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Chapter 11

Ruby

I have a boyfriend. An honest-to-God, real-life boyfriend.

That was the primary thought on my mind as the 8:33am train rolled out of Adamstown station, bound for Sydney. Avery had already left Newcastle the afternoon before, due to having an early class this morning and not wanting to miss it, leaving Taylor and I to travel back to Sydney by ourselves. We had claimed a set of seats facing one another on the lower level of the second carriage from the front – I was facing forward, not wanting to risk a nasty case of motion sickness, with Taylor sitting facing me. Between us on the floor lay Sadie, keeping guard over my walking stick and our backpacks.

“God I hate the train,” Taylor mumbled as our train picked up speed.

“Try catching the train between Sydney and Casino, and a coach between Casino and Surfers Paradise,” I said without looking up from my Kindle. “Then tell me how much you hate the train.”

Taylor looked up sharply from his iPad and stared at me. “Why the fuck would you do that?”

“Because it was cheaper than flying?” I smirked at him. “Did it for Schoolies Week at the end of Year 12. Bunch of my friends and I caught the train from Woonona up to Sydney, hopped on an XPT from Sydney to Casino for a shade under twelve hours, then caught a coach the rest of the way. We did exactly the same in reverse to get home. I’d never do it now because it’s exhausting and it’d make my chronic fatigue flare up something awful, but when you’re eighteen anything’s an adventure.”

Taylor laughed. “Oh, it’s an adventure all right.” He closed his iPad’s case and put it aside. “When I did Schoolies, it was something like ten of us crammed into a friend’s Kombi van because that was the biggest car that would hold the lot of us. We went up the coast to Byron Bay for two weeks of surfing, wandering around the markets and laying around doing sweet fuck-all. I got sunburned to within an inch of my life and ended up with a shitload of little blisters all over my shoulders and back. I’m lucky it didn’t scar.”

“You went to Schoolies?” I asked, feeling a bit surprised at this.

“‘Course I went to Schoolies. I wasn’t that deprived growing up. Zac’s the one that wasn’t allowed – his plan was to go to Nimbin for a week and do nothing but smoke pot the whole time.”

“Charming. I’m just surprised because, well…you’re famous, that’s all. Weren’t your parents worried about that?”

“Nah. They don’t give a crap about that. The way my mum and dad see it, the celebrity bullshit is just a means to an end. I hate it, but if it means I can share my music with the world then I’m not going to moan about it and neither are they.”

Well, that was a bit of a revelation. Taylor hated being famous. I couldn’t say I blamed him – I’d probably hate it too were I in his position. The idea of spending my entire adolescence and the rest of my life thereafter in the spotlight sounded like hell.

“So when are you going on tour again?” I asked, deciding to change the subject.

“Second half of April,” Taylor replied. “Hitting Victoria during autumn break – it’s easiest that way because I don’t have TAFE and Isaac’s oldest is off school then as well.” He flipped his iPad open again and tapped at the screen for a little while. “We’re planning to fly into Avalon on April thirteenth – tour kicks off in Geelong and that’s the closest airport.” He glanced up at me. “You want to come?”

“Me?” I asked. “You want me to come on tour?”

“Why not?” He grinned. “It’ll be brilliant. I’ll have to work, yeah, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a bit of fun the rest of the time. Plus you’ll get to go to the shows for free. Can’t complain about that.”

“It’s tempting,” I mused. “How long do I have to decide?”

“Let’s say…a week? Liberation’s organising everything and they need final numbers by then so they can book flights and hotels.”

A week to decide if I wanted to go on tour with Hanson was pretty reasonable. My first instinct was to say yes straight away, but I also had my health to consider. There was always a risk of a flare-up, especially if I was overly stressed out. Taylor knew about the chronic fatigue but he didn’t know everything I did – there hadn’t been a need for him to know before now. If I did come on tour, then that was going to need to change pretty bloody quickly.

