Resting against the window ledge of my bedroom window I sigh, momentarily blocking my own view with a cloud of condensation, misting against the cool glass. I pull the sleeve of my jumper down over my hand and wipe the vapour away. Looking out across my garden, I see your bedroom window.
The curtains are open, emerald green satin resting against the edges of the window frame, a stark contrast to the blinding white of your walls. I can see your bed from here. A simple grey bedspread, the soft mint coloured quilt your mother made you as a child thrown haphazardly across the bedpost at the bottom of the bed.
I can see your bedside lamp, formed in the shape of a globe, the last remnant of your childhood fascination with space and travel. I cannot see it from here but I remember with a faint smile, the small crack on the base of the light, caused by one of our many tickle fights that got out of hand. I think you used to let me win.
Your laundry basket leans against the furthest wall of your room, dirty football shorts and muddy rugby sweaters spill out from within its wicker confines. Your pale grey wardrobe stands to the right of your room, the door open slightly on the left side. I can see your navy school blazer peeking out from within. My heart clenches in a spasm of unexpected pain.
We had been attending the same schools since we were 5, moving from primary school, to junior school and finally up to high school within the same town. We had been neighbours just as long too. I can remember the summer days we spent building forts in the woods near our estate; playing pooh sticks in the river that ran through your back garden.
Winter nights spent flashing each other secret messages from our bedrooms with our torches, that weekend when your uncle taught you morse code. Walking to school playing iSpy, hopscotch, and sometimes tag if our mothers weren’t with us to scold us about running about near the road.
The door to your room creaks open and I see your frail family cat Milo, poke his head through the gap. He sniffs the air, his wirey brown coat frazzled with age. Milo yawns before walking back through the gap and disappearing from my view. I remember you coming home from school one day when we were about 7 or 8. Your mother had adopted Milo as a surprise for your whole family.
I had never seen you so happy before, or since. I remember coming to stand by the fence at the bottom of my garden as you raced over with your hands clutches around a tiny bundle of fur. You let me stroke Milo’s tiny head with my chubby, ungrateful hands. Milo licked my fingers and we both squealed with delight. I haven’t seen Milo in person for a while now.
I tap my fingers absentmindedly on my window ledge and glance to the side of your house where I can just about see your driveway. Your car isn’t there yet. When we started high school, you promised things would stay the same. You promised we wouldn’t lose touch, or change friendship groups. You promised.
To begin with you kept to your word; we walked to and from school together as normal, we ate lunch together at one of the tables furthest away from everyone else. You let me copy your Math homework and I let you copy my English assignments, we both had talents in differing subjects, which was handy. At break you would share my fruit juice and steal a few bites of my cereal bar.
On days when the weather was bad, you’d bike to school and let me ride on your handlebars, rain hitting me in the face as I screamed happily all the way down the street. You laughed at my funny stories from drama class and I patiently listened to your blow by blow accounts of every p.e. lesson you did. You promised it would stay that way.
I see a light turn on in your bedroom. Your mother enters the room, her light brown hair pulled back into a bun, her cleaning apron peppered with old bleach stains. She places a pile of clothing down on your bed. It’s mostly sports gear. As your mother turns to leave she glances out of the window. I stiffen in my seat, wondering if she can see me sitting here in the dark.
She turns the light off and leaves the room. I let out a breath. It was my idea to join an after school club. I wanted to bulk up my college application; make it seem like I was the kind of person who liked extracurricular activities, who relished in helping others and keeping her mind active. You weren’t so keen at first.
The Drama club didn’t appeal to you, nor did the Debate club. You enjoyed Maths, but didn’t want to spend your spare time doing it. You found History boring and you struggled to stay awake during your Geography classes, so they were out too. You weren’t the most creative of people, so Art and Music were a bust too.
You finally settled on joining the Rugby team as a spare, attending practice matches at school a couple of times per week and occasionally going to games on the weekend to act as a sub if someone was unable to play. We still managed to walk home together most days, as our clubs finished at the same time.
For a while, our new routine seemed to be going well, our parents were happy that we were getting out of the house more and getting to know new people, so they were very encouraging. I remember the day the poster went up in our form room. The school football team was looking for new players. You wanted to try out but I was worried.
