Nif likes to blame Prithika when we run out of toilet paper. She says that if it hadn't been for Pri she wouldn't be in a situation where she is peeing by the side of the road unable to clean her lady parts. But what Nif forgets is that really it's Coca Cola's fault.
You know. Those advertisements where hot guys and gorgeous girls go on a summer road trip, singing, loving life and each other, and looking sexy while drinking coke.
Thought: If you're sexy to start with does it really matter if you're drinking coke or not?
Follow up thought: If you're not sexy then does it really matter if you're drinking coke or not?
Conclusion: Coke advertisements lie. Coke doesn't make you sexy.
Maybe things would have turned out differently if I'd told Pri this at the beginning, but really, I can't be intelligent on demand. It's more like this spontaneous thing I've got going on.
So on one of those really hot days in January- you know the ones- when you go to sit on a seat on a train except it's sticky and wet from the sweat of the person before (yum), Pri just snaps. She is watching the Coke commercial and then two seconds later, she's calling me, and then she calls Nif and a week later the three of us are in a car that really shouldn't be on the road, even though Nif's brother Damien assures us that it runs fine.
I try to forget that Damien got kicked out of our high school for doing pot in the parking lot because that makes me believe him. Sort of.
Ok that's a lie. When it comes to Damien, I never believe him. It's a self-preservation thing.
I'm convinced that Damien's car still smells like pot and that we're going to get high in a residue passive-smoking kind of way. Nif denies this, but Nif also believes that Heath Ledger isn't dead, just hiding. Beneath those model looks that drive guys crazy, Nif is still five years old and dreaming of a world where there is no burglary because every one shares every thing (this is my theory to explain Nif's frequent space-outs and why Nif always takes things without asking and sees no need to return them.)
Kilometre after kilometre rolls away beneath the wheels of Damien's car, and we've got the windows down, our legs hanging out the sides, and we're screaming made up lyrics to these catchy Christian songs that keep blaring out of the radio- we're so far into the country that Christian radio is the only station whose frequency is game enough to venture out here.
I think we are so poster-cut Coke commercial right now, minus the boys, but that's nothing new. The absence of boys, that is.
My life is in a boy drought, and has been dry for some time. Not true for Nif and Pri. Pri has Charlie- they've been together forever and have this disgusting in-love thing happening. Nif has a different guy every month- she falls head over heels in love with the guy who will tell her she's beautiful, and when the scum bag she picked up at a club fails to meet her expectations, she drops him, cries at my place with ice cream, I perform my best friend obligations of resurrecting her confidence, taking her out looking smoking, and then the next schmuck will hit on her and the whole process starts again.
If it wasn't for all the emotional anguish that comes with being Nif- people that naïve are just constantly being disappointed and hurt- I'd be jealous. Nif and Pri would probably pee with laughter if they knew that I, of all people, think like this, but I have this horrible fear that ten years from now I'm going to end up in a dead end job, zero ambition, and no boyfriend. Bridget Jones syndrome.
I hate that about myself, but there's no denying it.
I have this horrible fear that I'm going to end up some poor, shrivelled up prune who never learnt to love, or to forgive, or to let anyone in. I have this horrible fear that there's something wrong with me, that no guy could ever be interested in me.
And then I hate myself for needing to be validated by love.
But still. A boyfriend would be nice.
I don't know why I have this insecurity, why I'm stranded in this boy-drought. I know I'm pretty. Blonde hair, tanned skin, light eyes, not too skinny, not fat, great boobs. I can be spontaneously smart. I'm funny (even if often I'm the only one laughing at my jokes, I am rather misunderstood). I'm pretty sure that guys should be into me, whatever Damien might think. So not cool for Nif to have a brother who is a class A ass-wipe. Just putting that out there.
"You ok Scout?" Pri nudges me with her knee. She's gorged herself on Doritos, and has slipped so far along the seat that if it wasn't for the seat belt, she'd be in danger of falling off.
"Yeah fine," I say, smiling.
Pri is not convinced, and she looks at me shrewdly. "Sure? Because if you're thinking about turning around I'll fucking kick your ass."
