My counsellor says that I should write this all down, to help me process this, but how do I begin to put us down on paper?
Five years cannot quite be contained within the black and white shapes that form this account, the feelings ever lost in translation. Though it's but an echo of what we had, what do I have but echoes?
We were just kids when we met, placed in the same tutor group - not that either of us realised this for months. Your quiet camouflage combined with my nervous, defensive front put us in separate circles. When we crossed paths though, man did we cross paths. Not for you at first - the veil of my obnoxious friends dramatizing every move I made turned me into an annoyance, exactly as they said I was.
The first interaction we had was when we were randomly placed together in geography. Mr Harris’ haphazard shifting of squares on a spreadsheet may have seemed hilarious at the time, but when you look at what followed, any hilarity disappears. I don't think either of us said a word to each other for three weeks. Every exchange consisted of me laughing at you drawing on Chad, or making some vulgar comment.
The first phrase that I ever remember you saying to me has become a long running joke. You were placed with me and one of the aforementioned obnoxious friends, Claire, and I asked if we were in the same tutor group. I honestly didn't expect you to reply at all, let alone with “go eat a badger”. Who even says that? That’s the moment when you began to stand out to me, I think. Nobody else had ever openly disliked me, let alone in such a humorous way. I bet you regretted it immediately, with the months of mocking that followed.
Your awful memory means you won't remember this, but even back then we used to have good conversations. When Claire was distracted, we'd talk about superheroes, crime TV, or just judge the people in the room. Soon the conversations spread to geography, too, and I knew that I wanted to know you better.
Ironically, if I hadn't told Claire about that at her 12th birthday party, despite the months of you hating me, I don't think we'd have ever been what we were.
Of course, the second that other people knew, you did too. Someone wrote it on a school planner and threw it at you, but thankfully I don't think you noticed. What you did notice, though, was Ezra walking up to you and asking you out on my behalf.
I froze at the awkward expression on your face, blurting out that “no, no you won't “ before you could respond, and running off.
Everything from then on was trying to find an excuse to talk to you. One of my most vivid memories is being placed with you in a quiz in science, and Claire accusing me of “flirting” with you, as she did everyone. The same day, you called me “too nice and quiet”.
Even though we barely knew each other, I missed you all through the summer. The more I think about that, the more strange it seems. You had drastic mood swings from talking about whatever came up to just insulting me for no apparent reason - a habit which you never lost - and I can't imagine why I chose you of all people to love.
Year eight was hell. I'd just like to get that out there. The year started with you being so bothered about how I felt by my friends that you would barely talk to me anymore,and our conversations dwindled drastically. You missed months of school, and of course because I cared so much, I noticed every day that you missed.
The others would deliberately use you to upset me. You shared so many more lessons with them that they had many opportunities to badmouth me to you while making themselves look better.
Georgie even planned our wedding, right in front of you. It was horrible.
That was the year that avoiding you started. They all told you that I was stalking you, and I didn't want to give you reason to believe it, so just hid from you. That didn't stop you being a dick though, did it? When Meaghan asked what you thought of me, you told her you'd rather cut yourself open with a blunt knife, put in a grenade and blow yourself up than have anything to do with me. That made me cry, so much that you may as well have done that to me.
I missed you that summer, too.
When we went back in the new year, I was still avoiding you. I even found a distraction and way to attempt to seem like I didn't like you. It worked, for a time. We barely spoke until year 10, when we became friends online via a project I was planning. That time talking let us clear up all confusion about the year before, and quickly become close friends. My boyfriend at the time was suddenly irrelevant - every attempt at forgetting you was undone, and I wanted to try my shot at being with you.
Long story short, you panicked and claimed to like Claire, and so I persuaded her to go out with you even though neither of you liked each other. Those months were painful, I cried so much and felt second best to Claire, and she wouldn’t let me forget it. Again.
Of course, you didn't work out. But we stayed friends anyway. Even while you were with Claire, we were close, to the point that we ended up in a water fight at her birthday party.
Talking to you was still as painful as ever. I thought we’d never get to be together, given my proximity to Claire, and so once again I resorted to ignoring you.
A week before we got together, James predicted what would happen. He called you the “anti-Nova”, because “opposites attract”. I don’t think an idiot sat rambling on a bin has ever been so right.
