We didn’t kiss often. But we looked at each other. You know, properly. And he always had bloodshot eyes even when he stopped smoking and they were cloudy too and yellowed and he looked high even sober, even in my bed in the mornings and I liked how his eyes seemed flawed, sort of. Liked how they gave away something about him, how they spoke to me and told me a story that he didn’t want to tell. A story about his past maybe. A story filled with hardship and trauma and abuse.
So I looked into them and anyone else would have kissed me then, my face that close to theirs. Anyone else would have pushed their lips onto me and tasted the morning on my mouth but Adam didn’t, he just looked back and smiled and sunk his teeth into his own lip as he thought. And I knew he was miles away, his thoughts swimming around in the clouds like the ones in his eyes.
So I’d close mine and lie next to him, breathe in his air, exhale his worries.
We were friends then, weren’t we? Me and Adam. Adam and me. We got close, so close and we knew the beat of each other. He knew how to touch me and I knew how to hold him. We were blended in this easiness and when he left I didn’t long for him, yearn for him. And when he returned, we slipped back into ourselves and slept and ate and looked at each other and sometimes, but not often, we kissed.
Adam was younger than me, not by much, but still. He was 18 and I was 21. My friend had introduced us, told us we’d get along, told him I was lonely, told me he was my perfect match. And I suppose I believed it, went along with it and we went on a few dates, hung out, drank cheap wine, talked about social media and Conor McGregor and just anything that felt normal, natural. But I had no idea how unnatural this would all become. On the fourth date he took me home.
We sat on his single bed in his shared university house and he leaned back.
-You done this before, yeah?
He laughs at my response and sits up.
He’s skinny and he rests his bony elbow on my knee. He has this dense facial hair all around his chin but shaved at the sides.
-You missed a bit there.
I gesture to his chin.
He just smiles but doesn’t respond. He brings his hand to my cheek and rubs it gently. His fingers are cold and bring a shiver to me. A sign of things to come.
His face is slim like his body but there’s character to it.
When I pull off his top his body is smooth and slender and as I rub my fingers down his chest I feel his muscles move beneath. I feel every bone, every sinew. Feel his ribs as he breathes in and lies back into the bed. His arms have small, white lines just above the wrist; little scars and I move my mouth over them, feel the uneven ridges against my lips.
I feel large and heavy in comparison to his slight body. I feel clumsy until he holds my face in his hands and kisses my neck.
When we wake, Adam rolls a cigarette and stands naked by the window in his bedroom. I sit up and look at his silhouette. He hears me move and beckons me to the window. He points at the dog in the yard next door.
-You see him? Well sometimes, he just eats raw meat that they throw out. Do you reckon dogs can digest raw meat?
He passes me the cigarette and leans his head out the window to have a better look.
-I mean I guess.
I have no idea really and I put the rollie to my mouth and inhale.
-I reckon it can’t be good for them.
He walks me to my taxi when it arrives and I go home. It’s not until much later that evening when he texts me.
-Hey, how are you?
I’m fine, at least that’s what I say but I still haven’t figured out if dogs can digest raw meat.
It isn’t until months later that I find out about Adam, the truth. The whole unholy mess. And I sit across from him, back on his single bed and I’m upset and I’m scared but there’s a softness in the air and it touches me. It blows gently on my hair and down onto my skin. It sinks into my pores and I can taste it on my lips. Adam looks at me and he smiles and he places his hand in mine and I take it and we balance like this, on the edge of today and we thread slowly, carefully, thread softy as you thread on my dreams, towards tomorrow.
We don’t speak now, words are an intrusion. Words have built walls between us, walls that our bodies have torn apart. So we sit in silence, in the rubble of what was once said and Adam’s skin is soft, soft as the air and his lips are smooth and they feel me, all the parts of me and I feel them and I feel him and I reach and I touch and I pull. And I accept his body, accept it into mine and again no words, just sounds and movements and faces and expressions and the sweet smell of love now curls into the air.
Everything changed the night I had dinner at his parents. I guess that’s when I knew something was…I don’t know…off.
-Hi, I’m Mr. Goodman and this is my wife Hilary.
It was such a formal greeting from his Dad, such a strange way to introduce yourself to your son’s girlfriend.
Adam rubbed my back as we stood at his parents’ doorway and I heard him inhale deeply.
The house was huge, extravagant and definitely not what I’d been expecting. Adam wore torn jeans and over sized t-shirts with dirty chucks, he smoked pot and barely went to class. I’d spent days at his flat, skipping my own lectures and never once had I gotten the impression that he was extremely well off. But this house, the massive garden and the brightly lit hallway with the spiral staircase, well this was like something from a movie.
