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Coming of Age Funny Friendship

It’s a couple of minutes after eight when I turn off the high road and drive onto the open ground behind The Lazy Duck. My tyres crunch over granite chippings in the darkness and I draw up alongside a dozen other vehicles. I’m surprised there aren’t more cars out here this evening; the bar is quiet for a Friday night. Often at the weekend, a roar of chattering voices and shrill laughter greets me as I approach. In its heyday, the bar was a popular venue for parties because of its flexible licencing hours. The landlord, Jimmy McGuigan, used to close the wooden window shutters around eleven o’clock and his wife would circulate with trays of tasty snacks. Regulars chilled out until way after midnight, safe in the knowledge the local police would turn a blind eye to the extended business. In fact, it wasn’t unusual to witness off-duty policemen joking with Jimmy or clinging on to a karaoke microphone at one in the morning.

#

A young waitress approaches as I remove my winter coat. She offers me a menu, invites me into the seated area.

There was no need to reserve a table for two in advance and no pressure to meet, eat, and leave. I’m relieved the venue is subdued tonight; its booth seating and table arrangement is perfect for extended conversation. I wouldn’t want to spend the entire night shouting at Trent; we’d both end up with sore throats and a headache.

#

My old buddy left the country with his girlfriend, Aleca, ten years ago and disappeared on a personal mission to find life and happiness in Spain. They met at my thirtieth birthday party at The Lazy Duck. To be honest, it was a setup. Both Trent and Aleca were single and my wife suggested we invite them. Jenny has a smart nose for match making and enjoys social engineering. She steered Aleca in Trent’s direction, made a casual introduction, and retreated. It was amazing to watch their body language. They couldn’t take their eyes off each other. They fizzed like a fistful of sparklers. Their conversation was effortless and in the style well rehearsed dance routine; they anticipated each other’s moves in advance. It was as if we’d nudged an infinite line of dominoes that cascaded ever onwards, describing intricate patterns in its wake. 

I didn’t see Trent for a fortnight after that night; he and Aleca went off-grid. When they emerged again, they were an item and had broad grins like a double-slung suspension bridge. They’d bought a barn to renovate in the desert area outside Murcia, in the southeast of the Iberian Peninsula. Its climate offered hot summers and mild winters and was perfect for their new life together. Trent was always a handy chap; good with vehicles and great with repairing property. Aleca was going to teach English as a foreign language. At least, that was their plan.

#

We kept in touch for a year, exchanging the odd phone call or a text at Christmas, however soon lost touch. The local Spanish authorities have a loose grasp of contract law by all accounts and they went way over budget on their conversion costs. Reading between the lines it was tough, but they were determined to see it through.

#

To Jenny’s surprise, they hadn’t given up and returned to steady work and a normal life. She didn’t know Trent all that well. He would never settle for the ordinary. There was nothing he despised more than ordinary. My relationship with Trent influenced much of my life. We’d laughed together through our teenage years, dissected life through our twenties, and thought we knew it all by my thirtieth birthday. Both of us had a healthy dose of cynicism. As someone once said, “Life is too important to be taken seriously.”

#

With one thing and another, I’d almost forgotten about those carefree years until I got a text message last weekend. “I’m in town. How about the Lazy Duck at 8pm on Friday? Trent” It was from a number I failed to recognise. I hadn’t heard from my old buddy for over ten years. Both of us have a lot of catching up to do, and tonight’s as good a night as any. 

#

I order a couple of pints of beer and a bowl of the bar’s trademark chilli and bacon French fries. Trent’s nowhere in sight when I take a first sip of my pint, recalling all those times I’d waited for him to show up. I don’t remember him ever being on time. Trent was an hour late for his wedding to Aleca. To be fair, Aleca wasn’t punctual either and her arrival often stole the show. Their special day was no exception. He was tucking in his shirt and smoothing down his unruly hair when she appeared at the church doors. The congregation gave an almighty gasp when she appeared in the church doorway. Aleca was wearing a stunning white satin dress that flattered her hourglass figure. However, it was her face that drew the attention. Trent leaned over and whispered in my ear, She’s just got back from accident and emergency. What’s with the black eyes? I asked. It’s a long story, said Trent. It seems she had a dodgy cocktail at her hen-night and was sick in the ladies’ room. I didn’t understand. The toilet seat fell down and broke her nose. Jenny told me later, Aleca was most worried about the wedding pictures. Thank goodness for Photoshop.

#

It’s nine o’clock when I finish my second bowl of chilli and bacon French fries and I’m considering another bowl. No sign of Trent; no text message and no call. All I get is his voicemail. I should have known I’d be sitting here half the night waiting for him. I could always depend on Trent in the sense that he was always unreliable, but then when he showed up, he gave one hundred and ten per cent. On one occasion, we’d agreed to do some painting and decorating for a client. I turned up on time, but he showed up forty-eight hours late. The client was furious, despite starting the work by myself. It looked like we might lose the business. However, Trent calmed the situation with his smooth-talking charm and we demonstrated our competence with professional aplomb. The client was more than satisfied on completion and we landed more work than we could handle on their recommendation. We thanked the client for their help and she laughed, saying we were more like The Likely lads than Laurel and Hardy, however, she’d mistaken us for Bodgit and Leggett.  

#

I take a sip of Trent’s full glass and look at my watch. There’s no message from Trent and it’s half-past nine. I’m getting strange looks from cheerful groups of party-goers enjoying a relaxing night. Do I look that sad? I hope not. Maybe I look as if I got stood up. You know what? Sitting here all night isn’t much fun anymore. It never was. I’ve grown out of all that. I look at the second pint and take a deep breath. Forget it. I’m out of here. I haul on my jacket and step down from the booth. Jimmy waves at me from the bar as I head towards the exit. I acknowledge him and he summons me over. How is it going? He asks. 

Yeah, I’m fine, I say. It’s been a while, Jimmy. 

Where’s your partner in crime? Jimmy asks. 

If Trent pops in, tell him I was here. 

He was here earlier.

You’re joking, Jimmy?

I guess he got fed up and left.

How things have changed. Jimmy says Trent told him he had to go to work the next day and didn’t want a hangover. Now he has a wife and two children to support, and a dog to look after. 

#

It was the unreliability that ended our business ventures and tested our friendship. I’d made too many excuses for Trent over the years. That last big deal we lost because he forgot to set his alarm clock killed it off. He missed the plane. We lost the job of a lifetime. There was no coming back from that mistake. How life moves on.

#

Before Trent and Aleca departed for Spain, he remarked how odd it was that he and Aleca were the only single guests at my birthday party. 

What are the chances of that? I said, raising an eyebrow.

I’m just born lucky, he said, shaking his head. 

I smiled and kept my counsel. 


The End




December 02, 2022 20:33

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4 comments

Edward Latham
10:48 Dec 06, 2022

A telling piece of advice on the importance of punctuality! The story was bittersweet; the friendship with Trent never repaired, but Trent did find love and change his habits. Thanks for the enjoyable read!

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Howard Halsall
18:54 Dec 06, 2022

Hello Edward, Thank you for reading my story and leaving your positive feedback. I’m glad you enjoyed it and relieved it all made sense. Take care HH

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Delbert Griffith
10:02 Dec 06, 2022

Good job showing us the MC's characters instead of telling. A nice story about growing up and what it does to our free spirits - and bad habits.

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Howard Halsall
18:51 Dec 06, 2022

Hello Delbert, Thank you for reading my story and leaving your thoughts; they’re much appreciated. Take care HH

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