Sniffling loudly, the boy roughly wiped the tears from his face and looked through his stained glasses at Ivy.
‘I didn’t mean to wake you.’
‘Yeah, well. You did. So that didn’t work, did it?’
The little boy’s face fell further. ‘I didn’t mean to, though. I did try to be quiet.’
‘Well, now you’ve learned, haven’t you? Crying and silence, mutually exclusive,’ Ivy replied coolly, rather impressed with her own retort despite the hangover that was coursing through her. The boy nodded glumly, wiping his wet hands on his shorts before looking at Ivy with a sense of confusion. ‘Um… Why were you sleeping on a bench? It’s the middle of the afternoon!’
Frowning, Ivy stood up, swallowing the wave of nausea that sprang from her stomach with the sudden movement. Sheesh, she thought, how much did I get through? She decided not to look around at the scattered cans on the floor. Sometimes it’s best to simply live in ignorance.
‘I’ll have you know, kid, that I was very drunk and needed a nap. So I fell asleep here. Any more questions?’
The boy seemed to be struggling to comprehend what Ivy had just said. ‘But… Why? Are you some sort of tramp or something? Don’t you have a home?’
‘What?!’ Ivy looked at the boy scathingly. ‘Do I really look like a tramp to you? Are you stupid?’
‘Sorry.’ The boy looked down at his feet, scuffing the ground. ‘So why -‘
‘I didn’t want to go home, if that’s what you’re about to ask.’ Heat rose in Ivy’s face; to her horror she realised that tears were starting to spring up in her eyes. She was not going to cry over what had happened, and definitely not in front of this brat! Time to change the subject. ‘So what were you sobbing over, then? Graze your knee or something, scout-boy?’
‘No,’ the boy said, pushing his glasses back up his nose; his tears had caused them to slip down his face. ‘People were making fun of me, is all.’
‘Huh? What for?’
‘I was out on a scouting trip up at Summer Hill Springs, we were learning how to fish for our fishing badge -‘
‘As you would do up there, seeing as it’s a fishery. Get on with it,’ Ivy snapped, still struggling to keep her emotions in check. It was proving to be difficult; her tiredness and hangover meant that all she wanted to do was crawl home and into her bed and weep into her pillow.
‘Oh, right… Yeah, so we were learning how to fish. Everyone else managed to catch one, and I didn’t, even though we were there all day! And everyone started laughing at me, and I just felt so bad that I couldn’t catch one, and I thought I was going to cry so I ran off before any of them could see. And then I cried anyway, and then I woke you up…’
‘So let me get this straight,’ Ivy tried to make sense of what the boy had just told her. ‘You’re crying… Over fish?’
Sniffing, the boy nodded. ‘Yeah, I guess so.’
‘Wow.’ Ivy was stunned into silence.
‘My Mum does say that I’m a bit too over emotional sometimes,’ the boy tried to explain. ‘I can’t help it. It’s just my personality.’
‘Well, you can’t exactly change your own personality, can you? Like, I’m a bit grumpy sometimes,’ Ivy said, lost in her thoughts.
‘Yeah, I noticed,’ the boy replied.
‘Hey, you! You’ve already woken me up today, don’t you be cheeking me too!’ Ivy admonished. ‘Anyway, you want to be nice to me, or I won’t help you out.’
‘Huh? What do you mean?’
‘Well. I don’t like to brag, but you’re looking at the fishing master.’
‘The fishing master?’ The boy looked at Ivy in disbelief. ‘You?’
‘Well, I’ve caught more fish than you have, so yeah, compared to you I am!’ Ivy was a little disgruntled at how unimpressed this little pipsqueak was. ‘I was going to say, I’ll help you out with learning how to fish, but if you don’t believe me, that’s fine. I’ll just leave.’
‘No, no! Don’t go!’ The boy started to plead. ‘Would you really help me out?’
‘Yeah, why not. It’ll give me something to do.’
‘But… Why? You weren’t very nice to me before…’
‘Hmph. Well. You were crying over fishing. I like fishing. You can’t be that bad, I suppose. Besides, you did wake me up. Are you saying you’re bright and chirpy first thing in a morning?’
‘But it’s the after… No, no I’m not;’ the boy decided it was best to keep on her good side. Perhaps she really would help him!
