Jessica and Tom flirted around for weeks as they got to know each other. Tom's quiet confidence and naive belief in human decency absorbed her the more they talked. He didn't know what he wanted to do now that school was over, didn't know where his life was going, didn't know so many things.
Tom was ensorcelled, trapped in a cocoon of confusing feelings and wayward longing. He was afraid he would never know exactly how to move it forward. He wanted to be hers but she wouldn't pick up the signs. He just knew he needed this woman in his life, forever.
Jeremy watched in an amused horror as his friends were slowly but surely falling for each other. Listening to them both prattle, incessantly, on about things he already knew about them both, but they didn't.
"She likes Metal Gear Solid! How awesome is that?"
"He's into Buddhism! He's so spiritual."
"Did you know she blahblahblah's?"
Jeremy's horror, however, was not that his two friends could start dating, but that Jessica was seeing another man, and hadn't told Tom about it. His best mate was tangling himself in a way he'd never seen him do so before, and he was worried that his heart would be crushed right out of the gate.
He layered on a sense of doubt and caution for Tom, telling him she was a more experienced woman than he supposed. Tom delighted that she, a worldly girl, took such an interest in him. He tried to downplay her kindness, saying Jessica was a real hag, even on the best of days. Tom, annoyingly reasonable, said everyone has their off days.
"What's your problem mate?" asked Tom one warm afternoon.
They were around Tom's place, sitting out by the pool, watching a one dayer, the TV in Tom's room turned around to face outside. They had a couple of deck chairs and an esky in between them, slowly working through the contents.
"The team has 3 left handed bowlers, none of which can take a bloody wicket," Jeremy replied evasively, pointing at the TV screen as the batsman on strike delivered a lovely cover drive, the camera zooming in on the bowler with his face in his hands.
"I mean about Jess," Tom said tiredly.
"Oh ... nothing mate,"
"You think if we get together," Tom sat forward, his elbows resting on his knees, looking intently at Jeremy, "then break up you can't be friends with us or something?"
Jeremy mimicked the bowler, thinking fast. "Yeah, that's it. How awkward would all that be man?" he scoffed.
Tom sat back and started watching the TV absently. They watched the next couple of balls in silence then leaped up in unison.
"ON YA WAY SON! BACK TO THE PAVILLION!"
Tom passed a beer to Jeremy and looked back in the esky.
"Something terrible has happened," he said in a shockingly small voice.
Tom's eyes went wide, like a puppy dog whose bone was confiscated. "We're out of beer," he sniffed.
"Hey it's alright mate," Jeremy said, an arm going around his shoulder, shushing softly to him. "We can get some more." His face turned suddenly serious, "Don't sing that bloody son-"
Tom's face had already lit up, "Oh it's a-lonesome away from your kindred and all, by the campfire at night where the wild dingoes call! Bu-ut there's a-nothing so lonesome, morbid or drear! Than to sit by the side of a pool with noo beeer!"
"If I go to get some more, will you shut up?"
"Drink and drive, you're a bloody idiot!" Tom said sadly, recalling an ad from telly when he was younger.
"Drink, drive and make it home? You're a bloody legend," Jeremy replied.
"I know! Get Jess to bring us some!" Tom sat up and started fumbling in his pants for his phone. Jeremy began to sweat. The only reason Jess wasn't there currently was because she was with her other bloke. Some idiot CUB tradie. Tom didn't need to learn that right now. Jeremy whipped out his phone and was already dialling.
"I got it. I'm just gonna go grab a smoke out the front," Jeremy said taking out his lighter.
"Other side of the bloody street more like! I don't want that smell anywhere near my room. Tell Jess I say hi!" Tom said turning back to the TV, clapping along with the crowd for the bowler who'd taken a wicket just before. Jeremy just shook his head and stepped out to the drive way, through the thick bush of tropical plants, catching and torturing the midday heat.
It was getting late in the day, the sky getting a wonderful new coat of azure-orange hue, casting a blood red glow on the street. He sat down on the curb and thumbed himself a cigarette, lighting it as the phone began to ring.
"Jess' phone," came a gruff voice.
Jeremy could just picture his dull cow eyes and dim, toothless grimace on the other end of the phone, even though he'd never met the bloke. "Yeah it's Jeremy, can you put Jess on?"
He could hear the sound of the phone changing hands.
"Hi Jez," said Jessica, she sounded relieved.
"Who's Jerome?" he could hear faintly on the other end of the line.
"My friend, can you go wait outside please Tim? I'll be with you in a minute,"
"He's as sharp as a hammer that one, dear" Jeremy said.
"I know, sorry about that. What's up?"
"Tom and I have run out of beer and he won't stop singing his Pub With No Beer cover until we acquire some more. Help a brotha out?"
"Why don't you just walk to the shop and get it?"
"The cricket is on!" Jeremy replied defensively.
"I know that you idiot, actually what's the score?"
"England is 2 for 187, with 9 overs to go,"
"Take a radio?"
"The cricket is on a 42 inch flat screen!"
"Find a really long extension cord?"
"Well what do you want me to do? Drive out there, drop you some beer, then come back out here and then go back into town?"
"That sounds perfect, except for the part where you drop the beer off and leave."
"But I'm going out with Tim tonight," Jess said anxiously.
"His name is Tim? That's gold ..."
"Tim the tooooool maaan -"
"Tim's a ridiculous name. Tom, now there's a strong boys name," Jeremy suggested.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Jess replied innocently.
Jeremy sighed, puffing away on his smoke, "Tom is just ... God, what do you think of him?"
"He's ... I don't know. He makes me smile,"
"I don't know, alright!"
Jeremy threw the butt into the gutter and stomped on it venomously, "Yes, you bloody do. You bloody do Jess, and the way you're treating him at the moment is not on."
"What do you mean?"
"Don't act like you don't know exactly what I'm talking about. The texts, the phone calls, finding silly little excuses to come over, all while you're seeing that ... Tim." The emphasis on that one syllable name was rancorous.
"If you're friends then why haven't you told him about that idiot?" Jeremy asked simply, his shoulders lifting and his free hand turning upwards, as though she were standing in front of him.
Jess' end of the phone was quiet.
"You and I both know that you want to be here! Stop fiddling with that bloke's tool belt and get down here!"
"I ... We ... Hang on."
Her hand wrapped around the phones mic, but Jeremy could still hear muffled yelling, which went on for a few seconds. Then he heard a door being slammed shut as she brought the phone back up to her ear.
"Half a carton?"
From the pool Jeremy heard a scream of delight, "GOOOOOT HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIM!!!!! YOU BEAUTAAAY!"
"Better make it a full carton and some mixers please. Spare no expense. We've got dolla' dolla' bills yo,"
"You sound like an idiot when you talk like that," Jessica said ruefully.
"You're a gem, you know that? Tom has no idea how lucky he is."
"I'll be there as soon as I can," she said, half giggling.
Twenty minutes later she arrived with shopping bags full of nibbles and mixers, telling Jeremy to go get the carton out of her car. The delight showing across Tom's face when she came up the drive way made her blush as he raced over to take the bags from her.
"You look a little warm love, you alright?" Tom asked, looking into her big hazel eyes worriedly.
"Yeah I'm alright," she said slowly, her heart thudding away, "Those bags were heavy. I could use a cold drink though."
Tom nodded happily, "Do you know what you want?" as he laid the bags out on the table and looked up at her, his eyes deep and brown, smiling at her.
Jessica had stopped and was staring oddly at him.
"Yes," she said breathlessly. "I do."