God, I love Pri. She has these huge eyes and long hair that she keeps braided, and you totally buy the innocent, quiet Indian girl look until she opens her mouth. "No Pri, I am not thinking about turning around. I love not being able to shower and peeing in toilets is overrated, and why eat vegetables when you can eat potato chips?"
Pri is not impressed. She scrunches up the now empty bag of Doritos and pelts it at my head, where it hits hard enough to hurt. Pri hasn't lost her soft-ball skills from high school. "You need to lose the sarcasm, wench."
"I'm so happy to be here!" I say with over the top enthusiasm and then I drop the act, because I don't want to hurt her feelings. "Honestly Pri, I'm glad you made us come. Otherwise I'd still be in that fucking day care centre breaking up fights over crayons and wiping noses."
"Gross. How many times have I got to tell you to stop telling me about your job?"
"Hey I gotta do something over the summer."
"And how much better is this?"
"A lot?" she says, raising one eyebrow.
"Damn straight. Off the fucking charts."
"Fuck yes!" I say and we high-five and grin goofily at each other.
"What are you talking about?" Nif says, peering at us over the top of her aviators in the rear-view mirror. "I hate it when you guys sit at the back. I feel like a chauffeur."
"Like hell we're sitting in that front seat," Pri says, turning up her nose.
"Yeah, that shit is definitely cat sick or someone's fucking excrement," I add.
Nif purses her lips together and shakes her head. She's never been comfortable with swearing. Sometimes it's hard to believe that she and Damien are related. Scratch that. Sometimes I wonder why someone like Nif is friends with people as rough as Pri or as jaded as me. Yeah that's me, Scout Brummell, twenty, jaded and I don't know why. Well, ok Damien's probably got a lot to do with it, but mostly I don't like to think about him, or give him more importance than he deserves. Dickhead.
By the time it's night fall, we're entering some town called Armidale that looks like it's the kind of suffocating place where every one knows each others' name and business, and they stare at newcomers, and have really thick broad accents and think dressing up is putting on a pair of sneakers.
"What is there to do here? Another day of driving is going to do my fucking head in," I whinge, knowing I'm being a bitch but feeling too crabby to care.
"Let's find a place to crash, there should be a motel around here," Nif says, looking at Pri over her shoulder.
"And some dinner," Pri adds, "Scout's hungry."
"Am not!" I say, although I am, I resent being treated like a three year old.
"Are too. You always become a whiny bitch when you're hungry."
I shut my mouth too quickly, and Nif giggles. She's driving at a crawl through the main street of the town, and then slams her foot down on the brakes hard enough for the car to lurch forwards.
"What was that?" I demand.
"Clearview Motel! Damien recommended this place!" Nif says, smiling widely as she turns into their parking lot. I look quickly at the neon sign, hoping that the 'no' part will be alight before the word 'vacancy'. No such luck.
"Damien recommended a motel in Armidale to you?" Pri asks incredulously.
"I think he was here once for a friend's eighteenth, or something," Nif says vaguely, putting the car into park.
Clearview Motel is your run-of-mill side-of-the-road accommodation. Two floors, wide balcony on the top level, white peeling paint, green doors, flickering yellow lights.
"Guys, this place looks pretty much like seedy central," I say dubiously.
"Scout," Nif says in her serious, I-could-be-your-mother voice. "The last place we stayed in had rats in the parking lot but you said it was fine. I think it's time you got over your hatred of anything remotely Damien related, don't you?"
After that, anything I say is just going to sound immature, so I shut up. Nif grins smugly, and we troop out of the car, lugging our duffel bags, all three of us feeling too tired and cabin feverish to talk much. After recovering from the shock of seeing three potential customers at once, the guy at the motel gives us a two-bed room with a fold out mattress (this is after some intense bargaining on Pri's part- the owner was trying to con us into renting out three separate rooms for the night. Pri soon sets him straight and convinces him to give us complementary breakfast.)
I'm the first person into the room and I collapse face-first onto the nearest bed. Pri throws her stuff onto the next bed, while Nif sets up the mattress. They talk quietly for a few minutes, and then I'm being prodded. With great effort I turn onto my back to find Pri's face within kissing distance of mine. Geez. That girl has never learnt personal space.
