Mr Howard peers over his broom handle glasses. “We both know that there is no truth to what you said, don’t we, Miss Collins?”
Theresa shrugs and fidgets with her hair. She wants to have it cut on Saturday.
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’. In all my years as principal of Caraway High, I’ve never seen such dishonest and disrespectful behaviour. Poisonous lies such as these ruin reputations, Miss Collins. Do you understand what I’m talking about?”
Theresa shrugs again and decides that Howard can take it anyway he likes.
“I see.” Mr Howard brings his meaty hands together as if to pray. He leans forward and Theresa nearly chokes on the smell of his musky aftershave. “Then I think we have a problem. Caraway High does not tolerate such behaviour. I think you understand what I mean.”
“No,” Theresa says.
“It means, at the very least, expulsion. I don’t believe we’ve ever expelled a student after just six months.”
“She started it, sir. She called me bitch behind my back!”
“How do you know this?”
“I just know. I heard it. Things get around.”
“And that gave you the right to do what you did?”
“She started it.”
“You’re lucky Mr Casey has decided not to press charges against you. You’re aware of the kind of trouble you’d be in if he did. I don’t know how lenient your last school in Great Britain was, but I’m certain they’d find this conduct utterly unacceptable.”
“I don’t know.”
“I want to give you the chance to explain your side of the story.” Mr Howard’s nose looks like an unpeeled sweet potato. Theresa assumes that he believes what the bitch has told him and that nothing she says will make a difference. The bitch is the pet of every teacher in the entire school.
“I’m waiting,” Mr Howard says.
“Amy thinks she’s so good. She thinks she can do and say what she wants. She’s just pissed off and was turning everyone against me.”
“Why would she want to do that?”
“‘Cause I’m not from here. She’s racist.”
“Please, do you really believe that?”
The school bell rings. It’s lunchtime. Theresa looks to the door.
“You’re not going anywhere until we’re done, Miss Collins.”
“I told you. She started it.”
“Miss Grant alleges you ‘seduced’, for want of a better word, her boyfriend, Mr Owens.”
“I didn’t. I can’t help it if he wants me and not her.”
Mr Howard steeples his hands. “OK. I actually don’t feel the need to get into the personal affairs of my students, I do however take the well-being of my staff very seriously. Mr Casey is married with a family.”
“I’ve seen them together.”
“He is Amy’s maths teacher.”
“Can I go now?”
“No. Now we have to call your mother.”
“She’s not home.”
“What do you think she’ll say when she finds out? There are a few good schools further south. I can speak to one of the principals.”
“My mum’s gone away for a few weeks. She’s not home.”
* * *
Magazines splash around the cork floor. Roxette is saying that it must have been love.
“I want to turn up at the social with Patrick Swayze,” Melinda says with a lick of her braces.
Theresa thinks Patrick Swayze is horrible but she joins in and laughs when Melinda flips on her back and grinds her hips in the air.
“You would, you slut,” Sharyn declares and thumbs another marshmellow into her mouth. “Isn’t he, like, thirty or something? Anyway, Johnny Depp is way hotter. When he dumps that scrubber Kate Moss I’m so in.”
Melinda’s dark eyebrows arch in shock and vanish under the blond ruffles of her bangs.
“I wouldn’t be calling her a slut if I were you,” says Samantha. “Mel’s not the one who sucked Aaron off at Richie’s party.”
Streamers of multi-coloured laughing. Samantha’s parents thump through the ceiling.
“I think Theresa should tell us who she’d bring. She’s been way too quiet.” Sharyn is an expert at the deflection.
Samantha doesn’t repeat Sharyn’s statement. She stares it.
“Dunno, probably Christian Slater,” Theresa says. The girls groan like she’s just said she likes The Cure.
“Has anyone ever told you you look like Winona Ryder?” Pam says.
“No,” Theresa says and acts embarrassed. She already knows she looks like Winona Ryder. That’s what they called her at Caraway. “Why do you say that?”
“Doesn’t Theresa look like Winona Ryder?”
