It’s almost Christmas Day—surely, he’s got somewhere else to be, other people to be with? People far more important to him than me. I think again of the girl with the green braids. The sharp-eyed way she watched him as he gave a false name to the police. Wherever his life is at, ramming a four-by-four into a warehouse complex and then being arrested has got to build up some serious tension. Maybe he needs to let off a bit of steam too. Maybe that’s what this is.
I take my time cycling down the rough track to the park. I’ve popped a tyre before on the glass that’s scattered around here, and my fingers are too frozen to be fiddling around with fixing on a spare.
As soon as we make it into the skatepark’s tiny car park, Kim hops off the bike. I find myself still wanting to feel his arms around me. The ache of it. Like the past has a weight, a texture, and it’s all him.
God, what am I doing? This is such a bad idea. Spending time with him is just going to hurt, I know it is, and here I am just about offering myself up to it like a masochist.
He scrambles to the top of the little grassy hill surrounding the park. “God, I’ve missed this place.”
The wistfulness in his voice surprises me. I follow him up with my bike. He turns to me, pulls off my massive gloves, hands them to me in my helmet, then holds his arms out, races down to the centre of the second biggest ramp, and starts spinning. Spinning and spinning, his head flung back, hair flying. He looks seventeen again. Young. Wild. Free.
For a moment whatever shadows are haunting him are chased far away. And my heart aches and aches.
I remember the first time I saw him, swinging on the metal railing by the coffee shack near the smaller ramps with a couple of girls from school. He was laughing, head thrown back like it is now, pink hair falling away from his narrow face, sharp white teeth flashing, the whole of him vibrating with some wild aliveness I’d never seen in anyone else. Still haven’t. Too involved in watching him, I forgot what I was doing and nearly killed myself, lost control of my bike in the middle of a turn and crashed face first into the ramp. Later, I told myself I’d been so transfixed because I didn’t know whether he was a boy or a girl. But, of course, it wasn’t true. It took a long time for me to realise that though.
That was the summer I finished my GCSEs. I was fifteen. Kim was new. He’d moved from another school across town. I never asked him why.
Back then the skatepark was full from sunrise till late into the night, and Kim hung around almost as often as I did. He made friends quickly, and though I watched him all the time and caught him watching me, I remained clueless. Maybe if I’d have worked out sooner that I was bi, things would’ve been different. I don’t know.
Leaving Kim spinning, I clip my helmet in place, toss my gloves next to my backpack on the frozen ground, and take off down the biggest ramp, doing a few sharp turns at the top to warm up.
“I used to love watching you,” he yells. “You ride like the water flowing in a river.”
It’s ridiculous how buoyed up his words make me feel, and I flush. I’m too old to be showing off at the skatepark, trying to impress some boy I know is watching every jump I make, and still I do it, taking my bike through a few 360 tailwhips. Making it look casual, easy, though it’s not, but that’s the trick. Isn’t that always the trick?
Limbs vibrating with adrenaline, I skid to a stop in front of him. “Get on.”
Kim’s eyes widen. “You’re going to kill us if you jump with me on your bike.” But still he gets on.
I laugh. “Still up for anything, eh?”
“With you, yeah.” His arms fasten around me, and he plasters himself close. “I’ve missed you, you know?”
Has he? I stiffen a little. I can’t let myself believe him, not just like that, because, no, I don’t know. But I don’t say that. I don’t say anything. My feelings are too jumbled to work out how to respond. Instead I focus on the things I do know and take us swooping down the big ramp and up the other side. I’m not about to do any tricks with Kim on my bike. He’s right, it’d probably kill us, plus I only have the one helmet. But it’s just nice riding around with him like this, even though I’m not sure how I feel right now.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers after a while, his arms squeezing me a little tighter like he’s afraid I’m suddenly going to stop and shove him off. “I’m really fucking sorry. I wouldn’t blame you if you hated me.”
“I don’t hate you,” I say quietly. Of course I don’t. How could I ever hate him? I kind of suspect in forty years’ time, if I’m still around, I’ll still get this sharp pain in my chest when I think about him.