“Aw, Erica!” Mal whined as Erica came out of the locker room. There were tears in her eyes, the kind of tears that you could easily wipe away with a couple of shots down at the bar, or at least that’s what Malerie would do. “You’ll get ‘em next year.”
“I can’t believe we just lost the championship,” was all she could say while climbing into the back of my explorer. The two of them talked the whole car ride, and I would have joined in had my mind not been elsewhere.
What did Louis really mean when he asked me for drinks? It could have been a date proposal, but not likely. The more logical excuse was he probably didn’t know what else to say, and so I convinced myself that it was just conversation and didn’t mean anything. But no matter how I took it, I turned him down regardless. “What are you up there thinking about?” Erica asked from the back seat, peering at me in the rearview.
“Nothing at all,” I replied secretively.
“Don’t lie to us Carrie,” Malerie said, “I saw you over there talking to some guy.”
Erica gasped and leaned forward. “Who was it?!”
“He was cute, whoever he was.”
“Not helping, Mal.”
Erica thought for a second and then somehow figured it out. “Was it Louis? I know Helen was there, so he had to have been there too.” I sat in silence and didn’t say a word, but she took that silence as some kind of indication that she was right. “It was! What did he say? What did you talk about?”
“Not much, really. He did ask me to go for drinks.”
“I said I had plans. I’m not interested in getting drinks with a guy that could care less.”
I saw a brief eye roll in the rearview mirror. “He obviously fancies you…just give him a call and tell him your plans changed and you’ll be happy to go out. Trust me, Carrie, you need to get out there and have fun. You shouldn’t bottle yourself up just because you have cancer.”
She paused right when she said it and her eyes got wide as she covered her mouth with both hands, trapping any remaining words inside. What she said was a little harsh, but I was more concerned about Malerie, who glanced over at me out of the corner of her eye and asked, “What? Carrie, you have cancer?”
My poor explorer spit and sputtered and the engine grumbled. I groaned, “Not again,” and merged over to the shoulder. The vehicle died before I could even switch it off, and I rested my head on the steering wheel. “Damn it.”
I unbuckled my seatbelt and opened the door. “Probably the alternator belt again.”
The girls followed me to the hood and I raised it, smoke pouring out from under it. “Or it was a freaking blown engine,” Malerie said, angry. “You realize that I have to be at my parents’ in two hours, right?!”
“Relax, we’ll take a train,” Erica said, pointing over to the train station which, luckily, was only about a mile away.
“If you think I’m walking in the rain, you’re mad.”
“Malerie, knock it off!”
The two of them argued back and forth as usual, and I pulled out my cell phone. Jonah couldn’t do anything about this, of course, both of my only friends were stuck here with me, and my dad wouldn’t answer even if he wanted to. The only other contact in my phone was Louis, and I wasn’t about to resort to that.
“Would you just shut up, it’s not that big a deal! Your Gucci shoes will survive, I promise!”
“Erica you’re such a bi—”
“Enough!” I yelled at them. “I’m trying to find someone to call.”
“Forget this,” Erica said, getting her gym bag out of the back seat. She started walking away despite Malerie’s efforts to stop her. Before I knew it, both of them were yards away and I was stuck there staring down at my numberless contact list, praying that what I was about to do wouldn’t turn into something terrible.
Ring. Ring. Ring.
Ring. Ring. Ring.
The voice on the other end was so familiar to me now, and I loved the sound of it as it passed through the speaker, emphasizing the last vowel in his adorable accent. “Um, hi…this is Carrie, from the kids’ home and the soccer field..”
“Oh, hey!” he said happily. “I was wondering if I’d ever hear from you again.”
I giggled like a school girl with a tenth grade crush, but all that said, I was far from tenth grade and this was far from a crush, or so I thought. Suddenly the guilt came over me as I realized I called only to ask for a favor, and that was inconsiderate of me. “Well, actually,” I began, but he cut me off.
“Look, I’m sorry if I came on too strong earlier. I didn’t mean to sound like I was asking you out…well I uh…I mean, I was but…not like asking asking you out if that makes sense…I uh, shit. I’m sorry. Let me make it up to you.”
“It’s perfectly fine,” I assured him. “I just panicked.”
