Authors: Helen Goltz
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to avoid Ophelia but I didn’t want her to see me looking black and blue. I managed to leave before she was up in the morning, but when I got to the beach that afternoon for a surf, she was walking around the rock pools with Argo and Agnes. I was going to try and sneak off in the opposite direction, but Chayse and his mates were surfing up that end of the beach and neither of us needed another encounter just yet. I wished he’d surf in his own turf.
Ophelia spotted me, and Argo and Agnes came bounding over. She looked so fragile—her hair was out, her jeans rolled up and she dug her hands into a large knitted jumper. Her eyes looked even lighter blue against the red of her jumper. I turned and waited for her.
“Hey,” I said, looking at her briefly then out to the ocean. She didn’t speak so I looked back at her and she was biting her lower lip.
“That looks bad,” she said.
I shrugged and reached down to welcome Argo and Agnes.
“Chayse, huh?” she said.
“You heard?” I asked, “it was nothing.”
She came closer; she smelt like powder, soft and sweet. She reached up to touch the cut and bruise above my right eye and I flinched—it was still throbbing with pain. I felt the warmth from the three fingers she placed on my skin.
“You might need a few stitches,” she frowned, “that’s a decent cut.”
“No, it’s fine thanks little sis,” I shrugged her off with a grin.
“I am the woman of the house now, well Agnes and I are,” she teased, “and we’re to be obeyed in matters of first aid, women’s business and well, Mrs Ducks can keep the cooking,” she said. “No one should be inflicted with my beef stew.”
“Feel free to practice your baking anytime you like,” I encouraged her. “I miss Mum’s cakes.” I felt hungry thinking about them.
“Adam,” she searched my face again, “I can’t believe he did that to you.”
My eye was black, I had cuts and scrapes on my left cheek and chin, and a deep cut above my right eye. Chayse had got a few blows in before I even got started.
“It’s nothing, really,” I assured her and stepped back. “He didn’t get away lightly either, but I’m sure he told you that,” I didn’t mean to sound annoyed but I can imagine Chayse chatting her up at school and making himself out to be the victim to get her sympathy.
She smirked. “Where are you going in to surf? I’ll walk that way.”
“Okay,” I picked up my board and started down the beach in the direction I wanted to have a paddle with Lia by my side. The dogs ran around us.
“You’re both idiots,” she said.
I laughed and dug the hand that wasn’t holding the board into the warmth of my jumper pocket. “Yeah, well good thing I wasn’t hanging out for any sympathy. Ever thought about being a nurse when you finish school? You’d be good at it,” I teased her.
Ophelia flashed me a smile. “I’m not big on sympathy.”
“I noticed—you don’t give it and don’t take it well.” I remember how she brushed off my condolences when I tried to offer it. Still, I shouldn’t have said that, she shut down. I cleared my throat and tried again. “It was his fault.”
“Yeah, I’m sure he started it,” she said.
I nodded. “He did.”
“Or was it started like a century ago?” she asked. She pretended to chase Argo as he ran up to her.
“Well you know all about it,” I said. “No need for me to fill you in.” I did it again—I didn’t mean to shut her down when she seemed genuinely concerned.
“You’re very touchy about it,” she said.
She was so direct I wasn’t used to it. “Sorry,” I muttered because I didn’t know what to say.
We walked for a while enjoying the embracing cold air, talking about the beauty of the beach and her first few days at the new school. I knew people in her class; I was glad she was hanging with Holly and Peggy, they were nice. Harry was okay too.
“I’m writing a paper for school, for history,” she said. “It would be really good if you would tell me the story of the La Bella from your family’s perspective. Will you?” she asked, stopping beside me as I put the board down and stripped off my jumper. She clapped to get the dogs’ attention.
I whistled for them and they came racing back at us, well as fast as two Great Danes could move with their big awkward limbs.
“I’d be happy to. One night over dinner maybe ... I mean dinner at home.”
“Yeah I get it,” she looked up at me with the hint of a smile. “Don’t panic Adam, I’m not on the hunt for a boyfriend and we’re family now, remember?”
