Here's a translation of the Dutch phrase used in this chapter: wacht even = Wait/wait a minute.
1. Mango Tree
I grew up in a small town on the edge of nothing, surrounded by a fair bit of bush and whole lot of monotony. A few thousand people meant everyone knew everyone's business, and there was always some scandal floating around the town about someone or other that all the ladies at Tuesday tennis would whisper about.
I was pretty lucky that my parents were the no nonsense sort, and they raised me and my older brother Matt to believe that people had no business talking about the affairs of others. School was a magnified version of town, with the culprits of gossip usually being the children of those who did so about town, and had done since school. I maintained the stance my parents had taught me, often preferring the company of my best friend Sam to that of the girls who I was friendly with.
I can honestly say there is no time in my life when I don't remember Sam being there in one way or another. We were next door neighbours and shared everything, from burping competitions to our dreams of finally skipping the town we had lived in since forever. He was such a part of me that I couldn't ever imagine living without him there.
Summer holidays always seemed a long time coming. Me and Sam, we'd be perched on the edge of our seats, watching that clock (we were always prone to false hope because it was three minutes fast) drift over the numbers languidly. The archaic ceiling fans gave little relief from the swelling heat, and sweat would gather at the nape of my neck, its path an uncomfortable trickle down the valley of my back. We barely heard Miss Ford's discourse over the significance of the international treaties in regards to Australian common law. It was usually legal studies that would have me focused, but not today. It was a few minutes until we were free for a whole seven weeks, and there was nothing that would distract me from that fact.
Finally, the bell clanged in its traditionally clumsy fashion, and my eyes locked with Sam, a grin fast spreading on his pale face. We'd sprint from the classroom, leaving a paper trail and Miss Ford's pleas for revision in our wake.
"To the pool, I say!" Sam announced in the voice he would only use around his mother. The child of a speech therapist truly had no hope of ever speaking normally. Thankfully, he had been so very blessed to grow up next door to me (as I cheekily reminded him whenever possible), who never learnt to 'enunciate' anything and who talked as if everyone around me was hard of hearing, so we'd both found an acceptable balance between the two.
"Really? That's where you want to celebrate our freedom? Nay, liberty." I mimicked his posh voice with a grin as we walked out of the school grounds and down the street. "Come on, that place is full of bogans and kid wee."
"Alright then, what did you have in mind for our merriment, dear Jenny?" He hooked his arm in mine, his brown hair falling over his pale forehead.
"Well, Cerise invited us over to Dave-O's for celebratory drinks, so I was thinking we could head over there later on." I raised my eyes to his face with a fair bit of optimism; he looked fairly unimpressed.
"So when you say she invited 'us' you mean she invited you, right?" He looked expectantly at me and I tried my hardest to look affronted at the very suggestion of it, but wound up wincing under the pressure of his probing hazel eyes.
"Yeah, okay, she invited me, but no one's going to mind if you come. You can be my plus-one." I paused, recognising Sam's sigh as the 'I-really-don't-want-to-do-what-she-tells-me-but-I'm-extremely-close-to-caving' sigh, and quickly interceded. "So consider yourself plussed." I hoped that I had said that with the air of finality I meant to, and when I heard his sigh of defeat, I inwardly did a little dance.
"I guess I really don't have a choice then." He said, a grin playing at his lips. "I'm plussed."
"Damn straight you're plussed." I smirked at my triumph, small as it seemed, but it was summer holidays, and to hell if I wasn't going to be happy about every little thing.
"So, just out of curiosity, what goes through your head when you name your kid Cerise anyway? It honestly sounds like a stripper name. I've been waiting for Dave-O to realise it, but it seems like he's more of an idiot then I originally thought." I laughed, and Sam launched into one of his famously hilarious dialogues on the stupidity of the people we went to school with. Even though I was endlessly in stitches at all the bitingly witty things that came out of Sam's mouth about our classmates, I'd never fully participate in his sometimes harsh commentary. I was friendly with most people no matter who they hung out with, and the fact that I never spoke about anyone behind their backs placed me on fairly neutral ground.
That's not to say I was some docile little goody-two shoes. If I had a problem with someone, I would let them know it in person and if it wasn't resolved between the two of us, I'd make them feel the consequences if it came to that; I wasn't extremely big (okay, I was pint-sized) but there was one thing I'd always been able to do, and that was hold my own in a fight. But my upbringing was too firm to ever go that extra step and bitch about it to other people.
