look, Sam, if I tell you, you have to promise not to mention it to Dean, right? Give me some time to talk to him before you smother him."
I nod solemnly, and he inhales as if he's summoning up the courage to say it. I want to tell him to be brave, but I have the feeling now is really not the time or place to be ironic.
"We moved out of our parents' house after Dean's GCSEs were done," he begins, and I settle myself down more comfortably, waiting for him to continue. "Dean had been out at some party and he was really upset because he'd seen someone he really liked, Alex, getting with someone else, so he got really drunk. I was out with my mates, you know, just messing about and that, and then I got this phone call from my mum to come home and talk to him- when I found him he was just crying in his room because he fu- I mean, he screwed everything up for himself... he apparently pulled the two apart and then planted one on this Alex himself... everyone saw."
I shake my head, not really comprehending. "Why was that such a problem? Did the guy try to beat him up for it or something? Did your parents kick him out for fighting?"
Connor stares at me as if I have two heads. "Let me finish. So, Alex pushed him off, and all of Alex's friends were shouting stuff at Dean, apparently. Someone got all of this on video because they all thought Dean was going over there to start a fight- I only know 'bout all this 'cause it got sent round our school. Dean pretty much ran out of there and straight home and refused to go out for ages, but the video got sent round to everyone and eventually he had to like, tell our parents about it because one of dad's friends got sent it by mistake. And that's when they kicked Dean out. Dad said that if Dean was gonna be a disgusting little fag he'd have to do it under someone else's roof."
The expression 'hit like a tonne of bricks' would be an understatement in describing my surprise. On some level, knowing that Dean isn't into women isn't a big deal and I'm not actually that shocked by it, but combined with the knowledge that he got kicked out for it and still manages to be so damn cheerful, it's actually astounding.
"Alex is a guy?" I say dumbly, and Connor nods, his expression still unhappy.
"Yeah," he explains, "which is partly why Dean went to Harwood- he managed to out himself pretty badly to one of the straightest blokes in his year. Nan was a legend about it all though- she used to have this gay mate that died, apparently, and she gave dad this massive dressing down on the phone, invited Dean to stay; I couldn't take being at home and hearing mum and dad arguing and swearing at each other so I moved in with her pretty soon after... It's still all really messy and complicated though."
I shake my head in quiet disbelief, angry at his dad but full of pity for Dean, and we sit there in silence with each other for what seems like forever. Instead of worrying about our future we are thinking about the past, and I feel like we've taken a step closer towards each other- it's something huge that he has trusted me with. Our relationship is progressing at full speed ahead- maybe even a little too fast, really, but it's a step that cannot possibly be undone. I hope to myself that Connor won't think it's that big or meaningful, but he stares at me as if he has realised something profound.
"Thank you for trusting me," I say- it's the truth after all, but I say it because the way he is looking at me feels like the way he was kissing me- so searchingly intimate that I can't help but feel scared and uncomfortable.
"I love you," he blurts out, and times stops. The moment freezes, and shivers. The air is permeated by the subtle nuances of his expression- sincere, surprised, afraid, then optimistic.
I don't even think about whether I mean it or not, or whether it is right to say it back- I feel like I'm supposed to but I've never had to think about it before. Someone has told me they love me- oh my God, did it really just happen? Will never wanted me; nobody has ever wanted me, and now this intense, smart boy has told me that I am everything, and I so desperately want to matter, to mean that much.
"I love you too," I breathe in a heartbeat, too recklessly flattered to consider whether it's true.
It is all downhill from here.
A/N: Sorry it took me so long- I got a little sidetracked by poetry, as one does. A lot has changed for me since I last wrote here- falling hard for a good friend, being SKoW nominated (thank you a million times) and getting into Cambridge (oh lord, I'm so happy), it all seems to have happened so fast, and I'm so grateful that the pendulum has swung back towards happiness after months of desolation. Thank you for supporting me, guys, and your reviews continue to be invaluable.
My livejournal account is in frequent use: I'm octoberdetamble over there (shockingly enough). If you feel like getting to know me better or simply making a friend (or checking what the hell I'm doing when I should be updating) then that's the places to go. Ciao, lovelies- if you make your reviews interesting I'm sure another update shall be imminent.
Lots of English love and tea,
your flu-ridden authoress. xxx