John finds out he has a neighbour on the two month anniversary of living in his house.
Mr and Mrs Across-The-Road come over to celebrate. It isn't much of a party, a beer each, football on in the background. John's never cared for it, but Mrs Across-The-Road, Nicole does. He learnt that the first time he went over to their house. He was new in the neighbourhood and they did the typically neighbourly thing, inviting him over for brunch and what not. They did the same thing then too, beer each, watching the football. But there were nibbles too, John distinctly remembers. He loves nibbles.
He remembers Nicole screaming at the television on that first meeting, something about the offside rule and a free kick. He shouted and screamed along to of course, to be polite, but he's never had an interest in football. After a while, he grew fed up of getting confused who was on what side and joined Mr Across-The-Road, Mark, for a boring conversation on WW2 aircrafts. That's them pretty much summed up, Mr and Mrs Across-The-Road. Football and Aircrafts. Fascinating.
But still, they're nice enough people. No children, because Nicole can't have them. A lovely big house in the suburbs with a picturesque garden and front lawn, yet nobody to share it with. Still, it isn't their fault, the Across-The-Road's. They didn't know until after they had started paying the mortgage, which is just a bit unfortunate, really. They could've done anything, just the two of them. Travelling around the world, meeting new people, experiencing new cultures. But then again, Nicole and Mark Across-The-Road don't look like the type to have a wild hunger to explore the world.
But they're nice, and that's okay. To humour him, Nicole gives him a cupcake with two tiny candles in it to celebrate. She doesn't light them, because she insists that the wax will drip on the cake. Nicole Across-The-Road, always the life and soul of any party.
Out of sheer curiosity, he asks Mark about the house next to his as Nicole shouts at one of the players. He doesn't have the heart to tell her that they can't hear her all the way at Stanford Bridge.
"Oh, the house next to yours? Yes, someone does live there. A woman. Rose something I think. I've only seen her once or twice, she keeps to herself."
Apparently, it's half time because Nicole joins in the conversation, adding "I think she smokes drugs."
"Drugs?" John asks, raising his eyebrows "What kind of drugs?"
"Well, I don't know much about these things. But… once, I was walking past there and there was funny smelling smoke drifting out of one of the front windows." She shakes her head disapprovingly and Mark joins in, tutting. John almost laughs at the two of them, swinging their heads back and forth in unison. It's quite comical, but obviously, they wouldn't get the joke. "I like to stay away from that house. Don't want to get myself tangled up in anything like that."
John just nods, taking another swig from his beer. A mysterious Rose who smokes drugs, living next to him from two whole months and he's never noticed? She's quiet, that's for sure.
Nicole and Mark leave when it gets to eight o'clock, probably to have their regular protected 'love making' and then bed. As usual. John knows they do this weekly, he's overheard them talking before. The term 'love making' is quite pathetic, even for them. Even more pathetic that they still use protection when they know they can't have children. They don't have any STD's that's for sure, because he's ninety percent sure they lost their virginity to each other in college. Like normal people.
John lost his virginity in a caravan in Brighton when he was sixteen. The girl was at least a stone overweight and had a weird mole thing, but he was tall, gawky and desperate. Since then, it's been one slightly stable girlfriend, one slightly disappointing break up and then a string of one night stands. Not that many one night stands though, to be fair, because he's always felt guilty about the whole 'love 'em and leave 'em' philosophy. His friend Jack always said he grew too attached to women.
But Jack was gay as hell, so what did he know about women?
A lot, to be fair. Jack wasn't actually gay, he was bi.
And John was jealous.
Pushing all thoughts of Jack and his 'anything with a pulse and a decent ass' policy, John checks his watch. Eight thirty, so Nicole and Mark are probably finished. It's sad how he's become somewhat of a time keeper concerning things like this. He hasn't gotten laid in months.
He walks towards his front door, stepping into the porch to check for post. As usual, Postman Pat (seriously) dropped his post of at seven o'clock, probably on-the-dot. It was almost clinical how organised everything in this suburban neighbourhood was, from the postal delivery to Mark's finishing time. Which he had calculated was probably somewhere around the four minute mark.
He sifts through the letters and it's the usual, bills, bills, bills, letter from Cancer Awareness, letter from the opticians that he doesn't go to because no he doesn't need surgery, his eyes are just as shit they've always been, another bill, Chinese takeaway menu, and then right at the bottom, something he wasn't expecting. It's as ordinary as any other letter, but across the front, instead of 'John Smith, 34 Marbrook Close' it reads 'Rose Tyler, 33 Marbrook Close'
He quickly realises that it's her, the mysterious neighbour he never even knew he had. Now's a good a time as any to go over and introduce himself, friendly 'Hey neighbour, haven't seen you around in the two months I've been here. Don't smoke Crystal Meth do you?'
He pulls his jacket off the hook in the porch and leaves the door on latch. The closest they've ever got to crime around here is a few of the local teenagers tagging the post office wall with grammatically correct graffiti. It's sad.
He walks to the front door of the mysterious dark house next to his. The house is clean, on the outside, but feels so very empty. And sad. Very sad, he notes. He rings the shiny silver doorbell and a vibrant chirping is heard from the inside. It takes a moment, but eventually the delicate pitter-patter of barefoot on wood is heard coming closer and closer. The dark door swings open, and John is met with a short, skinny blonde woman. She's dainty, but somehow looks strong. Her bleach blonde hair hanging limply by her shoulders, contrasting with her eyes, such a dark brown he can hardly make out her pupils. She's holding a cigarette in her hand, the smoke gathering above them. She's wearing loose grey flannel shorts, hanging low on her hips and a baggy blue t-shirt. She isn't anything like what he expected. She isn't stunning, or beautiful, but looks like she could be. Maybe if she wasn't so thin. Her wrists are bony, and her collarbones stick out in a way that's a little worrying. Her skin looks sickly pale and he notices what could be bruising on her forearms, but it's hard to tell in the dimly lit porch. She looks like she could be pretty if she tried.
"Can I help you?" she asks, looking him up and down. He realises he's just been standing there in her doorway like a moron for god knows how long, and clears his throat, pushing the letter out in front of him.
"This," he holds up the letter, smiling warmly "it's yours. Postman delivered it to my house by accident."
She takes the letter between her bony fingers, clutching it tightly. "Right, yes, Pat," she nods her head, looking at the paper as she twirled it in her hands "The Paedophile."
"I'm sorry?" he asks. Did she just call Pat a paedophile? Sweet Pat who gives out free lollipops to the kids on the street and…oh. "Wait… Pat's a paedophile?"
"Forget I said anything." She says, shaking her head and taking a drag of her cigarette. He's about to protest but she cuts him off, smoke flowing out of her mouth as she says to him, "I do have a letter box you know… you could've just stuck it in there but you chose to hand deliver it," she cocks her head to the side "Why?"
"Oh, well…I-I just," he stutters "I'm sorry. Pat's a paedophile?"
"Not a dangerous one, he's too much of a coward to touch the kids. His internet history is a different story," she says, eyes flitting around the floor. She looks anxious but the words flow out of her mouth like she's saying the simple 'hello, I'm Rose Tyler, sorry I've been quiet. Nice to meet you' that he was expecting. "Hand delivery, why?" she asks again, twirling the letter once between her long, bony, digits. It's mesmerising.
"Well, I-I didn't know anyone actually lived here until Mark and Nicole told me earlier. Thought I'd introduce myself," he extends his hand "I'm John. I'm your neighbour."
She doesn't shake his hand, but looks up to meet him in the eyes, eyebrows furrowed. "Right, yes, you moved here two months ago, today. Congratulations on that. And Mark and Nicole, the Across-The-Roads. The football loving housewife and the doubting bi-plane addict."
