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Quarter Note - Book One

By CatWoman All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Other


After Elly’s dad passed away, it felt like she had been living in a noiseless bubble. On her 16th birthday, she is given a gift, a guitar, which was the first glimmer of sunshine that she had experienced in a while. The following day, when she opens the door to find her music tutor standing there, something is ignited inside her by the fiery ginger head, named Darryl. He opens up a new world filled with the colors of music and harmony, but this is shattered when he introduces Elly to his new girlfriend, Anne. At first, Elly feels the need to be friends with Anne, but it becomes clear very quickly that the feelings are not mutual and that Anne is not the person she seems to be at first glance. Elly is faced with the dilemma of being a good friend or going against her principles for her heart. When Darryl introduces her to Kyle, she is pushed over into a whirlpool of emotions and constantly fights herself against the affections of the “almost perfect” blue-eyed boy. On the backdrop of a looming talent show that she fears, Elly comes face to face with her feelings for Darryl and Kyle; and deals with the pain of the loss of her father. She can only do it the way she has learnt how to,

Untitled chapter




C.D. Lipskey

No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior express written, dated and signed permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

Dedicated to

The two loves of my life;

David for believing in me, not matter what I wanted to do,

Your support gave me the strength to take the leap

Michael, having you made me even more determined

never to give up on my dreams

To the ‘Golden G’s’, my mom, aunty m and my-sister-from-another-mother, Natalie

I am the fourth...

Table of Contents







Hurricane Anne

Tornado Jayde


When you look back at your life, there are a few moments that you can pin point as defining moments in your journey. Moments where there were clearly at least two different ways of moving forward. Each so different that by choosing one or the other, nothing would ever be the same.

The road to my first moment like this started the year my dad had been diagnosed with his illness. It had been unexpected, but what illnesses is ever expected. It always comes ‘like a thief in the night’.

My father had been a strong man, a healthy man that took care of himself. A routine check-up had revealed something sinister lurking in the dark recesses of his body.

It had been a bright spring morning when my mom and dad sat myself and my sisters down at the kitchen table. There was a smell of fresh flowers all over the house. My mom loved spring. It was the beginning of something new, beautiful and bright, and she loved flowers.

We were unprepared for what we were about to hear. It came like a punch in the stomach and looking at my dad, as he explained what they had found, one would easily think he was trying to play a sinister joke.

At the time he told us, he was a man just passed forty-five years of age. He was six foot-four and sturdy who had always been active in sports and doing DIY at home. His oldest friends had nicknamed him “Little John”, a play on the same name given to one of Robin Hood's' companions who was also considered to be close to gigantic, but he could only be described as a gentle giant of music. My dad loved music, where he was, there was music.

From his example, I understood that most good men realize early in life that fighting was not always necessary. “Always being on the receiving end of a scaly-wag, half your size trying to prove his manhood by picking a fight, was tiring and boring,” my father always said.

When we had first learnt about it, we had been optimistic. Medicine had come a long way, there were new treatments being discovered every day. There was a chance and my dad was strong. Ida, ever the student, had researched the illness and new methods of treatment. I was certain that she had become a thorn in doctors’ sides, as she would question every statement they made.

In the beginning my dad had accommodated her enthusiasm. There had been sombreness in him, after he had told us, which seemed to be lifted the more Ida researched and became convinced that we could beat the disease.

We had all concentrated on the possibility that we could find a cure, which we had not noticed that as the months went by he became weaker.

It was late summer when the first realisation hit us that we may not be able to beat it. My father had been working in the garden, as he always did on a Saturday morning, when I had brought him something to drink. He had suddenly started gulping for air and before I knew what happened, he lay sprawled on the grass in front of me. I don’t remember screaming, but my mother said that was how she knew something was wrong. She had come running out and when she saw the scene in front of her she had called the ambulance immediately.

She had accompanied him to the hospital, while I rode with Alice and Ida behind them. One of the few things I remember of that day is watching the white clock on the wall of the waiting room tick by. It seemed like weeks went by before my mom came to us.

She was white in her face and before she saw us, we saw her. The look on her face was a combination of terror and pain. It changed immediately when she noticed where we were sitting, but I will never forget the look she had that day. It scared me. I felt that if my mom could feel that scared, then how could I not feel the same fear. She had tried to reassure us that my dad had over-exerted himself in his state. He would have to take it easy from now on, if he wanted to get better, but there was something more that she held back and we could all feel it.

He had stayed over for two nights for observation and when he came home, there was a hint of that same look that my mom had the day at the hospital.

It had been a rude awakening as to how it was affecting his body and we immediately tried to make things more comfortable for him, so that he did not have to put any strain on his body. We had been in denial about what was happening to him and the shock brought us back to reality, but he was stubborn at times and hated feeling helpless.

He tried to fight what was taking over his body, but as it did he seemed to shrink in size. A man, who had once seemed to be the size of a giant and strong, slowly became a child. Even though he tried to do what he did before, the strain on his face was evident and day by day there was less strength to do, what had been done the day before. A person that had built his own home was slowly reduced to being helped out of bed when he needed the bathroom, but he fought as hard as he could. He fought, until it was only his mind that had the strength to fight.

We tried to smile when we were in his presence and we still tried to be optimistic that something would happen. That anything would happen. But as the days moved into weeks with no sign of change for the better, it became harder to hold onto hope. Ida began to withdraw more into her own world and it was still only my father that could reach her there. Out of his presence, Alice was more on edge and when my mother thought I wasn’t looking, I would see the sparkle she always carried with her disappear. I wanted to scream out, why?!! Why him??!! He had been a strong, healthy man. He was a good person. Why was he suffering, when he did not deserve it. Why was there no miracle for a man like him when he was one of those that most deserved it. Why was he allowed to wither away and feel the pain of losing himself? Why was he being taken from us slowly. It was my first taste of the fairness of the world I lived in. I felt that life was not made for the good and kind. They were the ones that always seemed to suffer. I wanted to be transported out of this world, where pain was given to the least deserving, to a place where there was no pain. That one could live life happy, free and at peace.

Winter was coming to an end and while it was slowly losing its grip on this world, my father’s strength was slowly fading with it. When everything in the world was becoming ready for warmth and new beginnings, my home was readying itself for a blizzard that was about to hit it. It was clear that my father was losing the battle and the fatigue of fighting showed. Everyone gets tired and “Sometimes you have to be the bigger person and admit your weaknesses,” but even as he said it, I heard the frustration in his voice. Closer to the end he seemed to make peace with what had happened and we tried to make peace with it as well, for his sake. But all wars come to an end and there are always more losers than there are winners. My dad was unfortunately the loser, and on one grey spring day he lost the fight.

Even when you are told of the inevitable, only when it happens does it become reality. We had known that there would come a time when my dad would no longer be with us. Its road had started sooner than we had thought and we had watched as he moved away from us, but the day that he actually left was both a nightmare and reality slapping us in the face.

The day that he passed, when all there was, was an empty shell, it felt as if there was an empty place in my heart. I tried to remember the words he had spoken, trying to ease our pain, “I will always be with you, if you need something to remember me, look in the mirror. I'm apart of you as you having been a part of me, from now till forever.”

The day of the cremation felt dull, even the outside looked grey, though it was the middle of spring. As I watched the coffin moving into the furnace, I repeated, “It’s only a shell, that's not him anymore. I had to remember that he was a part of me, that he was free from that shell.

After the cremation we went home, followed by those who wanted to pay their respects. It felt as if everything had slowed down. It was quiet, as everyone spoke in low tones. I couldn't make out what they were saying, because they were so silent. If my dad was there, there would be music and laughing. He would tell them not to be so sad. But he wasn't there and all we could feel was sadness.

The day dragged on and I wondered why everyone kept saying sorry as if they had done anything.

When they left they would be going back to their lives. Tomorrow everything would be the same for them.

Tomorrow I wouldn't be able to speak to my dad, my mom wouldn't playfully chastise him for stealing a tit-bit of something she had made and Alice wouldn’t be turning into cotton-candy after someone had angered her. And who would bring Ida out of her cocoon, she normally wrapped herself in. No, tomorrow our lives would be different.

As the weeks dragged by, less and less people came to visit and the house became more silent. At first I was relieved by the silence, when the only sound that I heard was the sympathy for a wife and daughters that a father had left behind, like it had been choice. I wanted to stop hearing, “Poor little Elisa, so young. She needs her dad, who will help teach her as a father.” They didn't know what they were speaking about. My dad had already taught his daughters so much. He taught us to be true to ourselves and to follow our dreams, showed us to love ourselves, respect what we thought. He had taught us how to punch, where the vulnerable spots were in case we needed to defend ourselves. He had showed us that we could be as great as any man or woman, if we just worked at it. He had taught us enough to prepare for the time he may not be there, but it wasn't just his help we missed, it was him. Those little moments that we would miss him not being there.

The days seemed longer, our home silent. It felt as if we were living in a grey haze as we went along the normal routine of our daily lives that had been there, when he was still around. When my friends, Chloë and Jack spoke, it was if they were miles away. My family moved past each other like cars in the night without headlights. My mom could still laugh, but the spark was gone. Alice seemed constantly on edge and Ida seemed even more wrapped up in her own world. The glue that had kept us together seemed to have disappeared. My home felt like a generic clock, the white ones that you saw in hospitals. Its cogs worked, the hands turned, but time seemed to stand still in a place with no character or life.

Christmas came upon us with no warning and as much as we tried to celebrate it as before, by putting up lights and a tree, there was no life in those decorations. Our house felt like a Christmas display at a shopping centre. It was beautiful and colourful, but there was something missing from it and it was easy to guess what that was.

It was just over a year that my dad had been diagnosed with his illness and I felt as if I was living in a soundproof room. No noise coming in and no matter how much noise I made, nobody heard or maybe even listened. My sixteenth birthday was coming up and I felt like hiding away. I wanted it to pass and be over with.

With the memory of what had happened last summer still fresh, I could not imagine celebrating anything, especially my birthday.

For the first time ever, I was happy that it was at the beginning of the year, during the year end break, when everyone was still on holiday, somewhere. It had always been difficult to arrange a party, as most people would be out of town, but this year it was a relief.

It could pass over without anyone noticing and there was still a few weeks left before the beginning of the new year at school. I had become tired of all the sympathetic looks I had received from both the student body and the teachers after my father had died.

I understood that that they were trying to be nice, but there was just so much “How you coping now, Elisa”, I could take. The six week break and the beginning of a new year, would overwhelm and maybe erase the fact that I was without him.

But even at this time, I could always count on my family to try and keep the routines the same.

That morning my mom woke me up in bed with my sisters hovering behind her, “Happy birthday Elly,” they all shouted in unison. She had a huge cupcake in her hand, “Time to blow out the candle and make a wish,” she smiled. I wanted to pull the covers back over my head. The wish I wanted, no one could grant me. But instead I sat up and put on the best smile I could. I blew out the candle; let it not be so silent, I wished. “Present time,” Alice piped up. Alice was my older sister, the oldest of the three of us. She was doing her second year at a college; about three hours drive from my home town. At twenty-one years of age, Alice was also the splitting image of my dad, but with very few of his personality traits. She was tall, model tall, with light hair and grey eyes. Her face was square with chiselled features, but softened by femininity. It was like seeing what my dad would have looked like if he had been a girl. But she had a quick temper and it always seemed as if she was ready to fight. The one characteristic she did posses of my dad was his soft heart. She would be quick to fly into a rage if someone had hurt her, but if that same person got hurt in anyway, all that rage and anger would disappear, replaced by nothing but concern. My mom tried to explain that Alice had a quick temper as a defence mechanism. She felt that she had to protect everyone and herself from pain, because it hurt her deeply and she broke every time. How had she survived not going crazy with my dad's illness?

She came around the bed, with her hands uncomfortably behind her back; a large package was sticking out. “Here Elly, from all of us,” she smiled, putting it on the bed. It was almost half my size, wrapped in different coloured paper. Excitement seemed to start boiling from the bottom of my stomach and my curiosity took over. I pulled the paper away as quickly as I could. Underneath it was a case, the shape of a guitar. A guitar!! “Here is the addition,” Ida came up with a book in a hand. “We made it up for you.”

Ida was the middle child, although quiet and reserved, she never allowed an opportunity where she could not voice her opinion on topics she was interested in. She was eighteen years old, tall like my dad and slender. She had my mom's dark hair and my dad's grey eyes. She wore glasses, but these seemed to accentuate her square shape face and features. She was beautiful and graceful in her movements. I had always been jealous that I had not inherited my dad's colour eyes, but he had tried to comfort me by telling me that mine was like big dark pools that one could lose themselves in. That although my face gave away my moods, looking into my eyes, one knew they were like vaults that kept my true thoughts hidden. I enjoyed hearing that, now I wished I could hear it again.

The book was a collection of my favourite music, with the music and chord arrangements.

“Plus we have arranged for a tutor to start you off with the basics,” my mom added. Everything overwhelmed me. I had not thought about playing since my dad had gotten sick. I had begged my parents to get me an instrument. “I want to start a punk rock band,” they had looked me with sauce bowl eyes, but then my dad had gotten ill.

Hugging them I whispered, “My wish came true.” My mom had arranged that Chloë and Jack meet us at my favourite place, 'The Diner'. It was a sizable restaurant that was themed as a 1950's diner. From the menu to the decor. It made the best milkshakes and banana splits and the burgers weren't too bad either. We had breakfast and it felt like there was a new beginning around the corner. “So you got a guitar, that’s awesome,” Jack said, excited, “one of these days I will be able to say that I am best friends with thee Elisa James.”

I laughed, “I doubt I will ever be a “thee”, but I am excited to start learning how to actually play.”

“When is your first practice?” Chloë inquired. “Tomorrow, I think,” with that the discussion turned to band names and what I should do if my music career ever happened. We laughed and for the first time in a long time, there wasn't any sadness or regret.

The following day was a warm, sunny day. The quiet of the house was suddenly disturbed by the ding-dong of the door bell. With a start I looked up at the white clock in the study. 11 am already? I had lost track of time. Another ding-dong echoed from the hallway and I jumped from my chair and ran to the door. A bit breathless, I opened it and almost stumbled over myself. Looking up, I was met with hazel-coloured eyes that were the shape of almonds. There was green and gold flecks that seemed to disappear as you moved. A wide smile greeted me. What nice teeth, I thought, not perfect or even perfectly shaped, but strangely sexy. Before I could mentally chastise myself about how weird that thought had been, an accented voice emanated from the mouth with slightly thin lips, its’ corners turned up. “Hi, I'm Darryl McDougal. I'm here to see Elisa James,” he said with an amused look on his face. Confused, I looked at him. What did he want with me? Before I could utter the question the mouth made that sound again. “I'm here to help her with her guitar.” Internally I face-palmed myself. Of course, the tutor my mom had arranged. I had totally forgotten about that. I had lost track of time and it seemed most of my mind. “Hi, I'm Elisa,” I said shaking his hand. It was rough at some parts, but not scratchy and his grip was firm. There was a sparkle in his eyes that seemed to intensify as it got closer to his hair where it burst into flame. “Nice to meet you Elisa.” For a moment we just stood there, then he spoke up again, “Uhm, can I come in?” “Yes,” I replied, a bit dumbstruck. I lead him to the sitting room, “Sorry I totally forgot that you were coming over today.” He smiled at me and seemed to take everything in his stride and with humour, “Don’t worry about it,” he said. His calmness made me feel even more embarrassed and I could feel the temperature in my face rising and that any moment, I would burst into flames, like his hair.

Sitting down, I handed over my guitar for “inspection”. “Nice instrument, good for starting off with.” he said looking at it, like a wine connoisseur. “Ever played and instrument before,” he asked, looking up suddenly. “No.” “Did you put the strings on yourself?” “No,” I replied withering into myself, “ My mom had the store attendant replace the original ones, with ones they said were better for beginners,” I continued feeling even more ignorant about the instrument he held so confidently. “That's good. If you haven't done it before and you not sure what you doing, there are a lot of parts you could mess up.” I looked at him bewildered, scrunching my face, “Really?” “Yip, like the neck, machine head or bridge,” as he spoke he showed me which part he was referring to.“Why did you choose the guitar?” he asked. I hadn't thought about it for so long, my dad had loved music, but he couldn't play anything. I had gone through a list when I had asked my parents to let me play an instrument. I eventually spoke up, “Well I had wanted to play the drums, but my mom’s said not till I could afford to soundproof my room. A violin sounds like a cat in a trap when you start playing, and I don't think I would be able to handle listening to myself, let alone others listening to me.” He burst out laughing. It was a good laugh, full bodied and sweet at the same time. “ So I decided on the guitar, it's bearable to listen to when you start playing and if I wanted to start a punk rock band, I would only need to other people two complete the band. “ You want to start a punk band?” his eyebrows arched and his face changed between confusion and disbelief. “Maybe, it's an option.” “You don't look like the punk rock kind,” “Why not? Do people have to act and look a certain way you like certain music? I can like punk and dress like a nun,” I replied staring at him. “Sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. Shouldn't have judged before I knew you. You know what they say about book covers,” he said smiling in a sweet way, what I assumed must have been his way of trying to cool down the situation. I nodded my acceptance of his apology, “You forgiven.” His lips seemed to form a smirk as if he was a cat that stole cream and the dog was blamed. We drifted into an awkward silence. For the moment I dared to stare at him, while he looked around the room. He was average build, muscular but not a bodybuilder. His arms and legs were defined but not over-sized. He was average height, not as tall as my dad, but if I wore heels he would still be a bit taller than I was, by almost a head. He had a milky complexion with a tinge of caramel and there were freckles that covered the tops of his cheeks. When he had smiled, there were dimples on both cheeks and the ends of his mouth had curled up as if straining to meet them. The burst of fire on the top of his head seemed to be the combination of molten rock and blood. It seemed to bring warmth to the rest of him and I wondered if all red heads were warmer than other people. Maybe a good way to keep warm in winter time. At that thought, his eyes met mine and I froze. Did he know that I had been looking at him and did it show on my face? This was embarrassing, how would I salvage this? “Why did you choose the guitar?” I asked quickly. A slow smile crept over his face, “My uncle and my dad plays and I wanted to be like Ritchie Sambora.” Who? I looked at him confused. As if he read my mind, “the guitarist from Bon Jovi.” “Yes, Bon Jovi, I know them.” His cheeks turned a pale pink and I blurted out, “Sorry I'm very bad with names, one day I may have to wear a board around my neck to remember my own.” He smiled. Suddenly he stood up, “I think it's time to begin. I don't want to waste your time by telling you my life story.” “It won't be a waste of time,” I replied quickly, “but maybe we should begin, you can always waste my time afterwards,” I smiled back. As the words came out of my mouth, I wondered where they were coming from and who was saying them. “Okay deal,” he replied, smiling broadly.

“Well the first thing about a music lesson is that you should know your instrument. What each part is called and what note each string represents.” Sitting and listening to him speak; I became certain that I would enjoy the lessons. He was nice, he had an air of calmness and he was patient. Soon the hour was done and if I thought I was confused before, my mind was swamped with information. I must have shown on my face. He stood up and put a hand on my shoulder, “Don't worry about it. It comes with time. Practice those two chords that I showed you. Do you remember them?” I nodded. “They will help you with your finger exercises and strumming.” My finger tips and joints were sore; thinking about more practice seemed to increase the pain. Putting that thought out of my mind, I heard my stomach grumble, loudly. Darryl and I looked straight at each other. I smiled sheepishly, “Seems the bell has been rung for the end of the lesson. Would you like to stay for something to drink and a snack and then you can waste my time telling you life story?” I stifled the surprise at the words that were coming out of my mouth.

Just then we heard his stomach grumble, we laughed, “well it seems my stomach has replied for me,” he replied. We made our way to the kitchen, where I put out snacks and the kettle boiled. I set out the drinks, positioning myself across from Darryl. “Thanks, I haven't eaten since breakfast, I didn't think I would be hungry by now,” he replied. We started eating away, but there was an uncomfortable silence. How do I break it?

“So Darryl, your life story. Where were you born? I can't place your accent, nor are you a robot sent here by an alien species to observe humanity?” He laughed that full bodied laugh, “Well if I was a robot sent by an alien species to observe humanity, I couldn't tell you that, now could I?” I shook my head. “What I can tell you, is the back-story that they implanted in my memory banks.” We both smiled.

Darryl was nineteen years old. His family had emigrated from Scotland just before he started school. He had taken a break after high school as he wasn't sure what path he wanted to take. He enjoyed computers, but couldn't decide between hardware and software, but he supplemented his income by working for his dad, who had a small engineering business, and doing music gigs. He was part of a band who mostly did tribute shows, as that was what most people wanted, but the music that they actually played was based more on eighties hard rock. Even though he was closer to Alice's age he was easy to speak to and he didn't give me the impression that he thought I was some immature kid that didn't have an opinion. I hadn't been able to speak this freely to someone since my dad had been alive. It was as if all my thoughts and ideas that had been bottled up came rushing out like a waterfall. He took it in and just listened patiently. Even as I rambled on, part of me couldn't understand why I was so open with him.

“Hey Elisa, who's your friend?” Shocked, I looked up to see Ida leaning against the kitchens door frame, looking at us intently. She had a sly grin on her face and I knew by the expression on her face that I would be bombarded with questions later, as well as a few choice comments. “Ida, this is Darryl, the person mom said was going tutor me. Darryl this is my sister Ida, the recluse of the family.” Scowling at me, Ida shook Darryl's hand. That was getting her for all the questions and comments I would hear from her later. “Nice to meet you Darryl. I hope my BABY,” emphasis on ‘baby’, “sister hasn't been too much trouble. You know how kids can be, when they learn something new and she can be very stubborn.” “It takes one to know one,” I hit back. Looking between myself and Ida, he smiled and replied, “She’s been an excellent student. Very diligent and she should pick up the guitar in no time.” “I'm sure she was,” Ida replied in a ‘not-so-convinced tone’. Glancing at his watch, Darryl jumped up, “Wow, I didn't realize that it was so late.” I looked at the grey clock on the kitchen wall, 4pm. “I promised my dad that I would help him with a few things today, it's a wonder he didn't call me to find out where I was and I have to get ready for tonight's show at a local pub.” I walked him to the door with my sister following at my heels, “Sorry I have to rush out so unceremoniously, same time next week?” “Same time next week,” I replied.

Closing the door, I turned around to be faced with Ida, arms crossed with a look that she was about to dissect someone. “A bit old for you don't you think?” With my hands on my hips, I prepared to scold her, when my mom walked in, “what did I hear about too old?” Before I could reply, Ida jumped in. “Elisa has a thing for her tutor. They were supposed to be done at 12, but he just left. I caught them having a cosy chat in the kitchen”, she rambled on. I wanted to scream. If Ida had, had any real interest in a boyfriend, she would have had her pick, but she was only interested in her books and since my dad had died, it had intensified.

She wanted to be a medical researcher and specialize in the disease that had taken his life. If they had not found a cure by the time she had finished he studies, then she would try and find it. The one thing Ida and I shared was our stubbornness, if she set her mind to something, it was hard to move her, and so if anyone would be able to do it would be her. But now she infuriated me. “If you want to be asexual, Ida, doesn't mean everyone has to be. And it’s not even like that. His nice, he listens and he's been the first person in the last year that I have been able to speak to, that did not constantly remind me that I was the youngest or that because of my age, I had nothing of value to add.”

I would never forget my mom and Ida's face as I stormed to my bedroom. They were stunned. I had never been the one to fly into a rage, but it seemed that today all the frustrations of the last year came flooding out. It had been a relief to speak to Darryl, and to have Ida belittle it as a simple crush of a teenage girl, had pushed the boundaries.

A little later I heard a soft knock on the door. It was 6pm. I thought that it was probably my mom calling me to have some dinner, since I hadn't left my room since the confrontation. There was another knock, but this time it was accompanied by a voice, almost a whisper. “Elly, it's Ida, can I come in?” “Not if you going to give me grief again,” I replied. I still felt a little bit tender about what she had said. “I promise I won't, I just want to talk.” I opened the door, “what is it?” She looked sheepish, which happened very seldom, although my sister was taller than me, she seemed to look like child in front of me. I let her in. At first she looked everywhere but me, then with a determined look, she faced me. “I’m sorry about earlier,” she started off, “I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions and I know you feel that we ignore you,” I opened my mouth to protest, she held up her hand “please let me finish. I let her to continue. “Like Alice sometimes treats us like she is our mother, I think I do that with you as well. It’s just that you are my little sister and I want to protect you, which doesn't excuse treating you like a baby. So I promise, from this day forth, that I will not treat you like one again. I won't dismiss what you say and if you need help, I won't think you don't understand. I'm sorry that I jumped to conclusions about you and Darryl.” She looked away for a moment, a bit embarrassed, “I was standing at the door for a long time watching you, waiting for the two of you to realize that I was there, but you were in your own world. And it took me announcing my presence for you to even know I was there. I should have been more open-minded about the situation. Am I forgiven?”

I knew it was hard for Ida to express what she felt and for her to acknowledge she was so wrong. How could I not forgive her? Hugging her, I replied, “It's okay sis, all is forgiven.” With a big grin on her face she pulled me down to sit on the bed, almost excited, “Okay so can I hear the low down about Darryl now?” I was taken aback by the sudden change, “Yeah okay,” I replied, uncertain. “I want to know about the person that seems to understand my lil' sis and who she can be so open with, plus his cute.” Cute!! Ida had actually called a boy cute; I don't think I had ever heard that come out of her mouth. Intelligent, curious, something to do with the brain, but nothing as simple as cute. I looked at her dumbfounded. A blush rose on her cheeks, “What? He has this contrasting thing going for him. On the outside he’s shy, cute nerd, but every now and again you get a glimpse of what lies underneath.” I wondered who had been the one that had spoken to him, Ida or me. “And what lies beneath,” I asked, curious at what she had seen. “A spontaneous energy that needs to be unlocked,” she laughed, “that what comes from having to stand and watch people, while you wait to get noticed.” I felt my cheeks colour a little bit. How long had Ida been standing there watching us, while she had waited to be noticed? It was long enough that she could see the same spontaneous spark that I had seen. Did it matter? It felt good to sit and speak to my sister again, to confide thoughts like we use to do in the past.


It became part of the routine that after Darryl and I had finished the guitar lessons, we would have a snack afterwards speaking about general topics. His family, his gigs and learning more about his family and his life growing up. I was amazed by their resilience. His parents had married straight out of school, when they were legally able to. They had been high school sweethearts. He had twin sister named Emily, who was best described as a tomboy and totally opposite to him. She had raven black hair and resembled her father, while he resembled his mother. He explained that they did share one feature and that was the shape of their eyes, which belonged to his mom. While his was hazel, hers was deep blue. She was extroverted and more likely to get into a fight, while he shied away from confrontation. He said that the only way he knew he got to her was to tease her that she had been born after him, by fifteen minutes. It had caused a lot of bruises on his side when they were young, but sometimes it had been worth it.

His dad had been an engineer and his mom an artist in Scotland. A recession hit and a lot of places started closing their doors, to a point where it was hard for his dad to find permanent employment. After much deliberation between his parents, they had decided to emigrate. They sold all their possessions which they could not fit into their bags or on the plane and took the plunge and moved here. Darryl and sister had just turned six, and as excited as he says he was, he did not really understand what they were doing. The concept of moving countries and the distance they were moving was inconceivable at the time. The idea of leaving family and friends behind, that he would only see in a few years or not at all, was an idea that only became reality when they finally left. But as soon as he landed, the first thing that he remembered was seeing the blue sky and the fresh smell of the ocean. It was a different smell from Scotland. It was the first time he fell in love.

It was a bit difficult in the beginning. There was cultural differences and some language barrier. They had left behind a world where they were part of the norm, for a place and way of life that was unknown to them.

Trying to keep onto what you knew and at the same time learn new ways of life was like having a dual personality, but eventually one learnt to merge them into one.

The first year they stayed with family, as his mother tried to find a permanent position to help his dad financially. She had decided to put her artwork on hold till they were stable again. The next year they moved into a small two bedroom house that they rented for a few years. His parents furnished it in ingenious ways, by using second hand furniture and different materials. The gem in their crown was their first coffee table. It was made out of two cement bricks, with a piece of wood on top and a cloth covering the full size as to hide the materials.

In the meantime his dad did extra work in his free time and gradually as they built their life, his business grew. His mom gave up an administration position to go back to her art and help his dad with the administration of the side business.

Darryl told me about what he remembered about his life in Scotland. The cities were different from what I assumed, which had basically been based on media and movies. I was too ashamed to admit, but the countryside, castles and lochs were all that I imagined and more.

On a Sunday his parents would pick a place and they would either take a train or drive and explore the area. It had been his mom's idea and he suspected that it had been secretly selfish, as she always took something that she could sketch with. As he told me about his childhood, it occurred to me how naive he seemed at the same age compared to me. He was so willing to forgive and forget, “Why hold a grudge? It only poisons that life that you are meant to live,” he had said.

I enjoyed hearing about his life, how his parents had shown amazing strength, both individually and in their relationship. How rare it was that people would endure so much and still be in love as they were, after so many years.

My mom and Ida would sometimes join us in those snack times adding to the conservation. Darryl was funny. His humour was best described as lame, but he had this way of delivering what he said in such a way, that all you could do was to laugh. There was a small spark in my mom again. Her laugh became almost like it was before, more contagious than forced. Ida added to the humour as well. She always had a dry one, something that had been hidden for awhile. She seemed lighter, less serious. Even Alice seemed less highly strung. After the first day they met, which I would always remember, the rage that had been building up inside her seemed to dissipate. Their first meeting had not been smooth, though.

The first time Alice had met Darryl, she had stormed into the house. It had been obvious that someone had angered her. She had walked in like a giant trampling around the house and had stopped dead in her tracks when she saw us congregated around the kitchen table. She first had a look of shock, which changed into pure rage in seconds. “Who's this and what does he think his doing sitting in dad's chair, like he owns the place,” she bit.

Alice could hardly be called diplomatic and sometimes her words were more like a bite than a bark. “Hello Alice,” my mom said calmly, “this is Darryl, Elisa's tutor. Remember I told you about him?” “Yes, but it still doesn't excuse him from taking liberties and sitting in dad's chair,” she replied, the bite was gone, but she was still ready to snap at any time. “Alice, come on,” Ida protested, frustration emanating from her face. I looked at Darryl from the corner of my eye. I wanted to crawl into a hole. My sister could be as sweet as cotton candy, but days like these I wanted to pretend that she didn't exist.

Darryl stood up and walked over to Alice. Why was he walking into the lion’s den, he was going to get ripped apart.

He calmly held out his hand, “Hi Alice, it’s nice to eventually meet you. You family has told me so much about you.” Well we hadn't warned him about her bite. “I'm glad to be able to put a name to the face.” Alice towered over Darryl, but she seemed to shrink back and was at a loss of words. I suppose she had expected retaliation and not a calm greeting. “I apologize. I didn't know that was your dad's chair, but I do understand why he liked it so much. At the angle you sit, you in the middle and a part of everyone. It's a lovely seat, but if you don't want me to sit there, I understand.”

Alice seemed to be unsure of her next move. Eventually she opened her mouth, “Well if you like sitting there so much, who am I to refuse you.” Darryl smiled, “Thank you and if I do anything to disrespect it, you have my full permission to use my own favourite guitar to whack me over the head with.” Alice's eyes widened and then there was a burst of laughter. My mom, Ida and I looked at each other confused. By the time Darryl had left, Alice looked as calm as a sloth. “I like him,” is all she said on the matter.

Those days became part of our lives and it was one of the days of the week I looked forward to. There were days we took the opportunity to enjoy summer before school started. We made trips to the beach and Darryl would bring along his acoustic and I would sit in wonder watching him play. Some days Alice and Ida would join us and after my mandatory lesson, we would enjoy the rest of the day splashing around in the waves.

It had been a long time since I had felt as carefree as I did on those days. Whatever had happened in the past, or what would happen in the future was not important, only the present.

When the school year eventually started, my friends commented on the change, “You seem actually to be listening to us these days, Elly, what happened?” “Nothing really.” “Oh come on, you looked like you were walking around in a daze, asleep, but now you awake. What caused this change?”

I wasn't sure what had been the cause of the change, but I knew that Darryl was the catalyst. It was one thought I didn't feel comfortable revealing to anyone just yet.

On one of these days Darryl had arrived at my house, excited. It seemed that he could not control himself. He was out of breath and when I asked him to explain, he put his hands on my shoulders, but he could not get the words out. “Calm down,” I giggled, “breathe and then tell me what's happening.” “Breath,” he repeated, taking a few deep breaths, he started speaking slowly. “We have been invited to play at a small musical festival out of town in two weeks time.” It was my turn to get excited, “What?! That's great,” I exclaimed. “It’s not a big one, maybe a bit bigger than a church bazaar, but they want us to play our own music. No tributes. I just got the call when I stopped in front of your house. We scheduled to play in the early afternoon” By the time he was done. I was jumping up and down like a five year old on Christmas morning. “So I can come and watch you play, eventually.” “Of course, I wouldn't have it any other way,” he smiled. “Yay,” I shouted throwing my arms around his neck. We jumped around in a circle in excitement, eventually falling down laughing. My mom walked in, “What's the entire ruckus about,” she asked, her hands on her hips surveying the scene in front of her. “Darryl has just been invited to play at a music festival. Isn't it exciting,” I explained out of breath. “Well done Darryl,” she said walking towards him, “one day I may just be able to say I knew you when you were tutoring guitar lessons.” He laughed and grabbed my mom hugging her, “Thank you Mrs. James, I really appreciate it,” there was an amused look on my mom's face after the shock had subsided. By then Alice and Ida had walked in to investigate what was happening. We related the news to them and it seemed as if the excitement increased. After we had calmed down, we decided to forgo the lesson for the day and celebrate. It was off to The Diner for a milkshake, where we sat around the table, excitement rising again, as we bombarded him with questions about the festival.

Thankfully the festival wasn't that far away and I only had to wait those two weeks before it would arrive. Darryl and I would still do the next lesson, but we had to forgo the snack time as the band had to rehearse. Over the course of the two weeks he updated us on the antics that were happening during these rehearsals. The frustration about the decision over which of their songs they were going to play in the thirty minute set. The changes some of the band members wanted to make and the arguments over whether they should or not make changes. But other than that, they were all excited. They wanted play their best.

My sisters and I had arranged to go and I had asked Chloë and Jack to come with, but between their own activities they could not make it. I had wanted them to meet Darryl. I was sure that they would like him as much as I did.

The day of the festival finally arrived and I woke up long before day break. I couldn't fall asleep again and decided to get ready. I had dressed and was busy finishing breakfast by the time Alice and Ida had woken up. I tried to keep myself busy with small chores as I waited for them to get ready, but the time seemed to stand still. I kept looking at the new kitchen clock, with its yellow back and green hands, like leaves on a flower. The hands stood still as if there was no breeze to move them. Bundling into Alice's car, I sent Darryl a message to let him know we were leaving. Even the drive felt longer than it should. It felt like hours were passing instead of minutes. In the meantime we messaged each other, arranging where to meet when we got there.

Although they were playing later in the day, we had decided to make a day of it and go to the festival early.

As we arrived, I tried to rush my sisters to the meeting spot, but it was as if their legs were made of jello and could not move faster. As we got closer, I could see Darryl. His hair was like a flame in the night. I noticed that he was standing with a group of people. As he turned and saw us an expression of joy washed over his face. He came to greet us and taking my hand he pulled me along to the group he had been standing with. “I want you to meet the band,” he said. All of a sudden I became very nervous and hesitant. What would they think of me, would they like me? Would I like them? Would I have anything to say to them?

As soon as we got to where they were standing, he started making introductions. Joshua was the bass guitarist. He was shorter than Darryl, with a round face and short curly, brown hair. He was wider than Darryl and he had full lips, which looked like it was always pouting.

Malcolm played the drums. He was tall and lanky with sharp features with straight dark hair that covered his ears. He was growing it out. He wanted to see how long it would take him to cut it. Then there was Stephen, he was the lead singer and played the keyboard. He was tall, but shaped like a surfer. He had a tan and had light brown hair, with blonde streaks. Definitely a surfer, I thought. He was very good looking and had a charm about him, which I was sure made all the female fans melt at his gaze.

Just then a girl came up at Darryl's side, laying an arm on his shoulder. She was slightly shorter than him, with raven black hair and startling blue eyes. “What about me? You haven't introduced me to your friends.” He looked at her, the side of his lip turned up, “and this is my younger sister, Emily.” “Younger by fifteen minutes. You pushed me out of the way or I would be older, old man,” she smiled then greeted all of us. “Where's Anne?” she asked. ”She's not coming. She had some work to do.” “Oh,” was all that Emily replied, but she had a concentrated look on her face. Who was Anne?

Our group moved around the stalls and while Alice seemed to hit it off with Malcolm, Ida seemed to be in deep conversation with Joshua. Emily walked with Stephen, but his eyes seemed to wonder between Alice and Ida. I didn't like that, if he was with Emily he shouldn't be looking at my sisters. When Darryl and I were a few paces away from everyone and out of earshot, I ventured to ask him, “Is Emily and Stephen together?” He burst out laughing, “Heck no, his not her type.” I looked at him confused”. “His too much of a 'pretty boy', her words, and we've known each other since we moved here. The guys consider her their little sister and I think she thinks of them as brothers.” “Oh okay,” I replied. His face slowly turned serious, “Why you asking?” “No reason,” I replied, “Just curious.” “Oh, do you like him?” I laughed, “No, nothing like that. I just noticed he’s been watching my sisters and I thought he was with Emily.” His face changed again, to something close to relief. “Well your sisters are beautiful and he is use to being the centre of attention when it comes to woman, so I think that Malcolm and Joshua hogging your sisters are a bit strange for him.” “Oh.” Alice and Ida were beautiful, but what about me? Did Stephen not even think I was pretty and what about Darryl? It had never bugged me before if anyone had thought I was attractive, but now it irked me a bit that Darryl had left me out, when he had acknowledged my sisters’ looks.

Gathering some food from the stalls, we moved to the stage area. We were early enough to find a good spot in front of the stage and sat down to eat as we listened to the artists that were playing before Darryl was due to be on stage.

Emily stayed with us when they left to prepare for their set. She was just as funny as Darryl, but her humour was sharper, and even though Darryl had described her as someone that was quicker to get into a fight than he was, she had the same air of calmness and patience around her like he did.

The band was up next. When they came on, we jumped up shouting, “Go Blue Lava.” Even from a distance I could see Darryl's face had gone crimson. They started playing and I was immediately in awe of their playing. The speed, the methods that Darryl exhibited were amazing. Stephen had a deep voice, which his appearance belied. Malcolm’s footwork and speed on the drums were like lightning. Joshua brought darkness to the music that was smooth. By the time they were done, we were not the only ones that were shouting their name.

After they packed up and joined us again, there was a larger group hovering around them congratulating them on their performance, including a few girls that seemed to be hanging onto their every word and movement. I found that amusing and shook my head.

These were the same people that had been sitting with us almost an hour ago, when they were unknown and none of them had noticed them. Now they had their own groupies. When they had made their way to us, through the crowd, we decided to go out for an early dinner to celebrate the success of their first big show.

But as they say, things never stay the same forever. It was about to come true and in a way that I had not even considered. Darryl had come over the next day, as usual, for my lesson, but he had a smile on his face that I couldn't place. He seemed lost in his own world and by the time the lesson was finished, my curiosity was fairly aroused. What could make him look and act so strangely? My family was out for the day, but as usual we had our snack afterwards and spoke about the previous day at the festival, until I couldn't contain myself.

His attitude had nothing to do with the show and if he wasn't going to tell me, I would have to him directly. “Darryl, what's up?” At my words, he seemed to wake up from a stupor. “Excuse me?” “I asked what's up” “What do you mean?” he asked. This was exasperating. “Well that look on your face and all through the lesson you were in your own world. And the one thing I am certain about it has nothing to do with yesterday's show,” I explained.

For the first time I saw Darryl look really uncomfortable, a blush appeared on his cheeks and his eyes looked everywhere, but at mine. His nervous movements made me nervous, till I couldn't take the silence anymore. “Come on, out with it. You fidgeting is making me feel on edge.” He hesitated for a while. “Well, where should I start,” he said in a low tone. “At the beginning,” I said impatiently. “OK,” taking a deep breath, “A few weeks ago I met this girl. We started out as friends, but as we spent more time together, the more I realized I really liked being with her. My feelings grew as time passed.” Girl?! He had said nothing about a girl. He continued, “She’s really sweet, she's a bit of a loner like me. Sometimes she makes me feel inexperienced and naive, but she either doesn't notice it or show it.

My mind was reeling. Sweet, loner, making him feel naive and inexperienced? Could he be speaking about Alice or Ida? He had said that he thought they were beautiful. “Well last night I eventually asked her to go out with me and she said yes.” Last night? We were with them till after dinner, which wasn't late. Did he ask them then? Why had either of them not said anything to me? After what Ida thought the first day, did she think she would be hurting me if she revealed how she felt and did Alice feel the same? How did I feel about it and what would happen if they broke up? Would I lose someone that I had become close to? “Who is it?” I blurted out, “is it Alice or Ida?” Darryl's eyes widened, then he smiled nervously, “Uhm, neither,” he replied. “Neither? There's nothing wrong with them, why neither?” I asked, stunned. “I agree there's nothing wrong with them, but it's not them. I think of your sisters as my friends.” “Oh, then who?” For a moment we looked straight at each other, then a thought dawned on me, but before it took root, he answered, “Her name is Anne.” Then I remembered what Emily had asked him. So that is who Anne was. He looked at me expectantly. “Why haven't you told me about her before,” I asked in a sharper tone than intended. “Well it’s new and I wasn't sure where it was going and a guy is allowed to keep a few things to himself if he likes, right?” It had sounded more like a statement than a question, even though he smiled. I recovered as quickly as possible and took a deep breath. I just hoped that Anne would be nice, the same fears I had about Alice and Ida reared its head. Things would definitely change, but the question was how. Would I still have my friend if he was with Anne?

Taking a deep breath, I decided to reserve my opinion, “Now that you have let out your little secret, do you want to tell me more about her? So where did you meet Anne,” I started. He grinned from ear to ear and started rambling.

Anne was a year younger than Darryl. He described her as petite and reminding him of a pixie. She was sweet and quiet, but she had the temperament of Tinkerbell from Peter Pan. She loved animals and that was the reason why she wanted to be a vet and spent most of her free time at animal shelters. A friend had introduced them the night he had found out about the festival and she was intriguing and seemed interested in him as well. And they ended up spending more time together. Last night after the dinner, he had called her and when he had told her all about the day, she had made him go out for supper. She had apologized for not being able to make it to the show. He could swear she had asked him out, but by the end of the night he was sure that he had made the first move.

From his description I felt more at ease that I would retain my friend, and I was became excited about meeting her. I was happy for Darryl, he seemed to glow as he spoke about her and that glow was infectious.

“So when do I get to meet her?” I asked. “Not sure, but I will make it happen,” he smiled. “I almost forgot. I'm giving you, your first real assignment. Next week’s lesson will be an audition.” “Audition? What?” Darryl laughed, “Don’t worry, it’s just for me. But I want you to pick your own song. Something we haven't done before. I want you to find the music, practice and play it for me. But be warned, I will be brutally honest with you. Better you hear it from me first okay.”

Whew, I thought, that wouldn't be so bad.

I walked Darryl to the door and all of a sudden he put his things down and hugged me. “Thank you,” he said in my ear, “thank you for being such a good friend and making me apart of your family.” With that he kissed my forehead and left. I stood there stunned, my mom came up behind me, “Elly what's the matter?” “Nothing’s wrong mom,” I smiled back at her. When the rest of the family came home, I told them about Anne. My mom looked at me confused, “but I thought...,” she stopped herself in mid-sentence, “never mind.” “Thought what mom?” “Oh, nothing, just an old woman whose eyes don't work so well anymore.” Then she looked at me, I felt that she was trying to see something, but I wasn't sure what, “How do you feel about it?” “Well, I know things always change. It's just going to be strange not seeing Darryl as much as we use to, now that he has a girlfriend.” “Having a partner doesn't mean you have to change your life totally. It doesn't mean that he will stop being your friend or coming around to see us, like before,” my mom replied. “Oh mom, come on. He’s got a girlfriend. He would want to be with her as much as possible and she with him,” I said getting up to go to my room. “Yes, sweetheart, but that doesn't mean he should give up his friends, that's not healthy,” my mom replied as I walked away.

My mom hadn't had a new boyfriend in a long time. Had she forgotten how couples were in the beginning. All they wanted to see was their partners’ faces, not a person they were giving lessons to. I lay on my bed and my mind kept drifting to Darryl and Anne. How would this change our friendship? Before when he had left after a lesson, I had never wondered what had occupied his time between his lessons. It had seemed simple. Work, gigs, friends, family. Now there was an added level of a girlfriend. “What is wrong with you?”, I shouted at myself. “He is happy and you should be happy for him. You being selfish about his time. One would swear that you are jealous.” “I'm not jealous. Why had he not said anything about her before?” “Because certain things are private, even from you.” “And would he still be friends with me, as before?” “You are being silly, of course he will. What had he said when he left. Stop being so immature. It’s a girlfriend, not a new country. And you haven't even met her.” “Oh be quiet. I'm going to choose a song now.” “Good it will keep you from thinking stupid thoughts.” And with that my mind retreated, not before she wiggled her finger at me.

That week I practiced every minute I could. I wasn't sure if it was because I really wanted to impress Darryl with what I had learnt from him, or if it was that it kept me from having those nagging questions.

The next lesson arrived and I had butterflies in my stomach. The song I had chosen was close to home and I wasn't sure if I could play it in front of anyone.

When Darryl arrived, he seemed tense. But as he put four seats in the living room to my surprise, he eased and seemed to relax.

“Who are those for?” “It's a surprise,” he grinned at me. Those butterflies turned into knots that made me want to bend over. A few minutes later my mom and sisters walked in and took a seat. “I’m a bit biased. I needed outside opinions to judge better,” he had a mischievous smile on his face.

This would be harder than I thought. Strangers, I would never see them again, but my family, I couldn't run away from them. Darryl must have arranged this in the week and they had kept it secret all this time. Darryl positioned me to side of the seats and addressed my family, “Good day ladies, today we have something special. Ms Elisa James will be performing a song, which she picked, practiced and will play on her own.” Applause. “Ms James,” Darryl motioned me to move forward. This was embarrassing, I looked at Darryl with daggers, but he seemed to stifle a laugh. “Hi everyone, the song I picked shouldn't be a surprise, as I have been practicing it the whole week. It is 'Sunshine of my love' by Cream.”

I got ready, making sure that my guitar was in tune, but as I was about to play I looked at my mom and all the music disappeared. I stood there frozen, stunned like a rabbit in headlights. In the distance I heard someone whisper, “Don’t worry you got this. Close your eyes and hum the song. Take a deep breath and when you ready, start.”

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, hummed, and took another deep breath and when I finally opened my eyes, like fog that had lifted, all the music was back. I looked at Darryl, he winked at me, and I smiled and then strummed the first note.

When I had played the last chord, I looked up to see tears streaming down my mom's face. It had been too close to home. I hadn't known if I could play the whole song without breaking down, but it had been worse for my mom.

I rushed over to her, kneeling in front of her, “I'm sorry mom. I didn't know you would be part of today. If I did, I would have chosen something else.”She smiled down at me, “This isn't tears of heartache sweetheart, it's tears of joy. When you played it brought back good memories. The day of my wedding when your dad and I took our first steps on the dance floor to this song. Before that, the first time you dad asked me to dance, was to this song. So my dear, dear girl you can play it anytime you like, do you hear me.” With that she hugged me and I felt relief move through my body like a tidal wave. After drying her tears, she looked down at me, “I am very impressed. The first time you played that in front of an audience and it was perfect.” “She's a natural ma’am and she did more than was expected.”

Darryl stood up and moved towards me without looking away, “Music is about telling a story, moving people in a certain way. Love, happy, sad, excited, etc. Elisa did all that today. She put her heart into playing, and that is what we felt.” Relief seemed to wash over a second time. I was being silly about losing Darryl. He would be a good friend as long as I was a good friend to him and right now I was being selfish and not being a good friend.

We ended up sitting in the kitchen as usual, this time it was my mom that was leading the conservation with stories about how she and my dad had met. It was stories that we had heard a million times, but today it felt new. We laughed, we were shocked, but mostly we were happy.

The next week I added more songs to the list that I wanted to learn. They were mostly songs that my dad had enjoyed. I wondered what his words would be if he saw me play. Deep down I knew, he would be proud. He would say how jealous he was that I knew how to play and he didn't. He would give me a new song every week to learn, just so that he could hear me play it. And I would be happy to do it, because I would know that he would love to hear it and he would love it even more because I was playing it. I missed him, but that hole wasn't that empty anymore. Up until now, I had not seen that my dad was still with me.

The following lesson that Darryl had prepared was a bit more intense, with different techniques of playing to bring out different styles of music and sounds. After the lesson, we sat down to something to drink and we spoke about our week. He and Anne had gone to some charity ball for an animal shelter. It was the first time he had worn a tux since his matric farewell, “ Thank goodness I hadn't picked up much size since then or I would really have been stuck.” I laughed. “ I have news. Some show producer or something has been to a few of our small tribute shows and he also saw us at the music festival. There is this big tribute to 70's rock happening in about a month’s time and tomorrow he is supposed to confirm with us if he wants us in the show.” “ Awesome.” “ Well it’s not for sure yet, but let's keep our fingers crossed.” I looked at him, shaking my head, “ Of course he will confirm. He will be stupid if he doesn't. Promise to let me know as soon as you do.” “ I promise,” he smiled.

The next day I got a message, “ We got into the show.” I screamed and my mom and Ida looked at me. I explained what Darryl had told me and they couldn't wait to call him to congratulate him.

With the following lesson, everyone had come together to congratulate him. They had already had their first rehearsals and Darryl described what had happened and how different it was from what he was use to. The production was big and there were so many things to remember, because they were performing with other musicians, “But it’s fun,” he said with a grin from ear to ear.

“I have a surprise as well. I never did give Elly her prize for such a phenomenal performance at her audition,” he said, a devilish smile forming across his face. My eyes widened, “What is it?” “ Well it’s in my guitar case. Would you like to fetch it?” Without answering him I jumped up, moving quickly to the case. In it I found an envelope. Opening it as fast as possible I found four tickets. I ran back to the kitchen, hardly able to keep my excitement together, “ Darryl got us tickets to his show,” I said with a slight squeal. He started to blush again, “Well I couldn't get Elly a ticket without getting the other three. Mrs. James you fed me snacks and Alice and Ida, you had to put up with your sister constant practicing,” he winked at me, “so it’s more of a thank you, to all of you.”

We continued to speak about the upcoming show, till Darryl got ready to leave. As always I walked him to the door. “ I have an extra surprise for you, I got permission for you to come backstage after the show. So if you want you can join us and meet some of the other musicians. I will speak to you mom about arrangements.” “Are you serious?” “Yes.” I jumped at him, hugging him furiously, “ Of course I want to,” I said against his chest.“ How could you even ask, 'if I want to?' that so silly,” hugging him again. Looking up into those almond shaped eyes, my arms still wrapped around his waist, “ Thank you. It was very sweet of you to do that.” He smiled, his eyes seemed to be changing colour, his arms were still wrapped around my waist and it felt as if it was melting into me, “It was my pleasure. Having you experience it with me is all the thanks that I need. Plus it would be nice to have a groupie there. ” With the last words, his grin turned mischievous. “Groupie?” I squealed. “Yes, I need a few points with the other musicians backstage,” his smile seem to widen as he spoke. “Groupie,” I said again. “Who's your groupie?” I said slowly. His grip seemed to tighten as he spoke. “ You of course.” “Me!!” I yelled, “ what made you think I would ever be groupie material and then your groupie on top of that.”I moved away, pushing slightly, but his hands were locked at the back of my waist. “I'm only joking,” he said, with that same grin on his face. I crossed my arms and I looked the other way. His face became crestfallen and his arms dropped immediately and just as suddenly I wished I had not pretended to be so angry. “I'm really sorry,” he said, “ I really didn't mean what I said, it was a stupid joke.” My heart sank. “ Hey, I'm sorry. I was kind of pretending to be angry.” “Really?” “Really.” It seemed a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, but I could still feel his arms around my waist and I had to change the subject quickly. Something like throwing a bucket of ice on me. “ So will I eventually be meeting Anne?” “ I'm not sure,” he said, his eyebrows knotting. “ She hasn't confirmed if she will be going or not.” That was strange, the second time she would miss a show and this was bigger. “ Maybe she’s just worried that she would have to work at the shelter,” I said. “ Maybe,” he replied unsure. “Well I'm excited about meeting her.” He looked at me, slightly smiling, “ I can't wait for you to meet her either.” He looked at me, but it felt as if he was searching for something, but couldn't find it. He finally moved towards his case, “ I have to get going, more practice and rehearsals.” As he left, I couldn't help but feeling like there had been opportunity missed and that he had searched for some answer from me which he hadn't been able to find.

The days from the time that Darryl had given us the tickets and the concert dragged by. He still continued our lessons, but with time drawing closer to the show, he had to rehearse more often, while they still played their normal gigs.

The time spent together after the lessons, grew shorter and shorter. It grew more of an updating session on the rehearsals than a true visit and although I was excited about the upcoming show, I missed the snack time discussions. It was exciting hearing about how the show was developing and we found out that Darryl and his band had to wear costumes. I secretly promised myself to take a camera with. It was an opportunity I could not miss.

The school days dragged by and the lessons seemed never ending. During one lunch break I sat under the cool of a tree with two of my closest friends, Chloë and Jack. “Elly, Elly did you hear me?” “What?” “You daydreaming again?” “Sorry Chloë, I have a few things on my mind. What were you saying?” “Hmm, there has been a lot on your mind, a lot of the time. Maybe if you tell us, it may relieve you of the some of the clutter,” Jack replied. I smiled back at him, but said nothing. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust them, there were certain things I preferred to keep myself and they had known me long enough to understand. “It’s nothing, school stuff.” “Uh Huh, whatever you say,” he looked at me with one eyebrow raised.

Jack and I had been friends from grade one. We hadn’t started off that way. Actually the opposite. One day he had thrown me with a mud pie and I had responded by punching him in the stomach. Our parents had come together and decided that the best way to punish us, was to make us spend time together. When he saw my Thundercats Tygra figurine and I saw his remote control Batman car, how could we not be lifelong friends?

As we had grown up, we still had common interests and likes. We seemed to be like different branches of the same tree. Our music tastes were almost the same. Which was a variant between rock, hip hop, alternative and even pop. We maintained the same idea that our like or dislike of a song didn’t depend on the genre, but the lyrics and music. We were both still hooked on comic books and fantasy heroes. And as kids, most of our time was spent gaming or researching games, which had been hard for our folks, as they tried to get us off the couches.

Because of this we had been teased all through schools as the ‘old married couple’. I suppose, that on the outside people would assume that, since we were close. And maybe due to this ‘pressure’, we had tried dating when we had become aware of romantic relationships.

Our first kiss had been horrible. Not only because of the lack of experience, but as we both agreed, it felt like kissing a sibling. We never ventured down that road again. It was tried, it had failed and we were both sure that it would never happen again.

Although we shared a lot of interests, there were some where we separated completely. These were where Chloë and I clicked. I had met Chloë on my first day of high school. We had both been running around a corner, late for class, but from opposite directions and had ended up in the nurse's office with bloody noses. There we had struck up a conversation about an article that had been in the paper. We had debated and discussed and by the end of the day we had become friends. Chloë and I shared, what Jack said, or rather teased, as ‘intellectual’ interests. Where Jack and I hung around sharing childish antics, Chloë and I discussed serious topics like politics, art and literature. But the one good thing was that it seemed that the three of us brought the best out of each other. Jack brought out the funny side, Chloë was the serious side and I was in the middle, the one that balanced it all. Or so I always liked to think. We were three sides of the same coin, top, bottom and side.

We spent most of our free time together, between the weekends that Jack had to play sports and Chloë did her dancing.

Jack refused to acknowledge that since he had started high school, his ‘inner jock’ had been threatening to take over his body. He looked the part too. During the last years’ year end break, over the course of two months, he had gone from being almost a head shorter than me to over a head and a half taller. He had also filled out quite a bit in those two months and in a good way. Because of the sports that he started doing when we started high school, he was well built to where you could see the shape and curve of almost every muscle. He had a dark complexion, with dark hair and dark eyes, which seemed to emphasize his build.

His eyes were large, the shape of petals with the corners on the outside. He wore his specs more often than he needed to, and I suspected that it was a way to hold onto his persona of ‘nerd’. It had amazed and amused me, at his expense, how he was receiving attention from the opposite sex. Specifically those that had not given him a second glance the previous year. But I was proud of him. It did not go to his head and he had ignored the advances of those that had rebuffed him previously.

Chloë had, what some said, the perfect dancers’ body. She was shorter than me and petite, but I called her ‘ the little TNT’. She had blonde hair, which she refused to cut any shorter than her lower back. It was one of her assets, she had said. With deep, dark green eyes, the shape of sauces placed perfectly apart on an oval face. I couldn’t see her doing anything else. She didn’t like sports, as it was too rough and she was scared that she would break something and ruin her future dance career.

“I was saying,” she sounded exasperated. She always did when she had to repeat something. “After the mid-year break is the school’s talent show and I was thinking of entering and I wanted you to enter with me.” “What?” “ You heard me this time,” she looked at me with her eyes narrowing. “Last year you said it was for kids, now you want to enter?” “I know, but I need practice and I need to enter to get into practice for bigger auditions.” “But why do you want me to enter?” “Your weekends have been taken up by guitar lessons and your music tutor,” she fluttered her eyelashes, “You should be a maestro by now. And I had an idea that the one set, that is a group set, we could do together.” “Chloë, I’m not the performing type and I have never played in front of a big audience.” “Please,” holding her hands together and turning her head, pleading like a five year old. I rolled my eyes. Before I said yes I knew that I was going to regret it, but she was my friend and what friend would I be if I didn’t support, even if that meant putting myself in an embarrassing situation.

“Okay fine, but you paying for my reconstructive surgery and protective custody,” I answered. “ Thank you,” she hugged me, big grin spread across her face. “ And what about me? It’s not like I can play a game on stage or do a ‘show and tell’ of my comic books” Looking at Chloë, I smiled, “You can play our cheerleader.” Grinning back at me, she added, “ You can bring a few friends to cheer us on, just in case.” “So much for faith,” I looked at her, shocked. She just laughed. By the end of the day I had signed up for the show and I began to wonder what Chloë had gotten me into.

At dinner, I told my mom and Ida about the talent show, “That’s great sweetheart, what do you have to do?”

“Well we have two sets. One is a solo act and the second is a group act. Chloë and I are going to work out something where I play and she dances.” “Great idea,” Ida added. We continued the talk the rest of the evening, with my mom and Ida giving me ideas for both sets.

The day of the concert had finally arrived. The seconds ticked by slowly and every time I looked at my smiley clock on my side table, its grin seemed to mock me, saying, ‘today time will stand still’. My stomach turned to knots and by the time we left it was twisted in ways that made me want to bend over and curl up into a ball.

We arrived at the concert hall, slightly early. It was a large hall, which had been built over two-hundred years prior. It has not been changed, just updated to allow for new technologies like electricity and lighting. But other than that, it was as it was, when it was first built. The outside was pale with images of plays carved into stone above the door. As one walked through its heavy wooden double doors you were greeted with a large open area. Across the door were steps with gilded gold railings that lead to the top floor and the private boxes. There was a lush red carpet that lead from the front door all the way up the stairs.

In the foyer there were murals of cherubs, muses and nymphs all over the walls and the crystal chandelier gave it a soft glow as it sparkled with the colours of the rainbow. One could imagine ladies and gentleman, dressed in their Victorian finery attending operas and plays, waiting in the foyer, having private conversations as they waited for it to begin.

We made our way to our seats and as we moved to the front of the auditorium, we noticed that there were already people seated close to us in the same row. I saw that the first was a gentleman of about forty-years of age, with salt and pepper hair, who had a tanned complexion. He had a distinctive nose and oval shaped eyes, which were bright blue. Next to him, was a lady of the same age, with strawberry blonde hair, more strawberry than blonde. She had almond eyes, that were hazel in colour and a round face with a milky complexion. Seated next to her was a girl of about eighteen years old, with blonde hair, cut in a pixie style. She was pretty, but looked like she had a permanent scowl. It seemed like it stopped her being anything but just pretty. Right next to her was a girl about the same age, but with raven black hair.

As soon as I recognized Emily, she looked up and saw us. She jumped up and moved past everyone to greet us at the gentleman with the salt and pepper hair. “ You came,” she said hugging me. “ How could I not come, miss your brother in a costume?”, pulling out my camera, “ and I'm making sure he never forgets.” We both laughed. As we moved on, she tried to make introductions. The gentleman was their father and the resemblance between the two was uncanny. The next was her mom. Darryl looked like his mom, although his nose was more distinctive like his dad's, where Emily's eyes were the shape of their moms. I wondered if genetics somehow, purposefully made offspring resemble parents of the opposite gender The next was the pixie looking girl. “ This is Anne.” I bent to take her hand to shake it. She looked up at me. Her eyes were a light blue, like ice and when she looked at me I felt a chill go down my spine. “Nice to meet you Anne, I've heard so much about you and I'm excited about finally meeting you.” Her mouth hardly opened, as she took the tips of my fingers, “Hello,” she said and quickly she released my hand.

We got seated and Emily and I continued to speak about our plans about how we would tease Darryl with the photos I would take of him. I watched Anne. She seemed lost and as quietly as possible I gestured to Emily to include her in our conversation. Anne made little or no comment, even when Mrs. McDougal joined in, after hearing our plans of mischievousness. Anne sat as if in another world. Darryl had said that she was a loner, maybe this was just way out of her comfort zone, I thought. The lights dimmed and the show began.

With each performance it felt as if you were being transported into the time and place where the music had been recorded. Every now and again, one would be forgiven for being shocked that they had not been transported back in time.

When Darryl's band came on stage, we made enough noise to make them proud. They were dressed in leathers and jeans, tight and black. On their heads were moppy wigs, which covered most of their faces. Malcolm had a shirt that was ripped all over, while Stephen walked on stage bare chested with just a leather jacket pushed up at his elbows. Joshua and Darryl seemed to be the only ones that had shirts that did not show some skin.

Again I was amazed at their skill. Would I ever be able to play like him? “Practice and push yourself” was what he always told me when I began to doubt my abilities. One more band played and then lights came on for the intermission.

We made our way out of the hall to get some refreshments. Screaming like that really dried ones throat. How did all those girls from those nineteen-fifties live music shows survive without bottled water close to them. No wonder most of them fainted.

While waiting for my drinks order, I felt a slight tap on my shoulder. Turning around I was greeted with Darryl's face. I wanted to jump up and give him a hug and tell him how awesome their performance had been, but I contained myself. With a grin, I let him know how well they had done, “ I got some pictures to remember this night as well,” I said with an even bigger smile, he had a resigned look on his face, “ I saw the flashes, I figured you would bring one and not let me forget the costume. Where is the rest of the gang?” I pointed to where our families stood and we made our way through the crowd. His parents both gave him a hug and Emily slapped him on the back, “Seems the old man still has some juice in those old bones,” she laughed. “ Seems so,” he replied, “ well it seems everyone has been introduced,” he a said looking around at us. “I'm not like you, that waits for some to ask to be introduced,” Emily said looking at him with one eyebrow raised.

Anne had moved so quietly that I hadn't noticed that she was standing right next to me. Darryl seemed to be unaware of her as well, till she put her arm through his. “Anne,” regaining his composure quickly, “ how did you like the show?” “It was nice,” she said looking up at him smiling. “My sister did introduce you to Elly and her family?” “ Yes, she did,” she gave me a side glance and then turned her attention back to Darryl. Her arms seemed to curl even tighter around his. “Well it took you long enough, Darryl,” his mom jumped in, “it was nice to eventually put the names to the faces.” “ And such pretty faces,” his dad added. “ We were starting to wonder if the ladies that were keeping Darryl so busy were a figment of his imagination. They were too good to be true,” he said with a grin on his face. I felt my cheeks warm up and in the corner of my eye I saw Anne's head swivel towards me, the scowl on her face was deeper than before. “ Oh honey, stop embarrassing them,” she scolded him, all the while smiling at us. “Don't mind my dad, between lame jokes and lamer complements, you eventually learn to ignore him,” Emily interrupted winking. I wasn't sure if it was meant for us or her father.