Everyone agrees. Everyone except Samantha. “Does everyone like Christian Slater where you’re from?”
Theresa scans the room. They’re all waiting for an answer. “Some of the girls in my group, yeah. Back then.”
“Must’ve been lezzos,” Samantha says like it’s written down in front of her. “Caraway’s full of lezzos. No offence, Theresa.”
“He’s alright,” Melinda says. “Not as hot as Patrick though.”
Pamela throws a pillow at Melinda, who squeals and then releases a squeaky fart. Pamela and Sharyn throw more pillows and the mattresses are now trampolines. Samantha stands back, biting her nails. Theresa is thankful for the distraction. The Violent Femmes kick Roxette out of the room and everyone drops back down to their stomachs.
“They’re all coke heads these days anyway,” Pamela says and blows her peroxide fringe from her nose. Pamela is the captain of the basketball team and has the longest legs of the group. She’s close to the best looking girl at school next to Samantha, but her pillow chin lets her down. “Theresa – is it true that you were going out with a year twelver at Carroway?”
Theresa delivers her modest face – shadow of a grin, sleepy eyes.
“Did you fuck him?” Samantha asks.
“You go with a year twelver. What do you think?” Melinda says. “Right, Theresa?”
“He’s a sweet guy. Plays state rugby,” Theresa confirms.
Samantha’s eyes narrow. “Rugby’s for westies. I once went to watch a game against Woodlawn. All flannos and black jeans. Suprised they hadn’t brought their sheep along. And they’re all too pumped up. On ‘roids, the lot of them.”
“I find big thighs attractive,” Pamela says.
“I can wait ‘til next weekend,” Sam says louder. “Luke’s taking me up to Yamba to a surf comp. He made the state finals. Look out – hot men in wetsuits!”
“That sounds awesome, Sammy.” Sharyn got her drawl from her days on the farm. She saw the ocean for the first time when she was twelve. “I’m so jealous.”
“And we’re staying with Luke’s cousin in our own room. Mum’d go mental if she found out. I told her I’m sleeping in his sister’s room, so it’s all cool.”
“I’m bored. Got any new videos?” Pamela is clearly a virgin. Her ankles crack as she flamingos over to the pine cabinet. She fingers through the VHS collection, one leg raised, head tilted.
“Nothing new, Pammy. Romancing the Stone, but I’ve watched that like a million times already. It’s a bit old. And a bit shit.”
“Who wants a ciggie?” Sharyn asks.
“What’ve you got? Not those shitty Longbeach again, Shaz, please.” Samantha only smokes Peter Jackson.
“Peters,” Sharyn says. “My mum’s got a whole carton. She never misses a pack here and there.”
“Your mum’s such a slag.”
“Where d’ya think I got it from?”
Theresa cracks her knuckles beneath her pillow.
Samantha takes charge of the cigarettes and deals them out. She skips Melinda because she’s the only one in the group who doesn’t smoke. She’s also the only one in the group whose sister’s a model for Dolly magazine.
“What about…” Sharyn points a fake nail at the ceiling. “You know what happened last time your dad caught you.”
“Fuck it. We’ll go out in pairs, less noise… to the pool toilet,” Samantha says, pulling a Billabong hoodie over her yellow pigtails. “My little brother does it all the time and never gets busted. But you’ve gotta throw the butts through the window. Make sure they’re totally out too. Don’t wanna cause a forest fire in Mr Bubble’s backyard. Sharyn, you come with me. Then Pam and Theresa.”
“Don’t take ages,” Pamela says. “I’m hanging.”
Samantha slides the glass door open and she and Sharyn slip out into the night of a zillion cicadas. Theresa sits up like gravity has disappeared.
“So who do you like at school,” Pam says, tapping her cigarette on the floor.
Melinda counts her fingers. “Well, let’s get it out of the way – Jamie Cole…”
Pam rolls her eyes. “Duh – everyone knows you’ve had a crush on Jamie since primary.”
