Category B: Highly Commended (2021) Monash Short Story Writing Competition
Author: Zahara Harrison
Title: Hardly a love story
“I wish we could’ve fallen in love.”
Her brown hair sprawls across the floor, hardly a halo framing her face. No, it unevenly sticks to the carpet, with some wisps still defying gravity as always. Her sad smile stares up at the translucent skylight, the stained ceiling hardly a fascinating sight.
“It certainly would’ve been easier,” he has no real response to her confession, but the memories that come to mind are more than enough to cause a conflicting mess of emotion to attempt to overwhelm him.
One. Two. Three.
“I had it all thought out, so many times over,” she responds, as he lies down next to her on the hard floor. “It would change as we grew, together, as we learnt more about each other. Two dogs. A hallway. You cooked dinner, I vacuumed, we walked our dogs through the sunset. We were happy. So fucking happy. Sickly so.”
He had seen it all too, the dogs, the house, the picturesque family of two. In their twenties, her still in her work clothes, a deep red trench coat and high boots. Faux Leather, of course. Him in button-down shirt and slacks, a tie around his neck purely because he knew she thought they looked ‘Just so damn good’, her words, not his.
“I guess it was just never meant to be,” she hears the sad, wishful edge to his voice, and a tear comes to her eyes.
She thinks now that maybe she was never meant to find love. A dramatic contemplation for a hardly eighteen-year-old, having only drank champagne twice before in her life, but she truly felt it was a possibility. She wasn’t like him. She wasn’t loveable. She was hardworking. Ambitious. And downright vicious. But not good. Not kind.
The boy lying by her side has grown since they were children. Meeting in high school, hardly having the instantaneous bond of the love stories she reads off her tablet, but the slow burning friendship of real life. The inane teasing and texted confessions and how they used to hold hands under the school lab tables. It’s almost comical, thinking of it now.
He suddenly sits up, and she watches as he takes a sip of the harsh, cheap whisky she had bought from the bottle-o down the street. She watches him swallow, his throat bobbing. His uneven breathing after his sip. She shouldn’t let him drink, she knows that. She’s six months older, and the only one of the two who can legally drink. Usually a stickler for rules, she can’t find a reason for it to matter.
He passes her the bottle, and she sits up too, her hair a mess due to the friction of the carpet, dancing in the light as it always had. She grasps the bottle violently, almost a snatch, and takes several long gulps. He knows she never means to hurt him. She’s good. Kind. Hardworking. Ambitious. And he knows he will never be enough because all he wants is comfort. She will always want more.
She backs up against the bottom of the couch, the seat cushion pillowing her head as she leans up against the couch. He copies her, his body already straining from stress. He’s never been good at sensitive conversation. Ironic really, as he was always the far more intuitively emotional of the two.
“You know you’ll always have me. If not in that way, in any other.”
His words are sappy, causing him to cringe, something you’d hear out of a pathetic love movie. But they’re true. He doesn’t believe her to be beautiful, nor the purest. But she’s his. Just like he is hers.
She knows that he’ll never believe himself to be good enough. Not hardworking enough, a brilliant, yet incredibly lazy genius. She knows differently. A step ahead, when he’s passionate she sees that light in his eyes. And she knows that their attempts at romance would never spark that passion. Not in him, not in her. No matter how much they’d wish it true.
The unevenly stuffed couch cushions are not a comfort beneath her head. She sits up properly this time and smiles at him. He weakly returns it. His emotions were so strong, and although she’d always had trouble reading people, he was like an open book. Over-emotional, sensitive, she’d tease, when, in reality she’s incredibly jealous. And, in reality, she knows that he knows her jealousy. And she’s okay with it.
Because between the two of them, in this moment, there are no masks.
And because of that, she grins. She turns to him, standing up, and holds out her hand, “That’s right. It’s you and me against the world. Like always.”