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from the highways to the hills, our love has never had a leg to stand on

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Georgie first sees Jonathan in the accommodation lobby during move-in week.

He doesn’t catch her eye because he’s particularly good-looking, or because he’s making a big deal out of himself – it’s just that they’re the only people in the room, and he looks like he’s feeling as rough as she is. It’s the Sunday before lectures start, and they’re some of the last to move in. Georgie wonders if all of her flatmates have moved in already, if she’s going to be the last one to settle in. If she’s going to be able to snatch a decent cupboard in the kitchen or if she’ll have to keep her pans and pots in her room. Not that she’s been cooking much the past year.

He’s got two big suitcases. Georgie looks down at her single, comparatively sad looking suitcase, and doesn’t quite know how she feels about it, or if she feels anything particular.

She doesn’t really look at him too much, but from the corner of her eye she can see him fidget, a continuous motion, never stopping to stay still for longer than a few seconds. Once he knocks his suitcase over, and when he bends down to pick it up he kicks his other suitcase and it falls on the floor as well. He curses under his breath, and Georgie doesn’t listen closely enough to recognize his accent. He does call his suitcase an arsehole though, which briefly amuses her. Funny. As if it had fallen just to spite him.

“Right,” says the front desk lady, appearing from the back office, “here we go. Barker and Sims.”

He reaches for his envelope at the same time as Georgie. One of his suitcases threatens to fall over again but he manages to catch it with his foot before it has a chance to.

“Thank you,” Georgie says. She’s almost surprised by how soft her voice sounds coming out of her mouth. She’s not sure she likes it. She’s not sure what she’s going to do about it.

He doesn’t say anything. Georgie is almost sure he gives the front desk lady a tight smile, but that’s all. She wheels her dingy, sticker-plastered suitcase out into the brisk September afternoon and doesn’t look back to see how if he manages to maneuver his bags outside.

Georgie’s just getting comfortable in the sticky heat of the dancing bodies all around her when someone taps her on the shoulder.

“Hey, are you a fresher?”

It’s the same guy she’d seen a few weeks ago. She’s not sure why she remembers that, but she’s buzzing with alcohol and doesn’t feel like looking into that too much.

“No,” she yells over the music, “second year.”

Something dull twists in her guts. It’s not a lie. She feels like she’s lying anyway.

The guy’s face widens into a grin. “Great!”

Georgie’s not sure why that’s great. She tilts the flimsy cup she’s holding back and allows alcohol to flow down her throat.

“Why?”

“I’m Jon!” he says loudly, ignoring her question completely.

“Okay,” says Georgie and takes another gulp of her drink. She doesn’t even taste the alcohol anymore. Not a great sign, probably. She doesn’t particularly feel like throwing up tonight, but it might be inevitable. Maybe.

Jon comes stand closer and Georgie isn’t sure if she’s super into that. “Did you need something?”

“No, I –” and he falters for a second, insecurity flashing in his eyes, “It’s just, everyone here is so young, pretty much everyone in my building is barely eighteen – one of my flatmates is seventeen, and I’ve started just, asking people –”

The rest of his sentence gets drowned out by shouts as the song changes into one that a giant group of people dancing closer to the bar seem to recognize. Georgie finishes her drink in a single gulp.

To be frank, she’s kind of over this place as well. Aw, what the fuck, she figures.

“You wanna get out of here?”

Jon looks at her with these confused eyes for a second, like this isn’t what he was getting at, but then he nods slowly. He’s holding a can of beer than he seems to not be feeling awesome about. Georgie looks at him and for the first time feels something in relation to him, specifically, as opposed to his actions. She’s pretty sure it’s positive.

They leave the building. It’s cold and crisp outside, and there’s this ringing in Georgie's ears that she’s sure is half alcohol, half much too loud music. She holds the door open for Jon, who steps out of the door like he’s climbing over something. By the time they’re on the sidewalk he’s already talking.

“So I’m doing philosophy,” he says, “what about you?”

“English,” Georgie says.

“Brilliant,” says Jon.

Something about it annoys her to no end. It’s probably his accent. She’s starting to get fed up with all of these people at this university. It’s the same shit it was last time round, her flatmates filling their cabinets with brand name cereal and talking about how upset they were to find the Waitrose nearby closed just when they’d wanted to do their shopping.

She feels so out of place here, still. Like she belongs here but she doesn’t, also.

They sit on the edge of the sidewalk. It’s quiet enough, no cars that she can see. Jon offers her a cigarette. Georgie takes it, and Jon lights it for her. It makes a shiver go through her body, his body coming so close to her to make sure the wind doesn’t blow the flame out.

Weird being out there, bass pulsing out from the building behind them even if the drone of the music is barely audible. She feels drunker than she did a few minutes ago. Oh well. Jon talks as background noise to her rapidly building nausea and Georgie tries to make out the words but she’s having trouble with it.

“– and she said, y’know, it’d be good for me to live in halls –”

Georgie interrupts him. “Who said?”

Jon looks at her like she’s insulted him. She probably has.

“My grandmother.”

“Oh,” she says.

“Are you alright?” he asks. Georgie waves her hand dismissively. Her accent is slipping through and she couldn't care less. For once.