"So you know them?" he asks. "They said they didn't know you very well…"
"That's because they don't. And I don't either. I much prefer it that way."
"Then how did you know about the football, and the planes?" he asks, cocking an eyebrow. He's curious now.
"Orange." She says, looking at her pale toes sprawled across the dark wooden floors.
"Your favourite colour, it's orange." She flicks her eyes up to look at him, and he's quite shocked. How did she know that? He decides to ask aloud, "How could you possibly know that?" but she doesn't reply instead she smiles softly, looking down at the floor before gently closing the door with a click, right in his face. He rings the doorbell again, but she doesn't answer.
"Bloody hell." He mumbles. She's a thousand times stranger than he was expecting, but also a thousand times more exciting than anyone else he's met in the past two months. That two minuet altercation between his distant neighbour is somehow the highlight of his whole time here. Trudging back through her overgrown lawn to his house, he realises how purely boring this place is.
And then there's her. She's different.
He talks about it on the phone that night with Jack.
"Honestly, I think she's crazy, but she's the most interesting person I've met here."
"Hey, at least she's openly crazy. Maybe she'd stalk you, but she wouldn't be creepy about it. I like her. What's her name?"
"Rose," he says, letting it roll of his tongue "Rose Tyler. But I don't think it suits her very well."
"Oh yeah, what does she look like?"
And then John gets lost in the description of her. She isn't like other girls he's seen before because she isn't beautiful or feminine or pretty. She's small and skinny, scrawny even. Her legs are bony and thin, almost as thin as her wrists which show her protruding bones. Her hair is bleach blonde with dark roots so obviously showing, making it look perfectly ruined. Her skin is pale and her lips chapped and pink, somehow too big for her face yet perfect at the same time. John tells Jack how somehow, he knows that she could be so beautiful just by trying. But maybe it's the fact that she doesn't try that draws him to her more.
"Whoa doc, sounds like you've got the hots for her if you ask me. You've always had a thing for blondes."
John grimaces "Please don't call me doc. I'm not a doctor, not for at least another few years. And I hate Doc. It makes me feel like one of the seven dwarves."
"Yeah, I know. And every time you point out that connection I laugh because you're like seven feet tall."
He frowns "Shut up. I'm 6'1, you're just exaggerating."
"Yeah and I'm 5'11, yet I feel about 4 feet when I stand next to you."
John laughs and rolls his eyes "Shut up. I'm gonna go now anyway. I've still got so many questions about this girl." He stands up, walking over to his bedroom window, peering through the curtains to his garden.
"So what, go round there again?" he hears Jack say.
And then he sees her. It's dark, but there she is, smoking a cigarette in the back of her garden, leaning against their shared fence. She's like a nimble shadow. "She's outside…I'm gonna talk to her. Goodbye Jack." He clicks the phone off and rushes down the stairs two at a time, slipping his feet into his trusty converse and grabbing the first jacket hanging on the wonky coat rack he put in the wall himself. He's not going to leave her alone without some answers at least.
Slinking past the fence, down to the end of his garden, he feels her gaze watching him. He's a little taller than the fence, so he can peer over it easily and there she is. She isn't wearing any more clothes than when she left and even in the dark he can make out the goose bumps on her skin. Yet she doesn't shiver.
"Aren't you cold?" he asks.
"Yeah." She says, shrugging. She doesn't say anything else, but her eyes stay locked with his, through the dark.
"Pat… the postman," he says "how did you know about his… colourful internet history?"
"I don't appreciate you lying to me or yourself, ask me what you really want to know." Is all she says in way of reply, her eyes swivelling to the ground and she folds her arms tightly.
"I don't know what you mean?"
"Yes you do. You want to know why in all of two months, I've never so much as bothered to say hello. You may as well just ask."
"Okay. Sorry. Why haven't you?"
She tilts her head, a smile playing on her lips. "Why haven't I what?"
He frowns a little, a perplexed look taking over his face. But still, she's holding out a line and he bites, curious at the enigma that she is. He swallows, before sincerely asking "Why haven't you once stopped by in two months to introduce yourself."
"Because I didn't want to." She says stubbornly. He frowns, pouting his lip.
"That's it? Because you… didn't want to?" he asks, crossing his arms "Simple as that?"
"That's the trouble with people… you always want everything to be more than what it actually is. Did it ever occur to you that I simply didn't want to say hello. Perhaps I like my own company. A lot more than you do."
"What's that supposed to mean?" he asks. Once again, she completely skirts around his question. She's good at that, he notices.
"Nice house you've got there. I'm sure your wife loves it."
"I'm not married actually," he says, uncrossing his arms. She chuckles lightly and it's the first time he's heard her laugh. It's dry and throaty, mixed in with the cigarette smoke.
"I know that," she says, shaking her head and smiling before turning her gaze back to him "Your lonely, anyone can see that. Somewhere, you've gotten yourself lost in that tall body."
"I-I don't know what you're talking about…" he says. "How can you call me lonely when you're the one that hardly steps a foot outside your own house? I've not seen you once in two months!"
"There's a fine line between being lonely and being alone." She says, cigarette dangling in her hand. She flicks the ash off the butt with the pad of her thumb expertly, and he watches as a fair amount of it falls down onto her foot. She doesn't even blink.
"Still… You're a very interesting man, you're an amateur doctor, you're at least twenty seven, twenty eight… yet no long term girlfriend. You're the only one curious enough to come and knock on my door to deliver my post and that is what makes you interesting, John Smith."
"W-What?" he stutters. "How do you know all that? How do you even know my name?" he watches as her slim fingers tuck under her shirt, until she pulls a white envelope out from what he can only assure has been tucked into the under wiring of her bra. It's still warm from her skin as she hands it over to him. "Looks like Paedo Postie Pat got both out post mixed up earlier. Another from the opticians, you should really consider getting an appointment John."
"How do you even know that?" he asks, snatching the letter and scrunching it up in his pocket.
"It's easy John. It's the same way I know that you're lonely. That you bought that jacket on a whim and regretted it ever since. That converse are your favourite shoes. The same way that I know you've been thinking about me ever since I shut my front door in your face." She smirks afterwards as his face burns crimson red. Oh she's good, he'll give her that. But she's also crazy.
"You're easy to read John. Details like that are fairly easy to get out of most people, as long as you look in the right places," she flicks the rest of the cigarette to the floor, and it lands somewhere in the unattended flowerbeds across her fence "I know you're lonely because in all of two months, you've never brought anyone over to your house. You spend a fair amount of time on the phone, suggesting you've got friends, but they're far away. I know you bought that jacket and regretted it because it's at least three years old, but in such good condition it looks like you've hardly ever worn it. I know you've been thinking of me because you were on the phone in your bedroom, searching out the window for me in the shadows, and when you noticed me you hung up straight away." She stretches her arms behind her back, grinning like a cat. "Don't you see John?" she asks "I already know so much about you without us ever having to officially meet. That's why I never came to see you. Because I didn't need to."
And with that she turns on her heel and slinks back through her overgrown garden into her house, laughing quietly as she hears him call her name behind her. "Rose, w-wait, Rose!" just as she reaches her door, she turns around and the two share eye contact briefly, her dark brown eyes staring into his hazel ones.
"Rose… I've never cared for that name much," she calls out "Call me Billie instead. Goodnight John."
He doesn't see Rose… or Billie again until two weeks later. Doesn't mean he wasn't eagerly waiting for her to step out into her garden again for a cigarette break by his window, or didn't stare longingly at the always closed blinds in the large bay windows at the front of her house. He talks about her with Jack on the phone almost every day until the seventh day when Jack just hangs up on him completely, and he finally gets the message to stop.
