It was a sunny summer day, and I had just moved back to my childhood town. Every turn was filled with memories. Certain ones in particular kept springing to mind. As I pulled up my parents’ driveway I felt as though I had truly come home.
It's been eight years since I had stepped foot in this town, let alone the house I had called my home growing up. I had missed this place. Sighing, I knocked on the door and waited anxiously.
“Baby, you're home!” my mother greeted me with an exuberant hug.
“Hi mom. Good to see you too!” I laughed, embracing her back, just as warmly.
“Well, come on in! Lunch is about to be served, so you're just in time. By golly, Lyla, you look like skin and bones!”
I walked inside, glancing at the dozens of photos that lined the walls. Nothing had changed.
But I liked that fact.
After a hearty home cooked meal, I took my things back to my old room. It was a weird feeling, seeing everything exactly the same as how I had left it, apart from the obvious cleaning my mother felt the need to do. I didn't know what to do, or where to start?
It hadn't been in my plan to be 26 and back living at my mother's house. But I had had no other choice.
After leaving home, bang on 18, I decided to stretch my wings and go overseas. And boy, did I stretch them. I took off to Europe, to get a feel of how insignificant I really was in the world. I wanted my eyes to be opened before I settled into a career, or domesticity, like so many other young people want when they finish school. Only problem was I fell in love with travelling. The excitement of just being able to pack my bag and take off to a new country, and be whoever I wanted to be, do whatever came my way. And I did.
So many things happened at once. I met my first serious boyfriend in Ireland, moved in with him after two weeks, and worked as a bartender in an Irish pub for a year. His name was Scotty, and he was so full of life, and later I learnt full of shit. He introduced me to the world of alcoholism and drugs. After a near beating, I decided to beat him; and took off while I was supposed to be out getting him some milk.
After that, the pattern kind of kept continuing, just in different countries and languages. It all came to a head six weeks ago, when I realised that life was becoming the same shit, just different days, and I wanted more.
I went overseas to find myself, but found I lost more than I gained. I returned home having lost four kilos on my already slight frame, and with nothing but a backpack of clothes and bad memories.
I knew a fresh start was more than I needed. I needed something to change me.
“Oh… hi, Mom. Was just unpacking.”
“That's okay, dear, just take your time. I was just wondering if you wanted to go to town with me? I'm going to have coffee with Mrs Caldwell. You remember her? She used to live next door. You and Zac used to be playmates”
“Oh, yes, I remember her. Um, I don't know. I think I'll just hang out here for a bit and check my emails. If that's okay, Mom?” I said earnestly. I wasn't prepared to go through the formalities of seeing people from my past who no doubt will be nosey as heck to know where I have been and what I've been up to. No, I couldn't bear that right now.
I checked my emails. Nothing riveting. A couple from a few girlfriends that I had made in my travels and some spam. I decided to just sit outside and enjoy the sun.
“Baby?” a gentle voice interrupted my dreams.
“Oh, hi mom.” I spoke to the unnaturally bright light that greeted me when I opened my eyes.
“Have you been asleep all this time, honey? I hope you put sunscreen on. You look a little pink.”
“No mom, I must have dozed off...” I trailed off, not really sure what had happened.
My mother looked at me concerned, which made me anxious. I was only napping in the sun what was so bad about that? Following her eyes I saw what had made her look at me that way. On the patio table next to me, was a half drunk glass of wine and an ashtray half filled with cigarette butts.
“It… it’s not what you think mom. I just thought I'd relax with a glass and...”
I didn't know what to say. I knew it looked bad.
After everything that had happened. Having to call your mom to bail you out and pay for a detox program on top of buying a plane ticket, because you had spent all your money on drugs, then coming home to this, didn't exactly look like I had learnt my lesson. This was definitely not a proud moment.
“That's alright, baby. I know how it is. Well, I don't know. But I'm going to try my best to understand and support you,” she said gently as she sat down next to me. “I just wanted to tell you I had a lovely time with Millie. She told me young Zac is doing rather well. He just moved back to town a year ago. He's working at the local pools, as a swim coach. He's been swimming professionally for some time now. Which is lovely for the poor boy. Millie said she thinks Zac would love to see you. It has been a long time, dear. So we are going to have a BBQ get-together this weekend. Do you think you'll be up to it then?”
I was only half listening, still lost in thoughts and memories, “Sure, Mom. I'll be fine. Don't worry about me. I'm just going to go take a shower. I do feel a little hot, come to think about it.”
I walked to the bathroom feeling a little dazed and confused. Marvelling over mistakes I had made and how I could change the direction of my life. I guess a little stability would be a good start, I resolved.
The next day I awoke peaceful, and well rested. Something I hadn't had in such a long time.
