Three in the morning and my mind was spinning out of control, a blender filled with ingredients that would make the most disgusting concoction ever. There would be nothing smooth about the mix that poured from it. The continuous scratching at the window grated on my frazzled nerves, the tree was calling, begging me to open the wounds once more. My cheeks radiated heat just thinking how much I must have embarrassed myself back then. I wasn’t sure I could brave the memories again, it took months before I stopped crying myself to sleep, and even longer before I stopped throwing up the desperate contents of an already exasperated stomach. I’d made mum promise not to mention any of that in her emails to uncle Paul. I was better now, well as much as I could be. I never realized how much not seeing him everyday would impact on my life. He’d always been there; a shoulder to cry on; a partner for Judo and a secret keeper. It would be so much different now, we were older for starters and probably strangers. Telling mum I emailed regularly was easier than telling her why I didn’t, way too embarrassing. Rubbing non-existent sleep from my eyes I fired up my laptop. Perched on bent knees I felt the heat pulse through the thin cotton sheet as the screen lit up the room. I couldn’t let the tree win and I wouldn’t go down memory lane tonight, so the search engines would be my faithful friends once more. The last thing I should have been looking up was the first thing which popped into my mind; flight plans. Qantus had an online flight follower. I could track Jesse to within minutes of his position. As the screen searched and offered alternative searches and cheap flights to Singapore and Bangkok, I wondered if he was thinking of me. Would he be struggling with the lure of memories, or were his just ghostly images lost among the amazing new memories he’d made since. Secretly I wanted him to be in as much turmoil as me, but reality kicked those thoughts and wishes firmly out of the field and left what was probably the best and most real answer; no he wasn’t. Wriggling my back against the wedge of pillows I’d stuffed between me and the headboard I settled down. Romania. According to the flight path he should be somewhere over the vampire infested mountains of Transylvania, with just under four hours remaining of his twenty three hour ordeal. I pulled my lips in tight and thought of our last family holiday to Florida. Eight hours and I nearly pulled my hair out with boredom. My Ipod had packed in less than two hours into the flight and the movie was a slush fest of romance and vampires. Even my tortured soul couldn’t compete with their suffering. The little red and white mock-up of a plane sailed along the dotted line from Sydney to Bangkok and then through to Central Europe, London flashing away like a warning beacon on a lighthouse. I hit restart over and over again, just watching the plane repeat it’s journey. I hadn’t worked out how I would behave around him or what I would do if he basically ignored me, which I secretly hoped he wouldn’t but could defintely be for the best.
….I could see his face, it was so close, closer than it should have been. Red dots and dashes formed a path between us, a blurry image of a miniature plane blinked in and out of view. If I reached out just a little I could touch him, stroke his cheek but just as I did everything changed. The surroundings claimed something from memory, a place we’d shared. Beach huts fazed in to view, smudged at the edges hiding the crumbling cliff walls behind them. Broken glass and rocks crunched under my flimsy pumps as I tried to creep silently in the dark. Hide and seek; that was the game. I was thirteen again and enjoying my first sips of cider at the end of a hard day at the beach. It was past ten and my curfew, but I was staying at Jordanna’s and she got to stay out an hour later than me. The images were on the move again and nausea from the cider made me sway and lunge against the back of a roughly painted hut. Strong, warm hands clamped around my arms and lifted me upright just before I slid to the floor. My whole face came alive and glowed with obvious delight; Jesse. The grin quickly disappeared as his eyes narrowed in on my drunken state. I felt the fire start in my knees making them shake and buckle then before I could hold it back it swirled and crashed like waves in my stomach before engulfing my chest and spewing from my mouth. Startled and tasting vomit in my mouth I hurled my body forward.