And then, on the fourteenth day since they spoke, he sees her in her garden again. She leans with her back pressed up against the fence, long sleeved blue jumper hanging off of her bony frame falling down to her thighs. He can't see if she's wearing anything else, but he knows that she obviously doesn't react to the cold by previous outfit choices. He's at the downstairs window, standing, watching her intently. She turns her head to look at him and grins, before cocking her head gesturing for him to come over. And he goes, like the good little dog he is, converse half hanging off his feet.
"Rose," he says as he runs over "Billie," he corrects himself, panting slightly as he leans against the fence, facing her "Haven't seen you in a while." He knows he sounds like a total idiot, and he's spat out something scarily similar to the most cliché rom-com lines in the history of ever but it's too late to take it back now. She just grins at him, and it's the first time he's seen her really smile. Her mouth is wide, teeth white, stretching around her face. Her hair is down as usual, the dishwater blonde hanging around her face.
"I've been busy." She shrugs nonchalantly. She's not smoking for once, and he watches her tap her long, bony fingers on the fence. A little four beat rhythm, simple really, but he finds it purely hypnotising. It's a little lighter than the last time they spoke, and he notices the purple bruises on her fingers. He aches to ask, but he doesn't want to scare her away.
"Busy," he repeats, exhaling heavily. John was usually good at talking to women, and men for that fact. His friends had always said he was an easy charmer, who could talk his way out of (or into, if needed) anything. But somehow, having a conversation through the fence with his mysterious neighbour, he's lost for words. He knows what Donna would say right now. She'd laugh and call him an idiot and urge him to say something productive. But obviously she isn't, because she isn't there anymore. Just a lost memory of time gone by.
"I've been busy too. Studying." He says. It isn't entirely a lie, he had been trying to study for one of his exams all week, but every time he opened a text book the words would wriggle around the page and form into her face. Or her name. Rose or Billie, he still hadn't decided what to call her. He liked Rose, but it was nothing like her. Rose sounded innocent, pure, friendly. A beauty. Billie sounded dirty and dangerous and mysterious. He wasn't sure which of those gave him the good kind of chills or if it was both.
"Studying," she says, nodding her head "I used to do that."
"Oh yeah?" he asks. "Did you go to uni?" He's excited to possibly have some common ground with her in the ways of education, waiting patiently for something, anything that they can talk about together. But then she shakes her head, "No, not uni."
"College?" he tries.
"Nah, I would've gone, I know I would've. But I ended up leaving school when I was halfway through my A-Levels at nineteen." She shrugs, looking down at her bare feet. He notices that he hasn't once seen her wear socks or shoes. Her feet should be black and filthy, but somehow they still look pure and elegant. White and lean. Her toenails are painted black.
"Any particular reason?" he asks. He's dying to know something about her. Anything. She can know so many things about him by just looking, but he realises he doesn't know anything apart from the fact she lives next door to him, she's a bottle blond and she doesn't ever wear many clothes. And she possibly smokes drugs.
Not that that even matters to him.
"So, you want to be a doctor?" she asks him, completely changing the subject as quickly as she spins on her bare heels, gripping the top of the fence with her white fingers. She goes up on tiptoe to get some better perspective of his garden, and he inhales sharply when he notices how close they are at the fence. He just nods, because to be honest, he's having some difficulty forming actual words right now. "Why?" she asks, tilting her head to the side.
"I, I don't know," he shrugs "All my brothers were doctor's. It's what was expected of me I suppose."
"Well, do you actually want to be a doctor?" she asks, eyes wide and questioning.
"Well of course. I mean- obviously my family had an influence of it, but it really isn't that bad. I work shifts at the hospital as a nurse and once I'm fully qualified, I could probably make enough money to pay my mortgage without my parents help."
"Right," she nods "Parents," she emphasises on the 's' before adding with another nod "still alive. Good. Brothers too. Good."
He blinks and furrows his brow, confused. "What?" he asks "Why is that good?"
"Because it was probably good to have them around when she died."
He swallows, hands curling into fists. He can feel his eyes welling up slightly but tries to resist it. He will not cry. He will not cry. "H-How could you possibly know anything about Donna?" he chokes out.
"It's not difficult to work out," she says simply, shrugging her shoulders "How long has it been?"
He hates the way she asks so carelessly, like it's nothing. She had no idea what happened, no idea how it could possibly feel. She asks him about Donna like she's nothing and that frustrates him endlessly. He can't even form words before she cocks her head again, and asks him "What did it feel like when she died?"
And then he can't take it anymore. He turns on his heel and walks away. Through the garden, ignoring her calls from him, ignoring the way she shouts "John… John, wait. I'm sorry!" He just carries on trudging through, ignoring the hot tears that fall on his face.
He wakes up in the morning, and instantly goes to check for the morning post. He waits a little later to get his post now days, avoiding all possible conversations with Postman Pat the Paedophile. He knows that with his big gob he's bound to mention it. He steps into his porch and picks up the usual flurry of white letters to do with credit cards and student loans… but then he notices it. The envelope is brown and fairly large, sitting on his doormat. 'John' is written across the top in scrawled handwriting suggesting it's been hand delivered. Immediately he crouches down to pick it up, before backing back into the house and setting the usual letters on the counter. He tears open the brown one, and a newspaper article sits in front of him. The logo in the corner reads 'the Huntermoore Herald', a local paper probably from Huntermoore, a town roughly an hour or two away. This is just a printed copy off the internet of the original article. All the words of the story have been blacked out but the headline still stands bold and clear as day: LOCAL TREASURE'S DEMISE FOLLOWING PARENTS TRAGIC DEATH.
His gaze skims down to the picture situated in the corner and he nearly drops the article when he realises it. It's Billie, clear as day, but she looks so much healthier. Her smile softer, skin more tanned, face a little fuller. Her hair is dark here instead, and her eyes light up. She's holding a certificate in her hands, something in a glass case. In the picture he can't quite make out what it's for. However the caption helps him out, reading: Rose Tyler pictured (inset) holding her young humanitarian award.
Calmly, he places the article onto the counter and picks the envelope again, opening it wide to check inside. Sure enough, there's a note in the same scribbling blue ink.
John I'm sorry. I hope we're even.
He smiles, despite himself. Yes, he thinks we're even.
It's a little past midnight, and he's getting ready to go to bed when he hears the doorbell ring. Sighing, he rolls his eyes and pads down the stairs, barefoot, in only a grey t-shirt and loose-fitting boxers. Who could possibly be knocking at this time of night? He swings open the door, and there she is, wearing black pyjama shorts and a cropped grey , long-sleeved t-shirt, no shoes or socks, hair everywhere. She's clutching a bottle of whiskey in her hand. "Am I forgiven?" is the only thing she says whilst he stands their gaping at her sudden appearance and her choice of nightwear.
"Yes." Is all he says as he steps back to invite her in. she pads through the hallway, gently dragging one long finger across the wall before she turns left and enters the front room. For a few minuets he wonders how she knows her way around his house, but then realises that hers is probably the same.
"I thought I'd bring a bottle over. That's what people usually do when they're sorry isn't it? Bring a bottle?" she asks in a rushed babble, setting it down on the coffee table, before sitting down on his brown leather sofa, curling her lean pale legs underneath her.
"Well, yes. But usually they bring cheap wine, not vintage whiskey." He says, squinting at the bottle. "When's this from, nineteen eighty-two?"
"Don't flatter yourself, it's one of the newest bottles I own." She shrugs.
