A morning sunshine that made me feel overjoyed to be alive.
I hate mornings and I hate the cold.
Winter mornings are the worst.
I roll over, my eyes expecting to see the woman next to me lying in the tucked-in mattress underneath my bed.
The bed, however, is empty.
My momentary confusion is compounded by the sweet and savoury smell wafting from what I assume is the kitchen. It isn't a smell I'm used to. Breakfast to me was always a bowl of cereal followed by what passes as coffee from the school cafeteria. Yes, yes, a Melbournian not having their own coffee machine? Blasphemous.
Groggily, I get up, shivering from the cold air assaulting my skin.
I rub my eyes, forcing them open before peeking outside to the source of the dim light.
"Hey. You are looking very peppy," I grunt, still not fully awake.
"Damn right I am. Figured since you got classes today I might as well help you out."
Currently in my kitchen is a blonde woman, her hair slightly damp from a shower, with a bright pink long-sleeved sweater and grey sweatpants. In front of her are some pancakes and in her right hand, a spatula. There's already a couple plates on the counter with some bacon.
I grimace, feeling just a little bit guilty for being half-asleep and less than amicable when Katie is already fully awake and making me breakfast on top of that. Though if she is perturbed by it, it doesn't show.
"How are you already awake and dressed?"
"Morning person, remember?" She shoots me a smug grin while effortlessly flipping the pancake over. "I just took whatever was in your kitchen, by the way. Hope that's alright. You should brush your teeth and get dressed. I'll have everything ready by the time you're done."
"Thanks." I nodded, shuffling to the bathroom. It smells strongly of lavender.
"Are you going to be ok while I'm in classes?" I finally ask her once I finish my plate.
"I'm a big girl, Anthony. I can take care of myself. And you're younger than me!"
"I know you can. And age hardly has anything to do with that. We're only two years apart, well, one now that I've turned twenty-one." I push the plate aside to give myself more space to lean closer to her. "Thanks for breakfast."
"You can now legally drink alcohol in the US! Also, you're very welcome," she says, beaming. "Looks like I can check making a meal for you off my list, huh?"
"You mean that's the only time I'll get to taste your cooking?"
"Since you liked it that much I suppose I can cook for you again."
"I'm eternally grateful for it."
We both laugh at our silly exchange as we do the dishes. It's striking just how much brighter my morning is now with her. Normally I wouldn't have said a word until some time in the middle of my first lecture. And I never really minded that, but her presence brings an energy that for some reason I'm compatible with and that I find myself effortlessly latching on.
Then, it hits me. I really am in love with her.
It's a sobering thought to have so early in the morning.
"Do you need a lift to the city? I can drop you off there on my way to uni."
"Thanks, babe, but I'll be alright on my own. I think it's a little bit early for me to head out to the city now and I'll still need to change into going-out clothes."
"Are you sure? You can save some money on transport and it really isn't any trouble at all."
"I'm sure! Besides, the trams are free once I'm in the city, right? It's all good." She really did her research on getting around.
I place my hand on my knee to stop it from shaking. Why am I finding it so hard to say this one thing? I mean, we had sex last night for god's sake. What's the worst that can happen? That she says no?
Sort of answered my own question there.
I busy myself with double checking my things when I feel a pair of arms snake around my waist, followed by an impossibly warm body pressed against my back.
It's an alien feeling for me, to be so conscious of another person. Katie's my girlfriend so there shouldn't be any need for me to be like this at all. I realise logically how silly I'm being right now. I just need to ask her.
"That's the second time I've seen that look on you," she says before I can muster the courage to speak.
"That look. You know when the first time I saw that look was?"
"...No," I answer after a pause.
"I saw that same look before you were about to tell me you liked me."
That makes a lot of sense hearing it from her. It's only the second time I've ever felt unsure of myself. I've always known I had a bit of a poker face so either I'm very transparent when it comes to these things or she can sense even the tiniest of differences out of me.
They're both pretty large revelations.
"So is there something you want to tell me?" Her words melt through my stubborn defenses like they were butter.
The words are pried out of me as if I was trying to unclog a drain pipe and its contents spill out all at once in a barely understood sentence. "I wanted you to come with me to campus."
"Hmm? What was that?"
Steeling myself, I spin around in her arms to face her with a serious expression.
"I want you to come to campus with me."
Her face is unreadable and silence settles over the both of us. I probably blew it, right? Asking her something so petty when she obviously just wanted to spend the day on her terms. My brain quickly forms an apology but a grin forms on Katie's lips, followed by laughter.
This feels familiar.
"You'd like that wouldn't you," she finally says, pulling me closer. "Being able to finally show off your super hot and awesome girlfriend to your friends."
"I won't deny there's a part of me that wants to do that," I mutter before quickly adding, "but only to introduce you to my friends! That's it. They ask a lot of questions, you see. About what you're like and how we met, and if you're even real. I'm sure my mates are probably joking about that last part but yes. It would be nice to show you off."