I decided that enough was enough. I had to start doing something. I acknowledged that I was not the type of person to just sit around and do nothing. I liked to be on the go. To find adventure and then run with it. After having a quick breakfast, I realised I was the first one up. I decided a jog was the way to go. Get the muscles pumping, endorphins jumping.
I had run only two and a half blocks when I started to really feel the burn. I would have noticed a lot earlier, but I got distracted reminiscing about all the places I had been when I was younger as I passed them. The years of substance abuse had really taken a toll on my health.
Good, I thought. That's the first thing I can work on.
I was smart enough to know that things didn't change overnight. It was the small things, done repeatedly, that changed patterns. I liked that I had had a moment of clarity in all the confusion.
As I jogged, I noticed I was getting closer to a familiar place, my old high school. The school field was empty, except for a lone figure wheeling around the track. I paused for just a moment, until I felt his eyes meet mine. Blushing, even though I knew he couldn't see from that far away, I took off, running even faster than before, until I could run no more. I walked the last six blocks home, feeling entirely spent, and more than ready to face the day.
As I arrived home, I heard an unfamiliar noise: Children running around, squealing as they played.
“Please slow down, Jimmy. You don't want to trip over, do you?” I heard a familiar voice tell off the young boy. As I caught sight of him he turned around in surprise.
“Lyla! How the heck are you?” My big brother immediately pulled me up into a bear hug.
Laughing I managed to choke out, “Hi to you too, big brother!”
After setting me down on the front step he took a step back to take a look at me.
“My gosh Ly-ly, you look like a friggin skeleton. What the heck have you been doing over there?”
I realised then that my lovely mother had not breathed a word to anyone, as I had made her promise me. Thankful I said, “Never you mind, big brother! How are your two little rascals?”
Rolling his eyes he said, “Ask them yourself.” With that he screamed, “Jimmy! Kaia!”
Two gorgeous blonde headed kids came bounding over. The biggest one spoke up first, “Daddy, who's this?” The little one just hid behind her daddy's arm.
“Jimmy, Kaia, this is your Aunty Lyla. She has come from all the way across the ocean. Do you remember when I showed you on the map?” Both heads nodded.
“Logan!” an unfamiliar voice called out. It must be his wife, I figured.
A tall blonde knock-out sauntered down the hallway to the front door. I felt my mouth almost touch the ground. My brother had definitely traded up from the last girlfriend I had met. But then again, I hadn't expected any less. Girls always seemed to flock to him. He was good-looking in that all-American way, and what was most unusual, was that he had the loveliest personality, probably having something to do being raised by our mother. It was always hard to find someone in that calibre these days.
“Oh, hi. You must be Lyla? I've heard so much about you. Logan raves about you.” She smiled warmly at me, then at her husband.
“Well, I wouldn't say 'rave', Kimber. More like grumble about.” He laughed at his own lame joke.
“Ahah.” Kimber and I exchanged knowing looks. I knew we were going to get along just fine.
After a huge two course meal, the children went to bed and the adults sat out on the patio with a couple of glasses of beer and wine. I stuck to juice.
We had been outside for a couple of hours just laughing about all the stupid things we had done when we were young, several things our mother had just found out now, and the things we remembered about our dearly loved father.
He had died just before I had turned 17. Heart attack. We used to joke about the way my mother fed him, and that he needed to lose the kegger. But he was always adamant that he was in perfect health.
As the children began to wake up, Logan and Kimber announced that they should be on their way. It was an hour long drive home for them and they had things to get back home to. We bid them a fond farewell, with promises exchanged to see them on the weekend at the BBQ with the Caldwells, and with that my mother and I sat back down in the kitchen with a cup of tea.
“So, love. What are you going to do this afternoon?”
“Oh, are you sick of hanging out with me already?” I said laughing.
“Of course not, baby. I just thought it was time for you to be by yourself. You don't want to hang out with your old mother all the time, do you?” she laughed back at me.
“Well, actually I thought I'd go to the pools and swim a few laps, you know? Just get some fresh air and exercise.” I looked at my mother, anticipating that she would think it was a bad idea. Too soon.
“That sounds great, hun. Do you need me to drop you off? Or will you borrow the car?”
“Erm, actually I hadn't thought that far? If you could drop me off, that would be great.”
I didn't want to admit that it's been eight years since I'd actually driven a car, and that I never got my full licence. I also knew the whole driving on the other side of the road now would confuse me and I would probably just crash her car.
“Of course, dear. I'll just go grocery shopping, while I wait. No problem.”
“Give me a txt when you're ready, love.”
And with that she sped off.
My mother, the small softly spoken lady, was a speed demon on the road. Laughing to myself I walked inside the automated doors of the local pool complex.
The smell of the pools always made me a little high. But in a good way.
“Hi. Can I please get one for admittance into the relay pools?” I spoke to the dark head buried under the table.
