Authors: Jessica Davidson
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic
Tai and Juliet have been best friends forever – since they met at kindy and pledged to get married in first grade.
They understand each other in the way that only best friends can.
They love music, beach walks, energy drinks and, they are slowly discovering, each other.
As they begin to dream of adventures beyond the HSC – a future free of homework, curfews and parents – a future together, their plans are suddenly and dramatically derailed.
For Tai is sick.
And not everything you wish for can come true.
A poignant story of first love, hope, grief, family and the twistedness of life.
To Shan, for our beach walks.
Tai is laughing. He’s trying to make it sound creepy and sinister, like something from an old Dracula movie, but he can’t quite make it happen, and it just sounds hollow and forced. He’s standing so close to me I can see the scar on his eyebrow from the time we jumped off the roof of his house, holding umbrellas in an attempt to fly. He grins, before slowly, purposely, breathing on me, on that tender spot where collarbone and neck meet. Once he’s done with the germ-sharing he pulls back, flicking his hair out of his eyes, preening. It took him three weeks to convince his mum to let him get that haircut, the kind with the slanty fringe that hangs into his eyes on one side. She’s still not convinced, but he loves it, and has started using my sunnies as a mirror to make sure it looks okay.
‘You have issues, Tai, you really do.’ I’m miserable, in that Monday-morning kind of way, not to mention the fact it’s freezing at the bus stop and not even my enormous ugly blazer can keep out the cold. I’m trying to text Gen, but Tai won’t stop creeping around me, too damn happy for Monday.
‘I’m sick, Juliet, and you don’t even care.’ He pouts.
‘You’ve got a cough,’ I say. ‘I’m sure you’ll survive.’
‘Well, anyway, I’ve breathed on you now, so you’ll get it too, and then you’ll feel sorry for me.’
‘Yeah, or I’ll want to kill you for making me sick – but your girlfriend will get to you first for getting so close to me.’
Despite the fact that Tai and I have been best friends since kindy, and that up until a few weeks ago I was going out with Mick, Tanya is convinced I’m just waiting for the chance to steal Tai away from her.
Sure enough, when we get to school Tanya’s waiting for him by the lockers. She fusses around him, full of sympathy and self-importance.
‘Oh, my poor baby is sick,’ she croons. ‘Let Tan-nee make it better.’
I’m wondering how he can stand it when Gen walks up and, overhearing, says, ‘Oh god. I just threw up in my mouth.’
The bell rings, and I look at Gen. ‘Ready for another day of tedium?’
She rolls her eyes. ‘Do I have a choice?’
• • •
After school I go back to Gen’s place because she has promised to dye my hair. We sit in her bathroom, our heads covered in goo and plastic wrap, as she peers at the boxes, trying to work out the difference between
‘I don’t care which I have,’ I tell her, ‘so long as it makes me look less boring than I do now.’
I study myself in her mirror. Brown eyes, brown hair – or at least it was until it got covered with dye and cling-film. Not particularly interesting. If the word ‘mediocre’ came with a picture attached, it would totally be of me. There’s nothing wrong with being completely unremarkable – until you feel like being noticed. Gen catches my eye in the mirror.
‘You don’t look boring, Juliet.’
‘That’s easy for you to say, Miss I Got My Nose Pierced Last Week. And Tai finally convinced Mia to let him get that haircut. You both look really cool. I just look like a twelve-year-old.’
‘That’s not true.’
When Gen decides the dye has been in long enough we rinse it out. As I’m combing out my damp black hair, Gen says, ‘Hey, Juliet, want me to pierce your nose?’ She comes at me with a needle and ice cubes and it hurts more than she promised it would.
‘Is it supposed to hurt this much?’ I ask.
‘I don’t know.’ She shrugs, threading a tiny silver stud through. ‘But I’m done now.’ Gen washes the blood from the needle, dries it on a towel, and then leaves to put it back in her mum’s sewing box while I examine the result in the mirror.
My hair is still damp, and my nose is all red, but one thing’s for sure – I don’t look twelve years old anymore.
Once the bleeding has stopped I say, ‘I’d better go.’ Mum has this thing about getting home by ‘a reasonable hour’.
And why do you need to spend hours with the people you see all day, anyway?
she wants to know.
Gen nods, understanding, and we say goodbye before I walk to the bus stop. A ten-minute bus trip has won over a half-hour walk today. Mostly because I want someone to notice my new hair, my new piercing. But when the 57 to Brookston pulls up, the bus is empty apart from the driver. As I get on she looks at me, eyebrows raised. Eventually she hands me back the change and says, ‘Your nose is bleeding.’ My face starts to burn with embarrassment and I hide in a seat down the back.
