"So you moved to the city and you still spend your time looking out over the water. You haven't changed at all have you?"
The voice was so familiar to me but at the same time foreign, as if it didn't belong. I turned and there she was.
Her hair was shorter now, just brushing the tops of her shoulders and framing her beautiful face with it's waves. Seeing her like this, so unexpectedly, took my breath away. All the cool, calm and collected things I had rehearsed for the next time I saw her flew out of my head. I could just stand there mouth slightly open.
Finally I managed to push out two small words. "Guess not." We stood in silence for a while, I couldn't tell if she was as unsure of what to say as I was or if she was just content to let me begin the conversation. "So what brought you to the party?" It seemed a bit dull but I didn't really know where to start.
"I'm not entirely sure." She screwed up her nose as she thought in that adorable way that was so familiar to me. I used to tease her when she made that face, telling her she looked like a squirrel. I turned away while she continued. "We were invited by this girl Pine knows, Citrine I think she's called, but I've heard this isn't even Citrine's house."
There were so many questions that came out of that simple statement but one shouted in my head. "Pine?" I tried to be causal as I asked knowing the answer but still not wanting to hear it.
"My fiancé." The words hurt, I knew they would, but somehow they hurt less than I thought.
I guess time does heal all, well time and a certain beautiful berry. She followed my gaze. "Is that your girlfriend?" I turned back to her then, imagining I heard a slight hitch to her voice, but her face was nothing but smiles.
"Yeah," I sighed and I couldn't help the wonder that crept into my voice. We talked for the rest of the evening about inconsequential things, catching up on lost time, but throughout the night I couldn't help my gaze straying back to Patina. It lit a warm glow in my heart to see her standing there laughing and knowing she was mine and I smiled every time. Six months ago I never would have thought I would be talking to the woman I swore was the love of my life and be totally obsessed with someone else.
As it grew closer to midnight we broke off our chatting and I made my way to Patina's side. There was only one person I wanted to ring in the new year with and I wasn't going to miss it.
As the countdown reached one and the crowd yelled happy "New Year!!" I pulled Patina close and share our first New Years kiss.
Six months past and the feelings of that night didn't change, they just deepened, which made my separation from her all the harder. Her grandmother had broken her hip and couldn't look after herself. Since Patina's grandpa died Patina was closer to her grandma than ever and so, despite the pain it caused us not to be together, it was important for her to be with her grandmother. It was the time difference that was the hardest part, Patina's grandmother lived in England and with eight hours difference we could only really connect on the weekends.
I was lonely and I lived for those daily talks, short as they were. I knew I should get out and do things but I couldn't bring myself to in case I missed one second of time I could spend with her. Relief came from the most unlikely of places.
"Ok now that I'm standing here with a plate of cookies I realize that this was kind of a lame excuse for coming over."
I laughed as I opened the door to let her in. "Hey I'll never turn down a plate of home made cookies."
"Ok so now it's even more lame. They're store bought." She flushed and her delicate rose cheeks turn an ever so slightly darker shade of red.
I grabbed two off the plate and shoved them into my mouth whole. "Could've fooled me," I said spraying crumbs everywhere. She laughed and the tension eased, it was suddenly like it used to be, comfortable.
"Alright you goof don't kill yourself trying to eat those cardboard cookies. I'm sorry to barge in on you like this," she paused as if struggling over the words. "But there's something I wanted to give you." She reached out an envelop resting in her hand.
The paper was heavy and of good quality. Catching a glimpse of her ring as she lowered her hand I knew it could only be one thing. "I..."
She put her hands onto of mine and closed my fingers around the envelop. "Just promise me you'll think about it ok." And with that she gave me a small peck on the check and turn towards the door. I followed her still clutching tightly to the embossed paper in my hand. As she reached the lift she turned to me.
"I am sorry you know. For everything." As the doors closed on her I caught her eyes, so full of emotion, looking deep within my heart.
The envelope containing exactly what I had thought it would. An invitation to the wedding I did not want to hear about. Like news of her engagement it hurt but again it was much less than I was worried about, much less in fact than it was six months ago. I was still undecided and probably would have turned it down if it wasn't for Patina.
"So you know know this girl from home and she took the time to give you the invitation in person right?"
"Yeah, but..." How did I explain to her what had happened with Lin.
"But nothing. Don't be silly, you should go. I'll be there in time for the wedding and we can go together," she paused then. "If you'd want me to go of course."
Now it was my turn to protest. "Now you're being silly. Anywhere I go I want you there." We chatted on for as much time as we had trying to remember all the little details of our lives to stay on the phone as long as possible. It wasn't until after we hung up I realised I hadn't told her about the significance of this particular wedding to me.
I text Lin and arranged to meet her at a coffee shop. She had made the effort to invite me in person so I felt I should make the effort to accept in person. She was waiting for me when I got there, enjoy a rare morning of sunshine in this often foggy city.
I slid in to the seat across from her picking up the coffee that was waiting for me. "Thanks," I said taking a sip. It was good, in fact it was my favourite. "You remembered." I smiled gesturing with my cup in her direction.