Then of course, one night it all changed. You kept calling my use of the word “silly” cute, much to my confusion, before asking what we were. I said “good friends”, and you said how sometimes I looked so sad that you just wanted to hug me. I wanted you to hug me, so told you that I wasn't trying to impress anyone if you weren't. You were. And you hadn’t even called on my matchmaking services. Dick. I was very offended, saying I saw where I stood. You told me I really didn't.
And so I asked who it was, and before telling me you made me promise not to stop talking to you once you did. I did, unsure who could be so awful that I would stop talking to you because of it.
It was me.
I knew, the second that you said it, that it was too good to be true. In all the years that I had known you, you had become a source of hurt, and any happiness that you had given me had only lead to further hurt later. It was a bad idea, a terrible idea, to give you the opportunity to do that further, but that would never have stopped me.
We stayed up until 5am talking, promising to keep it between the two of us. I wasn't entirely convinced that it was you, so you said you'd wear a grey hoodie the next day, to prove it. I didn't realise at the time, but I would sleep with that hoodie for months later.
We didn't talk in person once we said it would be secret. Just exchanged smiles in the corridor. And it didn't stay secret for long. My ex came over and I had to tell him, and of course once he knew everyone did.
You may remember all of this, but who knows, with how your head ended up twisting things. The rest is enclosed, but not just for you. I’m going to publish it in the morning. I want to make one thing clear: this is a book about you, not about me. Just as our relationship was, and our breakup, I'm irrelevant to this story. I refuse to keep this under lock and key any longer. It’s too much to bear, and I hope that you can understand.
Chapter 1 - Backlash
Waking up came with the realisation that I was his. He had chosen me, after years of wishing and waiting and crying, and it was honestly the best feeling.
The early October sun was glowing around the edges of my blind, and my bunk bed creaked as I sat up.
I checked my phone. He wasn’t up yet, but Nat was. She was the first of my friends to know, despite not being my closest. I could hardly have told Claire first, and still hadn’t spoken to her about it.
Hey, sorry if this seems like you’re second choice, but Meaghan can’t come to my birthday party, do you want to come? We’re going climbing.
I winced. I was very clearly second best, but after my last minute break up with Noah in favour of Devyn, I needed all the friends that I could get. I quickly showered and told my parents that I was going to Nat’s party, my stomach turning at the thought of climbing with my terrible fear of heights.
Their car pulled up a few hours later, and I hurried to get out the door.
“Sorry I took so long, I forgot my-”
Claire smiled at me from the front seat, and I winced again. This was going to be painful.
I barely said a word for the whole journey, but Claire wasn’t going to let me get off easily.
“Oh hey, Nova, the last time I was here, the person I was with told me that that statue looks like a mermaid.”
Flinching, I realised that this was where they had been on their one, very unsuccessful date. I didn’t take the bait, but Nat wasn’t so cautious.
“Who was it, C?”
“Nova should know, it was her boyfriend.”
A steely silence spread over the car, apart from Nat’s mum, who was blissfully unaware to the way those words stung.
“Nearly there now, girls.”
My stomach turned somersaults as we entered the climbing place, the smell of chalk overwhelming me. The other car of people arrived, and Nat’s boyfriend James joined us along with Chad and Ezra.
“You’ll need to be in teams of three.” The instructor told us, and Claire all but jumped beside me.
“I’ll go with Nova.”
Great, I thought, now my life is in her hands.
Chad made up the other member of our group, and the actual climbing was exactly as expected. I freaked out halfway up, and had to be bought back down, but the others all managed it easily.
It wasn’t until the food that it all went horribly, horribly wrong.
“Sorry, Nova, we didn’t know you’d be coming so the food isn’t ok for your allergies.” Nat apologised, scooting me into a seat next to Claire. “But Claire isn’t eating, either, so you can just sit with her.”We glanced at each other awkwardly, but I daren’t say anything. “Why don’t you two go and get a drink from the machine?”
Obligingly, we both stood up and walked out of the room, towards the drinks cooler. This tension between us couldn’t go on forever, it gave her more time to plot, so I took a deep breath and smiled.
“Hey, I’m sorry about what happened. If it hadn’t have been you that broke up with him, I wouldn’t have dreamed of saying yes to him.”
She forced a smile back. “It’s fine, honestly. I hope the two of you are happy.”
With a sigh of relief, I picked up my drink and led her back to the room where the others were.
The second she was through the door, she was yelling.
