Anna kicked off her shoes and threw herself back onto her bed. She let out a soft sigh and reached for a pillow hugging it gently against her chest. In principal, Anna hated to sulk, but sometimes that was the only thing for it. This was one of those times. With a slight hint of aggitation she wriggled onto her stomach and buried her face into her collection of fluffy stuffed animals.
After a minute or two she lifted her head and rested her chin on a fuzzy penguin, letting out another sorrowful sigh. Today had been a good day, Billy's delayed arrival aside. They'd had fun, made progress. So why was she so miserable? The answer to that was easy. It was a Saturday night, Billy was out on a date, no doubt having a great time, and here she was - alone in her room with no one but stuffed animals for company.
A few months ago Anna and Billy would have been out together. They had started dating when they were fourteen. Billy and his family had moved to Trentham from Canada and they soon paired up as skating partners. Not long after that they became boyfriend and girlfriend.
For nearly two years they had spent all their time together, on the ice, at school, at home. Then six months ago things just got too intense, their relationship and their partnership were both in jeopardy. Billy issued Anna with an ultimatum - he was either her boyfriend or her skating partner, he couldn't be both anymore.
It had been so hard for her to choose. Anna had spent night after night crying herself to sleep, agonizing over the decision. She knew Billy was serious, there was no way to talk him around, she had to make a choice. She decided a skating partner was more important than a boyfriend.
Billy was upset by her decision, but not shocked. He knew how much skating meant to Anna, and he knew that it would be difficult for her to find another partner, at least one that was as good as she was.
It wasn't that she didn't care for Billy, she did, infact she loved him. She was just trying to make a wise decision. Everyone was always telling her that if she was serious about her skating then she'd have to be prepared to make sacrifices. And that had been the first one. The first one that had mattered, at least. The first one that had hurt.
Deep down Anna thought that if their love was strong enough they'd end up back together anyway. It had become painfully obvious to Anna over the past couple of months that that was not going to happen. Billy was having a great time, playing the field, hanging out with his friends, getting a life outside of skating. A life Anna had nothing to do with.
At least they had remained friends, Anna told herself. That was the main thing. Anna was suddenly startled by the shrill ring of her telephone. Quickly, she flipped over onto her side and answered it.
'Anna! You're home, great!' Anna recognised the voice of her best friend Brenda.
'Brenda, it's Saturday night, of course I'm at home - alone I might add - where else would I be?'
'At the skating rink,' Brenda replied.
'Yeah, well I'd be alone there too.'
'You're not sounding very merry tonight, Anna,' Brenda said matter of factly.
'What a coincidence, I don't feel very merry either.'
'Well,' Brenda began. 'I know just the thing to cheer you up.'
'Oh yeah,' Anna replied doubtfully. 'What?'
'Bowling? Brenda, since when have I liked bowling?'
'Since never! Brenda, what are you up to?'
'What makes you assume I'm up to something?'
'Oh come on, out with it,' Anna said impatiently.
'Seriously Anna,' Brenda replied. 'I'm not up to anything. I just thought you'd like to go bowling tonight. Oh, incidentally - you know , before I forget to mention it - I think Tom might like to come along too.'
'Brenda,' Anna sighed. 'If you want to go bowling so badly just go with Tom. It'll be like a date. Isn't that what you've wanted all year, a date with Tom? Well here's your chance. You don't want me hanging around like a third wheel.'
Brenda was silent.
Finally Brenda spoke up. 'Well, you see, the thing is Anna, we've already got a third wheel. Tom's cousin Ziggy. He's visiting from Memphis. We thought maybe you could come along and be a fourth wheel. You know, to even things up a bit.'
'Well you can stop thinking right now,' Anna replied indignantly. 'There is no way I'm coming.'
'Oh, Anna, please!' Brenda cried. 'We haven't double dated in years. It'll be fun!'
'Brenda, it was never fun.'
'How can you say that? What about the time we went out with the Burgess brothers?'
'You mean the time we got stuck in the elevator and Jordans nose bled all over my jacket? Yeah, what a riot.'
'Won't you do it as a favour? she pleaded. 'What else are you going to do? Stay home alone all night?'
Anna sighed heavily and then thought for a moment. She had a point. 'Alright, but you owe me.'
'Thank you, thank you, thank you Anna!' Brenda cried gleefully. 'I'll come by and pick you up in about half an hour.'
