As Nick and Sal approached the party bar 'Mardi Gras', Boycie, the doorman, watched them with interest.
"Hey," he shouted out to Nick, "I'm telling Jen of you if you don't put her down. Leave us single guys a chance with her."
Nick's grip on Sal's legs tightened as she clung to the back of him.
"Oi, I'm her best mate Boyce, and I'm not leavin' her in you're lecherous clutches so forget it!" Nick grated back.
Nick kept hold of Sal as they moved through the entrance door and he threw Boycie a steely glare as they passed him.
"He'd better stay away from me," Nick growled, setting Sal down on a bar stool.
"Hey, calm down tiger. You need a drink," Sal stated, catching the attention of Dan, the barman, and ordering them some beers.
They drank their beers and watched the bar staff encouraging tourists to dance on the bar, until the song changed and Sal turned to Nick enthusiastically.
"Yay, it's the conga! Let's join in," she said, grabbing his arm and pulling him off the stool.
They joined the row of people that were forming in front of them and followed them as they snaked around the bar and eventually through the front door and out into the street. The people chanted and sang as they moved and some passers by even squeezed in amongst the line and joined in. The people finally turned back on themselves and began to re-enter the bar, but before Sal could make it back inside behind Nick, Boycie grabbed her around the waist and redirected her away from him.
"Hey, what are you doing?" she asked in confusion as he bent his head towards her.
She pushed him away and looked up nervously to see Nick fast approaching them with a furious expression on his face. Nick took hold of Sal by the arm and yanked her away from Boycie, pointing an aggressive finger in his face.
"I'm warning you, leave her alone!" he threatened, marching Sal back into the bar.
"Listen," Sal began, handing Nick his beer, "it's partly my fault that he thinks he can act like that. I was stupid; I let him walk me home once."
Nick swung his head back to her. "You did what?!"
"Calm down, I got rid of him when I realised that it wasn't my welfare that was uppermost in his mind!"
Well that didn't help much to calm him down! He looked more furious than ever now! What was it with him and Boycie?
Moments later Nick felt a hand clamp onto his shoulder and he turned to see Boycie standing behind him.
He put his face close to Nick's and growled, "Don't even think about threatening me because..."
Before Boycie could finish his sentence however a muscular arm came between them as Pedros, the bar owner, appeared and leant his hand on the bar, separating them both.
"Is there a problem here Boycie? Because anyone who works for me and has a problem with this man will find themselves looking for another job," Pedros warned.
Boycie narrowed his eyes and looked from Pedros to Nick and back again, eventually growling with anger and storming back out of the door.
"Get these two another drink on me," he said to Dan before following Boycie out of the door.
Sal sat beaming at Nick, however his mood hadn't seemed to improve much.
"I didn't need his help, I could sort that piece of shit out any day," he said angrily.
"Come on," Sal said, trying to dispel his mood. "Pedros respects you a lot after you saved those tourists from the explosion last year and helped him to catch the culprits. You were a hero," she smiled at him, proud to be his friend.
"I'm no hero," he argued. "Anyone would have done the same. And I just ran from the men; I don't see how that helped Pedros to catch them."
"Well, you're a hero in his eyes anyway...and you're a hero in my eyes too," she added.
He gave her a weak smile.
"What's wrong Nick? Why do you look so sad all of a sudden?" she asked with concern.
He shrugged and turned his attention back towards the activity behind the bar. She frowned and watched him for a moment before gesturing to Dan and saying something into his ear. He nodded and produced two shots of alcohol minutes later. She picked them up and offered Nick one.
"I had a brainwave, you know what they say," she giggled, proceeding to sing," Tequila, it makes you happy!"
He smiled, taking the drink, clinking glasses with her and downing the shot.
"Did it work?" she asked.
He shrugged and she watched him again thoughtfully.
"Nick, can I ask you something?" she began.
He turned to look at her. "Go on."
"What made you unhappy back in the UK? Was it that you almost split up with Jen?" she pondered.
"Partly," he admitted. "We argued a lot, but then we always argue a lot and then make up pretty soon afterwards."
"But you are happy with her, right?" she asked.
"Kind of," he said vaguely.
"Well, that doesn't sound so certain Nick. You have to end up with a mind shattering girl you know. You can't settle for anything less," she said firmly.
"And where am I going to find this mind shattering girl then Sal?" he said, looking directly at her.
"I don't know but you can't give up on looking," she replied.
"And what would this mind shattering girl be like then Sal?" he asked.
She thought for a moment. "Not sure. Tall, blonde hair, blue eyes?"
He shook his head. "Not my type."
"Oh," she looked surprised, "I thought that kind of girl was every man's type."
"So what is your type then?" she asked.
He had to be careful there; he was on dangerous ground!
"Someone who makes me laugh, someone who's not afraid to say how she feels. Someone opposite to me I guess," he concluded.
