A month in a row flashing with with the Free Fiction Friday Group!
Pick yourselves up from the floor, people!
IF YOU LOVE SOMETHING
( IYLS )
David and Jesse are childhood friends who get separated in their teens but meet up again at university in Newcastle, Australia.
They soon find out that though some things remain the same, other change… oh boy, do they change.
Dragging my thoughts back to the present, I smiled as I looked about the house. Mum’s theme was all silver and crystal and I had to admit, it did look kind of magical. She’d loved the earrings, book, and theatre tickets I’d bought her, and I don’t know how she managed it, but I had a new laptop.
At least, it wasn’t so hot this year. It was proving to be a fairly wet summer, so our traditional roast wasn’t going to make me sweat like a pig.
Looking at Mum as she took a sip of her wine, I felt a wave of love for her flow through me. Losing Erik had taught me a really valuable lesson—when you love someone you should let them know, because you never knew when, or if, you were going to lose them.
Reaching for her hand, feeling a bit of an idiot, but needing to say it anyway, I softly told her, “I love you, Mum,” as the heat seared my cheeks.
She squeezed my hand, her eyes watering, “I know you do, honey. I love you, too.”
CHAPTER 11: SEEING GHOSTS
Present Day (David, 20)
Turning off the bedside lamp, I lay back down and closed my eyes, placing the album beside me on the bed, and allowed myself a few moments to miss and to hurt. I gave myself permission to miss Jeremy and Erik, to hurt at their physical absence. I let myself be sad, and I let myself wonder what they were doing, and to hope that maybe, just sometimes, they missed me and hurt at my absence.
Is this a razor I see before me? To shave, or not to shave, that is the question?
I paused in my contemplation of my reflection in the mirror, waiting for a bolt of lightning to strike me down for my blasphemy. Not only was I dicking with the words of The Bard, but I couldn’t even be consistent and stick with the same play! Macbeth and Hamlet?
Okay, no lightning strike, Shakespeare was obviously content to merely turn in his grave.
I sighed as I regarded the image looking back at me from the mirror. Damn hair! Why did it always have to stick out everywhere? Poking my tongue out at myself, I went with not to shave.
A quick glance at my watch told me I’d better crank it up a notch, or I’d be late for work. Detouring via my room, I grabbed my black work apron off my bed, tucking it into the back pocket of my jeans, before heading out the back door to grab my bike. Exiting the house, I sighed. No southerly change in sight—it was going to be another hot night.
I walked my bicycle to the street front, a yawn escaping me, my previous night’s lack of sleep catching up with me. Bugger. I was so tired already, and I had a ten-hour shift ahead of me. Frowning, I mounted and pushed off feeling a bit peeved about having to work on a Saturday night. I’d had to swap my shifts at the burger joint from Friday nights to Saturdays, as my classes for the semester made it impossible to be at work by six.
Bobbi was home for the weekend, so she and Sam would be out, and I’d be working, and if they acted true-to-form, they’d probably even stop in after midnight for a damn burger which I’d get to cook for them. Traditionally, Friday nights were pub nights in Newcastle, but usually we were all too shattered by Friday to want to hit the town, especially if Bobbi had had to drive up from Sydney that day, so Saturdays had become our night to write ourselves off.
Oh well, I suppose it will save me a few dollars.
As I rode, I tried to shake off my bad mood. I knew the real reason for my shitty attitude, of course, other than another restless night. Today was Jeremy’s birthday. That knowledge was probably what had subconsciously prompted my need to drag out my photo album and take a jaunt down memory lane. Twenty-one. I wondered what he’d be doing for his twenty-first. Going out and celebrating big time, I’d bet. He’d always been a people person.
I doubt he’s flipping burgers.
Where had they moved to, I wondered, after they’d returned from Africa? It seemed incredible to me that with things like the Internet, I hadn’t been able to track him down. It was like he’d disappeared off the face of the earth.
As pointless as it was, I couldn’t help wondering where he was and what he was doing. I still thought of him a lot, especially at birthdays, Easter, and Christmas. I felt a bit stupid knowing that I continued to miss him, miss our friendship, even after all these years. He’d been playing on my mind, even more so than usual, since uni went back for the year. There’d been a few times, I could’ve sworn I’d seen him on campus, off, in the distance.
Wishful thinking, Sadler. Well, wherever the hell you are, Jere, Happy Birthday.
Gliding to a halt in front of Darby’s Burgers, I dismounted and returned Howie’s wave.
“Hey, Howie, how are you?” I asked, carrying my bike through to the back of the shop. I didn’t want to leave tread marks on the floor; I’d be the one mopping it up later, after all.
No sense in making more work for myself.
“Great, kid. You’re looking a little tired. Are they riding your arse at uni already?”
