Her voice broke me out of my reverie, questioning everything about the day that had passed, and I nearly had a heart attack. I didn’t know she got the bus...
“Nathan?!” I looked over at her.
“Oh!” I stepped closer to her, immediately worried because she looked pale, drawn and barely awake. “Are you feeling-?” Her hand flew up and waved out at my cigarette. I hadn’t realised it was still alight, still in my hand.
“Put it out?! Please?” She genuinely frightened me with her yell of fear.
“I’ve nearly finished it,” I said reflexively, tapping it lightly and nudging her foot to try and make her shift slightly so I could stand between her knees, share the warmth of her body. I was freezing, but I tried again, “Are you feeling better?” I smiled.
“I was. For god’s sake, Nathan, put that out.” Flicking the end of it, I brought it down and to the side, cupping my hand around it and stopping the smoke from getting anywhere near of her. She didn’t like it; I wouldn’t make her smell it.
“Christ, Katie, I didn’t know you hated it-”
“It makes you stink!” Her hands were flying all over the place as she half-shouted at me, and I suddenly feared that she would fall over. I bent over and held her knees in place for a second, “When I hug you, I can always tell, and I just don’t like it! What’re you doing to yourself?” She folded her arms again, done with her rant, and I sat beside her, holding the fag away from us, and thinking about what she had said.
It made me feel sick to see her leaning away from me, to not want to be beside me when I had to be close to her to feel alright. My mind was telling me that I needed to breathe that warmth in again, and reflexively, I brought the fag up to my lips again, only to hear her broken murmur as she pulled away. “Please.”
As her fingers reached up, curled around the ciggie awkwardly she pulled it from my mouth, I went to warn her, to tell her she’d burn herself... then she did. My chest tightened and for the second she was in contact with the burning fag end, I think the world stopped. It fizzed as it hit the floor and rolled into a puddle, extinguishing itself tiredly.
I was worried for her now.
“Motherfu-” She shook her hand like it was wet, and I caught her wrist tightly, trying to make her show me it, trying to make me see the burn on her palm. She refused to look at me, pulling away and trying to make me let go, but I flatly refused, sliding my fingers along her thumb to try and make her hand relax.
“Let me see, Katie.” She loosened her hand and I smiled to myself. I sighed, knowing that this was exactly how I had spent most of my time, trying to fix things I had broken, and doing things to make it right again. “All I do is hurt you.” The words left my mouth before I realised I had spoken them aloud, and I froze as I waited for her response.
I couldn’t deny her the right to slap me, the right to tell me off, the right to do anything, but obviously; she hadn’t heard me, because she wasn’t saying a word.
My chest was pounding as she looked at me for a second, and I felt every pain that I had caused her in the past three months amplified in my chest at that moment. Her bright eyes were dulled with pain and I could tell she wanted to pull away, and I realised that, at that second, this was not who I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be the guy who kept hurting the girl he cared about. I didn’t want to smoke and make her feel sick – even though I did it because she made me nervous. She made me want to breathe in the nicotine, because it made me less jumpy to sit there and feel the heat burning my lungs.
“This should be alright, just put some antiseptic on it when you get home, or something.” I wracked my brains to think of the cream my mum had stuck on my burns when I’d first started, and failed, to control my fumbling hands around my lighter. I glanced down at her hand again, making sure she was alright and could bend her fingers, then I glanced up, fixating on the poppy for a second, and ruminating about the fact that, given half a chance, if I was in her situation, I would run and hide on the 11th of November, trying to forget about things that had happened to me. She was stronger and braver than I could ever hope to be, though, and I respected her, and... maybe I loved her even more for it.
“Are you sure?”
“I’ve had worse, trust me.” And I had. I half-considered showing her the one on my thigh that had left a small, permanent, horrible puckered scar about three inches above my knee.
“You’re wrong,” I quirked an eyebrow at her sudden yelp and looked back down at her hand, pressing my lips together in a conscious effort not to retort sarcastically. I lost, as usual.
“I think I know how bad my own burns are,” It came out angry, but I was furious at myself, not her. I just hoped she would understand that. I had caused this, and it wasn’t fair to keep making her feel pain, whether it was physical, or emotional. It just wasn’t fair.
“I meant... you don’t usually...” She looked right into my eyes and I felt the words cut straight through me. “Hurt me.”
She sounded like she was going to jump on me and I half wanted to wrap my arms around her and to hold her tight as the electricity crackled through the fog. I wanted to bring my hand up to her face and lightly press my lips to hers, but I didn’t think it was appropriate, I thought she might... not want that, as far as right now was concerned.
“I don’t mean to.” Because I had to tell her the truth. She had to know what I was thinking and she had to know it straight away. I blinked slightly and tried to keep a straight face, tried not to bite my lip and start to tear up. I stared at her though, trying to see what she was thinking, because I didn’t need her to feel this. I didn’t want her to feel this.
Right now, though, as I let out a long breath, and her lips twitched in a half smile, she was the only thing that mattered, and I wanted her to know that. I toyed with leaning in and kissing her cheek softly, slowly, making her feel how I did.
“I know.” My heart soared as she murmured those words, and leaned in a little closer to me, her lips slightly parted as though she wanted to kiss me. Maybe one of the busses came, because I heard some chatter, but it sounded like white noise to me, radio static when we were The Archers, or something popular and fantastic.
“It’s the last thing I want to do, hurt you,” I had to press the words to her again. I wouldn’t want to hurt her, and she had to know that, “You know that, don’t you?” She nodded and I swallowed, leaning forward slightly.
I shifted slightly, and I felt the corners of my cigarettes sticking into my thigh. That was one thing I could start with, something that would make me change, and for the better. Biting my bottom lip, I thrust my hand into my pocket and forced the cigarettes into her hand, fumbling because I didn’t want to stop looking at her. I could easily buy more, but I realised that, doing this, I could maybe start to change for... for her.
“Wha-” I couldn’t help but smile. She tells me to get rid of them, and then doesn’t understand when I pass them to her to do it for me? Silly Katie.
“Take them.” I wanted to make her destroy them, I wanted to make her see that I was doing this for her, as a promise I could, and would change, and I was doing it for her. She hesitated, her grip faltering slightly. “Please?” She nodded and I glanced over at the kerb, noticing suddenly my bus was on its way. Time to go, Nathan. “This is my bus.” I stepped away from her, threw out my arm and felt ill as I lost contact with her.
“Nathan?” I turned to see her looking at me, her hand still clenched around the fags, almost crushing them. She rushed forward and enveloped me in a hug. “Thank you,” She whispered, “For everything.”
And suddenly, her warm lips were pressed against my cheek, and she was on tiptoe and my arm was around her waist as she kissed me. A level of happy I couldn’t have imagined before hit me, and I let out a long, tired sigh, burying my face into the warm, chocolate scent of her scarf. She pulled away too soon, and I was lost in her grip. It was all over, and I felt like I had missed it.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Nathan.” She tugged at my poppy to make me wake up. She threw me off the world, and then expected me to get the bus home? What the actual fuck?
“C-course...” My lips were moving, but not in the way I wanted to, “... I-erm...” Flinging my hand vaguely at the bus, I stepped onto the platform and beeped in with my Oyster Card, irritated but elated at the same time.
I sat at the back end of the bus and laid my head against the seat in front of me.
Let me relive that. Let me have that again.