The Nearness of You An Exclusive Flashback Scene from Ryan's Point-of-View
I scroll up through Marcy’s texts to find the address again, even though I know I’m outside the right building. I don’t know why I’m feeling so nervous. Well, it’s not even nerves, I don’t think. It’s … anticipation. Sometimes I have to prepare myself for her energy. That’s what I like about Marcy, though – her vitality. It has a good effect on me. Christ, it sounds like I’m describing a brand of yoghurt. But I guess it’s this party, too, meeting her friends. It’s starting to feel like we’re making this a proper thing – me picking her up, us going somewhere I won’t know anyone but her. I swallow, trying not to discourage myself before the night’s even started. I sort of wonder why Marcy’s ended up coming back to mine the few times we’ve spent the night, anyway. Maybe her place is some kind of hoarder’s nightmare? Or she collects, I don’t know, blow-up dolls? Bomb-making materials? I take a breath, and glance at the photo of Marcy already on my phone’s screensaver, wrapped up in my bedsheets and posing. Don’t be a fucking idiot. I need to stop stalling and press this buzzer. ‘He-lloo?’ ‘Hey. It’s Ryan.’ Marcy giggles. ‘Hi, babe! Come up.’ The door buzzes loudly, and I pull it open when I hear the click. I walk the flight of stairs slowly, checking the door numbers until I see nine. I roll the sleeves of my shirt again, and rub my forehead as I knock and wait. I can hear a dog barking, and voices inside – Marcy shouting something to her flatmate, I think. ‘Yeah, OK,’ I hear through the door, and then it swings open – and my heart stops. I stare, but she’s pulling the dog away from the door as he wags his tail enthusiastically and lets off another friendly bark. When she looks up, she stares at me too. I blink, not sure if I’m just imagining this. It can’t be. How-- ‘Heeey!’ I hear Marcy call as she pokes her head out from a room off the hallway. ‘Charlie, come on, boy, come here.’ The dog trots towards her obediently. ‘Come in, babe, I’ll just be two secs. This is Taylor. T, Ryan!’ She disappears again. I continue to stare at the woman in front of me, not having said a word, still standing in the doorway. ‘Taylor,’ I repeat finally, and it feels like the perfect answer to a question I asked a very long time ago. She takes a shaky breath, and nods. ‘Er, yeah. Come in.’ She steps aside, her eyes flicking intermittently up at me. ‘I’m just going to … Um, why don’t you go through to the living room?’ She gestures vaguely down the hall. ‘Marcy will be there in a minute. I’m … I’m just going to …’ She tails off and shuts the front door, then slips into a room that I assume is her bedroom. I stand in the hallway, still stunned. It’s her. It really is her. Her hair, her face, her eyes. Everything. Bloody hell. And her voice, at last. It’s sort of unexpected: soft but low, with a scuff of gravel. I swallow hard. She must recognise me too, or why would she seem so— I have to deliberately rearrange my face muscles as Marcy swoops back out of her bedroom and launches herself towards me. Her lips press against mine, her long, slim arms wrap around my neck, and my hands instinctively grip on to her waist. It’s the kind of kiss that would make me forget most things, but not right now. Not now I know her name. Taylor. Marcy pulls away and beams up at me, and I can’t help smiling too. ‘Hello,’ she purrs, and I kiss her forehead. ‘Hey.’ I survey her outfit: a loose, cropped T-shirt thing, and tight jeans – casual but allowing a full appreciation of her smooth, brown, toned midriff. ‘You look beautiful,’ I say, because she does. Marcy tosses her long slick of black hair over one shoulder and winks. ‘Why, thank you. You don’t look so bad yourself. Are you thirsty? We should probably get going in a minute anyway. But oh, so, yeah, let me introduce you to Taylor properly,’ she says, before I can respond to any of it. ‘T?’ she yells. ‘You ready, hon?’ My heart starts to pound at the idea of being in the same space with her again. With Taylor. Jesus, I know her name … Her eyes are straight on me, wary, as she emerges from her room, pulling on a leather jacket and balancing her bag’s strap on her shoulder. She pushes her fingers into her wild curls self-consciously. My mouth goes dry. ‘So, Taylor, this is Ryan,’ Marcy starts, saying it as though it’s a follow-on from a conversation they’ve already had. She turns to me. ‘Ry, this is my best mate in the whole world, Taylor!’ Her best mate … My mind is racing. My hand floats up, and I’m dying to wipe it on my jeans before I reach out to Taylor, but I can’t without it seeming weird. ‘Uh—’ I begin, but she cuts me off. ‘Hi. Nice to meet you finally,’ Taylor says, quickly and emphatically. Her eyes bore into mine, huge and round and chocolate-brown and gorgeous. I think she’s imploring me not to say anything – not to mention that we’ve met before. I clear my throat and give her a smile that I hope is reassuring. Her eyes soften a little. ‘Yeah. Really good to meet you,’ I say, as if that could encompass the feelings I’m experiencing. I try and focus on not making a complete arsehole of myself, but the moment we begin to shake hands – the moment my palm presses against hers – Taylor’s eyes fix on mine again, a singular memory crackling between us. And I’m back there, to that day at the cinema. Her hand in mine.
