Standing on the bridge, waiting in the dark Carolyn finally gave up hope. Tears fell from grey-green eyes, mingling with the light rain that had begun. She raised her head as bravely as she could and took one last long look at her surroundings. No one was around, no footsteps sounded on the path, the road less than two hundred metres away was eerily silent. The only sound was the rain as it fell on the water’s surface, the gravel path and the ducks as they swam to shelter from the increasing downpour. Carolyn stayed where she was, the sound of her ragged breathing almost deafening her. Her floral dress, cardigan and tousled brown hair were soon drenched. They clung to her, letting more of the night’s coldness penetrate her tiny frame. She barely noticed, her mind already transported elsewhere.
Michael, the boy all the girls wanted, had arranged to meet her on the bridge two hours ago. Her friends – jealous and full of teenage bitchiness – had teased her and told her it was an obvious prank one of Michael’s friends had set up, probably Josh. Carolyn hadn’t listened; they didn’t see the way he looked at her with his clear blue eyes, or how the corners of his mouth flicked up in more of a smile when he spoke to her, or how he always leaned into her like he wanted to keep the rest of the world out. Wanted it just to be the two of them. When she looked into his eyes she could see his sincerity, could feel his nervousness and knew they had a passionate future ahead of them. Accepting she had imagined all those meaningful things was going to be hard she realised.
Arriving ten minutes early she had fed the swans and ducks the stale bread from her house and watched the children who played nearby with kites and footballs. She had fondly imagined their children playing there in ten years time and wondered if they would still live in the area. What they’d be doing career wise, before she shook the thoughts from her head. She had always done that, got ahead of herself. She chided herself as she watched the mothers collect their children to take them home for dinner. Carolyn had wished she had had something more to eat through the day but she’d been too excited to contemplate anything other than what tonight would bring. She tugged at her hair and pulled at her clothes as she looked around nervously. He was ten minutes late.
When he was half an hour late she began panicking that she was at the wrong place. The bridge in the park he had said; there was only one of those and she stood on it in plain view. She had told herself that everyone knew boys’ timekeeping was diabolic and Michael would be there as soon as he could. To pass the time she had began rehearsing topics and conversations they could have. It would turn out they had the exact same taste in music and films; they would like the same TV shows and books. By the end of the date they would be entwined together in mind, body, heart and soul. Then the sun disappeared behind the line of fir trees, taking more of her hope with it.
The dog walkers came and went, still there was no sign of Michael. Carolyn had taken her heels off by then, her feet hot and sticky, and no doubt smelly. She knew then he wasn’t coming but still she was unwilling to give up. She had cursed her stupidity at not exchanging numbers with him and started imagining the hurtful things everyone would say at school tomorrow. The sparse lighting in the park came on, but the lamps either side of the bridge had been vandalised. She was alone in the increasing darkness. She knew her phone display could provide some light to see by, but she hadn’t wanted to see. To see that Michael had still not come and confirm her foolishness for believing for one second he would. As the first raindrop hit her shoulder, the first silent tear slid from her eye.
Carolyn didn’t know how long she stood there letting the rain penetrate her skin and clothes. It could have been seconds or minutes before the dog came over to her, sticking his even colder nose up her leg. She looked down at it, a brown Staffordshire bull terrier and wondered if those big brown eyes lied like Michael’s baby blues did. They certainly cried to her soul like his had.
He happily turned to look back at his owner. Carolyn continued looking down at him smiling, lost in her thoughts once again. Dogs were loyal and affectionate; they might run off but they came back to those they loved. A dog wouldn’t have stood her up. This dog Tyson wanted to cheer her up, to play with her, to give affection. Carolyn loved dogs, always had but since her cocker spaniel Bonnie died two years ago she hadn’t had one of her own.
Running footsteps stopped a few feet from her, Tyson’s owner out of breath. “Carolyn, what are you doing out here in the rain?”
She looked up at the boy’s face. He looked vaguely familiar and older, cute too, but she wasn’t going to fall for that trick again.