"Nif and I are getting dinner. Thai good for you?" I nod and Pri whacks me on the head, for God knows what reason. "Have a shower. You stink like shit."
I roll my eyes at her but unzip my bag, pull out my favourite trackies, fluffy pink slippers, and a white tank. I head into the bathroom- it's a one metre cube with dingy lighting, no exhaust fan, and all done up in a suspicious brown colour that is no doubt intended to obviate the need to clean properly. I wrinkle my nose, go back into the main room to grab a pair of thongs to protect my feet from Athlete's Foot and whatever other disease is crawling around, and open the room's door to air it. I leave the door of the bathroom ajar so that I can hear any potential thieves, and then hop into the shower.
Under the hot water, life is a lot better. I get this rush of affection for Pri, because she doesn't take my shit and she's unpredictable, and for Nif because she is predictable and she'll always take my shit. This trip has been exactly what I need. Sometimes you need to get away, to find a time where clocks are irrelevant, to get so far away that it doesn't matter where you are. Live on edge, live a story for the grandkids, you know? Pretty soon I'm feeling so chipper that I'm yodelling out Taylor Swift (it's my best kept secret that I adore her) and feeling on top of the world, as my Mum would say.
"Hey Stephen why are people always leaving I think you and I should stay the same!" I sing to the shower head, and I swear it winks at me.
The loud voice of Michael Buble interrupts my tender moment. It is Nif's ring tone- silly girl must have forgotten her mobile. I wonder for two seconds whether I should answer it- and then I suppose that after fifteen years of friendship, I owe her the effort of taking her calls. So I turn the shower off, hurry into my trackies and top, fore-going underwear, and squelch into the main room. I don't end up answering Nif's phone, because what I see before me makes the adrenaline surge to my heart, in a shit-I've-forgotten-to-hand-in-my-assessment-I'm-royally-fucked kind of way. It's the back of him, but I'd recognise that way of standing, the messy hair any day.
It's Damien. All six feet, good-for-nothing bits of him.
Damien hears me behind him and turns around. His eyes run down my body and I flush, realising that without a bra, my top looks anything but demure. I jam my arms across my chest.
"Well, fuck me," Damien says.
"Done that, Damo," I say sweetly, digging around in my bag for a hoodie. "Not an experience I'd want to repeat."
"Not what you said at the time. Or the time after that. Or the time after…"
I forget the hoodie and stomp over to him. He still has that stupid way of laughing while keeping his mouth straight, and it still pisses me off. I stand so close to him that I can hear him breathing, and I run my fingers up his chest.
"Munchkin, haven't you ever heard of a girl faking it?"
Damien shoves my hand off his chest. "Piss off Scout. Where's my sister?"
"Getting dinner," I say, turning away from him. I put on another layer of clothes, bend down, shake my hair out and wrap it into a bun, and when I turn around Damien is still standing there. "Why are you here?"
"I just thought I'd call her, see where she was then I hear her phone ring- well Michael Buble go off, and I thought- what are the odds that some one else is playing Michael Buble right now? And I walked out of the room- I'm next door by the way- and followed the noise in here- why are you showering with the door to your room open, idiot?"
"No," I say, impatiently. "Why are you here in fucking Armidale?"
"My friend's eighteenth."
"Nif said you'd been here for a friend's eighteenth before."
"No," Damien says, slowly. "I told her I was going to a friend's eighteenth here."
We both look at each other, and I know in that instant at least, we are both thinking the same thing: Typical Nif. Well he's probably thinking 'Typical Jennifer'- he's never caught onto the whole Nif- thing. He thinks it's stupid. I think he's stupid. (But you may have picked that up already).
"Why is your friend three years younger than you?" I ask suspiciously, because a part of me thinks that Damien followed us out here for some creepy reason of his own.
"What, I'm not allowed to have friends younger than me now?" Since I don't stop glaring at him, he says after about three seconds, "Ok fine, I know Joe because he was my peer support buddy in high school, his dad's shouting as all tickets to the music festival here for his eighteenth cos Joe's really into Indie music, happy?"
I fight back a grin for a moment. In another life, I would have found that Damien Revelation sweet. "Not really."
