“Think quick Taylor!”
I managed to catch the blue and white polka-dotted duffle bag that had been tossed at me around half a second before it smacked me in the face. A quick glance at the luggage tag looped around its shoulder strap revealed its owner as Georgina. As I lowered it from in front of my face I could see Zac smirking at me.
“Could you not throw random shit at me?” I snapped at Zac, resisting the temptation to just dump the bag on the ground. I had absolutely no desire to get decked by Georgina this early, especially since knowing my luck it had more than just clothes in it. “You nearly took my fucking head off!”
“Would the two of you grow the fuck up?” a voice snapped from behind me, and I chanced a glance over my shoulder to see Georgina standing in the carpark outside the block of flats she, Molly and Peyton would be calling home for the year. She had her hands planted on her hips and an almost murderous look on her face. Molly stood behind her with a hand over her mouth, looking like she was trying her hardest not to laugh. “Jesus fucking Christ, would it kill the two of you to act your ages for once? I’d rather not get in trouble this early in the year thank you very much!” Her gaze shifted a little, and I figured she was now glaring at Zac. “And stop throwing my shit around Zachary!”
“You’re not going to get in trouble,” I said as I lowered Georgina’s duffle bag onto the asphalt. “Orientation hasn’t even started yet. Lighten up a bit, yeah?”
“Who needs to lighten up?” another voice asked, and I turned around just in time to see Peyton wandering toward us, an overfilled cardboard box balanced precariously on one of her shoulders. Her right hand was all that kept the box from tumbling to the ground, with her left pulling a suitcase along behind her.
“Georgie here,” I said, jerking a thumb toward Georgina. “Thinks she’s going to get in the shit off the RM before classes even start.”
“What did you do now?” Peyton asked with a sigh, one that sounded rather exasperated. “No, no, hang on, don’t answer that. It probably is something that will get us in the shit off the RM, so she kinda has a point. I’d really rather not get a demerit this early on.”
“Okay, okay, fine. Spoilsport.” I stepped back from Georgina’s little bright red Nissan Micra, taking in not only the things we’d already unloaded but also the almost-full boot. I was pretty sure Georgina had managed to cram the backseat full with her things as well. “Jesus Georgie, how the fuck did you manage to cram all this crap into your car?” I asked as I prodded a wooden crate with my left sneaker. The crate was full of books and had a coiled-up string of fairy lights lying on top.
“It’s called being good at Tetris,” Georgina said. “That’s how.” She walked over and picked up her crate of books, and slammed her car’s boot closed with an elbow. “Come on.”
It took more than a few trips, but before long all the gear belonging to Georgina, Peyton and Molly had been moved into their flat. “Thanks for helping us move in Tay,” Georgina said from her perch on the dining table, bare feet swinging back and forth. I was leaning against the kitchen bench, elbows braced on the benchtop to keep myself upright. “Sorry for yelling at you and Zac before, by the way,” she added, sounding apologetic.
“We were being idiots,” I said with a shrug. “But apology accepted.”
She gave me a smile. “Feel like going out to get us some dinner?” she asked. She was reaching for her wallet as she spoke. “I’ll get the other girls to pitch in as well.”
“What am I, your slave?” I joked, a remark that earned me a stuck-out tongue. “Yeah, all right. What d’you want?”
“Hang on, I’ll ask ‘em.” She hopped down off the table and headed down the hallway that ran nearly the full length of the flat. “Oi you lot! What d’you want for dinner?” she called out as she walked.
“Did someone say dinner?” The screen door that led onto the balcony slid open, and Zac poked his head in. “I heard someone talking about dinner.”
“Yeah, I’m going out to get dinner for us all,” I said. “And you’re coming with me.”
Zac scoffed as he came back inside the flat, sliding the door closed behind him. “Like hell I am. I still have to get my room sorted.”
I eyed Zac as I straightened up. “Unless you want me to tell Mum and Dad what you did at Schoolies, you might want to think about that,” I said almost casually, wondering how long it would take him to catch on.
It didn’t take him long. “You’re still holding that over my head?” Zac asked almost right away, sounding incredulous.
“You got pissed and ran naked through Cavill Mall in the middle of the night with a witches hat on your head,” I reminded him, fighting the very strong temptation to start snickering. “Of course I’m going to keep holding that over your head. You know what Mum and Dad would do to you if they found out.”
