“Mum? Dinner’s ready.” With one fluid movement, I slipped the pizza wraps into the bread basket and carried them outside. We had laid the table below the lilac bush to catch the last rays of the setting sun. It was shortly past eight and mum had come back from Dublin about an hour ago, looking exhausted but cheerful – just the mood I had hoped for.
Pizza wraps are about the same thing as pizza, only rolled up like a roll of parchment. Mum had brought plenty of stuff to fill them and I was starving. Fred and I had had a little pick-nick with the food he had brought, but that felt like ages ago.
“So… how was your day?”, I asked mum when she finally sat down opposite me.
“Fine.”, mum said, taking a huge bite that was sure to prevent her from speaking for the next few minutes. Very well planned. I began to eat myself and found that I wasn’t able to stop. I was too hungry.
After a few minutes of biting, chewing and swallowing, mum said “Arthur and I did our shopping and then we went for some coffee and he recommended some places to visit while we’re at Dublin. It was very pleasant. What about you?”
Hoping that I was not going to blush, I smiled at her. “Fred came here around noon, because his mum seems to be of the opinion that my skills of cooking with leftovers can’t be trusted, so we had a pick-nick. But apart from that…”
“Nothing, really. Just a lazy, uneventful day.”
The next day began in a good way. Mum and I were both too lazy to do anything, so we just lay about outside the cottage, reading and listening to music. It turned out to be another very fine day with exactly the right temperature to take a walk, so we explored the forests around us all afternoon, ending up in Kilkenny, where we bought cake in a bakery and sat down outside it to enjoy the sunshine. We didn’t talk much all day, remarks about the beauty around us were quite sufficient.
On the upside, I hadn’t spent such a peaceful day with mum for a very long time. As long as I didn’t tell her that my ankle was hurting again because of all the exercise, we were bound to get along. I enjoyed being around the old mum that was starting to reappear. She’d been a nightmare while I’d been at the hospital or recovering at home. But tell me, when will she be able to dance again? Will she be able to apply? It’s her future, you know. Had it been a good feeling to rub it in? I suppressed these thoughts until bedtime. When the cottage became dark and silent, I lay on my back on the floor, feeling the pressure of the cool floor boards against my spine. The cool wood felt soothing to the scars on my back. On the upside, the crack that had existed between me and mum ever since that day in Conflans seemed to be closing.
On the downside, I hadn’t seen Fred all day. It was the stupidest thing to feel. It was an extremely foolish thing and I was surprised how much that fact hurt, when I allowed my feelings to run loose. When had this happened? Two days. I told myself. You’ve known him for barely two days. You don’t feel anything except pleasure at a new acquaintance and you’re mistaking it for love. Or whatever. Suddenly, I felt so stupid, lying there in the dark and thinking about Fred that way.
This boy looks like he’s broken many hearts. Mum was right. I needed to be careful. I needed to avoid him as much as possible.
I needn’t have thought of it for so long. Mum decided to take the matter into her own hands. She woke me up next morning, telling me to hurry up and that we would be spending the day in Kilkenny. All day.
Mumbling sleepily, I got dressed and went downstairs to find mum talking to Arthur outside the cottage. Mum’s cheeks were glowing and she was smiling. When they caught sight of me, Arthur muttered hello and disappeared into the forest. What had that been about?
We took the short route to Kilkenny, eating our breakfast somewhere on the way. As we entered the town, mum suggested to split up for a while and I readily agreed.
I should have been joyful at the prospect of being able to go wherever I wanted – burning to see every little side street and ancient house, but I wasn’t. My heart wasn’t in it. I could think only of the hours I had spent at the lake with Fred or how we had browsed his virtual library. Everything else seemed unreal. I ended up in a tiny bookstore, staring at the spines and looking for Fred’s favourite book. Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore by Robin Sloan. A book about books.
When I met up with mum about two hours later I was surprised to see that she wasn’t alone. Fred was standing beside her. Mum looked extremely grumpy.
“Hey, Mag!”, Fred called happily. “How are you?”
“Fine, thanks.” The moment I had caught sight of him, I had been completely fine. I had felt ready to do anything. Stupid, stupid me.
“Listen”, said Fred, pulling me away from mum who was tactful enough to pretend to be looking at some postcards in front of a shop. “I’m meeting some of my old school friends tonight. Just a couple of people. It’s gonna be cozy. Not much of a party, but I wondered… would you like to come?”
“Um…” He had no idea of the battle he had set off inside me. Avoid him. Avoid him. Avoid him. It turned out that I couldn’t. “That sounds wonderful. Where are we meeting them?” Yeah, my plan was working out really well…