Authors: Vanessa Garden
by Vanessa Garden
Vanessa Garden lives on the beautiful coast of Western Australia with her husband and their three children. When she is not writing, Vanessa can be found at the local bookstore where she works part-time. When she is not gushing about her favourite reads to customers, or dreaming up her next novel, she enjoys spending time with the people she loves most.
For Raymond, Grace, Lara and Marin
HIS IS THE
street; turn left here,' Lauren shouted over the song blaring from the radio.
I was about to ask her what Jackson's friend's house number was, but when I turned onto the Jacaranda-lined street, a messy trail of parked cars showed me the way. After mounting a curb seven houses down, where the last wedge of free space remained, we got out, my stomach contorting into knots the entire time.
A soft, summer breeze tickled the sweat-dampened hairs at the back of my neck. Stars glowed mutely in a deep purple sky that would soon be black. Music thumped from the backyard of the host's house, punctuated by shrieks of laughter and some kind of chant, which was soon followed by a deafening cheer. In a last-minute attempt to ditch the party, I glanced at my sister over the roof of my car.
âThey're pretty loud,' I said, shrugging. âThe neighbours will probably complain soon so maybe we should justâ¦I don't know, do something else instead.'
Lauren rolled her eyes.
âIt's one night of fun, Randy, just
And come on, you promised.' Lauren grinned at me while brushing on
another layer of mineral makeupâthe seventh maybe. The streetlight reflected the lush golden waves of Lauren's hair and the glow of her sweat-dampened skin. She was one of those girls who looked her best without makeup, but I said nothing, and watched her cake her face, because, well, we all needed our vices.
Mine after Mum and Dad's accident used to be food, occasionally washed down with goon-bag wine. Now it was recalling snatches of memories starring Marko Tollin, a beautiful king who awaited me at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
I only had to think of himâof the way it felt to be secured within his arms, of the sometimes soft and sometimes demanding (but always knee-dissolving) way that he kissed me, or of that look on his face whenever his steely blue eyes locked with mine, like he was drowning in my soul and actually
it thereâand life's problems temporarily melted away.
âYou look good, Loz.'
She shoved the brush and the jar of pain-concealer into her handbag and shrugged my comment away.
âI know I do. Don't change the subject. We're going in and we're gonna have fun.'
I sighed and drummed my fingertips against the car, wondering what on earth Lauren and I were doing here. It seemed crazy to spend our precious last twenty-four hours together with a bunch of acquaintances and strangersâwell, apart from Lauren's boyfriend.
âLook, I know I promised; but I just thoughtâ¦seeing as this is our last nightâ¦' I paused and picked at a rust bubble above the chrome window frame, mini earthquakes erupting inside my stomach at the thought of what I
would be doing at midnight, tomorrow, on the night of my eighteenth birthday.
Lauren sighed and shook her head again. âI
you were going to pull out at the last second.'
The look on her face and the disappointment in her eyes was like a kick to my stomach with a steel-capped boot. I hated the idea of making her this upset just before my departure.
Maybe in her mind this was the best way to spend our last night together. Maybe losing ourselves in the blissful ignorance of alcohol and dancing was a good way to avoid the inevitable. Since she was the one being left behind, I could sort of understand why. It was different for me; easier perhaps. I had somewhere to go; somewhere amazingâa place so unbelievable that it still shocked me to think that it actually existed. And I was so rattled about whether or not Marko would still have feelings for meâfeelings I still felt for himâand absorbed with wondering if he was even still alive, that I was able to distract myself and skirt around the unthinkable fact that I was abandoning my family, and my home, for a strange world at the bottom of the sea.
A shirtless and severely sunburnt guy stumbled into the middle of the road and vomited up the entire contents of his stomach, which looked like about ten litres of bright orange liquid, before urinating against the base of a streetlight and then tripping and shuffling his way back to the party.
Lauren wrinkled her nose and covered her mouth. âUrgh, I think I'm gonna be sick. Let's get inside.'
My feet remained rooted to the grass beneath my flats.
Lauren paused and spun around to face me, arms now folded across her chest. She was so dead set on this party that I wondered why I was even bothering to try and change her mind. She glared at me, her eyebrows raised as if to say, âWhat now?'
My eyes roamed to the orange puddle in the middle of the road before returning to Lauren.
âI don't want to waste timeâ¦just partyingâ¦and then wake up in the morning and forget what we did. I want to remember
about our last night together.' I shrugged my shoulders and felt my throat squeeze around the hard lump of emotion growing there. âI just want to be at home with you, and Nana and Pop before Iâ¦'
Before I disappear for who knows how long.
