Geo still lived with her elderly mom in Brooklyn, and I knew she was spending Christmas there, so I couldn’t quite believe that I was seeing her all the way up here in Maine. How did she even get here I remember thinking.
“Geo! Like… what?” I shook my head, whilst hugging her.
“Wow, when you said your folks place was a bit of a trek, you meant it!”
“How did you get here from the airport?”
“Airport, Kimberley? We’re not all jet setting Section Editors for glossy magazines … Nah, I took the Greyhound to Bangor and got a lift with one of your neighbours. Your little sis’ arranged everything. Me and Laura are like this now.” She wrapped her fingers around each other.
“Whaaaaaaat? You got the bus, via where.”
“Oh god knows, I just know the numbers, your little sis arranged all of that too, and I just followed the plan.” she said, unfurling a scrambled bundle of stapled papers. “And I met some real weirdos along the way. I thought all the weirdos lived in the city, but I’ve changed my mind. Hey, she’d make a great PA you know your little sis. She could earn a fortune in the city. I know some contacts, I can get her an interview”
“Well, maybe, she is 15 remember Geo”
“15. She’s passing for 21 any day in my book.” Geo said, looking over at Laura.
“Haha, well I think she’ll take that as a compliment when she’s all dressed up tonight … so how long are you here for?”
“Oh just a couple of days, gotta get back to Mum for Christmas, you know.”
“Great, we’ll have a brilliant time. And any developments with Rick? Dare I ask?”
“Oh that prick. No. The guy’s like the superjerk. You know I sat in that restaurant for 50 minutes waiting on him. Wednesday was supposed to be our date night, and this was special as we were meant to make up after that mega argument we had, you know, a few weeks ago.”
“Almost an hour late is ridiculous!” I said.
“It would be ‘late’, if he had actually turned up. First I sat at the bar for 15 minutes, trying to avoid being seated alone. He kept texting saying, ‘be there in ten babe, caught up at client drinks.’ Then asked me to take the table or lose the reservation. I asked for some bread and water, and had another glass of wine, but eventually I text him to say I might just go home. He text back ‘just finishing up here, important client, can’t be rude’. He called to say I should order myself a glass of their vintage champagne as it was reserved on his card, said I should treat myself as compensation for his lateness.”
“And did you?”
“Well. I asked for the wine list. There was a really cute young couple at the table next to us, but they didn’t look dressed for the joint. It looked like the meal was going to cost more than the guy’s suit, and the poor guy had been early. So I ordered a $ 300 bottle of vintage champagne and asked the waiter to gift it to their table. I said he could charge it all to the reservation card and left.”
“Oh my … “ I said, holding my hand up over my mouth, “that’s terrible Geo … ”. Almost every time we met, something she did would shock me in some way.
“What did Rick say?”
“I don’t know. I blocked his number. I don’t care. He was such a moron. So typical of a lot of the guys in New York. They seem like the best guy in the world when they’re trying to win you over. Everything is so impressive, and they’re so perfect. They know exactly what to say. They keep going until they get you to the stage where you chase them, and then they lose all interest, and move on to some other challenge.”
Although she was tough, Geo was such a cute girl that guys would fall over themselves to get her attention in bars. Her mother had moved to the US from Argentina, and her father was Irish American. So she had this mix of flowing dark brown hair, tanned skin and greeny-brown eyes; a bit old world, a bit new. She often complained she attracted the magpies; guys who wanted to be seen to have her, rather than just to have her. One of her pet hates was guys who used their phones to check work messages when they were at dinner. And men who wore three piece suits. Actually, there were long lists of traits she had complained about from time to time; I often thought she should write a book about them.
As we were catching up Greg approached us. “Kit, sorry to interrupt, your mum remembered my love of cameras, and so she’s asked if I can take a few snaps of people tonight. I’m afraid my camera is a bit old, but with your permission I’ll be the press photographer for your birthday” said Greg, with a retro looking black and silver mechanical camera strapped around his neck, on a thick, heavily-worn leather strap.
