There’s someone behind her. Allison is tall, so the other woman is hidden in her shadow, obviously worried about being here. I wonder how Allison managed to convince her to come out if she was that shy. I roll my eyes and turn away, noticing that someone up the bar is trying to catch my attention.
By the time I turn around again, Allison and her friend have made their way to Kyle. The couple are kissing each other, and I look away, turning my attention to the woman Allison has brought with her, instead. I notice, first, the awkward look on her face, caught as the third wheel while her friend greets her boyfriend.
Then I get a good look at her.
The world falls away. The sounds around me fade until it’s no more than white noise, buzzing annoyingly in the background. Somewhere, in the corner of my eye, I can see someone waving to get my attention, but I can’t bring myself to tear my eyes away.
She isn’t looking at me, giving me only her side profile. Her hair isn’t as long as it used to be. And she looks tired and drawn, older than my memories paint her. But that doesn’t matter. She’s still slim and a little shorter than average, her face soft and round. Her blue eyes dart toward Allison; they aren’t as bright, but I had long ago memorized their almond shape and long lashes. I wouldn’t forget her face. I have been dreaming about her for three years, remembering and dissecting every part of our relationship as I try to figure out where everything went wrong so quickly. Not a day has gone by, in these three years, where I haven’t thought about her at least once, her face dancing across my memories as though to torture me with something I can never have. Her blonde hair and bright blue eyes haunt me.
The name slips from me without my permission. It’s too quiet to attract any attention, though. I’m frozen where I stand.
Then she looks up. Long lashes lower over her light blue eyes, pale even in the dim lighting of the bar. Her gaze meets mine.
My breath catches and the glass that’s in my hand slips through my fingers and smashes on the floor.
“Really?” I ask with a sigh, wincing as my friend pulls on a particularly vicious knot. “This is so much trouble. I thought we were just going to a bar?”
“And I thought you were interested in meeting someone,” Allison counters, frowning in concentration as she works a brush through my hair. “You aren’t going to attract any attention with this rat’s nest.”
I grumble but subside. I haven’t been looking after my hair very well recently, and I have the tight knots to prove it. It’s hard to find the time to give my hair a good scrub though, when I have a very active three-year-old running around my ankles twenty-four-seven. It’s one of the reasons why I chopped off my previously long, blonde hair; short hair is easier to manage when I have very little time to care about it
I sigh and concentrate, instead, on carefully applying face cream, trying not to wince too much as Allison tugs on the roots. She isn’t gentle with the brush at all. Why did I give it to her, again? Right, because she claimed she could do something with my hair. At this rate, the only thing she’s giving me is a headache and every reason not to go out tonight.
“Come on, Jessica,” Allison says, seeing the expression on my face and guessing the direction my thoughts have taken. “You’ve been putting this off for weeks. You don’t even have to do much. Just sit with us and have a few drinks, have a little chat and then we’ll take you home.”
“But what about Owen?” I try.
“Hazel is here,” Allison reminds me. “She’s in the kitchen with Owen right now, giving him dinner. You don’t have to worry about him.”
Hazel Watson is twenty-one years old and she’s been my babysitter for the last year. She’s good with kids and she’s picked up babysitting as a part-time job while she does a child care certificate. Owen Russell, my son, adores her.
“Yeah,” I grumble.
Allison gives my hair one last tug and grins. “There!”
I look into the mirror. Last year, I got tired of always brushing my long hair out of my eyes, so I cut it to my shoulders. Somehow, Allison’s torturous brushing has tamed it into neat, straight lines that frame my face.
“Thanks, it looks good,” I say. “Now, get out and let me finish getting ready.”
Allison laughs and leaves the room, grinning. I’m constantly amazed by how quickly we became friends again after losing contact for so many years. I’m glad; Allison’s friendship has been one of only two bright spots in my otherwise dark life.
It doesn’t take me long to finish getting ready, and I head to the kitchen when I’m done, shoes in hand. Allison is standing at the table, chatting with Hazel, when I enter. Owen, who has a bowl of ice cream in front of him, half of it smeared across the table and his face, looks at me with wide brown eyes.
“You look pretty, Mommy!” he shouts.
“Thanks,” I say with a soft smile, kissing him gently on a clean part of his forehead.
Owen, his hair as blonde as mine and his large brown eyes the same glittering shade as his father’s, is the only other brightness in my life. I don’t want to imagine where I would be without him.
“Be good for Hazel,” I tell him.
“I will!” he exclaims, waving his spoon in the air. I wince at the splatter of ice cream that hits the floor.