Dorian wasn’t sure if it had been an hour or half an hour. It turns out staring at the same patch of light on the ceiling doesn’t reveal the time, and he had been staring upwards ever since they turned out the lights.
Beside him Daisy snored. A grunt, a sniffle, a shortened breathing and Dorian’s hopes lifted, an exhaled breath and thoughts of freedom shattered. He held in a laugh, it was cruel to wish her gone in such a manner, but if the darkness wasn’t made for our darkest thoughts, then what was its purpose?
An owl cried in the distance, reminding Dorian the world wasn’t built for him alone. It cried again and into his mind slipped the ghost stories and urban legends he filled his time with. A small smile crumpled onto his face with the memory of the podcast, but it soon loosened when memories of his own experiences drowned out the pleasant laughter of Isla and jokes from Liam.
His hearing began to betray him. Waves swallowing rocks and demanding to rise higher, the cry of birds and the circling screaming of the wind, sounds that couldn’t be where he slept. That belong where he called home. He turned onto his side. He needed to sleep.
He knew what to do, at least he knew what to try. He stretched his toes, his legs, tried to figure out how to stretch his stomach, and then stopped. The exercise never got him anywhere close to sleep, it was just a small effort he liked to put in to show his brain that if he could try, so could it. But again it was elsewhere. It was outside. It was back to that evening and back to the plant being smashed on the ground.
It was telling him that until he did something it at least wasn’t going to play nice. It had a lot of memories that it was just waiting to hit the play button on and there was only one way to stop it.
Dorian clenched his teeth, preventing him from saying fine aloud,grabbing the reins of sanityhard and jolting them backwards before they could really get going down a path that he did not want to take tonight.
Holding his breath, he shuffled closer to the edge of the bed. He rolled his legs out first, ignoring the surge of panic in his chest and his over active imagination telling him there might be something down there, whose side are you on, brain?
He rolled the rest of his body out of bed and onto the floor. 6 foot 1, a few pounds over what he should be, and he could have put a ballet dancer to shame with that grace. At least, that’s what he told himself. He peeped up and over the sheets, a mess of shaggy brown hair and blurry blue eyes.
Daisy remained asleep.
Back to the ground and Dorian dragged his elbows and knees across the floor before slithering through the door frame like a new born worm, not too confident in his squirm, but getting there with the speed. At the top of the stairs, he decided it best not to attempt a full bellied slide to the bottom, and instead pulled his knees up to his chest to begin a careful crouched descent.
At the base of the stairs, he steadied his hands on the banister and pulled upwards to be at full height. His heart was thumping, until the moment he reminded himself that this was his house and he wasn’t doing anything wrong. In fact, he should have done this much sooner. He should have picked Big Ben up the second he’d been thrown to the ground, or at the very least once he got home from getting Daisy chips. Why did he even get her chips? She can walk and she did him wrong!
His palm clammed against the lock to the back door and slipped against the metal from sweat. He breathed out all the hatred and resentment that had expanded in his chest and after a click and a tug he stepped out into the cool night’s air.
He didn’t need time for his eyes to adjust, it was darker inside than out, the light of the streetlamps streaking through the garden in small patches.
Big Ben was at the end of their small garden. From where Dorian stood, he could see the mass of dirt. As he walked closer he could make out the small leaves, both the ones scattered about the ground, and the ones still attached to their stems.
“How could she do this to you?” he asked, crouching down to lift up the remnants of his first plant. “You’re just a bairn.” He realised the word was not one frequented in his vernacular, it was one he had picked up from Isla, but it felt fitting for this moment.
“Here we go.”
He held the plant in its previously vacated pot. Scooping dirt up in his free hand he dropped it inside, securing it around the plant once it was almost all back inside. He patted the sides of the plastic container, and was quick to take hold of Big Ben when he started to lean. Slumped against the garden fence, he looked at what was left of his plant.
It wasn’t much. A few thin little green arms reaching out towards him with leaves quivering in the breeze. No signs of flowers, but then there hadn’t been anyway. A couple of suckers looked to have survived, one a little too long and needing plucking, but Dorian couldn’t bring himself to do it now. Not when he’d been through so much stress, when they’d both been through so much.