The bell rang to signal the end of the intermission. We quickly waved Darryl away as he had to get ready for the second half, and then we made our way back to our seats. We changed the seating arrangements as our parents wanted to sit close together. So my mom sat with Emily's parents, next to her sat Ida and then Emily. I sat next to Emily with Alice on my right and Anne at the end. We had offered her a seat between us, but she had refused and preferred sitting at the end. During the second half I noticed frustration building on Alice's face as she tried to engage Anne in conversation, but it seemed that Anne was not interested.

Before I knew it, the show was done and we made our way to the foyer. As we spoke, I ended up standing next to Anne. It was the perfect opportunity to speak to her. “So Darryl says you want to be a vet, what made you decide on that?” “ Yes I do. I prefer them to human beings, they so much quieter and far more loyal.” “ It was too bad you couldn't make it to the festival, it was the first time I saw the band play and I was blown away.” “I had more important things to see to, but from what I hear you didn't really miss my absence. So I am sure you got along very well without me.” That icy chill went down my spine again, this was going to be harder than I thought. “Well it would have been nicer if you had been there,” I said trying to salvage the conversation. “I'm sure,” is all that she said. This was not going well. “ So do you play an instrument?” “No,” “ Why not?” I asked a bit astonished. I would have thought that she would have the same enjoyment in music as Darryl. “ Playing an instrument doesn't really interest me.” “Oh ok, well I suppose different people find passion in different things.” There was silence, and I didn't know how to break it, till she spoke. “I'm sorry, Darryl didn't tell me much about you. We hardly ever speak about the people he tutors, since some of them can be a little bit childish and immature,” with the last comment she looked straight at me and I had no doubt which way the comment had been directed. I didn't know how to respond and I was confused. I didn't know what I had done to garner such a response from her. We stood there in silence as the conversation around us moved on.

Just then Darryl appeared, greeting everyone he came straight at us. “Are you ready?” he said looking a bit out of breath. “Yes,” I replied. Ida and Alice looked confused, with a bit of a smirk I explained that Darryl had been able to get permission that I meet the other band members, “And mom agreed, as long as he brought me home before curfew and he looked after me.” Saying good-bye to all, he took my hand, “Come along, before we miss the start.” As we were about to go, Anne appeared out of nowhere. “Did you forget about me?” a smile as sweet as toffee apples appeared across her face. Surprise and confusion spread over Darryl's face. He spoke quietly, “But you said you didn't want to come backstage when I asked you.” “Can't a girl change her mind?”, she looked up at him, her eyelashes fluttering. It felt like a bucket of cold water had been thrown over my excitement. “I suppose so,” confusion still radiating from his face, “okay let’s go then.”

Anne held on to Darryl's arm as if she was being blown by gale force winds as he lead us through the foyer. There were still quite a lot of people left behind and as we got to a tight knot of people Darryl took my hand so that we would not be separated. Anne moved ahead of us, moving fast through the other patrons, until it was nearly impossible for me to keep up with them. I lost my grip on Darryl's hand, getting stuck for a moment. When I had wriggled my way through, I saw them disappearing around a corner and I moved as fast as I could to catch up to them.

As I neared the corner, I heard voices in the distance. I followed and recognized Darryl's immediately. I moved faster, but as soon as I could make out what was being said, curiosity overtook me and I slowed down. “Anne, slow down, Elly lost us in that group of people. I promised her mom I would look after her, I can't leave her behind.” “She's a big girl, I'm sure she can make her way backstage and this isn't the Royal Albert Hall.” Man, I thought my sister's’ words could bite. “Besides, why all the excitement about introducing her to the other members of the show. You didn’t do this for the other people you tutor. What’s so special about her?” “Elisa isn’t just a someone I tutor. She and her family have become close friends.” “ A friend, huh?,” from the tone I could hear that it was unconvinced. “You sure that’s all?” “Yes, I am sure. Where is this all coming from anyway?” “You seem very interested in her.” “We share something in common. The love of music. Until the beginning of the week, you said you would not be coming to the show, even when I had told you that I had made arrangements to meet the rest of the show’s cast.”

I smiled a bit, he thought of me as a close friend, but I couldn’t understand Anne’s reaction. She was jealous, but of what? And why was she being so nasty to Darryl? It seemed that she did not take an interest in his music at all. “In any case, I’m going back to look for Elisa. You can stay here or come with me.”

That was my queue to move, in case they realized that I had been listening to their conversation. I moved a few steps back and started calling out. Darryl came around the corner. He was irritated. It was the first time I had even seen him like that, “There you are, I thought we had lost you.” “Sorry about that, there were just too many people to get past. I saw you turn the corner and figured the backstage was this way,” I smiled slightly. Anne came around Darryl and clung to his arm as before, she looked at me, with concentrated anger. “See I told you she could look after herself,” she said still glaring at me. He looked down at her with a flash of anger, but said nothing. Instead he turned back to me, “Come, let’s go before we miss the fun,” he smiled.

As we made our way deeper into the back of the theatre that looked like it could be the beginning of the basement, I kept my distance from both Darryl and Anne. For whatever reason, she was jealous, and I did not want to add to her reason or to Darryl’s irritation. As we made our way around another corner I could hear the muffled sounds of many people speaking and music playing. We came up to an old wooden door and when Darryl opened it, there was a cacophony of sound and light.

When we entered Darryl was greeted with handshakes and pats on the back. His calmness returned and the smile that he gave was sincere. As he moved myself and Anne along the throng of people, I lost track of all the names. I felt like I was in the middle of a whirlwind of laughter and introductions. We made our way to his band, and by the time we reached them I felt a bit relieved that I knew someone.

“Darryl’s groupie,” Malcolm exclaimed, as he hit me on the back. I rolled my eyes. “Where?” I said looking around me confused. He laughed, “So how did you enjoy show?” “Awesome, you always outdo yourself every time I see you perform. “Really?” his eyes narrowing. “You sure you not a groupie?” I crossed my arms, “If you call me that one more time I’ll advertise you as the-has-beens-before-their-prime.” Malcolm lifted his arms in defeat, “Promise not to call you that ever again.”

It was Malcolm’s turn to introduce me to more people, this time we took our time to stand and speak. Sometimes I would catch glimpses of Anne as they made their way through room. She hung onto Darryl as if he was her handbag she was scared would get lost. Stephen joined us as we made our own way through the different groups of people. “Hey Elisa, how you doing?” “Good,” I replied, “great show.” “Thanks,” looking past me, “where’s your sisters tonight?” I had to smile.

As beautiful as Alice and Ida were, they were not attracted to physical appearance only, intelligence and humbleness was a big part of it. If Stephen liked either of them, he had to prove that he wasn’t just a pretty face. “Sorry Stephen, I had the VIP ticket tonight. Maybe next time they can all come along.” He smile split his face, “That is definitely a plan.” As we moved along I kept catching Anne in the corner of my eye, she had started glancing in our direction now. Why the constant vigilance? She had Darryl all to herself.

A little later Darryl found me sitting down with a few musicians. “It’s time to leave Ms Muso.” I looked up, not believing the time had gone by so quickly. “Ah, can’t we stay for a little bit longer,” I tried to bat my eyelids. “Your mom will skin me alive, and do you know how hard it is trying to keep an eye on you, even with a few extra set of eyes helping me? I’m more bushed now than after we practiced and played.” He had been keeping an eye on me? But we had hardly been in the same company the whole evening. “I didn’t want to ‘cramp your style’, so I had a few helpers,” he smiled looking at his fellow band members. They smiled back at me and winked. They had taken turns to babysit me, “Thanks,” I said hugging them in turn, “I won’t ever forget tonight.”

Darryl and I gathered up my things and I said goodbye to a few musicians before we returned to the band so I could say my farewell. “Thanks again for tonight,” I said hugging them. Anne came up behind Darryl, “Darryl….I’d like to stay a bit longer. I’m sure Stephen will be able to take me home, it’s on his way. If that’s okay with him?” Darryl and Stephen looked at each other confused, “Sure if you want. Stephen are you okay with that?” Stephen looked unsure, “Well I’m okay with that. I’m not going to stay long though, about an hour or so, I’m bushed” “That’s okay,” Anne jumped in. For the first time the whole evening, I saw a real smile flicker on Anne’s lips. “Thanks Steve, see you tomorrow,” and we left.

A feeling crept up the back of my spine. It was strange that Anne had wanted to stay behind. She hadn’t wanted to come to the gathering backstage initially and the whole evening she had been stuck to Darryl like glue. She was obviously jealous of our friendship, but maybe it was because she didn’t know me. But why, after all of that, had she opted to stay behind with Stephen, instead of come home when Darryl and I left?

Darryl was unusually quiet as we left. There was definitely something bothering him. I wanted to ask him without overstepping the boundaries, but I couldn’t think of a way to do it. When the silence became over bearing I plucked up the courage to ask him straight out. “Hey D’, what’s wrong, you very quiet.” “Nothing, just been a long day, I guess.” “ So you really enjoyed tonight,” he asked, the usual change of subject strategy. He really didn’t want to speak about what was bothering him. I played along and we ended up speaking about the show. His spirits seemed to lift the more we spoke. “ Hey Elly, I have been meaning to tell you something for awhile, but with the show, I just didn’t find the right time. I suppose now is as good as any.” He was serious, but not upset. “What is it?” “Well it’s a kind of secret,” he smiled. “The band has been speaking and after the reception at the festival, we have been thinking about trying to actually make this a full time thing.” “Full time thing?” “ Yes. We going to save a bit of money and record some of our best music, and then next year do a type of tour to all the festivals. Get our music out there and see where it leads us.” “Wow,” I didn’t know what else to say. “That’s a really big step.” My excitement was starting to boil up. “I’m so happy for you,” starting to bounce in my seat. “It’s going to be awesome.” “ You really think so?”, he asked. “Of course. Playing is what you love. The band makes great music. I don’t think why it won’t work.” He had that toothy grin on his face, “But you are a bit bias though.” I looked astonished, “Me bias? Never, I can’t help that you make great music and you just so happen to be my friend.” He laughed and the rest of the drive back home was spent making arrangements as far as a world tour.

Always a gentleman, Darryl walked me to the door. Before I could put the key in to unlock, he turned me around. “Elly…., thank you.” I looked at him a bit confused, “For what?” “ For being such a good friend and one of the few people apart from my family that believe in me and my love of playing.” My mind suddenly jumped to Anne. Did she have the same belief in his playing? “That’s what friends are for,” I smiled back at him. “It’s strange. The first time we met, stumbling over that very same door frame, you face a red as an apple, I never thought that you would be such a big part of my life.” He seemed to be moving closer. “And you are a big part of mine to. Darryl you brought something into my home, that I thought had disappeared and it was good.” He moved closer and his hand taking mine. Feeling the fingertips, he had a slight smile, “You have almost as many calluses as I do.” “And one day I will have as many as you do.” He smiled brighter at that. “It would be nice if things between us can be like this forever,” he replied. I wondered why would he think it would change. I looked up at him, while he kept looking at my fingers, touching the edges. “Darryl, things always change, but that change doesn’t always have to be bad. Sometimes they can be good. Next year your life may change, but it will be for the good. You will be doing something you love.” He looked up from my fingers, I saw the same flecks of green and gold in his eyes that I saw the first day we met. He seemed to search for something again. With a wry smile, he softly echoed, “Good change. I’ll keep that in mind.”

Letting go of my hand, “I think it’s time we go in before your mother calls the police.” I unlocked the door and found my mom and sisters gathered at the kitchen table. Darryl greeted them, but bade them a quick farewell, apologizing that he was tired from the evening to stay longer. I walked him to the door, “Thanks again for this evening,” I told him as he was leaving. He smiled, “It was a pleasure,” He leaned in and whispered into my ear, “ You have been the best change.”

Lightly kissing me on the cheek, he lingered there for a moment. I could smell his cologne. It was a fresh sweet smell, like freshly cut grass after a spring ran. The heat of his cheek warmed mine and as he breathed, it moved past my ear and sent goosebumps down my neck. Softly he said good night and as he moved away, I watched him from the corner of my eye. His eyes had been closed and when he faced me again, he slowly opened it and looked straight into my eyes with an intensity I had never seen before. Not breaking any eye contact, he took a deep breath and told me, “Sweat dreams.” For a moment longer he stayed, then turned and walked away.

I watched as he left, my heart racing a mile. I couldn’t close the door because I knew that if I did, whatever had just happened would be over. I watched as he got into his car and drove off, my mind was reeling, everything zipped through my head. Anne, he was going around the country next year. I was a big part of his life. He wanted things to be as they were forever. What made him think that it would change? His good bye. His eyes closed. Why had they been closed? Why had he lingered there afterwards?

“Elly?” I jumped out of my skin as my mom called my name. “Elisa, why are you standing at the door like that?” “What?” “Please close the door.” “Sorry mom.” “What are you so deep in thought about?” “Nothing major. I’ll lock up and join you now.” “Ok sweetheart,” my mom looked at me concerned, she stayed for a moment, then made her way to the kitchen.

All I wanted to do is go to my room and lay on my bed. But if I didn’t give my family some sort of report of the evening, there would be a lot of more questions about details that I did not want to answer. I followed my mom into the kitchen where she was waiting with my sisters. I told them about meeting the other musicians, about how Darryl had gotten Blue Lava to babysit me without me knowing. I kept what had transpired with Anne to myself, those would bring more questions than I could not answer.

“So what did you think of Anne?”, Alice finally asked. I looked at her mortified. The one subject I had tried to avoid speaking about and she had to find it. “She’s okay. I didn’t speak to her much. Darryl and the rest of the band played tag team babysitting me and she was with Darryl the whole evening.” “There’s something about her that’s off,” Alice continued. “She’s probably just very shy. You heard she prefers animals to humans and Darryl did say she is a bit of a loner.” “Well whatever it is, it’s off. She doesn’t seem Darryl’s type. I tried speaking to her about the music during the show and she seemed uninterested. More like it was a bother that she had to be there.” “Alice, come on, you hardly know her and I don’t think any of us can say what is Darryl’s type.” “Well his type would be someone that actually looks like she wants to be at a show where her boyfriend is playing.” I couldn’t take it anymore, I needed my bed. “I’m not going to argue. I am tired and I need my bed.” I kissed my mom and made my way to my room.

This evening had been overwhelming. Too many things had happened that I didn’t understand. Anne’s clear dislike of me and possessiveness over Darryl which may come from her jealousy of our friendship, but why had she stayed behind if she had not wanted to be there in the first place? The way that Darryl had acted when we got home. He had never been so intimate before. In the same breath it had felt like whatever it was, was over before it began. If I thought about it anymore I would get a headache. I got ready for bed and fell asleep in no time.

In the middle of the night I woke up with a start, out of breath. Looking out into the dark, the images of my dreams passed and faded away. Anne coming at me like a raging bull. Anne stalking like a fox, while Stephen and I hideaway like chickens. Darryl holding me around my waist, like the day he had given me the tickets. My arms around his neck, cheek to cheek like we had been dancing. I could still smell that fresh sweet smell. The spot where he had planted the soft kiss felt warm. Why did my lips feel warm? My whole body felt warm.

As soon as I was sufficiently awake, I got up and went to the bathroom. I splashed cold water on my face, what was wrong with me? I looked at my reflection in the mirror. My eyes were bloodshot as if I had been crying. I remembered the last image. My hand outstretched as I saw Darryl fading into the dark. I washed my face again. Looking back at myself, “Stop this, this instant. You being silly, stupid and childish!!!!” He wasn’t going to another planet. You could still be in contact with him when he went to festivals. Technology had advanced from the dark ages. There was mail, text, video chat and voice calling. “Whatever your subconscious terrors and fantasies your mind has concocted, “GET OVER IT!!!”, I screamed inwardly at myself. Your first meeting with Anne may have been a disaster, but she was with Darryl and he is your friend and tomorrow you are going to try and make this right her!” I went back to bed, but this time it was hard trying to fall asleep again. The feeling of the dream still staying with me. I thought about the following day. It would one of the last few lessons. What would happen after that? Would he still want to come over as regularly as before? I couldn’t think about it, I needed to sleep.

The next morning I woke up feeling as if I had never slept the night before. The breakfast I had was sombre. My mom and Ida were chatting away, I tried to join but I wasn’t in the mood. They kept glancing at me, warily. Ida left for hockey practice, while I sat across from my mom, stirring my porridge, endlessly. My mom’s voice broke the silence. “Elisa what is wrong and don’t tell me nothing.” How do I tell her? What do I tell her and where did I start? “ I know it was easier for to speak to you dad,” she said, her eyes downcast, “ but I’m still here and always remember that you can speak to me about anything.” I smiled back at her, “I know mom, and I just don’t know where to start.” She gave me a slight smile, reassuringly she told me, “It’s always best to start at the beginning.”

I laughed at that in my head. Where was the beginning? Maybe it was easier to work my way back and start at the end.

So I started with the previous evening. What I had encountered with Anne.. Embarrassed, I confessed that I had eavesdropped on her conversation with Darryl when I had been separated from them. The rest of the evening and the surprising decision that instead of staying with Darryl to drop me off, she had stayed behind.

I skipped about the decision the band was making to travel the following year that was Darryl’s secret to tell. How he had acted when dropping me off and how I felt. I skipped over the dream, which was more than I was willing to reveal to even my mom. “Mom, I know things don’t stay the same forever and even though I told him to take change as good, it feels like a bad one is coming.”

My mom looked at me for awhile. It must have been a solid five minutes before she spoke up. “ Do you really want to hear my opinion?” “Yes mom.”

“Elly, I agree that Darryl was a catalyst to jump starts us from the morbid mood that we were in, but do you really think that we cannot continue if he isn’t around? Do you have so little faith in our relationship as a family?” I hadn’t thought of that. We had always been close, even if we were all different. I knew with or without Darryl we would eventually have gotten back to the way we use to be. He had just made it happen faster, which I think we had needed. “My dear, people move in and out of our lives. We never know if they will stay or not when we first meet them. I can’t say if Darryl will be one of those that stay, but what he leaves behind is most important.” The thought of not having him in our lives was unthinkable at the moment. “ Honey, I know it’s hard to think of someone not being there in the future, but if your paths go in different directions, sometimes you just have to let go. Forcing them to stay would be like caging a wild bird.” As she spoke, I felt as if I wanted to break. Even though I knew what she said was the truth, it was hard to hear. “Enjoy your friendship while it lasts, it’s a good one.”

And then her face became more serious, “When it comes to Anne,” she signed deeply, “Darryl is your friend and no matter what you think of Anne you have to respect their relationship. Some people, when they feel jealous or threatened, act out. One of those ways is possessiveness, it’s not a healthy way of expressing insecurity, but it happens. Their relationship is new and, yes she may feel threatened by you, because she doesn’t know you and she don’t understand your friendship with Darryl. She may fear that there is more to it than that. Does she have anything to fear Elisa?” I looked up at my mom, her eyes penetrating. Fear? What did Anne have to fear from me? “Mom, what do you mean?” “Do you feel more than friendship for Darryl?” I almost choked at hearing the words. Feel more than friendship? Darryl. The thought had not crossed my mind and I told my mom as much. She smiled and nodded. She had a look that she knew something I didn’t and I wished I knew what it was.

“Are you ready to hear my suggestion?” I nodded a yes.

“Until the things calm down, right now, don’t put yourself in a position where she may have something to fear. Be his friends, but at the same time respect their relationship and space. As his friend you don’t want to be the cause of any problems in their relationship. And even if she may not be too nice to you right now, try and makes things right with her.” I looked at my mom. Did she even realize how difficult it was just trying to speak to Anne?

“And now that the lessons are coming to an end, it doesn’t mean you have to stop with music. Find something else that you can do with what you have learnt. What about the talent show? That is coming up. You will have to start practicing for that.”I had forgotten it, and Chloë and I still had to decide on our routine. I got up and crossed the table. Hugging her, “Thanks mom, I needed that,” She hugged me back, “That’s what mom’s are for.”

Darryl arrived promptly at 11 am as usual. We went over a few techniques; he gave me a few songs to practice over the week. They were complicated chords and riffs. More complicated than I had ever seen before. Too soon the hour was done and for a moment I was unsure if he would stay, like he did before. We sat in silence while we packed our equipment away and when we were finally done I looked up. “Coffee or tea?” Relief showed on his face.

We made our way to the kitchen, but it felt like a funeral procession. Maybe it was that. We both knew that days like these were nearing to an end. What then? I set out the drinks and snacks, and for the first few moments we sat facing each other in silence. Suddenly the thought occurred to me, how similar this was to the first day we met. At the thought, I giggled.

“What’s so funny?”, he asked with an amused look on his face. “Nothing, really, I was just thinking about the first day we met. How we sat in silence, like just now.” “Well you certainly not that clumsy, red cheeked girl anymore. I thought you were this quiet, shy person. Oh, I was so wrong,” the last few words he exaggerated. “Oh really. Clumsy, red cheeked? I am quiet.” “Yeah right,” he laughed. “You only quiet when you don’t want people to know what you really thinking, then it’s like deciphering a million page book of hieroglyphics, in the dark, with no hints.”

“ Me? What about you? When you start talking you just can’t stop.” His eyes widened at that. “Are you complaining?” “ No..., never, just like you not complaining at me only being quiet. Well you have graduated from nerd to not-so-nerdy as well.” “Nerdy?” “Yip, Ida said you had this nerdy thing going for you with a ‘light of spontaneity’ at your centre.” His mouth formed into a smirk and his eyes narrowed, “Really now? And what did you think?” “That you would be good tutor.” “Is that all?”, he leaned in closer, his eyes probing my face.” “ Well you had a calmness and patience about you.” He cocked his head, “And?”

I felt my face flush. “And...Well. Your jokes are lame, but funny,” he chuckled, but instantly he turned serious. Another moment of silence.

“Today is one of our last lessons,” I said interrupting the silence. “I know,” he sounded dejected. “What are you going to do now with all your free time?” He shrugged, “Not sure. Get some students to tutor. Practice some more, I suppose.” He looked sad. Did he think he wouldn’t be able to come over now and that the lessons were the only excuse to visit? His eyes downcast, I covered his hand that was resting on the table to pull him out of the reverie. “Hey, you know you don’t need an excuse to come over if you want to visit, right?” He covered my hand with his other hand, his fingers tailing the shape of my knuckles. “Really?” I was a bit surprised. “What did you think? We are friends, you a part of our family. With what you and the band are planning for next year, do you think my family would forgive me if they found out I had known and you didn’t update them?” The smile that formed on his face seem to radiate all around him, “And instead of me coming to visit you all the time, you can come over to my house. I haven’t been able to show you my guitar collection and the setup I have.” “I would love to see that,” my face mirrored his expression. “Emily has been bugging me to invite all of you over,” he looked at me worriedly. “I’m sorry, it’s been crazy lately.” I smiled, “Don’t worry about it. I understand.” My hand was warm and it seemed to be moving up my arm. As gently as I could I pulled my hand from his and put both on my lap. Now for the next subject, this was going to be difficult.

“Darryl, I need to speak to you about Anne.” He looked up surprised, confusion spread across his face, then resignation.

Better start this quickly and get it over with. “It seems the two of us got off on the wrong foot and I want to smooth things over with her.” “There’s nothing you need to smooth over,” his voice had a sharp edge. “Yes there is. She doesn’t know me. She needs to know that there isn’t anything to fear from me.” “What would she have to fear from you?” How do I explain it without looking silly? “Well, maybe, she feels a bit threatened by our friendship?” “Why would she feel threatened?” It felt like I was digging a hole for myself. How do I get out of this one?

“It’s a girl thing and we can be just as territorial as men. I just need to reassure her, okay.” “Well if you feel that you need to do it, okay, here is her number.” He seemed to say good luck without saying the words. “Thanks.” And as quickly as I brought up the subject, he changed it and we spoke about his rehearsals.

After Darryl left I decided to call Anne. A sweet voice sounded in my ear, “Hello?” “Hey Anne, it’s Elisa.” Just as suddenly the voice changed, “Oh, hi Elisa.” “How you doing?” “ I’m good, how did you get my number?” “ I asked Darryl,” “ Oh okay, why you trying to contact me?” “Anne, it seems we got off on the wrong foot last night.” “Oh did we?”, pure sarcasm emanated through the speaker on my phone, I needed to breathe deeply. “Well I was calling if we could go for coffee or a milkshake or something?” “Why?” I had to clench my teeth and breathe. “Because I would like to get to you know you.” “Why?” “Because you are with Darryl and his my friend and I would like us to get to know each other.” “It’s not like we going to end up being B.F.F.’s” I had to keep myself from boxing the wall. “I didn’t expect that.” “Well I’ll let you know, I’m busy now, good bye.” “Good.” Click.

That had been tiring, but the ball was in her court and I just needed to wait and see what happened.

The week went by quickly, too quickly and before I knew it my last lesson had arrived. After the lesson was done and we had packed up, Darryl stood across from me with his hands on his hips, “Well Ms Elisa, you have officially graduated from the McDougal’s Musical School.” I laughed, that has a nice ring to it.” “Maybe one day,” he smiled. “What do you want to do now?” “Well I was thinking about doing things differently today.” That devilish grin was back. “In honour of you being an exceptional student, I thought we could go out to celebrate. What do you think?” “ I think that is a wonderful idea.” “Where would you like to go?” “Somewhere that makes the best milkshakes and banana splits.” He laughed, “How old are you again?” “I can be a hundred and I can still love them,” I said pouting. “True,” he nodded with a thoughtful look, “where is your mom and sisters?”

I gathered everyone, and Darryl made the announcement. My mom decided to stay behind. “Well Mrs. James, that just means you owe me a date,” Darryl smiled. My mom’s giggled, and made a noncommittal sound, but I could have sworn she blushed. We packed into Darryl’s car and were off. “Why did you let Elisa choose? She has the eating habits of a toddler,” Alice said mockingly. “My day, my choice. If I said peas and mash, you would have to be happy with it,” I replied sticking my tongue out at her. “Well I can’t argue there. Her day, her choice,” he winked back at me. We went to ‘The Diner’. The place was busy, but we got good seats at a window.

The afternoon was spent enjoying our order of different variations of my favourite drink and dessert, while we chatted and laughed. We teased Darryl about being the only male among a group of ‘very lovely’ females. He didn’t let us get away with it either, “I’ve been getting a lot of jealous looks, having my own personal harem can be very intimidating.” “Harem! you wish. They probably feel sorry for you. Having to babysit your sisters.” “If that’s what you want to believe, that’s fine with me,” he grinned.

The sunlight came streaming in from the window and it seemed to warm all of us. There was a glow that radiated from our table as we laughed. Alice, with her gracefulness, her laughter filled our ears to the brim and her face. Ida with her reserved demeanour almost ended up the floor a few times, not being able to control her laughter. Darryl’s hair seemed to be on fire as he gestured this way and that way, sporting a toothy grin as he spoke.

There are days in your life that you can pinpoint as the saddest or happiest time you can remember. That day was a day that was filled with pure joy and happiness. Sitting there, I knew it would end, but being a part of it, the memory and feeling of that time would stay with me forever.


The following day felt like an anticlimax. The only thing that Chloë could speak about was the upcoming talent show. “Okay guys, enough now. I need some attention as well.” We both looked at Jack, opposite eyebrows arched.

“This weekend is one of the biggest games of the season, are you coming?” I playfully slapped his back, “You have asked us every day for the last week and what has our answer been?” I looked at him, both eyebrows raised. “You said yes.” “So since this morning, till now we haven’t changed our minds. We coming.” “ I have one little favour to ask as though. Can you guys just so happen to be at the same place we eating? The coaches know each other and they want to catch up after the game. So they are taking both teams out together. There is just so much ‘game talk’ I can take.” This time he looked exasperated. Chloë and I laughed, “ For one of the best players on the team, you really trying hard not to be a sports man.” “Pwetty please.” “Sure why not,” we agreed.

The day of the game arrived and, unfortunately, we lost by one point. This would make ‘game talk’ a bit harder for Jack, as it would probably be more intensified.

The teams had decided on The Diner, which was great. After the game was done, Chloë and I made our way straight to it, since we figured that a few more players had ‘accidentally-on-purpose’, let out where they were going to eat to a few of their friends.

Not that it was suppose to be a secret, but the coach always preferred that there wasn’t an entourage, which almost always consisted of more girls than boys.

We had gotten seats close to the window and I was facing the door, so that I could see when Jack arrived. We had just ordered our milkshakes when I spotted a red head and blonde walk into the restaurant.

The red hair was unmistakable. Molten rock combined with blood wasn’t as common as you would think and I knew the way the person who owned that hair walked. I freaked.

“Chloë I need to change seats with you and quick,” I hoped that I had not been spotted as quickly as I had spotted them. I was making my way under the table while I explained to her, “Make sure no one sees you, and come around while I go underneath.” I saw the hesitation in her while I was moving under table, then I saw her sit where I had sat. I was trying to make my way up, when I heard a familiar voice. “ What you doing playing under the table Elly?”

Ouch! I got such a shock and bumped my head on the bottom of the table. Cheeks on flame, I struggled to make my way from under the table, which seemed more difficult than getting under. As my head peaked out, I was greeted with two very amused faces.

What the heck was I going to say? This was embarrassing. “Hey there..Darryl and Anne. How you guys doing?” I could feel my face burning up and any idea that I could have had to explain me being under the table seemed to vanish.

“We good. So what was so interesting under the table?” He wasn’t going to let it go. “I rubbed my ear in frustration. What now? Then it hit me, “I lost my earring and it’s one of my favourites.” “Really,” he didn’t sound convinced, “it's a good thing you found it and put it right back on your ear.” “ Yeah,” I replied silently. I felt a kick underneath the table. I was shocked that I had not shouted out in pain, but I felt frozen. I looked across the table to see Chloë staring at me. I looked at her confused. What had that been for? Her eyes motioned to the two guests. “Darryl, Anne this is my friend Chloë. Chloë this is Darryl and Anne. Darryl is my tutor”

“Nice to meet you Chloë, Elly has told me quite a bit about you. What are you guys doing this side of the world. Milkshakes and banana splits?” At that moment the two teams came bursting through the doors and I saw my saviour, Jack, with them. “Well a friend played a game today and he asked us to meet him here afterwards and you?” “What friend,” Darryl asked, his eyebrows slightly raised, making it seems as if the skin was being pulled back slightly. “Jack”, his face relaxed.

Anne glanced at me and then at the team as they seated. She had a questioning look on her face. “And you,” I repeated. “Well I had a desire for milkshakes and a banana split, and you were right, this is the best place in town,” the side of his mouth twitched, “I’m hooked now.” Anne’s face turned to a slight frown as she heard the words.

I saw Jack moving towards us and quickly moved past Darryl to greet him. Hugging him I whispered help into his ear. Putting his arm around my shoulder we moved back to the table, “Jack this is Darryl and Anne, guys this is Jack.” He shook Darryl’s hand and greeted Anne, “Nice to meet you. So this is the tutor that’s made ‘My Elly’ into a maestro,” he looked at me with a smile on his face.

Sitting down next to me, Jack held onto me as I leaned into his chest. “I suppose so, but she had it in her,” Darryl replied, confusion on his face, glancing between me and Jack. Anne looked surprised. This had to work. Maybe she would stop feeling threatened if she saw me and Jack. “ I just came to say hi. I need to eat with the team, but I’ll be back afterwards, is that okay?” he said it sweetly, lifting up my chin. In the corner of my eye I saw Chloë’s eyebrow arch. I knew I had a lot of explaining to do. “That’s fine,” I looked up at him, smiling, and “don’t be too long.” Kissing me on the cheek, he whispered in my ear, “You owe me,” then loudly as he left he called back with an evil grin, “later babes.“ Chloë’s eyes were as big as two moons. I tried to contain my own surprise and smiled back at Jack. I felt the heat of three pairs of eyes boring into me. I was not shocked to see all three looking between Jack and myself in confusion.

There was silence for a moment and my mind raced for a solution on how to make sure that Darryl and Anne would not join us. Darryl eventually spoke up, “So we still on for tomorrow?” I looked up a bit bewildered. “Don’t tell me that you have forgotten so soon. Our last lesson was last week,” he teased. I laughed nervously. “Yes it’s on,” I replied. Then I had an idea. “ Anne you will be coming too, right?” She looked at me as if she had just woken up. Surprised she tried to answer, “Uhm, well, I’m not sure. It’s been really busy at the shelters.” “Well we would like to have you, if you have time, please come.” I smiled as sincerely as I could. “Okay,” she hesitated, “I’ll see.” “Well let’s not keep you from your milkshakes,” she said, “maybe see your guys tomorrow?” It was clear that she wanted to leave and I was glad that she had made the move.

They moved to their seats and I had a sigh of relief.

“Spill. Now!!” “Wha..?” “What was that all about? Wasn’t that you your ‘tutor-friend’?” “Yes?” “And why did you and Jack act as if you were together?” This was going to be tedious. “Do you want the short or detailed version?” “Short, my patience is low.” And so I began. “Yes that was Darryl, the guy that tutored me. We have become good friends and that’s his girlfriend. Who seems to be threatened by our friendship. And I asked Jack for help. You know what we do when we want to get someone that’s interested and won’t take no for an answer off our backs. I thought that if she saw me with someone a bit cosy she wouldn’t feel so threatened and move one.” Chloë looked at me, not quite believing, “Oh okay. Then why did you jump under the table if you and Darryl are such good friends and she has nothing to worry about.” “Honestly, I was surprised to see them here and I freaked. I didn’t really think things through.” “ I noticed,” she replied,” so what now? You invited her over tomorrow.” “I really didn’t think that through either. I invited her out awhile ago, but she never came back to me. I just want her to see that there isn’t anything to worry about.” “If you say so. You going through a lot of effort to make sure she doesn’t feel threatened” “Well Darryl is my friend and after the evening of his show, I thought maybe I could do something from my side.” “Well, if you make the effort and she doesn’t respond, there isn’t anything else you can do about it. You will just have to accept the way she feels.” “Well I’ll see what happens tomorrow”. We ordered our burgers and soon Jack joined us. He brought a few friends he had made from both teams. Knowing Jack, he had dug out those that were like-minded. Which were those rare sportsmen, where being a sportsman wasn’t the beginning and end of their world. Jack and I acted or rather behaved as if it was any other day, like the friends we were.

Darryl and Anne had been seated in a booth in view of ours and every now and again I had caught Anne looking at our table. She watched every move that Jack made and every time she saw me catch her, she would have an embarrassed look on her face and concentrate on Darryl.

I wondered how he did not notice that she was watching our table and that she was watching Jack specifically.

They finished early and made their way towards our table again. This time I could not make out the mood on Darryl’s face as he came closer. His eyes scanned everyone that sat at our table and rested on Jack, he still seemed confused. “Hey Elly, you going to be okay getting home?” I looked up. Anne stood next to Darryl, but her face scanned the group before her. Recognition crossed her face for an instant. She moved slightly away from Darryl. That was different. “Yeah, Alice and Ida are joining us in a little while and then they taking us home.” He looked concerned, “ Okay then, well if you get stuck getting home from here, you have my number, okay? And tell your sisters I say hi, uhm let me know when you’re safe.” It seemed as if he wanted to stay, but he had run out of excuses. “Okay, I’ll tell them,” I replied. “ And let me know when you safe?” “ Yes, I will.” “See you tomorrow and enjoy your evening,” he smiled, but still looking at the crowd seated around our table.“ Goodbye and enjoy the rest of yours to,” I said. He walked off with Anne, still looking back every now and then. I had a feeling that by the time he had gotten to his car, he would have called Alice or Ida to make sure that they were coming to join us.

“Was that your brother?” I turned looking towards one of the players from the opposing team, which Jack had introduced us to.” I laughed, “No, his just a friends.” “And that’s his?”, he continued. “His girlfriend. Why do you ask?” “ Oh, no reason. She just reminded me off a girl my brother knows.” “Really?”, he had peaked my curiosity. “Yeah, I haven’t seen her up close, but your friends’ girlfriend has an uncanny resemblance to her. She must be a doppelganger,” he smiled. The conversation changed quickly after that.

My sisters joined us soon afterwards. Alice greeted me, “Why did Darryl call me to make sure that we were picking you up tonight, he sounded worried.” “He was here not long ago with Anne. I suppose he wanted to make sure we got home okay,” I replied. “Oh Okay.” “And I invited Anne over tomorrow. “You did?” Both my sisters looked at me and then each other, eyebrows arched, but said nothing. Turning towards the others sitting at the table, I tried to change the topic.

We left a bit later with promises from all the added companions that they would be attending the talent show in support of myself and Chloë. I had tried to stuff a cloth into Jack’s mouth to stop him, but in the end he had replied that it was our own fault. We had nominated him as our cheerleader, and we had specifically told him to get more cheerleaders. He was going to make sure that he made us proud.

The following morning I woke up to a message from Darryl confirming that Anne would be joining us for the day. Half asleep I wondered why I had been so quick to invite her, but I hoped that the ruse had helped in some way. My mom and sisters would be around for the day.

When we got home the previous evening, I had told my mom that I had invited Anne over with Darryl and she had insisted that we ‘pull out the stops’. That was my mother’s way of entertaining. Make sure that your guest felt at home and put the best out for them, no matter who it was. By the time Darryl and Anne were due to arrive we had cooked medium sized lunch, cleaned and cleared up.

When they did arrive, I lead them to the sitting area. Anne’s demeanour was different. She still hung to Darryl as if she might lose him, but I thought that was probably because she was going to an unknown place.

My mom and sisters joined us and shortly afterwards we were seated at the dining table for lunch. The conversation started slowly, mostly my mom asking questions. Then Alice brought up the talent show. “So Darryl what do you think about Elisa taking part in the talent show?” Darryl’s fork stopped in mid air and then looked at me, “Well nothing really. She didn’t tell me anything about.” Swallowing hard, “It’s nothing really. Chloë asked me to sign up with her, since she wants to take part.” His eyes drilling into my skull, “Oh ok, when did you decide to do this?” “Uhm it came up just before the concert. It was spur of the moment.” Darryl’s eyebrows knotted as if he was in deep thought about something.

“They have two sets to do,” my mom jumped in, “a solo and a group act.” Darryl glanced at my mom for a moment, with a slight smile, then immediately he was drilling those eyes into my head again. “That’s cool. So what you doing for your group act?” “Chloë will be dancing while I play.” “Oh,” his voice sounded dispirited.

“And what about Jack,” Anne asked aloud. We all looked at her a bit stunned at hearing a sound come out of her. “Well, apparently he has been nominated as the cheerleader,” Ida laughed. “It seems he started early.” Darryl replied with a smile that was not a smile. “Well that’s Jack and Elly I suppose, it can’t be helped. They know more about each other than most married couples do,” Ida continued, her voice mocking. “Really,” Anne’s ears seem to peak at the subject. “ Yip,” Ida went on, “they have known each other since grade one, and how did it happen again?” I smiled, but secretly wished the earth would open up and swallow me whole. “Jack threw Elly with mud and then she punched him in the stomach. Our folks got together and decided that the best punishment was that they spend time together to learn how to get along.”

I tried to stop Ida with my eyes and looks, but either she did not see me or she ignored it. “It was really cute. Jack came over. They at sat opposite ends of the room, but when they brought out their toys, what was it again Elly,” “Really Ida, I think that is a boring story,” my smile was forced with the effort of trying to get Ida to change the subject with everything I had. “No, please continue,” Anne said, a smile on her face. I struggled from putting my hands over my face. “Well, I think Elly had a figurine and Jack had a remote control car and when the one saw the others toy, they moved in unison and they have been together ever since.” Ida smiled, she was obviously enjoying embarrassing me, thinking it was something small.

I hadn’t told my sisters about what Jack and I had done in front of Darryl and Anne. I was hoping that this would not blow up in my face. “I suppose friendships like those make the best start to romantic relationships, everlasting...” Anne added, glancing from the corner of her eye at me. She was probing and my sisters were going to give her all the information she wanted. I had to stop this now.

Darryl’s eyes were burning into my skull, but I refused to look his way. “I suppose so,” Ida replied, a questioning look crossed her face, “ they did try that.” “Come on Ida, I’m sure that Anne doesn’t want to be bored with silly stories about Jack and me.” Ida looked at me puzzled. “Oh that’s fine, the story seems sweet, I’d like to hear the rest, if you don’t mind?”, Anne replied to my statement.

This time she looked straight at me, there was something behind those cold blue eyes. I couldn’t make out what it was, but it was more than general curiosity. Why today of all days had Ida decided to be chatty?

What could I do but to agree, so Ida continued, “Well I suppose since they were always together, people just found them an easy target to tease as an ‘old married couple’. But at some point it caught on and they took it to heart. They crossed the line and ‘dated’ for awhile when they were about thirteen.” I wanted an earthquake, tidal wave, anything to happen to make her stop. “And,” Anne looked at Ida moving forward, enthralled by the story. “Well it didn’t really work in that way. Didn’t you guys swear it off as an experiment gone horribly wrong and never to try it again,” Where was that hole in ground when you needed it.

Anne looked at me with her eyes narrowing and Darryl’s were pinched. I looked straight at Ida, ignoring their stares, “Things change,” I said, a bit louder than intended. There was confusion on my family’s face and as Ida was about to say something I kicked her under the table and gave her a pointed look that was intended to let her know to drop the subject. My mom came to my rescue and she immediately changed the subject by asking Anne if she had, had enough to eat. Anne seemed to jump at the sound of my mom’s voice. Alice looked across the table, with the ‘what-was-that-about’ look. I mouthed in a way that the others didn’t see ‘not now’.

We had, had our fill and I volunteered to clean up. I needed an excuse to get away from the table. Alice joined me as I cleaned up the dishes, “sis, I’ll explain later, but please keep away from Jack as a subject if you can ok.” She agreed, but I could see she was very confused. Everyone made their way to the sitting room and again I volunteered to make the coffee and drinks. I needed time to regroup.

I was happy to get a few minutes reprieve. Ida had almost blown my ruse and I still wasn’t sure if they had figured it out yet. I hoped that Anne and Darryl would take my discomfort as embarrassment that my family didn’t know about Jack, rather than the truth.

“Hey Elly.” I came to my senses at hearing Darryl’s voice. “Hey D’ what’s up?” “Your mom wanted to help, but I told her to sit her behind down”. He moved around the counter in one effortless motion and stood next to me, leaning against the table, arms crossed. It seemed strained, “So, Elly,” he started slowly, looking down at the floor, “why didn’t you tell me about the show?” “Sorry. It happened so quickly and it’s been hectic this week, it slipped my mind.” “Like it slipped your mind to tell your sisters about Jack?” , he knuckles were white as he held onto his arms. I struggled to continue with making the drinks, I wanted to run somewhere out of his sight. “I thought you and Jack had come to conclusion that you would never get romantically involved again?”

This time I could feel his eyes bore into the side of my head. I refused to look in his directions. If I did, I would surely run. “Things change, I suppose,” was the only reply I could muster. “ I suppose they do. Like you having the need to crawl under a table when you see me walking into the same place as you?” My eyes widened and I was grateful that I was busy, so that he could not see the reaction on my face.

He had found me hiding, caught me and put on display all my faults in one sweep.

I tried to look at him from the corner of my eye. There was disappointment on his face and pain in his eyes. I turned my head slightly, I couldn’t look him straight in the face. I didn’t know how to explain, “Sorry, it was a knee jerk reaction, I can’t explain. It was silly.” “ It was silly and it hurt, we suppose to be friends and you hide from me when I see you somewhere.” Why did he have to look so sad and why did his knuckles have to be so white from the strain of holding onto his arms, it crushed me seeing him like that. “It wasn’t hiding away from you, I just can’t explain. Not now okay.” He kept quiet. “What about Jack?” He looked at me more with a more concentrated look. I hated that I wasn’t being honest with Darryl. If this was going to work, he couldn’t know the truth. “Like I said things change,” was the only reply I could think of that was not an outright lie. “I get that, but are you together or not?” Why couldn’t he leave it alone, I was going to digger a bigger hole with all his questions. “We’re in between at the moment and what’s it to you, anyway?”, I said, trying to counteract his questioning. “Because I care about you, that’s why.” “That’s fine Darryl, but you don’t need to play babysitter all the time. You're my friend and you should respect that I can look after myself.”

I suddenly felt his hand under my chin, gently lifting my head to face his. He turned it so that he could look him straight in the eyes, they were piercing and it seemed as if they were door vaults holding something back. “ He smiled, “ I’m not trying to play babysitter and I know you can look after yourself, most of the time, but I do care about you and I don’t ever want to see you get hurt.” I looked at him, as much as I felt he was holding something, it felt as if he was scanning the back of my brain, finding every piece of information that I had hid in the dark parts of my brain and it was hard trying to hide this. If I stood like that any longer, he would know absolutely everything, I couldn’t let that happen. “Jack won’t hurt me,” I replied. I released my face from his grasp. “Drinks are done.” I handed him a tray. Clutching the counter I waited till he left before letting out the deep breath that I had held all the time. It took a few moments to compose myself. I couldn’t tell him now, if he ever found out he would be so angry with me.

I followed him with the second tray, placing it on the table. I seated myself on the side of the sofa in a way to try and avoid being in direct view of Darryl and Anne.

“So Elisa, where is Jack today?”, Anne asked. She wasn’t going to let this go either. Thankfully I had a great reason. “His with his family today, they make Sunday their family day.” “Oh okay,” she sounded disappointed. Darryl spoke up, “When do we get to buy the show tickets? I thought you would have had them ready for us by now,” he smiled, but the warmth that always accompanied it wasn’t there. “Let me know how many you want and I will get them ready for you,” I replied.

Anne spoke up this time, “So how is Chloë taking the relationship with Jack, it must be hard being a third wheel, especially with two people that have so much history.” She was probing and harder this time. She wasn’t going to let go till she knew everything. I clenched my teeth. “Well we don’t treat her like a third wheel. We are all friends before anything else.” “Oh, it’s just that when there is a third person, they always end up being the third wheel.” “Well, I suppose we aren’t that shallow to exclude a close friend.” “ I must say that thinking about you and Jack is a bit surprising. Chloë seems to be more his type, the pretty petite type.”

His type? Pretty, petite? Where was she trying to go with this? I had to force myself to remember that she was a guest. I repeated the mantra in my head, ‘she’s a guest, and she’s a guest’. “Well I suppose she would be. Jack likes intelligent, independent girls, who don’t feel threatened by other girls easily.” I felt a bit of a victory saying that. She looked at me directly and I could see that there was an eruption happening behind those blue layers of film. Darryl broke the moments’ silence, “Mrs. James, my parents have asked me to extend an invitation to you and the girls. Lunch next week. I have been meaning to ask you for awhile, but it had slipped my mind and my mom warned me not to come home today without an answer.” “Well I’m free, but I’m not sure about the girls.” Alice thanked him, but she would have to stay at college the following week. She had to finish an assignment she could not research at home. Ida would be able to come, but only after her hockey match. That left me. If Anne would be there, after the last few minutes, I didn’t want to be there either. I didn’t know how to get out of it. Darryl looked at me for an answer. I felt trapped. “Well, I don’t have anything planned as yet, so I suppose I will be joining my mom,” I smiled, resigned.

“What about Jack, Darryl?”, Anne feigned concern, “You can’t invite Elisa without inviting him too.” He looked at her confused, but before he could answer, I spoke up. “I’ll ask Jack if he will be able to make it. It’s the start of the season though, so they have a lot of games and practice at the beginning, but I will see what he says.” “I’m sure he will be able to miss at least one, for you..” she said smiling, it didn’t look sincere, more like a sneer. “ I wouldn’t expect that of him. And we not conjoined twins. We can do things individually.” I heard a giggle stifled from both Alice and Ida. I refused to look at Darryl. “I’ll let my mom know, but there is another issue we have to discuss.”

We all looked at him. I was nervous. What issue was he speaking about? He continued, “Well there is a birthday of a certain pair of twins coming up and we having a small gathering at our house,” he smiled. I quietly let out my breath. “And I am officially inviting all of you. Alice and Ida, please feel free to bring your partners along and Elisa,” he looked directly at me, “please extend the invitation to Chloë and,” he paused,” Jack, if you would like.” Oh this was going to be fun, I thought, sarcastically.

Not too long afterwards Darryl and Anne left. By the time they left I was drained and I was actually glad to see them go. I returned to the living room and saw everyone waiting for me in anticipation. Fun, fun, fun. I flopped down on the couch waiting for the bombardment of questions. They kept looking at me, but I could see Ida was sitting on the edge of her seat waiting for an opening. They were waiting for me. I knew my sisters, if they hadn’t spoken by now, they wouldn’t till I said something, but until then, and the questions would be hanging over my head.

“So what do you want to know?” I said, my eyes closed. “Jack!!” Ida burst out, “What was all that about Jack and you and Chloë?” “Nothing is happening between me and Jack, or Chloë.” “Well that’s not the way Anne sees it, even Darryl. Her questions and statements were all directed as if you were together or something.” “And do you know how hard it was to keep her at bay, with all the questions about you and Jack, while you were busy in the kitchen?”, Alice added. “Where is it all coming from?” “It was something I did on the spur of the moment. It was intended to just get Anne off my back.” “And what was it that you did?” Ida asked torn between curiosity and outrage. I hated explaining my actions, but they would not let it go till I had. “Yesterday at the diner when Darryl and Anne bumped into us, Jack and I might have acted in a way that might have made them think that we were more than friends.” “How exactly did you act Elly?” Alice was serious. “It wasn’t anything serious. When Jack came to say hi, he had his arm around my shoulder.” “Why does it feel like there’s more?” “Well, he may have kissed me on the cheek and said something along the lines of ‘later babe’.” “He kissed you on the cheek?” Two pairs of astonished eyes were looking at me. “And he said later babes?” “No wonder Anne thought the two of you are together.” “I didn’t plan that. That was all Jack. I never said he was my boyfriend.” “Seriously, we suppose to believe that even though he did that on his own, you didn’t anticipate that they would think he was more than a friend?” “Okay, fine. It went a bit far, but it was better than them finding me under the table. If Anne assumed that he was something more than just a friend, then maybe she wouldn’t feel so threatened.” “Finding you under the table?”, Ida looked at me incredulously. “I put my hands in my face. “I saw them coming in and I had a knee-jerk reaction and tried to move so they wouldn’t see me and I went under the table. But it seems Darryl did and that’s where they found me when they came to the table.” Alice and Ida looked at each other and then burst out laughing. Alice was the first to regain some sort of composure, “Little sister you have found yourself in a fine mess,” the smile she had on her face was less than reassuring. “It wasn’t my finest hour. Then I had to go and invite Anne over today. I didn’t think she would come or even ask so many questions.” “No you didn’t think. Did it cross your mind about how they would react when they found out that you had been lying and you made Jack an accomplice?” “Like I said sis, it was a spur of the moment reaction. Maybe I can tell them that we had gone back to being friends or something.” Ida and Alice looked at each other again, but this time it was more sombre. “A word of advice little sisters, before this gets out of hand, come clean.” She paused, taking a deep breath, “I hope you learned something from this.” “Yeah, tell you two before your chattiness blows it up in my face.” Ida just smiled, “No, this is what happens when you don’t face your problems and issues.” “Thanks.” It was too late now for that advice. Now I had to figure out how deep that hole was and how I was getting myself out of it. We cleared up, but Alice and Ida didn’t give me moments of peace regarding Jack giving me a kiss. They found that hilarious and jested at my expense until Alice became serious again. “Elly how you going to fix this? Darryl is your friend. He needs to know the truth and even if Anne isn’t on your top ten lists, she deserves the truth as well.” I knew Alice was right, but it was harder said, than done. I couldn’t face Anne. I could imagine her face, scowl and daggers, but how could I ever face Darryl again, especially after what I said earlier. This had not worked out as I had hoped.

The following day at school Chloë and Jack were waiting for me. Jack was the first to speak, “So what was Saturday all about?” Explanations again. I gave him the short version, but at the end he had a grin on his face. “It’s not that funny. They were at my house yesterday. Anne was very chatty, especially about you and now my whole family knows and I basically got a lecture about coming clean.” “Well your sisters are right, you can’t run from your issues,” Chloë looked at me with that look she put on, when she was being mature. “Okay, apart from that, this weekend his parents invited us for lunch and Jack you have the honour of joining me, if you are able.” Jack looked shocked, “Well I have a game I can’t miss, so sorry Elly you on your own.” I frowned, pretending that I was unhappy about it, but I wasn’t, really.

I had to figure out how to fix this and not having Jack around, trying to pretend to be my boyfriend, would help. “That’s fine, but after that is Emily and Darryl’s birthday. You both have been invited. No matter what, I need you guys there with me, please.” They looked at each other, “Oh okay, well we will try our best, okay?” “Okay.”

“Now we got that out of the way, when are we going to start practicing properly for the talent show. We still haven’t worked out what we going to do.” You could always count on Chloë changing the subject to something that interested her and this time I was really happy about that. I was tired of explaining and speaking about what had transpired over the weekend. It was on my mind constantly, I didn’t need to speak about it as well.

The rest of the week was taken over by Chloë speaking about the talent show. Her constant chatter, changing her mind and then frustration about what she was attempting not working, didn’t irritate me. It was a distraction from everything else and I was glad for the distraction.

Saturday arrived quicker that I had hoped for. I accompanied my mom to the McDougal’s home. Although I was nervous about seeing Darryl again, I was curious about where he had grown up. There was something about seeing someone’s home that gave you an insight about them. It wasn’t in the big things, like the size of the house or how many rooms it had, but in the small little things. The pictures on the wall and how they looked in them. The way it felt when you walked in. Would it be warm, like him, or would it feel engineered like what his dad did? How would his mother's artistic side fit in and then there was the sporty side of Emily.

We arrived at a double storey house that reminded me of a cottage, with a large tree in the front yard that had a swing made out of an old tyre and rope hanging from it. We parked in front of the house and as I got out, I saw pieces of wood sticking out of the branches. I smiled a tree house. I tried to imagine Darryl and Emily playing in it when they were younger.

I wondered if they had been allowed to sleep in it on summer evenings. Under the stars, the night air cooling them down from the heat of the day, looking up at millions of lights trying to make out their shapes.

The house was cosier from up close. There were flower beds and shrubs all around its base. It must be an explosion of colour in spring time. As we walked to the dark stained wooden door, it became clearer that there was a picture carved into it. A picture of a boy and girl playing with a kite.

My mom rang the doorbell and not long afterwards Mr. McDougal opened up. “Liza, Elisa comes in. How was your drive? Did you find the place easily?” As my mom responded, I walked in behind her. I was amazed at what I saw in front of me. The size of the house was deceptive from the outside. It had looked like a small double storey cottage, but when you entered and was faced with the openness of the place, it looked ten times bigger. We entered a large foyer and across from the door was a staircase spiralled to the first floor.

To the left was what seemed to be a sitting room and to the right was the dining room. Mr. McDougal showed us to the sitting room. As I entered the sitting room, I saw that the room extended to the back of the house. All the walls had been broken out, but it had been hidden away by the wall from the front door. Next to the sitting room was what looked like a study, then after that was what I could only describe as an entertainment area as it had a pool table at its heart. The three rooms seemed to flow into each other.

The sitting room was earthy colours made up of wood, steel and stone. The study was modern, which concentrated more on the steel side and the entertainment area was rustic with stone being its main decorative feature. The pictures along the walls seemed to flow as well, in the sitting room there was a painting, which I assumed Mrs. McDougal had done, with a mirror opposite it. It was at an angle where, depending on where you stood, you would either see the reflection of the painting or the pictures in the study, which were pictures of the family.

Across from those pictures was what looked like an accolade wall. The entertainment area had pictures that were more commercial, or rather vintage commercial, like old adverts in frames. The three rooms were so different, but they worked well together and they felt warm and cosy.

Mrs. McDougal joined us, “Liza, Elisa, so glad you could eventually make it. I can’t believe it has taken us so long to do this, but Darryl insisted that it happened when he could join us.” I was surprised at what his parents had said. Why had he insisted being around?

My mom and Mrs. McDougal fell into conversation instantly and my eyes started straying, trying to look at what was around me.

Mr. McDougal must have seen me looking around, “Darryl and Emily aren’t here just yet, but would you like to take a tour while your mom and my old bat chat?” “Yes thank you,” I said eagerly. “Well as you can see this is our main sitting room, we broke out the walls when we could. The house was dark when we bought it and we thought by doing that we would bring more light into the house. And it makes it look larger than it is. That’s if you get it right.” “But isn’t it disturbing when one person is in the entertainment room and another is in the study and sitting room.” “Well, sometimes it can be, but all we do is find a way to keep from disturbing the other person, like using earphones,” he smiled. “Plus as a family, doing things separately doesn’t mean doing it alone. If you want your privacy, just say so.” We walked through the study and I got a look at pictures of Darryl and Emily when they were younger. It was strange looking at a ten year old Darryl. He seemed so shy, introverted. Emily looked a bit like spaghetti. Stringy and almost a head taller than Darryl at the time. Ida had been correct pegging him as a bit of a nerd, looking at the accolades he had received at high school. The last three years, he had been top of his class, with Emily second.

We moved into the entertainment area, in the one corner a mini gaming area had been set up. “Darryl’s baby. He saved since he was a kid and every year he would add, sell or replace. Even the odd jobs he did, some of the money would go into building it.” I was jealous and I knew Jack would be as well. In front of a small flat screen, there was a seat that was comfortable for gaming. To the side, there was a table that seemed to roll out with a racing wheel attached and to the sides, on hinges, were different controls. I wondered what games he had and if I would ever be able to try it out.

As we walked, I found myself in front of a large sliding door that looked out into their back yard. There was a porch and beyond that was a sizable pool with a lappa to the right of it. On the other side of the pool was what looked like a fire pit. We went outside and walked along the back of the house as Mr. McDougal explained how they excavated the pool and had built on the Lappa. Darryl had helped him build the lappa and it had taken a few months of Saturdays to get it done. We entered another door at the end of the house that ended up being the entrance to the kitchen. You could see straight through to the dining room, except for a slight wall that covered a wash basin.

As you walked through the door on the left side there was a small breakfast nook. On the right hand side there was a door leading to another room, which I assumed was the pantry and scullery.

The kitchen was large with an island in the middle. It was decorated in a pale yellow, something like a farm kitchen, but not overly done. No doilies or flower pattern. Mr. McDougal lead me through to the dining room area, which had a large dark wood table.“When we bought this house,” Mr. McDougal started, “it was falling apart. But Helen saw the potential in it and so room by room we decorated it.” “Well you have a beautiful home. You must be really proud at the end result.” “I’m proud of Helen. It was her vision that made it this way,” he smiled.

Just then the front door swung open and Emily walked in with a few packets. As soon as she saw me a grin appeared on her face. “Elisa you made it,” I hurried to help her with the parcels to the kitchen. “I said I’d come didn’t I?”, I smiled back. “That you did. Sorry we weren’t here to greet you, but my mom made us go out for more supplies, as if she hadn’t already prepared for a hundred guests.” The last part was yelled out, obviously so that her mom could hear her. I giggled, “Don’t worry, I understand. My mom does the same and by her account, I will be exactly the same when I have my own home.”

“So has my dad given you the tour and bored you with the aesthetics of the place?” She smiled at her dad and winked. “Not bored and you have a beautiful home.” Darryl entered, huffing away. Emily had left him with the bulk of the parcels and he was struggling a bit. As he looked up, he saw me and a smile appeared through the effort of carrying his load. “Elly, you here.” Going over to help him, “Hey, let me help you.” “Thanks, so did you find the place easily?” “We here, aren’t we?”, I pretended to be offended. “So you are, just you and your mom?” “Yeah,” I knew he was referring to Jack, but I didn’t want to bring it up anymore than he did. “So my dad gave you the tour. What you think?” , he asked as he and Emily were unpacking. “Well we finished up the ground floor when you came in, but so far it’s a beautiful home.” “So it’s only us today then,” I needed to know if Anne was coming as well. I had assumed that she would be there as well, but I just had to make sure. “Yip, just us, is that enough,” he looked at me with a hint of something I couldn’t quite make out. I was slightly relieved at that. “Well seeing as my dad only did half a job,” Emily began, “would you like to finish the tour?” “That would be great,” I replied. “Well I have to finish up a few things for my mom, maybe Darryl could show you.” I smiled.

I would have preferred Emily, “Don’t you need any help? I wouldn’t feel okay if you were stuck down here preparing things without any help.” She laughed, “ It’s actually better if I do it alone. It’s just heating up a few things and setting things out. Will go quicker if I do it alone, sometimes Darryl can have slippery fingers,” she looked at him and then nudged him. “Okay then if you say so,” I smiled back.

I followed Darryl towards the stairs. When you were on the first landing you saw that the rooms surrounded the opening. There were wrought iron balustrades all around. When you got to the top step, there was a large window right across it. One could either go to the left or right. “Which way” “Hmm, the opposite way from your bedroom.” Darryl looked a bit stunned; it had come out all wrong. “I mean I want to see it last. Your guitar collection should be very interesting and I would like to keep that for last and maybe you will need time to tidy up,” I babbled on, a bit of a blush on my cheeks. He laughed, “My mom made me do that this morning, not that it was bad, she just had me make it perfect.” We moved to the left.

The first was a guest room. It was decorated in a very pale blue. It had its own bathroom and it looked very comfortable. The next was what looked like a studio. “This is my mom’s room. It use to be Emily’s, till she moved into my old bedroom.” “Where did you move to?” I looked a bit confused. “That is a surprise, left for last, like you asked,” he smiled. The next was his parents’ rooms. It took up most of the back of the house and overlooked the backyard. The bathroom was open planned, but it didn’t look too public. There was a sitting area to the one side, close to the window. Most probably used when Darryl and Emily had friends over and their parents wanted a bit of privacy.

The next door was the bathroom. It had a bath and shower. The next was the lavatory.

The last door was Emily’s room. It was larger than the guestroom and studio, and it was different from what I had imagined. The room was white with thin black, vertical stripes. There were paintings and drawings covering the one wall and in the opposite corner was sports equipment. I had forgotten that Emily was in her first year doing architecture. A perfect combo between engineering and art. And the room reflected her dual personality, the art and engineering side.

When we closed her door, we heard Emily coming up the stairs, “Lunch time guys.” “It seems you will have to wait a bit longer to see that guitar collection,” Darryl said smiling. “Seems so,” I said looking up at him. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea. It would mean we would probably be alone and I would have to come clean about Jack.

We followed Emily down and found our parents already seated at the table. Mr. McDougal was at the head, with Mrs. McDougal on his right. My mom sat across from her and I moved to sit next to her. Darryl moved to sit next to me and Emily sat across from him, next to her mother.

Before us was something that only could be described as a feast. There were different salads, some I recognised, but most I didn’t. There were also different cold meats. Salt, venison and chicken. We started on lunch and I expressed my appreciation at how beautiful their home was. Mrs. McDougal blushed and started telling us stories about the renovations on the house.

How she and Mr. McDougal had disagreed about colours as he wanted everything to be in steel and stone and she wanted some warmth. How Emily and Darryl helped out with some of the redecorating that they had done themselves. Mr. McDougal then directed a question at me. “ So Elisa, Darryl says that you will be taking part in a talent show. Blushing furiously, I replied “Yes. It was at the request of my friend Chloë. She wanted me to enter so we could do the group section together.” “ Well from what Darryl says you will be playing while she is dancing, that sounds very interesting. I hope you don’t mind if we come along to watch.” I must have looked like a tomato. “By all means, but please remember, I’m not a performer like Darryl. This will be my first time on a stage in front of a crowd.” “That’s not true,” Darryl broke in. I rolled my eyes, “ I mean a crowd that doesn’t totally consist of my family.” “Well everyone has to have their first time on a stage, but the way Darryl describes your playing, I don’t think there will be a problem,” Mr. McDougal answered. Darryl had spoken to them about my lessons? What else had he discussed with them?

