Read an Excerpt
By Kate McCaffrey, Janet Blagg
Fremantle PressCopyright © 2006 Kate McCaffrey
All rights reserved.
From a Friend
Sometimes you know something bad is about to happen before it does. You know something's not right, you get a really bad feeling.
That's exactly how I felt right now. Something's not right. I stared at the keyboard in front of me and then up at the screen. The bad feeling was threatening to overwhelm me; my stomach twisted and my skin broke out in tiny goosebumps. I clenched my fists tightly, forcing myself not to get up and walk away from the desk.
I took a deep breath and stared at the keyboard again, each letter a menacing silhouette against its stark background. And then the desire to know overcame the bad feeling. Just do it. I watched my fingertips quickly hit the keys that made up my password. I listened to them clunk, clink, clunk, clink, each letter with its slightly different tone. The two icon figures twirled and twisted together, like dancers, as the page flashed the words Signing In, Signing In, to stop me clicking the mouse too soon. The sense of dread engulfed me. This was going to be very bad.
Signing In. Signing In.
Hurry up. Now I was impatient. Tapping the surface of my desk with a pencil, my eyes darted to the screen of my mobile phone, its message still visible. The age was still signing in. I drummed my fingernails against the base of my keyboard. Come on.
And then the blue background of my Hotmail account appeared. As promised, I had mail.
Now my impatience fled and I had to steel myself again. I shuddered violently, my skin prickling with a shiver that started in my teeth and finished at my knees. My hand moved the mouse. My eyes were fixed on the screen. The cursor landed on Unread Mail.
Deep breath. Left click.
I looked at the title suspiciously. Your reputation. My stomach twisted painfully again and I swallowed with difficulty. Who was 'a friend'? Slowly I moved the cursor and clicked on the message.
Sent: Tuesday, 3 February, 3.45pm
Subject: Your reputation
This is to let you know that your reputation is being discussed at length and the general opinion is you're a slut. As a concerned friend I think you should check out the blog page at www.rublogging to see what the population thinks of you. Click on the blogrings tab and open Westerly SHS link.
I stared at the email in disbelief, the skin around my mouth prickling in horror. This was much worse than I'd anticipated. What the hell was a blog page? I had to know what they were saying. Something told me I shouldn't, but I couldn't help it. I shut my eyes and clicked on the link.
I waited a moment and then opened my eyes, breathing in deeply. The online journal page opened. Numbly I followed the directions as instructed. My neck was rigid and my hands trembled as the page took a lifetime to load. And then, there they were. My eyes quickly skimmed them but my stomach was churning and tears blurred my vision. Six entries about the new girl at school. They were all about me.CHAPTER 2
You know how you feel at the start of the school year: nervous, anxious, sometimes even excited? Me and my mates used to get together in the weeks before the first day, worried about which teachers we might get, or curious to see if there'd be any new people. This year all those feelings were magnified ten times, because I was going to be the new student.
Mum had got a posting back into the metropolitan area. After serving ten years in the country, she finally got a Head of Department position. I'd grown up in Grace Point, just outside Margaret River. We arrived there when I was four, so I'd been at the same school all my life. I knew everyone in town; I had heaps of mates and a social life. It wasn't much, going to friends' houses for movies and watching the local teams on the town oval, but I was always busy, every weekend. I was captain of the hockey team and a member of the swimming squad.
The night Mum and Dad sat me down and announced their new plans was, at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, like the bomb the Yanks dropped on Hiroshima.
'It'll be fantastic,' Mum said. 'We can move up to Sorrento and be near the beach. We're looking at some really great, top-ranking schools for you. And if you want to go to uni, we'll be close enough that you won't have to board.'
I sat there in disbelief. What were they thinking? Grace Point was all I'd known. What could possibly be fantastic about leaving it and going somewhere new? What about my friends — and the hideous prospect of having to make new ones?
'No way,' I said, ignoring the tears that were threatening. 'I'm not going. It's not fair. This is my home. You dragged us out to the middle of Woop-Woop and now you think you can shift us back, just because you want to. What about me and Ruby? What about what we want?'
'You'll make new friends, Avalon,' Dad said, 'and you'll still keep your friends here. We're not moving to another country, it's just a few hundred kilometres.'
Three hundred and four to be precise. I wasn't going to back down. I didn't want to change and I was angry with them both. They were full of this crap about the better lifestyle you could have in the country, with cleaner air and fresh, organic produce. And how we could live more individual and fulfilled lives, free from the life-draining, soul-destroying city, with its crime and drugs. Now they were saying the city had better opportunities for me — I felt like an Amish kid being thrown into Rumspringer.
And Mum and Dad believe in democratic decisions. Everyone is supposed to have a vote in our family. Well I was strongly voting a definite NO, but Mum and Dad kept on at me; they weren't going to stop until all votes were YES. Strange idea of democracy, hey?
