The bar was in a basement and my lips were occupied by a fake smile, like a school kid truanting so as not to let the weather go to waste. This 22nd birthday was languishing in the company of the first person to arrive; a sweet, yet dopey skinhead that I hadn’t had the heart not to invite. Earlier that day, he'd encouraged me to meet him for coffee and presented me with a James Dean ceramic cookie jar, a gift neither expected nor warranted and thus awkwardly received. I was already wondering if it would suffice as a decent bin; my current one marred by a bad first attempt at home waxing, with oily swamps of paper clinging to its base in a way that reminded me of my failure each time I finished a banana or disposed of a tissue.
The late arrivals of the rest of those invited were in need of improvement, but more so was the inappropriately timed job interview scheduled for the next morning. I was due to spend a day in a city an hour away for a job way across the globe. A desire to get away had been enveloping me of late, a tongue licking the glue into action as my final year of University was drawing to a close.
Culture shock seemed the most appealing way to stay the right side of growing up, just foundering enough to keep the days interesting and my mind spry. I wasn't overanxious to join the lethargy of the workplace. I was making it work to seem worth my while.
But now there’s nothing worse than living a moment - a birthday, a conversation, a kiss - that you know right there and then won’t be remembered. Yet these happen and this was one of a batch. It was like testing out your astrology in a sky flooded by city light. The futility didn’t automatically lift when he walked in, he worked no miracle. He was merely a boy I’d shared a few kisses and more arguments with, a volatile storm that I’d quite conversely felt little emotion in response to. One that I could somehow sleep through.
But he made my evening and I have no idea how, can’t remember a thing that he said. I felt shell shocked by the surprise of being amongst all my favourite people and being fondest of him over them all. Everyone was dancing but my feet were against the idea, as if that would allow it to be any other night where my mind tired before my soles. I wanted him to walk me home and I didn’t want to sleep, hoping that I swerved misinterpretations of sordid intent by inviting him in distinctly for a cup of tea rather than coffee.
My bed was the size of a washing line, so we were cloyed to each other like slightly sodden flannels. I was stuck between his armpit and the 1990s having drunkenly slid a much adored dvd into the player. I liked how often his big pillowy lips parted into a smile and my eyes probably moved down to them too often.
We were accomplices to a crime when he dropped me at the train station. Briefcases and suits were heading into work with their owners who, if underslept, had certainly not chosen to be so. We had purposefully not shut our eyes so we could look into each others in a criminally gooey fashion. And so I was doing time with a full-day of nerve wracking torture ahead of me whilst he headed back to a Queen size bed that would feel luxurious after my own.
After a few weeks passed, I was given the job by Japan with a side of congratulatory sushi from my Mother. I high fived friends as I broke the news and kept requesting 'Turning Japanese' in nightclubs. My eyeliner application took on an oriental lean. I saw the boy quite often, but then I always had. It had just begun to feel different. I would watch the way he moved his limbs when he didn't know and there was no need, as if conducting secret research unsure of what outcome was expected. An uncontrolled experiment with pretty dangerous chemicals.
The end of summer fast approached and, only a month or so before I was due to catch flights, an English girl my age and occupation was found cold like the ceramic of the bath tub where she lay. Fears simmered over dinners and I latched my excuse to stay onto those. I felt like a little liar.
In what was most definitely the autumn, I exited a bar that wasn’t in a basement and where a smile hadn’t left my face for three hours. My home was less than four minutes away and he would be in New York for five more days. I called him on my walk back because I couldn’t wait to tell him, "I think I'm in love with you, you know" for a first clumsily emphatic time.
Amongst all of this, the cookie jar made the most goddamn awful bin.