“Just plastered.”

Jon nods. She just now notices that he’s kind of good looking after all. Last time she saw him he looked mostly just tired. He looks nicer this time.

“You’re cute,” she says before she can stop herself. “Do you wanna go to my place?”

Jon leans back away from her a little bit. “Uh,” he says, “no, thank you.”

A year ago she might have been upset by this. Now she just nods.

“You’re really drunk,” he says, apologetically.

She doesn’t think that’s the only reason. She supposes he’s right anyway. He’s talking again, and she strains to hear him.

“I can call you a taxi, though?” he says.

“That’d be really nice,” she says. She’s not lying. She wants to be in bed, suddenly. Her legs feel weak.

He has a brand new flip phone. Of course he does. She thinks dark thoughts about this while they wait for the taxi to show up. She feels sick for a minute. Jon pats her back awkwardly. She can feel the heat of his hands on the part of her back exposed to the night air. It feels alright.

He stays with her until the taxi comes, and then lingers near the door until she waves at him. She doesn’t think she manages a smile, and she doesn’t really think about how strange the whole interaction was. Just two drunk uni students, one of them more responsible than the other, if not a little annoying. It happens.

She doesn’t see him for a whole month after that. It’s not particularly surprising - she throws herself into schoolwork, sitting in the library until well past midnight, having to wave her arms like a baby bird getting ready for flight to reactivate the motion sensor lights every few minutes. She’s almost proud of herself for how well she’s doing. She’s attending her lectures. She’s doing her assignments. She’s reading her books. She only thinks about Alex sometimes, and for the most part she can tell what she’s supposed to feel in any given situation. She’s not sleeping much, but life can’t be all winning.

It’s in the library that she runs into Jon again.

He looks significantly worse than the last time she saw him – his eye bags are larger and darker than hers, which is an impressive feat. His hair looks like it’s in need of a cut. He’s hunched over a huge textbook, and he’s reading the same paragraph over and over again, mouth stretching into the shape of each individual word, brow furrowed in exhausted frustration.

“Hey,” she says before she can think it through.

His eyes take a second to pinpoint the source of the sound, and when they focus there’s a manic look in them. It takes another second for him to recognize her.

“Hey,” he says slowly, “I know you.”

“Yeah,” says Georgie, “we went to the same bar. I was fucked up. Jon, right?”

He nods. He doesn’t quite manage to muster up a smile, but Georgie thinks that’s alright.

“Cool,” she says, “I’m Georgie.”

“Oh,” he says, and he manages to sound interested, “brilliant.”

She’s not sure how that's brilliant. She feels like she’s had that thought in response to his choice of words before. It’s a weird kind of déjà vu.

“Right,” she says, sensing her cue to end the conversation, “I’ll leave you to it. See you around.”

“See you,” Jon echoes.

And maybe they will.

They do see each other again.

“Hey,” he says, catching up to her in the hallway, “hey, Georgie, hi.”

“Hi,” she says, looking at the cartoon ghost pin on his jacket, “nice pin.”

Jon looks down like he doesn’t immediately know what she’s talking about.

“Oh,” he says, “it is cool. I got it at this uh, paranormal investigation conference, erm, thing – total horseshit, that particular one, but I think it’s really cool, in general. The paranormal.”

She feels some kind of way about that. “Right,” she says, and after a beat, “me too.”

Jon smiles this strange smile, like he wants to ask her something, but then he shakes his head and starts talking about his classes, how he likes his coursemates, which lecturers he hates and which ones hate him, and Georgie listens and laughs and makes all the right noises in response to everything he says, and it’s making her feel better, consciously playing the role she used to know how to do naturally. Getting there. Kind of.

And when he asks if she wants to go on a date just, somewhere she smiles almost genuinely, and she says yes.

She thinks about Alex, that night. What could’ve been. What will never be.

She sleeps and she doesn’t dream.

Georgie has never been with a man shorter than her before – girls, sure, in high school, but Jon is the first of his kind to her. It’s cool. Almost a novelty thing.

Jon doesn’t like her saying that. He doesn’t mind his height, but he does think it’s mean for Georgie to say that. She disagrees, but she doesn’t say anything about it again, and instead thinks private thoughts about how much she likes the rush of power it makes go through her.

There’s not many things they disagree about. She’d expected for them to clash more, to be honest – she’s come to figure out that Jon is argumentative and combative and he can be such a fucking dick for no fucking reason at all. But they make fun of the same things, the same people, they like the same music and the same coffee. They do homework together in relative silence, Jon counting his pages out loud or spelling words quietly to himself, or Georgie saying god fucking damnit at her writing when it refuses to sound good coming out, filtered into garbage through her fingertips.

Jon talks about his collection of nonfiction books about the paranormal, the supernatural, and Georgie says “I think that’s an oxymoron” but Jon doesn’t think it’s funny so Georgie apologizes.

He doesn’t talk about it again for weeks, but then he seems to forgive her, for seemingly no particular reason, hugging her when he sees her next, already talking about the newest paranormal investigation techniques he’s heard about that might be legit. She listens to him and she feels something like affection. She wants to take his hand and kiss it.

