Wake up musty, achy-limbed but satisfied - lazy and delirious with thoughts that won't slot together and a head that won't process them. Everything is good. Cum has smeared dry on my stomach, between my thighs in crusty lines that tighten on the small hairs across my skin, itchy and tight. But it's Ryan; it's perfect. The rest of me is sea salty – hair and lips and water mottled skin. Too heavy to move, I don't even try to, just breathe a little deeper and relax.

Needed that. God, did you need that.

Stretched like a cat and smiling like one as well. It's warm, calm and the sunset's tinting the sky pink. Martins and bats swoop up close under the eaves following the insect trails, but they're just a streaked blur when watching from the bed. The blank white wall opposite the window's got a burnished glow and the bricks of the fireplace look warm. This place needs people who remember how to be just that. My yawn comes double length and loud, all teeth and air as I finally roll over shifting back to wrap up in arms again.

But Ryan's gone.

The sheets are rucked, but he's not there. His clothes aren't anywhere either.

Gravel skids somewhere close by outside – a little muted by the window glass, and there's the noise of his engine revving. Instantly I know that the slam of the front door must have been what woke me up. My eyes snap closed. My throat tightens.

He left.

My stomach's aching for food and my breath comes out shaky as I drag it in.

He said he wouldn't, but he's not here now, is he?

How could you be so stupid, Alf.

My tongue's too thick and God, I wish I could choke on it. Rocking forwards, hunched up, ill-feeling, arms locked around knees, all blanket nested, dirty, horrible, pathetic thing. Made you beg for it, didn't he? No wonder he's not here.

The heels of my palms force tight against my eye sockets, because I can't – don't you dare, Alf - can't sit here and let those tears burn up the back of my throat, can't forget how to breathe like I want to. Can't disappear, stop existing, because it hurts, it hurts too badly for there to be an easy way out.

He said he wouldn't leave.

You thought he was going to stay? Thought he was going to tell Greg he'd picked you Dog Boy? Thought he'd settle for a fucked-up kid? Real Fantasy Land there. Maybe your dad's not the only one who needs some help.

Everyone always leaves. It's time you learnt that, got used to it.

Enough. Have to get over it because the job's more important and the money, and then screw the lot of them, screw every single person on this rotten island. And Damn Ryan for pretending there could have been something better, something more.

Get it together, and don't act broken. It's just like Peter – pretend you were never out for anything more.

Breathe, Alf. Remember how to do that? It helps. In and out and stop snivelling. You're really past help if you think that's your heart breaking. He didn't get close enough for that.

I swipe at my eyes and heave a deep breath, turning to get out of bed, both feet on the floor. I'll strip the sheets off, go downstairs and rifle through the cupboards for another tin of ravioli, heat it up and sit down in the kitchen next to Dad, watching someone on the telly talk about something, and pretend Dad's watching too, and pretend that being numb's ok. Tell him Ryan won't be coming over any more. Tell him about how Peter's got a new friend, but it's ok, because you'd been growing apart for ages - arguing more than talking. And ignore the way he won't understand any of it.

You can do it, Alf. You have to. Have to turn up to work tomorrow and act like nothing's wrong; have to start pretending now or it'll never ring true. Go swimming tomorrow – battle it out with the cold sea and spit and swear at that if you want to, just choose a different beach so nothing reminds of that barefoot stumble to the shore with Ryan pressed to your back, whooping happily.

Look around for that discarded pair of jeans and the top I ripped off so enthusiastically. Can't sit here naked and wishing for another outcome. That was his engine, his thick wheels skidding off, flinging the gravel in the path high as he sped out of here, nothing in the world can change that.

Maybe there was some emergency back at the hotel, but that seems a foolish thing to hope for. Anything not involving Greg would have been your business too.

One of the martins batters into the window and there's a ruffle of wings and the sudden scratch of clawed feet before it pushes off again as fast as it hit and I start slightly at the sound. My jeans are sprawled half across the floor and I let out a final slow breath before I force myself to deal with this.

Can't crumple. Can't afford to. Just deal with it, move on.

I find a pair of socks after I've buttoned my fly, pull out another t-shirt and a jumper to keep the chill off. I want to be too hot. I want to be smothered and cosy and fat with overbundled warmth because then nothing else can touch me.

A wave of tightness hits, searing up my throat and I choke trying to smother it to nothing. It doesn't matter. It really doesn't matter, because I'm leaving and there was no point hoping he'd care. I'm leaving and I'll be fine because I don't need anybody at all.

My eyes are blurry as I turn towards the bed, angry and letting it out as I tug at the sheets. I rip the duvet off, yank it out of its cover, tug at the corners of the fitted sheets and if it rips, I'd be glad. If I have to throw these out, then good. If these pillow cases are never used again, then I won't notice the loss. My fingers won't work properly – they stay curled in the sheet and won't unclench and my chest won't let the air out properly.

He should have fucked me on the beach instead of pretending he wanted something tender. I never asked him to come into my house – he didn't need to make it even less of a home.

I'm sobbing as I kick the lot into a bundled heap. The skin on my stomach is sore and scratchy with his cum, and I don't want it there. The shower will be cold and I don't want to be cold, but I have to get him off – can't smell like the pair of us combined any longer than this.

I bundle the bed linen up and head towards the bathroom.

His bag is just inside my bedroom door where he set it down when I showed him in.