And they're cunning too. They made sure to deliver their bombshell at the start of the Christmas holidays. That gave them nearly seven weeks to wear me down. Every weekend we were off to Perth — to beachside houses and posh-looking schools, shopping for the latest fashions and swinging by the gelato shop for a large three-flavour we'd eat as we watched the sun sink into the Indian Ocean.
Their trickery started to work on me. I began to see how exciting it might be. The houses we were looking at were new and modern, with theatre rooms and separate teenage wings. They were so different from our haphazardly planned and tacked together house in Grace Point, where every room radiated off the kitchen, a gigantic brick-floored room with an enormous old wooden butcher's block that served as a bench. And Ruby and I would have a bathroom to ourselves while Mum and Dad had their own — surely a better option than queuing cross-legged on a Sunday morning while Dad read the entire Sunday Times on the only dunny in the house. If you were desperate enough, you'd venture to the rickety old loo out the back, cautiously lifting the seat to check for red-backs underneath, the whole time twitching and shuddering if a tendril of weed touched your bare legs — like a spider running, or a tiger snake circling.
And Mum's master shot had been the university reference. It's kind of expected in our house that I'll go there after Year Twelve. With a family of teachers, what real choice do I have? Over the last few years my local school had dropped its tertiary entrance subjects, and kids wanting university acceptance had to travel an hour and a half to the nearest Senior High for years eleven and twelve. Even then, the uni offers were limited. The idea of leaving my family to go to uni had always freaked me out a bit, but if we all moved, I wouldn't have to worry about being so far away.
Christmas holidays were a blur of packing and travelling between Grace Point and Perth. We spent hours on the road, Mum, Dad, my little sister Ruby and me. Those trips were long and tedious. I'd watch the stretch of bitumen in front of us, our car gobbling up the broken white line as Ruby and I sat in the back singing Wiggles songs.
Ruby is a lot younger than me; I was eleven when she was born, but the age gap has never bothered me. After my birth, Mum, who wanted five kids, couldn't get pregnant again. I was happy as an only child. Sometimes I thought I'd like a brother or sister, but Mum and Dad always had heaps of time for me and I never felt that I was missing out on anything. When Mum found out she was pregnant apparently she said to the doctor, 'But how did this happen?'
The way the story goes, he looked over the top of his glasses at her and said, 'Mrs Maloney, as a Maths and Science teacher I would expect you'd know!'
I've spent heaps of time looking after Ruby, helping bath her and feed her and even — I know it's gross — changing her crappy nappies. I never understood when my friends complained about their annoying siblings. Ruby was like my mini friend.
On those journeys in the car I'd think about what was going to happen next year. I'd look out the window and watch the long stretches of dry brown grass give way to tall white gums closely lining the edge of the road and then the first sparsely placed houses, becoming denser and denser until we reached civilisation. Driving back was like watching rewind, the houses gradually disappearing, trees becoming further apart, then the patchwork brown and green paddocks that indicated we weren't far from home. I'd think about all the things I wanted. I was in the mindset now that this was going to be a great change. When I thought about my new school I hoped I'd fit in and make real friends. I wanted to join the hockey team and the swimming squad, meet people I could go to parties with, the movies, all that sort of stuff.
When the time came to say goodbye insecurity overwhelmed me again and I clung to my friend Jake. We'd been best friends since kindy, when I'd thrown sand in his eyes and he'd run screaming to his Mum.
'I don't want to go,' I said, suddenly frightened of all the possibilities. I buried my face in his flannel shirt. He had that unmistakable warm, earthy smell of horses mixed with the sweetness of freshly cut hay.
He ruffled my hair, a thing he knew always pissed me off.
'You better not cry,' he said. 'You were always going to leave one day.'
I nodded and swallowed hard, remembering all the times I'd sit watching him milk the cows and telling him of my plans to travel the world. But it was easy to be brave and adventurous when there was no opportunity to put it into action. In the milking shed, listening to the milk squirting into the metal drums, everything seemed more appealing. Who'd want a life where a holiday was the five-kilometre trip to the front gate? Where even though everything was so far away, when you got there nothing was any different from what you'd just left? The people in town were all fourth and fifth generationers who'd warn, in their knowing way, that once you come and live in Grace Point you never leave.
'I know,' I said, turning to look at Mum and Dad waiting for me in the car. The engine was running and they were listening to Carole King's Tapestry on Dad's new six-stacker boot loader. Ruby was in her booster seat reading her nursery rhyme book upside down.
'And it's not that far,' Jake said, trying to sound convincing. 'If you don't like it you can always come back.' I nodded and took a deep breath. We both knew that would never happen. I was going, for good, and it would just have to be wonderful.
