James’ emerald green eyes watched the girl snuggle up next to him as they watched a film on the TV. Her name was Annalisa and she was his only friend. When James met her in his first year of university, he didn’t trust her. He didn’t trust anyone, but that wasn’t his fault. He had grown up in a house that had been plagued with arguments, tears and the slamming of doors. For as long as he could remember, his parents had screamed at each other, his mother would shout, his father would swear. His father slipped into alcoholism and his mother took off one day, without so much of a word and never returned.
James had only been fourteen.
After that, James was subjected to a plain life. He went to school, he tried his hardest, he came home and he saw his friends, but his dad was never the same. Most of the time, his dad was drinking. At the pub, at home, in his room, in the kitchen, in the garden – he barely spoke and when he wasn’t drinking, he was sleeping. There was no money coming in and soon social services found out about James’ living situation. In the end, James’ father was taken to rehab and James moved to live with his godparents. James suffered with depression for most of his teen years, he was on medication and had to attend therapy but, unlike his parents, his godparents were there for him.
They pulled him from the dark abyss he had spiralled into and helped him stand again. They helped him find his feet; they made him feel safer than he had in years. Sure, he hardly smiled and jumped every time a door closed, but he was getting better. He was making progress and by the time he had finished his A Levels, James’ therapy had decreased to low intensity, due to his improvements but he was still taking medication. It wasn’t perfect, but nothing ever is.
But with Annalisa, James felt…normal. It was like she made him forget about everything else. He could be himself, without the sadness, pain and fear. He could be free, relaxed…happy. And yet, despite knowing her for two years, now both of them on holiday from their second year at university, he still felt as though one day, suddenly, she would turn around and leave him.
Like everyone else did.
Despite his fears, James couldn’t help himself. He loved the way Annalisa’s coppery auburn hair looked when the sun’s golden rays fell upon it. He loved the way her hazel-green eyes lit up whenever she smiled. Her laugh was an infectious sound, one that he loved to hear. He loved how free spirited she was, creative and smart. She was so independent, so caring and loving; she seemed to have such a big heart. Her personality kept him trapped, her sense of humour and her sarcasm, the way she was passionate about books and feminism, the way she cared for those around her and most importantly, the way she accepted others for who they were.
James could not understand why she was friends with him. He was so distant, hesitant and reserved. Unlike her, he didn’t see the best in people, but the worst, always afraid they’ll hurt him. Unlike her, he wasn’t out going and free spirited. While she laughed a lot, smiled and danced, he sat and watched. He didn’t have the energy and passion she had. While she loved concerts, he loved science conventions, while she loved drawing and creating things, he liked reading, while she loved theme parks, he hated rides.
James just didn’t understand.
But every day, for the past two years, he had fallen deeper and deeper in love with her. Would he ask if she felt the same?
Because she would leave, that’s what everyone else did.
“James? James? Are you alright?”
James blinked, looking at Annalisa’s worried face, “oh yeah, I’m fine.”
Annalisa frowned; sitting up properly, the blanket she had wrapped around her, slipping down her shoulders revealing her cute teddy bear pyjamas.
“James,” Annalisa said sternly, “I know when something is wrong with you. I’ve known you for two years, actually, it’s coming up to three soon! Don’t you trust me?”
“It’s nothing Lisse,” James replied, looking away from her worried gaze and back at the TV, “just forget it. Please?”
“No, James,” Annalisa said, turning the TV off and then looked back at James, “what is the matter? Have I done something wrong?”
James shook his head, “no you haven’t. It’s just…”
“Nothing,” James said, looking down at his hands. Annalisa sighed, cupping his face, making him look at her.
“James, what’s the matter?” she asked softly, her hazel-green eyes looking into his emerald green ones, “c’mon tell me, please?”
“You wouldn’t like me or even look at me the same way if I told you,” James said, moving his face out of her grasp, standing up, while running a hand through his dark hair.
“What do you mean?” Annalisa asked, confused, now staring up at her 6’4 friend.
“Look, I don’t trust people. I just don’t. And you know why and I just…,” James sighed, clenching his fists, “I feel like you’re…like I’m not good enough to be your friend.”
Annalisa sighed, standing up, stepping closer to James, who instinctively stepped back. Raising her hands in surrender, as if telling James she wasn’t going to hurt him, she stepped forwards again and this time James didn’t flinch.
“James,” Annalisa said softly, taking his hands in hers, clutching them tightly but gently, “you don’t understand how special you are, do you? I want to be your friend. I am your friend. You’re my best friend.”
James shook his head but didn’t withdraw his hands, “no I’m not.”
Annalisa stepped even closer this time, her eyes meeting his gaze, “James, listen to me, okay? You are so special to me. You make me laugh, smile, you make me feel happier than anyone else ever has. You understand me, you just know me so well.”
James stayed silent, breaking eye contact, looking down at the floor, cursing himself for being weak as tears pricked his eyes. Annalisa let go of his hands, which fell limply by his sides and she reached up to cup his face. Gently, brushing stray strands of his dark hair, which had fallen over his eyes, Annalisa gave him a soft, sincere smile. Then she gently, hesitantly, pressed her lips to his, but before James could even begin to respond, she had pulled back.
“I’m in love with you James,” Annalisa said softly, pulling away from him, running a hand through her hair, “can’t you see that?”
James’ lips parted in shock. He didn’t know what to say. He had no idea.
Annalisa shook her head, tears now brimming in her eyes, as she began to step back, blushing, “you know what? Just forget I said anything, okay?”
But before Annalisa could turn around and walk away, James grabbed her arm, pulling her flush against his firm chest.
“I don’t want to forget,” he whispered, before smashing his lips into hers.
Annalisa was shocked, stumbling backwards but James, having found his confidence, had wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her right against his body. Closing her eyes like he had, Annalisa melted against him, clutching the material of James’ soft jumper, beginning to kiss him back. It was everything she had hoped for; she could smell the intoxicating scent of his cologne, feel the sparks shooting through her body, his lips felt soft as they moved against hers. It wasn’t a heated kiss, it was sweet, gentle, laced with promises and hushed secrets, it felt like sun kissed mornings and the taste of hot chocolate on a cold evening.
It felt right.
Pulling back, Annalisa could still taste the hint of mint that had been on his lips. Looking up at him, she saw the happiest, most sincere smile she had ever seen on his face. The way he was looking at her was like she was the only one he cared about. It made her feel warm, safe, it felt like home. Biting her lip, Annalisa blushed, looking down, before burying her face in his chest, making him chuckle.
“I don’t want to forget either,” Annalisa mumbled, her voice muffled by James’ jumper.
James smiled, closing his eyes as he tightened his arms around her, resting his cheek on her head, “so let’s not.”