Pendulum — chapter fourteen

“A crack in the armour”

The next day, Bailey met up with Ethan — whose hangover was only just subsiding. He didn’t mind these coffee-dates with Ethan, but like everything else, it seemed like just another exercise in killing time. Bailey didn’t want to do that any more. He just sat there while Ethan lazed around reading the paper and trying to look important. Most times they didn’t even end up really talking — these days they didn’t have much left to talk about.

The waitress finally arrived to break the monotony of Ethan’s dramatic page turning. Bailey couldn’t help but notice that Ethan was reading the Finance section of the paper — apparently today he had decided to play the role of entrepreneur. He was going to ask him what he thought of the global financial crisis, but was instead distracted by what extravagant drink his friend had ordered today.

“There we are,” the waitress announced. “One double-shot espresso caramel mocha with extra foam … on skim.”

“Thank you,” Bailey said, ending the awkward silence the totally unaware Ethan had created. The waitress feigned a smile and walked away.

“Is that even a real drink?” Bailey asked, taking a restrained sip of his simple hot chocolate.

“Oh, finally,” Ethan uttered, finding sugar to add to his concoction. He was now seemingly oblivious to Bailey as well.

“This is what we do isn’t it?” Bailey asked.

“What?”

“Us. The youth. The great young minds of today.”

“What are you talking about, man?”

“We just sit around and do nothing. We’re either getting wasted, or recovering from doing so. Come on, the most productive thing you’ve ever done is invent a coffee that takes longer to say than drink.”

“And what have you done that’s so impressive?” Ethan said, his usual carefree attitude being overtaken by a rare tone of resentment.

“Nothing. That’s just it.” Bailey paused. “Sorry. I’m just going a little crazy. My only legacy is going to be an unrivalled prowess at packing plastic bags.”

“You are exceptionally good at that,” Ethan laughed, quickly forgetting Bailey’s uncharacteristic jab at him.

“What about uni?” Ethan asked. “You’re doing well there.”

“I was,” Bailey replied. Ethan wondered where this was going. “I’ve decided I’m finally going to do it. I’m quitting. I’m going to go and sort it first chance I get.”

“So I have to carry the torch all by myself now?” Ethan inquired, a mock-heroism emanating as he thrust his chest out.

“As unsettling as it is, my friend, you are the future.”

Bailey leant forward, giving Ethan a reassuring tap on the back, before he returned to his seat to contemplate just how seriously he seemed to be embracing the proclamation. He had already ignited a cigarette, which he was sucking on in a look of triumphant pondering.

As Bailey worried about what he may have just unleashed on the world, he jumped in his seat, as a hand from behind unexpectedly tapped him on the shoulder. His shock was replaced with delight at seeing the hand belonged to Eve. Ethan’s attention was dragged away from the business section he was now pretending to analyse.

“Eve! Hi,” Bailey said somewhat nervously. “Sorry, you scared me there; everyone I normally talk to is already here. How are you?”

“I’m good. I’ve just been taking a walk through the old neighbourhood; seeing how much the place has changed.”

“Sounds thrilling,” Ethan interrupted, deadpan, as Bailey immediately jumped into damage control mode.

“Sorry. This is my friend Ethan. He prides himself on talking before thinking.” Ethan, seeming proud of his less than complimentary introduction, was still puffing away on his cigarette.

“Hi,” Eve said playfully. “You seem a little more conscious this time.”

“Ah …” Ethan quickly put two and two together and realised what Eve was referring to. This certainly wasn’t the first time a girl had caught him out on something, but he decided to steer the conversation back to safer ground for the sake of his ego. “So have you seen anyone interesting?” Ethan asked. Eve made a quick, subtle glance to Bailey before replying.

“Mostly just old family acquaintances I haven’t seen for years. I think I’ve had to recount my life story at least a dozen times this morning. I’d forgotten how ridiculously small this place is.”

“Yep,” Ethan snickered, “everyone knows everyone else’s dirt.” Eve suddenly became very still; there was a patronising tone in Ethan’s voice that made her feel like there was more to his comment than he was letting on.

She turned to Bailey, unsure what to think. As her insecurities got the better of her, she was convinced she had been betrayed. Eve thought the dark secrets she had revealed to Bailey the night before were now common knowledge — at least to one person more than she intended.

“Look, I, uh, have to go. I’ll see you later.” And with that Eve was gone. Bailey sat there for a moment, utterly confused. He replayed the sequence of events in his head and realised what Eve’s train of thought must have been. He slapped Ethan on the back of the head and pushed his chair back to run after her.

“What the hell was that for?” came Ethan’s belated objection.

Catching up with Eve in the middle of the mall, Bailey took her by the hand to stop her.

“I trusted you!” The hurt was evident all over her face. The anger in her voice contrasted with the serene bubbling of a nearby fountain. Bailey cut her off before she could continue.

“I didn’t tell him anything. I promise. Look at me.” She did, turning her head sharply with the hope that she had got it all wrong. “He didn’t mean anything by it. Like I said, he doesn’t think. It was all just a coincidence.”

“You didn’t tell him?” she asked, her voice softening.

“No. Of course not.” Eve could tell Bailey was telling the truth; she could see it in his eyes. Her anger suddenly turned to guilt as she realised what an idiot she had made of herself.

“I’m sorry. I’m just …”

“It’s okay,” Bailey said, interrupting her in an effort to save her any more embarrassment. “You don’t have to apologise. I’m sorry … for him,” he joked.

Bailey looked back at Ethan still sitting at the table.

“What the hell is he doing now?” Bailey asked himself. Back at the table Ethan was playing with Bailey’s phone, which he’d foolishly left behind in his chase. Ethan was recording a new and unique ring tone he thought Bailey might enjoy — a little ballad about how whipped he thought his mate was. Bailey arrived back at the table with a disapproving stare on his face, just as Ethan saved his work. He willingly relinquished the phone as it was snatched from his grasp.

Returning to Eve, Bailey held up the phone.

“So he’s got a pretty warped sense of humour.” Bailey took one more look at his friend, who had happily returned to the paper and a new cigarette. “Actually he’s got a pretty warped sense of everything. But he’s a good guy. A little rough around the edges, but a good guy.” Eve was impressed by Bailey’s loyalty. “May I walk you home?” he asked.

“Sure,” Eve responded. Poking his head from behind the paper again, Ethan saw the two of them walking away.

“So I’ll just wait here then, shall I?” he shouted.


Copyright © 2017 Nick Duhigg