4:33, Downhill From ThereMature

The warmth of dawn through the break in the curtain cradled Jodie’s face as she woke. She stretched her body out, slinging an arm over eyes, as she refused to fully wake just yet. She smiled as she felt a pair of eyes on her. Mumbled a ‘what?’ without turning to meet them. Refusing to leave the snug feeling of not actually not having anywhere to go. Anything to do. She could just lay here. Bianca shook her head, smiling in response. God she hurt. Who’s stupid idea was it to go dancing?

The both lay there. Neither really knew where to start. Forgetting the rabbit hole they’d plunged down last night was impossible. They weren’t drunk. Not even tipsy. They were completely aware, even if they were fighting it, of what they were doing. For barely a minute they’d shut out the real world, and given in. And now, in the stark reality that a new morning could bring, they both found themselves surprisingly calm.

“How you feeling?” Arm still over eyes. “Going for a run this arvo I reckon,” Bianca deadpanned. She found Jodie’s hand. Closed the distance between them as she brought their arms across her stomach, fingers entwined. Bianca rolled onto her side, took a little breath, then lightly kissed Jodie on the shoulder, before dragging herself out of bed to the shower.

She didn’t go back to bed. Jodie had drifted back to sleep, allowing Bianca a few precious moments to study her. A wry smile escaped her lips. She really didn’t know where on earth they’d go from here. Flat footed, she padded down the hall to fix herself some breakfast. No doubt Jodie wouldn’t surface till late this afternoon.

And so it was, when Jodie came up behind Bianca, who was sitting on the couch with her tousled hair, looking every bit the model she could of been. Late. 4:33 to be exact. Bianca had barely moved. The tv was playing a US sitcom re-run, standard Sunday afternoon television. Practically hugging her laptop as she studied a black and white image on the screen.

“What’s that?” Bianca jumped. She hadn’t heard her. Jodie soon found herself in the kitchen, busying herself a sandwich, as Bianca filled her in on the proposal. She’d received an email earlier asking if she’d compile some images for a gallery exhibition. A magazine she’d done a lot of work for was a having a ‘25 years of’, and they wanted some of Bianca’s previously unpublished photos that hadn’t made it into any of their issues. So she was flicking through files that she’d hidden away years ago.

Setting herself up in the recliner adjacent to the couch, Jodie perched her plate on her knees, taking a sip out of what was becoming her favourite mug. “I didn’t know you still...” caught herself. It came out so casually. “What? Worked?” The fury that could be Bianca met her gaze, and burned through her. The tranquility of their little morning encounter long gone. Here came the heart break. The broken dreams their subconscious tried to warn them of last night. Jodie shook her head. Tried to shake the moment away. “No really, I want to know. Seriously, what’d you think I’ve been doing all this time?” She was biting. Artists were passionate people. Passion was emotion. Bianca never held hers back. She would of made a great Italian.

“I don’t know.” Quietly.

“No?” Defiant.

Jodie just looked at her. No longer hungry.

“You reckon I just lay here” gestured to the apartment in general - “pissed?” Still no response.

“Figures, really. It’s why you left.” No question. Statement. Fact. “Figured I’d drink myself to my death, rot in the sheets.”

“Are you fucking serious?” She was standing, sandwich forgotten. She was pissed. Hand on hip, a finger pointed. “You were a fucking joke! I almost lost my job because of you. You sucked out every bit of life I had!” Bianca glared back at her, daring her to keep going. Jodie rubbed her face. Pressing on. “You have no idea what it was like, watching you disappear. So don’t you fucking dare be - whatever the hell you are - that I’m surprised that you’re still working.” Exasperated, “I’m surprised you got your shit together at all.”

“Well I did, no thanks to you!” Her tone insolent.

“Clearly.” She spat back. “You wish I hadn’t?” “What?No.” Her body deflated.”This is ridiculous.” Rubbed her face again. “Of course I’m surprised you’re still working. Not in general, but the same job.” She was calling a truce. Careful to keep her tone neutral. “I don’t know what you’ve been doing,” she paused, waiting for the attack which never came. She took up her position in the recliner once more. “I honestly don’t know what I thought.”

