‘Dylan!’ Louise span round and gazed worriedly into Dylan’s eyes. ‘Are you okay? I can’t believe Melody did that, right in front of the whole school!’
‘I’m as okay as I can be!’ Dylan smiled at the anxious girl. ‘Bit embarrassed, but it’s to be expected.’
‘I’m so cross with her!’
‘Yeah, Rory said you had an argument. Are you okay?’
‘Me?’ Louise faltered a little, confused. ‘Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be?’
‘Because you’ve just had an argument with your best friend?’
‘Oh! Right. Of course. To be honest… Look, Melody and I have been friends since we were three years old, but… I don’t really like her very much anymore. She treats people like they’re dirt, like she’s better than everyone else. I stood up to her a few weeks ago, I just got so sick of it, and since then… Well, she’s been nice to my face. But Rory told me earlier than she’s been spreading crap about me around the school. She doesn’t like being told she’s not the perfect figure she thinks she is.’ Louise trailed off, a little taken aback with her outburst. ‘Sorry. This is about you.’
‘No, it’s fine!’ Dylan smiled warmly at Louise. ‘You’ve had sixteen years of putting up with her, it’s about time you got some of it off your chest!’
Louise giggled, feeling a little self conscious. ‘You’re not wrong there!’
The two fell silent for a few moments, each deep in thought as they stared at their shoes.
‘Did you know Melody was only using me?’
Looking up, Louise hesitantly nodded. ‘I had an inkling. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, I just… I didn’t think you’d believe me.’
‘No no, it’s fine,’ Dylan replied fervently. ‘I wouldn’t have done. I was just wondering… You know…’
‘Okay.’ Louise fidgeted with the hem of her dress nervously.
‘Rory says that you two aren’t exactly the romance of the century either. Shame, really.’
‘Well…’ Dylan tried to find the right words. ‘Just… You know…’
‘Rory is a really nice guy, but there’s nothing there. We both realised it pretty early on tonight, but it’s no biggie. I hope we can be friends though, he’s a really nice guy!’
‘He is! I’ve known him since he was in nappies, he’s great,’ Dylan grinned nostalgically. ‘Ah well. Such is life! So, anyone else you’ve got your eye on?’
Louise smiled to herself. ‘Maybe.’
‘Oh yeah?’ Dylan felt his neck grow hot as he became aware of Louise’s fixed gaze.
‘Yeah,’ Louise whispered, hardly realising that she was gradually leaning in towards Dylan.
‘Oh, Lou. I’ve been so blind…’ Dylan tentatively placed a hand on Louise’s waist and pulled her closer to him, smiling as she gently cupped his face.
‘You really have,’ Louise replied, her voice tinged with regret.
‘We could go for coffee? Now, I mean. There’s a place not too far from -‘
Louise paused, her eyes searching Dylan’s. ‘I want to, though.’
‘Then why -‘
‘I can’t. I… I’m leaving Bridgeport, right after graduation.’
Dylan was stunned. ‘What? Why?!’
‘I just need a fresh start. I’ve spent my entire life here hiding away, I just… I want to leave it behind. Start anew. I’m going to stay with my Aunt and Uncle for a while, then find my own place, get a job near them.’
‘But… What?’ Dylans struggled to find his words through his shock. ‘Why, Louise? Why can’t we see each other until then?!’
Taking a deep breath, Louise pulled away from Dylan’s embrace. ‘You know why. We’ve got exams, we’ve got graduation, neither of us need the distraction right now. And then I’ll be gone.’
‘No, Dylan! Look, if Melody hadn’t got so drunk tonight we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. I’m not playing second fiddle to her anymore, Dylan.’
‘But you wouldn’t be!’
‘Yes, I would! You only noticed me after she screwed you over. Dylan, believe me, if we’d had this conversation a few months ago I’d have jumped at the chance of being with you but… I… I just… I respect myself now.’
