Ali stroked Terry’s head, consciously rubbing his hair against its natural grain, like stroking a cat from tail to head. He sighed and leant back against her, feeling the material of her blouse against his bare back.
"Why do you have to go now ?"
"Just do, you see. It’s not like me to stay anywhere even this long. Haven’t stayed this long in one place for a while now. Tomorrow morning, we move up country. Too much hassle over the last week or so. End of the season anyway and I need to get hold of some money. Benefits stopped paying me and there’s a couple of us who thought we might go rose patching." She stopped and waited for his reaction. Terry shook his head free of her hands and smoothed back his hair.
"What’s that , for starters ?"
"Rose patching ?" She laughed, "I thought a boy from up country might know that ! Just crap work really, putting, well, patches, little bits of rubber or something, on roses – not even sure why. But some of the others on the site have done it and apparently it’s pretty good money, once the season’s finished over here they go over to Holland, might go there too. Don’t know yet."
"And what ?" she laughed softly. "And us ?"
"Yeah," Terry repeated sulkily " And us."
"I don’t know. It’s been good – I mean it’s been seven weeks and I don’t think we’ve been apart for more than a day. I need to get away, get my head back in gear and sort out where I’m going. I mean, it isn’t you…" she trailed off.
"That’s original," He snorted and sat up, pulling on his t-shirt, white emblazoned with the logo of some or other band,
"Don’t get like that…"
"Like what ?" He demanded. Terry was feeling hurt and was lashing out, even though he knew it was stupid and self defeating. "It’s just that, well, just that I thought we were doing OK, that we were, I don’t know…"
"We were. We are. It really isn’t about that. I didn’t intend you to see this as the bloody be all and end all. I like you so very much, but there are other things out there you know."
Terry’s voice rose a minute amount, cracking slightly around the edges. "What, other blokes you mean ?"
"No !" the response was emphatic. "Well, yeah there are, but that isn’t what this is about. I won’t disappear from your life." Ali dropped her head in exasperation.
"How come. Sounds like it." Terry retreated into chopped up sentences, monosyllabic words were the best expression he could find to show his feelings. Not everything about him had matured as well as he thought.
"Oh fuck off. I’m going to go up country and I’ll write to you – I promise – I’ll come and see you – I’ll tell you where I am once we settle down and you can come and find me."
Terry grasped at the lifeline she was offering and comprehensively missed it.
"Oh yeah, like letters are as good as this thing we have here right now."
"You’ll have to get used to it" Ali snatched up her jeans and pulled them up over her slender pale legs, adding a carapace of denim to hide her vulnerability. She was close to tears but not given to backing down.
"Huh, I should have listened."
Ali swung ‘round, "To who ?"
"To who ?" she repeated
"Jaz." Terry mumbled, ashamed that he’d gone down this route but unable to see a way out.
"You listened to some advice from him ?" she put the emphasis on the last word leaving Terry in no doubt as to what she thought of any advice that would come from him. "He’s half bloody Neanderthal. What did he say ?"
"I didn’t listen to him – that’s the point. He just said something like I’d regret it getting mixed up with you."
"Mixed up ? Mixed up ! Is that all it is now – mixed up ?" Ali threw her jacket across the bed and laughed sardonically.
"No….no…. that’s not what I meant…" Too late Terry tried to retrieve something.
"Yeah well you said it didn’t you." She snorted back some tears. Grabbed her shoulder bag and opened the door.
"Don’t go…" Terry saw what was happening and again left it too late. The door closed. He didn’t follow, he lay on the bed exhausted and bewildered. Picking over the argument in his head he also felt guilty. He was always telling Ali that she ought to do what she wanted, he admired her for the fact that she wasn’t conventional, he admired the way she lived. He kept telling her that didn’t he ? So why now that it came down to it had he behaved like a total idiot ?
He got up, dressed and went out to look for her.
Out in autumn’s sporadic sunlight the street was empty, most tourists had left and the shop doorways filled with miniature dunes of wind blown sand and dust. He walked over to the shop. Joe was sitting on a stool behind the counter flicking through a copy of Vogue, embarrassed he dropped it to the floor and put on his usual show of bonhomie.
"Hello hardcore." he said, "Big wave day today ?" Knowing full well that the sea was as flat as the pavement outside.
"You seen Ali ? She should have walked past a few minutes ago."
"That’d be the one with the Peter Pan hair and nice line in insults ? Yeah ?"
"Come on Joe – just yes or no will do." Terry was exasperated "Have you seen her ?"
"OK, OK, keep your flat top on – yeah, she was outside talking to Dave. Think she got in his car, he went off up the hill anyway. What’s the problem ?"
Dave must have taken Ali back out to the quarry. But with no transport Terry was stuck. He decided to walk the six or so miles there, stomping off at a pace that soon slowed after the first hill. There were no cars around and no people, just wind and cloud, pale yellow-brown fields of stubble and the occasional field of skinny looking shorn sheep. On the hills across the valley he could see cows grazing and the odd tractor moving. But otherwise, nothing. After a few miles, almost halfway, he sat down. He wished he’d brought a drink with him. A late bee buzzed around his face and flew off to settle on a pink scrubby hedgerow flower. So devoid now of any romanticism Terry lobbed a hard piece of mud at the careless insect, making it hover sharply upwards and then fly off. Terry wanted out of this rurality and back to some sort of reality. He looked up at the clouds and sighed again. The season was over, everybody, including Ali it seemed, was running out so he wasn’t going to stay either. In that dry moment he made the decision. There was no going back and there was no chasing. The time now was for him. He ripped up a handful of dessicated wild grass and let it go into the wind; the wind blew it out across the road in front of him. Resolutely, stubbornly, he turned in the opposite direction and began to trudge back to the village to pack his bags.
And this one's for Ali....