Molly’s Dreams – Chapter Seventeen

It had been Debbie’s idea for us to have a picnic by the river to celebrate finishing high school. She had led the way down the track from the carpark that took us all the way to the base of the waterfall, with the sound of tumbling water becoming a roar by the time we had reached the picnic area at the bottom.
It was late summer and the sound of cicadas in the air rose and fell as I held Andrew’s hand and looked at the beautiful surroundings. There was a small clearing by the edge of the river, and the water eddied past crazily. A small pebbly beach led into the river and the day was so hot that Debbie and Rose wasted no time in jumping into the water and began splashing around.
“Come on in, you guys,” Debbie yelled from the middle of the river. I hesitated because it looked murky and I couldn’t see the bottom, but once Andrew hopped in I slipped my yellow summer dress over my head and straightened my swimming costume, before taking a deep breath and jumping in after him.
I gasped at how cold the water was, and Andrew reached out as my head broke the surface. I always felt safe and content whenever he held me and I had this sudden urge to kiss him to show my love. I couldn’t quite touch the bottom but Andrew was able to stand and I wrapped my arms and legs around his body for support.
He started tickling me and I squealed and jumped away until he swam after me and started teasing and tickling all over again. Our bodies were slippery from the water and I was able to escape again easily, but his long arms grabbed mine and pulled me back towards him and I was still giggling as our lips met.
After a while I started to get cold from the water so I said I was going to climb out and lay on the picnic blanket in the warm sunshine. Andrew came and lay down beside me with his brown legs softly touching my pale skin. I turned toward him and smiled.
“I could just stay here like this forever,” I said, as the sunlight sparkled magically on the surface of the water. Andrew brushed the wet hair from my forehead and smiled back. He didn’t say anything, but I knew he felt the same way I did.
Debbie and Rose had swum right up to the base of the waterfall and I could hear them screaming as the water rushed them back downstream toward us. I had never felt as happy as I did at that moment.
I didn’t want to think about the future, but I knew that Debbie and Rose would be leaving at the end of the week. They were both heading to Canberra to start university; Rose was going to study fine art and Debbie had set her heart on becoming a maths teacher. The twins had spent all summer trying to talk me into joining them, but I had no idea what I wanted to study and it all seemed to be too hard to think about. I had never been away from home before and I just couldn’t imagine myself doing it.
Andrew was just about to start his second year at university, studying medicine just like his father wanted. He still came home most weekends, so the past year hadn’t really been any different for us than when he was still at boarding school, and the summer had been perfect because he was home for three whole months and we had spent nearly every day together. Andrew was teaching me how to play the guitar and we spent hours singing and playing together. He talked about how he wanted to start a band with some friends at university, and I watched his eager eyes glowing with excitement. But whenever I asked about his studies he always sounded bored and he would change the subject. I wished I could share that side of his life with him, but instead he would start me talking about poetry and ask to hear my latest poems. Sometimes we just spent the whole afternoon in the park, laying on the grass in the shade and I would read to him as he stroked my hair. Then I would put my book down and we would kiss sweetly as my heart beat in time with his. The only future I could see was Andrew and I together. I felt like we were one and I couldn’t imagine us not being together.
But I knew I would have to say goodbye to him soon as well because he would be heading back to Sydney a couple of days after Rose and Debbie left. I could feel myself starting to get sad, so I tried not to think about them all leaving me behind and I melted my body against Andrew’s and kissed him again instead.
All too soon everyone had left town and I moped around the house on my own for days. Mum kept saying that I needed to get out and find a job now that school was finished and the summer was over, and I knew she was right but I just didn’t know how to do it. She suggested I ask in some shops to see if they were looking for someone. I tried it once but I was so embarrassed about asking that I ended up just pretending that I was a customer and bought a dress instead.
Mum told me that I should try a bit harder than that, so the next day I put on a nice skirt and my old school blouse and walked back down the street to try again.
The first place I came to was a small supermarket, and I walked inside and asked at the counter if I could see the manager.
“I’m afraid he’s busy, love,” said the large woman behind the counter. “Could you come back tomorrow?”
“Oh, ummm, I wanted to ask about a job. Is there anyone else I could talk to?” I knew I wouldn’t come back if I didn’t do it while I was there.
“Well, hang on and I’ll see if I can find him.” She sighed heavily and put the magazine she had been reading back in the rack.
I stood there awkwardly as the woman disappeared down one of the aisles. I kept shifting from foot to foot as my legs started to ache and I looked down at the dirty floor tiles. I was so embarrassed to be just standing there without doing anything as shoppers kept walking past me on their way in and out of the store. A couple of times the young woman at the checkout turned and asked if I needed help with anything, but I just said I was fine thanks. I think she thought I was planning to rob the store.
Eventually the other lady came back and said the manager had one spare minute to see me. “It’s accounts day, you know, so Mr Peters is pretty busy this morning,” she said as I followed her down the aisle. There were boxes of pet food and cleaning products leaning against the shelves. A bright red sign announced that the toothpaste was a ‘dollar saver’.
“It’s pay day on top of that,” the woman kept saying, “So he really doesn’t have a minute to spare, you know.” I started to feel guilty for disturbing him when he was so busy, but we reached the back of the supermarket and there was a little office squeezed into the corner amongst some pallets of toilet paper. She pushed the door open and knocked.
“In you go,” she said, “He doesn’t bite.”
I walked through the open door and saw a man sitting at a desk with his back to me. Cigarette smoke was drifting up lazily from an ash tray on the corner of the desk. The smoke made my stomach feel even sicker than it already was and I couldn’t stop myself from coughing.
“Have a seat,” he said in a gruff voice without even turning around. “I’ll be with you in a moment.”
I looked around and saw a chair in the corner of the office so I sat on it with my knees pressed together and my hands in my lap. My heart was racing as I looked around the office and waited for Mr Peters to finish what he was doing. In the other corner of the room was a metal filing cabinet. Its drawers were open and there were papers sticking out of it everywhere. The timber panelled walls were bare except for a chart with names and lines scribbled all over it, and there was a calendar with a picture of a topless woman stretched across a car tyre. I was so embarrassed that I quickly looked down at my fingernails instead.
Eventually, Mr Peters turned around and stared at me from behind his thick glasses. “What do you want?” he suddenly asked. I saw his eyes flicker down at my legs and I squeezed them tighter together.
“Ummm, I was hoping to, ummm, get a job.”
“A job? Do you know how many people want a job here?” I was surprised at the way he responded and just shook my head. “Do you have any experience?”
I shook my head again and said that I didn’t have any experience, but I was hoping to get some.
“No experience,” he repeated. He looked me up and down and then grinned. “You’re a pretty thing, though. Maybe I could find a use for you. Stand up,” he said. I could feel my legs trembling and I just wanted to get out of there, but I did as he asked. He stood up and walked towards me and I thought he was going to reach his hand out and touch me, but he stopped himself and scratched his chin instead. “Why don’t you come back on Monday? I won’t be so busy then and we can see if we can find a position for you. We could do with some new talent around here.”
He turned back toward his desk and I stammered thanks and couldn’t get out of the office fast enough. I ran down the aisle and then had to squeeze past some people to get through the checkout. The large woman at the front counter lifted her head from the magazine. “How did you go, dear?” she called out.
I didn’t answer her and just ran through the front door as tears burst from my eyes. I spent the rest of the day sitting in the park and when I got home that afternoon I told Mum that I hadn’t been able to find a job. She looked at me with that concerned frown she gets sometimes, but she didn’t say anything. I went into my bedroom and lay on my bed to have another cry. There was no way I was ever going back to that supermarket again.
Then Jasmine came to the rescue a few weeks later when she told Mum on the phone one night that she could get me a job in the bank where she worked in Sydney. I didn’t like the sound of working in a bank or living in Sydney, but Mum said it would be good for me to be more independent, so in the end it was just easier to go with the flow than to argue. Besides, Andrew was in Sydney and I would be able to see more of him so it couldn’t all be bad.
Jasmine said she had a spare room in her apartment and I could stay with her until I got settled, so Mum drove me down to Sydney on the weekend before I was meant to start work. We got lost a couple of times in the city traffic, but Mum eventually found the way to the little street where Jasmine lived in the western suburbs.
She met us at the front door and gave Mum a big hug. “Hey Molly,” she said to me as I walked inside. The apartment was only small but there were two bedrooms and Jasmine showed me where to put my bag. I walked inside the room and looked at the single bed mattress on the floor. There was no cupboard, but there was a small dressing table that I could put some things in. I walked over to the window and looked out to see the brick wall of the next building facing me.
“Well this is lovely, isn’t it,” Mum said brightly as she walked into the bedroom. As I turned and looked at her I could feel tears forming in my eyes, but Mum pretended not to notice and started unpacking some of my clothes into the dressing table. I helped her and shortly after it was time for her to drive back home.
We walked slowly out to the car as Mum reminded me that I needed to look after myself in the city. “Be careful that you don’t walk around at night,” she said, “and make sure you eat properly. Don’t go skipping meals or anything, okay? No matter what time of day or night it is, I am only just a phone call away, so if you get into any bother then call please. And don’t forget to iron your clothes the night before, and then you won’t have so much to do in the mornings before work.”
I nodded and hugged her goodbye. As I stood on the kerb and watched Mum drive away, I suddenly felt more lost and lonely than I had ever felt in my life. I saw Mum’s hand wave out the window just as she turned the corner, and then the car disappeared. I kept standing there looking down the street for a while, until I saw some men walking towards me and I hurried back inside the apartment.
Jasmine was sitting on the lounge when I walked inside and she looked up at me. “Okay little sis, some house rules. If you make a mess, you clean it up. It’s my television so I have the say on what we watch, and I don’t want to hear your music. Most important of all, if I have a guy over then I want you to make yourself scarce, okay?”
I nodded in reply and she went back to reading her book, so I walked into my bedroom and sat on the mattress and cried.

Jasmine had shown me where to catch the train, so when Monday morning came I knew all I had to do was get dressed and be at the railway station by seven o’clock.
I could feel the butterflies in my stomach as I slipped into the ugly green dress that was the bank uniform. Jasmine had given me one of her old uniforms and said she didn’t need it any more now that she was a loans officer.
I skipped breakfast and grabbed my bag as I ran out the door. I only had a ten minute walk to the railway station, but I was so worried about being late for work that I took no notice of my surroundings and just hurried down the street.
I reached the station and waited at the top of the escalator for a space in the crowd so that I could step on. Eventually I saw a gap but as I put my foot on the step a man elbowed me in the back.
“Excuse me,” a brusque voice said. As I turned the man pushed past me and hurried down the stairs. A woman in high heels did the same thing and then it seemed everyone was rushing down the escalator faster than it could move.
I finally reached the bottom as a train arrived with a whoosh and the doors opened to let the crowd spill out. I was suddenly pulled along by the tide and found myself inside the carriage just as the doors shut and we were moving off. There was nowhere to sit so I had to stand and hang onto the railing to stop myself from falling over while the train swayed along noisily. I tried to make myself as small as possible so that I didn’t bump into anybody, but the man behind me kept pressing his leg into my hip.
Eventually the train arrived at Central Station and I was soon being pushed along by the crowd again. I recognised the cafe where Mum and I had eaten breakfast with Debbie and Rose all those years ago in the corner of the railway station. I started thinking of them and wondered how they were enjoying university. I hadn’t heard from them since they had left and everything had happened so quickly for me that I didn’t get time to write and tell them where I was going, but I hoped they wouldn’t forget about me.
After going the wrong way a few times, I finally found my way to Oxford Street and then I could see the bank building on the corner with its large green sign. I looked at my watch and started to panic when I realised I was going to be a few minutes late. The pedestrian lights took forever to change to green, but eventually I was across and I took a deep breath as I walked up to the front door of the bank. I remembered how Rose always told me to breathe when I was stressed so I tried to calm myself as the glass doors slid open.
There was a woman behind the green counter sorting coins in a tray, and I walked over to her and asked if I could see the manager.
She looked at my bank uniform and smiled as she said, “You must be the new girl. Hi, I’m Wendy. Just hang on a tick and I’ll get Mr Fitzgerald.”
She disappeared behind a wall and I stood there uncertainly for a few minutes until the door opened.
“Molly White is it? I’m Mr Fitzgerald.” He held the door open and motioned for me to walk through into his office. He closed the door as I sat down and I quickly looked around the room and noticed how neat and professional looking everything was. There were piles of paper on his desk, all neatly arranged and sitting in plastic trays, and a photo of a woman and some happy kids. Mr Fitzgerald sat down and looked at me and I quickly looked down at my light brown shoes against the green carpet.
He was smiling as I looked back up. “So, Molly. Welcome to the bank. You’re sister Jasmine is well thought of so I have high expectations of you.”
I nodded and tried to smile.
“Working in a bank is a very important responsibility to have. We take ourselves seriously as we look after people’s money and their business affairs. You must never talk about bank business in the outside world, but there is a lot of opportunity to progress. If you work hard and do extra study, you could even progress to be a loans officer like your sister. The bank has had quite a few girls that have become loans officers. We are quite proud of the opportunities we have given to girls.” He looked across the desk at me and smiled again benevolently. I nodded as though I understood what he was talking about.
“Now, we have some paperwork to get through, and then I will get someone to take you around and meet the other staff.”
I spent the next half hour sitting at a little table in the corner of his office and filled in so many forms that I thought my hand was going to drop off. When I finished, Mr Fitzgerald told me that Caroline would be my supervisor. If I ever needed anything, I just had to ask Caroline and she would be glad to help me.
As soon as Mr Fitzgerald left, Caroline turned to me and said, “Don’t think you’re going to get an easy time just because your sister works in the bank.”
I shook my head and said quietly that I didn’t expect to. She then showed me to my desk, which was immediately behind the accountant’s office. There was a large green journal on the desk, a small green cashbox, and a huge pile of envelopes that looked like they were about to topple over. Caroline said it was my job to make sure the mail went out twice a day, and each letter had to be recorded in the journal. I also had to make sure there were enough stamps in the cashbox, and if it ever ran out then I would be in big trouble.
We then walked into the accountant’s office, which was actually just a glass-walled enclosure in the middle of the bank. Caroline said the accountant was like the office manager and Mr Wilkinson would have my ass if I ever stuffed up.
Mr Wilkinson stood up as we walked into his office and he shook my hand firmly. I was a little scared of him. “Welcome to the bank, Molly,” he said in a loud voice. “Just do what Caroline tells you and you’ll get along fine.”
I said I would, and then we moved on to a young woman sitting at a typewriter. “This is Leanne,” said Caroline, “She is the typist.”
“Stenographer, Caroline,” Leanne corrected her.
“You have to collect all the letters off her desk, and she doesn’t like it if the pile gets too big.”
Leanne pulled a face at Caroline, and we kept walking as she went back to her work. Wendy was serving customers, so we weren’t introduced, but I said I had already sort of met her when I first came in. Caroline told me I had to pick up all the vouchers from Wendy’s drawer and take them to the proof machine operator at the back of the branch. I should probably do that every half hour or so, or more often if it was really busy. She showed me where the proof machine was against the back wall, and there was a tray where I had to put all the cheques and vouchers.
“Jimmy operates the proof machine, but he is out the back sleeping off a hangover.”
I said, ‘oh’, even though I wasn’t sure what she meant. We went back to my desk and I sat down and looked at the pile of envelopes. Caroline told me to stamp them all and then take the pile down to the post office. She said she would be watching me and if I took too long then I would be in trouble.
I sat down at the desk and began putting stamps on the envelopes. I tried to work as quickly as I could, but every now and then I got tired and would stop for a break. Then I lifted my head and saw Caroline was glaring at me, so I quickly went back to work.
Eventually I was finished and found myself outside and walking towards the post office. The sun was shining through the clouds, but I hardly had time to notice as I walked as quickly as I could down the street. Caroline said I had ten minutes to get there and back or I would cop it, and I nearly panicked when I saw the long queue in the post office. It took forever to get to the front of the line and when I got to the counter I asked the lady what I should do with my pile of envelopes. She impatiently pointed to the mail box near the front door and said I should just put them in there. “Next!” she said loudly before I had even walked away.
I put the envelopes in the chute and then ran all the way back to the bank, but again I had to wait for the pedestrian light to go green and I knew I was going to be late.
“Sixteen minutes!” Caroline said sharply as I walked back into the bank. Mr Wilkinson lifted his head and frowned at me. “What took you so long?”
I started to explain about the long queue and how it was so slow.
“What were you doing in the queue? All you had to do was put the envelopes in the mailbox. You are as stupid as your sister.” I tried to say I was sorry and that I would be quicker next time, but she interrupted me and said I needed to get moving with the vouchers from the teller’s box because they were piling up.
She let me go and I hurried toward the front of the branch and picked up the pile of paper next to Wendy’s elbow. “Don’t worry about her,” she whispered kindly and smiled. “She does that to all the juniors.” I tried to smile back but I was trying hard to stop the tears.
I walked quickly toward the back of the office and saw a guy sitting at the proof machine. He had long curly hair and his tie was undone and hanging loose. He looked up and grinned at me.
“Hey babe, and who might you be?”
“I’m Molly, I’m new,” I said softly.
“You’re new are you? I knew you were new,” he said and laughed. “I’m pleased to meet you, Molly. I’m Jimmy. Just pop those down there in the tray, and don’t worry about old dragon breath. She likes to throw her weight around.”
I smiled quickly and went back to my desk to begin folding more letters into envelopes.
When the day finally finished and I was allowed to go home, I walked outside to find that it was already dark. The air was chilly but I hadn’t brought a cardigan with me, so I just had to walk to the railway station with my arms folded across my chest as I shivered all the way.
“Hey, Molly, wait up,” a voice called out. I turned and saw Jimmy running towards me. “Hey, babe. You heading to Central? Can I walk with you?”
“I guess,” I said uncertainly. But then I thought it might be better to have company than walk in the dark by myself, so I relaxed a little.
“You look cold, babe. Do you want to borrow my jacket?”
I felt a bit awkward about taking it and said that I was fine, but he took his jacket off and put it around my shoulders anyway.
“You get used to the cold after a while,” he said. Where do you live?”
“Parramatta. I’m sharing with my sister.”
“Oh cool! I’m at Parramatta too. I can keep you company on the train.”
We walked along in silence for a little while and I had to walk fast to keep up with him.
“How did you enjoy your first day in the bank?”
“It was okay,” I replied, but the reminder of work brought tears back into my eyes. I was glad it was dark so that he couldn’t see them.
We made it to Central Station and hopped on the first train. Jimmy found us seats and we sat together all the way back to Parramatta. He wanted to walk home with me, but I told him that it wasn’t far and I would be fine on my own. I handed his jacket back and then hurried away.
The apartment was dark when I walked inside so I turned the light on and sat down at the table to wait for Jasmine. When she didn’t come home after a while, I thought I might try and ring Andrew but there was no answer. I put the phone down and then waited a bit longer for Jasmine to come home. I wasn’t sure if I was meant to wait for her before eating, but after a while I just had some toast and then crawled onto my mattress and cried myself to sleep.
The next day I got up half an hour earlier for work and found that the train wasn’t as crowded at that time as it had been the day before. When I arrived at the bank the doors were still locked so I waited outside on the footpath until Mr Wilkinson came and opened the building.
There was already a pile of letters on my desk so I immediately got to work at putting the stamps on them, when Mr Wilkinson called me in to see him. “Sit down,” he said. “I know you are new, but this morning you were waiting outside the branch before it was open. That is against bank policy because it could attract thieves. If you arrive early you should wait across the road so that nobody sees. Okay?” I nodded my head and said I was sorry. I didn’t know and I wouldn’t do it again.
I went back to my desk and Caroline called me over. “In the store room at the back, there is a cabinet on wheels. It’s full of signature cards and you need to bring it down the front each morning so that everyone can get access to it.”
I nodded and said okay and went looking for the cabinet. I saw something on wheels in the corner and thought that must be it and started wheeling it out of the store room. But then I came to the step between the store room and the front part of the branch and I wasn’t sure how I was meant to get the cabinet down. I looked up and saw Caroline glaring at me, so I tried to ease the front wheels over the edge of the step, but as it went over I suddenly realised how heavy the cabinet was and I couldn’t hold it. The whole thing landed on the floor with a loud crash as the drawers flew open and thousands of small cards scattered everywhere.
“What the hell was that?” I heard from Mr Wilkinson’s office.
I wasn’t game to look up as I started picking up the cards.
“You idiot,” yelled Caroline. “What did you think you were doing?”
“Bloody hell, look at that mess!” Mr Wilkinson roared as he saw the cards scattered everywhere. “Jimmy, help her.”
Jimmy came over from his proof machine and started helping me pick up the cards. “She did that deliberately, you know,” he whispered to me. “Nobody ever brings the drawers down that step. That was just Caroline being mean; she knew this would happen. Don’t worry about it, Molly.”
It took me nearly all day to sort all the cards into alphabetical order and put them back into the drawers. Jimmy rode home on the train with me again, and after my terrible day I was glad that I had his company.
“So where are you from, Molly? You don’t seem like a city girl.”
I told him I was from Orange and I was sharing an apartment with my sister. “She helped me get the job,” I said.
“Oh yeah, Jasmine White. I’ve met her a few times at bank functions. You look nothing like her, you know. Do you know anyone else in Sydney?”
“My boyfriend is here. He is studying medicine at Sydney Uni.”
“Oh, cool. So you’ve got a boyfriend? You know, you should come out with us on the weekend sometime. There are some great parties and it’s a good way to meet people.”
I told him that sounded nice, but I thought I would be busy with Andrew on the weekend. I didn’t want to tell him that I’d never been to a party before.
Jasmine was on the lounge when I got back to the apartment. “Hey, little sis. There’s some risotto on the stove if you want some.”
I said thanks and put a little bit on a plate then went and sat on the lounge next to Jasmine.
“How is work going?”
“It’s okay,” I said. I pushed the rice around my plate and ate a couple of grains. I could see she was watching me but I kept my eyes down.
“I hope Caroline has been nice to you.”
“Oh yeah, she’s great.” I didn’t want her to see how close I was to crying so I took my plate back out to the kitchen and tipped my uneaten dinner in the rubbish bin.
“Let me know if she’s being mean, won’t you?” she said as I walked back into the lounge room. I nodded and then asked if she minded if I tried to ring Andrew. She said that was fine and I picked up the phone and dialled his number. It rang and rang for ages until eventually a female voice answered it.
“Hello?”
“Oh, hi, ummm, is Andrew Barnes there please?”
“He’s in the shower, can I take a message?”
“Oh, ummm, do you know how long he will be?”
“No idea. Who is this?”
“Ummm, it’s Molly. Ummm, Molly White.”
“Well I’ll let him know you called.” She hung up and I sat there staring at the phone in my hand.
“Is everything okay?” Jasmine called out from the lounge room.
“Yeah, he wasn’t there.”
I soon settled into the routine of work and every morning I arrived early and waited in the park over the road. As soon as the doors were unlocked I rushed across and started on my pile of envelopes. I did them as quickly as I could and dropped them off at the post office before Caroline could say anything.
Every time I dropped the cheques and vouchers at Jimmy’s proof machine he smiled at me and said something like, “Hey babe, slow down. You’re wearing me inside out.” Sometimes he even made me laugh.
I was allowed a half hour lunch break and I decided that I was going to sit in the park instead of just staying at my desk. I saw Caroline look up at the clock as I walked out the door but she didn’t say anything.
The park was just across the road from the bank building so I didn’t have to go far. I found a bench in the shade and pulled a book out of my bag. I hadn’t felt like reading much since I had been in Sydney, but I opened up at the bookmark and tried to remember where the story was up to. I had started reading Charles Dickens and I smiled to myself when I thought of how much Caroline was like Scrooge.
I read a couple of pages and then stopped to watch the lunch time crowd walking through the park. Some guys were dressed in shorts and tee shirts and were throwing a football around. I started thinking about Andrew and wished I could get in touch with him, when I noticed a payphone on the corner of the park. I put my book and untouched sandwich back in my bag and walked over to the phone and took some coins from my purse.
They rattled loudly as I dropped them into the slot, then I dialled Andrew’s number. Again, it rang and rang and rang, until all of a sudden his voice was on the other end.
“Hello?”
“Andrew, hi… it’s Molly.”
“Molly? Hey sweetie, how are you? What are you doing?”
“I’m in Sydney. I’ve been trying to ring you for weeks.”
“Really? That’s fantastic. Where are you?”
“I’m at Hyde Park right now, but I’m working in a bank on Oxford Street. I’m staying with Jasmine at Parramatta.”
“That’s cool. Well I’m at Newtown, it’s on your way to Parramatta by train.”
“Is it? Oh Andrew, I could get off there on the way home tonight and see you.”
“Sorry sweetie, tonight’s no good. I’ve, ummm, got something on. How about Saturday, and then maybe we can do stuff together all day.”
“Okay,” I said. I really wanted to see him tonight, but I guess if I had to wait for the weekend that would be alright.
We talked for a little bit longer until the coins dropped through the slot and then the phone cut off. I hung up and crossed the road to get back to work. As I walked through the door, Caroline looked up from her desk.
“You’re five minutes late,” she said. “I will have to tell Mr Wilkinson and he’ll take it out of your pay.”
I walked past her and sat at my desk and looked at the pile of letters that had appeared since I’d left for lunch. I didn’t care what Caroline said, I felt happy because I was going to see Andrew on Saturday.

Molly’s Dreams – Chapter Sixteen

It was a beautiful day for a picnic. The winter sun was sparkling off the remains of the morning frost and mist was still clinging to the hillsides. The air was fresh and crisp and burnt my lungs with every step I took along the mountain track. I felt like I had been walking for hours, and my feet were hurting. But I hardly noticed the discomfort because I was surrounded by my friends under the most perfect blue sky.
“Not far to go now,” Debbie called from the further up the path. We were heading for a picnic spot at the top of the mountain. Debbie said it was the cone of an extinct volcano and you could see nearly all of the central western plains from the peak.
I looked up to see if the top of the mountain was in view yet but all I could see was a mass of grey snow gums hanging their branches over the path. We had climbed high enough that there were little patches of snow every now and then and a trickle of crystal water ran down the gully beside the walking track.
I lifted my eyes to Andrew’s face and caught him looking down at me, so I smiled back. “Are you okay?” he asked. I nodded but didn’t have enough breath to say anything. “We can rest if you want.” I shook my head. I wanted to get there now and I could rest at the top. He offered me his hand but I said I was okay.
I could hear Debbie and David talking as we walked, although I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying. David had been spending more time with us since the inter-school debate and I quite liked him now that I had gotten to know him better. I looked at the way he and Debbie walked closely beside each other and I smiled to myself. It made me feel happy to think that they were becoming an item, and I knew if that happened I wouldn’t have to keep feeling guilty about taking Andrew away from her. I started thinking about the way Andrew and David had been toward each other when David joined us for the walk. There was something going on there and as I wondered what it was I watched Rose walking along in front of me. I should ask Rose about it when I get a chance. I watched David’s hand brush against Debbie’s fingers and I looked up at Andrew again and he smiled back at me.
Before I knew it we suddenly burst out of the trees and into a grassy clearing where the track wasn’t quite as steep. There was more snow now, piled against the rocks and filling crevices, but my fingers were warm from all the walking. I reached for Andrew’s hand and felt a warm glow as our fingers entwined.
Debbie and David stopped for the rest of us to catch up. “It’s just around that bend and then a little climb to the top.” We kept walking and followed the track where it disappeared amongst some huge granite boulders. The path became narrower then and we had to walk single file for a little way until the path was blocked by a rock wall. There was a railing bolted into the rock face and foot holds had been chiselled out of the granite. It looked so steep and high that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to climb it, but the others had started up so I didn’t have much choice.
“Do you want to go first?” Andrew turned to me.
“No, it’s okay. I’ll follow you.” I looked up to where Debbie was just about to disappear over the top and I felt a little quiver run through my legs. Andrew had already started so I quickly grabbed the railing and pulled myself up. I tried to keep my eyes on the rock in front and not look down, but then I had a quick peek and suddenly froze against the rock wall because I hadn’t realised how high I had climbed. I felt a surge of panic run through my chest. My head was dizzy and I knew I was going to fall, and then I felt Andrew’s hand on mine.
“Stop looking down, Molly. You’re nearly there.” I looked up into his face but it was blurry from tears. He kept coaxing and telling me to breathe deeply and just look at where I was putting my feet. His words penetrated through my panic and I started to move again as I tried not to look down. All of a sudden I realised Andrew was over the top and he was pulling me up behind him.
I crawled over the top on my hands and knees and as I looked across the flatness of the mountain peak I could see the town far below looking like a tiny picture. I felt like I was going to fall all the way back down until Andrew put his arm around me. “You’re not going to fall, Molly. Look there’s heaps of space up here.”
I lifted my eyes. He was right. The top of the peak was the size of a park, fairly flat and covered in coarse grass. Debbie and David were spreading a picnic blanket on the ground and Rose was looking out over the plain with her arms spread wide like she was about to fly. That made my legs feel like jelly all over again, but Andrew helped me to my feet and we walked over to the picnic blanket and sat down.
Debbie had started getting our lunch things out of a picnic bag, and I helped her set out plates while David poured a cold drink for each of us. I still felt warm from the effort of the climb, even though the air was cold because we were so high on top of the mountain.
“Well guys, welcome to the top of the world,” said Debbie. I felt much safer now that I was sitting down and I was able to look around and see how beautiful the view was. To the west, the plains were laid out like a patchwork quilt until it disappeared into the haze. Looking back to the east, from the direction we had come, the rolling hills gradually blended into the darker outline of the Blue Mountains. It looked like the careless smudge from a painter’s brush against the canvas of the sky. I leant back against Andrew’s chest and felt like I was in heaven.

