Monday, 12 October 2009 - 10:55 pm

What we want

Matt came to the infirmary to have his leg checked today. Simon says it’s doing fine – just needs time to heal fully and for Matt to stay off it as much as possible.

When I heard he was coming in, my heart beat all out of time, thudding against my breastbone. I’ve never been nervous to see my best friend before – I didn’t get the chance after our last brush with intimacy, way back in the time Before, because the bomb went off so soon after. It took me a moment to realise how scared I was.

I felt like a little girl with a crush, desperate to see that spark of acknowledgement and reciprocation in his expression. Wondering if he’d even meet my eye, or laugh it off as if it was nothing. It didn’t feel like nothing. At the time, the kiss was like a sigh we’d been holding in for a long time. Now that we’ve had a chance to draw breath again, what do we do with it all?

I hovered in the background while Simon checked Matt’s healing stab wound and busied myself with changing the dressing on the arm of a middle-aged man who got caught in the roof collapse. Then I was finished and Simon was wandering off to do something else, and there wasn’t any avoiding it any more.

I walked over to Matt, but while my legs were working, my tongue had abandoned me. I looked at him and had no idea what to say beyond a pathetic, “Hi.”

He didn’t seem to have trouble speaking. He asked how I was and how things had been here. If I was all right after losing a patient. All those things that friends talk about when they catch up. I found my voice enough to answer. I felt like there was a neon sign over our heads and we were talking about the weather. There was a smile lurking around Matt’s expression and a slide to his gaze that suggested he felt it too.

“I hear you’ve been keeping busy,” I said. Even Jonah was sporting shorter, neater hair since the discovery of a hairdresser in our midst.

Matt grinned and I saw my mischievous friend from the time Before. “I have. It’s all your fault, y’know. You started a trend.” He gestured to his own hair, which I’m sure is neater than when I had finished cutting it. He probably fixed it as soon as he had access to scissors and a mirror.

“And I haven’t even got to enjoy it. You do do girls, right?” The question was out before I could censor myself and my mouth formed a little ‘o’, as if it might be able to take the words back.

I don’t know if it was the phrasing or my expression that made Matt laugh. “Sometimes, but I’ll always make an exception for you. Come on.”

And off he hobbled to one of the side rooms. I followed him, not quite sure what we were talking about any more, and sat where he asked me to. He fussed around my head, leaning on his crutch with the ease of practice, and let his usual patter fall around us. Do I want this or that, it could look cute like this. If he had gel, he could make this bit stand up – maybe we could make do with something else like in that movie. I poked him for that.

I closed my eyes and let him do whatever he wanted. It was the old Matt. The friend who fixed my hair when I got to parties, undoing the wind’s work, and rescued me after my dyeing disasters. He tidied me up and made me feel pretty. I haven’t felt pretty in a long time, among the dirt and the grime.

When he was done fussing over me, I stood up and thanked him with a hug. He wobbled, so I made him sit down, but he didn’t want to let me go. He had a hand on my cheek and I couldn’t move away.

“What are we doing?” I asked.

“I dunno. What we want?” he suggested.

Could it really be that simple? It felt that simple as he wound his fingers through mine.

I looked down at our hands. My head couldn’t hold it all. My oldest friend, the one who knows that I ate worms when I was nine to drive my mother up the wall, who knows about each boy I’ve been with, each success and failure. And I know about his habits, his encounters, the few times he’s got close enough to someone else to get hurt and how badly they ended. Here we were, tangling up with each other. It was crazy and I was bursting with it.

The next thing I knew, we were kissing and winding in close. It was good, and right, and made my heart race.

The clatter of the door yanked us apart and Simon stopped abruptly to stare at us. He said something cutting and left again. The slam made me jump, but Matt was grinning. Then we giggled like kids and I was at home.