I curled up on the leather sofa as she placed two glasses of wine on the table in front of us, taking a seat and pulling her knees into her chest. She was dressed in sweatpants and a white slouch shirt that hung loosely down one arm, her small glasses perched loosely on her nose and her blonde wavy hair pulled back into a scrunchie. Slowly sipping the red wine from her glass, she stared at the wall, seeming to focus on the blank white space as if it would somehow save her.
Lightly, I placed my hand on her arm and she turned to me, sinking back into the cushions. I don’t know how long we sat there before one of us said something.
“Ari,” I began, unsure how to continue. I was a guy after all; I wasn’t prepared for what you should do when someone else was going through a break up. Yeah, I’d seen it on movies, the whole ice cream, popcorn, romcoms, chocolate, stuffed cuddly toys routine, but that always seemed so fake, so impersonal, I didn’t know how that would ever actually help someone. Right now though, I was cursing myself that I hadn’t stopped off on the way to rent a DVD or buy her a big bar of dairy milk. Anything would’ve been better than the awkward silence that was enveloping everything at that moment. So I said the one thing that people always said. The one thing that was supposed to make things better. I didn’t know how though. “It’s going to be okay.”
She scoffed, and I could see in her eyes that I’d made a mistake. That she’d probably heard this too much already, that it was insignificant now. But instead of walking away, she placed the glass back onto the table and sank into me, her head resting on my chest, not saying a word. I took a sip from the wine, trying to savour the taste, but it wasn’t like that was very likely. Just from one sip, I could tell it was so like Ari, she’d go out buy the cheapest thing she could buy. She was saving for a trip around the world, so every penny counted for her, although, as she told me every single time that I came over for a catch up, which was pretty much once a week, or if not, once every two, she was certain that she’d never raise enough because there was no way she would ever find a job, and it wasn’t like the government would stump up for it. It was even worse now that Si had left. They were planning on doing the trip together, and so sharing the cost, but that whole idea was scrapped now, like their relationship of a year and half.
“Josh,” she whispered, “Thank you.”
I ran my fingers through her hair, smoothing it down.
“So, what’s going on with you? How’s work.”
As my phone started vibrating beside me, I knew that this would be the perfect time to come clean. To tell her about the shake up, the antagonism, the slow but sure feeling of being pushed out. They were uniting, I knew, and they were a force to be reckoned with, like a tank, something that I could not stand up to, so I would just stand there and get crushed in the wake. But instead of saying all this, I switched off my phone, and told the first lie of many. “It’s fine.”
“Jacobs, in my office now,” my boss ordered, walking quickly through the rows of desks, coffee in hand, towards his office. I slowly got up, pushing the chair in, and heard the snickers as I passed. This was exactly what they wanted.
“Hello sir,” I greeted him pleasantly, but the look on his face told me that whatever I did then wouldn’t make one bit of difference.
“Jacobs. We need to re-assess your position in the company. I’ve been hearing some things…” he began, rifling through papers on his desk, not even bothering to look at me. That was how important I was.
An hour later I walked out into the street, trying to pull myself together. It sounded stupid, but all I could think about right then was Arianne. It had been two weeks since the break up, and she was doing a little better now, but things still weren’t completely right. I called her every night. My phone bill must’ve been mounting up. Walking away from the hell that used to be my job, my first thought was to head to hers. But she’d ask why I wasn’t at work, and I couldn’t face explaining it to her. I didn’t want her to be disappointed in me, as well as everyone else. She didn’t have a job, and I was the steady one who did, that was just us. I couldn’t change that. I couldn’t disappoint her.
So instead I went to the local bar. Sat there for hours, drowning my sorrows. Then I headed home and fell asleep on the floor, too legless to try and make it to the couch. I woke up the next morning, head pounding, and realised that in everything, I’d forgotten Arianne. I grabbed my phone and sent her a quick text.
SORRY ARI. ROUGH NIGHT. WILL MAKE IT UP TO YOU, PROMISE ;) –J
There was a reply soon after.
YOU’D BETTER MISTER. I’LL BE WAITING XX
Walking down the street outside, it felt different. I was now officially ‘one of the unemployed’. The people I’d looked down on before. The people I’d thought were a lost cause.
The day passed slowly as I had nothing to do. Tomorrow, I promised myself, tomorrow I’d look for a job. That night, I turned up at Arianne’s at seven sharp, a bouquet of flowers in my hand. She stared at me as if I was crazy before inviting me in and promptly putting the flowers in water.
“D’you honestly think that flowers will make it up to me?” she teased, looking over at me.
I grinned back at her. ‘Nope, that’s why I’m taking you out to dinner.”
“You should’ve told me, Josh. Grr, I have to go find something to wear,” she exclaimed, running off to her bedroom.
Half an hour later we were finally seated in the little Italian down the road, menu’s in hand, ready to order. The waitress, a girl in her teens, looked at us expectantly.