"Good," Damien says, crossing his arms.
"Good." I return to my bag to find a tooth brush, hoping Damien will take the signal to go back to the hole he came from.
Damien raises an eyebrow, in that way that can so easily be sexy, dismissive or both. "You know," he says with a sharp in take of breath, "I get that you're too fucking proud to call me up and apologise, even though you've had four years to do it, and you've managed to avoid me all that time, but I would have thought that you'd have the decency to apologise when you're faced with what you've done."
"What is it exactly that I've done?"
"Fuck, Scout! I almost couldn't sit my HSC because of you- I almost fucking dropped out of high school and you- fuck!"
"Yeah, well you fucked me and dumped me, and never apologised. Life's a shit bag, isn't it?"
"Yeah? I was seventeen. What guy isn't a douche at that age?"
"Oh what a great fall back, the douche-dom of the masses."
Damien runs his hands through his hair, like he's trying to calm himself down. I grin. Yeah, it's sadistic, but I'm so stoked right now that I've managed to aggravate him this much.
"You didn't have to tell the principal I was doing pot," Damien says quietly. "You didn't have to screw up my life."
"I didn't do anything," I say, still smiling. "You were screwing it up fine all by yourself. Someone was going to find out eventually."
An ugly look crosses Damien's face, and I don't really feel that satisfied rush any more- I just want to get out of the room so I don't have to hear whatever it is Damien's about to say. Thankfully, at that moment, Pri and Nif waltz back into the room and Nif lets out a huge squeal and practically ploughs Damien over in a hug. God, Nif. One day her capacity to love every body is going to get her into major shit. On which prophetic note, I take my share of the dinner from Pri's hands, and go to sit on the hood of the car to eat. It's cold and uncomfortable and I feel like a drama queen but at least I stay away from Damien.
Pri wakes up the following day with a plan.
"We're breaking into Indie Fest!" she says, munching into her free slice of toast.
Nif looks like she's about to shit her pants right there. "No, we don't have tickets Pri!"
"Minor details," Pri says through her toast, and then swallows. She shoots us this furtive, adventurous grin. It's the look I imagine was on her face when she came up with the idea for this crazy trip. "We're breaking in."
"Come on Pri," I say. I'm with Nif but for different reasons. Like hell I'm going to a festival where Damien's at. "It's never going to work."
"Don't worry. I have a plan."
Pri's plan is this. We jump the barbed wire fence at Indie Fest, get Damien's mate working at ticketing to give us wrist bands, then get smashed and have a good time. "It's fool proof!" Pri says, glowing. "What do you lot say?"
"I have a better plan," Nif answers. "How bout we cough up the money for tickets and avoid jail."
"Don't be stupid," Pri snorts. "People don't go to jail for gate crashing music festivals. I should know. I'm the only jail bird here."
I'm too far away from Pri to hit her, so I settle for giving her the best condescending look I can muster. "You are so full of shit Prithika. What happens if we get caught jumping the fence?"
"Ah," Pri says, as if she has just been waiting for one of us to come up with this scenario. "That's the genius of it. That's where you come in. You flash your boobs."
"Me? Why me?" I say, disgusted.
"You've got the best rack out of the three of us," Pri says, but from her it doesn't sound like a compliment. "Look, it'll be cool, Damo and I sorted it all out last night."
"Where was I?" Nif says, looking a little hurt.
"Showering, and little Miss Priss was sitting outside cos she's so emotionally retarded that she can't handle being in the same room as Damien."
"I was admiring the stars," I say defensively, but my mind is churning on more important things. "Damien knows about this?"
"Sure," Pri answers, shrugging. "What, are you too chicken to do it?"
I recognise this is a tactic levelled directly at me- hitting my pride is the best way to con me into something. But it's not going to work this time. I've spent four years successfully dodging Damien Laurent by avoiding any place he might be. The gelato shop where he first asked me out, for instance. Definite no go. As is the Metro Theatre, because Damien goes to most of the concerts there. I don't even shop at our local shopping centre because Damien likes to kill time there. Armidale, stupidly, was not on the no-entry list. Well, I'm not making that mistake twice. Indie Fest can go back to lame-ville, where it was born. I'm so not there. I giggle to myself, and Pri must realise that she's making zero head way with me, so she effortlessly switches gears, locking Nif in a smile that I have noticed makes her boyfriend Charlie do anything.
