Lost in the Swaying Corn: Part 6
Emily didn’t know where to look. Her eyes would glance at Lizzie, so relaxed, and then back towards the fence. All Emily could see was the kiss and Jack’s embarrassed look.
Why hadn’t he stopped her?
It was just a peck for god’s sakes. She’d kissed Jack like that hundreds of times before.
But Emily had never imagined Lizzie and Jack together before.
She saw them again in the tree holding hands only this time Lizzie planted a kiss on his cheek.
Emily didn’t know where to look.
Mark sipped his beer, pulling a face as he did so. The towel from his shower had been draped over the back of his chair and he sat topless, ‘JACK!’
The calling of his name made things real again. Emily had been lost in her thoughts for a minute or two but Mark’s yell brought her right back, it brought Jack right back and he was just Jack. The kiss was just a silly nothing and Emily tried to put it away in her mind.
‘Yeah?’ Came His call from the kitchen.
‘I left my sunglasses on the table, bring them out when you come?’
‘Got em. You want that beer now Em?’
‘Yes please, thanks.’
She hoped Jack was ok.
He sounded ok but the look on his face in the kitchen a few minutes ago hadn't been right at all.
Emily knew it was her fault. The look she’d given him was cruel and not like her, it had just happened. She’d overreacted, if such a thing were possible with just a look.
She felt she should apologise but how?
That look was borne of jealousy and the jealousy was borne of love for him. To apologise would be to tell him how she felt. Even though she knew he felt something for her she still couldn’t tell him, it seemed too hard. She didn’t know why but felt regret because of it. She should have told him weeks ago.
She consoled herself knowing he was in the same position, otherwise he would have said something to her, or perhaps he just didn’t feel the same at all and she was imagining everything.
She analysed their friendship, scrutinising things he’d said and done, looks he’d given her, for any clue as to whether he loved her. For every positive she also conceded a negative and got nowhere in her silent deductions.
Emily felt sick again. She didn’t know what to think and still she saw the kiss that may or may not have meant anything at all. She felt confused and all the time the sun shone brightly on her.
She pushed the hair from her face behind her ear. Lizzie was right about the heat on Em's head. ‘Do you have a hat anywhere?’
‘I think my dad has a baseball cap, not sure where though,’
‘Think you could find it? My head’s really hot.’
‘Drink this, might cool you down.’ Jack’s voice surprised her and she jumped as he handed her a can, already opened.
He knew the ring pulls hurt her fingers and had saved her the trouble.
Part of her saw this as love, another dismissed it as Jack simply being thoughtful. If nothing else Emily hoped it meant things were ok between them. She couldn’t bear the thought of being at odds with him.
She smiled in thanks for the gesture as Jack sat opposite.
Mark rose, a little sluggish, ‘I’ll see if I can find it,’ and left the three alone in search of a hat for Emily.
Jack looked uncomfortable. He didn’t look at Lizzie who seemed oblivious to anything. She just sipped and smoked and soaked up the afternoon sun.
Emily took a sip of her beer. The can chilled her fingertips to an ache immediately. Holding it was almost painful but worthwhile for the cool of the liquid which ran down her throat. She felt the cold all through her and held the can against her neck. Beads of condensation covered the aluminium and they mixed with the sweat on her skin.
‘I wonder if there’s an umbrella for this’ Jack mused, motioning towards the hole in the middle of the table.
‘I don’t want one anyway, I like the sun, what’s the point in sitting in the sun if you sit undercover?’
‘You’re shaded when we sit in the woods.’
‘That’s different.’ Lizzie turned her head onto her shoulder. It was the full stop at the end of the discussion.
She took a final drag before flicking her cigarette over the fence. Emily smiled, remembering Jack’s game. He now sat with his head back and eyes closed, like Lizzie, taking the brunt of the sun on his face. He would lower it a little to take a swig of beer. The less beer was left the less his head came forward and the further the can tipped up. Emily stared at his neck.
It was a good neck she decided.
It looked smooth, as though he’d shaved that morning. When he didn’t shave his stubble grew through in golden bristles. She liked that too. It was different to Mark’s who’s facial hair was dark and more fluffy than bristly.
Mark was embarrassed by his efforts at stubble and so shaved often to avoid the issue. In Emily’s opinion Jack looked good whether he shaved or not.
She took a sip of beer and put the can down. The cold in her hand was beginning to feel like cramp and the sickly feeling in her stomach wasn’t helped by the beer.
‘BEER?’ Mark called from the kitchen.
‘PLEASE!’ Returned Lizzie.
A minute later he placed the cap backwards on Emily’s head, she looked up and smiled in thanks. He put two cans of beer down on the table,
‘Thanks,’ Lizzie said, without opening her eyes or even moving.
‘That’s ok,’ he said before rubbing his condensation covered hand all over her cheek.
‘You’re a bastard, but that’s actually quite nice.’
Mark reached for a can to gather more moisture but Lizzie’s hand pushed his away. It was nice, but apparently not that nice.
She took the final swig from her now warm drink and replaced it with the fresh one. Her hands had no regard for the cold like her face had no regard for the warmth of the sun. She basked in both, enjoying them equally.
Emily adjusted the cap, bringing it the right way round. In the distance, three or four gardens down, a lawnmower started up. It was electric and in Emily’s mind that horrible orange colour lawnmowers always tended to be. The sound seemed to complete the feel of the summer’s afternoon and a drowsy feeling came over her.
It wasn’t surprising.
She’d barely slept for days and what she’d told Lizzie was partly true, the heat did prevent her sleeping. Jack had played his part, but now he was a few feet away from her she couldn’t hold sleep off.
With the rim of the cap covering her face the sun didn’t seem so cruel and for the first time in days Emily felt relaxed.
