Angela and I were walking to a café.
‘Congrats man!’ Angela was more excited than I was. ‘How’s it feel to be through the preliminaries?’
‘Uh, yeah? Feels good I guess?’
In the first round of assessment, I’d thought I’d managed three credits and a HD. I was happy. Angela was gushing, but I knew it had nothing to do with the marks I got.
‘Come on, be excited!’
‘I am excited. I just don’t show it like you do.’
‘Geez, you’re not introverted, you’re cocooned.’
‘Hey, I’m a snowflake. Don’t change me.’
Angela mumbled something including the word “blowtorch”. Somehow I’d been stupid… or, confident enough to agree to a night out with Angela and some friends. I knew Jason and Dame were going, so at least I’d know a few people there, but I was hesitant. I’ve never really been out drinking, but Angela insisted that most of them weren’t “pissheads” and that I wouldn’t be the only one leaving pretty much sober.
Although Angela’s version of a night out started around mid-morning and included a day at the beach. This excited me and also gave me the excuse of being tired if I decided I wanted to bail later.
It is only moments later that Jason and Dame arrived with Aaron, Jess and Carlie. Luckily Angela had told me the number of people, so I had been mentally preparing myself.
My chest tightens only a little when Aaron, Jess and Carlie all take turns to introduce themselves. I manage a polite, ‘Hello, hi, how’s it going?’
Deep breaths, stay calm, the worst is over.
We sat at the café for a further hour talking. Everyone is excited to be free of assessment and Aaron and Carlie talk directly to me, while the other four chatted about their recent camping trip until Dame? Or Jason? I get them confused, jumps up.
‘Let’s hit the water, already!’
And now we’re all walking briskly to the shore. The sun is warm, and the sand is light-gold and the water looks perfect. Surfers, swimmers, and tanners litter the beach. I remember that Angela told me if I left my shirt on she’d rip it off. I honestly don’t mind being shirtless. What is weird is that I think I see Carlie looking at me as I strip down to my boardies. I shake off the feeling. I’m probably just imagining things.
We’re in the water, and Dame, Aaron and Jess are out diving into the crashing waves, while Carlie and I are throwing the ball to Angela who is being thrown by Jason into the air to catch it.
I see a bubble.
It rises from the foam. It’s as big as my head. In it I can see a scene. This scene. It’s a wonderful time with the seven of us all laughing and jumping and diving. In that bubble I think I can see Carlie looking at me.
It crashes into me and I collide with Carlie. We both stand, laughing.
‘Sorry, are you okay?’
‘Yeah I’m fine.’
‘Sorry, I’ll try to stay on my feet next time.’
‘Maybe you should try catching me.’
‘Ah…’ My cheeks warm and my tongue doesn’t work properly. ‘S-sure. I mean, don’t rely on that. I’m pretty clumsy.’
‘Well, you’ll owe me sometime. Heads up!’
I brace myself against another wave as Carlie wade towards the ball that is washing past us.
I see another bubble. It has a close up of the conversation we just had. I can see myself blush, and I could see Carlie blush a little as well. She looks…
I now see bubbles all around me, each different sizes with different scenes. Hundreds, thousands Most of them I don’t recognise. With people I don’t know in places I haven’t been.
Some stand out to me. I see Jason throwing Angela into a wave, both laughing so hard they may drown. Then a bubble floats right in front of me and I see.
‘Dad?’ I can feel myself whisper but it was lost to the wind.
Throw me higher, Dad!
Okay, you asked for it.
I see my dad throwing me into the air before I land in water. But there’s no waves in a lake. It’s the lake I used to visit with my family as a kid.
Another wave crashes and the bubble floats away. Laying under the water for a moment I think about what I saw.
Memories, happy memories. Every person was surrounded by their memories. Every bubble was a moment they hold close.
I sit up and cough, salt burns my eyes. I stand again, brace against another small wave, and look around. Carlie is looking at me through the sea of bubbles. Again the bubble with her and I talking floats past. She throws the ball over to Angela and wades back over to me.
‘Are you okay? You seem a bit…’
‘A bit what?’
‘Well, drowned.’ We start laughing.
‘No, just… sort of, I don’t know.’
‘Just what, Jordan?’
‘I’m just creating bubbles so I can smile for longer.’ I knew what I had said. But Carlie clearly didn’t. ‘Remind me to explain later.’
‘Okay, sure.’ She moves towards Angela and Jason, who are now wrestling. I follow. Then a wave rises up and crashes into Carlie. I bend my knees, and scoop under her arms lifting her above the foam. She coughs a little, looks at me, and smiles.
‘Yeah. My hero.’
Another bubble floats past but I do my best to not look at it. Carlie and I stare at each other; I don’t want that bubble to show me looking away.
We’re now all back at Jason and Dame’s house, showering and eating. Everyone’s a bit red except Aaron. Jess explains that ‘He’s a surfer so he doesn’t really burn.’
It’s still early so we decide to watch a movie before we head out. I see a bubble floating above the TV. There we all are, on the couch. My new friends. I look at the bubble long enough to see Carlie’s fingers curl around mine. I feel my cheeks burning again.