This Wretched Heart

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' You hit me with lightning'.

'Starry Eyed' by Ellie Goulding


He was relieved that his parents weren’t home and that he had cleaned his flat. He wasn’t sure why he had asked her back with him. He got the feeling that she wasn’t going to fall into bed with him. He just needed more than just saying goodbye in the park. He wanted to pull her out of the realm of fantasy and slot her into his real life, even just for a few hours.They had walked back to his place, not speaking. She had stopped holding his hand after a while and he assumed she was afraid Peter would somehow happen upon them.What was she even doing here with him. Was she still trying to figure out what to do?

He switched on the radio as she sat down in his living room and he immediately had to switch channels as Azealia Banks catchy but profane lyrics boomed out into the silence ‘ I guess that...’. He cringed and put on one his chill out playlists, Lara hadn’t seemed to notice she was sitting staring around her at the different photos on the wall. He hadn’t realized how gratuitously self involved he had been until now. All the pictures were black and white snapshots of him on his many travels. Beaming out, showing off. To be fair his mother had framed them all for him one Christmas but she hadn’t instructed him to fill his living room with them. He was sure she would find that off putting to say the least. Breathing deeply as the familiar melody began he made his way over to the couch.

‘ So I suppose we should talk’. He was hoping she would straddle him and put her finger to his lips but life was never that kind.

‘ It’s so weird being here. I’ve tried to imagine this place but it’s completely different. It’s...’

‘ Awful ?’ He hadn’t really spent much time decorating it so it had amassed a mish mash of memorabilia and bits and bobs. The walls at least were neutral and the furniture cream and comfortable. He had rugs draped over the couches, not so much for appearances but to hide all the pizza stains he and his friends had managed to create. What he liked the most about his place was that two walls of the living room were covered head to toe in book shelves. He had read most of them. Some he had skimmed, others he had read again and again. He liked having them there beside him. Easy to reach, ready to open unlike the beautiful girl sitting right beside him.

‘ I like your books’. He knew she would. He had imagined her saying that and he felt smug with delight.

‘ Thanks I do too.. you can borrow any you want’ What a teenage thing to say. Next thing he would be making her a mixed tape. The truth was nothing would have pleased him more than to give her a CD of all his favorite music and a bag of all his most loved books. Since the first time he had met her, he had wanted nothing but to share all those things that mattered to him. He was like a toddler and a home-made card, seeking her approval.She was smiling at him and somehow he allowed himself to think that this was all going to be ok.

‘ I told Peter about us.' His heart stopped. ‘ I told him that I can’t help how I feel about you and that I don’t want us to stop seeing each other’.

‘ Oh Lara I’m so sorry. Was he ok?’ He felt genuinely terrible. Of course there was no other outcome if he actually got to be with Lara. Had he really thought that no one would get hurt in all of this? He had always just assumed he would be the wounded party.

‘ So what are you going to do ?’ He was about to tell her she could stay with him if she needed to. It was all becoming so real so quickly.

‘ This is where you’re going to think I’m more bonkers than you may ever have thought.' He had never thought her to be mad even though she always made jokes about her mental health over the years, he had never actually witnessed an episode. Sometimes he thought she was too hard on herself and what he saw as her traits and quirks she considered evidence of her propensity for depression and erratic thinking.

‘ Peter and I have discussed having an open relationship.' He heard the words but felt only a brush of their meaning.

‘ What does that mean Lara ?’ He was baffled.

‘ It means that you and I can be together and that Peter can be with other women.'

‘ You’re kidding me.' He laughed. This was clearly a joke. Her sad eyes and crimson cheeks told him he was wrong.

‘ I’m sorry for laughing but I don’t understand. Are you saying that Peter knows you’re here with me as more than just friends and he’s ok with that?’

'Well ‘ok’ might be generous but yeah I guess that’s what I’m saying.' She put her hand on his arm and although it felt like he should pull away, he couldn’t. He couldn’t do anything but sit there and hear what sounded ridiculous come out of her mouth as if this had always been the most obvious option.

