Brodie sat on Joe’s bedroom floor, holding a pen between her teeth. Golden flecks of sunshine danced across the rug. Outside the sun was streaming through spaces in between the trees. In the park, the popular kids were sharing cigarettes and drinking vodka stolen from parents' kitchen cupboards. Brodie saw them earlier when she’d walked past. They were laughing and looking happy. They didn’t notice her. If they did, they didn't wave or say anything. She was thinking about this when Joe appeared in the doorway with two glasses of iced coffee. An angelic pale yellow glow from the sun seemed to surround him. Brodie looked up, self-consciously removing the pen from between her teeth.
Joe flicked through his record collection before putting one on the turntable. Soon, the sound of a folky female singer trickled through the speakers. Her voice was smooth. It sounded like summertime.
“What’s up?” Joe asked, crossing his legs on top of a pile of Aztec print cushions put in place to pad out the wooden flooring, “You look sad.”
"I ache,” Brodie sighed, stretching her arms above her head. Joe pulled an oxblood cushion from beneath him and held it out to her.
Brodie smiled. “Not physically. I want something to happen. I’m aching for something to happen. I don’t know. I want to be somewhere and think this is what living life is.” She examined the sun-specked wooden floor as the words passed her lips. Then she smiled again, embarrassed.
“We’re living life right now,” Joe quipped. “There’s coffee. There’s music. There’s sun.” He paused. “I think the weather makes people feel this way. When it gets this hot and the sky’s so blue it’s kinda like the world’s begging you to do more, live more, be happier, y’know? It’s like a different kind of seasonal affective disorder. That’s why I prefer winter.”
“Hmm. Today’s pretty though, especially the view from your window,” Brodie observed, before taking a sip of coffee.
“It is,” said Joe, turning to the window. “I mean, who says that observing things means living less than participating anyway? Watching is still important. Every day the sky is a different colour and the moon looks different and music means something different. Life’s paralysing so we might as well lie around here and drink iced coffee.”
“But if something’s happening I wanna be a part of it,” Brodie insisted.
“There’s so much pressure to be something. I dunno if I’m ready for that,” Joe sighed. “I guess it’s easier to talk about the sky than try to start living.”
“Perhaps,” said Brodie, despondently. She chewed the inside of her cheek. “But we’re in here and everyone else is out there.”
“Not everyone else,” Joe said. “Do you think those posers that hang out in the park are living their lives more than us?
“No. Not more, just more,” she paused, “More, well, like I said, we’re in here. And they’re out there,” she said disjointedly. “We will have to start living our lives at some point and I worry that I’ll feel like they will always be one step ahead, like I’ll be trying to catch up for the rest of my life.
“Well, I’m glad we’re in here. I don’t like the hot weather.”
“Well, I do,” Brodie retorted. “I love summer.”
“You’d hate it,” Joe said, “sitting in the park with those people. All they’re doing is getting drunk and bitching about people they’re pretending to be friends with. You’re overthinking it and making it seem exciting just because you’re not there.”
“Well, it’s more adventurous than sitting here all day.”
“Shut up. This is a good record.”
“It’s good iced coffee too,” Brodie smiled, “but I’m sorry. I’m finding your deep, meaningful insights a little pretentious today. I don’t like being psychoanalysed.”
“Well, my deep, meaningful insights are leaving now anyway,” Joe said before downing the remnants of his iced coffee and standing up.
“Where are you off to?”
“Yeah, sorry but I’ve got to go to college this afternoon,” Joe said. When he noticed her face drop, he quickly added, “but you can stay here if you like, if it’s good enough for you. I know it’s not the park… but there’s food and drink in the kitchen. Just don’t touch the Turkish delight, it’s mine. And you can listen to records or watch a film or read something...Or you can go home if you want. I probably won’t be back until this evening but the house will probably stay empty ‘til then.”
“Right. Cool. Oh, one more thing. Don’t use the main toilet. It’s broken. You can use the one through Tyler’s room if you need to.”
“Are you sure you can’t stay?”
“I can’t. Sorry. Deadlines. Today’s been nice though.”
“Alright then,” Brodie shrugged. “I’ll walk to the door with you.”
