It had started a few months before, although what with everything that had happened since it seemed a lot longer ago. It had been a difficult year until that point and I can’t help thinking back to the moment Sinead came into my life, although in reality I’d known her much longer. It’s funny how life can turn on a sixpence and where there was dark, suddenly there is light. Those things in life that seem hard are suddenly so easy.
It was a drab Thursday evening in February that Sinead came into my life. The fog mist hung in the valley like a shroud matching my mood. I’d been persuaded by Ewan to go that week when all I really wanted to do was spend another evening alone between the four walls of my house. Meeting people was always difficult, but since my parents had been killed in a car crash almost a year ago it had been harder. I’d withdrawn into my shell a lot after that, cursing the world and blaming everything for my state of mind. It was a few months later that Sophie had left me. I guess she finally gave up on my moods and found someone else. That sent me into an even more downward spiral that saw me hit rock bottom.
Ewan had kept the faith though and he religiously came to see me each day. Slowly I’d started to rebuild my life and even recently restarted work. That night though I felt more like walking on hot coals than going out and being sociable. I’d almost turned the lights off and pretended not to be at home when he’d called but wasn’t quick enough and he spotted me before I could do it.
Stood outside the pub and looked at the upstairs room where the Fox Valley Dragons Games club were meeting with a sense of trepidation and almost fear. I could feel my colon contracting making me want to hit the loo immediately.
‘It’ll be OK Tom,’ Ewan said as he held open the door letting the warm hoppy air escape into the street.
‘Yeah’ I said smiling weakly, stepping over the threshold.
The bar was empty, just a bored barman sat watching the flickering TV that hung behind the bar. We got a drink each from the bar before walking up the back stairs. I entered the room expecting people to suddenly swarm towards me but as usual everyone was too stuck behind their screens playing games. I always thought it was weird that people would sit in a room playing solitary games. Looking around I saw the same old faces, the Dragons really needed some new blood. Ewan and I were the youngest. The rest were middle ages men who were probably kicked out of their houses by their wives.
We sat down at a table in the corner.
‘What’s the talk tonight?’ I asked Ewan
‘Bill’s going to be taking us through the latest COD game. Apparently he’s found some flaws you can exploit.’ Ewan said nodding his head to a bald headed bloke who was messing around connecting a projector to a laptop. John was well known for his methodical taking apart of games. It might be mildly interesting but then if it followed the usual pattern we’d be yawning after the hour it’d take him.
We sat waiting for the talk to start. A few of the others acknowledged our presence before going back to their screens. We chatted about the COD game. It wasn’t my cup of earl grey but I knew Ewan was forever playing those types of shooters. I preferred building to destroying, but understood that it wasn’t for everyone. The door opened and a girls head looked around as if searching for someone. She spotted us sat in the corner, smiled and waved.
‘Ah Poppy's here’ Ewan said.
I watched as the girl sashayed across the floor, kissed Ewan on the cheek and sit next him. Ewan always had some girl in tow, they never hung around for long as he passed onto the next one. One thing with Ewan was that they all were from the same mould. Long legged, blonde hair, short skirts and bulging chests. Poppy was no exception. They weren’t usually blessed with much intelligence though. I ‘d once asked him what they talked about and he’d fixed me a pained expression and said ‘Who wants to talk’. I sometimes wondered why we were friends as we seemed to be opposites in almost everything.
‘Ewan, I had to bring Sinead with me, my parents made me bring her, sorry babes’ Poppy said.
I looked up again and saw a girl look anxiously in carrying two drinks nervously. She was the exact antithesis of Poppy. Her mid brown tinted hair was hanging over her face as if she was permanently hiding, a trait I would later discover to be true. She was about five foot seven tall and was wearing a maroon college hoodie and jeans. It was hard to discern any shape except to think of her as not thin but not fat. Her shoulders were hunched over and as she walked it was as though she wanted to be invisible. To the majority of those there she was though. All the rests eyes were on Poppy, men almost visibly slavering at the sight of her legs which I admit ran up a long way to the shortest of skirts.
‘This is Sinead’ Poppy said taking a drink from her.
I nodded at her as she sat on a stool opposite me turning her back to the rest of the room. She sipped her coke and looked down at the table avoiding my eyes.
“Sinead’s into gaming’ Poppy said as an afterthought before kissing Ewan with a vigour that left me slightly breathless. For a moment I thought she was giving him a full dental cleanse but quickly I looked away as Ewan winked at me before succumbing to her charms.
‘What games do you play?’ I asked Sinead. Anything to take my mind off what was happening next to me.
She shrugged and named a few popular games.
‘I really like JRPG’s’, she said, ‘do you?’
‘Don’t mind,’ I shrugged, ‘quite like Final Fantasy.’
It was a bit of a lie. I played it a lot. In fact the previous year I’d got mildly obsessed with one of the characters Lightning. A huge poster of her hung above me on the bed. There was something about Sinead that reminded me of Lightning, the spark in the eye I think.
‘What’s your favourite character?’ she asked, ‘mine is Lightning.