“I just can’t believe that you would do this to your best friend, Nova.”
Dazed, I stared at her. “But you said-”
“I loved him so much.”
The others were staring now, looking at her with pity. Panic began to rise.
“But you broke up with him?”
“Only because I loved him too much.”
I looked to the others for help, but they all avoided my gaze. “James?” I begged.
He finally met my eye. Among the others, I trusted him the most to speak out when he knew something was wrong. “Claire, it was months ago, and Nova has liked him for years.”
She slowed for a minute to think, before sitting down. “Well then fine, you can date him.”
“Thank you for the permission?”
“I’m not finished.” She slapped a hand down onto the table. “You can date him, but you can’t let him get between us.”
I threw my hands up in the air in surrender. “Fine, whatever.”
Thankfully, Nat’s parents returned then, and she knew better than to start something in front of adults. Again, I cursed the day that I got the two of them together.
Chapter 2 - Loyalties
By the time we were public, Devyn and I had been so used to pretending not to know each other that we didn’t quite know how to talk to each other. We hung around with the same group of people, so we’d always catch each other’s eye every now and then during conversations.
A few days in, I sat on the grass, talking with some of the others. With no warning, he sat next to me, throwing an arm around my shoulder. I felt myself blush, trying not to worry about which of us smelled of sweat.
“You look so awkward, Nova.” Nat laughed from over with James, Noah glaring at us from next to them.
“Is this ok?” Devyn whispered, making me blush further.
“Yeah…” I choked out, embarrassment throwing all the words I knew out of my mind. I couldn’t believe that I was under his arm, after so many years of wishing I could be…
I caught sight of Nick, Devyn’s best friend, staring at us and laughed.
“Look at his face!” I giggled at Devyn, pointing to where Nick stood frozen with such confusion on his face.
“I’d better go and fix that.” He laughed back, jumping to his feet.
Playing with a few strands of grass, I watched him go over to explain, still not quite believing that he was mine. While he wasn’t perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, I couldn’t help but admire him. With a mess of auburn hair and the tallest height in the year, his heavily muscled build definitely stuck out in a crowd.
I couldn’t help but compare him to Noah, whose hair was flattened by grease and build was significantly more… well average. Accidentally catching Noah’s eye, my smile fell. He was holding back tears, his fists balled.
“You don’t have to parade him in front of us.”
I looked away, leaving Nat and James to defend me from him, even though I knew I didn’t deserve it. Nothing about my decision to leave had been considerate, and he had truly loved me, even if I had failed to feel the same.
“You ok?” Devyn returned, putting his arm around me again.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I smiled, unable to help my glance at Noah watching us.
Conversations remained strained between us, but that didn’t stop us trying. I barely remember much of those days - they were years ago now - but I remember hanging onto every moment that I got with him, being determined to be with him for longer than Claire was.
The first glimpse that I got of the cruel side of him - the new him that is - came one lunchtime. We were play fighting, and he had me gripped against his chest with my back to him when his friend Freddie walked around the corner.
Freddie was a sort of running joke amongst our year. His more cuddly build bought him many insults, along with the story where he decided to steal cake from the canteen in Year 7, and on top of all that he had little concept of social boundaries.
He stood watching us for a few minutes, and I stiffened, trying to pull away. Devyn stiffened too, holding me still.
“Go away, Freddie.”
“Nah, I’m alright.”
His grip tightened even more.
“Surely he can stay, Dev, he’s not bothering me.” I lied. It was as if I hadn’t spoken.
“Seriously, Freddie, just go.”
He didn’t move, his boyish face watching us with a grin.
“Freddie…” I warned, beginning to struggle against Devyn’s arms.
“Just fuck off, Freddie.”
His smile widened at the sight of Devyn beginning to lose it, and I broke free of his arms. Fists against his temples, he stalked off, our group watching him as he went.
“What happened?” Nat appeared at my side.
“I don’t really know?” I tried to catch sight of Devyn, but he was long gone.
He reappeared a few minutes later, still tense.
“I’m sorry that you had to see that. It would have been a lot worse if you weren’t here.”
I eyed him warily, unsure of how to respond, as Freddie hadn’t done anything outrageous to merit that reaction.
“It’s fine.” I lied, just as the bell went.
A group of us were headed into town a few days later, but Devyn had to stay at school to finish some geography work, so we went without him. We sat under the bridge, playing truth or dare, but I clutched my phone in the hope that he would be able to go out when he was done.
