Messy brown hair, icy blue eyes, Jeffrey Jenkins was a 24-year old guy with a slim physique; the kind of guy that most people believe wouldn’t hold his own in a fight. He played few sports and preferred to do relaxing things, such as reading a book or enjoying a nap under the soothing sun. Jeffrey was the strong and silent type, who kept things to himself. Those who earned it would gain his unquestionable loyalty, as he always helped his friends in their time of need. At least, that’s how he was before her.
It started just like many love stories, a meeting by chance at a local park, followed by a casual conversation, then the exchange of phone numbers. Quick greetings as they walked past each other turned into hours of conversation at a cosy café or muffled giggles in movie theatres. Before either of them knew it, their hearts were intertwined. Jeffrey was so thoroughly in love with her that he wanted her to be his girlfriend, and the only logical move was for him to ask her the nerve-wracking question…
It was a gloomy day, exactly three months after their first encounter. Fidgeting nervously, dressed up in his Sunday best, armed with an antiquated book, he began the march up the cobblestone path leading to their favourite bookstore. He was so tense that he failed to notice the cheerful and familiar ring of the ageing brass doorbell as the wooden door slowly shut behind him. There was a musty smell of old paper and yellowing parchment filling his lungs as he walked through the store. He mindlessly ran his fingers over the cracked covers of leather books, stirring swirls of dust into the air around him, and watching them dance hypnotically under the dim table lamp.
A sudden gush of cold air blew the dust angrily away causing him a violent shudder. His ears perked as the floorboards squeaked following gentle footsteps. He slowly turned around and saw her leaning against the bookcase, her adorable smile making his heart melt. Mustering all the courage he could, he blurted out the question.
She said yes without the slightest bit of hesitation, radiant joy had emanated from her face – much to Jeffrey’s relief. As an emotionally distant person, resultant of a turbulent childhood and a life full of family violence, first love changes everything. It was like the first ray of sunlight after weeks of raging storms. Jeffrey had never experienced anything more beautiful than this. It was something he could only describe as glorious.
Such a beautiful memory.
Alas, life had its own cruel, twisted sense of humor, taking everything away after giving a person all he’d ever dreamed of, shattering his hopes into a million pieces.
Jeffrey’s girlfriend was sent away to study overseas six months after they started dating. Both of them had shrugged, believing that they could deal with the distance. Unfortunately for him, the lack of physical contact was apparently too much for her after a while. Every message they exchanged pained them both. It reminded them of the time they used to spend practically clinging to each other as they hunted for rare books. Eventually, she cracked, asking Jeffrey for a ‘serious’ conversation over the phone. The phone call erased everything he had done since they’d met. It almost sent him into the cold embrace of death once before.
Of all the friends he had, which, to be honest, wasn’t that many at all. Sean was the only one who understood his pain. Sean realised how close he was to taking his life. He found Jeffrey drunk, bottle in hand, sitting on the balcony rail, legs dangling over the edge. It took many exhausting hours of negotiation and promises to convince him to not jump. Sean had since then taken upon himself to be Jeffrey’s personal ‘therapist’. He would check on him frequently, making sure that he didn’t do anything a sane person wouldn’t.
Even with Sean’s help, recovering from the break up had been excruciating for Jeffrey. Everything seemed dull and meaningless. Jeffrey knew things had to be bad because he’d even lost interest in reading books. Every day, without realising it, he would find himself walking to the bench where he first met her, a habit Sean frowned upon. People even began to call him the ‘bench boy’. Jeffrey, however, couldn’t care less about it, it helped him to focus and feel more human. It was only natural that Sean often managed to creep up on him.
’How long has it been now? Two months?’
‘Probably, I don’t know.’
Jeffrey nodded absentmindedly as Sean began to spiel on about the meaning of life. He’d been doing it so very often that Jeffrey could pretty much repeat everything he’d say with precision. He began to zone out without realising it.
It’s been two months since their final conversation, but he could still hear her last words like she had just spoken them minutes ago. ‘You are a nice guy… and I really hate to do this to you, but this isn’t… gonna work.’ The very thought of that brought stinging tears to his eyes and sent a jolt of pain through his chest. If he could just speak to her one more time, he would…
His thoughts were interrupted as Sean steps on his toes mid speech.
‘… sit here. Sorry. But like I was saying, you can’t sit here every day for two full months. You’ve gotta move on man.’
Still grimacing, Jeffrey reach down to rub his toes, only to find himself an inch away from Sean’s face.
