( FIVE )
Emma had meant to phone Izzy and organize a drink. She had meant to, but then she somehow got busy doing nothing particular, and forgot, and a week passed before she realized that she still hadn’t, and by then she wasn’t sure if she had left it too long, or perhaps not long enough.
She wasn’t sure if it was rude to keep Izzy waiting, or whether it might be equally rude to be impatient and hurry her. And besides, she thought, she had phoned Izzy last time, so it almost felt like it was Izzy’s turn to call her.
She decided to wait, and put it off a little longer.
She went to the supermarket instead.
She drove, since she had the car. She had dropped Mark off at work that morning, because he was going for a drink afterwards and expected to be having enough that he shouldn’t drive home. She had offered to go and collect him when he was ready, but he had told her not to worry. He would get a bus or taxi instead.
She had the car, and they needed groceries, so she decided she might as well go and do it, that afternoon, while she was up and willing and dressed. It would save going another day, when she might have to walk. She walked down twice or three times a week, for something to do, but driving more pleasant, since walking meant going through the roadworks and dust where new subdivisions were being built, and also meant carrying heavy bags home.
It was better to take advantage of the car.
She got ready and went. It was a ten minute drive to the supermarket in the nearest shopping centre. She drove out of their subdivision, and down an arterial road with switched-off traffic lights and half-finished side-streets to nowhere. She parked underneath the supermarket, and collected a trolley, and began wandering slowly up and down the aisles, trying to remember what she needed.
She should have made a list, she realized. She usually realized that as soon as she arrived to shop. She never remembered to while she was at home, despite her best intentions, and so ended up wasting extra time trying to decide what she had actually come to the supermarket for, and also often bought things she already had at home while forgetting what she actually needed.
She wandered, looking, trying to remember what she was here for. She got fruit, because that was always useful, but couldn’t remember what else had run out.
After a while Emma’s phone rang. She looked, and saw it was Izzy.
“Hey,” she said, answering. She was a little surprised. She was pleased Izzy was calling her, and struck by the coincidence of it too. She was surprised Izzy was calling right then, when she had just been thinking about her.
“Where are you?” Izzy said.
“At the supermarket,” Emma said. “Why?”
“Are you busy?”
Emma looked at her trolley. So far she had broccoli and bananas and that was all. “Not really.”
“Do you want to do something?”
“Turn around,” Izzy said.
Emma did. Izzy was standing behind her.
She was at the end of the aisle, far enough away that Emma hadn’t heard her voice except through the phone. She waved, grinning, and seemed quite pleased with herself for the trick.
“Ta-dah,” she said, and then hung up and put her phone away.
Emma did too, and then pushed her trolley down towards Izzy.
“Do you want to get a drink or something?” Izzy said.
“Yep,” Emma said. “Okay. Can I pay for this stuff first?”
“Will you just leave it and come anyway if I say no?”
Emma actually thought about it, then shook her head. Mostly because she had just picked out the particular bunch of bananas she wanted, one that was neither under ripe nor overripe, and there hadn’t been so many other perfect bunches on display that she thought she’d be able to find another one later on.
“Then pay,” Izzy said. “Do you need anything else?”
“Not really,” Emma said, and then suddenly remembered she was out of cleaning spray. “Oh wait. Would you mind if I got one more thing?”
“Are you sure?”
“What,” Izzy said, sounding amused. “I’ll just walk away and leave you here if you don’t come right now?”
“You might be in a hurry,” Emma said, defensively.
“So can I go and get it?”
Emma did. Izzy followed, watching as Emma stood there searching for the right brand. The supermarket seemed to rearrange the cleaning aisle shelves fairly frequently, moving things around enough that she often had trouble finding what she was looking for.
She saw the right bottle in the end, and put it in her trolley.
“What about you?” Emma said.
“What about me?”
“Aren’t you here to get something?”
“What, you just hang around in supermarkets waiting to see if people you know turn up?”
Izzy grinned. “I was going to get a lot of stuff. A carload. So I’ll do it later.”
“I was too,” Emma said. “So if you want…”
“Yeah,” Izzy said. “Except, were you getting frozen stuff?”
“Well, probably,” Emma said, and then, as she spoke, realized what Izzy meant. Frozen food would start to thaw while they had a drink. “Oh yeah.”
“I suppose not.”
“So are you ready now?”
“Go pay,” Izzy said. “And then we’ll get a drink.”
Emma went and paid, feeling a little silly about pushing a trolley through the checkout with only three things in it. She paid, and took the plastic bag the checkout operator handed her, and then said to Izzy, “Okay, so where would you like to go?”
There was a restaurant with a bar in the same shopping centre as the supermarket. It was Italian, and mostly sold pizza and coffee during the day, but it was still an actual bar, with actual drinks and actual tables, so Izzy suggested they go there.