It was almost as if she knew what I was thinking. I was saved by Bill starting his talk. As always it was long winded and I caught myself nodding off at times. Sinead sat and listened intently her eyes soaking in the screen shots. She was a lot different than Poppy. Behind her eyes I sensed an intelligent mind. Whereas Poppy was all show and little else, Sinead seemed to have hidden depths. I guess I spent a lot of time thinking about her as Bill spoke.
When it was over Ewan and Poppy re-joined their bodies for another session. Sinead and I continued to talk slowly. At first I found it awkward but before long we were chatting more animatedly, first about games and then a little about her. She seemed vaguely familiar. I thought she was about three or four years younger than me so we probably went to the same school. She was half way through her first year at college doing AS levels in art, history, geography and music. She seemed to be enjoying it but I sensed something inside that made me think there was something wrong somewhere.
I stayed much later than I intended. Sinead was an interesting person and we soon were talking as if we’d known each other for years, switching topics without catching breath. I looked at my watch and reluctantly thought about leaving. It was work tomorrow and I had a big project to finish.
‘Got to go now’ I said to Ewan who was coming up for air.
‘OK mate,’ Ewan said, a little red faced.
‘Can you walk Sinead home; she only lives around the corner’ Poppy said before she pressed her lips back onto Ewan’s. She obviously knew the way to his heart. I tilted my head quizzically at Sinead. She nodded and stood up. It would be nice to spend a bit more time with her. For the first time in months I’d enjoyed myself.
Walking through the doors of the pub was like hitting a solid sheet of ice. The temperature had plummeted in the hours I’d been inside and soft white flakes of snow were falling gently from the sky slowly carpeting the black tarmac in white.
‘Wow, just like Narnia’ Sinead said
‘My favourite books,’ I smiled
‘Mine too,’ she said bowing her head as if embarrassed.
‘I live on Huntsman’ she said, ‘it’s on your way home.’
‘Ah OK, I replied as we set off walking, the snow crunching softly beneath my feet, ‘you know where I live?’
Her head went down again but this time she answered almost straight away.
‘I remember you from school, you were older than me but I was in the choir with you, you probably don’t remember me’ She said
“Ah,’ I said pausing. I didn’t remember her but like I’d thought before the face was familiar.
‘It’s OK, you wouldn’t have looked at us in year seven when you were in the last year.’ She said
‘You face is familiar though,’ I said
‘Well I’ve changed since then’ she said, ‘I knew your mum’
I stopped and looked at her. People around me never mentioned her. The death of my parents had affected me badly and often just the name made me remember that night. My friends knew this too well. I shook my head to try to dispel the memory.
‘I’m sorry Tom,’ she said touching my shoulder, ‘I know how difficult it must have been this last year. Your mum helped me a lot when I was at junior school. I don’t think I could have survived that year without her. I was really sad the day I heard she’d died. I came to the funeral but you wouldn’t have seen me. I had to pay my respects and give thanks.’
I felt a tear prick my eye. My mum had been a primary school teacher. I remember the children from her class who has sang through the tears at the funeral. Their faces dripping with tears but still singing for their teacher. Those memories flooded back, I missed both of them with a verve that I couldn’t express.
‘She was a wonderful person’ Sinead stated, ‘but never forget she is your mum. Remember her as we all did.’
I nodded, tears rolling down my cold face.
‘Thanks’ I said looking at her. This girl had got closer to my pain at that minute than anyone. Her voice so soothing and reassuring. Somehow she cut through everything that had gone before.
‘You know we all have problems in life, but we get over them or deal with them. Your mum taught me that and if she was here now she’d want you to be happy and free.’ Sinead continued, ‘never forget her.’
I reached out and hugged Sinead needing to feel the touch of another. She stood and let me rubbing my back as I sobbed into her neck. The years of emotion coming out like never before. Even with Sophie, I’d never been able to let go and maybe that’s why she left me. Maybe I really was a mess and a tombstone around her neck.
‘I’m getting a little cold now’ Sinead said eventually. The snow was still falling and covering us like a white sheet.
‘Sorry,’ I said.
‘No need to be sorry, Tom,’ Sinead said as we continued walking. There was a companionship between us now that I wanted to continue. I didn’t know if it would lead to something but I wanted to find out.
We walked in silence until we got to the end of the street.
‘I can walk from here’ she said, ‘thanks for walking me back’
‘It’s OK, thank you for …’
‘It’s OK Tom, you’re a nice person. You need to let go a bit more.’
We stood for a minute in the falling snow. That awkward moment when you never know what to do. Do I hug her again, do I ask her out? I wanted to see her again, she had given me something tonight.
‘Do you … ‘ I said hesitantly, ‘ do you want to go out one day this week ?’
It seemed like ever before the voice came back.
“Yes, that would be nice.’
‘Give me your number and I’ll text you,’ she said.
‘07512121212’ I said smiling
She turned and walked a couple of paces before turning back to face me.
‘Do you think Pokemon are real ?’ she asked
‘I don’t think so,’ I answered, ‘why?’
‘Tell you next week’, she said and disappeared into the snow.
Somehow as I stood there I felt as though there was a significance to her off the cuff question. Who knew what the future held.