At school the following week, Mr Norris announced that we would start reading ‘King Lear’ in class, eventually leading to us putting on a performance at the end of the school year. Rose had already decided that I should play the part of Cordelia, and she and Debbie would try out for the evil sisters. I told her that I didn’t think they were evil at all, but she said that would just make it more fun because they would really be acting then and, besides, they were the only female roles in the play anyway. As we sat in the library at lunchtime we discussed which role David should play.
“What do you think, Edmund or Edgar?” Rose asked with a mischievous smile.
“Well if David plays Edmund, and Debbie plays Gonerill then they can be lovers,” I giggled.
“Hey, don’t I get a say in this?” said David.
“No, of course you don’t,” Rose laughed. “Maybe you should be the Duke of Albany, and then you will have to do what you are told.” We both laughed as Debbie came back to the table.
“What are you guys laughing about?”
“We were just sorting out which parts we should all try out for. Whether David should be your husband or your lover.”
“Rose! You are so embarrassing,” said Debbie as she sat and put her hand over the top of David’s.
“I can just imagine you girls fighting over the kingdom,” said David. We all laughed as we stood and made our way to the classroom. I wished Andrew still went to our school so that we could all be in the play together, but I knew that was impossible. I sighed as I walked along and Rose looked at me.
“What’s up, Lady Cordelia?” said Rose. “Thinking about your banished nobleman?”
That reminded me that I hadn’t asked her about Andrew and David yet. I looked around to see where Debbie and David were, but they were a long way behind us.
“Rose, why was Andrew banished? I mean, there seems to be something between him and David and I was wondering whether it had anything to do with why Andrew went away to boarding school.”
“I don’t think so, not at the time anyway. I think it goes back further than that, but I don’t really know what it was about. You should ask Andrew.”
“Yeah, or maybe it’s nothing.” But I kept thinking about it all morning and I watched David closely in class to see if I could work out why Andrew didn’t like him.
I sat at my desk and opened my copy of ‘King Lear’ as Mr Norris said we would just go around the room and take turns at reading so that everyone could have a go. I thought about which part David should play, and whether he really was like Edmund and had driven Andrew away. I knew I had to find out what it was all about so that I could fix it and then we would all be friends. Suddenly it was my turn and I looked at the page.
“What shall Cordelia speak? Of love and be silent,” I read out.
By the end of class we had finished reading the first act of the play, and I was convinced that David had tricked Andrew in some way that led to him going away.
The week flew past and by Friday we had read the entire play in class, but I couldn’t wait for school to finish so that I could see Andrew again. He was already at the hall when I arrived and we greeted each other with a kiss. Andrew asked if I would like to come over to his house on Saturday and listen to music. I said I would love to but I would have to check with Mum.
All night I watched Andrew and David. They never spoke to each other and I knew the only reason David was even at youth group was because of Debbie. We were playing volleyball and a net had been set up across the middle of the hall. I said I would just sit and watch because I was wearing a dress and didn’t want to get it dirty. When Andrew came over and sat beside me I told him he should still play and not sit out just because of me.
Two teams were arranged in groups of six, with reserves to swap around after each game. David lined up to serve first and he hit the ball really hard across the net, straight at Andrew. He somehow got his hand to it and the ball speared up into the air. Rose jumped and hit it over the net and David dived onto the floor to try and stop it, but the first point went to Andrew’s team.
The game kept going backwards and forwards like that and I started to get bored with watching. After a while I got up and walked outside to the little landing above the front steps and looked up at the stars. The night was cool and I shivered because I didn’t have a jumper but it was lovely being in the fresh air. All of a sudden I felt Andrew’s arms reach around my waist and he kissed me on the back of my neck.
“Why aren’t you playing?” I asked.
“I wanted a break… and I saw you had left.”
We stood there silently for a few minutes, until I turned and looked up at his face. “Andrew, why don’t you like David?” I asked.
He looked at the stars and I waited for his answer. “There’s no reason, really. We used to be friends, way back in primary school. And then we just started doing different things and I guess we grew apart.”
I watched his face as he spoke. “Why the frown, sweet Molly?”
“Because I think there is more to it than that. It is clear you don’t like each other. I’ve seen how the two of you circle around each other like two lions, and I saw how hard he was hitting the volleyball at you. There’s something else going on.”
“You don’t give up, do you? I think you’ve been around Rose too much.” He paused and when he saw I was still waiting, he added, “It’s just that we’ve always been on opposite teams, whether it was footy, cricket… debating.”
“What happened in the debate?”
“Wow, Molly. You are so quick. I can see why Rose thinks so highly of you at school.”
“But we aren’t talking about me. What happened in the debate?”
“It sounds silly now, but we had a pretty heated disagreement about how to tackle the inter-school debate last year. I’m a year ahead, as you know, but David was the team captain so he had the final say. We lost the debate because of it.”
“Is that all? I think there must be more to it.”
“Well… we got into a fight in the bathroom afterward. He blamed me and I blamed him and punches were thrown. Molly, I’m not proud of it.”
“Maybe you should tell him you are sorry.”
“It’s not as simple as that. Guys don’t just kiss and make up like that.”
“Well I think you should find a way to say you’re sorry.” I turned my face away from him and looked up at the stars in the sky.

Instead of auditioning for parts in ‘King Lear’, Mr Norris decided everyone in the class should vote for who they thought should play each role. We were allowed to accept or reject our nominations and through this democratic process we narrowed it down to the final cast. The rest of the class was assigned various tasks to perform over the following six weeks in preparation for the play.
As predicted by Rose, I was cast as Cordelia, while the twins were to play her evil sisters. I didn’t mind being Cordelia because I knew she was really only in the play at the beginning and the end so I wouldn’t have too many lines to remember. Much to Rose’s disappointment, David took on the role of King Lear instead of Edmund.
We began reading the play in class again, but this time with each actor reading out their part. Anyone that wasn’t in the play was allowed to be the audience as well as helping Mr Norris with comments and directing.
“… let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven,” David read.
“No, no, no. You need more emphasis, more passion. The thing Lear is dreading most is to lose control, and insanity is the final act of lost control, so insert more passion,” said Mr Norris.
David started again, “Let me not be mad, not mad… sweet heaven.” He said the first part with such dread and I thought he sounded great. Mr Norris applauded and we moved on.
Day after day we tackled one scene of the play at a time, and at the end of each week we did the entire play in the double period after lunch.
I practiced my lines with Andrew on the weekends, going over them again and again. “Oh, look upon me sir, and hold your hands in benediction o’er me,” I said looking into Andrew’s eyes.
“Pray do not mock me,” he replied, his lips moving closer to mine. “I am a very foolish, fond old man.”
We kissed and I closed my eyes for a moment and enjoyed the feel of his lips, before pulling away.
“It’s not meant to be a love story you know, you naughty boy,” I said. He leant forward and kissed me again.
“But how can I resist those rosy lips when I watch them move.”
“Perhaps we need to sit on opposite sides of the table. Andrew, I need to get this perfect before Friday.”
“Molly, you are perfect already. Stop stressing about it. There is plenty of time until final rehearsal.”
“I wish you could be there,” I said as I placed my hand against his cheek. He leant forward and kissed me again.
“I will be there on the night. Why don’t we have a break and go for a walk.”
I reluctantly put down my book and let him take my hand and lead me outside into the fresh air. I looked up into the sky and watched the dark clouds gathering.
“It looks like it might rain, so we had better not go far.”
“How about we just go down to Cook Park? At least there is shelter there if it does rain.”
I put my arm around his waist and pressed my hip against him as we walked along. He held me close with his arm around my shoulder and every now and then his hand would stroke my hair.
The first drops of cold rain landed on my face and I looked up at the clouds again. Suddenly they burst and in an instant my dress was soaked through. We started running until we reached the shelter of the bandstand in the middle of the park and Andrew put his jacket around my shoulders. I was shivering from being so cold and wet but we were laughing our heads off. Andrew held me close and rubbed my arms to make them warm again and I pressed my blue fingers against his chest.

A few days later I woke with a heavy head and my throat was on fire. I looked at my face in the mirror and saw that my eyes were all puffy and my nose was red. Mum took one look at me and made me go back to bed.
“But Mum, we are working on the play,” I tried to argue, even though I knew I wasn’t up to it.
“A day in bed will do you wonders. And it won’t hurt you to have a break from the play. You have been working so hard lately.” I took the hot glass of honey and lemon she held out and dragged my aching body back to bed and crawled under the covers.
I picked up my book but only got through half a page before my heavy eyes fluttered shut and I drifted off to a dreamless sleep.
I woke later in the afternoon when Mum came into the room to check my temperature.
“What is it?” I croaked because she looked so concerned.
“You have a temperature, a bit of fever, I think. I’ll give you some aspirin and see if that helps.”
I felt too tired to worry and closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep again.
I wasn’t any better when I woke the next morning and Mum said that I wouldn’t be going to school for the rest of the week until I was better. “But, what about the play?”
“I spoke to Mr Norris. He says they will be fine without you for a week. You need to get well again first.”
I still didn’t have enough energy to argue so I just turned my head on the pillow and looked out the window. It was still cold and wet outside and I started to think about kissing Andrew in the rain as I drifted off to sleep again.

In my dream I could hear music playing and I was dancing a slow waltz in Andrew’s arms. He was wearing a suit and I had on a long white gown. I could feel the tiara on top of my head and as we spun around the room I could see the smiling faces of all my friends and family. They were clapping hands in time with the music and everyone could see that I was in love. But as I danced, I realised there was one face that wasn’t smiling. I tried to see who it was but the face had disappeared into the crowd. I felt troubled and when I looked up at Andrew I could tell he wondered why I wasn’t smiling. My head was starting to feel heavy and confused as I kept wondering who the face belonged to. We kept dancing and as we swung around the room I saw the face again, and this time I could clearly see that it was Shawn that looked so unhappy.
I suddenly woke and sat up in bed feeling troubled. Why was Shawn feeling sad when I was so happy? I didn’t know, but I decided I should write him a letter and tell him all about my year so far. I told him about how Debbie and Rose and I had become the best of friends and everyone called us the triplets. I told him about school and the debate and the play we were working on. I wrote about how much I enjoyed going to youth group and the things we did, and I asked what he had been up to. I said I hoped he was happy and that I looked forward to maybe seeing him again next summer holidays.
I put my pen down and re-read the letter. I hadn’t mentioned Andrew and how much I had fallen in love with him, but I wasn’t sure if I should tell Shawn about that.
As I sat there looking thoughtfully at the page, I suddenly heard music falling like rain outside my window. I walked over and looked outside to see Andrew standing on the verandah, leaning against the post and playing his guitar. He was singing something about a lovestruck Romeo and I couldn’t help but smile when I saw him.
He finished the song and then disappeared around the back of the house. I climbed out of bed with a puzzled frown on my face. I had expected him to come over to the window and speak to me, instead of disappearing. I put my dressing gown on and walked down to the kitchen, where I found Andrew sitting at the table and talking with Mum. She was just putting a cup of tea and a slice of cake on the table in front of him as I walked into the room.
Mum looked up and smiled. “You look a little chirpier this morning. How are you feeling?”
“I feel a lot better, thanks,” I replied. “What are you doing here?”
“Andrew came over to ask if you would be allowed to go to his house to listen to music,” Mum smiled at me again. “I said that will be fine, as long as there is somebody else in the house… and you need to be home before it is dark.”
I looked at Andrew and he grinned as he lifted the slice of cake to his mouth. “I guess I should get dressed then,” I said.
I walked back down to my bedroom with my heart in an excited flutter. I had never been to Andrew’s house before but I knew it wasn’t far from the church hall. I decided to wear a long dress and I quickly brushed my hair and tied it back before teasing out a lock to curl down over my right eye.
Mum drove us to Andrew’s house because she said I wasn’t well enough to ride or walk, and we sat in the backseat all the way. I longed to hold his hand, but I didn’t want to do that in case Mum saw us in the mirror. Instead, I put my right hand flat on the seat, and every now and then edged it closer to him until the tips of our fingers were touching. I kept checking in the mirror to see if Mum was looking, but she seemed to be concentrating on the road so sneaked a look at Andrew and smiled.
As Mum dropped us off, Andrew said one of his parents would be able to take me home again. I said goodbye to Mum and as she drove off I turned to Andrew and lost myself in his kiss.
I hadn’t even thought about being nervous until we walked into the house and Andrew introduced me to his parents. “Mum, Dad, this is Molly.”
“Hello Molly. It’s very nice to meet you,” said Mrs Barnes warmly. Even though she was sitting I could see that she was a tall woman and there was a resemblance to Andrew’s features in her face, particularly the shape of her eyes. Her light brown hair was tied back in a bun and she wore a light dress with a floral print.
Mr Barnes looked up from his newspaper and nodded, then went back to reading. He had sandy hair like Andrew, but his face was completely different and as he read his forehead was crossed in a fierce looking frown. I was a little afraid of him and that made me feel tongue-tied.
I said ‘hello’ very quietly and then Mrs Barnes suggested to Andrew that he should offer me some morning tea. I felt like I should curtsey as I left the room so I did a little dip to show my respect.
“She seems like a nice little thing,” I heard from the lounge room as I followed Andrew down the hallway.
“Very quiet,” said the deeper voice of Andrew’s father. “Not at all like that last one. Where does he find them?”
I didn’t hear any more because we were in the kitchen and Andrew was offering me a chair at the table. “What would you like to eat?”
“I’m fine thanks,” I replied. I suddenly realised I was so tense that my stomach felt a little upset.
“Would you like to listen to music instead?”
I nodded and Andrew led the way to the family room. I was astonished to see that one wall of the room was completely lined with books from floor to ceiling. I walked over and ran my fingers along the backs of the books. “Oh, to just sit here and read all of these,” I said.
“Well maybe you can one day. What would you like to listen to first, something old?”
“I guess.” I walked over to where Andrew was kneeling on the floor. There was a low cabinet underneath the window that was lined with more records than I had ever seen in my life.
“We have a bit of everything here,” Andrew said. “Some of the records are my father’s, but most of them belong to my older brother. There’s old rock ‘n’ roll records from the fifties, folk music, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Neil Young, the Eagles, Dire Straits… you name it and you will find it here. There’s even country music and some classical stuff.”
“You never told me that you had an older brother,” I said.
“Oh, yeah. Well he has, like, been gone since I was ten. He is much older than me and he’s in the airforce and stationed overseas. I haven’t seen him in years,” Andrew said absently as he selected a record from the cabinet. “Let’s listen to some Bob Dylan.”
He pulled the record out of its sleeve and placed it on the turntable. I snuggled next to him on the lounge and the music began with a blast of harmonica. As the music played, Andrew explained to me about the background of the songs and the musicians and how they all fitted together. I watched his mouth and expressive eyes as he talked with such passion and I found myself being more and more lost in the songs in a way that I had never felt before.
The music wove itself around us like silk threads and we were drawn closer and closer to each other. I closed my eyes and leaned into Andrew’s chest as the record player sang something about a sweet virgin angel. We kissed again and I felt Andrew’s hand resting on my knee. I shifted my hips to get more comfortable and that accidentally made his hand move higher up my thigh. We stayed in that position, locked together for what felt like an eternity, until eventually the music stopped and Andrew hopped up to change the record.
We spent the whole morning like that, listening to music while cuddling on the lounge, and then Mrs Barnes called out to say that it was time for lunch. Andrew turned the music off and we joined his parents in the kitchen.
“So, Andrew tells me that you write poetry,” said Mrs Barnes.
“Oh, ummm, gosh…” I stammered. “Not really, ummm, it’s just for myself.”
“He also says you are in a play. ‘King Lear’, wasn’t it dear?”
“Yes, that’s right. It’s just a school play. I’m Cordelia.”
“That sounds lovely. Is that what you want to do when you grow up, acting I mean?”
“Ummm…, oh gosh, ummm, I have never even thought about what I want to do after school.”
“You should have a plan,” said Mr Barnes as he looked at me. “Andrew wants to be a doctor.”
I looked at Andrew because I had never heard him mention it before and saw the look of embarrassment on his face. “If I get the marks, Dad. Or I could be a musician.”
“A musician?” his father scoffed, “That’s fine for relaxation at night, but hardly a career.”
Andrew’s cheeks flushed a little at this retort but he didn’t respond.
“Well I’m glad Andrew has a friend over. It’s not so easy keeping in touch with friends now that he is at boarding school. Whatever happened to that group of friends you used to have at youth group? I really liked those girls, what were their names? Deborah and Rosemary weren’t they?”
“They still go to youth group,” Andrew said. “Molly is part of that group too, you know.”
“Oh, really? Well I am so glad,” said his mother.
I was relieved when lunch was over and Andrew suggested we go for a walk to the park.
“Your parents seem nice,” I said as I watched his face.
“Yeah, I guess,” he shrugged. “They don’t know me very well though.”
We walked in silence, lost in our own thoughts. I couldn’t get past the feeling that Andrew’s parents didn’t like me, but I kept it to myself.

The day of the play suddenly came around and Mr Norris said we would be having another full dress rehearsal in the school auditorium during the afternoon for the students, and the actual performance would be that night for adults.
Mum had finished sewing my dress and I took it to school in a bag so that it would stay clean and not get crushed. It was a long gown made of velvet with a high waist and false pearls sown into the seams so that I would look like a princess. The bodice was cut low and square like in Elizabethan times and the sleeves were tight and slender.
The day performance went well and everything went past so quickly. As I joined Rose and Debbie in the change rooms that evening I got swept up in their excitement because this time it was the real thing, and I hardly had time to feel nervous because the twins kept me busy while I was moving and getting dressed. But then I had to sit still in a chair while Rose put on my makeup and that meant I couldn’t move around and I could feel the tension rising as my hands started to tremble. Rose kept reminding me to breathe and Debbie didn’t stop talking and making little jokes the whole time to try and distract me.
I kept thinking about Andrew and hoping that his bus wouldn’t be late and he would arrive at the auditorium in time.
“Molly, when has Andrew’s bus ever been late?” said Rose.
I knew she was right, but I kept looking at the clock and every time somebody came through the dressing room door I expected it to be him. Debbie told me he wouldn’t be allowed in the dressing room anyway and I would be able to see him in the audience.
We left the change rooms and walked together to the backstage area, where we met up with all the guys that were in the play. David came over to say hello and gave Debbie a hug. “You look great as an evil sister,” he grinned.
She did a mock curtsey and said, “At your service, my lord.”
I stood between Rose and David as Mr Norris gave us some last minute instructions. He said we were to relax and not get overawed by all the parents in the audience. Then the music started and Kent, Gloucester and Edmund walked onto the stage and began speaking. It took only a moment before a trumpet sound announced the arrival of Lear and I saw David squeeze Debbie’s hand before leading the rest of us onto the stage as part of his entourage.
I moved to my place on the stage where I was a little on the side and slightly forward so that I could address the audience. Debbie began professing her love for Lear and I waited for her to finish her first part and then I knew mine was straight after. I was rehearsing the line over and over in my head until it was time, but I kept glancing toward the crowd to see if I could find Andrew.
Suddenly Debbie stopped and it was my turn, “What, shall Cordelia speak? Love, and be silent.” My voice echoed hollowly in my ears, but I knew I would be okay now I had the first line out. I took another glance at the audience but still there was no sign of Andrew. Maybe he has gone backstage.
Eventually I was banished from the kingdom because I wouldn’t profess my love for the king, and I hurried off the stage to see if I could find Andrew. But he wasn’t in the backstage area and I asked one of the prop boys if they had seen him. He shook his head and I nearly cried in despair. I rushed around to the side where I could see part of the audience from behind the curtain but he definitely wasn’t sitting in that section.
Rose and Debbie came off stage and Rose took one look at my face and asked what was wrong. I told her that I couldn’t find Andrew. She took my hands and spoke sternly, “Molly, Andrew will be in the audience somewhere. You need to stop this and focus on the play. Cordelia is meant to be serene next time she is on.”
I nodded because I knew she was right, but sometimes it was so hard to control my feelings. Rose made me stand between her and Debbie by the side of the curtain so that we could watch the play. Every time I turned my head to look toward the audience I felt Rose’s elbow poke me in the side so I had to give up looking until she went back on stage, then I was free to start searching again. But still I couldn’t find him no matter how hard I looked.
Eventually it was my time to go back on stage, but I was ready and I strode on majestically to give Cordelia all the dignity she deserved. It was a short part, and then I was back off and the next time I was meant to be dying.
I waited patiently for my next part as I stood beside David. “Are you ready?” he asked. I nodded and he moved to pick me up. I put my arm around his neck as he carried me onto the stage.
“Howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones.” David began wonderfully. I was glad he and Debbie had gotten together. He laid me on the ground, leaning against his lap as he kneeled. “This feather stirs – she lives!”
The play began to resolve itself as Kent revealed his true self and a messenger arrived to say that Edmund had been killed. David bent down and kissed my lips softly. “Do you see this? Look on her! Look, her lips! Look there, look there!” and then he died and fell gently over my body.
We lay together on the stage for a moment while Edgar, Kent and Albany finished their lines. His body felt warm against mine and I could hear him breathing, and then the curtain fell and we were all standing and hugging each other.
Mr Norris ran on stage and told us all to line up so that we could take our bows. I held David’s warm hand on one side and Rose’s on the other. Debbie was beside David, and then the curtain started to lift and the audience was standing and applauding loudly. I looked down and there was Andrew in the centre front row clapping the loudest of all.

Molly’s Dreams – Chapter Fifteen

“Molly! You are positively glowing,” Rose said when I met her at school on Monday morning. “You have to tell me all about it.”
“Oh gosh, Rose, I don’t know what to say.” I was embarrassed and pulled a book out of my schoolbag as I tried to pretend that nothing had changed, but she was right and it was hard to hide my happiness.
“Everyone is talking about you and Andrew. He is a prize catch you know.” I started blushing to think that people were actually talking about me.
“It just sort of happened, you know. Actually I was cross with him for ignoring me when I got to the hall. And I guess I was a bit cranky that we were bush walking when I wanted to sing again. Then all of a sudden, you know, things changed.”
“That is so romantic. It’s just like Elizabeth and Mr Darcy.”
I laughed. “Maybe we have been reading too much Jane Austen, don’t you think?”
“Oh, no way. That just makes it better. Hey, here’s Debbie.” Rose waved to attract Debbie’s attention, and I wished I could crawl into my schoolbag and hide because I knew Debbie would make an even bigger fuss than Rose was.
“Hey guys. How is the lovebird this morning?” My face went even redder. I couldn’t believe she called me a lovebird.
“Hi Debbie.” I was still trying to act like nothing had happened as she joined us at the library table.
“Molly, do you realise what you have done?”
“What do you mean?” I was a bit confused.
“Most of the girls at school have had a crush on Andrew at some stage through high school. He was, like, always the smartest and best looking guy in class, until he went away to boarding school last year… and broke everyone’s hearts. And then you come along and in a few weeks you sweep him off his feet.”
“I don’t think I did any of the sweeping,” I replied. All I could think of was how my heart skipped a beat the first time we met, and then all of that singing together, and everything.
“Oh come on. I saw the way you looked at him with those big eyes, and your pretty blushing face and cute curls. How could any guy refuse that?”
I couldn’t believe she was saying all this. It was almost like she was jealous. “I really have no idea what you’re talking about Debbie,” I said as I looked at Rose for support.
“Can’t you see how happy she is?” Rose said to Debbie. “It’s over between you two and it has been for ages.”
“What do you mean?” I said, looking from one to the other.
“Can I tell her?”
“I don’t care,” replied Debbie. She looked down at her hands and I watched her absently fiddling with her fingers. I felt like I had done something wrong to upset Debbie and I just wanted to make her feel better because her and Rose were my best friends.
Rose was about to speak when the school bell rang.
“I’ll tell you later,” she said. “We have to get to class.”
We all stood up and started walking out of the library together, but Debbie hurried on ahead.
“Debbie, wait!” I called out.
She stopped and looked at me. “Don’t worry, Molly. I don’t hate you,” she said, then turned and walked away.
I looked at Rose, “What’s going on?” I was getting upset to think I had hurt Debbie, and I didn’t even know what I had done.
“Molly, Debbie used to go out with Andrew. I should have told you before. They broke up at the end of last year when he knew he was going away to boarding school. That was just before we met you on the train,” Rose whispered as we walked along the corridor. “The holiday at the beach was to cheer her up, and I thought she had pretty much gotten over him, but apparently not.”
I said I felt awful. “Rose, I didn’t know. I never planned for anything to happen.”
“I know you didn’t. But the funny thing is that we both thought it was David you were talking about, you know when you said you had a crush on someone.”
We had arrived at the classroom and had to leave our conversation there as we took our seats. I didn’t get a chance to ask Rose any more questions because Mr Norris followed us into the classroom. My head was in a whirl as I sat at my desk. Only half an hour ago I was floating on a cloud, but now I had landed on the ground with a thump. I was so confused and didn’t know what I should do, but the one thing that was clear was that I had hurt Debbie’s feelings without even realising it. I needed to fix things and make her happy again. Thoughts kept whirling around and around in my head until I realised that Mr Norris had been speaking.
“… so you now have twenty minutes to write notes and then we will began debating. I will randomly pick two people at a time to compete against each other, and at the end I will announce the three that will be chosen for the debating team. The clock starts now.”
I looked up at the clock as the second hand swept past the twelve. Everyone else in the classroom had their heads down and they were busy writing, but I had no idea what I was meant to be writing about. I had completely missed the topic and that added to my despair about Debbie. I looked across at Rose and tried to see what she was writing, but I couldn’t read her words from the angle I was at. I had so enjoyed being made to feel like I was one of the triplets and I didn’t want anything to get in the way of our friendship. My eyes drifted to the window and I watched the birds outside flying high among the streaks of cloud. They circled around each other and seemed to be just hanging from the cloud threads like a mobile in a nursery.
“Okay class, time is up. Put your pens down.”
I looked back at the clock. I couldn’t believe it had already been twenty minutes.
“Our first pair to compete this morning,” said Mr Norris looking around the room, “Will be David Windsor and Molly White. Before we start, just to remind you of the rules, you get four minutes each to make your case. You will be judged on how well you present, as well as the strength of your argument. So if I can have the two of you out the front, and David, you can go first.”
I suddenly felt sick because I knew I had nothing to say. I was starting to panic and must have gone pale as I stood up because Rose leaned over and whispered, “Are you okay?”
I nodded, but I was far from feeling okay. I could feel myself growing faint as I sat in the seat at the front of the classroom and faced the class. Rose was looking at me encouragingly but I looked down at the blank piece of paper in my hands.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Chair,” David began confidently. I tried to force myself to concentrate on what he was saying and maybe I could bluff my way through this.
“My topic today is to discuss whether Elizabeth Bennet from the novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is a feminist. Ladies and gentlemen, you will see from the argument I present that Elizabeth Bennet was merely a woman of her time and simply a fictitious character in a novel, and far from being a feminist.”
I was listening now, and I had to admit that David spoke really well. He sounded polished and confident and I could see why he was on the debating team last year. I knew first spot was probably already his, but I could also see the holes in his argument as my mind began to whirr into action.
All of a sudden David was finished and Mr Norris called on me to take the floor. I felt like I was back in my bad dream as I rose from my seat and stood in front of the class. I looked down at the piece of paper in my hand, and was surprised to see that it was still blank. I cleared my throat.
“Time has started, Molly,” Mr Norris reminded me unnecessarily.
“Ummm, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Chair,” I said in a voice that sounded like the soft squeak from a baby’s toy. I looked at Rose and she was signaling with her hand that I needed to speak up.
“Ummm, you have all heard the argument, ummm, put forward by, ummm, David. But I am here to tell you he is mistaken and that I consider Elizabeth Bennet to have been a feminist for her time.” I paused and looked around the room at all of the faces watching me. I suddenly realised that they were all my friends and nobody wanted to see me fail. I took a deep breath.
“But to understand that,” I began again more confidently, “We need to define what a feminist is. A feminist believes there should be equality between the sexes. Elizabeth is not afraid to speak her mind, and she rejects the repressive standards of her time just as she rejected the proposal of Mr Collins. But she also isn’t perfect, and it is these flaws in her character that make her real, vibrant and true. Elizabeth is quick to judge, too ready to dismiss Charlotte, and she is often disapproving. But at the end of the novel, ladies and gentlemen, she accepts Mr Darcy on equal terms because of love, and not because of the pressures of society. That is why she can be considered a feminist.” I finished and looked at Rose. She was grinning and started to clap, and then everyone else was clapping as well.
“Thank you, Molly.” Mr Norris stood and started introducing the next pair. Before I sat down I asked if I could go to the bathroom and then raced out the door. I locked myself in the cubicle and threw up.
I lost track of time as I sat in the bathroom, but Rose eventually came to look for me. She found me sitting on the ground in the corner with my arms wrapped around my knees and my tear-stained face resting on my forearm.
Rose came and sat beside me and put her arm around my shoulder. I leaned my head against hers and cried a little more. After a while Rose said we should be getting back to the classroom because Mr Norris was about to announce the winners of the debate.
She helped me to my feet and I splashed some water in my face to wash away the tears. I felt self-conscious as I walked back into the classroom because I knew everyone must be looking at me, but I kept my eyes down so that I didn’t have to see them.
As I slipped into my seat, Mr Norris rose from his desk and walked to the front of the room. I didn’t look up though and just kept staring at my fingers.
“Okay, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you all for your presentations. I found them most entertaining and you all gave me a lot to think about. I also have your assignments to hand back at the end of class. Some of these were exceptional and I have been really impressed with the quality of work. So without further ado, I want to announce the debating team for the inter-school tournament.” He paused and looked around the room, but my eyes were still down. “First, the team captain for this year, as last year, is David Windsor.” There was some polite applause for David, but I think everyone knew he was going to get it anyway so there was no excitement. “Our vice-captain, with an outstandingly polished presentation, as usual, will be Rose Long.”
The applause was a bit more enthusiastic this time and I leaned across and squeezed Rose’s arm and whispered, “Well done”.
“The position for our third team member was hotly contested amongst you all, but I have chosen the winner for her clear thinking and ability to construct an argument quickly. On top of receiving an ‘A’ for both her essay and a wonderful poem, ladies and gentlemen, our third team member is — Molly White.”
Just then the whole classroom erupted as everyone clapped loudly and Rose threw her arms around me. It was so surreal and not at all how my dream turned out.

