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 phrase was, there was a pedestrian in the bustling city of Vancouver who wouldn’t agree with any version of it. Not yet, anyway.
He was taller than the average man and had the most astounding, deep set, sea-green eyes. Unfortunately, on a warm, late afternoon, these eyes lost their luminosity.
In lieu of the usual quintessential confidence, he emitted an aura of uncertainty. Although this man desired to disappear into the crowd, it was nearly impossible because the prominent lines of unease enhanced his features. His strong jaw, high cheekbones, and – especially - acute eyes caught the attention of a few other pedestrians, specifically when he ran his hand through his short, wavy brown hair.
But it was a flawed curiosity he elicited from them: they wondered about him only when he was worried. It wasn’t thoughts of reassurance that formed in their minds but ones of aesthetics, like those few who made a baby cry to see the infant’s “cute expression”. Alberni Street became a place of attentiveness instead of weariness.
No one cared for his identity, his name, his story, just a visual pleaser for the afternoon. But for those who cared, his name was Clay Franklin. He was never fond of his last name because of the constant references to the talking green turtle.
As Clay Franklin rushed towards the Thierry Café, he hoped he wouldn’t be the last of the crew to arrive. Two of his three good friends had an unlimited potential to 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. The problem was his friends learned his boss called him into the office regarding 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. In many ways, it was ironic.
All of this wouldn’t be an issue but if he was late, then the group would uncover the reason for it quickly enough. That’s something he wanted to keep private.
“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 saw Taylor scratching his beard then adjusting his flannel red shirt.
It complemented his tanned skin and muscular chest and his smirk completed the rogue image, Clay thought.
Ah, he was beginning to describe a man in the way many of his female co-workers did. Would that cause problems in the future with this 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. One of the trio didn’t like the approach of the other two.
“If only you could be intuitive with everything instead of sexuality, Taylor.”
Cameron, the brown haired sweetheart, chided quietly. His gray eyes were devoid of the usual mirth this afternoon. His slender form emitted a discontent aura which was likely the motivation behind Taylor’s defense as he scoffed and sipped his homemade tea.
“Ye-ouch! Careful Cam, you don’t want that guy influencing you too much – we really don’t need another Taylor. One’s 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 Taylor 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, who looked at the distraught Clay with concern.
“What’s the matter, Clay?” Cameron asked gently, placing a hand gently 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 instantly. They sipped their drinks, glanced at one another before staring at Clay, who was having a challenging time maintaining their judgemental gaze – he couldn’t hide his day from them after all. They knew what his fib was before it could be verbalized.
“Late from the office? You texted earlier this morning saying you’d be free in the afternoon after you realized what the boss really wanted.” Dan started.
“And he’d only want to talk to you in the morning, not later in the day when he can be enjoying the day off, being a stat and all. 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 reaction was cut off by Cameron pushing 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, 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. A lack of excitement will make you 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. He 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 said 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?”
“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. 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 the dejected Clay. Perhaps it was that the four of them were friends for so long or that he was incredibly transparent about certain matters but whichever the reason, Cameron, Dan and Taylor knew Clay wouldn’t be conscious of his motives just yet.
Together, they enjoyed the coming of better weather. The Friday evening was warmer than recent ones though there was the occasional harsh wind. 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 lend his.
It was when Cam discussing the evening’s plans – a local rendition of Little Shop of Horrors - that Taylor’s attention was caught by the white hem of a woman’s dress.
Why? To date, he wouldn’t be able to say.
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 his friend’s conversation.
“I don’t believe in coincidences, per say, but opportunities that can be taken advantage of.”
Her voice, which he thought of as ridiculously 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 were thrown open, 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, silent opinions. To voice them or not was always the concern. Except for Taylor.
“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.” Cam 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 Cam and Dan – there were contrasting opinions on Shakespeare in this group. “He had three parts and screwed them up. Like he was acting as himself, y’know?”
“Oh yeah, Steve. He’s definitely the weakest link.” Dan said flatly, tapping his chin in contemplation. “Ali was saying last night that he miraculously got the part – probably blackmailed the director.”
“Gossiping at Maundy. Keepin’ it pure, eh.” Taylor scoffed and was ignored.
“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 rude 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 a bin as they neared a path that led to the Bridge.
“It just seemed like he was new to the industry.” Cameron replied calmly, diffusing any chance for disagreements. “What did you think of it, Clay?”
Clay, not yet over his melancholy of the day, didn’t feel like sharing his thoughts. 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 bizarre, especially in the outfit he wore as it screamed for attention. But no one had a response for him, comprehending he was projecting his current moon onto a fictional character.
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 for normality presented itself.
A white object swayed along 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 Cam 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, he felt a concentrated fervor that yearned 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 remarkable woman he had ever seen – time slowed as he watched her.
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. 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 curiosity. She recovered quickly 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.” 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 chuckled.
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 mesmerisation when Dan’s amusement couldn’t be ignored anymore.
“Wha…what was that?!” Dan eventually 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.” Cam said defensively and continued walking along the Bridge. Dan followed him.
“When does that ever happen?! Clay’s life depends on his scripted eloquence!” Dan’s laughs never ceased until they stepped off the bridge. That, sadly, took awhile.
Clay felt nervous when Taylor didn’t say anything for the reminder of the walk to their respective homes. Both 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 Cam looked at Clay as well.
“U-uh…I suppose.” He answered.
“She’s definitely different from your…usual type. What prompted you to, um… ask for her number?” Cam worded carefully.
“It just…felt right.” Clay said, keeping his eyes on the ground. Then he looked up at his friends hopefully. “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.”
Cam 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; Cam, Dan and Taylor were his oldest friends and 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 completely smudge and gazed at the neatly written name: Rishika.