We sat on rickety garden furniture that creakingly whimpered with the slightest movement. The night air was cooler than it should have been for this time of year, forcing us to drape blankets over legs, as if we had aged sixty years in the past ten minutes. Behind us, hidden within the crumbling red brick wall of the terraced house, the party carried on. The aural bricolage of clinking glass, shrieking tones and the thudding bass of committee approved vinyl indicated that there still time left before the party died of natural causes.
The ratcheting snap of his zippo lighter split the night and our mutual silence. A shard of orange and blue flame illuminating his dark long fringe, meticulously tweaked to partially obscure his eyes, and the accent of stubble that peppered pale skin. A look that, for my father, on one of his more politically correct days, would sneeringly refer to as a pretty boy. Cigarette ignited, he slumped back, chair creaking with despair, a crimson coal glowing with each intake.
A comet in the darkness.
Neither of us would ever be considered alpha males, yet unlike me, he was one of those people who knew everyone, was somehow, irritatingly ahead of the curve. Every time it was always another girl, always at another party, holding court with anecdotes laden with modest boasts and knowingness. A peacock of a slacker, dressed in tight jeans, trainers and a t-shirt that bore the name of the next big band the rest of the world were unaware even existed.
He was irritatingly hip like that. A coolness that I craved, desired, yet sadly never achieved.
We usually never spoke, nor did we really hang out together. Our interactions were of the perfunctory type, our collective group of mutual friends the connective tissue that bound us together. Normally a mere nod, or a proffered joint was the pinnacle of our association.
I lit up, pulling the blanket up towards my chest, as the smoke drifted up into the night sky. Ethereal silver clouds that drifted away over the two of us before breaking into nothingness. A penitent and his priest.
He rested his head back against the fraying woven cane, looking upwards into the night as he took a deep drag on his cigarette, exhaling out. Silence stretched, as limitless as the universe above us.
Then he started to talk into the darkness.
Hesitantly, uncertainly, stammering. I just listened, watching the stars flicker, dead light shining down. Feeling the combination of rum and nicotine seeping deeper into my system. Neither of us looked at the other, the darkness a shield to this spontaneous confession. His words tumbled, looping back, repeating.
I sat, transfixed, uncertain. Letting his stream of consciousness, wash over me. A torrent of repressed feelings, hidden desires and confusion.
Then the words stopped. He pulled out another cigarette. The snap of his lighter illuminating fading tracks of tears. Wiping one hand across his cheek he reached down with the other to grab his beer precariously balanced on the uneven patio, his chair protesting loudly. It screamed even more as he stood, leaving without speaking, returning back to the ritualistic dance of anecdotes and certainty.
Leaving me alone, underneath stars that shone through silver clouds.