The corridor was crowded and noisy but I tried to catch up with Debbie after class. I desperately needed to talk to her and let her know that I was sorry. I was upset that something had gotten in the way of our friendship when it meant so much to me. I was also confused about my feelings for Andrew because I thought about him all the time and I knew I couldn’t wait for Friday night to see him again. But I also knew that I couldn’t see him again if it was going to upset Debbie. I really needed to catch up with her.
“Debbie,” I called out. “Debbie, wait.”
She couldn’t hear me over the noise and kept on walking. I felt like I was pushing through quicksand as every step I sank deeper and deeper into the swamp of teenagers moving slowly between classrooms.
“Debbie,” I called out again despairingly.
“Hey Molly,” a voice called from behind me. I stopped and turned to find David waving his hand to get my attention. “Molly, I’ve been trying to catch up with you.”
He grabbed my arm and I turned to face him.
“Sorry,” he said as he quickly let go. “Mr Norris wants us to meet with him at lunchtime to talk about how we are going to prepare for the inter-school debate.”
I looked again to see where Debbie was but she had disappeared into the swamp without a trace. “Okay, let’s go.” I gave up and followed David back down the corridor to the classroom.
Every day that week my lunchtime was spent in the classroom with Rose, David and Mr Norris as we practiced our strategy for the debate. Mr Norris had a plan that I would speak first because that could be a prepared speech and I would be able to practice it for a few minutes beforehand. He sounded confident but the thought of standing in front of strangers and giving a speech made my stomach feel sick. I didn’t want to tell the others how I felt, so I just pretended that everything would be okay.
Mr Norris then said that Rose’s and David’s speeches would have to be made up on the night in response to the other team’s speakers. He said that was why he had picked me, because he knew I could construct an argument quickly and I would be able to pass notes to David and Rose. We started practicing by tackling all sorts of topics until finally it was the end of the week.

When Friday night came, Mum knocked on my door and asked if I wanted a lift to youth group. I told her that I wasn’t feeling well and was going to give it a miss this week. She looked concerned and put her hand across my forehead, but didn’t say anything else as she left the room.
I rolled onto my stomach with my feet in the air and went back to reading ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and tried to lose myself in the world of Marianne and Elinor Dashwood until it was so late in the night that I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.
In the morning I woke to find Mum was opening my curtains and letting the bright sunlight into my room. I sat up and blinked at the sudden brightness and wondered what the time was. It wasn’t normal for Mum to wake me up because I was usually up before everyone else in the house.
“Molly, you have to get dressed,” she said excitedly, “There is a boy here to see you.” Suddenly I was all in a fluster as I tried to hurry out of my pyjamas and into a dress. I saw myself in the mirror and my hair was a complete mess, but Mum told me to just tie it up and not keep the boy waiting.
She said she had shown him through to the dining room, and I took a deep breath before I stepped through the doorway to find Andrew waiting for me.
He stood up as I entered the room and moved towards me, and before I could stop him he threw his arms around me in a hug. I felt so at home in his arms that it took some effort to make myself break free and step away from him.
“Andrew, we need to talk,” I said. He looked concerned as I asked if he would like to walk outside. I wanted to be in the fresh air so that I had time to think, and I also didn’t want anyone overhearing our conversation.
He walked beside me silently as our footsteps took us down the cobbled laneway. I was wondering how to start. How could I tell him that we wouldn’t be able see each other again? The sky was clear and blue and I could hear the cockatoos screeching overhead where they were feeding on the new shoots of the trees. The smell of freshly mown grass in the air made me think of spring, even though I knew it was late autumn and the red and golden leaves were gently falling around us like snow, or confetti.
We stopped at the gate that led into the orchard and I tried to calm my thoughts.
“Molly, I missed you at youth group last night,” Andrew said as he reached for my hand. I thought of pulling it away, but I couldn’t bring myself to. I could feel that the tears weren’t far away and I turned my head so that he wouldn’t seem them and I looked at the heavily laden apple trees instead.
“Andrew, I’m sorry. I can’t see you again,” I blurted out.
He pulled me closer and I wasn’t strong enough to resist.
“Why Molly? What is the matter?”
“I didn’t know that you and Debbie were going out. She is my best friend. I can’t do this to her.”
I knew I wasn’t putting my case very well, but I was too confused to think any clearer.
“But Molly, that is over. It’s finished. Debbie knows that and she and I are just friends now. We’re good.”
“No, you don’t understand. We are like sisters and it is hurting her to see us together. I would never have let it happen if I had known about the two of you.”
“Just tell me that you’re not in love with me and I will leave you alone, forever.” I could hear the hurt in his voice and I was crying now. He held me and I cried into his shoulder, until I got the courage to push him away.
“No,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
I turned and ran back down the laneway and left him standing there on his own.

It was late the same afternoon and I was lying on my bed reading a book when there was a gentle knock on the door. I ignored it and kept reading, but there was another knock and then I heard Rose’s voice, “Molly, can I come in?”
I sat up as Rose opened the door and both she and Debbie walked into my bedroom. Debbie took one look at my tear-stained face and came and sat on the bed beside me.
“We missed you at youth group last night,” she said softly.
“I wasn’t feeling very well.”
“Your Mum told us that. We wanted to see if you were okay.”
“I’m fine,” I replied. “I just needed some time on my own.”
“Molly, I’m sorry I have been mean to you all week. It’s just — I just wasn’t expecting to see Andrew with anyone and it was a shock. I’m sorry. I’m okay with it… really I am, and I’m glad that it’s you. Please forgive me?” She put her hand on my shoulder but I wasn’t sure what I should do. Rose sat down on the bed on my other side.
“I think we need a sister hug,” she said as she reached her arms around both Debbie and me. Debbie did the same until I felt like I was being smothered by the twins. I didn’t tell them what I had said to Andrew that morning.
“Are we okay?” said Debbie. I nodded and she smiled. “Rose told me all about you being picked for the debating team. That is so exciting.”
I didn’t even want to think about the debate, and because I didn’t know what else to say I asked if they wanted to go for a walk through the apple orchard.
We climbed the fence and set off through the trees with the twins walking on either side of me as the golden autumn sunlight shone through the leaves. I was glad that Debbie was talking to me again, but I still wasn’t sure what I should do about Andrew.

Several weeks later it was the day of the inter-school debate. After so many weeks of practicing with Rose and David I had become a little bit more comfortable with the idea of being part of a debating team. But when Mr Norris started to give us some last minute instructions at lunchtime I suddenly realised that it was really happening and standing in front of people would not be like doing it with just Rose and David. My stomach started to churn and I had to excuse myself and visit the bathroom.
I saw David and Rose look at each other as I left the room and I knew they were thinking I was going to chicken out. But I looked at my pale face in the bathroom mirror and tried to tell myself that it was going to be okay. The scared face that was looking back at me didn’t seem to believe it though so I splashed some water onto it.
I walked back into the classroom and Rose smiled. She asked if everything was okay as I sat down and I nodded. I think she was learning to understand when I was having a panic attack much better than I could.
“So one last thing,” said Mr Norris. “We will meet at the hall at Central High School at seven, so please don’t be late.”
My stomach suddenly lurched and I was nearly sick right there in the classroom. My palms were sweaty and my face felt cold and clammy. Central High! I hadn’t even thought about where the debate was going to be, but surely it wasn’t going to be there? The words sat like a muddy puddle in my head. I hadn’t been back there since the night of my accident. I could feel my hands trembling and all those nightmares from my time at that school suddenly came flooding back and I knew I was still that ugly redhead that nobody liked.
I realised that Mr Norris had left the room and it was time for my next class, but I couldn’t even think clearly enough to remember what subject it was or which room I was meant to be in.
“Come on, Molly. We’ve got history now,” said Rose.
I stood up mechanically and followed her out of the classroom. As we walked along the corridor, Rose asked if it would be okay for her to come home with me for the afternoon and we could get ready together. I nodded and said I supposed that would be okay and we arranged to meet at the front gate after school.
When we got home I just wanted to lie down but Rose suggested we go for a walk through the orchard instead. I told her I wasn’t feeling very well, but she said the fresh air would help me feel better.
“I just love walking through your orchard at this time of year,” Rose said brightly.
“Yeah, I guess.” I didn’t feel talkative.
“All of the red apples hiding behind the green leaves look so pretty, don’t you think?”
I nodded and looked at the trees without really seeing them. I couldn’t stop thinking about the kids from my old high school and I was worried about what Rose would think when she found out they all hated me.
We kept walking until we came to an old shed. There was an empty tankstand beside it that I used to sit on when Stephen had gone away. We climbed onto it and sat with our legs crossed and Rose turned to face toward me.
“Molly,” she said, “You are going to go great tonight. You are ready for this and you have nothing to worry about.”
I nodded, although I didn’t really believe her. I wanted to tell her about the nasty girls at my old school, but I couldn’t trust my voice because I knew I was close to crying.
“Here is what’s going to happen,” she said. “When they call you to speak, you will take a deep breath and walk boldly up to the microphone. Take another deep breath and use that moment to look for your Mum in the audience. Then you are going to launch into your speech and you will be great.”
I looked at her and started crying. In between sobs I tried to tell her about my old life.
“Shhh, don’t worry about those kids. You will have me and Debbie and David and all the kids from our school so they won’t be game to try anything.”
We hugged until I could control my crying and then walked back to the house for dinner. But I couldn’t stomach dinner so I just pushed the food around my plate until it was time to get ready.
I had to wear my full winter uniform and I pulled the blue pleated skirt and white blouse out of my cupboard. Rose helped me with the school tie because I had never worn one before, then I put my light blue blazer on over the top. Rose brushed my hair and tied it back in a ponytail and I had to admit it made me look like I was really smart.
I visited the bathroom again before we left home and then Rose and I hopped into the back of the car. Rose and Mum chatted all the way to the school but I just sat quietly and looked out the window. Rose held my hand and I was worried that she would feel how much I was trembling.
Mum parked the car and as we walked toward the hall I thought about the night of the audition, but Rose didn’t leave my side for a second. Mum gave me a hug and a kiss as we got to the steps.
“Good luck Molly. You are going to be great.” I felt like crying again but I was trying to be brave.
Mum left us to find a seat and I walked up the steps with Rose to try and find Mr Norris.
“Oh my god, it’s her!” I heard a familiar voice say.
I turned and saw Virginia and Allison standing there. “I wondered what happened to that loser,” Virginia sneered and turned away.
Rose grabbed my hand and pulled me away. “Come on, Mr Norris is just over there.”
We walked over to him and my head was spinning. There was no way I could pull this off, but it was too late to back out now. Mr Norris was giving us some late instructions about what to expect but I couldn’t follow a word of what he was saying. Suddenly a bell tinkled and Mr Norris said that it was the ten minute warning bell. We needed to get to our seats on the stage, but I asked if I could quickly go to the bathroom first.
“Okay, but be quick,” Mr Norris said. “Rose, you go with her.”
“Oh, it’s okay. I’ll be fine.” I walked quickly to the bathroom as my mind filled with images of all those terrifying times I had spent in those change rooms. I locked the cubicle door and then threw up into the toilet bowl. My stomach heaved and I felt weak and drained but I knew I had to get back because I didn’t want to let anyone down.
I opened the cubicle door and walked over to the sink to splash water on my face.
“I can’t believe you have the nerve to come back here, you freak.”
I turned around and Virginia was standing behind me. My tongue froze and I thought she was going to punch me again.
“Is everything all right here?” Rose said loudly. Thank goodness, she had come to rescue me.
“Oh, so you still can’t fight your own battles?”
“We have to go Molly. You can deliver the knockout punch in the debate.”
She pulled me away and I followed her blindly to the podium.
The bell tinkled again and Mr Norris walked up to the lectern. “Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, welcome to our fortieth annual inter-school debating night. We have teams competing from our Year 7 students through to the Year 10s. Each speaker has four minutes to present their case and points will be awarded for both argument and presentation skills. The overall winner will be announced by the judges at the end of the evening. First of all, I call on our Year 7 students. Ladies and gentlemen, please make them welcome.” The audience began clapping as the students took their seats at the debating table.
I sat there and stared blindly at the blur of faces in the audience but David snapped his fingers to get my attention.
“All right guys, we have our topic. We need to write Molly’s speech and work out a strategy for our arguments. Our topic is, ‘Students should be held legally responsible for bullying at school’. We are for the affirmative. So Molly, do you have any ideas how we should begin?”
I stared at him blankly, but Rose leapt in. “Why don’t we focus on the negative effects of bullying and what happens if it isn’t stopped?”
“Okay, sounds like a good start,” said David as he wrote down a few notes.
“Molly, what do you think of that?”
I looked at Rose, and suddenly some thoughts started to take shape in my head. “I don’t know, ummm, maybe we should start with where bullying comes from. Then that could lead to the negative effects. But we need something about the legal side of it as well. What does it mean to be held legally responsible for something?”
We started discussing the issues and David was busily scribbling down notes as Rose and I threw ideas around. The Year 7 kids finished and the next grade was well into their debate when Andrew handed the notes to me.
“Time to write it all up,” he said.
I picked up the pen and closed my eyes as the words that were jumbled in my head began to take shape. I quickly started writing and didn’t even hear the Year 9 debaters get called to the podium. I finished and looked down at my speech. Andrew said we had ten minutes to spare, so I spent that time going over what I had written so that I could try and remember it when I had to stand up.
The bell rang again and when I looked up Mr Norris was at the podium introducing us. He said the pointscore was even so far, so everything depended on how the Year 10 debate went.
I stood up with Rose and David and we walked over to the speaker’s podium. I was first speaker and it was time to go. Rose smiled and mouthed, ‘do it.’ I took a deep breath, just like she said, and walked over to the lectern. My hand was shaking so much that I didn’t know what to do with it. I knew my voice was going to come out in a shaky whisper. I took another deep breath, and looked around the hall to see if I could find Mum. The seconds ticked by and I could feel the panic rising inside my stomach, when suddenly I saw Andrew sitting in the second row and smiling at me with his blue eyes.
I looked quickly down at my speech and then launched into it, “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Chair, by the time we have finished tonight you will be convinced that those responsible for bullying should be held accountable.” My voice sounded strange over the loudspeakers but I was surprised at how strong it came out. I looked down at my speech a couple of times but my four minutes had flown by and I was suddenly finished. Rose was grinning as I walked back to my seat and sat down.
The next speaker was Allison and as I sat there listening to her begin her speech I could still feel my legs trembling. But then I realised that she didn’t sound that good and her arguments were weak. I picked up my notepad and started scribbling down ideas and handed them to Rose and David. Allison’s main argument was that bullying was only a minor issue and was best handled by school authorities. But I knew we needed to keep emphasising that school authorities had not been handling bullying very well and stronger actions were needed.
Allison sat down and then it was Rose’s turn. I was amazed at how brilliantly she spoke with just my notes and her own imagination. Her voice rose and fell as she emphasised each point and I thought that if I was the judge then we would win hands down.
Virginia was up next and she gave me a long dirty stare as she walked to the lectern. She started off well and I had to admit that she did a really good job with her speech. She was almost as animated as Rose and I thought the odds might have swung back into her favour. I knew then we had to win and I closed my eyes as I listened to her and tried to think of the argument that would win it for us. Suddenly I got it, and I quickly scribbled some notes down for David. He read it and nodded then grinned at me.
Suddenly it was David’s turn and he stood up and walked confidently over to the lectern. “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Chair, we have heard strong arguments from both sides, but I will show that the negative have not been able to show that current approaches to bullying work. Our argument is that stronger disincentives are required to work alongside those current approaches, so that when bullying is at an extreme then the culprits can be made to face the consequences of their actions.” He kept talking and I watched the judges’ faces to see if they were leaning our way, but they were all expressionless.
David sat down and then it was another guy from the other team that I didn’t know. He was nowhere near as polished as David and I was pretty sure we had won it, but I was feeling nervous as Mr Norris walked back to the lectern with the results in his hand.
“Ladies and gentlemen, after much deliberation the judges have come to a decision. The winner of the Year 10 debate is… the affirmative team, and that means that the overall winner of this year’s inter-school is Kinross College.”
Rose grabbed me in a big hug because we had won and the audience stood and applauded loudly. David leant over and shook my hand warmly and I looked over toward Mr Norris and he grinned.
Before I knew it we were off the stage and I was looking for Mum, when suddenly Andrew was standing right in front of me. I didn’t hesitate and threw my arms around his neck and we kissed.

Molly’s Dreams – Chapter Fourteen

My feet were frozen to the ground, and when I opened my mouth to scream nothing came out. I looked around the classroom in a panic and everyone started laughing at me. I could see their faces were all contorted and they pointed toward where I was standing as their jeers filled the air. I looked to Rose for help, but she turned her face away.
“She’ll never make it,” I heard her say.
“What a pretender,” Debbie answered her with a sneer. “She’s such a loser.”
I could feel my heart racing at a million miles an hour and my hands were shaking. I looked down at them and realised that I was holding a piece of paper. I tried to read what was written on it but the words were blurry. Then they started to take shape and I could see more clearly. There were just three words, written in large capital letters. ‘FRECKLES ARE UGLY!’ The words leapt out at me from the page and I looked up horrified, straight into Andrew’s blue eyes. ‘Thank goodness,’ I thought, ‘Andrew will help me.’ I reached my hand out toward him, but he turned toward Debbie.
“You’re right,” he said loudly, “Freckles are ugly!”
“She’s the one I told you about,” Debbie replied.
My hand dropped to my side as the tears burst into my eyes. “She’s not ugly.” I turned to find David standing right beside me. He had one arm raised as he leant against the wall and his body was turned toward mine. “She’s hideous,” he snarled the words at me. “Hideous, hideous, hideous,” he started chanting as I turned and ran for the door, but Mr Norris appeared in the doorway and he stared at me with his beady black eyes.
“Who said you could be on the debating team?” I tried to reply, but again nothing came out when my mouth opened. “You are too stupid, Molly White. Go back to your seat.”
He was suddenly standing in front of the class reading from a book and I found myself at the open window. Mr Norris stopped reading and everyone in the classroom stood silently as they watched me climb onto the window sill, and then I was flying through the air. I looked down and saw Rose walking with Andrew and holding his hand. She looked so pretty with her curls dangling past her cheeks, and I watched as she looked up at Andrew and smiled, then they leaned towards each other and kissed, and I felt myself falling, falling, falling… until I woke up with a start.

Every morning before class over the past week I had sat in the library with Rose and we read together. I had come to see how intelligent she was and I was drawn more and more to her gentle nature, but she forced me to think hard all the time, much harder than I had ever had to think before. Rose made me articulate the things I was feeling so that she could understand, and she was always asking questions about why I thought something as I struggled to explain it to her. She reminded me of Elizabeth from ‘Pride and Prejudice’, while I thought I was more like her sister Jane because she was the quiet one who kept her thoughts to herself.
Most mornings we sat quietly in the library and devoured the words written on each page of our novels and we often turned the pages in unison. At the end of each chapter we would put our heads close together and talk in whispers as we shared our thoughts about what we had just read. Sometimes we just looked through picture books of the history of Jane Austen’s time and talked about what it would have been like to have lived in those olden days.
“Don’t you think it would have been boring?” Rose said one day. “All they seem to do is sit around all day and wait for a husband to come along.”
“But I think that is just what Jane Austen is trying to say,” I replied. “Elizabeth’s younger sisters are the ones chasing after the guys and they are the silliest ones with shallow characters. But Elizabeth is smart. She reads books and she doesn’t just chase after every guy that looks her way.”
Our discussions like that usually went on and on until we were interrupted by the school bell.
But the morning after my dream was different. Every time I looked up I saw that Rose was looking at me strangely. I started to worry about what she was thinking of me and I looked back down at my book and tried to read. I felt disturbed that morning and I didn’t know why. I just couldn’t put my finger on what was bothering me but I had a hollow feeling in my stomach. All of my happiness and confidence seemed to have disappeared with the dream last night and I began to wonder if everything had just been a big illusion. Nobody really thought I was pretty, or smart, or fun to be around, and they were just paying attention to me because I was the new girl in school. I couldn’t understand why I felt so sad, but then I would start to think about the debate that was coming up, and the essay, and all the other school assignments, and as my stomach would twist into a knot I felt like I was going to be sick.
“Molly, is everything okay?”
“Huh? What?” I suddenly realised I had been staring out the window instead of reading.
“Are you okay? You seem, I don’t know, upset or something. Have I done something wrong?”
“Oh… no, no, of course not.” I tried to smile, but I could see she didn’t fall for it.
“What is bothering you?” Rose reached across the table and squeezed my hand.
I suddenly burst into tears for no reason and couldn’t speak. She stood up and came around to my side of the table and put her arm around my shoulders.
“Shhh… it’s okay.” Rose stayed there until I calmed down a little, then when I was okay I squeezed her arm and said ‘thanks’.
She sat in the chair beside me and held both my hands. “What is it, Molly?”
I suddenly blurted out everything that had happened in my dream and told her all about the things that were bothering me, like not being smart enough and nobody liking me, and the debate, and all these boys, and everything just came spilling out.
Rose gently put her hand against my cheek. “You remind me so much of Elizabeth, Molly. You’re smart just like her and you shouldn’t be worried about all these things.”
“But… I thought you were Elizabeth. I’m more like Jane, the quiet one.”
“Oh Molly, that’s not what you’re like at all,” she said. “Maybe we are both Elizabeths,” she laughed.
“So ladies, is this where you’ve been hiding?” said a voice from behind us.
We had been so busy talking that I hadn’t even noticed David come into the library. Suddenly I felt myself blushing for no reason.
“Are you stalking us, David?” said Rose.
“Not at all, I just came in to return a book, when I saw you two fair maidens in conference.” He turned to me and bowed, “How are you, Molly?”
“I’m fine thanks.” I could see Rose looking at us both and my face flushed even redder. “We should probably go, Rose. It’s nearly time for class,” I quickly said as I stood up.
“Perhaps I should escort you two,” said David. I knew he was trying to be gallant but I suddenly burst into tears again.
“Just leave her alone, okay?” said Rose. She took my hand and led me out of the library.

Rose stayed close to me all week, and every time she thought I looked like I was getting emotional she would steer me toward something happier. By the end of the week it had passed and I was starting to feel much better and looking forward to going to youth group again. Rose came home from school with me Friday afternoon so that we could get dressed together and she told Debbie we would meet her at youth group. Debbie was happy with that arrangement because she said she wanted to do some shopping after school anyway.
When we got home, Rose and I sat on my bed and I ran a brush through her straight, shoulder length hair. It was so soft and smooth to touch and a shiny golden-brown, not like the thick tangled auburn curls of my hair. I borrowed Catherine’s curling iron to make Rose’s hair curly and we chatted about school and other things as I worked on her hair.
Then it was my turn and that took much longer because Rose had to pull the brush through the knots that always form in my hair. She tied it all up on top in a loose bun and then teased a ringlet out to fall down over my forehead. She said it looked cute.
When Mum dropped us off at youth group, Rose and I walked boldly up to the hall looking like we had both stepped straight out of a Jane Austen novel. We were a little early and only a few other kids had arrived.
Andrew stood up as we walked into the hall and came over to say hello.
“Hi guys, I’m glad you’re here. Debbie is in the kitchen preparing supper. Rose, she said to send you in when you get here.” Rose said there wasn’t room in the kitchen for three people so she left me in the hall with Andrew and I stood there awkwardly wondering what I should say.
“So how are you enjoying your new school?”
“Oh, it’s fine thanks.”
“That’s cool. Debbie tells me you’re really good at English.”
“It’s my favourite subject, but I wouldn’t say I’m good at it.”
“English is one of my favourite subjects as well, that and music.”
I was curious because I hadn’t seen him around school and I was pretty sure he didn’t go to my old school. “What year are you in?” I asked. “I haven’t seen you around school.”
“I’m in Year Eleven, a year above you and the twins. But I don’t go to school here. I’m at boarding school in the city during the week and I catch the bus home for the weekend every Friday. It just gets me here in time for youth group.”
“Oh wow, that is so amazing. Don’t you get sick of the travelling?”
“It’s not too bad. I usually spend the time reading or writing.”
“So you write? What sort of things do you write?”
“Mostly short stories, fantasy or sci-fi. Sometimes I write poetry, but I’m not very good at it.”
“I would love to read some of it one day.”
“Well maybe you can.” He smiled at me as I looked up into his blue eyes.
Just then Rose called out from the kitchen, “Molly, can you give us a hand here?”
I turned back to Andrew, “I guess I should go.”
“Hurry back.”
I walked over to the kitchen where Debbie and Rose had put out some trays of snacks. “Here, take this and put it on the table over there,” said Debbie.
I put the tray on the table then looked around for Andrew, but he must have gone outside so I went back to the kitchen.
Shortly after, all the other kids arrived and we sat on the floor together in a circle like we had done the last time I was here. Everyone held hands as Andrew bowed his head to say a prayer. I felt a little self-conscious because I wasn’t used to saying prayers, but I bowed my head and listened to his words.
“Dear Lord,” he said, “We give thanks for the friendships we have found here, for bringing everyone through the week safely, and for looking after those in need. In particular, Lord, we say thanks for helping our special friend through her trying week. We know you will continue to guide her footsteps as you do for all of us.”
Was he talking about me? I lifted my head quickly and looked at Rose, but her head was bowed and her lips were whispering a silent prayer. I looked at Andrew but his head was down as well and his eyes were closed. But how would he know that I’d had a bad week? Maybe it was just a coincidence and he meant someone else. I wondered if I should find a way to ask Rose about it later.
When the prayer was over everyone stood and went over to the table where the snacks were laid out. I stood with Rose and Debbie and just listened to the chatter around me. Debbie was the centre of attention as usual as she told us all about her shopping adventures that afternoon. Debbie was always able to find a funny story about every situation.
Then I noticed that Andrew had drifted away from the group and was leaning against another table and strumming his guitar. I excused myself and walked over to him.
“That’s a pretty song you’re playing, what is it?”
“It’s a Bob Dylan song. They’re old but I love Dylan’s songs. That one is called ‘Blowing in the Wind’.”
“Oh, hang on. I think I know that. We did it at school once when I was little.”
“Really? Let’s see if you can remember it.” He started playing and I tried hard to remember how the words went but it was too long ago.
“I can’t remember it,” I said.
“No worries. I have the music here.” Andrew pulled a sheet of paper from his guitar case and all those words from my childhood came flooding back. He started playing again and I joined in. Andrew began singing the chorus with me and by the time we finished everyone had gathered around us and were clapping. I was concentrating so hard on singing that I hadn’t even noticed them join us.
“Sing some more,” Debbie called out. Andrew pulled some more sheets of paper from his guitar case and I looked through them for familiar songs. He said they were all old folk songs from the sixties and seventies.
“Oh, I know this one,” I said. “Mum and Dad used to listen to it.” I held up a page and we sang that song and then another and another until it was time for everyone to go home.
I helped Rose and Debbie clean up with a couple of the other girls and then I grabbed my bag and followed Rose out the door. Andrew was sitting on the railing of the steps and he hopped off as I walked outside.
“So I’ll see you next week?” he said.
I said that I hoped I would be able to make it.
“Cool,” he said. “Bring your guitar and I’ll teach you how to play some songs.”
“That would be great, I’d love that,” I replied. After such a horrible week I suddenly felt like I was floating. I stood there looking up at him, wondering what to say next.
“Hurry up, Molly. You’re Mum’s here,” Debbie called out.
“I guess I had better go.”
“I’ll be waiting for you next week. Bye Molly.” I ran down the stairs to join Debbie and Rose in the car. As Mum drove off, I looked back through the window to see Andrew give me a wave.

I woke early Saturday morning and lay in bed listening to the birds chirping happily outside. I felt happy as well after last night at youth group, and kept replaying in my head all of the songs we had sung. I started thinking about Andrew then, and the way his blue eyes seemed to look straight into my heart. The way his voice wrapped around mine while we sang together made me feel a warm glow all over my body.
I suddenly had an idea that I should do a song for my creative piece. The more I thought about it, the more the desire to write something grew stronger and stronger. I wondered if I could ask Andrew to help me with the music.
As I lay in bed, I looked across at the door to Stephen’s bedroom. I began to wonder what he would think of Andrew. Would they like each other? I tried to remember Stephen’s voice, but all I could hear in my head was Andrew’s singing.
Even though I felt happy inside, a tear started to appear in the corner of my eye. It slowly ran down my nose and landed on my pillow. Another tear started immediately after it, but I didn’t want to be sad this morning so I hopped out of bed and got dressed.
The house was quiet because everyone was still asleep, so I went outside to walk around in the early morning sunlight, until I found myself standing in front of the shed. I hesitated, then put my hand against the door and pushed it open. My bike was in the corner covered in dust. I walked over to it and touched the handlebars. It was so dusty it was disgusting, but I found an old rag and began to wipe it clean.
I could see lots of marks on the paintwork from the accident, but Mum had said the man from the bike shop had fixed all the bent and broken bits.
I wheeled it outside into the sunlight and climbed onto the seat. I then leaned forward and rested my hands on the handlebars, and after a moment started pedaling slowly to make my way down the laneway. I turned left onto the road toward town and let myself roll faster and faster down the hill past the golf course.
There was a little creek at the bottom of the hill and I slowed down to listen to the happy music of the frogs croaking. Then I had to climb up the hill toward my old high school. My heart was beating hard because I had become so unfit since the accident, but I was also worried that I might be seen by some kids from my old school. The leg I had broken was aching as well, but I kept pedaling fast until I was past the school and then just kept on going through town.
After a while I realised that I wasn’t far from the crematorium and I turned my bike toward the gate at the entrance. I hadn’t been to visit since my accident and I felt guilty as I laid my bike on the ground and walked into the walled enclosure that I knew so well.
There was only a plaque on the wall, but I knew he was there. I sat on the edge of the pond and looked up into the branches of the tree above me. It had grown so much and I could still remember when it was only as high as the wall. It made me feel small to see how tall the tree had grown over the years.
I closed my eyes and let my thoughts drift as I tried to find some words to name the feeling I had. It was such a confusing mixture of happy and sad. As I sat there, some words started to form in my mind. I played them over and over as they began to take shape. After a while I had the whole song written in my head and I knew I had to get home and write it down before I forgot the words.
I flew home on my bike as fast as I could and raced into my bedroom to grab my writing journal. I held a pen above the page and closed my eyes as I tried to remember how it went, then started writing.
When I was finished, I looked at the words scattered on the page and read it again and again. I didn’t know if the song was any good or if I should use it for my English assignment and I knew I would have to show it to Rose to get her opinion. But most of all, I couldn’t wait until Friday to share it with Andrew. I hoped he would understand that there was a song in my heart. I read the words again,

‘Of all the words,
In all the books,
Stacked from ceiling to floor,
He searches every tattered page
For words that have true feeling.

