Ric killed his chance the same day he killed Meggin's Skipper doll. And Meggin isn't exactly Ric's ideal 'Girl Next Door.' But, hey, cliché has always been cliché and pretty soon it's gonna get tired of waiting.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
-Martin Luther King Jr.
A Cliché Waiting To Happen
- Prologue: Skipper Was Dead -
The Micallef's moved in next door when I was six – back when Barbie was all the rage and cooties were the worst thing you could catch.
I remember bounding off my beloved swing-set (may it rest in pieces) and darting into the front yard where Dad had dropped the garden hose, letting the water trickle onto the pavement wastefully. The latter, of course, is unfathomable to us Australians nowadays but we had that kind of luxury back then.
I watched the water wash away my sloppily drawn chalk-hopscotch and pink and white 'Barrby 4 Effa's', before tottering after Dad to the large moving van that blocked our driveway.
"…family from Sydney," the driver was explaining to Dad, who was looking rather pleased with these turn of events. Our last next-door neighbour had been cranky and elderly and always complained that our dog was keeping him up at night, regardless of the fact that we'd never actually owned a dog.
Both men half-turned to watch as a flashy car announced its arrival with a glint of silver and, in one fluid motion, pulled up into 132 Denever Avenue's driveway. I tried to make out the shadowy shapes behind the tinted windows but to no avail. If I had, I'm certain that all I would have been able to see was a pair of horrible, sadistic eyes that would taunt and screw me over for years to come.
Alas, I was young and naïve then and the presence of Ric Micallef had yet to taint my life with his stupidity and moronity and downright pointlessness. Big words for a six-year-old, but I prided myself on my 'impressive' vocabulary back then. I'd won the spelling bee at school, after all, and suddenly all my classmates thought I'd become President of Australia one day. So, you know, imagine my surprise when, later that day, the new kid on the block hardly seemed to care when I announced that I knew how to spell 'elephant.'
But I digress.
Apparently Dad had gotten pretty friendly with the new neighbours: you had to move in fast, he said, or you would find yourself left out of neighbourhood barbecues and getting the raw end out of garage sales. Oh, how my life could have been different if he'd only not been such an avid fan of those Australian soap operas that seemed to promote good, friendly camaraderie between people who shared a single fence.
The rest of us had the duty of fooling our new neighbours with the pretense that we were a nice, happy, normal family. Which we were. Dad just happened to thrive on watching soap operas and my younger sister – only four years old at the time – was already showing qualities of being the beauty-pageant-esque daughter a stay-at-home mother (who also happened to have been crowned Miss Warnambool at seventeen) would dream about.
But, apart from those minor ummm…imperfections, we were as normal and happy as an average suburban family in Melbourne could be. Still are. I don't know why I'm using the past tense.
Naturally, I was the one who had the role of entertaining their son, being relatively the same age and all. That and because the world works no wonders for me, however small.
So there we were, lolling about my pink and white bedroom and munching on the cookies Mum had baked only half an hour before (she claimed that she'd baked them herself but I'd seen the cookie dough wrapper) and I was desperately wracking my brain for something, anything, to say to the boy – the dreaded 'Cootie-Carrier.' My views on boys have changed since then but my feelings for Ric Micallef can only be described as hatred. Pure, burning hatred.
Or maybe 'pure, burning hatred' is too extreme. There is nothing particularly 'burning' about my hatred. I would never, for example, go out of my way to cause him any grievances (although the same could not be said for him) and I would never actually be overjoyed if he died – knock on wood – in some horrible kind of freak accident. No, I get my small little sadistic pleasures from hearing about his detentions or watching him get into trouble for throwing water balloons at my window almost every morning.
I despise him for his reckless attitude, his smart-arse comments, his disregard for rules (of which I live my life by, as sad as that actually sounds) and, of course, for Skipper.
"I can spell elephant," I had announced proudly on that (as clichéd as it may sound) fateful day.
He didn't seem to care and appeared far more interested in Barbie's Beach House Paradise ™ than the fact that I could spell a word at the seven-year-old level. His hair had been much lighter then and I remember marveling at how his head kind of looked like Ken's (Barbie's boyfriend, duh) from the back.
