I was lying alone in a double bed, doing terrible things to a pair of knickers. The house was White’s girlfriend’s student house – the room an absent house-mate’s. Every few minutes an ambulance would roll past in the night, turning the room into a silent disco, red and blue. Whenever this happened, she smiled at me, the girl, from the hundreds of photos on her walls.
There was knocking at the door.
“Yeah?” I pulled over the duvet, tucking myself in. The door scraped over carpet, stopped, and then White flicked on the light. He stood there in unbuttoned jeans, rubbing his eyes.
“Class night,” he said, and I nodded, although I had spent the last two hours of it pouring drinks into toilets and checking the time on my phone.
“Turn the light off,” I said. He turned it off and lay down along the end of the bed. I waited for him to say something.
“It’s so cool you came,” he said, head down like he was talking to Betty Boop on the duvet cover, “I mean, all my best mates up here together. But you and me, man. We’re like brothers. I’m serious – we’re like brothers or something.”
“Thanks,” I said. “What’s up?” He didn’t move for a moment and I began to think he’d fallen asleep. “What’s up?” I said again.
“I swear that Irish girl’s cheating on me.” Just then an ambulance went past and the lights started rolling around the room. I looked up and took a tour of the house-mate’s life. Hair blown back by a rollercoaster. Some tattooed boy by a pool. Parties from year ten onwards: the plainer girls pushed to the sides as she became beautiful.
“How sure are you?” I said, sitting up and feeling the knickers brush my legs. “Because I don’t get the feeling Caoimhe would–”
“I swear she’s cheating on me.”
He fell forward onto the duvet and sighed. “Texts.”
“From this Charlie bloke. Work mate. Blatant douchebag, right, clearly just wants to bang her.” He turned over and spoke to the ceiling. “But no: ‘We’re pals, Tom, he’s my pal from work.'”
“Good impression,” I said.
“Thanks, I know.”
“So what’s the problem?” I said. “They’re mates; he’s a loser.”
White sat up. “He is a loser. One of those gamers – you know. Probably likes Lord Of The Flies or something, probably goes to fucking wizard conventions. It’s actually funny. But you should see the fucking texts he sends her. ‘Bought some new boxers you can help me remove.’ It’s actually funny.”
“It’s out of her control,” I said. “It proves nothing in itself.”
“He’s one of those gamer boys. Ugly cunt. Works at Costa, right, full-time – he’s twenty-five or something – and then he goes home and plays his games and has a wank. It’s actually funny.”
I heard footsteps on the landing. White fell back onto the bed. “But I swear she’s going with him.”
“I very much doubt it.”
“I swear down she is, mate. I know I deserve it. It’s basic karma for all the times I went with other people.” He paused. “The worst was that Sophie – I shagged her on Caoimhe’s birthday when Caoimhe was downstairs.”
“You bastard,” I said.
“I know. And she wasn’t even fit.” There was a silence, a long one, and from far away on another street came the noise of people arguing, a girl shouting Leave him alone. “Dylan,” said White, “Can I sleep in here?”
I sat up. “Go back to Caoimhe, mate.”
He stood and reached to lift the covers back; I held them down.
“Mate, you can sleep with me or you can sleep with Caoimhe. I know which one I’d choose.”
The door brushed over the carpet and there she was. Caoimhe flicked the light on and stood in the doorway wearing a grey dressing gown, no makeup. Her long black hair was wet at the ends from where she’d been sick and wiped it out.
“Turn the light off,” said White into the duvet. She turned it off and all I could see of her was a slant of street-light across her face.
“Are you coming to bed?” She might have been talking to either one of us, or both. “Dylan, will you please tell Tom to come to bed with me?”
“Tom,” I said – he was pretending to be asleep – “Will you please do the right thing and go to bed with Caoimhe. Look at her, for God’s sake. If you don’t go, I will.” She laughed; strings pulled inside me.
“And will you also tell Tom that I’m not cheating on him with Charlie from work?”
“Tom,” I said. “Come on. Of course she’s not cheating on you with Charlie from work. And even if she is, who cares! She’s here now. Look at her, for God’s sake. I think I’m in love with her.”
No one spoke. From far away came the noise of smashed glass, screaming. Finally, White rolled off the bed and onto the carpet. As he fell he took the duvet with him, and I lunged forward to pull it back.
“What was that?” said Caoimhe.
“Nothing,” I said. “Shadows.” They stood in the doorway and pressed their foreheads together. As they kissed an ambulance went past, and I watched the fluttering lights on their faces. For a long time after they had gone, I could still hear them. I lay there, still tangled with the knickers, and I listened: to the toilet slamming, to White falling over, and finally to the faint but rhythmic squeaking that came through the wall.
Next morning the pavements shimmered with broken glass. I had lost my shoes, and it would be months before they arrived in the post from Caoimhe. By then she’d have finished with White and would be seeing Charlie from work. The sun was out and the pavements were hot. At the bottom of the road White took his trainers off so we’d be barefoot together. We tiptoed across the city, and as we spoke, about football, films, and girls, I looked down and imagined the tarmac had turned to soil, the glass to fallen nettles, and that we were weaving through trees on our way to the rope swing, many summers before.
Jack Brodie is twenty-two, and has been writing “seriously” for about two years. During his degree he took a Creative Writing module under the novelist Joe Stretch, and his final portfolio, completed some months later, was awarded ninety percent. Since graduating he has devoted much of his time to writing.