Nathan was composing poetry.
It had been going on for almost a month despite various attempts to stop himself. It would have been acceptable if Nathan considered himself a poetic sort of person, however he had never been before and had no intention of becoming so now. He had tried everything he could think of to refocus his mind. Alcohol, television and sport had no effect; he’d even gone to the gym. Nothing had worked. He had finally resorted to studying in an attempt to guide his brain to better things.
It wasn’t working either. Black figures swam lazily across the page of the large reference book in front of him. Tired eyes followed one equation that seemed to slip off the page completely and drift across the table until it settled quite happily on the blond woman opposite him who was causing Nathan so many problems.
Knowing that she would not notice his gaze when she herself was staring so intently across the room, his eyes took the opportunity to appreciate her long legs and perfect figure. It took a long while before he realised that, once again, she wasn’t his text book.
Three weeks earlier Nathan had finally admitted to himself that she was his girlfriend. This was a terrifying thought for someone whose relationships had previously been based on how much they could irritate his mother. Yet instead of fleeing the scene as quickly as he could, he was spending a Saturday morning soaking in the warm contented feelings that accompanied the presence of Kassandra and trying to think of a word that accurately did justice to the colour of her eyes.
Kassie brushed blond hair out of her face absently and a little frown creased her forehead briefly as she stared across the cafe. Nathan sighed and took another sip of his coffee. He didn’t usually go for blonds, preferring girls with dyed hair, tattoos and piercings, the type of girl who knew where the good parties were. Yet there was something about Kassie that fascinated him. Even with her golden hair, pale skin and perfect cheekbones, there was something mischievous that twinkled behind her innocent looks.
This was most likely due to how she dressed, he thought idly, knowing that everyone in the cafe had spent time leering at her bare legs and tiny shorts. Even in November, she dressed like it was the height of summer. Nathan couldn’t stop himself from sighing again. She was stunning. She was like the first snowdrop of spring embraced in early morning frost.
Nathan was composing very bad poetry.
Trying to break himself out of the concerning warm emotions crawling up his chest, he followed Kassie’s eyeline to a middle-aged couple arguing at another table. He could not hear their conversation but he immediately empathised with the chubby man being scolded severely by his wife. Grease glistened on the bacon in his sandwich as it waved in the air, desperate to reach the man’s mouth before he had to defend himself again.
They made an odd couple, the woman thin and tidy with a perfectly selected outfit, while her husband’s scruffy appearance was made more comical by the bulging stomach that was only just being contained by some heroic shirt buttons. Contrasting though they may be, he could notice nothing that should have fascinated Kassandra so completely.
“What has he done?” Nathan asked his girlfriend.
“Hrm?” Kassie responded absently, “I’m fine.”
Knowing he wasn’t going to get a better response, he continued to stare at the couple, suppressing the urge to cheer when the bacon sandwich finally reached its target. Nathan’s stomach rumbled in appreciation. Kassie did not look like she was going to move so he turned back to the large hardback in front of him but it was no use, words continued to dance across the page. Far too hungover to focus on text that small, he closed the book, slamming the pages together more heavily than he intended. He’d only brought it for show anyway.
The sudden noise succeeded in bringing Kassie back to the present. She jumped, turning back to him with wide confused eyes before her expression melted into an apology.
“I did it again didn’t I?” She asked him, biting her lip.
“Don’t worry about it.” Nathan replied, smiling. He was used to her losing herself in another world. Each time she would slam back to Earth suddenly and look around in confusion, as if her eyes had to take time readjusting to the colour of the real world.
It was just one of many odd traits that baffled and entranced Nathan equally. He was beginning to think she wasn’t so different from his usual type after all. She was certainly odd.
“Can you hear what they’re saying?” he asked her, nodding towards the middle-aged couple.
“No,” she replied, clearly forcing herself to keep her eyes on him and not turn around again, “but it doesn’t look like he’s going to survive the night.”
He slurped his coffee and thought that she was probably right. They had stopped arguing now, the woman staring out of the window with arms tightly folded across her chest. Nathan mentally shuddered. He would never get married.
Kassie stretched her arms above her head, no doubt trying to loosen herself up after sitting still for so long. Her sweater rode up slightly and Nathan was not the only man in the room whose eyes drifted down to her midriff. He should probably do something alpha male and protective, he thought, but he was too busy feeling smug.
“Let’s go,” she ordered once she had brought her arms back down to rest her head in her hands.
Nathan glanced at his watch and watched it tick over to 12.01.
“Pub?” he asked.
“That’s not what I mean,” Kassie sighed with irritation.
Nathan knew exactly what she meant, but continued to act oblivious.
“You want to go home? Or back to mine?” He asked innocently.
Kassie leaned forward and stared at him intently, “Let’s get out of here.”
