I looked back over my shoulder to see Avery standing behind me in the doorway of the sunroom. I had been standing on the small verandah that overlooked the swimming pool in my parents’ backyard for what felt like ages, leaning on the railing that surrounded it and watching the rain falling from the sky. She looked a little worried, which had me instantly on my guard. Whatever she wanted to talk to me about, I knew it couldn’t be good. “Yeah?” I asked warily.
“Um, Zac and Isaac want to talk to you,” she said. “They’re in your old practice space and they don’t look all that happy.”
“Great,” I mumbled. I knew right away why my brothers were pissed off at me – somehow they had found out about my plans for next year, though how they could have found out without someone else telling them I had no idea. Unless… “Those fuckwits went through my shit, didn’t they?” I asked, anger beginning to burn deep inside me. There was no other explanation.
“I don’t know,” Avery said. “But I think they might deck you if you don’t get down there right now.”
I managed a small smile for my sister, turned around to face her and drew her into a hug. “Thanks, Ave,” I said. “Better warn Mum to have the first aid kit on standby, yeah?”
Avery let out a small laugh. “Yeah, okay.”
My brothers were waiting for me downstairs in our old practice space, just like Avery had said, and as I walked down the short flight of steps past the doorway of Dad’s workshop I could see that Zac in particular looked practically ropeable. I had no doubt I was in for one hell of a lecture from both of them.
“What’s this about you applying to TAFE for next year?” Zac asked the instant I had closed the door behind me. My brothers were sitting on the futon lounge my parents kept downstairs, both of them staring at me with undisguised fury in their eyes. There was no doubt about it – they were well and truly pissed off at me.
“Who said I applied to TAFE?” I asked evenly, claiming a bar stool for myself as I spoke.
“This did,” Isaac replied, holding out a white envelope with the blue, white and black Illawarra Institute of TAFE emblem and my name and address on the front – the same envelope I had been carrying around with me for nearly two months.
“Where the hell did you find that?” I asked, allowing a tiny smidgen of anger to colour my tone. “You’d better not have gone through my backpack Isaac, or I fucking swear to God-”
“So what if I did?” he shot back, interrupting me.
“That’s private! You wouldn’t like it if I went through your shit!” I glared at him, and felt a small surge of satisfaction when he shrank away a little. Both of my brothers – hell, my entire family – were well aware of my temper and knew that I could out-glare our mother given half a chance. I had demonstrated my ability to do so on more than one occasion. “Yeah, I did apply to TAFE for next year. I haven’t heard anything back yet though, so you don’t have to worry. I probably didn’t get in so what’s your fucking problem?”
“Our problem is that you didn’t talk to us about it!” Zac burst out. “If you’d told us you were thinking about going to TAFE, we’d have been behind you one hundred percent.”
“I wouldn’t have been,” Isaac muttered. “You already dropped out of uni, what the hell’s the point of going to TAFE?”
“You know exactly why I dropped out, Isaac,” I snapped at him. “Don’t you fucking dare blame that on me. It is not my fault that my own body decided it wanted to fuck up my life and land me in hospital for almost nine months.” Here I raised my voice. “And nor is it my fault that I ended up stuck on fucking chemotherapy for nearly three fucking years!”
“Neither of us ever said it was your fault, Taylor,” Zac said, ever the peacemaker. “We know it wasn’t. Nobody is blaming that on you.”
“Well he seems to think it was entirely my fault,” I muttered, feeling very mutinous. I jerked a thumb at Isaac, and he gave me the finger. “Oh, that’s fucking mature. How old are you again?”
“Cut it out, both of you,” Zac ordered, sounding eerily like Dad. “Why didn’t you talk to us about this, Tay? We could have worked something out.”
I shrugged, well aware it was a non-answer. “I don’t know. I guess I thought you’d both tell me to forget about it. You both know why I decided to go to uni, right?”
“So you’d have a backup in case the band ended,” Zac replied. “Is that why you applied to TAFE?”
“Yeah, it is,” I replied. “I just…I don’t want to be left without any options, you know? My HSC won’t count for shit if I have to get a ‘normal job’.” I made air quotes around the last two words as I spoke. “I’m really just hedging my bets a little. I honestly want to do music for the rest of my life – that bit hasn’t changed – but if it turns out I can’t then at least I’ll have something to fall back on.” I dropped my gaze down to my bare feet. “It’s just…this is something I need to do for me. Nobody else.” I shrugged. “That probably doesn’t make sense to anyone aside from me, but that’s why I’m doing it.”