“If I do come, I will warn you – my parents are going to want to have you over for dinner before we all leave,” I said. “They would anyway because we’re going out, but this is going to make them want to meet you a lot sooner than they would otherwise.”

“Oh, I think I can handle meeting your parents,” Taylor said. “Especially seeing as you handled meeting mine as well as you did.”

Just as Taylor finished speaking, my phone’s message tone sounded off. “Good thing we’re not in a quiet carriage,” I remarked as I rescued my phone from one of my pockets and unlocked its screen. The message, it turned out, was from Lisbeth. How was newcastle? she’d asked, and my first instinct was to just give her a straight answer like I normally did. I quickly squashed that down, however, and typed out a reply with a slowly growing smirk on my face.

Newcastle was good. Reckon i might go back for a longer visit one day. Also i have a boyfriend now :p

I sent the message and clicked back to my phone’s home screen. “Lis is probably going to call me as soon as she reads my message,” I said, before taking a quick glance around the carriage we were sitting in – there was only one other person present, and they had headphones on. I therefore figured they wouldn’t have much of an issue with what I was about to do. “I’m going to stick it on speaker, okay? She’s probably going to screech at me at some point and I’d really rather not subject my hearing to that.”

“Fine by me,” Taylor said. He’d gone back to reading on his iPad by now. I set my phone on the seat next to me, picked up my Kindle again and went back to reading.

True to form, my phone rang barely five minutes later. I picked it up with just a cursory glance at the screen and tapped the Speaker icon before answering. “Hello Lis.”

“What’s this about you and a boyfriend?” Lisbeth asked.

“I’ll give you three guesses who it is but you’re only going to need one,” I said.

“Hi Lisbeth,” Taylor said, flashing me a grin that I immediately mirrored.

“No way,” Lisbeth said in what sounded like disbelief, evidently having realised who I was now going out with. “No freaking way!

“Yes freaking way,” I replied. “He asked me out yesterday arvo.”

“You lucky bitch,” Lisbeth said, sounding envious. “I can’t even tell you how jealous I am.”

“Just make sure you keep it to yourself,” Taylor said. “For now at least, anyway. I don’t think Ruby wants every nutcase in fandom after her, and I definitely don’t.”

“I swear I’ll keep my mouth shut,” Lisbeth promised – a promise I knew she would keep if she didn’t want me ripping her a new one. “So are you guys on your way back now?”

“Yep,” I replied, and glanced out the window to see where we were. “Train just stopped at Cockle Creek.”

“Right, that tells me a lot,” Lisbeth said.

I rolled my eyes. “We’re still near Newcastle – we don’t get back to Sydney until just after eleven.”

“Ugh. I still don’t get why you didn’t drive.”

“Because only a lunatic drives all that way,” Taylor said. “I already did it twice over Christmas and that was enough to last me a lifetime.”

“Fair enough.” There was a beeping sound in the background on Lisbeth’s end of the line. “I’m being summoned – I was supposed to start my shift ten minutes ago. I’ll see you at TAFE, yeah?”

“See you Lis,” I said, with Taylor echoing me half a second later, and Lisbeth hung up.

The rest of our journey back to Sydney passed without incident. Very few people came to sit in our part of the carriage, and virtually nobody attempted to sit down with us or ask to flip Taylor’s seat in the opposite direction. I could only assume they had spotted the blue jacket that Sadie was wearing and decided it wasn’t worth the effort. It suited me down to the ground – I hated it when people tried to sit down next to me on the train, and if I could keep them at arm’s length so much the better.

Our train rolled into Central station right on schedule at five minutes past eleven. As soon as Taylor, Sadie and I were well clear of the train doors I went digging around in my backpack for my very tattered copy of the current CityRail South Coast timetable. “How badly do you want to get home?” I asked as I flipped through the timetable, searching for the next train down to Wollongong.