“Well apart from my family, I’m going to need tickets for Joshua, Malcolm and Stephen.” The band? I looked at Darryl dumbstruck. “Well you supported us; it’s our turn to support you.” My food stuck in my throat.

The thought of performing in front of both the McDougal family and Blue Lava on the same night was nerve-wrecking. “Darryl don’t make her nervous,” his mom scolded, “Do you remember your first time on a stage?” “I’m not trying to make her nervous, just letting her know early,” he winked at me. “How was Darryl’s first time on a stage,” I asked curiously. Emily jumped in, “Well as far as I remember, the shirt he wore my mom tried to get the stains out every day of the week. It eventually had to be thrown away. Word of warning, don’t eat anything red or that stains clothes.” “Well I think I had to throw a few more t-shirts away before I realized that it wasn’t worth being so nervous.” I had never thought of Darryl as being nervous on stage. It had seemed that he had always been comfortable on stage, playing.

After lunch was done, we cleared up, while our parents went to the sitting room to chat. I sat at the island while Emily and Darryl did the dishes. Emily asked me more about the talent show and what we were planning.

The conversation turned to their birthday. “Will your sisters be bringing any partners?” “Well they don’t have any steady partners as far as I know. Alice may bring her friend Janice and Ida may bring Sylvia, if that’s okay. Why?” “Just wondering, plus there were a few people belonging to a certain band that have been asking about it.” I laughed. “And you, who will you be bringing?” ,Emily gave Darryl a side glance. His face lowered, concentration emanating from it. “Well Darryl said it would be fine if I bring two of my friends with, Chloë and Jack.”


We both looked in his direction. “Sorry, plate slipped,” his mouth pulled into a closed, wry smile. I had to tell him the truth and soon. “That’s cool, the more the merrier,” Emily smiled, her eyes narrow. As they finished, Darryl looked at me, “We haven’t finished our tour yet. You left the best for last and now we can do it at our leisure.” “Well you guys go ahead; I have to get dessert ready.” The thought of being alone with Darryl scared me a bit. It meant that it was time for me to tell him the truth. I didn’t know if I had the guts to do it.

I followed him up the stairs again. This time we moved to the right and we stood in front of a wall. He smiled back at me. “Okay now what?” I was confused. “Well if we were going underground, I’d say welcome to my bat cave. I think I still can, since we going high.” He pressed on the wall and square piece moved back and the door opened. It was a false wall. It had looked like it was a part of Emily’s bedroom, but if you actually measured it, you would see her room was shorter.

My mouth stood open. “That is so cool!” The door opened and sun flooded down the steps. “Emily complained that I was keeping her up at night with my practicing. So I decided that with a bit of soundproofing, I could move up here. I think she just wanted my bedroom for the view though,” he smiled, “want to come and see?” “Are you serious? Of course. I’m glad I left it for last,” I said making my way up the stairs.

When I reached the top I could see that the attic room took up almost a third of the top area. To the right of the room, under a window, was his bed. Across from his bed was what looked like a small music set-up. There was an amp, mixing desk and other music gadgets I didn’t understand. Behind it was a few guitars and across from the stairs was a window. It was large and there seemed to be a seat built underneath it. The floor was covered with soft carpet. I took my shoes off so that I did not dirty it. As I stepped onto it, it felt soft and my foot sank into it. On the wall where the door was, was his cupboard and next to his bed was a bookshelf. Around the walls were posters of musicians, but in the middle there was a painting of a young boy playing a guitar. It looked like him, but maybe at the age of twelve or thirteen. It was stunning. It looked like when he had been unaware that someone had been watching. The look on his face was serenity and joy mixed.

“My mom did that for me and Emily for our thirteenth birthday.” “Its beautiful. You look so happy.” He smiled and that same serenity seemed to be showing. I moved to the bookshelf. There were different music magazines, fantasy and sci-fi novels and computer magazines. “Quite a range you have here.” “Yip, Sci-fi is my favourite though. So what do you think?” “I think I’m jealous,” I said turning around and taking in the whole view of his room. He laughed and then took my hand and we moved to the guitars.

I sat down on his bed as he moved to pick up one of the guitars. “This was my first electric,” he said holding up a gorgeous, black guitar. It had large dark orange and pink flowers that snaked its way around the body. When he picked the first string it sound like the low hum of a humming bird. I could feel the vibrations in the pit of my stomach. He put it down and then moved to another, “Then I got this one,” and so he went showing me the different makes and plugging them in to show the different ways they sounded and played.

“Here, try one.” “Really?” “Really.” I stood up and put the strap on of his first around my shoulder. He came up behind me to adjust the straps so that the guitar was at a comfortable position and I could feel his breath on my ear. It sent a warm tingle down my spine. “Okay, now go.”

I was taken by surprise at the beginning. The strings felt different and the sound that came out was different from playing an acoustic.

“Which one do you like?” “Your first,” I smiled. “My favourite as well. If she’s the one you like, then you can lend her till you get your own.” “What?” I looked at him shocked. If I didn’t have the strap on, I’m sure I would have dropped the guitar. “I can’t take your guitar,” I protested. “I didn’t say take it, I said lend it,” he said, with a laugh in his voice. “You need to learn how different guitars play and electric are the next step. There are many different ways of playing it.” I was speechless. All I could say was thank you.

As I was putting the electric away, he spoke up again, his eyes had a faraway look, “I can have my amp at almost full volume up here and they can hardly hear downstairs, but that’s not the only reason I’m glad I moved up here. I want to show you something.” Taking my hand he lead me to the window.

Sitting down, he faced me to the window and bent over. His one hand resting on my furthest shoulder with his other arm extended, he pointed. When he had hugged me in the past, I had felt the warmth of his body, but those had been short moments. Now, sitting there, it felt hot. His face inches from mine and I could smell the familiar sweet, fresh grassy smell coming off of him.

“Do you see that large open space behind the white house?” I nodded. I took a deep breath of his smell and I could feel my face flush. “Look beyond that. Do you see a small lake? It looks like a mirror now.” “Yes,” I replied a breathlessly. His voice low, he continued, “When the sun sets on some days, I sit here watching as it goes down. Sometimes it reflects the light like rainbows.” As he spoke I felt the warmth of his face and I knew if a moved a millimetre closer I would feel the bristles that was starting to show on his cheek, my heart started to beat faster.

His pointing hand moved to his side. “Sometimes I just sit here watching.” I turned my head slightly to look at him. His face had an expression of thoughtfulness and his eyes had a faraway look. “What are thinking about when you are watching it set?” “Numerous things. Rhythms, riffs,” a slight smile formed on his lips, “that’s when I sit and play, but when I’m just watching, it's mostly daydreams,” the corner of his mouth moved higher up his face and turned to look at me. I caught my breath, “What type of daydreams?” I felt my heart in my throat. My skin was on fire and I could feel his eyes all over my face. First straight at my eyes and I saw the green and gold swirling in a pool of hazel. Then it moved to my lips, instinctively I licked them, then back at my eyes again. We seemed to stay there for ages. He smiled again, moving to sit next to me.

I wasn’t sure if I was relieved because it had made my heart race to have his face so close or if I was sad that I couldn’t have his smell surround me. But him sitting had brought other predicaments. The seat was just big enough for two people, at a slight squeeze. With his one arm resting on the window sill, his hand touched my back and a fire started to rage there. I felt the side of his chest against my arm and a heat raged there. The right side of my body seemed to melt against his. I needed to move before I caught on fire. Why did him being so close bring out these reactions in me? I needed to move. Yet I didn’t.

“I daydream about the band, sometimes,” he was looking at me in that same concentrated manner he always did, when he seemed to be looking for an answer, “and sometimes I daydream about other things.” What other things?” I desperately wanted to know what they were, but I could guess at least one topic.

I knew I had to move before I did something even more stupid than before. He was my friend and I didn’t want to cause him anymore trouble.

“Darryl,” I breathed slowly, his eyes searched mine, “I need to tell you something.” He cocked his head to one side. The sun reflected off those green and gold flecks, and the way he looked at me made my skin burn “What do you need to tell me?”, he asked, his lips slightly pouty. I had to get my thoughts straight. I needed to tell him.

“Actually I need to ask you something. I need to ask your forgiveness.” At that point he seemed to wake and looked at me, his eyebrows knotted in confusion. “My forgiveness? For what?” I breathed deeply. “I lied about Jack. There isn’t anything happening between us.” “What?” he seemed to jump at what I said. “Why did you lie about that?” He looked at me with disbelief. “Because of Anne.” He expression changed into surprise, “Why would you do that because of her?” His face moved now from confusion to irritation. “Because I know she feels threatened by me and our friendship. Last weekend was a day riddled with knee-jerk reactions. When I saw the two of you, I didn’t know how she would react to seeing me at the diner and, honestly, I wasn’t in the mood for a bad vibe. And then when Jack came along, I thought, maybe, if she thought I was interested in someone else she wouldn’t be the way she is.” I babbled on. Now that the gates were open, everything came gushing out. “That is also why I invited her over the Sunday to involve her, but she asked a lot of questions about Jack and me. And I was advised that if I didn’t come clean soon, it would get worse. I’m sorry I lied to you as well.” He sat there staring at me and for a long time he was just quiet.

The he suddenly spoke up in a quiet voice. “I don’t know what to say to that, actually. It was kind of silly what you did.” “I know.” His eyes downcast, he sat in silence again. Then suddenly he looked straight at me, “What you did wasn’t cool. You lied and you messed around with people’s feelings.” As he spoke, a sinking feeling was beginning to grow in me. “I can forgive you; however, you have to promise me one thing.” “What is it?”

I would do anything; promise anything to make it right.

He reached for my hand as he spoke and I felt that warmth again,“ Don’t ever lie to me again. Just be straight with me and don’t try and manipulate people. No matter what the reason behind it, it’s not cool.” This felt too easy. Why had he forgiven me so easily? I looked straight at him, “I promise, our friendship is too important to be so silly.” He smiled and I went to hug him, “Thank you.” “Just make sure you keep to your promise okay,” he said in my ear and I could hear my heart in both. “I promise,” I replied.

A few moments later I heard footsteps on the stairs, Emily emerged, “Desserts ready and afterwards, if you can stop hogging Elisa, it will be my turn to entertain her,” she said smiling at me. “That sounds like a tasty plan,” I replied. I tried to see if Emily had noticed that I was red, I could feel the heat in my face, I just wasn’t sure if it showed. I needed air and I needed to get out of the room quickly. I followed Emily down towards the dining room and was relieved that she had moved faster than I did. I had been scared that I would out run her downstairs and that would have caused a few questions.

As we got to the table his dad teased, “What took you so long, the dessert is getting warm.” Could they see my face? Did they know how I had reacted when he had sat so close? “ Darryl has an awesome attic room and a gorgeous view of a lake. I’m jealous, but mostly of his guitars and his own sound proof room.” I knew I was babbling again, but I couldn’t stop it. Ida had arrived and had, had some lunch while Emily had been busy getting the desserts ready. She looked at me curiously. Darryl entered the room and he looked effortless in his movements as if nothing had happened. As if he had never been that close to me. As if I had never told him about Jack. I wanted to put my face in the bowl of ice-cream to cool down. I wish I had brought a swimming costume. No matter how cold it was outside, it would feel better than this heat I felt all over now. And it didn’t help that he sat next to me again.

Afterwards, we decided on playing a game of pool, which ended up being a few games. We swapped partners constantly, but it was clear that Emily was the best player. “It’s all about the angles,” she said smiling. When we had tired of that, Ida, Emily and I moved up to Emily’s room. She showed us some of her artwork. She was as talented as her mother. A little later Darryl joined us and in no time we were laughing as if someone had snuck laughing gas into the room.

When we left there were hugs all around. “Don’t forget about next weekend.” “5pm sharp,” we all said together. “And don’t forget about those tickets.” “I won’t, promise,” I replied.

On the way home my mom and Ida chatted about the day, while I sat in the back, quietly thinking about the same thing.

Today had gone differently from what I had imagined. Coming clean had been easier than I thought. The promise about never lying, never lying to him. I could do that. Sitting at the window, looking at that lake, thinking about him being so close made my heart race again. Imagining him sitting at that window, with that same thoughtful look. I wondered what his daydreams were about. The ones that were not about the band. My index finger traced the lines of the guitar case. He had lent me his favourite guitar, his first electric. My mind drifted, trying to imagine him practicing on it. How many hours had it taken him to be as good as he was? Would I ever be that good?

The phone rang and woke me out of my day dreams. “Darryl, what’s up? We just left a short while ago, are you already missing us?”, I teased. “Every minute of every day,” he replied and for a moment there was silence. “I forgot to give you my birthday request before you left.” “What?” “Uhm my birthday, have you forgotten about that already?” I laughed, “No I haven’t.” We had already got their presents, now I wondered if they would like them. “Well it’s my birthday present, so you can’t say no and Emily has said that she wants the same.” What was he talking about and would I have enough savings for this? “I’m emailing you two music sheets and links on how to play the music. You need to practice them as much as you can before Saturday.” “Excuse me?!” “You heard me and you have to be at my house by 2pm the latest. Oh yes there are lyrics to the one song. You need to practice them as well.” “What?” “Stop that,” he laughed, “there is no backing out. It’s your birthday present to Emily and me.”

I could imagine that devilish grin as he spoke. He always had it when he planned that I do something I would normally shy away from. Yet, somehow he always got me to do it. What was he up to now? When we got home I checked my mails and as he had said, there were two from him, with lyrics and links to videos on how to play. I was surprised that he had sent the song by Cream ‘Sunshine of my love.’ I just hoped that he wouldn’t really expect me to sing it. The second one, I recognized the music, but I just couldn’t remember the name. I wanted to get stuck into practicing immediately, between school and practicing with Chloë, there wouldn’t be much time for anything else during the week, but I had to do something else before that.

Come clean with Anne.

It would be one of the hardest things I would have to do, but I had to do it. I called her and as always, that sweet voice seemed to change to something else when she heard I was on the other side. “Anne, I really have to speak to you, if you can’t make it to The Diner tomorrow, maybe I can meet you at the shelter.” She sounded very hesitant. “Please Anne.” “Okay, fine. Meet me at the shelter after 11am.” Okay. I was going to do this. I had to do this. It was the right thing to do.

The following day was nerve wracking. I could imagine Anne’s reaction at hearing what I had done. I knew that she would probably never let me forget it and I probably deserved it, just a little bit.

I got to the shelter just before 11am. I was nervous and wanted to stall as long as I could, but Ida put a stop to that idea quickly by threatening to pull me out by my ear. I knew she would do it too.

I moved between the kennels looking for Anne, eventually finding her at a lone kennel with a small dog. None of the tension I always saw in her was present. She was calm and smiling.

Anne smiling in that contented way? That was a first. I moved closer to the kennel, when she looked up, her demeanour changed immediately. “Hi Anne,” I said nervously, “Is there somewhere we can chat?” “Elisa, hang on for a second I just have to finish up over here.” I waited till she was done and then she led me away from the kennels. “So what was so important that you needed to come all the way over here?”

I didn’t know where to start; mom always said start at the beginning. I looked away awkwardly as she stared at me with those icy blue eyes. “I wanted to apologize. I may have led you to believe something that isn’t true.” “Oh really.” She breathed out heavily .“Yeah, Uhm, last weekend when we bumped into each other. Well…. Jack and I are only friends. There isn’t anything happening between us and there won’t ever be.” She crossed her arms and I could feel anger coming from her. “I’m sorry that I did what I did. It was a spur of the moment thing.” I was babbling again. “It’s just that after the first time we met, you were so..,” nasty, rude, erase that, “distant. I thought that maybe if you thought that there was someone else that you wouldn’t...,” feel so threatened by my friendship with Darryl, forget about that. “..Be so scared about my friendship with Darryl.”

She laughed. “You think I am threatened by your friendship with Darryl?” Her reaction stunned me and I stood there speechless. “You’re a kid, like his little sister. I don’t think, no, I know Darryl wouldn’t ever look at you twice. Even once for that matter. So, no I am not threatened by you. What I don’t like is that you fawn over MY boyfriend like there’s no tomorrow. You need to keep your distance little girl. And about Jack. Well the fact that you guys aren’t together makes more sense. You’re not in his league.”

I sat there frozen. I was torn between saying sorry again and wanting to throttle her for saying that I fawned over Darryl. He was a friend and even though Jack and I would never be more than friends, the way she had said that it made ‘more sense’ and that I was not in ‘his league’, was a direct insult I couldn’t miss. There was only so much I could take. I stood up, “Anne, I came here to apologize, not to be insulted. I apologize for what I did. You can either accept it or not. The rest of what happens is up to you now. I would like us to be friends for Darryl’s sake, but that is up to you.” She sat looking up at me, her eyes narrowed and at last I knew that would never happen. Well I had done what I had come to do, “good bye and enjoy the rest of your day.” I walked away, not giving her a chance to say anything. When I got into the car, Ida looked at me, “That bad hey.” “Yip,” I replied, there was no need to go into details.

The following week was so busy that by the end of each day, I was tired and barely made it to bed, wanting sleep. I wondered how I was going to make it to Saturday. I would probably be asleep through the whole of the party, if this continued.

On Friday I passed out earlier than usual, too tired to even practice. I had arranged that Ida bring Chloë and Jack, while I went to the McDougal’s before the party.

As I walked up the path to the door, I started to get nervous. What was Darryl up to? He opened the door, “ Early, good, put your things in the other room and then we can get ready.” He seemed anxious about something while he led me to the sitting room. “Hi Darryl,” I said slowly, “Happy Birthday, by the way.” He laughed, “Oh yeah, thanks.” I gave him a hug and handed him his present. “I got this before I knew all you wanted from me was to learn to play two songs.” He grabbed the present, “Thank you,” came from the big grin that was planted on his face. He started ripping at the paper, looking up every few moments. When it was open, he looked up amazed.

In the wrapping had been a frame. Enclosed in glass was what looked like two CD covers. The top was the front cover, which had a picture of Blue Lava that I had taken at the festival. It was one of the best that I had. It showed all of the band members perfectly and it seemed to emanate the energy of their set. Their name was at the bottom in blue. The bottom was the back cover, which had in its background a picture I had taken of them while they had been sitting and relaxing. It had a list of their most popular songs. A list I had gotten from Emily.

“It’s perfect,” he said grabbing me, almost squeezing the air out of me. “Wow, it’s really perfect and it's going up now and I have the perfect place for it. Wait here.” He ran to the kitchen and returned with a hammer and a nail and hung the frame on the wall with all the accolades. Moving back with his hands on his hips, smiling while he looked at it. Emily came down the stairs, “What’s with the knocking?” Seeing me for the first time, she smiled, “Hey Elly, what’s my bro doing?” “Putting up his gift,” he smiled at her, “look what Elisa got me,” he pointed at the frame now hanging on the wall. “Wow that’s really cool, you have a good eye Elly and Darryl if you ever make it, you already have a cover.” “Emily I don’t have your full gift, but here is a teaser. Happy Birthday,” I smiled handing over a brightly coloured package and hugging her. She quickly opened it. She was neater at opening presents than Darryl, but she had the same enthusiasm.

Inside was a mini handbook on anime art. She laughed, “Awesome. How did you know I love anime. My mom isn’t really into it.” “I saw your drawings in your room. Most of them are in an anime style.” “Well it is perfect,” she said grabbing me to hug me again. “Okay, well we can’t stand here all day. Elly we have to get ready before the party. You did bring the electric with, like I asked?” Darryl was anxious again. “Yes, I did,” I replied slowly again. “Leave the rest of the bags here so long, you will only need the electric and the sheets I sent you.” “Come along then,” he called back, moving quickly towards the entertainment areas sliding doors.

As we made our way, I noticed something like a stage outside. “Well, hurry up, we don’t have much time,” Darryl called back to me. The closer I got to the sliding doors the slower I wanted to walk. When I reached them I saw that to the one side of the porch there was a makeshift stage. Darryl turned, looking at me, “Ok Elly, you have been practicing on the electric like I asked, right?” I nodded. “Well set it up over there,” he pointed to the stage. He couldn’t be serious. “We’re going to start off with something that you know.” I stood looking at him, not sure what my next move would be, my feet stuck in their place. “Why are you standing there,” he looked confused, “you will be playing lead guitar.”

“Lead guitar, for what?” , was the first thing I could make myself say. “Well it’s my birthday present remember,” he smiled back at me. “Your present was that I learn the music you sent me,” I started backing away slowly. “Yes, so that you could play lead guitar for me tonight,” his smile was broader. “What?!” “You heard me right. It’s a bit of a tradition that the band plays something on our birthday.” “And?” , the realization of what he had planned dawning on me. “Well this year, I hoped that you would join me. It would be a great way of doing a dry run of playing in front of people.” “What?” I said disbelieving, stumbling backwards. In front of a crowd. I wanted to run, I backed away, but ended up tripping over my own feet, or cords, or something. I felt an arm grab me around the waist, pulling me back up. My body found a seat, my legs feeling weak. “Elly, are you okay?” “I don’t know. This was not what I was expecting.” He had concern on his face and kneeling in front of me, he seemed to try and reassure me, “Sorry Elly, I thought it would be fun playing together. It would be a great opportunity to get over those nerves. And, plus..”, he looked away for a moment, “I thought it was a great way to play alongside each other.” “I just need a few moments to get use to the idea,” I looked at him, “I’m okay,” I smiled back weakly, “you are really sneaky you know that.” He had a surprised look on his face, “Who me? How?” “You planned this whole thing. You knew, if I knew, I would try and back out of it somehow.” His lips started to form a smile. “And you are right. I suppose I had to do it sometime, play in front of a crowd.” His face brightened, “Well it’s a good thing you said 2pm, cause we going to need a lot of time to rehearse.” I stood up, my legs still unsteady. I had to do this sometime, might as well be sooner than later. Darryl followed me to the makeshift stage. “Don’t worry everything will go well and just follow my lead.” “How can I, I’m lead guitar remember.” He burst into laughter at that.

It felt like the first day of my lesson. My fingers were all thumbs, but as usual Darryl was calm and patient. After an hour we were playing the first song as if we had been playing it together for years. “The next part is to do the lyrics we practiced playing; now we have to practice everything together. Here is the sheet and the part I want you to sing.” “Sing, me, you can’t be serious...” “Yes I am.” “I can’t sing.” “Yes you can. Just do it, okay, trust me.” I surrendered to his instructions. I had heard Darryl sing before, but it had always been quiet. He had never put his full force behind it. Now that he did, I wondered why he didn’t sing lead as well. It was full bodied with a husky undertone. It could be dark and seductive at the same time.

“Okay now for the second one. You practiced the lead, now we have to practice it with me singing it as well. It’s a favourite of mine. Okay here we go..

As I played, his voice sounded more enchanting with each line and verse and my guitar seemed to flow. Why did he not sing more often, his voice was amazing?

When we played the last note, I was breathless, but not because I was tired. He looked at me, “Why don’t you sing?” , I asked, “you have an incredible voice.” He blushed, “It’s not my thing. I love playing guitar. Stephen is the lead singer and that is what he loves to do.” “Well you should do it more often, you hiding a talent away. You should share it more often.” “Well you should as well,” he replied. “Me?” “Yes, you. I’ve heard your voice,” he smiled mockingly, “It's a talent that you should share more often,” he replied imitating me. I rolled my eyes, “If that’s what compliments get me, I’m going to keep quiet in future.” His only response was to stick his tongue out at me. We went through the songs a few more times, just to be sure everything sounded right. Darryl was a real perfectionist. Eventually he looked up, “I think we got it. We can just move your bag to my room before everyone gets here.” “Thanks, I just need to freshen up quickly.”

I went up to his room with my bag while he got something to drink. I had brought a second set of clothes. Something better suited for the birthday party than my jeans and t-shirt. I closed the door, but looking for a key, I saw that there was none to be found.

I was glad that I had brought a second set, I was soaked. I put everything on the bottom of his bed. Thankfully they weren’t creased. Getting undressed I noticed something sparkling from the corner of my eye. It came from the window where we had been sitting. Moving closer I saw the lake. At first all one could see was a shimmer, but as you neared the window, the shimmer began to part into different colours. They were dim at first, only slight hues of the seven colours. I stood there for awhile, when I heard something behind me. I turned seeing Darryl’s face emerging from the steps and down to realize that I was still in my underclothes. “Elly, why did you...?”

Trying to decide between going for my clothes and jumping behind the bed took a second longer than it should have and I was faced with Darryl looking at me, stunned, his mouth was open in mid-sentence. Everything moved slowly as I decided to go behind the bed. I saw Darryl’s eyes as I jumped. It was a combination between shock and something I didn’t know. I felt my body heat up as his face changed colour. Not looking where I was going to, I did not see the guitar case that had been lying next to the bed. I hit my head trying to curl up in a ball at the same time.


I heard soft footsteps on the carpet run towards me. “Elisa are you okay?” Unfortunately I was. “Darryl stay there!!”, but he was already at the side of the bed. Nowhere to hide, curled in a ball in my underwear, I burst out laughing. “I’m fine, but can you give me a bit of privacy please.” His face was the colour of a ripe tomato. “Yeah sure, next time I’ll knock.” He left quickly and I tried to dress even quicker. He didn’t come back upstairs again, so I went down to the kitchen.

“Hey Elly, you sure you okay?”, he looked up, his face crimson. “I heard that bang against the case from where I was standing.” “I’m fine, I don’t think I’m bruised physically, just my ego.” “Nothing to feel bruised about,” the colour of his face seemed to be competing with his hair.

“Uh Uhm, it’s my fault. I didn’t see a key and you were a bit quicker than I anticipated. I should have warned you.” “ No need to apologize. I should have knocked when I saw the door was closed.” “Well it’s your room.”Could his face get even redder than it already was? We stood there in awkward silence for a moment.

“I saw the rainbow,” I blurted out, trying to break the silence. “Rainbow?” “Yes, the one on the lake. That is why I didn’t hear you come in…., ” I blushed as I relived getting caught in an embarrassing situation.”It’s beautiful. I can understand why you can sit there and watch it. It’s hypnotizing.” “It is,” that mesmerized look started to fill his eyes again, but something made him come back to earth and he looked straight at me. Smiling he said, “Well, the party is almost upon us. My mom and dad just helped Emily finish setting up outside,” he held out his hand,”do you want to take a look?” “Sure,” I replied putting my hand in his. It was warm and I could feel the calluses on the parts that came from playing guitar, the rest was soft. He led me to the kitchen door.

Although it was autumn, it was a warm, clear day and it seemed that the evening would be clear as well. I stepped outside to see the sun just about to move behind the horizon.

The lappa had been decorated in white fairy lights and there were couches with cushions and blankets positioned in a semicircle facing the ‘stage’. There were also cushions on the floor in the middle and a table to the one side that would probably have snacks on it. Around the ‘stage’ area, there were large colourful lights that had been connected to poles that made a square shape surrounding the ‘stage’. “Is this what you do every year?”, I asked looking at the scene displayed in front of me, “it looks like a mini-concert.” He turned looking at his backyard, “Not as big as this, we invited more people than normal. Usually we just set up in the garage and play.” “Well it looks amazing.” Behind me the doorbell rang and soon afterwards Ida entered with Chloë, Jack and Sylvia. I walked over, “Hey sis,” and hugged my friends. Darryl was behind me, “Hey Ida, glad you made it. This must be Sylvia,” shaking her hand, “nice to meet you.” Then he turned towards Chloë and Jack, he shook Jack’s hand and hugged Chloë, “Thanks for coming,” his smile was sincere. They looked at each other, but it was Chloë that spoke up first, “Thanks for inviting us. We weren’t sure what to get you, but we hope you like it, Happy Birthday,” handing over the parcel. “You didn’t have to, but thank you,” he took the bag and pulled out a book. He looked at me stunned. It was the complete collection to date of all of Bon Jovi’s music. I smiled sheepishly. “He looked back at Jack and Chloë, “This day is just getting better and better. I’m thinking of doing this every year if I get presents like I got today.” He hugged Chloë again, but a bit tighter than before, that made her look like her eyes would pop and slapped Jack on the back, pushing him forward with the force.

“I’m just going to put this somewhere safe, would you like to go down to the lappa so long. I’ll be back in a moment.”

Chloë and Jack’s eyes eventually settled on the backyard and their eyes grew wider as they moved along. “Wow, it’s really cool how they set up everything,” their eyes made their way to the stage. “And what’s that for?” “It’s a stage. The band will be playing a bit later,” I breathed a bit. I had almost forgotten about that, I sighed, “Plus yours truly.” “What?” “Yip, which is why Darryl asked me to practice those songs for his birthday. He wants me to play with him.” Jack and Chloë’s faces seemed to mirror each other, from doubt until a smile crept over them. “I like the way Darryl thinks, “Jack finally said. His voice seemed to have a naughty edge to it, “He knows you well enough to know not to reveal too much just in case you try to worm your way out of it.” “Well I get to see Elly play and I’m excited about it.” “Me too,” they both grinned back at me. This was not going to be too bad, but that was if it was only Jack and Chloë.

We moved down to the lappa and were joined by Emily, my sister and Janice. With snacks in hand, we sat down as more and more people started arriving. It didn’t take long for the lappa to be filled to the brim. There wasn’t a seat available, so some of the guests stood around chatting.

Emily introduced me to Kendrick, which was a newly acquired boyfriend. They were both studying architecture, but he was in his third year. They seemed well suited as they were both sports fanatics, while maintaining a very artistic side. Kendrick was far taller than Emily. So tall that she had to stand on her toes to give him a kiss and he was funny.

It was in mid conversation with Malcolm, my head tilted back to face him, that something told me to look ahead. When I did, I saw that there was a figure of a girl with blonde hair, cut in a pixie-style haircut, standing on the porch watching the scene in front of her.

Anne stood there, as if surveying the land in front of her. My heart sank a bit. I had expected that she would be there, but after the last meeting, I had decided to ignore that fact for as long as I could. She didn’t make a move to join us, but she kept watching. Darryl went up to greet her and it became clear that she had waited for him to escort her to the group below. When they joined us, Anne sat at the edge of the group although space had opened up so that they may be in the middle.

The lappa was abuzz with everyone speaking and laughing at the same time. In the middle of it Stephen stood up, clinking his glass as loudly as he could to shush everyone. “I’d like to make a toast.” Everyone quietened down. “To two of the coolest people that I,... we have ever met. Always there, always a smile on their faces and always fun to be around. We are all here because of you to celebrate a special day. Happy Birthday guys and enjoy.” Everyone cheered and started to sing Happy Birthday.

Darryl was the next to stand, “Thanks Stephen and now I’m sure, like every year, everyone is anxious that the entertainment begins.” There was a louder cheer. “Everyone knows we put on a little show each year, but this year is a little different as we have an added bonus.” Darryl gestured that I follow him, I felt myself go cold. There was far more people than I thought there would be and he wanted me to play in front of all of them. What had he been thinking? He patiently waited, my legs felt like they were stuck in cement. He gestured again and I took a deep breath and moved. Or it could have been Chloë pushing me forward. Walking up to the stage, my body felt like lead, my hands were sweaty and my stomach was in so many knots that I felt like bending over right there and being sick. He saw my face, “Remember what I told you when you played in front of your mom. I promise you will be fine.” I tried to speak, but my mouth was cotton wool.

At the stage Darryl took the mike while I stood at the door. I glanced in its direction. If I was quick enough I could make my escape and maybe no one would notice. Looking back at the group below us, I saw everyone’s focus was on us and Darryl was looking at me. There was no escape. He winked.

“Good evening everyone. Thank you for joining us. Like I said, this year we have a little bonus, which is our opening act tonight.”

It was now or never, I was at the edge of the sliding doors. I looked down again and saw Anne’s face. She was upset, more than upset. I could feel myself melting under that glare. I wanted my legs to move, but it felt as if they had been caught in quick dry cement. Darryl continued, “I’d like to introduce Elisa, a good friend and possibly the first student of the McDougal music school.” His announcement had woken me from a daze. I looked in his direction. That smile showed all the faith he had in me. I had said I would do this and he wouldn’t have asked me if he didn’t think I could do it. It was a dry run, if I couldn’t handle this, how would I be able to handle the talent show. My feet were planted where I stood. I had to dig deep for strength to do this. It was the only thing that he and Emily had wanted and if I chickened out now, what type of friend would I be to them? “So please give a warm welcome to Elly,” he gestured me to my place.

There was a burst of applause and cheers and I tried to move as quickly as possible, but it felt as if I was dragging a ton on each leg. It seemed to take forever to get to the guitar. When I eventually got into position, Darryl leaned towards me, putting a hand over the mike, “Remember, breathe and we can start when you are ready, okay?” I nodded. “And don’t worry take your time,” his face was full of reassurance. Breathe, I thought. I checked the guitar again to see if it was in tune, even though I knew I had left it perfectly earlier. Breath. Closing my eyes, I breathed. I waited till I felt calm, then I opened them and looked at Darryl. I smiled and concern changed to joy on his face and he smiled back. “Tonight we will be starting off with something special...” he announced. Taking another deep breath, I strummed the first note.

As I did it felt as if something exploded in me. All that fear, nervousness, the knot in my stomach seemed to move out of every pore of my body. A calmness, that was deeper than the one before, seemed to take its place. With every chord and note I played I felt like I was transported to a world where there was music in every corner. The harmony and sound of the instruments were colours covering us. The first line I sang seemed like a gust of wind that had been held captive in my chest and now was freed. The gust mingled with the colours to make a whirlwind of shades. The more we played, the larger it got and it seemed to reach those that listened. There were different colours twisting around each listener and as it reached their ears it seemed to fill them with something that made them move with the music.

As the music came to an end, it seemed like millions of little lights, like stars or glitter shinning in the night was slowly gliding to the ground, leaving this world as before. I could feel the huge grin on my face. My cheeks were starting to hurt. Looking at Darryl, his face mirrored mine. An explosion of sound broke the silence after we had finished and broke me out of my stupor. It was a huge applause and I turned to see that everyone was standing. I took a bow, my face still stuck in a stupid grin. I turned to Darryl, “Thank you for having faith in me. That was awesome.” “I told you not to worry. In future, why don’t you just listen to me. It makes it easier for both of us,” he laughed. We made ready for the second song. This time I felt more confident and as we played together that feeling and colours returned. Applause erupted as we finished.

We made our way back to the lappa. “How are we supposed to follow an act like that,” Malcolm teased. “Well you can always become my groupie,” I teased back. “Congratulations,” I turned to see Anne standing with her arms wrapped around Darryl’s like a serpent, “it seems that the tutoring Darryl gave you was worth it. But I didn’t know he did voice lessons as well.” I was not going to let her spoil this for me, “Darryl is a very good teacher, but the voice is my own. No help was required there,” I replied. I walked towards Chloë and Jack, not allowing her to respond. Their bottoms looked as if they were on fire.

“Elly you were great and I never knew you could sing,” Chloë exclaimed as if she was on a combination of a coffee and sugar high. “I didn’t know it either,” I laughed. “You were amazing up there. I can’t describe it, just that you are a natural.” “You most certainly are,” Jack chipped in, “I have known you almost all my life and I didn’t know you could do that. You always surprise me.” I blushed, “Come on guys, now you’re embarrassing me.”

Next was the bands turn to play. Even though I had received compliments from anyone that was close to me, watching them play still made me feel like an amateur. But something had changed. Before, when I heard them, I heard the colours of the rainbow, mix and move into each other. Now I could see the colours emanate from them towards us. As those tendrils of colour reached the listener it seemed to awaken something in them. Their bodies vibrated at the same intensity as the music. The chairs and pillows were moved out of the way, so that those that wanted to could dance. With the clear night and cool air, the lights that looked like fireflies above us. The music enfolded us. It was as if everyone was moving in a dream. We moved as one, individually, laughing and swaying to the rhythm and colours that the sound created.

After awhile I felt thirsty and moved to the table to get something to drink. I noticed that Anne was standing to one side, while everyone squeezed for a spot to dance. I heard her come up behind me. Deep breaths I thought.

“You and Darryl looked really cosy playing together,” she started. “He was my tutor, so we practiced together quite a bit.” “So who’s idea was this anyway, to play as a duet, under the pretence of an opening act?” she asked, looking at me then Darryl. “Actually it was Darryl’s. A birthday present for him and Emily,” I replied, annoyance rising in the back of my throat. She had a smirk and it showed that she did believe me. “So Darryl requested, for his birthday, no, his and Emily’s birthday present, that you accompany him on stage to play those two songs. Right? That’s what you want me to believe?” “Believe what you want Anne, but that is what he requested.” She laughed, but it sounded shrill. “I told you before. I don’t trust you. I think that if you had half a chance you would try and take Darryl from me. So I am warning you, stay away.” I wished I could slap her right there. I had enough. “Darryl is a big boy and he can make up his own mind about what he wants and who he wants around. No one, not me or you can force him to do what he doesn’t want to,” breathe, I thought. “And if you knew Darryl at all or even tried to get to know me, you would know that we would not do that to you.” I had to breathe again, before I erupted, “And not that you require an explanation. The first song was the first one I ever played in front of anyone and I am comfortable with playing it, it was my dad’s favourite. The second one Darryl chose because it is his favourite. I suggest you ask Darryl why he wanted me to perform with him on his birthday. Maybe it’s because I actually take an interest in his music.” I clenched my hand to keep myself in control. I had made my peace with the fact that Anne didn’t like me. What did she see that made her feel as if I would take Darryl away from her?

“Anne, I have made peace with the fact you will never like me, but have a little respect that we are both in his life. I have, no matter what I think of you.” With that I took my drink and walked away. If I hadn’t, I would surely have done something unpleasant and it was not the time or the place.

As I walked away, it still saddened me that Anne and I had come to this point. We were both in Darryl’s life and it would have been nicer if we had got along. I wanted to see what Darryl saw in her.

“What was that about?”, Chloë asked as I reached their seats. “Anne and I came to an understanding.” I breathed out slowly, “she doesn’t trust me and I don’t care.” Chloë looked at Jack, who in turn looked at me for a more detailed explanation. They would have to wait. Even though I knew there would always be that barrier between Anne and me, I felt relief that it was out in the open now. I was not going to allow anyone to spoil my evening further. It felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

The last song was played and the band put their instruments away to join us. There was still music in the background, but the atmosphere was more subdued now. Anne seemed more attached to Darryl than usual and every time he moved closer to our group, she seemed to hold him back.

I knew the reason why. It was me. I ignored it as much as I could and while the cool air calmed my skin from the heat that I felt after dancing, inside I raged with fire. I tried to absorb the air through my skin and calm my insides, as it calmed my outside. When you ignore something long enough, at some point you can fool yourself enough to think it doesn’t exist. And that’s what I did.

I had sufficiently convinced myself into forgetting the animosity that Anne had towards me, so I could enjoy myself.

While speaking to Emily and a few of her friends I felt a slight tap on my shoulder. I turned around expecting to see Darryl, but was confronted with someone that was more than a head taller than myself.

I stopped breathing for a second when I turned and saw his face. He had dark hair, but I couldn’t make out if it was black or dark brown in the night light. It was cut in a school boy’s style which opened up his face. The first thing I had seen was deep blue eyes, blue as the ocean on a clear sunny day. They were shadowed by slightly thick eyebrows, which made them look both innocent and seductive at the same time. His nose was strong, but not large and his lips were full. The bottom being slightly thicker. It was all framed in what can only be described as a chiselled faced, but there was softness to his square jaw line. It would not grow harder with age, just more masculine.

“Hi there, we haven’t been introduced, I’m Kyle.” Taken aback for a few seconds, I put out my hand to shake his, “Hi I’m Elly, Elisa.” “I know,” he replied with a skew smile. I returned that smile, my cheeks on fire. “You really played well earlier. How long have you been at it?” “A few months.” “You wouldn’t say,” he looked a bit surprised at my answer. “Thanks, I had a good teacher,” the blush spreading from my cheeks to my neck. “Yeah, Darryl is an awesome teacher. He has a lot of patience. He could probably teach a leopard to play the violin.” He looked a bit uncomfortable, as if not sure what to do next. We stood, looking at everyone moving around us, laughing, speaking, everywhere but at each other. His body language showed that he wanted to stay. What to do next?

I was the first to break the silence. “So do you play?” He smiled as if thankful to continue our introduction, “Yes a bit. I play the keyboard or rather the piano,” he laughed slightly. “A bit old fashioned I know and I sing.” “There’s nothing old fashioned about the piano. A lot of good music has come from drumming on the keys. How did that start?” “My mom. She loves the piano and she says she heard me singing when I was really young and, as she puts it, ‘it sounded like an angel from heaven’.” He shook his head clearly embarrassed by the last statement, “So she got me involved with choirs from a young age.” “A choir that’s interesting.”

We moved to one of the couches that had been replaced under the lappa. “We try and keep up with trends and contemporary music, but it always has to have a good message behind it.” “From what age have you been singing?” “Six.”

Kyle explained that he had been part of choirs for twelve years. He had enjoyed them, but the older he got the more he wanted to get involved in other forms of music. He had just started a band with members of the choir. They were brothers, Ethan and John. Ethan played the drums and John was the guitarist, but he preferred the base. They were trying to find a sound that all three enjoyed. So far they leaned towards a soft, bluesy rock, as Kyle put it. Kyle was finishing off his last year of high school and planned on doing sound engineering with a few business subjects the following year. He wanted to get into the music industry whichever way he could. Listening to him speak about music was enthralling. He seemed to be captivated by it and became more excited as he spoke.

There was something about Kyle that made me nervous to my bones. As he spoke and described his band, I felt butterflies in my stomach. He wasn’t overbearing. He was rather charming and attentive, but the way he smiled at me, with a skew smile, made me blush. He listened to every word I spoke with more attention than was needed. It made me self-conscious and those blue eyes were penetrating. I wanted to hide and jump up and down at the same time.

In a moment of silence I noticed two people nearing us from the corner of my eye. “Are you trying to steal my opening act?”, came an amused voice. Looking up I saw Darryl and Anne standing in front of us. I wondered how he had managed to get this close with Anne suctioned to him like an octopus. “Maybe I am,” Kyle smiled, but there was something that was brewing behind that smile. “So Elly you rather want to be our competition, hmm.” I looked up, with pretence of indifference, “Well your band is full. I can’t play on my own forever,” I smiled. Anne’s eyes grew as narrow as slits. “I suppose there is nothing wrong with a bit of competition between friends,” Darryl replied. “True, it makes things more interesting,” Joshua stepping in at the last sentence. “And did I hear something about friendly competition?” “Yes you did, and I know exactly what you want,” Darryl smiled that devilish grin. “You know me so well already.” Joshua mirrored his expression, “Yip, I think it’s time for the game.”

‘The Game’ was a combination between music trivia and karaoke. Each team was made up of six members. Half would answer the questions and the other half would perform. Those performing could not help their teammates by verbally answering questions, but they could give them clues, like charades. After a question was asked you had two minutes to answer, if you could not answer then the other team mates could sing a chorus or verse. Answering first held more points.

Emily got a black bag with different colour balls, so that the teams could be split up randomly. There were three teams and the competition between the three teams would be fierce. With Joshua, Ida, Kyle and myself on one team, we seemed to work well. Anne was on a team with Jack, Emily and Stephen; and Darryl was teamed up with Malcolm, Chloë and Kendrick. I wasn’t sure what was worse, the competition between siblings or the rivalry that seemed to come through between Stephen and Kyle.

We moved along, laughing at the mad gesturing that happened between those that answered and those that sang, or the disbelief when an answer was missed. At the end my team and Darryl’s had moved into the first two places. Which brought us to the last round that was a sing off. Each team had five songs that they had to answer. If they could not answer the song, it went to the other team at half the points. There was some deliberation about who would do the singing in the last round. Kyle and I decided to do the singing, while Darryl and Malcolm sang for their team.

We started.

At the last song, we were even, but it was the other teams’ song. It was nerve wracking. If they got it, they won. If they didn’t we had a chance. It was Darryl’s turn. After he finished the verse, everyone was stumped. I gestured to Ida and as time grew to an end, I sat on the edge of my seat and waited to see if we would have a chance to answer. They missed it and when it was our turn to answer, Ida had worked herself up to a frenzy and shouted out the answer, and that was it. We had won.

Kyle walked up to Darryl smiling, slapping him on the back, “It seems you got a little taste of what competition would be like if Elly joined my band.” Darryl laughed, “Seems so, maybe I should see if she would rather join ours,” he smiled at Kyle, but there was a tension between those lips, “a second lead guitarist is maybe what we need.” “Hey guys, it’s my choice and I may just start my own band,” I replied looking at the both of them, arms crossed. They looked at each other and then at me, “That may just be a problem for both of us,” Kyle stated, with a sly grin on his face.

It was getting late and people started leaving, until there were only a few of the guests left behind. We still sat under the lappa. The night was clear and the stars shone brightly. The fairy lights seemed to increase the number of stars in the sky. There was a low quiet hum of voices and music mingled. We started clearing some of the used cups and plates that were still on the table.

Standing with a black bag in my hand at the table, clearing uneaten food off plates into the bag, I heard motion next to me. “Hey Elly.” Looking up, I found Darryl next to me clearing used tissue rolls and other waste. “Did you enjoy tonight?” “Is that a rhetorical question?” I replied. “No, why?” “Cause tonight was really awesome.” A big grin appeared on his face that brought warmth to his whole face. “Did you enjoy your night,” I asked back. “Yeah, one of the best nights ever.” I smiled. We cleared up in silence for awhile, till he broke the silence. “Elly, you really thinking about joining Kyle’s band.” I laughed, “I would if he had asked me. We didn’t get that far.” I smiled. Another silence, then he breathed a bit loudly, “I’m sorry I wasn’t around tonight. There were a lot of people.” I tried to avoid his face and moved around the table. I knew why he had not been around and it wasn’t that there had been too many guests to make it possible.

There was no reason to point it out. It had been a lovely night irrespective, but I felt that I had to make him feel better about it. He seemed to need assurance that I was not upset. “Don’t worry about it. I think we were both kept busy tonight. You have many interesting friends. Where did you meet them?” “Here and there over the years. Sports, music, school.” Silence. “So what did you think about Malcolm’s cousin?” I looked at him confused, “Who was that?” “You don’t know, Kyle. The two of you spent a lot of time together. I thought he would have mentioned it. “Oh, okay. No he didn’t, but he’s cool and the fact he started in a choir at the age of six, wow.” Just then a honey sweet voice could be heard from the other side of the table, “Honey are you almost done?” Anne was moving around the table towards us. How to leave before she joined us, without Darryl noticing, was on the forefront of my mind. Her arm slid into his, looking straight at me with contempt shining through. “I’m tired, when will you be able to take me home?” She looked up at him, all those emotions gone. Now it looked like a child trying to get their parent to do something they wanted. I wondered if Darryl knew how she felt about me. I continued to clear in the opposite direction, trying to put as much distance between us. “I’ll be done in a bit, and then I’ll take you home, okay?” She pouted up at him, like that of a child who had not gotten their way, “Okay.” Ida came towards us. She gave me the perfect excuse to make my escape. In a few moments we were saying our goodbyes. Alice would stay a bit longer; she and Malcolm seemed to hit it off.

Darryl got my things I had left in his room when Kyle came up to me to say good bye. He walked with us as we made our way to the front entrance. “So about joining our band,” he started. I cocked an eyebrow, “And who said I wanted to join your band? I haven’t even met the other band members yet. Maybe we don’t ‘gel’.” “I doubt that. They will want you to be a part of it as much as I do,” he smiled, “but we can remedy meeting them.” We had reached the front door by then and he stood in the doorway, leaning against the door with his hand on the top.

Standing like that made you aware of his height. He was almost as tall as the door and with a muscular frame, more than half as wide. He had a smile that was uneven as it came up higher on the one side. Eyes of deep blue pools, like the colour of the ocean on a clear day. In the light, I had to admit that he was more handsome than I had initially thought. “How do you suppose we do that?” I asked, feeling the heat rising to my cheeks again. “What are you doing this weekend? We can meet for something to eat and then you can meet Ethan and John.” “Interesting,” I smiled. “I’ll let you know. I don’t have my itinerary on me,” I teased. “Sounds like a plan,” he smiled the one corner of his mouth moving higher.

Darryl had made his way down the stairs without a sound, “Here’s your things Elly.” I was startled by the sound of his voice, which seemed to break the hypnotic look of Kyle’s eyes. “Thanks, almost forgot about that,” I replied. Kyle looked down at me and smiled, a wider one this time, “Well hope to see you soon, Elly.” “Sure, I’ll let you know.” He waved bye to the others and made his way back to the lapa, while Darryl and I watched. Darryl was the first to look away. “So what was that about?” I shook my head slightly to get back to the present, “Oh nothing. Kyle wanted me to meet the rest of his band. We may meet up at The Diner. I’ll see.” He looked back at the direction that Kyle had left and then at me, “Oh.”

We made our way to the car and I said my final goodbyes. First to Emily, then moving to Darryl. He bent over to hug me, squeezing harder than usual. As he did he whispered, “Thank you for making this the best birthday ever.” Moving away, I smiled, “It's a pleasure, but it wasn’t only me.” He smiled, but there was also serenity on his face, “But it was mostly you.” I didn’t know how to reply.

On the drive back everyone reminisced about the evening, but when we got home, I couldn’t wait till I was in bed. My thoughts wandered over the evening again. Standing in front of everyone and playing, how it had made me feel. The confrontation with Anne, how bad I felt that we couldn’t move past her dislike and how happy I was that I decided not to worry about what she thought about me. Kyle asking me out to eat to meet his band. How things were so different from a few months ago and it had all started with a guitar.

I had asked Chloë and Jack to accompany me to meet Kyle at the Diner. I didn’t know what to expect and I preferred having my closest companions with me.

After the party, they had expected a full explanation of what had happened between Anne and myself. Chloë was conspicuously silent and Jack had a strained look on his face during the whole commentary. “So your opinions?” They were uncharacteristically quiet, but their faces spoke millions. “Come on, I know you are both burning to give me your take on the whole situation.”

Chloë was the first to break their silence. “Well maybe she has a point.” I felt my eyes widen at her words, “What do you mean, she has a point?” I retorted. “Elly, I am your friend, one of your best friends and you know I will always be honest. So don’t get upset by what I am going to say, okay.” “Okay, let me have it.”

It was apparent that they had seen something that I was unaware of. She continued, “Well you and Darryl, how can I describe it? When the two of you are together, especially when you are playing, like at the party, you seem to be in your own world. And I am sure that is unsettling for her.” “I don’t understand why that would unsettle her. Darryl and I share our appreciation for music, something she seems to have no interest in.” “It’s not only about the two of you playing together. Even just sitting together it’s the same, a little bit less intense though.” “And you?” I looked at Jack. His eyes were averted, which was a sure sign that he was trying to avoid saying something. “What are your thoughts?” He looked up at me slowly, “From the other end, if you were really my girlfriend, I would be concerned about your friendship as well.” I sat there, stunned. I had never thought that Darryl and I were in our own little world, as they put it. It had always been so easy being around him, speaking to him. And when we had played together, it was more that he had opened up another world to me. Something that I could have only shared with someone that loved it as much.

After what they had said, I played the times that Darryl and I had been together. Trying to look at it from the outside. I remembered the last few times we had been alone, the way my heart had started racing when he was close to me. I hadn’t understood why. Had everyone seen what I had been missing? Was that the reason why Anne was so resentful of our friendship? I had to try harder not to put myself in an unpleasant situation. Things were always changing and they weren’t as pleasant as I thought they would be. The rest of the week I tried to replay everything that Chloë and Jack revealed to me. It still felt like they were holding something back, but they denied it. I had to be more conscious of my actions around Darryl. Maybe everyone was misinterpreting our friendship.

In the meantime Kyle had somehow found my number and I could only guess that it had been Malcolm that had given it to him. I had agreed to meet him and he started messaging me frequently over the week. He was funny, but his humour was dryer than Darryl’s and he seemed to be interested about almost every topic under the sun.

The Diner was full when we arrived. It seemed that everyone had decided to go out on one of the last few ‘good’ days before winter hit us. The next few months would be cold and rainy. It didn’t get cold enough to snow. If we wanted to experience that, it was at least a three hour drive inland, on a rare day and it only lasted for a day before it turned to sludge.

While we waited for seats, Kyle arrived. He walked in with an air of confidence that was so different from what I had seen when he had introduced himself. As soon as he saw us, his mouth split into that lopsided pearly white grin I had seen the evening of the party. There should be a law against teeth being so perfect and natural. It hit me again how handsome he was. “Hey Elly, you made it.” “I said I would.” His smile was infectious. “Good thing too or I would have hounded you.” A waitress approached us at that time to show us to an open table. My silence was enough of a reply.

We made our way to our table. It was obvious that Chloë was mesmerized. She had a smile planted on her face that only came out when she was enthralled, and she was twirling a strand of her hair on her finger more often than not. Jack on the other hand seemed guarded. He watched every move that Kyle made and with more concentration than was required. I wondered if alpha-male-syndrome only came out when the opponents were the same size or was it just more evident then.

It didn’t seem to phase Kyle. He was either unaware of their reaction or really didn’t care. He emitted an ease and self-confidence that others, like me, would wish they had. It came out as charming and with an intellectual dry humour, every now and then a quirky side coming out; he would make the most hardened girls knees weak. Our conversation turned to the talent show and Chloë took it upon herself to explain what we were planning. “Sounds like something I can’t miss,” Kyle added. Before I had time to think about answering, Chloë replied, “I agree. You should come.” I rolled my eyes at the thought that by the end of the week half of the town would probably be invited to the show if she continued the way she was. Kyle looked directly at me, “I can’t wait to see you in action again.” I smiled back weakly, between Darryl’s family, the band and the teammates that Jack had invited; I would have to be blindfolded as not to faint on the stage when I saw them. Kyle’s blue eyes scanned my face, “You have a nervous look. What’s wrong?” “It’s just the thought of the show. It’s my first competition and it’s a bit nerve wracking. Not like playing in front of a small group of people for fun.” His smile was warm, “I agree. Competitions can be like that, but you really don’t have to worry, you’re talented. I’m sure you will knock their socks off.” He softly patted my hand reassuringly.

Two tall, dark faced people made their way to our table. They were mirror images of each other, except for their hair. One was cut short almost to the scalp and the other had a head of floppy dark curls. The dark chocolate colour of their hair seemed to melt into their skin. They were both slender, but as they came closer one could see that they walked in a different manner. The short haired one walked straight as if he had a broom attached to his back, the other had a relaxed gate, walking straight but with more flowing movements. Kyle stood up to move towards them. They must be John and Ethan that he had told me about. He motioned them towards our table and introduced them. The moppy hair one was John and the short crop one, standing slightly behind him was Ethan. “Hi everyone,” John greeted with a large grin. It was quick to see that John was the more extroverted one as he sat down next to me, while Ethan sat across from him. “So you are the Elisa that Kyle hasn’t stopped blabbering about.” “Blabbering?” I was taken aback by the news that Kyle had been speaking to them about me, “I hope it’s been good.” “Yes it has, but he understated how pretty you were, for one thing.” I heard myself giggle like an idiot. I tried to get my composure back as quick as possible, but I felt my cheeks heat up. “Thanks,” was the only word that I could get out without sounding like a complete fool. Ethan looked more serious though, “He did also tell us about your playing skills. Apparently you are phenomenal, even though you’ve only been playing for a few months.” “I think he overstated my skills with that one.” “Don’t underestimate yourself like that. The hardest opponent to beat in a competition is really your own fear.” John and Ethan looked at each other confused. Kyle explained about the talent show and by the end of the conversation they were also interested in seeing us perform. “It’s not a big thing, just a school show,” I had to divert their attention; “it was actually Chloë’s idea. She’s a dancer and she had the great idea of the two of us doing the group set together.” “So you will be playing while Chloë dances. That should be good,” John looked at Chloë with an admiring eye. “And I will be joining Jack as their cheerleader,” Kyle announced, his head tilted to the side, the skew smile appearing on his face. My face flushed, while Chloë seemed to encourage the idea, “The more the merrier. Jack has a few teammates joining and between Darryl and the band, we may just have a very good fan base. It may help persuade the judges of the extraordinary talent before them.” “Chloë, we’re not the only ones that are talented in the show. You know I can rattle a few names that can take us any day,” I said trying to deflate both her attitude and the idea that we were better than I thought. “Well, in my opinion, I can’t see anyone else taking the top prize,” Jack added. “Here, here I agree,” Kyle leaped in.

“So Kyle says that you were all part of the choir and you started a band. Why the change?” John was the first to respond, “It was nice at first, but when we got older our tastes expanded from just singing in a choir.” “Kyle says you have been playing around with a blues rock sound.” “Yes, that is because we have different tastes. I am the alternative guy, Ethan likes grunge and Kyle is into blues, but the one genre we all like is plain old rock. So we played around with different combinations that all three like and it seems we settled on a blues rock sound.” “How long have you been together?” Chloë asked. “Well.., we agreed that we would have an open relationship. I like to keep my options open till I find something that I can know I would be able to put my full commitment to. But without the danger of getting bored too quickly.” “He means we have been playing together for a year,” Ethan spoke up, “but it’s been more garage band stuff,” he was clearly not impressed with his brother’s obvious flirtation. The longer one spent time with them, the clearer their differences became.

Apart from their hairstyles and the way they walked, the personalities were on the opposite side of the spectrum. John was extroverted and very flirtatious. He had a very laid back attitude that didn’t allow for any seriousness. While Ethan was serious. He was matter of fact. He wasn’t really what you could call rigid, but he didn’t seem to take part in anything that seemed frivolous. I enjoyed the company of both brothers though.

“How does it work?” “What do you mean?” Ethan asked. “How do come up with your music?” I replied. “Well Kyle is the poet among us. He has a book full of lyrics. John and I come up with the music most of the time, and then we try and put good lyrics together with a good sound. But sometimes it’s the reverse, Kyle will come up with a great tune and John and I will have some poetic inspiration.” “I’d like to see that process. I haven’t gotten to the part where I can make my own riffs? Sometimes I hear the music, but I don’t really know how to put it into action.” “Well that is easier than trying to come up with something that doesn’t sound like a repeat of a popular melody. But quick advice. Listen to that music you hear and when you play, you will hear if the chords and tune is the same as what you hearing. It takes a while and you start of slowly, but you will get there.” Kyle spoke up then, “You can always come and watch us jam.” “Really? Will it be okay? Won’t we be a distraction?” “Well it’s a distraction I am willing to live with,” he said with a smile growing on his lips, “or you could join us. We have a practice session tomorrow.” John and Ethan agreed to the idea. “Well Chloë and I have a practice session on as well, so I am not sure if we would be able to,” I replied. “You can always practice at my place, there is enough space.” “That’s a great idea,” Chloë blurted out. “Yes, a preview would be awesome,” John added. I looked at Jack, he just shrugged his shoulders. There would be no help there. “Okay then. Jack, Chloë and I will come over with my sister.”

Following the directions that Kyle had given, we arrived at a double wrought iron gate. Behind it we saw, what could only be described as an estate. In the background we saw a large building. It was white two storey structure with large windows at the bottom and a balcony that went all the way around the front. It reminded me of houses that one saw on old movies about plantation owners in the American south. There was a perfectly manicured garden in the front, with lolly pop trees all along the driveway. Were we at the right place? Ida pressed the button on the intercom. A male voice came over the speakers, “Good afternoon, how may I help you?” My sister answered, “Hi there, Elisa James to see Kyle.” “Come in Ms James, the gate will be opening shortly.” Ida and I looked at each other, opposite eyebrows arched. This was more than we expected, far more. The gates swung open and we drove up a stone driveway. There was a fountain in the middle, in front of the doorway and you would have to drive around it to get to the door. From up close the house looked even larger. “Did you know Kyle lived here?” Chloë asked, craning her neck to get a view of the house through the car window. “No, it never came up.”

Ida stopped in front of steps that lead to a large double door. Everything seemed clean and immaculate on the front porch. There were pillars all along the front that supported the balcony. As we all got out of the car, the doors opened and Kyle came walking out. He seemed smaller against the door. He moved quickly down the steps, “You here, awesome.” “Nice place,” Jack replied as he strained his neck to get the full view of the house. “Thanks, my mom likes big things,” Kyle said in a matter-of-fact manner. Ethan and John appeared behind him at the door as I made my way to the back of the car to get my guitar. “Need help?” Kyle asked as he appeared at my side. “No thanks, it’s just my acoustic.” “Let me help,” he insisted, reaching to take my case. I let him, it was obvious that he was not going to take no for an answer. Ethan stood at the car and Jack introduced him to Ida, while John took Chloë’s bag. We made our way to the massive door and I pondered, if the doors were that big, what was inside?

As we entered, we were greeted by a foyer that could rival some hotels. It was large with marble tiles in a mosaic design of white and gold. There was a large crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling that glittered different colours of the rainbow as the sun hit it and a staircase stood across from the door that could easily accommodate all of us walking up. Above it hung an over-sized painting that seemed to be of an Aphrodite-like maiden in a forest and to the right was what seemed to be a sitting room, or maybe it was a waiting room. The furnishings looked antique and I was afraid that I would bump and break them.

Our silence was broken by Kyle’s voice. “This way, we already set up.” We moved through what seemed to be the waiting area, as I had correctly judged, and then through an archway to the room behind it. It was larger than the foyer and decorated all in white. It looked more like a sitting room compared to the waiting room outside with white couches and a very furry white rug that covered most of the dark wood floor. I imagined that if you lay on that rug it would be cosy and soft like a down blanket. I checked my shoes, fearing that I would dirty the snow white interior. There was a glass table in the middle with an elaborate vase that held white roses and to the side there was a large fireplace, with a mantle that was the same colour as the wooden floors. Above it hung a geometric painting coloured in red, black and brown. As we moved through, we came to French doors that held another large room. This one seemed to be the entertainment area. There was a large flat screen on the one wall, with shelving below which held different remotes and dark tan leather couches arranged to face it with speakers and two stands in front of the television. There was an archway that lead to another room, but we changed direction to face a non-descript door at the end of the room. When he switched on the light, one could see steps leading down to a basement. We reached the bottom and the staircase opened up into a large room that seemed to be the size of all the rooms we had just seen, put together. At the bottom of the stairs there were two tables, one was for table-tennis and the other a pool table. There was enough space between them so that parties at either table would not bump into each other. In the middle of the room were couches that faced each other, with a table in the middle. It was arranged so that depending where you sat you could view a part of the room. Next to that was a gaming set up that would make any gamer jealous. A large flat screen was mounted against the wall with a round table in front of it that had different remotes attached with a gaming wheel at the one end. Two gaming couches were positioned in front of that and beyond was an open area with instruments. It had a music system set up that I would think would only be in recording studios.

“So what do you think?” Kyle asked, arms stretched out. “I think I’m jealous. I wouldn’t leave this place.” “It gets a bit lonely and one needs some outside interaction.” “You can just invite friends over. You don’t have to go out.” He laughed, “I’m not a vampire. I need some sunlight from time to time or I’ll have a pasty white complexion. Take a seat everyone, “he gestured, “I’ll get us some snacks.” He moved to a corner of the room where there was a fridge and cupboard. As we sat, I noticed that Jack was looking at the gaming set up, he looked at me with a huge grin crossed his face, I smiled back. Kyle came over with a tray of drinks, “Jack, you want to have a go?” he nodded towards the seats. “Can I?” Jack replied like a six year old in a candy shop. Kyle laughed, “That’s what it’s there for.” Before Jack could be encouraged any further, he dashed for the seat. Kyle pulled out a draw of games. Ones that I had never even played before and before anyone could speak another word, Jack had a pair of earphones on and had started one of the racing simulations. Ethan was the next to speak up, “Do any of you enjoy table tennis?” Ida and Chloë nodded. “How about a doubles game, before we start?” “Well it would be a good warm up,” Chloë answered. “Good, so who’s in?” “I haven’t played it in a while,” Ida replied. Both Chloë and Ida were far better than I was and I didn’t feel like being embarrassed twice in a row today, so they made their way to the table with Jack and Ethan in tow.

