I wake up with a stiff neck and a dead arm. Rory is still asleep, but as soon as I start to move, his arm automatically wraps itself around me.
His mouth is hanging open and he’s breathing heavily. It’s not an attractive look. However, I’m quick to realise that I don’t mind being this close to him. I might not be what he expected, but he definitely isn’t how I expected either. I never knew that Rory had such a sensitive side or that he could be so caring.
He extends his arms and groans, before his eyes pop open and we’re left staring at each other. My heart starts to race and butterflies fill my stomach.
Suddenly, Rory sits himself up and I’m forced to do the same. “How long did we sleep for?” he asks me.
I glance at the alarm clock. “Um, about two hours I think.”
“That’s not bad. Do you feel any better?”
“A bit. You?”
When I spot Batman creeping in through the door, I dive off the bed and scoop him into my arms. His attack is sudden, as he tries to kick and bite his way out of my grasp.
Rory is instantly on his feet. “Woah, doesn’t that hurt?”
I shake my tears away, even though it stings like hell. “I’m a human shield. It’s all good. But, if you’d like to take him off my hands then please feel free to do so.”
Rory doesn’t seem too sure about that. Batman is getting more aggressive by the second. “Uh, maybe you should just put him down,” he suggests, backing away.
“I thought you were going to give him a makeover.”
He’s definitely having second thoughts. “I was a bit drunk when I said that. Also, he is freaking terrifying.”
Batman clings onto my arm, digging his nails into my skin. I have no choice but to set him free. We both watch as he jumps on the window ledge, glancing back one final time before making the jump.
“Well, that’s the most physical interaction I’ve had with him for days. I guess I should count myself lucky.”
“Are you serious? I’ve never seen anything like that. The cat’s got issues,” Rory says, staring at me like I’m some kind of crazy person for attempting to pick him up in the first place.
I rush over to the window and look out. Batman has officially ventured off into the shadows, nowhere to be seen. I doubt I will see him again for a while now. But he will return. He always does in the end.
“Why can’t we be friends Batman?” I cry out, melodramatically. “I took you in when you had no one!”
Rory moves towards me, grabbing hold of my arm. “Those cuts are quite deep. Do you have any plasters?”
I suddenly recognise the pain. It’s sharp and every time I move my arm, it feels as if Batman is still clinging on to it. “Yeah. We’ve got some downstairs in one of the kitchen cabinets.”
“I’ll be right back.”
After minutes of waiting, Rory returns with a first aid kit. He guides me towards the bed and orders me to sit down. I roll my eyes and watch as he kneels down in front of me and applies some antibiotic cream.
I wince every time his fingers press against the sensitive skin. “Sorry. I’ll try to be gentle,” he says, concentrating hard.
Rory leans in even closer, leaving no space between us. I feel my chest tighten when he looks up at me, blinking with those big, green eyes.
Damn. He has the most intense eyes I’ve ever seen on a guy.
Practically the walking definition of Batman.
I’m still talking about my cat by the way.
Although, it’s probably best not to tell Rory that I think that he looks like my cat.
He might not take that very well.
“I think Batman might be secretly working for the mafia,” he adds.
It’s so random that I find myself laughing. “It wouldn’t surprise me. I bet he’s got lots of secrets. Maybe he’s living a double life that I don’t know about. His mistress could be on the other side of town for all I know. That might be where he spends all of his time.”
Rory’s mouth curves into a smile. “It must be tough though, keeping a cat like that. I mean, aren’t you afraid of what he’s going to do next?”
I shake my head. “It’s never been like that with Batman. Sure, he can be vicious at times and uncontrollable, but he was my friend when I had no one. We adopted him from the animal shelter years ago. I don’t know what he went through before that, but he wasn’t a normal cat. We couldn’t hold him or play with him because he didn’t know how to do those things. We eventually realised that he preferred being left alone, free to come and go as he pleased. I’ve found comfort knowing that he was there when… when things were not so great at home.”
We stare at each other for a moment and a new look washes over Rory’s face. His gaze is intense and it’s as if he’s seeing me for the first time. It makes me feel vulnerable and exposed in so many different ways.
“Was it bad before?” he coughs to clear his throat. “I mean, your mum… she wasn’t in a good place?”
I don’t speak about my mother to anyone, but Rory already knows enough.