Direct again. “I didn’t mean to imply you were, sorry.” There it was, sorry again. I was clueless talking to her.
“Don’t you have a girlfriend?” she asked me. “Someone called Vanessa?”
I snapped to look at her with surprise. “Who told you that?”
“I can’t remember.”
“No, we broke up.”
“Oh, sorry.” It was her turn.
“Coming in?” I asked her.
She shivered. “Ten wetsuits wouldn’t get me in the water in this cool weather.”
I grinned. “Yeah, well I’m tough, I’ll be fine.”
She shook her head and I laughed as I tied the leg rope around my ankle, hoisted my board and headed off. As I hit the water, which was bloody cold, I turned back to see Ophelia sitting on the beach near my towel, the dogs standing guard on either side of her. It was nice to have her there, to have a sort of pseudo family.
I watched Adam and the three other surfers around him. The waves were good and he was pretty good at it. I rose to go back and take Argo and Agnes home for dinner. The sun was almost dipping below the horizon now and would disappear any minute. The ocean was red.
I thought I heard someone whisper my name and I turned, but there was no-one there. That had happened to me a few times, okay, a lot of times in the last week. I wondered if it was Mum or Dad telling me they were with me. It made me shiver even though my jumper was warm enough.
Before Argo, Agnes and I had got halfway home, Adam raced up beside me. He had his towel around his shoulders and board under his arm.
“The temperature drops really quickly once the sun sets,” he said.
“You’re good on the board.”
“Thanks, I love it.”
I looked towards our house on the rise. “More lights are on, Uncle Seb must be home.”
We walked up towards the path on the beach that led to the house.
“So, did you have a boyfriend in Brisbane?” Adam asked, reversing my former query.
I shook my head. “No.”
We got to the path to cross the road, checked for traffic even though it was at the end of a cul de sac and rarely attracted anyone, crossed the road and began the ascent up the driveway, Agnes and Argo rushing up to greet Uncle Seb.
“I’ve learned a few tricks from being a new kid at school multiple times,” Adam said. “Want to hear them?”
“Yeah, oh wise one, sock them to me,” I invited him.
“You’ll thank me,” he teased. “Number one: you shouldn’t agree to go out with anyone until you have perspective. Everyone is very nice and likeable when you are new and everyone wants to go out with the new person, but you don’t know who they are—whether they are the class idiot or not—and how you feel about anything yet.”
“You nailed it,” I agreed. “I feel like everyone is watching me and several of the guys have already sort of shown interest, but I don’t need that right now and I don’t want to make decisions until I feel grounded.”
“Good move. To be continued ...” Adam said, and he moved away to the external shower at the side of the house to get the sand off. I opened the front door and Argo, Agnes and I bundled in.
I wondered did he say that to make sure I didn’t develop a crush on him. If so, he was either a big head or still in love with Vanessa, whoever she may be.
I waited for her that night, I waited until five in the morning, just before the sun rose, but she didn’t come to the window or join me on the rocks. I’m losing her.
I had the strangest dream—
a dream within a dream
to quote Edgar Allan Poe, my English teacher would be pleased. I woke up but I was still dreaming. So weird. I dreamt I had always been in this house but I was in the wrong room, and I couldn’t find the right room. Even when I woke up, or thought I had woken up, I couldn’t work out where I was and I was still searching for my room. I woke up for real some time after that and realised what was going on. I don’t know what it means.
The house howled last night; it wasn’t that windy, but I later found out why. Uncle Seb went to bed early; he said he had an early start, but he was quiet and a little flat. The night started normally enough—Mrs Duck had left us a salmon mornay and it was superb. I filled Uncle Seb in on my day and he asked Adam about the injuries he was sporting. Uncle Seb filled us in on his day fighting for funds. Both brutal.
I didn’t tell Uncle Seb or Adam about Jack—I don’t know why I didn’t tell them, they might have known him, but I needed to see Jack again and just wanted to keep him to myself for a while. It had been on my mind all day. There was something about Jack ... something. We sat for a long time not saying anything but his presence was so strong beside me that I missed him when I left him. I’ve never felt that before.
