The bartender called for last drinks. Closing time: eleven o’clock on a Friday night. The band was packing up; the patrons were drifting out. The four of us were reluctant to part.
‘Come to my place for coffee.’ A statement, not a question. Spoken by Keith, our new-found drinking buddy.
Louise lit a smoke, tossed the pack across the table. Janet made a grab but Keith beat her to it. He flipped it open, offered her cigarettes, flashed a silver lighter. His James-Bond self-assurance sent a ripple of annoyance through me.
‘How old do you reckon he is?’ I rasped in Louise’s ear.
‘Gotta be forty,’ she said. ‘But he’s fun.’
We were in final year at uni. Almost twenty-one. We sat together in a packed lecture hall but barely knew each other.
‘The car’s not far.’ Keith took a pre-emptive step toward the pub door.
We stood to leave, a little unsteadily I might add.
Outside, the night air hit us like ice-water. The cosy warmth of camaraderie washed down the gutter. Keith strode ahead. We three girls ambled behind like servants or concubines.
‘I’m not so sure about this,’ I hissed.
‘Safety in numbers,’ said Louise. She and Janet began singing Stand by Me like fools at a country wedding.
We reached the car, a baby-shit yellow sedan. ‘Not the Kingswood!’ they chorused and dissolved into giggles. Louise claimed the front seat. Janet and I took the back. Keith coaxed a spark from an almost-flat battery and the car rumbled down George Street.
‘Think I’ll call it a night,’ I muttered.
‘Party pooper!’ A duet of big-girl voices.
The traffic lights went red; Keith tramped on the brakes. I flung the door open and leapt out. Half-walked, half-ran in the opposite direction. Hailed a taxi, made my cowardly escape. The friendship was over; I would never live it down.
Monday morning, the girls were already in the lecture hall. At first, relief. Then my heart sank. What should I say? Guilty of desertion, as charged? I ambled over to apologise.
Louise piped up first. ‘That Keith was a real prick.’
She began to laugh. ‘His place was out in the sticks. He did give us coffee, but.’
‘And liqueurs,’ added Janet. ‘By candlelight.’
‘Then, out of nowhere, came this woman. His WIFE. All hell broke loose.’
‘We walked home. Didn’t get there until four.’ Janet again.
‘A disaster! We should’ve listened to you.’
I smiled. Silently I thanked my inner voice. My quiet voice of reason.
Copyright, Debbie Terranova, June 2021