'Can't wait,' Anna replied flatly.
Exactly thirty two minutes later Anna was stood on her porch bundled up in a long duffle coat, scarf, gloves and a hat. She looked out into the foggy October night and willed Brenda to hurry up. If she was going to do this she just wanted to get on with it and get it out of the way. A wheezy spluttering sound began to draw near. There was no mistaking it.
Anna craned her head to the right, and sure enough, there was Brenda's rickety old Ford Sedan crawling up the street. Anna stepped off the porch and approached the curb. Seconds later Brenda's car pulled up beside her.
'Hey Anna!' Brenda grinned, sticking her head out of the window. 'Hop in!'
Anna gave her a lacklusture smile, gripped the door handle and pulled it open with all her might. Quickly, she squeezed in and attempted to make herself comfortable.
'Okay, time for introductions!' Brenda said in a sing song voice. 'Tom you already know.' Tom nodded his head and raised his eyebrows at her by way of a greeting. 'But,' Brenda continued. 'I'd like to introduce you to Tom's cousin, Ziggy.'
Anna had sensed the presence of someone else in the backseat but hadn't paid them any attention until now. Upon Breanda's prompting Anna turned to face him. Two words popped into her head immediately. Crack head.
Anna didn't know what she'd been expecting. Tom was Mr Clean Cut, Mr Average. Maybe she'd assumed his cousin would be the same. The guy staring at her had a bedraggled appearance, from the tattered clothing to the dreary looking rats tails that hung to his shoulders. He had a spindly build and his eyes were glazed over.
If Anna had been the kind of person who believed in stereotypes she would have sworn he had a switch blade concealed on him some where. Anna forced a smile in his direction.
'Nice to meet you.'
'Yeah,' he replied flatly. He reached into one of the pockets on his leather trench coat, Anna's gaze automatically followed the movement of his hand. Oh my God, Anna thought to herself. What is he doing? Does he really have a switch blade in there? Anna continued to watch, wide eyed, as he pulled out a grotty looking box of cigerettes. He flipped open the top and shoved the box in her face.
'Uh, no. Thanks.' Anna let out a little giggle in spite of herself. A switch blade? Yeah right. The rest of the evening rolled by steadily. It turned out Ziggy wasn't too eager to bowl either, so instead he and Anna sat on the sidelines watching everyone else and occasionally making an attempt at small talk.
At one point, while Anna was sipping her diet Pepsi through a straw and staring up at the scoreboard, Ziggy pulled a hip flask out of the lining of his coat and offered it up to her.
'Want some?' he asked in a low voice.
'I'm fine for now,' Anna replied politely.
'Suit yourself,' he yanked open the cap, wrapped his lips around the neck and threw his head back, gulping loudly.
'Is that alcohol?' Anna asked.
'What do you think it is? Milk?'
'No,' she replied. 'Herbal tea, maybe.'
Ziggy didn't find her funny. He just stared at her, his eyes becoming more glazed by the second.
'Excuse me,' Anna said getting up from her seat and turning to walk away.
'Anna!' Brenda called, noticing her friends attempt to retreat. 'Where are you going?'
'The bathroom,' Anna replied with forced patience.
'Wait for me!' The two girls walked to the bathroom together. 'I guess I don't need to ask if you're having a good time.' Brenda said stepping into a stall and locking the door behind her. 'By the look on your face anyone would think your pet canary had just died.'
'Yeah?' Well Ziggy's company isn't exactly uplifting,' Anna replied gazing at her reflection in the mirror.
'Tom says he has emotional problems,' Brenda called out of the stall.
'And you thought introducing me to him tonight would be a good way to cheer me up?' asked Anna.
"Okay,' Brenda sighed as she flushed the chain and came out of the stall. 'So you're not here to be cheered up, I admit it. You're here because you have a generous, altruistic nature. There's a place for you in heaven.'
'Saint Anna,' she replied flatly. 'That's me.'
Brenda began to rinse her hands. 'Look, the game's almost over. Once it's finished I'll take you home, deal?'
Anna nodded. 'Thanks Brenda. Sorry I'm being so miserable.'
'Don't worry about it,' Brenda replied. 'Compared to Ziggy you seem positively joyful.' The two girls laughed and headed out of the bathroom.