“I love those cameras” Geo immediately responded, reaching out and touching it, “I wanted to buy one for a sort of Christmas present to myself, but they’re soooo expensive”.
She turned to me and said “I don’t just go to the shoe department in Bloomingdales you know”, with a little nod.
“Oh, sure” Greg said, “so they have started making reproductions of these with digital lenses, they’re like a thousand bucks, but this is the real deal, the old film version. They’re much better” he said with a smile, “and this one only cost me five bucks!”
Geo had that kind of quizzical smile on her face which said, ‘tell me more’.
Greg laughed, “Five bucks … because I got it at a yard sale as a kid. I used to travel a fair bit as a kid, with my Dad … he used to have to work a lot of weekends and I had to go with him as Mom wasn’t around. I would just kind of, you know, spend a lot of time in the car. And as compensation, if we ever spotted a yard sale Dad would stop, and say I could have anything I wanted, pretty much … well, as long as it fitted in the car.”
“That’s so cute” Geo said, holding her hands clasped in front of her chest, “so, what kind of stuff did you used to buy?”
“Oh, I had a few favourites. Old chess sets, cars, tin soldiers. And as a typical young boy I liked anything mechanical; so watches, clocks, cameras were all things I was fascinated by. I have boxes of old equipment at my parents place, that I’ve been meaning to fix since I was about 10 years old. In fact I still wear one of the few things I did get fixed to this day”
Greg pushed up his sleeve, to reveal a flat, perfectly circular old gold watch, with a crisp enamel dial and long black letters, on a heavily-worn, dark brown crocodile-skin strap.
“This was about 25 dollars at the time actually, and I remember my dad had to really negotiate with the guy selling it. It’s an Omega and the case is solid gold, but thankfully it was not working when we bought it. The next weekend, when we were down in Augustua, we brought it into an old watch shop and had it repaired. I’ve worn it ever since. I must have spent it’s value several times over having it serviced every year, but it’s an old form of mechanical watch that you can actually hear ticking, like a heartbeat. And you have to look after it, you have to wind it, and service it. It’s like it’s alive in that sense, and its got old with me, and I like that.”
Greg slipped the watch off and held it in the palm of his hand against Geo’s ear.
He took it down again, and her head almost looked like it was following his hand as he moved it away.
“I only take it off in the shower.”
“Sorry” I said suddenly, I have forgotten my manners, “Geo this is Greg, a friend from school, and Greg this is Geovanna, a friend from New York, but we call her Geo”.
“Geo’s come up for a few days for my Birthday; she travelled all the way from New York by bus.”
“Wow” he said, looking at her admiringly, “I didn’t even know that was possible.”
“Neither did I” said Geo.
“Well” Said Greg, “Sorry, I interrupted you guys and have bored you with stories about cameras and watches, when I’m meant to be taking pictures, so … “ he stood back a few steps and brought the camera up to his eye ”smile!”.
Geo put her arm around me and did one of her well-rehearsed ‘social media’ poses.
“Great” Greg said, and began moving away, trying to make eye contact with someone else, to take their picture. Geo shouted after him, “Hey, send me a copy of your Leica picture”.
“Kimberley has my mail address,” she said, pointing at me.
“Sure” Greg said, smiling, as he continued moving away, putting his hand on the back of another group of people.
Geo immediately turned to me and smiled, saying nothing at all. Just raising her eyebrows, as if waiting for a response.
“Ha…” I said, “I know what you’re thinking”
“Mmm” she hummed, glancing at Greg again and then back to me. “And…”
“Yes, he’s single and no, I wouldn’t be annoyed.”
“Jackpot!” said Geo, holding upon her hand for a high five. “What does he do for a living?” she leant into me and whispered.
“Remember Geo, this is not New York, there are no hedge funds, or corporate law firms”
“Good! Jesus, that’s great news Kim, are you joking.”
“Well he was a fireman …”
“Ok, amazing, continue …” Geo said.
