Catch Up on Raf’s Story. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

Noah took a long good look at himself in the mirror. His usual party outfit, black jeans and a nice shirt over a white t shirt, just didn’t look right. Maybe a different shirt? No, Noah had tried all of his shirts on – they were too wrinkled, or tight, or the wrong colour. They were all just wrong. Maybe he needed to change his hair? He ran his hands through the strands. Now, it was worse than it was before.

Noah had never been one to put much thought into his appearance. He’d always thought of himself as a little bit like John Deacon, the bassist from Queen – not bad looking, just ordinary, flying under the radar, easily forgettable. Noah never felt bad about this. He actually quite liked just being and normal, neither-bad-nor-amazing looking guy. But for a reason unknown to him, tonight Noah wanted to look great.

Maybe the jeans needed changing? Noah had barely begun to dig through his wardrobe again when Aaron knocked on the door and yelled, “There’s people at the door.”

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Raf’s knee had been bouncing constantly on the bus. Now they were walking, their hands were always moving between being shoved in pockets or wiped on their jacket. Iris, walking in sync with Raf, pulled at her jumper sleeves. Conversation had been non-existent on the journey, replaced by lots of deep breaths and nervous energy. Reaching, the door of Aaron and Noah’s flat, the two stopped moving entirely and turned to face each other for the first time since leaving their house.

“Ready?” Raf asked, nervously, their breath becoming visible as they spoke.

“No… You?”

“No.” They both turned back to the door. “One of us should knock.”

“Bagsy not me!” Raf almost yelled. Iris groaned. Taking a deep breath, Raf turned to Iris, “We can do this. We can talk to people and make conversation and be sociable, we’ve done it before.”

“Yeah. Absolutely. No doubt about it.” Iris kept pulling at her sleeves. “Or we could just go home.”

“Nope. Not doing that.” Raf shook their head emphatically. “You need to talk to Carol and I need to get my grown-up pants on and get back out there. We’re doing this.”

“Okay, yeah, okay… Drink, first?” Iris reached into her bag and pulled out a thermos of mulled cider. Raf nodded and quickly sips from the thermos. Iris followed before saying, “Knock on the door then.”

“I said bagsy not me!”

“Aaron’s your friend!”

“He’s my ex’s brother, that does not make us friends!” The two devolved into an argument about who should knock on the door, they didn’t notice that it was already open.

“You guys coming in? It’s freezing.” Noah stood in the doorway, rubbing at his arms. Raf had to pick their jaw up off the floor and allowed themself 30 seconds before they would stop staring. Raf had never liked short sleeve shirts but could no longer remember why.

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Raf had tried really hard to stay with Iris until she found Carol but within 2 minutes of entering the party, they’d been separated. Iris’s height was usually a great thing – Raf had been able to buy her Christmas present in the kids’ section at H&M, it was very cute and a lot cheaper than the adult equivalent – but right now, her short stature had made her impossible to find. Remembering what old school teachers had sad to do when lost on a trip, Raf decided to move to the wall and stay put. Iris would find them eventually.

They weren’t stood there long before Noah appeared, carrying something wrapped in a napkin. Tentatively, Noah held out the napkin, “Thought you might like a mince pie?”

Raf couldn’t help but smile. They weren’t really a fan of mince pies, in fact, Raf hated them. But it was such a nice gesture, they accepted it anyway and started to nibble at the crust. Noah cleared his throat, “You know, um, mince pies were originally an oval shape to represent Jesus’s manger? And in the Georgian times, they, uh… they would sometimes have little pastry Jesus’s on top?” Raf stared at Noah. Noah went bright red and then looked at the floor, “Sorry, stupid fact.”

“No! It’s not stupid! Sorry.” Raf felt their cheeks heat up and looked at the mince pie. The silence between them was far from comfortable. “I was just trying to imagine what baked pastry Jesus would look like… puffy probably.” Noah kept quiet, but at least he was smiling now, so Raf continued, “You know Jingle Bells was the first song played in space?”

“Really?”

“Yep…”

“Speaking of songs… Silent Night is the most recorded song of all time.” Raf was sceptical about that one and said as much to Noah. Feigning offence, Noah said, “It’s true! It’s had more than 700 versions copyrighted since 1978!”

Raf laughed. So did Noah. They fell back into silence but it was more comfortable than the last one. Noah looked down at Raf’s mince pie. All the pastry that didn’t touch any mincemeat was eaten and the rest had very clearly just been played with. “You don’t like mince pies, do you?”

♡❆♡❆

Raf was getting a very strong sense of deja vu. Somehow, they’d found themself sitting in a circle playing Spin the Bottle with an empty Smirnoff Ice bottle. They felt like they were back in high school – although, having grown up in a tiny village, surrounded by fields, the current setting was missing the smell of cow manure that reminded Raf so much of home.

As the bottle span and randomly picked couples to have a quick smooch, Raf heard Aaron talking to a girl in the corner. She was really trying to get him involved in the game, going as far as to pull on his arm to drag him to the circle. “Come on, Aaron. Don’t you want to kiss me?” she pleaded.

“You seem like a really lovely girl, but first, you’re drunk and I’m not, so I am definitely not going to kiss you. Second, I’m in love with someone else. It’s nothing against you, I just really like this other girl and I’m trying to find her, so kissing you or anyone else wouldn’t be fair, I’d just be thinking about Ariana.” This was Aaron’s response. Raf had always liked the boy, so while they didn’t know an ‘Ariana’, they hoped she felt the same way about Aaron as he did about her. Aaron deserved love.

Suddenly, Raf felt someone tap them on the shoulder. Looking toward the hand, Raf found Noah’s face very close to their own. So close, Raf could see little flecks of green in Noah’s eyes. So close, Raf could see the exact contortions of Noah’s neck as he gulped nervously. Looking down, Raf noticed the Smirnoff Ice bottle pointing squarely at them. Giving a slight nod to Noah, Raf leaned in.

The kiss was small, polite, not much more than pressing two sets of lips together, but Raf was mesmerised by it. Raf had their first kiss a good few years after most of their friends. In the time leading up to it, they’d often been that kissing a person and kissing a wet balloon was largely the same experience. Often, Raf had found this to be true. But not now. Kissing Noah felt like every nerve in Raf’s body had set a light. There were tiny fireworks setting off at every point where the two of them were touching. Raf could barely breathe. Had there been other people in the room before? Right now, it felt like Noah was the only other person on the planet. Maybe that’s why Raf felt like they were going through cardiac arrest – the apocalypse had come and the toxic air around them was making Raf’s heart do cartwheels.

Noah pulled away. The real world came flooding back to Raf with a thud.

♡❆♡❆

Warm covers, an electric blanket and several pairs of socks were exactly what Raf needed after the cold walk home from campus. Stumbling through the door, Raf’s excitement for their bed was abruptly dampened upon realising that there was a massive box sitting on top of it. If it was possible, Raf’s blood began to run even colder than before. Between thinking about puffy pastry Jesuses, short sleeved shirts and eyes with flecks of green in them, Raf hadn’t thought about Jenna in several hours.

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