He remembered sitting in this exact location when he was five. One knee had been pulled up against his chest, the other leg folded underneath him. That was back when he had been flexible and could lodge himself into the tiny little nooks and crannies that he did when he was playing hide-and-seek with his father and uncles.
It was a bit more difficult to squeeze into the spot once she became his partner in crime when he was eight, but they'd managed. Uncle Ed would join in on their antics, playing Joseph to their Catherine and Heathcliff. They would to run, screaming down the halls, when he slunk around the corner, threatening to put them both into time out if they were caught.
He hadn't tried to return to this post since he'd turned fifteen. That was two years after their falling out. His parents were talking to hers in hushed tones. They had passed by less than two feet away from him when they left the room, but he hadn't inched a single centimeter to scamper after them for news. He'd simply retreated further into the tiny cranny and chewed on his bottom lip, wondering how none of them had seen him badly hidden there.
Now, three years later, he found himself squished up in the same spot of the same hallway with his ear pressed flat against the wall. Arms wrapped tightly about his knees to keep his feet from poking out around the couch, and he hunched his back to hide his head behind the armrest. Carmel eyes darted up to the perpetually disobedient cowlick. He was certain was sticking out in plain sight, but he ignored it. His mum's voice floated in and out of distinction on the opposite side of the wall.
"...don't worry about it…stop. James and I will take care of it...family things and…I'm sure. We'll see you after…New Year...it's fine...winter hols..."
A pair of worn slippers stopped on the hardwood floor before him. His head jerked up, eyes meeting an identical set above him. "...hi Dad..." His feet scrabbled at the floor, attempting to crawl out in a dignified manner.
His father chuckled and offered a helping hand. "Aren't you a little too old to be squeezing into corners and eavesdropping, Finnegan?"
"All part of the occupation, Dad," Finn mumbled, rumpling his hair awkwardly. "What's going on with Mum?"
The crinkles by his father's eyes usually made him look youthful and spirited. Now, they made him look older than his 40-some years of age. "Aunt Elizabeth's having some family things going on right now. She and Edmund are taking Liam to the States over winter hols to take care of it."
"What about Darcy?" Finn winced at the plaintive tone his voice had taken in the last two syllables.
If his father noticed, he didn't mention it. "Darcy's staying at uni until the rest of her family joins her tomorrow. Why?"
"Oh, no reason, you just didn't mention Darcy is all." This time, he managed to keep his disappointment contained within his throat.
"You haven't seen her since she moved out to college, right?"
Finn nodded and poked at the floor with his grey wool holiday socks. "Just about, yeah."
His dad sighed sympathetically. "Uni's a hard transition for everyone. Distance is just another part of the growing process -" Finn crossed his hands behind his back, steeling himself for another one of his dad's classic 'Did I ever tell you about the time I...' lectures. "- but I'm not going to keep rambling about it; I know you've already heard most of my stories. Try not to worry about it, Finn."
Finn blinked after his father. His mum's voice became clear the moment his dad crossed the threshold to the living room, but he couldn't catch any distinct words before the door shut again. He didn't know what worried him more: the fact that Darcy was having family troubles or the fact that his father hadn't taken advantage of an opportunity to ramble at him.
His sister's return home filled the void that Darcy had left gaping behind her up until Christmas. Charlie had just graduated from university half a year ago and was now spending her time traversing much of Europe's moors and ancient ruins, shadowing one of her professors for archaeology experience. She had always been a lively character, mind running wild with the prospects of undiscovered kingdoms and unconcluded mysteries nestled deep in the corners of the world. Her semester abroad did nothing to contain her enthusiasm. While Finn generally loved his sister for the very same reasons, he was honestly relieved when she finally took a day away from home on Boxing Day to catch up old friends.
The house was quiet. Finn watched snowflakes drifting down from the sky through the window. His breath fogged up the cold glass pane. At this point, he'd already leaned his forehead against the icy surface long enough that the chill was endurable. A lump was lodged deep in his throat. He blinked. The reflection in the window gazed silently back at him. He leaned forward to flick at his phone. The missed messages from his friends continued to go ignored.
The window fogged up again, this time in short bursts. It was an ironic chuckle, a silent one that remained caught in his throat, next to the lump.
Some of his family wondered how he and Darcy had gotten on so well when they were both such guarded characters. They had all assumed the two would butt heads; her with her pretentious complex, and him with his stereotypical masculine bravado. But he had ended up falling in love with her spitfire personality, and it was perhaps because of their deep-rooted similarities that they did become best friends all those years ago.
