The sheets were crumpled around his body, the space around him thrashed out in sleepless frustration. He lay on his back, his eyes wide open, his brain simultaneously willing itself to sleep and running off with thoughts he couldn’t control.
He was thinking back to three years ago; when Oro was spoken of in present tense instead of past, when he never knew a hollow feeling, and when nobody had ever looked at him with pity in their eyes. Three years ago, when he could look at Achlys without feeling as though the truth would suffocate him. Three years and he was still living a lie, never daring to hint at it and keeping the one person he needed to tell the most, in the dark. It was almost too much to bear.
He groaned as he dragged himself out of bed; his body protesting, clamouring for the comfort of sleep.
“Perhaps a walk to clear my head” he muttered, dragging on his jeans.
It had been snowing steadily for hours. She was curled up in bed, cosy between the warmth of her blankets and the glow of her bedroom lamps. She loved nights like these: the snow made everything more precious, the silence more pronounced, and as though you were the only person awake in the whole world. The snow made you believe you could whisper and the Earth would whisper back a secret.
She sipped at her hot chocolate, her mind consumed by the book she was reading. She penciled notes in the margin, her eyebrow furrowed as she vacillated over word choice.
She was just about to scribble a note to herself when she heard the first “Ping!” bounce off her window.
It sounded like the Earth had come knocking.
He’d walked out of his house without a destination in mind. He’d wanted to walk until his body out-exhausted his mind, until sleep was not something his mind could fight against, until all he could do was close his eyes and sleep a dreamless sleep.
His feet walked a familiar path before his brain understood where they were taking him. He scrambled over a hedge, a branch scratching his cheek, the cold stinging. He stood beneath Achlys’ lit window, staring up, knowing she was awake- reading, probably.
And he knew what he was about to do almost as soon as he bent down to pick up a tiny pebble and aim it at her window.
The pebble flew off the window, the sound echoing in the eerie quiet of the night. An owl hooted a few trees over. The moon peeked out.
He launched another pebble.
Achlys padded over to the window, her glasses slipping down her nose and her toes curling in the cold.
She tried not to smile at him waving up at her.
He waved at her face, blurred by the window. He didn’t understand this reaction he’d suddenly developed every time he saw her. A split-second of nervousness before he dismissed it with a rationalised, “But it’s Achlys!”.
He’d seen her ready for bed a thousand times before. Her hair a messy knot at the top of her head that was always threatening to tumble down; her glasses slipping down her nose; toothpaste on her t-shirt collar; and her feet bare, as always. She always danced in and out of the bathroom, a muffled “Bollocks!” as her feet hit the freezing tiles, the toothbrush in one corner of her mouth.
So he didn’t understand why his stomach dropped when she open her window and leaned out, her hair finally collapsing in the wind, and beckoned him to climb in through her bedroom window.
Her first thought was that he smelt of night air and clove cigarettes: cold and warm all at once. His hair was unkempt and ruffled, as though he’d run his hands through it all night before the wind had gotten to it. His eyes were hollow, pain peeking out behind his usual mask of semi-amusement.
“You look like shit.” she told him.
His stomach stopped falling. His panic lifted.
“I don’t know if this book is fiction or if it’s real. I mean, I don’t even have the whole manuscript- I only get chapters as they’re written and it’s all so lifelike! I.. I..I don’t know, I feel as though this Sophie person is real. As though I should go meet her.” She ended on a sigh, crumpling onto the bed, her head unconsciously finding his shoulder for a useful pillow.
“Well, why don’t you speak with Charles and see if he can get you in touch with the writer? He must know who it is, right?”
“Mm, I suppose. But, what if he reckons I’m overstepping my bounds? I .. I don’t want him to think I’m getting to big for my boots- I just think she’s fascinating. I want to understand her, see why I relate so much…”
“I don’t think he’ll see it that way at all. You’re overthinking it. Just ask him, you’ll know soon enough.”
She nodded, still looking slightly unconvinced. She looked up at him, her head on his shoulder; his arm cradling her close.
“You look like shit. You haven’t been sleeping too well, have you?”
He glanced down at her face, smiled a tired smile and leaned down to kiss the tip of her nose.
She didn’t know what was bothering him, what troubled him so much that he couldn’t sleep. Andrei had always been able to sleep. Anywhere, at any time. Sleep had always been on his side- he’d never let unhappiness, worry or a guilty conscience interfere with sleep, and to see him now- his eyes lacklustre and troubled; his normally harmless sarcasm giving way to barely concealed impatience… Achlys worried.
Her eyes fluttered shut as he leaned down and kissed her nose.She hugged him a little closer.
He sighed, his body relaxing; no longer tightly held together.
She reached up and placed her hand over his eyes.
“Get some sleep, pond-muck.”