Thoughts of the kiss and Jack’s feelings for her flitted through her mind but they were mild inconveniences. Somewhere she knew he loved her, she just knew it and she took comfort in that fact. She’d seen it in his smile in the kitchen and when he sat at the table.
He opened her beer because knew the ring pulls hurt her fingers and Emily dozed with a smile on her face.
Things were dark and drowsy now. She took in the sounds around her without really hearing anything. In the distance the lawnmower hummed, occasionally grinding over a twig or stone. On the lawn behind her, grasshoppers chirruped to each other and somewhere, not close enough to worry, a bee or wasp buzzed as if mimicking the lawnmower.
Occasionally the two were in harmony before the flight of the bee changed or the mower altered its song.
The only sound around the table came from Mark who pressed a dent into his beer can then squeezed it out again. He did this over and over, he always did it, but it bothered nobody today.
The chorus of the afternoon held Emily’s attention. Lizzie was focused on the sun soaking into her sticky skin and Jack, well Emily didn’t know what Jack was thinking or doing. His stillness was unreadable.
All four started up.
Mark’s head had spun on a pivot towards the fence and then relaxed. Jack and Lizzie did the same.
Only Emily seemed concerned, ‘what the…’
‘Nothing, just a kid on a bike. They always go into the fence, they hit branches and fall over, its nothin.’
‘Don’t worry,’ Mark said, knowing all, ‘he’ll stop in a minute.’
Sure enough the screams lowered to faint sobs. Emily heard a bike’s pedals begin to pedal and all was quiet, except for the lawnmower, and the grasshoppers. The bees had fallen silent.
‘Like I said, happens all the time, especially in summer’
‘My heart’s pounding, that made me jump,’
‘Don’t worry about it. You know a kid came straight through it one time?’
‘Here we go,’ said Jack, frustrated.
‘You remember that Jack?’ A broad smile crossed Mark’s face and a glance at Lizzie showed a similar expression there.
‘Yes I remember, can we talk about something else?’
‘Oh come on, Emily wants to hear this, right Em?’
‘She doesn’t want…’
‘Yes I do, tell me.’ Emily was smiling now too. Jack threw his hands up in resignation.
‘Do you want to tell it or shall I?’ It was a rhetorical question, Mark had no intention of anybody but him telling this tale.
‘You’ll never let me forget this will you?’
‘Not a chance, so anyway, I’m in my bedroom and I hear a massive bang, shattering wood, screams the works. I run into the garden and there’s Jack underneath his bike, my dad's fence trashed. You remember Jack? How you fell right over there covered in splintered wood?’ Mark looked at his friend, mocking him and loving every second. Jack just gave a dead stare. Barely a summer went by without this particular story being given an airing.
‘How old were you?’ Emily asked.
‘He was eleven and it was a brand new bike,’
‘Are you having fun? Are you enjoying this?’
‘Don’t I always? Anyway, where was I?’
Emily loved it too.
Over the year, as she’d gotten to know her new friends, every so often she would be initiated further by hearing stories or being let in on another ‘in’ joke. Sometimes it was upsetting they had so much history without her, but they were willing to share it and for that she loved them.
‘Right so he starts to cry and my mom runs out of the kitchen, no idea what’s going on. She just sees Jack, under his bike, covered in broken wood. She soon figures out he’s fine, a bruise or two but that’s it, he was just crying cus its what kids do…’
‘It hurt okay? I was 11!’
‘Of course it did, you crashed through a goddamn fence!’
Lizzie laughed. Emily couldn’t help but giggle. Jack knew was on his own.
‘So we take him home. I knew him from school but we never really spoke or anythin an we got talkin on the way to his. Turns out the bike was a gift from granddad.’
‘I loved that bike,’
‘I’m sure you did for the ten minutes you rode it,’
‘It was longer than that and you know it,’
‘Sure it was. Well we get him home and his mom, god love her, didn’t know whether to be pissed off about the bike or really happy that Jack bought a new friend home!’
Lizzie cracked up, nearly choking on a mouthful of beer. Jack sat back in his chair, resigned to the process.
‘She invited us in and my mom said we couldn’t but Jean wouldn’t hear of it. We had to go in for a drink and a biscuit for bringing him home. His dad just kept asking what happened and went straight to look at the bike, he didn’t bother lookin at Jack for more than a minute and his mom just kept givin us biscuits saying it how even though the bike was damaged some good came out of it because Jack had a new friend.’
Lizzie chipped in, ‘I’d give anything to see you come through that fence,’
‘You should’ve seen it, him lying there, I’ll never forget that.’
‘Neither will I, you won’t let me!’~
‘Come on it was funny!’
‘It cost a fortune to fix that bike,’
‘It cost a fortune to fix that fence.’
‘Well I was being chased by bees, there was a nest down the alley and they came after me...’
He looked so sweet, pleading to Emily that she tried to stifle her laughter. Lizzie and Mark tried no such thing, they were in fits. Emily felt sorry for jack but she was also in league with the other two,
‘So you thought you’d take a shortcut through Mark’s fence to escape them right?’ He threw his hands up again. Now all three were clearly against him, all he could do was endure their laughter.
Emily laughed hardest of all, especially when he said, as though 11 again, ‘Oh just get lost all of you,’ before heading to the kitchen for another beer.
Somewhere in the distance another lawnmower started up, accompanied by their laughter.
Emily pictured Jack on the floor in a heap and she felt as a ghost from the future, watching events of long ago. Her friends had spliced her into their past and she felt happier than she could remember.
On top of it all, Jack had opened her beer because he knew the ring-pulls hurt her fingers. Surely he loved her and beneath her laughs, Emily's heart hummed in time with the lawnmower's summer song.
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