The rain streaked down the windows as the bus pushed up the road in the dark of morning, as the granite clouds fought to keep the early sun at bay. The warmth inside offered us sanctuary from the blistering cold of an Aberdonian December, and we sat on the upper level of the double-decker 727. How we made it onto that bus that morning, I still have no idea, but we prayed for no traffic and a smooth ride to the airport.
The bus was quite empty, with only a few people doting the seats on the bottom level. I guess no one wanted to travel that morning, so each of us took two seats on opposing sides of the aisle. As soon as we sat down, we fell back into the seats and windows, the closest thing to a pillow at hand.
I looked over at Jared. He wore dark jeans and a maroon shirt, concealed by a navy jumper and a charcoal overcoat. He was definitely not as used to Scottish nights out as me, and it showed on his lifeless expression. True, we only got about four hours of sleep that night, but he looked rougher, and more withdrawn than I ever saw him in our decade of friendship, and we’ve been getting drunk together for half of that time, though that was always in the US.
“Remind me, Dan,”, he mumbled, “that sambuca shots don’t agree with me.”
I laughed. He must have had more than four of those… at least that’s as far as I managed to count. We started drinking around seven that night, and the sambuca came in about five hours after a storm surge of beer, gin, vodka, VKs, and an unmeasured amount of Jäger. On reflection, the fact that he managed to make this bus was truly a miracle.
“Wait, mate,” I said. “So, after spoons we went to the club. I went to get the first round. We had that, then you got a round, then I went to piss, and you were gone when I got back. Where the Hell did you go?”
Jared, who glanced out of the rain-streaked windows like a girl in a music video, gave me a quick glance, and immediately looked back at the window. We were coming up to Great Northern Road now, and the clouds lightened in colour, even if just for a moment.
He gave a nervous chuckle. “The bouncers kicked me out. Caught me throwing up in my hand by the bar. Just wandered home after that. Got a bit lost and didn’t wanna ruin your night. What time did you get back?”
“Mate that’s some bullshit, I know you. You don’t spew, and you’d never go home before the party ended. What really happened, dude?”
He sat silent for a moment, his eyes darting between me and the window. Finally, he looked behind us, and, having made sure we were alone on the top level, shifted himself to look towards me, his back fully resting on the window.
“Want the short or long version?”
“Long, of course,” I replied. “We have a good fifteen minutes till we get there. Lemme hear it.”
“Okay, fine. So, do you remember in spoons, we were sat at the table right under the TV?”
“Well, there was a group of girls sitting a few tables away, closer to the bar. One of them, the one with round glasses and blonde bangs, kept eyeing me. When I went for a piss, she whispered to me if we were going to the club, and I said yes. So, as soon as you left for the toilet, I started looking around for her. It wasn’t long until I found her, and she came up to me. We danced for a few seconds and she asked to go out for a smoke, so I went out there with her. We chatted a bit, generic small talk, you know? We didn’t stop at one cigarette, either. Eventually, she asked if I wanted to go to a pub with her, because it would be easier to talk. No offence, dude, but she was hot, and I was drunk, so I said yes.”
“What the Hell? You dog!” I slugged him on the arm, my anger at being left suddenly faded into happiness. I was glad he got some action on his last night here. “Did you shag her?”
“Well, there’s more to tell,” he said as he adjusted himself in the seat. “We got our coats and stumbled our way to the pub, no, I don’t remember which one. We sat there for about an hour, hour and a half, and kept drinking. At some point, we started kissing. Right there in the middle of the pub, across the table. We must have looked like the dogs from that Disney movie. This went on for I don’t know how long, and then we left.”
“Whereabouts does she live,” I inquired. He certainly did not come back to mine with anyone, unless they were silent, and stealth had never been a strong point for him.
“Somewhere near, what’s it called? George Street? I think? I’m not sure, but it was about a twenty-minute walk from hers to yours. Anyway, we stumbled our way out of the pub, and she insisted on getting food. We then went to one of those burger shops on Belmont street. I got a chicken burger and fries and I completely forget what she got. We left there, trying to walk down the street without getting set upon by those monsters of seagulls. We dodged the birds, tried to eat, laughed, and held hands the whole way, stopping to kiss every moment that we could. When we finished our food, we left wandered over to a grassy area by the big roundabout, and we looked up at the stars, pretending to make out the constellations through the clouds, though we couldn’t see a thing. She told me of her hopes and dreams, and I told her of mine, though, to be honest, I can’t remember what either of ours were.”
