The eighth month passed while she was away. They were the only dates I could remember, the only ones that ever seemed to matter. I spared some of my morning thoughts for Hazel, hoped that Canberra was going well – and that whatever she was doing, she didn’t pay the same morbid respect that I did for the day. I hoped for her sake, that she forgot. She was too young for a single date to haunt her every month.
I was drinking by ten, softening the edges of a hangover with a bottle of the good stuff – a special bottle for a ‘special’ occasion. For an hour I sat in Hazel’s room, wished for a while that she was there, was relieved for a while that she wasn’t. Wallowed in my loneliness at the bottom of the shower, scrubbed my skin so hard it hurt and cursed the lukewarm water that found its way into my drink. I drank it, water and all.
When the bottle was gone, I shut the shower off, stepped out onto the towel and stared at my blurred reflection. I was a mess, I knew it. Three days gone, I was well back – and even worse than I’d been before. I found another bottle. A towel. I sat on the bedroom floor, and missed Kate. My drunken curiosity got the better of me, and I found the box under the bed. The box of items I’d not ever, and would never allow Hazel to see.
There were a number of tapes. Most of them silly, some of them quite intense. I selected one at random, bottle gripped in sheer determination. It would hurt. The photos had hurt enough. But I was desperate to see her, hear her. In eight months, I was terrified that I’d forgotten the sound of her voice, that I would forever lose the way she smiled at me. That special smile – the secretive and slightly smug smile she saved for me alone. It wasn’t ever in the pictures. It was only in fleeting moments. I was glad now for her insistence on the camera.
The first shots were of me, much younger – always nervous. Setting up the camera, standing in the way. Giggles in the background made my heart race, and stop. And race again. The screen version of myself stepped aside, and she was there. She laughs, and it must have been the first taping. I’m too nervous to walk back into the shot. She waits, smiles, and I barely hear the words as she coaxes my younger self closer. I’m too focused on the melody of her words, of the rich tone of her voice. Shattered in poor recording, but enough.
The passion with which we kiss is heartbreaking, though we don’t realise it – we are in love. We realise in the end, but this is fun. This is what we do to upset Alan. It is before our official relationship. This is the beginning.
She is drunk, as I recall. Drunk – yet still the one taking advantage. I still appear hesitant, hovering back as far as I dare – but she’s got me. Well and truly. I let out a deep breath as my former self gives in, ignoring the camera. Trusting in whatever crazy fate it was that brought us together, mesmerised by the woman who only moments ago had been falling asleep at the bar.
She is beautiful. As our bodies meet on screen, I long to touch her again – to bury my hands in her hair, hold her close and listen to her breathe. We are mostly silent. There is no need for noise, and even as our mouths part, we still find no words. No great exclamations. We stare at each other instead, breathless and in awe of the other. It’s there, strong and running between us – but we don’t know. The staring is odd. She kisses me again.
As I watch, I remember. The bedside lamp, pointed directly at my back – a warm light for the camera. Her arms, thin but strong, her fingers sliding across my body, the catch in her breath. The serious moment, staring again.
‘I think I love you.’ She says.
‘I think you’re drunk.’ Is my reply. She laughs and smiles. That smile.
She always did know better.