By the way, I’m Haley. I figured if you’re still with me at this point, you’re invested. Mother said she picked my name from a book in the maternity ward with a list of the top fifty most popular names in 1995. I was number three on the list. Don’t I feel special?
Fuck, I hate my name.
Mother always called me ‘Hale’, and not as an affectionate nickname. She said I kicked down the door to her life like an unexpected (unwanted) hailstorm. Charming, right?
Like my mother, I’d never given way to politeness—it felt like a weakness, a chink in the armour. It let everyone know you were a pushover. Mother was never a pushover—she got what she wanted.
Well, except for a daughter she could love.
So here I am, a late 20s-something living in Cardiff in a tiny one-bedroom flat with a black mould problem, and a surprisingly well-adjusted boyfriend. I say surprisingly because as much as I would rather stay at home, reading my murder thrillers or watching reruns of old sitcoms, Tom usually had a plan every night.
If it wasn’t football tourneys or sitting at the comedy club, it was popping to the corner pub with his friends.
As much as I wondered at Tom’s attraction to me—introverted and in a constant state of weariness as I was—Tom’s friends wondered at it even more. Tom was just so normal. He was from Liverpool, but he’d moved to Cardiff for uni and stayed once he got a nice cosy job doing whatever the hell white guys do in an office. His pay was decent. Not great, not terrible. Enough that my work-from-home telecom job was supplemental. Though we still split the rent fifty-fifty, hence the rubbish flat with the mould and the squeaky floors.
Tom’s friends were schoolmates. His mates, not mine. Where he’d gone to parties and clubs, I’d spent my early twenties avoiding human contact.
His friends weren’t subtle about their dislike for me. As much as the Brits claim they don’t like confrontation (ahem, anyone else remember the colonising?), they sure have a lot of opinions. About me. About Tom’s blindness to all my faults. They weren’t coy about it.
And I didn’t really blame them, either.
For my first few years in Cardiff, I felt like an outsider. I had the weird accent. My mother was dead. People would ask me about her and I’d shrug. There wasn’t much to say. They’d ask me if Canada was cold. Yes, it’s fucking cold. (Okay, I didn’t say ‘fucking’ because I was ten, remember). The winter tends to be cold. Because of the snow. They’d ask me why I’d moved to Cardiff. What my Aunt did. She works in banking, I’d answer, though what I really wanted to say was, she works in banking until she finally locks down one of those desperate divorced dads she chases. One with a solicitor’s salary and no dependants, if she had her way.
So, why did Tom like me if I was such a miserable person? I asked myself all the time.
I’d always been a dull creature, in personality and looks. Dull, blond hair. Dull, almost-but-not-quite blue eyes. Dull, like I’d rather read in complete silence than sit in a roomful of people.
And I didn’t have stories. People would hear my accent—not quite Welsh, not quite Canadian after years from my homeland—and they’d think I had an interesting story to tell. “My mother died, and now I’m here.” That was the end of it.
I asked Tom why he put up with me. With his energy level, surely he’d rather date a rugby girl with a perpetual spring in her step. But he’d smile and nudge me like it was a joke. He’d say, “I like you because you’re funny,” or, “I like you because you always ask me hard questions, like, why do I like you.”
We’d been dating for over two years now. Moved in together after six months.
And the thing is, I really did like Tom. A lot. He was the first man I actually found myself interested in for longer than a passing glance. He was handsome in that not-too-handsome-to-be-a-total-dick-about-it. He knew how to dress but in that I-blend-in-with-all-the-other-goodlookings kind of way.
Tom was an extrovert. Which, in normal circumstances, would annoy the shit out of me. But on him it was endearing. He always had a next thing on the agenda.
Usually, I’d get in my head about his plans and bail on said thing, and Tom would have to loop in his uni friends to avoid going alone. But he didn’t seem to mind. It made me wonder, sometimes, what was wrong with him, that he’d endure such a dull creature for a partner.
The truth is, I wanted to want to participate in Tom’s plans. I wanted to be better for him. I kept telling myself I would. But the inevitable end-of-day result was me, sitting alone, like where I was today. Hunkered in our cramped living room, cross-legged on my rickety office chair, squinting over a computer screen at the most recent email from my manager and plucking at my left eyebrow, as I often did when my hands weren’t actively busy on other tasks. It left a slight bald spot there, but I couldn’t be bothered to stop.
Fuck you, Laura, I thought as I typed a cheerful response to my manager: Absolutely, Laura! I’ll get that to you first thing tomorrow.
Light flooded the room. “Shit!”
“Sorry,” Tom chuckled where he stood by the door. “I should always know to blare an alarm when I come in.” I hadn’t noticed him unlock the door, but the LED overhead lights were hard to miss. Who the hell had the idea for overhead lights in their goddamned house anyways? As if the shadows under my eyes couldn’t get any worse.
“We need a softer light,” I blinked, shading my eyes like a Chilean miner coming up for air after months below ground.
“I’ll grab some at the shop tomorrow,” Tom promised. He walked over to me and pressed a kiss to my forehead.
“Shoes,” I said.
He smiled as he kicked them off. I never understood why people wore shoes inside the house. Didn’t they know how disgusting the streets were? “Good day?” He asked.
I grunted, turning back to my monitor as Tom retreated to the bedroom.
I clicked through my spam folder, deleting each email one by one.
“Hey?” Tom called through the door after a minute.
“Did you hear me?”
“Just now, Hales.” He pushed his head out. “The guys are meetings at the pub for a pint.”
He let it hang in the air as an invitation.
“Tell them I say hi.”
“You could tell them?”
“… I already ordered takeaway,” I said.
“All good,” he disappeared again, emerging a few minutes later having replaced the tie and collared shirt for a Beatles tee and jeans. Liverpudlian and proud.
“Want some?” I asked.
“Nah. Probably grab something while we’re out.” He eyed me, hunched over my work looking like Gollum with his ‘precious’. Solitude was my precious. Gollum got a bad rap. “You sure you’re good?”
Sometimes, Tom would ask that of me and I’d hesitate, wondering what sort of response he wanted to hear. Because no, not really. I wouldn’t say I ever felt good, per se. I felt fine. I felt healthy enough. But, like my old laptop when I started it up every morning, there was this sort of constant humming in my brain. It was irritating at first, but I’d grown numb to it.
That’s not to say I was miserable. I mean, I wasn’t happy-go-lucky like those Instagram influencers, but I also didn’t hate my life. Hate was such a passionate verb, and passion made me feel tired. I existed, and that was as far as my battery ran. Tom made that existence a little easier when I spiralled.
I blinked, realising he was still waiting for an answer. “Uh, yeah. Yep. I’m good. You have fun.”
I could see his disappointment but he smiled through it. He tossed on his jacket and came to kiss me on the forehead again. It was that little bit of affection I didn’t understand. “If you change your mind, we’re at the usual place. Love you, Hales,” Tom said, then left me to our dingy flat.