Bye, bye Grace Point, I waved out the window as we joined the stream of traffic heading north. To Perth.CHAPTER 3
The new school had a strict uniform: knee-length navy-blue skirt and a white shirt with the school crest on the pocket, all hair to be tied back and minimal jewellery. The guys wore the same, except for the skirt of course; they had to wear navy trousers. It was really different from the relaxed uniform at my country school, which was more a dress code, not enforced at all; this was mature looking. I really felt like things were changing when I put it on. It was like I was leaving the old me, the boring country girl, behind and becoming someone new. It seemed to hold out the opportunity to be anyone I wanted. The night before school started I looked at it lying on the end of my bed like a flattened person and I was excited. You know the way you feel when you don't know what to expect, but have so many expectations?
I couldn't sleep all night, stressing out over what would happen on my first day. At breakfast I felt really sick. Looking at my bran flakes floating in a puddle of milk made me want to puke.
'I feel the same way,' Dad said, watching me over the top of the paper.
'What?' I asked, willing the vomit not to rise. Around me the timber and granite kitchen was still piled ceiling high with unpacked boxes of cups and plates and stainless steel appliances.
'Sick,' he smiled and drank his caffeine-free coffee. He didn't look sick at all to me, the way he bogged into his eggs and vegetarian not-bacon. The smell made me feel like retching. 'I'll be the new kid too.'
'We all will,' said Mum, sitting down on the chair next to me, 'even Ruby.'
Ruby looked up from where she was kneeling on the kitchen chair, porridge in her wispy blonde hair and hanging off the end of her nose, and responded by flicking globs of it at Mum. In a way Mum was right. We were all going to new schools. Ruby was starting day care — I hoped she'd fit in with all the other two and three year olds, and nobody would steal her box of sultanas — and Dad was teaching in the English department at the same school where Mum, who I blame for the whole shift, was the new Head of Maths. And I was about to enter an enormous metropolitan high school, population 1500 — I don't think that many people lived in Grace Point. It was a small mercy that neither Mum nor Dad was at my new school.
Dad drove me to school. We got there early and sat in the car watching the students arriving. They all looked so neat and professional. Not like at Grace Point where the kids tied surfie jumpers around their waists and the girls wore mini skirts, or hipsters, in school colours. These students looked practically adult.
The school was modern, it couldn't have been very old. Perfectly manicured lawns separated the buildings, with their names — English, Maths, Social Sciences — displayed on the portico entrances. Each building was surrounded by rose gardens, whose perfume we could smell from the car. Tall, leafy, light green trees shaded the lawns. On one side of the grounds there were netball courts and playing fields and on the other was an enormous two-storey building labelled Administration.
It was a far cry from my country school, which catered for pre-primary to Year Twelve: a single rectangular building of red brick, probably built by the first convicts, surrounded by verandahs with chipped, faded painted railings; where the playing field was the local town oval and the netball court was a warped, volcano-like bitumen surface that also accommodated square ball and hop scotch. I sat in the front of Dad's car, sweat sticking the backs of my legs to the vinyl seat, feeling intimidated by the size of the place and the maturity of the students.
'Looks big,' I said to Dad, not taking my eyes off the school. My stomach gurgled like a washing machine.
'And new,' he replied, looking at me closely. I felt his eyes on my face, so I turned to him, swallowing my anxiety and trying to be brave.
'You'll be fine Avalon, you'll make friends quickly.'
I nodded my head, of course I'd be fine. Fitting in had never been a problem before, what was I scared of?
'Okay.' I leaned over and kissed Dad. 'Have a good day too. Don't let anyone take your lunch money!'
He laughed. 'I'll be here at four thirty, after hockey tryouts.'
As I stood at the edge of the drive watching his battered Ford Escort fart and burp its way down the road, I realised people were looking at me. I tried to look casual and calm as I started walking to the Administration Building. Mum had wanted to come with me but I was fourteen, I didn't want anyone thinking I needed to hold mummy's hand.
The front office was divided in half by a tall reception counter. There were about five women working behind it at desks and computers. People kept coming and going through several different doors, smiling and grumbling, 'Back again — another day, another dollar,' and 'Holidays already seem like a memory.' A few of them smiled at me as I waited behind a man who was talking to the office lady. I looked at the photos and awards on the walls, achievements for sport and academic excellence, artwork by Year Twelve students that was so good I was almost embarrassed about the quality of work at my last school. The office lady was laughing loudly with the man in front. I critically assessed him from behind. No doubt a young and potentially cute teacher. As I waited and waited I began to feel like a hillbilly trying to integrate into the big sophisticated city.
Excerpted from Destroying Avalon by Kate McCaffrey, Janet Blagg. Copyright © 2006 Kate McCaffrey. Excerpted by permission of Fremantle Press.
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