Chapter 2 : ...Wells Street - 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 front door 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. His bag’s open and inside’s a jumbled mess of notebooks, papers, and books. He hasn’t even thrown on his jacket or muffler properly. “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. You’re soaking.”
I actually hiss at him. Because what a fucking knobhead.
“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 makes this nervous sound. “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. I, I can make up like that.”
“Good,” I reply, grinning. “Who needs a stuffy restaurant when when I can just sit in your stuffy kitchen?”
He smiles back. Murph looks away for a second and stares ahead.
I don’t ask. Because it isn’t my business.
We go to a corner cafe not even a minute’s walk from the university building and find a seat away from the front door. I peel off my jacket and go up something. Murph stays back to watch my and his stuff. I come back with a hot Panini and a cuppa.
He looks doesn’t even process that I’ve come back.
Murph doesn’t hear me.
He blinks and looks at me. His glasses’re wet.
“You ’lright, mate?” I ask, picking up the butty. “You don’t seem...here.”
Murph rubs the back of his head aggressively. Like a dog scratching himself. He then flattens out his hair and looks at me. “I’m tired.”
I sip my tea. “Wh – duh. You’ve been in classes all day.”
As always Murph, you’re fucking brilliant. “Okay.” I unwrap my ham butty and begin eating it. “Aren’t ya gonna 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 how warm it is. “Y’know, I know you’re strapped, but I can spot ya.” I go for 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. He reaches back for his textbook and opens it. His glasses’re still wet.
I swallow what’s in my mouth and look at him. “Mate, ya don’t look okay.”
“I-I know. I’m just tired.”
“No. You look like you’re dyin’.”
“I’m not dying, Tommy.”
“Congrats, Murph. You look like shit.”
“Tommy, I’m fine.”
I stand. “I’m getting you a cuppa.”
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. I reach over the table and grab Murph’s shoulder, shaking him, “M’ mate’s just stressed.”
She nods and smiles. And then walks away.
Probably real convincing considering his book’s open to a chapter titled The Edwardian Era: An Age of Innovation & Retrospection.
God, that sounds horrible.
Murph pulls out his phone and glares at it.
“Murph – ”
“I have ten more minutes until my lecture start.” He puts his phone away and, with shaking hands, fixes his hair.
“You’re not goin’.”
“I have to.”
I glare. “Ya don’t have to.”
Murph looks at me, frightened. “I have to,” he whispers, like he has no choice.
I lean back in my chair. “Fine. Go.”
He sighs and ruffles his hair again. He doesn’t fix it. “Tommy – ”
“No. Don’t talk. Go get something. You need it for class.” I kinda shove the panini plate at him. It clatters on the table. “Take it. I don’t care. Take it. Go.”
His eyes drop to the table. “You’re mad.”
I roll my eyes. “And you still look like shit.” I lean back in the chair and then squish my butty with my elbow, leaning back forward. “Murph...I know how you can get out of it.”
He doesn’t hear me. His eyes’re staring at a car roll down the street.
He looks back to me. “Hi.” He clears his throat. “What?”
“I got a plan. Wanna hear it?”
Murph’s eyes drift towards me. He still hasn’t bothered to clean his glasses. “Wh – plan? Plan for what?”
“Don’t worry about it. Do you want to hear it?”
I’m back under the canopy, but this time I’m sitting 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 serious cold and someone who’s smoked 4 packs of cigs every day. “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. Ya just lied your way out ’f 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 pavement 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 fine.”
He isn’t listening.
“If you’re not gonna listen to me, then fine. Okay. Go back in and say you lied to your professor.” I lean back against the wall. Now I’m just irritated. How can someone be so smart and so barmy at the same time?
He glances back to the front door, but sits down beside me. After a second, he asks, “Why don’t you like school?”
I look at him. “Wha?”
He shrugs. “You don’t like school, do you?”
I shake my head and put the coffee cup to the side. “Nope.”
I play with the string on my hoodie. “Doesn’t matter now, does it?”
“That wasn’t what I asked, Tommy.”
I let go of the drawstring and look at him. “Are ya just curious, or what?”
He nods, smiling a little. “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 plonker.”
“Answer my question.”
I turn to retort but the look on Murph’s face tells me he’s all done fighting. This zonked, crushed look with dull eyes are staring at me.
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 expected, but I don’t wanna have this conversation again.
He 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. “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.” And it was probably one of the few times she was actually a good mum.
Enough of thinking about that, now.
He takes a sip, pulls back with this disgusted look on his face and the tea still in his mouth. He swallows, face still twisted, then takes another sip. “Ugh. It tastes like a throat lozenge.” He takes another sip, and cringes as he swallows.
I sigh, smiling. “I know, it’s horrible. Glad you like it.”
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.