“Okay,” he said blankly. “Um well, uh, is that why you called?”
Hearing him stumble over his words put a big smile on my face. “No actually. I’m having a little bit of car trouble and Erica and Malerie have managed to abandon me on the side of the road. I know it sounds harsh but this isn’t the first time. I just didn’t know who else to call and it’s raining…”
“Say no more. Where are you?”
“I’m on my way, sweetheart.”
While I was waiting for him, I climbed back inside my car and turned the key so the radio would come on. Luckily that still worked, but the song that played found a special place in my soul, and as the words of “Stop Crying Your Heart Out” by Oasis poured out of the speaker, salty tears rolled down my cheeks and caressed the edges of my mouth.
Just take what you need
And be on your way and stop
Crying your heart out
I didn’t know why the words were getting to me that way. Maybe they weren’t at all and I just so happened to feel the stress and anxiety of my situation all at once, or perhaps I so suddenly realized that everything I had was gonna be gone within a small matter of time. Either way, I was so thankful when I saw headlights pull up behind me.
I stepped out of the vehicle and ran to his as fast as I could and climbed into the passenger seat. He smiled when I looked over at him. “Bit wet out there, eh?” he said, still grinning like he always did. It came to my attention that I had never seen him without one. To me, he looked like the happiest person alive…the complete opposite of me.
“Just a little,” I replied. “I’m so sorry about this. I know you’ve better things to do.”
“Don’t be silly, darling.” My heart skipped a beat at the word darling and left my mind in fits of admiration and lust. “It’s the least I can do. Where are you headed?”
I showed him the way to my flat as we drove along, talking about anything that came to our minds. And, as it turned out, Louis was a terrible driver and I was a shoe-in for calling him out on it. We laughed at each other as he cranked up the radio and a slower song came on. “Hey, is this you guys?” I asked him. He nodded.
“I like listening to us. It’s motivating.”
“I was going to say conceited.”
He smirked and looked at me from the corner of his eye. “That too.”
To think Louis was sitting beside me, well, it was almost like a dream. I thought maybe for a second it wouldn’t be so bad to be friends with him. After all, he did seem to be mildly interested, if not more than that. But then, I remembered. I was dying, and I couldn’t allow myself to be a part of another person’s life, just to be ripped from them when they least expected it. This amazing guy stormed into my life out of nowhere at the worst time possible. It was safe to say that I had terrible luck.
Louis broke the silence with his “get to know me” questions. “So what are you going to school for?”
“I don’t know yet. I mean, I’m majoring in psychology but I’m not dead-set on it.”
“I’ve always found psychology interesting.”
“It’s actually not as complicated as you would think.”
He smiles and nudges my arm playfully. “Neither is going out for a drink with me.”
“Your mind is made up, isn’t it? You’re not going to stop until I agree.”
He shrugged. “I’m just persistent. When I know what I want, I go for it. I’m not asking you to sign a marriage license here. I’d just like to know you a little better. And if that’s a crime, then put me behind bars.”
“Guess I should break out the handcuffs.”
Would having a drink or two with him really be that bad? I thought to myself, maybe it could turn out really well and maybe I could fall for him and maybe I won’t die and we could just be happy together. I snickered at my fairytale, un-realistic thought process. Yeah, right. Happily ever after doesn’t exist.
“I’ll tell you what. You find a good place in the next five seconds, and we’ll go for drinks.”
Fear pulsed through my veins. I hated that restaurant.
He put on his blinker immediately and turned down the next left, pulling into a little restaurant just blocks from my apartment. My mind jumbled into billions of thoughts because, even though I made the deal, I didn’t think he would actually know a great place right off the top of his head. And alongside that, be just twenty feet away from it.
Allow me to rephrase, I hoped he wouldn’t.
Radbrey’s was a small family-owned restaurant on the edge of Manchester that was popular for its fish and chips, which quite frankly, was my idea as a young teenager. I grew up wild and innocent on that far left stool right beside the ice cream machine, reading my books and doing my homework while mum worked to keep our family on its feet. After she died, my aunt took it over. I hadn’t seen her since their funeral, and I didn’t want to.
