Authors: Helen Goltz
“You’re so much cheerier, today,” I studied Ophelia. Well she was. She looked different ... she had braided her hair, pulling it off her face and her eyes had a sparkle to them. All day she had been smiling, talking, joining in, a totally different Ophelia to the quiet person who started at the school almost a month ago now and only last week was like totally morose!
“Yeah, I’m feeling good,” she shrugged.
“No, there’s more to it than that,” I teased her as we walked to English—our last class before lunch.
She rolled her eyes. “You’re happy and I don’t give you a hard time,” Ophelia said.
“Yeah, but I’m half-glass-full happy. You’re more like you’re ...” I studied her, “boyfriend happy.”
“C’mon spill it,” I said. “Is it Chayse?”
“No!” she exclaimed, “not that there’s anything wrong with Chayse of course, he’s dreamy, but no, so not Chayse and it’s not Adam either before you go there.”
“Mm, who’s left?” I asked.
“I do know more than two guys,” she said, holding open the English classroom door for me.
“How? You’ve only been here for a minute,” I reminded her.
Peggy was already there when we arrived and we took our seats next to her.
“I like your hair like that, Lia,” Peggy said.
“Thanks Peggy,” Ophelia smiled. She dropped down in the middle desk and I took the other side and leaned over to Peggy.
“Has Harry ...?” I asked.
Peggy shook her head.
“Don’t worry,” I leaned over and patted her arm, “you’re too good for my brother.”
She blushed and smiled, looking away.
“So,” I lowered my voice and returned my attention to Ophelia, “who is he? Does he go to this school or one of the others? Is he working?”
Ophelia looked around to ensure no-one was listening and said, “It’s Jack. You saw him out of the window in art class, remember?”
“The cute guy with the long jacket?”
“Good for you,” I nudged her. “You deserve to be happy.”
She smiled. “Thanks Holly. That’s a really nice thing to say.”
“Does he have a brother?” I asked.
Mm, so Ophelia was radiant with happiness, Peggy was wistful about Harry, me—well, I didn’t have a date for the school dance, but it didn’t matter ... I’d just go with the girls. It would be nice to be asked though.
It was literature debate afternoon. Mr. Wall played English-lesson related games with us when he sensed the class was only half there—like just before lunch or for the last lesson of the day. He must have seen me daydreaming and sprung a question my way.
“So Holly, would you rather be Elizabeth Bennett from Jane Austen’s
Pride and Prejudice
or Bridget Jones from Helen Fielding’s
Bridget Jones’s Diary
?” he asked.
“Trick question, Sir,” I grinned. He wasn’t going to get me on that one. “They’re pretty much the same character just a different era.”
He pushed his glasses further up his nose and wagged his finger at me. “Well done. I saw you daydreaming but you’ve pulled it off this time.” I got some congratulatory grins from class members.
“So which one would you rather be?” he persisted.
I frowned thinking about it. “I think Bridget Jones. It must have been really frustrating being a woman in the time of
Pride and Prejudice
“Obeying men, what a great idea,” Russell Sparke in the front row piped in. All the guys in the class cheered and Mr. Wall encouraged the debate.
“Russell, you definitely are not a bright ‘sparke’ saying that in a class with more ladies than gents,” Mr Wall teased him. “I hope your date for the dance isn’t in this room, because you might be going alone now.”
Russell grinned and shrugged. Mr. Wall continued. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that Helen Fielding did not invent the entire plot of her novel
Bridget Jones’s Diary
, she just brought
Pride and Prejudice
into the late 20th century and ...”
I zoned out again and looked out the window at the beautiful day outside. Eventually the bell rang and we packed up. The four of us did an Elvis and left the building; Peggy and Harry fell behind to talk with Mr. Wall. Outside, I saw Chayse coming from the other direction, he was staring at Ophelia but he couldn’t get away from someone talking in his face.
“Lia, that’s twice Chayse has tried to get your attention and you’ve dodged him,” I nudged Ophelia as we lowered ourselves onto the grass underneath our favourite tree.
