June woke up with a sound of a car tyre popping somewhere down the street. It was dark outside and she turned to the clock on her side table. Four thirty in the morning. Until that moment, she’d been very calm, and suddenly she could no longer just roll back and go back to sleep. Her nerves were edgy. She could hear her own deep breathing. She didn’t need to be awake for another two hours, but she couldn’t do it. she tossed around for another fifteen minutes before flinging the covers away and slipping into the warm fluffy robe.
She crept downstairs after splashing her face with ice cold water and quickly brushing her teeth. As she passed halfway down the stairs, she noticed the door to the study slightly ajar and light pouring out into the long slender corridor towards the kitchen.
June approached the study and pushed the door with a finger very lightly. “Chad?” Chad held up a finger into the air. His head was down, and he scribbled on a journal as fast as he could. When he finished the sentence he was writing, he looked up. “What time is it?”
“Why are you up?” his brows creased in disapproval.
June’s brows rose. “Why are you up? Did you even go to bed last night?”
Chad shook his head, putting the pen down on the page and closing the book up. “I was writing.”
He shrugged, pushing back his chair and stretching. “I do that when I’m in the mood.”
June nodded. “Is that how you wrote all those books?”
Chad laughed. “Maybe.” He approached her and watched her step aside from the doorway. “Why are you up though? It’s only five in the morning.”
“Some stupid car popped its tyre.”
“Nervous?” she nodded. “Don’t be. They are all morons and they are new to this. You’ll be right.”
“Don’t say that! I hate that saying. You’ll be right?!” she grimaced. “What does that even mean? Dad used to say it all the time, and nothing’s ever been right.”
Chad stood there a little shocked. What the hell had he really said to rile her up? He kind of wanted to laugh, but thought better of it. “I didn’t mean anything by it,” he said, sounding rather baffled. “All I meant is that you’ll be fine, because you know what you’re getting into more than the first years.”
June stared. “I don’t’ think I can do this!”
“Yes, you can.”
“I haven’t been to Uni in almost a year, Chad. All my friends are a year ahead of me now, and I can’t avoid them.”
“Then don’t avoid them.”
“And if they ask what happened?” she scowled. “What do I say then?”
“The truth.” Chad poured coffee into the largest cup he could find. When he turned back, she was just standing there unresponsive. “Whatever the truth is.”
“I don’t want to tell them the truth,” she shook her head. “I don’t want to tell anyone what happened, or what I’ve done, where I’ve been, or where I lived the last year of my life!” she suddenly screamed. “I don’t want to!”
“Then lie!” Chad suggested, unsympathetic. As much as he wanted to console her and tell her things will be fine, he didn’t want to. Why should he? Why should she be the only one who gets to be told that life will work out one day? Who was there to tell him that?
He took a sip of his coffee, walking back to his study. “Just lie.” He swung the door almost and sat back down at his desk.
What had gotten into him suddenly? He massaged his temples and re-read the text on his phone again.
[Setal: I miss you! Can we try again? Maybe I just wasn’t ready for marriage, you know. Can I swing by…bring you your favourite breakkie?]
Chad read the words again and again, continuing to massage his temples. He could feel a headache starting somewhere deep and couldn’t focus on clarity of thought. He could hear June quietly rattling around in the cupboard for a cup and couldn’t think of anything but the need to apologise for his rashness.
He rose to his feet and marched out, only to catch her sneakily wiping at the corners of her eyes. He watched her a moment from the doorway and could feel an uneasiness settle in him somewhere. He cleared his throat to get her attention. “I’m sorry. I just…sometimes, I’m not very good at this whole social, say the right thing.”
June shook her head, her voice cracked from the emotions. “It’s not your fault.”
“Still, I shouldn’t have been as blunt.”
June nodded, stirring her coffee distractedly.
“Do you want me to drop you off this morning?”
She shook her head.
“I’m not doing anything else,” he continued.
“You’ve already done plenty for me, Chad.” She was blunt too.
Chad nodded, disappearing back into his cave. So much for apologises. He’d completely missed that train. He grabbed his cell phone from his desk and typed a message finally.
