Meet Me When Your Hair Is Shorter by Courtney Kerrigan-Bates

He has cut his hair but grown his beard, which is weird. In all the time I knew him, he never even considered cutting his hair. He grows head-hair better than chin-hair. When the hair on his head was long, it was thick and tangled in a nice way. His beard, on the other hand, is patchy and thin. I don’t particularly know what to say to him, but I know I don’t want to say nothing, so I head over before I remember to smooth down my dress.

“Hi,” I’ve started without any thoughts of how to end, “haven’t seen you in ages.”

At least it wasn’t word-for-word long time no see. His eyes focus on my face. If he wasn’t already too drunk, he’d be analysing how each line of my face has changed, but he is already too drunk, so he’s simply trying his best to look like he’s analysing something, when in fact he can probably see two of me.

“Wow. Well, I can always count on you appearing to sober me up.”

“Can you?” I haven’t appeared before him in three years.

He laughs and tips a beer so high that I can tell it’s empty. He pretends to swallow anyway.

“I can’t hear you very well,” he says, although I wasn’t saying anything. “Want to go outside?”

I nod and follow him through bodies to the back garden, which is almost empty because it’s spitting with rain.

“So, who do you know here?” He’s plonked himself down on a wet chair and either failed to notice or completely ignored the fact that his jeans are now soaking.

“Well, I kind of know Fab.”

“Fabumi!” He puts on a hint of an African accent that he wouldn’t have done if sober. I cringe a little and lose eye contact, I know Fab well enough to know he’d hate that. “Mad that he’s this SoundCloud rapper now, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, crazy.” I agree, even though he’s been uploading music to SoundCloud ever since we met in college, and it’s always been good. “I feel bad, I haven’t listened to the song we’re here for yet. I didn’t think I was coming until the last minute.”

“Then you saw my name on the list?” He smirks. Again, I hear only the alcohol talking. I force a smile.

“Sadie wanted to come. She’s just broken up with her boyfriend. You met him, didn’t you?”

“James, yeah, I liked him!”

“Yeah, well, he was a bit of a bum. He said he’d move down here after three months, but it’s been seven now and, well, you know Sadie.”

“Control freak.” He nods.

When we were together, Louis calling my best friend a control freak wouldn’t have bothered me, because it was true, and I’d spoken to him about it. I’d spoken negatively to him about all my friends. I’d end up at his after a night out and we’d lay there in bed, me feeling far drunker than I meant to get, moaning about how Lara spent too much time freezing us all in the smoking area, or how Penny ended up kissing some guy that turned out to be kind of ugly when the lights went on. He’d nod, take it all in and at the end say, ‘girl’s night was fun then?’ and I’d try to backtrack and say, ‘Of course! It’s just little things.’ But now, as he sits in front of me with this new hair, new beard and new indifference to soaking wet jeans, I don’t like him saying this at all.

“Anyway, she just wanted to take her mind off of things.”

“Yeah. They were together a while,” he says, looking up at me like there is some double meaning about our relationship.

“Yeah.”

“So, you’ve moved back here?” he asks, after a big intake of breath.

“Yeah, I got an internship in Bristol, so I figured it’s easy to commute. Save money on rent and everything. What about you? Still at home?”

It was Sadie who’d told me, during a two-hour-long facetime, that Louis had dropped out of university and was working back in the supermarket by his house. She’d also told me that when she spotted him, she’d dropped her cake-mix, sending red-velvet powder all over the floor, which he then had to clean up.

“Yeah, kind of,” he says vaguely, switching the conversation before I can delve any deeper. “What’s the internship?”

“Just copywriting. It’s for a fashion brand, locally owned, sustainable, I don’t think they sell very much but the owner seems lovely on the phone.”

“Sustainable,” he repeats in a teasing tone. “I did hear you’ve gone vegan.”

“Vegetarian,” I correct him.