The excitement of a new chapter,
Of mystery and anticipation,
A hint of romance,
Cautiously turning pages,
Eager to devour the words
That brought my thoughts.

He reads the words
That tumbled from my fingers,
Nervously letting his eyes wander
Over my heart’s story;
A leap of faith to my reader.

He reads my words
Like he breathes the air,
Inhaling each letter
Deeply into his lungs;
Holding his breath
For my next sentence.’

I rushed to meet Rose in the library as soon as I got to school on Monday morning. I had been bursting to show her my song all weekend, but when I walked through the library door and saw her sitting at our usual table I suddenly felt self-conscious.
Rose looked up and smiled as I slipped into my seat across the table from her. “Hey Molly, what do you want to read this morning?”
I reached into my bag and pulled out my writing journal. Rose looked curious as I opened the journal at the page that had my song on it and I pushed it across the table to her. I hadn’t been game to speak because I was worried that I would chicken out and not show it to her at all.
I held my breath as I watched Rose’s face while her eyes scanned my words. She had a little frown in the middle of her forehead, and the longer she took the more worried I started to become that she didn’t like it. This was why I never showed my writing to anyone.
Eventually she looked up and grinned. “Molly, I love it. It’s so beautiful.”
“It’s for my creative piece,” I said. “I thought it could be a song.”
“It reads beautifully as a poem. You shouldn’t turn it into a song,” Rose replied. “But it would make a great song as well,” she added quickly when she saw the look on my face.
“I thought Andrew might help me with the music.”
“You should ask him. I’m sure he would. Have you written your rationale yet?”
“What do you mean?” A little icy stab of fear darted through my heart.
“The rationale. You have to write an explanation of what the poem means.”
“Oh my gosh, I didn’t realise that. I thought it was just the essay and the creative piece.”
“No, the essay is a different thing. Have you started it yet, by the way? We are meant to have a draft in by Friday, remember?”
“I haven’t forgotten.” Actually, I had forgotten because I had spent the whole weekend thinking about Andrew and whether he would like my song.
“Do you need help to get started on your assignments?”
I shrugged because I wasn’t game to say yes and admit that I had no idea what to say.
“Okay,” said Rose. “Let’s start with the poem. What does it mean?”
I hadn’t thought about what it meant. It was just an idea and something that I felt rather than trying to be a statement about anything. I looked at the words and tried to think of something to say because I knew that Rose wouldn’t let up until she was satisfied with my answer.
“Ummm…,” I began, “It’s, ummm, like there’s two sets of people.” I was surprised to find an idea had floated into my mind and I tried to push it into shape. Rose smiled encouragingly. “It’s like there’s two sets of lovers, talking to each other with the same words.” I tested the idea to see what Rose thought, and she started nodding thoughtfully. “In each case, one of the lovers is a writer and the other is a reader. So the first time you read the poem is like someone is reading a Jane Austen book, so they are the lover of her words and she is the writer who has poured her soul into the novel. When you read the poem again, the writer is someone that draws inspiration from reading lots of Jane Austen books and is trying to express how she feels to the person she loves who is reading the poem.”
I stopped and looked at Rose. “Sorry, that doesn’t make much sense, does it?” I finished lamely.
“But Molly, it makes perfect sense. You have to write all that down now. I love it and you amaze me so much.” Rose paused for a moment, “The second writer is clearly you, so… who is the person you love that you’re writing to?”
‘Oh my gosh,’ I thought to myself. ‘I hadn’t thought of that. There’s no way I will ever be able to show this poem to Andrew if that is what it means.’
“I guess it’s just fiction,” I said as I blushed.
Rose reached across the table and squeezed my hand. She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t need to because her eyes said it all and I knew that she knew my secret.

The week passed by in a blur as every spare moment was spent on my essay. Rose kept dragging me up to the library and forced me to keep writing and rewriting. I had never put so much effort into any piece of schoolwork before, but Rose was relentless. She kept arguing with me about every single thing I wrote.
“What do you mean by that?” she would say. “Why is this important? How do these ideas fit together?” Rose just went on and on and I had to write so much that I thought my hand was going to drop off.
Debbie wasn’t much better because she kept at me to go over my maths homework with her every afternoon in our free period. Equations still made my eyes glaze over and all of those numbers were fuzzy in my brain. Writing just happened for me and words would flow from my pen so that the only thing I had to do was rearrange them sometimes until they made sense. But maths was never like that and I had to concentrate really hard to make any sense of it. By the next day I would forget everything and have to start all over again.
Where Rose encouraged me to argue and defend my ideas, Debbie was kind and patient as she went over the mathematical concepts again and again until I finally thought I understood them. I don’t know how she managed to stop herself from exploding in frustration.
Thursday night the twins invited me to have a sleepover at their house so that we could all finish our assignments together and study for Friday’s maths test. Normally I would have just let both those things happen and get whatever marks came my way. It was much easier to read a book and forget that I had homework than to get myself stressed about how much work I had to do. But both Debbie and Rose insisted that it would be fun if we all studied together.
We walked together to their house after school, taking our time and chatting all the way. Debbie did the most talking as usual, but as Rose and I had become much closer friends we both joined in more and more. I walked in between the twins and Rose said it was like we had become the triplets.
They lived in a big Federation-style house that was about five blocks away from the school. As we got closer I realised that it wasn’t far from the hospital, and I began to tell the girls all about Jenny and the other nurses. Debbie said I should go and visit one day and she would come with me.
Before I knew it we arrived at their front gate and Debbie pushed it open. A hedge covered the fence and it looked like the entrance to a fantasy world. Debbie closed the gate behind us and then bounded up the front steps to the verandah. She opened the front door and threw her schoolbag on the floor in the hallway.
“Mum, we’re home,” she yelled.
“I’m in the kitchen,” a voice came from the other end of the house. It sounded soft and gentle, just like Rose’s voice.
I followed the twins down the hallway and stepped through into a large open area where there was a long sofa in front of the television and stereo. The room looked a bit messy and there were magazines scattered everywhere amongst the pillows on the sofa, but it looked lived in and cozy and I thought it was just the sort of place where you could curl up on the sofa and spend the day reading a book.
“Mum, this is Molly,” said Rose. I turned toward the kitchen to say hello to Mrs Long.
“Hello Molly. I’ve heard so much about you. It’s nice to finally meet you.” She was standing in front of the kitchen window and the afternoon light made a golden halo around her head. I was astonished because she looked exactly like an older version of the twins.
“Hello Mrs Long.” I tried to sound confident and use my best manners, but as usual my nervousness made my voice all shaky.
“Why don’t you girls make yourselves comfortable? The boys won’t be home until after six, so dinner will be a bit late tonight.”
I hadn’t even thought about there being other people here, but I should have realised because I knew Debbie and Rose had three older brothers. That didn’t help my nervousness either, but Rose grabbed my hand.
“Come on, Molly. Let’s finish our essays first.”
She dragged me down the hallway and through a door into her bedroom. It was like entering a fairy kingdom. The walls were covered with paintings and drawings of fairies and goblins. There were castles and all sorts of mystical creatures and Rose’s bed was covered in dolls that were dressed like princesses and fairies.
“Wow, this is so amazing!” I stood in the middle of this wonderful fairy world. “Did you do all of these, Rose? I never knew you could paint. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Yes, they’re mine. I like to paint pictures just like you paint with words.”
My mind suddenly went back all those years ago to my childhood and I wondered what Stephanie would think of all these wonderful fairies. I hadn’t thought about her in ages but I could still remember all the times we had talked about running off to a fairy world.
“I used to have a friend that loved fairies. We always imagined what a fairy kingdom would be like, and now I know.”
Rose laughed. “Well we have a lot of work to do before we play.” She jumped onto the bed. “Come on, get your essay out.”
I climbed onto Rose’s bed amongst all the fairy dolls and over the next hour or so we worked on our essays until Rose was finally satisfied and let me stop.
“I think you will get an ‘A’ for that, and your poem.”
“That would be a miracle,” I laughed. “I’ve never gotten a mark that high before.”
I hopped off the bed and started looking closely at Rose’s drawings, when Debbie came into the room.
“Have you guys finished? We should do some maths before dinner.” She flopped on the other bed in the room and started opening her textbook. “Come on, Molly. I’m not letting you get out of this.”
Rose stayed on her bed, but all three of us worked through our maths together.
“So, if you know what ‘x’ is, then you can find ‘y’, right?” I said. Debbie nodded. “But how do you know what ‘x’ is?” Debbie tried to explain that the question usually told you what ‘x’ was, but sometimes it didn’t and then you would just have to simplify the equation. I thought it would be much simpler not to do it at all, but we kept working as my brain got more and more fuddled until Mrs Long called us for dinner.
I was glad to close my book and follow the twins down the hallway to the dining room, but as I walked through the door I was overwhelmed to see all these grown men sitting at the table and talking loudly to each other.
“Everyone, this is Molly,” said Mrs Long. “Let’s make her feel welcome and don’t be too noisy tonight. Molly, this is Glenn, Scott, and Tim, and John is Debbie’s and Rose’s dad.”
They all said hello at once and I said hello back shyly but they soon forgot about me and the conversion started up again as soon as I sat on a chair between Debbie and Rose.
“You should have seen Choc at training today,” said one of the brothers. “The coach had us running laps, but every time we went behind the clubhouse, Choc would hide and skip a lap. The guys were all laughing so much.”
“Hey, I found some new fishing lures today. I thought I might try them out on the weekend,” Tim interrupted him.
“Did you remember to get prices for those new tyres?” Mr Long had a loud voice but his face was open and friendly.
“Yeah, I did. I think we can get a good deal at Jacko’s.”
“What about the battery for the truck?”
“Pass the potatoes, please.”
“Does anyone else want the sauce?”
It was so noisy that my head was spinning with all these conversations going on at once. Debbie joined in just like the others, but Rose tended to sit there more quietly like me. It felt nice though, and reminded me of dinners used to be like at home when my sisters were talking at once, before they all moved away.
After dinner, Mrs Long made up a mattress for me on the floor in between the twin’s beds. I helped her lay the sheets and blankets on the mattress, and when she finished she stood up and said, “I always wondered what having another daughter would have been like, and now I know.” She handed me a pillow and smiled as I said thank you. I wasn’t nervous anymore because everyone had made me feel like I was part of the family.
We cleaned our teeth and then sat on our beds and talked.
“Why don’t we play truth or dare?” said Debbie. “I’ll start and we’ll go around in a circle. So Rose, what is the most daring thing you’ve done in public?”
“Ummm, I think that would have to be the debate last year. Standing up in front of all those people.”
“Well that’s a bit boring,” said Debbie. “Okay, your turn. Ask Molly something.”
“Okay. Molly, what is your worst fear?”
“Oh gosh, I have so many,” I laughed. “Let’s see, I’m afraid of heights, I hate spiders and creepy crawlies. Ummm… is that enough?”
“That will do for now,” said Debbie. “Now you have to ask me a question.” She sat with her legs crossed on the bed and looked at me expectantly.
“Alright, let me think. Ummm, have you ever lied to your parents?”
“Yes,” said Debbie as she grinned.
“Well, come on,” said Rose, “More information.”
“Okay. Do you remember when we were little and someone ate all the jelly before Christmas? Well that was me.”
“That was you?” said Rose. “Everyone blamed Tim for that!”
“My question now. Molly, have you ever peed in a swimming pool?”
“Aww Debbie, that is disgusting,” said Rose. “Ask her a proper question.” We all giggled and the questions went round and round the bedroom. It was getting late and I was starting to get sleepy when we decided it was time to turn the light out.
“One more question,” said Debbie. “Molly, have you ever had a crush on anyone?”
My face went bright red and I didn’t know what to say.
“Come on, you have to answer. We’re not allowed secrets here.” Both girls were looking at me.
“Yes,” I replied softly.
“You have to tell us more than that!”
“No she doesn’t,” Rose jumped in. “She answered your question. You should have been more specific.”
She hopped out of bed and turned out the light and we all said goodnight to each other. I closed my eyes and as I drifted off to sleep I kept thinking about Debbie’s question. The last thing I remembered was an image of Andrew’s face floating in my mind.

The next evening the sun had left an orange glow in the sky as I climbed out of the car with my guitar. I said goodbye to Mum and she drove off to leave me standing in front of the church hall. I felt great now that my big week was finally over. I had handed my English assignments in on time and the maths test wasn’t as bad as I had expected, and after all that tension I now felt a tingle of excitement that I was going to be seeing Andrew again. I still hadn’t decided whether to show him my poem or not, but I had it in my bag just in case.
I walked up the steps to the hall and said hello to the kids that were sitting outside. They moved their legs so I could get past and I walked inside to find Debbie and Rose. They were standing around with a group of other kids and talking, and I put my guitar down and walked over to them.
“Hey guys, what’s up?”
“Hi Molly, we were just discussing what to do tonight. It’s a choice between singing like we did last week, doing some readings, or going for a torch light walk along the creek to spot possums. What do you think? We’re going to have a vote when everyone gets here.”
I had been looking forward to singing again, so I said that’s what I’d be voting for, but it turned out that everyone else wanted to go for the walk.
Andrew gathered all the kids together in a group and gave instructions. “Okay guys, we only have enough torches for there to be one shared between two people. We are going to walk from here across the primary school oval and then follow the path along the creek. We will stop when we reach the bridge and make sure everyone is there, and then head back the same way. Are there any questions?”
I stood at the back and listened to Andrew leading the group. I was a little bit disappointed that he hadn’t come over to say hello, but I guess he had been too busy organising the walk since I had arrived.
Everyone began getting themselves into pairs and Andrew was handing out torches. Debbie came over and told me that we would walk as a group of four with Rose and Andrew because there weren’t enough torches to go around. I told her I didn’t know if I would be very good on the walk because I was wearing ballet flats and had a long dress on, but she told me not to be silly and that it would be fun.
“Rightyo,” Andrew called out, “Let’s go and make sure you don’t run or get too far ahead. We’ll meet at the bridge.”
We went last so that Andrew could make sure nobody got left behind or lost and I followed Andrew and Rose down the steps. Debbie walked beside me as we headed across the primary school oval and I had to keep hurrying every now and then to keep up. Rose was carrying the torch and its light beam danced all over the ground as we walked across the dark oval. We had to climb through a fence when we reached the other side and Andrew lifted the barbed wire with his hands and pushed his foot down on the netting to make a gap for us to squeeze through. I was the last over and I had to gather the skirt of my dress in my hands so that I could climb over without it catching on the wire. I nearly tripped, but Andrew grabbed my arm to steady me.
“I’m fine thanks,” I said sharply as I stood up. Andrew quickly let go of my arm and we started walking again.
As we made our way into the park, there was only room for us all to walk in single file and I let myself drop to the back. I could still see the beam of the torch, but Rose was getting so far ahead that I kept stumbling over sticks and rocks on the ground. My feet were starting to hurt and I wished I could go back, but I didn’t have any choice now we had come this far. I also wished I had worn something more practical. If only I’d known we would be walking instead of singing.
Even Debbie was silent as we made our way through the darkness of the park and I could hear the peaceful burbling of the creek and the croaking frogs. I loved hearing frogs because they always sounded so happy to be singing together. Every now and then there was the sound of snapping twigs and something would scurry away from the path. I was trying not to be scared or think about what would happen if I walked into a cobweb, when the path slowly started to get wider and we came across a grassy patch where there were no trees. I guessed this must have been the picnic area that I had seen from the car sometimes. Rose was getting way ahead of me now but it was easier to see where I was going because the moon was lighting the way and Andrew dropped back and started walking beside me.
“How are you going?”
“Fine,” I said. I was still miffed that he hadn’t said hello to me at the hall.
“Did you have a good week?”
“It was okay.” I just didn’t feel like talking and we walked along in silence.
“My week was busy. I have lots of school assignments at the moment and exams are coming up soon.”
I thought about how hectic my week had been, but I didn’t say anything.
“I can’t wait for mid-term break. It will be good to have a spell from studying for a week.”
“Yeah, I guess.” I don’t know why I didn’t feel talkative. I had spent all week wanting to see Andrew again, but now that we were here it had all been spoilt because he didn’t say hello.
“I probably won’t make it home for the next couple of weekends. I’ve got too much work on, but after that I need to be home to help Dad with the yard.”
“That’s nice.” I felt terrible that I was being so nasty, but I couldn’t help myself.
“I guess we should try and catch up with the others before we get left behind.”
“You can go on ahead. I can see where I’m going.”
“Oh no, I didn’t mean that, it’s just…” He broke off and we walked along in silence. We had nearly caught up to Rose and Debbie anyway, but I could see we were heading back into trees and the path was getting narrow again.
“Careful guys,” called Rose, “There’s a ledge here that you need to climb down.”
I followed Andrew down as Rose shone a light on the rock so that I could see where to put my feet. I took a step forward and suddenly my foot slipped out from under me and I felt myself falling and then Andrew was there holding me steady in his strong arms.
“Are you okay?” he asked as he lowered me to the ground.
“Yes, thank you… oh, thank you so much.” I suddenly burst into tears because of the fright, but luckily nobody could see them in the darkness.
“Why don’t you two go ahead,” said Andrew. “We might wait here at the rock until everyone comes back. Debbie, you can be in charge.”
Debbie and Rose disappeared around the bend and left Andrew and I alone. He was still holding my hand.
“Would you like to sit down?”
“Is it clean?” I asked.
“Here, I’ll wipe it for you.” He picked up a dead branch and swept the rock clean with the leaves. “It’s so clean you could eat off it,” he said.
I sat down and tucked my dress between my legs so that it wouldn’t get dirty.
Andrew sat beside me, and although I couldn’t see him very well in the darkness I could see from his outline that he was looking up toward the moon.
“I’m sorry I was rude to you,” I blurted out.
“What do you mean?”
“I haven’t been very talkative.”
“Oh, that’s okay. I don’t mind. I saw you brought your guitar tonight. I’m sorry we won’t get a chance to play together, but we try to do different things all the time and some of the guys wanted to go walking tonight and I didn’t have much choice.”
“I know it’s not your fault.” We fell silent and sat there for a few minutes.
“Molly, I’ve been thinking about you all week,” said Andrew. I could see his face was turned towards mine.
“Really?” My mind was swirling and I felt a hot tingling sensation all over my body.
“Yeah, I was just hoping to see you again, because…” He stopped and I guessed he was searching for the right words.
I turned my face towards his and was just about to say something, when suddenly he leaned closer and pressed his lips against mine. It seemed so right and natural as I kissed him back and felt like I was floating higher and higher until we were both sailing above the moon. Everything else in the universe ceased to exist at that moment except the two of us locked together in our lover’s embrace.
I lost all track of time and felt like we had been kissing for a million years, when I started to hear the voices of kids coming down the track. Debbie and Rose were in the lead as they burst into the clearing.
“Hey guys, everything okay?” Debbie called out.
“Yep, perfect,” Andrew replied.
We stood back and waited for all the kids to pass and I was sure that Rose and Debbie would hear how loud my heart was beating. Andrew then helped me climb up the rock and we followed the group back toward the church hall. Rose was walking just in front with the torch and I followed her with Andrew by my side, still holding my hand. I leant my head against his shoulder and he bent down and kissed my hair in the darkness.

Molly’s Dreams – Chapter Thirteen

I was dreading the end of school holidays and as the last week of the break drew nearer I began to feel sick each morning. My stomach was churning so much that I couldn’t eat breakfast and I had to spend a long time in the bathroom.
Mum talked about taking me to see a doctor, but then she decided that a change of school would be good for me. A few days later she told me she had enrolled me in the same high school that Debbie and Rose went to. Once I found that we would be sharing a lot of the same classes I stopped being sick in the morning.
By the time the first day of school came around I was actually excited and looking forward to starting school again. Debbie and Rose met me at the school gate and we walked towards the red brick building together. Debbie seemed to know everybody and she introduced me to all of her friends as we walked along. I didn’t feel like the outsider anymore and nobody laughed at my red hair or freckles. I even found myself smiling and laughing with the other girls.
In the half hour before the bell rang for the first class of the year, Debbie entertained everyone with stories about her holiday at the beach. Some of the stories were so funny that I wondered if we had even been at the same beach together.
As usual, Debbie didn’t stop talking as I followed her down the corridor to the classroom. We sat next to each other for the first lesson and the teacher assigned everyone their lockers and a list of textbooks that we would need for each subject. We were then given ten minutes to find our lockers, take the keys from the lock, and get back to the classroom.
“Come on, Molly, our lockers are just around the corner so we can be quick,” said Debbie. I followed her around the corner to find a group of kids from one of the other classes were already standing at the lockers.
I looked at the piece of paper I had been given with my name on it and saw that I had been assigned locker sixteen. That will be easy to remember, I thought, because that is how old I will be on my next birthday. I walked over to locker sixteen to get my key, but there was a guy standing in the way.
I took a deep breath and said, “Excuse me. I need to get to my locker.” I waited for the nasty remark that would follow as the guy turned around, but instead he bowed and stepped to one side.
“Pardon me, mademoiselle.” His smile was infectious and I couldn’t help but smile back. Then Debbie was right beside me.
“Hurry up, Molly. We need to get back.”
I suddenly felt flustered as I rushed to get my locker key with this guy watching me.
“Hi Deb,” said the guy. “Who’s your cute friend?”
“Hey David, this is Molly. She’s new here, so be nice. Molly this is David.”
David reached out his hand, and I held mine out uncertainly. He took my fingertips gently and raised my hand to kiss the back of it softly.
“Enchanted, mon cheri.” My head was spinning and I felt like I was watching a movie scene from above rather than in my own body.
“Leave her alone, David. She’s already spoken for.” Debbie then grabbed my elbow and hurried me back to the classroom. I turned and looked back over my shoulder before we went around the corner. David was still looking at me and he smiled and waved. I waved too before Debbie jerked me into the classroom.
The morning went quickly and before I knew it we were back in the playground for our recess break. I was trying to find a way to ask Debbie about David but she beat me to it.
“You don’t want to get swept away by David,” she said. “He tries that act on all the girls.”
“Is that why you said I was ‘taken’?”
“Of course, I’m just looking out for you, Molly. Don’t give away your heart too easily.”
She squeezed my arm and smiled, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, of course.” I gave her a little smile back but I couldn’t get the picture of David’s face out of my mind, or the way he kissed my hand.
The next lesson was English and I found myself sitting next to Rose this time because Debbie was in a different class. I had found it hard to get to know Rose, and I wasn’t even sure if she liked me or not because we never talked that much. I kept worrying about it and I wondered if maybe Rose was really shy like me and was just overshadowed by Debbie. I decided to make more of an effort to get Rose to like me, but I wasn’t sure what I should do. Maybe if I tried to be more like Debbie then that would work.
“Isn’t it great being back at school?” I said, trying to sound bright, just like Debbie.
“It’s okay, I guess.”
“Well I’m excited.” Rose looked at me funny and was about to say something when the teacher walked into the classroom.
“Good morning class. I’m sorry that I’m late. For those that don’t know me, my name is Mr Norris.”
I groaned. Why did he have to follow me here when I was trying to start all over again?
“I think I see some familiar faces, so hello to you, and welcome everyone to Year 10 English.”
I looked around the room and all the kids were sitting up straight and paying attention to him. It was completely different from my old high school.
“We have a full program of study this year, but there will be three main strands. First of all, we will be studying the novels of Jane Austen.”
I sat up and suddenly started paying attention. Once again Mr Norris seemed to know exactly what I was interested in.
“There will be a major essay and a creative piece due at the end of Term One. Then we will take what we have learned from Jane Austen into the world of debate. Ultimately, I will be selecting a team to take on our colleagues at that other high school across town.”
He paused and looked around the class, and then his eyes fell on me. I quickly looked down at my desk because I knew there was no way I was ever going to get involved in a debating team, particularly if it meant coming up against those kids from my old school when I had only just escaped from them.
“For the rest of the year after that,” Mr Norris continued, “We will be studying King Lear and then putting on a performance for the Christmas concert.”
He stood and looked at the class with his black beady eyes, but I thought they looked kinder and more eager than I remembered them.
After school, I walked out to the front gate with Debbie and we talked about our first day at school. I told her how excited I was that we were studying Jane Austen, but she was more interested in having been able to catch up with all her friends.
I met Mum at the school gate. “How was your first day of school?” she asked.
“Fantastic!” I replied, and jumped in the car.
All the way home I told her about what we were doing in English for the year, but I didn’t tell her about that boy near my locker.
When I got home that night I finished reading ‘Pride and Prejudice’. My head was so full of Elizabeth and Darcy that I rushed to the library as soon as I got to school the next morning and borrowed a different Jane Austen novel. I was so eager to start reading that I sat at a table in the library and read the first chapter rather than meeting my new friends outside. I loved the way the words were so soft and gentle, and while I enjoyed the romance, I sensed there was some other message in there that I needed to figure out.
The copy of the book I borrowed from the library had illustrations in it and I fell in love immediately with the elegant dresses the characters wore. I thought if I tied a ribbon around the middle of my long white Juliet dress then it would look just like the real thing from a Jane Austen novel. I decided that I would try that with my dress on the weekend and I would have a go at doing my hair in that style as well. I studied the pictures closely and tried to work out how they got their hair tied up on top of the head like that. I could do that with a couple of ribbons as well, and with my naturally curly hair it should be easy to leave a couple of curls dangling down either side of my face. Mum should be able to help because she had lots of ribbons in her sewing room. I just needed to remember to ask her when I got home.
The bell rang and I quickly packed the book in my bag and hurried out of the library. I had five minutes to get some things from my locker before I had to get to my next class so I ran down the stairs as fast as I could.
When I got to my locker I found David was standing in front of it again with his own locker door open. He had the locker next to mine, but he was talking to a friend instead of getting his books out.
“Hi David, can I please get to my locker,” I said quietly.
David turned around and grinned at me, then stepped aside.
“Why if it isn’t mademoiselle,” he said, “What’s the rush, belle petite rousse?”
“I have to get to class,” I blushed.
“So do I. Why don’t you let me walk with you? I can show you the way.”
“It’s okay, I know where to go.” I closed my locker door and started walking away down the corridor, but then David appeared right beside me.
“So what brings you to our fair school?”
“Oh, ummm… we just moved here.” I didn’t really know why I lied, but I also didn’t want to tell him I had been at the other high school before in case he knew some of the kids from there.
“I have to go now,” I said as I reached the door to my classroom.
David put his arm across the door and blocked my way. “I’ll see you later, l’amour de la vie.” He brushed a stray strand of hair from my face and stepped to one side with a bow. I rushed past and sat in my seat feeling flustered.
“Where have you been all morning?” asked Debbie.
“Oh, gosh, ummm… I went to the library to get some books.”
“So that’s why your face is all red?”
“Oh, is it? Ummm… I was just running.” I opened my textbook and pretended to be looking closely at the words, but I was aware that Debbie was still looking at me curiously when the teacher walked into the room.
“Okay ladies and gentleman. Algebra…”
I opened my notebook and wrote down a little verse that had popped into my head,

“In that moment between breaths,
No more clouds, but light
Shining brightly, clear beauty.”

I looked at my words for a moment then closed my notebook and quickly opened my maths book. Then I noticed Debbie look away. ‘Oh my gosh,’ I thought to myself, ‘Did she see what I had written?’ I went red from embarrassment but tried to concentrate on what my maths teacher was saying.
“To solve an equation, you must find the common factors and cancel them…”
I needed to pay attention more, because I really had no idea what he meant. Debbie leant towards me and said, “Don’t worry, Molly. I can help you later.”
I looked at her and smiled. She really was my best friend.
After class, Debbie followed me outside and pounced on me straight away.
“What were you really doing before class?”
“I told you, I was in the library.”
“So how come I saw you walking with David?”
“Oh, ummm… he followed me from my locker. I was trying to get rid of him.”
“That’s not what it looked like to me,” she said. She looked thoughtful for a moment then added, “Say, why don’t you join us on Friday night? Rose and I go to youth group for our church. It’s a lot of fun and hardly religious at all. We play music and do lots of stuff… like reading poetry.”
“Oh, I’d love to Deb. That sounds like fun.” I was glad she had changed the subject.