He raises an eyebrow. "How old are you?" he asks. She doesn't look more than twenty three, maybe twenty four with her pale scrawny figure. "Twenty-six." She shrugs, "I didn't buy any of this. It was my dad's. He liked to collect old bottles of bitter alcohol. I never particularly cared for it in my youth, but I don't know…" she trails off "I suppose I've grown accustom to the taste." Proving her point, she twists the top open and takes a swig straight from the bottle, before reaching up and offering it to him. "I-I could get some glasses?" he asks, but she shakes her head, smiling softly.
"Tastes better out the bottle. Trust me."
Warily, he takes the bottle, sitting down next to her and takes a gulp. Surprisingly, she might just be right in her theory. The alcohol burns as it slips down his throat; he's never been a heavy drinker. But still, it leaves him with a surprisingly pleasant warm feeling inside.
He's sober enough to know he's drunk, but too drunk to actually care. The time is three am and he knows he's got a lecture to get to tomorrow, but Billie is so unpredictable. Fuck knows when she might pay the slightest interest in him. He's drunk enough to accept the fact that he will gladly come running whenever she calls.
"Y-Y know John…" she slurs. The whiskey is long gone now, but he found a few beers in the fridge. He watches intently a she takes a sip of hers, her throat pumping as she swallows it. She wipes her mouth, and continues saying "Most of the neighbours… I couldn't really care less. But you? Y-you're special, John Smith… there's just something about you that I can't get out of my mind."
"You really think that?" he asks, smiling. She smiles back too, and he can't help but reach out and touch her face. "I love your smile Bills… you should smile more often. You're crazy… but I like it."
"You called me Bills…" she says. She looks to his hand but makes no effort to remove it. John continues, grinning like an idiot. "I like Bills. It's a good nickname. My Bills" he repeats, and she smiles again. "You think I'm crazy?" she asks. He nods.
"Of course I do. But I'll tell you a secret." He pulls her close to him, leaning into her ear, her hot breath ghosting the back of his neck. "All the best people are…" he tells her in a shaky whisper. Suddenly, he feels her hands move behind his neck, and abruptly pulls his head towards her, lips smashing together. He goes with it, their lips doing the intricate dance that he's longed to do since he first saw her. Her lips feel amazing, rough and chapped, and she tastes like whiskey and honey and cigarettes and everything. She feels amazing, and he never wants to let her go.
But then, as quickly as it started, she pulls him away, standing up. Gently, she pushes him down into the sofa, until he's lying in a foetal position. "Wh-where are you going?" he mumbles, eyes narrowed. He doesn't want her to leave. "Bills…" he whines. She crouches down to his level, before kissing him softly on the lips. "Goodnight my lonely angel." She whispers. The last thing he remembers is her hot breath on his neck and the click of the front door opening and closing before he falls into slumber.
He wakes up to an alarm he doesn't remember setting on his phone, blaring and vibrating against the coffee table. Groaning, he reaches out and reads the message flashing on the screen.
You better wake up. Lecture at nine.
He frowns, not remembering setting the alarm at all. But then his eyes trail over to the empty bottle of whisky lying flat on the table, and shaky memories of the night come back to him all at once. It must have been her, Bills. He's given up wondering how she knew things like that about him. Still, he is glad she did because he can't imagine waking up anytime soon without that alarm. He swipes the screen, silencing the bleeping tone and stretches like a cat on the sofa before sitting up. He sets his phone down and stands, heading upstairs. He needs a shower and several paracetamol if he's going to survive this lecture on the cardiovascular system of muscles.
He rubs the sleep out of his eyes, yawning as he enters the bathroom. He switches the tap of the shower on, and waits for it to run hot, stripping off and standing in front of the mirror. He looks a mess. He looks absolutely shattered, but that's nothing a hot shower and a bit of hair gel can't fix.
Standing under the steaming water, he goes through the events he remembers in his mind. Billie had come over with thirty year old whiskey, in little black shorts and an even littler grey t-shirt, no shoes or socks, as usual. He remembers thinking that she was beautiful, standing in his porch under the dim light bulb.
He remembers lots of drinking, and laughing and beers when the whiskey ran out. He remembers calling her mad, leaning close into her skin, whispering against her ear. The memories blur out from there, but he's fairly certain he kissed her. And then he remembers her pushing him back. Had she rejected him? Probably. She was like a mystery wrapped up in an enigma, an explosion of pale skin and blonde hair dye and cigarette smoke. He was John Smith, med student.
Of course she rejected him.
Sighing to himself for being such an idiot, he steps out of the shower, drying his hair first with the towel. He gets dressed quickly, but can't help scrutinizing each of his body parts. Did Rose not like the way he looked? He remembers only wearing a t-shirt and boxers, but he's got faint memories of her looking. He likes his body, tall and slim. Cassandra had called him foxy when they slept together.
Putting all thoughts of Cassandra and that drunken night at the hospital gala out of his mind, he wonders what exactly it was about him that really repelled her. He's a good looking guy, he knows that. He hasn't exactly seen a long line of gentleman callers lining up at her door. Even if she could be beautiful, she didn't make much effort about it. He doesn't know a whole lot of guys that like the whole pale and mysterious vibe. Apart from himself, apparently.
Immediately he feels guilty for trying to put her at fault in the situation. It isn't her fault that he tried to come onto her and got rejected. If she doesn't like him, she doesn't like him. What can he do about it? Nothing, he realises with a sigh, before gathering his satchel bag full of notebooks, and running downstairs. Bus to the uni leaves in ten.
In the lecture he's trying to focus on Professor Lethbridge-Stewart, he really is, but after the fifth time he's found himself doodling BILLIE in big letters like a lovesick schoolgirl, he realises he really isn't going to get much out of this lecture. Sighing, he reaches into his bag and pulls out his sketchbook. His mind won't waver from a blonde in hardly any clothes. A specific one, he hadn't just woken up with a craving. Or maybe he had… a craving for her.
If he hadn't become a medical student, perhaps John may have tried to be an artist. He likes drawing and sketching things, people and faces and nature. He pulls out his favourite sketching pencil, and with a silent vow to research the cardiovascular system later, he lets his hands take over.
The lecture goes on for another hour and he finds himself drawing her in all different environments. Drawing her leaning against the fence, grinning at him. Her smoking in the corner of the garden. Her gripping the top of the fence, her eyes pleading for him to answer her questions. He draws her standing in her doorway, holding the post like she had the first time they spoke. He draws her sitting on his sofa, bottle of whiskey in hand. And then finally, in the last five minuets, he stops drawing Billie. He focuses on Rose Tyler instead, how she looked with dark hair, grinning at her young humanitarian award. Fuller in the face compared to the other ghostly sketches of her. Dark hair instead of wisps almost white on the page.
The bell goes but he doesn't realise because he's still sketching her left eye, trying to capture a deeper, brighter sense of excitement than the slightly duller ones he sees. He stops abruptly when he hears someone clear their throat behind him. He turns around abruptly, but relaxes when he notices Martha. "Martha, hello," he smiles. He likes Martha, even if he doesn't know her very well. She's a trainee doctor too.
"Hello John." She says, grin a little overzealous. "What you sketching there? You were in your own little world." She jokes, glancing down at the leather bound book.
"Oh, it's nothing," he shrugs, putting the rest of his notebooks into his bad, standing up.
"Oh come on, I'd love to see." Martha says, large dark eyes pleading. Sighing, he hands the book over, and watches her flick through the pages of some of his earlier drawings. Random teachers, people on the street. Flowers, buildings. Martha's face lights up into a smile when she sees one of herself, hunched over a desk in the library. He glances at it, it's a rough sketch. Something to distract him from studying brain tumours. She was there, so he drew her quickly. "You drew me…" she says, stroking her finger across the page gently.