Dylan felt tears starting to build in his eyes. Blinking furiously, he reached out a longing hand towards the girl he’d only just admitted his feelings for. ‘Please, Louise…’
‘No.’ Softly pushing his hand away, Louise took a step backwards. ‘I’m sorry, Dylan. It’s just too late. I’ll see you at school.’
Taking one last look at Dylan, Louise turned and walked down the steps onto the street and hailed a passing cab, Dylan’s eyes on her the whole time. As the taxi pulled away and round the corner, Dylan buried his head in his hands. ‘How could I have been so bloody blind?’ he muttered to himself, trudging down the steps and across the road into the park where he sat down heavily in a swing.
Looking up from his depressed cloud, Dylan saw the swing next to him occupied with a familiar figure. ‘Oh. Hi.’
‘Puzzle was right.’
‘So I hate to admit.’ Moodily scuffing the worn away grass under his swing, Dylan contemplated the night. ‘Guess I won’t be forgetting prom in a hurry after all. Dumped by one girl and rejected by another.’
‘Is for the best.’
‘Dylan free to play with Puzzle now!’
‘Oh, give over!’ Dylan rolled his eyes, smiling a little.
‘Is for the best anyway. Dylan no happy with Melody.’
‘I just don’t get it… I’ve got such strong feelings for Louise, how did I not realise I had them until Melody… Well, until she did what she did.’
‘Melody like fireworks. Everyone look at her, but she painful if you get close.’
Dylan laughed. ‘That’s pretty deep, Puzzle!’
‘Very true.’ Dylan gazed at the peculiar creature as it swung a little on the swing, a look of innocent joy plastered on it’s face. ‘Puzzle… What exactly are you?’
‘Puzzle? Puzzle Dylan’s friend!’
‘Apart from that.’
Puzzle looked puzzled. ‘Puzzle Dylan’s friend. Puzzle here for Dylan.’
‘Now you no have girlfriend, Dylan play with Puzzle tomorrow?’
‘You don’t give up, do you!’ Dylan shook his head in disbelief. ‘I’m still not convinced you’re real.’
‘Who says what is real and what is not?’
‘Oh, whatever!’ Rolling his eyes, Dylan started suddenly. ‘Gnomes! What time is it?!’ Checking his phone, he jumped up from his swing and began racing towards the street. ‘It’s gone curfew!’
‘Then why didn’t you say anything?!’
‘Puzzle talking to Dylan. Curfew not important.’
‘Yes it is! I’ve got to get home now, before I get…’ Dylan came to an abrupt halt as he ran out of the park and right into a police officer. ‘…Caught…’
‘What time do you call this?’ As the police officer dropped Dylan off outside his house, Ethan came marching out. ‘Your mother told you to make sure you were back before curfew!’
Dylan hung his head. ‘Sorry, Dad.’
‘Well, I hope tonight was worth it. I have a feeling your mother and I won’t be letting you out for the next few weeks! Being driven home by the police?!’
‘I said I was sorry!’
‘So how was your last night of freedom?’ Ethan looked at his son quizzically.
‘Well, I got dumped by Melody after she cheated on me in front of the whole school, then Louise, who I’ve just realised I actually have feelings for, rejected me and is leaving the city after graduation.’ Dylan eyed his Father, in the mood for an argument. Running into the police officer had been the icing on the cake for his night, and he was itching for a spat.
Ethan looked at his son. ‘Oh. Not so good then.’
‘I’m sorry, mate.’
‘Why? You didn’t do anything!’
‘You know what I mean! Look, get yourself inside and off to bed. Your Mother turned in a couple of hours ago so she doesn’t know you broke curfew. Maybe I’ll let you off, just this once.’
‘Why bother?’ Dylan replied angrily. ‘It doesn’t matter either way! I don’t exactly have a social life any more!’
‘Oh, kid. Look, get yourself to bed. Things will look different in the morning. Everything happens for a reason, you know. One day you’ll look back on tonight and be glad things turned out the way they did…’