“Yeah, a bit,” I called back as I deposited my bike in the little courtyard which was situated at the rear of the premises. I quickly removed my helmet before tying my apron about my hips and walking to the front of the shop, ready for another busy night.
“You’d think the helmet would flatten that hair of yours, David.” Howie chuckled with a shake of his head. “Maybe you should get a crew cut like me?”
Cocking my head to the side, I pretended to study his hair, or rather his lack of it. I knew he shaved it every few days to a Number One, and I always found it such a contrast to his big, dark beard that reached down his chest. Wearing his shop uniform of black jeans and t-shirt, he looked a hell of a lot like a biker.
“Uhh, I don’t think so.” I grinned in return, remembering all too well the one time my mother, in her frustration with my poke-out-every-which-way-hair, had done just that. I was eight at the time and ended up looking like a refugee. I’d go so far as to swear on a bible that Jeremy had teased and laughed at me nearly every day for a month before his mother, in an effort to shut him up, had finally done the same to him. And shut him up, it had—he’d looked even worse than me.
“Okay, Howie, grill or fryer?” I always asked him this question, but I may as well not have bothered because ninety-nine per cent of the time he took the fryer, and I would man the grill. It took a lot more coordination and timing to do the grill, and Howie liked the way he had more time to chat with the customers and take orders if he was doing the fryers.
“You on the grill, at least that way I can minimize the amount of time the girls who are coming in for a feed have to try to chat you up!”
I rolled my eyes at him before bending down to check the fridges to make sure I had enough lettuce, tomato, beetroot, and all the condiments and extras I might need for the night.
“You should get yourself a date, David.”
This was not the first time we’d had this conversation.
“I don’t have time for one. Between uni, Mum, working, and getting my flight hours up, I hardly have time to scratch, let alone date.”
“I bet if the right one came along, you’d make time.” Howie said with a sly smile tugging at his lips.
This was also not the first time I’d heard that or similar from him in the six years I’d been working for him and yet the right one, as he liked to put it, hadn’t made an appearance yet. Well, maybe he had, but then he’d left. Pursing my lips, I refrained from pointing any of that out to him and just shrugged my shoulders. Luckily for me, a young family walked through the door, putting an end to Howie’s well-meaning, but annoying, chitchat. I just wasn’t in the mood for it.
It was almost midnight and Howie was out the back having a break before the rush hit us, as it usually did after the pubs closed and the crowds made their way to the various nightclubs in the area. Things had been going smoothly until the drunk of the day walked in. You could always count on something funny happening on a Friday or Saturday night. There was nothing, I’d discovered, like mixing alcohol with hormones to bring out the horny, clumsy, clownish, or downright stupid in people.
Tonight’s entertainment came in the form of a pale, slender girl with long blonde hair. I supposed she was attractive, if you were into the delicate china doll thing. The guy with her was taller and darker, and had eyes he was struggling to focus.
At first glance, they seemed normal, but as soon as she opened her mouth to speak, I burst out laughing. I quickly turned my back on them and faced the grill; my attempts to stifle my humor made my shoulders shake with the effort. Taking a few deep breaths, I got myself under control; at least, I thought I did. I turned back around just as she looked up at him, giving him a big smile and running her tongue over her bottom lip in what I’m sure she thought was a seductive move. I tried so hard to hold in my laugh that it came out as a snort and I quickly turned back to the grill, my whole body shaking with mirth.
“Just a sec, guys,” I croaked. “Something I swallowed has gone down the wrong tube!” I pounded my chest and hoped my laughter would pass as coughs and splutters.
He has to see! He can’t be so tanked he doesn’t see! How is he not laughing?
Sucking in my cheeks, I turned, trying not to look at her, but I couldn’t help it, and this time, I had to race out the back as my laughter broke free of me in large fits and spurts.
“Howie! Howie, you have to serve this couple, I can’t. Every time I look at her, I lose it! Sorry!” I managed to get out as I laughed myself silly.
“What’s so funny about them?” Howie asked as he peeked through the curtain.
“It’s her. She’s so pale, and she’s been drinking something blue ‘cause, she’s got a purple tongue and lips and gums… even her teeth are blue… and it’s freakin’ hilarious—she thinks she’s so effing sexy. Howie, she looks like a zombie out of some lame B-Grade horror flick! She’s flirting with him; smiling, licking her lips… thinking she’s so pretty… and she looks so bloody stupid! You have to go see.” I choked out between bursts of laughter as I bent over holding my stomach.
“Um, okay,” he answered, a little dubiously.
Finally getting myself under some semblance of control, I listened to Howie taking their order, and by the tone of his voice and the way he kept clearing his throat, I knew he was struggling not to laugh as well. It wasn’t until I heard them leave that I ventured out, a big grin splitting my face. I looked at Howie, who was now succumbing to his own fit of laughter.