"Well, Nif? Are you in? Cos I'm going anyway, whatever you losers do."
This is manipulation at its best. All three of us know that now Nif is going to feel obliged to go to keep Pri out of trouble. Little does Pri know that now that Nif is in, I'm going to have to go as well. I'm not going to let the two of them go and let Damien have the satisfaction of knowing that he kept me out of Indie Fest. Sure he kept me out of my motel room last night, but those are minor details. Past history. New morning, new day.
"Let's do it!" I say and Pri lets out the squeal that has deafened lesser people. Nif looks like she's about to be hung, drawn and quartered. I giggle and wrap her up in a hug, but she doesn't seem to take much comfort from me.
"We're doomed," Nif assures me. "Don't laugh. You're selling your body to break into a festival."
Despite Nif's dire predictions, I don't need to sell my body for us to break in. There isn't even a barbed wire fence around the festival compound- there are only knee-level plastic barricades- the kind that get put up to block off roads. Country towns just don't have that mistrust of people that we city folk share. So breaking into Indie Fest is probably not as dramatic as Pri imagined, and I guess that's why she doesn't let us try and get wristbands (the knowledge that we are flaunting our naked wrists around and could get kicked out at any time is an adrenaline rush for her). On the plus side, even though I've never heard of half the line up, they're fucking awesome. Pri drags us over to the main stage and we stay there for what feels like hours.
There's something about being at a concert- in the crush of sweat and smoke and bad singing from the crowd that makes you feel tapped into something bigger. The music from the speakers beats right against your heart, you're bopping your head and dancing like a maniac, feeling like you could marry the lead singer and you can't even hear yourself singing along to the lyrics but you love the feeling of ripping your throat out, of coming back home raw and hoarse, and saying to your friends 'that was fucking brilliant.' Pri disappears for a bit and comes back with beer for all three of us and a new friend who looks like he's channelling the spirit of Keith Richards, but he takes a fancy to all of us- especially Nif (once Pri tells him about Charlie) and keeps buying us drinks. I feel light headed and woozy and affectionate towards the world at large, but at one point, the music stops in between sets, and I notice that the pounding at my temples isn't coming from the speaker volume. Telling the girls and Keith Richards that I'll be back with some water, I try to push my way back through the crowd. It doesn't work so well, so I yell "I'm about to throw a VOMIT BOMB!" and then they all part like the Red Sea.
The queue at the drink stand is impossibly long, and I cradle my head in my hands, and when that doesn't help, I tie my hair up in a bun, to try and get more oxygen circulating in and around me. Someone taps a finger against the nape of my neck and I scream.
"Fuck, Scout!" says an all-too familiar voice. I turn around to see Damien with his palms up. Classic defence mode. I take vicious pleasure in his embarrassment as he tries to assure the people around us, avidly watching, that he knows me.
"What do you want?" I snap.
"Nothing. Spreading the friendly cheer." He can tell I'm not buying it and he adds, "Ok fine, I saw you leave the crowd and you didn't look that hot so I thought I'd see if you were all right."
"Oh, so now you care if I'm all right? Please don't start living up to my expectations now." I turn my back, feeling proud of how mature I sound. Then something swells in my stomach, and I press my hands against it. Oh God. Please exist. Please exercise your divine grace and don't let me vomit.
"Are you ever going to let that drop- hey Scout are you ok?"
"I think I'm going to be sick," I say, putting my hand on his shoulder to try and prop myself up.
"I thought you just wanted people to get out of the way-? Ok, Ok Scout, just hold on two minutes, ok?"
