Albert Camus once said something about an invincible winter constantly within a person in a dreary time. Or was it an invincible summer? Well, whatever the quote was, there was a particular pedestrian in Vancouver who wouldn’t agree with any version of it. Not yet, anyway.
He was taller than the average twenty-five year old man and had the most astounding, deep set, sea-green eyes. Unfortunately, on a warm, late afternoon like today, such eyes lost their luminosity.
In lieu of the usual quintessential confidence, he had an aura of uncertainty. The man desired to disappear into the crowd but this was nearly impossible since his unease enhanced his prominent facial features. His strong jaw, high cheekbones, thin, straight nose and clear sea-green eyes caught the eyes of some of his fellow pedestrians, especially when he ran his hand through his short, wavy brown hair.
This curiosity he elicited from others was flawed since they wondered about him only when he was worried. It wasn’t thoughts of reassurance that formed in their minds but ones of aesthetics, similar to those few who made a baby cry to see the child’s “cute expression”. Alberni Street became a place of momentary interest.
Oh and his name was Clay Franklin.
He was never fond of his last name due to the constant references his colleagues made to the talking green turtle. It didn’t make sense to change it now since he was raised as a Franklin. To change his name was to change his identity and it wasn’t as if he was part of the witness protection program. He often argued this aloud with anyone who introduced themselves and the poor soul never realized that many didn’t really care.
As Mr. Franklin stormed towards the Thierry Café, he hoped he wouldn’t be the last of his crew to arrive. Two of his three best friends could be incredibly snarky to the last man.
Should he be the last one - which wasn’t likely since Clay was never late - he had to prepare his reasons. Again, those two guys…no, not going there today. This story is about Clay’s unexpected circumstances…mostly. See, his friends learned his boss called him into the office with a work emergency as a pretense. Clay dressed in the most formal outfit he owned because he was under the impression he’d meet one of the company’s biggest clients. The true nature of the conversation was much more mundane than what was expected.
The boss wanted advice in the art of love.
“And all the wars worldwide will cease to exist. Franklin decided to be late.” Clay distanced himself from the memory as soon as he heard Taylor’s voice.
That sarcastic comment could be heard down the street and Clay sighed. Of course his friends would take advantage of the abnormally warm afternoon and sit outside and of course they wouldn’t care for disturbing the peace. He could see Taylor scratching his beard then adjusting his flannel red shirt. It did wonders for his tanned skin and muscular chest as his smirk did for his face, he thought. Taylor looked like the typical lumberjack.
Ah, Clay was beginning to describe a man in his mind the way many of his female co-workers did. Would that cause problems in the future with this particular group, he wondered.
As he approached the café, he apologized to his friends who sat behind the patio’s barricade. He then went inside to see if any of the sweets appealed to him.
Prior to Clay joining them, some words had to be exchanged between the three seated men.
“If only you could read someone’s emotions as well as their sexuality, Taylor.”
Cameron, the brown haired sweetheart, chided quietly. His friends would say his gray eyes were devoid of the usual mirth today. His slender form emitted a forlorn aura which was likely the motivation behind Taylor’s defense since the lumberjack scoffed and sipped his homemade tea.
“Ye-ouch! Careful Cam, you don’t want that guy to influence you too much – we really don’t need another Taylor. One is mind-numbing enough.”
The peppy, red haired and freckled Dan said. He may have been the shortest of the four but it didn’t hinder him from being the most noticeable. His response to Taylor’s glare was to smirk.
“Did you know I hate children and dogs, Dan?” Taylor asked. Dan shot him an incredulous look.
“Really sweetheart? Doggy style is the best.” Dan replied. He winked and snickered. Clay finally joined them and sat next to Cameron. The gray-eyed man looked at the distraught Clay with concern.
“What’s the matter, Clay?” Cameron asked gently, placing a hand on Clay’s.
“The usual, the boss sa-” Clay began answering with a weak smile, only to be cut off by keen observers.