"If only to shut your friends up," she finishes.
"You really should be more confident with these things, babe. I don't mind you asking these things at all, you know. Like, I'm pretty selfish when it comes to asking things out of you." I want to rebut her but realise she's actually right.
"Give me a call when you're done with classes. Just be sure to make it up to me this evening," she says with a none too suggestive wink.
The days flew by in a flash and I'm pulling out all the stops to try and make them slow down.
Which is why I'm here now, a venus flytrap tightly clamped around the struggling prey that is my ever dour boyfriend.
I'm joking, of course. We're just having a cuddle session. I intend to get as much Anthony time as possible before this cruel world pries us apart.
"I'll be honest here, hon. I'm a little bit tired to, uh, deal with this."
Ok, mostly joking.
One thing that's become super clear while we're living together is just how much of a routine man my boyfriend is. I mean, sure, that was clear really early on in our online conversations. He was never the type of person that handled spontaneity well and that made for many, many, moments of teasing at his expense.
However, living with him now I can clearly see how much he relies on things to go his way to the point of clockwork. It makes the rare moments where he deviates from his schedule a real treat, but it's also super frustrating when I want to initiate something as simple as a cuddle session. I had to drag his lumbering form over to the couch and hold him down just to get him to agree.
Yeah, that's more like coercion than consent, but by the end of my fairytale trip in this land down under I'll have broken that annoyingly stubborn habit of his. If just a little.
So we return to our current position: curled up on the couch in front of the TV, watching some random show on Netflix that seems to be an Australian House-of-Cards-esque show. I wasn't really paying much attention. Instead, my focus is on the squirming boyfriend next to me.
"Must we really do this?"
"This." He shakes his arm around as much as my tight hold on it allows him to. I grin widely in response which nets a sigh from him. One of reluctant surrender, I hope.
"Come on, Anthony. I'm only here for a couple more days and you've had to go into work, like, what three days this week? And that's on top of your classes and stuff."
"I know. I'm really sorry, Katie. Trust me, I wanted to spend more time with you too but there's nothing I can do when it comes to how they schedule the tutors, and 'my girlfriend is visiting from the US' is hardly a legitimate reason to request a shift change."
"Maybe it should be!" I lash out, the pent up frustration that I wasn't even aware building up inside me finally coming to the forefront. I don't know why. Maybe it was how he said he couldn't change his shifts for me, like he didn't even try. Like, ok, logically it wouldn't go well with any employer. But he could at least sound a little more dejected than just pass it off as something that's a given.
I wanted to hear him fight for me, as childish as that may sound.
Maybe it's why I've felt the need to take things into my own hands, like now. I know he doesn't feel like doing this now. It's so obvious looking at him but I guess we're both stubborn like that.
Anthony attempts to slip his arm from my grip and this time I relent, giving him some space as he pauses the show before turning to face me. His expression is stern, laced with a hint of tiredness that makes me reconsider shooting back at him for the moment. "You don't think I feel the same way too? Do you think I'm happy being called into work knowing that my girlfriend spent hundreds of dollars just to come see me from the other side of the planet? It irritates me, Katie. It fucking irritates me to no end that I can't do anything about it."
"Then why the hell won't you spend time with me now?"
"I am! What makes you think I'm not?"
"How about the fact you're not even willing to cuddle with me right now? Is that seriously too much to ask? Ever since you got home you've avoided me like the plague! I've had to drag you over to the couch just to get you to actually be next to me. Is it so tiring to be next to me? Did I do something wrong?"
I spot a flash of hesitation before he nods slowly. "I'm sorry, Katie. I was under the impression that we were already spending time. I wasn't trying to avoid you. Not on purpose. You know me. I'm," his eyebrows furrow for a moment, "not usually one to initiate physical contact. I don't usually get much out of physical contact either. I'm fine just having that person in the background. If it's the right presence, I find it calming."
"Alright, yeah, I get it. I get that's how it's always been for you but that's not enough for me, Anthony. I'm sorry I pushed you to do this with me but, like, you understand I need this contact, right? After flying all the way and finally getting to see you, it'd be nice if you met me halfway and, you know, spend some time with me. Here. Physically."
Maybe that wasn't the right way to go about it. I know all this about him already. He probably didn't deserve that but dear god he can be so stubborn at times about the silliest things. And sometimes the only way to fight stubbornness is even more stubbornness. Luckily, that's something I excel at.
It looks as if I'm finally getting to him as he looks at me for a moment before slumping his shoulders. "No, you're right. I haven't been spending as much time with you as I should have, and I didn't consider that we had different definitions as to what that meant. Just…"
He slots himself back next to me as an arm wraps behind to my shoulder to push me closer. "Just ask me next time, ok? You don't need to physically pull me over. I've always been accommodating of your requests, haven't I?"
I open my mouth to hit him back with another quip before thinking better of it and instead leaning into him, satisfied for the moment.