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Braving Darker Days

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Slow motion sickness
Why should I fix this
Shaken by the sight of me
The painted babies
And run late ladies
Brought out a different side of me

Slow Motion Sickness – Dave Navarro


Prologue

Sophie

Just got home from parkes. I am so freaking tired. Mum said you can come over later if you want to.

“Hey Mum?”

I wandered into the kitchen, bare feet almost silent on the polished floorboards underfoot, and hopped up onto one of the bar stools that lived beneath the overhang of the kitchen bench. Mum was standing at the kitchen sink with her back to me, almost elbow deep in soapy water.

“Yes, Sophie?”

“I got a text message from Taylor just now – the Hansons just got back from Parkes. Can I go over after lunch?”

Mum lifted a frying pan out of the sink by its handle with one hand, grabbed the scourer with the other, and started scrubbing at what looked like a particularly stubborn bit of burnt-on bacon from last night’s dinner. “Did Mrs. Hanson say you could?”

“Yeah, that’s what Taylor said. So can I?”

“I don’t know Sophie, can you?”

I rolled my eyes. “May I go over to the Hansons’ after lunch?”

“If you like.” Mum looked back over her shoulder at me. “Sophie, you know you don’t have to ask if you can go somewhere,” she reminded me with a smile. “You are eighteen after all.”

“You make Sam ask if he can go places,” I pointed out.

“And you know full well that Sam doesn’t have the sense that God gave a goose,” Mum replied as she went back to scrubbing the frying pan. “Did you hear anything about university yet?”

“I got a letter from Wollongong Uni,” I admitted, knowing I couldn’t keep it quiet for much longer. My mother was an expert at weaselling information out of people – a skill that my youngest sister had inherited. “Promised Taylor we’d open our letters together, though.”

“That’s fair enough.” Mum gave me another smile. “But you make sure you tell your dad and I what your letter says when you get home, all right?”

“Yeah, okay,” I agreed, and snagged a peach out of the fruit bowl before sliding down off my stool and wandering over to the back door. I could have gone back into my room, seeing as my sisters were still at our grandparents’ in Melbourne until the end of the week, but I felt like getting a bit of fresh air.

I had known Taylor (and by extension, the rest of the Hanson family) since primary school, after his family had moved to Newcastle from Western Australia midway through 1990. He’d been scared of his own shadow back then, though I knew he would never admit it to anyone but me or his own mother. To this day I still don’t know what it was that made him creep out of his little shell during the summer between Year 1 and Year 2, only that he’d sneaked off on his bike and ridden all the way from Broadmeadow to my place in Islington – a distance of two and a half kilometres. It didn’t seem like a particularly insurmountable distance nowadays, but when you’re two months away from your eighth birthday it’s practically a marathon. Especially in the middle of summer.

Long story short – Taylor got in a hell of a lot of trouble from his parents for sneaking off, and I was so impressed that I immediately claimed him as my best friend. We’re still best friends eleven years later.

A few hours later, I hopped off the bus at the stop on Lexington Parade in Adamstown Heights and began the walk toward Taylor’s place. It was a route I knew well and could pretty much walk with my eyes closed – bit more than a hundred metres from the bus stop to the turnoff into Rachael Avenue, hang a right and walk uphill until I reached the telegraph pole on the corner of Toohey Crescent, then hang another right and walk a quarter of a kilometre until I spotted the green and white Volkswagen Kombi van owned by Taylor’s parents. It was kind of funny, really – the Hanson family were well-off, to put it lightly, and yet whenever they went away for Christmas they all piled into the Kombi for the trip out to wherever it was they were headed. I gave the Kombi an affectionate pat on its back window as I walked past.

Taylor’s mother was sitting at the dining table sorting through a pile of mail when I walked into the house, trailing behind a very sunburned-looking Jessica. “Hey Mrs. Hanson.”

“There you are Sophie,” Mrs. Hanson said, looking up at me with a smile that lit up her warm brown eyes. “How many times do I have to tell you to call me Diana?”

“My mother would belt me if I did that,” I replied. “Not to mention you taught me for six years – I’m too used to it.”

“Oh, I suppose you’re right.” She sifted through the pile in front of her and slid a white envelope over to me – an envelope with the University of Wollongong emblem and postal address in the upper left corner, and Taylor’s name and address typed on the front in black. I swallowed hard when I saw it – I’d received a nearly identical envelope in the mail on the Friday just gone. Between the two of us we must have applied to every single university in New South Wales, not to mention even a few interstate that I knew damn well my mother would never agree to me going to, but the University of Wollongong had been the first choice for both of us. The moment of truth, it seemed, had finally arrived. “Taylor’s in the practice space,” she said. “Take that with you?”