Dan and Taylor remarked at the same time. They sipped their drinks, glanced at one another before staring at Clay, who was having a difficult time maintaining their judgemental gaze. They knew what his fib was beforehand.
“He came late from “the office” when he was called in early morning. He texted earlier to say he was free in the afternoon.” Dan started.
“Your boss would’ve only talked to you in the morning since it’s Good Friday and didn’t want to stay the entire day. That could only mean that Anastasia had her way with her greatest servant. Am I right, Clay?” Taylor finished. Clay blushed and looked away.
“Why you keep talkin’ to that bitch? GOD Clay, you’re so stupid sometimes, so delusional! Did you mix up facts in your head to repress the consciousness of your stupidity? It’s like you’re really into emotional S&M – oh shit! Are you? Cuz that would be delic-” Dan’s monologue was cut off when Cameron pushed him back into his seat. Poor Dan had gotten himself excited for nothing.
“I-I’m not into S&M, emotionally or physically, Dan…”
Clay quietly said, obviously embarrassed Dan would bring such a topic up in public. He looked around to see some eyes on them and he reacted to the patrons’ inquisitiveness by hunching his shoulders.
“Don’t dismiss it before trying, bae. You’ll become like grumpy old man Taylor over here.”
Dan smacked Taylor on the back as he was finishing his tea and the pitiable lumberjack had the liquid go down the wrong pipe. As he coughed violently to recover equilibrium, Cameron changed the flow of the conversation.
“Why don’t you tell us what happened, hm? Here, this one’s for you.”
Cameron passed the large hot chocolate and a green macaroon to Clay, who took them gratefully. Cameron knew Clay wouldn’t be able to pick something inside.
“I…I talked to Ani this morning…and she said she wanted to get closure on what happened.” Clay explained.
“How thoughtful of her to get closure on a break-up she initiated a year ago.” Taylor remarked sarcastically as he wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Why’d you bother with it?”
“She seemed really depressed over it…I just didn’t want to be that guy, you know?” Clay answered pitiably.
“You mean the one with dignity?”
Taylor scoffed and his lips twitched when Cameron kicked his knee under the table. Cameron smiled gently, easing the tension between Clay, who kept his eyes on the table, and Taylor, who looked around in a nonchalant manner.
“That was kind, Clay, but I think you should stop catering so much to Anastasia-”
“Stop talking to da bitch!” Dan shouted.
“-and the others as well. I don’t understand why you’re holding onto them. They’ll just keep taking advantage of you.” Cameron advised.
Clay sighed and nodded hesitantly.
His dear friends then discussed other matters of interest to take the spotlight off their dejected friend. Perhaps it was that the four of them were friends for so long or that Clay was incredibly transparent in regards to particular matters but whichever it was, Cameron, Dan and Taylor knew Clay wouldn’t be conscious of his true motive just yet. They chose not to say more on the subject and instead, enjoyed the coming of better weather. This Friday evening was warmer than recent ones. There was the occasional harsh wind though.
The vivid orange sunset was nearly gone and for this, Taylor was relieved because he sat across from it. He didn’t have his sunglasses and Dan refused to give his.
It was when Cameron began informing the others about the plans for the night – a local rendition of Little Shop of Horrors - that Taylor’s attention was caught by the white hem of a woman’s dress. Why, he wasn’t sure. As his eyes trailed upwards on the lady, she walked past them on the sidewalk so her and her companion’s faces couldn’t be seen. He was sure one of them was ethnic. With a light head shake, Taylor returned to the conversation.
“I don’t believe in coincidences, per say, but opportunities one can choose to take advantage of.”
Her voice, which he thought of as opinionated, traveled in the soft breeze and caught his attention. He frowned.
Four hours later, the waxing moon illuminated the empty streets below, providing additional visibility to what the lampposts offered. The evening for the performing arts on Granville Island was nearing completion. The theatre doors opened and a stream of people left in varying moods. Few were disappointed, some were satisfied but most were happy with the last two hours.
