TOTTENHAM COURT ROAD, 3A.M.

By: Rachele Salvini

When Terry saw Nikki, she was alone at the counter.

Girls who had the guts to sit by themselves on a Saturday night, in a place that was as fucking crowded as The Monarch, Camden Town, deserved his attention. They knew perfectly well that pretty much everyone would hit on them and buy them a drink – so, if they were okay with just sitting and sipping their own beer as the crowd behind them screamed and danced to the Grease soundtrack, then they were probably confident enough to go home with a depressed motherfucker like Terry.

Or at least, that’s what he hoped.

She didn’t deserve to be his last resort, though. She was too beautiful. On the other hand, before he had spotted her he had tried to hit on a Dutch girl that told him her 6’4’’ boyfriend had just gone to get the drinks and was coming back shortly (why the fuck did she have to specify his height anyway?). Then he had said “you’re an amazing dancer” to a British girl who was too high to realise if he was good looking or not and actually danced as if someone had just run her feet over with a truck. She had tried to examine him but failed, so she had answered that she needed to puke to focus up. She had told him to wait for her. He had gone out to smoke a cigarette and, when he had come back inside, she was nowhere to be seen.

So yeah, when he saw Nikki, she was sipping a beer and laughing at something the girl behind the counter had just told her. He decided to give it a try. Terry’s last night in London should end properly.

In London, no-one knew who he was.

He needed to take advantage of it before going back home to South Carolina.

Well, he didn’t really need to go as far as London to stay in a place where no-one knew who he was. Canada would have been just fine, but two weeks before he had booked the first flight he had found – no, this wasn’t exactly true.

The night he booked the flight to England, he had been spending another Saturday night alone in his room on campus. It was a strange feeling for him. He knew his buddies were probably playing beer pong in someone’s kitchen, and he should have been there with them. But of course, he couldn’t. Not since The Thing had happened.

So, on that Saturday, the rain was hitting the windows and he was lying on the bed with his laptop on his belly, listening to music that was too quiet for him. He had gone from Four Tet to Chet Faker to Damon Albarn to Gorillaz playing live with Mick Jones and Paul Simon, and had finished with an old song by The Clash that he had never heard before. This is England.

He had booked the flight to London in five minutes. Then he had felt so good that he had gone out of his room, smiling back at the dirty looks he got from the girls who walked past him. Every girl on campus knew of The Thing. It was like he had a sign pinned on his forehead.

He had gone straight to the fridge in the common kitchen, opened a beer and then headed back to his room to smoke a spliff and masturbate.

It had been a good night.

Anyway, when Terry saw Nikki at The Monarch, he thought that she deserved more than being his last resort. He could see from the way she was sitting that she had a wonderful butt and she knew it. She had probably straightened her hair. It fell over her shoulders, heading to her lower back.

Terry approached her and told her she looked stunning. He also said that she must have been very brave to sit there, all by herself. She had probably said too many “no”s that night, but he wanted to try anyway. It was easier than he imagined. She drank the pint he bought her in two or three gulps. Then she got up, grabbed her Oyster card and looked at him. “Where do you live?”

He opened his mouth in disbelief, “Mile End.”

“Let’s go then. Central Line, right?”

He followed her out into the pitch black night. October was chilly as hell in London. Terry had hoped for better weather.

There was a guy dressed as Thor from The Avengers giving out flyers in front of the bus stop. They took one and started reading it on the bus, after going up the stairs to the second floor.

Nikki’s hair was touching Terry’s forehead as the words faded before his eyes. They snogged hard until the metallic voice announced they were approaching Tottenham Court Road.

You could have said that they were just a normal couple going down the escalator at Tottenham Court Road tube station at 3AM on a normal Sunday.

Well, it had started to be normal to see people wander around tube stations since London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan had decided that the young alcoholics deserved another night means of transport. One that worked better than the double-deckers, which were too slow to take brats back home in time for them to puke in the loo instead of on the bus seats.

Nikki could smell Terry’s hair from at least twenty centimetres away. He had combed it back, leaving just a very subtle layer of hair to cover the sides of his head. His veins were pumping under his skin.