I slid down off my bar stool and shoved my hands into the pockets of my cargo pants, and started pacing across the room. “I’m working off the assumption that I didn’t get into the course I applied to do. I was told I’d hear something within eight weeks, and it’s been almost that long. But if I do get in, I’d only be doing it part time. The course runs four days a week if you’re doing it full time, from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon, but odds are I’d only be in class for two of those days. I had to get special permission from the department head to apply as a part time student. Rest of the time I’d be free for doing band stuff.”
“So what did you apply to do, then?” Isaac asked. A lot of the anger had vanished from his voice, but I could tell he was still a little pissed off.
“Design, at Wollongong TAFE,” I replied. “Look, it was either go to TAFE or apply to join the Army Reserve. I was torn between the two, to be completely honest with you. And I didn’t think either of you would appreciate it if I rocked up here and told you both that I was being shipped off to East Timor or the Solomon Islands, or wherever it is the Army sends their reserves these days. At least this way, I’m still at home and I can come up here whenever you want or need me to.” I stopped pacing for a few moments. “And before either of you ask why I’m not doing it at Newy TAFE, keep in mind that I haven’t lived up this way since” I counted backwards to make sure I had the year right “2006. It’s better for my sanity if I stick relatively close to home. Besides, Hunter Institute wasn’t running the specific design course I wanted to do. It was either going to be Lidcombe, Nepean, St. George, Wollongong or the Design Centre in Enmore, and Wollongong won out.”
I ran my hands through my hair, suddenly feeling very defeated and tired. “I don’t expect either of you to understand my specific reasons for doing this. We…” I let out a quiet sigh. “We’re probably going to have a fair bit of downtime coming up. The regional tours don’t take up all that much time, and neither would that tour of New Zealand we’re planning to do next year. I’d just be sitting around twiddling my thumbs most of the time, and you both know very well that I don’t like being bored. I’d probably end up getting my ear pierced again or something like that just so I had something to do.”
“Yeah, and that was such a good idea last time,” Zac snarked.
“Fuck you Zac,” I said, grinning at him so he knew I was kidding. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you what my plans were for next year. I should have discussed it with both of you before I submitted my application, not months afterward. I know that. But it’s like I said – I’m doing this for me, not anyone else.”
“So long as you tell us when you get accepted into the course, we won’t hold it against you,” Zac said, holding up a hand when Isaac opened his mouth. “And before you say anything, you will get in. They have rocks in their collective heads if they knock you back. You have absolutely nothing to be worried about.”
“I thought I was supposed to be the optimist in this band, not you,” I said as I opened the door of the practice space and led the way upstairs.
“Yeah, well, things change,” Zac said from behind me. “And anyway, I’m not being optimistic. I’m just telling you the truth.”
And as it turned out, Zac was right.
The oldest daughter of one of my neighbours was sitting on the front steps of my house when I arrived home from Newcastle the next afternoon, with what looked like a bundle of envelopes clasped in her lap. As I walked back down the side of the house from the carport, carrying my backpack by one strap over my right shoulder and the long strap of my duffle bag over my left, I saw her climb over the wrought iron railing and jump down into the garden. I winced as her feet came dangerously close to kicking the heads off some of the flowers on the grevillea bush that a previous tenant had planted there.
“Watch the feet Kelsey!” I called out to her.
“Sorry Mr. Hanson!” Kelsey called back. “Did you have a good Christmas?”
“I did, yeah,” I replied. “And how many more times do I have to tell you that it’s all right to call me Taylor?”
“Mum and Dad said it’s rude to call adults by their first names,” Kelsey said. She rocked back on her heels a little, hands clasped behind her back, and studied me. “And I don’t like being rude.”
I bit back a laugh. “Would it help if I told you that Taylor is my middle name?” I said. “It’s not my first name – Jordan is my first name. My mum and dad just thought my middle name suited me better.” Kelsey shook her head at this, and I shrugged. “Oh well, worth a try.” I peered over Kelsey’s shoulder at her little collection of envelopes. “What’s that you’ve got there?”
“Mum and Dad got your mail for you while you were away,” Kelsey replied, and she handed the envelopes to me. A bright pink hair elastic was wound around them to keep them together. “They said they’ve got the key for your letterbox when you want to come and get it.”
“Thanks, Kelsey,” I said, and she gave me a wide smile. “I’d better get all of this inside – you say thank you to your mum and dad for me, okay?”