Not many of his friends were ever able to divine the puzzle that was Finnegan Harris. It was a development that Finn was rather proud of. He preferred it that way. It gave him freedom, a veil behind which he could hide. His new peers at uni simply perceived him to be a dorky sort of fellow despite being well liked, popular, and attractive to boot.
He had always thought of himself as a character whose deepest, darkest secrets were always locked within the author's mind. He was like the sidekick in all of the bedtime stories his mum had read to him when he was little. And like every other famous sidekick - Ron, Sam, Huck, and Peeta to name a few - he had his quirks. Quirks that, if revealed more clearly, would complete his puzzle.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs. He let out an almost inaudible groan and slid his legs off the edge of the bookcase. Getting down was easier than getting up. By the time his mum rapped on his door, he had already thrown himself across his bed with his laptop set before him, headphones hanging loosely about his neck.
"Hey Finn, your dad and I are going out to run some errands. Would you like anything?"
"Nah, I'm fine. I was going to Skype a friend, actually."
"Oh, sorry. Be back soon. Tell your friend I said hello." She pulled the door shut behind her.
He stared at his dark computer screen until he heard his dad's car back out of the drive. He continued to stare until it drove out of earshot. Brown eyes flitted back up to the top of the bookcase. He could make out a slight smudge mark on the skylight where his forehead had been resting for hours before that. The lofted view didn't appeal to him anymore.
The only noise in the house came from him dropping his laptop and headphones back onto the bed. He could distinguish every muted pad of his feet on carpet, the scratch of his fingernails on wood as he retrieved his phone from the top of the shelf, the slightest breath of wind as he pushed his door open. Finn counted each of the 14 steps as he descended. From the bottom of the stairs, he could see his old hiding spot behind the couch where he had been a few days prior. There weren't any new messages on his phone.
The cupboard under the stairs had been filled with bags and boxes of old toys from his childhood. Now, they were the ones settled behind the couch while he sat Indian style upon the floor of the tiny room. A lone light bulb illuminated the corners of the hideaway. When Finn closed his eyes, he was overcome with a wash of déjà vu. It had barely been two weeks since he'd climbed up onto his dresser to sit in a corner of his dorm room in the same manner: head tilted back against the wall, phone nestled into the bend of his knee, hands clasped - right thumb over the left - on his crossed legs. He sighed.
An urgent buzzing noise disrupted his reverie. His loud groan cut short. The name displayed across the screen was one he hadn't seen in over a month: Darcy Elizabeth Martin.
Sorry I haven't been in touch lately. Things just are at the moment. Hope you're having a lovely break. I miss the snow and England and home, and I miss you Finn. Happy Christmas! xxx
No worries, I know you're busy with family. I miss you more, Darce. Hope everyone's well. It'll get better. :)
No, Finn, things just are.
He typed, deleted, and retyped his message several times before sending it against better judgment. A new time stamp appeared over the text bubble. So like how I've been for the past few months, particularly the last two weeks or so?
She was slow to reply. What happened two weeks ago? Sorry - we haven't been texting much lately.
I found out you had family things going on. Finn held his breath as he stared with bitten lip at his phone. He didn't spell out exactly why he'd fallen into a rut 14 days ago; the promptness of his reply said all that he'd purposefully left unsaid.
Exactly. There was a pause, and then another message dinged to his phone. Have you got yourself hid somewhere again?
It was almost a relief to tell her where he was. The cupboard under the stairs.
Fuck, I miss you. Think I'd fit too?
He laughed out loud. It was a warm laugh, one that filled all the dusty corners of the silence around him. Well shit. I miss you too. Yeah, you would. You're a tiny little person.
I would tell you to get your ass out of the corner, but since I wouldn't be doing the same with my own proverbial ass and corner...
His smile was sad. She sent another text before he could finish composing his own.
I've gotta go for now - text me whenever, and I'll get back to you when I can. xxx
Things that just are will always find an adjective that fits them. And even though that adjective might not be the greatest, it's better to be something than nothing at all. I'm certain your things will be better before and when you're home, Darce. Miss you most, best friend.
It was a few minutes before she replied again. Get your ass out of the corner, Harris. You're going to get your pants all dusty. xxx
Finn had half his body stuck in the cupboard when his parents came home. He rubbed his head sheepishly while nudging one of the misplaced boxes with his toe. "I...couldn't figure out how to put this back in. Could you help me?"