When Friday night came, I put on my Jane Austen dress and tied my hair in a way I imagined that Elizabeth had worn. Mum then dropped me off at the hall where the youth group was held and kissed me goodbye as I hopped out of the car.
“Have fun, Molly. I will pick you up at eight,” she called behind me. I waved my hand without turning around as I walked toward the old brick building that stood next to the chapel of the church. When I saw a group of kids sitting around the front steps of the hall I suddenly felt really nervous and started to wish I hadn’t dressed so differently from everyone else. I didn’t know any of them and they just stared at me as I walked toward the group.
“Hi, I was looking for Debbie Long,” I said, trying to sound brave and confident but hearing the shaky softness of my own voice and wishing I was stronger.
“She’s inside.” One of the kids pointed inside the doorway, so I said ‘thanks’ and walked between them to go inside.
The hall was a rectangle with wooden floorboards and a stage at one end. There was a picture of the queen on one wall and the other wall was covered in posters that some of the kids must have made. There was a group of about a dozen teenagers sitting around in a circle and holding hands. Their heads were bowed and one of them was saying a prayer. I stood there awkwardly and waited for them to finish.
Debbie noticed me when she lifted her head and came bounding over to take my hand.
“Come and meet the gang,” she said brightly. I followed her nervously, feeling out of place and wishing I had never come. “This is Molly everyone, she’s coming to join us. She sings and writes poetry.” I felt myself blushing from embarrassment. I should have expected something like that from Debbie but I thought she might be gentler for my first time.
“Molly, I want you to meet everyone. You know Rose, of course, and this is Bruce, and Anne…”
Debbie went around the group and introduced me to everyone. Each one of them stood up and said ‘hello’ until there was only one guy left sitting on the ground. I hadn’t noticed him at first because I was so nervous, but now I saw that he had short sandy hair and looked a little shy. “… and this is Andrew. Andrew, this is the Molly I have been telling you about.”
Andrew stood up and I realised he was much taller than I had thought. He made me feel even shorter than usual as he reached out his hand. As our fingers met, I half expected him to kiss my hand like David had done, but instead he shook it gently but firmly. His skin was cool against my hot fingers, and I looked up into the most dazzling blue eyes I had ever seen. They were so hypnotic that I found myself staring into them for longer than I should have. Suddenly Andrew smiled and my heart started racing. “I’m really pleased to meet you, Molly. Debbie has told me so much about you, and I’m sure you’re going to enjoy being part of our group.” I gave a little smile back, but I was too flustered to say anything. His voice was as gentle and smooth as his hand, and I realised that he wasn’t shy at all, just… I searched for the right word, confident? Controlled? Or something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. He let go of my hand and I stood there awkwardly, realising everyone had been watching us.
Debbie suddenly put her arm around me. “Come and sit, we were just about to do some singing.”
I sat on the floor between Debbie and Rose, and the rest of the group spread around us in a circle. Andrew was sitting directly opposite me and he picked up a guitar and started strumming for a few moments. Then he lifted his head and looked straight at me as he sang. All the others joined in after the first verse, but I didn’t know the song so I just sat there with my eyes hypnotised by Andrew’s gaze.
When the song finished, Andrew held the guitar up. “Who else knows how to play the guitar?”
“Molly can,” Debbie leapt in straight away.
I felt so embarrassed that my face was burning as I tried to explain how I didn’t really know how to play properly, but Andrew stood up and brought the guitar over to me.
“Whatever you do, it will be beautiful,” he said.
I sat with my legs crossed and placed the guitar on my lap. I tried to remember how Shawn’s song went and I tentatively strummed a chord. It sounded okay, so I strummed a few more times and tried to find the rhythm. I was too embarrassed to look up, so I kept my head down and looked at the guitar and tried to pretend that I knew what I was doing. Then the words came to me and I opened my mouth to sing, “Can you imagine anything…”
My voice sounded hollow and thin in my ears and my fingers stumbled a few times, but I managed to get through the song and then looked up. Everyone in the group was staring at me. Some had their mouths open and I wished the ground would open up and swallow me. I could feel the tears coming and I was suddenly upset because I hadn’t been sad in ages and now Debbie had embarrassed me in front of all her friends. I was about to put the guitar down and run out of the hall, when Andrew leant over to take it from my hands.
“That was so beautiful,” he said kindly. Suddenly everyone started clapping and talking all at once and I couldn’t believe that they had actually enjoyed what they’d heard. I thought they were just being nice, but they made it believable and I started to smile as the tears went away.

At school the following week we began reading parts from Jane Austen’s novels. Mr Norris let the group move all the chairs and tables to one side and we sat on the floor in the centre of the room. We each had to read a page and then pass the book to someone else at random to read until everyone had taken a turn.
It was nice hearing the stories being read out loud, but each time the reader got to the end of the page I could feel the tension in the bottom of my stomach as I waited to be the next person picked. The book passed around the room and then it was David’s turn.
He took the book and started reading confidently. It was the ball scene in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and Darcy was approaching Elizabeth to ask for a dance. David kept pausing for emphasis, just as though he was acting out the part rather than just reading it, and whenever Darcy spoke to Elizabeth, David would look straight at me. When he reached the bottom of the page, David reached over and handed me the book.
“It’s your turn,” he said.
I opened to the page where he had left the bookmark. I took a deep breath as I looked at the words on the page. Elizabeth and Darcy were still dancing, but Elizabeth had rebutted all of his approaches so far and was saying something about Wickham. I tried to speak but it came out in a whisper. I paused and took another deep breath.
“It’s okay, Molly,” said Mr Norris, “Just take your time.”
I looked up and he was smiling at me kindly. I turned my eyes back down to the book and started reading again, trying to sound confident but I could hear my voice wavering and I knew I wasn’t doing justice to Elizabeth’s remarks.
Eventually I got to the end of the page and looked for Rose and handed her the book. She smiled and squeezed my hand as she took it from me and then started reading.
Once everyone in the class had finished their turn, Mr Norris stood up and asked us what we thought was going on here. David was the first one to put his hand up. “Yes, David?” said Mr Norris.
“I think they both like each other, but neither is willing to admit it yet. Darcy knows he likes her, but she has developed a prejudice against him for some reason and so she is pretending to herself that she doesn’t like him. I think they will get together in the end.” He didn’t take his eyes of me the whole time he spoke.
“Thank you, David. That is pretty insightful, although we should watch out for spoilers. Does anyone else have a view?” He looked around the group, but nobody spoke up. “Molly White, how about you? What do you think is going on here?”
I had to take another deep breath and stop my heart from racing. Why did Mr Norris have to single me out? “Ummm…,” I began hesitantly. I had an idea in my mind but it was hard to form it into words with everyone looking at me. “Ahhhh…, I think, ummm, that Jane Austen is trying to make a statement about, ummm, relationships between men and women.” I started to warm up and feel more confident as the idea solidified in my mind. “I think she is trying to breakdown stereotypes that a woman has to say ‘yes’, just because a man asks her.” I looked up at David and smiled.
“That is an excellent analysis, Molly,” said Mr Norris. “You have struck right at the heart of the theme we will be exploring throughout the term. Now, does anyone else have anything to add?”
Rose leaned over and squeezed my hand again. “Molly, you were wonderful!” she whispered. I smiled at her and felt a flood of warmth in my chest.
“Thanks, Rose,” I whispered back.
“Okay, well I don’t think we have time for any more today. Make sure you have finished ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by the end of the week because next week we are starting ‘Sense and Sensibility’. Now we had better put the chairs and tables back and you can have an early lunch.”
I stood and started to pick up some chairs. “Here, let me carry that for you,” said David as he tried to take the chairs from my hands.
“Thanks, but I can carry them.”
“I know you can, but I just wanted to help.” I let him take one of the chairs off my pile, and while that made it easier to carry, I didn’t want to admit that to him.

The bell rang for the end of the school day and I packed my bag and started walking out to the gate to meet Mum.
She had gotten my bike repaired weeks ago, but I still wasn’t game to ride it again yet. I had ridden it once a couple of weeks ago, but it felt strange and I was worried about falling off and hurting my leg all over again. I rode really slowly, much slower than I used to, and I nearly panicked whenever a car came towards me. Before I went too far I turned around and rode straight back home and put my bike in the shed. I didn’t tell Mum that I was scared of riding my bike, I just asked her if she could pick me up from school each day so that I could spend more time with my friends.
When I was nearly at the gate, Rose came running up behind me and called out my name. I stopped and waited for her, and then she breathlessly asked if it would be okay if she came home with me for the afternoon so that we could study. I was a bit shocked because I hadn’t expected her to want to spend time with me, but I asked Mum if she would be able to drive Rose home later.
Once that was settled we climbed into the car and Rose and I got comfortable in the backseat.
“That was so cool what you did in English today.”
“Oh, ummm… I just didn’t know what else to say.”
“Well, I think you have plenty to say. Are you going to try out for the debating team?” I looked up and saw Mum’s eyes watching me in the rear vision mirror.
“Are you kidding? There’s no way I would ever get picked for the debating team.” Actually, there was no way I would ever want to be anywhere near a debating team. I looked back at the mirror but Mum was looking away.
“You should do it, you would be good at it I think. You know I was on the team last year… with David.” I noticed Mum was looking at me in the mirror again and I blushed.
“So what do you want to study when we get home,” I quickly tried to change the subject.
“Well I was hoping you could help me with English, and I was wondering if you wanted me to help you with maths.”
I said I thought that sounded like a good idea and when we got home we had some afternoon tea and then locked ourselves away in my bedroom.
“What a cool bedroom,” said Rose. “You’ve got so many books in here, I can’t believe it.” I looked proudly at the collection of books spilling out of my bookcase.
“Well… I’ve always liked reading.”
“So what’s through that door there?” She pointed to the door leading to Stephen’s bedroom. My eyes followed her finger and I suddenly thought about all the dreams I’d had about that room over the years. Sometimes I went in there and just sat on the bed and looked out the window. Most of his things were still in their place and I think Mum snuck in every now and then and dusted. But it was my little escape world where I went sometimes when I felt sad or lost or lonely because I could feel his spirit in there more than anywhere else.
“Oh, it’s just a room full of junk,” I said casually. “Do you want to do English or maths first?”
Rose looked at me closely and I hoped she couldn’t see the sadness that had crept into my heart. “English,” she said. “I want you to tell me how you know so much about Jane Austen, because when we met on the train you hadn’t even heard about her.”
We spent an hour talking about how I had been going to the library and reading everything I could find on Jane Austen. There were so many books in there it could take the rest of my life, I told her. She asked if that was why I had changed my hair style and I nodded, feeling a little embarrassed.
“I like it,” she said, “Can you show me how to do it? Then we can be the Jane Austen twins.”
Instead of doing any maths we spent the next hour doing each other’s hair and talking about books. Rose said she had always liked reading more than doing anything else, but she said she hadn’t read as many exciting books as I had, and she always had to go and do the things that Debbie wanted to do and that interrupted her reading time. As I listened I felt my heart go out to her and began to realise why she was always the quiet one.
Eventually it was time for Mum to take her home and Rose gave me a big hug as she climbed out of the car.
“Thank you, Molly. See you at school tomorrow.”
I waved goodbye and hopped into the front seat beside Mum. She put the indicator on and looked over her shoulder as she pulled out into the traffic. We drove up the road in silence for a few minutes, and then Mum turned her head and looked at me.
“So… who is David?”
I looked out the side window so that she couldn’t see my face.
“Oh, he’s just a boy in my class.” When I eventually turned around Mum was looking at the road ahead, but I could see a smile on her lips.

Molly’s Dreams – Chapter Twelve

There was a bright light overhead hurting my eyes so much that I kept them tightly closed. I didn’t know where I was but I could feel something hard and cold against my side. Thoughts tried to move around in my head and kept getting lost in the fog.
“Molly?” a voice called out of the mist. “Molly, can you hear me?”
“Is she still with us?” another voice said.
“She’s still here, but the pulse is faint,” the first voice replied.
I didn’t know who they were, but when I tried to speak and tell them I was there no sound came out, even though I could feel my lips move. Suddenly I felt someone take my arm and press something sharp into it.
There were so many voices echoing in my head and they all seemed to be in a hurry. But I knew there was no need to rush now because the fog was starting to lift and I could see that it was night time and there were bright lights flashing and they looked so pretty.
“That leg is pretty bad. Is she hurt anywhere else?”
“It looks like she’s taken a knock on the head as well. There might be some internal bleeding, but it’s hard to tell until we get her to the hospital.”
But I didn’t want to go to the hospital. I just wanted to go home so that Mum wouldn’t be worried about me, and I knew there was something I wanted to tell her, but I just couldn’t get my thoughts to stand still long enough to be able remember what it was.
Suddenly Stephen’s face appeared in front of me, kind and smiling just like he always was. He waved his hand above his head and just as quickly as he had appeared he started to fade into the darkness. I tried to call out for him to come back but my tongue was too thick in my mouth and it wouldn’t move.
I heard a voice say, “One, two…” and then I felt myself being lifted. That’s when I felt the pain searing in my leg. I tried to remember why it hurt so much but no other thoughts could get past that intense pain.
Then I felt myself being lifted again, but it was gentler this time and I thought I must be floating in the air with my leg on fire until I landed and there was a loud thump like the door of a van being shut.
I was aware that someone was sitting close beside me and a soft hand was on my shoulder. “Don’t worry, sweetie. We’ll get you to the hospital soon.”
But I didn’t want to go to the hospital! I needed to get home and see Mum. My eyes began to fill with tears and my leg was really hurting as I felt myself swaying back and forth. From far off I could hear the sound of a siren, but it was starting to fade and I was drifting toward a dark cloud. I tried to open my eyes again but my eyelids still wouldn’t move.
I just wanted them to take me home.

“Molly?” I heard a lady’s voice calling my name and my eyes flickered open to see a woman dressed in white.
“Oh, so you’re back with us now, dear. You gave everyone a scare.” She smiled at me and I tried to smile back but my lips felt like they were going to crack.
“You should probably have a sip of water. The anaesthetic always makes you a bit dehydrated.”
She held a glass of water to my lips and I tried to sit up to drink but that made me feel too dizzy.
“You won’t be able to sit up for a bit, dear. I’ll let you rest for a while and maybe we can prop you up a bit later on. The doctor will be back to see you in the morning.”
She disappeared behind the curtain and I could hear her footsteps walking away. I looked around but all I could see were white walls and a little stainless steel dresser beside the bed I was on. High up on the wall was a window, but from the angle I was at I couldn’t see out it at all. I couldn’t tell if it was night or day.
When I tried to roll over on my side I found I was wrapped up tightly in blankets as though I was in a cocoon and I couldn’t move my body. But my arms were free and I reached up to touch my face to find there was a bandage around my head. It didn’t hurt, but I still felt like I was floating on a cloud, even though I could see I was lying in a bed. I started to feel queasy again so I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.

I later woke to hear someone crying out loud, but when I opened my eyes there was only an old lady sitting up in the bed next to mine and busily knitting.
“Is everything okay, deary?” she asked kindly.
I sniffed and realised that I had been the one crying.
“You have been asleep ever since I came in this morning,” she said as the needles moved quickly in her hands. I lay there with my eyes open and as I watched the movements of her fingers she reminded me of Grandma.
“The doctor came to see you a little while ago, but you were still asleep.”
She put down her knitting and reached above her head for a little button that was dangling down. “I should call the nurse. She said to let her know if you woke up.”
She pressed the button but there was no sound. The old lady went back to her knitting and I lay there wondering if I should tell her that the button didn’t work. But she kept chattering away and I felt too tired to say anything.
I didn’t feel queasy anymore but I had a headache and could feel a dull ache coming from my right leg. I looked down at my arm and saw a tube sticking out of it and it looked like there was blood. I could feel myself starting to cry again as I looked at the blood, when a nurse suddenly walked into the room.
“Ah… Good morning, Molly. You look much better this morning. There’s some colour in your cheeks. How are you feeling, dear?”
I had to choke back a sob as I tried to answer her. “Good,” I said very quietly.
“Well that is excellent,” she said brightly. “My name is Jenny. The doctor will be here shortly so you don’t need to worry about anything.”
She picked up a clipboard that was hanging on the end of the bed and made a note on it with her pen. “I just need to take your temperature — it won’t hurt,” she added quickly when she saw that I was choking back another sob.
Jenny placed a thermometer in my ear and held it there until it beeped, then she made another note on the clipboard. As she put it back on the end of the bed, a man dressed in a long white robe came into the room.
“Ah, so our star patient is awake, is she?”
I clutched the blanket and looked at Jenny for help.
“Hello, young lady. My name is Dr. Smith. I want you to relax because you’re going to be fine, but I wonder if you can tell me how much you remember about what happened?”
I thought hard, but it was all such a blur that I just shook my head at him.
“Okay, that’s fine. It will come back to you later. You’ve taken a bump to the head with a little bit of concussion. You might have headaches for a day or two, but you need to tell the nurses if they get any worse, okay?. Now I just want to look at your leg, if I could.”
I looked at Jenny again and she smiled as if to say it was okay. The doctor lifted up the blanket and looked concerned. “Ah, yes, yes. I think that will heal nicely.” I tried to lift my head and see what he was looking at but it hurt too much.
“Molly, you broke your leg, pretty badly in fact. We had to operate on it and I put a plate in there to help keep the bones in place while they heal. There’s no plaster but that bandage will need to stay on for a while. You won’t be able to walk on it for at least six weeks and then I’ll need another look at it.”
I listened quietly to what he was saying and tried to process it all. I kept thinking ‘six weeks, six weeks, six weeks,’ and then it dawned on me that six weeks would take me to the middle of the school holidays, which would mean that I would miss the play. All of a sudden that night came back to me; all the terror and excitement and the way Joel had looked at me, and … that kiss. Then I remembered the bike ride home and the car coming around the corner. This time I couldn’t hold back the sobs and I really started crying uncontrollably.
The doctor looked concerned and spoke quietly to Jenny. “I think you should make sure her parents visit soon, she is a little unsettled, which is to be expected of course.”
Jenny nodded and they both left the room. I turned my face against the pillow and let the tears make a little puddle on my pillow case. In the background I could hear the old lady’s needles going click, click, click.

It was later that day when Mum came to visit me. I was allowed to sit up in bed then and she sat with me all the way into the evening, right up until the nurses came and said that visiting hours were over.
I slept restlessly all through the night because I couldn’t get myself comfortable. I had never liked sleeping on my back and now that was the only position that I could lay in. I tried turning my head to the side but that only made my neck sore and it made me feel dizzy again.
Every time I started to fall asleep, one of the nurses would come into the room to do something and wake me up again. Then I would lay there in the darkness and stare at the dull light coming through the window. I wished I could see the stars from where I was laying. But I just felt a great lump sitting in my stomach and I ached to be home in my own bed. I found myself crying again and again throughout the night, but I tried to be quiet because I didn’t want to wake the old lady with the knitting needles.
The next day Mum brought some knitting with her and she spent most of the time talking with the old lady in the next bed, but it was nice to just have her there. She brought me a book to read and I took it out of the paper bag and looked at the title. ‘For the Term of His Natural Life,’ it read. The cover had a picture of a sad looking man wearing convict chains and there were arrows on his clothes.
I started reading while Mum sat and talked with Mrs Gould while they both knitted. I didn’t pay any attention to their conversation as I began to read about a man having a fight with his father and running away. I thought it was a pretty boring book, but I kept reading because I had nothing else to do in my hospital bed.
I thought the man was stupid when he was arrested because he wouldn’t tell them who he really was. He gave his name as Rufus Dawes and was sentenced to transportation for a crime he didn’t do and I made a little noise of frustration that he wouldn’t speak up. I looked up from my reading for a moment and saw both Mum and Mrs Gould had stopped talking and were looking at me.
I blushed and went back to reading as I heard Mum start saying something to Mrs Gould about how much I loved reading. I stopped listening because I didn’t want to get even more embarrassed and I wished Mum wouldn’t talk about me like that when I was right in front of her.
As the week went on and I got further into the book, I started to feel just like a convict trapped aboard a ship on the way to Australia. As I sat in my hospital bed I started to imagine that I was a convict and the tube in my arm was the chain that tied me to my bunk so I couldn’t escape.
Jenny came and chatted with me every day as she changed the dressing on my leg. She told me all about her little girl and how she was in kindergarten and just starting to learn how to read and how well she was doing. Jenny said her daughter’s name was Taylor and she and I would be great friends because we both liked reading so much. I didn’t want to tell Jenny how bad I was at school, so I just let her keep talking.
Late in the week I was given a pardon from my sentence and set free from the prison bed when the physiotherapist came to teach me how to walk using crutches.
My head was suddenly dizzy the first time I swung my legs off the bed, and then I nearly fainted from the pain in my leg as all the blood rushed down towards my foot. That first time I was only able to stand for a minute or so before I had to hop back into bed.
Eventually I made it to the corridor and back and then gradually went further and further until one day I made it all the way to the front door of the hospital. What I really wanted to do was look out the window so that I could see the clouds and stars and be completely free from my prison bed.
Then Dr. Smith came back to see me at the end of the week and said I could go home in the morning.
Mum brought a change of clothes for me to wear home and all the nurses came out and hugged me goodbye as I hopped down the corridor on my crutches. Jenny was waiting at the front door and she gave me a big hug and a kiss and dropped a few tears in my hair. That set me off crying as well, but this time they were happy tears as everyone at the hospital had made me feel so special.
I hopped through the hospital door to the outside world and blinked at the bright blue sky shining above me.

It was late in the afternoon and I was standing on one leg on the railway platform. My broken leg was aching as I leant on the crutches. It had been a week since I had left the hospital but I still wasn’t used to getting around on only one leg.
I was waiting on my own for Mum to come back from the booking office with the tickets so I watched people as they move about on the platform. Some of them looked like they had been rushing and were worried they were going to miss the train. I wasn’t worried though, because Mum had said we got here in plenty of time.
Suddenly there was a bustle of noise from one end of the platform and I turned to see two girls being farewelled by some guys that I guessed were their older brothers. I watched as the two girls went around the group of guys and hugged each one. They looked to be about my age, or maybe a little older and I watched them with interest because I didn’t know the girls from my school.
One of them was wearing a short floral summer dress and had white sneakers on her feet. Her long brown hair was tied back in a simple pony tail. The other girl was wearing pink shorts and a white top and sandals. She too had long brown hair, but hers was hanging loosely over her shoulders. What really caught my attention about these two girls, though, was that their faces were identical.
The brothers left and the two girls started walking toward where I was standing. I quickly looked away so that they wouldn’t see that I had been watching them, but one of the girls smiled and said ‘hi’ as she walked past me. I looked up and saw the happy eyes of the one with the ponytail.
“Hi,” I said back shyly. Just then Mum came out of the booking office with the tickets as the headlight of the train appeared further down the track. I started to feel excited as the train pulled into the platform because now it felt like I was really going on holidays.
There was crazy activity and noise everywhere as the stationmaster blew his whistle. The porter opened one of the carriage doors and I hobbled across the platform on my crutches.
“Careful with that step, miss,” he said kindly.
I hesitated, wondering how to step across the gap between the platform and the carriage.
“Put your crutches across first and then swing yourself over,” came a girl’s voice from behind me.
I turned to see who had spoken and saw it was the girl with the ponytail.
“Oh, thanks,” I said. I was a bit nervous about making the leap with everybody watching me, but I didn’t want these two girls to know that, so I took a deep breath and swung across exactly as she had said.
I turned to say thank you again, but the girl was talking to her sister.
“Come on, Molly, let’s find our seats,” said Mum as she walked down the aisle. I shuffled along behind her until Mum pointed out our seats about halfway down the carriage. As I was squeezing into my seat against the window the porter appeared again right beside me.
“I can look after your crutches, if you like, miss,” he said. “If you need them just call. It will give you more room,” he added quickly.
“Oh, thank you,” I replied. “That is so nice of you.”
He dipped his head and, clutching my crutches to his chest, he scurried away with a smile on his face.
I took my book out of my bag and then put the bag at my feet. I was still reading ‘For the Term of His Natural Life’ and had been wandering through the Australian bush with Rufus Dawes for a week. When I sat up again, I was surprised to see the girl with the ponytail looking over the back of the seat in front of me.
“Hi again,” she said. “I’m Debbie.” Her smile was so sparkly that I couldn’t help but smile back at her.
“Hi, I’m Molly,” I said in my softest shy voice.
“Hi Molly,” she said brightly. “What book are you reading?”
I showed Debbie the cover and started to explain to her what the book was all about.
“It’s about this guy that was sent to Australia as a convict, but…”
“Oh that sounds cool. What happened to your leg?”
“I had an accident on my bike,” I said.
“Ooohh, that must have hurt.” She suddenly turned around. “Hey Rose, come and meet Molly.”
Another face that was the mirror image of Debbie’s appeared over the back of the seat. I wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart if it wasn’t for the different hairstyles and clothes.
“Hiya,” she said. She wasn’t as bouncy or happy as her sister.
“Where are you going?” asked Debbie.
I told her that Mum and I were going to the beach to visit Grandma and Grandpa. It turned out that they were heading to the same beach for a holiday with their cousins.
“That’s so cool,” said Debbie. “Maybe we can hang out on the beach together.”
I smiled and said that sounded like fun.
“What school do you go to?”
I hesitated, because I didn’t want my new friends to know about my school and how everyone thought I was a loser.
Just then the train pulled away from the station with a jerk and Debbie’s face disappeared for a moment. But she was back as quickly as she went and giggling because she had nearly fallen off her seat.
“Is everything okay here, miss?” The porter had suddenly appeared in the aisle beside Mum’s seat. I looked across and nodded. “Can I get you anything?” I shook my head and looked back to see Debbie grinning at me as the porter disappeared.
“I think he likes you,” she said with a giggle.
“Really?” I turned to look at him but he was gone.
“Yes, really! Haven’t you had guys chasing after you before?”
I blushed and shook my head.
“I don’t believe that. You’re so pretty and sweet. I’m sure all the guys at school are after you.”
My face was burning hot as I blushed even more and I was feeling uncomfortable that she had mentioned school again. But Debbie didn’t seem to notice and she kept talking to me for ages as the train rushed across the green landscape of scattered farms.
Every now and then she would bring Rose into the conversation and her face would suddenly appear over the back of the seat. But she never stayed for long and would soon disappear again. I think she was reading a book and I longed to be able to read mine as well, but I didn’t want to lose my new friend either.
Debbie kept talking until it started to get dark and the porter came back.
“I thought you might like a blanket, miss.”
I looked at him and blushed because of what Debbie had said. “Thank you.”
He bounced away down the aisle with a smile on his face again.
I settled back in my seat and turned my face toward the window to watch the evening settle softly across the countryside. After a while I could see my own reflection in the window as it started to get darker outside. My reflection looked sleepy but happy.
When I opened my eyes again I could see glimpses of lonely farmhouse lights in the distance and bridges and level crossings rushing past. The world outside was dark and cold. Every time I began to doze off again I was woken by a jolt as the train pulled up to the fairy lights of a foggy station. I wrapped myself deeper in the blanket, leaned my head against the cold glass of the window and tried to fall asleep again.
Eventually the sprawl of the city lay stretched out before me like a dark shadow on the ground as we descended from the Blue Mountains. The sky began to lighten as the train raced toward the coastal plain. I followed the path of a truck as it chased the train for a few moments before it came to an intersection while the train raced on. Then there were miles and miles of small backyards behind the houses alongside the railway line. One was full of junk, the next one neat and tidy. Some of the yards had washing on the line, and a voiceless dog barked at the train. Then the train slowed as it passed the old Mortuary Station and I had to sit up because Mum said we were nearly there.
The porter appeared again with my crutches as soon as the train moved slowly alongside the platform of Central Station. I thanked him again as I hopped down the aisle and climbed from the train carriage. I turned and he was standing at the door waving.
“Bye miss,” he called out.
There was an hour before we had to catch the train for the north coast, so Mum decided we should head to the café at the railway station for breakfast. Debbie and Rose were standing with their bags so Mum asked if they would like to join us. Debbie gave Mum a huge smile and said they would love to. She didn’t stop talking all the way through breakfast.
It turned out that Debbie and Rose were in the same year at school as me, but they went to Kinross College which was a private school on the other side of town to where I lived. The twins were nearly a year older than me and they had three grownup brothers.
By the time we finished breakfast, we had already made plans that the girls and their cousins would take me with them to the beach every day.
We still had a little time after breakfast before the train left, so Mum let me browse through the newsagent and buy a new book to read at the beach. I couldn’t decide which book I wanted, but Rose came and stood beside me and pointed to a book called ‘Pride and Prejudice’.
“You’ll love it, Molly. It’s so romantic.”

