THE BETTER PART
© Clare London
In my final year—accompanied by much eye-rolling shock from both my Chemistry and Geography teachers—I got an academic place at the local university. Never seen Dad look so pink and happy in his life as when I opened the offer letter. I was excited and proud and arrogantly sure I was on my way up in life.
I just had no idea how lonely it would be.
One Saturday midnight, Adam found me curled up in a shop doorway outside one of the seedier gay student clubs in the town. The rain drizzled down under my open collar, the street lights reflected in the puddles on the pavement, and the occasional passing car raised spray from the gutters. It had been a long, miserable night, though I’d stopped specifically counting the hours after too many shots and plenty of blow. Adam stood there for ten silent minutes because I was initially determined not to acknowledge him and his disapproval. I stared at his shoes until my resentment and misery curdled in the pit of my stomach. “What the fuck?” I muttered.
A young woman passing the doorway on her way home started at the sound of my voice and quickly crossed the road.
“Go home,” Adam said.
“Trying,” I muttered. My legs seemed to have been reworked in putty and misconnected to my hips.
“Pick up your wallet.”
I hadn’t realised I’d dropped it, not that there was much in it to delight anyone else. Four pounds fifty, a discount card to the sandwich bar and a condom that was not-so-rapidly-but-relentlessly going out of date. The journey back to my flat was through a blurred, occasionally psychedelic haze. Took me four attempts to get the key in the lock, then I lost my wallet again, until I saw it on the toilet seat. I grabbed hold of it before it fell in. Then grabbed hold of the seat itself and threw up into the bowl.
“Good God.” Adam’s voice sounded strangely tired.
“At least I’m not singing,” I grunted, but wit escaped even me. The misery had become second-nature, a thick, heavy blanket over my heart and hope. I’d been here months, but no one had even tried to guess the truth behind my sharp humour.
“Give this up, Chas. You’re better than this.”
I frowned. “’m fine. Student life, ’n all. ’njoying myself.”
There was a pause in the air as if Adam were considering a suitable response. Glancing around my modest little bathroom, taking it all in: the damp toilet seat, the chipped floor tiles glinting from the harsh fluorescent light over the shaving mirror, my inevitably flushed face, and the crusty trail of another cheap takeaway dinner on the front of my shirt. I knew beyond a doubt that he’d seen the emptiness of both my fridge and my phone book.
I leaned back over the bowl and heaved again.
Adam sighed. “I think not.”
I sighed. Bastard was right, of course.
“Find him, Chas. He’s at this university too, isn’t he? Call him up.”
I knew who he meant. Billy Dean had got a sports scholarship to the university as well, but he was the year ahead of me. After he left school, I think we’d exchanged a couple of emails and circulated some stupid jokes at Christmas. Then nothing.
“’s over now. Schoolboy crush.”
Adam’s tone sharpened. “Don’t be a fool. You’re not a school kid anymore, and neither is Billy Dean. Don’t act as if you don’t know where he lives, what days he comes on to campus. As if you haven’t always known.”
I glanced up at him, my eyelashes wet. “No secrets from you, eh?”
It was a joke, though feeble, but Adam didn’t smile this time. “No,” he said softly.