“You were a sucker once,” Dorian whispered. “I don’t mean that as an insult, but that you came from my Dad’s plant. Maybe you already knew that. Well, did you know I thought of you as a security blanket almost? A little snippet of what home used to feel like.”
He pushed his head into his hands, and lifted it to place his fingertips against the side of his nose. Sobs came out small and breathless. He wasn’t really crying, he told himself, he was just breathing, he was just… he was crying.
He was sat at the end of his garden crying after rescuing his plant from his psychotic fiancé. His lovely psychotic fiancé. A smile spread across his face, and laughter met the sobs in his chest where a small battle ensued. Laughter won out. It spat forward from his mouth.
“She’s so lovely, your Daisy.” “She’s a beauty, Dorian, you got lucky.”
Perhaps it was cruel to repeat the words that had been said to him in such whiny voices, but he could throw himself a small pity party once in a while, right?
He looked up towards the moon. The clouds smoking across it, surrounding it and suffocating its brightness. But it still shone through. It still found a way.
“Right, c’mon you.”
Dorian picked up Big Ben and headed back inside. He knew it wasn’t ideal, but it was the best shot this little plant had at life. Somewhere far from here.
The front door opened with a groan, but Dorian held himself up. He kept his shoulders back and his chest out. He was doing the right thing and it made him feel like he had the permission of the gods of nature to stand up straight. He even ignored the giggling he heard from across the street, and the smattering of footsteps running off towards the end of the road. Kids, he thought with a smile, forgetting the hour.
His car unlocked with a beep and after a brisk walk round to the passenger side Dorian opened the door with care, but not so much as he placed the tomato plant inside with.
“There we go,” he said. Patting the pot after he had buckled the seat belt across it. “One day you’ll be big enough to even reach the second belt.”
He felt silly, but in that kind of way that you make yourself laugh.
No more than two feet from the door and he glanced up. Did something move in the upstairs window just now? No, it was nothing. There was no 5’5 stretch of terror. He wondered what Daisy would be called if she was a featured freeway on Isla’s show. The Highway of Doom? No, she’s much too short. The cursed city car parking space. Yeah, that would be more like it.
He was grinning, but deep down he knew what he should be thinking about, what he should be resolving in his life, and it wasn’t Daisy’s name in a haunting, it was her place in his life.
Dorian locked the door behind him and started up the stairs with a normal stride, until he saw a flicker from the darkness of the living room.
He leaned his head to the side to get a better look. It was Daisy’s phone, but why was it downstairs? They both kept their phones on their nightstands. He stepped back down and walked in to grab it, believing it was no more than a mistake and that Daisy would be looking for it in the morning.
After picking it up he stumbled on a plate on the floor. “Seriously?” he spat out, catching his balance on the side of the sofa, but not before dropping the phone down into its labyrinth of pillows. A gust of air left his chest while his hands fumbled around down the back of one of the cushions. Ah, got it. He pulled it out and was about to stand up when he saw he had clicked on the backlight, and one notification caught his eye.
It was his bank, well, their bank. They hardly ever bothered them though, so seeing the notification sent a small tremor through Dorian’s body. He couldn’t get into Daisy’s phone, but he could swipe down enough to see what the message was sort of about.
Entrust Bank is pleased to inform you the transferal of £20,000 has been approved, please allow…
Nothing else could be seen, but nothing else needed to be seen.
Deep inside Dorian’s chest a volcano erupted. It sent lava down to his arms and small molten rocks fizzling from his fingertips. He bolted up, kicking the plate beside him, and then after a brief sensation of pain, numbed by his anger but enough to remind him to calm down, he paused.
This had to be played as a waiting game. Breathe, Dorian. Words echoed in his mind. Breathe.
He would go to the bank, straight out of work. Was he the primary owner? It was his account before it was a joint account? Why, why, why had he agreed to make it a joint account?
“If you really trusted me, you’d do this. It would make shopping so much easier. I could get it while you were at work and have a meal ready for when you came home. We’re going to be married soon, Dorian.”
Oh right, that was why. Well, she never did get the shopping and they never were going to be married.
