Then he leans me against the wall with the weight of his body, and because he isn’t a fucking saint, he kisses me. Jack O’Mara dips his head and kisses me in the snow, his lips trembling and then hot and sure, and I’m crying and kissing him back, opening my mouth to let his tongue slide over mine as he makes this low, injured animal noise in his throat. I feel the relief of him in every follicle of my hair, and in every cell of my body, and in the blood in my veins. His breathing is as shallow as mine, and it’s so much more than I’ve ever imagined, and trust me, I used to let my imagination run riot where Jack O’Mara was concerned.
He holds my face as if I’m precious and then pushes his fingers into my hair, cupping my head in his hands when I tip it back.
This is the only time we will ever kiss each other. He knows it, I know it, and it’s so achingly melancholy-sexy that I feel tears threaten again.
I cling to the lapels of his winter coat, our kiss salty with my tears, and I open my eyes to look at him because I want to remember this kiss till the day I die. His eyes are closed, his snow-damp lashes a dark sweep on his cheek, all of his attention focused on our once-in-a-lifetime kiss.
We break off at last, the spell broken by the engine of a car crawling slowly past because of the inclement weather. Our breath almost crystallizes on the ice-cold air as it leaves our bodies in sharp, painful bursts.
‘Let’s be kind to each other about this,’ he tells me. I expect he wishes that his voice were more steady than it is. ‘We both know it shouldn’t have happened, but it doesn’t have to mean anything, and it doesn’t need to change anything.’
It’s such a searing understatement that I almost laugh; the sigh that leaves me as I look away from him is rent with longing and self-loathing, and quiet ‘no one will ever kiss me like that again’ distress.
‘Maybe if we’d met under different circumstances,’ I say, looking at him again after a while, and he nods.
‘In a heartbeat.’
On cue, a taxi trundles slowly along the side street towards us, and he raises his hand to flag it down. It’s a good decision.
‘Not a soul,’ he reminds me quietly as he opens the door and puts my bags inside.
‘Not even a goldfish,’ I whisper as I climb in. I don’t smile to make light of it, because it’s not even slightly funny.
He hands the driver a note. ‘Take her home safely,’ he says. His eyes hold mine for a few long seconds as he slams my door. I’m reminded of the last time I watched him disappear into the night. I didn’t know him then; I had no control. It isn’t like that tonight. I know who he is, and how he tastes, and for a split second I long to open the door of the cab, to stop history from repeating itself.
I don’t. Of course I don’t. Despite the fairy-tale snowstorm out there, this isn’t Narnia. This is London, real life, where hearts get kicked and bruised and broken, but somehow they still keep beating. I watch him recede as the taxi lurches cautiously away, and he watches me too, his hands shoved deep in his pockets, his shoulders bunched against the wind. I lay my head against the cold glass as we turn the corner, my heart and my conscience lead heavy in my chest.
I wish I’d never laid eyes on Jack O’Mara.
* * *
New Year’s Resolutions
I’m not sure I should even write this down in case anyone finds it, even a goldfish.
1) I resolve to never, ever kiss my best friend’s boyfriend ever again. In fact, I’m never going to allow even one errant thought about him to enter my head.
2) I’m putting all unplatonic thoughts of Jack O’Mara into a crate, sealing it with bright yellow ‘toxic’ stickers and chucking it into the hinterland at the back of my head.
‘Happy New Year, mermaid girl.’
Sarah laughs as I pull her into my arms.
‘I’m sorry,’ I whisper into her hair, making a silent resolution to not kiss anyone other than Sarah this year.
‘What for?’ She holds me at arm’s length, her eyes narrowed slightly.
Shit. ‘For eating so much garlic last night. God knows how you’re able to come anywhere near this pong, I can smell it every time I yawn.’
She looks kind of amused and kind of confused. It’s a good job we’re both more than halfway towards being rat-arsed, because it’s exactly the kind of comment that could land me in all sorts of trouble. Honestly, it’s as if the truth is trying to leak out of me. I’m a petrol can riddled with holes, an accident waiting to happen.
HNY, Lu! Love you!
I trace the letters of Sarah’s text with my fingertip as I lie in bed. The New Year is less than two hours old, but nonetheless, I kissed Jack last year, not this one. This one is a clean sheet.
Love you too, Sar, hope you’re not too drunk! HNY xx
I press send, then click my phone off and lie facing the ceiling in the darkness. I’m grateful that my parents didn’t rush to reclaim my room as a study or a spare room when I left for uni; it’s pretty much as I left it, comforting and familiar. I’ve never been one to stick posters on the walls, but my childhood books line the shelf over the desk and the lilac dress I wore to my high school prom still hangs in my wardrobe. I cannot put a value on how much these things mean to me right now. Being in here is like stepping into a time capsule, or into my own protective Tardis, perhaps. Where would I have my personal Tardis fly me to, I wonder? I know the answer. I’d take it back to 21 December 2008 and I’d make myself miss that bloody bus. That way I’d never have seen Jack O’Mara before Sarah introduced us, and everything would have been okay. I don’t for a second think that I’d have allowed myself the luxury of anything other than platonic feelings for him then, and I wouldn’t be lying here now feeling lower than a snake’s belly. Before the kiss, I’d been able to uneasily square things with myself. I’d struggled with my feelings for him and I’d felt like a crap friend because of it, but I’d stayed on the right side of the line.
What I’ve done now is unconscionable; I can’t even attempt to justify it to myself. I haven’t seen either Sarah or Jack since that afternoon in London. I know he swore me to secrecy, but he didn’t have the right to ask it of me. I’m not blaming him, we carry the burden equally. And I don’t know if telling Sarah would be the honourable thing or just a way to make myself feel better and her feel worse. I’d lose her. I know that much. She’d probably ditch Jack too; there would be no winners. I don’t feel worried that he’s someone who will be a serial strayer, constantly ratting around behind her back; if that were the case I’d tell her without question. Perhaps I’m flattering myself, but what happened felt more personal than that, a few minutes of madness that will weigh heavily on both of our consciences.
I’m not going to tell her. I made myself a promise to for ever hold my peace about my feelings for Jack O’Mara, and there’s never been a time when that promise mattered more.
Sarah’s sleeping, Laurie’s working late at the hotel and I’m sat at their kitchen table drinking neat vodka at half past two in the morning. I’ve never been a big drinker but suddenly I can see its merits. It’s been weeks now since I kissed Laurie. Weeks, and I’m making a right royal fuck-up of pretending it didn’t happen. Literally every time I look at Sarah I wonder if today’s the day I should come clean. Every. Bloody. Day. I’ve been over it and over it in my head, trying to pinpoint the exact moment I was unfaithful. Was it when I asked Laurie to come for a beer? When I held her when she cried? Or was it way back, the very first time Sarah introduced us and we both made the decision not to mention the fact that we’d actually met before? Not that we had, exactly, but we weren’t strangers. I know that much for sure now. It was easier when I could tell myself that Laurie didn’t recall those few moments at the bus stop, but now I know that’s not the truth. I know for a fact that she remembered me, and because she remembered me twelve whole months later, I know that means something else too. Maybe just that she’s like me, blessed and cursed with an excellent memory; but I’m not sure. I’ve been unpicking all of the times we’ve spent together, examining fragments of remembered conversations, trying to see if I’ve missed an undercurrent. It’s not that I think she’s harbouring a crush on me or anything. For fuck’s sake. I’m not being conceited; I just feel like I’ve missed something here.