“Who’s evil?” Georgina asked as she came back into the kitchen. She was tossing her phone from hand to hand while she walked. When Zac jerked his head in my direction, Georgina raised an eyebrow at me. “What did you do now?” she asked with a sigh.
“Threatened to tell our mum and dad what I did at Schoolies,” Zac replied. “It’s been more than a year since I did it and he’s still holding it over my head.”
“Well, you did nearly get arrested, Zac,” Georgina said, sounding entirely reasonable. To me she said, “Reckon you can handle a Macca’s run?”
“Stupid question,” I replied, and pulled my own phone out so I could note down everyone’s orders. “I’ll text you when we get back so you can let us back inside.” As soon as I had finished typing, and once Georgina had handed over enough cash to cover everything the girls wanted for dinner, I headed off outside to my car with Zac in tow.
When Zac and I got back from our trip out to McDonald’s, laden down with everyone’s dinner orders, it was to find a somewhat dishevelled-looking girl sitting on a suitcase outside the front door of H Block with a battered backpack at her feet. She was swearing quietly as she dug almost frantically through her handbag.
“Are you all right?” I asked her once I figured Zac and I were within her earshot.
“Uh, yeah,” she said without looking up at us. I held back from raising an eyebrow at her answer – she sounded anything but all right. “I’m fine, I just can’t find my room card…”
“Doesn’t look all that fine to me,” Zac snarked quietly. I trod down hard on his closest foot to shut him up.
“What flat are you in?” I asked.
“One-fifty,” she replied, finally looking up. “I was over at Weerona last year, decided to move in here this year because it’s closer to the beach and all. Got shoved in one-fifty because they’ve got an empty room.” She gave a half-shrug. “But seeing as I can’t find my card…”
“Our friends are in one-fifty,” I said. “You can come up with us if you want.”
“Are you sure?” she asked, sounding hopeful.
“Yeah, of course. I don’t think one of them will mind going over to admin with you later.”
“Thank you so much.” She gave me a smile. “I’m Bella, by the way. Well, it’s really Isabella,” she amended, “but everyone calls me Bella.”
I held out a hand to help Bella to her feet. “I’m Taylor. The twat behind me is my brother Zac.”
“Charming, Taylor,” Zac snarked, and I trod on his foot again. “Ow!”
The front door of flat 150 was just swinging open when Zac, Bella and I stepped out of the lift, with Georgina’s head sticking out into the corridor as the lift’s doors slid closed again. Even from a few doors away I could see her eyes lighting up. “Oi you lot, dinner’s here!” she yelled back into the flat.
“Your new flatmate’s here,” I said once I was close enough to Georgina that I didn’t have to shout the building down. I nodded back toward Bella. “She’s lost her card though. I told her one of you wouldn’t mind going down to admin with her later on so she can get a new one.”
“Hope she’s nicer than Vicki was,” Georgina said. She wrinkled her nose in seeming disgust, the expression dropping away when she saw who had come upstairs with Zac and I. “Oh, hey Bella.”
“You know each other?”
Georgina nodded. “Yeah. We had a couple of classes together last year.” She opened the door of the flat a bit wider to let us in. “It’s a bit of a mess, sorry,” she said to Bella. “We only just moved in an hour or so ago.”
“You mean it looks like a bomb hit it,” Peyton said dryly from her seat on the flat’s lounge, not looking up from flipping through what looked like the residence handbook. She looked up right as I set my half of dinner down on the dining table, Zac quickly following suit with the rest. “Taylor and Zac, you are freaking legends,” she said as she spotted the brown paper bags that were clustered at one half of the table. “I’m starving. Hey Molly, dinner’s here!”
“I’ll go down to admin with you after dinner,” Georgina said to Bella, just as Molly emerged from her room. “They should still be open.”
“Thanks, Georgie,” Bella replied with a small smile.
“So are we still doing game night this year?” Peyton asked as she unwrapped her dinner. “My brother got me a Cards Against Humanity base deck and a couple of expansion packs for Christmas, I thought we could christen it soon.” She extracted the pickles from her cheeseburger before biting into it.
