Raf took a deep breath and knocked on Aaron’s door. Quickly, they shoved their hands back into their pockets. They were convinced that another ice age was coming. It was the only way to explain the cold. Raf stood at the door waiting, alternately balancing on the heels or balls of their feet. They’d decided to do this without Iris. She had said she was willing to miss her lecture to be there for them, but Raf had to be independent and look after themself sooner or later. However, standing alone outside a first year flat was starting to make them feel a little self-conscious. After a minute or two, Raf knocked – no, pounded – again, then checked their phone to double check Aaron had said now was a good time to pick up their stuff. Or, more precisely, Raf took out their phone to check Aaron’s messages, but as their fingers were frozen solid, the phone slipped through and dropped to the ground.
Cursing, Raf knelt to pick it up at the exact moment the door swung open. Raf looked up from their crouched position and stared at possibly the most attractive man on the planet. Raf didn’t find people attractive often but there was no denying this person was attractive. Sizing him up, Raf began to slap themself mentally. This guy was clearly a rugby lad and Raf was fresh out of a relationship. These two facts made any move they might have contemplated a colossally bad idea. Raf moved on to mentally punching themself, upon realising that they’d remained crouched and silent for way longer than was appropriate. This person was going to think Raf was absolutely socially inept and for some reason, they cared. Then again, the person in front of them hadn’t said anything either. And this could be a trick of the imagination, but Raf could swear the awestruck expression on the stranger’s face was mirroring their own feelings.
“Noah, mate, move.” The stranger – Noah apparently – turned sharply at the sound of Aaron’s voice. Raf got off the floor so quickly, it felt like their knees were shooting out of the socket. Aaron looked at Raf slightly uneasily. In turn, Raf looked at Aaron and saw Jenna’s face and felt tears prick their eyes. Everything, from Aaron’s smile (slightly crooked, slightly hidden – like he was fighting it) to his shoes (beat up and loosely tied), was like Jenna. Raf felt yanked back to the first date and the second and third and all of them right up to the text she’d sent, ending it all. Raf relived the entire relationship in the space of a second. Memory piled upon memory. Raf was drowning in their own mind. They had to do something, anything, to introduce some air back to their lungs.
“Hey.” Raf’s voice came out like sandpaper along their throat.
“Hi.” There was a pause. “Sorry, I’ll get your stuff.” Aaron walked back through the door he first came out of. Noah was still in the hallway.
“I’m Noah,” He reached out a hand.
“I’m Raf,” They took the hand in their own. Electric.
The two stood like that – a motionless hand shake – until Aaron came back with an overflowing cardboard box. The hands snapped apart, both feeling strangely empty. Raf took the box, glad to hold onto something. They could barely see over it, but Raf just about noticed Noah nudge Aaron on the shoulder. The two seemed to have a telepathic conversation before Aaron turned back to Raf and said, “We’re having a party here on Friday. You should come.”
Raf couldn’t imagine anything worse than being at a party with their ex’s little brother. Sober, it took everything to not talk about Jenna. Drunk, Raf had no filter. There were so many things that could go wrong. So when Raf responded with “I’ll think about it” that meant ‘absolutely not’.
Aaron looked nonplussed. Noah looked dejected. Raf felt very confused.