“Ouch!” he yelped, as he hit his head on the desk, “Yeah, sure thing. Just a minute.”
He began to type something into the computer, not looking up once. “Okay, there. I'm all yours. Sorry about that.” He looked up to smile into my eyes.
“No probs. Just need a ticket for the pools.” Feeling a little irritated at having to repeat myself.
“Sure, that'll be $4.50 please.” He handed over the ticket, as I tried to find the correct change.
Stupid different currencies, I thought grimly. Each one a little reminder of where I'd been.
“Here you go.” I said placing the coins into his outstretched hand. “Sorry about the change.”
“No prob.” he smiled widely at me, “Is that you, Lyla?”
My eyes flew up at the sound of my name. “Yes. It's me...” not sure who he was.
His smile grew. I never noticed before how cute that crooked smile was.
“It's me, Zac. I used to live next door to you when we were kids.”
Right then it hit me. Oh. My mother had told me just yesterday that Millie's son worked at the pools. How stupid of me that I forgot, and then decided to go to the pools the next day!
“Oh, wow. Yes, my mother mentioned you worked here. How are you?”
His eyes twinkled at me, “You don't remember me, do you?”
That smirk was beginning to be a little annoying now.
“Of course I do. I just didn't recognise you at first. We used to run around playing tag and climbing the trees in your backyard.” I said a little smarmy at the fact I had been caught out momentarily.
A dark far away look briefly clouded his eyes, before the sun shone again, “Yes, that's exactly right. Good memory.”
“Thanks,” I replied dryly, “then your family moved away suddenly. My mom told me you got sick? Are you feeling better?”
Blushing at that last question, I felt a little silly. Of course he must be better. He looked really good. Really... healthy and…. I had to stop myself there.
Feeling familiar patterns coming back to haunt me. I had never, in the past, found it hard to find someone to fall for. The only problem was that they always seemed to be the bad guy. And from the two minutes I had now spent in the presence of Mr Smarty-pants, something told me that I shouldn't fall for this guy.
“Yep. Never better. Thanks for asking.”
I looked toward the doors, desperate to get out of this reminiscing of the past.
“I probably should let you get back to it. You look eager to dive right in.” He laughed warmly.
“Yeah, thanks. Bye…” I mumbled, not wanting to encourage him.
“I guess I'll see you around?” he called to me as I went through the doors to the changing area.
After a few dozen laps of the pool, or so it felt, I decided I had had enough exercise for the afternoon. I was overdoing it. Trying to make up for years of excess, all in one day.
Not going to happen, my tired muscles screamed out at me.
After showering and getting changed, hoping that Zac had gone home, I made my way to the exit. To no avail. There he was behind the counter, grinning at me.
“So you survived? I thought you had drowned in there and I was going to have to come save you.” He laughed at the idea.
Looking at the clock I noticed I had been there for nearly two hours. Holy crap! I thought. Mom must have finished shopping ages ago. I pulled out my phone and started to text her, heading outside, when I was interrupted, “Hey, Lyla!”
I turned around slowly, and walked back inside. Only looking up when I had seen the text had sent. “Yes?”
“I was just wondering if you're going to come back anytime soon? To you know, swim...”
“Yeah, maybe. Depends. What days do you work? So I'll know to try to avoid those days.” I grinned back, unable to help myself. His smile was just so infectious.
“Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays,” he laughed back at me.
Remembering that it was Thursday I called out, “How come you're working today then? You're not trying to trick me are you?”
“Just filling in for a sick collegue.”
“Oh, okay. I get it.”
“Well, in case you might feel an overwhelming compulsion to come on the days I work, I thought it would be best if we had coffee after you're swim, just to make it worth your time of coming all the way over here.” His blue eyes looked up at me innocently.
“Ahh...We'll see. Oh, there's my mom. See ya.” I headed for the car quickly as my legs would take me.
I heard faintly through the closing door, “Yeah, I'll see you tomorrow!” Then laughter, as the doors closed blocking the sound out.
“Did you have a good time, baby?” she said as I climbed into the car.
“Yeah, I did, actually. I bumped into Zac.”
“Oh. How is he?” Eyebrows raised.
I heard the suggested interest in her tone.
Sensing that I didn't want to be prodded further she said, “So what are you're plans for tomorrow hun?”
“Oh, I thought I'd go to the pools.”
With that we both cracked up laughing.
The next day I woke up early again. But this time due to nightmares. I had been swimming at the pools, when this big sea serpent, or should I say pool serpent, came up from below, surrounding me as it wound it's body tighter and tighter. I could see my family standing on the sideline, just talking to each other. I screamed out, but no one could hear me. As I started to go under, I felt strong arms pull me away from the serpent and drag me up to the surface. As I tried to see through my hazy eyes, I realised it was Zac. I was so relieved when I awoke, even though I was covered in sweat, reality seemed a hell of a lot better than sleeping.