She bit her lower lip and looked in the direction of Chayse’s group. Imogen and her girlfriends didn’t hang with them anymore since the break-up, but somehow Tyler and Chayse’s other friends had enough girls around them to still make it look like a harem.
“What if he wants to ask you out?” I asked Ophelia.
She laughed. “Yeah, that’s likely. He’s gone off beach bunnies and is now into pale, white ghosts.” She smiled at the thought.
“It’s an English beauty thing,” I told her. “Like in
Pride and Prejudice
—all the girls are fair and feminine.”
She snorted with laughter.
“Yeah, I’m sure they never laughed like that though,” I said.
She gave me a shove. “Hey, Holly, look,” she nodded towards the path. Harry and Peggy were walking towards us. “Do you think she cornered him?”
“They look kind of cute together,” I studied them, “even with Harry’s bad head.”
“You’re terrible,” Ophelia said. “He’s sweet and handsome in his own way.”
They arrived and took up some grass. Peggy gave us both a sheepish grin and sat down beside Ophelia.
“Hello you two, what are you plotting?” Harry asked. “Nice hair, Lia.”
“Thanks Harry,” Ophelia said brightly.
We talked about nothing for most of the lunch break and I bemoaned the fact that I didn’t have a date for the dance yet.
“I’m taking Peggy,” Harry piped up and Peggy blushed and nodded.
Ophelia and I tried to play it cool.
“Half your luck. Can’t believe that Peggy agreed,” I teased them both.
A shadow fell across us and we looked up to see Chayse standing there.
“Ah hi,” he said. “Lia, any chance I could have a word?”
She gave me a panicked look.
“Sure,” she began to rise and he extended his hand and helped her up. I watched them walk away.
“What’s that about?” Harry asked.
“Beats me,” I shrugged. “But I think he likes her and if Lia wants my advice, I think she should set him free immediately. The biggest mistake you can make in love is pining for someone who isn’t interested ... unrequited love,” I sighed.
“How would you know?” Harry asked.
“I read it in a book,” I told him.
“I bet he asks her to the dance,” Peggy said with a smile to Harry.
Great I’m going to be the gooseberry or was it a raspberry? Whatever!
She was so radiant and I couldn’t take the smile off my face just watching her. She did something with her hair today, plaited, and it looked so sweet. I watched her in art class; I let her get just a glimpse of me and it was worth it for the look of happiness it brought to her face. Tonight I would kiss and hold her again. I would tell her what it means to me to be with her and what we had to do to be together, forever. But only if I think she’s ready for that.
Then, I saw her walk away with the tall surfer. If my heart still beat, it would have stopped for the chill that ran through my veins at the sight of them together. She’s mine now and I am not prepared to lose her. I’m not alive nor am I dead but with her, I’m reborn.
I walked beside them, beside Ophelia. I didn’t show myself but I would step up if she needed me. Chayse was nervous, I could read him. He cleared his throat.
“I guess you’ve heard that Imogen and I have split,” he said, pushing his hands into his pockets.
Ophelia nodded. “I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay. It was a long time coming. I tried to call it off at the end of school term last year, but she didn’t want to break up, and over the Christmas holidays we sort of got back together again,” he said. “Did you leave anyone behind in Brisbane?”
Ophelia shook her head “No. I’ve never had a real boyfriend.”
The longing for her flooded me and I wanted to appear to her then and there. I could feel Chayse’s desire for her rise. I want to be her first, her only and her last. I breathed her in.
They stopped at reaching the school boundary and Chayse turned face-on to Ophelia.
“I was just wondering if maybe you might like to go out, you know catch a movie this weekend?” he asked, “maybe go to the dance together?”
Ophelia’s eyes widened in surprise and she giggled. Chayse looked embarrassed then a bit angry.
“Sorry,” she said. “It’s just that you could have any girl in this school, and I am so, well not your type.”
Chayse shrugged. “How do you know? We don’t really know each other that well and anyway, they say opposites attract.”