It feels okay. It’s all okay. Not lukewarm or something to settle for, just, okay. She’s used to feeling nothing at all. In comparison, being with Jon feels like she’s breathing for the first time in years.

For how much fun Jon makes of supernatural pop media, he is completely transfixed by the TV-show Supernatural. Georgie doesn’t really care to voice her agreement, but they sit in the accommodation lounge and watch it, and when there’s a scene with more than one body at a time she turns to face the wall and tries to go away in her head until Jon taps her on the shoulder gently to signal that it’s over and she comes back to herself in long breaths.

She hadn’t told him why, or even asked him to do that, he’d just – noticed.

“I can tell it bothers you,” he’d said, softly. “Your eyes go vacant. Like you’re not all here.”

She’d never paused to think what it looks like to others, she supposes. It’s nice to have someone look after her like that. She always forgets how observant he is because digging anything meaningful out of him can be a chore. He looks at things. He observes. He catalogues. Georgie is like a library patron trying to check out a book labeled REFERENCE ONLY with a bright red piece of tape wrapped around the spine.

They walk back to one of their rooms arm in arm like schoolkids after. It seems like it’s always cold on those days. They nestle against each other while they walk, knees or feet knocking together occasionally, but it’s fine, it’s all fine, and they make fun of the episode all the way to the front door, one of them unlocking it, letting the other in, repeating the process for their room door, and then throwing themselves on the floor or the bed.

She knows he likes the show and she would make fun of him for it, him and his ridiculous standards for acceptable writing, but she likes it as well and she knows he knows that as well so it’s really just a pot - kettle situation and she doesn’t particularly want to open that can of worms. It feels nice to have this ridiculous pact with him, this shared understanding. She wants to feel secure in this feeling.

They laugh and make popcorn and she has to shush him, wheezing with laughter at something she’d said, going “Jon, it’s the middle of the night,” and Jon gasps out “oh my God Georgie, we are making possibly the loudest food in existence and you’re worried about me being loud,” and she doesn’t know what about that gets her, but she giggles helplessly as well, and in a flash of warm feeling she grabs him by the back of his head and kisses him.

In the background over the hum of the microwave the corn kernels start popping, and Georgie grounds herself on how it feels when Jon touches her bare waist with his warm, big hands, solid and present.

He doesn’t have a word for himself when he talks about his feelings, but Georgie does. He wrinkles his nose at this, like he’s offended that someone knows something he doesn’t, and Georgie doesn’t call him out on it, although she could.

“So,” he says, “right, so I’m –”

“Asexual,” Georgie interjects helpfully.

Jon’s face scrunches up again. “Yes.”

“Okay,” Georgie says cheerfully, and then, mimicking Jon’s accent, “brilliant.

Jon blinks, twice, three times. Georgie smiles for good measure.

“Okay,” he agrees.

She has to reach for his hand when they walk to his flat that night, but he doesn’t pull back, and when she looks at his face she could swear he’s blushing. Any other day she’d make fun of him.

Not tonight, she thinks. Not tonight.

Winter turns into spring. Jon has his assignments and Georgie has hers. They have their all-nighters together. Georgie berates him for leaving his assignments for the last minute and Jon repeats what she says back to her in a bratty, sarcastic voice, and sometimes it makes the bitter beast inside of her want to slap him, but usually she just smiles at him condescendingly until he pouts. It feels like a victory, somehow. She thinks it’s probably not a healthy or nice thing for them to do.

She wonders if they even like each other, in these moments, but then Jon will kiss her neck with something that feels like a promise buried deep in the gesture, and she will shiver and pull him closer, the light of his shitty little TV casting blue light on their faces in the dark, something filling her with affection.

“So,” Jon says as Georgie closes the door behind them, “I was thinking.”

Georgie raises her eyebrows. “Uh oh.”

Jon makes a dismissive hand gesture and scowls. “Stop it,” he says, “I’m going to be nice to you. Listen.”

Georgie raises her eyebrows further, this time in amusement. “Okay,” she says pleasantly.

Jon sits down on the squeaky, cheap bed. Georgie’s just changed her sheets. They’re white and yellow. Reminds her of daisies.

A beat of silence passes.

“You were going to be nice to me,” Georgie reminds him. She sits on the floor by Jon’s feet, and he slips his fingers into her hair absently. The pets feel nice. She leans into it and hums.

“I’m being nice. You’re not letting me talk.”

He doesn’t pull his hand away. Georgie bends her neck to reach to bite him in the shin. His legs are so bony, she thinks with displeasure. He yelps and slaps the top of her head in surprise more than anything. Georgie grins into his leg.

“God you’re an arsehole,” Jon says in a voice between amusement and exasperation, and Georgie goes “oh, like you’re one to talk” in her smug voice that she knows drives Jon up the wall, and she doesn’t even know what she’s pushing him for, just, he’s being annoying and weird and she wants him to just tell her because his nervous energy is bleeding into her as well, and she goes to bite him again and Jon, too quick for her, pulls on her hair, hard, to keep her head still, and she, to both of their surprise, lets out a wavering moan.

Jon lets go immediately. Georgie freezes, horrified by her reaction, halfway against Jon’s leg, face pressed into the space between his calf and the frame of her bed.