Emma nodded, happy enough with that.
They went, and to Emma’s surprise, and apparently Izzy’s as well, some people Izzy knew were already there. Four women, sitting at a table right next to the door, so they all saw each other at the same time as Izzy and Emma walked in.
Izzy stopped and said hi, and told Emma everyone’s names. One of the women turned out to be Izzy’s housemate, who Emma had spoken to on the phone. Izzy started talking to them all. She seemed to know everyone at the table, and to be a part of their lives enough to know that someone had a new job and someone else was soon going overseas. She asked about both, and the questions she asked were answered, and then the conversation just went on from there.
Emma stood there and smiled politely. She didn’t really have much to say.
After a moment one of the women at the table said that Izzy and Emma should join them, and Izzy looked at Emma and said, “Do you want to?”
Emma didn’t answer. She really wasn’t sure she did. She wasn’t sure that she wouldn’t rather just talk to Izzy, and gently flirt the way they had all the other times they had met up.
She couldn’t say that, though, not a crowd of people who she didn’t know, and not when these were obviously Izzy’s friends. Instead, she just nodded, and sat down when someone pushed out a chair for her.
Hopefully she would have a good time, and get on with everyone here.
A waiter came over, and asked what Izzy and Emma wanted. Izzy asked for wine, so Emma did too, and then she sat, quietly sipping, while Izzy talked to her friends.
It wasn’t what Emma had expected, and it definitely wasn’t what she would have planned herself, but it wasn’t all bad. Running into Izzy’s friends couldn’t be helped, and Emma didn’t really mind meeting some of the people Izzy knew.
She was just a little shy around people she’d only just met, and also she had been at home on her own a lot recently, too much probably, and wasn’t used to making conversation with strangers.
So she sat, and sipped, and listened as people talked.
Really, she thought, she was listening to a group of people who all knew each other catching up on their lives. They were talking about other people they all knew, and things they all remembered and understood, and some of it seemed to require more explanation than was given to understand properly.
Emma couldn’t follow all of it, but she didn’t really mind.
She sat, and sipped, and waited, mostly listening to Izzy.
It was less interesting than having a conversation with Izzy herself, but it wasn’t a bad way to pass an afternoon.
Emma sat and listened to Izzy’s friends talk. She listened, but didn’t actually join in other than to answer when someone spoke to her. Izzy had ended up sitting across the table from Emma, and was talking to the people beside her, and the women beside Emma seemed quieter than the other two, in the same way as Emma was.
Mostly, Emma listened. After a while she got out her phone, and sent Mark a message saying she was at the shops and to say when he was on his way home and she’d make sure to go then too.
Then she went back to sitting.
A little later, slightly bored, she went to the bathroom and stood, for a while, in front the mirror, pretended to fiddle with her hair. She pretended, but was actually just giving herself an excuse to stand there quietly rather than sit out at the table with everyone else.
Izzy followed her in, after a few minutes.
“Hey,” Izzy said. “Are you okay?”
“You’d been gone a while,” Izzy said. “I just wanted to check.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I was just thinking about doing something with my hair.”
“I like it how it is.”
“Yeah,” Emma said. “So do I, that’s the problem.”
Izzy looked at Emma oddly. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I’m sure. Go back to everyone else. I won’t be long.”
Izzy didn’t seem certain, but she nodded and left. Emma waited in the bathroom a little longer, until someone else came in, and then went back out to the table.
When she got back, Izzy had moved around the table to sit next to Emma’s stool, and now seemed to be carefully including Emma in conversation, speaking directly to her. That made it nicer, Emma thought.
She still mostly sat and listened, but now she talked to Izzy a little more.
Emma had a couple of drinks, but mostly sat quietly, watching Izzy talk to people she knew. One woman left, saying she needed to get to a shop before it closed. Another followed soon after. It was getting quite late, and was almost dark outside, so when Mark finally texted and said he was on the way home, Emma was almost glad to go. She leaned over, and touched Izzy’s arm, and said quietly, “This was fun, but I have to get going.”
“I need to go and make dinner.”
“Oh, right. Okay. Hey, I’ll see you another time, though?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you as much as I could have,” Izzy said.
Emma shrugged. “It’s fine. Don’t worry.”
“I’d wanted to.”
“I know, but don’t worry about it.”
Izzy nodded, and seemed satisfied. Emma decided that was that, and stood up.
Emma was about to walk away, but was looking up at her, almost uncertainly. Izzy seemed to be about to say something more, so Emma waited.
She felt a little silly, just standing there looking at Izzy. And perhaps Izzy felt the same way, looking up at Emma. Izzy glanced around at her friends, and then stood up too.
