Saturday 21st June 2014
Finn’s hood whipped away from his head in the stiff breeze, flopping down his back. His hair was an absolute mess as he raced inside. He ran a hand through his already tousled blonde locks before beaming widely at them and slumping down into the booth beside Jake.
“You know, Bonnie,” he said, reaching for a packet of fries. “You’re pretty wicked at that.”
“For a camper,” Jake added sourly around his straw.
She shrugged her reply.
“No he’s right,” Ellen concurred, her look pointed. “Of all the things you’re good at, laser tag was not something I anticipated.”
Finn drummed his knuckles along the table. “Come on,” he pleaded. “What’s your secret? Teach me, oh masterful one.”
Bonnie rolled her eyes. “My brother and I used to play a lot of Call of Duty. That’s really…” she trailed off as she noticed their expressions. “What?”
“You have a brother?” Pippa enquired gently.
She chewed on that for a while, face going utterly blank as she tried to work out how to get around this. See, going out and socialising always lead to talking which in turn always lead to her slipping up and this was not a topic she wanted to dwell on.
In the end she sighed, knowing there wasn’t a way to wriggle out this time. “Yes,” she breathed. “Robert, five years younger than me, he likes video games, cooking and being far too studious for his own good. So I’m accidentally good at laser tag, I have good hand-eye coordination.” Her eyes lifted from the tabletop to glance at Finn. Insert topic change, “Would you like another round? I’ll sit out if you feel inadequate.”
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Ellen’s gobsmacked face. She supposed there would be some sort of interrogation later that she’d have to weasel out of. But for now, the look on Finn’s face as he recovered from his shock was distraction enough.
“Hells yeah,” he enthused. “I’m coming with you.” Finn bounded from his chair and followed her back outside into the brisk wind.
They wandered silently down the footpath back to the laser tag building, a large structure, three storeys high with a basement below and lots of black-lights. It hunched on the corner, a big sign outside declaring with a strip of flashing neon red tubing the purpose of the building. Finn kept looking at her as they walked, but Bonnie did her utmost to ignore him and the way his expression shifted between curiosity and confusion.
At last, as they were about to enter, he said, “Hey, Bonnie. Um, since we’re on holidays now…” He frowned, reaching for the door, holding it open for her. “Would you maybe like to go out with me sometime?”
As with the previous time, Bonnie wasn’t expecting it. She froze, shaking herself hurriedly to conceal her flustered shock. Hastily, she summoned her best approximation of a smile and turned as he stepped in beside her.
“Finn…” she began, not really knowing what to say to him. Bonnie sighed, shaking her head. “Thanks, but no. I just…” She rolled her eyes up to the ceiling. “No.”
And just like last time, Finn simply smiled, the rejection rolling off his waterproof shoulders. “Alright,” he said. “Some other time. Let’s go.”
Bonnie opened her mouth to tell him that there wouldn’t be another time, that her answer was a blanket ‘no’ to cover all possible scenarios, but he’d already scampered off. Perhaps he’d been afraid that she’d say just that and didn’t want to hear it. He could profess ignorance that way. Maybe she should tell him.
Biting back a cynical laugh, Bonnie followed him across the foyer to the counter. Tell him… What a laugh.
Finn was having a bright conversation with the receptionist as Bonnie strolled over. From the way the woman was looking at him, the only person in the whole world who didn’t find him endearing was Bonnie.
She shoved his wallet away. “No paying for you,” Bonnibel said firmly. “It’s your birthday after all. What kind of present would it be if you bought it?”
He turned his massive grin her way. “Exactly the same,” he quipped. “Only my hip pocket would be somewhat lighter.”
The receptionist giggled and Bonnie had to suppress an eye roll. Then she had to do an internal double take because that was not something she’d normally do.
“How many this time?” the woman asked, her fingers tapping on her keyboard.
“Four,” Bonnie told her. “I’m sitting out,” she explained when Finn gave her a questioning look. “It’s even that way.”
More typing rattled away before the woman printed out a receipt and pushed four playing cards across the desk. Finn snatched them up while Bonnie pocketed the receipt. “Have a good day,” the receptionist chirped.