“It is Carolyn isn’t it?” He shook his head as he realised it didn’t really matter at this juncture. He briskly removed his baseball cap and puffa jacket. “I live just over there. Come on, we’ll get you warmed up then you can tell me what happened.”
She nodded as she allowed him to put the cap on, drape the coat over her shoulders and begin leading her across the grass to his garden gate.
She stopped abruptly as something occurred to her. “My shoes!”
“Don’t worry, Tyson already has them. They may be slightly slimy now but I’m sure Mum can remedy that.”
He had a pleasant easy laugh, nice smile. She liked him instantly. His arm around her was nice, too; she could feel the heat emanating from him, mingling with his deodorant.
She leaned into him. “I’m sorry,” she said, her eyes staring blankly at the grass ahead of them as she felt the wetness of it on her bare feet.
He pushed her away enough so he could give her a quizzical look. “Whatever for?”
She looked at him; he had rain dripping from his floppy fringe. “You’re getting wet on account of me and my stupidity.”
“No, I’m getting out of taking Tyson for a half a hour walk in this rain when I’d rather be home in the warm.” He smiled as he let go of Carolyn and opened his garden gate for her and Tyson to run through.
“James, what are you doing...oh, hello there.” James’ mother got up from the table and stared confusedly past Carolyn to James who was dripping slightly on the patio threshold.
“Hello,” Carolyn said sheepishly, removing the cap and puffa that had fooled James’ mother into thinking she was him.
“I’ll put the kettle on; you’re both soaked through.” She smiled serenely at Carolyn. “Graham!” she yelled, turning her face more towards their lounge.
James’ father humphed, putting his newspaper down. “What?”
“Fetch some towels from the airing cupboard. James and his friend are soaked; better bring some clothes too.”
Carolyn took a hesitant step towards James’ mother. “Thank you but you needn’t go to so much trouble on my account.”
“Nonsense, what would your parents say if they found out I’d let you catch pneumonia?”
Carolyn glanced over at James; he scratched his head and whispered from the door, “Mum’s a bit of a worrier.”
James’ mother turned and wagged a finger at him. “I heard that and it doesn’t hurt to be cautious, young man.”
Carolyn liked James’ parents; they seemed warm and loving, unlike hers who, in her opinion, should have divorced years ago. She sighed heavily as she compared James’ parents to hers. Hers would have been rude to any guest she brought home and certainly wouldn’t have fed and clothed them while their clothes went through the dryer. Carolyn was even handed the remote and told to curl up with Tyson on the sofa. Tears ran down her face as she wished her family were more like James’.
“Hey, hey, hey, no need for that; he’s a jerk whoever he is.”
Carolyn smiled at James as she realised she had forgotten all about Michael and his baby blues. “He sure is; I can’t believe I fell for his lies. He’s not the reason I’m tearful though. Your family are so nice, you’re lucky to have them.”
He leaned towards her, cheeky smile upon his face. He whispered, “I know, but I don’t want them to know that I know. They’ll get big heads.”
Carolyn laughed as James’ mimicked their heads expanding then exploding. Tyson got up and licked her face, apparently happy to see her happy. James’ parents retreated to their room soon after that, leaving them tea and scones to scoff. They chatted and laughed for what seemed like hours, learning that they had similar tastes in both literature and music.
“Come on, boy, you need a walk,” James said finally as they both fought tiredness.
Tyson whined as he reluctantly got off Carolyn’s lap.
“Sorry, Ty, but I have to go home, too. Maybe I’ll see you again soon.” Carolyn said, checking she had everything she came with and nothing more.
James held the patio door as she stepped out of the house. “I think mum and dad would be devastated if you didn’t come visit again soon. I of course would like you to too.”
“Then I will. You can try and teach me Calculus or something.”
“You’re on. Come on, let’s get you home.” He turned and saw her uncertainty, sighing he held out his hand and smiled handsomely.
She smiled taking it. “Okay then, but just to the bridge.”
About the Author:Alyssa Swan lives and writes in London, England. She enjoys creative pursuits and draws inspiration for her stories and novels from those around her and closest to her heart. Some of her short stories have been published in Shadow Fiction, Pill Hill Press and Oysters & Chocolate.