She touched his arm and I moved in quickly—I couldn’t help myself, I rushed at her. Ophelia felt me; she rubbed her arm where goose bumps appeared and looked around for me. Ever so slightly she shook her head, telling me not to be concerned.
“Thank you, Chayse. I’m super flattered, really, who wouldn’t be?” she told him. “But I’ve met someone.”
I was in heaven.
“Really?” Chayse asked.
Ophelia rolled her eyes. “You’re as bad as Adam,” she said. Chayse bristled at the comparison. “Is it so hard to believe that someone might ask me out?”
“No I didn’t mean that. It’s just that you haven’t been here that long ... it’s not Adam is it?”
“What if it was?” Ophelia asked. I could read she was getting impatient with their feud.
Chayse’s jaw tightened and he shrugged. “He’s not good enough for you.”
Now I knew Ophelia was angry, I could feel her heart rate quicken and I wasn’t all that happy that she was defending one and talking to the other. Get lost surfer guy.
She drew a deep breath and forced herself to smile. “Adam’s like a brother to me.”
“That’s good,” Chayse grinned.
“And,” she continued, “he’s been really good to me.”
Chayse nodded. “Okay, I might have overstepped.”
“But you’ve been really kind to me too, Chayse, thank you. You’ve made being the new kid just a bit easier,” she gave him a smile that would melt any heart, “and thank you for asking me.”
He reddened. “So who’s this guy?”
“You don’t know him. He’s new to the area too, I guess it’s what we have in common,” she said. Her eyes softened as she spoke of me.
The bell for the last few classes of the day rang, signalling lunch was over. As soon as it was nightfall, and she could get away, I would have her all to myself.
I wasn’t going straight home after school, I had some research to do. I was going to the cemetery to find Jack’s grave. I don’t know if my actions would cheese Jack off, but I didn’t want to ask him and risk driving him away. I wanted to find the grave by myself, first. I checked out the bus route and it meant changing buses twice—way too hard. I would have to fork out for a taxi, but given I had a weekly allowance from my parent’s life insurance and I had spent zilch since arriving, it was no big deal.
After the last class, I told my tribe I had a doctor’s appointment—yeah no one wants to know anything more about that—and I waited for the taxi I had booked on my phone between my last two classes. When it arrived around the corner from the school, I slipped into the back seat, gave the driver the address and was there in less than ten minutes. If I had a bike, I could have hiked it there easily. I thanked the driver, paid him and he said he was sorry for my loss. Me too.
I stood at the entrance gate. It was huge and kind of beautiful—the cemetery even had water views. I grabbed my phone, flipped to my notes and checked the aisle and plot number. It was in the Church of England section, compartment twenty-eight, grave seventeen. Can’t be too hard, I thought and looked around for the signs. I wandered for a while amongst the graves, heading towards the oldest part of the Church of England section where Jack lay. Now that sounded weird.
In the distance I saw an elderly lady cleaning up a grave, I averted my eyes to give her privacy. I know what it is like to have everyone gawking at you when you want to be alone to deal with your grief or even just to chat with your family—dead or alive. Wow, I’m truly living in both worlds at the moment!
I found the correct row, now I just needed to find the grave. I checked the number again and wandered along. I found the location but there was no headstone. I looked again, it was an unmarked grave. Why? Why didn’t he have a headstone with his name on it and the dates of his birth and death—Jack Denham, tragically taken at sea, 1888-1905, or something like that? It’s like he never existed. I knelt in the area of the unmarked grave and just looked at it. It was so weird to be looking at the grave of the guy that I had fallen for in a major way—a dead guy that I would be seeing tonight. I shivered at the thought.
“Here is where you lie, Jack,” I whispered and closed my eyes. I couldn’t feel him, he wasn’t here. He stayed around the water, maybe because that’s where he loved to be and that’s where his life ended.
My phone pinged with a text message and I jumped with fright. Scaredy cat ... but it was so quiet at the cemetery that every noise made me jump. I looked at the text and it was from Adam asking me to wait for him to walk the dogs. I texted back I was still in Warrnambool and he rang.
