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Illicit

Sunday evening, the lost, pale fragments of Saturday night.  This is the place where excitements go to die, last night’s adrenalin rush of a mirror ball cascading its light, the overplayed enthusiasm of a spontaneous, drunken moment in the middle of a high street, a vision of a momentary lover, who fell through the gaps of nowhere, sometime in the early hours.  You come here on a Sunday to refresh your social contract, make amends and prepare for a new beginning, Monday morning charging at you relentlessly, complete with all its horrors, like a never-ending apparition from that other world, the one that for forty-eight hours you forgot.

I walked here tonight.  I wasn’t in the mood for waiting with everyone else and getting the bus, or even a taxi.  I wanted solitude for a while, the cool freshness of an early September evening, when the remnants of Summer still linger for an instant longer but threaten to vanish without warning, rather like their Saturday night counterparts.  In short, I felt like a stroll into town to get my thoughts together. 

So now I’m sitting with Joel by the window in The Ship and he’s asking me questions like he does.  You know the sort of thing.  I’m not listening much to what the boy’s saying because none of it matters, not really, not now.  I’ve got my mind on other things.  Sweet sounds pour forth from the jukebox by the wall, like they have since June.

“So what happened to you last night?” he asks.  His fringe flops over his eyes as he looks at me, a grin on his face.

“I was with you lot.  Remember.”

“I know you were with us.  But I’m talking about later.  We lost you after about midnight.  Not long after we’d got into Ritzi.”

“Did you?”

“Yes.  What happened to you?”

“Now, that, Joelly-boy, would be telling.  And you know me.  I don’t tell.”

He looks at me and smiles.

“I suppose not,” he says.  “I won’t ask again.”

“I just met up with a few people, that’s all.  People you wouldn’t know.  People I knew at school.  People from ages ago.”

“I thought so.”  He smiles and drinks his beer and nods his head to the music. 

I don’t say anything.  But, if he thinks I’m going to spill the beans about what I’m up to, especially at this delicate stage, he’s got another thing coming.  Though a little information would be useful from my point of view.

“Who were you with, anyway,” I ask.

“Just the usual lot.” He looks at me as if I’ve asked a strange question, which I suppose I have if you think about it like that.

“Who was that, then?”

“You know.  The usual lot.  Andy and Chris and the rest.”

“What about Greg?”

“I think he was about. Not sure.”

“Was he with Cindy?”

“Not sure.  He might have been.” 

I don’t say anything for the moment, just sip my beer. 

“Yes, he was,” he says.  “He’s there with her every Friday and Saturday night, isn’t he?”

“That’s true.”

This all seems a convenient moment to recharge my glass.  I finish the remainder of the beer.

“Fancy another?” I say.

“Why not?”

I head to the bar and stand and look around.  There’s a group of girls a few feet away.  They’re Cindy’s friends and she’s often found in the same spot, with them.  That’s when Greg’s not around, of course.  I smile at one of them and she smiles back and I lean on the bar.  The barman sees me and comes over and I order two beers.  They’ve turned up the jukebox and it still floats across the Summer evening. 

On the way back I glance out of the window at the crowds outside.  It will be dark soon.  I go back to the table.

“There you are,” I say.

“Cheers,” says Joel. 

“Wonder where the rest of them are.”

“Who’s coming out?”

“The lot you were with last night.  Andy I think.  And Chris.  And some of the others.”

“Fair enough.”

“Greg can’t have long left, can he?”

“What do you mean?”

“Before he goes back. You know.  To uni.”

“No, I don’t suppose he has.”

“When’s he goin?

Joel laughs

“You know as much as I do on that one.  A few weeks, I suppose.”

“Guess you’re right.”

I sip my beer and glance again out of the window, checking who’s around.  There are just groups I know by sight. 

“What about you?” I ask.  “You’re going away yourself soon, aren’t you?”

“Three weeks on Sunday.”

“Sounds good.”

