Home > Love Almost

Love Almost
Author: Hayley Doyle

 


PROLOGUE


Three months earlier


‘YES!’ I say to Jack.

Perhaps too enthusiastically.

We’re three days into our first holiday together. Beside a chaotic dual carriageway, an old lady lays out pop-up gift cards – intricately handmade and just thirty baht each – on the entrance steps to a modern shopping mall. The mall towers above us, LED-screen advertisements for international brands beckoning us to come inside. Jack and I gaze at one particular familiar logo. There we stand, stationary, as thousands move frantically around us. We’re caught in a time lapse. The hot sun scorches through hazy white clouds. I haven’t even held Jack’s hand today; I’m just too hot and bloated. My pounding head and racing heart is a constant reminder that we hit it too hard, and now our bender is laughing back at us and yelling, ‘I told you so!’

It’s safe to say that Bangkok’s intense speed has knocked us sideways.

‘Yes,’ I repeat. ‘Please.’

‘You sure?’ Jack asks. ‘I mean, we’re on the other side of the world and I don’t want you to think I’m not very cultured—’

‘I’m sure,’ I snap, before he talks us out of it.

‘Really, Chloe?’

‘YES!’

The golden arches lure us in. We order a feast. As we eat, we comment on how immaculate the restaurant is, how piping hot the fries are, how although it’s McDonald’s, it somehow just tastes better here than it does at home. Yeah, that’s how hungover we are. I finish my meal by scooping up a fallen droplet of Big Mac sauce with my finger. Jack sips the dregs of his Coke like a child, releasing a burp for his grand finale.

‘S’cuse me,’ he says.

‘We’re disgusting,’ I say.

He’s laughing at me, and I know why; my Liverpool accent has come out in full force, as it does when I’m tired – or in this case, hanging. Mocking me, he scrunches up his face, and, making his voice high-pitched, repeats the word ‘disgusting’.

It’s a terrible – inaccurate – impression. I narrow my eyes.

‘Feel better?’ he asks, in his own voice. He calls it ‘Home Counties’. I call it posh.

‘So much better.’

Last night, in between haggling at Patpong night market for fake designer boxer shorts and swerving ping-pong shows, we had done shots in bars. Back at our hotel room, Jack had raided the minibar while I ran a bubble bath. We had had sex in the bath, followed by sex on the balcony. Dressed in fluffy white robes, I had blended aquatic shades of blue onto Jack’s eyelids with my eyeshadow palette and finished them off with a flick of black eyeliner. His tremendous bushy beard had made the overall look grotesque, but to me, he was beautiful. It must have been three in the morning, yet the moon shone on, so out we had wandered again, eating pad thai from a street food vendor who also happened to serve beer. I had bought (another) small wooden frog from a young boy loitering, selling a tray of trinkets.

‘We’ve got about twenty minutes to get back to the hotel before the junk food crash hits us,’ Jack says, his infectious smile creating a deep dimple in his left cheek. ‘We need our bed.’

He leans across the table, reaches out his hand and tenderly wipes something from my chin. It might have been a dab of salt, or it could well have been a huge dollop of ketchup, but I don’t care. The simple touch of his thick skin on mine makes me fuzzy, almost giddy. There’s nothing more appealing than the thought of getting into bed with him right now, stripping off my dress – which is more of a loose cotton rag with holes cut out for my head and limbs – and pressing my body against his strong, sandy-haired chest, nuzzling into his neck.

‘Come on, hun. Let’s go,’ I say.

Back outside, I rummage in the embroidered pouch slung across my bare shoulder on a long shoelace strap. It’s from Patpong and the perfect size to carry around holiday cash and lip balm. I fish out one hundred baht, hand it to the lady selling cards, and pick out three designs. The lady throws in a fourth card and bows her head. I repeat her actions and thank her very much.

‘Chloe, over here!’ Jack calls.

A small crowd has gathered a few feet away. ‘Look at this bloke,’ he says.

Sitting inside a discarded supermarket trolley is a local man, unamused. His feet are bare, but his shirt and trousers suggest a blue uniform of some sort, perhaps for service at a hotel. Directly behind the man is a larger-than-life statue of Ronald McDonald with his giant yellow hands pressed together in the wai greeting, his red smile as bold as the food sitting heavily in my gut. The man seems to have found a perfect little spot to take a break, although he’s interrupted by a couple of passers-by who ask if they can have a selfie with him. He nods repeatedly and they all pose tight, gesturing double peace signs.

‘I’ve got to get a pic of this,’ Jack says. He digs into his khaki canvas man-bag, another Patpong purchase and one that he has not stopped admiring, wondering why he’s never bought anything like it before. I can already see it being slung into his wardrobe, never to be seen again; because believe me, he won’t be using that commuting on the London Underground.

Jack ushers me to get into the picture.

‘No way,’ I cower behind his broad back. ‘Leave him be.’

But raising his hands, Jack frames the picture in portrait and … snap! I glance over Jack’s shoulder and he’s nailed it. Clear, colourful and precise; not a photo bomber in sight. The man is looking directly into the lens. Ronald McDonald looms in the background, a God-like presence. Bangkok has been captured: a moment of honesty within the bizarre.

Jack shows the man, who gives a thumbs up, and then he shows it to me properly. It’s a truly great photograph.

‘That could win a prize,’ I say.

‘We should get it printed and hang it on our wall,’ Jack says.

Stopping amidst the choppy sea of fast-paced pedestrians, he’s head and shoulders above most, his thick sandy hair a foot above my recently bleached bob. He slaps his hands high onto an imaginary wall, pretending to see his photographic creation hung up there.

‘Our wall?’ I ask.

‘Let’s live together.’

In the short time I’ve known Jack, I’m used to his outspoken thoughts, his confident remarks. They’re never arrogant, yet always strong, supported by his big physique and naturally bellowing voice. He’s the big, friendly giant, and it seems like my innermost desire is coming true; he’s mine.

‘A couple of months ago we didn’t even know each other,’ I remind him, but there’s a chuckle in my voice. I’m making him aware of what others might say, rather than airing my own concerns. To be honest, I don’t have any.

‘Move in with me, Chloe.’

‘You want me to move to London?’

‘We’ll save a fortune on train fares.’

‘How romantic.’

‘And we’ll see each other seven days a week.’

‘Hmm. I might get sick of you, hun.’

‘Doubt it. I’m far too adorable.’ Oh, how true this is. ‘I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?’ Jack booms, announcing this question to the whole of Bangkok, his arms outstretched like a preacher. I take the opportunity to cuddle into him, sliding my arms around his back as he wraps me up completely. We squeeze each other tight. It’s a done deal.

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