Once Kelsey had disappeared back inside her house, I walked across my front lawn to the front path and up my front steps. I had never been more relieved to be home – the drive between my parents’ house in Adamstown Heights and my house in Corrimal had been a lot more exhausting and hair-raising than usual, and I had vowed almost as soon as I had reached the bottom of Bulli Pass that the next time I was catching the train up. I dropped my backpack and duffle bag right inside the front door and pulled the screen door closed, leaning against it once it was locked and closing my eyes for a little while.
My mobile phone vibrated in my pocket right as I started to drift off, startling me back into full awareness and almost making me fall over. I’d completely forgotten I’d left it on silent during my drive, not wanting to be distracted. I straightened up and fished my phone out of my pocket, unlocking the screen to find a text message from Mum – Did you get home okay? I answered it one-handed as I walked through to my lounge room, the bundle of my mail in my other hand.
Just got home, yep. Never driving that far again in one afternoon. I’m catching the train next time. I sent the message and sat down in one of the armchairs in my lounge room, setting my phone aside so that I could go through my mail. Most of it was the normal mail I got near the end of each month – bills for my insurance, landline, internet and mobile phone, a notification that I had mail in my post office box waiting to be collected, even a few Christmas cards that had arrived after I’d left to head up to Newcastle. One of the envelopes caught my eye – it was identical to the envelope the confirmation of my application to TAFE had come in, and I nearly dropped it. This was it – the letter I’d been waiting for since the beginning of November.
“Okay Taylor, calm the fuck down,” I scolded myself when I realised I was on the verge of having a panic attack. “It’s not the end of the world if they’ve knocked you back.” I gave myself a mental smack across the back of my head, took a deep breath and ripped the envelope open, unfolding the single sheet of white paper that was inside. “Here goes nothing…”
10412 Certificate IV in Design Part Time at WOLLONGONG COLLEGE
Congratulations on your successful application. You have been offered your first preference shown above. Details of the outcome of other preferences are shown at the end of this letter.
I stopped reading after the first full paragraph – those first few lines told me all I needed to know for the time being. “Holy shit,” I whispered, staring at it. “Holy shit…” My right hand started shaking as I picked my phone up again, unlocked it and dialled my parents’ home phone number.
“Hello?” my youngest sister said to answer the phone at the other end of the line.
“Hey Zo, it’s Tay,” I said, doing my best to keep my voice from trembling. I hadn’t been so nervous in at least the last three years. “Can I talk to Mum please?”
“Yeah, hang on,” Zoë said, before yelling out, “Mum, Taylor’s on the phone and he wants to talk to you!”
“Way to wreck my hearing Zoë,” I muttered. “It’s not like I need it for anything…”
“Good afternoon Taylor,” Mum said a minute or so later.
“Hi Mum. I got a letter from Wollongong TAFE while I was up in Newcastle – my next door neighbour dropped it off when I got home.”
“Oh? What does it say?”
I swallowed hard before I answered. “I got into the course I applied to do,” I said. “I-I start classes on the fourth of February.”
“That’s wonderful Taylor! Congratulations!”
I grinned, even though I knew very well my mother couldn’t see it. “Thanks, Mum.”
After New Year’s, everything ramped up into high gear. Were this January in any other year, I would be spending my summer break surfing, wandering around the markets in Wollongong every Friday, catching the train up to Sydney and down to Kiama or Gerringong once or twice, and getting a hell of a lot of reading done. Instead, I was spending it getting ready to pick up my education almost where it had left off more than ten years earlier.
One Tuesday in mid-January, roughly two weeks before classes began, I was on my way home from the beach after my usual early morning surf when my phone rang. I bit back a curse and pulled over outside the newsagency on Murray Road so I could answer it. One glance at the screen revealed Zac to be on the other end of the line.
“Good morning Zac,” I said to answer my phone.
“Hey Tay. Listen, are you busy today?”
“Not really. I had planned on making a trip to Officeworks to stock up on things for TAFE, but that can probably wait until tomorrow. Why?”
“Well, Isaac and I are on our way down there – we just got to Central station about ten minutes ago.”
“You’re what?” I asked. “What happened to giving me advance warning?”
“What, this isn’t advance warning?”
“You have got to be kidding me,” I muttered. “Zac, advance warning is at least two days. You’re giving me barely two hours.” I tipped my head back against the driver’s seat headrest and stared at the roof of my car. “Okay, what train are you two planning to catch down here?”