The group of four were among the few that had differing opinions internally.
“That was a nightmare.” Taylor commented. “I hate plays.”
“Too bad, Nancy. We went to your shitty amusement park last week and this week was Dannyboy’s turn to shine!” Dan said happily as he jumped around.
“It wasn’t about you. It was Cam’s event, dick.” Taylor retorted.
“No, no, no, this one ain’t for you, cholo.” Dan winked and gestured at his nether regions. “And it was perfectly pleasant, don’t you think, Cam?”
Dan turned to Cameron, who ignored the double entendre and went for safe conversation. He was experiencing a rare moment of extreme ecstasy.
“It was amazing! I can’t believe I haven’t watched it before. The writing wasn’t anywhere near the level of Shakespearean plays but definitely worth the time.” Cameron replied, happiness evident in every fibre of his being.
“The guy playing the dentist could’ve done a better job.” Taylor murmured, inadvertently stopping a heated discussion between Cameron and Dan – there were different opinions on Shakespeare in this group. “He had three parts and screwed them up. Like he was acting as himself, you know?”
“Oh yeah, Steve. He’s definitely the weakest link.” Dan said flatly, tapping his chin in contemplation. “Ali was saying at Maundy last night that he miraculously got the part – probably blackmailed the director.”
“Maybe the director saw potential in him. Chemistry matters between all actors, not just the leading ones.” Cameron interjected.
He didn’t mind the actor named Steve too much since he worked well with the minor characters. But it was apparent from the comments during the play that others did.
“His chemistry with everyone was shit. How’d you not see that, Cam? He was decent with the chick that played Audrey though.”
Taylor said a bit too aggressively at first and threw the recyclable bag that once held nuts into the right bin as they passed a set of them on a path that led to the Bridge.
“It just seemed like he was new to the industry.” Cameron replied calmly, diffusing any chance for argument. “What did you think of it, Clay?”
Clay, not yet over his melancholy of the day, didn’t feel like sharing his opinion. Unfortunately, Dan insisted. They had a long walk ahead of them across the Bridge and conversation was needed.
“…Well, I felt for Audrey. Her situation sucked - she needed some respect from her partner.”
Clay said quietly. He was the tallest of the four and seeing him hunched over looked a little ridiculous, especially in the outfit he wore since it screamed for attention. But no one had a response for him, comprehending he was projecting his feelings onto Audrey and an awkward silence made them its bitch for a long, long time. The sounds of impatient cars were their music. It wasn’t until they walked halfway across the Granville Bridge and a rough wind blew that an opportunity presented itself.
A white object swayed in the harsh wind metres in front of them and a woman ran after it. The object came closer and closer, sometimes venturing over the water, sometimes over the cars, and the men eventually recognized it as a hat. Dan and Cameron watched it go over them and toward Taylor and Clay. The lumberjack was an inch too short and the hat skimmed over his outstretched hand. Clay was just the right height and he caught it between his fingers.
He observed it with fascination since it was…cute. It was a flimsy white sunhat with a blue ribbon set as a bow to the side. Clay looked up and a woman of average height approached him.
Her hair was short and curly, her skin was flawless and tanned, and her breaths were short and quick.
“Thanks!” She said then turned to wave. “I got it! Actually, I guess you have it.”
Clay grinned at her when she laughed pleasantly then saw the person she was waving at.
Suddenly, there was a feeling within him that desired to escape. It began at the pit of his stomach then concentrated in the middle of his chest. His eyes slightly widened because running towards him was the most exceptional woman he had ever seen.
She had long black hair tied in a side braid, large light brown eyes and an oblong shaped face. Her bangs fell over most of her right eye and the white dress she wore accentuated her dark complexion. When she approached him, she was breathing heavier than her friend.
“Thank…you! This one’s my favourite - it would’ve been dreadful to lose it.” She said in between breaths with a lovely smile.
