Quarter Note - Book One

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Chapter 4: Winter

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 liked...you 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…..she...moved...to...kiss 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, “Well...like 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 sure...you 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 experienced..you 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,....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, “Okay...well..my 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.

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