My favourite passive-aggressive compliment

Kim, I know I’m talking to a dead person but it seems like this is just what I do now, so I’m going to go with it. I’m so pissed off with Hugh. I love him but I could punch him in his stupid, pretty face and just keep punching him. Right now he’s the embodiment of my favourite passive-aggressive compliment—he means well.

I can’t remember if I ever told you how exactly I met him but I’ve got a mile of dark road to kill so I’m going to tell you now. Maybe you don’t want to hear it but you’re not still alive to able to say that, so it’s your own fault. Anyway, Hugh was decorating Gran’s flat back when it was still Gran’s flat and I still lived there. Gran was doing her thing, shamelessly flirting with him, and he was doing his thing, smiling at her, all dimples and cheekbones, with the sleeves of his overalls rolled up cause he knew he had good arms. He still does, if you’re into that kind of thing. I’d been smoking a joint in my room and I thought it was all good cause I’d had the window open but Gran still smelled it cause, as she always likes to remind me, she “lived through the sixties”. I was sitting on the bed and she got all official about yelling at me—”Andrina Marie Valentine, what are you smoking in there?”—and I said it was just a cigarette and incense, but she’s not stupid.

A few minutes later, Hugh walked past the door and stuck his head round, totally uninvited, and winked, “Aww, pal, you got full-named.” I didn’t even look up. I just raised my middle finger and told him to fuck off. I knew he was going to be there the whole time Gran was away in Cornwall but I figured I’d just avoid him cause he wasn’t painting my room. I’d already painted my room. The next day, he arrived while I was making coffee before I went to work. He asked if he could have a cup or if I was going to tell him to fuck off again. I told him to fuck off and made him a cup anyway.

When he was taking a break later, we had a smoke and a bit of chat. He told me about his mum and his sister and her wee boy. He said about how when he was sixteen his dad had buggered off and it had come as a total surprise cause even though his dad was a bit of a dick he didn’t seem the type to just leave. I told him about my mum dying when I was born and that my middle name had been her first name, and not knowing who my dad was, and my Gran still being more of a hippy than she ever let on so I did well to get an old-fashioned Scottish name like Andrina instead of being called Bluebell Rainbow or something. Over the next few days, we just sort of hung out. I was only working until after the lunchtime rush so I’d come back in the afternoons and we’d talk, me drinking coffee while he painted, then when he was done we’d sit out on the flat roof and smoke, just chatting, or not.

On the Friday of the week Hugh was painting the flat, he said he was going to a party that night and asked if I wanted to go cause he thought I’d get on with his pals and it was just down the road in Lochend. It was nice cause we’d talked enough that he knew I wasn’t going to be into him that way so he didn’t have any ulterior motive for asking me to go out. Most guys I met saw it as a challenge, you know, that I wasn’t going to be into them and they thought they could change my mind. But Hugh just said he thought I was cool and he wasn’t some arsehole who pretended to like a queer woman as a friend so he could try and turn her. He actually said ‘woman’, not ‘girl’. And he said ‘queer’ cause it was the word I used for myself, even though he looked really uncomfortable while he was saying it. It cracked me up how respectful he was. I figured his mum had done a good job with him.

So I went to the party and I was kind of expecting all his friends to be macho dickheads who got into fights about the football, but they weren’t. They were alright and they were really nice to me, just like he was. Half of them were off their heads on stuff but it wasn’t like other times I’d ended up at house parties where there had been this low-key threatening atmosphere. They were good people, but then you knew that cause they ended up being your friends too and they were good to you as well. Why am I even telling you that? You know they miss you too, right? After you died, they looked after me. I mean, Hugh did the most but the rest of them did too. They texted me to see if I was coming out on a night or to say they were near my flat and did I want a visit. Then when they came round, they always had something for me, food or beer or a joint or whatever, cause that’s how they look after people. I was lucky. I am lucky.

Anyway, Hugh and I were hanging out loads after that week and talking on the phone all the time. Like actually talking on the phone, using up all our free minutes, not texting or messaging or anything. Talking, with voices. It was weird cause I never really talked to anyone else on the phone like that but it was different with him. He said the same thing. Sometimes when he was painting a flat near my work, he’d come in after lunch when my shift was over and we’d sit and have a coffee and something to eat. The ones I worked with loved that cause they got to gawk at him in his painting clothes. I sort of forget he’s beautiful, cause he’s so nice that the way he looks isn’t really a thing. Peg, who runs the place, and Dean, who does lunches and afternoons, always argued over him. Peg said, “If I was thirty years younger…” and Dean said, “If he was gay…”, and Hugh flirted with both of them cause that’s what he does. They kept trying to give him free coffee and he kept leaving money for it anyway.

Gran was happy we were friends cause Hugh wasn’t a druggie waster like the ones I knew from school. She said it was nice that he looked after me, as if I needed looking after, but I think she meant he was a good influence cause he had a trade and he worked for himself even though he was only twenty-two at the time. When she started talking about maybe selling the flat and moving to Cornwall to live with Sexy Mike the Boat Builder (I swear to god, that’s how she referred to him), Hugh said he had a pal, Jackie, with some flats around Leith and he’d help me get somewhere to live. That’s how I ended up in that shithole in Rosetree Street, but the rent was really cheap and Jackie was fine with taking it in cash.

Gran sent me money for the first year she was away, not cause she had to but cause she wanted to. She said I’d always worked really hard, getting the job in the cafe when I was sixteen, and never asked her for anything. The year after, I started doing jobs with Hugh and told Gran I was alright for money. It was nice cause I didn’t have to completely lie to her. I just said we were doing some part-time removals work, which was sort of true cause we were removing things and it was part-time, and she didn’t ask any more about it.

So Hugh got me the flat, he’s the reason I know all my friends and I’m pretty sure he’s how I’m still anything like a functioning human being after you taking yourself off into the great beyond and leaving me. I love him to bits, like right deep down in my soul, but I’m raging with him. I don’t know how he can even think about getting into all that with the drugs. It’s not cool. I know he’s not considering it cause he’s really into that shit in a recreational way or cause he’s some greedy fuck who wants cash to chuck around. He’s so fucking decent, and it’s all about being able to help his mum and his sister out, and Jamie, and even me. But still, I’m not OK with it and I need some time to get my head around it all, whether I can do it or not, or how I say no if I can’t.

Sometimes when I’m talking to you like this it feels like I could reach out and your hand would be there, waiting to be held. It’s fucked up that it’s not. Here I am, walking along this road with no lights in the middle of nowhere, and if I look ahead or at the ground, or I close my eyes, I can almost convince myself that you’re walking beside me. Cause you should be, you know?

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