[Come after 9.]
He stared at it a moment before sending it off. He had no idea what he was doing. Setal had walked out of his life almost two months ago without a care. Now suddenly, she wanted to come back? The anticipation, he could feel it settling on him like cement.
When he re-emerged from his study, the house was unusually quiet. He looked at the time and it was almost seven. “June?” he called out, heading upstairs with the assumption she might be in her room. The door was slightly closed. He walked over and knocked. There was no response. Either that, or she was quiet, annoyed at him, he thought.
“Look, June… I don’t know what has happened in your life, or what you’ve had to go through, but, I do know you’ve been through a lot and somehow that makes you seem much stronger than most.”
He paused, waiting for her to tell him to go away. At least that’s what he was expecting. “It’s your first day back to Uni and I don’t want you to start thinking it’s not for you, you know?! You were studying medicine for goodness sake! Do not through that away.”
Chad waited a few seconds again. June was still too quiet for his liking. He finally pushed the door open and found the room June-less. He eyed his watch. Just after seven. Way too early for her to leave already. He brought out his phone and typed a fresh message.
[Where’d you go already? Look, I’m sorry if I spoke out of line this morning. Please let me know at least when you leave home. I was talking to your door like a loony for ten minutes before I realised you were gone. Just a concerned neighbour upstairs. Chad]
Then it suddenly dawned on him that June didn’t yet have a phone. He saved the message anyway and stared about the room. It was the first time he’d gone into that room since June had moved in. It was bare, but at least it had some homely touches. The bed was made, her clothes were in a neat pile on top of the little foot storage. She’d placed a small photo frame on the night stand.
Chad moved in closer to take a look and discovered a photo of June, her arms wrapped around the necks of two adults, a male and female. Chad couldn’t help but smile. “Hello Mum and Dad!” he whispered, his eyes roving back to June when she was a young platinum blonde with a beautifully long hair and an infectious smiles that reached her dazzling brown eyes.
It was perhaps the happiest he’d seen her and wondered what had stolen her smile away. He noticed in the background of the photo a bike, and suddenly could no longer stare at the photo. Uneasily, he walked out the room. Did June ride bikes? “No, it can’t be”, he muttered. It can’t be. Chad hated bikes. He hated the look of them, hated the sound they made, and most of all, he hated the fact that the rider was completely unprotected.
He shook his head, muttering beneath his breath, unable to shake the memory, unable to drown out the noise, the screams. He placed the photo back and walked out of the room and straight into his own. He went straight for the shoebox beneath his bed where he kept his meds. He popped two sleeping pills and downed them with the water in the bottle on his nightstand. He then threw himself under the covers, pressing his palms into his temples and burying his face.
No bikes! He kept muttering, as if a way to keep the memories and his headache at bay.
It wasn’t till around 4 when he woke up to the ringing of doorbells. Groggily, he walked down and opened the door. There stood Setal, splendid, beautiful and with a knowing smirk on her face.
He was sure he was staring at her, but he couldn’t help himself. After all, she was the last person he was expecting to be knocking on his door. “What are you doing here?”
Setal pushed past him without being invited in. It made Chad even more curious, though he did feel a hint of anger too.
“You do realise you don’t live here anymore?” he said flat out, leaving the front door still open. There could be a chance she was leaving, right?
“You invited me this morning, remember?” she turned, grabbing the door and closing it. “Besides, Jo said she hasn’t heard from you in a while.”
“Well, I’ve been busy.”
Setal narrowed her dark eyes at him. She was a small petite woman, thought Chad, a woman with devilishly good length of dark wavy hair, and eyebrows that arched like a gymnast’s back. “Doing what?” she asked, raising those very eyebrows at him.
“I work, Setal, what else?”
She huffed, peering around the place. “You haven’t even bought a TV yet?”
“I have enough drama in my life right now thanks to you,” he almost gritted his teeth. He’d never really told her how much she’d broken his heart that day. How could she know? She hadn’t even had the courtesy to finish the meal with him.
