Rory hasn’t stopped pestering me since I told him about Grayson’s invitation… or technically, his father’s invitation to join them. I change into a pair of black tights, a flowery dress that I got for my birthday and a pair of ballet shoes.
I had a bit of a wardrobe malfunction earlier on, since I’ve never been to play darts and I’m not quite sure what a person is supposed to wear when playing darts. I’m assuming something comfortable and not too revealing should suffice.
“Remind me again, why is Grayson picking you up?”
I turn to Rory. He’s getting more agitated by the minute. “We’re working on a project together, remember?” I come out of my room and his eyes follow me across the landing.
Rory snorts. “If you’re supposed to be working on a project, why is he inviting you to go to the pub with him and his dad? He clearly has other ideas.”
“Sounds to me like he’s got a thing for you.”
I laugh at the suggestion. “Grayson Swain? Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Unless the dude is gay, he’s bound to find you attractive Skye.”
“Well, I am not everybody’s type.” Certainly not Grayson’s type anyway. “Besides, he is completely off the radar – as in he’s unavailable to everyone. And he has a girlfriend.”
I still haven’t managed to convince him. “That means nothing.”
“Why are you acting so annoyed about this?” I ask.
“I’m not annoyed.”
“Yes, you are Rory.”
I can see the anger on his face, the way he curls his bottom lip in, the way his fists clench at his sides. The signs are there.
Then it clicks into place.
“Are you jealous?”
“Don’t be stupid.” It’s his turn to walk away.
“You are, aren’t you?”
He spins to me, lowering his voice so we can’t be heard. “I’m not bothered by it Skye. You can do whatever you want. It’s none of my business.”
He pauses for a moment and then exhales. He appears defeated. I wish I knew what he was thinking or why he doesn’t seem like himself right now.
Does he think that Grayson is going to steal me away?
Or… could it be possible, that Rory is jealous of the possibility I might like someone else?
“Happy belated birthday!” Grayson cheers, handing me a small gift box with a ribbon on the front when I step outside to meet him.
“How did you know it was my birthday?”
“Sheryl told me.” Ah, Sheryl is full of knowledge. She doesn’t know when to keep her mouth shut.
I stare down at the present, confused. It looks expensive. I’m scared to open it. “You didn’t have to get me anything,” I tell him, as I slide into the car.
He shrugs me off. “It’s not like I can’t afford it.”
I buckle my seatbelt and tuck some hair behind my ears. “Where’s your dad?” I ask him, peeking over my shoulder to see if he’s hiding in the back somewhere.
“He’s already at the pub. We’re meeting him there.” I shake the box around and Grayson turns to me sharply. “Don’t do that! You’ll break it!”
Slowly, I unwrap the ribbon on the front, but whoever tied this, must’ve had the intention to do it up as tight as possible. The gift is impossible to unwrap. Grayson is watching me try to open the box with little success and he sighs impatiently.
“Come on, what’s taking you so long? I can’t start driving until you open the damn thing.”
I set the box down onto my lap and glare at him. “Well I’m trying!” I bark. “And if you hadn’t gone to the extreme of blinking gift wrapping it, I probably would have opened the box by now. I mean seriously, did you have to use that much ribbon?”
“You’re over-exaggerating. Give it here.”
I place the box in his hand. He picks at the ribbon with his fingernails and even tries biting it off but it’s no use. The ribbon is safely secured around the edges and will not budge.
“You’ve made it worse now!” I exclaim, acknowledging the damage he’s done.
“No, I haven’t! If anything, I’ve loosened the ribbon!”
I observe his handy work and can only beg to differ. The ribbon is now a tangled mess. Grayson has caused more knots to form.
“Here’s one for the project.” I quickly clear my throat. “While Grayson Swain may excel at most things, he cannot wrap a present to save his life.”
Grayson scowls. “Oh whatever, like you could have done a better job. We’ll sort it out when we get to the pub.”
I tighten the bobble in my hair and return to staring out the front window. Grayson pulls off the curb and we cruise along the streets, listening to the gentle thrum of the engine and faint music coming from the radio.
“Did you do anything nice… for your birthday I mean?” he says, well into the second song.
“We’ve started decorating the house, so I was mostly helping out with that. The three of us worked for hours!”
Grayson is staring with a new expression. I’m unable to read it at this time. “The three of you?”
“You just said three of you. Who else was there?”
I swallow. “Oh, just my friend, Rory.”
Grayson wrinkles his nose, clutching the wheel. He doesn’t bring it up again and I don’t think either of us want to go there.
Grayson opens the car door and we step onto the gravel. My boots make squelching noises as we approach the building appearing before us. I follow Grayson into the warm hazel glow of the pub and as we walk through the door, we’re introduced to loud male voices, cheering and chanting.
The pub is small in size and there’s a tangy smell of beer in the air. Most of the tables have been taken, but I spot one at the back of the room and quickly claim it before anyone else can.
