The Morning After
The shaft of sunlight - that had spent the early hours of the morning working it’s way up the bed - finally reached his face. He squinted automatically and cursed it silently for waking him from his sleep.
It’s funny; I don’t remember my bedroom curtains letting so much light through.
He turned onto his side, still unwilling to open his eyes. His head felt like lead and, as he rolled it across the pillow, it felt like someone was banging on it with a large rubber mallet.
Just how much did I have to drink last night?
He tried to get comfortable in his new position and flung his arm round in front of him. It thudded down on something warm and soft that groaned at the impact. He froze as he realised that he wasn’t alone in the bed, but couldn’t for the life of him remember who the other person could be. Gingerly, he lifted his arm off the sleeping form and eased himself back away from them; then slowly he opened his eyes and tried to focus on the person before him.
A large blue duvet, pulled up high round her neck obscured her body. And her face was covered by a mass of hair. Lightly tangled red hair.
Oh shit! It’s Duffy.
He couldn’t, at first, place just why the news that he had spent the night with Duffy was so devastating. It wasn’t as though he hadn’t dreamed of waking up next to her plenty of times before. But always, every morning after such a dream, he had cursed himself for dreaming it. She was his friend, his best friend. Not someone to be lusted over, even if she was gorgeous.
Stop it, Charlie. Just stop it.
He looked around the room. All the furnishings were glowing a warm orange colour that burnt into his eyes. It was her room. Far more feminine, not to mention cleaner, than his own. He had never been in her room before. He hadn’t often been in her house. He’d made a point of it. It wasn’t appropriate. He was her boss. Her friend. She was married.
She was married, she’s not anymore…
She moved in front of him. Turned slightly to face him and again he froze. What would he say to her when inevitably she woke up? What if she was as badly hung over as him and didn’t remember the events of the previous night? What if she was horrified to find him in her bed? He held his breath, not daring to move in case it woke her. But she was still fast asleep. Her face was expressionless except for the tiniest of smiles playing on her lips.
God, she’s beautiful.
He watched the duvet rise and fall gently and occasionally she let out a soft sigh, as though dreaming some fantastic dream. The sighs cut through his hungover head and reverberated, mocking him.
You finally get her into bed, and you can’t even remember it. You idiot.
He felt his hand lifting, stretching out to touch her. He stopped, his hand hovering above her shoulder.
You’re in bed together, you’re allowed to touch her…
He flexed his fingers as he fought with himself over the ethics of the situation. They were in bed together, that much was true. He brought his hand down across her face and brushed her hair from it. His fingertips lightly caressing her cheek. She smiled, and snuggled contentedly deeper into the duvet.
You did that, you made her smile like that. Whatever you did to get here, you’re well in now.
He sunk back onto the bed himself, wondering if perhaps he should try to go back to sleep. Let her wake up first, let her make the decisions. He closed his eyes again and found himself tying to relive last night. He had been upset. Something about Baz…
She’s getting married.
That was it, she announced her engagement and he had gone to the pub and got pissed. They’d stopped serving him after a while.
You were sick in the toilets, you fool.
He’d left and found an off licence still open. He’d bought another bottle of scotch. He’d gone to sit on the common, he didn’t know exactly why. It had started raining. Lightly at first - he could live with that - then more heavily. Huge, fat raindrops that had soaked through his clothes and chilled him to the bone. He had looked for shelter, stumbling around, heading vaguely in the direction of…
She had opened the door and said something to him, what was it?
"You look a bloody mess, Charlie."
Not very romantic, but she had let him in. He’d tried to explain himself. He couldn’t remember if it made sense. She told him it was just as well her kids were staying with her mother, he’d frighten the life out of them. He’d offered her a swig of his whiskey.
She’d taken his hand and led him upstairs.
She moved again, an arm emerged from beneath the duvet and scratched at her head. She left her hand on the pillow next to her. He watched the movement avidly; there was something strangely graceful about it. Feeling a little bit more confident, he moved closer to her and took her hand. It was warm and soft. He played with her fingers.
What were you so worried about? It’s all perfectly natural.
He shifted closer still, his face just inches from hers. His heart was beating so loudly that it would have deafened him, if the infernal pounding of his headache hadn’t already done so.