He was beautiful. He had a rounded nose covered in freckles, big blue eyes and full lips that Nikki knew had made many girls drool. He seemed like the perfect fraternity guy, coming from money and partying all the time. He was wearing a fur coat over a nice and clean light blue shirt, and he had put on a golden chain just to seem a little more ghetto – in vain. He looked exactly like the perfect American guy that went to university and sucked vodka out of WASPs’ bellies.

That said, she needed to go home with someone that didn’t seem like a complete nutter. She knew that going to a stranger’s place wasn’t exactly a wise move, but she didn’t care.

Her cheek was still burning. She needed someone to make her feel at least beautiful. Her objective wasn’t the orgasm – she was probably too down to get one. She just wanted someone to sleep with. Even just sleep in the literal meaning was fine.

Fucking Connor had slapped her face as soon as he had seen her arrive at the club. It went like this: he had told her he was seeing his friends and wanted to spend some “dude time.”

As Nikki turned to look at Terry, waiting for the escalator to bring them down, she stroked her own cheek. It still really burned. She couldn’t believe it did, but she couldn’t help feeling the heat of fucking Connor’s fingers and palm on her skin.

“Are you alright?” asked Terry.

She nodded.

Fucking Connor hadn’t liked the fact that she was at the club too. In fact, he was talking to a beautiful Hispanic girl that looked disturbingly like Kim Kardashian. One of Connor’s mates had told him his actual girlfriend was there, so he had turned and spotted her.

Nikki had seen him murmuring “excuse me” to the girl. Then he had approached her, grabbed her wrist and taken her out. He had walked beside her in silence. When they had been far enough to avoid anyone seeing, he had finally slapped her.

Nikki smelled Terry’s hair again. It seemed like he had put a lot of stuff there. It was a nice smell, very manly, and Nikki hadn’t been used to smelling other men’s hair for at least two years. She tried to glance at it while he was looking right in front of him as they waited for the escalator to go down.

If she stopped smelling Terry or looking at him, though, the only thing she could think of was that Fucking Connor had called it quits.

She would have missed him, of course, but you simply couldn’t forgive a slap. Nor the cheating that she had suspected for so long.

“When we get to mine, we need to be quiet.” Terry said, bringing her back to reality. “There is a family right beside my room. If their child wakes up, we won’t hear anything other than his screams, I promise.”

Nikki smiled at him. He was trying to keep up the conversation. Sadly enough, after leaving the pub, they hadn’t really had anything to say to each other. Alcohol and music were two common fields for the both of them. But what else? He was a good guy. She liked the way he looked up at the ceiling when he wasn’t sure of what he was going to say next, and how he scratched the back of his ear when he was going to say something embarrassing – like how beautiful her neck looked.

He was sweet. She wasn’t used to it.

And now, he was telling her to keep quiet because a family was sleeping in the room next to his. It was nice of him. Nikki smiled.

“Alright, I promise.” she said. “I’ll be a good girl.”

Terry smiled back and kissed her. “I really hope not.”

He was hunched over himself, the thin fingers gripped on an empty bottle of gin. Terry saw him and immediately knew his night with Nikki was over.

“What’s wrong with that guy?” she said, frowning.

Exactly.

The guy was definitely not homeless. He had almost-white blonde hair, a very pale complexion and freckles all over his body – at least, on the visible parts. He was wearing jeans and a blue sweater. He looked like a normal 20-something who had drunk too much and had passed out on the floor of Tottenham Court Road station. His eyes were closed, but he was awake. Terry knew it because he was wincing slightly.

“Are you alright?”

Nikki kicked the guy’s shoe gently.

He didn’t react. Terry looked at him. He just wanted to go home.

But Nikki turned to him, and he caught her glance. He knew what it meant – girls were masters in that kind of look. They wanted you to do something, and they knew you knew perfectly what you had to do. So he sighed and bent on his knees.

“Do you need help, buddy?”

The guy winced again, then opened his eyes and looked at Terry. His eyes were red and his eyelashes were wet.

“My cat has just fucking died!” he screamed.

Of course, Terry lost his balance and fell on his butt. The first impulse he had was to get up and kick him in the face, but he was with Nikki. He just couldn’t.