I take off my jacket and scope the room for Grayson’s father. It doesn’t take me long to find his mop of blond hair, peeping up from behind one of the pillars. He’s talking to another man and they’re deeply engaged in conversation.
He seems to fit right in here. I can’t imagine his wife being happy about this little arrangement. I wonder if they tell her that they come here after their usual round of golf.
Grayson lays a hand on his father’s shoulder and whispers something in his ear. Michael half turns and waves in my direction. Stiff and slightly nervous, I raise my hand up in return.
I stare down at the coasters on the table and rub my palms together. I can’t relax and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I’ve found myself hanging out with Grayson and his dad. It’s kind of strange.
I flinch when Grayson’s face appears in front of mine. “Want a drink?” I nod, because it’s the only thing I know how to do. “What would you like?”
“Can I just have a coke or something?” He marches up to the bar and I slide down in my chair.
What is wrong with me?
Why am I so nervous?
I fix my focus on Mr. Swain, who is working the room with confidence. He seems to know everybody. If I wasn’t aware of his financial situation, I would assume that he was just another pub crawler.
Mr. Swain pulls out a chair next to me and sits on it. “It’s good to see you again Skye,” he says.
“It was nice of you to invite me,” I respond, smiling.
“Ah that’s alright. I figured it would help if you spent some time with Grayson… for the project. How are you doing anyway?” he asks.
“Better. I don’t know if Grayson told you, but my mother was recently in hospital.”
His eyes widen. “No. He - he didn’t mention anything. Is she okay?”
“I think so. She’s suffered with mental health issues for a while now, but we’re slowly getting back on track.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
Grayson is back with the drinks and it’s good timing. He plonks them down on the table and I quietly thank him under my breath.
Mr. Swain reaches for his pint glass and takes a few swigs. Then he looks at me and smiles. “Tell me a bit about yourself Skye.”
My life, summed up, isn’t exactly interesting. “There’s not much to tell really,” I say, watching the bubbles deflate in my drink.
“Ah, I’m sure you’re just being modest.”
I catch Grayson observing us both carefully. “I don’t do much,” I admit, “I go to college, come home and that’s it.”
“Well, that’s not what I’ve heard.” I glance towards Grayson, who quickly looks away. “I used to work in Barnett a long time ago… before the business started booming,” he says, after a moment.
His eyes fill with sadness and then as soon as the emotion comes, it disappears. I wonder if I imagined it being there.
Mr. Swain rubs his hands together. “So, are you two up for a game of darts then?”
“Heck yeah!” Grayson fist pumps the air and I remain seated, not knowing exactly what’s going on right now.
“Are you any good Skye?”
I realize Grayson’s talking to me. “I’m not sure. I’ve never played darts before.”
“You’ve never played darts?”
“That’s what I said.”
Please don’t give me grief about it.
“Well, there’s a first time for everything.”
Never in a million years, did I expect to be playing darts with Grayson Swain and his dad on a Sunday night. What has become of this world?
During the first few games, I mostly just sit there observing. Grayson is a sore loser and his dad isn’t any different. Grayson’s sensitive side comes out more when he’s around his father. He appears more relaxed and able to be himself.
“Skye, would you like to have a game?” Michael asks, making me look up towards him.
“Uh, I wouldn’t really know what to do.”
I’ve never been any good at juggling numbers.
Grayson grabs my hand and I’m pulled onto my feet. Our palms briefly connect and he’s quick to extract his hand, breaking the skin to skin contact. He passes me three darts and positions me a few inches away from the dart board, hands remaining at his sides.
I look towards the board as Grayson explains the game to me, more than once. When I feel confident enough to have a practice, Grayson moves away and I throw the first dart. It hits the wall with a crunch and I panic.
“Crap! I didn’t mean to do that! Am I going to get in trouble for destroying the wall?” My dart is stuck in the wall.
Grayson and his dad turn to each other and burst out laughing. “Don’t worry, they’re not going to handcuff you. If they do, they’ll have to go around searching for all the other people that missed the board before you,” Grayson says.
“It would hardly be fair if you got held responsible for everybody else’s mistakes.”
It’s then that I notice the other hole marks in the wall, from where individuals had also failed to execute a perfect shot in the past. It makes me feel slightly better.
As the games progress, I find myself hitting higher numbers each time and I start getting the hang of it. My dart sails through the air and lands on double twenty. I claim my first win.
“Oh my gosh! I won! I actually won!”
Grayson sniggers. “Whatever, that was just luck.”
Mr. Swain gives me a high five and I can’t wipe the grin from my face. “Ha! You are such a sore loser! Why can’t you accept that I am naturally gifted at playing darts?” I shout at Grayson.
“Because it was pure luck and had nothing to do with skill.”
“It’s called mojo. You either have it or you don’t darling,” I say, smirking.
“You’re a natural Skye,” Mr. Swain says. “Are you sure you’ve never played darts before?”
I hold a hand over my heart. “No! Never!”
“Well, you’ve beaten us both at our own game. The next round of drinks is on us.”