Winter was setting in fast, and ponds all over Bridgeport had frozen over, including the one in our garden. The only still water was in the harbour, and although there were winter fish to catch their numbers were much smaller at this time of year.
Tyler and James had settled in quickly after moving in with me. At first, both of them had been stunned into silence by the size of the house and all its rooms, as well as the expensive furniture.
Tyler in particular adjusted more easily than I had expected, and immediately took advantage of Dad’s old book collection, which none of us ever touched now. I was just pleased to see her so happy.
Now that we were closer in age and living in the same house, Tyler and I had grown closer as friends. She had even elected to share a room with me rather than have her own. In the afternoons, while James was at work, she and I would hang out often, and sometimes I would help her with her studies.
Today, however, was Saturday, the day of the family barbecue. James was home from work, and Cody and Tyler were home from school. I had told Mum about the barbecue several days previously, and she was in a better mood this morning than I had seen her in since Dad died.
The guests started arriving soon after midday. First was Bridie, who arrived alone, although I had heard rumours floating around town that she had gotten herself a boyfriend or two since she had moved out.
Mum’s old friend Julie also came. I didn’t know her very well, but she was Dad’s cousin, and I had invited her for Mum’s sake. Soon after her were Aidan and a very pregnant Violet. It was sweet to see how well my brother was looking after his wife, fussing over her tummy and making sure she was comfortable wherever she stood or sat.
I left Bridie outside talking animatedly with our sister in law, while I went out the back of the house to make sure everything was set up and ready.
I expected to find no one else in the back yard yet, but when I walked out onto the deck I found James, who was already cooking the sausages on the barbecue for the guests.
“You didn’t have to do that!” I protested.
“I know,” he replied with a wink, turning back to focus on the sausages.
I smiled, and rolled my eyes. There was no arguing with him when he was like this – he would fight back until you gave in and let him take on the workload. Instead I headed back inside to tell the rest of the family that lunch was almost ready.
When everyone had finished eating, Bridie got up from her seat and turned on the stereo. Loud dance music started blaring out across the garden.
“Let’s dance!” she yelled.
A small cheer of enthusiasm went up from the assembled family, and everyone started getting up to dance, except for Violet, who preferred to stay seated in her condition. I wasn’t really one for dancing, so I decided to keep her company. I was just heading towards her table when I heard someone shout my name.
“Hey, Bianca! Come and dance!” called James’ voice.
I located him in the crowd, staring eagerly at me. I shook my head reluctantly.
“Oh, come on,” he said. He came towards me and grabbed my hands. “You’ll have fun.”
“No, James, I… I can’t dance.”
He laughed. “You think I can? Come on, it’s your family. They won’t care.” He pulled me out on to the dance floor before I could protest any further.
At first, I was extremely self-conscious, glancing around at the others every other second. But after a few songs, with James’ encouragement, I managed to loosen up a little, forget about what everyone else was doing. And I actually started to enjoy the dance, a lot.
“There you go,” James said with a grin. “You’re actually smiling now.”
I laughed, and nodded. “It’s fun,” I admitted.
We ended up dancing for hours into the late afternoon, even after everyone else had gone inside. I couldn’t remember ever having had so much fun before. Maybe it was just because I was with James.
As I had that thought, the song ended, and a slow ballad took its place. I saw the opportunity to rest, and looked down to catch my breath. But my rest was short-lived.
“May I have this dance?” James said gently, offering his hand to me.
I looked up, startled, and saw his reassuring smile. With a giggle, I nodded.
I placed my right hand in his and my left on his shoulder. The hand that wasn’t holding mine slipped gently around my waist, as we started to sway in time with the music.
I looked into his eyes as we danced, watching the corners crinkle as he smiled back at me. The setting sun was reflected in their sea-green depths, making them twinkle more noticeably than usual. I found myself wondering why I had never noticed before how… how handsome he was. Stop that, I told myself. Think about something else.
I listened more closely to the song we were dancing to. The music was touching, but it wasn’t a song I was familiar with. I looked out to sea, beyond the fence and down to the harbour, where the boats were coming in to dock, and the gulls were settling on the beach for the night… The beach where we first met.
Everything seemed to lead back to him tonight.
I was becoming increasingly aware of the warmth of his hands where he touched me. His fingers, gently curled around my waist. His hand, wrapped firmly in mine. His smile as he watched me. All things I had seen and felt a hundred times before, but never like this. Never so… close.
Thud, thud, thud.
I was startled out of my reverie by the sound of footsteps coming closer – Cody and Tyler had come out to join us. Tyler saw me, and winked. And I blushed. Blushed. Why? There was nothing embarrassing about the situation. We were just… dancing…
I shook my head, trying to rid it of all the confusing thoughts that had suddenly taken root. I stepped away from James, and suddenly felt the chill of the night air hit my exposed face and legs. I shivered.
“Do you guys want to go for a swim? It’s heated,” I suggested. The others all nodded cheerfully and went inside to change. It seemed I was the only one feeling at all out of sorts.
When the others came back outside, I switched on the pool lights, and we all stepped in. The warm water, while comforting, did nothing to satisfy my jumbled emotions. After only a few minutes in the pool, I announced that I was going to bed. All the guests had already gone home.
I had half expected someone to follow me, but none of the others did. They must have caught on that I wanted to be alone for a while.
When Tyler came up to the room we shared half an hour later, though, I knew I was going to have to offer some sort of explanation.
“So?” she prompted, flopping down onto the bed next to me.
“That’s what I should be asking you. What happened out there?”
“Nothing,” I lied. I almost believed it myself. “We were just dancing.”
“Slow dancing,” she corrected me with a wink.
I shoved her lightly. “You know it’s not like that, Ty. He’s my best friend.”
She sighed, and rolled her eyes at me. “You’re so clueless.”
“About what?” I asked, confused.
“Oh, come on, Bee. Even you have to have realised by now, that boy is completely in love with you.”
I was stunned into silence by her casual remark. She had to be joking. To say that James was in… I couldn’t even think it.
“Judging from your expression, I’m guessing you had no idea.” She looked as if she was trying to suppress a smile.
I shook my head, still speechless. Tyler sighed again. “Oh, Bee…”
I was still struggling to speak. “How…?” I managed to get out.
I took a deep breath, and tried again. “How do you know? Did he tell you?”
“No,” she admitted. “But it’s blindingly obvious.”
“Oh.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“What about you?”
“What?” I asked.
“How do you feel about him?”
“I…” Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I felt any more. The events of the evening had completely thrown me. “I… I don’t know.”
“You don’t know,” she repeated, sounding doubtful. “Are you sure?”
“I… I think so.” I wasn’t really sure of anything at the moment.
“Well, if you say so.” She sat up, and slip off the bed. “Let’s go to sleep.”
That was sudden. “What, now?”
“Yeah, I’m tired,” she said.
“Okay.” I slipped off the bed and got into my sleeping bag next to her, switching off the bedside lamp as I went. “Good night, Tyler.”
She hadn’t been lying about being tired. Within ten minutes, I heard the change in her breathing which indicated that she had fallen asleep. I, on the other hand, lay awake for hours, going over and over our conversation in my head. There were too many questions in my mind still left unanswered, too many problems left unsolved, and the hours that passed brought me no closer to a resolution. It was past midnight by the time mental and physical exhaustion took over, and I, too, finally found sleep.