“Seems as if everyone has found something to do? Why didn’t you join them?” Kyle asked as he neared the couch. “Not today,” I replied, “one embarrassing situation is enough for me.” Sitting down close to me, “Well I’m happy about that, it gives us a bit of time to talk.” I smiled at him, unable to think of anything else to say. “So you say you jealous of my little cave. To jealous to consider practicing with us more often and making it your home?” “Well I would have to hear the acoustics of the place,” I said looking around.

The acoustics must be great. If they had set up the basement like this, they would surely have tried to get that right. “I assure you it sounds good enough.” “And then there’s the logistics,” I replied, “I mean, I can’t always ask my sister to chauffeur me around.” “Well that’s an easy problem we can solve. If she can’t bring you, I’m happy to come and fetch you”, his face had a smile I didn’t understand yet.“That’s really sweet of you, but I can’t ask you to do that” I replied. “Its no problem at all and you not asking, I’m offering.” There was that same confidence that I had seen when he walked into the Diner. What was he so confident about? “So it’s settled?” “What’s settled,” I asked confused. “That you will be joining us to practice?” “I’ll see about that.” Something inside of me told me that I needed to keep him at arm’s length. At my answer his eyes narrowed as if he was trying to figure out something.

With his handsome face and his charm, he was probably not use to girls not falling at his feet, or saying yes to everything he suggested. He took a deep breath and licked his lips before he continued, “Tell me what made you start playing?” Did I really want him to know my deepest thoughts? How would he use them? Did I really want to speak to him about my dad? He made me nervous and I couldn’t put my finger on why. Messaging him had been easy. The conversation had been light and I was not confronted with the intensity of his blue eyes that was wrapped around a handsome face that was exuding confidence. At that point he felt a little bit intimidating. My instincts told me that letting him in too quickly could be perilous. He looked at me expecting an answer and I cleared my throat, “I’ve always wanted to play an instrument and the guitar seemed the natural choice.” “What is you inspiration?” “Inspiration?” “Yes, what inspired or inspires you to play?” “My dad,” I blurted out.

He was digging. How deep did he want to dig and how far would I allow him to go? “Your dad played?” “No.” He looked confused. “He loved music of any kind. Where ever he was there was music,” I explained. “You sound as if you are really close to him.” “Was really close.” “Was?” “He passed away last year.” Concern covered his face, “I’m sorry to hear that.” “ Not as sorry as I am.” I looked down. He reached for my hand, “I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to touch on a subject that could hurt you.” I looked up, fighting back tears. I hadn’t thought of my dad in such a long time and I felt guilty about it. “It’s okay, really. Can we change the subject?” “Yes, of course.” His hand felt cool. They were soft all over and smooth. I slowly pulled mine away to wipe away what would have been tears. He had dug a bit too deep without me noticing.

He seemed to be looking for something to say, “Apart from music what else do you enjoy?” I smiled to trying to convey that he didn’t need to be that uncomfortable,“Well I’m really into gaming. I’m a bit jealous of Jack right now.” He looked shocked, “Why didn’t you say anything earlier?” I smiled, “Because, Jack was quicker on the draw.” “What else do you like?” “Books, being with friends. A lot of things other people enjoy as well.” The questioning seemed to die out and we sat watching the others in silence for awhile.

It was Kyle that was the first to speak, “How did you meet Darryl?” I was stunned by the subject. Had he been leading up to it all along? “My mom heard of someone that was good at tutoring and she arranged it. “Oh. And you and Darryl?” “What about Darryl and I?” “Watching you play together the other evening, there is a bond between the two of you that is unexplainable.” “Darryl and I are just friends. We just seem to be on a similar wavelength when it comes to music, I suppose.” “And you and me, do you think we are on a similar wave length?” How could I respond to that? “Well, I’m not sure. I don’t know you that well to answer that right now,” I replied. “Then how about you get to know me better then?” Those eyes were as blue as the sky on a clear day.

“Why?” “Because I find you interesting and I want to get to know you better and what is laying behind those dark vaults you call eyes.” The one corner of his mouth curled up in an enticing way. He was definitely dangerous, dangerously charming. I laughed, “You make me sound like a project.” “Not at all. It’s just rare that I meet someone that I haven’t figured out by the second time I’ve met them.” “I’m a simple person. There is nothing intense to figure out. How about I ask you some questions? You have learnt a lot about me, but I know almost nothing about you, other than you are Malcolm’s cousin, which you didn’t tell me.” This time I looked straight at him, eyebrow rose. “Well I didn’t say anything because the subject never came up.” “Well the subject is coming up now. Before I say anything further, I want to know your story, your inspiration. Everything.” His head tilted, eyeing me from beneath long eyelashes. “Everything?” “Yes. Everything. From what you can remember about being potty trained to your first kiss.” He laughed with delighted amusement, “Everything you say?”

His eyes narrowed again, but this time it felt like he was planning something. His smiled, closed mouth, but the one side still moved higher than the other. Finally with his chin resting on his hand, he spoke.

“Well, my first kiss was with a girl named Zelda.” Why had he started with the first kiss? Why had I even said it? “And how did you know Zelda?” “When I was twelve I took part in a musical production. It was my mom’s idea. Seeing if I could act as well as I could sing. Zelda was one of the leads. She was pretty, but the kiss had been a dare. I actually liked her understudy, but the other boys had dared that I could not make her kiss me and I have always been one that could not turn away from a challenge.” “What did the understudy say?” “Well she wasn’t too happy when she found out. I tried to make it right, but there wasn’t hope. Zelda wasn’t the nicest of people either.” He sighed, drawing in a deep breath, “When she found out that her understudy had a crush on me as well, she basically threw it her face at every opportunity she could.” “So you gave up your first kiss to a girl you didn’t like, just so that you could prove a point?” “Well it taught me an important lesson.” “And what was that?” “ Make sure that the next person I kissed was worth it.”, he looked at me intently with those clear blue eyes and I had to look away.

I said the first thing that came into my mind, trying to break the silence and that intense stare.“When did they remove your tonsils?” “My tonsils?” “I said everything?”, I looked up smiling at him. “I was seven and you?” “I was six. My mom was so worried about it, but my dad bought a month’s worth of ice cream. It got to a point I couldn’t look at ice cream for a very long time and your folks?” “Well my mom was so worried they would accidentally damage my vocal chords, which she insisted on being in the operating theatre.” “And did she get it right?” “No, but she did get it right to be in a viewing room though.” “How did that happen?” “Well medical students have to see a real operation in progress right. My mom made a deal. I could be one of the operations they do for medical students as long as she was in the viewing room with them.” “Your mom seems…,” “To always get what she wants?”, he interrupted. “I was actually about to say resourceful.” He laughed, “That she is.” He tilted his head again, looking at me curiously, “You really want the full story don’t you?” “Yes, I do.” “Well, here it is..” as he moved to face me directly.

His mom had been a violinist. She had a good voice, but the violin was her best instrument. When she had met his father, she had been part of an orchestra that had been touring. His dad was starting off as a banker at the time. He had played the piano and had been considered a protégé, but his parents weren’t supportive of a musical career. They had pushed him into a direction that would be, as they had said, more financially secure for a future family. He was good at what he did, but Kyle’s mom had reawakened that love he had had for music and had kept him sane all these years. They had known each other for almost ten years before they had married. When his mom felt that her career as a violinist was coming to an end. He, however, felt that it had more to do with his father than either of them would let on.

He was the only child. His parents had tried for a second, but by the time that he was ten years old, after all the hospital visits and the procedures, they had decided that it was not worth it to go on. “What about adoption?” “Well, I think by the time that the idea had occurred they were too drained from trying to go through the adoption procedure. I remember my dad saying that he had wanted two, a boy and a girl. My mom had joked and told him that two was too few.”

As the years passed by, his dad had become busier with his work, but once a year he tried to make it up with a family vacation. “What was your favourite vacation?”A smile spread across his face as he reminisced. “I can’t, its cheesy.” “Come on, with the smile you just had it looked like it was fun.” He shook his head, “ I can’t, it’s embarrassing,” he said as he looked at me through his eyelashes, my heart skipped a beat. Dangerous is what I reminded myself. “I promise I won’t laugh or make fun of you, just tell me. It can’t be that bad.” “Okay, but only if you agree to the following deal.” “What’s the deal,” I asked uncertain to what I was getting myself into, but curious to what he wanted. “If I agree to tell you, you agree to go to the movies with me?” I was taken aback. “” “Not blackmail, maybe...bribery. You don’t tell anyone and I buy you dinner and a movie too.” “ Dinner as well?” “Well if you learn my little secret, I need to keep you quiet,” he winked at me. “Really, why does it feel that it’s a win-win for you.” He shrugged his shoulders “Who says, it’s as humiliating as you make it out to be?” “I’ll give you a little taste, Disneyland.” “What’s so bad about Disneyland? I wish I could go.” “Well, maybe one day I’ll take you.” I laughed, “Come on, it can’t be that bad.” He made a gesture as if he was locking his lips. I shook my head, “Okay I agree to the movie, if it’s really that bad.” “Agreed. When I was nine, my dad took us there for the first time. It was one of the few times I saw my dad really relaxed and just enjoying himself. His silly side came out and my mom seemed to react well to it. Very unlike the straight arrow, serious person he usually is.” “And… what is so humiliating about that. It actually sounds like fun.” “That was just the back story...For my sixteenth birthday, my dad asked what I wanted and I said to go to Disneyland.” “And?” “Well we acted like I was nine again, to the point that I stood in lines with real nine year olds’ to take pictures with the characters. Went on a few rides I may have been too old to go on.” I raised an eyebrow. “Some of the conductors asked if I had lost my kid. I was sixteen.” “Why do you think that is humiliating?” “Well firstly I was sixteen going to Disneyland, then there are the pictures.” He shook his head and looked at me sheepishly. “Oh I want to see those,” I grinned. “Its going to take more than a movie for you to see those,” his grin was wide and I could see the cogs working in the back of his head. “More, like what?” “You will only have to wait and see.” The skew smile he had on his face promised a lot of fun. Kyle was perilously captivating. It scared me and I knew that if I wasn’t careful I could get lost and there would be a cost. What the cost was I didn’t know yet and that was the scariest thing of all. I shook my head to bring myself back to reality and away from the thoughts that were threatening to race through my head, “You said that it was embarrassing. I still haven’t heard anything that could justify it?” He still had that smile on his face, but a slight blush starting creeping over his cheeks, “You know those really big shows they have?” I nodded. “I don’t know how my father had managed it, but on one of our last evening we were there, we went to see one of them. It was actually one of my favourites as a toddler.” “Which one?” He looked away and then peaked at me from underneath his eyebrows again, “It was actually….Cinderella……” I gulped down a giggle and bit the inside of my cheek to try and stop myself from expressing a bit of a shock. “Cinderella….who would of guessed….,” I eventually managed to get out. “I know. It’s not something I advertise.” “Uhm...Is it the Prince complex or the blonde bombshell that got you?” Surprise exploded over his face, “Neither actually. I prefer dark haired girls.” It had taken seconds for that smile to return, but now I was interested in why he liked that particular fairytale, “So explain. What is the attraction to Cinderella?” “Well... I think I liked it as a kid because good overcame bad. And come on, it’s one story that shows that Karma can be ruthless. Cutting heels and toes to get a guy based on his status and its the hard working, beautifully underrated girl in the corner that actually catches his fancy...” Again there seemed to be more said than was spoken. I felt my cheeks burning for no reason and as I looked up at Kyle as he continued, his eyes drew me into the blue horizon. “At the end when they have the Prince ride the kingdom looking for Cinderella, instead of taking the found slipper to the actor that played the prince, uhmmmm… they brought it to me….” “What?” “Yeah, my dad had arranged that for the final scene, I would play the prince and put the slipper on Cinderella’s foot….” I was speechless. When I was very young, I had dreamt of the same but from the opposite viewpoint. But to actually be able to do that. “And this was in front of thousands of people and it was filmed…….” “Are you serious…?” “Yeah…” For a moment I wasn’t sure how to say it but I eventually got it out, “That is so….COOL!!!!” “You really think so?” He seemed a bit stunned at my reaction. “Yeah, it’s cool. Come one. At some point most kids have either dreamed about being Cinderella or being the Prince and you, you got to do it. Okay fair enough, most people would have gotten sick. Did you get sick?” He shook his head. “But you did it. You became part of a story that you loved. I think that is an awesome experience.” “I’m glad that you think that,” he moved in closer in the attempt to whisper, “because to tell the truth and this is what makes it embarrassing, I actually liked it.” He moved away and we sat there looking at each other smiling. It felt that we had crossed a bridge, but the other side was not as scary as I thought it would be. It looked like it could actually be fun.

“So Elly, I think I’m warmed up enough. We going to get ready to practice?” .Chloë said, coming up to the couch. I had almost forgotten about that and I was glad that Chloë had interrupted us. “Where can I get changed?” Kyle stood up, “You can get changed through here,” he moved to a door that was at the end of the room. “So sis, Kyle seemed to be keeping you busy. What did you chat about?” Ida said as she sat next to me, her eyes scanning for any information. “His folks and some of growing up.” “His really good looking and it seems his really into you.” “Into me?” “You are so blind,” Ida laughed. “Yes his into you. You can see it the way he looks at you.” “I don’t know,” I looked in Kyle’s direction at the moment he looked up. He smiled and I had to smile back,

‘His just too..” I didn’t know how to put it into words, perfect maybe.

“We will see how things go. He got me to agree to a movie.” I sighed. Ida didn’t look as surprised as I thought she would, she just had a smile on her face. I got my case and moved to the music area. I needed to get set up while Chloë got changed and I hoped it would give me a little time on my own.

Kyle had joined Ethan and John on the couch. Even Jack had moved over after his consistent playing. I thought it was probably his stomach that had been nagging him to take a break. I tuned my guitar and did a few finger exercises. Chloë came out in her leotard and I noticed John’s eyes widen. She put her bag to the side, “I’m just going to do a few stretching exercises, then we can start.” “Cool, I’m almost ready. Just doing a few exercises myself.” After a few minutes, Chloë came up to me, “Okay done, on the count of three, I’m going to get into position.” I nodded my head. Chloë lay on the floor, one leg bent under her, with the other out stretched. Her arms touching her toes. One. Two. Three…. I started, she lifted her head and moved her hands around her head as if she was making a slow circle.

I loved watching Chloë dance. She was graceful and it was like watching her absorb the music into her body. I had gotten into the habit of glimpsing at her while I played, it helped me keep track of where we were in the song, and watching her energy, somehow energized me. I felt a smile move across my face. Those colours started swirling all around me now.

The song came to an end and she moved to me when we were finished. “Okay our timing seems to be good. I’m thinking of speeding up the song a bit, can you do that? Just a little bit.” “That should be fine, good thing I brought the mini metronome.” I adjusted the timing a bit, “Okay ready to go?” “Ready,” she answered back. The timing between us was a bit off at the beginning, so we tried again, and the more we tried the more it felt as if the music and the dancing were merging. Everyone stayed away while we practiced, but I noticed Kyle and John watching us. Every few moments Ethan would look up from the conversation that he was having with Ida and Jack had gone back to playing on the console. This wasn’t as nerve wracking as I thought, especially as everyone made themselves as inconspicuous as possible. I was grateful. We kept practicing, as Chloë wanted to perfect her positions and I didn’t want to make any more mistakes. My playing had to be as perfect as Chloë’s dancing.

After about half an hour we took a break to have something to drink. “You are awesome,” John said standing up, but it was directed more towards Chloë than me. “Thanks,” she replied with a slight blush on her face which didn’t come from the last half hours excursion. “I agree, you guys are going to blow the crowd away with that performance,” Kyle said, his eyes more powerful than before. Why was it that with every look he gave me, it felt like I had less on than before? I sat next to Ida. I needed distance from him. I didn’t think that I would be able keep anything from him if he kept looking at me like that. He sat speaking with Chloë and John, but his attention was across from the table at me. They didn’t seem to notice as their attention was on each other.

Soon Chloë gave me some reprieve by summoning me to finish of the last part of practice session. This time Kyle sat facing us directly. The rest went their way, keeping themselves busy with whatever was available to them. His eyes traced every part of my being and every move I made as I sat down to start. It was unnerving and exciting at the same time. I closed my eyes. It was the only way I could concentrate. Breathe, remember breathe and take your time. I opened them and looked at Chloë. One. Two. Three. And we began again.

A few more things to work on and we would be ready by the time the show came around. I packed my guitar away, while Chloë went to change. As I was busy, I noticed a shadow making its way towards me. Straightening, I saw Kyle close by. I turned around to face him. “You are really phenomenal and it’s not just the way you play.” He reached out touching my cheek with the back of his hand, slowly stroking it, “It's the expression on your face. It’s so intense as if you are a part of the music.” I made the mistake and looked straight into those blue pools, “It feels that way. Doesn’t it feel that way for you?” “Sometimes.’” He placed a stray strand behind my ear, “But I don’t think as strongly as it does for you. It shows a part of you that you don’t show much.” His fingers were softly threading their way behind my ear, “What part is that?” I asked, feeling tendrils moving along my scalp. His only reply was a smile and a look of fierce determination, which hypnotized me.

Everything seemed to stand still, except his face. From far away I heard his voice, “ The supernova part.” Seconds became hours and I felt frozen and alive at the same time.

“Elly.” I heard another voice from a distance and I suddenly snapped out of the trance I was in, turning to the person that had called me.

Chloë came out of the bathroom, busy with her bag, clearly unaware that she had broken a trance. She looked up at the scene in front of her. Kyle’s hand was still in my hair and he seemed to have frozen in the same position before she had called me. I took the opportunity to release myself while she stood there, motionless.

“Chloë, you were about to say?” “Uhm, well..I was going to say..that this..was a great..practice session.” She still stood frozen, her hand halfway in her bag. I moved quickly toward her or was it quickly away from Kyle. It didn’t matter. “I agree. A few more and we should be perfect.” She looked at me and then behind me at Kyle. “Yeah.” I took her arm guiding her towards the couches, “ I think we should join everyone, don’t you?” “Yeah,” she replied, looking at me then back towards Kyle. He stood on his own, where I had left him. I ventured to glance back, but instead of a vexed expression that I had expected, he seemed amused.

Finding sanctuary at the group, I sat next to my sister again trying to find shelter in her conversation. Kyle had slowly made his way back to the seats. His movements looked like a jungle cat that had lost a prey, but was still on its trail. My heart was in my throat and my face a fire at replaying what had just happened.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t slightly attracted to Kyle, even I could see that, but I was torn in two. One half wanted to be drawn in, like a moth to a flame and the other side warned that I would get burned if I allowed that. He came to stand behind my seat, his hand on the edge of the chair. He seemed to be absorbed by the conversation of the party, but somehow I knew that was a ruse and most of his mind was concentrated to what was seated in front of him.

I had to do something before being drawn in again. “So when is it our turn to hear your practice session?” I asked out aloud. “We did come over to see you play.” I put on my sweetest smile and John laughed, “We’ve had such good company that we totally forgot about the fact we were the ones that were actually supposed to practice today.” Ethan added, “You may have forgotten, but not me. I just stalled,” he smiled towards Ida. “I suppose now is as good time as any to start,” he said getting up. “Come on guys let’s not disappoint the ladies.” John and Ethan made their way to the instruments, but I still felt Kyle behind me. I felt a hand on my shoulder, then hot breath against my ear, “The first one is for you.” There was a light pressure on my ear and even if I hadn’t felt it, I saw in Chloë’s eyes what had happened. He moved towards the others, but his movements were like a tiger retreating to rest before the next hunt.

The breath I let out was deep. It felt as if I had been holding it in since Kyle had approached me when I was packing my case. Chloë immediately made her way to our chair. It faced the stage area, but I doubted very much that it had anything to do with seeing them play.

“What the heck was that I saw just now and just now?”, Chloë asked irate in a hushed tone. “I don’t know and I don’t know,” I replied in an even quieter tone. “What are you talking about?” Ida asked. Smiling towards John, Chloë spoke through her teeth, “As I came out of the bathroom I saw, what seemed to be, Kyle about to kiss Elisa. And just now when he left, he bent over and kissed her on her ear.” “What?” “Yes.” Seated between Ida and Chloë I wanted to curl up. The group in front of us had finished checking their equipment and John spoke up, “Ready ladies? We hope that this is as a good a performance as we just saw.” Kyle looked at me a smile of delight spreading across his lips. If my best friend and sister could stare at me, without being obvious, they would, I was sure of that. They began and I heard a mesmerizing voice. It was sensual and sultry, like a fallen angel that had given up its wings and in return it would bewitch you. The words were sweet words of eternal affection, fire and passion. Was this one that he had written? The first was for me, he had said.

“So what’s going on Elisa?” , I heard Chloë’s voice trying not to be too loud as they played. “Nothing.” “Well it didn’t look like nothing.” “Chloë I can’t give you an answer, because I don’t have one. The only thing I can tell you is that I’m going to try very hard not to be a moth and get burned.” “A moth? What has that got to do with anything.” “Think about it, but we not speaking about this now.” I could see Chloë’s impatience, wanting to hear every detail, but she would just have to wait. I wasn’t going to have this conversation now and especially here, with that song and blue eyes watching my every reaction as it sang the words. By the end, my heart was racing, I was flushed and I needed to go to the bathroom to cool my face down.

The following lyrics more light hearted and it gave me a chance to cool down, but Kyle had succeeded in lighting something in me.

They were good, very good and their sound was unique. Jack had joined us to listen and he brought a light hearted atmosphere to the conversation.

Joining us again, we were separated by gender this time. Ida, Chloë and myself sat on the one couch and they sat on another. We spoke about the music and the sound and if it was something that people would listen too. All the while Kyle’s eyes kept roaming towards mine and when I caught him staring, I would blush and he would smile.

I couldn’t handle being in that state of perpetual fire anymore and I was thankful when the time came to leave. “It’s too bad you have to leave so soon, but there will be a next time, right,” Ethan looked towards Ida. “I’m sure there will be,” she smiled back. Making our way to the large door, we seemed to pair off, except for Jack, who walked with Chloë and John up ahead. Everything that happened ran through my mind and deep in thought I fell behind everyone. I didn’t notice when Kyle had fallen back next to me, “I scared you didn’t I?” “What?” “Earlier, when we were speaking, when I brushed the strand out of your face, I scared you.” I didn’t want to look at him, my face would flush all over again. He would know how it affected me, that’s if he didn’t know already. “I’m sorry. It’s just when I know something deep down, I tend to jump in head first. Sometimes I don’t realize that one of the consequences is that it is unnerving and scary for the other person. But I’ll try harder from now on to be patient.” “Patient about what?” “I’m not sure how to explain myself without coming off as weird, but you should have realized that I am very much attracted to you and it feels as if it is the same with you.” “I don’t know about that. I don’t know you well enough yet.” “That is why I said I will be patient. Even though there is a fire inside of you, you only show it to those you trust fully. And right now, I am not in that category, yet...” I looked at him amazed. “One day, I hope to be the one that you show your unbridled supernova to,” he smiled as he said it.

We reached the door and I was glad to escape. Escape his eyes that seemed to be all over at once. I was right when I thought he was dangerous and I was even more correct when I thought that I would get burned if I ventured to fly to close. I knew now what that cost would be. He had the power to break someone if they weren’t careful.

We drove away from the house and it felt as if that fire was cooling down inside of me. Chloë had waited till she thought I was happy enough to have put some distance between me and Kyle. “Now are you ready to spill what happened?” Jack looked at the both of us, “It looks like I missed a great deal while I was playing.” “That you did,” Chloë replied, giving him a side glance. “So Kyle made a move, so what?” “So what?”, she responded. “Kyle is charming, dangerously charming and I have the feeling he is someone you have to be careful with.” “Kyle is perfect. His good looking, his charming, his confident. The two of you seem to have a lot in common. What’s the problem?”

What was the problem? Another girl would have melted at his feet. Another girl would react the same way Chloë was acting and think I was an idiot for keeping him at arm’s length. Kyle was perfect, but was he too perfect? There had to be something and I wanted to know what that something was first.

“You right he is perfect, but he feels to perfect. I need time Chloë.” “Time for what exactly. It’s not like there’s someone else standing in the wings, waiting.” She looked at me with an expression of knowing something that she would not share with me. “I know that. I just need time. Okay.” She shook her head, clearly thinking was I was being stupid and too careful. Kyle had a power, a hazardous power of being able to break someone if they weren’t careful. I had no intention of being broken.

When we got home later, I went straight to my room. I had no intention of being in my families company and being interrogated about what had happened. I wanted to calm down. I wanted to clear my head. I took my case and placed it against the door, next to Darryl’s electric.

What was wrong with me. Everything Chloë had said was true. Why didn’t I just go with it? There was an aching in me that I did not understand. I needed to clear my head. I picked up the electric and plugged it into the amp Darryl had loaned me. With earphones on I started playing. There was music there and I tried to listen and copy it on the guitar. As I played all the unanswered questions vanished. My mind only concentrated on my fingers and the chords I heard as I played. I don’t know how long I had played for, but by the time I was done, my fingers were aching and I felt great.

I flopped down onto my bed, absently taking my phone, not expecting anything, when I saw that I had three messages.

The first came from Darryl:

‘Hey Elly, how’s your day going? Practice with Chloë going well?

You at the Diner yet?’,

that was just after I got to the Diner.

The second was from Kyle:

‘Elly, thank you for this afternoon,

it was amazing to get a preview of your performance. John and Ethan agree that you would be a great addition to the band,

And don’t forget about our deal, whenever you want to go for that movie

Let me know,

Kyle xx’

The last was from Darryl again:

‘Well it seems you are busy, don’t forget about tomorrow

(smiley face)’.

I responded to Kyle first, it was the easiest. I thanked him for a great afternoon and I would let him know about the movie. I thought about what to say to Darryl. Was I going to see him again tomorrow? After what Chloë and Jack had told me, I wasn’t so sure about it, but it was letting go of a good friend. I didn’t want to throw him out in the cold, like he didn’t matter. I just had to watch myself.

I responded to him, apologizing for the late response and telling him that if he still wanted to come over, it was business as usual. Within seconds I got a response, he was coming. I said goodnight and left my phone in the room while I ate and got ready for bed.

The next day was just a bit colder. It was more difficult to get out of a warm bed and Darryl was coming over.

We sat down at the kitchen table and I got snacks and drinks ready as usual. He spoke about the gig he had played the previous night. They were still doing playing odd shows, but now they were playing more of their own music rather than the tribute shows they had started doing in the beginning. I listened, glad not to be speaking. “And your day? You must have been really busy if you could only reply when you did.” “It was okay. Yeah, I was kind of busy.” I didn’t want to go into detail. “Is that all?” “All?” He laughed, “You too busy, then when I ask you about it, all you say is ‘yeah’. Come on what did you get up to. I told you my day in detail, your turn. I haven’t seen you since last week.” I smiled, which must have looked more like I had cramps. I told him about my week. I spoke around the meeting with Kyle and going to his house. “And Kyle, did you meet him at The Diner?”

Why was it that when you wanted to avoid a subject people always seemed to go straight for it? “Yeah, I did.” “And?” “And it was good. I met John and Ethan too. Have you met them?” “A few times.” “What do you think of them?” “Well they seem like good guys. Haven’t spent much time with them though. Why?” “It looks like Chloë and John hit it off.” “Oh okay.” He looked expecting more, “Kyle invited us over to his place. We got to speaking about how they put their music together and they were going to practice and invited us over to watch.” The expression on his face changed. It became more guarded.“And were they good?” Was he really scared of the competition with Kyle. Their music was so different. There was no need to fear competition from them. “They are. Their sound’s different from Blue Lava’s though.” “And your practice with Chloë yesterday?” It seemed as if he wanted to change the subject, “How did it go?” “It went well and Kyle has a nice area and the sound in the basement is good.” “You practiced at his place,” Darryl face pulsed disappointment. “Uhm, yes we did.” I hadn’t meant for that to slip. Music was one thing we shared. I had to explain. “When they were speaking about their practice, Chloë suggested that we could practice with them as well. I think she got over enthusiastic, wanting to spend more time with John.” “Oh, so they saw it?” His face was downhearted and his eyes were downcast looking at his cup. I felt terrible that Darryl had not been the first to see our routine, “ I don’t think so, you’ve seen Kyle’s basement. Jack was hardly with us, playing games the whole time and the others were either playing table tennis or chatting. I hardly think anyone even took notice of us.” He looked up with half a smile, but there was no joy behind it. “I doubt that anyone could concentrate on anything else when you play.” He looked directly at me and I had to look away. “Kyle seems to be really taken with you as well, apart from your playing.” I looked back at him, surprised. How did he know? He looked down at his cup again. There was a line drawn where his mouth normally was.

“What do you mean?” “I mean, I think he likes you. He couldn’t stop asking about you after you left last weekend.” “Oh.” “What do you think about him,” he asked, looking up, his eyes were intent on mine. “I don’t really know him, so I can’t say right now.” Something inside me told me that I could not tell Darryl that being around Kyle seemed to ignite a fire inside me that I had not known before and that it scared me, because I didn’t know if it would warm me or consume me. “Oh.” I needed to change the subject that would take the focus far away from me.

“How is Anne?” He looked at me in that same surprised expression that I had had a few moments ago. “She’s fine.” “Is she okay with you being here?” “What do you mean?” So she hadn’t told him about our face off. Was that a good thing or a bad thing? How do I play this? “Well I told you before I think she is a bit threatened by me, by our friendship and after much thought I think she has good reason to be.” “What do you mean by that?” He looked anxious, worried. “Well, we have a close friendship right,” he nodded, “people on the outside may misinterpret it.” “Misinterpret?” I couldn’t say the words. Saying them meant something I didn’t quite understand and it would draw a line forever. “You know what I mean. Like there is more than there really is.” His eyes seemed to draw back in his head, like he was drawing away from me. I could see the hurt reflect in those specs of green and gold. “Oh, okay.” “So I just wondered if she would be okay with you being here.” His eyes downcast again, “Like you said, there isn’t anything more than a close friendship, right? So she has nothing to worry about.”

We sat there in silence for a moment, a few moments longer than we should have. He lifted his cup and drank the last of his coffee, and then eventually he spoke up. “Well, I have to be going.” “You do?” “Yeah, a few things to do for my dad.” He avoided my eyes as he spoke. Gathering his things, we walked to the door in silence. He turned at the door, putting his hand up towards my face and stopped midway, placing it on my shoulder instead and smiled that same smile that had no joy behind it. It seemed as if he struggled to get something out, but the only thing that came out was a good bye. Turning, he pulled his coat around him as if he was shielding himself from the cold. I watched him leave. It was like watching a phantom disappearing into the fog.

I had succeeded in avoiding taking up Kyle’s invitation for a movie. I wasn’t ready to be alone with him and no one had had the time to accompany me. Darryl still came around, but those days weren’t the same anymore. He was the same, same lame jokes, same interest in how the rehearsals were going. Telling us about the band’s preparations to travel next year, but the conversations were strained. There was something that was standing between us and I could see it in his eyes every time we happened to look at each other. That was usual followed with both of us looking away.

Chloë and John seemed to be getting on well and most days I had to listen to her banter on about the messages he sent her or how they sat up speaking for hours. I smiled as mush as I could to share in her happiness, but it was hard when it felt like something had been lost and the longer I took to find it, the less likely it was that I would be able to.

“Well, John and I were speaking about doing something like going to the movies.” “That’s nice, what were you thinking of seeing?”, I replied. “Not sure yet,” she contemplated, “but I was thinking, that maybe you could come with, be my wingman, woman?” “What, why?” “Well, we haven’t really gone on a date yet . I need someone around that won’t let me do or say something stupid.” “Why don’t you ask Jack?” “ No way, I’m not playing third wheel and who says I don’t have plans of my own?”, Jack replied. We both looked at him, “What plans?” “You girls are always so secretive, it’s my turn. You wait and see,” he smiled back. “Please Elly, come with. I promise you won’t feel like a third wheel,” she looked at me pleadingly. I knew she really liked John and how could I not help her, so I agreed.

That Saturday Chloë came over to my house to get ready for the movies. Just after we had finished, we heard the ding-dong of the bell. We got our jackets and went towards the door to meet John, but as I turned the corner I saw someone else standing next to my mother.

I stopped dead in my tracks. What was Kyle doing at my house? My mom had a small bouquet of flowers in her hand. “Oh Elly, there you are,” she had a bright smile on her face, “ I was just about to call you. Your friend is here to pick you up for the movies.” I could see that, but it was the wrong friend. “Hey Elly,” Kyle had that skew smile on his face. “Hey Kyle, where’s John?” “Right here.” John moved out from behind him. “Kyle brought me these beautiful flowers, aren’t they gorgeous Elly? It has been awhile that someone got me flowers.” “They very pretty mom,” I replied, stifling my exasperation. “Well Mrs. James, it was nice meeting you, but we must be off if we are going to make it on time. If that is okay with you,” Kyle looked at my mom for approval. “By all means, I don’t want to keep you, but Elly does have a curfew, so don’t be late.” “Yes Mrs. James, we understand.” “And she is my youngest, so take good care of her.” “Yes Mrs. James, that is my plan,” his smile spread wider across his face. Chloë had made her way to John’s side with in a split second, but I moved slower, much slower. Kyle waited till I had made my way to him, I kissed my mom on the cheek good bye. He held out his arm for me and we excited.

“So it seems that we have eventually made it to that movie,” he looked down at me with a gleam in his eye. So that had been the plan behind Chloë asking me to come with. Well it had worked out ,as I would get the movie out of the way and I wouldn’t have to be alone with Kyle. “It seems so,” I replied.

As I closed the door and turned, I was greeted by a fearful sight. In the light of the setting sun, something dark red, like a ripened raspberry, stood in front of my drive way. It looked like a sleek beast. I was both afraid and in awe. “Wow, what is that?” “You like?”, Kyle smiled, “it's my other baby.”

The car stood gleaming in the setting sun, like a mountain lion after a meal. “Its a gorgeous car.” I couldn’t deny that. “Well you carriage awaits, my lady,” he gestured me ahead. Before I could move to sit at the back, Chloë and Jack jumped ahead of me. I had hoped that I would sit in the back with her, but they had other plans.

As I seated myself in the front seat, Kyle came around and closed my door. I had to admit that sitting in the front seat would probably be better than the cramped quarters at the back, but it seemed that John and Chloë were enjoying the closeness. When Kyle turned the ignition, the car hummed like a wild cat. I wondered if it roared like it as well. “Let's be on our way then”, he said with a wide smile on his face, “Let’s” I breathed. As we rode, the car felt smooth, but as if it was being held back by a leash. I wondered how fast it would go, but was too nervous to ask Kyle as I wasn’t sure if he would take it as an invitation to test the limits.

We got to the movies and before I could get my things and get out, Kyle was already standing in wait at my door. It was the early show and there were many people around. As I got out, I saw them staring at the car, then at who was exciting. There were many envious looks, from both male and female and I became very self conscious about arriving in such an ornate vehicle. It was beautiful, but it was too much, especially for an eighteen year old.

Kyle held out his arm again, as usual unaware of what was happening around him, reluctantly I took it. I noticed a few surprised looks from those very females that had watched us getting out. I lowered my head in an attempt to hide. This was embarrassing. “Why so shy all of a sudden?” he asked. I tried to smile, “Oh nothing. Just a lot of people staring, it’s a bit embarrassing.” “You should stop worrying about people looking. They will always look at you.” “Why?”, I asked a bit shocked. He lowered his head as if telling me a secret, “Because you beautiful and a puzzle.” I shook my head, “I think you have me confused with someone else.” “That’s another reason why you are so intriguing. You are exactly what I described, but you do not even know it.” I bit my bottom lip.

We eventually got to the movie theatre, which felt like the longest walk ever. I had noticed a few glances my way, mostly from the female folk. Their eyes had first noticed Kyle, which I understood perfectly. Then after lingering there for awhile, they had moved to me. I suppose, after they noticed that there was an arm attached to his. There was a look in those eyes that I could only describe as a combination of envy and disbelief. How could anyone date Kyle if they had to put up with that all the time?

We couldn’t decide on what movie to watch. Chloë wanted to see a romance. I could chastise her for coming up with that decision. A romance was not on the list of movies I wanted to watch with Kyle. There was an action movie playing and I opted for that. Unable to come to a consensus to which one we would see, it was decided that we split up and meet up after the movies were finished.

We made our way to our seats, but soon realized that there were only a few people in the theatre. Maybe I should have gone with the slasher movie, it may be not what I enjoyed, but it seemed as if more people had booked that one.

The lights went out and I held onto my box of popcorn as if it was my lifeline. Sitting in the dark, next to Kyle, made me nervous and I tried to put all my concentration on the movie and pretend he wasn’t there. His arm rested on the armrest between us and as much as I wanted to rest mine on it as well, I made no move to be any closer to him. Half way through, he lifted up his arm to stretch and put it on the back rest of my chair. I rolled my eyes at the cliché move. With that I put my arm on the middle rest, with his gone. It was my turn to rest it there. I became more enthralled with the movie and without noticing, he had moved his arm back, next to mine.

At the most spellbinding part of the movie I grabbed onto what I thought would be the armrest, but seconds later I realized it was his hand. I froze and then let go as quickly as I could. I looked slightly at him, not wanting to see his eyes, “Sorry, I didn’t know your hand was there.” “No problem, you can grab it anytime you want,” he replied. I shied away, back into my seat, trying to disappear. The rest of the movie his hand stayed on the rest, more on my side than his, but I refused to put my arm back there.

After the movie had ended, we made our way out and I walked as fast as I could, hoping that Chloë was already waiting for us. Kyle grabbed my hand, holding me back “Why are you walking so fast, there’s not rush.” I stopped and looked back, “Chloë may be waiting for us.” “Their movie is a bit longer than ours, so we have a few minutes before they done,” he replied. Shoot!! Now what? “Oh,” I slowed down, but I pulled my hand out of his to adjust my jacket on my arm. “Can I carry that for you?” “No, its okay. I should have left it in the car. I thought it would be cooler in the theatre.” He smiled, “I know what you mean.” I know I blushed and had to look away from those blue eyes, which seemed to intensify with every minute. “So what do we do now,” I asked trying to break the tension. “Up to you. Do you want something to drink, I’m a bit thirsty. What about you?” he asked. “Me too,” I replied. After what had happened in the movie theatre and the salt on the popcorn, my throat was parched.

We made our way to a little side shop that made different types of smoothies. It had a few small tables and we sat down. I sent a message to Chloë to let her know where we were, so she knew exactly where to find us when they were done.

“So what did you think of the movie?”, he started. “It was good, but a few parts were lacking. On the whole it was not too bad.” “Do you prefer action to romances?” “Well it depends.” “On?” “My mood and the romance, I suppose.” “So was it your mood or the movie tonight?” Where was he going with this? Why was he so interested in the fact that I had chosen one over the other? “I think it was a combination of both.” “Oh,” he looked at me in that intense, questioning way again. “So what do you feel like doing now? It’s still a bit early to go home, dinner?” “I think I have eaten my weight in popcorn, so I’m a bit full at the moment. What do you feel like doing?”, I replied turning the questioning around. “Hmm, well, I’m not sure if you will go for it.” “Give it a try, you never know.” I smiled. “Well its between two things, go-karts and mini-golf.” I laughed, “Awesome.” He smiled a wide lopsided smile. “I would say go-carting, but I suppose we have to take the other two into account.” “I suppose,” he replied, smiling. “You like go-carting, that’s really cool.” “Yip, I enjoy racing and go-carting is as close to doing it myself.” “Me too, you saw the beast out there. I have always loved sports cars, old and new. My mom was a bit scared that I would be silly and drive recklessly, but I had done advanced driving before.” “Really? You so lucky. I wish I could do that. Actually learn how to drive like that.” “Well it does teach you more than driving fast, it also teaches what can go wrong if you make a mistake and why.” “Don’t you ever get tempted to push your car?” “Yes. Every day, but they have race tracks for that and when they have an open day, I usually go.” “Really?” “Yip. You can come with the next time I go, if you want to.” “Yes I want to!!”, I shouted and then looked down a bit embarrassed. “I was actually wondering what the top speed was and how it felt. I was a bit nervous that you would take it as an invitation to go faster.” He smiled, “I wouldn’t do that. Be reckless with a priceless package in my car,” he reached for my hand that was on the table, but instead of taking it, he only used his finger tip to outline it, “I wouldn’t forgive myself if that package was hurt in anyway.” This time I left my hand where it was. One side of my brain was screaming at what an idiot I was, the other was sitting, eyes closed, in pure bliss.

“There you guys are,” I heard Chloë say from far away. I quickly retracted my hand and put it under the table on my lap. Thanks Chloë, you saved me twice now, I thought. Kyle’s hand was still on the table as he looked towards the oncoming pair. “Elly, you should have really seen that movie. You would have loved it.” “Thanks, but I really enjoyed the one that we saw.” “So what do you guys want to do now,” Kyle asked. “Elisa and I were thinking of maybe go-carting or mini-golf.” Chloë scrunched her nose at go-carting, “Well go-carting is over so quickly, how about mini-golf.” I looked at Kyle and shrugged. I should have known she would go for that. “Mini-golf it is then.” We made our way back to the car and Kyle opened the door again. I was becoming use to him doing it and I was more comfortable getting into his car now.

Driving to the course, Chloë told us about the movie and the more I heard the better I felt at not going. It was definitely a first date movie and this would not, in any shape or form, be classified as a first date.

The course was quieter than the movies had been and we were the last group to get onto it. John and Chloë seemed a lot closer than they had been before we had watched the movie and they seemed to be touching each other for no apparent reason.

It was obvious that they were in their own world, which I felt too embarrassed to disturb. Chloë had a very competitive nature, but when John had offered to show her how to hold the club properly she had allowed him to. I rolled my eyes. Why, oh why did girls always act like that around a guy they liked. It was the first time I had ever seen her take a submissive role and it made me wince. As I shook my head I turned to see Kyle watching me. He had a knowing smile on his face and I knew he had seen my reaction. He came to stand next to me as we watched Chloë take lessons from John.

“You don’t approve?” he said as we faced them. “Approve?” “Of John?” “I do approve of John. He seems nice and Chloë likes him.” “Then why the head shake.” I sighed, “I don’t approve of what Chloë is doing.” “And what is that?”, he turned his head to me, eyeing me. “Pretending to be helpless,” I replied. He laughed at my statement. “What’s so funny?” “Nothing.” “I know my friend and she is very competitive and she has played before, countless times. Now it’s as if she has never played a day in her life.” “And you don’t approve of her doing that?” “No. Why should she change the way she is, just to make a guy feel better about himself.” He looked back at John and Chloë, thoughtful. “So you wouldn’t do that.” “No way. I am who I am. You either like it or not and if I’m better at something than you, get over it,” I said with a tone that had an edge of irritation it. “That’s good to know,” he said smiling again. “Do you prefer a girl doing that rather than being herself?” He kept quiet for awhile. “It depends, who being herself is, but as for your question, no I don’t like it when girls do that.” “But,” He continued, “I don’t think you friend is doing that because she wants to seem helpless.” “Then why?”, I asked confused. He moved closer, standing behind me, as close as John was to Chloë. He bent over and spoke quietly against my ear, “Maybe it’s because she wants him to be as close as I am to you right now and it’s an excuse without being too obvious.” That fire was starting in the pit of my stomach as I watched John have his arms around Chloë, both holding the golf club. I noticed her cheeks were like the petals of a rose as she laughed and looked back at him. Kyle continued as I felt the tip of his nose close to my hair, “ So who do you think is the helpless one now? John, who has been given permission to have his arms around the girl he really likes, feeling the warmth of her, being able to smell her sweet smell? Or Chloë, who can at anytime, walk away from him and never give him the chance to be that close again?”

I stood there, unable to move when everything in my body was screaming at me to get away. Who was the helpless one in this situation, I thought. I wanted to tilt my head towards his, relax my body against his, but I kept it rigid. It was the only thing I could do not to melt into him. After a few moments Kyle moved away, but I still felt him up close. He had a dark smell, almost musky but there was a faint sweetness to it.

Eventually John and Chloë finished up and it was our turn to play. “Need any help?” , Kyle looked at me, eyebrow arched with a smile on his face. “No thanks. I’m good.” I couldn’t ever have him that close again. It took longer to finish up the game, between us laughing at the silly mistakes we made and Chloë and John not being able to keep their hands off each other. It had become a little awkward after a while. I had kept my distance from Kyle as was physically possible as well.

In a quiet moment I would catch him look at me in a questioning look, when I caught him he would smile and look away, but I would always have the feeling that after I had looked away he looked at me again.

After the game, we made our way to the car and then John made a suggestion. Kyle’s house was close and his car was there, if we made a little detour, he would pick it up and he would take Chloë home, instead of Kyle having to drop us all off. I hoped that Chloë would reject the offer, but I hoped to much. I pulled her aside for a moment. “Chloë are you sure about this?” “Yes, don’t worry about me. My gut is saying everything will be okay.” “You sure it’s your gut speaking?” “She looked at me shocked and then laughed. “You asked me to be your wing woman,” I replied trying to get her to be serious again. She put her hands on my shoulder, “Elly, I’m going to be fine. Is this about me or is this about you?” “What do you mean?” “I mean, does Kyle make you uneasy?” Not in the way she thought.

Being around him was unnerving and I was more unsure of my own actions, rather than his. I was fighting against myself at every turn. Half of me was being drawn into the light and the other was running a mile. The next time that he was close, I was not sure if I would slap him or …...“Not uneasy.” “If you need me with you, tell me, okay?” she looked concerned. “It’s not that I’m scared of what he would do, but what I would allow.” Her eyes narrowed, then she looked at Kyle. “Okay, we were supposed to go together and I’m not going to leave you alone. We go home together. I can sleep over at your place. I told my folks it was a possibility anyway. I just have to call them to confirm.” I was so relieved. “Thanks, I really needed you to stay with me.” She smiled and gave me a hug, “That’s what friends are for.” We walked back to the guys and Chloë informed them that she had forgotten that she had told her parents she was sleeping over at my place. John looked dejected, but Kyle looked at me, that same amused look he had when I had walked away from him at the stage.

We drove home, mostly hearing Chloë and John giggle in the backseat. I looked out the window as the scenes past by, thinking about the evening. That flame was burning bright and the quicker I got home the quicker it would be extinguished. “Why so quiet?”, Kyle asked, breaking the silence. “No reason, just watching the scenery.” “Did you enjoy this evening?”, he asked looking at me slightly then back at the road. “Yes, I did and you?” “Very much so, even though you beat me.” Was he speaking about the game? I had only beaten him by one point that had been a fluke shot. “Does it bother you that I did?” “Not at all. It makes it more interesting and gives me something to work towards.” “So you think we will have a replay.” “Oh, I hope so and this time I hope I can show you a few things.” It was my turn to be amused. “You think you can show me a few things?” “Yes, you keep your body to rigid when you play.” “If you say so,” I replied, pretending to be ignorant of the real reason that I had been stiff. “I do,” he said with amusement. “What if I want to go go-carting next time?” “So there will be a next time?” He had caught me out with that one. “ Well, maybe, depending if Chloë wants me to accompany her.” “So you won’t go if it’s just the two of us?” “I didn’t say that.” He had started playing a word game to catch me in a trap. “So you will?” “I suppose it wouldn’t be a problem.” He smiled as he watched the road. We got home and I was grateful.

As usual, Kyle made his way to open my car door as John and Chloë climbed out from his side. I could see on Chloë’s face she wanted a bit of privacy. I had made her come home with me, it’s the least I could do. So Kyle and I made our way slowly to the door, to give them enough time.

“I’m really happy you enjoyed tonight, I was bit nervous about it.” “You nervous? You always seem so confident” I replied. “Yes, I do get nervous. I wasn’t sure how you would react to me coming with. But when John told me that Chloë was bringing you, I had to come with as well. I suppose he was too happy to oblige. He really likes Chloë. I don’t think I have ever heard him speak so much about a girl before.” We looked towards them as I replied, “She likes him as well and I’m glad he feels the same. She’s my best friend and I wouldn’t like to see her get hurt.”

“Have you thought about joining the band?” I looked up, his eyes were a dark hue of blue. Joining their band, seeing that every day? Could I get use to it enough to be able to ignore it? “I haven’t really thought about it. There hasn’t been much time.” “Well, I have a suggestion. After mid-terms, during the mid year break how about coming and rehearsing with us? You can see if you like us enough to join.” “I like you enough,” slipped out before I could stop myself. He smiled broader when I said that. I had to salvage this somehow. “John and Ethan are really cool. I’m not sure how I would fit in, but I’ll give it a try,” I rambled on. We had reached the door when we heard John and Chloë move away from the car. He looked down at me, a bit disappointed, “Well it seems it’s my cue to leave. It was really a wonderful evening Elly. I really hope we can do it again.., soon.” “It was really cool, thank you.” In one sudden movement his face was close to mine, but it moved to my cheek. He kissed it lightly. Taking a deep breath, he moved away.

I followed him with my eyes, a bit shaken. He looked down at me, the back of his hand brushing where he had kissed my cheek and I could see that same fire that was in my belly in his eyes. He let his hand fall to his side and smiled. My insides were shaking, “Good night Elly, and sweet dreams.” “Good night,” I said back, trying my hardest to keep my voice level. Chloë and John approached the door and I unlocked, saying goodnight to John as I made my way inside. I waited a few more moments for Chloë before she entered and then locked up.

She rested against the door, a bright smile on her face, eyes closed,” That was a wonderful evening. Don’t you think it was a wonderful evening?” I smiled back at her, she was so happy, “Yes it was a wonderful evening,” I replied. “Okay I have to call my folks quick. Let them know I’m sleeping over and then we can have a good ole’ chat,” she winked at me.

While she spoke to her parents, I got ready to put on my pyjamas. By the time I had showered and dressed, Chloë had my mom and Ida around the table, relating the whole evening’s events to them. Thankfully it was more about her and John. I sat down, nibbling at the snack on the table, when my mom looked at me, “And your evening. Did you enjoy it?” Mid snack, I shook my head to say yes. “And Kyle, what is he like?” “A real gentleman,” Chloë piped up, “opening Elly’s door. Holding out his arm. He even allowed her to choose an action movie, when I’m sure he wanted to watch the movie John and I were watching.” “How do you know that?” , I asked my mouth still full of snacks. “Because it was what he had suggested to John, before I even decided on it tonight and that’s not even the half of it?.” “What do you mean?”, I asked, a bit confused. “You are really silly and blind do you know that?” , she laughed. “Okay, but what do you mean?” “Well, when John told Kyle that you were joining us, he practically begged John to come with. Not that John would stop him. Two for two. He had wanted to make a really good impression on you. He suggested some fancy, exclusive restaurant to John a then the movies, but not a normal one. The one where it’s 3D and your seats move.” “If that was the first what would he do for the second?”, my mom replied. “It wasn’t a date,” I said exasperated. “I was a wing woman and he came along.” “Well whatever you think it was, that’s what he wanted to do, but John stopped him.” “Why?” “Because he said it would be too much, apparently he told him too much extravagance would scare you away. Kyle isn’t use to taking small measures.” “What’s he use to then, since you know more about him than I do.” I said, slightly irritated at the thought that Kyle and I were the subject of their conversation for the evening. Chloë must have missed the tone, because she continued, “Well as far as I do know,” she gave me a pointed look, she hadn’t missed it, she was just ignoring it, “ you are unexplored territory Elly.” “What does that mean?” “It means that the type of girl that Kyle always seems to attract are those that fall at his feet because of bling or his looks. You, my friend, are the first girl that he has encountered that he actually has to work for. To try and get your affection. And when he moves too fast you shy away. He has to move at your pace and it’s not natural for him, because everyone always goes at his pace.” So I was just a new game for him, it irritated me.

A new challenge that he could win, then what? “Was that all you discussed this evening?”, I asked even more irritated at the thought of just being a challenge that could be won. “No. I wanted to know more about Kyle and his intentions, so I asked John about it before tonight. You are one of my closest friends and I just wanted to make sure you weren’t going to get hurt. Plus, I had access to intel, so why not ask?” I looked at Chloë, she looked hurt. She had done what I would have done if the roles were reversed. I immediately felt guilty at being irritated at her. “I’m sorry. Forgive me?” , I looked at her, the same way she always looked at me when she wanted something. She couldn’t keep a straight face. “Yes, you forgiven.”

“So it seems this young man is really interested in you Elisa, how do you feel about that?”, I had completely forgotten that my mom was at the table. “Not sure mom. I’ll see how things go. I don’t know him that well.” I just knew that he set a light a fire inside me, but by Chloë’s account, he probably only saw me as his next challenge. “I only think of him as a friend.” A friend with deep blue eyes that were hypnotizing and a charm that was dangerous. “Sweetheart, as they say, all that glitters isn’t gold. Take your time and no pressure, okay. You don’t have to feel or do something you don’t want to.” I smiled at my mom. She said little, but the reassurance and support behind it was enough.

We made our way to bed and laying in the dark, I listened to Chloë’s chatter about John. At the back of my mind I was still irritated at the thought that all I was, was a prize to be won. I fell asleep to hearing Chloë speak about John. My dreams were frenzied.

The following morning I woke up to a sweet musky smell surrounding me, but the dream had escaped and I knew I had to get ready. Darryl was coming over. It was one of the few times that anyone apart from the family had been with on those days when he came to visit. Chloë kept the conversation going, asking Darryl more about the band and what their plans were. His band had saved just enough money to book a studio to record and now they were deciding which of their music they would use. It was one step towards their tour next year. After saving money for the recording, they were going to save money for the tour. They were getting more gigs and they were moving further out of town. Their sound was spreading. I was happy. His dreams may come true and he deserved them.

Stirring my tea, deep in thought about nothing, I heard Darryl speak, “Elly why so quiet?” “Huh?” “Why so quiet, am I boring you?” I smiled, “No, not at all. I’m letting Chloë do all the talking today.” “Oh really,” he looked suspicious. “So what have you girls been up to?” “Nothing major.” “Well we went to the movies last night,” Chloë interrupted, looking at me from the corner of her and then directly at Darryl. “Really? What did you see?” “Well I saw Lady Love, but Missy over there wanted to see Venom.” “So the two of you went to the movies, but watched separate movies on your own?” “Well we had company. So that was okay.” Darryl’s eyes narrowed slightly, “ So Jack persuaded one of his friends to make it even, in case the two of you didn’t agree on a movie.” “No, he didn’t want to come with, we went with John and Kyle.” “Oh, I see.” Darryl’s voice lowered, “ was the movies good?” “Well mine was, not sure about Elly’s, she hasn’t said much about it.” “Well you haven’t let me,” I pulled a tongue out at Chloë. I caught Darryl’s eye and the look behind it made me look away quickly. It was full of questions.

“It was good. There was this one scene, I’m not sure how the FX guys got it right, but it was awesome.” I looked at my cup, not wanting to look at anyone. The thought about grabbing Kyle’s hand had popped into my mind. “It was a good story too, so I recommend it. No spoilers.” “I should go and see it some time,” he said, but there was an edge to his voice I didn’t understand and I didn’t know where it was coming from. “You should”, I replied, “you should go see Lady Love,” I continued, “ Chloë says it’s really good, something you and Anne can see.” At that moment I looked up and saw a cold feeling move over his body from head to toe. It was as if he had frozen in an instant. I sat there looking straight at him. I was upset. Upset that he had had accusing eyes, which he had an edge to his voice, which he was cold and for reasons I didn’t understand. I couldn’t think of anything that I had done that would make him react to me like that.

Chloë broke the silence with talk of the talent show. She had been thinking about costumes, but I had refused. I was not going to add humiliation to my list when it came to performing in front of an audience. I was already nervous that I would go blank on stage. At the word costume, Darryl seemed to thaw, “Costumes, you are wearing costumes?” “Maybe, if Elly eventually agrees to it. It’s to go with the theme of the song.” A slow smile came over his face, “Well it seems the wheel may turn and in my favour to.” “How so?” , I asked. “Well you have pictures of me in a costume, now it’s my turn,” he smiled, there was a warmth there, but it was cooler than usual. “Well mine would not be as awesome as yours, if I agree,” I teased. “It’s still a costume.” The conversation seemed to move to lighter topics and that tension that had been there before seemed to lift like fog.

When Darryl left, Chloë stayed behind in the kitchen to clear up while I walked him to the door. For a moment he seemed to contemplate something, then he finally spoke up. “So you and Kyle are starting to spend a lot of time together.” “Not really.” “But last night?” “I didn’t know he would be with. I went with Chloë as a friend and he ended up being there.” Why had I felt the need to explain last night to him. “Oh.” There was silence again and he seemed to be searching for something. “Remember what I told you in the kitchen that Sunday I thought that you and Jack were together?” “Yes,” why was he bringing that up? “Well I still feel the same.” “And I’m okay, don’t worry about me,” I smiled. “I know. You stronger than you let on, but if you get overwhelmed or you need to speak, I am always here,” he smiled back at me, but there was a sadness that lay behind it. “I know.” Standing at the door, he seemed to waiver, “Elly, I...” He was fighting with himself, I could see it. What was he fighting? “Yes?” His mouth opened, but it was a long time before any sound came out. “I can’t wait for the talent show,” he said at last. “Well I’m nervous, I hope it’s as good as I think it is.” “Well I’m certain it will be better.” He hugged me goodbye, which felt as if he was trying to absorb me. He let go and that same sadness that was behind his smile returned.

I closed the door behind me, not waiting to see his car leave and joined Chloë in the kitchen.


It was getting colder as the season changed from autumn to winter. There was a constant chill in the air and the weather always threatened with rain. The weeks were getting longer to bear, as it was getting harder to get out of a warm bed in the morning. It was on one of these cold days that I got a call from Kyle.

“Hey Elly, what you doing at this particular moment?” “Hey Kyle, Uhm drying my hair...Why?” “Well get done quick, I’ll be there shortly.” “Why?” “It’s a surprise. See you soon.” He hung up before I could respond.

Just as I had finished drying my hair and getting dressed, Kyle was at the door. As I walked to greet him, he looked at me with a naughty smile, “Good you dressed for comfort. Get a warm jacket, you going to need it.” As I was about to say something. He motioned me to move quickly.

I got my jacket and bag and went to greet my mom and we were off. “So what is this all about?”, I asked as we driving away from my house. He still had that smile on his face, which signalled that he was up to something, “Like I said, it’s a surprise. Wait and see.” “Can’t you give me a hint?” “Nope,” he laughed. We drove along and I was confused where we were going, until we came upon a big sign, “ALCOVE RACE COURSE” “What we doing here?”, I asked. “It’s a surprise,” was his only response.

We parked behind what seemed an ocean of race cars, I was totally bewildered. “So, are you ready to tell me what we doing here now?” “Well I promised you that then next time there was an open race event, I would bring you along. Tada.” He smiled.

I felt my face move into a smile, “And?” “And we have about fifteen minutes to enter so I can go around the course, so come we have to make quick.”

I rushed to the admin office behind Kyle, the excitement welling up in me. We came to a young lady behind a desk and as Kyle completed the forms, she never took her eyes off of him. “So you are doing two co-driver races,” she smiled, “who will be the lucky co-driver then,” she battered her eyelashes. “This very special lady next to me,” he replied looking straight at me. She looked towards me as if it had been the first time she realized that there had been someone with Kyle and she did that look every female seemed to do when they saw me with Kyle. Give me a look up and down and calculate if I was lacking or not. I ignored her. “Elly, you need to sign an indemnity form as well. One will be with me and the other will be with a professional.” “What do you mean?” “I mean, I will take you around the track first and then a professional race driver will take you.” I was speechless.

“I promised you that you would get to be on a race course one day, but I don’t want to push the limits with you in the car, a professional will be better. You want to know what the beast is capable of right.” I just nodded. “Well tonight they have a special event where you can have a professional drive your car. I thought you would enjoy that.” “But what about you?” “What about me, I have done it before.” He smiled, “Come we need to get a helmet for you.” We left the table with eyes of yearning watching as we walked away. Arriving at a large tent, Kyle handed our tickets over to a big burly man. There was a ruckus inside and we could see other drivers adjusting safety gear and what looked like a few race drivers standing to the side. One of them saw us come in and moved towards us.

“Hey Kyle, you made it.” “Hey Jerry, did you doubt it. This is Elly, the young lady that you will be very careful with when you driving, do you understand? No shenanigans,” Kyle seemed to say it a light manner, but there was a look in his eyes that showed that he was not joking. “No shenanigans,” Jerry smiled back. “So Elly, you ever been on a track before?” I had regained my voice, “No.” “So I am the lucky person that will be with you when you experience this for the first time?” He smiled broader, “Actually, I will. I am taking Elly out on her first drive,” Kyle smiled back. For an instant, surprise washed over the driver’s face.

We made our way to where they handed out the safety gear and after a few tries, I found those that fitted. We moved back to where Jerry, the driver, was standing. We had a few minutes to wait before we would go out. It seemed after the rush to get here, I had time process everything. That is when the whole situation hit me. I was going out on a race track. I would be in a very fast car and I would be doing this not once, but twice. My legs felt like jelly.

As we stood in the circle of conversation, I listened to the other drivers retell stories about their experience on a track and it was between one of the scariest things to do and an adrenaline rush. I wasn’t sure why I was nervous. Because I was scared or because I was excited.

Kyle had to leave for a few moments to move the car into position behind the others that were waiting their turn to take a turn on the track. I had heard a few tyre screeches and squeals. I was glad that we were in a tent, where I could not see what was happening. It would tilt the scales that were moving between fear and excitement.

“So, Elly, how do you know Kyle,” Jerry asked as I was wondering what to feel. “Oh, I met him at a friend’s party.” “How did you hit it off?” I was a bit stunned at the directness of Jerry’s questions. “We both enjoy music and he wants me to join his band.” “And cars?” “I enjoy them as well, just never had the opportunity to drive on a track before.” I turned the questioning before he moved to more sensitive questioning. “How do you know Kyle?” He looked towards the entrance and smiled, “We were rivals as kids.” He looked back at me, “He always seemed to be a few seconds ahead of me, or know just how to cut a corner.” “What do you mean” “Kyle use to race when he was younger, didn’t he tell you?” “No, he just told me he did advanced courses.” Jerry laughed, “Yeah, well I would expect that, not that Kyle needs it. He was an ace on the track.” I couldn’t help myself, “Why did he stop?” Jerry looked straight at me, his gaze me a bit uncomfortable. “ Well he had two loves in his life, music and driving, and even Kyle isn’t that lucky to be able to keep hold of both. But that is what I think, you should ask him if you want to know. He never really told anyone why he stopped. He just did.”

Kyle joined us before I could ask Jerry anymore questions, but I realized there was a whole life that I did not know. “Are you ready?” he said smiling at me. “About as ready as I will ever be,” I replied.

We made our way to the track and I donned on my helmet. We got into the beast and slowly made our way to the starting line. “Elly, you going to be okay?” I could see concern on his face. I nodded, reassuring both him and myself. He seemed to take my nod as assurance to continue. “One thing,” he looked as if he was about to laugh, “ holding on tight.” I looked ahead of me, my stomach had been left at the tent.

I heard the beast waken. It was not like it had been before. A sound of it stretching out. A timid sound of something that knew it was restrained. This time it was as if it knew the leash was off. It slowly opened it eyes to realize that it was free. There was a low growl. A growl of satisfaction, knowing that that there was no limits.

As Kyle put the beast into first gear, I felt the air being pushed out of my lungs. My head moved into the headrest as if it was being swallowed whole. It was seeping into the cushioning. The second gear, I jerked forward, but only for a moment and then my head was sinking back into the cushion. I could feel the force on my body, moving it back. I heard a squeal, but I could not be sure if it was me or the tyres. I tried to move my head to look at the side of track, but it felt as if it was cemented to the spot and I could only move my eyes. The outside looked like a blur of the scenery moving passed us. I wanted to look at the speedometer, but I was too scared of what I would see and what my reaction would be. All the confirmation that we were going really fast was out of the window.

The first turn came and Kyle slowed down slightly, but as we turned I felt my body moving in the opposite direction. My body wanted to scream out, but my tongue was caught in my throat. As we came to straight, my body moved slightly to the opposite direction, then it came to rest in the position it had been earlier.

