It was three days since Jacob had broken up with Annalise. Three days of him not answering the phone, or turning up at work, and three days of no-one having heard from him at all.
Norah decided she was worried enough to go around to his flat and bang on the door until he opened it.
He did, but it took about fifteen minutes.
The flat smelled.
Jacob was stubbly, and his hair was greasy, and he was wearing shorts and nothing else, and it looked like he hadn’t changed the shorts in several days.
And, from the marks on the front, that he’d been wanking in them. And didn’t even know or care that it was obvious, and he was standing at his front door.
Inside, behind him, all the curtains were closed, and there were empty bottles on the floor, and the place was filled with a stale reek of old pot and pizza.
Norah walked in, and looked around, and was a bit horrified.
Jacob was walking away from her. She realized he’d only got up to open the door, and was now heading back to bed.
“Oh no,” she said. She grabbed his arm, and tried to steer him away from the doorway.
He was a guy and a foot taller than her so she shouldn’t really have managed. It was probably a sign of his mopeyness that she got him into the lounge and onto the couch.
She switched the TV on and left him there.
She went around the flat opening the curtains, then wondered if she should have. The place was a mess. Books and CDs on the floor, a kitchen chair on its side. His wallet was on the floor by the front door, abandoned. There were empty bottles of pretty much everything, pretty much everywhere. He’d obviously got falling over drunk at least once, and then, well, fallen. A fair bit.
Then ordered pizza and left half of several boxes lying around on the floor, where he happened to be when he’d had enough.
Norah went back into the lounge. Jacob didn’t look up.
“Fuck, Jacob,” Norah said. “It’s that bad?”
He shrugged. Slowly.
There was half a bottle of vodka on the floor beside his feet. He suddenly seemed to notice it. He bent down, picked it up, and started drinking.
“Hey,” Norah said, and went over and grabbed the bottle.
He didn’t try to stop her taking it. He didn’t even close his mouth as she pulled it away.
Vodka spilled down his chin and onto his chest.
“I hate my life,” Jacob said.
Norah looked at him for a moment, then sighed, and sat down on the couch beside him.
It felt damp.
She told herself it was her imagination.
“I really do,” Jacob said.
“Yeah, well,” Norah said. “I work in a department store and I’m thirty-one so fuck you. What are you complaining about?”
“I love her.”
“Yeah, I know. But she doesn’t love you, so now you need to get over it.”
Jacob started to cry. Just sitting where he was, sobbing. Not trying to lean on Norah, or wipe his face, or anything. Just sobbing.
Norah sat there for a moment, but really didn’t want to hug him because of the smell. When he didn’t stop crying, she decided she had to.
She reached over, and pulled him towards her, and let him hug her and drape himself on her and cry all over her. He mostly smelt of vodka now, not old sweat, so that made it a little easier.
He started sobbing and talking at the same time, and Norah couldn’t make out most of what he was saying. Annalise was a bitch, mostly. That she’d ruined his life, and hadn’t even warned him she was going to, and that was unfair.
That seemed to be a big thing, that she hadn’t warned him.
“Hey,” Norah said a few times, trying to get him to talk more normally, “What happened?”
She knew already, but she thought it might help. That it might calm him down to talk, rather than just cry.
Eventually he told her.
Annalise had left him for someone else. He didn’t know who. One of their friends, he thought, but he wasn’t sure. Annalise had cheated first, too, but almost didn’t mind that. He’d have taken her back if she’d given him the chance, but she hadn’t.
He was upset about the leaving. As far as Norah could tell, Annalise leaving was breaking some kind of agreement he thought they’d had. Because Annalise had talked about what they would do on holiday next year, and which furniture to buy, that meant she had to give him fair warning if she was changing those plans by suddenly not being around. And she hadn’t.
Or something. Norah didn’t quite understand the complexities, although it was mostly just heartbroken mumbling and probably didn’t make much sense anyway.
Annalise was fundamentally a bitch, was what Jacob was saying, in a nice, respectable way that made people like her anyway. She was pretty and cleverer than people thought, and for some reason they always took her shit and made excuses, like Jacob had been doing their whole relationship. But deep inside, Jacob said, Annalise was shallow, self-absorbed, a spoilt brat who’d never grown up, and he wanted her so much and wished she wasn’t gone.
