28 February 2007
We sit at a long outdoor table in the dimly lit beer garden outside the North Gong Hotel. Paul and James talk about who knows what while they each down their third (or it fourth?) schooner. Mitch, Nat and Josh talk about fishing. How did I end up with this bunch of friends? My eyes glaze over and I notice Scott and Ed look just as bored as I do.
Off in the distance on the warmly lit wooden deck of the old hotel, guys and girls mingle and I spot her once again.
How is it that for such a relatively small town I've only seen her out a handful of times?
I pipe up. "Hey guys, I hate to break up such a riveting conversation about fishing, but I happen to notice we're sitting here in the dark when there's a girls over there in the light we could be chatting with. Who wants to go for a walk?"
Mitch and Paul disagree.
"No, Ben, the girls will come to me". Proclaims Paul.
I contest. "That's never happened, and we've been coming here for 4 years!"
Mitch looks at his watch before opening his big mouth. "Nup. 8 o'clock. I'm off. Top Gear starts in 30 minutes." He gets up. "If Ben picks up, someone take a photo for me."
Paul and Josh join him in a roar of laughter and he absconds into the carpark.
I look at Ed and Scott. "Well," I say, "I'm going for a walk. You guys want to come?"
They look around as Paul, Nat and Josh go back to their drinks and woeful conversations, then nod and stand up.
We head over to the deck where I can still see her chatting with her girl friends. It looks like they're about to go back inside so I hurry, up the steps and into the light.
Slow down, don't look so keen, I tell myself.
We mill around on the deck a moment. I look around. She's still there. Suddenly, she looks in my direction and I catch her eye and instinctively I point and then wave her over. Curiously she comes towards me.
"Hi." She replies.
I decide to play it more cooly this time.
"It's Melissa right?"
"Yeah, have we met before?" She asks. I can tell she seems to have forgotten about the first two encounters at least (thankfully).
"Maybe," I lie. "I'm Ben. My sister and your sister Amanda are friends".
She smiles, "Oh ok, what's her name?"
It worked. Finally, a conversation that hasn't started with the words "get away from me creep".
"It's Jess. Amanda came to her 18th and I used to see her at the gym. But also I think you and I have some mutual friends". I say with confidence.
"Oh yeah, your friends with James?" She asks.
"Yeah, and I know Amanda Mobberley and Sara and Steph Heard."
She chuckles at the thought of Steph. "Oh yeah Steph, she funny."
"Yeah, I've known Steph for a long time. She and I went to the school formal together." I say.
"Cool". She responds enthusiastically.
I decide to address the Ben Hutchins connection, in case it comes up later.
"I also used to be friends with Ben Hutchins. But not anymore. He's a creep."
She concurs, "Oh yeah he's weird. I don't talk to him either".
"I know right? He used to talk about you a lot." I say.
"Oh, I used to work with him at Pizza Haven. I thought he was nice but then he just became obsessive." She tells me.
"Yeah my sister went out with him. But he became heaps obsessive after she broke up with him."
"Oh, wow. Yeah keep her away from him."
"Mel". One of her girl friends beckon for her. She turns to respond. "We're leaving".
She looks back to me to say goodbye.
"Well, it was nice meeting you. Say hi next time you're out."
"Yeah I will. It was nice meeting you too."
She walks away and I am left with a smile from ear to ear.
I can't wait to tell Mitch.