‘ How?' He gulped as his mouth had completely dried up. ‘ One sec I have to get a drink. Do you want one.'

‘ Yes please.'

He poured them both sparkling water in the kitchen. He knew she liked it from their holiday. He looked wistfully at the empty Jack Daniels bottle on the floor beside the bin. He should have saved some for today.

‘ So how did this all come about?’

She explained it all to him. How she felt that although she was completely still in love with Peter she had somehow the ability to feel something for him too. She said she knew it sounded selfish but that giving up her marriage just to explore those feelings was also selfish. She had promised to spend her life with Peter in sickness and in health , through good and bad. This wasn’t a bad patch she reassured him but more of an experiment. She felt bad when she said that.

‘ Sorry that’s not what I mean. It’s just all so new to me too I don’t know if it’s just pure madness.'

‘ It is a bit.' She looked hurt but he couldn’t stop himself ‘ I mean does that just make me your toy-boy on the side?’

He felt as if every man in the universe was shouting at him

‘ Sleep with her you fool, she just wants your body and nothing else. Jackpot’.

He knew that part of him wanted to pretend that he was accepting of this ‘arrangement’ but he couldn’t stop that dirty feeling that had seeped into his skin. Was that what women felt like when he slept with them and never called ?

‘ You’re not my toy boy Sam, you’re more than that’. She moved closer to him. ‘ I wouldn’t be with other men. I just want to be with you.'

‘ And Peter.'

‘ Yes and my husband’.

‘ So would you live here with me half the week and the other with Peter. Do we get joint custody?’ He was being obnoxious but he felt as though she had just landed from LaLaLand.

She stood up. ‘ I think you need time to think about this. It’s not so ridiculous. I mean you told me before that you hate the idea of commitment.'

He remembered saying that and he also recalled the regret which had followed. He had meant it in a way but realized it made him sound flitty and one dimensional. He meant that he wasn’t ready yet to settle down with someone. He hadn’t been in love at the time.

‘ Fair enough but this would just put me in limbo.'

‘ As opposed to what exactly?’ God she was being cutting. He could see now what she meant when she had described how hurtful to Peter she could be.

‘ Look Sam I’m sorry it all has to be so.. so talked out. I just don’t want to be dishonest with anyone anymore. My father lied to my mother and look where that got him. I want to be true to everyone but most of all to myself. I have spent my life clawing my way up out of darkness and I know I’ll slide back if I feel that I’ve hurt anyone by lying to them.'

Fuck. he knew she was coming from a good place but he found himself wishing she had either left Peter for him or just cut him off completely. This was some strange place in the middle and he didn’t know what to call it or how to feel. It wasn’t anything like he had ever envisaged a relationship of his panning out.

‘ I need some time to think about it.' He touched her cheek as she had done his earlier. Its softness alone made him want to agree to everything.

‘ I understand completely. Peter was the same.' He was brought back to all those times she had compared them before. Before everything had become so complicated. When all that was crazy was that he was fantasizing about a married woman.

‘ I’m not saying no I just feel weird and I think I feel guilty about Peter.'

‘ Don’t worry about him. He’ll be doing his own thing.' Her smile stayed on the lips only.

‘ But I was friends with Peter. What now ?’

‘ He doesn’t want to hang out anymore obviously.' She grinned a little at that. 'It could be awkward to say the least.'

‘ We could compare notes’. They both chuckled and her smile put him at ease.

‘ Does he hate me?’ He knew the answer but today anything could be possible.

‘ I don’t think so. I mean he sees that really it’s nobody’s fault. We didn’t set out to hurt him.’

‘ We didn’t exactly avoid it either’. She was silent then and he knew she felt regret. He was the one who had started it all. What had made him run after her that day ? He still wasn’t sure.. Standing up to leave she looked awkward and unsure. He stood up and hugged her. He wasn’t sure whether he would get the chance again.

‘ I’ll call you’. He gulped.

He could hear the ‘yeah right!’ in her head.

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