“Why do you want her if she’s that awful?” Norah said.
“I don’t know,” he said, and started crying again.
He cried a lot. Cried, and whispered how much he missed Annalise.
Then he tried to kiss Norah.
Norah jumped. She hadn’t expected that.
“Hey,” she said, and pulled her head back. “What the fuck’re you doing?”
“I want you. I’ve always wanted you.”
Norah couldn’t quite believe the leap he’d just made. She looked at him, all lank hair and vodka breath at eleven in the morning.
“Nah,” she said. “You don’t want me.”
“I do,” he said, and tried to kiss her again.
She pushed him backwards. “You’re just feeling beaten down and want someone to tell you you’re fuckable.”
He looked at her. Like he was waiting for her to do that.
“Seriously, dude,” Norah said. “You don’t want me.”
“Remember the thing?” he said.
“Yeah,” Norah said. “But we don’t talk about it. Or we stop and never do again.”
They’d tried to have sex once, years ago. It had been strange, and hadn’t worked well. They hadn’t actually done it, because Norah hadn’t wanted to kiss him, but actually got really turned on by kissing, and Jacob had found kissing a friend weird. And neither of them had wanted to go down on the other, or really to be gone down on either, so they’d stopped, and got stoned instead, and promised each other they’d never try, or talk about it, ever again.
They just kept ending up in either other’s bedrooms instead. In the early hours of the morning, when things sort of happened.
They’d used to wank together.
They’d started off while watching porn once for a joke, then watched it all serious, then wanked side by side on a bed. Once or twice they’d jerked each other off too. Nothing more than that.
And they never talked about it, especially not why, and they always stopped whenever either of them was involved with someone else. So they hadn’t in years.
“We stopped,” Jacob said. “But only for the moment. We can start again.”
“No we can’t.”
“It’ll be good for us.”
“Good for you,” Norah said. “Nope.”
“We haven’t even talked about it.”
“For a good reason.”
“Want to again?”
“Nah,” Norah said. “Not just now, Jakey.”
He shrugged and didn’t seem to care. He went all quiet.
“Hey,” she said, because she was starting to smell him again. “You need a shower.”
“Nope. Shower, then we’re going out, and then we’re working out what to do with the rest of your life.”
“Getting Annalise back.”
“Other than that. Get up.”
He didn’t move.
“Come on, dude, get up,” she said.
“I really can’t be fucked.”
Norah sat there, and looked at him, and thought. “Okay,” she said, after a moment. “I will.”
“Okay I’ll fuck you.”
He grinned a bit. He started to lean towards her again.
Norah pushed him backwards. “But only if you have a shower. And shave. And shave everything. And only if you don’t still stink after the shower, because you’re kind of gross right now.”
“And then you will?”
“Only if you don’t stink.”
He got up, swaying. She stood up and grabbed his hand and pulled, and got moving toward the bathroom. She led him on a weaving path between bottles and pizza boxes, got him into the bathroom and got hot water running.
“Get undressed,” she said. He just mumbled something, and didn’t move, so she pushed him into the shower cubicle with his shorts on and leaned against the door to hold it closed.
“Shave,” she said, “And brush your teeth.” She knew he kept both in the shower to save time in the morning.
He pushed the shower door, trying to get out, but she kept leaning.
After a while he gave up.
She opened the cupboard under the sink with her foot, and saw a spare shampoo bottle. She leaned down and got it quickly, pretty sure Jacob hadn’t noticed her move.
She reached up over the top of the shower stall and tipped it over him.
“Hey,” he said. “Fuck. Ow.”
“Rub it in.”
He did so enough to make a kind of lather all over himself, which would probably help with the smell. He took off his shorts after a while too, and soaped himself. The shorts being gone had to help.
Eventually he started shaving.
Norah let go of the shower door, and went and found him a dry towel. The ones in the bathroom looked a bit oily. She found folded towels in a cupboard in the hall. She took one out, and sniffed it, and smelled flowers and laundry powder. It was probably Annalise’s, forgotten and left there. Jacob wasn’t really a folded clean towels kind of guy.
Norah went back into the bathroom and left the towel for him, then went and looked in the kitchen for food. She found eggs within their use-by date, and bread that was stale but not actually moldy. She made toast, and made coffee too, once she found it in the freezer.