"Ah, opposites attract. Right?" she smiled.
"Yeah. But we'd have to have some things in common too," he added.
"Of course," she said, looking around the bar as if to find him someone there and then.
She turned her head back to him however as a thought hit her. "But you said 'partly.'"
"What?" he frowned.
"You said that Jen was only partly the reason why you were unhappy back in the UK," she reminded him.
"Oh yeah," he replied, giving no more away.
"So? What was the other reason?" she pushed.
He sighed. "Well... my father isn't very well."
Her face fell. "Oh, I'm sorry Nick. What's wrong with him?"
"He has liver problems and he's quite bad at the moment."
She put a hand on his shoulder and watched him with sympathetic eyes.
"I feel a bit bad coming back here and leaving him to tell you the truth, but we don't get on that well, we never have," he admitted.
She nodded and waited for him to expand on that. He struggled to get the words out but eventually spoke after another couple of swigs of beer.
"He used to drink a lot when I was a kid and, well, that led on to worse...drugs and stuff," he said, pausing to judge her response. She sat, listening and waiting for him to share more. He finally went on, "I can't remember a time when he wasn't off his head. I was kind of left to my own devices...which was fine with me," he said, trying to convince himself, "I just used to play all day and night in the fields with my mates."
She watched him closely; processing the information and making him feel a little awkward, so he stood up to order another drink.
"Where was your mother when you were young then Nick?" she asked suddenly, surprising him with the question.
"I'm just moving down here for a moment Sal to get a beer off Dan," he said, avoiding her question.
She halted him for a second though with a touch on his arm and a questioning look.
"She left me with him when I was five," he said casually shrugging before moving away.
Sal's heart suddenly felt like a rock as she tried to imagine how Nick coped with his childhood. She turned to search for him through the crowds and slid off her stool when she caught sight of him further down the bar.
As Nick waited to be served by Dan, he suddenly felt a pair of arms wrap around his middle from behind as Sal held him closely and kissed him on the back.
"I think the world of you Nick, and I'll never let you down," she said to him.
Nick stood rooted to the spot, unable to face Sal with the mixture of emotions he was experiencing at that moment. He felt so inadequate compared to her sometimes as she was able to express herself so openly and honestly, and with such ease. He searched for some way to respond to her but he was convinced that whatever he said would come out clumsily so he laced his fingers through hers instead and remained with his back to her, hoping that she would know how much he appreciated her kind words.
"Nick?" Dan repeated, trying to get his attention. "Earth to Nick, you gonna pay for those beers or not?"
Nick came abruptly out of his reverie with a shake of his head.
"Oh yeah, sorry," he said, releasing Sal's hand, paying Dan and collecting the beers from off the bar.
He turned swiftly then to Face Sal as his mood suddenly changed.
"Let's get out of here. I could do with some fresh air to clear my head," he said, not waiting for an answer before grabbing her by the hand and pulling her through the crowds of people.
"But you've just bought those drinks," she reminded him.
"Here, take yours and hide it. We'll take them with us," he said with determination, leading her towards the exit.
They snuck through the door and out onto the street with their drinks, rushing out of sight of Pedros who was sitting outside the bar chatting to a friend.
Sal chuckled to herself as they walked. "Just like at the school disco when we hid beers in our coat pockets. Hmm, actually not quite the same as we snuck beer in then, not out. Still there was beer involved and lots of sneaking," she rambled.
He turned to her with a look of disbelief. "Sal, has anyone ever told you that you talk a load of rubbish sometimes?"
"Pot calling kettle black Mr Giant Red tree man," she huffed at him, striding ahead and stumbling in her stiletto shoes.
He laughed and ran in front of her. "Here, hop on Miss Ditzy Blossom tree woman."
She hesitated for a moment before jumping up on his back and giggling as he ran off down the street.
"Where are we going?" she asked when he turned down a side street.
"We're going to the beach," Nick announced. "Have you ever seen the view from Kitroplatia at night? It's pretty impressive."
"Well, I did go there once with Tom but he wasn't so interested in the view," she replied.
He strained his head to look back at her then. "Who is Tom?"
"Oh, he was one of Adam's friends. He visited Adam last year...just before I started the transfers for him actually," she added.
Nick thought back. "Was he that guy I saw you kissing in Shots bar when I first knew you?"
She laughed. "Yes, I remember that. He kind of grabbed me and before I knew it his tongue was down my throat," she pulled a face. "He wasn't the best kisser in the world to be honest."
"Well, you seemed to be engrossed in him when I caught you," he said, recalling the passionate look on her face when Tom and her had pulled apart after he had bumped into them.
"I guess I thought I'd give him a chance, but he wasn't really my type. Besides he was only after one thing that night... and it wasn't a chance to look at the view!"
"I can imagine. You'd better be careful of men like that," he said.
"You looking out for me?" she smiled, "You sound like a big brother."
Oh great! I think I preferred best friend!