“Uhh, I’ll have the mushroom ravioli, please,” Ari ordered, looking at me over the candle in between us.
“Yeah, I’ll just have the same. And a bottle of the house red please.” We both handed her the menus.
“Thank you. Your order will be ready soon. I must say, I mean, please don’t think I’m being too forward, but you two make such a cute couple. You’re perfect together. You’re both really lucky, you know that?” and with that, she gave us one last smile, and walked away. I looked up to see Ari smiling down at the tablecloth. When she looked up at me, she saw that I was laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“That she thinks we’re a couple,” I replied.
“And that’s such a funny idea?” she asked me. I wondered what she meant. But before I could ask her, the wine was brought over along with a salad and some garlic bread. That, and then the food soon after, left not much time to talk. By the time I’d finished the mushroom ravioli I’d forgotten all about her comment. Both of us were too stuffed for dessert so I got the bill and we left.
We began the walk down the road towards her apartment.
“Can I tell you something?” she said, suddenly, not even looking at me.
“Of course. Anything.”
“What happened with Si…there was more to it. Yeah I was upset he left, but we’d, drifted apart. We both wanted different things. Different people. It was kind of a mutual decision.”
“Oh,” I murmured. But she’d been so upset? What the hell was up with that? Wait-“ Did you just say ‘different people’?”
“Yes,” she whispered. “I’d been having….weird feelings…for someone else…for ages. I just didn’t know what it meant.”
“Okay then.” Why didn’t she tell me? I was her best friend.
All of a sudden, she came to a still in front of me. “Josh?”
She opened her mouth to say something but nothing came out. Then out of nowhere, she leant forward, and placed her lips against mine. Only lightly at first, but to say I was surprised was an understatement. My body, unlike my brain, didn’t seem surprised though. My lips moulded to hers, and soon I was kissing her back, with everything I had. Her fingers knotted into my hair and my arms slipped round her waist, pulling her even closer to me. Oh god, this felt so good. So natural.
When we finally came up for air, I knew that we both had shocked expressions on our faces. “I’m sorry,” she stuttered, “Please, Josh…just tell me what you’re thinking? Do you hate me?”
I took hold of her hands in mine and looked her straight in the eyes. “No, I could never hate you. And that, that was amazing.” Without thinking, I kissed her again, and wrapped my arms completely around her.
That night, after kissing for what felt like forever, we talked. We talked about what had happened, what had led to it, what we wanted to happen, and I have to say, there was some more kissing involved. I couldn’t get enough of her. For the first time ever, everything seemed to fit into place. I didn’t even care that I didn’t have a job. Right now, all I wanted was her. Whether that was as my best friend, or something more. All I knew, was that I couldn’t lose her.
It took us a week to finally get it together. Before that, though, we made each other a promise. That we would never lie to each other. She couldn’t deal with any more lies. It became apparent that even though the break up with Si had been mutual, he’d been lying to her about things for the whole time they were together. All the time we were talking about this, there was something nagging me, in the back of my head. Because I was lying to her. I just couldn’t admit that to myself, let alone her. I didn’t want to disappoint her. I couldn’t bare it.
I had been looking for a job, I’d done everything I could think of, but there was nothing available. I’d phoned around my friends as well, trying as many as I could. They’d all got back to me with a no and a sorry, except for Steve and Zane.
Three weeks later I still had no luck on the job front. That night, I went over to see Arianne.
“Hey babe,” I greeted, pecking her lightly on the lips. This just felt…so right. More right than anything had ever felt in my entire life. Why had it taken me so long to realise this?
“You’re early. How was work?” she asked, pouring more of the same cheap wine that we always have.
“Was okay. Over now though. Not something I really wanna talk about,” I sighed. Why couldn’t I just come right out and tell her the truth. I’d been out of a job for a month. “I’ll just head to the bathroom, okay?”
“Yeah fine,” she replied, flicking through the TV channels with the remote. When I got into there, I looked at myself in the mirror. Nope, no Pinocchio nose. But I was sure I’d have one soon with all the lies I was telling.
I walked back into the living room to find Arianne staring down at glass in her hand, a confused expression on her face.
“What’s up?” I asked, taking a seat and pulling her into my arms. She shrugged me off.
“You’d never lie to me, would you?”
“Of course I wouldn’t, Ari,” I reassured her, kissing the top of her head. I’d told enough lies already, what could one more hurt?
“Steve just called. He said he’s sorry about the job, knows you’ve been struggling, but there’s nothing going right now. He’ll get back to you when he hears of anything.” Her voice sounded so hurt and annoyed. So she knew, finally.
“Arianne…I’m sorry,” I whispered. She looked back at me blankly.
“Get the fuck away from me.”
“You know how much I hate liars. So leave. Now.” The look on my face told me she was serious.
