I fling open the door and bat my way through balloons. I’m late and my arms ache with the weight of Freddie’s gift I have lugged from next door. I hear the others screaming and cheering in the backyard and that hollow sound of a bat smacking a ball tells me the game has begun.
I carry Freddie's present into the kitchen where Granny Bea hunches over the open oven. The sticky sweet smell of Freddie’s ninth birthday cake settles under my nose.
“Games started,” Granny Bea winks at me, nodding toward the back door.
“You might get a bit of a hit before the cakes ready,” she says.
I dump the present on one end of the table. The other end is covered in party pies, dips, and silly pink cupcakes, obviously just for the girls. I snatch up a couple of party pies, and stuffing one in my mouth, I greet my friends outside.
Freddie crash tackles me to the ground, and my party pie squelches into my hand.
“Where’ve ya been?” he asks, releasing his grip.
I get up, lick the pie from my hand and wipe the remains down the leg of my shorts. The usual crowd has turned up, plus a couple of ring-ins. Cousins, probably. I feel nervous as I take everyone in. Where is he, I wonder? He said he’d be here. We play for a bit; all the while I’m checking the gate, waiting for him to arrive.
Freddie flicks a six stitcher at a ring-in.
“Let’s see what yer made of,” he screams. He sounds just like his dad.
The guys take up fielding positions, while the girls take themselves inside to the table and the woosie pink cupcakes. I put myself right outfield. I know how hard Freddie hits. The ring-in cranks his arm, runs and delivers the ball. It connects with the bat. An alarming crack shakes through the yard as the ball sails over our heads, landing in the old shed near the back fence.
I run after the ball, buffalo grass crunching under my feet. As I near the shed, I hear Granny Bea calling us in – the cake is ready. Nudging the shed door right open with the rubbery tip of my sneaker, I see the ball rocking to a standstill.
I swoop, pick it up and as I stand, there he is, right in front of me, smiling, sitting cross-legged on the table inside. There are brightly coloured plant pots stacked either side of him. I recognise the long dark ringlets that hang from his bandana and those piercing blue eyes that splay me apart like they know my inner most secrets. He wears the same baggy trousers; harlequin patterned that tuck into bright yellow boots that curl up at the toes. A shimmering emerald, in the shape of a tear, falls from a ring in his ear. And despite the gloom of the shed, the stone sparkles as if it were living.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” I say, catching my breath. He adjusts a long ivory horn that is slung from his body, and raises it to his lips and blows. An eerie, spooky sound slips from the mouth of the horn on a whispery violet haze. I feel suddenly giddy and the ball drops from my hand.