Of course, Sam had good reason to be resentful. He had been bullied during primary school despite my diplomatic confrontations with the offenders ("You better leave Sam alone, or I'll kick you in the balls!"), but by the time we'd gotten to high school, he'd developed a sharp wit capable of causing even the worst bully to back down, and he was left alone in the main.
"So clothes-wise, what are you thinking?" We were close to getting home, and I giggled at Sam's flawless impersonation of Jack from Will and Grace.
"Hmm, maybe a nice frock? But to dress it down, pair it with Converses." I mock deliberated, but couldn't hide the grin curling at my lips at his impeccable timing. I swear Sam could do stand-up; he's that sort of hilarious.
"The blue ones?" I nodded my head in affirmation, and he clapped his hands together in exaggerated excitement. "Fabulous. I myself will be displaying the combination of jeans and shirt. Some say it's overused, I say its classic."
It took a lot of willpower not to laugh in that embarrassing way that would make my mum shoot me disapproving looks if I ever did it public. Unfortunately, I possessed no such willpower, and let out a half-snort half-scream which echoed throughout the empty street. We looked at each other in an attempt to contain ourselves, and quickly waved goodbye before we woke the sleepy neighbourhood.
"I'll text you when I'm ready!" I called to him from my front steps before walking inside. It was close to five and I could hear Mum in the living room tapping at the laptop. She managed her orthopaedic shoe business from home, and my dad worked at the local council managing the roads in the area. Upstairs, Matt was listening to loud music, it's bass a faint thud from downstairs. He finished school two years ago, but was content not going to uni or having a job, living off our parents until further notice. They had put up with it for the first year, but made their displeasure clear after that. He took no notice.
Me, I planned on getting out of town as soon as I could. I wanted to head for the big smoke and study law and earn my keep from working shitty jobs. Sam had voiced the same sentiment, wanting to study international relations and languages, and it was sort of planned that we'd room together. We'd never really thought any differently, country through and through in that way.
I called a hello to my mum from the hallway, then kicked off my shoes and bounced up the stairs. I didn't bother going into Matt's room as I passed it; he was always in some musically-induced haze and never responded anyway. When I got into my room, I dumped my bag on the floor and immediately tore off my uniform, hopping into the shower. After I finished, I did all the appropriately girly stuff (moisturise, perfume, touch of make-up) and slipped on my favourite dress, a simple black one which fell nicely from the waist just above the knees. As promised to Sam, I slipped on my blue Converses and put my blonde hair up in a ponytail. I glanced briefly at my reflection in the mirror; pretty, but nothing overdone. Of course there were things that always bugged me about my appearance; my height, my nose and my abundance of freckles, but overall, I was happy. I had a good figure, with a nice smile and eyes, and tanned skin – so there wasn't a lot to complain about.
I smiled, and piled my junk into a cute denim bag, and, fishing my phone from the pocket of my school skirt located in an ungainly pile of clothes on the floor, texted Sam that I was ready.
A few minutes later I heard the horn of a car and grinned, racing down the stairs. I paused only to tell my mum that I was going out and would be back later, giving her little time to respond and hurrying out the door. My parents and I had a fairly trusting relationship; they knew I knew how to take care of myself, and as long as I didn't drink too much and didn't come home too late, they gave me my freedom.
Sam lived with his mother, and she had always been a little overprotective of him, yet he consistently managed to shake her off with a few words. She had him living by a strict set of rules, which varied from 'no pets' to 'no alcohol ever'. Mrs Cross had maintained since Sam was young that this rule existed because it 'ruined your vocal cords'.
Despite this, Sam was still the one who had been awarded with a car (albeit third-hand and not incredibly reliable) after he had gotten his provisional license. My parents had point-blank refused, in spite of my yearning (pointed) gazes at the faded blue '64 Volkswagen Beetle parked next door.
Getting into the passenger seat in Sam's car was an art. It was a synchronised effort of the Sam pushing from inside and me pulling from outside until the door creaked reluctantly open. We'd become so adept at it that it barely fazed us anymore.
I slid into the passenger seat, and Sam whistled lowly. I shot him a look, and he raised his arms in defence.
"No, Jenny, you just look..." He trailed off, his eyes moving over me whilst nodding appreciatively. I raised my eyebrows drolly at his apparent incoherence.
"Yeah, you don't scrub up too bad yourself." I teased, ruffling my hand through his hair playfully. "Now get driving. You do realise that's the only reason I'm still friends with you, right?" I formed an expression of solemnity and he gasped in mock horror. "Yep, to me, you're just a taxi driver I occasionally put up with for the sake of my need to get out of the house."