I didn't know what the dream meant, or even if it was supposed to mean anything?
Getting up, I took a hot shower. As I made my way to the kitchen I smelt a mouth-watering smell. Rounding the corner I spied my mother making waffles with bacon, maple syrup, and fresh fruit on the side. After wolfing down more than my fair share, I asked, “Mom, is it alright if you drop me off to the pools this morning?”
“Sure love. Are you up to something later, baby?”
“Well, maybe? It was just Zac invited me for a coffee afterwards, but he's probably forgotten.”
“Don't be silly, Lyla, he can't have forgotten in less than a day. And of course he wants to spend time with you. You two used to be joined at the hip. Always up to no good.”
My mother laughed at the memories. I know that those were happier times, and I didn't want to ruin that for her so I just said, “Alright Mom. I'll just grab my swimsuit. Don't take too long reminiscing, the day will be over before you know it!” Laughing I headed down the hall to grab my stuff.
As soon as I arrived outside the pools I started getting nervous. It's too soon to be thinking about guys, I told myself. Yes, far too soon. I turned around to walk away but as I did I remembered, it's not exactly a date. We're just two childhood friends having coffee. So I turned back, and started walking back to the pools.
In the end I had walked back and forth about four times. Really not cool. I told myself as I finally started walking through the automated doors. I prayed to God no one had witnessed the crazy lady outside.
As I made my way to the counter, I expected to see those familiar deep blue eyes, but instead I meet with a pubescent ginger-haired boy, with a face full of acne.
“Ah, hi. Is Zac here?”
“He's not here. He filled in for me yesterday, so I'm taking his shift today.” the boy looked bored out of his brain.
“Oh, ok. Can I get one for the relay pools, please.” feeling a little disappointed.
What else was I going to do? I couldn't exactly call my mother to pick me up after five whole minutes. And besides, I had told myself I was going to get back into shape. So grudgingly I went and got changed, and made my way to the pools.
The relay pool was packed. I had forgotten that competitive swimmers trained early in the mornings. I looked at my watch. 7:52am. Wow! I honestly didn't know it was that early.
I put my towel down onto the nearest bleacher. As I was about to get in I took a glance around to see if any lanes were actually free. Thankful that the guy closest to me was getting out, I dived in and started swimming.
After about ten minutes I had had enough. Most of the hardcore swimmers had left, only a few seemed to be just warming down. I could see them playing around, flicking water at each other as they threw insults. Boys, I thought. Doesn't matter how old they are...
At that moment I noticed one of them catch my gaze. I turned away out of habit. I liked to people-watch, and more often than not, I got caught. It was embarrassing. Shortly after I heard the sound of someone swimming closer, I ignored it, thinking it was just someone in the lane next to me swimming past. Something I should probably be doing right now. Instead I started thinking about Zac. I knew I shouldn't but I also knew it was the reason I had come here so friggin’ early. And what was up with that dream I'd had last night?
“Lyla!” a voice said close beside me, scaring me out of my daydream. It was Zac.
“Oh, hey Zac! I thought you had the day off?”
“I did. But I had training this morning. I hoped that you would come back.” He smiled that irresistible smile again.
“Well, I couldn't not take up that offer. It made so much sense!” I smiled back.
“I know, sometimes I surprise myself at how awesome I am!” Laughing he added, “Well, I'm pretty much finished. So if you are too, we can meet up in the foyer in ten, if you still want to?”
“Sweet. See ya soon.”
And with that he started to swim away to the other end of the pool. I tried to be discreet, wanting to watch that hot body climb out of the pool, water glistening off his chest...all swimmers had hot bodies didn't they? Instead I saw him wave to catch a guy's attention, who then walked off to retrieve something from a corner. Shortly after the guy came back with a wheelchair. I was confused. Hadn't he said he was fine now?
Maybe it was for one of the other guys he was talking to?
A deep sinking feeling came over me as I watched the guy position the wheelchair in front of the steps where Zac was sitting at the bottom, waiting. I watched in horror as Zac started to pull himself up the stairs with his hands, his legs dragging behind him.
I was right about the hot body part, well at least the upper body. Every movement seemed to take effort as I saw the muscles move under his well toned, bronzed back. My gosh, he was hot.
When he finally reached the top he turned himself around on the floor, his back to his chair. He began to grab his legs, which had twisted over each other. Taking the top one carefully, he straightened it and lay it next to his other leg - It was hard to watch. But harder to turn away. He then placed his hand under his thighs just above his knees, and pulled his legs up to his chest. I noticed that the guy never moved to help, just stood standing, waiting just in case. They were talking and joking as far as I could tell. Nothing unusual to them. I felt like I was the only one staring like an idiot.
