I pulled into the parking space, applying the handbrake and cutting the ignition. Once I'd wrestled with unclipping the belt my hands were at a loss. At least while I was driving they had a purpose, firmly planted to the steering wheel. They seemed to occupy themselves when I had nothing and no-one to hold, constantly fidgeting, picking at my nails, pinching at skin to confirm that I was actually here. Again.
My lip was nearly bitten raw, shifting in the seat. I rubbed at my eyes with a closed fist, a weak attempt at combating the exhaustion of restless nights. I pushed the sleeve of my coat up slightly, double checking the hands on my watch. Four minutes.
I could barely stand to glance at myself in the rear-view mirror. My eyes were ringed with dark circles, lips chapped and dry. I didn't look like me. I knew it was of my own doing, I'd come undone. And I couldn't seem to stich myself back together again.
It was at 5:14 that I'd slipped out of work early just to be sure. Tom had caught me this time, told me that he was concerned that I'd not really made any progress after nearly a month on my own. I was losing customers to train, resulting in my diminishing work week of now only three days. I didn't have the heart to tell him I was done trying.
The beanie was tugged on and I readjusted it in the mirror before climbing from the car. My hands were frozen, fingers numb and nails bitten down to the quick. The fumbling for my keys was made even more challenging by the anxious disposition I'd fallen in to. Two minutes. My chest was having a difficult time of keeping pace with my heart. It seemed my fears were crowding me all at once, forcing me to clamp my eyes and lay my forehead upon the icy metal of the car frame.
"Oh shit," I breathed in a panic.
Not now, I pleaded before sucking in a breath that caught in my throat on the way down. Fuck. I managed to stand unsupported, shaking off my insecurities to walk the short distance to my spot.
I stood where I always did, checking my watch again. 5:32. My back leant against the brick wall of one those old fashioned bus shelters. It probably wouldn't be there for much longer as the council were demolishing the remaining ones to fit modern, glass shelters. I was thankful for the brickwork, if it were transparent, she would have seen me.
Almost on cue, she emerged from the shop way across the car park. Even from where I stood, there was a distinct pinkness to her cheeks and redness to her nose. I watched as she tucked her scarf into her jacket before zipping it up. Bo bounced on her tip toes, trying in vain to keep herself warm whilst she waited. My breath was visible in the air, puffing out through cracked lips as I observed from my shielded position. I wondered if her fingers were as cold as mine, shoved into the pockets of my coat.
Just to see her brought me peace, a kind of serenity I was useless in discovering on my own. In some way she was partly the cause of what I'd fallen in to, but apparently she was also the solution, alleviating the heavy weight in my chest that seemed to crush me on days when I was unable to watch.
Dan strolled out and any small amount of happiness I felt was immediately extinguished. He locked the door as they conversed, my stomach knotting at the easiness of whatever was being said. They didn't touch but it was obvious he desired to sling an arm around her shoulders, much to Bo's obliviousness.
If she was waiting for me, I would have laughed, bopped her nose and huddled her into my open coat. My hands would have purposefully rubbed her back to rejuvenate the warmth lost from the bitter weather. If it was me, I would have kissed her.
But it's not.
Dan was the recipient of her playful smile and the gesture might as well have been loaded with daggers. My heart lurched at the feeling of absence. She would never look at me like that again, and I was cruelly selfish to wish otherwise. I continued to suffer as they walked to his car. My distaste was bitten back when he opened the passenger door for her and she climbed in.
"Fucking arsehole," I muttered, turning away and proceeding around the corner.
It's an odd feeling, something reserved for fairy tales of guardian angels.
He was there again. For the last two afternoons he was there, spoiling the few minutes I cherished of seeing her after work. I pressed the bundled clothing I held tighter to my body, building the courage I had in motivation.
Nothing was really planned, there was no aim in which I sought to achieve other than the item I carried. I crossed the quiet road to the edge of the car park, vaulting the low wall with one hand. He shouted back into the shop, addressing a playfully urgent need for someone to join him outside. That was until he laid him eyes upon me.
Perhaps it was the way I was charging towards him or the strong clench to my jaw. I was pretty sure he predicted a punch to the face; well, that was what I assumed as he took a wary step back. I would have hit him, a clean right hook to knock him flat out, but I wasn't there to cause injury.
Once my presence had settled in his mind the fear dissolved. I despised the look he gave me, one of confusion and subtle victory. There was little difference in our height, but much to compare in our need to assert dominance in the situation. I didn't bother because I knew how conceited he was.
"Give this to her," I firmly instructed.
My hand shoved at his chest, along with it, the fabric I'd creased into a ball.
He'd expected confrontation and it appeared he was a little annoyed at the lack of it. I felt sure he'd have loved to have told his friends about getting a hit in, confirming just how much of a prat he was.
"Just give it to her."
Dan knew exactly of the person I spoke of. He was going to make this difficult, and even if it were true, my preference would have been with him rather than facing her.