There was a strained silence as they strode back to the little café where they’d had lunch. Or maybe Bonnie only interpreted it that way, Finn seemed just fine with it. Through the window they could see Ellen hunched across the table, whispering in that way she had whenever she believed there was some awesome gossip up her sleeve. Neither Pippa nor Jake seemed to be paying her much mind, but listening to her was really all it took. A flash of panic streaked through Bonnie’s chest at the idea they could be talking about her.
All three of them looked up when Finn pulled the door in and bounced back into his seat. “What are we talking about?” he asked, slapping the new cards on the table. “And when do we want to go play another round?”
Pippa stared at the cards. “There’s only four,” she noted astutely. “Who isn’t playing?”
“Me,” Bonnie said quietly, sinking into her chair as well. “I figured I’d give Finn a chance at a birthday win since this is for him.”
He frowned, sticking his bottom lip out. “It’s hardly a proper win if you don’t even play,” Finn pointed out.
“Yeah, but if I play and let you win, that doesn’t really count either,” Bonnie countered. “At least this way you know you’ve won fair and square.”
He inspected that thought for a bit before nodding. “Alright.” Finn levelled a finger at her. “But I’m going to practice and one day I’m going to kick your butt.”
Bonnie sipped from her drink. “You’re going to try,” she corrected softly.
“Can we go now?” he asked, obviously electing to ignore Bonnie’s last statement.
Jake looked down at the plates on the table. “Sure. Why not?”
Finn pumped a fist in the air, leaping back up again. “Awesome.” He was heading for the door when he stopped and glanced back at them. “Hey guys? This was the best birthday ever. Just so you know.”
Ellen tilted her head, smiling pensively after him. “Sometimes I think he never grew after he hit six. Where does all his energy come from?”
Jake laughed at her, standing too. “I’m pretty sure he’s solar powered.”
“So you don’t plug him into the wall every evening?” Ellen asked, her brow furrowing slightly. “That seems more likely to me.”
“Sorry to let you down, Elle,” he replied with a shrug. “Unless he gets it from some sort of Finnegeon… something in the air… or the water perhaps?”
“Did you just make a chemistry joke?” Ellen deadpanned, stepping outside.
Bonnie and Pippa followed at a slight distance, perfectly content to listen to the other pair discuss wildly crazy ideas on Finn’s seemingly boundless supply of enthusiasm. He really was like a kid at times. Well, Bonnie was happy to do that, but she could tell that something was bothering Penelope.
“So,” Pippa finally breathed. “Brother, huh? How come you never told us before?”
There it was. Bonnibel shrugged her shoulders, trying her hardest not to look at her friend. “I don’t like talking about him.”
Pippa was quiet for a few steps, her face decidedly curious. An expression Bonnie was not pleased to see. “You never talk about Ormeau,” she stated. “You’ve mentioned a few friends but never anything specific. Why?”
“Because I don’t like to,” Bonnie replied a little more tartly than she’d meant to. She sucked in a deep breath. “I just… I don’t like to think about it. Okay?”
She glanced at her friend then, noting the soft smile and tilt to Pippa’s head. There was no demand to know written in her expression, no frustration at being kept at arm’s length, none of that. Only a barely restrained curiosity and perhaps a little bit of hurt that Bonnie clearly didn’t trust her. Not even after six months as friends.
“Alright,” Pippa murmured. “I’ll drop it.” She bumped her shoulder against Bonnie’s. “But you can bet your last dime that I’ll find out eventually. I’m persistent like that. And so loveable that you’ll have to tell me all your dirty secrets, Banner.”
It was a threat, Bonnie realised, blinking. A promise. And a worrying one at that. But she couldn’t find it in her to be overly concerned, just… expectant. Some part of her was absolutely terrified of trusting her new friends. But there was another part, bound and gagged deep down in the darkness of her consciousness, which wanted nothing more than for these wonderful people to unravel her.
So she smiled with Pippa. But she didn’t worry about it. There was only anticipation; tinged with apprehension and excitement.