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He was the last person I expected to see here. Standing in the doorway of my parent’s home; my sister holding his hand and trying to drag him inside to meet us all. I recognised him first. He was just trying to remember all the names and look at people face’s while she introduced him, so he hadn’t even seen me... not yet.
My mind was racing. Did I say that I knew him? Did I wait to see what he did?
“And this is Jake,” she gushed to Mum. I knew she was really keen on this guy. It just hadn’t occurred to me that her Jake was my Jake... or used to be.
“Oh, we've heard so much about you,” Mum gushed back.
Oh, crap. I held my tongue.
Our eyes met and he froze; mouth gaping. Dad noticed. I knew he did. And Dad glanced at me and I was smiling but it was too bright; too fake. I shook Jake’s hand. And then he was dragged on to meet aunts and uncles. I stepped back and hurried off to the bathroom.
After washing my face and giving myself a stern - but silent- talking to, I opened the door and ran straight into my father.
“What?” I asked.
“Talk to me.”
“Cat?” He always called me Cat; others called me Catherine, Cathy... anything, but Dad called me Cat. “You know him.” It wasn’t a question.
I could never lie to my father but I wasn’t sure that I could admit to knowing Jake in the biblical sense. “Yes.”
He pointed out the front door. Everyone else was in the back yard. “Two minutes.”
When he came out with two bottles of beer in his hand, it was longer than two minutes and I was sitting with my knees up and my arms wrapped around them. He passed me a bottle.
“They’ll be looking for you,” I accused.
“Nope.” He sat next to me, shoulders bumping, and said, “Now talk.”
“I know him... we kind of... ah... crap.” I drank a large mouthful.
“Did you go out with him?”
“We didn’t so much go out as stay in.”
A nod. “And Amber doesn't know that?”
“No. I didn’t even tell him I had a sister, so he wouldn’t have realised we are related.”
“Common family name, Murray.”
“Yes.” Another sip. “And we didn’t talk... much.”
Silence for a minute.
“Why did it end?” he asked. “Did you break it off?”
“No, he did. He got a girlfriend.”
“You weren’t girlfriend material?”
I had always wondered about that. It had hurt. “Guess not. I also guess that was Amber. The timing fits.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything, Dad. It isn’t your problem.”
“He doesn’t look comfortable out the back.”
“Don’t tell me that.”
“You can’t avoid him.”
“I know. But if I get in my car and drive back to college, Amber will be upset.”
“You thinking about it?”
“No,” I lied.
I wanted to tell my father that this guy had been special to me. That I loved him. That the way we fitted together was perfect, or at least I had thought so. I didn’t come home as often as Amber did, so my parents didn’t see me mourn the breakup. But I mourned... big time. I just couldn’t show it because I had hidden him from everyone. I could not publicly mourn a man no one had even known about. “I have to talk to him.”
“Yes. Work it out with him.” He finished his beer. “He’s special to Amber.”
“I got that idea.” She’d brought him home to meet the family; that was a first, so he was definitely serious.
Dad gripped my shoulder. “Don’t stay out here all night.” And then he left me alone with my thoughts.
When the door opened again, I thought it was Dad back with another beer. I just held my hand up for it without looking at him. He opened it first and that made me look. I stood in a hurry. Ready to run.
“I didn’t know,” Jake said.
“Are you okay?” He actually looked concerned.
“Have you been okay?”
I’d survived. He looked great. “What do you care?”
“Don’t do this, Cat.”
Oh, yeah. There was one other person who called me Cat.
He looked as if he wanted to touch me. He stared at his hand reaching out for me and then put it in his pocket. I folded my arms. Tried not to crush the beer bottle in my hand.
“I can’t go,” he said. "We just got here.”
“What? She hasn’t introduced you to everyone yet?” I hated how bitter my voice sounded.
“Not like you,” he snarked back. “I bet you didn’t tell anyone about us.”
Ouch. “I thought that was what you wanted.” I heard my voice shudder.
“I wanted you.”
“You had me. Wasn’t that enough?”
He wiped his hand over his face. He didn’t give me an answer.
“Wasn’t I girlfriend material?” I made a gesture with the bottle. “Don’t answer that. I already know.”
“We can’t tell her,” he suggested.
I wanted to accuse him of cowardice, but I didn’t have the first clue how to explain it to her either. We’d be cowards together. Not lovers.
“I know,” I sighed. “We’ll break her heart.” I wanted to add ‘too’ but I didn’t.
He heard it anyway. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry doesn’t even begin to cut it.”
He took a step towards me. My back was against the verandah post but I didn’t try to sidestep him. He touched the top of my shoulders and then he leaned down and pressed his lips to my forehead. And I didn’t stop him. I put one hand up and pressed the palm against his stomach. It wasn’t a push, it was a caress. “I miss you,” he confessed in a tiny whisper as if he could barely admit it out loud.
We took a breath. Close. Close enough to smell him.
“With her... I... c-can’t breathe,” he confessed.
I closed my eyes. “Don’t tell me that, Jake.” She was my sister. I knew how she smothered things. Drowned them in love when I let them be free. Maybe too free. We were sisters but we weren’t alike.
“Sorry.” A pause. “ I should go find her.”
“Yeah.” I closed my eyes again so I didn’t have to see him leave.
When I opened them I saw movement on the drive. Amber stepped into the light. She must have walked up the side of the house through the carport and we hadn’t heard her. She held the car keys in her hand so hard her fingers were white. I don’t know what she had heard and I wasn’t game to ask.
We stared at each other and then she turned and walked back up the carport.
I went to pack my bag.
© AM Gray 2014