by Emma Hughes
Gareth stood at the bus stop with June’s arms belted around his waist. She clung onto to him, and her clothes smelled strongly of his aftershave. She’d dabbed it on instead of deodorant that morning after a steaming, foamy bath that drained the hot water tank.
“I had fun last night,” she said, pressing her face into his chest. A plastic bag cruised past them on the pavement. Gareth knew that if he mentioned it June would say something about it being just like in American Beauty. He looked over the top of her head.
“That’s your bus,” he said.
She had been standing by the kitchen sink, alone with her arms wrapped across her stomach. It was past midnight, and the only two people Gareth knew at the party had paired off and locked themselves in the bathroom. He went over and asked her whether she was alright for a drink. She said she could do with a top-up and held out a dimpled hand for him to shake. I’m June, she said. They talked in short bursts. She was two years older than him and living with her parents, but had been saving up for a deposit on a place of her own. He liked the way her face creased with pleasure when he told her she looked a bit like Kate Winslet. Her feet, puffy and flushed, were stuffed into silver sandals. They were clearly new, bought for a big night. After about an hour Gareth leaned down to kiss her, and she met him with awkward enthusiasm, hands hovering behind his back. She didn’t seem to know what to do with them, like someone bewildered by the buffet in a cheap Chinese restaurant. Later, he lifted her up and chucked her around to the music, bracing his arms against her weight. She honked like a seal and thrashed her legs about in the air. When he got her home she folded her clothes as she took them off.
The bus shook and huffed as it pulled in. A string of people unspooled from the doors onto the pavement, scarfed up to the eyes and rubbing their hands together. June gave Gareth a long squeeze. He eased her off him and
took a step backwards.
“You’d better get on,” he said. June nodded.
“Well,” she said, looking up into Gareth’s face for signs of encouragement. Finding none, she stopped speaking and gave him a laboured smile. Somewhere behind the muscles in her cheeks was an awareness of every film they wouldn’t watch together and all the pet names that would stay unformed. Then she was gone. Her arms swung at her sides like pistons as she clambered onto the bus. Gareth didn’t stay to watch it go. The day, as he turned left into it, was bright and clear. He was halfway home before he realised his wallet had gone.
Emma Hughes would do anything for love, but not that. She’s a freelance journalist, and her current hairstyle is a tribute to Scott Walker.