"As if I could forget. You're the only person I know that has a berry latte with extra sugar!" She screwed up her nose at that and I snorted with laughter unsuccessfully trying to prevent the latte coming out my own nose. Giggling she handed me a napkin. "So to what to I owe the honour?" She asked as I cleaned myself off.
"Well," I took a deep breath. "I just wanted to say that it would be my pleasure to be at your wedding and if there is anything you need help with in getting ready for it just let me know." I hadn't intended to say that last part but seeing her sitting there, a huge smile across her face, made it slip out before I could stop it.
"Do you mean that?" Her eyes were sparkling with excitement and the dull ache was back in my heart.
"Absolutely," I said with more conviction than I felt.
"Oh Bondi you wouldn't believe how much that means to me and your timing couldn't be better. I was supposed to go try on some dresses today with my sisters but Niagara is knee deep in something she is tinkering with and was afraid if she left it might blow up and Bluebell, well her fiancé surprised her with a weekend away so I'm on my own. I wanted to come to Bridgeport because there are so many more options but I just don't know where to start. There are so many places and they are all so fancy and I really don't think any of the styles will suit me. I mean I've never really worn formal dresses and I'm not sure I will look right in a wedding dress and..."
She was rambling and once again my mouth opened the words tumbling out before I could stop myself. "Would you... do you... I could come with you if it would help." Wedding dress shopping was the last thing I wanted to help her with but I had offered and I certainly couldn't say no to the expectant face that was turned in my direction. So I found myself in Bridgeport's most popular salon watching Lin try on dress
Despite my reluctance I found I was actually enjoying myself. Lin was trying on anything and everything in the store and having fun with some of the more outrageous options. Besides a guy can't help but enjoy himself when presented with such a beautiful woman radiant in a wedding dress.
I spent more time with Lin in the coming weeks. It turned out that her fiancé was doing several photography jobs here in Bridgeport and instead of being separated from him in the time before the wedding Lin had come to town with him. Considering the shopping Bridgeport provided it was also a great place to organize all the details involved in a wedding. We would meet often around town while Pine was at work and chat about the wedding, home and on rare occasions Pine and Patina.
I may have imagined it but it seemed that the time I spent with Lin wasn't always popular choice. I thought she would be happy that I was getting out a bit more but there was a tension in her voice from time to time as we talked that I didn't quite understand.
Patina's first night back in the county coincided with an open mic night and as jet lagged as she was she still insisted on me playing.
"It's been months since I've heard you play. It would mean a lot to me to hear your voice again."
I couldn't resist those pleading eyes and while I could have just serenaded her she wanted to go out so we went out.
I was surprised to see a few more familiar faces in the audience. It was strange to be singing to an audience that contained both the women who inspired my music but oddly gratifying as well.
When my set ended I grabbed Patina's hand and lead her over to where Lin and Pine were sitting. I introduced them and we chatted amiably about nothing in particular. After a while I noticed that Patina had become very quiet. Feeling guilty about keeping her out so late when she was so obviously jet lagged we said our goodbyes and I took her home.
It wasn't until we got to her door that I began to realize there was something beyond simply jet lag that was getting her down. As she reached for the door I stopped her with a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"Is everything ok?"
"What? Oh, yeah I'm fine. Just tired I guess." She gave me a week smile and I could see that she was hiding something from me.
"Are you sure? If there is something going on maybe if you told me I could help." I didn't want to pressure her into telling me but something told me it was very important for me to know what was wrong.
"Well," she bit her lip as if unsure how to go on. "I remember seeing Lin at New Years." She paused and I waited patiently for her to continue. "Peach told me that you used to go out with her. Is that true?"
Uncertain where this was going I chose my words carefully. "Not exactly."
"But you had feelings for her didn't you?"
Hesitantly I answered her, "Yes." Honesty is the best policy right?
She looked at me then, her eye big and wet with emotion. "You still have feelings for her, don't you?"
"I...." I wasn't prepared for that question. It was one that never occurred to me and to be presented with it so suddenly made me pause. I thought of her as just a friend, didn't I?
Taking the pause as an answer a tear slid down Patina's cheek. "I see," she said turning to the door. "Goodnight Bondi."
"Patina!" I called after her but it was too late. She had closed the door and left me alone on the doorstep.
Cursing myself for a fool I stood there for a long time debating if I should ring the bell. Only one thing stopped me in the end. Her question. I felt I owed her an honest answer to that question. The problem was I didn't have one but I was determined to find one.
Bridgeport didn't have beaches the way Sunset Valley so I found the one tiny bit of sand at the edge of the city and sat alone with my thoughts.
The water had always helped me think. It helped clear my mind and focus my thoughts. And it seemed the place to go to think about the girl I once called the love of my life would be a place like the one we met. I sat there all night going over my feelings, first for Lin and then for Patina comparing what I felt then and what I felt now.
As the morning dawned the air was thick with fog. I could feel the damp tendrils of it on my face as I turned and left the beach. Unlike the mist that swirled around me the fog in my mind had lifted. It was time to go see Patina with the answer to her question but first I had to go jewellery shopping.