The realisation sizzled out the remnants of the fire in his stomach. They were never going to be married. Not from the day she said yes had it ever felt real. Nothing ever felt real from her. Was it always about the money?
He put her phone back on the couch where he had found it. The notification light still flickered.
After a small glass of water from the kitchen Dorian made his way back upstairs. Daisy still slept, his phone remained on his nightstand, black and silent.
He climbed into bed and closed his eyes, not to sleep, but to think. To prepare.
At some point in the night Dorian had fallen asleep and he woke up to the sound of beeping. Missing from this morning ritual was the usual plonk on his side from Daisy’s hand and her grumbling voice asking him to turn it off.
He reached for his phone and hit the red button, quite the feat given how it lurched up and down, right and left, or at least through his glazed over eyes it did. He shuffled his back up the wall and took a minute to blink the crust out of the corners of his eyes. He then looked to his right and noticed Daisy wasn’t there and felt relief. And then he actually realized Daisy wasn’t there and his eyes were all of a sudden working to perfection.
“Daisy?” he called out.
No reply. He jumped out of bed, peered into the bathroom, she wasn’t there. Ran to the top of the stairs. He could hear something, but it didn’t sound like a voice.
“Daisy?” he shouted down the stairs.
He ran down the stairs, expecting something to be wrong, something to be amiss.
The table was set with two plates, one topped with fruit, and a second with a pile of bacon, sausages and eggs. All steaming hot.
“I was just about to call you,” Daisy said, slipping her hand around his waist. “It’s been a while since I’ve done this for you, hasn’t it?”
Dorian was quite sure Daisy had never done this, or if she had, it had been years since a breakfast like this had occurred.
“Why?” he asked, placing his hand onto hers, holding it at his waist. “What’s the occasion?”
“Oh,” she pouted, loosening her hand from beneath his and coming to stand in front of him, hands on his shoulders, and big green eyes staring into his own. “You don’t remember?”
Events raced through his mind. Birthday? No, those had been. Anniversary? She had a lot of those, one even for the first time he met her parents, he had to remember them all and no, it was definitely not one of those.
“Daisy, I’m sorry,” Dorian replied, his hands still at his sides. “I don’t remember.”
“Well,” she said, leaning up to give him a kiss on the lips. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Let’s eat before it gets cold. I put a lot of work into this meal.”
“I can see that. Thank you.”
Dorian took his seat at the table, gave the food one last grateful glance, and then placed it in stacks on his fork. He’d cleaned the plate in minutes. He hadn’t forgotten about his discovery last night and a plate of delicious food wasn’t about to change that. He needed to leave.
He looked up and across the table to find Daisy staring back at him. She had barely touched her food. A slice of bacon and maybe an egg gone, or had she plated up less for herself than she did for him?
“You alright there, Daisy?”
“Yes, sorry,” she smiled, leaning her head onto her hand. “I was just thinking about how much I love you.”
Her eyes didn’t have a hint of affection in them. He felt as though he were being studied. It was a sensation he was used to during an argument, not during the eye of the storm as he’d decided to name it.
“I love you, too, Daisy.”
It had come a little late. But her smile lifted, even to her eyes, so he assumed it must have come soon enough.
“You better get ready for work,” she said. “I’ll clean up in here.”
“You’ve barely eaten,” Dorian protested, as she stood to put her plate away first.
“Stomach ache,” she replied, reaching for his plate and turning to the sink.
Dorian started to help cleaning the table, but was met with a playful smack on the arm.
“Don’t worry about it, I’ve got it.”
He left the kitchen feeling full in both his stomach and his mind. Daisy was not just out of character, she was three extras and an understudy from a different play out of character. It would have been more believable if he had woken up and she was a blonde. But… I just wanted to make you breakfast? I was just thinking about how much I love you?
Dorian was convinced that the only thing Daisy thought about when it came to her feelings for him was how to get the next reaction out of him.
There was nothing that Dorian could think of that could account for this. No anniversary, nothing. The only thing that kept creeping in from the corners of what little brain power he was working with that morning, was did she know? Did she know that he knew about the bank transfer?
