Authors: J A Mawter
‘I want these permission slips signed and back on my desk by tomorrow morning.’ Mrs Kiri walked between the rows of desks, handing a piece of paper to each student. Some laughed, some chattered. ‘Those of you who will
be attending the sex education class tomorrow will be helping Mrs Burridge,’ she said.
No-one would forget their permission slip, for Mrs Burridge, the headmistress of The Metropolitan School, had the record for giving eight detentions in a row, all to the same person.
Darcy leaned forward and whispered to Clem, his twin sister, at the same time waving the permission sheet under her nose. ‘Check this out.’ His green eyes sparkled as he read out loud:
‘Everything You Need to Know about Your Bodies and Having Babies.’ He ran his fingers through his red hair, then flicked the fringe off his forehead. ‘How dumb. We know this stuff already.’ Darcy sat back, linking his hands behind his head. He was tall, one of the tallest in the class, and easily noticed by Mrs Kiri who eyeballed him like he was the enemy. Darcy flashed his trademark grin and Mrs Kiri softened.
Clem swivelled in her chair as she picked up her note. Her eyes, more hazel than green, scanned the page. ‘Mum and Dad should go to this. They’re the ones with the six kids. Someone should tell them to stop…’
Clem grinned and Darcy grinned back. They often finished a sentence for each other. It came with twin territory.
‘How many Jacobses does it take to change a light bulb?’ asked Darcy. ‘Eight. Six to hold the chair steady, one to put the globe in and one to flick the switch.’
Clem poked him in the shoulder, saying, ‘Speak for yourself. I can change a light bulb on my own.’
Darcy raised his eyes and poked her back. ‘No, you can’t.’
‘Yes, I can.’
Beside them, Bryce laughed. Shorter and more thickset than Darcy, he had brown hair, brown eyes and permanently flushed cheeks. ‘My parents could do with sex education, too. ‘Specially Dad and Cara,’ said Bryce, scratching at his desk and sending dried bits of chewing gum flying. ‘A pregnant stepmother. It doesn’t get any worse!’
‘Big bro,’ said Darcy. He threw his arm around Bryce’s shoulders and gave him a gentle squeeze. ‘Big bro Brycey. Hey, I’ve just thought of something. When your dad’s baby’s born you can shove it in a harness and bring it in for Show and Tell.’
‘No way.’ Bryce shuddered at the thought, knowing full well that he had no intention of baby-sitting
baby, when all of a sudden he sat back. His face twisted in disgust as he said, ‘Besides, people might think it’s mine!
I can see the headline now.’
‘Get real,’ said Darcy. ‘Thirteen year olds don’t have babies.’
‘Some do…’ Bryce thought of a girl he’d met last year, a girl living on the streets like he’d been, scrabbling for survival. He remembered her pale pinched face—she couldn’t have been much more than thirteen—and her stringy brown hair and
the way they’d both pounced when the bread man tossed out some day-old bread. He remembered that he’d snatched the bread stick first and how she’d screamed, ‘Give it to me,’ as he ran off scoffing it down and not caring that she had a big rounded belly. Bryce shuddered again and his voice dropped to a whisper. ‘Some kids do have babies.’
‘Hey,’ Darcy went on, totally oblivious. ‘Babies aren’t all bad. They attract the girls. You babe magnet, you.’
‘Whatever.’ Bryce closed his eyes, wishing that Darcy would lay off on the baby thing. Even though he was only one year older than the others, sometimes it felt like a lot more.
‘Babies are great. You’ll see,’ said Clem.
Bryce sat with his head in his hands, saying, ‘As long as it likes pop, rock ’n’ heavy metal, I don’t care.’
Darcy leaned closer and lowered his voice. ‘Take it from me, Bryce, babies hate heavy metal. Better get used to “Rock-a-bye Baby” or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”.’
‘Spare me,’ said Bryce, trying to block his ears.
‘Works for our boys,’ said Darcy. He thought of his four younger brothers—Jonas, Bruno, Tim and Drew—and smiled. ‘One car trip I sang “Old Macdonald” fifty-seven times to stop them from
crying. One more
and I’d have turned into a duck!’
Clem flicked him on the shoulder, saying, ‘Such a martyr.’
Darcy flicked her back. ‘At least I can hold a tune.’
‘I can sing.’
‘No you can’t. You sing like a cat with its paw in a blender’
‘Well, you sing like a baboon.’
‘Baboons don’t sing.’