He did eventually text, and we went to meet him, just as he was throwing away a can.
“What was that?” I asked tentatively.
“Energy drink.” He grunted back, stretching.
I sighed with relief. Following a few bad experiences with drunk people, I didn’t drink nor trust people that did, and the idea of him drinking in public freaked me out a little.
It wasn’t, however, without its effect. Before long, he had way too much energy, pushing Noah in the swings at the park and hitting a massive branch against a tree until it broke.
“Are you ok?” I asked when we were stood away from the others.
“Yeah, I’m fine, let’s get moving.”
We walked the long way around town to try and get rid of some of his energy, and he kept talking non-stop.
“Oh this bush looks fun.” He said, running up to a bush covered in spikes and grabbing a handful. “Ow, it’s a bad bush.”
With a sigh, I led him on further, into the streets.
“Huh bollards. That’s a fun word.” His attention turned to a poster nearby. “Hmm, ‘Refugee crisis’.” He mused. “Words.”
Lost for a response, I just walked next to him silently, until we eventually reached the spot where we met him.
Most of the others left, leaving just James, Devyn and I.
“I’d better be off then.” James said, leaving us alone.
The two of us walked on further until I spotted Noah’s mum in the distance, for the first time since I’d split up with him.
“Dev, that’s Noah’s-” I hissed as she walked closer.
“Oh Noah is such a fucking prick.” He yelled as I met her eye with an apologetic smile.
“Devyn, that was his mum!” I hissed again, mortified. “Why did you-”
“I have to go now.” Devyn said, walking off and leaving me alone.
“Devyn, I’m not allowed to be on my own.” I protested.
“I have to go.”
And with that he was gone.
Luckily, I ran into James, who took me to where I was meant to meet my Dad with an apology on Devyn’s behalf.
There were a few texts from him when I got back, asking if I got back safe, but I couldn’t bring myself to respond. He had been awful that whole time, after I’d looked forward to seeing him, to the point that I had a headache, so went to bed without replying.
The next week was half term. It passed with strained conversations and missing him terribly, as per usual, until we eventually planned to meet up in town. Initially, this was going to be in a group to avoid awkwardness, but only Meaghan could come, so the three of us met up with just as much (if not more) awkwardness than there would otherwise have been.
Bookish and sarcastic, Meaghan had left the school the year before, and I hadn’t seen her for ages. The two of them towered over me, not hesitating to point out this fact.
We wandered around for a while, skimming stones by the river while Meg and I caught up on what we’d missed. Meg knew full well how much I had cared about Devyn before we were together, and how difficult Claire could be, so didn’t hesitate to tell Devyn what she thought of him.
“If you hurt her, I’ll hurt you right back. And you stay the hell away from Claire because she’ll be on a warpath right now.”
Devyn awkwardly nodded, slipping an arm around my waist to stop me sliding around on the mud.
“Plus, you’re a lucky man, I mean she’s a good kisser.”
“Meg!” A few years before, a game of Truth or Dare had ended with Meg and I kissing, and we had joked about it since. “But thank you.” I grinned.
“Of course, you’d know that.” She nodded to Devyn.
There was an awkward pause. It had been a sore topic for us, as Devyn had only had one kiss, at eleven, and decided that he didn’t like kissing.
“Um actually, we haven’t-”
I was interrupted as a slipped straight onto my back in the mud. Laughing too hard to get up, I cringed under their confused and amused expressions.
Those few hours were great, but my buzz was ruined that evening when we were talking about the future on the phone.
It was no secret that he’d wanted to join the army for a long time, and I had strong doubts that anyone who joined the army did it for the right reasons, and if they truly knew what they were fighting for.
And so I asked him why he, personally, wanted to join.
“I want to be able to help the guys on my team get back to the people that love them.”
“What about the people that love you?”
He was silent for a minute.
“Look you’re not from a military family so you just don’t get it.”
“I don’t have to be from a military family to understand ethics, Dev.”
“Just fuck off, will you? I don’t want to talk to you.”
He wouldn’t talk to me for the whole next day, and I worried that I had lost him entirely after just two weeks. On reflection, I had done nothing wrong other than point out that he was wrong, but as I would learn later, he couldn’t stand being wrong.
When he finally did talk to me, I got no apology, just a warning that I shouldn’t do that again.