She’s yours now Charlie. Finally. She’s yours
He gazed at her sleeping face, breathing in every inch of it. The face he’d seen every day for so long, yet it was like seeing her for the first time. Not just a colleague, not just a friend.
Now she’s your lover Charlie. A whole new beginning for both of you. You lucky sod!
"My lover," he repeated to himself softly. The words felt so good, he had to resist the urge not to stand up and shout them.
Duffy murmured something in response. Something that Charlie couldn’t quite catch. He moved his hand from hers and ran his index finger down the side of her face.
"Duffy?" he whispered, not wanting to wake her, but curious as to what she’d said. He didn’t know why but it was important.
"Andrew," she sighed. Charlie stopped and withdrew his hand as though he’d just received an electric shock. He couldn’t have heard right. She couldn’t have said…
"Andrew?" Louder this time, echoing through his mind, drowning out all other thoughts. The rubber mallet that had been so determinedly attacking his head delivered a swift blow to his stomach.
Duffy’s eyelids flickered. She scrunched up her nose and licked her lips as she passed through the drowsy passage between asleep and awake.
Charlie felt an overwhelming desire to run, to hide, to be anywhere but in that bed next to her.
It felt like an eternity to him as he waited for her to open her eyes, and to realise that he wasn’t Andrew. For the hatred and disgust to set in. He closed his eyes and waited for her to turn on him.
Duffy opened her eyes, stretched and yawned and sat up in bed. She saw Charlie’s sleeping figure next to her.
"Charlie, time to wake up." She didn’t sound angry, or disappointed, or hung over. But still he couldn’t move. He was paralysed with fear.
"Char-lie!" she said in a sing-songy voice. She ruffled his hair, like she did to wake her own children. He wasn’t expecting that, he wasn’t expecting for her to touch him. Startled, he opened his eyes.
"So you are alive then, I was wondering after the state you were in last night!"
He didn’t know what to say. He rubbed at his forehead.
"I’ll find you some aspirin in a minute."
He continued rubbing.
"Don’t you talk first thing in the morning?"
"Headache," he mumbled.
Stupid thing to say. She already knows you’ve got a headache, she offered you aspirin. Tell her she looks beautiful.
"Duffy…" The words refused to come out. Maybe this is what it had been like with Max. A brief fling, nothing to it. He hoped he was wrong.
He watched as she raised an eyebrow slightly in anticipation of him finishing his sentence. She was beautiful, even first thing in the morning. Her face clear of makeup; her hair hanging dishevelled, spilling onto her sweatshirt.
Fed up of waiting for Charlie’s brain to kick into gear, she slid out of bed, revealing a faded pair of pyjama bottoms. She walked across the room and flicked on the light.
"Breakfast? Or are you still feeling too rough?"
"Duffy…I don’t remember last night."
Why did you say that? She was asking about breakfast, for God’s sake. Why did you admit that?
A mischievous smile spread across her face. She walked back to the bed and sat on its edge.
"Nothing at all? I’m hurt, Charlie. After all the effort I went to to make you feel better." There was something in her tone of voice that sounded, well, wrong.
"I er, well er…I’m sure you were very…"
Get on with it Charlie!
Duffy couldn’t contain her giggles any longer. She slapped her hand down on the mattress as her laughter rang out. Charlie looked at her confused.
"Oh, Charlie, I’m sorry. You didn’t honestly think that we…" she made a ‘you and me’ gesture with her hand.
"For goodness sake, Charlie, it was everything I could do to drag you off the bathroom floor and into bed. Which by the way I hope you’re going to clear up."
"You threw up. I was going to clear it but I was so exhausted after trying to put you to bed, I must have conked out myself. It was pretty late."
"I think I remember…"
"Honestly, Charlie, I wouldn’t take advantage of you when you’re drunk!" She laughed again, as if it was the most ridiculous thought in the world and told him she was off to get those aspirin.
He sat up and realised he still had his trousers on, he should have been relieved. He knew that. He hadn’t spoilt his friendship with her. She was still his friend, still his best friend. Not someone to be lusted over, even if she was gorgeous.