Six months. That’s how long it’d been since I’d boarded the plane and moved to London. It was like a breath of fresh air as soon as I’d landed in Heathrow. The feeling of not knowing anyone was invigorating. I could be anyone I wanted to be. There was a rush of emotion and excitement for something new running through my veins for the first few weeks. I’d begun to see a little clearer since I started working at the poetry magazine. There was a fire burning in me that hadn’t even been lit in a while. A fire for myself and an exhilaration for starting my new chapter. I had moments of feeling selfish- feeling like I left something back home, but I knew this was where I was supposed to be. Something about being alone in a new city forced me to choose between being a hermit and trying to make friends. The old me would have chosen the first option, but I wanted to try something different. I was scared this fresh start was going to lose it’s thrill at some point and I’d crash into myself and find my grief again, but I pushed forward, hoping it’d last as long as I’d let it stay.
Autumn reached London much quicker than it did Briar Creek and I smiled to myself as leaves crunched under my boots on my way to work. Something about autumn always made me feel renewed. I know that’s an odd thing to say when all the leaves were dying, but the air felt fresh and exciting. There was always something to look forward to even if it was just admiring the red and orange colors on the trees. This time of year always reminded me of Harvey. The first time we’d gotten together was around the beginning of fall. I pictured him in oversized sweaters and black jeans, holding a cigarette between his lips. I felt my eyes get warm, the cool air stinging the tears threatening to spill over onto my cheeks. Feel the feeling and let it go, Maeve. I inhaled. I missed him today. And that was alright. A red double decker bus rushed by, stirring up the crisp air and leaves swirling in the air. I adjusted the collar of my cream blouse before finding myself in front of the office. The Poetry Review was spelled in white typewriter font on the glass window. The posh office was warmly light up inside and people were already running around to turn on printers and coffee machines. I swung the door open, the smell of fresh ink and coffee beans following me as I made the way to my office- yes, a whole office to myself.
“Ah, Maeve! Do I have an inquiry for you!” I almost felt her smirk before I even saw her face.
Serena’s familiar bouncy London accent implored me to turn around. She was my first and closest friend I’d made since my move. It was kind of hard to not be her friend. She was perhaps the most invasively amiable person I had ever met, automatically introducing herself to me after the first five seconds of walking into the office my first day. It was a push I needed because I don’t know if I would have been outgoing enough to make friends for a while. I still hadn’t told her about Harvey. I didn’t say much about my life in Briar Creek at all. I just wasn’t ready to talk about that yet. Serena was bright and happy and always bursting with millions of fun ideas for things to do.
“And what would that be?” I laughed, crossing my arms against my chest.
She stood in front of me, holding two coffee cups in her hands. Her long blonde hair fell down her bright red sweater and a Nikon camera hung loosely across her body. She held one of the steaming cups up to me and I took it gratefully.
“What are you doing tonight?” Serena asked.
“What do you think I’m doing tonight?”
“Jeez, what is it with you and questioning questions?” she rolled her eyes jokingly.
“I only question questions you already know the answer to,” I took a sip of my coffee as she gazed at me expectantly. “Nothing. I’m doing absolutely nothing,” I smiled.
“Well then, you’re coming with me,” she clapped her hands together in excitement.
“We’re going on a proper girl’s night out. We’ll hit all the best clubs, drink to many whiskey sours and maybe we can find you a man, eh?” she joked, nudging my shoulder. I almost spat out my coffee.
“All of that sounds fun except the last part,” I turned toward my office, pulling Serena along with me.
“Come on, Maeve. You’ve been here for half of a year and you haven’t been on a single date. Aren’t Americans supposed to like British guys?” she questioned from behind.
We stepped into my small office, scarcely decorated with a small bookshelf and pictures pinned on a cork board hanging from the bright white wall.
“Serena, please just trust me when I say I am not interested in dating right now,” I turned to her, before sitting at my desk.
“But-” she began, leaning on the threshold.
“I mean it,” I could tell my tone had darkened a little because she lifted her eyebrows in surprise.
“Okay, miss grouchy. I’ll leave you to your work and a future of thousands of cats,” she stuck her tongue out at me before turning on her heel and walking out. “I’ll see you tonight,” she called.
Work passed quickly that day. I buried myself in my words, sorted through some poetry submissions, drank copious amounts of coffee and before I knew it, five o’ clock had come and gone. My co-workers were packed up and walking to the door to the promised freedom of a Friday evening. I was looking forward to a night out with Serena, so I decided to join them, throwing my bag over my shoulder and making my way out, waving goodbye to some familiar faces.
