Sometimes, the way Emery eats his food makes me feel like throwing up. It’s not what he eats so much, although rare, bloody steak is not my idea of a good meal, it’s the way he attacks it, ripping it apart with his knife and fork like some ferocious animal that can’t wait to sink its teeth into the flesh, savouring every lick of his lips to make sure he doesn’t miss a drop. Think nature programme, wild open plains, lions, gazelles. If it wasn’t for his cute, boy-next-door looks, he might very well not be my boyfriend.
No, that’s not fair. It isn’t just his looks that attract me to him. It’s more than that. It’s familiarity and feeling comfortable, it’s the way he holds me close, it’s the fact that I can’t imagine ever being with anyone else, and, of course, that he’s in a band and every other girl I know wants to be where I am. Does that make me sound shallow? Actually, the last one’s a bonus. We were together way before the band.
“How’s yours, Kait? Your nuts and beans tasty?”
There is sarcasm in his voice, I’ll admit, but he’s never understood how I can be a vegetarian and not mind what he eats. I’m not vegan, because I seriously couldn’t do without dairy, but no animal flesh has ever passed my lips. It’s a family thing.
Everyone we know calls us chalk and cheese when we go out to a restaurant, as if food were the only way to judge the suitability of a relationship. So much so, that sometimes I want to … well, poking their eyes out in front of the other diners might be a little extreme, but you know what I mean.
As far as the rest of our lives are concerned, we’re not that different. We both grew up next door to each other, with the same friends. We went to the same school, and now, we attend the same university. Our parents are hardworking, what some people term middle class, but most of all, they’re normal, average, unremarkable — substitute boring.
We’re here, in the local steakhouse, rather than at the concert where my most favourite band ever are playing (okay, second most favourite), because of my parents. It wasn’t that they wouldn’t let me go, no, they’re not that boring, and I’m not that young. My parents are the kind who won’t lend me the money because, ‘I should’ve saved up from my Saturday job at the local supermarket if I wanted to spend forty quid on a ticket and another thirty getting there and back.’ As if I earn that much from my Saturday job. Life as a student is hard. Anyway, I could count the number of people of my age, that I know, who are what I would consider sane and who save money for what they need, on one finger. Teegan’s her name. She’s my best friend. She’s a trainee bank manager (ugh). She’s at the concert.
The steakhouse is okay, although the selection of dishes I can eat amounts to one. Their vegetarian speciality is a nut and bean risotto, served with my choice of chips, roast or boiled potatoes. Talk about carb overload. I always get the chips and treat them as my starter, dipping them in tomato sauce and pretending its sour cream and chives, or something with garlic. He hates it when I eat garlic, says it makes my mouth taste funny. He screws up his whole face after kissing my garlic-infused mouth, which is practically every time we go out. Makes me feel so loved.
“You finished?” says the waitress, with one of those plastered-on service grins decorating her face.
She takes my plate away while Emery stuffs his mouth full to bursting with what remains on his plate, in case she takes it away before he’s finished. He puts his knife and fork together, his cheeks stuffed hamster-style, and grinds away for a whole minute before he can speak again.
That is the second reason why he might very well not be my boyfriend.
“Add an inch to your waistline, or get the bill?” he says.
As if I’m going to say I want the pecan pie after that. I’m sure I don’t need to say that the third reason has just raised its ugly head. If it weren’t for food, we would be the perfect couple.
By the time we pay the bill, split strictly down the middle, because I love being broke, and get out the door, night has fallen. The sky’s one of those inky black ones, cloudless, where the stars scream at you to notice them whichever way you look. I like looking at the stars, not because it makes me realise how big the universe is, but because I like to imagine them all as tiny fireflies flitting around. I’m romantic like that.
“You cold?” he asks, putting his palm on my bare back.
“No.” And even if I am,” I am, “there’s no way I’m hiding my gorgeous shimmering, silver halter neck with a jacket. That stays firmly folded over my arm.
“Want to go somewhere else?” Emery asks, but we haven’t got any more money, or we’d have gone to the concert, so I shake my head. “Want me to entertain you?”
I can’t imagine what he’s thinking of doing, but I nod my head anyway, knowing that I’m probably committing myself to a moment of extreme embarrassment. I’m not wrong. He begins to prance around on his toes as if he’s doing a very bad version of Singing in the Rain, slapping his feet in the puddles from where it was raining earlier. It’s not that he can’t dance, but his best steps are the side-to-side shuffle, the back-and-forward shuffle, and the turn-me-around-in-a-circle slow dance, not a full-on, show-time spectacular.
He completes the routine with a wide swing round one lamppost, holding his arm out, pretending he’s holding an umbrella, stretching out into—
I’m not sure how loud my scream is, because it’s drowned out by the screech of the car brakes, a sickening thud and then the sounds of breaking glass and smashing wood. I can’t move my feet, even though Emery’s now ten metres further down the road. People are around us in seconds. Two groups. One each.
The car that hit him veered off to one side, crashing into another car and then careening further into the window of a sari shop. It’s draped in swathes of cloth like an exhibit at a car show.
After a few seconds, I force my legs to move, but it’s a shuffle more than a walk, the soles of my shoes scrape against the rough surface of the tarmac. It feels like an eternity before I reach where he lies on the ground, and when I do, I don’t want to look. I can tell from the faces of the people knelt by his side that it isn’t good.
Emery was lifted up into the air by the impact and landed hard. His arms and legs are posed like a mannequin that’s been put together incorrectly, limbs facing in opposite directions and at impossible angles. I steal a closer look, but my eyes lock in place and then I can’t turn them away. He’s not moving. His eyes are closed. There’s a man next to him checking for breaths, ear to mouth. He tries for a pulse. He looks up at the other faces, searching for an answer from someone with more knowledge, but we’re all searching for an answer from him.
“I don’t know what to do,” he says, “I shouldn’t move him, but his breathing … I don’t think he is.”
Conflicting snippets of medical advice flash through my brain. Don’t move the victim, they might have a broken neck or spine. To give mouth-to-mouth, lie the person on their back, tip their head back to open the airways. I understand his dilemma, but I don’t have an answer.
“Just blow into his mouth,” a woman at the back of the crowd shouts.
It seems like good advice, so he does it and Emery’s chest rises and falls like a different kind of mannequin. Annie, I think they call her. She only has a head and torso. Oh, God.
The meal I’ve just eaten rises from my stomach and lands on the coat of an elderly man who cannot get out of the way in time.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean ….”
He waves my apology away. I don’t think he knows what to say. I certainly don’t.
I know someone did call an ambulance, because I can hear a siren getting closer. I also know there are now arms around me, trying to comfort me, or hold me back, I’m not sure, but I don’t know who it is, because things are beginning to register fully in my brain and my eyes are so misted with tears that I can only see glimpses of what’s around me during the occasional lull in the flow. I thought I’d be better than this in an emergency. I thought I’d be practical and able to think clearly, not helpless and hopeless. Maybe I would be if Emery weren’t the victim. All I can think is that I should have told him to stop mucking around. I could see he was stepping in and out of the road. I knew he wasn’t really taking any notice of the traffic. We all have the talk about the high road-accident mortality rate when we’re kids. I thought I was an adult. I didn’t need this kind of reminder to tell me I’m not there yet.