“But she shouldn’t have done the dirt on him,” said Vanessa. She paused to take a slurp of Coke. “I mean,” she continued, shaking her head, “her name is mud now. Like forever. Poor Emmet.”
“Yeah. Poor Emmet,” agreed Tara.
Each of them, as if on cue, took a bite of pizza. Having Mama Ele’s to themselves, they had picked a window booth that allowed all three people-watch as they chatted and ate.
Vanessa stood up suddenly and announced she was going to the toilet.
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” she sang and secretly poked Tara between the shoulder blades by way of encouragement.
“There’s a reason for this lame hat,” said Gav when Vanessa had been gone a minute or so.
“Your hat is grand,” said Tara earnestly. “But if I’d lovely hair like yours — I mean, natural blond and all, you know — I wouldn’t be hiding it. But the hat’s . . . fine.”
“I’m incognito.” He looked at her full-on for probably the first time that evening; he had been staring out the window continuously since they had sat down. “I’m following someone. My dad, actually. There’s been trouble at home lately. You know? And after school I heard him on his phone arranging to meet someone here. So I legged it down here and waited for him. He’s in there. With a woman.” He nodded in the direction of Le Bon Plat across the way. “I want to follow them when they come out, you know, to see . . . I dunno, if they both get into the same car or whatever.”
Tara fiddled with the sleeves of her jumper. She wanted to squeeze his hand or even give him a hug but she felt that would make him uncomfortable. He had half turned away from her to look back out the window again but she could see his eyes were burning with suppressed tears.
“I’m sorry, Gav,” she near whispered. “That’s rough.”
She wanted to say more but couldn’t think of anything useful to make him feel better. He picked up another slice of pizza and bit off the apex.
“How long have they been in there?” she finally asked.
“Ages,” he answered through a full mouth. “Since before six.”
“Maybe it’s a business dinner. Maybe what’s happening is . . . you know, innocent?”
Gav shook his head. The blond locks that showed beneath his cap shone in the dim light of the pizzeria.
“Naw. Not with all the rowing that’s been going on lately. And what I heard earlier on.”
Suddenly, Gav’s body tensed. Covering his face with his hands he hissed, “That’s them.”
A tall, stocky man who bore a strong resemblance to Gav held Le Bon Plat’s door open for a slim, black-haired woman. She was heavily made up and her bouncing gait and lively, green-printed minidress worn over skinny jeans made her look much younger than Gav’s father, who was dressed in a plain grey suit. They were both smiling as they emerged into the atrium and began walking briskly towards its cluster of elevators.
“I’ll follow them,” Tara heard herself say to Gav. “It’s too risky for you. Back soon.”
Before he could respond, she was up from the table, out the door and following the click clack of the woman’s heels across the tiles. Ascending an elevator 20 yards behind her quarry, Tara looked down and gave the watching Gav a discreet wave. From there until the car park she kept the same distance from the pair while all the time studying them intently. She liked the woman, she decided; her style, her confident gait, her laugh, even the vanilla smell of her perfume in whose wake she padded. About the man she wasn’t sure. Even though he looked a lot like Gav, there was something high and mighty in his bearing that put her off. As he walked with the woman, it seemed like he wore her as an adornment, showing her off like a child out on the street on Christmas morning with his new bicycle. The pair hadn’t held hands or touched (or anything more) on the seven-minute walk from restaurant to darkened car park, which led her to believe that their meal was strictly business, but then she wondered where were the briefcases, the laptops and all the usual things business people carried.
After they came to a stop beside a large, silver four-wheel drive and Gav’s father took keys from his pockets, Tara saw in the brief flashing of the hazard lights a sly smile on his face that she reckoned meant trouble. She ducked in behind a people carrier and observed them through its cockpit. He opened the passenger door for the woman but stood blocking her entrance.
“No, Jim. Not here,” Tara heard the woman say. Was it fear or something else in her voice?
“Ah, go on! One for the road,” growled Gav’s father.
He grabbed her. The sucking sound of kissing travelled over the roofs of the cars and Tara crouched into a tight ball, not wanting to see any more.
“What will I tell Gav?” she thought.