We followed Mr. Goodman into the dining room and he seated us, perching himself at the head of a long table.
-So, Meredith, what is it you do?
Mrs. Goodman, or should I say Hilary was pouring some red wine into a glass before me and her hand moved to my shoulder, she squeezed it and smiled down at me.
-I um, I’m in college too, studying. I’m studying, um, Art.
Mr. Goodman rubs his hands together.
-Oh, how wonderful, how lovely! Art. Hilary, did you hear that, Art?
Hilary sits across from me and smiles widely.
-Art. How wonderful, lovely.
I feel incredibly uncomfortable but Adam is basically mute. I look at him, searching for some reassurance but he just cradles his wine between two hands and doesn’t return my stare.
-So, do you draw?
Mr. Goodman looks down the long table at me and the conversation continues like this until Hilary gets the food and we start to eat.
Eventually Adam speaks but it is not the Adam I know. This is a shy, almost scared Adam and he addresses his father as Sir and bows his head.
-Yes sir, of course sir.
When we leave, Hilary kissing me on each cheek, I reach out and hold Adam’s hand. It’s moist and I can tell he’s been sweating.
I wait until the taxi comes before I say
-Sorry, what the fuck was that?
As we pull up outside Adam’s flat I see him twist his neck and lift his shoulders, as if letting go of the timid Adam I’d seen at the Goodman’s.
-My family are weird man, that’s all.
We climb the stairs to his bedroom and I start to take off my clothes, getting ready for bed.
Adam switches the lights off and comes behind me. He places his hands, now cold from outside, on my neck. He squeezes it tightly and brings his lips to my shoulders. He bites me hard and I try to turn my body to stop him but he clenches his fingers tighter on my neck.
-Mr. Goodman liked you huh?
He says it through gritted teeth and I squeak in response. I bring my hands to my neck and claw at his fingers.
Eventually he releases and pushes me away.
I bend over his desk gasping for air. I rub the tender skin around my neck.
When I turn around he is gone but I can smell the weed wafting through the hall and into this darkened room.
Later that night I woke to the sound of footsteps. I’d gotten into Adam’s bed and curled against the wall clutching my neck. I felt wetness on my cheeks despite my determination not to cry. I rocked myself to sleep like a baby and my mind was full and racing. I had lucid dreams and sweated in my slumber. The footsteps woke me, they were loud but distant, coming up the stairs. They slowed as they reached the bedroom door and then stopped completely. The house was quiet and I knew both of Adam’s flatmates were in bed. Adam eventually opened the door and I pulled myself closer to the wall, knees against my chest. I heard him move about the room, taking his watch off, leaving it gently on the bedside table, taking a drink from his glass of water on his desk. I knew these movements by heart, recognising them even in the dark. He took his clothes off and climbed into bed. His body was cold as he wrapped himself around me, fingers reached under my arm and resting gently on my belly. He stroked me then and I felt his breath, warm on the back of my neck. He kissed me, softly, slowly and we fell asleep like this, my body slowly unfurling and becoming one with his.
Maybe I forgot all about that night as the days went on. Maybe I made myself forget. Maybe the passion took over and my mind was no longer in control. I was obsessed with Adam. I loved Adam. I lived Adam. I took deep breaths and I inhaled Adam. We didn’t talk about his parents again and I hoped we never would. I hoped the visit had been a one-time thing. I’d met them now, what more was there to say?
Adam was gentle, Adam was kind and the silent, sullen Adam from that night was gone. The aggressive hands of that Adam were no more and now when he touched me, I melted into him.
I moved into his house about a month after our visit to his parents. I packed three suitcases and piled four boxes into the back of his car and we drove from mine to his, smiling, holding hands across the handbrake, a new beginning.
In the mornings I made coffee and brought it to him. He sat up in bed and touched the contours of my body, placed the cup down and pulled me to him. He rarely drank the coffee when it was still hot. The mornings were long and languid and it was always after midday when I left for college. In the evenings he cooked for us and we brought our plates to the bedroom, watched Netflix as we ate, feeding each other, never concentrating on the program or our food.
I was living at Adam’s for about two months when she showed up, Adam’s mother at the front door. She pulled a scarf around her neck to shelter herself from the wind and it took everything in me not to slam the door and hide. Adam was out, as were his flatmates and I swore she waited for the moment, to get me alone.
-Can I come in?
We sat across from each other in the kitchen. I made weak tea and she piled sugar into her cup. I cradled mine between my hands and blew on it.
-Adam’s not in.
Hilary looked at me, put her spoon down and smiled.
-But it’s you I’ve come to see my dear. There’s something I need from you.
I looked at her as she brought the cup to her lips. She drank her sweet tea slowly.