"She doesn't want anything from you. Not anymore."
"Are you her representative now?"
He remained silent.
"You're a smug prick, you know that?" I chimed.
Dan sniggered at my remark, not even attempting to deny it. He didn't have to.
"Well, this smug prick," he emphasised through gritted teeth, "is the one spending time with your ex-girlfriend."
"You know fuck all," I barked.
"I know that you left her. I know that she wants to move on."
"With you?" I scoffed.
"She understands that I won't hurt her."
"Yeah well, I don't abide by the same principles with you."
I lunged forward, grabbing Dan by the scruff of his collar to anchor him in place and take aim. I had no worry of upsetting Bo now, I'd already done that. She probably hated my existence anyway, a fist thrown at Dan's face wasn't going to make much difference. His blue eyes looked dutifully shocked, but I soon learnt it wasn't in result of my looming fist.
The voice was in disbelieving quiet. My balled up hand lingered for a short moment before dropping to my side. The thrumming of my heart was audible in my ears, my throat dry and breath uneven. I'd seen her covertly so many times, ensuring her safety to keep my fragile mind at ease. But I was unprepared for a face-to-face meeting.
"Bo, don't," Dan pleaded.
She disregarded his instruction, walking around from behind me to stand and watch from over Dan's shoulder. She was dressed in a heavier coat, a more suitable option than the flimsy jacket sported a couple of days prior. Protected by mittens, her hands remained by her sides. Bo's eyes held nothing of surprise, just an acute sense of awe.
"He was gunna hit me," Dan piped up.
"Can you honestly say that you're innocent in not provoking him?" She rhetorically asked. "Come away."
My stomach plummeted as I agonisingly realised she was protecting him from me. Dan slipped from my hold, stepping between Bo and I before she took his arm and brought him to heel behind her. My head sunk and I was impacted by a feeling of misplace. Nobody wanted me there.
My fingers were still embedded in the clothing I held, unyielding from when my frustration levels had ascended. I didn't think my legs would be capable of walking me away from her again, so I stayed planted to the spot and unwittingly listened as they argued.
"Just go and wait in the car!"
I'd rarely witnessed Bo so angry, even with my head bowed the wrath in her tone was unprecedented.
"I'm not leaving you with him," Dan objected.
"Then shut the fuck up! You're of no help."
It brought me pleasure to know he was subject to her frustration, that made two of us. A scorned "fine" was murmured before the situation was relieved of his presence. The slamming of a car door confirmed that we were alone for the first time since I left her crying on my top step. That knowledge did little for my confidence.
"This is yours," I interrupted out of panic.
My voice was scratchy and worn and I feared she wouldn't take the clothing I had thrusted at her. She frowned in unrecognition until I scrambled to untangle the shirt. It looked a little pitiful. My plan was to leave it outside the shop door and then retreat, but the idea had fallen flat as soon as I'd seen Dan.
Bo took it from me and I watched as her right mitten was removed before shoving it into her pocket. Her bare fingers were immediately nestled within the fabric of my shirt. I didn't want to call untrue judgement but the act was almost of reunion, she'd missed it. Perhaps it was simply a liking Bo had taken to the clothing, nothing of sentimental value but the aesthetic feel of the fabric. I desperately hoped it was because the shirt belonged to me.
"Harry, have you been here before? Have you been..."
"It's not to frighten you."
"I'm not frightened," she softly smiled, looking down at the shirt.
"It's just to – to make sure you're alright. I promised..."
My vision strayed from her for a second, eyeing Dan who sat chewing a wasp in the car. His foul expression confirmed the hatred he held in concern to me talking to Bo. I knew it was petty, juvenile, but I found her first, I was hers before they'd even met.
"Are you eating properly?"
"What?" I replied.
"Your face looks different."
Bo's hand reached out to cup my cheek, only for my body to tense and her eyes to water. My reflexive reaction had me distance myself, recoiling from the potential, irreparable damage she could cause by touching me. I wanted to have that control.
Tears tracked down her cheeks.
"I think I'm faulty," I admitted.
She sadly shook her head and it's as if my body refused to watch her cry again. I fought back whatever demons there were holding my mind hostage and took her in my arms. Her mittened hand held the back of my neck before wrestling the glove off and clutching my nape with desperate fingers. I buried my face into the space where neck met shoulder, my parched mouth to her warm skin.
"I'll see you," I whispered.
Bo shuddered with a fresh bout of tears and I cradled her as she kissed my jaw and then my cheek. The life she'd momentarily breathed into me was gently being taken away as I let her down. Her hand squeezed mine, fingers slipping until our connection broke and I watched as she left.
It wasn't until I reached my car that darkness crept in, infiltrating the spaces in my chest that I'd kept vacant for her.
I slumped down by the side of my car, folding my legs up to my chest and wrapping my arms around my knees. It was never part of the plan. I should have stayed hidden. At least then I would only have ruined one of us.