“Holy shit.” he swore, as the guy sniffed noisily. “Well, sorry about that, but I’m sure lying on the station floor and screaming in people’s face is not making it any less dead.”

Terry knew Nikki had just given him a dirty look, but he couldn’t help himself.

“My cat has just fucking died!” the guy cried again.

“Yeah, do you want us to arrange his funeral here in the tube station?”

“Terry!” he heard Nikki saying.

He turned to her. He was still sitting on his butt after the guy’s hysteria had made him lose his balance.

“You look familiar.” said the blonde guy, showing his perfectly white teeth. He was no junkie at all. Terry turned to him and felt that look of recognition that he feared so much. He swallowed. He needed to play it cool in front of Nikki.

“Stop bullshitting. You’re drunk.”

“But I saw you somew…”

Terry felt his heart miss a beat or two and turned to Nikki to avoid the guy’s gaze.

“So what? What do you want to do?” he asked her.

“He needs help,” she said, “Let’s take him to the platform.”

When he saw the way she was looking at the stinky dude sprawled against the wall, Terry thought of the Dutch girl who had told him about her 6’4’’ boyfriend and then of the one who “needed to puke to focus up.” Two lost battles. And when he was almost going to finally win the war, a fucking pissed skinny guy (that probably knew who Terry was) had decided to snatch victory out of his hands. Nikki didn’t even want to fuck him. She wanted to fucking help him.

Terry knew Nikki meant well and that the guy really needed them. But he couldn’t help but hate him deeply anyway. After all, it was his last night in London.

Aksel had thought he could easily be taken for homeless. He hadn’t washed his clothes in at least a month and he probably stank like shit. He had drunk a whole bottle of gin by himself, wandering around Camden, and he had just collapsed in the station in his pathetic attempt to go home.

The floor wasn’t that bad, though. A guy had tossed a pound to him. And the station was warmer than he had thought.

“Do you need us to take you to the platform? Where are you going?”

What had really surprised him were those guys stopping to help him. No one had passed for a while, and then, these strangers just wanted to put him on a train and send him home. The guy seemed quite familiar, but Aksel couldn’t say exactly why.

He didn’t feel like engaging in a conversation, though. He had never felt like it, at least, not with strangers. And in the past month, with no one in general. So, he had tried to go with looking like a lunatic, screaming about his dead cat and shit, but the thing hadn’t discouraged them.

“My cat has just…”

“Fuck it, this is hopeless,”said the American guy, standing up. He turned to the girl. “Nik, it’s getting late…”

He really looked like someone he had seen in a movie. Aksel couldn’t say who. Maybe a minor part in a shitty rom com.

The girl didn’t listen to him, anyway. She lowered on her knees to look at Aksel in the eyes. He needed to focus because his eyelids seemed to weigh a ton, but he felt her dark gaze and swallowed. The rancid taste of gin at the back of his throat made him want to puke. Nevertheless, he kept his eyes firm.

“Do you need help, darling?”

She said it in such a kind tone that it broke his heart. Aksel wanted to cry.

He swallowed and tasted the gin again. You need to stop doing that, jackass, he said to himself.

He looked at the girl, and nodded slowly.

“Fuck me, mate, you bloody stink like a dumpster.”

Terry tried to keep balance while holding up the blonde smelly guy and forcing him to walk. What the fuck am I doing, just to impress a girl?

“Stop saying that,” Nikki told him, “and your British accent is horrible.”

“It is,” confirmed the blonde smelly guy.

Terry had another impulse to toss him on the ground and kick his face.

He had to catch his flight back to the US in seven hours and he just wanted to fuck Nikki. Was it that much of a wish? Didn’t he deserve a little fuck before going back in that shithole of a campus? Besides, he didn’t like how the guy was looking at him. As if he was going to spit out where he’d seen him and, most of all, why. Terry didn’t like feeling trapped.

Anyway. Nikki was following them along the corridor that brought them to the platform.

“Are you sure you don’t need help?” she asked Terry.

He did, but he’d never admit it.

“I’m fine,” he grunted.

“Thanks so much,” stuttered the smelly guy, ”I’m Aksel, by the way. I’m from Oslo.”