“He’s sooo cute!” Melinda’s voice drops to a whisper. “And I’d totally do Luke. But don’t tell Sam.”
“Sam’s boyfriend?” Theresa asks.
“Yeah, but I’d, like, never actually do him. He’s just nice, that’s all.”
“I think he’s cute too. How long have they been going out?”
“Forever,” Pam says. “He’s not the brightest bulb in the building, but he’s the best surfer in the whole school, probably in the state.”
Theresa runs through the faces, the backpacks, haircuts, teeth, shoes, earrings, nicknames – Luke, Luke O’Reilly.
“What about you Theresa? I’ve already had a ton of questions from the boys. Got your eye on anyone?”
“Still too early. Haven’t checked them all out.”
“I love your school shoes. Never seen that brand before,” Melinda says.
“Really? Thanks. Mum brought them over from London.”
“I’ve seen them somewhere,” Pamela says and starts going through the magazines. “Think I’ve seen Madonna in them.”
“I can get you a pair cheap if you want. Mum goes to London all the time.”
Both girls turn to her, eyes blistering, ready to scream. London is not here. London is on the other side of the planet. London is therefore cool.
“Give me your sizes on Monday. Maybe best not to tell the others. She can only bring two pairs back at a time. Customs, you know?”
“Course. Wouldn’t offer otherwise. Besides you girls are the only ones with the legs to pull it off.”
Pam and Melinda withdraw and exchange a glance.
“I don’t think they’d suit Sam anyway,” she says. “Her legs just aren’t long enough.”
The glass door creaks and cold air pinches their cheeks.
“OK, girls, here’s the lighter,” Sam says and then stops. Her practised eye senses the vibrations. “What?”
High eyebrows, jittering shoulders repeat the question back to her.
Theresa leaps up and grabs the lighter. “Thanks, Sam. Come on, Pammy. We won’t be long.”
In the outside toilet the pool pump hums and chokes. Soaps shaped like putter fish hang from plastic hooks on the walls. Theresa lights her cigarette first then Pamela’s.
“I don’t think Sam’s boyfriend’s that hot,” she says and blows the smoke expertly out the side of her mouth.
“So what? Sam loves him and he’s a cool guy.” Pamela looks uncertain.
“Just saying. I don’t think it’ll last anyway. After school I mean. High school romances never do.”
“What are you doing after school?”
“Not sure yet. I did some modelling back at Caraway. I might do some of that before uni.”
Pamela opens her mouth as if to say something, but only puffs lightly on her cigarette.
“Is this what you do on weekends?” Theresa nods at the pool.
“I dunno. Just hang out, read shitty mags and smoke ciggies?”
Pamela laughs. “Not every weekend. Sometimes we stay over at mine, when my step dad’s not there. But it’s a bit far out. We also hang at the beach, Thursday night shopping and stuff, you know, the usual.”
“We should go for a girl’s trip up the coast. Go camping or something. My boyfriend can drive. He’s got a wicked Range Rover.”
“Boyfriend, ay? Theresa! You’ve kept quiet on that one.”
“I didn’t tell anyone ‘cause I wasn’t sure whether we were gonna stay together after I switched schools. But he just missed me too much I guess.”
“What’s he like?”
Theresa mouths the word hot. “But I’m not sure if I’ll stay with him. I might look closer to home if you know what I mean.”
Pam nods like she does understand what Theresa means.
“So, you wanna come?”
Pamela hesitates. “OK.”
“Couple bottles of Southern Comfort, night swimming…” Theresa winks then turns her nose up. “Sleep overs are so year seven.”
“Yeah,” Pamela says without commitment. “So do you like St Mary’s so far?”
“It’s alright. Caraway was good too, but Mum thought I’d have a better chance at uni if I went private.”
“I’m so excited about the shoes.” Pam douses her smoldering butt in the toilet bowl and throws it out the window. “We’d better go in.”
“You’re going to look gorgeous in them.” Theresa stubs out her cigarette on the bottom of her thong and cups it in her palm. She follows Pam back into the house and closes the door behind her.