A few seconds passed as I watched him attempt to lift his butt off the ground and into the chair. It took a couple of goes until he finally got it, leaning forward as he slid his butt all the way in. When he was seated properly, he lifted each leg into place onto a single footplate. I was shocked at the sight of his legs. I definitely didn't remember them looking like that.
At that moment he looked up and caught my eyes, I blushed with shame, at how rude I was being. He didn't seem to notice as he smirked at me and waved before releasing his brakes and pushing off toward the changing rooms.
Taking a huge gulp of air, I got out of the pool. Feeling frozen in time. Why hadn't anyone warned me? My mother should have told me! Zac should have! I felt angry that I was caught in such an awkward position. Oh God! I already had enough on my plate. Dealing with my own problems was enough to drown me, I couldn't deal with this too. I decided I would get changed as fast as I could, and would take off down the street and never come back. I would call mom on the way, tell her to meet me at the mall. I didn't want to think about how cruel I was about to be. Survival instincts seemed to kick in, preserve self over everything else! They seemed to chant at me.
I began to calm down somewhat until a thought dawned on me, the Caldwell's were coming round Saturday for dinner. Shit.
My mind went into overdrive. I could be sick? Or go away for the weekend?
I was still coming up with crazy ideas when I noticed I had already got changed, grabbing my things I peered around the corner to the foyer. No one in sight, I thought. I'll just creep out the doors and…
“There you are!”
I turned around to see Zac wheeling toward me from the men’s changing room.
“You weren't going to run off on me were you?” a smirk playing on his lips.
“O-of course not,” I stammered. He couldn't really know I was thinking that, could he?
“I know. Just pulling your leg.” He wheeled up beside me, as I walked into the foyer.
I stared in shock at him. I didn't know what to say. He was obviously joking. But I didn't feel comfortable joking about legs, not with him.
“Are you okay Lyla? You look a little green. If you don't want to do this right now I understand,” he looked at me concerned, touching my arm. I noticed then I had stopped moving.
At that moment I realised he knew. Or maybe he knew all along? He was giving me an out. If I wanted it.
After a few moments I made my decision. Taking a deep breath I spoke quietly, “No, I'm fine, Zac. Let's go.” I led the way. Charging on ahead, in case I got cold feet and changed my mind. We reached the parking lot and I kept walking.
After a few seconds in I heard my name again, “Ah, Lyla?”
Whirling around, impatient at having been stopped mid-stride, I said a little rudely, “Yes?”
“Just wondering if you were planning on walking all the way there?” he smirked at me, that annoying twinkle in his eye.
Right then I noticed next to the front door, in the handicap parking spaces, he sat next to a car.
His car, obviously. Feeling foolish I walked back the few metres to his car.
“Oh. Can you drive?” I blushed at how rude I sounded, but I really had no idea if he could. Or if someone was going to suddenly appear and drive us to our destination. I was completely ignorant.
“Yes. I can drive. Hand controls. I'll show you,” he said as he unlocked the door. I stood there, not sure how he was going to get in or where he was going to fit his chair. As he parked next to his open door he called to me, “Sorry Lyla. Getting into the car isn't as easy anymore, not when you’re a gimp.” He laughed at his obvious attempt at light humour.
“Ah, no prob. I'll just wait here until you’re finished.” I turned around and leant my back on the car. I didn't want to watch. Plus I felt rude staring.
I tried to think back to when we were young, trying to remember us playing together. I remember he was a little shorter than me. My mother had told me he had had some problems when he was born and I should be very careful playing with him. I remembered we used to play families. We had a specific tree stump in his backyard which became my stove, for making meals for him when he came home from work. He had a swing in his backyard that hung from a tree, that we used to climb up there, imagining we were conquering a new world. We would play cowboys and Indians for hours, I remembered always liking it when he would get shot and would drag himself along the ground trying to get me, I'd giggle and run away. In return for all the boy games he would often come over and play barbies or dolls with me – until my big brother would come along and call him a girl.
As we got a little older I began to see him less and less. Though when we were together we could always think of things to do or talk about for hours. I remembered how it felt when I was told I couldn't see him anymore, I hadn't seen him in a while and every time I asked my mother, she would just say, not today. Later on, she told me it was because he had gotten sick and had had to move away to get better. She didn't know when he would be back.
“Lyla. You can jump in now.” His voice dragging me away from the memories.
“Cool. Thanks,” I said as I climbed in, “By the way where are we going?”
“I thought I 'd take you to my favourite little Cafe in town. It's by the waterfront. You're going to love it.”
And with that we sped off down the road.
I hardly noticed the scenery as it flew by, as he filled me in with all the comical things that happen when you work at the public pools. I found myself relaxing in his company. He never brought up where I had been all this time or what I'd been up to. It was nice.
