When Chris reached Sarah’s place, there were no signs of a party. The front lawn was empty, and the fountain in the middle was not running. He thought of turning back and going home, but curiosity got the better of him. Sliding the latch on the main gate, he pushed it. The gate made a screeching sound as it swung open, oddly amplified in the unexpected silence. He checked his watch to be sure- it was 08:03 pm. He closed the gate and walked up the gravel driveway to the main door. He stood there for some time, then pressed the doorbell.
“Who is it?” A voice rasped on an invisible security intercom system.
“Chris... Christopher. I am Sarah’s classmate.”
“Come in.” The doors swung open to reveal a butler standing there in a neat black uniform.
“Good evening Mr. Christopher, I am George. Miss Sarah is in her room and will be with you shortly. Please have a seat.” He gestured to his right, and Chris saw that he was not going to have a seat, but a sofa.
Chris took his place on the leather sofa, waiting patiently like a schoolboy for his roll call. George was a huge man, no less than six feet four in any case, and unlike most aged butlers shown in the movies he was young and athletic- his muscular body exuding raw strength even when covered by a coat that he probably knew how to handle very well when needed. He went up the stairs visible at the far left, probably to inform Sarah. He came down moments later, asking Chris to go upstairs. Chris murmured a ‘thanks’ before going up and finding himself in front of another door. He knocked once, and was about to knock again when the door swung out suddenly, missing his nose by a whisker.
“Come on in, you don’t need to knock.” Stunned momentarily by the near miss, Chris stepped inside and was surprised. Sarah was sitting on her bed wearing blue denim and a light blue top, and held a Jeffrey Archer novel in her hand.
“Where’s the party?” He said as he gestured backwards with his thumb, looking confused.
“Jessie had an appointment with her beautician, and Taylor went with her. Ross’ father opened a new shoe store, and Susan is in Paris. This is all the party I am having tonight.”
There was a tinge of sadness in her voice which she was trying to suppress, but Chris caught it just fine. “Sorry I didn’t tell you, I was so involved with Kane and Abel.”
“Oh-well then, I guess I must go too.”
“Yeah, no fun without a party.”
Yeah, right. I'm alone on my birthday, and all he cares about is a party? Are all guys the same?
“See... ya Chris.” She felt like punishing her treacherous lips for quivering when she spoke.
He backed out and went downstairs. Walking down the driveway, he couldn’t help feeling sorry for her.
Poor girl. A birthday; and no one to celebrate it with.
Just like you? A voice spoke inside his head and made him halt in mid step. He stood rooted to the spot, bathing in the silvery light of the moon gazing solemnly at him from his heavenly abode. Chris understood the curse of loneliness better than anyone, and for the first time he had seen it affecting someone else. Slowly, he turned around to face the house. He had seen her lips tremble.
Instead of going to the door again, he walked to stand below a window which was most probably in Sarah’s room if his guess was correct. And it really was, because hers was the only room he had seen so there was no confusion. He picked up a pebble from the ground and threw it at the window pane.
No one came to the window, so he tried again.
This time a silhouette appeared, and the next moment the glass was sliding away. Sarah’s head popped out.
“What’re you doing?” Sarah heard herself say. She had closed the book and pressed her face to a pillow when Chris had gone out. When she saw him standing there and looking at her, she beamed within.
“We’re going out. Come on out.”
Her heart skipped a beat. He stayed! She hid her smile behind a frown.
“What?” She did not trust her lips again- just mouthed the words, afraid that they might get tinged with the happiness bubbling inside her.
He didn’t speak, just gestured with his hands for her to come out. Sarah frowned at him for some time, and he began to think it was not such a good idea after all. But then her face broke into a grin and she disappeared. Chris exhaled slowly, realising that he had been holding his breath.
When Sarah emerged from the door, she looked radiant in a black top which she had changed into. He saw her smile, and got the proof that he had made the right decision.
“Where are we going then?” She asked as she jogged up to him, with her car keys dangling from her fingers.
“Ooh, lovely.” Then she did something she had never done before. She looped her hand around his and started walking towards the garage.
Sarah had half expected and half wanted Chris to return. She had never done that with Chris, walking arm in arm. But it didn’t matter. She was going to celebrate her birthday after all. Maybe she would miss the dancing and music, but an amusement park was way better than doing nothing.
When Chris saw the garage, he stopped.
“What?” Sarah looked at him.
“We don’t drive.”
Sarah’s eyes went wide. Is he thinking I’m going to sit in a bus with sweaty people all around?
“We walk.” Thank God he didn’t say bus...
I thought she would wring my neck on refusing to drive.
She slipped her keys in her pocket with her cell phone and started walking with him towards the gate, but Chris was visibly uncomfortable so she removed her hand around his.
