I stood in the middle of the small, crowded airport shop, almost weaving on my feet from lack of sleep and a proper breakfast, and scowled at the smugly worded wrapper proclaiming that the chocolate bar it contained was 'not for girls.'
I was scowling more out of solidarity for my little sister, whose glare could have fried eggs at twenty feet. Personally, I was too bleary to have managed a suitably scathing response had I been alone.
"Sexist!" hissed Claire, possibly the world's most intelligent and socially aware twelve-year-old. Heh. She didn't have a chance to be otherwise, with our parents.
"Come on, babe. I'll get you something else," I said, hopefully tugging at her arm. There was every possibility that she would insist on marching up to the counter and giving the poor teller a lecture on encouraging chauvinistic attitudes by stocking sweets whose marketing strategy was obviously a little out of synch with the modern world.
"You will?" She looked up with faint surprise. Damn it, I'd been hoping she wouldn't hear that. It was an age-long battle between the two of us; she asked for sweets, junk food, fizzy drinks, and I laughed in her face. My idea of pigging out on a snack was eating a packet of cashew nuts. Claire complained that I was far worse than either of our parents, and that what was the fun of having an older brother who always had money if he didn't buy her anything?
I sighed. "Yeah, I will. Now come on." Sometimes, it was easier to give in.
Suddenly much more cheerful than she had been a moment earlier, she gave me a wide smile and skipped off to find a packet of something that would rot her teeth. I followed, pulling crumpled dollar notes out of my pocket.
Claire dawdled at the stand for what seemed like ages, seemingly immersed in the agonising debate of Smarties versus Bounty. I leaned against the wall, trying not to look too impatient, and fairly sure that I was failing. A quick glance at my watch gave me a way out.
"Hurry up, babe, the plane boards in five minutes."
I received a non-committal noise from Claire, and a strange look from the lady standing next to me. I gave her a bland look. Yeah, I called my sister pet names, so what? She probably thought I was a cradle robber. A friend had once asked me if I realised that I would now never be able to call a lover 'babe'. I said that I could always revert to French or Spanish. Now all I had to do was learn them.
When I finally managed to tow my sister out of the shop, I continued with my momentum and dragged her all the way to our gate. Claire had inherited our mother's penchant for window-shopping, and it was always dangerous to let her anywhere near any displays. I'd once made the mistake of giving her a day's shopping as a birthday present. My wallet didn't recover for months.
She skipped over to where our parents were sitting and happily unwrapped her chocolate bar, leaving me to plonk down next to our older brother, Tristan. He glanced up from his comic and dismissed me with a quick flick of his eyes, pointedly turning the volume on his Discman up further.
I sighed. Tristan was currently in the deep throes of sullen puberty, which was strange, because he'd used to be the most easy-going person I knew. At almost eighteen he was older than me, too, and I didn't go around grunting at people. Wasn't he a little old to be sulking because of hormones?
My mother said I was being unsympathetic. I agreed whole-heartedly.
Burrowing into the less than comfortable seat, I fixed my gaze on the wall and tried not to tap my fingers against the armrest. I'd always hated that time before boarding, because it's always longer than they say it would be. Unless you're running late, that is, when the plane's inevitably on time, and you arrive at the gate out of breath, panicked, trying to avoid the eyes of the flight attendants and pretending to ignore their pursed lips. Right now, the wait was giving me time to think, which wasn't something I'd particularly wanted to do.
Home. That was where we were supposed to be going. Problem was, it hadn't felt like home for a long time. Not since we'd left when I was seven, packing up the whole family and going to live in different places around the world. Hong Kong. London. And, for the past three years, New York.
My city, my place. It didn't really matter where my home was supposed to be, New York was it. I'd been back to Australia a few times since we'd left, and I was very fond of my home country, in that sort of absent-minded, only-be-patriotic-when-you-like-an-Australian-actor sort of way. I loved Sydney, had spent many a pleasant day in Melbourne, and still remembered long camping trips through the outback.
But I wasn't prepared to live in a small country town, hundreds of kilometres from any metropolis. I was going to trade in The City That Never Sleeps for The Town That's Asleep at Ten. Everyone kept saying that there were disadvantages to a migrant life, and I always listened with a polite smile, nodding where appropriate, all the while thinking 'you don't know the half of it'. I was leaving my friends, my school, my neighbourhood, and pretty much any chance I had of getting a boyfriend. I had the distinct, lurching feeling that I was going to be the only gay teenager in Doolung, New South Wales. Oh, fun.
Finally, our flight was called, and we all shuffled onto the plane, juggling the mountains of baggage you need to stay sane on a long haul flight. We only had one window seat between us all, and I was fast enough to snag it, earning me a glare from Tristan. I raised my eyebrow at him, challenging him to say something. Leanne, sensing the potential tension with that eerie sixth sense all mothers seem to have, wedged herself between us and sat down beside me. Battle averted, honour saved.
I dozed for the next three quarters of an hour, as the crew went through all the mysterious things that needed to be done before a plane could take off. I was always awake for the take-off, though. I guess it was a carry-on from when I was little and flying was still exciting. I watched through the window as the city receded, trying to imprint the sight in my memory. Leanne gently touched my shoulder.
"I'm sorry, Trent," she murmured.
I nodded, not looking at her, but squeezing her hand to let her know that I didn't blame her. And I didn't. It may have been because of her job that we were leaving, but it was also the reason we were there in the first place. You have to take the bad with the good.
But I just knew that out of all of us, I had lost the most. I pressed my hand against the window and watched a thin layer of ice spread over the surface.