A Matter of Time
I hadn’t seen Josh for ten years when he found me on Facebook. After an avalanche of messages he arranged to meet me beneath the Town Hall clock. As it struck the hour, a taller, leaner version of the schoolboy he’d been loped towards me.
‘Livvy. Good to see you.’
He didn’t hug me, just thrust his hands into the pockets of his jeans and rocked on his heels. His sunglasses sat among dark curls.
I gazed at him. ‘You haven’t changed since high school.’
‘Thanks.’ He chuckled. ‘There’s a pub around the corner. Let’s go.’
With his hand on my elbow, we dodged office workers, shoppers and tourists on the footpath as we made our way to The Oak.
‘I hope there’s a table in the courtyard.’ He led me there.
We were lucky. A couple had just left a table for two.
He pulled out a chair for me. ‘I’ll duck inside for the menu. Like a drink?’
‘Yes. White wine please.’
He came back with two glasses of wine and a menu. ‘It was just a matter of time before we caught up.’ He raised his glass. ‘To us.’
I clinked glasses and sipped. ‘So what’ve you been up to?’
‘I worked in Sydney for a year after leaving uni while I saved to go overseas.’
‘Where’d you go?’
‘London first, then around Europe for six months. Afterwards I joined a mining company in Western Australia.’
‘Yep. But I’m back in Sydney for good now.’
I noticed the dimple in his chin and wanted to reach out and touch it. Instead, I asked where he lived.
‘I’m sharing a flat with a girl, but it’s not working out. I’m looking around for another place.’ He glanced at the menu. ‘I can recommend the rib fillet.’
He stood. ‘I’ll place the order.’
I looked around the olde-worlde courtyard where golden cane palms sprouted from terra-cotta pots against stucco walls. Groups and couples clustered around tables beneath red-and-white striped umbrellas, snatches of conversation and laughter providing a pleasant accompaniment to my thoughts. The years since school had been interesting for Josh, but he hadn’t mentioned his love life. I’d heard something about him and a girl once, but my memory of it was hazy.
He returned with another round of drinks. ‘It’s your turn now. What’ve you been up to?’
‘I did an MBA and have worked at Parliament House ever since.’ I sipped my wine. ‘I’ve been to Europe. America is next on my list.’
‘Perhaps we can go there together.’ He paused, his face serious. ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’
‘Not at the moment. I’ve only had one serious relationship.’ I twirled my glass. ‘It lasted a few years, but finished months ago.’
‘All in the past?’
I nodded. ‘We parted on friendly terms. What about you? Any attachments?’
He raised an eyebrow. ‘Heard any gossip about me?’
‘Not that I can remember.’
He let out a deep breath. ‘I met a lovely girl in Europe. I was young, not ready to commit and I left. She followed me home and it ended badly.’
‘Yep. I regret it.’ He swirled his wine. ‘Now I wonder if I’m capable of loving anyone.’
The waiter arrived. ‘Plates are hot folks.’ He placed our meals on the table. ‘Enjoy your steaks.’
I began eating, unsettled by Josh’s revelation. The episode must have been traumatic if it made him question his capacity to love
‘I loved you in Year 12,’ I said.
He grinned. ‘I loved you too. But it was kids’ stuff.’
It hurt that he dismissed our relationship as kids’ stuff. I’d adored him. He’d been the captain of the school rugby team and was popular with all the girls. Despite this, he’d asked me to be his partner at the school formal. In the photos taken that night, he looked amazing in a tuxedo while I looked shy and overawed by the occasion.
‘Why did you invite me to the formal?’
He stopped eating. ‘Simple. You were gorgeous, Livvy. Still are. And we got on really well together.’
‘Life was simple then.’
He nodded. ‘Mine’s a bit complicated at the moment, but I’m sorting it out.’
I was curious, but didn’t want to pry. And somehow a hint of mystery added to his allure.
Afterwards, he walked me to the bus stop. ‘It’s been good to catch up, Liv,’ he said when the 373 pulled into the kerb. ‘Can I call you during the week?’
‘Like to see a film on Friday night?’ he asked when he rang.
‘Anything in particular?’
It was just like old times. We even went to the Ritz at Randwick and had popcorn and choc-tops. I invited him to my unit for coffee afterwards.
He wandered out to the balcony. ‘It’s lovely, Liv. The waves lapping the shore must put you to sleep.’
‘Yes. It’s a comforting sound.’ I looked over the dark ocean to Wedding Cake Island, its rocky shape delineated by splashes of white foam.
Josh leaned close, his hand resting on my waist. ‘I’ve enjoyed being with you tonight. We might have been apart for ages, but you’re still special.’
My pulse raced. He used to be the strong silent type, but I liked the new Josh more. And he still knew how to kiss. With a finger under my chin, he tilted his head and our lips met. I felt like a schoolgirl again.
On Saturday night we ate at a Thai Restaurant overlooking the harbour. Josh ordered a variety of dishes and we fed each other with chopsticks, laughing when fiddly bits didn’t make it to our mouths. Afterwards, we strolled by the harbour, the breeze fresh on our faces.
Josh squeezed my hand. ‘I’ve missed you, Liv.’
‘I’ve missed you too.’
‘You haven’t changed. You laugh at the same things. Even my jokes.’
‘It’s because I know the punch line. You still tell the same ones.’
He stopped and pulled me close. I wrapped my arms around him, kissed his soft lips, felt his warm breath on my cheek.
He sighed. ‘I’d better take you home.’
He didn’t ask to come inside, just kissed me goodnight at the door and said he’d phone in the morning. I felt like I’d done something wrong.
When he hadn’t rung by lunchtime, I slipped my mobile into my spray jacket and wandered along the cliff path. Seagulls screeched and soared overhead while red-faced joggers puffed and panted as they passed me. I inhaled air tangy with salt as I stopped to watch waves pounding the rocks below. My mobile rang — it was Josh.
‘Sorry I didn’t ring sooner. I had something to sort out.’
‘It’s a long story. I’ll tell you later. Can I come over?’
‘I’ll be home in an hour or so. Four o’clock suit you?’
‘I’ll be there Liv, and explain everything then.’
I was intrigued. He’d said he was looking for a place to live. Had he been in a relationship with the girl he shared with? I didn’t know what to think, but didn’t have long to wait before he solved the mystery.
He arrived holding a bunch of daffodils.
‘Is this a peace offering?’ I asked.
‘It’s a gift between friends.’ Friends! I’d hoped we were more than that.
I arranged the flowers in a vase, made coffee and sat alongside him on the lounge. ‘You said you said were looking for an apartment. Did you find one?’
‘No.’ He ran a hand through his curls. ‘It’s complicated, Liv. Remember how I said I wasn’t sure if I could love anyone?’
‘You’re the only one I’ve ever had feelings for. When I found you on Facebook I wondered if the spark would still be there.’ He sighed. ‘I don’t know about you, but I’m just as rapt as when I was eighteen. I thought it was kids’ stuff but I was wrong.’
My heart pounded. ‘Thanks. But I’m curious about your flat mate. What’s the story?’
‘There’s no story. Nothing at all.’ He studied his sneakers. ‘It was awkward when I moved in with Deb. She wanted a relationship. I didn’t. That’s why I packed my things and left this morning. I haven’t found a place yet. I’m staying with my folks.’
‘So you’re not romantically involved with her?’
‘No. She was just my flat-mate.’
I reached for his hand. ‘That’s the best news I’ve had all day.’
I didn’t wait for him to lift my chin or tilt his head. I touched his dimpled chin with my finger and leaned in to kiss him.