The Last Balloon (Part II)

I almost trip as I climb the last step, managing to salvage the coffee before it spills on the old beam floorboards that the Tremblay family insist on leaving bare despite the fact that the heating broke years ago, and in winter the loft gets so cold that frost tickles the inside of the window panes. I find Gabe propped up on the floor of the den, surrounded by cushions with a heavy book atop his lap. Its deep green cover is thick with dust which has patterned his jeans with a murky fluff. I knock, but he neither looks up nor acknowledges me, so I place the coffee beside the table lamp and curl up beside him. It isn’t too cold yet, despite it being November, but I brush the dark strands of hair from his eyes anyway and burrow my head against his shoulder.

“Missed you, Savannah,” he mutters without looking up from his book. I sip my coffee, the liquid cool enough to drink now after the walk over here. Its bitterness is almost too strong, but I drink it all the same.

“Missed you more.” It probably isn’t true (Gabriel is a little intense and tends to think about his feelings more than I do) but I say it anyway because we’re always arguing, just for the sake of it, else we’d probably run out of things to talk about. That wouldn’t matter, I think sometimes as we’re bickering over whether Miss George really is in love with Mr Sam from the bakery. Gabe and I have deep enough roots to live the rest of our lives in silence if it came down to it.

The next half hour passes without either of us saying a word to each other. The afternoon fades without hurry, its indifferent greys hazing into lazy violets and navy blues in the indecisive storybook of the sky. The winter days are murky in Quebec, but the nights are wild and vibrant, even when the summer sun hoards its kindness inside itself and instead lets the harsh snow smother the greens from the land.
As I had expected, Gabriel is reading his atlases again. This one is older than any I’ve seen him read for a while, the paper yellowing and decaying, brown splotches smattered over the pages that tell of its age and countless owners previously. We flick through the pages slowly, and the maps are of Alaska, the Terrible North, and we adventure silently on ships to find our catch for dinner, through the snowy wilderness hunting for moose, or tending a fire outside a log cabin in the forest. Being friends with Gabe is easy if you like being quiet, if you can tolerate the sound of your breathing matched with his, your hearts beating in a steady pattern that after a while merge into a single rhythm. Sometimes I think that maybe it could be easy being friends with anyone so long as you accept them in all their ways of weirdness.

When we reach the end of the atlas, he shuts it carefully before placing it steadily beside him. Picking up his cup of coffee he takes pensive sips, despite it being cold, in the meantime twisting a strand of my hair around his finger. I don’t think he realises he’s doing it, because a few moments later he seems to have got it stuck. I laugh, which makes the knot worse, but my fingers untangle it deftly. Granna had me sewing from an early age, so my fingers are nimble and free his with ease.

The End

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