‘Exactly. Now, let’s go hire some rods and be on our way.’
‘Where are we going?’
‘Ah!’ Ivy tapped the side of her nose. ‘That’s a secret! It’s my special fishing place. It’s a bit of a walk, but the water’s jumping with them.’
‘And… You’re going to take me there? To your special secret fishing place with all the fish?’ The boy stopped walking and stared at Ivy in incredulity. ‘Really?’
‘Yes, really! You clearly need all the help you can get, if you can’t catch so much as a measly minnow at Summer Hill. They’re packed in like sardines there!’
‘Right, right,’ the boy hurried to catch up. ‘Thank you.’
‘That’s alright. What’s your name, anyway?’
‘Ivy? Cool! That’s my sis-‘
‘Oh, be quiet,’ Ivy said, rubbing her forehead. ‘I’ve still got a headache.’
* * *
‘Okay, so after you’ve baited your hook, chuck some more into the water to entice the fish over, then cast off.’
‘And then we wait?’
‘Yup. Then we wait.’
Tristan looked at Ivy a little unsurely. ‘And you’re really sure this is the best bait to use?’
‘Yup. Minnows love them.’
Tristan reluctantly pierced a segment onto his hook. ‘You know, our scout leader said that maggots -‘
‘Maggots? Pffft!’ Ivy let out a scorned laugh. ‘Maggots are old school. Trust me. Apples. Minnows love them. Get on with it!’ She cast her line into the lake and stood back, gazing out and admiring the scenery. She loved it up here, at Crystal Springs. Not many people knew about it; only the hardcore anglers bothered to come up here and those were few and far between in the Valley. For the most part, if she needed a bit of isolation in the great outdoors, she could always find it here. A little piece of paradise.
‘Aha!’ She felt a tug on her line, and beamed with pride at Tristan, who was still fussing with his fishing line. ‘Told you! Apples!’ Triumphantly, she reeled in her catch and displayed the wriggling fish to her young companion. ‘See? Trust me!’
Buoyed by Ivy’s success, Tristan cast his line into the clear waters of the spring while Ivy gently released her catch. ‘Be careful when you’re reeling them in, by the way. You don’t want to hurt them.’
‘Okay,’ Tristan replied as he stared intently at his bobber, still floating on the surface. He could see a minnow swimming about, clearly wanting to take the chunk of apple. ‘Come on,’ he whispered, willing it to take it.
‘Go on, fishy,’ Ivy whispered behind him. ‘Take the bait…’ She suddenly really wanted this kid to make his first catch. It clearly meant a lot to him.
Tristan quickly reeled in his catch; the minnow hardly knew what had happened to it, it was that fast. One second it was taking a bite of apple, the next it was clutched in the hand of an excited child!
‘I’ve done it! Look, Ivy! I’ve done it! Tristan eagerly waved the minnow in Ivy’s face, overcome with his own victory. ‘I caught a fish! Me! I caught one!’
‘Alright, calm down for a second! You’re giving the poor thing a real scare! Let it go, first.’ Ivy carefully removed the hook from its mouth, and Tristan managed to contain himself long enough to bend down and let the confused fish swim from his fingers. Straightening up, he turned to face his mentor, a huge smile plastered on his face.
‘You did it, Tristan,’ Ivy cheered, ‘you caught one! I knew you could do it!’
‘I can’t believe it!’ Tears of joy began to well up in Tristan’s eyes. ‘I never thought I’d be able to, after today… I…’
‘Oh, pull yourself together kid!’ Ivy scolded him lightheartedly. ‘You need to toughen up a bit! Come on, you’ve just caught your very first fish! You should be celebrating! And just think how shocked all your scouting pals’ll be on your next fishing trip, when you just stroll over and catch a whole pile of fish! Who’ll be laughing then, hey!’
‘I can’t wait!’ Tristan was practically dancing with joy before stopped abruptly. ‘Hey… Hang on… It’s got really dark all of a sudden, hasn’t it?’
‘Jeez, you’re right.’ Ivy pulled out her phone, ignoring the lists of missed calls and text messages. ‘Holy llamas! Tristan, it’s nearly half nine! We’d better get going, we’ve got a long walk ahead of us! Your parents will get getting worried about you! Come on, let’s move!’
* * *
‘Oh, where on earth could he be?!’