“I’ll see you back at the house,” she’d said, pushing back her chair, grabbing her bag and leaving Chad to face the restaurant full of people, still down on his knees.
Setal stared at him, and suddenly he felt tied to her again. The tie that had made him propose to her in the first place. He tried shoving those feelings back as if they were play-dough oozing out of an ill-fitting box.
“What brings you anyway?”
Setal pouted, her hand on her hip as she calculatedly stalling Chad. “I…” she cleared her throat and Chad just felt a desperate need to lunge at her, or wrap himself around her, which, he wasn’t yet decided on. He hadn’t really realised what a wimp little mess he’d become till that very moment. So unlike all the rugged, handsome and emotionally stable counterparts he usually penned.
He could feel an odd knotting of his throat. He was so close to crying. Oh God! Make it stop! He thought as his vision blurred with a layer of tears. He turned away immediately and strode off to the kitchen, reaching for the coffee machine for desperate want of distraction. He was a grown man for God’s sake.
“Pull it together!” He scolded himself as he heard Setal’s heels clicking into the room behind him.
“You say something?” she cooed.
Why was she doing that? Playing standoffish then cooing at him the next minute, not to mention she’d broken up with him all over a diamond ring. Which woman refuses diamond? He thought angrily.
“No. Want coffee?” He knew she’d never say no to coffee. It was like asking the hungry if they wanted food. Setal was a coffee addict since he’d known her. In fact, that’s how they’d first met, at the café where Chad spent his morning normally. She’d accidentally taken his coffee only to bring it back to Tylor and telling him he’d gotten her very specific order completely and utterly wrong. She’d asked for non-fat soy, one shot, vanilla latte, with exactly one and three quarter spoon of sugar. She had not asked for a drip coffee with honey in it.
“Who drinks coffee with honey anyway?” she had sounded so disgusted.
“Me?!” Chad had chimed in at that moment, Tylor and him both smirking at each other. “That would be my coffee!”
She’d been very embarrassed, apologising to him profusely while still telling him coffee and honey were abominable. He’d kind of fallen in love with her somewhat that very moment.
“Chad?” Setal called out, breaking his memory diving.
“What?” he poured two cups of coffee and took one to her. “Why are you here?” he finally asked, very much with hurt and longing in his voice. “To see if I was still as pathetic as when you left me that night?”
“Oh God, you’re still not on about that, are you, honey?” she shook her head. “I’d never really made it a secret that I was marrying anyone other than an Indian, Chad. You knew that from the beginning.”
“Then what were you doing with me?” Ah, and those tears were threatening him again like a nasty punch. He wished he could punch them back just as fiercely.
She stared at him levelled and shrugged. “What young people do, date.”
He felt crushed. “Three years is not what young people do without intension for the long haul!” he spat, pushing away his coffee. He suddenly felt very, very sick, like he was going to throw up.
Setal took a step closer to him, dropping her handbag on the kitchen counter. “Chat?”
He shook his head. He couldn’t hold them back anymore, the tears.
“Chad,” she whispered, moving closer. He felt her smooth touch on his cheek. Her hand slowly turned him to face her. No! he was screaming in his head. He knew what was coming. Setal wasn’t here for him, not really.
He looked up, despite a desire to push her away as well as pull her into his arms. He found her staring at him with those eyes. Eyes he’d never been able to refuse. Before he knew it, she was kissing him, and the worst part was, he was kissing her back. His hands roamed over her like they’d done so many times. His mind swam. What the hell was going on? Was she here to ask him to take her back because she’d made a mistake?
Are you taking her back? His mind suddenly knocked over with the thought. “Setal…” he tried to break free for just a moment, just a tiny moment.
“Shh…” she pushed her against the cupboards. “Just, don’t talk!” He felt her hands removing the tie around his robe, her hand slipping around his hips, pulling him closer.
His last thought before his mind was rendered temporarily out-of-order was, Chad, she left you once. That thought however wasn’t strong enough to keep his feet planted to the ground. Setal was pulling him, navigating to his room upstairs.
If only his feet stopped following her demand! Damn you! He thought one last time before registering the sound of his bedroom door slamming behind them.