“So am I,” he said cutting to the chase. “I’m just leaving work now, want a lift?”
“Yes please!” I brightened. That saved waiting for the next bus or forking out way too much for a taxi. “I’m at the cemetery.”
This kid is too bizarre—okay maybe Ophelia is not a kid anymore, she is sixteen and probably more mature than most having lost her folks, but the cemetery? Really? I wonder if I should let Sebastian know. Who does she even know to visit or what exactly is she planning that involves hanging around the cemetery? I realised I was driving too fast and slowed down—she wasn’t in danger that I knew of, just hanging around the cemetery!
From what I could tell, Ophelia spent half of the time pretending everything was great—as though having your mother and father die on the same day, changing States, changing schools, changing lives, was all in her control—and the rest of her time hiding in her bedroom. I swear I’ve heard her talking to herself up there or talking to someone. She’s different too—every other teen has headphones or earphones stuck in their ears and are totally self-absorbed but not Lia. She claims to not want the noise filling her head; she wants to have think time. She’s going to blow up; her head will scatter everywhere, seriously.
As I approached the entrance gates to the cemetery I saw her waiting near the bricked wall. She smiled, grabbed her bag and raced over to the car.
“Hey Adam, thanks for the lift, brilliant,” she said jumping into my four-wheel drive which I didn’t really need for an apprentice boat builder role but it was great for fitting the surfboard, bike and mates in. Vanessa didn’t like it though—not sophisticated enough for her—she wanted me to get a sports car.
So here was Ophelia; all cheery and sweet.
“My pleasure. I might be a bit dirty, sorry,” I said noticing the grease on my legs.
“You are!” she wrinkled her nose in mock disgust and smiled.
“You okay?” I asked.
“Yes, thanks. How are you?” she looked at me.
I hate how she deflected, damn but she was good at it.
“I’m good,” I said slowly and deliberately, “but I’m not hanging around the cemetery.” We began the twenty minute drive home. “Ophelia?”
She looked over at me. “Yes, Adam?”
I grinned at her formality. “Can I ask what exactly you were doing at the cemetery?”
She exhaled and looked away, watching the landscape from her passenger side window. I felt her stiffen beside me. I knew it was only a matter of time until she broke down, no one could keep up that front.
“Lia?” I prodded. The very core of me wanted to pull the car over and hold her and tell her everything would be alright eventually, but I didn’t know her well enough to do that yet and she might get out of the car and run.
She turned to look at me, bit her lip and looked truly upset. I almost wish I hadn’t said anything now.
“Adam, promise you won’t tell anyone?” she started.
I nodded. “I told you that you could trust me.” I manoeuvred the car through a roundabout and we were on the road home to Port Fairy.
She didn’t speak for a moment. “Lia?”
“I was ...”
“Yes,” I gently nudged her along.
“I was doing my assignment!” she grinned and then laughed out loud.
I gave her a wry look and shook my head.
“Adam, lighten up. What do you think I’m doing at the cemetery, buying a plot? Visiting someone else’s parents?”
“Fine. So sorry for being concerned,” I said. I wasn’t really cranky, I just wanted her to feel bad for making me feel like an idiot.
“Thank you for caring,” she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.
My eyes narrowed. “You’ll keep Ophelia Montague. One day, you may just need me and I won’t be there because you’ve cried wolf too many times.”
“Won’t you be there?” she looked at me with her head on the side.
“Yeah, I probably will,” I sighed.
One of my pet hates, a major pet hate, is that when you’re going through some tough stuff everyone is looking at you all the time, watching you, waiting for you to lose it or have a major breakdown. I can’t bear the sympathetic looks, I can’t stand the supportive glances. Get over it everyone! Right, I feel better now. I know Adam meant well, he’s a sweetie but honestly, what did he think I was doing at the cemetery? Getting a dose of morbid because my stock was running low?
He interrupted my thoughts as we sat in his car on the way home.