“Not sure. Hang on, I’ll ask Isaac.” There was a brief period of quiet before Zac’s voice sounded in my ear again. “Train leaves just before ten to seven. Gets to Corrimal at around twenty-five to nine.”
I chanced a glance at the clock in my car’s dashboard – it read 5:50am. “Jesus Christ Zac, how early did you two leave Newy?”
“How early did you get up this morning?” Zac asked, answering my question with one of his own.
“I asked first.”
Zac let out a sigh that sounded very put-upon. “We caught the two-forty-seven from Kotara. How long have you been up?”
“About an hour and a half. It’s good practice for when I start TAFE.”
“You get up at four-thirty in the fucking morning?” Zac asked, sounding shocked. “Who are you and what the hell have you done with my brother?”
“Yes Zac, that’s how early I get up. I’m not lazy like some people I could name.”
“Ha-fucking-ha.” I could almost see Zac scowling at me. “Anyway, we’re going to go wait for Hungry Jack’s to open so we can grab some breakfast before we head down your way. I’ll text you when the train’s leaving the station.”
“Yeah, no worries. I’ll see you two in a couple of hours.”
True to Zac’s word, my brothers arrived in the Illawarra at around twenty-five minutes to nine. Their train rolled into Corrimal station at thirty-three minutes past eight (at least that was the time on my phone when I checked it), and I got up from my seat on one of platform two’s bench seats as the train doors opened. They were among the first off the train, and were two of the only passengers who weren’t toting surfboards and bicycles or dressed in work or school uniforms.
“You went surfing this morning, didn’t you?” Zac asked almost as soon as he was within my earshot, his tone almost accusing.
“Why else do you think I get up before dawn?” I replied, not even bothering to ask how Zac knew I’d been for a surf. Both of my brothers knew me well enough that a surf was the sole reason I would willingly consider dragging myself out of bed before six o’clock. It took a hell of a lot for me to get up earlier than that for any other reason, with coffee being my main incentive. “I’m not enough of a masochist to do it for any other reason.” I eyed my brothers each in turn. “So exactly how long were you planning to be down this way? Considering it takes you, what, at least five hours to get here on the train, I can only assume you’re not planning on heading back home today.”
“A couple of days, probably,” Isaac replied. “Would be a bit of a waste of a trip to turn back around again this afternoon.”
“Well no shit Sherlock,” I snarked. “Come on then. I want to get back home before the traffic gets too bad.”
Back at my place, I put the kettle on to boil while Zac and Isaac dropped off their gear in the spare bedroom. The house I was renting had two spare bedrooms, but I had used one of them as a home office ever since I’d moved in and I had absolutely no intent of shifting my desk and everything else I kept in there out for a few days. And because only one of the spare bedrooms actually served that particular purpose, it meant one of them would be stuck sleeping on the lounge. I wasn’t envious of whoever it was that ended up drawing the short straw, not in the least.
“One of you is going to have to sleep in the lounge room,” I informed them once they’d come into the kitchen. “Lounge is comfortable enough, it’s one of those futon things we have in our old practice space.” I took the jar of coffee and the plastic canister of sugar down from the cupboard above the stove and the milk out of the fridge, setting them down on the bench before grabbing my own coffee mug out of the draining rack next to the sink and another two from the same cupboard as the coffee and sugar. A dig around in the cutlery drawer produced three teaspoons. “I’ll try to be quiet when I get up tomorrow morning, but I can’t make any promises.”
Once the kettle had boiled and I’d made coffee for the three of us, I fetched my iPad, stylus and Bluetooth keyboard from my bedroom and joined my brothers at my kitchen table. “I think we should work out when we can tour,” I said, typing my password to unlock my iPad. “It’s entirely possible that I’m going to have a fair bit of leeway, what with being a part-time student and all – I plan to talk to my teachers about it during my first week of classes, but I don’t see why they’d have any issues with me taking a few weeks off here and there. I can probably submit my work online – I’ll just have to make sure I have credit for my mobile broadband, that’s all.” I opened up Chrome and tapped on the bookmark for the TAFE student calendar. “But just in case I can’t take any time off during term, we need to work out here and now when I will be free to tour.”
“When do you have time off, anyway?” Zac asked.
