| ‘Are you going to play?’
‘I don’t know, I’m kinda scared. What if I land on Johno?
‘Then you’ll have to do it to him’, Amy chuckled.
‘Ew and you will too if you land on him!’ I retorted laughingly.
We giggled in unison. No one liked Johno but for this game the rules were the rules. Anyone caught cheating would not be invited to play again. Comical as it seems, at fifteen this would be social suicide.
The party had all the cliché, awkward high-school moments. Spin the bottle was the game on everyone’s mind and the taste of someone else’s saliva in your mouth was for most strangely enjoyable and for others a highly uncomfortable experience. On this particular night, at my insistence, Mother dropped me off at the bottom of the driveway. Little was I to know this is where the night’s ‘awakening’ would take place. There was no way I was letting her drive me to the house in the big, loud 4-wheel drive she got around in. The car was a beast and on more than one occasion it could be heard droning from miles away, much to the amusement of the other girls at strict Christian high-school in Middle Swan. I secretly wished she would drive a more feminine car, like the one Lucy’s mum drove, a nice steely-grey Peurge. Or at least get a service. The thing sounded like it was made during the industrial revolution.
As I trudged to the top of the drive way in my dusty Converse sneakers, cursing the car, I made my way around to the back of the house. Typical of a house built in the late 1970’s; it had mission brown bricks and wide sweeping verandas leading around to the grass-filled back yard. Hanging from the veranda were baskets filled with over-grown wisterias and assorted hydrangeas. The tubby blue-heeler, Jose, came bounding around the corner barking enthusiastically. The Australian dream was well and truly alive. I could hear the latest Video Hits tape playing with Mr Big blaring from the speakers. As I went around the back I could see the tape player sitting on the brick barbeque and plastic chairs assembled on the patio. Tanya bounced up to me and we hugged each other like the old mates that we were. We had spent many summers together at the family beech house, going on adventures in the dunes at night and swimming at the beech during the day. Our lives were interwoven in a fabric of beautiful memories.
At first glance of Tanya I was taken back by her gorgeous appearance. We’d been friends since we were four, but I’d never seen her look like this. She looked a goddess, all silky golden waves cascading across her rosy cheeks and wearing a cute summer dress in pale pink and white. My thoughts turned to my own hastily constructed appearance and I immediately felt inadequate in my ripped Target jeans and old t-shirt. Greasy hair fell into my face as a gush of wind swept through the yard. I looked around and the trees seemed to sway in unison with agreement at my lack of fashion sagacity. Thoughts tumbled through my mind like a shallow sieve. Nothing quite grasping an answer to my questions. Why was she so dressed up? I could see she was looking at my outfit and was clearly not impressed.
‘You’re the first hear Lois, there’s Solo in the esky if you want some’ Tanya said.
‘Thanks hun’ I replied. Inside I felt like running back to the car and asking mum to take me home to get changed, but I knew she’d be well gone by now. It’s not that bad I told myself. But it was.
I gave Tanya my present and she took it smilingly.
‘What is it? Smells amaaaazing!’ She said excitedly.
‘Well it is amazing’ I enthused. ‘Open it’.
Tanya ripped at the twine and then carefully peeled each piece of sticky tape of the beautiful wrapper, a colourful mix of purple and magenta stripes with golden hearts. I couldn’t help but stare at her hair as she unwrapped the present. Every strand was impeccably blow dried and sprayed into place, but not too much. It seemed to bounce with the movement of her hands. Even her eye lashes were coated in thick black mascara and her lids were a shade of electric blue. As she took off the last piece of wrapping, the time-ensuing process was not unrewarded. Two beautifully hand-crafted candles made from a rainbow of coloured waxes slipped out.
‘Oh they are so nice Lois. Thank you’, Tanya cooed. And I’m so keeping this paper, it’s beautiful.
‘Yeah it took me ages to choose them’, I answered, relieved that I had chosen so well.
‘So it looks like you just came from playing in the yard’, Tanya mocked.
‘Since when do we get dressed up, Tan? Anyway I’ve known you from back in the day when we were playing Barbie dolls. Like I care’, I said defensively.
I’m not trying to impress anyone I thought, but the comment stung me like a wasp and I struggled to keep my confidence in check. Voices could be heard behind me and we turned around to see Lucy and Amy walking arm in arm up the driveway. I felt relieved that there was a distraction from the uncomfortable conversation. I noticed they too were wearing jeans but their t-shirts were tighter and I could see the faint outline of their curves through the flimsy cotton fabric. I realised I hadn’t even thought about dressing up, I hadn’t even started to get boobs. What a joke. 15 years old and still no different to the boys in our class. When will it happen? My thoughts drifted to every other girl in our year and it was true. In this way I was way behind the other girls.
‘Hey Tanya, happy birthday’ squealed Amy. Grabbing her in a hug and handing a small, neatly wrapped present into her hands. Lucy hovered by waiting for her turn to give a hug.
‘Thanks!’ Tanya said, accepting the tiny package. ‘Is it jewellery?’
‘Open it silly and find out’, Amy rebored. ‘It’s from both of us’.
Grabbing the neatly-wrapped package Tanya meticulously opened up one end and tipped the contents onto her hand. Out slid a collection of tiny beads and a large crystal. Tanya picked up the piece of fishing wire from the middle of the pile and the semi-precious stones fell into a gorgeous patterned arrangement.
‘It’s to hang near your window. It means happiness’, Amy said chuffed.
‘I luuurve it Amy. Thank you!’ Tanya gushed graciously.
‘It’s from me too’, Lucy chimed in.