“Introductions later,” Terry panted, trying not to seem out of breath. He wanted to look perfectly at ease, as if he spent hours at the gym and was born to rescue 20-somethings that passed out on tube station floors. Aksel wasn’t even that heavy – he was very slim, and the skin stretched on his bones was as thin as a shell.

“I’m Nikki,” the girl said, smiling broadly at Aksel. Terry tried not to sigh.

The platform was empty. It was a strange feeling. Every time he had taken the tube to get back to the hostel, it was always packed with people – or at least, there was always someone to look at. But now, it was desert. A train must have been passed a few minutes before.

When he dropped Aksel off on the benches at the platform, he groaned. He needed to go back to the gym. He had stopped since The Thing happened.

“How are you?” Nikki asked Aksel.

Terry looked at him. His pale complexion didn’t bare the traces of a particularly hard, street life. He just seemed like someone who had fucked up his own night and couldn’t deal with it.

“My cat has just died,” he moaned.

If you kick him, Terry, you can forget Nikki’s butt.

Nikki smiled and sat next to him. ”I’m sorry, dear. Last year my dog died. I cried for days.”

It was when Terry saw how Aksel’s face cracked up in an awful grimace that he realised the cat was just… nothing. The guy wasn’t crying about it at all. Maybe there wasn’t even a cat involved. Wrinkles erupted around his eyes and mouth, deforming his features until his face looked like a crushed can of Coke that you’d kick absent-mindedly on the street.

Terry swallowed and saw Nikki putting her hand on the guy’s knee. It would be a long night.

They let a train pass. Tired-looking people got off and went home. A group of British girls, no older than seventeen, approached the exit shouting and laughing.

Aksel didn’t dare to look at them for more than two seconds. He knew he was not going to bear the sight. These girls’ most serious problems probably included a guy that hadn’t texted them that night, or the fact that they had broken one of their newly-painted nails during a wild dance to some shitty pop song.

“What happened to your cat?” Nikki said to him.

Aksel didn’t know what to answer. He couldn’t believe the girl really thought he was ranting over a fucking cat. Well, of course, pets’ deaths were always pretty sad, but not to the point of breaking down in the middle of the tube station at 3 AM.

He was going to answer something – he didn’t exactly know what – when the group of 17-year-old girls stopped in front of them. Aksel saw a pair of shiny silver boots. One of the heels was slightly chipped.

“I know you,” one of them said, her voice a bit altered by the alcohol.

Aksel looked up at her. Her eyes were circled by a thick light blue powder that some hours before must have been eyeshadow. She was talking to the American guy, who stared helplessly at her.

“You’re that guy of out the papers, right? I saw you on Buzzfeed.”

Aksel knew it. He must have been famous on the social media or something like that. “Yeah, I told him, right? He looks familiar,” he said.

Nikki was looking at the girls. The American guy seemed distressed.

”I… I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he stuttered.

Aksel thought he looked like he knew exactly what the girl was talking about.

“Oh, well…” the girl said, a bit too loudly. “Fuck me, mate, of course it’s you. I read it today,” She took her huge phone out of the pocket of her golden shorts.

“Why don’t you go fuck yourself?”

Nikki and Aksel almost jumped on their seats. The American guy’s face had suddenly reddened, and big, purple veins were pumping madly on his forehead.

“Terry!” Nikki said, flabbergasted.

The girls were puzzled. The one with the huge phone backed off, looking at him suspiciously.

“You’ll end up in jail,” she hissed, ”You know you will.”

Aksel saw Terry’s eyes widening wildly, his face getting paler than a paper sheet.

Terry’s heart bumped. The motherfucking whores. Did he really end up on Buzzfeed? Of course yes. It was the shittiest website in the world. Even ratemypoo.com was more reliable than that fucking webshite.

Terry looked at the British girl and tried to calm down. He was not going to lower his gaze anyway. He had managed to keep it cool with Aksel. He didn’t have to explode like this. Telling the girl to go fuck herself hadn’t been a wise move.

“Terry,” Nikki started, “What the fuck is happening?”

Terry didn’t answer. He kept on staring at the blonde girl, who was putting her phone back into her pocket.

“Girls, isn’t it a bit too late for you?”