Brodie held the front door open and watched Joe walk down the road. His tall shadow danced behind him. She closed the door only when the shadow was out of sight.
Brodie stood by the front door for a minute before going back upstairs. She walked through Tyler’s room to the toilet. Joe’s older brother had always fascinated Brodie, but she was annoyed at herself for it. The few times she had been around him, he hardly spoke, which she had interpreted as mysterious. Maybe it was because he was older. Or maybe it was just his face.
Brodie had never been in Tyler’s room before. It smelt faintly of Lynx deodorant. The walls were bare except for one Radiohead poster and some greasy Blu Tack stains. There were a few clothes draped across the room and the bed wasn’t made. Brodie walked through to the en suite.
As she sat on the toilet, she heard the front door open and close. Joe must have forgotten something. She washed her hands and unlocked the bathroom but, before she could leave, Tyler was already in the room. There was a girl with him. Neither of them said much except for Tyler’s misguided reassurances that they had the house to themselves. He took her top off. Brodie stood by the bathroom door. She tried to speak or make a noise to make them aware of her presence but she realised she’d left it too late. She tried to look away but she couldn’t take her eyes off them. She had never seen anyone have sex in real life before.
Afterwards, Tyler put his boxers on and lay back on the bed while the girl got dressed and ready to leave. The scene felt depressing, but Brodie still couldn’t look away. Once Tyler was alone again, he put his arms behind his head, looked up at the ceiling and sighed. Then he must have finally felt the sensation of being watched because he jerked his head towards the bathroom door. There, his gaze froze and his mouth opened slightly in shock. Brodie lowered her eyes in embarrassment.
Tyler got up from the bed and walked over to the bathroom. “What are you doing?” he said. “You’re Joe's friend, right?”
Brodie nodded but didn’t look up. She didn’t say anything.
“Did you watch?” he smiled. He seemed to find it amusing.
Brodie shook her head. “No. I was just in the bathroom because the other toilet’s broken.”
“You’re lying,” said Tyler. “I think you watched it all.”
“I was just-
“So, do you want to do that with me?” Tyler asked.
“You know what I mean,” Tyler said.
Brodie felt awkward and ashamed. She went silent, wanted to disappear. But while these feelings were there, other thoughts were starting to creep in. This would be one of those living my life moments, she thought, one she could laugh about over pints at the students’ union when she went to uni. Maybe she would regret it, but at least it would be an experience. She thought, any experience is better than no experience.
This time, Brodie nodded slowly. Tyler kissed her. She undressed. He touched her in the shower. Afterwards, they lay on the bed and Brodie thought that he treated her more gently than the girl he was with earlier. Maybe because he thought of her as his little brother’s friend. He seemed nervous.
Brodie got up to leave when they had finished, but Tyler held her arm and said, “Stay.”
“But,” Brodie began. She hadn’t foreseen this. Her plan had been to leave straight after. She felt self-conscious, as though the moment had become more intimate than it’d been when he was inside her.
“No. Stay. I want to talk,” Tyler said. “Lie back down.”
As she did what he said, it occurred to her that she would probably do anything he told her to do. Brodie lay back down and stared at the ceiling feeling like she was waiting for it to fall in. She was aware of the weight of her body and how she was positioned. No matter how she shifted, she still felt awkward and uncomfortable. Tyler had said he wanted to talk but it seemed like hours before he opened his mouth again.
“That wasn’t your first time, was it?” he said, eventually.
Brodie shook her head. “It was my second.”
“You and Joe didn't…?”
“No. It was someone else.”
“Ok,” he paused. “Are you going to tell him? Joe?”
“Probably not,” said Brodie. “I think it’d be weird.”
“Ok,” Tyler said. “I agree.” Then he sighed. “Fuck.” He didn’t say anything again for a long time, then he said, “I don’t like myself.”
Brodie didn’t know why he was telling her this, but she said, “I don’t like myself either.”
“But you’re so good,” he said. “Shit, I’m sorry if I made you feel weird earlier.”
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” he said. “You and Joe have all your books and stuff, you know, whatever else it is you do and talk about. I don’t have that.”