We arrived in front of the waterfront, as promised. It was amazing how the little town had managed to reinvent itself in the eight short years I had been away. They had restored the waterfront shops to their former early 1900's glory. A pavement of smooth cobblestones lined the streets. Overhead hung baskets of bright flowers. On the waterfront side was the newer shops and restaurants. They had kept to theme, but with modern touches. Palm trees ran down the riverside, like some sort of tropical escape from the town. I felt like I was in a period film, only I didn't know my lines.
I watched as Zac got out of the car this time. I knew if we were going to spend some time together I should get over my irrational fear of things I was unfamiliar with. All my life I had taken the bull by the horns. Until now. Coming home I had felt so unsure of myself but being around Zac for the past fifteen minutes had really made me question whether I really had lost myself. Maybe I had just hidden it.
“Yeah, just admiring the scenery.”
Smiling at me he said, “Well, when you're ready...”
“I'm ready.” Smiling back, I added, “Let's get the show on the road.”
And with that he led us down the street. The cafe was a retro throwback to the 70's inside. Psychedelic wallpaper, huge lava lamps, cushy sofa's in shaggy fur. The staff were even dressed in bellbottoms and tye-dyed T-shirts. I had to giggle. It was amazing!
Zac caught me mid-giggle and chuckled, obviously amused at my fascination with tacky themed places. But what's a girl to do when she knows it's true?
“So I'm guessing I was right. You like it?” smirking still.
“Like it? I love it! I feel like I've stepped back in time. I'm just waiting for someone to offer me hash cookies or a bong!” Laughing at my own cheesy joke, I snorted. Embarrassed, I went on the defensive, “That wasn't what you think it was! I just, I had, I…” I decided to quit while I was ahead. Snorting isn't exactly attractive, but it was too late now for saving face.
He just looked at me amused. “It's okay, Lyla. Believe it or not I have heard snorting before. I think it's cute.”
“Let's just order.” Annoyed that he was just so blasé about everything.
Looking at the limited menu, I began to notice people staring at us. Actually I think it was just Zac. I felt a little weird, as though I was standing next to a giant billboard that said 'look at me!'
I noticed I had begun to move away from him to survey the food cabinet. I don't know if it was conscious or not. I just knew the staring made me feel awkward, even if it wasn't really directed at me.
“Hey man, can I help you?” a young, stoner looking kid asked me.
I had to giggle at that, “Um, yeah. A soy cappuccino with cinnamon, please. What do you want Zac?” Looking over at him questioningly.
“I'll just get a double shot longblack, please. Do you still like garlic mayo fries, Lyla?”
I couldn't believe he remembered that. When we were kids that was all I ever requested when meal-times were served. “Yeah, I love them. I can't believe you remembered that!”
“I remember a lot of things about you,” he said seriously, looking at me in a way that made me uncomfortable. Too familiar. Back to the guy, he said, “And a basket of garlic mayo fries, please.”
The guy completely ignored him, looking at me he said, “Anything else?”
Feeling embarrassed at the situation I said a little rudely, “I don't know, how about you ask my friend here. Zac, did you want anything else?” I stared at Zac, almost willing him to say something about how rude this little jerk-off was being.
Instead he said quietly, “No, I think that's everything.”
“Awesome man, here's your number. That'll be $12.50.”
I huffed to myself as I took the number. Annoyed at the fact Zac hadn't stood up for himself. I was more than willing but I knew that I shouldn't be the one to do it, he should.
I started hunting around in my bag for my purse when Zac put a hand on my hand speaking softly again he said, “I got this, Lyla. I was the one who invited you out, remember?”
I started to protest, but he just placed the money on the counter for the doochebag to take.
“Thanks man,” he said, not even looking at Zac, and with the money securely in the till, he went out the back.
Zac led the way out the back to the patio overlooking the river. I was still too mad to really take in how beautiful and calm it was. I decided to wait till we were seated before I let him have it. “So what the heck? Why didn't you say something to that Jerk-face?”
He sighed and looked down at the table, “What's the point? It doesn't change anything except then he'll think ‘there's that cripple ass-hole' instead of 'oh, there's a handicap dude.'”
“It doesn't matter what he thinks, Lyla. It's not like you were any different.”
I went beet red remembering what a dick I had been not so long ago, “Oh gosh. I know. I'm really sorry. I didn't think you'd noticed!” I felt sick.
“Of course I noticed. I've been getting that kind of reaction for years. I just thought you might have been different. I'm not mad, Lyla... Lyla?”
I think I'm going to hurl. How could I be such an ass? He didn't deserve it. I couldn't look at him. My head was stuck in permanent shame. “Yeah.”
