“Curtis, the subway’s this way.”
They were at central Promenade where shops were still open, catering to the evening crowd. As they rounded the corner, a family of four descended from the tram. They were clearly celebrating the end of the week – the little ones in high-pitched giggles slurping ice creams while their parents coddled after them.
He gulped as the family walked by. “Let’s cut through the pier,” Curtis said.
Perhaps he had let his guard down during their not-date, for Curtis was barely able to conceal his feelings. Instead of his usual unfaltering composure, his brows pressed together, his hands broke out in cold sweat and his eyes were distant. He was clearly upset about something, and it was eating away at him.
He shouldn’t keep it in if it hurts him like that…
“Let’s talk about it,” she heard herself say. Curtis looked at her distractedly. “About what?”
There’s no going back now. “What’s bothering you.”
“Why do you think something’s bothering me?”
“You look troubled. You weren’t like yourself back at the apartment. You were alright at the waterfront, but it’s come back again.”
Curtis frowned. “We hung out because you wanted to cheer me up?”
Athena felt as if her thoughts were laid bare with how sharp he was. “Maybe if you talked about it you’ll feel better,” she suggested.
“It’s nothing really.” He looked into the distance. “Just something I need to deal with – get over with.”
“By drowning yourself in smoke?” she found herself saying without thinking again.
Curtis paused as he scrutinised her. “You keepin’ tabs on me?” At once, his guard went up. Any residue of friendliness and warmth ceased to exist; two onyx stones glared at her – impenetrable and cold.
“It’s none of your business, isn’t it? It’s my problem. Whether I choose to smoke, drink, or throw myself into a ditch, it’s got nothin’ to do with you!”
Athena had readied herself for the possibility of a defensive retaliation. But to be rejected so thoroughly – she broke eye contact and turned away instead. She knew his barrier was likely for everyone and not just her, but the sting of tears still came. She made to leave.
“Wait! I didn’t mean it like that. I–“
She glanced first at the hand that held her, then at him. For a moment, none of them spoke. She had never seen him like this. His eyes were always guarded; always studying her and his surroundings with piercing scrutiny. Now however, they were windows to his soul. She saw pain, guilt, torment and something else she didn’t know.
“I’m sorry. Please don’t take it personally,” he said. For the second time that day, Curtis felt the impulse to do more – to hold her and show how sorry he was, or wipe her misty eyes. But he couldn’t. His feelings remain unexpressed.
“You’re right. I’m…” he struggled to find the right words. “I’m… not in a good place. Heck, I’m not even a good person. And now I’ve lashed out at you when you didn’t do anything…”
He wouldn’t look at her anymore and let go of her hand. “You should go,” he said. “Before I do something stupid again.”
Athena couldn’t bring herself to leave, especially after she realised what he harbored within. Those feelings of his were once how she felt about herself. It took her a lot of effort to become who she is today, and it all started with a guy in a park who listened to her problems and taught her the first step towards accepting herself.
What can she do for him – he was there at her most vulnerable moment, who accepted her when she didn’t accept herself. Curtis was such an enigma that she couldn’t provide any words of comfort, neither did she approve of his illicit activities. But she wanted to be there for him like he was for her. You’re not alone, she wanted to say, but the words were stuck in her throat.
“You don’t need to tell me anything,” Athena said. “And I’m not going anywhere.”
The sun hung low in the sky, shielded by clouds in a simmer of evening colors. The sounds of people and city faded into a soft faraway hum. Even the seagulls left them be.
In that moment, only they exist in their vast world. As the sun made a gradual descend into the horizon, it bathed them in hues of pink orange and crimson that induced calm and serenity.
He must have felt it too, for she no longer detected tension in his hand. His grip had softened some time before, but she held on in case it came back. She stole a glance at him only to find him looking right at her.
She had seen all sorts of emotions expressed through those eyes today, but this was unknown to her. He drew her in as he always did. His silence conveyed something, and he was about to reveal it to her.
“S- Sorry for interrupting! We thought you looked familiar so we came over! I didn’t realise you guys were–! And you’re holding hands??! He’s your boyfriend–?!!? So you’re really not into Kian!? You should’ve told me why you couldn’t come! I would’ve totally understand!”
Athena and Curtis gaped as Carly’s flurry of words continued to rain down on them. At least Diane stayed quiet.
“Well, don’t let us keep you!” Carly struck her best pose and gave a final euphoric wave. “Enjoy your date, Athena!! And Mr. cute guy!!!” The girls vanished as quickly as they came in loud whispers and titters.
Athena felt self-conscious and awkward – the heat in her cheeks felt overwhelming. What was that? Was he about to.. She turned to him, but he seemed unaffected. In fact, he returned her gaze calmly.
“There’s a place I need to go,” Curtis said. “Will you come with me?”
Is this the reason for his perpetual sorrow? Athena studied the date and inscription on the tombstone. The lady was too young to die, and her married name seems familiar. Saanvi McGinnis? Where have she heard that? She memorised the name as Curtis paid his respects and got up.
“Thank you. I couldn’t have done this without you.”
“I’m sorry for your loss. She must have been important to you.”
His brow wrinkled. “I guess I… knew her well. She didn’t deserve her fate.” He looked up. “Sorry for taking your flowers. I’ll definitely get a proper bouquet for you.” He had asked her for a stalk for the grave, but she told him to take the entire bouquet. “Tulips are your favourite, right?”
“No, the florist didn’t have the flowers I liked.” As if she’d let him buy tulips for her ever again either.
“Ms Renteria. What an unexpected surprise.”
She whirled around to find Kian’s dad approaching them. He sauntered to their side, his gaze travelled from Athena to Curtis.
“Who’s your friend?” Jules asked.
– I’ve learnt how to make poses! The arm/hand-holds are made by me. c:
– Shopping bags here (x)