When I got home, I threw myself on the plush couch in my studio apartment and stared at the ceiling for a few minutes. This feeling was odd. The feeling of anticipation before going out on a Friday night. I wasn’t used to it. I laughed to myself, thinking of my opposition to that first high school party I went to and how different I felt. I reached down for my phone, clicking the familiar name in my contacts list before pressing the little phone icon.
“Maeve! What time is it over there?” Sam’s familiar voice made me smile.
“Half past five. I just got off of work,” I fiddled with a tassel on one of my pillows. “Guess what I’m doing tonight?”
“The fact that you’re doing something is shocking! No staying at home and being an existential poet tonight, huh?”
“Unfortunately, no,” I replied, tucking a wild piece of hair behind my ear.
I talked to Sam for quite a while. She told me about Milo and all of his shenanigans he’d gotten himself in this week and I told her about work and the rainy weather over here. I wished she were closer. I knew she and Milo would have a great time over here and they’d already mentioned visiting. We were talking so much I almost lost track of time and a text from Serena reminded me I had somewhere to be.
“Sam, I have to get ready. Serena just texted me she’s on her way,” I announced, pulling my tired body from the couch and noticing that it had already gotten dark outside.
“Have fu- oh wait! I almost forgot. You got a letter at your old house. Your mom sent it to me knowing I’d probably talk to you first. It’s kind of odd actually.”
“A what? Who’s it from?”
“That’s the odd part. It doesn’t have a return address so I have no idea. I’d meant to text you about it sooner, but it slipped my mind.” I tried to think of who it could possibly be from, but I couldn’t put my finger on anyone in particular. “I can open it if you want,” Sam offered.
“Yeah. I don’t know what it could be.”
“You sure? I don’t wanna read anything personal.”
“I’m sure. I don’t think it’d be anything personal. I don’t know who’d write me about anything personal.”
I heard paper rattling and ripping on the other end of the line before Sam let out a bemused sigh.
“What is it?” I questioned. She stayed silent for a few more seconds.
“That’s so weird,” she stated, her voice sounding extremely confused.
“What?” I wanted to know what she was looking at.
“It’s nothing. Just a blank sheet of paper.”
An uneasy feeling crept into my body, my heart dropping to my knees. I don’t know why it felt so foreboding, but it did. What if it was it the same people that killed Harvey? What if they were looking for me? No. I had no reason to worry. It was just an uncomfortable thing to find because it made no sense. I told Sam to just throw it away and not worry about it. Maybe someone had just made a mistake.
I was still a little tense as I got ready for the night, the empty letter still weighing on my mind. Funny how something with no meaning makes you want to put a meaning to it. I tried to think of an explanation while I curled my light brown hair into loose ringlets, but nothing came together. I looked at myself in the mirror and took a deep breath. I was going to have a good time. I thought I looked quite nice. My short grey dress tied at my shoulders over a black turtleneck, my little gold rose necklace Harvey had given me delicately draped onto my chest. I held it between my fingers before pulling my boots on, trying carefully not to rip my tights before meeting Serena in the lobby of my apartment building.
“Ow, ow! You look hot,” she said reaching out for my hand to give me a spin.
“Shut up, Serena. You look like you’re a pro at this,” I teased her.
It was true though. She was stunning in an emerald green mini dress that hugged her in all the right places. Serena and I were so different and you could see it down to the way we dressed, but her cheeriness and spontaneity was something I needed.
“Let’s go, girl,” she pulled me out into the chilly autumn evening, a light breeze running it’s proverbial fingers through my hair.
At the first club, we had a few drinks with some other friends from work, making jokes about our boss and other magazine-related things. I had forgotten that it’d been a while since I’d drank alcohol and got a little too caught up in the conversation to keep track, feeling a little too tipsy than I had expected to feel this early in the night. By the time we got to the second place, Serena and our other friends were on the dance floor with their hands up and I was stationed in my usual position. Wall hugger. I wasn’t much of a dancer, no matter how much alcohol I drank. The warm feeling of liquor spread across my body as I leaned against the wall people watching. I began to feel a presence beside me, like I was being watched. I turned to see a decently handsome fellow looking at me from a few feet away. I wanted to throw up all of a sudden. He seemed to take the ultra quick darting away of eye contact as a welcome invitation to walk over. For once, I wished I was on the dance floor instead.