"Yeah," he shrugs "I was bored. It's nothing really, not very detailed. You just happened to be in front of me whilst I was trying to avoid studying." He says. He doesn't meet Martha's eyes as he speaks, so he doesn't see the soul-crushing expression her face melts into as he says that. She utters out a small 'oh' but John isn't paying much attention. He's got to go, he needs to see Billie. Still, adamant, Martha flicks through the rest of the book, until her gaze settles on the drawings of today. Several pages, just Billie. She stops at the last one, her with dark hair, eyes blazing. "Quite an eye for the pretty girls." She says, her voice quieter now. He's thick, and doesn't realise she's obviously upset, before his mouth spins into a ramble. "Yeah, that's my neighbour. Rose." He doesn't address her as Bills, or ever Billie. He likes that to be something that they keep between them, almost. "I just met her. She's… yeah, she's great."
"Okay. Well I won't keep you, I'll let you head home." Martha says, snapping the book shut and handing it over. She smiles, despite herself. She refuses to let John realise he's hurt her, not that he usually realises it anyway. Before he has a chance to say goodbye, his phone rings. She glances at it as picks it up out of his pocket. She doesn't need to read the name to realise it's her by the shaky photo of him and the blonde in very little clothing, by the looks of it, and the way he lights up when he clicks answer, briefly nodding towards Martha before slipping round her and exiting the hall.
"Bills. How'd you even get my number?" he asks, he can't help himself from grinning.
"I took it last night. I wasn't as pissed as you. Quite pissed, but not that pissed." She says with a light laugh. He can almost hear her roll her eyes through the phone.
"Hah, well thanks for setting my alarm and all that."
"No problem. Listen John, about last night…"
He grimaces. He really doesn't want the morning after talk that he's had with girls too many times. "It's fine. Let's forget about it, yeah?" he says.
"Yeah…" she agrees after a pause "We were both pissed anyway, right? Let's just forget about it. I'll see you later."
He doesn't miss the painful feeling he gets when he hears her click off. The conversation was just as he had expected it to be, really. Obviously she didn't want to completely embarrass him and he doesn't mind that. Just being almost friends with her is enough. She's everything he's never known he wanted but simultaneously can't have, and it's enough to drive him insane.
He sees her again that night, midnight on the dot. She brings vodka this time, and he's grateful tomorrow's Sunday and he has nothing to do.
Even if he still hasn't done any research on the cardiovascular system.
They drink, and this time the bottle runs out even quicker. They're both so drunk they can barely form sentences. Her toenails are painted bright red today instead, contrasting with her deathly white skin. Discarding the bottle, she drags him out into the garden at two AM and they both lay on the grass staring up at the stars, barefoot. He shows her some constellations he can remember from being a young kid. She tells him that when she was a child, he mum taught her all the names of the characters on Eastenders, rather than the names of the stars. They both laugh at that, even though it's not that funny. Its freezing outside, but he doesn't care, because she's lying next to him. He feels the warm blood, rushing under her skin as she curls in closer to him, her head resting on the steady rise and fall of his chest. To him, this all seems like a weird scene from a romance film, but then he remembers… this isn't a film. Or a book, or a TV show. This is life, and she is really here, lying next to him. She's obviously more than a little messed up, and he barely knows anything about her other than the fact that her parents are dead, and she never wears shoes.
She leaves him, laying there in the grass and slips through a loose plank in the fence he didn't know he had. He watches her go but oddly, doesn't try to stop her. Not this time. Probably because he knows by now that she's never going to do what he asks her to. And for some reason, that's what he finds the most remarkable.
He pulls himself up, out of the cold, damp grass and walks into his house, shutting out the chill of the air when he shuts the patio doors behind him. He still has so many questions about her, the mystery girl who lives next door, but they can all wait until tomorrow. They can all wait.
The next day he allows himself to lie in for the first time in a long time. He feels relaxed, and somewhat happy as he stands under the pounding water of the shower at half twelve. He dresses in jeans and a simple t-shirt, not caring that his hair is still wet. He steps out into the porch to collect his post, when he notices her.
She's sitting on the front steps of her house, wearing the closest he's ever seen her get to real clothes. It's a dress, plain white with little fabric details at the top and the hem. It skims her knees as she sits on the hard, gravely steps. In the midday light, he sees cuts and bruises scattered across her skin. She's barefoot, her toenails stripped of polish for once. He steps out of his porch, into the cold December air to get a better look of her. He rounds the pavement, heading towards her house, and inhales sharply when he sees her closer up. Her feet are red raw, the flimsy spaghetti straps of the dress do nothing to hide the cuts and scars that litter her arms, from her wrists to her shoulders. Her knuckles are bruised purple and black, but she doesn't say anything as she flicks the butt of her cigarette, staring out into nothing. All she has with her is a packet of Marlboro and a pink lighter. In the light he sees how the dark roots of her hair stand out and how tired she looks. Dark lines appear underneath her dull brown eyes. She doesn't even acknowledge him as he walks over to her. She just takes another long drag of the cigarette.
"Billie," he asks cautiously. No answer. Just to check, he waves his hand in front of her face. She blinks, scrunching her nose slightly, but still doesn't say anything. "Bills…" he tries, sitting down next to her. Her arms are covered in goose bumps, and he's even shivering in this cold. "Rose…?" he tries, as a desperate last attempt. He swears he almost sees a tear well up in her eye when he mentions her real name. "Bills, come on. You're cold. Come inside," he pleads, reaching out to touch her ice cold arm gently. God knows how long she's been sitting here, "Come to mine, even, if you don't want to go inside yours. Billie, please."
She does nothing except blow the cigarette smoke out of her pouty lips, staring vacantly ahead of her. He knows he can't just leave her sitting out of the house like this, lost in the freezing cold air. Her skin has turned even paler in the cold, and goose bumps litter her skin. Hesitantly, he places his (manly, hairy) hand on her forearm. He doesn't squeeze hard, because he can see the marks on her skin. He doesn't want to hurt her… but she's freezing. "Bills…" he whispers, close to her face. She still isn't responding, and he doesn't care if she's just messing with him or if she's on some kind of lengthy acid trip. He needs to get her inside.
"That's it, I'm taking you inside." He says, sighing as he pulls the cigarette from her hand, and stamps it out on the bottom steps. He snakes one arm around her waist, and the other cups under her legs, in the crook of her knees. She goes limp in his arms, like a ragdoll. He crouches down wobbily to pick up her cigarette packet. They're no good for her, but he doesn't want to deal with a lifeless Billie with nicotine withdrawal. She weighs so little as he cradles her close to his chest, its worrying. Her arms hang loosely beside her, and he's thankful nobody's around. She looks so lifeless, neighbours would probably think he'd killed her or something.
As quickly as he can, he takes her round the front garden, up to his house, kicking both the porch and front doors shut behind him. Walking past the thermostat, he cranks it up to full. She needs to keep warm. He stops, wondering for a minute where exactly to put her before sighing, and glancing up at the stairs. Judging by the dark circles under her eyes, he bets she didn't get any sleep last night. He walks up the creaky wooden stairs, and heads straight into his bedroom, laying her in his unmade bed. She curls, hugging her knees close to her chest with her left arm, but keeps his wrist in a death grip with her right. She's stronger than she looks.
"Bills?" he asks, trying to gently slip his hand out of her grasp. However, she won't let go, her fingers ice cold, chilling his veins. Then she makes this small noise, high pitched and just desperate. It's a fucking whimper and he just melts in front of her. "John," she whispers, face screwed up. However her eyes are opened wide as she looks up at him, pleading "stay."
