Human beings are social by nature. Most thrive on being in pairs. A shared interaction of having someone suppresses a primal loneliness. Bonnie had Clyde; Batman has Robin Mom has dad, Lewis has Jessica, and I have… well, that’s the thing, who is my partner in crime?
The air smelled like fresh rain and muddy grass, and spring had sprung a surge of curiosity. I’d always seen them lounge on the bleachers after the final bell. When most would sprint to the busses, they walked the other way. The metal benches were cold and wet, but that didn’t stop practice or their rendezvous. The sound of coach Walker’s whistle harmonized with ’s laugh. Lifting the Nikon, I twisted the lens to zoom in on her face. Her chin doubled when she cackled, her hair stuck to her flat face like over cooked spaghetti, and her sweater that was three times her size hung loosely over her stubby frame. She was perfectly ordinary. Although Cameron was anything but.
Most people pose when a camera is pointed at them, fixing their posture or forcing a smile, but not Cameron. His black hair was greased, and I was envious of the way his face twisted when Ava attempted to displace it; how even angry, he remained beautiful. Watching them through the lens, I saw them fighting, loving, and existing. The shutter snapped when Ava flicked water at Cameron, catching how her dimples disappeared when he yelled something back, the way his hands pulled at her sweater apologetically, or how her fist collided with his stomach and his rib cage vibrated out of laughter.
Thunder crackled above, snapping me out of the trance forcing a yelp. They looked up at me and through the lens they waved. The camera made it easy to people watch, the perfect way to hide, but when I got caught they no longer saw the lens but the person behind.
The rain beat down on the bleachers ricocheting onto my check. The lens of the camera blurred with water droplets and the silhouette of two waving figures loomed across the field.
With a burning face I limply lifted my arm and saluted back. A vibration went off in the pocket of my yellow rubber-coated rain poncho. Rummaging through the paper clips and gum wrappers, I yanked out the phone. My mother’s caller ID flashed on the screen. I sighed and allowed my voicemail to deal with the lecture she wanted to give.
The wind picked up and the rain began violently pouring down. Moving under the bleachers, Cameron’s screams floated in my directions. They began sprinting for shelter. Both soaking, Ava eyed me with running mascara.
“Hey paparazzi.” Cameron shook his hair like a wet dog.
I cocked my brow, “Yes?”
“Are they any good?” Ava motioned at the camera.
“They must be.” Cameron pulled her closer.
They both stopped for a breath, and in unison, declared, “Coffee is the only way.”
It was less of a question and more of a command, but they waited on my response. Ava’s nails tapped against the pole and the incessant clanging hurried my thoughts.
“Caffeine isn’t an addiction just a habit.” Ava said, egging me on.
Cameron’s car was a home for old newspapers, scattered gym shorts, and clip-in air fresheners. The ride was short and quiet. The rain seized. Ava kept her window open because she liked the way the wind made her feel like a dog with her head sticking out of the car. The radio hummed, but no one sang along.
The café was an old library converted into a chaos of over caffeinated regulars and flocks of teenage girls. Between the screeching of the metal milk steamers and white noise muted over speakers, it was hard to imagine this was once a haven of silence. There was, however, a presence about a library that I could never shake. The restless pen clicking and the ruffling of pages turning played over like a sound track. The vaulted ceiling echoed the coughs and whispers. The white floors reflected poorly with the florescent light, resembling a sanatorium more than an inviting study area. The image of students hunched over laptops and tired eyes squinting at the brightness was replaced by business folk on stools.
Ava slumped into an empty booth and patted the vacant seat next to her signaling for me to sit. Cameron ordered for the both of them. I didn’t know if it was sweet that he knew what she wanted or bland that they never tried anything else. The Nikon sat in the middle of the table, acting as both the center piece and the elephant in the room. We each snuck slight glances, but neither of us addressed what I was really here for.
Cameron broke first, “May I?” He grabbed the camera.
Having no other option, I nodded in approval. He shifted onto the same side of the booth as me. Ava and I slide down, but his large frame took up the majority of the remaining available space. Stretching over me to present Ava with the snaps of her face in the view finder, his shoulder firmly pressed into my cheek. He smelled of sandalwood and pine needles. I always imagined he smelled like cut grass and detergent.