“Ok, you're still alive, that's good.” He chuckled lightly, “I'm really not mad. I just thought you knew. And then when I realised you didn't, I tried not to make a big deal about it, by showing you instead of telling you. That way you had a chance to decide on your own what you wanted to do. I knew you'd get embarrassed if I just came out and told you to your face.”
Man he knew me well. I don't know how? We were only kids back then. Though come to think about it, he was two years older than me, so most likely had a better memory? Scratch that, after everything I've taken, I'm surprised I remember my own name.
“I don't understand? Why are you being so nice to me? We haven't seen each other in fifteen years!?” Confusion seemed to take over my scattered thoughts.
“Oh man. This is going to sound lame...” He paused obviously thinking through his answer carefully, “I never stopped thinking about you, Lyla. Just something about the way you get pissed off at me, or the way you like cheesy things that most people would find stupid. You've always been someone who surprises me. And I couldn't believe it when my mom told me you had come back to town. I was hoping you'd look me up.” He blushed a little. It was a side to him I hadn't seen before. I had seen cocky, sarcastic, funny, serious and confident. But not vulnerable.
“Oh... oh...” I really didn't know what to say.
I knew I always had had a crush on him when we were younger, but we were kids back then. Now I was older, and well, okay, maybe not wiser. But I was different. I had been through some screwed up situations and I wasn’t exactly emotionally stable. I wouldn't even know where to begin in a relationship. I could tell he wanted me to say something back. But I couldn't. The words wouldn't even form properly. I knew it was something to do with not being ready, and I didn't really know him very well, though I thought he was very appealing. Instead he broke the silence.
“Lyla? I'm not asking for your hand in marriage, so chill.” That smirk seemed to be his most prominent feature, along with those deep blue eyes.
Taking a deep breath to clear my head I said, “I know that! I was just thinking.” I grabbed my cigarettes and proceeded to light one. I know it's not good, especially if you’re trying to get fit. I just needed something to calm my nerves.
“What were you thinking about?” he said quietly.
“You.” Another deep breath, “How can you like me when we haven't been around each other in so long? I'm not the same girl anymore, and you’re not exactly the same guy anymore.” I wasn't trying to be rude and point out the obvious. I was just confused. Maybe my mind wasn't on the same frequency as everyone else’s. It seemed like I had a talent for putting my foot in my mouth.
“Haven't you ever just met someone and just clicked with them? You don't have to know their whole life story, but you just seem to know where they're coming from, and they seem to know where you're coming from?” Those blue eyes held mine, “That's how I feel about you. The moment I laid eyes on you, again.” He laughed, “Well, the second time, after I recognised it was you. Before that I just thought, wow, that girl’s really hot.”
I had to laugh at that. “Yeah, I think I get it.”
He made me feel normal somehow? Balanced out my crazy, intense personality with his calm, chilled out manner. I really had never met anyone like him before, well I had, but I mean, again, since then-oh screw it. You know what I mean...
And it seemed like Zac really did know what I meant. In the two and a half hours we spent at the cafe he told me what had happened to him. Where he had gone after he moved away, catching me up to date with everything I had missed. I had forgotten people's lives don't just stop when you move away. People get older, and sometimes wiser. They live life, how they see fit. And boy, did Zac seem fit. I mean, nice, er, good. Yes, that's it...
His life had been a rollercoaster of good and bad. The good seeming more recently, and he had coped with it in fine form. His manner never changed, even when he talked about the hard-times he had gone through. I had to admire that. I really don't think I could have gone through that and come out the other side such an amazing well-adjusted person. I know I'm gushing, but I really was in awe. At some point I had to think, if he can do it, why couldn't I?
By the time he dropped me off at my mother's house it was just after lunch, with a “I'll see you tomorrow” and that was it. But that was all I needed. I almost skipped up to the house.
The next morning I arose to a clatter in the direction of the kitchen, noise seemed to just emanate from that area. I had no idea how I had managed to sleep thus far. Turning lazily to the clock next to me I read 10:08am. I couldn't believe it, I had sleep for 12 hours! I got up and put on the nearest clothes, smelling apprehensively as I went along. Yep, I really needed to get back in touch with responsibility. I had no idea how my mother, the clean freak, had managed to hold her breath all this time.
It really was a disgusting pit. So step two became, taking responsibility of my life. Easier said then done. It took me just over an hour to clean, with a huge pile of laundry in hand I made my way to the kitchen.
In the kitchen stood my mother. She was covered in flour, looking between cookbooks and whatever else she had lying around.
“Ah, hi Ma. Do you need some help?”
Absentmindedly, she turned in my direction briefly, “Oh, hi hun, yes, I'm baking some cupcakes, and marinating meat, oh and various other things. It's been a while since I've had more than one person in the house.” She laughed, as she shrugged toward the mess.
Laughing back, I snorted, “Yes, I can see that. Just give me a minute to put some washing on and I'll come save you from the mess.”
