I wished I had a hood. I hated rain. My hair was wet within seconds. Seconds later it was soaked through, and shortly after, dripping. I bowed my head and kept walking. My fringe flicked rainwater into my eyes.
I'd left my umbrella back at Jamie's house. My ex's house. My two-minutes-ago-he-was-my-boyfriend ex's house. I couldn't go back to get it. One did not just make a dramatic emotional dash out of the door and then just stop, turn around and go back inside because it was raining.
I wished my trainers were waterproof. They were squelching already. The whole pavement was a shallow puddle. Below the curb, flowing into the drains, was a small river. In the darkness of evening the water looked black, rippling with reflected light from the street lamps. In a way I wished it had been windy. Umbrellas were no good in wind. But the rain was falling straight down in a steady, heavy shower. Ideal umbrella-appreciation weather. It was alright for Jamie. He was indoors still. He wasn't the one that had to leave in order to get home.
I wondered how I would have felt if it had been him running out.
Miserable weather. Late evening, when it was all quiet and still, was sad enough. I was sad enough. Having rain as well was just excessive.
In my mind I pictured him running out after me, shouting out that I'd forgotten my umbrella. Passing it to me. What it would have felt like to open it up and hear the sound of the raindrops hitting the waterproof fabric, my own personal shelter. Didn't matter that I was already soaked. I would still have appreciated it. There was still twenty minutes to the nearest bus stop. If he would just –
But that would mean having to see him again.
I had to keep going. I willed myself to walk faster, but the willpower didn't reach my feet. I stayed at the same speed. Stupid rain. I wished I hadn't forgotten my umbrella. Now he would always have it, that little token of me.
I wondered if he was talking to it. Sometimes he did that; pretending to talk to inanimate objects. Mostly ones that belonged to me. He would joke with my sock or glove and ask it questions about me. He found it funny to compliment the object directly rather than my taste in it. Other people found it weird, but I thought it was amusing and adorable. He would pull these silly faces like –
I hated rain. I hated how it made my shirt cling and my jeans feel heavy and chafing. I hated how it turned brush-off-dirt into cling-on-mud. I hated how it reminded me that I always refused to share a shower with Jamie because it would be impractical and cramped, and he always used to joke that I wouldn't mind getting wet with him if it was raining. He would never listen to how it wasn't the s–
What if he was talking to my umbrella about me right now? My next step jerked, slowing. What if he kept it, and talked to it in the future at random moments?
The thought made me feel really weird. I stopped. I had to keep blinking to get all the rainwater out of my eyes. In the end I gave up and closed them. What if he reminisced with it? What if he asked it why I'd left him? I felt my heart skip a beat.
It wasn't my problem. He could be as weird as he liked. I was never going to see him again. I opened my eyes and lifted my foot to resume walking.
But damn it, he had no right to hold on to that little piece of me. It was mine.
I turned back and started retracing my steps, fast. Why shouldn't I go back? It was my damn umbrella. It was raining. It was sensible to go back.
It would be warmer in his house. He liked to put stuff in the oven just to warm the house up, and sometimes called to say he'd accidentally cooked too much – ridiculously corny. He was a silly person. He complained how the microwave heated stuff but didn't get hot, and how the electric kettle didn't whistle when the water had boiled. He didn't take things seriously and he was too fickle and bubbly and his pointless energy filled the house like –
And suddenly I was there. It was…still raining. I guess I'd kind of forgotten. I stood there for a while, just looking at the door. The urge to turn and run back away and the urge to get the umbrella I'd come for was about equal. I stayed rooted where I was. I fiddled with the top toggle on my coat.
Then the door just opened. And there he was.
"Did you fancy postponing the breakup until storming out becomes a little less literal?" he asked dryly, his voice rough.
I blushed. How could he be witty, even now?
"I forgot my umbrella."
"Oh." He hadn't even realised that I'd left it. The surprise in his voice was so dulled. He looked so…tired.
He stepped to one side and I stepped in. I'd left it in the kitchen. He closed the front door and followed me. It was still hooked on the back of the chair by its handle. I picked it up, and turned back towards him. I didn't know what to do now. I automatically waited for a cue from him. But his gaze was blank, directed at empty space. I didn't think I'd ever seen him look so drained. So sad. I'd seen him serious and thoughtful and distracted, but never sad like this. I waited, not knowing what to do.
It took him forever to look at me.
