I found myself racing through the Dutch countryside on a train two months later, finally alone, my cheeks wet with tears. Our travels had been wondrous but tainted with efforts we had made to force ourselves into love with one another. In the end, we couldn’t do it. So we broke up in Greece, flew together to Amsterdam (where we had planned to spend the next 6 months living together), spent one last night in each other’s arms, and then I was gone. Dan was the furthest thing from my mind—despite not loving the man whose bed I had been sharing, I was walking away from my best friend, and I could barely comprehend walking towards anyone else let alone dream of it.
I was speeding towards Berlin now, to where one of my most precious girl friends was living. I was exhausted; I needed her affection, that special brand of girl friendship that makes you feel like you’re with your sister, despite never having had one. But once I arrived in Berlin I had run out of tears; Riley hugged me anyway, fed me and cared for me as though I were an outwardly sobbing mess.
We perused markets for days, lay together in bed in the evenings watching reality TV and drank a lot of red wine. I felt myself regaining my strength, but it was my body’s cruel ruse—I fell desperately ill and became reclusive, uninspired to leave the house, even in Berlin’s romantic autumnal turn.
As it came to the end of Riley’s lease, and time for me to fly to Cyprus to meet my parents for a month of family travels, I fell into a consuming panic. What would I do post family vacation? Would I go home to Melbourne and just… wait for him? Wait to see if we could somehow make things better? The idea nauseated me (it was at this point that one night, drunk and stoned, I committed to New York).
One morning, while Riley was cooking eggs and I was sitting by the window smoking a cigarette, Dan wandered casually into my mind.
“Riley,” I started hesitantly. She sensed the tone in my voice.
“Yes love,” she replied, whisking the water in the pot before her with frantic quickness. She picked up an egg from the counter and cracked it in—Riley was a deft egg-poacher.
“Well I was thinking… I’ve got two weeks to kill in London and I haven’t arranged anywhere to stay yet. Do you think it would be too weird to ask Dan if I could stay on his couch?” She turned to me abruptly, whisk in hand, dripping water on the lino.
“Kat you’re single now, you can do whatever the hell you like,” she said seriously.
“Yeah but like, I’d just be staying there as a friend, there’s no expectation that something is going to happen. Although I do sort of have a crush on him…” I trailed off.
“Just do it,” Riley turned back to her eggs. “You deserve to be happy. And anyway, I want to know what happens.”
And so it was that I emailed Dan as I ate poached eggs on pumpernickel bread. I wrote something cute and sassy, and the next day came his equally cute and sassy reply. Amongst it all was the OK—OK I was going to sleep on his couch. Whether or not there was a subtext I was unsure. As far as I knew, he had no interest in me, and as far as I was concerned, I’d be happy just to have a new friend.
In the weeks that passed in the lead up to my London sojourn, we emailed each other almost daily. Emails became texts. We’d write each other jokes, I’d tear him down expertly and we perfected our routine—it was hard not to like him, he was always making me laugh. And the laughter was making me happy; it was a forgotten, but lovely feeling.
The day finally came for me to fly from Cyprus to London. My parents dropped me off at the airport and… my plane was delayed. By more than four hours. I was supposed to arrive at his house in the early evening and have a wonderful night of drinking and laughter. Instead, I didn’t arrive until 2am, cranky and tired out of my mind.
He was awake, waiting for me, and as I knocked on his front door I suddenly felt very nervous. I briefly contemplated getting back in the taxi and going to the nearest hostel—I felt ludicrous. But then he opened the door, beaming, and pulled me into his arms. I have never been more aware of how bad I smelled in my entire life.
I had brought a bottle of Cypriot wine. We opened it and drank it sitting cross-legged on his bed, facing each other. We talked and laughed until 9am—we were definitely flirting, but I was still unsure. Exhausted, I fell back on the bed, my head facing the foot of the bed, propping myself up on my elbows. He lay down next to me.
“Fuck Dan I’m tired,” I turned my face towards him, “can you give me some bedding for the couch?”
He smiled like an angel and reached out a hand to my face. He stroked my cheek gently, and pulled me gingerly towards him. I leant down and kissed him. It was soft and wonderful. But then my over active mind jolted, and I pulled back suddenly.
“Isn’t this weird,” I whispered, close to his face, with his hand still lightly grasping the hair on the back of my head.
“Why would it be weird?” he asked, pulling me back to him. He kissed me harder and my body reacted. I pressed myself into him and he received me.
I didn’t sleep on the couch that night.