* * *
On Monday the quadrangle benches are so hot the girls move to their spot on the oval grass between the rows of bottle brushes. Minor birds swirl in the sky like tea leaves.
“Hands up who hates double maths,” Melinda says and pokes a finger in her mouth, pretending to dry wretch.
“You love it, you nerd,” Sharyn mumbles from somewhere behind a cream bun.
Theresa slices the skin from an apple with her swiss army knife. She eats the peel and tosses the apple into the field, where it hits an overweight year sevener in the shoulder. “Apple a day keeps Jenny Craig away!” she crows and the other girls shower her with approving giggles.
“Hey, Theresa, is it true you’re still seeing Jeremy Owens, that year twelve guy from Caraway?” Sharyn asks.
“I told her,” Melinda adds apologetically.
“That’s OK.” Then to Sharyn. “Yeah, we’ve been seeing each other on and off since I left.”
“My mum’s sister’s friends with his mum. I saw a photo of him. He’s, like, the hottest guy ever!”
Theresa casts her ‘I cannot help but agree’ smile.
Melinda screams. “When do we get to meet him?”
“Let’s see,” Theresa answers and shoots her a wink.
A whistle blows and the nasally voice of Mr Conroy rounds up a protesting bunch of year niners. Pam jogs into the clearing. She’s wearing loose-fitting shorts and a Chicago Bulls singlet. Number 23.
“Hey, babe,” the girls sing.
“Just on my way to practice. Did you hear what happened to Sam?”
Theresa leans back on her arms. Did you hear? I didn’t. She hasn’t said anything to us. Oh my God!
“Her dad found ciggie butts floating in the pool. He searched the outside toilet too and found the lighter and ash all over the floor.”
“Oh shit,” Sharyn says and nearly chokes on her icing. “What? I threw all my dead butts out the window.”
“So did I,” Theresa chimes in. “Maybe it was Troy.”
“Sam’s brother wasn’t even there,” Sharyn says.
“Wasn’t me,” Melinda says and folds her arms and there’s a collective Duh!
“Anyway, she’s grounded for a week and she’s barred from going to the surf comp on the weekend.”
“Is she OK?” Theresa asks.
“I just left her in the girls’ toilets bawling her eyes out. Luke’s useless. He won’t do anything.”
“Who the fuck was it?” Sharyn stands up suddenly and her thighs wobble. She stares at Theresa and swivels to Pam. “It must have been one of you two.”
“Hey, don’t look at me,” Theresa says. “It’s not my fault her dad’s a psycho.”
Pam steps forward. “Could’ve been you too, Sharyn. Or even Sam herself. Remember how she got busted last time? You both left half a packet behind the bookshelf.”
“I didn’t know Mr Young would look behind there! But leaving ciggie butts in the pool is just asking for it.”
“I don’t think I’m gonna stay at Sam’s again if this is what happens,” Theresa says calmly. “My mum lets me do what I want. We’re not kids anymore.”
Sharyn wants to nod. She’s so close to stepping into Melinda’s and Pam’s wake – she feels something is happening but she doesn’t understand it.
“I’m going to see if she’s alright.” Sharyn half-runs half-walks up the bitumen drive to the main quadrangle.
“Poor Sam,” Melinda says.
“Maybe the wind blew them in back in the pool,” Theresa offers.
“Maybe,” says Pam, but Theresa can tell she doesn’t believe that.
“Hey, are we still on for this weekend? Road trip? And don’t forget to give me your shoe sizes, ladies. Mum’s off to London tomorrow.”
Melinda looks up at Pam. Pam looks over her shoulder. Theresa looks down at her blue Casio watch. Next period is Religion.
“The surf comp at Yamba sound pretty good,” Theresa smiles and fidgets with her hair. She’ll definitely get it cut this time.
“Sure,” Pam says. “Why not.”
“Sounds good, Winona,” Melinda says immediately after and they all laugh.
Theresa rubs Melinda on the shoulder and reaches over to touch Pam’s calf. “You girls are the best friends ever.”