“Game night?” Bella asked from her perch on one of the chairs that was parked around the dining table. “That sounds like fun.”
“It’s lots of fun,” Georgina said. “Last year we did it on Wednesday nights, but we might end up changing it for this semester at least. Depends on how packed our timetables are.” She glanced around at us all. “Wednesday nights still good for everyone?”
There was a flurry of activity as we all checked our phones. “Yeah, I’m good for Wednesdays,” I replied, everyone else echoing me soon afterward.
A little while before I headed back to West Block to finish unpacking my gear, I ventured out onto the flat’s balcony. This year the girls’ flat had a spectacular view of the Escarpment, and I found myself wishing I’d thought to bring my camera with me.
“I think I’m going to be spending a lot of time out here studying this year,” Molly said as she came up beside me. “Great view isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty sweet,” I agreed.
“And before you ask, yes you can hang out here anytime you want,” she added. “You’re over at West this year, right?”
“Yeah. Fourth-year student and all that. Still not sure what was going through my head when I decided to do a double degree.”
“It’s worth it,” Molly assured me.
“Hope so.” I gave Molly a smile. “I’m gonna head back over to West. Neil’ll be wondering where I’ve got to.”
“Yeah no worries.” She echoed my smile. “I’ll see you over at orientation tomorrow, yeah?”
“Wouldn’t miss it. See ya Mol.”
“See ya Tay.”
The 2016 autumn Orientation Week pool party was in full swing by the time I arrived at the university’s aquatic centre the next afternoon. Orientation had started that morning, the education side of which I had ignored since the spring semester of my first year in favour of savouring my last few sleep-ins before classes kicked off. The daily festivals were another matter, however. I had spent that late morning and early afternoon wandering around campus with Georgina, Molly and Peyton, checking out the stalls set up by a bunch of the university’s clubs and societies. Molly had picked up a stick of bright pink fairy floss at one point, while Georgina and Peyton had taken the edge off the late summer heat with a couple of snow cones apiece.
The first thing I heard as I climbed out of the Kombi that had been driven over from Campus East by one of the postgraduate students, and that for the trip over to the university had been crammed with a bunch of West Block residents, was loud music that sounded like the Triple J Hottest 100 being played over the aquatic centre’s sound system. Underscoring the pounding music were the sounds of splashing water, laughter and the hum of voices, and I couldn’t help but smile. This really was my favourite thing about being back at university for a new year of classes.
“Peyt’s trying to crack onto the DJ,” Molly told me as we walked into the main building, heading in the direction of the university’s swimming pool. She’d changed out of her street clothes into a bikini top and boardshorts, and had wedged a wide-brimmed hat down over her hair. “Some chick from the Music degree program, I didn’t catch her name. And Bella’s catching a few rays somewhere.”
“What’s Georgie doing?”
“Same thing she did last year.” Molly nodded toward the windows at the rear of the building, through which I could see the swimming pool. The Olympic-sized pool had a floating obstacle course set up down the middle of the shallow end, with small knots of spectators watching from the poolside as one student after another attempted to complete the course without taking an involuntary dip. “I think she might actually manage to finish it this year though.”
“Better her than me. Seen that brother of mine yet?”
Molly shook her head, the movement making her plaited pigtails whip around her face. “Nope. He’ll turn up at some point.”
Before too long I’d stripped down to my boardshorts, stowed my T-shirt, thongs, phone and wallet in a locker, and had joined Molly outside. The world darkened as I slid my sunglasses onto my face, considerably lessening the glare coming off the water, and I let out a quiet sigh of relief. Even though I could see a lot better now that the sun wasn’t in my eyes, I still shaded them with one of my hands as I scanned the pool area. The stands on the other side of the pool were packed with people, with the DJ booth taking up most of the gap between the stands. Just as Molly had said, Peyton was standing next to the DJ booth and talking animatedly to the DJ, a floppy straw hat wedged down over her hair. To my far right a barbecue, a long trestle table and a few eskies had been set out. And all the way on the other side of the pool, beyond the stands, a second obstacle course had been set up on one of the tennis courts.
“So what do you want to do first?” Molly asked as I lowered my hand again.
“Well for starters…” I took my sunglasses back off and handed them to Molly. “Look after these for me?”