He wraps an arm around my waist and propels me out of the drink queue, pushing me along so fast that I feel like he's carrying me. We reach the edge of the compound, right near the plastic barrier, and I'm smiling at the memory of Nif's petrified face at the thought of breaking in here, right before I throw up. Damien runs circles on my back the whole time, pushes the hair out of my face, and mutters soothing words in a low murmur. Screw him. Screw him for being such a fucking inconsistent bastard. It'd be so much easier to hate him if he'd been a druggie dumb shit. But it's Damien's humour and Damien's brains, and Damien's God damn way of walking that sucked me in from the beginning, as much as I try to forget it. When I've sufficiently humiliated myself and left a nice pool of vomit for some poor sod to clean up later, Damien guides me over to a tap and splashes water on the back of my neck and on my forehead. He's still got his arm around my waist, and one hand on my cheek, his thumb tracing circles, around and around.
Damien isn't hot. Not when you really look at him. He's a little pale, and when he cuts his hair short the shape of his head is a little bit like a rat's. But he works out, and when he's rocking the stubble and the slightly grown out hair, he can definitely pass for a sex God. He's got charisma. You can't stop looking at him- the way he smiles, slowly, reluctantly at first, and then his entire face softens and he's gorgeous. Or that's what I told myself at sixteen. I was also into Britney Spears' music at the time. Clearly my judgement faculties had yet to develop.
"Stop it," I say far too late, but I slap his hand away.
"Scout," Damien says in his low gravelly tone. "What happened to us?"
"How am I meant to know? I gave you everything and you treated me like, a, a god damn used tissue or something. You fucking tell me what happened."
Damien looks away, one hand on the back of his neck, his cheeks flushed. "I was a dick head, all right? I know that. I just want to know when you're going to stop crucifying me for it."
"Look, I'm sorry if you feel guilty every time you look at me, Damo, I really am," I say in my best patronising tone. "But you got to make me love you, and leave me, and not deal with the consequences, so 'scuse me if I'm not crying a river, all right?"
"What fucking consequences Scout?" he bites back, a flush rising in his cheeks. "I got burnt too ok? What more do you want from me?"
"Christ." I push him and walk past him. "You've got no idea, you have no fucking idea." Damien grabs my hand but I wriggle out of his grasp, and then I say over my shoulder, "You had no idea what was going on my head then, or now. Anything could have happened to me after we slept together Damo, and you would have had no idea. I could have cried myself to sleep every night for three months, I could have sworn off guys for the rest of my life, I could have burnt your photograph a million times, I could have jumped off a building, I could have had a fucking abortion and you'd have no fucking idea!"
He is startled, but then he's shaking his head, chuckling a little. "What are you talking about? Scout, you didn't have a- you didn't have an abortion, did you? Did you?"
I shake my head, and try to laugh but instead I break a pact I made with myself years ago, and there are tears spilling over my cheeks, and I'm crying over Damien fucking Laurent again. I hate crying. I hate that weak feeling when you can't breathe because there are sobs trying to break out of your lungs, and your face crumples, and tears get mixed with snot and you feel like trash. I can't believe I'm letting Damien make me feel like this again.
Damien wraps his arms around me, and even when I beat fists against his chest he just holds me closer. "Scout, I'm so sorry, I'm sorry, God I'm so sorry," he says over and over again, like it's a mantra. Four years ago that's all I would have needed to make me feel better, to put the world back together. Today it's just an anticlimax.
I pull out of his arms, taking a deep breath, and wipe my face. "It's been over four years Damien. I'm twenty now. I was ok then and I'll be ok now."
And the look on his face is how I imagine I looked at sixteen, when Damien broke my heart.
Keith Richards (whose real name is Paul) is a friend of Damien's buddy Joe, and gets us invites to the house party at Joe's that night. Indie fest, house party- I don't know how many times a boy can celebrate turning eighteen, but Nif and Pri are keen to go. I try to tell them it's beyond lame to go to an eighteenth at our age, but Nif assures us that the entire young population of Armidale is going, and it'll be fun. I recognise that sparkly, guilty look in Nif's eyes. She's moved onto her next crush. Pri just wants an excuse to party.
After the vomit bomb, and emo-bomb at Indie Fest, all I really want to do is watch the telly under the doona, but Nif and Pri guilt me into going. (You're only young once, you can't stay in on a road trip, we're going to have so much fun and make so many memories and you won't be there, etc, etc). If they notice I've been out of sorts since my hour long disappearance in search of water, they must add it together with Damien and don't mention anything. They gush for hours about Armidale and the Indie scene, and when we get back to the motel, they preen for hours in front of the mirror, and wind up looking like rock stars, but I pull on some dark wash skinny jeans, a grey-oversized tee, patent red pumps and I'm good to go.