He knows that there's no way out of this, so he shimmies out of his jeans, before walking around and climbing in the bed with her. He pulls his navy duvet up and tucks it round the both of them, and immediately she rolls around to face him. Her freezing arm snakes out, resting on his chest, and she sneaks closer, burrowing herself into his body, like a child. She pushes her face under his arm, coaxing him to stretch his right arm and cup it around her. Content, she sighs, moving even closer, nuzzling his chest.
He lays with her for what feels like hours, until he is sure she's definitely out of it. Well… he's known she's been asleep for a while now, but he may never get the chance to lay with her again. Just the two of them, curled up in his bed. Like a fantasy come true. But eventually his bladder aches almost as much as his curiosity and he pulls himself out of her arms. Instinctively, she curls into herself, clutching her knees tightly. He doesn't even want to think about how many nights she's spent alone wrapped up like that. He makes sure to tuck the duvet around her, even though she seems a little warmer now. A little more colour floods her skin than usual, which is reassuring.
After taking a long awaited piss, he tiptoes downstairs before grabbing his phone of the side and dialling Jack's number. The usually cheerful American picks up on the fourth ring, a gravelly voice saying "John? I swear to God if this is about that girl next door I'm gonna ram my fist up your ass."
"Afternoon to you to sunshine." John jokes, running a hand through his hair.
"Yeah, I noticed that. I've just woken up, thanks to you." Jack grumbles.
"It's half one in the afternoon!"
"I had a hangover!" he hears Jack yawn through the phone, and can easily imagine his best friend roll onto his stomach, scratching his head. "Now what's up?"
"Well it's Bills-Rose. The girl next door," he begins to say, before he hears Jack groan something that sounds like 'again..' "No Jack, this is serious! I go out this morning to get the post and she's sitting on her front steps in nothing but a white dress-"
"By nothing…." Jack begins to say, and John can hear the interest creep into his statement. John is shocked by the fierce wave of jealousy and protection that sweeps through him. Jack isn't the kind of guy Bills needs. He is. Right?
"Jack," he scolds, dragging out the 'a' "This is serious."
"Sorry," Jack clears his voice, "continue"
"She's just sitting there, and bless her she was almost frozen Jack… she had smoked her way through half a packet… honestly, Jack her skin was so bloody cold she must've been out there for hours."
He chooses not to mention the state of her body, the bruises and cuts sliced across her frame. He doesn't know how he never noticed them before as she's never really been one to be shy about lack of clothing. He doesn't know if it was just dark or the fact that he wasn't looking. Maybe it's only in the white light of chilly winter mornings, with pale skin contrasting against the grey gravel steps that you notice things. He knows more than most that scars are never purely skin deep, but from the state of her skin he can't help but wonder about the scars in her mind. Part of him wants to ask her, have her share anything and everything with him. He wants to hold her if she cries, tell her that he doesn't care how she looks, he'll love her anyway. But a smaller part doesn't want to know. He doesn't want to know what hurt her so bad to have her do this to herself repeatedly. He doesn't want mental images of her, crying out when there's nobody there to hear, slicing into herself with a blade inside a (white, porcelain) bathroom, somewhere a million miles away from home.
"So what did you do?" he hears Jack ask, pulling him out of his musings. He shrugs his shoulders, and tells Jack how he brought her inside, cranked the heat up and laid with her in bed.
"Man," he hears Jack say, whistling afterwards, low and strung out, making John tense slightly. "She's somethin' else. Did you find out what was wrong with her?"
"No, she's sleeping."
"Are you gonna ask?"
He scrapes his hand down the front of his face, pulling at each of his facial features ever so slightly, distorting them. "I wouldn't even know how to begin to ask…" he says.
"Well, how was she the last time you saw her?" Jack asks. John shrugs, pacing back and forth through the dining room. He runs his hand through his hair. "She was… she was Billie. Brought over vintage alcohol, we drank, she crept out at ridiculous AM."
"You are aware that isn't exactly a healthy relationship you got there doc…"
"I told you, don't call me that," he sighs, but he can't help but admit Jack's right. It takes a lot of willpower on his behalf to not spill his guts to Jack through the phone. Not to tell him how crazy she makes him feel. Not to tell him how he thinks he's falling in love with her. "But in short, she was normal. I've got no idea how to even go about asking-"
"What did you say her name was again? Rose….?" John can faintly hear the tapping of keys on a keyboard. Probably Jack's laptop. It's no secret Jack's a bit of a computer hacker, always has been… if Jack's typing… it's probably not legal.
"What are you typing, I hear typing!" he asks frantically.
"Doc- John. Do you wanna know about this girl or not?"
It's a long silence that follows on the phone. It can't be more than ten seconds, but it drag out like an eternity through the phone line. On one hand, John wants nothing more than to know everything about Billie, what she's been through. Whatever it was that made her this way, he wants to know. But is he really going to invade her privacy like this? He's still halfway through his decision, precariously balancing on the middle of the seesaw of wrong and right, when he feels his big mouth taking over. "Tyler. Rose Tyler."
He hates himself. Hates himself so much for allowing Jack to do this, to disrespect her on so many levels. Doesn't mean he isn't anxiously waiting for Jack's chirpy American tone to filter down the line, tell him everything.
After what feels like forever, relief comes in the form of Jack Harkness. John can imagine him hunched over the screen of his laptop, as he reads out her details. "Rose Marion Tyler. Born 22nd September 1988, Parents: Jacquelyn Andrea Suzette Tyler, deceased, fifteenth of December '04. Peter Tyler. Also deceased, same date."
"Yeah, I know that bit!"
"Patience," Jack scolds. John can hear him scrolling down the webpage and clicking. "Ok there's a couple of news articles about her parents dying… house fire apparently. Took both of them. The cause listed here is… unknown. Right…oh…"
"Oh? What oh? What is oh?!" John says anxiously, pacing up and down his kitchen.
"Doc, seriously. This chick is six different shades of messed up."
"Jack, I don't care. Just tell me what it is!" he hears Jack swallow on the line, and a single bead of sweat drips down his face as his best friend since secondary school, changes his life with one webpage.
"Rose Tyler was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2005, shortly after the death of her parents, has several drug and alcohol related offences following diagnosis in 2006, and then went completely off the grid in December '06 . Her only possible listed dwelling is 33 Marbrook Close, which apparently her mother inherited from her grandfather but was then passed down to Rose after her death. John, this girl spiralled out of control after their death… she had delusions and hallucinations of her parents all the time, talked about time travel, dropped out of school...
"Here, she popped back up onto the grid in May 08 when she ended up in an accident and emergency ward in Bristol with some burns and minor damage to her lungs. She was then moved to the psychiatric ward for six months after assaulting one of the nurses with a needle, thinking she was trying to attack her. After six months of extensive treatment she was released as certifiably sane, until she cropped back up in 2010 after being assaulted by some guy named Jimmy Stone. He was arrested and put away for two years because apparently he was listed with some other drug related offences."
John's fist is clenched so tightly by his thigh, it was beginning to hurt. He doesn't hear the end of Jack's inventory after that word... Assaulted. Donna was assaulted. She ended up dead. Hearing that the same has happened to his Billie, after everything she had been through, was assaulted by some bloke? He can't even hear Jack through the grinding of his teeth. Just… the thought of someone that wasn't him touching his Billie made him feel almost sick. He wants to track down this idiot and put him through all that pain. He decides that perhaps that isn't such a bad idea.
