We decided to sit outside the pub, in the enclosed slab of concrete "The British Volunteer" calls a beer garden, to shot the breeze. The clamour of steel drums filled the air and now and then a flurry of children shepherded by carnival goers swept by. But otherwise, we had the place to ourselves. The skies were low and grey; the atmosphere was muggy and oppressive, it felt like a day out of time.
Wren returned with the drinks, placed them on the table, and then sat on the bench opposite me. He lifted his glass and tapped it against mine.
'To old friends,' he said, and sipped at his beer. I replied 'To absent friends,' and the laughter left his blue eyes momentarily. But then he smiled again and asked if I'd stumbled over any more griffins lately. Having barely begun to sip at my own lager, I couldn't be that easily diverted.
'Griffins are mythical and belong in story books, it's you I want to talk about.'
Wren widened his eyes, and threw an exaggerated glance over his shoulder before asking, 'Me? What am I supposed to have done now?'
I gave him a friendly punch on the arm. He was wearing a long sleeved white shirt, but the sleeves were rolled back and the scar on his forearm was clearly visible.
'Come on Wren, just a few questions,' I pleaded. He was clearly in a good mood; I was clearly in danger of ruining it.
'I can tell you what Carrie's doing right now,' I offered.
A shadow crossed Wren's face. 'She left me. She thinks I'm a manipulative bastard,' he gazed mournfully into his beer, and ran a finger around the outside of the glass.
'She's probably right, but now she understands why you did what you did,' I was deliberately harsh, in an attempt to shake him out of self-pity. A hardness entered Wren's face, he kept his eyes downcast, but the corner of his mouth twitched. I held my breath. After a couple of seconds he nodded.
'Okay, ask me any question you like, and I'll answer,' his eyes sparkled with mischief; I could question Wren for eternity and still not have all the answers I wanted.
'Two,' I countered. Wren shook his head and laughed silently. 'Just the one question, Ms Hughes – and that's only because it's you – and everyone knows you're a bit of a story teller.'
I realised Wren meant no-one would believe me, and would have punched him again, but instead blurted:
'How does it feel to be a finalist in the eFestival of Words awards for "Best Hero"?'
Wren smirked, and lifted his glass to his lips. 'Runner-up, I came second, can you believe that?!' He flushed with pleasure, and swallowed a couple of mouthfuls of beer. When he set his glass down, he burst out laughing, 'I know what you're thinking – Rhyllann was the real hero,' Wren sobered. 'I guess you could say he's my better half.'
I managed to bite my tongue; the phrase "better half" surely belonged to Carrie, the love of Wren's life. As usual though, Wren could read my mind. 'It's true you know,' he said softly, 'loving someone makes you want to be a better person, for their sake.' He grimaced, glanced at me, then looked away. 'You don't have to tell me what's she's doing right now. I know she's safe, I think … I'm certain I'd know if Carrie was unhappy, or in danger.'
He drained his glass, and replaced it on the table. When he looked up, his eyes were as grey and bruised as the skies.
Fool, I scolded myself, stay away from that subject. To give him time to recover, I knocked back my own drink, and jumped to my feet. 'Same again?' I asked brightly.
Wren glanced up at the darkening clouds 'it's going to pelt down any moment, I think I'll be on my way.'
He stood, and leaning over the table, put his hands on my shoulders, and kissed my cheek. 'Give my thanks to your readers who voted for me to be a hero,' he said, and with another of his wry smiles added, 'keep scribbling away.' Then he turned, climbed over the bench seat, stepped over the knee high "garden" fence and onto the street.
As usual Wren was right. Bullet sized raindrops sizzled as they hit the slabbed pavement. Wren's head was down, and his shoulders hunched against the downpour. I watched him wheel around the corner into an adjoining street, heading away from Portobello Road and the main carnival. I guess he didn't feel in a party mood any more. Neither did I. Copying Wren, I stepped over the wooden fence and began to walk back to my car. The rain felt warm against my skin, and smelled of red earth.
What strange weather – almost tropical I thought, and as though agreeing with me, the shower became a monsoon. I began jogging, blinking hard to see where I was going, but still managed to collide with a young woman running towards "The British Volunteer".
'Whoops, sorry,' we gasped at the same time, and exchanged smiles. Then before I could stop myself, I exclaimed 'Carrie!'
Her smile faltered, she studied me with curiosity in her greeny brown eyes, and pushed back a tendril of matted hair, made dark by rainwater.
'Sorry,' she repeated, 'I'm just off the plane from Africa, I'm still a little jet-lagged, do I know you?'
I shook my head no. The rain petered into a drizzle, and the sun came out, creating a rainbow. I pointed towards it, 'Wren went that way,' I said.
She looked a little taken aback, but nodded, and began running again.
I watched her slow outside "The British Volunteer" and then, almost as though she'd caught his scent, she ran along the street, and rounded the same corner as Wren.
For once in his life, Wren had been wrong. Carrie wasn't pretty, she was beautiful.
I hope with all my heart she caught him up, and then allowed him to catch her again.