When she was nineteen and back in London after spending a month with a Californian lover seventeen years her senior, she went to see Mr. Lawrence, her ex-teacher-turned-mentor. He was ten years her senior, younger than most of the teachers in her life. She texted him: can we meet? And then: I can come to yours? A question but not a question. He texted her his address. Her adrenaline was high when she got off the bus and he was standing on the other side of the road waiting for her. She’d waited five years to be there, ever since she’d met him in her English class. Back then he was a sprightly twenty-four year old with a lot of spunk. Fresh out of university and ready to be among the forgotten, that is, the kids in shitty schools. He had much to offer. And while it took her a few weeks to trust him, she eventually fell for his charm. You’re going to university he told her, something no one else had. He liked that he was the first person to see her ability. So he thought. Her mum knew her ability, it’s just that depression stopped her from reminding her daughter. But she didn’t have a dad yet and wanted the attention: needed it, really. Had he always had that cheeky smile that he had when she sauntered across the street to him? He walked in front of her to his place, unlocked the gate and stood back so she could climb the stairs first. She did and waited while he unlocked the door. In those moments the proximity afforded her space to see what he wasn’t anymore. He had half-heartedly shaved and cut himself, a tiny piece of tissue sat on a spot of sticky blood. He smelled like vanilla, which made her want to cuddle up into his arms. But they didn’t do that, they were mentor and mentee. Former high school teacher and student. She entered his flat and slipped out of her ballerina pumps. They were not really shoes, she could feel the concrete when she walked, but her feet hadn’t lost the cushion it would in nine years, when walking in anything so thin would cause aches up her legs.

Now she was barefoot in his home and his hardwood floors were cold: do you have socks? She asked. Another thing they don’t really do but in the case of catching a cold from the floor, this is an exception. Exceptions aren’t hard to find. He threw her a pair of wooly dark green socks. She slipped them on and felt closer to his life. In his life, even. Something about wearing someone else’s socks, your feet where their feet have been, a sort of touching and sharing of space just with the small difference of time. She drank the drink he poured. Scotch. Neat. A show for him that she could take it without chase. Three hours passed of them chatting, laughing, holding silent gazes that they don’t really do, given who they are, but they do anyway. She just lost a baby. Doesn’t know how to let her body heal. Drinking helps and soon Marijuana will become the thing that lets her forget her body. She doesn’t tell him she woke days ago in a pool of blood and didn’t go to the hospital, but instead cleaned herself up, put a thick pad between her legs and carried on business as usual while life passed slowly between her legs and onto a piece of cotton. She did tell him about the man whose baby it was. The Californian lover. She ended things on the day of the miscarriage, and he wouldn’t stop texting her. She was an echo chamber for his pleads for her to say something, anything. But what was there to say? All she wanted was to drink and forget. And now she just wanted to soak in the familiar feeling of being seen by her ex-teacher- turned-mentor. It got late and the last train went; she could hear it from his window. You staying? He asked and she nodded. She made a move to lay on the couch but he threw her something to change into and told her she could sleep in his bed. She had tried to fantasize about him when she touched herself over the years, but it never held up. Turned out she didn’t want to fuck him.

Was that a good thing? The right thing? She dismissed the thought as she put his toothpaste on her right index finger and brushed her teeth. There seemed to be more than just the glass between herself and her reflection. Coming out of his bathroom, she climbed into his bed. She prayed she wouldn’t leak blood on his sheets. She squeezed her legs together and slept on her side. He got in the bed and said goodnight. There was no chit chat between them, the kind of bed-chat lovers spill to each other. In the morning she woke in the same position she fell asleep and as she reached her hand down to feel for blood she touched his leg that was draped over her thighs. Is this how he slept? Used to a body next to him, used to a body he could freely touch?