“I’ll walk you back to your car,” Izzy said.
“You don’t need to,” Emma said.
“Nah, I do.”
“I’ll be fine. It’s a supermarket carpark and it’s not dark yet.”
Izzy seemed surprised. “No,” she said. “Not that. Because I’ve pretty much been ignoring you for hours, and we never got a chance to talk.”
Emma hesitated, wondering whether to agree. It was true that Izzy hadn’t been speaking to her very much, but she didn’t want to actually say so. Not in front of Izzy’s friends, who were sitting there listening, and especially when she and Izzy had their agreement about honesty.
“It’s fine,” she said again, instead. “I’ll be fine.”
“Oh come on,” Izzy said. “I’m already standing up. Which way is it?”
Emma gave up, and pointed, and Izzy said goodbye to her friends, and then they walked out to Emma’s car.
It was dusk, and the sky was bright with orange clouds. The streetlights in the carpark had switched themselves on a little early, washing the asphalt beneath with pale greenish light. People were coming and going in a hurry, dashing into the shops to get small items for dinner. Others were pushing heavily-laden trolleys in erratic paths across the wide open space.
Emma walked over to her car, and stopped beside it.
“Thank you,” she said to Izzy. “For tonight. I had fun.”
“In between sitting there bored.”
Emma was about to protest, but then she remembered their honesty again. “I just didn’t know anyone,” she said. “That was all. It was okay, though. Sometimes its nice just to listen to other people talk.”
Izzy nodded. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I really am. Next time we’ll talk more, okay?”
“I mean it,” Izzy said.
“So do I. I didn’t mind.”
“Well, thank you anyway,” Emma said, and took out her keys.
She looked up at Izzy, to say goodbye, and Izzy took a step towards her.
Emma stopped, surprised, and kept looking at Izzy, a little puzzled, unsure what Izzy was doing.
Izzy took another step, and suddenly Emma realised what was about to happen.
She realized, but not completely, and not in time to actually react. She realized, just as Izzy took a last step towards her and then it was too late to do anything at all.
Izzy kissed Emma.
She kissed Emma quickly, just a momentary touch of lips to lips, with her mouth slightly open, and one of her hands flat against Emma’s cheek.
Emma didn’t move. She froze. She stood where she was, startled, and neither pulled away nor kissed back. She could taste Izzy’s mouth. She could taste wine and salt on Izzy’s lips, and also smell the scent of Izzy’s hair.
She wanted to kiss back, but she didn’t. She couldn’t.
She stood there, uncertainly, trying to decide what to do. And what to feel, too.
Izzy kissed Emma, and Emma didn’t move.
“Oh,” Izzy said, and stepped backwards.
She stepped back slowly, her hand lingering briefly, warmly, on Emma’s skin, and Emma almost wanted to grab at it to keep it there. She almost wanted to say that Izzy should wait, and that she had changed her mind.
She didn’t, though. She didn’t speak. She stood where she was, silently, and didn’t let herself move.
They looked at each other.
Emma still felt a little startled. She felt like she didn’t know quite what to say. She looked at Izzy, wondering if she’d done something wrong, without entirely being sure what it would have been. Izzy didn’t seem upset, though, or hurt, or even disappointed, Emma was relieved to see. If anything, Izzy just seemed a little distracted, glancing around the carpark as she stood there.
“What just happened?” Emma said.
“Sorry,” Izzy said. “I guess I misunderstood.”
Emma hesitated. Then said, “Maybe.”
“Or maybe not. I don’t know. But I have a boyfriend.”
“I’m with someone.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“So why did you do that?”
Izzy shrugged slowly. “I don’t know. Like I said, I misunderstood.”
Emma nodded. “Oh.”
“My fault,” Izzy said. “I’m sorry. And I won’t again, okay?”
“No,” Emma said, and then stopped, surprised at herself, suddenly wondering why she had said no. “It wasn’t your fault,” she said quickly. That’s all.”
Izzy started grinning.
“Don’t,” Emma said. “Whatever that is, just don’t.”
“Stop it.” Izzy said. “Don’t get weird.”
“I’m not,” Emma said.
“You sort of are.”
Emma shrugged, not wanting to argue, and not even entirely sure what they were actually talking about any more.
“Take it easy,” Izzy said.
“I’m not upset.”
“I know, but…”
“I’m acting strangely?”
Izzy nodded, and then Emma wasn’t sure what to say.
“It happens,” Izzy said. “I’m sorry but it happens. I don’t know what else to say. I did that without thinking. You didn’t want me to, so I stopped. So now, it’s over, and never mind.”
Emma nodded, but kept looking at Izzy, wondering if it was really so inconsequential.