We came to an s-bend and I moved from one side to the next and all I could do was dig my fingers into my seat. My breath was shallow, but it was fast and I didn’t want to blink.

When Kyle went over the finish line, it felt all too soon that the lap was over. I closed my eyes, I had made it. My fingers were still dug into the seat and I didn’t think I could move.

Kyle was at my door sooner than the lap was done. “Elly, are you good?” There was concern in his eyes. I slowly turned my head towards him, it was the only thing I could move at the moment. “I’m good,” I replied in a faint tone, “just give me a second to find my stomach.” He knelt down next to the door and helped me undo the strap of the helmet. I needed air and the helmet was not helping. I could feel the last of the adrenaline move through my body. My heart rate was still racing as if it was still doing another lap.

Kyle looked up at me, “And?..” He still had a concerned look on his face. I looked at him and I could feel my expression changing. I took his hand and put it against my heart, “Is that ever going to stop.” He looked at me with wide smile on his face. “Eventually it will slow down, but just a bit.” “Why did you ever stop,” I asked with a wide smile on my face. He was surprised, but I continued, “It was awesome. It was scary and I don’t know how I made it through the lap without passing out, but it was amazing.” The feeling had come back to the rest of my body and I let his hand drop. My legs still felt like jelly and as I climbed out, I still felt unsteady on my feet. Kyle held out his arm as support. “You really enjoyed it that much? Do you feel up to going again?” I looked up at him, “Is that a rhetorical question?” “No, just making sure that you want to go again.” “Well, to confirm it, yes, I want to go again.” The concern vanished and was replaced by a smile that seemed to light up the whole track. “Whew, I am glad about that. I was worried. You didn’t make a sound during the whole lap.” “I don’t think I could do anything but breath.” We slowly made our way back to the tent. “So tell me, what was it like for you? How did it make you feel?” His face was enthusiastic and it was as if he would absorb every word I spoke. I smiled, “Well I realized that I left my stomach at the tent when we first moved off. But the feel when you pushed into the seat. I tried to look out the window but the force pushing me back made it hard.” “I know. It’s like a force field holding you back, but you just want to push forward.” “I know and I couldn’t think of anything else. I knew what was happening, but the true realization only hit at the end. I felt the last adrenaline move through my body and it was like coming out of a dream.” “I know. When I drove, it was as if everything disappeared and only the core functions worked. It was like being an animal in survival mode.” We continued in the same feverish tone, describing our experiences. One thing was certain, Kyle enjoyed anything that had to do with chasing adrenaline and a part of me was prone to it as well. If I stayed close to him, he would open up a world that would make my heart race and take my breath away. I would always be inches away from going over the edge.

We had made our way the tent and I had to ask him one last question before we joined everyone else again, “Kyle, Jerry said that you use to race.” He looked at me, with a strange nervous look. “ Yes. I use to.” “Why did you stop?” “Didn’t Jerry tell you?” “No, he just said that you had two loves and you had to choose.” He looked away for a moment. “Yeah, it was something like.” I contemplated asking him more about it, but we reached the tent and by his body language said he did not want to speak about it at the time.

Making our way back to the drivers circle, Jerry watched us walk in with a smile on his face. “So how did you like the drive?” “It was amazing,” I replied. “Well that’s good, but do you think you are ready for real racing?” Kyle moved closer to me, “Remember what I said, be careful with the package, it’s precious.” Jerry looked at Kyle, but his smile seemed to cover something, “I know. I promised I would be careful.”

I was thirsty and I needed to move away from the tension that seemed to arise from the conversation, “Kyle, I’m thirsty is there anywhere we could get something to drink?” He seemed to come to at my question. “Yeah, this way.” We made our way to a small makeshift bar. “What would you like to drink?” “Soda, please.” He smiled, but the tension was still there. “So how long do you know Jerry,” I ventured to ask him. “A long time.” “Okay, but how long is long?” He looked deep in thought, “Since I was about seven.” “Was that when you started racing?” He looked at me with a slight smile, “Yeah.” “Why didn’t you tell me that you had raced?” “It didn’t ever come up.” My jaw dropped, “Didn't come up? Well I didn’t know you had anything to do with racing, except that you had a fast car.” “Okay, I didn’t want it to come up.” He kept avoiding my face, which was strange, since I was always the one that tried not to look directly at him. “Kyle, what is it?” He looked at me, “Can we please talk about it another time, not here?” I was confused, but I accepted that for some reason, he needed time to speak about it. “Okay, not here.” “So tell me, are you excited about the next drive? Jerry will be a bit smoother and bit faster as well.” “Yeah, I kind of am, but I think I would prefer it if you took me out again.” His mood seemed to lift at that. “I am a bit out of practice and I trust someone that has been doing it more often than I have. Jerry did the test drive for the car as well, so he knows how to handle it.” I laughed, “Out of practice at the speed we were going at, okay so how fast will Jerry go.” “Faster.” I was torn between bewilderment and being amazed. I needed the ladies and when I got back, it was time that I made my way back to the car with Jerry.

Kyle walked with us and when we got to the car, he made sure that all the safety gear was well adjusted. He smiled at me, “Enjoy and see you at the end.” I smiled back at him, “Be there in a jiffy.”

This time I was more prepared for what was about to happen. So when Jerry switched on the beast and went into first gear, I knew that my head would melt into the headrest and going into the bends weren’t such a shock. He drove faster than Kyle and his angles and movements were smoother.

This time I enjoyed the idea of the speed and the power that pushed me back into the seat. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, but I held my breath and tried to remember to breath. My fingers dug into the seat for a second time and felt the strain in my forearms.

When we got to the finish line, that same feeling of being totally and utterly powerless was washing through me again. The last adrenaline blast had gone through my body and when we eventually parked, my legs were jelly again. I knew I had that same silly grin on my face that I had earlier, but this time the feeling came back to my limbs sooner than it had the first time. “So, what do you think of my driving?”, Jerry asked with a sly grin on his face. “It was good.” “So are you fully hooked to racing now?” “Yes and I can understand why you do it, but I don’t know if I can handle having my legs feel like jelly every time I am finished with driving.” “I agree, but this was one lap. Depending on the competition it can be anything from five to twenty laps. Then jelly would be welcome.” Kyle was at the door, while I undid the strap of my helmet.

“And as promised, I have handed her back to you in one piece.” Kyle smiled at Jerry, but his focus was back on me. I stood up and smiled up at him. “And...?” “And.. I am glad that you took me out for the first drive. I would not have survived this. It was amazing.” His smile was broad again. We moved away from the car, Jerry seemed to have left us. “I don’t know how to thank you for all of this. It was an opportunity of a lifetime.” “There is no thanks needed, as long as you enjoyed yourself and I did promise that I would take you the track the next time there was an event.” “You didn’t promise and this wasn’t necessary. You didn’t even have to get Jerry to do the second drive.” “Well, Jerry owes me a favour and this is one way they advertise themselves and the sport. I like to support them when I can.” The question about the reason that he had left came back into my mind, but I would bide my time before I would ask him again.

Again we made our way back to the tent and this time I participated in the conversation. Even though I had less, far less, experience than anyone, now I partially understood what they were saying.

I was amazed and at times horrified by the stories of close calls that they had experienced. Kyle had gone to get another soda when one of the other drivers suddenly turned to Jerry, “Do you remember that one race where you and Kyle were head to head? Man that was an awesome race.” Jerry looked down into his glass of water, “Yeah, which was an awesome race.” The speaker shook his head, “I still don’t know how you and Kyle walked out of that one unscathed, and that girl. I mean, a few bruises and scrapes and that was it.” Jerry was starting to look very uncomfortable, but he smiled back at the speaker, “Stranger things have happened.” It seemed that the speaker was totally unaware of the effect that he was having, “Come to think of it, that was the last race that Kyle did.”

Kyle joined our group and Jerry gave him a look that seemed a combination between admiration and irritation. The speaker continued, “Hey Kyle, we were just speaking about the race that you and Jerry were head to head and how amazing that no one got hurt in that one.” Kyle looked at me, “Yeah it was…. amazing.” I wondered why he looked at me with an anticipated look. Did the reason why he stopped racing have something to do with that particular racing?

Jerry was next to speak up, “Hey Kyle, do you remember the time when the engine fell out of the go-cart,” he seemed to want the subject to change just as much as Kyle. Kyle looked at him and had a side grin, “Yeah and half of the race was stopped because the go-kart and engine took up more than half of the track.” The conversation seemed to become lighter. Funny stories about experiences relating to racing were told. But they seemed to move around any story that involved Jerry and Kyle, and mostly anyone that involved Kyle. There seemed an unspoken rule among most of the drivers that they would not speak about his driving history. It seemed that the initial speaker had forgotten this in the reverie of remembering races.

We had moved to the side of the track and were watching other drivers go around the track. It had become chilly as the sun was setting and there were more experienced drivers taking the chance to take to the track with the fading light. We stood at the side watching the rest of the event from the side lines. It was thrilling watching and feeling the air move past us as the cars went by at a phenomenal speed.

When things started to quiet down, we decided to leave. It was getting late and even though I had brought a jacket, the cold had reached my bones.

When we got back into the beast, it felt different. It was no longer a leashed animal that was only held back by its restraints, but an animal that bided its time to show its’ full potential.

My hands and ears were freezing and I was grateful that Kyle put the heater on, when we got into the car, “The next time, tell me to take a scarf and gloves and a cap with,” I smiled at him, but it could have been that my face had been frozen in that expression.”

He opened his mouth to say something, but the only response was a sly smile and a nod.

I got up the guts to ask him, “Kyle, why did you stop driving?” I saw his eyes move all the way around, as if he was animal looking for a way to escape. There was no doubt that he was hesitant about telling me. What was so terrible that he did not want to tell me.

“I suppose I would have had to tell you at some point,” he sighed a deep sigh, “I just wish that I did not have to.” “Why? What is so awful you can’t tell me?” He smiled, but it was a vinegary smile. “Everything. Before I begin, please remember, the person I was then, I am not anymore. I have tried to erase that part from myself.” “Okay.”

Kyle pulled into what seemed to be a little cafe, “I think it’s better if we sit for this.” We made our way to a little table and ordered warm drinks. I waited patiently for what he was about to reveal to me. It must be big, since it took this much to get him to open up about it.

When the waitress brought our drinks and left, Kyle started, “I have always loved cars and racing. I don’t think there was ever a time that I did not love it. When I was really young I imagined that I would be a race driver. I was lucky, I had the resources and when I asked my parents to get me a go-cart and let me start racing when I was six, they allowed it. And I was good, actually I was very good. You know my mom wanted me to be in the choir, but she was lenient about the racing because at first it was just for fun. When I got more serious about it, I was able to manage both. But the older I got and the more I won the larger my ego got.” “What about Jerry? He said that you were rivals from the age of seven.” Kyle laughed, “Yeah we were. It always happens. There is always someone that is just as good as you and challenges you, but people are more likely to take it as a rivalry, rather than just pure challenge. We had a love-hate relationship and when we got to high school it got worse.” “What do you mean?” “There was a girl,” he laughed, “there is always a girl. She was what can be considered a groupie in terms of racing. She was at every race and she only dated guys who raced, but not just anyone. Only the best and if they dropped, she dropped them as well. Lindsey,” he laughed again and shook his head. “It became a thing that once you got to date Lindsey, you were the best.” “And you and Jerry both wanted to date Lindsey?” I asked, the thought of all the type of girls that he seemed to date ran through my head. Had he ever dated a girl that did not have an agenda when it came to status? “In a way, yeah. There were always girls at the tracks and they were very attractive and Lindsey was,” he kept quiet, curiously looking at me, “well she had matured beyond her years. She and Jerry had known each other since they were kids. Before she had started coming to the track and what he felt for her was genuine.” “And what did you feel for her.” He looked down, avoiding looking at me, “Like I said my ego grew with each win, so it was more about the challenge of dating her and winning, rather than actually having an interest in her.” I was stunned into silence. It hadn’t crossed my mind that Kyle could be that shallow. I had always thought, because of his looks and his family, that it was why he attracted a certain type of person. Not that he had made a conscious choice to date girls who were interested in status.

After a few moments of silence, he looked up, “Are you disappointed?” I was uncertain what to say, stunned maybe, but not sure if I was disappointed. “I haven’t decided on that yet,” I replied. “Well you don’t have to wait too long.” He seemed to take a deep breath, “The last year I was driving, Jerry and I were head to head. And it seemed that my head was also swollen. Lindsey couldn’t make up her mind which one of the two of us she wanted, so that did not make things easier.” “How did you deal with it?” “Not very well.” “What do you mean?” “It’s the reason why I never wanted to tell you. It would change the way you thought of me. I didn’t want it to affect your impression of me as we got to know each other.” “Maybe I would think you more human now.” “More human?” “Yeah, you seem to be perfect, too perfect.” He burst out laughing, “Wow, I went from the most unstable, imperfect person, to too perfect. I never seem to win.” “Well you don’t seem to do things in half measures.” “I just do things to the best of my ability or better, especially when it comes to things that I think are important or things that I want more than anything.” He last words seemed to bring a blush to my face and I needed to get back to the story. “So explain your imperfections.”

“Well, like I said, Jerry and I were head to head in points. With each race who ever won ended being the leader on the leader board. It frustrated me. I had always been ahead of him, but he was catching up and overtaking me at times. I was moody or rather a terror. That is what my mom said. I hardly had any true friends left and those that were genuine got tired of my antics.” “What about Ethan and John?” “For all of their differences they have one thing in common, they don’t give up on their friends. They didn’t see me often, but they were the only ones that told me straight to my face what a jerk I was becoming. I ignored them. The only thing I could think of was winning.” “Your antics. What were they.” “I was rude to those that did not agree with me and those that did, I made the mistake of valuing their opinion. It had started off slowly by being flattered by girls who I didn’t think would be interested in me, approaching me.” I had to laugh at the comment. I had known him for a short while and I had only experienced every girl that he came across being interested in him. “What so funny,” he asked with a stunned look on his face, I smiled, “I just never pictured you as someone that was not confident, especially when it came to those of the opposite sex.” He laughed back at that statement, “I have always been unsure when it comes to girls and with you it has been the worst.” It was my turn to be shocked. “Me?” “Yes you?” “How could you be uncertain and insecure when it came to me?” “Because, Elly, you are not like most of the girls out there. You don’t base what you want on the external things, like looks and money and what someone can do for you. You don’t give your affection easily to anyone, unless they prove they are worth it and you a hard person to read, maybe the hardest I have met.” “I sound complicated.” “Not complicated, just someone that has high standards for herself and those that she allows into her heart.” “ It must be tiresome though,” I looked at him from under my lashes, I couldn’t look at him directly. It was too nerve wrecking to be told about yourself, parts that you did not even know existed. “Not at all. It's refreshing and one day I hope to have the honour of being worth it, others have been, but they missed it.” This time I looked at him directly, what did he mean? He saw the question in my face, he smiled and continued, “One day I may tell you, but not yet… I just want you to know, that if I had the opportunity, I would never let you go.” I blushed.

“We have gone south to get to east, so where was I. Ahh, the last race. Hmmm, well like I said, I was a jerk and I didn’t listen to anyone that did not agree with me, so when Lindsey told me that she would go out with me if I won the race, I didn’t believe my friends when they said that she was playing me up against Jerry.” “How?” “Well she had told him the same thing,” he smiled, it was an amused smile. “We were idiots. I suppose guys generally are when it comes to girls.” I giggled, it was one thing that I could agree with him about, “Well as you can expect, we were both fired up for the race. I had won the last one and if I won this one, I would basically be far enough in the lead, if I kept my racing up, to win the championship. It was a tight one and we were head to head when we came to the last corner. We could both be blamed for what happened, but I should have known better. As I cut the corner, I was going faster than I should. It was reckless. Jerry came up at my rear trying to stop me from pulling ahead. Instead of just going the course, I pushed out. He would have to readjust and it would cause him to lose time and distance, but he kept his course and we nicked each other. Both of us were going too fast for the corner and when he nicked the back of me, I went spinning and hit him on the side and he spun as well. We spun for a long time, it looked more like a dance, but we hit each other again and I went flying into the side barriers. Lindsey was standing there, it was beyond the safe zone. She had wanted to be close to the race and I had a friend that was one of the martials, so I had arranged for her to stand where they were.” He took a long, deep breath, “It was a close one. Luckily she had started moving as soon as we collided, so by the time I landed, she was gone from the spot. I was lucky. I only had a few broken bones, Lindsey had a few bruises from some of the parts that had flown off and knocked her, but Jerry had knocked his head, he was in a coma for a week.”

My mouth was open from shock. What he explained was scary and it was a miracle that he was still alive, not to mention that he had not been hurt seriously. “When I woke up in hospital, I was angry. Angry that Jerry had nicked me. I should have won. I blamed him for being reckless and didn’t take any responsibility for my own actions.” He stopped for a moment, trying to catch his breath. I looked at him, but he avoided looking directly at me. His hand was on the table and I reached out, putting mine over his. He needed comfort, it was easy to see. He looked up and I could see that he was fighting to hold something back. His eyes were clear aqua blue. It was like looking at a glass of soft blue coloured water. He sighed, ”But when I heard he was in a coma, everything changed. My vehicle had come off the worst, but I only had broken bones. Jerry was in a coma and they weren’t sure how bad it was. They did a few scans and luckily there was no bleeding, but it scared me that it could have been me and it could have been worse. I was there, at his bedside till he woke up and so was Lindsey. It was evident then, that she felt more for him than she had allowed herself to feel and there was remorse for the game she had played. There was a lot of relief when he woke up.” “Was that the reason why you stopped racing? The accident, did it scare you that badly that you didn’t want to race anymore?” “It wasn’t the actual accident that helped me decide, it was what happened later. The people that were by my side were the ones that I had shrugged off. When I had to heal, they were the ones that came to visit me and when I was nervous about racing again they were the ones that supported me in doing whatever I needed to heal. When I was healing, it was like a break from what I was living and I looked back and I realized that I didn’t like the person that I was. I decided to stop so I could have a chance to become the person that I would like hanging out with, not the egotistical jerk that I had become.” “Do you think you will ever go back and race again?” “Maybe, not right now though. There are other things I have more interest in, like the band. I like who I am when I play, more than who I was when I raced.” “And Jerry?” “Well, we recuperated together and we actually figured out that we should have been friends. His a good guy and a genuine friend. We still pretend at the rivalry, but if I am in need, I know I can count on him and he knows the same thing can be expected from me.” He sighed deeply, “And that is my story.” He looked at me with trepidation and I sat there taking it all in. Kyle had more layers than I expected and even he was not as perfect as he seemed on the top layer. He had come out of a difficult situation still intact and it seemed for the better.

“So, are you disappointed? Do you think of me as more human now than before?” I looked at his face, that seemed to get more anxious the longer he waited for my response, “No, not disappointed and yes, I think of you as more human now.” He smiled slightly, “Is that a good thing?” I returned his smile, “Yes it is. My dad always said that our imperfections are what make us special and different; and it's the way you came out of it that was important.” All that nervous feeling drained out of him and he seemed to be relieved at my answer, “What are your thoughts on what I told you though?” “Well you said you were a jerk, I haven’t experienced that, so I can’t judge you on it, not that I would have any right to judge anyway,...”, how do I explain that he had been the epitome of perfection and that had been something that had been unnerving. Now that there were flaws and the fact that he had gone through experiences based in reality that made him imperfect added, rather than took away from who he is.”But?” “But, what you have been through, the way you handled it and the change and lessons you learnt add to you.”

The tension in his body drained out of him completely and there was a sparkle in him. He looked down at his hand on the table. I felt his fingers begin to knot mine. “I was very worried that you would be disappointed in what I was and that it would change what you saw in me,” he looked up at me. His eyes were like the ocean after a rain storm, clear and blue and calm. You could look at them and the horizon would be far and near at the same time.

“Kyle, I know who you are now and now I know why?” “And the person you know now, what do you think of him?” “I think, well I like him. His overzealous at times. He can be intimidating, with all his imperfections, when you meet him at the same time,” he laughed loud, “but at the core his good, sometimes lonely and unsure, but his good.” He sighed, but this time it was as if he was letting out a soft sea breeze, “It feels good to know that you don’t think I am jerk, or silly or any of the things I feared you would think.” I smiled as I slowly retracted my hand from his. It was time to go home before I crossed a line I wasn’t sure I wanted to cross, yet.

The waitress came with the bill and we made our way home. Most of the drive home we were quiet in the car. I was still trying to process everything that Kyle had told me and he seemed to be in his own world as well.

When we got home, as we walked to my door, he stopped me just before I could unlock. “Elly, thanks.” Déjà hit me. “For what?”, I asked. It was my turn to feel trepidation. “For understanding. For not judging. For,..., being a good friend.” He bent down and hugged me, his warmth was there. His smell was there, sweet and musky, and as much as I tried to stop myself, I breathed it in deeply. We parted and there was that same look in eyes I had seen before. One side was jumping up and down while the other tried to pull me away by the hair. There was a sound from inside and I woke from my hypnotic state. We bade farewell and as I walked inside I breathed a sigh of relief that someone had made a noise.

I went inside and greeted my mom and sister. They were curious about where I had been and I related the events of the night, minus what Kyle had told me about the accident.

At the end, I saw an envious look emanating from Ida, “How do you always get the lucky breaks.” I laughed, “I’m sure that Kyle will take you out as well, if you just asked.” She crossed her arms, “But I don’t want to ask.” “Well then I will ask for you.”

My mom had a combination of concern and fury in her face. I knew it was because Kyle had, in her eyes, put me in danger and not spoken to her about it beforehand. “Well since you have come home in one piece, I can only partake in you excitement, but Elly, next time you even think about doing something this dangerous...”, she breathed hard, “You better come and speak to me about it first, or so help me,...” she trailed off, unable to continue. I had not thought about her reaction and I hardly saw my mom react the way she did. It made me feel guilty, “Okay mom, promise, next time I want to be in a race car, I’ll let you know first.” She raised her eyebrow, “You better.” She seemed to relax a bit. We spoke a bit more about the racing before I made my way to bed and dreamt of racing the beast alongside the bluest ocean I had ever seen.

After the evening of racing at the track, the following day seemed to be an anti-climax and with mid-year exams coming up, it meant fewer excursions. During the weeks that followed up to the exams I had played on Darryl’s electric, but the more I played, the more of a reality it became that one day I would have to give it back. I would have to figure a way to save enough money. The solution came one morning as I was making breakfast.

I heard Ida speaking about the new smoothie shoppe that had opened up close to us, “Well I am going there today. Going to get an application, maybe get a few shifts as a waitress during the break and one a weekend. Some extra cash will come in handy next year, plus some experience as well.” “I agree,” my mom replied, “ as long as it does not interfere with your school work and your sports.” A job? That’s what I needed. It would take a hundred years to save up enough money if I relied only on my allowance. “Get one for me to,” I told Ida. She looked at me surprised, “Why? Your allowance is more than mine at your age.” “Inflation. I want to buy something and it will take forever if I save my allowance.” “What so expensive?”, she asked, curiously. “An electric guitar.” She looked a bit shocked. “But you have one,” she replied. “It belongs to Darryl and I have to give it back to him at some point, the sooner I get my own the better,” I avoided both their eyes at the fear of what they might learn looking at them. “Oh okay, I’ll get one for you too then.”

I had made my decision then to give the electric back to Darryl. It was better if I did that sooner, than later. The opportunity to do it came sooner, than later too. It was his last visit before the exams started.

I walked towards the sitting room and caught sight of the back of him. His red hair was as vibrant as ever and I caught my breath. I stopped for a moment to breathe again and an unknown calmness came over me. “Hey D,” I said without trying to seem choked. He turned around and smiled back, but it wasn’t that same open smile he always had, it was closed off now, “Hey Elly.” I made my way to the sitting room and sat on the couch opposite to him, there was an awkward silence. Not the one that had been there the first time I had met him, not even the one that had been there after his concert. “How are you,” I eventually asked him. “I’m good and you.” “I’m good.” We sat there, unable to say anything else. “Do you want something to drink?” “You mom already offered, I’m good.” There was another silence before I made up my mind to hand the electric back. “Your electric.” “What about it?”, he asked his eyebrows slightly knotted. “I need to give it back to you.” This time he physically moved back, “Why?!” “Well I can’t keep it forever and the sooner I give it back, the sooner I will make an attempt to get my own.” “But I told you, you could keep it till then and they are expensive. It may be awhile till you save up enough.” “I know, that is why I am going to try and get something weekends to make extra money.” He wasn’t making this easy, but something deep down fought against the urge to take him up on his offer. Somewhere deep down I knew that in the long run, it would be the best for me. “Oh okay, but you can still keep it till you have your own.” It had to go. “Thank you Darryl, but I really can’t.” “Is this because of Kyle?”, he replied with a pinch of irritation. “Kyle?! No.” He looked up, that irritation seemed to grow, “Are you sure?” “Yes I am sure, why would you think that anyway?” He looked away, seeming to look into the distance and then he looked at me with a fire of annoyance in his eyes, “Because you have been spending a lot of time with him recently and after I told you to keep it indefinitely, you want to hand it back.”

Fury began to bubble up in me. How could he think that I was that shallow? That I would want to give back his guitar because I spent time with Kyle? “Spending time with Kyle has nothing to do with this and for that matter nothing to do with you,” I replied in anger. His nose flared and that annoyance flared into anger. “Oh and you so happen to have decided to give back the guitar I loaned you indefinitely after you met Kyle.” I mirrored his emotions and stood up, “If you really knew me that well, you would know that I would not do that,” my breathing became shallow as I tried to keep myself calm, “I would not give up our friendship because of Kyle.”

My hands tightened into balls at my sides and the anger flared up in me. Darryl’s face started to go the colour of his hair, “Our friendship? The same friendship that you were scared people would ‘misinterpret’ as being something else? Are you scared that Kyle is going to misinterpret this as something more than one friend being kind to another friend?” “Yes, that friendship,” I said, trying to keep my voice down to a squeal. “If you knew me well enough, you would know that the reason that I would want to give it back to you had nothing to do with anybody else, but me and you.” I was breathing hard now and my jaws were clenched. “I am getting your guitar and I don’t want to hear another why you ‘think’ I am giving it back to you. I told you why and that is the reason.” I turned around and stomped to the room and gathered his equipment.

When I entered my room I felt like screaming, but I took a few deep breaths. I didn’t want to fight with Darryl about this, but how could he feel that this was because of Kyle. If nothing else, had our friendship not shown him that I would not do what he had said?

I stood against my wall with my eyes closed, trying to regain my composure. When I felt that I had calmed down enough, I made my way to the sitting room with his guitar and amp. I saw him from the back. His arm was resting on his knee which was bobbing up and down, hands clenching each other. He was still upset. I couldn’t let it get out of hand like it had before. I took a deep breath again and moved towards him.

“Here is your equipment,” I said softly. He looked at me with a start. “Elly,” he replied in the same tone, standing up. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I thought you would give me back my guitar because of Kyle, it’s just.” He looked away, “It’s just that I was stupid,” he said eventually. “It’s okay”, I replied. He took a deep breath, “And about what I said about our friendship and people misinterpreting it.” I put up my hand to stop him, “Darryl, the reason why I brought it up in the first place was because of Anne. She doesn’t trust me and she thinks that I will take you away from her and that is why she does everything in her power to keep you away. And to be honest when I asked Chloë and Jack if her feelings were unreasonable, they kind of agreed she was onto something.” When he tried to say something I continued, “To be honest I am not very fond of her either. I wish it was different, but it is as it is and there is nothing we can do about it.” It was my turn to take a deep breath, this time he seemed stupefied into silence, “So I think it is better, that you don’t come and visit for awhile.” I saw the blow move through him and I moved on quickly, “Its close to exams anyway, so I won’t have much time for anything else.” I looked up at him, but looked away quickly. I couldn’t look at what reflected in his eyes, it hurt too much.

He stood there for eternity, then spoke up, “You have made up your mind and there is nothing I can say that will change it, I suppose.” I just nodded. He nodded his head in reply and made his way to the equipment. He moved the equipment to the front door and went to say goodbye to my mom, coming back he stopped and looked down on me. “One question before I leave. Will this be the last good bye I ever say to you?” “No, it’s won’t be. It’s more like see you soon.” He smiled, or rather he tried to smile. He walked to the door and before he crossed the threshold, he turned, “Elly...What Anne fears is irrational. You wouldn’t have to steal me away from her, by my own choice, I would come to you willingly.” I immediately felt the punch hit the back of my stomach.

I watched him leave, trying to imprint him on my mind. When his car was out of me view I closed the door. I had not wanted to cry, which had felt strange, because I knew I was sad. I moved back to the sitting room and flopped on the couch. My mom came to me, “Are you okay Elly?” I smiled faintly at her, “As okay as I can be, I suppose.” “You know you can speak about it right?” “Yes mom, I know, but now I just want to lay here and not to think.” “Okay sweetheart.” She left me there lying on the couch. However, I did think. I thought about all the times Darryl and I had been together. All the laughs we shared. The concerts. The lessons. The path that we walked together and now it felt as if we were moving towards separate roads. I thought about what my mom had told me about appreciating the time spent, instead of thinking of what could never be. That is the way I could work through this. Remember the times we had together. I must have fallen asleep on the couch, because Ida came in and it felt as if I had lost time.

I went to my room and got out my guitar, it had helped me in the past to move past certain feelings, and I hoped that it would do the same now. I sat and played. I wasn’t sure what I was playing, but strumming along the strings was soothing. Whatever note came into my mind I tried to emulate. I don’t know how long I played for, but it must have been longer, because at the end I felt some tension in my joints, but it didn’t bother me. My day went along, getting things ready for school, preparing my study schedule for the upcoming tests and doing whatever came to mind. Darryl popped into my mind from time to time, but I tried not to think too long about him and went on my way. By the end of the day, I felt tired and after supper, I got ready for bed. I had left my phone in my room the whole day as I had not wanted the temptation to send him a message. When I got to it, there were several messages.

There was one from Emily, asking if we could come over the following weekend. I would miss her, but she was too close to Darryl. For now I would have to keep my distance from her as well. I had a good reason not to see her, my parents had not allowed any socializing during study period before exams and during. Between school and my other activities, I would not have time to study and go out. I sent her message explaining it and that we could make a plan after it was finished. That would probably give me enough time to get over things initially. The last one I was too nervous to open up. It was from him and the last timestamp said that he had sent it after he had left. I waited just before bed to send the message to Kyle and said good night immediately. Then I braved opening up his.

It was made up of two. The first one had been earlier, before I had even woken up. Asking if we were still on for today and if I wanted to go to the Diner for a milkshake. He needed to speak to me about something really important, but he could not do it at my home, since he wanted to do it privately. Curiously, I wondered what that had been about.

The second one..He apologized again for angering me by what he said. He was sad that I had given the guitar back to him, but if I needed to do it to make sure that I got my own, he understood. But mostly he wished he had not been a coward, to tell me to my face when I was angry with him, angry with the fact that I felt that he would abandon our friendship because of external forces, that it was not true. He wished he had told me that he felt a bond that he could not explain right now. But he had been too scared to say anything and now because of his timidity, he may have lost one of the best friendships that he had ever known. It was more than just a best friendship as he put it. But he knew I needed time and space and he hoped at the end we could regain what felt lost. How could I answer him. I sent him a short one, thanking for understanding and that I hoped that at the end of this, I hoped we could regain that friendship again. I switched off my phone immediately and tried to fall asleep.

The mid-year exams had come and gone and it was like any other test. Nerve wracking, nail biting, feeling unsure about what you knew you could do in your sleep. By the end of it all I felt drained and as usual Ida looked refreshed. She was a different creature. She enjoyed exams. She said it was a litmus test of her abilities. A way for her to know if she needed to work harder or if she worked hard enough. I could never and probably would never understand her and exams.

There hadn’t been much time to think about anything but tests in those few weeks. I had seen Chloë and Jack, but we had been studying together, so we didn’t speak about much else. Although things did seem to be getting more serious between Chloë and John, they had decided to take a break till after exams.

Like most students, I was glad when it was done, but nervous about the results. Everything seemed to have gone well, but there was always that one question that seemed to come back and bite you in the bum.

My application at the the ‘Smoothie Joint’ had been successful and as soon as exams were done I would start my training and then shifts. In the holidays I would work most days and when school started again, I would do one or two over weekends.

The day after my last test, when we were allowed to stay at home till the results were available, I did my first day of training. The manager was a girl of about twenty-four. She had just finished of her degree in management and was starting her first job in her career. She had seemed even more nervous than I did in the interview, but I suppose it was expected. It was her first real test as an adult. There were a few seasoned waiters. They were mainly students from the college in town and few high school students like myself and Ida.

The routine of the inexperienced staff would be to work as a shadow to the waiters for a week, till we learned the menu and how to be a good server. It was also expected of us, to know how the food and the drinks were prepared. Then slowly we would be given tables till we were confident enough to handle it on our own. So my first day was a combination of cleaning up tables and learning a portion of the menu and what ingredients each dish or drink took. The Smoothie Joint had only been open two months, but it seemed as if the knowledge had spread across the town and I was warned that so far no shift was quiet. By the time I got my first break, I felt sweaty and my feet were numb from being on the floor the whole time.

The waitress I was shadowing was Maggie. She was doing her last year as a photography student and was trying to save up money to be able to backpack across the east. She had been saving for three years and she was just about there.

I liked Maggie. She was patient and talkative, but she did not probe one for information. She did not want to be a fashion photographer, although that is where the money was, as she explained. She wanted to take photos of real people, in real life dilemmas and one of her dreams was that one day one of her pictures would be on the cover of Time magazine.

By the end of the day I was exhausted. I needed a shower and I needed my bed. Ida would start a day later, as her exams finished off after mine. I wondered how she would deal with having to actually communicate with people. As introverted as she was, I wasn’t sure if she would be able to talk to customers the way Maggie did, as if she was talking to old friends. I expected Ida to walk up to a patron and have them give her the order and then just ring it up and bring it. But watching Maggie, I saw that there was finesse to it, making the customers feel like they were at home, or old friends or sometimes giving them their space. I wondered how Maggie did it. How she knew how to react with people and how to be able to communicate with them the way they wanted. Before we left I asked her. She laughed, “Well it depends. If you like speaking, like I do, it comes easy. It's just learning who wants you to speak to them and who doesn’t. If you not a chatty person, that’s one of the first things you have to learn. Learn to read them and to connect with them. It comes with practice.

I got home and the first thing I did was take a shower, then I joined my mom at the table. Ida had an early supper and was sitting in her room studying. “How was your first day sweetheart.” I smiled, “Hard, tiring, but lots of fun.” I told my mom about the people I had met, like Maggie and how nervous I was. But as the day had passed, it seemed to get easier and I enjoyed myself. “I’m glad,” she replied.

We had supper and I went to sit on the sofa, I was tired and I felt drained. I needed to do something that was mind numbing like watch a movie. I looked at my phone to see if I had received any messages. It had been so busy that there was no time checking on it. There was one from Chloë and one from Jack both asking how my first day went. I immediately replied to both of them, telling them in short what I had told my mom. There was one from Emily asking me how my exams had progressed. I replied as well. There was one from Kyle as usual. He never let a day go by when he did not at least message me in the morning and evening. It wasn’t evasive messages. Generally just saying good morning or good night. Asking me how my day went and what I had planned. If I did give him any details or not, he let it be. Every now and again, I had sat up chatting to him, when I had finished off my study work. He had told me more in detail about his life. About what people had expected from him, what he expected from himself. I wondered, for all the advantages he seemed to have, sometimes there were so many strings attached that it must feel that one was caught in a web at times.

He had been lucky that his parents only had one string. That whatever he did, he had to do it to the best of his ability and not waste what he had. Sometimes we even touched on the subject of his past relationships and Chloë had been correct in saying that he had attracted those that had only wanted something from him, other than himself. He told me that it seemed the older he got, what had worked as a romantic gesture before seemed not good enough and had to be bigger and better than the last one. I laughed when he said that he wondered if any of his ex girlfriends had tracked down the previous one to interrogate them about what he had done, so that they could have better. I wondered the same thing. But at the heart of it, he wanted someone to care for him and only him, with or without all his glitter. I wondered if I could ever be that person, but right now we were building a friendship. The multiple conversations continued, catching up with everyone’s day, when a message flickered from a number I had not seen in a while. It was Darryl’s.

I hadn’t spoken to Darryl much during the exams. He had been busy with more gigs than usual and the final preparations were being made for recording. But it had not only been those reasons. I was still not sure how to handle the situation with Anne. I did not want to find myself in another confrontational position, so I kept our conversation light and to a minimum. I missed having him around like before and I hoped with the upcoming mid-year break that things would have calmed down.

“Hey Elly. Just wanted to know how the exams went.

Hope you having a good first week at your new job.

One step to that electric,

like you said.

Darryl xxx”

I got my clothes ready for the following day’s shift and got ready for bed. Saying goodnight to Chloë and Jack, his message caught my eye. Better get it over and done with now, rather than have it hanging there. So I responded;

“Hey D, exams went well, just waiting for the results now.

Yip, one step closer to that electric.

Good Night.”

I pressed send and switched off my lights. As I got into bed I noticed the flashing light to say that I had received a message. I ignored it and went to sleep.

The following day at the Smoothie Joint was the same as my first day. I had been paired with Maggie again and I was happy about it. I was feeling more confident being around customers. I started enjoying the idea of working as a waitress.

Each day you would meet different people. There would be a few difficult ones, but those were few and far between. I guessed that they would be difficult people, generally. Today Ida started her first day of training. I knew she would pick up the menu and making the drinks and food quickly, but I still wondered how she would do at the interaction with customers on a more intimate level. At the end of the day I was less tired than I had been the previous day and I theorized that my body would become use to the working conditions. By the end of the week I had learnt the menu and Maggie had allowed me to help her serve customers. The Friday I was off to get my results.

The morning was like any morning where you about to see if you hard work was worth it. Even though it was midyear, I was still nervous at seeing how I had done. If I was honest about it, I was always nervous no matter how hard I worked.

I met Chloë and Jack at the entrance to the school and we made our way to our registered classes where we would receive our reports. My stomach had butterflies. So much had happened just before the exams started and it felt that I would just miss a perfect mark. I opened the envelope with apprehension. My eyes closed, I unfolded the paper. I might as well take in all the marks with one look.

I almost fainted when I saw what they were. I took another look at the name and made sure that the marks were correct. My average had increased, I giggled at the thought. I was so relieved.

I met the other two outside my classroom and I could see by their faces that they had done well. We decided that we needed a well deserved celebration and with the rest of the student body, we made our way to the school gates where we would meet my mom and make our way to the Diner.

As the gates came into view, I saw a bright red beast standing in front of it. The car was unmistakable and if there was any doubt, a tall dark haired youth was leaning against it, obviously waiting for someone.

The fire in my belly began to burn, but instead of scaring me, like it did in the past, I absorbed it. I had come to accept that I was very much attracted to Kyle. It would either fade or turn into something more real, but for now it was just there. I would feel that same sensation all through life, it was deciding what to do with it that was more important. It was nothing to fear because one did not always have to follow it. One just needed to understand it and know what it was based on. Was it only physical or was it something more? I was not sure which it was with Kyle yet, so I left it alone. But, it never helped when he had that skew smile on his lips, it seemed to make it burn even warmer.

The mass exodus of students seemed to slow down as they noticed the beast and the person that seemed to be the owner. The car made a big impact and Kyle was not far behind. Even from the distance that I was, I noticed girls giggling in his direction. Walking in small groups, whispering among themselves. I could only imagine what their whispers were about. Who he was here to see, or at least which one of them would catch his eye?

The part of me that always seemed to be in bliss in his company stood with her hands on her hips, watching them with suspicion. If only I could laugh at her without looking insane to the outside world.

I tried to hide myself behind the other students, although I knew that it would probably be useless. He would wait till the last student passed him. I wondered if I could slip by him in the throng of students without him noticing, but when he looked straight at Jack, I knew that it was over. He had spotted us. He scanned the faces close by and finally rested it on my face, which brought a toothy smile. I heard one girl next to me burst out in a giggle and I wanted to roll my eyes multiple times.

He straightened and moved towards us, slowly, with deliberate motion. When he did that, he always reminded me of a mountain cat on the hunt.

I took a deep breath and accepted my lot. The only way I could escape this conspicuous meeting was to turn and run and that would just be childish. When he saw my reaction he knew he had caught me and the one side of his mouth seemed to move higher. It seemed that we always played this cat and mouse game. He was the cat and I was definitely the mouse and when he cornered me in some or other way, he enjoyed it. How would I escape this time?

I made certain that I had Jack and Chloë on either side as we approached each other. I did not want to be singled out, it was too late in the year to transfer to a different school and the break was not long enough to have people forget about him.

When he had finally reached us, Chloë was the first to respond. I was happy, let everyone think that he was here to see her. She would be able to handle the attention better than me. “Hey Kyle, what a surprise?” He gave her a slight hug and I heard a few gasps behind me. “Hey Chloë, I thought I would surprise you guys on this fine day. Figured that there would be a celebration of some sort, so I decided to gatecrash.” “Hmm, who says, it may have been a funeral,” she responded. “Speak for yourself,” Jack said, “ I intend to keep my grades at the same level all through.” Kyle laughed at that, “The way that John has been complaining about the exams taking forever and not being able to see you because of your studies, I could only bet you did very well.” She had a wide smile on her face, no doubt at hearing that John had missed her during the study period, “Well you bet on the right horse, we are celebrating.”

A small crowd had developed around us, it felt like we were in the middle of a tornado. I wanted to move. There were too many eyes and ears around us. “I suppose,” I said, “we should get to that celebration then.” “I suppose,” he responded, “so where we going?” “The only place worth going,” Jack smiled. “The Diner,” Kyle smiled back. “Yes, we are,” I said.

We had started moving slowly towards the gate and Jack and Chloë had conspicuously moved so that Kyle was walking in line with me, he held out his elbow, “Your carriage awaits my lady,” I had been aware of all the eyes on us when we had started moving. Taking his arm would be confirmation of something that was still uncertain for me. I resisted and instead I patted it and moved forward. He stood there for awhile, but started moving quickly to catch up to me. “We need to move quickly, it's very popular after everyone gets their results.” “As my lady wishes,” he said with a smile, with that amused look he always after I rebuffed him.

The crowd seemed to open up for us and in moments we were at his car. There was an even larger crowd outside the gates, made up of students waiting for their parents, but they were all congregated close to the red beast.

As we reached the car, I heard a few muffled gasps. It was another signal that I wanted to be out of there as quick as possible. There would be a few weeks till school reopened, but not enough to rise today out of everyone’s mind.

“So how did you come to be here so early, don’t you get your results today as well?” “Well we get it as it is completed, I got mine a few days ago.” “And your results are not the only reason why I wanted to celebrate.” “And that would be.” “Well,” he said opening up the door for me, “ I’m in the top five percentile of my class.” “Your registered class or grade,” “Grade,” he winked and smiled as he closed the door for me.

The cherry on the cake. He had a brain and a very intelligent one as well. I watched him as he walked around the car, he didn’t make holding him back easy.

We moved too slowly out of the parking lot, as there were too many students and too many parents picking up those students. I pretended to look at my phone, so that it would not be easy to make out my face, but in my peripheral vision I could see heads turn and eyes glaring.

When we reached the road, I was relieved. “So you didn’t tell me your results,” he questioned. “They were good, better than I expected actually.” “Well that is good, you worked hard enough.” “And the Smoothie Joint? How are you enjoying that?” “It’s hard work, but I have met a few interesting people and it's a bit different every day, but it’s only my first week,” I replied. “And our rehearsals? I hope you haven’t forgotten about that.”

I looked at him and pulled a face, “Uhm, I kind of forgot about that and I can’t really practice if you need an electric for the sound.” His eyebrows knotted, “Why, what happened to the electric you had?” How do I explain, as simply as possible. “It was Darryl’s and I gave it back to him.”

He stayed quiet for awhile. I wondered what he was thinking and suddenly he spoke, “Well that is easy to remedy. You can use one of mine.” “Well the point of giving it back to him was so that I would not get complacent and get my own. That is the reason for the job.” “Well I am not Darryl. You can’t keep it indefinitely and there WILL be a rental charge.” He smiled a devilish smile. “Oh really and what will the rental charge be?” I could just imagine what he was thinking, “Well I am not sure for now, but I am sure we can come to some agreement.,” his smiled broader now. My heart was thumping in my ears and luckily the Diner came into view.

It was already packed for the time of day and we ended up parking at the back of the parking lot, to my great relief.

We were lucky to get one the last booths, which could occupy closer to eight people.

We took our place with Kyle sitting next to me and Chloë and Jack across. A waitress came to take our order, but I wondered if she would get mine right, as she had only had eyes for Kyle.

The conversation started with exams as the topic and for all Jack’s bravado he had been nervous about his results. Within a few moments the Diner was packed to capacity I noticed many of the female students that had congregated around us at school. I wondered if they had decided before or after they had seen Kyle to come here.

There was an especially giggly group that sat across us and every time Kyle even motioned that way there was a burst of noise that sounded like a group of toddlers in a box, high on sugar. I could only shake my head, could my gender really be so short sighted? Did they not have anything else to do than oogle a guy. There were billions on the planet. Our milkshake arrived and I was confronted by that same personality, but up close.

Sipping on my toffee flavoured shake a shadow appeared at the table. Looking up I saw Jayde in front of us. I wondered what she was doing at our table.

Jayde was what people termed as ‘popular’. Not that she was generally liked across the board, but more due to the fact that she did every activity that demanded attention and she made sure that everyone knew who she was.

Those that surrounded her were like minded. They wanted people to know who they were. It didn’t matter what the reason. It didn’t have to be anything special, as long as they were known.

And she was Chloë’s nemesis.

They were the opposite in every aspect. Where Chloë danced because she loved it, Jayde did it because of the attention it brought her. She did acting, singing and anything that made her famous. That was her ultimate goal. To be famous one day. Chloë always commented that she would be infamous before she would be famous, because she lacked the real love for the arts she practiced. Jayde wasn’t only opposite to Chloë in her view of the arts she practiced, but also in her looks.

Where Chloë was petite with long blonde hair, Jayde was tall and muscular with shoulder length black hair. The only similarity they shared was that they both had blue eyes, but that was different as well. Where Chloë’s was soft, like down pillows, her’s was hard like ice.

Jayde stood at the edge of the table with a stance that she took with everything, the demand to be noticed. I looked up and my stomach fell away. “Hello Jayde. To what do we owe the pleasure?” “Hello Elisa,” she replied down her nose, slightly turning towards Kyle, “I wanted to know if we could join you. The place is full and you have a booth that could easily accommodate more people.” I looked at Chloë, she looked more irritated than I felt. I wasn’t sure how to answer, but Kyle did it for us, “Well we have one more person joining, how many is your group.” She smiled sweetly at him and in a soft tone she answered, “It's only three of us and we won’t take up much space.” “Well the more the merrier, right,” and he looked at us. There was a dead silence to his question, but Jayde seemed to ignore it, “I’ll go get the others,” she said with a bright smile on her face. Chloë’s jaw clenched. I didn’t have to wonder why she had not asked to join the ‘giggling gang’ that sat across us. The question had been directed more at Kyle than us and Kyle was the reason that she had decided to join.

Kyle turned and was faced with three sullen faces. “Okay, why the looks?” He asked, looking at each of us in turn. I took a deep breath, there was no time to explain every drama that Jayde has pulled us into, or every snide remark she had passed in the last few years. “She’s not our favourite person,” I replied, “ and we are not on her top list of being friendly to either.” Confused he looked at me, but before he could say anything, Jayde was back. She slid in next to him with one of her friends Jessica, while I was pushed up into the corner. The third member of the party, Lucy sat next to Jack. I saw thunderclouds forming above Chloë’s head and Jack looked like a man sent to sea on a raft with no paddle or supplies.

If I wasn’t so irritated, I would laugh at the situation. Chloë was sitting across from her sworn enemy, while Jack was sitting next to the girl who at first rejected him because she was way out if his league and he was a ‘nerd’ then, but when he had made the first team, she had ran after him like a lost puppy. He had maintained that he had been lucid when he had been interested in her.

They had ordered their milkshakes at the counter and were already taking over the conversation before the waitress had brought their drinks.

I sat at the end listening to endless chatter about which shops they would like to visit since studying had taken so much time out of their social and shopping lives. Then it was gossip about this or that famous actor, which they would probably never meet. If my ears would bleed at their nonsensical conversation, I would probably need buckets. I saw the same look on Chloë’s face, but we weren’t as hard hit as Jack. Lucy tried to include him in the conversation and the pained look on his face said a lot. I knew that at this point he would prefer endless sports talk to this.

The conversation moved back to the exams. Lucy turned to Jack, resting her face on her hand, “You probably got all A’s as usual, didn’t you?”, she said with a smile on her face that she probably thought made all boys melt at her feet. He smirked, “I wouldn’t get anything less. I would get my ‘nerd-card’ revoked and I wouldn’t ever want that to happen,” he replied. The remark seemed to move passed her, like most things. “I don’t know how you do it,” she said in an exasperated tone. “School, friends and sports. How do you ever find the time with all that difficult work?” His eyes narrowed, “Well I do it the old fashioned way,” she leaned in closer as if about to hear a very important secret, he played along by pretending to whisper. “People call it by many names, but I just call it..” he stopped for dramatic effect, “studying and working hard.”

“But all those books, where do you start?”, she replied. This time I wasn’t sure if she had just ignored what he had said or if she really had not understood what he was saying. I felt a nudge on my arm and looked to where it came from. Kyle looked straight ahead as if nothing had happened, but I saw the smile on his face as he watched the interaction between Lucy and Jack. The sudden image of John and Chloë flashed into my head, but instead of Jack being drawn in by the game of helplessness, he seemed to be swimming in the opposite direction for all his worth. I smiled to myself. I suppose that game only worked when both parties were willing participants and this was one game Jack refused to play.

Jayde then turned towards Kyle, tiring of the spectacle in front of her. “So, Kyle is it, how do you know this lot?” I could hear the disdain in her voice and that same irritation that seemed to subside was starting to bubble up again. He smiled slowly, lifting his arm to put it on the back of my head rest, “Well I met Chloë and Jack at a friend’s birthday party. And at the same party I heard an angel sing,” Jayde’s one eyebrow raised, the way it always did when she heard something she did not believe, “and when she came down I saw it was the third musketeer here”, for an instant she looked in my direction. I bit the inside of my cheek to suppress a smile.

Whatever had affected her was gone in an instant, “So do you sing and play the guitar?”, she asked, purposefully ignoring what Kyle had said.

Jayde continued asking questions, but she seemed to intentionally ask ones that would not include me. Lucy still bombarded Jack with questions and I could see the glaze over his eyes.

When John arrived, Jessica’s face lighted up, but was quickly blown out when John scooped Chloë up and kissed her hard. There was no doubt who he was here to see and who he wanted to belong to.

I sat watching the scene unfold in front of me. Chloë and John seemed to retreat into their own world. Jack was like a cornered animal, with Lucy sitting next to him speaking about what her next hairstyle should be. And if Jayde twirled a lock of hair one more time, I would suggest getting her hair curled permanently. The amount of times she had fluttered her eyes while looking at Kyle, I wondered if she had something in it.

Kyle’s free hand had been resting on the table and I watched as Jayde had slowly moved hers towards it. Something began to boil inside me and when she had laughed at something that had been mildly fun and eventually reached for it, I erupted internally. For a moment his hand stayed there and hers on top of it. It was a moment too long and irritation blasted through me.

I felt suffocated where I was sitting and needed to be away from the table. I needed space and decided to excuse myself with the only reason that did not require an explanation. Jayde’s eyes brightened as I moved to the ladies as quickly as I could. When I got inside I let out the breath I was holding. Of all the girls in the world why her? I knew that I had no right to feel anything, especially jealousy. He had no allegiance to me and if he wanted to, he could be with anyone else. But why did that anyone have to be Jayde?

If he enjoyed attention from her, could I be with someone that was so easily distracted? I had been an anomaly in his life. She was more the type of girl that he had dated, as Chloë had explained. If he was still attracted to that, would he be happy with someone like me? Was I ready to take that chance?

I took a few more deep breathes. I felt that I could only be friends with Kyle. Nothing more. I would not be able to handle girls like Jayde, that threw themselves at him and the way that he reacted. It had seemed more an invitation than a rejection and I could see that she enjoyed that fact. She beamed at the idea that he did not immediately rebuff her advances. I calmed myself and made the decision that I would not allow their actions to affect me. He was just a friend and whoever he wanted to date was his business.

I made my way back to the seat and saw that Kyle had been moved to the corner where I had been seated. He seemed to have that same look, which of an animal caught in a corner. When I got to the table, Jayde had a satisfied look on her face and instead of waiting for them to get up, so I could move to my original seat, I sat down at the edge.

Kyle looked confused, but I ignored it. It was obvious that they would not have moved and that Jayde had wanted to separate us. When Kyle made a move to get up, what I suspected was confirmed, Jayde and Jessica kept sitting in place.

John and Chloë seemed to come back from the world when the food order arrived and I started speaking to them.

“So Elly, when are you going to start rehearsing with us?”, John asked. I gulped. Why did he have to bring that up now? “Not sure,” I replied, “I’m not sure when I will have free days.” John looked at me with puppy dog eyes, that I am sure would work on Chloë, “But you said that you would after exams.” He fluttered his eyelashes, “Can’t you make time for us on your free days? Please.” I laughed, “Okay, I’ll see.” Jayde’s attention moved from hunting Kyle to our conversation, “You have a band?” “Well sort of,” John replied. She fluttered her eyes at Kyle again, “Can we please come and watch you rehearse? Promise we won’t be a bother.” John looked uncertain, “Well...” “I know what it’s like to rehearse in front of people, cross my heart we won’t make a sound,” she replied. Chloë had gone instantly from sunshine to thunderstorm in moments of Jayde opening up her mouth. Unfortunately, John had missed it, “Well, I suppose it would be okay.” Jayde almost jumped out of her seat, “Great. When is your next rehearsal?” John seemed trapped, “Uhmmm, Kyle when?” Kyle looked back at John with a sudden flash of warning, “Not sure maybe Saturday.” I almost breathed a sigh of relief. I had a shift on Saturday, so I would definitely not be able to make it. “Elly,” John looked at me, “can you make it?” “Sorry, I have a shift.” “What about afterwards, just an hour or two,” he looked at me, but it was Chloë’s pleading eyes that got my attention. “I can’t promise I won’t be too tired, but we can see, okay.”

The rest of the meal was taken over by Jayde again, questioning Kyle about his band. I didn’t think I could rehearse with her there and I hoped that she would have left by the time I would have finished my shift. As I watched her, she was like a leach. She would not let go till someone pulled her off.

Poor Chloë, she had been looking forward to spending as much time as she could with John during the holidays. Now that Jayde was aware of the rehearsal, I was almost certain that she would try and be there as much as possible.

After our meal was done, Jack was the first to escape. At some point he had made arrangements to meet some of the team. Chloë and Jack wanted to go to the movies, but I did not want to intrude on their time. They had to spend it with our companions and spending it with me made me feel bad. So they left shortly after Jack, leaving me with Kyle, Jayde and her clan.

I moved to the opposite side of the table with Lucy, but I was clearly excluded from the conversation and with that took the opportunity to message my mom to pick me up. Suddenly Jayde’s phone buzzed and when she looked at it, she had a ‘worried’ look on her face. The smirk on Lucy’s face caught my attention. I wondered what they were up to.

“Oh no, what are we going to do now?” “What is it?”, Kyle asked. Her acting classes really came in handy. The look on her face looked as if she had lost her new kitten, “My mom just messaged me and she said that she won’t be able to pick us up. She wanted to know if there was any way I could get home, or we would have to stay here till she could fetch us. I have so much to do at home.” “Oh,” was all that Kyle replied. “This is embarrassing, but could you take us home?” Kyle seemed to lose his ability to speak. I wanted to giggle. He had gotten himself into this by not rejecting her initial advances within seconds. He had to find a way out of it himself, if he wanted to.

“Uhm, I’m sure that would be okay, there is enough space,” he replied. I couldn’t imagine Jayde being squashed in the back with her friends. Somehow I would be at the back and the other two would take up as much space as possible.

Thankfully my mom was close and I did not have the patience to endure their company any longer.

“Don’t worry about me. My mom is on her way, so there will be more than enough space for everyone.” Jayde, beamed. Kyle opened his mouth to say something, then changed his mind, “Are you sure?” “Yip, I sent her a message awhile ago.” I smiled. He looked irritated, but I ignored it and sipped the last of my milkshake.

My mom arrived shortly afterwards and I gathered my things to leave. “Good bye Elisa,” Jayde breathed. “Good bye Jayde, enjoy your day further,” I smiled back. I was not going to allow her to affect my day. She had a confused look on her face, but just replied, “Same to you.” I said farewell to everyone else and made my way to the door. Kyle had somehow gotten free from his trap and had followed me.

He reached for my arm, turning me around, “Elly, why did you call your mom? You know I would have taken you home.” “I wanted to leave earlier than I think would happen with the others around.” “Still,” “Still nothing. It worked out well. Seems Jayde needs a lift and the back will be a bit squashed with three people. I need some space, sometimes.” “After I drop them off, do you want to hang out later?” “I have a few things to do at home. When Jayde lets you go,” I looked back to see three pairs of eyes watching us. If he only knew that it would not be that easy to get rid of her “send me a message, will see if I am free.” “Okay, will do.” He came towards me, in what seemed as a hug, but I moved away, “ I gotta go, my mom’s waiting, enjoy,” I said as I walked away. I left him standing there, but refused to look back. If I had wanted something to push me over the edge to make me stay away from him, today had been perfect. I got into the car not looking at the window where their table was.

“Hey Elly, how was your day?” I smiled, “Good mom and yours?” “Good,” she smiled, but I could see she was waiting for something, so I handed her my results. Reading them, she smiled brighter, “Just as I suspected and now we are going for your surprise.” “Surprise?” “Yes, now be patient,” she smiled.

As we pulled up to the music store, I looked at my mom nervously. “What are we doing here mom,” I asked. “It’s a surprise,” she replied. “I get that, but what is it?” “Elisa, don’t be so impatient, let’s go in first.”

We made our way in and soon a store assistant was at our side, “How can I help you today ma’am?” “Can we see your range of electric guitars, please,” she replied. “Mom?” “Hush Elly.” We made our way to the section and I was dumbfounded. My mother smiled at the assistant, “Can you give us a bit of time to look through the ranges?” “Yes ma’am” and he left us alone. I stared at my mom, “What’s this about?” “Well sweetheart, you worked really hard with your results, with everything that has been happening. You really love playing and when you gave Darryl’s back to him, instead of coming to me, you made your own plan to get one. You didn’t rely on me, which is very mature and it made me proud.” “Thank you mom,” still not sure what else to say. “And besides, you need to have a look at what you are saving for, so I thought it would be nice to come and have a look at what they had.”

I turned around and looked at the multitude of designs and styles that was up against the wall. It was overwhelming and I wasn’t sure which one I wanted. There were hollow bodies, which were used mainly by Jazz and Blues musicians because of the sound it made. Then they were semi-hollow, which could be used for rock as well as blues and jazz. The assistant came back and every time I pointed to a piece he obliged and took it down, so that I could try it.

But as I made my way down the row, something caught my eye. It was shiny black, but with a powder blue hue. I moved towards it and when I saw it, I was taken back. It had a long cream neck, which had a blue line all along it, with small leaf-like flowers at its ends. It looked like a stem that blossomed into the black shiny flower, which had large blue flower designs on its face. They were large and different hues of a soft blue, from dark to light and they faded to the sides. They looked mystical as if they were plucked from a world that was inhabited by faes and nymphs. The pickups and the tuners were the same light, soft baby blue and it seemed to stand out and fade in at the same time. It was the same make as Darryl’s and I wondered if he had felt the same when he had bought his.

My mom came up behind me, “So that’s the one that you like?” “Yes.” She beckoned the assistant, asking him to take it down. I plugged it in and as soon as I played it was as if I was taken to that land, “We will take this one and a new set of strings and what is that thing you need to make it sound loud again.” “And amp, ma’am.” “Yes and an amp, with the chords, please.” I turned around, “Mom?” “Yes, Elly.” “What you doing?” “Buying the electric guitar.” “But,” “But nothing.” “It’s expensive.” She laughed, “And.” “And it’s expensive.” “And?” “I promise, I will pay you back.” “You do that sweetheart,” she smiled, “but the only repayment I really want is that you keep your grades up and that you keep on playing. You have a love for it and you are natural at it.” “I promise I will,” I hugged her. The day had made a 180 after the diner and I had almost forgotten about Jayde and Kyle. I would have to close that chapter of that book, but right now was not the time. My mind was wrapped up in the instrument that was sitting on the back seat of my mom’s car. We made our way home and the trip seemed longer than usual. I was anxious about getting set up. I would have to wipe it off and restring it first, before I tuned it. And I had to do that before I even played.

Getting home, I couldn’t get everything into the house quick enough and when I was done, I immediately set to work.

I had just put on the last string when the doorbell went. I looked up for a moment wondering who that could be, but it was a thought that fluttered through my brain and left again.

Moments later my mom was at my door, “Elly, there is someone here to see you.” “Who is it mom?” “Kyle.”

I walked towards the sitting room and saw Kyle standing with his arms crossed. He seemed on edge for some reason and I wondered how he had been able to escape Jayde. If she had her way, she would have kept him around the whole day. I had not expected to see or hear from him at all.

“Kyle.” “Hey Elly,” he smiled, “I came to see if you were done with whatever you were busy with and wanted to hang out.” “You could have just sent me a message you know.” “Yeah, I know, but then it would have been easier for you to make up some excuse,” his smile seemed to reach the corner of his one eye. “I didn’t think you would be free in any case.” His expression immediately changed to confusion. What had he expected me to think with Jayde around? "What do you mean?” “I mean Jayde. I thought the two, make it four of you would still be hanging out now.” He laughed, “Her? We left after you did and I dropped her off at her house as soon as she gave me the correct directions.” Something flashed over his face, “You would think she would know how to get to her house.”

If he believed that she had gotten lost trying to get home, then I pooped candy floss. “And it wasn’t even that far from the Diner.” I could feel that irritation boiling up again. Was he really playing naïve or was he really that blind? I didn’t think he was the later, so he was playing. Why couldn’t he just be honest and say he spent time with her?

“What’s up Elly?” “Nothing.” “Are you sure?” “Yes. In any case I am busy tuning my guitar. It may take awhile, since it's from scratch and I need to figure out the amp.”

He sat down and I reluctantly joined him.“Amp? Where did you get the electric from?” “My mom. She surprised me today.” He was changing the subject and he was moving closer. “Well that is one hurdle that we have overcome.” I looked away. Did I still want to be part of the band? I had wanted to join. I enjoyed the sound that they were trying to make, but that meant being around Kyle all the time. Now that Jayde had an open invitation to watch the practices, she would take full advantage of it. I wasn’t blind to the fact that she had set her sights on Kyle immediately after seeing him and would probably do anything to get him. If anything ever happened between Kyle and myself, I knew that Jayde would watch every moment to find an opening. She would not be the only one.

There would always be girls that would be attracted to Kyle and there would always be one that would go to any lengths to get him. If today was any indication how he reacted to advances made on him, how would he react to all the others? I had wanted him to recoil at her touch, but he didn’t. Did I want to see a girl try and put her hands on him every opportunity she could? He would never be mine alone, not even for a moment and it was dangerous losing my heart to him. If I was going to be part of their band, then we could never be more than just friends.

“Elly,” his hand reached mine, “do you still want to be part of it?” I looked at him, now was the time. I had to draw the line, because in the end, it would save a lot of heartache. “I do, but..” “But,” he seemed to sense the inevitability and moved closer to me. “But?” I sighed again. “But, if I join, we can’t move further than friendship.”

His hand squeezed a bit tighter, “What? Why?” “If things ever go south between us, it will affect the band.” “No it won’t,” he replied. “Kyle, don’t play naive. You and I both know it always does.” His hand reached for my face, “I meant that it won’t ever go south between us.” “How can you say that?” I looked up at him and Jayde’s hand on his flashed through my mind and I moved my face away. “Yes it will.” “How do you know that?” There was intensity in his eyes, irritation mixed with exasperation.

