#021: After Ten Years, Part Two

Part One is here.

. . .

“So, you are you then?” Tom said, leaning on the wall next to Portia as he pulled out his own cigarette.

“Portia Mason. We were in the same English class, if that helps.”

“Oh, wait, I think I remember you now!” Tom said, smiling as he stirred up the dregs of memory. “Sat near the back window and never really spoke? Wore those big black boots all the time?”

“Was frequently bullied by your best friends?” Portia nodded, staring ahead at the shadowed wall of overgrown greenery. “That is I.”

Tom’s brow furrowed. “Who? Like, Joe and Richard and Raff? I remember them teasing you every now and then, but never doing anything – ”

“Traumatic?” Portia cut in. “Like, call me dyke and goth and cunt every day, throw shit at me every other day? It could’ve been worse, but it was still pretty awful.” Portia took another deep drag of her cigarette. “I’m over it now. Raff was the worst. Thank Christ he’s not here tonight.”

“That’s because he died a few years ago,” Tom replied casually, lighting his own cigarette. Seeing Portia’s stunned expression, he elaborated: “Yeah, was in this really bad motorcycle accident, ended up a coma. Family had to pull the plug.”

“Jesus,” Portia said softly.

“I know.”

“Annabelle Lee died in 2006. Ovarian cancer.”

Tom sighed, exhaling a plume of smoke. “That sucks. I don’t remember her either.”

“Played the flute in Orchestra. She wasn’t that popular either.”

The statement hung unanswered in the smoky air. The pair stood in silence for several awkward minutes, mulling over their cigarettes.

“So, what have you been up to since high school?” Tom asked. Portia laughed drily, rolling her eyes and stamping out the light of her finished smoke.

“Usual bullshit, I guess. Got an Arts degree from UTS, travelled ’round Europe and South-East Asia for a bit, lived in Melbourne for a while, but ended up back here managing a book store that sells more lit-themed mugs than actual books. You?”

“Not much. Just bought a place in the Shire. Haven’t really travelled. I’m a personal trainer now.”

“And yet you smoke,” Portia remarked with an appraising smile.

“We all have our guilty pleasures,” Tom said, sharing the smile. “And ten years ago this was the cool thing to do. I used to hide here so teachers wouldn’t catch me – now I’m hiding from those once-cool kids, who are now parents, or vegans, or just middle-management assholes. Funny how things can change so much and still stay exactly the same in ten years.”

“Nothing ever changes,” Portia replied. “Except the stuff that does.” Portia opened her cigarette packet. “And that was my last one – think that’s my sign to get the hell outta here. Give me up a leg up?”

As Portia pressed herself up from Tom’s shoulders and he hoisted her up, he said, “Hey, Portia?”

Portia crouched on the top of the brick wall, looking back down at the ten-year progression of Thomas Wright – from popular but overly oblivious jock, to accidentally-philosophising personal trainer.

“It’s nice to meet you, finally.”

A grin flickered across Portia’s face before she dropped out of sight.

“You too, Tom.”

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