“On it,” I said with a small salute, and picked up the envelope on my way out of the dining room.

The practice space that belonged to Taylor and his brothers had long been one of my favourite places. It was home to Zac’s well-used drum kit, Isaac’s collection of guitars, and Taylor’s prized upright piano, the white plaster and painted-brick walls decorated with framed articles from The Newcastle Herald, Rolling Stone and Australian Musician. Anyone with half a brain could tell that the three of them were intensely passionate about their music.

But it had its personal touches too – little things here and there that gave clues to each brother’s individual personalities. The collection of sketchbooks on an upturned milk crate near Zac’s drums. The scale model of a Volkswagen Kombi van with a tiny surfboard strapped to its roof racks that sat atop Taylor’s piano, with one of his cameras alongside. A clean glass jar that was full to the brim with guitar picks in all colours of the rainbow, stored on a low shelf right next to the rack that held Isaac’s guitars. And against the far wall, next to the sliding glass door that led to the backyard, the comfortable futon lounge that had played home to many a songwriting session.

It was on the futon lounge that I found Taylor. He was stretched out along its full length, eyes closed and his bare right foot propped up on the futon’s left armrest. His left foot was hanging off the edge of the lounge, toes barely touching the white tiles underfoot. I nudged his dangling foot with my right sandal. “Oi blondie. Wake up already.”

“‘m not asleep,” he mumbled, and cracked an eye open. They were always a bit of a shock to the system – while he shared his eye colour with his dad and two of his sisters, their particular shade of blue was somewhat muted. Taylor’s eyes, on the other hand, were the same shade as the sky above – a bright blue that reminded me of summer. “Hey Soph.”

“You were so asleep,” I objected. “Your eyes were closed.” I pushed at his right knee. “Sit up and budge over. Got something for you.”

“You get me chocolate?” he asked hopefully. “Josh ate all the chocolate on the way home from Parkes,” he added as he sat himself up. “Dad had to pull the Kombi over on the side of the road just before we got to Lithgow so he could throw up.”

I wrinkled my nose. “Ew.”

“Yeah.” He looked at me expectantly. “Come on, what’d you get me?”

“Impatient much?” I sat down next to him. “It’s from Wollongong Uni – I brought mine over as well. And anyway, how old are you again?”

“Nineteen in two months,” he replied promptly. “I’m a month and a day older than you, remember?”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” I held out the envelope to him, waiting until he’d taken it off me before digging around in my messenger bag for my own envelope. “What was your UAI again?”

“76.80,” Taylor replied. “You got 74 or something, right?”

“75.35,” I corrected. “Just enough to get me into Wollongong Uni.” I slid a finger under the seal of my envelope, watching out of the corner of my eye as Taylor did the same. “Okay, ready?”

“Ready,” Taylor replied with a nod.

We tore our envelopes open, our movements synchronised in a way borne out of our many years of friendship, and pulled out the letters inside. I was suddenly nervous – what if I didn’t get into university after all? What if all of my hard work all the way through senior secondary and the Higher School Certificate exams hadn’t been enough?

It didn’t take me long to realise that my fears were all for naught. Right there in that letter were the words I had waited two months to read. Dear Miss Harrison, on behalf of the University Admissions Office I am pleased to welcome you as a student of the University of Wollongong…

“I got in,” I whispered. “Holy shit I got in!” These last five words were said at a level barely below a shout.

“I did too,” Taylor said. He sounded almost stunned. “Soph…I got into uni…”

And with those words he was up off the lounge and running out of the room, yelling out at the top of his voice, “Mum! Mum I got into uni!” I grinned at this, knowing that he hadn’t had a thing to worry about, and followed him upstairs.

“Didn’t I tell you that you would?” Mrs. Hanson was saying as I emerged into the dining room, a few paces after Taylor. She looked over Taylor’s shoulder at me. “What about you, Sophie?”

I held up my letter. “Bachelor of Creative Arts in Performance, here I come,” I said with a grin.

“Oh, well done!” Mrs. Hanson said. She sounded proud, and I couldn’t help the grin that erupted onto my face. “Have either of you heard from Matthew or Katie yet?”

“Yeah, they got into the same uni as us,” Taylor answered. He was extracting himself from his mother’s embrace as he spoke. “Kat’s doing teaching, and Matt got into history. Can I ask them over so we can have a bit of a party?”