“You’re right, kid, she was hysterical. Totally, blissfully, unaware of how ridiculous she looked. Too bloody funny!” he chortled happily. “God, how could that guy not laugh? He must have been so drunk that he couldn’t see two inches beyond his nose! No way could he have kept a straight face if he’d actually seen her!”
Hearing the bell over the door pulled me back to the present, and I turned, smiling widely, to see a group of drunk young men enter.
My smile froze on my face.
No, it can’t be!
But it was.
I’d have recognized him anywhere. His blond hair may have darkened somewhat, but it didn’t matter – I’d still have known him.
I could still see traces of the boy I’d known in his happy, dancing eyes and dimpled cheek, but the guy in front of me was a man. Gone was the childish roundness to his face, revealing high cheekbones, and a chiseled jaw currently covered in what looked to be a three-day growth of beard. My hand went to my own cheek, feeling the roughness of my stubble.
Fuck! Holy shit! When did Jere become good-looking?
The boy I remembered had been all arms and legs, with hands and feet too big for his body. His hair had always been a messy sun-bleached tangle, and he usually had a dirty smudge somewhere on his face. This guy looked like a model with his little-boy-lost looks and blond-streaked light brown curls that spoke of hours spent outdoors. The only thing saving his face from that sulky, pouty look so favored by the high end fashion mags, was the cheeky dimple creasing his left cheek.
Jesus Christ. Jere is sexy!
Panicking, I dropped to my knees, pretending to do my shoelaces up. I needed time.
He was here.
He was really here, and I didn’t know what to do.
Would he recognize me?
Bloody hell, do you want him to recognize you right now, Sadler, when you’re sporting a huge freakin’ boner.
My mind was in turmoil. I stared at my crotch, horrified at my body’s instant reaction to him. Part of me screamed it was wrong. This was the boy I’d grown up with. Well, kind of grew up with. My best friend. Shit, we’d been like brothers. The other part of me yelled back that he wasn’t my brother, and he sure as hell wasn’t a boy. He was a man. A damn sexy man. A damn sexy man, who I knew to be smart, funny, and loyal. A man who got me like no one else ever had. Not even Bobbi.
I listened as he placed his order with Howie, his voice richer and deeper than I remembered. He sauntered outside to wait with his mates, and I couldn’t help watching him as he joked around with them, a twinge of jealousy piercing my gut—he seemed so comfortable with them. Maybe he’d forgotten me. It had, after all been seven years.
Howie raised an eyebrow at me in silent question, but I ignored him and continued making their burgers, my eyes turning to stare at every possible moment, willing him to look at me.
To remember me.
For one split second, I thought he had, but as he stayed outside I figured it must’ve been wishful thinking.
One of his mates collected their entire order, taking it outside where they sat at the tables, feeding their faces as if they hadn’t seen food in months. Jere was the worst of them all, wolfing his down. Christ, did he even chew? I smiled. Well, it seemed some things never changed.
A crippling wave of disappointment washed through me when they finished eating and headed off down the street, joking and carrying on as they went.
He hadn’t seen me.
Silently, I berated myself. Why hadn’t I made myself known to him? After all these years of wanting him back in my life, why had I just let him walk out of it again? I couldn’t explain to myself why I’d needed him to come to me. For him to remember me. Jesus Christ, Sadler, you are a stupid dickhead! He was right there and you let him walk away!
The rest of the night passed in a blur, and I kept hoping against hope he’d come back so I could do it over again. This time I’d approach him.
To go home would mean the end of that hope, so I offered to lock up, once again ignoring Howie’s silent query. I dawdled, stretching the whole process out as long as I could.
Inhaling deeply, unable to delay anymore, I turned the last light off and hoisted my bike in my arms, awkwardly heading toward the door when I heard Howie talking to someone.
“Are you waiting for David, mate?” I heard Howie ask.
In my gut, I knew it was Jeremy.
“Ah, yeah, I am. Will he be long?”
Oh my God, it is him. He realized. He came back.
“No, not long at all. Should only be a few more minutes. He’s just locking up for the night. Does he know you’re waiting? Shall I call him?”
“No, that’s fine. I’ll wait. You go.” I heard Jere reassure Howard.
“Okay, then. I’m Howard, or Howie, take your pick.”
Jere’s reply had a warm feeling spreading out from the center of my chest. “Jeremy. I’m an old friend of Davie’s from Byron Bay.”
“Well, Jeremy, great to meet you. We’ll be bound to see each other again if you’re a mate of David’s”
And with that I heard Howie walk away.
Slowly, taking my time, still trying to calm the excitement zinging through my veins, I stepped outside, allowing myself only a brief glance at Jeremy, before turning my back to him and putting down my bike. I locked the door.
Turning, unable to withhold the smile that curved the corner of my mouth, I told him, “Happy Birthday, Jere.”
He returned my smile. “Thanks, Davie.”
And now the fun really begins!
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