Second book off to publishers.

I finally took the step to submit my 2nd book to the publisher of my 1st after waiting (fruitlessly) for MPH to respond to my queries. Here is chapter 7 from my second book – The Bicycle.

CHAPTER SEVEN

A gang of ducks made their way toward the lake. They waddled confidently in single file across the foot path and manicured lawns of the Butterfly Gardens, oblivious to onlookers on their routine afternoon walks, who found the whole scene rather cute.

The bicycle lanes at the Butterfly Gardens were leveled and smooth (for it was a new park planted with various flowers to attract butterflies). Sam did not want to take the chance with the bicycle on an uneven path neither would he ever think of riding on the main road for Malaysian drivers had a habit of hitting anything without the customary four wheel setup.

Getting Elizabeth to sit on the top tube of the frame took some convincing on his part. Fearing the tube would buckle under her weight, he had asked that she peddled and he walk alongside her. She waved it away as nonsense, knowing full well that she was not that heavy and that he was merely being fussy, insisting instead that he peddled them through the park.

She sat on the top tube and he steadied himself and slowly he pushed on the peddle and they moved forward. Initially a little slow but eventually they picked up speed as Sam got into his rhythm.

It was a beautiful afternoon for a bicycle ride. The sun was low and a gentle breeze blew among the trees. The lanes were shaded with low overhanging trees growing along the sides with hibiscus hedges planted in between the trees. The sound of crackling dry leaves accompanied them as they rode along the path that winded its way round a lake shape like a pear.

She leaned against him and once again he caught the scent of her perfume, intermingling with the warm air and blooming flowers bathed by the afternoon sun. Just you and me, the thought crossed his mind. Just two people caught in a web of emotions bordering on friendship? He could walk away from this if he wanted to but something deep inside convinced him to stay on, to walk down a path he was not familiar with, to peer into the darkness and grapple with a feeling he knew little about.

“I like this,” she said, turning her head to gaze up at him.

“I like it too,” he replied, catching a twinkle in her hazel brown eyes. ‘I can’t keep my eyes of off you,’ he thought. ‘Why?’

He held his gaze for a second longer and permitted himself to savor the moment. Knowing full well, moments like these do not come often. There was that feeling again, the kind you get when you are waiting for your new car or when you are expecting your boss to announce your promotion. It was a tingling in his stomach, butterflies? Or was it more like crazy South American killer bees on a rampage. Whatever it was, it only happened when he was close to her and now having her sitting on the bicycle with him intensified the buzzing in his stomach to the point he was now weak in the knees.

It was a deep yearning. A yearning for something more than just friendship. It was a yearning to have her with him at all times. For as he cycled he realized that as everything around them moved by, she was still with him. The scenery changed and morphed into various pictures yet she was still there with him, still the same person he had grown to…love? Was he falling in love? Could he actually be falling for Elizabeth? Why now? Why did it not happen before, during their early years? Or maybe they have been in love all this while, dormant and silent, only to be awakened by the bicycle. A bicycle, which had seen love beforehand and now passing it on to them. Serendipity. The word flashed in Sam’s mind.

There was a time he would not have given a hoot about her but ever-since entering university, where one can choose how they spend their time, he had spent most of his time with her. He needed a friend and there was none closer to him than Elizabeth.

She was the constant in his life. The fixed point that did not change as the surroundings moved along and that was the way he wanted it and that was the way he hope it would stay.

She hummed a tune as he cycled down the path heading towards the lake. It was a tune he recognized, a song from the play where they first met. She rested her head on his chest, “I can hear your heartbeat.”

“You like that don’t you?” He asked. Not the smartest of questions but heck, he wanted to know what she would say in reply.

“Duh? You know I do. You have a nice heartbeat. Steady and soft.”

“A heartbeat is a heartbeat,” he commented, ‘it beats for you,’ he added, though it was only in his mind. A thought he wished he had the courage to speak out.

He quickened his pace, allowing the wind to gently caress her hair, which she had untied and allowed to fall free.

Elizabeth looked up at him, “Are you okay?”

“Besides having your hair poking up my nose. I should be fine,” he replied and winked at her.

“Funny? You think that’s funny?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s not working,” she smiled at him. She was being cheeky with him, flirtatious even but this was Sam, the unromantic moron, who probably would not know if a girl was interested in him even if she said it into his face.