Anyway, I’m going way off track. After dinner, Argo and Agnes settled onto the rug, Uncle Seb read for a while in the lounge room and I sat opposite him and did my homework. Adam wearing his earphones, sat with his laptop at the kitchen table. I could have gone upstairs, but it was kind of cosy and comfortable downstairs. Regardless, the night dragged on and on ... I just wanted it to be late enough so I could sneak out and see if Jack was there. What if he wasn’t there? What if I never saw him again? So what, I told myself a few times. I don’t even know him, but I want to know him.
At nine p.m. Uncle Seb rose, kissed the top of my head, then the top of Argo and Agnes’s heads, waved goodnight to Adam and turned in. I watched him walk down the hallway, he looked weary. Adam logged out fifteen minutes later and followed suit. I was alone. I went to the window and glanced out—the beach and rocks were deserted.
I returned to the couch, packed away my school gear and put the television on low. I watched a re-run of
just to stop thinking for a while. I nodded off a few times; I’d had so little sleep the night before and was on the rocks with Jack from three o’clock to sunrise, that it was catching up with me.
A loud commercial woke me and I got up and made a hot chocolate. I didn’t want to go to sleep too early and risk not seeing Jack. It was then that I discovered what made Uncle Seb a bit melancholy. I was looking through the drawers for a coaster for the table and I found a drawer full of paperwork—insurance papers, how to use the dishwasher manual and a memorial program—I recognised it right away, I had just done one for my parents. It was Meg, his wife’s funeral.
I felt someone behind me and turned around, but I was alone; all the hairs on my neck stood up. While I waited for the kettle to boil I read it. Her photo was on the front, she was lovely—athletic, full of life and laughing in the photograph. Inside were tributes and prayers and more photos of her as a child: in a tutu learning ballet, as a lifesaver, a primary school photo, a high school formal shot with a very young Uncle Seb, graduating photos and a beautiful wedding photo of Meg and Uncle Seb. I flicked back to the front page and looked at the date. It was today—today was the anniversary of Meg’s funeral. That was why Uncle Seb was melancholy but he didn’t say anything. Maybe he didn’t want to talk about it or maybe he thought I was carrying enough heavy stuff around.
I ran my finger around Meg’s outline and smiled at her. The house howled again; I’m sure it was her. I’m sure she was with Uncle Seb tonight here in the house and I hoped she approved of me. And maybe that’s why I dreamt about rooms in the house when I went to bed an hour later. Maybe I’m in her room now and she is displaced.
Before I turned in, I looked outside again but there was no one below on the beach or the rocks. I lay on the bed for a while, listening to the hum of the ocean and the occasional moan of the house. Aside from the dream, I slept right through. When I woke I rushed to the window—it was nearly five-thirty a.m. and no Jack either. I was so tired from the night before that my body just took over and I slept. I was angry at myself and couldn’t believe that I would have to wait another twenty-four hours now, if he returned to see me. I wonder if he came looking for me last night or if I will ever seen him again.
We arrived at Ophelia’s place as she was walking down the path to meet us to catch the bus. She sped up and greeted us both. We all waved to Sebastian and the dogs watching from the door.
“Any fights last night?” Ophelia asked.
Harry laughed and told her they didn’t happen every day. The bus was coming towards the corner and we sped up to get to the pick-up point. Harry stood back and let Ophelia and I get onboard first, he was working on his charm, well, attempting to put on a good show in front of Ophelia anyway.
“Do you think Harry knows Peggy is keen on him?” she whispered as she followed me down the bus aisle.
I grinned and turned back to look at her. “Uh, no. I think it’s safe to say Harry doesn’t know what day it is.”
“I heard that,” he said.
“What did you hear?” I asked as he dived into an empty seat on the left hand side of the bus.
He looked sheepish. “Just my name, but I want to know what you were saying.”
Ophelia and I slid into the seat behind him and swapped looks. Ophelia cleared her throat.