“It’s complicated. Mum was never the same when my dad left. She tends to remind me about that whenever she gets the chance. And, I guess I didn’t realise how powerful falling in love could be or how you could get your heart broken if you chose the wrong person. That’s exactly what happened to her. Now, she just wants someone to love and to experience that same feeling again. She’s never found it and so many people have let her down. She’s not getting better and I feel so hopeless…”
“You’re probably doing a lot more than you think,” Rory says, reaching for my hand. He gives it a quick squeeze.
A lump has lodged itself deep in my throat and I can feel my eyes start to water. I refuse to cry in front of Rory again. He’s probably getting sick of me and my tendency to get all emotional.
“Thanks, but I know I could be doing a lot more. I just wish I knew how to help her.”
“Unless someone realises they have a problem, not much can be done. Your mother needs to come to this conclusion herself. Nothing anybody else says will be able to convince her otherwise.”
“Your right about that. But, what if she never admits there is a problem? What if she just continues to live like this?”
He stares at me cluelessly. “I don’t know the answer to that. None of us know what the future looks like. We just have to hope for the best I guess.”
“She was never there for me growing up - not in the way that I wanted her to be anyway. She was always trying to earn people’s love. But she never realised she had it all along. I loved her, despite everything. That was never going to change. But, my own life had to be put on hold because she was more important than hanging out with friends, going to parties and even going to college.”
He looks at me for another long moment or two and then wipes away a fallen tear that catches me off guard.
“Sorry! Ugh!” I wipe my eyes furiously, until I’m blinking back more tears and then I give a nervous laugh under my breath. “I don’t know why I’m crying all the time. Please ignore me.”
I’m very aware that Rory’s still holding my hand. His grip is only getting stronger, as if he never wants to let me go. “Skye, it’s okay. Don’t ever apologise for getting upset. You’re only human.”
“But, it’s my responsibility though. I have to be strong for her when it all goes wrong, I have to be there to pick up the pieces.”
“No, it’s not your responsibility. She’s your mother, she’s supposed to be your rock, not the other way around. You’re young, you deserve to go out and have fun with the rest of us. It’s not fair that you feel like you can’t do those things because your mum needs to be watched twenty four seven.”
I inhale, ready to answer but the words get stuck in my throat. He’s right. I know he’s right. But, it’s not that easy. She doesn’t have anybody else. I’m the only one fighting her corner.
“What about you?” I ask him. “Don’t you feel the same way about your Grandmother?”
Rory’s face goes still, and I know I’ve said the wrong thing. “That’s different.”
“Is she sick?”
I don’t know why I’m pushing this. And maybe I shouldn’t be. It’s none of my business. But Rory seems to know a lot more about my life than I do about his. We’re always talking about me. It’s his turn to experience what it’s like to sit in the hot seat.
“She has dementia.” He says it so matter of fact that regret seeps into my chest and I wish I had never brought it up. “We found out two years ago. The decline has been pretty drastic since then.”
“That must be so hard for you and Jenny.”
“It is. But, we manage. My aunt visits every day to check in on us all. I’m more than capable of looking after her myself though.”
“You’re amazing,” I tell him.
His eyes go wide and then he shakes his head. “No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are Rory. And you’re always there for me when I need to talk. I’m so grateful.”
He turns away, inhaling deeply. “You really shouldn’t say things like that… it makes me feel guilty.”
“Why would that make you feel guilty? It’s the truth. You are an amazing person. These past few weeks have been some of the best I’ve had in a long time. I’ve actually enjoyed spending time with you. I’m glad we’re friends.”
Rory turns the ring around on his index finger, biting along his bottom lip. He meets my eye and I’m taken aback by how much emotion is on his face. “I - I should probably tell you something…”
We’re interrupted when Batman catapults himself into the room, covered in mud and brambles.
“Batman! I wasn’t expecting your return to be so soon!” I yell, watching as his eyes lock on mine. He retreats to his favourite spot under my bed and we don’t hear from him again.
“I swear, that cat will give me a heart attack someday,” Rory says, laughing lightly.
“You’ll get used to it.” Then I remember he wanted to tell me something. “Hey, what were you going to say before Batman showed up?”
Rory lifts his shoulder in a half shrug. “Oh, I forgot. Don’t worry about it.”
“Hm. Okay.” I sigh. “Well, who would have thought we would be bonding over a cat?”
“I never thought I’d see the day.”