The breeze coming in from the window hit my face and halted the flow of sweat down my face and neck. Clammy hands reached out of time for the lap top as it toppled to the floor, as recognition dawned; I’d been dreaming. I’d managed to keep those thoughts out of my mind for at least a year now, and fresh mortification bathed every inch of me. Flopping sideways and clinging to the pillow I allowed myself to reminisce about the day that followed. At first I didn’t want to see him, hell I wasn’t fit to see anyone. Jordanna’s mum had brought me home and told my parents everything, I was sure I’d be grounded for a month, but I got worse. They delivered the perfect, we’re so disappointed in you speech. I sat and listened to how much trust they’d placed in me and how I’d let them down. My punishment was to help out at the bake sale the following Saturday, for the whole day, and volunteer for two Sunday’s worth of beach cleaning duty. I figured I’d got off lightly. My head pounded and my mouth felt like I’d swallowed a bucket load of sand, so adding humiliation to that seemed the normal thing to do. He was sitting in the tree, our tree, outside my window. I felt a little more human after a shower and change, but I doubted I looked any where near normal. My hair dripped as I pulled it around to one side and attempted a halfhearted plait to keep it from frizzing out of control. I leaned out of the window as far as I could without falling. He didn’t say anything at first, just stared with a smirk tugging at one side of his mouth and firing up both his eyes. I deserved mockery, hell I deserved a total shredding. I’d thrown up at his feet and then he’d apparently carried me up the revetment to Jordanna’s. I silently prayed I hadn’t mumbled or said anything that would scar my delicate soul for life.
“So you coming up?”
I shook my head. I was dizzy enough, the climb would finish me off.
“Still a bit fragile are we?” He laughed and my heart backed flipped it’s way across my chest and thumped itself back in it’s slot.
“Just a little, anyway don’t tell me you’ve never been drunk.”
“No.” He said, totally serious and completely honest. God he must have thought I was a right skank and unfit to call his cousin.
“Then I’m coming in, so move out of the way before we crash.”
“Jesse, are you nuts the branch will never hold your weight.” He just grinned like he’d done it a thousand times before.
“Don’t stress, it’s nothing, I’ve jumped further.”
With one swift move he hauled himself to the edge of the main branch then flew, for at least two seconds the eight or so feet to my window. The top half of his body rocked and lunged inwards as he gripped the ledge with bone white fingers. I froze at first, then quickly pulled at the back of his shirt until he tumbled to the floor.
“You’re insane.” I said, before crumpling to the floor next to him and exploding into laughter.
“And you’re a skank.” My laughter stopped as quickly as it had begun. I knew it.
“Hey I’m just joking. You know I’d never think of you like that. But I have to say you looked pretty gross last night.” He was doubled with laughter but my own was long gone.
“I am so never ever drinking again.” Pushing my back against the cold of the wall I focused on the floor in front of me, wishing it would open up and let me slip through to a parallel world where Jesse wasn’t my cousin and I hadn’t thrown up over him.
But now those memories were all I had and losing them, however gross, was not an option. Clinging to my pillow and allowing the soft ebb of tears to be captured in the feather-down comforter, I curled my body tight as I let the rest of the memory pour in and drown me in a tidal wave of sadness and elation; both fought for dominance.
Back in my memories the awkwardness and embarrassment soon fell away leaving us to do what we usually did on a Sunday night in the holidays, watch the Inbetweeners. Both of us roared with laughter and cringed as Will, Simon, Neil and Jay bungled their way through failed attempts at losing their virginity. This was why Jesse was my best friend, none of the girls got the humour or appreciated the dating game from the boy’s side of things. Jesse was nothing like any of the boys in the show, but I knew so many that were, which scared the hell out of me. As usual I fell asleep before the end and normally woke up in the dark with the top cover pulled over me, and no sign of Jesse. But the night filling my head was different, I wasn’t completely asleep when he left. I nearly opened my eyes and shouted across the room as he crept around turning everything off, but a compounding curiosity stopped me. I wanted to know exactly what he did while I slept, I mean he could go through my drawers or search for my diary. I knew he wouldn’t and I’d never kept a diary so there was no chance of that, but a part of me longed to imagine him being that interested. The heavy controlled breaths I let slip from my body were to give the impression of a deep sleep, but the creek of the floor board just to the side of me almost stopped my breath altogether. His face was close, I could hear and feel his warm breath skimming my cheek. The slight touch of his lips against my forehead lit a fire that I thought might choke me at any moment. It was only when the second kiss landed on my lips did I fear self combustion imminent. I couldn’t move; daren’t. He thought I was asleep and I had to stop myself pinching my arm to confirm that I wasn’t. As soon as I heard the old wooden stairs down from the attic room creak and moan I sat upright and let out a gust of air. Had he done that before? I was normally sound asleep when he left so I wouldn’t know. That was the last time I saw him. What he hadn’t told me that night was goodbye. No one knew, not even my mum and dad. A phone call from uncle Paul confirmed my worst fears, they weren’t coming back….