“I wouldn’t mind eating first,” he replied. “And by that I don’t mean Hungry Jack’s. They fuck up my order every time.”

“Mine too,” I said, earning myself a grin from Taylor. “Okay, so taking into account that we’re going to have to find somewhere to eat…” I found the page I was after and traced a finger down one of the columns. “Okay, there’s an all-stops train just after twelve-thirty that will take us straight back to Towradgi, or we can catch an express an hour later but it means changing trains at Thirroul and waiting a few minutes for the next Port Kembla train. Up to you.”

“The express,” he replied immediately. “No way in hell am I sitting on a train any longer than I absolutely have to.”

“The express it is then.” I closed the timetable, shoved it back into the shadowy depths of my backpack, and once I’d taken a tighter grip on the handle of my walking stick started off down the platform toward the Grand Concourse.

Our search for somewhere to eat lunch led us to Market City in Haymarket, within a stone’s throw of the University of Technology Sydney’s Markets campus. “So what are you in the mood for?” I asked as we rode the escalator up to the shopping centre’s first floor. “I was going to get some Chinese, I usually get either that or Thai whenever I’m here.”

“Chinese sounds great to me. I haven’t had it in ages.” The two of us stepped off the escalator and into Market City’s lunchtime crowd. The shopping centre’s first floor was absolutely packed with people, to the point where I was accidentally hitting people in the shins with my walking stick every few steps. “Used to be my once-a-week treat when I was at uni.”

“What about Friday night?”

“I think that was Japanese,” Taylor replied, his tone thoughtful. “I’ve never been able to work that out for sure.”

Market City’s food court, we found once we had exited the lift onto the third floor, was just as packed as the first floor and even noisier. “I’ll go find us a table,” I almost shouted right in Taylor’s ear, and dug my wallet out of my backpack. “Can you get me some honey chicken and rice?” I asked, handing over a ten dollar note.

“On it,” he shouted back at me, and headed off through the maze of tables toward Eastern Experience. I watched him go for a few moments before starting my hunt for an empty table.

It didn’t take him long to find me once I’d set myself up at the end of one of the long tables outside of Asagao. I looked up from scrolling through Twitter on my phone just in time to see a plate piled high with golden, sticky-looking battered chicken pieces and white rice being put down in front of me. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – you are an angel,” I said happily as Taylor handed me the change from my ten dollar note. He flashed me a smile and sat down across from me with his own lunch – sweet and sour chicken from the looks of things. “Holy crap your lunch looks good,” I said enviously.

“You can have a bit if you like,” he said. “So long as I can have some of yours.”

“Deal,” I said immediately, and pushed my plate closer to Taylor’s.

That afternoon, my first destination after leaving Taylor’s place wasn’t Woolworths so I could pick up something for my dinner. Instead, I bypassed Corrimal Court entirely, choosing instead to head north along the Northern Distributor to my parents’ place. By some stroke of luck my mother’s Barina was parked in the driveway – it meant I wouldn’t have to drive all over Woonona trying to find her.

“How was Newcastle?” Mum asked once the two of us were set up in the kitchen with a cup of tea apiece and the biscuit tin. I could see her studying me over the rim of her mug, grey eyes fixed on my face.

“It was good,” I replied. I stuck my hand into the biscuit tin and rooted around until my fingers closed over a chocolate Monte. “Taylor’s family is nuts though – it’s almost as big as Dad’s. Hell of a lot noisier though. Freaked the hell out of me on Saturday night.” I dipped my biscuit into my tea. “He asked me out yesterday,” I added.

“Who did?”

“Taylor. We got ice cream from Cold Rock and went for a walk, and right before we headed back into town he asked me to be his girlfriend. And I said yes.”

“I should hope so!” Mum said. She sounded very pleased by this little development. “He lives around here, doesn’t he?”