It didn’t take Molly long to catch onto what I planned to do. “I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to do that,” she said. “Besides, what if you break your neck or something?”
“Which is why I’m doing it down the deep end. Come on.”
“I’ll tell your mum on you!” Molly called after me as I set off down the pool, skirting around beach towels as I walked.
“As if you would!” I shouted back over my shoulder.
I quickly found the spot I was looking for – a metre or so from the deep end of the pool, clear of anything that I might end up tripping over, and enough space that I’d have a decent run-up. I stood with my back against the wall of the main building for a few moments to brace myself, before taking in a deep breath and breaking into a run. Just before I tripped on the lip of the tiles that ringed the pool I jumped as high as I could, tucked my knees up in front of me and bombed into the water. The last thing I heard as the water closed over my head was Molly indignantly shrieking my full name.
“You idiot!” Molly was yelling as I surfaced and shook my hair out of my face. “I am so telling your mum on you!”
I eyed her briefly before swimming to the side of the pool. “Nobody likes a dobber, Mol,” I reminded her almost off-handedly as I treaded water. “I didn’t break anything, right?”
“Well, no…” Molly sat down on the side of the pool and slid her feet into the water. “But you could have. And I’d hate it if you did break something one of these days.”
“Yeah, me too. Be a bit hard to play piano with a busted wrist.”
“That’s not-” She broke off into a sigh and closed her eyes for a few moments. “That’s not what I meant Taylor, and you damn well know it.”
“Okay, could we not talk about me potentially breaking my neck if I keep bombing?”
“Until you stop bombing, I’m going to keep talking about it. Jesus fucking Christ, for how intelligent you are you can be a real idiot sometimes.” She reached down and prodded the top of my head with a finger. “Use this for once in your life, yeah?”
I pulled a face at her. “You sound like my mother.”
“Yeah, well, your mum’s a hundred and a bit k’s and two hours up the coast,” Molly said with a shrug as I hoisted myself back out of the water. “Someone has to.” She eyed me as I got to my feet. “What are you doing now?”
“I’m hungry.” I nodded down toward the barbecue, which now had a long line of people snaking away from it. “And they’re doing free sausage sangas. Want one?”
“Oh hell yes.” She scrambled to her feet. “I hope they’ve got mushies.”
Molly and I had just collected a sausage sandwich each – Molly had one with barbecue sauce, barbecued onion and mushrooms, while mine had tomato sauce, barbecued tomatoes and bacon – when Georgina came up to us. She was dripping wet and wearing a toy gold medal on a ribbon around her neck, a massive grin on her face.
“Finish the obstacle course did you?” I asked right before I bit into my sandwich.
“Yep!” Georgina said happily. She held her medal up so Molly and I could see it. Like Georgina, it was dripping wet. “Record time. Didn’t fall off once.”
“Nice,” Molly commented. “What’s Peyt doing?”
“Still hitting on the DJ,” Georgina replied. “I don’t think she’s all that interested to be honest.” Her gaze shifted to a point over Molly’s right shoulder. “Oh, speak of the devil,” she added, and I turned around just in time to see Peyton wandering over, her hands in the pockets of her shorts and head bowed a little. I couldn’t help but notice that she looked a little defeated. “Any luck?”
“Nope,” Peyton replied. “She’s got a boyfriend.”
“Bugger,” Georgina said, sounding sympathetic. “That’s rough, Peyt.”
Peyton’s initial response was a shrug. “It’s okay. Not like she’s the only girl around here.”
“It still sucks,” Molly said, before holding up her sandwich. “They’re doing up free sausage sangas if you’re hungry.”
For a few moments I thought Peyton might pass up the opportunity for a free dinner. Instead she nodded. “I’m freaking starving. Coming Georgie?”
“Stupid question,” Georgina replied. She eyed Molly and I. “D’you two want us to meet you anywhere?”
“Over by the stands?” Molly suggested. “We might see if we can snag Bella along the way,” she added.
“Sounds good to me,” Peyton agreed. “See you in a bit then?”
“See you in a bit,” I echoed, before heading off after Molly around to the other side of the pool. “You going to have a crack at the other obstacle course?” I asked her as we walked.
“Nah,” Molly replied with a shake of her head. “I think I’m a bit too old to be playing on a slip and slide.”
