Catch Me

Amélie and I reached the foot of the hill around midday. It was lizard green, dotted with trees, bushes and cactus plants, and a sandy footpath snaked to the top. An old wooden sign showed the Iberian settlement was about a mile away.

‘Not far now, Zoe,’ Amélie said.

I smiled. I loved the way she pronounced my name in her French accent. It sounded softer, more familiar.

Amélie pulled on the straps of her backpack and we began our climb. She looked sassy in her lumberjack shirt, jeans and DM boots, and I pictured her as an engineer on a building site, complete with a hard hat and hi vis jacket. Amélie had a job lined up in Perpignan after the summer. She loved architecture, especially Gaudí.

The settlement lay in the suburbs of Barcelona. Near Amélie’s apartment. She said it would be fun, interesting. I didn’t know what to expect, as this was the first time I had been anywhere rural since I had arrived. Barcelona was a happening city. A beautiful city. With so much to experience: the museums, the cuisine, the beaches, the nightlife. There was never any reason to leave.

The countryside had a calmer air to it. And anyway, all I cared about was being with Amélie. She was my best friend. I had to remember that. Not blur the lines between friend and girlfriend. A few weeks back I tried to kiss her in a nightclub, but it didn’t end well. Now I had to pretend nothing had happened. I didn’t flirt with her, or catch her eye. But it was hard. Because I really, really liked her. And in the back of my mind hoped one day something might happen between us.

Along the way we took photographs of the blossoming flowers with Amélie’s digital camera: yellow jasmine, rosemary, Spanish broom. We came across other hikers too.

‘Hola!’ they would greet us.

This was unusual since Catalans were conservative as a rule. Maybe it was the splendour of the flora. I started calling them los Catalanos simpaticos, ‘the friendly Catalans’, which made Amélie laugh. I enjoyed making her laugh.

I met Amélie in a Spanish class about six weeks before. It was one of the languages taught at Linguarama, where I worked as an English teacher. Her presence had an immediate effect on me. With her short black hair and boyish face, she was gorgeous and it wasn’t long before we started hanging out. Sometimes with Stella, the little girl she babysat. Sometimes on our own. With Stella we would go to a playground or the beach. Otherwise we would head to the cinema or a bar.

And then I had to make a fool of myself in the nightclub. Why couldn’t I have left things the way they were? Then again, how could I have not? I ached from conflicting emotions. A part of me glad because I was with Amélie. But another part tormented by the fact that we were just friends. That it was always going to be like this, and nothing could change it. I didn’t want to risk our friendship. Amélie was too dear to me.

At the top of the hill, the magnificent view filled me with awe. The Barcelona skyline stretched all the way to the sea.

‘It’s breath taking,’ I said, shading my eyes from the sun.

This pleased Amélie. Her catlike smile curled up to her cheeks.

‘Look, Zoe!’ She dragged me to the remnants of an Iberian house, electrifying my hand until she let go.

The ruins made me reflect, and I imagined what life would have been like two thousand years ago. How people lived, what relationships they had. Then I thought about us. How we got on so well, comfortable in each other’s company. Even when we didn’t speak.

‘What are you thinking about, Zoe?’ Amélie asked, sitting on a stone wall.

Should I tell her the truth? Spoil the moment?

‘Nothing,’ I replied, turning away.

What I should have said was that I wanted to kiss her. That I couldn’t stop thinking about her. That I missed her when she wasn’t there. But I didn’t.

‘Tell me.’ Amélie blinked with her big brown eyes, like agate marbles. She was nervous. She always did that when she was nervous.

So was I. In that moment time held its breath. It felt like I was balancing on a tightrope, not knowing which way to lean and overwhelmed by vertigo, like the faintest of breezes could send me falling. And I wondered if I did, whether Amélie would catch me.