Outside the wind got louder, the house groaned in response. I felt a sudden chill in my bones. It was almost as if I knew what she was about to say.
-It’s not an easy thing for me to ask, you know. But I thought you would understand, you know, woman to woman.
She looked away as she asked me, over my shoulder and out the window into the evening sky.
The cup I held between my fingers slipped from my grip and bounced off the table spilling my tea.
-Don’t worry my dear, I’ll clean that up.
She went and got a cloth for the table as I sat in stunned silence.
-You see, us women, we have to look out for each other.
She came around to my side of the table and for the second time, she squeezed my shoulder.
When Adam came home I watched him as he moved. His body was slight but still he moved with an air of dominance. He took me in his arms, he kissed me. His embrace felt tighter somehow, his kisses rougher, the swing of his arms wider, the lilt of his accent stronger. It was like in this new lighting, the lighting created by what his mother had told me, Adam had changed.
I was sitting at the kitchen table working on an essay when he slammed a cup in front of me.
I looked up, looked at the way his lips were turned into a frown.
-There’s two of them and the boys aren’t home. Who have you been drinking with?
I didn’t know how to reply. Didn’t know what to say. Adam’s face was redder now and what I normally saw as insecurity and worry, I now saw as rage.
-I said, who’ve you been drinking with?
-Nobody, for God’s sake Adam, I had two cups of tea today and wasn’t bothered washing. Seriously?
Adam picked the cup up and walked back to the sink. I returned my gaze to the laptop screen and my fingers hovered above the keyboard. I could feel them shake slightly so I clenched them, shook away the notion. There was nothing to be afraid of. This was how he always was, this was just his way. Jealous, yes, but abusive? Never.
When he finished washing the cups Adam approached me from behind and put his wet hands on my shoulders. He brought his mouth to my neck and kissed me.
I absorbed the words in through my skin. His hands moved around and caressed my neck, his fingers were soft, delicate and his lips sweet and warm. I brought my hands to his and held them and we sat like this for a moment.
Later that night I lay awake. The sounds of the street outside felt louder than usual. The cars drove faster, the bikes revved harder and the voices of strangers in the dark floated through the air and into the bedroom. Even Adam’s watch kept me awake with its incessant ticking.
I turned in the bed and looked at Adam, his eyelashes moving slightly in his sleep, his chest rising and falling, his mouth closed and one hand hidden beneath his cheek. He looked so peaceful, so innocent. I didn’t want to believe what I’d been told. I couldn’t imagine that Adam, my Adam could hurt me. I wouldn’t believe that my Adam could hurt me.
I reached out and touched his brow and felt him move beneath my hands. He felt me and loosened himself, allowing me to sink into him. His hand came from beneath his cheek and he extended his arm, pulling me to him. He rested his chin on my shoulder and I buried my face into his chest. I closed my eyes and felt the darkness grow around us. Soon the noises of the night seemed to disappear and all I could hear was Adam’s heartbeat.
Mornings were warm and bright. Mornings brought happiness and love. Adam’s arms engulfed me, held me, protected me. Mornings were a new beginning. Mornings were coffee and sunshine and Frank Ocean playing on Adam’s laptop. In the morning I could imagine my life, my future and as Adam turned to me and opened his eyes, I woke into a world that was just him and me. As clouds parted in the sky, as the sun rose, as the vibrations of the radio downstairs stirred the bones of this house, I too rose and stirred and moved and was one with everything around me. This place, Adam’s place was home.
In the morning Adam’s touch was delicate, his fingers roamed my body finding new places to rest or explore. Adam caressed me, kissed me and I implored his hands to keep searching, I wanted him to find me, all of me, find parts of me I didn’t know existed. We hid beneath bed linen soaked in our imaginings, heavy with desire. We lost ourselves in each other, forgot the outside world, forgot the time, the day and as I looked into his clouded eyes I could see something, a hunger for more, a hunger to please me and love me and care for me.
So we started each day like this and in the morning I really believed that everything would be alright. But as the day progressed, as the sun sunk into the hills, as the radio was replaced by the sounds of television and cooking and chatter amongst his housemates, that feeling of warmth, of belonging started to fade. Most days I got home before Adam, I cooked for us. I sat in the kitchen beneath the bare hanging bulb and I sketched or I read. He started coming home later and the later it was the more tense his mood. College was hard, the tutors didn’t like him, the bus was full, it was raining. Little things seemed to affect him, get in on him. I’d run my hand across his brow, feel the sweat collected there, wipe it away but his jaw stayed clenched and his pushed me aside, ate in silence.