Aksel’s voice was feeble, but still pungent.

Terry swallowed.

“There’s no need to be so rude,” one of the girls told him, ”unless you’re hiding something from your friends.”

Terry felt his cheeks reddening and a drop of sweat running down his nape, heading to the spine. He couldn’t believe the station was so fucking hot in October.

“I’m not hiding anything. Leave us alone. This guy is not feeling well.”

Blaming his distress on Aksel was a good move. Well played, champ.

”Seems like the one who’s not feeling well is you,” answered the girl with blue eyeshadow scattered all over her face.

She had a point. Terry knew it.

“Girls. I think it’s time for you to go,” said Nikki, ”We’re just trying to get home. There’s no need to fight over nothing at all.”

Terry thanked her mentally.

But then, as he watched the girls heading slowly to the exit and giving him dirty looks, his heart was crushed. Again. The blue-eyeshadowed girl turned to look at him, smiling nastily.

“Bye, rapist.”

The silence was on them, heavy and sticky as a slice of bread overloaded with jam, falling inevitably on the floor.

Terry kept his gaze on the exit, where the group of girls had been until a few seconds before. Aksel’s eyes were fixed on his own shoes. Nikki looked at the both of them, unable to utter a word. Did the girl really say it? Rapist? If Terry hadn’t known anything about it, he wouldn’t have exploded as he did. And Aksel had recognised him as well. She didn’t. When she had seen Terry in the club, the last thought she could have was about him being a rapist – after Fucking Connor’s slap, Terry’s smile had just made her feel better.

She didn’t know what to say, so she had a look at the arrivals. The next train was going to stop in five minutes. The night tube was slower.

“That was intense,” whispered Aksel.

Nikki turned to him, but Terry didn’t. He kept silent.

“It’s fine,” Terry’s voice was low, harsh. He was still looking somewhere between the advertisements on the wall and the infinite blackness where the train would come from. Nikki noticed all the advertisements had been bought by Apple. The whole tunnel was covered with pictures of the new iPhone 7. Squalid.

She didn’t say anything and looked at Aksel, whose face was still wet. His eyelids were stuck one against each other.

There was silence again. Nikki bit her lip, trying to think about anything, anything in the world, she could say to lift the spirits. At the same time, she really couldn’t concentrate on a good way to distract herself and the guys. Why the fuck did the girl call Terry a rapist? Was it true? There was something weird going on. And Terry was still trying not to look at her.

Aksel seemed more upset than before. As Nikki lowered her gaze, she noticed his pale hands were shaking. His knuckles were covered in freckles, and what seems like cold sweat was making his skin glisten.

”Are you okay?” she asked him.

Terry turned, as he thought Nikki was talking to to him, but she looked down at Aksel’s hands before meeting Terry’s eyes.

Aksel nodded. ”Yes,” he said. ”Yes.”

He sniffed, then he relaxed on his seat. He bit his lip, swallowed, and then cleared his throat.

”My sister died,” he said casually, as if he was just saying he didn’t like Coldplay. ”My sister. Not my cat.”

There was at least another minute of silence. Terry didn’t turn to face him.

At last, Nikki opened her mouth to say something.

Then she closed it, as another train passed.

Terry’s heart hadn’t stopped bumping since the girl had pronounced that word. And even if Aksel had just come up with his sister, changing the subject abruptly, he couldn’t help biting his tongue in anxiety.

”It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to tell us. You don’t have to explain anything. You can just tell us where you need to go, we can come with you and see you off to make sure you’re fine,” said Nikki to Aksel.

Terry felt his cheeks burning. That wasn’t their plan. Their plan was to go to his place, spend some fucking time together and get laid. It wasn’t even the banging that he craved for. It was just feeling okay with a girl. Like a normal guy who could do it. That was the most important thing.

He was sorry for Aksel, whatever his problem might have been, but he really didn’t give a shit. He turned to them.

”Really, Nikki? I’m going back to the States in a few hours. We were heading home. I thought we had a plan.”

Her gaze made Terry feel a pang of shame immediately.

“Seems like plans change,” she hissed.

