The first thing Diane asked me when she found me was, “Are you going back?”
I didn’t know what to say. What was there to go back for? Mr. Lee had made it very clear that I wasn’t wanted. To think I had called the man ‘dad’ for a couple of years.
“Your mom misses you,” she said.
I found looking down, at the floor, at the walls, anywhere but her.
“Oh come on. Admit that you miss her too.”
Mrs. Lee. Mom. Well, I did at that. “Maybe,” I found myself saying.
“What are you doing here anyway?”
I could feel a blush rising from my neck to my cheeks as she gazed around the little coffee shop we were in.
“Working. Doing what I would have been doing three years ago if it hadn’t been for… mom,” I said, a little more brusquely than I had intended.
“I shouldn’t disturb you then. When do you get off?”
“We close at eleven. I… I’ll meet you at the park at midnight.”
She nodded, smiled, and left, leaving a churning in my chest.
I don’t really know why I had been so keen on chasing her away. It was pretty slow in the shop. Whatever few customers there already had their drinks and there hadn’t been any traffic in for a while. My two colleagues were just hanging out at the counter, chatting. They were looking at me curiously now.
“She’s really pretty, wei,” Li said, poking me in the ribs. “Your girlfriend ah?”
“So high class, you think can meh?” Siang said, shaking his head.
“Eh, he also quite high class wan mah. Look at him,” Li retorted.
I just shook my head, ignoring their comments. It was a good question, really. How did I ever think that Diane would ever like me? She was the true rich kid, the one who had everything. I was the replacement kid who never quite fit in. Midnight at the park. That would be interesting.
She was sitting on the same bench I always sat on. Funny thing - she was usually the one who used to sneak up on me from behind whilst I threw my questions into the void. Now she was sitting at my spot, gazing up at the stars in the sky and I was the one sneaking up on her. I stood for a while, watching her hair blow in the soft breeze. I must have made a sound, because she turned to look at me.
"That's all you can say?" she nodded me over.
We sat in silence for a long while.
"No questions for your god today?"
It didn't sound like it was said with much sarcasm, but it hurt anyway. I found myself shrugging wordlessly. Maybe I was angry at God, but I found that I didn't really want to ask Him anything. What was the point? I'd asked why He had taken away my family, and He put me in a new one. I asked why I was put into a family and a place where I obviously didn't fit, and in one dramatic moment, I was pulled out of it. On my own volition, I'll admit. Maybe that wasn't the God part. Maybe that was all me.
So I found my question.
"Was it me, God? Was all that mess actually my own doing? Could it be that I was meant to stay?"
"I thought you didn't want that kind of acceptance," Diane said, cutting through my thoughts.
"I... I don't. But... I don't know, Diane. I used to understand, or at least I thought I did. I'm just confused now."
"Welcome to the rest of the world."
"You don't believe in God, do you?"
"I know you do."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It's supposed to be your grand opening to tell me all about your god and why I should believe in him."
She laughed. "Don't mind me, Dan. I’m just goading you. I just want you to go back to the fiery old you."
"You know, when you'd go up in blazes defending your God, defending all your beliefs. You're just... you just give this hopeless vibe right now. Like you're lost."
"Maybe I am."
She looked sad when I said that. I don't know why.
"So what are you going to do from here? Continue working at that shop?"
I tried to see if she was sneering at me, but her face was serious and just a little worried.
"There's no future there. Besides, with your grades you could get a scholarship anywhere you wanted."
“You’ve got to live for something, Daniel. You can’t just drift. I always thought you were the high-flier. You were the one with a dream, with a purpose, with a passion. I used to envy you, wishing I could be that strong.”
“And I’ve let you down.” It was true. I could see it in her eyes, now that I’d figured out where she was coming from. “Diane.”
She stared at me expectantly as I fumbled for words.
“Would you have ever dated a loser like me?”
“Don’t you ever call yourself that! You are not a loser.”
"I am now. Look where I’ve ended up.”
“Don’t be silly, Daniel! You have the rest of your life before you. You never answered my question. Are you going back?”
“You haven’t answered mine. Would you?”
“Yes.” It was soft, sibilant, disappearing into the wind. I found myself grasping her fingers in mine, not remembering when I had caught them up.
“Then wait for me. I will be back. In time.”
The gravel crunched under my feet as I walked away from her, from the park, from the neighbourhood I once lived in. I didn’t owe them anything. The dreams were mine, not theirs, and I would chase them. One day, I will find my way home again.