"No! How could you use me and Lexi like that?" His voice was tremulous and filled with just enough exaggerated melancholy that it made me giggle. "I thought we really meant something to you..."
We laughed, and he pulled onto the road, Lexi's engine a lethargic groan as Sam eased into second gear. I glanced at Sam from the corner of my eye. We'd always just been friends. I'd never wanted anything more from him, and I was sure he felt the same. Not that Sam wasn't attractive; girls had always been interested in him, with the tall dark thing he had going on. I just never wanted anything to screw up what we had, so it was a kind of unspoken thing that we'd never go there.
Dave-O's house was hard to miss. It was only seven, and already the bass of the music could be felt reverberating on the lawn outside the house. This of course didn't drown out the murmur of a crowd, and Sam shot me a dubious look. I ignored it, heading to the front door and ringing the doorbell. Sam lingered by the gate, and I rolled my eyes, beckoning for him to come. He grudgingly did so, and I grinned at him. The door opened, and an impeccably groomed Cerise, clad in a skin tight red number which barely went past her bum, stood in the doorway.
"Oh my God, Jenny, you look so cute!" She tossed her black hair over her shoulder, her toothy smile almost dazzling. When she noticed Sam, her smile lessened considerably, but she didn't say anything. She knew how close I was to him, and how I wasn't about to let anyone change my friendship with him, so she put up with it. I'm pretty sure she hadn't liked Sam since he told everyone about her reoccurring toe fungus in Year Nine.
She let us in, and we were thrown into a crowd of impossibly tall footballers holding multiple bottles of beer. I was almost lost in the sea of tallness, but Sam gripped my arm and led me into the living room, where it was also full, but less intense. Cerise tapped on my shoulder and leaned over to yell into my ear.
"Do you want anything to drink?" I shook my head and she waved, turning to be swallowed into the crowd, presumably to look for Dave-O. Sam and I took a seat on the leather couch by the window and managed to have a conversation over the deafening noise of the party. The thought briefly flitted through my mind that it was a blessing Dave-O lived a bit out of town and couldn't bother any neighbours.
I later got up to dance with some friends while Sam had a low discussion with a few people on the couch. I danced for most of the night, loving the feeling of a beer in my hand and a couple of friend around me. It was then that I realised someone was watching me, and I felt strangely self-conscious under their gaze. I scanned the crowd of people and my eyes finally settled on the perpetrator. He was leaning against a wall while Dave-O was swaying dangerously next to him, apparently having a conversation with the guy, but it looked a little one-sided; the guy's eyes were fixed on me, weirdly enough. I nudged Cerise.
"Hey, who's that?"
"Oh, him," Cerise purred the word with a smirk curling at her red lips, and I motioned for her to continue. "Yeah, his name's Derik Vandergeld, he's from Queensland apparently. His family made a fortune up there from mining diamonds." The word seemed so right leaving her lips, and I grinned wryly as she continued. "He's down here to finish school and check out some potential property for his father, so Dave-O's dad has been trying to grease him up to buy some of his places." Dave-O's dad was a real-estate agent, but I couldn't imagine he thought that unleashing Dave-O on the guy was going to 'grease him up'.
Cerise licked her lips as she raked her eyes over his body. "And oh my God, isn't he just so hot?" I looked over at him; yes, he was looked good in dark jeans and navy shirt with the sleeves rolled up, dark hair falling over chiselled perfect features, but it was just all too much in a guy for me. Plus, he was like, enormous, easily towering over everyone else in the room (really not a turn on for me, the shortest person in the room), and the whole staring thing was getting old really fast. I was starting to think I had a tomato sauce moustache or something.
"Yeah, I guess so." I shrugged, and Cerise just shook her head at me sadly.
"Oh dear little Jenny, when are you finally going to learn to pick your hotties?" I snorted gracelessly, and Cerise gave up, sidling away to get another drink. I looked over to where Sam had been sitting; he had moved his conversation to a dark corner on the other side of the room, and I sighed, my feet suddenly aching from under me. I flopped onto a vacant spot on the couch and watched a couple of jocks destroy a home entertainment system with mild amusement, barely noticing that someone was standing above me. I looked up to see the new guy, Derik, and nearly shrieked out loud.
"I don't know how they do it in Queensland, but down here we tend to tell people when we're going to sneak up on them. It's just a courtesy thing really." I managed in a voice so choked I'm surprised he could hear over the pounding bass. He face was a mask of cool indifference, but something strange lighted his dark eyes, and they almost seemed gold. It passed quickly though, and they were normal again.