“If you like.” Mrs. Hanson reached up and ruffled Taylor’s messy blonde hair, and he tried to bat her hand away. “I’m very proud of you both,” she said, giving us a smile.

“Thanks, Mrs. Hanson.”

“Yeah, thanks Mum,” Taylor added, and he ducked away from his mother before she could mess up his hair more than it was already. He grabbed one of my hands. “Come on Soph.”

Out on the back verandah, I watched from behind the high white security fence as Taylor stripped down to his boardshorts. He tossed his T-shirt up onto the fence with his beach towel so that it didn’t get wet, and squinted up at me against the bright January sun. “You coming in?” he asked.

Rather than answering straight away, I glanced at the thermometer that hung on the wall next to the back door. It was shaped like a sunflower, its dial reading just over twenty-one degrees. “It’s not exactly warm, Tay,” I informed him.

“You’re wearing your swimmers anyway,” Taylor retorted.

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, okay smartarse. Only reason I’m wearing is them because I knew you or those other two idiots would try dragging me in there.” I nodded down at the swimming pool. “And I didn’t feel like getting my bra and knickers wet.”

I had soon followed Taylor’s lead in stripping out of my clothes, pulling my boardshorts on over my bikini bottoms before joining him next to the pool. “Watch this,” he said, and he headed over to stand at the rear of the house. He braced himself before breaking into a run, pelting across the wooden decking toward the side of the pool. Right before he tripped on the edge of the pool he jumped into the air, tucked his knees up and cannonballed into the water. I shut my eyes just before the splash produced by one hundred and eighty-eight centimetres of Jordan Taylor Hanson hit me, soaking me from head to foot.

“You see what I mean?” I shouted at him once his head had broken the surface of the water. His immediate response was the cheeky grin he flashed me through the wet hair that covered most of his face.

“You know you love it,” he said, and he shook his hair out of his face. “Come on, you’re wet now so you may as well come in.”

I did my best to scowl at him. “Remind me again why we’re still best mates?”

“Well, let’s see.” He ducked back underwater for a couple of seconds. “First off,” he started once his head was back out of the water, “you’re pretty much the only person who I’d sneak out after dark for, and vice versa. Second, we can-”

“Finish each other’s sentences,” I interrupted.

“Third,” he continued, as if I hadn’t even said a word, “I can get you cheap tickets to our shows. As if you’re going to moan about that. Four, how else are you going to get our music early?”

“If someone leaks it and I download it off Limewire?” I hazarded, and he raised an eyebrow at me before continuing his little list.

“Five, I don’t know anyone else who’s as addicted to jelly beans as I am. You’re literally the only person who can handle me when I’m on a sugar high because let’s face it, you get exactly the same way. And six…” Here he flung his arms wide open, spraying water everywhere. “I’m Taylor fucking Hanson. Why wouldn’t you be best mates with me?”

“Tickets on yourself much?” I said as I sat down on the edge of the decking and eased my feet into the water. I could feel my toes curling as the cold water hit them.

“Okay, maybe scratch the last one. I’m not that far up myself. You’d pull me down a few notches if I ever did get like that.”

“Damn straight I would.” I lowered myself into the water, resisting the temptation to shiver, and pushed away from the side of the pool. “Speaking of music, when are you guys planning on hitting the studio?”

Taylor shrugged. “No idea, but probably sometime around Easter. We’ve got a couple of years before Liberation is going to expect anything out of us, seeing as Zac’s about to start Year 11 and he’s doing his HSC next October and November, and I’ve got uni for the next few years. We sorted all of that out before I applied to UAC.” He eyed me for a little while. “You reckon we can manage it?”

“If you guys were any other band, I’d say no,” I admitted. “But when you look at how much you’ve managed to do since you got signed, especially when all three of you have had school to deal with at the same time…yeah, I reckon you can do it easy.”

This earned me another grin from Taylor, one I immediately mirrored. One of the many things I liked about him was that he could always find something to smile about. He was easily the most optimistic person I knew – almost nothing could bring him down.

“So, uni,” I said after the two of us had been quiet for a little while – Taylor was floating on his back with his eyes closed against the sun, and I was treading water. He lazily opened one eye at me. “Bit more than a month until the insanity begins. You reckon you’re ready?”

He seemed to consider this for a little while. “Yeah,” he replied at last. “Yeah, I reckon I’m ready. What about you?”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “I’m more than ready.”