Dear Friend

I hope these last few years have given you all the joy you deserve. I hope people astonish you with kindness, that your work is recognised, and that you continue to find ways to make yourself laugh.

I did it, George. I poured myself into my words and now they are finally read, and I devoted my soul to feeling moments of stillness and peace. I found contentment. And then I found him.

His name is Justin. You would debate fiercely with him, George. My tongue and wits become sharper in his presence because he expects my arguments to have merit, and emotion is not enough. He anchors his ideas with logic, and draws on examples and analogies. He is the most frustrating, stubborn man I have ever met. But he is also the fairest. When he is hired to do a job, he works as efficiently as possible – even though he is paid by the hour. He feels a moral responsibility to give every commitment his best. Most people only offer complete honesty in front of a jury, but Justin doesn’t know how to deliver anything else.

Justin acts to aid others as a reflex. We met when my car broke down. I’d managed to pull off to the side of the road, and turned my hazard lights on. My phone was out of battery. I could feel anxiety thrum on my ribs, because I was two hours from home, and the map I’d spread over my bonnet may as well have represented a fantasy world for all the sense it made to me. I resent stereotypes and didn’t want to be one, but I couldn’t read a map to save myself.

He pulled over to help me. After assuring me that he was not a criminal hoping to kidnap or kill me, he jump-started my car. It was fast and simple. He wished me luck and shook my hand, and I noticed his was stained with grease. I asked if I could buy him a drink for helping me. He said not to worry about it. I asked again, and this time he said okay. So I followed him to the nearest petrol station, and bought him a black coffee.

It seems incredible that I spent most of my life not knowing that Justin existed. His pulse is mine now. That is something I could only say to another writer; it would sound ludicrous to anyone else, but you will understand. Why, it reminds me of that line from your Time-struck series:

He had known her for but a day, yet he had breathed her forever.

Flowery, perhaps, but the sentiment rings true.

Justin is a mechanic, but don’t hold that against him, George. He might not take part in “academic discourse” – and when I bring up Jane Austen his eyes glaze over – but he enjoys crime-thrillers, and action movies. We talk about character motivations and action sequences. He helps me design plausible punch-up scenes, by explaining what it feels like to take a hit. (Not that he regularly participates in bar brawls or anything like that, but he’s seen a fight or two.)

Last Saturday we watched a blockbuster, and he hit pause in the middle of a van’s explosion, to point out there were five too many wheels flying off in the blast. After that, we watched the rest of it looking for epic errors, sometimes in a frame-by-frame way, and made ourselves hurt with laughter.

It feels strange, George, to have gone so long without talking when we used to everyday. Not even my sister can read my mind like you can. Or could. Sometimes I wished I would cross you in the street, or that we’d find each other in the same line buying groceries, or happen to visit the same bookshop at the same time. I wondered if you felt my absence. I wondered what happened to those hours roaming the library shelves, challenging you to read my favourites, and arguing about whether it was arrogant to design covers for our own books when they had not been accepted for publication, or when sometimes we had not even finished writing them. I thought about whether you returned to our places. Whether you went back to the park or the bridge, or whether you kept the same distance from them that you kept from me.

But I want you to know that I mean no interference in your life. I kept my word; you kept yours, and I am only reaching out because I needed to tell you that I am happy, George. And, my friend, I hope you are, too.