“Have you read A Hole in the World by Sid Hite?” Chris spoke to break the silence. They had been walking for ten minutes.
“No, never heard of it. Is it good?” Sarah responded eagerly, really wanting a conversation instead of the dull silence. Her birthday was definitely not going as cool as she had thought it would.
“It’s awesome. About a boy who goes to work on his relatives’ farm and how he comes of age.”
“Hmm. Will try to read it.”
“Take it from me, I have it.”
“But you said you had given me all the books you had!”
“Yes, but some were inside the trunk under my bed and-”
“Getting possessive of our books, are we?” She looked at him and raised an eyebrow.
“No, no- I just forgot to give them to you. It slipped out of my mind.”
“Excuses. You boys always have them, don’t you?”
Chris switched to defensive mode, and she kept on prodding him, and the walk didn’t seem boring anymore. Soon they stood in front of the Springfield amusement park.
“Okay then, which ride?” She asked him.
“That comes later. Come.” Chris went ahead and bought two tickets from the counter. He handed one to her and beckoned her to follow. They entered the park and Chris headed straight for the ice cream parlour. He bought two chocolate cones, and offered one to her. “No no. Too many calories. And it’s not hygienic.” Sarah tried to refuse after a quick look at the shop, but found a cone in her hand nevertheless. “But Chris, I-”
“WHAT?” She couldn’t believe he had said that. She had never been told to shut up. Either because she was the college diva or because her father was what he was- the owner of the biggest software firm in the world, Softronics corporation.
“I said shut up. You’ve been eating diet American softies for too long. When was the last time you had a sugar high?” Chris asked her as he licked his cone once.
Sarah was still shocked at being told to shut up. “I- I was twelve I suppose.” It was a strange feeling- she was enjoying someone behaving so casually with her, even the shutting up bit. Chris was not one of those who attempted to be sophisticated and charming to her; he was what he was.
“It’s been six years then. Good. You’ll remember what it is like.” He had already finished his cone. Sarah took a bite, and liked it, and ultimately finished it in a minute after getting started.
“So?” Chris asked.
Sarah didn’t understand. She had to watch the calories. But what came out of her treacherous mouth was- “Can I have one more?”
Chris laughed and bought two more.
The hours passed at an unbelievable pace. Chris showed her stalls that she had never seen before, mainly because every time she had come here with Jessie, she had taken one ride at the roller coaster with Jessie screaming into her ears, shopped at some stalls, eaten a sugar-free softy and gone home. This was new. She tried bursting one balloon with each shot at a shooting stall, but after ten tries she managed only three. The stall owner still gave her a teddy bear. The she watched a cowboy movie on canvas while sitting on a tree, and threw hoops and won a candy stick.
“Shouldn’t we be going back now?” Chris asked when he saw that it was 11 pm.
“Nopes, it’s so much fun! As long as I pick my cell phone when daddy calls, I can go home anytime I want. And Chris?”
“I want one more cone.” She smiled at him, and he saw that it was the excess sugar in her brain that was doing the talking now.
In the end at around 12:00, they saw fireworks while riding a Giant Wheel and stepped down. “Let’s get you some coffee Sarah, or you’ll be eating cones all night.”
They approached a coffee stall and ordered two coffees. Not decaf, because he wanted all the caffeine inside her system before she asked for another cone. While they waited for the coffee to be served, Sarah stared at Chris.
“What?” He felt uncomfortable when she didn’t give any indication of averting her gaze.
“You’re way cooler than I always thought Chris.”
He scratched the back of his neck in embarrassment, though he didn’t understand why exactly.
“No, all thanks to you. This is the best birthday I have had Chris.”
Chris swallowed the welcome he was going to say. Maybe being frank won’t hurt- or maybe he had had a cone too many.
“Me too Sarah.”
Her eyes went wide with surprise. “It’s your birthday too?”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I- I don’t know. I’m sorry.” He tried to observe his Nikes instead of looking at her.
What’s with these boys?
Chris looked at her with uncertainty. Her eyes were catching more light than usual, or was he just imagining them to be bigger and wet?
“You don’t say sorry on your birthday silly. Happy birthday.” She gave her a playful push to make him step away so that she could rub her eyes without him noticing.
Sarah thought her eyes would pop out. One moment Chris was there, and the next he was gone. And she had heard that sucking sound. She tried to feel with her hand even though she could see perfectly around her. She took a step and tried to stand between the coffee stall and the balloon stand, where Chris had been a moment ago, and suddenly felt herself being sucked into a narrow space. Sluuup. The feeling lasted only a moment though.
The split in the world had recognised the voice of the boy that had intermingled with the lightning and somehow had caused a small nick in time. And it also recognised the girl’s voice that had answered to him. To stitch the nick, both of them had to be removed from existence. If they never existed, they had never been the cause of the nick. With the damage repaired, time was whole again.