Terry couldn’t blame her. A group of girls had just told him he was a rapist. Not only a normal rapist – an internationally famous one. Even Aksel had recognised him. And, well, urging her to go home and have sex while this guy had just told them about his sister’s death didn’t do much to help his reputation.

Terry knew he couldn’t help it. Nikki was right. He had thought flying to London for a week would make things different, give him a break from all the shit he had to deal with constantly, but apparently things were not that easy.

He thought of taking the next train and leaving them on those fucking seats. Go home, cry a bit while packing, head to the airport and fly “home”. He knew the next day he would be there, on campus, sleeping alone in his room. No-one would ask him about his trip. He looked at the arrivals, but before he could make any decision, Aksel spoke.

“Are you a rapist?” he asked.

Terry looked at him. Aksel’s face was red and slick with sweat and tears.

He tightened his fists. He talked with a low, raucous voice that had come out more aggressive than he meant to. ”Can you tell me, once and for all, what the fuck you want from me?”

“My sister drowned in a lake in Oslo,” Aksel said, ”one month ago. They found her body immediately. It’s not such a big lake. It’s not even that deep.”

Terry couldn’t stand another word. He knew he had to be sorry for the guy. He just couldn’t. He had run away from North Carolina to stop thinking about his own problems. People had lost any kind of empathy for him, even if what he was accused of hadn’t even been proved. No way he would feel sorry for this guy.

“Why the fuck should this be relevant to you asking me if I am a fucking rapist?” he growled. Don’t start shouting, Terry.

He knew Aksel was scared, but the guy kept his eyes on him. Nikki was looking at them, startled.

“She didn’t commit suicide,” said Aksel, “she was followed.”

Terry saw Nikki’s jaw dropping.

“Aksel, you don’t…” she tried to say, but the guy kept on talking, looking straight into Terry’s eyes.

“Everyone thought she had committed suicide at the beginning. Then they found evidence. They found the traces of her struggling on the ground. They found a male’s DNA under her nails.”

“I don’t care,” said Terry, feebly.

Did Askel want him to admit anything? Did he think he could “save him from himself” or any other bullshit people would say in these cases?

“She was assaulted,” said Aksel. ”Every time I think about her, about her swollen, violet body, and about how fucking scary her last seconds on Earth must have been, I think about people like you.”

That you made Terry feel like a shit. Which you? Who was this you?

“That fucking lake was my favourite place in Oslo,” said Aksel. “I had to flee to stop feeling my stomach churn every time I would take the subway. Our house is in Ullevål, all the way to Lake Sognsvann. And Sognsvann is the name of the sixth line, the one I would take to go home every fucking day. The name of the place where my sister was assaulted and died. I puked on the tube once. That’s why I’m here in London, alone. To forget that in the world there are people like you.”

“Aksel, you’re drunk. Please, you’ll regret this.”

Nikki couldn’t believe how fucked up her Saturday night had come to be. Well, it hadn’t started that great either, with Fucking Connor hitting her and breaking up with her, but her short time with Terry had definitely started to cheer her up. Now things were falling apart again.

“You’re making assumptions about Terry. We don’t know anything about him. I know that your story is sad and I’m…”

“You’re making assumptions too, Nikki,” said Terry. He seemed extremely calm. He talked slowly, his voice low and his eyes on her. “I see how you look at me. You don’t know jack. You’re trying to be all open-minded and tolerant and whatever shit you think it’s appropriate to be, but you act like you already know everything. And you didn’t ask me anything.”

Nikki saw Terry’s veins pumping under his forehead. It was reddening.

“So tell me, then,” she said, more angrily than she had thought she was. “Tell me. Have you raped a girl? That’s why you’re here? Is it true?”

The noise of another train approaching filled her ears. Nikki and Aksel looked at him as his knuckles went white. He shook his head.

“It doesn’t matter anymore. For everyone. It really doesn’t.”

The silence fell on them again, over the clatter of the train.

***

Rachele Salvini  is a 23-year-old Italian student of Creative Writing. She has started writing in English last year, during a semester at Sarah 1915390_10208740411170622_3012928592423707750_nLawrence College, NY. She’s from Livorno but has studied in Florence and Oslo. Her favourite author is J.D. Salinger, but she has a soft spot for chick-lit.

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