“Kass, I have studies, expensive studies. I can’t just drop everything and run off around the world.” Two years ago and he would have been appalled at himself.
She ran a hand through her hair roughly which she did every time she was annoyed, and she was usually annoyed at him.
“Look, we’ll go away together I promise,” he continued, “as soon as I have finished here we can go explore the world like you want okay? Just give me a year or so.”
“Why? So you can get a job and buy a house and settle here for the rest of your life?” She demanded, crossing her arms and looking alarmingly like the woman from across the cafe.
“Get a job? I seriously doubt that will happen.” He joked with a small smile.
Kassie didn’t seem amused.
“So why bother?” She demanded, “If you won’t get a job at the end of it, what’s the point?”
“For all those good years complaining how useless my degrees are. I’ve earned that.” He flashed her his most charming grin but it made no impression on the icy stare sent his way. If he was honest, his sudden devotion to his research surprised him as much as Kassie.
“I’m bored with England,” she responded, her voice soft but determined, “I’ve stayed here a year already. There’s so much of the world I haven’t seen yet.”
“You’ve seen a lot more than most people.” He replied with a hint of envy dripping from his tongue.
Kassie rarely spoke about her past or her family, when she did it was to captivate him with tales of backpacking through Asia, exploring the Amazon, or to describe ancient ruins in such vivid detail it was as if they weren’t ruins at all. Her breathless awe as she described an ancient temple or isolated Laos village was captivating. Nathan loved to watch her whole body become animated with the thrill of describing her worldly exploits. She would almost glow with energy.
Each time it would end with an argument when Nathan refused to drop his life and run away with her. He was beginning to get irritated with it and could feel a fight brewing beneath their skin. He was only in his twenties. There was plenty of time to explore the world for himself.
“I’ll go on my own.” She said quietly after a long pause.
Nathan’s eyes snapped to hers.
“I’m being serious Nathan,” she continued, “I need to get out of this place. It’s suffocating me. You can either come with me or I’ll go without you.”
Nathan took in her appearance more seriously this time. Her arms were still folded across her chest and she was taking deep breaths through her nose, her lips pressed together thinly. She looked nothing like the carefree girl he knew. She had never looked more fierce and determined in the six months he had known her.
A fear fluttered in his chest suddenly that was to sit there for weeks as he considered that this was exactly the type of girl who would leave without a word.
“Don’t.” He said sincerely, desperate not to have this fight now. “We’ll go together I promise. Just as soon as they kick me off the course for failing.”
The joke did nothing to ease the tension.
“We’ll go.” He repeated with a small smile, “I promise.”
She sighed unhappily and gave him a small nod. It was enough for the moment.
“In the meantime we’ll do whatever you want to do today, all right? I’ll pay the bill.” He grinned at her with more enthusiasm than he felt and she eventually cracked, replying with a small smile of her own.
Nathan gulped down the rest of his coffee and jumped up from his seat while Kassie picked up her bag.
Leaning on the counter while the waitress collected his change, he kept his eye on his girlfriend, terrified that she would disappear if he blinked. Yet his gaze was drawn away from her and back to the middle-aged couple they had been joking about earlier. The bacon man had finally finished his sandwich, but he was no longer looking quite so triumphant.
The woman seemed to notice her husband’s pale, sweaty face at the same time as Nathan. Her scowl changed into a frown as she leaned forward to feel his temperature with the back of her hand. He brushed it off and rubbed the chest that was rising and falling more quickly as the man started to gasp for breath. The woman pulled her hands back but continued to look at her husband with wide, worried eyes as he blinked and tried to focus on the wood grain of the table.
When the man threw a small comforting smile at his wife, Nathan started to turn back around but stopped suddenly when the smile vanished from the man’s face and he jerked forward into the table as if he’d been kicked violently. The salt shaker fell onto its side and spilled its contents as the man tried to force oxygen into his lungs. As the woman opened her mouth to call for help, pain exploded onto her husband’s face. He slammed into the table again and gasped desperately, his eyes wide with the horror of what was about to happen. The woman screamed.
The terrified cry echoed around the heads of happy strangers who all looked up from their coffees to stare in silence.
“Oh my God,” someone near Nathan muttered as the man grabbed his chest more forcefully, clutching at his shirt as if he were trying to claw the pain out from under his skin.
Cups were knocked over as the man’s other hand flailed at the table, disrupting the lunch they had been eating moments before. His plate shattered on the wooden floor. His wife’s cappuccino followed.
In a packed cafe, the waitress was the first to move. Slamming the till closed, she grabbed a phone and sprinted across the room, knocking Nathan into the counter as she pushed past. The sound of her voice as she skidded to the man’s side and barked into the telephone snapped the room into action. Customers swarmed towards the man, crowding the trio kneeling on the floor and blocking the terrified face from Nathan’s view.