“Right, I guess it’d be hard to go vegan with your iron deficiency.”

It was hard to go vegan with a love of Cadbury Dairy Milk, actually, but I wouldn’t admit that, so I nodded and smiled.

“I’m proud of you.”

“It wasn’t that hard. There’s so many Quorn stuff now and it kind of tastes better than meat actually, so–”

“No,” he stops me with a laugh, “I mean for finishing uni.”

I look at the floor, suddenly realising how cold my body is from standing out here, but also how hot my cheeks are.

“Thanks,” I say quietly. “I’m sorry you didn’t.”

He bats his hand in the air and laughs, “I wouldn’t have finished anyway. You did most of my college work. I wasn’t into it the second I got there.”

“Why not?”

“My lessons were boring, teachers were pretentious… they wouldn’t go for a pint like Dan would.”

I smile at the memory of the night we went for a drink with our college teachers. Louis had suggested it in class and I’d cringed a bit at his confidence. It did feel like we were friends with Dan, but he was still the current key to my career, and I didn’t feel ready to get slaughtered with him. Still, Dan had eagerly agreed and after conversations covering everything from films to UFO sightings, Sadie and I ended up being sick out the taxi window almost simultaneously, with Louis trapped in the middle refusing to hold hair.

“He messaged me on Facebook actually, congratulating me for graduating.”

“Ah shit, I would’ve done it if I’d have known it’d get me a message from him!” Louis laughs.

He is laughing a lot at things that wouldn’t normally make him laugh, and I remember how when we were together, he’d tell me how often I laughed when having awkward, boring conversations, just to seem interested. I refrain from pointing out him doing it now.

“There you are!” A screechy voice sounds from the door. I spin around to see a girl hanging out of the back door, dyed blonde hair spilling in front of her face. “You were supposed to be guarding the door!” She stumbles a little as she moves towards us, staring at me with a frown.

I look at Louis, who is refusing to look at either of us.

“Hi.” The word comes out as more of a question than a greeting as I kick Louis’s shoe to get his attention.

“Right, yeah, this is Amelie. Amelie, this is Janey. She’s a friend of Fab’s.”

“And a friend of yours, if I remember correctly,” Amelie says with a fake smile. 

A friend of Fab’s felt like the least comfortable explanation for Louis and me, so I was thankful for her correction.

“I was in Louis’ class at college,” I tell her.

“And in his bed, so I’ve been told.”

“Uh, yeah,’ I mumble in awkwardness. ‘I guess I was in his bed quite often too.”

Louis was the first person I remember meeting at college. Maybe he wasn’t, and I only think that because he was the first person for whom I thought, I would enjoy seeing you covered in sweat, a thought I’d never really had before but would continue to have pretty much every day for two years. I was sure he’d seen me walk straight past the classroom, turn around and have to walk back, but he didn’t mention it. Instead, he just asked my name, and we ended up sitting next to each other for all of our lessons.

“Well, a lovely reunion, isn’t it?” Amelie remarks, smacking her lips. “Are you not here with anyone else, Janey?”

“Yeah, actually, I…”

“We’re just catching up,” Louis interrupts, “I haven’t seen her in years.” He stands and touches Amelie’s waist.

The sight of his hand on her waist makes me feel both small and very noticeable simultaneously. Like I’ve outstayed my welcome, but Louis can’t see me anymore anyway. I remember the feeling of safety when he would touch my waist like that, and how his hand often cemented there, in a firm grip, whenever another man spoke, or even looked at me.

“Well, Janey, it was lovely to finally meet you. I’m quite appreciative of you. If you hadn’t had fucked Louis up so much in uni, he might not have come home to meet me!” She flashes her biggest smile yet, touches my shoulder and leans herself into me (a pathetic attempt at a hug) and struts off with an extremely drunk flourish. I look unblinkingly at Louis until he makes eye contact.

“If I fucked you up you could’ve said,” I tell him dryly.