I was running late, and I always hate missing the beginning of films. Even though I’d seen Paper Moon at least three or four times, it was still one of my favourites. I reckon it was seeing Tatum O’Neal, so young and acting so well, that first put the idea in my own head about acting as a career. Such as it is. Anyway, I’d never seen it on the big screen, and there was something about the twisted father-kid relationship I’d always loved too. I would have taken that over the faint memories of the guy whose actual DNA I got, any day. I knew I shouldn’t complain – the father I ended up with may not have been my biological dad, but Frank’s pretty fantastic all the same. Him and Mum. Amazing, always. I swallowed, thinking about having gone to Elaine’s flat the previous week. That feeling I’d had, being there at last; the awkwardness and anger, shot through with a strange, pure love for a woman I barely knew – who barely knew me, but who I know loved me, too. The overwhelming guilt of finding my birth mother and seeing her behind my parents’ back … I pulled my thoughts away from that, waited for the cashier to print my ticket, and idly watched the cleaner finish vacuuming the lobby. It was early for being at the cinema, and quiet. I needed that. Living with Chris and Gina was fine at first, but their incessant, screeching break-ups to make-ups were starting to get on my fucking nerves. It had never made sense to me, the extremes of their relationship, loving right out there at the edges. I always thought love was meant to be calm, a still centre, or whatever. But then, so far in my life, I had no real frame of reference. Anyway, Chris and G had been fighting that morning, and I’d been working a bar shift late the night before, but they didn’t seem to care. Another reason why I shouldn’t live with fellow actors – none of us hold down regular day jobs, and so we were all in each other’s faces too much. I didn’t even bother telling them I was heading out, and I’m pretty sure they’d moved on to the make-up stage by the time I left. But it worked out – a nice empty cinema, a comfort-film, and some time alone to reconvince myself that I was really sure about what I was doing with my life. I walked into the empty theatre, blinking against the sudden darkness. I was relieved that it looked like I’d only missed the adverts and not the trailers, when I realised there was one other person in there. A woman. She sniffed loudly, and exhaled a slow, shaky breath. She was crying. I glanced over at her again to make sure, and just as I did, she turned and looked up at me. The light from the cinema screen illuminated her face, and I stared. She was completely beautiful. A halo of tight, soft curls framed warm caramel skin and huge round eyes. Tears glistened on her cheeks, in her eyelashes, and her full lips were parted, like she was breathing through her mouth. She’d been crying, hard and with abandon, and I’d interrupted. I felt like I was frozen to the spot as she quickly looked away again, but eventually I managed to force myself to sit down on the nearest seat – the same row she was on, just on the aisle. The film started, but I could barely concentrate on it. We didn’t look at each other, or say anything, but I had never been so aware of anyone in my life. She sniffed a few times, taking long breaths like she was trying to get herself under control. I wanted to tell her that she didn’t have to, that it was OK to let go. I wanted to gather her in my arms, to hold her while she did, and it scared the shit out of me, because I’d never felt anything so strongly about someone I’d only just laid eyes on. But instead I had a thought, and felt around inside the pocket of my jacket … Yes. From a cold a couple of weeks ago, and I still had them. I pulled out the packet of tissues, and then risked another glance over towards her. She was staring straight ahead, swiping her fingers over her cheeks quickly. I watched them trail down her face, mesmerised, wishing I could live vicariously through her fingertips. I was too far away to reach over, so I stood up, moved closer to her, and held out the tissues. I was going to move back again, but once I was near her, I couldn’t stand the thought of not being. So I sat down, one seat between us. I opened my mouth to whisper something, but nothing came out, and as she looked down at what I held out to her, she let out a small, sweet laugh, and her eyes flicked up to mine. I would have stripped the clothes off my own back to wipe her cheeks if it would have made her smile like that again. She took the tissues from me, her fingers brushing against mine, sparking invisibly. My breathing quickened a little, and I wanted to say something, but I just didn’t know what to say. She wiped her face and drew in another long breath. I hardly noticed I was mirroring her until she looked at me, and we both instinctively did it again. And she gave me that smile again – so captivating, but edged with sorrow. We stared at the screen for a while, but then I heard her seat fold up. She’s leaving, I thought, panic racing through me. But no. She moved across, and sat in the seat next to mine. The thudding of my heart in my chest must have been audible even over the film. I risked another look her way, but my eyes darted back to the screen as I felt her arm press against mine on the armrest between us. My fingers gripped the edge of it, tense for a moment – but then a warm calm seemed to drift in and settle over me. Like this was where I was meant to be. And so, slowly, ever so slowly, I moved my hand closer to hers … my fingers in between her fingers … my palm against her palm. Until … Her hand was in mine. I suddenly felt like I never wanted to let go. We stayed that way, watching the film, holding hands. Then the film finished, and she suddenly unfurled our fingers and stood up, like it had at last dawned on her that she was palm to palm in an empty cinema with a total stranger. But the spell binding us still didn’t break. I knew it hadn’t, and I know she knew too. She looked down at me, pulling on her coat, her eyes never leaving mine. Say something, say something, say something. I didn’t know if I was silently begging her or myself. But it didn’t happen. Neither of us said a word. She put the packet of tissues gently on the armrest, like some weird version of Cinderella’s slipper. And then, just as I convinced myself that I had to speak, to say literally anything – she was gone. Now, her hand is in mine again, and once again I don’t want to let go. But I feel Taylor’s hand slip away. ‘Wicked,’ Marcy’s saying. ‘Well, we should get going, yeah? Bye bye, Chuckie,’ she calls, and the dog trots out of the kitchen to receive a few vigorous head rubs and nose nuzzles. ‘Be a good boy for Mummy.’ Taylor’s eyes are avoiding mine. I stand aside to let the two women head out of the front door, and wait while Marcy locks up. Taylor jogs quickly ahead of us down the stairs. I watch her retreating back as Marcy laces her arm through mine, and we head out into the warm summer air, her smile infectious. What am I going to do?