But then he'd peered into one of the windows and plucked Skipper from where she'd been relaxing on her sunbed and, in that one action, he'd crossed the fine line between tolerable and despicable jerk.
Because what he did next was unforgivable.
Completely and utterly and irrevocably unforgivable.
"Cool," he'd enthused, grinning from ear to ear as he spun around, clutching Skipper's head with one hand and her body with the other. "Her head would look so neat on top of my Lego set. She could watch over all of my Transformers."
And, in one tug, my life, I believed at the time, was ruined.
"Nooo," I remember shrieking, sounding horribly like one of those facile action movies as I lunged forward to rescue my beloved doll from his evil grasp. But it was too late.
Skipper was dead.
I vowed to despise him for the rest of my life.
I always do that. I reserve my best writing and my most professional voice for beginnings and wind up sounding like an incredibly pompous bitch.
My English teacher last year said I had a flare for the dramatic. My best friend, Anna Chong, says I have a flare for exaggeration. And my other best friend, Belinda Donohue, laughs and says that I have a flare for writing but that I sound like a complete arse when I try. Which is kind of where the 'incredibly pompous bitch' comes in. Because I'm not pompous and I've never been called a bitch out of jest in my life.
In truth, I say stupid things when I'm nervous, couldn't hit/throw/catch/all of the above a ball to save my life and find swearing kind of…liberating. Yeah, I know. I'm a loser.
Something green and heavy thuds against my window and the pane rattles a little before the projectile slides half-heartedly down the glass, landing with a splash onto the pavement below.
Six-thirty. Right on time.
It's early. It's the first day of Year Eleven. And Ric Micallef just threw a water bomb at my window.
Sighing, I haul myself out of my mangled bed, from which I'd only been contemplating my tendency to dramatise only moments before, and pluck my red and white checkered school uniform from its hanger, immediately loathing the way it makes my hips look and lamenting the size of my…umm, assets. Or, you know, lack thereof.
Every morning, since my infuriating neighbour first discovered a love for all things that go 'splash', he's been throwing water bombs at my window in an attempt to piss me off. Of course, they've become so imbedded in my daily routine that I don't even need one of those crappy alarm clocks anymore. You know the kind: the ones that go off anytime during the day (and night) except when they're actually supposed to.
Still, I'm kind of counting down the days to when the guy finishes high school this year and hopefully moves out of his house, somewhere far, far, far away.
"Meh-eggin," Danielle shrieks from downstairs, separating my name into three syllables in that annoying Danielle way she has. I'm sure I've mentioned my beauty pageant-esque younger sister. Perfect Danielle. Dear Danielle. The renowned Danielle Conroy – the fourteen-year-old that always was.
"Dan-ee-eh-elle," I call back.
I thump my way downstairs, lugging my bag behind me with an effort, already straining over the amount of holiday homework I'd had to endure in preparation for my first year of VCE. I actually don't think that they'd expected us to complete even half of it but, like all kids with too much time on their hands and who want to achieve an ENTER score of somewhere-above-ninety, I'd forgone the usual sleep-in-and-numb-brain-with-TV routine and done it all.
Blegh, I say.
By the time I've hauled myself to the kitchen, Danielle is already at the table, demonstrating just how well she can multi-task by spooning cereal into her mouth and simultaneously scrolling through her multitude of text messages with her other hand.
"Is that make-up?"
I peer at her eyes – blue, to my utter resentment – and she tears her attention away from her phone long enough to roll them at me in a 'whatever!' fashion.
"Mrs. Jacobin will have your head," I warn her, referring to her year level coordinator who is a complete stickler for rules and regulations.
I should know, because there was that one time in Year Eight when I thought I'd, you know, be all cool and not wear my blazer over my jumper on my way home. And the woman had emerged out of nowhere like Freddy Krueger and proceeded to tell me off in front of all the cool guys who lingered around our school's front gates, waiting for their girlfriends. Their girlfriends who had all miraculously donned their own blazers before Mrs. Jacobin could set her steely sights on them.
See, the thing about Stella Wyman Catholic is that it's an all-girl Catholic high school. And as an all-girl Catholic high school, we're all required to adhere to specific rules because 'we are representatives of the school and thus should behave and represent the school in a matter befitting the school's reputation.'