I nodded. “Yeah, in Corrimal. And yes, he knows you and Dad are going to want to meet him. I warned him about that this morning.” Almost as an afterthought, I added, “Considering he asked me to come on tour with Hanson over our break from TAFE, I’m guessing you’ll want to meet him very soon.”

“Oh, that we will. When does tour start?”

“April fourteenth, but we’d be leaving for Avalon on the thirteenth.”

“I see.” Mum seemed to consider this. “I’ll have a talk with your dad about it and let you know for sure when we want the two of you over for dinner, but let’s say April sixth. Okay?”

“Okay,” I replied, before adding, “He likes Italian food.”

Mum gave me a smile. “I think we can work with that.”


“April six.”

Those two words had an unintended effect. As soon as they left my mouth Taylor choked on his sandwich. I reached over and thumped him hard on the back so that he could breathe again. “Thanks,” he said, his voice a little strained. “What’s this about April six?”

“My parents want you to come over for dinner that night. I told them we’d be leaving on tour on the thirteenth, and my mum said for you to come over on the sixth.”

“Okay, I’m scared now.” He put his sandwich down on the table in front of him. The two of us were in the TAFE canteen for lunch, something we hadn’t done since before we’d gone to Newcastle. “Does this mean you’re coming on tour?”

I nodded. “Yep. I cleared it with my doctor on Tuesday – she said that so long as I’m careful and take things easy, it shouldn’t be a problem for me to come.”

“Awesome. I’ll let our manager know when I get home – he’ll pass it on to Liberation.” Here he looked at me inquisitively. “And I’m guessing that there’s a few things I should know about, right?”

“That’s an understatement.” I put my own sandwich down next to Taylor’s. “Basically, if I get too stressed out I’ll have a flare-up, and if I push myself too hard I’ll crash within the next couple of days. I can usually tell when I’m about to have a flare-up – I’ll get a really bad headache on both sides of my head, I’ll feel like throwing up, and all of my joints will start hurting. If all three of those things happen within half an hour to an hour of each other, I need to go and lie down somewhere dark straight away. Usually I’ll feel better after about forty-five minutes, but occasionally it can take a few hours. It really depends on the day and how hard I’ve been pushing myself.”

“And I thought I had it bad when I was going through chemo,” Taylor commented. “Is there anything I should do when that happens?”

“Make sure I’m not disturbed. And if you see that I’m about to have a flare-up and I haven’t noticed, make sure I go and have a lie down – drag me away from whatever I’m doing if you have to.” I picked up my sandwich again and took a bite. “I’m also on some pretty heavy-duty medication that I have to stay on track with. If I miss even just one of my doses, I’m going to feel pretty ratshit all day. So you might want to keep an eye on that as well. Everyday meds are Andepra and Neulactil – Andepra for the depressive and chronic pain aspects of the chronic fatigue, and Neulactil for anxiety. I also get migraines sometimes – I take Relpax whenever I feel one coming on.”

“You weren’t kidding when you said your handbag rattles.”

I shook my head. “Nope. It sucks being on medication, but it keeps me sane and helps me live a relatively normal life. I’d be bedridden without it.”

“I sort of know what that’s like, though it’s not as bad as yours,” Taylor said. He unsnapped a black wristband from around his left wrist and handed it to me. Attached to one end of the wristband was a steel tag with a symbol of a snake wrapped around a staff embossed on it. “Turn it over and read the back,” he added quietly. I did so, and found five lines of text engraved on the tag’s other side.

Taylor Hanson
MDD / SA / CIPN; history of seizures
No penicillin or NSAIDs
Zoloft 100mg / Endep 10mg
Contact Diana Hanson 0491 570 157

“Damn,” I said softly. He nodded mutely and took his wristband back, putting it back around his wrist one-handed. “How long?”