I didn’t want to tell him. It would be opening up too much of my fears. My insecurities and I could never open up that much to him. “I just do.” “Elly,” he reached for my face again and this time moved it to face directly at him. The intensity in those blue eyes were overwhelming, “Please tell me, because I can’t see why you would say that.” His hands were warm. I looked up and that aqua blue flood came at me like a tidal wave. The irritation had been replaced by concern and something else. The desperate need to know. “Because there will always be girls like Jayde that will want your attention and that will do anything to get it.” “But that doesn’t mean that I want to give it to them. Elly, I told you that I would be patient till you were ready. I never thought that by giving you time I was free to pursue other girls or even encourage their attention.”

It was hard to concentrate on my goal as he spoke. “It is not that you pursue them, it’s that you don’t reject their attention,” I breathed out. I took another deep breath and I knew that even though I feared opening up and telling him why, it would probably be the only way he would stop waiting, “The truth is I don’t think I am strong enough to handle it all the time.” He wanted to interrupt, but I put my hand up to stop him, “and it will happen all the time.” “It feels like there is more Elly,” he said quietly. “It’s the way you react when they give you attention.” “And which way is that?”, his words were tensed up. I didn’t know how to explain that I had wanted him to react differently. That I wanted him to recoil from her touch like recoiling from a disease.

“It doesn’t matter. You are who you are and I am not strong enough to know and understand that no matter what they would do, you would only want to be with me.” " Elly, please tell me exactly what I did that made you think I was encouraging her and not rejecting her. I will change it.” “Please don’t. You are who you are and who you are is what attracted me to you.” I took a deep breath, “We can’t be more than just friends if we are going to be part of the same band, so it doesn’t matter. You should not change because of me. Some day there will be someone that is strong enough that will be able to handle all the attention you get and not feel...” I could not say it. Feel insecure.

Softly I took his hand away from my face. For the very first time, I saw doubt in his eyes. He was unsure of what to do next. He sighed a deep sigh and allowed his hand to fall at his side,“Elly, one day when you think you are strong enough, you will see that it has always been you and that it will always be you that I want.”

With the look in his eyes, I wanted to believe every word he was saying. Right now, I could believe him, but the fear of what would happen if I did was stronger than the ‘want’ to believe him.

His other hand still held mine and he looked down at it for awhile. I wanted to escape him. If I stayed any longer I would change my mind and I couldn’t do that.

He looked up and something had come over him. There seemed to be a mask over his face, “After all that, do you still want to be part of the band?” “Well..after all that, it’s actually up to you. How do you feel about it?” “I still want you to rehearse with us. You are an exceptionally talented musician and it would be silly of me to miss an opportunity because personal feelings, right?” It was not hard to miss the question of the last part. I had told him that was part of the reason why we couldn’t move further. “Right, if you are sure about it,” I replied. “I am sure, I am sure I want you to be part of the band,” he breathed deep, “and part of my life. If it means it will only be friendship.” “Okay, if you sure about that, I am still keen.” He smiled but that sparkle had gone and I missed it immediately. This was the right choice, it had to be. “Where is that new guitar of yours? Are you going to make me wait to see that..” I smiled back and went to fetch the blue mystique.

He was taken aback by its beauty, as I had been and after looking it over a little he suggested tuning it at his house. I agreed and went to my mom to let her know I was going out. The rest of the day was spent tuning my new electric and playing alongside him. We tried out different sounds and he showed me new techniques. I started rehearsing some of the music that they had written and it felt more natural to play it.

I wasn’t sure if it was the fact that I no longer had that question hanging over my head or that because I had drawn a line of friendship that it felt easier being around Kyle. He still ignited that fire inside of me, but I no longer feared what would happen if we moved pass it. Kyle was as flirtatious as always, but that was Kyle. I no longer wondered if my reaction would make him think more or less than the intention. Right now, we were friends. Friends that were attracted to each other, but friends. The line had been drawn and it felt as if it had made things less complicated.

The next few days went by as uncomplicated as possible. I was starting to take on more and more tables on my own and I was becoming good at it. My first table had been nerve wrecking. I had gotten the order mixed, but the couple had been understanding and had accepted the order. I had paid for their drinks as a thank you. The next one was less scary and as I interacted with more people, the more comfortable I became. I knew the menu, I knew the routine, now it was all about coming out of my shell and actually speaking to my customers. It wasn’t so hard to read patrons as I thought. Generally customers that wanted to speak to you, spoke to you and those that didn’t, wouldn’t. Couples, you generally left alone. I used a notebook to write my orders, but it became easier to remember who’s order was who’s. Most days after my shift I would see a red beast standing outside waiting for me.

It was hardly missed by any of my companions. I was confronted with the same reaction as the day that he had been waiting outside my school. Then we would make our way to Kyle’s house, where I would rehearse. There was giggling and gasps as I had walked towards him on the first day. I become accustomed to all the attention that he received and all the shocked expressions when they saw me as well.

Chloë was at the practice most days. The first day when I had joined them, she had filled me in about the first rehearsal after we had been at the Diner with Jayde.

That Saturday she had arrived with John to find Jayde and her entourage sitting in the basement with Kyle and Ethan. They had arrived about an hour before the allotted time. Jessica and Lucy had sat there, stunned. When she had sat down and the others had gone to start practice, most of their conversation was about the size of the house and trying to find out what Kyle’s parents did. She had been non-committal on most of the questions and pleaded ignorance on the others.

Jayde had then tried to extract information about Kyle and my ‘friendship’. Chloë had pleaded ignorance of any knowledge that there was anything more than just friendship, but she had told them about Kyle taking me to the race track to do a few laps and had gone into great detail about the evening, which probably meant exaggerating a few things or adding something.

She had laughed when she explained that all three of them looked as if they were about to be sick. “Sorry Elly, but if you were here you would understand that it was worth it. Just once in their life they realized that they were not the centre of the universe.”

It had been worse when Kyle and the others had taken a break. It seemed as if Jayde was latched onto every word that he was speaking and the closer she tried to get to him, the more he edged away from her. Chloë had watched her try to use every tool a girl has to show her interest, “Between fluttering her eyes, twisting her hair and giggling at everything he said, she looked insane. She licked her lips and bit the bottom one so many times, I’m sure it was swollen when she left. Poor Ethan, he was not left alone either. Between Lucy and Jessica, he made his escape very early to the gaming system. He was there most of the day, when they weren’t practicing. They tried to switch their attention to John, but as soon as he started speaking about me to them, they lost interest.” She laughed, “I think he exaggerated a few things, but it was funny watching them.”

I giggled at the thought. I wished, just a little bit, that I had been there. I wondered if I had, how different things may have been. “Even Jayde got tired though, especially when Kyle turned the tables on her and started asking questions about you.” “What?” “Yip, he asked how she knew you and what she thought about you.” Now I was glad that I wasn’t there. I was sure that she would not have said anything that was very flattering, but I was curious. “So.., what did she say.” “Well, she thought I was too caught up in John, so she spoke her mind, especially with Lucy and Jessica adding their own interpretations.” “And” “And, she was her old self. You know she can’t seem to compliment anyone but herself.” I looked at her expectantly. I wondered what Kyle had thought about what she had said and how he reacted. “After she spoke her mind Kyle told her that she couldn’t know you very well.” Chloe continued,“ He said that he had seen a supernova in you and he had promised himself that one day her would experience that. One of the things that made you special to him was that you looked at the inner person. The outer decorations don’t attract you at all. You would rather be with an outwardly unremarkable person who is gracious, good and strong, than with someone who is unkind and shallow, but has everything that glitters. After that they all kept quiet and not long after that they decided to leave. I think it was just to regroup. They had asked when the next rehearsal was, but Kyle said he would let her know.” “I suppose he hasn’t let her know yet?” “Well Ethan threatened that he would leave the band if he did.” I laughed.

There was a little satisfaction, in the fact that her being at the rehearsal, had not gone the way that Jayde had anticipated. I had thought that Kyle may have been taken by her, but it seemed he had more to him than that and it was a pleasant thought.

Emily had contacted me to meet up after one of my shifts. It had been a while since I had seen her, but what she asked me was a surprise, more like a shock. She wanted to meet up to discuss something and that I was not to let Darryl know. I was curious about what she wanted to speak about, that I had to keep from him.

She met me at the Smoothie Joint and we made our way to the Diner. “So how is waitressing going?”, she asked as she concentrated on the road ahead. “It’s good. Lots of work, but it can be fun. Meeting a lot of different people.” “How’s your holiday going now that you working most of the time? We have missed seeing you. I thought we would see you more often after the exams were over.” “Well between work and rehearsing with Kyle’s band there hasn’t been much time for anything else as yet.” “Oh, but you will make time for us though, won’t you?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer. The only way to respond without misleading her was to separate her from everyone else, “I’ll make time for you any day, Emily.” I needed to change the subject quickly, “So what’s with all the secrecy?” She seemed to follow my lead, “Well, not everything is a secret.” “Darryl and the band are finishing the recording of their music and doing the final touches.” “Oh okay, that was fast.” Emily looked at me for a second with a confused look on her face. “Has he told you that they plan to do a bit of a launch at the end of the year, just after the holidays begin?” I shook my head as we pulled up to the Diner.

We made our way inside and found a seat. This time Emily was the one that was quiet. She looked at me, scanning what my reactions was. She was calculating what to say next. The waitress took our order.

“Elly, what happened between you and my brother?” I couldn’t look at her, there was too much to explain. “Nothing. We have both just been really busy.” “Elly, I know something happened. I haven’t asked Darryl, because he is private and he won’t even tell me till his ready. I see it in his face and then when he came home from his visit with you before the exams, he had the electric guitar that he had lent you.” “I told him that I was going to get a job to buy my own and that having his would make me complacent, so I asked him to take it back.” Our milkshakes came and for a time we were both quiet.

“Elly, I know there is more to it than both of you are letting on, but if you don’t feel comfortable telling me, I understand.” She took a deep breath, “but I have seen my brother moping around for the last few weeks and your friendship is very important to him. I think it is very important to you to. So for all of our sake, please find some common ground.” “It’s not as easy as you may think Emily.” “Why?” I struggled to find the words to explain to her.

“Because our friendship is close, but maybe closer than it should be and definitely too close for some people to feel comfortable about it.” “Who will feel uncomfortable about it?” “I don’t know. Just some people may think that we may cross a boundary that should not be crossed.” “Elly?” “Emily, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Is there a reason why you wanted to see me today?” Emily pursed her lips at the obvious closer of the subject, but she accepted me cutting her off.

“The reason why I wanted to see you, other than that I have missed spending time with you, is that I am setting up the launch for the band. I need an opening act and knowing how much Darryl values your musical abilities. I wanted to know would you do it.” Of all the things that she could have asked me, this was one that was a double edged sword. I would be honoured playing for the band, being their opening act, but I couldn’t do it alone. I would have to speak to Kyle and the rest of the band. I was part of theirs now and it would be unfair to exclude them from this.

“Well, I would be honoured, but I am not a single act anymore.” Emily’s eyebrow rose at that. “I have to speak to the rest of the band. I am sure they would be more than happy to do it. You have to speak to Darryl first. See if he is happy with us playing.” “Why do I have to ask him? He will be more than happy.” “Emily, please just ask him.” “Okay, I will ask him, but I know the answer already.” I just nodded. I didn’t want anyone to have surprises. “So how is preparing the launch going,” I asked, trying to make the conversation light. Emily immediately went it explaining the difficulties of trying to get the right place. It seemed that they had been doing well playing and had saved enough money to do the show as well. Now it was just to set it up and advertise it. “We have even thought about a way to get more people in, by offering the first fifty entrants’ free cd.” “Would I be disqualified from being early, if we intend to do the opening act?” I smiled. She laughed, “No. There is a special one, just waiting for you.” We sat chatting for a little longer till we made our way home.

After her initial questioning, it had been comforting sitting and chatting with Emily. I had missed her company and it hadn’t been as hard as I thought it would be to see her again. We had made plans to meet up again during the week after a shift, something simple like watch a movie or something.

At dinner it was Ida that was first to bring up Blue Lava. Emily had told her about the launch. “So has Darryl asked you to do the opening act yet?” “Yeah, well Emily did. She asked me today.” “Are you going to do it?” “Well I will have to speak to the band, but I’m sure we will play.” I sat for a few more moments speaking about general topics, before I made my way to bed. I lay in the darkness thinking about their concert that seemed so far away. My stomach made those same knots it always did, but somewhere there was excitement also building up.

We had our upcoming Spring talent show and that would be a great way to do a test run on stage. I was hoping that they would have me go on with Chloë first, before I did my solo act.

Emily was in the beginning stages of putting the launch together, but what the way she explained what she wanted to do, could rival professional shows. When I had asked her about the financial side, she had laughed and said that it was a mercy that she was at college. She had approached other students in the fields that she required help in and had convinced them to do work pro-bono.

She would give them the credit for their work in return.

It had worked to an extent and they even had their own contacts when it came to reasonable pricing on equipment and venues. I slowly nodded off with the image of myself playing on a stage in front of a large audience, playing to my heart's content. Wowing them, and then of Darryl and Blue Lava in flashing lights as they mesmerized them even further.

My dreams were filled with concerts and songs that I had never heard off and when I woke up the following morning I wished I had left a pen and page next to my bed, so that I could have written them down when I woke up.

It was now part of my routine to walk out after my shift and see a red beast and tall dark-haired youth leaning against it, waiting for my exit. Seeing him everyday did not decrease the striking image I saw as I made my way out of the Smoothie Joint. I had spent most of the first half of the break with Kyle and it had been easy. He had not pushed for anything since I had told him we could only be friends.

On the way, to what had now become a daily practice, our conversation moved towards my day with Emily. There seemed to be a question that he was dancing around and as we made our way through the gates, he seemed to be able to move straight to where he had wanted to be, “So what was it that you wanted to tell me regarding Emily?” “Well,” I had not been sure how to bring it up either and I had only mentioned that I had wanted to tell him something, but when the conversation had moved in a different direction and the topic forgotten, I had not pushed it, “Emily has a proposal for us.” From the side I could see his face go slightly hard. Malcolm was his cousin and I am sure that he would have informed him about the launch. “What did she propose?”, he slowly breathed. I took a deep breath, “She wants us to be the opening act for Blue Lava when they do their launch.” Kyle’s knuckles went slightly white and he kept quiet. His lips were thin and I waited till he was ready to respond.

In the quiet of the drive I wondered why he would react the way he did. Blue Lava was becoming well known and to be an opening act would really help us in the long run. “We will have to speak to the rest of the band and see what they think. What do you think?”, he eventually said. “I think, maybe, it’s a good idea. Our first big gig together. It would be a good way to get our name out there, apart from the others that we would do.” “I suppose you right.” I got the feeling that even though Kyle smiled and showed a certain sense of enthusiasm, he was reluctant about the idea.

As soon as we arrived, Kyle gathered the others around and made the announcement about Emily’s suggestion. Almost immediately there was unanimous agreement to doing the show. Kyle was quiet during the whole discussion about what we would do and I wondered, in the end, would it actually be a good idea.

Ethan took the opportunity to lead the conversation and become our self-appointed manager. He would arrange small gigs, so that we became more comfortable on stage together before the show. People would remember us, if they had actually seen us play before. Our practice sessions would now become proper rehearsals for music we would play at gigs and eventually at Blue Lava’s launch show.

One of the days that I did not have a shift, I arrived at Kyle’s house early the morning. We had decided that we would do an early practice and then spend the rest of the day just hanging out and maybe go go-carting. This time Chloë did not object, especially after I told her about the evening at the race course. Jack would be joining us and he had hinted that he wanted us to meet someone. “So be nice,..” was all he had said and Chloë and I just smiled at each other. It was about time that we met this mysterious entity that had been keeping him busy.

We had just gotten through half of the practice and having a break, when I saw Chloë’s face. Kyle and I had been facing everyone with our backs towards the stairs, but when I saw her face, I had a sinking feeling and turned around to see what she was looking at.

There were three pair of legs that were descending and in moments we saw that it was Jayde and her entourage. There seemed to be an unheard moan from the group and my heart sank. Jayde was not anywhere close to the list of people I wanted to see while rehearsing.

“Good day everybody,” she said with a smile, scanning the room. When her eyes settled on myself and Kyle, it became hard. “I see the whole gang is here today, for a rehearsal or just hanging out?” She had gotten to the bottom of the steps by this time and was making a direct line towards our couch. Kyle was the first to respond, “Hello Jayde. We rehearsing today.” She smiled sweetly at him, “And you didn’t tell me? How naughty of you.” “ We have been really busy trying to get a set finished and I didn’t realise I had to keep you updated on our practices,” Kyle replied with a bit of a sneer. As always, Jayde ignored what she did not want to acknowledge, “Well, you did and now you will just have to make it up to me then,” her smile was broader. There was an open space next to Kyle and she flopped down next to him, while the others tried to find places close to Ethan, who began to look like an animal that was about to be cornered.

“So what you so busy rehearsing for, that you can’t send a little message?” “Just a preparation Kyle replied, but he had moved closer to me. “And what gigs, may I ask?”, mirroring his actions and slithering closer. “Nothing specific for now, but a friend is doing a show later in the year. They asked us to be the opening act.” “Oh and which friend is this.” I wanted to plug Kyle’s mouth, but even he seemed uncertain what to do. “Blue Lava.” She frowned at the unknown name and I hoped, very much, that it would stay like that for now.

“No matter. We came here to see you rehearse and it's a pleasure to see the full band here.” The last words were said with a slight snide feeling. I ignored it, I had to learn to ignore people like Jayde. “You in for a treat. It doesn’t feel like a band without Elly,” Kyle looked at me, “which I think is our queue to start the second part and get this practice over with.” Ethan agreed, verbally, very quickly. Chloë had a resigned, desperate look on her face. I pitied her. She would have to sit with them for the 30 minutes at least, with no one to fall back on.

We moved back to the instruments and I made a decision not to allow anyone to unnerve me as I played. I picked up my guitar and faced the band slightly, so that my concentration could be on them and not on those watching us. As we started, I allowed the music to take me away. It filled me with colours and lights and all I heard was what we were playing. I still made a few mistakes, but the rest of the band would continue the rest of the song, as if nothing had happened. It made me more comfortable to know that a small mistake did not unhinge them. We would then practice the part that I had made the mistake, till I got it and then redo the song.

As I played I moved my body and at one point I faced Jayde. Without thinking I looked up at her, her eyes were cold like the arctic as she watched me. There was determination set in her face and her jaw was set in stone. I made a mistake at that point. When we went over it again, I decided that it was better to face her full on. So I practiced, looking straight at her till I got the part right. There was a satisfaction knowing that I had gotten it right and that I had done it facing her.

If I wanted to play in a band, live, I would have to come to accept that there would always be expressions like that in the crowd. I had to get over it unnerving me. Anne would be at the launch for sure and her expression would be worse than Jayde’s. How would I be against that, if I could not do it in Kyle’s basement facing Jayde?

We practiced till my fingers were numb. It felt good. When we made our way back to the seats, Jayde was the first one to greet us. She stood in Kyle’s way, “Perfect as always Kyle, but I do believe that some do need more practice, especially if they are going to be performing in front of a live audience.

He walked around her and replying in a by-the-way manner, “We all need practice, I am the least perfect of this whole band.” He looked at me with a knowing smile and I returned it.

Like always, Jayde ignored what did not benefit her. I got a drink at the fridge, while Kyle sat down and it seemed that Jayde had connected an invisible string to him. Within moments, she was at his side. I moved slowly back to the couches. I didn’t want to join them, but watch from the outside. Ethan had again hogged the gaming station and I contemplated joining him. We were stuck here for another hour, since we had agreed to wait for Jack to arrive before we left. We had thought that it would be a time to rest, unaware of what would await us.

I moved to the couch where Chloë and John were sitting and leaned over, trying to incorporate myself into their conversation. Jayde would keep Kyle busy and even if I did sit next to him, she was determined at getting what she wanted, no matter what was in her way. She was like a steam roller at times and I did not want to be flattened.

It did not mean that they didn’t catch my eye at times. Every now and again I would look up and see the frustration coming from Kyle, while Jayde ignored it completely. What was her strategy? If she couldn’t get him with her female attributes, was she going to tire him out, into submission? Kyle needed help, I knew that. I felt a bit sorry for him as I watched the cat and mouse game playing out in front of me. I looked at the table tennis board, “Anyone up for a game of table tennis,” I asked hoping that it would break the constant bombardment that Kyle was getting from Jayde. Kyle responded immediately. Jayde was the next to agree and Lucy, seemingly bored, agreed to play as well.

I made my way to the table, hoping that I would not partner with Jayde, even Lucy was better.

“So who is on who’s team,” Jayde said with a smile, but before she could utter another word, Kyle spoke up, “I suppose it will be Elly and me against the two of you.” She was obviously not happy with the arrangement, but Jayde was resourceful, she would try and turn it to her advantage. “Okay, how about we make it a little interesting?” “What do you mean?”, he replied, one eyebrow arched. “Well if we win, then the two of you owe us an evening out. All expenses paid at our arrangements.” “And if we win,” I asked. “Well then you can ask anything of us, we can’t deny your request,..unless it’s detrimental to our health.” We both looked at Kyle, but he had that skew smile and I wondered what was going through his head. It was obvious what the arrangements would be, if they won. Kyle would have to take Jayde out and I would probably have to spend what I had made at the Smoothie Joint for Lucy’s treatments. I wanted to back out, I hadn’t played in a while. If Jayde wasn’t an active player, she was aggressive enough to make up for any skill. “I take that wager,” Kyle said before anyone else could respond. Jayde seemed stunned that he had agreed. I missed a few heartbeats when I heard the words come out of his pouty mouth. He looked at me and winked and I prayed that he knew what he was doing.

We started the game and soon we were in a tight fight for points. I wasn’t bad, but I missed a few balls and I was relieved to see that Kyle had a lot of practice to make up for it. There was tension in the room and it seemed that the others had picked up on it. Not long and they were congregated around the table watching the game.

On the last point I slipped, but by some miracle Kyle was there to hit the ball. We won the game and I was out of breath.

Jayde’s rage was evident on her face. She had not only lost, she also did not get what she wanted. Panting I watched as Kyle strode over with confidence to where they were standing, “So what was it again if we won, you would do anything we requested?” Jayde gulped, “Yes.”

Kyle narrowed his eyes as he leaned against the table and looked at them like a predator. I knew that look. It had made me feel flustered a few times and by the way the colour rose in their cheeks, I knew it had the same effect. “Well I know what I want,” he pointed at Jayde, “You. Ready tomorrow night at seven.” Her eyes went big, “For what?” Kyle moved in closer and her face flushed, “ It’s a surprise.” What was he up to? He stood up and walked towards the couches. Jayde just watched as he walked away. For the first time since I had met her, Jayde was clueless about what to do next and what to say next.

As I moved passed her expression changed. This time it was a look of triumph. What was Kyle up to and did he even know what he was getting himself into?

We sat around chatting for awhile. Jayde had made her way to where Kyle was sitting, but this time she did not try and net him. She was uncharacteristically quiet, but there was an air of superiority around her.

Jack arrived and with him a new face. Her name was Abigail. She was slightly shorter than Jack, which meant she was tall. She had an athletic body, with dark red hair and dark eyes. There were freckles that peaked out from under the black framed spectacles she wore. Jack was at first taken aback when he saw Jayde, but he quickly recuperated and introduced Abbey to us. It was no surprise that Chloë and I were excited to meet her. Jack had been absent from a lot of our gatherings and we wondered what had kept him so busy. We gathered Abbey between us before Jack had finished introducing her.

Abigail was from a school not far from ours. She was the same grade as us, but a year younger. She had started school a year early, by her own request. Jack had met her at one of his sports games. Her brother was a player and she had gone to support him. She had very similar interests to Jack, mainly science and games. She was quiet, but like Jack determined in her opinions. She volunteered at a few charities and she was active in a few activist groups. She seemed really sweet and unassuming and someone that wanted to give and didn’t wait for someone to help. Both Chloë and I liked her immediately. She was intelligent, she felt genuine and she liked the same things that Jack did, which was a great start.

We got ready to leave and I was not surprised when Jayde explained that they had not given anyone a time to pick them up, so they were indirectly invited. Chloë, John, Jack and Abigail travelled together. Lucy and Jessica opted to travel with Ethan, but I could see the distress in his face. I wanted to travel with him, but when the arrangements were being made, Kyle had grabbed my arm before I said anything and answered for me. It would mean that I would be travelling with him and Jayde. Well I had not sat in the back of the beast as yet. It would be a different experience.

We made our way to the car and Kyle opened up his door motioning Jayde into the back. He was a gentleman about it, but it was obvious that he didn’t want her to sit in front. We were both confused. He had told her that her wanted her to be ready the next evening, for a date most probably, but now he was treating her as if she was just another passenger.

I got into the front and we made our way. Kyle kept up the conversation, but it was a general conversation and directed at me. It was as if we were the only ones in the car. I wondered what he was playing at. He had never treated me or anyone else, which I had seen with him, like this.

We got to the course and as always he opened the car door for me and hooked his arm in mine as we made our way to the ticket vendors, leaving Jayde to climb out of the back seat on her own and trailing behind us, quietly.

When I was certain that she was out of earshot, I couldn’t help but confront Kyle about what he was doing. In a low voice I raised the obvious question, “Why are acting the way you are, when you asked her to be ready tomorrow night?” He smiled at me, which was a combination between a joker's grin and sly a cat’s smirk. “She wanted something and she is going to get what she wanted.” “And what is that?” “The surface Kyle.” “And who is that?” I asked a bit taken aback by the sudden coolness in his voice. “The arrogant, egotistical, emotionless ‘Kyle the racer’. She wants me so badly for the same reason all the other girls did and it has nothing to do with who I really am.” “So this is Kyle the racer? Don’t you think it’s a bit harsh?”

I didn’t like Jayde, but I wasn’t sure if it was fair that she should be treated like that. Kyle leaned in a bit closer, but it wasn’t that he didn’t want to be heard, no one was close to us. “This isn’t ‘Kyle the racer’, but trust me, she didn’t take no for an answer earlier and now she will get to see what it is to want something so badly based on something so superficial. She will get superficial.” “What are you planning to do?” “Nothing major. Tonight she is seeing the real me. The me, that is around someone, which wants to be with me, because of me and not what I can give them.” As he said the words, I felt a warmth move through my body and his eyes seemed to intensify at the same rate. “Tomorrow I will give her what she wants. A self-absorbed drama queen,” he giggled as he said the last words. I looked at him stupefied. “What made you decide to play this game?” “Well,” he looked away as if thinking, “she presented the opportunity when she brought up the wager, but it’s what she said earlier that gave me the idea.” “And what was that?” “After all her hinting that she was interested didn’t work, she looked at you, but the look in her eyes made my skin crawl.” he shivered slightly as if trying to shake something off of him, “She told me that she always got what she wanted and by the end, she would make me forget anyone, even you.” I knew Jayde was determined, but being this direct, she really wanted Kyle. If she was that determined to have him, even with the rouse, would she be dissuaded?

Kyle bent down again and whispered in my ear, “Believe me when I tell you there is no one that can ever make me forget you.” Another ripple of warmth went down my spine. There was nothing wrong about being determined about what you wanted, but then again, Jayde did not do it gracefully. She trampled on anyone that got in her way to the top.

We got to the racing track and we waited for our turn to race. Kyle made sure that he was behind me in the line and Jayde stood behind him trying to get his attention, but he was mildly attentive.

As we made our way up the line he brought up the subject of the racing track. I knew that he did this on purpose. Jayde was still hanging onto his every word. Maybe she thought that if she played along for now, tomorrow night she will be able to get him leashed. “So Elly, do you think you will be able to handle the go-cart on your own? I know it's not as fast as the beast, but I can still be your co-driver, if you need me to.” “I think I can handle the go-cart on my own, thank you.” “Are you sure, your legs were jelly when we came off the track the last time, I thought that I would have to carry you up to the drivers tent. Hmmm, come to think of it, I missed an opportunity there,” he had a bright smile as he said it and I wanted to crawl under something. “Even when Jerry took you around you still had a bit of nerves at the end.” I ground my teeth. As much as he denied bringing me into the game he was playing, he couldn’t help himself. I didn’t want to be a part of it. “Well that was different. It was a race course, in a race car. Unless you want to start racing a bunch of amateurs, I think I can handle it.”

“Jerry?” Jayde asked bewildered. “Yes, Jerry Atwell. I took Elly to the open day and we took turns taking her around the track in the,” he looked at me and winked, “ ‘The Beast’. That is the name you gave her, hey Elly.” I rolled my eyes. “The Jerry Atwell?” Jayde repeated the name as if she was unsure if she had heard it right the first time. “Well I only know him as Jerry, but yes, ‘The Jerry Atwell’ “Is this the race course that Chloë spoke about? ”, she asked a bit surer of herself. “Yes. How do you know about him?”, I asked. She seemed to come out of her uncharacteristic, quiet mood and looked at me the way she always did, down her nose, “I thought that she was exaggerating,” she said quietly, but then out of nowhere her voice boomed, “Well if you don’t know him, I don’t understand how you got to go around a track with him.” My nose wanted to flare, maybe Kyle was right in teaching her a lesson. “I didn’t say that I didn’t know who he was. I asked how you knew about him. He is not your usual tabloid worthy celebratory.” “Well if you must know, my dad is a racing fundy. He even followed Kyle’s racing career, until the accident.” I bit my inner cheek. Jayde knew about Kyle’s racing history. Well it wasn’t that he had done it in a vacuum, but she knew more about him than I thought she would. She looked up at him, “Why did you not go back to racing, you were phenomenal.” He had an irritated look on his face, he probably hadn’t thought that she knew about his racing history as well, “I found more important things in my life to concentrate on.”

We were up next, but there was only one spot available. Before I walked ahead, Kyle stopped me, putting his arm around my waist, “I want to race against you this time,” he said into my ear, but loud enough so that those close enough heard. He turned towards Jayde, “You may go ahead my lady.” She hesitated a few moments, but there was no getting out of it. Kyle refused to budge.

As we waited for the laps to finish I had to confront Kyle again about including me in the scheme. “I don’t like that you are using me to play this bad guy game with Jayde. I may not like her. I may not fully disagree with what you want to do, but it doesn’t mean that I want to be a part of it.” “Who says that you are a part of the game.” “It feels like you being extra nice, because of Jayde.” “Elly, I am always extra nice to you. You just haven’t noticed it till now.” “But.” “But nothing. I am not being overly nice to you just because Jayde is here. I wouldn’t do that. You would be angry with me, but most importantly it would be insincere.” I contemplated what he said for awhile. And then it hit me.

Had I been so blind that I had missed the way Kyle treated me.

The last few laps were being raced and I watched the people on the track in silence. The world went by them, but they were only focused on one thing. They didn’t see what was happening around them. Had I been like that? “So are you ready for our race, I promise to be nice and go easy on you.” I looked back at him. There was a twinkle in his eyes and I couldn’t help but smile. I wasn’t going to be the helpless female. I wanted a true challenge, “Don’t be nice on my account and don’t go easy. Try your best.” He laughed, “I hoped you would say that.”

We got into the carts and strapped ourselves in. The martials explained the rules and safety regulations. Kyle and I were in the first two carts. While the lights were red we looked at each other. There was challenge coming from him and I expressed it back. I knew, realistically that he was far better than me and that was an understatement, but I wasn’t going to let that intimidate me.

The light changed to green and we were off. Kyle had pulled away faster and was ahead of me, but I was catching up to him. I was more reckless around the corners and twice I had hit the barrier and had to be helped back straight. Looking back and laughing, Kyle had ridden straight into a barrier on a corner. It had given me time to catch up to him. He pulled away from me again. He was smoother on the corners. Where I tried to go in too fast and had to adjust every time, he would slow down at the right time before the corner and be able to pull out faster and smoother. We had lapped the other drivers who had ridden into barriers and newcomers. The last lap, Kyle was just ahead of me and on the last corner I was on the outside, but I couldn’t make it and as the corner opened up to the straight, he pulled away.

When we stopped, my hair was stuck to my face as I took the helmet off, my heart was still racing. We made our way to the side railing out of the way of the track before I could catch my breath. Kyle stood next to me, his breathing was just as shallow as mine. “And?” I asked. “And what?”, he replied between deep breaths. “And did you go easy on me?” His face was covered with a smile, “Absolutely not. You would have my head for that.” “You sure. I have felt you drive faster than that.” “I can only go so fast on a track like this. Safety reasons and limits of the cart, but I promise, I did not go easy on you.” “Good.” I replied.

“Do you want to go again?” “What?” I replied. “Do you want to go for a few laps again. It was fun driving against you. You have no fear out there. Which can be dangerous, but a few lessons in advanced driving and the reckless part will be corrected...” I laughed, “There is no way I would do that on a normal track. These are go-carts. They fast, but like you said they have their limits.” “I doubt that you would be different on a track, once you get use to the idea.” I just shook my head, “Adrenaline junkie.” It was his turn to laugh, “Racing isn’t the only thing I get my adrenaline fix from.” “What else, something like jumping out of a plane,” I replied. “No. Something much simpler and quieter actually, but you wouldn’t even believe me if I told you….” I looked at him with my eyes narrowing. “Try me,” I replied. His skew smile moved higher to the side of his face, “Another time,” coming closer he said in quieter voice, “promise.”

By this time some of the other participants were making their way off the track as they finished their laps, he looked their way and then back at me, “So again?” Before I thought, I answered, “Yes.”

After a drink, and a quick chat with the others, we made our way back to the track. Thankfully there were less people, so the wait was shorter. This time I tried to be less reckless, but when I thought too much, Kyle pulled away from me. So I drove, not thinking. I wasn’t surprised when he finished in front of me again. We made our way back to the others, it was time for something to eat.

It was a rare sunny day for the middle of winter. It was still cold, but the air was crisp, not cold and there was some sunshine that heated what was normally a frozen earth. There was no wind, so we decided to go to one of the small cafe’s at the beach. The travel arrangements were the same and so we made our way on convoy. Kyle and I could not stop speaking about the racing and it was easy to forget that Jayde was sitting in the back seat. Every now and again, she would add a comment, but I suppose that it was to remind us that we were not alone.

We found a large table that could seat the whole group and there was chatter from all sides about the excursion. This time it was Jayde’s turn to be silenced.

After lunch we decided to make our way back to Kyle’s home. It was unsurprising that Jayde had requested to be dropped off at home before hand. Kyle had not walked her to the door, but he had waited till she had entered. When we got back to his house, Ethan informed us that Jessica and Lucy had requested the same.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the basement playing games and chatting. Jack and Abigail left early. They had plans as they explained. But Chloë and I giggled, Jack just rolled his eyes, but there was a slight blush. We were really happy for Jack, the more we learnt about Abigail the more we liked her. She was easy going and had a quick humour. She seemed just the right type of person that Jack should spend his time with.

Ethan was the next to leave. He had made plans, but was reluctant to divulge any information.

With only the four of us left and a bit drained from the day, it was decided on pizza and a movie or two. We drew lots and Kyle and Chloë won the draw. Chloë was an easy guess. It would be something romantic, but Kyle was an enigma. Romantic or slasher? He got a horror, which he explained was a perfect balance to Chloë’s romance.

We ate the pizza’s first and made our way upstairs to the entertainment area. It was the first time that I was upstairs for more than a few moments between the time I walked in the front door and going to the basement. Kyle’s parents were out, at some benefit. So we were left alone in the massive house.

The house wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t warm either. Kyle brought out throws for those that were still cold. “It’s snugglier,” he said. I laughed, “There is no such word.” “It's my word,” he replied. It was decided that the horror movie would be watched first. The romance would be a cool down movie.

I immediately put the throw over me. It was a shield to close my eyes at parts that I didn’t want to see. The horror movie was like most horror movies. How much of the movie you saw, dependent on the sensitivity of your stomach. As good as the movie was, my stomach was too sensitive and I found myself hiding either under the blankets or in Kyle’s chest. Whichever was quicker to reach. The movie eventually ended and we made our way to the kitchen to have some hot chocolate. It was enormous and looked like it came straight out of a decor magazine.

The second movie started. Chloë snuggled up close to John, but I kept my distance from Kyle.

As much as I tried, I couldn’t keep from yawning and my eyes started to droop. I closed them for a second, but when I came too, there was soft music playing in the background and I could see that the television was off.

“Sleeping Beauty finally wakes,” a familiar voice said in a hushed tone close to my ear. As I regained consciousness, I felt that I was lying against something or someone. I could smell a familiar sweet husky smell. I looked up to see Kyle smiling down at me. Trying to wake, I got up to a sitting position. I realized that I had been sleeping on his shoulder. “How long have I been asleep?” I asked rubbing my eyes. “ Quite awhile. You fell asleep at the beginning of the movie.” I looked around, “Where’s everybody?” “They left when it ended.” Looking at Kyle through dazed vision, “Why didn’t you wake me when it ended?” He looked away for a second and smiled, “We tried, but you looked so peaceful lying against my shoulder. I didn’t want to wake you unless it was absolutely necessary.” “And Chloë? Why didn’t she wake me? How long ago did the leave?” “She felt the same and they left about an hour ago.” Hour ago? That woke me up immediately. “What time is it? I may be late getting home?” I looked at Kyle questioningly, “Why did you take so long to wake me up?” “Don’t worry. It isn’t that late. We still have an hour before you have to be home...and...I sleeping on my shoulder...It felt good.” I was sufficiently awake by this time, “So what have you been doing for the last hour?” For the first time that I could remember, a slight blush rose to his cheeks, “Uhm, listening to music.” “And?” “And watching you sleep.” “And?” The colour in his cheeks seem to darken slightly, “I...may have... sang... to you, uhm,... while I stroked your hair.” I could only smile. The thought of Kyle singing lullabies were inconceivable. “So you were singing? Twinkle Twinkle little star? Or was it something like ‘Hush little baby’?” “Hmm, nothing quite so infantile...maybe one day I will sing it to when you are awake..” His smile brought a blush to my face and I the thought of what he could have been singing brought those knots back to my stomach that I had in the beginning when I met him.

“Now that you awake, what would you like to do?” “Well tomorrow is going to be busy. I’m doing a shift, so I think it best I go home. Get some shut eye.” Kyle looked disappointed, but said nothing. I got my things ready and we made our way to my house. As always he walked me to the door and said his goodnight.

The following day went by quickly, but when my shift was over, it was strange not seeing Kyle’s car waiting for me. It hit me that it was the night that he would be seeing Jayde. I tasted bile as I thought about how the evening would unfold. I wondered if what Kyle said would work, or would Jayde know that he was trying to put her off. It couldn’t be that difficult to figure out and if she had already figured it out, what did that mean for Kyle?

Getting home, I showered to get the smell of the restaurant's’ kitchen off of me and I sat down to dinner. My eyes kept wandering to the clock. Would Kyle contact me after he dropped Jayde off? We hadn’t spoken about it, but would he tell me what had transpired? Did I want to know?

I moved to my room to try and practice, but no matter what I did, my mind kept wandering to the evening that Kyle was spending with Jayde. I looked continuously at my phone to see if he had sent a message, but nothing came from him. The hours ticked by. By nine o’clock, I wondered how they could have been together so long. Surely, if Kyle had said he was going to be a jerk, Jayde would have tired of it early.

I tried to shut my thoughts to the evening as much as possible and continued to concentrate on my playing. Eventually my mind had drifted to where there was only music. When I put my guitar away when my fingers were numb again.

I looked at my clock it was after ten and I realized that Kyle had still not messaged me. He always sent me a message to say goodnight or good morning. If he had not messaged me to say good night, that meant he was still out with Jayde.

I got ready for bed and looked at my phone one last time. What was Kyle playing at? The ‘date’ should have been over hours ago, that was if it did not go well.

I couldn’t sleep, but there was no way I was messaging him to find out what was happening. He didn’t owe me an explanation. He was free to do as he pleased, with whomever he pleased, but I was upset. I knew it, but I was not going to show him that him being so late, with her, would affect me. I read, but I stared at the same page for ages. There was a flash from my phone, but when I looked at the time it was close to eleven. I would not respond to him. My phone flashed again and my stubbornness stopped my curiosity from picking it up to see what it said.

For a third time my phone flashed and seconds later it rang. The sound gave me a start and I picked it up immediately. “Elly, were you sleeping? I’m sorry.” I couldn’t let him know that I was awake. He would think that I was waiting up for details about his ‘date’. “What’s up?”, I replied trying to pretend to be groggy. “I know it’s late and your mom will probably kill me, but can we speak?” “It is very late. Can’t this wait till tomorrow?” I knew I was being stubborn about the whole situation and I also didn’t want to hear that they had actually enjoyed themselves and that his plan had backfired? That he actually liked Jayde and that he just wanted to let me know that she would be at more rehearsals?

“Elly, please? We need to speak, even if I just stand at your window.” There was desperation in his voice. “Okay, fine. At my window. And be quiet or my mom will ground me for the rest of my life.” “Thank you. I’m outside, so don’t get a fright. It’s just me.”

I made my way to the window. The room light was off, but my lamp on my night stand was on, which gave the whole room a gloomy atmosphere. My window opened outwards like a door and when I opened it, I saw Kyle standing a few steps away.

His face was a mixture of emotions, but I ignored it. I prepared myself for the inevitable. Jade had netted him, despite his best efforts and this was just polite way of letting me know.

He made his way slowly to my window like a dog that knew that it was going to be reprimanded for doing something wrong, like tearing up the sofa.

In the lowest tone possible I asked Kyle what he was doing at my home so late, “Couldn’t this wait till morning?” He was at my window frame, “No, it couldn’t.” “Okay then. What is so important that you had to tell me tonight.” He looked away and it felt like he couldn’t look me straight in the eyes. Closing his eyes, he breathed out slowly, “I failed.” I could see the fist that was about to hit me in the stomach. He looked straight at me then. “You upset. I can see it and that you didn’t read any of my messages, although I can see you were awake. You are really upset.” “Why would I be upset.” I tried to hide my irritation. “I don’t know, why would you be?” In a matter of minutes he had turned it around on me. I couldn’t allow him to get the upper hand. “Kyle..The reason you wanted to speak to me at this late hour?” “I wanted to see you tonight, after...but I didn’t think it would take so long.” He couldn’t even say ‘date’ with Jayde. “We made no plans and don’t worry about it. I had things to do and you enjoyed yourself.” More than you thought you would, I wanted to say, but I bit my tongue. “No need to feel bad about enjoying yourself.” His face was strained. “Do you think I enjoyed myself?” “Yes.” I felt that burning feeling in my stomach, but this time it was rage that heated it. “How could you think that?”, he replied irritated, which in turn enraged me even more.

Did he really think I was that naïve? “Well if you didn’t, why did it take you so long to say good night? Seven o’clock was four hours ago. I think that Jayde would have given up a lot sooner, if she didn’t enjoy herself.” He looked at me incredulously, “Do you really want to know how my evening went and how much I enjoyed it?” “Not really.” “You seem think that I had a ‘lovely’ time, I think you do need to hear about it.” “Kyle, I don’t want to hear it. You don’t owe me anything. No explanations. So don’t worry about it.” “And that is the very reason why I came over here tonight. I knew you would be upset and if I didn’t tell you what actually happened...” “Then what?” “Then you would think what you thinking now.” I felt my blood boiling. “And what is it that you suppose I am thinking?” “That I actually enjoyed my evening with Jayde and that I didn’t wish every second that it was you instead of her.”

I had not been expecting that blow. It came from nowhere and knocked me down. I had to regroup and regroup very quickly before he got away with too much. “Kyle your charm generally works, but not this time.” I moved away from the window, but he reached in and grabbed my arm, “Please Elly. You can think whatever you want when I am done, but please give me a chance to tell you what really happened.” I saw the frustration boiling out of him. I was fighting with myself again. One side told me I was being weak. I knew what happened, why delay the inevitable. I had made my decision to be friends. The other side told me I was being unreasonable and unfair, not to at least give him a chance to speak. This time she won.

“Okay. Speak up. You don’t have much time. I’m sure my mom can hear us and will come in soon to find out what the noise is.” He took a deep breath and began to relay his tale.

He had arrived at Jayde’s home promptly at seven, just to find that she was running late. He had been introduced to her father and mother and the impression that he received from them was that Jayde had told them they were much more serious. Or rather that they were actually dating. Her father was interesting enough. They spoke about racing, but the man had a faraway look as if he had left this world a long time ago. Her mother on the other hand was just an older version of Jayde. It was obvious that Jayde had told her mother about all the external attributes that surrounded Kyle’s life and that was what the whole conversation was based on. Her mother wanted to know what his parents did. How long they had been staying at the house. She even came as far as to ask how much the house was worth. He had endured such questions for an hour, before Jayde eventually made her way to the sitting room.

She looked overdressed for anything. As if she was going to some premier of some famous movie. When she saw that he had jeans and sneakers on, she was not impressed.

He bid farewell to her parents, with her mother in tow asking if she could have his mother’s number. “It would be nice to meet the parents of the young man that is dating my daughter,” was her excuse. He had left his phone in the car by chance and that had saved him. All the way to the restaurant he had not let Jayde get a word in edgewise and spoke about himself and topics he thought she would not be interested in.

They had gone to the racing course’s diner, which he had hoped would put her off. He had suspected that she would expect an extravagant, exclusive dining experience. He had been rude to the waiters, arrogant and egotistical. But when he had shouted the waiter for something irrelevant, Jayde had not been taken aback by the whole scene, but encouraged him. “They plebs,” she had said, “they need to know how to do their jobs properly, even in a dank place like this.” He had almost choked on his food. He had realized that he had to change his strategy and very quickly, being a jerk would not work with her.

“I’m sorry Elly. I thought that being arrogant would work instantaneously and she would want nothing to do with me before dinner was done.” “I told you Jayde isn’t put off that easily when she wants something.”

His strategy changed to try to be as disgusting as possible, while they ate. “I did everything from chew with my mouth open and letting some food fall out and then put it back. That was the worst.” I wasn’t sure if I wanted to laugh or gag at what he said. “To snorting really loudly and slurping. I got a lot of disgusted looks from the other customers. One actually came up to me and told me if I couldn’t eat in a proper manner in public, I shouldn’t leave my house.” I suppressed a laugh looking at his face. “I think she was about to gag as well. After we ate, I told her that we were going to the race course, but I think she was expecting what we had done. She was a ‘bit surprised’ when we got to a local mud race.” He snickered a bit. “You should have seen her face. It had gone from green to purple. It’s armature racing and the track they race on, well, it’s muddy and after the rain today, everywhere was muddy. She got stuck to the ankles and fell a few times trying to keep up with me. I wish I had taken a picture. She was covered in mud by the time we got to the side of the tracks. We stayed there for awhile, till she asked to go. I thought for sure that she wanted to go home, but when we got to the car, she asked me what was next. I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t have a plan B. The only thing I could think of was to take her to an underground grunge studio and even though she complained about it, she didn’t want to leave.

I left her on her own most of the evening, pretending to flirt with other girls. I ignored her to a point people didn’t even think we were together. When we eventually did leave, she still wanted to do something else. It was getting late and I had to get her home, thankfully.” He took a deep breath, “The evening basically backfired on me. I thought I could get her off my back by showing her, her worst evening ever.” He looked up at me and quietly he spoke again, “And that is not the worst of it.” I took a deep breath, bracing myself for what was about to come. “I stopped in front of her house waiting for her to get out, but she just sat there. I didn’t know what she wanted till she asked why I wasn’t opening her door, like I did for you. I got out doing it. I just wanted the evening done with. When she got out, she kind of grabbed my jacket.” “And?”, I asked, holding my breath. “And she is stronger than she looks.” “ Okay and..?” I needed to breath. “Elly please don’t be angry with me, I promise I did everything I could to make her dislike me.” “Kyle out with it. What happened after she grabbed your jacket?” There was a moment of silence and I knew that the time had come that something really bad was about to be revealed.

He started off slowly, “Well I opened the car and she got out, but she didn’t make a move, she just stood in the car door. Then she pulled my jacket that made me almost topple over onto her.” “Okay we got that part, what happened afterwards?” “Well… me.”

My blood had been boiling, but now it was erupting. I tried to keep a steady face. I tried to remember that he owed me nothing. Not this explanation. Not the knowledge that they had almost kissed, as he put it. “And?”, was all that came out. “And, nothing.” “Something must have happened after she pulled you to kiss her.” “I didn’t kiss her. I pushed away as soon as I could.” “And how long did it take you to push away?” I was raging inside. He had kissed her, no doubt. He must have, if it affected him like it, he just didn’t want to tell me. “Well as soon as I got my balance back, which may have taken a few seconds.”

I didn’t know what to say. That fist I had seen had found it’s mark. Jayde had known that what Kyle had been doing was a ploy to put her off, but she had bided her time to make her move. I hadn’t been sure if she would fall for the act, but to be so aggressive to accost him, even though he wasn’t interested. But it nagged at me that after he realized that what he was doing wasn’t working, why had he not just decided to be upfront with her and take her home? Why draw out the inevitable? The question that I did not want to ask, was, did I believe him.

He knew how I felt about Jayde, it would be easier to tell me she had been the one to try and kiss him. I may be more willing to accept that version than if he had been the one.

Kyle broke my train of thought when he spoke up, “Elly... You do believe me, right?” I wasn’t sure how to answer. I wasn’t sure if I did. He rubbed his hands with his face, closing his eyes, “I’m sorry. I really thought it would work. I overplayed my hand and it backfired on me, now the worst has happened.”

“Kyle, I have no ownership over you. What happened isn’t really any of my business. Why is it so important that I believe you?” “You know why,” he replied. “If this spoils anything between us, I won’t forgive myself for being so arrogant and thinking that playing this game would work.”

Concern still strained at his face and he seemed to be leaning in for confirmation. “Kyle,” I breathed, “I believe, like you say, that you overplayed your hand and what happened, happened.” “Nothing happened Elly, but has it changed anything between us? Can you forgive me for being so stupid?” I smiled at him, no one was without faults, but things always changed. “I can forgive you for being stupid, because we all are stupid at times. And..well things always change.” “But is this for better or worse?” I had been taken aback by my own reaction at what had happened. I didn’t think that it would have affected me so strongly, but I couldn’t allow how I felt to change what I had set out to do. “What I can tell you is that it has not changed it for the worse.” He grabbed my hand, “Elly?” “Kyle it’s going to be okay.” I heard a sound coming from the other side of the house and I wondered if my mom had been woken by our conversation. “I think it’s time we say good night before my mom catches us.” He nodded his head, but made no move to leave. He looked at me and it seemed as if he required more assurance from me. Something came up from the pit of my stomach and I leaned in to kiss his cheek, it was bristly and cold from the night air. As I touched his face with my lips, I felt his fingers move through my hair and his head lean into me.

I moved away, only slightly to be confronted by a deep blue ocean. I knew what they were yearning for, for me to enter and swim in its waves, but I could not. Not tonight of all nights. Not after the knowledge that he had divulged. Before I could move away, he moved, lightly kissing my forehead. “Good night Elly, sweet dreams.” “Good night, sweet dreams to you to,” I replied.

Kyle moved away from the window and watched as I closed and latched it. He only moved when I had drawn the curtains. In the stillness of the night I heard his footsteps crunch on the pavement towards his car and somehow he made the beast silent as he started the car and drove away.

I sat on the edge of my bed listening to the silence of the night, far away I heard a nocturnal bird cry out. There was a volcano in my stomach and I wanted it out. I wanted the lava to overflow and crash over till it had become quiet again and the molten rock had cooled down. I moved to play music and pulled the covers of me, listening to the words, my body melted into the lyrics and I felt myself erupt as the music erupted.

The following morning I woke up earlier than normal. I tried to get ready for my shift without thinking about what Kyle had told me the previous night. I was still not ready to face it, or face anyone with it. I was lucky, the Smoothie Joint was even busier than usual, and so that gave me no time to think on anything. But it all came back to me at the end when I walked out and in front of the store, I saw a tall figure standing against a red beast.

I walked towards it, he had a smile on his face, but there was uncertainty behind it. “Hey Elly, how was your day?” “Good, really busy and yours?” “Quiet, you ready for band practice?” “Yip.” We made our way to my house so that I could shower in silence. It was strange, we always found something to talk about, but today it felt as if nothing could break the silence.

My mind kept going back to what he had told me and different images started popping into my head. Jayde pulling Kyle and him pushing away. Kyle being the one that initiated it, but the worst for me was when she had been the first to make the move, but the realization on his face afterwards that it was actually what he wanted. That image stayed in my head and I couldn’t erase it.

I showered quickly and we were off to his house. The silence continued and so did my thoughts. Even if they didn’t kiss last night, would he change his mind? Would he think it was a mistake to tell me? Would all the aggressive hunting that Jayde did eventually work and then she would have him? Or was he strong enough to keep her away and ignore her? Were men strong enough to resist women that were as aggressive as she was? She wanted what she wanted and it seemed she would go to any lengths to get it.

As we drove through the gates, I noticed that the others had already arrived. Driving up the driveway, Kyle seemed to find his voice. “Elly are we good?” “Good?” “Yeah, after last night. I’m not sure we are.” I felt as if it was an opening for all the questions that were running through my head, but I didn’t know where to begin or what to say. Did I want him to know how it troubled me? This was the first time that I wanted to be ignorant of something. It made everything less complicated. Kyle stopped the car and I tried to smile back at him. “We good,” I lied.

We made our way to the basement and I couldn’t wait for the practice to start. It would mean that I would not have to think about anything other than playing and the music. When it came, it was over too quickly. We had pushed the practice till we were all drained and I opted to leave early and not hang out with the others afterwards.

I was tired and the basement had changed for me. Before it had become a refuge. A place that I met friends and where we could shut out the rest of the world and its nasty parts and still have fun. But my bubble had been pierced with something that seemed to pollute it.

If things went as I feared, Jayde would catch Kyle and the basement would stop being a place where real friends could come together and be carefree. She would bring an essence and friends that she would feel best suited to be around. All of them would be like her.

Being in the band would be a challenge, but it was one thing that I would not allow her to take away from me. She could try and surround Kyle with as much people she approved of, but the band was one thing I would not allow her to touch or try to influence.

With all the drama that had started with Jayde’s entrance to my world, I had almost forgotten that I would be meeting Emily for a movie. It was a small reprieve and break from everything that was happening and I gladly welcomed it. Alice and Ida had insisted on joining us and we decided to make it a real girl's day. After breakfast we had made our way to an early show to see if there was anything good and funny playing. It seemed that we all needed something to make us laugh.

By the time it had finished, our stomachs ached from laughing. The movie was not that funny, but between the four of us, we made it worthwhile for ourselves and the rest of the audience.

Unsure what to do next, we walked aimlessly through the mall. Shopping with our eyes, speaking about general topics. The conversation slowly turned towards relationships. It had been awhile since we had all been together and it felt like a catch up session.

Alice and Malcolm had more than hit it off. It seemed that they were exclusive. He had not as yet come over, but that was all Alice’s decision. She never invited anyone over unless she was more than one hundred percent sure that it was going to work. Which meant that my folks had met very few of the boys she had been interested in.

With Malcolm it seemed different. It seemed that his attitude and personality was rubbing off on her, or maybe it was that her moodiness hardly phased him. It meant that he had a calming effect on her at the end, which was what anyone wanted.

“Poor Stephen. I don’t think I have seen him this confused by the fact that, not one, but two lovely ladies did not fall for his charms immediately,” Emily teased. “Stephen is nice, but his not my type,” Ida replied. “I suppose Ethan is more your type, then…,” Emily winked. Ida blushed, “Maybe.”

“And what about our Elly over here?”, Emily said, suddenly looking at me with penetrating eyes. The same eyes I had seen so many times from Darryl. “Me?” Laughing, she looked at me again, with those same penetrating eye, “Yeah, you. I hear you have spending a lot of time with a particular blue-eyed boy.” I blushed. She continued, “I hear you are not making it easy for him as well.” My blush grew deeper, “I’m not sure what you mean about not making it easy for anyone?” “Come on Elly. You have been spending a lot of time with Kyle and he was very interested in you at my birthday. And afterwards.” “Uhm, well...I’m part of the band that is about it. There is nothing much else to say.” She looked at me, unconvinced. “Really Emily. There’s nothing going on between Kyle and myself. We just friends. We in the same band. That’s it.” I wanted to change the subject quickly.

The night that Kyle had gone out with Jayde had affected me more than I thought it would. It had actually affected me and I wanted to erase that. I wanted to stop thinking about what could have happened and move on. I had made a decision and I needed to stick to it.

I looked back at Emily. She had a look on her face that showed that she wanted a more detailed explanation. I had to think quickly before she brought it up again.

“Emily how is the preparations for the show going?” Surprise flashed across her face, but then a smile emerged. A smile that showed that she knew what I was doing.

“There’s a few bumps, but I’ve ‘employed’ some friends to help.” And so the conversation changed.

After walking the expanse of the mall, we decided to go to Emily’s house. It was still early and between Ida, Alice and myself we didn’t want to go home just yet.

It had been the first time since their birthday that I’d been back to their house. The McDougal’s were out, so the house was left to the four of us. We started off with some pool and slowly made our way to Emily’s room. Looking through her latest sketches, we heard a knock at her door. The red flame and bright smile was unmistakeable.

Darryl entered the room, “If I had known the James’ trio would exalt our presence, I would have come home sooner,” he smiled.

It was a bit strange seeing Darryl after so long. Both exciting and nerve-wrecking, I smiled back at him. I wasn’t sure what his reaction would be. Would we be awkward around each other, or would we fall back into the same routine? We had kept in contact since the last time he was at my home, but neither of us had made a move to see each other again. I knew why I had avoided it. I didn’t want to see what may have been broken between us, but I did not know his reason.

Joining us, he seemed as relaxed as ever. Catching up with everyone and what they had been doing over the break. My anxiety faded as we spoke. It was as if the last month hadn’t happened and it felt good to be around him. I realised how much I had missed having him around.

We all moved downstairs again, this time sitting in the garden. The afternoon sun was warm and it warmed me to my bones as Darryl warmed our hearts with laughter. The conversation turned to the band and how their recording was going. He explained that even though they knew that it would be a time consuming effort to produce their music, it is only when they started, that it became reality.

They had to rethink their strategy and what they would put on the album. Luckily they had a good friend that understood the process better. He worked in the industry and had agreed to help them.

As I listened to Darryl explain, I was taken aback by all the work that went into making music.

A slight breeze moved passed us and it seemed to wake my body from a dream. The sun was setting, shading the sky in reds, oranges and blues. Darryl and I were the only ones left on the Lapa. I had not noticed when the others had left, which surprised me a bit. I looked back at Darryl and it seemed that his head was set alight by the setting sun. He had a smile on his face that I had not seen in a long time. It was a smile of peace and contentment. I smiled back, with nothing to say.

Another breeze moved passed and this time it moved my body to shiver slightly. “You cold? Do you want to move inside?” His face had changed to concern. I shook my head slightly, “Not just yet. It’s a slight breeze and it’s lovely outside.” The concern vanished from his face, “It is, isn’t it..?”

There was another silence, but there was no awkwardness. It was that type of silence that was comforting. We didn’t need to say anything to make the other person feel at ease.

We sat like that for awhile, when Darryl quietly spoke up, “So you still haven’t invited me over to see the new addition to your family..” I looked at him confused, “New addition?” “Your new electric…I still have not seen it.” “Oh,... I wasn’t sure,... well.” I wasn’t sure what to say. It was easier not to see him, than to invite him over and realise that he didn’t need my friendship anymore. Or worse. That we were so out of sync with each other, that it felt like we were strangers.

His face changed slightly and I knew that there was disappointment behind it, “It’s okay…” “Darryl… It’s not that I didn’t…” I had feared a day like today and I realised how silly I had been. But I had still been scared. “Really, Elly. I understand. After what you said…” “No, you don’t understand… I was..,” I breathed a bit, trying to find the words. I had to admit it. I had to admit it to him. No lies. No playing games, like I had promised.

“I was scared,” I eventually replied. Looking up I saw a face that looked incredulous, “Scared of what?” “Scared that things would not be the same…” He moved closer, “Elly, that’s silly.” “Really? Why? After everything that was said, was it really silly thinking that things could have changed that much.” I was looking up at him, this time it was me that was searching for something. There was warmth that came from him. He looked at me with a mask of calmness and serenity. His hair was flames fuelled by his hazel eyes.

There were no questions in his look, only answers that I wished he would share with me. A small smile formed on his lips, “I have to confess something….I was just as silly...I wasn’t sure if things would be the same either. I wasn’t sure that you wanted me around.” “That’s stupid. I do. You have become one of my closest friends. I can’t imagine not having you around.” The edge of his lips climbed up his face, “I feel the same way about you.”

He came closer and I could feel warmth emanating from him, “Elly, there is so much I want, wanted to tell you.” “Like what?” There was another silence. This time it felt more like there was an invisible bundle of something between us. His eyes shifted down, “ how things were going with the band and the production of the album.” “Well you have time now…,” I replied. He seemed to be unsure of what he wanted to say, “And.. I wanted to ask you about your electric…” “I can tell you about it now to,” I looked at him, confused at why he sounded so unsure about asking questions that he should know I would freely answer. “And I wanted to know how the job at the Smoothie Joint was going.” I laughed, “Darryl, what is it? These are all questions that you know I would answer, what you so nervous about….?” He looked away, but he was close enough that I could hear his breathing. It was low and raspy. “I also wanted to know what your decision was about doing the opening act…” So that was where this was leading to. “Well..we decided that it would be a great idea...and I’m excited.” Confusion had flashed on his face, but just as instantly there was a smile again, “Well I’m excited about your talent show as well. You know you still owe me tickets. I have a list of who wants to go, or did you forget about that?” I laughed, “Not at all, not with Chloë around.”

Winter was coming to an end, even though it fought hard to keep hold of the earth, but every now and again one would feel the spring fight back. Tonight was one of those nights. The sun had just set and there was an icy chill to the night air, but it wasn’t too cold to continue sitting outside. We had moved some comfy chairs to the fire pit and Emily had brought some blankets to warm us further.

We sat around the fire, with large mugs of hot drinks, speaking about whatever came to mind. At some point Darryl and I found ourselves deserted by the others again.

“So Elly, you have been practicing so much, have you developed just as much calluses as I have.” “I’m not will have to see,” I replied. “Feel you mean,” he looked at me with his head cocked to one side. “Okay, okay..I mean feel,” I said, rolling my eyes in mock irritation.

He moved to sit closer, resting my legs that I had on the chair, over his lap. He lifted my hand to check the rough parts. “Your hand feels like ice,” he said, rubbing it warm and blowing over it. When it seemed that he was satisfied that it had been warmed enough. He felt the tips, “Well it seems it's getting close,” he said inspecting it like some artisan that was inspecting a product they had just completed. “Well I hope so. I’ve been playing almost every minute I can.” He looked up smiling, “Just practicing or playing on your own time?” He held onto my hand, rubbing over the hard parts as if he was trying to rub the hardened skin away. “Both. I’m trying to play what I hear in my head as well. Just playing as it comes.” He looked down at my hand again, “That’s good,” he murmured, bringing my hand up to his face, “it’s when you enjoy it the most. Playing what comes from inside and not what is predetermined. Your hands are really cold,” he said as he put it against his cheek and covering it with his own hand.

I looked at him, my hand against his cheek, not sure if I had to move it and not wanting to at the same time. “Do you lose yourself in playing, when you do play that way,” he asked looking up at me. “I do,” I replied, feeling my heart starting to beat faster, “it has become my coping mechanism.” I blushed, embarrassed at admitting it. My hand started feeling like it was on fire against his cheek and I could feel sentiments returning. It was the same feeling I had the day I sat next to him at his window. “I know what you mean. It seems your hand is warming up now,” he said, still holding it against his cheek, “a little while longer and yours will be as rough as mine,” he smiled. Holding it, he moved it away from his cheek, but it was millimetres from his face. He turned his face towards it and kissed the tip of the pointer finger. As he did, it felt like an electric bolt moved from that spot to every part of my body.