“Don’t talk like that,” Brodie said. “Like you think that makes us better. I wish I was more like you. I mean, there’s only so much you can read and talk about before you need to start living.”
“This isn’t living though,” Tyler said. “It’s depressing. I don't mean you. Just life isn’t what I expected it to be.”
They lay in the brightly lit room in naked silence again.
“Look, I’m not trying to please anybody,” Tyler said suddenly. “I know I can be selfish and mean. I think I’m a bad person.”
“I don’t think I believe in good or bad people,” said Brodie. “Saying that just makes you sound a bit self-obsessed. That’s all.”
“Well, I’m self-obsessed then.”
“I think most people are.”
“Why did you say you wish you were more like me?” asked Tyler.
“You actually do things,” said Brodie. She felt that Tyler was like a character she’d read about in a book. Maybe because he wasn’t in college anymore or because he’d had sex with lots of different people. “I’m so tired and bored with my life and who I am,” she continued. “Sometimes I just wanna run away. Somewhere completely different where no one knows what I’m like. Or just never stop anywhere and keep travelling. Just drive and drive and drive.”
“Why don’t we do it then?” Tyler said, alertly. Brodie turned to look at him now. “I’m serious. I’ve got a car. I can drive. Let’s go wherever we want.”
Brodie didn’t answer.
“You don’t hate me, do you?” Tyler asked.
“No,” Brodie said.
“Good. Well, why not? Let’s run away together then,” Tyler said.
“I don’t have any of my stuff,” Brodie protested, sitting up. “I’d need to go home and pack.”
“No, you don’t,” Tyler said as he got up and started getting dressed. “You can get new stuff.”
“We don’t have any money.”
“Yes, we do.” Tyler crouched down and pulled out a box from under the bed. There was cash inside it.
Brodie grabbed the blanket and wrapped it round her then stood up to look. She knew it probably wouldn’t last long, but it was still more cash than she had ever seen up close. “How’d you get that?”
“I sell a bit of weed and sometimes other stuff,” he said. “Mostly to friends and friends of friends. It’s no big deal, but I’ve been saving. I reckon it’s enough to get us started. Do you hate me now?”
Brodie shook her head.
“Ok, well we’ll take this and get out of here. Get dressed. I’ll grab some drinks and snacks from the kitchen then we’ll drive.”
Brodie put on her clothes to the sound of Tyler’s bare feet rushing down the wooden staircase. She got ready as quickly as she could. She was worried that she would change her mind if she had time to be still and think. She decided to write a note to Joe. She’d still be able to text him once they were on the road, but she thought he would appreciate a note more. She went to Joe’s room for a pen and paper. Sorry she wrote. Then, thinking it sounded more like a brief suicide note than a goodbye one she threw it away. Instead, she wrote, Going away for a bit. Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever on the road… I’m sorry xxx Brodie looked around at the comfort of Joe’s room. This was familiar. She could curl up with a book, put on a record, light some incense and wait for him to get back from college. But, no. She’d made her decision. It was Tyler. Tyler and drug money and the road. This was what she wanted.
Tyler’s voice called her from downstairs, “Brodie. Are you ready? I’m ready to go.”
With a rush of adrenaline, she propelled herself forwards, rushing downstairs to join Tyler who was holding a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a six pack of beer and Joe’s Turkish delight. There was a pop-up tent by the door. “Ready?” he asked.
“Let’s go,” he said.
As she put her seatbelt on, Brodie felt like she’d crossed over to a new place and she would never, ever get back to the girl she was when she’d left the house that morning, when she’d shut the front door and walked up the drive then through the alleyway to Joe’s house. Maybe from the moment Tyler had touched her in the shower, it had already been too late to go back. It made her head spin. She looked back at the house she used to pass on her way to school every morning and watched it get smaller and smaller until they turned the corner. She turned off her phone. No one would notice she had gone until the evening anyway.
“Where are we going?” Brodie asked.
“We’re just gonna drive.”
“Got any music?”
“The CD player’s broken.”
The confessional mood that Tyler had been in earlier had clearly come to an end and Brodie was too on edge to try and restart it. He was back to his usual silent self so neither of them said anything. They weren’t lying next to each other in bed anymore. There, they had been co-conspirators. Now, she realised she didn’t actually know Tyler at all.