Of course it wasn’t every day. Some days he came home smiling, carrying flowers or my favourite magazine. Those days he’d pull me into an embrace, he’d hold me and run his fingers through my hair, smile and kiss my forehead. But those days became few and far between and soon I felt like that Adam had gone, he was lost or stolen and in his place was this man I did not recognise. At least not until morning.
But he didn’t touch me. Not then, not like his mother had suggested. He was not abusive, not physically. He was moody, sullen but I told myself that this was common, normal. He wouldn’t speak to me some evenings and I sat on the bed trying to distract myself with a book or pulling my laptop out and doing some college work. He would sit at his desk, drumming his fingers, staring out the window, breathing heavily.
I’d approach him sometimes, ask him what was wrong but he just said he needed space, needed to think. So I let him. After a few weeks I couldn’t stand it anymore so I decided to go home, to stay at my parents for a while. I sent a text explaining that it might do us good, might do the relationship good. He read it, he didn’t reply.
I stayed at my parents for a week. I let myself reset. I tried not to think about it. I tried not to think about his mother sitting across from me, two hands on her cup, awkward half smile on her face.
-There’s something I need from you. I need you to leave him.
I’d looked back at her, bemused.
-I’m not…why would I leave him? We’re in love.
-Exactly. You are. And I do believe he loves you and that’s why I need you to leave. He’s…he’s not well equipped to deal with love…he gets…carried away.
I had no idea what she was talking about. I wanted her to leave. I think she could see my confusion so she reached across the table and took my hand. Her fingers were cold, they felt damp as they slid around mine.
-He’s violent Meredith. He can hurt you. He has hurt people before.
I’d laughed then, a loud raucous laugh and pulled my hand free. I’d stood up and asked her to leave. I’d been angry and upset, I’d called her a crazy bitch. But that night when he returned, when he shouted at me about the cups, I saw something in his eyes, something that lurked behind the yellowing that gathered near his pupils.
He text me after a week.
And I did. And I believed that this was home, this shared flat with damp walls and bad heating. I believed that his small room where we balanced plates on our knees and used a heavy coat as a curtain, I believed this was home because he was there, because Adam was there and I believed Adam was home.
And in many ways it was. In many ways I felt at home with him and so I went and he opened the door and he smiled and he kissed me and all was right.
Later that night he asked where I’d been. He sat on the bed and he face was stern, static. I told him and then turned to face the window, two hands at my back undoing the clasp of my bra. I didn’t know what had happened when the first blow came and in seconds I was on the bedroom floor, bra dangling in front of me, a ringing so loud in my ears it drowned out the pulsing of the back of my head. He came at me a second time from behind and I was lain out flat against the carpet. I brought my hands to my head for protection but he was kicking me now, in the side, on my leg, no part of me was safe. I don’t know how long it lasted but it felt like hours and I was too stunned to cry or scream, I just lay there and took it. I wondered briefly if were alone, if his housemates were out but the beating was silent, no words of venom came from his mouth, no cries from mine, just heavy breathing, it could easily be mistaken for sex. Adam left then and I stayed in my position on the floor, crying softly, clutching parts of me, parts of me that he had found that I didn’t know existed. I laughed then, laughed at my own ignorance and innocence, laughed at the pleasure his hands once gave me, laughed at it all, laughed deep and hard into the carpet that grazed all one side of my cheek.
When I eventually got up I released the bra from my shoulders. I pulled one of Adam’s hoodies on and I sat on the bed. I was still sitting there when he returned. He was carrying a stack of magazines.
He sat on the bed beside me, passed me the stack.
-I didn’t know which one you’d want so I got them all.
I looked at the magazines on my lap, I ran my finger down the glossy image of a model’s face.
Adam knelt in front of me, he brought a wet cloth to my brow, he blotted away the blood.
It took a while before I left. I don’t know why, I can never answer that question but it is always asked.
-But you stayed?
And I just nod in reply and accept blame for something I do not know.
Adam’s mother never asked. She never asked when it first happened, she never asked what I said or what I did, she just brushed my hair out of my eye, examined the dark blue that sat on my upper cheek and said
-That’s it now darling, that’s it all over now.
I think I erased a lot of those days, weeks from my memory. I think I blotted them out. I don’t remember all the beatings, the chronology. I only remember certain parts, Adam’s face, his smile, his grimace, the curve of his lips, the furrow of his brow. I don’t remember much at all but I do remember the last morning I woke in that house.
We both sit on his single bed. I’m upset and I’m scared but there’s a softness in the air and it touches me. Adam’s skin is soft, soft as the air. We do not kiss but I accept his body, accept it into mine and again no words, just sounds and movements and faces and expressions and the sweet smell of love now curls into the air.
And maybe there was love. Somehow. Somewhere.
But after, I leave and I never return and the love dissolves into the air that once gave me breath.