“Hey sleepy head, it’s gone nine. I need you to take the dogs for a run on the beach for me while I go in to town for some fresh bread and stuff. Do you think you can manage that?” I wiped my face across the pillow before I lifted my head. Tears left an invisible slug trail across the duck egg, cotton case.
“You look like hell, you’re not coming down with something are you? Shall I get some flu medicine from the chemist while I’m in town?” Concern draped her face so I quickly eased her mind.
“No mum I’m good, It was just really hot in here last night and I didn’t get much sleep.”
“Well you should be glad you don’t sleep up in the attic room anymore it’s cooking up there. I feel bad that Jesse has to sleep there, but I expect he’s used to the heat.” The vomit from my dream felt all too real in my mouth as it dawned on me that in just a couple of hours we’d be under the same roof again. I figured that if the plane landed on time and they didn’t take an age in baggage claim, they’d be on the island by twelve. Bolting from the bed I flew into my bathroom and barely made the target before the glass of water I’d consumed in the night, forced it’s way out of my nose and mouth, tasting so much like hot orange juice.
“Hen, you okay? Henrietta I’m coming in.” Mum’s hands slid around my shoulders capturing every stray hair sticking to my face and neck. Once the retching stopped she handed me a wad of tissue. Slumping back against the wall I saw the look on her face, I knew it well.
“Tell me we’re not going back there?” She asked, tears pulsing against the bright blue of her eyes. Her fingers trembled as she pulled some rogue strands of hair stuck to my cheek. Closing my eyes I slowly shook my head, rubbing the back of it against the cold white tiles.
“No, I just got a bit hot that’s all.” I wanted to cry, I didn’t know why. Maybe it was the thought of worrying her all over again or maybe it was just the thought that my body might not pull through him leaving a second time.
“Look don’t worry about the dogs I’ll take them later. You just go back to bed for a couple of hours an catch up on some sleep.”
“No, I told you I’m fine. I just need a glass of water and a shower.” Mum held my face in her hands and stared hard into my eyes, she must have found whatever she was looking for ‘cos a hint of a smile tickled her lips and almost made it to her eyes.
“Okay, but don’t go too far and stick to the main beach. I don’t want you passing out, it’s pretty hot out there already.”
“It’ll be cooler down on the sand, it’s a south easterly this weekend. You know they’re having the surf comp down there later today.” Mum nodded but she had no idea what I was talking about.
Jesse would definitely want to take a look at the surfing action. He was good before he left for Australia, now living minutes away from one of the best set of waves in the world he’d probably be awesome. Everything tingled, from my toes to the very sensitive tips of my under-manicured fingers. The skin around each nail throbbed and hissed with pain as the hot shower water pounded down on them. I wasn’t just a nail biter I was a chewer too. Ruining the skin and cuticles beyond any nail technicians college given talents. Something new for Jesse to comment on, another trait I’d started after he left, to distract myself from thinking about him. With wet hair and clammy hands I took a huge breath in before I ventured out into the world, stopping only to check my emails and facebook page for new comments. Jesse didn’t do facebook, as far as I knew, and the emails from him stopped after a year of no replies from me. The new notification nearly sent me crashing back to the bathroom floor. He’d landed and was on his way Home.