The ceiling pirouettes above me. My eyes start to focus on a spider above the bed, and my mind flashes with the memory of our excitement at finding ‘the lost tequila’. I wince as a siren screeches past the window. I see a mysterious bruise crawling above my elbow as I pull my phone across from the bedside table. 1pm. My legs feel heavy. As I try to stir some sense of life into them, my heel crashes into something hard. I roll over slowly to greet a familiar, bird-tattooed back, a head of unruly hair smothering my pillow. My best friend, Jordan.
Jordan and I have known each other since primary-school. I hated him then. He borrowed my purple pencil, and sharpened it at both ends so that he could joust with Blair. I had cried. Jordan had had to sit next to the teacher until break-time. Our first day of high-school, one of the big boys pushed me in the science corridor. He called me ‘Carrots’. Jordan pushed him back, angrily. Jordan was four foot three at the time, the older boy was built like a JCB. But Jordan had shoved him exactly as the boy had passed an open lab-door. The boy crashed inside, tripped over a stool, and landed in a careless heap beside the teacher. Jordan became a legend. Carrots became his best friend.
I can see the wisps of Jordan’s beard quivering as he drools into my pillow. The image is a curious combination of masculinity and babyishness. He started growing the beard when Julie broke up with him. She met a man called Gus on the train, and then she told Jordan it was over. A few weeks later, we were having lunch outside, sunbathing. Jordan saw them kissing beside the Psychology building.
“What does she see in him?” he frowned, petulantly.
“Hmmn,” I murmured. I was lying on my back, shielding the sun with my arm.
“He has a handle-bar moustache,” he sneered. “You know who else had one of them…”
“That guy from our History of Baroque seminar,” I said, bored.
“Who?” he painfully removed his eyes from the couple, across to me.
“You know, the one who always uses the word ‘pretentious’.”
“I hate that guy,” he nodded, looking back over at Julie and her new beau.
I looked across at them too. They were doing their best The Notebook impression, but I couldn’t help thinking that Julie knew that Jordan was watching. Poor Gus.
“She’s only with him because women like men who have a ‘distinguishing feature’,” Jordan sulked.
“It’s true,” he kicked me. “I read it in your Cosmopolitan magazine.”
“Well, it must be gospel then,” I laughed harder. “You should grow a beard or something, out-do him.”
“I will,” he said, stroking his then bare chin, like a much-less threatening Bond villain.
I slip inelegantly out of the covers, grabbing the closest cover-up from my ironing pile. Jordan sleeps on, oblivious, as I creek open the door. I see my bra hanging over the door-handle on the outside, like a shameful ‘do-not-disturb’ sign. I crush it into a ball in my fist. I hope DeeDee didn’t see that. I already suspect she finds me a little ‘common’. Jordan calls her ‘delightfully middle class’. He said she’s the kind of girl who does yogalates, and has a John Lewis loyalty card. She leaned her head over the door last week, to ask if we wanted anything from Waitrose. I had had to kick Jordan, who had started sniggering into his textbook. I look down at the underwear, and groan. I hope Jordan didn’t notice it either. The cherry-print bra, from the Primark sale. Sexy.
Hiding the evidence, I throw it into the washing-machine in the kitchen. I’m still too fragile to turn its airplane-engine-simulating motor on, but I can handle the kettle. I get our usual mugs down from the cupboard. Jordan has developed a UKIP attitude towards tea. He likes it to be ‘good and English’. He berated me for trying to ‘poison’ him with Ceylon. He didn’t stop sulking, until I bought him Chinese take-out, and then let him watch Skyfall, again.
“Why do you have a Paramore t-shirt?” a voice asks slowly, curious. I look to my right. Jordan is framed in the door studying me, eyebrow raised in amusement.
I look down at my t-shirt, realising I’ve alleviated the cherry-bra from its ranking at the top of ‘Carrot’s most embarrassing outfit choices’.
“Paramore were cool, for their time,” I say, trying to carry off my derisive high-horse tone, and feeling an unwelcome blush come into my cheeks. “Stop being such a snob.”
Jordan snorts, pulling a chair out from the table, and sitting down.
“Tea?” I ask. He nods. We’re being awkwardly formal, for us. I wonder if he notices too.
I bring the mugs over to the table, sitting in the chair next to him. He takes his mug and sips.
“Bloody Earl Grey!” he rolls his eyes, laughing.
“Fascist!” I smirk. He pulls his arm around the back of my chair, grinning.
Last year we went to the same pub, but that was back when Sanchez had both legs.
“A toast to the next one!” laughed Jordan, knocking his whisky glass against Sanchez’ crutch.
I batted the back of his head, a little less gently, but he just laughed again, and pulled me to his side, kissing my fringe. Sanchez, unperturbed, was conscientiously flirting with the girl behind the bar. A cocktail of flattery and Hogmanay fluster had flushed her cheeks. I looked up at Jordan. He was perched precariously on the bar stool. He was clearly happy, and incoherently drunk. He caught me staring, and grinned, leaning down to kiss me, simultaneously unbalancing himself from the stool. I caught him, propping him up by tucking my arm around his back.
"Thanks Carrots," he whispered.
The last time Jordan had been this drunk was when he first met my parents. He was fifteen minutes late, and arrived a little flustered, clad in a purple tie and a spectacularly ironed matching shirt.