"Would you like tea?"
"Um…sure, thanks." I wanted to punch myself. What was I doing? He crossed the kitchen and put the kettle on. He took out two mugs, sugar and milk. White, one sugar. He knew how I had it. That felt weird.
The kettle didn't whistle. The oven wasn't whirring. There wasn't even any radio on. He passed me my – a – mug. I always used that mug, the green one with the little blue swirls near the top. We both leaned back against adjacent counters, but I was too tense to let it support any of my weight. I took a sip, and I could hear myself swallow. I could hear myself breathe.
"Terrible weather, isn't it?"
I looked at him. Terrible was what his smile was, knowing he was making the most basic of small talk. So many, many things in that small, self-mocking smile. I wanted to cry.
"I saw you from my window."
"Oh." That was how he opened the door before I'd knocked. Had he been hoping I'd come back?
He took a deep breath. "Do you really hate –"
"No!" The word erupted from me so violently I somehow ended up spilling some of my tea.
"…the rain that much?" he finished quietly.
I blushed, intensely embarrassed. I looked down into my tea. My hands were shaking a little. I didn't know how to hide it without making it even more obvious.
"I thought of following you," he said softly, almost as though to himself.
"Why didn't you?" The question went on two words longer than I intended.
He gave me this look, like he was thinking really intensely about how to answer. My heart pounded in my chest. But then he took another gulp of his tea, and said nothing. The kitchen felt too big all of a sudden. I stared at the oven. I guess for some reason I was looking for warmth.
"Have you decided what to get your dad for his birthday?" he asked.
He gave a nod. "You could get one of those knitted jumpers he likes from Top Man."
He gave another nod. "And maybe you could get yourself a coat with a hood whilst you're there."
"Why did you dump me?"
My heart jumped into a rapid thudding in a split second. My mouth went completely dry. I'd already told him why. Less than an hour ago. He was too fickle, he kept forgetting things, he was too impulsive – all the reasons I'd carefully listed in my head race through in a blur, what I'd told myself I'd tell him. I hadn't thought I'd have to tell him twice. I didn't think I could make myself say all those things again. I scrambled for another, different reason, something good enough to merit not needing a third question.
"I'm not good enough for you." And I gave him the truth. It just spilt out. It scalded me as I uttered it, deep inside. I could hardly breathe. I waited, my throat hurting with withheld tears, for his reply. But he just looked at me, and waited right back. We stayed in the same position for minutes, just breathing. I couldn't bear it.
"You were talking about introducing me to your parents as your boyfriend and you were planning all these things for us to do, where we could take holidays… You were starting to get…more romantic, I don't know, it became obvious that you…I… You were too happy, and I…" I didn't know if any of what I was saying was making any sense at all. I gulped. The tears escaped, spilling down my cheeks and dripping onto the floor. And still, he just waited. Three steps and miles away.
"I didn't know how I felt, I thought I would let you down…" I wanted to run away or hide in a dark hole and cry where no one could see me. I looked back towards the window, wishing myself far away. As far away from myself and this pain as possible.
"Why won't it stop raining…?" My voice cracked and dissolved into nothing.
Then warm arms wrapped around me, pulled me close. I closed my eyes and folded into the dark, rooted only by his presence. Shielded, for now, from the thoughts, and flowing on with only the feelings drowning me in a flood. I cried until the tide washed me back into the present, in his arms, his kitchen.
"Christopher," he whispered, and his voice pulled me free. I shifted in his embrace, relaxing, but I didn't pull away. He didn't let go. He only murmured, "Was it too fast?"
I shook my head. "No…it felt right…like it was meant to go onwards and upwards…and I was scared."
I felt him take a deep, shaky breath against me. "For a while there you had me scared too." He laughed a little, letting out some of the tension. "Do you think you could have told me the truth from the start?"
I pulled back a little and looked up at him. I felt foolish. "I suppose so."
"Do you know how you feel now?"
I nodded. "Yes."
He caressed my cheek, my rain and tear dampened cheek, and I saw that look in his eyes again, the one I'd been afraid to accept before. I met it with a smile.
"Then I guess you can leave now," he said.
"What?" My face must have gone utterly white, and he must have seen something in that that he needed to see, because something like relief and joy passed over his expression all in a rush.
"What?" he echoed with a smile. "Oh, you're not going anywhere." He drew me into a kiss. "I was talking to the umbrella."