“Same as the public schools, basically,” I replied. “Except that I get an extra week for winter break, and classes let out for summer at the end of November. And I start classes a week later than the public schools do. But my autumn and spring breaks will be the same.” I quickly scanned the 2013 term dates. “Okay, basically I’m off for autumn between April thirteenth and the twenty-eighth, winter between June twenty-second and July thirteenth, and spring between September twenty-first and October sixth. My last day of classes for the year is November twenty-ninth.”
“I think we should hit Victoria first, during your autumn break,” Zac said. “Spend a couple of weeks playing shows down that way.”
“What about Anzac Day though?” I asked. “We need to make time for that.”
“So we go to Melbourne for a couple of days during the tour and go to the dawn service there,” Isaac said. “Problem solved.”
“I’d rather go to the service in Martin Place, but whatever,” I said with a shrug. I tapped out of Chrome and pulled up my iPad’s calendar, typing Victorian regional tour in for the second half of April. “Okay, winter break next – I’m thinking Queensland. It’ll be nice and warm so we won’t be freezing the whole time, and we can probably play a few outdoor shows while we’re up that way. I’m sure there’s a festival or two we can hit, and there’s Triple J’s One Night Stand as well. I reckon we can work something out with them.” I paused, thinking. “Maybe fit a promo tour of New Zealand in after the Queensland tour?” I hedged. “Just Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington probably, we wouldn’t have enough time for more than that.”
“Be a bit cold there in winter, wouldn’t it?” Isaac asked.
“We can always rug up a bit,” Zac said. “And it wouldn’t be any colder there than it is here anyway. I think it’s worth considering. We haven’t been across the Ditch in a few years so we’re overdue for a visit anyway.”
“Okay, so Queensland and New Zealand in June and July,” I said, flipping through to June and noting this down in the last week of that month. I did the same for the first half of July. “I think we can hit South Australia in September and October, and save Western Australia, Tasmania and the Territory for next year. We’re not going to have time for them this year – and yes, I know that’s entirely my fault,” I said before either Zac or Isaac could say a word. “But at least this way we’re not going to be rushing things.”
“I think we can fit in a proper tour of New Zealand near the end of this year as well,” Zac said. “You said it yourself, Tay – you’ll be finished TAFE for the year at the end of November. We start our summer break around the tenth of December, so that gives us nearly two weeks where we’ll have nothing scheduled. Perfect opportunity for a decent trip around New Zealand.”
“Works for me,” Isaac said.
“You just want to go skydiving again, you maniac,” I mock-accused. “So that’s all sorted then?”
“Yeah, guess so,” Zac replied. I quickly checked over each note I’d made on my calendar before clicking back to my iPad’s home screen and locking it. “Hey, can I ask you something?”
“You just did,” I replied.
“You know what I mean.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, okay, you can ask me something.”
“Why exactly do you live here? Why not right in the middle of Wollongong?”
This was a question I’d been asked more times than I cared to remember. Nevertheless, my immediate response was to point toward the wall of the dining room, against which was my upright piano. “You hear that?” I asked.
“What, the train going past?” Isaac asked, and I shot him a look. “What? That’s what I can hear.”
“Other than that,” I said, trying not to sound exasperated. “You hear the surf? How quiet it is here? That’s why I live here. Okay, yeah, I could be living on Cliff Road and have the beach right across from my place, but I’d have cars and buses going up and down the road at all hours. I don’t want that. I lived in the city for twenty-one years – that’s long enough. I might have to cross a very busy road and a railway line to get to the beach, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a small price to pay for peace and quiet.”
“Fair enough,” Zac said with a shrug. He then eyed me with one eyebrow raised. “And what about that girl at the UniBar show? You know, the one who you looked at and she almost made you keel over in front of nearly two thousand people?”
“What about her?”
“You obviously have a thing for her. She got a name?”
“Far as I know she does,” I replied. “Zac, don’t you dare,” I warned when I saw Zac grab my iPad and flip the case open.
“What?” he asked, sounding defensive. “I only want to get on Facebook.”
“Yeah, and you’re going to hunt for that girl the first chance you get. I only know her first name anyway – she didn’t tell me her last name.”
“Oh, so you did meet her before she caught your eye,” Isaac said. “Come on then, spill – what’s her name?”
“It’s not going to do you much good,” I said. “She probably doesn’t even live around here.”
“Tay, come on,” Zac wheedled.
“You sound like you’re seventeen Zac, not twenty-seven,” I informed him. “You’re both going to bug me about this until you go back home, aren’t you?”
“You know damn well we will,” Isaac replied.
I let out a sigh. “Ruby,” I said. “Her name’s Ruby.”