Of course, in that sense, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for one of those hoity-toity private schools where every student has a laptop and an over-the-average intelligence quotient. But, in reality, Stella's is just the kind of high school you send your kids to when you want to assume the façade of sending them to a hoity-toity private school but don't actually want to spend the ten thousand a year or so on school fees to actually do so.
I jump as my sister emits a high-pitched squeal that would put Carson Kressley to shame.
"Ohmigod. The school play is a rendition of The Titanic." Another squeal and then she forgoes the cereal so that she can dedicate her time to spreading the Good News via her trusty phone.
"Oh. My. Gawd," I mimic. "Like, I want to curl my hair into ringlets and dance the Cha-Cha."
"Meg, you loser, what the hell does doing the Cha-Cha have to do with The Titanic?"
I shrug. She has a point but hell will freeze over and start handing out Popsicles to kids before I willingly admit that she has a point.
"See, your problem," she begins, tossing her head self-righteously as she gets up to dump her bowl into the sink, "is that you don't go out there and do something. I mean, how many extracurricular activities have you joined since going to Stella's?"
And this is the part where we all realise just how perfect Dear Danielle is, seeing as her extracurricular activities include being part of the soccer team, the debating team, last year's school production…the list is endless. And my extracurricular activities amount to…
"Hey! I was in the book club in Year Nine. I even got a Kit Kat for writing a review on Looking for Alibrandi."
"Well," she pauses, "I think you should try out."
"I think you should shut up."
"Uh, no thanks, Danielle. I think they've got enough on their hands if you're trying out."
She pokes her tongue out at me. "You're such a cow."
"Moo," is my oh-so-clever response.
And this is kind of how the year begins.
"Mmmf?" I mumble. Which would have sounded a lot more like 'what?' if it weren't for the pancakes I'm shoveling into my mouth as fast my fork can make it to and from my plate.
I swallow my carbs and syrup and slowly raise my eyes to meet Mum's disapproving gaze. You can always tell when she's pissed off 'cause that's when she starts using your full name (Aleric, of all names) and juts her hip out in one of those Justice League poses. Wonder Woman with a few extra kilos. And without the H-O-T, hot, outfit, because that would be kind of ummm…creepy.
Right now she looks extra scary because she's in the midst of flipping pancakes and she's armed with the spatula, which is dripping with hot oil.
"Did you throw a water balloon at the Conroys' house again?"
"Do I get extra pancakes if I tell the truth?"
"Answer the question."
Aw, heck. It was worth a try. I make as if to think about the question looooong and hard.
"Hmmm. Did I throw a water balloon at the Conroys' house again?"
"Did I throw a water balloon at the Conroys' house again?"
"Did I throw a water balloon at the - "
She doesn't wait for me to respond and chooses, instead, to launch into a long and dramatic speech. Blah, blah.
"Because we discussed this at the end of last year, remember? It was…tolerable when you were twelve. We all thought you'd get sick of it sooner or later. But you're in Year Twelve now. Do you know how immature that makes you look?"
Uhhh, yeah. Duh.
"Do you know how it makes our family look? The neighbours probably all think we raised you with no discipline."
Just to make things clear, my mother never raised me. Much less with any discipline.
I mean, dude, it's not like I really care or anything. 'Cause it's a lot easier to be cool when your mum isn't breathing down your neck like Jay's. A heck of a lot easier to own Playboy magazines when your mum only seems to care when somebody else brings your behaviour to her attention. And way easier to skip school when your mum doesn't notice when you're around anyway.
She has a reason for it: Nate. And if I were a good person, I'd probably give a shit. But I was six when it happened and now I'm seventeen and over it.
Besides, I like the freedom.
It just reallybugs the hell out of me when she starts preaching discipline at me. And when she uses my full name. Like, what the hell?
"I saw Mr. Conroy heading off to work this morning. He waved at me and then, as he got into the car, he said 'oh, Ric threw a water balloon at my house again.' And then he laughed and said 'those teenage boys.' And do you know, I was mortified. Mortified, Aleric, that he had to make an excuse for you. He might not seem extremely bothered by it but your father and I are."
"What are you talking about? Dad thinks it's funny."