It was enough to motivate him to shower, give his teeth a good scrub, pull on his smartest shirt and pair of jeans, push his phone into his jacket pocket, and after wrapping a scarf around his neck call out, “See you tonight, Daisy! Have a good day.”
And he was out the door.
He breathed in the chill Spring morning air, unlocked his car and sunk inside. It took a bit to get going, but then it did most mornings. Only this morning, he had his buddy next to him.
Big Ben looked worse than he had the night before. Leaves wilted and stems slumped down.
“I’ll crack the window,” Dorian said, giving the plant a little pat on its top leaf. “A bit of fresh air and you’ll be good as new.”
He said this knowing that if he had lost half his limbs and suffered most of his hair being pulled out during an attack from a giant it would take more than a bit of fresh air. But, he could hardly offer Big Ben a cup of tea, so it was the best he could do for now.
He pulled out of the street and started the slow crawl into the next village. It was a small town yet took twenty minutes to get a mile down the road. He wanted to take a courtesy glance at the bank to see it was open, but just as he had thought, it was still closed.
Dorian resigned himself to after work. It was the original plan, but after Daisy’s behaviour he wanted to shift up the gear just like he was beginning to believe she had.
Not too long after, he pulled into the large concrete carpark, bordered by a few wilting bushes, and put his car into park in his usual spot. It was farthest from the building, but closest to the exit. It gave him an early morning walk to the doors in the cold weather, and easy freedom when the clock rolled round to 5pm traffic.
He carefully removed Big Ben from his seat, and along with his bag slung over his shoulder, he made his way through the sliding doors, tomato plant secured between his hands.
“Bring your kids to work day?”
Dorian looked over to the desk. It was stationed to the right of the doors and although always occupied, people rarely spoke from behind it.
Today, a face he hadn’t seen before peered over the top of the counter.
The woman looked to be in her forties, with brown hair tied back in a pony tail, a few dark strands framing her face. She smiled and glanced down at Big Ben.
“Is it normal to bring plants in?” aware of his lack of reply, she continued, “Only, as much as these fake plants do the job, I’ve got some beautiful flowers at home I’d love to show off.”
Dorian approached the desk, and placed Big Ben on top.
The woman pulled back her head in surprise. “What did you do to the poor thing?”
“This isn’t my handy work,” Dorian replied, with a little more bristle to the peeking strands of his beard than he had intended. “Dorian, by the way. I’ve not seen you here before. When did you start?”
“About three months ago,” she replied. She stood to get a better look at Big Ben, leaning her head to one side and then another, dipping down and prodding at the stem. “Get some calcium down him, some magnesium, too. And be careful of too much nitrogen, although, with these sorry looking leaves… maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea. I’ve got a good brand at home. I’ll bring you some in and let’s see if we can’t get this boy up and running again.”
She stepped back and then retook her seat, bouncing a couple of times to get the height of the chair to her liking.
“Oh, I’m Laura, by the way. We’ve spoken before.”
Dorian felt his cheeks flush red. He raised his hand to his temple and rubbed.
“I’m sorry, I never used to forget a face.”
Laura smiled. It was familiar, and kind, and caused Dorian to wonder if he did have a slight memory of her somewhere in his mind. Either that, or she just had one of those faces. The type you felt you could tell all your worries to. He swallowed the woes of the day before he could embarrass himself further.
“My memory goes to shreds when I’m stressed. I can hardly fault someone else for something of which I’m also guilty. Just try to remember me tomorrow, or it will be awkward when I try to hand over the plant food.”
“I will, and thank you for the offer. I’ll gladly take you up on it. I’m new to plants.”
“They’ve been around you your entire life,” Laura said with a grin, before turning her attention to her work.
Dorian was about to turn away when he noticed a book beneath Laura’s bag. It was sticking out on an inch or two but he’d recognize it anywhere. He considered it his bible. He opened his mouth to speak, but the words got stuck. He’d spoken to Laura for too long and if he brought up Horror, Ghosts, Urban Legends and Everything In Between, then he’d need a whole hour, at least.
“Good to meet you, Laura,” he began to walk away and then added, “again.”
He heard a slight giggle and quiet “mmhmm” as he opened the door and started his walk up the stairs.