Four, five years ago, Bianca would’ve left the house. Gone to the pub, gone for a run. A drive. Melted her mood away with some Johnny Cash. He always calmed her right down. But her body was a mess. Moving wasn’t something she’d be doing a lot of this week. So she held fast. She really didn’t know what to say. She was pissed. And frustrated. Pick an emotion, she was feeling it. She sat there, trying to organise her scattered thoughts into something coherent. She put the laptop on the coffee table. For a second, Jodie thought she was going to say something. Maybe even leave. Bianca thought she was going to say something. She wanted to, tried even. But the mess inside her head left no sentence that made any kind of sense. Elbow propped on the arm rest, she held her chin in her left hand, eyes on Jodie. Imploring for some kind of help. What to say. There was so much she wanted to say, that was the problem.

When Bianca remained silent, Jodie knew she’d stay that way for a while. Over the course of the afternoon and early evening, not a word was shared. It was almost like those first couple of weeks in the hospital. Each woman had accepted the others presence, nothing more. They’d shared a couple of glances.Trying to decipher what lay behind each others eyes. Agonizingly, Bianca left the embrace of the couch, unable to ignore her growling stomach anymore. Leaning against the open fridge door, she had no idea what she felt like. Shutting the door, she ambled towards the liquor cabinet. Poured herself a nip of whiskey instead, then back to the couch. More US sitcom re-runs.

“You going to carry on because I’ve settled for this instead of food?” Jodie shot her a look that screamed fuck off. Bianca smirked, then let a mouthful of whiskey caress her throat. For a long moment, it was quiet. The two of them mindlessly watching the television. And then words found her.

“I went cold turkey.” Jodie flicked her eyes in her direction, then back at the tv. Bianca’s fingers played with the rim of her glass. “After I realised you’d gone,” a regretful pause. It really had taken her a week to notice. The woman who had meant so much to her, had been gone a whole week.Saying it out loud, for the first time, made it even more brutal. For both of them. “ I couldn’t get out of bed.” Jodie really looked at her then. “Literally.” She couldn’t quite interpret the look that had settled across the other woman’s face. Somber, maybe. “I went 4 days without one drink. Didn’t even know it.”Slowly, she went. And Jodie wondered, for the first time, if she’d ever spoken about that time in her life. “Connor, who used to live next door?” Jodie nodded. “I can’t remember what, but he noticed something and thought I’d died.”

She didn’t know what she was looking at for a second. Then, a face. A man. She knew that face. What the fuck was that smell? He was putting her in the bath. Her senses - her mind, slowly thawed into almost consciousness. And then she absently began to wash. Vacant eyes fixated on thin air. And then she sat. Didn’t notice the water going cold.

Connor. It was Connor that had put her in the bath. Made her a bath. And now he was wrapping her in a towel, and carrying her back towards the bed. She noticed new sheets. There were new sheets on the bed. They felt so clean. And then he was putting on her tracksuit pants. Moving so gently, as if he could startle her to death with one wrong move. Now a t-shirt. One that Jodie loved to see her in. She she felt it. Felt that loss all over again.
She was drunk when she noticed, for the first time, the state of the kitchen. There were bottles and glasses everywhere. The island, the sink. Bench - all covered. When she awoke, hungover and putrid on the couch later, she noticed Jodie’s laptop charger wasn’t plugged in to it’s normal spot. She couldn’t make sense of why it wouldn’t be there. New drink in hand, she’d searched the house high and low for that charger. She put it down when she went to their wardrobe, had found some of her clothes missing. All her shoes. Sitting on the bed, talking to Jodie’s office, Bianca was told she’d gone to London. Shouldn’t they have discussed that? She hung up, then spewed verbal abuse at Jodie’s voice mail, before passing out.

She hadn’t gone 10 months without one day of alcohol, and a lot of it. When she finally came to, on top of her sheets - hours later, all she could hear, see, feel, taste, was that Jodie had gone to London. She’d gone a fair few hours without alcohol, and her body wasn’t coping already. She sat up, thinking she’d be sick, but the room span with such force she’d shut her eyes against it, and managed to crawl under the sheets. Four days later, when Connor found her, she was covered in her own urine, and a little bit of vomit.

“I’ve never seen him again.” So quietly. That morning, or evening...she still didn’t really know, Connor had managed to break whatever it was that needed breaking within her. When she next awoke, clean sheets, clean hair, and clean clothes left her embarrassed. And heart-broken. Hungover, sick. She rolled over, and made her first sober decision in months. She found the remote, and turned on the tv.

The End

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