“Um,” says Georgie. It comes out muffled.

“Uh,” says Jon, “Hm.”

They’re quiet for a bit. Jon clears his throat.

“That’s sort of, adjacent to what I was going to talk about? Uh, but the other way around?”

And Georgie starts laughing, a hysterical sound breaking its way out of her lungs and then out her mouth, the absurdity of this situation breaking through the mortification, and she feels weird and insecure and relieved, and Jon makes a sound like a hitched breath, and Georgie turns her head just a little bit and kisses his thigh, the rough denim of his jeans, old and worn and his.

It’s not until March that she tells Jon about Alex. He sucks on his sunken cheeks the whole time she’s talking, unblinking.

She doesn’t tell him everything. Just the basics. She had a friend, she watched her die, she was so fucked up about it she had to take a year off. She thinks about telling him about her – what her laugh had sounded like, what her hair had smelled like, the inside jokes they’d had. How they’d met. What her last words to her had been. She doesn’t. She doesn’t have the energy.

Jon is quiet for a long time. When he finally speaks, it’s uncharacteristically quiet. Soft. Like he almost doesn’t want her to hear him.

“When I was a kid I saw someone I knew get murdered.”

She doesn’t really know what to say to that, so they just sit in silence for a bit.

Jon is trembling. Georgie opens her arms, and Jon slinks into them almost reluctantly, but as soon as he’s settled he relaxes, body going boneless and pliant. Georgie breathes in his scent and allows herself to stay outside of her own head.

“I love you –”

“Don’t fucking say that if you don’t mean it,” Georgie snaps. Jon looks like a kicked puppy for a second, but only a second, and then there’s fire in his eyes. One of the things she’s always liked about him. He’s fucking relentless. He doesn’t know how to stop.

“I do mean it, fuck, I thought I’m supposed to be the one bad with feelings,” he says, in the same tone he uses when talking about politics when something fucked up has happened, and something in Georgie just breaks and she can’t stop herself before she’s taking Jon by the shoulders and slamming him against the wall, a little too hard, a little too violent, but he doesn’t seem to mind, and then she’s kissing him and he’s melting into the wall, threatening to slide down it. He’s so small. God.

Jon pulls his head back and their lips unlocking makes a wet sound.

“Do you love me,” he breathes against her lips, and it’s so vulnerable that Georgie almost wants to say yes, but her heart lurches in her chest in a way that she hasn’t felt in so long and she just kisses him instead, and he doesn’t say anything or resist and she doesn’t even know what she’s going to do about that later, and –

“i do love u,” Georgie texts him later. She goes back and forth between you and u so many times she almost decides to scrap the message altogether. She feels like a coward. She’s not sure why.

“:-D” texts Jon, five hours later.

Georgie smiles. It feels genuine. It feels good.

They fuck and Jon is always so sweet for her when they do this, and she loves seeing him all tied up, cheeks wet with tears, limbs bent and restrained behind his back or otherwise in a compact package, ready for her to do anything she pleases with.

He can be a fucking dick, true, and she’d sell him out in a second if someone were to say that around her, but like this he’s never a dick. He never talks back and he never says anything mean and he always asks for things nicely or not at all, and it’s terrifying and exhilarating and she thinks, he trusts me so much. I don’t deserve it. She pushes it out of her head. She thinks happy thoughts instead.

He’d said I like to not be in my head and that had resonated with her to her core, and he’d said I like to be contained. I like to be small. And they’d settled into a rhythm with that, Georgie doing things to him, for him, her offering and him saying yes or no, yes more often than no. Like she said, sweet. Submissive.

And he’s said he doesn’t really get the idea of thinking about sex based on appearance or the appeal of the human, uh, form, but he’s always so enthusiastic about getting fucked or having her fuck herself on his cock, his hands tied behind his back, legs tied wide open so all he can do is take in the feeling – and about getting her off after, even when he doesn’t want her to finish him off, burying his head between her legs like he’s starving for her, and she never protests. For all the uncertainty and awkwardness in him it’s almost always so good, and in these moments she really does love him, from her gut, from behind her mouth, his unfocused eyes and the noises he makes when Georgie is mean to him with her hands or mouth or her strap or grinding down on him.

Jon. Fierce and angry and present and so, so much. Touching him is like holding a moth in a cup. She bites down on his neck without bothering to think about the force she’s putting into it and he howls into the pillow she’s pushed his face into, and she fucks him until he’s sobbing with relief, satisfaction. Emotional release.

It puts a thing in her chest. She feels it settle within her. Curious, that feeling.

Over the summer they travel between each other’s houses as much as they can, or meet each other halfway between. Georgie scrapes together enough money to go on a weekend trip with him – just a dingy hotel room, nothing special, just them eating at cheap restaurants and looking at art in free entrance galleries while she listens to Jon telling her things about his life, her making appropriate sounds in response.

She thinks about Alex sometimes. She tries so hard not to. She creeps her way into her head some of the nights, her and what she doesn’t want to even name or recognize, her eyes, the thing in her stomach about her, the crush she’d refused to name. She wakes up feeling empty.