I winced as he transferred most of his body weight onto my leg.
“Take up any more room will ya, Cam?” Ava scoffed.
“Well, it’s like they say: two’s company, three’s a party.” Cameron elbowed my ribs.
“Three’s a crowd.” I played with the condensation on the outside of the water glass.
“I tend to like crowds.” He shot me a toothy grin.
“No, you don’t.” Ava huffed. He lifted his middle finger and the corners of her mouth curled.
Sitting by the door was a poor choice, but I wasn’t going to let them know that. My shivering every time the door cracked open, however, was a dead giveaway. Noticing my discomfort, Ava offered, or rather insisted, that I go back with them to her house to get a dry set of clothes.
The walk to the car was wet, cold and the hole in my Wellington’s let water seep in, soaking my wool socks. I was squishing and slushing around with each step. The rain picked up again and Ava grew restless. Sprinting down the road she called to us, “Try to run between the drops!” Hunching forward she ran with a limp zig-zagging from side to side.
Pulling up to Ava’s home we were greeted with a gate. Cameron pushed a couple of buttons and we were through. The long driveway was ended by a mid 20th century Gatsby-approved looking home. My jaw hung open for a split second.
The grand entrance was bare, and a winding staircase stood in the middle. The perfume of rose water and whiskey lingered in the air as if oozing out of the mahogany floors.
“Follow me, Lennon, I’ll get you some dry clothes.” Ava tugged me up the stairs. “These should fit. The bathroom is two doors down the hall on the left.” She ushered me out of her room with a pile of mix-match fabrics.
I watched myself in the bathroom mirror for a while. The collar of the knitted sweater trailed off my shoulder. I didn’t bother adjusting it. A Cosmopolitan article flashed in my mind: How shoulders were the new boobs and how sexy and carefree one looked with at least one shoulder exposed. Tucking my hair behind my ears, I walked back to Ava’s room.
The door was cracked open and soft moans escaped. Peering through I could see Cameron’s hands holding Ava’s face. Her lips pressed to his, their bodies fit like awkward puzzle pieces. Slowly pushing open the door, I coughed to announce my presence. Failing to pull apart, they looked at me.
“I think I’m going to go, thank you for the coffee.” I quickly paced around the room in search of my remaining belongings. Balling everything up in my arms, I scouted for my camera.
“No stay.” Ava held up what I was looking for. “Why don’t you put your skills to good use.” She took the wet clothes out of my arms and replaced them with the camera. “Just watch us.”
She kissed my forehead and turned back to Cameron.
The sun rise seeped in from the bare window. Orange and pink creeped onto the walls casting a kaleidoscope of colours over the naked bodies in the bed. Curled up on a sofa chair, the light had yet to caress my face. Left in shadow I trailed my hands over the foreign clothing. Guilt settled like an anchor at the bottom of my stomach. Ava and Cameron laid tangled in each other. Her face was puffy, mouth hung openand a rolls creased on her side. Cameron’s hair was flipped to highlight his premature receding hairline, his rib cage pushed through his skin, and his disproportionally large hands rubbed up against Ava’s cellulite thighs.
Noticing the time, I began to collect myself in a hurry. My temples pulsed, and pressure built behind my eyes. The events of last night replayed like a movie reel. Pushing the memory card out of its slot, I held it between my fingers. This small square documented a poorly calculated decision. Running the tips of my fingers over the smooth sticker on the front, I contemplated snapping it. Remembering how other files contained photos from Lewis’s 16th birthday, portraits of dad in the study two days before the incident, landscapes of our trip to Scotland, and now a handful of photos that taint the rest. It was infinite just like the other events on the memory card: a permanent digital chronicle of my life. Shaking the thought of destroying the cartridge, I knew that even if I did, even if I forced myself to forget, it would not erase the truth of last night. Setting the memory card on the night stand, I glanced at the mundane individuals in the half lit room. Was sex supposed to look that unsatisfactory? But despite the disappointment, clarity was born, as I slipped out the front door, there was no doubt in my mind that three is definitely a crowd.