“No such thing. I might give it a go though.”
“You’re a freaking adrenaline junkie, Tay,” Molly said as we found somewhere to sit on one of the lower benches on the stand closest to the pool’s shallow end. “Of course you are. Just try not to break anything, yeah?”
I cracked a small smile. “I’ll do my best.”
It didn’t take Georgina and Peyton long to find Molly and I, Bella trailing along behind them. “What happened to you?” Molly asked when she saw Bella. She sounded a bit shocked, and it wasn’t hard to see why – Bella’s pale and freckled skin had taken on a decidedly pink tint.
“Fell asleep,” Bella replied. She sounded a bit embarrassed by this. “I could have sworn I put sunscreen on.”
“I’ll get some aloe vera on you when we get home,” Georgina said. “I’m pretty sure I put some in the fridge yesterday.” She bit into her sausage sandwich, which like mine was drowning in tomato sauce and was loaded with tomato and bacon. “So what are we doing now?”
“Tay reckons he’s doing the other obstacle course,” Molly replied. “I think he’s mad to be honest. How old are you again?” she asked me.
“Twenty-two next month, not that it should matter,” I replied. “Besides which it’s not like that little slip and slide we got for Christmas when I was a little tacker. You wouldn’t catch me on one of those in a million years now.”
“I’ll have a go too,” Georgina piped up. “See who wins.” Here she waved her sandwich a little. “Once I’ve finished my dinner, of course.”
Georgina was as good as her word. As soon as she and Peyton had finished eating, the five of us left the surrounds of the swimming pool and headed up to the tennis courts. There was a crowd gathered already, all of them watching and cheering on the two students who were currently tackling the obstacle course. Upon spotting a student who was holding a clipboard and a pen, I grabbed Georgina’s hand and led her over.
“Want to give the obstacle course a go?” the student who seemed to be in charge of things asked us. She wore a tag on her shirt that gave her name as Amy. Georgina and I nodded. “Awesome. Can I grab your names?”
“Georgie Kirkpatrick and Taylor Hanson,” Georgina replied, and Amy scribbled our names down on a sheet of paper she had clipped to her clipboard.
“Fantastic.” Amy gave us both a bright smile. “I need the two of you to put one of these wristbands on, all right?” she said, and started digging through a pocket one-handed. Her foraging produced two wristbands that had RIDE AT YOUR OWN RISK on them in bold black letters. “Can’t let you on the course otherwise. All good?”
“No worries,” I replied. I took a wristband and slipped it on over my left hand. “Thanks, Amy.”
“No problem. Chris over there will run through what to do just before you start the course,” she said, and pointed out a tall guy with long black hair near the start of the course. “Have fun!”
“We will!” Georgina said as she and I headed off to join the crowd and wait for our turn. Our turn came fairly quickly, and soon Chris was explaining the course to Georgina and I. It sounded pretty straightforward, not to mention a hell of a lot of fun.
“First one to put their feet on the ground at the end of the slide wins,” Chris said. “On your marks, get set, go!”
As soon as Chris said ‘go’ I was off running toward the slip and slide on my side of the obstacle course. As soon as I got within arm’s length of the beginning of the slip and slide I threw myself forward, the momentum from my running dive sending me sliding down toward the bumper at the end. A quick sideways glance to my right revealed that Georgina and I were essentially neck and neck – for the moment at least, something I hoped would change when I reached the first obstacle of the course.
It didn’t end up changing all that much. I might have been a head and a half taller than Georgina, but she made up for it in sheer speed. Anytime I thought I’d managed to gain on her, she quickly caught up. And in the end, there could only be one winner.
“Georgie wins!” Chris announced as Georgina and I finished the course at almost the same time. She’d planted her feet on the ground barely a second before I did. Even though I was slightly disappointed that I hadn’t won, I almost had – and that was good enough for me.
“Well done Georgie,” I said once we were away from the obstacle course. “I nearly beat you though.”
“You’ll beat me next time,” Georgina said, sounding confident. She smirked at me. “I’ll give you a ten second head start.”
“Ha bloody ha. Wanna race again? First one to do two laps of the pool wins.”
Georgina’s smirk turned to a look of sheer determination. “You’re on.”