I heard a noise behind us. We both looked up to see Emily and my sisters coming out of the house. I looked back towards Darryl, whose eyes were on me. My hand moved involuntarily, but he still held it. He smiled slightly and kissed the palm gently putting it down before they had left the patio, but he did not move away. He rested his hands on my legs. My mind raced around what had just happened. Why had he kissed my finger and my palm? What would he have done if Emily and the rest had not come out? By the time they reached the chairs, my heart was in my stomach and I could feel the heat had risen to my cheeks.

Trying very hard not to look at Darryl directly, I tried to see what his expression was. He looked as if nothing had happened, but there was a dark blush to his cheeks. I put my hand under the blanket, trying to hide the guilty part away and keep my breathing as normal as possible. All along I wondered about what had just happened. I wasn’t upset by it, but I was confused.

He still sat close and I could smell him. His hands on my legs, as they rested over his, he made distinguishable patterns on them. Patterns that I followed, but what they made was unthinkable. It made it hard to calm down after what had happened, but I didn’t want to leave at the same time.

I watched the others, as it seemed they were blissfully unaware of my predicament. Lifting the blankets, I covered myself as much from the cold, as from the others.

My mind was a whirlpool of thoughts. I didn’t know what to make of what was happening, what had happened. Something deep down started to bubble up. It had a familiar feeling to it, as if it was some knowledge that I had from before. I tried to remember what it was, but it escaped me every time I reached for it.

The fire was warm and the blanket felt ‘snuggly’. My mind drifted and I could feel my eyes becoming heavier. Images floated around. Images I had seen before. Images that had been in my dreams. My finger tips feeling warm. My cheeks feeling warm. My lips feeling warm.

I woke up to my sister softly moving my shoulders, “Elly. It’s time to go.” As I slowly opened my eyes, the first thing that I noticed was that I was not outside anymore.

“Hey sis. How did I get here…,” I said stretching on what felt like a very comfortable sofa. “Darryl carried you up after you fell asleep outside,” Ida replied as she helped me move up straight. An unmistakeable smell wafted through the room. Darryl walked in smiling, “It seems ‘Sleeping Beauty’ has awakened and I thought I would be the lucky one to wake her with a kiss.” I blushed at his words. I wasn’t sure if he was teasing me the way he always did or if there was something else behind it. My mind was groggy, but I still remembered what happened before I fell asleep, very clearly.

“Well at least you didn’t have to go through that and take the risk of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ turning into the ‘Frog Princess’,“ I replied, trying to calm myself down. “I think it would be more taking the risk of kissing a frog hoping he turned into a ‘Prince’.” “But there is no risk there,” I said. “And why is that?” he replied his eyes narrowing curiously. “Because there is no frog, just a prince,” I replied without thinking of what I said. As they were spoken, the colour on Darryl’s cheeks rose and he had the same look on his face that he had when we had sat at the fire pit. The look of determination that I did not understand. It caught my breath for a second and I realised that my sister was still with us. Trying to find my shoes, I hoped that it would give me enough time to regroup.

Gathering everyone at the front of the door, Alice moved us along to leave. As always it took just as long to say goodbye to the McDougal’s as it did to say hello. Darryl and I always seemed to greet each other last, ‘saving the best’...we had joked before.

This time I gave him a hug without feeling like there was a gulf between us, “So will you be inviting me to see your new electric?” “You know you don’t need an invitation…”I replied. “I just wanted to make sure,” he looked at his feet. “You busy these days. I wasn’t sure if you would be able to fit me in.” “You just need to send me a message and I will tell you if I have a shift or not.” “But what about your practicing?” “We practiced a lot this holiday, missing one day won’t be a train smash or... you can always join us. See what your opening act would be like…” He looked up at me, but there was something there. He was unsure of something, I could sense that, but there was something else as well. “That’s actually a very good idea,” he replied at the end. “Well how about settling it now. We have a practice again tomorrow and Chloë and I have to go through a few kinks in our performance as well. So you will get a preview of both. How does that sound?” He smile was broad, “That sounds like a very good idea…” “Hey Elly, it's about time to go before mom has all our heads on a plate,” Ida called back at me. I made my way to the car. It had been comforting being with Emily and Darryl today and it seemed that my fears that my friendship with Darryl would have disappeared was for nothing. I still wondered about why Darryl had acted the way he had, though.

When we got home, we spoke to my mom about the day's activities and then I made my way to bed.

As I lay in the dark, my mind kept wandering to the time that Darryl and I sat at the fire. I replayed the entire scene in my head over and over. The way I felt, they way he looked. The one question kept coming up. He had kissed the tip of my finger. What would he have done if we had not been interrupted. He then kissed the palm of my hand, but that had not been his first intention. That was certain, but even that. Why had he done that. Why would he kiss the palm of my hand for no reason? And the way he had made me feel. I remember how I felt before. I remember knowing instinctively that it would be a bad idea for our friendship if I had stayed on the window seat. I had thought that it was some weird fancy I had gone through. I had thought that by the time I saw him again that it would have disappeared. But it had not, whatever I had felt that day felt just as strong.

It was different to what I felt with Kyle. With him it always felt as if there was a volcano that was about to explode. I was always deeply unsure of my actions. I was split in the middle, always fighting myself. With Darryl there was no real fighting myself. It just was. I just couldn’t allow myself to win. There was Anne. Or was there?

He had said nothing about her, but if they were still together, would he have acted the way he had? They must still be together. Neither he, nor Emily had said anything to the contrary. But why had he kissed my hand? Why did he make me feel the way I did. My heart was racing again just remembering it. The knowledge that I had been unable to grasp earlier was coming closer and when I grabbed it, it pushed me back with a force. I felt more for Darryl than I had allowed myself to know. Much more than anything I had ever felt before. I didn’t know what to call it, but it was definitely more than close friendship. It posed a problem.

I knew what Kyle wanted and as much as I wanted to ignore it, even though I had set boundaries, I was attracted to him. And what about Anne? If they were still together, there was no way I could allow myself to feel anything for Darryl beyond friendship. I had to abandon any thoughts or feelings I had about him, about us immediately. I had wanted things to be uncomplicated, but it seemed I always walked into a spider's web….The thoughts tired me and I fell asleep still trying to figure out what I could do to try and uncomplicated it.

After my shift, I walked out to find Kyle waiting as usual. “Hey Elly. How was your day?” “Good,” I replied. “ And yesterday? How is Emily and Darryl doing?” “They good.” “Just good?”, his question sounded deeper than what the words conveyed. “Yeah, they asked about our practicing. I hope you don’t mind I invited Darryl over to watch us play.” As I explained it to him, I suddenly wondered if it would be a good idea to have invited him over.

“I don’t mind at all. I think it’s a good idea that Darryl see for himself how well we work together. I think he will be surprised seeing how in sync we actually are and what good music we make together.” As he spoke I wondered if he was still speaking about the band.

We arrived at the same time as the others and seconds later, I saw Darryl’s car coming up the driveway. Waiting for everyone at the steps, I noticed that Kyle was standing close to me, closer than usual. This had definitely not been a good idea.

Darryl greeted everyone, but his eyes moved over the two of us and there was a questioning look. I quickly moved to greet him.

I had not worked out what I was going to do, but I did not want to add the complications by allowing him to think that Kyle and I were closer than we were.

“Are you ready to see us at work?”, I asked hoping that it would change the question that was on his face. He looked down, “Always ready to watch you play,” he said, smiling.

We moved to the basement and there was the obvious pairing off of John and Chloë. Emily had decided to join us and she sat with Ethan. As I sat down I saw two figures making their way towards me. Kyle and Darryl sat at either side of me and I felt like Sweden for a time being.

Kyle was the first to say something, “So Darryl how is the recording going and preparations for the concert….?” “It’s going well. We almost at the end now, but we lucky we don’t have to look for illustration for the album. We had one even before we actually started recording, ” with that he looked and smiled towards me.” “Really?” “Yeah. Elly’s birthday present was so perfect, I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if we got someone else to do it.” Kyle looked confused, “Birthday present?” There was a smile on Darryl’s face that looked like satisfaction, “Yeah. She did a full cover for us. It looks amazing and it’s perfect.” Kyle smiled, but it seemed more of a challenge, “Well that’s Elly. I don’t think she can do anything without it being perfect.” “I agree,” Darryl retorted.

They spoke as if I wasn’t in the room, let alone sitting in the middle, between them and as they spoke they seemed to move closer to me. Or was it closer to each other. There was an air of tension, even though they smiled at each other. I immediately stood up, wanting to get away from what seemed to be on coming storm, “Hey guys, don’t you think we should get ready and practice?”

Kyle looked at me and his skew smile reached his one ear, “That is a very good idea. It is about time that Darryl sees how good his opening band will be.”

We set up and did a few sound checks first and when we were ready, Kyle came up to me. “We going to start with something different today. You know the last song we have been practicing the last few days, the new one?” “Yeah?” “I think that is the best one to start off with today, it's a nice introduction, don’t you think?” I wondered why he wanted to start off with it. It was new, but we had not agreed that it would be one of the ones we would play.

The lyrics were amazing and it was astounding to think how gifted Kyle was to be so poetic. The song was a story of finding someone that made you a better person. The frustration of holding yourself back when all you felt was overwhelming you every second that it felt that you would burst. It started off quietly with Kyle singing while I played. He came close to me, his voice was soft, but husky. It gave me goose bumps to hear him sing and even though I had heard it before it still brought a blush to my cheeks. Ethan and John came in at the chorus, but it was subdued. As the song developed it became more intense. Kyle seemed to be taken in by the music and the lyrics. The intensity in his eyes heightened and I knew that if there was anyone that could see it up close, they would be hypnotized immediately. The last chorus seemed to explode and it seemed that what he brought out, exploded with it. The last verse finished off on the same tone and rhythm as the first.

I smiled at him. He always seemed to live the lyrics he sang and I knew that anyone who watched would be able to feel what he conveyed.

I looked towards Darryl and it seemed that he felt the same way I did and more. There was that same concentrated look on his face I had seen before. It normally happened when he was trying to figure out something. From where I stood, I could see an intense look in his eyes. It moved between Kyle and myself and I wondered what he was thinking.

I needed to change the feel of the music and the atmosphere that seemed to fogging up the room. I suggested one of our more light-hearted lively songs.

I watched Darryl as I played, that look was still there, just a little less consuming. We continued to play and the earnest look he had vanished a bit more with each song. A smile started to form over his lips and I knew that whatever he was thinking was still there, but now he was enjoying listening to us.

We finished the thirty minute set we had decided on and made our way back to the couches. Before I could sit, I felt Kyle’s hand on my shoulder, “So what do you think of our performance?” He had stopped me in front of Darryl so that he had to look up at the two of us. “It was really good. You have a really good sound,” Darryl looked between the two of us again and that look seemed to intensify as before. “We have Elly to thank for that,” Kyle smiled as he looked down at Darryl. “It seems she was what we needed to bring everything together.” Kyle looked back at Ethan and John for confirmation, “Right guys?” They nodded their agreement. “Well that’s really awesome. She would make a perfect addition to any band,” Darryl replied. They were speaking about me as if I was not in the room again. I spoke up, “Darryl you haven’t been able to inspect my new electric, and do you want to try it?” He looked up at me. The intensity weakened and a smile developed, “That would be awesome. Thank you.”

He got up, moving towards it, “You going to join me?” “Oh okay,” I replied. I didn’t have to look at Kyle to know that his expression had changed. I heard him breathe out loudly and his hand dropped from my shoulder.

“So Elly, you really coming into your own with Kyle and the band.” “Yeah. It feels good to play with them,” I replied. “I’ve wanted to kick myself for not being the first one to ask you, now I want someone to kick me as well,” he laughed, but it wasn’t an amused laugh. “Darryl, Blue Lava is leagues ahead of where I am. It would have been too stressful to try and catch up to you and the level you play at.” “I don’t think so…,” He looked from the corner of his eyes as we came to the instruments. “I’m comfortable with Ethan and John. They haven’t been playing so long together that makes it intimidating. I would love to play with Blue Lava, but not now, when I feel more experienced.”

He didn’t look at me as I tried to explain, but there was an expression of disappointment on his face, “So when you feel more promise?” “I promise,” I replied.

“She’s a really beauty,” he said as he picked up my guitar, “how did you choose her?” “She spoke to me,” I smiled.

I told him about how my mom had surprised me and how I had gone through a whole range, trying to find the right fit. But when I tried ‘Blue Mystique’, she had felt right and she was beautiful. “Play, she just feels out of this world. She looks the part too,” I giggled.

Flexing his fingers he started to strum. It was soft at first, then he started playing a tune that I recognised. It was the one that had he asked me to accompany him on his birthday. I smiled, remembering how it felt to play that night. The colours that had shone out and reached the audience. The lights that had fallen like soft, glowing snowflakes to the ground.

I had missed him, that I knew, but I really missed hearing him play. It was like drifting into another world. An enchanted world with nymphs and faes, blue sparkling lights in the midnight as they made music on instruments from their world. He had taken me to the world with his sound.

Kyle had come up towards us, without me noticing and when Darryl had finished, he made his presence known, “She’s a real beaut…” Darryl looked up as if he had been woken from a trance, and the expression suddenly changed. “She is…”

For a moment there was silence, when we heard a phone ring. Darryl stared at up at Kyle for a while and then realised it was his phone that was ringing.

As he took it out of his pocket he looked at the number and the expression on his face changed again, but this time to dismay. He stood up, walking away from us and answered it, “Hey Anne.”

The world seemed to shatter into a million shards. It had been too perfect.

Kyle sat down next to me, “So, you think that the main act thinks that the opening act can pull it off?” “Yeah, I think Darryl feels good about us opening for him.” “That’s good,” he looked towards Darryl. I looked in his direction as well. He had an irritated look on his face and a flash of anger passed over it. He was speaking in hushed tones, his side towards us.

“So what do you think that is about?”, Kyle said speaking suddenly, at that moment Darryl turned to look our way. I felt embarrassed, he had to know we were speaking about him. “Not sure,” I replied. “Trouble?” “I wouldn’t know. But things aren’t perfect all the time. A relationship takes work,” I replied. I was starting to get irritated that Kyle was fishing for information that I didn’t have and that I would not even relate to him if I did. “Well that one is a lot of work, maybe more than it’s worth.” I looked at Kyle, shocked at his statement about Anne. All relationships were work and maybe some people were more work than others, but it did not mean it was not with it...even if it was Anne.

Still stunned by Kyle’s remark, I saw Darryl walking towards us. I wasn’t sure what to do or say. He must know that we had picked up that the conversation was not a good one. I smiled as he walked towards us, racking my brain for a subject that would not touch on what just happened.

He was the one to speak first thought, “Elly, you said that you and Chloë are going to practice as well. Do you mind pausing that for a little bit? I just have to run out. I shouldn’t be too long?” “No problem,” I replied. “Where you off to in such a rush?”, Kyle asked. I ground my teeth, wanting to leave their presence. I could guess where he was going to, but I would not ask him outright. “Anne wants to join us...So I’m going to fetch her, quickly,” Darryl replied. I smiled, but got up quickly, “I’ll let Chloë know.”

Anne, why Anne? It had been so perfect, up until now. I suppose I had to reconcile myself to the idea that there would never be a time that there would be no Anne. Anne was irritating and annoying. Anne was rude and there was no way I could let Darryl know that Anne was not for him. The cherry on the cake would be if Jayde had to appear now. I immediately looked towards the steps hoping I had not thought the words into being. Seeing that there was no legs moving down, I let out a soft breath, which was a small sigh of relief. I made my way back to the couch and realised when I sat down that Kyle had followed closely.

After everything that happened the previous night, I had wondered, no, I had hoped that there was no Anne. Whatever sentiments had re-emerged, I would have to erase it once and for all. It was no use having them.

I let Chloë know what Darryl had asked and as he left, it felt as if something was leaving with him. No matter what had happened the previous night, it didn’t matter. My questions about how I would deal with it was null and void if he was still with Anne. There was only one path in front of me. To utterly and completely erase anything I felt for Darryl.

I felt like I was turning into mush inside and I wanted to run and hide, but where could I go? So I bit back everything that I felt and swallowed the bile in my mouth. I would have to endure it.

I took a deep breath and let it out. “Is everything okay Elly?, I turned seeing Kyle looking at me, there was concern on his face and his eyes were miles deep. I smiled weakly, “Yeah. I’m good.” “Okay…You thirsty? I feel for some hot chocolate, you want some?” “Yeah..Chocolate sounds good. I’ll help.” Most everyone agreed to have the same and we made our way back upstairs to the kitchen.

The motions of making the drinks were monotonous and there was no need to think. It helped me start erasing everything I felt. Or at least to put it in a box to burn later.

“Elly, you sure you okay?”, Kyle still had a concerned look on his face. “Yeah, why you ask?”, I replied, worried that if he could see that I was not okay, who else could. “You just so...quiet and you had a slight change of mood.” “Slight change?” “Yip. Not big enough to make people worry, but there is a difference.” “Uhm..there’s nothing to worry about. No change,” I replied. He had noticed and if he had…

“Elly, please don’t cover it up. There is something wrong, what is it?” “Kyle..don’t worry about it okay.” Kyle stood looking at me for awhile, his eyes narrowed, “It’s about Anne and Darryl, isn’t it.” I swallowed hard and clenched my teeth trying not showing anything on my face.

“Elly I’m not blind. I just wanted you to tell me before I spoke up, but you a hard nut to crack when it comes to opening up.” “What are you speaking about,” I replied. He took a deep breath, but it was neither out of frustration or irritation, it was like he had made himself ready for something and now he had to do it. “Remember the time at the café when I told you that there had been those that had missed their opportunity…?” “Yes,” I replied, nervous at what he was about to reveal. “Didn’t you ever wonder who I was speaking about?” “No, not really..” He looked down smiling, “I was worried that if I had revealed too much of what I saw, that I would lose you forever.” He stopped and then looked at me, squinting a bit as if he was weighing something in his mind, “ but to be true to you is more important and has more worth, I think.” He smiled looking away, but there was no joy behind it, “I had an idea why you drew a line between us,” he looked back at me, his blue eyes were like the ocean.

He took another deep breath. Every time he did that now, it was if he was trying to get enough air into his lungs.“ It was about Darryl.” I wanted to protest, but he put his hand up, “Please let me finish.” I put my lips together again. “The connection between the two of you was like a light and even if the both of you didn’t realize it at that time, it was noticeable and there was something that was coming to the surface.” “What do you mean?” “That you were, are in love with each other.” It felt like a huge wave had hit me, all those emotions came flooding back, but this time it felt like I was being annihilated and being born again. I was happy and sad at the same time. I swallowed hard, trying the swallow them back from where they had come. I kept quiet, scared that if I opened my mouth I would reveal too much.

How could he know? How could he think that Darryl felt the same for me that I did for him? “You don’t believe me? I would be lying if I didn’t hope that it would help me, but it’s true. The two of you have been like planets orbiting each other. Gravity attracting them and keeping them apart.” “But Darryl has a girlfriend. I don’t know how you can think he feels anything more for me than simple friendship.” “Elly, I am not blind and yes he has a girlfriend and that is most possibly the reason why Darryl has not allowed his true feelings to surface, the same like you.” I didn’t know how to respond to what he was telling me. It was unbelievable. Maybe he could see that I had deeper feelings for Darryl, it’s something that I had become aware of myself, but Darryl?

I let out a deep breath, it seemed as if everyone saw things I had been blind to. “Then I’m not as hard to read as you say, if you could see that.” “It was harder than you think. I always thought that the two of you were so close because of the music, the way you played together, was,” he paused, “ I suppose I can only describe it as magical, but it was the small little things. The way you lit up at hearing his name. How you never spoke about him, even though you got so close, but when someone else mentioned him your ears would peak, but you would fain interest. You were so excited about doing the opening act, but so uncertain about it as well and I could tell it had nothing to do with playing in front of an audience. It wasn’t only about him, it was about me to.” He paused again, taking another deep breath.

“You always seemed to be fighting with yourself. We have had so much fun together. We get along. You know I’m attracted to you and I know you are attracted me, but there was always something holding you back. The first time it seemed as if you would just let it be and stop fighting was…,” his breathing had become shallow as if he was trying to restrain himself. I looked at him, but he refused to look at me, he looked at the cups that were in front of us. “When did it look as if I stopped fighting?” He slowly looked up at me, there was a storm brewing behind those deep, blue eyes. He took a deep breath and stood straighter than usual. His stance was as if he was ready to take whatever assault he had to face, “When I had been late contacting you after I had been with Jayde.”

There was a silence. I could not deny that it had affected me and that it had been a time that the scales leaned towards him. He still stood stiff, “I know it’s wrong, but it felt good that you were upset by it. When you kissed my cheek….,” he melted as he said the words, “I began to think that maybe, just maybe I had a chance. That you would want this as much as I did.” He looked away at the mugs on the counter again. I was stunned into silence.

“Darryl was an idiot.” He spoke again, but quieter this time, “Darryl was an idiot,” he seemed to be speaking more to himself than me, “he must have had so many chances to make you his and he let them pass him by without taking the chance.” I started thinking about the night of the concert when we had got home and the day when we had gone to his house, sitting at the window. The day I gave his guitar back. Last night……

Kyle was right about there being so many opportunities for him to tell me how he felt.

Kyle started quietly again, “Anne had pursued him, for the same reasons any of the girls I had been caught up with before had dated me.” The clouds of the storm started moving closer together, “He doesn’t even see that he is just a stepping stone. She is waiting for the next best thing to come along that she can attach to,” he looked at me, “ she tried it with me before she met him, but I had known girls like her.”

That intensity of the storm radiating from those blue eyes doubled and tripled, “He had you and he let you go.”

If everything was true that Kyle was saying then Darryl had let me go, but he had a girlfriend, I had to respect that and I could do nothing about it.

But did he even know that I felt the same way about him. He had to know. If Kyle knew, surely he did as well. But he had chosen Anne, no matter what type of person she was, or what Kyle said she was, he had chosen her and I had to live with that.

“Why then has no one warned him or spoken to him about it, if you or his friends are true friends, why don’t you warn him then?” Kyle’s eyes were penetrating and serious. “Well Malcolm warned him that Anne was someone that enjoyed climbing ladders, but she is that type of person that only shows a certain part of her personality, until it’s too late. Darryl, well Darryl thinks that there is a good side to everyone. To a fault at times. Anne shows him the side that keeps him loyal to her. If he had ever allowed himself to really feel for you the way he does, he would feel guilty because it dishonoured her. Not like she thinks of him that way.”

I moved to one of the high chairs. What Kyle had said was overwhelming and after last night, hearing him speak to her and now this. I was even more confused than before. If he would do nothing to dishonour her, did he really have feelings toward me, what did last night mean?

My insides were all messed and I didn’t know what to do.

I felt my chair being slowly turned around, “Elly, will there ever be a chance for us? I know what you said about being in the same band, but it seemed you changed your mind or at least you were considering it.” He looked at me, the storm still behind those blue eyes, but there was a pleading look on his face. I didn’t know how to explain it. How do I tell him that right now it felt wrong. That I knew it was stupid and wrong to feel the way I did, but I still did. How do I explain that a part of me wanted it, but there was a part that wanted something else.

I eventually spoke up, “Kyle, there’s just too much..I don’t know where to start….And you, make me nervous. There is a danger about being with you and I don’t know what it is yet. I feel like I’m flying close to a flame and if I fly any closer I am going to get burned.” He looked astonished. “I’m sorry. It’s just there's so many things going on and I feel I need to clear my head before things between us could go any further.” Calmness suddenly came over him and something entered his eyes. His free hand moved to cup my chin, “I understand. You need time and I won’t push,” he had that skew smile, “but I can’t promise that I won’t try and show you why I’m the better man.” “Please don’t. Don’t waste your time.” “It won’t be a waste of time Elisa.” There was nothing else I could say for now.

For a time I was lost in another world. I had been transported from Kyle’s house to place that was everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It was as if I was awake in a dream world that had nothing and everything in it.

“Elly, I’m sorry.” I looked up at Kyle and the blue was clear again. The storm had dissipated. “I couldn’t keep quiet anymore, but because of my impassiveness, I’ve hurt you.” From somewhere I seemed to be able to pull together a weak smile, “You didn’t hurt me. You just gave me the reality of the situation. I have been in denial about so many things for so long and it’s about time I open my eyes and walk my own way, instead of being lead.” Kyle pulled me up to stand and I looked into his chest, lifting my head, he quietly spoke, “I told you before and I will tell you again, I am your friend and I will be here if you need me, for anything.” I took a deep breath and I felt something leaking.

I tightened whatever it was as quickly as possible, but it made me weak. Kyle pulled me towards him and all I could do was lay my head against his chest. I did not have the strength to push him away and hold back what flood seemed to be pushing against the gates inside me.

We stood there for awhile before I could finally pull myself together and away from him, “I think everyone is probably wondering where there drinks are. We should take it them before a search party is sent out.” “You sure?” “Yeah,” I nodded.

We made our way back to the basement and while I was drinking my hot chocolate I heard footsteps behind me. Kyle was next to me and as soon as he heard, he squeezed my knee. I smiled at him, feeling safe in his presence. He knew, but he didn’t push me into a direction and he didn’t ask me what my decision was. It was comforting.

I didn’t look back to see who it was, but I didn’t have to. Darryl and Anne made their way to the couches and I looked up slightly to greet enough to be diplomatic.

They sat across us, but there was a distance between them that was strange for anyone that was in a relationship. I refused to ponder on the thought.

“So Darryl and Anne,” Kyle spoke up, “you ready to see a bit of Elly and Chloë’s retinue?” “Yes we are,” Darryl responded, but there was a look on his face. I refused to look to close to it, to try and figure it out. I needed to move on as soon as possible, this wasn’t easy, seeing him. Being confronted so soon with the way I felt about him as well as what the reality was.”

Chloë jumped up and we made our way to the stage. While she did a few stretches, I got my guitar in tune. I had wanted to keep using the acoustic, but she had convinced me that it would sound so much better with the electric.

“One, two…..”

As I started playing it felt as if all the chains that had been tightening around me had fallen off. The frustration, the hurt, the confusion moved through my body without restraint. I lost myself in it. The only thing that kept me grounded was watching Chloë to keep track of what we were doing. I played and played and I knew if I had not played, I would have broken.

We did the first stretch and fine tuned a bit, and played a bit, and fine tuned some more. Doing that made me unaware of everything around me. When we had finished all those emotions that had wanted to come bursting out had subdued themselves for a later time. A better time.

We made our way back to the couches and walking past Darryl and Anne did not hurt as much as it had before. Sitting next to Kyle again, I seemed to hide behind him. For now he was my escape, my cave that I could hide away from everything that I did not want to confront right now.

The conversation was still and I hardly spoke, just listening to what was being said around me, but not hearing it either. I wanted to crawl into bed and hide away forever.

It was Darryl that spoke first, “So Elly, when is the talent show. You have not given a date as yet.” I looked up at him, a bit stunned out of a dream, “It’s the in the second month after school restarts, I think.” I looked at Chloë for help. “Yeah. The tickets only go on sale from the day we go back to school,” she replied. “Good, so I can give you my order right now and I’ll have it the first weekend you back?” he looked directly at me and it was both a challenge and a question. “Yeah,” is all I could reply. Did I still want him there…

I needed to find a way to leave, but it was too early to say that I needed to be home. Somehow Kyle had felt what I was thinking. “Elly are you ready to leave. You mom asked you to help her this evening,” he looked at me with certainty. “Yeah,” I replied, unsure of what else to do. “Good thing I reminded you or you would have forgotten,” he said with a slight smile. It was not his usual sexy, come-hither one. It was just sincere. “Yeah thanks,” I replied again. “Sorry guys, I got to go. I totally forgot.” I moved to get my things when I saw Darryl, his face showed that he knew more than he let on. I moved past Anne, “Nice seeing you again. Enjoy.” I hugged everyone else and made my exit as quickly as I could without seeming as if I was running.

When we had gotten to Kyle’s car, I leaned against it, taking in a huge gulp of air. “Thanks,” I said as I came up again, “I don’t know how you knew, but thanks.” He smiled, “You lasted alot longer than most people would, but I didn’t think you could handle anymore after Darryl started asking about the talent show.” “You were right on that one.”

Leaving his home felt like leaving behind a chapter in my life that I would never be able to rewrite. I wasn’t only leaving his home behind, I was leaving something else that had been important to me. As I watched the scenery unfold on the way home, I knew deep down that things between Darryl and myself would never be the same again. I had the epiphany that I had always been in love with him, but it was something that could never be more. No matter what I felt for him, or what Kyle thought he felt for me, there was one reason that it did not matter. Anne.

And then there was Kyle, who could argue against what he was. Almost perfect. A bit pushy at times, overzealous at others. Who would not want someone like him. He was good looking, he was charming, he was romantic, and he was confident and intelligent. He made my blood boil and he was here, if I wanted, he could be mine. I wondered how things would have been if I had met him before Darryl. Would I feel this same apprehension at giving in to what he wanted? What caused my apprehension? A one sided whimsical feeling. Would I need time to think about taking up that invitation that he offered on a silver platter? Yes, I was stupid, probably very stupid, but I hadn’t met him first and I couldn’t deny how I felt now.

I watched the lights move past the car in a blur as we made our way home and when we stopped, I realised it was not only because we had been moving that it was like that. Before Kyle had made his way to my door, I had tried to wipe off as much of the damp as possible. I was glad that it was dark and that he would not be able to see anything as long as I did not look directly at him. In silence we made our way up the driveway and when we got to the door, I tried to hide from him, but he would not let me. “Elly, you going to be okay?” “Yeah, I am. Just a bit too much info for one day. That’s all.” He pulled his mouth to one side as if not believing me, but trying not to say he knew I pretending. “Anytime. If you want to speak. Day or night, or midnight or after. You can call me.” “I know. Thank you.” He reached up and dried the one small stream I had missed and then kissed my forehead.

I was glad that when I opened the door, I realised that no one was home. Kyle made sure that I was safe before he left, but I was relieved that no one had been home to see my state.

Sitting on the edge of my bed, with no one around it became very clear how still everything was. There was no sound to be heard, but for the humming coming from outside, from whatever car moved along a far off route.

I looked around and it felt that I hadn’t been in my room for years. Everything looked different. It was all in the same place that it had been this morning when I left. It looked no different to what it had been a year ago. The same colours, the same pictures, the same decor, but it didn’t feel like my room, it felt like the room of someone else.

I looked around as if trying to make sure that the things in it truly belonged to me. There was my Thunder Cats figurine, the one that Jack loved. There was the first newspaper that Chloë and I had written for the school, framed against the wall. There was a trophy from one of the soccer matches where I had scored the only goal. My dad had been so proud and excited.

Everything was mine, I could put a memory to every piece in the room. My eyes moved across taking in everything, remembering everything. Then it rested on a case. And it felt like memories came rushing forward. My last birthday. My breath got caught in my throat. The funeral. I swallowed hard, trying hard to push back all those feelings that felt like it wanted to come rushing out with the memories.

Hospitals. Everything felt like it was pushing against a gate, trying to get out.

When our parents had sat us down to tell us the news. I felt as if couldn’t breathe, there was no air in the room.

My dad playing music and taking turns dancing with all of us. The hinges on the gate were about to give way. I gasped for breath. I could feel the blood throbbing in my head. Groaning I moved forward to put my head between my legs and then the hinges broke. There, next to the case use to be another case. A case that had held something that was beautiful, that belonged to someone that was beautiful.

Far away I heard myself moan aloud, like a cat in a trap. It all came out and it felt like I was going over a waterfall. I was drowning, trying to swim to the surface to catch a breath of air between sobs. There was so many currents, despair, loss, anger, distress, confusion. They kept knocking against each other and pulling me down at the same time. So many questions went through my head.

Why couldn’t life be simple and quiet? Why did we have to lose those we loved? Why did we have to go through pain? Why had my dad been taken from us? We missed him. I missed him. I needed to speak to him. I needed to tell him what an idiot I was. I wanted to tell him how confused I was. I wanted to ask him if I was doing the right thing. Despair crashed against me. I wanted my mom to have him around, so that she wouldn’t seem so lonely at times. I wanted him to be around to make her smile the way she use to.

Sorrow filled my lungs. I wanted to stop hurting the way I was. He had kissed the palm of my hand. Why had he done that. But he had brought her today. Anger started raging. I was stupid feeling this way for someone that didn’t feel the same. But the way he had looked at me the previous evening. The way it felt when we sat and he played my guitar. Jealousy came calling. Why was he with her, when we shared something that seemed greater? What did she have that I didn’t? She didn’t take an interest in his life? Why had he chosen her? What was so special about her? Remorse filled me. How could I not be happy, he was happy, right?. Pain blasted through. Why couldn’t I just forget. I wanted to forget. I wanted to erase the last few months, the last year. I lay on my bed, my pillow soaked with all the water that had been in me. I was dried up, but I still couldn’t stop. They were dry sobs. All through it I tried to will myself to forget. Forget everything that hurt me. Trying to erase everything that was causing the pain.

I woke with a start when I heard a noise outside my door. At first I couldn’t make out the sounds, it was a jumble. Were they my nightmares come to life. I knew I had had nightmares, although I didn’t remember them, I remembered how I felt. Slowly I began to discern what fantasy was and what was real. The noises became more distinct and I realized they were voices. But whose voices? I recognized them. Those nightmares, what were they about that made me feel the way I did. I tried to open my eyes, but the light burned them and I blinked several times. I knew those voices. They were those of my mom and sisters. That pain, what had caused it? As I opened my eyes fully, being able to adjust to the light without any pain, everything came flooding back and I felt as if I choked on the memories. I took a deep breath.

I heard someone at my door and closed my eyes again. I didn’t want any of them to see me like this, “Elly, Elly are you awake.” I held in my breath, please think I’m asleep, I prayed. There were soft footsteps that made its way to my bed. A hand softly moved hair out of my face and there was a feather kiss on my cheek. It took all of me to stay still, not to break again. I felt as the blanket was pulled up over me and I could see the change of light through my eyelids. When the door was pulled ajar, I let out the breath I had been holding as quietly as possible. Opening my eyes, everything was dark. I heard those voices fade to the other side of the house as I looked ahead of me allowing my eyes to adjust to the darkness. I heard giggling and chatter and part of me wanted to get up and join them. I wanted to be part of that free talk that was probably happening in the kitchen. I wanted to laugh, I wanted to feel like I was floating among them, but my body felt like lead and I couldn’t move. I lay in the dark, listening to the sounds being made.

Sleep seemed to creep up on me again and when I awoke there was light streaming into the room. This time I waited till I felt that opening up my eyes wouldn’t hurt. I had slept on the same side I had fallen asleep and the scene that greeted was the same that I had fallen asleep to. I had not dreamed, my night had been filled with one dark slate. I lay in my bed looking ahead of me, not able to will myself to get up.

I heard movement start in the rest of the house and after awhile there was a soft knock at my door.

“Elly, you awake?” I wanted to close my eyes again and pretend I was asleep, but something got me to answer, “No, I’m awake.” “Can I come in?” “Yeah.” Alice came in, she looked like she was getting ready to go out for the day. “Hey sis, how did you sleep?”, she asked sitting on my bed. “Not too bad, could do with a bit more, just can’t fall asleep again though.” She smiled. “Elly you okay?” “Yeah.” “You sure?” I laughed a bit awkwardly, “Well yeah, I should know. Right.” “Right.” She nodded her head a few times, then started getting up.

Something burst out of me and I spoke before I had time to think about it, “Alice, how did you do it?” “Do what?”, she said turning to face me. “How didn’t you go crazy after dad died? How did you deal with the pain. I love you sis, but you not the calmest of people.” She looked confounded then smiled. “It wasn’t easy, but mom helped. I spoke to her a lot about how I felt and I remembered what dad taught us.” “Be specific.” “Burying pain is like burying time bombs on top of each other. You may forget about it, but at some point it is going to go off. Let it go off individually, rather than all together.” Had those time bombs been building up that had gone off last night? “Elly, another thing, follow your own happiness. Not someone else’s, not because of someone else. It has to be your own, what you want and what makes you happy. It must come from you, no one else can give it to you.”

I pondered her words for a few moments, “Thanks sis.” I hugged her, but she hugged even tighter. She gave me a kiss on the cheek and made her way out of her room.

It must have been providence that had lead Alice to my room to be the first one that I spoke to. She carried her pain on her sleeve, like she did her heart. Alice was the only that I would be able to help me understand how to deal with what I felt. I still didn’t feel like getting up, but lying in bed would not change anything. Rather keep busy, so I got up and went to shower.

I ate my breakfast in silence listening to the chatter of my mother and sister. Ida got up and left for her shift, while I washed up the dishes. My mom sat at the table sipping her coffee. “So sweetheart what does Darryl think of the band?” I almost let a glass slip out of my hand hearing the question. “He liked what he saw,” I said slowly. “Oh and did he say anything about the launch?” “No, not really,” I said as I tried to concentrate on cleaning the already clean sink. “Really?” “Yeah, we didn’t get that far.” There was a moment of silence and I knew my mom was contemplating her next question. “Why is that?”, she eventually asked.

I looked at the water in the wash basin. Do I take Alice’s advice? Do I tell her everything? I took a deep breath and moved to sit next to her, “Because he had to fetch Anne after she called him,” I said and then I started from the beginning.

I told her everything. How I missed dad and how it still felt unfair that he was gone. How I had realized that at the worst moment how I felt about Darryl. That I wished that I could go back and be ignorant about it again. That it hurt that he was with someone else. That I felt bad because he was still my friend and that I should be happy for him. That I felt stupid that I couldn’t move past it and accept Kyle’s affection. He was there and he wasn’t scared to show how he felt. But I couldn’t get over what was in my heart.

When I had finished telling her, tears were streaming down my face. All those emotions had come bubbling up again, and when she had pulled me closer to her and laid my head against her shoulder, it had burst out like water from a dam.

When I was done letting it all out, the only thing that could heard was me trying to catch my breath through my sobs.

After I eventually calmed down, my mom spoke up softly, “Elly, do you feel a bit better now.” With me head still on her shoulder I nodded. “Sweetheart, I miss you dad as well..every day. And sometimes I still get a bit angry that he isn’t here with us. And sometimes I still cry a little bit that there are things that I can’t share with him, like we use to.”

I could feel my mom catch her breath, “But that pain gets less and less every day, not because I’m forgetting him, but because I know he would not want us to stop living our lives. So when I do feel that way. I speak to him.” I looked up at my mom, she smiled down at me. “I know it’s silly, but it helps me. Somehow I know his listening. It’s time like these I really wish he was here, to help me help you.” She kept quiet again and swallowed hard. “Sweetheart, the way you handling the situation between you and Darryl; and you and Kyle, is very mature and I am proud of it, but I know it does not take the hurt away. I wish I could take an eraser and wipe it away so that you do not feel like that anymore. I really wish I could, but I can’t and this is the way life is. Sometimes you have really good days and sometimes you have really bad days. But working through those bad days and getting to the other side makes you stronger and wiser.” I smiled at her, but I didn’t understand how working through this pain I felt would make me stronger or wiser, it just hurt and how could hurting help?

“I can see you don’t understand and it’s something I can’t really explain to you till you have been through it, but just know that you will get through it. You will come out stronger.” My mom held me closer and it felt as if I was a toddler again. It felt good to have her hold me in that protective way. It made me feel safe and comforted. I knew when she let go that it would be like a wall keeping away all those emotions would be gone, but for now I would relish in it. We stayed like that for a very long time.

Alice had been right. When I had calmed down I moved away, “Thank you mom. I love you.” My mom smiled back at me, “Love you too sweetheart. I will always be here okay.” “Okay mom.” I kissed her on the cheek and made my way to the bathroom to wash my face.

The sound of the ding-dong of the doorbell went off and I heard my mom make her way to the door. Coming out of the bathroom I heard the sound of a voice that I had feared. It was Darryl’s without mistake. I was surprised that he had come over today, but I knew that at some point I would have to face him. I went back into the bathroom to check that it was not evident that I had been crying earlier. My eyes were a bit swollen, but the red had almost vanished. I could explain it away as not enough sleep. I took a deep breath and readied myself to face him.

He was standing with his back faced towards me as I made my way to the sitting room. His hair looked especially red today. It may have been the lighting, but it looked like lava flowing over his head.

When he heard my footsteps he turned around and a nervous smile crossed his face. “Hey Darryl.” “Hey Elly.” I moved to sit across him, wanting to be as far as possible as I could be. “How you doing today?” “Good,” I replied. He sat there and I could feel a gulf forming between us. I couldn’t wait for him to break the silence. I still had not been able to work through my own emotions. How could I do that with him being here, now? I needed a bit of space. “So what do I owe to this unexpected visit?”

“Well…. you left so suddenly yesterday, I didn’t get a chance to give you my list of tickets for the talent show,” he said, looking at me indirectly. Maybe it was that I had just shed a lake of tears, but my feelings were unravelled and my patience was short, especially with him. “Why didn’t you just message it to me. You didn’t need to come all this way to give me that.” “Well..maybe.. I just felt like coming to visit or did I misunderstand that it was still an open invitation?” He said it more as a statement than a question, but he still did not look at me directly. “You didn’t misunderstand at all.”

We sat there like two continents drifting apart. There was no land bridge that could connect us, there was no path that was hidden. We were on opposite sides of this big expanse. Sitting there I could not imagine how we were going to get past it.

I had agreed to do the concert for him and I was going to have him at my talent show. I couldn’t let go of him, but I could not live my life like this. Living between two worlds. Between him and Kyle, never sure which way I was going. I needed to make the conscious decision to move on.

He moved uncomfortably in his seat, “Well we really haven’t caught up. You and me.” I tried to smile, but I could feel things changing between us as he spoke. I didn’t know if I wanted to ‘catch up’ with him anymore. He spoke up again, “So tell me about your job. Meet any interesting people?” “Yeah, I have,” and I started to tell him about Maggie and her photography and a few of the other waiters that I had met and some of the customers that had become regulars.

“And you, how was it recording? Exciting?” I replied with my own question. “Exhausting actually. Trying to make everything perfect is stressful. We kept second guessing ourselves, but when we knew it was the right sound. That is when it was like a new world being born. And we got to feel that way twelve times over. But you. You have become quite the musician. You part of your own band. They sound really good and are you starting to write your own music? You said you were starting to play on the whim.”

“Yeah. Playing with the band is fun and I fit in with their sound. I haven’t gotten to the part where I write down my own music yet…..I don’t know if what I play is something I want to share, yet…”

He nodded his head slowly up and down, “I brought by electric,....I wondered if you wanted to play together. No fixed music. Just play…” “We could….I’ll get my amp. We can set up here..,” I wasn’t sure how to make him leave, but I didn’t want him to, not just yet.

I moved to my room, questioning what I was doing all the way. I could have just said no, I thought to myself. Why did I want to torture myself even more playing with him?

There were footsteps behind me and I turned to see Darryl behind me. He smiled, “You got up so quick that you didn’t give me time to offer helping with the amp.” “Oh, okay,” I replied. We made our way to my room and when I entered, I was slightly nervous.

Turning around, I held out my arms, “Welcome to my abode.” He looked around, curious at what he saw. “It’s not as cool as yours, but it’s my space,” I said. He moved in slowly, taking in everything that was in the room. “It’s ….. you.” “Me?” “Yeah, you,” he walked towards my figurines, “Like this. It’s not one of the first things you think about when you think about a girl’s room.” “Excuse me, isn’t that a bit sexist?” “You know what I mean.” “Actually, no, I don’t .” “You know...girls normally have things like, shoes and bags and clothes and makeup all over. Butterflies and pictures of some heart throb of the hour on their wall. I mean you have superhero and science fiction figurines. There’s pictures of literary greats and posters of classic movies and so many books. That is why I said it’s you. There are some things in here I would have killed to have in my room when I was younger.” “So...basically, I have a teenage boy’s dream room, excluding the pictures of the girls in bikini’s” He looked at me a bit shocked and laughed, “I don’t mean it that way. You just not…” “Girly…?” “No, …” “Oh..” He looked serious, “Elly, I didn’t mean it that way..” “Then what way did you mean it then?” “I meant, it’s different...interesting…,” he turned to finger one of my Wonderwoman dolls, “like you. It’s nothing like what you expect, but everything that you want…”

His last words punched me in the stomach, “ amp..”

Ignoring me, he moved to my bookcase, “Can I take a look?” “Yeah, sure,” I wanted to leave the room as soon as possible. It was too private and right now I didn’t want Darryl to see private. He roamed through my book case and it looked like he took one book at a time to read the summary. It was obvious that he was not going to be rushed, so I sat on the edge of my bed waiting for him to finish going through my books. Every so often he would turn to me and ask me how the book was and if I had liked it or not. When the books were done, I was under the mistaken impression that we would leave, but then he moved to my shelf of figurines. He went through them, the same way he went through the books, one at a time, asking a question about each one.

And so he moved through my room, looking at each piece asking the history and reason why it was in my room. I didn’t understand why I had not moved him out earlier. Maybe it was that I was so use to being open with him. Maybe it was that I still liked the idea that he was interested in the things that interested me. Maybe it was I was stalling just as much as he was. I knew I was getting closer to ‘that’ road. The road I would be taking that would exclude him the way I wanted him in my future.

Holding the same Wonder Woman figurine that he had earlier, he came to sit next to me. “Wonder Woman was always one of my favourite characters,” he started. “Really? Why?” “Not only was she an Amazonian princess, but she held her own against the other characters and she can kick ass,” he smiled. “Yip. She is definitely one of my favourites. She and Catwoman.” “I can see why you like them so much,” he replied. “And why is that?” “Their independence. Their inner strength. They don’t really need anyone to be who they are. They walk their own path. You a lot like that.” I was amused by his words. At no time in a very long time had I felt that I had walked my own chosen path. My decisions were made in response to reactions from others, not me being the person to make it initially. “What do you find so amusing?” “You…” “Me?” he scrunched up his eyebrows, confused. “Yeah. Thinking I am all that and box of chocolates….” He turned his body to face me, “Elly, but you are…” “Darryl…,” I started, but I stopped myself from going in depth. Rather let it be than walk into something that would bring even more pain. “Darryl… we forgot about playing,” I smiled, getting up. He grabbed my arm. There was just enough pressure to show that he did not want me to stand, “Can we stay for a little while longer….?” “Darryl….” “Please…” I sat down again.

He let go of my arm and started fingering the figurine again. “I wanted to ask you something, but I wasn’t sure if you would think that I was being nosey.” “What is it? You know that you could ask me anything.” He was looking intensely at the figurine, “I know, but I didn’t want you to be angry with me.” “Just ask.” “Well ...promise you won’t get angry with me…” “I can’t promise I won’t be upset, but that would only happen if you deserved it.” “Well...I wanted to know..well...if you … and… Kyle…” He pursed his lips as I waited for the rest of the question. The moments ticked by and my patience disappeared to where I decided to speak up, “Me and Kyle?” “If the two of you are together…” Somehow I had known that he would ask at some point, but I had tried hard not to give him that impression. I wanted to know why he thought it. “What makes you think that?” “It’s just something …. that I picked up…” “Something like what?” “Don’t evade the question Elly. Are you...together?” “I’m not evading the question and … no, we are not together at,” and for some reason I had to throw in, “at this time.” Maybe it was seeing the corners of his mouth move up when he first heard that we were not together that made me want to say that there was a possibility in the future that Kyle and I could be together. “So you saying maybe in the future.” “I am saying that things change and people change and I can’t predict the future.” “So you are…...attracted to him.” I was very uncomfortable with the questioning and I didn’t want to continue. “Darryl, why are you so interested? Kyle is a good, nice guy and as far as I know, any girl would be lucky to have him as a boyfriend.”

“I don’t care about any girl. I care..about you.” “We’ve had this discussion before. I am not a little girl that you need to babysit. I have a mom that can do that for me. I don’t need you to question who I am with. I think I am a good judge of character.” “I am not questioning it , it’s just….” “Just what…?” “Just that I am not sure that he is the right guy for you…” “Why not?” Darryl said nothing, but his silence screamed at me. I was still a little frayed and I didn’t have the energy to go about in circles anymore, “Darryl if he is not the right guy for me then who is…?” Still there was silence. If Kyle had been right, this was the opportunity that Darryl had been waiting for. An opportunity to reveal what he felt. I sat there hearing nothing and then I decided, I was not going to wait any longer.

I stood up facing Darryl. He could not look at me, but there was anger and rage clashing in me that I could do nothing about but look at him with fury. “Darryl, we are friends, but that does not give you the right to tell me who I can date. You say that Kyle is not the right guy for me, but you can’t tell me who you think is. In my opinion Kyle is maybe the best one out there right now. If I decide to take it further with him or anyone else, it’s my decision not yours. Till the time you can give me a name, this subject is closed.”

He sat there with his teeth clenched. His jugular moving up and down as if he was swallowing something, his lips pursed.

I breathed hard. All I could think of was that this was the perfect time, but it seemed as if he was going to let it go past without even trying. I needed to move past this and quick. “Is there anything else that you would like to say while we at it?” I wanted all subjects about him and Kyle to come to a close once and forever. I watched as he slowly got up and moved towards me. His jaws still clenched, he came up close, hovering over me like a cloud. “There is much more…,” he replied. “Like..?” I asked in a defiant voice, but my stomach turned into knots. Still he said nothing, but his eyes were like a forest in a storm. Greens and browns moving around in tumultuous winds.

“I wish I could…..explain, but I can’t. Not right now,” he replied. “Explain what?” I looked up into the storm… trying to find the centre of the tornado. His eyes were closed, but then slowly he reopened them, “I can’t explain it now.” “Darryl...I think it’s best if we….” There was a look in his eyes that made me keep quiet immediately, but it vanished when I kept quiet, “get the guitars ready..” His breath was shallow, “I think you are right. I will be right back.” “My amp…” “Oh yeah,” he picked it up and I moved behind him with my guitar. I wondered if it was still a good idea to play. Maybe we could both calm down and at least we could salvage this, whatever it was, by just playing and moving past it.

He returned quickly and we set up. He sat close next to me and started first, just strumming along and then looked towards me and I started strumming, trying to keep up with his beat. “Don’t think Elly, just play whatever you feel. It doesn’t matter if we not playing the same tune…” I wasn’t sure how to do what he said, without it sounding wrong. “Okay, how about you start. I will follow. Just play what comes out and I will do the same,” he told me.

This time I started. At first it was a tune from some song I had played before, but as I played it became more what I felt, rather than what I had learned. Eventually I was playing what was coming from inside, somewhere in the middle Darryl joined me.

At first it sounded as if two different songs were playing and I struggled to keep to my own rhythm, but as we played, we merged.

And we played.

It was confusing at first, coming in at different paces and keys. Slowly it moved towards each other to merge into the same rift and key. When it was one it moved along waves and valleys. Meadows and rocky edges of mountains. Sea breezes and hurricanes. There were times when we challenged it each other and when we challenged ourselves. We moved through the cotton wool of clouds and came to rest on the side of a hill overlooking the city lights with stars overhead. I looked down at my guitar. I had not felt that alive in a long time. My breathing was shallow as if I had run a mile and felt the slight perspiration on my forehead. I looked to my side where Darryl was and he looked the way I felt. We smiled at each other and mirrored each other with big grins.

In his eyes I saw the forest with emerald green leaves overheard, the soft moss below my feet and the bark of the living trees. Between the branches overhead, was the light sky. There was a soft breeze in those eyes, with a smell of sweet grass after rain.

“What you thinking Elly?”, he said quietly. “That I wish I could bottle moments, moments like these so I can keep it forever,” I replied. He smiled sweetly, that sweet smile he had. If I only I could bottle that too. Then I remembered. It was not my smile to bottle, it belonged to someone else.

It was as if providence was at work, his phone rang at that moment and the look on his face was telling.

He put his guitar down to answer, but did not move. He only looked at me as he answered it. There was a look of concern on his face. Concern for who, I wondered.

“Hey Anne….”

I got up and set my guitar down, all the while feeling Darryl’s eyes watching me.

My mom was in the kitchen and I when I walked in, there was that motherly look of frustration and concern on her face. “Hey Elly, is everything okay?” “Yeah mom, just bringing things to a close,” I smiled back. I realised how true those words were. I supposed that I needed today. I needed some sort of closer on so many things.

We played well together. When I played with him, I was free in a way I had not been able to be before, but I realised that was all it would ever be. A freedom in music. It was a realisation that was becoming clear to me.

A few minutes later Darryl walked in. His face was a mixture of emotions. He looked up at my mom and smiled slightly, but when he looked at me, he was serious again, “ Elly can I speak to you quickly.” The look on his face showed that he did not want my mom hearing what he wanted to say and so we moved to the sitting room, “I’m sorry. I have to cut this short...I have to…” “It’s fine Darryl… You don’t have to explain.” “I do. There’s something that I need to explain, but I can’t right now…” “When the time is right you said. I know. It’s okay…..” He seemed to want to say more, but I had to stop it quickly.

“Darryl go…”

He was hesitant, but as calmly and without frustration or anger, I tried to help him clear up and leave. It had been the perfect ending to what the situation was…

He left and even though I felt sadness, even though I felt the pain. Even though I knew I had lost something, I wouldn’t cry.


The start of the new semester was an anticlimax after the break. The last week I had seen Darryl, but I had made sure that it was in the company of others. Kyle and I were spending as much time together as usual and he was still giving me enough space to work out my own mind. He said that he would give me time. Time to heal. Time to move on. Time to maybe see him in the light he wanted me to see him.

I had been correct when I thought that the midyear break had been too short to erase the last days’ escapades when Kyle had arrived at my school. It didn’t help that Jayde and her entourage let everyone know that they knew who the driver was. Eventually people started to wonder if they had seen was correct, that they had seen Kyle with me and Chloë and Jack. I wasn’t too upset by it. It took enough attention off of us, but Kyle was perturbed by it enough to arrive at school during the week. According to him, he disliked it when people got information wrong. He was there just to make sure that people knew the facts.

He had arrived as classes ended. I walked out to see him standing at the same spot as the day he had arrived unexpectedly. Jayde and her friends were just ahead and they basically pushed their way through the crowd to him. I was getting use to the attention that surrounded him. It wasn’t hard to understand why. A handsome, charming guy in a very nice car. Knees have gone weak for less. But before they could get to the car, he had walked towards them, but as they stopped thinking he would stop, he greeted them and walked passed.

Everyone stopped in total stunned silence. He made his way to our group and when he offered to take my bag, I could see in his eyes he was on a mission. So I let him, but not before insisting that I was capable of carrying it myself.

We made our way to the car and before he closed the door he leaned in, “Just be happy that I only asked to carry your bag. I was planning on doing something that was going turn you into a tomato.” I looked up at him, about to ask him what it was, but I decided against it when I saw the smile on his face.

The days following his arrival were chaotic. There were a few people that remembered his career as a driver and when that had spread through the school, we were bombarded with questions. They ranged from the usual, “How did you meet,” to the intrusive, “what does he look like without a t-shirt.” My favourite phrase became, “Ask him yourself.”

When it became evident that I was not going to feed their hunger for information, stories started popping up about how we met. It went from the mediocre meeting, like bumping into each other at a shopping centre while Kyle wore sunglasses and a hoodie to cover his identity, of course, to the absurd, where I had tickets to some private concert, where on a private jet we had sat next to each other and ended the holidays on a private boat.

At first the stories irritated and frustrated me. The more I tried to correct what was being said, or just tell them it wasn’t true, the more they believed that I was hiding something even more fantastic and elaborate.

I eventually gave up. I hoped at some point it would just die down and be forgotten. Soon there would be something else that would make them go into a tailspin, I hoped.

It was getting closer to the talent show, and with all the attention that had come from Kyle being at the school, it made me even more nervous playing in front of my school and their parents.

I wanted to back out, but Chloë refused to allow me the opportunity to run and hide. She kept reminding me that I made a promise and even as I smiled and accepted what I had done, my stomach churned.

The last week I spent in perpetual tension and limbo. I knew that the talent show would be coming up at the end of the week, but somehow it felt unreal. We had heard that the tickets had been sold out and that more people had requested tickets, so they had moved the performance outdoors to accommodate the extra seating. I was hoping that the show would be less than a success, but it seemed that the marketing team had gone out of their way this year to advertise the show.

The thought of over 300 people watching made my belly ache. I wanted to run and hide somewhere where no one would find me. My family tried to give me words of encouragement, but even though I smiled back and thanked them, it felt as if something was squashing both my head and stomach. Why had I agreed to this? I was going to make a complete fool of myself on stage. I had always been accompanied by someone, but this time I would be playing on my own and everyone I had played in front of had been biased in some way. Here would be people who would have no reason to be ‘nice’. They would be brutally honest and could I handle that? It was nice thinking that I had talent. That I was exceptional at something, but the show would prove something I feared deep down, that I was average.

The night before I hardly slept. I tossed and turned and when I did sleep, I had nightmares of people either just sitting there, ignoring me, or laughing at me. By the following morning I was so tired, I overslept.

I got my entire gear ready and half asleep, I dragged myself for one more rehearsal before we would perform the evening. I dragged myself back home after a lacklustre performance, my heart wasn’t into it. Chloë had tried to cheer me up, but nothing seemed to help. I was going to mess this up worse than I thought. I took a nap to try and get in some sleep before I had to get ready again for the evening. It was either that I was dead tired or maybe I was just so scared that nothing I would have dreamt bothered me, but I slept without dreams and woke up more refreshed. Sitting at the table, my mom came into the kitchen. “You got a parcel while you slept,” she said handing me a square silver box with a red ribbon tied around it. “Who is it from?” “Not sure,” my mom shrugged, “when I got to the door there wasn't anyone there, just the box.” My name was typed on vintage looking paper. I undid the ribbon and lifted the lid. Inside the box was red satin material and lying on top of it was something made of black lace. On top of it was a note that was made of the same paper that my name was typed on.

I opened it and on it were words that were also typed. Who ever had sent me this wanted to make sure that I did not recognize their handwriting. I read the note;

‘A Tool’

‘Sometimes we need to wear a mask to show who we really are.’

I was confused by the words. I put the note to the side and took out the lace object. Unfolding it, I could see it was a mask that would cover the top of my face. There was a black ribbon attached to either end to use to tie it on.

I wondered why someone would send me a lace mask. What was the purpose? “What is it?”, my mom asked. “A mask and there was a note,” handing both to my mom. “Hmm strange,” she said looking at the note, “wow the mask is beautiful. Did you see it's little electric guitars?”, she said handing it back to me. I looked closer, she was right. The pattern in the lace was the shape of electric guitars, but it was so intricate that at first it looked like plain flowers, but if you looked a bit harder you could see the pattern. “Well who ever gave it made a lot of effort looking for something like that. Do you have any idea who it could be?”, she asked. Still looking at the mask, I was confused, “No, I have no idea.” “Well we can’t think about it right now, you have to get ready.” I looked up at the clock, if I didn’t move now, I would be late. Ida insisted on doing my hair and Alice had gotten me something for the show. I had convinced Chloë against some outrages costume, something simple would be more appropriate. I had wanted to put on simple black pants and a black t-shirt and have my hair straight, but my sisters had insisted on ‘dressing me up’, as they put it.

Ida had curled my hair in big curls, then brought it all together at the nape of my neck and made a loose fish plate, that hung down one shoulder. It would keep my hair out of the way, she said, but I wouldn’t look dull and I would have some body in my hair. She also did my makeup and when I looked in the mirror, I hardly recognized myself. I never wore makeup because I never found the need to wear it.

Ida had kept it natural, but with a hint of smoky cat eye at the edges. My lips had a mother of pearl pink colour with lip gloss and even I thought it was sweet to eat. Alice had got me a black chiffon top and tights. The top was the style that the ancient Greeks wore during the height of their rein. It had one strap and the neckline ran diagonally from my one shoulder down to underneath the opposite arm. The was a rope belt that you tied just below your breasts. The back was longer than the front, coming just underneath my buttocks, while the front just covered my lower stomach. The tights were cotton and was a rough contrast to the chiffon's soft smooth texture. I wore plain peep toe pumps that were a similar colour to the belt.

When I walked out of the room, I could see by the expression on my mom’s face that I did not look like the Elly she was use to. “Elly, you look….” “Ridiculous.” “No not at all, you look beautiful. My little girl is all grown up,” my mom smiled, but I saw a sparkle in her eyes that signalled tears. But she smiled and it made me feel better. She sniffed a bit, “Ready to go?” “ Yes, just need my things from the kitchen.” Getting my bag from the kitchen, the box that had been left for me caught my attention. On a whim I grabbed it and made my way to the car.

My mom parked and we made our way to what had been set up as the backstage. With the amount of people that had bought tickets, the stage had been built outside, close to schools auditorium door. The hall could now serve as the backstage for the performers to change and get ready. I made my way to the door that lead to the makeshift backstage. I could see Chloë standing at our table, but there were two other figures with her, with their backs turned towards me. As I came closer, Chloë recognized me and had a big smile on her face, “Elly, you look amazing.” “Thanks,” I blushed. She pushed passed the two figures, which in turn turned to see who she was speaking to. The one was John, who I had expected to be there, the other was Kyle. In his hand he had a bouquet of flowers, with colours that rivalled a rainbow.

A stupefied look crossed his face, did I look that different? It was replaced by a look of satisfaction and something else that made me blush even further. John and Kyle made their way to me, “I have to agree with Chloë you do look amazing,” John said looking me up and down, but pulling Chloë closer to him. “Amazing isn’t the word I would describe,” Kyle came closer, his voice was as smooth as silk. “These are for you, but I think it pales against your beauty.” I rolled my eyes. He laughed at my reaction. He came closer, “I mean it. I didn’t know which ones you liked, so I picked what I thought was the most beautiful, but they aren’t as beautiful as I hoped they would be, now that they are put up against you.” I took the flowers, feeling the heat rise in my cheeks. It would be more apparent now that I had blush on, “Thank you, they are beautiful, even without being compared to me.” Someone had brought a vase, obviously they had seen Kyle standing with the flowers.

“How do you feel?”, he asked as I placed the flowers in the vase. “I’m good, as good as can be, I suppose.” “Don’t be nervous, be yourself and the good thing is that you generally can’t see most of the audience, so pretend you on your own.” Just then our drama teacher walked passed, “Fifteen minutes to curtain call. All guests to take their seats.” Kyle looked at her back, but there was disappointment there. “I suppose we have to take our seats. Although right now I don’t want to be anywhere else,” he smiled down at me. That fire started to burn even warmer inside. “Well you can’t stay backstage the whole evening, you will miss the show.” “True, but I wish I could be both places at once.” I looked up at him, “You have to go, I need to get ready.” I saw that same disappointment in his face as he bent down and lightly kissed my cheek. “Till later and I can’t wait.” I watched him walk away and I breathed deeply. One more thing to lay at my feet as I was about to do something that really scared me. How could I do this without anyone knowing who I really was? I looked at the box I had brought with.

The last few moments before getting ready, I heard a familiar voice calling my name from a distance, “Elly, Elly.” Looking up I saw Darryl making his way towards us, but as he came closer the same look that had crossed Kyle’s face crossed his. He slowed down. Did I really look that different?

“Elly...” “Hey D. I thought you would be seated by now.” “Uhm, yeah. I couldn’t until I had come to wish you good luck and give you these.” From behind his back he pulled out a small bouquet of yellow orchards, but as he did his eyes fell on the flowers in the vase. His face was suddenly crestfallen, “Seems that someone beat me to it.” “They gorgeous, you remembered my favourite flowers,” I said trying to take the attention away from those in the vase. I hugged him and his arms seemed to wrap around me like a blanket, being everywhere and warming me. Moving back as quickly as I could I thanked him, “They really beautiful, thank you again.” He smiled, down at me with his hands still on my lower hips, stopping me from moving further away, “It’s my pleasure.” He breathed out a bit and with it came, “Wow...I’m speechless.” “What do you mean?”

He had a sudden blush as if he had not meant to voice the last words out aloud. He looked down, smiling. What was he so shy about? He looked up again, “I mean I am speechless at how beautiful you look.” My heart skipped a beat, maybe it was a million beats, but I tried to keep my reaction to the statement as light as possible, “What are you trying to say? Do I look that different that it’s like day and night?”, I asked my one eyebrow arched.