Jonah had his own thoughts and his own voice, and when Aunt Rose told him he’d be coming to live with her, he refused and chose the children’s home instead. She was furious thinking I had encouraged him to do that, which I didn’t, and I wasn’t sure if she even wanted to see me now.
“We don’t have to go here,” I said to Louis, attempting to change his mind. “Somewhere else would be just as good.”
He chuckled and parked the car. “Don’t be silly, I love this place. They have great food.”
“But we’re going for drinks.”
“They have that too.”
I groaned as he came around to open my door. This wasn’t going to be pretty, and it made my head hurt, sending a sharp pain from temple to temple. He smiled as his eyes met mine and I stepped out cautiously, taking his hand and walking to the front doors that seemed so familiar. I couldn’t stand the fact that I brought this upon myself. I could’ve easily rejected him again, but that would just cause more tension, and as it turned out, I did owe him for rescuing me.
“Table for two,” he said to the hostess, Rachel, who looked me right in the eye and grinned. She didn’t speak to me, but she knew who I was. I remembered her too. She was about my age and had worked there since she was sixteen. Louis whispered to me, “She always flirts with me when I come in here. Probably jealous I have another girl with me.” I squeezed his hand as she grabbed two menus and led us to one of the smaller tables in the back.
“Your waitress will be right with you,” she said to Louis, and then she turned to me, “and it’s good to see you again.”
“You too,” Louis replied, apparently thinking she was still talking to him. He smiled at me when she walked away. “See, she’s infatuated.”
“I think someone has an ego,” I laughed jokingly.
“No, I’m just kidding around. She’s married.”
I scrunched my eyebrows and glanced over to the hostess station. “She is?” So much had changed…things I didn’t even know…since mum died. When the earth is one person short, everything contorts and twists to form around the life they used to have. They get replaced, and time goes on and people keep growing.
That thought scared me. If I were to die, it would be the exact same situation. My friends and my very small family would mourn, but then it would all be normal again. Jonah would keep getting older, he would graduate and go to college, get married to a beautiful girl and have children. Malerie would have her baby and hopefully find someone worth her time. Her baby would grow. Erica would become an architect and own her own company like she wanted. Everyone would move on with their lives without me while I’m six feet under the ground counting my regrets. That wasn’t the life I wanted.
“Yeah, she got married a few months back. Why do you look so uncomfortable?”
“It’s nothing. I’m just…I’m…I just don’t like this place that well.”
“Why?” he asked, clearly concerned. “You could have just told me that.”
I pulled the menu above my face and took a deep breath. “No, it’s fine. Really.”
“Are you sure? I don’t want to make you feel out of place.”
“I don’t, it’s just odd to be here, that’s all.”
A waitress I’d never seen before came up to us with a pen and paper in her hands. “Hi, my name is Taylor and I’ll be your server. Are you ready to order?” Louis hummed and looked over his menu searching for the right course.
“I’d like the fish and chips special with sauce on the side, and a beer.”
“I’ll have the same,” I said. “But make mine a diet coke.”
The waitress wrote down our request and Louis smiled again while saying, “So much for going out for drinks, little miss diet coke.” We both laughed as I disregarded his comment and began scanning the restaurant in search of a familiar face.
“Oh my god it’s Louis!” I heard a girl shriek from across the dining area.
“I really need a disguise,” he said while a snicker. “Hopefully they don’t interrupt us.”
Finally a woman appeared from the back and I knew exactly what she was looking for. Rachel had probably went back there and told her she saw me, and now she was going to come and give me what for. We’d probably be kicked out and that would just humiliate me. Aunt Rose spotted me and gave me what looked like a smile as she slowly made her way over.
Oh no, here we go.
“Carrie,” she said calmly when she was in range. “Darling, how have you been?”
She opened her arms up for me and bent down for a hug. “I’ve been fine,” I said untruthfully as she pulled away. “How about you?” At this point, Louis looked very confused. I held back a laugh at his wondering eyes.
“Same old, same old. The restaurant is doing quite well. We’ve just remodeled the bar.”
“I see that, it looks great.”
“Thank you. Is little Jonah still at the children’s home?”
“He is. Only for a couple of weeks,” I lied. “Then I’ll get custody of him. I’m really sorry about what happened. I swear that was his decision.”