“Y-yeah, it’s cute.”
Clay mumbled. When her smile faltered, he realized he had to give the hat back. When he did, their fingers touched momentarily. An unexpected shock traveled through his arm and he withdrew from her quickly. Her pink lips formed a small ‘o’ in wonder. She recovered and merely grinned at him before turning to the others and her friend.
“Shall we go, Anna?” She asked.
“Yea, definitely! Later, everyone and thanks again!” Anna said, waving as she stepped away from them.
“Have a good night, gentlemen, and thank you again.” The other woman said.
As the two began walking towards Granville Island, Clay replayed the moment she ran towards him over and over. He watched her walk away and impulsively called out.
“U-uh! Well, uh, see, you’re…you know, uh…your hat…um…” He fumbled and rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment.
His incoherent speech stopped the two women in their tracks and they stared at him over their shoulder. They glanced at one another before looking at him again. The nameless one gave him a knowing look and softly grinned. Clay stopped muttering when she opened her purse and retrieved a pen. Her delicate fingers reached for his and he felt that shock once again. This time, he welcomed it and smiled as she wrote her name and number on his palm.
When Clay looked up, he reacted to her smirk with a blush.
Both ladies then resumed their journey across the bridge. Clay watched them and unfortunately, was snapped from his reverie when Dan’s amusement couldn’t be ignored anymore.
“Wha…what was that?!” Dan managed to say between laughs, resting his hands on his knees to brace himself from the force.
“…What – what’re you talking about?” Clay mumbled despite knowing exactly what Dan meant.
“Did you forget how to talk you idiot?!” Dan said then roared with laughter. Clay tried to defend himself but couldn’t.
“Shut-up, Dan. Obviously Clay was nervous.” Cameron said defensively and began walking away in the opposite direction. Dan followed him.
“When does that ever happen?! Clay’s life depends on his eloquence!” Dan’s laughs never ceased until they stepped off the bridge. That took awhile.
Clay felt nervous when Taylor didn’t say anything for the reminder of the walk to their respective homes. Both of them didn’t involve themselves in the conversation the other two were having and instead admired the budding flowers on the trees they passed. The residents of Vancouver were gearing up for a completed night whereas the clubbers’ night was only beginning.
“So, you gonna call her?” Dan asked as he looked over his shoulder. Taylor and Cameron looked at Clay as well.
“U-uh…I suppose.” He answered.
“She’s definitely different from your…usual type. What prompted you to… ask for her number?” Cameron worded carefully.
“It just…felt right.” Clay said, keeping his eyes on the ground. Then he looked up at his friends. “You know?”
“Felt right…where?” Dan asked with a raised eyebrow.
Clay sighed dramatically. “Not everything is about the penis, Dan. It felt right here.” He pointed to his heart. Dan burst into laughter once again.
“I can’t believe real people say shit like that!”
“Well Clay, all the best.”
Cameron encouraged with a comforting smile. They all stopped on the corner of Burrard and Harwood since they had reached Clay’s building. They said their goodbyes and made plans to meet on Sunday afternoon. Clay watched as they made their way towards Davie Street and once they were out of sight, he entered his building.
It had been a long, eventful day and Clay couldn’t wait to go to sleep. Those three friends managed to suck his energy more than his work colleagues and acquaintances. Not that he minded; Cameron, Dan and Taylor were his oldest friends and surely he couldn’t imagine his life without them. He then thought about tomorrow and relished that it was completely free. It would be his first, proper day off in awhile and he was going to take advantage of it.
When he finally made it to his apartment on the 10th floor, an urge to call her crept into his being. He felt it was too soon yet not soon enough. He wondered, was it odd that he wanted to spend the few hours of the night left speaking to her about his day?
Clay bit his lip and wondered what the right course of action was. He panicked when he realized his hands were in his pockets. Once he retrieved his palm, he was happy to see the ink didn’t smudge and absorbed the neatly written name: Rishika.