Caught in the Rain
‘Excuse me. I said, excuse me.’
A hand on my shoulder makes me jump, so hard I bang my head off the window. I swear under my breath and look up to see a woman with several bulging, Primark bags so wet they are barely holding together festooning one arm and a screaming toddler tucked under the other.
I watch as the scowl on her face deepens. A fat drop of rainwater trickles down her cheek and dangles off the point of her chin. ‘Are you going to move your stuff or what?’
I sigh and pile my backpack and own shopping bags up onto my lap.
‘Thanks for taking your time about it,’ the woman says, plonking herself down uncomfortably close next to me. The next thing I know, her bags are practically spilling into my own lap and her grumpy son is thrashing about in her arms, kicking out and smearing dirty rainwater all over my new jeans. He then turns to face me and coughs wetly in my face. I pull my neck and chin down into the safety of my scarf. I hate public transport. But I’m doing it to see him, I remind myself.
I turn up the music on my phone until my ears thrum from the bassline and pat my pocket, making sure the box is still safe. It presses against my chest making my heart flutter. I turn to face the window. Not that I can see much out of it. The glass is thick with the breath of the 30-or-so other people crammed into the bus. I pull my sleeve down over my hand and swipe at it, creating a portal to the world outside. Everything out there’s a different shade of grey. Puddles that look more like bottomless lakes speckle the pavement and disembodied feet dance around them, as cars drive right through them and create miniature tidal waves.
Everyone always seems to hate on the rain, but I love days like this. The weather was miserable the night I met Elliot.
We were at some grotty nightclub I wouldn’t usually be caught dead in, but I was there for some girl from work’s leaving do. Sarah or Sasha I think her name was? Anyway, I’d only gone because Becca from my team had promised she’d buy me a Piña Colada if I went (I know, I’m cheap. What can I say?).
I was slouched against the bar, waiting for the harassed-looking bartender to whip up my fourth of the night. When she placed it in front of me, a hand circled around the glass before I could even move.
‘Excuse me,’ I’d said.
I wasn’t prepared for his eyes, for the never-ending darkness of them. So dark they looked hollow and I fell right in.
He leant over and I tensed, wondering what on earth this beautiful stranger was doing with me, what words he wanted to share with me. I wasn’t ready for the ones he chose:
‘Do you also like getting caught in the rain?’ his breath slid down every ridge of my ear, filling every crevice.
‘You what?’ I thought he was completely off his tits.
He smiled and lifted his other hand. In it he held another glass, which was also garnished with a pineapple slice. A creamy, yellow liquid sloshed around inside it.
‘We could get caught in the rain together.’
I don’t remember how it found my mouth, but his tongue was a tropical paradise and the salt on his skin tasted like the ocean. He took my hand and suddenly we were outside where the rain was thundering down so hard it stung the top of my head and bare arms.
We ran, hand in hand, zigzagging around the puddles. I splashed right through one, my trainers and jeans soaking all the water in an instant, but we just laughed and laughed. With him it was easy to forget that we were stumbling around some dodgy Birmingham backstreet, being eyeballed by a flock of dishevelled pigeons. It felt like we were in our own private world.
We literally had to scrape our clothes off back at his. Our bodies came together desperately – first out of the need for warmth, then driven by lust – our teeth clattering and limbs rough with goosebumps.
‘I think I’m in love with you already,’ he murmured against my chest as we drifted off afterwards.
I couldn’t get him out of my head on the bus home. I remember writing his name on the steamed-up window like a love-struck teen. It felt good to scratch his name out against the glass with my fingernail, claiming his as my own.
Images of him from that night race across my mind – the creases that bracketed his eyes and mouth as he laughed, the vulnerable fuzziness of his hair like a baby chick, the way he looked in those ripped, skinny jeans…
The writhing toddler flails like he’s possessed, his feet tangling in my headphone wires and yanking them off my head.
‘For god’s sake.’
‘I’m sorry,’ the woman says, clamping down on the boy’s legs. ‘Oscar, calm down,’
I tut loudly, feeling mean for doing so. It’s just because I’m nervous, I tell myself. I wish I could tell her that, to explain myself but now she’s shushing Oscar and showing him a Peppa Pig video on her phone.