Cassie burst into tears, her maternal worrying consuming her. Tristan was supposed to have come home hours ago. It was nearly ten o’clock. The scouting trip had ended at four. The scout leader had rung Cassie in a panic, completely beside himself with fear as one of his young charges had gone missing. He’d stayed behind at the fishing spot to search while the rest of the team got the other scouts home safely, but couldn’t track him down.
‘I knew I should have given him my phone! Oh, Matt, where could he be!?’
‘Hush now, come here,’ Matt said, trying his best to comfort his sobbing wife whilst trying to ignore his own fears. It wouldn’t do for both of them to sit about panicking. ‘He’ll come home. He’ll just have wandered off in a daydream, he’ll be on his way now.’
‘But… What if he doesn’t,’ Cassie whispered.
Matthew didn’t respond. The thought didn’t bear thinking about. ‘I’m just so angry that we can’t report him as missing. Twenty four hours? Anything could happen in that time! He’s a child and he’s missing! Bloody SVPD, they’re so useless!’ He raged, taking his anxiety out on the police department. ‘Look, Cass, I’m going to go take a shower, then if he’s not back we’ll go out and search for him. Screw staying here; we’ll leave the door on the latch and ask next door to keep an eye out, we can leave him a note telling him to call us on our mobiles if he does come home while we’re out. Don’t worry, sweetheart. We are going to find him.’
Giving his wife one last squeeze, Matt rushed off to the bathroom. He didn’t want her to see how worried he really was, but he couldn’t hold it in any more.
Cassie paced the room, unable to keep still. ‘Oh, Tristy, where are you?’ she moaned to herself, contemplating ringing the Stanislavs and Sue to get more people on the case for when their search began. She was halfway through dialing the first number when the door opened.
‘Mum? Dad? I… I’m home…’
‘Tristan Rivers, where the hell have you been?!’ Slamming down the phone, Cassie marched over to her son.
‘What the hell have you been playing at? Running away from the group like that, how could you be so stupid, Tristan! How could you? Do you know what you’ve put us through, your father, the scout leader, me?! We’ve been sat here pulling our hair out with worry, all sorts going through our minds, I was half a phone number away from getting half of Sunset Valley out combing the streets for you! We’ve even been on the phone to the police! And then in you come, swanning in, without so much as a “sorry I’m late, Mum”, hours after you should have been home! Just what have you got to say for yourself, young man!’
‘Oh, Tristan, I’m so sorry for shouting at you. We’ve just been so worried, we didn’t know where you were! Anything could have happened to you! Your father and I have just been sat around here panicking since we got the phone call saying that you weren’t with the group! Where have you been?!’
Tristan had just opened his mouth to begin explaining when Matthew burst into the living room. ‘Cassie? Did I hear – Tristan! You’re home!’
‘Where’ve you been, little man? We’ve been so worried about you!’
‘Oh, let him speak, Matt!’
Tristan was on the verge of tears; he hadn’t realised just how worried his parents would be.
‘Mum… Dad… I’m sorry’ He wiped his eyes before continuing. ‘I know it was stupid to run off like that, I just… I hadn’t been able to catch a fish all day, and everyone else was laughing at me. I thought I was going to cry and I didn’t want them to see, so I ran off. I didn’t want them to make fun of me more.’
Matt bent down and scooped his son into a hug; Cassie was still too numb to move. ‘But that doesn’t explain where you’ve been all this time!’
Tristan nodded into his Dad’s shoulder. ‘I know. I walked back into town and ended up at the play park, and I stopped there for a little bit. I was crying, and I woke up a girl who was sleeping on a bench -‘
‘On a bench? What? Are you saying you were with a vagrant, Tristan?!’
‘No, Mum! She’s not a tramp or anything! She was cross with me for waking her up, but she asked me why I was upset and I told her. She’s really good at fishing, so she took me up to a fishing spot and taught me. I caught a minnow, Mum!’
Cassie and Matt exchanged sideways glances at one another.
‘Okay, Tristan. I’m really pleased that you managed to catch a fish, especially after being teased today. But you should not have gone off with a stranger. She may not have been a tramp, but she could have been anyone! You know better than to talk to strangers, Trist. You should have come straight home. We really were worried, Tristan.’
‘I know.’ Tristan hung his head. ‘I’m really sorry. I won’t do it again.’