‘Sue, is that you?’
The voice transported her to another place, another time. Long summer evenings, warm coals, pests that bit deep, tired bodies, impossible yarns.
She turned, and was not surprised.
‘It is you!’ Tom was in full flight mode. ‘Who’d believe it, after all this time? How are you doing, what are you up to? It’s so good to see you!’
‘Where are you going? When does your flight leave? Is anyone with you? Do you have time? Can I buy you coffee?’
Sue’s sigh went to every pore of her being, but remained trapped within her skin.
‘Look, there’s a spare seat. It’s got a view. I’ll still hear my flight number. You’ll be better to sit by the window. I’ve got time. We can catch up.’ Tom’s enthusiasm was not infectious. Sue felt herself propelled, the sea of airport passengers parting as crowds always had for Tom. She noticed there was no ring on his office-coiffured finger, and wondered what had happened. She knew not to ask… one shouldn’t take the cap off a shaken fizzy bottle.
‘You look great, Sue. Has it really been twelve years? Did you get the job you wanted? You were always a great cook… do you remember that cake you made for me? Does your mother still paint? My parents are both dead now of course. Still, it let me buy a house, so not all bad.’
Sue felt the old familiar frustration at Tom’s ability to make everything appallingly positive, like he’d missed some gene that allowed for bad stuff. His social gaffes were legendary. All-pervading, like the ghastly after-shave he was obviously still showering himself with.
‘No husband?’ Tom asked. ‘I guess you’re too busy, what with all the stuff you do.’
Sue thought of her home, full of laughter, full of fun, full of her family. Obtusely, she decided to not even try to put the record straight. She watched Tom slurp on his drink. That he could talk and drink at the same time was quite a feat.
‘Done any tramping lately? It was so good when we were young enough to go, eh! Good times! Climbing Mt Gordon. That was tough. Still we came through it unscathed, didn’t we? No long-term effects.’ Tom laughed, then, slightly puzzled ‘You disappeared after that. Where did you go? No-one seemed to know. Still, you’re here now. Great chance to catch up, eh!’
‘No long-term effects? That’s an interesting take on it’ whispered Sue’s conscience. ‘Are you going to tell him?’
Sue wondered if she should take a photo of Tom… this idiotic man who wouldn’t stop jabbering. He was such a child… even his appearance was years younger than she knew him to be. Did the Tom’s of this world never grow up, like Peter Pan?
‘Your hair looks gorgeous like that’ he said ‘but I see you still don’t do make-up. All the other girls did pink stuff, dresses, glitz, but not you…. You were always just one of the boys. It’s one of the things we liked about you.’
‘Not always just one of the boys.’ thought Sue ruefully.
Tom sailed on… ‘Where did you say you were going? I’m off to Spain. It’s a surprise for my mates. They booked a trip, mucked up the dates so I couldn’t go. I gave them the dates I wasn’t free but they thought it was the other way round. Funny, eh? Lucky, it’s all going to be fine. I managed to change work so I’m flying out to join them. They don’t know I’m coming. They’ll be really surprised when I walk in the door!’
Sue had a vision of a shell-shocked group, plans in tatters…. Tom’s excited oblivion to their devastation. Not her problem. She wondered briefly if they’d been wise enough to give him rubbish information just in case…
‘Gosh, that’s my flight!’ Tom exclaimed. ‘So good to catch up with all your news. Give me a ring sometime.’
Sue noticed that his mouth was still working as he went through the flight gate, this odd man-child, unwitting father of her darling daughter.