“Hey,” he began. The flashing lights danced off of his dark slicked back hair.
“Hello,” I said, visibly uncomfortable.
“I haven’t seen you around here before.”
“I don’t come out often.”
“Not really my thing,” I started into the cup in my hands, begging for this awkward interact to be over.
“So not a party girl, huh? I like that. Intellectual and shit,” he nodded, moving a little closer.
I tried to speak to him politely giving short answers, hoping he’d get the hint and walk away, but it wasn’t working. He continued to talk to me for the next few minutes until I decided it was time to be a little rude.
“Hey, listen, you seem really nice, but I’m not really interested in anything. I’m just here with my friends,” I forced a smile, turning to him.
“Well you fucking talked to me for that long for nothing then?” the guy snapped.
I stepped back, shocked at how he’d reacted.
“You wouldn’t even want to back to my place for just a little bit?”
Where the hell did he possibly get that idea from. I had done everything aside from completely ignore him. I balled my fists at my sides. I wanted to punch him.
“No, like I said I’m just here with my friends,” I said through gritted teeth. I began to get nervous and stepped farther away from him again, only for him to make the space even smaller than before.
“I bet you just say that to play hard to get. I bet if-”
“She said no. Get the fuck away, loser,” a Yorkshire accent snapped from behind me.
I turned around, my gaze meeting with the iciest blue eyes I’d ever seen in my life. The man behind me stood his ground, looking at the creep who’d hit on me like he’d show him something to regret if he fought with him. He wasn’t very tall, but something about his demeanor made him intimidating. Tattoos curved along each of his arms, my eyes taking notice of a bird on his forearm first. Half of what looked like a stag peeked our from under the sleeve of his red tee shirt and I could barely make out little x’s and o’s on his forearm. He crossed his arms, keeping eye contact with the guy that’d been speaking to me.
“Well, the door’s over there,” he pointed to the exit.
I watched as the guy who had been hitting on me quickly made his way out of the bar and turned to thank the unnamed man, but he was gone. I stood on my tippy toes, searching for him, but it was almost as if he’d disappeared into thin air.
I went about the rest of the night looking over my shoulder, making sure the creepy guy from club #2 didn’t follow my friends and I anywhere. I’d never really had a situation like that happen to me before and I didn’t want it to happen again. I was trying to keep up with Serena as she did shots at the last place we went. By now, it was 2:30AM and I didn’t know how many clubs we’d been to at this point. Most of our other friends had left us and the night felt like it should be winding down, but I didn’t want to disappoint Serena and I was having a pretty good time. When I say I was having a pretty good time, I mean the room was spinning and I was finally absolutely plastered enough to let Serena pull me on the dance floor. We jumped up and down, singing words we didn’t know but having the time of our lives. We were both sweating, our hair sticking to the sides of our faces. I could feel the place melting with everyone’s combined body temperature. The room felt like it was moving against my feet and my body was becoming heavier, but I kept on dancing. That is, until a wave of nausea hit me. I stopped moving for a second and wiped the sweat off my forehead watching Serena continue to bounce up and down on her toes. The girl was unstoppable.
“You good?” she practically yelled before turning in a circle.
“I’m gonna step outside for a second. I need some cool air,” I explained, hoping she’d understood it over the booming music.
“I can come with you,” she started.
“I’m fine, really! I’ll be right back,” I gave her a thumbs up and a fake smile before stumbling to the door.
The crisp air should have made me feel better, but the knot in the pit of my stomach only grew. God, I was about to throw up on the side of the street. I looked around for a trashcan, but my dizzy eyes couldn’t find anything. I made my way over to the nearest alleyway and bent over, taking a deep breath. Don’t get sick. Don’t get sick. Don’t get sick. I repeated to myself. It didn’t work.
“Are you alright?” I heard someone say just before I emptied the contents of my stomach onto the sidewalk.
I felt hands carefully pull my hair behind my head as I continued to cough, tears forming in my eyes.
“Is this okay? Do you need anything?”
I shook my head to the stranger before realizing he sounded a little familiar. I pulled my head up slowly, wiping the sides of my mouth before fixing my eyes on the hero of the night.
“You’re really having a tough night, love,” the tattooed guy from earlier chuckled at me as I rolled my eyes.
“What would I do without you, random club man?” I giggled, my words still slurred from too much drinking. “I’m not usually like this, I swear.”
“You’re not from here are you? America?” he questioned. I lazily nodded my head. “Well, Miss America, my name is Jovie. How about we get you back to your friends?”