"John… John, you still there? That's all it says here, she went off the grid again after the assault. That's all I've got." Jack says, but John pulls the phone away from his ear and hangs up. He can call Jack later. All he can think about now, is her. He leaves the phone on the kitchen counter and runs forwards, into the hallway and then follows the curve round, bounding up the stairs two at a time. He runs into his bedroom, but all he is met with is the faint smell of cigarette smoke and an empty packet of Marlboro, sitting on the bedside table.
After a quick search of the house he soon figures out that Billie isn't there. Not in the bathroom, living room, kitchen, garden. He leaves the front door on latch and rushes down his front steps. He wades through the overgrown jungle that is her front garden, and stops in front of the door. Why would she just leave?
He frantically rings the doorbell, bouncing anxiously on the balls of his feet. He rubs his hands together to keep the warmth in. as he brings his hands up to his face, he notices his watch. He notices the date. December fifteenth.
This is the anniversary of her parents death.
"Bills-Billie," he calls, pounding on the door again. "Billie, please open the door. I'm sorry, about your parents."
He pauses for what feels like an eternity, but barely a minuet has passed when she opens the door. Her eyes are red raw. She looks like she's been crying. "It's today, isn't it? The anniversary?" he asks. She nods her head, staring down at the ground. "I'm so, so sorry Bills."
She sniffs. "Get out." She whispers.
His face drops. "Wh-what? Billie?"
"I said, get out." She goes to shut the door, but he uses his big feet to his advantage and blocks it from closing. "What's wrong? Why are you annoyed with me.?"
She moves her eyes up to look at him, and his heart nearly breaks in two. She looked crushed, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
"You could've asked." Is all she says, her voice whiny and pleading. He doesn't understand; he tilts his head, confused and her eyebrows furrow. "You… you researched me. I heard you on the phone with your friend, treating me like I'm some bloody science project! Was that it? Was that why you were so interested in me? Curious, yeah?"
He opens his mouth and closes it, trying to say something, anything, in his defence. No words come out. She meets his eyes for another few brief seconds and he notices the tears welling up in the corners, threatening to fall. "That's what I thought. Goodbye John."
And with that, she slams the door, more forcefully this time and by pure reaction he pulls his foot out the way. He hears the bolt slide across the front door. "Billie, wait, Billie, please. Let me explain!" he calls, but to no avail. Billie doesn't come back to the door.
He neither sees nor hears anything from Billie for the next three days. He aches to just run around here and kick the door down. To him, she is like a drug. Every time he touches her he feels a spark of pure pleasure and without her, he feels like an addict. He needs his next hit. He dreams of her every night, draws sketch after sketch of her in his notebook. Every night, before he goes to bed he stands at his bedroom window for hours, just waiting for her to go out for a cigarette. She doesn't.
He tries to think of ways he can make her trust him again. Billie isn't like normal girls, he can't just send her a bouquet and some chocolates. He can't just say he's sorry. He needs to prove it to her. On the fourth day of her absence, it comes to him at 2 am, just as he lies down to sleep. He sits up, eyes wide. He remembers how she made it up to him after she spoke about Donna. She let him in, past her own walls and defences, for just a brief moment. She showed him something of her past. He has to do the same. He has to let her in.
He runs downstairs, arriving in the kitchen with a skid of his sock-covered feet across the wooden floor. Frantically, he digs through the drawers for a pencil and paper. The pencil is blunt and the paper slightly torn, but it will have to do. John had always been artistic, so he does what he's good at. He draws her a picture.
He splits the paper in two with a thick, drawn line. The first half is very dark, and soon the clear image of an alleyway appears from the bottom of his pencil. He draws Donna, shoved against the wall behind a dumpster. He draws a man, dressed all in black, pinning her against the wall. It is clearly night time, but he draws no moon, and no stars. One single streetlamp down the bottom of the alley doing nothing but create a small patch of light, slightly reflecting on Donna's face. She is crying.
On the second half he draws himself, for the first time in a long time. He draws himself in a (white, porcelain) bathroom. The tiles are white and everything gleams in a way that hurts his eyes. He stands in the doorway of the bathroom, staring at the bath. Donna is in the bath. He reaches down and scrambled in the drawer again, procuring a red biro. He continues to add details to the picture, every detail of the moment, even today. Donna is in the bath and the water is red. Her arm hangs limply over the side, still clutching the razor blade. Red drops drip down onto the white tiles. This time, John is crying. At the bottom of the page he writes one word.
He seals the drawing in a white envelope, and messily scribbles Billie on the front. Without hesitation, he runs out of his house, and straight across the long grass to hers and puts the drawing through the letter box. Resisting the temptation to ring the doorbell, he turns heel and leaves her house. Now all he has to do is buy something alcoholic
He arrives at her house the next day, at midnight, a bottle of brandy in his hands. It's not vintage, like they're used to, but it'll do. He notices the door is open, on latch. He opens it hesitantly, and there she is, at the end of the hallway, standing in the arch of the kitchen. She's wearing the white dress again. To others, she might look like she's just stepped out of a mental asylum. To him, she looks beautiful.
"Bills." He breathes, before running down to corridor towards her. He can't stop himself. He hugs her, but not too tightly because there's no way he's forgotten about her broken skin. He's a doctor, after all. "I'm so sorry." He whispers. She doesn't reply, but smiles at him all the same. That's all the reassurance he needs. "I'm so sorry."
He takes in the look of her front room. So similar yet so different to his. He's never been inside her house until now. On the floor is a white furry rug. The two sofas are black, supple leather. The curtains hang heavy, and drawn over the window. She sets the bottle down on her coffee table, and sits on the sofa cross legged. He mimics her position, sitting opposite her. "So I've been doing some thinking…" she says.
"Wow, don't strain yourself." He jokes. She grins.
"Shut up. I want to talk."
"And whenever you want to talk. I'm gonna be here." He says, his voice flipping from sarcastic to sincere immediately. He wants everything from this girl. What he says there, isn't just a statement. It's a promise.
"I wanna tell you John, will you listen?" she asks, meeting his eyes.
"What are you going to tell me?" he questions/
She swallows. "Everything. Let me tell you everything."
Rose Tyler knew the plug for her laptop was dodgy, but she left it plugged in to charge anyway. Of course in the night it sparked, too close the cloth covering the table the laptop sat on. The table caught fire. The house caught fire. Everything burned.
Rose made it out. Her parents didn't.
She cried, a lot, for a long time. She saw her parents everywhere, telling her it was her fault. She felt like she was falling through time, reliving the fire over and over again. Her only family, her aunt, took her to the hospital. They told her she had schizophrenia. She was only nineteen. So she dropped out of school. And then she started taking drugs that weren't prescription, and drinking. It helped numb the pain but it was never gone. Never completely. Then, in December 2006, Rose Tyler left her life behind. She didn't want anything to do with anyone she once knew anymore. She ran away, because everything reminded her of her parents.
Bristol was an escape, somewhere where she could re-invent herself. But the hallucinations, the voices, the visions. They didn't stop. She was in bad shape mentally, physically. Then one night, she went to a warehouse rave. And it caught fire. She passed out, but someone must have been sober enough to find her. She woke up in the hospital. The hallucinations continued, and she couldn't understand what was real and what was fake anymore. She tried to kill a nurse.
The psychiatric ward, in some ways helped. In other ways, it made it worse. Rose had never liked hospitals, they made her uneasy. They gave her strong medication, which helped with the sad, sinking feeling in her heart. But somehow it made the hallucinations worse. Still, she had gotten good at pretending everything was okay. After six months, they released her.
She knew she had to disappear again, so she went to London, to get away. She met a girl named Shareen who was almost as crazy as she was. She lived in Shareen's flat on an estate. Then she met Jimmy. He was a musician. He was cool.
Well. Everyone thought he was.