“Shall we go?” A disinterested voice asked behind him. He turned to see Kassie leaning on a table and fiddling with her phone.
“What?” Nathan asked, bewildered.
“Are you ready to go?” She repeated, without looking up.
“But, I- there’s a guy having a heart attack over there.”
Sighing, Kassie glanced towards the huddle of pain and commotion in the middle of the room. She showed no trace of the fascination that had absorbed her earlier.
“Well, what can we do about it?” She asked with a shrug, “Come on, we can stop by the corner shop and grab something to drink.”
Nathan gawked at her.
The silence of moments before was gradually replaced with hushed voices, all whispering their shock as if already at the man’s funeral. The clear voice of the waitress reciting the address cut through everything, along with a woman’s terrified sobs. The man was still blocked from view but Nathan could still see his pale, sweaty face and his sudden horrified realisation that he was dying.
“He’s dying over there!” He exclaimed, unable to look away.
She sighed and moved closer to him, brushing her fingers briefly over Nathan’s hand.
“There’s nothing we can do to save him.”
Nathan knew she was right. He wasn’t a doctor, he was just one more person standing between the man and the paramedics.
“Okay.” He said eventually, his voice hushed like the rest of the room, “But, but don’t you want to see if he gets better when the ambulance arrives?”
Kassandra looked up at Nathan sadly.
They didn’t feel like partying after they left.
Despite the gloomy weather, the high street was packed with people bustling past each other with arms full of bright shopping bags. Nathan and Kassie joined the wave of people and wandered with no aim, weaving slowly between the crowds.
The couple watched the world drift past sluggishly. Eventually they paused to buy themselves lunch at a burger stall before heading onwards again with no destination in mind. Nathan watched everyone around him and tried not to picture little sand-timers in each of their chests. He didn’t have much of an appetite anymore but ate his lunch automatically. Kassie seemed oblivious to his dark mood and wandered happily with her hands in her pockets. He considered reaching out to hold her hand like all the other couples around them, but he had a feeling she would laugh at him.
The sky had darkened above them. The overcast grey had transformed into a threatening deep blue that pressed down heavily above their heads. The heavens were about to open and Nathan could feel the pressure weighing down the air, waiting to be broken suddenly.
“Shall we go home?” Nathan asked as he looked at the sky, breaking the long silence that had stretched between them since leaving the cafe, “It looks like it’s about to rain.”
He turned to where Kassie should have been and stopped walking. A woman smiled to herself as she walked past, glancing at Nathan in amusement. He frowned in embarrassment and turned to see where Kassie had disappeared, anger fluttering in his chest suddenly. He hated it when she stopped walking without telling him. She had stopped six feet behind him so he trudged back to her, his cheeks pink.
“What’s wrong?” He snapped.
Kassie didn’t seem to hear him. She was staring around her, a frown painted on her face. Suspicion darkened her eyes as she stared at the strangers bustling around her. Nathan looked around himself, wondering what had caused the dramatic change in his girlfriend. He’d never seen her with such a serious face when she wasn’t trying to convince him to run away with her. His anger dispersed as quickly as it had bloomed, the fear that she was planning to leave him overcoming him once more.
“Kassie, what’s wrong?” He asked again in a softer voice, taking a step towards her. She stood with her arms hugging her chest loosely, her immaculate teal fingernails scratching at her sweater absently.
“I don’t know,” she replied quietly, not looking at him.
Nathan waited for her to continue but she didn’t, so he stood beside her in silence as strangers bustled around them, all walking quickly to avoid the rain which was about to descend. Kassie had always been in a world of her own, but this time it was as if she had disappeared, or perhaps he had. She was standing alone in an empty street, seeing no one around her, not the giggling teenagers running past as the first raindrops splattered down, nor the frustrated man who glared at the two women blocking the pavement with their pushchairs. Kassie’s mouth parted slightly and she took deep breaths, listening intently at something Nathan couldn’t hear.
Turning her head slowly, she stared intently at a spot behind her for a long time without blinking. People continued to walk past her but her eye line didn’t waver. Nathan tried to see what she was looking at but there was nothing there except the dented bin they had walked past hundreds of times before. Long moments passed as she stared at her invisible companion until she blinked suddenly, bit her lip and looked forwards once more.
Nathan watched the world snap back to her again. She jumped slightly as she always did, as if suddenly remembering the noise and bustle of life existed. Nathan stared at her, unimpressed.
“I think it’s going to rain.” She announced unhelpfully before continuing to walk down the street, her hands back in her pockets and a smile on her face.
Nathan rolled his eyes with frustration and ran after her.
He always picked the odd ones.