‘You listening to me? Spaced out? Yes? No? Maybe?’
‘Really, what did I say?’
‘Erm, sitting here every afternoon staring at the lake is the most stupid thing anyone could do, least of al me. And I should hang out with the rest of the guys sometime, or find another girl. Did I miss anything?’
‘Exactly that.’ He taps Jeffrey on the shoulder. ‘So you gonna do what I say?’
Jeffrey shrugs, leaning down to pick up a pebble and examining it closely, noting the smooth, reflective surface. He rubs his thumb against the pebble, suddenly reminded of the times when he would run his fingers along her arms in a similar fashion. A sharp pain in his chest brought him back to reality and he finds himself staring into Sean’s face yet again.
With a sigh, he shakes his head and send the pebble flying into the lake with the swing of his arms.
‘I’ll take that as a no.’
Jeffrey stars off to the distance, trying to find the words, dimly aware of Sean’s unwavering gaze.
‘I can’t … forget her, you know. I wake up, and I see her face. I take a walk outside, every girl reminds me of her. Remember the bike your dad bought me for my seventh birthday? My first birthday gift ever, it’s kind of like that, except stronger. It is stuck in my head there is nothing I can do about it.’
Sean opens his mouth as if to say something, and then close it again. His fist clenched in frustration. Sean walked off, clearly concluding Jeffrey was a lost cause. It couldn’t be helped. If he were to ever get over this, this wasn’t the time. He’d have to find something meaningful that washed away the pain. He half-closed his eyes as he recalled his past – something he did a lot whenever he struggled with his mental self.
His mother solely raised Jeffrey, since his father walked out. Strangely, no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t recall his father’s face. Much of Jeffrey’s childhood was spent daydreaming about him. Jeffrey secretly blamed him for the problems he had talking to other children’s fathers. This was mostly because he believed that all fathers were as selfish as his. Capable of leaving their child behind anytime they wished.
His secret ‘hatred’ continued until the age of seven when Sean and his family moves into the neighbourhood, the two met during school and Sean became his best friends. His friendship with Sean brought him so close to his family to the point that Jeffrey was considered by Sean family to be their ‘extended family’. The interactions he had with his family, particularly his father, who bought him his first bike for his birthday and taught him how to ride it, had neutralised most of his grudges against fathers in general.
Despite being highly intelligent, Jeffrey consistently fails subjects that do not involve practical work, claiming that the only way to learn something is to actually do it. His teachers often had him stay behind after class to go over theories again, much to the frustration of his teachers, his attitude did not change at all throughout his school life, not matter how hard they try to change it.
He sighs as he opened his eyes, he wish life could be easier, with less drama to deal with. Maybe he didn’t belong here, he turns back and look to where Sean was, and there was no sign of his friend.
Even Sean doesn’t care.
Suddenly the disappearing in the deep cool lake didn’t too bad an idea. He crackle like a maniac, no one would be able to stop him even if they wanted. Not this time.
He pushed himself off the bench, grinding his teeth as he did. Jeffrey was no longer in control of himself and psychosis slowly embraced his mind. He approached the lake, the muddy ground squelching disgustingly as he blankly trekked towards the water’s edge. The lake had a mesmerising quality that drew him near. It was luring him towards the centre of the purple tinged water.
Jeffrey shivered as he waded in. It was colder than he expected. His muscles contracted involuntarily, shivers violently shook him to the core as the water soaked his clothes.
It must be getting late. Too late for me, he thought as he squints at the yellowish skyline.
As he reached the centre, Jeffrey looked over at the bench for the last time and dove under the water, letting the current from the connecting rivers direct him. To his surprise, the water in the lake wasn’t as still as he had always believed. The turmoil within threatened to tear him apart and send him in all possible directions. Contrary to popular opinion, life did not flash before his eyes. All he felt was a horrible empty sensation of helplessness. Jeffrey could not bring himself out of the water, even if he wanted to.
Ah, if only I had realised this earlier. Maybe I would have done it differently…
As he slowly sink towards the bottom, he reach out to the last ray of light piercing through the water, there was only a small pang of regret as his mind processed his last thoughts.
Sorry, Sean. I’ve let you down… I’ve let you down…
Felix Yeung (or more commonly known as Anton Donovan) is a third year student studying Bachelor of Creative Industries, majoring in Creative and Professional Writing at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). He believes that alcohol helps a writer broaden his/her mind so they can produce better writings, which probably explains why he is seen consuming Fruit Tingle at the university guild bar
all the time.