His office was on the fourth floor, and Dorian was beginning to wonder if taking the stairs every day was doing anything to counter his pie habit. It wasn’t an addiction, but it he realized it had become a problem when during his last visit with his dad he was greeted with, “Oh, you got your baby fat back. I didn’t think that was possible!”
It was said in jest. It had to have been, given Dorian’s Dad was almost two Dorians in size. But, his lack of love life with Daisy got him thinking in all kinds of blame games. Not to mention the comment she’d thrown his way, here and there.
He nudged the handle of his office door down and used his back to push it open. His desk was mostly empty. A picture of him and Chris in a beer garden during the summer, holding up their drinks in a cheer to the person taking the picture. Dorian couldn’t remember who took the picture. A small collage of nieces and nephews, with a picture of his brother, the father of the five children, with his wife in the middle. And lastly, a picture of his parents. Hands clasped together, looking out towards Dorian with pure joy. He smiled.
No, not lastly. He shuffled his gaze across to the picture of Daisy. How could he forget that one? It was the largest, although, it was also closest to the wall.
Using both hands he pushed it to the edge of the desk, wincing only when the stand clamped shut against the back of the frame and it fell to the ground.
“Good riddance,” he mumbled and positioned Big Ben in its place.
Dorian, while in the process of sitting down, pulled his phone out of his trouser pocket only to find the notification light blinking. He glanced over his shoulder. His heart racing. How did she know? Were there cameras in here?
Certain he was going to open his phone to find a message from Daisy he he clicked the middle button while his chest felt like a baby alien was about to burst forth.
Dorian flopped down in his seat. He could see from the first few words that some sort of celebration was occurring. An array of party poppers and champagne bottle emojis taking up the first part of the message. It was only when Dorian unlocked his phone and swiped down that he saw who the party was supposed to be for.
Well done on getting rid of the witch. Mom said she honked her horn and waved her goodbye from us! Come over later and they’ll fix you up a dinner.
Dorian’s heart hadn’t calmed down, and now he wondered if it knew something he didn’t. More importantly, he wanted to know what Chris knew, because it didn’t sound good. He didn’t want to take the chance that Chris wouldn’t hear his reply, and so he tapped the phone icon and waited for it to start ringing.
Chris answered almost immediately.
“Celebrate good times, come on!” he heard his friends voice singing down the phone. “I was hoping you’d call. Don’t worry though, mate. I don’t care you didn’t mention anything last night, I’m just glad it’s over.”
Dorian paused, then placed his phone onto loud speaker so that he could cradle his now aching head in his hand.
“Not to end the party early or anything, but what are we celebrating?”
The line went quiet. A sound came from the background, Eleni singing and then hushed by Chris.
“Dorian, my mom saw Daisy packing boxes into some bloke’s car. We thought you’d kicked her out. Don’t tell me this is the first you’re hearing about it?”
A gasp in the background and Dorian could picture Eleni with her hand clasped over her mouth, dark brown curls clipped back behind her head. Her reaction was the same as his, only all he could respond with was silence.
“So she’s done one,” Dorian said at least, not without a little coaxing from Chris.
“Done one what? What has she done?”
“Well, apart from maybe robbing me blind, it looks like she’d doing a runner.”
Dorian was certain that what Chris was trying to form were words, but just like how his mind raced and fumbled, Chris could hardly form a sentence.
“I’ve got to go,” Dorian said, pushing up from his desk and rushing to the door. “I’ll let you know what’s going on later. Tell your mom thanks for me, will you?”
“Sure thing and Dor…”
He’d already hung up the phone.
He stopped outside of the lift for a brief moment. What was faster? The stairs, the lift? The stairs. He ran through the doors, glad to be one of the first ones there and so with no human obstacles to apologize too as he barrelled into them.
He raced through the reception hall and out into the carpark. Rain, warm and light, splashed onto his cheeks. He slipped on a leaf but steadied himself as he lunged towards his car door.
Inside he shook the raindrops from his hair, ignored the internal dialogue of his mother’s voice reminding him to get a haircut, and pulled the car into reverse.
“She’s done it,” he thought to himself, “she’s actually done it.”