“Well, I know someone really lovely, sweet and pretty who likes you,” Ophelia set it up.
“Really?” Harry’s eyes widened with hopeful anticipation that Ophelia was talking about herself. Like I said, he was clueless.
“Really,” Ophelia smiled.
“Well, who?” he grinned.
His face dropped. “Oh. Well yeah, she’s nice I guess.”
“She’s lovely,” I tried to raise her importance. “I heard there’s a few guys that like Peggy.”
“Yeah?” he seemed curious.
Ophelia tried a different tactic, lowering her voice and leaning forward. “She thinks you’re gorgeous and is hoping you will ask her to the dance.”
I could see his head swell. “Listen bro, if you want my advice, I’d grab Peggy with both hands. A bird in the hand is better than ... what’s the saying... two in the bush or a fish in the tank? Whatever!”
“Yeah great advice, Sis, thanks,” Harry smirked. “I’ll see what happens ... maybe I’ll ask her to the dance.”.
I rolled my eyes. “I’m surprised anyone thinks you’re gorgeous except Mum,” I told him.
“We’re identical twins!” he reminded me.
“Not anymore,” I twirled a long blond lock of hair around my finger. “Not if I can help it.”
Twenty minutes later as the bus stopped outside our school, the senior girls from the back row of the bus walked past and one of them threw a note in Ophelia’s lap. She looked up surprised, but the girls kept walking and there was no telling who threw it.
Ophelia grabbed it and looked from me to Harry and back at the note. We got up and followed them out of the bus and into the school grounds.
“What’s it say?” Harry looked over Ophelia’s shoulders.
She bit her lip as she unfolded it, read it and shook her head. “It says that I’m a slut and I should keep away from Chayse or else.”
I put my arm around her shoulder. “Ignore it,” I said. “They are friends of Chayse’s girlfriend ... the harem.”
Ophelia sighed and shoved the note in her shirt pocket. “You know, before my folks died,” she stopped as though saying the words took a lot of energy. She continued, “this would have really worried me. But seriously, who cares about this sort of thing. If Imogen or her friends have a problem, they should come and talk with me. I’m not interested in her boyfriend and he’s approached me not the other way around.”
“I’d say she’s threatened,” I told Ophelia.
Harry shrugged. “We’ve got your back, don’t worry about it.”
Ophelia smiled. “Thanks H and H.”
Peggy saw us and rushed over. Harry made a quick getaway.
Our art teacher’s name was Ms. Nolan, no relation to the famous painter Sidney Nolan she told us. None of us knew who Sidney Nolan was—okay, Peggy and Christopher Kessels did, but that was about it. She insisted on being called Ms. which no one seem to pronounce correctly and every time it sounded like we had said Miss or Mrs. she made us say it again.
I liked art. I wasn’t very good at it, but I liked the history and the study of works and their meanings. Harry was good, Harry was very good. He could capture faces and expressions, his dimensions and angles worked a treat. As part of our assignment we had to reproduce a masterpiece. From what I could see, the art world was going to be pretty safe that none of our forgeries were going to flood the market. I picked Picasso’s
. Everyone thought that was brave, but it was super easy. Everything was a shape and a bright colour and I could cope with drawing a series of triangles ... just.
It was a shame Peggy didn’t take art so she could see Harry’s work, but she was doing Maths I, Maths II, Science and Physics. I glazed over thinking about it. Ms. Nolan glanced over my shoulder, said a few comments about my
—I think it might have been an apology to Picasso—and walked on. Holly gave me a grin ... her Jeffrey Smart reproduction wasn’t a patch on Harry’s work but it was an improvement on mine.
“Oh Harry,” Ms. Nolan sighed as she walked past him. “Magnificent.”
Harry beamed. “Yeah, thanks Ms. Nolan.”
Harry was reproducing the
what a ham. Josie Clarke who was painting on the right of me was doing Edvard Munch’s
and it was positively eerie.
Holly whispered my name and I looked over at her. She had smudged paint on her face and more on her hands than on her apron. She nodded to the window.
