“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.”
I looked up from my Principles of Biochemistry textbook at the sound of Peyton’s voice. The university library was buzzing with activity that afternoon – being the middle of the first week of the autumn semester, I wasn’t exactly shocked by this – and I was taking advantage of my only free Wednesday afternoon for the semester to get some study done. In one of Peyton’s hands was my new travel mug.
“I brought coffee,” she said, and held the mug out to me. I’d bought it from Typo a few days earlier after my old one had disappeared during the drive down from Gosford – it was light blue with white stars all over it, and the words Eat stars for breakfast and be extra sparkly on one side in white text. “You left pretty early this morning. Wasn’t sure if you’d had a chance to grab some on your way to class.”
“You’re amazing, Peyt,” I said gratefully, and took my mug from her. “How much do I owe you?”
Peyton waved me off. “Not a thing. But I wouldn’t say no to a smoothie later on if you’re buying.”
I flashed her a thumbs-up as I cracked the lid of my mug. “Biochem and biomech are freaking brutal,” I said, barely managing to hold back a sigh of relief. I had been in desperate need of caffeine all day, so Peyton was an absolute lifesaver. “Physiology isn’t much better. Remind me again why I decided to study medicine?”
Peyton smirked as she sat down next to me. “If that’s how you feel halfway through the first week, I can only imagine how you’ll feel when winter break gets here,” she said dryly, and I gave her the finger as I started drinking my coffee. “Charming.”
“You know you love me.” I set my mug down on the table next to my textbook. “What about you?” I asked, noting somewhat belatedly that Peyton only had her wallet and phone with her.
“I’m off class until Monday morning.” She gave me a grin and stretched a little. “I love studying journalism.”
Peyton gave a somewhat theatrical shudder. “I’ll pass, thanks.”
“You’re no fun. So, what, figured you’d come hang out?”
“Pretty much. Flat’s dead because Georgie and Bella are both off at class, and I didn’t feel like tracking down Tay or Zac so I can annoy them instead. So I thought I’d come keep you company for a bit.”
“Aww. I feel special.”
“You should.” She reached over and tweaked my nose a bit. “Still up for game night?”
“Yep. I have Thursdays off from class this semester – I’ll study tomorrow. Might have to sit out next week but I’ll see how things go.” I squinted down at a cell diagram, skimming over its various parts. “Any idea what Georgie’s got planned?”
“No idea whatsoever.” Right then Peyton’s phone message tone rang out, and she snatched her phone up. “Oh, here we go. How do you feel about playing Spoons tonight?”
“We’re not playing Cards Against Humanity?”
“Georgie probably doesn’t want to scare Bella off with how perverted we all are,” Peyton said with a shrug, and I snickered. We could get pretty perverted given half a chance. Taylor was easily the most perverted of our little group, though the rest of us had our moments too. “At least until she gets used to us. You in?”
Peyton gave me a grin. “Awesome.” She started tapping away at her phone’s screen. “When did you want to head out? Georgie asked me to swing by the shops on my way back to pick up some munchies for the game, and I was thinking about having a poke around in Woolies if you reckon you’re up for it.”
“I’m ready when you are,” I replied, and stuck a bright pink Post-It Note into my textbook to mark my place. “Reckon she’ll get the boys to do another Macca’s run for dinner?”
“She’ll probably get them to duck out for pizza rather than Macca’s. Bit easier to eat one-handed.”
“Good point.” I closed my textbook, stacked it, my pencil tin and my notebook on top of my Physiology textbook, and shoved the whole pile into my backpack. After a quick glance over the table to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, I hoisted my backpack onto my shoulders, picked up my travel mug and phone, and followed Peyton out of the library.
Georgina was digging around in the cutlery drawer in our flat’s tiny kitchen when Peyton and I walked in the front door, laden down with calico and canvas bags of groceries. “What the fuck are you doing?” Peyton asked as the two of us dumped our shopping on the dining table. I managed to rescue Georgina’s iPad just before Peyton dropped one of the bags on it.
