You fall in love with Rowan the moment you make eye contact.
You don’t quite know what to do with yourself, navigating through greeting Andi after many months of living vicariously through her as told by tales in the group chat, numbly noticing that once more, Maroux has bailed—plans have come up, as she likes to say—for the third time in a row, and you miss her like a piece of yourself is missing, although you’ve done nothing more than skype call in almost a year.
“Hera!” Andi doesn’t hug, it’s a thing— it’s one of her things, it’s an Andi thing—and you kiss her cheek instead—because you do affection, you do hugs and hand holding and arm strokes and hands on lower backs and arms around necks, and you developed this, this want to feel physically connected to people in a platonic way when you were nineteen and away from your parents for the longest time in your entire life—sliding into the booth beside her, hyperaware of the person on the other side of the table. “This is Rowan.”
“Nice to meet you,” you smile, pulling yourself out of the leather jacket Andi gifted you a few months back. You have to talk louder than you usually would in the high volume surroundings of your regular pub—you won’t lie and say it being around the corner from your flat hadn’t been a deciding factor in choosing the place—Friday night being Pub Quiz Night. “Andi’s told me a lot about you. What are your pronouns?”
“They and them,” Rowan tells you, mouth lifting up in a smle—and you melt in your seat, unable to recall the last time you felt this way about anyone in the last year—leaning forward on the table to be heard over the sharp increase in volume, “I’ve heard all about the group chat,” it’s impossible to miss the disdain in their voice, and you’re an absolute sucker for sarcasm and wit, and anything with the slightest whiff of a reminder of Draco Malfoy—racism aside. “I doubt any of it can be repeated in polite company. Your pronouns?”
“She and her, but because I’m demigirl—I guess I’m okay with they and them, but I’m still . . . undecided on what I’m comfortable with—” you can feel yourself babbling, making a complete mess of this first impression thing— and if it wasn’t for Andi’s snicker, then you’re certain you would continue talking absolute nonsense, getting lost in Rowan’s eyes, and smile, and septum piercing, and dark red lipstick, and pointed nails—and everything about them that you’re quickly becoming obsessed with. “Right, sorry,” you apologise, “I always make a complete mess of myself the first time I meet someone.”
“You’re doing a lot better than Andi,” Rowan promises, snickering as Andi groans—hoping she’d become forgotten in the moment as you tripped over your own feet and made a complete fool of yourself—burrowing her face in her hands in despair. “Story for another time,” they promise, knowing Andi well enough to know that once she’s in a bad mood the night is completely ruined.
“I’m going to get drinks,” you declare, slapping your palms against the table as you push yourself up to stand. “What do you want?” Andi is willing to get absolutely trashed, by the looks of it, requesting any cocktail that’s green—her alcohol tolerance being laughable, if you fared any better—and Rowan wants a pint of lager. You try, willing the wince to stay at bay, but Rowan must see it as they let out a loud laugh, assuring you that they understand, they didn’t particularly like it when they first tried it, either.
You don’t spend enough time at the bar for the tender to make a smart comment about the idea of you falling into another relationship which won’t end well. Andi and Rowan are in a deep conversation by the time you get back with drinks, not pausing for a second as you sit back down, Andi in the middle of a rant about another end to a dismal relationship—which you were a bystander in through pictures sent to the group chat.
“It was mutual,” Andi stresses, nails tapping against the side of her glass, dark brows drawing in as she frowns, “I think it was anyway. I barely got a word in edgeways—we were both just screaming and it was a mess and I loved her.”
“Really?” Rowan asks, spinning their septum piercing, and you can barely bring yourself back to pay attention to the conversation. “You loved her?”
Andi releases a deep breath, and you take a sip of your malibu and lemonade, being obedient and remaining silent. “I think so?” Andi winces at her own answer, “I shouldn’t have to question it, should I? It was nice and she was warm—and it was like coming home.” And it was like everything I didn’t have when I was growing up, you know Andi is ready to say, before she catches herself in the moment and remembers where they are and realises that they’re here to try and have a good time— even if Maroux has bailed on them again, though Rowan seems to make up for that in abundance. “It doesn’t matter,” she decides, taking a large gulp of her drink, “I’m here to get drunk, have a good time, and see if I can make some money at pool.”
“Should we have a toast?” You ask, unsure if a missing member of a trio that started three years ago is enough to not still follow a tradition that started the first night they bought out bottles of alcohol in the same vicinity of each other.”
“Let’s toast,” Andi says, nodding her head repeatedly, “let’s fucking toast. Rowan, you can have the honours.”
“Right,” holding their lager up high, their eyes connect with you—and you drown in whatever feeling is wreaking havoc in your gut, unable to look away until Rowan does, “”to being strong, independent people who also have great nails and sick eyebrows!”