I looked out to see Chayse and a group of senior students doing Physical Education—I was a bit slow to discover him out there, most of the girls in the art class were already distracted. Ms. Nolan hadn’t noticed either. I studied Chayse between my
brush strokes. Why was he bothering with me? Did he do that just to rile Imogen or was he genuinely a friendly guy? Or was it to get back at Adam?
It was then I saw Jack—I drew a sharp breath. I had to look twice, but it was definitely him. What was he doing here? He told me he didn’t go to school around here but he was sitting in the grandstand in dark pants and the long jacket he’d had on the night I met him. Was he meeting someone else? I moved around my painting closer to Holly.
“See that guy over there sitting in the grandstand?” I whispered to her.
She squinted and looked out at the grounds.
“The cute one in the cute jacket?” she asked.
“Yes. Who is he?” I asked.
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t you think you have enough action at the moment? Adam is obviously keen to show you around, Chayse likes you enough to cheese off his girlfriend.”
“You know that’s so not true,” I frowned at her and she looked again. “Do you know him?”
“No,” she said, glancing out at him again, “I’ve never seen him before. Why?”
I shrugged and moved back to my painting. “I saw him on the rocks out the front of Uncle Seb’s house the other night.”
“Your house,” Holly said.
I looked at her. “Yeah, I guess so, my house.”
When I looked back, he was gone. I looked around the oval, as far as I could see from my easel but he was nowhere. My heart was pounding.
I’m sorry Jack
, I said in my mind.
I’ll be there tonight
. I willed that he might hear me. But what was he doing here? Was he angry that I didn’t show last night and was checking up on me? Did he have a girlfriend at this school? I muttered to Holly that I would be back in a minute and asked Ms. Nolan if I could slip out to the ladies.
Out in the hallway, I rushed to the exit and squinted in the full light. I tried not to let Chayse or any of his teammates see me. He’d think I was checking him out, yep, just what I needed. I couldn’t see Jack, thank God I asked Holly or I would have thought I’d imagined it. I turned to go back in and he was right behind me.
“Jack!” I gasped.
He smiled with that boyish charm, ran his hand through his tasselled sandy-coloured hair and said my name like it was spun gold.
Neither of us spoke. I stared into his blue eyes and I felt like he held me in a trance.
“I missed you, I had to see you,” he said, then swallowed and looked away. I don’t think he wanted to miss me.
My hand went to my heart and I could feel my face blushing. It was a new kind of pain—different from the pain of losing my parents, but still a feeling of separation and I don’t know, anticipation maybe.
“I miss you too, Jack,” I whispered. “You’re taking up all my headspace.”
He laughed. “I’m not keeping you up at night though,” he said, softening his backhanded insult.
“It’s because you kept me up the night before that I couldn’t stay awake!” I defended myself. “I’m only human.”
“Yes, you are,” he said.
I looked into his eyes and saw something there—surprise, trepidation—something unexpected.
“Tonight?” he asked. He didn’t touch me despite standing in my space.
Behind me my name was called and I spun around to see a football hurtling towards me. I flinched and then Jack was there, caught it and returned it just as quickly.
“Got to go,” he said, and turned the corner of the building before I could say anything. I looked around and I was alone.
Chayse called out. “You okay, Ophelia?”
I nodded and disappeared back into the building. I didn’t need the cavalry coming to the rescue. I was back at my easel within minutes.
I could feel Holly looking at me, her hand suspended over her painting, blue acrylic paint on the end of the brush waiting to be applied.
“Are you alright, you look like you’ve seen a ghost?” she asked.
I nodded. “Fine, just something I ate maybe.”
“Or something you didn’t,” she said. “Lunchtime, you’re going to conquer a sandwich!” She turned back to her painting and started dabbing the blue paint into her almost completed sky in the Jeffrey Smart imitation painting.
I sighed. It was nice to have friends that cared but what was Jack doing at my school and how did he get to that football so quickly? Why did I feel like he was reading my soul when no-one else had reached that depth. Freaky.