I love him. I love Elliot. I want to tell her. To hear what those words sound like when they pass my lips, rather than just bouncing around wildly in my head.
The bus grinds to a halt at the top of the road. It’s my stop next. My stomach fizzes like a bath bomb. I press my head against the glass, wanting the vibrations to shake out the doubts plaguing my head.
A red umbrella bobs past the window. Four legs stick out from under it. Burgundy Doc Martens on the end of a pair of tight black jeans. My stomach squeezes tightly.
I know those legs.
As the bus starts up and pulls into the road, I wipe frantically at the window. I crane my neck to look through and as we draw level with the umbrella, the person holding it side-steps a huge puddle and tugs the Doc Martens wearer along too. The umbrella falls to the side and the bottom falls out of my world.
It’s him. Elliot. My Elliot. His fingers interlocking another guy’s.
Peppa Pig and all her friends fall about laughing.
I whip around towards the woman. ‘Excuse me.’
‘Turn it down, Oscar,’ she takes the phone from him.
‘I said excuse me!’ Somehow, I’m standing up and shouting, but I don’t care. I need to get off.
‘Bloody hell, give us a minute,’ the woman says and Oscar starts to wail. I haven’t got a minute. I half climb, half shove myself through the gap between her knees and the seat in front and stumble to the front of the bus.
‘I need to get off,’ I tell the bus driver, my thumb grinding into the stop button.
‘Hang on, the next stop’s just up here, mate.’
‘You don’t understand, I need to get off now,’ I start banging on the doors, squeezing my nails in the cracks to try and prize them open.
‘Are you alr-‘
‘Jesus Christ,’ the bus driver slams on the brakes and I’m squeezing through the doors before they’re even fully open. I can feel everyone watching me, but I don’t care because I’m running, my own Docs that I bought because of him slamming against the pavement, my heart slamming against the base of my throat, the box slamming against my ribs. The box, the box.
The breath rips out of my throat as I stagger to a halt in front of Elliot and his friend.
Elliot turns with a smile that melts away as soon as he sees me.
‘Who-’ my voice breaks as I pant. I cough and try again, to sound stronger this time. ‘Who is this?’
‘Is everything alright?’ the guy asks.
‘I wasn’t talking to you,’ I spit.
‘Don’t you talk to Alex like that.’
‘Oh, so it’s Alex is it?’
‘Elliot, what’s going on?’
‘Stay out of this, Alex.’
‘No, you stay out of this,’ Elliot rounds on me.
‘You’re always ruining things. Just get the hell out of my life.’ I cower at the venom in his eyes and voice. I suddenly realise I’m drenched right through and shivering. I don’t want to look pathetic in front of him.
‘Babe?’ I try, softer this time.
‘You don’t get it do you? I want you to leave me the hell alone.’
‘El, who is this?’ Alex asks.
‘I thought you loved me?’ I say over him. ‘Elliot?’
He shakes his head. ‘I never loved you!’
‘You said you did.’
‘In your dreams maybe. We had a one-night stand, Logan. Two years ago. And I told you then that I never wanted to see you again.’
His words are like fists to my chest. Thump, thump, thump. ‘That’s not true. You’re mine. And I’m yours.’
‘You just don’t get it do you. I’m not part of this fairy tale you keep telling yourself.’
‘But I like to get caught in the rain with you. I bet Alex doesn’t.’
‘For god’s sake. That was just some stupid chat up line. Let it go.’
He yanks Alex away from me and up the path to his front door. It should be our front door. Elliot and I, we belong together. I suddenly remember the box in my pocket and pull it out, fingers fumbling. I brandish it at his retreating back. ‘I love you, Elliot. Will you marry me?’
‘Just leave us alone, before I call the police again,’ Elliot shout as he pulls Alex through the front door. It slams shut behind them, a full stop on the conversation.
‘Don’t worry, Elliot. You’ll come to your senses soon.’ I say, blinking against the rain that’s running into my eyes and down my cheeks. ‘And I’ll be here, waiting for you when you do.’