CHAPTER 2: ...Wells Street, UK - March
Okay, now he's just pissing me off. It's fucking raining and I'm getting soaked. And I don't want to stand by the entryway because other people are standing there. So I'm by the corner, half standing under the building canopy and half standing in the alley. I'm freezing my ass off.
Fuck you, Murph. Finish your goddamn classes.
Ten minutes later, he runs out the doors and gets out his umbrella. Immediately, he puts it over my head. "Oh my God, how long have you been standing here?" he asks. Except he also basically shouted it. "You should've come by the doors." I actually hiss at him, disgusted at the suggestion. "I'm sorry!"
"You owe me food for this," I tell him, stepping under his umbrella and taking off my hood. You can hear it flop onto my back. It's that wet. I shiver.
We start walking up Wells Street. "I am sorry, Tommy," he whispers.
I don't answer him, even though I know it's true. I wrap my arm around his neck and say, "You can just owe me with food."
He produces a nervous chuckle. "Tommy, you know I can't." He steps away, puts my arm back at my side and suggests, "Why don't you and Adrian come over for dinner on Friday? I'll cook."
"Free food? You know it," I reply, grinning.
He smiles back but it's a hesitant one.
I don't ask. Because it isn't my business. In the two months I've known Murph, I've learned to know better.
We go to a corner cafe not even a minute away from the campus and find a seat away from the front door. I peel off my jacket and go up for a sandwich and drink. Murph stays back to watch my and his stuff. I come back with a hot Panini and tea.
He looks doesn't even process that I've come back.
"Hey." He doesn't hear me. "Hey." He blinks and looks at me. "You alright, mate? You don't seem...here."
Murph rubs the back of his head aggressively. Like a puppy scratching himself. He then flattens out his hair and looks at me. "I'm tired."
I sip my tea. "Duh. You've been in classes all day."
As always Murph, you're fucking brilliant. "Okay." I open my sandwich and begin eating it. "Aren't you gonna go get something?"
Murph smiles, but I think he only does it because he's trying hard not to remind me again he's broke. "No, I'm good."
I put down the Panini. My hand tingles from its warmth. "Y'know, I know you're strapped, but I can sport you." My hand dives into my pocket for my wallet.
"N-no." He's standing over me, reaching out and close to touching me. "I'm okay. I promise." He sits back down, hands in his lap.
I swallow what's in my mouth and look at him. "Mate, you don't look okay."
"I know. I'm just tired."
"No. You look like you're dying."
"I'm not dying, Tommy."
"Congrats, Murph. You look like shit."
"Tommy, I'm fine."
I stand. "I'm getting you some tea."
He slams his fist down on the table and screams, "I'm fine, Tommy."
The restaurant goes quiet. The rain outside's gotten heavier.
"Is everything okay here, lads?" asks a woman in uniform.
"We're fine, luv," I tell her. "My mate's just stressed."
She nods and smiles. And then walks away. Murph pulls out his phone and glares at it.
I sit back down. "Murph - "
"I have ten more minutes until classes start." He puts his phone away and, with shaking hands, fixes his hair.
"You're not going."
"I have to."
I glare. "You're not going."
Murph looks at me, frightened. "I have to," he whispers, like his choice is absolute.
I lean back in my chair. "Fine. Go."
He sighs and ruffles his hair. "Tommy - "
"No. Don't talk. Go get something. You need it for class."
His eyes drop to the table. "You're mad."
"You still look like shit." I lean back in the chair and then squish my sandwich with my elbow, leaning back forward. "Look…I got a plan, Murph. Do you wanna hear it?"
His eyes drift towards me. It's only then I realise his glasses are still wet from the rain. "What plan?"
"Don't worry about it. Do you want to hear it?" He nods.
I'm back under the canopy, but this time I'm sitting squarely underneath it. I've refused to put my jacket back on because it's sopping wet. At least the rain's let up a little. But now the traffic's picked up on Wells Street. It's backed up everything for at least a couple blocks.
A coffee cup of lukewarm tea sits in my hand. It isn't mine.
Then Murph leaves the building, looking triumphant. "My professor told me to feel better," he says, in a voice that's somewhere between a person with a seriously bad cold and a heavy smoker. "Someone in my Tuesday module - " He lets out this throaty cough that makes me shiver. " - they - " Another throaty cough, except this one sounds like he's going to cough out everything in his chest. He moans after, then continues, "Someone in my Tuesday module said they'd give me the notes then."
I stand up. I snake my arm around his shoulder and whisper, "Congrats, my protégé. You just lied your way out of class."
Murph pushes away, this stunned look on his face. He runs his hands over his face and groans. "Oh my God, why didn't I realize that? I was lying," he half-shouts, in his normal voice. He fans his fists against his sides, like a toddler no liking the taste of something. Murph makes this worried, anxious whine and I pull him down the alley out of sight of the passing cars.
"Mate, it's okay. Everyone does it."
"Do they?" he asks, accusingly. "Do they?"
"...yes." I pause. "I bet even Adrian's even done it." He had.
We find a dry patch of sidewalk and sit down. We're still in sight of the traffic, but it's a little quieter now. Murph groans and asks, "Why did you convince me to lie?"
I look up and around the alley when I see faces moving. I ask, "Where does your class look out? Front or back?"
I sigh, and we move back to Wells Street, and Murph goes right back to griping about the poor choices I made him make. "Would this go on my permanent record?" he asks, genuinely horrified.
"Murph, it's okay." He isn't listening. "If you're not going to listen to me, then fine." I lean back against the wall. Now I'm just irritated. How can someone be so smart and so stupid at the same time?
"Why don't you like school?" he asks.
I look at him. "What?"
He shrugs. "You don't like school, do you?"
I shake my head and put the coffee cup to the side. "No."
I play with the string on my hoodie. "Doesn't matter now, does it?"
Murph puts his hand on my shoulder. "That wasn't what I was asking."
I let go of the drawstring and look at him. "Are you just curious, or what?"
He nods. "Curiosity killed the cat. Let's see if satisfaction brings it back."
"That's the whole saying. 'Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.'" He smiles. "Now bring back the cat."
I harrumph and pick up the coffee cup again. "You nerd."
"Answer my question."
I turn to retort but the look on Murph's face tells me he's all done fighting. This exhausted, crushed look with dull eyes are staring at me. Murph looks close to tears.
I look away. The coffee cup switches hands. "It just...wasn't that...important. To me."
"It just wasn't, okay?" It comes out much harsher than I had anticipated. Murph recoils and looks away. "Look, I have a lot of reasons why I don't like school. But I know there won't be a good enough answer in them." I hunch over. "I think this cat's gonna stay dead." I inhale and finally pass him the coffee cup. "Here."
His eyes dart between it and me. "…coffee?"
Murph begins, "Tommy, you didn't have to buy - "
"I didn't buy it. It's just hot water, lemon, and honey." I force it into his hands. "My mum used to make it for me on cold days like this. It perked me up."
He takes a sip, recoils with this disgusted look on his face and the tea still in his mouth. He swallows, face still twisted in hatred, then takes another sip. "It tastes like a throat lozenge."
I sigh, smiling. "Glad you like it, mate."
Murph sighs, then smiles. His dimples are cute. He looks back to the street, takes another sip, and whispers, "Thanks for looking out for me, Tommy." He inhales, and then glances back at me. "You're a good friend."
I purse my lips and feel irked off again. I look away.
Except it isn't with him.
It's with me.