If Clarke calculated the amount of time she’s spent walking this same kilometre of road, it’d add up to a reasonable portion of her childhood. If she then wrote down how much time she’s spent walking this piece of road with her friends, the one who’d come out on top is Bellamy.
They’re two months apart in age, which he lords over her when he gets his licence first, but he still drives her everywhere. Their bedrooms are exactly six hundred and twenty point 3 metres apart, and they have a five-inch height difference. In case you hadn’t guessed, Bellamy is the one who gets to reach for things on the top shelf of the supermarket when either of them gets sent on the weekly shop (the joys of being a semi-competent teenager with a car).
The six km’s of Delinquent Rd (no through road) are home to seven farms. Griffin and Blake are next to each other, with the Green-Jordan’s on the other side of Clarke, and the Reyes’ beside the Blake’s. There’s seven of them in the same grade, with a few months’ age difference between them. There’s also Octavia, and little Maya Wick, and Fox Collins, but the seven older kids tend to hang together, as you would when you spend an hour on a bus together, morning and afternoon, and spend your summers helping with haying and cattle and dogs.
So this afternoon, it’s just Clarke and Bellamy, because as Raven lovingly calls it, they’re the ‘overachievers’ who ‘volunteered’ their time to help the local school set up for a book fair.
It’s hot out, despite the fact it’s only December, and the sky is the kind of picture-perfect blue you see in movies. There’s a few fluffy clouds on the horizon, but the likelihood of a cooling rainstorm is low. They’ve got about half a km to go before they make it to the Griffin’s, and then the Blake’s are a good few minutes walk from there.
Clarke is in cutoffs, and a too big collared plaid, open over a white tank top. She’s a little grubby from moving tables, and so is Bellamy, but he dressed a little better for the day, in a beat up t-shirt with some kind of faded logo on the front, and denim shorts.
“Ok, so what’s the bet that Mr Whit and that new kindy teacher are dating?”
This is a continuation of a conversation they’ve been having with raised eyebrows and nudged elbows all day. Clarke is super convinced of their relationship. Bellamy is significantly less sure.
“Are you forgetting that I saw him with Jake, the one who works at the library, not the one with the two black Labradors, at the store the other day, buying groceries together?”
Clarke kicks one of the numerous bits of gravel for a few steps, then lets it drift out of her path. “Like buying groceries like, ‘no this brand of pasta sauce is much better than that one’, or like co-habituating grocery purchases? They’re very different things.”
“Much more the second one, but also because everyone knows that there’s only one decent brand of pasta sauce in that store.”
They’ve nearly reached the Griffin house by now, a two storey homestead, all white paint and new colourbond red roof. Abby’s 4WD isn’t in the driveway, but Jake’s farm ute, with the miscellaneous small bits of farm machinery and tools that live, for some reason, in the tray of every farm ute in existence, is parked under the shade of the massive jacaranda tree that dominated the yard.
If you buy a new ute for a farm, various inexplicable pieces of metal and plastic will appear in the tray within a week. It’s an unexplained phenomenon.
Clarke can’t be bothered to open the gate, so she hikes one foot into the metal grating, swings up to straddle the gate for a second, then lands on the other side. Bellamy leans his arms on the sun warmed metal for a few seconds, till Clarke huffs out a breath, and gestures her head towards the house.
“You don’t ever have to ask, you know. My parents just assume you live here part-time, just like your mum calls here first if she can’t find you. Plus, I baked stuff yesterday, and if you’re really nice and compliment my cooking, I’ll drive you home.”
“You just want an excuse to come swim in the creek.” Bellamy shrugs, and follows Clarke’s example, hiking himself over the gate. “I think Raven and Wick are free as well, so if you give em’ a call, they’d probably be dying for a swim as well.
They enter the house, Clarke pushing open the screen door, and kicking off her shoes into the pile by the door. Abby likes no shoes in her house, which is a reasonable rule when you’ve got a daughter who spends her time on quad bikes, in stables and wandering paddocks, and a husband who enjoys tinkering with tractors, and occasionally pulls cows out of mud holes.
Bellamy does the adult thing, and actually unties his runners, before leaving them in the pile. Clarke is already in the kitchen, reading a piece of notepaper with her father’s spidery scrawl on it as she pulls cups out of the cupboard with the other hand.
“So apparently, dad pulled our bull out of the swampy bit today, and when he went to check on him, there was a cow and calf in there, so he’s had a long day and is currently napping upstairs. If, and I quote, ‘inevitably drive Bellamy home’, we’ve gotta take the quad, because he’s headed into town later to meet Jackson about the baler, and, I quote again ‘probably won’t be home before he needs to leave’.” Clarke plonks the cups on the table, before heading for the fridge to get cold water. After a day of moving dusty furniture, ‘real’ water, as they call it, compared to the chlorinated yuck of town water, is deliciously refreshing.
