I saw him before he saw me. He was sitting on a bar stool near the pool tables. He’d had a shower and put good clothes on – well, sort of good. If he’d come straight from the beach I would have felt stupid all dressed up. His white t-shirt made his arms look strong and brown, not like a kid at all. His muscles flexed under his skin. He was wearing jeans and his long legs stretched in front of him. The minute he saw me he didn’t take his eyes off me. He didn’t move the whole time I walked, like nothing else existed except me walking towards him. Like it was a movie and we were the only ones in the shot.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” he said under his breath.
“I said I would, didn’t I?” I kept my eyes low and lazy.
“Yeah, but girls don’t always do what they say.”
“Is that right?” I raised my eyes.
“Yeah.” The word lasted to the end of his breath. He looked down my body, slowly. I felt cold and tingly all over. I like the way he makes me feel. It’s not so much that he’s good-looking. It’s the way he moves and talks. It’s the sound and smell of him, like it’s chemical or something. Raw. The first time I saw him on the beach he looked at me the way I wanted to be looked at. Not like Kimberley – he’s like a warm bath you couldn’t be bothered getting out of.
“What are you looking at?” I made my voice soft.
He slowly raised his eyes to mine and smiled.
I remember what it was like when Mum was alive. It’s as if my life is a room with only one light bulb in it. The light was on when Mum was alive and then it was switched off. It’s as simple as that. It’s the same feeling as when you walk into a house after you’ve been in bright sunlight. Your eyes haven’t yet adjusted to the change and you stumble around the most familiar things. I can’t seem to maintain a normal expression on my face. My smile’s gone really weird. My bottom lip trembles as though I’m about to start crying. All the misery I feel inside keeps welling to the surface. I should be over it by now, that’s what everyone thinks. It’s been more than a year. But sometimes I feel a little crack open, a tiny scale will lifts and it flood back as fresh and terrible as the day it happened.
I remember walking through Hyde Park on my way to school shortly after she died. I looked at things in a way I had never looked before. The green. The wind. The fresh morning air. The fountain. The ducks and pigeons. I’d never thought before that beings other than people could exist in the city. I wondered about the ducks and their ducklings. Where would their nest be? The little eggs somewhere safe, unseen. I had never thought about these things before. I would look at the people walking past, especially young people who were laughing and happy. I would stare into their eyes. I knew I was being weird but I couldn’t stop myself. I wanted to clutch at their collars and make them help me – as though I’d lost a dog and they might be able to help me find it. But what can you say? Where is she? Have you seen her? Is she coming back? I couldn’t believe that this weight was only on my shoulders. How could other people not feel it also? I wanted to say, Isn’t it terrible? Everything has changed, Nothing will ever be the same again.
I sat there with Melissa, desperately searching for the right thing to say as the silence grew between us. Strangely enough, I felt for the first time that I was sharing something with her, terrible as it was. I found myself staring at the backyard: not in a daze, but intently. I looked at the rickety clothesline, the trees struggling through the black plastic, the old paling fence, the rusted bike leaning against the garage, the caravan. It all seemed so unfamiliar, as though I was seeing it for the first time. Where am I? I wondered. What strange part of the world have I landed in? I knew then that nothing would ever be the same for me again, whether I liked it or not. I had taken a step and there was no going back.
After a time Melissa turned towards me. Even though it had become quite dark, there was still enough light from the house for me to see her clearly. There was no sign of tears in her eyes now.
“You know, Rebecca, I’m seventeen next year,” she said. “I don’t have to come back here.”
I stared at her, without being able to answer. For a moment I’d felt closer to her than I could ever remember and now she was telling me I’d be here on my own next year. I felt my heart swell up into my throat. My head got hot and heavy. I suppose I’d known it would happen. I had to happen sooner or later but still it was a shock. It was over. Finished. The whole thing. The whole show. All I’d wished was that it might have been good just once before it was over.