“I don’t think we have enough spoons,” Georgina replied without looking back at us. “There’s what, six of us going to play tonight?”
“Seven if Taylor ropes Neil into it,” I replied. “And eight if Elijah comes too. How many do we have?”
Georgina finally turned around and held up four mismatched spoons. “Four spoons, and potentially eight players. We need three more.” She blew a few stray strands of bright red hair out of her face as she finished speaking.
“So go nick a few from the food court,” Peyton suggested. “Or you can ask Tay to bring over a few from his flat. Simples.”
I could tell that Georgina very much wanted to bang her head against the kitchen bench upon hearing this. “I’m an idiot,” she sighed.
“You’re our idiot, though,” I piped up.
“Yeah, thanks Mol.” This was said as Georgina started tapping away at her phone. I figured she was sending Taylor a quick text message. “What did you get at Woolies?”
“Stuff,” Peyton replied.
Georgina pulled a face at this. “You sound like my mum.”
“Oh, what a fucking tragedy,” Peyton snarked, earning herself the forks courtesy of Georgina. “Bit surprised we’re not playing Cards Against Humanity tonight, though. I was looking forward to breaking in my set.”
“Bella needs to get used to how perverted we can get,” Georgina replied. “We’d probably scare her off if we shoved her in at the deep end this early.”
“Yeah, good point.”
Georgina gave Peyton a smile. “Give it a few weeks. I reckon by the time Easter break rolls around she’ll be used to us. I bet not even Taylor could scare her off by that point.”
“Who could scare who off?” I heard from behind me, and I glanced back over my shoulder to see Bella walking in through the front door. The door snicked shut behind her as she headed through to the lounge.
“We’re playing Spoons tonight,” Georgina replied, neatly sidestepping Bella’s question. “You’re welcome to join us if you like.”
Bella went slightly pink. “I’ve never played it,” she said, sounding just a bit sheepish.
“We’ll show you how,” Peyton said. “It’s pretty easy to pick up.” Almost as an afterthought, she added, “Should probably watch out for the boys, though.”
“They seemed nice.” Now Bella sounded uncertain, and I wasn’t sure I entirely blamed her.
“Oh no, they’re nice,” I assured her. “But they are typical boys. As in they’re perverts. You got brothers?”
“One. But he’s like, ten. He’s more interested in catching bugs and lighting shit on fire than he is in chasing girls.” I looked over at Bella just in time to see her glance up from her phone. “Have you known them long?”
“Mol and I grew up with them,” Georgina replied. “So yeah, we’ve known them for ages now. Since preschool, basically. Peyt’s only been in our little group since, what, high school?”
“First day of Year 7,” Peyton confirmed with a nod. “This lot basically adopted me.” She indicated Georgina and I with her phone.
“Yeah, because you wouldn’t leave us alone,” Georgina teased her, and Peyton gave her the finger. “Anyway, Tay and Zac shouldn’t be too far away. I asked Tay to bring some extra spoons with him, and I think they’re going to pop out to Pizza Hut to pick up dinner before they get here. You guys are okay with pizza, yeah?”
“Always, Georgie,” I said, Peyton echoing me with a nod. “Pizza’s always good for us.”
True to Georgina’s word, Taylor and Zac weren’t too far away at all. They announced their arrival with a knock at our front door that almost sounded like one of them was kicking it. Georgina got up from shuffling cards at the dining table to answer it, letting the two of them in. They were laden down with pizza boxes, with Taylor’s stack topped off with a couple of foil-wrapped packages.
“We got pepperoni, Hawaiian, barbecue meatlovers, and a vegetarian for Peyt,” Taylor said as he and Zac deposited the pizza boxes on the kitchen bench. “And cheesy garlic bread to share.”
“Oh, sweet!” Peyton said happily. “I’ll get us some plates.”
“So why exactly did you get Tay to bring some spoons with him?” Zac asked as he nabbed a slice of pepperoni out of its box. “I thought that was a bit weird.”