His eyes went wide, “No, no, it's..not..that I have never thought that you were beautiful, I have always thought that. Too beautiful for someone like me.” He stopped and I could see in his face he had not meant to tell me that. My heart began to race. He had always thought I was beautiful, too beautiful for him? I wanted to smile from ear to ear, but I bit the inside of my lip. I couldn’t allow myself to get excited at words.

Trying to regain his composure, “It’s.. Just..that..,” he was stumbling over his words, looking into the air to find those that he had lost, “it's..just..that.. I.. have..never seen you like this before.” He took a deep breath, “and I don’t have words.” I didn’t have words either. Looking at him standing there, the only thing I could think of was that he had always found me attractive. He had always thought I was beautiful. “Five minutes people, ALL guests to their seats, Please,” the drama couch came back passed us. Darryl looked at her, then sideways at me, “Seems it’s my queue.” “Seems so,” I replied standing with the flowers close to me. My whole body was vibrating and I didn’t know if I could move or not. He bent down and moving to hug him, I suddenly felt a pressure on the side of my lips. It was warm and soft and my eyes closed taking it in. The feeling made my pulse race a million miles per second. I felt heat all over and it felt like the air had been knocked out of me. I wanted more of that softness.

I stepped back at that thought.

I couldn’t think like that.

Moving away I looked up at Darryl. His eyes were intent on mine, they seemed alive on its own. There was a sudden tap on my shoulder and the dream was broken. “Elisa, your friend?” “Sorry Mrs. Harper, he was just leaving.” Darryl smiled at the drama teacher, “My apologies.” Looking back at me with something that looked like a flame raging, “See you later,” he said softly. “See you later,” I replied.

I watched him walk towards the seating and slowly my heart seemed to ease and air fill my lungs. Part of my lips still felt swollen, not because it was bruised, but it is where I had felt his.

I sat down, confused at his actions. Why had he done that tonight? What had sparked him to go so far? I had made my decision to forget what I felt and it had been working, up until now. Everything that I had tried to erase came back to the surface. I looked at the box on the table. I wanted to hide tonight. I didn’t want anyone to see me. They couldn’t see the hurt that I felt. The pain that I was going through. I would break down on stage in front of hundreds of people.

I opened up the box and lay the lace mask on the table in front of me. Looking into the small mirror that was on the table, I made sure that all the makeup was still in place. I made sure that my face was still in place. Taking the mask, I put it across my eyes and carefully tied the ribbon at the back, so that it didn’t knot my hair. The motion of doing it was soothing. Adjusting it in the mirror was soothing. And looking at myself, the make-up covering the real Elisa, the mask covering up half of my face, looking through the eye holes, I felt anonymous.

Who could I be that no one would know me?

I looked at the masked person staring at me in the mirror, who was she? What would you call her? As the drama couch walked through the students, making them ready to go on stage, I called her to the side. “Ma’am, I know it’s very late, but can you change the name when you announce me?” She looked at me confused. “Elisa the judges have the names printed out already.” “Please,” I begged trying to put on my best sullen face with puppy dog eyes. “If you weren’t such a good English student, I would think twice about it, what is it?” “Instead of announcing Elisa James for the individual and group sets can you please announce ‘Masked Maiden’.” “ Masked Maiden? Isn’t that a bit extravagant.”, she looked at me with the mask on. “I’m nervous ma’am. The more anonymous I feel, the less likely I will faint on stage.” She let out a deep breath, “Okay, but I don’t know why. Most of the people you know will know who you are.” “It’s not them ma’am, it’s the ones that don’t know me.” “Okay. Okay. Just be ready when it’s your set. I will go and make the changes.” Greatly relieved, I thanked her. An added layer to anonymity.

I waited backstage as the other performers made their way to do their sets. Chloë’s individual set was before mine and I went up to the back of the stage area to watch her perform.

As usual, Chloë was nothing but grace and smooth movements. The music vibrated through her body and she absorbed it and let it out through her dance movements. Now fast, now slow. Hard, soft..pain, love, joy. Her body became an instrument that translated the music, the feeling of the music into motion. I watched her hypnotized, as I am sure the audience was as well. As she moved across the stage, I got my first glimpse of what it would be like being on it. There were lights everywhere and you could hardly see the audience. Even with the mask on I doubted if I could stand there, under the bright sun-like lights. Where all attention was on me. I closed my eyes and pretended I was at home. It was quiet enough, except for a cough here and there, but that was because all the attention was on Chloë and no one dared to make a noise.

As she came to a resting position at the end, a noise erupted that was deafening. From my angle I could see the smile that was planted across her face and even I had to clap, at both her performance and taking part in her joy.

I watched as the next performers went on and unfortunately, they had the bad luck of following Chloë. There was a rumbling in the crowd as if they found something better to do than watch the acts. I saw the disappointed that crossed the faces of the performers as they heard the same I had heard. Would it be the same for me? Would I bore the audience into speaking among themselves to keep themselves entertained? Mrs. Harper came up behind me, “Elisa get ready, you after this act.” I smiled weakly at her. It had come too soon. I wished that Chloë and my performance had been scheduled for an earlier spot. At least her dancing would enthral people, while I strummed away, unknown. It would have been easier to go up there with her at my side. Now I had to do it myself. I got my electric and the flowers shimmered neon blue as if in another world. They seemed to come alive the closer we got to the lights. I waited for my turn to perform to the unknown faces behind the lights. Chloë came up behind me. “Elly, how was I?” “You were great?” “Really? How can you know that?” “Everyone was so quiet because they were too scared to make a noise.” She had a big smile on her face and a slight blush. “Thank you. I was just in my own world, which I didn’t even notice. Well it’s your turn next, I can’t wait.” She still had that wide smile, I tried to copy it, but my stomach was too sensitive. “Don’t worry. Deep breaths, take your time and just let out your heart okay.” My heart? What was left of my heart?

I watched the act, without watching. I heard laughter in the distance and the humour, but it was as if it was miles away. I only knew it was finished when there was applause. Mrs. Harper made her way onto the stage and I heard her announce in the distance, “now for our following act, she is known as the ‘Masked Maiden’ who will be playing Broken by Seether.”.

I felt pressure against my body and I knew that it had been Chloë that had pushed me forward.

As I walked onto the stage the bright lights blinded me. I felt naked, even with the mask on. What did they say about imagining your audience naked? How could you, if you couldn’t see them. I slowly made my way to the middle of the stage. I sat down and faced those bright, flood lights. I had the feeling of being in a glass case, with unseen faces behind those lights. There was silence and for a moment I felt totally alone. Till there was a cough and the feeling of having hundreds of eyes watching me from all directions came flooding over me. My heart raced and it was as if monsters waited behind every dark corner to pounce. I closed my eyes, ‘breath’, Darryl had always told me to breath. His face flashed behind my eyelids, that sexy smile, those eyes that sparkled green and gold at times. His hair that warmed the rest of his body. I opened my eyes again and it seemed as if I was alone again. “Pretend you are alone,” I heard Kyle say in the back of my head. His deep blue eyes with the promise of dangerous charm that fired up my insides.

I closed my eyes again, breath.

I saw a man, tall with laughing eyes and music all around him. A man strong, but soft with grey eyes. I saw him smile, a smile of pure serenity and nod his head. All that tension was gone.

I saw him in the darkness as I strummed my first note, I saw his eyes close as if he was hearing something sweet. As I breathed out the first note to sing,

Verse 1

he slowly opened his eyes and a smile formed over his face. The air around me changed into rainbow colours and I watched as it stretched out towards him.


He saw it too and his face brightened as it came closer to him. He reached out his hand to touch the tendrils that moved closer to him. I watched as the colours covered him and the wonder on his face.

Verse 2

He closed his eyes to breath in the colours. He opened his eyes and looked at me. I could see love, happiness and serenity. And it covered me like a blanket. I felt it moving into my body smoothly. I breathed it in and it filled my lungs, it filled my heart, it filled my head, it filled every part of my body. It filled me to a point of bursting, but I wouldn’t burst. I wouldn’t explode. I would keep it in always.

It seemed as I had been playing for hours, but it seemed as if he had only been there for seconds and as the song ended, he faded. The colours faded. There were bright lights in my eyes again and I could feel that my mask was wet. My eyes felt swollen, but I felt joy. I let out the deep breath I had been holding for days. For a few seconds, I wondered if I had been playing alone, in front of empty chairs. Had it only been the lights and myself.

Then there was a loud noise and I jumped. It was hands clapping. I was shocked. I slowly got up off my chair. What was I supposed to do now. Bow? I bowed and made my way off the stage, but the noise followed me. Mrs. Harper walked passed me with a big smile on her face, but I didn’t understand it.

I walked straight to Chloë, she had that same stunned, happy expression on her face. “Okay where did that come from?” she exclaimed. “What do you mean?” “I mean, what you just did now.” “Chloë I really don’t understand, I just played the way I normally do.” “Not tonight. You let something out tonight Elly, something that was amazing. You were so...” “So.. What?” “Full of emotion.” “I was?” “Yes” She looked at me for a moment after her excitement subsided. “Are you okay Elly,” “Yeah, I’m okay. Just happy that it went well.” She laughed, “It went far more than well.” I still didn’t understand what everyone was speaking about. The only thing I remembered was the vision of my dad standing there and watching me. Was it him, or was it just stress that caused me to hallucinate? I breathed again. That same serene feeling came over me. Did I really care? The memory of his face, his expression, him being a part of it was all that I needed. True or not, it was the best feeling I had felt in a long time.

I watched the rest of the other performers with a calmer feeling than I had earlier. I enjoyed the show now and not long afterwards it was Chloë’s and my turn for the group set. I was still nervous going back in front of those lights, but there was a calmness that covered me now.

And as the two of us made our way in front of the unseen audience, there was an eruption of applause before we started. This time I watched Chloë. Her smooth refined movements kept my mind off all the eyes that were watching us behind those lights. She looked like a swan gliding over a lake that was a mirror, then she was an eagle in mid hunt, swooping this way and that way after her prey. Then she was like ribbons blowing in the breeze. She came to the end, like a silk sheet falling to the floor. And before I overcame the feeling of seeing her dance, my thoughts were interrupted by a chaotic noise of clapping and whooping from the audience. We took a bow and made our way off the stage hand in hand, big smiles from both of us.

“We did it Elly, we wowed the crowd. You were amazing. It was as if I could feel the music in my bones,” she said smiling, out of breath. “Me? What about you. You were like silk and satin dancing.” “You were both amazing,” we turned around to see Jack coming towards us. We moved quickly through the crowd that was still getting ready to perform. “How did you get to come backstage?” “It wasn’t easy, but promising Mrs. Harper to clean her car for a month surely helped,” he smiled. “Sorry I couldn’t make it here earlier, but before you guys win this competition, I just had to say congratulations.” “Counting those chickens again,” I laughed. “I wish you were in the audience to know how amazing you were, but since you don’t believe me, there are cd’s that will be available for sale. It is of the whole show.” “What?” Chloë shouted before I could say anything. “You know what, and I’m buying one.” It would be surreal to think that I would be able to see myself, but something like curiosity nagged at me to see it. “I got to go before Mrs. Harper adds another month on our deal,” he hugged us both, “see you guys later.” He ran off towards the seats and I watched him go, Jack one of my best friends in the world. Between him and Chloë I felt peace and serenity.

The show was coming to an end and everyone around me started chatting about the results and who they thought would win or if they would win. The conversation drifted past me. I didn’t really care. I sat there smiling, remembering how it felt to play. “And why do you have that ‘Dopey’ grin on your face Elisa, do you think you will win with the cheering tonight?” I looked up to see Jayde standing over me. “No, I just don’t care. I have other things to be happy about.” She looked down at me and just about contained a sniff.

And then the time came. The results were about to be announced. Mrs. Harper went to the stage and started announcing the top five contestants in the individual group. I sat there in a daze, until Chloë shook me. “Hey what was that for,” I asked looking up at her. “They just called out our names silly, move it.” I got up quickly and moved to the stage area. Standing next to her and other finalist, I felt a bit silly. It felt like a pageant and I didn’t like pageants. “Well this year we have been blessed with so many talented students that took part,” Mrs. Harper began, “and it was a very difficult decision for our judges.” Wasn’t it always a hard decision? For one winner, how many losers were there?

She giggled, “Well let me continue. In third place,” and there was drum roll, “ Tommy Silver, whose humour brought a smile to everyone here.” There was applause. Mrs. Harper shook her hand to quiet the audience. “The following was very difficult almost a tie,” she giggled again,” coming in at a very, very close second,” She paused for dramatic effect, “the ‘Masked Maiden’.” The who? Chloë elbowed me and Mrs. Harper looked at me and with her eyes wide, she slightly tilted her head in a motion to move close to her. Masked Maiden? Oh that was me. I moved to stand close to Tommy. “And in first place,” silence for an even longer and larger dramatic effect, “Chloë Sebastian, whose grace showed us the beauty of a bird” and there was a large applause. Chloë came to stand next to me and we both refrained from grabbing each other and jumping up and down, I couldn’t stop smiling though.

After the applause had died down, the same was done for the group section and Chloë and I were called again. We stood there in anticipation. Even though I didn’t like competitions, I began to understand why people enjoyed them. The adrenaline that raged through you as you awaited the call of the winners was enticing and could become addictive.

Third place went to a set of twins, who’s juggling expertise were bewildering. The second place went to a small choir. I waited for the name of the winners to be announced, I wanted it to be us, partly because I wanted to win, but mostly I wanted Chloë and myself to win. She had wanted me to enter and I wanted us to win for her. I took a deep breath as Mrs. Harper was about to announce the name of the winner, I prepared to hear another name. No one was so lucky to be in the top three twice in a row.

“And the winner of the group set is Chloë Sebastian and the ‘Masked Maiden’.” I looked at Chloë stunned and she had a mirrored expression on her face. We hugged each other and this time we jumped up and down on the stage. The other performers joined us and it was the signal that the show was over.

After the curtains had been drawn, we made our way backstage. I still felt euphoria and I could see the same in Chloë, “We did it Elly, we really did it.” “We really did. I can’t believe I got through that without being sick. It was the best winning with my best friend,” I said giving her a huge hug,

We made our way to our table to get our things and the backstage was alive with chaos. As we made our way through the crowd of performers, their parents and friends, we received congratulations and pats on the back. We smiled back and returned the same gesture. It had been a good show and it felt like that even now as we were about to pack up and leave.

There was as small crowd congregated around our table and I recognized my mom and sisters standing with Chloë’s parents. When we got there my mother came to me and gave me a hug. “Oh sweetheart, you were astounding. She held me close and I couldn’t stop myself. I had to tell her. “I saw dad, mom. I saw him while I was playing.” She slowly moved away from me, but she was still close. I looked at her, but there wasn’t disbelief. There wasn’t confusion. She just looked straight into my eyes with a patience of someone that waited for the rest of the story to be told. I pulled her close and quietly spoke into her ear, “When I first came on I couldn’t play. Then I saw him standing in the dark and it was as if calmness came over me. When I started playing he smiled and when I sang it was broader. It was as if he was here, a part of the music, watching me, listening.” I pulled away from her. “Am I going crazy?” My mom smiled, a patient, reassuring smile. “I don’t think so.” “But it must have been in my mind, It couldn’t have been real,” I asked, willing her to tell me I was not going mad. “Elly,” she said quietly, “does it really matter?” “No,...but” I replied. “But what? My opinion, if this ‘vision’ was part of a hallucination, it came from a part that is your dad, because he is part of you. He was here, maybe not physically, but he was here because he is a part of you and you are here.” I held my mom closer. Ida and Alice came close, their face were made of bright smiles and joy. “Our little sister, a phenomenal musician, Elly you were awesome up there. Dad would have been proud,” Alice said. I could see that her eyes were slightly red. Ida had that same colour to her eyes, but she had joy on her face and I opened my arm so that they could be included and we all hugged for awhile.

We made our way towards our car with all my equipment and there was another small crowd that stood around my mom’s car. This time I recognized them as the McDougal’s, but there was a member missing. Emily came running up to us, almost picking me up as she hugged me, “Elly you were awesome. Our birthday was great, but this, wow.” I blushed, “Thanks Emily.” Mr. McDougal came up and took my hand shaking it, “Emily is correct you were phenomenal. You and Chloë make an inspirational team.” Mrs. McDougal came to hug me, “Ah, sweet child, agreed.” I wanted to know where the other member of their family was, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask them. They said nothing.

I packed my bags into the back, “So are we ready for this evening,” Emily said aloud. “Ready?” “Whoops,” she feigned innocence. “Well there is a little surprise for you and Chloë to celebrate such an awesome performance. “Okay,” I said uneasily, “what is it?” “Well it wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you now, would it? You and Chloe will be travelling with your sister. Your mom will be travelling with my folks, but we need to drop off your equipment first.” I got my handbag and made my way with my sisters to fetch Chloë at her folks' car. When I got there, I could see the excitement on her face, “Did you hear? There is a special party for us?” “What? I just heard surprise.” “Well that’s as far as they will tell me.” she looked at her parents and John, pouting a bit. “Now Chloë,” John looked at her scolding, “We have told you more than we should have. We really don’t want to spoil the surprise, now do we, Mrs. Sebastian.” “Correct John. Elly, we will be meeting up with your mom and then make our way to the destination. See you a bit later.” “Okay Mrs. Sebastian.” “I will walk Chloë and the girls to Ida’s car to make sure they safe ma’am.” John told her and all Chloë’s mom did was smile. I said goodbye and made my way with my sisters and Chloë to Ida’s car.

I saw Jack and Abby waiting for us at the car and next to them was a tall figure that I knew could only be Kyle. In the back of my mind I was aware that I had missed seeing someone else and that I had hoped that he would be the last person I see before we left, but for some reason he was absent. After what had happened backstage I could only guess that, right now, he felt it better to stay away, not to give me the wrong impression.

Kyle walked straight towards me and picking me up in their air, he held me close. “I have no words.” Lowering me onto the ground, he moved a stray hair out of my face. “Aphrodite could not compete with you.” I blushed, “Don’t bring the wrath of the gods on me,” I smiled. Jack and Abby came up behind him and Jack spoke up, “Elly congrats. You were awesome up there. You and Chloë make a great team.” I smiled, “We do, don’t we. Now you just have to learn to juggle and we can be the ‘awesome threesome’.” Jack laughed, “Yip, me and my two left hands will do well.”

Alice came up to announce that it was time to leave. “Ethan is waiting at the car and Jack and John will be going with us. See you soon,” Kyle bent down to hug me again.

As everyone bundled in the car I looked around to see if there was anyone else in the vicinity, but the car park was quiet with the last few stragglers making their way to their cars. I got into the car, into a commotion of everyone laughing and speaking at the same time. After everything that had happened tonight, the way it had ended I thought I would feel more joy. I thought I would be bursting at the seams, but now somewhere hidden deep down I felt if I was missing something. I knew what it was as well. It was not seeing Darryl’s face after the show. I had wanted to see his expression, to share how I had felt, to tell him what I had experienced. But it had not happened and now it felt like something had been lost, lost forever.

I took a deep breath and closed my ears to myself. I didn’t want to feel this sad anymore. I ignored that inner yearning I felt. It would not happen. I pushed all those feelings to the side and I opened up to the atmosphere that was surrounding me. I took part in the conversation that my sisters and Chloë were having about the other performers. The more attention I paid to them, the less thought I gave to myself.

Looking around, I suddenly realized where we driving to. I had thought we were going to ‘The Diner’ to have and after-show dinner, but this road led to a place I had spent most of my mid-year break. It was the road to Kyle’s house. What were we doing there?

As we reached his gate we were immediately buzzed in. We drove up the driveway as before, but this time there were cars, many cars. “Ida, why are we here and what are all these cars doing here?” I asked. “Wait and see little sis.” I slowly got out of the car, but I couldn’t see anything out of the blue. There was a slight breeze and I felt chilly through the chiffon top. As we made our way towards the steps, the door opened and Kyle exited. He had a smile on his face, but there was nervousness behind it. Only slight, but still noticeable, maybe because one hardly saw it. “Just on time,” he said coming towards us. “Ready?” He held out his arm towards me. “I think so, I’m not sure what I’m ready for though.” “Wait and see,” he said close to my ear. John had followed him and was standing next to Chloë who was more excited than anxious.

We made our way up the steps and into his home. We moved left this time, into what looked like another sitting area, but this time there was a piano at the side. The furnishings were warmer in this sitting area, as if to make the participants feel cosier. We moved through an archway that held a large dining area, with a table at the middle that could easily seat twenty people. On the middle of the table was a larger vase then had been in the ‘white sitting room’, that held more white roses than the other. As usual everything looked immaculate and something out of a magazine. We made a slight turn to the left and came to what seemed like an outside entertainment area, but this room was as large as the dining area with a table at its centre and at the far corner, what looked like an indoor braai area. While my attention was still on the room, Kyle turned to the right, forcing me to face the sliding doors. There was glass from wall to wall and one could see most of the back area of his home. In front of me was an expanse of lawn. On it was a large white gazebo, with lights all around it and underneath it were people. To the side there was a small band playing soft rock. Behind that I saw lights, the lights of the city. I had not realized that Kyle’s house was on the edge of a hill that overlooked the city. I stood there frozen in place.

“What do think?” he turned looking at me. “What is this for?” I replied. “This is for you and Chloë. I thought a proper after party would be fun.” “Who are all these people?” “Well you should recognize them. I invited all the performers and their parents.” “This can’t be all of them,” I looked at him disbelieving. “Well...the others are your cheerleaders as well, and” he looked down, “I invited a few of my friends, I would like you to meet them. Is that okay?” “Okay,” I let out a nervous laugh, “it’s your party, and you can invite who you want.” He smiled, “It’s not my party. I told you, it’s for you.” He took my hand, “We can’t stand here forever. You going to miss out and I want you to meet some important people, but first we need to find your mom so that she knows you safe.”

We made our way to the crowd of people and I became aware of the size of the gazebo. It had looked smaller before. Kyle guided me along the crowd to the centre where we found my mom and the McDougal’s. “Elly you made it. What do you think of your surprise?” “It's..It's..” “Awesome,” Chloë said coming from the side. “Elly can you believe this, this is so awesome.” She went up to Kyle, hugging him, “Thank you. This is awesome.” I wondered if Chloë’s vocabulary had shrunk. Awesome was the only word that was coming out of her. I smiled, yes it was awesome, I suppose. I looked at my mom, my eyes narrowing, “How long did you know about this?” “Well.. The first time Kyle mentioned it during the holidays. Apparently he had already set up everything. He just wanted to get my permission to go ahead.” So my mom had known about this for awhile and when did Kyle arrange this? It was before that. “Are you having a good time Mrs. James?”, Kyle asked, his hand covering mine that was still on his arm. “Yes, Kyle, thank you.” “Is there anything I can get for you?” “Not right now dear.” “Mr., Mrs. McDougal anything for you?” “No Kyle we are good for now,” they smiled at him, but I noticed Mrs. McDougal look at him in a way that looked as if she was making sure of something. “If you don’t mind, I would like to steal Elisa for a few minutes before she’s overrun with fans. Promise to bring her back as soon as possible.” “That’s fine Kyle, we will be here,” my mom replied.

Kyle turned to me, “This way.” All I could do was follow where he led me.

We came to the edge of the crowd and before us stood an elderly gentleman with white hair, but his face said that he was at least ten years younger. He was as tall as Kyle, with spectacles that had round eye pieces. Next to him stood a lady, petite and anyone would be forgiven for thinking that she was Chloë’s mom. She exuded grace and femininity. The way she held her glass was as if it was crystal and it would break if she held it a bit harder. Yet she held it with such confidence, like she had held crystal in her hand from a baby. We made our way to the couple and close up Kyle spoke up, “Mom, Dad. “ They turned and I was taken aback. They seemed to be a king and queen the way they held themselves, the effortlessness of their movements. The confidence in each movement.

“I would like you to meet Elly.” I shied away and thought about hiding behind Kyle. His parents intimidated me. Not that they were scary, just that the amount of confidence and assertiveness in their movements made me feel all my inadequacies at once. His father came up, he had a self-assured voice and a firm handshake, with a tight smile, not unfriendly, just not relaxed. “Good to meet you Elly. Congratulations on the show, Kyle told us all about it and I hope you enjoy a relaxed time now.” “Thank you Sir, you have gone to so much trouble, I’m sure I will.” “Kyle always goes the extra mile for his friends,” his mom extended her hand with a smile. But I felt as if she was examining me as she would one of the antiques in her home. “Thank you, Kyle didn’t have to, but it’s for all the performers.” “Yes it is my dear,” she smiled at me with even more grace. “Well we have to get going,” Kyle bent down looking at me, “there’s a few more people I would like you to meet.” I said farewell to his parents, but I could feel them looking at my back, standing there like statuesque figures.

Kyle introduced me to friends he had from school and some that he had from the choir that he belonged to, by the time we made our way back to my mom I was dizzy. “I hope you don’t expect me to remember anyone’s name after tonight,” I said. “Don’t worry, hopefully you will meet them on more occasions to get to know their names. Are you thirsty?” “Yes, please,” my throat was dry from the evening and speaking to so many people.

When we got back to my mother, it felt like I had a place to hide. Kyle left to find me something to drink. “So you met Kyle’s parents?” my mom asked. “Yes I did, did you?” “Yes. He introduced us when we arrived, very ‘graceful’ people.” “Yes they are,” I replied. Jack and Chloë came up to us, and we chatted about the surroundings and the evening. Kyle came back with my drink and he was off again, and before I knew it I saw him on the stage. “Good evening everyone.” There was a hush in the crowd. “I would just like to formally thank you for joining us this evening. It was initially intended to celebrate a special person,” at that he kept quiet for a moment and looked at me, “but tonight she reminded me that this was for everyone. All the hard work that had gone into this evening’s show by every performer that participated tonight. So I would like all of you from the cheerleaders to the artists to give yourself a round of applause for making tonight a beautiful success.” There was a loud cheer and clapping and soon Kyle was at my side.

“I knew you would not forgive me if I had to single you out, but this was for you and Chloë,” he bent to my ear, “mainly for you.” I blushed at him whispering into my ear. Chloë had been accurate that Kyle never did things in half measures.

The rest of the evening I spent catching up with my friends, Kyle at my side most of the evening. When I saw Joshua, Malcolm and Stephen I almost ran to them. I was happy to see them, since I hadn’t seen them since Darryl’s birthday. Darryl, where was he? I didn’t have the courage to ask them either and it seemed as if they didn’t realize he wasn’t there.

When I eventually sat down with Ida, it was one of the few moments that Kyle was not with me. “So what do you think about this set up,” she asked me. “Unexpected and a bit lavish.” “Yeah, Kyle seems to do everything big.” “ A bit like his mom, I expect.” I giggled. She nodded her head, “Did you find out if Darryl is coming. It’s not like him to miss anything that has to do with you.” I gulped, this evening came flooding back. “I haven’t spoken to him since before the show started.” I looked down, “I thought he would be here afterwards, or at least he would have joined us by now. Do you know why he left.” She gave out a deep sigh, “Well Emily told me that Anne was messaging him all through the show, asking him to come over. Eventually after your last piece with Chloë, she started calling him. I’m not sure why, but he left straight afterwards. He asked Emily not to tell you anything, said he would try to make it back before the show ended. She asked me not to saying anything either, but I couldn’t keep it from you for very long. Sorry sis. I know that you would have liked him to be here.” I gave Ida half a smile, “It’s okay sis. Look around us, it’s beautiful isn’t it?” Ida just looked at me and nodded.

I felt like I held a double edged sword. I felt relief that I had not been the reason why he had left, but the reason Anne had kept messaging was obvious to me now. She wanted him as far away from me as possible, for a good reason, and he had gone. He was probably trying to placate her, telling her that he had no feelings for me and that she was being silly. I could imagine the conversation they were having, him laughing off all the things that she had seen, saying that there was nothing there. Trying to be a good boyfriend and stay with her.

I sat with Ida for awhile till Ethan joined us and it seemed the conversation was more between the two of them. I was glad, it gave me an excuse to leave. I wanted to be alone.

There was a narrow walkway to the edge of the lawn that overlooked the city and next to it was a large tree that seemed to have dark spot underneath it. I wanted to go there. I made my way and under the shadow of the branches I stopped. I could still see the gazebo from where I stood, but if I moved slightly I could hide away behind the thick trunk. Standing there made you feel as if you were alone, far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. I was on the outside looking in. It was quiet this far from the gazebo, even with the party behind me it seemed as if that was miles away at that part of the garden.

I stood looking out at the world, watching the lights flicker. Thinking about what was behind those lights, why were they flickering on and off? Where were the cars going that were travelling? What was happening close to the lights. Did someone, which was standing at one of the lights, look towards us and wonder what was happening on the hill?

In the quiet I heard a crunch of grass under shoes and turned around to find Kyle coming up close behind me. It was darker this side of the garden and I could hardly make out his features with the lights behind him, but his blue eyes stood out, stood out like the sea, like ice.

He looked passed me at the lights and in a hushed tone he spoke, “It's peaceful here.” “Yes it is,” I agreed. Coming to stand next to me, he replied, “Do you ever wonder what’s happening at those lights?” “Well I haven’t seen them from this angle, but I was.” He still looked towards the city, “As a kid I use to make up stories about the lights. What they were. Aliens, faeries, a city in a different country.” “Really?” He looked down at me, with a skew smile he replied, “Really.” There was that same fire starting in belly but I shivered a bit.

The chiffon was too thin for this time of year. Even though the days were getting warmer, the nights were still cold and it was colder here than at the gazebo. “You cold, here,” he said taking off his jacket, “I should have thought about it sooner.“ He came closer and wrapped the jacket around me, making sure that I was snug. Folding the collar down, he looked at me, “You are beautiful you know that?” I blushed, “No.” That fire was starting to burn brighter. “That’s one of the things that make your so amazing,” he said holding onto the collar. “What do you mean?” Keep him speaking, I thought. His voice became quieter, “You are so many things without even realizing it.” “Like what,” my voice was as quiet as his. Still holding onto the collar, he seemed to pull himself slowly towards me, “You are beautiful. A talented musician, intelligent, funny. ” He moved closer with each word. “You are humble, sweet and you have courage in you that you don’t know you have.” In the dark I could see his eyes and as they looked into mine, that fire began to rage. I felt warm beneath the jacket, but I was frozen where I stood, hypnotized by those eyes. His face was inches away from mine, “And watching you on stage tonight was like being transported to another world. I always said I want to experience that supernova and tonight I got a glimpse of it…..” I could feel the heat coming from him, “And it has made me even more determined.” My head tilted to look up at him and I could feel my heart rate quicken and my breath was nonexistent. I knew I could move away, but I didn’t want to. I knew that I had told him that I wanted space, but I really didn’t need it. What was I waiting for? The last words he spoke were almost a whisper, “Can I experience it someday?” As I breathed a yes, his eyes closed as he moved the last few millimetres.

I felt a slight smooth pressure on my lips. With that touch, it felt as if something inside me exploded. The pressure increased slowly and I felt my whole body on fire. I felt fingers softly move into my hair, his one hand cupping the back of my head, while the other snaked around my waist, pulling me close to him. He applied more pressure on my lips and I could feel the heat of his body against mine. My arms had been limp at my side, but now it felt as if they had a life of their own and my hands moved up his arms and it ended their journey in his hair, where my fingers made knots in his curls, which were like strands of silk between them. He parted my lips with his and I felt the tip of his tongue touch the tip of my lip and a shiver moved up my body which felt like an avalanche, and as he tasted the inside of my mouth, I felt like a volcano erupting. I had flown too close to the fire and now I was burning.

When we came up for breath, he put his forehead against mine, I could feel the smile against my face. “I have wanted to do that from the first time I saw you,” he whispered, “and now I don’t want to stop kissing you.” I took a deep breath trying to catch it. He still had his one hand in my hair and the other around my waist, but he moved his head back, to look at me. “Do you want to stop?”, he said in a quiet husky voice. I smiled back at him. Did I want to stop kissing him? The way it felt, the way it made me feel. The easy answer would be to say no. But I knew that, that was a path that I could not turn around from. I decided to take it and shook my head, no. He smiled at me and moved in closer.

But this time I heard crunching of grass, which startled me and looking towards where the sound was coming from, I saw Darryl coming towards us. A second later we were in his view. He stopped, startled by the sudden appearance of people and what was highlighted by the lights of the gazebo behind him.

It seemed as if time stopped as I watched Darryl’s reactions change. At first it had been the shock of finding people in the dark, deserted area and then it had been a rude awakening at realizing that it was Kyle and I. I pushed away from him. The closeness between us felt wrong under those almond shaped eyes. I felt Kyle stiffen at my reaction and then he relaxed and let me go, but he still stayed close.

There was a tornado of responses that moved through Darryl. I couldn’t place all of them, but the ones that I did understand made me want to recoil. When that tornado had eventually passed, there seemed to be a void. Something tore into me and I felt like collapsing. But I didn’t. I stood there, frozen in place by the reality of what was happening.

“Elly, Kyle...,” he was the first to speak, but his voice seemed strained and when I looked into his eyes it was like standing at the edge of a desert, with no mirage in sight. My lips felt dry and cracked. Kyle moved closer putting an arm around me, but his body felt edgy like it was on the verge of pouncing. “Darryl, glad you could make it. We..,” and he looked down at me, “thought that you weren’t coming anymore.”

I couldn’t get a word out. It seemed as if the link between my brain and my mouth had been severed. I wanted to say so many things. Why had he come now, of all the times, to have joined us. Why pick this time? Why had he come at all? Why did he think it was okay to look at me the way he did? To look at me as if I had done something wrong? As if somehow my actions hurt him more than his did me, when all he thought of me was a friend. I started to feel angry at the thought the he could feel slighted. Slighted by what? By the fact that I had kissed Kyle? I was attracted to Kyle and Kyle had made no secret that he was attracted to me. He had Anne and at no time had he ever shown me that he had felt more than friendship for me. So what right did he have?

I moved closer to Kyle, who relaxed slightly. Darryl spoke, up his eyes watching our movements more than looking at us. “Yea, I would have joined you earlier, but… something…came up.” Something came up?! Something came up?!

It is funny that when we are angry, angry more at ourselves than the other person, how we are more likely to lash out.

He had left at the request of Anne. He had stayed away at the request of Anne on an evening that was important to me and now he made as if it was nothing; and that I had somehow done something wrong? It seemed my anger gave me courage to speak. Courage to say the right or wrong thing, I wasn’t sure which, but courage to say something. “How is Anne doing? I thought that she would have joined you.” My words broke the clay mask that had surrounded his face. It showed that he didn’t think I knew why he had left. He looked at me, but that dessert had not retracted.

“She couldn’t make it. I just got here and came looking for you to congratulate you on tonight’s performance. Well congratulations,” he said deflated. “Thank you, it was really amazing.” I was angry at him, but I still yearned to tell him everything of my experience, but couldn’t and wouldn’t.

Kyle bent down to speak to me, “I think maybe we should get back to the party, before they send out a search party,” and with the last few words he looked towards Darryl. I wanted to stay in the solitude of the tree, but it seemed that neither Darryl nor Kyle would leave me there, so I looked up and nodded at Kyle, “Maybe we should.”

We made our way back to the gazebo. Kyle’s arm had slid from my shoulders down my arm. His hand hovering close to mine, not quite holding it. Darryl walked in line with us a few steps away, but he neither let us lead him or fall behind him. The silence of the night, with hardly any noise coming from nocturnal creatures, the distance between us and Darryl became wider the closer we got to the gazebo.

Nearer I saw that many of the people that I held dear were congregated at the one side on the edge. I wanted to flee and hide among them. There was a relief when we neared them, but it wasn’t to last long. Kyle and I made our way to one side of the group, where Chloë and Jack stood and Darryl made his way to the other side. It seemed as if there was a gulf stretching out between us.

Anne slithered out from behind Emily with a look of satisfaction that could be very close to bragging. There was a sudden look of surprise on Darryl’s face and I almost tripped over my own feet when I saw her. He had said that she had not come, what was she doing here then? I drew closer to my friends in an attempt at refuge, but Kyle was next to me in an instant. This time he just held my hand. There was slight comfort in it. Knowing that my friends were next to me and that Kyle was close, close enough to keep me out of awkward situation. Darryl’s face grew darker and the satisfaction that had been planted on Anne’s face seemed to drain out of it. I would be lying if I said that I did not feel a little satisfaction at her reaction. The smug look she had, had now been washed away by confusion and a tinge of enviousness.

“There you guys are,” Chloë spoke up, “we were just about to send out a search party.” If it hadn’t been more obvious that Kyle and I had been out on our own, she had made it abundantly clear with that statement. I had to reply to save myself from an embarrassing revelation. “No need, we were just at the edge of the garden. There is a beautiful view of the city. You should take a look.” Chloë gave me a knowing look that made me blush. “So what did I miss?”, I babbled on. “Nothing much, just chatting away.” “Oh, about?” “Well for one thing, I feel like dancing. Who wants to join me?”, she said holding her hand out to me, I needed an excuse to move from a position that would lead to questions, so I took hold while she lead me to what was the centre of the gazebo.

The song was slow enough to give Chloë ample opportunity to interrogate me, while still looking good dancing. “So, why were you gone so long?” “No reason,” I replied. “Come on, give me something. I am supposed to be one of your best friends after all.” I rolled my eyes, “I needed a break, so I took a walk down a small path way and looked at the view.” “And Kyle?” “What about Kyle?” “Well as soon as he noticed you were gone, he went after you like a rocket. What happened?” I couldn’t help it, I blushed. “He kissed you, didn’t he?” Chloë looked like she had just won the first prize of the show all over again, “I knew it. ” She looked at me from the corner of her eye, “How was it? Tell me all.” “It was just a kiss Chloë, nothing more.” “Far enough, but how was it?” “ was,” I felt warm again, warm like when he had been close. The memory flashed through my mind and all that stimulation I had felt ran through my body again and I knew that if he had been close, kissing me again I would erupt, “electrifying.” That word should subdue any more questions. “And now?” “Nothing.” “Why?” “Because we haven’t gotten there yet. It was just a kiss, okay,” I repeated. This time she looked at me head on, but her eyes were still narrowed. She looked past me towards where our group were sitting. “He got here just after Kyle had gone looking for you. Ida told me why he left the show early. I was surprised that she wasn’t with, but even more shocked when she arrived not long after he went looking for you. No one wanted to tell her that he had gone after you.” She took a deep breath. I took one too. The gulf was there, I had made my choice and there was no going back now. I looked at Chloë, the concern showing on her face, “I’m okay, that’s why I need time, just to get my head cleared first.” She nodded understanding.

It seemed to be a queue for most of our group to join us and for awhile I was lost in the music, dancing and laughing. Then that one type of song started playing. The one that makes every boy’s palms sweaty and every girl nervous that she would not be included. The slow song.

As always I made my way towards the seats. It was always my queue to get off a dance floor, but then a hand stopped me and as I turned, Kyle smiled, “May I?” It was going to be hard to ask him to give me some more time. That dangerous charm. For all that charm, for all that fire that he started in my belly, he was not the one that I had wanted to see when I turned around, but he was the one that was there. I smiled back, “You may.” Gracefully he took me into his arms. Warm as always and keeping me close, that sweet musky smell he had covered me. He moved me across the floor like we were slowly skating across smooth ice. My cheek against his shoulder, his head resting on top of mine. My eyes were open when we turned and the seats where my friends were sitting came into view. I saw two pairs of eyes watching. One pair was filled with envy and the other was a desert. I closed mine and in the view of each eye I saw a figure. One tall with dark hair like a black panther, the other bright and flaming like the sun. The sun got farther away till it disappeared and I pinched my eyes so that I could try and stop from seeing it fade away. When the song had finished, Kyle looked down at me. “Elly are you okay?” “I’m fine,” I replied swallowing everything I began to feel deep down into an abyss. “Are you sure,” he said wiping away a wet stream that made a light line down the one side of my face. “ I’m fine. Just an emotional day. Caught up to me, I think.” He wiped the rest away and lightly kissed my lips, “I’m here,” he said against my lips, “anytime you need to speak.” “I know,” I smiled weakly back against those soft cushions.

The gazebo was emptying and I would rather be sitting among friends than be one of the sole dancers. “Maybe we should get back to the others,” I suggested. He nodded back at me and we made our way back to the seats. Jayde and her entourage had found us eventually and they had taken up residence next to Anne. It did not surprise me at all to find them in deep conversation when we got to the seats. They had the same grimace on their faces when they simultaneously looked up at me. I did not have the energy to be close to them and I made my way to Chloë, where I took up a position close to her. Kyle followed me and sat closer to me.

The conversation at the seats passed around me and I could feel the stress and excursion of the day getting to me. A few times I had caught myself with my mouth agape, yawning. “You almost swallowed me whole with that last one,” Kyle smiled. “I think today has just caught up to me,” I replied. “Time to go home?” “Wouldn’t that be rude. There’s still a lot of people around and to leave you here on your own.” He leaned closer, “I think they will understand and I can look after myself.” “Okay, I’ll get my mom or my sisters.” “Not to worry, I’ll take you home.” “Wouldn’t that be even more disrespectful? You are the host.” “I don’t think anyone will miss me if I take you home. They seem to be enjoying themselves irrespective of my presence.” “Okay, well I have to find my mom anyway to let her know,” I replied. “You want me to come with.” “I think I’ll be fine,” I said getting up. As I moved away, I noticed Jayde getting up and moving towards Kyle, but he was up faster and made his way in a different direction. I giggled.

I searched the gazebo looking for my mother and found her sitting with the McDougal’s and a few other parents from the talent show. I made my way up to them, “Hey mom, enjoying yourself,” I smiled. “Yes, sweetheart, you?” “Yes, but I think today has caught up to me. I’m a bit tired.” “Do you want to go home?” “Yes, Kyle will be taking me home. Just came to let you know.” She still held that smile, but something flashed through her eyes, “Are you sure? I can take you home.” “It’s okay mom. I will be fine. Stay and enjoy yourself. I’ll meet you at home.” She nodded, “Okay sweetheart.” I bent down and gave her a kiss and said farewell to the McDougal’s and the other parents. I searched the rest of the area looking for Alice and Malcolm and found them in no time. I told them farewell, with the same invitation by both to take me home, but again I let them know that Kyle would be taking me home.

Making my way back to the seats to say my final farewells, I saw Darryl coming up my path. I looked for an alternative route, but there was none that would not be obvious that I was avoiding him. I took a deep breath and decided to face this head on. Within a few moments we were standing face to face. There was still a gulf between us and even though we were closer now than we had been at the seats, the distance remained. “So you going home now?” he asked. I could hardly look at him, “Yes.” “Today was a busy day. I should expect you must be drained.” In more ways than one I thought, “Yes I’m tired. Might fall asleep on the seats if I don’t leave now.” He looked away for a moment then he looked back at me. I ventured to take a glimpse at his eyes. They were still like a desert, but if a desert could be drier than it normally was, his eyes were like that. “I’m sorry I left early. It's just that something came up and I had to take care of it.”

I had to stop him. I didn’t want to hear his explanation. I knew the reason why he had left. “Stop, you don’t have to explain. I understand.” “But I feel really bad and I feel I need to explain. There’s so many things I need to tell you...should have told you...” I interrupted him, too tired and drained to hear about what had happened. “Darryl, please. I know. Anne needed you and your first responsibility is to her and your relationship. Like I said, I understand.” “Elly, it’s not like that. Please I need to tell you. I think you misunderstand...” Before he could continue I spoke up, “Darryl, not tonight, please.” I needed to get away from him and quickly. “I have to go before I fall down asleep.” I tried to put a smile on my face, “Thanks for coming in the first place, it was enough.” I patted him on the shoulder as I moved passed him as quickly as I could, saying good night. I felt his hand brush my arm, but I moved out of the way quickly before he could grab it. I didn’t need to look back to know that he was watching me walk away. I felt that green and gold forest bore a hole into the back of my head.

Breathing deeply to keep myself calm, I made my way to the seats as fast as possible without running. I ignored the two pairs of blue icebergs as I came up to where everyone was congregated. I had avoided them most of the night and I was determined to continue till I left. I said my farewells to everyone, but when it came to Darryl I wasn’t sure to wave or give him the customary hug we always did when we said good bye. He made the decision for me and held on longer than usual, so that I had to push him away slightly to make him let go. I didn’t want to be that close to him. It hurt too much.

Kyle and I made our way away from the group, making a detour to his parents and I thanked them again for the evening. Even though it was evident that they were enjoying themselves, it still felt like I was watching aristocracy in a statuesque manner.

Driving away from Kyle’s home felt like moving away from both a fantasy and a nightmare. I hadn’t realized I had fallen asleep till I heard Kyle’s voice, soft and smooth close to me face, “Elly, Elly, wake up we home.” I slowly opened my eyes to see his face close to mine and a smile on his face when he saw me awaken. Drowsy I tried to move out of the seat, but his hands were there helping me, “How long was I asleep?” “Most of the drive. I think you fell asleep after we passed the gates. “Oh. I didn’t realize I was that tired.” “Well an evening like tonight can take a lot out of a person.” He didn’t know how true his words were. Groggily I made my way to the door yearning for the comfort of my bed. I unlocked the door, switching on the lights of the hallway, when Kyle gently took my hand. I turned around to face him, a slow smile moving across his face. “Thank you for bringing me home.” “It was my pleasure,” he replied as he moved away a non-existent hair from my face. “Did you enjoy yourself this evening?” “Yes. Thank you for the party. It was far more than could be imagined. I think everyone appreciated the effort that you and your parents did to bring it together.” “All that matters was if you enjoyed it.” I could see that fire starting to burn in his eyes again and I needed my head clear after everything that had happened. “It’s late and if I don’t get to bed soon you may have to carry me there.” He smiled, “I wouldn’t mind,” he replied. There was a moment of silence and then he moved closer, “What happened tonight was unexpected, but it’s something I have wanted from the first time I saw you.” He moved closer and his smell made my head foggy. As he moved in that same deliberate way he had earlier in the evening both my hands came up against his chest. He stopped suddenly, but he didn’t move. Instead both his hands came up and covered mine. A small smile appeared across his lips, “I know. I know you are confused by everything,” he whispered, “but if you can look me straight in the eyes now and tell me that there is nothing between us. That you feel absolutely nothing for me and never will, I will walk away tonight and never bring it up again.”

My heart stuck in my throat. I knew I couldn’t say that because it wasn’t true, but I wasn’t even sure what I did feel for Kyle. If it was real or if it was chemical. As I looked out into the ocean, it seemed to sweep me away. I heard his voice again, from far away, “I wish I had met you first, then you wouldn’t question what you know deep down.” I felt, rather than saw, him move closer and that musky smell engulfed me. “Elly, tell me know. Please tell me you can never feel anything for me.” I moved my mouth, but nothing came out. Even the part of me that always fought him was dubiously absent. It was true I did feel something for him and like the racers on the race track, I had put my full concentration on one thing and had been blind to the rest. His forehead came to rest against mine. His eyes were closed, his breathing was shallow and I could feel his heart pounding against my hand. He quietly breathed out, “Elly, please tell me that I can stop being in love with you.” My heart sank straight from my throat into my stomach.

I must have stopped breathing for a long time, because he opened his eyes and there was both fear and concern in them. He said nothing, but looked at me intently and I knew that he needed an answer from me to get passed what he felt. I licked my lips and swallowed deep. Slowly opening my mouth I watched as his eyes moved lower watching it for what would come out. I couldn’t think. I didn’t think and I heard myself speak without knowing who had given the instruction, “I can’t….I can’t tell you that.”

When I heard myself say it, I was both shocked and relieved. I couldn’t tell him to go away, but I had made a decision now. A decision to move into something I had been unsure about before. As I spoke the last syllables, I saw the understanding become clear to Kyle. His hands fell from mine, but instantly were at my face holding it to look up at him. His eyes searched mine, “Do you mean it?” I nodded.

Before the wave of relief had washed over him, I felt soft, smooth lips against mine. It was tender and sweet, but there was a sense of urgency about it that I had not felt before. The volcano inside me erupted and the lava came gushing out, spilling all over me. As I reached to snake my fingers through his hair, he pulled me closer to him. I was burning. I could feel it, but I felt alive doing it.

Over and over the volcano erupted and over and over again I felt the warmth wash over me. When we had run out of air and exhausted our tender lips we pulled away, only slightly. He still held me close. Using a finger to lift my chin, so that I could see his dark and deep blue eyes, he smiled, “Do you know how long it has been since I have wanted to tell you that?” I shook my head. “The night I met you, I knew that there was something between us and I couldn’t stop thinking about you Elly. The first time that you came over to my home and I saw you play, I felt it watching you, but I couldn’t believe either. I only realised what it was the night I got Jack to agree to let me come along to the movies. And every day since, it has grown and grown. Elly I’m in love with you.”

I smiled up at him, “I know you said it already,” a thought came to me, did he want to hear it from me as well? I liked him a lot, but love? “Kyle.. I can’t…, I’m not sure….” He still smiled down at me, “Elly, it’s okay. I just wanted you to know how I felt. You have just accepted how you feel about me, I’m not going to push it.” With that he bent down and kissed me softly, my heart rate started to beat fast again and I could feel that volcano awaken.

When he pulled away, I looked into those blue pools. They seemed serene now and I did want to swim in them and be swept away to, who knows where. “Elly..?” “Yes?” “Are you going to open up the door anytime soon…?” I shook myself awake. We were still on the front porch and I scrambled for my keys.

Kyle went in ahead of me and made sure that all was safe and when he was satisfied, we made our way back to the front door. “Goodnight my beautiful,” he said against my lips. I smiled brighter at hearing it, “Good night Flame…” He pulled away looking confused. “Flame?” “Yip. I always thought I would get burned if I got to close to you and I have, in a good way,” I said leaning forward and kissing him full on the lips.

He shook his head and moved to say goodbye again. I closed the door behind him, locking up and making my way to the room.

Flopping my bag on my bed, I pulled out my phone. I looked at the numerous missed calls and messages I had received. I realised that I had forgotten to take it off silent after the show. The first was from my mom. I called her immediately before she got to worried. After a brief talk, letting her know I was okay and getting ready for bed, I checked the other messages. There was one from Chloë and Jack. I replied saying good night and that I would catch up with them in the morning.

Then I looked at the rest of the missed calls. There was 10 in total, all from Darryl. They had started around about the time I had arrived home. He must have worked out how long it would take and called to find out if I was safe. Not like he needed to worry.

Then I went to the messages there were five in total, all from him as well. I feared opening them up, but curiosity got the better of me;

the first:

Hey Elly

Are you at home yet?

Please let me know when you at home safe

Darryl xxx

The second:


Tried to call, but there is no answer.

I need to speak to you

Please let me know when you home safe

Darryl xxx

The third:


Are you ignoring me? Please don’t, Not now

I need to speak to you soon

Darryl xxxx

The fourth

Elly I am getting worried

you not answering my calls or messages

please, please let me know


The fifth


Please don’t make any decisions now before I have spoken to you

Please give me a chance to explain first

Please I beg you give me a chance

Your Darryl xxx

The last one sent my head into to a tail spin ‘Your Darryl’. Why now? Why not sooner? I looked at the message. It was too late, I had already made a decision. I needed to send him a message in case he freaked out and went to my mom. Even though I had called he, she may still worry.

So I responded:

Hey Darryl

Home safe

Sorry, too late

Decision has already been made


No ‘Your’ and no ‘xxx’


Hurricane Anne

It was the first, but not the last time that she was told that her best asset was her hair. Looking in the mirror she remembered feeling uncomfortable in the dress and the curls looked unnatural. She had been invited to Natasha’s birthday party. She didn’t like Natasha. She wasn’t nice. She thought animals were dirty and stinky. And Natasha didn’t particularly like Anne either. It was her mom that had gotten her the invitation and it was her mom that was forcing her to go.

“If you associate with pigs then people will think you are one.”

“But Mamma, I like pigs. They clever. They loyal,” Anne had protested.

“Anna…..,” she exhaled in an exasperated Russian tone, “my girl, which do you want to be? A bird or a pig?”

“Mamma I like both.”

The older lady shook her head. The platinum blonde waves shook as she closed her eyes, irritation starting to show on her face.

“My girl. No one wants to be around a pig. A bird is graceful and beautiful. Everyone always wants to cage a beautiful bird. They will do whatever to capture them. You have to learn to be like a bird.”

Anne looked in the mirror, staring at the other little girl standing in front of her. She looked weird. She wanted to wear her jeans and her t-shirt, and she wanted her hair in a ponytail, but her mom wouldn’t let her.

Her mother came to stand behind her, twirling one of curls around a finger. “You look beautiful.” Turning her around, she bent over trailing a finger along her face. She looked at the little girl standing in front of her with curls and a blushing pink party dress. Anne looked up her mother, older blue eyes mirroring hers. They were as deep as hers and you could look deep into it without finding the bottom. Her mom hid everything in her eyes, even her love for Anne.

“My sweetheart, remember something. Some people are beautiful, some people are intelligent and some people are lucky enough to have both. My baby, you were not that lucky, so remember to always use what you have.”

Her mother had been upset the day she had cut her hair. It was a pixie hairstyle and she loved it. It was freeing.

She had wanted to show the older Miss Romanov, that she was both intelligent and beautiful and that her hair was not her best asset.

It was something that she had done all her life. When she had done ballet, her mother had shown mild interest, but when she had been picked for a spelling competition, her mom had not attended.

It had been the same with the science fair.

She had been ten and had come home excited, bursting to tell her mother about it. Her science teacher had encouraged her to enter and told her that she had a very good chance to take the top prize, but when she had spoken to her mom about it, she had been dismissive and hinted at something that Anne hadn’t understood.

“What did you do for Mr Bold that makes him think that you, of all people, can get a top prize?”

“Nothing Mama, he just said I have a good chance.” Her mother had looked her with an eyebrow arched.

She had begged her mother to come and had finally convinced her, but only after she had agreed to extra beauty classes and making sure to keep the science project out of her mother's sight. Regardless, Anne had been excited and when the day had finally arrived, not even her mother’s groaning about being bored could dampen her spirits.

By the time that Anne was ten, she knew that her mother was beautiful by any standards and she knew no matter where they went her mother got attention. Her mother being surrounded at the science fair wasn’t surprising, it was actually a relief. She knew that it would keep her mother out of her hair and she wouldn’t have to hear her complaining about coming.

At the end of the day when they had gathered all the entrants to hand out ribbons and prizes for the projects, Anne had thought she had been transported to heaven when they had called her name to receive one of the many ribbons they were handing out.

It was more than she had hoped for and it was enough. She felt her face crack as it split wide open into a smile. This time it wasn’t forced, like the times she had to smile for a camera or being on a ramp. Her face had stayed like that until she had come face to face with her mother. She had wanted to run up and hug her, but the the look on her face made Anne think twice about it.

There was a look of disgust on it.

“A ribbon? I was here almost the whole day, surrounded by bored old grubby hands and overzealousness and all you got was a silly ribbon?”

“Not everyone got a ribbon Mama,” Anne had protested.

“Anne, the way you made it sound was that you would come in the top three. You didn’t even make the top five. I suppose you needed my help with that too..”


“Well what did you think I was doing? Having conversations because I enjoyed it and being here? I knew you couldn’t do it on your own.” Her mother had looked down at her expectantly and even if Anne had felt that she had gotten the ribbon on her own, her mother had sowed enough doubt in her to bring her crashing down to earth.

“Anyway, I suppose it wasn’t all a waste of time,” her mother continued as they made their way to the car. “That new little girl, I think her name is Ida, her father seemed interesting.”

“And her mother?”, Anne had asked, but knowing what the answer would be.

“Of no consequence…”

Her mother had not spoken about the new little girl’s father again. Maybe she had lost interest or maybe he had seen early what her mother wanted, but it didn’t matter. Not long after that they had moved because her mother had found a new conquest. The new conquest had been one of the few that Anne had actually liked. He was intelligent and took interest in her and not because she was a doll or a close replica of her mother, but because they both enjoyed science and she wanted to be a vet like him.

This one had lasted longer than she thought it would and when it finally ended, she had truly been sad to see him go.

She had just started high school and had to move again. Her mom had decided to move back to their home town and when she had started her new high school, her mother told her that it was a chance to make a new beginning.

“Anna, no boy likes a girl that is cleverer than him. You will never find a man that will stay with you if he thinks you know more than him.”

“But Mama that’s not the type of boy I want. What about James. He didn’t seem to mind it?”

“Pfft James,” her mother had snorted and then looked at her from the corner of her eye. “ You really liked James, why?”

“Because he was clever mama, you know that. I could speak to him about anything and he didn’t get annoyed when I asked questions.”

“Pfft,” her mother snorted again.

She had never understood why James had liked her mother in the first place. They had nothing in common.

“James was like all men. It wasn’t my intelligence that attracted him to me, just like it won’t be your love for science and books that will give you a reliable man.”

“Mama, why did James leave anyway?”

“It doesn’t matter,” her mother had retorted and she never did explain why James, like all her conquests, had moved on. Anne had bumped into him a few years later. He was happy and his wife was an unassuming looking woman, but there was a genuine happiness between them.

In the few moments that she had left them alone to run after their toddler, Anne had blurted out that very question.

“If your mother had your mind, she would have been perfect.” He had laughed, “Some beauty fades with time and some beauty grows.” He said the last words as he watched his wife walk back towards them with their offspring. They bid Anne farewell and she had looked on, hoping that she could be like that unassuming-looking woman.

It was during her high school years that she had learnt to hide her real thoughts and only show others what they wanted to see.

Her mother wanted a beauty queen that could be the centre of attention and she wanted to study. So she played the role her mother wanted in the daylight and when she was alone she took enjoyment in the subjects she had always loved.

She used the tools and tricks her mom showed her to get her way and at the end she was certain that she could make almost any man believe that she was what he wanted, but only for so long. Like her mother, she had not yet mastered the art of making him believe forever.

The senior Miss Romanov had taught her never to go after the heart.

“Never go for love. It doesn’t put a meal on the table. If you going to waste your time on a man, at least make it is worth your while. He doesn’t have to be rich in the beginning, but you have to learn how to look for the ones with real potential. Those ones will appreciate you for ‘being there in the beginning’.”

That is the way Anne had looked at all her relationships. It was like a business deal. When Darryl had come along, she hadn’t given him much attention. He was sweet, naïve and friendly, but he was not the type of guy to waste your time on. He was the type that you could lose your heart to and that was not part of her plan. Her eyes were set on Stephen the lead singer of the band and if she could get it right, Malcolm’s cousin Kyle. That was the ultimate prize to be had. Good looking, well connected and wealthy.

She had tried everything her mother had taught her to hook either one and reel them in, but they hadn’t bitten and she couldn’t understand why.

She was frustrated and bored and she wasn’t sure if she had lost her touch. An opportunity to practice showed itself when she noticed that Darryl was speaking about one of his students that he was tutoring with more enthusiasm than a normal tutor would. She immediately saw what he was blind to and that he was falling for this girl, and hard. As she thought about it, she smiled. She would have to wait till he was on the cusp of realising it and then make him change his mind without knowing it. It would be hard to do, to time it right, but to get him to pick her over this girl and make him think it was his idea would be what she needed right now. She needed a challenge and something to warm her up to make her way from Stephen to Kyle.

In hindsight, she had underestimated her opponent, or was it that she over estimated her power of persuasion?

Elly had put her off balance. This quiet, unassuming girl had something about her that drew everyone that was around close to her. She didn’t ask for a spotlight, it was handed to her. She didn’t ask for the attention, she shied away from it, but it was given to her. Anne had looked at Elly many times. She was pretty, but average. She didn’t have the height that her sister Alice had, nor did she have the piercing grey eyes that Ida had. Elly was of average height and of average build with a hourglass shape. She had common dark brown hair, that had a slight reddish tinge in the sunlight. She had a milky light olive tone to her skin, which immediately showed the pink on her cheeks when she was embarrassed and she had dark brown eyes. There was nothing that was immediately striking about Elly, but there was something about her. Was it the way she smiled at you, which was open and warm? Or was it the way she looked at you that seemed to open up everything and hid it at the same time? Anne had realised very quickly that Elly was a threat, maybe the biggest and most dangerous one she would come across.

“Sweetheart, it’s the ones that don’t know what they have that are the most dangerous, because when the realisation hits it comes at the most unexpected times. Be careful, this one can take everything away from you.”

Her mom had been right. She had underestimated Elly and her hold on Darryl. She had concentrated too much on the next step to take notice or even care that he was becoming aware of her true feelings. When he had caught her, she had to think quickly to keep him close. She could use the only and last resort that she had. Emotional blackmail. She had told him enough of her years growing up to make him think she had been neglected and that she was a fragile being. It was a card that she had kept close to her, to use one day and she had needed to use it then.

It had been hard making him agree to keep quiet about the true status of their relationship for as long as he did. It would have eventually ended, but she needed it to end at the right time.

The time when she could pull the rug out from under Elly and have everything that she wanted.

Tornado Jayde

She remembered loving to dance, but as the years had passed it had become and means to an end. It was a tool that served a purpose, the purpose to make you stand out of the crowd, to make you seem special. Special people were famous and only famous people were special.

Like most little girls, she entered the dance world through ballet. There she had met another little girl named Chloë. They had liked each other from the beginning and she was inspired by Chloë’s talent and natural rhythm. It bordered on envy at times, but Jayde liked Chloë and dancing too much to let it turn into anything more than that. She wanted to learn from her and she wanted to be like her at the same time.

It had been her mother that had made her aware of the threat that Chloë presented.

“She is your biggest competition Jayde, because she has something that you don’t possess and that is very dangerous.” “What are you talking about mom?”, Jayde had looked at her mother with large round eyes as if her mom was telling the scariest story that she had ever heard. “To be the best, one has to have both natural talent and determination, she has both and the love of dancing to make her the best,” her mom had told her. There had been a cold tone to her voice as if it was something metallic and mechanical that was relaying the information. “You can never be her friend Jayde.” “But why not mom, she’s nice and I like dancing with her.” “She will never be a true friend Jayde, not while she is a threat. She will learn your weaknesses and use it against you.”

Jayde had not believed her mother, she could not. Chloë was too nice and no one could be that nasty. It hadn’t been till their first real competition that what her mother’s words had come back to haunt her.

Their ballet teacher had put them up against each other as a challenge. Both Jayde and Chloë had laughed it off, but when the realisation hit that there really could only be one winner, their reactions were very different. It was Chloë that won the competition and it was the first, but not the last time, that the envy that Jayde had turned to resentment.

After the disappointment of the competition, her mother convinced her to diversify. “Maybe you are better at singing or acting,” her mother had told her with a smile, “between the three, one should make you special,” she hugged Jayde as she continued, “what you lack in talent you sure make up in persistence.”

She had been either talented or persistent enough a few months later to get a part as the understudy in a large local play. It was where she had met the dark haired boy with the ocean-coloured eyes. He was playing the lead and when she had first seen him her heart had skipped a beat, but she hadn’t known why. She wished she had known the type of person the lead actress was before she had confided in her what she thought of the dark haired boy. Zelda, horrible Zelda, had made it her mission to make Jayde’s life unbearable while they rehearsed for the play. She had even gone to the lengths of getting the blue-eyed boy to kiss her. Jayde had been sure that he had liked her, well that was what his friends had told her, but when she had turned the corner and saw them, she had wanted to hurl right there. It did not end there. Zelda had goaded her every moment. The day when the play did it’s last show, Jayde stopped being friends with Chloë and made sure that Zelda never did another play. It was the first lesson that she learnt that she would always remember. Being good and nice got you nowhere and friendship was a weakness that got you crushed.

It was lesson that she had made into a rule. It was what guided her and what ruled her decisions. It was the reason that she and Chloë were adversaries, nemeses was a better word and why, when she saw the dark-haired, blue-eyed boy standing outside the gate of her school on the last day before the mid-year break, she made it her mission not to let anyone get in her way this time around.

-To be Continued -


Half Note

will be coming soon

About the author

C.D.Lipskey was born in South Africa and grew up as the only child to her mom. She currently resides in her hometown, with her partner and offspring.

Follow her


Twitter: @CDLipskey


Happy Reading :-)

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