Across the aisle sat Mio, a petite girl with straight black hair and alabaster skin. She listened and smiled to herself. After eighteen months at The Metropolitan School she was finally used to the twins’ friendly banter.
‘What about you, Mio?’ asked Clem, turning away from her brother. ‘Think your mum and dad will let you go to a sex ed class?’
‘Maybe.’ But then Mio remembered something and frowned. ‘Oh, no! They’re at a convention tonight. They’ll be home too late to sign.’
‘Lucky,’ said Bryce as he drummed on the desktop.
‘No, I’m not!’ Mio’s dark brown eyes flashed. ‘That means I’m stuck with Mrs Burridge.’ She paused for a moment, then slowly looked up. ‘Unless…’
‘Unless what?’ asked Clem, leaning closer. Her long red hair tumbled onto the desk in a ripple of unruly waves.
‘Unless I sign it myself,’ said Mio. She raised her face, her jaw jutting defiantly at such a daring thought.
‘Forgery?’ said Clem, then she leaned back, folding her arms across her chest and looking at Mio, her face questioning. There were times when she didn’t know quite what to make of this girl. ‘You wouldn’t.’
Darcy and Bryce stayed silent, waiting for Mio’s reply.
Mio looked from one to the other, saying, ‘I would, too.’ A shiver went up her spine. She knew all too well that she would never have done this in Japan. She looked at Clem with a determined tilt to her head. ‘I’ll sign it myself. Mrs Kiri won’t notice.’
‘Probably not,’ agreed Clem. ‘Don’t know why you’re busting to get to the class, though. All they’re going to talk about is bad breath, boys, and bottoms.’
Mio blushed and Clem laughed.
‘Don’t forget bellybuttons,’ said Darcy with a wink at Bryce. ‘Or birthday suits.’
Just then the bell rang. The school day was over.
‘Meet you at the side gate for a ride,’ said Mio, relieved that the bell had put a stop to further conversation. She looked at her watch. ‘Let’s say…ten minutes.’
Mio was waiting at the school gate as kids streamed past, conversations peppered with talk about homework, training and the latest big crush. ‘About time,’ said Mio when the others appeared.
Unlike someone, we weren’t born with Japanese precision,’ said Darcy, tapping his watch face. ‘We have to rely on this.’
said Mio, looking Darcy in the eye and laughing.
‘What’s that mean?’ asked Darcy.
said Mio, smiling sweetly. ‘You’re welcome.’
‘Where d’you want to ride?’ asked Clem as she put on her helmet and adjusted the strap. ‘To the mall?’
‘Shops?!’ Darcy kicked at some loose gravel as he, too, put on his helmet. ‘Can’t think of anything worse.’
‘Donuts would be nice,’ said Bryce. ‘Still-warm donuts, dunked in cinnamon and sugar and
melting in your mouth.’ His tummy gave an answering rumble.
‘Food!’ said Darcy, kicking a rock that pinged off Bryce’s pedal. ‘It’s all you think about.’
‘Well, where then?’ asked Bryce. ‘Where d’you wanna go?’
Darcy thought for all of one second. ‘To the bus depot. There’s some mean ramps there.’
Clem shook her head as she said, ‘Last time security kicked us out. We can’t go there.’
‘I know! Let’s do the “Pump to the Jump”.’ Mio straddled her new Skyraider and tweaked the bell. Her eyes glowed as she pictured the fork in the road, one branch leading up the hill and the other going down—that one passing a steep retaining wall that led to a road and footpath below.
Clem looked at her knees, still bearing the scabs from last time, and said, ‘I guess…’
Mio took off before Clem had a chance to change her mind.
Four kids hunched over their handlebars, legs pumping. At the fork they took the lower road, leaning into the corner, their knees almost scraping the ground. Coming into the downhill straight, they stayed low. Mio’s face was a mask of concentration. Behind her, all hot panting breath
and whirring of wheels, came Darcy, closely followed by Clem. Two red heads bent into the wind. At the rear was Bryce.
They came down the hill and turned sharply.
Mio pedalled up the sloping sandstone retaining wall. Where the slope got too steep, the wall ended and was replaced by a support fence, concrete with a slim ledge along the top. With perfect timing she swung around, scooted down the wall, then launched off, freefalling to the fence. ‘Ye-e-e-s!’ she roared. Bike and rider flew through the air, their bodies welded. Mio lifted from the seat, using her legs to brace against the impact. The tyres touched down, front first with the rear following. Mio let out an
of satisfaction and kept pedalling.