He sighed and shifted her weight. “I know it was, and I apologize myself. I know it pushed you and your brother away. You two are the only family I have left, and I’d love to see more of you if that’s okay. I’ve been trying to find you for a while.”
“I don’t live on campus anymore,” I said matter-of-factly. “But I’ll come back by tomorrow and bring Jonah.”
“I’d love that. Listen, I have to get back, but order anything you want on the house. I love you Carrie,” she bent down and kissed my forehead and went back to the kitchen. Aunt Rose hadn’t changed a bit. Still stiff as a brick, but soft on the inside like one of those lindor chocolates.
Louis stared at me silently for at least twenty seconds, but I pretended like nothing happened. I guess he took the hint, cause he went back to fiddling with his thumbs. We had absolutely nothing to talk about, which made being in each other’s presence a bit awkward.
Rachel came with our drinks and some kind of chicken appetizer that Aunt Rose must have sent out. Louis sipped on his beer while my diet coke went untouched, and finally the curiosity was killing him. “Who was that woman? I mean, if you don’t mind me asking.”
I did mind because it wasn’t any of his business, but I answered him anyway. “That’s my aunt. She owns this place.”
“Is that why you didn’t want to come?”
I nodded. “She and I weren’t exactly on good terms. I guess that’s different now.”
“Yeah she seems nice. Hey I’m really sorry for dragging you here.”
“It’s no big deal, but thank you for taking me out to dinner. I didn’t mean to sound like such a stick in the mud earlier. I had a great time chatting with you. And I hope I didn’t ruin any of your plans for today.”
He laughed and shrugged. “Not really. The mates and I were going to watch a film and do nothing. Besides, they’d take the mickey out of me if didn’t come get you.”
“They’re kinda weird, your friends.”
“I’ll have you know that we all are,” he replied with a laugh. “But yeah, the lads are great. We’ve traveled the world so much and now we really just want a break from the fame. It’s an amazing experience but it’s exhausting. And I don’t really get moments like this.”
I slid my hands away as he was about to put them on mine, hoping he wouldn’t realize I did it on purpose, and praying that it wouldn’t hurt his feelings. Luckily, he acted as if he didn’t even notice. “I don’t really get them either if we’re being honest.”
“Why not? You’re an exquisite girl.”
I blushed. “Well, I don’t really date a lot. And by a lot I mean never.”
The expression on his face was one I couldn’t read. He may have been surprised, disappointed, or maybe a little hurt, although that wasn’t my intention. “I see. So boys are just out of the question for you?”
Okay, choose your words carefully, Carrie. “No, not completely. I’d love to have someone it’s just that I’m not really in the…I guess I’m just…well I’m not exactly girlfriend material. I don’t walk around flaunting everything I have, and I don’t go out and sleep with every asshole I lay eyes on. When I’m not at school, literally all I do is stay home and read. I’m not funny or interesting. I’m just me.”
“Girls like you are the ones worth having. Those other girls like you described are just seeking attention. But you…you’re just simple. You’re yourself and to me that’s perfect.”
The rest of the “date” went accordingly. We ate and talked about different things such as his wild stories with the boys and my big trip to France last year. And when we left and he took me back to my flat, I knew what would happen next.
“So I had fun,” he said as we reached my door. “I hope you did to.”
“It was a blast,” I assured him.
“Well if you’re not too busy, um…maybe we can do this again? I mean, if you want to. We don’t have to go out or anything. We can go to the cinema or maybe you can come by my place and we can hang out with the lads.”
I smiled. “Sounds great.” He returned in a placed a gentle hand on the line where the back of my cheek meets my neck. He leaned closer to me, our faces so close I could feel his breath on my skin. As his lips parted, I closed my eyes and allowed him to kiss me with such soft innocence it took my breath away.
“Goodnight,” I said with my face red from the moment.
“Text me later, okay?”
But I wouldn’t, and I didn’t.
Louis was so wonderful, cute and funny, and on top of that he really seemed to like me. With everything I had going on, however, I just wasn’t ready to be in a relationship, and I never would be. My life was pretty much already drawn up for me, and now that my Aunt Rose wanted to be in it again, I didn’t know if I could hurt another person that could potentially care about me.
So although I was gratefully smitten, Louis would have to find someone else to call perfect.