“I’ve had anxiety – that’s what the SA stands for, social anxiety disorder – since I was in Year 8, which I guess is ironic considering what I do for a living. It was a bitch and a half during the School Certificate and the HSC, though. I’m still surprised that I got the results and the UAI that I did. Depression didn’t rear its ugly head until a whole year after I’d made remission.” He shrugged a little. “Personally, I’m kind of glad it was depression and not anything more serious. I was freaked out that it’d come back.”

“I can’t say I blame you,” I said. “I’d freak out too.” I earned a small smile for this. “What about the seizures?”

“They were a side effect of one of the chemo drugs I had to be on. I only ever had two, and I haven’t had any in more than ten years, but I don’t see any harm in telling people just in case.”

He went quiet after this, and I was intelligent enough to figure out that this was a topic he wasn’t exactly keen on discussing in great detail. Not that I could blame him much. Instead, I changed the subject.

“Okay, so, tour,” I said. “How exactly is it going to work?”

“I’m going to pass your email address on to our manager this afternoon – his name’s Joel Somerton. He’ll tell you everything you need to know. But basically we’ll all meet up at T2 at Sydney Airport around lunchtime on the thirteenth and fly down to Avalon in the late afternoon. It’s usually pretty painless, even with four kids hanging around.” He cracked another smile. “We’ve got things down to a fine art now, though, so unless the traffic’s really shocking we shouldn’t have any problems. I can pick you up from your place that morning if you want.”

“You don’t mind? I know it’s a little bit out of your way.”

“Don’t mind a bit.” Here he glanced at his watch. “I need to head back to class. See you later on, yeah?”

“Definitely,” I agreed, and I leaned in for a quick kiss. He flashed me one last smile and gathered up his lunch before wandering off out of the canteen.

The very first thing I did before shoving my lunch box and drink bottle into my backpack was send Lisbeth a text message. Going on tour w/ hanson in vic over easter break, want to help me decide what to pack this arvo?

Lisbeth’s response arrived so quickly that I had barely made it out into the courtyard outside the canteen before my phone chimed at me. HELL YES. Did you drive today?

Nope, taxi, I replied as I headed along the path that led across campus, wheeling myself along one-handed. Couldn’t be fucked driving.

I could almost see Lisbeth snickering at this. Ok. I’ll drive you home today and we’ll get your packing list sorted.

Lisbeth was as good as her word. As soon as our teacher turned us loose she was leading the way down the corridor to the lift, with Ella and Anthony sneaking their way into the lift car just before Lisbeth jabbed the close door button. “Did Taylor really invite you on tour?” Ella asked as the lift began its descent to ground level.

“Yep,” I replied without looking up from my phone. “We’re leaving for Geelong on April thirteenth. He gets to meet my parents first though.”

“Oh, that’ll be fun,” Anthony commented. “Wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall for that.”

“They’ll like him,” Lisbeth said, sounding very confident.

“You hope they will,” I said. The lift doors opened onto the breezeway, startling the elderly tabby cat that was the unofficial campus pet. I unlocked my wheelchair’s brakes and led the way out of the lift, leaning down to my right to give the cat a quick scratch behind the ears as I passed. “Though Mum seemed to be pleased that Taylor and I are going out. I can’t promise she’ll feel the same way once she meets him.”

My phone’s email notification tone sounded just as Lisbeth was driving off campus, and I opened my Gmail app to find an email from Hanson’s manager, Joel.

Hi Ruby,

My name is Joel Somerton, and I’m Hanson’s manager – Taylor would have told you that you’d be hearing from me soon. This email is just to catch you up on all the tour info – I’ll be sending out a few more emails between today and the evening before we leave, so be prepared to hear a lot more from me in the weeks to come.