Once Andi fulfills her promise, stumbling her way towards the pool table to squeeze money out of old men who have underestimated her at first glance, Rowan leans towards you. They want to know more about this person they’ve heard so much about through Andi, who as a rule generally hates talking about the same thing for an excessive amount of time—you realise there is no way out of this trap you’ve fallen into, sinking deeper each time Rowan smiles at you, wiping away the lager that gathers on their top lip. It’s not unusual for you to find yourself caught in the waves of infatuation—it’s just a thing that you do, because you get attached, you get feelings, and more often than not, you get hurt—but this is different, you’re certain, because it feels different, and that must count for something.
“So, how’d you meet Andi?” You ask, not knowing whether you’re feeling particularly brave enough to raise your head and risk looking into their eyes—which you know are intently focused on you—choosing instead to draw patterns on the table with your finger. “Must have been something though, right?”
“What makes you say that?”
“Oh,” this makes you look up, thankful that a blush wouldn’t show against your dark skin, “I remember the first time I met Andi. I’d just met Maroux—our roommate, lovely girl, she should have been here, but um—right, I’d met Maroux, and we decided to play some music whilst we unpacked, and then Andi comes marching in. She’s got all of this green hair just—flying behind her, and it’s the first thing I notice about her because she’s tiny, and she stands there for about twenty seconds just staring at us. And the first thing she asks is whether or not we like chicken, because her Dad’s sent her with it.”
“Wow,” they laugh, and if you feel smug and warm about making Rowan laugh—then it’s probably down to the malibu and lemonade, which may be going to your head. “I’ve only just gotten back in touch with Andi, actually. I’ve come back from a retreat in South America.”
“Oh, really? What was that like? I’ve always wanted to travel, but I’ve got responsibilities now.”
“It went as well as it could,” they say, pointed nails tapping against the side of their glass—half full— before they shrug their shoulders and your barraged with the fact that it’s such an adorable movement, especially in the big slouchy off-shoulder jumper they’re wearing. “With an estranged father who carries weed as medicinal treatment. We were both arrested, of course, but he thought it made for great family bonding.”
“Are you shitting me?” You demand, leaning more heavily on the table.
“I’m serious,” Rowan laughs, hands up in the air in surrender. “I’ll show you the mugshots sometime.”
It’s inevitable that Andi gets drunk—absolutely smashed to be more accurate, slurring words and struggling to stand, stroking the side of your face and ruining the sharpness of your contour, though you can’t really bring yourself to care as the night is over and it’s time to go back home; calling out to a Gaz that it’s been a good night, and she takes great satisfaction in taking home his money in well-deserved winnings—and the best place for her to sleep it off is your sofa, in walking distance, and very comfortable, if former last minute guests are to be believed.
“Thank you,” Andi says solemnly, the effect ruined by the way her head lolls on Rowan’s shoulder, who is also helping Andi get back—a gracious offer that you couldn’t bring yourself to deny—nodding her head to words that only she can hear, “you, Hera, are so special to me. You too, Rowan, but mostly Hera.”
“She talks a lot when she’s drunk,” you say needlessly, as though the evidence isn’t in both of your faces, but you have this thing about not being able to keep your mouth shut when faced with people you find attractive. Especially when they induce giddiness and butterflies, and loosened jaws and a warmth that you haven’t had in association with anyone since your ex almost eight months ago now—so you continue to blabber on, not sounding much better over Andi’s drunk rambling. “Most of its rubbish, but there’s usually a gem that you can use to tease her later on down the line. It’s a running of joke of ours.”
“I doubt Andi sees the humour in it.”
“No,” you agree, “Andi’s pretty serious when she’s sober. It’s one of her things.”
“Do you ever get fed up of them?” You look over at Rowan in confusion, because you don’t get fed up of someone, not really, not a friend, not someone like Andi who means a lot to you, especially when you had nothing but your grades going for you. There’s no way you could dream of abandoning Andi, they’re part and parcel, they’re a fucking team when Maroux appears—not knowing what to say that could be vocalised to this total stranger, because Andi’s a private person, and you wouldn’t dream of spreading her business around.
“They’re parts of Andi,” you begin, unlocking the door to her flat and helping them set Andi down on the sofa, “like actual parts of Andi. I couldn’t ask her to change it, like, I couldn’t say: hi Rowan, I really like you but could do without your right arm because it kind of bugs me some days, y’know. Andi’s great,” you try again, distinctly aware that maybe you’re coming across too aggressive or too strong—too you too quickly, in other words—softening your voice as you take Andi’s boots off, “she’s my best friend. I couldn’t get fed up of her.”
“I get it,” they say softly, “she’s important to you. I was just . . . curious if there ever comes a point when you say okay, that’s enough, and then you walk away.”
“People can put up with a lot of bad shit before they decide to walk away. Having Andi in my life is enough for me, I wouldn’t ask for anything more from her. But—I guess it depends on the situation, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Rowan says finally. You suspect that this is more than simply your friendship with Andi, so much more than what you, a stranger, has to offer on your flawed moral compass. So you stand there in silence, waiting for Rowan to reach a decision that seems fairly important, and then they do—as they straighten their back and look you straight in the eye, releasing a deep breath. “Right, I’ll be back tomorrow morning. To pick that one up.”
“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”
“Alright.” You smile as you close the door behind them, turning to find Andi has made herself quite a home on the sofa.