Millie was walking back home from another day of being the perfect student. She’d noticed the compliments on her new look had died down a bit. Maybe it was the fit of the day. Maybe she just hadn’t met enough new people. Truthfully, she knew that beauty was a facade. It said nothing about what was inside. ‘What mattered’ apparently. She could continue spending hours in the morning perfecting her cat-eye and applying foundation or she could sleep in more. She knew that would be accepting defeat. After all, you had to win the breakup for it to mean something.
She’d continued playing cupid. Yesterday she’d helped her friend David cook up a date plan for a guy called Silas. She also helped the student magazine with planning a valentine’s idea- the editor reaching out to her specifically because of her apparent expertise on the subject. She pushed open the door to her room, giving an extra shove to clear some of the clothes blocking her way. She laughed. If only they knew.
The texts felt like a lifetime ago. Brooklyn breaking up with her really was only a few weeks ago but she was a completely different person. Her room, previously the studio for productivity focus, was littered with dirty washing and shopping bags. There were parcels that hadn’t been opened a few days after arriving. She just didn’t want them anymore.
The bin was a whirlpool of the old girl she was. Torn smiles scattered the floor around it, mere scraps of the boy she loved. Everything was unkept. Her whiteboard for her quote of the day, previously inspirational and awe-inspiring, today featured Kafka.
“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”
Millie had lay on her bed for an hour and it was only turning six. She’d put on Spotify’s Lonely Sad Mix and was losing herself in the lyrics of songstresses that put some of her misery into words. Ethel Cain blurred into Phoebe Bridgers, Lana Del Rey into Mitski. She rolled over, her face in the gap between the wall and the bed, blocking all light and feeling the ice of the wall on her cheek. She was out of tears but she still just wanted to cry.
It was another hour before Joni Mitchell came on. River. The mawkish trill of wishing to skate away on a river made of ice, to skate and skate and skate somewhere completely new. To fly away from everything. Millie thought of the ice rink. She was too scared before. She sat up, compression marks and blurry eyes defining her face. She caught her look in the mirror and pulled a peace sign before laughing at herself.
“What am I doing?” Were the only words she could muster as she pulled herself up, touched up her face with an assortment of blenders and brushes and headed out to the ice rink.
Millie wished she had bought her own skates. The ones she was given had no link to her ensemble of white-puffer jacket with white fluffy hat. The hot pink skates she was given apparently were given to kids more often than her. Nonetheless, she pulled them on. She looked up and saw David on his date. She knew she shouldn’t hate the sight because she was partially responsible for the coupling. That didn’t stop the feeling of her heart lying in the middle of the ice, frozen over, it’s only purpose to be skated over and ignored. She had to focus on breathing, counting seven in through her nose and eleven out her mouth to centre herself. It worked. She was ready to skate.
At first, Millie couldn’t remember how to skate. She wasn’t a total beginner: she’d skated at home in Canada. Brooklyn played ice hockey and when the lake froze over they used to skate over it with friends. The thought of it made her tense. She breathed and closed her eyes, looked up and began to skate. It took a few moments to get into a rhythm but she soon found it- left, right, left, right. Her speed grew as she straightened her back, drawing in more breath and squaring her shoulders. Circuit after circuit, she didn’t tire. Millie felt alive again.
After performing a small turn, she saw David and his date. She’d forgotten they were here as she skated. She started moving towards them. David seemed to push his date forward, hurtling towards her with great speed across the centre of the rink. Millie laughed and braced herself to stop. He didn’t stop. Neither did Millie. By the time she twisted on her heel, there was a tremendous crack as Millie bashed into Silas. She twisted to avoiding the cut of his skates, crunching her ankle and flailing onto the ground. Silas had fallen backwards, planting himself into the ice ass-first. They both groaned as David skated over. The wind escaped from Millie’s lungs, dancing and twirling up and up as she lay on her back. All she heard was ringing as she noticed the clouds cover the moon.
David and someone from the ice rink helped her get off and onto a bench.
“I’m fine, I promise!” she laughed and smiled between the throbs of her ankle. “You two need to get home, David bring him home!”
“Are you sure you’re ok?” David asked. He was sweet and seemed genuinely concerned. “Was it just you winding yourself? How’s your-“ he gestured to her entire body, making his date laugh on his hip. “everything?”
“It’s good. Do you not trust me? Go! I’ll get George to give me a lift.” David gave her a hug and was gone, Silas hobbled alongside him. Millie tried to put weight on her foot but it was no use. Her ankle felt as if the bone was ice and had completely shattered. She closed her eyes. She counted seven breathing in. She counted eleven breathing out and grabbed her phone, calling an Uber.
She pulled up not outside a house. Using the car door, then the stone wall and then the top of the fence, she made it to the door and knocked. George opened the door to find Millie sobbing, sitting on the floor. Somewhere between deep heaves and unintelligible noises he could hear only one word: ankle.
“Are you sure you’re not drunk?” laughed George. Millie was sat in his maroon University of Bath jumper and tartan pyjama trousers. George had helped her into the shower and given her the clothes and a towel- still forbidding her from using his expensive shampoo. Off came all the fancy clothes. Off came all the make-up. Iris followed into the bathroom when she was done with another towel just for her hair. After getting dressed, Iris and George helped her into the living room and onto a floor cushion, sitting between Iris’ legs as she plaited her hair.
“I’m not. I don’t drink.” She giggled. “At least, not yet.”
“What got into you then?” Iris leant forward to look into her eyes. “You can talk to us. You know that, right?” Millie lowered her gaze and tried swallowing the big lump in her throat. It didn’t go down, and neither did the words.
“It’s Brooklyn.” She said. Millie repeated every detail, passing her phone around to show the conversation. She poured into every feeling she’d had about living in Bath. Her worries about her course. How much money she spent on the new clothes. How she wished her room was clean. “I just don’t know what to do.”
George sighed. “I don’t say this enough Millie. I love you. I don’t think you know it. Iris does too.” Iris slid off the sofa to give her a hug. “It’s going to hurt like a bitch for a long time. But it’s not for you alone. You’ve got us.” He knelt down and sat at Millie’s other side, careful not to move the frozen turkey dinosaurs on her feet.
“Promise me Millie.” Iris turned. “Talk. Give me some of it to carry. Ok?” Millie stared at Iris for a moment before nodding.
“Okay, but please,” Millie sniffled. “Have you got a mirror? I need to make sure all that eye stuff is off.” She smiled. George grabbed a wipe and Iris got out her phone. “Huh…”
“What?” George asked.
“Nothing just…” she jutted out her bottom lip. “I look quite pretty.” All three laughed.
“Ok Kiera Knightley. Do you want to watch a film?” Iris passed the remote whilst George chuckled in the background.
“I only think we can watch one film really.” Millie flicked through until she found it. For the entirety of the movie, all three sat on the floor in front of the tv. Millie- her leg stretched out- by George with his head on her shoulder and Iris arm around her. Millie couldn’t help but agree with Hugh Grant. Maybe not with boyfriends miles away, but in this house in Southdown, love, actually, was all around.