There are three reasons why Raf didn’t notice Iris enter their bedroom. First, the curtains were closed so long they may as well be glued shut and the lights were off. You would need night goggles to see anything, let alone a 5’3” wannabe-ninja. Second, it’s hard to hear anyone moving about the room when Taylor Swift’s All Too Well (10 minute version) is playing at full volume. Third, Raf was doing their very best to ignore everything that existed outside of their duvet cocoon.
Iris didn’t waste time trying to talk to Raf. Instead, she marched straight up to the curtains and yanked them open, letting the light stream in. A quiet hiss was heard from the human-blanket mess on the bed. Iris could just about make out Raf’s figure curling into an even tighter ball. She opened the window – yes, it was freezing, but the stench of heartbreak needed to be expelled. Normally, this would be enough to get Raf talking, even if talking really meant yelling at her for racking up the heating bill. But not this time, so she turned her attention to the speaker. Thank God Raf is old-fashioned – all Iris had to do was tug the cable connecting the speaker to the plug and silence filled the room. Until Raf started singing.
“AND YOU CALL ME UP AGAIN, JUST TO BREAK ME LIKE A PROMISE!”
“SO CASUALLY CRUEL IN THE NAME OF BEING HONEST”
“Enough is enough” Iris pulled at the duvet, Raf started wriggling. Unfortunately for Raf, they grew up an only child. Iris is the youngest of four WWE-obsessed sisters and has been scrapping her whole life.
“I’M A CRUMPLED-UP PIECE OF PAPER-oof” Raf couldn’t finish the lyric with Iris’s hand clamped around their mouth. The two of them stayed like that, Raf wrapped firmly in Iris’s frame, for what seemed like hours before Iris began to shiver.
“Raf. I need to get up to close the window. Are you going to start singing again?” There was a small shake of the head from underneath Iris’s hand. Slowly, she unravelled their limbs and got up. As soon as the window is shut, she turned back to the bed and pulled out her to-do list.
“You need to delete all the pictures of Jenna from your phone.”
Raf looked at her with wide, sad eyes and hoarsely whispered, “I can’t.”
Iris walked back over and held Raf’s hands, “I can’t do it for you. And you can’t get over her if her pictures are everywhere. Is she still your lock screen?” Raf nodded ever so slightly. “Start with changing that then.”
“I have.” Tears filled Raf’s eyes. “I really have, but every time I pick up the phone and see her face and the phone case she bought, I remember everything she said about how unhappy she was and I remember that she said it over text like just looking at me would make everything worse and I start crying so hard that I can’t see the screen anymore, let alone click the right buttons to change the lock screen!”
Raf started to hyperventilate, so Iris wrapped herself around them again. She’d always found the best way to soothe her friend was to constrict their limbs and put pressure on them, like a weighted blanket. Raf’s breathing evened out, eventually.
“I really tried.”
“There’s no need to be. Can you try showering and getting dressed? You stink.” A small laugh emerged. Raf knew they didn’t smell great and couldn’t deny a warm shower sounded nice now that Iris had exposed them to the harsh temperatures outside. But Raf didn’t want to put thought into an outfit for the day. What was the point? It required too much energy to breathe, how exhausting would it be to find the right top, especially if they were just going to climb straight back into bed?
As if she read their thoughts, Iris said, “You haven’t worn your Christmas jumper yet. I’ll wear mine too and we can be the ugliest dressed people in Sainsbury’s?”
She was trying to make them laugh again, but this time, Raf froze. Every muscle in their body tensed momentarily before they were used to push Iris off Raf. The bed they were on was a single, yet Raf was able to put oceans between the two of them. They couldn’t believe what Iris had said. Iris knew that jumper had belonged to Jenna. She’d been pushing Raf in the weeks since the break-up to take it, along with a couple other things, to Jenna’s little brother, Aaron’s flat on campus. She kept talking about the pros of having Aaron at Bath, how Raf wouldn’t have to face Jenna in person. They weren’t ready to delete photos of her and Iris was pushing them to take back her stuff. Now she wanted them to wear her jumper? Was it supposed to be aversion therapy? What if they bumped into Aaron in Sainsbury’s while Raf was wearing their ex-girlfriend’s jumper? Raf would look like a psychopath.
Iris reached out a hand. “Please don’t touch me” Raf quickly spit out. A beat passed. “How can you ask me that? How can you ask me to wear her jumper? I’m having panic attacks just thinking about her and you want me to wear something that belonged to her? That stills smells like her perfume? Is this some sick joke?” Raf had moved as far as humanly possible away from Iris. She started to say how sorry she was, how she didn’t think, didn’t remember. But Raf interrupted again.
“What do you want from me, Iris? You ask me to get out of bed but then you get in here with me. You ask me to delete her photos but then tell me it’s okay if I can’t. You’re all understanding but then you want me to wear her jumper. I don’t understand how to make you happy. I don’t know if I can make you happy. I don’t understand” Raf stopped talking as tears start clogging up their throat. Iris lets them cry until their ready to speak again. Time passes. It could be seconds; it could be hours.
“I’m sorry.” Raf knew Iris was trying to help. And they were acting like a child.
“It’s not. I’m sorry.”
Iris took a deep breath. “You need to start trying to move on. That’s how you can make me happy and it’s how you can make yourself happy. If you want to make it up to me for being baby and yelling at me just then, Aaron’s still got the stuff Jenna wants to give back to you. We can go get it?”
“I don’t know if I’m ready.”
“You are. You can do this. I’ll go with you. You can squeeze my hand if it gets to be too much.”
Raf nodded. They knew Iris was right. Besides, in the box of things Aaron had to give back, there was an amazing denim jacket that Raf had been wanting to wear all month. “I can do this”
“You can do this.”
“I CAN DO THIS!” Raf yelled. “I just gotta get my grown-up pants on.”
Iris laughed. “You can do this. You just gotta get your grown-up pants on.”
“Can I put Taylor Swift back on while I do it?”
Iris narrowed her eyes. Raf always got nervous when she did that. It meant she was going to act unpredictably. It was the same look she pulled when she was about to perform impromptu karaoke outside Bath Abbey or run headlong into Warleigh Weir fully clothed. This time, Iris shot up out the bed and to the speaker. Plugging it back in, she picked up the phone and started typing. Suddenly, the strings of Christmas Tree Farm start playing.
“This, and only this, is the Taylor we are allowed to listen to. It’s Christmas and you have to start getting in the spirit.”
Raf laughed a full, from-the-gut laugh. They sat up and winced. It’d been a while since they’d gotten out of bed and their back was in need of stretching. Iris smiled and moved to leave the room. Just as she got to the door, Raf called out, “Iris?” She looked back. “I really am trying to get over Jenna.”
“I know. And I really am trying to help.”
Raf smiled, “I know. Thank you.”
Iris smiled back and walked out the door. Raf moved around the room trying to find something clean to wear. As Taylor sang about the Christmas tree farm in her heart, Raf started to think that maybe this could be a good Christmas. They just had to keep trying.