Simon was cold. Jemma knew Simon was cold, as he kept saying it over and over again. It was pretty annoying, she thought. They sat facing each other in the lounge, Jemma sitting on the edge of the sofa and Simon wrapped in a duvet and wedged into one of the easy chairs, his round pink face emerging from folds of green quilt. It had taken her an hour to coax him inside, first gingerly approaching him from behind and calling out, then getting right up to him and shouting, then softening and putting her arm around him when she noticed he was crying.
She realized quickly that he wasn’t a threat. He was young — a lot younger than her, perhaps in his late teens — with floppy hair parted into unfashionable curtains, and a boyish face featuring plump cheeks. Those cheeks were still streaked with tears, but he was calmer and sipping loudly from the cup of tea Jemma had made him.
“I’m cold,” he said again, sniffing a candle of snot back up into his nose.
“Yes, I got that,” Jemma retorted, a little too quickly, so she softened her expression and leant forward on the sofa. “What were you doing standing out there?”
Simon started cying again, long sobs into his tea. The snot candle reappeared with force, heading quickly for the top lip.
“I was going to… I was thought I should… I don’t know how to…”
It was obvious he wasn’t going to be able to answer that question this afternoon, thought Jemma. Sensing that she should switch to a more sympathetic gear, she decided to leave it alone, and offer the only kind of hospitality a squatter in a remote, windswept cottage at the end of the world could.
“Beans on toast?” she said. Simon stopped crying, slurped his tea, and smiled weakly back at her.
Sitting at the table in the kitchen, colour had come back to Simon’s cheeks. Actually, the colour had gone from his cheeks, leaving him looking less flushed and more normal. He hadn’t spoken at all while he ate, but having wiped up the sauce from his plate with must have been the fifth or sixth slice of bread, he seemed keen to talk.
“Er, Jemma,” Simon said, gravely. “Is this your house?”
Jemma was taken aback. She wasn’t expecting to have to face up to what she’d done so soon. She’d been a Jupiter Lane resident for nearly a week, but in that week she’d spoken to nobody apart from the girl in the shop, and even then she’d only been twice and only said hello and goodbye.
Sensing her hesitation, Simon carried on. “I’m guessing it’s not your house. You’re not from around here. It’s obvious.”
He was annoying her again. His voice, stronger and bolstered by the warmth of the baked beans, cracked up and down the register, as though it was still in the middle of breaking. The word ‘obvious’ had started high and ended up somewhere deeper. His accent was public school cut glass with a hint of Suffolk yokel.
Jemma started back at him. “Obvious?” she challenged.
“Well, I’m from a village 20 minutes away, and I’ve lived around here all my life,” he explained. “And we’re not like you. Your hair, your clothes, the way you talk. When you came over to me at the cliff you looked like you’d just walked out of a music video. And you’re so… Tall. You stick out like a sore thumb.”
At 5’8”, she was tall for a girl, but not out of place among her circle of friends back in London. At 5’8”, she was at least an inch taller than Simon. But for a week she’d been trying to lose herself and it hadn’t occurred to her how easily she might have been found.
“I’d rather not discuss this right now,” Jemma said, forcing a neutral expression that was immediately conflicted with her hissing voice. She softened again. “Let’s just agree not to ask each other why or how we got here. We’re here, and we’re OK. That’s more than enough for me to cope with right now.”
And so Simon joined Jemma in her routine that day. That afternoon they dozed in the living room, and as the night drew in they made more small talk, both obviously too nervous to delve more deeply into the stranger sitting opposite them. For dinner they had spaghetti with a jar of tomato sauce and talked about reality TV. Jemma found herself enjoying the company, having been on her own for a week. Simon was softening too, his initial defensiveness dropping away to reveal a charming, if sheltered, young man.
They ended up talking about nothing for hours, and when both of them were tired, they decided it was time for bed. Simon took the smaller bedroom at the back of the house, fishing the final sheet from the airing cupboard and using his jumper as a pillow. As Simon was settling in, Jemma poked her head around the bedroom door.
“It’ll be alright, Simon,” she whispered, half-wondering if he could hear her.
“Thanks Jem,” said Simon, sounding more relaxed than he’d been all day. “See you in the morning.”
Later that night, Jemma heard him quietly crying.
New chapters of Jupiter Lane are published on Medium every Monday.