Reluctantly, I got up, looking back over my shoulder as I slipped out of the door. She was still sat there on the couch, her head in her hands. I’d really hurt her. I was a fucking idiot.
I sat there in the bar, arms crossed on the filthy counter; god knows what in a glass next to me.
“You having a rough time?” Kyle, the bartender, asked me, pouring a drink for a guy down the counter from me.
“Don’t ask,” I groaned, downing the vile substance beside me and holding the glass up for a refill.
“Gimme a try. What’s going on, mate?” That’s the thing, he could call me mate now; I’d been coming here so much the last month, between waiting around at the unemployment centre and scouting the city for the jobs that just weren’t there. Unless you wanted to be a road sweeper or pole dancer. Then you had plenty of opportunity.
So I recounted my whole stupid problem to Kyle, who nodded and ‘ahh’d at the right times.
“Well if you ask me,” he advised, pouring perfectly level sambuca shorts for a group of girls who’d just come in, “you need to try and make it up to her. She still loves you, idiot, but she’s hurt. You hurt her. Trust is a big thing to girls, they live for it. I mean,livefor it. You need to show her you can be trustworthy. But first off, you need to sober up.”
“I’ll head home,” I slurred, getting up off the stool, and falling flat on my face on the floor. “IM OKAY!” I waved an arm up in the air to prove this.
“Mate, you’re even worse than I thought. I’m finished soon, you can crash at mine. Just don’t throw up, please.”
I woke up on Kyle’s sofa, light streaming in at me from the giant glass windows. Kyle was nowhere to be seen, a note on the kitchen counter telling me he was out at his day job, and to ‘get my lazy arse off the couch and go prove I’m not a dick’. Nice mate.
Back at home, I showered quickly, trying to wash the smell of booze and smoke off me, then threw on a change of clothes. I had to see Ari as soon as possible. I just had to.
On the way there, I passed the corner shop where she always bought the wine. I don’t know what made me do it, but I went in. There was an old man behind the counter, reading a book. Heading straight for the wine, I bought a couple of bottles, the cheapest I could find. It was what Arianne always did.
I took them over to the counter and paid.
“Wait a second, are you Josh?” the man asked me as he put the bottles in a bag.
“Uh, yeah, why?”
He laughed. “Sorry, it’s just the only person who ever comes in here just to buy the cheap stuff is Arianne, and she’s always buying it for a guy that comes over. I just kind of guessed it was you. I’ve always told her, buy something expensive for once, that’ll impress him, but no, she never does.”
After saying goodbye to the man I headed up to the flat, easily getting past the doorman who knew me all too well. Then I just had to wait for her to open the door.
When she finally did, the look of disgust on her face at seeing me made me want to back away. She was dressed in a black top and jean shorts, her hair loose and everywhere. Behind her, I could see the curtains were drawn, making the apartment look dark. Like night time.
“Can I come in?” I asked.
She shrugged and walked away. “If you must,” I heard her call.
Placing the wine on the countertop I went over to the sofa that she was sat on, watching TV. Not wanting to get too close, I perched on the arm.
“What do you want?” she asked, not looking at me.
“I wanted to apologise. I hate myself for lying to you, Ari, but I thought you’d be disappointed in me if I told you the truth.”
“You don’t even know what the truth is,” she retaliated.
I placed my hand on her arm, trying to get her to face me. “Yes, yes I do. I know what the truth is. The truth is that I’m a fucking idiot who lost his job because his colleagues all ganged up to get him the sack and who spends half his time in a bar and now knows the barman by name and who can’t find another job unless I turned to pole dancing, which, apparently, is a lucrative business right now, and who’s so in love with his best friend that he doesn’t have a clue what to do now.”
She still didn’t reply, so I continued. “I’m sorry, Ari. I’m sorry for lying to you, for hurting you, for breaking your trust, for not believing that you’d be okay with it all. Please let me make it up to you. I’ll do anything.”
Finally, her eyes met mine. “I forgive you, Josh, if only because I can’t lose you. But its gonna take a lot to make me trust you completely again.”
Sliding down onto the sofa beside her, I wrapped my arm around her. “I’ll do anything.”
“Good, because, if we have any chance at working. We have to start over. We have to forget all about what’s happened, and begin again. This has to be like it’s all happening for the first time, like nothings gone wrong yet.”
“That’s fine with me,” I replied, kissing the top of head. She sank down into my chest. After a while I could hear her laughing.
“What’s so funny?” I murmured in her ear.
“The thought of you pole dancing,” she replied. Same old Ari, I thought. But then again, she wasn’t. Neither of us were. We were starting over, like meeting for the first time. This was our new beginning, and I wasn’t going to mess it up again. So I settled into the couch with her curled into me, for an evening of talking about nothing, and drinking the cheap wine that Ari was so famous for. Perfection.