Her expression darkens. "Yes, well he would, wouldn't he? The pair of you…that man…I swear you're exactly like he was when he was your age."
I make a sound at the back of my throat, which I try to pass off as some kind of response. She hates when I do it, which only makes me do it more.
"Can I just ask you – why, Ric? Why do you do it? Is it because of Meggin? She's a lovely girl."
"We're not expecting the pair of you to be best friends…but a little less animosity would be nice."
She looks at me expectantly.
"So do I get extra pancakes if I tell you what you want to hear?"
She makes a disgusted noise, like 'is that all you ever think about' and stomps out of the kitchen to get ready for work. She's not really mad. Most of it is probably just for show. She'll forget about it within a day, like she always does. So I help myself to a couple of extra pancakes anyway.
But maybe I should explain the Meggin situation.
See, my family moved into our house in Melbourne when I was seven. Seven and a half. Heck, I dunno. Who's counting?
Rolled up in this stupid-ass Toyota that my dad thought was cool or something, just 'cause it was silver and had power steering. Dude, give me a Ferrari FXX with a six-thousand-two-hundred-and-sixty-two cc V12 any day. Sell my own kid for one if I had one. Hell yeah.
But anyway, long story short, the kid next-door was a total loser. Thought she was top shit just 'cause she could spell 'elephant' or something. Pfft. Nerd.
We hung around in her bedroom even though mine had a Nintendo 64 and a shitload of Transformers – which were, like, the gods of kids' toys at the time but, hey, her mum baked some pretty neat cookies.
Long story shorter, ten years later and the kid next-door still has some kind of grudge against me over what I did to her stupid Skipper doll. Like, dude, come on. I might have understood a teensy little if it were Barbie. But Skipper is just a massive rip-off with smaller breasts. Nobody cares.
Although, okay, maybe it's not just the Skipper. Maybe it's the water bombs. And the way I go out of my way to piss her off, just for shits. But let me tell you: you haven't seen anything funny until you've seen Meggin Conroy go red in the face and start ranting like a nutjob.
Point is, everybody is always raving about the perfect girl. The so-called girl-next-door. Frankly, I don't see it.
The whole girl-next-door thing, I mean.
They're just not as great as they're made out to be.
Exhibit A: my girl-next-door.
Can't mind her own business, acts like she's got a canoe paddle shoved permanently up her arse, has to show me up with her insane grades.
Serious nerd. Total weiner. I bet the girl hasn't wagged a single day of school in her life. She's whiny, annoying, thinks the world is out to get her or some other stupid complex like that…
Oh, and she despises me. Me. Ric Micallef. Nobody despises Ric Micallef. I'm like…too sexy for my shirt. Haha.
So, uh, yeah. As far as I'm concerned, you can have her.
I live in suburban Melbourne, Australia. Hence, it's only fitting that my first original story should be set in suburban Melbourne, Australia. I'm happy that you guys are so kind as to share this experience of my First Original Story with me.
It's all really meant to be some light-hearted fun, kind of like 'what would happen if these clichés were applied to real life and they didn't all go as planned?' Hopefully you build a rapport with the characters as well, and are able to see them develop throughout the story.
For those who will notice, I edited this prologue with the intention of editing the other chapters as well. I did, after all, start this story when I was in year 8 and it stands to reason that my writing voice and my expression have changed a little since then. So the next few chapters will probably seem a little different – perhaps a little more juvenile, I don't know, you tell me, hehe – to the prologue until I can post all edited forms of the chapters.
With the editing, I'm trying to fix all the problems you all pointed out to me with your constructive criticism and I'm also trying to develop the characters a little better as well as the relationship between Ric and Meggin. Reading over it, I found myself cringing over how contrived some aspects of the story were. My aim is not to just concentrate on the romance although that is what the story is largely based on, but also to concentrate on each character as an individual and to create a more realistic basis.
For those of you who are worried that this will change the plot that took me…hmmm…four years to develop, I will say that a few minor things are being taken out, just because it seemed a little over-the-top but overall, the plot will remain the same.
List of changes:
- Ric is now one year older than Meggin
- Meggin's mother has not had a miscarriage
- Anna and Belinda are closer than they were before
Thank you for your patience and support!