“So, I believe I was promised baking?” Bellamy refills his glass from the bottle, feet nudging the outside of Clarke’s thigh from where his legs are stretched out under the table.
“And I was promised compliments about my baking, so you’d better damn deliver.” With that parting comment, Clarke goes once again for the fridge, and reaches inside, returning with a tupperware container. “I have made,” she pauses for dramatic effect, till Bellamy flicks her hand where it sits on the table, “profiteroles.”
Inside the container, nestled in baking paper, are twenty or so, cupcake sized, dollops of golden pastry with chocolate smeared on top.
“Well, they look great.” Bellamy looks up at her as he reaches for one and bites into it. They’re filled with crème patisserie, and he’s got chocolate and the sweet filling smeared on the edge of his top lip.
They each devour two profiteroles before Clarke decides that if she doesn’t put them back in the fridge, there will be none left in ten minutes. It’s a little after five by this point, and according to the schedule on the fridge, Abby Griffin has the night shift at Mt Weather Memorial, and so won’t be home until at least eleven that night. Clarke writes a note to her father, letting him know she’s eating at the Blake’s and will probably be home by nine-ish.
Clarke heads for her bedroom, down the hallway from the kitchen, on what was once a sunroom and is now a converted bedroom with an itty-bitty bit of verandah in front of it. Bellamy puts the cups into the half packed dishwasher, and follows. Clarke’s bedroom is not huge, but it’s big enough for a desk and a double bed, because one of the joys of being an only child is your parents spoil you just a bit, and you also don’t have to share a bathroom. She digs in her chest of drawers for a few minutes as Bellamy flops onto her unmade bed. Clarke pulls out a pair of swimmers, a spare pair of shorts and shirt and throws them in a tote bag. She then rifles through her wardrobe and pulls out a towel.
“Got it all. Quad is out in the back shed. I’m going to grab a couple drinks.” She drops the tote bag on Bellamy’s chest as she heads out onto verandah. He sits up and follows her out after grabbing his shoes, bypassing the top open fridge she’s chest deep in to head for the open shed. Inside are two quad bikes, the ride on mower, and various other mechanical items, including the tractor that Jake is ‘fixing’ in his spare time. One of the quads has a flip top plastic box, the sort you’d use as a tool or storage box, strapped to the back utility rack. Bellamy flips it open, and drops Clarke’s bag in, before throwing a leg over, and settling himself on the bike. Clarke turns up a few minutes later, with four bottles of Corona, beaded with condensation.
“Sorry. Figured I should let dad know I was taking drinks. Had to write it down. She passes the bottles to him, and Bellamy tucks them inside the box, protected by Clarke’s towel. “Let’s go.”
She swings a leg over, settles her feet and flicks the ignition switch. The quad grumbles to life under them, motor vibrating as Clarke switches gears from neutral to high. Bellamy sets one hand on her left thigh, and hooks the fingers of his other hand into the belt of her shorts. They take off nice and slow, keeping the growl of the motor to a low grumble as they head around the house for the road, then Clarke opens her up, accelerating to a fast but still safe thirty. Her back is pressed against Bellamy’s front, the summer air whipping past them, and Clarke breathes in deep.
This is what she loves about the tiny town they live in, the group of friends she’s got, all farm kids, all along this road. This could be her whole world for the rest of her life, do her time at uni, something agricultural, then come back and take over the farm. It’s kinda the unspoken expectation of the eldest child on a farm, that you learn as you go, because ‘this will all be yours someday’. But Clarke wants it, wants this to be her world, to wake up early, go to bed late, pull cows out of ditches, learn to fix a baler on the fly, mid-way through the haying.
The arrive at the Blake’s, and Clarke drives the quad through the open gate. She slows to a stop beside Aurora’s ute, mud-splattered and with three hay bales in the tray, and Bellamy pushes her forward so he can get off. Clarke elbows him in the side as he does, and his lips twist into a smirk. While she’s busy pulling her gear out of the storage box on the quad, Bellamy heads inside.
Aurora is in the kitchen, at the table with paperwork. She shuffles it into a pile as he enters the room.
“Mama, Clarke and I were thinking about heading down to the creek.” Bellamy drops into the seat opposite his mother. They don’t look very similar, Bellamy taking after his father, all dark skin, freckles and curly black hair. The only look in his mother got was his eyes, the dark brown also shared by Octavia. “She was also going to be staying for dinner.”