I slide down the maroon fabric as far as possible, so the driver can’t see me, wipe away the blood pooling around the piercing, and take a photo of myself with my phone. Before I send it to Tai, I add the caption,
He replies within seconds.
You look good, girl. Really good
And with that, a strange feeling leaps from my stomach into my throat and stays there the entire way home.
As I walk in the front door Mum sees my black hair and sighs. ‘Oh Juliet, you’re not going emo, are you? Is that what it’s called? Emo? And what is that
in your nose?’
There’s one big downside to being an only child: you’re expected to be perfect all the time. And ever since Dad left it’s like Mum thinks it’s her job to make sure I stay on the straight and narrow. Well, her second job, anyway. She’s either at work trying to win court cases or at home trying to make up for the absent father thing. He’s technically not that far away, but you’d never know it, and it’s not like I care.
‘Hello to you too.’ I shrug off my blazer and head into the kitchen in search of food. Mum follows.
‘Weren’t you meant to be working on an assignment with Gen?’
‘We totally were. Chemistry experiment. What happens when you put chemicals on human hair.’ I grin. She doesn’t.
‘Haven’t you got an assignment to do with the girls, though?’ Her brow is creased and I know she’s thinking about my final exams and getting into uni and worrying about whether I’m studying enough.
‘Yeah, I’m going to Lina’s after school on Thursday. It’s for drama.’ I bite into an apple, and then pull a face. It’s spongy and soft, the kind you suspect has been in cold storage for years in a warehouse somewhere.
‘Well, thank goodness it’s not chemistry.’ Her lips curve up into a half-smile. ‘Any hair dye or piercings involved with drama?’
‘You never can tell. Am I still allowed to sleep over?’
‘As long as it’s okay with her mum.’
• • •
We really do have a group assignment, but instead Lina, Rae, Gen and I are sitting on Lina’s bedroom floor, practising tying jelly snakes in knots with our tongues, drinking cans of Diet Coke topped up with Sneaky Vodka, and gossiping. Rae’s just telling us about her new twenty-eight-year-old boyfriend who drives a V8 and has tattoos
, and how her mother just doesn’t understand that he’s actually a nice guy, when Lina’s mum knocks on the door. She’s a cool mum, at least she thinks she is, and she pretends she doesn’t see the Sneaky Vodka that’s not very well hidden under a cushion.
‘Rae, honey, your mother’s on the phone. I think she’s just making sure you’re really here and not at your boyfriend’s house.’
Rae mutters something under her breath and leaves the room. While she’s gone Lina pours some more vodka into each of our cans and says, ‘Drink up, girls.’
When Rae comes back Gen is halfway through a story about Tanya – whom she refers to as The Paranoid Bitch. Tanya has taken to mauling Tai whenever she sees me coming towards them. ‘She looks like she’s about to unhinge her jaw and swallow him whole,’ Gen finishes, and we all giggle. I’m telling the girls I don’t know what her problem is – like, seriously, what’s her fucking problem? – when Lina spills her drink all over the floor. By the time we’ve mopped it up the conversation has moved on to the party that’s happening tomorrow night. The others are planning what they’re going to wear and how we’re going to get there but I’m still thinking about Tai and Tanya.
We decide to have one last drink before we turn out the lights. Lina insists on playing Truth For The Night, a game we made up. It’s basically like Truth or Dare without the dare. Rae goes first, then Lina, then Gen.
‘I think I should go on a diet,’ Rae whispers. She stares down at her hands, twisting the silver rings stacked on her fingers.
‘You’re not fat!’ we yell in unison.
Lina looks up. ‘That was my secret, too,’ she admits, and the four of us yell, ‘You’re not fat!’ at each other before we start to laugh.
I manage to pull it together first and look at Gen. ‘Your turn.’
Her face creases with worry. ‘My olds are fighting so much I don’t even want to go home anymore.’
‘Don’t they always fight?’ I ask quietly.
‘Yeah. But it’s worse than usual. And they used to go and fight in the car so I didn’t have to hear it. Now they just yell at each other in front of me. I told them they’re going to ruin my life and it’ll be their fault when I fail my exams. I can’t study listening to that.’
I don’t know what to say. ‘Come to my place?’ I finally offer.
She nods. ‘Yeah. Your turn, Juliet.’