Lauren sighed and turned around, giving me her back.
For a few minutes neither of us said anything. Jacaranda leaves rustled in the warm breeze. The trance music suddenly stopped before âAdd It Up' by the Violent Femmes came on to a roar of approval. Seven houses up, clusters of partygoers on the front lawn danced, their arms swinging wildly. Others were sprawled out on bonnets of cars, staring up at the stars, the tops of their heads a rainbow of colours from the party lights that decorated the front of the house.
âHave you ever thought that I might have things going on? That I might need to see Jackson tonight about a certain problem we've been having?' Lauren spun back around, tears glistening on her cheeks. âIt's not all about you, Miranda. Other people have problems too.'
For a second, I didn't know what to say. I'd been so self-involved the past few weeks that I hadn't even noticed that something might not be right with Lauren and her boyfriendâshe had broken up and reconciled with him too many times to count over the past year.
âI should have noticed.' I rubbed at my forehead, where the beginnings of a headache throbbed. âI've just been so nervous about tomorrow, that Iâ¦I don't know.' I shrugged. âSorry.'
She threw her head back and sucked in a deep breath through her nose. Her hands swept across her cheeks to dry them, causing the bracelets that decorated her wrists to rattle against each other. âDon't worry about it. It's my problem to deal with. I'll have to get used to being on my own from tomorrow anyway.' She threw me a loaded look; one that sliced right through me.
We'd become so close since what happened last year that I had known it was going to be hard saying goodbye to Lauren. But I hadn't thought it was going to feel this painful, like a truck was driving back and forth over my chest.
The music stopped, and when I opened my car door the hinges screeched like nails down a blackboard. The rainbow heads from up the street all swung in our direction and a guy called out to Lauren. She waved at him.
âI think I'll head home.' I shrugged. âText me later when you're ready to leave, and I'll pick you up.'
Lauren said nothing.
I got into my car, slamming the noisy door shut. My knuckles bulged around the steering wheel. What a shitty night. Why couldn't I have just gone into the party and made Lauren happy? Why did I have to be such a huge sopping-wet blanket? I turned the key in the ignition and revved the engine, the satisfying roar of all eight cylinders calming me a fraction.
The passenger door swung open and Lauren knelt on the ground beside the seat.
âWait. Forget what I just said. I shouldn't be making you feel bad. You care for Marko; I get it. So of course
you want to see him again. I'd do the same for Jackson.' She inhaled unsteadily and swore. âOkay, confession time. There's another reason why I brought you here besides me needing to talk to Jackson. I thoughtâit sounds stupid nowâbut I thought that if we had an amazing night and I introduced you to some cute guys then maybe you wouldn't go tomorrow night. Stupid, hey?'
I killed the engine.
âNot stupid at all,' I said, trying to hide the constriction in my throat with a smile.
âJust let me go in and speak to Jackson, then we'll ditch and go for a drive and maybe get pancakes and ice-cream, my shout.' She shrugged before meeting my gaze. Her blue eyes shone with fresh tears. âSince you are definitely going and I can't change your mind, I don't want to be here with these jerks either.'
Before I could stop my words they were out. âHey, if there's stuff going on between you and Jackson, and you need me, I won't go tomorrow. I'll stay.' My fingers immediately sought the sun ring on my left hand, the ring Marko had given me for our fake engagement. The light-crystal stone felt warm beneath my touch. It killed me to imagine never seeing Marko again, but if my sister truly needed meâ¦
âDon't be stupid. It's nothing.' She looked me in the eye. âYou
to see Marko again. I'm the selfish one, trying to stop you from seeing the one guy who's everâ¦who you've ever liked.' I knew she was going to say, âthe one guy who's ever liked you'; but I didn't care. I wasn't even gone yet and already I missed my sister's company, even if she was painfully blunt most of the time.
âI'm serious. I'd stay for you.'
Lauren rolled her eyes and grinned, masking her sadness. âYeah, yeah, I already know that, so shut up already. I'll be back in a sec.'
âOkay.' I sighed with relief, wound down my window and rested my arm against the windowsill. The night had cooled somewhat, but I was still sweating profusely in my so-old-it-didn't-have-air-conditioning car.
After five, then ten, then fifteen minutes passed, I got out and leaned against the bonnet to try and catch what little of the tickling breeze I could, and spent most of the time slapping mosquitos from my arms.
Where on earth was Lauren? Was she purposely taking her time so that I'd come looking for her and wind up at the party after all? No. She had stuff to sort out with Jackson. That was all. I'd give her five more minutes before I went in.