“What’s not working?”

‘Yup. Sam, the unromantic moron.’ Elizabeth felt safe around him. Safe to be herself, knowing Sam would not flop over silly to impress her in order to gain her attention or win her affection. No, Sam was her best buddy and she could count on him to be her best friend, no strings attached, no emotional connection.

“You, trying to be sweet, funny. Trying to be romantic,” Elizabeth replied.

“You told me that I needed to be romantic around girls. So who else can I practice on?”

“Your mother.”

“Crazy girl!”

She laughed and pressed her head against his chest, “I like this.”

‘Me too,’ Sam thought, ‘I love it too.’

“Sam?”

“Yes.”

“Why are you so nice to me?”

“Why? Cannot-kah?”

“No. Just that you’re nice…when you’re like this.”

‘Like this? What do you mean by that?’ He thought. “It’s always good to be nice to people…it’s…it’s the right thing to do.”

“Being nice?” She asked, shifting her head slightly.

“Yes,” he replied.

“But you’re only like this to me.”

He smiled, “Because I spend most of my time with you,” he replied.

“Why?”

He cycled along a curve where the path was level. Hedged on both sides with little red and white roses. He peddled slowly, taking his time to mull an answer.

“I’m comfortable with you,” he replied.

“But most of the time we argue and have those intellectual debates and I call you names.”

“And then we laugh.”

“Yeah. Then we laugh.”

She shifted her head, the top of her head touching his chin.

“Don’t you get irritated by me?” She asked.

“Crazily irritated. You drive me nuts.”

“Then why do you stick with me?”

“Because you’re fun to be with and I wouldn’t want to trade that for anything.”

“It’s not working,” she smiled and gently pressed her head into his chest.

He smiled and quickened his pace. His peddling was smooth, his thoughts were at peace knowing that she was happy. He knew that regardless of what she did to him (teasing, battering, sarcasm), he would take it and at times laugh it off.

He was always gentle with her. Always the friend who stuck by her during the hard and good times. He was there for her even during the times she said she did not need him and there were those times when she got depressed and shut the world out. Those were the times he hated the most. He would not hear from her for a day or two. His calls would go unanswered and his messages un-replied.

They went by the lake, scaring a flock of ducks waddling on the shore. The water sparkle like fireworks as the ducks scampered into the water, quaking angrily at the two intruders on the black bicycle with white trimmed tires.

They stopped under a low hanging willow tree by the water’s edge where they sat down to enjoy the scenery.

She sat beside him, tucking her legs up and resting her chin on her knees. Her hair was tousled and he found it charming.

“That was fun,” she said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.

“Yeah, we should do this more often.”

“Won’t you get bored?”

“Not as long as the company is good.”

She giggled, hearing him say that, “The company is good?”

“What?”

“Trying to be romantic again? It’s not working.”

“Romantic? I’m just stating a fact. Having good company is a…a…good thing…especially when I’m…with you.”

“Why do you stammer when you say that?”

He did not answer her, choosing instead to look out onto the lake. It was not easy for him to talk about his feelings. He got tongue-twisted and messed up his words so he preferred to keep quiet than risk talking.

“Why so emo?” She waved her hand in front of his face, breaking his gaze.

“Nah, just thinking.”

“About your grandmother? You should ask her to tell you more. Maybe you can write a play out of it.”

“Yeah. Just that she still loves the man. After all these years she still thinks of him. Like it happened 50 years ago. How can she hold on to something for so long?”

“It meant a lot to her, I guess. You don’t really forget your first love. It’s takes a long time,” she replied.

“You still think of him?”

“Him?”

“Jason,” he replied.

Elizabeth turned her gaze towards the lake as angry quaking ducks swam by them. Tucking her stray hair behind her ears she sighed, “Sometimes.”

“Sometimes?”

“Well, I still think of him. I still get angry. I still feel hurt. It makes me cry. Like I sometimes wonder why I wasted my time with him. That jerk! How easy it was for him to forget me and chase after that other girl, what’s her name?”

“Tina.”

“Yeah, Tina! Bimbo! After all we’ve been through. He takes off just like that, with a dumb bimbo who thought Guatemala was an African state.”