The shower stopped running. She waited a little while, and Jacob didn’t appear.
She went and looked. He was sitting on the bathroom floor in a puddle, leaning on the toilet, staring at the far wall. He was naked and wet and holding the towel in both hands, kind of wringing it. Pressing it to his face, and breathing in the smell, and wringing it.
Norah leaned on the doorframe and wondered how long it would take him to notice her.
Jacob had been with Annalise for two years, so Norah could see why he was a bit upset. Not upset like this, but a little upset.
After several minutes Jacob hadn’t moved, so Norah said, “You’re moping.”
He looked up.
“You are,” she said.
“There’s kind of a reason.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Sure. But still.”
He shrugged. Slowly.
“Okay,” she said. She went into the bathroom, reached down and grabbed his wrist, and pulled. He let her pull him up.
“Get up,” she said. “We’re doing something.”
He didn’t answer. He didn’t look interested.
“Anything you like?” she said.
He shrugged again.
“Sex?” she said. “If you want?”
He didn’t seem to care.
“I thought you wanted to,” she said, a bit offended.
She was actually surprised. It hadn’t occurred to her he might be that depressed.
“Eat, at least,” she said, and pulled him into the kitchen, still wearing his towel.
He didn’t seem to care what she got him to do. He ate because there was food in front of him, and tried, half-heartedly, to keep the towel on, but didn’t try very hard at either. He left half the food, and the towel kept slipping.
After a while Norah pushed him into the bedroom, and found him jeans and shorts and a tee shirt that seemed to be clean. “Put these on.”
He did. He seemed to do what she told him, when she told him. She wasn’t sure if he was overdoing it now, faking to get sympathy, or if he was really as indifferent as he seemed. Jacob tended to exaggerate sometimes, to play to an imaginary audience.
She watched him get dressed and looked at his ass and was a little bit tempted to push him back on the bed and make him let her cheer him up. Only a little bit, because she could imagine the condition the sheets were in.
“Hey,” Norah said. “Let’s do something today, like go out. Then we can fuck all day tomorrow, if you still want to.”
He actually seemed to be thinking about that. “Like what?” he said. “If we go out?”
It was like dealing with a child, she thought.
“I don’t know,” she said, then had a moment of inspiration. “The beach.”
She could wash him, and get him to perve at her, both at the same time. He sat there for a while, then nodded. Still willing to do as she told him, she supposed.
She took him to the beach, and made him walk around in the fresh air, and got him into the water to wash him again. He ate an ice cream, still complaining about Annalise, but by the end of it he seemed a lot better.
When she dropped him off him again, Norah thought he was going to be okay. She hadn’t been sure when she first arrived.
The next day they had sex. It was just sex, nothing spectacular, but it seemed to help. A few days later he actually went out on his own, and in a week he was back at work.
Norah was relieved.
That night she went around to Annalise’s, like she had been every evenings, all week. Sitting in bed, after sex, after the compulsive mad sex they kept having, after getting that need out her system for another day, she said, “Jacob seems to be doing better.”
“Good. You can spend more time with me.”
“Yeah,” Norah said. After a moment, “There’s something I ought to tell you. I slept with Jacob a couple of times.”
“Yeah,” Annalise said. “So did I.”
“Like this week. To cheer him up.”
Annalise was looking at Norah, thinking.
“To cheer him up,” Norah said. “You kind of really fucked him up, dude. Like completely.”
“We fucked him up,” Annalise said.
Norah didn’t quite want to admit that. Not out loud. She shrugged.
“And then you slept with him?” Annalise said.
“He asked. And it seemed like it would help.”
Annalise kept looking at her.
“What?” Norah said. “We never talked about anything with you and me. Definitely not about being exclusive.”
“I know,” Annalise said. “I was kind of busy. Breaking up and shit.”
“Yeah,” Norah said.
“So maybe we should talk about it now.”
Norah nodded. “I think so.”
They sat there a moment longer, looking at each other. Norah didn’t know Annalise well enough yet to know if she was hurt, or angry, or what.
“Forgive me?” Norah said in the end.
Annalise stared for a another moment or two, then said, “Yeah.”
Hopefully, Norah thought, they were all going to be all right.