I felt like I was lying in heaven when I woke in the morning. The pillows on my bed were as soft as clouds and I was snug under the fluffy doona. Sunlight was bursting through the window and it threw pretty patterns across the mat on the floor. I couldn’t remember having ever felt so happy and full of life as I looked out the window at the cloudless blue sky.
I bounded out of bed and grabbed my crutches and hopped up to the house to join Mum and Grandma in the kitchen for breakfast.
“Good morning,” I said brightly and gave them both a hug.
“Well, you are chirpy this morning. It’s so good to see a smile on your face,” said Grandma.
I couldn’t help but smile at her even more brightly. I really didn’t know why I felt so happy, but I finished breakfast and hopped out onto the verandah to wait for Debbie and Rose.
I had just started reading when an old car pulled up at the front of the house and beeped its horn. Then I saw Debbie’s head sticking out the window.
“Come on, Molly. The beach is waiting.”
I quickly said goodbye to Mum and Grandma and made my way down the driveway to the car. In all the excitement I had forgotten to be nervous, but all of my shyness suddenly came flooding back when I realised there was more than just Debbie and Rose in the car.
Debbie jumped out so that I could sit in the middle of her and Rose and she took my crutches to put them in the boot. There were three guys sitting across the bench seat in the front.
“Guys, this is Molly,” said Debbie. As they all turned their heads to look at me, I sat there astonished to recognise the sandy hair and the lopsided grin of the guy in the middle.
“Blue!” he said, just as astonished as I was. “Blue, is that really you?”
All of the others sat there and stared at us with their mouths open. Not even Debbie could think of anything to say.
“Hi Shawn,” I said as coolly as I could, but inside I was bubbling with nerves and excitement.
“You two know each other?” Debbie screamed.
“Yes,” said Shawn, “Ages ago. I thought I would never see you again, Blue.”
The rest of the way to the beach was spent explaining how we had met when I was eight years old. Debbie was excited, but Rose seemed to show more interest in me than she had before. The other two guys in the car were Shawn’s brothers. The one driving was Neil and he was the oldest in the family. Shawn was the middle brother and Michael was a year older than me and the same age as the twins.
We stopped at the beach and climbed out of the car. It was the same beach that I had played on ever since I was a child, and I felt like I knew every curve of the sand dunes as they led around to that rocky headland that stood broodingly at the northern end of the beach. From where I was standing I could clearly see the pathway that climbed to the top of the headland.
“Come on guys, let’s get in the water,” Debbie squealed as she raced across the beach. She dropped her towel on the sand and then leapt toward the waves. Rose was close behind her and both girls screamed when the water crashed into their waists.
Neil and Michael were busy taking the surf boards off the roof of the car, and Shawn got my crutches out of the boot and walked slowly across the sand beside me. Neither of us spoke. I kept thinking about the little boy that I played with in the sand dunes and how he made me run all the time, but how I so wanted to do what he asked to make him happy.
We reached the spot where Debbie and Rose had dropped their towels and I laid mine carefully on the sand and sat down. Shawn flopped to the ground carelessly beside me and sat with his arm around one knee.
“Do you want to swim, Molly?”
“Oh, I don’t really like being in the waves. I like just sitting here.”
We fell silent again and I looked across the bay at the boats in the distance.
“Do you still read lots of books?”
I smiled and said, “Of course I do”. I pulled ‘Pride and Prejudice’ out of my bag and showed it to him.
“Do you want to read it together, like we used to do?” he asked.
I told him he might find this book a bit boring, but he kept insisting so I opened it up and started reading the first chapter to him. He lay back on the sand with his arms behind his head and listened to me reading. Every now and then I would glance across at him laying there with his eyes closed and smile.
I was nearly finished the chapter when Neil and Michael came up to us carrying the surfboards.
“Why aren’t you guys in the water?” Neil asked.
Shawn sat up. “We were just waiting for the surfboards,” he said.
“Well you could have helped, you know.”
Neil dropped two surfboards on the sand and with one tucked under his arm he walked down the beach toward the waves.
“So how about it, Blue?” said Shawn, “Do you want to go in. I can show you how to float on a surfboard.”
He looked so eager for me to say ‘yes’ that I couldn’t help myself, even though I was still terrified of the waves and was worried about my broken leg. I slipped my sun dress over my head and then felt self conscious to be sitting there in just my swim suit. I stood up awkwardly with my crutches and wondered how I was going to do this.
Shawn picked up both boards and I followed him anxiously down to the edge of the water.
“So what you need to do, Molly, is to lie on the board on your tummy and paddle with your arms. Just float like that and you’ll be fine.” He walked into the water up to his knees and then dived forward onto the board and started paddling to show me what to do. “Just go in between the waves,” he yelled back over his shoulder.
I could still hear Debbie and Rose squealing amongst the surf further out in the water, but I stood there uncertainly wondering what to do with my crutches and how to leap on the board all in one motion. My dilemma must have suddenly dawned on Shawn because he turned and came back to shore.
“Hang on, Molly. Let’s do it another way.” He took my crutches and put them back above where the waves were washing against the sand then he held the board at the edge of the water where there was a little foam left from the last wave. “Okay, lay yourself on the board on your stomach.”
I got to my knees and crawled onto the board, then took a deep breath and closed my eyes as I felt Shawn pushing the surfboard out into the water. I could feel the board rocking under my tummy and after a few moments I opened my eyes when I realised I hadn’t tumbled into the water.
I looked across and Shawn was right beside me grinning. “Now paddle straight into the next wave and you should go right over the top.” He had climbed on his board and I followed him as he started paddling like mad until I felt the water swell up underneath my board. My heart was racing and I was sure this time I would be thrown off. I didn’t want to even think about how I was going to swim with my broken leg if I ended up in the waves. But somehow I made it over the top with a splash of spray and then plummeted into the still water on the other side.
Before I knew it, we were way out in the deep water and when I turned the shoreline seemed to be so far away that I started to panic. The water looked so deep and if I fell off then I knew I would sink into the waves because I wouldn’t be able to swim with my broken leg and I knew I shouldn’t have come out here into the water, but then all of a sudden Shawn was right there beside me again. He reached out and took my hand. “It’s okay, Molly. Just keep paddling and you’ll be fine.”
His voice was calming and I relaxed a little bit. As long as he stayed close to me I was going to be okay, I told myself.
I heard a loud yell and looked up to see Neil standing on his board and crouching into the curl of a wave. He looked so poetic that I wished I could do that, even though I knew I would never be able to balance, let alone stand with my leg the way it was. Michael went past as well with a look of total concentration on his face.
I turned to Shawn. “You can surf too if you want, you don’t have to stay with me.”
“It’s okay, I don’t mind being here. I like it.”
I looked at him and smiled and he smiled back with that lopsided grin I remembered so well. We stayed out there like that for ages, just riding on the swell of the waves and paddling into the bigger ones so that we didn’t get washed back onto the beach. Once I got comfortable and relaxed a bit we started talking. There was so much I wanted to know about Shawn and what he had been doing all these years. He told me all about how he spent most of his spare time out surfing whenever he could.
“What about your school work?” I asked. He looked away and gazed out to sea.
“I don’t like school much,” he said. “I’d much rather surf and play my guitar than go to school.”
“Oh wow, you play guitar? I started learning to play a couple of years ago but it hurt my fingers too much.”
“Really? You should try again, it just takes practice.” He was beaming now and seemed excited to be talking about his guitar. “I could teach you,” he added. “I’ve got my guitar in the car. I always carry it with me everywhere I go.”
I tried to tell him that I wouldn’t be very good at it, but he wouldn’t listen.
“Why don’t we swim back to the beach and I’ll play you a song?” He started paddling and I had no choice but to follow him. I was glad to be getting out of the water anyway.
As my surfboard slid up onto the sand I crawled to my knees and was just about to try and stand up on one leg when Shawn suddenly picked me up in his arms.
“Oh gosh,” was all I could say as I felt myself being lifted. I didn’t know what I should do so I threw one arm over his shoulder and tried to hang on, but he was strong and I felt safe in his arms. I guess it helped that I was only a small girl. I looked up at Shawn’s face and he looked down and smiled at me and held me tighter as I felt the smooth skin of his shoulder against my cheek.
He laid me gently on my towel and then ran off to get his guitar from the car. I slipped my sun dress back on and put my shady straw hat on my head to keep the sun off my face. I was putting some more sunscreen on my arms when he came bounding over the sand dunes with a guitar case and flopped down beside me. He opened the guitar case and pulled the instrument out and strummed the strings.
“Let me sing you a song,” he said, then looked thoughtful for a moment. He started running his fingers over the silver strings and the most beautiful melody filled the air. Every note seemed like a drop of liquid crystal that just floated from his fingertips. He licked his lips and opened his mouth to start singing with a voice that sounded husky and soulful.

“Can you imagine anything?
As long as it could make your heart sing,
Go round forever like a golden ring,
Leave behind all this aching,
If you could be anything?

Can you imagine life on the moon?
Or sailing the world to a beautiful tune,
Find a tropic island, be marooned,
Or maybe hide in a cocoon,
As long as you don’t come home too soon.”

He stopped singing and hummed along with the guitar for a little while and then stopped. “That’s all I’ve written so far, I’m not sure what to say next,” he said with an embarrassed grin.
“Shawn, that was beautiful. I loved it.” I couldn’t believe he had written it himself and I suddenly found myself telling him all about how I had started writing poetry. I told him that I never showed it to anybody because it was just my way of capturing all those random thoughts that float around in my head. But I was so impressed that he had written his own song that as we talked I started to get an idea that I could help him finish it.
“Why don’t you have a go at the guitar,” he said and handed the instrument to me.
I placed it across my lap and tried to remember how to put my fingers on the strings. As I strummed the guitar made a terrible noise, and I was about to hand it back in embarrassment but Shawn wouldn’t let me.
“Take your time, Molly. Give yourself a chance.” He showed me how to make a chord and then when I strummed again it came out sounding like music. Shawn spent ages showing me how to make different chords and I knew there was no way I would ever remember them all, but I really started to enjoy being able to make this instrument produce such pretty sounds, even if I didn’t know what I was doing.
I kept practicing until the others came out of the surf for a break, and then Shawn took the guitar back and started singing. We all sat around in a group then and sang songs together, and while Debbie was the loudest, of course, she was soon encouraging me to sing out as well. My voice was more of a whisper compared with hers but I soon found that I was enjoying myself as much as I had when I sang on my own as a little girl.
For the next two weeks I spent every day at the beach with my new friends and we repeated the same thing over and over again every day as I read a chapter of my book to Shawn, before going out on the surfboards for a while, each time going a little further and further out. Then we would come back to the beach and sit around in a group and sing and play the guitar until it was time to go home.
Shawn always sat beside me and helped me in and out of the water. Every time I looked at him I felt butterflies in my stomach and I found myself laying awake in bed at night thinking about what we had been doing during the day and the way he smiled at me. As my cheek pressed against the pillow, I remembered how smooth his skin was.
But eventually it was the last day of my holiday and everyone was a bit quiet and sad at the beach that day. Debbie and Rose were staying for another week, while I had to catch the train home early in the morning. We sat around and sang songs as usual, but they were somehow softer and slower than normal. Someone decided to go for a walk to the headland, but I couldn’t go up the steep path because of my broken leg so Shawn stayed on the beach with me while the others went.
I was glad of the chance to have a last quiet moment together and when everyone had disappeared down the beach I pulled a piece of paper out of my bag. I had been working on some lyrics so that Shawn could finish his song and I started to sing to him.

“Can you imagine being back at school?
Would you still break all the rules?
Or would you just be acting the fool?
Maybe you’d be way too cool,
If you were ever back at school.

Could you imagine starting again?
Maybe this time we’d still be friends,
You’d be smiling, I’d have my zen,
There would still be moments when…
If we could start all over again.”

He sat there stunned and then pulled out his guitar and we sang the whole song together. The music from his guitar was so beautiful and our voices blended so well together that I felt like we were angels singing in heaven. Shawn closed his eyes when he sang and he looked so serious and cute, but then he opened them and saw that I was looking at him. He stopped playing and put his guitar down and leant forward and hugged me.
“I’m going to miss you so much, Molly.”
“I will write to you every day, Shawn.” I had hoped for something more, but the hug was nice and we held each other for ages until the others came back and it was time to go.

Molly’s Dreams – Chapter Eleven

As evening fell I sat on my bed and started reading ‘Romeo and Juliet’. I struggled to get into the story at first because the language was so strange and hard for me to understand, but I soon found a rhythm when I began to read it out loud and that helped me to make sense of some of the words.
When I suddenly realised that Juliet was nearly the same age as I was, I became even more interested in trying to understand what was happening in the story.
As I read through the first scenes I didn’t like the character of Romeo at all. He just seemed to be like all those other loud mouthed boys when he said he was in love with one girl but then forgot all about her the moment he saw Juliet. I was disgusted when he kissed Juliet for the first time, particularly after she had said that she didn’t want him to.
But I became so engrossed in my reading that instead of going to sleep I stayed up until late into the night, long after everyone else in the house had gone to be bed. I held my book in the light of my bedside lamp as I read all the way through to the scene where Romeo stood in the garden and watched Juliet through the window.
Eventually I got too tired to read as I had to fight to keep my eyelids open, so I lay the book beside my pillow and fell asleep with thoughts of flowers and masks and gardens and parties floating through my mind.
As I slept that night I had a strange dream where I was surrounded by my sisters. They were all jumping around and yelling ‘happy birthday’, and then Catherine was brushing my hair while Jasmine was putting makeup on my face. Samantha was dancing around the room and singing, and I sat silently in the middle of all this activity. There was a light coming through the window and I could hear the voices of lots of boys talking and laughing and yelling and fighting, but I never saw any of their faces. I turned and looked at my face in the mirror and smiled because I thought I looked pretty, but when I woke next morning it was still the same old me with all those ugly freckles.
I rolled over in my bed and found my book was still right next to my pillow where I had left it. I picked it up and started reading again, slowly rolling the words over my tongue to try and get the right feel and understand what was happening. I took the book with me out to the kitchen and kept reading all the way through breakfast and then I decided to go for a walk amongst the apple trees.
I kept walking until I was deep inside the orchard and far away from any human eyes. Standing in the shade of an apple tree, I held the book in one hand as I started reading aloud and pretended that I was performing in the play. I went back to the beginning, because that moment when Romeo and Juliet first fell in love with each other was starting to become my favourite scene. I looked through the branches as though I was looking out my window and imagined that a handsome Romeo was watching me from the other side and throwing sweet wishes my way.
When I got tired of acting I sat down with my back against the trunk of the apple tree and pulled a pencil out of my pocket to start writing in my journal. I wanted to write poetry in the way that it was written in the play, but the words just came out ugly and clumsy so I stopped doing that and just stared into the trees for ages and let my mind wander.
Then I got an idea that I should write a poem about how I felt about Romeo and Juliet. So I closed my eyes for a moment to try and compose some words. When I opened them I just let my pen wander across the page as I wrote,

‘When I was a young child,
I dreamed I was a singer,
Lifting my voice to the stars
Where everybody would listen;
I lived by the water with my sisters,
In a house of love, laughter and music,
Until one day I awoke as a teenager
Lost in a book of dreams;
When I closed my eyes,
Or disappeared into a daydream,
My voice would carry across the water
As I sang of love and tragedy;
I discovered ancient poetry,
The light breaking from the east,
And I was Juliet, no longer a child
But a woman deeply in love;
I sang with my lover in duet
As we promised each other
Eternity with a kiss.’

I sat up and read over what I had written and felt so happy inside that I just smiled into the dappled light shining through the branches above me.
At school the next day I kept looking inside my backpack to see my book sitting there, and I had this urge to pick it up and start reading. But I didn’t want my teachers or any of the kids in my class to see me reading ‘Romeo and Juliet’ so I just left it there. I was so itchy to read my book again that as soon as the bell went at lunchtime I headed straight for the library and found a quiet desk in the back corner. You weren’t allowed to take food into the library, but that didn’t matter because I wasn’t hungry anyway. I was so excited about reading my book that I didn’t feel like eating lunch at all.
All through the week I sat in the library at lunch time and read more and more of the book. As I read I felt little fluttering butterflies in the bottom of my stomach, but they were nice ones, not the sort that made me want to throw up. By the end of the week I had finished reading the whole book and I cried when they both died.
But I didn’t want to feel sad, so I started reading again from the beginning and kept going over those scenes that I liked the best again and again.
I had decided my favourite scene was the one where Romeo snuck into Juliet’s party, and I found myself wondering what it would be like to have some guy feel that way about me. I started daydreaming that I was Juliet and I began to look up other books in the library so I could learn more about the time that she lived in. On the weekends I wore long flowing dresses like the ones I saw in the pictures that I imagined Juliet would have worn, and I started brushing my hair more often.
One day I got game enough to ask Catherine to show me how to braid my hair, just like the way it was done in my dream.
We sat on her bed and she gently pulled a brush through the knots in my tangled hair.
“You have such pretty hair, Molly,” she said. “You really should look after it better.”
I knew she was just saying it to be nice, because I’d heard all those girls at school telling me how ugly my hair really was. Still, it felt nice to be allowed in Catherine’s bedroom for a change and to have her brushing my hair. She even showed me how to put on eye shadow to bring out the highlights in my eyes. She said just a little smudge of eye shadow would attract people’s attention to my eyes and they would see how beautiful they were. I felt my cheeks blush a little when she said that and I didn’t know what to say so I just sat there quietly and let her talk.
Catherine patiently braided my hair on either side and then tied the two strands back with a ribbon so that the braid sat like a tiara around my head. She brushed out my long curly hair until it was hanging down my back from beneath the braided tiara.
“You look gorgeous, Molly,” she said. “Why don’t you check yourself out in the mirror now?”
I slid off the bed and walked over to the dresser and looked at this strange girl in the mirror. Her eyes were wide open and looked astonished.
“You are so pretty like that, Molly. Any Romeo would fall in love with you straight away.” My face felt really hot as I blushed even harder then and I could see the bright red cheeks of the girl in the dressing table mirror looking back at me. Her eyes stood out bright and sparkly and I could almost believe that maybe what Catherine said was true.
I wanted to tell Catherine about ‘Romeo and Juliet’ but I felt shy about bringing it up, and then she said that she needed to get ready for her job as a waitress.
I said ‘thank you’ to her for doing my hair, and then ran back to my bedroom so that I could start reading my book again. As I turned the pages, my hand idly stroked the smooth hair of my braid, but I was careful not to spoil it by making it come loose.
My hair was still braided when I went back to school on Monday and I kept thinking about Catherine’s words as I floated through the corridors between classes. I wondered if there were any boys that would ever fall in love with me at first sight like Romeo did, but after a while I decided that there was no way that would ever happen to me because I was too small and quiet.
I was worried somebody would say something about my hair, so I tried to stay away from the girls in my class as much as I could during the day. But ever since the fight they had been leaving me alone. It was just as if I didn’t exist in their world, and that suited me fine as I was able to walk around the school and nobody paid me any attention.
As the weeks went by, it got closer and closer to the end of the school year. Mum said that we were going to catch the train to visit Grandma after Christmas and I was really looking forward to that because I hadn’t been there for such a long time. It was just going to be Mum and I because the other girls were now too grown up and busy to visit Grandma. Catherine and Samantha both had jobs and boyfriends and they were never at home very often. Jasmine was in her last year of school and she said she had too many assignments to do over the break and she didn’t want to go away anyway. So that just left Mum and me. That suited me fine as well because I liked being alone with Mum, particularly now that I was able to talk to her about things.
I was counting down the days until the holidays and every morning I jumped out of bed and marked another day off my calendar.
Then I was sitting in class one day, staring out the window as usual, when Mr Norris announced that we would be putting on a play at the end of the term.
“We have a lot of work to do over the next month. We need props and outfits and volunteers to help with everything. A letter will be sent home to your parents asking for their help,” said Mr Norris.
I wasn’t really paying attention because I was watching the way the clouds were slowly growing and changing shape in the sky. Being in a play was the last thing I would ever want to do. I had already started forming a plan in my mind to get sick so that I could get out of it.
“Auditions will be on Friday evening in the school hall. I will be putting a sheet on the notice board at lunchtime. I want you all to try out for one of the parts, or to put your name down to help behind the scenes.”
I decided that I wouldn’t be putting my name down anywhere. Nobody would notice if I didn’t show up anyway.
“Now, I imagine you are all anxious to find out what play we are doing.”
I looked around the classroom and nobody seemed to be interested at all. A couple of the boys were throwing paper balls at each other, while another one was yawning and stretching his arms above his head. Virginia was busy studying her fingernails and Alison was trying to hide a notebook under the desk as she wrote something in it. I thought she was probably writing a love letter to her boyfriend, or maybe trying to cast a witch’s spell. I smiled to myself at that thought and went back to looking out the window as a cloud shaped like a fairy castle slowly turned into an elephant.
“The play we are doing is by William Shakespeare and it is called ‘Romeo and Juliet’.”
Suddenly I sat up with interest. ‘Oh my gosh,’ a voice screamed in my head. ‘How amazing would that be?’ I suddenly had visions of standing at a window with the spotlight on me and Romeo looking up with his hands over his heart. But then my heart sank as the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I would never be able to do it. There was no way that I would ever be able to get up on stage and act in front of people. I sighed. But maybe I could help out with the sets after all. At least then I would be able to watch the play from behind the scenes.
There was lots of excited chatter after class and I heard some of the girls talking in the corridor while I was putting a book in my locker.
“You have to play Juliet, Virginia. That part is just so you,” said one girl. Virginia flicked her hair over her shoulder and pouted. I supposed she thought she was trying to look like Juliet but she looked nothing like her.
“And Joel can be Romeo,” she replied. “That would be just perfect.” She twirled around and all her friends giggled. Joel Kemp was Virginia’s boyfriend.
It made me feel sick to think that Virginia would be Juliet. I couldn’t imagine anything worse. I closed my locker and walked away with my head full of whirling thoughts.
When I got home I found Mum in her sewing room and told her that we were doing ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as an end of year play.
“Oh, really?” she replied with a smile. She didn’t seem surprised at all and kept poking pins into the fabric she was holding.
“I thought I might put my name down to help with props.”
“Oh Molly, you should be Juliet.”
“No! There’s no way I would ever get it. Besides, that part is meant for Virginia Williams.”
“You should audition anyway. You never know what might happen.” She stopped sewing and looked at me thoughtfully. I squirmed and looked away, because I didn’t want to tell her that I wasn’t game to try out for the part, but I think she knew that anyway.
After Mum kissed me goodnight that evening I lay in bed in the darkness with my hands behind my head and kept thinking about being Juliet. My heart was racing with excitement and I couldn’t get to sleep, but I also knew that I would never ever be able to do it.
For the rest of the week I kept thinking about the play and every time I walked past the notice board I quickly checked out who had written their names down for the auditions. Most of the kids had put their names down to help out with props, while a few had put their names under the minor roles. By Friday, only one boy had put his name down for Romeo, and of course that was Joel Kemp. I had a feeling that none of the other boys were game to put their names down against Joel because he was too popular.
There were only three girls that were trying out for Juliet, but everyone knew that Virginia was going to get the part. The other two didn’t stand a chance.
We had already started building sets in class and Mr Norris had said he wanted to keep the stage simple so that the emphasis was on the acting and the words. The class was split up into groups and each group was given a different part of the set to work on. My group was doing the scene for the party and we all had to paint trees and flowers on a canvas backdrop to make it look like a garden scene. Some of the boys were painting tables and chairs white and Mr Norris was busy walking around the room to make sure everyone was doing the right thing.
As I worked away at painting some flowers, I couldn’t help overhearing Virginia and her friends talking.
“It is going to be so romantic when Joel and I are Romeo and Juliet.” I grimaced because I still couldn’t stand picturing her being Juliet.
“You two make such a cute couple.”
“We do, don’t we?” Virginia replied. She stood up with her hands raised and a pained look on her face which was meant to be Juliet pining away with love. Virginia looked to me more like she had a pain in her stomach rather than being in love. She wasn’t doing any work to help out with the props because she was too busy prancing around the room and pretending to be Juliet. I kept my head down and just tried to ignore her but it still annoyed me that someone like her would get the part without even having to try.
When the bell rang for the end of the day I grabbed my bag and started walking out of the classroom, but Mr Norris called me back.
“Molly White, can I see you for a moment?”
I stopped in shock because no teacher ever wanted to see me, except when I was in trouble.
I turned around and walked nervously over to his desk. He looked at me over the top of his glasses with those beady black eyes and I felt tiny and helpless. I stood there and fidgeted while he stared at me for a moment.
“I notice you haven’t put your name down for the audition. I want you to try out for Juliet.”
“Me?” I was incredulous.
“Yes, you. I know you have been reading the play, and I think you could do a good job of the role.”
My mind was whirling, and I didn’t even have time to think about how he knew that I was reading ‘Romeo and Juliet’. I had tried to keep it secret from everybody.
“But Mr Norris, I couldn’t. Everyone knows Virginia is going to get it,” I blurted out.
“Not necessarily,” he said. “She needs some competition, and I think you are the one to do it. Think about it, Molly. I will be expecting you at the auditions tonight.”
My head was in even more turmoil than usual as I rode my bike home slowly. I kept replaying what Mr Norris had said and I searched for some hidden meaning. Was he trying to make fun of me? Was I being punished for not being the smartest kid in class? Did he really think I could do it? My thoughts kept going around in circles.
When I got home I told Mum what Mr Norris had said and she just smiled.
“I said you should do it, and it’s not too late you know.” She gave me a big hug and I took a deep breath and tried to stop my heart from beating so hard. I was being whirled along against my will, but I suddenly realised that I had to try. Just this once I had to give it a go and not be so scared.
Catherine was excited for me when she got home from work and I spent an hour in her bedroom as she did my hair. She took extra care to make sure every strand was carefully pinned into place. She said I didn’t need much makeup because I was already so pretty, but a little lipstick and eye shadow wouldn’t hurt. I sat as still as I could while she stroked the makeup onto my eyelids and carefully ran lipstick over my lips. I had never worn lipstick before and it felt funny and sticky against my tongue. Catherine told me not to keep licking it or it would all come off. She made me look in the mirror and this time I really did think I looked sort of pretty.
Mum wanted to drive me to the school but I said I preferred to ride my bike. I knew I would just feel sick if I sat in the car all the way there and riding my bike would help to take my mind of what I was about to do. I carefully packed my long white Juliet dress that I had been wearing on the weekends in my school bag and climbed onto my bike.
“Good luck, Molly,” Mum yelled as I rode away. Catherine was waving at me through her bedroom window and I waved back.
I pedaled fast as I rode along and kept trying to remember as many of the words from the play as I could. I repeated them over and over in my head, but I didn’t even know which scene we were meant to be doing for the rehearsal. The headlight on my bike threw a little beam on the road and I followed its jiggling path all the way to the school.
When I arrived there were already lots of cars in the car park and I carefully put my bike in the rack and walked slowly over to the hall. It was all lit up as though the play was already on tonight and there was lots of noise coming from the hall. My heart was racing a million miles an hour, but I kept repeating to myself, ‘You can do this, you can do this,’ even though I didn’t really believe that I could. Any moment, I knew I was just one step from turning around and running away.
I stood at the door to the hall and hesitated whether to go inside. I was just about to back away when Mr Norris saw me and called out.
“Molly,” he yelled over the noisy crowd, “Over here please, we are just about to start. Hurry and get changed if you have an outfit.”
I went into the bathroom and quickly got changed into my dress and then looked in the mirror to make sure that I hadn’t messed up my hair or makeup. The face that looked back at me was sickly and colourless, but then I heard Mr Norris call out again to say that it was time. I turned away and went to find out where I should be.
Mr Norris was at the front of the stage talking to Virginia Williams and the other two girls that were auditioning, when he suddenly noticed me and beckoned for me to join the group.
“What is she doing here?” I heard Virginia say. The other two just laughed but I tried to ignore them all.
“Okay, ladies,” said Mr Norris, “I want each of you to take one of these sheets. You can have fifteen minutes to read through your lines and then you each get a chance to perform on the stage. We are doing part of scene five from act one.”
My stomach was churning already, but it did an extra swoop when I realised that it was the scene where Romeo kissed Juliet for the first time at the party.
“You can read from your sheets, and Joel Kemp will be playing Romeo opposite you as he was the only one to put his name down for that role.” He walked off and I looked down at the sheet of paper in my hand. I knew all of these lines by heart because I had read through the play so often, but now the words seemed to jump all over the page just like my heartbeat.
I was nervous but the fifteen minutes went by in a flash and suddenly it was time for the auditions. One of the other girls went first, and I hopped from foot to foot as she read through her lines in a monotone. Virginia kept making comments all the way through in a stage whisper.
“Boring,” she said, and faked a yawn.
The second girl took her place, but she kept stumbling over the words and that made me feel awful for her. I just knew I was going to stumble over my words as well when it was my turn. I could hear Virginia sniggering and I felt sorry for the poor girl, but I really felt sorry for myself because I knew she would soon be sniggering at me.
Then it was time for Virginia Williams to have her turn. She moved gracefully into the centre of the stage and as she stood there like a princess I had to admit that she really did look beautiful. Joel was handsome as well and I looked at him for the first time as he entered the scene and then stopped in admiration of her beauty. I don’t know if he was acting or not, but for the first time I started to wonder how it would feel to have him looking at me in that way. He really did make a great Romeo. Virginia read her lines from the page, but she did a pretty good job and I was worried that it would soon be my turn. I knew I would sound awful.
She finished and walked towards me as she left the stage. “You haven’t got a hope, loser,” she said.
“Molly White,” called Mr Norris from his seat in the audience, “It’s your turn.”
I felt like being sick as the moment arrived and I walked slowly to the centre of the stage.
“Just take your time, Molly. Start when you are ready.”
I took a deep breath and nodded. Mr Norris waved his hand toward the side of the stage and then Joel walked out to join me. I couldn’t believe that I was standing so close to him now when he had never even noticed that I was alive before this.
“If I profane with my unworthiest hand…” he began. I stood there stunned to find myself in this situation. I couldn’t take my eyes of his lips as he spoke. “… with a tender kiss.”
There was silence as he paused, and I suddenly realised it was my turn. I looked down at the page in my hand to find my place and found the paper trembling so much that I couldn’t read it. My stomach was churning and I could feel my head spinning. I knew I was about to faint, but then I felt Joel reach out and take my hand in his. I looked up into his sparkling eyes and felt a shift in the universe. Suddenly it was just Joel and I standing there alone in the middle of this wildly spinning galaxy and he was smiling at me.
All of a sudden the words were right there on my tongue. “Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much…” I didn’t even need to look at the piece of paper in my hand as I looked into Joel’s eyes.
“Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?” he replied.
“Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer…” I was no longer aware of my surroundings as I felt myself floating on a cloud. “Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.”
Joel smiled directly into my eyes as he moved closer. “Then move not while my prayer’s effect I take.” He leant forward and kissed me slowly and my universe tilted completed upside down as I closed my eyes and leant towards him.
My eyes were still closed as he pulled away slowly.
“Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purged.” We stood there for an eternity holding hands and staring at each other.
“Okay, that is excellent. I think we have found our Juliet,” said Mr Norris loudly from the front row.
Joel turned to face the empty rows of seats and bowed, but he kept hold of my hand. I think I would have collapsed if he had let go of me right then because my legs were shaking so much, but then he did let me go and I was suddenly surrounded by other kids from my class. They were slapping me on the back and everyone was clapping and saying how wonderful that was.
Mr Norris addressed everyone and told us all to go home and practice our lines over the weekend because there would be rehearsals every afternoon starting Monday. I felt like I was in a dream as Joel stayed close beside me until Mr Norris had finished.
I watched as he walked away across the stage, but then he turned and smiled at me before disappearing around the edge of the curtain.
I was still floating on my cloud when the evening finished and I changed out of my white dress and back into my jeans and tee shirt for the ride home. I found my way back out to my bike in the darkness and turned the light on as I started riding away. All I could think about was the way that Joel’s eyes sparkled in the spotlights and … that kiss.
The night was dark and although my heart was still racing, it was a completely different feeling to anything I had ever felt before. I was as light as a feather as I kept replaying the scene in my mind. I could still feel his lips against mine and every time I thought of the kiss my heart skipped a beat. I thought that was only in songs and I smiled because my heart really was skipping lightly.
I turned the corner as I got closer to home, when suddenly some bright car lights came out of a side street to my right. I grabbed the brakes hard as I heard the noise of its engine and then I was sliding in the gravel and the lights were right on top of me and I heard my leg break like a branch when the car hit me from the side.
Then there was silence and the universe had stopped spinning. All I could think about was the deep pain from my leg as I lay on my side on the road with my face pressed against the gravel. I heard a car door slam and then some voices were coming toward me as I slowly sank into the darkness.

