“That would be the perfect ending. Me and Gav kissing and walking into the sunset.”
“Aw, come on Tara. Get real,” said Vanessa. “There’s no such thing as perfect endings. There’s always some catch.”
She spoke with an authority that belied her fifteen years.
“I don’t believe in catches — I think” reflected Tara, a frown breaking across the dreamy face she wore when Gav was the theme.
Vanessa exhaled in a great show of patience but, before she could counter, her father breezed into the den.
“Hi girls. How’s the study coming along?” he chirped. “Or is it all boy talk? Ha?”
He crossed the room and opened the drawer of a bureau to the right of the TV.
“Don’t worry. I’m only after this. I won’t disturb ye anymore.” From the nest of wires inside he untangled a small charger, whirled it around twice holding its cable in one hand and, in an act of showmanship, catching the plug end in the other. “iPad needs juice,” he explained. “Ye can get back to whatever malicious gossip or character assassination ye were at a second ago.”
His daughter looked up at him with her irises almost lost beneath the lids of her eyes — a regard somewhere between the sternness of a librarian and the exasperation of a much put-upon daughter.
“Anyway,” he continued. “I’ve got this meeting so I won’t be here for tea. And the larder out there is a bit on the bare side. So . . .”
He slapped a fifty euro note down on the arm of the couch nearest to the door.
“Treat yourselves to Maccie D’s or that pizzeria ye both like in the shopping centre. See ye later.”
When he had shut the door behind him, Vanessa shot a vicious glance at her friend and hissed, “God, Tara. The way you look at him. It’s embarrassing — and creepy. I’d nearly say that you fancy him at this stage.”
“You have to admit that he’s a bit of a hottie,” Tara replied, either not hearing or unperturbed by the disdain in her friend’s voice.
“I think even he’d draw the line at dating a fifteen-year old. So: tough luck. Although given the last few, ahem, friends he brought here, I’m beginning to have my doubts. Anyway, let’s finish this stupid geography and get some eats.”
The shopping centre was much quieter than the girls were used to, when on weekends they had to weave through crowds to make their way along its gleaming, tiled corridors.
“So this is what Wednesday evening at the mall looks like. This joint is really hopping,” drawled Vanessa.
“Well I’m glad,” stated Tara. “I’d be mortified if someone saw me here in my uniform.”
Vanessa had changed into jeans and a striped sweater before going out, but her friend was still decked out in the sensible shoes, grey skirt, black tights, red jumper and white blouse of their school.
“I mean, what if Gav saw me here,” she continued, “dressed like a dweeb? I’d die.”
They stepped off the escalator together and were hit by the wall of aromas from the food hall’s score or so of establishments. As they made a beeline across the atrium towards Mama Ele’s, Vanessa grabbed Tara’s arm and forced her to look to the left.
“We’d better call a medic so coz―”
“Oh, Jesus! It’s Gav! Mother of God!”
A tall figure with dirty blond hair peeking out from under a tatty baseball cap was leaning up against a marble column a couple of dozen yards away and engrossed in his smartphone. He hadn’t seen the girls or heard their exclamations echo across the deserted floor.
“At least he’s in his uniform too, if that makes you feel any better,” said Vanessa smartly. “Although that . . . abomination on his head―”
“What’ll we do, Vanessa? Will we go over and talk to him. Or . . . Maybe he’s―”
Still with her hand clutching Tara’s jumper, Vanessa strode towards the boy, dragging her friend in tow. They stopped about a yard from the column and waited for his attention to drift upwards. After an uncomfortable interval, during which he never once lifted his eyes from his phone or stalled the frantic snaking of his index finger across its screen, Vanessa looked at Tara and simultaneously nodded her head, raised her eyebrows and mouthed “go on”. Her friend remained immobile, with the tail end of a nervous, expectant grin frozen on her face. In response to this, Vanessa made a brusque circular motion with her hand and silently shaped an obscenity with her lips. Again, her friend just stood there, mute and rooted to the spot.
“Oh Jesus,” mouthed Vanessa, with a throw of her eyes up to heaven and then out loud, “Hey, Gav.”
The boy looked up reluctantly. His face showed no hint of pleasure or warmth as his eyes slowly, almost sleepily, switched from Vanessa to Tara’s face and back again. In fact, he looked slightly annoyed at having been interrupted. If Vanessa noticed this, neither her expression nor her words let it be known.
“Sorry to come between you and your iPhone, Gav,” she teased, “but we just saw you there all on your ownio and thought we’d come over to say ‘hi’. Isn’t that right, Tara?”
She gave her unresponsive friend a none-too-subtle prod with her elbow, which drew a startled “that’s right” and “hi Gav”.
There was a long silence while he stared glassily into the gap between the pair of friends.
“Sorry,” said the boy at last, shaking his head. “I was spaced out there. Hi. To both of you. Am . . . just a mo.”
He smiled and turned his attention back to his phone, his finger resuming its frantic helter-skelter until it practically leapt with a flourish into the air when its owner intoned a cheery “now; I’m all yours!”
“Great,” chirped Vanessa. “So. Whatcha doing here? Are you on your own?”
“Am. Kinda. Yeah. I’m on my own. Yeah. Just hangin’ around.”
“Brill!” Vanessa gave a little jump and smiled broadly at Tara. “Why don’t you come with us? I’ve a fifty my dad gave me — guilt money. We’re gonna grab a pizza and maybe ice-cream. Pig out. All on my old man. Come on.”
Gav chewed his bottom lip, weighing up the proposal. He looked across the atrium at the pizzeria and then slowly ran his gaze from there to a more plush eatery almost diametrically opposite it.
“OK,” he said. “Love to.” He cupped his hands around his mouth and announced in a far away voice, “Thanks, Mr. . . . am . . . Vanessa, wherever you are!”
They laughed and crossed the empty space, Vanessa moving aside to allow Tara walk beside him.