“And aren’t you glad I just assume she lives here half the time, so I always make enough food.” Aurora kicks her son’s chair under the table. Clarke and Bellamy are pretty much attached at the hip, so she works under the assumption that if she can’t find him, he’ll be down the road. It’s served her well so far, and she just makes every meal on the assumption that either Clarke will be here, or she’ll have leftovers, which is fine with two teenagers in the house.
“Evening mama Blake. Can I put these in the fridge?” Clarke plops her bag on the table, and pulls out the beers.
“Go ahead Clarke. We’re having spaghetti bolognaise for dinner.” Aurora gestures with a hand towards the fridge. Clarke slides the bottles into the bottom shelf, next to a half empty pot of yogurt and a plate of leftover chicken kebabs.
“Sounds great. Don’t tell my dad, but your bolognaise is my favourite.” Clarke leans her forearms on the back of Bellamy’s chair. “Where’s Tavvy?”
“Probably in her room. I think she’d probably like to come with you tonight, if you ask her.” Aurora pulls her paperwork back out of it’s pile, and as Bellamy and Clarke head out of the kitchen, she keeps working on feed prices for the upcoming year.
“Oi, O. We’re going down the creek later, if you want to come?” They stop at Octavia’s bedroom door, both leaning on opposite sides of the doorway, feet almost tangled together.
Octavia looks up from her book, pauses her music and pulls out her headphones. She’s lying on her stomach on her bed, one leg bent absently at the knee, foot in the air. The Blake’s tortoiseshell cat, Boppet, is spread out beside her, pressed against her side.
“Yeah. Is Fox coming?”
“Haven’t called anyone yet. We’ll give the Collins place a ring. I don’t think Finn is home, he said he was at his mum’s till the day before Christmas. Raven and Wick are home, I’m pretty sure. Don’t know about Jasper or Monty.” Bellamy stretches, arms above his head, fingers only a few inches from the roof.
“Monty said Jasper is visiting his dad, but he’s home till New Years or so.” Clarke pokes the trim line of skin visible between the top of Bellamy’s pants and the bottom of his shirt. He recoils, and brings his arms down, sending her a mock offended glare.
“Go call them. I want to finish my book.” Octavia shoves her earphones back in, and Clarke and Bellamy make their way to his room, which in contrast to Clarke’s, has a made double bed, and no laundry basket on the floor. It does have pony club ribbons decorating the top of his desk, just like Clarke’s, and they have the same ipod speaker/radio, in the same colour. Bellamy turns it on, filling the room with the low background hum of terrible American country music. It’s Bellamy’s secret shame, he likes shitty music about horses and bars and tailgate parties. Clarke makes fun of him for it, but she doesn’t hate it, and he listens to Taylor Swift and Pink whenever she drives places, so they’re even.
Clarke drops down on his dark blue doona cover, and Bellamy goes to grab the house phone from the hallway.
“Wick or Raven first?”
“Collins isn’t in town, so they’re probably fiddling with the bale loader in Wick’s shed. Not long to go till haying, and it was making weird noises at the end of the season last year.” Bellamy drops down next to Clarke, stomach first on the bed. She rolls away a bit, not wanting to get her hair pulled under his arm. It’s spread out like a halo against the dark bedspread, and if angels existed, and they looked like Aussie farm girls, that’s what Clarke looks like.
Bellamy calls the Wick homestead, and gets Katherine Wick. She says Raven and Kyle are in the shed, and she’ll send the call over there. A few seconds later, and they’ve got Raven on the phone.
“Hey. Raven here.”
“Hey Rae. We’re headed down the creek for the evening. You in?”
“Yeah, we’ll come. I think the idiot under the bale loader is meant to babysit tonight. Oi. Dipshit.” Raven calls out to Wick, then returns to the call. “I drove my car here, if that makes it easier. Anyone else coming?”
Clarke pulls the phone away from Bellamy, and hits speaker.
“Hi Raven. We were gonna call Fox, if she’s home, and I think Monty as well. Tavvy’s coming if Fox is.”
“Fox is home. She’ll come. So will Monty. See you at six-ish? The idiot and I will be there. We’ll pick up Fox, and Monty will probably quad down or we can go get him.”
“All good. Six-ish. See-ya.”
They call the Collins, and Fox is indeed happy to come. Then it’s onto Monty, and he says he can call Raven for a ride.
Dinner is at twenty past five. The Blake children and Clarke pile into the kitchen when Aurora calls, ‘food, small monsters of mine’.