Next, it was Darcy’s turn. ‘Come on, Bullet,’ he whispered to his battered old bike when he got to the top of the wall. He leaned over, squeezing the handlebars as he started his descent. ‘Find your mark.’ As always, Darcy’s landing was smooth. ‘Bullseye!’ he shouted.
A few seconds behind was Clem, on the faithful old bike she’d found at the dump. With her lighter frame she whooshed up the wall, but at the top she turned too quickly. Red hair sprayed in all directions as she came down with as much grace as an avalanche.
‘Whooaaa,’ cried Clem, trying to brake before she became airborne. What she lost in speed she gained in wobbles.
Bryce grimaced and fanged his bottom lip, praying for Clem to nail it. Miraculously, she did. Now, it was his own landing that Bryce had to worry about. Instead of slicing the air, he ploughed forwards and had a thumper of a landing. His tyres skidded. There was the smell of burning rubber. He teetered on the edge, then somehow he pulled out of it and kept on going.
‘Nailed it,’ cried Darcy, grinning like someone in a toothpaste commercial.
‘Awesome!’ agreed Clem. She flicked her long hair off her face with a grin to match her brother’s.
‘Bring it on.’ Typical Bryce. Everything was a song lyric.
Now they were all on top of the fence. They charged along clinging to their handlebars, pedalling, pedalling, pedalling. Nothing separated them from a major stack except a few centimetres of stone ledge.
As Mio came to the end of the fence she focused on her landing—timing was everything. Her wheels left the fence and she catapulted into the air. Black plaits reached for the clou-u-uds, then whipped her shoulders as she came down.
Safe on the footpath, she stopped beside a power pole then turned to watch the others.
Darcy was next. He rose higher and higher as he left the fence, then flung off the handlebars, his arms outstretched in a ‘V’. With a flick, twist and skid, Darcy pulled up beside Mio. ‘Am I the best, or am I the best?’ he asked, a smile exploding across his face.
Mio raised her eyebrows. She nodded as she said,
It was Clem’s turn now. This was where she lost it last time. Clem gripped the handlebars more tightly. Half-crouching, half-standing, she left the ridge of the fence, planning to pull up beside the others.
Mio concentrated, willing Clem to succeed. Darcy leaned forwards, holding his breath.
Clem went with the momentum. The back wheel landed first, but instead of gripping the path the base of the bike swung out from under her and she swerved.
On the handlebars Darcy’s knuckles turned white.
cried Mio, then, ‘No, no, no!’
Clem’s tyres had locked. She skidded, unable to get a grip on the footpath. A parked car loomed from nowhere. She flung her body away, hugging the bike frame as she fought for control.
Darcy cringed, waiting for the sickening thud. He wanted to shut his eyes but couldn’t.
Wet with sweat, Clem wrenched the handlebars. She shrank into her skin.
Mio’s No’s changed to Yes’s and finally whistles and cheers as Clem missed the car by a millimetre. At last the tyres unlocked and she managed to steer. It was the closest Clem had come to a major stack. She felt a tummy-churning light-headedness.
‘Freewheelers!’ she cried and punched the air with her fist.
Darcy raced over,
He lifted Clem clear off her bike and hugged her. ‘You did it,’ he shouted, slapping her on the back so hard it gave her the hiccups.
—as always,’ said Clem, but she was shaking.
‘We did it!’ said Bryce, skidding to a stop beside his friends. ‘Some of us with more style than others.’ He planted a friendly punch on Clem’s arm as he said, ‘Thought I’d be singing “Flowers for the Dead”.’
Clem started to laugh, a soft tinkle at first but quickly building to a gutload of giggles. Her hiccups disappeared. The others joined in. They laughed away their fear.
Clem was pumped. She held out her hand, palm down, saying, ‘Go, the Freewheelers!’
Darcy tapped Clem on the shoulder and asked, ‘Don’t you mean four-wheelers?’
‘With a stunt like that you should have trainer wheels.’
Clem jabbed her brother back, only harder. ‘I was only showing you how the experts do wheelies, stupid!’
‘Some expert,’ said Darcy with a snort.
‘Stop it, you two.’ Mio got off her bike and stood between them. Then she, too, held out her hand and said, ‘To the Freewheelers.’
Darcy placed his hand on top of Mio’s, adding, ‘To the Freewheelers.’ Two more hands were planted on top of the others.
Mio pulled away first, saying, ‘I’m hungry.’
‘Hey!’ said Bryce, putting his hands on his hips and pretending to frown. ‘That’s my line.’