“A fireman in Canada…”
“Can… ada” Geo said, with a sigh.
“But…” I said, “He’s recently moved back to the US. He’s living with his parents now in Maine”
“Parents?” Geo said, scrunching her nose up.
“You are too impatient Geo… I am reliably informed by my aunt Jane that he is only doing so whilst he builds his own house. He’s bought a site in the woods above town and it building an old-fashioned log cabin. Apparently he’s building it all by hand and it’s going to be amazing; it’s designed by some amazing architect who specialises in building with traditional materials.”
“On my god, it sounds amazing Kim,” Geo said, holding her palm out towards me, as if asking me to stop.
“Yes, it does seem pretty cool actually, great site too, I just hope he does the interior justice by not making the log cabin thing too strong. You know, men can get a bit wild west if left to their own devices; all animal horns and ten gallon hats on the wall, with big bearskin rugs all over the place”.
“Hey, a bit of that stuff is good”
“Exactly. A bit.”
“Ok, wait, wait, before I get too excited, why is he still single?”
“I don’t know actually. I just never got the impression he was that keen on local girls. I think he likes something a bit more exotic. You know someone dark and mysterious Geo.”
Geo punched me on the arm, and smiled, “ok” she said, slamming down her plastic cup on the counter. “Enough of this mulled wine, have you got any proper drinks here?”
Shortly afterwards, the lights suddenly went out, and just as I began stressing that it was a power cut, my Dad stepped into the darkened room, followed by a heightening chorus of “Happy Birthday to You …”.
And the cake had actually got a swarm of 30 candles exactly. I looked over at Laura, and she did a little motion like a mini curtsey and smiled. I quickly lent forward and blew all the candles out as quickly as possible, perhaps trying to shorten the limelight on a now slightly tipsy me.
At first, it seemed to have worked, and a few people looked like they might even continue their conversations, but suddenly Geo started chanting “Speech, Speech”, and clapping her hands. Initially I shook my head and said “no, no”, waving my hands. I could feel my face burning red as the lights came back on. But Geo was the kind of girl who garnered support quickly, so the chant soon took hold.
“Ok, ok” I said, as a deathly silence fell over the room.
“I don’t really know what to say, apart from thanks everyone for coming along today.”
The silent faces stared straight at me, I could see they weren’t going to settle for that.
“It’s so nice to see family, those from the neighbourhood I grew up in, friends from school and even friends from New York, all together. It’s been so nice to hear about what everyone is doing, meet new partners and put faces to names I’ve heard about. I really couldn’t be happier. ”
I saw a few people looking down at their shoes and spotted Jonathan looking at his watch. I was being boring. It was a party, people had travelled a long way, I should be more fun. And so, I made the common mistake of letting the pendulum swing too far the other way.
“ … You know being 30 really makes you think. I remember hearing about people who were thirty something and they always seemed pretty old to me. But somehow life just catches up on you when you’re not looking … before you know it, you’re 30 and not really sure what you’ve achieved. Perhaps nothing other than staying alive.”
“On the bookshelf over there is a picture of me as a two year old, on the beach with my body buried and my head sticking out. I love that picture. We moved here originally because my Dad had started his first business from a spare retail unit at the end of the street. He rented this house for a year and then negotiated to buy it before they had me. You can see my Dad on the right hand side of the picture, smiling in his deck chair. My dad was about 30 in that picture, perhaps not even … ” I put my arm around dad, who was still holding my cake, and he looked even more uncomfortable than me by the spotlight. “He had a wife, a daughter, a business, a home … and that really makes me think, as I turn 30 – what do I have by comparison? … The good news is that I’ve realised this. Really. So for me, I want my 30th year to remembered as the one when I did things. Big things, important things. Photographs on the bookshelf things. So here’s to big things!” I raised what I realised was my now empty gin and tonic glass, and started to pretend drink it.
To my delight, everyone else gradually raised their glass, laughing and said “big things”. Over to me now, I thought.