Last Friday night, Andy, Clay and l met at the park on Old Maryborough Rd. We had organised the finer details of when and what to bring on the stifling bus home after school. Andy would bring the booze, Clay, the weed and I would bring the bong. Clay had even floated the idea of inviting Kim and Tracy but I wasn’t so keen on it. Girls always seemed to bring about trouble; sirens that somehow convince us to sell our souls and loyalty for a furtive hand job behind the toilets at the skate park.
I’d been mates with Andy and Clay since I first moved to town five years ago from the Noosa Hinterland. My mum had split up with Kate’s dad so it was time for a new direction, or that’s how she justified it to us anyway. Still, this move was better than the compound and the property we rented was big enough for a garden for her. Andy and Clay had been mates for even longer, growing up just one street from each other. Andy was the oldest by 4 months and built like a man-child. His shoulders and chest came in the same time as the rest of us were sprouting armpit hairs. Andy was like the older brother I probably had but never met.
I was the last to arrive, Andy was smoking and Clay was balancing on the pegs of his BMX bike. He popped a wheelie, balanced and put it down once he saw me.
“Hey Caine, how’s it going?” Clay asked leaning over to shake my hand.
“Yeah alright, pretty bored,” I shrugged.
“Haven’t heard of much happening tonight. I did hear about some open party at some chick from St Joseph’s but I don’t know if it worth riding to the south side for.” Andy said and sucked back his cigarette. He had the cigarette wedged deep between his finger, smoking it like a mobster would a cigar.
“Who do you know that’s going?” asked Clay
Clay was already stoned but even when he was straight, his eyes still drooped at the corners. A face of a puppy on the body of a man.
“Probably Tim, Jacko and those boys. Cara and Louise said they were going too,” Andy replied.
“Might be worth a look. Probably plenty of booze about,” Clay said and Andy looked at me. I shrugged, I didn’t really mind what we did, it all felt like the same thing anyway.
“Fuck it, let’s smoke a bongo and head over. It’s not that far of a ride,” Clay said smoking the last draw of his cigarette and slinging with bag off.
* * *
Even though the days are exhausting and hot, the nights here can get pretty cold and I couldn’t stop licking my lips. We got to the street and could hear the music, Flo Rida’s Get Low. This pissed us all off. Andy and Clay rode forward, up onto the path, dismounting by a fig tree. They lent their bikes against it and started walking to the house. Andy was teasing Clay that Jackie was going to be there so Clay shoved him into the hedge. I hung back a few steps lighting a cigarette and laughing with them. I hate rocking up at parties we’re not invited to. Somehow it always turned into a fight. I let them lead the way forward in case we were rejected and had to get on our bikes.
We got to the street and could hear the music, Flo Rida’s Get Low. This pissed us all off.
The front door was open and the house was chaotic, every flat surfaced seemed to be covered with empty cruiser bottles and XXXX and Bundy cans. Not the kind of party where people were checking invites. I saw Andy put his phone back in his pocket.
“Jacko reckons he’s out the back, by the shed,” he moved through the kitchen where we knew no-one and through what I assumed was the backdoor.
Outside there would have been 100 kids, all with a drink in their hands and most of them a smoke in the other. Just to my left I saw Ruby. She had asked me out in year eight and then dumped me three days later after kissing me in the chapel. She turned her face down and I saw her friend nudge her. She had gotten much prettier since getting her braces off but the died black hair felt a bit much for her. She was much girlier in year eight and I remember the hot pink skirt she wore on free dress day, I saw straight up it when we had sat on the oval. The tops of her thighs much paler, particularly where the blue cotton underneath met the crease of her ass.
Ruby raised her eyebrows questioningly and I realised I was staring. I waved before forgetting about her ass and looking for the back of Andy’s head.
* * *
I found Andy and Clay by Jacko’s directions, by the shed. They were standing behind a circle or being sitting on eskies, milk crates and camping chairs.
“So, I fucken kicked his head in,” Jacko said, getting a laugh by the girls to his left. They swallowed their neon drinks in uniform response.
“Jacko, it was a football fight against poofs,” Andy chimed in.
“Still.” He shrugged.
The next half an hour was spent one-upping each others football tries or fights. It seemed to work because more girls came with more chairs and I ended up sharing an esky with Stephanie from Geography.
“Having a good night?” Stephanie asked.
“It’s alright, kinda drunk I suppose,” I answered.
“Yeah it’s alright,” she added her answer anyway.
She grew bored with me quickly and turned to Clay and started talking about Lucy. She wanted to know what was going on. I suspected that Lucy had sent her in, I was just the buffer to sit next to.
“So what’s the go with you and Ruby?” She asked nudging me with her elbow.
I had a mouthful of bourbon so I just stared back.
“I saw you staring like an idiot before, are you guys rekindling the grade eight romance?” Stephanie asked.
“I wasn’t staring,’ I replied.
“That didn’t answer the question,” she pushed.
“No, I haven’t spoken to her in ages,” I answered and took another swig of the bourbon.