“Shut up, Janey, you know it wasn’t you.”

“Don’t tell me to shut up.”

“Right, I didn’t mean it in a…”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m going to find Sadie.” I turn to leave but Louis takes my arm.

“Wait, I need you to know she’s just drunk.”

“I got that,” I nod, “she seems lovely.”

“Oh, come on, like you wouldn’t be pissed to find your boyfriend with his ex?”

“I haven’t got a boyfriend.”

“Right, but if you did. I know you wouldn’t like it.”

“Does she know what happened?”

Louis seems to sink into himself at the question. I almost want to apologise for asking, but I want the answer too much.

“No, she wouldn’t speak to you like that if she did.”

“She shouldn’t anyway.”

“Right.”

“So, what does she know?”

“She knows we broke up and, well, she knows it wasn’t good.”

“Broke up why?” I push.

“Come on, Janey, it’s not the conversation to have here, is it.”

“When’s best for you? Coffee? Next Wednesday?” I snap sarcastically.

“I told her you were having some difficulties, you know, with mental health, and that it’d got me down too,” he spoke hesitantly.

I stared at him. It wasn’t that I wanted this girl, this woman, who I’d never met in my life, to know I had been hurt. But I also hated the conclusion that Louis, the boy who had taken himself out of the picture, who had left my now dirtied body to heal alone, was the victim.

“I think you and Amelie need to have a chat. I think she should probably have fair warning that, if she was ever to have been in trouble, you’d find it harder to stay and support her than to walk away.”

I spin on my heels and plough into the room, marching through bodies until I find the one I need, and cling to Sadie’s arm, my hands shaking.

“Are you ok?” she asks, her face flooding with panic.

“I need to go home.”

As we wait for the taxi, I hear my name called, and squeeze Sadie’s hand as I turn back.

“I fucked up. I didn’t want to tell Amelie your personal shit.” It’s Louis. He is crying, a frown stuck to his face, squinting because of the rain, because of his tears, and because of his anger. “And I didn’t know how to deal with it myself. I am sorry, for what it’s worth. I wish I’d dealt with it better, you’re right to hate me. But if it means anything, I’m happy you don’t. Anyway, I’m sorry. Should’ve said it sooner, I know.”

He looks a lot like how he did when I arrived at his flat at six in the morning, where I showed him my thighs covered in my blood. I remember the way he swayed onto his bed as if he was going to pass out. How he forced himself back to his feet and ran the hot water for me when I refused to let him call the police. How he told me we could do anything that would make me feel any better tonight, but in the morning, we’d have to do what was right. I remembered how, in the morning, I shouted at him for begging me to go to the police. For not understanding that I didn’t want a group of strangers staring at my body; beaten, bruised and sore. And shouted at him again when he told me he’d be in the room with me, like the presence of a man would make it any easier. How, two days later, when he told me he couldn’t do it anymore, he promised it wasn’t because of this. How I knew it was and screamed that he didn’t know how hard it was for me, whilst remaining ignorant as to how hard it was for him.

I am in his arms before I consider it, feeling his chest rise and fall angrily as his tears spill into my hair. After a minute, his breathing settles and he lets go, finding it difficult to hold eye contact as he tells me, “I am sorry, I do mean it.”

“I’m sorry too.”

In the taxi, Sadie squeezes my hand and I try to count how many times I have fantasised about a dramatic reunion following the breakup. I remember how I rang him every other night for months, and how I only gave up on hearing he was with someone new. How I would run a bath each night and pretend to thank him as I lowered myself into the water. I let my head fall onto Sadie’s shoulder and find myself smiling. It was the perfect time to meet him again; with his short hair and screechy girlfriend. In this new life, where he is ok, and so am I.

About The Author

Courtney Kerrigan-Bates is a writer and Masters student at Bath Spa University. She is currently perfecting a collection of short stories and working on a novel. In her spare time, she runs a lifestyle blog.

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