“We should find somewhere to stop off overnight,” said Tyler. “I packed a tent. We can sleep under the stars.”
Brodie thought how romantic that sounded then thought about how uncomfortable it would probably be. “Do you like camping then?” she said, to try and lighten the mood.
“I like taking loads of MDMA in a field,” he smiled.
“That’s not the same,” she said. “We’re not going to a festival.” It would be cold and they would be alone, but she didn’t say the last part aloud.
They drove for another hour during which Brodie gazed out the window watching familiar roads turn into unfamiliar ones. She ate Joe’s Turkish delight. It got dark. Tyler turned into a country lane. They pulled over and got out of the car. Tyler opened the boot and took out the beer and the tent then they started walking.
“We can set up the tent somewhere around here,” he called back to Brodie. “Just follow me.”
“Did you know that like 97% of the country is private land?” Brodie said.
“I’m sure we’ll be fine,” Tyler replied.
She was watching Tyler instead of looking at the ground, growing wary. One moment she was walking, watching him and wondering how much she could trust him. Then she tripped. Her knee was scraped but she thought she was ok until she tried to get up again. She cried out in pain.
Tyler turned around. “What happened?”
“I think I’ve sprained my ankle,” she said. “Or twisted it or something. I don’t know. I don’t think I can walk on it.”
Tyler rolled his eyes. “Don’t be stupid,” he said. “I bet you haven’t twisted it. It’s probably just bruised.”
“No, really,” she said, exasperated. “I think I’ll need to get it looked at.”
Tyler sighed in disgust. “Fine. We’ll set up the tent here then. Have a beer. That’ll help the pain.”
Tyler opened a can of beer and passed one to Brodie. He put up the tent while she wondered what to do next. Then he sat down a few metres away from her. They drank quickly and in silence.
“What are you thinking?” asked Tyler, a while later.
“I’m thinking that my ankle is really fucking hurting,” Brodie said, angrily, “and you don’t care.”
“Fucks sake. I thought this is what you wanted. It’s not gonna be perfect, but it’s something different.”
“The only reason I came was because I wanted to leave that shitty town,” Brodie started to cry.
“Well, fuck you then. We’re not going back now. We’ve come too far. You got me excited about this.”
“Fuck you,” Brodie said. “I need my ankle looked at.” She managed to limp over to him to try and show him how swollen it was.
“You’re such a child.”
“I thought you liked young girls.”
“Who told you that?” he snapped angrily. “You’re only two years younger than me!”
“That’s what people say,” she said.
“Who said that? That’s bullshit.”
“You’re getting a bit defensive about something that’s supposedly not true.”
“It’s a fucking lie,” he spat, opening another beer.
“Oh my god, you’re so pathetic,” Brodie raised her voice. “You’re a loser!”
“You bitch,” he said.
What came next happened so fast that she didn’t realise what he’d done until afterwards. She put her hand to her cheek where the flesh was hot and pink. The sting of his hand was still there.
“I want to go back,” she whispered. Her tears stung her cheek where he’d hit her.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
“Take me back,” she said louder. “Take me back and we won’t say anything more about it.”
“Okay,” Tyler mumbled. “Let me sort the tent."
As Tyler packed up, Brodie’s tears turned to sobs. How could she have been so stupid? The anger had passed and she felt nothing but disappointment and self-loathing. This wasn’t what she had wanted. She had wanted life to be like a film. She wanted something that would never happen. She would be back home soon and all she had gained was a twisted ankle and the crushing feeling that nothing would ever be how she imagined it. She had lost some innocence, she realised, and a decent amount of hope. She felt angry at herself for sleeping with Tyler, for not just staying in Joe’s room, for eating Joe’s Turkish delight, for being a bad friend.
Tyler helped her limp back to the car. The stars were so bright, but when Brodie saw them, all she could think about was how they were dead.
“The adventure’s over,” Tyler said ominously as they drove back, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, the roads becoming familiar once more.Brodie rested her head back on the seat and cursed herself. She watched the car headlights on the other side of the road. She watched them speed up as Tyler slowed down, pulling back into the edge of town.