He wasn't much older than Rose, but he had ultimate power over her. She was his. Nobody else's. Not ever. At first, it wasn't too bad. Jimmy was controlling, he drank too much, took and sold drugs. But Rose could handle him. She could help him. He needed her.
But then it got worse. Jimmy was always drunk. Always high. Always angry . if she upset him, she got a slap for her trouble. The hurt was purely physical to begin with, slaps and punches here and there. He would always say he was sorry afterwards. Make it up to her, sing to her. Buy her roses.
Rose never dared tell him she was allergic.
They were together for almost a year, but Rose couldn't take it anymore. The abuse started to become more psychological. He would call her filthy names, threaten her. He took away her medication, and her hallucinations returned. She would wake up screaming and crying from nightmares, but would be punished for waking him. If she left, he would kill her. But Rose couldn't live like that anymore. So she tried to get out. She treated him extra nice all day. Cooked his dinner just right, let him have his filthy way with her over the kitchen counter. And at night, she packed her bag. And left.
But Jimmy woke up before she was out the porch door.
She had never seen him so angry before. His eyes blazed with fury as he pounded his fists into her over and over again. When he was done, she could hardly speak, hardly walk. But he threw her out anyway. Left her on the street, her face so bashed in it was unrecognisable. For the second time in her life, Rose passed out on the street and woke up in the hospital.
Jimmy was arrested, and Rose was patched up, but she had to get out of London. even if jimmy would be inside for two years, she didn't want to be anywhere that reminded her of him. At first she contemplated going home, but decided against it. She had barely gotten over her parents death. She didn't need to be constantly reminded of them. Then she remembered Granddad Prentice, who died when she was eleven. His house was hers now, around an hour or so away from her old home.
So for the third time, Rose Tyler disappeared. She didn't make any friends, because she didn't need any more heartache in her life. Rose had always been clever, she could easily read people, find things out about them from a look. She didn't need friends. This time around, she called herself Billie. Because Rose Tyler didn't exist anymore, not really. Rose Tyler was long dead.
John holds Billie whilst she cries. And he cries with her, the both of them lay out on the sofa, sobbing together in the dark. The brandy remains untouched on the table. He knew she had had it rough, but a record of medical examinations is nothing compared to hearing every detail of her story. He strokes her am with one of his long fingers, light as a feather. He feels every bump and scratch of imperfection. He doesn't know how he has only realised it now, but he now knows that every single one of her imperfections is what makes her perfect. She's like a puzzle, once broken into pieces. But ever so slowly, she's been piecing herself back together. And even if he didn't know it at the time, he helped.
Light streamed through the curtains, much thinner ones in Billies bedroom. Groaning, John turns over and is met with Billie's face, mere inches of his. "Hello." He says, eyes blinking out of sleep.
"Hello." She says back. They both break out into matching grins.
"Still here then?" he asks, stretching lightly before laying back down on the soft white pillow. Their faces are so close that their noses almost touch. She smiles. "Well, it is my room."
He smiles. "Fair enough. It's just last time we shared a bed, you were gone when I came to check on you."
"Hey!" she protests, "Actually, you were gone when I woke up!"
"Whatever." He says, but the smile hasn't fallen from his face. He rolls onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. Out of nowhere he feels her lips attach themselves to his neck, feather light kisses trailing up to his face. "What are you doing?" he asks, he voice in a mock scolding tone.
"Picking up where we left off…" Billie says. He feels her smile against his flesh, before moving the focus of her lips up to his ear. He takes in a sharp breath. "If my memory serves me correctly, I'm fairly sure you finished last night. Twice."
"Shut up," she mumbles against his skin. "Your ego is the size of the planet."
He smirks. "You love me."
"Yeah," she says in a contented sigh, pressing her body flush against his under the covers. "I think I do."
In a flash he turns over, pinning her under him, kissing her slowly. She smiles into it. "That got your attention."
He buries his face into the crook of her neck, kissing and sucking his way gently up to her ear. "Bills," he whispers "I love you so much more than I could ever tell you."
She smirks, and he feels the twitch in her facial muscles. He moves his head up to look in her eyes, resting their foreheads together.
"If you can't tell me," she says. "Show me."
He does. In every way he possibly can.
Mr and Mrs Across-The-Road don't invite him to their barbecues anymore. Not after Billie showed up barefoot and refused to sing happy birthday on the grounds of "Why do I care she's saying she's turning forty. Everyone here knows she's forty two."
They don't come over to his for football and beer after Billie tells Mark that his wife isn't fully fulfilled by their sex life, and would probably want to try more kinkier things if he wasn't so boring and vanilla.
But John doesn't care.
When Nicole and Mark have barbecues, they just have noisy sex instead. They light all the strange incense sticks that Billie practically hoards, and let the smoke flow out the window. They laugh at the shocked look on Nicole's face when she walks past with her tesco's bags.
He doesn't really care about any of the disapproving looks he gets from the other neighbours when he walks down the street holding her hand. He doesn't care that they frown at her tiny denim shorts she wears in the summer. He loves them.
He watches Billie fill out into a bigger, stronger version of her previously hollowed state. She gets more colour in her cheeks, puts on a bit more weight. She dyes her hair golden blonde, and people think it's natural. Her skin tans in the warmer months. He does ask her to give up smoking, and she tries, bless her, but it just doesn't work. He tells her all the health benefits of quitting, but she waves it off. Her grandmother smoked ten a day until she was ninety six. If those aren't good genes, she doesn't know what is.
He takes her to the next hospital gala in July, and introduces her as his girlfriend. They've been together for seven months, but he still loves the way he lights up whenever he says it. He introduces her as Billie. A lot of the other women there who had apparently had their eyes on poor, oblivious John give Billie looks that could kill, but she just responds by feeding John little chocolate covered strawberries, and swishing her hips around in the incredibly short red dress, drawing the attention of all their dates.
Cassandra goes out of her way to be spiteful, 'accidentally' bumping into Rose three times. To get back at her, they have sex in her office. John knows she watched the security tapes by the way she blushes beetroot the next time he sees her. He's never exactly been an exhibitionist, but it's funny to watch her squirm. One person that doesn't act spitefully towards Billie is Martha, surprisingly. She's got her own boyfriend now. Tom Milligan, one of the young surgeons. John is suitably convinced that she's moved on. And he's happy for her.
Jack finally comes through with his promise to visit soon after, and shamelessly flirts with Rose in front of John. John doesn't mind, because Jack is his best friend. Jack talks about the new company he works with, Torchwood. They study UFO'S. Rose laughs, because she doubts aliens are going to invade Cardiff. Jack shrugs, saying "stranger things have happened."
And they have. John realises he's somehow in a serious relationship, which is crazy. Eventually, they sell Rose's house and she lives with him. The houses are basically identical, but for some reason he prefers her living in his place. He likes to reminisce about the nights they spent on his sofa, drinking old alcohol. On their one year anniversary, Rose takes him into the garden and they lay flat on their backs, staring up at the stars. He copies all the constellations down onto an A3 poster, hand drawing each of them. He gives it to Rose at Christmas and she cried because she loves it so much. She gives him a cardboard box, wrapped in a ribbon. He frowns in confusion, and asks her what it is. She shakes her head, and urges him to open it. Inside is something he never expected.
Inside is a pregnancy test, with two little blurred lines. It's his turn to cry. They are having a baby.
Somewhere, perhaps in another universe there is another version of the two of them. Perhaps they travelled together, through the stars. Perhaps they were separated. Perhaps they never got their happy ended. But John will be damned if he doesn't get his.
The End. If you could review, I'd be really chuffed because I worked so hard on this. 13,000 words! It took me an age. I hope you like it.