You told me it wouldn’t add much more to your spare time as you were getting asked to sub for the rugby team less and less. I wanted to tell you to try out, as I knew it meant a lot to you, but I selfishly couldn’t bring myself to give my blessing. I knew you’d get onto the team and I didn’t want you socialising with the other football players.
You tried out anyway and you were chosen to join the team. Soon after you were also asked to join as a full time rugby player as well; you accepted. Football practice ran straight after Rugby practice, so you often stayed for a few hours after school. I waited for you for the first few nights. I wanted us to walk home together.
On the third night of you practicing, you told me to go home on my own. You said you thought it was stupid for me to stand in the cold for hours watching you play when the walk home was only ten minutes. You told me not to wait for you again.
You were made team captain of both the Football team and the Rugby team in our fourth year of high school. By this time you were friends with all your team mates, you were one of the most popular guys in school. We didn’t walk home together anymore. One of your friends had a car. They’d pick you up most mornings, but the car was a
convertible. There wasn’t any room for me. Soon you stopped replying to my flashlight messages. You never came down to the bottom of your garden to talk to me over the fence. I had to learn to do my own Maths homework. I finally had my cereal bar and juice to myself at break. Our lunch table was empty, except for me.
You preferred to eat with your team mates now, so you could discuss tactics and plays over lunch. There’s a bare patch on your bedroom wall above your bed. From this distance I can just about make out the pins you put in the wall to form a square. I know what is missing from that wall, and I feel it’s absence.
One summer when we were making a fort in the woods by our houses, you came up with the idea to make a flag so that we could claim our little twig hut as our own. You stole a white pillowcase from home and a bunch of marker pens. Together we designed our flag; yellow stars on a background of black, with a campfire symbol in the centre.
The first night we left the flag in the woods, it rained torrentially and the colours ran, but you didn’t care. You dried the flag out and hung it proudly on your wall. “Whenever I return home from school, I’ll put this flag up so you can see that I’m in my room, like when the Queen visits. That way you’ll know you can talk to me with your flashlight.”
You kept your word on this too, up until you became team captain of the two most popular games in our school. It has been two years since I last saw the flag. I don’t even know if you still have it. Last month I tried to flash you a morse code message at night time. You closed your curtains against the light. I haven’t tried since.
I see the headlights of your car flicker across the trees of my garden. You pull up in your drive and get out, blonde hair blowing in the breeze, kitbag slung over one shoulder, muddy boots dangling from one finger on your left hand. I hear your front door slam and ten minutes later you appear in your room. You’re talking on the phone, your expression animated, your voice light and jovial.
You laugh at something and I feel my heart plummet into my feet. It has been so long since I’ve heard that laugh. You disappeared off to the side of your room where I know your en suite bathroom is. After fifteen minutes you return, hair slick with water from the shower, chest bare, navy plaid pyjama bottoms covering your lower half.
You’re still on the phone. Something the other person says makes you blush and cover your mouth with your hand. I can’t hear what you’re saying, but when you move you hand I can read your lips. “I love you. Goodnight.” I lean back on my bed, pulling my face out of the light of the moon and into the darkness behind me.
I’m not sure why I’m torturing myself tonight. I know it’s not healthy, but I can’t stop myself from looking back up towards your room. You’ve put your phone down and have crossed the room to your window. As you reach your arms up to pull the curtains closed, you catch my eye. Startled, I stare at you, wide-eyed. Unsure what to do.
You smile weakly and do an odd little wave. You don’t wait for a response before you pull the curtains closed. My heart shatters into a million pieces. A few minutes pass. I haven’t moved. I’m in shock. I didn’t realise how much this would hurt after all this time.
There’s movement at your window again. The curtain twitches back a few inches, just enough to show the bare wall at the side of your room. No. The wall is no longer bare.
A wrinkled, graying pillowcase is hung up on the wall, the black ink has faded to grey, the stars are white blobs dotted randomly around the place. The campfire has lost its fiery hue and now looks a little forlorn. You still have the flag.
Heart racing I fumble for my flashlight. Holding it up against my window I gingerly press the button in a few times. *H I* I wait. •H E Y• I let out a breath I didn’t realise I had been holding and bite down on my lip.
*I V E M I S S E D Y O U* There is a long pause. •I K N O W• •I M S O R R Y• I smile in the darkness of my room. You kept the flag.