“Georgie got it in her head to play Spoons tonight,” I replied as I reached for my own slice of Hawaiian. “Didn’t want to scare off our new flatmate by playing Cards Against Humanity right off the bat.”
“So basically it’s our Year 12 Formal afterparty all over again.”
I let out a chuckle. “Pretty much. And we didn’t have enough spoons in the kitchen, so Georgie got Tay to bring a bunch with him. Are Neil and Lij coming, by the way?”
“Last I heard they were.”
Neil and Elijah did indeed turn up, right as the rest of us were settling ourselves in the lounge room for our game night. I had crammed myself onto the lounge between Taylor and Peyton, doing my best not to knock elbows with either of them, while on the other side of the coffee table Georgina, Bella and Zac had perched on an assortment of plastic milk crates. Across the flat on the kitchen bench were a pile of spoons – the four from our cutlery drawer, and three that Taylor had brought with him.
“Pull up a pew anywhere you like,” Georgina said without looking up from a sheet of paper she had in front of her. It had all of our names written down one of its longer edges in black texta. She quickly added Neil and Elijah’s names to the bottom of the list. “We all know the rules?”
“Yeah Georgie, we know the rules, just deal the cards already,” Zac said. Georgina gave him the finger and began dealing out four cards apiece. I fanned my cards out in my hands as soon as I had them – the seven of clubs, jack of spades, six of diamonds and the jack of clubs. Once we all had our cards the game began, with Georgina taking a card from the top of the draw pile and immediately passing it off to Bella.
Zac was the first to collect a full hand. He was up off his crate so fast that he knocked it over, with the rest of us chasing him into the kitchen. A pitched battle ensued between Taylor, Peyton and Elijah for the last two spoons, with Elijah and Peyton emerging victorious. The rest of us cracked up laughing at the look of dismay and utter betrayal on Taylor’s face when he realised he had lost the first round.
“You can all go fuck a cactus,” Taylor grumbled as we resumed our seats, with Georgina almost gleefully writing an S next to Taylor’s name on her score sheet. She gave Taylor a sweet smile before gathering up all of our discarded cards, piling them on top of the draw pile and shuffling them again.
It was sometime around the middle of the evening, during a break between rounds, that I realised something was going on between Georgina and Zac. They had been sitting together since we’d started our game, but that wasn’t particularly unusual – they were good friends, best mates even, and had been since Taylor, Zac, Georgina and I were kids running around Gosford City Park of a weekend afternoon. It stood to reason that they’d want to sit next to one another tonight.
But tonight seemed like it was different somehow. Zac’s hand would linger a second or two longer on Georgina’s as he passed her another piece of pizza or a drink, or Georgina would almost tentatively brush a stray lock of hair out of Zac’s face. It was a little puzzling, but I shrugged it off just in time for us to resume the game.
It hit me right in the middle of the next round what exactly was going on, and I did my best to hide a smile.
Zac liked Georgina. And not only that, but I was almost certain that Georgina liked Zac as well, and more than just a friend at that. The real question here, though, was if either of them realised it yet.
“What are you smiling about?” Taylor asked me in almost an undertone as he passed me a card – the king of clubs, as it turned out. I gave it an almost cursory glance and immediately passed it off to Peyton.
“Tell you later,” I replied, my voice just as quiet. “What are you doing tomorrow?”
“Media and vis comm lecture from eleven-thirty till one-thirty, then a tute at half-past three.” Out of the corner of my eye I could see Taylor studying me. “Want to meet up for lunch?”
“I’ll find you,” I replied.
The university food court was packed when I wandered in early the next afternoon, in search of not only a late-ish lunch but also some company. I had been studying almost non-stop for the last four hours and was in desperate need of a break. Not to mention something to eat.
I found Taylor sitting at one of the long tables near Subway. He had a notebook open in front of him and his iPad propped against his backpack, headphones wedged down over his hair, and was intently watching a video on YouTube. As I got closer I could see that he had filled almost a whole page of his notebook with the scrawl that passed for his handwriting.