"I'm sorry if I scared you." I raised my eyebrows; he spoke with a slight accent, definitely European. And his face really didn't reflect the reproach he'd just expressed. "I don't think we've met before. I'm Derik Vandergeld." He held out his hand and looked at me expectantly. I stood up, first noting how muscled and huge his arm was, and took then taking it warily.
"Jenny Baker." Usually I smiled and was friendly when meeting new people, but something about this guy made me feel a little on edge. Maybe it was the coldness of his eyes, or the intensity with which he stared at me that made me squirm just that little bit. After a firm shake, I tried to take my hand back, but Derik held onto me, and I frowned, tugging persistently.
"Yeah, usually we let go at this point." I said, still struggling to remove my hand from his grip, and he let go almost immediately. "You're a quick learner." I remarked acidly, which surprised me; I usually left the sarcasm to Sam. Speaking of Sam, where was he? I scanned the crowd, but couldn't see him.
"I apologise." He cleared his throat, as if trying to rid himself of a bad taste in his mouth. "I'm not sure if you heard, but I've moved down from Queensland to complete my final year of school here. I came early to get to know everyone." I nodded at his words, not incredibly interested to hear what I already knew. Besides, I wanted to find Sam and talk to him. I'd had a couple of drinks and felt in the mood for a little Sam cuddling.
"Yeah, I'd heard." I mumbled, my eyes still searching for Sam's brown head. "Anyway, it was nice meeting you. I guess I'll see you at school or whatever." I shot him a polite smile and shifted to move away, but the grip of his hand around my arm stopped me. It felt hot and heavy wrapped around my small arm.
"Wacht even. I'll probably see you before then, Jennifer. It's a small town." I didn't understand what he'd said at the start, but I did understand the rest; his lilting voice was laced with something akin to a threat.
Which pissed me off.
"Okay, Derik, I don't know what your issue is, but I definitely know what mine is; any guesses?" His stony eyes signalled a guarded nothing. "That would be you. Holding onto my arm and not letting go. Get the hint?" His eyes did that weird flashy gold thing again (must be the shit lighting in Dave-O's living room), but his grip loosened considerably on my arm, and I wrenched it back. Glaring at him one last time, I turned and was swamped once more by that sea of people.
This time though, they were considerably drunker, and easier to push aside. I forged a path through jock, until I spotted Sam leaning against the wall, his eyes closed. I thought he was just resting or something, but on further inspection, I realised he was actually asleep. Incredulous, I poked him in the arm, and he jerked awake.
"It's crispy not burnt." He mumbled, hazel eyes wild and alert.
"Jesus Sam, I knew parties weren't really your thing, but actually falling asleep at one? I didn't even think that it was truly possible in this noise, but I guess it is you." I laughed, and he smirked back at me whilst rubbing his eyes.
"Oh, you'd be surprised at what else I can do, baby." He waggled his eyebrows, and I snorted, grabbing his arm and dragging him outside.
"Dag. Anyways, shall we bail? It's getting pretty ordinary in there and the company worse. Anyways, I'm in the mood for a vidfest." I grinned as he heartily concurred, and we crossed the lawn, finding Lexi slumped in the position we left her.
With Sam responsibly sober and me slightly softened by a few beers, we made our way home. Lexi seemed to hum contentedly as Sam pulled into his driveway, and I glanced at the time. Just past twelve and just outside both our curfews. Sam went into his house to grab a couple of things (mainly movies and some junk food; he'd long ago left a spare toothbrush at our place) and I crept inside, checking for foot tapping adults, but was clear. Sam jumped the fence separating his house from mine and we tip-toed up the stairs until we got into my room, clicking the door shut behind us.
Sam put some DVD on, I think it was Top Gun, but we barely even heard the music softly coming from my ancient telly, falling asleep as soon as we slumped onto my bed.
A/N: Firstly: click the review button if you're liking and want me to continue as reviews feed my ego. And it's a hungry, hungry ego.
Also, a big thanks to my wonderful beta, Delishous, who got back to me so quickly and with really great suggestions on how to improve things.
A few little notes: I'm Australian, which means I will write with Australian slang, spelling and time zones. So yes, we have our summer in Dec-Jan-Feb here. But I'm also Dutch-born, so that part of me was beating on its little old chest to put someone Dutch in this story. Any questions you have regarding my weird Aussie/Dutch ways I'm more than happy to answer.
That's pretty much it! I hope you enjoyed, and if you did, give a review and I'll post another chapter within the week.
P.S. The title of this chapter comes from a little Australian band called Angus and Julia Stone - gorgeous song, look it up!