Jon always steals the blankets when they share a bed and Georgie always has to wrestle him for them. He’s a dick even in his sleep. It fills her with frustration and affection, rolling him across the bed, pulling the duvet out from under him. Selfish prick, one duvet under him, one on top.

They’re similar in some ways, she thinks, Jon and Alex. The wild look in their eyes. Their sharp smiles. The way of carrying themselves. And in some ways they’re nothing alike, and Georgie doesn’t know which part she thinks she likes more. Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s neither.

She wraps her arms around his middle and pulls him closer. In his sleep he elbows Georgie in the stomach and makes a noise like he’s the one that’s been hurt.

The first time she sees Jon really crack they’re out. It’s weird in retrospect that it took that long, but thinking about it she can’t seem to recall a single breakdown she’d had around him. Huh.

It’s not a particularly nice restaurant - the carpets are stained, the food is alright at best, but she can justify it at its price point, and she would be lying if she said she didn’t like the lasagna. They make it kinda like her mum used to when she was little. She supposes that means it’s mostly from various jars, now that she thinks about it. Does it really matter? She likes it. It’s comforting. She thinks about calling her mum whenever they go there. Most times she remembers to do it.

Georgie’s shoveling lasagna into her mouth when Jon suddenly freezes. His fork falls out of his hand, and Georgie makes a questioning noise in her throat. He’s staring at the far wall behind Georgie, across the room from them, and Georgie, even trying her hardest, can’t tell what he’s looking at.

“Spider,” he says, hoarsely, and then shudders, hard. And then he’s pushing his chair back and crossing the dining room floor in shaky steps, taking his glass of water with him.

Thank God it’s almost empty. The table diagonally across from them pauses mid conversation to look when Jon smashes the glass against the brick wall. Glass explodes everywhere.

There’s a rush of emotion going through her, and she’s upset with herself for being embarrassed by him, but she is. Thank God this restaurant always makes them pay before eating, because she’s immediately on her feet, grabbing him by his shoulders and walking him out. His chest is moving too fast, breathing going shallow, and if she was better at this she would know how to make him take deeper breaths, prevent him from passing out on her.

On the doorstep she feels him go unsteady under her arms. She doesn’t think she could hold him up if his knees give out on him.

“Jon,” she says, voice low and soothing, putting her hands under his arms to support him. “It’s okay. You got it. It's gone.”

She doesn’t know what his thing with spiders is. For a second she wonders if this has something to do with what he’d told her, months ago. It doesn’t seem like arachnophobia. She doesn’t know what spiders could have to do with murder, either. Go figure.

He sits unsteadily on the ground outside the restaurant and then without a warning he throws up. Georgie has a brief thought about wasting money that makes her hate herself. Vaguely she realizes it’s started to rain.

Jon sits on the sidewalk and cries, heaving sobs racking his small frame. Georgie feels her sundress stick to her skin. She kneels next to him on the rough asphalt and kisses the top of his head once, fiercely.

August turns into September and they move in together. Separate flats. Same building, this year. Jon doesn’t like his flatmates but Georgie gets along fine with one of hers. She’s Scottish, and taller than Georgie. Georgie thinks she likes that, for a change.

She almost wonders why they didn’t move in together, get a place alone, they could probably afford one – with a long commute, granted, but she thinks she’d like those bus trips with Jon, doing their reading side by side, holding hands or reading over each other’s shoulders.

She spends time in his room or he comes over to hers and they go out. It’s a routine. She doesn’t really have anything to complain about. And these days looking at him she sees an ally, more than anything. Someone solid enough to lean on. Someone to trust. Someone to put her faith in. Good and solid.

“You know you can edit your papers, right?” Georgie says mildly, watching Jon look at his work in desperate, feverish anger, reading over what are clearly nonsensical sentences. She takes a peek over his shoulder. He covers the paper up where the mistakes are with one hand.

“I don’t need to,” he says. “It’s fine.”

Georgie hums. She slips her own assessment into the box. She feels okay about it. Not amazing, but she’s sure it’s an easy B. Maybe C if they grade harshly, but more likely a B.

“Want to do something? I’m free until six.”

Jon shrugs. “I think I’m going to be busy.”

Georgie can tell he’s planning on isolating himself for the next week in anticipation of the critique on his half-legible work he knows is coming. She wishes he would just take an hour to look over what he types. She’s also not going to let him waste away in his room like a miserable rat for a week.

“Suit yourself,” she says. “I have a giftcard to Waterstones that I don’t know what to do with, though.”

It’s a lie. She has a lot of ideas for it, but the way it makes Jon’s eyes go feral more than makes up for the loss of whatever classic she would’ve settled on.

He mumbles to himself (the only word Georgie makes out is “investigation” and she has a good idea of what the rest of the sentence boiled down to), turning right around, grabbing her hand, and despite their height difference and thus the difference in the length of their legs Georgie has to jog along him to keep up.

It’s nights like these that get to her.

Jon, shaking in her bed after a nightmare about something nonspecific, refusing to settle, something strange and haunted in his eyes. She almost doesn’t remember what fear used to feel like. She can almost still grab the memory by the corner, yank it towards her. It’s weird, this memory of an emotion she used to know, halfway between here and gone. She almost remembers it. She almost doesn’t.