Tanya grabbed both of them in hug and they all laughed.
I hovered by waiting for the gift-giving to be over. Tanya was playing the part of the affable hostess to perfection. I was beginning to fell like an ugly insect in the presence of these beautiful creatures.
‘Hey Lois lady’, Amy chirped cheekily.
‘Hey miss, how are ya?’ I beamed. My heart breathed a sigh of relief. At least Amy is still the same.
We gave each other a hug and went to take a seat on the chairs to have a chat.
Tanya’s mother Robyn came out with party pies and Big Red tomato sauce. Robyn was an older version of Tanya, all golden curls and big blue eyes. She had an air of confidence when she walked and you could tell she used to be popular with the men. I had often seen her laughing with my father in intimate conversation and wondered what he was finding so funny. When she leaned over I felt a blanket of her Dior perfume wrap around me. I’d never worn perfume before and it was mesmerising. I took one of the delicious smelling party pies and thanked Robyn.
The sun was setting and it was suggested we headed down to the bottom of the driveway. It was a humid summer night and the mosquitoes had not yet come out to feast on our warm bodies, but it wouldn’t be long before they penetrated the surface of our skin to feed. The spring air was thick with the sweet aroma of eucalyptus trees and foliage. Everyone was nervous and excited and eager of the game ahead. Sitting down in the circle, I wiggled closer to Amy and Johno. Surely there was a better chance of not landing on him if he was sitting right next me? I could see Brad on the other side. All I wanted to do was kiss him. I wonder if he felt the same. Tanya handed the bottle to Amy and she spun it around.
The rock-strewn driveway made a bumpy surface for the bottle and it spun erratically before landing on one of the so-called-cool boys at our school, Josh. Everyone cheered with delight and laughter. I felt rising anticipation sitting next to her, knowing my turn would be next. Amy leaned into the middle of the circle and Josh met her half way. They gave each other a hasty kiss and retreated back to their places self-consciously. I made a mental note that I would kiss Brad longer than that if I landed on him. Amy laughed with embarrassment and handed the bottle to me. I spun the bottle and held my breath as it twisted around. It was a good spin and went around the circle three times. A smile erupted from my face as it slowed down and landed on Brad. I looked at him and he gave me a little smile then looked at the ground. He must be nervous. I leaned into the middle of the circle to meet him half way. My ribcage felt like it was going to explode from the hammering of my heart. The palms of my hands became sweaty and then he came in and we kissed.
I thought it was going to feel better. I felt his slippery tongue darted into my mouth then he pulled away. It was a weird taste that he had, a mixture of party pies and coke. I wiped my mouth and laughed with Amy, almost relieved that it was over.
Next was Tanya’s turn to spin the bottle. She picked up the bottle delicately. It was a finished Sprite bottle and weighed next to nothing in her hand. With a feminine push she spun the bottle around in the middle of the circle. Deep down I wanted her to land on anyone but Brad. It was as if time stood still to see what fate she would be handed down by the gods of ‘spin the bottle’. The empty container started to slow down, finally landing between Johno and Brad. Everyone screamed exuberantly.
‘She has to kiss them both’, someone yelled out. Everyone began to voice their opinions.
No let her choose!
‘It’s my birthday . . . I get to choose’, Tanya butted in. ‘I choose Brad’
Everyone cheered. Tanya and Brad looked at each other with a moment of hesitation. They leant in for the kiss and so it began. I felt deflated as I watched them unite with each other; they seemed so natural doing it. Brad put his hands around Tanya’s waist and they kissed passionately. When finally they stopped Tanya turned back to the circle and smiled smugly at me. I tried to return the happy smile but it felt awkward and fake. It had been a whole year that I had pined and dreamt about Brad. He was the topic of all my late night sleep-over conversations with Tanya. She knew that I had a crush on him.
I felt a stab of pain. So why did she smile at me like that? Brad kept looking at her. I could see they shared a special moment. The game continued on until Tanya’s mum came down and asked us to come back up onto the back veranda. She seemed to know what was going on but it didn’t worry her in the slightest. In fact she seemed to enjoy being the cool mum that let us play spin the bottle at her daughters party. I got up from my spot and went to talk to Tanya but she took one look at me and turned her back on me. Amy and Lucy were up ahead. As I walked back with Johno I felt a sense of abandonment from the girls. When I got to the top of the drive way they were talking, but stopped when I arrived. It was obviously about me. Or maybe it was about Brad and they didn’t want me to know. I could hear a loud car in the distance and I knew that mother was coming. Why did she have to be the first one to arrive? I fumed. Everyone laughed good-naturedly at the grumble of the beast climbing its way up the drive way. I said a hasty good bye to everyone and felt embarrassed as I walked towards the car. As I turned around I saw Brad laughing at me. Second shut down for the night. Great.
I pulled myself up onto the musty smelling sheep wool seat. Mother had a million questions for me, but my mind was somewhere else. What had happened tonight with Tanya? Did she even care that I was in love with Brad? Everything was changing and it felt different. I was always the life of the party, but suddenly I felt on the outset. My mind ticked over. I realised how unfashionable I was in my old jeans and grubby tee-shirts and I suddenly felt depressed. This was not the first time, but one of many. It was becoming a re-occurring theme in my life. Mum and Dad were struggling to pay the mortgage, let alone buy me new clothes. Then there were the school fees. Thousands of dollars they couldn’t afford every term. I wanted to be that girl with new clothes that everyone looked at with envy. I wanted to be that girl that all the boys wanted to kiss the longest. I despised how we struggled to get by. Then it came to me.
The perfect answer.