5:30 isn’t really evening if you ask me; it’s late afternoon but in the depths of winter, like it is now, the light is bleached out of the day much earlier, so right now it’s basically night time, as I stand staring up at the café, neon sign in the window, bad attempt at a classy logo perched above the door. This place held quite a few memories from our later high school lives, though we actually discovered it for the first time in year eight. Gia was the one who found it.
She and Sam would often sneak off together and that wasn’t just during school time. We went into town a couple of times, all of us together, and wound up searching for them because they’d wondered into some store that they thought looked cool and got caught up, completely forgetting that we were supposed to be with them. The first couple of times they did it, Lizzie had a go at them, telling them that they shouldn’t disappear like that because it worried us. After the third time it happened, she got used to it and even started figuring out some of the places that we might find them in. It was usually Cassandra who found them first though, another of her mysterious skills.
On this particular occasion we had been picking up materials for some school project we had to do and lost them somewhere in the paint aisle of a craft shop. We didn’t bother looking for them right away, so used to their antics. Instead, we purchased the paint and decided what shop we should go to next. That’s when Cassandra pointed towards the café and said, “Found them.”
Sure enough, they were sat on a sofa right behind the window of the café talking to the waitress. Lizzie led the way into the quaint little café, as Gia had described it, the anger clear on her face. When I got through the door, she’d calmed considerably, taking a seat at the table and giggling. At first I was confused until I saw the shopping bags. They had managed to purchase the fabric we needed, the assortment of dress up items we needed from the costume shop and get back to this street to order coffee and cake in a random café that Gia had instantly decided she liked. I slipped into the seat next to Lizzie and relaxed. After Jimmy’s fourteenth birthday party this became a regular destination for us.
Looking around the room now, as I entered, I discovered that it had barely changed at all; one of the tables had been swapped for a new, probably because the previous one had finally given in after years of damage. I slipped into my usual seat and ordered a black coffee. As I waited for it to arrive, I slipped back into the past, remembering why we’d had to buy all those things that day.
Every year our school put on a special Christmas performance, which consisted of a student speech, a short extract from the school play, musical performance and other talent performances from the students. In the year eight, Gia was going to be an important part of the performance – she was going to dance. Gia’s parents were artists by trade, her mother had been a dancer in the royal ballet and her father was a director for west end shows. They were almost never home, so Gia had basically been raised by her aunt and it was her who taught Gia to love ballet. Because Gia was performing, we all decided to get involved with the performance, so we were helping with set design.
Whilst painting a design of swans on a black back panel, Lizzie and I got into a bit of a paint fight and wound up being shouted at by the supervising teacher. After a while, the settings were almost all finished and there wasn’t much work to do, so Lizzie and I ended up being the only ones still working on it. Cassandra had been talked into it to begin with. Jimmy was never good at making things and even worse at time keeping so he was just a nuisance. Sam still turned up, but he spent more time watching Gia practice and pointing out things that would help improve the performance – I didn’t understand why they seemed so desperate to make it perfect at the time. I didn’t mind though. It meant that I got to spend some alone time with Lizzie.
Lizzie was showing me how to pin and stitch the fabric we were turning into fancy drapes when she looked up at the stage, where Gia was practicing, and asked a strange question.
“Do you think Sam likes Gia?” she pondered aloud.
I stopped and watched her, at first assuming that she was just thinking aloud. Then she turned to me expectantly and I realised that she was looking for an answer from me.
“I don’t know. Maybe,” I said, shrugging. “He seems to be quite attached to her.”
For a while we both worked quietly. Then I asked a strange question of my own.
“Do you think she likes him?”
I looked right into her eyes and she looked right back into mine. Then I gathered up my stitched fabric and carried it over to the finished pile. For some reason, Lizzie’s reply felt like it carried a certain bite with it. It wasn’t because I felt sorry for Sammy, or because it seemed harsh, or because I thought she was voicing Gia’s genuine feelings; it was because it felt like she’d turned me down before I’d even asked her out.
I folded up the fabric and dropped it onto the pile.
My phone started vibrating in my pocket and I slipped it out, glancing at the flashing screen. The word Home seemed out of place on the display. I hit the reject button and replaced my phone.
“Shouldn’t you answer that?” Lizzie asked, making me jump.
I wiped the shock from my face and shrugged.
“What if it was an emergency?” she said slightly more angrily.
“It wasn’t,” I said dismissively, moving on to the next drape.
“Look, it was just my dad ringing to have a go at me for not being home when he told me to be there for dinner tonight,” I told her, trying to get her off my back.
“So they might be worried.”
“No, they know where I am. He’s just mad is all.”
“If you weren’t allowed to come then why are you here?”
“Just drop it, Lizzie! It’s none of your damned business!”
As soon as I’d said it I regretted it – I just snapped. The hurt on her face ripped my heart from my chest, but it was what she said next that dealt the finishing blow.
I deflated, every bit of anger gone and replaced with guilt. I wrapped my arms around her and lowered my voice, noticing the number of people who were staring at us.
“No, I’m sorry. I just don’t like talking about my father. The only reason he calls these dinners is to tell me and my perfect brother what events we have to go to and what grades to get.”
“Yeah, I get what you mean,” she mumbled into my chest. “My parents are the same, except with marriage and appropriate lady like behaviour.”
I pushed back so that I could look at her face and chuckled. “You need help being lady like? Wow, there really is no hope for Cassandra.”
She thumped me gently on the arm, giggling with me. “Shut up. You know, even I want to get caked in mud like a normal kid from time to time.”
“Then do it,” I said. “Just cause they say you can’t doesn’t mean you really can’t.”
She smiled up at me. Then I let her go and went to work on my next drape. She sat down next to me and re-pinned a bit that I’d done a little messily.
“I didn’t know you had a brother,” she said inquisitively.
“Yeah, dad’s real proud of him. He’s gonna be a lawyer.”
“Yeah. I’m supposed to be the politician.”
She laughed whole heartedly at the idea of me being a politician. I couldn’t blame her – even I thought that that particular image was quite comical.
“What do you wanna be?”
I smiled playfully at her. “A photographer.”
“Yup. I even asked for a camera for Christmas last year. I didn’t get it. I got money instead. Now I’ve almost saved enough to buy one myself.”
“What about you? Whada you want to do?”
“Me? I don’t know. But I don’t wanna just get married and have kids.”
I chuckled at the determined look on her face in my memory. She had so much fire in her eyes. I felt sure that she must have done something great with her life. Then I glanced across the room and spotted him immediately. He was still plump and he still had that messy brown hair, but his face wasn’t as full as it used to be and there were bags under his eyes. As soon as he spotted me, a smile lit up his face. He crossed the room, slipped into the seat opposite me and ordered a coffee. Then he looked right at me and his smile widened.
“Hello, Danny,” he said.
“Hello, Sammy,” I replied.