You likely know the basics of our departure from Sydney, but I’ll repeat them here for your records – we’re scheduled to fly down to Avalon Airport in Victoria on April 13, on the 4:10pm flight with Jetstar. Flight number is JQ617, and our scheduled arrival time at Avalon is 5:50pm. I’ve passed your details on to Liberation, and they’ll book you onto both of our flights (the first flight to Avalon and the second from Albury back to Sydney at the tour’s conclusion) and forward your tickets to you via email. The tour will begin in Geelong on April 14, and will also be visiting Ballarat, Bendigo, Horsham, Echuca, Shepparton and Albury-Wodonga. You’ll have more or less complete freedom to explore each of the towns and cities we visit, but there will be a few rules you’ll be asked to follow – we’ll go over those as a group in Sydney.

As far as your baggage allowance for our flights, you’ll be allowed to check in one 20 kilogram suitcase, and will be able to carry one backpack or messenger bag and a handbag or camera bag onto the flight itself. Taylor has mentioned that you use a wheelchair, which you will be able to check in without it impacting on your baggage allowance. Odds are you’ll have the opportunity to do laundry somewhere along the way, so I would only pack enough clothes for a week. This is entirely up to you, of course, and is only a general guideline.

I think that’s all for now. If you have any questions or just want to clarify something, feel free to shoot me an email. Otherwise, I’ll see you in Sydney on April 13.

Cheers,

Joel Somerton
Liberty Entertainment Group, Sydney

It didn’t take Lisbeth and I long to get to my place. The very first thing Lisbeth did as soon as I’d let us into my caravan’s annexe was set herself up at the table with one of her notebooks and a biro. “Okay, first things first – how big’s your suitcase?” she asked as she flipped her notebook open and uncapped her biro.

My immediate response wasn’t verbal. Instead, I went up into the caravan and over to my bed, and dragged out the smaller of my two suitcases from underneath. Both of them were packed almost to bursting with my winter clothes. I unzipped it, dumped out the clothes and took it down into the annexe.

“I’ve got two but I’m not dragging a dirty great big suitcase around Victoria,” I said as I set the empty suitcase down on the floor. “Reckon I’d be able to shove a week’s worth of clothes into here?”

“If you roll them all and wear your jeans down to Victoria rather than packing them, yeah,” Lisbeth replied as she eyed my suitcase. “And aren’t you going for two weeks?”

“I’m planning to do laundry at least once,” I replied. “Better put washing powder on the list so I don’t forget it.”

Between the two of us we managed to work out a halfway decent list of clothes that I could wear down in Victoria without putting myself at risk of freezing my backside off. One of Lisbeth’s sneakier inclusions, I could see that she had jotted down in her right-slanted running writing, was Hot outfit to wear on a hot date with loverboy, which she earned herself a smack over the head for. “What was that for?” she asked as she rubbed the spot where I’d hit her, sounding wounded.

“I am not going to pack that!” I said, pointing to the item in question.

“Yes you are,” Lisbeth shot back. “We’ll go to Pitt Street Mall a few days before TAFE lets out for break and find you something gorgeous to wear.” She leaned forward over her notebook and eyed me. “Rue, you’re dating Taylor Hanson-

“I’m well aware of that.”

“And I can almost guarantee that if he gets the chance, he’s going to take you out on a proper date during tour,” she continued as if I hadn’t interrupted. “Therefore you need something hot to wear on said date.”

“You’re mad,” I muttered. “I have plenty of perfectly good clothes, Lis.”

“I know you do, but you need at least one really nice outfit. Can you please just trust me on this?”

I let out a quiet sigh. “Fine. But nothing too short or see-through,” I warned her, and she grinned – she’d won this round.

“Have I ever steered you wrong?” she asked, before adding, “No, wait, don’t answer that…”

I snickered at this. “Yeah, because you know exactly what I’m going to say,” I teased, and earned a throw pillow to the face for my troubles.

In that moment, I decided to trust Lisbeth’s judgment. She really had never steered me in the wrong direction in all the years we’d been friends. And really, I ultimately had her to thank for Taylor and I ending up together – the least I could do was trust her on this.

One thing was for certain – spending two weeks in the company of Taylor and his brothers was going to be very interesting indeed.