She spots spiders on the walls and smashes them into pulp discreetly when Jon isn’t looking. She thinks about him, what he’d said when they’d first started hanging out, how he’d noticed her eyes. How he’d tapped on her shoulder. She thinks she owes him this.

He refuses to tell her about it. It doesn’t seem like just arachnophobia. Georgie catches spiders and releases them, usually, but with Jon she always kills them. She wishes she felt bad about it. She wonders what it says about her that she doesn’t.

It’s spring again. March is unseasonably warm that year and they do their readings outside, together. The grass is still nowhere near comfortable enough to sit on, so they take the benches outside the university buildings instead. They put their feet in each other’s laps sometimes, or their heads. It’s usually Jon who puts his head in her lap, though. Georgie uses Jon’s shoulder as a desk, or leans against his shoulder, or Jon sits at her feet, Georgie’s hand in his hair.

She feels lazy and full and content in the sun. She thinks about things to come. She thinks about what’s already happened.

They go on dates, now. Jon has this habit of saying mean things completely unpromptedly, like he’s unable to keep them to himself, going “what’s his deal” and Georgie going “let it go, would you” snappily and Jon making a face like he’s bitten into a lemon.

She does join in, sometimes. Jon talking about his coursemates, going “how hard can it be to tell Marx and Lenin apart, how do you even make that mistake, they’re not even – they’re not even fucking close to being the same person, and he’s the sociology student, and he allegedly researched this topic, since it’s the only assessment for this course,” and Georgie laughs until she’s red in the face, thinking about this poor bloke with his three thousand word essay about Lenin’s Communist Manifesto.

Or her watching people from her literary analysis class talk about things she finds incredibly annoying, mocking them to Jon later, doing the character voices and exaggerated body language. Jon joins in, and when he finds out about the shitty things they say his eyes fill with genuine anger, this burning hatred, and Georgie loves him desperately, a feeling that shoots through her in pulses. Say what you want about him but she knows for sure that he’s a good person. She doesn’t always remember it. Sometimes she’s reminded.

They make fun of people together. If Georgie doesn’t agree she tells him. If he doesn’t agree he doesn’t. It registers vaguely. She doesn’t want to think about it too much. Maybe she should. That, too, registers only vaguely.

“You know you’re a huge snob, right?” she says, listening to him rip into whatever piece of literature he didn’t find sufficient to his tastes this time. Amusement bleeds into her voice. “The way you talk about stuff makes you sound so snobby, dickhead.”

She says the last part affectionately. Jon looks like he’s about to stick out his tongue at her. Instead he makes a face between pointed confusion and scowl, and says “I have standards. That’s all.”

Sometimes when he says things like that he audibly exaggerates his accent. Sometimes he carefully imitates the artificially posh accent of movie stars instead. Georgie hates it. Like his part of the conversation is a performance.

Listening to him talk like this makes her think about Alex, sometimes. How she’d talked about those people with barely constrained anger, how her eyes had narrowed into slits around any type of bigotry, the times she’d confronted people for being openly classist, or racist, or whatever shitty things they’d said within her earshot – fierce, completely uncaring about what they thought of her.

And it’s weird - sometimes Jon makes her feel like she’s listening to both Alex and the posh Tory motherfuckers she used to run into on campus all the time. That look in his eyes. That sharp smile. And that annoying, annoying accent and those empty, pretentious, mean words.

He keeps going, and finally it’s too much. For a horrible moment she thinks about how she wishes she was there with Alex instead.

It’s on an impulse but Georgie picks up her books and walks off. Jon stays seated. She doesn’t turn to look at him.

That summer she works almost constantly. They don’t have time to do any trips, but sometimes he comes over and sleeps over. She still feels safe with him in her bed – like there’s a sense of mutual protection. She feels like he’s her ally. On her side. Like she can trust him to have her back.

Jon drops by at her work sometimes, containers of food he’d picked up on the way in his hands, and she always kisses him greedily on the mouth, almost hungrier for him than she is for whatever lunch he’s brought with him. He always seems surprised but eager to reciprocate, and in her work heels she almost towers over him.

It does something to him, this exaggerated height difference, and in the silence of her room she makes him kneel while she stands over him, hands in his hair, petting him languidly, lazily, him whining and whimpering, desperate to be touched, over- and understimulated at the same time. Exquisite. She feels so powerful with him at her feet.

And he’s always so good, afterwards. She can pull almost anything out of him in these moments, secrets falling like milk teeth, just in need of a little nudge. He talks about his parents and what he doesn’t know about them, and she picks up the words from the air as they float out of his mouth and tucks them into the space behind her heart, still warm and damp with his breath.

She talks about Alex. Sometimes Jon falls asleep against her chest when she’s in the middle of a story, and she feels bad, and then realizes she hasn’t been talking out loud for several minutes.

Sometimes she thinks about that time he’d pulled on her hair and she’d liked it. She pulls on her own hair, and it doesn’t feel as good. She wonders about that. Does she wish he would do it to her? Does she want something? She’s pretty sure this is something she should’ve let go of a long time ago. It’s pretty obvious it’s not something that’d be on the table anyway.