"No make up?" Pri says, positively wilting in front of me. I shake my head. "What about your hair?"
I washed it when we got back to the motel, and now that it's dry it's fallen into wavy curls around my head. "I'm rocking the just got out of bed after having wild sex look," I invent, but it satisfies Pri and she stops nagging me.
We get to Joe's party at ten and it's already loose, with people vomiting left right and centre and one couple only a few layers of clothes away from having sex on the front lawn. Keith Richards (ok Paul- it's kind of creepy to keep calling him that when he's twenty three, tops) materialises out of no where and takes Nif round to the back yard, where people are going crazy to Kanye West. Pri gets shots for us all, but I decline, and she shrugs and downs mine as well.
"Come on lover, let's dance," Pri says, grabbing my hands.
I shake my head but she just pulls me into the crush and she's going crazy within a matter of seconds. I love the way Pri moves. She's so effortlessly sexy, and she's got these killer dance moves that on anyone else would look ridiculous, but are perfect on her. I dance through an obligatory number of songs, and then tell Pri I just need to get some air. She nods and waves me off- she's already befriended a bunch of giggly sixteen year old girls and is teaching them how to dance to The Presets.
I suppose it's fate, or some kind of piss-on-Scout party gift-wrapped from above, but the first person I see in the distance is Damien. He's laughing with a bunch of friends, and has one arm loosely around a gangly kid, shorter than him, who I'm guessing is Joe. I get this impulse to talk to him. I don't get that familiar flare of anger when I think of him, or see him. I think I cried all that emotion out of me this morning. I'm not sure what I want from him, but I don't want the last image he has of me to be a sobbing maniac. I start to walk over to him, keeping my head up, swinging my hips to make myself feel confident, but it's kind of hard to do that walking in heels across grass since you're sinking down into the dirt every couple of seconds, so I slip out of my heels and walk quickly up to him, before I can back out.
He's laughing when I approach him – at something Joe said, but when he sees me all emotion shuts out of his face.
"Hey," I say quietly. He nods. "Can I talk to you for a sec?"
I hear the boys behind me wolf whistle and cackle and Damien flips them the bird. We walk round to the front of the house, and sit down on a hammock that's tied up between two large trees. I wriggle my toes and swing the hammock gently back and forth. Damien is the first to break the silence.
"Look, if you want to say anything to me, I want to hear it."
I shrug. "Not really."
Damien swears under his breath, scratches the back of his neck, and just looks at me. I think there are tears welling in his eyes, but it's hard to tell in the dark. "Scout, I don't know what to say. I can only tell you I'm sorry, but I know it's not going to help."
I shake my head. "No it doesn't, sort of, a bit."
Damien takes my hand between his. "Why didn't you ever tell me?"
There is so much tenderness in his tone that I can feel the tears welling up inside me again. I bite my lip and breath in deeply through my nose. "I couldn't. I didn't tell anyone. I-I c-couldn't."
"Ssh, it's ok," Damien says, pulling me close to him, one arm around me, and just like that I'm sixteen again, feeling safe and beautiful and delicate, like we're the only two people in the world. "You didn't have to do that. You should have told me. I would have- we could have gone through it together."
I crane my neck to look at him, smiling bitterly. "I tried to, I tried to call you a million times. You hung up. You didn't call me back. I'd walk up to you in school and you'd turn and look away or you'd make a joke up about me to your friends. Do you know how much that hurt, Damien?" I don't even feel anger any more, just tired, and grey.
Damien clenches his teeth together, a look of revulsion on his face. "Christ, I was such a fucker."
I laugh. "Yeah, something like that."