Father’s day

img267

You were there when I opened my eyes
You were there when I first smiled
You were there when I walked
And when I first talked
‘Cause every day is Father’s Day with you.

You were there when I first went to school
And when I first played in the pool
To throw me a ball
And catch me when I fall
‘Cause every day is Father’s Day with you.

You were there to watch over me
And to share in all the things that I see
You were there to keep hold of my hand
Until I was old enough to stand
‘Cause every day is Father’s Day with you.

One day when I’m old and grey
You’ll remember all the things that you say
When you laughed at my jokes
And shared all your hopes
‘Cause every day is Father’s Day with you.

Molly’s Dreams – Chapter Ten

IMG_0754

I opened my eyes to find myself surrounded by darkness and a feeling of disorientation. My fuzzy mind wondered if I was still dreaming and falling through the night sky. Any moment I thought I might float through a cloud and land on the ground with a thump. Then I heard a whooshing sound and a long screaming whistle before the full moon suddenly burst into view as the train emerged from a long tunnel. The click-clack of the wheels on the track brought me fully awake and suddenly remembered that I was on my way to visit Grandma for the school holidays. I looked out the window and could see the moonlight sparkling on the dark water of a river and then I was plunged into darkness again as the train entered another tunnel.
I could feel Mum’s leg pressed against mine as she slept in the seat beside me. I rested my head against the window and closed my eyes again. I knew there was still a long way to go because Mum had said we wouldn’t be there until morning, so I curled my legs underneath my bottom and wrapped my arms around Mrs Bear to keep her warm.
I tried to go back to sleep but the rocking motion of the train kept waking me up every time I started to slip back into my dream, so I decided to just look out the window instead. Every now and then I could see the lights of a farm house in the distance, and I wondered about the children inside tucked up in their beds. I started to think about Ellen and hoped she was safe and happy. It made me sad because I knew I would never get to see her again now that she had moved so far away, but I hoped she wouldn’t ever have to worry about getting bruises on her legs again either.
Slowly I noticed that the sky was getting a lighter outside my window. There was a thin band of dark purple starting to appear through the trees, even though the stars were still shining in the blackness above. As I watched, the purple gradually turned into a light pink like the colour of my fingertips.
I looked at Mum’s face where she was sleeping beside me and wrapped in a blanket. There was enough light now for me to be able to see a little smile on her lips as she slept. I smiled too because I thought she must have been having a nice dream to smile like that in her sleep.
The sky was slowly turning orange as the train crossed another river and it slowed as we made our way up a long hill. There was a loud blow on the whistle and Mum opened her eyes. I could tell she was still sleepy because she didn’t move and just stared out the window with that little smile on her lips.
As Mum slowly woke up, she turned her head and smiled even more when she saw I was watching her. “Good morning, sweetheart. I think we must be nearly there. Have you got everything?”
I slid my feet down off the seat and felt for my backpack where it was resting on the floor. I put my book in the bag and held Mrs Bear tight as Mum stood up to wake the other girls.
The train was sliding into a little railway station and coming to a stop beside the platform as I followed my sisters to the door. All of a sudden the door was open and Mum was helping me jump over the gap between the train carriage and the platform and then I was standing in front of Grandma and Grandpa. It had been so long since I had seen them that I suddenly felt shy as Grandma started kissing everyone hello.
“Oh Molly, you keep growing all the time,” said Grandma. She wrapped her arms around me in a big hug and kissed my cheek. She smelled of soap and hairspray. I didn’t know what to say so I just hugged her back. “What’s the matter, Molly?” she said, “Has the cat got your tongue?”
Grandpa was busy picking up everyone’s bags and putting them in the boot of the car, and then I was squashed in the backseat between Jasmine and Catherine and we were on our way. I couldn’t see anything because the seats in Grandpa’s car were so deep that I had no idea where we were going, but eventually he pulled up and when I climbed out I was standing in the driveway of Grandma’s house.
Since we had been here last, Grandpa had built a little bedroom at the back of the garage and I slept in there with Mum. It was just like having a little house of our own and it made me feel important that I wasn’t just in Grandma’s house with the older girls. Rather than sleeping on a mattress on the floor like I usually did, I had my own bed covered with a beautiful quilt that Grandma had sewn. I sat on the bed and looked at all the little panels of the quilt and tried to work out the story they were telling. There were lots of pictures of cows and tractors and other farm things and I thought that maybe Grandma had made it to remind herself of the farm she used to live on with Grandpa all those years ago when Mum was a little girl.
Every morning after breakfast during the holiday I went to the beach with my sisters and I played in the sand and read my book while they swam in the surf or sun baked. I didn’t like the taste of the salt water or the way the sand would get pushed into my bikini bottom by the waves, so I was much happier building sandcastles on the beach than swimming.
After I had built my sandcastle up nice and high, I used a stick to draw patterns and pictures in the sand around it. I pretended I was an artist working on a painting, but every morning I would have to start all over again because the wind and the waves washed some of it away overnight.
Sometimes I just sat on a sand dune and read my book, getting lost in the world between the pages. The words would float past my eyes as I devoured every sentence and eagerly turned each page to find out what happened next.
Then I would put my book down at the end of each chapter for a rest and just gaze out to sea. The beach curved away for miles to the south until it was lost in a haze of salty seaspray. The other end of the beach ended in a rocky headland that stood tall above the curve of sand. There was a pathway to the top of the headland but I had never been allowed to go up there. Mum always warned me that it was too dangerous and I could fall off the cliff into the sea if I wasn’t careful.
As I looked out to sea, I could see yachts sailing across the bay, gently moving against the waves with their white sails flapping silently in the breeze. There always seemed to be yachts coming or going from somewhere, always just sailing out of my reach.
Seagulls high overhead called out to me, and as I looked up I wondered what it must be like being able to fly so high above the beach and look down on my sisters below as they played in the surf. I could hear the girls screaming every now and then from my spot on the sand hill as they jumped in and out of the waves.
I went back to drawing pictures in the sand, dragging my stick through the golden grains to make swirling clouds that followed the little wave patterns. I was intently drawing a sailing boat in amongst the sand clouds, when a shadow suddenly blocked out the sun.
I looked up and got a fright when I saw a boy standing there.
“What ya doin’?” he said.
I was so scared that I didn’t know what I should do. I quickly looked down the beach to see how far away my sisters were, but they were all in the water and a long way off.
“Nice drawing,” the boy said, “Don’t ya talk?”
I just looked at him with wide eyes, hoping that he would go away and leave me alone. Instead, he squatted down on his heels. “I like your boat. You’re pretty good at it, you know.”
I looked down at my sand drawing then looked at the boy again and he grinned at me.
“My name’s Shawn,” he said, “What’s yours?”
I was still too frightened to answer so I just looked away.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything,” he said, and then sat on the sand and hugged his knees. He was wearing blue shorts and had dirty knees and hands. “I just want to watch you drawing.” He grinned again and I could see that he was missing a tooth. It made him look a little lopsided and funny.
I thought if I went back to my drawing he might just go away, so I picked up my stick again and started to add some sails to my boat.
“Why don’t you draw some fish?” he said suddenly, and pointed with his chin to where I was drawing.
I still didn’t answer, but I thought for a moment about how to draw a fish. I curved a couple of lines together in the sand until my fish took shape and then added a tail so that he could swim. He looked like a great big fat fish swimming just below my boat.
“Beaut fish. Do you wanna play with me?” the boy suddenly said.
I looked at him and shook my head slowly.
He rested his head on his knees and kept looking at me for a few moments, before he stood up. “Okay, maybe I’ll see ya tomorrow.”
He walked off into the sand dunes and disappeared behind a banksia tree. I quickly picked up my book and towel and ran down the beach to where the girls had left their bags and waited for them to come out of the water so we could go back to Grandma’s house.
I worried about the boy all night, but when I got back to the beach next morning there was no sign of him. I thought he might have come back and destroyed my castle and drawing, but I was relieved to see that they had only been partly washed away by the tide and wind as usual.
I soon forgot all about him as I went back to rebuilding my sandcastle. As the morning sun climbed higher and the sand got hotter I sat under the shade of my big straw hat and read a bit more of my book. I only had a few chapters to go and wanted to finish it before bedtime so that I could start a new book the next day.
I became so engrossed in my book that I didn’t even hear anybody coming until suddenly a shadow fell across my page. I looked up with a sharp intake of breath as I saw it was the same boy again. I tensed, waiting for him to kick over my sandcastle or say something nasty, when he flopped down on the sand beside me.
“What are ya reading?” he asked.
I was so surprised by his question that I didn’t even think and turned my book around to show him the cover.
“ ‘Gold at Lambing Flat’,” he read out, “What’s that?”
“It’s a story,” I said softly.
“Can I read it with you?”
I was surprised again and just nodded. This boy wasn’t at all like I expected boys to be.
I opened the book and he leaned his head toward mine to see the page better. He got so close that his head pushed my hat back and I could feel his wiry hair tickle my forehead.
“Is that where you’re up to?” he pointed to the page. I nodded and he began reading. “J-James c-c-came to the c-c-cottage door. Mary, where are you he c-called…” I looked at him as he read and saw a big frown of concentration on his forehead. He kept licking his lips as though the moisture would make the words slide out of his mouth easier. I felt a little sorry for him because he didn’t seem to be very good at reading. “… the old man was down in the dry c-c-c-creek bed…” he paused for ages and stared hard at the page. “What’s this word?” he asked. My eyes followed his finger down the page.
“Fossicking,” I said.
He frowned again and his lips moved slowly as if he was trying to get them in the right shape to say the word.
“Fo-ssick-k-king. I wonder what that means.”
“I think it means ‘looking for gold’,” I said, “That’s what the book is about.”
“Oh, cool.” He looked around and picked up my stick and started scratching in the sand. “Do you want to play?”
“Ummm… I don’t know if I’m allowed.” My heart was racing and I looked down the beach again to see where the girls were, but just like yesterday they were a long way off.
“Come on, it’ll be fun. I’ll show you.” He stood up and held out his dirty hand for me. I hesitated and then reached my hand up and he helped me to my feet. His hand felt all rough and I didn’t like the way it was so dirty.
“First of all, we’re spies and we have to make sure nobody catches us. You need a name, so I’m going to call you ‘Blue’,” he said with his lopsided grin. “How old are you, Blue?”
“I’m eight.”
“Good, well I’m ten so that makes me the boss. Quick let’s get behind the bush before anyone sees us.” Shawn grabbed my hand and dragged me behind a banksia tree before pulling me to the ground. “We have to lay low,” he whispered in my ear, “But when I say ‘run’, we have to run to that tree over there, okay?”
I just nodded my head and was wondering why he called me ‘Blue’ when he yelled ‘run’ and took off for the tree. I jumped to my feet and tried to keep up with him but I kept stumbling in the thick sand. I was puffing heavily when I finally joined him at the foot of the tree.
“Good work, Blue,” he said, “We can rest for a bit now because the enemy don’t know we’re here.” We spent the next hour running from tree to tree, and each time I would get hot and puffed and my legs were starting to get really tired. We were resting for a moment in the shade of a big green tree when I heard Catherine’s voice calling.
“Molly… Molly, where are you?”
“I have to go,” I said to Shawn, “That’s my sister.”
“Oh, okay,” he said, “Just be careful you don’t tell anyone you are a spy.” The last I saw was his lopsided grin and then he was bounding away to hide behind another tree.
The next day I looked for Shawn when I got to the beach, but there was no sign of him again. I went back to my usual game of fixing my sand castle and then my drawing and had just sat down to start reading my book when I heard a loud “psssst” from behind me. I turned around and there was Shawn grinning at me from behind a tree. He came and sat down beside me with a thump, and just like the day before we read a page of my book together before he got bored and wanted to play a game.
“Today we’re soldiers,” Shawn said. “I am the Captain and you are Private Blue.”
“My name isn’t Blue,” I said, “It’s Molly.”
“I like Blue,” he replied, “So that’s you’re codename, okay? It’s because you’ve got red hair.”
I was a bit confused about what he meant, but before I could say anything he started laying out his plans.
“Okay Private Blue, we need to attack the enemy in that castle over there. We have to sneak up on them, and then throw these bombs at their castle.” He pointed to a little pile of gumnuts and banksia men on the ground.
“Stay low, and follow me,” he said. He filled his hands with banksia men and began crawling across the sand on his stomach. It felt a bit silly but I didn’t want to upset him so I did the same thing. As we got closer, he yelled “NOW!” and started hurling the banksia men at the tree. I threw mine but it didn’t go the whole distance. Shawn then grabbed my hand and dragged me behind another tree.
“Look out, they’re firing back,” he said, then made some noises like bullets flying through the air. We played like that again all morning until Catherine came looking for me to head home.
“See ya, Blue,” said Shawn. “You’re a lot of fun to play with, for a girl.”
“’Bye Shawn,” I said shyly and then ran down the sand dune to find Catherine.
As the week went on we played soldiers, and space men, and outback explorers, and one day we were even washed up on a deserted island! There were pirate ships, and monsters, and space aliens, and time travel, and giant bugs, and wading through swamps, and spying on the enemy, and we did so much running that I kept getting puffed all the time, but Shawn was always right there beside me. “C’mon Blue,” he would say, “You can do it.”
We never had time to just sit and talk, other than spending a few minutes each morning when we would read some of my book together. Because Shawn was such a bad reader, I started reading out loud to him and sometimes we would get through a whole chapter before we went off to play in the sand dunes.
We began to read ‘Storm Boy’, a story about a boy who lived with his father in the sand dunes of South Australia’s Coorong, and it was Shawn’s idea that we collect driftwood and build ourselves a humpy just like the one Storm Boy lived in.
“I’ll be Storm Boy,” said Shawn, “And you can help me save Mr Percival.” We wandered all over the sand dunes looking for a lost pelican to save, but the week came to an end before we found him.
I was sad when I had to tell Shawn that I was going to be heading home tomorrow and I didn’t know when I would be back again.
“No worries, Blue,” he said. “It’s just like when Storm Boy had to go off to school. We can play again next holidays.”
He bent his head down to reach under my hat and quickly placed a little kiss on my cheek before racing away over the sand dunes. I stood there and watched him until he disappeared. I didn’t know if I was sad or happy but I could still feel his rough lips against my cheek.
During the couple of weeks we were staying with Grandma, Dad and Stephen had hired a truck and moved all of our furniture and things to our new house. Mum said Dad had found us a big old house that was just on the edge of town and it sat in the middle of an apple orchard. She said it sounded like a really pretty spot and she couldn’t wait until we got home.
Dad had already started working in his new job on the railway and Stephen spent the time getting his things packed and ready to go to Western Australia.
As we neared the end of the school holidays, Dad drove up the coast to take us home. We all piled into the car late in the afternoon and waved goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa and set off back down the coast road toward Sydney.
Dad said we would have to drive right through the night because we had to be in Sydney by morning to see Stephen off at the airport.
The sun was just starting to set behind the mountain near Grandma’s house as Dad turned the car onto the highway and we joined a long line of car lights dotted up the hill as far as I could see.
Mum had made some sandwiches for dinner and as we drove along I ate them and watched the copper sunset getting darker until the trees alongside the road became dark ghosts.
Every time a car came the other way its headlights would light up the inside of our car for a moment until it looked like all our shadows were racing along the road, and then we were plunged into darkness again.
After a while I started to get sleepy and I leaned my head against Mum’s side. My eyes would flicker open every time a car went past, until gradually the lights were bobbing around on the horizon like ships at sea. I felt like I was floating on the water and sometimes one of the lights would suddenly come whizzing towards me and then disappear with a loud whoosh.
I began to dream that I was on a pirate ship that was all dark and sailing towards the lights. Shawn was there, standing at the front of the ship and staring out into the distance. Every now and then I heard his voice call out, “Come on, Blue, run!” before he disappeared over the edge of the ship. I leaned over the side to see where he went but all I could see were fish swimming around. They were big flat fish with bodies made from curved lines that wriggled and wriggled until they vanished when another bright light came whizzing past.
I looked up and this time it was Stephen standing at the front of the pirate ship. He turned his head and looked at me and just stared. I called out to him, but my voice didn’t make any sound. I tried to run but my legs were stuck to the deck of the ship and when I reached for him with my hand his face slowly disappeared into one of the bright lights.
I could feel sadness sitting inside my stomach and as the wind rippled through the ship’s sails I fell to my knees and started to cry.
All of a sudden the ship landed with a thump and I opened my eyes to see the sky starting to get lighter on the horizon. My eyes were itchy and when I rubbed them they felt wet from tears.
I sat up straighter and through the windscreen I could see the distant lights of the city’s skyscrapers gathered together like they were waiting for the nighttime to come back.
We were driving in traffic now, and I recognized one of the schools we had gone past the other time I had been through Sydney. The playgrounds were empty this time because it was still school holidays and the buildings stood in the early morning light looking lonely and sad.
As we got closer to the city centre all the tall buildings blocked out the morning sun and we started driving through shadows. Then we were on a bridge and the harbour below sparkled like a million diamonds. Little boats moved around on the water and there was a big ship tied up to the shore.
Dad had to keep stopping because of the traffic and I could tell he was getting anxious about being late because he started muttering, “Oh, come on,” every time the traffic lights turned to red.
Eventually we turned into the carpark at the airport and then we were all out of the car and running into the terminal. Mum had my hand and was dragging me along, trying to get me to run quicker but my legs wouldn’t go any faster.
Then we stopped running and there was Stephen sitting with some other people in front of a big glass window with a huge aeroplane on the ground outside.
Stephen jumped to his feet and gave Mum a big hug, then shook Dad’s hand and hugged each of the girls. When he got to me, he picked me up in his arms and gave me the biggest squeeze of my life as I wrapped my arms around his neck and started crying.
“Don’t cry, Molly,” he said, as he put me back down on the ground. “Let’s look at the plane I’m going on. It’s going to be fun.”
He took my hand and led me to the window and pointed to the plane. “Just count back seven windows from the front, and that’s where I’ll be sitting,” he said. I looked at the tiny little round windows and wondered how he would ever fit inside.
As we stood there, a lady in a blue uniform walked up to the counter and announced that it was time to start boarding.
Stephen went round and hugged everyone again, and gave me a kiss on the cheek. He picked up his bag and walked over to the counter and handed his ticket to the lady. Then he was walking down a tunnel with all the other passengers and disappeared from sight for a moment. I got a final glimpse of him as he stepped into the plane and gave a brief wave before the doors closed. We stood there and watched as the plane backed slowly away from the building. Then it turned and started going forward, getting faster and faster until suddenly it lifted up into the sky and was flying.
We all stood there silently and watched as it turned into a little black speck and then disappeared. My face was pressed against the cold glass as tears streamed down my cheeks.

We left the airport and travelled all day to arrive at our new home just as the sky was getting dark. I was so tired that Mum carried me inside and put me in bed straight away and I slept soundly all night without waking at all. I had no dreams that night, just the blankness of sleep until I woke up with the sun and the birds in the morning.
I forgot where I was for a moment and just lay there in this strange room trying to work out how I had come to be there. Slowly as my mind started to wake up I took in my surroundings. The room had only one bed and it was along the wall underneath the window. From my pillow, all I could see out the window was blue sky with a few grey clouds that looked like puffy cotton balls. My toys were all in a box in the corner and my books were placed in a bookcase against the wall on the other side of the room. I guessed that Stephen had unpacked and put my books there, and I started thinking of him again and felt the sadness that was still sitting inside my stomach.
I decided to get up and see where I was before anyone else woke. I kneeled on my bed and looked out the window and marveled at the beautiful palette of autumn colours falling from the trees. There were piles of leaves in the yard and I could see a wisp of smoke rising into the air from one of the piles.
I couldn’t see where the road was from here because of all the trees, but I could see a laneway that I thought must lead back down to the road. The front yard had what looked like the traces of an old circular driveway and I could see where there had once been a fountain in the middle. There was another yard to the side of the house that was terraced with a rose covered archway leading to the lower level.
I hopped out of bed and went to the front door and walked outside to get a better look. The house had verandahs on all sides and I pushed the door open and stepped out into the crisp morning air. There was a building out the back of the house that I later found out had once been maids’ quarters a hundred years ago. Attached to one side of the house was a ballroom and there was a shed at the back that had once been stables. There were lots of rainwater tanks around the house and one of them stood on a tower high above me and I could see a little dribble of water running down its side. The tank looked all grey and rusty and I didn’t think I would ever want to drink any of the water that came out of it.
I went back inside and started walking quietly through the house to explore. At the front of the house was the lounge room, and when I looked into the next room I could see Samantha and Jasmine asleep in their beds. To the side of the lounge room there were two little rooms. One was the bedroom I had first come out of and the other one had Stephen’s bed and things in it, with a door that led outside. I went back through the lounge room and down a long hallway that ran down the middle of the house. A room at the end had the door shut but I could hear the sound of Dad snoring inside, so I guessed that was the main bedroom. There was an open door on the opposite side of the hall and when I peeked inside I could see Catherine’s head sound asleep on the pillow and her arm thrown over the top of the blanket.
I tiptoed away and followed the hallway as it turned right and led to a door on the side verandah. At the point where the hallway turned was another doorway that led into a dining room and at the other end of that room one door took me back into the kitchen and the other was a double door that opened outside to the ballroom. There were so many doors I thought I was going to get lost.
The kitchen was a huge room with a dining table in the middle. At one end of the kitchen was a large wood-fired fuel stove, and beside it was a door that led to an enclosed verandah with a walk-in pantry on one side and a little room on the other. Mum later used that little room for her sewing. Off that was the bathroom, and I soon discovered another bathroom that I could only get to from outside the house.
I found my way back to my bedroom and sat on my bed, looking out the window again. Mum had been right, it really was a beautiful spot and I felt a thrill of excitement as I thought about how much space there was to explore. It was just like the wide open spaces of Ellen’s farm, but so different because instead of being dry and dusty everything was moist and vibrant.
A few weeks later the school year started and I found myself having yet another first day of school as I sat beside Mum outside the headmaster’s office. My hands were in my lap and I was looking at my black school shoes peeping out from under my skirt. At least this time I was in the same uniform as the other children, but I still felt funny in my tummy as my fingers touched the unfamiliar fabric of my blue skirt. I needed to go to the bathroom, but Mum said I should just hang on because we would be going to see the headmaster soon.
There was another little girl sitting in the waiting room and she was swinging her legs back and forth in the air. Every time I looked up she was staring back at me so I quickly looked down again and wished the headmaster would hurry up. The girl started humming to herself and I sneaked another look and found she was still looking at me. Before I had time to look away again she suddenly grinned and poked her tongue out.
Just then the door to the office opened and Mum took my hand and led me inside. As I walked past the little girl her lips mouthed the word ‘bye’ at me. I just grabbed Mum’s hand tighter until the door closed behind us, and then I found myself sitting stiffly on an uncomfortable chair.
“Mrs White,” the headmaster said as he read from a piece of paper in his hand. “I see from these report cards that young Molly has struggled a bit in some subjects.” He looked at Mum over the top of his glasses and I felt like she was getting into trouble.
“Well, she is good at reading and spelling,” said Mum. I looked down at my bony knees which were now poking out from under my skirt. I slowly started pushing my skirt down to cover them and was hoping that nobody would notice.
“Hmmm,” the headmaster replied, “but a ‘D’ in mathematics! We need to try a bit harder, don’t we young lady?” Suddenly he was looking at me and I found myself nodding slowly. He put the paper down as though he had come to a decision. “Mrs White, she is very small for her age as well, and perhaps you should consider holding her back a year. I do have my concerns over her abilities, so for now I will put her in Mr Rogan’s class to see how she goes. He is very good with slow children.”
“She’s not slow, Mr Brown,” said Mum. I could tell she was getting a bit annoyed. “She is shy, and sometimes that has meant the teachers have ignored her when she actually needed help. She is a very bright child.”
“Indeed, Mrs White, parents always know what’s best.”
He looked over his glasses at Mum for a moment before standing up from behind the desk. Mr Brown opened the office door and offered to shake Mum’s hand as we walked out.
“You can leave little Molly with my secretary. She will take her down to the classroom.”
Mum shook his hand and before I knew it the interview was over. When we got outside, Mum gave me a hug.
“Be brave, Molly,” she said and kissed me.
I kissed her back and said goodbye, then followed the lady across the playground. I hadn’t realised before that people thought I was a dumb kid. I kept thinking about that all morning as I tried really hard to do what Mr Rogan asked. I wanted to show him that I wasn’t dumb, but the harder I tried the more the numbers in my book kept getting mixed up. Sometimes I thought I had the right answer but when I checked the sums, I confused myself and would change all my answers and then just try to guess the correct number. By the time the bell went for lunchtime, my head was spinning so much it was hurting and I knew the headmaster must have been right.
I followed the other children out of the classroom and they ran off toward the playground. I found a bench under a tree and sat down to eat my lunch. I pulled my book of ‘Storm Boy’ out of my bag and started reading the last few chapters again. Mr Percival, the pelican, had been injured by some hunters and Storm Boy was looking after him until he got better. As I ate my lunch, I found myself back on the sand dune playing soldiers with Shawn. I didn’t realise at first, but a little tear dripped down my cheek and landed on my book with a plop. I kept reading until Mr Percival had been killed by the hunters and then Storm Boy was sent away to town to go to school. I knew exactly how he felt as he sat in that classroom and all he could think about was the lost freedom of the sand dunes.
When I got home that afternoon there was a letter from Stephen waiting for me. I raced to my bedroom and jumped on my bed as I ripped the envelope open and started reading. Stephen told me all about how much fun the plane ride had been and the things he could see out the window as it flew across to the other side of Australia. He told me how he woke every morning just before dawn in the single men’s quarters in the mining village to get ready for work. He said the weather was really hot, but he rolls out of bed every day and does twenty pushups before climbing in the shower to cool off. During the day the temperature reaches over forty-five degrees celcius and Stephen said it was much hotter than the summers we have at home. He talked about how nice it is in the shower with cool water running over his face. He told me he was enjoying the work and felt great from having put in some long days and getting paid overtime. He was already planning his trip home when he had enough money.
He said he has a big breakfast in the mess every morning and then catches a bus out to the mine. He told me about how the iron red rocks shimmer in the early morning heat haze and how amazing it is to see the sun coming up over the hills as the bus crests the ridge and crawls down into the massive hole in the landscape. He sent some postcards in the envelope so I could see how big the mine was and how enormous some of the trucks were.
Stephen said that he works on one of the maintenance crews, fixing trucks, pipelines, machinery and anything else that needed repairs. He told me that a few days ago he was working on a leaking valve on the water pipeline when the pipe burst and drenched him with water. He finished the job and reported back to the foreman, asking if he could go home and change out of his wet clothes. Stephen said the foreman wouldn’t let him leave so he had to finish the day feeling damp. He told me in the letter he could feel a bit of a cold coming on and thought it was from getting wet and being in and out of the cold air conditioned buildings.
He finished off by telling me that he loved me and hoped that I was enjoying my new school and had made heaps of friends. I read the letter over and over again and started writing a letter back to him, trying to tell him all about how big the house was and how much fun we would have exploring it together when he got back. I didn’t want to tell him about school because I didn’t want him to find out that I was dumb.
I read his letter again and then turned out my light and tried to go to sleep. As I lay in bed, I kept thinking about the postcards of the open-cut mine and how I was dumb and didn’t know anything about numbers, and when would I see Stephen again and get to play with him. The thoughts kept circling round and round in my mind as I tried to get to sleep. Outside my window I could hear crickets chirping and the noise kept me awake.
I thought about getting up and telling Mum that I couldn’t get to sleep, but I was worried that she would just think I was dumb and tell me to go back to bed. So I kept laying there with my eyes closed and tried to think of something nice. My head was starting to get heavy when I heard the telephone ring in the hallway. I could hear Dad’s footsteps thumping down the wooden floorboards of the hall and his loud voice said, “Hello,” as he picked up the phone. There was silence for a little while and I strained my ears to hear what was going on.
I couldn’t tell what was happening so I hopped out of bed and snuck across the lounge room to listen and make sure nothing bad was happening. I heard Dad hang up the phone and as I poked my head around the door, Dad told me to get back in bed. But I could see that Mum was crying and I thought she must have been sick or something. Mum walked over and picked me up to put me back in bed and tucked me in. I asked what was going on and she said it was just the hospital in Western Australia and that Stephen was a little unwell and the doctors were doing tests. She told me not to worry and left the light on, but I couldn’t get back to sleep because now I kept thinking about what might have been happening to Stephen. Did one of those big trucks fall on him?
I lay there for ages and eventually I heard everyone else go to bed for the night. I tried to listen to the crickets and just concentrate on the song they were singing so that I could fall asleep, when I heard the phone ring again. I climbed out of bed and snuck to the door again, but then I realised that something really was wrong this time. I poked my head around the corner and I could tell by the way Mum and Dad and all the girls were crying that something really bad had happened. Mum looked up and said Stephen was gone. I was confused, but all of a sudden I felt my legs were shaking and the room began to spin. The last thing I remembered was Mum reaching out her hand for me just before everything went black.