They move in again. They help each other decorate. Georgie hangs up photos and drawings and Jon hangs up diagrams and posters. It fills her with helpless adoration to see a Supernatural poster on his wardrobe door. She doesn’t say anything in the moment, but later she asks him to marathon the earlier seasons with her.

It almost feels like the first time. Georgie remembers the sounds, the smells, the feeling of Jon nervously sitting close to her, her own breathing shallow in her throat. She almost feels like they should go for a walk after each episode.

They get to the point they stopped watching. Jon looks at her with a question in his eyes, and Georgie nods, an aw, what the fuck moment that makes her think vaguely about a night with heavy bass and being so drunk she couldn’t stand up. Tasteless alcohol and Jon before his medication was adjusted and his mania waned out of him.

It’s not good. They laugh at it and it feels like the old times. Jon gets almost mad at the plot, sometimes – tight lips and furrowed eyebrows, and Georgie watches him as his eyes go blank for a few seconds and then refocus, and he lets out a sigh and relaxes his face again.

She always wonders what goes on inside his head in those wordlessly angry moments. Something that he recognizes to be irrational enough to push back and let go of.

In her new but uncomfortable as always bed they draw the duvet over themselves and whisper meaningless words against each other’s skin. In her head, quietly, Georgie thinks about how much it reminds her of the sleepovers she used to have when she was little - lying in the dark, full of sweets and popcorn, sharing secrets, feeling safe and cared for and happy with the world.

She didn’t realize how hard writing her dissertation would be.

She keeps starting the outline, erasing parts, rewriting them, erasing them, rewording them. She starts a new document. She stares at the computer screen in the near darkness, silent and still. On the floor at her feet Jon is leaning against her leg, making a quiet, continuous sound that isn’t quite a snore.

She knows he’d want her to wake him up. She doesn’t want to, because he looks so peaceful and happy. He’s always so tired lately. She’s sure it’s because he doesn’t eat or sleep right. From experience she knows that you can only fuck up one of those things at a time without your body giving up.

It’s like this year is both crawling and escaping through her hands. She feels like she’s walking in quicksand while the world around her moves at normal speed. Everything takes her so long. She meets all of her deadlines. She does all of her assessments. Her fingers get used to typing sentences that sound good. And yet in her head she’s constantly playing catch-up, half a mile behind everyone else. Not sure how that works.

Jon seems to be doing fine too, for the most part. His own school work is going alright, he says. He’s turning it in on time, at least. As far as she knows he’s still getting shit marks because of stupid shit he could avoid by just editing his papers before turning them in. He keeps refusing her help categorically. It frustrates her so badly she sometimes has to leave the room.

Some weeks they live in Georgie’s room almost around the clock. They run out of snacks and make real food, and then they eat in her room. It’s comforting and familiar in a weird way, and Georgie stretches her legs across his lap and he rubs them absently.

He still talks about the supernatural a lot. They don’t watch the show anymore. It got boring again and they didn’t like where the plot was going. She can pinpoint the day they came to the mutual decision, making eye contact after a particularly annoying cliff hanger, shaking their heads in tandem.

These days they watch the X-Files and Jon listens as Georgie talks about the thematic continuations across the seasons in literature jargon and smiles in the right places and makes all of the right noises in response to her words, and Georgie thinks, I could love him. I really could.

The implications of that train of thought don’t register until later.

There’s a creeping sense of dread at the back of her mind though, sometimes. They eat. They do their school work. They watch TV. They fuck. And it’s good, it’s good, nothing’s happened, it’s just that –

She watches Jon talk and she feels herself becoming increasingly disconnected from it.

“I fucking hate that this is the only time you’ll talk to me about anything real,” she says after they’ve cleaned up and tucked themselves into Georgie’s bed. It feels like anything she says in these moments doesn’t count in real life.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jon says airily.

He knows. Georgie knows he does.

He gets fucked and suddenly everything spills from his mouth like squeezing a shaken-up two liter Coke bottle in the middle. Put something in him and suddenly he cries with relief like it’s the only time he’s physically able to process his feelings. Like he’s mourning his parents and the latest shit mark he’s gotten on a paper and every critical thing anyone’s ever said to him and everything that’s ever happened to him.

“It’s not fucking healthy,” she says with some softness in her voice.

Jon tenses. “Don’t do this right now. Please not right now.”

Georgie settles back down and feels guilty. She wonders if Jon ever feels guilty about anything, and then she feels bad, because she knows he does.

They go to sleep in tense silence. When she wakes up to her alarm Jon is gone.

This is the part of the year where she can pinpoint the second she realized she felt relieved that they never got an apartment together.

She sits in the dark in her room and doesn’t quite cry.

It still feels so fucking good when they fuck though, and every time he looks at her she remembers how much she loves him. Those desperate, dark eyes, rolling back in his head or making pointed eye contact with her with his mouth hanging open, beautiful and deep and sweet and just, him. Not sure why she’s always so drawn to those eyes. She tries to think about his hands. His neck. The stubble on his throat. She always comes back to his eyes.

