distance fiction short story

Dear Friend

Anna Behrmann's epistolary short story looks back at a relationship that never really was.

by Anna Behrmann

Dear Friend

I’d known you for years although we were never close. We met at a house party, you were doing the washing up, turning round and smiling broadly like a poster boy for politeness. You’re good looking in a wholesome way – wide eyes, slightly crooked teeth, thick wavy hair – always friendly, a little eager.

I saw you sometimes at parties, the lost American boy who’d found his way to London. I thought you were cute, but in an abstract way. You’re a bit younger and everything you said sounded slightly naive, but you were easy to chat with.

When I left my job and started taking on new projects, you got in touch out of the blue, just as I was stepping into the sunlight. You sent me a photograph of myself from a black-tie event we’d both been to years ago, which you’d just come across.

A little heady and flattered, I invited you out – not quite on a date, but because I missed being part of the easy social group we had known together. I missed the quick friendships that I hadn’t taken care with, the chats to strangers on bus journeys, the thrown-together parties that I’d missed out on as I lived at home.

We met up, you looked nervous in a purple striped shirt, and I remember looking at you, trying to work out if I could imagine being with you. We drank orange Aperol cocktails from soggy white paper straws and chatted normally, but there was a slight feeling of excitement about why we were there.

We started meeting up in cafes and bars over six months, and you even made me lunch at yours – but nothing happened.

From being relaxed about the whole thing, I started daydreaming about you – romanticising the long wait and thinking about the story we’d tell our friends when we finally got together.

“Your eyes are a light brown, but they seemed to gleam green as I leaned back to look at you.”

Until finally one evening, after a late night walk, I was in your room, apparently to listen to a song. I giggled, leaning close to you, telling you a story about staying in a hostel in Berlin run by nuns with a strict curfew, and you kissed me.

Your eyes are a light brown, but they seemed to gleam green as I leaned back to look at you. We kissed for hours, your mouth warm and metallic. I checked my phone in the early morning, to find eight texts, two voicemails and a blank email from my mum, panicking that I hadn’t come home.

Still, I stayed the night, and you were lovely the next day, stealing glimpses at me from greenish sleepy eyes beneath messy hair, shutting your eyes when I caught you. You rushed me to the shower, made me strong coffee, hurried me out.

The next day, I heard the sudden, bad news that a charity where I volunteered was closing down. I started crying a little on on my tube journey towards you. I wiped the tears away, leaving only black semi-circles edging the sides of my eyes. I felt slightly sick. You were sweet, comforting me – it was probably you at your most romantic.

In the following weeks we hung out, went for long walks, tried out cooking from different countries. You made me strong cups of coffee. You leaned close to me so that I could smell the strong fleshy scent of your skin – you put on aftershave every morning but I could never smell it on you.

In my head, I started calling you my boyfriend, and I began thinking how perfect you were, how friendly, affable, liked. I was excited that this could last – that I could give up on dead-end Tinder dates with strangers.

I didn’t feel electric when you held me in your arms, it just felt nice, comfortable. It didn’t matter – in my eyes this was already a life-changing, grand romance. I liked it when you held me, or watched me as I spoke, or laughed at me gently, or held my hand as we walked down the street. You’d stroke my hair in front of your flatmates, but you never called me your girlfriend.

When your messages became less and less frequent, and you told me you were increasingly busy at work, I had that creeping sense of unease. It’s happened enough times that I’ve learnt to read the signs, but you never quite believe them. I began to yearn for every monotonous or pointless text from you.

We rushed in a coffee one Saturday evening before I was going out friends. You made conversation for ages, and I allowed myself to believe that you weren’t splitting up with me – but then you told me that you hadn’t developed feelings for me. It didn’t make any sense – you fancied me, you liked me – what did you mean?

Your eyes distant, the distance between us growing as you spoke, you told me you still wanted to hang out, maybe even more, ‘kiss on your bed’, as you put it – but you didn’t want to date or be in a relationship.

I tore up a sticker that I had in front of me as we talked, and stuck the pieces on the far edges of a piece of discarded card on the table. You tried to make eye contact, but it was too late. In the end we rushed off, taking our separate ways.

When I rehearsed how the conversation might go before we met, I had thought about telling you that I was crazy about you – revealing my hopes for us. Instead, I told you that I really liked you, which wasn’t quite true either.

I was crazy about the idea of you, the story we could have made together, the anticipation and the memory of kissing you, rather than what it felt like to kiss you. I wanted all the fun and freedom you had seemed to offer.

We’ll still see each other at parties, but I guess we won’t be friends.


Anna Behrmann | @AnnaBehrmann

Anna Behrmann is a features writer and reporter living in London, writing about culture, lifestyle and health.

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