“Er…where is Guatemala anyway?”

“Look it’s in Central America. Everybody knows that,” she said.

“Alright, geography aside. You were the one who wanted some time off. You wanted the space, right?”

“Yeah. But I told him I wanted time to rethink the direction of our relationship. I felt it was not going anywhere. With all that pestering. You know, be more lady-like, be more feminine. He wasn’t doing any good,” she replied, agitated and upset. “It took him only two months to find a replacement. Two months! Am I that easy to forget? Am I that easy to let go?”

The question hung in the air as Sam pondered an answer. He had heard this a hundred times before, during the months following her break-up with Jason. He had heard her reasoning, her tears, her laments and her anger.

She took out her frustrations on him, pinching his arms or punching his stomach. But she did far worse then just hurting Sam, she also hurt herself. The lines on her wrist visible as she tucked another stray hair behind her ear.

“No, you’re not that easy to forget. You’re special, unforgettable. Only fools cannot see that you are a wonderful person. You didn’t do anything wrong. You listened to your heart and told him what you thought. You were willing to give it another go but he was the one who couldn’t wait. So don’t take it out on yourself. okay?” he replied.

Her hazel brown eyes held his gaze. Eyes that sparkle when she was happy and glazed over when she cried.

He wiped a tear-drop, clear as crystal, streaking down her right cheek, “You did not do anything wrong. You loved him yet he did not reply it in kind. So he’s the one missing out on something wonderful, something beautiful.”

“I’m not beautiful,” she said softly, her voice drowned by the passing breeze.

“Well…cute?”

“Cute?” She whispered, “Ugly but adorable?”

He smiled and reached forward to hold her. She did not object, falling willingly into his embrace. He gently rub her back for he knew she liked that.

‘You will always be beautiful to me,’ the thought made him tighten his hold.

A gentle breeze blew and the willow tree swayed, its branches dancing on the surface of the water. Stray rays of sunlight cut through the tree tops and like golden blades they pierced the lake water. The ducks made a game out of swimming between the golden blades oblivious to the two on the lake shore.

“I’ll be fine,” she said as she broke free from his embrace. “I don’t want to fall in love anymore. It hurts too much.”

He had heard that statement before. It was still her choice but it struck him hard each time he heard it. Now how was he going to tell her how he felt?

There was a chance that she would turn him away the moment he revealed his feelings and he could lose the one person that truly mattered to him.

Sam nodded, he understood fully what she meant. She was shutting out any idea of love from her life. It also meant he would have to keep his feelings to himself.

‘You have to be honest with yourself even if it hurts. It is a risk worth taking,’ his grandmother’s words echoed in his ears. No, he was not willing to take that risk. He was not going to disturb a friendship that meant so much to him. He would keep it to himself even if it hurt him most.

His grandmother was wrong, this was not a risk worth taking.

“Well, if you don’t want to fall in love ever then that is your choice. No-one can stop you from making that choice. Right?”

“Right! And you would remind me of that, okay?”

“Right,” he replied, though deep down he regretted his answer.

“Oh my gosh! That would mean I’d be a spinster.”

“Isn’t that your life-long dream?” Sam asked.

She threw him a look, a face contorted like an angry duck which proved hard not to laugh at. He chuckled softly.

“You always laugh at me.”

He tried hard to restrain himself.

“Fine! Go ahead and laugh. Ish!”

He broke into a fit of laughter and she threw her hands into the air as she watched him roll over to his side. It did not take long for her to laugh along with him.

He sat up, wiped the tears from his eyes and smiled, “Look..one day, you’ll find that special someone. Someone like you would never end up alone.”

“What if I do end up alone?”

“Well, you have me around,” he said confidently.

“Yeah, I’d probably get so irritated. Probably get married just to escape you!”

He allowed the statement to fly over his head. She did not mean it but it still struck him. He had meant what he said. He would be there for her and he would gladly do so even if it meant he would be hurting the whole time.

“Sam, you’re a great friend,” she reached for his hand, “You know what? I’m glad you’re here with me. I want you to know that,” she held his hand as she said it. Her thumb moving in a circular motion over the ball of his palm.

“Eli, I’ll always be there for you…someone has to look out for you.”

“That…might just work,” she said, holding his hand and smiling.

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