“Hey,” I said as I sat down next to him, and poked him in the side for good measure. He reached out to his iPad and paused the video, and flicked a switch on his headphones before taking them off. “What’re you watching?”
“Visual communication lecture. As if the one this morning wasn’t enough.” He rolled his eyes almost theatrically, and I let out a quiet giggle. “Class today?”
I shook my head. “Not until tomorrow. I’ve been in the library almost all morning studying for my physiology lecture and prac.” Here I leaned forward and put my head down on the table. “Second-year medicine is brutal as fuck. I almost wish sometimes I’d picked something else.”
“You wouldn’t be happy doing anything else, though.” I felt one of Taylor’s hands on my back, his thumb beginning to rub in small circles between my shoulder blades. “I know you too well. Hungry?”
“Thought you might be. What’re you in the mood for?”
I raised my head and looked back over my shoulder. “Sushi?” I asked hopefully.
“I honestly don’t know how you can eat that.”
“Hey, you’re the one who asked what I was in the mood for,” I said as I straightened up, and punctuated my sentence with a shrug. “And I just happen to be in the mood for sushi.” I picked my backpack up off the floor, unzipped the front pocket and dug around for my wallet. “Can you get me some salmon and avocado nigiri?” I asked, and took a ten-dollar note out of my wallet. “And a bottle of water if they have any.”
Taylor took the money from me and gave me a quick salute. “On it, boss.”
He was back around ten minutes later with my sushi in one hand, a bottle of water tucked into the crook of an elbow, and a takeaway container of what looked like Indian food topped off with a plastic fork and spoon in his other hand. I took my sushi and water from him as he sat back down.
“So what did you want to tell me last night?” he asked as he cracked open his lunch. “I mean, it obviously wasn’t something you could talk about with everyone else in the room.” He started folding rice into what looked like a curry. “Though I’m not sure how this is any different,” he added almost as an afterthought, and gestured around at the crowd that packed the nearby tables.
For some reason I decided to wait until Taylor had started eating before I answered him. “I think your brother likes Georgie. More than as friends, I mean.”
Taylor promptly choked on his lunch, and I thumped him hard on the back. “What the actual fuck, Mol,” he rasped out once he could speak. “You couldn’t wait?”
“You asked,” I said with another shrug, and I took a bite out of my sushi.
“Well, yeah I asked, but while I’m eating?” He pulled a face at me and fished a piece of what I thought was chicken out of his lunch with his fork. “And anyway, what makes you think I give a crap about my little brother’s love life?”
“He’s hardly little. Almost as tall as you the last time I looked.”
“Ha-bloody-ha. You know what I mean.”
“Entirely aside from the potential for blackmail?” I pried the lid off the little tub of soy sauce that had come with my lunch and dipped my sushi into it. “Wouldn’t you rather be the first one to find out, rather than Dan? You know what he’s like.”
I could have sworn Taylor’s face went a few shades lighter at the mention of Georgina’s brother. We all knew very well how protective Daniel could get of his younger sister, especially when it came to members of the opposite gender. That I’d worked things out first and then passed that particular bit of information onto Taylor was practically a godsend.
“Good point,” Taylor managed to get out. He studied me for a little while. “What about Georgie?”
“I’m pretty sure it’s mutual.”
“Mmm-hmm. Not sure if either of them realise it, though.” I took another bite of sushi. “I thought we could work on that. Getting them to figure it out, I mean.”
“That’s assuming I want to spend more time with Zac than I already do. We don’t even live in the same building. I’m in West, and he’s gone and holed himself up over in Trench Town because he can’t be fucked cooking for himself. Game night is about the only time we see each other for longer than ten minutes or so.”
“Doesn’t he take the same classes you did in second year?”
“Not as far as I know. He’s minoring in Music, not majoring.” He forked some of his lunch into his mouth before eyeing me, looking thoughtful. “I could always text him, I guess. See what he’s doing this arvo.”
“Won’t he think that’s a bit suss?”
