When you’re alone, it’s hard to believe in love. Whilst it married your neighbours, Mr and Mrs Bran, you had to listen to their arguments every night, which dampened your hopes that it could ever happen to you. The slamming fists, the shattering plates. You knew it was expressed in poetry, in literature, but this never convinced you when the words refused to move your mind, soaked in alcohol and clogged in smoke.
You spent your time at the bar. You drank next to the old men, those who ran the gas stations, the bakeries, the water sewage systems and the polling stations. The fights were a regular thing. Alcohol rings like a wrestling bell in these people and within an hour, you were between two or three men, who were flexing their muscles and throwing curses. You were never first to throw a punch, but when they knocked you off your stool, you fought back. At least once a week, you left the bar nursing your knuckles, with blood on your shirt.
One night, on your way home, you saw two men following a girl. Her steps became rapid as theirs became strides, like vicious, hunting hyenas. Before they wrangled her purse from her hands, you pulled them back. Two blows to the head, one to the gut and a kick to the groin, and they bailed, scampering off into the dark on limping legs. “Thank you,” she said. It was then you were reunited with Alice Meadows and it was then, as you helped her up from the ground, that you found your friend.
She worked in the library, stacking shelves and serving customers. As you sat on the grass of Newland Park together, drinking strawberry milkshakes, she told you how she loved to be among the books. When it was quiet, she’d dive between the aisles, scoop the best stories into her arms and indulge from behind her desk. It was her little world she could escape into.
It was then she thanked you again for saving her that other night. She placed her hand on yours. You were happy to have saved the girl, but you never guessed she would save you.
She took you home one day, and she fed you. She watched television with you, she drank coffee with you. She got you outside, she got you in clean clothes, she got you in clean habits, she got you running on weekends, she helped your posture, she held your head high, she made you laugh, she brightened your mood, she strengthened your spirit, and most importantly, she understood you. She read you like a book when you opened up to her and knew exactly what you needed. She was there for you.
One day, whilst helping you clean your room, she lifted your mattress and found beneath two hidden relics of your past. As she held your Playboys in one hand, your face went red. “You’re still a boy,” she laughed. She picked up The Masque of Anarchy, analysed the cover and began to flick through the pages. You explained to her how your Father gave it to you, and how he explained the meaning behind it when you were confused. You told her that he called you a lion. “You are a lion,” she said, and for the first time, she kissed you.
Before Alice, your life was at a minuetto pace. Tiny steps of bad habits. You thought your life was like stagnant writing. Repetitive stanzas your days, repeating lines your hours, and nights were rounded off with the rhyming couplets of alcohol and tobacco. You were anchored with depression and you had lost the will to live. You felt as if that boulder inside of you was locked in place, unable to move or grow, victim to the erosion of despair. But when Alice pressed her lips against yours, that feeling inside of you dissolved. You shook off the chains like dew and embraced her warmth, her kindness, her love. This was life in season.
You spent your days together. You took walks in the park, you shopped together, you went to the cinema, and you listened to the music from your childhood on rainy days. Every Saturday, you took a blanket to the fields and lay beneath the stars, counting constellations and connecting the dots. “I like it when it’s like this,” she once said, “When it’s still. When it’s calm. When the sun’s gone and the moon has his little moment to shine, to let us all know he’s there.” You returned her smile. “Lights out,” she said.
That summer transformed you. You were healthy, your mind was clear and you felt like you could breathe. With this clarity, you spoke to your mother and apologised, for the things you had done, for the things you had said. While she cried, she understood your anger, your sadness, and how life had been harsh to you. She hugged you for the first time in fifteen years.
On Tuesday, July 18th, you went to pick up some flowers for Alice for her birthday. There’s a florist in town who bundles them together, arranges them in delicate vases, tulips, roses, magnolia. You selected the perfect bunch, each petal fresh and vibrant, each bud rich in colour. On the way home, you stopped by the jewellers and picked up the ring you had chosen months ago.
As you approached the end of your road, you knew life was about to change once again, as you ran your thumb across the ring in your pocket. A person was sat on your doorstep, sporting an olive mohawk with a toothpick grin, and a greaser jacket dotted with metal studs. You recognised him as you got through the gate, that’s when you knew it was true. Billy Ross was back.