"You got a big brother?" he asked.
"No, but if I could have one, I'd want him to be just like you," she said, kissing him on the top of his head.
Stop! He didn't want to hear any more!
"Come on," he said wryly as they turned the corner and approached the small sandy beach, "and you can quit with the brother comments. Coming from a single girl, it's going to destroy my confidence!"
She laughed. "I can't imagine that!"
Don't be so sure Sal.
When they reached the beach he put her down on a sunbed and sat next to her while they enjoyed their beers. They drank in companionable silence, staring out to sea and watching the light from the moon scattering out over the rippled water. They were both lost in their own thoughts until Sal eventually broke the silence.
"I'd have been out with you every day playing in the fields if we'd have known each other then...when we were little," she explained.
He smiled. "Yeah, but I'd have beaten you hands down for climbing up trees."
"You wish Nicholas!"
"You're in so much trouble now for calling me that!" he said, feeling suddenly playful as he put down the beer bottle on the sand and jumped up.
"Let me guess, you're going to throw me in the sea. Not very original Nick!" she replied, attempting to put him off.
He thought for a moment. "Okay, I'm not going to throw you in," he said, taking the bottle off her and placing it next to his, "because you're going to come in voluntarily."
"I am?" she sounded surprised.
"Yes you are. It's by far the best time to swim and it's no fun swimming alone," he said, stripping off his shirt.
She watched him for a moment. "Yes, but you seen to have forgotten one thing."
"What's that?" he asked.
"I have no bikini," she said standing up and drawing attention to her dress with a gesture of the hands.
"Well, as long as you aren't planning on seducing me Sal, you can go swimming in your underwear," he grinned, waiting to see if he could throw her off balance.
"Me seducing you!" she exclaimed, taking the bait.
He chuckled. "Yes, I know that you've been secretly lusting after me," he teased boldly.
She drew breath on instinct to come back with a defensive retort but then she changed her mind when she saw his smug look.
She'd play him at his own game then. That would wipe the grin off his face.
"Well no, but I'm not sure about taking this dress off," she said, fiddling with one of the straps.
"Don't worry about me Sal, I have nothing but brotherly feelings for you," he assured her.
"No it's not that," she shook her head.
He folded his arms and shrugged his shoulders. "Well what then?"
"I can't go swimming in my underwear."
"Why not?" he asked.
"Because I haven't got any on," she said with wide eyed innocence. "It doesn't bother me Nick, but I don't want you thinking that I'm trying to seduce you."
Nick stood motionless, staring at her and trying to think of how to respond whilst a growing excitement unfurled in his stomach.
Oh boy! No, he couldn't let her swim naked. It wouldn't be fair on her considering how he felt. God, but he may never get a chance like that again!
"I won't think that," he said as casually as he could, sitting down to take off his shoes and pretending not to show any interest in what she was doing.
He was such a typical guy. As if he didn't want to watch her undress! Any normal guy would want to watch any girl take all their clothes off!
"Okay then, if you don't mind," she said, slowly sliding first one strap down, and then the other.
His eyes darted up to her then but they were met with a knowing look.
"Ha! You're seeing nothing Nicholas!" she shouted, running off down the beach.
He growled with frustration and sprinted after her.
"I'll get you for that Sal!" he called, catching her around the waist and running into the sea with her.
She screamed and struggled, causing him to lose his balance in the water and they both fell unceremoniously into the waves.
"You're the biggest tease on the planet you know!" he shouted to her, splashing her in the face.
"You shouldn't try to get your best friend naked then Nicholas," she countered, splashing him back.
"It's just natural curiosity," he said defensively, splashing her again.
"You're not ten anymore Nicholas, you've seen a naked woman before," she replied, scooping up handfuls of water and showering him with it.
He went to answer but then paused for a moment as another thought entered his head.
"Do you really go out at night with no underwear on?" he couldn't help but ask.
"You'll never know," she taunted him.
"Oooh, you horror!" he responded, bombarding her with water.
She turned her head away and closed her eyes, blindly splashing in the water and making as much noise and chaos as she could to hold her ground. Without warning however a huge wave came up from behind them and swept her under the water. Nick frowned with concern then and reached into the sea to grab her by the arm and pull her up again.
"Come here," he said, lifting her up above the water as much as he could with his arms wrapped around her waist. "Let me see. Are you okay?"
She coughed and laughed, panting for breath. "Yes, I'm okay big bro."
He smiled and held her while she caught her breath, looking over her shoulder at the lights of the town in the distance. He felt so warm and dreamy all of a sudden.
If only they could just stay like that forever. If he could freeze time then they could just stay there together.
He kept his eyes on the view. "You're wonderful Sal," he said, staring at the lights and avoiding eye contact with her.
She was silent for a while before she responded. "Nick," she began.
"I missed you. Promise you won't lose contact with me again," she said.
He smiled. "I promise."