How it feels to see that look in his eyes when they’re tangled up, every part of them touching, or Jon in her arms, her holding his hands in her firm grasp while he struggles half-heartedly to free himself, touching her deep in her soul, holding onto that part of her that forgot even the memory of fear. Like this new feeling has taken over one of her basic instincts.

Not that she doesn’t remember this feeling anywhere else. She does. She stops making eye contact with him, eventually. Love starts feeling too much like guilt. Maybe it always did. She’s not sure what the difference is.

She’s not sure what changed. Nothing really did. Maybe everything did. Maybe she just decided that it was time for this to end. Maybe it was long overdue.

Library lounge. Jon’s eye bags are huge again, and Georgie thinks about brushing her finger along them, briefly. She won’t. It’s not really something she wants to do, either. She just thinks about it out of habit, she’s pretty sure. Maybe. She’s not that sure. Just a little bit. Maybe pretty sure is exaggerating a little bit.

“I think we’re different people now than who we used to be” Georgie says quietly.

“I think that’s a good thing,” Jon says, chin up in the air. He sounds bitter. He definitely knows where this is going. Georgie can tell when he’s pretending to not get something. He thinks that if he’s willfully obtuse, makes people spell things out to him, they’ll back off and he won’t have to hear what they’re saying. Georgie’s not going to play along.

“Yeah,” she snaps, “that’s not what I meant.”

They sit there for a moment, Jon stiff and petulant, eyes trying to burn a hole into the paper cup he’s holding with both hands with a grasp so tight she’s sure he’s going to squeeze the coffee out through the lid. Georgie feels more frustrated by the second. Jon’s stupid wrinkled shirt and lanky legs and sharp nose.

“What do you mean, then?” he says, and there’s the same kind of challenge in his annoyingly accented voice she’d heard him talk to other people with so many times before. She’d never thought he’d use it on her. Guess she’s finding out new things today.

“I’m breaking up with you, Jon,” she says, and this time she doesn’t bother to try to hide the frustration in her voice. It vaguely registers that it seems like a dialogue out of a movie more than something real people would say. She’s brought back to all the times she’d felt like that about Jon saying things in his forced newscaster accent. She wonders if she’d picked this up from somewhere, one of the movies they’ve watched over the past few weeks. Maybe. Maybe people just default to mimicking things when they don’t know what they’re supposed to say organically.

Jon gets up wordlessly, pushing his chair back with force, the legs scraping across the floor. It’s louder than Georgie’s voice had been, even raised. A few people turn to look. Jon takes his coffee and the textbooks he didn’t check out yet and walks off. Georgie watches him go. The alarms go off when he goes through the library doors but he doesn’t even slow down. It makes her almost smile.

It’s three months until graduation. She wonders if they’ll see each other again. Maybe. Maybe not.

She’s not sure which option she prefers.

Georgie graduates. Jon does, too, she’s pretty sure, but it’s an absent thought that barely registers when it passes through. It’s the fact that it’s absent rather than that she thought about it at all that tinges it with melancholy.

She moves into a real flat and buys plants and gets a full-time job. Nothing glamorous, but pays well enough that she can afford her place. It’s not what she’d imagined her life would be like back in university, but then again she’s not sure if she’d imagined it’d be like anything particular. She thinks she probably didn’t have any particular expectations.

She starts a podcast. She adopts a cat and he rubs his soft, narrow body against her legs while she records. She feels content. Contained. Maybe this is what Jon had meant when he’d talked about it, back then. Contained and small. Cared for. She takes care of herself. She’s not sure it’s quite the same thing.

She settles. She heals, as much as she can, at least. She thinks about Jon once a month at first, then only occasionally, and finally she forgets what his hair felt like when she pulled on it, strands twirling around her fingers, and she doesn’t feel bad about it. It becomes just something that happened, years ago, like getting too wasted and throwing up into a dumpster behind a Chinese takeaway restaurant. Backstory, at most.

(When Jon knocks on her door it’s a shock to say the least. She feels rattled and almost embarrassed in her oversized t-shirt and sleep shorts she’d pulled on in a hurry to answer the door, but Jon looks so awful that she almost doesn’t care. Sunken eyes. He looks like shit. She wonders if he’s in a manic episode or if something horrible happened to him, and for a second she can feel herself settling into her university self, the pit of her stomach she’d thought she’d filled up for good opening once again.

“Can I stay with you for a while? Promise I’ll be good,” he says, and in his eyes there’s a look so desperate the no dies in Georgie’s mouth. “I don’t have anywhere else right now.”

For a second they’re in that accommodation lounge waiting for their keys again, surrounded by brightly coloured, uncomfortable couches and cheerful pamphlets about living independently and writing strong papers, two twenty year olds drifting towards each other, Jon tired and afraid and Georgie watching him from the corner of her eye. Arrogant and mean and so, so good to her, making her heart ache, making her feel and –

She stops herself. No reason to get into that now.

She lets Jon in. When she asks him about the important bits he says all the right words and makes all the right noises, and she almost believes him. He’s always been a bad liar, but he’s become better. He seems almost guilty. It makes her feel something she doesn’t care to try to identify further.

Guess they’re different people, again.

Georgie thinks this time it might be a good thing.)