He paused for a long time after this and looked down at his shoes. He had nice ones on; the ones from last night were likely spattered with drink and detritus. After several moments, he looked back up at me, and told me, with a heavy voice, what else happened.
“I told her that I loved her,” he began, “That I loved her more than anyone I’ve ever met, and that my whole trip to Scotland was worth it solely because of her, and her beautiful eyes, hair, and mind. That she would keep me wanting to come back to Scotland until the day I did and could see her again. I told her I loved her, and that, though the clouds blocked the stars, I could still see them in her eyes. With that, we stood up, and she kissed me so hard and passionately that I felt the rest of the world melt away into a blur.
“When I sat up in her bed, she reached for my arm, and told me to stay a little longer. I told her I had to go, and she asked when would I return to see her? I told her soon, so soon, because I couldn’t bear the thought of being away from her. She told me she would wait for me. That everything she said last night was true. I smiled at her and told her I felt the same. I leaned down and kissed her again. Once I was dressed, she came to the doorway to let me out, and she told me once more, with tears in her eyes that she loved me. I told her the same, and I kissed her mouth, and then her forehead. With that I departed into the night, and came back to yours, where I fell asleep on the couch almost as soon as the door shut.”
I watched him sit there, in silence for a long time. Unable to keep my gaze on him, I turned and looked out the window to see that we were now in Bucksburn. As I stared blankly through the trails of raindrops. I heard Jared speak again.
“It was all lies, Dan. Dan, all of it was lies. Yes, she was pretty, but she wasn’t gorgeous. She didn’t capture and enrapture me like I said she did. I couldn’t see the stars in her eyes; they did not shine like I preached to her. She wasn’t special to me. All I said, I said because I was desperate. Desperate for that one bit of attention and human connection that I haven’t felt in so long, that I was willing to lie to achieve it. I had the power to make her do anything I wanted, and she said yes and yes and yes the whole night. She was so eager to make me happy, and I pretended I wanted nothing else but to show her that I thought her perfect. The worst thing is, I’ve done this before. She’s not the first girl I’ve strung along for one night, only to leave when the sun rose. She won’t be the last, either. I know how I am, and I know that it’s bad to lie like this, but it’s like a drug; the rush I get, the thrill. Even if it’s just for a night or two, that satisfaction I get from being given attention, and have someone say they care is the best feeling in the world, Dan, and I will pursue it forever. It makes me a monster, I know, but I don’t know how to stop. I don’t know how to want to stop.”
He was in tears by the end of this. He wept bitterly into his coat sleeve, and then turned away, looking forward out to the airport that just appeared on the horizon. I sat in silence, I was dumbstruck and had no idea what to say, and no idea how I would articulate anything to him once I knew what I wanted. As the bus pulled up to the entrance, we descended to the bottom, retrieved his suitcase, and stepped out into the brisk morning. The rain, as if on cue, dissipated at that moment, and we could see the rays of the sun shine fully for the first time since yesterday.
As he took the lead, he turned around to me, and said with a sad smirk on his face: “I may have lied there, actually, Dan. I did in fact love her. I loved her in the dark, when I could ignore what lay in store the next day. I loved her then, but not in the morning.”
With that, he went off into the airport. I followed him and waited as he went into the BA check-in queue. After a few minutes, he returned, and we walked up towards security. Before he went in, he turned to me, and despite what just transpired, we embraced like the old best friends that we were.
“I’m gonna miss you, mate,” I said bittersweetly. “Take care getting back home and let me know when you land.”
“I will,” he answered.
I paused for a moment. I was not sure if I should say it, but my conscience got the better of me.
“You should text her, mate. Tell her the truth. She’d appreciate that. Trust me.”
He looked me up and down and patted me on the shoulder. After a moment, he slowly replied.
“I will, man. Of course.”
He turned then and disappeared into the snaking queue through security, and I lost sight of him. I walked back towards the doors. Seeing a pub on the side, I remembered an old anecdote about the best way to cure a hangover. I sat down and ordered a coffee. I sipped it slow, having no clear way on how to clear my thoughts, let alone make sense of them. I ordered another coffee, and another.
As I left the airport, I glanced up into the sky, and at that moment a BA flight took off, hurdling away from Aberdeen, with at least one passenger never to return. I sighed and got on the bus. I sat down, leaned against the window, and checked my phone as the bus pulled away. One message from Jared.
“I won’t, man.”