Four years later, she texted him out of the blue. It’s random for him because he hadn’t heard from her since the night she stayed at his, but it’s not random for her. She was trying to leave her nearly-ex-boyfriend, whom she’d started dating shortly after that night. Nearly-ex-boyfriend didn’t like the idea of her being friends with her teacher-turned-mentor and had forbade her from contacting him again. He made a good point, it was weird; but nearly-ex-boyfriend telling her what to do was also weird. Also not right.

Mr. Lawrence met her outside East Croydon train station. He was holding a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird and he looked smug. He always looked smug. They hugged and walked to the platform in silence. He was taking her to his house, then to eat and have a drink. She was sweating and nervous because she felt guilty. Guilty was a regular feeling. When she started seeing nearly-ex-boyfriend she was still miscarrying, and when he asked her who the father was, she said it was his, although she knew he wasn’t from the almost-sex they’d had. They’d cried together. It was worth the lie to have him hold her, to feel his sympathy, but as time went on, she regretted the lie because her guilt took on a mind of its own and began to justify his actions: his controlling behavior, his sexual coercion, his largeness towering over her smallness. The feeling that she was doing something wrong magnified on the train, as she sat opposite Mr. Lawrence.

She wiped her top lip with the collar of her shirt and Mr. Lawrence grimaced. She disgusted him.

She turned to look out of the window while he talked about himself. Everything moved so fast that shapes and colors were the only things filling her eyes. She was used to being out of focus. But these days she was trying to be different, trying to remember herself and leave nearly-ex boyfriend for good. She had to get in focus. She had to be clear. So she turned from the window and took in the man opposite her.

In his flat he took a shower while she sat on his couch. She contemplated walking into the shower and giving him a blowjob, if he wanted it. She looked at his bed, which she could see through the open door of his bedroom from where she was sitting on the couch. It was impeccably made. She thought about riding him on that bed. She would do none of those things.

She thought about her body instead. About how she looked to him. How different she looked from the high school girl she once was. When he got out of the shower and was dressed, ready to leave, she went to the toilet and looked around before peeing. She took it in for no other reason than to be in her body and look.

Let’s go he said when she came out of the bathroom. She didn’t say anything, just nodded. They sat in the park next to a tennis court. They were both thinking about four years ago when she’d slept in his bed. They were saying words about their present realities but they were both thinking about nine years ago when he met her for the first time when she was fourteen and he was twenty-four. When they come back to their present, she was saying that she had left her nearly-ex-boyfriend for good and he replied: you’ll give him one more year, then you’ll be done. She grated at this, not because it felt like he didn’t hear her, or had ignored her, but because she knew it was true. She could feel the pull of nearly-ex-boyfriend and her defenses weren’t as strong as they would be one day. But for now, she wanted to enjoy this relative freedom. They ate fish and chips and drank beer and because he asked her too many questions about her life, she blurted out: are you trying to live vicariously through me, or something? And he stopped, realizing he was.

They walked along the Thames and she thought about the Christmas before she slept at his house, when she met him at Waterloo station and had dinner in a restaurant above the platforms. He’d given her a gift: How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran. It was tongue-in-cheek because the author was, but it was also not. She was at that delicate cusp of eighteen, and while she snorted and said yeah, right she also bristled, and didn’t know why the word woman bothered her so much. It didn’t feel right. And it felt even worse because now she knew he saw her as this but couldn’t see why. Now they sat by the Thames and looked out onto the phallic buildings of London: The Gherkin, the BT Tower, The Shard. Mr. Lawrence seemed less sure of himself than he had been four years ago. He said my friends told me it’s a bad idea to see you. it’s not right. Not after you slept at my house. She doesn’t know what to say, because ultimately they are right. But here he is, seeing her. I’m gonna go she says, and though he looks surprised, he says: this will probably be the last time we meet. She’s okay with the ache she feels from that. When they hug, he whispers unless you don’t want it to be? She doesn’t respond with words, just lets go of him.


Charlie Joy is a writer currently finishing their MFA in Fiction at The University of Nevada, Las Vegas. They are at work on their first novel.