Taylor shrugged. “Maybe. His problem if he does, though.” He put his fork down, balancing it against the rim of his lunch container, and fished his phone out of his pocket. It was rather battered and looked like it had been dragged along an unsealed road for a few kilometres. I watched as he swiped his thumb across its screen to unlock it, opened his messaging app, and started tapping out a new text message. While he was writing out his message I pulled my own phone out of my pocket, unlocked it and opened Facebook, deciding it wasn’t really my business what Taylor had to say to his brother.
“Done,” Taylor said after a couple of minutes. “Asked him if he wanted to hang out at the UniBar after class, if he doesn’t have anything else planned.”
“Reckon he’ll say yes?”
Taylor shrugged again. “Fucked if I know. But seeing as I offered to shout him dinner, probably. You know what he’s like.”
I knew very well what Zac was like, so I didn’t say anything. Instead, I finished off my sushi and got back to my feet. “I’d better get back to it. Thanks for the company, Tay.”
Taylor gave me a smile. “Anytime, Mol.”
I didn’t end up making it back to the flat until almost nine that night. By the time I stepped off the Shuttle at the stop across the road from the Innovation Campus, I was just about falling asleep on my feet and looking forward to collapsing into bed. Coffee would have been nice too, but I knew that I’d never get to sleep if I had any so late.
Peyton was sitting at the dining table scrolling one-handed through her phone when I wandered into the flat. She looked up as I eased the door shut behind me. “You’re home late,” she commented as I all but fell into one of the other chairs at the table.
“Studied almost all day,” I said. “I’m knackered.” My gaze landed on the faintly-steaming mug Peyton had close at hand. “Please don’t tell me that’s coffee.”
“Nope, tea. Too late for coffee.” She picked the mug up and took a sip. “You got class tomorrow?”
I nodded. “Not until half-past twelve though. I’m going to try and sleep in. If I try and study any more than I already did today it’s going to start leaking out my ears.” Peyton snickered at this. “Hey, can I talk to you about something?”
“‘Course you can.”
This time, I did wait until Peyton had finished drinking her tea before I came out with it. “I think Georgie and Zac like each other.”
“Not even kidding.”
“Bloody hell.” Peyton sat back down at the table and just looked at me. “When did this happen?”
“I honestly have no idea. I just know what I saw last night.” Here I proceeded to detail exactly what I’d seen going on between Georgina and Zac during games night, falling silent once I had finished speaking to give Peyton a chance to take it all in.
“Amazing,” Peyton said at last. “A-fucking-mazing. How the hell did none of us pick up on that before now?”
“I’m not saying anything to Georgie yet. Can you keep it to yourself until I figure out how to ask her?”
Peyton nodded. “It’s in the vault, I swear.”
“Thanks, Peyt.” I gave her a tired smile and eased myself back to my feet. “I’m going to bed. See you whenever it is I wake up.”
As tired as I was, though, I didn’t go to sleep right away. I lay in bed, staring up at the fairy lights that Taylor had helped me string up across my bedroom ceiling a day or so after we’d moved back to university, watching them blink lazily on and off and thinking.
Georgina was not only my best friend, but she was also the closest thing I had to a sister. We pretty much told each other everything – there wasn’t a thing we were shy about discussing. Not even Peyton got to hear all the gory details that Georgina and I told each other. Which, admittedly, wasn’t much, but there were just some things I was only comfortable talking to Georgina about.
I had to hope that the reason Georgina hadn’t told me anything about liking Zac was because she didn’t realise it herself, or she hadn’t figured out how to tell any of us yet. I wasn’t entirely sure which was more likely than the other.
But I couldn’t think about it any more that evening. Even though I didn’t have to be at university until midday at the absolute latest, I did want to get up at a halfway reasonable hour so that I had enough time to get ready for class. And for that I needed to get some sleep.
I felt around for the battery pack attached to my fairy lights and flicked its switch, rolled over under my blankets, and settled down to sleep, allowing myself to be carried off on the sound of waves breaking on the nearby beach.