Molly’s Dreams – Chapter Nine

Gradually the chilly winter winds began to ease and I started to notice a hint of spring on the breeze as the days grew warmer and new blossoms began to appear on the trees lining the streets. As the bright pink and white flowers bloomed, their perfume filled the air while I rode my bike to school without gloves for the first time in months.
Ellen and I had developed into best friends and we started doing everything together at school. Although we were both the same size, she was outgoing and talkative where I was shy and quiet. She lived on a farm and once I was allowed to spend the whole weekend with her.
I caught the school bus home with Ellen on Friday after school. It was really noisy on the bus with all of the children talking and squealing loudly all the way. Ellen and I sat together and she pointed out all the landmarks along the road and we talked about how much fun we were going to have on the farm. Every few minutes the bus would stop along the road and a couple of children would climb off, before the doors shut and we would start off again with a jerk.
All of the stopping and starting had made me feel car sick, but eventually the bus pulled up in front of a dusty gate on the side of the road and Ellen and I climbed off. The bus took off again, leaving us standing there in a cloud of dust and diesel smoke. We threw our school bags over the gate and then climbed over, before walking all the way up the hill from the main road. By the time we had made it to the house my legs were really tired and I couldn’t wait to sit down.
“Mum, we’re home,” Ellen shouted as we walked through the back door, the screen slamming shut behind us. The kitchen was bright and sunny and the late afternoon light that was shining through the window made the bowls on the bench sparkle. It was the cleanest kitchen I had ever seen, with everything neatly in its place. Beside the kitchen bench there was a large grey tabby cat that was curled up on the floor sound asleep. A ginger cat sat beside Mrs Lees’ legs, looking up and watching her moving around at the kitchen sink, and Ellen’s baby brother was sitting in a high chair and waving a plastic spoon around.
“Hi sweetheart. Hello Molly. You girls can put your bags in the bedroom then come out and have some afternoon tea.” Ellen led the way down the hall to her bedroom and we put our bags down on the floor then ran back to the kitchen. Mrs Lees had left a slice of orange cake and a glass of milk on the kitchen bench for each of us and I was glad to climb onto a stool and rest my legs while I ate.
“Okay girls,” said Ellen’s mother, “When you are finished you need to fetch the eggs and then wash up before dinner.”
I watched Mrs Lees moving around the kitchen as I ate my afternoon tea. It was the first time I had met her. She had long brown hair that was tied back in a pony tail. It made her look quite young and pretty. Her skin was smooth and tanned and her mouth looked kind. She was clearly Ellen’s mother because the same pair of brown eyes smiled gently at me across the kitchen bench that I was used to seeing in the school playground.
She was stirring something in a bowl and the ginger cat stood up and rubbed his face against her leg before he walked over to the bench and rubbed himself against my foot. I bent down and patted him on the head and he closed his eyes and purred. Ellen’s baby brother made gurgling noises as well as he waved the spoon around and smiled at me.
“Come on Molly, let’s go,” said Ellen as she put her glass down on the sink. I hopped off the stool and put my glass carefully beside hers and followed her outside. The screen door banged shut behind me as I raced to catch up with Ellen.
The chicken coop was at the back of the yard and its smell reminded me of the chicken shed I had seen at the show. Some of the chickens squawked loudly as Ellen opened the gate, and when she took a handful of oats from a bag and spread them around on the ground they all flapped around her and made a big fuss. “Here, chook chook chook,” she called, as she threw the little seeds on the ground. As the chickens were busy scrabbling after the grain, Ellen and I searched amongst the straw for the smooth brown eggs. She showed me how to carry the eggs by holding up the skirt of my school dress to make a little basket. I placed three eggs in my skirt basket and walked very carefully back to the house, making sure I didn’t drop any on the way.
It was dark by the time Ellen’s father came into the house and Ellen and I had already been in the bath and changed into our pyjamas. The baby had been put to sleep in his cot and the rest of us sat at the dining table and ate dinner in silence. I couldn’t help thinking how different it was to dinnertime at home where the television was always on in the background and the girls were talking all the time. We sat at a large wooden table covered with a lace tablecloth and there was a nice warm log fire crackling in the background.
I was a little scared of Mr Lees as I watched him slicing the roast beef. He had dark curly hair and eyes that looked at me from under thick black eyebrows. Every now and then I could hear his heavy boots shuffle around on the wooden floor. I looked down at his dirty trousers and thought about how they contrasted with the clean white lace of the table cloth.
“How did you go at school today, girls?” Mr Lees asked in a stern voice.
“It was okay,” Ellen replied calmly. She picked up the sauce jug and tipped some gravy onto her roast.
“What about you, Molly?”
“Oh, it was fine.” I spoke very quietly. My heart was beating fast and I was afraid to look at him.
“Sorry, what was that? You’ll have to speak up,” he said. His voice sounded very gruff and when I lifted my head I couldn’t take my eyes off his boney looking fingernails.
“She said it was okay,” said Ellen, spearing a potato with her fork.
“I was talking to Molly.” He didn’t take his eyes off me and his hands were still holding the carving knife.
I tried to speak again but my tongue felt as thick as a sausage and I had a sick feeling in my stomach. He kept staring at me, waiting for an answer, until suddenly the telephone rang and broke the silence. Mr Lees put the knife down and went to answer the phone. He was gone for a few minutes and when he came back and sat down he complained loudly to Mrs Lees about the high price of something. “How are we meant to make money when it costs twice as much as what we get for the crop?” he growled. He seemed to have forgotten all about me and as soon as we finished eating, Ellen and I were excused from the table.
We raced down the hallway to Ellen’s bedroom and sat on our beds talking until Mrs Lees came in and told us it was time to go to sleep. Ellen’s bedroom was long and skinny, with a bed on either side. At one end of the room there was a bookcase and a small desk while the other end had a dressing table covered with dolls. We lay in our beds and smiled at each other and kept talking in whispers, even after Mrs Lees had come back and turned the light out. It was amazing how our conversations could start with one thing and then float around like a butterfly going from flower to flower. Every now and then we would stop and try to work out how the conversation had flowed before giggling quietly from under our blankets.
We eventually stopped talking and I had drifted off to sleep, when I was suddenly woken by a loud voice coming through the bedroom wall. I couldn’t understand what the voices were saying but I could hear that Mr Lees sounded angry about something and his voice rattled the walls like a bass drum. Mrs Lees was harder to hear with her desperate soprano. Soon there was a loud bang and then silence. I looked across at Ellen but she had her back to me and seemed to be sleeping so I just lay there in the darkness and watched her breathing body moving up and down under the blanket until my eyes started to get heavy.
It was early morning when I woke the next day and I lay in bed and watched the curtain moving slightly in the breeze coming through the open window. Outside the window I could see the sun had started to paint the sky with pink and orange. The colours were reflecting on the bedroom wall, shimmering like fairy lights. I looked across at Ellen’s sleeping face where it was bathed in a soft pink fairy light that made her look so beautiful.
Somewhere in the distance a dog was barking and I could hear sheep baaing just outside the bedroom window. The smell of bacon and eggs came drifting through the doorway and it made my tummy start to grumble.
Eventually Ellen woke up and we climbed out of bed and walked out to the kitchen together to find Mrs Lees standing over a frypan cooking breakfast.
“Good morning girls, I hope you slept well.” Her eyes looked red and there seemed to be a mark on the side of her pale face. Ellen gave her mother a hug and I thought I saw a tear forming in Mrs Lees’ eye. “Breakfast won’t be long,” she said briskly, as she wiped the back of her hand across her eyes.
Ellen and I climbed onto the stools at the kitchen bench and we were soon munching on a huge plateful of bacon and eggs. No-one talked as we ate so I just watched Mrs Lees moving around the kitchen. She didn’t seem so bright and sparkly as she had yesterday afternoon.
After breakfast, we set off to explore around the farm. Ellen’s world seemed to be really huge to me as we walked from paddock to paddock. She chatted away as we walked and pointed to all the different parts of the farm. She told me the front paddock that we had walked through yesterday was sown to wheat over the winter. I could just see the green shoots starting to appear from the clods of dirt. Over the summer months, she said, sheep would graze the stubble after the crop was harvested.
At the bottom of the paddock was an old house that Ellen said was haunted. It looked really spooky and I didn’t want to go near it, but Ellen insisted on having a look through the window. I stood nervously on the edge of the verandah while she stood on her tippy toes and peered through the dusty window. She said it was too dirty to see inside so she was going to try the door.
“No Ellen,” I said quickly. “Come on, let’s go.”
“Aw, c’mon Molly. I’ll just be a minute.”
I could hear the door creak as she pushed it open. I squeezed my legs together in agony. The inside of the house was dark but I could see a dusty old arm chair facing the doorway, like it was waiting for its owner to return. Ellen stuck her head inside for a moment before changing her mind.
“Maybe we should do this another time,” she decided. Suddenly there was a noise inside, like the sound of something being knocked over and hitting the floor. I’m not sure who was first to run but we were both tearing across the paddock as fast as we could. My gumboots were flopping against my legs as I ran, stumbling across clods of ploughed dirt. I was sure there was a monster after us and I could hear Ellen breathing heavily beside me. It was only after we reached the other side of the gate that we stopped and looked back. The ginger cat that had been in the kitchen yesterday was watching us from the open door of the haunted house. He opened his mouth and yawned.
I looked at Ellen and her brown eyes were laughing. “It was only the cat. Why did you run?” she laughed.
“You ran too,” I said and giggled.
“That’s because you started running.”
We laughed at ourselves and walked off holding hands towards some sheds that were just over a rise. One of the sheds was really high and had an open front. Ellen said it was the tractor shed and it was where the tractor and some other machines lived to keep them out of the weather.
Near the side of the tractor shed we found a few poles made from cypress pine saplings and it was Ellen’s idea that we should make a teepee from them. We dragged the poles all the way down to the backyard and set them up to make a frame. Mrs Lees gave us an old sheet to wrap around the poles and soon we had the perfect cubby house for a couple of girls to sit and talk or read books. We planned to spend the night in our cubby house, just like Wombat, Mouse and Tabby Cat from Ruth Park’s books.
Mrs Lees made sandwiches for lunch and we took them outside and sat in our teepee to eat. “We could live out here, you know,” said Ellen, “And nobody would ever be able to bother us.”
“It might get a bit cold at night,” I said.
“Nah, we would just have lots of blankets to snuggle under.”
I started to think of Mr and Mrs Bear and wondered if they would enjoy sleeping in a teepee all the time.
After we finished eating lunch, we starting exploring again until we saw Ellen’s father walking across a paddock hunting for rabbits with his ferrets and dogs. We sat hidden in the long grass and watched him from a distance. Ellen explained how the ferrets were sent down the rabbit burrows and the dogs caught the rabbits as they shot out the other end. I watched as one cute and furry grey creature launched out of a burrow.
“Oh my gosh, there’s one,” I pointed excitedly. Suddenly one of the dogs pounced on it and brought the rabbit to Mr Lees. He took it from the dog’s mouth and I was horrified when he broke the poor thing’s neck and put it in a bag. One moment it was so full of life and activity, and the next its body was slumped like a piece of old rag. I felt so sad for the little rabbit and wished it had gotten away. All I could think about was the bruise on the side of Mrs Lees’ face.
Still in shock, I let Ellen lead me away to a smaller paddock in front of the house where her mother’s car was parked. “Hey, I’ve got an idea,” she said as she climbed into the car. I thought we were going to pretend that we were driving but Ellen was able to start the car by turning the key.
“Can you drive?” I asked.
“Of course,” she said. “Watch this”.
We drove around and around the paddock a couple of times; Ellen was laughing her head off, but I was a little scared. Suddenly we slid to a stop. Ellen revved the engine but we didn’t move as the car bogged in the freshly ploughed dirt.
Everyone was quiet that night as we waited for Ellen’s father to come home. After dinner I was sent to have a bath, but I could hear yelling and the sound of someone being smacked carrying through the thin walls of the bathroom.
We didn’t talk much at bedtime that night. Ellen said she was too tired.
“Are you okay, Ellen?” I asked cautiously.
She didn’t answer but I could hear her sniffling in the darkness. I climbed out of my bed and slid under the blankets with her. “I love you Ellen,” I said, as I wrapped my arms around her warm body. We fell asleep that way until I was woken from a deep dream when the bedroom light suddenly turned on.
“Wake up girls, I need your help. Get your clothes on.” It was Ellen’s father, dressed in his heavy work boots and dirty jeans.
I was still half asleep as we stumbled outside, following a torch beam across the dark paddock. The night air was chilly and a light frost sparkled in the torchlight. We seemed to be wandering aimlessly and I thought Mr Lees was going to take us to the haunted house.
I was shivering from the cold when suddenly an old ewe appeared in the circle of light. She was having trouble and Mr Lees bent down to assist her, gently drawing out a little lamb and depositing him on the grass. As he made contact with the cold ground his limbs twitched and I could see his ribs heaving.
The ewe seemed to be just as thrilled as I was as she pushed her nose at the new arrival. We did this a number of times through the night until eventually I found myself back in my warm bed, thinking about all those little lambs and how gentle Mr Lees had been with them.
Warm sunshine greeted us the next morning as Ellen and I raced outside to count the number of new lambs that were frolicking around the paddock. We rescued about half a dozen little lambs that had been abandoned by their mothers during the night and carried them one by one up to the house.
Mrs Lees set up a little nursery for the lambs on the back verandah that she made from an old child’s playpen with some blankets on the floor for warmth. Ellen and I followed her into the laundry where she showed us how to put a scoop of powdered milk into a bucket of warm water and mix it around until there were no more lumpy bits.
I filled a baby feeding bottle with the powdered milk mixture and Mrs Lees showed me how to teach the little lambs to suck the teats. I sat on the verandah with my legs crossed and held a soft little lamb in my arms as it squirmed and wriggled on my lap. It took me a few goes to get my lamb drinking because every time I poked the teat in its mouth it would push the teat away with its little tongue and then start wriggling a bit more until I nearly dropped it. Eventually my lamb got the idea and I clung tightly to its warm body as it sucked noisily at the teat.
After all the lambs had been fed, we put them back in their pen and they snuggled together in the corner and fell asleep. Every now and then I would look in the pen and smile at the lamb that I had fed. I had decided that I would call him ‘Woolly’ and sometimes he would lift his head when he saw me looking and make the tiniest little baa because he knew that I was the one that cared for him.
Ellen and I spent the whole morning playing on the verandah and watching the little lambs in their pen. They were nothing like the lambs I had seen in my picture books because they looked so skinny and wrinkly, but they were really lively and noisy. Their wool was so much softer than anything I could ever have imagined and I wished that I could keep one as a pet. Ellen said we weren’t allowed to keep them as pets, though, and as soon as they were big enough they would have to be put back out in the paddock with all the other lambs.
Mrs Lees brought lunch out to the verandah for us, but she told us that we should leave the lambs in peace for a while and go and play in the yard instead. Ellen said it was too boring to play in the yard, so we wandered around the shearing shed looking for something to do.
There were some old doors leaning against the wall in a corner of the shed, and Ellen suddenly had an idea that we could use one to make a raft. It was really heavy and it took ages to drag it down to the dam, but we eventually made it, even though I thought my arms were going to get pulled out of their sockets.
Ellen found an old coke bottle in the dirt and smashed it against the side of the raft to christen it. She said that it was what people did when they launched new ships. We pushed the raft into the water and quickly climbed on board. It leaned precariously to one side as we floated out into the middle of the dam, and every time one of us moved the raft would bob up and down in the water until we were both wet and giggling.
I felt like the whole weekend had been a dream from a story book. “We are just like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn,” I said with a smile.
“Who are they?” asked Ellen. She was lying on her back with her arms behind her head and her feet were dangling in the water.
“Oh, they’re from a book that Grandma gave me for Christmas last year.” I started to tell her about all the things that Tom Sawyer had gotten up to, how he was always being naughty and getting into mischief. Ellen said she knew exactly what that was like.
After a while I started to get cold from being wet, so Ellen suggested we hop off the raft and start catching yabbies. We ran up to the house and Ellen took some meat out of the fridge, before running back down to the dam. She found a piece of twine near the fence and tied the lump of raw meat to one end, before throwing the line out into the water with the other end tied to a stick on the bank. We then waited in the warm sunshine while I continued to tell her about how Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry went to live on an island and pretended they were pirates.
Eventually the line started to move slowly and with a very delicate touch Ellen drew the twine in until the goggling eyes of a yabby began to appear. She leant forward and scooped the yabby out of the water with her hand and I screamed loudly as it suddenly started waving its claws around and crawled backwards towards the dam. Ellen bravely picked it up behind the head and dropped it in a bucket. When I looked in the bucket I could see the yabby’s eyes looking back at me and it waved its claws around wildly. Ellen asked if I wanted to have a go, but I was happy just watching her catching them.
As she threw the raw meat back into the dam, I moved a little further back up the bank. I decided that I didn’t want to live on an island and be a pirate after all, but I wasn’t game to tell Ellen that.

As the hot summer weather came along, streaky white clouds started to float in the wide blue sky each day. Every morning I would look out my bedroom window and wonder if it was ever going to rain again, because I hadn’t even seen a drop of rain in the whole time since we had moved here from the north coast.
I hadn’t been invited to stay at Ellen’s farm again, but Ellen often stayed with me for the weekend so that we could play together. In the warmer weather we spent most of the time on the weekends at the swimming pool.
“Come on you two, hurry up,” Samantha called from outside. She was always in a rush to get to the pool. I just liked to take my time and enjoy the walk with Ellen. We walked holding hands and Ellen never stopped talking.
“We’re coming,” I called out from the kitchen. I was dressed in pink swimmers and a white tee shirt and Mum was busy covering my face in sunscreen. She always said she was terrified of me getting sunburnt and so she slopped extra layers of sunscreen all over my nose. I had to close my eyes tight so that I didn’t get any sunscreen in them because it really made my eyes sting. As soon as she finished I put my hat on my head and tucked my towel under my arm then raced outside to catch up with the others. The girls had already set off, so I climbed through a hole in the fence next to the rusty iron shed in the backyard and hurried after them. Ellen climbed through the hole behind me and our sandals raised little clouds of dust as we moved quickly across the dry ground, skipping to catch up with Samantha, Catherine and Jasmine.
Samantha took her hat off as soon as we are out of sight of the house and I watched her straight black hair bouncing against the back of her white tank top as her long brown legs strode along the footpath. I thought she should have kept her hat on or she would get sunburnt.
Ellen and I caught up to the girls when they stopped to wait for the traffic at Hoskins Street, and then we all ran across the bubbles of melted bitumen to get to the park. The sun had started to get quite hot by then and the grass in the park was brown and spiky. There was a little bit of shade every now and then from a row of date palms that lined the footpath through the middle of the park. Each time we came to a tree, Ellen and I would stop in the shade to rest before racing each other to the next tree.
As we stood in the shade for a moment, I looked up and saw some high school boys watching us walking through the park. I hurried after the girls when I heard one of the boys say something and the other boys started laughing. I wasn’t game to look around again when another boy whistled loudly. Catherine and Samantha didn’t seem to notice though as they just kept on walking. Samantha was busy pushing some stray hair behind her ear, and when Catherine leaned toward Samantha and whispered something they both giggled. Samantha looked back over her shoulder to where the boys were standing. I started walking a bit quicker in case the boys followed us, but we were soon at the safety of the pool entrance.
It was cool in the shade of the little shop at the front of the pool, and I lined up behind Catherine as she paid the lady behind the counter. As soon as we went through the turnstile, the bigger girls disappeared into the change room and Ellen and I raced to put our towels down on the grass. The pool was surrounded by soft grassy lawns, and there was a big shady peppercorn tree in one corner.
“Last one in is a rotten egg!” yelled Ellen. She was already half-way to the pool so I just dropped my towel and raced after her, leaping into the cool clear water. At first the water was so cold it took my breath away, but then I bounced to the surface laughing and Ellen splashed water in my face.
“Ellen!” By the time I splashed back, she had already swum away from me like a little seal and I started chasing her. She swam much faster than I could but she eventually slowed down until I caught up to her. We spent the whole morning in the water like that, swimming around, playing games, and chasing each other until we eventually got tired and climbed out to lay on our towels for a rest. I lay there watching all the colourful bodies splashing around in the pool.
“I wonder where the girls have gotten to.” I looked around the pool from my towel but I couldn’t see them anywhere amongst all the rainbow coloured swimmers.
“I thought I saw them over there earlier,” Ellen said as she pointed toward the back fence. I looked over to where Ellen was pointing and saw a group of teenagers sitting around on their towels. There was Samantha was lying on her side, one tanned knee propped up in the air. She was talking to a boy and running her fingers through her hair. I thought he looked like one of the boys that had been outside in the park and he was lying on his side as well. They seemed to be leaning quite close toward each other.
Catherine was lying on her stomach with her eyes closed. Every now and then she lifted her head and said something to the others, then lay down and closed her eyes again.
I kept looking around until I found where Jasmine was. She was with a different group of girls, sitting on the edge of the pool with her feet splashing in the water and talking to her friends.
I turned back to Ellen, content now I knew I hadn’t been left behind. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could play here forever and never have to go back to school?”
“Except when your fingertips get all wrinkly from the water,” Ellen laughed. I smiled into her sparkling eyes and felt as happy as the sunny day.
“Ellen, what are those marks on your legs?” Suddenly Ellen’s eyes lost their sparkle and she looked down at the blue-grey bruises at the top of her thighs. They were normally covered by clothes, but I could see them clearly now she was in her bikini bottoms. There were four of them, shaped like fat sausages spread out in a fan.
“It’s nothing,” she said quietly, “I just bumped them.” She didn’t want to talk about it and I was sorry that I had brought a cloud across our sunny mood, but I couldn’t help myself.
“Ellen… I’m really sorry. Was it your Dad?”
“I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s just swim.” Ellen leapt up from her towel and jumped in the pool. I sat there feeling helpless for a few moments until I thought of asking Catherine what I should do. I stood up and walked over toward her group.
As I got closer I could hear them talking.
“It seems Lauren is the flavor of the month,” said a girl in a strawberry-coloured bikini.
“I know, both Peter and John have asked her out.”
“Oh my gosh, what did she say?”
I tried to get Catherine’s attention but she had her back to me, so I stood there uncertainly for a moment.
“Hey Catherine, is that your little sister? How cute!” one big girl said. I felt my face blush bright red and the boy that was talking to Samantha looked up and grinned.
Catherine sat up and didn’t look very happy to see me standing there. “Molly, what do you want?”
“I wanted to talk to you, about Ellen.”
“Can’t you do this at home?”
“It’s just that she is sad. I made her sad about the bruises on her legs.”
Catherine stood up. “Okay Molly, let’s get an ice cream.”
As we walked toward the canteen I told Catherine about the bruises on Ellen’s legs, and how she wouldn’t talk to me about them. I told her that when I asked if it was Ellen’s Dad she ran off. Catherine gently put her hand on my head. “Why don’t you just go and play with her. I think she just needs you to be her friend and make her happy.”
Catherine bought two ice creams, and I took one over to where Ellen was sitting on the side of the pool. She was looking down at the water and slowly kicking her legs back and forth. I sat down next to her and gave her one of the ice creams. As we sat there eating together silently, I put my arm around her wet shoulder and she leant her head against mine.

A few weeks later Ellen and I were sitting on my bed reading books. I was laughing at a funny passage in my novel and Ellen was smiling at me because I kept making her laugh. Sometimes we went on like that for what seemed like hours, but Ellen was always the first one to get bored with reading. This day she seemed a bit restless and her smiles looked a little sad. I wasn’t sure what was wrong but I didn’t want to ask and upset her again so I just tried to find funny parts of my book to read out so that she would laugh with me.
“Mum and I are going to Melbourne for Christmas,” Ellen suddenly blurted out.
I looked up from my book. “What?”
“I said, Mum and I are going to Melbourne for Christmas. I wanted to tell you earlier but I couldn’t.”
“When… when do you go?” I wasn’t smiling anymore. I had thought we were going to be together for the whole summer holidays. I didn’t know whether to feel happy for her or not but I knew I felt unhappy for myself.
“We catch the train after school on Friday. Mum said that she wanted to visit her sister. I haven’t seen Aunty Vicky for years… I’ll write to you every day, Molly.”
“I’ll write to you as well, but I’m really going to miss you, Ellen.”
“I’ll miss you too, Molly, but you have to promise not to tell anyone, at least until after we’ve gone.” I looked at her face closely. I felt like there was something she wasn’t telling me. How come she had never mentioned going to Melbourne before, and why the secret?
“I won’t tell anyone,” I said, “I promise.”
She looked happy; no, more relieved than happy, and gave me a hug.
“It’s going to be all right,” she said. “Mum and I will be safe. Aunty Vicky lives on the beach just south of Melbourne.” She had become chatty now, but I was still worried.
“I remember going there a few years ago,” said Ellen, “It was when I was little and it was really pretty and colourful. These little wooden houses were on the edge of the beach and we walked on the sand every day.” Ellen stopped and looked at me thoughtfully. “You’ve gone quiet, Molly.” She kissed me and I put my arms around her neck and she leaned her head against the curve of my arm. There was so much I wanted to say to her but I just couldn’t think of the words. I closed my eyes to stop the tears from falling.
As we sat there silently for a moment, I tried to think of myself in Ellen’s place. There were no secrets between us and my mind ran with thoughts of rabbits and bruises as I tried to understand Ellen’s struggle. We sat there clinging to each other for ages until Mum called out from the kitchen,
“Molly, Ellen – it’s time for dinner.”
“You mustn’t tell anyone,” Ellen whispered as we walked out of the bedroom.

One afternoon I came home from school to find Stephen laying on his bed and listening to the radio. His hands were behind his head and his eyes were closed. There were clothes carelessly thrown all over the floor.
“You’re home early,” I said as I threw my school bag on my bed. Lately he was getting really down in the dumps and I was worried. He didn’t normally throw his clothes all over the floor like that.
He opened his eyes and turned his head to look at me, sadly I thought. “I lost my job today, Molly. They just told me they were putting some people off and I was the newest starter so I had to go first.” I didn’t know what to say so I just gave him a little smile.
“Well, at least we can play together again, can’t we?” I said hopefully. He just looked at me for a moment and then turned his head away and closed his eyes again. I didn’t know what else to say so I just sat on my bed quietly and read my book.
After a while he sat up and put his feet on the ground. “I’m sorry, Molly,” he said. “Do you want to go and play in the tree house?”
I closed my book and we both went outside to play. The afternoon sun was still hot, but it was nice and shady in the tree house. Stephen helped me climb up first, and I sat on the platform with my legs crossed while he climbed up the ladder.
“What do you want to do?” I said.
“Oh, I don’t know. Why don’t you just play and I’ll watch.” I watched his face but he had closed his eyes again and was leaning back against a branch of the tree.
I started playing with a doll, making her climb up the tree, but every now and then I would look up to see if Stephen was watching. He kept his eyes closed for ages, but then he started talking about going away somewhere, maybe to Western Australia to work in the mines. Mum had recently received a letter from an uncle who worked over there and he said Stephen could easily get a job there if he ever wanted one.
“But you don’t want to go all that way, do you?” I didn’t like hearing him talk like this. Usually he was so happy and fun to be around.
“I might have to if I can’t find any work here.”
I was worried about him going away, but a week or so later he found work picking fruit at a local orchard. He took me with him one weekend, out amongst the green leafy cherry trees and the hot red dirt between each row. Stephen showed me how to pick the cherries by twisting them with my fingers and then putting them in a tin until the farmer came to collect all the full tins.
After a little while my fingers began to hurt so Stephen said I could stop picking. I sat on the ground under the shade of the tree instead and started to read my book. Every now and then I took a cherry out of the tin and popped it into my mouth. They were different to the mulberries I had eaten before. Some of the cherries were a little tart and made me pull a face. In the afternoon I got tired and lay on the ground and watched Stephen climbing on the ladder way up in the cherry tree. It reminded me of when I watched him climbing trees when I was little. I closed my eyes for a little while and all I could see were red cherries dancing before my eyelids.
The cherry picking lasted for a few weeks and then Stephen started working for a builder. He told me he spent the day carting bricks and things around. It seemed like everything would be okay and he would be happier, but then he got put off by the bricklayer because there wasn’t enough work around.
Soon after another letter arrived from Western Australia to say there were some apprenticeships available. I saw the forms spread out on Stephen’s bed and he just stared at them all afternoon. It was a few days later that he came home and filled the forms in.
“I just can’t bear being out of work any longer, Molly,” he told me in bed that night. I lay there with tears forming in my eyes because I couldn’t bear the thought of him going away.
He was really excited a couple of weeks later when he got a letter to say he had been accepted. I found out he was to start in a few months time after being cleared by a doctor and some other things. At least that meant he would still be at home for Christmas.
Then I got a letter from Ellen; she told me that she was going to stay in Melbourne with her mother and wasn’t coming back. To top it all off, Dad came home one night and said we were moving again.
I was very sad and confused when I went to bed that night. Everything seemed to be happening at once. I sat on my bed with my legs crossed and started to write a long letter to Ellen to tell her my sad news, but every time I tried to use my pen the page was blurry with tears. I wanted to tell her that I would be her friend forever and would visit her in Melbourne one day.
Stephen came and sat on the end of my bed. “Don’t worry, Molly. I won’t be gone that long. Once I’ve got some experience for a few months I’ll be able to come back here and get a proper job.” He gave me a big hug and I left wet tears all over his shoulder. Eventually I finished the letter and popped it in the mail box.