We spent the next couple hours chatting about everything that had happened, and more recently, Zac. It felt good to open up now that I was ready. My mother had some unusually clear insight on the Zac issue. She didn't make any judgements until she had heard me out. But she also filled me in on another perspective. He could be good for me. I knew this deep down, but I had always thought I needed to get my shit together before entering a relationship. Especially with someone who had been through so much. I didn't want to pull anyone else down with me if I went under.
She told me that sometimes it's good to have someone who understands, someone who can be the sun on your cloudy days. Someone who recognised you, through and through, and could stand by you when shit got rough. I understood. I wouldn't be sentencing him to a lifetime of draught, because he was whole enough to weather that season, and maybe bring a fresh perspective. It felt good to be in a positive mind-frame even if it was only about one issue
At four o'clock on the dot the doorbell rang, it was the Caldwells. My mother greeted them all with a hug, I waited patiently just a bit further down the hallway. The Caldwell's greeted me with exuberant hugs and, “It is so good to see you dear, it's been a long time.” They really were good people.
After the formalities were out of the way, Mr. Caldwell stepped back outside. Right then I saw Zac waiting patiently. He just smiled that familiar smirk, and my heart skipped a beat or two. He really was too much sometimes.
“ Hey,” he said, with a little wave, before wheeling backward to position himself back to the steps. Mr Caldwell, then leant down and heaved him up the two stairs to the front door. After clearing the doorway, and the old folk had made their way to the kitchen chatting animatedly, he looked at me, properly this time. “So, how are you?” His blue eyes crinkled a little.
“I'm fine,” I said politely. It felt weird. Too formal. Like I was getting picked up for prom or something? I didn't know how to break the ice or tell him that I wanted to try. Instead I said, “Mom made cupcakes.” (L.A.M.E.)
He cracked up at that, “Nice. I really love cupcakes. But seriously, how are you?”
“Yeah, I'm good. I feel... good. You?” I totally turned it round, still at a loss at how to broach the subject. I especially did not want to do it in the hallway. I began to walk down the hallway, then turned to say, “You want to go outside?”
“Yeah, sure.” he followed suit.
We ignored the parental units talking in the kitchen and went out to the deck. It's a place where I feel comfortable, where I like to do my best decision making. He seemed to sense the need for privacy and didn't say anything when we rounded the corner, toward the side of the deck where it was private.
I sat down, partly to be on the same level as him, I wanted to be able to read his face when I said my piece. As nerve-racking as it was going to be I knew the truth was important to each of us. The other reason was because I had never really looked at him properly. I knew I had seen things: dark hair, blue eyes, beautiful and sometimes annoying smile. I knew he had a beautiful body underneath those nice clothes--it is a total bonus when a guy knows how to throw an outfit together; his personality is what had threw me off guard. But I knew I had to make sure I was physically attracted to him because that would be important later on...
He looked how I imagined a guy in a chair should look. Somehow though it really suited him. I had never been attracted to a guy in a chair before, but I could definitely say that this guy could change my mind on that subject any day. Looking at him in that way made me want him wrap those big arms around me, and have him make me laugh again. I didn't want to go through the formalities of the 'hey do you want to be my boyfriend?'
This was going to be scary. Maybe even more so for him. I already had nothing to lose, so if things turned south, it wasn't going to make much of a difference. At least that's what I told myself.
More deep breaths--they tell you it's good for you, right? “So I really like you, but I think you figured that out before me. I just want to say yeah, I'd like to hang out with you more.”
That was it? What the heck? Where was the big speech? The professing of undying love, and how he was so happy that I realised I liked him too?
“Er, is that it?”
“Yeah. I think that's enough, don't you? You know how I feel.” He smirked that smirk at me.
It honestly felt like the sun had come out. Stupid as that sounds, it was true. It felt like everything with Zac was easy as breathing. Nothing really ruffled him, but I knew he had feelings, I had seen that. He was my balance.
I started to protest, “Well, I don't think that--”
He cut me off with a kiss that ran right down to my toes. Breathlessly he let me go, “Was that enough of an answer?” Smirking at me still.
I had to grin at the nerve of him. I did not expect that. But then again, I had had no real expectations when I came home. And definitely no expectations to fall in love again.
“Oh, shut up and come here.” Instead I went to him and plopped myself on his lap. We picked up where we left off, until our parents and my brother and his family (they must have arrived shortly after we went outside) came and interrupted us. Looking up grinning like two kids that had been caught with their hands in the cookie jar, we laughed.
“You two, always up to no good!” They joined in laughing.
The rest of the night continued in the same high spirits. Everything was chilled. And I realised how nice it was to be home, really for the first time. I didn't feel the flight or fight impulse anymore. And that's how it should be. Shouldn't it? No more drama.
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