“This cost me more than my lecy bill,” he whispered, pulling un-lovingly at the ridiculous accessory.
“How delightfully vain of you, Kanye,” I sniggered. Jordan frowned back at me.
“You two misbehaving out there?” came the disembodied voice of my father from the living room. Jordan sprang back, exuding un-deserved guilt. I pulled his deadweight through the door.
This was the ‘official’ meeting. Which meant that Jordan now felt a need to atone for all prior first-impressions. Which included a number of overheard drunk phone-calls to myself about now-ex-girlfriends, our S6 photograph where Jordan was sporting a particularly thuggish looking rugby black-eye, and a one-off appearance as an angel in Mrs Crosby’s progressive, primary-school nativity play.
Dad offered Jordan a whisky, which he accepted with relish. I remembered seeing a Buzzfeed on ‘why whisky makes men, Men’ on Jordan’s laptop.
“No halo or wand for you today then, pal?” Dad grinned, cruely. Jordan took a most ungentlemanly shot of his whisky. Three hours and many whiskies later, Jordan’s purple tie had been woefully disregarded, and he was gleefully bitching with my mother about Gloria next door, and her infamous ‘inappropriate water-skiing garden-gnome’. Dad grinned, chuckling, as I scolded him for teasing Jordan, and mum tucked a blanket under Jordan’s snoring, whisky-scented beard.
Across the bar I saw another familiar face. Alistair Stephens. In high school, Alistair had been a quiet boy, unassuming, gentle, and mercilessly taunted by Lewis and his friends. Thankfully, Alistair always seemed a little distant, so I hoped that he had never fully noticed. Jessica Francis dropped her school-bag on the bus, and Lewis had grabbed it, turning it out. Jessica was furious, and Lewis went unbecomingly rouge when he pulled out a tampon. Alistair quietly put everything back in, handed the bag back to Jessica, and got off at the next stop, without looking back.
He was standing with a short, blonde-haired girl. He had a similar glint in his eye to Jordan’s whiskied glisten. He lent down and whispered into the girl’s ear. She clasped her hand to her mouth, nodding, her eyes sparkling a tear.
“Yes,” I saw her mouth. Alistair leant down and hugged her tightly, burying his smile into her shoulder.
Maybe it’s time we spoke about this,” I whisper. I look down at Jordan. He’s crouched beside the TV set. A repeat of Still Game is playing, and he’s mouthing along, laughing in sync with the audience. I kneel down beside him, tugging his arms. He pulls away, roughly, and clasps his arms around his knees.
“I’m fine!” he shouts. “Fuck off.”
He’s only said that once before me to me. We were on a pedalo at Biggar duck pond - Jordan had a Groupon. He reckoned it’d be ‘dead romantic’.
“Bet Sam never took you on a pedalo,” he grinned, nudging me.
“You’re right,” I nodded. “Mind you, Sam didn’t write off his Nissan Micra,” I stuck out my tongue.
“What kind of magpie just sits there!” he snapped, re-enacting his infamous swerve.
I linked my arm through his, nudging my forehead against his shoulder. He looked down, smiling.
“See, dead romantic,” he winked. He handed the man the voucher, and climbed across the giant, rusting swan. We pedalled out into the pond.
“Must be pretty shan being a swan,” Jordan looked over at a group of real swans, thoughtfully.
“How so?” I sniffed.
“They all look the same,” he shook his head. “Imagine: one day you think you’ve found ‘the one’. The next, she’s hanging out wi’ all her pals, and you can’t tell which one she is,” he sighed. “Love lost, man.”
“That happened to Sanchez last Hallowe’en,” I nod. “He never quite got over that one.”
“Aye,” he laughed, “mind how freaked out she was when she realised the wooden leg wasn’t part of his costume,” he paused. “Here, that swan’s making eyes at me,” Jordan nodded towards it.
“Narcissist,” I nudged him.
“Nahh, I’m being serious,” he stiffened, “I don’t like the way it’s looking at me.”
“We’re in a giant swan, Jordan,” I sniffed. “Maybe she thinks it’s ‘the one’.”
“Pedal this way!” Jordan snapped, furiously trying to turn us around.
“Jordan, wait until I get my feet on,” I laughed, as the pedals whirled beneath the foot holds.
“She’s catching up,” he squawked, “pedal!”
“Oh great,” I rolled my eyes, “grand theft pedalo-ing.”
“Look, just fuck off and help!” he shouted. I bashed him on the head, and we both steered towards the river bank. The noisy scrape of gravel on swan signalled we were safe. We stopped pedalling, and I turned to face Jordan. He looked down, like he was avoiding the eye of a teacher asking for volunteers.
“Sorry,” he sniffed, guiltily, “swans can do that to a man.”
I look at Jordan. His palms are clammy, and he keeps wiping them on the shins of his jeans. There’s a damp stain rubbing into the denim.
“How much did you take from him?” I ask, gently.
“I’m handling it,” he snaps. The coffee-coloured ring around his eye is pulsing, and there’s still a sliver of blood beneath his bottom lip. “Stay out of it. You can’t help, Carrots,” he whispers softly.
It’s the first time in a long while that I’ve been worried about Jordan.
And the first time that I’ve been worried about us.