“I could have taken you to the cemetery on the weekend,” he said, “save you getting stranded. How did you get there?”
“Taxi,” I said.
“How were you going to get home?” he asked.
“The bus. I just had to get to the nearest stop for the Port Fairy route. Besides I’m sure you’ve got better things to do on the weekend than go to the cemetery with me, and I figured I had already used up my favours,” I smiled at him. He looked kind of ruggard and handsome in his work gear, Vanessa’s loss. I wondered what she was like, Holly would know.
“I enjoy it,” he said, “I don’t get to do the tourist and history thing very often and to be honest, even though she drives me nuts, I do miss my little sister and her constant chauffeuring demands to ballet, netball, softball, the beach, the best friend’s house ....”
We arrived and Adam steered the car up the long driveway to our house. Our house. It looked surprised as always. Sitting up in the attic windows lying in the warm sun were Argo and Agnes. I saw them recognise Adam’s car and its sound, stand up and begin the bolt downstairs. Adam pulled into the car port and cut the ignition.
“Thank you, bro,” I teased him. “I really appreciate it!”
“Too easy. Next time, text me,” he said. “Most days I come through Warrnambool unless I’m off somewhere on a job.”
We headed in for dog licks and tail wagging, and we checked in on Uncle Seb—he worked at home on Mondays.
“We’re going for a walk, we’ll take the dogs. Can you come, Uncle Seb?” I asked.
“Afraid not, but have fun and thanks for taking the furry kids, otherwise I’d have no choice, they’d bully me to the beach. I’ll take them in the morning.”
“I love taking them,” I told him with a wave at the door. I raced upstairs to change. I really wanted to go alone to see if Jack appeared but I would have to be content to wait until tonight now. When I went back down, Adam was in his board shorts and T-shirt, with an open hoodie on.
“I’m going in for a quick swim too,” he grabbed his towel. “You coming in?”
I rolled my eyes. “You know at home, we can always pick the people from across the border—want to know how?”
He gave me a wry look. “Tell me.”
“They’re the only ones in the water in winter because they think it’s our summer!” I teased.
He laughed. “So too cold for you then is it you big girl?”
“Yeah, I’m a big girl,” I agreed. “C’mon Argo and Agnes, you’ve got more sense,” I said avoiding the flick of Adam’s towel as we headed out.
All four of us couldn’t wait to get on the beach for different reasons. Maybe Jack would appear while Adam was in swimming, or maybe he would save his strength for later, but I knew he would be beside me in some form.
We crossed the road and I felt the new but now familiar calmness that seeing the ocean and feeling the sand between my toes brought on. Argo and Agnes circled us, running down to the water’s edge and back to us over and over. It felt so good. I looked around, feeling like I was really opening my eyes and seeing the day for the first time today. How different this was to my life only a few months ago.
“Sure you don’t want to change your mind?” Adam asked.
“Brrr,” I said.
“Right then,” he gave me his towel to hold. “I’ll catch you up.” He pulled off his hoodie and slipped off his T-shirt over his head, I reached out for it as well. He turned and ran down to the water’s edge, all tanned and taut. The scenery was great, but he was insane—it was super chilly.
I started walking and greeted an older man as he passed me. I had met him and his large black Labrador, Frodo, before. Argo, Agnes and Frodo greeted each other like long lost friends. I kept walking in the lighthouse direction and the dogs followed. There were no surfers and I was relieved that I didn’t have to see Chayse or his pack. Then I felt him; the cool touch of Jack beside me and I smiled. He whispered my name but I still couldn’t see him.
“Jack,” I said softly. I didn’t want to be the weird girl talking to herself on the beach ... again. “I’ll be back later tonight after I finish my homework and once Uncle Seb turns in,” I said, closing my eyes for a moment and feeling his soft touch and the trace of coolness on my face. “I can’t wait to see you,” I opened my eyes and blinked away the tears. I could have sworn he just kissed me, his cold lips pressed against mine. I know he could appear, but I’m glad he didn’t—it built up my desire to see him and meant he would be stronger with me tonight.