How dare he leave it here and expect me to bring it to him like nothing had happened? Like his shirt he let me borrow after my birthday when we were just friends and it really was nothing at all.

The spare helmet he lets me use is sitting next to it on the bare boards and I want to hurl it as far out of the window as I can.

And then I hear skidding pebbles, the noise of his bike engine speeding in and slowing to a stop. I hear the creak of the garden gate echo up distorted through the gaps in the ill fitting windows and through the thin sheet glass and I forget how to swallow.

He's coming back?

I freeze at the noise of the front door, the jog he makes up the staircase and I stare down at the sheets bundled in my arms, leaning heavily against the wall because I don't know how to hold myself upright any more.

I drop the sheets. My arms give up holding them and the thin, single cotton billows out in a spinnaker sail, parachuting on the way down. A scrap of paper flutters out from the bundle before it settles down, skidding quickly away in the downdraft.

Ryan's large, slightly rounded scrawl is printed large enough for me to read even just staring down at it.

Gone to get dinner.


My hand covers over my mouth because my eyes are stinging and I don't want him to walk in on me sobbing. The burn up my throat isn't there, but my eyes are brimming over and it hurts in a different, duller kind of way. Why was I expecting him to do everything he'd said he wouldn't?

No time to really wonder that – his large strides bring him quickly down the corridor and I blink hard and fast, turning away just as he pushes the door open and his eyes light on me.

"Fucksake, Alf. You were supposed to stay in bed."

I snort a wet laugh, managing a smile on a quick glance that doesn't let him see too much before I turn away again. I shrug, steadying my breathing before I get any words out. "Thought you might like clean sheets. If you're staying over."

He stops swinging the plastic bag he has gripped in one hand. I can smell vinegar and chips and through the thin plastic are bundles wrapped up in newspaper. The local fish and chip shop is the best in the area and it's only five minutes away – probably three the way Ryan pushes his bike.

His eyes level on me and he'd suddenly very still, very attentive, the only movement the slight pulling together of his eyebrows. It feels like we're playing 'bullshit' and he's about to call me out.

"You didn't see the note," he says calmly and I realise that much is obvious because otherwise it wouldn't be in the middle of the floor. I shrug because my throat gags me and I don't trust my voice to let me speak.

"You thought I'd gone," he continues, in the same fact-stating tone and I try to shake my head, but even I don't know why I'm lying.

His frown crinkles deeper and he steps past me a little more warily. The bounce in his stride has vanished and his smile isn't broad enough. "Right. Okay." He breathes out heavily, not looking at me as he delves in the bag for the first newspaper parcel. "I'm half starved. Figured you must be. They alright on the bed? Didn't know what you wanted, but everybody likes cod and chips."



I have some stupid need to explain, because he's looking wounded and I need him to understand. "Greg... he said you weren't – that you just-"

He looks up sharply and every inch of him is irritation. "Fuck what Greg said, alright Alf? How about what I say?"

My nostrils flare. I feel them do it. Listening to him would be so easy, but I know he's not telling me everything. If he hated Greg so badly he wouldn't be around him. There's more to it, I know there is.

"Then why d'you let him fuck you?" The words blurt out before I can stop them and Ryan glares at me.

"Oh, what now?"

"After I borrowed your shirt. After he deep fried your fucking leg. You let him. I know – everyone in that kitchen knows."

Ryan practically snarls, but it's not at me. His nose wrinkles up and his hand tugs into his hair. "Yeah? You all know, do you?" He shakes his head and hands me the other tightly wrapped newspaper packet.

He sits down on the bare mattress and unwraps the paper securing his bundle, forking into the steaming, vinger-infused mass with a tiny wooden prong that looks so stupid in his broad hand.

"You don't know anything. I told you, Greg's a vindictive fuck."

"So why's he hanging round?" Don't want to have this fight, but it's gone past the point where I can push it to the back of my mind. Ryan didn't deserve me thinking everything I thought of him before I knew he was coming back.

His eyes move up to meet mine and he shoves at the fish and chips; I'm hungry, but just now I don't feel like eating mine.

"I owe him money," he says shortly, ducking his head back down in a way that makes me not want to ask how much. He shrugs uncomfortably and a humourless smile stretches taut on his face, lips far too thin. Do I believe that? Maybe.

"It's always complicated when you're with someone a long time. We did a lot of splitting up – a lot of getting back together. And I guess he thinks it's all just the same old cycle. But it's not. I'm done with him and everything else. He'll fuck off when he realises that. He's always hated it here."

He breathes out, shrugging again and part of me thinks I'm being palmed off, but I can hardly ask for more information, when officially Ryan thinks I'm keeping chickens in the kitchen rather than my dementia-ridden father. Even though I've half-way told him, he's been good enough not to ask; the least I can do is return the favour.

"Ok," I mutter softly, sitting down next to him, one leg under me and then letting myself trace over the line of his shoulder blade and the soft muscles that spread down to his back and along, under his armpit and let my forehead rest against his side because I want to touch him, want to smooth back my mistake, and ignore the worm inside me that always thought I wasn't worth what he wants to give.

"Trust me, yeah?"


Ryan nudges into me, unstoppable smile brimming over and for the first time I wonder how real it is.

"Fucksake Alfie, eat something. That's at least an hour's wages just there."

It might not be the full truth, but for now it's enough to make me trust him and I can feel my own smile relax onto my lips. He's going to be there in the morning. There's nowhere else he wants to run off to, and nothing I've shown him has scared him away but I don't know why not.