We don’t get a coffee. Instead Zack buys us each a tin of cooldrink and we go and find a wall to sit on beneath a huge, shady tree just outside of Davenport Centre. We both have our cellphones in our back pockets and we take them out and put them on the wall between us before we hop up onto it.
My legs dangle down below me and I let my feet bang against the wall.
The silence stretches between us. Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration because the Indian Mynah birds are screeching in the branches above us, and the traffic is heavy and it’s only a pavement’s breadth away from us. I guess what I mean is that I can feel the weight of all that is unsaid and about to be spoken. My heart is thudding away like a base mix in a nightclub.
Eventually Zack turns and looks me straight in the eye.
“I…I don’t know where to begin…” he says slowly and then takes a deep breath and speaks faster as if he needs to get it all out. “So I’m just going to speak and I hope it all comes out right, because I know I’ve been getting things really wrong lately.”
“No kidding Zack,” I reply dryly. The thump of my heart fills the gap between each word.
“Look Hope,” he says sheepishly, “the truth is that I forgot about Valentine’s Day.”
You have got to be kidding.
“That’s it?” I say in disbelief. “You just forgot? Dude, do you live in a heart-free zone? It’s not like it’s easy to miss Valentine’s Day when we live above a shopping centre where every shop window was dripping with Valentine’s propaganda for weeks before the 14th!”
Zack looks down and shakes his head forlornly like he totally agrees with me and he too cannot believe his ignorance.
“I know,” he mumbles as if he’s thinking out loud, “it’s terrible because I’ve always considered myself a romantic kind of guy, but somehow all that Valentine’s stuff went right by me. I’m hoping I’m better at spontaneous romance…”
A part of my heart begins to melt as I see him looking so remorseful, and then I get a grip.
“Hang on a second Zack. That’s such a pathetic excuse I can only imagine it’s true, because you’d be a fool to make up a story that makes you look so – sorry, but I have to say it like it is – that makes you look so ‘brain dead’. It might get you off the hook for your insanely thoughtless timing, but the point is that you broke up with me, with no warning, and you didn’t even do it to my face!”
I wish I’d thought to bring my shades. I’m suddenly all teary. I take a huge breath in, and jump off the wall so that my feet are firmly on the ground. My hand shoots instinctively to my ‘fro to smooth it down, but as I touch my slick, braided hair I remember that I don’t look the same as I did a few days ago, before this rollercoaster began. And I don’t feel the same.
Bursts of memory flash vividly before my eyes: the feeling of satisfaction as I stood back and looked at my finished street art for the first time and acknowledged that I’d been brave enough to express what I really felt; the excitement of waiting for Zack…and then the feeling of my heart ripping in two when I read his letter; Deevya and Nomusa cheekily grooving in my bedroom while they cheered me up; the really cool guys we met at Wimpy; my hundreds of Valentine’s cards; and all the girls cheering for me in assembly.
I blink as I turn to face Zack and he is looking at me with such longing in his eyes that my breath catches in my throat. It’s an epic moment. I’m standing there, just a regular girl on a random day, but I’ve got all these new feelings inside me! They’re a powerful swirling mix of the unforgettable events of the last few days, a sense that my life is my own and I must live it with truth, and this massive heartfelt attraction to Zack all at the same time. Crack! Bam! Boom!
And right now I need to know what went down.
“I just need to know why you did it Zack?” My voice shakes with emotion, and it feels like there’s a lot riding on what Zack says next.
“I did it for you Hope,” he says quietly, and I swear I’m not imagining that he just blinked away a tear. “You seemed so doubtful about us sometimes, and recently you were always so busy when I tried to make plans to see you. I thought you were avoiding me and that you weren’t really into me. So I thought I’d make it easier for you and end it so that you didn’t have to do the dirty work of breaking up with me yourself.”
Flashbacks to telling Zack about my doubts about us that day on the pier; and to turning down his invites when I was putting in overtime on the street art…
Frikking heart-roast-on-mouldy-raisin-toast – what a disaster!!!!
“Why didn’t you speak to me Zack? Why did you just write that letter?” I ask him, watching him intently for his response.
He doesn’t blink and answers with honest simplicity.
“It broke my heart to end it with you, Hope. I didn’t want to and I didn’t have it in me to do it face to face. The letter seemed like the only way at the time. And then I saw your street art for the first time in the newspaper and I realized how completely wrong I’d been. I thought I was going to have a heart attack or something. I’m so sorry Hope, I really really am. If I could take it all back I would. Can we carry on like it never happened?”