They look at me expectantly. I take a few quick sips of my drink, hoping it’ll make me Vodka Brave. I open my mouth to speak then hesitate. Saying it out loud will make it real, make it true, and once I’ve said it there’ll be no taking it back.
Gen throws a hairbrush at me. ‘Come on! Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad.’
‘I think I like Tai. You know –
They all groan.
‘Well, duh,’ says Rae.
‘Tell us something we don’t know,’ adds Lina, trying – and failing – to pull her just-too-short hair into a ponytail.
‘When were you planning on filling me in?’ I ask. ‘Because I only worked it out on Monday.’
They all laugh at that, and I hide my face in a pillow until they stop.
Half an hour later everyone’s asleep, or nearly there, but I’m still wide awake. I nudge Gen. ‘You asleep?’ I whisper.
She groans. ‘Not anymore. What’s wrong?’
‘What do I do now? About Tai?’
There’s a silence so long I begin to think she’s fallen asleep again, but then she mumbles, ‘Tomorrow night. At the party. Tell him you like him.’
‘What about Tanya?’
‘You’re just talking to him. That’s all.’
‘Gen . . .’ I’m so nervous about the idea of telling him, I half wish I could take back my confession. ‘I don’t want things to change between us.’
‘Sugar, they have already, the second you admitted how you felt. Which, by the way, was completely obvious to everyone except the two of you. Ask Tanya if you don’t believe me.’
‘What if . . . what if he doesn’t feel the same way?’
‘What if he does, Juliet?’
• • •
The next morning when I get to school Tai is waiting by my locker. ‘Why weren’t you on the bus this morning?’
‘I stayed at Lina’s place last night. Her mum gave us a lift to school. Can I have some of your caffeine?’
It’s a normal exchange but I don’t feel normal. Suddenly I don’t know how to act around him. Tai’s talking to me, but I’m not listening properly; my mind is already on tonight.
He nudges me, forcing my mind back to the concrete hallway and which textbook I need from my locker. ‘You’re acting weird, Juliet.’
‘Am I? Sorry. Must be hungover or something.’
I manage to avoid Tai for most of the day; we’re not in any of the same classes in the morning, and at lunchtime his mates crowd around him. Gen and I end up hanging out in the computer labs. By claiming senior status we manage to steal two computers from the year eights playing Solitaire, only to log in to Facebook as soon as they’re gone.
‘Are you excited about tonight?’ Gen asks.
‘Not really – I’m worried about the Tai thing,’ I confess. I bite down on a fingernail, stare at the screen in front of me.
‘Hey, the last thing he’ll want to do is hurt you, even if he doesn’t feel the same.’
‘I know. Things could still get weird, though.’
‘Oh, yeah, because you avoiding Tai and wanting to hide in the computer lab all lunchtime is totally normal.’ She rolls her eyes at me, and then looks at the clock. ‘We’d better go. What have you got for the last two periods?’
‘Oh, even better. Try not to tell him how you feel until tonight, okay, so I can be there to say I told you so?’
• • •
Tai’s waiting outside the classroom. When he sees me he smiles and holds out a can of Red Bull. ‘Here. Present.’
‘Where have you been all day, anyway?’
‘Oh, just busy. You know. Girl stuff.’
‘Girl stuff like I Don’t Want To Go There, or girl stuff like Obsessing About Your Hair?’
‘A bit of both.’ We head into class and sit down. I’m still on edge, though. While our teacher is writing notes on the board, notes that we’re supposed to be copying down, I’m stealing glances at Tai. He’s staring at the board, flicking chocolate-coloured hair out of his eyes – still preening.
Since when are your eyes that colour blue, Tai? I swear they weren’t that intense yesterday
Halfway through the double period we get a break. I dig in my bag for the Red Bull and practically inhale half of it before handing the can to Tai.
He’s highly amused. ‘Did you sleep at all last night?’
You have no idea
‘Does Gen snore or something?’
‘Nah, we just stayed up late talking.’
About you. About what I’m going to tell you tonight
He raises his eyebrows. ‘Say anything about me?’
‘If I told you, I’d have to kill you.’
• • •
In last period, Tai obediently watches Mr Spencer using a metre-long ruler to point at the board. I know I should be doing that too, but instead I’m watching the clock. Time is going so slowly and no amount of obsessing about what to wear – or say – makes it go any faster. The bus ride home, with Tai still beside me, is even worse. I’m getting nervous now. I’ve never been so happy to wave goodbye to him at the bus stop. I put my regulation – and also ugly – Eden Grammar hat on so that I won’t get another detention for being spotted without it. My head feels too jumbled with thoughts about tonight.