I fell back into silence and she turned back to Clay. I saw Ruby across the circle sitting next to Jacko. He had his arm slung on the chair behind hers and talked wildly with his can. She looked across the circle at me again and stared. I wondered if Stephanie was as aware of her own friend’s staring as she was with mine. Even as I thought this, Ruby kept staring. She nodded along to Jacko’s story but never bothered to look at him. Then Jacko pulled her forward his arm and her forward into a rough hug. He finished his can, threw it into the pile behind him and walked off towards the house.
* * *
Just after midnight the cops came and kicked everyone out of the backyard. Andy, Clay and I had made a quick exit and were sitting in Double Hill Ovals by the duck pond when Clay got a text from Lucy.
“She reckons we should go over to Steph’s place. Her folks are away,” Clay said.
“Nothing else to do, I’m not going home yet,” Andy replied.
“Yeah whatever,” I replied, anything beats boredom.
* * *
We got to Stephanie’s house and pushed through the gate at the side. The shed in the backyard had been converted into a granny flat where Stephanie’s brother stayed on his uni break. Lucy, Stephanie and Jacko were squished into the corduroy couch in the corner facing the door, Jacko nodding along to the song and Lucy and Stephanie in whispered conversation. Kane and some guy in his twenties who I hadn’t met before, I think I heard Kane call him Tim, were sitting on the stools by the counter. On the floor were Tamzin and Ruby. Only Tamzin turned around when we walked in.
“Let’s play I never,” Stephanie said loudly over the pockets of conversations.
“Let’s not,” replied Ruby from behind her fringe.
“Don’t be shit. It’s a good way to get to know your friends,” Stephanie aimed this at Ruby.
“I’ll start,” Lucy said, “Never ever have I ever hooked up at school.”
Half the circle drank and I did but Ruby didn’t. Liar.
We continued like this, each statement a level up. Most of us were trying to score points but Ruby only drank when Stephanie or Tamzin pointed out her history.
“I don’t know, I pass,” I said when my turn came.
“You can’t pass,” Lucy shouted at me.
“Yeah man. Either say something or finish your drink,” Andy said spurred on by his winning streak.
I looked at the bottle, it was the only one I nicked from the party and it was still basically full.
“Fine,” I said and tipped the bottle into my mouth.
The boys all shouted and clapped while the bourbon bubbled down my throat.
“Fine,” Lucy said, “Your turn Ruby.”
Just like every turn before, we all stopped our midway conversations and waited for the next addition.
“Never ever have I ever,” Ruby paused, “broken someone’s heart.”
Nobody moved as we scanned our memories for the heartbreak we may have inflicted. I felt this was a targeted attack, trying to pull out an apology from history. Our eyes kept their eye contact with the floor and only Tim drank.
* * *
I went outside for a smoke. Stephanie had wailed like a banshee about the smell and her parents as I was rolling it so I took the hint to take it outside. Her parents had decorated the garden with ceramic gnomes and metal flamingos between the palm trees and the lawn had perfectly manicured edges. I don’t reckon they did it though, probably some poor labour hire bastard.
“Hey,” a voice said behind me.
I turned around and saw Ruby, hands peeling a drink label as she stood standing two steps behind me.
“Hey,” I replied.
“What’s going on?” She asked stepping forward beside me.
“Just smoking, pretty bored,” I answered.
“Yeah, they’re not as cool as everyone at school makes out they are,” she said dropping the bottle to her side and looking up at the stars.
“I didn’t know you were friends with them,” I said.
“I’m not really, Tamzin is and I’m staying at hers tonight so here I am,” Ruby said shrugging.
“Mmmm,” I replied and took a drag of my smoke. “What was with that heartbreak stuff?”
“Just wanted to see who would drink,” She replied casually but cocked an eyebrow that confused me.
Clay, Andy, Tamzin, Stephanie and Tim all filed out the back door in loud conversation that broke the quiet of Ruby and the backyard. They lit their cigarettes and we stood in a circle talking about the party and the gossip that started there.
“Hold this, I’m going to go see what Lucy’s doing,” Clay said to me and passed me his cigarette.
“Righto,” I replied and took the cigarette in my free hand.
I turned to Tim and Tamzin on my right and tried to follow the conversation.
From inside we heard great roars of anger and a glass smash. Everyone dropped their cigarettes and went for the door. We all pushed through the back door to see Clay on top of Jacko, his fist beating down on his face and screaming.
“You fucking cunt,” Clay screamed at him over and over.
Andy and I pulled Clay back by his armpits and managed to force him out the back door. Stephanie was crying and screaming she was sorry. Jacko was behind her, being held back by Kane and Tim. Pointing his finger wilding at Clay and spitting everywhere as he swore that he’d fucking kill Clay.
“Fuck off!” He screamed at Stephanie when she went to grab his hand and we pushed him through the side gate.
Veranda lights had started to turn on and I looked back down the street. Ruby was out on the front lawn of Stephanie’s house. She saw me looking back and turned down the side of the house and behind the fence. I ran a few steps and caught up, Clay still ranting and swearing.