"Scout," Damien says, one hand running through my hair. "I never, never told you cos I was too fucking scared. But you were the only girl who ever made me laugh. Jennifer would nag me constantly to shape up, but when you told me what you wanted to do when you left school, I wanted to be there with you. Fuck, I don't know. You used to look at me with this look in your eyes, like you saw someone more than some doped up bludger, and I liked that. And then we slept together and…" He swallows. "It all just became really, real, you know? I could see you in my life, like ten, twenty years from now, and that scared me shitless. I was seventeen. I didn't want to be feeling like that at seventeen."
"So you just shut me out?"
"I'm not saying it wasn't wrong, I'm just trying to tell you why-why I-"
I cut him off then. I press my lips to his and shut my eyes. When I first kissed Damien, it was like flying. It was like driving alone for the first time. It was like topping school. It was like being the most beautiful woman in the world. All these years, I've wondered if it's worth pining over him, over the guy who gave me that moment. So I guess the kiss is a trial run for what might have been. It doesn't disappoint.
We both pull away, and Damien's laughing at me, again. "God Scout, this morning I thought you were going to kill me and now-?"
I whack his stomach, ignoring his 'oof' of protest. "That wasn't a profession of love, Damien. It's just a kiss."
"Ok, I'm just saying, if you couldn't keep your lips off me, you didn't have to follow me all the way to Armidale to do it."
"Shut up," I say, and I whack him again.
"No seriously shut up." And I kiss him again, this time more fiercely, as if by imprinting the way he feels on me, I'll imprint this moment on my memory- twenty and feeling like Damien might have loved me all these years- he might have loved me then and never stopped. But just as quickly as that flying feeling arrived, it disappears, and I feel a little disgusted with myself. I freeze. Am I really that girl? Am I really that girl, blindly in love with that one guy, forgiving him for running all over me, comparing him to every other guy I meet, jumping when he beckons for me again? Am I really going to let Damien back in after everything- after the lost baby who's with me as constantly as if I'd let it live? Tears roll down my face all over again.
"Scout?" Damien is a little shocked, and he wipes my tears away with his thumb. "Hey, hey, Scout, please don't cry. I'm not worth it."
"No you're not, jack ass," I say through my tears, and I whack him again.
"That's more like it," Damien says, rolling his eyes.
"Damien, I can't do this," I say, gesturing wildly in between us.
"What, this?" Damien says, mockingly, and he mimicks my hand movement.
"Ok. Ouch," he says flippantly, but I can tell he's cut.
"I can't put myself through all this again. Seeing you, it's like…"
"Yeah," he says, and for the first time he looks nothing like the seventeen year old boy I fell in love with, but much more serious. It strikes me that he may have changed a lot over these past few years. Grown up. "I know."
"Looking at you just makes me feel guilty, about, you know everything."
"The pot?" Damien says, smiling, and I know he's already forgiven me. I wish I had his, and Nif's endless capacity to forgive. Life must be so much easier for them. "Hey, I get that talking about the abortion must be… torture. But you can talk to me. I lost- I lost a baby, too, ok? And I'm going to be here for you." I laugh and shake my head, and he puts a finger too my lips. "Sh, you don't have to believe me now, but I know it's true and sooner or later you're going to know too, ok?"
I believe him. It makes something that's been sitting on my shoulders swoop off and disappear into the night, and I lean into the crook of his arms and shut my eyes. "All right. But I need time, ok Damien?"
Damien presses a kiss onto the top of my head. "I can work with that."
A/N I've always wanted to write the epic road trip story, and after not writing for a while I couldn't get my head back into anything I'm currently working on, so I thought I'd try an epic road trip one shot. I wrote the first sentence and then just ran with it- then I got to the bit where I was describing the car, and the narrator's distrust of it, and then her hatred of Damien kept coming through, and I was like, hey where is this coming from so I started focusing on that and bam. This story. Actually wrote itself, which is kinda cool. On the down side, it's not really the epic road trip story. Shame, one day it will happen though. I've always wanted to write a story about a girl called Scout (so named because her mother has a To Kill a Mockingbird obsession, of course- but I couldn't fit that into this story.)
I'd REALLY love to hear what you think of this (like really, REALLY haha) so reviews would be adored like woah. WotW readers- I'm working on the next chap. Should be up in a week or so.
Ok thanks for reading. And do drop me a line with your opinion!
Thanks, much love to you dear reader xxoo