“Can’t wait.”

He looks happy.  I can’t blame him.  I would if I was going.  So much for my choice to have a year off.  A year “in industry” they call it.  I suppose it will give me some money when I finally leave this town.

Just as I’m thinking all this, the door opens, and in walk the rest of the gang.  Andy’s here and Chris.  I smile to myself.

“All right lads.”  Andy looks at us. “Fancy another?”

“I’d love one,” I reply.  “But I’ve got to get off.  For a while.”

“Where are you off?” asks Joel.

“Just got stuff to do.”

“What’s that?”

“Places to go, people to see,” I say. “If you see Greg, say hello.”

“I will.”

“And if you see Cindy, give her my love.”  He laughs.

“I’ll remember.”

I get up and head out of the pub and onto the street.  It’s dark now, a blue, clear night, punctuated with stars.  I walk down the street, hands in my pockets, the way clear to where I want to be.  There’s expectation in my heart, excitement in my soul.  I’ve got goosebumps and butterflies in my stomach and the rest.  It’s the anticipation and what the rest of the night brings, tinged with the edge that comes from leaving the straight and narrow. 

I cross the road and walk past the wine bar, where there are more crowds outside.  I know some of them and I almost manage to get by without being seen.  At least I think I do.  Then I look ahead, into a pair of blue eyes that are fixed on me.  It’s a boy I knew at school, only a couple of years ago but it already seems like a different life.

“Evening,” he says.

“Evening.” I have to stop.  I haven’t any choice.  I can’t pretend I’ve not seen him.

“How’s it going? Not seen you for ages.”

“No. That’s true. Got a job. Taking a year out.”

The descent into small talk becomes the norm, for a few moments.  Meaningless reminiscences take hold, things that happened at school, what we did after leaving.  “Do you remember that time?” that sort of thing.  They’re the questions that seem pointless, drag you down, hold you back.  Who do people cling to the past?  Why can’t they move on?  You’re only just on the cusp of adulthood and some are pretending that the glory years have gone forever. 

That’s the sort of thing that’s going through my mind, standing here.  It makes me feel uncharitable, which I know I am.  This boy’s only being friendly.  But I can’t help myself.  I can’t relax and just exchange a few words, I need to move on, do what I need to do.  I don’t know if my uptight feeling shows.  As I’m standing here, I’m looking round at who’s going by, if they’ve seen me.  What if Greg comes the other way, on his way to The Ship?  I’ll have to pretend I’m on the way there myself, walk up with him.

Then, suddenly, the conversation’s over and I bid the boy farewell. I’m on my way, back down the street.  It’s natural, the sort of break that happens without you thinking about it.  I walk down as quickly as possible.  I can’t risk any more interruptions, not tonight.  I’m at the top of the high street now.  There’s an alleyway ahead and I head down it.  It’s dark down here, just a dim street light.  It’s probably not safe to come down here.  But what the hell.  Sometimes you have to take a chance, don’t you.

I walk to the end.  “If you see Cindy, give her my love.”  That makes me smile.  Joel won’t see her, will he?  I know that, for certain.  And she wasn’t with Greg on Saturday.  I know that as well. Greg.  My old friend Greg.  I’ve been hanging round with him in The Ship for years since we discovered the pub and all of its wonders and its charms when we reached the age when we both started coming out.  Who’d have thought it would have come to this.

There’s a figure ahead of me.  She’s leaning against the lamppost, her blonde hair hanging loosely over her shoulders and down her back, like she was last night in a half-hidden corner of Ritzi.  She’s looking the other way right now.  But then she hears my footsteps and turns.  She throws her hair back and a smile crosses her face, as it has all this endless Summer of stolen half-glances and knowing eyes.  This is it.  The start of something strong, new, and very wicked.  The events of Saturday night are moving towards their natural beginning.  And with them comes the promise of many more illicit moments like this in the weeks that lie ahead.

 

 

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